Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Posted: August 7, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Ol Parker.  Starring. Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Dominic Cooper, Colin Firth, Andy García, Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Stellan Skarsgård, Julie Walters, Cher and Meryl Streep.

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“Join us, join us, JOIN US!”

Many years have passed since Sophie Sheridan (Seyfried) discovered that her father was one of three men and invited them to the Greek island where she lived with her mother Donna (Streep). Now Sophie wants to reopen the hotel in honour of her mother, but she’s unhappy that two of her dads, Harry (Firth) and Bill (Skarsgård) can’t attend, and nor can her partner Sky (Cooper) who’s in New York. Her third father, Sam (Brosnan) will be there, but when a storm hits the island the whole reopening looks like it could fail.

Back in 1979 we follow the young Donna (James) as she leaves University and heads out to see the world, beginning in Paris where she meets a young Harry, before moving onto Greece where her path crosses that of both Bill and Sam.

As past and future increasingly mirror one another the stage is set for heartbreak and joy in equal measure. As the song says, here we go again.

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I unashamedly love Mama Mia. I can see all its faults, it’s cheesy and yes some of the cast aren’t the world’s greatest singers (I’m looking at you 007) but its joyful exuberance, married to Abba’s fantastic songs, and a first rate cast papered over any cracks there may have been.

Given its phenomenal success a sequel was always on the cards, but credit to the producers for waiting until they felt they had a story to tell, and kudos for deciding to go all Godfather 2 with a sequel that’s also a prequel, and the result is all kinds of wonderful, just not necessarily for the reasons the first one succeeded. For all that they’re cut from the same cloth these are two very different films, and again credit has to go to everyone involved in the production for not just giving us more of the same.

The film opens with characters dealing with a tragedy that happened a year before, and a sense of melancholia hangs over the whole film, and whilst it’s clearly a feel-good story, it’s also sad at times. Very sad.

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Hey I recognize those dungarees!

If the film relies on the return of familiar characters and situations, at its heart is something new, namely Lily James as the young Donna, and it’s no exaggeration to suggest that it’s James’ performance that makes the film. While everyone else always seems to have someone to bounce off, often its Donna who’s left alone, foreshadowing what we know will happen, that she’ll raise Sophie alone as a single mother, and its credit to James that she never allows Donna to be a character we pity, only one we empathise with and root for. Plus she’s a great song and dance woman which helps enormously.

In the present it’s Seyfried who holds the film together, albeit with able support of some wonderful actors. I’d happily watch an entire trilogy based around the adventures of Christine Baranski and Julie Walters, who once again threaten to steal the show, and Firth, Brosnan and Skarsgård imbue Harry, Sam and Bill with so much warmth you kinda wish they were your dads too.

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The actors playing the other younger characters all do a good job, some more than others, but special mention to Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies essaying the young Baranski and Walters.

In the scene stealing category there’s Omid Djalili with an amusing recurring cameo of a customs officer (and please, please, please stay till the end of the credits.) and of course the iconic introduction of Cher as Donna mum, not the greatest actor but damn that woman can still belt out a tune.

Which brings us to the music, which is of course ever present. This is perhaps a harder soundtrack to get into, certainly for me because there were more unfamiliar songs this time around, but there’s still plenty of familiar music, and the script is peppered with witty one liners, one of Baranski’s lines is practically worth the price of admission alone.

Beyond the cast, the music and the script, I’d like to talk about the direction, because this was almost the element that impressed me most. Part of Mama Mia’s charm was its slightly DIY construction much like Brosnan’s singing (sorry Pierce) it didn’t matter if the film looked a little creaky at times. By contrast Here we go Again is on another level technically, and I was amazed at just how well put together this was, the transitions between past and present are breathtakingly well constructed, I mean we’re talking Oscar worthy here, and quite frankly if it’d come out later in the year, and could have avoided the near certain snobbery, I see no reason this couldn’t have garnered an Oscar nod or two. Yes, it’s that good.

Mamma-Mia-2-Poster-.pngGorgeous to look at, wonderful to listen to, and with a life affirming central message around motherhood this is, as I stressed, not always an easy watch, and in the end this isn’t a film that tugs on your heartstrings so much as one that rips them from your chest and shows them to you, and I can’t deny that I may have shed a tear or two at one climatic moment that just manages to stay the right side of overly sentimental.

