Monday, April 29, 2013

The latest from Baldacci stable: The Hit

Over the weekend, I gulped down a helping of Mr. Baldacci's latest offering, The Hit. Second in a series featuring the cold blooded CIA hit man, Will Robie. a fun quick read - easy stuff more like a comfort read without stretching myself at all.

Review to be up on soon. Hoowzaaah! ( to be updated with actual link)

Oblivion: a glorious visual spectacle mis-marketed as science fiction future with gaping plot holes

Oblivion is a 2013 science fiction movie that stars Tom Cruise, Olga Kiriyilenko, Andrea Riseborough and Morgan Freeman set in a bleak desert-like post-apocalyptic earth in 2077 where humanity has been destroyed in a massive war with the aliens and the survivors have been moved to Titan, one of the moons of Jupiter for rehabilitation. Brilliant premise, great landscape to develop a gripping science fiction story of survival and human drama, you think? Yes and no. I got reasons why I thought this gripping first half petered to a meaningless droll second half where confusion, bewilderment and plot-holes ruled the screen till the end credits start rolling.

The one thing you can’t fault Tom Cruise with is his ability to entertain audience with any of his outings. Tom is not new to the Science Fiction genre in movies. Minority Report, War of the Worlds to name a few. Two albeit completely different movies in its treatment by the same director (Mr. Speilberg) So I had huge expectations with this one. Especially considering that the director, Joseph Kosinksi has already dipped his hands into such film-making already having ventured to make Tron:Legacy with Disney pictures.

I actually didn’t really care about who was at the helm of the affairs, I wanted to settle down and watch a taut sci-fi thrill ride. I had heard Oblivion described to be a harrowing twisted journey through Tom’s character Jack Harper’s mind as he discovers the truth behind how Earth got wasted. I was ready to be drawn into the stygian depths of a tortured survivor of a nuclear holocaust. Bring it on, I said.

The movie is made on an epic grand scale, a visually stunning spectacle unfolds through the first few scenes as we are introduced to a ravaged landscape, that is Earth – destroyed and being cleaned up after a massive war with alien intelligence known only as scavengers or “scavs”. Jack and his communications officer, Vic are the sole living remnants on Earth living in a lavish high-tech luxurious pad hosted high above the clouds. They are doing the ultimate clean-up ensuring that the robotic drones left to single out and destroy the remnants of scavs on earth are kept in check. The drones also ensure that the hauling of sea-water from Earth into space to power fuel-cells for the elaborate hive in the space that is their commanding office, known only as Tet continues un-interrupted.  Jack is a technician whose day job is to go out and ensure all drones are up and running (Tech-49 is his moniker) while night job is to come back and get seduced by his girlfriend/team-mate Vic. It’s funny though, as he repeatedly gets dreams about a beautiful wife from his past life.  Oh did I tell you, the survivors go through a mandatory memory wipe? Curious huh.
Things unravel pretty slowly as the first hour goes by in setting up this early premise. Things perk up when on one of Jack’s foraging missions, he encounters a crashed spaceship from where he rescues Julia, the same woman he dreams about.  (Head-slapping coincidence you say?) Things start to spin out of control from here on as Jack embarks on a journey of self-discovery, riddled with doubts and plagued with the constant threat of a lurking disaster in the background. Enough material to develop that sense of dread and crank up the tension on battlefield Earth? I would have thought yes.

Sadly the director/story ploughs straight into a muddled confusion-filled territory filled with plot-holes the size of destroyed chunks of moon. Without spoiling it for you, I would let it rest that the plot twists could leave you befuddled and scratching your head by the end. It plays out to a grand finale where Jack plays the ultimate hero, but I will let you draw that conclusion.

Coming to the acting department, Tom Cruise plays out yet another heroic attempt at saving good old earth with all his typical bravado and bluster. The only gamut of emotions that he got to play with are complete bewilderment and a strong sense of resolve. Olga was mostly a part of the lush beautiful landscape, Andrea played her role to perfection. Going through the roles of teasing team-mate, jealous lover, betrayed co-worker one by one. Morgan Freeman plays a forgettable cameo playing the stock wise guy muttering wise-cracks as usual.

