Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Book review: The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham

The Dying Hours (Tom Thorne, #11)The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve always wondered how many professional killers like to stage suicides. Purely on an intellectual curiosity basis of course. Honest.

Mark Billingham’s The Dying Hours is another in the successful run of Tom Thorne crime novels. In the last book, Thorne was bumped back down to uniform and is loving it so much that he starts an investigation into a suicide that didn’t seem right to him. It isn’t long before he finds others that aren’t suicides but part of a hit list for a retired criminal. And that’s pretty much the novel summed up.

Therein lies my problem with the book. Crime novels are as full of tropes and cliches as any other genre and there are only so many plots to go around, it is about using the tropes in an interesting way. Billingham is highly regarded and I’ve heard good things about his work, but this story felt flat to me. There were too many well-worn steps being trod over the course of the novel and it bored me. Reading other reviews there were many long time fans who felt the same way.

If you want a standard crime novel, this will fit the bill. But it might be worth checking out the other books in the series, or other works from Billingham, instead of this one.

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Book review: Back Story by David Mitchell

Back StoryBack Story by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s no book quite like the autobiography, since they are usually biographies with some poor ghost writer having to make an illiterate celebrity (sportsperson) sound interesting. Odd that I’d decide to read an actual autobiography.

Just so we’re clear, this is a book by David Mitchell the comedian, not David Mitchell the award winning author. David Mitchell is a particularly funny comedian from the UK, one part of the Mitchell and Webb team, and Back Story is his tale of growing up and “getting on the tele”. Listening to the audiobook had the added benefit of David telling his story and giving his various rants and jokes the life they deserved.

That’s right, this book is funny from start to finish. Many comedic efforts fail to do this, either trying to squeeze too much out of a one joke premise, failing to be consistent, or having the jokes become tired – more of the same – somewhere in the middle of the book. Ostensibly told as David walks to work one morning, and recounting his life thus far, he manages to pack in a lot of commentary about schooling, university drama societies (Footlights), and the oddities of making shows for TV. And in true David Mitchell style there are plenty of witty insights, comedic rants, and down the barrel jokes to tell the tales.

I generally think that celebrity biographies are symptomatic of what is wrong with publishing and book stores. Someone has gone to a lot of effort to convince the reading public that these celebrities actually wrote the book (because they have heaps of spare time, and are well known for their writing prowess) and that they have something interesting to tell you that the tabloids haven’t already used as filler around those telephoto swimsuit shots. They’ve even managed to convince people that this is what you buy people as gifts, especially Xmas gifts for your dad. I don’t know if this was a big campaign or just one of those things that happened, but it would be great if people could stop pretending that sports people are interesting, are literate, and are actually writing a tell-all-book.

It is probably because David Mitchell is clearly the writer of this book, that the humour and the story told are entertaining yet honest, that I’ve enjoyed this autobiography. Too often in the past I’ve been disappointed with biographies and comedy books, so this was not just a good read, it was refreshingly good.

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Surviving animal attacks

Being an Aussie people kindly send me advice on how to not be killed by animals. Yes, we do have some decidedly deadly animals in Australia, some of the deadliest are not what you would think. But as much as I appreciate the advice, I think it is time that an Aussie set the record straight on how to deal with deadly animals. Let’s start with the most recent piece of advice I received.
How to survive various animal attacks
Clearly this meme was written by someone from North America, what with the unexotic list of animals (although the meme comes from a UK site). I mean, I know that bears and wolves are scary to some people who have never been to Australia, but we have to remember that the bar is raised when talking to Aussies.

Bears:
You can’t roll toward a bear in Australia as they live in trees and attack from above. The best rule is to use the one borrowed from chemistry, and that is to have a sacrificial (anode) friend with you. This friend should preferably smell delicious; possibly have them carry bacon in their pockets. If someone suggests you carry some bacon then you know exactly how much to spend on presents at Xmas time.

Sharks:
The true nemesis of sharks is dry land, of which we have plenty in Australia. But obviously being so dry we like to crowd down to the coast and chance our hands at being shark food. There are many strategies you can employ on sharks, swimming between the flags being the most popular, as everyone knows flags terrify sharks. Another strategy is having American friends, because sharks love the deep fried marinade of their flesh. In a pinch, there are also plenty of Aussies who could be mistaken for Americans, so just swim with one of them.

Wolves:
These aren’t particularly common in Australia. Instead we have the Dingo. These are actually pretty safe to be around as long as you are over the age of two. Unless we’re talking about Hugh Jackman, in which case just play a samba beat.

Jackman dancing

Geese:
When you are attacked by a goose you just have to accept that you’re going to get bitten. Repeatedly. Geese aren’t apex predators without good reason, but they prefer to eat their prey live and running. As long as you can stay mobile and find a fortified position, such as a bank vault or a KFC, you should survive. Remember to clean and dress your gaping wounds, sepsis is a common cause of death. If there is more than one goose you’re done for, just try to throw your final letter clear of the carnage.*

Wasps:
The only reason people have geese is because they are the only thing terrifying enough to take on wasps. So if you have a bank vault or run a KFC you should be able to avoid wasps. If you don’t then buy a shotgun and practice.

Snakes:
Unlike many other countries who measure snakebites in terms of whether you need to visit a hospital, Australia measures snakebites in terms of minutes until death. The main piece of advice for people thinking of visiting Australia is to not get bitten. Actually, that’s good advice for every Australian animal, since they are all poisonous, or big enough not to need poison. Actually, it’s also good advice for plants, since those are poisonous too. Most Australians prefer to run over snakes with their car, then drop a boulder on them.

Spiders:
The humble spider is a much misunderstood animal. Yes, they are deadly, but in a country like Australia that is par for the course. The fact is that spiders are actually quite cuddly, once you get past the poisonous pincers. They are also easy to train, much easier to train than combat troops. As a result Australia doesn’t have a tank division of the army, but instead has a spider division. Think twice before invading.

Crocodiles:
Yes you should be afraid of crocodiles. Deep down I’m afraid of any apex predator that lived through the K-T extinction. Physically unchanged for a hundred million years, because it’s the perfect killing machine. A half ton of cold-blooded fury, the bite force of 20,000 Newtons, and stomach acid so strong it can dissolve bones and hoofs. But the trick is to keep the animal around that does this to crocodiles:

crocodile head

 

Which animal is that, I hear you ask. Which is odd given this is a written article. The answer is the Australian Budgerigar. Don’t let its small size and cuteness fool you, they form large deadly flocks of ravenous skyborne killers.

