Sunday, November 25, 2012

Movie review: "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2"

Yesterday I went with my girlfriend to cinema to watch the last part of "The Twilight Saga", "Breaking Dawn - Part 2". Few review I saw before prepared to for a very bad movie - so I was pretty surprised to actually enjoy the movie.

"Breaking Dawn - Part 2" takes immediately after the first part. After surviving the transition to a vampire and successful birthing of Renesmee, Bella is adapting to her new circumstances. Sometime later, Renesmee is discovered by another vampire, who reports it to the Volturi (some kind of vampire nobility) who decide to destroy her as a possible threat to their species. Cullens, of course, are not ready to accept this and they start the search for allies for the final battle...

If you hate "The Twilight Saga", this movie will not change your opinion, and you will go to watch it only to spoil it to those who like it. If you love it, they you won't care what anybody think about it. Sure, you can easily find a lot of objections, fails and obvious mistakes/blunders in this movie (and previous ones). Of course, a lot (bad) could be said about the series itself. But if you can accept few inconsistencies and sleazy parts, movie is quite fun to watch.

First, it is partly a freak show - but in good way, like superhero movies (especially like "X-Men"). There are lots of different vampires with different sets of skills. Second, this is a classical fight between David and Goliath, a fight against unfair government that unites seemingly incompatible characters. Thirdly, there is a very unexpected trick in this movie (and it would be a big spoiler to reveal it). Some will probably feel cheated, but I was delighted by it. And last, there are some good jokes here.

My biggest objection to the movie was the decapitations - you will know it when you see it. That looked completely stupid.

Anyway, I had quite fun watching "Breaking Dawn - Part 2" and think it is probably the best movie in the series. But as I was never a fan, I won't feel sorry that it is done.

Oh yes - yesterday I saw trailers for three similar teen movies, one actually based on book by Stephenie Meyer...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New TV-show: "666 Park Avenue"

In last two weeks, my girlfriend and I started watching a new TV-show "666 Park Avenue" and became pretty hooked up on it. I watched first 10 minutes accidentally at my friend's place and we watched the first episode last week. And then at Saturday we watched next 5 episodes in one marathon watch till late in the night. Yesterday we watched 7th episode, which is the last one aired. And series is great.

It is a supernatural mystery, with a touch of horror. A young and perspective couple, Jane and Henry, arrive in New York city and talk themselves in getting an apartment in elite and old hotel called the Drake (on address 999 Park Avenue) - due to Jane's being an architect and skilled in restoration. The hotel is owned and run by Gavin (Terry Q'Quinn/Locke from "Lost") and his wife Olivia. In first episode, Gavin is implied as something of a Devil, giving people what they want in exchange for... something. We got Gavin, we got an old and maybe cursed building, we got a young girl-prophet, and we got main female character deeply connected to all this.

As for now, we still don't know what really is going around, or what exactly Gavin is, but it looks like in next few episodes we will find out. Anyway, the series is great, mysterious and well played. And even better, judging by ending of this last episode, the mystery behind everything is maybe not even magical, but steampunkish (judging by the dragon-mosaic) - which is not usually the case.

Now, the downside: ABC decided to cancel the series, so there will not be a second season! Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!! IMDB shows 9 episodes planned, but Wikipedia says there will be thirteen - I am rooting for the second option.

Nevertheless, I strongly recommend "666 Park Avenue" to everybody.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Wheel of Time reread: "The Shadow Rising" by Robert Jordan

Huh, I am again late with me reviews, but better now than never.

So, the story goes onward in "The Shadow Rising". After successful taking of Stone of Tear, Rand is now unquestionably the Dragon Reborn. While in previous books it was he who was unable to adapt to this, now it's almost everybody else - but mostly nobles, for whom this means degradation in power. To thwart them (and all future opponents), Rand must do two things: become smarter and stronger, and to find people for himself who are not with only from fear and ambition. Thus he embarks on journey to Aiel Waste... Our heroes get separated: Perrin, Faile and Loial go back to Two Rivers, on a trail of rumors about Whitecloacks making problems there; Nyneve and Elayne, followed by Thom and Juilin, travel to Tanchico, trying to find more of escaped Black Ajah sisters; while Mat, Egwene travel with Rand, Moiraine and Lan, everybody for his or her specific reasons...

