Incredibles 2 (2018)

incredibles 2 poster

Fourteen years after the first movie – beloved by many, although I was just “Yeah, that was fun” (and as such am a bit hazy on the details!) – the Parr family are back. Even more in hiding than the first film, things are not going so well for them, until a billionaire tycoon throws his money behind a scheme to bring Supers back into legality. The only thing is, he wants Elastigirl aka mom Helen to be the face of the campaign, leaving Mr Incredible aka dad Bob, literally holding the baby.

The gender-switch roles is probably what brings this movie into reasonable modern times, and it’s pretty funny to watch Bob struggle and pretty ace to see the mother rekindling her sense of worth outside that role. From a cartoon. However, the real joy – for me, at least – was the scenes of baby Jack-Jack finally finding his powers, as teased in the post-credit scene from the original movie.

I also think Edna Mode is one of my all-time favourite animated characters, so was a little disappointed that she’s in this so briefly – with some fabulous scenes with Jack-Jack, though, so all is forgiven 🙂 Likewise, the Samuel L Jackson voiced Frozone could have been in it more for my liking.

Since the release of The Incredibles back in 2004, there has been an absolute explosion of superheroes at the cinema, in live action format. So, does Incredibles 2 still have a place? Well, yes: it was a lot of fun, and makes some relevant points without trying too hard. That said, there’s nothing desperately new or fresh about the story line, which doesn’t stray too far from the original overall. It must be impossible to come up with novel ideas for superpowers these days, too.

Overall this is a decent movie with plenty of fun to be had. The kids can love it, the grown ups can too, and it both stands alone and makes for a sequel that was actually worth making. Recommended.

Released: 13th July 2018
Viewed: 13th July 2018
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10

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Shelved Under Murder – Victoria Gilbert

shelved under murder cover

“One thing every librarian learns is that people rarely ask the question they actually want answered.”

Several months have passed since small-town librarian Amy Webber was caught up in the events of A Murder for the Books. Usual warning: if you read on, mention of events in book 2 might spoil some of book 1!

Taylorsford is preparing itself for the annual Heritage Festival, an arts and crafts spectacular. Art becomes the theme for the book, as the discovery of a dead artist seems to tie in with forgery rings and organised crime. Could it be that Amy’s late uncle, himself a struggling artist, might have been more connected to these events than anyone would wish?!

I’ve heard cosy mysteries like this described as ‘palate cleansers’ (or should that be ‘palette’, given the topic? ;)) and this is indeed just that. Light and easy to read, nothing too taxing on the brain, this was a sweet little romance with added murder. Urm…! 😉

I thought the story felt a little more assured than the previous book, or perhaps it was just that less setting up was required. We’re assumed to know who the main cast are, from the first book. Of course, this does mean that new players stand out like sore thumbs, and it was pretty obvious who was going to turn out to be the bad guys. The bigger mystery elements are more reveals about the main characters’ pasts, rather than the more obvious crime of the day.

Still, it served its purpose.  I like that this series is a little less ‘fluffy’ than some cosy mysteries, but it’s still a bit heavy on the romance for my tastes. There’s also the merest hint of something supernatural, which I’m not sure about: I think the author needs to commit to including/explaining some of it, or leave it out. Ymmv, as they say!

NetGalley eARC: ~327 pages / 28 chapters
First published: July 2018
Series: Blue Ridge Library Mysteries book 2
Read from 5th-9th July 2018

My rating: 6/10

Westworld (season 2)

Westworld s2 poster

The amazing and brilliant first season of Westworld left more than a few questions still to be answered. As ever, if you haven’t seen the first season, even a mention of something that happens in season 2 might be considered a spoiler, so read on at your own risk!

With the Hosts now taking control of themselves, the fight is on for the park. Caught up in the brewing war are many of the characters we met in season 1, and each has their own story. From Maeve, intent on finding her child, to William aka The Man in Black, still playing ‘the game’, the strength of season 2 is quite possibly the way it lets the bigger events play out as a background to some much more personal stories.

Another brilliant thing about series 2 is the widening picture of Delos’s crowning glory (in more ways than one…!). There are at least six parks, based on a character’s comment, and we get to see another two of them here. I won’t spoil the surprises, but I enjoyed these glimpses into the ‘other’ bits.

If I thought the cast were superb in series one, then I’ve run out of superlatives for the performances turned in here. Emotions have been turned up past eleven, and are displayed with such powerful subtlety from every single actor here. I mean, wows all around, quite frankly!

Of course, the plot is no less twisty than season one, and even expecting this I had to keep questioning: what’s happening, what timeline is this – “is there something wrong with this world”, in other words! Nothing can be taken for granted. Of course, knowing fine and well that this is what the show was likely to do, they even play with that: episode one might show you a familiar face, dead, only for you to spend the rest of the series waiting for the death to happen!

I do love this show. It’s intelligent, and assumes its audience is too. It plays with tropes, but doesn’t disappoint when it needs to deliver. The need to expand the story and follow several main characters on diverging paths possibly dilutes things just a little, so I didn’t adore it in quite the same way as season 1, but it was still some of the best TV out there, and I cannot wait for series 3!

First broadcast:  2018
Series: 2
Episodes: 10 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 9/10

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

jurassic world 2 poster

With things going so badly wrong every time they do anything with Jurassic Park (1993 onwards), it’s not entirely surprising that the imminent destruction by volcano of Isla Nublar and all of its dinosaur inhabitants is met with something of, “Well, no bad thing?!” Series legend Jeff Goldblum even pops up briefly to tell everyone why it’s time to let the terrible lizards go back to extinction.