 Some futuristic laser-gun type shooting action sequences, a damn cool foldaway desert bike, thrilling edge-of-the-seat aero-chases – all this notwithstanding, my biggest grouch would be that how could they make this sci-fi so boring? Agreed, it is meant to be a slow burning wick prepping for a massive explosive climax but a seasoned movie-viewer could see the end coming from far and that is a dampener. I liked the neat twist in the plot but ultimately for me, a sci-fi, even a cerebral one needs to have that extra amp in terms of futuristic action or a massive plot-twist that will leave me scrambling for the wiki explanations.  This one didn’t cut it. 

Some pros: Great visual appeal, watch it for the stunning CGI effects and the grand scale; Right from the first scene you would be hooked on to the screen marveling at stunning world building– be it the Pickachu-inspired drones or the flying station above the clouds that plays home to Jack and Victoria. Among other things, the firefly-designed plane is simply breathtaking.  Claudio Miranda’s visually enthralling photography will definitely blow your mind on IMAX.

All said and done, an attempt at cerebrally smart scifi falls short of expectations because of a lackluster script that lost its way stumbling and scraping through some hackneyed action-climax around saving Earth. It easily could have been about Jack Harper’s mental trauma but Tom Cruise has to step out of his shoes to save Earth again. Sigh. Will still give this three stars.  


Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: The Grim Company by Luke Scull

First up, a big thank you to the lovely Becci Sharpe and all the other folks at Head of Zeus for having sent me a review copy !! You’ve backed a winner here, a racehorse for the longer innings – so take a bow!
Grim Company is the hot debut by Luke Scull, that went into a multi-way bidding war between publishers and little known UK based Head of Zeus walked away winners. Big risk for an enterprise setting out in this industry? Well, risks pay off and boy, what a brilliant gamble this has turned out to be for them, huh.

Epic fantasy featuring sweeping battles, mighty God-like magelords, an enriched system of magic, a company of misfits including a tragic hero and an older cynical warrior weary of life out to change the fate of the world in an age of ruins where heroes have no place. Grim company packs all these fantasy tropes pretty well into an explosive grim dark fantasy that I believe, is well neigh going be the heir to that throne currently occupied by a certain Mr. Abercrombie from the same country. Luke definitely has written a gripping story ripe with violent action and snarky humor bringing alive some riveting characters who enthrall you with their grey motives and morally ambiguous interests keeping you invested till the explosive end.  For fans of Abercrombie, while he is still penning down his next and working on making that First Law into a graphic novel, take a break and dive into the grim world of Luke Scull. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

The story is set in a grey world where the Gods have been killed by powerful magelords who each rule various factions – chief ones that feature in this book are the Tyrant of Dorminia, Salazar, Lord of the North, the Shaman and the mysterious White Lady. Written in third person narrative, it features multiples POVs that keeps the tightly-written bloat-free story rolling forwards. We are first introduced to Davarus Cole, a self-proclaimed hero out to rid the city of Dorminia of its tyrannical ruler.  Caught up in his own narcissistic heroic images, Cole makes for really interesting read –his character evolution arc is pretty well written (Well except for a hurried training in the middle) but two of the most well written characters whom I absolutely loved were Brodar Kayne, the barbarian from the North Highlands and Eremul, the legless wizard who is also seething for his revenge against Salazar. Till now it does look like Luke just borrowed from the enigmatic cast of the First Law trilogy and dumped them into this new world on the razor-edge of doom, doesn’t it? But give it a go and Luke’s interpretation of this band of misfit “heroes” is something you will love. Thrown into the fray are also Sasha, another rebel accompanying Cole, Yllandris a sorceress from the North with her own secret ambitions and Barandas, Salazar’s chief Augmentor ( Augmentor is like a super bad-ass soldier with magic infused into their weapons or body itself) – He is possibly the only guy who has honorable intentions in this whole book. Well sadly, that made him a little boring for me. But despair not, the twisted wicked legless half-wizard Eremul, the inept Cole with his big mouth and tall claims and the brooding fearsome swordsman par excellence Kayne will more than make up for that.  All of them get caught up in the claws of fate.

Political intrigue and unrest crackles through the book – the hero’s journey comes a full circle back to where he started. Horrific demoniacal monsters from the badlands where fallen Gods leak magic abound. Action is top notch and Luke’s writing comes alive in an easy fast prose that makes for excellent reading.

Overall, a crackling debut that will cement Luke’s place in an arena already full and brimming with talented writers. I for one, will definitely want to watch where Luke is going to take Kayne – surely headed for the glorious blood-soaked pantheon of brooding badasses in fantasy history – right alongside the Bloody Nine.  Highly recommended, a full four stars.