Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017)

guardians of the galaxy 2 poster

Unlike most of the MCU, the characters from Guardians of the Galaxy haven’t shown up in the other movies. So, we had to wait three years – or, one day this time ’round 😉 – for our next chance to see them. Was it worth the wait?

(Obviously, spoilers for the first movie just by mentioning e.g. people that survived to be in this one.)

Banded together after the events of GotG1, our ragtag crew are now ‘heroes’ across the quadrant, taking jobs such as the one we (bar a ‘prologue’) open with. But, as the main crew are doing life-threatening battle in the background, the camera instead focuses on the most adorable Baby Groot, dancing away to Mr Blue Sky. Can I just say how much I LOVE this scene?!

Baby Groot is indeed one of the highlights for me, and the film isn’t short of them. But I have to get the squeeing out of the way first 🙂

Finding out at the end of the first movie that his father was indeed a ‘being of pure light’, as his ill mother told him, Peter is about to discover his daddy. What can possibly go wrong? We also have the sibling dynamics of Nebula and Gamora, everyone caring for little Baby Groot, and a few new faces.

So. GotG2 is a movie about families. The ones we’re born into, the ones we make for ourselves, the people who become family one way or another. That theme runs deep through the piece, holding together an otherwise slightly manic mix of new and dealing with the evolving group dynamic.

I skipped reviewing this when I first saw it, and I think it’s because it’s such a tough movie to do justice to. I gave it a 9 on my first viewing: the ending almost made me cry, so… y’know. From a comedy o.O However, I was struck by how much I’d forgotten: the civilisation of golden snobs, for instance, or all of the Ravager stuff. So, maybe a mark off for not being as memorable, or just putting too much in?

And yet, it does all work. The new characters – including the wonderfully dippy Mantis (although Drax’s attitudes to her are somewhat abusive while being played for laughs, which is a bit off) – fit in well enough without overshadowing the main group’s interactions with each other. The baddies are done well, feeling like quite natural flow of story.

It’s very fun, very well done, and only very slightly not hitting quite the same joie de vivre I felt for the first – much the same as the wonderful soundtrack, which doesn’t quite stick in the head as much. Still, I think I could stand to rewatch this a few more times…!

And did I mention enough: Baby Groot?!?! 🙂

Released: 28th April 2017
Viewed: 3rd May 2017 / 19th April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 136 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8.5/10

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Grey Sister – Mark Lawrence

grey sister cover

“The dissolution of any monastery or convent is not something to be lightly undertaken.”

Red Sister was one of my favourite fantasy novels in years, so much so that when the final installment (Holy Sister) fell into my little paws I didn’t hesitate to go back for a reread before this middle installment.

Following the events from that first book, the surviving novices and sisters have returned to the convent of Sweet Mercy. But politics abound in the Empire, and Nona Grey has to face not only the trials of Mystic classes, but the hatred of a wealthy lord, the schemings of an emperor’s sister, and the horror of the Inquisition.

One of the things I loved about the first book was the world building, and the hints that things were more than they seem. Where are the four races from? Who are the Missing? We get a little more information about the shiphearts and the Arks here, but no real answers. More questions, of course! Foremost of those would be: who the heck is this Keot? The author even pre-warns us before starting the story that we’re not meant to know who he is, he has just ‘appeared’ since the first volume.

We also seem to have jumped forward a fair bit of time which felt a little jarring. Given the amount that happens in book 1, especially at the ending, it doesn’t feel right that the span from then to ‘now’ was so quiet – Keot aside. And to skip over all of his introduction… argh!

Some of the characters have changed, too, in ways that might have made more sense if the passage of time wasn’t so truncated. Kettle, for instance, is almost more friend than teacher now, which doesn’t not make sense, but still.

But, that all soon falls by the wayside as we are once again caught up in the politics and scheming of a world that is slowly being consumed by ice. Nona’s self-discover has led to much great confidence and some new fighting techniques, and if that at times felt a little Logan-esque to me the action still stays high and the intrigue abounds.

Of course there is an element of middle book syndrome, with most things already explored to an extent but no resolution. Still, book three is in my hands and started, so I won’t complain too much! It’s still very well written, intriguing fantasy, and I cannot wait to see where it’s going to end.

