Of Musings and Wonderings

smoke and mirrorsI have to admit, I do love a good collection. Whether it’s by the same author or stories from a variety, there’s something pleasurable in moving from one story to the next, in a vastly different way than diving into a good novel.

In Smoke and Mirrors, Gaiman presents to us a number of different stories and poems, with a couple of cross-overs, some nods to Lovecraft, and some very, very strange scenes and stories that leave the reader scratching their head. Gaiman’s fantastic style and voice come through in all the pieces, but they all remain different and strong in their own right.

Delights, wonders and horrors – seriously. Some really creepy horrors that make me wonder what must be going through Gaiman’s head. But all of the stories are enjoyable, and the majority are memorable; what happens when humans can no longer test on animals, what happens when a radical cancer treatment causes people’s sex to change, the melding of memories during sex, a disappearing grandmother and a mysterious fox. Among these there are also the stories of a small town plagued with cultists, a writer trying to work on a screenplay and a twist on the traditional troll under the bridge tale.

Each tale captures the reader in a different way, and Gaiman does a brilliant job of introducing characters and settings quickly, allowing the meat of the story to really flourish. There are no punches pulled here and nothing really held back. It is, essentially, Gaiman doing what he does best. The whole collection feels like fairy tales for adults, even with a couple of warnings sprinkled throughout. He draws you right in, exploring different worlds and ideas and making you really believe in the magic, even if it only is for a few moments.

Smoke and Mirrors is brilliant, a wonderful collection, each story tied together in some small way yet still standing strongly out from one another. Well worth a read for any fans of fantasy, magic and, of course, of Gaiman himself.

{August 17, 2014}   So, So Sorry…But I Am Alive!

so sorryThis is me apologising. Mainly for disappearing pretty suddenly and not posting anything for…what, five months? Seriously. I really am sorry. I don’t think I can say that enough. Not that I think there are loads of people out there who constantly watch this blog for updates, but for anyone who maybe was a reader or enjoyed the things I posted, I want them to know my face looks just like the Doctor’s, right up there.

I won’t go into too much explanation of why I’ve been gone. I’ve just been, well, enjoying life, really. And looking for a new job in amongst all that. And of course, I’ve watched a number of films and read a number of books in that time but I won’t be able to post about all of them. I’ll do what I can though. I can’t promise regular updates, but I am back and I will be posting more. And if anyone did e-mail me and I didn’t respond, it’s likely the e-mail got lost in the huge number of blog updates I get. Feel free to e-mail again (I will be checking regularly) or post below and let me know if you’ve e-mailed and I’ll go through a hunt of them.

So yeah, that’s it, really. Just me saying I am still alive and I am sorry for being gone so long. As always, I hope you enjoy any future posts I put up here.

{March 16, 2014}   Monsters University [Film]

imagesCA4GKQIWPixar really know their audience. When they released Toy Story 3, many of the people who were the right age for the first film’s target audience (around my age) were either about to go to University or were there already. A few years later, Pixar gave us Monsters Inc, and with Monsters University, have followed it up – again – with a story that many of the original audience can connect and relate to, as well as embracing new, younger audiences.

Monsters University expands on the universe we saw in the original. It starts with a little monster named Mike, as he goes on a class trip to Monsters Inc. There, they witness how the power of screams is harnessed, and Mike sneaks through a door and into the human world. After the trip, he has only one wish for his life. To become a scarer.

The only problem is that Mike is not scary. But he is determined, and goes off to Monsters University, becoming a Scare Major. He is the stereotypical nerd, using book smarts and knowledge to push himself in his course. There, he meets Sulley, a monster whose family are well-known as scarers. Sulley walks into the class late, acts like he owns the place, and gets by on looks and pure talent. Until a mishap between the two means they are spotted by the dean, who kicks them both off the course.

monstersMike sets about finding a group to enlist in Scare Games, joining a fraternity of very non-scary monsters, the only one he can find. But they are denied entry for being one team member short, and Sulley, seeing his chance, joins up with them. Of course, there are disagreements and arguments and eventually, they all come to accept one another and progress through the games, with a mixture of Sulley’s natural talent and Mike’s book smarts.