Cats:
Let’s be clear: cat’s are m@#$er-f@#$ing dangerous. They are sneaky, silent, killing machines with the world renowned ability for invulnerability and regeneration. How can you possibly take on this harbinger of death that will survive dying repeatedly? Attack it ten times.

This is just a taste of Aussie animal survival techniques. There are obviously many more deadly animals (read: all of them) with advice varying from the examples above to emigrating to a safe country, preferably one that allows the importation of Vegemite.

*A final letter is an Australian government required document that all Australians must carry upon their person at all times. In the event of likely untimely death it acts as the final thoughts and wishes for the deceased, usually just short goodbyes to loved ones and reminders to take the bins out.

Beware the meme!

Memes fly around the internet like quantum accelerated particles. Some are fun, some are informative, others are utterly ridiculously wrong. Unfortunately people get caught up in pretty pictures with inspiring – or is that insipid – quotes printed on them, so they start following someone on social media, someone who spreads as much nonsense as inspirational quotes.

Take for example this quote from Mark Twain:
Mark Twain on nonsense background
At face value there is a great message from Twain about not storing up emotional baggage. Let’s just ignore the scientific inaccuracy of how acids work and how the materials of the respective containers and the Ka (acid dissociation constant) of the acid are going to be the deciding factors in how much damage the acid does. But once you move past the quote and pretty picture you start to notice certain things about the picture, namely that there is some weird design stuff going on it. There’s some spacey looking stuff in the background, there’s a person with no skin, and some sort of lattice work design: what the hell is this stuff? That’s called the Flower of Life, something that has been incorporated into Sacred Geometry, a load of nonsense that would have Mark Twain penning scathing insults toward; Twain loved science.

Let’s take a look at another meme:

Chakra nonsenseAgain we have a bit of text that implies that good relationships are much deeper than the shallow, fleeting, physical attraction. This one is, however, more obvious in its ridiculousness. In amongst the rainbows and pretty city the two outlines of people are hovering above, there are glowing lights in the bodies of the people. Take a guess at what they are meant to be. Chakras. That’s right, we’ve gone all new-agey nonsense right out in the open. So once you spot the new-age nonsense you realise the word “soul” isn’t being used in the allegorical sense but in the “I believe all sorts of rubbish” sense.

And now we descend into health nuttery:
Milk nonsense

This is a typical health meme that these sorts of social media pages post: half truths, misconceptions, lies and nonsense.

Let’s start at the top: there are no pus cells in milk. The meme seems to be referring to the somatic cell count of milk, which is not the same thing, and just part of the biology fail on display here. The 135 million figure is from the detection levels for mastitis in cows, which says that uninfected cows will have less than 150,000 cells/mL (they’ve clearly scaled up to a litre of milk in that glass, which doesn’t look like a litre glass to me).

Growth hormones: misleading at best. Food has hormones in it, produced by the food, be that plants or animals. Remember how soy is meant to be good for menopausal women? Yep: plant hormones. So milk will have naturally occurring hormones in it. Some countries have limited/banned the use of growth hormones in animal production, others have allowed it. And this brings us to one of the many reasons pasteurisation is used in milk production, as it breaks down most of the hormones.

Antibiotics: nope, they test every truck of milk as it leaves the farm gate to make sure there is no antibiotic contamination.

Feces: again this is misleading, and also one of the main reasons for pasteurisation. You aren’t so much going to end up with feces in the milk as the bacteria associated. So it is important to kill the nasties and why raw milk is considered dangerous.

Cholesterol: I’m not sure where they got the figures from but they seem to be assuming 200 mL of full fat milk. Odd considering they were assuming 1,000 mL for the pus/somatic cells. Yes, milk has 24 mg of cholesterol per 100 mL. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Calories: I’m not sure why food having calories in it is bad…… Figures are roughly correct for 200 mL of full fat cows milk though.

Fat: Again, I’m not sure why food having fat in it is bad.

Acidic protein: This one is quite funny because there are a lot of acidic proteins. And obviously these acidic proteins leaching calcium from bones is one of those things that “mainstream medicine is ignoring” – aka the rallying cry made by purveyors of nonsense. Pity that dietary protein (which can include dairy) has actually been shown to be good for bones. The issue here is actually a couple of health myths. The first is the acid/alkaline diet that is utter nonsense. The second is the overstating of health benefits of milk, specifically as they relate to bone health and osteoporosis development.

Now I’m not saying that milk is bad for you, but it also isn’t the most awesome drink ever made – that would be whiskey. Milk should be like whiskey: consumed in moderation.

The point about memes is that they are only as good as their creator. The intention of the above memes is clearly to help people, inspire them to lead better lives, even if it is by showing them some pretty pictures with brain droppings written on them. But sadly it is obvious that these memes were created by someone who is not in touch with reality, which makes their health advice something to be avoided. Beware the meme: it could be nonsense!

Book vs Movie: Fight Club – What’s the Difference?

Another great instalment from the Cinefix team.


A point I’d make about the final chapter of the novel is that I thought the implication was that the narrator was so drugged up in the mental hospital that he wasn’t sure what was going on. And I also thought that the people with the tell-tale bruising were the Project Mayhem members implying they were waiting for him to escape so they could try again.

Also one plot point I really liked in the book was the bit about the type of explosive used, the Narrator preferring one, Tyler the other. This explained why the explosives failed and also implied that the Narrator had been able to sabotage the plan.

Happy Strainer Day

Happy Strainer Day

Book review: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Raising Steam (Discworld, #40)Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.
Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.

It has been awhile since I journeyed from Roundworld to Diskworld and with Sir Terry’s passing it seemed like the right time. The trouble with picking a Diskworld novel to read is which of the 41* to choose. I settled upon Raising Steam, the ode to the very British obsession with steam trains.

Two things struck me when reading Raising Steam. First was that the TV miniseries adaptation of Going Postal was perfectly cast. Reading I couldn’t help but see Charles Dance as Vetinari and Richard Coyle as Moist (Slightly Damp). This gives me great hope for the forthcoming adaptation of the best novel of all time, Good Omens. The second thing was that as a non-British person I feel like I’m missing many of the jokes. There are so many references throughout the novel that hint at jabs being taken at various cultures, peoples, politicians, and institutions. Some are obvious, like the French and Aussie ones, but others I’m guessing I’d have to have been to the UK to understand.

This is all another way of me saying that there is no such thing as a bad Diskworld novel. Goodbye, Sir Terry, thanks for the legacy.

*41 later in 2015, 40 as of this review’s writing.

