Joker

Posted: October 15, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Todd Phillips. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro and Frances Conroy.

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Gotham City in the 1980s is a destitute place. There is large scale unemployment and a garbagemen strike sees trash piling up everywhere. Crime is rife. Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is an aspiring comedian who makes a living as a party clown. His outfit often marks him out as a target for thugs, as does a condition that cause him to involuntarily laugh at inappropriate moments. He lives with his mother Penny (Conroy) and is attracted to his neighbour Sophie (Zazie Beetz.) Arthur has mental health issues and relies on social services for medication.

Constantly harassed, and with funding taken away from the support he relies on, Arthur becomes more and more disconnected from society. His stand-up routine flops, and when he’s mocked by his idol, talk show host Murray Franklin (De Niro) he becomes increasingly estranged from reality.

How much degradation can one man take before he breaks, and what does it take to turn a mild-mannered man into Batman’s arch nemesis, the clown prince of crime himself. Joker?

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So here we are. Joker arrives, riding waves of adoration and controversy. A film that at once is lauded for a sensitive portrayal of mental health, yet derided as reinforcing stereotypes about people with mental health problems being a danger. A film supposedly a beacon for incels, to the point where some theatres in America took precautions lest someone try to emulate the mass shooter who targeted a Dark Knight showing.

To be honest much of the chatter has magnified certain elements of the film, but whilst dark, extremely dark, at times, this isn’t a film that’s anywhere near as hollow and nasty as something like Rambo. Joker has something to say, and even though you might not like what that is, you can’t deny its importance.

Beyond anything else however, Joker is an exceptionally fine piece of filmmaking, and you have to admire the chutzpah of making an R rated Joker film that riffs on Martin Scorsese films. I’ve read several interviews with Todd Phillips, and he rarely comes across well, but you have to give the guy kudos for a fantastic exercise in direction. Gotham is a dark, twisted and yet utterly grounded city, and whilst personally I’d always lean towards a slightly more gothic Gotham (somewhere between the Burton movies and the Gotham tv series) you can’t fault that the city is a character in itself. Ostensibly it’s New York in the 70s and 80s with the serial numbers filed off, but it feels real, a visceral nightmare of a city, the perfect breeding ground for a chaotic villain like Joker.

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However good the script is, however good the direction is, the true reason for its success is Phoenix who is simply mesmerising. Arthur’s fear, anger and frustration are etched into the actor’s features, he makes us empathise with a man we might not always like, and the transition from meek and mild, to bloodthirsty confidence is utterly convincing. Phoenix lost a lot of weight for the part, leaving Arthur Fleck sinewy, almost skeletal, which is perfect for the character. I’m still surprised, and slightly disturbed, that Phoenix clearly took some inspiration from Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, and often Arthur dances naked, admiring his form in the mirror, clearly trying to understand his own nature. It’s not a connection I would have thought of, but it works perfectly here, and manages to make Phoenix’s Joker very different from all the other screen incarnations we’ve seen. This isn’t a broad take ala Romero or Nicholson, and it isn’t the slithering, reptilian Joker of Ledger either. And thank goodness it isn’t the preposterously over done gangster Joker that Jared Leto foisted on us.

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Is he the best incarnation of the Joker? That’s up for debate, but he’s the perfect Joker for this film. And I think it needs to be stressed, it isn’t that Joker is a phenomenal comic book movie. First and foremost, it’s a phenomenal movie in its own right, and I hope both the film and its star get Oscar nods.

The cast is sparse, but American Horror story’s Conroy is superb as Arthur’s mum, and their relationship is uncomfortable without ever crossing the line into icky, and De Niro is in good form as a smarmy talk show host, reinforcing those Scorsese links if you hadn’t already noticed.

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There are a few elements I’m not completely sold on. I don’t like turning Thomas Wayne into a blustering blowhard, and whilst Arthur is never really portrayed as a hero, at times he veers a little too close to antihero, which the Joker really shouldn’t be. These are minor quibbles though, in what is a fantastic piece of cinema with something to say about mental health, inequality, austerity and society in general.

And there is one element I particularly love (feel free to skip this as it’s slightly spoilery) and that is the set of steps that features heavily. For much of the film we see Arthur doggedly trudging up hill, a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders struggling with society’s expectations. Later on, when he’s become Joker, he gleefully dances down those very steps, a literal descent into madness, but he’s confident now, breezy even, because he’s finally happy with who he is. That was the moment I realised just how good this film was.

