Lewis 8.29

Lewis Series 8
29 “The Lions of Nemea”

(Originally Aired in UK 24 October 2014)

Lewis, Hathaway and Maddox’s abilities as a team are severely tested when they investigate the brutal stabbing of an American classics scholar. The bizarre case that follows takes in the cocaine trade, astrophysics and ancient drama, but the truth is hidden in plain sight: a heartbreaking tragedy made possible by the most ordinary of secrets.


Review
The body count mounts in this twisting tale. Trouble is, it involves so many people things get confusing near the end. I did guess that the lost play was a fake. Unfortunately there are no clues early on to point you the real killer. It’s all up to the Police to lead us along as numerous co-incidences lead them to an inevitable arrest.

Ben Hur

Ben-Hur is a 2016 American epic historical action drama adventure film directed by Timur Bekmambetov and written by Keith Clarke and John Ridley. It is the fifth film adaptation of the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace following the 1907 silent film, the 1925 silent film, the Academy Award-winning 1959 film and the 2003 animated film of the same name. It has been termed a “re-adaptation”, “reimagining” and “new interpretation” of the novel. The film stars Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell, Nazanin Boniadi, Haluk Bilginer and Rodrigo Santoro.

Ben-Hur received generally negative reviews from critics and bombed financially having grossed just $41 million worldwide against its $100 million budget.


Review
This film came at at a good time, as I was reading Jeremy Robinson’s ‘The Didymus Contingency’ at the same time. The book covers the same period, Rome about 30AD. It’s a big budget film ($100m) and it shows in the scope of locations and sets. However it could have done with a bit more spent on the script. There are times it feels a bit too modern in tone and language.

Morgan Freeman is the only actor I know in the cast. His role is to move to his mark and make important proclamations to us and other characters. Toby Kebbel is better as Messala than Jack Huston is as Judah Ben-Hur. The best parts of the film was the two big action sequences, one during a sea battle and the famous chariot racing at the end.

The film has been labelled as a ‘bomb’, bringing in just $41m (so far). The reason probably being the relatively unknown actors and a script that didn’t have much impact. Ridley Scott’s Gladiator is still the best film depicting this era. This film is just OK and gets a 3/5.

 

Buccaneers’ Code

The Buccaneers’ Code
The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #3
by Caroline Carlson (2013)

 

Hilary Westfield is now a freelance pirate. After trying to prove herself to the VNHLP, she realized many members of the League weren’t all that honorable—not even very nearly. With Captain Blacktooth in cahoots with the Mutineers, the kingdom of Augusta and all its magic are at risk.

What the League needs is a very honorable pirate to be their new president. So Hilary—with the help of her friends, including the always spirited gargoyle—challenges Blacktooth to a High Seas battle. Winner takes all. Loser, at best, will be exiled.


Review
In the third book, villains become more villainous, magic has more prominence and things get a bit more silly. The writing is a sharp as ever, but some of the plot twists get a bit silly to support the notion that a young girl will defeat a bunch of (semi) professional pirates. Still, it’s a fun read and appears to bring the series to a close.

 

 

Brave

Brave is a 2012 American 3D computer-animated fantasy comedy-drama film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. It was directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, and co-directed by Steve Purcell. The story is by Chapman, with the screenplay by Andrews, Purcell, Chapman and Irene Mecchi.

Chapman became Pixar’s first female director of a feature-length film. The film was produced by Katherine Sarafian, with John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter as executive producers.


Review.

I have heard some rather average reviews of this film. However I loved it and think it’s one of the best of the Pixar films. Given that it’s a story about the relationship between a mother and daughter; I’m not the target audience for this film. However it gets everything right. There is great comedy, from slapstick to character moments. Then in the second half when things turn dark and dramatic there is some really engaging and emotional scenes.

It’s a great film.

