Saturday, 19 December 2015

Z for Zachariah

Lowdown: In the end of the world, all that’s left is one woman and two men.
Review:
If, like me, you’re into video games, then there is a fairly good chance that, like me, your world has been occupied recently with the post apocalyptic universe of Fallout 4. And if you ever wondered what the Fallout 4 world might look like in a movie, then Z for Zachariah could be your answer. Its entire plot takes place in and around a valley that, for elusive reasons, survived the radiation filled apocalypse all around.
The plot pivots around Anne (Aussie Margot Robbie), a young and attractive woman who is resourceful enough to raid the local shops and raise the crops required to keep her, the last woman on earth, alive. One day she meets a wanderer wearing a radioactivity protection suit, John (Chiwetel Ejiofor, of 12 Years a Slave fame); she rescues him, and through his engineering background they start forming plans for the future of humanity. John, who happens to be black, does have a certain streak about him when he gets drunk, though.
Affairs get complicated when a second man enters the equation, Caleb (Chris Pine). He had survived because of his underground mining job; he’s white, he’s attractive, and unlike John the atheist he shares faith with Anne. Clearly, a battle for the world’s sole female resource is about to break. After all, the movie is called Z for Zachariah, with the Z standing for the last person on earth, as opposed to Adam the first.
I quite liked Z for Zacharia, a science fiction film based on a book from the seventies. What I liked most about it was its subtlety, the way it worked by hinting rather than the in-your-face manner I would expect. After all, given Hollywood’s tendencies, one would expect a movie featuring such an attractive last woman on earth to give porn a run for its money. Or to at least have the two men tear each other’s flesh apart. Yet while there is a scene one might describe as erotic, and there is some violence, this is not Z for Zachariah’s way. Instead of the visceral, us viewers are required to run the stats – black vs. white, science vs. religion, man against woman – in our heads. And the movie is so much better for it.
Overall: A fine take on the end of the world theme, I give Z for Zachariah 3.5 out of 5 apocalyptic crabs.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Lowdown: At the height of the Cold War, a CIA secret agent cooperates with a KGB one to save the world from atomic terrorism.
Review:
Alternate versions of the James Bond themes have been common as muck recently (Spy, Kingsman: The Secret Service). However, if you ask me, ruling them all in the fun department is this latest incarnation from director Guy Ritchie, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. For a change this is not a movie of Ritchie's featuring many a famous star constantly mumbling to themselves in rather unintelligible style as per Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch. No, this is proper golden era James Bond stuff with the fun setting raised up a good few notches.
As it turns out, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is based on a sixties TV series. It even takes place in the sixties. Or is it the fifties? Probably sixties, given the color palette chosen for this movie. Anyway, we follow the convicted thief, now turned CIA agent, Napoleon Solo (aka the recent Man of Steel, Henry Cavill) as he tries to rescue a “female asset”, Gabriella (Ex Machina’s Alicia Vikander), from East Germany. Only that this super talented agent has to fight off the equally super talented KGB agent assigned to stop him, Illya (the completely not Russian Armie Hammer).
Following a James Bond style expose, the unbelievable happens: the two archenemies are tasked to work together, as in cooperatively, to stop a terrorist organisation led by the glamorous Victoria (Aussie Elizabeth Debicki) from using the invention of Gabriella uncle. An invention that would totally revolutionise nuclear weaponary and put such bombs in the hands of all willing villains. Cue the floodgates for tons of action scenes and sexual escapades, Bond style.
Style is the keyword here (and definitely not substance). Ritchie was/is clearly oozing with it; throw in a Tarantino style soundtrack into all the visceral action (as opposed to the softish CGI action we’re mostly fed with nowadays) and you got yourself two hours of movie fun. Nothing more than fun, but oh, what great fun it is! Yes, Cavill seems rather limited in his acting (whether intentional or not is unclear), but Hammer and Vikander do an excellent job.
P.S. Do not expect this movie's name to make sense until the very ending, which sets things up nicely for a potential sequel. A kind of a "James Bond will return in..." goodbye.
Overall: Fun, fun, fun in the sixties sun, sun, sun. 4 out of 5 crabs.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Paladin Caper by Patrick Weekes

