Reveiw of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

I’ve already written about the experience of going to see this film with my son but now I’m going to tell you what I thought of the film.

It’s very entertaining but it’s not a good film. It’s not good in ways that I, as a writer, find irritating but I still enjoyed it. If you like dinosaurs or you have kids that like dinosaurs and are old enough to deal with the level of peril then you’ll probably enjoy it. I’d also recommend it if you have a nostalgic hankering for disaster movies.

Now I’m going to talk about the film in more detail and that means spoilers. There will also be spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok.

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The cinematography is excellent, it’s a beautiful film. The visual effects are stunning. The music is pretty good and though it doesn’t quite have the majestic sweep of the music from the original Jurassic Park it does the job. The casting is excellent and the cast do a fine job with the script that they’re given. The problem is the script and to a lesser extent the editing. I find that frustrating as a film fan because those should be the easiest, or at least cheapest things to fix.

The plot is full of holes some of it makes no goddamn sense. None of the dialogue is exactly sparkling and a lot of it is just horribly flat. Every scene with lava in it made me want to throw the director into a volcano. Owen (Chris Pratt) survives at least 3 things that would definitely have killed him – the radiant heat from the lava, the pyroclastic flow and the jump from the cliff into the sea. I half expected him to turn out to be a robot or something.

The director doesn’t seem to know what to do with Blue the raptor. She’s one of the big driving forces of the plot and she saves the human characters several times but she’s not treated like a character in her own right which would make for a far more satisfying arc. She just disappears from the film for long stretches which makes her triumphant slaying of the Indo Raptor feel cheap.

But the scene that I find most irritating doesn’t involve lava, or Blue or plot holes. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen are in the front of the truck about to drive out of the ship and she asks him where the mercenaries are taking the dinosaurs and he says that he doesn’t know. All that scene adds to the movie is run time. It doesn’t develop the characters or move along the plot or build the world. It doesn’t add tension or raise the stakes and it’s not funny. There’s literally no reason to leave it in.

Compare that scene to Thor and Loki in the lift together in Thor: Ragnarok. That’s also a little joining scene and it happens at roughly the same point in the film. That scene is funny and poignant. It shows us how Thor has grown and it gives us a hint of Loki’s ambivalence about that growth. It sets up the action in the next scene, it lays the groundwork for Loki’s subsequent attempted betrayal and his eventual heel turn.

You might be about to suggest that and Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are just better actors. I don’t think that’s it. They’re very good but so are Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. The problem is the script that gave them so little to work with, the director who filmed such a nothing scene and the editor who left it in.

Nevertheless, I’m still probably going to see the inevitable sequel. I just wish it was going to be a buddy movie about Maisie and Blue fighting wildlife crime in the forests of Pacific Northwest.

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Took my son to see this movie and it was an interesting experience. My son is autistic and, like me, has ADHD. This means that he finds some movies a tough watch but he still enjoys them.

He found the previous movie, Jurassic World, a bit over stimulating and half way through I had to break out my narrative decoding skills to tell him who would live and who would die. It was the first time I broke down the logic for him and explained how I could tell roughly what was going to happen.

He found the film so hard to watch because he identified so strongly with the two boys, particularly Grey, the younger of the two. He calmed down considerably when I told him that it was a family movie and that meant that they boys wouldn’t die. I predicted that even though the park was packed with kids and escaped dinosaurs that we wouldn’t actually see any of the children die.

Then I explained that it was a disaster movie and that meant that the hero could only die at the very end and by giving his life to save others but that they probably wanted Chris Pratt for the sequel and he’d be fine. I explained that in a disaster movie the people morally responsible for the disaster would die in narratively appropriate ways. So that one guy is going to die in a helicopter crash, that other one is going to get what he wants and it’s going to eat him. I explained that anyone in a uniform who’s name we didn’t know was dinosaur fodder and that he shouldn’t get attached to them.

He’s matured a lot since then but he still found parts of this movie a little too much. I had to remind him that it was a family movie and that they wouldn’t kill the kid in a family movie. Once he’d been reminded of the genre conventions he was able to remain calm by trying to predict the twists and turns.

This time around he not only identified strongly with the child character, Maisy, but also with the velociraptor, Blue. I had to agree. I think the film is ok but it’ll be much better once someone adds subtitles for Blue. Once all the noises she makes are translated I think they’ll mostly turn out to be calling other dinosaurs bitches and insulting Owen (Chris Pratt). I’m pretty sure Blue thinks it’s a buddy movie.

