The Great Wall (2016)

great wall poster

The first trailer I saw for this made it look a bit like historical fiction, which was maybe vaguely interesting. It took much longer for the penny to drop: here be dragons! Why on earth would you not have that front and centre in the trailer?! And suddenly very much my cup of tea…

Turns out they’re not really dragons, but a swarm of nasty critters that feed on humans. This movie postulates that the real reason the Great Wall of China was built was to keep these things away from a – pardon the pun – all you can eat Chinese buffet. Ahem.

However, the story is handed to Matt Damon’s ‘European’ (hmm) mercenary, on the hunt for the semi-mythical ‘black powder’ to take back home. When he stumbles into the secret of the Wall, they neither believe his story or plan to allow him to take tales back to the rest of the world.

There are things to like about this movie. I’ve long been a fan of movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Hero (2002), which brought an Eastern flavour to Western audiences, complete with aerial acrobatics and saturated colour palettes. Great Wall picks up on many of these facets, and as faintly ridiculous as they can be here, I did like the richly coloured armour, in shades of red, yellow, blue, and purple. The fight scenes are as impressive as you would expect, too.

However, that’s probably about it. The story is so-so, nothing particularly novel once you get past the intriguing fantasy-myth element. There was a bit of a ‘hmm’ on release about putting a white man front and centre, and while I went in unsure if this was a bit of an over-reaction, it is more than a little insulting that Matt Damon is such the hero, set up to save the day, the entire battalion that spent its life training for this, and the ‘delicate’ female, too.

I haven’t quite put my finger on what the creatures reminded me off – some sci-fi or other – but I’ve definitely seen them in a slightly different format before, so yawn.

Overall, quite the disappointment, alas, especially as I’ve been looking forward to it cropping up on a streaming platform since I missed it at the cinema. It’s not terrible, so by all means fill a boring couple of hours, but go in with much lower expectations than I managed.

Released: 17th February 2017
Viewed: 26th January 2019
Running time: 103 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5/10

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Venom (2018)

venom poster

Investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is having a run of bad luck – losing his job, his girlfriend, and his home – when things take a turn for the worse. Trying to get his revenge on totally-not-Elon-Musk entrepreneur and space nut, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), Eddie breaks into a lab that turns out to be holding an alien symbiote – which decides Eddie is just the host it needs.

Venom is a Spiderman villain, and the announcement of this Spider-verse movie without the webslinger always sounded a bit odd. However, that’s one bit of this movie I did like: the focus is on the villain, not the yawn-some conflict with a superhero, meaning the character is far from the usual one-dimensional offering.

And, Tom Hardy is pretty darn good at playing crazy, as he holds conversations with himself and reacts to the voice only he can hear, saying such wonderful things as “Let’s bite off all the heads – pile of bodies, pile of heads.” The CGI is… fine?

Alas, that about ends the things that were particularly good about this movie. When it hit one of the highs, it was very enjoyable – but most of the movie was not at that level. The plot is a bit meh, the baddy is as one-dimensional as a regular superhero villain, and Michelle Williams’ girlfriend role is not good.

I did enjoy this well enough as I watched, but I won’t be looking to see it again. I might hope a sequel could build on the strengths, as this is an interesting way to add to the very very crowded superhero market. But I’m too ‘meh’ about this one to care if they don’t try for a follow up.

Released: 3rd October 2018
Viewed: 26th October 2018
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10

Read and Gone – Allison Brook

read and gone cover

“I glanced around my cottage at the thirty or so guests laughing and chatting, and grinned.”

It’s only been a few months, book-time, since the events of Death Overdue. Carrie is settling into all aspects of her life: moving back to her childhood town, finding a perfect new home, library job, cat ownership, new boyfriend, talking to the odd ghost, and solving a few murders.