It’s hard to say if this is better or worse then the first film, because they are so different. On the downside as I’ve said the soundtrack isn’t quite as familiar, and the duel nature of the plot does mean we only get extended cameos from certain actors, and maybe it isn’t quite the surprise the first one was. Plus knowing it wasn’t filmed in Greece is a trifle annoying…

But overall this is a far, far better film than it has any right to be, and I for one can’t wait to see it again. Will we ever get Mama Mia 3? Hard to tell, but frankly the bar’s set so high now it can surely only disappoint.

Highly recommended.

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Cherly you can’t be serious, Paul? I am serious, and don’t call me Cherly!

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Directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Starring Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson and Sean Harris.

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It’s two years since Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his IMF team captured terrorist Solomon Lane (Harris), and the remains of Lane’s organisation, The syndicate, has mutated into a group known as The Apostles.  The Apostles latest job is buying three plutonium cores for an environmental fundamentalist known only as John Lark, who plans to build three nuclear bombs to usher in a new world order. In Berlin Hunt and his comrades Benji (Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Rhames) attempt to recover the plutonium but fail, leading the new CIA Director Erica Slone (Angela Bassett) to pull rank on the IMF Secretary Alan Huntley (Alec Baldwin) to place her own man onto Hunt’s team as they move to Paris to intercept John Lark as he deals with an arms dealer named The White Widow (The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby). Sloane’s agent is August Walker (Cavill), a single minded CIA assassin who has little time for the IMF’s tactics of deception and rubber masks.

A spanner is thrown into the works when MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Ferguson) returns with a secret agenda. As double crosses abound, and nuclear bombs are set, can Hunt and his team save the day, or is this one mission that really will prove totally impossible?

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It’s kinda sobering to realise Tom Cruise first played Ethan Hunt 22 years ago. It’s also worth mentioning that he’s made more Mission Impossible films than any actor has been Bond other than Connery and Moore!

It is a curious franchise however, with odd tonal shifts and big gaps between some of the films, although they’ve been more frequent recently. For me the quality has been variable, and as a fan of the original TV series some of them have skewed too much towards high octane action at the expense of the clever sting operations that were the show’s stock in trade.

What you can’t deny is Cruise’s star power, and his athleticism, he’s 56 for God’s sake! And here we are imagining Daniel Craig might be getting too old to play 007. It’s still amazing that Cruise does so many of his own stunts, although this time he did manage to break his ankle so he’s nowhere near as invincible as he once was.

But you’re not here for an appraisal of Tom Cruise’s physical condition, you want to know if the film is any good, and yes it is, really good. It might even be my second favourite (after the original).

Christopher McQuarrie returns as writer and director, which was a slight worry given that Rogue Nation was such an uneven affair, a film that frontloaded its best scenes and ended up with a damp squib of a finale set in London (which eerily mirrored Spectre which came out a few months later and suffered from the same problem.)

This time the pacing is spot on, well, mostly. The film is still too long, and a trifle baggy in the middle. One car chase through Paris is immediately followed by another car chase through Paris, plus the finale, whilst very good, runs way longer than the 15 minutes we’re supposed to believe it is.

636679576547803713-mcj-04602rBut I’m quibbling. I enjoyed it a lot. Cruise owns the screen (as usual) and is ably supported by a top notch cast. Rhames and Pegg have such a natural rapport that you almost wish they had their own spin off series, and Ferguson proves, yet again, that she might be one of the best Bond girls we never had. As Walker Cavill brings a sneering physicality to the role, imbued with a lot of charm (and yes I’ll say it, he’d make a great Bond). Returning villain Sean Harris is something of a weak link, if only because he’s so understated, because this isn’t really a film for understatement. Baldwin and  Bassett bring the necessary gravitas, and special mention to Kirby playing the daughter of Max (Vanessa Redgrave’s character in the very first Mission Impossible film though this is quite subtle) and there’s even a place for Michelle Monaghan to return as Ethan’s long hidden wife (hard to believe she was in Mission Impossible III).

35774The stunts and set pieces are impressive, although often they seemed a trifle familiar because they’re riffs on things you’ve seen in another Mission Impossible, or a Bond, or a Bourne, but maybe it’s impossible to be truly innovative these days.