NetGalley eARC: 417 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Book of the Ancestor book 2
Read from 26th March – 15th April 2019

My rating: 8.5/10

Shazam! (2019)

shazam poster

Once upon a time, Chuck Bartowski had the intercept downloaded into his brain and became a super-spy ninja fighting machine. Now, imagine instead that a 14-year-old boy gets upgraded to a cross between Chuck and Superman…!

We live in strange times: Marvel is getting darker by the second (looking at you, Infinity War) and with Shazam! DC is… funny? Lighthearted and actually fun? Yup. Oh boy, yup!

I came out of the cinema last night thoroughly entertained. I think most of that is down to Zach Levi, who adds that Chuck-like sense of wonder to discovering new powers, channeling less his inner geek and more his inner teenager. His performance made me smile a lot; it oozes charm and energy.

If I’m being honest, though, the rest of the movie could have been a little better. The build up is what makes the pay-off worthwhile, but it still feels like it goes on for quite a while before we get to the really fun stuff. I think the story could have been a little tighter overall – the learning the superpowers bit works great, especially with a nod to being set now and social media, but the aimless not knowing what to do with them did start to stray into… well, aimlessness. Various beats reminded me a little too much of other movies, too – they do at least acknowledge Big 🙂

Overall this was just such a lot of fun and I’m not going to take anything away from that, really. I am really really hoping that we’re going to see much more of the other Captain Sparklefingers – urm, I mean, Marvel 😉

Released: 5th April 2019
Viewed: 5th April 2019
Running time: 132 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

Book Learnin’ – John McNamee

book learnin cover

I’m not familiar with Pie Comics, but author John McNamee apparently contributes to the Onion and the New Yorker. His style is relatively simple, but with a biting wit – both aspects I find myself rather liking.

six panel comic from book learnin

The book is split into several topics, including The Arts, Social Sciences, Zoology, Science and Technology, and Business. It’s a lot more fun than the school timetable that would make, though 😉

4 panel comic from book learnin

I’d say the topics range from the surreal, to the rather more profound than you’d expect from a simple comic. Not all of the ideas made me laugh – either not hitting my sense of humour, or I just didn’t get them – but most provoke at least a wry chuckle. Which might not sound like much, but in this day and age, every moment of “yeah, that’s how my brain and/or the world works” is not to be sniffed at.

I did like the collection format allowing for some multi-page continuations of a few themes, rather than limiting things to 4- or 6- panels. Overall, what’s not to like? 🙂

example of comic strip involving angel and devil on shoulders

(panels ‘quoted’ as examples of style and humour, which I believe is acceptable for review purposes).

NetGalley eARC: 130 pages
First published: 2019
Series: Pie Comics
Read from 16th-21st March 2019

My rating: 8/10

The Power – Naomi Alderman

power cover

“The shape of power is always the same; it is the shape of a tree.”

What if… women developed the ability to generate electricity, enough to shock or even kill. Such a power would surely tip the gender balance – men no longer dominant. How would civilisation adapt?

This is a very cleverly told story, one that is ideal for dissection in a book group. And just a really gripping read. It starts off full of intrigue – what ifs and how and what next – but gets darker and darker.

I can imagine men and women reading such different things into this book. For men, it’s a chilling dystopia, a horror scenario. For women, though, as things get worse it’s less and less fiction and more “yup, this is what it has been like throughout history to be a woman”. Fear of being physically overwhelmed and hurt or raped. Treated like the lesser half of the species; a commodity, or a plaything. I’d love to think a man might read this and realise that this is not some far flung fiction – this is a slice of what it’s like to be female even in the modern age. I was about to say, maybe not on my doorstep – but you know what, pretty much everywhere. Being lucky not to experience the extremes of this gender bias doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

And yet, this isn’t just a feminist book, or a political book. And it’s not all women = good, men = bad. It has as much to say about religion, and history. And yes, power and its corrupting influence.

The framing chapters are excellent, too: letters between two writers (Neil and Naomi), discussing this semi-fictional history of the ‘time before the cataclysm’. The book is then split into a countdown: 10 years to go, 7, 1… What will happen? How?

It wasn’t an easy read – it made me angry, some scenes are extremely shocking (no pun intended!) – but it was indeed a powerful one.