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Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cancer really does suck, okay? Okay.

The Fault in Our Stars is a fairly straight forward novel, telling the tale of two teenagers who meet and fall in love. With cancer. And it has the audacity to treat teenagers, cancer, and life with humour and without being patronising. No wonder the Daily Mail didn’t like it.

Anyone at all familiar with John Green, either via the Nerdfighteria community or his Vlogbrother-ing with Hank, will instantly recognise the casual wit and humour that forms the backbone of The Fault In Our Stars. I can’t claim to be a Nerdfighter, well, aside from subscribing to all of their Youtube channels and supporting their charity campaigns, since it has taken me so long to read one of John’s novels. But I think it is the humour John uses throughout the book that sets TFIOS – as it is known in Nerdfighter circles – apart from the generic “kids with cancer” novels.

I enjoyed TFIOS and would recommend it to most people. Just gloss over the generic plot, stock characters, and scenes that are only there to hold up jokes.

NB: I have the deluxe audiobook version narrated by John himself. Hard to imagine anyone else narrating, what with his dulcet tones.

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Book Review: Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, #3)Mistborn: The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

There are some big advantages to coming to a series late, like being able to read the entire series back-to-back rather than wait those long painful months until the next exciting instalment. I guess that makes me a “binge” reader.

Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series is classic fantasy in just about every respect. Normally I’d give a brief overview of the book, but I’m doing this review for the entire trilogy. And as this is a fantasy series I don’t really have the space for a brief overview of a trilogy. Don’t ask me to write that much, not today, Lord-Ruler not today. Oh okay. [spoiler] The story follows Vin from street thief, to powerful warrior, to god. [/spoiler] H’uh, did that easily, didn’t I?

Mistborn: The Final Empire was first published 9 years ago in 2006, with The Well of Ascension following in 2007, and then The Hero of Ages in 2008; so I’m only a few years behind the times. But this gives me a decided advantage over the people who were hooked on this series back in ’06. As I mentioned above, I read this series back to back, something I rarely do but something that well written fantasy series inspire me to do.

I really enjoyed the series but couldn’t quite bring myself to give this 5 stars. There is a lot to like about the world Sanderson has created – the metal burning being the basis of magic skills being pretty cool – and there were several characters I enjoyed following – notably Vin and Sazed. The first book suffers a little from Sanderson’s pedantic world-building, the second book is tightly written, enjoyable, but felt like it had a false ending before the actual finish, then the final book really delivered on the series. So I’m giving the Mistborn series 4.5 stars and recommending reading the trilogy back to back.

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How to spot anti-science nonsense

Just recently I was asked a question on one of my climate change posts. The question, whilst not about climate change nor climate science, was about similar anti-science nonsense that acts to confuse and befuddle those who aren’t familiar with the field. The comment in full:

I like your writing, I wish more would understand your logic when they spout facts and relationships. If you have time please, an article (though imperfect) comments,

“Bacteria…and plants use a seven-step metabolic route known as the shikimate pathway for the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids; glyphosate inhibits this pathway, causing the plant to die…. Monsanto says humans don’t have this shikimate pathway, so it’s… safe……however, that our gut bacteria has this pathway, and these bacteria supply our body with crucial amino acids. Roundup …kills bacteria, allowing pathogens to grow; interferes with the synthesis of amino acids including methionine, which leads to shortages in critical neurotransmitters and folate; chelates (removes) important minerals like iron, cobalt…”

I would love to know your take on that possible cause and affect.
Thank You for your Time !
Dennis Buchanan

Reference : http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/mit-researcher-glyphosate-herbicide-will-cause-half-of-all-children-to-have-autism-by-2025/

Dennis has asked how likely it is that this sciency sounding article is correct. The short answer is that you are more likely to get this week’s lottery numbers from one of these articles than any reliable facts. How can I be so dismissive? Well the thing is I’m not being dismissive, it just sounds like that because my skeptical science eye has spotted many holes in the quote and article. So let us go through them like a rugby player at an all you can eat buffet.

The source.

The first thing to note is the source of the article and the “expert” cited within. There are some tell-tale signs that a webpage may be unreliable, such as when they use terms such as “truth”, “natural”, “alt” as a prefix to any word, and “health” as their names. Health Impact News isn’t the giveaway here, it could be a legitimate source of information. In this case the giveaway is the byline “News that impacts your health, that other media sources may censor.” See: it’s a conspiracy!!! (Font = sarcasm) And conspiracy claims are always reliable (/sarcasm).

If you check out Web of Trust you can see that Health Impact News perpetuates a number of dubious and fraudulent claims, such as vaccine myths from the anti-vaxxer nutters. Which means that the slant the website is running is one that doesn’t respect scientific evidence. Not that this alone is enough to dismiss the claims.

The other source is the “expert” cited, one Stephanie Seneff. To say that this computer scientist is out of her depth in the field of health, genetics and chemistry is like suggesting Justin Bieber’s music is appealing to people with taste. She makes all sorts of wacky and unfounded claims about herbicides, GMOs and Monsanto, so calling her an expert or citing her work should get you laughed out of any room you are standing in.

The claim.

What the article claims is really the crux of the dismissal. If someone claimed to have seen bigfoot doing lines of blow with someone other than Charlie Sheen, we’d be immediately suspicious since we know that greater than 90% of all cocaine is snorted in the company of Sheen. Similarly when someone claims that the most extensively tested herbicide of all time, the safest agrichemical ever made, the most widely used agrichemical on the market, is responsible for [insert health consequence here, in this case autism] then you should be a tad suspicious.

Let’s ignore the fact about the extensive safety testing. Let’s also ignore the fact that autism seems to be the disease de jour of the alt-health fear-mongers, linked to everything from GMOs to vaccines. Let’s also ignore the fact that agrichemical safety and efficacy have virtually nothing to do with the safety and efficacy of individual GMOs (GM and GE being another kettle of fish entirely), despite what the article tries to imply. Let’s also ignore that glyphosate binds tightly to organic matter and is rapidly broken down in the environment so actual levels consumed will be negligible, and those amounts won’t be doing anything in the digestive tract. Let’s just assume that glyphosate is getting into our bodies and causing damage at huge levels: what evidence is there to suggest it is glyphosate and not any other agrichemical or environmental toxin that has increased during the same time period (e.g. coal pollution)? What evidence is there to suggest there has actually been any rise in maladies that aren’t as a result of something else (because everyone knows that fat people got fat whilst only eating celery sticks)?

The reference material or evidence.

