Saturday, 29 December 2018

Bird Box (movie review)

Netflix scores yet another huge success with Bird Box, with 45 million viewers streaming in the first week from it's release on 14th December 2018. (no spoilers)

 


The Basics:

Bird Box is a 2018 American post apocalyptic thriller directed by Susanne Bier. The movie is based on a book of the same name by Josh Malerman which I've just bought in my local INDEPENDENT book store (Wexford Book Centre). Check out this great interview from the author here.



The film follows a woman, played by Sandra Bullock, who, along with a pair of children, dubbed Boy and Girl, must make it through a forest and river blindfolded to avoid supernatural entities that take the appearance of their victims' worst fears & regrets that cause them to die by suicide. The only people who do not succumb to these affects are people who are insane. Bird Box starts out like M. Night Shyamalan's 2008 movie The Happening - an unseen entity drives people to take their own lives, plunging society and the World into chaos but the similarities end there. 


We are immediately introduced to Mallory (Sandra Bullock), frankly being a bit of a bitch, she is really mean and stern towards her two children and explaining they will be taking a long, dangerous journey and they must do exactly what she tells them. With half the movie being flashbacks (which get a little jumpy at times) we learn how the World and Bullock got to where it is, that is, a World of cruelness and little love. For me as soon as I learnt:

1. This was a post apocalyptic story and 
2. My all time fave author Stephen King was a huge fan; 

I knew I'd be watching it fairly quickly and it didn't disappoint.The hubby also loved it.

   (source - Stephen King's Twitter)

As the story barrels along with a frightening river raft journey you can't help being reminded of the amazing Meryl Streep movie The River Wild, although it's not quite as manic, making the journey blind folded is still heart stopping at times. Sandra Bullock is brilliant and diverse, just looking at her filmography you immediately are drawn to Gravity, The Heat and The Blindside to mention a few of her recent successes. She is also fantastic in this movie. 


For me the rest of the actors are people I do not know except for B.D. Wong (most would recognise him from his role as Dr. Huang in Law and Order SVU and from Mr. Robot). Wong plays the token gay character in the movie, that, of course, dies quickly; (as we know it's a much abused lazy homophobic movie trope)

Anyway, not to give too much away, for lovers of thrillers, a little bit of horror (but not gory and disgusting), a great story that pulls you and the characters on a great journey (actual and metaphorically speaking), well directed and great acting this is a must see. The ending is great (much better than the Happening) and if you're a fan of indie productions and/or Sandra Bullock you won't be disappointed either.

I give the movie an 8 out of 10 planets (it looses a planet for excessive use of flashbacks and the other for the killing of the gay character in a lazy hollywood trope) but this is my personal opinion and overall shouldn't take away from your enjoyment of the movie.




John The Captain Ryan.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Best Horror Books Ever...

FACT!



So, to identify the best horror books of all time, I've looked at a selection of websites that have lists of  books and done up my own list. This year I'm going to read (or in some cases re-read) these titles and write a review. (For those who are interested I've listed the websites I used at the end of this blog). The top 13 horror books of all time are:

13 - The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. 




Need I say anything other than:


"Well Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming?" and...


"I ate his ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti"


I remember reading this book some years ago and whilst it is was scary, the movie is better. Anthony Hopkins plays Hannibal Lecter with such brilliant that will never be surpassed,  you cannot read the book without imagining him in the role.



12 - 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King.





This is the Master of Horror's first entry on the list, an awesome book that I read well over 20 years ago. Looking forward to reading it again.


11 - The Turn of the Screw by Henry James



I've never read this book so looking forward to it.


10 - Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin



I know absolutely nothing about this book so will have to read it and find out what all the bru-ha-ha is all about.


9 - Books of Blood Volumes 1-3 by Clive Barker



I've watched a lot of films based on Clive Barker's work but never read any of his books. This will be interesting.


8 - House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski



Yet another book I haven't read but going by other reviews I'm looking forward to reading this also.


7 - Frankenstein by Mary Shelley



I couldn't believe I haven't read this book, but, yet it appears on so many best horror lists. I wonder is it because it's one of the first in the genre or if it's actually any good. Only reading it for myself will tell me. Crazy to think this was written over 200 years ago.


6 - The Shining by Stephen King.



