Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Office of Lost and Found by Vincent Holland-Keen

Thomas Locke can find anything and works for someone who communicates with him via messages written on slips of paper.
Veronica wants him to find her husband and she willing to pay him the generous price of not shooting him to do it.
This is how we meet our two main protagonists.

As Thomas delves into Veronica’s life and her husband, he discovers a company that sell items that only cost certain parts of your psyche.
Just as you start to think, “This is getting interesting”, Thomas has solved the case and Veronica is free. For a given value of free.

That was the first shock, for me. The first half of this book is taken up by a number of smaller cases, almost short stories, that progress Thomas and Veronica’s relationship and delve into the weird world of The Office of Lost and Found.

It’s only as all the threads from the first half come together after the pair save a child and banish/kill Thomas’ employer (a place most stories would end) in the second half that the story really got going for me. I found that restarting with a new case every so often left the start of this novel very stop-start. It took me a good while to get into it.
It didn’t help that Veronica is almost defiantly unsympathetic in many ways. But it’s her caring heart that keeps you just interested enough in her to keep going.

Once we’ve set up all of the major players and underpinned that this reality is maybe just a little bit off from our own, then TOOLAF really kicks itself into a high gear and gets running.
Gods, children worshipping roadworks, the fate of everything, friendly monsters under the bed and just maybe the end of the world all come flying in with great speed to make the second every bit as engrossing as the first half was frustrating.

Thomas Locke is a fine entrant into the “weird detective” class. His methods are strange, and yet, if you’ve read Dirk Gently, quite familiar. Yes, this book is massively influenced by Douglas Adams’ quirky detective and it doesn’t really try to hide it. Instead Vincent Holland-Keen wears these influences on his sleeve and it’s all the better for it. He seems to have decided that there is room in the world for more than just Gently and his demented detective methods, and I’d have to agree.

The secondary characters are well drawn, Billy – the boy with monsters under his bed – gets the best deal of them all. But each character gets their moment to shine.

I enjoyed this book once the pieces were in place, it’s well worth the slight struggle past the necessary first half.
Definitely worth checking out.

The Office of Lost and Found can be purchased here

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Serial Killers Incorporated by Andy Remic

We begin with our protagonist naked on a balcony, quite literally freezing his nuts off, while his lover performs her wifely duties with her husband. A husband who is also a gun runner and killer of at least 34 men.
It’s very quickly apparent that we are not supposed to like or admire most of the people who are going to populate this novel. And that’s fine, you don’t need to like a protagonist to want to see what happens to them. In fact a good chunk of the enjoyment of this novel is following Callaghan and his miserable efforts to work out just who is doing what to him and why.

A photographer by trade, Callaghan and his friend Jim get some of the best scoops in the journalism business by bribing, sneaking and occasionally making stuff up. So when they are led to a murder scene by an anonymous phone call, they don’t hesitate too long before checking it out.
The discovery of a brutal murder starts the ball rolling that sees Callaghan dragged further and further into a mess that he can see no way out of. By the time it’s all over a good number of people will be dead, there have been betrayals and a liberal use of expletives.

Remic writes books that don’t hang about. His prose is solid and easy to read, it’s unlikely to win any literary awards but it’s perfectly suited to this kind of story. Violence, blood and sex are his forte and he uses them well.
Remic also creates whole characters, making sure none are left as a cipher unless that’s the point of the character.
Callaghan is an utter bastard, something he takes pride in to begin with and has that self-knowledge slowly chipped at as the novel progresses. Callaghan is the type of character that is never going to be a hero in the traditional sense, in fact, in most stories about a serial killer he would die horribly and messily fairly quickly. However he is someone that you are almost fascinated to follow. He survives not by much real planning on his part, but almost feral reflexes and luck.
Surrounding him are a wide cast of some of the more twisted members of society and we get to know the motivations of each of them.

While it’s not going to be regarded as a classic of the genre, Serial Killers Incorporated does have a decent story. The final revelations may take people by surprise and if you can’t go with them then the novel is liable to lose you. I’m not going to spoil things too much here, but suffice to say, they remind me of Michael Marshall Smith’s novels.

