Friday, 26 September 2014

Summer Storm (The Wrath of the Northmen) Review

Turning off the games consoles and television and stepping out of their spheres of all-time-consuming hold this week, I have returned to reading. I was faced with Gravity’s Rainbow - all 780 pages of it. As I’ll likely not finish it before Christmas I settled on reading Summer Storm instead - which is a little bit shorter at 23,000. 

The novella is a freebie introduction to The Wrath of the Northmen series by Elizabeth Baxter. I would suggest picking up your copy if you are interested in reading the full fantasy series as Summer Storm appears to set a lot of things up for the main series. 

Summer Storm itself tells the short story of Falen, an adolescent princess who is torn between her duty to her kingdom and her own desire to join an engineering academy. A jaunt out into the woods to check on her weather measuring equipment sees Falen caught in a storm. On the way back she glimpses an unconscious man in the river and rescues him. 

Nashir, the man she rescues, makes a full recovery and offers to help Falen with her experiments. However, over time, his presence in the royal palace of Variss takes on a much darker agenda.
As a first outing into Elizabeth Baxter’s fantasy world, I felt the story lacked substance in how well it described the surroundings. I did not feel like I was actually there or got any great impression of it.

That said, the characters were interesting - especially Falen - and the narrative flowed well, if a little slowly at points. It’s not a bad intro to the series and something fantasy fans should enjoy.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Who Turned the Lights Off? Revolution (Series One) Review

I am probably the last person in the world to review this show but hey-ho I’ve only recently just seen it as I don’t have all the fancy channels as everyone else. 

If you have not seen Revolution, you can probably hazard from the trailers that it is about people trying to survive a brutal and unforgiving future after the power goes off. Set fifteen years after the blackout, no one is still sure why it did. It is quickly established that it was not a case of someone simply switching the lights off or running out of fossil fuels but rather, something much more complex. If you build a battery in this world, for example, or a car, it will simply not work, regardless of having all the correct parts and a power source.

The series starts off about a young woman, Charlie, who gives chase to a local police force after they kill her dad and kidnap her brother, Danny. I use the word police loosely, the men in question are soldiers working for the Monroe Republic - a man who has power over that particular part of America. It is explained later in the series that the US has broken into several minor countries, all living in varying degrees of prosperity.
Going back to Charlie trying to find her brother, she enlists the help of her estranged uncle, Miles. Together they go off in search of him. However, half way through the series this original plot is replaced by an entirely different one about rebels fighting the Monroe Republic. 

While the change in gear keeps the story fresh it does feel quickly like you are watching an entirely different show, and with the death of a major character it leaves you wondering if the first fourteen episodes were just a complete waste of time. 

Its saving grace is this though: you never know what is going to happen next, which is what kept me interested. The characters (most of them) are complex and interesting, whose performances are spoiled by the likes of whiny Charlie. Also, I understand double-crossing is a plot device in a lot of shows but in Revolution everyone does it several times an episode. I lost count of how many times it happened. If I had a pound for every time something changed sides or their agenda I would be stinking rich by the end of this review. 

But I digress, plot wise there are a lot of subplot threads going on in Revolution, especially in the second half of the series, which keeps you guessing. However, that’s not to say the plot doesn’t have its problems. Some episodes, which have self contained stories feel like they were written by five-year-olds; a secret town of children who have eluded trained and armed soldiers for years being one of them (what?). 

That’s not to say I did not like the first series of Revolution, I thoroughly did. Yet as it went on I felt like the story began to get a little too confusing with so much going on and a little too fanciful for its own good. I’ve not seen the second season yet but I’m told it’s more of the same and awful. We’ll see…

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Dancing with a Dead Horse Review

Small town America gets handed a mirror and a chance to have a good long hard look at itself in Danielle Devor’s crime teen thriller Dancing with a Dead Horse. 

Teenager Jason Miller gets blamed for the murder of a fellow student when he discovers a body in the toilets at his high school. Things then turn sinister when he finds a doll horse made from the victim’s skin and hair in his locker. 

From there the story focuses on Jason’s attempts to carry on with life as normally as possible while his family try to clear his name. Yet more students start to end up dead; those he knows well and classmates he has only ever spoken to a handful of times. Fear begins to set into the small town before eventually giving away to hysteria.

Dancing with a Dead Horse is a slow story that gradually builds to a thrilling climax. I do not usually go for slow burners but the pacing of the story is brilliant, giving enough to the reader to keep them interested while not showing too much of its hand in one go.

On a wider social level the story draws attention to the darker side of small town life. Small towns and villages where everyone knows their neighbour can be great places to live. There tends to be a community spirit that cities lack. On the flip side, however, rumours, finger-pointing and paranoia run rife when something out of the ordinary happens in many such places. The theme is well explored and leaves an impression. 

The characters, especially Jason, are complex and believable. I found the reactions of Jason and his family to different situations - some of which were very difficult for them to handle - realistic. 

It gets 8/10.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Movie Review: The Colony

We head back to the cinema this week for a look at little known Canadian science-fiction film, The Colony. 

Set in the future, humanity has gone to ground after the world is engulfed in a new ice age. They survive in bunkers dotted across the land. The Colony is set in Colony 7. After receiving a distress message from another colony and no reply to their return transmissions, Sam (played by Kevin Zegers) convinces leader Briggs, (Lawrence Fishburne) that they should investigate. But once they arrive at the radio silent Colony 5, they find that all the occupants are dead. 

Following a hasty getaway from a tribe of cannibals, they head back to Colony 7, only to discover they are being pursued. Sam does make it back but none of his fellow occupants believe him, especially not deputy leader, Mason (Bill Paxton). Sam and the others must then defend the colony against the blood thirsty cannibals. 

I never heard about this film until it was aired on Netflix which I found strange considering it had two big stars in it. But some research online explained the reason why - it’s limited release. I am not sure why this film was shown in so few cinemas, given that it’s actually quite good. 

Yes, it has its problems like silly plot holes and a lot of recycled ideas used in other films. That aside, the action is intense and the atmosphere is very dark in places. The blood and gore effects are also very well done considering this was a low budget project. 

The Colony gets 6/10.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Movie Review: How to Train your Dragon 2

How to Train your Dragon was without a doubt one of the most popular movies of 2010. The animated flick was an adaptation of Cressida Cowell bestselling children’s book series of the same name. 

A lot of other reviewers have claimed the new film, How to Train your Dragon 2, is just as good - of not better - than the first. I’ll be the first to break cover here and say that I disagree. That said, it is still a good film and a lot of fun. The animation has stepped up in quality between this and the previous movie, there are a lot of jokes and the dragon fights are really good to watch. 

My problem with the film in my view is the first hour. Unlike the previous film not much happens. It is very dialogue heavy and I appreciate the writers were trying to build character development, but why? There was very little in the first film except for Hiccup and Astrid. So why would this film need it? 

Also for a few minutes the film seems to forget it’s a Dreamworks movie and pretends it’s a Disney one with an awkward musical number sung by Hiccup’s parents. There is no build up to it and there are no other songs in the rest of the movie. So again, why was it there? This movie is also riddled with cheesy lines and bad Holywood style hero speeches. There is one part of the film where it is justified but the rest of it is just cringe worthy. 

It gets 7/10.