Film: No Time to Die (James Bond)

No Time to Die is a fantastic Bond film and in my opinion Daniel Craig has been the best Bond.

• The Guardian: No Time to Die review – Daniel Craig dispatches James Bond with panache, rage – and cuddles

• GQ: The Legacy of Daniel Craig’s James Bond

• Spare Cycles: Film: Skyfall (James Bond)

• Spare Cycles: Film: Spectre (James Bond)

Mini review: “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen (audiobook edition)

For a Bruce Springsteen fan it’s taken me a long time to get around to reading the Boss’s autobiography, especially as the audiobook is read by the man himself.

You have to be pretty dedicated to get through 18 hours, but if you are so inclined then you are bound to find a lot to like.

Here are my takeaways:

• the stories of his first bands and his early adventures on the road are the best parts of the book
• I didn’t know that he stuggles with depression to the degree that he (bravely) discusses it
• I had completely the wrong impression of at least one member of the band
• You can see in the way that he frames and phrases his story how he could dramatise it for his Springsteen on Broadway show – I get the impression that he approached the book and the show as a single project that would be expressed artistically in different ways.

Also, for a guy in his early 70’s who could well have retired a long time ago, he is still working hard. Since the book was published in 2016 he has performed his Broadway show over 260 times, released 2 albums, co-directed a film, had a podcast series with a former American president, started his own radio show and is (reportedly) planning to go on tour next year with the E Street Band.

Not to mention the professionally produced recordings of all the concerts from The River Tour in 2016 and the on-going releases in the Archives series of restored and remastered past concerts.

He will be leaving some legacy…

… now roll up Little Steven’s autobiography!

Panoramic Scotland (part 3)

My travels (of which there have been very few over the last 18 months…) once again took me to the wonderful west coast of Scotland. This time we stayed on the Lunga Estate and I took some more panoramic shots.

We had good weather all week and this year there were no midges – always a bonus…

Previous years:

• Panoramic Scotland

Panoramic Scotland (part 2)

Spare Cycles turns fourteen…

This lovingly crafted blog is celebrating its fourteenth birthday. A beer (or fourteen) is cooling in the fridge to toast the reaching of a milestone. Happy birthday!

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns thirteen…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns twelve…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns eleven…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns ten…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns nine…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns eight…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns seven…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns six…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns five…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns four…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns three…

Mini review: “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie (audiobook edition)

I’m not quite sure why I went for this, but I fancied reading (listening to…) something a bit different. This is my first Agatha Christie novel and I think that I chose well.

This is the story of a group of ten strangers who are each invited to an island house under false pretenses, only to find out that they are all guilty of murder. They are killed off one by one, in a variety of different ways, inspired by the lines of a nursery rhyme.

One of them must be the killer but by the end of story they are all dead. How?

This is an excellent story and the answer is ingenious.

The only thing that holds back a full recommendation is the use of violence against women and the way they accept it, to the point that they are grateful for it. It made me feel distinctly uncomfortable. It is a shame that it features, as otherwise I would say that this is a timeless story which can still keep you guessing until the end.

Mini review: “Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir (audiobook edition)

I enjoyed The Martian a lot – both the book and the film – but this is better. The ideas are great, the science is convincing (to my untrained ear), the humour dry and the plot is expertly paced.

The narration of the main character is pitch-perfect. The success rate with other accents varies, but I would recommend the audiobook over reading the book. This is an excellent example of where the use of sound can enhance the story telling experience.

If you are a fan of science fiction, especially hard science fiction, I recommend this book without hesitation. You are in for a treat.

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “The Martian” by Andy Weir (audiobook version)

Mini review: “Box 88” by Charles Cumming (audiobook edition)

I like a good spy story but I have had very mixed luck with Charles Cumming’s books in the past. First I tried The Trinity Six and I abandoned the book shortly after starting it – a first for me. The narrator of the audiobook did such a poor job, which contributed greatly to the experience.

A while later I tried the first in a trilogy, A Foreign Country, which was a lot better mainly because I read the book rather than listened to it. The narrator was the same as before and I was not going to put myself through that again.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a spy novel and a return is overdue. By default these days I go for the audiobook version as time for sitting down and reading a book is short. This is the start of a new series, so I was hoping for the best.