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I can see how it won’t be for everyone, and if your idea of the Joker is Caesar Romero prepare for one hell of a shock, but this is top notch filmmaking on every level, with a standout performance from perhaps one of the finest actors currently working in Hollywood.

Man, if you’d told me two of my favourite films this year would have come out of DC I really wouldn’t have believed you! (the other being Shazam!)

Highly recommended.

 

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Century Rain

Posted: October 14, 2019 in Book reviews, Regarding writing
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by Alastair Reynolds

4c770b1828bf0238c48e0dc428755aec-w204@1x300 years in the future Earth has been rendered uninhabitable by a catastrophe known as the Nanocaust.  Verity Auger is an archaeologist whose specialty is retrieving historical items from the ruins, and she has a particular interest in Paris. After a disaster during one trip to the ruined Paris she’s offered a way to redeem herself, a once in a lifetime chance to visit a place that shouldn’t exist.

In 1959 Wendall Floyd is an American jazz musician and detective in Paris who’s been hired by the landlord of a young woman, Susan White, who died in mysterious circumstances. The police think it was an accident, the landlord believes it might be murder, and hires Floyd to get at the truth. There are few clues, but one thing Susan left behind was a bundle of documents to be passed to her sister.

Her sister’s name; Verity Auger!

There’s so much going on in this novel that at times it’s intoxicating, and much as I love Reynolds’ work, this might be my favourite of his books I’ve read so far. It takes a certain level of confidence to set a novel 300 years in the future, and simultaneously in a version of 1959. Nanotechnology, wormholes, alternate timelines, jazz, noir, space opera and one of the most original takes on time travel I’ve seen make this a treat for the senses.

The characters are great, from Floyd, the world weary gumshoe in the style of Bogart, to Auger, the restless archaeologist whose obsession with the ruined earth means more to her than her children, and various characters in both streams of the story feel alive, be it the likes of Custine and Greta in 1959, or Cassandra, the enhanced human from Auger’s world. It’s like Reynolds decided he wanted to write a space opera, but he’d also just seen Casablanca (and there are quite a few nods to Casablanca in here) and decided he wanted to write a noirish detective story as well. Rather than do one after the other he obviously decided to combine the two, with wonderful results.

As always Reynolds’ writing is superb. If the book has a flaw it’s in the length, there are huge sections—in particular a wormhole trip late on—that could have been trimmed, but he’s such a good writer I almost didn’t care. There are some elements he brings to the table too late—be warned, it’ll be 300+ pages before you find out the difference between the Threshers and the Slashers—but again this didn’t spoil my enjoyment.

Reynolds even manages to squeeze some horror in, with some truly terrifying bioweapons who look like children, until you see them close-up!

Dazzlingly original, exceptionally well written, fun, romantic and exciting I can’t recommend this highly enough, probably the most I’ve enjoyed the book for a couple of years. The only downer is that he’s said he has no plans for a sequel, which is a shame as I need more of Floyd and Auger!

Ad Astra

Posted: October 11, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by James Gray. Starring Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones.

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In the near future the solar system is hit by a succession of power surges that threaten to wipe out humanity. After almost being killed by one such surge, astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) is informed by space command that the surges may have originated from Neptune, where a mission known as the Lima Project disappeared 16 years before. The commander of the Lima project was Roy’s father H. Clifford McBride (Jones).

Roy is tasked with going to Mars to send a signal to Neptune, in the hopes that his father is still alive. His journey begins on the Moon, where he comes under attack from brigands on the lunar surface, and as he travellers on to Mars he will encounter other dangers.

Is his father still alive though, and if he is can Roy reach him in time to stop the Lima Project destroying all life in the solar system?

When the trailers came out for Ad Astra I got excited, a cerebral science fiction film that promised action as well, throw in fantastic cinematography and Brad Pitt and surely it was going to be a cracker.

What’s amazing about Ad Astra is how all those things combine to make a film that’s so inert, committing the cardinal sin of being boring, to the point that even the action scenes are dull. The fact they make little narrative sense just adds annoyance to the tedium.

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On the face of it this is Apocalypse Now in space, only instead of heading upriver to find colonel Kurtz, Roy is heading to the outermost reaches of the solar system to find his father who may or may not have gone insane. The trouble is that with any kind of quest or road movie, it’s a fine line between a journey that feels organic and one that feels like a series of lines drawn between random spots on the map, and too often it feels like the plot of driving the characters rather than the characters driving the plot.

