Archive for October, 2020


Posted: October 24, 2020 in Book reviews, horror

At first look an anthology of horror stories set in the Warhammer universe seems a slightly odd decision, if only because for the Warhammer universe horror is second nature. 40K depicts a universe embroiled in near constant war, a galaxy filled with weird and deadly alien races, where even humans are not immune from the eldritch horrors of chaos that reside in the warp.

A second glance tells a different tale. Freed from the broad strokes of war, of horror on an industrial scale, this anthology allows horror to permeate on a more forensic level, less a meat grinder than a scalpel.

As with all anthologies the quality of the tales varies, and likely stories I liked others might not, and vice versa, but there’s something here for everyone, from visceral bloody horror, to more nuanced, psychological torment.

The highlight for me was Predation of the Eagle by Peter McLean, a gritty survival horror set on a humid jungle planet where the members of a platoon of Imperial Guard are picked off one by one by a relentless enemy. With more than a nod to Predator, there’s an overriding Apocalypse Now, war is hell feel to it. It might not have been the most original story in the book, but it was the most enjoyable.

I also particularly enjoyed The Marauder Lives by JC Stearns, a story of PTSD and how one can never escape the horror of one’s past as a former prisoner of war struggles to come to terms with what she endured.

The past catching up to characters is a popular theme, yet each tale that goes down this route does it very differently. Take Triggers by Paul Kane, which again centres on a character haunted by the past, but which tells a quite different kind of story in more of a Tales from the Crypt style.

Not every story features war, there are stories that could have just as easily been set in a Cornish fishing village, feudal Japan, or the sewers beneath Victorian London.

The big question is whether this is a horror anthology for everyone, or merely for fans of Warhammer’s various universes. Yes, knowing something of the wider context helped me to appreciate some stories, but my knowledge of 40K isn’t encyclopaedic by any means, and I think for most of the stories the wider backstory is just that, backstory, local colour of the kind you might get in any standalone fantastical story. There’s even an argument that a lack of knowledge might allow you to enjoy these stories even more, simply because you don’t have something to anchor them to.

A decent anthology for horror fans and Warhammer fans alike.

Die Another Day (2002)

Posted: October 18, 2020 in James Bond

The first Bond film of the 21st Century, Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as 007 and, if the vast majority of fans are to be believed, the worst Bond film of all time…

Cards on the table here, in my opinion it’s not the worst Bond film, not remotely. Is it good, no, but it’s fun at least, in places.

The film opens in North Korea, with Bond and some allies infiltrating the world’s most secretive nation via…er surf boards (on the upside at least they don’t play the Beachboys!)

Bond replaces a diamond trader and meets with Colonel Moon who wants to trade weapons for conflict diamonds. Bond’s placed plastic explosive in the case of diamonds though, and obviously plans to set it off once he’s safely out of the way. Unfortunately for Bond, Moon’s right-hand man, Zao, is tipped off that 007 is, well, 007! His allies are killed, and Bond is set to be executed.

Lucky he has that plastic explosive, eh? In the chaos following the explosion Bond hijacks a hovercraft and chases Moon down. Eventually they end up fighting atop Moon’s hovercraft. The vehicle goes over a cliff, along with Moon, while Bond is saved by the bell.

And then Bond’s captured, thrown in a North Korean prison and tortured.

Wait, what now?

Let’s be honest, even as someone who kinda likes DAD, I accept it’s incredibly flawed, which is all the more annoying when it does things like this. Bond captured, not something we’ve seen before, certainly  not for the length of time he’s held here (fourteen months), which is surprising given this has happened to Bond in the books (between You Only Live Twice and The Man With the Golden Gun.)

Eventually Bond is released as part of a prisoner exchange that sees Zao, still sporting the diamonds blown into his face, go the other way. It’s a great scene, reminiscent more of John le Carré than Fleming. There’s no hero’s welcome waiting for him, there’s a familiar face in Charles Robinson but an unfriendly welcome as he’s drugged.

He wakes up under guard, and M arrives to tell him the reason for his release was because they believed he was haemorrhaging information. Bond says he’s been set up, but M’s not convinced. What’s a 00 to do? Bond escapes and swims to Hong Kong, after a run in with Chinese secret service he’s off to Cuba on the trail of Zao. There he’ll meet an intriguing young woman named Jinx. Eventually the trail leads back to England and a mysterious entrepreneur named Gustav Graves. What is Graves’ link to Zao, and where does his sun focusing satellite fit in? One thing’s for sure, Bond will need his wits about him, and an invisible car…

Okay let’s get the car out of the way from the off. Is it silly, undoubtedly, is it based on theoretical technology, well yup. I mean silly is Bond’s middle name, and is an invisible car any less believable than a hollowed-out volcano or a space station?

