Archive for October, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok

Posted: October 31, 2017 in Film reviews

Directed by Taika Waititi. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo and SIR Anthony Hopkins.


It’s clubbering time!

Following on from the end of Thor: The Dark World, and the God of Thunder has been searching without success for the Infinity Stones. After an encounter with a fire demon, and with visions of Ragnarok (the Asgard apocalypse myth) haunting him, Thor (Hemsworth) decides to go home, little realising that his adoptive brother Loki (Hiddleston) has deposed their father Odin (Hopkins) and is masquerading as the old man.

Thor quickly sees through Loki’s disguise, but when the brothers travel to Earth to find Odin, a tragic event has far reaching consequences as Hela (Blanchett) the goddess of death is released from her millennia of captivity and sets her sights on seizing the throne of Asgard. Thor tries to stop her but during battle he’s cast out into space and crashes on the planet Sakaar where the dictator Grandmaster (Goldblum) decides Thor’s future lies in the arena, and his first fight is scheduled against the Grandmaster’s champion, a large, angry green creature who Thor recognises…

Will Thor escape from the arena, and even if he does can he hope to stand against the Goddess of Death herself?


Everyone knew Hulk’s obsession with Roman cosplay had gone too far…but no one wanted to be the one to tell him!

If I’m honest Thor has never captured my attention in the way certain other Avengers have, and whilst the first Thor film was enjoyable enough (especially when Thor made it to Earth and went from pompous git to loveable fool) Thor: The Dark World was a major let-down. It’s pleasing to report therefore, that not only is Ragnarok the best Thor film of the three, but it might well be argued that it’s one of the better Marvel films altogether.

The problem has never been Hemsworth, who’s always played the God of Thunder with gusto, or Hiddleston who has Loki’s slithery nature down to a tee now, it’s just that neither of the previous Thor films quite did them justice, and probably the best Thor/Loki film before now was the first Avengers film.

It’s hard to argue that much of Ragnarok’s success is down to a change of tone, and some very assured direction by New Zealander Waititi, who not only does a bang-up job behind the camera, but also threatens to steal the show in front of it with his amusing turn as Korg, one of Thor’s fellow gladiators. It seems Waititi allowed for a lot of improvisation, and whilst this can work against a film, especially one aiming for a lot of laughs, in this case, and backed up by a witty script, it works wonders.

Remember I said there was a shift in tone? Well it basically comes down to Ragnarok being an awful lot funnier than previous Thor films. Which isn’t to suggest it doesn’t have its dark moments, there’s death and destruction aplenty, but this film feels more like another Guardians of the Galaxy  than Captain America: Civil War.

In some ways it’s surprising it’s taken them this long. For all his brooding muscled handsomeness, it’s easy to miss what wonderful comic timing Hemsworth has (see the Ghostbusters reboot for further details) and he’s always happy to have the Michael taken out of himself. Thor is kinda arrogant, but he also seems to realise he’s arrogant, and this never puts you off because any time it does Hemsworth will perform a slapstick pratfall worthy of Buster Keaton.


I know at least one person who’d quite like to find Tom in this position!

Similarly Hiddleston gets to play, well if not the hero per se, then at least someone slightly less villainous than before, although the character is never diluted too far, and even in his more heroic moments its clear he’s only in it for himself…mostly.

It’s hardly a spoiler to say that Hulk is in the film, and once again Ruffalo proves (much like Scarlett Johansson) that it’s a crying shame he hasn’t had his own movie yet, and given Thor and Banner haven’t shared that much screen time together there’s an easy chemistry between them that’s wonderful to behold.


Ok, Tessa, slow motion walk towards the camera please.

New to the party is Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, and she kicks some serious butt, both in her verbal and physical sparring and one hopes we’ll see a lot more of her. The trailer may have made it look like she was just a glorified extra added in to bulk up the numbers, but she’s anything but.

As Grandmaster, Goldblum is, well he’s Jeff Goldblum so you know what you’re going to get, and he has to be one of the most laidback evil dictators you’ll ever meet! As Hela, Blanchett is the complete opposite. Exuding deadliness and sexiness in equal measure she owns the screen every time she’s on it, it’s just a shame we don’t see more of her to be honest.


Careful Karl, cos she’s horny; horny, horny, horny!

Karl Urban’s Skurge is a relatively minor character, but as he always does Urban wrings every last drop of charisma from his script and much like Hela it’s a shame we don’t see more of him. He also gets one of the standout moments of the film.