Aside from some clunky—but probably necessary—exposition on occasion, Christopher McQuarrie’s script is clever and funny, even if everyone’s motivations seem a trifle vague. It’s also nice to see McQuarrie not treating his cast like idiots, but as smart professionals, and there’s some wonderful bluffs and double bluffs going on here, and it’s nice to see some old school Mission Impossible schemes, even if things end up needing helicopter gunships rather than rubber masks to resolve matters in the end.

A tad too long, and I can’t rule out it ending up essentially being just A N Other big budget action film to get lost in the forest of such films, but I enjoyed it a huge amount while I was watching it and really, what more do you want?

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to watch this film. Go on, don’t make me disavow you!

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8391123Edited by Mike Ashley

As regular readers of this blog may have worked out by now, I have a certain love of the post-apocalyptic genre. It’s not that I want the world to end, I just find the concept fascinating, so when I spotted this book, promising 24 tales of earth shattering cataclysm, well, how could I resist!

Ashley neatly splits the anthology into three sections, the first deals with the apocalypse itself, and its immediate aftermath, the second focuses on the medium term future, and the final, shortest section throws us thousands, even millions of years into the future, to a world beyond humanity.

I feel a little like a broken record here, but as I always say an anthology is something of a lucky dip, on the downside this means there will be stories you don’t like—and there were more than a few of those in here—but the flipside is there will always be some diamonds in the rough—and again there were plenty of those.

I won’t go through all 24 tales, but I’ll try and highlight the ones I enjoyed most, and mention some couple I really didn’t like at all.

The anthology begins with When We Went to See the End of the World by Robert Silverberg, it’s a fairly lightweight, amusing tale but when dealing with apocalypses it’s probably best to start small.

When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth by Cory Doctorow has a novel set of heroes who begin to rebuild society in the aftermath of a global bioweapon attack. Despite a certain level of nerdy wish fulfilment I enjoyed it.

The End of the World Show by David Barnett slips humour back into the equation, as the world faces an increasingly surreal end, and the last line’s just wonderful in context.

Fermi and Frost by Frederik Pohl is a grim, yet curiously hopeful portrayal of survival during nuclear, and is definitely one of the more realistic stories in the collection.

I’m a big fan of Alastair Reynolds, and his story, sleepover, is a humdinger, incredibly inventive it postulates a apocalypse like no other and he deftly keeps you guessing for some time as to what the nature of the cataclysm actually is. As with most great mysteries, you can argue the story falls apart once you know the secret, and there’s definitely an element of The Matrix about it, but still very enjoyable.

Now we move into the medium-term post-apocalyptic future.

I wasn’t keen on Moments of Inertia by William Barton. It’s tale of a rogue star went to some interesting places but took too damn long to get there and I couldn’t really empathise with any of the characters.

Pallbearer by Robert Reed was probably one of my favourite stories in the collection. Can’t say it was stunningly original, but I just loved the author’s voice as he describes a post pandemic world where evangelical Christians believe they’re the chosen survivors of God, but the truth might be very different. Really, I could have kept reading this story for the rest of the book.

And the Deep Blue Sea by Elizabeth Bear starts out like an old school Mad Max style story, with the heroine, a biker courier, racing across irradiated American to deliver a package, but it goes somewhere very unexpected. It ends rather abruptly but I’m willing to forgive the author.

A Pail of Air by Fritz Leiber is a story I’ve read before, many, many years ago in my teens. I’d found it really interesting back then, but sadly in hindsight it’s clunky and archaic. Bonus points for the nostalgia rush however.

Guardians of the Phoenix by Eric Brown is another somewhat old school Mad Max style tale of survivors struggling in a drought ridden world where the only water is buried deep underground. There’s some great imagery (ships becalmed in the middle of deserts) and a smidgen of hope at the end. Another highly recommended one.

Life in the Anthropocene by Paul Di Fillippo on the other hand might be the one story I really hated, full of longwinded names, made up gobbledygook technology and annoying post-humans. It isn’t that long, but I really struggled to get through it.

Terraforming Terra by Jack Williamson has a neat idea about successive generations of clones on the Moon watching Earth recover from an apocalypse so they can reclaim it, but I wasn’t keen. I couldn’t get my head around the characters, and the narrative is told in the first person by successive iterations of the same individual which makes no sense. It goes on way too long and ends with a Bradbury style twist that frankly Bradbury did better.

We’re into the distant future now, with tales that finish off the anthology by taking the (very) long view.