This is a film of two halves though, and the first is really rather good. I think some people just focus on the second half and forget the good stuff that’s gone before.

The pre-title sequence feels a little like a rehash of Tomorrow Never Dies, but is still good, and the ending, segueing into the titles where we see Bond tortured is, as said, great stuff, even if you can’t imagine Bond would really keep schtum for 14 months. I don’t care who you are, they’d have likely broken him in a matter of weeks.

The scene on the bridge is wonderfully eerie, and there’s some nice acting from Pierce because Bond clearly thinks this is it, he’s about to be executed.

Bond’s newfound ability to simulate death comes out of nowhere, but I guess he had a lot of time on his hands in North Korea, but his escape is fun. Nowhere near as joyous as a soaking wet, bearded and bedraggled Bond in pyjamas swanning into a luxury hotel like he owns the place and asking for his usual suite. With the Bond theme playing over the top this is one of my all-time favourite Bond moments.

Soon he’s groomed and back to his old self, just in time to rumble Chinese intelligence’s plot to film him having sex with a woman. (On a side note here why do foreign intelligence services imagine that having compromising film of 007 In flagrante would be, well, compromising? Shagging is what he does, no one’s going to be surprised at him making love to a beautiful woman).

That aside the interplay between him and Mr Chang is lovely.

Then off to Cuba, and a nice bit of espionage as Bond reawakens a sleeper agent, the owner of a cigar factory. Nice reference to the bird watching book Fleming got the name James Bond from.

Things dip somewhat when Halle Berry comes out of the water. The seduction scene between Bond and Jinx is painfully clunky, but not as painful as the sex scene that follows.

Things perk up as Bond and Jinx, unbeknownst to one another, infiltrate the Isla de Los Organos, where evil Cuban doctors are using gene therapy to provide the ultimate makeovers (again something less believable than an invisible car but nobody bats an eyelid).

Bond finds Zao, who looks to be on the verge of being turned into a copy of Gustav Graves (though I’m pretty sure they’re completely different hights.) They fight but Zao escapes after Jinx blows up the building. She then escapes by jumping off the cliff—the first, but sadly not the last bit of ropey CGI we’re going to have to put up with.

Bond’s return to London and back to MI6 is nicely done, the scenes in the underground laying the groundwork for Skyfall onwards? Even Cleese isn’t that annoying here. The least said about the VR simulation the better though (it’s painful and again, more believable than an invisible car apparently?).

Die Another Day (2002) L to R: Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Madonna and Pierce Brosnan

Bond’s first (or should that be second?) meeting with Graves is a doozy. Try and forget Madonna’s wooden acting and just marvel at the inventiveness of that sword fight. One of the best fights of the franchise for me, and while some are sniffy about Toby Stephens, for me he’s a good Bond villain, a chameleon switching from sneering villain to harmless posh boy in the blink of a eye, with that bubbling rage we saw in Moon always simmering beneath the surface.

I like the ice palace, but Mr Kil might be one of the feeblest henchmen names ever. Bond’s escape from Graves, once he finds out he’s Moon is good, and for the second film in a row a woman betrays him.

Not sure why he runs for the jet car, where’s he planning on going? And of course, this leads to the worst CGI of all, you’d think 1996’s Escape from LA might have convinced people that CGI surfing looks bloody awful, but apparently not. Thankfully this is made up for somewhat by a fun car chase between 007 and Zao, who has a car that’s every bit as tricked out as Bond’s—nice use of the ejector seat there James, and thanks to the invisible car he gets the upper hand.

Cue a drab finale aboard a transport plane, and much as I like Graves, putting him in that exo-suit is just plain silly, and why go up in a plane anyway? Doesn’t that make him more vulnerable to attack? Like many things in this film it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Nice fight between Jinx and Miranda Frost though.

And then the worst bit in a film full of worst bits, as Moneypenny shags Bond in VR. Forget for a moment that it doesn’t make a heap of sense; it devalues the character completely. Awful, awful moment.

I feel somewhat sorry for Brosnan, he got to make four Bond films but realistically only one of them is classic. Sorry, but beyond Goldeneye it’s like they didn’t quite know what to do with him. He was a good Bond and he deserved better.

