Just Been Watching…(115)

Alien Covenant (2017)

***No spoilers***

I loved the original ‘Alien’ (1979). Then along came ‘Aliens’, seven years later. Still good, more action, but in my opinion it wasn’t as breathtakingly original at the first film. Well it couldn’t be, I know that. We had already seen the ‘monster’.

‘Alien 3’ (1992), and ‘Alien Resurrection’ (1997) looked to be in danger of milking the franchise, proving that you can have too much of a good thing.
(They even mixed things up, with ‘Alien versus Predator’, in 2004)

Then along came ‘Prometheus’, in 2012. This had more story, less terror, and some interesting ideas. The critics panned it, and the fans didn’t much like it either.

But I LOVED it.

When they made a sequel to ‘Prometheus five years later, I was sniffy about it.
I didn’t go to see it, and thought they had started that ‘milking’ all over again.

This week it was on TV, and I thought ‘Why not? It won’t cost me anything’.

In the film, the huge spaceship ‘Covenant’ is on a mission to take settlers to a distant planet that will support human life. There are thousands of them in ‘hyper-sleep’ for the seven year journey, and the ship is being controlled by ‘Mother’, an artificial intelligence. Helped by ‘Walter, an android life form that stays awake to undertake routine duties. They are on a one-way trip to establish a new colony, far from Earth.

A radio signal disrupts the ship’s systems, and the crew have to wake up, and deal with it. They discover it is emanating from an unknown planet, much closer than their destination. A planet that can support human life. The inexperienced Captain decides to investigate, and thing begin to go very wrong once the landing team arrives.

This is very much a sequel to ‘Prometheus’, featuring answers to things that happened at the end of the previous film. Yet it also stands alone, if you haven’t seen that film. It’s an ‘Alien’ film, so you can expect to see the familiar acid-blooded monsters that always turn up. You also get to see a lot more about those very large ‘humanoids’ from ‘Prometheus’ too.

With no spoilers, that’s about it. Some people die, some live, and there are lots of ‘WTF?’ moments involving the terrifying Alien monsters. If you have seen any of the films, you more or less know what to expect, with not that much of a twist this time. And no Sigourney Weaver, either. Michael Fassbender does well, playing identical androids. One is evil, the other kind. He acts with enough nuance that we always know which one we are watching.

If you liked ‘Prometheus’, (or was that just me?) you might want to know what happened next.

I did, and I really enjoyed this sequel too.

Here’s a trailer.

Book Review: Erebus, by Michael Palin

I am reblogging this excellent book review by fellow blogger and published author, Jon Risdon. Please check out Jon’s blog for other posts that you may find interesting, and give him some encouragement.

Wilfred Books

erebus-terror Picture credit: oikofuge.com; showing Erebus & Terror

If you’ve never before read any of Michael Palin’s serious writing, I think this will be a very good place to start, despite it being one of his most recent books (Hutchinson, London, 2018; ISBN 9781847948120 [hardback]); if you have, however, I am very confident that you will enjoy reading it as much as I did. Michael is known for his Ripping Yarns series, albeit at some remove now, but this book is a true life ripping yarn, although with a bitter-sweet ending, and although the review is rather longer than others I have posted, I feel that this book deserves it, in view of the impressive detail contained therein, and the research that clearly must have been done in preparation for its writing.

It tells the story of the 1846 Franklin Expedition to discover the North-West Passage, but what first excited Michael’s…

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Just Been Watching… (114)

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

I watched this film on the BBC, and it is also available on Amazon.

***No spoilers***

Adapted from the novel by Peter Ackroyd, this film is set in Victorian London, in the 1880s. Think of those films about the real ‘Jack The Ripper’ murders you might have seen, and you get the idea. However, Ackroyd is a distinguished and wonderful writer, and he brings that era to the screen in fascinating detail, with convincing performances from a dedicated cast.

With a series of brutal and unconnected murders causing uproar in one of London’s poorest districts, Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) is brought in to take over the case. He is not expected to be able to cope, and is merely a scapegoat for Scotland Yard to blame when he fails. He soon discovers a connection with a woman on trial for poisoning her husband, (Olivia Cooke) and with the assistance of Constable Flood (Daniel Mays) he starts to look closely at all the suspects for the heinous crimes.

Where this story scored for me was in the introduction of real people into the fictional killings. The famous Music Hall entertainer, Dan Leno, once the highest paid person in Britain, features heavily throughout. He is played by Douglas Booth, with real flair. Other suspects include Karl Marx, the writer of Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto. He was actually living in London at the time, and is woven into the story.

The tale unfolds in a series of flashbacks and ‘fantasy’ sequences, as we see inside the mind of the troubled detective. We also follow the life of the poisoning suspect, Lizzie Cree, and her unfaithful husband, John. Most of the film is set in a Music Hall, where many of the characters work. This allows for a very interesting insight into the entertainment of the time, along with the way that social classes mixed in such establishments. With no spoilers, I cannot go into detail. But this film had me gripped, and wanting to know the identity of the murderer.