Okay, so the nerd and jock joining together to do well is not a new story. But this is Pixar we’re talking about, and they are good at taking cliché ideas and making them new. Just look at the Toy Story films. On the surface, there’s not a whole lot particularly unique about them. But the films themselves are brilliant, witty and have a great way of impacting on both children and other generations. Toy Story, Monsters Inc and Bug’s Life, to me, were all amazing, and make up a strong part of my childhood. I remember being super excited for Toy Story 2, and even at an age where I am technically an adult, I practically jumped for joy when I heard about Toy Story 3, and looked forward very eagerly to Monsters University.

Happily, I was not disappointed.

The humour, as it is a kid’s film, is a little simple in some places, though there are some brilliant moments that feel almost slipped in for the adults, and the jokes throughout remain strong whatever age you are. It’s fun to see the budding relationship between Mike and Sulley, and to see how they go from enemies to friends, and even a little bit of how they progress through Monsters Inc itself, bringing us to the starting point of the first film.

(SPOILERS COMING UP, if you haven’t seen the film)

maxresdefaultI have to admit, the ending left me a little conflicted. It’s a kid’s film, which usually means stories of following your dreams no matter the odds, overcoming obstacles, succeeding because you’re so damn unique. Monsters University takes a different route. Instead of Mike and Sulley overcoming all the odds, we see Sulley cheating so Mike can feel he’s a proper scarer, and Mike trying to prove himself by breaking the rules and putting everyone in danger. As such, they get kicked out of the University itself. Mike, as we know, doesn’t become a scarer, but he does put the skills he’s learnt to use, and helps Sulley do what he cannot. In a way, they don’t succeed, and yet…they still prove themselves. They have forged a lifelong friendship, have grown as characters, and there’s the feeling that, even if you can’t be the best at what you want to do, you can be the best in another way.

And really, isn’t that a better lesson to teach kids? More realistic, more down to earth. That you may not always reach your dreams, but that other dreams do come and just because something doesn’t work out doesn’t mean you have to give up.


Monsters University is a fitting sequel to the original film, one that will appeal to everyone, whether they grew up with Monsters Inc or have never even seen the film. More importantly, I’d strongly recommend this to anyone who did watch the first film when it came out. To me, it’s a great reminder of what Pixar meant to me as a kid, and who doesn’t want to connect to their childhood self, at least once in a while?

{March 15, 2014}   Now You See Me [Film]

now you see meFour street magicians are brought together to perform, entertain and, more importantly, cause a stir. Together, they make up ‘The Four Horsemen’, and for their first show they transport a Frenchman to his bank in Paris, where he steals money from the vault and showers it over the crowd. The Horsemen follow instructions presented to them by a mysterious figure, and upon realising the money is actually missing, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes is partnered with Interpol agent Alma Dray to track down the Horsemen and figure out what actually happened.

They enlist the help of a former magician who specialises in exposing magician’s tricks, and a strange game of cat and mouse ensues, with the Horsemen always staying one step ahead of the authorities.

Now You See Me is a fun, entertaining film, with enough magic and trickery to sustain it through the length of the film itself. It’s got a brilliant cast, with both Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine playing interesting, if slightly dickish, characters. The special effects work nicely to add to the sense of magic to the whole thing, with the Horsemen planted at the centre and showing off what they can do, even if this sometimes stretches the suspension of disbelief.

Most of the film focuses on Rhodes as he chases the magicians and tries to work out their next step, following their misdirection and realising more and more of the world they are all now operating him. There’s a budding romance between him and Dray, overshadowed at points by Rhodes passionate dedication to catching the people who constantly outrun him and the FBI. The film’s focus is on the authorities, but personally, I wanted to see more of the Horsemen, more magic and seen a bit more exploration of their characters, especially in terms of how they act together and how they work as a team.

NOW YOU SEE MESome of the strongest parts of the film come from the disasters people have experienced over the last few years. During their first show, the Horsemen speak of how the people were screwed over by the banks, how the recession has left people without jobs, homes, money, while the banks seem to get away with it. It forms the basis of their main act in the show, endearing the audience to them by convincing them that one man has been able to screw over his bank, with the money going back to the audience watching. In New Orleans, the audience are made up of victims of Katrina, all with the same insurance company, all of whom were, again, screwed over by them. And the Horsemen manage, in a small way, to help make it up to these people.