Somewhat less well served is Elba as Heimdall, although he does get more to do than just twirling a sword to open the Bifrost this time at least.

As sparkling as the characters and witticisms are, the design of the film is great too, from its somewhat eclectic soundtrack, which feels like a 1980s synth sci-fi film in places, to the spaceship designs, which look like they were ripped from the front covers of a whole heap of 1970s and 1980s classic science fiction novels, Thor is a visual and auditory wonder. It’s not Blade Runner 2049 by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still pretty glorious.

If I were to pick faults you can argue that however good Blanchett is, Hela always seems a bit of a two dimensional villain, and yes the cameo early on for another Marvel superhero does seem a trifle superfluous (though it is quite amusing) and I guess you could argue that for all that it’s a lot of fun there isn’t much behind that…but screw it, sometimes you don’t need anything more than a whole lot of fun, and Thor: Ragnarok is so darn enjoyable that you barely notice its flaws.

It was a curious, and possibly brave, choice by Marvel to essentially give us two Guardian of the Galaxy films in the same year, but you can’t argue it hasn’t paid dividends. Don’t ask me to decide which one I prefer however, because I think I’m going to need to see them both again before I can decide—if I even can!

So Ragnarok, Thor blimey its good!

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“Oh hey, look, it’s Paul’s readers. Hi Paul’s readers.” (You totally read that with Jeff’s voice in your head didn’t you?)

Earlier in the year I entered a sci-fi short story competition hosted by the National Space Centre in collaboration with Literary Leicester Festival, and I found out a few weeks ago that I’d been chosen as the runner up in the 16+ category!

I’ll be presented with my prize, and read a short excerpt from my story, on the 18th November (and hopefully will be able to post some pics) but until then if you’d like to read my story it’s free to read on the National Space Centre website so just follow the link HERE and enjoy!

Blade Runner 2049

Posted: October 21, 2017 in Film reviews, science fiction

Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford.


“Aren’t you a little short for a Blade Runner?”

After concerns about Nexus 8 Replicants rebelling against their human masters, such artificial lifeforms were outlawed, only to be replaced by the far more compliant Nexus 9 models. Still many Nexus 8, and earlier models, still exist and must be hunted down. K (Gosling) is a Blade Runner working for the LAPD and specifically for Lt. Joshi (an excellent Robin Wright). After tracking down a rogue Nexus 8 named Sapper Morton (the always great Dave Bautista) K stumbles upon a thirty-year-old mystery, and investigating this mystery will lead him towards a former Blade Runner who’s been in hiding. A man named Rick Deckard…

Ok first things first. This will be, as much as possible, a spoiler free review.

Secondly. I found the first half an hour or so of this film hard going. On the up side this left another 2 ¼ hours that I loved (and I suspect on second viewing it’ll be the whole film I love.)

The notion of a sequel to 1982’s cult classic has always seemed a shaky proposition, especially once you factor in Ridley Scott’s involvement and the fact that his attempts to reinvigorate another film franchise he started have been somewhat ropey to say the least (the best things you can say about Prometheus and Covenant is that they look pretty, and that Michael Fassbender’s a good actor working with terrible material).

What gave me hope was the presence in the director’s chair of Villeneuve. His last two films were Scicario and Arrival, and if you’ve read my reviews you’ll know I loved ‘em both.  Villeneuve is a very good director, and in partnership once more with cinematographer Roger Deakins (whom he worked with on Scicario) and working with a script cowritten by Hampton Fancher (one of the original’s screenwriters) he has achieved that most rare of things, a decades later sequel that’s actually very good.

Be under no illusions, Blade Runner 2049 is better than it has any right to be. The filmmakers have crafted a visually stunning masterpiece here that feels utterly like a continuation of Blade Runner, whilst telling a much broader story.

The scope and attention to detail here are amazing. Earlier in the year Ghost in the Shell looked pretty, but it was hollow, little more than painted facade. Blade Runner 2049 is the real deal, portraying a fully rounded future world that utterly convinces as an evolution of LA in 2019.

Which is not to suggest that the film is all style and no substance. It’s true the script may not quite live up to the visuals, but that doesn’t mean it’s a failure, and the film has a lot to say about the nature of humanity, about belief, truth, memory, sacrifice and specifically about slavery.


La La Land 2049 took everyone by surprise.