Southland Terror

The Terror of the Southlands
The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #2
by Caroline Carlson (2014) with Dave Phillips (Illustrations)

Hilary Westfield is a pirate. In fact, she’s the Terror of the Southlands! She’s daring, brave, fearless, and in a rut. Maybe she hasn’t found any treasure lately. And maybe she isn’t fighting off as many scallywags as she’d like. But does that mean she and her loyal crew (including a magical gargoyle) deserve to be kicked out of the ranks of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates?

There is only one thing to do—find a daring mission worthy of her fearless reputation. With the help of first mate Charlie, finishing-school friend Claire, and the self-proclaimed intrepid gargoyle, Hilary sets sail on a swashbuckling expedition that may or may not involve a kidnapped Enchantress, bumbling inspectors, a mysterious group called the Mutineers, and—the most terrifying thing of all—a High Society ball.


Review
Now that she is a pirate, Hilary has to prove herself. It’s still the same whimsical style and more adventuring that swashbuckling. But the book almost manages to be as good as the first. And by the end her reputation as Terror of the Southlands is still intact.

 

Universal Migrator

Ayreon

Universal Migrator 1: The Dream Sequencer (2000)

Universal Migrator2: Flight of the Migrator (2000)

The first album is the better album and remind me of Pink Floyd (in a good way). It also  has better compositions than the second. UM2 is a heavier sounding album although some of the songs are by-the-numbers heavy rock.

Review courtesy John “Bo Bo” Bollenberg, May 2000
The story begins in the 22nd century. The final devastating war of 2084 that was foretold on The Final Experiment album, has indeed come to pass and has destroyed all life on Earth, making it completely uninhabitable. The only survivors of the war were the colonists on the planet Mars, who watched the destruction of their home-world from afar. The few descendants of those colonists are now all that is left of the human race.

To combat the dreariness of life on Mars, the Mars colonists have constructed a fantastic machine called The Dream Sequencer. This machine creates a form of hypnosis which allows the colonists to return to their childhood and even to their former lives. Both albums tell the story of what one Mars colonist encounters while piloting The Dream Sequencer.

The CD The Dream Sequencer has a soft and atmospheric feel. This CD follows one Mars colonist back in time as he reincarnates through different personas all the way back to the first man on Earth using The Dream Sequencer machine. Each persona will be presented by a different singer in each song, however all of the songs are seen from the perspective of the same Mars colonist.

Progressive World Review :
The album’s opener “The Dream Sequencer” makes me think of Disney’s “Space Travel” journey what with all these different sounds and spacey atmospheres. The song evolves into pure Pink Floyd, getting very close to “Welcome To The Machine” and boy isn’t Arjen’s sitar solo a dead-ringer for Dave Gilmour! We also have to welcome some splendid Mini-Moog here, the first of a long batch of outstanding analogue solos! The doomy voice of Tiamat’s Johan Edlund blends well with the young, high pitched voice of After Forever’s Floor Jansen in “My House On Mars.” The musical backing lifts this song to a very bombastic whole ending almost in pure classical style. In “2084” Lana Lane looks back at what happened when all life on earth was destroyed. Erik adds some nice rhythmic touches by means of his swirling Hammond. The flanger on the guitar works overtime extra emphasizing the floating atmosphere of this song.

I’ve already told you about the number of superb sounding synths. Well, in the intro for “One Small Step” you are treated to some outstanding synths before acoustic guitars smooth the way for the warm voice of ex-Kayak singer Edward Reekers, who by now has become one of the loyal singers that appear on Ayreon releases. Edward sings “one small step for man but a giant leap for mankind,” but with this album I would dare to say “one small step for Ayreon but a giant leap for music!” What’s strong on these new Ayreon albums is the fact that, once again, Arjen Lucassen uses the help of a huge selection of different singers yet, uses a small number of people for the musical nucleus and uses the same backing voices. Towards the end of “One Small Step,” Arjen’s slide guitar again highlights his all-time love for Pink Floyd! The repetitive bass line in the intro for “The Shooting Company Of Captain Frans B. Cocq” comes very close to the work of Alan Parsons, but as soon as the classical guitar sets in it has to be unmistakably the work of Ayreon. In Mouse Arjen has found the ideal John Lennon clone and, as Arjen has always been a keen fan of the Beatles, this song works perfectly well with the unique timbre of Mouse’s voice.

