Tiny Leaps Big Changes – Gregg Clunis

tiny leaps big changes cover

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.”

Reading this straight off the back of Burnout really flagged to me the different approaches self-help books can take. Burnout felt supportive, wanting you to have a happier life, helping you tackle some of life’s obstacles to achieve that. This, on the other hand, felt like it was castigating you for being such a lazy loser, and if you really wanted something you can have it simply by applying yourself enough.

I have serious concerns about the advice in the book. The example given is Dave, a dad who wants to make more money so that his daughter can (eventually) go to college without a big debt hanging over her. So he puts in extra hours and stresses himself out and argues with his family because he’s exhausted. But oh, he’d be a horrible person if he let himself slack – how could he look his daughter in the eye if she had to take out loans for college?

Wow. Just… no. How about enjoying life, not being a shitty parent who’s never there, or finding other ways than becoming a monster?

I think my main issue with this book is that the author is in his mid-20s. I am turning into an old grump, but quite frankly I don’t think Clunis has the life experience needed to write a book like this – at least, not for people outside his own age group. He talks dismissively of people who never take risks, are never willing to lose everything to gain something better, and uses the example of Jim Carey’s father from a talk the actor gave once. Urm, right. ‘Cos a sane, responsible parent can afford to take that kind of gamble o.O

There are snippets of good advice, but that can’t mitigate the awful, smug tone, and quite frankly dreadful suggestions at times. Avoid.

NetGalley eARC: 224 pages / 12 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 3rd-17th April 2019

My rating: 3/10

Brain Chatter Declutters – Leonid Altshuler

brain chatter declutters cover

“All I know today about different meditation techniques I learned in Nepal, where years ago I spent some time living in a monastery where I had a teacher, Master Bishal.”

As stated in an earlier post, I’ve been practising meditating for several years now, but I always like reading books that can perhaps bring a fresh insight into the whole thing, or just remind me why I enjoy it. This is not that book.

It starts off in a very forced, chatty style that instantly got on my nerves. The author was so desperate to attend a retreat to ‘fix’ himself, he then gets there and doesn’t even give it a chance before he’s announcing it as a waste of time – I smell “Let’s pretend to raise doubts my audience might have!” Of course, the whole thing turns out to be a magic cure, for the author and then in the second part for his ‘case study’ whose tale is told in exactly the same irritating tone.

All of which would be fine, if not for the quasi-medical tone. “It is well known” and “several studies have shown” is not actual scientific research, even if backed up by a handful of random links at the end. Either do science properly, or – even if what is being said is true – it comes across as wishy washy faux pseudo-science.

Mercifully short, this still manages to repeat a whole block of information – despite the author also giving over a few paragraphs on why he’s keeping the book so short – as if putting it in twice somehow legitimises the medical premise.

The thing is, the information could well be true. The author might indeed be a doctor. And there’s nothing new or controversial in claiming that meditation can help with all sorts of health issues – in fact, the link between mindfulness and stress really is ‘well-known’ and scientifically backed. The link to ‘metabolic syndrome’ and insulin resistance might well be too, but the way this book is written makes it all feel very flaky and doubtable, or that to really benefit you, too, would have to go spend months at an exotic retreat.

Not recommended, although meditation is well worth doing regardless of such books.

NetGalley eARC: 45 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 20th-27th January 2019

My rating: 3/10

Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

mary poppins returns poster

The two children from Mary Poppins (1964) have grown up and, in Michael’s case, had children of his own. Following the death of his wife, however, Michael’s life is sliding into mayhem. The final straw is a repossession notice on the family home. Can the Banks family – Michael (Ben Wishaw), sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), and the three children who are more looking after the grown ups than the other way around – find a way to save their house before the bank forecloses? Well, perhaps when a strong wind blows in a familiar face…

Let’s not beat about this bush: I can only hope this is the worst movie I see this year, and what a woeful start! It’s definitely not ‘practically perfect’ in any way – more perfectly dire in far too many ways.

Where to start? Emily Blunt looks great as Mary Poppins – her shoes are a highlight of the movie for me, genuinely (!) – but then she opens her mouth and what the heck?! The mangled, talking-through-marbles fake posh accent is like some horrible impression of… I don’t even know what.

Having to listen to that my ears were well primed to start bleeding when the youngers began singing o_O

The rest of the cast are at least tuneful, but the tunes themselves are insipid in the extreme. Not one has stuck in my head – I came out of the cinema humming “Fly a Kite” from the original, after one bar of it is used in the background. C’mon!!

I did quite like the cartoon-world song and dance, something about a book and its cover, but I do not think it belonged in this movie at all. The innuendo, MP’s sudden cockney turn – what?! As much as I usually like Emily Blunt, her take on MP is borderline obnoxious at times, too.

I yawned through a lot of this movie. I couldn’t stop fidgeting. I wish to heck I’d gone to see The Favourite instead.

Some people seem to like this movie, but I really can’t imagine why – unless the ‘U’ stands for ‘under fives only’. I suppose bits of it look pretty good? But it’s so tonally off it was a painful experience. At least the only way for my moving-viewing year to go is up – which must be what that last song meant!

