Ad Astra (2019)

ad astra poster

Short review: vastly over-hyped, massive disappointment.

Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is the son of the most heroic, lauded astronaut (Tommy Lee Jones) that ever was. Alas, McBride senior disappeared sixteen years into a mission to the edge of the solar system, to try to track down intelligent alien life. Twenty-seven years later, the Earth is in terrible peril from energy surges that seem to come from.. yup, the edge of the solar system. Space Com, a company with worryingly large amounts of power, suspects Roy’s father is to blame – but, that would suggest they have reason to think he’s alive…

So far so good. There were many paths that the filmmakers could have taken this story, at least one of which was suggested by the trailer. But, this is not that movie. I am rather stunned by the fantastic reviews this film is receiving; based on those, I would think I was watching a different movie! Yes, it looks gorgeous, but it’s slow, mopey, full of highly irritating inaccuracies and stupid actions, the story makes no sense, and that voice over – eeep! And please don’t tell me that I just don’t ‘get it’ – the whole void of space vs void of inner life blah blah needs to be paired with something that didn’t make me want to roll my eyes, cringe, or nod off.

One comment I’ve seen in a few reviews is how ‘realistic’ the space stuff is. Urm, absolutely not! There’s not enough gravity on the moon to make dust hang in the air like that; lighter gravity on non-Earth planets isn’t shown; you CANNOT get a ‘boost’ from a shockwave in space like that, and antimatter doesn’t… oh, I give up. Each and every one of these had me cringing. The so-called ‘deep and introspective’ nature of our astronaut ‘hero’ was no excuse for pouting, stupid behaviour, and moments that clearly defied all training. The thing is, if you’re going to make a film set in space I think you either need to go big and silly (e.g. Flash Gordon) or you need to live up to the claims of being ‘realistic’ – this halfway nonsense is just a mess.

And still, y’know, I could have forgiven a lot if the film wasn’t full of randomness that didn’t really fit. The attack by ‘space pirates’ – what was the point of that? Killer baboons! And, why was that research being carried out so far out into space? Other characters flit in and out, and it sort of fits the theme that they are largely meaningless (poor Liv Tyler should have learned from Armageddon), but still. Grrr.

I sat through the mess, thinking this was the kind of film that pulls everything together in the third act, suddenly enlightening the audience and making the slog worth it. No. As seen throughout the movie, there’s a lot of build up to… nothing. And oy, don’t get me started on the total lack of repercussions for anything!!!

Okay. Deep breath. Mostly I am just stunningly disappointed in this film. There are small things that are really well done: the opening disaster; the use of silence (if only Gravity hadn’t gotten there first); the brand names on the moon, the $125 for a pillow and blanket – little nods to the future state of mankind were intriguing. But overall, I think this was just a damp squib, trying to be ‘intellectual’ and failing miserably, and quite frankly too much of an irritating mess to be worth seeing even for the possibility that you’re going to be one of those raving about it.

Released: 18th September 2019
Viewed: 23rd September 2019
Running time: 123 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 4/10 – it looked great, but… everything else o.O

Crawl (2019)

crawl poster

I would never have chosen to go to see this movie, which is one of the problems with – or strengths of, depending on the film! – Cineword’s Secret Screenings. There is such an excitement to not knowing what you’re about to watch, but that was tempered with the audible grown I and many other audience members let out when the title card came up.

I spent the first ten minutes or so wondering if I’d be making a hasty exit: I do not like horror movies. The tension builds as we go from Haley (Kaya Scodelario, Maze Runner) competing in a swimming contest, to heading off into a hurricane to track down the semi-estranged father (Barry Pepper, Battlefield Earth) who isn’t answering his phone. Alas, the ‘crawl’ of the title doesn’t refer to her swimming stroke, but rather the storm-flooded crawl space under the house, where she finds her father’s bleeding body.

And then… well, to be honest knowing absolutely nothing about the movie really helped up to this point, so if you want to leave know I’ll understand 😉

After one rather spooky moment, the revelation that this is a ‘creature feature’ was the only reason I stayed – and, I really wish I hadn’t bothered. Plus side, it’s not actually scary – well, jump-scares, rather than unsettling. There is gore a-plenty, but nothing that was going to disturb my precious sleep. Downside: everything else.

Oh, it’s daft. There is not just a huge dollop of factual ‘error’ (no, a person cannot outswim an alligator!), but a total lack of internal consistency. Sometimes it was too dangerous to venture past the piping, other times it was fine to make a run for it, or pause in the open to check for a phone signal.