Big claims require even bigger evidence. Solid evidence. One thing I hate about news sites is that they so often make oblique references to a study that may or may not have been published in a reputable journal, rather than just link straight to the journal and paper in question. In this case there is no link to a journal, reputable or not, just links to other unreliable sites such as The Mind Unleashed and The Alliance of Natural Health USA webpage, as well as a Youtube video. So far I’m underwhelmed.

Remember, this article is reporting on Seneff’s claim that half of all people will be autistic by 2025 thanks to herbicides. Half!! This is a condition that has a median occurrence of 62 cases per 10,000 people. The spectacular rise in autism that we should expect in the next decade for a herbicide that has been in wide use for many decades already would require a bit more evidence than “well, we reckon.” Seneff claimed a correlation between glyphosate use and a rise in autism. She clearly didn’t compare the rise in autism to organic food.

Damned organic food giving kids autism!!

Well, if you dig further into the reference of the reference (seriously, how hard is it to cite your sources properly!?!) you will find an actual journal paper by Seneff and Samsel in a journal called Entropy. Have you heard of Entropy and is it recognised as a go-to journal for science on the topic of, well, anything? Nope. And what about the study itself which claims that just about every malady you can think of is linked to glyphosate, what evidence does it present? Well pretty much none. To quote this article:

The evidence for these mechanisms, and their impact on human health, is all but nonexistent. The authors base their claim about CYP enzymes on two studies, one of liver cells and one of placental cells, which report endocrine disruptions when those cells are exposed to glyphosate. Neither study is CYP-specific (The effect of pesticides on CYP enzymes, by contrast, has been studied specifically.) As for the gut bacteria, there appears to be no research at all on glyphosate’s effect on them.

Samsel and Seneff didn’t conduct any studies. They don’t seem interested in the levels at which humans are actually exposed to glyphosate. They simply speculated that, if anyone, anywhere, found that glyphosate could do anything in any organism, that thing must also be happening in humans everywhere. I’d like to meet the “peers” who “reviewed” this.

Yep. That is a rebuttal from a Huffington Post article. Let that sink in for a moment. Even Huff Post don’t want to touch Seneff’s claims with a ten foot pole.

So far we have found that the suspicions about this article are well founded. The site is not reliable, the “expert” cited is not reliable, the sources cited are not reliable, the evidence cited is essentially non-existent, the claims made are not particularly plausible, and there is no evidence to support the claims. But this leaves us with a problem: short of hours of research on each point made, how do I confirm that these people are lying to me on the internet? Because you should be able to trust the internet, right?

The rebuttal.

The average person can’t be expected to be an expert in all topics, nor be expected to have the time to track down and read every piece of science to confirm an article is accurate. But there are people on the internet who have their favourite topics that they will write (or make videos) about. This means you just have to search for rebuttals to articles. Google can be handy for this if you are familiar with how to weed out the rubbish results. Joining forums or following experts in various fields can help as well (e.g. Skeptics Stack Exchange, Science Based Medicine). There are also webtools available to help find good information. I’ve already mentioned Web of Trust above, but there are many others.

rbutr is one such tool that can help with finding rebuttal articles (disclaimer: I am involved with rbutr on social media). In the case of the Health Impact News article there were two linked rebuttals (I’ll be adding this one as well), here and here. This really helps to figure out whether the arguments presented are valid (although in this case a basic application of logic should suffice). But there were more rebuttals linked to the Seneff journal article, 7 of them: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. These links allow people to easily see the arguments laid bare.

Thus we can now see that the article can be dismissed as rubbish. A fair bit of work to get there, but in the end we did it (~25 references and 1600 words later). Makes installing rbutr and Web of Trust in your web browser look like a great option, doesn’t it!

In the information age ignorance is a choice. But informing yourself isn’t as easy as just reading articles on subjects. Using a critical eye, applying logic, and accessing quality information has to be done to avoid being misinformed. When all said and done, evidence wins. And cat videos. And dog videos. In fact any video featuring a cute animal wins.

Book vs Movie: Jurassic Park – What’s the Difference?

This is the third* video in the CineFix series of Book vs. Movie differences. Well worth a watch.

* Yes, I’m skipping the second video because I haven’t read The Walking Dead comics and gave up on the TV show after spending half-a-boring season on that f@#$ing farm.

Book vs Movie: Rambo – What’s the Difference?

This is the first video in the CineFix series of Book vs. Movie differences. David Morrell enjoyed it, so you probably will too.

Book Review: Mind Games by Kiersten White

Mind GamesMind Games by Kiersten White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It isn’t easy to write Young Adult stories that have appeal to adults. The melodrama. THE MELODRAMA! Nothing brings out the wrinkly curmudgeon quicker than reading teen angst.

Fia and Annie are sisters who are offered a place in a school for gifted girls after the tragic death of their parents. Annie is blind but can see the future. Fia (short for Sofia) has perfect instincts. And the school is a training ground for spies. Let the fun begin.

Paranormal isn’t a genre I’ve read a lot of in recent times, and young adult is not generally a genre that entertains me, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel by Kiersten White. The story is told in a stream of consciousness style that allows the reader to experience the teen angst and melodrama without it playing out like a TV soapie. Now I used the terms teen angst and melodrama but these are reactions to situations and events that warrant reactions of this kind. Which is probably why the novel worked for me.

And let’s be honest, we all remember being teenagers and thinking the whole world is against us. Kiersten’s novel plays on this whilst telling an interesting tale of two sisters being exploited as seers and assassins.

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Book Review: Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer

The Sins of the FatherThe Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If there is one lesson to be learned from this novel it is that no matter how bad things look – be it war, prison, fraud, or being a prisoner of war – as long as you are rich or have rich friends you’ll be fine. Oh, and having a peerage title is kinda inherent in the rich part.

Sins of the Father follows several characters through the events in and around the second world war. Harry Clifton was going to marry Emma Barrington, and despite Emma being pregnant, decides to join the navy after finding out that she could be his sister. Harry trades identities with Tom Bradshaw because reasons, which lands him in jail…… Okay, so this is just one long tale of misfortune disguised as a plot: you get the idea.

Archer deftly weaves his way across multiple time periods with multiple characters suffering multiple hardships. But I found that I was only really interested in two characters, Maisy Clifton (Harry’s mother) and Emma Barrington. This may have been because these were the strong willed characters who were grabbing circumstances by the horns and winning the tussle (or at least fighting the good fight). Archer takes several potshots at the issue of class and the peer system in the UK, the ones that work hard are rewarded, the ones that just sit back and inherit ultimately lose (is that a spoiler alert?). But he still manages to have the rich and peerage-d folk avoid death when their less fortunate and not rich commoner friends aren’t so lucky.

