30 April 2012

Avengers: Assemble (The Avengers) (2012)

This film is based on Marvels comic: The Avengers, and sees our more well-known heroes - The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) team up with The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to fight against and intergalactic invasion. At the forefront of this plan is Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor's adopted brother, who we last saw falling into space after the Bifrost was destroyed (luckily Odin was able to send Thor back to earth for this film).

Unfortunately as I have not read the comic books, I have absolutely no idea if the film is in any way relevant to the comics, but I hope so. There's nothing better than seeing a good film adaptation of something you already love.

The most impressive part of this film is that way that the plot ties in nicely with the other films, particularly with Thor (2011) and Captain America (2011) (and so I've been told, Iron Man 2) - the most recent ones to join the Marvel film collection. But this story has been building for a while now, ever since we first saw a S.H.I.E.L.D. worker and Nick Fury back in Iron Man (2008). We've seen enticing clips of Mr Fury ever since and have been dying to know what it all culminates into. Speaking of the Marvel collection, I also think that the references given to them are very good, and the combination of the characters is actually nicely realistic. After all, you can't have too many ego's in one room without someone having a clash.

Another good thing about the film is the way that it is not all action. Mind games are afoot, and the characters display a nice wittiness - something you don't see in the likes of the recent Batman movies. Iron Man s a particularly good source of laughter. I love his utter frankness. But I have to say that everyone has their moment.

Of course, the action is great. the special effects are faultless as far as I could see. The 3D was realistic and didn't ruin it for me - something that can happen if the fighting is too dense or if the shots are too fast in my case. But I really do admire the acting. After all, they do have a stellar cast with many accomplishments and credits to their names. The story gripped me enough, but I think it was the acting that really brought it to life and made me care. I don't even know who to credit as the best.

One bad note that i feel should be addressed: the actual story. In its most basic sense, it comprises of one of the most generic plots. The aliens are invading earth and the earth people need to defend it. BORING. But shove a group very skilled and super-powered people into the mix (and a couple of Gods) and you've got a hit. The film manages to carry off the storyline with a lot of back story.. not just your typical invasion after all.

This film deserves a 9 out of 10. I still prefer Captain America.

22 April 2012

Sleep, Pale Sister - Joanne Harris

This book is a totally different genre to what we know Joanne best for, and so some readers may be shocked to learn that she dabbles in a bit of Gothic ghost stories, or murder, or the Internet. This is the second book she wrote, and while it didn't sell too well initially, I hope it will make a nice comeback soon.

The book blurb reads:
'Henry Chester, a domineering and puritanical Victorian artist, is in search of the perfect model. In nine-year-old Effie he finds her. Ten years later, lovely, childlike and sedated, Effie seems like the idea wife. But something inside is about to awaken. Drawn by her lover, Mose, into a dangerous underworld of intrigue and blackmail, she meets Fanny Miller, the brothel-keeper, and her shadowy daughter, Marta - murdered ten years ago on the day of Henry's weekly visit... And as friendship becomes possession and Henry's secret past is revealed, Effie and Marta plan their revenge together.'

Now, this sounds very interesting to me, but unfortunately the blurb makes the book sound better than it is and gives most of the story to the reader at the same time. I've only quoted it to you because you're bound to read the blurb anyway.

The storyline is pretty interesting, but to me it does take a while for things to get going. The intrigue at the beginning of the novel is really nice though. We get a real sense of Henry as a character. His guilt is palpable, and we only feel sorry for him to begin with, albeit a little weirded out. The story is told well, and is confusing in such a way so that you don't really understand what is going on until she tells you.

The multiple first person narrative can be a bit tricky, but luckily each character has a specific personality so usually you can figure out how it is rather quickly. This is very effective as we really get a sense of how the characters think and feel, and know everything that is going on. Considering this is a story where three main characters are completely oblivious of one fact or another at certain times, I feel that this is a good thing.

I think what Joanne Harris is good at is giving us a perfect sensory experience. At some points, I was truly a little scared. While at others I could perfectly imagine the effects of the drugs that the characters were taking.

Overall, the book is a good read, but not up to scratch with her usual work. I'd give it the benefit on the doubt, though, as it was only her second book.

Despite the fact that she is my favourite author, it's a 5 out of 10 from me.

5 April 2012

Wrath of the Titans


The sequel to 2010's Clash of the Titans in now in our cinemas - following the Greek Mythology trend once again. And it truly does follow in its predecessors' footsteps with non-stop adventure and stunning effects.

Perseus has chosen to live his life as a human - he has a son now, but his wife, Io, is dead. The Gods are weakening as humans pray to them less and less; soon, all their work will be undone and the Titan, Kronos, will be free to destroy the earth.When Zeus is captured and taken to the Underworld, it is Perseus's duty to bring him back before Kronos is unleashed.

