March 2013

The Host

Certificate 12A, 125 minutes, ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

Saoirse Ronan (Hanna, Atonement, The Lovely Bones) stars in this movie adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s 2008 novel, The Host.

At first you’d be forgiven for drawing parallels with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and yes we have glowing alien centipedes that inhabit the brains of their hosts, but that’s pretty much where the similarity ends. You see, these aliens are nice.

And that’s the problem.

We have an exciting first reel (do they still have reels? maybe I should just say first 20 minutes…) in which Melanie (Ronan) is chased down, tries to kill herself but is saved, healed and implanted by a “Soul” called Wanderer. Then we find out that the Souls’ take over of humans is not as complete as they’d have us believe, and Melanie is still in there, fighting to regain control. She manages to make Wanderer flee into the desert where she’s found by Uncle Jeb (William Hurt).

After that it goes all new age eco weird.

There’s the usual Meyer  inter-species love triangle, but the twist this time is that it’s a four-way triangle with only three bodies (you just know how that’s going to end…), but the two boys are pretty bland and uninteresting, the obsessive baddie cop “Seeker” (Diane Kruger) sent out to catch Wanderer/Melanie (who has been nicknamed Wanda in an effort to get the movie over a bit quicker) is ineffectual, which means we’re left with the internal two people in one body conflict to carry the tension. And it fails. It just comes over as one person with an occasional twitch and a reverbed voice over from time to time.

But the chrome Lotus Evoras were nice (as was the chrome R44), and the cavern complex with hand-cranked mirrors for lighting was truly stunning.

But scenery and shiny cars a good movie do not make. Shame. 5/10

G. I. Joe: Retaliation

Certificate 12A, 110 minutes   ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Back in the day, GI Joe was the American version of what we called Action Man, a 12″ action figure that many of us played with as kids (actually, Palitoy produced Action Man under licence from Hasbro, but let us not worry about such things). Then in the 1980s, Hasbro started producing the 3 3/4″ line, which is what you see in the shops today.

G. I. Joe: Retaliation is a sequel to 2009s GI Joe; Return of the Cobra. It stars Dwayne Johnson, with Channing Tatum, Adrianne Palicki, DJ Cotrona, Jonathan Pryce and an extended cameo from Bruce Willis.
Zartan the shape shifter (Pryce) has taken over the White House and is holding the real president (Pryce) hostage. Johnson and the Joes are off on a ridiculously stupid mission stealing nukes from the North Koreans, when most of them are wiped out by an air strike courtesy of Zartan. The remaining Joes, along with a bunch of mystery ninjas now have to save the world, defeat Zartan and a bunch of mystery ninjas and restore the good pres.

The action sequences, fights etc were all well done; there’s even a fight across a sheer cliff face on the end of climbing ropes. That pretty much is it for good points. The rest of the film is a confusing nonsensical illogical mess. I never did figure out the ninjas: at the outset I couldn’t work out who were the good guys and the bad guys, and at the end I still couldn’t work it out.

Channing Tatum had the right idea: Get killed off early on, then you can’t be blamed for the rest of it.

On the plus side, My Cineworld card has paid for itself this month, with another DVD I can avoid buying. Chuck toys at each other and shout blam blam blam. 3/10

Writing Update

Book 1 (Wanted) is still waiting for the results of the final round of beta reading (due after the Easter hols). Then it just needs formatting and prettifying ready to push the button later in the month.

Book 2 (Hunted) is now underway and plotted out. I’ve signed up to Camp NanoWrimo for April, with a target of 50k words (less what’s already written) I’ve decided I need to be pushed more, and this seems like a good way to do it. That would have me on track for finishing the first draft sometime in May – assuming I keep up the pace – which would be good. Again I’m aiming for a total around 90,000 words (Wanted is 92,000)

April is actually quite a busy month, with a trip to Liverpool for location scouting, and a production of The Admirable Crichton, so I think it’s going to be tougher than the regular Nano in November. We shall see…

Didcot A… RIP

Today is the end of an era, for at 2pm (14:00z) Didcot A power station is to be switched off. No more the iconic cooling towers belching steam and the giant chimney belching… well, less pleasant things and 20 countries worth of CO2 if you believe the Greenpeace propaganda. Maybe that was true at one time (I certainly remember soot-blackened net curtains when I first moved here in the early 90s (what idiot town planner puts a power station on the West side of a town when the prevailing wind comes from the West? That’s a decision worthy of a smack round the back of the head if ever I saw one), but that hasn’t happened for some time now.

Picture: Dave Price, 2006. CC-BY-SA-2.0

According to good old Wikipedia, it was voted the country’s third worst eyesore by Country Life readers in 2003. Well, a pox on them, I say. The towers have become a part of the landscape; a beacon (although admittedly not a shining one) and symbol of home. Visible from miles around, they are great for navigation – cresting a hill in the car as I drive home and seeing the towers in the distance always brings a smile to my face. Even from the air; I’ve seen them in a little rented Piper from as far away as Bromsgrove or Southampton at around 3000ft, and even in the back of a 777 coming back from the U.S. (and thought ironically that if only I had a parachute, I could be home in minutes instead of hours…)

So, in an age of escalating energy prices, when we as a nation have barely enough generating capacity for our current needs yet alone the future (Ofgem issued yet another warning of an approaching power crisis earlier this week), gas supplies at a critically low level, a government with its fingers in its ears over the necessity of building new power stations, we shut down another one. Hope you’ve got a good stock of candles…


Welcome to the Punch

Certificate 15, 100 minutes, ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

James McAvoy and Mark Strong star in this indie British cop/crime thriller set among the glass and steel skyscrapers of London’s Canary Wharf.

