Saturday, May 12, 2012

Before They Are Hanged: Mini Review

Part-2 of the First Law trilogy. 

With such a spell-binding title to a middle-book of a trilogy ( one that evokes grim visuals of dark shadows hanging down from a broken tree at the end of the street and gusting in the wind surely?) one HAS to get swept into it. 

It’s been a while since I last read “The Blade Itself” – the epic fantasy debut that explosively launched Joe Abercrombie onto the Fantasy writing scene. While I enjoyed him taking the usual fantasy tropes and then giving them his own bloody “gritty” little twist to make them realistic and super dark, I was not going gaga over it. It was a good book, a 3-star one with some fantastic violent action scenes and the usual generous dose of politicking intrigue.
Then I read “Heroes” – one hailed by many to be Mr. Abercrombie’s finest effort till date. I was hooked. This man was greater than the First of the Magi when it came to spinning a violent gritty tale of war. So I cut back to the unfinished trilogy and have never stopped reading except when I go to sleep or am stuck with my day job. Un-Put-downably Awesome.
It’s a second book in a trilogy so obviously there are no resolutions to the conflicts. One BIG grouch that I had with the first book was its ending – sudden and unexpected.  I remember that was what put me off for the first time. The second book however, sweeps you along in its pace. There are three major activities happening in book two.
First: As with most epic fantasies, this one involves a travel – with the motliest crew that you can ever put together in a room. The most powerful magi, Bayaz, a throw-back from the Olden Times, along with the two vicious killers to have ever surfaced on the pages, Bloody Nine-Fingers Logen and Ferro Maljinn. For those who read part-one you know what I’m talking about. For those wading into these new oceans, well – Logen is perhaps one of the most famous creations in the Fantasy world – a big lumbering Northman who’s survived a fight too many, a cold blooded killer and an absolutely delightful human being with big “trust” issues with almost everybody. But that’s one guy I’ve grown to respect and admire. I’m waiting with bated breath what Mr. Abercrombie’s got in store of him. Another interesting partner in this epic journey is Jezal Luthar, the handsome loafer who learns a lot of truths about himself and life in general over the journey.  If anyone grew up on this journey, that’s this guy.
Second: the war that’s brewing in the North between the barbaric king Bethod and the Union army – through the POV of two guys – one’s the honest hardworking soldier, Collem West who’s probably the only straight forward character in this whole series, which kind of makes him a little boring and the other through the Dogman, Logen’s ex-company who’s leading the merry band of Northerners who are sick of Bethod and want to settle scores with him.
Third and most interesting part is about the skirmish in the South of the empire where the other set of barbarians called Ghurkish ( Makes for a nice growling sound deep in your throat, huh?) are set to attack the Southern city of Dagoska. The royal inquisitor, Glokta ( by far the most colorful character ever in this book!) is sent to investigate and hold the ramparts. Glokta, once a dashing soldier in the King’s own, now a cripple is a man who does the dirty jobs for his bosses back in the court. Meaning, he is willing to go to any extent to “extract” the secrets out of suspects. A man who’s got mental tsunamis going on in his mind over EVERYTHING, a man who has lost interest in the finer aspects of living. Living in constant pain, suffering the rejection by others – all this is beautifully painted by Mr. Abercrombie. Amazing character portrait, if one was ever written. Glokta is the one guy who gives the entire fantasy stereotypes a run for their money – Never have we encountered a protagonists who is so twisted and ugly and yet arresting ( well, you might argue Thomas Covenant was one such – but it was his alter ego that set out to save worlds, no? )
The plot is thickening. And I for one, have already plunged into book3. Will maybe write a review for the series if I finish it this weekend.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Avengers - Movie Review

This is something like hot off the press, remember those olden day headlines? I have similar thoughts flashing as I write this. Just dropped back home after having watched Joss Whedon’s summer blockbuster for 2012 – The Avengers. 

Initial emotional reaction: a tad bit disappointed, but the last 30 minutes of the movie kinda made up for it. 5 super heroes crammed into one movie, it was bound to be ripping away at the seams. Explosive, by far( we know it was a foregone conclusion. But entertaining? I got my reservations. But let me not see those long faces droop; all is not lost. It’s actually pretty much a fun-filled rollercoaster ride.

Three things stood out for me.

One, Tony Brilliant Eccentric Genius Mr. Stark, take a bow.  You just cannot help loving the Iron Man character, insouciant swagger, irreverent devil-may-care attitude, crackling dry wit. It’s all there,  vintage Robert Downey Jr. the one guy who alleviates boredom in this movie.

Two, the ass-kicking super-curvy-wonder-woman Scarlett Johansen, (who’s super power is that, well, She is Scarlett Johansen) who has you panting for more even with all her clothes on.

Three, Mark Ruffalo who dons the role of the nerdy scientist with anger management issues of stupendous proportions and becomes the “other guy” who loves nothing more than “SMASH”ing. The best ever HULK for me. Truly. Some of the best lighter moments of the movie happen purely because of the green monster. He is hilarious. By far. Giving serious competition to Tony Stark.

All others pale in comparison. And I mean, like really pale washed out cardboard effigies with hardly anything to do. Captain America, Chris “Hunk” Evans, plays the role of an administrator or the clean-up guy never really being called to the fore front of action, content to take on the smaller baddies. Same with Chris Hemsworth, Thor - a little less screen time and a lot less action, but passable. Nick Fury, commander of the Shield, the one man whose secrets too got secrets, Samuel L Jackson, again reprising this role for the “Nth” time, remains as elusive as ever. I was hoping at least this time, ( especially the Avengers is HIS pet project!) he would have more screen time and make a killing impression, but sadly that would need to wait. In Loki, we got a decently villainous antagonist, played well by Tom Hiddleston  with his brit accent and gelled back longish hair . I found him a little lacking in menace in spite of his best efforts.  Hawk-Eye, played by Jeremy “hurt locker” Renner, was impressive in bits, though overall, he has been expressionless and stone-faced. It was his first outing in this super hero franchise and while he did shine, I think, I prefer his female partner assassin, the Black Widow ANY DAY. What moves! Mind numbing!

The other minor characters flit by and are gone with the blink of the eye.  Plot is linear, staid, stale and un-original. A throw back to olden day comic book days. Loki declares war on Earth having no where else to  rule, with the help of a cube called ( Hold your breath, here it comes..)”Tesseract”  that gives him unlimited source of energy. And Samuel Jackson takes offense at this outrageous brazen act of dare-devilry and takes him on with the help of the secret service, manned by some of the most beautiful women ( Scarlett Johansen, Cobie “How I met your mother hottie” Smulders! I would LOVE to work at the SHIELD, Nick, you hiring ? ) and a “Response Team” consisting of a hammer wielding Demi God, a rich genius industrialist with ego the size of Jupiter drops, a scientist with serious anger management issues, a super soldier born of an experiment, who’s a throwback from the days of World War-II and bunch of other assassins.  How they oust Loki and save the earth is the story. 

Joss Wheldon’s done quite a commendable job in getting all these actors in one frame, making the action sequences super fun, while not forgetting that dash of sardonic humor and those delightful quips.  The first half though, where he sets up the conflict does get a bit tedious, and I found myself wandering. The plot’s thin and linear and you don’t miss much if you were to walk out to stretch your legs a bit. But the second half is crackling with fantastic set piece actions and you get your money’s worth when you finally get HULK raging, smashing the “puny God” all around the place. 

Good old fashioned fun caper. And did I say, you got Scarlett Johansen performing acrobatics and kicking some ass? Go watch.