RSS

Category Archives: Reviews

Book Review: Annihilation

To be honest I might never have picked up this were it not for the science fiction book club I belong to via Meetup. I had never heard of Jeff VanderMeer and didn’t know a thing about this book before I started reading, and that was probably a good thing.

annihilation

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

That is a very long blurb for a book that’s barely over 200 pages. Also, that last paragraph makes the story sound way more thriller-esque than it actually is. And that cover is just awful!

When I started reading this book, I assumed it had been published in the 1960s or 70s – that cover doesn’t help much either. The style was reminiscent of that era, in that the narration was exclusively ‘tell’ with absolutely no ‘show.’ The reason for this is that the story is actually one long journal entry written by the biologist. This just didn’t work for me. I felt nothing for the characters and found the main character – who describes herself as detached and emotionally withdrawn – impossible to relate to. Consequently, I didn’t care at all what happened to her or the rest of the team. What kept me turning the pages was the premise – there’s not really a plot – and wanting to know what Area X was and how it had come to be.

Despite only being 200 pages, this book felt long especially since there isn’t really much plot, more like a character meandering, trying to understand both the external landscape and her own internal one. This was where the story became more interesting for me and to a large extent, I felt that the story was an allegory: the biologist wasn’t researching an alien landscape so much as trying to understand herself and why her marriage had fallen apart, coming to terms with aspects of a troubled childhood etc. As a metaphor, the story is layered and nuanced, but the last chapter seems to undermine this idea when the biologist has a sudden revelation about what Area X is and how it might’ve come to be. I think the story would’ve been much better with a less literal interpretation.

I enjoyed this book for its unashamed weirdness and am still curious about what Area X really is and what’s happening in the background regarding the institute that keeps sending in these research expeditions. I do think, however, that this would’ve worked so much better as a longer short story. Despite being a short novel, it just meandered too much and became repetitive although never quite boring, just a little tedious. Had I known the writer was a Nebula winner and Hugo nominee, and that this book was published in 2014, I might’ve had higher expectations and been a little less impressed. Since I only discovered that after the fact though, I’m not going to let it affect my rating of the novel.

If you enjoy report-style science fiction that ventures into the absurd then you will probably like this book very much. While I’m not in a hurry to read more in this series, I am definitely keen to read other works by this author. It gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
1 Comment

Posted by on March 3, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , , ,

Video Reviews – Part 1

Hey everyone, Dave here!

Yep, FINALLY, I hear you say! ;-) No worries – I know I’ve been away for a while, but I’ve figured out a way to be able to review the books I’ve read while keeping up the pace of the writing of my second novel – and this is it! :-)

In part one of my new Video Review series, I take a look at Joe Hill’s ‘NOS4R2′ and Kate Griffin’s ‘The Midnight Mayor’ – links after the vid!

NOS4R2: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, Exclusive Books. Joe Hill’s website.

The Midnight Mayor: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Nobel, Exclusive Books. Kate Griffin’s website.

In part two, I talk about Benedict Jacka’s ‘Cursed’, John Lange’s ‘Zero Cool‘, Andrea Sokoloff’s ‘The Harrowing‘ and Mark Lawrence’s ‘Prince of Thorns’! Again, links after the vid. :-)

Cursed: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, Exclusive Books. Benedict Jacka’s website.

Zero Cool: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, Exclusive Books. Titan Books‘ and Hard Case Crime‘s website.

The Harrowing: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, Exclusive Books. Andrea Sokoloff’s website.

Prince of Thorns: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, Exclusive Books. Mark Lawrence’s website.

 

There we go, hope you’ve enjoyed the video – this will be how I’ll be doing things from now on, so look for my next review-video next week. :-)

Until then, and as always,

Be EPIC!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 18, 2015 in Reviews, Video Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Book Review: Sing Me Your Scars

Firstly, an enormous THANK YOU to Apex Publications for giving me the ARC of this title and letting me have the privilege of reviewing what is a most outstanding short story collection from an author I think every speculative fiction fan should have on their radar.

sing

Sometimes a thread pulled through the flesh is all that holds you together. Sometimes the blade of a knife or the point of a nail is the only way you know you’re real. When pain becomes art and a quarter is buried deep within in you, all you want is to be seen, to have value, to be loved. But love can be fragile, folded into an origami elephant while you disappear, carried on the musical notes that build a bridge, or woven into an illusion so real, so perfect that you can fool yourself for a little while. Paper crumples, bridges fall, and illusions come to an end. Then you must pick up the pieces, stitch yourself back together, and shed your fear, because that is when you find out what you are truly made of and lift your voice, that is when you Sing Me Your Scars.

