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

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Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire – GM Nair

duckett and dyer cover

“So this is how it ends…”

Michael Duckett is a bit of a no-hoper whose sad life is about to be injected with terrifying levels of excitement. First his not-quite girlfriend goes missing – not the first disappearing act of late – and then increasingly strange things happen to him and best friend, Stephanie Dyer, a lazy lay-about with some odd ideas about the world.

But… when there are thunderstorms causing people to disappear, and ads in the paper for ‘Duckett & Dyer’ that neither set up – who’s to say what’s odd or not?

This book was… infuriating. Because I loved the story, and the wacky sense of humour, but wanted to slap the editor who didn’t tighten up a LOT on the writing style. Argh!!

So I started off feeling quite sniffy about this book. I thought, “poor man’s Dirk Gently fan-fic”. The acknowledgement of the cliche in the dectective being called ‘Rex Calhoun’, hard drinker, etc etc, didn’t stop it being gratingly un-ironic. But as the story unfolds, the weird and funny Douglas Adams-esque-ness is one of the strong points, and what I loved most. I sort of saw where the story was going early on, but it’s just such fun getting there…

Alas, what’s less fun is the language. It all feels like it’s trying too hard, and really could have done with some hefty editing. The characters tell us their feelings a bit too often, their interactions often a bit false. The number of adjectives and persistence in providing detail that wasn’t needed made this one to occasionally skim rather than read word by word. Otherwise it gets a bit much – which is a shame, because this *could* have been really really good, instead of just fun but far from perfect.

That said, it ends with a “Duckett and Dyer will return in…” which I rather do fancy picking up if/when it happens! 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 300 pages / 32 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 1st-10th June 2019

My rating: 7/10 – bonus points for fun, although it’s far from great

Safely Endangered Comics – Chris McCoy

safely endangered comics cover

I’ve been seeing Chris McCoy’s work around various social media outlets, and I knew it tickled my sometimes warped, usually geeky kind of humour.

comic panels 'stay at home superheroes' e.g. ironing man

I couldn’t detect any particular order to the comics here, just a random collection of mainly single-page, 2-4 panel jokes. Most of them made me smile, one or two made no sense to me, and rather a lot seemed very relevant to my life.

comic strip of priority tasks left to end

The style is simple, but effective. The use of colour makes everything that little bit more fun. One word of warning: this contains pretty mature content, both thematically and swearing. And a lot of geekness 😉

NetGalley eARC: 144 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 26th-28th April 2019

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

Book Love – Debbie Tung

book love cover

“Books can take you to magical places.”

How to review 130-odd pages of sweet cartoon drawings, on the subject of being a true bibliophile? Urm, it’s really good! Can I share a picture? Yes, as this is a review, that seems to be allowed (plus, you can find plenty online if you need another few panels to persuade).

cartoon strip "What're you thinking about? How life is so short and there's just not enough time. To do all the things you always wanted to do? To read all the books I always wanted to read.

Simple drawings, many truisms about being a book lover. There is nothing not to love about this book. It’s cute more than funny – although some of the bookish situations are so true to (my) life that they did make me laugh – but that’s more than fine. This is a huge warm cosy blanket of a book that says “I’m a bookdragon, too, let’s bond over our love of books.” Not crime novels or fantasy books, but the sheer pleasure of reading.

NetGalley eARC: 137 pages
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read: 17th-26th February 2019

My rating: 9/10

The Consuming Fire – John Scalzi

consuming fire cover

“Years later Lenson Ornill would reflect on the irony that his time as a religious man would be bracketed by a single and particular word.”

The Collapsing Empire was one of my favourite NetGalley finds – so much fun to read, and introducing me to an author I immediately wished to read more from. The story was intriguing, too: in the far future, humanity has spread throughout the stars by means of wormhole-like ‘flow’ paths between planets and habitats that would otherwise take months, years, or longer to travel between. Long cut off from Earth after the collapse of that particular flow, it seems as if other, depended-upon trade routes are also starting to disappear.

Following on from that, we once again join Emperox Grayland II now dealing with what could be the biggest upcoming disaster in any Emperox’s rule. First hurdle: convincing anyone else that the threat is real. Meanwhile, power struggles between ruling houses continue, taking more deadly and downright nasty twists. And on the end of a newly-opened flow, it could be that a long-cut off scion of humanity may not have been destroyed when their link to civilisation was…

I didn’t find CF quite as much fun as CE, but it was still a thoroughly enjoyable read. Lady Kiva is a bit more reigned in this time, although still a lot of fun. Cardenia is coming into her own. However, the scale of the story takes precedence over characterisation a little. There’s also a bit of ‘middle-book’ syndrome, in that this needs both the preceding and – omg, I have to wait HOW long!?! – sequel.

Still, a very recommended book/series. Even if one bit just made me think ‘Brexit in space’ – argh!! 😉

Kindle: 336 pages / 22 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: The Interdependency book 2
Read from 5th November 2018 – 4th February 2019 (due to receiving excerpt ARC of first few chapters and had to wait to get my hands on the rest, not because I wasn’t enjoying it!)

My rating: 8/10

Hogfather – Terry Pratchett

Hogfather cover

“Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.”

It’s safe to say that the Discworld series are some of my most beloved books, ever. And so, when asked to run a reading challenge over December, it made sense to reach for the Christmassy Hogfather.

If you’re new to Discworld, this is often given as a possible starting point – the first couple of books written, Colour of Magic and Light Fantastic, are ones to go back to rather than start with, as the series hadn’t quite reached it’s stride. There are several ‘streams’ in the series, including the Watch books, the Witches books, and the Death books. The latter are probably my favourite, so I tend to suggest Mort as the best start. However, if you’re jumping in here – and that works, too – then just know that Mort and Reaper Man will give some background to this.

So… it’s almost Hogswatch on the Disc, but this year the Hogfather is suspiciously… bony. It’s less “Ho ho ho” and altogether HO HO HO. What would cause Death to step in to deliver presents across the world? And, quite frankly, how will the world cope with an Anthropomorphic Personification who takes everything a bit more literally than the rest of us?

There are a lot of elements crammed in to this book. Toothfairies, verruca gnomes plaguing Unseen University, Death of Rats, assassins, and Hex, the thinking machine, all make an appearance and add to the plot. We mainly follow Susan Sto Helit, Death’s granddaughter, although she’s working as a governess and would quite frankly rather be done with all of that nonsense.

The thing I love about Pratchett’s writing is that underneath all the fantasy, the humour pokes a sharp stick of fun at very real world issues. And, 22 years on, the satire is still highly relevant. But beyond this, there’s also a very profound message about the human condition. You get to read on whatever level you like, of course, but this is far from dumb, silly fantasy.

Hardback: 285 pages
First published: 1996
Series: Discworld book 20 / Death book 4
Read from 27th November – 11th December 2018

My rating: 9/10