That is revealed right at the end, in a wonderful twist that I didn’t suspect. And I love twists!

I should add a warning that the murders are shown in some graphic detail, with lots of blood. There are some sexual references, and minor nudity, but nothing unsuitable for TV viewing in the 21st century. If you like your murder mysteries set in the past, and enjoy films with an old-fashioned feel, then this is one for you.

It has had mixed reviews, but I would suggest ignoring those. This film brings a cast of mostly British character actors all at the top of their game. In addition to those mentioned, there is the reliable Eddie Marsan as the theatre manager, and Henry Goodman as Karl Marx.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and the performances.
This trailer gives a good feel of the film.

Fiction Serial Overview: The River

I have just published my most recent serial in one complete story. As usual, I am looking at how it was received, and explaining something about the process for those of you who may be interested.

This was my first attempt at writing something from an American perspective. Using my experience of watching many American films over almost sixty years, as well as my memories of books like ‘The Catcher In The Rye’, I tried to capture the feel of life in small town America over a period from the early 1970s to the turn of the century.

Looking back, I was only partially successful. I notice that I varied spelling between the English and American versions, failing to be consistent in either. I received encouragement from many American readers who assured me that I was getting most of it right, as well as valuable help from David Miller, who kindly pointed out differences such as ‘Filling out’ a form, rather than the English ‘Filling in’ a form. Although I looked up the policing structure in most American states, I made an error with ‘County Police’, but decided to leave that in the story to add to the fictional element.

I tried for shorter episodes this time too, as some of my previous serial parts ran close to 2,000 words. In terms of readers, each episode exceeded 80 views, with a total of more than 1800 views for the whole serial, and more still coming in. Comments were up on some other serials too, so that was very rewarding for me.

As I normally do, I thought of the ending, and worked back. I had to use notes to remember the various characters, and I did some research into two genuine American locations too. For the names of the characters, I looked up some common American surnames, many derived from the European original names of course, and tried to place the first names in some historical context of when such names would have been popular.

My thanks to everyone who stuck with every episode of the serial, and to those of you who reblogged any part, or shared on social media.

I hope you will enjoy the next one, when it arrives in my head!

Best wishes, Pete. 🙂

Retro Review: Apocalypse Now (1979)

People have written books about this film, and even made documentary films about it. The behind-the-scenes events have become the stuff of legend, including the difficult behaviour of its star, Marlon Brando. This updating of the novel ‘Heart of Darkness’ has inspired academic articles, and decades of debate and discussion.

But this is just my own opinion of it as a film, and my memory of seeing it at the cinema when it was released.

Forty years ago. Can you believe that? I have never seen the film since, and yet I can recall most of it from memory, and play certain scenes out in my head with no effort whatsoever.

As far as I am concerned, that is the mark of a film that exceeded all expectations, and can well deserve to be called a cinematic masterpiece.

This was also the first time I can remember hearing a soundtrack in ‘Surround-Sound’, at a Central London cinema. The opening scene of the sound of helicopters over the view of a spinning ceiling fan was so effective, most of us turned around in our seats, and looked around the cinema. It really did feel as if a helicopter was circling above our heads.

The film had hardly started, and I was already overwhelmed.

In case you have never seen the film, I won’t just keep writing about scenes, and will add no plot spoilers. And if you have never seen it, I suggest you rectify that at the earliest opportunity.

You will know the names of many of the cast members. Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Frederick Forrest, Robert Duvall, (in a memorable role) Harrison Ford, Scott Glenn, Lawrence Fishburne, and Dennis Hopper. This is a film about the Vietnam War that goes far beyond that conflict, examining what war does to ordinary men, and how far they can sink into the abyss.

The cinematography is superb. Direction by Francis Ford Coppola is just right, and the casting near-perfect too. It is an experience that transcends a normal evening at the cinema. It gets inside you, and makes you think. And your conclusions are often far from comfortable.

Much has been said about this film. It was attacked on release by some critics, claiming that it was an indulgence by Coppola, a film-maker well-known for such indulgence. It famously ran well over budget, and some of the stars gave interviews about the difficulties they encountered during its making. You can read all that, and you can watch the documentaries. If you want to.

Or you could just watch this amazing film.
Because it is absolutely fantastic.

Just Been Watching…(113)

The Irishman (2019)

***Historical events, so spoilers do not apply***

The first thing I am going to say is that this is going to be an exceptionally positive review
Make no mistake, I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS FILM!

I saw this on Netflix, and it is not currently available elsewhere.

