The Aeronauts (2019)

aeronauts poster

In 1862, the idea of meteorology – the science of weather – was a laughable thing (as opposed to 2019, when it’s still largely laughable? Hmm). Scientist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) is determined to prove otherwise, but to do so he needs the help of a hot air balloon pilot. In real life, this was Henry Coxwell, but the movie makers have decided to sex up the story (hah!) and so we have the fictional Amelia Rennes (Felicity Jones) instead.

The quest to ‘go higher than anyone before’ is portrayed, I believe, in real time – which I didn’t know at the time, but is interesting. Interspersed we have a lot of flashbacks, to Glaisher’s struggle to be taken seriously, Rennes’ tragic backstory, and the pair’s less than smooth path to their record breaking flight.

There is an interesting story here, however slight (two men float up for a couple hours – yes, scientifically important, but… hmm), but it isn’t really enough to make a whole movie out of, I think. So instead the filmmakers have crammed in fiction, and tried too hard to make drama out of very little – and as a result, rather missing the point. If they’d kept the focus, actually let the viewer ride along, it could have rivalled Gravity, perhaps?

Occasionally, the whole thing looks spectacular. The balloon adrift in a huge expanse of sky is ‘wow’. I liked the Victorian period details. I was very glad that we didn’t get some silly romance subplot. And… that’s about it, I’m afraid. I was quite frankly bored through most of it, with even the moments of high drama rather failing to lift the whole piece.

I don’t know what the point of this was, to be honest. A few pretty scenes, an impressive enough cast. But, just no, overall.

Released: 4th November 2019 (UK)
Viewed: 9th November 2019
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 5/10

Dracul – Dacre Stoker

dracul cover

“I am quite convinced that there is no doubt whatever that the events here described really took place, however unbelievable and incomprehensible they might appear at first sight.”

“The prequel and continuation of the classic work “Dracula” by Bram Stoker written by his descendant Dacre Stoker”.

What if the classic Dracula (1897) was based on the real life of the author? Indeed, Bram Stoker was a sickly child before making a rather miraculous recovery – an infusion of vampiric blood? And so this book affects to be written by his descendant, who has ‘discovered’ notebooks and such telling the ‘real’ story.

I must confess, I’m no wiser as to whether Dacre Stoker is real or a vaguely elaborate creation, nor do I think it matters – the conceit of the ‘reality’ of it all impresses me not one jot. If the story is good, then that’s all that matters.

And indeed, it starts out well enough. There’s a subtlety to the first part, dealing with the life of young Bram and his siblings, as they first encounter what may or may not be a vampire. However, as the author reaches adulthood, the tale felt like a ‘retelling’ of the classic, using historical figures to stand in for the known cast: Mina, Lucy, Van Helsing, et al.

To be honest, I found it a bit dull, perhaps supposed to have an extra chill from being ‘real’ (I can’t help but scoff, I’m sorry!). I felt we hit quite a few cliches, particularly the ‘friendly vampire’. It also seems to lift heavily from the visuals and perhaps even the motifs of Frances Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).

So, overall something here just didn’t work for me, at least after that first section. The story feels derivative and unsatisfying, adding nothing new to the sub-genre. Worse, I think it actually cheapens the original book by suggesting it’s a journal and not a well-written piece of excellent imagination.

Ack. It’s not an awful read by any stretch, but it just didn’t click for me at all.

NetGalley eARC: 512 pages
First published: 2019
Series: Stoker’s Dracula book 1
Read from 12th-31st August 2019

My rating: 5/10

The Lure of the Ring – Alan James Strachan

lure of the ring cover

“Tom Bombadil is the prevailing mystery in Tolkien’s work.”

This is an odd little book. It’s basically a treatise on spirituality, using The Lord of the Rings as an example. Not entirely what I thought I was getting, and probably not going to find a wide audience – Tolkien fans will be disappointed that it’s not really about LotR, and if you’re looking for the spiritual stuff the fantasy-source might seem flippant.

Still, I started off rather enjoying it – someone talking about LotR can’t be all bad, after all! But, after a while, the tone really started to grate on me. I would have preferred an approach of “I think”, “my translation is”, “to me, this suggests…” rather than the quasi-academic sense of certainty. Writers rarely ‘mean’ what future studies try to pin on their stories; indeed, at the end of this the author even admits that Tolkien’s letters reveal the multi-layers of allegory and meaning didn’t appear until years later.

The lecturing tone can be a little patronising, I found – or, perhaps that’s the increasing density of the subject. From easy-to-grasp concepts – what Galadriel’s refusal of the Ring says about her character, for example – by the end he’s quoting quasi-religious texts, talking about the Self that is no-Self, and at times my head was just spinning!

If this is your cup of tea, by all means give it a go. Personally, I don’t think I was fully expecting the build up to full-on ‘nondual spirituality’ and self-actualisation, and while it might have been interesting getting there I didn’t wholly appreciate the feeling of being preached at, even if the author does back away from that by the end again.

The message, though, is nice enough, and it is interesting seeing ‘just a fantasy story for kids’ (hah!) providing such rich source material.

NetGalley eARC: 87 pages / 18 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 23rd-28th September 2019

My rating: 5/10

Simplify Your Life – Sarah O’Flaherty

simplify your life cover

“Frustrated with the old processes of goal setting and outmoded self-help techniques, I’ve developed a new, simplified approach to personal development.”

There’s nothing wrong with this book, but there’s nothing new or desperately interesting about it either. And the title felt a bit misleading: there’s a lot of very generic improve-your-life stuff (mainly pretty obvious), and very little about actually simplifying through the first part.