Did I enjoy it? Yes I did, the humour works, the violence is quite lovingly and inventively described and even the sex scenes are done well.
If you like bastards doing bastardly things to each other with a smattering of sex and much use of profanity, then I think you’ll dig this.
If you don’t, then you probably won’t.

The eBook is to be accompanied by an album. Only 2 tracks were sent with my review copy. I don’t really review music because I’m not really versed in it in that way. I will say I quite enjoyed the two tracks by th3 m1ss1ng and the closest I could find in my iTunes folder to accompany them while reading were some Cooper Temple Clause tracks.

The book is available in eBook form from Anarchy Books here

Saturday, 12 March 2011

In The Skin - Gary McMahon

In The Skin is a short novella that is absolutely jam-packed with some of the bleakest writing you will ever find.
And I mean that in a good way.

Our protagonist, Dan, is feeling a little dislocated from his life. At first I thought I had spotted the reason for this, but it turned out I was way off.
When Dan goes to New York for a business trip, ostensibly just to get away from his wife, things start to get weird for him.
A lingering smell of fish at the airport along with an horrific vision sets the tone.
As Dan's sense of dislocation continues he has a thoroughly unerotic encounter with a prostitute and meandering visit to New York.
But it is when he gets home that the dread and wrongness fill his life.

McMahon has written a dark and disturbing fiction here, the word that most sums it up for me is Bleak.
There are no chinks of light, no snatches of hoope to be found. And yet the writing is compelling, his prose full of the delightfully uncomfortable metaphors that he excels at.
In short, this is not and easy or uplifting read - but it is a straight shot of disturbing horror.

And at 70p/99 cents for the eBook - you can't really go wrong.
A solid recommendation.

Buy it from amazon uk here and here

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Kick Ass

Opening with a flight through clouds as the titles rush at you and a score that sounds an awful lot like John Williams’ Superman score, Kick Ass appears to be going straight for the classic superhero start. We zoom down onto a man in a bright outfit, shu-shuck wings open, people on the ground stare in wonder. He dives from the roof, down, down, the music swells, at any moment he’s going to soar!
Well, no. One destroyed taxi and little mocking voice-over later and it’s quite clear this isn’t your every day superhero movie.

Kick Ass looks a lot like the other comic book movies being made, the colours are bright and primary, the costumes extravagant – except for Kick Ass’, we’ll get to that – and yet, beyond the look of it, there’s something unlike any of the other superhero movies out there.
When Dave (soon to be known as Kick Ass) asks his friends why no-one has ever tried being a superhero he’s told in no uncertain terms that it’s because they’d get the shit kicked out of them.
Undeterred, he buys himself a green wetsuit, a couple of batons and goes out to fight crime. On his first attempt he ends up in intensive care.
When he gets out he resolves to do better and here’s where the plot starts to kick in.
We are introduced to Damon MacReady and his little daughter, Mindy in the strangest fashion you are likely to see, as Daddy shoots his little girl so she’ll know what taking a bullet to the chest feels like and won’t be scared. Yup, this is the intro to the character all the advertising is being built around, Hit Girl.
Now, why is all the advertising being built around her? Well, the film might be called Kick Ass, but you are going to come away thinking Hit Girl.

Nicolas Cage does a fine job a Big Daddy, his costume looks to have come from The Dark Knight, but the voice, it’s a pure homage to Adam West’s incarnation of Batman and it works beautifully. The character has the obligatory tragic back story, but it’s his love and pride for his violent child that will endear him to you.
Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin!) does a solid job as Chris/Red Mist. His motivations for getting dressed in a costume are unlike the others and I won’t spoil it here. As a character he gets a little bit of a short shrift and doesn’t really get the scenes to really show his acting chops. There’s a hint at the end that he may well get the chance if this does well enough for a sequel.
Mark Strong as the Mob Boss, Frank, does his usual sterling work, taking what could just be a generic mob boss, complete with relapse into coke habit, and making him shine. Delivering lines with venom and humour, he’s probably the films most unsung hero so far.
Aaron Johnson as Dave Lizewski/Kick Ass does a solid job at the film’s centre. He gives a performance that’s believable and real. His terror and fear as things keep getting worse is completely believable.
The actor walking away with all the plaudits is Chloe Moretz as Mindy/Hit Girl, and rightly so. She steals absolutely every scene she’s in. From messing with her Dad by asking for a puppy and not weaponry to taking out a corridor full of gangsters she just holds your attention. It’s helped by the fact that she’s got most of the best lines and action sequences to herself. But again, it’s the loving bond between her and Cage that really make the films emotional centre.

