Wednesday, June 26, 2013

World War Z: An Spectacularly fun ride !!

An intelligently done zombie movie?
I hear you scoff and hide that smirk behind your cough. Well believe it or not, Brad Pitt has backed this mega-scale epic zombie “war” movie through long tiresome years of rewrite and production delays and has come up trumps with a solid action-thriller that should feature on your must-view zombie movies. 

Or must-view action-thriller movie…

Take your pick but it does not deter the fact that World War Z is one hell of a well-made movie with its “scary” moment homages and stunningly epic action set-pieces. Brad Pitt of course makes it worth the tense journey starting in New York and traipsing through South Korea, Israel and coming to end in Cardiff, England.

World War Z follows UN investigator Gerry Lane as he races against time and deranged zombie killer-mobs to find the cure for a deadly viral infection that turns the infected into the “undead” across the globe. The movie starts off in a fascinating manner – the director dropping us blissfully unaware into the middle of a crowded New York street on a balmy late afternoon where the Lane family (Brad Pitt – grungy looks with that long-hair , grey stubble and downplaying the hero act!) are planning to get out to Philadelphia for their vacation. Things go downhill with a frightening rapidity as hell breaks loose and in brief, searing glances - we witness our first zombies right on the streets – deranged and hungry – going into a frenzied feed-mode.  It’s shocking and it turns ugly within spinning moments. Pandemonium on the streets, the populace turns into a killing mob right in front of their eyes. Gerry goes into war-zone survival mode, securing his family into a tall residential building.  You are rudely pitched headlong in the middle of the action unfolding in the abandoned streets as the whole world goes to hell around you.

From here, it is a race for survival – with Gerry – a former investigator for UN who has experience keeping people safe in dangerous places – fleeing the zombie mobsters. But the movie soon shakes off its straight shlock horror & gore-fest approach once the audience is made aware of the zombie outbreak. From here on, the scale goes epic. Gerry is recruited to find the “patient zero” or the source of this zombie viral outbreak along with a crack team of Navy Seals and an immunologist. It spins out from here onto a global scale, eschewing the typical zombie movie styles of keeping the narrative tight-focused on just one street or a wooden cabin where the team of ten teenagers get whittled down one by one until the hero-heroine remain standing. No, here it is a one-man show.

Brad Pitt shines through and through as the tortured man separated from his family, resolute in the face of danger who grits his teeth, clamps down his fear and gets the job done without any over-the-top narcissistic action sequences.  With all the pulse-pounding action amidst some brilliant nail-biting tension that mounts through the movie narrative, sadly there was no scope of any character growth. But hell, we ain’t watching a Cohen brothers movie right? Brad Pitt wades right into the thick of the action like the stout undeniable warrior walking into the battle field for the last day of his life, sticks through the job assigned to him with a winning resolute and a quiet heart-warming demeanor. He is brilliant and it has been such a long time since I saw Pitt take on the mantle of an action hero. Pure mind-blowing awesomeness on screen.

Marc Foster the director wisely avoids any Hollywood lionizing of the American might and keeps the premise very straight. We see how different countries are affected around the globe, how they react differently and generally how mass panic outbreaks are quelled down or spiral out of control.
Some of the action set pieces are mind blowing – the harrowing scene of the zombies throwing themselves like a pack of hungry frenzied rats, scrabbling over each other, forming an unholy zombie tower that slips and grows with each one biting, foaming, snarling and thrashing for a bite of the human flesh.  The mid-air explosion inside the airplane flinging out the infected zombies one by one  through a ragged gaping hole right in the middle of the plane,  the fear-maddened survival rush in an abandoned south Koran airport in the dark pouring rain to fuel up a plane in the middle of a zombie infected zone. Those and more will definitely scorch through your senses and will haunt you as you leave the theatre.

The sense of dread and fear conveyed is real. The creeping psychologically suffocating sense of an impending threat, I think, that is what makes the horror/zombie movie a winner. Next time you look at that sunny neighborhood park filled with happy faces, the movie will force you to think of a horrifying alternative that might just come true someday. And I think that element of raw vulnerability conveyed so brilliantly through the movie elevates it way beyond your stock-blood and gore-fest zombie kill fests.

I have a lot more thoughts on the movie but I will rein in here. So what makes World War Z a movie worth watching?