This was an engaging read but was let down by the ending. I’ll quite happily ignore the idea of the House of Lords having nothing better to do than spending an entire day debating who gets to inherit what, rather than say running the country as per the job description. I’ll even allow the speeches being included as part of the story. But I won’t abide Archer leaving this plot point unresolved until the next novel. That’s a deduction of one star from the rating right there.

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Recycling Jokes

I realised today that I’ve become guilty of recycling my own material. It is one thing to steal someone else’s jokes (Dane Cook, Dennis Leary), it is another thing to retell the same jokes hoping to have a new audience to the material. But it is really sad when you trot out the same joke again and again.

What was this joke, you may well ask. Well, voice in my head, it was a little satirical one-liner poking fun at pro-gun advocates. The first time I used the joke in question, it was after a recent shooting.

Police in Idaho say a two-year-old boy shot and killed his 29-year-old mother in a Walmart store after finding the weapon in her purse. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/dec/30/idaho-toddler-shoots-kills-mother-walmart

To which I responded: If only there had been a good toddler with a gun to stop the bad toddler with a gun. This went down a treat with the other news commenters.

And then I used it again, less than a month later when this happened:

A 46-year-old man in Davidson County, North Carolina was shot in the neck on Thursday when his 3-year-old grandson found and fired an unsecured weapon. http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/01/north-carolina-man-steps-out-of-shower-and-gets-shot-by-3-year-old-grandson/

This is just terrible. My joke that – as highly original as it is – plays on the famous quote from NRA president Wayne Compassionate LaPierre, is going to wear thin very quickly. Despite how appropriate the joke is, capturing the ridiculousness of the pro-gun response to senseless and preventable tragedies, I’m going to have to write new material.

At least these things aren’t regular occurrences happening with surprising frequency:

Federal data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that between 2007 and 2011, an average of 62 children age 14 and under died each year in unintentional shootings. By this measure, American children are sixteen times more likely to be killed in unintentional shootings than their peers in other high-income countries. http://everytown.org/documents/2014/10/innocents-lost.pdf

A tragic young army mother was shot dead by her three-year-old son as she changed her 10-month-old daughter’s nappy. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/mummy-shot-words-toddler-who-4697433

NEW YORK: In yet another shooting incident in the US involving a toddler, a 2-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his 11-year-old sister while playing with a handgun. http://www.ndtv.com/article/world/2-year-old-boy-shoots-and-kills-11-year-old-sister-in-us-505473

Boy, 2, accidentally shot and killed by his 3-year-old sister in fourth death in the U.S. this month caused by a firearm finding its way into the hands of a child.
The 3-year-old Utah girl accidentally shot her brother with a rifle that had been left in the living room of their parents’ home.
In South Carolina, a 6-year-old boy accidentally shot a 22-year-old woman with a gun he found in the back of his mother’s car.
Also in South Carolina, a 7-year-old girl was fatally shot by a 5-year-old boy who thought the gun he was holding was fake.
11-year-old Jamara Stevens was killed in Philadelphia when her 2-year-old brother accidentally fired a gun the kids’ mother’s boyfriend had left in the home. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2609758/Boy-2-fatally-shoots-3-year-old-sister-fourth-death-U-S-month-caused-firearm-finding-way-hands-child.html

A Kentucky mother stepped outside of her home just for a few minutes, but it was long enough for her 5-year-old son to accidentally shoot and kill his 2-year-old sister with the .22-caliber rifle he got for his birthday, state officials said. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/01/us/kentucky-accidential-shooting/

http://kidshootings.blogspot.com.au/

My New Year’s Resolutions

new-years-resolutions

I’m looking forward to 2015. With each New Year there is a chance to change ourselves and the world around us, to make it better, to lay plans to bring about a better Australia. It is always best to make these plans at the beginning of the year, not at any other times throughout the year, because the earlier we make the plans, the easier it will be to forget them when it comes time to follow through.

This year I plan to make a few small changes, and if others follow my lead, we may have a better country by 2016.

Join a gym.
Last year I tried to lose weight using the Paleo Diet, which was based on the diet that someone who failed history and biology thought our ancestors ate. This year I’m going to join a gym for the year and then stop attending sometime in the second week of January. Regular gym members appreciate it if New Year’s Resolutioners leave before the end of January so that they have forty-eight to fifty weeks of the year they can work out unhindered. Gyms appreciate the extra memberships to keep their business running without having to invest in more equipment and space.

Do something about climate change.
I know I’ve been putting this one off since the 1980s, but this year for sure. Look, I know that coal is good for humanity and that climate change is crap, but I have all of these scientist friends who work for all of these science organisations who have been pestering me. I think at this stage it would be easier to stop using fossil fuels just to shut these experts up.

Stop reading the fantasy fiction genre.
There has been a lot of fantasy fiction released this past year. Regular series were back again with tales from Fox News, The Australian, in fact just about everything published by News Corporation. Until these fantasy authors start producing more realistic stories, such as Matthew Reilly’s story about a zoo filled with dragons, then I will have to stop reading them.

End my expectation of entitlement and join team Australia.
Australians have been far too entitled for far too long. Living in a first world economy that survived the 2008 Global Financial Crisis relatively unscathed has made us complacent. We have to stop expecting welfare, job security, privacy, and a fair go, unless we are rich, white, coal miners.

Start saving for my kids’ education.
Part of being entitled was the idea that we could expect an education that would give Aussies a good start at the fair go. Now it is up to me to make sure that my kids can afford an education. Our leaders know that it isn’t realistic for Aussies to expect a free education like they had, it is much more realistic to saddle young Australians with huge education debts, or have rich parents. Not being rich I’ll have to save money now for my kids’ education, they’ll just have to do without clothes, shoes and food in the meantime.

Write more letters of support for politicians.
Our nation’s elected leaders had a tough time in 2014 with experts from science, economics and ethics disagreeing with their policies and statements. Whether it be scientists pointing out that climate change was real, economists disagreeing with the budget measures and pointing out that the carbon tax was working, or the Human Rights Commission condemning the asylum seeker policies, it is clear that our politicians need more support for their uninformed policies. So I will be writing letters of support in 2015 encouraging them to stay the course, no matter how many uppity experts, with their facts and logic, disagree with them.

Book Review: The Valhalla Prophecy by Andy McDermott

The Valhalla Prophecy
The Valhalla Prophecy by Andy McDermott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At the rate Andy McDermott is going there aren’t going to be any ancient historical mysteries left to blow up. In this one, Nina and Eddie destroy Valhalla.

