Monday, March 31, 2014
Just Finished Reading: Urban Shaman by C E Murphy (FP: 2005)
One her way back from her mother’s funeral in Ireland (long story) Joanne Walker is looking out of the window as her plane descends into Seattle when she sees a woman being hunted by someone with a pack of dogs. When the authorities refuse to believe her claim she jumps into a taxi and heads out to the dead-end part of town and finds the woman – thankfully still alive. Recovering from the ordeal in a local coffee shop she has quite a tale to tell, of ancient gods, the wild hunt and the end of the world. Before Joanne and the taxi driver can even start to think about laughing all hell literally breaks loose and, to cut a long story short, Joanne is fatally wounded with a very large sword wielded by a very annoyed deity – and that’s when things start to get strange. It seems that the Celtic god Cernunnos is looking for someone and if he doesn’t find her or a decent substitute in 3 days his bonds to the other world will be severed forever which is something really, really bad as the rest of the world is concerned. But it would seem that Joanne is the right person in the right place to stop it happening. It’s no accident that she is coping with the upheavals in her life as if she was made for this kind of thing – because she was. Now all she needs to do is figure out exactly how to use the sudden power coursing through her body without killing herself, those around here or the whole city by accident.
I was kinda burnt out with Urban Fantasy but thought I’d try not to get back into it in a big way but to ease myself back into things. This was a borderline reasonable way to do so. Despite its very silly premise and even sillier plot it did manage to entertain enough without too many eye-rolling moments or sighs of exasperation. OK, there were a few but at the low end of acceptability for this sort of thing. OK, it was also largely by the numbers with the usual wise-cracking, highly attractive but strangely single, female thrown into the middle of things and finding that she’s the chosen one with weird ‘super-powers’ she’s only just found out about but that’s to be expected these days given the origin of much of this stuff (I’m looking at you Buffy Summers). There’s also the solid side-kick sounding board/straight man in the guise of a very open minded and bizarrely well-read taxi driver that nothing, and I do mean nothing, seems to faze in the least. One of the things I did find rather odd, and highly unbelievable to be honest (yes, I know the book was about Celtic gods trying to destroy the world but bear with me here) was the fact that, rather than hide her abilities and fight the bad guys in secret (as is normally the case) a lot of the action took place in plain sight and involved ‘normal’ people. Whether that is followed up in future novels I don’t know but it would be a rather difficult path to follow – if ultimately a very interesting one.
All in all this was, at base level, fluff. Rather entertaining fluff with some sparkling dialogue but still not exactly high literature. Far from the worst Urban Fantasy I’ve ever read it did keep me interested enough for a little over 400 pages which must say something. Reasonable.
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Saturday, March 29, 2014
Too smart for a relationship?
In a recent BBC News Web Magazine article, Suruchi Sharma wrote about the pressure on women in India to marry by their mid-20s. Her story provoked numerous responses from around the globe from both men and women about the social stigma they face for remaining unmarried.
This one in particular spoke volumes to me:
Kadie Yale, Jersey City, US: I was caught off guard by this article because it's not an issue only in India. As a 28-year-old woman in America, I get insensitive and horrific comments constantly. Many times, people assume it's just from older family members who are "old-fashioned," but that can't be further from the truth. From jokes of when I'm going to "become a lesbian" to friends insisting on setting me up on blind dates and comments such as "If you start wearing more make-up and sexier clothes, someone will like you". It's hard not to blame the media. Shows like The Bachelor praise the ring rather than the relationship. The paragraph where she wrote that people tell her parents that if she weren't as educated, she'd be married happens here, too. I have a Master's degree from a prestigious school, yet people here advise that I shouldn't tell guys in case I "intimidate" them. In general, I feel incredibly invalidated by my career and educational ambitions because this is still a society where a woman's worth are more based on whose elbow she clings to. I've had a friend tell me that she doesn't get it: I'm pretty, smart and funny... have I tried just acting dumber? Maybe I would find someone if I just didn't act like me. Like I've said before: It's all about chasing the ring for some, instead of a healthy relationship.
