The Current War (2017)

current war poster

It was the starry cast that attracted me to this, rather than another retelling of the fight between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), which I thought I knew (enough) about. But this isn’t that fight, or rather, Tesla is only a bit-player, and the real ‘war’ is between inventor Edison and industrialist, George Westerhouse (Michael Shannon).

Both men want to bring electricity to widespread use. Edison, inventor of the lightbulb, first pushes his direct current (DC). Westerhouse buys patents from others, and cannot infringe on Edison’s creations, and so uses the more powerful alternating current (AC). However, Edison soon begins a slanging match, claiming AC is deadly – and look, here’s a horse being electrocuted to prove it (!).

The crux will come with the 1983 World Fair in Chicago, with both sides vying to light up the city. Only one can win. But, at what cost?

It seems odd that electricity, so staple a part of modern life, has really only been used as it is for a little over 100 years. It is intriguing seeing the technology’s start, but the film is just as much about the personal issues. Did Westerhouse feel slighted by a socially dismissive Edison? Both men are shown to be highly affected by their wives. Both have egos and a desire to be remembered, or to change the world for the better.

While interesting and enjoyable enough, I wouldn’t say this was the most gripping piece of cinema. The cast – also including Tom Holland, Matthew MacFadyen, Tuppence Middleton, and Katherine Waterston – is indeed fantastic, and it’s nice that the characters are given time to (no pun intended) shine.

It was also interesting that they pitted Edison against an industrialist. I’m not sure Tesla’s part in this isn’t vastly underplayed, right enough, so historically I’m still debating that, but dramatically the juxtaposition was played well. The movie does become about the light and dark (okay, okay, that pun is deliberate!) of each man’s soul, each facing their own principles and each feeling driven to act against those. With the actors involved, it is all done rather well.

However, it *is* kind of slow, and you know what’s going to happen, and… yeah, it was fine. Maybe save it for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Released: 26th July 2019
Viewed: 26th July 2019
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

PS: the movie was made and released at various film festivals in 2017 but due to the involvement of producer Harvey Weinstein, distangling that element saw everything  shelved until the current release schedule.

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Foul Play on Words – Becky Clark

foul play on words cover

“Waiting for someone to pick you up at the airport is like being forced to be eight years old again.”

Fiction Can Be Murder, the first book in the Mystery Writer’s Mystery series, introduced us to Charlemagne (Charlee) Russo, the mystery writer in question, after her unpleasant agent is found murdered.

Book two picks up a few months later, with Charlee due to speak at a writer’s conference organised by her friend, Viv. However, she instead finds herself in charge of organising the whole about-to-be fiasco, as Viv is a little more concerned with the kidnapping of her daughter! Can Charlee juggle hotel cock-ups, double booked doggies, and dark suspicions?

I hadn’t been completely enthralled with the first book, but this one feels like an improvement. Certainly, I was kept guessing as to which way the plot was going to turn. Charlee is reasonably relatable here, trying to help in awful circumstances, and behaving in a pretty plausible way – not often the case in such books!

I enjoyed the easy, mostly fun read and the not entirely obvious twists and turns. The ending is perhaps a little weak, but more in terms of how we get to the big reveal rather than the solution itself.

I was unsure about continuing with this series after book one, but after this instalment I’d be happy enough to continue.

NetGalley eARC: 257 pages / 19 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: A Mystery Writer’s Mystery book 2
Read from ?-24th July 2019

My rating: 6.5/10

Murder at the British Museum – Jim Eldridge

murder at the british museum cover

“Daniel Wilson and Abigail Fenton walked through the high-barred black iron gateway in Great Russell Street that gave entrance to the British Museum, then strode across the wide piazza towards the long row of towering Doric columns that fronted the magnificent building.”

Former Scotland Yard Inspector Daniel Wilson now works as a ‘private enquiry agent’ – private investigator to the rest of us. Along with new partner (which would be a spoiler for book 1, it turns out), historian Abigail Fenton, he’s called in to investigate a murder in – as the title suggests! – the British Museum. Who would have wanted to viciously stab the author of a book about King Arthur?

