Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Handmaid's Tale- Season 1, A Review

On Sunday the season finale of the on screen adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale aired after ten weeks of haunting viewing. Now it’s over its time to talk about what we’ve seen and please be warned that this review will contain spoilers!

I have to say that I loved The Handmaid’s Tale. The story is terrifying but the way that the show is put together in a complex series of twists and turns makes the chilling story edge of your seat viewing. Offred, the main character portrayed by Elizabeth Moss, is exactly how I imagined her in the book. The way she moves and speaks and narrates is fantastically orchestrated. At times Moss plays Offred as if she is a frightened child, other times she is terrified and obedient and other times the rebellious fighter that the character always has been underneath comes out. She alternates between them seamlessly, pulling on your heartstrings as her suffering plays out in front of you. Moss was the perfect choice for this part, I can’t wait to see her in season two. 

The supporting cast deserve a round of applause as well. Aunt Lydia, The Commander and Serena Joy will have you screaming at your TV as their twisted misogynist views are played out before you. This is especially true of the episode titled A Woman’s Place in which we see that Joy played a part in forming the oppressive regime that she is now part of. Joseph Finns as The Commander is both creepy and infuriating as he lords over his house and the women inside it. Nick, an eye in the house, becomes the character you end up loving to hate. He says very little and does what he is ordered, including breaking the law in a bid to help Offred get pregnant for Serena Joy. But his mechanical nature, whispered lines that will have to clambering for the volume button make him difficult to trust. When the series returns next year we will find out whether or not we were right to trust him-or not trust him, depending on the views.

The real hero of this series though, in my opinion, is Janine, portrayed by Madeline Brewer. She comes on screen as a mouthy rebel, quickly broken by her circumstances. Her story is heart breaking to watch as she is tortured, forced through a pregnancy and torn away from her child before being sentenced to death. Brewer plays her amazingly well, she deserves an award. When Janine goes through birth and is then left on the floor while her daughter is passed over to a brutal woman who claims the baby as her own you will want to kick the TV. Janine is left on the floor for others to pick up then sent off to another family to begin the baby making process again. 

Everything about The Handmaid’s Tale is scary. Atwood’s novel has been transformed into an onscreen world that doesn’t feel very far away from our own at times. Offred, real name June, and her friend Moira are given dirty looks as they jog through town in shorts and told they are ‘sluts’ by a man who thinks they are less than he is. It’s a terrifying precursor to the horrific order installed by The Commanders and their wives. Maybe we won’t ever become that bad, but in world where women still battle a glass ceiling and victim shaming is still a thing these scenes become uncomfortable and important. I hope they make people really think about the world we live in and where we are going.

The Ceremony, the slightly sinister word for when the Handmaids are forced into sex with their Commander, is the only part of The Handmaid’s Tale that I found genuinely hard to watch. It is repeatedly seen throughout the series. Once was more than enough. Its brutality is difficult to watch. The whole point of this show is the horrific nature of the world the characters are trapped in but the scenes featuring The Ceremony takes it too far. If they had to show it they need only have showed it once.

Overall, I can’t fault The Handmaid’s Tale. It was a brilliant and terrifying series with a fantastic cast and great story. Yes, there were parts that were difficult to watch but there could be an argument that at times they are important. I can’t wait to see where the second series takes the story and I really hope to see more of Elizabeth Moss and Madeline Brewer next time.

Five out of five!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Why I'm Worried About The Dark Tower

Stephen King is my favourite writer. I've read nearly all of his books and seen most of the adaptations for film and television. On Friday The Dark Tower film comes out in cinemas and I have to say I am a bit worried. In the past King has been let down by the film adaptations purely because the technology wasn't there to match his imagination; the film of Pet Semetary was the most devastating to watch because of King's work it is my favourite book. But I'm worried about The Dark Tower for different reasons. 

I will admit that the books of The Dark Tower aren't my favourite anyway. I just can't get interested in them in the same way that I can with his other books. Despite this they seem to be one of his most popular works with other fans. I want to see the film purely because it's Stephen King and the trailers have perked my interest; particularly with the many references to other works such as The Shining and the multi-book character the Crimson King. I also think that the casting is perfect. Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba as The Man in Black and The Gunslinger could not be better casting; I'm excited to see how they perform in these roles. The first film I saw McConaughey in was romantic comedy so seeing him as a villain will be refreshing and I can't honestly imagine anybody else other than Elba as The Gunslinger. 

