The Scarlet Pimpernel – Emmuska Orczy

scarlet pimpernel cover

“A surging, seething, murmuring crowd, of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate.”

During the French revolution, c1792, a band of English noblemen make daring raids across the channel to save French aristocrats from Madame la Guillotine. This group is led by the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, so known from the picture of the small, wayside flower symbol his communications are signed with.

When Marguerite Blakeney, a French actress recently married to Sir Percy Blakeney, is approached by the Revolutionist, Chauvelin, her quiet life of parties and spending money is thrown upside down. For, Chauvelin has proof that her beloved brother, Armand, is in league with the Pimpernel. And so Marguerite is tasked with aiding in the unmasking of France’s great enemy, or her brother will meet Mme la Guillotine instead!

The author’s title, Baroness Orczy, is a good clue that her sympathies lie with the aristocrats and not (see the opening line) the plebian pursuit of ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’.

My own interest comes from the 1982 movie, staring Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour, which I absolutely loved as a kid. It’s hard not to make comparisons: indeed, from what I can remember the stories are very similar. However, while the movie focuses on the action and daring of the Pimpernel more, the book is told largely from the point of view of Marguerite. Although dragged into the plots, she’s still more of a bystander, and the action levels suffer for that.

Instead, this book is a romance with a bit of adventure thrown in. That’s not awful, but I think I mostly enjoyed picturing the actors and remembering scenes from the movie, more than the actual read. And, I’m very glad that the absolutely awful anti-semitism towards the end was left out of the movie!

As a story, there’s a lot here to like – as well as a lot that requires eye-rolling suspension of disbelief – but I have to suggest that the original text maybe didn’t tell it quite at its best. SerialReader was an excellent way to make it more palatable, though, and I rather enjoyed my daily chapters. I could quite fancy digging out a copy of the film version now… !

SerialReader: 321 pages / 31 chapters
First published: 1905
Series: Scarlet Pimpernel book 1
Read from 10th July – 10th August 2019

My rating: 6/10

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Toy Story 4 (2019)

toy story 4 poster

When Bonnie – new owner of Woody, Buzz et al – makes herself a new toy to help with the first day of kindergarten, the gang end up spork-sitting the new guy, Forky. Traumatised with finding himself ‘alive’, he’s not so keen on sticking around which is a problem given how attached Bonnie has become. Keeping the two together becomes Woody’s new purpose, just as he’s struggling to adjust to no longer being the favourite, the toy in charge.

I neither dislike nor adore the Toy Story series. They’re sweet, they’re fun, but somehow they just don’t grab me the way they seem to affect others, or the way I loved the How To Train Your Dragon trilogy. As a result, I only saw TS3 last week, knowing I was going to this. And I was pleasantly surprised: it was lovely. It also felt like a fitting end to a series – so quite why we needed a fourth, I wasn’t sure.

Biggest praise, then, that this doesn’t ruin the whole series. It’s tough not to get drawn into the ‘lives’ of these toys, they are just so well realised. I mean, you know things are going to work out – it’s a ‘U’ rating! – but the tension gets you, and the emotion feels oddly genuine. And no spoiler, but I think this is definitely an ending, which stops it feeling pointless, even if it wasn’t strictly necessary.

I have just one complaint, and that’s around the baddie’s story. I can’t help but think that the kind of nasty, entitled behaviour displayed, the emotional manipulation, should never, ever be shown as being rewarded. It’s a poor message to send to kids, and the whole “Oh, but I never had the advantages you did so I deserve it” isn’t improving the matter. I was thoroughly disturbed to have all of this in a kids’ flick, to be honest. I mean, it was funny in Guardians of the Galaxy when Rocket asked, “But what if I want it more than the person who has it?” but here it’s just not amusing.

Sadly that really did spoil the whole thing for me a bit, and points off for that – although I suppose you could argue that it’s just the pure niceness of our regular cast that helps everyone, but still – big ick for me, personally.

Aside from that, though, it’s sweet and lovely, and a decent epilogue to the original trilogy rather than an essential piece of the story. It’s nice to see the old characters again, even if most only really get cameo-level roles in a busy cast roster. Newcomers like Duke Caboom (I failed to spot the voicing was Keanu Reeves!) add humour to avoid total saccharine levels, too.

If it doesn’t quite live up to the highs of the previous movies, well – that was always going to be a tough job. Kids will undoubtedly love it, and fans of the series will find a lot to enjoy.

