Monday, July 17, 2017

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

So I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming on Wednesday with my oldest daughter and I really, really liked it. The film is bright and colourful, fits itself comfortably into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and focuses on a key aspect of any good Spider-Man story, Peter attempting to find the balance between his superhero and school lives. Equal time is given to both, and the film borrows liberally from both previous MCU films and the teen-focused films of John Hughes to place Peter in a really interesting niche in the continually expanding franchise.

I have to admit I was initially hesitant when Marisa Tomei played Aunt May in Captain America: Civil War, but I really liked her in the film, also, I think it works to make Peter appear even younger and the Avengers much older and established.

In the end the movie is a lot of fun, and not getting into any spoilers, was really satisfying - I would definitely see more Spider-Man if it was coming from this creative team.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Movie Review; Baby Driver

Okay, fair warning, I'm a pretty big fan of Edgar Wright's movies in general, I own the movies, a TV show and have made a point to see every one of his films in theatres I can when possible.

So when I saw the first trailer for Baby Driver, I was already fairly certain it would be one of my "theatre flims" in 2017 (as compared to the "I'll wait for it on DVD" or the "I'll wait until I can borrow it from the library") films I see trailers for as well.

Although heist or crime films are not my favourite genre (no monsters, ghosts or things that go bump in the night), I've seen more than my share over the years, I've seen enough to understand the basic beats of the stories: successful heist to begin, introduction of the challenge, gathering of the gang, prep work, the heist, the heist goes wrong, the chase, the resolution.

Baby Driver hits all of its marks as a heist film, but then adds in music in a way I haven't seen outside of musicals before. As his previous film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World used fight scenes in place of musical numbers in a video-game themed boy-meets-girl story, Baby Driver uses music and sound from beginning to end to keep the audience engaged and the story moving.

Simply amazing, and currently my top pick for my favourite movie of the year.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Book Review: No Last Name

I first heard the name Jack Reacher back in 2010 while reading Stephen King's Under the Dome; his character is mentioned as a character reference for the protagonist Dale "Barbie" Barbara. At the time, I probably wouldn't have put it together, but a friend in my club mentioned that this was referring to Lee Child's book series featuring the character.

Two years later one of my book clubs selected the first Jack Reacher novel Killing Floor as a selection and from that point forward I read a book a month and slowly but surely got myself up to date. Now, like any number of other Jack Reacher fans, I'm stuck waiting for the new title to come out.

Luckily for me, I was able to get my hands on the book No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher short stories. The collection includes twelve short stories, most with Reacher as protagonist and a few with him as a supporting character or even as a cameo. Like the main novels, No Middle Name includes stories told from both first and third person perspective, ranging from senty-ish pages down to less than five. Although normally I like reading short stories in order of publication, Reacher's life is sort of made up of random events punctuated by violence, so the more episodic nature of this collection worked quite well for me.

A great read for fans of the character and also a potentially good jumping on point for new readers.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Book Review: The Last of the Wine

As I'm working my way through this list of 36 Historical Novels set in Ancient Greece, there are a few authors I'm always happy to get to, Christian Cameron and Steven Pressfield novels both make for excellent reads, but so far my clear favourites are the novels of Mary Renault.

Renault (1905-1983) wrote a number of both contemporary and historical fiction novels, but is most well-known for her works set in Ancient Greece. At this point I've read The King Must Die, The Bull From the Sea, and The Praise Singer, so I was definitely looking forward to The Last of the Wine. The novel takes place during the Peloponnesian War and follows a young man called Alexias, who is famed for both his beauty and his running.

Unlike most of the novels I've read off of the list (17 others to date), The Last of the Wine is largely focused on the lives of the Athenians in Athens. The novel focuses on Alexias teenaged and adult years and portrays the lives of young Athenian men almost as wealthy socialites. Renault does not shy away from homosexuality in the setting, indeed Alexias' father recommends he takes an older lover, and the love of Alexias's life is a man called Lysis. Both men are disciples of Socrates (who figures large in the story) and much of story involves how Alexias deals with his love for his friend over their lives.

A fascinating read and a picture of Athenian life that is too often shown in historical fiction as entirely focused on warfare.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review: Dingo

Charles de Lint's 2008 novella Dingo focuses on two young men who both fall for the same girl, and what they do to try and win her affections.  Of course, being a de Lint story, there ends up being more than a little magic, danger and even a visit to a world separate, but not that different, from our own.

The novel focuses on Miguel, a seventeen-year-old high school student who falls immediately head over heels for the new girl in town, Lainey, an Australian girl with a strange dog.  Things get more confusing when the usually friendly Lainey starts acting like she's never met Miguel and then Johnny, a local bully, seems to take an interest in her as well.

The novel uses Australian folklore and merges it quite nicely with the world de Lint has created in his city of Newford.  None of his regular characters make an appearance in this novella, but as per usual, much of the story focuses on how normal folk deal with a undeniable confrontation with the world of magic.

A fascinating, if short, read.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Book Review: The Boy on the Bridge

M. R. Carey's 2017 follow-up to The Girl with all the Gifts, The Boy on the Bridge works as a prequel, and once again focuses on a small group of soldiers and scientists attempting to exist after an end of the world event.

The novel takes place on a mobile science station (think tank mixed with RV) that plays an important role in the original book.  Just as with the first novel, we are given one character to view this strange new world from, but this time, there are two protagonists, a scientist and a young man named Steven Greaves, who is a quiet, perhaps autistic young man who may be the human race's last, best chance for survival.

The novel works to create an incredibly tense, paranoid situation and plays with issues of consequences and living in a perpetual state of fear.

Well worth the read.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book Review: The Isle of Stone

Nicolas Nicastro's 2005 novel The Isle of Stone takes a look at Spartan Society nearly sixty years after the battle of Thermopylae, specifically during the battle of Sphacteria (325 BCE).  The novel focuses on two Spartan warriors, Antalcidas and Epitadas, brothers who were raised in two very different, but traditional Spartan styes.

Much like John Gardiner's The Wreckage of Agathon, The Isle of Stone looks at the Spartan Empire with a jaundiced eye.  The empire is portrayed as brutal, and neither brother is drawn in a particularly heroic way.  What I really liked about the novel was the character of the warrior's mother and her rationalization for why she helps one brother and hurts the other.  The ethics of the Spartans, as described by Nicastro, definitely leave a lot to be desired.

The majority of the action of the story takes place with an army of Spartans under siege on a barren island surrounded by the Athenian navy.  The story moves quickly and although I didn't like it as much as Nicastro's other work on the list (Antigone's Wake - which I LOVED!), it does work to give an unflinching look at a culture often celebrated in our modern day.