It doesn’t help that many of the set pieces don’t make any sense. The moon buggy gun battle for example. Why does Pitt even have to take a moon buggy anyway rather than taking a shuttle to the other side of the moon? Don’t even get me started on how come the Moon seems to have Earth normal gravity. I can accept some artistic license once we reach Mars given its gravity is almost 40% of Earth, on the Moon gravity is just a little over 15%.

Once he heads into space we then have a random distress call that diverts his ship to a space station where we get another set piece, again it’s random and seems to serve no purposes other than to, presumably, pep up a script it was felt wasn’t exciting enough. Each set piece has the feel of something inserted because it was felt something had to happen, like those books that swear they can teach you to write a script (remember your inciting incident needs to happen on page 25 or you fail!)

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As the insular Roy, Pitt is very good, or at least he would be if writer/director Gray allowed him to be. Pitt’s performance is spot on, but clearly Gray didn’t have faith in his star, because why else would almost every scene of Pitt clearly struggling with his inner demons be accompanied by a voiceover where Roy explains what’s going through his head. The comparisons with First Man are startling, that too featured a closed off, insular astronaut, but whereas Damien Chazelle let Gosling’s acting do the talking, Gray feels the need to tell rather than show.

When he shows up Jones is good, he just doesn’t get nearly enough to do, and the ending is something of a damp squib, still he fares better than Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler and Ruth Negga who are all completely wasted in wafer thin roles.

The most annoying thing is that there’s the kernel of a great idea here about the existential horror of being alone in the universe, it’s just handled so poorly. I wonder if one day we might get a Blade Runner style redux; strip out the voice over, lose fifteen or twenty minutes and there might be an interesting film here, but as it stands for me this failed on pretty much every level (though it looks good). My advice, watch First Man instead.

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Downton Abbey

Posted: October 4, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Michael Engler. Starring Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton and many, many others!

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Its 1927 and the Earl and Countess of Grantham, Robert and Cora Crawley (Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern) receive word from Buckingham Palace that the King and Queen plan to come to Downton Abbey to stay during a royal tour. Whilst the news is greeted with excitement both above and below stairs, it soon becomes apparent that even though the royals are only staying one night, their visit will cause headaches for all concerned, especially when it becomes clear that the royal household’s own servants will be expecting to supplant Downton Abbey’s redoubtable staff for the duration of the stay. Throw in a potential assassination, a thief, several romantic trysts and some other assorted domestic kerfuffles, and it promises to be a very busy time for all concerned!

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So, I was never a fan of Downton when it was on TV, but I have watched the odd episode here and there, and read a few articles so I didn’t go into this blind, still I likely wasn’t as up to speed as fans will have been. Thankfully my lack of expert knowledge didn’t dent my enjoyment in the slightest because, a few minor issues aside, I found this to be a very engaging, very good film.

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The first thing to say is that a huge part of its success must be laid at the feet of Julian Fellowes. His script is a master class in squeezing dozens of characters and plotlines into a relatively short film, and not only that, but providing enough of a character sketch to allow newcomers to understand who’s who and what’s going on, without alienating existing viewers. It’s also a script that takes many clearly beloved characters and gives each his or her moment to shine. That some get more to sink their teeth into than others is probably unavoidable, what’s clear is that no one’s excluded.

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There are some missteps, a potential assassination plot winds up little more than a damp squib for instance, but on the whole,  each interweaving tale has a beginning middle and end. You could argue it doesn’t do anything really radical, except it does, and one plot involving a gay character in the 1920s is thoughtfully handled, feels very honest and isn’t the kind of hackneyed thing we might once have got. Other than that you can argue it’s a trifle predictable, but predictable isn’t always a bad thing, especially not when its done this well. I was never bored, and the script manages to be funny, sad, sweet and uplifting without ever really crossing the line into saccharine. In particular Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton are a joy to watch (as I believe they are in the show) and their snarky banter is almost worth the price of admission alone.

It’s hard to single out specific cast members, because everyone feels very at home in the characters, but aside from Smith and Wilton, Allen Leech makes for an amiable romantic lead as Tom, and Kevin Doyle gets one of the funniest moments as a starstruck footman—and the film is laugh out loud funny at times—while Robert James-Collier gets the meatiest, and in some ways sweetest, story as Barrow.