This is the ninth Nina and Eddie adventure, so at this stage there isn’t much need to describe the plot…. Oh okay. Ancient myth turns out to be real, there is a race to get to the archeological site first, things get blown up, people get shot at, world crisis averted. Or as my friend Iain summed it up: “Stupid, overblown, ridiculous, unbelievable, and utterly fucking brilliant.”

I always enjoy Andy’s adventure series, and his Persona Protocol was also good fun. You can’t help but enjoy his stories.

View all my reviews

Book Review: The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

The Great Zoo of China
The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My mother bought me The Great Zoo of China for Christmas, which makes her the best mother in the world. Well, unless your mother bought you a copy as well, in which case the title of best mother in the world would have to be shared.

CJ is a herpetologist specialising in large animals like crocodiles, and being a Matthew Reilly novel, she also specialises in avoiding dying every page or two. She is recruited by National Geographic to take a press junket trip to a new zoo in China. The Chinese government have developed an amazing new zoo that is set to wow the world, assuming their main attractions don’t try to escape and eat everyone. What could go wrong during the promotion junket for a zoo filled with dragons?

Yep. Dinosaurs, sorry, Dragons.

I’ve seen some reviews that suggest Matt’s novel is just a rip off of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. I agree completely. I also like to ignore that Jurassic Park is a rip off of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, which is in turn a rip off of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, or possibly Off On A Comet – if you want to count dragons as dinosaurs. Because every idea is 100% original and comments complaining about rip-offs don’t primarily show the complainer’s ignorance.

Ignoring that point – because who cares? – Matt’s latest novel is all of the elements we’ve come to love from him. The story is fast paced, life and death, adventurous fun. I really enjoyed The Great Zoo of China: enough said.

View all my reviews

TV that entertained me in 2014

new_4960802_retro-tv-icon-1-e1352818674331

The small screen has continued to gain ground on the big screen in 2014, producing entertainment that is better written, produced, acted and engaging. Sorry, is it still a small screen at 50 inches?

Living hours away from the nearest cinema, TV, or at least the streaming version via my internet, is my go to pass time outside of reading. And like my lists of movies and music that have entertained me this year, TV has had a stella year.

24: Live Another Day
It is easy to forget how cool 24 was, especially with later seasons feeling a bit too recycled. But this shorter season was a return to form for Jack Bauer, reminding people why this show was such a success. Plus, I don’t think we have enough people being tortured on TV these days.

Almost Human
Suffered from the Firefly syndrome. Another sci-fi show on Fox that had episodes shown out of order, wasn’t given a proper time slot, and was cancelled before really finding its footing. I’ve written before about Almost Human and what it could have been. Pity.

Archer
There aren’t too many successful cartoon shows for adults that haven’t tried to be a Simpsons clone. Archer blasted into the world with a different style, especially in the humour department. So it was a pity that the Archer Vice season wasn’t up to the normal standard. There was plenty of humour, but not own it on Blu-Ray like the previous 4 seasons.

Arrow
After following this show for the first two seasons I was looking forward to more action-drama from Arrow. Oh, and abs, CW is the abs network after all. Two episodes into season 3 and I’ve decided to not bother anymore.

Banshee
The second season of Banshee had a high bar to jump over after such a fantastic first season. Things have only become more complicated, more violent and more naked. Awesome. Season 2 did have a slower pace, but the payoff was there every time. Can’t wait for season 3 in a few weeks.

Constantine
Meh. Actually I’ll elaborate: David S Goyer should be kept away from comic book adaptations (still love Blade 1-3).

Continuum
I have enjoyed this series as it managed to steer clear of a number of sci-fi and time travel pitfalls. The third season continued to entertain but started to make leaps in the story that seemed too convenient. With a fourth and final season announced, whilst the creators were planning 7 to 10 seasons, it is clear that they curtailed a few arcs.

Crisis
Sometimes when a series is cancelled after one season you have committed an atrocity against television, such as Firefly. Other times you can see why it happened. Crisis was interesting enough a premise, had good enough performances, but too much of the show felt bland and lifeless. Also, much like Legends, there were too many lazy film-making moments, such as the exposition scenes that are only there for the audience and completely unnatural for the characters. Still, kept me entertained when my toddler refused to let me hold a book in front of my face that wasn’t Hairy Maclary.

Defiance
By any measure this show should suck. Aliens on Earth, post-apocalypse civilisation, CGI that doesn’t rival some of the stuff on YouTube, and a home on SyFy. Yet Grant Bowler, Tony Curren, Jamie Murray and Julie “Darla” Benz head up a cast that make this show work. The writers keep a nice balance of wit, action, intrigue and drama flowing, without letting things become cheesy. All in all, an enjoyable show.

Dominion
This show is a sequel to the terrible movie Legion. But it stars Anthony Stewart “Giles” Head and received a lot of promos during Defiance, so I gave it a go. Dominion has a more interesting premise than Defiance, but has less interesting characters, less impressive performances – bordering on wooden at times – and a plot that creates pointless conflicts. SyFy fans will probably love this one.

Fargo
I have to admit that I DVR’d Fargo and only really watched the first few episodes. That speaks more to my time spent watching recorded or live TV as opposed to streaming shows than it does about Fargo. At some point I will be bothered enough to flick through all of those menus to retrieve the recorded shows and watch what struck me as a cool show. In the meantime, streaming is awesome.

Helix
Immortals, zombies, biological warfare, remote Arctic location, and scientists with really terrible autopipette technique: this show has it all.

Jack Irish: Dead Point
The third in the Peter Temple series of TV movies starring Guy Pierce was another winner. Peter Temple is one of Australia’s finest authors, so it is no surprise that his books are being turned into movies. I really enjoyed this series.

Justified
There are few shows that can claim to have impressed their audience so much that the author of the source material decides he needs to join the writing team. Justified is filled with great writing, great performances, and witty banter, enough to make Elmore Leonard proud. The new and final season arrives in January and I will be watching.

Last Week Tonight
John Oliver made the successful transition from The Daily Show to swearing friendly HBO. You’d have to have been living under a rock (in internet terms) to have missed seeing one of John’s fantastic segments this year. There was no subject too hard nor too grim for the Last Week Tonight team to cover. As a result another comedy show has handed out a lesson in how journalism can and should be done (hint: it starts with doing some bloody research!!).

