The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

“Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.”

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Hello there! I’m back today with a film review. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has been on my “want-to-see” list for a while because, well, for one thing it has Brad Pitt in it.

OK, that’s not the only reason. How shallow do you think I am? It also has a fairly interesting-sounding premise in a magic-realism, Time Traveler’s Wife kind of way. The premise is this: Benjamin Button is born an old man and grows younger.The film follows his various adventures, including the ubiquitous Epic Love Story.

Highlights include:

  • The Warner Bros. logo at the beginning is made up of buttons. Cute.
  • All the Americans shouting “We won the war!” at the end of the First World War. Well, actually, I think the Allies in Europe won the war. As I remember, America didn’t even join in until it was nearly over.
  • The factory called “Button’s Buttons”. Hee hee.
  • Oh, and the way Benjamin’s real father, who abandoned him when he was born, can recognise him seven years later without being told who he was. Yes, that sounds plausible.

On the whole, it’s a good story and, in parts, heart-wrenchingly sad. I did feel it dragged on a little though – I definitely knew I’d been watching it for three hours (with adverts), which is rarely the case with a truly great film. But, overall, it was good. Sad, yes, but uplifting in a melancholy way. If that makes sense. If you liked The Time Traveler’s Wife (book or film) you’ll probably like this.


Merlin: The Kindness of Strangers

“From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring,
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

It’s all kicking off in Albion-land.

By which I mean to say that we’re coming to the last few episodes ever (that’s kind of sad, even if the series has gone considerably downhill lately. Actually, to be fair, it was never that good anyway) and the “Great Battle” is impending, apparently. Merlin the servant is becoming Emrys the great wizard. Et cetera, et cetera.

In The Kindness of Strangers Morgana is up to her usual tricks. Who’s she trying to kill this time? Not Arthur but Merlin, or rather Emrys, whose true identity she doesn’t know although it really wasn’t that hard to work out given that she does know about Merlin’s magic. I know I always complain about how stupid Merlin and Arthur and the Camelotians generally are, but Morgana isn’t much better. So that’s all right then.

Anyway, Arthur realises something fishy’s going on by discovering, oh yes, the ubiquitous scrap of cloth in the woods, perfectly square of course. I can’t even be bothered to be sarcastic about this plot device, it comes up so often.

Other annoying things (they are many): the scary snake monster thing that Morgana threatens someone with. I’m sorry, are all magical creatures scary snake monster things? And if they are, how do you tell the difference? I distinctly remember a snake last season that could control people’s brains (OK, this is a fantasy drama, remember?) that looked exactly the same as the scary snake monster thing in this episode. Also, a witch trying to escape some Camelotians burns chevrons into a tree so Merlin can follow her. I mean, chevrons. How stupid would you have to be to miss that? Very stupid, that’s how stupid.

God help Albion, then.

World Book Night

“I cannot live without books.”

Thomas Jefferson

What am I going to write about today?

I’m a bit stuck, here. I haven’t watched anything worthwhile, I haven’t finished any books recently, I haven’t listened to any new music, and writing about the extremely obscure animated series Soul Music for the third time in a week would probably try even your patience, Constant Reader. Basically, my life is extremely boring at the moment.


Snow? Nope, can’t get a hundred words out of snow. My cats? Probably wouldn’t interest you. The decline of society? Well, where do I start?

I know! World Book Night! That’s interesting, right? And vaguely literary too, so we’re off to a good start.

So. World Book Night is a brilliant concept dreamed up by the publisher Jamie Byng a couple of years ago. Basically, every year on the 23rd April a million books are given away free by members of the public.

It’s that simple. Something like 20,000 people give away 20 copies of a book that they’ve chosen from a list of, er, 20 (see a pattern here?), preferably a book that they’ve read and loved or at least liked very much. Now, a couple of seconds with a calculator will tell you that 20 × 20,000 is not a million. The remaining 600,000 books are given away to “the hardest to reach potential readers in prisons, care homes, hospitals, sheltered, supported and social housing, the homeless and through partner charities working throughout the UK”, according to the website in a somewhat less than crystal clear sentence.

The first year, 2011, I got a World Book Night copy of Margaret Atwood’s Blind Assassin. Which, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t enjoy all that much, but you can’t have everything. Last time (earlier this year) one of my all-time favourite books, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, was on the list, but to my annoyance I wasn’t in England on the date. So this time, I’ve finally done it: I’ve Applied To Be A Giver for 2013. And I’m (hopefully) going to give away copies of The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. Which isn’t the best book ever, but it’s my favourite one from the list that I’ve actually read. Plus it’s the first of a massive series, so it’s a good one to Get People Reading, which is the whole point of World Book Night.

I’m not entirely sure what the point of this post is though. Er…World Book Night is a Good Thing? Yes. One million free books are not to be sneezed at.

Soul Music: Ep.2

“Cliff? I can’t see anyone lasting long in [the music] business with a name like Cliff.”

Soul Music

Yes, Constant Reader, the television has once again failed me so I am writing about the cartoon adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music which is also, incidentally, nigh-on impossible to find.

Well, I could have just copied and pasted a review from Goodreads. But that would have been boring so I didn’t.

Anyway. Soul Music. In the second episode: Imp y Celyn plays his first gig in Ankh-Morpork, and Susan, granddaughter of Death (it’s a long story) takes over his job.

