Gifted (2017)

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is guardian to his niece, Mary (McKenna Grace), who just happens to be a mathematical prodigy. Theirs is a really lovely relationship: they clearly dote on each other, he talks to her like a person, and she is clearly flourishing in the laid-back parenting.

However, when Mary turns seven with no friends her own age, Frank decides it’s time she socialises with other school kids. Despite warnings, she’s unable to cover up her genius and soon the attentions of the authorities and her previously absent grandmother are threatening to break the duo apart.

This is a very gentle, sweet kind of a movie, told in a very gentle kind of a way. I was really impressed by the handling of the court case: no shouting and screaming, as would be Hollywood-norm, just two adults (Frank and his mother, played by Lindsay Duncan) trying to do what’s best, and capable of having a rational if bittersweet conversation from either side of the argument.

Which isn’t to say there’s no tension in this movie – there certainly is, it’s just down in a matter-of-fact, low-key way that I found really refreshing. The story unfolds with layers of revelation that you might not even notice as such, as they’re just ‘life’, not shoved in your face.

I was just as impressed with the acting. Mckenna Grace is a rare thing: a genuinely gifted (as an actor, I make no claims for her real life maths skills!) youngster who provides zero irritation factor. And if you think Chris Evans is nothing but bulked-up superhero fodder, his gentle portrayal of a brother, uncle, son, and human being in his own right might surprise you – the character of Frank, too. Heck, I didn’t even mind that he doesn’t take his shirt off! ūüėČ

I wasn’t exactly raring to go see this movie, but as it worked out I am really glad that I did. I’m guessing it’s not going to set the box office on fire, but it’s an impressively mature and sensitively-told story that will reward viewers willing to let go of the need for fireworks.

Released: 16th June 2017 (UK)
Viewed: 12th June 2017 (preview)
Running time: 101 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

Wild Things – Christopher Golden

“Alone in the dark.”

I’m in the process of trying to slim down my book collection, and as part of that there’s a goal to finish off series I want to get rid of. This is one of those series. It’s not awful – I’ve made through all four books (albeit over several years!) – but it’s also nothing particularly special, tbh. Damn my habit of buying a whole series before reading the first book, eh?!

Prowlers is pretty much a werewolf series. Two young, Bostonian, Irish pub-owning siblings and their friends discover that shapeshifters are living among us. When a group of said ‘prowlers’ decide they want to reclaim the glory days of being at the top of the food chain, the friends end up battling the nasties. That’s pretty much the synopsis for all four volumes, btw!

There is an ongoing story arc completed through the four, which is kind of nice, along with the battle-per-book. However, I just didn’t connect much with the characters or the writing; I suspect that it’s aimed at more of a teenage audience, as there’s limits on the gore and no sex that I can recall, despite the young-adult romance subplot.

Overall: acceptable beach-reading fluff, if you like your sunshine to contain a little darkness. And now I can dispose of another four books from my shelf. Woo!

Paperback: 311 pages / 14 chapters
First published: 2002
Series: Prowlers book 4 (of 4)
Read from 18th May – 5th June 2017

My rating: 5/10

Baywatch (2017)

Head lifeguard, Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson), takes an instant dislike to cocky newcomer, Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a disgraced former Olympic champion who thinks his gold medals will let him walk onto the lifeguard team. The two continue to butt heads in rather a fun way as the team starts to investigate a series of possibly drug-related deaths in the bay.

There’s not a great deal to say about this movie, to be honest, other than it’s very very daft and – if you’re in the right frame of mind – quite a lot of fun. Gross out, beyond silly, micky-taking fun.

The highlights for me were the confrontations between the two leads. Mitch never refers to Matt by name, going through a series of appropriately daft and demeaning nicknames, from ‘Bieber’ to ‘High School Musical’ (which, of course, Zac Efron starred in). If that sounds like a slight thing to be the highlight you’re absolutely spot on!

The plot and even more so the subplots (loser recruit getting a chance to show having a heart in the right place is more important than, y’know, actually being able to do your job or anything; corrupt government officials; unlikely and/or predictable hook ups) are well-worn and clearly not the point. The characters are… not exactly well-rounded? But on the other hand, the nods towards the original series are vaguely fun, taking the mickey but not descending into out-and-out spoof.