But any big movie like this stands or falls on its action sequences, all of the above could be brilliant, but if the action was rubbish, it wouldn’t matter. Happily this is not the case. The three major heroes all have their own fighting styles and they are filmed in similar ways.
When Kick Ass fights it’s all wild flailing and hoping just to connect and not get too much shit beaten out of him. Just like anyone without training does. The camera goes with this in hand held, somewhat confusing, but deliberately so framing. Never so much that you can’t tell what is going on, just enough to disorient you like Kick Ass is.
Big Daddy is all business, one shot here, stomping and powerful. The direction here is smooth and clean, professional.
But the best is once again Hit Girl, she’s high speed, full octane and the scenes reflect this. Faster cuts, crazier angles as she bounces off of walls, these are the real action highlights.

The film is also very funny, from a young girl swearing to the bazooka gag there’s a great deal to laugh at here.

So then, is it worth watching? Worth plonking your hard earned down to see at the cinema?
A resounding yes. I’ll be going to see this again and I recommend it to you all.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Green Zone

Green Zone opens with Baghdad under attack as the war begins. Huge explosions rip through the city as a General scrambles to gather all of his things, including a diary, before escaping.
A quick cut to four weeks later launches us straight into the heart of Roy Miller’s job in Iraq – hunting for WMDs in areas where there is looting and snipers. It’s breathless and highly charged and it feels like before you’ve had a chance to settle in, the first contact, and disappointment for Miller, is over. You’ll need to pay attention here as dialogue is delivered at the speed of men who know what they are talking about, have done it many times before and are in no way trying to make it simple for the average person to follow.
These opening scenes quickly demonstrate the pace most of this film is going to come at you. People speak, listen and respond. There’s no repeating of something hard to understand in simpler form, you need to keep up with what is being said.

When Miller and his crew – a sadly under-characterised group of men whom we never get to know – are working on another clearly fruitless lead an Iraqi named Freddy informs them of a secret meeting.
When they act on this information this is where things start to get murky. From the appearance of the Delta team and the machinations of the various CIA agents working to opposite agendas, Green Zone doesn’t have any clean answers for most of its running time.
There is a slight sag in pace in the middle of the film as the flesh is laid on the bones of the secret, but then we head into the finale and the action ramps fully into gear.

The director, Paul Greengrass, seems to have learnt a bit more about shooting action since The Bourne Ultimatum as he keeps his distance from the action while filming in shakey-cam, meaning you can actually tell what’s going on most of the time.
As Miller Matt Damon is in nearly every scene and carries the film on the back of his performance. Miller comes across as a decent man, a professional soldier who has doubts about those leading him but faith in his own men.
And apart from Miller, there are no real stand out characters. Because all of the focus is on him we get very little chance to know anything about the people helping or opposing him. The exception to this is Freddy, his Iraqi interpreter, who lends a voice to the Iraqi people in his simple determination to just survive for now so that he can rebuild his country, which he loves.

