Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Kalix is back!


Curse of the Wolf Girl by Martin Millar (2010)

Curse of the Wolf Girl is Scottish author Martin Millar’s brand new sequel to his brilliant 2007 novel Lonely Werewolf Girl. As posted on my blog back in January, Lonely Werewolf Girl was my favourite book I read in 2009. It did everything exactly right. The characters, story, tone and mood, and most of all the humour were all utterly perfect. I’ve never laughed out loud so much while reading a book as I did with Lonely Werewolf Girl.


Curse of the Wolf Girl follows on several weeks after the momentous events of the previous novel. The epic struggle that reached from the highlands of Scotland to the streets of London to determine the next Thane of the MacRinalch werewolf clan is now over having culminated at the end of LWG in a bloody battle at the Yum Yum Sugary Snacks gig, the punk band fronted by rebellious werewolf twins Beauty and Delicious. Relative peace and harmony has been restored to werewolf life. But it doesn’t last for long. There’s a resurgence of the Avanaris Guild – human werewolf hunters dedicated to hunting and killing as many werewolves as they can. And the remaining allies of slain Thane contender Sarapen MacRinalch are back in town and looking for bloody revenge - mostly against Sarapen's teenage sister, the antisocial, psychologically messed up Kalix who killed her brother in the heat of battle.

However these major plot threads are only two of many that are all drawn gradually and inexorably together by book’s end.

We also have Kalix’s mother, Verasa, Mistress of the Werewolves, and her attempt to arrange a big charity opera event at one of the MacRinalch’s Scottish estates. Verasa ropes in her oldest daughter, the reluctant sorceress werewolf and fashion designer Thrix MacRinalch, to help get a famous Italian opera star to sing at the event. At the same time, Thrix is struggling with a rapidly failing business and is also being distracted by a new suitor who seems far too good to be true. Luckily for Thrix, her friend and client, Malveria, Fire Queen of the Hiyasta, volunteers to help her out on the opera front. But Malveria has major problems of her own brewing in the form of a complex conspiracy to overthrow her reign back home. Meanwhile, Kalix and her friend Vex - the innocent and always cheerful teenage niece of Malveria - are struggling in their attempts to attend human college and to contribute money to the flat they share with human students Daniel and Moonglow. And then there’s the beautiful but ice-cold white-haired werewolf Dominil MacRinalch. Dominil is still fighting to successfully manage her cousins Beauty and Delicious’s band Yum Yum Sugary Snacks, with her fight being mostly against the twins never ending partying and lack of focus, but also against the unwanted attentions of Yum Yum Sugary Snacks’ amorous guitarist who's developed a major crush on her. Plus Dominil seems to have gained herself a psychotic stalker too – a face from her past who was once rejected by her and who is now bent on revenge. As if all of that wasn't enough there's also a murder that puts Kalix on the warpath to find the killer, a curse that keeps Daniel and Moonglow from getting together romantically, the constant threat of bailiffs at the flat they share with Kalix and Vex, the romantic troubles of the new Thane Markus MacRinalch, and Thrix's search for an illusive fashion blogger who can help save her business. Add in the romantic pursuit of Kalix by another young werewolf and you get one hugely plot heavy story. Whew!

It is to Millar’s major credit then that all of these many varied threads are so expertly woven together by books end.

But, to be honest, I could have done without some of them in order to be able to focus a little bit more on a little bit less.

Millar writes in very short chapters. Most are just a couple of pages in length with some being as short as only a couple of paragraphs with the action flying between multiple characters, story lines and locales. It flits about so much that it can get quite dizzying and a tiny bit frustrating in places. There are a lot of characters in this book doing a lot of things, perhaps too many things for just one book. As a result I felt that some of the characters suffered somewhat. Don’t get me wrong, I love them all – especially Kalix, Vex and Malveria. But here they just didn’t have quite the same level of offbeat flourish that they had in Lonely Werewolf Girl. For instance, one of the things I loved most about Kalix was that she was obsessed by 70's all-girl rock band The Runaways and longed for Joan Jett to be her real mother. This is entirely missing from Curse of the Wolf Girl. There is no mention of The Runaways at all, though Kalix’s laudanum addiction remains as does her depression, anxiety and self-harming. It's a shame as her Runaways obsession gave a really sweet side to her often dark, violent and antisocial nature. Vex, however, is mostly as she was before - a cute, goofy, innocent teenage fire elemental who just wants to cheer people up, buy weird clothes and boots, listen to music and watch cartoons. Vex is such a loveable character. You can’t help but smile and laugh when reading her. She is just so enthusiastic and na├»ve and clumsy. And she is also fiercely loyal to Kalix despite the pair being like chalk and cheese with the moody and sullen young werewolf not always being deserving of that loyalty. It is this odd and unlikely friendship that is the heart of the book. Despite Kalix often finding Vex annoying, she eventually discovers that the young fire elemental really does have her best interests at heart. And by books end it is Vex who has truly proven herself to be a hero, to be selfless and brave, if not always wittingly so. She proves herself to be more than what others ever thought she could be - Kalix and Malveria especially. Yes, by the end of the tale even 'Aunt Malvie' finally sees that her 'dismal niece' is deserving of some new-found respect.