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The direction is good, and the cinematography suitably luxurious. At times, especially in the first act, the director seems a little too in love with the house, and eventually all the drone shots become a trifle wearing. On occasion it feels a little televisual, but these moments are few and far between, and as enjoyable as it is there’s something a little odd about two groups of servants bickering as posh folk luxuriate above but this never spoiled my pleasure, and again this lead to some highly amusing scenes, and credit to David Haig as the official page of the back staircase (or whatever he was).

To begin with I was wary but by the end I was enjoying myself so much that I’m now seriously thinking about binge watching the show now, and if there’s a sequel, well sign me up!

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I’d like to nail my colours to the mast, team Edith all the way, Mary can go take a running jump 😉

Rambo: Last Blood

Posted: September 30, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Adrian Grunberg. Starring Sylvester Stallone.

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Years have passed since John Rambo (Stallone) last saw combat in Burma. He now lives on a horse ranch in Arizona with an old friend Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her daughter Gabriela (Yvette Monreal). When Gabriela says she wants to visit Mexico to see her estranged father, both Maria and Rambo strongly counsel against it, but without telling them Gabriela crosses the border where she’s betrayed by an old friend and kidnapped by a group of cartel sex traffickers.

When he realises where she’s gone, Rambo crosses the border to find her, setting off a chain of violence that will see him take up arms once more, perhaps for the last time.

It’s sometimes hard to recall that First Blood was a damning anti-war film, a movie about how America chose to forget its Vietnam veterans. Of course, every Rambo film since has been very different. In the second film Rambo gets to refight Vietnam, and win this time, while in the third he teams up with the, er, Taliban to fight evil Russkies in Afghanistan. Then after a gap of 20 years Rambo returned to save some missionaries held captive by Burmese soldiers.

First film aside the franchise has always glorified violence and leaned towards jingoism, but this has, for the most part, been tempered by a certain level of comic book violence. Last Blood pitches the franchise well over the edge, a cheap and nasty exploitation flick trading in caricatures and lowest common denominator film making. I genuinely felt like I needed a shower after watching it.

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This is a film for people who thought Taken wasn’t quite grim enough when it comes to depicting the sexual exploitation of woman, a film that treats the abuse of a female character as nothing more than a plot device to get it’s titular hero mad enough to dispense some righteous anger. A film, presumably, aimed at people who vote Trump, with its depiction of Mexicans as, for the most part, vile rapists and murderers, and shows disdain for the border by having Rambo drive over it with ease. I can definitely imagine Donald getting his rocks off watching this and I’m surprised Rambo didn’t don a red baseball cap.

The violence is brutal, with a scene involving a man’s collar bone that’s especially wince inducing, and at times it isn’t an easy watch. The final act, where Rambo lures the cartel to their doom, is vaguely enjoyable, but even here the film feels flat. There’s never any sense of danger. Rambo sets some neat boobytraps and his enemies oblige him by stumbling blindly into them, before he gets final revenge against the head honcho. It reminds me somewhat of that scene in Spectre where Bond escapes Blofeld’s lair by shooting a series of henchmen who obligingly step into his sights so he can kill them one by one. It’s as if we’re watching someone play Rambo the computer game, only on easy.

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The direction of workmanlike, and there’s little or no characterisation at work here. Some vague nods to Rambo’s PTSD are quickly swept aside, and it doesn’t even have the courage of its convictions right at the end. It’s a shame given we know Stallone can do better.

The end credits are perhaps the best bit, because they showcase all the other (better) Rambo films.

Nasty, obvious trash. Avoid.

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

Posted: September 29, 2019 in James Bond
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For the first time since 1967 the same actor plays Bond for two consecutive films, Roger Moore is back and this time it’s not about Blaxploitation. Oh no, this time it’s about Kung Fu! Oh, and it’s about Bond vs Dracula too.

The Man with the Golden Gun tends to get a rough ride from fans and critics. I’m not entirely sure why. It’s not as good as Live and Let Die obviously, but for me it’s a fun Bond romp featuring an iconic villain. Not top five material sure, but hardly bottom of the pile either. Maybe it was put together too quickly, and it’s probably quite telling that this was the last time a Bond film would be churned out within a year of the last one. From here on it’s a two-year gap minimum between films, sometimes longer (yes, I am looking at you, Daniel!).