This isn’t as good as some of the other episodes. The voices are generally good (just how I imagined Death!) and the raven’s burp sounds suspiciously like Barney’s from The Simpsons. However, some of the details of the animation just don’t ring true, like the fact that THERE ARE ONLY FIVE WIZARDS and THEY BEHAVE LIKE SCHOOLCHILDREN. The wizards of Unseen University are what lets the whole series down.

But the songs are nice, and Ankh-Morpork is perfectly imagined, and that’s enough for me. Despite its drawbacks, Soul Music continues as a series that will delight current fans and possibly even win new ones.

The Town

“When in doubt, go to the library.”

J.K. Rowling

I’m going to start by saying that that quote has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with this review. It just happened to catch my eye as I was skimming Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as a comfort read. Well, I am an English student after all. What do you expect?

Anyway. The subject of this post is The Town, a new three-part drama that began on  ITV tonight. The main reason I watched it was because it had Andrew Scott, otherwise known as That Evil Guy From Sherlock, in it, starring as Mark, a high-flying something from London who returns to his small home town after a world-shattering event that I won’t tell you about because it counts as a spoiler.

Well, Scott does prove that he is more than an evil genius. There’s not a hint of Moriarty (well, apart from the shiny sunglasses) in Mark, which is not to say that he’s a sugar-coated Nice Guy.

Oh, this is a hard review to write without spoilers.

There’s also Martin Clunes as a mayor with a drinking problem, although what this has to do with Mark’s story is beyond me. But then there’s also a compassionate undertaker’s assistant and a party girl, so he’s not alone. It is in fact almost Dickensian in the way it depicts several loosely connected characters, although the focus is always squarely on Mark, which can make the smaller story threads feel somewhat tangential and out of place. But hopefully these threads will be developed later in the series.

The Town is actually rather good. Scott is very engaging as a man whose world has been suddenly turned upside down, but then he has won a BAFTA so I suppose that’s not surprising. Will I be watching next week? Well, since it’s unlikely that I’ll get a better offer, almost certainly yes.

Soul Music: Ep. 1

“To change the fate of one individual is to change the world.”

Terry Pratchett

I had no idea what I was going to blog about tonight. I had watched absolutely nothing interesting on telly, I’m still slogging my way through On the Origins of Species (don’t ask) and iPlayer doesn’t work in Germany.

So what should I do? Write a review of Lyra’s Oxford, which I haven’t read for ages? Spend an hour and a half watching Stardust? Talk about The Dark Tower, which I keep going on about but have never reviewed?

No. No, I’m going to review the first episode in the animated adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s novel Soul Music, which was broadcast on Channel 4 several years ago and is probably therefore almost impossible to find any more. (No, it’s not on 4OD, I’ve just checked.)

So. Soul Music. It’s a good first episode, although having watched it at least twice I am very possibly biased. In some ways I definitely prefer it to the various film versions of Discworld  that have been produced: the plot details are rendered more faithfully, and many of the original lines are in there, delivered exactly as I imagined them.

Of course, a cartoon is always going to feel silly, and there are moments when the novel seems underepresented. The sniggering schoolgirl dwarf really annoys me. It seems somehow trite.

I’ve just realised I haven’t given you a plot synopsis…basically, Imp y Celyn of Llamedos, the Discworld analogue of Wales (read it backwards and you get Pratchett’s opinion of that country…according to Resident Grammarian, anyway) goes to the twin city of “proud Ankh and pestilent Morpork” to seek his fortune as a musician. Cue many, many musicky jokes. “Are you elvish (Elvis)? You look a bit elvish around the hair.”

On the whole, the cartoon adaptation, despite the obvious disadvantages, is a delightful rendering of the original. And, given the fact that Hiking Friend, for whom this was the first introduction to Discworld, is now hooked on Terry Pratchett, it’s also a good entry point for new fans. Just a pity they won’t be able to find it.

New Tricks: The Gentleman Vanishes

“Who watches the Watch?”

Terry Pratchett

Yes, it’s New Tricks again, I’m afraid. An old episode this time, featuring a rather portly Tim McInnerny as Stephen Fisher (you know, the smug British Intelligence guy who turned up again in the most recent episodes) and some not-so-subtle references to The Matrix.

So a physics professor from UCL disappears, and the UCOS team are On The Case. Two of the witnesses turn out to have been dead at the time of the disappearance; there are some cryptic references to Japanese mythology; and, by the way, does cold fusion work?

This is quite an interesting episode, just because of the way Fisher manipulates the team into finding the answers. Although when Strickland asks him what the point of it all was, Fisher returns the highly unsatisfactory answer

This is the intelligence community, Robert. You start worrying about the point of it all, you’ll end up tying yourself in all sorts of knots.

What? That just sounds like the scriptwriters couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer why British Intelligence was meddling with UCOS at all. There has to be a reason, for heavens’ sake.

Sorry. Where was I? Oh yes, British Intelligence. Well…actually, I can’t think of anything else to say. Some more average telly. And those last few seconds, with the CCTV screen? What was the point of that? A gratuitous reference to The Matrix, no doubt. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Matrix, but this just felt like the scriptwriters were showing off. “Look, we know about The Matrix. New Tricks can be cool too.”

No. No, it can’t.