[It’s not just women who get this kind of crap. I’ve lost count of the number of people who either assumed I was gay – despite the fact that they’ve never seen me on the arm of another man – or that I was a closet gay who was obviously too afraid to come out or even that I should ‘widen my options’ by cruising gay bars. I’ve also stopped listening to those – including so-called well-meaning friends – that have basically advised me to stop being ‘me’ or at least stop being so obviously individualistic as it’s clearly putting people off. If only I could at least pretend to be normal I might just attract someone long enough for them to fall in love with me… and if I pretended to be someone else my entire life maybe I’d keep them! Of course they have no idea why I find this idea to be deeply offensive – that I should stop appearing to be who I am in order to deceive someone and fool them into having a relationship with a person who doesn’t actually exist! But I guess that level of hypocrisy is considered ‘normal’ these days. If that’s the case then I’d rather live my life as a single and die alone. I think I have just enough self-respect not to live a lie for what remains of my life. If people around me can’t handle it, well, they’re going to just have to. End of.]
Friday, March 28, 2014
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Just Finished Reading: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (FP: 1531/32)
After hearing so much about this book I tried to read it back in my early 20’s. Failed miserably of course as it was yet another case of trying to run before I could barely walk. So, 30 years later I thought it was about time to give it another shot.
Rather inevitably I did much better this time. Despite being easy to read (in that it is a well written and well-argued piece) it is not really a young person’s book. It is, after all, the considered thoughts and ideas of someone who had spent his adult life in the literal cut and thrust of Italian politics in one of the most turbulent periods of their history. This is the distillation of mature knowledge about a mature subject presented in a very mature fashion. Not for Machiavelli the blandishments of praise for the empty headed fops of his time. No, here is the honest assessment of what someone with ability and determination needs to do to gain and, more importantly and with more difficulty, hold power. It is not about virtue and high ideals. It is about getting your hands dirty and doing what needs to be done no matter the supposed morality of the act. This is a practical manual for practical people (actually men) who need to know that pragmatism and necessity are far more important than being well thought of – though that helps.
Of course for a book written so long ago and in a foreign country – which is kind of a double whammy – you have to often read between the lines to bring things up to date. Much of the treatise is dated and a passing knowledge of the time comes in handy to understand some of his contemporary examples of what a ‘prince’ should or shouldn’t do in a particular circumstance. Likewise his advice on fortifications or the use of mercenary troops (though coming back into fashion it would seem) can largely be skimmed over. However, as a keen observer of human nature sections of this work have proved to be timeless. It is certainly no wonder why this little volume has been in continuous print for almost 500 years. It’s basically because he talks a lot of sense in plain almost brutal language. Unlike many other books in that period Machiavelli tells it like it is – not how things should be if mankind was more along the path to angelhood. This the kind of book that can be read and re-read over the years with important lessons emerging each time. But don’t worry too much. I doubt if it will turn many people into manipulative political operators – though it might improve the effectiveness of those already inhabiting that role!
This is definitely a book of significance – maybe my first this year – and is part of my ongoing reading of political classics, political philosophy, political history and political biography. More to come of all these…
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Monday, March 24, 2014
My Favourite Movies: Ghost in the Shell
The Year is 2029. An elite police team from Section 9 is tasked with hunting down a dangerous hacker known only as The Puppet Master for his (or her) ability to hack into human implants and control them for his/her own ends. No one knows anything about his/her real identity except that s/hes probably American. In order to fight this kind of crime the police themselves need to be state-of-the-art with cybernetic implants and, as they become injured in the line of duty, more and more high-tech body replacements. The question they ask themselves: Are they even human anymore?