King's 2nd entry on the list, one of my all time favourite books and movies. The book is awesome and the movie never delves much into Danny Torrence's special abilities which are truly scary, but them again the movie is so iconic with Nicholson screaming through the door "HERE's JOHNNY" you forget about Danny.




5 - Pet Sematary by Stephen King



And yet another entry by the King of Horror. I haven't read this for probably 25 years so can't remember it. Another book I'm looking forward to.


4 - Dracula by Bram Stoker



Another ground breaking, genre creating title that I haven't read. What a shame. Again, like Frankenstein, I wonder is it on so many lists because of it's genre creating credentials or is it actually any good. Written in 1897, it has spawned such awesomeness like Buffy and Queen of the Damned but also such crud like the Twilight Saga. Oh dear gawd.


3 - It by Stephen King.




Hey Georgie want your boat back. A truly horrifying book and movie. I did a review of the new movie here. Just love the book and movies. Will be strange reading this book again also.


2 - The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty



Another book on the list I've never read, but I did love the movies and the new series is fantastic.

So, before I unveil the top horror book of all time, here is a summary of all the books so far, how many times they appeared on the top lists used and how many points they accrued:



No.
Title
Appearances
Points
13
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
3
21
12
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
3
27
11
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
3
29
10
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
3
31
9
Books of Blood Volumes 1-3 by Clive Barker
3
37
8
House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
3
45
7
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
3
46
6
The Shining by Stephen King
3
60
5
Pet Sematary by Stephen King
4
38
4
Dracula by Bram Stoker
4
68
3
It by Stephen King
5
66
2
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
6
72


So...final drum roll please...The best horror book of all time, FACT! is...


1 - The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson






Another I haven't read so this is going to the top of the pile.

Toodles for now

John The Captain Ryan.




All the book cover images were sources from Amazon.

The different websites used were:













Wednesday, 12 December 2018

A dog is for Life but so is Scrabble

Yes, we've heard the slogan a million times but it's so true, a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.

If you are thinking of getting a puppy for Christmas, think really hard - yes they are lovely and cute when they jump out of the box but it's a lifelong committment, you need to treat your new puppy as a member of the family, if you can't well don't get one.

If you are thinking of rescuing a dog wait until the new year and go to your local pound or SPCA.  The contact details in Wexford are as follows:

Wexford County Council (Dog Warden & Dog Pound) - HERE
WSPCA - HERE

And on Facebook
North Wexford SPCA - HERE
WSPCA - HERE

If the new puppy is happening and if you haven't chosen a Vet yet, I couldn't speak highly enough of O'Shea & Bramley Veterinary Hospital in Distillery Road (just past Tesco's).  They also do a huge amount of work for the WSPCA.  You can find there website - HERE and of course they are also on Facebook - HERE

So, I've combined my love of Scrabble and Dogs and compiled the following list of allowed words in Scrabble.  You are free to print it out and share it.  Get the message out...

A dog is for life, not just for Christmas, just like Scrabble


Live Long and Prosper

John the Captain Ryan

Monday, 10 December 2018

Happy Death Day, The First Purge and Doomsday (movie reviews)

How do Happy Death Day (2017), Doomsday (2008) and The First Purge (2018) measure up in the jam-packed horror genre?




The horror genre of today covers a vast array of movies, from the silly teen comedies of scantily clad females running UP the stairs instead of out of the house, to the psychological horrors like The Babadook (review here), the killer clowns (see Terrifier in previous link also) to the hack and slash horrors like (Jig) Saw and gothic horror like The Lodgers - filmed in Wexford of course. Gone are the days of the classic Hitchcock horror, suggesting more than it shows with the likes of The Birds or Psycho. 




Anyway, to get to the reviews, let’s start with Happy Death Day.



The plot is simple and un-original, basically it’s a teen comedy-horror based on the Groundhog Day classic. It follows a college student – played by Jessica Rothe who is murdered on her birthday and begins reliving the day over and over again, at which point she sets out to find the killer and stop her death. It had huge success in movie theatres, so much so a sequel has been announced for February 2019 Happy Death Day 2U.

Whilst unoriginal, it’s still a great premise and the lunacy of trying to avoid the same mistakes brings a laugh each time. The imaginative ways in which Theresa "Tree" Gelbman is killed each time is sometimes gruesome but always entertaining. It’s a well written screenplay that keeps you guessing all the way through. On several occasions we think she has solved the situation to be hurtled back into the scenario again. Eventually she solves who is trying to murder her – or does she???

