Monday, 18 July 2016

Stranger Things (Season 1 Review)



This past weekend marked the debut of the Netflix original series, Stranger Things, an eight-episode miniseries with science fiction and horror trappings. Drawing inspiration from the decade it takes place in, the show is clearly a homage to the works of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and Stephen King. And even though the tribute to said works can feel a bit heavy-handed sometimes, it is never to the point of downright cheesiness.

Set in a small town in 1983, the story follows a group of close-knit boys as they investigate the mysterious disappearance of their friend, Will, who'd gone missing on his way home after a marathon session of Dungeons & Dragons. Their search eventually leads them to find Eleven, a young girl with supernatural abilities who'd escaped from a nearby government research facility. They form an unlikely alliance, even as their small town is plagued with "strange" happenings.

Stranger Things works on so many levels. There is that sense of mystery as we are left guessing even as we try to connect the dots. Then there is the opening music, with its electronic swells and sweet 1980s nostalgia. In terms of actors and their performances, the biggest name on the roster is Winona Ryder, who kills it as the missing boy's distraught mother. But the true standouts of the show are the child actors themselves, all of whom are interesting and more importantly believable.

My primary fear going into Stranger Things was whether or not the showrunners would be able to tie up the multiple threads of its story line, given the show's relatively low episode count. But the Duffer Brothers not only managed to do that, they've also managed to leave things just open-ended enough, should the show happen to be picked up for a second season.

I sincerely hope that it does, because I'm afraid I have grown quite attached to these kids and their small town adventures.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Legend of Tarzan (Movie Review)



The purpose of a good trailer is to sell the movie it depicts, and I was partly sold months ago by The Legend of Tarzan's, with its over-the-top action and overall ballsiness. But the main draw for me was the movie's director, David Yates, who is best known for helming the final four Harry Potter films, as well as its upcoming prequel/spinoff, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.

Here, his directorial skills are used on yet another work of literary fiction, namely Tarzan of the Apes, a book that has been adapted and expanded upon more times than I care to count. And it is clear from the very beginning that he has set out to make his adaptation as far from the 1999 Disney animated film version as possible.

In fact, the movie plays like more of a sequel than an origin story, choosing to fill in the blanks with flashbacks that more often than not break the flow of the story being told. That story is of a Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) who has already adjusted to living in the civilized world. He is married to love interest, Jane (Margot Robbie), and has inherited the family estate, as well as taken on the name, John Clayton III.

It isn't long before he is drawn to his home in the African jungle though, after he is convinced by the American emissary, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), of a growing slave market in the region. There, he is lured into the trap of villainous Captain Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz), who seeks to deliver Tarzan to the vengeful chief of a local tribe (Djimon Hounsou) in exchange for a truckload of diamonds.

The Legend of Tarzan was plagued by pacing issues, and a script that left more to be desired in terms of character development and backstory. Also, the film's special effects pale in comparison to the impossibly high standard set by the likes of The Jungle Book and the recent Planet of the Apes movies. The result is a film that is far from essential viewing, but is still worth the price of admission.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Finding Dory (Movie Review)


A few years back, I had reviewed the 2003 Pixar animated film, Finding Nemo, as part of the 2012 Blogging from A to Z Challenge. In that review, I had remarked on how Dory had "more than stolen the show," so you can imagine my elation after I'd found out that a sequel was not only in the works, but was going to center upon everyone's favorite amnesiac blue fish. Finding Dory is that long-overdue sequel.

The movie also serves as an origin story of sorts, and as such it opens with a young (and totally adorable) Dory being schooled by her parents. It isn't long before tragedy strikes, and she is soon separated from her family and left to wonder the ocean on her own. We see her transform into the Dory we know in the course of this opening sequence, and this segues beautifully into the opening from Finding Nemo, when Marlin was about to begin his search for Nemo.

Flash forward one year, and Dory is living with the reunited clownfish family. Although still struggling with her short-term memory loss, she starts having flashbacks from her childhood. This sparks an unquenchable desire to find her long-lost parents, and soon the trio are on an adventure across the Pacific to the Jewel of Morro Bay in California.

Getting there, Dory is inadvertently captured by volunteers from a rehabilitation center for marine animals, and in an all-too-familiar twist ripped straight out of the first movie, it is left to Marlin and Nemo to try rescuing her. But it is also here that things take a turn for the unexpected, as we are introduced to a colorful cast of new characters that include a pair of territorial sea lions, a nearsighted whale shark named Destiny, and the cynical seven-legged (tentacled?) Octopus, Hank.

Finding Dory is everything an animated sequel should be; it is bigger, bolder, and beautiful to behold, plus that climax is guaranteed to have you gasping for breath.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Captain America: Civil War (Movie Review)



Phase Three of the  Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is off to a start folks, and what an amazing start too. The Russo brothers have proven that the highly-acclaimed Captain America: The Winter Soldier was no mere fluke, and this they've done by not only delivering a worthy sequel, but arguably what is the best MCU experience I've had till date.