Director: Martin Scorsese.
Cast;
Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran
Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa
Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino
Ray Romano as Bill Bufalino
Bobby Cannavale as Skinny Razor
Anna Paquin as Peggy Sheeran
Lucy Gallina as young Peggy
Stephen Graham as Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano
Harvey Keitel as Angelo Bruno
Steven Van Zandt as Jerry Vale

Look at that cast! And that is just the headliners. Everyone else is great too.

I will start this review with one word, ‘RESTRAINT’.

Joe Pesci is restrained. Older, less hysterical, more composed. And no cackling.
Pacino, known best lately for shouting rather than acting is also less hysterical. Hardly any shouting at all. (Well, a bit)
De Niro is suitably restrained too, and also narrates the story, told in flashback/flash forward. He is ‘The Irishman’.

In fact, everyone is restrained, and the film is all the better for that.

If you liked ‘Casino’, you should like this too.
If you liked ‘Goodfellas’, you should like this too.
If you liked ‘Mean Streets’, you should like this too.
If you liked ‘JFK’, you should like this too.

Alright, what’s it about?

Jimmy Hoffa was the charismatic leader of the Teamsters’ Union in America. (Truck drivers) The union had so much money in contributions and pension funds, that it helped to bankroll the Mafia in the 1950s. Hoffa became a famous personality, and also a famous gangster, due to his Mob associations. He ‘disappeared’ in 1975, and to this day his whereabouts are officially unknown, although he was declared dead in 1982. Irishman Frank Sheehan is a truck driver, and ex-WW2 soldier. One day, he happens to meet a mob figure by chance, when his truck breaks down. That gangster is Russell Buffalino, (Pesci) and he takes a liking to the man, bringing him into the organisation. Petty theft leads to becoming a mob hitman, and then Hoffa’s right-hand man and bodyguard.

Meanwhile, the mob is unhappy with JFK, who has not honoured his pledge to get them back the gambling joints in Cuba, and harassed by his brother Bobby, who is the Attorney General. Nobody trusts anyone, and as time goes on, many leading Mob figures are ‘disappeared’, and Hoffa is getting out of control. When the Mafia chooses Provenzano over Hoffa, events come to a head, and something has to give.

This is conventional gangster fare. Families, wives, girlfriends, divided loyalties, and lots of people ending up dead. Politics, betrayal, and lack of trust.

But this film is just WONDERFUL!

Locations, settings, costumes, music, (even that is by Robbie Robertson, who used to be in The Band) and a flawless feel of time and place.

Before you say it, yes we have seen many similar films before.
And yes, it is long, (three hours and twenty-five minutes) but that length worked for me.

If you didn’t like ‘Goodfellas’, you are not going to like this.
If you don’t like gangster/Mafia films, you are not going to like this.

So if that’s the case, my advice is don’t watch it, then you won’t have to complain later.

For me, it was five stars. With bells on, and an airhorn sounding, as well as a choir in the background.

Can you tell I liked it?

Here’s a trailer.

Book Review: Storming Party

I recently read and reviewed the first book in this series, ‘Turncoat’s Drum’.
https://beetleypete.com/2019/10/14/book-review-turncoats-drum/

I mentioned then that I had already bought the second book, and I have just finished reading it.

Following on from the very last line, we continue the adventures of the characters embroiled in the English Civil War, during the 17th century. This time, the author adds a few more characters, and gives us a look into the court-in-exile of Charles I and his queen, in the city of Oxford. The fawning sycophants, aristocrats and merchants seeking favours, and the romantic affairs and dalliances during the midst of a bitter war.

Carter also adds an unusual Civil War element to the action, the war at sea, with the reader travelling on a Parliamentary warship, following the fate of the prisoners from the previous book. As we reconnect with all the characters, and watch as they interact with the new ones, all roads are leading to the mighty fortress city of Bristol, where the opposing sides are set to clash in bloody conflict. As Parliamentary stragglers seek refuge in the beleaguered city, adding to the small number of desperate defenders, the Royalist general Prince Rupert arrives with a huge army, and many cannon. The scene is set for a desperate siege, followed by a massive assault by the Royalist forces.

Once again, historical detail is flawless. The cramped back streets of Bristol are accurately brought to life, (many still exist today) and the plight of both the defending army and trapped civilians feels all too real. Despite the now familiar characters, the author manages to avoid any ‘soap-opera’ tropes in their relationships, and keeps surprising the reader with unexpected turns in the story. Everything from the preparation of the siege guns, to the desperate hand-to-hand fighting around shattered earthworks is fast-paced, and exciting to read.

The small details are a delight too. From how many teeth someone has, to what is available to eat. As well as the descriptions of clothing, personal habits, and the physical appearance of exhausted and wounded soldiers.
At 371 pages, it didn’t seem that long, and I found myself staying up late to read more. This was also only 99 p, so great value.

Highly recommended for fans of Historical Fiction, and those interested in the background to the actual events of that 17th century war.

The third book of six is already available, but I have to read some others before buying that one.

Here’s an Amazon link.