Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde poster

November, 1989. The Berlin Wall is about to come down, but there are still East Germans desperate to defect. One – codename Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) – has a list of covert operatives to sell for his freedom. French, Russian, American, and British agents descend on the city-in-chaos, all trying to get their hands on the list first.

One such spy is Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), sent to rendezvous with the embedded section head (James McAvoy) and retrieve the body of the colleague who last had the list. However, it seems that someone is spying on the spies – and she’s soon punching, kicking and shooting her way across the city, searching for the list, the defector, and possibly a double agent. As her superiors warn her: trust no one.

The first thing to really love about this movie is Charlize Theron, kicking ass like a demi-goddess. The action is brutal: no punches pulled – pun intended – in showing the reality of being in a fight. No one shrugs off blows to the head as in so many action-lite movies: this is more Bourne than Bond, with a large dash of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Of course, this also means that there’s a fair bit of flinching for the not-so-hardened audience – surprised this is still a 15, and that’s before we get to large amounts of naked flesh!

The music is another big plus. I’m a little weirded out that the era of my childhood is now ripe for ‘period’ settings – ouch, quite frankly! – but the 1980s soundtrack is just brilliant. There’s a mix of original and remixed songs from the era, the latter giving a darker tone to some pop classics, and very appropriate to the piece.

The assembled cast is rather impressive, too, from those already mentioned to Sophia Boutella, John Goodman, Toby Jones, and Bill Skarsgard. My only complaint here would be Theron and McAvoy out-plumming each other with their respective English accents.

And finally, this is another movie that just looks amazing. The colour palette switches between drab, bleached-out misery and eye-popping neon glow, often thrown across the face of a Debbie Harry-esque leading lady.

Alas, for all those positives, there is a large dollop of style over substance here. I really wanted to come away feeling entertained, but was rather more confused and/or a touch disappointed with the somewhat messy plot. As it becomes increasingly convoluted, I did feel attempts at twists were there because they could be, rather than making the story any stronger – or making sense for the character development we don’t quite see.

Still worth a watch, but don’t do what one person did in my screening and run out the first time the screen goes dark! ūüėČ

Released: 9th August 2017
Viewed: 15th August 2017
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10

Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft – Mindy Klasky

girls guide to witchcraft cover

“They don’t teach witchcraft in library school.”

Every once in a while I feel the need for some light reading – often while I’m slogging through something heavier – and recently I’ve been more inclined to dabble with genres I would previously had recoiled from in horror: namely, chicklit and paranormal romance. Yeah o_O

GGtW was an Amazon freebie I must have downloaded ages ago, attracted by the mix of magic and libraries. If I have to put up with some soppy girlie stuff along the way, so be it, right?

Jane is a librarian, and a bit of a mouse. I’m sad to say she actually does the whole removes-glasses-gets-haircut-becomes-hot (and fyi you do NOT start wearing contact lenses without weeks of pain!) over the course of the book (hardly a spoiler), but at least it’s through her own volition, more or less.

Viewed in the right frame of mind, it is actually quite nice to see her starting to like herself more and develop some confidence, as she is a bit sad at the start of the book, pining after her ‘Imaginary Boyfriend’ (her words) a year after being dumped by her fiance. She has the cheek to be a bit catty about her best friend’s military-like plan for churning through first dates, especially as bf is in the story mainly to be there every single time for our ‘heroine’.

Talking of, it’s not long before Jane discovers the collection of magic books in her new basement, summons a familiar by mistake, and goes on to have a few magical disasters over the course of the book. First mistake? Casting a love spell…! o_O

It’s hard to be wholly positive about this book, as it is utter fluff, but I confess I did rather enjoy it. It’s very daft, very VERY light reading, and exactly what I was looking for to balance the slog of the other tome I’m currently struggling with. Are there flaws? Of course – and a whole heap of cliches too!

Recommended? Urm, probably not to the tastes of anyone I know – although, I suspect y’all would be keeping this as a guilty secret anyway ūüėČ

Kindle: 432 pages / 30 chapters
First published: 2006
Series: Jane Maddison book 1
Read from 25th June – 3rd July 2017

My rating: 6/10

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death – James Runcie

“Canon Sidney Chambers had never intended to become a detective.”