As I said I think Tony Stephens is a great Bond villain, he just doesn’t always get the best material to work with.

I like Halle Berry (she’s great in John Wick 3) but she isn’t a great Bond girl. Jinx has no real character beyond ‘sassy’ so she doesn’t get much chance to shine. Still heck of a thing to point out that the Bond girls here include an Oscar winner and an Oscar nominee.

Rosamund Pike gets some stick, but I think she does perfectly well with what she’s given. Controversial maybe but I’d suggest she has a better character than Berry does. Plus, she’s gorgeous, especially in that final fight.

As Zao Rick Yune is good, if a little paper thin, though I like that he has good chemistry with both Stephens and Will Yun Lee who does a good job laying the groundwork as Colonel Moon in the pre-title sequence.

Dench gets some nice scenes as M but nothing like as good as she got in TWINE, and while I can see why they didn’t want to use Jack Wade as the connection to US intelligence, Michael Madsen seems hopelessly miscast as Falco. Nice to see Colin Salmon get some gunplay (albeit virtually) and Kenneth Tsang is good value as General Moon, showing genuine affection for his son, even when his son is clearly a raving lunatic.

Some complain that the film was a little homage heavy, but it was the 20th. There are lots of call-backs in Q’s lab of course, the birdwatching book, several less than subtle riffs on Diamonds are Forever, Graves’ using a Union Jack parachute, Berry doing Andress etc. And some subtle ones I hadn’t even realised; Roger Moore’s daughter is the air hostess who brings Bond his drink.

Lee Tamahori’s direction isn’t bad, and the film trots along at a decent pace, it might annoy but it never bores. The use of slow motion is odd and brings nothing to the table however.

A film that’s much more fun than people give it credit for, DAD is a film of two halves. When it’s good it’s very, very good; Bond’s capture, the prisoner exchange, Hong Kong, Cuba, the sword fight, Bond and M underground, Pike and Stephens.

But when it’s bad it’s bloody awful: Madonna’s cameo, Madonna’s song, the CGI surfing, the exo-suit.

Really though watching it again what brings it down is its reliance on the ridiculous. There’s a screenwriting rule that says people will believe one unbelievable thing in a movie, but this piles them one after another: Invisible car, sun focusing satellite, gene therapy, VR etc etc. In the end you stop caring.

So that’s it for Pierce, he bows out with a commercial hit but not a critical one, and unlike a certain someone he doesn’t get one final go to exit on a high. Where will the franchise go next? Let’s just hope they don’t cast someone blonde. If nothing else now Bond’s gone rogue I’m sure they won’t do that again for a while…

Farewell my Lovely

Posted: October 10, 2020 in Book reviews

By Raymond Chandler

In the middle of a dead-end missing person case, Philip Marlowe encounters a giant ex-con named Moose Malloy in a nightclub. Moose is searching for his former lover, Velma, who used to work at the club, the nightclub has changed hands and is now run by a black man who Moose kills. Marlowe is interviewed by a lazy cop who encourages Marlowe to do his leg work for him. Intrigued, and bored, Marlowe tracks down the widow of the former owner of the nightclub and plies her with booze to get information.

The next thing he knows he’s being hired as a bodyguard by a man named Lindsay Marriott. Soon Marlowe is up to his neck in crooked cops and jewel thieves, and his journey will take him to a corrupt town, a private hospital and an offshore casino before the various threads tie themselves together.

My second Chandler, and yes I am reading them out of order as and when I get hold of one. While Chandler’s prose continues to enchant (and occasionally irritate) I probably didn’t enjoy this quite as much as The Long Goodbye. In part I think that’s down to the plot, or lack thereof, Chandler pieced this novel together using several previously written short stories, and while he changes certain elements to fit them together, you can’t help but see the joins on occasion, and the narrative meanders all over the place, seemingly illogically until everything comes together at the end…mostly.

That’s not to say an ambling story is a bad thing— if nothing else Farewell my Lovely isn’t remotely predictable, though the nearer to the end I spotted the denouement coming— but it can be a little jarring. Then again, from what I can tell Chandler was less interested in plot than he was in the style of writing and his characters, and there are some lovely scenes at play here, and some great characters, with a whole heap of cops and former cops, some of whom are decent, some of whom are corrupt, and some of whom sit in the grey between. There are femme fatales and gangsters, yet Chandler’s skill is to never quite give you the character you, and frankly his prose alone is worth the price of admission and just aimlessly following Marlowe around is quite enjoyable, even if you can’t quite see where the story is heading.