The first two sections are ‘About You’ – self awareness, on different levels – ‘About You and Me’ – relationships and ‘tribes’. So far, fine but much as will be found in any self-help tome. The third section is about relating to the world and your environment, creativity, purpose – again, not awful, but still had me shouting “Get to the simplicity!”

Section 4 is ‘Essentials’: being present, gratitude, giving, and – FINALLY! – simplicity. Seriously, one short chapter in a book of 23 that deals with the topic I was here for?!

So yeah. Being harsh for not being what it called itself, although otherwise it’s a perfectly fine (if nothing wow) self-help 101. This ‘new, simplified approach’ really wasn’t apparent to me, just light reading on basic topics.

NetGalley eARC: 136 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 27th May – 4th June 2019

My rating: 5/10

Fisherman’s Friends (2019)

fishermans friends poster

Based on a true story, this movie tells of a group of Cornish fisherman who went on to achieve chart success – continuing to this day! – with an unlikely album of sea shanties. It’s got feel-good, heart-warming British comedy-drama written all over it, and I went in (mainly to avoid Five Feet Apart but also) fully expecting to have my cockles warmed, foot a-tapping, and feeling good.

Alas, things did not go according to plan. It’s not a bad movie, and it does have many elements of the above. But, contrary to the advertising this is not so much a movie about hard-working shanty-singing salt of the earth types (I’m using all these cliches on purpose, btw – it suits the movie to a t!). Instead, we get the rather less appealing story about the cynical record exec finding that Cornwall’s heart is better than London’s glamour, blah blah, so much blah, yawn blah.

The focus on the movie is so skewed, in my opinion, that it takes a ‘real’ story and instead trots out every cliche known to man. There isn’t a beat in the narrative that doesn’t follow the archetypal story: love won and lost, darkest moment before the dawn, ‘hero’s’ change of heart. All of which bored and annoyed me in equal measure. I didn’t particularly want the London knob head to get a redemption story or happy ending. I actually dislike Daniel Mays as an actor, so putting him ahead of the actual supposed subjects of the movie was just… everything that’s wrong with the UK’s London-centricity, in a movie that was meant to distract me from politics. Argh!!

tl;dr: not enough fishermen, too much London tosser. Two hours of gorgeous Cornish scenery and the shanties would have left me happier without the story.

Released: 15th March 2019
Viewed: 22nd March 2019
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5.5/10

Isn’t It Romantic (2019)

isn't it romantic poster

Cynic Natalie (Rebel Wilson) hates romantic comedies, hates the lies they tell about life. And then one day she hits her head and finds the New York she knew has been replaced with a flowery, polite, nice kind of a version where men find her fascinating and every swear word is beeped by a reversing truck or similar. Could it be… she’s in a rom-com?

I had a couple of recommendations for this movie, and thought as a bit of fluff it might tick a few boxes. I suppose it did. It’s inoffensive enough, I think. Rebel Wilson was the right choice of lead, playing a sort of anti-Fat Amy from Pitch Perfect, in terms of having zero confidence. The message is delivered well enough.

Otherwise, though, even poking fun at all the genre cliches doesn’t stop them from being, well, cliched.

Sweet enough and watchable enough, but I’m not going to be raving about it. Although more movies need to end with a dancing Hemsworth, methinks – we’re up to two, let’s keep going! 😉

Released: 28th February 2019
Viewed: 3rd March 2019
Running time: 89 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5/10

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

legend of tarzan poster

Almost a decade has passed since Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, returned to his inheritance in England as Lord Greystoke, John Clayton III. But as Europe tries to carve up Africa for their own economic gain, all is not well in the Belgian Congo. Struggling to pay his debts, the Belgian King Leopold invites Clayton to tour the ‘improvements’ he’s made to the lands where Tarzan once roamed.

Clayton (Alexander Skarsgård) is unwilling to return, but wife, Jane (Margot Robbie), is keen to get back to the lands where she, too, grew up. Finally he concedes when an American (Samuel L Jackson) asks him to go to look for evidence that the real ‘economy’ is slavery, that they might put a stop to it.

I’ll confess up front that my main reason for watching this movie was to perv at Alexander Skarsgård’s eight-pack a bit, and so it probably serves me right that that’s actually the highlight of the movie. He’s worked out hard, has the boy, and kudos to him. Alas, solid abs do not an entertaining movie make, and somehow – given the pedigree of the source material and the dozen or so film adaptations before it to learn from – they’ve managed to make the whole thing, well, kinda dull.

Lord Greystoke is a taciturn, brooding character, all the better to highlight how much more relaxed he was/is as Tarzan. Jane is supposed to be a bit less of a damsel in distress here, but it only half works. The rest of the impressive cast aren’t given enough to work with and just don’t pack the punches they should, including Christoph Waltz, who we know fine and well can pull off evil much better than this.

The story isn’t dreadful, and yet somehow it never gels. Flashbacks interrupt the otherwise kidnap-and-rescue tale, telling us of Tarzan’s upbringing in the jungle, with an ape (not a gorilla, bigger and meaner) as a surrogate mother, his first meeting with Jane, and other things that make the plot make some sense. The CGI isn’t bad, but it’s quite forced: Tarzan rubbing heads with lions, for instance, to make up for all the bits of story that were skipped over in favour of a darker, more serious kind of story.

And overall, I think that’s the problem. When you’re making movies with a premise as vaguely absurd as this, you either go the po-faced serious route, or you have a bit of fun with it. I think I’d rather watch George of the Jungle, tbh.

Released: 6th July 2016
Viewed: 23rd February 2019
Running time: 110 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5/10 – it’s not awful, just dull