Film Review – Inside Out

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“Sad is happy for deep people” said Sally Sparrow, in the memorable Doctor Who episode Blink. It’s safe to say Sally Sparrow would wholeheartedly approve of the immensely poignant new Pixar movie Inside Out, which, in a way, is all about the need for sadness. It also represents a real return to form for the studio after a few years of (relative) disappointments.

The wonderful premise concerns the feelings inside the brain of eleven-year old Riley, as literally personified by Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). When Riley moves to San Francisco, her world is rocked, leading to an emotional crisis that causes Joy and Sadness to get separated from their places in the brain’s control room. They have to find their way back whilst Riley’s crisis causes destruction in key memory personality centres, including friendship, family, goofiness and her interest in ice hockey. Their colourful journey takes them to areas including dream construction (a movie studio – what else?), the subconscious (containing, amongst other things, menacing giant pieces of broccoli), imagination land (cue a brilliant Chinatown gag), a literal train of thought, the long term memory maze and the delightfully surreal “abstract thought” zone. Along the way, Riley’s defunct imaginary friend Bingbong (Richard Kind) turns up to help.

Directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen do a yeoman’s job of ensuring suspension of disbelief remains in place for the duration of this agreeably far-out movie. The animation is superb, the vocal cast spot-on (it also includes Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan), and the appeal as broad as any of the great Pixar movies. Michael Giacchino’s wonderful score is yet another bonus.

Inside Out does that Mary Poppins thing of appealing to children and adults for completely different reasons. Amid the many laughs and thrills, there are moments of surprisingly profound insight into human nature, such as how sometimes people just need space to feel sad, rather than being forced to cheer up. Moments that ought to provoke metaphysical headaches, such as Joy feeling sad and Sadness feeling joy, work, because of a key plot element that shows how some memories can be both happy and sad. Bittersweet is not necessarily bitter. In addition, cardinal virtues such as courage and sacrifice are extolled, and I am not ashamed to say I shed a few tears during the beautiful and moving finale.

All things considered, Inside Out is charming, disarming and very wise. It’s hard to think of a reason why anyone of any age wouldn’t love this movie. Certainly Sally Sparrow would.

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Download The Birds Began to Sing FREE – for five days only

For five days only, you can download my novel The Birds Began to Sing absolutely FREE from Amazon.

The Birds Began to Sing_1600x2400_Front Cover

The Birds Began to Sing is a mystery novel inspired by the likes of Agatha Christie, Daphne Du Maurier and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with a dash of Susan Hill, the Bronte Sisters and Michael Crichton but hopefully also original in its own right (you decide). It is dedicated to my wife, who loves a gripping, page-turning thriller.

Here is the blurb from the back of The Birds Began to Sing:

When aspiring novelist Alice Darnell enters a competition to write the ending for an unfinished manuscript by late, world famous author Sasha Hawkins, it appears she might have her big break at last.

However, upon arrival at Sasha’s former home – the sinister Blackwood House – Alice is unsettled by peculiar competition rules, mysterious dreams and inexplicable ghostly visions. She begins to question her sanity as she is drawn into a terrifying web of deceit, revenge and murder.

Two reviewers at Barnes and Noble had this to say:

“Mystery, drama, conspiracy theory, and some supernatural intrigue. A real page turner!”

“I really enjoyed this. Really thought it was unique.”

And here are another two reviews from Amazon:

“This was really a great read and I loved the twist. Did not expect it at all.”

“An intriguing story, full of exciting twists and turns.”

Print copies are available to order here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/simon-dillon/the-birds-began-to-sing/paperback/product-21878694.html

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Guest post on From Sand to Glass: Rebellion, Religious Oppression and Abuse of Power

This week, fellow author Martin Willoughby has very kindly allowed me to write a guest post promoting my work on his blog. You can check out the article here.

What follows is a shorter, modified version of the post on Martin Willoughby’s blog, giving an overview of recurrent themes in my writing:

Regular readers of this blog know I write for both grown-ups and children in a variety of genres, but what recurrent themes are present in my writing?

Abuse of power and religious oppression are certainly two mainstays. My most successful novel to date, Children of the Folded Valley, is about a man looking back on his childhood growing in a mysterious cult, seemingly in a parallel dimension bordering our own.

