Sunday, February 27, 2011

Movie review: "Unknown"

"Unknown" is fresh movie, started playing just last weekend. I just checked and it is at the first place on USA Weekend Box-Office Summary (according to IMDB). I must say I am a bit surprised, because I didn't hear about the movie before watching it, nor did it impress me SO much.

"Unknown" is a action-thriller starring Liam Neeson in the main role. I like him, although I can't say I watched many of his films. But I like every actor that had role in "Love, Actually". And of course, I remember him for "Star Wars" as Qui-Gon. Checking his list of movies now; it is quite long... Rest of the cast doesn't number any big stars, but they do their work quite solid.

Anyway, little about the plot. Movie starts with Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) arriving to Berlin with his wife Elizabeth (January Jones). They look like normal couple, arriving there for him to attend a science conference. After some confusion at the hotel reception, he goes back to airport to retrieve a lost briefcase. But, on the way there he has a sudden car-accident, even ending dead for few minutes. After waking at hospital, he goes back to hotel only to find his wife there with another man. And that other man is claiming to be Dr. Martin Harris and his wife supporting this claim. Original Martin ends on the streets of Berlin, terribly confused and alone. He will meet Gina, driver of a cab he had accident in, and Ernst J√ľnger, former member of secret police, now a private investigator, who will help him try regaining his past.

As I said, "Unknown" is a thriller, with spies, secrets, action scenes and assassins. But best part lies in suspense and guessing what really happened. Plot is really clever and around the middle of the movie, it looks impossible that screenwriters were able to devise a believable ending. Which they fortunately did. It is not very probable that viewers will guess "it" much before the actual revelation. There are several implications scattered throughout the movie (mostly trough flashbacks), but it's hard to connect them while watching movie first time.

There is only one thing that spoiled the movie for me, although I think that most of the audience will not be bothered with it as much as me. I don't consider myself a car-expert, but even to me the big car chase around the middle of the movie looked overly unrealistic. First, I don't think that there is a normal car that can go reverse fast as any other car forward. Secondly, it is impossible to go so straight driving that fast. And thirdly, what is the possibility of middle-aged American scientist having stunt-driver's capabilities, especially with a car with manual transmission. But, as I said, I didn't notice any cries of outrage in the cinema, so I believe I present a minority with this opinion.

Rest of the movie is great. There are few nice action scenes, which Neeson works out great. I especially liked the ending; it was very intense. Although final conclusion looked a bit soapy, but it can be forgiven.

In conclusion, "Unknown" is a great action-thriller movie for all kinds of audiences. I don't see it as award-material, but nevertheless it is a movie to recommend to everybody.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

MBotF reread: "Memories of Ice" by Steven Erikson

I must say I was unfair to "Memories of Ice". It looks like few times I have read this book were not enough to realize how great this book is. When I thought about it, I would remember only boring Mybhe sequences and too-emotional Ithkovian. I don't understand why is that, did my preferences changed in these two years since I last read MoI, but Ithkovian parts were great this time.

First to mention is curious jump this book represents. We have "Gardens of the Moon" and then "Deadhouse Gates", which is a causal (although a bit unexpected) sequel to it. And then MoI resets the timeline to one parallel to DG. We have several instances where these two books reach between them. And even though both deal with world-changing events and they happen at same time, it wouldn't do to swap their places. MoI deals with events that are much closer to the center of things and explains few questions among those that there were left unanswered in DG. MoI starts the main sequence of the book, fight against "the main enemy". First two books served to sketch the world and establish some of main players, while this one now begins to unravel the real mystery.

As I said, MoI continues the plot started in GotM, although with a new twist, meaning that much of the characters from the former are now present. But interesting, former enemies are now allies. In Erikson's books there are no intrinsically evil characters (although, Jhistal IS a candidate for; just joking, he is not evil per se, just from the perspective of every other character and fan), so introducing POVs from characters formerly shown as "the others", "enemies" or "evil" is common.