I’ll post a review some time soon but the short version is that the film is very entertaining but also flawed in really annoying ways.

I have things to say about movies

This isn’t a proper blog post because I don’t have enough to say to write a proper blog post and, in spite of what my friends might tell you, I’ve never quite mastered the skill of talking for ages when I don’t actually have anything to say. So this is just a brief chat inspired by recent cinema visits.

I’ve already posted twice about Infinity War, here and here, and I might yet have more to say about it. If anyone’s interested I might have something to say on the subject of how Thanos is not just a dick he’s also wrong.

Yesterday I went to see Deadpool 2 and I might have something to say about that soon but for now I’ll just tell you all to go and watch it (if violent action comedies are your thing). If you’ve been put off from going because you’ve heard rumours that Wade’s true love, Vanessa, is getting fridged I suggest you go anyway. Gail Simone, the woman behind the Women in Refrigerators website, said on twitter that she enjoyed Deadpool 2 more than Infinity War.  If that isn’t enough then I’m available to entirely spoil the film for you if that’s what it takes to get you to go.

Another thing I saw yesterday was a trailer for Equaliser 2. Some time ago I posted a review of the first Equaliser film. I missed that in the cinemas and I probably wouldn’t have gone if I’d known about it. I tend to object to reboots even when they have Denzel Washington in them. I saw it on Netflix because I was in the mood for a certain kind of film. I really liked it. I might make my other half watch it with me in preparation for watching the sequel in the cinema.

Yes it’s going to be an action grandpa film but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if it’s done creatively. The first film included a scene in which the central character took out a squad of assassins using the inventory of a convenient hardware shop (if you’re American think Home Depot, if you’re British think B&Q). If the idea of Denzel Washington slaughtering very bad men while armed with only power tools and ingenuity doesn’t interest you then I don’t know what to say.

My Second Infinity War Post

The first part of this post is light spoilers only. Heavy spoilers below the picture.

The weirdest thing about Infinity War is that I can’t tell if it’s a good movie or not. I won’t know if it’s a good movie until the sequel comes out. So it’s going to be more than a year before I know if I like it or not. That’s a hell of a thing to do to a fan.

What I can say about it is that it’s bold. This is a movie that says, “To hell with backstory. If you want to know who these people are go watch the other movies we made.” It’s a film which, given the entire universe to play with, sets a fight between the two most OP Avengers and two of Thanos’ Black Order on a rainy Edinburgh street outside a chip shop. It’s a film that repeatedly tells you it’s going to do a thing and you sit in the dark eating your popcorn thinking “Yeah but you’re not really going to do the thing,” then it does the thing and your popcorn ends up all over the floor.

Whether all this makes for a good movie or not depends on how the things it did are undone, redone or confirmed by the sequel. A film like this stands or falls by it’s character arcs and none of those arcs will be complete until the as yet unnamed sequel arrives next year.

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So let’s talk about specifics. I went into the cinema convinced that there were certain characters who were immune from the fingersnap that I knew was coming because they had sequels coming out. Boy, was I wrong.

My instinct is that it’s a smart move. Nobody can claim to be surprised when some of the deaths are undone in the sequel when Black Panther, Spider-man and Doctor Strange all died and yet are all in the process of shooting sequels. Well we assume that T’Challa, Peter Parker and Stephen Strange are coming back. In the comics Shuri is the queen of Wakanda and for a while was the sole Black Panther. Miles Morales, Spider-man from the Ultimates Universe, exists in the MCU and there’s always the possibility that either someone else will be the Sorcerer Supreme or that Doctor Strange 2 just isn’t happening.

I have a couple of specific worries about the the rest of the story. Loki’s behaviour at the beginning of Infinity War makes no sense unless he has a plan. He’s not suicidal, he’s not stupid and he has a clearer idea of how dangerous Thanos is than anyone else. If he hasn’t either faked his death or planned to actually die and come back as Lady Loki, or Kid Loki, or something then I shall be very disappointed.

Doctor Strange needs a really good reason to give up the Time stone. A lot of people have said that he must have done it because Tony was alive in the one possible future where they won. That’s not quite good enough for me. I feel that there’s something more going on or at least there should be. I think that he realised that you can’t beat Thanos by stopping him from doing what he wants. Thanos will just keep trying till he succeeds. You have to let him have it and then undo it once he realises why it was always a terrible idea. Also maybe they needed for him to get the Time stone before he got the Mind stone.