For the second time in the row Bond is absent from the pre-title sequence, well ok not entirely absent, and for the second film in a row we get to see the villain before we see Bond. Whilst this didn’t really work in Live and Let Die, here I think it’s a good narrative choice. Right from the off we get to see how dangerous Scaramanga is, even when he’s caught on the hop. In fact it’s a great bit of movie making in general, showing not telling for the most part. Scaramanga is cold eyed and deadly, Nick Nack is mischievous and duplicitous (albeit it seems with his boss’ approval) and Andrea Anders is an unhappy woman trapped in an abusive relationship. Yes, the maze isn’t really that tricky, and just why do the saloon and gangster dioramas come complete with period versions of the title song (even before we’ve heard it!)? Frankly I don’t care, I love it.

Knowing who Scaramanga is helps generate some tension when M hands 007 a golden bullet with his number on it, and Moore does allow a moment of unease to penetrate that cool exterior, not sure M’s explanation for why someone would pay a million to off Bond is entirely good man management, but his giving Bond leave to get to Scaramanga first is. Shame Bond’s going to have to put on hold his search for Gibson and the Solex Agitator…

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After the usual pleasantries with Moneypenny it’s off to Beirut for an encounter with a saucy belly dancer who has one of Scaramanga’s bullets. I think I’d always thought this scene somewhat silly (no doubt thanks to the laxative implied punchline) but watching it again the fight in Saida’s dressing room is really good. It’s brutal and Roger more than holds his own, demonstrating his physicality.

Heading back to London Q and Colthorpe (who seems a pointless inclusion) point Bond towards the Far East. From here on the film flits between Macau, Hong Kong and Thailand. His hunt for Scaramanga will see him intersect Nick Nack, Andrea Anders, an MI6 agent named Goodnight and Gibson.

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Having Scaramanga kill Gibson, and Nick Nack nick the Solex Agitattor, might seem contrived, but it actually comes together nicely, thanks to the presence of Anders. On the surface she’s a victim, a helpless woman doomed to die, but think about it, this is a woman so terrified of her lover that she concocts a really clever plan to kill him, and it works—that it works a little too later for her shouldn’t detract from the fact that far from a helpless damsel she does have some agency. Adams (in her first Bond role) does well in the part. Roger slapping her around works less well, perhaps a holdover from Connery.

goodnightAs the other, in fact main, Bond girl, Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight gets a lot of stick, and usually winds up bottom of most Bond girl lists. Again this is a trifle unfair. Is Ekland the best actor in the world? Hardly, but let’s be honest a large proportion of Bond girls are equally wooden. Yes you can argue she’s a bit klutzy, but damn at least she tries. Getting dumped into Scaramanga’s car is stupid, but trying to bug it is hardly a bad idea, and how’s she to know knocking a guy into liquid helium will blow up the island? Instead of focusing on that, let’s consider this is a woman taking matters into her own hands to take out a creepy guy who has clearly unsavoury designs on her. Yes she’s something of an idiot at the solex controls and she does seem a trifle too obsessed with shagging Bond (but maybe this is a field agent bucket list thing, and she does seem to treat it as more of a notch on the bedpost than anything romantic) but for some reason she’s grown on me, Ekland is gorgeous, but more than this I found myself amused by her increasingly flouncy indignation at failing to shag 007!

The film perhaps loses its way in the middle section, some of the Thailand scenes are a trifle offensive, though in fairness the most racist character in the film is the returning JW Pepper, and he is portrayed as a blustering idiot so who has the last laugh (that elephant really). I liked Clifton James in Live and Let Die, but he has no reason to be in this film, and even less to somehow end up in a car chase with Bond (although you have to love that “You’re that English secret agent…from England!”) and the film really would have been better off without him. He is of course involved in one of the films missteps, though it’s not really his fault. The car jump across the river, designed by computer, is stunning, but completely undercut by that stupid slide whistle. I’m really not a fan of films being messed with after the fact, but I’m still amazed this has never been removed.

The karate bits of somewhat silly as well. Moore handles himself better than I remembered, but he still looks more the part brawling with thugs in Beirut than he does going toe to toe with trained martial artists. The high kicking schoolgirls are fun, but again it seems somewhat ridiculous they could take out that many.