I wouldn't go much about plot, especially since this book will so be a subject of "Malazan Re-read of the Fallen" on soon. I will just mention few my observations. While Mybhe's parts are still far from my favorite, I found Itkovian's great. He is not a quarter of emo I remembered him. I like how this book establishes Quick Ben's supremacy, but also shows that he is not omnipotent. I also like Whiskeyjack's POVs; it is curious how his relatively short part looks much longer that it is, considering the whole series. There are characters with much, much more coverage, but Whiskeyjack is one of the most important characters for most fans, I think.

I was surprised when I read the explanation of Pale-events in this book. I completely forgot about it! Also, it is interesting how some of the facts sound different now, after reading almost whole series plus Esslemont's books.

After this reread, "Memories of Ice" has suddenly jumped from a MBotF novel to one of the best books in the series for me. Even though some people will argue that Erikson's writing got a bit unfocused in later books, with this one you can't miss. Really a treat for all fans.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Movie review: "I am Legend"

"I am Legend" is a 2007 film starring Will Smith. Except that, I knew that there was some dog and maybe some zombies. I am not fan of zombies (Stephen King's "Cell" was good, though). I have nothing against the undead (vampires are great, Erikson T'lann Imass also), but idea of mindless violent creatures poised on eating human flesh don't struck me as brilliant of interesting. If there is "something else" behind them, that is another story...

Will Smith is almost single character in this movie, alone until last sequence of the movie. Time is immediate future (2012) and Smith plays military doctor Robert Neville. Few years before, a virus used for curing cancer showed bad side-effect (mildly said) and turned everybody into mindless zombies. By trick of fate, Neville was sparred having a singular immunity to it. He now lives alone in New York, most people dead and the rest vicious, super-fast and super-strong zombies. They are not particularly bright, but that has been changing lately. A mitigating circumstance to Neville is the fact that zombies cannot stand UV light, so they hide during the day. His only companion is a dog, one he gave his now dead daughter. We join him as he struggles for his continuous survival and for finding a cure for the virus.

As I said, I am amateur in zombie-arts, but even to me it is clear that this movie doesn't bring any new ideas and concepts to this type of movies. A plague/virus killing all, leaving only a handful of survivors struggling to survive (in this case a man and a dog). Even though, these zombies are good. They are really not something you would like to meet during the night. Fast, strong and violent. And what is more ominous, showing traces of growing intelligence and social organization.

Movie is done in a good way. We are first plunged into the middle of Neville's life, and the circumstances are then revealed in the run, with several flashbacks. His acting is solid and you easily develop empathy for him. Movie has a well guessed running, not too long, not to short. Effects are good, although zombies are evidently CGI. Plot is good, first comes the worldbuilding, then the real action, with strong ending.

All in all, "I am Legend" is a very good movie. I can't be sure what zombie-fans said when it was first screened, but it is a movie that mainstream audience can watch and enjoy. So this is definitely a recommendation...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Movie review: "Zodiac"

Unfortunately, almost two weeks passed since I watched this movie, so it is a bit blurry now. I had a week-long business-trip and several commitments after return, so only now I can write a review.

"Zodiac" is 2007 movie I knew almost nothing about, except that it was about serial killer. It turned out that it is one of that long movies based on real events. Movie depicts a stream of killings in 1960s and 1970s, starting with a serial-killer murdering two lovers in a car. There are few more murders in the movie, but most of the movie consists of police following different leads, most of them turning false. There is not much action or tension, nor much clever dialogs. Characters are not super-heroes and they are exactly role-models.

It is fairly precise and detailed movie that stubbornly follows one police and one amateur investigation, without much dramatizing. It is not movie for everybody, but I think anybody can like it if one can get into it. I started watching this movie somewhat late, around 22:00. I was also a bit sleepy, and I expected some hour or hour-and-a-half short movie. Instead, I got a two and a half hours long mastodon. I was first sleepy, but slowly the movie kept sucking me in, keeping me more and more awake.

Movie has a very good production and a very large cast. There are even some stars in it: Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. Rest of the cast is not so know, but not any weaker. Don't expect special effects. Also, there are few disturbing and violent scenes.

