Pacific Rim (Titanes del Pacifico)

pacific-rim-poster-banner

A few days ago, I went to see Pacific Rim with a very good friend of mine in between gossip, beers and Hooters. I’m justified though. She’s a girl. From Texas. It was totally her idea. (Hi, Gen!)

Anyway, when was the last time you saw a stupid movie? Not bad – just stupid. With the kind of base concept we might have thought up in the playground. Man of Steel, JumperIron Man… whatever. Now tell me the last movie that knew it had a silly concept. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

I came up with Hancock and My Super Ex Girlfriend. Both parody pastiches of the superhero genre.

Pacific Rim is one of those rare self-aware movies. The central concept is something a small boy might have come up with smashing together his Japanese action figures. Monsters invade the Earth through a portal and the UN is left with two options: a big wall or even bigger robots. Thankfully, they choose big robots followed by a wall which appears to be made from papier mache.

As an homage to any number of B-movies and 80s cartoons, Pacific Rim is a joy to watch for anyone close to 30 years old. It’s almost nostalgic in its nonsense. Beyond that though, it’s an awful lot of fun.

Ron Perlman playing a golden shoe-wearing monster poacher, broad racial stereotypes that are too cartoonish to be offensive (including Torchwood‘s Burn Gorman as a bumbling English scientist), robots that look like a little Rockem Sockem and absolutely mind blowing effects all feed into an overall feeling of fun an fantasy. The dramatic or romantic moments add a little depth, but don’t really linger long enough to spoil the fun.

This movie won’t change your life. What it will do is excite you, entertain you and make you grin like the little kid who wrote the first draft. Just don’t take it too seriously; it’s makers certainly didn’t.

It’s a lesson that a lot of comic book movies should pick up on. Despite Reeves’ contributions, we know men can’t fly. We know 16-wheelers aren’t robots in disguise and we know that a man dressed as a flying mammal doesn’t protect Goth New York. We know these things, and wet we come to watch anyway.

Lighten up, Superman! (but keep the shirt off)

Lighten up, Superman!
(but keep the shirt off)

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Friends with Benefits (Movie Review)

This is about the movie. If that’s not what you were searching for, I think that room is down the hall.

I was watching for the articles, I swear!

I was watching for the articles, I swear!

Anyway, tonight I watched Friends with Benefits starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. Yes, you can predict the entire plot of the movie from the poster. I didn’t come to this movie expecting a cinematic revelation and if you did you’re an idiot.

What this movie has, though is a lot of witty dialogue and some genuinely identifiable moments, such as the breakup scenes or moments with Timberlake’s family in Los Angeles.

The characters are two beautiful, successful people with rough histories with relationships. They come to business become good friends… I think you get it.

For all that it was predictable, there is no dull moment, as every second these two characters interact is a delight. They have great on-screen chemistry and the dialogue just bounces along beautifully.

There are two very moving minor roles I’d like to highlight too. Firstly Woody Harrelson as the gay sports reporter. It sounds like a one-note character and for the most part he is, but the small switch of sexuality in an old trope really makes the character come alive. He also gets one of the best scenes that doesn’t include both leads. Overacted wonderfully to create an entirely believable character.

Secondly is Richard JenkinsAlzheimer’s suffering father. The pain he feels over lost love and lost memories is palpable, and I think you can really see the man he was and the man Timberlake’s character looked up to along with the shades of himself he is gradually becoming.

I like Romantic Comedies. They’re uplifting, relatable in a very stylized way (something the movie comments on itself before falling into its own tropes) and sometimes even funny. If you’re like me, then Friends with Benefits is for you. It’s well worth a watch, even if it’s not in my top 5 Rom Coms.

If your tastes don’t run the same way, this is probably one to give a miss, as it doesn’t really push any boundaries or create anything new. That is, if you get bored of looking at Justin and Mila for 90 minutes. If so, then I’m just not sure who you are any more.

“Man of Steel” isn’t very good because it’s not enough like “Lois and Clark”

Controversial I know, but stick with me. The thing I like about Dean Cain’s Superman is that I could realistically believe that he lived in the world I lived in.

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A 90s world, admittedly

He had a job, an apartment, flirtations, girlfriends, parents, humour, desires, ambitions and the rest of it. Cain’s Superman (other than having a Lois upon which I had a massive pre-adolescent crush) was a character I could really believe in. I’ve always preferred this version even to Christopher Reeve’s interpretation.