So, aside from the flimsy plot (and some language about persons of colour that seems awfully unsettling these days) I enjoyed this greatly and I suspect I’ll soon be trudging the mean streets of LA with world weary cynic Philip Marlowe again sooner rather than later.

The World is not Enough (1999)

Posted: October 3, 2020 in James Bond

And so we come to Brosnan’s third film, the last James Bond film of the 20th Century and the first with Purvis and Wade on board as screenwriters and, it has to be said, a film that I’ve never counted as much of a favourite, even from the first time I saw it, so I wasn’t looking forward to this viewing, but what’s intriguing about this rewatch is that it has caused me to reappraise some films, and I’m pleased to report that TWINE is one of them. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of issues I had with it previously I still have with it, but I think I appreciated its strengths more this time around.

The film opens in Bilbao with Bond visiting a Swiss banker. He’s there to retrieve money that was stolen, but he also wants to find out who killed an MI6 agent. Threatened, he retaliates, disarming his opponents, but before the banker can talk he’s killed by his secretary, “Cigar Girl” (have to love her eye roll at James’ innuendos.) Bond is then saved when a mysterious sniper kills one of the banker’s goons who’s about to shoot him.

The police arrive and 007 escapes with the money by abseiling down the side of the building.

Back in London he hands the money over to Robert King, oil tycoon and old friend of M’s. As Bond and M take a drink, he realises he has explosives on his fingers, and that the money is boobytrapped. He tries to warm King but its too late. The money explodes, killing King and punching a hole in the side of MI6 headquarters. Cigar girl is outside on a boat and Bond goes after her in Q’s latest invention. A high-speed boat chase along the Thames ends with cigar girl blowing herself up over the millennium dome and 007 being injured.

 At King’s funeral Bond is drawn to King’s daughter, Elektra (I mean of course he is) and after bribing the doctor (by sleeping with her) to put him back on active duty M assigns Bond to look after Elektra, presuming that the men who killed her father might come for her.

Flying to Azerbaijan he contacts Elektra and after they survive an attack by mysterious parahawk gunmen the two become lovers. As Bond’s investigation continues he’ll cross paths with a ruthless terrorist named Renard and gain a new ally named Christmas. What is Renard’s connection with Elektra, and just who is playing who?

Let’s get some of my annoyances out of the way first. For a lot of people the pre title sequence is one of the franchise’s best, but it leaves me cold. Oh, the Bilboa scenes are cool, and the boat chase has its moments, but even setting aside the fact that it goes on waaaay too long, something bothered me from the first time I saw it.

Cigar Girl is sat on a boat dripping with guns floating right outside MI6 headquarters…and NOBODY NOTICES! I mean, why is she even there? Assuming the bomb doesn’t kill King, is he going to lurch to the hole in the wall conveniently giving her time to shoot him? It makes zero sense. Let’s be honest, she’s there for one reason and one reason only, so Bond can chase her down the Thames in his cute Q-boat, copy his tie straighten from Goldeneye and hilariously splash some clampers (who were semi-famous thanks to a reality tv shot at the time).

And then we have Cigar Girl kill herself because Bond can’t protect her from HIM. I hate the “I’ll kill myself because my boss will kill me otherwise” trope.

Really the whole King assassination feels clunky and overly convoluted.

Next annoyance, Bond’s detective work with the money. It’s the exact amount that was the ransom for Elektra (which King didn’t pay under M’s advice). That’s right, despite some considerable time passing between the two events, the exchange rate stayed exactly the same. As clues go it’s a little thin. Bond has played detective well at times, most notably when Connery was in the role, but here it just feels contrived.

But there’s a lot of that going on. Cigar Girl’s presence on the river, the money, those parahawks and Bond following Elektra up the mountain. Not to say the parahawks aren’t intriguing, and you have to love the one guy whose clearly watched the pre-title sequence of The Spy who Loved Me, but it’s a scene that makes no sense, I mean Elektra seemed in actual danger here so what was the point? There are easier ways to throw MI6 off the scent.

I think the problem is that it feels like they created some set pieces, then built a script around them. Witness also the chainsaw helicopters, much like Chekov’s gun you know you’ll see them again!

Let’s talk Christmas. Now a Bond girl with an amusing name isn’t that terrible, and frankly she gets a less cringeworthy name than Holly Goodhead or anything like that, but let’s be honest, she’s a terrible Bond girl. I mean Denise Richards is hot, and contrary to popular belief I don’t believe she’s a terrible actress given the right material, but a convincing nuclear scientist she is not.