Ryan Gosling is superb, initially playing K very enigmatically (much like his eponymous Driver) gradually he lets the walls come down as time and truths break down K’s psyche. He’s a very different kind of Blade Runner to Deckard, although they share the same melancholic loneliness, only in K’s case it’s mitigated somewhat be his “relationship” with Joi (Ana de Armas) his holographic AI girlfriend. It’s testament to the script and de Armas’ performance that Joi feels more human than some of the human characters, but it’s never forgotten that she is as much a slave as any replicant.

Of course K isn’t the only Blade Runner here, because there’s the return of Harrison Ford (hardly a spoiler unless you’ve managed to avoid any poster or trailer in the last few months!). Harrison’s enjoying a bit of a renaissance lately is fair, and it is odd that he’s returning to franchises he had distanced himself from for so long, but it’s great to see him back here, even if it isn’t quite as lump in the throat inducing as his return as Han.


“That’s not how replicants work!”

If there’s an issue with Ford it’s mainly down to him not being in the film as much as you might have hoped, although it’s way more than a fleeting cameo appearance and he is integral to the plot. He takes grizzled to a whole new level and he and Gosling bounce well off each other. He also gets the chance to properly act when…well, that’d be telling.

Rounding out the cast are Jered Leto, who isn’t terrible, but is saddled with a somewhat two-dimensional villain role. Thankfully he isn’t in it much. Much more present is Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) an unstoppable replicant enforcer who makes Roy Batty look like a fluffy bunny. Hoeks is superb, scary and menacing yet capable of charm as well, though it’s a shame a certain emotional affectation is never really explained.


“All right, Luv, no need to get angry. You can have another drink.”

I won’t go into the plot too much, except that to say this is a film that did manage to surprise me a couple of times, and one rug pull in particular I did not see coming.

There have been complaints that the film is misogynistic and objectifies women, and whilst I can see where these arguments are coming from, I think the film is far more nuanced than initial appearances suggest. There are multiple strong female characters, and whilst in many cases they’re slaves lacking true free will, it can be argued that pretty much every character in the film, from human to replicant to AI hologram, is a slave to something, be it only an idea, and even Leto’s Niander Wallace is enslaved to the idea of progress.

The notion of free will is prevalent throughout, and whilst the film obviously riffs on the original Blade Runner, these riffs are expertly done, and echo the past without plagiarising it. The film also owes a lot to other sources, from obvious ones like the story of Pinocchio, to more left field influences; there’s more than a passing nod to Dickens here, especially in the form of an orphanage owner played by Lennie James who evokes Oliver Twist’s Mr Bumble, even down to his outfit.

It’s a long film, but I can honestly say that I didn’t want it to end, so immersed in the world had I become. Quite possibly one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen, and the sound design is equally impressive, with Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score again evoking Vangelis without copying him.

Beautiful and heartrending, Blade Runner is a triumph and easily one of my top three films of the year. Go see it!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a wasp crawling on my arm…


By 2049 you’ll have to go a long way to find a parking space.


Pulp Fiction

Posted: October 17, 2017 in Book reviews


By Quentin Tarantino

Jules and Vincent are hired killers, Butch is a punch-drunk boxer with one last pay day ahead of him. Marcellus Wallace is a crime boss who only likes to be fucked by Mrs Wallace, and Mrs Wallace, well she wants to dance, she wants to win, and maybe she wants a hit of what she thinks is cocaine.

Over the space of a few days their lives will intersect, and not everyone will get out of this story alive.

Reading a script is a lot different to reading a novel. For starters they tend to be a much quicker read—realistically you should be able to read a script in the time it takes you to watch the completed film. A script is a story boiled down to its constituent elements, with every ounce of fat trimmed from a story’s bones.

There’s a rush to reading a script, especially a good script, and whatever his faults—and I think he has a few—reading the script to Pulp Fiction is a salient reminder that Mr Quentin Tarantino has (had?) a huge amount of talent.

I’ve watched Pulp Fiction dozens of times, and I’ve always thought it is a fantastic film (and it remains to this day my favourite QT film) but even so reading the script has made me love it more.

Weaving multiple narratives, back and forth in time, Tarantino produced an elegant, finely tuned story that even on the page makes perfect sense, grabs you by the scruff of the neck and gives you no choice but to come along for the ride.

And what a ride it is.

Tarantino’s dialogue crackles with electricity, each individual conversation sparks more vividly than entire screenplays by other writers. Sure, there’s an argument that all of his characters sound kinda the same, but when the dialogue is this good, and when it’s back before he began believing his own hype, who damn well cares?

This was bought me as a birthday present by friends because I’d told them I was contemplating trying my hand at screenplays, and if you’re going to learn why not learn from the best. There’s a reason this script won an Oscar after all.