Cain’s interpretation is more “man” than “super”, but certainly has a lot of character. Smallville would take up this Clark-first interpretation over a decade later, and I think it is certain the way to go when it comes to writing the Man of Steel. It’s the same reason why Thor’s family and love interests are so important and why you get Iron Man out of the damn suit. If a hero is invulnerable  then why the hell should I care what happens to him?

"He made us believe... etc."

“He made us believe… etc.”

Superman more than any other comic book character is seen as undefeatable. He’s god-like in the range and variety of his abilities. He’s moved planets and time and defeated galactic forces all on his own. All the more reason, then, to focus more on who he is, rather than what he can do.

In this writer’s humble opinion, the Christopher Reeve Superman films make the same mistake. He is Superman first and Clark Kent is simply an act he hides behind. He hides behind bumbling, glasses and worse hair so that no one sees that he’s a morally perfect superbeing. Arguably. Although I can get behind his adventures in the blue tights (which Reeve plays beautifully), I never really believe what’s going on under the fedora and glasses. Superman is not a character: he’s a collection of powers. Clark Kent is where the character motivation comes from in all but the best interpretations*.

And so we come to Mr. Cavill and Man of Steel. He is terribly good at having his shirt off (pictured), terribly good at looking all moody and terribly good at looking like Superman. He does look like Superman. He’s big

Just because.

Just because.

and buff and strong-jawed. When you picture Superman in your head, he comes pretty damn close, no?

But that aside, the most characterisation we get for Kal are either all about his fathers (the two Robin Hoods), or are Clark as a child (and therefore through child actors). We never seen one decent scene of characterisation for Cavill as the character. All characterisation is through flashbacks to his parents and/or his childhood. As a result, we never really get to know Clark/Kal/Superman the man and we don’t have any reason to root for him, not mourn for him at the end when that big un-Superman-like thing happens.

This'll work.

This’ll work.

Beyond the property damage and focus on Krypton rather than Supes, the big problem with Man of Steel is that there just isn’t enough Clark.

Yes, I'm using Superman 3 in my argument. Try and stop me.

Yes, I’m using Superman 3 in my argument. Try and stop me.

 

 

 

 

Grampa El

Grampa El

*Kingdom Come particularly comes to mind, which really provides Kal-El with some meaty characterisation.

Transitions by D.A. Lascelles

 

 

 

Transitions is just your average boy-meets-girl-meets-Roman tale of romance. It opens with a Roman looking for a cave on a early-century British beach looking for a cave, followed quickly by our introductions to two slightly socially awkward leads.

I don’t want to go too much more into the plot, as this isn’t a long story. Perhaps my biggest criticism of this story is that I would have liked to have spent more time with the main characters – perhaps seeing them more in their element before the thing that usually hits the fan inevitably does so. So much we are told, whereas a couple of extra chapters would have allowed us to see the characters in action a little more as themselves.

All that having been said, Transitions is a  great story full of mystery, realistic characters and a story that really sneaks up on you. I would certainly recommend this book for fans of romance, fantasy, history, or just ‘weird stories’. Hopefully we’ll see much more from this author in the future!

Under the Dome by Stephen King

I’ve been looking at the cover of this book in bookshops since it came out in 2009 – having had a similar idea for an isolated small town myself. After reading “On Writing” and having heard it was soon to become a TV show, I knew that this would be my next read.

First thing: it’s a big book. I mean seriously. Just look at this picture I’ve stolen from another WordPress blog:

Big.

It came in at over a thousand Kindle pages. That said, it’s a rare moment when the story feels slow, wordy or padded. These pages are all story.

I have to admit, though, the first act was a little slow-going for me. As King himself states in his afterword, it is a densely-populated universe he has created here under the dome. Every other chapter seems to introduce a new family or set of characters to learn and love, before having them cruelly wrenched off=stage for another handful of chapters.

Nevertheless, this all pays of in the end, with each and every character receiving an filling and sometimes emotional ending. The main characters are strong but flawed, and the small-town enemies soon become magnified through the non-glass of the dome.

