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 Shallow's- 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!


Monday, 22 May 2017

King Charles III, BBC Adatation Review

Adaptations of stage to film or stage to television have had a mixed history of success. Two weeks ago BBC Two broadcast a one off feature length adaptation of King Charles III, adapted for the small screen from a stage play of the same name. It tells the story of the immediate aftermath of Prince Charles taking the throne of the United Kingdom. I was keen to watch this right from the off; the advertisement promised a dramatic story with a fantastic cast. When I managed to see the television adaptation I was blown away and I actively encourage everybody to go out and watch it. Please be warned, if you do plan to see it this review does contain spoilers.

The first thing I loved about this program was the script. It had a fantastic Shakespearian style to it and was almost entirely in iambic pentameter, which for any Shakespeare lovers like myself is always a plus. It is performed brilliantly by all of the cast, particularly the late Tim Pigott-Smith who played the lead role. His opening line puts you right in the centre of the story line and it sets the tone for the entire program. There are also several soliloquies included throughout and each one must have been a nightmare to learn. Charlotte Riley, playing Kate Middleton, had one particularly striking moment during which she claims she plans to be more than a pretty face; the soliloquy declaring this is nothing short of genius in terms of script and performance.

Certain aspects of the script where a little hard to follow, the iambic pentameter did occasionally make the whole thing difficult to keep up with and on more than one occasion I had to rewind and catch up again.

The cast itself was well chosen. Tim Pigott-Smith as King Charles was the perfect choice and he truly made his mark on the role. The actors playing Princes William and Harry as well as those playing Camilla and Kate not only worked in terms of how they played the story out but also in terms of resemblance as well.

The story itself is very well written. The moment when Charles storms parliament in order to dissolve it is brilliantly orchestrated. The camera work, music and script add to the dramatics making it a very intense scene. Really great work.

There were some issues with this. The big one was the inclusion of the ghost of Princess Diana. It was unnecessary and I felt it was disrespectful. This also goes for a line regarding the paternity of Prince Harry; it doesn’t have any place in this story and it should not have been included.

Say what you want about the whole thing this was a very gripping adaptation. However, this is a work of fiction and I hope people have the sense to remember that when they watch this. It has a great script and brilliant cast and the story is very good but that is all it is; a story. I highly recommend it!

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Logan-A review

The X-Men franchise has been around almost as long as I can remember. It’s hugely popular and doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down. Logan is the latest instalment, chronicling the latest in the Wolverine adventures. It’s been out a few weeks but I have now finally managed to get a review together and before you read on please be aware; spoilers!

The film opened with a clip from the upcoming Deadpool film. This was by far the best thing about the entire Logan cinema trip. It was funny, graphic but broke the ice into the film really well. It acted more of a semi-trailer then anything actually relevant to plot but I am willing to overlook this.

I can safely say, I did not like Logan. I’ve always found X-Men films hard work but this one took it to a whole new level. Up until recently I would not have hesitated to say yes, X-Men can be a little violent but you wouldn’t have thought twice about taking your ten-year-old to see it at the cinema. However, Logan seemed to be something else entirely. It was very graphic with more bloody violence than you would expect from this franchise. It works in the context of the film but it is a bit unnecessary in places. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not prudish about violence or the like but when the rest of the franchise has been relatively mild on that front this sudden change in format comes across as incredibly random.

A major issue with this film was that it was incredibly predictable. The use of Johnny Cash song in the trailer offered a suggestion of the potential outcome and within about ten minutes it had been made very obvious what was coming at the end. Once you have figured out what’s coming the rest of the film feels like a lot of violent filler trying to get you emotionally ready for the big moment. Admittedly when the inevitable happens it has been done very well and there were a few teary eyed people around me in the cinema but unfortunately, having waited two hours knowing it was coming the whole thing felt deflated and forced.

The big surprise is this film is Patrick Stewart. Unlike the charming professor we know from previous instalments, Logan’s Charles Xavier has been transformed into a bitter and damaged old man. He is one of the best things about this film; he provides most of the humour with his quips at Logan throughout which offers a break from the intensity of Hugh Jackman’s over-acting. The plot surrounding his character is very interesting and this, along with the obvious set up for a new-look X-Men franchise it sets up any films that we may see in the future really well. 

