Category Archives: Reviews

A Standing Six-Count…

Rocky_Saga_560x330Yesterday I sat down for all six of the Rocky movies in a row, because what else am I doing on a Saturday, right? Watching the arc in one sitting like that, it became clear that the series is as much about the titular character’s relationship with Adrian as it is about what he does in the ring. She carries an emotional weight that resonates throughout the ten and a half hour running time, despite the fact that (*spoiler alert*) she dies in the timeline before the opening credits of the final entry.

Sure, the narrative shifts from the gritty reality of episodes one and two; to the almost comic book stylings of three and four; to the ‘black sheep’ of the family in episode five; before finally returning to its roots with the melancholy and sentimentality of six. I know it is not perfect, even by the most elastic of standards. It is not the most consistent movie series ever produced either, and it’s perhaps a little too formulaic (in its entirety) to be considered classic.

But the love between Rocky and Adrian transcends its pugilistic background to become one of the great romances of modern cinema. We see Rocky falling in love; we see him being in love; and despite the ups and downs along the way, that never changes.

It is telling that after all the bloodshed and beatings that have come before it, the final shot of the final movie isn’t aggressive in any way, or filled with blunt-headed male bravado – hell, it isn’t even about boxing – but it is instead a quiet moment between a man and his memories of the one thing he loves above all else.

Rocky-II

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Another Koontz Klassic?

VelocityI have read a wealth of Dean Koontz novels over the years – from the abysmal Tick Tock to the glorious Mr. Murder – and he is one of those authors I will always find a way back to if I can’t think of anything else to read. He knows how to write a good thriller, and for the first third of Velocity, I really thought it was going to be his best yet.

Unfortunately, the idea – which is great – pulls towards a fairly unsatisfying conclusion with a couple of plot holes that you could have driven a truck through. But I won’t spoil that…

Our protagonist, Billy Wile, finds a hand-written note under his windshield wiper:

If you don’t take this note to the police and get them involved, I will kill a lovely blond schoolteacher. If you do take this note to the police, I will instead kill an elderly woman active in charity work. You have four hours to decide. The choice is yours.

— and that is the set-up.

It runs at a blistering pace, with a few clever moral quandaries to mull over. It’s fantastic for the first two hundred pages, but once Billy starts to gain a little perspective on the situation and begins to think for himself, the novel slows down, and it really isn’t as exciting or interesting anymore.

Negativity aside though, I envy his style. Koontz doesn’t write long-winded paragraphs. He squeezes a lot of character into so few descriptive words, and it always makes me go back and look at some of the stuff I have written for comparison. I used to think it was poor writing or (worse) laziness, but it’s most definitely a skill I admire, and very few people can do it better.

So yeah, pick up Velocity for a quick, easy read. You could do a lot worse. But be warned: the ending is a let-down.

Who is Tom Gordon?

The Girl Who Loved Tom GordonHe is a retired baseball player. Oh, you knew that?

I didn’t know that before this book came out in 1999. Ask me to name as many baseball players as I can, and I promise, I don’t even need two hands.

That is in no way King’s fault, but this short novel will read a lot better to fans of the sport, and even to those who have only a passing knowledge of it. Still, most folk across the pond will be fine with the references, and the psychology of it is still intact, despite the (admittedly, only infrequent) lengthy baseball paragraphs.

Some of King’s greatest pieces – The Mist, The Langoliers, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, and The Body – have been novellas, so I had high hopes and expectations for this one. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reach that lofty standard and ultimately – even as brief as it is – this feels a little stretched.

I think, if this was trimmed by a third, it would be a damn fine piece. As it stands it feels like King is really on autopilot for a lot of the time. Then again, that still means it’s better than a lot of stuff out there…

Roped Into It…

Alfred Hitchcock made a lot of movies, and many of them have since been hailed as classics: The Birds, Rear Window,Vertigo, Psycho, Dial M For Murder, and North by Northwest, to name only half a dozen…

But back in 1948 – long before any of these were filmed – Hitchcock made Rope, an often overlooked masterpiece. Ever since I first watched it when I was a teenager, I thought it was fantastic, and today I landed on it while channel-hopping, just as the credits were starting. Awesome.

The premise is simple: two college students (John Dall and Farley Granger) strangle someone to see if they can get away with the crime, and then have a dinner party while the body lies in the chest upon which they have arranged the food… and to say anything else would spoil the treat for those who haven’t seen it.

