Flu and Film Reviews

Despite an encroaching cold, I managed to go to the cinema a couple of times this past week.

giphy-downsized.gifFirst I caught up with Despicable Me 3 (which is probably where I picked the lergy up from). To be honest, the film wasn’t a patch on the previous two films. I laughed, but it was usually at the minions. There was one moment that got me thinking, and not about the story line. [non-spoiler alert]. There’s a moment when Dru and Gru are on a beach, talking, and Dru is sat, playing in the sand. It was just a small action, but the fact that they included this random little detail (who hasn’t sat on the beach and absent-mindedly dug a hole?) and the detailing of the sand itself, made me realise just how far and how intricate animation has become. It was a cool little revelation, but it couldn’t elevate the film above its mediocre delivery.

spider-man-2319337_1280Then, with a scratchy throat, I went and saw Spider-Man: Homecoming. The cinema was packed, which surprised me, considering how long the film’s been out, and I ended up getting a cricked neck in one of the front rows. Thankfully, the film was a hoot and a half, and I hardly noticed the fact I was sat practically horizontal in my seat. Bringing Spider-Man into the MCU’s fold was a good move in my opinion. The action was fast, the dialogue was funny, and there was a much lighter tone to the whole thing (a key ingredient to Marvel’s big-screen appeal over DC). I can’t honestly fault the film, and I’m actually looking forward to more Spidey films. Oh, and the Marvel end credit scene was also incredibly trolley! *Bravo!*

So, to sum up, if you haven’t seen either film, I’d say go see Spider-Man on the big screen, and wait for Despicable Me 3 to come out on DVD … or on the TV.

Monthly Reads – July 2017

So, I kept up my 1+ chapter a day reading (usually just before going to bed) and I’ve finished reading Snow Crash. In addition, I’ve played catch up with my X-Men reading, and have finished off the third volume of Death Note (a series that’s still keeping me gripped).

I need to get into better practice at writing book reviews so, with that in mind, I shall review Snow Crash….

July reads

Hiro Protagonist; hacker, pizza delivery driver for the Mafia, and soon to be the saviour of the US … or what’s left of it. Brace yourself for Sumerian and Samari swords!

I won’t go too much into the story. If you want a summary, you can read the book blurb, or check it out Wikipedia. Basically, there’s a virus that can affect hackers by rewriting their brains, it’s about to be let loose on the US’ general populous, and only our ‘Protagonist’ can stop it.

I suppose you could say that Snow Crash occurs in an alternative reality. The America of the 21st century in Snow Crash is a hell of a lot different than what we actually see, with much of America having been taken over by sovereign territories and franchises. Yet some of the ‘futuristic’ tech seen in the narrative can be seen around us today (or is in development). Take the Metaverse. It speaks of a mashup between Second Life and virtual reality; an immersive virtual world entered via customisable avatars. The wheels on Y.T.’s skateboard? They sound very similar to the idea shown in this video.

So, despite the landscape being very different, the tech aspects of the story are actually quite believable.

Snow Crash was, as I’ve mentioned previously, my first foray into cyberpunk, and overall, I found it to be quite an enjoyable read, however, I do have a couple of gripes.

Firstly, the story rests on the idea of an ancient virus being transmitted either visually (in the case of hackers), physically (via drugs), or verbally. Ignoring whether this would actually be possible (it is fiction after all), the hows and why of the ‘virus’ lead to some rather intensive, theology-driven chapters, incorporating Sumerian history, myths and legends, and at times, I felt I was reading a religious education textbook, as opposed to cyberpunk. I’m guessing Hiro had a background in R.E., because I was completely lost at times.

My other grumble is with the developing backstory of Hiro and Y.T., or rather, the lack of it. The two characters become a team, hunting for information to sell to the CIC, yet this part of their narrative wasn’t covered very much. I guess quite a bit of time passed with them working together, yet what they did seemed, for the most part, not worth covering, so this meant their closeness as friends came across as quite forced.

