Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

IMG_5071.JPG

Set firmly between the films Revenge Of The Sith and A New Hope, James Luceno’s Catalyst features as a prequel to the latest movie in the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One. While some of the finer details may have been lost on me, a casual Star Wars fan, those more invested in the universe will, no doubt, find much to explore.

And, this is what I enjoy so much about shared world, tie-in works of fiction; they can be enjoyed by nearly everyone. Catalyst (much like The Force Awakens) captures the essence of the original trilogy of films released in the late 1970’s. A healthy dose of political intrigue mixed with a massive, far reaching universe, all tied together with the fight between good and evil.

Catalyst focuses on the emergence of the Death Star and the machinations behind its inception, much of it revolving around Galen Erso. Though trying to remain neutral in the war between Separatists and Republic, his genius and its value makes him a pawn in the growing conflict as the Empire begins to emerge. Ostensibly rescued from imprisonment by Orson Krennic, a driven and determined member of the Empire, Erso, along with his wife Lyra and daughter Jyn, swap one prison for another.

Krennic is ruthless in his pursuit for success in the new order of things. Erso is a mere cog, albeit an important one, in realising a weapon so powerful that Emperor Palpatine won’t be able to deny Krennic’s significance. What follows is a compelling game of strategy as Krennic attempts to manoeuvre players to his whim, especially keeping the pacifist Erso working on his energy project while using the data to construct the Death Star’s massive laser system.

The novel really picks up the pace in the last quarter as Moff Tarkin discovers that he is also being played by Krennic and begins his own campaign. Similarly Lyra, with the help of Has Obitt, another pawn, go off script. It is here that so many threads begin to coalesce into the bigger Star Wars picture. Rebel alliances form, the faceless Empire, epitomised by the Death Star, takes shape whilst the battle lines between good and evil are drawn on both a personal and intergalactic level.

Though the idea of the Force and the Dark side are writ large throughout Star Wars, it’s also the individual decisions that are so important and James Luceno does a great job of putting such obstacles in the way of his characters. Erso must choose between his family and his research; Krennic between his desire for status and honesty; Has Obitt between smuggling and selfishness, and rebellion and selflessness.

Catalyst is an absorbing novel that manages to consider both the intergalactic universe of Star Wars as well as the individual, all rendered against the background of the imposing Death Star. Whatever type of Star Wars fan you may be, Catalyst is a great read.

Review copy
Published by Century

Advertisements

IMG_4593.JPG

The film-fest continues, this time with Mad Max: Fury Road and, much like Terminator, it’s another of my favourite movie franchises from my youth. However, considering the development hell this feature went through, it’s an absolutely amazing reboot of the Mad Max series.

Like previous stanzas, Mad Max: Fury Road is a tale of survival in an apocalyptic wasteland of epic proportions. From the outset, it’s mental and I mean, as completely and utterly mental as a bag of frogs. Max, captured by the War Boys,the crazed army of Immortan Joe, tries to escape his fate as a blood bag (blood donor) in a scene that sets the tone for the whole film; fast, vicious and insane.

His eventual emancipation comes about as the War Boys try to stop Imperator Furiosa who, herself, is making off with the aforementioned Joe’s favourite breeders. Reluctantly, Max ends up joining forces with Furiosa and, in parallels to some of the great westerns, so begins a tale of vengeance, redemption and, ultimately, compassion.

Chased across a desolate wasteland, Max, though hardwired to his most basic instinct to survive, can’t help but give in to his better self. Amidst so much chaos and hatred, Max’s altruism sees him helping Furiosa to return to her childhood home and even taking in one of the War Boys, Nux, in a display of humanity starkly contrasted by the suicidal tendencies of those futuristic soldiers.

In a way, it’s a great allegory of how humankind retains it’s kindness and benevolence in the face of total apocalyptic destruction. On the other hand, it’s a rip-roaring, balls to the wall, totally bonkers sci-fi action movie.

IMG_4577.JPG

Recently, I was afforded the time to watch a trifecta of epic sci-fi films. First up, Terminator Genisys.

