Sunday, August 26, 2012

Total Recall (2012) * * *

I have to say in advance that besides being a lover of the sci-fi genre, I also happen to love the original version. I thought the plot was very original, and the world interesting. Who can forget the hooker with three breasts?
What disturbed me even before seeing it was that it wasn't 3D. I know I said the same thing about Batman, but in this day and age anything that is sci-fi or action should be in 3D in my opinion. It is what saves cinemas. It was first colour, then widescreen, surround sound, now 3D.

The basics of the story stayed true to the original. It's still about a guy who doesn't know which memory is real or not. There was a hooker with three breasts. However, don't expect him to go to Mars, because he doesn't. The movie is still exciting, still full of action. It is mostly action, very little actual story. That lacked to me. 
The change of planet was a bit odd. I won't be giving too much away when I reveal that it's on Earth because part of that is polluted due to a chemical war. Just a part of Europe and Australia is habitable. Therein lay a few technical problems. For example, we can see that the area around Big Ben is fine, but Piccadilly is covered in a dense yellow fog. Now how come that stays there, and doesn't float over? There is also a lift that goes through the Earth's molten core. I can't imagine anything being so strong as to stand such heat. I think they would have been better sticking to the Earth - Mars thing.
The purpose of sci-fi is not just to satisfy us geeks. Future sci-fi is about showing what comes from the world we live in today. Will we resolve our problems, or make things worse? Here it's obviously worse, but unlike in a dystopia, things get better. Still, let's not have a chemical war, okay?

Collin Farrel did a good job replacing Arnold. He fought, muscles flexed, and he looked good even bloody and dirty, something an action hero must do. He was also sufficiently confused.
Jessica Biel is good at being the female action hero. She can make bloody and dirty hot. I always find it funny that she tends to do these roles when she started out as little Miss Christian in Seventh Heaven. If she intended to erase her clean-cut beginnings, I'm sure she had been successful.
I hope I won't ruin anyone's surprise if I reveal that Kate Beckinsale is a villain, and plays it well. She runs after our heroes, and pulls off the determined and slightly manic look in the eyes well.

Overall, it's a fun action movie. If you saw the original, you won't get many surprises in the story, though the action is different.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sick Building [Abridged] by Paul Magrs (Audiobook) * * *

I listened to this book as an audiobook.

The story is about the Doctor trying to help people on a planet about to be eaten by a sort of space monster. It reminded me of how the Doctor and the monsters are never too far from each other. He genuinely wants to help, but of course, he ends up in a pickle. There are robots, talking wending machines and sunbeds. It's a rather fun story, but there are two things that bothered me about it. One was that in the beginning, when he arrives, the people are already preparing to leave. It may be the audiobook's fault, but it feels kind of strange that he stays. Not un-Doctor like, but clearly he is not wanted. The other thing is the ending, which made me ask; "Why didn't they do that in the first place?" It felt like the author wrote himself into a corner, and used the plan B to get out of it. However, it was such a plan B, that to any reasonable person it would have been plan A.

The story is read by Will Thorp, who plays Toby Zed from "The Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit". As I noted in my review of Forever Autumn, he does the job really well.

The star of the story is Barbra, the wending machine. I read that she makes appearances in other works by Paul Magrs, so that is probably why she feels like a prominent character.

Overall, a fun story.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1) by George R.R. Martin * * * * *

I confess, I started the book because of the hype. I also wanted to read a big fantasy series. It also helped that I could get all five books at a discount.

The fact that it's the first part of a series can be felt from the very beginning. The pace is often agonizingly slow. However, every little detail feels important, so even I, who tends to skip a few paragraphs, read every word. The way the story is told is very interesting as well, as it's third person limited. It would limit the scope a lot, if it wasn't told through the eyes of several people. It also shows a lot of planning as the author would have had to pick the main characters well ahead.

The characters are very interesting. They are all grand personalities, not a dull person around. They are, however, not alike. They are different. You may not like them all. They are also not on the same side, which makes things even more interesting. I personally didn't like Sansa, but in the end I could still feel sorry for her. I felt the closest to Dany, as she grew into a fierce woman by the end of the book. I don't want to say more about the characters though, as I don't want to have to put up a spoiler alert. Let me just say that one shouldn't get too attached to anyone.

I wavered between four and five stars, but I ended up with five. It may not be completely perfect, but I found myself reaching for the next part as soon as I closed this one. That to me is a book of five stars.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) * * * *

I was really curious about the final installment of the Batman trilogy. On the one hand, I was interested in how they could end it. If you are familiar with the old movies, then you may know that those were sort of designed to never end. They also got worse and worse. On the other hand, I had been satisfied by the previous movies, and wanted to see the same level of achievement.