In her first collection of short fiction, Damien Angelica Walters weaves her lyrical voice through suffering and sorrow, teasing out the truth and discovering hope.

It’s rare that a blurb truly does a book justice and this one definitely does, capturing the essence of this collection in as poetic a way as the stories themselves are written.

Sing Me Your Scars is a collection of speculative short stories – from two page flash fiction to longer, more substantial pieces. While every story is its own, they all share common themes.The one that stood out the most for me is that of abuse and the painful journey victims must endure in order to overcome the damage inflicted upon, to take ownership of their lives and regain lost agency. There were several stories dealing with abuse, but each was rendered in such a unique way that the recurring theme never got stale. Walters explores the various forms of suffering and how this affects different people through poetic prose and vivid imagery, at once alarming and exquisite. I will, however, say that this collection tends more toward the horror genre and is probably not for the squeamish, or for those who may be triggered by reading about the trauma associated with abuse.

One of the biggest problems I usually have when reading short story collections, is being irritated that the story I’m enjoying ends too soon. I often experience a sort of literary whiplash reading anthologies and collections because I feel catapulted from one story to the next without being able to truly connect to the characters or settings. I never experienced this in Sing Me Your Scars. While there were definitely many stories I would happily read as novels, the continuity of style provides seamless transitions between stories which focus more on character and imagery than setting and plot. That’s one of the reasons I loved this book so much. I felt immersed in the story world from cover to cover despite the constant change of characters, countries and even eras. I was also delighted to see the inclusion of LGBT+ characters in this collection.

There are two writers I hold in extremely high regard and am happy to call my favourites: Poppy Z Brite and Neil Gaiman. I have read and loved short story collections by both these authors and I would happily shelve Sing Me Your Scars right alongside Wormwood and Fragile Things. Like Brite, Walters brings beauty to the grotesque with devastatingly exquisite images of both the brutal and macabre. This is a skill I envy as an author and am definitely going to be rereading passages from Sing Me Your Scars as I have reread passages from Lost Souls and Wormwood. Like Gaiman, Walters weaves subtle magic through her stories, sometimes tantalizing with a mere mention of the bizarre while the story remains firmly rooted in the real. Other times, Walters creates a lush fantasy world in which the reader becomes quickly immersed despite the limited word count of these stories. I am in awe of this author’s ability to achieve so much in so few words.

Until I read this collection, my favourite short story was, of course, one by Gaiman (‘Cold Colors’ from Smoke & Mirrors), but Girl, with Coin by Walters absolutely blew me away and left me reeling for days (I still can’t stop thinking about this story!). Of all the brilliant, beautiful and powerful stories in this collection, Girl, with Coin had an immediate and lasting impact, and this story has just become a new favourite – I loved it even more than works by Brite! – tied with Cold Colors and ear-marked as a story to which I plan to return time and again.

If you enjoy your speculative fiction dark and introspective, exquisite and chilling, beautiful and bloody, then this is the collection for you. I cannot recommend it enough. 5/5 glorious ink splats for this amazing book!

5 inksplats

If you’d like to find out more about the author, please head over to my blog to read an interview with Damien Angelica Walters about Sing Me Your Scars and her forthcoming novel, Paper Tigers.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 17, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , , ,

Film Review: The Maze Runner

Firstly, I know this film was based on a beloved book and I have not read that book, so this review is based purely on the movie version. Also, there are going to be a lot of spoilers…

maze runner

*Warning: There be Spoilers!*

 

Despite having not read the books, I admit that it was knowing this film was based on a dystopian YA series that made me want to watch the film in the first place, because I’m a total sucker for these stories.