Legends
Sean Bean doesn’t die in this show. Which is a shame. Legends is an annoying show as it flits between moments of greatness, such as Sean’s performance as an undercover operative who takes on different personalities for investigations, and then moments of sheer inept laziness. This could have been so much better.

Mad As Hell
Shaun Micallef is as close to Jon Stewart as we have in Australia. Mad As Hell is his ongoing satire of the week in news and 2014 has probably been his best yet. Off the wall and often forgoing the obvious jokes, this show deserves a bigger audience.

Old School
An offbeat Aussie crime drama, Old School didn’t quite wow me. Sam Neill and Bryan Brown work well together, the premise is good, if unoriginal, and the producers didn’t try to drag it out for too many episodes in the season. But it really didn’t rise above average entertainment.

Peaky Blinders
A friend introduced me to this fabulous show late this year. I cannot say enough good things about it. Cillian Murphy and Sam Neill are fantastic actors, but unlike some shows, the entire cast are great as well. Cillian may well establish himself with this role, not to mention Tom Hardy’s performance in the second season. I’m a fan of Cillian Murphy’s work, even going so far as to watch the terrible In Time. I could cite The Wind That Shakes the Barley as an obvious display of his acting chops, but instead I’m going to say that it was the film Red Eye with Rachel McAdams that won me over. Red Eye shouldn’t have been more than a B-grade thriller, but Cillian and Rachel make the material rise way beyond potential. Now imagine what he’s doing with excellent material and more than one amazing co-star.

Penny Dreadful
I mentioned in my 2014 in Movies article that I could watch Eva Green stare at the camera and find it entertaining. Well, she grabs the script and the scenery and chews them to pieces in this show. Much like Peaky Blinders, this is another well acted period drama, with no bad performances. But I want to like this show more. It suffers from a very slow pace of story telling, so much so that you almost thinking you are watching a soapie. Oh, and it has vampires in it. And they don’t sparkle. Boo-ya!

Person of Interest
Despite the modern setting, this is one of those classic TV shows. We’ve seen this “help someone each week” formula in show after show, but it never becomes boring. Whether it be The Littlest Hobo or MacGyver, shows about helping people in need always have a soft spot for me. Especially if they shoot people regularly like Jim Caviezel.

Rake – the Aussie version
Ignore the US version and check out Richard Roxburgh as a smarmy lawyer who defends any and everyone, whilst corruption and politics surround him. A classic show that doesn’t seem to have translated in the US version.

Sherlock
The third season of Sherlock was a bit of a let down. A few people described the season as suffering from a severe case of smug. Definitely not as good as the first two seasons.

South Park
I’ve drifted in and out of South Park. Much like The Family Guy, I still enjoy watching South Park, but don’t find myself compelled to watch every week/episode. That said, Trey and Matt have continued to skewer every topic with bravado.

The Blacklist
This show has grown on me. At first I didn’t think much of it, too forced and episodic. But then James Spader won me over with his charm. I’m sure there are other people on the show as well, possibly even writers and directors.

The Colbert Report
With Stephen Colbert leaving The Report to take over from David Letterman, it feels like we are losing a satirical show that has been without equal. Whilst I’m actually more of a fan of The Daily Show and the new Last Week Tonight, The Report has held up a mirror to those blowhards in the media and screamed at them to take a good hard look at themselves.

The Daily Show
With the rise of Last Week Tonight and the end of The Colbert Report, it is easy to forget the show that launched them. Still the original and the best US news comedy show.

The Flash
Watched the first two episodes and can sum the show up as: meh.

The Librarians
As a huge fan of Leverage I was excited to hear about the new Dean Devlin series, The Librarians. But then I realised that The Librarians sounded similar to a movie that made me want to cut myself. I was torn, watch a new show with Christian Kane in it and try to forget the horror that was The Librarian movies, or ignore potential awesome from the team that made Leverage. Well, a few episodes in and The Librarians looks like a lot of fun, much like Leverage was. Admittedly, the cheesiness that made The Librarian movies suck so badly is still present, but the fun factor is amped up. Did I mention Bruce Campbell makes a guest appearance? Oh, and Aussie actor John Kim is in the cast, and he keeps his accent, unlike many other Aussies and New Zealanders (e.g. the star of Banshee) cast in US shows.

The Roast
One of the common complaints about Aussie TV is the lack of an equivalent to The Daily Show or Colbert Report. The problem with this complaint was that we did have one: The Roast. Unfortunately it didn’t garner the attention it richly deserved and with ABC budget cuts no-one was going to support a show that took a (satirical) razor to politics and media. I think the 10 minute format was ideal for a daily comedy show, roughly matching the amount of original content their US counterparts produce daily, sans interviews. Vale.

See Also:
http://www.indiewire.com/article/the-most-disappointing-tv-shows-of-2014-20141220
http://tysonadams.com/2014/02/08/entertaining-tv-of-2013/

Movies that entertained me in 2014

best-movies-2014

Following on from my last post about my favourite music from this year, today I present the movies I watched that were released in 2014. Unlike my music list, this list is a review for the movies I watched, not just the ones I really enjoyed. As such I get the chance to highlight a couple of films that everyone should avoid watching, if they haven’t as yet been sullied.

There were a lot of good films released in 2014, especially in the action genre. But I will note that more films are suffering from the dreaded PG13 rating, whereby horrific violence is glossed over to save us from harm. All this really does is mean that we have violence without consequences portrayed in film. And no nudity. At least the DVD versions often have a more mature cut of the film available. Still no nudity. FSM forbid there be nudity. Won’t somebody think of the children!

By release date:

Snowpiercer
Technically released last year but only made it to Australia (US, etc) this year, as it was a South Korean production. I have been very impressed with the films coming out of Korea, with visuals and camera work that belie the production costs. Snowpiercer is no exception to this and managed to attract an international cast. Unlike many Hollywood films, Snowpiercer, and other Korean films I have seen, are not afraid of going for the hard ending to the film. Expect to see more from the Korean film-makers and their influence spread.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Inspired by, or based upon, or royalty check paid to, Tom Clancy for his Jack Ryan series of novels; Shadow Recruit is the latest take on the character. Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford (who killed Sean Bean) and Ben Affleck have all brought Ryan to the big screen, with adaptations of a series of books I gave up on back in my teens. There was nothing particularly wrong with this movie, it was entertaining enough, but there was also nothing that was going to see this franchise have another instalment soon.

