Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ra.One: "Random" Access (Any) One??

This was a ritual that we had to do. To pay homage to the biggest bad-shah of Bollywood when he came back alive on the big screen after like close to eighteen months. So there we were, two days after a super exciting and exhausting diwali, hauling ourselves to watch Ra.One, the biggest blockbuster release of diwali 2011.
First impressions as we walked out of the theatre, the movie is definitely NOT as BAD as the critics have panned it to be. Frankly, I had not read any reviews of the movie, for fear of letting the bad reviews cloud my judgment. But yeah, not one of the most memorable movies of King Khan either. The real reason, if you ask me, was that this movie is after all about a video-game. And how much soul can you put into a video-game?

Warning: Mild Spoilers ahead.

The annoying real-life Shahrukh, plays a game developer/scientist who is a tamil stereotype who eats ( nay, practically slurrrps up ) noodles with thayir (curd!) and mouths ayyoo for practically anything and everything and is dying to win his son’s affection. But don’t worry , the annoying twat that he is, the producers knew he wouldn’t be the crowd puller, he gets killed when the game he builds comes to life with a mean-ass baddie who cant be beaten. A-la Ra.One. The mythological demon-king with ten heads.

The pace picks up immediately after this and never once slacks up till the last frame rolls by. In spite of repeated attempts by dear sweet chammak bimbo Kareena to get a robot to be romantic. A mention for the new kid on the block, barring his irritating silky golden-retriever hair-style, he’s got potential. Actor material certified. Another word for Arjun Rampal. The best looking villain evuh on Hindi big screen. Sad that he hardly gets screen time.Ah well, there was one more thing that stayed with me. SRK's introduction is one of the  most memorable I've seen in a long time. How he takes on the Bruce Lee sisters - iski lee, uski lee and sabki lee. I was laughing my guts out for the first few minutes.

The movie stunts are fantastic, the VFX being top class for a bollywood movie; especially the train scene was scintillating. Songs are mostly forgettable, except for the “dildara” number. The much touted “criminal” song by Akon was an eye-sore. The most hideous dance number I’ve seen on screen in a long time. The item song was okay; Kareena got to play herself there. Thank the producers.

A very average movie after all the hype. Can’t blame the King though. He plays himself, having fun throughout the movie, inspite of being trapped inside a robotic avatar. What’s in it for you? Well, you could watch it for the stunts, the item song and well, c’mon it’s after all, Shahrukh Khan back on big screen. 
Do you really need an excuse?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Altered Carbon: Pulp sci-fiction at its best

Finished the altered carbon, debut novel by Richard Morgan last week. Would be an understatement to say that I was blown away by this book. It marked my foray back into science fiction after ages. And I loved the same. My mind is still blowing in the air :)

Anyways, I chanced on the book after I read the extract of his latest foray into Fantasy, The Cold Commands, Book two in the series, a Land fit for Heroes. This marks his return to the much acclaimed foray into the lands of Fantasy. Be it fantasy or science fiction ( we are talking Takeshi Kovacs vs. Ringil!) rest assured of one thing – there will be a lot of cool action, gut-wrenching, blood-spurting in-your-face violence, swearing that would put coastal fisherfolk to shame and even graphic depictions of sex. However none of that will ever take away the sheen from the sheer tour de force that his books are. Compelling reads peppered with intelligent ideas and brilliant flowing prose, in a pace that never lets up.

I read the epilogue of Altered Carbon and then there was no stopping me. I had to complete the book to find out how Takeshi Kovacs extricates himself from the little spots of trouble he gets stuck in. Yes, he lacks finesse and thinks the wrong end of the shotgun barrel is the end solution to any problem and can’t be bothered to think too much, but heck, we love the action don’t we! And the book has enough to keep you satisfied. An overdose of it, seriously, but Morgan has definitely managed to tie it in pretty well by the end of the book. It is a fast read, I don’t know how long though as I read this on my kindle. Altered Carbon has a brilliant premise – humans can never die. Their entire consciousness is stored in a cerebral “stack” as he refers to them and be transported to new bodies ( or “Sleeves” as is ingeniously referred to!) Virtuality is cool. And his imagination takes all these to the next level.

