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Archive for January, 2018

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Margaret Atwood specialises in what she calls speculative fiction (and what most of us call dystopian fiction). In this book, – the first in a trilogy – she introduces us to Snowman, a man who has survived the apocalypse and is now living in a tree with a few meagre possessions. He is somehow responsible for the children of Crake (I don’t want to explain too much about this as it will give away vital plot points), who in turn do their best to look after him. Stripped down to it’s bare bones, there is not much to the plot – Snowman decides to walk to somewhere where he knows there should be food and weaponry available to him, and then comes back again. However, in between the chapters telling the (future) present, are chapters where the story of what exactly happened to Earth is explained.

Atwood explains the role of Snowman’s childhood friend Crake, and Oryx, the woman they both loved. Their teenage pre-apocalyptic world is one of strange animal hybrids, violence and child porn as everyday entertainment, and communities divided into gated compounds, separate from the dangerous ‘pleeblands’ where everyone else lives.

I think Margaret Atwood is a genius, I really do and I have thoroughly enjoyed other books by her. But somehow this one took me a long time to get into. The story is fine – yes, not much happens, but it still has enough to keep it interesting. But I couldn’t help a small sense of relief when I reached the end, and I think it may be because I couldn’t really identify with – or even much like – any of the characters. Snowman is about the most sympathetic, as you would expect given that the story largely focuses on his point of view. Crake was a hugely intelligent, but revolting example of a human being, and Oryx was cold, cruel in her own way and too far removed from the reader for me to care much about her.

I do have the other two books in the series and will probably read them at some point, but for now I am looking forward to taking a bit of a break from Snowman’s story.

 

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One of four films featuring Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple – this was actually the last of the films, and was not based on one of Agatha Christie’s stories. As Miss Marple portrayals go, I think Rutherford’s was the least like the Miss Marple in the novels. But it is also the most amusing and entertaining. A member of a Trust for the rehab of young criminals is murdered, and the investigation takes Miss Marple onto the HMS Battledore in the search for the killer. That’s really all you need to know going in, and what ensues is an hour and a half of slightly daft but witty fun.

Margaret Rutherford is loveable, Bud Tingwell as Chief Inspector Craddock is surprisingly dishy and Stringer Davis as Miss Marple’s dear friend Mr Stringer, is highly entertaining. Watch and enjoy!

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Year of release: 1964

Director: George Pollock

Writers: David Pursall. Jack Seddon, Agatha Christie (Miss Marple character)

Main cast: Margaret Rutherford, Stringer Davis, Bud Tingwell, Lionel Jeffries, William Mervyn, Joan Benham, Nicholas Parsons, Miles Malleson, Henry Oscar, Derek Nimmo, Gerald Cross, Norma Foster

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With a cast including Colin Firth, Michael Caine and Samuel L Jackson, and a script that doesn’t take itself too seriously (or even slightly seriously) this was always going to be a good film, with lots of laughs – not to mention lots of violence and lots of swearing (something to maybe consider if this puts you off).

The Kingsman are a secret spy organisation and Colin Firth is Harry Hart (code name Galahad). The service is looking for a new recruit and Galahad’s nominee is Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a streetwise kid, often in trouble with the police. Eggsy has to pass a series of tests, in a group which consists of upperclass, rich kids, who mostly resent his presence and his success at the tests.

Meanwhile, megalomaniac film producer Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) has a plan to cull the human race in order to save the planet. Accompanied by his sidekick and bodyguard Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) their plan starts to take hold and only the Kingsman can stop it.

I laughed all the way through this film – it’s absolute ridiculousness works somehow because it acknowledges the outrageousness of the plot throughout. The cast are excellent and seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves in the roles. If swearing and violence are not off-putting to you and you want to kick back and watch something really funny and action packed, I recommend this film highly.

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Year of release: 2014

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Writers: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Mark Millar (comic book ‘The Secret Service’), Dave Gibbons (comic book ‘The Secret Service’)

Main cast: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L Jackson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Samantha Womack, Sophie Cookson

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This is the fourth book in the Poirot series, and definitely my favourite so far. It has been heralded as one of Agatha Christie’s finest and anyone who reads it will surely be able to see why. A man is murdered and there are several suspects – Poirot is called in to help the police investigation and naturally uncovers the truth. Unlike the previous books which were narrated by his good friend Colonel Hastings, this one is narrated by Doctor Shepherd, who finds Poirot is his new neighbour.