As the investigation gets closer to discovering the Puppet Master’s identity political interference from the Foreign Office’s paramilitary team in Section 6 increases. What exactly is Section 6’s interest in the affair and why are they spending resources trying to keep Section 9 away from potential witnesses. Are Section 6 and the Puppet Master somehow connected and if so why? When Section 9 find themselves in a firefight with top-of-the-range military technology they know for sure that the stakes are very high indeed. But Major Motoko Kusanagi has no idea how high the stakes will be for her personally.
Even since seeing Akira I have had a deep affection for all things Manga and Anime. Although the technology has moved on in leaps and bounds since this movie first appeared in 1995 which means that the animation can seem rather crude at times what actually sells this is the storyline which is quite superb. OK, there’s the usual Japanese need to explain things during pauses between fight scenes which can seem somewhat stilted when translated into English but that is more than forgivable when everything else is taken into account. The whole thing is basically about what it means to be human or sentient. How much of the body can be replaced with synthetics before you (or others) see you as a machine? 50%, 75%, 90%? If your brain is the only organic part of your body are you still human? Do cyborgs have souls? Conversely, if a fully functioning AI (for want of a better phrase) is downloaded into a synthetic body and demands political asylum would it even be considered? If it passed the Turing Test – or a futuristic equivalent – could it be considered sentient and therefore have rights?
Not many Western movies struggle with these kinds of philosophical issues (becoming more urgent with every passing year) but Japanese cinema in particular – or at least sections of – seem obsessed by the idea. This is hardly surprising from a society so drenched in high technology but still the whole thing is deeply fascinating. Of course this is no dry exposition in lecture form. These ideas are brought up, questioned and discussed in passing during dramatic shoot-outs with ‘puppets’, hacked robots and goons from Section 6. There’s plenty of blood, a bit of nudity – though does cyborg nudity count in this case? – and lots of double dealing and double crossing to keep everyone guessing just exactly what is going on and who can be trusted and all this in just 83 minutes! If you haven’t seen this before but enjoyed Akira, or if you want to see what all the fuss was about back in the mid-90’s then this is definitely something you should check out. If you’re in to SF or a bit of deep thinking you’ll definitely enjoy it.
Sunday, March 23, 2014
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Thinking About: Clothes & Fashion
No one would ever describe me as a follower of fashion, fashionable or a ‘clothes horse’. Actually I alternate between loathing fashion and finding it frankly hilarious. About the only time I remember falling for the hype was back in the day when my Mother still bought my clothes for me. I saw a pair of platform shoes on sale and begged her to buy them for me – despite already being one of the tallest in my year at school – and surprisingly she gave in. I honestly loved those shoes and wore them to death. Ironically they almost put me in hospital when I accidentally caught a heel in the turn up of my flared trousers at the top of a flight of stairs only catching myself just in time before I ended up a heap of broken bones at the bottom. Needless to say I got no sympathy from anyone around me. Also needless to say I still loved and still wore those shoes until they practically fell off my feet.
When I got my first job back in the 1980’s I treated myself to two items that my Mother would never buy me in my teens – a denim jacket and a leather ‘bikers’ jacket. The denim I similarly wore to death – though it never tried to kill me in the same way the shoes had. Once it had gone well past its use by date I persuaded my Mother to resurrect it with a few patches recovered from various pairs of dead jeans and a heavy duty sowing machine. The leather jacket still hangs in my wardrobe and I probably wear it a few days a year. It looks pretty much as it did almost 30 years ago though I guess the coolness factor decreases in direct proportion to my advancing age.
These days, long after abandoning wearing suits to work, the most important thing for me in comfort – especially in shoes. I do a lot of walking anyway – never having learnt to drive – and my present job often gets me away from my desk meeting people and fixing their problems. Whenever anyone new starts (I am presently the senior member of the team) the first advice I give them is wear sensible shoes because if they don’t they’ll certainly regret it. I gave up wearing jeans some time ago but don’t exactly know why. It was probably during a particularly wet winter or a particularly hot summer when jeans are not exactly the best thing to walk around in. So I started wearing less heavy and hard to dry fabrics – comfort again. I do tend to buy the same thing over and over again. Once I find something that works for me I stick with it. That goes for cut, style, colour, manufacturer or shop. I am very much a creature of habit when it comes to clothes – indeed it causes much amusement at work when I arrive in new shoes or new trousers that are essentially the same as their predecessors.
