Fri, Aug 17, 2012

: The Expendables 2

The first one was fun and unique, but though this one tries to pump up the star power to even crazier levels, it falls a little flat. Many of the jokes are limp (such as Bruce Willis and Arnold Swartzegger swapping lines from their previous movies, where Bruce says “I’ll be back” and Arnold says, “Yippie kai-yay”). The plot is a mission gone wrong, where in an Eastern European country a bad guy is forcing the locals to work in his mining operation. Stalone and his men, of course, have to defeat the bad guy. Predictable, but still fun, though the opening action sequence is better than later set pieces. Basically if you liked the first one, you’ll probably have a good time with this one.

Topic: [/movie]


Fri, Aug 10, 2012

: The Bourne Legacy

I really liked the earlier films. I wasn’t sure about this one but came to it with an open mind. It’s not bad, but unfortunately it has more potential than anything realized. Worse, it doesn’t have the same feel as the others in the series, which is disappointing.

I knew nothing about the story going in and wasn’t sure how this was going to pick up from the previous films. It turns out we have a new Bourne-like character trapped in another conspiracy and (eventually) on the run. There are therefore hints of the previous storylines, but the action is weaker and the story less compelling as we don’t know the people. But the biggest mistake is that for the first hour you don’t have any idea what’s going on — it’s all oppressive atmosphere and mysterious people doing incomprehensible things. It does all become clear and it makes sense and all the storylines are tied together, but by that time you’re so distant you aren’t very vested in the characters. In the end it’s a very simple story of a spy being hunted down because shadowy government bureaucrats are shutting down his program, yet it’s made to be much more complicated than that which weakens and confuses the story.

Overall, not bad. There is much to like in small scenes and events, and the performances are well-done, but the whole thing feels like a shadow of the previous films. I’m not sure if this will be strong enough to act as a reboot for the series, which is disappointing as I would love to see it continue.

Topic: [/movie]


Thu, Aug 09, 2012

: The Unusual Suspects

Author: Michael Buckley

I wasn’t that big a fan of the first book in the Sisters Grimm series (about modern day descendants of the Brothers Grimm in a world where their stories were non-fiction), but I still like the concept and therefore I tried this second book. Unfortunately, it has similar flaws as the first one. For instance, the stories are very childish, clearly targeting a young audience, yet they’re filled with death and monsters and other gruesome imagery that I can’t imagine would be very appropriate for young children.

But I’ve narrowed down the chief flaw to the plots: they just don’t make much sense. Though supposedly the girls are fairy-tale “detectives” there can’t be much detecting, since the resolutions always involve strange magic requiring information we don’t have in advance (in other words, these aren’t like regular mystery books where the reader can solve the crime if clever enough). The first book had a weak plot and this one here has a strange one, one that’s really over-the-top and bizarre. (Without spoiling too much, it involves a character who can blow himself up like a nuclear bomb. Yeah, that makes sense.) Another frustrating aspect of these stories is that the main characters do very little to actual solve or resolve the situation. The girls stumble onto crimes (or the bad guy attacks them) and the ending involves another bad guy stopping the really bad guy — our heroines are pretty much useless.

Speaking of the ending, this particular book really gets on my nerves by not actually having an ending. It almost literally stops in the middle of a sentence with a “to be continued” encouraging you to buy the next book. Arghh! While we sort of get the idea that the bad guy has been stopped, even that isn’t completely clear, and the story ends with a setup for the sequel.

None of this means the book is horrible — there are some good moments, wonderful characters, and real quality writing in places. The setting is brilliant and the way fairy tale creatures are blended throughout is genius. But I just wish there were better stories underlying these books. Instead we have a one-gimmick premise with feeble attempts to wrap a “mystery” around it.

Topic: [/book]


Wed, Aug 08, 2012

: The Mote in God’s Eye

Authors: Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven

This is one of those classic science fiction stories I’d somehow never managed to read. I am now wondering why it is so famous. It’s not a bad book or anything, but it is slow-moving and not a lot happens. None of the characters are very interesting — they are all stereotypical stick figures — and the story seems like it should be more interesting than it is.

The plot involves first contact with an alien race. While it has a solid-sounding scientific base and some unusual (and cool) ideas, there are many aspects I found too convenient. For instance, one of my pet peeves is how every alien race we encounter in movies and TV shows is humanoid — and most of those races think too much like humans. This sort of does the same thing. Here the aliens are physically somewhat different, but they have arms and eyes and there’s much talk about DNA and other physiological aspects that makes them seem too much like us. I did like that the aliens have a very different culture from us — aspects of which play a key part in the plot — but that culture is not conveyed very well. We learn about it bits and pieces over a long period of time which dilutes a lot of what makes that interesting. And the “dramatic” conclusion, where we learn the real motivations of the aliens, comes out of left field, isn’t very well explained, and feels awkward.

The bottom line is that while I found much of this intriguing and inspiring, the book itself didn’t deliver on that inspiration. The whole idea of “first contact” is fascinating, but it could be done better than this.

Topic: [/book]


Fri, Aug 03, 2012

: Total Recall

When I first heard they were remaking this I thought it was nuts and I had little interest. But the trailers made it look somewhat intriguing and I liked the casting. I hoped that perhaps they would do something different with it. Unfortunately, this followed my worst fears: it’s a pointless rehash.

In terms of the plot, it’s almost identical to the first movie, except for some minor reshuffling of the environment: mainly, the original had a bulk of the story set on Mars and this one is entirely on earth, though a messed up earth compared to today. That adds something interesting and the visuals are well-done, and of course the original plot is excellent, and I enjoyed the fresh cast, but ultimately this is basically the same movie with a few differences. Why? If the original was really dated or flawed I could understand, but the original’s excellent and only twenty-two years old. (In fact, I saw it re-airing on cable and watched some part of it and it holds up really well.) In the end, this is a solid movie but you might as well watch the original.

Topic: [/movie]


Wed, Aug 01, 2012

: Contagion

I really wanted to dislike this — the plot, about a new killer virus that causes worldwide panic and death, seemed trite and overdone — but to my surprise it’s actually very interesting. It focuses less on the stereotypical race for a cure and more on the variety of side effects of a disease like this, such as rioting, paranoia, economic issues, political decisions, kidnappings, and more. (In tone and multiple narrative style it is very similar to Hereafter.) And while it’s still a sad and somber movie, it wasn’t as depressing as I expected. The film is realistic and low-key despite the presence of a raft of big stars in bit parts, and I liked that it didn’t come across as gimmicky and forced.

Ultimately, I’m still not sure of the point, however. We don’t gain much and I’m not sure we really learn anything practical about disease (especially considering the unlikeness of a “perfect storm” virus like this). It ends up being one of those films that thinks it’s deeper than it is, but at least it isn’t preachy and it moves at a nice clip that helps make the story enjoyable.

Topic: [/movie]