The Maze Runner starts off strong with NO VOICE-OVER!! (does the happy dance). I braced myself for the voice-over prologue explaining the way the world worked, but it never came and I was immediately more intrigued because of this. The film throws us right into the action where our teenage MC wakes up to find himself in a cage, shipped off to a mysterious glade populated by other adolescent males. This has the potential to be all very Lord of the Flies-ish and I anticipated the story to head in that direction. But not so much…

We discover that the boys who wake up in the glade have no memories of their life beyond the walls of their rather picturesque prison except for remembering their name. Convenient and I’m not sure this can be credibly medically explained but okay, I’ll go with it. Second, we discover that the boys have established a mostly self-sufficient community that is extremely well-structured and ordered despite being run and populated by hormonal teenage boys. These boys are prisoners in the glade and have tried just about everything to fine their way out of the surrounding maze. The kicker is that this maze is only open during the day and the huge, imposing gates close every night to keep mysterious nasties out of the glade and curious boys in it. So ‘maze runners’ spend the daylight hours trying to run and map the maze in the hopes of one day getting out. It’s not that simple though, obviously.

Thomas, our MC who remembers a little more than just his name but can’t really make sense of it, being a curious lad starts to question everything in the glade as he should. The answers to his questions boil down to: we’ve tried everything else, the only way out of the maze is through. This is problematic because despite being able to build fairly sophisticated housing structures, including watch towers and trees houses, these boys never think to build scaffolding to help them scale the walls of the maze and approach the problem with an aerial view. The reason for this? The vines only go half way up the walls (please consult the above image which was an official movie poster and take note of the vine placement.) Okay, movie, you clearly want these boys to have to run through the maze. Fine. But I do think they could’ve come up with a better reason for it. Anyway…

Thomas, possessing all the qualities of an intrepid YA hero, starts challenging the status quo and things start going wrong in the glade. At this point, the film really wanted to be a zombie movie but didn’t quite get there. Apparently, the nasty creatures which inhabit the maze at night are suddenly active during the day. A sting from one of these creatures turns the unlucky stingee into a rabid, zombie-esque monster and of course panic ensues. I anticipated a lot more Lord of the Flies like divisiveness in the camp when their leader gets stung and there are a few minor dust-ups – some pushing and shoving – but nothing more than that, and I didn’t buy it one little bit. These are teenage boys in a highly stressful environment, not zen masters! I also wanted to see more of that moral grayness that arises when good people do bad things for potentially the right reasons, but our MC is almost boring he’s so good and decent about everything – even accepting punishment for basically being brave from the jerk of the group far too good-naturedly. To be honest, I found Thomas a tad dull and lifeless. More bad stuff happens and Thomas proves he’s a hero by selflessly putting himself in harms way, running into the maze as it’s closing for the night to help his friend. Fine, but then a terrifying flight from the scorpion-like, semi-organic, mostly robotic creatures ensues and it is shown repeatedly that these creatures can scale the walls – so why have they never scaled the walls at night and terrorized the glade? If they’re programmed not to hurt the boys, why the sudden change in MO? WHY IS ANY OF THIS HAPPENING!? I actually might’ve been grateful for a voice-over explaining some of this to me.

Also, considering this is a camp full of boys, some of whom have been there for years, there is absolutely no discussion about sex or sexuality. It was conspicuous by its absence and was made even more conspicuous by its absence when a girl arrives in their midst.

It’s abundantly clear from the get go that there are external forces controlling the situation and manipulating the boys’ circumstances in the glade, so what person (presuming the external forces are human of course) sends a girl into the midst of an all boy camp? What on earth were they hoping to achieve? With the arrival of the girl, I expected a lot of chest bashing, awkwardness, maybe some lewd looks or comments, or at least some comments about the fact that there was now a girl in their midst but nope, the boys are as passive as ever. After three years of this sort of isolation with no memories of a previous life including no memories of morality or societal norms, I just don’t buy the almost genteel way in which this situation was handled. It’s all very disappointing and unbelievable. I couldn’t help but think back to that fabulous New Zealand-made series called The Tribe where teenagers are left to rule the world and the type of society that becomes. That felt authentic. This glade business? Not so much.

At least the girl’s presence seems to be the catalyst for change and one night, the gates don’t close, meaning the big bad nasties get to tear loose through the camp, which is the final straw for Thomas and crew to find their way out of the maze once and for all. Suffice it to say, they do in a somewhat improbable way, but okay. The explanation they’re given when they reach the control center presumably set up to monitor the glade and manipulate the goings-on, is that the sun has scorched the earth and people are dying. With the future of humanity in jeopardy, the best solution the government could come up with was to stick a bunch of boys together in a glade and conduct increasingly brutal psychological experiments on them, hoping these kids would somehow prove themselves strong enough to survive, thereby proving there was hope for humanity. What the what? So, we’re running low on people and our solution is to systematically maim and murder our future generation because if kids can’t defend themselves against giant robot scorpions with a zombie sting, you’re right, the world is totally screwed. I just couldn’t even at this point, but wait… presumably government agents swoop in at exactly the right time to save these kids from the institution – now defunct considering all the people controlling the glade are dead, thanks to those same goons now swooping in to rescue the kids. Confused yet? I was! How about those government dudes go save the kids still trapped in the glade considering they have flipping HELICOPTERS and could easily have landed AT ANY TIME within the glade to airlift these kids to safety. Also, what’s with the morbid fascination with watching kids die or killing each other in gruesome ways (I’m looking at you Hunger Games).

