Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

jurassic world 2 poster

With things going so badly wrong every time they do anything with Jurassic Park (1993 onwards), it’s not entirely surprising that the imminent destruction by volcano of Isla Nublar and all of its dinosaur inhabitants is met with something of, “Well, no bad thing?!” Series legend Jeff Goldblum even pops up briefly to tell everyone why it’s time to let the terrible lizards go back to extinction.

But, some don’t agree: aren’t these endangered animals just as worth saving as, say, pandas or elephants? Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) certainly thinks so, and with the help of John Hammond’s millionaire former partner (James Cromwell) sets off on a rescue mission. Of course, no one is going to be able to handle raptor Blue apart from her old handler, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), so better rope him in too.

To be honest, I wasn’t massively impressed with the predecessor to this,¬†Jurassic World (2015), and thought that this sequel was likely to be absolutely awful. Perhaps going in with those low expectations helped, though, as this turned out to be a lot of fun! Some of the poor choices – gender roles, in particular – have been fixed a bit, so there’s certainly less to complain about.

And on the other side of the coin, there’s enough to be happy about: dinosaurs! Bigger, cleverer, eviler dinosaurs! Evil megalomaniacs! Plucky kid (actually, could always do without that…)! And Toby Jones doing something of a Trump impression, in hair and a-hole-ness, at least ūüėČ

The ‘unique’ selling point here is taking the dinosaurs off the island and into more familiar settings. It sort of works, and allows for scenes of lava destruction that scared me more than the beasties, tbh! There’s also an ‘other’ plot thread, which I don’t want to spoil, but quite frankly was a bit over sign-posted and set up with great importance that didn’t really pay off. Get back to the dinosaurs, already!!

There are also a lot of points in the movie which I’m sure are meant as honorable nods to the first film and others, but while one or two might work, there were just a few too many repetitions.

Overall: as mindless popcorn fun, this was a lot better than I was expecting. I had too much fun to be too harsh with the scoring!

Released: 6th June 2018
Viewed: 3rd July 2018
Running time: 128 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

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Ocean’s Eight (2018)

oceans eight poster

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has spent five years in prison planning her next job. The team she gathers includes a fab list of talent, from Cate Blanchett to Rihanna, Mindy Kaling to Helena Bonham Carter. Together, they’re going to steal the world’s most exclusive diamond necklace from around the neck of It-girl Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) at the Met Ball.

There’s a bit of criticism around the whole idea of ‘gender switch’ reboots (see¬†Ghostbusters) but for one, this is not a reboot – it’s a sequel, referencing George Clooney as Debbie’s brother Danny – and secondly: have you SEEN that cast list?! Putting these women in a movie together makes it worth watching, regardless!

The premise is much the same: a slow build heist movie, full of clever tricks and somehow a ‘moral’ that lets the criminals be the good-ish guys. There’s a giant serving of glamour, this time from New York’s biggest fashion event rather than Las Vegas. Layers of the con are slowly built up, culminating in… well, maybe not exactly what you might have been expecting!

I’d say I enjoyed¬†Ocean’s Eight, rather than loved it. The cast was fabulous, but the story pay-off just a little less than thrilling. Which maybe wasn’t the point, as this is more of a nostalgic, comfortable kind of a movie, not an edge-of-the-seat thing. Still, it was only good and not great – but for plot and pacing reasons, not cast!! So fed up of hearing things like that: this is 2018, and it is FAB that we’ve finally got a movie with all the women centre stage. More, please!

Released: 18th June 2018
Viewed: 22nd June 2018
Running time: 110 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

A Column of Fire – Ken Follett

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“We hanged him in front of Kingsbridge Cathedral.”

Who would have thought an almost-1000 page tome about the building of a cathedral would capture the imagination of so many readers (and viewers, with the subsequent TV adaptation)? And yet, 1989’s The¬†Pillars of the Earth did just that, and spawned a sequel, 2007’s¬†World Without End.