Colour is important to me. There are colours I prefer and those I would never wear – yellow for instance. By far my favourite colour is blue and I used to spend months looking for trainers in a particular shade. It used to send me quite mad when my favourite manufacturer changed their colour palette. That’s one reason why I’ve been known to buy multiple sets of shoes (or trousers to name two things) when I see something I like. Sales are another thing that will prompt me to buy in bulk. Not that long ago a ‘sports’ shop was closing down in my local Mall and had walking shoes (as opposed to standard dress shoes) at 75% off. So I bought three pairs. The only reason I didn’t buy any more was that they only had three in my size. If they’d had ten I probably would have bought ten.
Funnily though I generally have two pairs of shoes at a maximum and this only tends to happen as I’m transitioning from a dying pair to a new one. I tend to wear everything I own to destruction so even though I recently picked up a shoe replacement there’s still quite a bit of wear in my old pair especially with summer and dry weather just around the corner.
I will be the first to admit that, especially at weekends or holidays, I’m generally rather scruffy as things go. As long as I’m decent, warm enough (or cool enough) and comfortable I don’t really care what I look like. It’s just, as far as I’m concerned, of little importance. If people want to judge me on that then it’s their mistake and their loss. I’m certainly not going to be fashionable to please others and to fit in with the rest of the herd. That’s so not me.
Friday, March 21, 2014
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Just Finished Reading: If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor (FP: 2002)
In an ordinary street, in an ordinary town in the North of England ordinary things are happening. Children play their games in groups and alone, students have a last BBQ before they go their separate ways, an old couple still very much in love get dressed in their finest for a day out together, couples fight and make love, or fight then make love, others watch the world go by in all its mundane ordinary way. One student packs up his dissertation topic still obsessed with his thesis whilst at the same time obsessing about the girl across the street who kissed him drunkenly at a party and then appeared to forget about him. One man thinks about his badly burnt hands and the accident that left him crippled and his children without a mother to bring them up. But something is about to happen that will define that day, that summer, that street. Something horrible, something tragic and something one girl in particular cannot let go of.
Years later, when memory should have faded, she still thinks about that afternoon. About why it happened, why no one stopped it and what it all means. At a loss to explain her feelings even to herself she can do little more than get on with her life – except that is for two complications. Firstly she has just confirmed that she’s pregnant and wonders what to tell her Mother who won’t understand how it could happen to such a careful and dutiful daughter. Then there’s Michael, the twin brother of the boy who obsessed about her years ago. Michael who she finds she can talk to about her impending motherhood and her feelings about that day when everything stopped for a moment. Michael who looks like a boy she can barely remember who told his twin that he had fallen in love.
Lately I’ve been thinking of reading more mainstream books – basically things that don’t easily fit into any of categories over on the right. So not SF, or Crime of Historical. Something like this one. I’d heard of it before and picked up a cheap copy to try it out. After reading it I can see what it won awards. Despite the fact that very little actually happens on the day in question (apart from the ‘incident’ that I’m avoiding being specific about) the book has a haunting quality that’s really rather special. The glimpses into people’s lives – not too dissimilar from what is exactly going on around you – and me – right now is fascinating. I could relate to so much that I’d seen, experienced or heard about that it seemed real. The use of multiple simultaneous viewpoints took a little getting used to (as did the lack of names until the second part of the book) but it really worked and gave the whole thing a weird surreal yet real feeling to things – it’s hard to explain in words to be honest. This was a very different kind of book than I’m used to reading and I found it hard to put down. Strangely gripping this was a rich, multi-layered evocative book that will hang around in your head long after you turn the last page. Highly recommended.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Monday, March 17, 2014
Just Finished Reading: 1913 – The Year Before the Storm by Florian Illies (FP: 2012)
This has to be one of the strangest books I’ve read in quite a few years. It was also very much not what I had expected it to be. What I had expected was a month by month build up to the outbreak of WW1 with an attempt to understand why Europe fell apart in one of the most destructive conflicts to date. What I got was nothing of the sort!