But the real kicker comes at the very end as Thomas and crew – minus a few members, because of course we needed Thomas to shed a few tears to prove he’s human despite his apparent dissociation from everything that’s happening to him – fly off in the chopper to apparent safety. The film ends with a scene showing the maze mastermind – who we saw murdered a few moments ago – hale and hearty and planning to move the escapees onto the second phase of the trials. Trials for what? Given the amount of sand, I’m guessing the sun did cook the Earth, or perhaps we’re in the Sahara? But if all that was true about the sun and the imminent demise of humanity, why is the government killing children!?!?

This film was incredibly well done – the CGI was fantastic and the cinematography wonderful. It was visually appealing and the soundtrack was great too. The acting wasn’t bad, even if the actor playing Thomas wasn’t terribly exciting. He might’ve doing a great job of recreating the character from the book, but he came across as almost apathetic in the film. What failed most miserably for me was the premise, so basically the entire story. A few weeks after watching this movie, I’m still trying to figure out the why of it all, and without that I don’t know if I should care. Also, where were the rest of the girls? What was the point of having an all boy group, other than to make the story a ‘boy’ story? I just don’t get it. Maybe I missed something. Maybe the movie failed utterly to adapt a brilliant book, but judging the film as it stands, I’m really not impressed. 1.5/5 ink splats from me.

1.5 splats

 
2 Comments

Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , ,

Book Review: Dreams and Shadows

This weekend, I finished reading C. Robert Cargill’s urban fantasy novel, Dreams and Shadows. I’d had my eye on this book for a while when Amazon kindly informed me it was on special and all resistance crumbled. Being a sucker for books about Grimm-ish faeries, I dived into this novel immediately and loved almost everything about it. Almost. And what I didn’t like is deeply troubling…

*Minor spoilers ahead – you’ve been warned*

dreams

A brilliantly crafted modern tale from acclaimed film critic and screenwriter C. Robert Cargill—part Neil Gaiman, part Guillermo Del Toro, part William S. Burroughs—that charts the lives of two boys from their star-crossed childhood in the realm of magic and mystery to their anguished adulthoods

There is another world than our own—one no closer than a kiss and one no further than our nightmares—where all the stuff of which dreams are made is real and magic is just a step away. But once you see that world, you will never be the same.

Dreams and Shadows takes us beyond this veil. Once bold explorers and youthful denizens of this magical realm, Ewan is now an Austin musician who just met his dream girl, and Colby, meanwhile, cannot escape the consequences of an innocent wish. But while Ewan and Colby left the Limestone Kingdom as children, it has never forgotten them. And in a world where angels relax on rooftops, whiskey-swilling genies argue metaphysics with foul-mouthed wizards, and monsters in the shadows feed on fear, you can never outrun your fate.

Dreams and Shadows is a stunning and evocative debut about the magic and monsters in our world and in our self.

Honestly, what sold me on this book was the comparison to Gaiman, Del Toro and Burroughs. I adore Gaiman, have been highly entertained by Burroughs’ writing and found Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth absolutely terrifying (let’s forget about that Pacific Rim incident for the moment). So, Cargill was clearly a genius of epic proportions and I had high expectations for this novel. I wanted the imagination and subtle wit of Gaiman, the nihilistic, wry perspective of Burroughs and the terrifyingly absurd from Del Toro to be crammed within these pages. Not much to live up to then.