Released: 21st June 2019
Viewed: 21st June 2019
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 7/10

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

legend of tarzan poster

Almost a decade has passed since Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, returned to his inheritance in England as Lord Greystoke, John Clayton III. But as Europe tries to carve up Africa for their own economic gain, all is not well in the Belgian Congo. Struggling to pay his debts, the Belgian King Leopold invites Clayton to tour the ‘improvements’ he’s made to the lands where Tarzan once roamed.

Clayton (Alexander Skarsgård) is unwilling to return, but wife, Jane (Margot Robbie), is keen to get back to the lands where she, too, grew up. Finally he concedes when an American (Samuel L Jackson) asks him to go to look for evidence that the real ‘economy’ is slavery, that they might put a stop to it.

I’ll confess up front that my main reason for watching this movie was to perv at Alexander Skarsgård’s eight-pack a bit, and so it probably serves me right that that’s actually the highlight of the movie. He’s worked out hard, has the boy, and kudos to him. Alas, solid abs do not an entertaining movie make, and somehow – given the pedigree of the source material and the dozen or so film adaptations before it to learn from – they’ve managed to make the whole thing, well, kinda dull.

Lord Greystoke is a taciturn, brooding character, all the better to highlight how much more relaxed he was/is as Tarzan. Jane is supposed to be a bit less of a damsel in distress here, but it only half works. The rest of the impressive cast aren’t given enough to work with and just don’t pack the punches they should, including Christoph Waltz, who we know fine and well can pull off evil much better than this.

The story isn’t dreadful, and yet somehow it never gels. Flashbacks interrupt the otherwise kidnap-and-rescue tale, telling us of Tarzan’s upbringing in the jungle, with an ape (not a gorilla, bigger and meaner) as a surrogate mother, his first meeting with Jane, and other things that make the plot make some sense. The CGI isn’t bad, but it’s quite forced: Tarzan rubbing heads with lions, for instance, to make up for all the bits of story that were skipped over in favour of a darker, more serious kind of story.

And overall, I think that’s the problem. When you’re making movies with a premise as vaguely absurd as this, you either go the po-faced serious route, or you have a bit of fun with it. I think I’d rather watch George of the Jungle, tbh.

Released: 6th July 2016
Viewed: 23rd February 2019
Running time: 110 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5/10 – it’s not awful, just dull

The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)

kid who would be king poster

Alex Elliot, and his best friend Bedders, are prime targets for the school bullies, Lance and Kaye (yes, those names are subtle o_O). When Alex runs away from them one night and into a building site, it’s destiny that he’ll find a sword in a stone. Pulling it out, of course, sets off a whole chain of events involving shape-changing wizards, evil root-covered sorceresses, and undead knights wielding flaming weapons.

As re-imaginings of the Arthurian legends go, this one isn’t that bad. Britain is indeed in dire, leaderless times, so the whole myth works quite well. Alas, setting it in a school and using children for 99% of the cast wasn’t my favourite way to go – ymmv.

Movies starring kids largely have me asking that they *not* be too irritating, and most of the time this movie does at least hit that. But Alex’s earnestness turns whiny a few too many times for me, the obviousness of most of the set up is a bit too cheesy, and the lack of actual peril doesn’t add to the action levels.

The adult characters didn’t get nearly enough screen time, or non-scenery-chewing dialog, for my liking: I think Rebecca Ferguson is a fantastic actor, and Sir PatStew’s acting chops go without saying. Neither are best utilised here.

The one actor/character I really did like was the young Merlin. Gawky, ungainly, and so much fun, he nails the part perfectly. Again, he’s just not in it enough.

Plot-wise, as I said, it’s all very predictable, but then why would I have expected anything else?

Overall this is inoffensive family fun, and I realise I’m not the target audience. If you still need a movie to take the kids to over midterm, this one isn’t going to cause actual discomfort to the adult audience. In fact, most of my fellow viewers in the cinema seemed to be older, and the loudest laughs were from grown men. So. Hmm.

Released: 15th February 2019
Viewed: 15th February 2019
Running time: 120 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 6/10

Iron Man (2008)

iron man poster

I don’t often go back and review older movies, but with the upcoming release of Avengers: Endgame (squeeeee!) it seemed like an excellent excuse time for a rewatch of my beloved Marvel movies. And, since many of them predate this blog by a number of years, it’s also a good excuse to see how well they hold up.

It’s hard to imagine a time now when the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) wasn’t the juggernaut that it is today: 20 films already released and box office gold, another three due this year and oh yeah, possibly the most anticipated movie of the year with the aforementioned A:E.