Three years ago, tough cop Max Lewinsky (McAvoy) was wounded while chasing big-time crook Jacob Sternwood (Strong) after a heist. Now, Sternwood’s son has been found shot on the apron at London’s City airport. When Sternwood returns for his boy, Max sees his chance finally to bring the crook to justice, but finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy that goes right to the top.

Fast paced and shot mainly at night (it’s rare that we see London in a movie looking so gorgeously glittery), this is a glossy thriller that, if I’m honest, doesn’t go anywhere new. But it retreads old ground with a degree of style that, for example, last year’s The Sweeney lacked. Yes, the twists are visible a mile off, but the set pieces are confident and well executed, the cast is like a roll call of British talent and there are some real stand out moments.

What the Sweeney should have been Guv. 7/10

The Croods

Certificate U, 98 minutes ★★★★★★★★

Back in the days of way back when, Aardman Animation (Wallace & Gromit, The Pirates, Chicken Run etc) announced a five film deal with DreamWorks Annimation. One of those stop motion films was to be the Pythonesquely titled Crood Awakening. Indeed the first few drafts were penned by John Cleese, along with Kirk DeMicco (who eventually directed). That deal went south, and the title reverted to DreamWorks, who have finally brought it out under the title The Croods as a regular 3D CG animation.

The Croods are a family of thick-set Neanderthal-browed cavemen, led by Grug (Nicholas Cage), his wife Ugga (Catherine keener), mother-in-law (Cloris Leachman), daughters Eep (Emma Stone) and Sandy, son Thunk (Clark Duke), and ‘the baby’. We learn that they are the last surviving family, which Grug attributes to regarding anything “new”as a threat to their survival. Teenage daughter Eep naturally rebels, and one night sneaks out of their cave.

She meets the human boy Guy (Ryan Reynolds) who shows her this fascinating new thing called fire and tells of the end of the world, and is subsequently grounded by her father. When the cave is subsequently destroyed by an earthquake, the Croods flee, and meet up once again with Guy, who leads them reluctantly (or eagerly in Eep’s case) towards a new land populated with strange creatures, from sabretoothed kittens to miniature mouse-elephants to piranha-jawed parrots…

Visually, the film is stunning, both in terms of design and animation. Not totally surprising, since Roger Deakins (Skyfall) acted as visual consultant, as he did also with Rango, How to train your Dragon and Wall-E (and The Guardians, but frankly, the less said about that the better). It’s truly amazing how far animation has come, even since the later Toy Story films, when you look at the details in the hair and fur (you really find yourself wanting to run your hands through it, it’s so good), and water, and the simply amazing flocking parrots (I was watching a flock of starlings in the dusk the other evening, and seriously, it’s as good as real life).

The script still shows signs of the original Cleese wit, and there are plenty of gags, both verbal and visual, in there for adults as well as kids, and it is genuinely funny. This is one film I would definitely go and see again. And then buy the Blu Ray.

Never not be afraid: 8/10

Side Effects

Certificate 15, 106 minutes, ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Jude Law (The Talented Mr Ripley) plays Dr Jonathan Banks, an overworked New York psychiatrist in Steven Soderberg’s (allegedly) final movie, Side Effects. One day he treats Emily (Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [US remake]), admitted to hospital after driving head first into a parking garage wall. After consulting with her previous doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Banks puts her on an experimental new drug called Ablixa. Things go well until the side effects start manifesting…

Side Effects is an excellent psychological thriller in the Hitchcockian tradition. Compelling, disturbing, sinister, and gripping in equal measure (Oxford Comma there, guys ;)) but also visually sumptuous, with just a hint of nightmare about it.

To tell you anything more about the plot would be a spoiler, and it really is worth watching this film unspoiled. It has an original screenplay by Scott Z. Burns, inspired cinematography by “Peter Andrews” (Soderbergh himself, under a pseudonym), and expertly edited by “Mary Ann Bernard” (Soderbergh again. Hmm, is there a trend… ;))

The casting couldn’t be better.  Law and Mara give arguably their best ever performances. Law as the bland psychiatrist who is at the same time greedy and vain; Mara as the troubled young victim, both scared and scary. If this really is Indie director Soderbergh’s final opus (please say it isn’t so!) he’s going out with a bang.

One pill, TDS. 8/10

Great North Road

Great North RoadGreat North Road by Peter F. Hamilton

UK hardback edition, signed by the author on the day before publication. 🙂

At just shy of 1100 pages, this is an epic tale. Part police-procedural, part monster-attrition thriller, part space opera set in a future where travel to distant worlds is just a step through the gateway away.

The story opens in January 2143, with the discovery of a body in the Tyne. It was one of the rich North family clones, and he was savagely murdered. Not none of the clones has been reported missing. Even stranger, there was a similar murder twenty years ago, on the distant world of St Libra. Another North billionaire and his whole household. But the murderer, one Angela Tremelo has been in prison for the last twenty years. Perhaps her claims – not believed at the time – that they were the victims of an attack by an alien monster were true? But there was no animal life on St Libra…

So Tremelo is released from prison under guard and taken to St Libra to act as consultant to an expedition to uncover the truth once and for all (shades of Ripley in Aliens there). And before long, people start dying. Has the monster struck again, or is Angela Tremelo just a brutal psychopath? What really happened 20 years ago?

I have to say this book had me completely absorbed from beginning to end. Hamilton weaves a story that is both vast and intricate in its complexity, yet it doesn’t get bogged down. The world-building has a richness and a vibrancy to it; the characters are well-rounded and believable. There are plenty of twists and turns, some predictable, others not, as the story in Newcastle and the story on St Libra cross back and forth and gradually merge together.

Five claw-blade-handed stars from me, sweets.