It’s unstoppable fun, it’s epic and it is intelligent. And it has got Brad Pitt who dominates and glides through the 2-hour screenplay running against time and dodging a pack of ferocious superfast killer zombie pack. What more do you want? Well, it’s definitely got a sequel planned I think. Smirk.
So jump on board now, will you. Go kill some zombies before they bring our world down. Join the war.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Short Story by Mark Lawrence: Yummy Freebie

I am a huge fan of Mark Lawrence - I absolutely loved the wicked little sociopath Jorg Ancrath seething for revenge and carving up his own bloody path towards getting closer to the goal of becoming Emperor. Here is my review.

For all the fans, there is a double cheer. The third book, which I have heard from early reviews, is a mind blowing ending to all that gets sown in the first couple of books of the "Broken Empire", is coming out soon. July I think ?

Secondly, Mark takes up one of his friends on a dare and weaves in a fairy tale into the world of the Broken Empire. Imagine Jorg with Cinderella. or the Sleeping Beauty. Or Jack the Giant-Killer. Or whoever man! Think about it. The world will be a tough cruel place that pits our charming killer boy into the serene calm fairy tale worlds. I think it will be monumental. and kick-ass.

Check it out here. A free short story by Mark Lawrence featuring some of the well known characters from our childhood fairy-tales. Stop salivating. and click here.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Thoughts on the Rusting Man of Steel

Man of Steel was outrageously bad, an assault on your senses and an insult to one of the greatest DC Comics Superhero.

I know am late to the party, much has been said about how Zack Snyder got this one completely wrong ; Senseless treatment that relied on too much shock and awe - more shock than awe - as a result coming up with a completely soul-less movie if ever a superhero movie was made.

In spite of a stellar star-cast with heavy weights like Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Kostner, Lawrence Fishbourne all pulling in their weights along with story from the incredibly talented mindstore of Christopher Nolan, the movie was awful. Period.

The ingredients were all right - Let us go one by one:

The actual story of birth - Krypton's destruction and the parents' ultimate sacrifice to let the baby escape in a sealed pod from the exploding ( or rather imploding) planet. Disconnect#1 - in spite of a nuanced acting performance by Russell Crowe, the gallant scientist who gives up his life to save the baby so the race may survive - I never was able to dig in and get to like this. Visually spectacular scenes of an entire planet mushrooming up into mulch is not enough to get the audience invested in the fate of that one super baby.

Tracing the origins of a superhero - flashbacks to his tormented childhood where he struggles to comprehend his powers and is a tortured soul who doesn't get to believe in himself or the world that ridicules and is afraid of the "freak" - Disconnect #2. I never felt my heart go out for that boy, I don't know what was wrong but I simply couldn't feel the connection with this one.

Young man's journey to find his roots: After a hurried sequence where a bearded Henry Cavill is searching for himself out in the middle of the pacific, saving lives by single-handedly catching an entire toppling oil-rig on fire, Clark hears about the strange UFO-like object in the mountains. An entirely unconvincing reunion of father-son happens. Disconnect #3. Oh well, maybe Kryptonians don't really bond that well with their sons, huh?

Damsel in distress: Louis Lane, the pulitzer-winning journalist is portrayed pretty well actually. Amy Adams is pretty charming alright, I did like her. but what was pathetic indeed, was the damsel in distress act inside the Kryptonian skycraft where Clark first meets her and the heavily-underplayed romance between the two. No sparks here for sure. It was just another day of work for our superhero and I never really was able to figure out when he fell for her. Enough to endanger the whole bloody planet. And hey, what interest did the General Zod have in taking her captive along with Superman? Takes the pleasure out of watching a superhero movie. While I don't want it to reach the soapy levels it took on in the last version [ Remember that line where Superman (played by Criminally good-looking Brendon Ruth who cannot act to save his life) drops out of the sky to catch Lois Lane unawares and mouths, "thinking about me?" I shot myself in the head three times to make sure I stay dead for the rest of the movie :D ] Romance is integral, my friend Zack. Put some more zing into that next time please? Maybe like a three-way triangle between Lane, Kent and Lex Luthor?