It’s only short – eighty minutes – but it’s extremely tight, and there’s no flab in the script at all. It’s an early example of ‘real-time’ film-making, and it also makes use of some (for the time) clever editing techniques to make it seem as if it has been filmed in one continuous take, giving it an intimate, claustrophobic feel.

James Stewart was always effortless, and like all great actors, you never saw him acting – whether it was talking to a seven-foot rabbit in Harvey or defending his family as a grizzled farm-owner in Shenandoah. He lived every part he played, and his role here as the curious professor who tries to figure out what is going on, is no exception.

These elements make Rope an absolute gem of a movie, and if I can write something this precise – this lean – I’ll be very proud of myself.

Where’s Mel…?

One day, Pixar will produce a movie which is not very good – I’m sure of it – because for every Billie Jean there is a Human Nature. But I guess I will have to keep waiting, because Brave is not that movie.

Pixar has been riding this exceptional wave since Toy Story, back in 1995, and every one of its twelve subsequent outings has been (in my opinion, of course) at least very good, and sometimes, fantastic. When it comes to animation, Pixar has no equal.

I had a few reservations going in to Brave. Being set in Scotland I was a little concerned that perhaps the accents wouldn’t work, or the locations would seem wrong, or that too much time would be spent making the requisite parochial jokes, but I needn’t have worried. Pixar are far too professional for all that stuff. The primary voice cast (with the notable exception of Emma Thompson) is from these shores, so there can be no accusations of: “why are there a bunch of Americans trying to speak Scottish?”, as often does happen; and the ‘scenery’ is so good you would probably know it was meant to be Scotland anyway.

The story does dip a fraction, halfway through, when the plot takes a slightly unexpected (and magical) twist, but it is handled rather well and it never gets boring, and – as is standard with Pixar movies – there is always enough to entertain both children and adults alike.

Merida is a fine, flame-haired heroine too… and guys, don’t let the female lead put you off – she’s quite cute in her own way.

You know, for a redhead.

First Couple O’ Reviews…

There is a review of the paperback anthology Damnation & Dames over at Australian site, Thirteen O’Clock. All in all it’s pretty positive, and my contribution Hard Boiled gets an all too brief mention as well.

I think Damien Smith is probably right too – I did only touch on the paranormal stuff. It’s subtle, but there is nothing worse than a writer who wants to hold your hand every step of the way.

Mark Webb also posted some nice words over on his blog. No mention of my tale in this review, but I’m going to go with the no-news-is-good-news bit, just in case.

Check them out if you get the chance.

Where is Capone…?

When I first heard about Alcatraz I was sold within minutes, partly because JJ Abrams was involved, but mostly because the sci-fi premise was so intriguing.

In 1963 – as the penitentiary is closed – all the prisoners mysteriously disappear from the island, only to show up again in modern-day San Francisco, without having aged, committing those old crimes all over again. Interesting stuff, right?

Well, it should have been…

Sarah Jones plays the main protagonist – a cop who is tasked with tracking down the ’63s’, as they come to be called. She is moderately pretty to look at, and knows how to hold a gun, but she is instantly forgettable. She has a backstory and that great thing called motivation, but there’s no real meat in her role.

Jorge Garcia plays a doctor – a writer – and the leading authority on all things Alcatraz, but unfortunately he usually just comes off as a poor cousin of Hurley – the character he played in Lost. I guess that’s not such a bad thing, but he seems uncomfortable in his new shoes, and by the end of the run, I still don’t really buy him as a doctor.

Sam Neill plays the guy in charge of the operation, and I suppose he lends the production a little gravitas. He is staunch and dependable, but he never does anything he wouldn’t have picked up in Acting 101. Just a meal ticket for him then.

But the primary problem with the show is not the actors, but how formulaic everything is. Every episode follows the same path, and three episodes in… I’m already bored. It’s no wonder the show was cancelled after the initial run of thirteen. Sure, there is an over-arching story about a mysterious door, and some keys, but it’s not all that exciting when we get there, and we don’t really care what’s behind the door anyway. It reminds me of some of the plot dynamics of the initial two seasons of Lost, but done with much less flair.

Not the worst thing on TV lately, but you could do a lot better.