Folded Valley cover

These themes are echoed in my most recent novel, Love vs Honour, which on the surface may appear to be a teenage romance, but it takes a number of dark and unexpected turns that I think are just as likely to make the novel appeal to adults. It concerns relationship between teenagers of different fundamentalist faith backgrounds, and their parent appeasing subterfuge as each pretends to convert to the others religion.

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George goes to Mars (and its sequel George goes to Titan, along with the upcoming final part of the trilogy, George goes to Neptune) also to a lesser extent deals with oppressive religious systems, and those who set themselves up as gods. The simple premise of the first novel – poverty stricken boy inherits all rights to sell land on the planet Mars – is merely the start of several thrilling adventures that will appeal to all ages.

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Abuse of power, and themes of distrust in political powers of all persuasions crop up in another adventure story I wrote entitled Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge. The first chapter features a haunted house, monster and mad scientist, and then novel builds from there.

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In a different vein, Uncle Flynn, a treasure hunt adventure, features themes of overcoming fear and the dangers of mollycoddling.

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Returning to novels for adults, The Birds Began to Sing is a gripping thriller about a mysterious writing competition that takes many sinister, possibly supernatural turns. Yet again abuse of power is a background theme, although primarily it concerns the power of the written word.

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It is worth mentioning a theme that crops up in virtually all my books: rebellion/uprising against corrupt and/or oppressive systems and/or people; whether religious, political or even just school bullies. Sometimes these confrontations take place on a small, personal level (the afore-mentioned bullies in stories like Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge, or perhaps the confrontations of Love vs Honour), or on a larger, more obvious scale (George goes to Mars, Children of the Folded Valley, etc).

Of course, this makes my novels sound terribly heavy and tough, but they aren’t. There is humour too, often quite dark humour, throughout all these stories.

Finally, I should add that many of my novels are set in and round where I live in the South West of England. Since moving here in 2006, I have derived a great deal of inspiration from my surroundings, and certain locations (particularly places on Dartmoor such as Wistman’s Wood) crop up again and again in my work.

All my novels are available on Amazon at a mere 99 pence per download. Print copies are also available from Lulu or, in the case of Love vs Honour, Amazon Create Space.

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Film Review – Ant-Man

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Although Ant-Man is a deliberately smaller scale entry in the Marvel Universe, it arrives with large scale expectations given the troubled production history. Original director Edgar Wright left the project citing “creative differences” – a term which covers a multitude of sins. At any rate, new director Peyton Reed picked up the pieces (with Wright still co-credited for the screenplay) and regardless of whether or not Wright’s version would have been better, the finished product is actually a lot more diverting than anyone had a right to expect.

The plot centres around one of Marvel’s less well-known superheroes, albeit one who crops up in various Avengers comics. Reformed burglar Scott Lang (a winning Paul Rudd) is released from prison, desperately wanting to earn the respect of his young daughter. Inevitably his past catches up with him, but at that point Lang comes to the attention of Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a mysterious scientist with a top secret suit that shrinks and provides the user with increased strength and… power over ants.

Yes, this is as ridiculous as it sounds, but it is a great deal of fun. Pym is concerned that his technology is about to fall into the wrong hands, and convinces Lang to work with him and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), to perform a heist that will prevent this catastrophe. And that is what Ant-Man is essentially: a heist movie. To give the Marvel Studio their credit, they never quite do the same thing twice.

The visual effects are stunning, and recall earlier miniaturisation themed movies ranging from The Incredible Shrinking Man to Fantastic Voyage, Innerspace and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Whether dodging a deluge of bath water, spinning on a record, riding a flying ant or beating up bad guys after leaping up on their shoulders, Lang’s antics are thoroughly enjoyable, and often very funny. One sequence involving a toy Thomas the Tank Engine train set is particularly memorable, and contains some enjoyably surreal turns.

Performances are all decent too, especially Michael Douglas, whose Hank Pym provides the moral compass of the story that places Lang on the path to redemption. There are some neat cameos I won’t spoil here, and the imaginatively staged action scenes wisely eschew the carnage wreaked in previous Marvel movies, including the most recent Age of Ultron. As such, like last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man feels offbeat but fresh.

If I had to pick nits, I’d say the first half of the film feels a tad uneven, but once Ant-Man hits its stride, it is very entertaining. As with all these films, the true test is what one’s children thought of it, and both of mine gave it a big thumbs-up. Don’t walk out during the end credits either, or you’ll miss the mid-credits scene, and even better the post-credits scene, which neatly sets up next year’s Captain America: Civil War.