Despite all this its difficult to ignore some of the problems that seem to be emerging before the film is even released. For starters; the running time is much shorter than expected. Most reports about it say that it only runs for 95 minutes but one I saw yesterday said it may be as short as 88! Considering the complex nature of the characters, plot and settings the idea of cramming all of that into 95 or 88, which ever the case, is really worrying. It might be okay if the plan was to have this as the first of many films taking us through the series but it appears to the first and last of anything Dark Tower related. It seems that the film won't even be based on the books but rather that it acts as a sequel. How true that is I don't know but I really hope not because despite my misgivings on the books lots of people love them and it would be fun to see what they can do with them on screen. 

There is no denying that the trailer looks very impressive, however. The images of the bullets floating through the air into a gun ready to be fired look amazing. The dialogue of the trailer shared between McConaughey and Elba is incredible and I love the scene of The Man in Black tapping the message on the wall reading 'All Hail The Crimson King'. If you take the trailers and the posters and the hype without consideration of the running time you can't deny that The Dark Tower looks impressive, even if it will be short.

I hope they can pull it off. I hope that the running time isn't a measly 88 minutes and that if it is 95 then that they can fill it with action and an actual plot without rushing it or ruining it. When it comes out I will go and see it and try to take as I find. Overall it looks pretty good but is it? Or will it be ruined by not having enough time to tell the story! Will it be any good?

Fingers crossed!

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Thoughts on the IT Trailer

“You’ll float too.”

These terrifying words echo through the latest trailer for the updated film version of Stephen King’s epic novel IT. There is something about the image of a child in a rain coat and that sequence of words that makes my skin crawl.

It’s been twenty-seven years since IT first appeared on screen. That terrifying 90s mini series staring Tim Curry has been the stuff of nightmares for audiences for nearly three decades and just as we thought we could recover from it somebody has decided to update it. I won’t lie; I’m thrilled! The original scared the hell out of me when I was fifteen and watching for the first time but it didn’t stop me wondering what the epic novel would look like if it was adapted with the technology we have on offer now.

I have mixed feelings about the new version based on the trailer. Yes I jumped when Pennywise leapt across that room of dolls (points to anybody who spotted the Tim Curry Easter egg in that shot by the way), but now I have seen the clown in full I wonder if part of the horror will be lost when I see the full film. My partner suggested that the fact that they showed the new Pennywise in full in the trailers was a mistake and I am starting to agree; monsters in movies are scarier when they are unseen and now I’ve seen Pennywise I don’t think any amount of jump-shots in the film will make up the scare factor lost by showing the clown before the film is even released. Hopefully I’m wrong.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m excited for this film. I’ve got a list of films based of King’s novels that I would like to see remade now the technology is stronger. Based on what I have seen of IT so far it shouldn’t disappoint. If the trailers are anything to go on the producers have worked hard to make this scary and I really hope they pull it off.  Yes they have shown us the clown early but based on the first trailer featuring a clip of Pennywise showing up in a slide show there are scares to be found in other places.

I will definitely be back with a blog of the film when it’s out. Hopefully it will meet the expectations to be the scariest film of the year. Watch this space!

Thursday, 8 June 2017

The House on Cold Hill- A Review

Peter James is one of my favourite writers. His collection of short stories A Twist of the Knife was one of the most gripping collections of short fiction that I’d ever read, especially the stories that were of the horror genre rather than the crime ones. The House On Cold Hill has only recently come to my attention, mostly because I collect his books in paperback so that my shelf remains streamlined. Yes, it’s a little obsessive but I like to make sure I have all of the same editions. This book was obviously something drastically different from the Roy Grace series Peter James is most popularly known for. The blurb read well; a family move into a large dilapidated old house and try to do it only they discover they aren’t the only ones living there. It’s very simple on the surface but as is typical with Peter James he takes something good and makes it much much better. The House on Cold Hill is no exception. SPOILER ALERT!