The revelation towards the end of the film feels a little forced, yet obvious at the same time, but it doesn’t detract from the sheer enjoyment of the movie. The magic is spectacular, absolutely wonderful to watch although very much unrealistic (but that’s what suspension of disbelief is for, right?). And the cast themselves, from Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine right down to James Franco’s brother (Dave Franco), are brilliant, adding real strength to the film. Like I said above, I would have absolutely loved to have seen more of the Horsemen themselves – who wouldn’t want more of Woody Harrelson? – but it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise really good film.

harlequinAnita Blake and her men are threatened by a very strong, powerful force, a group that are so scary their name cannot be spoken. They act as police in the vampire world, sent by the council to punish vampires who don’t follow the rules. When they are contacted by The Harlequin, Anita and her group are put under threat. They can manipulate the emotions of humans, vampires and were-animals alike, almost causing Jean-Claude and Richard to kill each other. Anita must save them using the power of, what else, sex.

Of course it’s sex. It’s always sex. At this point in the series, it always comes down to sex. To Anita’s power, to the ardeur, inherited from Jean-Claude. Admittedly, it feels like, by The Harlequin, there’s a sort of decent balance between sex and plot, and rather than it just being jammed in there, it’s actually used to advance things and makes sense with what’s going on. Although, to be honest, I miss the earlier books, where Anita was given some sort of case which she had to help solve, while also dealing with her personal life. Now, it’s more about the vampire/shape-shifter side than the police side, and I sort of miss those guys.

When I first started reading the series, I loved Anita as a character. She was strong and fiercely independent. She had her own opinions, but they always seemed suited to her and her situation, felt like it made her a better character. I’m not saying that her romantic situation has made her less independent, by the way, but as the series has gone on, it feels more and more like a lot of what was so likeable about her is going by the wayside.

Plus, she’s so damn hypocritical. Her best friend Ronnie has a few problems during the course of the last few books, mainly to do with her relationship, the rate it’s moving at, her fear of commitment. And Anita basically tears her up. Rather than being there for her, when she expects Ronnie to be completely there for Anita, Anita just seems to dismiss everything and get angry because Ronnie’s problems aren’t as big as her own. She jumps on Ronnie for not wanting commitment from one man, when Anita, to be fair, has a number of them living at her house and is sleeping with a lot more.

Which brings me to another point about Anita’s hypocrisy. In The Harlequin, in order to get enough power to save herself, Jean-Claude and Richard, Anita must feed off the shapeshifters. If she feeds off the head of each shapeshifter group, she can feed off them all. They come to her, and she sleeps with them. Now, there have been issues with the werelions. Another werelion was brought by a vampire master, and Anita found herself attracted to him, putting it down to having yet another beast inside her, seeking a mate. Haven is sent away, because the local werelion pack is weak and if he were to take them over, it’s likely he’d kill many of them.

Anita does not allow the men in her life to have other partners. Not the ones she is closest to, anyway. Despite the fact that she – obviously – has multiple partners. Right. Okay. But the head of the werelion pack, Joseph, refuses to come to her, as he is faithful to his wife. And yes, there are other issues surrounding this and the general weakness of the pack. But instead of trying to get them to fix that or just telling Joseph to get out, it’s hinted that Haven, after permission from Anita, kills the leader, his brother and his wife.

Yes, something needed to be done about the lions. But killing them? Seriously? Little bit harsh! And just because he wouldn’t sleep with Anita and betray his wife? Ugh!

So, The Harlequin isn’t the best book of the series, but it’s not the worst. Yes, Anita’s beginning to grate on me a little, but it feels like the balance between plot and other things is, at least, getting a bit better. The characters are pretty much the same as always, and the last scene between Anita and the Harlequin does feel like it was squeezed in there just to have some sort of conclusion to it. Honestly? With this one, I’m left feeling pretty much the same as I always do after I finish one of these books. I want to know what happens next, I want to see how it all turns out, yet there are parts that just really annoy me and make me wonder if I really should carry on with it. Well, we’ll see. Worth reading if you’ve stuck it out with the series so far. Actually, yeah, if anyone else is reading this, what are your thoughts on them? Think the earlier ones are better or think they’re improving as the series goes on?

et cetera