Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Not a Movie Review: X-men - Days of Future Past

X-men: Days of Future Past is one of the finest in the long list of prequels and sequels that have sprouted after the original trilogy that came in the last decade. There I said it. Bring on the brickbats, I dare you. I have to warn you that this is probably not a review but more of a franchise fanboy blubbering and cheering.

Playing around with the time-travel that has a ripple-effect on the course of history can be beneficial. As Director Bryan Singer ( Firmly back in control of the series after he left off X-men and X2) has proven – by altering the course of history, he probably has widened the play-area now and has the scope to bring about a larger wider cast in the next X-men outing, possibly X-men: The Apocalypse

But am getting ahead of myself here. Harking back to why I think Days of the Future Past is possibly one of the chief agents of revival of this franchise. This movie has got the uber-cool time travel concepts that Christopher Nolan would have been proud of (albeit at a much simpler grounded level) – it’s got the CGI effects that every superhero movie mandates in galore, it’s got the some of the biggest names and finest Hollywood talent getting together to play their parts to perfection and it’s got Hugh Wolverine Beefcake Jackson doling out his cigar-smoking attitude in spades. But what makes the movie a winner for me at several layers has been the fantastically smooth script. That keeps the plot moving without a wasted frame with all the eye-popping action sequences ( I thought Bryan’s played it down a bit and really turned down the over-top blowing up bits)and CGI Effects adding to strengthen the plot and script. And yes, Bryan’s been loyal to the comic franchise in more ways than one throughout this entire movie.

So what is the movie about? We are drawn in from the opening scene of a dismal post-apocalyptic future where mutants and their human allies are being systematically exterminated by sentient robots, known as Sentinels and we cringe to see the likes of Professor Xavier and Magneto running and hiding in crumbling temples within China to escape from these beings. Xavier and Magneto enlist Wolverine’s help to go back in the past to 1973 – to stop an assassination attempt on a scientist, Bolivar Trask who built the original prototypes for these Sentinels. Now Mystique/Raven is hell bent on killing Trask and ironically it is through her that Trask finds out the gene-sequences to create Sentinels who can alter their body patterns, super-powers and thus evolve to beat the X-men at their own games. So Wolverine back in 1973 – where the majority of the movie happens – has to enlist the help of a disillusioned younger Charles Xavier – wallowing in self-pity and fighting a substance addiction – as well his best frenemy Erik Lehnsherr, Magneto – currently held prisoner in the deep underground cells of Pentagon. Does Wolverine succeed in stopping this epic event and thus alter the course of history – is the meat of the movie. 

Now from what premise is laid out you would think Hugh Jackman playing the cigar-chomping, sardonic beefcake Wolverine probably steals the show. After all he is the one with the power to change history. But this is where the genius of Bryan Singer stands out. The focus is evenly spread out across the different “stars”. My favorite (and I believe a lot many viewers’ as well) was Mystique. Jennifer Lawrence is a pleasure to watch playing the shape-shifting mutant with the heart of gold but confused and angry at the rejection meted out to her by the world. After having watched her in Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and now X-men, I am a big fan. Mystique embodies the moral confusion that the Mutants world over are feeling. To protect the mutants, should she engage with the humans or kill the most dangerous ones? While on the surface you would think she takes the easy choice out ( ie kill the dangerous ‘one’!) wait for the mind-blowing climactic sequences to be amazed. A word for Peter Dinklage. You are Masterclass at whatever you do. We wish to see more of you.