Although this book features three pre-pubescent children as the main characters for almost exactly 50% of the story (according to my Kindle), from the very first chapter it is abundantly clear this is not a book for children! The first half of the book introduces us to the faerie world anyone who is familiar with mythology or urban fantasy will recognize, and has a decidedly Gaiman-esque feel to it. I loved the first half of the book, seeing the faerie kingdom through the eyes of children and being introduced to a myriad characters. What is done well here is the mash-up of cultures. The were-beasties in this novel don’t all venture forth from Celtic mythology, but include German folkloric nasties, non-denominational angels, a djinn and even Coyote, the trickster god from Native American culture. That they all end up residing in the woods surrounding Austin, Texas also adds a Gaiman-like quality to the story, and one can’t help but think of American Gods. But Cargill establishes his own style rather quickly with witty metaphors and slick prose that at once conjures the whimsy of fairy-dom and the grittiness of the human world so typical of urban fantasies.

What I found particularly refreshing about this story is that the main characters are all young boys and the story seems poised on being more about the relationship dynamics between three guys than about a love interest. This is certainly no Darkfever or Black Dagger Brotherhood type urban fantasy. The story kept me enthralled despite a good deal of violence being dished out toward children – something I’m usually quite sensitive about – but Cargill managed not to cross the line there. At almost exactly 50% after our three protagonists (or two protagonists and one antagonist if you like) have survived the trials set before them as part of the plot, the book turns the clock ahead so that our three MCs are now twenty-somethings: one is a wannabe rockstar, the other a sort of pseudo hipster, and the third a particularly nasty type of faerie.

In this second part of the book, now that the characters are adults, the story kicks up a notch followed shortly by a lot of whiskey and four-letter words. It almost felt like the story had something to prove, trying to establish itself as one of those bleak, gritty urban fantasy novels rather than the quirky Ocean at the End of the Lane-American Gods hybrid it had so far been. That said, the plot still had me in its clutches and what the three boys did in relative innocence in childhood come back to bite them in the ass – sometimes literally – and so we have the ‘never outrun your fate’ part from the blurb being activated in a torrent of blood. Seriously, the second half of this book is violent and bloody and Cargill spares the reader no description. It was almost too much for me and I can take quite a lot of gut-spilling.

This novel kept me highly entertained, if not enthralled, throughout both halves and the ending was satisfying while still leaving room for the sequel, I did, however, have a couple of problems with this book.

Firstly, as an author myself, I absolutely understand that the view held by characters do not necessarily reflect views held by the author. A racist character doesn’t mean the author is racist for writing said character etc. However, the number of homophobic slurs in the second half of the book coming from all directions and leveled at multiple characters made me feel quite uncomfortable. If one character is a bigot, fine. If the story is set in a community where homophobia abounds, fine. But this was not that kind of story and I found the frequent insinuation that being gay was something to be ashamed of and being used as an insult highly problematic. This got me thinking about the book as a whole and it is completely hetero. I’m not looking for every book I read to embrace diversity and shower LGBT+ rainbows upon the characters, but anything non-hetero seemed conspicuous by its absence. That not a single faerie or human in the rather large cast had even considered the possibility of a romantic moment with the same sex struck me as odd, if not altogether unlikely. While one could argue that succubi by definition pray exclusively on men, and that many of these creatures are traditionally straight because, well, tradition I’d say fine but… this is fiction and the 21st Century. Couldn’t the human bartender at the local club then perhaps be gay or lesbian? Tokenism sure, but at least something! The hetero climate coupled with the gay slurs gave me pause, making me look at the role women played in this book and it isn’t good.

Of the few prominent female characters we have, the women are all assigned stereotypical gender roles, none operating outside of those assigned spheres. For example, we have several mother figures (almost all despicable), the most prominent of which becomes a vile and vengeful woman because of what happens to the men in her life. We also have various seductress types who never venture much beyond their role to entice and entrap hapless males. Even the one more powerful female who seems to have a little more agency is described as being cruel and preoccupied by youth and beauty. The only female main character we do get plays the innocent virgin to the point where she doesn’t even know what she is and that she’s actually going to eventually sex her ‘one true love’ to death and won’t be able to help herself. Barf!

Of the ass-kicking, swashbuckling characters in the story who stand up for what they believe in, fight for what they think is right, and seem to have any agency at all – not a single one is female. So now we have an all hetero cast, gay slurs and a story lacking even the faintest wisp of feminism – this is not good, especially because, for the most part, I actually really enjoyed this novel! Am I so entrenched in the patriarchal way of thinking that I didn’t even notice the problems in the narrative until well past the 50% mark? Scary.