It doesn’t help that they dress her like Lara Croft, and it doesn’t help that she’s given no personality at all. At one point Bond asks her what she’s doing out in Kazakhstan and she says “Avoiding questions like that.” No characterisation, no back story. She’s there to be hot, trot off some exposition and give Bond someone to shag at the end, nothing more.

Of course the film has two female leads (three if you count M which it’s arguable you can here)  and Elektra King is about as far away from Christmas Jones as Earth is from Pluto, and it’s here that my opinion of the film really shifted.

Because there’s an argument for Elektra being one of the most three-dimensional Bond girls, and Bond villains, of the whole damn franchise. There’s so much going on in this woman’s head. Anger and deep routed resentment over her heritage, coupled with a glorious, evil playfulness as well. She’s mad of course, but not in a Drax/Stromberg/Zorin kind of way. She’s damaged. Resentful of her father, I imagine, even before he left her at the hands of Renard. This is a woman who seduced her captor, turned the world’s most dangerous terrorist( ™) into her henchman, who used MI6 to assassinate her own father, then fooled the world’s greatest secret agent (which let’s be honest probably isn’t that hard) but also played his boss (which is likely more difficult). Even when he figures out she’s a wrong un (which in fairness to 007 is relatively quickly) Bond still can’t conceive that she’s anything but a victim, that Renard must have turned her rather than the other way around. There’s something quite depressing about that, and about the fact that, to date, Elektra is the only true female Bond villain we’ve had (though a fair amount of henchwomen I grant you.) and Sophie Marceau really deserved to be in a better film.

And she gets a good death, providing Brosnan with another great line. “I never miss.”

Carlyle has grown on me, I think initially he was painted as the main villain which didn’t help endear him to me, but once you realise he’s just a henchman, he works better. There’s a tragedy at the heart of him that Carlyle plays really well, jealous of Bond sleeping with Elektra, of Bond being able to feel, he clearly knows Elektra is using him, but he’s too enraptured by her to care, and I suppose that even though her plan is about making her rich and powerful, and isn’t about to bring the western capitalist system crashing down, the anarchist in him probably appreciates the chaos it will sow.

It’s nice to see Zukovsky back and again Coltrane is very good value for money. “Can’t you just say hello like a normal person?” It’s a real shame they killed him off, but he does at least die saving Bond’s life. Goldie as his treacherous associate Bullion (just Bull in the credits) is ok but not one of the better henchmen.

Moneypenny doesn’t get much to do (really starting to feel Samantha Bond was somewhat wasted in the part) but Dench gets perhaps the most in the field outing an M has had to date, and it’s good to see them making good use of Dame Judi, and there’s definitely echoes here that will reverberate to Skyfall (not to suggest Purvis and Wade keep repeating themselves of course) as M is placed in danger due to a person from her past, and has to deal with an attack on MI6 headquarters. Dench is, of course, amazing.

There’s a real poignancy to the final signoff of another character, especially given Desmond Llewellyn died in a car crash not long after the premiere. He and Brosnan always worked well together, and their final scenes are a joy.

Cleese’s first outing as Q’s impending replacement isn’t great, he’s played too much for laughs. He’ll be better in Die Another Day when he’s actually Q, rather than R, but he’s too much of a like for like replacement when they should have gone for something radically different (as they will with Whishaw).

There’s some decent action, the shoot out in the missile silo and the finale in the submarine, and Elektra’s plan is perhaps the most grounded of any Brosnan villain.

And of course Brosnan is very good, working well with Sophie Marceau. Purvis and Wade do their best to make him vulnerable, but his shoulder injury comes and goes as the plot demands (and hey, something else that’ll turn up again in Skyfall). He is getting a little close to smarmy territory ala late era Moore, but he can only deliver the lines they give him I guess.

So in conclusion Brosnan is great, Marceau is great, Dench and Coltrane are great and Carlyle is good, but the film around them never quite lives up to their performances. I can see they were trying to dial things back a little after Tomorrow Never Dies (odd given they’ll soon be dialling it back up again) but I’ve always found the film somewhat drab. Maybe it’s the locations, lots of desert shots, and a very washed out colour palette, and it’s a little grim, which makes Bond’s innuendos even more jarring, but like I say I enjoyed it more this time than I have before, so it probably no longer sits in my worst Bond list. Damning with faint praise indeed.

Great title though!