Sunday, 15 April 2012

Movie Review: Wrath of the Titans

Title: Wrath of the Titans
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Year Released: 2012
Duration: 99 minutes
Classification: PG-13
Genre: Action/Adventure, Fantasy

Clash of the Titans (2010) was not a great movie. For reasons beyond my comprehension, it made a butt-load of money and was even successful enough to spawn a big-budgeted sequel. You'd think they'd use this good fortune to improve upon the flaws in the first movie, but no.

Clash, Wrath of the Titans is a 3D spectacle of chases, fights and explosions interspersed with cheesy dialogue and crude exposition. The plot is simpler than Clash and also more epic in scope – this time, it is not just Argos in danger, but all of mankind. After beating the Kraken in the last movie, Australian hero Perseus (Sam Worthington) retired from hero-dom to become a fisherman in a land of British-accented Greeks. Because no one cares about them any more, the gods are losing power and as a result creatures from the underworld are escaping into the mortal realm. Worse, Kronos, the imprisoned father of the gods, will escape to kill all humanity unless he is stopped in time. But who can stop him? Why, Perseus of course!

Now you may be scratching your head, trying to recall your Greek mythology, but there is no point. The only thing that resembles the traditional myths are the names of the characters and (more loosely) their relationships with each other. That is all. Our protagonists wander about from action scene to action scene, going wherever the totally made up plot dictates. One of the more memorable set pieces in the movie involves the labyrinth (a giant thing of moving rocks), which looked pretty cool in the trailer and also looks cool in the movie. However, in a turn of events typical of this film, there is no challenge or suspense. Sure, our heroes fall and scream as slabs of stone move to crush them, but in the end everyone just falls into the right place – quite literally in this case – and everything works out. Because of course it does.

The combination of workman-like pacing, silly dialogue and so-so acting produces in the viewer an indifference to the characters. They're just going through the motions and I did not care about them or what happened to them. I mean, I think the writers tried to include pathos with the father/son themes, but who cares? I couldn't even bring myself to be annoyed at how Zeus (Liam Neeson) was now suddenly good and noble despite being a jerk in the the first movie. Further, the romance was tacked on; Perseus' wife conveniently died between movies, making way for Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike). She accompanies Perseus on his quest so as to ensure a beautiful woman on-screen, but serves little other purpose. It's sad because there are decent actors in
Wrath of the Titans. If only they'd thought to invest in the writing.

Many of the scenes were staged in a way that it was hard to tell what was going on – too much smoke, too many things falling about, etc. Still, like the first movie, the sets, costumes and CG look pretty good and the 3D effects were alright. It is to
Clash of the Titans what successive and parallel Pokémon games are to each other – there are a few differences but it's essentially the same thing (...though I swear Perseus is even more Australian in Wrath, albeit just as bland).

To put in perspective the quality of this movie, consider
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). Wrath looks a great deal more impressive, but Wolverine is better plotted, has a more charismatic lead, and is overall more engaging. Like Wolverine though, Wrath of the Titans is somewhat entertaining and alright to sit through; it's something to watch to pass the time. It's the kind of movie where my main thoughts were “that looks pretty cool” and “oh hey it's that guy!”. Visual flair and big set pieces come to very little when your story and hero are dead on the inside. But hey, what do I know. Clash of the Titans made millions and Wrath of the Titans may well enjoy the same fate.

Alex's Rating: 2.5/5

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Book Review: The Nightside (book series)

Series Title: The Nightside
Author: Simon R. Green
Year Published: 2003 - current
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction
Current titles in The Nightside series:
  • Something from the Nightside
  • Agents of Light and Darkness
  • Nightingale’s Lament
  • Hex and the City
  • Paths not Taken
  • Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth
  • Hell to Pay
  • The Unnatural Inquirer
  • Just another Judgment Day
  • The Good, the Bad and the Uncanny
  • A Hard Day’s Knight
  • The Bride Wore Black Leather

From the first novel of The Nightside series, the author lures you into another fantasy world where nothing is impossible. It could be your heaven or your hell. A dimension where you can walk among monsters, make deals on the Street of the Gods or if you’re lucky, get eaten by the alien that is posing as a taxi.

Not anyone can find this place. It’s better to say the Nightside chooses its ‘victims’.

Tempted yet?

I was. I expected science fiction and horror. That is exactly what I got. This is not the typical science fiction where your hero defeats the alien robots that have come to take over the earth. If you’re looking for an action -packed science fiction, this is not the right series. However, if you’re looking for a release from our reality into a place of gore and darkness, please read!

Warning: keep an open mind.

So not to spoil too much, it follows a man named John Taylor. He is a detective who is made to return to the Nightside. Through the series you meet the range of characters who appear to be John Taylor's friends/enemies. It’s hard to tell when everyone in the Nightside is ‘every man for himself’.