The story slowly grows as we get to know this community inside and out. We know the friendly, unfriendly, weird and drunken as well or better than we do those of our own friendship circles.

I would thoroughly recommend this book, but not as light summer reading – both literally and metaphorically. At one point, the fate of one character made me stop reading, as tears were obscuring my vision.

This is a short, fast review as I’ve got a lot of other things to do right now. But for what it’s worth, it’s a “yes” from me, and I’ll definitely be tuning in to watch my favourite characters (both loved and hated) appear on-screen.

 

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On Writing and On “On Writing”

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I’ve been reading Stephen King’s On Writing and really trying to find a direction for my novel, which had been having a worse existential crisis than a middle-aged man with a new Porche. So I picked up a copy of King’s advice on the subject. Beyond the fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking insight into the author’s life and how they fed into his work, I also found some extremely sound advice on getting my own work moving again. I’m hesitant to repeat the advice, as it’s so elegantly and succinctly put by King himself, but I would say that if you’re struggling to find you’re writing groove, it’s definitely the book you should pick up.

With that in mind, and as previously mentioned, I gained a new determination to complete my own book (working title Laura).

At time of writing, I have forty thousand words in the manuscript itself and a few thousand in broken pieces elsewhere. I think I’ve finally found a direction, a theme and a point to Laura, but it will take a not insignificant rewrite. With that in mind, I’ve downloaded some writing software (yWriter5) which I’m mainly using to track my daily word count, organise my thoughts and generally keep things organised. On Mr. King’s advice, I set myself a daily word count of a thousand words to be completed in a month. That’ll be thirty thousand in total. If needs be, I’ll do the same next month. After that, I should have enough material to construct a coherent final narrative for Laura. After that, the editing process begins. I know what needs to be done on the narrative level. Honestly, I’m just focussing on that as a target at this stage. Wish me luck.

artsy-writer-working

A Review – Dark Currents: Agent of Hel by Jacqueline Carey

I’ve seen worse paperback cover art, too.

Jacqueline Carey is my favourite author in the epic fantasy genre; not only because the setting of her Phèdre series is unique, complicated and lacking Tolkienian cliché, but also because the characters are full and believable. So, when I heard that she was branching into my favourite genre, urban fantasy, I felt equal parts excited and apprehensive.

Being the first in a new series, Dark Currents: Agent of Hel has the unenviable task of introducing characters, locations, conflicts and an internal supernatural logic along with telling its own story. As with the beginning of any “genre” series, it must do all of these things with enough strength to sustain its successors. This is where many authors fall down – particularly in urban fantasy.

While Carey’s first novel – Kushiel’s Dart (my review of which can be found here) – was equal parts criticised and applauded for its in-depth world building, Dark Currents drip-feeds us information as the story progresses, allowing us to really get in on the action even in chapter one. The main character, Daisy, is perfectly poised between the magical and mundane to present information on either when the situation arises.

Of course (and at the risk of losing the rest of your day on TV Tropes), there is a certain element of “our monsters are different“. Each species has to be not only introduced, but also seen in action in order to make Carey’s modern monsters distinct from those on the same book store shelf. Nonetheless, this is done with care and is not overly distracting. There isn’t too much contrast with popular culture, for example.

As a caveat to that point, though, I have to admit a little smirk at the “offensive term” for the vampire nest being “Twilight Manor”.

The mystery is gripping enough that even without the supernatural elements it could make a compelling crime novel in its own right. As an element that many urban fantasy writers neglect, I found it rather pleasing that I was mentally working on the puzzle on the few occasions I wasn’t reading.

I found the mix of Christian and Norse mythology to be compelling, though the interaction between the two is not deeply explored. After the atypical theology of her Kushiel series, I would have preferred an approach more from further outside the box, as many supernatural series (including Supernatural) feel the need to use Abrahamic religion as a baseline. Nonetheless, there’s enough non-Christian stuff to sink my teeth into, and I’m sure Carey will address it more in future books, considering her protagonist’s back story.

As an introductory novel, it works well, and I’m sure it will go from strength the strength as the series progresses. It isn’t a stand-out of the genre in the same way I consider Kushiel’s Dart to be, but it is certainly deserving of a place beside Butcher, Hamilton and Harris. If this is your genre, do add Dark Currents: Agent of Hel to your collection.

(The same review on Goodreads is here)