When Arjen visited Oscar Holleman’s studio, the latter was producing an upcoming young band called Krezip who have just delivered their debut album Nothing Less on the Dutch wing of Warner, apparently a must for fans of Guano Apes and/or Skunk Anansie. Arjen was so overwhelmed by Krezip’s singer that he immediately asked the seventeen old Jacqueline Govaert to sing the soft centred “Temple Of The Cat.” The medieval atmosphere of “Carried By The Wind” is sung by Arjen himself, whilst his guitar solo intertwines with nice synth and acoustic guitar. Ever since he heard Threshold and invited Damien Wilson over to sing on Into The Electric Castle, Arjen has been very fanatic about every move Damien makes. Over the years Damien’s involvement in the world of musical has given him more “body” which can clearly be heard throughout “And The Druids Turn To Stone.” Again this is a very ballad-like structure, emphasizing once again the acoustic simplicity. The production is very open giving all of the sparse instruments all the room to experiment and shine. Rob Snijders’ soulful drumming blends very well with the Hammond sound.

From the moment the mellotron kicks off and the classical ensemble enters the musical arena you know “The First Man On Earth” will be very Beatles-like. In steps Neal Morse to enhance that Beatles feel and what’s more, his ability to create sing-a-long tunes once again proves to be all over this piece. “The First Man On Earth” is indeed a song that is fit for daytime radio (although in edited format) and cello and horns are added in the same fashion as Sir George Martin would have added his knowledge to the Lennon/McCartney classics. It is certainly one of the highlights on this disc, and a song that will certainly please Arjen, being an avid Beatles-fan himself. Strangely enough, Erik Norlander is more into Electric Light Orchestra; but wasn’t Jeff Lynne very much influenced by the Liverpool foursome? The album closes with a reprise of “The Dream Sequencer” adding more Pink Floyd touches to what has become one hell of an artistic merit. This album certainly has all of the ingredients many of you are looking for in a prog album, an album that you’ll certainly end up buying along with the other Ayreon release Flight Of The Migrator. Siamese twins anyone?

Musicians:
Arjen Lucassen – electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, analogue synthesizers, Hammond, Mellotron and additional keyboards
Erik Norlander (Ritual Symphony, Rocket Scientists, Lana Lane) – analogue synthesizers, piano, vocoder, Hammond and additional keyboards
Rob Snijders (Celestion Season) – drums

Synth solos:

Erik Norlander – (Rocket Scientists, Lana Lane) on 1, 4, 6
Clive Nolan (Arena, Pendragon) on 3

Singers:

Johan Edlund (Tiamat) on 2
Floor Jansen (After Forever) on 2
Lana Lane – on 3, 6 and voice on 1
Edward Reekers (Kayak) on 4
Mouse (Tuesday Child) on 5
Jacqueline Govaert (Krezip) on 7
Arjen Lucassen on 8
Damian Wilson (Threshold, Landmarq and now playing the role of Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar)
Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic) on 10

Backing vocals:

Mark McCrite (Rocket Scientists) on 10
Lana Lane on 4, 5

Reviewed by: Stephanie Sollow, January 2001
Told in two parts, Ayreon’s Universal Migrator tale is a musical journey through time and space. Disc one, The Dream Sequencer is the symphonic prog side of Arjen Lucassen’s theme, where the music often takes on very Pink Floyd-like atmospheres. “My House On Mars” sounds, at times, like it could have easily been on The Wall but for some of the lyrical content; vocals here are by Johan Edlund (Tiamat) and Floor Jansen (After Forever). Except for the vocal-less solo passages, the track is somewhat plodding, moving just a bit to slowly. Perhaps it’s Edlund’s treated vocals that bother me a little bit about this track, though Jansen’s are clear and lilting. With the opening track, “The Dream Sequencer,” we get spacey keyboard themes laying a foundation for Lucassen’s guitar solos and synth melodies.

