Tag Archives: stuff I like

Last 30 Days’ Book Recommendations

For those who don’t follow me on Twitter, on 23rd August I set myself the task of recommending a book a day until Christmas along with a short review on Goodreads. Here’s the list for the last 30 days for anyone who missed it:

Hyperion by Dan Simmons – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223816

The Darkness that Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/324718560

Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1035991441

Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1036810587

Crossed by Garth Ennis – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1037745731

The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/725036643

All Hell Let Loose by Max Hastings – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/717366050

Vurt by Jeff Noon – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1040358888

Watching War Films with My Dad by Al Murray – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/918121939

Broken Angels by Richard Morgan – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223698

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1043204778

The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F Hamilton – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1044115670

The Dead Zone by Stephen King – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223368

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223551

An Animated Life by Ray Harryhausen – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1047059554

Robin Ince’s Bad Book Club by Robin Ince – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/396745389

The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/987382048

Icon by Frank Frazetta – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1050037194

Neuromancer by William Gibson – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223673

Use of Weapons Iain M Banks – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223648

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1052797420

Dune by Frank herbert – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245223544

Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/245224264

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1055394174

The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1036354909

Voyage by Stephen Baxter – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1057330544

War of the Aeronauts by Charles M. Evans – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/711370188

Dark Fire by CJ Sansom – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1058921216

The Scar by China Mieville – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1059845898

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander – https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1060416159

Top 10 Movie Shoot-Outs

I’ve always been a sucker for a good action movie, and it’s a shame the genre has declined somewhat in recent years. I guess swearing, guns and blood-squibs don’t cut it in the focus groups anymore. Anyway, as a tribute to a diminished genre, I offer my, in no particular order, list of Top Ten Movie Shoot-Outs:

Hard Boiled (1992, Dir. John Woo) – Tea-shop Carnage

Ballet With Guns has become something of cliché these days, but Hong Kong action maestro John Woo fully justifies the term with the opening scene to his most lauded work. The bullet and body count soars as Chow Yun Fat’s maverick cop faces off against arms-traffickers in a tea-shop. Fast, frenetic action counterpoised with perfectly judged use of slo-mo. This is how it’s done.

The Untouchables (1987, Dir. Brian De Palma) – Chicago Central Staircase

Brian De Palma borrows shamelessly from Battleship Potemkin to provide the focus for dramatic tension as a baby in a pram trips down a stair case in a cross fire of slo-mo gunfire. A tour de force set piece with Kevin Costner’s Elliot Ness taking down Al Capone’s henchmen aided by Andy Garcia’s crack-shot cop. De Palma tried to repeat the formula with escalator-set gun battle at the end of Carlito’s Way. It was good, but not Untouchables good.

Open Range (2003, Dir. Kevin Costner) – Last Twenty Minutes

Kevin Costner’s western is distinguished by two things, its use of authentic frontier dialogue and a brilliantly staged twenty minute gun-battle. Costner’s war-jaded cow-hand and Robert Duvall’s trail-boss take on Michael Gambon’s thuggish ranchers in a slickly-edited climax that subverts the High Noon template: this time the townsfolk actually join in.

The Long Riders (1980, Dir. Walter Hill) – Town Ambush

Walter Hill’s depiction of the career of the James – Younger outlaw gang is perhaps a little too kind to its protagonists. Despite all the Robin Hood-esque mythologizing, the historical record paints a picture of low-down dirty varmints to a man. But they were to receive well-earned comeuppance in the town of Northfield, Minnesota on September 7th, 1876, when local lawmen and townsfolk set about them with gusto, here envisaged as a blood-spattered spectacle of slo-mo bullet impacts, blazing six-shooters and wheeling horsemen. Walter Hill’s finest hour, though Southern Comfort runs a close second.

The Wild Bunch (1969, Dir. Sam Peckinpah) – Hacienda Rampage

Machine guns and misogyny abound in the bloody climax to Sam Pekinpah’s epic eulogising the demise of the gunslinger. William Holden and his grizzled comrades blaze their way through a hacienda full of Mexican revolutionaries, Holden gunning down a woman in the process with the word “Bitch!” Charming, but at least it’s in character. A classic of action cinema, if you can stomach the misogyny and the frankly rather tedious preceding two hours.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976, Dir. John Carpenter) – First Attack

The good one – not the 2005 remake. John Carpenter’s urban reworking of Fort Apache sees assorted crims and cops banding together to battle hordes of gang members in a near-abandoned LA police station. The tense first act, enhanced by Carpenter’s heart-beat paced electronic score, pays off in tremendous style as the cast (still mostly unknown) beat back the first wave of attacking yute in a blaze of shotgun fire. One the best examples of the movie editor’s art ever seen.

Matewan (1987, Dir. John Sayles) – Miner Ambush

The only realist entry on the list sees a thoroughly nasty group of Pinkerton strike breakers assailed by justifiably pissed-off mining folk in John Sayles’ true-life inspired tale of industrial strife in 1920s West Virginia. The tightly edited, but convincingly edgy, final shoot-out, known to history as the “Matewan Massacre”, is a masterclass in how to film realistic action.