Released: 21st December 2018
Viewed: 4th January 2019
Running time: 130 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 3/10

Snatched (2017)

Absolute no-hoper Emily (Amy Schumer) is dumped by her boyfriend before their trip to Ecuador. When none of her friends are willing to go with her, a moment of madness sees her invite her mother, Linda (Goldie Hawn), with the intention of making her rediscover her fun side. However, Emily’s naive chasing of a good time soon leads to the pair’s kidnapping, closely followed by a less-than-smooth escape attempt.

I went into this hoping for some daft laughs, but while there were a (very) few moments in this that genuinely made me chuckle, overall I found it largely cringe-worthy. Emily is annoyingly pathetic, with no job or prospects or common sense. The only thing worse is her stay-at-home brother, whose feeble shouts at/for “Mamma!” were like nails down a chalkboard to me. Even Goldie Hawn, who I generally think is great, is given a rather tragic character for the first half of the movie, before finally being more ‘Goldie’.

The story could have had potential, but instead I felt it was a set of rather random and weird things thrown together supposedly to be funny. The ex-Spec Ops who cut out her own tongue? The adventurous rescuer who is clearly in some soap opera spoof? Ooh, or the whole, very icky, tapeworm scene – wtf? There was zero point to most of it, except padding out the story. And if the moral is meant to be about mothers and daughters bonding in extreme circumstances, I think it would be more appropriately: moms, b*tch-slap some sense into your idiotic adult offspring.

Short version: utterly not to my tastes or sense of humour. Avoid.

Released: 19th May 2017
Viewed: 26th May 2017
Running time: 90 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 3/10

BladeRunner 4: Eye and Talon – KW Jeter

Given how much I enjoyed The Edge of Human and Replicant Night, slogging through the fourth in this series was a bit of masochism dressed up as completionism. I wasn’t far into it when I asked the question, why do I do this to myself, and then I realised: Jeter and I share a love of Blade Runner, the movie. I almost started to enjoy Eye and Talon, as a love letter to a fantastic film. But then I kept reading.

That said, this final volume is better than book 3. Probably. It has a slightly more imaginative story, not entirely rehashing what’s gone before. We get a new character, a new take on the human/replicant question. To begin with, Iris’s story looks like it might be a great new chapter in the Blade Runner universe, but sadly the last half of the book descends into a bit of a mess.

The real interest in the book is how the new movie might have drawn on the three books, and how the storylines diverge from the original movie compared to the Director’s Cut. Still, it’s not enough to make a ‘good’ read, however intriguing the premise. Hmm. If I was ever going to try fan-fic, maybe an improvement on these would be a way to go?

Paperback: 236 pages
First published: 2000
Series: BladeRunner book 4
Read from 11th February – 2nd April 2017

My rating: 3/10

Riddick (2013)

When the third installment of the Chronicles of Riddick (following the movie of the same name, which itself followed Pitch Black, both of which I rather enjoyed, in different ways) was announced, I remember being excited: here was a sequel I’d really wanted to see, but almost didn’t get made, as I might have been one of the only ones who enjoyed CoR. In fact, I rather enjoyed Riddick at the cinema – so I wasn’t really expecting to loathe large swathes of it on a TV repeat viewing.

The first disappointment is how Riddick follows on from its predecessor – we’d last left Richard B. suddenly in charge of his enemies, the weird but intriguing Necromancers; a situation with no end of possibility. But no: let’s just sweep all that aside in a somewhat clunky opening. Bah.

What follows is a movie of two halves. First, Riddick must claw for survival, abandoned as he is on a hostile planet inhabited by nasty critters. Again, there’s some scope here, but in the re-viewing, all I could see was the ridiculousness of the hugely over the top ‘manly’ posing (including silhouetted in the buff, on top of a rock, for no good reason!) and completely unfeasible overcoming of terrible injuries. Oh yeah – and the cartoon dog. It’s not meant to be, but… o_O

Eventually we get some other cast members, and it is vaguely amusing to see the role call of big burly blokes, and laugh that they were in this before more recent roles: e.g. Dave Bautista, pre-Guardians of the Galaxy, or Matt Nable, more recognisable now as Ra’s Al Ghul from Arrow (if you’re me, and watch these shows, of course!). Less impressive, however, is our sole female character.

What amazes me is how little of the really, REALLY dire, misogynistic treatment of the character of Dahl (pronounced ‘doll’, of course!), both by the other characters and just generally how the role is used, went largely unnoticed by me when I saw this at the cinema. On repeat viewing, it was not only obviously but so distractingly cringe-worthy that I could no longer enjoy the mindless action or scenery, which will usually get me to forgive a lot in a popcorn movie.

Played by the usually wonderful Katee Sackhoff, Dahl isn’t just abused for being a woman in a man’s world – urgh, but she does kick ass in return! – but it’s the way she morphs into a bit of a girly purely through apparent awe of Riddick’s character. She’s in the script, it seems, to be threatened, ogled, and set as the ‘prize’ for the biggest, baddest man. What the hell?!!

