Ford v Ferrari (2019)

ford v ferrari poster

This is the story of two companies in bitter rivalry: the handcrafted, race-dominating Ferrari, against the mass-produced, reliable but deeply ‘unsexy’ Ford. There’s a personal rivalry, too, between Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II. But more than that it’s the tale of two other men: Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), the first American to win the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, and volatile engineering genius, Ken Miles (Christian Bale).

Both men share an obsession with cars and racing. Shelby’s career is cut short by health problems, whereas Miles is struggling to turn his racing brilliance into a family-supporting income, mainly due to his temper and obstinacy. He’s almost always right, of course.

When Ford decides its future depends on winning races, the two stories explosively collide!

I thought this movie looked interesting from the trailers, and was thus pretty pleased when it turned out to be the chosen title for Cineworld’s most recent secret screening. And I was more than pleasantly surprised at just how thoroughly I ended up enjoying it.

The biggest draw is the acting from the two leads. Damon does his usual laid-back, likeable everyman very well, with the added torment of no longer being able to do what he most loves. The character is perhaps played a little backseat to Bale’s (character’s) volatility, genius, and humorous mannerisms (“Giddy up” to a car??), but it’s the combination that makes the whole thing work. And the humour – did not expect to laugh so much

I don’t have a huge interest in racing, or cars, but the story is excellently put together. Objectively, there are a lot of flaws and reasons this shouldn’t work, but as the story unfolds, I was just sucked in. By the halfway point, I was oohing like mad at the purr of the engine. The emotional manipulation is perhaps a bit too predictable, and yet it still works. The 2½ hour running time flew past.

So yeah, recommended! It’s not just for racing fans, I knew nothing about Ken Miles or Le Mans going in (and quite frankly: what utter madness is driving for 24 hours?!), and while the story could be said to slip into cliche of true life biopics, it’s a gripping ride along the way.

Released: 15th November 2019
Viewed: 4th November 2019 (advanced screening)
Running time: 152 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

Doctor Sleep (2019)

doctor sleep poster

In 1980, Stanley Kubrick adapted Stephen King’s novel, The Shining, into one of horror’s most famous movies. In the story, Jack Torrance (famously played by Jack Nicholson) goes slowly, murderously mad in the empty Overlook Hotel, endangering his wife and young son, Danny. When asked at a book signing, “What happened to Danny?”, Stephen King was inspired to write this sequel – so, are you ready to find out what did happen to little Danny?

Even if I hadn’t read the book, I think that this is an adaptation would seem clear from the way the story unfolds. We spend far longer than I expected with little Danny and his mum (recast to resemble the previous actors), watching Danny’s childhood and young life unfold into something of a mess – unsurprisingly. As with so many King stories, the horror is never just the monsters, it’s the reality of things like turning into a violent alcoholic like your father.

However, Danny (Ewan McGregor) eventually faces his demons – in more ways that one – and carves out a quietly satisfying kind of life for himself. Until, that is, gifted Abra Stone comes looking for him, hoping for help in tracking down the group of nasties killing young kids with ‘the Shining’.

I’ve said quite often that I’m not a fan of the horror genre, so why this one? Well, in my teens I loved Stephen King, including The Shining. The sequel manages to pick up on a classic story and add to it, expanding the concepts without spoiling the original.

This adaptation does a great job at bringing that to screen. The cast is excellent, including McGregor and Cliff Curtis on the good side, and the always excellent Rebecca Ferguson and Zahn McClarnon leading up the baddies of the sinister ‘True Knot’ group. There are layers of horror: snatched and murdered kids, monsters that eat your life, the childhood demons, and facing death. This makes for more subtlety than the silly ‘jump scares’ kind of horror that I dislike so much.

Indeed, I wasn’t too perturbed until the story takes us back to the Overlook Hotel, at which point all those memories of The Shining and the haunted hotel upped the unsettling levels dramatically. Appropriate, that: it mirrors Danny’s own childhood horrors back to haunt him once again. But it’s also deeply satisfying seeing old ghosts resurrected for the new story, including a few familiar-ish faces…!

Overall, I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed this. It’s a good story done well, rather than out and out terror, but with enough creepiness to warrant the horror tag. Worth having seen The Shining first, though, as the nods back really add to the creepiness.

Released: 31st October 2019 (UK)
Viewed: 1st November 2019
Running time: 151 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8/10

Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Wojciech Kilar

bram stokers dracula ost cover

In 1992, Frances Ford Coppola gave us a new take on the Dracula myth, low on the “I vant to suck your blud” and high on seductive romance and gothic tragedy. It was well received, winning awards, and presenting the viewer with a feast for eyes and ears both.

Returning from war to discover his beloved tricked into suicide and condemned by the church, Vlad (Gary Oldman) curses himself into the eternal life of a vampire better to get his vengeance. Centuries later, he discovers his wife’s double in the form of Mina Murray (Winona Ryder), and the movie mainly follows his attempts to win her heart – while an intrepid band of would-be vampire slayers try to stop him.