An unconventional young vicar finds a bit of excitement in an otherwise quiet life by investigating crimes with his police detective best mate. His dog collar gives him a great way to poke about where the police might not be welcome, and generally gets people to open up to him. Set in 1950s Cambridgeshire (Grantchester is an actual village not far from the university city), the prospect of a cosy (urm, I was a bit wrong!) period mystery and if I’m honest a dishy leading man somehow got me watching the TV adaptation rather compulsively. When I ran out of episodes, I turned to the original books.

The first story,¬†The Shadow of Death, is familiar as the opening episode of the TV adaptation – very familiar, in fact, as a pretty straight transfer. The next three are also familiar, but have been given far more drama for the screen, and so can feel a little odd reading them after viewing. And of the last two, I wasn’t entirely surprised the scriptwriters decided to skip them, not least because of the odd tone of the sexualised kidnapping, quite out of place with the rest of this book.

If I’m being even more honest, without the eye-candy of both leading actors and rather lovely period setting (yes, I’d love to cycle down empty country roads with a pet labrador!), the books aren’t quite so appealing. This book is definitely more on the cosy side (apart from a few moments, as above), but also lacks some degree of the drama. The romantic story is also completely changed, and without that there does feel to be something a bit flatter in the writing – Sidney-in-text is so much less driven, more realistic, and a tad less interesting.

I also found the writing style, particularly the dialogue, to be a bit stilted. Perhaps it’s a ‘period’ thing, but the lack of contractions (so, all “I am” not “I’m”, “I do not”, etc etc) feels quite stiff. The extra time spent in a vicar’s head is also less than fascinating, tbh!

I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the second volume – this wasn’t bad at all, but as I say, it turns out the character’s biggest appeal is probably the amount of time he spends (on screen) taking his shirt off ūüėČ

Kindle: 400 pages / 6 stories
First published: 2012
Series: Grantchester Mysteries book 1 of 6
Read from 30th April – 21st June 2017

My rating: 6/10

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

Take one washed-up pirate, two young people who can bicker at each other until the inevitable get together, and a host of CGI nasties chasing our ‘heroes’ as they go questing for a mythical object. I’m not entirely sure which of the¬†Pirates franchise I’m talking about, to be honest – but let’s be generous, and say this one is a nice, ‘soft reboot’ of the first movie o_O

The fifth instalment, known as either¬†Salazar’s Revenge¬†or¬†Dead Men Tell No Tales, depending where you live, is getting very mixed reviews. To be honest, I’m not sure where the out-and-out hatred is coming from, because if you liked any of the previous movies then there’s very little of difference here to find so disappointing. That of course could be the disappointment, but hey – you know what you’re getting in to!

I actually quite liked Johnny Depp here. It’s a damn shame that Captain Jack is the only thing he’s been watchable as in ages, but it’s a nice return to the character – I didn’t quite think it slipped into parody of earlier performances, although some have argued this.

The new would-be couple, replacing (well…!) Orlando and Keira, are fine – nothing extraordinary (although the whole “I’m a horologist!” scene might have been a highlight of mine!), but equally not irritating (hey, I have low asks in these situations!). Predictable? Well, of course, but then so is the whole movie!

The main difference is the baddie, this time played by Javier Bardem, who is a pirate-killer tricked into a living death and now out for revenge. Some people are hailing him as the one good part of this movie, but to be honest I’ve always found the villains a little pantomime, and I’m not 100% swayed from that here. YMMV, of course. Either way, the CGI is a spectacle to behold.

Overall, this does have to lose points for being entirely unoriginal, completely predictable, and borderline hamming itself up. On the other hand, it was 2 hours of big screen nonsense done pretty well, and entirely fun for it.

I managed to miss the post-credit scene (d’oh!), but to be honest I rather do have mixed feelings about its supposed setting-up for an instalment 6. Hmm!

Released: 26th May 2017
Viewed: 30th May 2017
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief – Lisa Tuttle

“I admit I did not plan my escape very well, but the fact is that I had not planned it at all.”

There is something enduringly appealing about the Victorian mystery, which is probably what caught my eye on this one – along with the title I’ve been misspelling all over the place! ūüėČ Think Sherlock Holmes – mentioned in-novel as a fiction, with Arthur Conan Doyle a contemporary figure – but with a female¬†Watson narrating. Indeed, Miss Lane (she does have a first name, but the reveal is one of the mysteries of the book ūüėČ )¬†has an¬†excellent detective mind in her own right, but she’s a little more down to earth than her ‘Sherlock’, Jasper Jesperson.