As I said, don't expect some happy-ending over-dramatized Hollywood-blockbuster. "Zodiac" is a serious movie, with no message, almost a documentary. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed watching it and I would recommend it to all, except there is no point in that. You have to be surprised and tackled by this movie.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

MBotF reread: "Deadhouse Gates" by Steven Erikson

I am now sure in reason why I didn't enjoy "Gardens of the Moon" as much as I expected to. The same happened with the first half of "Deadhouse Gates" and it exactly overlaps with the MRotF on It's not that I object anything to the reread; it is one of the highlights of Thursdays for me. Well, my problems with it are now over, since I passed reread with my own.

"Deadhouse Gates" is one of my favorite books in MBotF series. I simply like Seven Cities!! I noticed before that I have a soft spot for desert- and Arab-based cultures and books featuring them: "The Lions of al-Rassan", "Sarantine Mosaic", "Dune"... I really love Erikson's worldbuilding: you get the feeling that his world has both a history and a future (e.g. fragments before chapters). This is doubled in books featuring Seven Cities. Literally, every rock has a long, long history, in most cases a violent one. After some fifteen books in Malazan world, it is still fresh and it has a potential for more books. There are not many series where introducing a new race/continent/empire in later books don't feel abrupt or like cheating, but both Erikson and Esslemont did it with their world.

"Gardens of the Moon" was a very good book, with good characters that you could sympathize with. But DG is much, much more emotional and tragic book. Tragedy is one of prominent characteristics of Erikson's writing. End of the "Chain of Dogs" is one of saddest scenes ever, but it is also one of my favorites. Of course, it is just a culmination of many such scenes in this book.

Also, compared to GotM, humor is much more evident here. Witty exchanges, irony, sarcasm... And of course, my favorite funny character, Iskaral Pust. Every book featuring him is my favorite.

Book features several plot-lines: Felisin/Heboric, Fiddler/Asparal/Crocus, Kalam, Duiker, Icarus/Mappo. First one is the only one I don't positively adore, but it is a good one nevertheless. They all keep converging and separating in very interesting dance.

In the end, I can only say that I really enjoyed rereading "Deadhouse Gates", as I have enjoyed it first four or five times.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Movie review: "Constantine"

"Constantine" is one more in line of older movies I planned to watch. I knew it was based on comic, featuring guy fighting demons. Few friends recommended it as a good watch.

The movie definitely has that "comic-books" feel. I can't pinpoint it, but it has the same feel as older "Batman" movies. It features a contemporary world, but with difference that Hell, Heaven, angels and demons are real and are in constant war. Heaven and Hell made a pact about not directly involving themselves in this fight, so they efforts are realized by proxies. John Constantine (played by Keanu Reeves) is a private detective, specialized in fighting against demons; he was able to see them since he was a child. His main problem is that because of his visions he tried to kill himself; thus his soul is intended for hell. He is (unsuccessfully) trying to repent it by destroying demons, doing Heaven's dirty work. He will get involved with Angela Dodson, a police officer trying to solve her twin-sister's alleged suicide. This will take them in the middle of plot between Hell and Heaven...

First part of the movie is very good. Of course, you have to accept that this is a comic-book adaptation and know what to expect. Constantine is witty and dark bad-ass with a comic sidekick; there is a bar where demons and humans mingle together; Church get regular visits from angels; there is a nerd-guy selling dragon's breath... The usual stuff. Nevertheless, it is all well.

First part of the movie is focused on worldbuilding and this is the best part of the movie. Second half of the movie, focusing on Dodson-twins-plot is not so good. Things are rushed at moments and then dragged for unnecessary time. I completely lost interest about the fate of main characters during this time. I think that this setting has a potential, but decision to focus on this case was a wrong one. The ending is then again very good. It was totally predictable, but it was good anyway. A well-guessed combination of humor, drama and action.

In summary, "Constantine" is good-enough movie for fans of similar-movies, but it doesn't succeed in in fully utilizing this setting. I hope that there will be sequel, but better that this one. Other than that, it is an OK movie for spending an evening watching it.