Kick Ass (2010, Dir. Matthew Vaughan) – Hit Girl Penthouse Incursion

Matthew Vaughan’s adaptation of Mark Miller’s comic book tale of real people attempting a super hero lifestyle is an odd mix of the realistic – you’ll probably just get yourself killed – and the fantastic – an eleven year old girl can slaughter a roomful of drug dealers with a Naginata. Nevertheless, it’s also riotously entertaining, never more so than when Chloe Moretz’s Hit Girl two-guns her way through the penthouse lair of Mark Strong’s psycho crime boss to the music of Ennio Morricone and Joan Jett.

The Matrix (1999, Dir. The Wachowski Bros) – Lobby Fight

The Wachowski Brothers’ heady mix of philosophy and sci-fi with virtual reality twist allowed for a certain visual excess in the action sequences, most notably in this perfectly choreographed, SWAT team swatting extravaganza. Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne Moss (Neo and Trinity, surely the best-looking action heroes in movie history) put weeks of martial arts and weapons training to good use in an adrenalized display of acrobatics with guns, an event I’d really like to see make it into the Olympics.

State of Grace (1990, Phil Janou) – Bar Room Show-Down

In the climax to James Cagney’s classic gangster movie Public Enemy, we see him walk across a rain drenched street and into a bar having just stolen two revolvers from a pawn shop. There is two seconds of silence then a thunderous explosion of gunfire. The camera stays fixed on the bar exterior. Silence returns then Cagney emerges, stumbles to the kerb, lays down and dies in the rain. It’s a brilliant moment in cinema and deftly subverted in Phil Janou’s State of Grace as undercover cop Sean Penn walks into a bar in Hell’s Kitchen to settle accounts with Ed Harris’s gang of miscreant Westies. No fixed exteriors here as Penn and co blast away entirely in slow motion amid a welter of blood and exploding whiskey bottles.

Stuff I Like: Dead Space

I’m always a good while behind the times when it comes to games, often picking them up a year or more after release. I tend to regard them as a treat, a reward for completing a story or finishing a draft, to be indulged only occasionally due to the huge amount of time they suck up. My most recent gaming reward was Dead Space (Visceral Games 2008).

Ah Space, cold empty space, where no one can hear you scream, or dismember astrozombies with a variety of power tools. The isolation, paranoia and inherent danger conjured by the human imagination when considering future sojourns across the inky blackness between worlds has long been a staple of horror based science-fiction. Films like Alien and Event Horizon envisage a uber-industrialised future where technology reliant humans are almost defenseless against unforeseen alien threats. Dead Space occupies the same aesthetic template, a future of deeply shadowed walk-ways, harsh fluorescent lighting, brutally functional technology and cavernous interiors.

Players are cast in the role of Isaac, an operative on a search and rescue ship sent to investigate the sudden loss of communication with the gargantuan mining vessel Ishiguro. It should come as no surprise that BAD THINGS have happened aboard the Ishiguro and Isaac is soon plunged into a battle for survival. Guided by two bickering and distrustful fellow crew members who may, or may not, know more than they seem, you fight your way from one corpse strewn deck to another, completing repair missions and dispatching hordes of former crew members now transformed by an alien contagion into ravenous rage filled monsters dubbed necromorphs (because ‘space zombie’ is a little cheesy).

As you would expect in this type of game various weapons are on offer, each wreaking a different type of carnage. My favourite is the power saw, useful when selectively dismembering attackers or cutting them off at the knees with a single shot. There’s also the stasis field, with which enemies and malfunctioning ship components can be placed in slow-mo time warp, and the Kinesis module which allows you to interact with useful objects, ah la the gravity gun in Half-Life. The action is also enlivened by Isaac’s repeated forays into micro-gravity environments or the airless exterior of the ship, where you are obliged to engage in dizzying jumps from one surface to another with a constantly shifting sense of up and down.

Where Dead Space succeeds is in creating an atmosphere of unease and desperation. The gore is graphically rendered, at least on a PS3, and body parts fly around with happy abandon taking full advantage of the physics engines available to modern game developers. Whilst those less attuned to the horror-survival genre may find this level of splatter prurient or excessive, it certainly adds to the impression of constant threat that pervades the game. Equally disturbing are the occasional encounters with crew members driven mad by the horrors they’ve witnessed. In one scene a doctor cuts her own throat as you watch helplessly from behind a glass wall. In another, you find an insane woman weeping in a corridor. She just stands there wailing in terror, not reacting to your presence and there’s an uncomfortable moment as you consider using your plasma cutter to put her out of her misery. Heightening the sense of knife-edge survival is the fact that Isaac is rarely at full health, often shambling along and groaning in pain, and frequently has barely sufficient ammunition to complete the next objective. Whilst this ensures a challenging gaming experience it can also bring some levels close to crossing the line from difficult to pointlessly annoying and repetitive. There are only so many times to you can saw a particularly nasty space-beastie into bloody chunks, only for his hitherto unseen mates push you in a corner and tear you to pieces, before it starts to grate.

This aside Dead Space is highly recommended and the sequel tagged as high priority on my Lovefilm list.