It also took me a while to get to grips with the tech-derived lingo, and settle into the narrative, but once things got going I enjoyed the story. Would I recommend it to other readers? Hacker-infused theology reading aside, as a first delve into cyberpunk, it was entertaining, so I’d say, “give it a go!”

Next up … Social Engineer (Brody Taylor Thrillers, #1)

Once Bitten

I missed a weeks blog entry, mainly because I didn’t have much to say, but also because I got pissed off with the mark of my latest uni assessment, which put me in a bad frame of mind.

My previous Open University assessment came back at 100%. The last one was 82%. Now I will put my hand up, and admit I goofed up slightly when it came to laying out calculations (though taking marks off me because I wrote ‘seconds’ instead of just ‘s’ is a bit much). But a couple of other parts had been marked down for reasons that made me fume. Now, if you’ve ever done (or are doing) a course with the OU, you’ll no how much they beat it into you NOT TO PLAGIARISE! Mention your sources!  Acknowledge your sources! etc etc. So, when I was faced with summarising an article written by someone else, I took those warning sirens to heart, and made sure I acknowledged the author of the article whenever I mentioned his thoughts on something. Unfortunately, apparently, this is considered “reviewing” and article as opposed to “summarising” it, which lost me marks, gained me an admonishment for “not reading the question properly” and promptly made me annoyed. The second kick in the proverbial nuts, was another “you didn’t read the question properly!” Arguably, I had. The trouble was, I had translated the question’s meaning differently to what was apparently being asked, so again, lost marks. Ugh! Anyway, my next assignment comes with another ‘summarise the article’ type question, so I’ll be sure not to mention the author at all (except in the reference) and see what happens. I need to keep my overall percentage grade up as the OU is quite stingy when it comes to their 1st and 2:1 pass rate.

Beyond the aggravation of my assessment, I managed to catch a couple of films at the cinema, namely Kong: Skull Island, and Ghost in the Shell.

Kong: Skull Island

First up was Kong: Skull Island. It was a fairly entertaining film. Samuel L. Jackson’s character was a bit of a cliche in a ‘man’s better than animals’ kind of way, Tom Hiddleston’s was as easy on the eye as always, and it was [spoiler alert] nice that Kong actually survived the end of the film, unlike in King Kong, which had me bawling my eyes out.

The only real problem I had with the film was the ‘bad-guy’ monsters. Now I could suspend belief and believe that the creatures on the island had gone through some collective evolutionary gigantism, giving way to giant oxen, spiders, (unseen) ants, stick-bugs, and of course, apes. However, the monsters seemed completely out of place with everything else. The didn’t conform to a scaled-up creature, or even a prehistoric creature, so they ended up jarring against the backdrop of animal life. The were these two-legged, weird-skulled, things that would have been better-suited to a sci-fi film set on another planet.

Still, overall, it was an entertaining movie, and I’m glad I got to drool over Tom…I mean got to see it 😉

Ghost in the Shell

Prepare to be disappointed. Why? because I really enjoyed this film! I’m going to pass over the whole white-washing thing, as that’s an argument for another day, and (IMHO) not as clear cut when dealing with anime and manga, and just review the film based on the film itself.

Now, many years ago, I watched the original anime. It was cool, but it was also so long ago that I’ve forgotten most of it. I remembered the iconic jump scene, and Batou on his boat, but the story line itself has been lost from memory. So, overall, I went into the film fairly fresh. And you know what, it was a pretty darn good movie. My mate sulked at the end, but I think he’d been caught up in all the negative reviews, and had basically prepped himself to not like the film, and did just that. But I went in with hope, and wasn’t disappointed. The visuals were great, especially the imagining of the futuristic city. The plot was followable, which is something that can be an issue with anime films, whose writers interweave spirituality, visuals, and crazy ideas, to a point where they can overwhelm you. And I remembered I once had a crush on Batou…and now I do again.