As a big fan of the franchise, I really wanted to like Terminator Genisys and, in the main, I did. I was excited about a new chapter in the cannon and with Arnie back on board, I had high hopes. Personally, I thought the opening scenes paying homage to the original was brilliant and the T-800 versus T-800 was a great way to show the new direction this film was about to take. A new timeline and a different past/future was a good move to make.

Again, in the main part, this worked well. Changing Skynet and Cyberdyne Systems away from physical robotics to the virtual software programs and media networks we so rely on nowadays was a smart idea. Equally, pitching John Connor as the antagonist was another clever shift in the paradigm; he remains a saviour but this time for Skynet, not humanity.

Whilst Terminator 2, 3 and to an extent Salvation followed a timeline, this reboot had some serious potential. The opening homage, the continuity of elements and details such as the scars on John Connor’s face, all recognised the previous chapters whilst stating that this was a definite new beginning for the franchise.

But. Firstly, Genisys was kind of ‘lite’; a diet version of the gritty, cyborg-machine apocalypse of the original. Though Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney were both solid, neither was gnarly enough for the roles. Clarke didn’t seem to have that unhinged factor that Linda Hamilton brought to the second film; she wasn’t meant to be a terrified waitress but neither was she a prepped warrior. Likewise, Courtney was almost too soft and bewildered compared to the sinewy, hard-as-nails Kyle Reese from the first Terminator; he just didn’t seem to have the readiness nor adaptability of someone forged in the ruins of humanity.

Lastly, the ending. Equally ‘lite’ and definitely confusing. Time travel usually is but to have Kyle met his younger self to tell himself to remember to do a something he’s clearly already done (else his younger self wouldn’t be with his parents and Judgement Day would have occurred) is a weird paradox and, seemingly pointless. I expect there were a few elements left unanswered, such as Arnie’s character, that were waiting for the next film. Whether that happens or not, or the rights get sold again, I hope the central concept behind Terminator remains as it important as it is just like a futuristic CPU picked out of the wreckage of a destroyed factory.

Terminator Genisys was a good effort. I know I’ll definitely watch it again because, like I said, I’m a big fan and there’s nothing better than a marathon viewing of your favourite franchise.

IMG_3812.JPG

I started watching this film knowing little about it. I didn’t know it was based on an unpublished graphic novel, written by the man who ended up directing the movie – but I’d love to read it. Nor did I realise I’d see Tom Cruise fight a cloned version of himself and win via triangle submission* – but it was one of the most enjoyable combat scenes I’ve seen in a while. And, though I had to watch it over two days (making the most of my son’s nap time) it was a hugely atmospheric and engaging film.

Another title on my catch up list, Oblivion set an intriguing tone from the outset. The sleek design element coupled with the stark and empty post-war landscape created a wonderful dichotomy that furthered the atmospheric battle at the heart of the film. It’s not just a battle between the perceived good ‘humanity’ and the bad ‘scavengers’; it’s the battle within Cruise’s character (Jack Harper, Tech 49) between his own self, his reality and his future.

This isn’t a sci-fi story that breaks much new ground, if I’m honest. However, the plot line was dealt with very smartly, slowly revealing that the baddies were actually the goodies and vice versa. That reveal, and the consequent clone fight between Cruise (Tech 49) and Cruise (Tech 52) then set the scene for some epic heroics from the lead protagonist. Yet, it also tested the water with the concepts and philosophy of what makes a human. Is it belonging? Is it memory and shared experience? Is it love and the desire to live? That fight is the spark behind these questions as both clones, though apparently memory-wiped, continue to have visions of a woman – the real Jack Harpers wife, Julia (played by Olga Kurylenko).

All these questions were brooked but ultimately they were answered with a very entertaining and explosive set piece finale. The aliens were vanquished and humanity once more showed it’s strength through sacrifice and solidarity. Once again, Tom Cruise puts in another solid sci-fi performance in a thoroughly enjoyable film. Atmospheric and brilliantly designed, it might not dig too deep but Oblivion is a great slice of sci-fi action.

(*To an actual grappler, this wasn’t one of the best executions of the famous triangle choke, in fact it was nearly all wrong, but it is nice to see the continued inclusion of the submission based martial arts in movies.)

