Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pacific Rim: Mindless Entertainment on a Lavish Scale

Pacific Rim is a completely brainless movie that is rooted in it's corny theme and sticks through with the same throughout. It is still a good escapist fun ride packed with all the right ‘masala’ ingredients to hit it big. Alien monsters, metallic monster killing machines and All-American soldiers (though they have tried hard to make it as generic as possible! Bringing in a characters ranging from all over the world- Australian father-son, a Russian pair, a Japanese girl - sadly all molded in the usual All-American manner) – all heart, full brawn and a lot of yak and needles bravado. A typical big budget movie that seems like a lot of fun as long as you skim along the surface. But trust me, don’t even bother to dig deeper below the surface, you will be devastated at the lack of storylines, plots or even a decent believable premise tinged with logic.

But yes – on the surface of things, Pacific Rim packs in a lot of heart in this movie and it serves you dollops of action-packed fun, all in generous XXL sizes. Be it the big Godzilla-spawn monsters called Kaiju (did you get a Japanese whiff there?) that breach the Earth’s atmosphere and attack from the sea, the monstrously huge killing machines called Jaegars piloted by men who need to have a neural drift compatibility in order to fight in tandem duking it out with these reptilian monsters and tons of eye-popping kickass action that is shot on a lavishly grand scale that is a visual delight. You might just end up loving it, if for those couple of hours you put your thinking /grey cells outside the theatre. 

So we are somewhere in the future – where Earth is constantly under threat by an alien presence that sends through these lizard-like creatures (coming in increasing sizes from Category 1 to 4 )  to exterminate all lives – our only guard that stands between destruction and survival are these huge-ass metallic fighting robots running on nuclear reactor cores and digital technology. We are thrust straight into the movie in a glorious sea-battle between one of the Kaijus and a Jaegar – controlled by Raleigh Beckett (our hero - relatively unknown charlie hunan) and his brother Yancy. It’s a gut-wrenching scene where Raleigh loses the fight and his brother as well to the rapacious monster. After this, we cut to five years later where Marshall Stacker, played by Idrish Elba is being asked to stand down on the Jaegar program. In the last stages, the Jaegar program has only four functional robots and the team finally has a plan to shut down the breach through which the Kaijus attack Earth. For this to work, they need Ray back in fighting form and the initial parts of the movie focuses on the hesitant budding relationship between him and this new recruit, Mako Mori, who’s got her own personal demons to conquer and an old score to settle. Marshall Stacker’s got his own personal agenda as well rolled into this scheme of things. Add to the ensemble, two Kaiju researchers who are trying to crack the problem of this breach through their own separate individual methods.
It gets a bit tedious, the characters drab and dialogues stilted and the plot plodding along. We know how things are going to turn out but we needtcha fend off these initial glitches as we squirm in our seats, straining at the leash to get another glimpse of those brilliantly choreographed kinetic immersive churn of metal against leathery skin reptiles. And it comes as expected through the middle of first half. From here on, it’s a headlong rush of blood to the head – bone-crunching, pedal-to-the-floor action full throttle that pumps up and over. The individual confrontations , as opposed to transformers, are easier to follow and is definitely more entertaining.
The acting is nothing to crow about – nor all the characters interesting. Though special call out to Ron Perlman who plays a black-marketer who deals in Kaiju body-parts in Honk-Kong. He brings the much needed cheer into the grim settings.  It simply is a fist-pumping visual spectacle that holds no illusions about being a brainy movie. Catching it on the big screen is a great experience and all fans of the Transformer series, have now got something else to croon about.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Graphic Novel: Buddha by OsamuTezuka (Mini Review)

Irreverant, lush, evocative, poignant and most decidedly epic. 

The 8-volume Buddha series by Osama Tezuka, widely revered in Japan as the grandfather of Manga, is a sprawling, awe-inspiring work of art and fiction that is stunning in the scope of its vision and achievement.

I jumped a book – and dove straight into book two : The Four Encounters that sees a 13-year old Siddhartha come to terms with the evils in life – the themes of the caste system that draws strict lines of divides in the society, the differences between the rich nobility and the poor mendicants of the streets – and teaches him about the frailty of life and the inevitability of death and introduces him to the concept of the cycles of life. I know I have missed a masterpiece by not having read book one, Kapilavastu but I have resolved to correct that error. Have ordered book 1 and 3.
Buddha is in many ways, a confusing series as it crisscrosses across multiple characters and timelines but Tezuka keeps the basic premise true to the tenets of Buddhism: that all forms of life, however small and inconsequential, are sacred and every life form has a role to play in the scheme of the bigger things coming to intersect and influence. 