I would definitely be looking forward to pick up “The Steel Remains” where he has strayed away from his forte, Sci-Fi and has dabbled in my favorite genre, Fantasy. A solid debut effort that doesn’t read like one at all. Have got all this science fiction ones lined up as well.

Four stars. Hats off.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Terra Nova: "Genesis and Instinct" - First Impressions

Mr. Spielberg is back. With Dinosaurs!!
( Did I hear you squeal??!!!#@#$) – ahem no it ain’t Jurassic park-4. This time though, it’s a full fledged series. While some of you may groan since the diehard fans of the dino-movies kinda tuned out right after the first two movies, as the third had NOTHING new to offer us and going by the same argument, a full blooded series based on dinos running one hour prime time week after week might not be that hot!
Correct. I unfortunately tend to be part of that faction. Until of course I watched the first PILOT of this new series, Terra Nova. While this didn’t completely “blow me away” this certainly had me interested and wanting to watch where the series went.
This is going to be a mini-review – heck, more like what I LIKED and DISLIKED about the series.
First things first, for a mini-series to be about dinosaurs, it had better have something new to offer rather than winged reptiles creating havoc in your domestic life when you went for a vacation to an exotic island. That’s cliché. That is Michael Crichton ( One of my childhood favorite, May his soul rest in peace!) territory which we already covered. So the 90-minutes pilot that almost ran the length of a regular feature film sets the premise about a family of five living in a post apocalyptic Earth in 2149 where pollution and over –population has run the course – The opening scene has the dad, played by Jason O’Mara bring home a nice juicy orange to his three year old daughter, Zoey and teenager son, Jason. The fact that an orange is a novelty brings out the state of affairs the world is in today. And the presence of masks to presumably clean up air. Heck, they even invent a condition that is caused by an overdose of OXYGEN! Nice touch of imagination, I say.
So coming back to the story – the first thirty minutes is rushed – we are pitched headlong into the story where xxx gets arrested for having violated rules of “Not more than two kids per couple” – wifey, a super hot brainiac whos a doctor gets recruited in the meanwhile to go work in Terra Nova, a green planet set in  a parallel time-stream ( I didn’t really get this; not convincingly explained in the series ). The family break out the dad and they all land up in Terra Nova, after a few minutes of tense action.
Again – I felt they could have gone slow here and not done a rushed job of creating the premise – it was like the director and the cast were impatient to get to Terra Nova and didn’t really want to bother setting up the premise. After all, Terra Nova is what the series is called,Mulch-head! Anyways, till here, trust me,  I never connected to ONE SINGLE character. Dad has the most screen space till now and he commands a good screen presence.
Landing up on Terra Nova, we are introduced to the Colonel xxx, Good Old Stephen Lang, who has by now perfected his hamming and become a indispensable actor for all movies with aliens/dinosaurs. He leads the settlement. This was where action picked up and the story line takes the semblance of “Interesting”.  Mini-plots emerge – domestic disputes, the mysterious colonel’s own agenda, introduction of the baddies ( Another settlement called the SIXERS on the same planet), a T-rex wannabe dino called “Slasher” (LOL!), Jason ( the teenage son) who gets befriended by this orphan girl with the “wild streak” in her. But the most interesting and I think, the pivotal suspense plot was that of the SIxers and their mysterious connect to the colonel. Don’t wanna give away the plot here. But that would definitely keep me in on the rest of the series. The first pilot was termed, unoriginally, “Genesis”.
Second episode, “instincts” – definitely didn’t live upto expectations. Rife with clichés. And while complete in itself, the plot never went anywhere. The most interesting component of the series, sixers, barely get mentioned. Introduction of new characters, a former love interest of the doctor, I thought was a good twist in the tale. But it goes no where. Overshadowed by a cliché plot of the new inhabitants fighting migratory dino-birds.
All in all, a mediocre beginning. But has the potential to be a lot more. And that is why I would keep my tabs on this one.  Probably a 2.5 on 5 till now.

