Category Archives: Reviews

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.

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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.

Please, No Sequel…

Paul is a comedy, or, at least, that’s what it says on the tin. The problem is, it’s not as funny as it should have been, and more importantly, it’s not as funny as it thinks it is. And that’s always worse.

Two guys – Simon Pegg and Nick Frost; who did a fantastic job in Hot Fuzz – are on a nerdy American road trip to visit Area 51 when they meet a bona fide alien (the titular Paul, voiced no more than adequately by Seth Rogen) somewhere in the Nevada Desert.

Cue hi-jinks and hilarity. Right? Well, no. Not really.

The humour never gets much beyond kindergarten level fish-out-of-water gags, and a romantic subplot which is about as contrived as it is awkward; and the only genuine surprise is the slight twist at the end, but by then I didn’t really care enough to wonder whether I had missed the signposts and the foreshadowing, or if the movie had not provided them in the first place.

Paul (the character) isn’t cute, isn’t wacky, and he doesn’t have any great emotional backstory either, so I’m unsure why we should care about him. Come on guys – if you’re not going to make me laugh, you have to give me something to go with.

I wanted to like it, but when you find yourself laughing because you feel you have to, rather than because it really is funny… well, that’s when you know the writers forgot the punchline.

Sorry, Wrong Number…

Stephen King has published forty-nine novels (we won’t count Cycle of the Werewolf because that’s really just a picture book for grown-ups), and I have read thirty-one of them. They range from sublime (Misery), to mediocre (Dreamcatcher), and unfortunately, Cell sits towards the lower end of the spectrum.

It’s a great idea – the human population is turned into mindless zombies via a rogue mobile phone transmission, leaving a straggle of survivors (familiar King set up, I know) – but all the way through, it just feels like King is going through the motions, so he has something to send to the publishers. Dialogue – usually his forte – is stilted and functional at best, and the characters themselves are just not all that interesting. Even the ‘bad guy’, The Raggedy Man, comes off as a poor imitation of previous antagonists like Pennywise or Randall Flagg.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge King fan, but novels like Cell make me wonder why. There are a few standout sections, like the confusion of the opening chapter, and the assured way in which the (necessary) exposition is handled about one third of the way in, but mostly it just trundles along, trading on the name and past successes.

I remember someone saying that King was so famous he could publish his laundry list if he wanted. Well… there are moments, when I think he already has.