What the author instead presented us with was a series of snapshots (some of which were eccentric to say the least) of events and personalities in Europe - in particular France and Germany - in the last year before everything went wrong. These events and personalities were, in the main, authors, artists, poets and dreamers many of whom had no connection at all with war, politics or the events of 1914. Among them where Franz Kafka (trying and failing in his long running romantic attachment), Sigmund Freud (and his feud with Jung) and Picasso (with his many lovers and dramatic artistic statements). Central amongst them was the various strands of modernism which competed with each other and universally shocked, outraged or confused everyone not ‘in the know’.
What has any of this to do with the coming war – nothing as far as I could tell…. And yet, there is something that exists between the stories of the various adventures and misadventures of these prominent European citizens (many now long forgotten – indeed many of which I had no knowledge whatsoever). It’s almost as if the story the author wanted to tell couldn’t possibly be told directly. What he wanted to get across was a feeling, something basically indefinable and, he certainly managed part of that. Initially rather confusing this book built, layer on layer, incident by incident and month by month to create a living breathing picture of what it must have been like just before the hammer fell. 1913 was, in all honesty, a very strange place. Massive cultural shifts where taking place that, even without WW1, would still have probably changed everything. Modernism, in all of its myriad forms, was just starting to burst out of the studios and the publishing houses and was starting to have a real impact on people’s lives. The sheer weirdness of this time comes across on every page. It’s almost as if Europe itself was in the throes of a cultural nervous breakdown and had no idea how to resolve things – despite the Freudian and Jungian best attempts to offer a cure (of sorts).
Of course it quickly became apparent that the author had no intention of addressing the question of why Europe tore itself apart for 5 years just 100 years ago. What we are instead presented with is a world that ceased to exist with the assassination and the shot the rang around the world and led to tens of millions of deaths in the mud and blood of battlefields across Europe and the far flung places of long lost Empires. What that world might have become if the fatal bullet had never been fired is a very interesting one but not one that the author even hints at. The world of 1913 is a deeply fascinating one and one that we should weep at its loss. 1914 and what followed on from those tragic years was a human disaster of staggering proportions. The world would never be the same again. There was no going back to the way things had been. The world of 1913 was gone forever and, despite its many faults, we should morn its passing. If nothing else this book has given me a brief glimpse through a dirty window at a very different age. To begin with I really wondered why this quirky volume has become an international best seller. By the time I had read ¼ of the book I began to see why. By the end I was hooked and mesmerised. Magical, wonderful, strange and highly recommended.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
“As a story, the scientific mythos is not very comforting. Probably that’s why it hasn’t become wildly popular: we human beings prefer stories that have a central role in them for us, that preserve some of our mystery and thus some of our dignity, and that imply there might be help at hand if we really need some. The scientific version of our existence on this planet may very well be physically true, but we don’t like it much. It isn’t cuddly. There aren’t many tunes you can hum in the shower.”
Margaret Atwood from Burning Bushes – Why Heaven and Hell Went to Planet X.
Saturday, March 15, 2014
England 'divided into readers and watchers'
By Hannah Richardson for the BBC
11 March 2014
England is suffering from a "worrying cultural divide" with poor adults much less likely to read books than their richer neighbours, a report says.
The country is divided into two nations, those who read weekly or daily, and those who prefer TV and DVDs, it says. It finds key links between an individual's social background and how likely they are to read. The research, from charity Booktrust, is based on a survey of 1,500 adults. The study found that on average, the richer someone's background, the more likely they are to read. Meanwhile a higher proportion of people from poorer backgrounds admitted they never read. Younger people, men and those with lower levels of qualifications are also less likely to be readers.