The only thing that irked me was that Scarlett Johansson seemed to stomp around in a rather (for want of a better word) butch manner. I don’t recall her being that way as the Black Widow in Marvel, and I don’t recall the Major being all stooped and stompy in the original anime (but like I said, it’s been a while since I saw it), so I’m not sure what was going on there, but it was very distracting

To be honest, I think the white-washing argument pushed critics to instantly write-off this film, and hence turned the viewers against it before they’d even seen it, leading to it bombing in the cinema. This is a shame, as the film itself doesn’t deserve the full force of negativity it received. Very few films are perfect, but this isn’t as crap as the nay-sayers make it out to be, so go see it while you can.

Disappointment City

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Welp, I wasn’t wrong, I didn’t get the job. Some guff about different visions. Though, to be honest, their vision could quite easily become mine, so I’m hitting the Bullshit Button on that. The final kick in the teeth is that I won’t get any reimbursement of my travel expenses. That means I’m near £260 out of pocket, with absolutely nothing to show for it. If I was reliant on Jobseekers allowance, I wouldn’t be able to pay any bills, or buy food, for around a month. Utterly ridiculous!

It really is hard to stay motivated when at every turn the universe knocks the wind out of my sails. All I want is a career to make me happy, and put money in my pocket. But the universe deems me useless and I that I should embrace unemployment. I’ve failed as a marine biologist, I’ve failed as a novelist, and now I’m failing as a social media editor. A few years down the line I’m just going to end up having to become an over-experienced toilet cleaner or shelf-stacker. It’s a very depressing state of affairs, and one I don’t see overcoming any time soon.

Anyway, to cheer myself up, went to see Logan in the cinema. Though, to be honest, it’s not the most cheery of films. It was dark, it was depressing, and it was brutal. Without a doubt, it was the swansong Logan deserved. It broke my heart, but it did the character, and Hugh Jackman’s time as the character, justice. I’m gonna miss ol’ Adamantium Claws.

To be honest, I’m not sure how I’d feel if Hugh Jackman gets replaced in future X-men films. The part was his, just like RDJ is Iron Man (or more accurately, Stark ;)), and Chris Evans is Captain America. Better to have a completely new character filling the slot. Like the Falcon becoming the new Capt., if such a need arises, or X23 becoming the new ‘Wolverine’. That way, the character can continue, but not by re-booting their previous incarnation. But I guess that’s something that’ll happen a ways down the line.

Novel Update:

I’ve broken out the red pen. Now it’s time to try and slot in 5 pages a day, whereby I doodle over them with corrections. I estimate it’ll take me about a month and a half to get through the first review. So may the slog continue.

…and a Questionable New Year

Ah 2017, a new year filled with promise. Or rather, thanks to 2016, a year filled with foreboding, gloom, and all-encompassing dread. So yay! Happy New Year to you all! 😒

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I had my one glass of alcohol for the year. Totally went to my head. #lightweight

Not really made any resolutions, more a list of things to do to make me better. 2017 will be the Year of Me, and I will do things to improve me as a person.

First, my body. This won’t be a start-exercising-in-the-new-year deal. I already do fitness training on a regular basis, rather, it’ll be a step up in my programme. New Year, New Reps! After Xmas, I was dreading stepping on the scales, but playing it relatively safe paid off, and I actually lost nearly a kilo over the festive period. Woop! My goal for 2017 will be to try and get my body fat % down to 18% (already at 22.9%), and increase my muscle % (already at 37.1% which is way above average).

Second, my mind. After a lot of umming an ahhing, I’ve signed up to do an Open University degree. It’ll be my 3rd (I already have a BSc and an MSc). I’ve decided to do their open degree, and combine computing and writing modules. Still unsure about my decision, nervous as all hell, and not entirely convinced my brain is as it was, but hey, we’ll find out in six years time. Hopefully this’ll improve my employability in the long term. Or, probably more likely, it’ll turn out to be as much a waste of money as my original degrees are.