Review – Big Hero 6

Posted: January 5, 2016 in Film
Tags: , ,

IMG_3644.JPG

Over the holidays, my wife and I decided to catch up on some films we’d been wanting to see. Top of the animation list was Big Hero 6. As software and technology continues it’s advances, these kind of movies just get better and better; the visual prowess matching the storytelling perfectly.

Big Hero 6 revolves around Hiro, a teenager with a big brain and a talent with robotics. Convinced by his brother to use his intelligence for better purposes than ‘bot fighting’, Hiro undertakes an annual challenge to produce some advanced technology and earn his place at a prestigious university, learning from the best in the robotics field. After winning his spot with the invention of mini-bots (a veritable sea of tiny robots controlled by the users brain waves to achieve anything imaginable), Hiro is approached by the unscrupulous businessman Alistair Krei. He wants to buy the tech but Hiro’s new professor, Robert Callaghan, advises against it.

Shortly after, as Hiro and his brother Tadashi talk, a fire breaks out in the hall where the contest has taken place, trapping the professor inside. Tadashi fearlessly runs in to rescue his mentor Callaghan but an explosion destroys the building. Distraught at the loss of his brother, Hiro sinks into a depression until Tadashi’s own robotic project activates. Baymax is a robotic medical assistant that seeks to help Hiro. It results in Baymax helping Hiro discover that his mini-bots weren’t blown up but were stolen.

The rest of the story is a good old fashioned hero versus villain encounter filled with awesome montages and a group of nerdy misfits teaming together to form the eponymous ‘Big Hero 6’. It’s actually a fairly straight forward plot, with Krei as the obvious red herring. However, Big Hero 6 is an emotional roller coaster that tugs at the heart strings. Hero’s relationship with Baymax is cleverly evolved as the teen realises revenge isn’t the best path to take.

Big Hero 6 is a big movie, both visually and for it’s simple yet powerful story. The animation was astounding and the characters absolutely brilliantly cast and created. Here’s hoping for a sequel.

Similar to last year, I wanted to round out my blog in 2015 with my best reads of the year. Whilst my family and I have moved half way around the world and back again, and my reading time has taken a slight back seat due to other responsibilities, I’ve still managed to review some fantastic novels. So, without any further beard stroking, here’s my top five books..

I’ve been chopping and changing between new works and old, fantasy and sci-fi, and one title that really surprised me for it’s depth and detail was Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson. The setting and world building was enthralling whilst the buddy-cop feel to the two lead characters, accountant and deadly software/puppet, was brilliant. For me, Al Robertson created a truly awesome slice of science fiction.

Equally layered and astounding in scope was Tanya Huff’s An Ancient Peace. Part of an on-going set of stories concerning the seriously no-nonsense Marine Gunnery Sergeant Kerr, An Ancient Peace is a character driven adventure that nails down the action, science fiction and world building with an effortless ease. Though I was embarrassed I’d not heard of Tanya Huff before, this is an author I’ll be seeking out in the future.

Whilst not fitting into an clear cut category, Finn Fancy Necromancy was sheer, unadulterated fun. Snappy dialogue, a case of ‘whodunit’ and a boat load of 80s references all came together to form a wonderful and up-to-date magical mystery. Author Randy Henderson has a great feel for comedy and, as a debut, this was a flawless novel that left me wanting more.

I’ve read a fair amount of fantasy this year but both Beyond Redemption by Michael R Fletcher and Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan were stand out novels for me. McClellan’s flintlock fantasy was absolutely epic; the magic system of powdermages was inspired and the setting was intriguing. With so many stories and characters intertwining and driving forward Promise of Blood held my imagination from start to finish and I’m looking forward to reading the rest in the trilogy very soon.

I just recently finished Michael R Fletcher’s Beyond Redemption and this remains a key example of where modern fantasy is excelling right now. There’s a lot of great authors writing in the fantasy arena and Fletcher deserves to be amongst them already. Beyond Redemption was full of brutal characters and the idea of insanity manifesting as reality took the idea of ‘magic’ to the next level. There’s great characters but little respite in this book and it’s definitely a work of fiction that stays with you; fantastic fantasy in my opinion.

This year I’ve actually managed to watch a few films and catch up with my favourite show The Walking Dead, even getting to finish season 5. I even found time to watch the prequel Fear The Walking Dead but more on that in another post. Top of my movie choices has to be Edge of Tomorrow the adaptation of All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Not only was it visually stunning but the play on the video-game idea of regeneration and it’s consequences to the protagonist was brilliantly handled.