More than one in four (27%) of adults from the poorest socio-economic backgrounds said they never read books themselves, compared with just 13% of those from the richest socio-economic backgrounds. And more than six in 10 (62%) of those from the richest backgrounds said they read daily or weekly, compared with four in 10 (42%) of those from the poorest. "More frequent book readers tend to live in areas of lower deprivation with fewer children living in poverty, while respondents who never read books tend to live in areas of higher deprivation and more children living in poverty," the study says. It adds that adults from the highest socio-economic background own twice as many books on average as those from the lowest backgrounds (376 compared with 156). And 83% of adults from the richest group feel that reading improves their lives, compared with 72% of those from the poorest group. The report reveals that overall, significant minorities of adults have negative attitudes towards reading, with nearly a fifth (18%) saying they never read physical books and seven in 10 (71%) saying they never read e-books. More than one-third (36%) say they often start a book but get bored, while a similar proportion (35%) say they cannot find time to read. Almost half of those questioned (45%) said they prefer watching TV and DVDs to reading a novel.
The findings show many people, especially those under 30, think technology is changing how people read, and could even make physical books obsolete. More than half of adults (56%) said they think the internet and computers will replace books in the next 20 years, with nearly two-thirds (64%) of 18- to 30-year-olds stating this view. More than one-quarter of those surveyed said they would rather surf the internet and use social media than read - rising to 56% among 18- to 30-year-olds. The study concludes that, on average, people who read regularly are more satisfied with life, happier and more likely to feel their life is worthwhile. Around three-quarters (76%) of all adults questioned said reading improves their lives, while almost half (49%) enjoy reading books very much. More than one-quarter (28%) read every day, with a further 22% reading weekly. More than half own at least 50 books, with an adult owning around 200 on average, the report added. Viv Bird, chief executive of Booktrust, said: "This research indicates that frequent readers are more likely to be satisfied with life, happier and more successful in their professional lives. But there is a worrying cultural divide linked to deprivation. There will never be a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to social mobility, but reading plays an important role - more action is needed to support families."
[Sadly there are no great surprises here: older people read more than the young and reading increases with wealth and social class. Again it is frightening how many people never read. I come across this so much at work that I’ve stopped being astonished by it. Even those who do read do so rarely and seem to restrict themselves to a handful of ‘best-sellers’ advertised endlessly on TV. Of course in a way I contradict the above study in that I come from a solid working class background and, until comparatively late on, hardly read a word that I didn’t need to because of school. It was a chance event – a friend of my brother’s lending me a classic SF novel – that started me on my reading journey long before I became ‘middle class’. Oh, and finally I did chuckle to see that the average adult owns 200 books……]
Friday, March 14, 2014
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Just Finished Reading: Blood of Honour by James Holland (FP: 2010)
Crete – 1941. After another retreat in the face of advancing German forces, this time from Greece, the British Army finally looks like it has decided to fight. As large numbers of troops dig in to face the inevitably German attack their confidence is high. The British Navy still dominate the Mediterranean and defensively the island of Crete is no push-over. When the attack finally comes it seems at first that the British have things under control. The airborne assault does not go well for the elite German paratroopers and losses are heavy. When their attack on British positions is repulsed with heavy casualties it looks like the invasion is about to fail. But a series of mistakes and a reluctance to engage the lightly armoured German forces starts to erode the initial British advantage. Frustrated by the lack of aggressive initiative Colour-Sergeant Jack Tanner tries his best to lead his men against a local group of enemy paratroopers. But hampered by lack of ammunition, naïve young officers with no combat experience and a strange inactivity from the top brass he is finally forced into yet another retreat. Returning to the island after his relief ship is sunk by German dive bombers Turner must use all his skill to keep his exhausted and demoralised squad in one piece and alive long enough to try to escape the increasingly hostile island a second time. Thrown into the mix are local partisans who resent the British who they see as fainthearted friends who cannot be trusted. If Tanner and his mean want to stay alive they must earn the trust of people who do not give it easily and who hold grudges for a very long time indeed.