F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre’s World Without End is an utterly depressing, yet utterly engrossing tale of a young woman cursed with immorality who ends up the last human, doomed to wander the Earth as millennia pass. The choice of main character is interesting, and again the author’s voice very good. I really liked this one.

Hard Sci-fi legend Stephen Baxter has a wonderful grasp of deep time, and he demonstrates his skill here as The Children of Time provides snapshots of successive human offshoots that survive millions of years into the future. Again there’s a melancholic tone to the tale, but again it’s well enough written that I enjoyed it.

The final story, The Star Called Wormwood by Elizabeth Counihan, on the other hand, left me cold, and it’s a shame the book didn’t end with Baxter’s tale.

On the whole I enjoyed this anthology, though it maybe dragged on a little, and whilst a more general horror/sci-fi anthology can mix things up a little, here the relentless grimdark gets a tad wearing, even though Ashley tries his best to inject hope and humour where he can. In the end there’s only so much world ending even a fan of the genre can take!

First Through the Door

Posted: July 12, 2018 in Free fiction
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Danny was leader of the firearms unit, so he was always first through the door.

So it was Danny who saw Melissa struggling with Lionel, Danny who saw the knife in Lionel’s hand, and Danny who pulled the trigger before Lionel could stab his defenceless wife.

Naturally there was an inquiry, but Danny was a highly decorated officer, it was deemed a righteous kill.

Melissa inherited her husband’s fortune and moved to Dubai.

Six months later Danny resigned. He couldn’t do the job anymore. He had nightmares. The force offered him a desk job, he said he needed a clean break.

He travelled the world. Eventually he ended up in Dubai where he married Melissa.

Suspicions were raised, investigations undertaken, but the detectives could find no evidence of collusion. No evidence Danny and Melissa had met before that fateful day.

Still, questions remained.

After all, Danny was always first through the door.

 

Ocean’s 8

Posted: July 11, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Gary Ross. Starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna and Helena Bonham Carter.

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Eventually the team would get down to planning the heist, after they watch Magic Mike one more time…

When Debbie Ocean (Bullock playing George Clooney’s character’s sister) is released from prison she wastes no time in putting into action a plan to steal a $150 million dollar Cartier necklace, a plan she’s been working on for five years to a point where she believes she’s worked out all of the kinks.

She ropes in her former partner Lou (Blanchett) and together they begin assembling a team, including a fashion designer with money troubles (Bonham Carter) a fence (Paulson) a computer hacker (Rihanna) a pickpocket (Awkwafina) and a jeweller (Mindy Kaling). Also integral to the plan as an unwitting dupe is ditzy actress Daphne Kluger (Hathaway).

The plan should go off without a hitch, but the involvement of insurance investigator John Frazier (James Corden) could pose trouble, and Lou worries that Debbie might be using the heist to get revenge on the man responsible for her incarceration, namely shady art dealer Claude Becker (Richard Armitage).

Will the gang get away with it, or will Debbie wind up back behind bars, along with her new accomplices?

 

When Steven Soderbergh made a modern version of the 60’s Rat Pack film Ocean’s 11, it’s debatable whether anyone thought it would lead to multiple sequels, but here we are with the fourth film in the franchise, albeit one with a completely new cast. The idea of an all gal heist flick might have put some backs up (for some reason) but I had no issue with it, in fact given I was always a bit lukewarm towards Ocean’s 11 anyway (If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know Soderbergh films often leave me cold) I was quite looking forward to it, and whilst Ocean’s 8 is far from perfect it’s a heck of a fun ride while it lasts.

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She’s a mistress of disguise!

The film’s main strength is in its casting. Bullock is a good lead, able to convince as a dowdy convict and as a glamourous jewel thief, and her role in pulling the team together is well handled. She sparks well with Blanchett (who’s one of those actors rarely less than brilliant) and together they make for a good partnership.

Helena Bonham Carter seems to be having a blast as the kooky, Irish accented fashion designer—although with Bonham Carter in some roles you can’t help feeling she may just be playing herself—and having seen her in several seasons of America Horror Story I know Paulson’s always good value, and she is again here as the fence turned suburban housewife (albeit with a suspiciously large eBay presence). Everyone gets their moment to shine, and this extends to the least famous members of the crew in Kaling and Awkwafina. In particular I really enjoyed Awkwafina’s dry wit. Really the weak link is probably Rihanna, although maybe that’s just down to a role that essentially requires her to just type a lot and on occasion smoke a huge blunt.