Well, I think that this book, and next two ("The Fires of Heaven" and "Lord of Chaos"), will be the hardest to review. All three are big books (close to 1000 pages), with multiple plots, and split characters. And even more problematic, this is where the "Wheel of Time" series makes a transition from collection of more-or-less standalone books to books that contain chunks of bigger story. Sure, there are some definite endings (Rhuidean, Tanchico, Two Rivers), but they are not definitive as e.g. defeating of Ba'alzamon. And later books will all have those "small" motives to remember them (e.g. the Bowl of Winds, cleaning of Saidin, rescuing Faile...). Also, this is the last time we will see our main characters all together until "Memory of Light" (I presume, at least).

I really enjoyed this book - especially the first part in Tear: Rand and Elayne chapters; Mat is hillarious; Thom and Moiraine. And I always like seeing manipulators manipulated - the High Lords or Tear. This book gives us first POVs from Moiraine and Elayne. Elayne we will become used to, but Moiraine's was pretty special. Mat's visit to the Foxes is also among my best chapters.

Elayne's and Nyneve's part was the least favorite part of the book for me - not that it is bad, but not as good as events in Aiel Waste. But on the other hand, there are things introduced there that will be important in future books: the Return, confronting Forsaken...

In this book Egwene is becoming a particular character. In last three books she was important, but she was always a part of group - now she is becoming a strong woman in her own right.

I always liked Jordan's time-shifted scenes - those flies and family dinner in the village in Shienar (was it still Shienar?), and especial the travel using Portal Stones, both in "The Great Hunt". But here we have one equally good and definitely more important - in Rhuidean.

"The Shadow Rising" presents a change in the "Wheel of Time" series - but not a change to worse. This and forward books are definitely different from first, but they definitely have the WoT flavor and are as good as any other.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Movie reviews: "Taken 2" and "The Dark Knight Rises"

Two more movie I watched in last week, but I haven't had time to review them.

"Taken 2" I watched last weekend in cinema with my girlfriend. For some reason, girls like this film. My girlfriend loved the first part and insisted on watching the second one; her female friends at work all liked it; and the projection was full of women (I was the only guy in my seat-row) - which is strange because similar action movies usually don't attract many women.

Anyway, "Taken 2" is an average action thriller, differentiated from the first part only in details of setting and plot. Bryan Mills (played again by Liam Neeson), a retired CIA agent, finally succeeds in getting on good terms with his ex-wife, and invites her and their daughter Kim to visit him in Turkey after he finishes his part-time job as bodyguard. They accept and start what they expect to be a nice vacation. But they don't know that after Bryan's rampaging in Paris (topic of the first part), Albanian mafia-boss decided to revenge people he killed. Albanians succeed in taking Bryan and his ex-wife, but they miss Kim, who's only option is to free her father...

There is not much to say about this movie - a peaceful re-introduction of Mills' family, preparation for the plot, and then action, action, action. I've never had a notion of Liam Neeson as action-movies star, but he actually fits it. In my opinion, he's a bit too good in these two movies - which is one of the reasons I don't like these movies. There is some humor, mostly based on Bryan not being used to normal family interactions.

The worst part of the movie was the car chase toward the end - I usually don't like them, but I hate them when they are performed by a teen without her license... Also, I understand when foreigners speak English in public, but why they use it between themselves in private (especially after they have been shown speaking in their own language).

But all in all, "Taken 2" is not a bad movie, except if you totally hate action movies. Not something that I would really recommend, but neither a movie to avoid at all costs.

For "The Dark Knight Rises" I had some great expectations, after watching "The Dark Knight" two weeks ago.

Eight years after events in the previous movie, both Batman and Bruce Wayne have retired from public. Gotham is celebrating Harvey Dent as a hero, and police (given larger authorities after Dent's death) managed to clean the city of criminals. But they don't know what is preparing for them: a corrupted businessman Daggett has hired a strange masked mercenary Bane and they plan to take over Gotham using Wayne Industries' own resources. All this will force Batman once again to come out of hiding, even though he is not welcome in his city anymore...