Lowdown: Loch and her gang of do good criminals fight to save the world from the ancients’ return.
Review:
If you were to read my reviews of The Palace Job and The Prophecy Con, the previous two books in this Rogues of the Republic trilogy (?) I only stumbled upon because its author Patrick Weekes was involved in my favourite video game ever (Mass Effect), you would get the impression I truly loved them. Which is nice and all, but also brings high tension into the air: would Weekes be able to conclude his trilogy as well as he started it? And since I get the feeling the first book was not meant to stand as part one of a trilogy, but was rather recruited into the trilogy later, does Weekes even stand a chance?
The Paladin Caper starts off immediately in the vein of its predecessors. That is, high octane action revolving between the numerous round characters that make this series stand apart, with each character moving from one near death experience to the next only to be rescued through some highly improbable turn of events. Sounds good, but… It was too much of the same, and frankly not enough octanes to rekindle the love given the already high octane stakes we had before.
Plot wise, affairs continue from more or less straight from episode 2. Back then we had Loch and her gang save the Republic and the Empire from the mutual annihilation that the ancients tried to trigger; this time around the ancients are trying to take over the world in a more conventional way. That is, more conventional by the terms of a magical world: they try to take over individuals using paladin bands. These bands are sold off to people at excessive prices and promise to make people’s lives easier by offering calendar and map services. Yes, you got it right: the ancients are trying to take over the world by offering it Apple like overpriced gadgets. Only that these products come with more than your regular Google tracking; they really do let the device take over its owner. Note this opens the backdoor for an extra dose of good characters turning evil and seemingly evil characters turning out to be goodies or redeeming themselves. But I’ll shut up now; suffice to say all my favourite characters are back, Tern, Hessler, Icy, Desidora, the unicorn, the magic hammer, Loch, everyone else I managed to forget, and my personal favourite – Kail. And this time around he’s joined by his mother!
The way I saw it, given the slight misfires at the start, The Paladin Caper could only redeem itself by taking its large collection of round characters and significantly developing them further while also throwing in tons of that good old Weekes political observations/criticism that made the previous two books stand out from the bulk of the swords & sorcery fantasy genre. I am therefore ecstatic to say that, against all odds (seriously, how can Weekes repeat this again and again?), The Paladin Caper manages to achieve that and then some. It might misfire at the start, but it sure turns into a great book!
Political insight deals with more than the mindless zombies our smartphones are turning us to be or the NSA grade trackers they act as. There is plenty of veiled criticism towards the way the media is controlling us and shapes our world views on matters such as terrorism, with crosshairs set firmly on the likes of Fox News. Taking things further, there are plenty of things for the reader to ponder through the analogies between the Urujar in the book (who happen to include the heroes Loch and Kale) and their real world equivalents in blacks and Muslims.
Add it all up, and you have yourself the conclusion of a trilogy featuring lots of characters you learn to love like they were your family members through a series of books advocating liberal values, gender and racial equality. All of which is happening in a very high action, fast paced setting. In other words, we have ourselves a Mass Effect series of books.
Overall:
To say that Patrick Weekes “did it” is an understatement. The Paladin Caper is the third successful book in the series and highly deserves 4 out of 5 crabs.
Way more importantly, though, is the fact the whole trilogy of books provided such great, insightful entertainment. Usually, by the time I finish a trilogy, I thank The Goddess for rescuing me from the clutches of a big time drainer. With Weekes’ trilogy, though, I came out plotting ways in which to influence the writer to come up with further sequels (in case you are unaware, Patrick Weekes is very open to feedback on Twitter).
A world as well crafted as Mass Effect’s would be wasted if there were to be no more sequels. The same applies to this trilogy, which – as a whole – truly deserves 5 out of 5 Commander Shepard grade crabs.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Lowdown: An antisocial high schooler is forced to befriend a colleague dying of cancer.
Review:
Read the summary of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and it won’t light you on fire. However, as is usually the case, it’s not the end that matters as much as how you get there. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is certainly a film that makes getting there nice while releasing some thoughts in its viewer’s minds.
We follow Greg (Thomas Mann), a Pittsburgh high schooler whose way of surviving in that tough savannah of the greater high school plains is to establish shallow connections with every clique out there, from super nerd to super cool, without really associating himself with any. He has only one friend, Earl (RJ Cyler), a black guy from a rougher neighbourhood. They spend their lunches together away from the chaos of the school lunch room and, while out of school, they shoot movies together – clever reinterpretations/parodies of cinema classics.
Tranquillity is interrupted when Greg’s mother forces him to make contact with a Jewish classmate of his, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who was recently diagnosed with leukaemia. Greg is typically reprehensive about the idea, and frankly so is Rachel, but through his home movies a connection – a non romantic relationship – develops.
I’ll leave the plot with that. As I said, it’s the how that matters, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl excels in its portrayal of the social issues facing today’s teenagers. It really is a case of survival of the fittest, and even they cannot be expected to survive without some mental scars. Given the way the movie portrays parents (to put it mildly, they’re rather peculiar), one can see the theme extended way further than the realms of the high school. Between some touching moments and fine acting all around, the result is fine drama.
Overall: A simple story told well, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl deserves between 3 and 3.5 crabs out of 5.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Ant-Man

Lowdown: This unlikely superhero gets his powers from being tiny.
Review:
At the risk of stating the obvious, if there is one thing a comic based movie should be is fun. Clearly, a lot of the comics movie interpretations we have seen over the years fail at that, but Ant-Man certainly doesn’t. For Ant-Man is not a movie that claims to shake the very foundations of cinema; it is simply a fun movie. Works for me!
This latest piece in the Marvel puzzle stars Paul Rudd as our unlikely hero. His character is a criminal, sure, but a Robin Hood type criminal, so we can excuse him and accept him as our goody for the next two hours. As nice a guy as he is, employment is a rather painful affair for our hero, so in order to be able to continue seeing the daughter he loves (now living with ex + ex new boyfriend cop) his only choice of income is to revive his burglary career. Only that he robs the wrong guy – an inventor/scientist (Michael Douglas) who now seeks our hero’s help in securing the world from the clutches of the company he once established, now controlled by his evil son in law (Corey Stoll, of House of Cards fame).
What is this evil? It’s the ability to shrink stuff to ant size, thus enabling soldiers to infiltrate unseen and rule the world, Hydra style.
How are they going to fight this evil? By fighting fire with fire, thus creating our superhero Ant-Man. Oh, and he can also call on the support of ants while he’s tiny. Because, you know, ants.
And who is our romantic interest / token female? It’s Evangeline Lilly (aka the female elf from the recent crap Hobbit trilogy). She portrays the scientist’s daughter and the baddy’s ex.
The result: Fun. And there’s even a tank in there!
Pretty much the only negative I can throw in the mix is the forced attempt to glue this movie into the Avengers ongoing mega-story. It clearly detracts Ant-Man’s plot development, and it is even more clearly done offhand; the only Avenger bothering to show up is Falcon (read: the cheapest Avenger to bring along). It’s just silly and badly done.
Overall: Fine unassuming entertainment for a nice evening. And there’s even a tank! 3.5 out of 5 crabs.