James McAvoy and Michael Fessbender reprise their roles from X-men: First Class but as was with the prequel, Fessbender playing the cold calculating and positively menacing Magneto easily overshadows the younger Professor trying to find his groove back. Hugh Jackman is still a crowd puller and with his gallows humor as sharp as his adamantium claws (Oh and you will wonder about the claws, trust me!) stands out. But this movie is so packed with stars – a lot many of the loved and loathed characters from the original comics find their way into this – Stryker, Bishop, Iceman, Blink, Pyro – that you simply cannot help loving it. If you are a comic fan. For the others, treat yourself to a visually delightful opening sequence of the mutants fighting against a group of Sentinels inside the ruins of Moscow. It’s a stunner and sets the dark somber tone of the movie from then on. Bryan beautifully juxtaposes the present and past in a tightrope sequence with the tension flying fast as we alternate in timelines and the threat of extinction looms large. 

But you know what the best scene of the movie was for me? It was this little guy called Peter Maximoff (QuickSilver for the fans of the franchise) flitting through the air inside a top-secret Pentagon cell in a delightful slo-mo prankish sequence: tasting soup, changing bullet trajectories and rearranging the guards’ limbs so that when time returns back to normal, confusion ensues and he saves the lives of the best of the X-men. For that alone – for that wit, style and that charming fearlessness, I want a spin-off on that guy. QuickSilver, you were an absolute delight! 

This whole movie is such a fantastic beacon of hope for this franchise. And as I said before, Bryan’s thrown open the doors to opportunities that ride out the horizon with his ending. And I’m whooping with joy. Because this…this is the new beginning.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Books on the List


That has been my predominant waking state for like the past few days. and I been zombie-walking through so many books and movies that I thought I should be keeping a count.

So what have I been reading for the past few days?

I recently finished the decisively intriguing debut that rocked our world (ahem, meaning that of the SFF fans) in 2012 - a brutal, hard-hitting slim low-fantasy called Scourge of the Betrayer for which the sequel is just about to hit the stands. Jeff Salyards is a remarkable man. I loved the book but I felt the book with it's super-tight focus on this mysterious group of superbly trained soldiers led by this enigmatic captain called Braylar Killcoin ( I thought the name was such a hoot. KillCoin. I will kill for coin. I am KillCoin the mercenary?) slightly underwhelms - an inward focus, a naive scribe kept in the dark who forms our narrator and some gory bloodletting accompanied by Joe Abercrombiesque cussing and hints about a dark forbidding world the action takes place in. What is there not to love? Watch our for the review.

Today morning I picked up my love for graphic novels a bit. That Yellow Bastard, Sin City Vol.4 is easily the most hard-hitting story I've read in sometime. Riveting, glorious b/w drawings and an experiment in yellow, a story that socks you right between your eyes and rips open your soul. Just what the doctor ordered. A noir story drenched in red and yellow....woohooo!!

So whats on the anvil ?

I got two of the MOST anticipated books on my next-reads.

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie. His first YA-foray. Vikings, Backstabbings, Intrigue. Vintage Abercrombie. And I just stumbled onto the first big twist. and It is BLOWING my mind away.

Sworn in Steel.(Tales of the Kin # 2) One of the most enjoyable reads for me this year was Douglas Hulick's debut, Among Thieves. It was superbly timed coz now he's got the second book in the immensely enjoyable series out, Sworn in Steel. Can't wait to find out what happens to Drothe now that he's among the Big Cats.

Emperor's Blades. Brian Staveley. Classic Fantasy fare. But rip-roaring fun. The usual elements mixed up here but delivered with some choicest lip-smacking new additions: the way-too cool fantasy-zen concepts of the Blank God, the giant black bird-ops and the brutal military training and political court-room intrigues - is a fantasy fan's comfort fare made with some zingy masala added to it.

Started some more - slowly picking up on them though. Tried another YA-Fantasy, Assassin's Curse by CAssandra Clarke. Decent writing, tale's not picked up speed but surprisingly I find that I am already one-fourth done with the tale. More of a "tale-I-will-read-on-my-4.3 inch Phone Screen-while-I'm-waiting in the car- kinda book. Not my mainstream reading for sure.

Haven't yet got back to Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina. Reading her interview promised some good old-fashioned swashbuckling sword and sorcery but am yet to be hooked in.