There’s a difficult balancing act for the rest of the story. Some of the deaths must be undone but that can’t happen without cost. If Marvel just hits the giant red reset button then it will be deeply unsatisfying and if they don’t bring back most of the dead then the fans will be up in arms.

And finally, I really hope that at some point someone is going to explain to Thanos why he’s wrong. Not just morally wrong but factually wrong. I might write another post about the massive problem with Thanos’ “solution”.

My first Infinity War post

Soon I will write a post full of spoilers about Infinity War. This is not that post. This post is for those people who haven’t seen it yet and are wondering if they should see it since everyone is talking about it and it’s looking like it might be an actual cultural phenomenon.

Yes. You should go see it but you need to see a few other movies first. Some people will tell you that you need to see every single marvel movie but I would argue that you don’t. Here’s a link to a page that has all of them. You’ll notice that there are eighteen films on the list. You probably don’t have the time and the money to watch all of those before some bastard spoils Infinity War for you.

Here are the ones that you need to see in order for Infinity War to make sense. These aren’t the best Marvel films. It misses out two of the greatest superhero movies ever made and includes some of the weakest Marvel movies. It also includes a massive argument between my spouse and I but we’ll get to that.

The Stick Of Doom Marvel Essentials list

  1. Iron Man. I didn’t see this in the cinema because I just didn’t believe the hype. I watched it at my brother’s house because he made me. This is the film that built the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). It’s funny and clever and Tony Stark is an arsehole but he’s a brilliant arsehole who is trying to be better.
  2. Thor. Some fans don’t like this film and claim that it’s a little poe faced. I disagree. You need to see this to know who Thor and Loki are and to understand how Loki ended up where he is at the start of Avengers Assemble. I’ve missed out The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2. I like both of them but the Hulk is adequately explained later on and the second Iron Man film is the weakest and adds least.
  3. Captain America: The First Avenger. I love this film. My kids love this film. My Mother loves this film. You need to see this to know who Captain America (Steve Rogers) is, to understand how he’s tied to Tony Stark and to get at least some of the origin of the Tesseract which is going to be a major macguffin.
  4. Avengers Assemble aka Marvel’s The Avengers. So good they named it twice. Actually the first name is how it was released in the UK. This is the film that Justice League was trying to be. You need to see this because it has the first mention of Thanos and the Mind Stone. Also you need to know who the Avengers are.
  5. Iron Man 3. This is the source of the fight I mentioned earlier. While I love this film and I agree that it helps explain Tony Stark’s personal journey I don’t feel like it’s necessary viewing. However my spouse disagrees and feels that both the tech that Tony uses in later films and the mistakes that he makes with it require some context.
  6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This film sets up characters that are going to be vitally important in later films. You need to see this in order to understand what’s going on with Tony and Steve in Infinity War. I missed out the second Thor film, Thor: The Dark World. I liked it but it’s generally regarded as the weakest entry in the MCU and it doesn’t add much to the overall narrative. Also the important bits are explained at the beginning of the third Thor film. Watch only if you really like Tom Hiddleston or you’re desperate to know more about the Reality Stone.
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy. Absolutely vital watching. Loads of stuff about Thanos and it introduces several major characters. Also its a brilliant film and the beginning of the movies becoming a little more fun.
  8. Avengers: Age of Ultron. Yes you do have to watch it even though it’s my pick for the weakest film in the MCU. There’s just too much plot and too many important new characters to leave it out. And even a weak Marvel movie is still better than we thought a superhero movie could be for a long time.
  9. Captain America: Civil War. This is why Tony and Steve aren’t speaking in Infinity War. Also it introduces T’Challa, resolves many of the story lines and introduces Spider-Man. I’m suggesting that you skip Ant Man even though I really like it and I think that it’s criminally underrated. You don’t need to see it to watch Infinity War and you can save it to watch when you need cheering up.
  10. Thor: Ragnarok. Yes I did just suggest that you skip Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming. They’re both brilliant and you should watch them at some point but you don’t need to watch them right now. However you can’t skip the third Thor film because so much happens in it that you almost won’t recognise the new and improved God of Thunder if you do. I also suggest skipping Doctor Strange. All you really need to know is that Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Doctor Stephen Strange, brilliant but unpleasant surgeon, who became the Sorcerer Supreme.
  11. Black Panther. Much as I love the rest of the MCU you don’t really have to watch any other film in order to watch this one but even a film this good can’t set up Infinity War on it’s own. You need to watch it so you’ll understand what Wakanda is.