It’s been a slightly sporadic year for me and my reading but I’m hoping next year will bring more awesome books, new, old and e-based. And, as ever, I’ll blog my thoughts on them all..
Happy reading!

Review – Prometheus

Posted: October 12, 2015 in Film, Horror, Sci-Fi
Tags: , ,

IMG_3015.JPG

The first Alien movie scared the pants of me as a kid when it was released and, if I’m honest, put me off the franchise for quite some years. However, once I’d plucked up the courage to watch them, they were all good films powered by Sigourney Weaver’s heroine Ripley. Prometheus is set as a prequel to the Alien series in which we meet an archeologist couple who think they have discovered a clue to mankind’s origin. Enter stage left the blatantly immoral Weyland Corporation, who fund a trip to a distant planet; a planet system which has been depicted in numerous ancient human cultures from cave paintings to Egyptian hieroglyphs and more.

The crew, helped by super creepy humanoid robot David (Michael Fassbender) awake from cryogenic sleep and begin to explore this planet, immediately identifying a strange half buried and desolate form of architecture. They discover a vast building full of weird anti chambers, ancient human-like creatures and more. Things, however, soon begin to go wrong for the crew but, unfortunately, it’s also where the film’s plot begins to unravel and lose it’s way.

There’s no denying the premise for the movie is great but a number of things make little sense, not least of which the actions of the human and robot characters. Whilst the action scenes are intense and the horror that encapsulates the Alien franchise is firmly in place (think face suckers and gut rippers), the plot jumps from place to place making huge leaps. Frustratingly, some of the more interesting aspects are left unanswered and it appears as if great swathes of the film were left on the editing floor.

Though the final scenes clearly show where the classic ‘Alien’ originates from, almost clumsily joining Prometheus to Alien I was left wanting more. I wanted to be shown more about mankind’s originators, I wanted the human crew to have more depth, more reason and I wanted the film to be more cohesive than I felt it was. Entertaining it certainly was but fulfilling it was not, and that’s a shame considering how much promise the cast and plot line offered.

IMG_2675.JPG

Following in the vain of my movie catch-up I got to watch another fantastic sci-fi film (albeit in three sittings). Directed by the talented Neill Blomkamp and featuring his signature style of design, Elysium takes on a fairly big moral dilemma by focusing the drama around a small cast of brilliant characters.

Max, played by Matt Damon, is a former gangster and criminal trying to make his way on an Earth ravaged by pollution, poverty and disease. Forced to try to fix a malfunction on the factory line where he works, he is blasted by deadly radiation. His only hope for survival is a trip to the habitat Elysium where the rich live in absolute utopia. However, getting there is nigh on impossible…unless done illegally.

And this is the crux of the movie. Max and his childhood friend, Frey (Alice Braga) were both orphans together, growing up in a destitute Las Angeles and dreaming of a life in the heavenly habitat in the stars. But, with Max on deaths door and Frey’s daughter dying of leukemia both have a desperate desire to reach Elysium and be cured.

What the film speaks to is that divide between the haves and have-nots; the growing gap between rich and poor; the political paranoia of borders and the disparity of culture between the entitled and the the heaving masses.
Something Blomkamp has undoubtedly seen in South Africa – a place where a wonderful life can be had in the most beautiful country or where abject poverty can drive a person to crime, begging and desperation.

That said, Blomkamp does an amazing job by couching all those ideas in a thrilling and entertaining story. Matt Damon is at his best playing a desperate and dangerous anti-hero against the foil of Kruger, the ultimate near-future psychotic. Sharlto Copley is a ridiculously good actor portraying this most vile mercenary whilst Jodie Foster turns in a great performance as the uber Right Wing protector of Elysium’s borders, hell bent on keeping out the illegals and taking political control of the habitat.

All this and more is delivered as the conceptual design of Elysium and it’s technology immerses the viewer in a strange utopian/distopian future. The habitat itself is a marvel whilst the contrast between the sleek robots and the dirt smeared people of Earth only adds to the atmosphere of the movie.