Set in London not long after the Jack the Ripper investigation, one of the appeals of this book was the period setting. I don’t think it worked quite as well for me as I’d hoped, nor the handling of the female lead. She’s quite kick-ass, and modern, and then does some daft girlie things that had me rolling my eyes a little.

I could imagine the author identifying quite strongly with his lead character, but the rest of the cast can be a little flat. In particular, the Scotland Yard Chief Inspector feels like quite a stereotype. I also found the author’s expansive historical knowledge a little too spelled out at times, with mini-info dumps at regular intervals. Likewise the geography of London is a little too in-depth at times.

And yet, despite these perceived flaws, I still fairly enjoyed the read. The chapters are short and the pace brisk, and the tone is relatively light but not remotely fluffy. I was in the mood for an easy read, and this fit the bill well – so much, that I’ve requested the first installment from the library.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Museum Mysteries book 2
Read from 15th-20th July 2019

My rating: 7/10

Stranger Things (season 3)

stranger things 3 poster

Since the first season arrived in 2016, Stranger Things has been one of the highlights of TV viewing. The mix of horror and mystery, weird and nostalgia, all hit a sweet spot.

Usual warning: even mentioning names could be a spoiler for who survives series 1-2, so read on at your own peril!

We already knew that the wrap-up of season 2 wasn’t necessarily tied with a pretty bow, so it isn’t really a surprise that the ‘Mind-flayer’ isn’t as dead or trapped as the residents of Hawkins might wish. And when we find out that there’s a Russian operation to open a doorway … yeah, you know this isn’t going to end well!

Despite rave reviews, I think season 3 is the weakest so far – although still very good and very worth a watch. But, perhaps lower your expectations just a little.

There is a lot to like here. In particular, the continuing reinvention of Steve ‘The Hair’ Harrington sees him spend the whole season in a cutesy sailor outfit, which is hysterical. We also meet a new character, Robin (played by Uma Thurman’s daughter, which is who she reminded me of all series!), and the interaction between the two is some of my series highlight.

The younger cast members are growing up fast – a few flashbacks remind us just how young they looked 3 years ago – and we’re subjected to the sight of new young love, awkward and vaguely embarrassing, and played with humour that juxtaposes the darker elements of the show. Still, these are the scenes that didn’t do much for me through the whole – tbh, I just wasn’t fond of most of the child characters, let alone their personal struggles.

The mix of horror and laughs remain a strength. Hopper’s struggles with parenting. Joyce’s pained expressions. Dustin singing. The hope for comeuppance for a new slimey character, played by new cast member Cary Elwes. And on the other side, murderous slime, exploding rats, and so much worse.

Still… the story isn’t complete. Perhaps I was hoping for more answers, and that’s not what this is about. I’m very glad series 4 has been announced – things have changed in Hawkins, but it’s not over yet!

First broadcast: July 2019
Series: 3
Episodes: 8 @ ~50 mins each

My rating: 8/10

The Kingdom – Jess Rothenberg

kingdom cover

“One hour after the murder the room where they at last found him was so cold they wondered, at first, if he had frozen to death.”

What if Disneyland had a more Westworld kind of a thing going on? That’s the premise of this book. A magical Kingdom, where ‘hybrids’ are bred part machine part flesh, to reintroduce extinct species and provide a playground for anyone rich enough to visit. It’s more Disney visitor park than WW immersive, and there are only seven ‘Hosts’ – I mean, ‘Fantasists’ (I hated that word, btw) – all female, as apparently the male versions were ‘too unsettling’.

Our story follows one of these android Princesses, Anna. It’s told in a similar way to Big Little Lies, starting with courtroom transcripts before the main tale is told in flashbacks as we discover who has died, and why. Slowly, Anna’s perfect existence is shown to unravel at the edges: is their safe haven more of a cage? Is someone messing with their data files? Is there a bigger conspiracy going on than Anna can imagine?