When talking about this movie, probably for the rest of history, people will not be able to bypass what happened at a midnight screening in Colorado. The events are tragic, but when looking at the list of injured and dead, something un-understandable jumped out at me. How come there were small children and babies at a midnight screening of an admittedly violent movie? I really have no idea what they were doing there.
Moving on, it did affect my viewing of the movie. I watched it at a mall, in the afternoon. I did have a bit of a bad feeling about watching it in a theatre. When someone stood up, or walked in front of the screen, I couldn't help, but watch the person like a hawk. Nothing happened, of course, it's easy to rationalise that I shouldn't have had that bit of a scare in me, but gut instinct is different.

Now on to the movie itself. It did follow the previous track of the films. The tone was just as dark, the scale of the danger just as large. I do wish they would have done it in 3D, but it was a good movie anyway.
The direction was as good as expected, no silly wobbling of the camera, no weird close-ups. I do wish they would have disguised the fact that they were in New York though. It's been some years since I've seen the previous installment, but as I recall, Gotham wasn't that obviously New York back then. That I found strange. Maybe there had been budget cuts.
The story was as bloody, and as dark as can be expected. However, what surprised me was the slight mystery element, which I dare not speak more of. I did figure most of it out before the end, but not all, and that was a pleasant surprise. The ending was a good closure, and it also made me suspicious of a follow-up movie, or trilogy, with a new central character. It would be nice, since he had only been an overlooked side-kick, who would be interesting enough to be made into a full hero.

Christian Bale was of course a great Batman. I have first noticed him in Equilibrium, where he also played a tortured hero who wears a lot of black. When I first heard he was going to play Batman in the reboot, I knew it was a great choice. He's also known for shaping his body to the role, and he had outdone himself in this case. I could really believe that he had let go of himself so much in the beginning. Now I stop here, because if I go on, I'll have too many spoilers.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who played Blake, almost stole the show. His character started out small, but by the end, he was a central character. In a way, it felt more like his movie, than Christopher's. Once it comes out on DVD, it would be an interesting statistic to see who got how many minutes on screen. The most interesting part about Blake, is that he hardly ever interacts with Batman/Bruce, and therefore the story seemed to have two main characters. The ending also suggested that Christopher Nolan has more plans for him.

Anne Hathaway is another personal favourite of mine. I have never known her to not give a top performance in every role, and after the beating the Catwoman character has gone through in the past, she had done an outstanding job of resurrecting her. She also worked very well with Christian, and they had great chemistry. Makes me wish they were put together in something else.

Marion Cotillard was a good addition to the cast. I feel like she's often overlooked, but her character is just as important as Anne's. She seemed sweet and forward, just as she was supposed to. I really liked her, even though my romantic heart wanted more Anne/Christian.

As a huge fan of Torchwood, I almost gave a shout when I saw a familiar face. Burn Gorman, who played Dr. Owen Harper in Torchwood, had a rather small part, but it was nice to see him working. Made me wish they would have made a bigger villain out of him.
Another favourite fandom of mine also had a small guest appearance. Christopher Judge, who played Teal'c in Stargate SG-1, almost killed one of the good guys. I was thinking, "Teal'c stop being the Jaffa, and go back to being one of the good guys."
So it was fun to see these two guys in the big screen. I just wish they got more parts.

Overall, The Dark Knight trilogy went out with a bang. It was a good, fun movie, and the fans of the franchise are pleased with it. The ending closed the story off well, and there is really a sense of closure. I was happy with it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Forever Autumn by Mark Morris (Audiobook) * * * *

I listened to this as an audiobook.

Forever Autumn, as can be seen by the cover, is a Halloween story. I did wish I had kept it to Halloween, but I'm going through the books in publication order, and this was next.
The story itself reflects the mood of Halloween very well. There are cats, bats, a weird tree, fog, all the things that make Halloween a fun time. At times, it was genuinely frightening as well.

Will Thorpe reads the story, who played Toby Zed in "The Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit". He does a great job of it, and does justice to the characters.

I recommend reading it for Halloween, and then the atmosphere will be perfect.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) * * * *

I have to confess, I'm a huge fan of superheroes. Let me explain why. I come from a family of readers. My mum could read at the age of five, and she read War and Peace by eight. I went to school at the age of six, but I struggled in the beginning with reading. Then, I got my first comic book. It was black and white, and it had a little-known character called the Phantom, who lived in a rainforest probably somewhere in Africa. He was an environmental superhero, saving animals, punishing polluters. Comic books got me into reading and superheroes, for which I will always be grateful.
My favourite character has always been Spider-Man. On the one hand, because he's human. Superman is great, but he's a Kryptonian, with his own personal body-armour skin. On the other hand, because even though Spider-Man is a scientist, and a photographer, he's still an average guy with money problems. He's not like Bruce Wayne, who gets to live in a big mansion, and has no worries about where his next meal is going to come from. Spider-Man, in spite of the supernatural elements, was always the most real superhero for me.