Antagonist: General Zod. Mean Loud mouthed military general who thinks only of his own planet. well, no faults there huh? I never really came to hate this guy. And that was disconnect#5. I mean, I want the antagonist to be so bleeding bad that ever pore of my body should be sweating hate-bullets (okay that was a little far fetched but you get the idea!) General Zod is actually lovable. He just wants to save his race. and in that bargain, gets beaten up by our Superhero who is pretty selfish and wants to save his girlfriend. Thumbs-down Superman. Get Kevin Spacey back please!! He gave me those shivers for sure.

The stretched-out never-ending climax that blew my ear-drums: I will not get into details here. the assault on the senses - visual and hearing - was immensely damaging. The excessive bludgeoning and crashing through glass-buildings was like the last nail on the coffin. I must have walked out of that theater deaf. Disconnect # 6.

Enough said. The movie was a valiant effort at reboot, re-introducing us to a well-known superhero. Sure enough, it wasn't cheesy at all, Zack and Chris trading that bit for a lot more grit and yes, if you are dying to know, the movie producers have done away with the red "undies". The suit is fantastic. and the action borders on near fantastic. but the cinematography is a little confusing. the ultra-close ups, shaky grainy effects ruins the near perfect special effects that is meant to awe.

This superman doesn't even come close to capturing the heart and that sense of heightened idealism or Herogiri, that Superman ultimately stands for. Two stars maybe?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Way of the Kings:A Stunning, Fabulous Magnum Opus by Brandon Sanderson

I had heard of Brandon Sanderson a while back, the Elantris and the Mistborn trilogy skimming the outer edges of my “maybe-to-read-in-future” list. I never really went back to visit whom all I had missed out on that list. But with the Wheel of Time series getting a shot in the arm, Tor bringing in Sanderson to revive this series and bring it to a satisfactory completion, the author shot to international limelight. Suddenly people all over were sitting up to take note of this young prolific talented author saddled with this enormous task of completing what is considered, an epic that defined the genre in the 90’s. 

I got my hands on a juicy seven-chapter freebie on Kindle of his steampunk-ish novella set in the same world as Mist Born, but set ages later – with the introduction of guns but with similar systems of magic, called the Alloy of Law. Crackler. I was sold on his ability to spin a yarn and spin it engagingly well. Then I read the Legion – Read my review here. A brief but very very promising look at the immensely talented Sanderson’s genius.  And finally, I rectify this mistake of not having read a full length novel of his – with this magnum opus, a product of his fertile imagination, where Sanderson really breaks loose and shows us glimpses of his true potential. 

The Way of Kings is the opening chapter to Stormlight Archives, an ambitious massive ten-book series that will most probably prove to be a seminal piece of genre fiction of our times. If the first book is any indication, Sanderson’s got quite a huge task in front of him. and we have got to give it to him – the rate at which he churns out stories is simply staggering. In addition to the last three books of the WoT, he also has spun numerous novellas, including the forthcoming highly anticipated foray into YA Fantasy, first book called the SteelHeart. 

But let’s come back to this book, the Way of Kings. What a fantastic opening chapter for an epic fantasy series. It is E-P-I-C in every sense of the word. In Roshar, the world where the story takes place, we have one of the best secondary world created rivaling Middle-Earth and Westeros – Exquisitely detailed with a rich history and a delightfully original magic system (oh by the way, apparently none of Sanderson’s books are complete without the mention of his Magic system – usually very detailed and well laid out) The intricately plotted storylines spread across three to four main protagonists starts off on a furious note and the pulse pounding action that kicks in pretty early ( right from the word go, the prologue itself) doesn’t let up until the end – kicking up to dizzyingly high levels by the final few chapters. Reading this book was an experience I cherished, transported into this wonderful world of Roshar, completely invested in the future of all three main characters.
Okay I probably need to rein in and go a little structured here. So here’s the byte-sized version of the plot:

The world of Roshar is a pretty cruel place to live – A rocky landscape continuously lashed by High Storms where even the plants have adapted to the harsh environments by growing exo-skeletons and learning to withdraw from danger. The world is split across different kingdoms and majority of book one concentrates on the Kingdom of Alethkar. Alethkar is ruled by a King but in reality is splintered and each of the ten HighPrinces individually fight and scrabble for their own selfish needs. Society is divided into the light eyed nobles, the upper classes and the dark eyes, the lower class.