I mentioned earlier about there being less of a flourish to this book than there was to Lonely Werewolf Girl. This extends to the humour too. Lonely Werewolf Girl was a book where I laughed out loud almost every page. There were character beats and obscure, off kilter moments and hilarious lines of dialogue that just killed me. There was less of that here. That’s not to say CotWG isn’t still very funny and home to lots of great and funny lines and moments, because it is. Just not as many as with LWG. For me, much of the laugh-out-loud humour in LWG came from Malveria and her emotional outbursts, her verbal sparring with Vex and just some of the bizarre things she’d come out with. She didn’t quite reach the same highs here. But she remains a brilliant character and we do get to see her in proper full-on sword wielding, dragon slaying warrior queen mode.

In the end, Curse of the Wolf Girl is an excellent and most entertaining follow up to Lonely Werewolf Girl even if it doesn't quite reach the giddy heights of utter brilliance that its predecessor managed. But even if it isn't quite as awesome as LWG, Curse of the Wolf Girl is still pretty damn great and Martin Millar has certainly not lost the knack for writing wonderfully weird outsider characters, complex plots, laugh out loud lines and strong, compelling action. The universe he has created in these two books is odd, epic, and always fascinating, especially when underpinned by his gritty witty punk attitude and the Buffyesque mixing of the humour and humdrum of everyday life with crazy, bloody supernatural thrills and spills. By books end there's a few new surprises and a few avenues left to be further explored. I pray that Millar is both willing and able to continue telling the tales of Kalix and co. as there is still so much life left in these characters who are some of the best and most fun I've ever had the pleasure to meet on the page. 4.5/5

Link to my review of Lonely Werewolf Girl.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

No s**t Sherlock

Sherlock BBC Pictures, Images and Photos

For any fans of Sherlock Holmes or just of great TV then you need to check out the BBC’s latest offering. They’ve made a three part series called simply SHERLOCK, bringing the character of Sherlock Holmes out of the nineteenth century and in to 2010. Each episode is feature length and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson. The series was co-created and co-written by current Doctor Who show runner and all round genius Steven Moffat along with Mark Gattis who also features as Mycroft Holmes.

Now I’m not the greatest fan of Sherlock Holmes, more someone with a casual appreciation for the character and his history. I’ve never read any of the books but used to really enjoy the Jeremy Brett series from the 80’s and quite enjoyed the recent Downey Jr movie. But I have to say this new telling is truly brilliant. The cast is perfect with Cumberbatch being especially wonderful as an energetically charismatic yet arrogant and socially challenged Holmes. Paul (Lucky Number Slevin, Push) McGuigan directs the first and last episode in a vibrant and stylish manner making great use of central London and its many famous locations.

I’m sure some purists will take offence at Holmes being uprooted from his Victorian origins and moved in to the high tech media and celebrity obsessed world of 21st Century Britain. But the iconic details remain – they still live at 221b Baker Street, Mrs Hudson is still the landlady and, somewhere out there, Moriarty is lurking. So hopefully the naysayers will be a tiny minority because this works brilliantly. Pure and simple.

I’ll leave it up to Steven Moffat to explain:

"Conan Doyle's stories were never about frock coats and gas light; they're about brilliant detection, dreadful villains and blood-curdling crimes – and frankly, to hell with the crinoline. Other detectives have cases, Sherlock Holmes has adventures, and that's what matters."

SHERLOCK has been a big hit for the BBC and so thankfully more episodes will come next year. And thank God for that as it ended on one heck of a cliffhanger.