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the read, but as the references above show, it all just felt like a mash up of several other ideas. Heck, the author even uses the phrase “Violent delights have violent ends” – yes, it ties in well with the Romeo and Juliet theme (being originally from that play, before being used in Westworld) that is rather clunkily thrown in (I get it, it’s from Anna’s point of view, but still meh), but it really only highlights what felt like a lack of originality.

I could forgive that more easily if the story did anything new or exciting or just wowed me in any form. Instead, it never felt like it rose above its derivativeness, for me, and the weakness of the ending only confirmed that feeling of ‘meh’. It’s not a dreadful read by any stretch, but nothing hit any high notes for me at all – if you’re less familiar with those inspirations, then your mileage may indeed vary.

NetGalley eARC: 352 pages / 68 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 7th-14th July 2019

My rating: 6.5/10

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

spiderman ffh poster

Following the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, Peter Parker is unsurprisingly a little burned out and looking forward to the chance to be just a teenager, rather than a superhero, during a school science trip to Europe. However, Nick Fury has other ideas – and when a series of ‘Elementals’, creatures seemingly formed of water, air, fire, etc, start attacking, Parker is called in to the fray. Fortunately, a new hero has appeared. Mysterio will save the day – right?

It turns out that the MCU’s Phase 3 has one more movie to offer. I hadn’t really been looking for more of the story post-Endgame, but as it happens this makes a nice coda to the whole Infinity Saga, giving us a glimpse of the post-snap/return (aka ‘blip’) world and a lead into Phase 4.

Spider-Man has never been my favourite of the superheroes, but this MCU take with Tom Holland has started to convert me. This is definitely an ‘Avengers’ movie, not just Spider-Man, and the teen angst is played well as a motivating factor rather than the main gist of everything. We get the usual dose of humour, plenty of nods to the rest of the series, and overall it just works.

As with Homecoming, I thought the motivations of the baddy were done well, even if the tech achievements are utterly far-fetched. Visually it’s all quite stunning, and the European locations – Venice, Prague, etc – are pretty, too.

Surprised me how much I enjoyed this, but little to nothing to complain about. It was fun! It was daft. It was a decent bridge between old stories and new. It’s not the best of the MCU by any stretch, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable popcorn flick.

Released: 2nd July 2019
Viewed: 13th July 2019
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

The Art of Jin Shin – Alexis Brink

art of jin shin cover

“The book you are holding in your hands is meant to provide a basic introduction to the foundation and principles of the Art of Jin Shin.”

Subtitled, ‘The Japanese Practice of Healing with Your Fingertips’, this book gives a brief history of this ‘energy medicine’, followed by several long lists of different holds for different conditions.

The basic premise is something along the lines of: by holding two points on the body, we can ‘release’ the energy flow within ourselves (or others), thus aiding all manner of afflictions, from insomnia to headaches, stress to digestive issues.

I was very impressed with the attitude here: it’s not given as an alternative to seeing your doctor, merely an additional process that may prove helpful. And to be honest, while I’m relatively open to such ideas, my hunch is that the usefulness of Jin Shin is less about which finger you’re holding and more that the breathing and focus is actually meditation. Still, any meditation practice can benefit from a focus, and this is a pretty interesting one.

The other message that I agree with wholeheartedly is that nothing here can hurt you – well, unless you twist something trying to hold on to your ankle, of course 😉 So yes, I was more than up for giving this a go. I’m not sure any of my attempts particularly solved the issue in question, except perhaps holding the back of my neck for an ache – but, the warmth of my hand probably didn’t hurt. As I say, I think the meditation effect was beneficial. Still, I see more likelihood of finding this useful than its more famous cousin, Reiki.

My main complaint here would be that the book in e-format wasn’t the easiest to navigate. If I have a specific problem I’d like to try to address, figuring out where to go is awkward. So, if you fancy giving it a go, the physical book is probably better.

Overall: an interesting concept, and as there’s no harm in trying it out than why not? If nothing else, you’ll benefit from a quiet moment of breathing and relaxation, and a little time spent with your own body is never a bad idea.

NetGalley eARC: 240 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 16th-26th June 2019

My rating: 7/10