It’s interesting as well to catch sight of bits that didn’t make the final film, either because they were excised completely, or because they were reworked during filming (and I have to say this was always for the better).

Pulp Fiction’s a great film, and the script was a great (not to mention educational) read.

Although mention of Harvey Weinstein in the credits is more than a little sobering mind you…


Posted: October 10, 2017 in Book reviews

By Alastair Reynolds


It’s Tens of thousands of years in the future, yet humanity prevail, living within the Congregation, what was once the solar system, only now planets have been long shattered, and the Congregation consists of millions of tiny outposts. Moons and planetoids and space stations. It’s roughly the eighteenth century of the 13th occupation and, in order to try and save their family from bankruptcy, teenage sisters Adrana and Fura Ness have signed on aboard a sun-jammer captained by a man named Rakamore. Rakamore’s ship is one of hundreds that make a living by cracking ‘baubles’, planetoids surrounded by impenetrable force fields that, every so often when the conditions are right, become accessible, allowing those brave, or foolhardy, enough to approach time to scavenge for ancient technology.

It’s a perilous enough way to earn a living, but there are even worse dangers out there in the void between worlds, notably the legendary, and extremely vicious, pirate, Bosa Sennen, and when Rackamore crosses paths with Sennen’s night-jammer all hell will break lose, and Fura Ness will have to grow up fast if she’s to save herself, her sister, and her crewmates.

So, apparently this is a young adult book, which I only discovered once I’d finished reading it. I have to say that nothing in the novel screamed YA at me, aside from the young age of its protagonist, Fura Ness, but a teenage hero does not necessarily a young adult book mean, and as far as I was concerned it was an adult novel (but maybe that’s how the best YA should work). Anyway, there’s no foul language or explicit sexual content, however the book is quite bloodthirsty in places.

Whether it’s YA or not is irrelevant. All I know is that I really enjoyed it!

Sure, it took me a few chapters to acclimatise to the universe Reynolds has created here, but once I did I was well and truly hooked. A few silly missteps aside (the police have flashing blue epaulets!) the Congregation and those that populate it are fascinating. By hurling humanity so far into the future Reynolds has carte blanche to create a world at once very different from our own, yet also very similar.

At its core this is a tale of pirates and buried treasure, complete with piratical dialogue that manages to sit just the right side of yo-ho-ho parody, but Reynolds also finds time to drop in a subplot about nefarious banking practices and a wider story about aliens that I’m guessing will be picked up in any sequel, and I really hope there is a sequel because I definitely want to follow more adventures of Fura Ness.

The first-person narrative does limit the story sometimes, and lots of things happen off camera, but by letting Fura tell the story we see how she grows from a naïve young girl into a hardened spacefarer, and this also provides Reynolds with an excuse to explain the minutiae of the universe he’s created, since Fura and her sister had a sheltered upbringing.

If the book has one fault it’s that some of the secondary characters seem a bit interchangeable. Fura serves on several ships and at times I wanted to have a better handle on her crewmates, and sometimes I had to flick back to remember who a certain character was.

That’s a minor quibble though, because on the whole this was a hugely enjoyable story with a great central character and, like I say, I’d like to see future voyages of the Revenger!


Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Posted: October 5, 2017 in Film reviews

Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Starring Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore and Mark Strong.


It’s ok. I’ll take the next ski-lift.

It’s been a year since Eggsy (Egerton) saved the world and became a fully-fledged Kingsman, taking on the codename Galahad, which had been his mentor Harry (Firth) Hart’s. He’s now working full time as an agent, and is living with Tilde (Hanna Alström) the crown princess of Sweden who he rescued at the end of the first film (and who had a rather novel way of, ahem, rewarding him for saving the world!)

An encounter with an old foe at first seems like nothing more than a case of attempted revenge, but it soon becomes clear that a larger plot is at hand orchestrated by Poppy Adams (Moore) head of the Golden Circle, a huge drug cartel. All too soon the Kingsman suffer major losses, and for Eggsy and Merlin (Strong) the only hope lies in contacting a secret American intelligence agency known as Statesman, whose front is a whisky distillery in Kentucky. When Poppy’s diabolical scheme is revealed the head of Statesman, Champagne (Jeff Bridges) throws the full weight of his agency behind the Englishmen, including assigning agent Tequila (Channing Tatum) and tech specialist Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) to help. There’s also assistance to be had from an old friend that no one expected to see again.