Vol 2. Deals with the harsh truths of life that Siddhartha is introduced to –  Ageing, disease and death - after escaping from the confines of his dreary castle with the help of a pariah (untouchable), the lovable roguish Tatta [ who is a main protagonist of this series and will continue to cross paths with Siddhartha many times ] – We are also introduced to the fiery woman bandit, Migaila who falls in love with Sidhartha and the beautiful loyal princess Yashodara destined to be Sidhartha’s wife and mother to Rahula, their child. Also interspersed into the proceedings is Bandaka, the arrogant mighty warrior who aspires to wrestle the kingdom and Princess Yashodara from Sidhartha. Each of them, in their own rights, a mesmerizing caricature of everything that is lovable and yet humanly flawed and vulnerable in all of us. It’s a beautiful tapestry of a variety of human stereotypes that brings to life the desultory times of Sidhartha’s youth in the Shakya kingdom. The fates of star-crossed lovers Migailla , the low born bandit and Sidhartha, the high born royalty is cruel and so poignantly depicted in Tezuka’s masterful drawings, bringing to life the haunting quality of such hopeless love. The artwork is exceptional, balancing exaggeratedly stylized characters against finely detailed background. Be it – the irreverent animated frenzied fights, the intense quiet moments between Sidhartha and Migailla or the introspection and dreams of Sidhartha following the fate of a little bird.

It’s a great satisfying read and yet, in dealing with such a serious topic as that of Siddhartha’s quest for peace and answers to human suffering – Tezuka has chosen the perfect foil of humor. I think It’s a great fit and works charmingly well to help the proceedings along in a riptide pace. Vol. 2 has no answers and is only the start of a fantastic quest, but has enough meat and storylines to keep you hooked onto the tale.  

Overall a wonderful opening to a magnificent series that is definitely a path-breaking work of graphic art.  Four stars.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book Review: Three by Jay Posey

THREE is Jay Posey's debut, the first book in the Legends of the Duskwalkers series, this was an ARC I got from Angry Robots, perhaps the first book that I'm reading from their stable. It's an odd ball mix of western, science fiction and horror and a very entertaining tale of flight and survival set in a distant dystopian-end of the world kind of settings. The story follows the fate of a lone gunman with a mysterious past, Three, whose life changes when he decides to protect a woman and her gifted six-year old son fleeing from unknown assailants.

Three, a bounty hunter who lives by his gun, runs into Cass ( a chemic who survives on body-boosting energy shots) and her six-year old son, Wren,  who is special. ( Now that's a dead giveaway, I agree but i wont harp on it)Three saves her from a bully and inadvertently ends up killing another in a bid to save her.  This sweeps him into a murky conspiracy from which the woman and kid are trying to flee - making them a target for a sinister gang of criminals. And they flee town, escaping out into the vast apocalyptic wastelands that surrounds settlements left in this distant world that has seen better days of technology and now is nothing but a lifeless cauldron of rundown buildings, abandoned roads and grey hopelessness. And out there in the urban desert lands , the human pursuers and scavenger gangs are the least of their troubles.

I wasn't disappointed with the tale, although predictable, the book has its surprising revelatory moments and its full of non-stop pulse-pounding edge-of-the-seat thriller moments that is well written.

 One thing about Jay's craft - he's got the ability to seep in nerve-wracking tension into the narrative and has the reader hanging onto his words waiting for what he is going to spring on to them next. Jay does not waste time dumping info about his grey hopeless world and this works well to step up the tense dramatic moments. It's a world that has people genetically modifying their hands to be steel-cases and strong, large barreled guns that can fire thirty kilo joule  bullets that can furrow a gaping hole in pretty much anything solid, people who can upload their memories and souls into some central system for safekeeping, you can Pim others minds and access the GST time without watches and read your surroundings by accessing satellite maps through minds. Enough future-istica for you?

Oh it gets better and Jay does these so subtly sweeping us along in a manic burst of action filled testosterone-fueled run across the desert that you might fail to notice them. THAT is masterclass and shows Jays temperament as a mature writer.

The momentum cranks up right from chapter one where we are introduced to Three and it just keeps going on a wild Wild West ride from there, the action and tension ratcheting up . Fluid prose and an excellent command of the literary keeps the reader invested in the fates of the three people who are the main POVs as they flee innumerable horrors and sinister foes.

The eponymous action hero, Three, is something like a Roland of Gilead, Gunslinger from times past and a man who lives by his own code of ethics and survival. To protect this strange woman and the young frightened boy is to go against his very nature and yet, by the end of the novel, Three transforms from a distant Man. With No Name mould, the cold calculating killing machine into a caring father figure for Wren. This transformation and the fun bonding between the boy and the man is one of the most rewarding experiences of the read. Cass, the tortured mother trying to flee her past to give her gifted son a better future, is a stereotype but beautifully laid out by Jay. She's a strong character and rivals Three in pretty much all aspects, especially the frantic frenzied fight scenes where she kicks ass. Wren, who probably had the best potential in the whole book for character growth, was a disappointment and perhaps, the more annoying POV of the lot.

Overall,  a strong debut, albeit a predictable plot, is nevertheless solid entertainment and is a good fun read. Going with 3 stars.