Incredibles 2 (2018)

incredibles 2 poster

Fourteen years after the first movie – beloved by many, although I was just “Yeah, that was fun” (and as such am a bit hazy on the details!) – the Parr family are back. Even more in hiding than the first film, things are not going so well for them, until a billionaire tycoon throws his money behind a scheme to bring Supers back into legality. The only thing is, he wants Elastigirl aka mom Helen to be the face of the campaign, leaving Mr Incredible aka dad Bob, literally holding the baby.

The gender-switch roles is probably what brings this movie into reasonable modern times, and it’s pretty funny to watch Bob struggle and pretty ace to see the mother rekindling her sense of worth outside that role. From a cartoon. However, the real joy – for me, at least – was the scenes of baby Jack-Jack finally finding his powers, as teased in the post-credit scene from the original movie.

I also think Edna Mode is one of my all-time favourite animated characters, so was a little disappointed that she’s in this so briefly – with some fabulous scenes with Jack-Jack, though, so all is forgiven 🙂 Likewise, the Samuel L Jackson voiced Frozone could have been in it more for my liking.

Since the release of The Incredibles back in 2004, there has been an absolute explosion of superheroes at the cinema, in live action format. So, does Incredibles 2 still have a place? Well, yes: it was a lot of fun, and makes some relevant points without trying too hard. That said, there’s nothing desperately new or fresh about the story line, which doesn’t stray too far from the original overall. It must be impossible to come up with novel ideas for superpowers these days, too.

Overall this is a decent movie with plenty of fun to be had. The kids can love it, the grown ups can too, and it both stands alone and makes for a sequel that was actually worth making. Recommended.

Released: 13th July 2018
Viewed: 13th July 2018
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10

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Days of Blood and Starlight – Laini Taylor

days of blood and starlight cover

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil held a wishbone between them. And its snap split the world in two.”

I liked the first half of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, the first in this series, much more than the second half. Conversely, I took a little while to get going with this one, spending a good chunk of the first third or so thinking this was going to be a slightly disappointing middle installment. How wrong I was!

(As ever, I can’t promise a review of book 2 won’t mention something that ‘spoils’ an e.g. survival from book 1, so you might want to leave before I really get going!)

Following the catastrophic events at the end of the first book, we find Karou living a shadowy nightmare life. Akiva’s isn’t that much better, but while his pain is caused almost solely by the separation and facade of fitting back into his old life, Karou has lost just about everything. She’s back with the chimaera, but an outsider in almost every way.

For a middle book, this surprised me. There was that point where I thought ‘how is there a third novel in this series?’ and then of course the world up-ends again. Twists and turns, darkness and more darkness – this is a gripping read, once the initial tranche of new world-building and scene setting is out of the way.

We see a lot more of the chimaera here, not just glimpses of Brimstone and Issa, or flashbacks, and we also find out more about the social order of the seraphim. Both are rather satisfying.

The ending is slightly less cliff-hanger-er than the first book, but still: roll on the final installment!

Paperback: 512 pages / 84 chapters
First published: 2012
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy book 2
Read from 17th June – 1st July 2018

My rating: 8/10

The Furthest Station – Ben Aaronovitch

furthest station cover

“Jaget said he’d been watching this documentary on TV about the way people learn to track animals.”

Set between Foxglove Summer and The Hanging TreeThe Furthest Station picks up with PC Peter Grant well into his training as a… well, magician is probably not a word he’d enjoy. Practitioner? Either way, this isn’t really a starting place for the uninitiated – you’d probably still be able to enjoy the story, but the background isn’t explained in any way here.

What we do get is a curious case that soon attracts the attention of The Folly, the magical-stuff branch of the Metropolitan Police. Ghosts have been harassing people on the Metropolitan Line, and in investigating some of the cases, Peter and his boss, Nightingale, start to wonder if there’s something bigger going on…

I would have grabbed at this to read much sooner, but quite frankly the price tag for such a short tome seemed a bit steep. Hurrah for libraries! 🙂 I actually ended up enjoying this almost more than the full-length novels in the series. I liked the focus on the single plot-line, without some of the distracting diversions that creep in to the longer stories.