The case(s) told here are strongly linked to Miss Lane’s past as a debunker of psychic frauds. When faced with what could well be the ‘real thing’, the crime solving duo must also deduce any links to the disappearing mediums in the city, while trying to set up their new partnership with more mundane cases, like the mysterious sleepwalking of their landlord’s brother in law. And there’s still the shadow of Miss Lane’s previous partner to be dealt with…

I did enjoy this book, but there were a few things that irritated me a little. Firstly, the first person narrative is just a little too… well, full of moans about emotions and doubts and feelings. I don’t want to say it’s ‘girly’, but I’m struggling to find another phrase. There is something just ‘meh’ about a lead character voicing their doubts and fears every few paragraphs.

The other main character, Jesperson, is the opposite: head first into everything with an enormous sense of adventure – which, alas, ends up coming across as childish, not least because he still lives with his mother (the Mrs Hudson of the piece) and acts out like a spoiled brat once or twice. Oh, and of course he’s a martial arts expert, master hypnotist, and not quite as differentiated from the ‘Great Detective’ as I imagine he was supposed to be. Hmm.

Overall, though, the story was intriguing and fun and the period mood remained appealing, so it’s rather a shame I didn’t get on too well with the characterisation. That said, this looks like it might be the first in a series, and I’d quite like to see where it all goes next.

NetGalley eARC: 416 pages / 32 chapters
First published: May 2017
Series: The Curious Affair Of book 1
Read from 7th-14th May 2017

My rating: 6.5/10

The Boss Baby (2017)

When Tim’s new baby brother arrives by the less than usual method of taxi, dressed in a business suit and carrying a briefcase, he knows that something’s not quite normal. Despite an immediate feud kicking off, he eventually agrees to help Boss Baby fight the nefarious schemes of Puppy Co – who are taking love away from babies in favour of dogs (of which I wholly approve ūüėČ ) – in the hope of seeing his tiny rival depart, leaving Tim once again sole beneficiary of his parents’ affection.

While watchable enough, Boss Baby is a pretty run of the mill animated offering, skewing a little too on the junior side for me (although I confess my inner child laughed rather too much at the early dummy-heading-for-wrong-end scene).

There are perhaps two saving graces: firstly, Alec Baldwin voicing the titular character without whom I doubt this movie would have worked at all. Certainly the line “Cookies are for closers!” makes no sense unless coming from Mr Baldwin, but will still only be amusing to about half the adult audience, I reckon.

Secondly, the epilogue scene at the end gives a nice and slightly surprising sense of deeper meaning. Instead of ‘just’ an animated romp, you realise there have been messages about childhood imagination and sibling relationships. That closing scene deserves a cookie, and brings my rating up a little.

Released: 1st April 2017
Viewed: 21st April 2017
Running time: 97 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 6/10

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Following a terrible crash, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is rebuilt with the best cyber-enhancement tech available. Built and trained to be the perfect soldier, she is uniquely placed to help in the fight against a new level of cyber-terrorism: hacking into people’s minds. But, who is the mysterious figure behind it all, and what do they want from Major? She’s about to find out that perhaps nothing is as it seems.

Anime is one of the things that I think I should be more into, at least on paper. The original¬†Ghost in the Shell (1995) was one of my first forays, partly to see the original ahead of this remake, and mostly because it gets raved about a lot. I’m afraid to say I wasn’t all that impressed – it’s definitely a genre in and of itself, and something you have to get your head around to really appreciate.

So perhaps slightly backwards to most viewers, my hopes for the live-action movie were that I’d be able to understand it a bit better – so yeah, it probably has been dumbed down, but that worked in my favour! And yes, I could follow the story a bit better, although having seen the original also made a lot of things make more sense. It’s an odd one. I completely get why fans of the original found this so disappointing.

I ended up really liking the look of the piece, transferred scene-for-scene at times from the animation, although again I might be alone with this.

Aside from all that, going in ‘blind’ you get a sci-fi-y action movie, with a futuristic Japanese setting, and a mildly convoluted story line that doesn’t quite click together.

Released: 30th March 2017
Viewed: 14th April 2017
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10