Steven Moffat should just run all TV in the UK.


Short scene of deduction

Monday, 9 August 2010

With Tom your entertainment value is up here, without him it's down here…

Knight & Day movie Pictures, Images and Photos


In KNIGHT AND DAY Tom Cruise is Roy, who may or may not be a demented superspy gone rogue, and who drags innocent bystander June, played by Cameron Diaz, around the world with him in a car chasing, gun fighting, plane crashing adventure. Apparently it all has something to do with weapons dealers and a new energy source and the scientist kid who invented it.

I wasn’t gonna bother with a review for this film because it really doesn’t merit one. This ain’t INCEPTION or TOY STORY 3. Both of those have far more weight and meaning in their first few seconds than KNIGHT AND DAY can muster in its entire 107 minutes. That by itself is not a criticism. I have nothing against vacuous movies that only set out to entertain on a purely surface level. Nothing wrong with that at all. Some of my favourite films do that. The problem is that this latest effort from Mr Mad Sofa Jumper…I mean Tom Cruise, though a reasonably enjoyable action comedy romance thingy, quickly starts fading from your mind as soon as the credits begin to roll. It is pure formula fluff. It is lightweight almost to the point of being thin air. It is silly yet tries to inject a bit of seriousness here and there. It really shouldn't have.

With KNIGHT AND DAY you can tell they were trying to go for the whole screwball comedy/romance thing – a kind of throwback to the old 30’s/40’s films that might then have starred Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn – only dressed up now as a big budget summer actioner. However it doesn’t really work. The characters are too thin and the jokes just aren’t that funny, smirksome is about all that can be managed. Good ol’ Tom, (I don’t care what anyone says, I love the guy) he does his best and he is a lot of fun to watch. But the material doesn’t really serve him. A smarter, wittier script should have been the basis here. As his partner in screen time, Cameron Diaz does what she is supposed to do – look cute and flustered, be a bit ditsy before getting it together by films end. But she isn’t especially good or funny, just adequate. The rest of the cast doesn’t make much of an impact either. As soon as you see Peter Sarsgaard’s name you know he is gonna be the bad guy. And he plays it just as you’d expect - slimy and obvious. Arguably the best of the supporting bunch is one-time-Buffy-boyfriend Riley Finn aka Marc Blucas who gives a nicely innocent, goofy turn as Rodney, June’s Fireman ex-boyfriend.

But, look, James Cameron already made this movie sixteen years ago. A big budget star driven screwball comedy/action/romance adventure. It was called TRUE LIES. And it was and still is frikking amazing!

KNIGHT AND DAY is nowhere near to amazing, even though it's directed by James Mangold, a man who has made a load of films I love including GIRL, INTERRUPTED, IDENTITY, WALK THE LINE and 3:10 TO YUMA. To be fair he does a decent enough job here. The film certainly has energy and pace and he directs the plentiful action with that same energy and pace as well as a strong sense of timing and rhythm, though none of it ever reaches the wicked highs Mr Cameron managed sixteen years ago. But comparing anyone to James Cameron in the action stakes is kinda unfair. No, the main problem with the action stuff in KNIGHT AND DAY is that Mangold is let down badly by some truly awful digital effects. Effects that if Cameron saw them he’d immediately beat the shit out of the FX supervisor before firing the entire company. I saw background projection straight out of an 80’s Bond film along with some hugely unconvincing CGI vehicles and CGI assisted stunts. Plus it doesn’t help that the script is paper-thin (not a pun) and the characters likewise, so we aren’t really invested in them when they are running and jumping and shooting. But, to his credit, Mangold keeps it kinetic and keeps it fun so he hasn’t shamed himself and I’m still a fan.

Crap! This review is about double the length I was originally intending and way longer than this film deserves. So I’m gonna end it right after this next bit.

KNIGHT AND DAY is pure fluff but rises just a couple of notches above average thanks mainly to the efforts of Mr Cruise and Mr Mangold. However it won’t prove to be a stand out effort on either of their future CVs. File and forget. 2.5 (out of 5)

End of line.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Best of Spike

I found a couple of truly great tribute vids on YouTube to my favourite ever TV character. One of the best gags to be seen on a TV show is featured in part 2. "Out. For. A. Walk. (pause) Bitch." Heh!

Part 1 - I wanna be sedated

Part 2 - Dancing with myself

So how come James Marsters isn't a bigger star?