And that’s it. Eighteen films cut back to eleven, ten if you skip Iron Man 3. And always watch to the end of the credits. If the post credit scene doesn’t make sense you might want to ask a comics reading friend to explain. Just warn them that you haven’t seen Infinity War yet.

 

I you’ve enjoyed this post then feel free to buy me a coffee with Ko-fi or visit the Shop of Doom (closing the day after tomorrow) and pick yourself up something nice.

Review: False Hearts

False Hearts by Laura Lam

I really loved this book and I’m having a hard time knowing what to say without spoiling it. If you like noir and scifi you should probably just go and read it now without waiting to hear more.

The story follows formerly conjoined twins who escaped from the hippy cult of Mana’s Hearth to the high tech paradise of San Francisco. One twin may or may not have committed a murder and the other must take on her sister’s identity in order to find out.

There’s a lot of world building going on in order to create two drastically different false utopias. Ms Lam makes it seem effortless but I’ve done enough world building of my own to know the amount of spadework that goes into creating a single believable fictional society never mind two. Ms Lam constructs two beautiful facades before letting the plot drag it’s fingernails through and show us the rot beneath.

I particularly liked the way that the inhabitants of both Mana’s Hearth and San Francisco know that their societies aren’t perfect but they’re invested enough in the success of those societies that most of them pretend otherwise. That seems very real to me. Human history is full of people pretending to believe that their societies are better than they know them to be in the hope that the lie will become true.

I haven’t said much about the plot, not because the plot is weaker than the world building, but because I don’t want to spoil any of it. It’s a true noir so the less you know going in the better. It is deeply satisfying in all its twists and turns and I’d hate to lessen that satisfaction.

Review: Hardened Hearts

Hardened Hearts, edited by Eddie Generous, foreword by James Newman

This is a short story anthology focused on the dark side of love. As an anthology it can’t avoid being a mixed bag. Not every story is what I would call horror but your mileage may vary. Not every story is going to appeal to every reader and I can’t claim that I loved every one of them. However there is a lot to love here and even those stories that I didn’t particularly like I could at least admire.

It’s a jewellery box of a book. Some of these stories are lockets containing detailed vignettes, some are gloriously baroque tiaras, and some are more like delicately jeweled cameos. You might not be willing to wear all of them in public but you can appreciate the skill of the makers. There’s nothing lazy or badly written here. Many of the stories are bold and experimental and that’s what a short story anthology is for.

I have my favourites. I particularly liked the first two stores, 40 Ways to Leave Your Monster Lover, and It Breaks My Heart To Watch You Rot. The second of those made me cry and and the first one means that if you don’t think that second person narration is acceptable (at least in a short story) I will now fight you. There are some sexy stories, some tragic ones and even some that are funny. I especially appreciated the placing of the final story, Matchmaker, as it’s just the perfect story to end on.

If you like horror, you’ll probably like this. If you like challenging love stories then you’ll probably like this too. I have no hesitation in recommending this to my friends.

Review: The Spot on the Wall

The Spot on the Wall by Rob Santana.

If, like me, you spent your teen years reading horror short stories then this book will probably fill you with a warm nostalgia while also chilling your blood. It reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe stories, particularly The Tell-tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado. But it has a more grounded and everyday observational feel like a lot of Stephen King’s stories.

It is a horror story and there are some extremely distasteful things said, done and thought in the book. If you have specific triggers that you want to avoid then scroll to the end of the review where I’ve put in some slightly spoilerific warnings.

I do have a few criticisms but these are highly personal and may not affect your enjoyment of the book.

I would have enjoyed this book more if the characters in it weren’t so relentlessly dislikeable. It’s common in short form horror stories that terrible things are done to and by horrible people. In long form horror, when I’m spending a lot more time with the characters, I prefer to feel a little more sympathy with them.

The whole book has a very masculine gaze. Even the one female character who gets a strong point of view is completely immersed in patriarchal structures. She is strong only in the ways that women are allowed to be strong. She manipulates men with her beauty and her wits and uses sex as a weapon. It’s an old trope and the book is aware that she has bought into outdated ideas of a woman’s limits. Of course you could read it as a cautionary tale about the dangers of relying on benevolent sexism rather than just getting out there and doing stuff for yourself.

There is a sequence where we have a story inside a conversation that we’re hearing about second hand inside a flashback. I had to read it back to work out what was going on and maybe there’s a way to format it that would make it easier to tell what’s going on. However I am not suggesting that section should have been cut as it is one of the best bits.

