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! 😉 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 😉 ) 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

Life (2017)

Ultra-short view: Gravity meets Alien.

When a Martian soil sample is sent back from Mars for study aboard the International Space Station, excitement is global as the first signs of extraterrestrial life are discovered. Unlike anything on Earth, the collection of cells grows at a phenomenal rate. Just what you want to be stuck in a tiny confined space with, right?! o_O

It’s a little hard for me to be objective about Life, as I’m really not a huge fan of horror or monster movies, and this is firmly in that genre. That said, it would also include Alien and Sunshine, and while I’m not entirely sure where I’d rank this out of those three, it’s also not a total also-ran.

There’s not a great deal can be said without spoilers. Let’s see: the cast – including Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson – is reasonable, with some nice human asides before everything kicks off. Having watched a lot of the Tim Peake footage from the real ISS, this is making a reasonable attempt at verisimilitude, which I appreciated – things like the effect on the human body of being in space for over a year, or just the confined living spaces.

Possibly the reason this didn’t – hah! – really grab me is that it’s a pretty predictable, single-strand story, with plenty of added gore. If you like this kind of movie it’s reasonably slickly done, but I wouldn’t be rushing to recommend it to everyone.

Released: 24th March 2017
Viewed: 24th March 2017
Running time: 103 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Buried within an eternal storm in the middle of the Pacific ocean, Skull Island has remained hidden for centuries – until emerging satellite technology uncovers this ‘lost’ island. Desperate to discover any precious resources before the Russians cotton on, a scientific team (led by John Goodman) enlists a tracker (Tom Hiddleston) and a military escort (with Samuel L Jackson in charge), attract a prize-winning photo journalist (Brie Larson) – and are soon neck-deep in all the horrors of the land that time forgot.

I think my only previous experience with King Kong was the 2005 Peter Jackson version, which disappointed me bitterly. My main issue with that one was the lack of fun – it was so reverential, so po-faced – and so dull. Seriously: this is a movie about a giant monkey, how can you be boring!??

Skull Island, however, seems to have learned from this – and goes in entirely the other direction. This is a monster movie, pure and simple: lots of things trying to kill all the interlopers, in various spectacular and/or gory ways. No one is safe on an island ruled by a building-sized gorilla – and really, you have to ask yourself how big the other fauna is… o_O

Much to my surprise, I ended up really enjoying this. It is so daft that it’s quite easy to just enjoy the spectacle, and try not to think too hard about the whole hollow earth theory, or man’s arrogant stupidity, or pretty much anything, really.

The cast are a mixed bunch, as are the performances. SLJ is always great value, and he goes for a more silent, eyeball-terrorising rage than often shown, which works well. Tom Hiddleston seems rather miscast to me, he just didn’t fit well. And I was more amused by seeing Toby Kebbell in human form given his previous turn as a (Planet of the) ape(s) than his role really merited.

The special effects go the same way: mixed. Largely good, but I’m sure there were a few moments that I would generously suggest were homages to Harryhausen’s classic claymation versions. Ahem.

Overall: manages to be my favourite version of Kong. The bar, however, was pretty dang low 😉

Released: 9th March 2017
Viewed: 10th March 2017
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

Batman might be a dab hand at rounding up the bad guys, but he’s still battling that crippling loneliness. It doesn’t help that he’s too afraid of (more) loss to let anyone close – or, quite frankly, that he’s a mega-arrogant douche 😉 Thankfully, the Lego Movie series is here to help us poke fun at a rich, weird loner who likes to dress in black, and a whole pile of superhero memes along the way.

Plot-wise, the Joker is upset when Batman refuses to acknowledge him as his ‘main adversary’ (“I like to fight around”), and sets out to be, urm, more appreciated. This might involve a group of cross-movie super villains being rather superbly spoofed, but I’m not giving anything away 😉 Meanwhile, the unfortunately named orphan Dick Grayson is out to get himself adopted, while Bruce Wayne is a little distracted by the new police commissioner…

There’s not a great deal of substance to this movie, really, but it serves to be ridiculous and does so pretty well. The bulk of the humour actually comes from a host of rather throw-away moments and lines, such as referring to Daleks as “British robots – ask your nerd friends”, or the characters all saying “Pew! Pew!” as they fire their guns (that slayed me. Don’t ask!). There’s also some great lampooning of Batman’s history-on-screen, as well as the character in general.