What her new domestic bliss does not need is a reappearance from her absentee, jewel-thief father. Jim Singleton arrives on Carrie’s birthday, but his visit has more to do with some missing loot… trouble is, he’s not the only one keen to get his hands on it, and soon the bodies are piling up…

The Haunted Library wasn’t my favourite cosy mystery series of last year, but picking up this second volume felt like it was written for me: it starts with a big birthday (I’ve just celebrated one) and house warming (which I’m looking forward to hosting!), and the main character has recently found a job that fits her, after many years of being an outsider. I’m even considering going the other way with her fashion choices, and dying my hair purple…!

However, similarities end there, and my camaraderie with Carrie slipped massively when she started throwing histrionics at the slightest provocation. She storms out on her boyfriend more times than I counted, after jumping to conclusions and very little chat. It got a bit annoying. I could forgive the plot-driving daft choices (oh yes, of course go chasing a known murderer on your own, you librarian!) but the chick-lit relationship woes (with boyfriend or with father) wasn’t really for me.

The mystery element is okay, not the strongest but at least logical enough. And yes, I guessed the baddy ahead of time! Alas, characters are somewhat two-dimensional, serving plot or stereotype rather than feeling rounded. Ymmv.

I’m not really sure about this one, overall. It requires a lot of foreknowledge from the previous book, but uses it as brief background. The library ghost, for instance, feels crammed in with no real purpose, just out of necessary for the series title. And the amount of time spent writing about the cat feels a bit out of proportion.

That said, I was in the mood for an untaxing read, and this suited that perfectly.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 38 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Haunted Library book 2
Read from 16th-18th September 2018

My rating: 5/10

Skyscraper (2018)

skyscraper poster

If you’re after a big, daft, summer blockbuster, I guess you’re not going to get much bigger than the titular building in this movie, The Pearl. Two hundred-plus stories, half retail with private accomodation at the top, actual parkland in the middle (!): all the owner of the world’s new tallest building needs is the final sign off on the security and safety aspects.

Step forward Dwayne Johnson’s security expert, Will Sawyer, brought in by an ex-colleague. Pathos is layered on with the backstory of a hostage situation gone wrong, leaving both men scarred and The Rock missing a leg. Actually, contentious as this was, I thought it was pretty cool letting the big action hero have a disability. Although the actor in question is not disabled, the character gets the girl/family after his accident, and is still totally kick-ass through this movie. So, step in the right direction?

Otherwise, there’s not a great deal to this movie, which ends up being Towering Inferno meets Die Hard. There’s some daft fun, a lot of dizzying visuals, and some blatant disregard for the laws of physics.

I suppose I could mention that I was also vaguely impressed that the ‘damsel in distress’ (aka Mrs Sawyer, Neve Campbell) gets to have her own kick-ass moments, against expectation.

Still, my favourite part of the whole thing was the brief visual of the semi-vertical park space inside this enormous building. Doesn’t quite say much about the rest of it 😉

Overall: big, mindless, summer blockbuster fun. Does exactly what it says on the tin.

Released: 12th July 2018
Viewed: 20th July 2018
Running time: 102 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5.5/10

Read Herring Hunt – VM Burns

read herring hunt cover

“‘Did you see the getup that little floozy had on?'”

The Plot is Murder introduced us to Sam Washington, who takes the devastation of her husband’s death as a chance to live their dream of opening a mystery bookshop. Settled in to her new life and recovered from finding her realtor dead in her new yard, Sam is once again about to be thrust into a real-life murder mystery. This time it’s her practically-family new tenant who’s being accused of murdering his tarty ex-girlfriend. Can Sam, along with her grandmother and motley cast of friends, clear the accused’s name and find the real culprit?

I didn’t not enjoy this book. It was a light and easy read, exactly as I hoped and expected, and the characters are all quite fun. However, I felt that the author has really rushed this out – the first installment was only published at the end of November last year! That might not necessarily be an issue, but it’s an obvious culprit behind the too-sudden ending. Although the ‘whodunnit’ was fairly predictable from quite early on, it still seemed an abrupt and jarring chapter that dumped the ‘big reveal’ on us, and even more quickly tied up the peril. It was a little disappointing, to be honest.