But, some don’t agree: aren’t these endangered animals just as worth saving as, say, pandas or elephants? Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) certainly thinks so, and with the help of John Hammond’s millionaire former partner (James Cromwell) sets off on a rescue mission. Of course, no one is going to be able to handle raptor Blue apart from her old handler, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), so better rope him in too.

To be honest, I wasn’t massively impressed with the predecessor to this, Jurassic World (2015), and thought that this sequel was likely to be absolutely awful. Perhaps going in with those low expectations helped, though, as this turned out to be a lot of fun! Some of the poor choices – gender roles, in particular – have been fixed a bit, so there’s certainly less to complain about.

And on the other side of the coin, there’s enough to be happy about: dinosaurs! Bigger, cleverer, eviler dinosaurs! Evil megalomaniacs! Plucky kid (actually, could always do without that…)! And Toby Jones doing something of a Trump impression, in hair and a-hole-ness, at least 😉

The ‘unique’ selling point here is taking the dinosaurs off the island and into more familiar settings. It sort of works, and allows for scenes of lava destruction that scared me more than the beasties, tbh! There’s also an ‘other’ plot thread, which I don’t want to spoil, but quite frankly was a bit over sign-posted and set up with great importance that didn’t really pay off. Get back to the dinosaurs, already!!

There are also a lot of points in the movie which I’m sure are meant as honorable nods to the first film and others, but while one or two might work, there were just a few too many repetitions.

Overall: as mindless popcorn fun, this was a lot better than I was expecting. I had too much fun to be too harsh with the scoring!

Released: 6th June 2018
Viewed: 3rd July 2018
Running time: 128 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Days of Blood and Starlight – Laini Taylor

days of blood and starlight cover

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil held a wishbone between them. And its snap split the world in two.”

I liked the first half of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, the first in this series, much more than the second half. Conversely, I took a little while to get going with this one, spending a good chunk of the first third or so thinking this was going to be a slightly disappointing middle installment. How wrong I was!

(As ever, I can’t promise a review of book 2 won’t mention something that ‘spoils’ an e.g. survival from book 1, so you might want to leave before I really get going!)

Following the catastrophic events at the end of the first book, we find Karou living a shadowy nightmare life. Akiva’s isn’t that much better, but while his pain is caused almost solely by the separation and facade of fitting back into his old life, Karou has lost just about everything. She’s back with the chimaera, but an outsider in almost every way.

For a middle book, this surprised me. There was that point where I thought ‘how is there a third novel in this series?’ and then of course the world up-ends again. Twists and turns, darkness and more darkness – this is a gripping read, once the initial tranche of new world-building and scene setting is out of the way.

We see a lot more of the chimaera here, not just glimpses of Brimstone and Issa, or flashbacks, and we also find out more about the social order of the seraphim. Both are rather satisfying.

The ending is slightly less cliff-hanger-er than the first book, but still: roll on the final installment!

Paperback: 512 pages / 84 chapters
First published: 2012
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy book 2
Read from 17th June – 1st July 2018

My rating: 8/10

84K – Claire North

84k cover

“At the beginning and ending of all things…”

In the future, not too far from now, everything has a price. Crimes are paid for in cold hard cash. Caught shoplifting? Six grand might keep you out of jail. Murder? Well, that depends on the ‘value’ of the life you took. Just don’t commit fraud against the Company – there’s no paying for that.

Theo Miller knows the value of every crime, every life. That’s what he does. Until one day a face from his past disrupts his life of quiet despair. Forced to do what the rest of the country so desperately avoids – to really look at the state of society – Theo is about to make a final entry on his balance sheet.

I have mixed feelings about Claire North’s work. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August wowed me, for instance, whereas The End of The Day was a bit… hmm. This was unfortunately a bit more towards the latter, for me, with an intriguing ‘what if’ going on but the dystopia was a bit of a downer and the lit-fic style (unfinished sentences, half-thoughts) really started to irk. I got to the end still unsure how some of the switching timelines related, too.

I wouldn’t say ‘don’t read this’ – but, I think I’m not the best audience for it, at least not right now. I felt like I slogged my way through this a little, despite the fact that the writing was, as ever, very good. My biggest interest, however, was trying to figure out the inspiration: perhaps, The Handmaid’s Tale, but with the poor being treated as disposable resource rather than women – as I said, not exactly cheery.

Hardback: 452 pages / 83 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 9th-23rd June 2018

My rating: 6.5/10

Ocean’s Eight (2018)

oceans eight poster

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has spent five years in prison planning her next job. The team she gathers includes a fab list of talent, from Cate Blanchett to Rihanna, Mindy Kaling to Helena Bonham Carter. Together, they’re going to steal the world’s most exclusive diamond necklace from around the neck of It-girl Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) at the Met Ball.

There’s a bit of criticism around the whole idea of ‘gender switch’ reboots (see Ghostbusters) but for one, this is not a reboot – it’s a sequel, referencing George Clooney as Debbie’s brother Danny – and secondly: have you SEEN that cast list?! Putting these women in a movie together makes it worth watching, regardless!

The premise is much the same: a slow build heist movie, full of clever tricks and somehow a ‘moral’ that lets the criminals be the good-ish guys. There’s a giant serving of glamour, this time from New York’s biggest fashion event rather than Las Vegas. Layers of the con are slowly built up, culminating in… well, maybe not exactly what you might have been expecting!

I’d say I enjoyed Ocean’s Eight, rather than loved it. The cast was fabulous, but the story pay-off just a little less than thrilling. Which maybe wasn’t the point, as this is more of a nostalgic, comfortable kind of a movie, not an edge-of-the-seat thing. Still, it was only good and not great – but for plot and pacing reasons, not cast!! So fed up of hearing things like that: this is 2018, and it is FAB that we’ve finally got a movie with all the women centre stage. More, please!

Released: 18th June 2018
Viewed: 22nd June 2018
Running time: 110 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10