For the soundtrack, it makes a certain kind of sense to hire an eastern European composer given the tale’s roots. For a horror movie, it also makes a lot of sense to try to find something that bit different from the norm, to unsettle the listener. And there is a chill factor here, woven well with yearning love themes. Menace mixes with sorrow, seduction with fury.

We start with pure menace, strident horns and a chilling chorus with almost disturbing whispers underneath. But then we get to Lucy’s Party with its almost childlike, twinkling chimes – all light and lovely… but there’s a creeping disquiet to the piece, too. Then the mood switches again with the seductive feel of The Brides – but again, that sense of danger. The rest of the score follows that same kind of mix of moods switching and keeping us on our toes.

My favourite tracks tend to be the highly wistful love theme ones, such as Love Remembered and Mina/Dracula. The underlying motif is just gorgeous – yearning but never saccharine.

I haven’t seen the movie in a long time, so I’m not picturing scenes with the tracks, but it still works to conjure the mood. I don’t think anything has ever captured the pathos of the vampire myth quite so gorgeously.

I don’t watch much horror these days, and to be frank most horror movie scores are brash and obvious and I don’t find them pleasant to listen to. This, on the other hand, is hugely atmospheric and very listenable. I’d even recommend turning the volume up (a few of the tracks are particularly quiet) and immersing yourself in the lush layers.

My rating: 8/10 – I didn’t realise I liked this so much until I sat down to write this review, but there you go! 🙂

Genre: horror
Released: 1992
Length: 0:30:41
Number of tracks: 16, although an extended version with unused tracks is available (and I’d like to get my hands on, tbh!)

Track listing:

  1. Dracula – The Beginning
  2. Vampire Hunters
  3. Mina’s Photo
  4. Lucy’s Party
  5. The Brides
  6. The Storm
  7. Love Remembered
  8. The Hunt Builds
  9. The Hunters Prelude
  10. The Green Mist
  11. Mina/Dracula
  12. The Ring of Fire
  13. Love Eternal
  14. Ascension
  15. End Credits
  16. Love Song for a Vampire – Annie Lennox

Elements of Fiction – Walter Mosley

elements of fiction cover

“This monograph is concerned with the hope of writing a novel that transcends story in such a way as to allow the writer to plumb the depths of meaning while, at the same time, telling a good yarn.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a ‘monograph’, but this is a rather lovely, personal meander through the ‘feeling’ of writing a book. It’s not a how-to, it’s not got a set of directives, but it gets into some of the deeper, wider arching thoughts behind writing a book. It’s like a conversation with a subject matter expert, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Walter Mosley previously published This Year You Write Your Novel, so I suppose this is a companion piece. Not having reader the former, I can’t comment. But having read plenty of writing advice (if not taken so much of it ;)) I very much liked the approach here. You are a writer, you are writing, but this is the sort of thing that is/should be/might be going on at a deeper level.

Sections have titles such as ‘Revelation’, ‘The Novel is Bigger than Your Head’, as well as the more obvious Structure, Character, Narrative Voice, etc.

What I particularly liked was the way the author almost starts telling stories, little ‘what if’ beginnings of ideas, that he then picks apart or spins around, or in one case backs off and says ‘or I’d go this completely other way’ – but, he’s learned something about his story and his characters along the way.

“The purpose of this book has been to show by example and intention how deeply you can go into your mind, excavating a world worth the struggle, the man thousands of hours, and just the right words.”

Lovely, thought-provoking little book. Recommended.

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages
First published: 2019
Series: could be seen as a follow up to This Year You Write Your Novel
Read from 2rd-11th September 2019

My rating: 8/10

Avatar – James Horner

avatar ost cover

James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) received mixed reviews. 3D had never been used so well, it all looked amazing, but was the story a cliche – or worse? Whatever your opinion on the film, the score fits perfectly – in my opinion – with the look and feel of the piece, becoming a regular in my listening rotation.

There’s an expansive, eerie sound to the opening that fits perfectly with the distance travelled across the emptiness of space, and can send a tingle up my spine. The second track includes the first use of a motif of major chords in ascension, that convey a swelling of joy, or hope, that again fits well. It then picks up an action pace with a tinge of other-worldliness that I don’t even have to read the title to know is Jake taking his first steps in his ‘avatar’, and into the world of the Na’vi.

Pure spirits of the forest introduces an ethereal quality, as the name sort of suggests. Can’t you just picture the scene of the light-fantastic creatures floating around Jake and Neytiri? The horns then come in and everything gets a bit more majestic, and bit more fierce.

If there are complaints to be made, it might include the fact that James Horner has a recognisable not just style, but set of sounds. I wasn’t quite as familiar with his work 10 years ago when this came out, but I have since listened to a lot of his other work and yes, there are bits that seem ‘lifted’ wholesale. Still, that doesn’t matter if you only listen to this one, and even otherwise the re-used sounds still ‘fit’ well where they are here.

I like this score when I’m in the mood for something uplifting, a little bit other-worldly, and somewhere between sci-fi and wild nature – in other words, exactly what the movie represented.