The Raid 2: More Arse Kicking
You could be forgiven for thinking that there wasn’t further story to be had from The Raid. Given that the first film was pretty much one long fight scene that the hero won, what more was there to do? Aside from visit the hospital and spend months recuperating. But when a film that awesome is made there is always going to be a sequel, no matter how tenuous the narrative link is (although apparently the sequel is based upon a discarded script used in early development by the director). Where The Raid was flat out action, The Raid 2 has more suspense and plot, and plenty more awesome action. Can’t wait for the next Judge Dredd film to be based on it.

Non Stop: Taken on a Plane
Liam Neeson beats up bad guys on a plane. This time he’s an alcoholic and not really sure who he should be beating up. Not a patch on Taken but has a better plot than Taken 2.

RoboCop
It is hard to remake a classic film, especially in Hollywood, which generally requires writers and directors to gather up copies of the old classic to burn in a fire pit and then piss on the ashes in order to develop a script. When judged as a brand-new movie with no baggage from Verhoeven or the 80s (not one bad 80s suit or haircut appeared in this film), then Robocop is actually worth watching. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it is worth watching the film just to see Samuel L Jackson’s performance as a loud-mouth, arrogant, douchebag cable news anchor (you know, Bill O’Reilly). But we can’t ignore the baggage, so this comes off as a pale imitation. Still superior to the other Verhoeven remake, Total Recall.

The Lego Movie
Honey, where are my paaaants? The Lego Movie has grabbed a lot of attention and it is well deserved. The movie isn’t without its faults, but it is a kids film that doesn’t silently make parents wish they had decided to be ‘just good friends’ a decade ago.

3 Days to Kill
There were a lot of ingredients in this film that suggested it would taste fantastic. Instead it was a bit bland and made you feel guilty about eating all those calories for no reward.

300: Rise of an Empire
I am an unashamed Eva Green fan. I could happily spend 2 hours watching her stare at the camera, she is that good an actor (more on that in my 2014 in TV). All the ingredients that made 300 awesome are back (except Gerard Butler) with a more expansive stage. The director was clearly going for epic and almost made an action flick that got there. Unfortunately the cool visuals have been copied by too many other movies since the original, so much of the impact is lost.

Need for Speed
I played a lot of Need for Speed when I was younger, so it was awesome to watch the game being brought to life in the movies… Is that an oxymoron? Aaron Paul holds this film together, since the material is paper thin, and NFS wasn’t exactly weighed down with plot as a game. Enjoyable whilst being nothing amazing.

Captain America: Winter Soldier
This was just such an awesome film. The script was inspired by the classic run of comics by Ed Brubaker, with the writers and director managing to capture so much of what a good superhero comic is all about. Without much doubt, Captain America: Winter Soldier, was my favourite film of the year.

Sabotage
Just awful. There is virtually nothing to like about this film. All the characters are unlikable, the script doesn’t make sense, the ending feels like a let down, and not even Arnie’s charisma can stop this steaming pile of elephant crap from being one of the worst films I’ve ever watched.

Transcendence
Not many people liked this film, yet it wasn’t as bad as most claimed. The hate is probably a hangover from the last Johnny Depp vehicle, The Lone Ranger, which will haunt him to his deathbed. That doesn’t make Transcendence a good film, as it is slow, predictable, and crammed with undeveloped characters. But it has Cillian Murphy in it and Paul Bettany does his Paul Bettany thing, so the movie is watchable.

Brick Mansions
Brick Mansions is a remake of the French film District 13. They even got the original star, parkour legend David Belle, to play the same role again. There is nothing to like about this film, they even managed to ruin the parkour scenes with terrible camera work and editing. Watch the original, this was pitiful.

X-Men Days of Future Past
The problem with watching an X-Men movie is that we have seen The Avengers, Iron Man, and the previously mentioned Captain America. There is nothing particularly bad about this movie, but we have just had a slew of excellent comic book movies (which is a rarity), so this pales in comparison. X-Men suffers from being far too serious, lacking humour and interesting dialogue. Also, Hugh Jackman is a tad too lean and veiny in this film.

Edge of Tomorrow
I don’t know that I’ll ever forgive Tom Cruise for making Jack Reacher a foot shorter than he should be. But Edge of Tomorrow goes some way toward making amends. This was an excellent movie and was not the usual Cruise fare. The only thing that annoyed me about the film was the ending, which was the typical Hollywood rubbish. If they had stuck with the ending from the book then they would have had something remarkable.

A Million Ways To Die In The West
Family Guy is one of my favourite TV shows, despite having gone off the boil in recent seasons. Seth MacFarlane made a successful transition to movies with Ted, but some people aren’t enamoured with his brand of humour. I am and this was the funniest film I’ve watched since Ted. It isn’t as good, however, as A Million Ways To Die In The West suffers from being about 20 minutes too long. It seems all recent films are clocking in at 2 hours long, which is 30 minutes too long for a comedy, in my opinion. And A Million Ways could have retained most of the material and come in shorter, just by utilising tighter editing.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Of all the comics to become a blockbuster movie, Guardians is not an obvious choice. But everything about this film is done just right. Everything about Guardians says that it has to walk such a fine line that it should fail miserably. Instead the humour hits its marks, the acting stops the characters falling into Batman & Robin territory, the action is awesome but not overdone, and there is a sentimental note to the film that could have easily become soppy. My second favourite film of the year.

Lucy
It is hard to get past the ridiculous premise of this movie when it is a well known brain myth. But even if you dismiss that, Lucy is a rubbish film, so the use of the 10% Myth is the least of its problems. The main thing I hated was the problem that many of these “I’ve just become super smart” themed movies have (Transcendence had this as well to an extent), and that is the idea that the smarter you become, the more inhumane you become. Smart people = jerks, apparently.

The November Man
This was a solid action movie starring Pierce Brosnan (who killed Sean Bean) showing that he hasn’t lost his action chops. Nothing amazing about this spy-action-thriller, which means Brosnan carries the film. One thing I did hate was the ending, which seemed really odd. I’m sure there is a director’s cut that will be released that will make more sense, as clearly there was a scene missing.

The Equalizer
Denzel Washington is a Man On Fire…. Wait, different movie. Denzel Washington is a man with a particular skill set… Sorry, that’s Liam Neeson. Denzel Washington kills some Russian mobsters using hardware supplies and Sony product placement. The Equalizer is a pretty standard vigilante action movie. What sets it apart, or makes it worth watching, is Denzel, because when is he not worth watching, and the understated story-telling. A lot of films like this go out of their way to beat their audience over the head with various plot points, The Equalizer just pokes their audience in the face.

A Walk Among the Tombstones
Liam Neeson doesn’t beat up nearly enough people in this film.

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