The opening scene of this book sets the tone for the entire book. A family arrive in the 80s at the doors of Cold Hill House all excited about their new house. The problem is the house as other ideas. This dramatic opening scene sets the bar really high for the rest of the book; its gruesome and tense. All of the characters appear quite likeable so it’s a shame that you don’t get to spend a bit more time with them.

The first set of character’s we meet aren’t the only ones who you get attached too in The House on Cold Hill. The main character, Ollie, is a really likeable character and you do root for him throughout; you want him to solve the ever mounting list of problems arising with the house and you want him to survive the attacks on his house and family by a ghost seemingly hell bent on revenge. Ollie, and his wife Caro, do sometimes come across as a bit clich├ęd, nothing about them is particularly special or unique to most other stories like this. The in-laws feature heavily in the early stages of this book and they are the ones that get the ball rolling on the ghost idea for Ollie, they way James pulls this off is some really good writing. The daughter, Jade, is well written, I was hoping she would make it to the end.

The plot is simple but well executed, which perhaps an inappropriate word to use given the content of the book, but the whole thing was unfortunately very predictable. It was very obvious about halfway through that Ollie and his family wouldn’t survive and that most of the people he had met along the way were also ghosts as well. It made reading it a bit of a chore but Peter James is a very good writer so it was forgivable. The other problem was there wasn’t actually much done with the ghost itself and when we do get information it is a bit rushed for the sake of more details about the house. Less house and more ghost would have been great. Saying that however, the way that the ghost taunts Ollie and his family is really interesting as it seems to have a grasp of twenty first century technology. It teases Ollie and Caro with messages to their phones and computers of how no matter what they do they won’t be able to survive the ghost’s attacks. I don’t think I’ve seen it before anywhere else and I really liked how it was done.

The House on Cold Hill features a series of illustrations throughout. They are maps of the house and drawings of the tombstones and headstones that feature as part of the plot. In books like that this that feature buildings and details from a very specific historic period keeping up with what something is supposed to look like is very difficult so having the illustrations made the story much easier to read. It also stops any chance of you being bombarded with excessive amounts of description because the pictures to it for you.

The House on Cold Hill is really good if you are after a bit of escapism without too much blood and guts flying about. If you’re after a real scare however I would say this one isn’t for you; its creepy there’s no doubt and to be honesty that’s as much as it needed, any more and it would have lost that flare that James has when it comes to horror writing. The writing and the plot are great and the characters are too! It just needed a bit more ghostliness! I do recommend it if you’re new to the genre.

Monday, 5 June 2017

The Shallows- A Review, Spoiler Alert

Since Jaws any movie featuring a shark has had to come up against some harsh comparisons to the terrifying classic from the 1970s. Of course there are the parody shark films like Sharknado and Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus which have never come close to that classic, they didn’t even try to but others like Deep Blue Sea did try to take themselves seriously. I like a shark movie, parody or otherwise so it was a bit of a surprise that it took me as long as it did to actually sit down and watch The Shallows, when I did get around to it I can honestly say I loved it!

The film opens with a clip filmed from a body camera, it’s unclear what’s happened but it’s enough to hook you right into the story straight away. There is a relatively small collection of characters throughout and only one central human character Nancy, played by Blake Lively but in the context of the film you don’t notice and it works. Her character is very likeable, you quickly become invested in her survival, even when it does seem like she had no hope given her situation. There is the problem of the beach itself; it has been specifically sort out by her character but a local refuses to tell her what it is called. This is a theme that carries right to the end of the film; you never find out what it’s called or why there is such a big mystery surrounding the beach. After a while this does get boring because it is never resolved. It’s a small issue but it’s an issue nonetheless.

The Shallows is basically a very high-quality B movie; Nancy has travelled to a very specific beach which relates to the backstory of wanting to reconnect with her late mother and wants to surf. She meets two guys while surfing and makes the decision to stay behind alone on an unfamiliar beach. The whole thing is a bit cliched and frustrating but it’s acceptable because there is no dwelling on it after Nancy is left alone; the action starts straight away. She surfs out to a beached whale carcass and boom; the shark appears. From here on out it’s pretty none stop right until end; every time there seems to be some chance of reprieve from the very intense shark pursuits something else happens. A man who looks like a potential rescuer appears and is swiftly eaten and the two boys that we see in the early moments of the beach scenes meet a grisly end as well, just when you think they might stand a chance.  