This is the third book in the Jack Tanner series and was another cracking read. As I’ve said before Tanner is a great character – not surprisingly called ‘Sharpe for the Blitz years’ – and I look forward to his future adventures in North Africa and Italy (I’m not giving anything at all away here). The internal conflict which annoyed me in the previous book has been replaced by a much more believable ‘spat’ with a local partisan leader and the appearance of a young officer from Tanners home town who knows more about his past than he’d like to become public (which intrigued me greatly). The supporting cast was generally very good with his side-kick Sergeant Sykes using his skill to blow things up and ruin the days of a great many Germans and various officer types both helping or hindering Jack’s main task of killing as many Germans as possible. One thing you shouldn’t expect from this book (or the other two) is an even handed treatment of both sides in the conflict. This is no politically correct book! The British are the good guys and the Germans are the bad guys – end of story! That’s actually part of the almost old fashioned charm of the thing. There’s no moral ambiguity here it’s all very black and white. In that way not only is it a breeze to read it’s very entertaining indeed because you don’t really have to think about the complexity of things – because there isn’t any! If you do like a pretty straight forward and honestly simple (but not simplistic) story that aims primarily to entertain (which it does in spades!) then this is definitely the book for you. In these days of ambiguity, complexity and grey areas it’s like a wonderful breath of fresh air – tinged with the smell of cordite. Highly recommended.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Monday, March 10, 2014
My Favourite Movies: Lara Croft – Tomb Raider
OK, from time to time I like the odd cheesy movie – especially when they don’t take themselves too seriously or (conversely) don’t play things for laughs. Basically when there’s enough tongue-in-cheek self-knowledge that lets the audience know that they’re in on the joke. This is definitely one of those – indeed one of the better ones, especially when you consider the whole thing is based on a teenager boy’s idea of an ideal computer game. Now, of course, computer game/movie cross-overs haven’t exactly gone very well, indeed most of them belong firmly in the ‘worst films ever made’ category. Fortunately this is head and shoulders above the general background dross. The main reason for this is Lara herself played by the ever fun and nice to look at (if somewhat quirky) Angelina Jolie who very clearly had a lot of fun playing up to her larger than life role.
The storyline is suitably bizarre and completely over the top. It seems that every 5,000 years when the planets line up the two broken halves of an ancient object that can control time – and therefore give its owner ultimate power – can be recovered and brought together. Lara’s father (now dead and playing in dreams/flashbacks by Jon Voight) knows all about it and tells Lara to go find the artifacts so that she can prevent them falling into the hands of the evil Illuminati. That’s basically it – the whole story is there. Then again it’s not need to do much more that tie together some rather impressive set-pieces involving lots of gun fire, ancient monster type creatures, weird ancient impact craters, lots of slow-motion effects, the odd shower scene – both male and female (the male version of Lara is played by Daniel Craig), and a fair bit of humour, cool one-liners and more than one raised eyebrow.
The support cast are pretty good with Iain Glen playing a passable baddie (love him in Games of Thrones), Noah Taylor as the technical genius (also in Games of Thrones!) and the always fun to watch Chris Barrie (not in Game of Thrones) who plays Lara’s faithful butler.
This is not a great film by almost any category. It won’t make you think, it won’t pull at the heart strings and it won’t still much in the way of any deep emotion, it won’t make you sign up to a cause, donate money to charity and it certainly won’t change your life (or even probably enhance it all that much). What you will get, or at least what I got, is about 100 minutes of brainless, mindless entertainment. This film is quite blatantly designed for one thing and one thing only - to entertain, to be fun, to be throw away fluff that will amuse and then vanish without any kind of aftertaste. Sometimes that’s all a film needs to be, no pretentions, no agenda and no intention of winning or even competing for an Oscar in any category. Sometimes that’s all we, the audience, need too. Tomb Raider hit that make pretty damned well and has probably entertained me half a dozen times so far. It’ll probably do it half a dozen more too.