If there’s a weakness, it’s the ‘real’ meaning of the movie, which is all about family and working with others and *yawn*. Not awful, but y’know – pew! pew!! 😉

Released: 10th February 2017
Viewed: 8th March 2017
Running time: 104 minutes
Rated: U (UK)

My rating: 6/10

Frogkisser! – Garth Nix

“It was the middle of an ice storm, the wind howling across the frozen moat to hurl hailstones against the walls of the castle and its tightly shuttered windows.”

As the younger sister, Princess Anya has few desires beyond being allowed to study in the castle library. But, of course, things never quite go to plan, and when Anya promises her big sister that she will find a way to turn her more recent beau back into a prince (after the Duke, their stepstepfather (their stepmother having remarried after the death of the King), turns him into a frog) she soon finds herself on a Quest with a capital ‘Q’!

Can she find the ingredients needed for a reverse transmogrification potion? Can she avoid capture by the evil Duke, determined to claw his way fully onto the throne? Accompanied by the most loyal of Royal (and thus talking, of course!) dogs, Ardent, plus a few other companions she finds along the way, Anya is determined to do her best.

I really wanted to love this book. I mean the title, the name of this blog – surely a match made in heaven? I knew going in that it was aimed at younger readers, but other books aimed at a similar age – I’m thinking Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series – have swept me up, and I adored the author’s more famous works, Sabriel, Lirael, etc. Alas, Frogkisser! slants younger still, and I just couldn’t quite engage with it at all.

I found the whole thing perhaps a little too long for what it was, and several of the elements felt more distracting from the meat of the story rather than adding to it. For instance, there’s a whole set of characters based around other fairy tales, but with a ‘twist’ – and it didn’t just fall flat for me, but felt a little forced and silly. The supporting cast all tend to be quite daft and one-dimensional, too, and while some of that is obviously on purpose, it just lacked even the tiniest hint of sophistication that my too-grown-up brain was perhaps unfairly demanding.

On the plus side, Anya is a lovely character: strong and determined and intelligent, but with all the flaws that make her human and ‘real’ and not just a perfect wish-fulfilment character. I’d love a generation of little girls – and boys! – to admire Anya rather than most Disney-esque heroines. And of course, in this book, it is very much the Princess rescuing the (Frog) Prince – there’s always room for that!

So, while not quite my cup of tea, this is a sweet little book. The language is perhaps a little more advanced than the age group it seems aimed at, but again, no bad thing to have a heroine with a love of learning in a book that perhaps teaches a bit as it entertains.

NetGalley eARC: 389 pages / 36 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: none
Read from 22nd February – 1st March 2017

My rating: 6/10, with the acknowledgement that I am several decades over the target audience age o_O

Trolls (2016)

I had zero interest in seeing this movie when it came out. The troll doll things that I remember from my childhood (and indeed, several generations seem to remember from their childhoods! o_O) had no appeal for me then or now, so a movie about them wasn’t even on my radar.

Until, that is, one of my friends adopted this as her go-to happy movie: by the wonders of a cinema pass, she must have seen it about a dozen times to combat rubbish days at work. And when the next opportunity arose, I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) is everything you’d expect a troll to be – urm, that is to say, one of the happy ‘good luck’ trolls, not in the sense of under-the-bridge… oh, you know what I mean! Poppy is all about singing, dancing, parties, and hugs. She’s so resolutely upbeat that it’s a wonder she doesn’t squeee herself to death.

However, when things go a little wrong at the 20th anniversary party of the trolls’ escape from the evil, joyless Bergen – who think their only chance for happiness lies in eating trolls – Poppy finds that her talent for scrapbooking may not be the best skill for a rescue mission o_O

While the story line is pretty average – rescue mission, learning to find the happiness inside yourself, etc etc – I ended up really liking some of the animation style here. There are scenes made to look like they’ve been crafted out of felt, or knitted, and just look gorgeous. Even the spiders – urgh! – are done to look super-cute.

As an adult (yes, despite some of my viewing choices!) it’s the little moments that are going to make or break a movie like this for me, and indeed they are done well. Little touches of humour and cynicism for the grown ups cut through the saccharine just about enough.

The music is also a major factor here, and it’s resolutely upbeat and bouncy – I can see why this was my buddy’s go-to happy film. And yes, I came out with a smile on my face – can’t say fairer than that, really!

Released: 21st October 2016
Viewed: 11th February 2017
Running time: 92 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 6.5/10