This isn’t exactly Jaws for a new age, much as it probably wants to be. It’s a silly man-against-invading-nature ‘thing’, and the rather moronic plot-driving elements made me regret giving it my time. If you’re a fan of the genre, your mileage may vary greatly, but I’m really really not – and this did nothing to change that.

Released: 23rd August 2019
Viewed: 29th July 2019 (advanced, secret screening)
Running time: 87 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 4/10

The Easy Way to Mindfulness – Allen Carr

Easy Way to Mindfulness cover

What if there was a simple, no-effort way to reduce stress, free yourself from anxiety and depression, and increase your happiness? This book’s not quite promising to magically transform your life into rainbows and unicorns, but it’s not far off!

I actually am a huge believer in the power of mindfulness, and meditation, and have experienced a positive change in my life from years of both. However, I’m by no means an expert so any help is more than welcome. Step forward this ‘Easy Way’ title, from the people who apparently devised the best quit smoking method ever – surely a good credential?

Well, they seem to think so, as the book half-reads as a giant advert for the system and previous books – which I found massively irritating. Even discounting those bits, the examples tend to go back to smokers – which was beyond irrelevant to me, and actually left me struggling as I have no experience to connect to such an addiction. Could I move the example over to, say, tea or chocolate? Not so much – unlike smoking, there isn’t the same black-and-white it’s awful, and quite frankly I don’t really want to give up tea or chocolate (having done both at certain points) so this “every smoker absolutely wants to quit” message is again pushing me away.

So: I’d suggest that this is perhaps a book for people who have or want to quit smoking, drinking, gambling, etc, perhaps even using the Easy Way method, and want to go deeper into the mindful techniques that they’ve already used for that.

I did quite like some of the imagery: head in a box of flies-that-are-your-issues, mindfulness is not trying to squish the flies but rather taking your head out of the box. One chapter (13) in particular resonated with me, about the struggling against things being more stressful than the thing itself; life is change, go with the flow etc etc.

However, while there are little bits and pieces like that throughout the book – and these are handily summarised in a final chapter run through (that could, I suspect, have been the outline for a better stab at the full content) – I felt it could have been much better written, with a lot more flow. Paragraphs don’t always follow from the previous one, but rather jump around a little, and the content of each chapter isn’t necessarily as strongly linked to the title as I would have expected.

It really doesn’t help that every single chapter seems to include heavy advertising for the quit smoking clinics and previous books. This is shoe-horned in regardless of whether it actually fits with the mindfulness concept under discussion, which was hugely off-putting. And then the last 10% of the book is a list of clinics’ contact details and previous books o_O

Overall: it’s got some useful advice buried in the advertising, and I suspect that if you’re already a member of the Easy Way audience this might resonate more with you, but I couldn’t help be disappointed that it wasn’t a little more helpful, a little more on-topic (I am hugely interested in mindfulness, after all!) and a little less advertisement for a product I have no use for.

NetGalley eARC: 197 pages / 20 chapters
First published: 15th October 2017
Series: part of the Easy Way series of self-help books
Read from 3rd-7th October 2017

My rating: 4/10

The Mummy (2017)

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is not a very nice guy, using his role as army reconnaissance as an excuse to loot antiquities from warzones. However, he’s about to get his comeuppance when a mission goes a little awry, and he ends up uncovering the prison-tomb of a cursed Egyptian princess with a dark thirst for power and death.

This new version of The Mummy (with absolutely nothing to do with the Brendan Fraser/Arnold Vosloo version) is the first in an intriguing new ‘Dark Universe’ series, supposedly bringing all those old Universal monster movies back to a new audience. Based on this, though, I’m not going to hold my breath that we’ll see any more of the series…

Because, yes, the reviews were right and this movie is quite a bit of a mess. It’s not unwatchable, in the right frame of mind, but it’s got very little to recommend the effort, tbh.

First off, the plot: it’s not very different from the previous version(s), in that an ancient evil is awoken (through greed, mainly), and starts stalking the person/people responsible in an effort to regain power and facial tissue and generally take over the world or something. Other mummies are raised as minions (not actual Minions, which would be hilarious, just small-m-minions to do all the legwork) whilst the big bad does a Terminator-esque slow march towards folk, whining about something or other before sucking faces off. Does anything else happen? Urm, not so much.

There is that element of ‘shared universe’, which adds a clunky layer of exposition to the movie. Here is a group tackling evil. I think. Something like that. Did I care? Hmm.