Elysium has the potential of all those great films to be watched again and again. Blomkamp’s direction is engaging, and his vision and concepts are truly original. I can’t wait to see Chappie as well as his take on the Alien franchise… Hopefully just not years after their release dates.

IMG_2664.JPG

My wife wanted to watch a comedy. I voted for gritty, post-apocalyptic sci-fi. We ended up watching the wham-bam-tongue in cheek- awesomeness that is Guardians of the Galaxy. It had the soundtrack, the brilliantly casted characters, amazing effects and a pumping storyline. Plus, it made my wife cry over the opening scene…in essence, it had it all.

Another Marvel comic adaptation, this movie was a whole lot of fun. Directed by James Gunn and featuring the talents of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Guardians of the Galaxy revolves around Peter Quill (Pratt) and his attempts to sell a powerful artefact that he acquired on a savaging hunt on a desolate, destroyed planet. However, not only are his old interstellar, piratical shipmates after a piece the action, a slightly worrying demi-god-esque being called Ronan is also after the orb. Sending the deranged Korath (played brilliantly by Lee Pace) after the object, an ambush is set by one of his underlings, Gamora (Saldana). The ensuing melee attracts the attention of two bounty hunters, Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and his sentient tree bodyguard, Groot.

All four end up in a prison called the Kyln where they meet the charismatic Drax under less than polite circumstances. However, the five of them form an uneasy alliance to escape the prison, re acquire the orb, sell it and make lots of money. Unfortunately, the object in question is tantamount to a pocket sized apocalypse making machine and Korath is eager to put it to the test and lay waste to billions of innocent lives. It’s a classic morally grey bunch of misfits versus completely bonkers, fanatical villians.

The adventure that takes place brings the gang together in epic style. Battling against all the odds, they manage to save the day and learn a lot about each other and themselves on the way. Yet, it is the way the story is told that makes this such a fantastic Marvel movie. The interaction between the characters and the ability to find the humour was priceless. Both Bradley as Rocket and Dave Bautista as Drax stole the show for me, putting in great performances. And then there is Groot and his nuanced one-liner.

Though nothing prepared me for the dance off distraction given by Pratt.

A fantastic film full of top notch acting and fuelled by a superb script. Quality viewing should you need some high energy, action adventure fun amongst the stars.

IMG_2615.JPG

I don’t watch a film if I haven’t read the book but this is an exception to the rule (and one that has made me really want to get hold of a copy of All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka). Edge of Tomorrow has been on my wish list for a while and the rare chance to watch a film saw me take it with little pause. There’s a number of great sci-fi movies out there that I’ve not had an opportunity to see, and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to keep crossing films off the list (I’m looking at you Snowpiercer).

Directed by Doug Liman and starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow is awesome high-spec, future tech, alien invasion sci-fi at its most rip-roaring best. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a charismatic media relations officer in the United Defence Force (UDF) who is forced to join in an invasive battle against humanities foe. His cowardice, brilliantly portrayed by Cruise, gives him an uncanny ability to survive the onslaught awaiting the human troops. However when cornered by one of the higher forms of alien, Cage decides to die with honour and use a claymore to destroy himself and the monster.

This is where the film takes a turn, blending Groundhog Day with Starship Troopers. Killing the alien, Cage unwittingly links with the hive mind of the aliens and begins to experience the same day over and over as he is killed again and again in the invasion. Like a video game, he begins to learn and adapt, becoming a better warrior. Finally he he mets Special Forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) who, it turns out, experienced the same weird time loop.

With Cage on repeat, the two form a bond, battling to get further through the battle in the hope of defeating the ‘mind’ and securing victory for humanity. The training sequences are sadistic as every time Cage fails or is injured, Vrataski kills him to restart the loop. Cruise does an excellent job of showing his character’s decline into despair as he sees his comrades killed over and over whilst the weight of his repetitive deaths begin to crush him.

It’s a fantastic story and the inevitable blockbuster ending is a set piece worth waiting for. A huge shout out has to go to the design team behind the armour and weaponry of the UDF but also to the creators of the alien force. Scary, innovative and unique, the aliens give credence to the visual excellence that is Edge of Tomorrow. A great story, brilliant acting and cast with the special effects to truly make it all believable, this is definitely up there as one of my sci-fi favourites.