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Download Children of the Folded Valley FREE – for five days only

To celebrate the first anniversary of the release of my most successful novel to date, for five days only, you can download Children of the Folded Valley absolutely FREE from Amazon (see link below):

AMAZON LINK

Folded Valley cover

Here is the blurb from the back of the book:

During a journey to visit his estranged sister, James Harper recalls his childhood growing up in a mysterious valley cut off from the outside world, as part of a cult called the Folded Valley Fellowship.

In this seemingly idyllic world, the charismatic Benjamin Smiley claimed to be protecting his followers from an impending nuclear apocalypse.

But the valley concealed a terrifying secret.

A secret that would change Smiley’s followers forever.

Children of the Folded Valley is a gripping and dramatic mystery with a “light” science fiction edge.

The novel has been very well reviewed. Here is a sample of the many raves:

“I don’t usually leave reviews but I felt so strongly about encouraging people to read this fantastic book. It had me captured from start to finish. At one stage in the book I actually thought it was a true story.” – Paul, Amazon.

“The use of re-written religious doctrine to control, govern and frighten is particularly chilling… Full marks to Simon Dillon for this creative and highly readable novel.” – Around Robin, Amazon.

“I was captivated… I didn’t want to put it down and just kept trying to find time to squeeze in a chapter… It just gets better and better as you read it and you find yourself needing to know what happened.” – Hannah, Goodreads.

“Creepy and unnerving. Kept me gripped the whole way through.” – Lucyboo, Amazon.

“I couldn’t put it down.” – Bukky, Amazon.

“Really well written, well thought through, compassionate… Full of empathy.” – Over, Amazon.

“So well written, you could believe it was a memoir.” – Shelley, Amazon.

“A perturbing and very original story… The ending is magnificent.” – Joan, Goodreads.

Print copies can be ordered here (but unlike the download are sadly not free): http://www.lulu.com/shop/simon-dillon/children-of-the-folded-valley/paperback/product-21812308.html

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Typecasting writers

It is interesting how many famous authors that were largely known for one type of writing were upset about that fact, and wanted to be known for their other works too. For example, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became infuriated with the success of Sherlock Holmes to the point that he killed him off, sending him plunging to his apparent doom alongside arch nemesis Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. Public outcry led to Holmes’ resurrection, but nevertheless Doyle often wanted his other works – including adventure stories such as The Lost World – to be better known.

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In a similar way, certain actors sometimes resent their most successful roles, thinking they overshadow their wider body of work. Alec Guinness ended up detesting the success of Star Wars, to the point that he once told a fan that he would only sign an autograph if he promised to never, ever watch Star Wars again.

I have some sympathy with such people, only because as an author I have written for both children and adults in a wide variety of genres. My most successful novel to date by far is Children of the Folded Valley, but I don’t just want to be known for that. I confess that I sometimes look at the huge amount of reviews for that book compared with the relatively small amount for my other novels and think: why don’t people give my other stories a try?

Folded Valley cover

Of course, such thoughts are nonsense. An author should be grateful for any success or novel they pen that strikes a chord with the reader. It is better to be a one-trick pony than a no-trick pony. Nevertheless, I am always hopeful that readers will upgrade me to multiple-trick pony.

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Film Review – Amy

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It is perhaps understandable that many will be put off watching Amy, given both the potentially depressing subject matter and controversy surrounding this riveting documentary on singer Amy Winehouse from Senna director Asif Kapadia. Yet although Amy is, at one level, necessarily bleak, it is also a celebration of an extraordinary one-off talent. It also fearlessly points the finger of blame in the direction of individuals and agendas that perhaps unwittingly paved the way for her eventual tragic death.

As with Senna, Kapadia eschews talking heads in favour of using archive footage culled from a variety of sources, including home movies, behind-the-scenes recording studio footage, television appearances, concerts and clips from websites; as well as photographs, handwritten documents and other material that all paint a fascinating, sympathetic picture of a truly tormented musician wrestling with her demons whilst producing some fantastic music. As someone who was familiar with her music but knew little of the story as told by the tabloids, I found the Amy Winehouse depicted here to be a true artist; immensely passionate, amusingly outspoken, and thoroughly likeable albeit tragically broken as a result of issues arising from her family background (especially her father).

Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay Amy Winehouse is this: normally when someone mutters in derogatory terms about manufactured pop music (Amy takes swipes at the likes of the Spice Girls and Justin Timberlake), I dismiss such comments as intolerably snobby. After all, just because someone didn’t write a song, doesn’t mean they can’t perform it well. To me, that is like saying Lawrence Olivier is a bad actor because he didn’t write Hamlet. Yet here, when Amy bemoans the lack of artistic integrity in commercial music and expounds on how none of it really connected with her so she decided to create her own music, it comes across as endearing and genuine rather than snobby.

On the evidence presented here, Amy genuinely did not care for fame, but just wanted to make music. Many famous pop stars claim they aren’t interested in fame, but their actions speak otherwise. In Amy’s case, I think she really meant it. As a result, I found myself warming to her more and more throughout the documentary, and not just because I’m a sucker for tales of struggling artists. By the end, I unashamedly confess I was in tears.

At times, watching Amy is like watching a car crash in slow motion. I mean that in a good way, but certain sequences make for very uncomfortable viewing. The merciless paparazzi and pressures of living in the public spotlight whilst in a downward spiral of self-destruction through drugs and alcohol are laid bare for all to see. Furthermore, scenes such as the one where Amy’s father Mitch removes an unconscious, smashed-off-her-head Amy from her sofa, bundling her onto a private jet to perform at a venue at which she refuses to sing, provoke furious anger. No wonder Mitch didn’t want this film seen. He does not come off well at all, to put it mildly. Nor does Amy’s on/off boyfriend Blake, who introduced her to hard drugs and subsequently served a prison sentence.

Early in the film, Amy speaks of how she doesn’t want to be famous, because she doesn’t think she’d be able to handle it. One cannot help but think she would have been happier in her beloved jazz clubs where she started out, prior to superstardom. Eventually, she admits that she would give back her talent if it simply meant she could walk down the street without being hassled. A cautionary tale for sure. But on the other hand, then we wouldn’t have her now classic album, Back to Black. Ultimately, the implied message here is that had Amy Winehouse had people around her who looked out for her best interests rather than simply riding on her coat tails, she could have got the help she so desperately needed, and we might have enjoyed her music for a long time.

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Title Trouble

Naming books is a notoriously tricky business. How do you come up with something catchy, appropriate and memorable? Often it can feel harder than writing the novel itself.

I recently finished the second draft of my most recent novel, a supernatural thriller/horror. However, it took me ages to come up with a title. Part of the problem was the genre itself having so many oft-used title words: ghost, haunting, spectre, spirit and so on. I did have one or two very good titles, but they were too spoiler-ish to use. In the end I opted for The Irresistible Summons. At least it has some mystery (ie what is this summons, and why is it irresistible?).

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George goes to Mars was a more straightforward title, and obviously leant itself well to sequels (George goes to Titan, and the upcoming George goes to Neptune). However, it has been put to me that these titles don’t do the books justice. Some claim they don’t contain enough mystery or menace, and that they suggest a story aimed at much younger children. In truth there is a lot of mystery and menace in the George Hughes adventures, and they are not aimed at very small children, but rather at the Harry Potter/Alex Rider age range and up. Perhaps one day I will change the titles, although I do rather like the way George goes to Mars rolls off the tongue.

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On another note, my recent novel Love vs Honour was originally simply called Honour, but when I discovered there was another novel with that name (which there wasn’t ten years ago when I wrote it), and that a film had also been made of said novel, I changed the title to Love vs Honour, which I think works much better for all kinds of reasons, as will be evident for those who read the book. It can be ordered from Amazon on Kindle (see link below):

AMAZON LINK

Here is the blurb from the back of Love vs Honour:

Two Religions. Two Deceptions. One Love.

When Johnny meets and falls in love with Sabina, their bond proves stronger than a teenage holiday fling.

Fearing the disapproval of their strict Christian and Islamic families, they undertake an elaborate deception to continue seeing one another. Johnny pretends to convert to Islam whilst Sabina pretends to covert to Christianity to appease their parents. 

But how long can this deception last before it unravels?