I also liked the reintroduction of Abigail, Peter’s far-too-curious little cousin. She was slightly forgotten in the most recent book, but actually her ongoing story should be impacting quite a lot. I do wonder if Mr Aaronovitch is struggling a little with his plot- and time-lines, as things have been jumping around a little. Perhaps more novellas like this could help fill in the gaps that are appearing? Of course, any use of magic is likely to leave gaps in the grey matter, so…! 😉

Fully recommended for fans, even if I do think charging full price for a slim volume you could easily read in a day is a little bit of a cheek. And if you’ve yet to discover the series, absolute give Rivers of London a go first! 🙂

Hardback: 118 pages / 9 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: PC Peter Grant / Rivers of London book 5.5
Read from 10th-13th June 2018

My rating: 8/10

Low Chicago – George RR Martin (ed)

low chicago cover

“It had been one hundred and forty-two years since John Nighthawk had been inside the Palmer House, and then it had been the earlier incarnation of the luxurious Chicago hotel, known simply as the Palmer.”

It seems very odd to jump into a series at book 25, but this isn’t the kind of story where that matters too much. Sure, I had to do a quick google for the underlying premise: an alien virus hits the Earth, and while most of the infected die, those that survive are altered. Known as the Wild Card event, most of those whose ‘cards turned’ become ‘jokers’ – cursed with some kind of abnormality, like the woman with rabbit ears. Some are ‘deuces’, granted low-level, party-trick kind of powers. But a very few are the ‘aces’, those with real superpowers.

The whole series has been collections of short stories, and this latest volume is no different. We start with a framing tale – very Canterbury Tales 😉 – of a high stakes poker game. Each player is allowed to take two bodyguards in with them, be that physical muscle or ace-skills, or both!

The human mutation premise isn’t exactly novel, but I think it’s a nice take on things here, feeling different enough from, say, X-Men.

When something goes awry during the card game, it turns out that one of the superpowers in the room is the ability to send people to different time periods. So, with regular interludes back to our framing tale, we then get a series of stories written by different authors detailing the ‘adventures’ of one or more of the party, flung into the distant or recent past.

I’m not sure I would have noticed the different authors if it hadn’t been made clear at the start, but once pointed out then yes, I caught a few differences in writing styles. That works well, though, given the range of eras the stories are set in: Jurassic to 1980s, with stops at several quite famous events – and with a few famous faces, to boot!

I really enjoyed both the premise of the stories here, and the individual time travel tales. There were a few times when I thought, “This is probably a reference to a previous story”, but nothing to detract too much. If I did have a complaint, it’s that this book gives a bit of a glimpse at a clearly well-established universe, but we don’t get to spend a great deal of time with character development or deeper explanations.

Still, that just gives me an even bigger reason to check out the rest of the series!

NetGalley eARC: 432 pages / 7 short stories plus framing tale
First published: 2018
Series: Wild Cards book 25
Read from 3rd-10th June 2018

My rating: 8/10

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

solo poster

Han Solo: cool, suave, cheeky grin. Shoots first, knows you love him. Almost certainly the best character in Star Wars. And once did the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, don’t ya know?

I had mixed feelings about this film – going in, and coming out. I like the Star Wars universe, it’s got a lot going for it that we maybe haven’t seen the best of via the main movies. So sure, let’s have another story set here, where aliens and humans and droids and all sorts of things mingle on planets of every type not just deserts, honest. I’m not entirely sure it needed to be this story, though: did we really need that cool-guy mythos broken down and laid out quite so much?

That aside, Solo is a fun watch. There’s a teenie little bit of the social commentary stuff that led to such a slow chunk of The Force Awakens, but mostly it’s just action, some laughs, more action, and plenty of nods to events and knowledge that viewers of the original movies will ‘get’.