Like on previous Ayreon releases, there are guest musicians and vocalist each telling a part of the story. The vocalists whose performances stand out for me are Lana Lane, Damien Wilson and Neal Morse. In fact, the Morse/Erik Norlander/Lucassen penned “The First Men On Earth” contains more than a little element of Spock’s Beard, not just because of Morse’s recognizable voice, but also in something about the arrangement and delivery – just a bit off-kilter. Which also tells you that there is also a strong Beatles-esque feel to this track, too…including some brass that made me think of Sgt. Pepper’s. Oddly enough, I think of the Flower Kings, too, and think that this is what I was expecting from Transatlantic.

Lane’s haunting vocals grace “2084” and “Dragon On The Sea,” tracks 3 and 6 respectively. What a great voice! Rich, warm, full-bodied…makes you wonder what she’d do with the phone book, ya know; each address would echo in your mind… It is also Lane who first guides us into the story, as she voices the Universal Migrator program/contraption.

“One Small Step,” track four, reminded me a little bit of Rush’s own “Countdown” and not just because you can hear “space chatter” in the background. There is a driving, throbbing beat to it – perhaps mimicking that very countdown. But, I also thought of Tangerine Dream because of the long synth intro. Edward Reekers voices this track, a man’s impressions about the 1969 Moon landing (and Lana provides some backing “ahhs,”). There are parts here where I also thought of “Comfortably Numb”…if it been on Dark Side Of The Moon. Can’t really explain that except that there are pulsing synths and percussion that hint at Dark Side…. We also get some parping keys from Norlander, another emotional and soaring solo from Lucassen, and heavenly vocal accents from Lane. Reeker’s is another vocalist who got a very, very listenable voice, smooth and very warm.

Almost moving away from Floydian musiscapes, we get “The Shooting Company Of Captain Frans B. Cocq,” and Bobo is right about Mouse (Tuesday Child) sounding like John Lennon. But more than that, his delivery and the keyboards here make a very slight reference to “Strawberry Fields.” A guitar phrase hints at “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” And yet there is no getting away from the Floydian guitar solos (not that I want to) … there are also moments where I thought of “Us And Them,” but only briefly. The setting for this moment in time is the 17th Century.

It’s the 16th Century in “Dragon On The Sea,” where “Queen Elizabeth [has sent] the brave Sir Francis Drake to defend the English realm against the invading armada.” That Armada was the Spanish Armada, sent by Phillip II with hopes of conquering England, who had “horned in on” their trade routes. Because the English had built smaller, faster and more maneuverable ships that could also fire from a longer range (and some nasty North Sea weather) assured an English victory … thus “Dragon On The Sea.” But the lyrics here seem to be a mesh of the English and Spanish point of views…or just very confusing. More great stuff from Lane. If Spears or Aguilera win a Grammy (if they’re even nominated, as I’m not really paying attention) then I’ll certainly demand a recount. As I verily say: in a sing off, the young gals would pack their bags and head home, thinking about what other career they’d best suited to. And, as I keep saying, I’m not often given to such hyperbole, but I’ll do so time and again, I think, with Lane…and on the male vox side, Wilson (of those that appear here).

We leap further back to the 8th Century Mayan Civilization in “Temple Of The King,” sung by Jacqueline Govaert, who has an okay voice…if just a bit childlike at times. Bubble like synths open “Carried By The Wind,” which soon rocks a bit harder than anything else on this album though it still maintains its symphonic feel. Lucassen handles the vocals on this track, which is very appropriate, as it is meant to be Ayreon in the 6th Century – the so-called “Dark Ages.”