And of course, the cast. Cruise is at least trying to break the mold a little, and spends half the movie in a concussed, confused, vaguely drunk kind of a state – urm, okay… At least it’s better than Annabelle Wallis as the brains of the piece, who brings a strangled, mouth-full-of-marbles quality to a truly dreadfully written role. The pair share less chemistry than… than… well, than the rest of the movie, which is entirely chemistry free o_O

On the plus-ish side, Sofia Boutella does reasonably well as the Mummy, particularly with the physical demands, although the character is hardly well rounded. Jake Johnson gets to have a good time as the comic relief buddy, but tonally it’s all just a little off – and that’s half the problem, nothing entirely seems to fit within this movie.

The other half of the problem is the awful dialogue. I shall say no more – and wish the scriptwriters had thought of that!! o_O

So. No, don’t bother. The action levels could be vaguely fun (I do get the impression the rest of the movie was just an excuse for the airplane crash), but just so disappointing and uneven that I’m sure there are many, many better options for your cinema bucks.

Released: 9th June 2017
Viewed: 23rd June 2017
Running time: 110 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 4/10 and that might be generous

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: 4/10

BladeRunner 3: Replicant Night – KW Jeter

“Wake up…”

I think the best thing I can say about this book is that it’s very worthwhile to read something a bit rubbish once in a while to make the good stuff look good! o_O

Not having been too impressed with the previous volume, Edge of Human, I had hoped that a second sequel (to the movie, Blade Runner, rather than the source book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) would move further away from the film and have a more interesting plot. Which it almost does, but not before we land slap bang in the middle of the movie – literally, as Deckard advises on a dramatisation of his hunt for the missing (5? 6? ;)) replicants. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but there are a lot of references to visuals in the movie that seem like trying-too-hard in-‘jokes’ for a book. Yes, Mr Writer, we’ve seen it too, thank you very much.

There is quite a lot of repetition here. I suppose some of the ‘real life’ turned to fiction is merited, but then it just keeps happening, constant little dropped references to “oh that bit that only real fans like me would remember”, and it gets really grating, really fast.

Which is a shame, as by the halfway point, there is a really quite fascinating new story line introduced, which had me glued to a large chunk of the book wanting to know what was going on. Alas, I’d have to suggest that the whole thing is handled less than well, and what could have been vastly interesting is turned into another superficial layer on the same-old that we’ve had more than enough of already.

The last book in the series has, like this one, been on my shelf for over a decade, so morbid curiosity will get me to the end, I’m sure. I’m not offering any recommendation, however.

Paperback: 309 pages / 19 chapters
First published: 1996
Series: BladeRunner book 3 (of 4)
Read from 3rd-10th January 2017

My rating: 4/10

BladeRunner 2: The Edge of Human – KW Jeter

“When every murder seems the same, it’s time to quit.”

I reread Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? last year, and was yet again amazed at just how different it is to the film it inspired: BladeRunner. Given both are feted parts of sci-fi culture, the surprise here isn’t that someone decided to try and come up with a sequel (to the movie), it’s that they make so much of an effort to bridge the gap between the two formats.

The central premise of this book comes from a mistake: a mention of six escaped replicants, when the movie then only deals with five. Of course, director Ridley Scott offered his own answers to this with several director’s cuts, so the mystery is already obsolete. Then again, if you weren’t so keen on the shift in direction there, this might offer a different view.

There’s also great scope in the main theme here: what is it that makes us human, and can artificial intelligence get so close to ‘real’ that it is indeed life?

Alas, it all descends into something of a messy sprawl. Too desperate to join book, film, and grander concepts, none felt satisfactorily handled. Instead, we get something of a rehash of the movie: the same replicants, the same BladeRunners, the same issues. Throw in those attempts to paper over some of the gaps between movie and source material – I mean, did anyone really care if J.F. Sebastian was John Isidore renamed, or a separate character? – and… yeah o_O

There is something quite visual in the story telling –  I can see the strain to describe scenes that would have played out better on screen – but ultimately there’s just too much reliance on trying to picture Harrison Ford delivering the lines, rather than developing the character.

This is actual my second read of Edge of Human, but I wouldn’t have noticed from the reread – it left that much of an impact, clearly! However, I’ve had the other two instalments on my shelf for about a decade, and an urge to finally (!) get around to them, particularly before the new BladeRunner 2049 movie hits the cinema later this year. I highly doubt any of these books will have influenced that sequel, but curiosity remains.

Paperback: 340 pages / 17 chapters
First published: 1995
Series: BladeRunner book 2 (of 4)
Read from 21st December 2016 – 14th January 2017 (reread, previously Nov 2007)

My rating: 4/10