Print copies of Love vs Honour can also be ordered from Amazon Create Space:

CREATE SPACE LINK

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Film Review – The New Girlfriend

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A difficult one this. On the one hand, the less you know about Francois Ozon’s The New Girlfriend the better. On the other hand, it is impossible to talk about the themes in any detail without getting into major spoilers. I shall attempt the impossible and write a review anyway, in the hopes that those with a penchant for this kind of thing will give it a watch and those that don’t won’t.

Adapted from a Ruth Rendell story, the drama centres around recently widowed David (Roman Duris), whose best friend Claire (Anais Demoustier) promised his late wife Laura (Isild Le Besco – seen in flashbacks) that she would watch out for David and their baby girl Lucie just before she died. So one day Claire turns up at David’s house unannounced, and finds…

No, I really can’t say anymore as it would spoil the film, even though said incident occurs a mere ten minutes in. Suffice to say, David and Claire subsequently develop a highly unusual, intriguing relationship, much to the chagrin of Claire’s suspicious husband Gilles (Raphael Personnaz). Themes of identity, gender and sexuality crop up, and speaking of the latter this is a rather sexually explicit film. However, it is fair to say that the sex and nudity do actually advance the plot.

Beyond that I can’t really say a great deal more without spoiling the film. From a moral/spiritual perspective I personally I found the subject matter was tackled in a refreshingly non-judgemental manner, in spite of the issues I have with the ultimate outcome, about which I can’t say more here for fear of spoilers.

In short, The New Girlfriend is a well-acted, well-directed and challenging piece of work.

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Download Uncle Flynn FREE – for five days only!

For five days only, you can download my debut novel, Uncle Flynn, absolutely FREE from Amazon (see link below).

Uncle Flynn_Cover

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Uncle-Flynn-Simon-Dillon-ebook/dp/B004HO5LYU

Here is the blurb from the back of the book:

Max Bradley is a timid eleven year old boy with many fears. But when he embarks on a hunt for buried treasure on Dartmoor with his mysterious and dangerous Uncle Flynn, Max’s life looks set to change forever.

Together they decipher clues, find a hidden map and explore secret tunnels in their search. But with both police and rival treasure hunters on their tail, Max begins to wonder if his uncle is all he seems.

A gripping and thrilling adventure for all ages, Uncle Flynn is a classic treasure hunt narrative, but it is also about overcoming fear and the dangers of mollycoddling. The novel dedicated to my eldest son, Daniel, and was largely inspired by our many expeditions on Dartmoor, as well as a bit of local history.

Here are a few reviews from various readers:

“Harking back to the wonderful adventure stories of Arthur Ransome, Uncle Flynn is a welcome return to the excitement of outdoor exploits in wild surroundings. Excitement, tension and peril combine in a well-written tale where The Goonies meets Swallows and Amazons. The evocative descriptions of treasure seeking on Dartmoor will have you longing to visit and explore for yourselves. Action-packed puzzle-solving pleasure for children and adults alike, with a neat twist in the tale to keep you guessing.”

Mrs Alice R Brewer, Amazon.co.uk

“A treasure for all ages. Kids and teenagers would love this fast-paced adventure story. Most adults would also find it a light and enjoyable read.”

B Fraley, Amazon.com

“Don’t pass this one by. I have been burning through the free NOOKbooks and this is the absolute BEST. Doesn’t matter what type of fiction you like to read, I can imagine this would capture just about anyone’s attention – and heart.”

willreadanything, Barnes and Noble.

“Could not put the book down, so enjoyed the journey. Recommended it to my 12 year old grandson who now wants me to be his book reading adviser. Loved by three generations.”

Brinney, Barnes and Noble.

“What a wonderful book for young readers and anyone else who loves a book with a great twist on an amazing story of courage over fear.”

Beansie47, Barnes and Noble.

“I’m an 83 year old woman. Your book was a joy to me. I felt I was having all the adventures myself at this ripe old age. Your book was like a cold drink of water on a hot day. Thank you.”

Joan McLaughlin, commenting on the Uncle Flynn blog.

“I downloaded the book for my boys to read, and thought I’d just read the first few lines… Needless to say I read to the end! Well written and most enjoyable – great adventure with life lessons woven into the story.”

Cecile Weyers, commenting on the Uncle Flynn blog.

Print copies can be ordered here (but unlike the download are sadly not free): http://www.lulu.com/shop/simon-dillon/uncle-flynn/paperback/product-21165126.html

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