Still, with just a little more care, this could have been a lot more fun than just dick jokes. I was in the mood for daft, and since I get into these things for ‘free’ (all-you-can-watch cinema pass) I rather enjoyed. But on your own head be it if you pay the going cinema rates for this bit of butt-fluff, tbh! ūüėČ

Released: 29th May 2017
Viewed: 7th June 2017
Running time: 116 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10 – it’s not a¬†good movie, but it was fun

One of Us is Lying – Karen M McManus

“A sex tape. A pregnancy scare. Two cheating scandals. And that’s just this week’s update.”

Imagine if¬†The Breakfast Club¬†didn’t get the chance to spend detention coming to deep and meaningful revelations about themselves, because one of them dropped dead. The brain, the jock, the princess, the criminal – all four of them were about to have some shocking secret revealed by the dead boy, Simon, the outcast and creator of a nasty little gossip app. Which means all four had really good motives for murder…

The book is told from all four points of view, with the switch between characters clearly marked with the name and a timestamp. So, as we see inside all four heads, it means one of the narrators must be lying, as they relate the events after Simon’s death, including the police interviews, sensationalist journalists hounding them, and deepening relationships as the four become the ‘murder club’, shunned by classmates who can’t believe any of them are innocent.

I really liked the idea of this story, but felt that the different voices could have been a little more disparate, and the stories told with a little more tension. There’s something just a little too cosy about the tellings of watching movies and getting haircuts, in the midst of all the drama – yes, it’s normal life going on despite everything, but it did lessen some of the potential impact for me.

The mystery unfolds well enough, but the real ‘message’ of the story is more about the secrets and lies, and the impact these have on all five lives, not to mention those around them. Go in knowing that and not just looking for a straight murder mystery, and there’s a lot to enjoy in this book.

NetGalley eARC: 358 pages / 30 subdivided chapters plus epilogue
First published: June 2017
Series: none
Read from 29th May – 4th June 2017

My rating: 7/10

Wonder Woman (2017)

The one shining light in the utter mess that was Batman vs Superman (2016) was the brief appearance of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). And with this release, she not only gets her own backstory, but also makes a bit of history with the first female-led superhero movie.

Usually I’m all about the entertainment, the story, the visuals, but I think it’s really quite important to see this movie as a bit of a Big Deal. Female superhero lead, female director – and if you think that’s not important (I just don’t think that it should be) then you only have to scratch the surface very gently to see what a difference it actually makes.

You might come away from a viewing with a sense that it was a bit different from every other action pic – not in terms of story, which is fairly run of the mill and predictable, but when you stop to ponder (or, just read any of the numerous reviews) then there is a shocking “why is this still a big deal?” feeling. Yes, 21st century, and this is possibly the first movie where the woman gets to be the hero full stop – she’s not there to be a token, she doesn’t pose with her butt facing the camera. The other Amazons are amazingly kick ass – and oh, they might actually be over 30, shock horror. It was a AMAZING!!

Now, I must admit it’s taken me a while to understand this. I came out of the cinema thinking, “Well, yes, easily the best thing DC has managed, but that was a low bar.” The lack of a ‘new’ storyline left me a little ‘meh’, but it was still rolicking good fun.

But then I started reading some of the opinion pieces. And my view changed from, “C’mon, it’s just a superhero movie!” to “Oh my god, why did I not see how much we needed this take on this flipped version of this story!?”. A woman being strong but real. Why the hell is that still such a big deal to see on screen?

Anyway. You don’t have to feel or think about any of this to enjoy the movie. It’s about an Amazon princess, Diana, getting her first glimpse of the outside world and refusing to let the injustice continue without trying to fix things. There are some brilliant action scenes. The opening location of Themyscira is something very different to what we’ve been given in these kind of movies before, which is ace.

You also don’t need to wade through the dull¬†Superman,¬†BvS,¬†or¬†Suicide Squad to see this one – a huge plus. The only link is the photo Diana is sent right at the beginning, which was used in¬†BvS to show Bruce Wayne that Wonder Woman had been around, kicking butt, for longer than he had. The tone here is much lighter, if still not Marvel-funny, but all in all a very very welcome change, in so many respects. Absolutely recommended.