It gets over the first hurdle – there is a different narrator and he does an impressive, understated job. This is an easy book to listen to.

As for the writing, I started with the impression that Cumming was telling a simpler story, venturing into the less demanding mainstream in the hope of getting more readers. This is not the sort of super-taut, masterfully crafted prose that gets you ordained into the spy-craft high order of Le Carré and Len Deighton, but puts him alongside Mick Herron as a modern-day purveyor of the spy story. The difference, I feel, is that the mainstream is moving towards Herron (what with the upcoming Apple TV+ series based on his Jackson Lamb books) whilst Cumming is trying to manoeuvre himself more into the public consciousness.

Still, the story gets stronger as it goes along and everything is tied up at the end ready for the next instalment.

Mini review: “A Promised Land” by Barack Obama (audiobook edition)

I think that Barack Obama was an excellent US President. By the sounds of it he often polled better overseas than at home. I’m not a big reader of autobiographies or biographies but me reading / listening to this book was always going to happen.

It covers a broad range of topics that he had to deal with in the run up to and during his presidency – including race, the financial crisis, health care provision, war(s), the environment and the Middle East – in quite exhaustive detail, which is both interesting and necessary for the public record. The details of life in the White House, the behind-the-scenes negotiations that are needed to get anything done and his opinions of senior foreign politicians are highlights.

At over 700 pages (29+ hours for the audiobook) this could well have been cut down. There are a number of times when the book gets repetitive, even though it only covers most of Obama’s first term in office. There is a second volume coming at some point and I hope it will not be re-treading a lot of old ground.

I liked listening to him read the story, although I found his delivery to be best experienced when put at 1.20x speed…

I highly recommend this book if you have an interest in the former President or US politics, but one of the main points you come away with is this: he may have been Commander-in-Chief but the most interesting, coolest Obama is his wife Michelle. I look forward to reading her autobiography in the future, especially as it comes in one volume of less than 500 pages 😀.

Romeo and Juliet (Online 2021)

I’m not particularly a Shakespeare fan but a few years ago I went to see unconventional versions of “Romeo & Juliet” and “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Globe Theatre in London. Along with “King Lear” in a live cinema broadcast from the Globe, these showed me how seeing the plays performed totally transforms the experience:

In 2021 the world is a different place and the prospect of seeing a play performed in person seems a long way off – not to mention the all-too-real prospect that by the time it is possible to see a play performed in person again the theatres may not be in a position to reopen.

So when I saw a review of this online version I thought it would be worth checking out. At £20 it is not cheap for an online event but The Guardian review of the production sounds intriguing: “The digital enhancements, which leave us questioning where theatre ends and film begins, create a marvel of hybridity.”

This will not be to everyone’s taste visually, but given the current restrictions it is remarkable. I liked seeing such a young, varied cast and my understanding of the story has been much improved. If I had paid £20 to see this live I would have been happy.

If you are reading this as it is published you still have time to sign up and catch the production. If you are a fan of the play and like to see the many ways in which the story can be portrayed, then I fully recommend it.

And maybe this hybrid of film and theatre live performance is just the beginning. I could imagine this blurring of the real and the unreal becoming the basis of virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) versions – truly bringing the Bard into the 21st century…

The Guardian: Romeo & Juliet review – Verona is a dystopia in trailblazing tragedy

Spare Cycles: Much Ado About Nothing (The Globe Theatre, London)

Spare Cycles: King Lear: Live cinema broadcast from the Globe Theatre, London

Mini review: “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline (audiobook edition)

This has instantly become one of my favourite books – I loved every minute of this twenty-first century sci-fi celebration of 1980’s book, film and music culture.

It’s 2044 and the real world has gone to hell, so most people spend their time in a virtual reality universe called the OASIS. When the original founder / coder of the OASIS dies he leaves behind a challenge – find an easter-egg he has programmed into the virtual world by completing a number of (increasingly nerdy) tasks and win the founder’s fortune and control of the OASIS itself.

Wil Wheaton does an excellent, basically flawless narration and I would recommend the audiobook version.

There are only a couple of reservations – some people may find the geekiness overload just too much to bear and at 15 hours it is quite a time investment.

But not me – I really liked it and if it sounds like your thing, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Now to watch the movie to see how much they rip out the guts of the story…