But not everyone is eager to stop Poppy’s plan, so can Eggsy save the day again, and can he maintain a relationship with Tilde whilst still undertaking some of the dirtier aspects of his job as a spy?


First off let’s state the obvious. The Golden Circle is nowhere near as good a film as The Secret Service was. That said, this is nowhere near the disaster some critics have suggested it is, though it is amazing that a film with so many flaws can still be hugely enjoyable.

It’s a bloated film though, and riding on the back of the initial film’s huge 2015 success Vaughn has secured a bigger budget, and seems to have spent a lot of it on hiring a huge retinue of famous faces, many of whom feature prominently in the film’s marketing yet don’t feature so heavily in the actual film. The worst example of this is Tatum, and if you’re a fan of the guy (and I’ve liked him in most things I’ve seen him in) then prepare for disappointment because he’s barely in the film at all—though there is an interesting tease at the end which suggests we may see more of him next time out. Bridges and Berry get more screen time, but neither is exactly integral to the plot. Bridges just hams it up and basically just gives orders, and Berry gets little more to do than provide Merlin with someone to talk to.


“Sorry, we’re in the film five minutes and get paid how much?”

Yes much as with the first film, the female characters do tend to come off badly, from Berry to poor old Roxy (shunted off on a weather balloon in the first film she fares even worse here) and though it’s nice to see some continuity with the return of Tilde, she doesn’t get much to do either.

Thankfully Julianne Moore gets much more to sink her teeth into as Poppy, a deranged mastermind with a penchant for 1950s Americana and a chip on her shoulder because drugs get a bum rap compared to booze and fags.

There’s a nice performance from Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones’ Oberyn Martell) as Statesman Whisky (who’s arguably the most prominent Statesman screen time wise) and though some have sneered, I found the low-key performance from newcomer Reginald Dwight quite fun.


A gentleman always keeps his gun dry.

The heart of the film, as before is the relationship between Eggsy and Harry, and yes it’s a spoiler, but given they’ve plastered Colin Firth all over the trailers and the posters, I’d be amazed if anyone went in and was surprised to see Harry back from the dead. I won’t go into details about how he’s resurrected. Suffice to say it’s ridiculous, but Egerton, Firth and Strong collectively make it work, and frankly given how cool Harry Hart is, I’m tempted to give the filmmakers a bye.

Egerton continues to impress as Eggsy, switching effortlessly between working class kid from the wrong side of the tracks and debonair superspy with nary a missed beat. He has an effortless natural charm that makes him difficult not to root for. As for Firth his charm is far more practiced, but no less affecting, and I could watch the two of them all day.

Which is just as well given some of the places the film goes.

Yes, it’s time to talk about Glastonbury.

Anyone who’s seen the first film will remember the bit at the end, what was seen as an offensive misstep by many. Now I’ve gone out to bat for that scene a few times. It’s not that I think it’s funny, and it isn’t that I think the film needs it, but in what is essentially a Roger Moore Bond film turned up to eleven, there is a certain logic to the film finishing like a Moore Bond, only more so.

I have no desire to defend the Glastonbury scene. If the bum joke straddled the line then what happens in the yurt here crosses the line. As the wise philosopher Joey from Friends so eloquently put it. “You crossed the line, in fact you’re so far past the line you can’t even see it anymore. The line is a dot to you!” It’s gross and offensive and effectively features sexual assault. Of course, all the Bonds have seduced women to gain an edge over the years, but there’s something especially icky here, taking the juvenility of Austin Powers and turning it up to eleven, and if what happens in Glasto stays in Glasto, and I was able to set it aside and enjoy the remainder of the film, be under no illusions that this was down to masterful direction or nuanced writing. No, it was down to Egerton’s performance.

I look forward to Kingsman 3, I just hope Vaughn doesn’t feel the need to outdo himself once again, because he doesn’t need to do it. He has a great cast and a fun universe. Which doesn’t mean I want him to play it safe, he just needs someone to point out when he’s gone too far. Frankly I’d expect screenwriter Jane Goldman to do just that.

It’s too long and too baggy, and shoehorns way too many big names in to no great effect, but with Egerton and Firth on top form, and with a slew of exciting set pieces this is an enjoyable romp. I just hope Vaughn tones down the mysoginy, celeb cameos and too new the knuckle (literally) stuff next time out. I’m nowhere near being tired of Eggsy and Harry, but I might be a lot closer to being tired of Vaughn!


That’s not a Mark Strong. This is a Mark Strong.