One really great thing about this film is Defne Keen, staring as Laura, a little girl travelling with Logan and Charles Xavier. She barely speaks throughout the entire course of the film but her acting skills are amazing for one so young. Her character has an interesting backstory and it would be nice to see more of her in the future if they decided to expand her part of the storyline, which I expect they will.

On the whole, this wasn’t the best film in the world. But it’s not the worst. I know many people who have seen this film and love it, so perhaps I am being fussy because I’m not an X-Men fan? If you want something with lots of violence and your favourite action hero’s then this is the one for you but if you’re looking for a light-hearted super-hero movie then I would say give this one a miss.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Arrival, A Review (SPOILERS)


Sci-fi films have, over the past few years, developed a formula that we have all gotten used to. Aliens arrive and blow stuff up and humanity retaliates as aggressively as possible. Don’t get wrong; that’s okay. Independence Day and all the others out there like it are usually pretty good and, like said about Kong: Skull Island, they serve as great movies when you just want some escapism. This was what I was expecting from Arrival, although the trailers suggested very early on that there was going to be something very different about this sci-fi film. Be warned SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!

The first time I saw this film I thought it was amazing. Finally, an alien film that is about more than just explosions and war! Arrival examines the invasion of Earth by extra-terrestrials in a way that no movie has ever done before. It takes everything you expect from a film like this and turns it completely on its head. It also asks questions previously ignored by much of what has come before it; language.

This film is driven by plot over character. Aliens arrive and the aim of the game is to find out what they want before a war breaks out. Adam’s character is there to find out what their purpose on Earth is and spends most of films going through that process. It isn’t as laborious as it sounds; the film takes time to explore the aliens as well as the protagonists of the film. Amy Adams, playing Doctor Banks a language specialist who is drafted in to help communicate with the aliens almost immediately after they land. Right from the start we know there is a bigger story going on with Doctor Banks, all the way through the film we are given insights into her life but just when you think you’ve figured out her story Arrival turns it on its head.

Adam’s is a great actress, there isn’t a film that I have seen her that I haven’t enjoyed, but this film isn’t her best. She plays her part well but is let down by her interactions with Jeremy Renner’s character Ian. Whenever they are on screen together the atmosphere seems to vanish. The flashes of another time of Adam’s life suggest there is a love interest somewhere in her story. It became relatively obvious it was Renner and that it wasn’t flash backs we were seeing but in fact, flash forwards, half way through the film. Once that realisation has happened this film becomes a lot more interesting.

It’s safe to say that now I have seen this film more than once I have developed mixed feelings for it. The inclusion of lots of science and language and philosophical concepts makes it a fascinating film to watch if you like your sci-fi to come with some form of lesson with it but at times it does exclude the viewers who does have more than a basic idea of what things mean. At times I found myself wondering what they were talking about and had to figure it out based on the actions that followed their conversations. This does risk Arrival turning into a film that is not for everybody but despite this, even if you only watch it for the aliens you won’t be disappointed.

The concept put forward, eventually, by the writers, is that the aliens, named Heptapods, do not have a liner concept of time as we do. Everything you think you have learned up to this point suddenly takes on a whole new meaning and if you miss that one small comment by Doctor Banks it can make this film very confusing. Up to this point I was slowly losing interest but when the idea of a non-liner plot was presented the whole thing suddenly got much better. There are very few films out there that dare to do this and I think it was a brave choice to do it with a sci-fi film when you already have a lot process. It works well with Arrival though, they pulled it off well.

If you are good at putting plots together, solving mysteries you will probably see the end of this film coming a mile off. I was a bit slow at picking it up until the time concept was presented, after that it was nearly an hour of waiting to see whether or not I was right and this where Arrival fails a bit. It is far too long and once you know the key plot point the ending becomes inevitable. But, despite that, it is a very moving film with unique ideas for the genre that it falls into. Adams is a credit to the cast and the script is incredible.

I’d say four out of five stars, give it a try! Enjoy!