I think the cast did very well here, especially Alden Ehrenreich with his near-impossible task of being Harrison Ford – he’s not as cool, but I suppose will grow into it 😉 Stand out for me was probably Phoebe Waller-Bridge as droid L3, done with such swagger and a chip on her shoulder the size of (“that’s not”) a moon (!). I wasn’t quite so taken with Paul Bettany’s baddie, but that might have been finding his menace less disturbing than why he had a face full of stretch marks o_O

Plot-wise it’s got few surprises, but it does try to cram quite a lot into the 2 and a quarter hours to stop you thinking too much. And that’s rather what I like from a trip to the cinema!

Released: 24th May 2018
Viewed: 25th May 2018
Running time: 135 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10 –  I think this would have been better as a complete stand-alone rather than a prequel, tbh

Ready Player One (2018)

ready player one poster

In the not-too-distant future, a virtual reality environment known as the Oasis has captured the minds of most of the human race. Why deal with your unhappy reality, when you can be anything you want, go anywhere you want, and do anything you want, in an environment that feels as real as real.

Five years before we start the movie, the Oasis’s creator, James Halliday, dies. But he’s left a final game for the players of the world: if they can find three keys hidden in challenges throughout the virtual worlds, one winner will inherit all of Halliday’s wealth – and control of the Oasis itself.

Everyone is after the prize, from ‘clans’ of players to corporations, and individuals like Wade aka Parzival, a massive geek and Halliday fanboy. Five years have passed and no one has found any clue – is that about to change?

I read the book this is based on a few years back, and while I quite enjoyed it I didn’t buy into the massive hype that surrounded it at the time. Conversely, I actually really enjoyed the movie and think a lot of the criticisms thrown at it are rather weak. If anything, I think the movie has smoothed over a few of the bits that didn’t work quite so well, such as Wade’s apartment life, making for a slightly tighter story. Some changes don’t work quite so well, like having the characters meet much sooner in real life, but are needed for the more visual medium, I reckon.

And talking of visuals: excellent! This is a virtual reality done by Spielberg, no surprise it looks pretty ace.

One complaint I heard before going that I’d like to take issue with: women do not get a raw deal in this movie, imo. The lead is male, but he’s not perfect, and the females around him get to kick butt and solve puzzles too.

Overall: I rather enjoyed this! It’s exactly what I would have wanted from the book adaptation and more, and it’s a hugely enjoyable romp through pop culture.

Released: 28th March 2018
Viewed: 2nd April 2018
Running time: 140 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

The Orville (season 1)

orville poster

Seth MacFarlane is well-known as the creator (and voice artist) of Family Guy, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and other showcases for his zany, un-politically correct humour. He now turns his attention to space and gives us his version of Star Trek.

Initial critics reviews were incredibly harsh, but thankfully a friend talked me into giving this a go – because it’s actually a lot of fun. It’s not poking fun at its source so much as paying homage while at the same time playing up some of the ridiculousnesses of the situations. While it never takes itself too seriously, it was surprisingly genuine and with ‘proper’ story lines, never falling into any hint of spoof.

The first episode is easily the weakest, focusing a lot on the break-up of Captain Ed Mercer’s (MacFarlane) marriage and the arrival of his ex-wife (Adrianne Palicki) as the new First Officer. Once this dynamic tails off, the series is a lot stronger for it.

And, as with all good sci-fi, there is actually a deeper moral to many of the storylines. Should a newborn baby be given corrective surgery to fit in with the rest of its culture? What about an alien race whose government is run by popular opinion? What are the real pitfalls of breaking the First Directive – something Star Trek seems to do regularly, with no real consequences.

Visually, there are a few indications that the budget here wasn’t super-high, but at the same time the CGI and makeup has been done well within its limitations and doesn’t distract at any point. And while, for instance, the gelatinous crew member isn’t absolutely hyper-realistically rendered, that’s more than forgivable for the sheer fact that the show has bothered with a non-humanoid crew member – because, why not?!

I not only really enjoyed this show as a light-hearted bit of sci-fi fun, but was actually quite impressed with how the ‘adult humour’ also allowed for some ‘adult level of thinking’ which was so often avoided to keep Star Trek appropriate for kids. Oddly, I actually believe in this society – and it looks both nice and a lot of fun!

First broadcast: December 2017
Series: 1 (2nd announced)
Episodes: 12 @ ~44 mins each

My rating: 8/10