Bits and Pieces: 5 Short Reviews

Having taken a short break from blogging these last few weeks I wanted to return with a round up of a few of the different things (mainly books/films) that have caught my eye since my last post 3 weeks ago today.

Transformers 4

Michael Bay’s summer blockbuster was big, brash, loud and as unsubtle as a giant metal dinosaur in China. Let’s face it, if you’re not going to go into this with realistic expectations you’re going to be disappointed. The Transformers films have never been known for their clever plots or witty dialogue. What you do get is fire, explosions, giant robots smashing each other and humans fortuitously surviving in ridiculously dangerous situations. I’ll be honest: the new-look cast of Autobots was a bit disappointing, and there are no Decepticons to speak of. A Transformers film without Megatron or even Starscream just feels a little bit meh. But we still have Optimus, we still have Bumblebee, and a sinister Galvatron goes some way to filling the Megatron-shaped hole in this film. And I’m not going to lie to look cool (seriously, this is me) – I had fun. I was there with my girlfriend and we both enjoyed it, which is the bottom line for going to see a film. Would I recommend it? Depends on what you like. But if you want some explosions, awesome CGI/sound and not a lot to think hard about, you may as well go and see it.

Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere – Mike Carey and Glenn Fabry

Before reading Carey’s adaptation of Neverwhere, the only Gaiman story I’d read was his own adaptation of Jack Kirby’s Eternals. I didn’t really know what to expect from a Gaiman original story, but I loved it. It was a different sort of fantasy to the more epic, unreal kind that I’d normally read, set in a world ‘beneath’ or ‘beyond’ London but I was immediately taken with Carey’s retelling of the story and Fabry’s artwork. The fantastical characters were brought to life on the page and it was a great example of how the medium of graphic novels can work. Though the concept was great, it was the characters that made this book come alive. One bumbling protagonist, Richard, is both sympathetic and lovable, and the other main protagonist, Door, was a likable mixture of steel and laughs. My personal favourite was the honourable rogue, the Marquiss de Carabas, who in reality was just one of Gaiman’s many colourful characters. I enjoyed this graphic novel adaptation enough that I just bought the original prose book, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it.

Encounters With Jesus – Timothy Keller

This is the first ‘Christian Life’ book I’ve read in a while, and the first new Timothy Keller book I’ve read for a couple of years, but it might just be one of the best I’ve read in either of those categories. Keller uses ten chapters to go through ten different issues in Christian life, with each one explored through the angle of someone’s encounter with Jesus (mostly from John’s gospel). My favourite chapter was that which centred on the death of Lazarus, with Martha and Mary coming out to meet Jesus. Keller opened up that story in a way that I’d never thought about before, linking it to the ways that God relates with people in different ways depending on what they need, and going into what this passage shows about God’s attitude to death. Another great chapter explored what Jesus’ ascension means, theologically and practically, for us today. If you’ve never read any of Keller’s stuff before then this is a great place to start; I’d also strongly recommend it to any of you who have questions of your own about Christianity, as the first five chapters focus particularly on big questions that non-Christians might have.

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Short Stories – Oscar Wilde

I fell in love with Wilde’s work after reading The Picture of Dorian Gray in the Spring Term of university, but this collection of short stories (itself a part of OUP’s Complete Collection of Wilde’s short stories) is the first I’ve read of anything else he’s written. The titular story was undoubtedly the best, but the other three are all enjoyable and entertaining in their own right. The Canterville Ghost was the earliest of the four, and Wilde’s comic tale of a ghost tormented by its house’s new American owners is a highly entertaining take on the ghost story genre. Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime seemed to me to be the closest in quality to Dorian Gray, and as the introduction points out, reverses the tradition of a hero running away from a prophecy by having a hero try to fulfil the unfortunate foretelling early so that he can have a guilt free marriage. The Model Millionaire is a heart-warming tale about generosity and unexpected kindness, whilst The Sphinx Without Secrets is a short, amusing comment on the habits of Londoners in high society. As a collection, the stories complement each other with their different focuses, and all of them show in some way Wilde’s wit and skill as an entertainer, writer and artist.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

I loved this film. Unlike Transformers 4, I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a film to go and see and love. The first film was excellent, and whilst the sequel never quite reaches those heights, it’s undoubtedly worth seeing. Like the first film it has charm, laughter and DRAGONS. The dragons are pretty cool, not gonna lie. And now they have riders from the start, the film has a different sort of feel to the first one – a bit less threat and a bit more fun. I managed to see it without seeing any trailers first and I was so glad that that was the case; I had no idea what the story would be and was able to enjoy the plot which was surprisingly twisty for a family film. I don’t want to say much more because I don’t want to give anything away, but whether you’re a kid, or you have kids, or even if you’re an adult and you don’t have kids, this is a film worth seeing.

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