Monday, October 3, 2011

BlogRoll Shout Out: Sarah @ BookWorm Blues

I haven’t been enamored by a book-review blog so much in the recent past! So this is a shout-out to Sarah at bookworm blues for having maintained such an awesome top-notch quality blog on Fantasy books, reviews and author news. It is absolutely brilliant! 

I started reading the entries and was struck by the ease, flowing prose and the excellent thought-provoking reviews that came out – churned out at an amazing speed one after the other inspite of her having to cope up with so many personal emergencies ( like, LIFE Happening in quite a BIG way!) - I just stuck through and through and within 3 days flat, had finished reading ALL her entries. Till the very beginning – May 2010. 

Within such a short time to have achieved such a powerful voice in the SFF community is no tiny feat! Hats off to you Sarah! Another reason that I loved it so much was the fact that she kept it straight forward and didn’t veer from the original intentions. To write about books she read. And the books were mostly similar to my interest and tastes. And Hence, I just got hooked.
Astounding. And goes without saying, yours is one of the best BLOGS I have followed! Keep it up.

Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Finally conquered this monster! While not quite that big a doorstopper at close to 700 pages (ahem...When you compare this to the mammoth Steven Erikson’s I been ploughing through, that is!) American Gods is indeed a meandering road trip that takes detours into all kinds of sub-genres that has been defined under “Speculative Fiction”, yet not quite fitting into any one niche. One word that definitely comes to my mind after having finished this, was – Staggering. It’s quite an achievement to have written this “weird” fiction that speaks volumes about the powerhouse of talent that Neil Gaiman truly is.

The first I heard about Gaiman, was way back in 2005 when I saw the “Anansi Boys” and “American Gods” in my local bookstore. However I never followed up on that first teaser chapter about “Shadow” that I read then. Then I watched the movie, “Stardust” – a simple pure enchanting old style love story that had me flip over and see Gaiman in a new light. Then came the “SandMan” graphic novels.
“Mind F**K” 
–  These are just the subtlest of the descriptions that my friends gave about SandMan series. Given that, I was all the more wary now. But then my wife finished “Neverwhere” and was all praises about this book, set in a parallel alternate world London.  That tipped me over the edge and we got two more books, “American Gods” and “StarDust”. The former had every possible fantasy award stamped all over the cover. Hugo, Locus, World Fantasy..Blah and blah. This must be one helluva book then.  And I plunged straight into the heart of America, a dark gritty world as imagined by Gaiman.

For a long while, not a lot happens in the book. But the brilliant prose of Gaiman kept me up turning page after page, devouring all those absolutely real-world analogies that he brings out and helps us visualize his world. “Shadow” the protagonist meets this stranger, “Wednesday” on the plane the day he gets out of jail after having served a 3-year sentence and then gets whisked into the dirty politics of Gods, one such that never existed or are now forgotten and the modern-day Gods worshipped by Americans ( Hold your breathe, Malls, Television, Media!! I especially LOVED the bit about where television comes alive and speaks to Shadow - "Lucy, Show me your tits!" Ha ha ha!).
Majorly this story is about character development. Of just one single person. “Shadow”. Indeed one of the most powerful protagonist I have read about – how he slowly discovers himself over the course of the road trip that takes us through the lush landscape called America. And all the colorful encounters he has with your typical “American” tropes. Well detailed and engagingly written. The twist in tale is something you never see coming and am sure would leave you slack jawed. The petty inconsequential events all throughout the book all comes together finally in a neat little grand climax that is extremely satisfying. For all those who are complaining about the lack of “action” in this book, I would advise just stick through. The end answers all your questions.  And you will love it. I loved the book.

A full 4/5 for the same.

Might try “Anansi Boys” next.  Details one of the minor characters who surfaces in this book. Lets see. Am now swamped with all the indulgent buy I did at the sale at my local bookstore – more on that next post :)