The comedy is very good making the movie a hit with teens – similar to the style used in the Scream movies, starting all the way back in 1996 – and lightens the mood. An old Shakespearean trick that still works today. The sound track by Bear McCreary is also really good and makes the movie for me. McCreary stated that he wanted "a schizophrenic, dual personality, with light-hearted comedic scoring on one end, and genuinely terrifying soundscapes on the other" and it definitely works. Bear is also the creator of the soundtracks for the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and the Walking Dead.


In summary, it’s a fun horror movie, not too gruesome (e.g. Saw) written well with a good soundtrack. I give Happy Death Day an 8 out of 10 planets.





The First Purge.


I’ve always loved the premise of The Purge movies, a small glimpse into a World without law and order. What would the great U … S … of A be like without civilisation and rule of law? It’s a stark picture we are presented with and from an anthropological point of view an interesting one. There have been many conversations about the premise on line. 

So, the plot. In previous movies The Purge (2013), The Purge Anarchy (2014) & The Purge Election Year (2016) we follow a 12 hour period where all law is suspended and crime up to and including murder is allowed. A huge business has sprung up around Purge Day with, of course, the wealthy being able to afford to barricade their homes and by any means necessary keep their families safe. This has the knock on effect that the poorer neighbourhoods suffer the most, with the most crime, damage to property and horrible acts of violence being experienced by the people in these areas. It’s a different concept of the rich get richer and the poor get poorer except it’s a social experiment of the rich living and the poorer dying.

So, let’s get into the First Purge. We get to see the genesis of this great social experiment. America's third political party, the New Founding Fathers of America, comes to power and conducts an experiment: no laws for 12 hours on Staten Island. No one has to stay on the island, but $5,000 is given to anyone who does. So, straight away we see this is aimed at the poorest in society. Help us with our experiment (you might die, be raped, mutilated etc) and we will pay you. The participants are fitted out with cameras and GPS locators.

Different groups band together to help each other. The local drug dealers stay also, some to Purge the competition and others end up helping some of their friends and family in the community. NFFA members Arlo Sabian and Dr. May Updale are heading up the project. Half way through the experiment, the statistics and viewing isn’t going as planned so Sabian orders trained mercenaries (very well equipped) to start killing. Dr. May realises what’s happening and seals her own demise. (thus laying the foundation for the government’s heavy handed involvement in future movies). 


The nitty-gritty! My favourite part about this movie (strangely enough) is the story - how the Purge came into existence so most viewers don’t really care about that. It relies on lots of killing by people wearing masks. Nothing original there. It also employs the cheap tactic of characters jumping out of nowhere but it’s done well enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. The soundtrack is completely forgettable.  The stand out character is Skeletor – a drug crazed lunatic who is interviewed at the start of the experiment and plans on “Purging” his demons. He pays a pivotal role in the story. If you liked the other Purge movies you will like it but I give it a lack lustre 6 out of 10 planets.





Finally, my favourite of all three – an oldie but a goodie – Doomsday (2008) 



Anytime there is a British production of a horror / post-apocalypse / dystopian theme this is enough to get me interested. Think of Children of Men or ITV’s The Last Train (1999) or BBC’s Survivors (2008) and you know what I’m talking about.






Take note - this movie is rated R and it well deserves this label. It’s violent, bloody and gruesome with bad language, torture, cannibalism and sexual content, so it runs the whole gauntlet. Don’t watch it if you’re not into it. Be Warned !!!.


The plot - The film takes place in the future in Scotland, which has been quarantined because of a deadly virus. When the virus is found, 27 years later in London, political leaders send a team led by Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) to Scotland to find a possible cure. This is a great creation both written and directed by Neil Marshall,who has had a massive career directing other great movies like Dog Soldiers and The Descent and to top it all he is also an episodic director for Game of Thrones. Watching Doomsday you get a similar feeling you do watching 28 Days Later – an eeriness in recognising the locations and the feel of a British production but this is no Coronation Street.



The team, instead of finding a cure find a huge gang of cannibals with awesome fighting skills, and a viciousness to match the zombies in Train to Busan. Most of the team are killed with the couple remaining being tortured for information to help the cannibals break the quarantine. The movie then segways into Sol – the leader of the cannibals, played by Craig Conway who was also the main crawler in The Descent, is an extremely violent and hardcore character – changing tack from his information gathering torture to attending a party/BBQ where one of the captured team is the main course. 