The tension in this film is really well orchestrated. For the bulk of The Shallows you see very little of the shark itself. You see a shadow, it’s outline in a wave, a glimpse of teeth or a flick of the tail but up until the very end you don’t see it as whole. This adds to the intensity because like Nancy you don’t know right up until the end how big of a monster she is battling to survive a meeting with. The animation of the shark is very high quality almost entirely throughout; there is one brief moment, in a chase scene between the shark and Nancy when it gets a little bit dodgy but its brief and if your fully invested in it you probably won’t notice. Overall the shark itself is very convincing.

The visual effects aren’t just great when it comes to the shark; the entire film is really well put together. The beach where it is based is extremely picturesque and the dramatic moment when Nancy is caught between a shark and a storm while stranded on a buoy is so visually impressive you ended feeling heavily invested in her story. The only problem with this is there is a lot of panoramic shots and scenery views breaking up the action scenes. It sets the scene but it is quite obvious that they are mostly being used to pad the film out a bit as it isn’t very long anyway, not even a full 90 minutes, and they are using these moments to fill it out.   

This film is not Jaws. It’s nothing like it or anything that’s come before it. And that’s okay. It’s a fantastic new take on the shark film genre and it definitely recommend it.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Baby Doll- A Review, Spoiler Alert

I’ve been saving a small mountain of books since Christmas last year for the summer. I like to wait until I get my university work done before I start on books I’d read for fun because I like to be able to enjoy them. I started with the latest Stuart MacBride and then moved onto something completely new; Baby Doll. Still a crime, my favourite genre, but nevertheless a new author and a new concept; I’ve not read many kidnapping stories so this one was an interesting choice of reading. SPOILER ALERT!

I started Baby Doll not expecting much, although the blurb read well the fact it was about the escape of the kidnapped rather than the capture of the kidnapper made me nervous for how gripping a read this book might be. My big worry was that this would be a repeat of Room by Emma Donoughe (review yet to come) but I was wrong to think this. I was also very wrong to be sceptical, although it took me a chapter or so to get into the initial story I was glued to the book from then one and read it in the space of two days flat. It had a very simple concept; Lily is the victim of the kidnapping and has been held in a basement for eight years and she has a child by her captor. One night she realises her captor has gone back to his wife leaving the door to the basement unlocked. She escapes and the story centres on her life as a free woman.

As we go through the course of the book we see that Lily has a twin, who sometimes narrates instead of Lily, as does her mother and the man who kidnapped her; Rick. The story unfolds as we see Lily first arriving on the doorstep of her family home after eight long years, through to the trial and her recovery from her ordeal. One of the things that I really liked about this book was that there was little dwelling on the technical side of things; medically or crime wise. It is all about Lily and her family, her daughter and her life after Rick. It is not particularly well written, Overton is not a very strong writer in my opinion but her story is amazing so you don’t really notice that it is not especially well crafted. We are taken through all of the trials that face the family after Lily comes back; her initial recovery and return to the family home, her need to reconnect with her old life and the impact of her ordeal on her family.

 The characters in this story are really well formed; each is clearly distinct from each other with their own chapters and ways of thinking. The chapter’s guided by Rick are difficult reading because his thought processes are infuriating. There is one slightly strange moment when he decides to formulate an escape plan from prison which was less interesting than the other moments when the focus was on him and I was glad that this plan never came off; revenge books aren’t interesting so it was a good call on the writer’s part to not go down that route.

The pivotal moment in this book is of course Rick’s trial. Up until this point it has mostly been drama and recovery narrative, which is fine and it makes for some gripping reading but the trial is nerve racking to approach. Rick has been plotting to escape, Abby- the twin- has been trying to recover from the shock of the few months which leads up to this point and Lily of course has had a lot of trauma to deal with up to now. There is a lot of technical language here but the critical moment is the twins approaching Rick to, we assume, find closure and get the last work. Lily’s moment, the most important of the two, seems a little flat but in a matter of a few words it seems this was done on purpose as her twin murders her sister’s kidnapper in the middle of the courtroom. This comes out of nowhere and it really changed my opinion on the book overall; at first I considered it okay but nothing special, the shock value of this moment in the courtroom drastically changed that. It’s so well written and the aftermath is covered well to somehow lead up to a positive ending. It’s brilliant!
I definitely recommend Baby Doll, particularly if you just want something you can read quickly without much technicality to it. It’s not like a conventional crime novel but it works.  Enjoy!

