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)
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Stranger Things (season 3)

stranger things 3 poster

Since the first season arrived in 2016, Stranger Things has been one of the highlights of TV viewing. The mix of horror and mystery, weird and nostalgia, all hit a sweet spot.

Usual warning: even mentioning names could be a spoiler for who survives series 1-2, so read on at your own peril!

We already knew that the wrap-up of season 2 wasn’t necessarily tied with a pretty bow, so it isn’t really a surprise that the ‘Mind-flayer’ isn’t as dead or trapped as the residents of Hawkins might wish. And when we find out that there’s a Russian operation to open a doorway … yeah, you know this isn’t going to end well!

Despite rave reviews, I think season 3 is the weakest so far – although still very good and very worth a watch. But, perhaps lower your expectations just a little.

There is a lot to like here. In particular, the continuing reinvention of Steve ‘The Hair’ Harrington sees him spend the whole season in a cutesy sailor outfit, which is hysterical. We also meet a new character, Robin (played by Uma Thurman’s daughter, which is who she reminded me of all series!), and the interaction between the two is some of my series highlight.

The younger cast members are growing up fast – a few flashbacks remind us just how young they looked 3 years ago – and we’re subjected to the sight of new young love, awkward and vaguely embarrassing, and played with humour that juxtaposes the darker elements of the show. Still, these are the scenes that didn’t do much for me through the whole – tbh, I just wasn’t fond of most of the child characters, let alone their personal struggles.

The mix of horror and laughs remain a strength. Hopper’s struggles with parenting. Joyce’s pained expressions. Dustin singing. The hope for comeuppance for a new slimey character, played by new cast member Cary Elwes. And on the other side, murderous slime, exploding rats, and so much worse.

Still… the story isn’t complete. Perhaps I was hoping for more answers, and that’s not what this is about. I’m very glad series 4 has been announced – things have changed in Hawkins, but it’s not over yet!

First broadcast: July 2019
Series: 3
Episodes: 8 @ ~50 mins each

My rating: 8/10

The Kingdom – Jess Rothenberg

kingdom cover

“One hour after the murder the room where they at last found him was so cold they wondered, at first, if he had frozen to death.”

What if Disneyland had a more Westworld kind of a thing going on? That’s the premise of this book. A magical Kingdom, where ‘hybrids’ are bred part machine part flesh, to reintroduce extinct species and provide a playground for anyone rich enough to visit. It’s more Disney visitor park than WW immersive, and there are only seven ‘Hosts’ – I mean, ‘Fantasists’ (I hated that word, btw) – all female, as apparently the male versions were ‘too unsettling’.

Our story follows one of these android Princesses, Anna. It’s told in a similar way to Big Little Lies, starting with courtroom transcripts before the main tale is told in flashbacks as we discover who has died, and why. Slowly, Anna’s perfect existence is shown to unravel at the edges: is their safe haven more of a cage? Is someone messing with their data files? Is there a bigger conspiracy going on than Anna can imagine?

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the read, but as the references above show, it all just felt like a mash up of several other ideas. Heck, the author even uses the phrase “Violent delights have violent ends” – yes, it ties in well with the Romeo and Juliet theme (being originally from that play, before being used in Westworld) that is rather clunkily thrown in (I get it, it’s from Anna’s point of view, but still meh), but it really only highlights what felt like a lack of originality.

I could forgive that more easily if the story did anything new or exciting or just wowed me in any form. Instead, it never felt like it rose above its derivativeness, for me, and the weakness of the ending only confirmed that feeling of ‘meh’. It’s not a dreadful read by any stretch, but nothing hit any high notes for me at all – if you’re less familiar with those inspirations, then your mileage may indeed vary.

NetGalley eARC: 352 pages / 68 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 7th-14th July 2019

My rating: 6.5/10

Men in Black: International (2019)

MiB international poster

On the night that she meets a cute little alien, Molly (Tessa Thompson) also witnesses her parents being ‘neuralised’ – a fate she avoids, leading to a life obsessed with little green men and Men in Black. Determined to join their ranks, it’s no spoiler to say that she eventually manages to infiltrate and is given a chance to prove herself.

Not a reboot at all, this is rather a sequel of sorts to the Will Smith trilogy without said Fresh Prince. Instead, we travel to the London office and another star MiB: Agent H, played in full Thor-like mode by Chris Hemsworth (who is sadly not quite as funny as he thinks, at least not here). His laid-back charmer of a character, more interested in partying it up with the aliens, is juxtaposed well against the studious new Agent M.