For the third part in the trilogy, author Ken Follett jumps forward half a century or so. We’re still in Kingsbridge, but now in a time of religious upheaval. The Protestant faith has grown, unhappy with the hypocrisy often seen in the Catholic leadership. Henry VIII’s announcement of himself, not the Pope, as head of the church leaves England divided. His successors are his two daughters: first the Catholic Mary Tudor – known as Bloody Mary for the number of Protestants she has executed – and then Protestant Elizabeth, who’d much rather rule over a kingdom of tolerance.

Against this background, we follow Ned Willard and a cast of characters, from Kingsbridge to France, the Netherland, and even the Caribbean. Religious upheaval throughout Europe is the cause of dramas huge and small, and this book doesn’t shy away from the gory details.

Perhaps because of the change in time period, or an over-familiarity with the era in popular culture these days, I didn’t find this book as enthralling as the first or even second in the series. In fact, the opening chapter was enough to almost have me hand the book back to the library without reading any more: “Oh great,” I thought, “another ‘woman married against her will’ history. Urgh!”

I decided to give it one more go, and slowly picked my way through the rest. The writing remains strong, the dramas told well – let’s face it, holding attention for 750 (or over 900, depending on binding!) pages is no mean feat! – but¬†still, hmm. While it didn’t work quite as well for me as the first book, but it was a nice change of pace from my more usual sci-fi and fantasy reads.

Hardback: 751 pages / 30 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: Kingsbridge book 3
Read from 6th April – 5th May 2018

My rating: 7/10

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society poster

Surely a contender for the most awkward title of the year award (I asked for tickets for the “Guernsey film”; a friend refers to it as the “Tatty pie film”), this adaptation of Mary Ann Shaffer’s book (which I haven’t read) is rather sweeter than the titular baked goods.

That the Channel Island of Guernsey was occupied by the Nazis during World War II is sometimes a forgotten part of the conflict’s history. As one character puts it, they didn’t just have to survive the war like the rest of Britain, they had to do so while living with the enemy. And a dark and terrifying time it was too, which we see in flashbacks as writer Juliet Ashton (Lily James) delves into the locals’ experiences.

Although I’m not really a fan of the kind of sweet romance that this film ultimately is, that element was very well balanced with the darkness of the war and occupation themes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I really liked the bits about the main character’s writing career – I was reminded a little of a quieter version of Aunt Izzy in¬†Life After Life. There were also similarities to¬†Their Finest,¬†although Juliet doesn’t seem to have many issues that you might expect for a woman in that time period.

The rest of the cast is all excellent, from Michiel Huisman (almost unrecognisable from his¬†Game of Thrones look!) to Penelope Wilton. The aftermath of the occupation is really well explored in their different characters, from regrets to anger and fear to hope. Mainly, though, it’s about the necessity of friendships, as well as the wonder of books and words.

Not for everyone, but if it’s even half your cup of tea then this is a lovely little movie.

Released: 20th April 2018
Viewed: 24th April 2018
Running time: 124 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Bonfire – Krysten Ritter

Bonfire cover

“My last year of high school, when Kaycee Mitchell and her friends got sick, my father had a bunch of theories.”

Barrens is a small town revitalised by the big company at its heart. Optimal provides not just employment, but scholarships, grants, and donations until it’s woven through the entire town like ivy. Or, like a cancer: perhaps literally, if the pending lawsuit against the company’s pollution is proven true.

Ten years ago, Abby Williams escaped from Barrens, and from high school bullies. Coming back to find evidence against Optimal, she soon finds herself unable to stop investigating the mystery of her teenage years, when several of her classmates faked illnesses – or, did they?

There was something dark and claustrophobic to this story, which rather appealed in the same vein as The Chalk Man: something that drew not just the character but also me back to teenage years and a love of creepy atmospheric reads, albeit mystery here rather than horror. And, of course, a hefty dose of curiosity about an actor turning their hand to writing Рhmm!

Actually, I think Ms Ritter has done well here, although it is kind of hard not to visualise Jessica Jones as the cynical, damaged lead character. She’s written her next role, if she so wishes, I’m sure.

Overall, the story is pretty good, if not the most original in the world ever. There are a few attempts at twists and turns which sort of almost work, although get perhaps just a little muddy as the story gets to the end. And, while I rather enjoyed the journey, the destination (ie ending) could have been a little stronger, imo. Still, a pretty darn good debut and cautiously recommended for thriller fans.