I try to watch every movie adaptation. I had on VHS an old adaptation, that somehow got lost in time, as I can't even find a reference to it anywhere on the internet. The tape is long lost, but I have vivid memories about how Spidey strapped his camera on the wall and tried to take pictures of himself.

So I was excited about a new movie coming out, and in 3D! So I went the first chance I got.

The 3D is used nicely, though at times I could still see that the people working on it had two dimensions in mind. There were some scenes, where the camera angles could have been used differently to bring out the full 3D effect. I think it's very important for the audience to sometimes feel like they could touch the objects on the screen, but that was very few and far between.

The story was interesting. Now the casual observer may think that it's a retelling of the 2002 story. That is not true. Of course, he gets bitten, turns all spider-like, has a girl he's trying to go after, but that is where the similarities stop. This is an alternate universe as opposed to the previous movies. In this universe, there is a mystery surrounding Peter Parker's parents, which he is going after. I stop here, as I don't want to spoil it. Let's just say that nor the girl, nor the villain are the same.
One story element that the movie did well was the way they brought in the fact that the people often feel Spider-Man as someone close to them. In the previous trilogy this could be seen in the second movie, where the people tried to help him in the metro. There is a similar scene in this movie as well. It's very American, but also uplifting and touching in a slightly cheesy way.

The actors did a good job. Andrew Garfield is a slightly more hip, and more attractive Peter Parker. He is somewhat darker, but more appealing for the female population. Emma Stone is a long favourite of mine, and I was delighted to see her in the movie. I'm really glad she's getting more recognised. Her comic talent is also well brought out in a scene where she tries to hide Spider-Man in her bedroom. It's also nice to see that you don't have to have a squeaky voice to play a lead actress.
The other characters are played by well-established actors and actresses as well, though the story generally concentrates on the two young lovebirds and Dr. Connors played by Rhys Ifans, who you're not sure about even at the end.

Overall, it was a good reboot for the franchise. It's by no means a repeat of the earlier, but it still feels like Spider-Man. Fans like me will love it, and perhaps it may get new converts with the mystery element of the parents' death, and the new love story.

There was definite foreshadowing for the sequel, and I look forward to it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1) by Suzanne Collins * * *

I started to read an online version of this before I saw the movie. I didn't like it a lot. Partly, because I'm not a fan of first person, and practically detest present tense. I just don't get why anyone would do that. Though I suppose, in this case the author really wanted to use first person to get us in Katniss' head, and used the present tense to make us wonder if she was just going to die at any moment. It still disturbed me.

Another thing that is a problem with the writing is that it's not all that descriptive. It reads more like a script for a movie, than a novel.

I watched the movie, because everyone was talking about it on Facebook, and I was bored, nothing on TV, and I work in an office above a cinema. So after work one day I just bought a ticket. I didn't know what to expect from it. I'm a fan of dystopias in general, but it has to be done well. I actually wrote a review of the movie.

It has been a while, but I found myself thinking about the story, even after the hype died down on Facebook. I kept wondering what was going to happen, and I also wanted to watch the movie again, which I actually rarely do. So on Saturday I was looking around the small English sci-fi and fantasy section of Alexandra - a big bookstore chain in Hungary -, and just decided to pick it up. I didn't have a book with me, so I read on the bus home. At home, I washed my hair in the tub, and just read. I wanted to make it a few hours, but I ended up reading until bedtime. I finished the book when I next had the opportunity to pick it up a few days later.

I still don't like the present tense, and have a problem with the style, hence the 3 stars. But the story is exciting. The pace is fast enough for the modern reader, and there is very little junk in it. The technical aspects look well-researched. My only problem with the story was that in places it was said that she knew little of the world outside her District, but then she seemed to know a lot on the next page. Maybe it could have been better explained how she got the information she had.

Katniss felt very real to me. She was just the kind of person that I can relate to. Not the hearts and flowers kind of girl, but she would do anything for her family. Her confusion over her feelings towards the two guys in her life was very real as well. I just hate it when in novels girls fall in love at a drop of a hat, as it never happened to me, and I just can't be the only one in the world.

The other characters didn't feel like fillers. The mark of a bad novel, like Twilight, is that you have a host of characters that don't really contribute to the story, they just seem to be there to fawn over the main character. Everyone represented something, and brought an important human aspect to the story.

I've read a review where they said that the killings were pointless. I don't think that. The point was that those people had to die. The cruelty of the world needs to be shown by their deaths. Also, the point of a dystopia is to show the worst of the present society. I think it contrasted the absurdity of reality shows, and the real world struggles of young people really well.

I'm going to go on and read the next book, we'll see what I think of that.