Kindle: 331 pages
First published: 2016
Series: none
Read from 17th February – 16th March 2019

My rating: 8/10

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

captain america poster

The path to Endgame i.e. my rewatch of the Marvel movies continues with the fifth in the series, and – ironically for the ‘first Avenger’ – the last of the Phase 1 main characters to be introduced before the big team up. We’ve had science, aliens, and mythology, and now we’re getting some history…

1940s, World War II. A weedy kid from Brooklyn, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), is desperate to sign up – like his best friend, James ‘Bucky’ Barnes (Sebastian Stan). He finally gets his chance when the lead scientist in a new Super Soldier programme sees the advantages to enlisting for heart and goodness, not just brawn and no-brains.

I remember the transformation scene, sitting in the cinema whispering, “It must be nice for Chris Evans to be the ‘after’ shot in real life!” The effects in the early part of the movie, turning him scrawny, were impressive but not perfect – still, you get the jist.

The rest of the movie sees Steve fight to become the hero we know he is, joining up with his ‘Howling Commandos’ to fight Nazis and the evil Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). The latter has harnessed the power of a certain Tesseract, a ‘mcguffin’ that continues to have importance through not just the next movie, but right into Infinity War and Captain Marvel.

Talking of Captain Marvel, there are a lot of parallels between the two – and not just the name. Both are underdogs – skinny boy vs. girl in a man’s world – and both show heart, grit, and keep getting up every time they’re knocked down. I wonder if I would have warmed more to Marvel had those scenes not been relegated to brief flashbacks; certainly, the hand grenade scene almost brings a tear to my eye – if I’m feeling a bit weepy, anyway.

I’ve probably seen CA:FA at least as many times as any other Marvel movie, so I’d have to suggest it’s very watchable. Of course, the eye candy doesn’t hurt 😉 Still, Cap is quite a serious character in a serious kind of film – the WW2 setting is too real not to add a darkness to the tone, so this is fitting. Like Thor, his subsequent movies are stronger (imo), but this sets up several important threads in the MCU: Cap himself, the origins of another couple of baddies, introduces us to Howard Stark (Tony’s father), and that glowing blue cube…

Released: 29th July 2011
Viewed: 12th March 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 124 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

As You Wish – Cary Elwes

as you wish cover

“William Goldman once said about the movie business, ‘Nobody knows anything.'”

Along with many, many other people, The Princess Bride holds a special place in my heart. It’s a sweet, funny, action-packed, generally just lovely movie. It’s one of my go-to films when I need a pick me up. And who better to talk us through some of the behind the scenes, making of stories, than the dashing Westley himself, aka Cary Elwes?

Also known as one of the few Robin Hoods to actually speak in a proper English accent, it’s easy to hear Elwes’ gentle tones narrating the equally gentle tales of how wonderful making this movie was. Of course, he was a young actor near the start of his career back in the mid 1980s (TPB was released in 1987), so there’s also an element of an actor looking back at the ‘role that made him’. To be fair, he’s probably never managed anything living quite up to those highs again (even if I do get a little mental squee every time he pops up in a cameo somewhere!), so there’s a little bittersweetness to it.

There’s nothing shocking in this memoir. Like the movie, it’s a sweet kind of nostalgia, mostly told by Elwes but with regular snippets from many of the other cast members. How beautiful and kind Robin Wright was (and still is, I’m sure!), how funny Mel Smith was, how amazingly Andre the Giant lived.

There are a few background tales that will perhaps make some of the movie more impressive. The trouble it had getting made in the first place (inconceivable!), the astounding amount of training Elwes and Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya) put in to be able to perform – yes, themselves! – that fight scene. And now I will have to go and rewatch it to see if I can notice the moment Count Rugen (Christopher Guest) actually knocks Westley unconscious, or the parts where he’s limping having badly broken his toe messing around.

In fact, making me want to rewatch the movie is another great thing about this book. And since, like all sensible people, I own a copy, it’s definitely a case of “As you wish” 🙂

(one downside: my eBook edition really doesn’t cope with the included photos, even when I opened in on my computer instead of my phone, which is a shame.)

eBook: 272 pages / 13 chapters
First published: 2014
Series: none
Read from 3rd  September 2018 – 16th February 2019

My rating: 8/10