We are thrown headlong into the story with three different (phew!!) prologues following three seemingly unrelated incidents. Well hang in there. It’s tough reading ( maybe not as bad as “Gardens of the Moon, but pretty damn close!) but the action pouring out of those initial prologue itself set the tempo for the book. The third prologue has an assassin murder the King of Alethkar. It’s shocking, it’s brutal and raw and it is delicious bait for us to get sucked into this wonderful world of HighStorms and assassins and light-eyed princes with black treachery in their hearts and dark-eyed slaves who have hearts larger than the King himself.

The events of the prologue are what sets the story rolling. At least, of direct import is the third one following the murder of King Gavilar. The Alethi pit themselves in a never ending war that has been going on for the past six years with their neighbours, the Parshendi, the little-known savages on whom the blame of the assassination falls.

The main story set five years after this murder gets played out through the eyes of three main POVs – Kaladdin, a slave with a heart of gold, Dalinar Kholin the only light-eyed High Prince in Alethkar who can think outside the petty squabbles or the war, deemed to be a man who lives by the older Codes and Shallan, a high born noble who wants to be a ward of the best known historian in the Kingdom of Alethkar.  

Clearly, Sanderson is setting Kaladdin up for larger grander things. The rise of a slaveboy, I can picture that. A trope that has been probably explored myriad times before but how Sanderson approaches and sets this up is pure gold, exquisite. Kaladdin Stormblessed is clearly going to be immortalized up there on that grand pantheon besides Rand’Al Thor or Aragorn son of Arathorn.  He clearly is going to be one of the best protagonists you are going to be reading about. While book one belongs to Kaladdin who has the best evolutionary arc in terms of character growth, Dalinar Kholin the Blackthorn gets some fist-pumping action scenes and is a tortured soul who strives to be the only man who wants to do the “right” thing. We have seen this character before. Perhaps what makes Sanderson’s version special, is the ability to spell out the beautiful legends and history of this land through the visions granted to Dalinar.  Shallan, the third main character is a bit boring, frankly. She has her own agenda and is here to study under the world’s greatest scholar who conveniently happens to the King’s sister, Jashan. And Sanderson cleverly sets up for bigger things to follow through for the rest of the books in both their characters, I suspect we will be seeing a lot more of both of them in the subsequent books.

It’s a fairly long read but never does it get tedious. The tension keeps building through out – be it the fate of the slaves in the war camp where Kaladdin becomes an inadvertent leader or the war between PArshendi and the Alethi, punctuated by the backstabbings and treachery between the high princes or the terrible discovery by Shallan about secrets of this world teetering on the verge of a huge apocalypse. The glorious hand-drawn pictures that gives us glimpses into the strange but wonderful creatures of Roshar were a pleasant add. The magic, oh my god, a lot of thought has obviously gone into it. There are two types – the Lashings that primarly focuses on using the planets gravitational forces and manipulation of the same to one’s advantages and the second one, Soul Casting is a little more hazy and less explained. But am confident Sanderson has given this a lot of thought as well and is just waiting for the right timing to let it roll out. 

It all comes together beautifully like an expertly woven tapestry sewn up of individually brilliant designs  coming together to form a masterpiece. There are lots of the puzzle that is yet to shape up – questions like who are the Knights Radiant Heralds who abandoned the humans, Who the hell is Wit, a travelling storyteller – clearly Sanderson’s “shaved knuckle in the hole” to be unleashed in the later books perhaps? And most of all, who is Szeth, a character to whom most of the interludes refer to as the Assassin in White who cries and weeps while he kills and harvests souls with his terrible sword? The most frustrating is the “interludes” between different parts of the narrative – seemingly random characters going on about their lives? Mysteries abound, but it still remains an awesome testimony to what Sanderson is truly capable of, A narrative that is poignant and exciting beyond measure. The tension is ratcheting up to unbearably high levels as the whole world is probably going to swan dive into some kind of a prophesied apocalypse, that Sanderson refers to as the Last Desolation.
Journey before Destination – part of an important tenet in the book holds true for pretty much the entire book reading experience itself. Being just an opener in a ten-part series, there are no answers present here. But what it does is give us an amazingly epic world that one can never tire of.

I cannot wait for him to give us the next installment. This book leaps straight to the top of my Best Reads for 2013 list and an assured place on my All Time Fabulous Reads. Brandon Sanderson, I salute your ambitious sweeping ground breaking vision. Five stars and richly deserved. Everything that I look for in an epic fantasy packaged to perfection and flawlessly delivered.