With help from these frenemies, he solves cases and eventually discovers his origins. 

Every novel has its own plot so you do not need to read it from start to finish, although it will help when the characters refer to situations that happen in previous books.

I was attracted to the author's description of the Nightside and the size of the book. Each book is pretty short. From the first book, Something from the Nightside, I was sold. Simon R. Green does not hold anything back and obviously has no concern over the mental state of his readers. There are no long explanations and no long winded descriptions. Enough for you to understand the situation and to use your imagination.

The book has a good running pace with no boring bits, and a healthy amount of horror. It’s not the type of scary that keeps you up at night, it’s horror you pray you will never experience. In one book, a thief caught by Old Father Time is imprisoned in a painting screaming in pain for all eternity. Another involves an extreme fan-girl being hanged on a hook with her stomach ripped out while still alive.

Romance is not Simon R. Green’s strongest point. There were parts in the books where I would flip pages back to try and find the romantic link between the characters and fail. This however did not put me off as I did not expect romance to be a key element in his books.

This series to this day consists of 12 books with more to come. No doubt within these 12 books there are some areas I don’t like. After reading the first three, I realized most of the characters, who have their own significance in each novel respectively, have attitude problems. Testosterone levels are high even for the female characters. This frustrates me as it makes all the characters have similar personalities - from an insignificant bouncer at a club to the all-guns-blazing Suzie Shotgun, one of the main characters of the books.

The same words are used throughout the novels. “Damnation” being a favorite. 

I have read most, if not all of Simon R. Green's novels and have realized this is his style and appears more in his later books. Because of this, I recommend taking a break between his novels. This will help ease the repetitiveness of the words and character attitudes.

Having written that, I enjoyed The Nightside series. Well paced, no-nonsense science fiction fantasy with enough disturbing situations to forget about our own reality. Definitely worth a try.

Terri's Rating: 4/5

Friday, 6 April 2012

Book Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Title: The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Author: Rae Carson
Year Published: 2011
Genre: YA, Fantasy

The title promises fantasy smothered in girliness, which was exactly what I was after and which was exactly what the book provided. If that puts you off, fear not, for The Girl of Fire and Thorns is not some sparkly romance but a solid fantasy adventure with lovely writing. Yes, there is romance, but it's not heavy-handed and it serves to enhance the story – that is, the romance is an enhancement to the plot but not the plot itself.

Our heroine, Elisa, is a fat princess born with a magical stone in her navel. On her sixteenth birthday she marries the handsome king of a desert land. Pulled into this other world, she becomes embroiled in court politics and the war that plagues Joya d'Arena. Further problems arise when revolutionaries get involved, dissatisfied with the way the war is being handled. Throughout all of this, a key issue for Elisa is what it means to be bearer of the Godstone.

Elisa herself is a likeable protagonist. She's the “imperfect” princess, easy for a reader to identify with and root for. Her narration has a simple yet plush quality which makes the book a breeze to read – the detailed descriptions of food being a particular indulgence. Carson has written in a rich culture and religion, making it easy to immerse yourself in Elisa's world.

The plot rollicks along at a good pace, each chapter being written in a way that entices you to read the next. It's not ground-breaking stuff, but it is interesting and I was never sure what was going to happen next. The slower moments add a lot of charm; things like Elisa's visit to the monastery are a gentle contrast to the more plot-heavy parts and contribute to the pleasant feeling of “girliness” of the book. While the plot is ultimately resolved in a satisfactory manner and the book does work as a standalone, certain loose ends make me suspect that it was written with a sequel in the offing. A quick search just now has confirmed my suspicions –
The Crown of Embers is due out in September this year.

There were a few aspects of the book that I didn't like. Some characters felt shoehorned into particular stereotypes, despite us not knowing enough to make that decision for ourselves. Another thing was that the romance occasionally didn't transition well with the plot in general. That being said, I never did know where the potential love triangle stuff was going to go and it was done in a fairly believable manner. If you think this is indifferent of me, note that Elisa is a teenage girl and that this is a novel for teens while I am a shrivelled old prune with a heart of stone.

I feel that my review cannot be complete without a mention of the book's cover. While nice to look at, it bugs me that the girl in the picture is so white. Elisa is described as “dark” more than once, and even if the choice to make her so pale is for graphic design reasons (to contrast white against blue), the result carries unfortunate implications. The UK cover features a darker girl and I prefer it on principle alone. Your mileage may vary on whether this is even an issue.

Overall I found this to be a very enjoyable read. Fans of Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce would find much to enjoy in Carson's debut. My criticisms, as you can tell, are really nitpicks based on subjective taste. Recommended for someone in the mood for a girlish fantasy adventure with a decent plot.

Alex's Rating: 4/5