As a weird aside, I was standing at the train station not so long ago, and the noise of the incoming train sounded almost exactly like the long ‘aaaaahhh’ vocalisation used throughout this soundtrack. Weird!

My rating: 8/10

Genre: sci-fi
Released: 2009
Length: 1:18:52
Number of tracks: 14

Track listing:

  1. You don’t dream in cryo
  2. Jake enters his avatar world
  3. Pure spirits of the forest
  4. The bioluminescence of the night
  5. Becoming one of ‘The People’, Becoming one with Neytiri
  6. Climing up Iknimaya – the Path to Heaven
  7. Jake’s first flight
  8. Scorched earth
  9. Quaritch
  10. The destruction of Hometree
  11. Shutting down Grace’s lab
  12. Gathering all the Na’vi clans for battle
  13. War
  14. I See You (Theme from Avatar)

Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood (2019)

once upon a time in hollywood poster

In 1969, the murder of the young, pregnant actress, Sharon Tate, by the followers of Charlie Manson, shook the world and started the crumble of the era of love, peace and hippies. This movie is sort of Quentin Tarantino’s retelling of that period and set of events.

Except, it’s not really. Tate (Margot Robbie) is pretty much a side character, as we instead follow the fortunes of her (fictitious) next door neighbour, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio). Rick was famous for a while, playing a cowboy in a TV show, but now he’s taking bit parts as villain of the week in new pilots. He’s accompanied everywhere by his stunt double, friend, and lackey, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who’s struggling even more for work, not least because of some dark rumours about his past.

In one way, the film is about the different approaches these two men have to slowly fading careers and inevitable aging. Both actors are outstanding, DiCaprio as the whiny, self-obsessed actor throwing tantrums and sobbing, compared to Pitt’s laid-back, shrug it off, que sera acceptance of his lot. I’d have to say the latter is far more appealing, lighting up the screen with charisma, self-assurance, and a rather impressive not-dad bod for a man in his mid-50s. Sorry, got distracted there… 😉

Mostly, though, the movie is just a homage to a period in time, and Hollywood of the late 60s – in the same kind of way that Singin’ in the Rain looked back three decades to another ‘golden era’ of Hollywood.

The plot sort of meanders, doesn’t really go anywhere much, but through it all everything just looks amazing. The real win here is how the viewer is entirely taken to a different era. It’s not just the visuals, but a slow pace quite at odds with today’s modern life, and a soundtrack that isn’t full of recognisable hits as much as just music of the time – and not just music, often the backing track is an advert playing on the radio, or the TV, and all the more ‘real’ for it.

I was a little baffled coming out as to how I was going to review this. On the one hand, I kept waiting for something to happen, and mostly it did not. There are a few ‘meh’ moments, such as Tarantino’s less than flattering portrayal of Bruce Lee. There were a lot of nods and ‘homages’ that went entirely over my head – many of the characters were real people, that I just didn’t know about, and the TV shows were also generally real. There was a huge level there that would have added more to the experience – I’m just glad I knew who ‘Charlie’ was, or I’m not sure how the film would have played at all.

And yet. It didn’t feel almost three hours long – I could have watched another hour, easily. I will happily see it again, and perhaps enjoy the atmosphere even more, without waiting for the ‘plot’ to happen. So. Yes. Worth the viewing, definitely.

Released: 14th August 2019 (UK)
Viewed: 16th August 2019
Running time: 161 minutes
Rated: 18

My rating: 8/10

The October Man – Ben Aaronovitch

october man cover

“In late September, as the nights close in, a strange madness possesses my father.

After seven books following PC Peter Grant in London, Ben Aaronovitch takes a slight detour with this novel. we are introduced to Tobias winter, Peter’s German counterpart, sent to the town of Trier to investigate – you guessed it – somewhat strange goings on.

A body has been found in a field belonging to an old, but small vinery. It’s coated with mould – a fungus of the same kind used to deliberately infect the grapes to make a sweeter wine. The vinery is close to the river Kyll, and indeed the current owner’s grandfather would leave offerings to the river goddess… sound familiar?

Like the previous novella in the series (The Furthest Station), I enjoyed the way the shorter format kept things focused on the one story. It still has many twists and turns, not being quite as tight as I expected, but still intriguing.

Tobias Winter is basically Peter Grant with a few different words in his vocab. Taking any section without specific identifier, I think the narration would be indistinguishable from Grant’s street smart, slightly sarcastic tone. Which is no bad thing, but still.

While I overall enjoyed the story a great deal, I think introducing new characters, new location, and a new organisation is perhaps a bit much to ask for a sub-200-page novella.

Still very worth the read, though, for fans if maybe not newcomers to the series. It is interesting to see the Rivers of London series branching out, and I’d love to see even more – but, I think perhaps it’d only really work if the voice was as distinctive as the new region?

Hardback: 180 pages / 13 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: PC Peter Grant / Rivers of London book 7.5
Read from 25th-30th July 2019

My rating: 8/10