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You jammy bugger, Armitage!

Of course, I’m not forgetting the 8th, and unaware, member of the team, and much like Bonham Carter Hathaway seems to be having a huge amount of fun hamming it up as airhead Kluger, and on occasion she pretty much steals the movie.

There are the token guys as well. Armitage is solidly sleazy as Becker, and whilst never the greatest actor in the world, Corden isn’t remotely as terrible in an underwritten role as some have suggested.

The direction is slick and the soundtrack oozes cool. The sets and clothes add to the sense of style and glamour, but if the film falls down it’s in the script, or rather the plot. It’s not that it makes no sense, and there are some nice twists, but everything seems a bit effortless. There are obstacles that spring up in the team’s way, but none of them are remotely insurmountable and each one is resolved with ease. In many respects the film reminded me of the original TV show of Mission Impossible, where most weeks the elaborate scheme would go off without a hitch. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I just wish Debbie and co had had to fight a little harder for their win because there’s never any real sense of jeopardy.

You can argue it’s style over substance, but when a film is this much fun who cares, not everything has to be deep and meaningful, and I for one would relish seeing Ocean’s 8 become Ocean’s 9, so long as they keep the cool, keep the humour and keep the cast: they just need to up the drama a bit.

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Please take care on the subway, it’s crawling with criminals.

 

Hereditary

Posted: June 17, 2018 in Film reviews, horror
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Directed by Ari Aster. Starring Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro and Gabriel Byrne.

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Just one big happy family.

At the funeral of her mother Ellen, Annie Graham (Collette) gives a eulogy detailing the difficult relationship she had with her mother due to Ellen’s secretive ways. She also mentions the loss of her father when she was a baby, and the fact that her brother committed suicide.

In the aftermath of the funeral, and unbeknownst to her husband Peter (Byrne), Annie visits a grief support group. She’s an artist specialising in miniature dioramas and an upcoming show has put her under added pressure, this stress isn’t helped by her uncommunicative daughter Charlie (Shapiro) and her slacker son Peter (Wolff).

As time passes and bizarre events begin to occur to the family, Annie becomes more and more convinced that the family is in some way cursed, and that a supernatural presence is stalking them, but are her fears genuine or is it a symptom of the mental illness that runs through the family?

 

Hereditary arrives on a wave of “Horror movie of the year/decade/century” level hype and expectation, and that’s always difficult to manage, but if you can get past the hysteria what lies behind it is an exceptionally well-crafted horror movie, albeit one that at times might be too well-crafted for its own good, but I’ll come onto that.

The first thing to say is that if your notion of a horror film is something like Insidious, a funfair ghost train of a film with a jump scare every five minutes, then Hereditary might disappoint. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have frights, but this is a slow burn of a film that prioritises atmosphere over action for most of its running time, and what an atmosphere! In tune with films like Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man, or more recently films like The Blair Witch Project and Get Out, Hereditary is a film that aims to unsettle. There’s a palpable sense of dread that hangs over the film like a mouldy sheet. Even before much in the way of the supernatural occurs this world feels off kilter, from the odd way Charlie acts, to Annie’s work creating miniaturist art (and kudos to the design team because these miniature sets are wonderful) that is at once intriguing but also disquieting.

Once bad things start happening it’s a downward spiral for the family, but you have to give Aster credit, because he doesn’t let the story follow the path you imagine, in fact there’s one moment early on that left me awestruck at its audacity. Which isn’t to say there isn’t a certain level of predictability at work here, but there has to be, the best twists are ones that arise out of logical actions, and the film is littered with little clues which will likely make a repeat viewing even more interesting.

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The cast are excellent. Few actors can do frazzled and on the edge of nervous breakdown as well as Collette, and this is her film. Annie is a character seemingly out of step with the world even before the supernatural intrudes on her life. You get the feeling she’s hovered on the edge of a breakdown for a while, yet Collette never quite lets the character tip over the edge. Byrne has less to get his teeth into, because he’s tasked with being the grounded member of the family, but he does it well and between them they convince as a couple who clearly love one another, yet are somehow distant strangers.