Which leads me onto the third, my career. I’m still unemployed; still looking to restart my career. Of course, this one’s reliant on a) jobs in my chosen sector, and b) people actually giving me a chance and offering me an interview. Had little joy in 2016. Two interviews out of who knows how many applications. My nerves completely bombed the first. The second was a job I knew I was more than qualified for, and could do well, but didn’t get it. As a further kick in the teeth, the job was re-advertised after three months, and I didn’t even get an interview second time around. That was a shitty feeling. Every rejection is a further setback to my life, and it’s hard to stay positive. May end up having to face facts that all I’m cut out to be is a middle-aged shelf stacker in Morrisons. I’m not yet, but the writing’s on the wall. If you want to help me out, buy my novels!

On the marginally brighter side, I caught a couple more films at the cinema, which I shall now review for your reading pleasure.

Passengers

Ignore the critics (as one should always do). I actually enjoyed this a lot, and personally I thought this could have been part of a summer line up of big-budget sci-fi films. However, I do have two main gripes with the film (one spoiler alert, one less so).

The lesser spoiler alert is this. Why, in a ship that contains approximately 5,248 passengers, is there only one Autodoc station? For those who haven’t seen the film yet, the Autodoc is a medical piece of equipment that can scan, diagnose, and heal you. That seems like incredibly poor planning. Ok, so they’re only suppose to be awake for 4 months before landing, but you’re telling me, in all that time, only one person out of 5,248 is expected to be sick/injured at any one time? Alright, it’s the future, and humans MAY be less stupid and self destructive, but considering there’s a bar on board, that’s just asking for trouble.

My second gripe, and more a personal opinion than anything, is with the ending. Big spoiler alert!!!! My thought at the end: What? No kids? Maybe they didn’t want their children to suffer through what they were living through, which is a fair enough summation, but I kinda figured at the end there’d be a couple of (extremely) adult child welcoming the crew awake. I felt they’d missed a trick there, or maybe they saw that as being predictable and trite, which again, is fair enough. To those who’ve seen the film, what do you think; did you feel the end was missing something?

Rogue One

First off, RIP Carried Fisher. Of all the 2016 celeb deaths, that one hit me hard. Harder than I expected actually. Not sure if it was down to me being hormonal, or if it was all the hoping that she’d get better ending up horribly kiboshed, but I’ll admit it, I shed a tear or two.

Anyway, to the film in question.

How
Awesome

Was

Rogue

One???

Like seriously. I went in expecting a, yeah it was ok, kinda movie, and came out with mind buzzing. That was how The Force Awakens should have been. Instead, that film was basically a rehash of A New Hope. It was a total cop out. But Rogue One! I laughed, I cried, I raised an eyebrow over the fact that CGI can’t properly render a human being yet. It was epic, and I rarely use that term for a movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, do so. You won’t be disappointed.

So that’s the holidays covered. Time to go put New Year New Me into action. But as a final thought, who’s cheering at the return of Sherlock to the BBC?! Me, naturally.

Imaging the Races – a new Approach

Many moons ago, I wrote a post about how I brought my alien races visually to life through the use of a site called TekTek. Doing so let me get a better feel for the different races, and allowed me to quickly write descriptions of their looks without having to trail through paragraphs of previously created descriptive metaphors. Several of these images can be found on my Meet the Races page, where I’ve gone into more detail about some of the more common alien species in my novels.

Since then, TekTek has become defunct. Because politics. Which had left me in a bit of a pickle when it came to creating more characters, as I had no good way of drawing them. Throwing together a few exoplanets in GIMP is surprisingly a hell of a lot easier than drawing hands, faces, feet and everything in between. I am not a good artist.