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages / 44 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: none
Read from 13th November 2017 – 28th March 2018 (after putting it down after the first 10% and getting very distracted…!)

My rating: 7/10

Egyptian Enigma – LJM Owen

egyptian enigma cover

“Sipping a glass of hot apple tea, Dr Elizabeth Pimms watched dawn flow over the desert, blushing shades and grey shadows shifting and merging until they coalesced into the vast Pyramids of Giza.”

Tomb robbers and over-enthusiastic early archaeologists weren’t the only dangers to Egypt’s ancient mummies. Pharaohs rewrote history to remove their predecessors, and then stories of female pharaohs were discounted when it didn’t suit the prevailing social norms. Which only makes the mysteries that much harder to decipher.

I’ve missed a couple of books introducing Dr Elizabeth Pimms, the young Australian Egyptologist. That didn’t seem to matter too much – although I could tell when references to previous events were being made, without it impacting too much on the plot here – as it was easy enough to pick up with the story. Past events have led Elizabeth to a quieter-than-planned career as a librarian and tutor, so when she spots some strange markings on a papyrus during a trip to her beloved Egypt, she jumps at the chance to begin an investigation into the ‘Golden Tomb’ and the unidentified mummies that were discovered there.

Interspersed with Elizabeth’s modern archaeology – 3D printers are fabulous! – we get chapters told from the point of view of Tausret, the last pharaoh of the 19th dynasty – and a woman!

I do have a bit of a liking for ancient cultures such as Egypt, and a growing fondness for ‘cosy mysteries’, so I thought I’d give this NetGalley opportunity a go – and ended up gulping it down! The mix of real history – Tausret is real, the Golden Tomb is fictional – and a little insight into amateur archaeology in the technology age was a great mix.

The story is rounded out by various threads about Elizabeth’s friends and family – this is probably the bit most impacted by not reading the first two books, and indeed I’ve probably spoiled the plot to one of those by starting here. Still, the multicultural grandparentage was rather interesting, and I’m also a huge foodie so the descriptions of Chinese, French, and Welsh feasts was rather mouth watering!

Despite those bits, I would offer a warning over some of the ‘cosy’ status: I really shouldn’t have looked up ‘scaphism’ aka death by milk and honey before trying to sleep o_O

Overall: a fairly light yet involving read that moved at a good pace. I am deducting a mark, however, as the biggest non-Mummy mystery is left as a huge cliff-hanger – this isn’t¬† a stand-alone read, alas!

NetGalley eARC: 384 pages / 20 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth book 3
Read from 9th-13th March 2018

My rating: 7/10

Places in the Darkness – Christopher Brookmyre

places in the darkness cover

“‘Consciousness Does Not Exist,’ says Mehmet.”

Ciudad de Cielo, the city in the sky, abbreviated to CdC and pronounced ‘Seedee’. And this is the story of the seedy underbelly of what is meant to be a shining beacon for humanity’s future in the stars.

We alternate chapters from the point of view of two characters: Nikki ‘Fixx’, an ex-LA cop now Seedee security and not adverse to a backhander or eight. And Alice Blake: the new head of everything, here to root out corruption, about to get her eyes opened to the true extent of the issue.

All of which would be hard enough on both women, without the skinned corpse floating in a research lab…

I have slightly mixed feelings about this book. It’s a little heavy on the exposition of the sci-fi stuff, I thought, perhaps showing the author’s relative inexperience with the genre over the mystery and crime elements of the plot. I’ve read and enjoyed some of Christopher Brookmyre’s earlier work, and sci-fi is my favourite genre, so it was a little disappointing that the two didn’t gel a little better.

That said, the world that is created here is well thought out and reasonably immersive, and the eventual plot twists weren’t what I was expecting – they were better! I did think the attempts at setting red herrings along the way were a little too obvious, but when the final reveal happened I was suitably impressed.

Hardback: 403 pages / 72 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: none
Read from 26th February – 6th March 2018

My rating: 7/10