In summation, this book provides interesting and clever world-building through some delightful prose, introduces a cast of fascinating characters and takes the reader on a bloody whirl-wind of a ride. If you can look past the misogynistic, homophobic undertones of the work (perhaps unintentional from the author? I really don’t know) then you might enjoy this grimm urban fantasy. However, I cannot, and what would’ve otherwise been a smash-hit read for me instead becomes one I am nervous to recommend.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 27, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , ,

Film Review: X-Men Days of Future Past

The X-Men. These are some seriously awesome comics featuring a diverse range of characters – I was particularly ecstatic to see the inclusion of LGBT characters in the series and in such an un-apologetically romantic light too. But those are the comics, and film adaptations often don’t do the source material justice. While there wasn’t the same amount of diversity in the original trilogy, I’ve got to admit I really enjoyed the films. I enjoyed the Wolverine Origins film even more, which had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Taylor Kitsch as Gambit – nope, not at all – and I adored the First Class film, which of course had absolutely nothing to do with James McAvoy. (I’m going to pretend that the abomination that is The Wolverine just doesn’t exist and never happened to this otherwise kickass franchise). After the trilogy and wicked-cool origin movies, it was with mingling excitement and trepidation that I sat down to watch Days of Future Past.

*Spoilers ahead – you’ve been warned*

x_men__days_of_future_past___poster__update__by_superdude001-d6sbixc

Firstly, I adored First Class. The story was epic, the music was epic, Jennifer Lawrence in body paint was epic, James McAvoy even without the beard was epic – there wasn’t much I didn’t love about the movie. I can’t quite believe I’m going to say it, but I think Days of Future Past might’ve actually been a little bit more epic, although that’s not to say it didn’t have any flaws.

Sadly, the film opened with voice-over exposition, which is my pet peeve, and that did not bode well. However, the narration was short lived and the film kicked off with some intense action sequences. While I’m not entirely sure of the timeline and how the future turned so bleak so quickly – it seems to have happened over night since Bobby looks as baby-faced as ever – it was the sort of cyberpunkish dystopia I love. Couple that with new characters like Warpath (Booboo Stewart sure grew up) and the portal girl (coolest power ever although how does this power come from a genetic mutation, pray tell?) who deserves a far more kickass name than Blink, and I was in serious fangirl territory. Then Ellen Page rocked up and I just couldn’t even any more. Things were off to a good start!

I like Wolverine, I do, but to be honest, I’m little sick of him. I really wish they could’ve given the spotlight to another mutant in this film. The reason why it’s Logan is apparently because few other X-Men were around in 1973 and even fewer could survive being constantly ripped about by the various forces exerted on the time traveler, so Logan it is. But then James McAvoy enters the mix and steals the show, so I actually can’t complain too much about Wolverine’s presence. Right, so the basic premise is that the future has gone to s**t and Logan is sent back fifty years to delightfully retro 1973 to get Xavier and Magneto to work things out so that Mystique doesn’t chart a course toward the apocalypse. This is a great premise with one major, giant, toe-curling problem. If their plan succeeds, it completely nullifies the original trilogy and basically pokes a huge whole in the canon. Let’s ignore that for now and return to the awesomeness that is James McAvoy’s beard…

james

As I said before, James McAvoy steals the show and delivers a great performance as the mentally unstable, possibly PTSD-suffering Xavier. I wish the film had spent more time on his psychological development but there were giant robots to fight and special effects to exploit so, sadly, we got less character development and more CGI. The best new addition to the cast was undoubtedly Quicksilver played by Evan Peters. I can’t really look at this actor without seeing deranged Tate from American Horror Story, but Peters was wonderful as Quicksilver, lending some levity to a rather dark storyline. That said, it was an absolute sin of the director/producers to only have Quicksilver on screen for a handful of minutes. I want to see more of this character and would love to see his origin film because he’s witty and fun and seems a lot less broken than many of the other tortured hero types proliferating the X-Men universe.

The rest of the film unfolded as expected with no twists to the plot whatsoever except that according to the new timeline, the first trilogy could never have happened. This brings me to the biggest flaw in this film: the whole concept of time travel and changing history. Very few sci-fi films get time travel right because it is a notoriously complex concept – ask your local quantum physicist to explain – and any attempt to change the past immediately obliterates the future unless you’re in a separate time stream (as attempted by the short lived series Terra Nova). But ‘because science’ Logan goes back in time and achieves the impossible by giving the middle finger to physics and I’m mildly okay with that because the film was extremely entertaining and, to be fair, comic books in general have a tenuous relationship with the laws of physics.