And it seems that not all is well in the MiB ranks. Missions go wrong, colleagues are suspicious and hostile, and strange new aliens stalk the planet.

I was very surprised to see the shade thrown on this movie on IMDb. It’s not high art, but it’s a lot of daft fun. I didn’t miss Smith and Jones, rather liking Hemsworth and Thompson – the latter sitting far better here than in Ragnarok, where I didn’t warm to her interpretation at all. Nor am I impressed with any of the ‘Mary Sue’ comments thrown at her Agent M: this is a smart, driven woman, who shows intelligence AND flaws, and is often out of her depth.

The story isn’t all that strong, but the effects are top notch, and over all it was a nicely mindless bit of enjoyable entertainment. I’d watch it again, or a sequel…?!

Released: 14th June 2019
Viewed: 16th June 2019
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

dark phoenix poster

It’s been almost a decade (movie time) since the events of X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), and the mutants appear to be in a new phase of peace and understanding. Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has set up a sort of hippy commune for those who, like him, want to get away from the world, while Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) X-Men have new matching uniforms, a hotline to/from the President, and are ‘winning hearts and minds’ with risky rescue missions.

It’s interesting to see the trend of every other X-Men movie bucked, with the human world seemingly accepting of the super-powered. But to juxtapose that, we see increasing tensions within the group. Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in particular is questioning Xavier’s MO, turning into quite the mother hen for the gang while he seems more obsessed with opinions.

When Charles pushes the group to risk themselves to save an astronaut, the ‘solar flare’ that obviously isn’t ends up being absorbed by Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). The already powerful psychic and telekinetic power she possesses is turned up way past 11, and the results are devastating.

So… the last outing for the newest group to play the X-Men, and we’re back with the story that got butchered at the end of the last lot’s run. Surely to goodness the filmmakers have lots of lessons learned?!

Ah… not so much. The ‘Dark Phoenix’ storyline is handled a bit better, yes, but overall the movie is just a bit too meh. The rift between Xavier and the others, the need to prove themselves again and again versus a wish to just live – all is touched on, but not really brought to much. Peace turns to rage in a heartbeat, not without reason, but just without the backdrop to wholly care.

Worst element is probably the new alien threat, led by Jessica Chastain, egging Jean Grey to embrace her worst side. I feel like we’ve missed a movie, or at least a huge chuck of backstory, as they just appear and do stuff to further the plot. And worse is the whole “They aren’t mutants” – urm, pretty sure they’d be lumped in with the rest, rather than humankind instantly recognising alien v mutant. Hmm.

Everything (except Mystique’s makeup, for some reason?) looks pretty cool, it’s not a bad movie, but to be honest it was just a bit disappointingly meh, story-wise. Not the triumphant bow-out that anyone would have wished for, by any means.

Released: 5th June 2019
Viewed: 15th June 2019
Running time: 113 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

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

Walking to Aldebaran – Adrian Tchaikovsky

“Today I found something I could eat and something I could burn to keep back the darkness.”

In our not too-distant future, astronaut Gary Rendell is part of an international team sent to explore the mysterious object discovered at the edge of our solar system. Instrument readings show it should be the size of a planet; probes send back images of something far smaller but which always presents the same face to the camera even it’s orbited.

Gary considered himself lucky. Lucky to be living his childhood dream to be an astronaut, lucky to make the selection for the first mission that might prove alien life exists. Lucky indeed to survive the cluster-f that said mission turns in to. Lucky… yeah o.O

There is something quite familiar about a lot of the story: Gary walks the mysterious Crypts, encountering dangers and fellow travellers. I loved that there’s an alien encounter that never manages proper communication, but ends up being co-operative anyway – we don’t see enough of that in fiction, where it’s usually all ray-guns blazing.

I could have read this short novella in one sitting, quite frankly. It’s dark and twisty, and a mix of sci-fi and horror. There’s also a huge ‘gotcha!’ that I didn’t quite see coming… I mean, I thought something towards the three-quarters mark, but then… Heh 🙂

Very, very well written. I really should read more of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s work! Recommended.

NetGalley eARC: 105 pages / 14 chapters
First published: May 2019
Series: none
Read from 27th-31st May 2019

My rating: 9/10