What follows is an unrelenting stream of action that is filled to the brim with Greek Myth, all of which doesn't even happen to Perseus in the stories. It may help to read up beforehand if you don't know it too well, as some things can be difficult to understand. You may need to know, for example, that Poseidon fathered the cyclopes'. The mixture of mythology is interesting, too. In the first film, the mythology simply pertained to Perseus. But here, we see ideas that come from the stories of Theseus, Jason, Orpheus and Hercules too. I think the writers of the film have real skill to combine so many elements into one flowing narrative, and I think they work extremely well together.

Sam Worthington returns in his role as Perseus, but I felt that the character lost some of his personality in this sequel. One point that i found frustrating about the film was the way that Perseus seemed much weaker and less able to fight. In fact, in most of the fight scenes, he seems to be getting beaten up. Yes, he is meant to be about 10 years older, but that does not mean he wouldn't have retained his strength through fishing every day.

Rosamund Pike, who you may have seen as Jane in Pride and Prejudice, is the replacement actress for the part of Andromeda. She does it so well, I think you can hardly tell the difference (apart from that her hair is blonde now). With the likes of Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and Bill Nighy as supporting actors, the film stand up extremely well. One surprising performance was found in the virtually unknown actor, Toby Kebbell, who played Agenor - the son of Poseidon. His portrayal was different to that of the other actors, and he injected a sense of comedy and fun into what could have been all too serious. You may have seen him in Prince of Persia as Prince Garsiv.

The concepts of the film were extremely interesting. For example, it includes a labyrinth that is quite unlike any that I have seen before. However, the best setting is undeniably the Underworld, especially that of Tartarus - the prison of Kronos and the other Titans

Overall, I think the film delivers and entertaining sequence that has been well thought through, if not so well acted at times. It clearly leaves us with the message that family, brotherhood and father-son dynamics are far stronger than anything else that can be thrown at you. Mythology buffs will love this take - as long as they're not too intent on having the story correct. I give it a 9/10

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

"O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in't!"

                      - Miranda, The Tempest

This book, which was first published in 1932, would spark the tide of dystopian literature that followed in eras that, let's face it, weren't too happy with life in general.

What we need to remember, when reading this classic, is that some of the concepts that are included hadn't even been invented yet. It was first found that hormones could control ovulation in the 30s, but the first oral contraceptive was first introduced to the public in the 60s, a good 30 years after the book was finished. Huxley was writing about things that may seem to be old to us, but at the time they were new, exciting and radical ideas.

The story is based in a futuristic Britain, where cities, towns, even villages comprise of multistory buildings. Where Soma, a drug with no bad side effects, makes everyone happy. Where babies are mass produced from tubes and everybody belongs to everybody else. And the way the whole society is put together is simply fascinating. The babies are divided into their social classes as soon as they are conceived, and are conditioned to fit in to them perfectly. Some will have alcohol in their blood surrogate, some may be deprived of nutrients at a certain stage of their development.This is all totally normal. And necessary for a fully functioning and happy community. Because after all, if an Epsilon had too high an IQ, why on earth would he want to clean for a living?

We have a small group of main characters in the story that round it out nicely for us. We see he world through very different viewpoints; a normal Delta citizen, who is almost perfectly conditioned, an Alpha-plus who isn't happy with the world at all, the boss who keeps the world turning, and the savage- a man from an undisturbed civilisation very similar to that of a Native American tribe, who is brought into the futuristic world.

While the story isn't particularly thrilling for a modern reader, they may be able to gain an insight into Huxley's mind, and what he thought about his own civilisation. The book really makes you think about the power of government control and about how someone from and African tribe, for example, would react to our own civilisation if they had it forced upon them. And the result is rather shocking, I have to say.

I find that the parallels and differences with Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' are extremely interesting. There is a savage who is clearly misunderstood, but instead of forcing him into slavery, the people in the book are fascinated by him and welcome him into their civilisation. The clear references to many of his texts are also interesting. I like the way that the savage uses the quotes as arguments for his own feelings. Huxley must have been extremely moved and must have read Shakespeare avidly to use them so many times within his work.

To conclude, I think that this is a book that is worth reading for those of you who like the genre and want a more adult read than the current dystopian fiction has on offer. The concepts are interesting and the story is good, though not nearly as action-packed as modern books and with a lot more conversation.

Still, I give it a 7/10.

4 April 2012

The Hunger Games (film)

Dystopian novels for teens are definitely trending at the moment, and it's all to do with this gem of a trilogy. Being a huge fan of the genre already (both Adult and YA), I practically swallowed the novels whole. I can safely say that they are fantastic for a person of any age and, somewhat controversially, any gender too.