Sunday, 28 May 2017

A Dark So Deadly- A review

Whenever summer comes around and the end of the university year occurs I take the opportunity to kick back and catch up with all the reading that I have had waiting for me while I do all of the academic reading required of a degree. I have a pile of books stacked up waiting to be read and A Dark So Deadly, the latest Stuart MacBride crime thriller was the first one I picked up. It had been waiting for me for the best part of a month; I bought it on the release day but due to revision this was the first chance I got to read it. I started the same day I finished university; it’s just taken a couple of days for me to get this review written.

Stuart MacBride is one of my favourite writers, I love the Logan McRae series and I’ve read both of the Ash Henderson books half a dozen times. A Dark So Deadly was something new; it reads like a standalone and I don’t think a sequel would be necessary but the characters featured are brilliant, as usual, and it would be nice to see them in other works if the opportunity came up. Characters are something that MacBride is particularly good at; he has a skill for creating protagonists and antagonists who really get you thinking. The main character in this monster of a novel is no exception; he is a very strong character with a fascinating backstory. MacBride tells us that Callum was raised in a care home in a throwaway comment during an argument but then we are later shown a flashback to Callum on holiday with his family and twin brother. When this bombshell is dropped the whole thing gets very intense and you’re rooting for Callum all the way to the end.

The other big character point is the return of Alice from the Ash Henderson novels; I love her character in Birthday’s for the Dead and A Song for the Dying, she was a comic relief in very gritty stories and although she is less crucial in A Dark So Deadly it is nice to see her back.

As is typical with crime thrillers the aim of the game is not find out who the villain is until right at the final stages. I’m good at crime thrillers, I solved Peter James’ Not Dead Enough in twelve pages, but this one kept me guessing right up until the big reveal. I thought I had it figured around half way through but I was very very wrong. The twist at end is brilliant; classic MacBride; considering the slight weakness of the crimes itself the way it all bought to a climax is fantastic.

The weakness of the crime is not a huge issue in this book; as I said, it does come to a brilliant climax that will have you gripped to the end but there are a couple of problems with this book. The big one being it is very slow to get started. It takes the first hundred or so pages for anything really interesting to actually happen. This is a problem if this is your first Stuart MacBride book because it is enough to drive you away; I only stuck with it because I knew things would improve later on, which they did in the best possible way. The other issue is the way that we actually meet Callum; the main character. He arrives on the pages whinging and complaining like a toddler that’s been told no and he never seems to stop. It is neither an endearing or appealing trait in a protagonist. I have found that is a pattern with MacBride’s writing; it took me a hundred or so pages to approve of Ash Henderson. He complained and kicked and screamed until I almost gave up on the book. It was only the gripping story line that kept me interesting. The same happened with A Dark So Deadly; the character’s won me over but when it takes a long time to like them in the first place that is a problem.

There are lots of uncomfortable topics and scenes in this book and I wonder if they are necessary. They are uncomfortable to read but given the plot lines surrounding them I think I understand why MacBride wrote them but maybe they shouldn’t have been put in the book.

One of the best things about this book is some of the humour used. MacBride is brilliant at this sort of thing, especially in the Logan McRae books. He has carried this over into A Dark So Deadly really well, the humour offsets some uncomfortable and distressing moments and also makes the mayhem at certain points of the plot a bit less overwhelming to read. MacBride is particularly good at dialogue and he doesn’t let us down in this book; the arguments, the interactions and especially the insults throughout are great. And where the emotional bits come into play he hits the nail on the head there as well.

This book is brilliant, yes it has it faults, but it is still a great read. It’s a good way to start with Stuart MacBride if you are new to his books and it will hopefully lead you onto his other works. If you are familiar with his work this one is just as brilliant as the others! I recommend!