Still, cosy mystery readers might find the ongoing personal dramas – dating and ‘learning to live again’ kind of things – enough to smooth over that. I did like the book-within-the-book element, adding an extra layer, although the “Cor blimey gov” dialect gets a bit cringeworthy.

I’d probably give the series at least one more go, and hope that the next book has a slightly stronger mystery element.

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages / 23 chapters
First published: April 2018
Series: Mystery Bookshop book 2
Read from 19th-27th April 2018

My rating: 5/10

When We First Met (2018)

when we first met poster

Noah (Adam Devine, Pitch Perfect) thinks he’s made a connection with Avery (Alexandra Daddario, Percy Jackson) after they meet at a party. Three years later, he’s still carrying a torch and wondering what went wrong as she celebrates her engagement to Ethan (Robbie Amell, The Flash). Drunk and bitter, he discovers something amazing: a photo booth that lets him travel back in time. Can he figure out his mistake, redo the whole evening, and create the perfect future?

This is a rather saccharine romcom version of The Butterfly Effect, with a time travel device that’s surely related to the aging wish-granter of Big. Noah tries again and again to alter his path to true love, and we’re shown most of the ways in which he gets it wrong along the way.

There’s nothing either surprising or objectionable to this, it’s just… fine. The cast are all pretty and/or bland, although the lead borders on irritating. There are a few laughs along the way, and exactly the message you’re expecting after about, oooh, reading the description 😉

So, while nothing special, if you have Netflix and nothing better to do for Valentine’s day, this isn’t the worst option. Probably 😉

Released: 9th February 2018 (Netflix)
Viewed: 10th February 2018
Running time: 97 minutes
Rated: 12

My rating: 5/10

Bright (2017)

bright poster

Imagine if The Lord of the Rings wasn’t fantasy, but actual history. Fast forward hundreds of years to the present day, and perhaps the first orc has joined the LA police department. He’d be facing terrible racism, of course, not to mention a great deal of suspicion as to where his loyalties lie: with the law, or to the Clan. And of course, orcs sided with the Dark Lord all those centuries ago, so it’s not like you can trust any of them. Not like the elves – they’re the best of the best, beautiful and rich and of course running the show. Us humans? Just somewhere in the middle, trying to keep the pest fairies out of the bird feeders.

In this reality, the law must deal with fanatics who want to resurrect the Dark Lord, and generally keep an eye on problems with magic. And what could be more dangerous than a magic wand – a ‘nuclear bomb that grants wishes’? So when one of those turns up it’s not long before everyone – law, gangs, humans, elves and orcs – all want to get their hands on it.

Bright is an intriguing concept – high fantasy meets gritty police action – not particularly well executed overall, but actually turned out watchable enough. Will Smith is the big draw, of course, but he’s doing his bruised and damaged persona which is a lot less fun than his other character. Joel Edgerton is unrecognisable under the orc makeup, and to be honest the slow-witted character is just a bit too dim not to be a touch annoying, I felt. Elves get a bad rap, of course, but Noomi Rapace and Edgar Ramirez look great in their pointy ears.

Plot-wise, this is whip thin: everyone chasing and killing for that magic wand. The action pace tries to distract from that, and the special effects are pretty good, but without a character I actually liked (oy, the elf girl is annoyingly drippy!) there just wasn’t enough here to take ‘oddly intriguing’ into ‘liked’.

Of course, the big ‘thing’ about this movie is that it was released on Netflix, not in the cinema – smart move! Apparently it attracted an impressive 11 million curious viewers in its opening weekend, pretty much guaranteeing a sequel. And while I wasn’t exactly impressed with Bright, the fact that it will arrive on my TV without additional cost or effort means I’ll probably watch it – just, hope they can improve a bit on the plot and characters, tbh!

Released: 22nd December 2017
Viewed: 23rd December 2017
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10