"The Dark Knight Rises" has some great ideas: retired Batman broken and without hope; superior mercenary Bane with his army of fanatical followers; Gotham under siege that makes Joker's look like a child game; mysterious origins of Bane... But the movie fails in developing these concepts as they deserve.

This is not a short movie (two and a half hours), but it feels very, very rushed. I don't understand why haven't they added another hour or split it in two episodes. For example, there is a 6-month long siege of a whole city, but they only show first and last few days. They should have used it more to show the desperation of citizens, except being only a plot tool to show Batman as ultimate action hero. And Bane - they failed to use him miserably. We don't know almost anything about him (and I don't count those two info-dumps): how does he attract his followers and why are they ready to die for him so willingly? They made him look very impressive; such big guy giving all those philosophical (almost prophetic) speeches (Tom Hardy's voice was brilliant), but they should revealed more details. Neither did the other elements feel right: Batman's/Wayne's relationships with Selina, Blake and Miranda all felt forced and fake.

Another objection I have is that all felt too neat. There is even a definition for such plots where everything is placed in such place that it guarantees hero's victory (Batman Gambit), but they pushed it over the board. Especially with the Pit, and that doctor...

Action felt very subdued in the movie, and I can't really pinpoint any scene as very impressive. Batman's gadget also didn't get much attention - although I liked that trick with rotating wheels on Batcycle.

Unfortunately, I have to conclude that "The Dark Knight Rises" was a big disappointment in my eyes, after such great previous movie. I don't feel sorry for watching it, but I do feel sorry for the wasted potential.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Wheel of Time reread: "The Dragon Reborn" by Robert Jordan

I finished reading "The Dragon Reborn" by Robert Jordan more than a week ago, but this was such a busy week for me that I haven't managed to find time to write about it.

In last book, "The Great Hunt", Rand al'Thor again "defeated the" Dark One, but also accepted the fact that he can channel. But he still cannot cope with the fact that he is the Dragon Reborn. Pressured by this responsibility, bullied by manipulative Moraine, and again troubled with dreams, he escapes alone to avoid hurting anybody as he searches for his destiny. Moraine, Lan, Perrin and Loial don't have any other option except to follow and try to catch him. One the other side of the world, in Tar Valon, Egwene, Nyneve and Elayne bring Mat back for Healing. Being abducted by the Black Ajah in last book, they expect a triumphant return - instead they will be berated, punished and sent to find more member of Black Ajah in secrecy. While Mat, he is only for some gamble and fun...

When I first read "The Dragon Reborn" few years ago, this was a strange book. I am now used to it, after several rereads, but it is still an uncommon that the main character of book and series is absent from the book, except a bit at start and in ending. Most that you see of Rand is indirectly, by following his tracks and rumors, or by other characters dreaming about him. One funny fact you maybe didn't know: in paperback edition Rand proclaims himself as the Dragon at page 666 - you can find some funny theories about Rand being the Antichrist because of this. Also, with less than 700 pages, this is the shortest book in series.

For some reason, even at first reading, I never enjoyed the first part of the book - until the Rand start his journey. Also, I expected that Perrin's parts will be poorer that rest of the book. I am not one of haters of Perrin's plot in later books, but it is not one of my favorite parts of series either. But enjoy Perrin's POV here very much. I was even more surprised to find his and Faile's interaction cute and funny.

One of the biggest perks of "The Dragon Reborn" is Mat's introduction as POV characters and as one of three main male protagonists in the series. If I had to pick one and only character as my favorite, it would be Mat - and I am sure that a big portion of fans would do the same. The chapter where he fights Gawyn and Galad is probably my favorite chapter in the book.

This time I found it curious how much attention Jordan put on describing the cities: colors, architecture, people, even smells. And we get to see four big cities in this book: Ilian, Tear, Tar Valon and Camelyn (even though we already saw the latter two in previous books).

In conclusion, I want to say that I had very much fun with this book. A bit shorter than the rest, "The Dragon Reborn" is one of best and most important books in "The Wheel of Time" series.