Help came with a bittersweet aftertaste. As I’ve mentioned before, my mother died not too long ago, and it was my responsibility as her only child to go through all her stuff, chucking out the unusable, sending good stuff to charity, and rescuing some of my old childhood tat. Amongst my teddies and ornaments were, miraculously, two folders full of old science fiction sketches I’d done when younger. I vaguely remembered them, and had hoped they were still around, though honestly, I’d forgotten how full they were. There were spaceships, aliens, Human characters, animals, and planetary backdrops. I’d been quite prolific!

Many of the animals, ships and landscapes had been drawn free hand. A lot were still unfinished, and were only outlines, but many were coloured and complete. The humanoid aliens had been created by tracing over a couple of fashion model templates I’d nicked from school (FYI, they were only a couple of photocopied pieces of paper. It was hardly an arrestable offence), and this had allowed me to create better sketches.

model-2

An example of one of the model templates

I spent a good couple of months scanning each sketch into my computer, and now I have more aliens, people, and creatures than I know what to do with. However, as my novels progress, I can look to these sketches, and finally weave these characters into the narrative that has been in my mind since creating them. Thank you younger self!

Calling Doctor Strange

Ho-boy, did I nearly miss a Marvel film. Not since Iron Man 2 have I not seen part of the MCU on the big screen. Sure, I missed Deadpool, but that’s not part of Disney’s MCU. However, I did get the DVD for my birthday, so all’s good.

Doctor Strange was one of those films where I wasn’t sure when it was supposed to be out, then I checked, and realised it had already been out for a month or so. But with no main-brand cinema near me, and no transport of my own, I couldn’t just pop out for an evening to catch it. Instead, I had to wait for my housemate to be free, which happened this weekend when my mate decided to ditch his usual family Sunday lunch, so we could head off to Chester for a bit of shopping.

It seems gone are the days when I went to Chester to buy cute new shoes & clothes. First time there in eight years and I buy a laundry Ecoegg, and then exchanged some of my old Lush pots for a free face-mask. I sure know how to live the crazy life.

Anyway, as it happened, the Vue in Cheshire Oaks was pretty much the only place still showing Doctor Strange, or rather it had one last showing in the early evening. So after my ‘successful’ shopping, we headed there.

Been a while since I was last in Chester. About 8 years! Love the buildings there. 🌁 #chester #buildings #tudor #architecture

A post shared by Kate Llewellin (@kllewellin_cetologist) on

First grumble. The Vue in Cheshire Oaks needs more foyer seating. Two tables and a non-functioning massage chair is pretty crap going. We arrived about 30 mins too early, and were stood around, me eating my nachos and VERY runny salsa, until we decided, “sod it,” and headed for the screening theatre. Luckily we were allowed in early to take our seats. I’d finished my nachos before the screen had even gone dark.

The film itself was pretty enjoyable. I love Benedict Cucumberpatch as an actor (Sherlock FTW!), and was not disappointed. There were some genuinely funny moments, though I reserve judgement on whether his cape is the Snarf of the MCU, and the fight scenes weren’t so chaotic that you lost track of what was going on. However, I don’t think Benedict had a 100% grip on his American accent, and it seemed to wax and wane rather throughout the film.

The biggest gripe I had with film was with the 3D. To be honest, I find 3D a bit gimmicky, and not really necessary to enjoy a film. Plus, I’m one of those unfortunate souls who needs to wear their normal glasses under their 3D specs, which is very annoying. At first, I thought the issue I was experiencing was perhaps down to my new glasses. Because I do a lot of computing, mine have an anti-reflective/glare layer on them, and I figured it was this that was causing the problem. Basically, while watching the film, I noticed that objects, scenery, and people in the distance were blurry, almost double-vision like. Annoyingly so. Once the film finished I bemoaned this fact to my mate, who (glasses free) said he’d noticed the same thing. So it was the film, and not my specs. Now whether this was part and parcel of the 3D-ness of the film, or whether the reel/projector were off, I don’t know. So here’s the question: did anybody else notice anything similar when watching it?