Released: 1st June 2017
Viewed: 3rd June 2017
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10 – I can’t rave all of that above and not give it an extra point for cultural significance. From a freakin’ comic book movie o_O

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

Take one washed-up pirate, two young people who can bicker at each other until the inevitable get together, and a host of CGI nasties chasing our ‘heroes’ as they go questing for a mythical object. I’m not entirely sure which of the¬†Pirates franchise I’m talking about, to be honest – but let’s be generous, and say this one is a nice, ‘soft reboot’ of the first movie o_O

The fifth instalment, known as either¬†Salazar’s Revenge¬†or¬†Dead Men Tell No Tales, depending where you live, is getting very mixed reviews. To be honest, I’m not sure where the out-and-out hatred is coming from, because if you liked any of the previous movies then there’s very little of difference here to find so disappointing. That of course could be the disappointment, but hey – you know what you’re getting in to!

I actually quite liked Johnny Depp here. It’s a damn shame that Captain Jack is the only thing he’s been watchable as in ages, but it’s a nice return to the character – I didn’t quite think it slipped into parody of earlier performances, although some have argued this.

The new would-be couple, replacing (well…!) Orlando and Keira, are fine – nothing extraordinary (although the whole “I’m a horologist!” scene might have been a highlight of mine!), but equally not irritating (hey, I have low asks in these situations!). Predictable? Well, of course, but then so is the whole movie!

The main difference is the baddie, this time played by Javier Bardem, who is a pirate-killer tricked into a living death and now out for revenge. Some people are hailing him as the one good part of this movie, but to be honest I’ve always found the villains a little pantomime, and I’m not 100% swayed from that here. YMMV, of course. Either way, the CGI is a spectacle to behold.

Overall, this does have to lose points for being entirely unoriginal, completely predictable, and borderline hamming itself up. On the other hand, it was 2 hours of big screen nonsense done pretty well, and entirely fun for it.

I managed to miss the post-credit scene (d’oh!), but to be honest I rather do have mixed feelings about its supposed setting-up for an instalment 6. Hmm!

Released: 26th May 2017
Viewed: 30th May 2017
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

Rotherweird – Andrew Caldecott

“One for sorrow: Mary Tudor, a magpie queen – dress black, face chill white, pearls hanging in her hair like teardrops – stands in the pose of a woman with child, her right palm flat across her swollen belly.”

Imagine a little corner of England, a village snuggled away from the hustle and bustle, where modern life has been kept at bay for centuries. It’s not that technology doesn’t exist here – in fact, thanks to the highly intelligent population and the university, much of the modern world’s tech¬†is actually developed here – but the pace of life is still ‘ye olde worlde’, somehow.¬†Not that the people necessarily know this, as outsiders are discouraged, and learning any history prior to 1800 is outright banned.

Why would such a place need to be hidden away? What’s so wrong with teaching history? When two newcomers – a history teacher and a new lord of the manor – arrive, both seem destined to wrap themselves in yet more mystery, as they struggle to figure out this strange, other-worldly place.

My first praise for¬†Rotherweird¬†is that it’s a wonderfully original book, quite unlike most of the fantasy stuff out there.¬†There are layers upon layers of mystery, and no way to guess where most of it is going – lovely!

If I’m being picky, I did find¬†there were perhaps a few too many point-of-view characters, which I felt got a little confusing at times. Everyone has such weird names, too. The author is also clearly a very intelligent chap (he’s a lawyer by day-trade), and there were points where I felt I was playing catch-up on the clues and reveals, which took away a little from the impact.

However, overall this is just a fantastically weird and immersive¬†world, which was amazing amounts of fun to visit. There’s a strong dose of humour throughout the writing, and some excellent mystery-building to keep you reading ’til the end. I particularly liked the historical interludes¬†between each section, slowly revealing a little more of the enigma.

Delighted to read interviews that suggest this is the first part of a trilogy – thoroughly looking forward to seeing what’s next for the odd population of Rotherweird!

NetGalley eARC: 480 pages / ~60 chapters
First published: May 2017
Series: Rotherweird trilogy, book 1
Read from 15th-29th May 2017

My rating: 7.5/10