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Luckily many flaws are covered over by our villains. Christopher Lee is great, and Scaramanga is very different to Dracula, much more playful, albeit a very cold playfulness. Still not sure having a one shot pistol is the greatest idea, but Lee always manages to seem in control, and he and Moore have some great scenes together. It’s clear Scaramanga admires Bond, yet also feels he’s his inferior. Pretty sure Bond wouldn’t be foolish enough to leave a real PPK in a wax dummy’s hand, however.

Lee also has some great scenes with Hervé Villechaize as Nick Nack, who’s a wonderful counterpoint to Scaramanga, and the two make for an amusing, yet dangerous double act. Whatever you think of this film you can’t help but like the pair of them, and Nick Nack’s another rare example of a henchman surviving, even if Goodnight thinks Bond’s tossed him overboard. Nick Nack does seem quite angry at the end, is this because he loved Scaramanga really, or just because Bond and Goodnight blew up the lavish home he was about to inherit!

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Roger is great, although this might be one of the last times he’s quite so brutal, and while for the most part he stays the right side of charm/smarm, on occasion he shows glimmers of where he’ll eventually end up. Telling Goodnight her turn will come soon being the prime example. Damn the man was so wonderful I can pretty much forgive him most things though.

As is so often the case, the set design is wonderful. From Scaramanga’s off kilter maze, to MI6’s similarly canted secret base aboard the wreck of the Queen Elizabeth. Scaramanga’s gun is a wonderful bit of design as well.

As for the title track, Lulu gets as much stick as the film, but you know what? I really like the song. It’s trashy and obvious, but incredibly catchy.

It sags a bit in places, and a few of the set pieces are a bit ropy, the thrill-less boat chase for example, but this is still a really fun film for me.

Next up, Russia’s top agent, XXX, who I can only presume is a bloke…

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The Last

Posted: September 5, 2019 in Book reviews, Post-Apocalyptic
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by Hanna Jameson

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When World War 3 hits it takes everyone by surprise, not least the patrons of the remote L’Hotel Sixieme in Switzerland. As the bombs fall some leave, embarking on doomed attempts to try and get to a plane, to try and get home.

America historian Jon Keller decides to stay, despite the fact he has a wife and child home in America. Fearing they’re dead he decides to start a journal recounting the aftermath of the apocalypse. He is one of twenty or so survivors who remain at the hotel, a mix of staff and former guests, men, women and children from of varying nationalities.

With no news from the outside world, and with supplies finite, the group struggle to survive, but when the body of a small child is found in one of the rooftop water tanks, and it becomes apparent she was murdered just as the missiles began to fly, Jon begins an obsessive investigation to find out who killed her. Millions are dead but Jon’s desire for justice will see him risk his life to find her killer.

It has to be said, The Last has a killer hook, and the book design makes great use of it, from the stylised cover—reminiscent of the Grand Budapest Hotel I thought—to comparisons with Agatha Christie, but whilst enjoyable this does suffer from false advertising, and it also struggles in knowing what kind of book it wants to be.

Firstly, despite allusions to the contrary, this isn’t some post-apocalyptic ‘And Then There Were None’ with characters being bumped off every few chapters, and though technically a whodunnit really it functions better as a drama or thriller, and here’s it’s other flaw, Jameson’s concept is sky high, but she doesn’t seem quite sure where to take it, and after a while the search for a killer gives way to a struggle for survival, which is fine, anyone who knows me knows I love a good tale of post-apocalyptic survival, but I think if this had been better plotted it could have been something truly fantastic.

It seems churlish to complain because I liked it a lot. Jameson’s prose is good, and her narrator Jon Keller feels real, flawed and not always the nicest guy, and not always a reliable narrator either. Certainly, Jameson kept me turning pages and I was always eager to keep reading.

There are too many characters, and some get little more than a thumbnail sketch (in fact some get no screen time at all) and whilst some have interesting backstories, the profusion of characters was a little confusing at times (there’s a Nathan and Adam and a Rob but I had trouble telling them apart at times, and aside from Keller, the hotel concierge Dylan, and two women Tomi and Tania (those names really should have been better thought out) in many ways the hotel is one of the more notable characters; part Grand Budapest, part Overlook, and Jameson even tries to inject a supernatural element, though it’s oblique. Sometimes it feels there are a few too many ideas thrown at the wall here.

The final act is a bit of a let-down and veers away from what’s gone before, but I still really enjoyed it, would recommend it and will certainly consider reading Jameson again.