Back in 2008, however, Marvel was not exactly swamped with success or cash. They made a relative pittance licensing their comic book properties such as X-Men and Spider-Man to other film studios. The real money would be in making their own. It was a gamble and a half – if their first attempt failed, they’d probably go bust, never mind getting a second chance. So, which world-famous superhero would they bring to the big screen? Iron Man!

*tumbleweed*

Hah, yes: back in 2008 no one had ever heard of ‘Iron Man’ (well, the comic book fans, but much as I love the MCU I was never one of those). I can’t imagine how the pre-production conversions went, from ‘who’ on the character, to ‘you must be kidding – you want to cast a former drug addict and convict as a superhero in a kids movie?!’

And there’s one thing I think worked so well: Marvel was *not* making movies for kids. We had plenty of those, doing so-so business, but some bright spark twigged that adults – many of whom had grown up with these characters – might not want to sit through more teen angst dressed up as burgeoning superpowers (Spider-Man). More, how about we buck the trend for dark, troubled superheros (Batman) or literal god-like aliens desperately trying to hide their real identity (Superman) and go with a ‘real’ person, albeit a billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, Tony Stark?

It worked – duh – and on a repeat viewing it *still* works. I remember sitting in the cinema blown away with how different this movie was from the Batmans and Supermans I’d grown up with. It was taking itself seriously, but it was chock-full of humour (Dummy the fire extinguishing robot had me in stitches). Robert Downey Jr just *was* Tony Stark – still is! – perfectly suave yet damaged, and omg was he actually *happy* to figure out how to be a superhero? Yup – you could see the glee in his first flight, getting to swat bad guys, and that announcement: “I am Iron Man.”

Iron Man was a joy of a movie, and I still loved it this time ’round – not my second or even fourth viewing, I’m sure 😉 It’s not perfect – what is? – but it is very watchable, and quite frankly hasn’t dated at all. Are we sure this was 11 years ago?! o_O

For kicking off a beloved franchise – although Marvel stumbled a bit with the next few *cough* Hulk *cough* – I was always going to be fond of this. To remind myself that it’s still a very fun, watchable movie is even better.

Released: 2nd May 2008
Viewed: 8th February 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 126 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

“Perhaps, if you intend to visit other planets, we should improve the exosystems.” (Jarvis to Tony Stark during the first Iron Man suit test run)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

How to Train Your Dragon 3 poster

The How to Train Your Dragon series has possibly my favourite animated character ever in Toothless the Dragon. His half-dog/cat type behaviour backed up by y’know, fire breathing, is just adorable. The humour in the rest of the set up, from Hiccup the very non-Viking-y brainiac chief’s son, the often dozy dragon riders with all their amusing foibles, not to mention an absolutely fab vocal cast, all make these films very worth watching, whatever your age.

With a third instalment, largely I tend to just hope it won’t tarnish the memory. I wasn’t expecting this to possibly be the best movie of the three!

One strength is how well the story continues with events, rather than just being A.N. Other adventure. We’ve seen Hiccup and Toothless meeting for the first time, we’ve followed the Vikings go from dragon-haters to dragon riders. And we’ve seen Hiccup grow up a little, not least as the mantle of chief is thrust upon him.

It makes sense, from the previous two stories, to open with Berk now a dragon haven but also drawing all the wrong kind of attention from those who still haven’t embraced the new human-dragon partnership model. And so the adventure here starts very logically, with Hiccup looking for a way to protect his new friends – even if that means chasing the impossible trying to find a mythical Hidden World.

I absolutely loved this film, even more than expected. I thought a bit of cute would suit a Friday night, but instead I was deeply moved at some parts, laughed out loud at others, and was overall impressed with the action. This is a fantastic animation, and a nigh-on perfect ending to the trilogy.

Toothless is still very much my favourite 🙂

Released: 1st February 2019
Viewed: 1st February 2019
Running time: 104 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 9/10

Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

ralph breaks the internet poster

Several years have passed since the events of Wreck It Ralph (2012), and the title character is happy in his routine of working in his game and hanging out in the Tapper bar room with his best friend, Vanellope. She, however, is finding the repetition a little stifling – so when the arcade gets wifi, the chance of an adventure in the internet is a welcome adventure. What could possibly go wrong?!

I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel – possibly more than the original. The story follows well, but what really lifted it for me was the pop culture nods, from social media to Disney’s greatest. The scenes in the Disney online experience tickled me immensely – from the Princesses as seen in the trailer, to Stormtrooper guards, and omg Groot…! 🙂

The actual story, about clingy friendships and learning to let go, is more than adequate as an underpinning to the real fun of seeing Ralph join in with meme culture. Recommended slice of family fun.

Released: 30th November 2018
Viewed: 21st December 2018
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10