I have a pretty big vocabulary. No, let me be honest with you. I have an embarrassingly huge vocabulary. In the top 0.2% of English speakers. So it’s rare for me to have to look up a word as I did with this book. I’d suggest that someone needs to take away Mr Santana’s thesaurus but I think it’s deliberate. I think he intends some of the language to be obscure partly because some of his characters are multilingual and partly because he wants the reader to be reminded of the stories of Poe or perhaps MR James.

If you’re in the mood for a bit of nostalgia with your horror while still reading a story that belongs in the modern day then this could be one for you.

SPOILERS BELOW THE LINE

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I said the characters were pretty unlikable and part of that is because between them they are homophobic, fatphobic and misogynistic. It’s hard to get away from that because the book spends a lot of time in their heads. There’s sexual harassment and mention of sexual assault. There’s a lot of sex in the book and it’s all really hetero.

Review – Plague

 

Plague by Lawrence Clayton Miller

Schtop, schtop… this biblically themed international thriller isn’t ready yet. It needs at least one more editor.*

Depending on how quickly you read this book it’s either flawed but interesting or hurl-it-across-the-room every second page frustrating.

Most people don’t read every single word in a sentence, one at a time, in order. We tend to scan the whole line and we skim over many common words like ‘the’ without consciously reading them at all. The faster you read the more of the page you’re reading in one go. Therefore the faster you read the more the layout of what you’re reading matters.

I’m no speed reader but I am pretty fast. My record for a whole novel is about two hours and if I don’t consciously slow myself down then I tend to consume even pretty big books in a single sitting. So when I read a book like this that changes location, focal character and point in time with just a paragraph break I tend to get confused.

I’m sure the author is going for a seamless transition from scene to scene. But if you read quickly it’s more like getting whiplash of the imagination. One minute I’m in Dominica and the next I’m in London. In one sequence we go from a woman contemplating a phone call when she gets to America, to in America making the actual phone call, to the reaction to that phone call from the point of view of the guy she’s phoning. This all happens with less break in the text than there is between the paragraphs of this post.

Perhaps the author intends the narrative to feel like it’s whipping around the world at breakneck speed but it doesn’t compensate for the other problem. The massive front loading of backstory. Maybe I’m over sensitive to this because as an aspiring writer I’ve read a lot of how to manuals that tell me that the opening chapter is no place to explore the tragic past of your central character. You’re supposed to show the reader why a character matters before you try to tell them anything about that character’s backstory.

The third problem is one of research and if you’re American this probably won’t affect you at all so you can stop reading. There is a character in this book who works for the SIS. That’s Britain’s intelligence agency the Secret Intelligence Service. The author gets almost everything wrong about the SIS. Probably because he assumes that the SIS runs like US intelligence agencies.

Just to give you a few examples: The people who work for the SIS are officers not agents. The SIS doesn’t get sent to foreign countries to investigate weird deaths unless there’s some suggestion that it’s linked to a direct threat to Britain or British intelligence interests. That’s true regardless of whether the country in question is part of the Commonwealth or not. SIS officers don’t go flashing their credentials to everyone on the ground. They don’t introduce themselves to all and sundry as SIS officers. Remember that the first S stands for SECRET.

This is not a bad book. But it’s not as good as it could have been were the promising narrative not drowning in poor formatting, premature backstory and flawed research.

*Imagine you read that in a terrible fake Dutch accent.

Review – Hell Holes: Demons on the Dalton

This is the second book in a series. I already reviewed the first one, Hell Holes: What Lurks Below. Like the first book this is a fast, exciting read and if you like books in which our world is not as it seems then you will probably like this.

The writer made the bold choice to use a different character as the first person narrator in this book. I think the choice worked to both extend the cliffhanger at the end of the first book and to give a slightly different perspective on the events of the first book.

I don’t like to hand out virtual cookies to male authors for being able to write convincing women. You’re an author. It’s your job.  However I think Donald Firesmith has done an excellent job of writing from a female point of view which is somewhat harder. This narrator has a different narrative voice than the narrator of the first book but the feel of the world of the story remains consistent which is not necessarily an easy feat to pull off.

My only real criticism is that there’s a lot of exposition. I think it’s a mostly unavoidable side effect of being the second book of a series that has a lot of world building going on. At least this exposition is well written and fits naturally into the dialogue scenes. The reader is learning stuff at the same time as the characters are.

All in all an excellent sequel that sets things up well for the third book.

And look at this. A wild link has appeared.

Hell Holes: Demons on the Dalton.