The ending feels a little too much of a wish fulfilment, as we all know the events it portrays did not happen. Perhaps a few years down the line, when viewers who were too young to really know about what happened see it, it won’t be so jarring.
All in all it’s a solidly put together film. It’s no stand out and not one I’m in a rush to see again, but would probably watch it the opportunity presented itself.
For the action sequences, I say it’s worth a watch, for the story, worth a go, for the lack of real characterisation, probably worth a view if it’s on TV or someone lends you the DVD.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Solomon Kane

Starting with an impressive sequence that involves the assault on a foreign city and its strange castle, Solomon Kane wastes no time in getting into the action.
As Kane casually slaughters his way through guards, calling them foreign and pagan, you quickly get the impression that this is not a nice guy.
A creepy sequence involving mirrors and monsters leaves Kane alone in the throne room, but instead of treasure he finds himself face to face with the Devil’s Reaper – a suitably creepy monster – that tells him he’s going to be taken to hell, right now.
Kane escapes and renounces violence, going to live in a monastery.
When he is sent out from the monastery he encounters a Puritan family, after taking a severe beating by some bandits he refuses to fight, knowing the Devil will find him if he resorts to violence again.
Here the film takes a dip in pace. While we have sped along to this point there is a deliberate slow down as Kane learns about the family and the Puritan religion. With Pete Postlethwaite as the father, the story is never less than watchable, but I would have liked the pace to have been kept up.
When the villains finally appear and Kane renounces his renunciation of violence things start to move. The fights are brutal and violent, with Kane displaying a true talent for death dealing.
The story is quite strong and there are some fine performances from all concerned. James Purefoy makes a compelling lead, making a hero with a West Country accent seem like screen gold.
Yes, that’s right. Solomon Kane is from Somerset/Devon way and speaks like it.

While this character comes from the pen of the man who wrote Conan, the tones of this and the Arnie Conan films could not be more different.
While Conan shone with bright colours and the glory of being a warrior and a man, Kane is muddy and grey, just like the shades of morality that run throughout the film.
That is not to say the film isn’t visually interesting, because it most certainly is. Creature design and some wonderful sets give your eyes plenty to look at. Even the scenes in the woods manage to feel less than familiar, given how many fantasy movies take place in them.

Solomon Kane is a great slice of heroic fantasy and I would recommend it be seen. While it has probably gone from your local cinema by now, take a chance on it when it comes out for home viewing.

From Paris with Love

The film starts by introducing us to Jonthan Rhys-Meyers’ character, an assistant to the American Ambassador to France. He does some low level stuff for the CIA, changing a licence plate, planting a bug – a scene that doesn’t really milk it’s comedy potential for all it is worth – but all he really wants to do is get out a gun and shoot bad guys.
A simple introduction to a character we’re going to spend most of the movie with.
Then he meets his new partner – Charlie Wax. Loud, brash, abusive, xenophobic – he’s like the stereotypical American abroad. Portrayed with great zeal by John Travolta, who looks like he’s thoroughly enjoying every moment in this character, Wax starts to subvert our expectations almost instantly. The reason he’s there is because he’s the best and while his introduction calls that into question, his actions following that put that question squarely to bed.

But this is an action film and as fun as the characters are to follow, if the action is rubbish or the story pointless, you just don’t care. Happily this is not the case.
While I did suss out who the villain was from very early on, it added an extra layer of tension to a later scene that wouldn’t have existed if I was behind on the plot. I’ll point out here that the reveal isn’t signposted, but I’m a paranoid suspicious person and that’s why I got it.
The story is fairly standard terrorist plot fare, with a few early attempts to hoodwink both Meyers and the audience. The pace of the film rattles along at great speed and has no real flab to drag down the pacing.

So then, the action. Well, to start, this is directed by the man behind District 13 and Taken, two films with a solid action pedigree, so I went in expecting some good sequences. And I got them.
While none of the sequences are likely to live on as masterpieces, forever copied and imitated, they do their job exceptionally well. A car chase down the French motorway with Wax hanging out of his chase car holding a bazooka is great fun. The takedown of a group of street thugs is a fine piece of style and substance as we get a quick beat down as well as an insight into why the Americans have sent this guy to do their work for them.

All in all From Paris With Love is a good solid action movie. I had an absolute blast seeing it and will definitely be picking up the DVD. Whether you need to see t at the cinema will depend on your love for action movies, but if you don’t go, I’d recommend a home viewing. It’s worth paying money for.