1238244As Peter, Wolff does a great job essaying a young man who goes from someone whose only concerns are weed and girls, to someone who has to deal with incredible tragedy and then the fact that his family may be being haunted by an evil force, and much as with Collette you really fear for him. Then there’s newcomer Shapiro as Charlie and what a performance. Charlie is, to put it mildly, an odd bird, but despite her inexperience Shapiro never overdoes things. She’s an unsettling presence in every scene, the sort of loner you imagine would be bullied, yet somehow isn’t because everyone is, if not afraid of her, then unnerved by her.

Rounding out the small cast is Ann Dowd (yes Aunt Lydia from The Handmaid’s Tale!) as another member of the grief support group.

Aster directs his own script, and whilst he has written and directed short films before, this is his feature debut and he does an excellent job, knowing when to close in on the family to emphasise the claustrophobia, but also willing to pull back to emphasise the isolation of the characters. He makes full use of the camera, from skewed angles to making wonderful use of shadow and reflection to highlight some very eerie moments, and he makes great use of the landscape, both the geographic and the more personal landscapes, focusing on every anguished line on Collette’s face as if her visage were itself were the surface of the moon. As with the best horror sometimes the worst parts of the film are the bits you don’t see, and Aster judiciously cuts away from several gorier elements that a lesser director would have focused on. Not that Hereditary isn’t gory, Aster just knows when to show and when to tell.

The one downside is that, with the tension wound so tight, and with the film walking such a razor’s edge between ludicrous and terrifying, occasionally the more melodramatic moments can teeter on the side of funny rather than frightening. For me it never quite fell into that trap, but I can see with the wrong kind of audience there may be more laughs than screams.

Assuredly directed, wonderful acted, this is an unsettling, yet utterly mesmerising film that will likely only get better with repeat viewings.

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Embers of War

Posted: June 11, 2018 in Book reviews, science fiction
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30748899By Gareth L Powell

It’s the future, and a devastating conflict known as the Archipelago War is bought to a shuddering conclusion by a heinous war crime that devastates large swathes of a planet. One of the perpetrators of this attack, albeit under orders, is the sentient warship Trouble Dog. In the aftermath of the conflict Trouble Dog develops a conscience and resigns her commission, signing on with the noble, if underfunded, House of Reclamation, an organisation whose purpose is to provide aid and rescue to those in distress. The ship has a minimal crew and is captained by Sal Konstanz who was on the opposite side during the war.

After a tragedy, Sal imagines she might lose her captaincy, but when a pleasure liner is attacked in a mysterious solar system known as the gallery—where an alien intelligence carved planets into giant sculptures—the Trouble Dog is the only ship that can speed to its rescue in time.

Meanwhile, on a distant jungle world Ashton Childe, a burned-out spy, is given new orders. He’s to also make his way to the Gallery, and he’s to rescue one particular passenger from the downed liner, the renowned poet Ona Sudak.

Sudak isn’t quite who she appears to be however, and the Trouble Dog is heading towards more danger than she realises, which given this particular dog has had most of her fangs removed, could mean trouble!

There’s some ship to ship combat towards the end of this book that’s almost worth the cover price alone. It’s like the very best Star Trek battle transferred onto the page. Beyond this there’s a lot else to enjoy here, though this isn’t a perfect book by any means.

Powell’s world building feels a little sparse at times, but on the whole he does a good job of imagining a conceivable universe. I’m sure people might say it feels a bit derivative, but while sentient starships are nothing new, I liked the idea of a ship with a conscience, a ship that regrets what she was ordered to do and wants to make amends, and I loved the fact that, despite her noble aspirations, this is a ship that still enjoys a good fight!

If I had a problem with the book then it’s the use of first person, or more specifically the use of first person to cover multiple points of view. This would be fine but, despite Powell’s obvious talent as a writer, too often it was hard to tell one voice apart from another, and if it wasn’t for the handy aide memoir that each chapter is named for the character, it would have taken a while to determine which character’s POV we were with at any given time, especially once most of the characters are on board (or are!) Trouble Dog. Ironically the one character whose chapters do feel different is the alien engineer Nod, though it’s chapters are kinda superfluous, so it’s swings and roundabouts.

Yes it’s a tad lightweight in tone, never quite managing to hit the epic sweep it clearly wants to, but it was a fun read, with an interesting central conceit, and Powell writes well, especially scenes of combat, and it’s certainly a way better sci-fi novel than the last one I read.

So long as you don’t go in expecting Banks or Reynolds this is an enjoyable book, I’m certainly on board for any sequels and I’d really like to see Trouble Dog get into a few more scraps!