Like all Marvel movies there’s a final scene that comes after the credits. Like all Marvel movies this final scene is almost completely meaningless except to those uber geeks au fait with the franchise. The final scene was creepy cool but I didn’t understand the relevance until I googled it. Now I understand the title of the next X-Men movie – X-Men: Apocalypse.

So Days of Future Past presented dubious science and destroyed their own canon, but they did so with kickass awesomeness and I loved every minute of this film. Days of Future Past scores 4.5/5 ink splats for me. It lost half a splat because of that unnecessary voice over at the beginning and for under-utilizing Quicksilver.

4.5 inksplats

 
3 Comments

Posted by on January 20, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , , ,

The Giver vs The Giver

giver book

The Giver is a highly influential work, which laid the foundation for modern YA dystopian literature, but – to be honest – I only picked up this novel after seeing the trailer for the film version. When I eventually got around to reading this sci-fi classic, I saw many parallels in world-building with some of the most popular current YA books (cough Divergent cough cough). My reaction to this rather short novel was a little mixed.

I found the book thought-provoking and highly engaging, but the ending left me completely dissatisfied. Bear in mind, however, I’ve only read book 1 of the quadrology so perhaps my many questions will be answered in the sequels. Still, the first book has a lot going for it especially when taken less literally and more allegorically as I think the story was perhaps intended. This is not hard sci-fi and many aspects of the world simply are. One has to suspend disbelief a fair amount, but that’s part of the beauty of the novel. Metaphors abound, and the poignancy and power of the story lies in peeling away those parable-like layers to uncover the simple truth at the core of the story.

Suffice it to say, given my expectations for the story after seeing the movie trailer, I was a little disappointed. Looking at the book and ignoring what I thought I glimpsed of the film, I enjoyed the book and can see why it has become such a beloved and seminal work in the genre.

giver

Fast forward eight months and I finally got around to seeing the movie. Had I known Taylor Swift was in it, I might have been less enthusiastic about the film, however, I can promise you that any Taylor Swiftness on posters and in promo is all a marketing ploy. She has a tiny – if important – role in the film and has very little screen time. The real star of the show is Brenton Thwaites as Jonas and he’s really quite lovely in his role as the compassionate and curious Receiver.

The Giver film is competing against franchises like The Hunger Games, Divergent and even The Maze Runner. In order to give The Giver more teen appeal and to capture The Hunger Games/Divergent audience, the movie tried to be a lot that the book was not. The movie – despite being adapted from the predecessor of the modern dystopian trend – feels a little too familiar and cliche because it tries a little too hard to fit in aesthetically and tonally with the other YA adaptations. I wish the film had foregone the shiny technology additions and stuck with the utilitarian world-building of the book. I can also understand why the film producers chose to up the age of the protagonists and up the angst as well, but I’m not sure it really added all that much to the overall story except making it feel like another teen movie when it should’ve been so much more than that.

Where the film did excel was in the cinematography and use of black&white and colour. This is described well in the book, but the visual medium of film really brought this to life. I do think they could’ve done even more with that, although I think they were trying to stay true to the book here. I was also hoping for more of an emotional impact from the memories in the film. Some of those memory sharing scenes in the book are brutal and really broke my heart for Jonas. It didn’t have quite the same impact for me in the film – perhaps because the character was older.

The ending of the book disappointed me but the film managed to deliver a very similar ending in a way that stayed true to the book while also providing a greater sense of closure. Where I think the book meandered into allegory, the movie developed the plot and made a more compelling story overall, even if some of the ‘science’ of how all this was possible is dubious at best.

A major highlight from the film for me was seeing the usually uber sexy and seductive Alexander Skarsgård playing a nurturing father figure who worked in the nursery with newborns while his wife – played by the petite Katie Holmes – was involved in politics. Seeing 6’4 Eric Northman – sorry, Alex Skarsgård – so tenderly caring for tiny babies really highlighted the gender dynamics and theme of equality in the book. It was a very clever casting choice.

So… The Giver as both book and film is thought provoking and definitely worth experiencing. I would say it is a must-read/must-see for anyone who is a fan of modern dystopian YA. I think both book and movie score equally for me. I give them 3.5/5 ink splats each.

3.5 inksplats

 
2 Comments

Posted by on January 13, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , , ,

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,641 other followers