Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Chaser (2008, South Korea)

Any definition of grim and dark is not complete without mentioning Asian cinema. And any list of Asian cinema masterpieces is not complete without mentioning “The Chaser”.

Although at times the film feels too macabre to be anything but a dark fantasy it is based on true events:  the story of the South Korean serial killer and cannibal Yoo Young-chul who is currently on death row since 2004. His crimes are still sparkling the death penalty debate in South Korea, the country where death penalty is still permissible by the law but hasn’t been executed since 1997.

What is the best about the film is that it feels like real life with all its randomness. South Korean police is not shown as incapable. They are real people who make reasonably logical judgments in the circumstances they are in. They get side-tracked on other, more “important” things, get tired, and make mistakes. Plus their minds just can’t comprehend the full extent of the un-human illogical horror that is Yoo Young-chul.

There is a bit of hope added into the scary mix in the form of Eom Joong-ho, dirty cop turned pimp. He is the main force that drives the chase which is as much the chase after the remains of his humanity as the chase after the serial killer.

I had to hold on to the edge of my seat during the excellent ending and there were some fabulous twists too. Watch this is you like Asian cinema, and watch this if you never watched Asian cinema before. This film is a good starting point .

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Abaddon's Gate by James S.A.Corey

The objective side of me liked several aspects of Abaddon's Gate: it was a continuation of the main "super powerful aliens" storyline of the Expanse series, it had many fast adrenaline-filled moments, it was logically sound, and it was very quotable. Plus, it reached a good point in the overall arc of the series. 

But the subjective side of me missed Bobbie and Avasarala. I could not see any reason for completely omitting the two best characters of the Expanse series in the book 3. And I didn't manage to bond as well with the new characters, with the exception of Bull.

In particular, I found Melba's story to be uninteresting. Usually I am a great fan of redemption arcs, but somehow Melba's journey felt predictable and contrived form the start, and because of that her chapters felt tedious to me. I kept thinking: "I know where this is going". 

And even overall, I found Abaddon's gate to be predictable. As soon as the purpose of the Ring was established and the new characters were in place, I guessed the ending in good detail. This can be a plus or a minus for different readers. I usually find predictability to be a minus. 

I give Abaddon's Gate 3 stars out of 5. This is still the series I love, but the book 3 felt like going over the hill after the book 2. I hope for better things in the book 4.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Pacific Rim

To say that I felt apprehensive before watching Pacific Rim is to say nothing. I thought I have seen enough Kaiju films to last me a lifetime and didn’t want a to see a copy of “The Host”. But I have to eat my hat and admit that Guillermo del Toro can do no wrong for me, even if it is a film about Giant Sharks vs Giant Robots. Even if it is a film that tells me that Russians look like this:

What can I say? Switch your brain off and enjoy the joy and the beauty of humongous monsters fighting humongous robots! Don’t look for too much plot – there isn’t too much of it in “Pacific Rim” and don’t look for any exceptional actor performances neither. Let’s admit it that any actor that can deliver phrases like “Today we are canceling the apocalypse!” with a straight face deserve recognition. 

But just take it seriously for a minute, and the marvelously created monster battles will help you to do so. Forget the reality of your life. Feel the surge of adrenalin and the visual pleasure. This is Pacific Rim. 

Oh yes, my second brain ( my lizard brain ) enjoyed this very very much.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Caliban's war by James S.A.Corey

I loved Leviathan Wakes (the first book in the “Expanse” series by James S.A.Corey). It was a good old-fashioned space opera with elements of mind-bending science fiction. It had the most interesting alien life form since Stanislav Lem’s “Solaris”. And it had vomit zombies.  But at the same time “Leviathan Wakes” was so male-centric that the journey of its main character (Holden) has never become personal for me..

And then I began reading the second book in the series, “Caliban’s War”. From the start, it was a much faster paced book than “Leviathan wakes”, and it had a very good continuation of the main story arc about the alien life form. Plus, the series progressed in the second book: where the first book’s emphasis was mostly on the space opera elements, the second book moved further and did a very good job at character development arcs. I started to care so much more for Holden as he gained few dimensions in the book 2.  The same happened with the other book 1 characters.

Besides this, several new wonderful characters were added. And few of them were female. I loved them all, especially Bobby and Avasarala. I love to see gender stereotypes reversed, and it was great to read about adventures of super-capable space marine Bobby and caustic-mouth string-pulling politician Avasarala.

I liked “Caliban’s War” so much that I would give it 5 stars. To add, the series has a very capable audiobook narrator,  Jefferson Mays. He has a pleasant voice and is really good at multi-character work where he subtly changes his voice in every chapter depending on the chapter’s POV .This is particularly welcome in a long series with many characters like Expanse.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Writing in the 1st person isn’t easy as the value of the book to the readers becomes linked with the value of the single character. In the case of "Broken Empire" trilogy everything becomes binary. There are two types of people in the world: those who find Jorg Ancrath fascinating and those who don’t. I am in the first category. I have found Jorg to be an exceptionally interesting protagonist.

This said, I don’t really like Jorg. There are few things that he does at the very beginning of the series (i.e rape) that for me mean intense dislike no matter how bad his childhood was.

But do the bad deeds made him less interesting to me – no. Not at all! Mainly because I have never stopped wondering what he is going to do next and he always managed to surprise me. But also because he felt very real: arrogance, megalomania and all. I caught myself several times thinking of him as if he was a real person.

Another great thing about “Emperor of Thorns” is it's world building: it is original, detailed, consistent, complex and relatable. The science part of it makes perfect logical sense, and so does the magic part. Everything is explained and no loose ends are left untied at the ending. Beautiful world building!

There was a couple things that niggled me in "Emperor of Thorns": I thought the road trip was too long and several parts of the book could have been edited out without any detriment to the story. And to tell the truth, the book won't pass too far into Bechdel test on gender bias as every female character with more than one line of dialog is in love with Jorg.

To summarise: I enjoyed "Emperor of Thorns" and Broken Empire series a great deal.