So, when I heard that the film was coming out, I was worried. Very worried. Hollywood had already crashed and burned all over my beloved 'Northern Lights' - they had created a monster of a film called 'The Golden Compass' in it's place. But, surprisingly, 'The Hunger Games' actually left me with an even clearer message than the books had about reality TV, politics and privacy.

The book follows 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen as she bravely volunteers, in the place of her 12-year-old sister, in the 74th Annual Hunger Games. The film is NOT to be confused with the events of the film Battle Royale, which, although it has a very similar basic idea (ie: children killing each-other), is lacking in any meaning.

What is truly remarkable about this film is that the politics and the main concepts are cleverly depicted in a way that anyone can understand. Even people who have not read the books have come away knowing exactly what was going on. No confusion, just a burning desire to go read the books to find out what happens next. I personally love the way that the 'tracker jackers' have been explained - but you'll have to watch it to know more!

The world itsself has been perfectly realised. It's almost exactly how I imagined it. Readers of the books will be happy to know that the plot is never strayed from, and i believe that some minor discrepancies actually enhance the viewing experience. Plus, it gives those who haven't read it yet a couple of nice surprises. Things I may have wanted to see aren't hugely missed, and things that will turn out to be of importance are put in.

I believe that all the fundamentals of the story are there, as well as parts that I thought were extremely important to put in. There are poignant moments and particular phrases that will really help when making the second, third and fourth films. This may have something to do with the fact that the writer -Suzanne Collins, helped out with writing the film's script, and must have had a very good hold on the production.

I have only one problem. Because the concept is a difficult one, the beginning is somewhat slow. The action doesn't start for a little while, and there is a fair amount of talk. At the very beginning there is a little bit of writing. I advise everyone to read it. If you don't, I guarantee you won't really get the beginning at all. However, don't let that stop you from going. As soon as you get past the blurb, your inquisitiveness gets the better of you and you are catapulted into Panem, the Capitol and The Hunger Games itsself.

The casting was excellent, too. Some fairly well known names like Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Toby Jones and Donald Sutherland played fairly integral characters, which was good as support. But virtual unknowns Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class) and Josh Hutcherson (The Vampires Assistant, Journey to the Centre of the Earth) took the lead roles. And may I say that I think these two are destined for good things. Their acting was extremely good, but I think that Hutcherson just gets my top spot for his perfect portrayal of Peeta Mellark. Oh, and Lenny Kravitz is in it, too, for all you music lovers.

Many have dubbed it 'the next big thing', and while I usually don't like that label, I think that they're right. With a film as consistent as this one I think that 'The Hunger Games' franchise could be as successful as Harry Potter, and, if there is any justice in the world, ten times more successful than Twilight.
It's a 9.5 out of 10.

For an excellent list on Young Adult dystopian fiction, please go to THIS blog post. And there are tonnes more, you just have to search them online.

Divergent - Veronica Roth

Tris lives in a world where you get to choose how you live your life. There are 5 factions - Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Erudite and Dauntless. Each citizen chooses theirs when they are 16. after that, they belong to that faction for the rest of their lives. But what happens if you don't slot neatly into one faction; what if you are divergent?

Dystopian fiction for teens is bang on trend at the moment, thanks to the huge success of 'The Hunger Games'. And this book doesn't disappoint, even for an adult reader. The plot isn't all that twisty and can be obvious to an adult reader, but the depiction of this interesting dystopian concept is excellent. The plot, at times, can be a little cliche - this genre and romance seem to go hand in hand - but overall it is a thrilling, fast-paced read. The events culminate to an unexpectedly huge crescendo, and I wonder how the next novel will fare after that. One possible question that may remain in the reader's mind is exactly how the world came into being. Hopefully, an explanation will be given to us in the sequel.

While the novel does not compete with 'The Hunger Games' in terms of technical skill, it has many features that make it well worth the read:-

The characters are believable, likeable and realistic to their world. This, I think, can be see very well in Roth's protagonist, but also in her other characters. For example Albert, another initiate, is torn between a crush on a girl and the will to survive the initiations (or risk being factionless and living on the edge of society). I think it is good that they don't act or think exactly as we do, otherwise they wouldn't feel right to the reader.

It also really makes you think about yourself as a person. If you were in this world, which faction would you belong to? Would you also be divergent? Or would you choose to be factionless? There are tests in the book that you can place yourself into and decide how you would fare in that world - your capacity for selflessness, or your deepest fears.

Overall, I give it a 9/10. Not perfect, but definitely getting there.

The second novel, Insurgent, comes out on hardback on the 1st May 2012.