But our journey doesn’t end here, as we travel back to 2800 B.C., the Druids and the enigmatic Stonehenge in “And The Druids Turn To Stone,” sung by a melancholy and restrained Damien Wilson. Beautiful arrangement, Wilson’s vocals are warm. The track breaks for an tender and thoughtful acoustic guitar solo, breaks again after a few more vocal passages for spacey synth…and then ends with a moment of near silence…stillness, where only the sounds of nature (crickets) can be heard. After “First Man,” we get “The Dream Sequencer Reprise.” (and then to Part II).

Magic Marks the Spot

Magic Marks the Spot
The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1
by Caroline Carlson (2013)

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors. She particularly enjoys defying authority, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.


For some reason I got this author confused with Gail Carson Levine. Aside from the similar name, the book cover is the same style. Levine wrote ‘Ella Enchanted’ that was made into a film and ‘A Tale of Two Castles’ which I read in 2012 and gave 4/5 stars.

This novel is obviously aimed at a teenage audience. Hilary, the main protagonist is a young girl (13-14) who manages to overcome obstacles and defeat her enemies using a combination of luck and persuasion.
The violence here is more like ‘The Princess Bride’ than a pirate film. The whole tone of the book is light and good natured. Even the ‘evil’ characters are self-aware of their villainy and mock others in very stereotypical pirate ways (haarrrr). The story moves along at a good pace and has enough twists and turns to ensure an unexpected ending.

One of the best part(s) of the book is the frequent insertion of letters, posters, manual excerpts and newspaper clippings. While they are done in the same style, it does provide an amusing third party view of the narrative. The mystery is how all the letters make their way between the main characters despite most of them being at sea. My guess would be pigeon post, or maybe the all the seas are small and hence shipping routes always close to shore.

It’s an enjoyable light and amusing read for teenagers of all ages.

 

Lewis 8.28

Lewis Series 8
28 “Entry Wounds”
(Originally Aired in UK 10 October 2014)

Hathaway starts work on his first murder case as an inspector with the help of a new partner, DS Lizzie Maddox. But as the pair delve into the worlds of neurosurgery, blood sports and animal rights, Hathaway’s theories are challenged by alarming new developments. He realizes he needs the insight of the retired Lewis to close the case.


Another good crime story from the BBC. The story successfully navigates between multiple suspects until a final revelation that catches the killer. As usual there is little violence (apart from the murders) and everything is would up in a very British way. Interesting use of Indian actors, who I suspected were never the killers and got what was probably their best acting parts in years.

 

Beneath Jeremy Robinson

Beneath (Origins, #3)
by Jeremy Robinson (2010)

When evidence of microscopic life on Europa–Jupiter’s sixth moon–is discovered, a crew of astronauts and scientists embark on a mission to discover its source. Led by oceanographer and biologist, Kathy Connelly, the crew is charged with the task of melting through miles of ice to the hidden ocean beneath, where the search for alien microorganisms begins. But a startling discovery awaits them on the surface of Europa–life.


Review:
After a string of mediocre books, it’s good to be back with an author who knows what he is doing. This story combines science fiction, action, horror and suspense.  It’s up the the standard of his other books and the science is plausible (assuming life within our solar system is acceptable).

Recommended.

 

 

Our Kind of Traitor

 

Our Kind of Traitor is a 2016 British spy thriller film directed by Susanna White and written by Hossein Amini, adapted from John le Carré’s novel of the same name. Starring Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Damian Lewis, and Alicia von Rittberg, the film was released in the United Kingdom on 13 May 2016 by Lionsgate.


Review:
A tense and slowly paced thriller that relies on plot and character motivations rather that stunts and effects. Ewan McGregor and Damian Lewis are the stars, with Lewis adopting a rather strange buttoned down accent. Like other LeCarre thriller it focuses on international banking and its corrupting influence in the modern world.

One other name I did recognize was Mark Gatiss, who is also a novelist. I had read his Dr Who book ‘Nightshade’.

Cast