I’m not going to reveal any spoilers whatsoever, but the ending is ingenious and I was completely fooled. I adore Poirot, exasperating though he is! I also loved Dr Shepherd’s nosy sister Caroline, who was a most comedic character. Apart from the final revelation, one of my favourite chapters was where four of the characters have a game of Man-Jongg – here Agatha Christie’s sharp wit and observation of human behaviour really came through!

I thoroughly recommend this book, especially to fans of a good murder mystery!

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Beth is a high flying New Yorker, whose job leaves no time for love. When she goes to Rome for her sister’s wedding, she impulsively takes some coins out of a fountain of love (people throw coins in and make a wish to find love). This causes the men who threw those coins into the fountain to fall in love with her and pursue her with abandon! Meanwhile, there is Nick, the best man and best friend of her sister’s husband, who definitely has chemistry with Beth…

The reviews for this film have been pretty unforgiving, and I almost decided not to watch ┬áit. But actually I found it very entertaining – yes it’s daft and entirely unbelievable, but Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel are charming leads and difficult not to like. It’s undemanding rom-com and if that is what you are in the mood for, this fits the bill perfectly.

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Year of release: 2010

Director: Mark Steven Johnson

Writer: David Diamond, David Weissman

Main cast: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Danny DeVito, Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepherd, Alexis Dziena

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Jenny Kramer is the subject of a brutal rape and in the immediate aftermath her parents make the decision to give her a controversial treatment which causes her to forget the attack. However, the drug does not wipe out the knowledge of the attack or the trauma and fear that the attack caused, and eventually Jenny has to decide whether it would be better to regain her memories so that she can begin to cope with what happened. There is also the question of bringing the perpetrator to justice – without her memories, finding the guilty party is nigh on impossible – and in a small town, nobody wants to believe that one of their own could do this to someone.

I had high expectations for this book – I think it had an interesting premise with a moral dilemma at it’s core…is it ever ethical to remove someone’s memories, even if done with the best intentions? However, I have to admit that while the book held my attention and kept me reading, I was somewhat disappointed. This was largely due to the narrator. The story was told by Dr Alan Forrester, who became Jenny’s therapist – and also therapist to her parents who were struggling with holding their family together. Unfortunately Dr Forrester was condescending and pompous in the extreme; I have no idea if it was the author’s intention to make him so dislikable but if so, it certainly worked. When talking about his wife for example, Dr Forrester makes no bones about stating that he is intellectually superior to her but he loves her anyway. Indeed, he clearly considers it extremely generous of him when he states that he has encouraged her to study for a Masters degree, so that they might be able to enjoy more intellectual discussion!

The other problem for me was that of all the characters in the book, the one who I felt I never got to know at all was Jenny. The narrator ended up telling his own story far more than that of Jenny and it seems a shame that after she was violated in such a terrible manner, the author did not then do her the justice of at least making her into a fully rounded out character.

On the positive side, the revelation of who had committed the violent crime genuinely surprised me, and I thought that aspect of the story was well plotted, although the plot line relied somewhat on coincidence and things that did not strike me as very feasible. I can’t say that it didn’t have any sort of flow to it – the writing was well paced although sometimes the timeline seemed a little confused – Dr Forrester is talking about the events in the book from some time in the future but how far in the future is not really clear.

Overall, this book was not a terrible read for me, but did not live up to the expectations that I initially had for it. If you choose to read it be aware that the rape and another similar event are both described in quite graphic detail.

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Action comedy starring Ryan Reynolds as a disgraced professional bodyguard Michael Bryce being forced to protect his longtime enemy, hitman Darius Kincard (Samuel L Jackson). Kincaid is in prison but cuts a deal to give evidence against Belarusian dictator Vladislav Duckovich (Gary Oldman) in return for his (Kincaid’s) wife’s release from prison.

Lots of action, LOTS of violence and LOTS of swearing make this a highly entertaining and funny film. Reviews have been very mixed but I really liked it. Jackson is excellent as always, likewise Gary Oldman. Ryan Reynolds was also great as good-guy-in-a-bad-situation Bryce.

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Year of release: 2017

Director: Patrick Hughes

Writer: Tom O’Connor

Main cast: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L Jackson, Gary Oldman, Elodie Yung, Salma Hayek

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