As I say, I’m amazed and appalled that I didn’t  see this on first viewing (others did; I think I thought them oversensitive at the time). But even aside from that, even the action and scenery was really spoiled by the constant posing and (even within genre) unrealistic physical showing off, matching the arrogance and increasingly unpleasant smugness of the lead character.

Overall: hard to see now as anything other than a Vin Diesel vanity piece, and I’m actually disappointed.

Released: 4th September 2013
Viewed: 23rd March 2016 (rewatch)
Running time: 119 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 3/10

Black Trillium – Julian May et al

“In the Eighth Hundred after those of Ruwenda came to rule over the swamp wilderness called the Mazy Mire (though not completely, for they never mastered the intractable Oddlings), legend and history both awoke to record one of those great changes which now and then alter the very balance of the world.”

I wanted to like this book, really I did. It came with a recommendation from a friend’s warm memories of reading this as a youngster, and the new reissue that saw me grab a review copy from NetGalley made me hopeful of an old series finding a new audience.

Then I started reading. And, if that opening sentence doesn’t warn you enough, it is possibly the worst opening to a book I have ever read. Every single mistake writing classes/advice warn you about is present: the overly long, info-dump of a description of the fantasy world, written in that stilted, ‘high fantasy’-stylised tone, full of made-up names about places and events that you have zero context for and thus really don’t care about just now. Pages and pages of this, with no action or dialog.

When we do finally meet the main characters, they are not all that appealing: triplet princesses (a blonde, a redhead, and one with dark hair – ‘cos, y’know… o_O ) who are just lovely and stereotypical: the warrior, the ‘brain’, and the soppy one. Each is sent off on a quest, but all three will be needed to save the land from the invaders, ‘cos Prophecy.

I’m sorry, but my eyeballs are bleeding, and we’re only a few chapters in.

To be fair, the whole thing eventually improves – to the level of a bog-standard, 1990s fantasy cliche, I’m afraid. It’s not awful by the time it gets going, but I’m afraid I can’t say it makes up for the awfulness of the opening chapter. And while the concept of the three famous authors each writing a character is certainly intriguing, I couldn’t discern what it was adding to the whole.

That my friend remembered it fondly from years back implies that (a) it’s more for a younger audience, and (b) fantasy fiction has matured greatly in a quarter of a century (thank goodness!). I can imagine that back in the early 1990s having three female leads in a fantasy would have been wonderfully different from most of what was out there, but it certainly hasn’t aged well.

Paperback: 491 pages
First published: 1990
Series: The Saga of the Trillium, book 1 (of 5, with the original authors writing different books)
Read from 1st September 2015 – 31st January 2016 (it was a bit of a slog!)

My rating: 3/10 – harmless enough fluff after a dire start, but hasn’t aged well, alas

The Transporter Refueled (2015)

What can I say – it was a slim week for cinema offerings! And so I went along to this with low expectations… and was still disappointed!

The reason this didn’t work for me is almost certainly the charisma-free performance from Ed Skrein, utterly failing to be Jason Statham. Somehow he just doesn’t convince as the hard as nails ‘Transporter’ – he’s too… I dunno, emotional? Hmm.

The action – the raison d’etre – is alright, but again it fails to convince at certain key moments.

The plot and characterisation and all that – well, you surely weren’t expecting much of all that from a movie like this, were you?! 😉

And yet still: I’d rather watch this again that a repeat of Fantastic Four: Transporter was expectedly naff, F4 was disappointing. There’s a difference.

Released: 4th September 2015
Running time: 96 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 3/10

Fantastic Four (2015)

Well, it’s finally happened: the Marvel logo at the start of the film is no longer a guarantee of fun. This movie was pretty darn dreadful – I think they should have let Fox keep all the ‘credit’ and distanced themselves as much as possible from this po-faced, misjudged, badly edited, sorry excuse for a super hero dirge.

Rumours are that the studio are to blame for interfering with the director’s cut of the movie. It makes sense. The opening half isn’t so dreadful, with introductions to the characters before the ‘accident’. That the momentous events are caused by so much utterly unlikely shambolic behaviour from a bunch of supposedly bright scientists is perhaps excusable – IF the movie were any fun. Sadly, it isn’t.

The one saving grace, for me, is the explanation of why the four characters get different abilities from the one accident. That is it. Oh, okay – some of the special effects and sets look good (sadly, Kate Mara’s wig looks dreadful – how hard would that have been to get right, instead of distractingly dire?). And, alright: the characterisations are an improvement from the previous adaptation (especially the Invisible Girl) – but I still didn’t like a single one of them, and quite frankly they were given about as much to do as the scenery.

My advice is: when you see the ‘one year later’ card flashed across the screen, leave. My cinema-buddies seemed to enjoy it enough, but I couldn’t stand the blandness, the terrible (lack of) storytelling, the inconsistencies, and most of all the utterly humourless way it’s all done. Everything is finished off with the obvious setting up for a sequel I can only hope never sees the light of day!

Released: 6th August 2015
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 3/10