This part of the movie is not for that feint-hearted but the music, special effects and visceral displays are fantastic. A much better example of what happens when the rule of law is suspended (Purge take note). The costumes are amazing, the make-up is brilliant and the staging is huge. This isn’t a pretty movie and is unapologetic in it’s mish-mash of genre’s but if you can get over that I think you will enjoy it. “It’s a wild, bloody ride at its core and it’s incredibly easy to enjoy the film” (source).  

The acting is solid (Rhona Mitra, Craig Conway & Andy McDowell take a bow) all the way through and the special effects and especially the car chase at the end is brilliant. As the movie is a little predictable and it’s a bit of a mish-mash, I still give Doomsday a solid 8 out of  10 planets.






Fini For Now.

John The Captain Ryan

Friday, 16 November 2018

Spyro the Dragon, Reignited Trilogy (Game Review)

One of the most anticipated games this years burns up the competition.



Following the awesomeness of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy the bar has been set really high so it didn't come as a surprise when Activision delayed the release of the tiny fire breathing dragon we all love.. 

Whatever about the delay the game is fantastic. It's one of the first games I had on my PS1 released all the way back in 1998 when I was 22. The main thing I loved about the game was the play-ability, compared to modern games, the controls were simple. Walk, charge, fly and blow things up. That's it. AND thankfully this hasn't changed.  

(Although I have fond memories of banging the combination of square, square, circle, x, triangle triangle etc in Soul Calibre.) 



The plot is simple ... go around to loads of different levels, collect jewels, find the dragons and release them. Fight baddies and eat fairies on the way. Throw in a bit of flying and that's it. It doesn't have to be anymore complicated than that. 


This come to my next favourite thing about the game. Nothing has changed in this either. The story hasn't changed and so far the levels are the same. I've a bit of OCD - whilst it's great fun to get to as many new Worlds as quickly as possible - I love going back, finding all the jewels and catching the little FUXXXer that has stolen the eggs and keeps laughing until you catch him. It's lovely when you reach the 100% complete. But that laugh ... aaaarrggghhhhhh.

(source by Blaria)

The Reignited Trilogy includes remakes of Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Revenge, and Spyro: Year of the Dragon, the only one annoying this is you have to download the last two games; unlike with Crash, all three games were on the disc but this isn't enough to lose sleep or rating points over. The graphics are amazing, whilst I recently played the first Spyro on my trusty PS2 a couple of weeks ago the graphics looked sooooo bad on the big screen. There are no problems with this newest version. I especially loved the way the burnt grass regenerates and it never gets old killing chickens and sheep. Lamb kebab anyone.

One of my favourite things is the puzzle solving element of trying to fly/glide to the hard to reach spots to find hidden gems and am constantly awed at the vibrant 3d graphics, particularly when you get to a high vantage point and are looking around to find those hard-to-reach treasures. Always look behind the pillar and to the left or right of a doorway you just charged through. Apparently the whole game had to be rebuilt from the ground up as Activision lost the original coding, which even though sounds a bit mad, the complete rebuild is just awesome. The nuances of the grass interacting as you run around (although a little bit annoying when it hides gems - this didn't happen in the original version), the sounds effects are cool and if you stand around too long Spyro gives out. I love the flying stages and can't wait  to reach 100% complete in them, these were always the challenging levels and now have fab graphics.



This game has so much going for it. It suits all ages and I love the idea of Dad's finally being able to best their kids in a game. As you are flying around you suddenly remember - "hang on there's a hidden corner there with some gems" and you can surprise the yung-uns with your superior knowledge. Of course, if you can't remember where those spots are there are of course multiple walk-throughs available already. Gone are the days of buying those magazines to find the solution you spent three long nights trying to figure out.

Simply put ...

Newbies to Spyro will love it, the simplicity is it's charm and adds to the addictability, some modern games are heavy and serious. This is a fun game for all the family.

Old codgers like me will love this remake and the nostalgia factor is massive, just hearing those old sound effects transports you back to playing the games 20 years ago.

It is of course a 10 out of 10 planets for me.


John The Captain Ryan








What if it's us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera (Book Review)

A fun story of Ben and Arthur, will they, won't they? A classic story of a doomed romance, or is it. Maybe, just maybe this is "th...