Notice I said experience, because as far as storytelling goes, The Winter Soldier is still the better of the two movies. Besides, nothing quite trumps the sheer exhilaration of watching the Avenger's assemble for the first time, not even last year's somewhat-bloated sequel. But as a fan of comic book movies in general, I have to say that Civil War ticks all the right boxes, in a way that the recent Batman v Superman never could.

Much like BvS, Civil Wars deals with the debate of whether or not superheroes should be held accountable for the collateral damage that invariably follows in their wake. Here, that debate gives rise to the Sokovia Accords, a UN legislation that would effectively govern when and how the Avengers can use their powers for the greater good.

Naturally, there are those that see the Accords for what it truly is (Team Captain America), and the dangers that lie ahead should they give up their full autonomy, as well as those that are overburdened by the many deaths they'd caused or were unable to prevent (Team Iron Man), and that see the Accords as some form of atonement.

Despite the presence of so many heroes, this is still a Captain America movie true and true, and at the core of the movie is his trust of his former best friend, Bucky Barnes (aka The Winter Soldier), who has been accused of being behind a deadly bombing that serves as a catalyst for the movie's central conflict. But where the movie truly excels is in the deft manner it juggles its many characters and the various subplots that they bring to the table, with newcomers Spider-Man and Black Panther being the obvious standouts.

There are so many other things I loved about Civil War, but my biggest takeaway was the opening sequence which was set in Lagos, Nigeria (or a close Hollywood approximation of it). While it would have been nice if the actual sequence had been filmed over here, it was still surprising to see that much attention to detail in a movie of this kind.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Movie Review)



As far as epic showdowns go, there hasn't been one more anticipated these last couple of years than the one between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel. So you can imagine my disappointment when the reviews started coming in and the movie was getting torn apart by critics. I’ve never been one to hop on such bandwagons, so I would try to keep this review as balanced (and of course spoiler-free) as I can.

Right off the bat (no pun intended), the movie opens with a young Bruce Wayne grieving the recent deaths of his billionaire parents. Thereafter it shifts to a scene we are already familiar with, and we get to watch the destruction of Metropolis during the fight between Superman and General Zod, but as seen from the perspective of Bruce Wayne, lending a human angle to the battle between gods.

This sets the stage for the confrontation that has been promised in all those trailers you’ve undoubtedly seen, while also addressing one of the biggest criticisms leveled against Man of Steel, namely the collateral damage and death toll resulting from its climatic battle. Personally, I couldn’t care less about such details in a movie of this kind, but it was nice to see Zack Synder and the screenwriters taking something many considered a shortcoming, and using it to advance the story they were trying to tell.

Speaking of shortcomings, the latest entry in the DC Extended Universe isn’t without its fair share. At two and a half hours, the movie felt overlong. But what puzzled me the most was how little character development we got to see during that time. Superman felt just as wooden and one dimensional as he did in Man of Steel, and while Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Batman was more than adequate, the character showed nowhere near as much growth as what we saw in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy.

But let’s face it, you wouldn’t be watching this movie purely for the monologues and moments of character introspection. To the contrary, you want to see two of DC’s finest duke it out till there is only one left standing. And on those grounds, Batman v Superman delivers… to a degree. My main problem here is the fairly predictable outcome of their fight, which is doubly so for anyone who has read the 1986 graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns, or seen its more recent animated movie adaption.

The movie isn’t just about the two superheroes, though, as you’ve no doubt noticed from its subtitle, Dawn of Justice. So how does it fare as an introduction to the Justice League? Well, not so good, at least for those not already familiar with its members. Wonder Woman was underutilized for the most part, while Aquaman, Cyborg, and Flash felt like they were literally being checked off a check list.

All in all, the movie felt like buildup for a better movie to come somewhere down the line. But the question is would people be patient enough to allow the filmmakers connect the dots? Only time (and the box office numbers) would tell.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

My Thoughts on the 58th Grammy Awards



The 58th Grammy Awards were held on Monday. This broke the tradition from previous years where the ceremony was always held on a Sunday. Once again, I was not able to watch the live telecast, due to timezone differences, but I have scanned through a recording of it to get a feel for what went down.

Kendrick Lamar had the most nominations going into the show, with 11 nominations including Album of the Year for his critically-acclaimed album, To Pimp A Butterfly. He was followed by Taylor Swift and The Weekend with 7 nominations apiece. All three artists were vying for Album of the Year, but it was Taylor Swift that eventually took home the award for her hit album, 1989.

Other notable wins include Skrillex and Diplo for their collaborative effort, Jack Ü. The duo won Best Electronic Album as well as Best Dance/Electronic Recording for my favorite song from 2015, Where Are Ü Now. The Weeknd won Best R&B Performance for his song, Earned It (50 Shades of Grey), as well as Best Urban Contemporary Album for his album, Beauty Behind the Madness.

Kendrick Lamar cleaned out in the Rap categories, eventually winning 5 Grammys, the most by any artist for the evening. He also gave a powerful performance of his songs, The Blacker the Berry and Alright. This was in sharp contrast to Pitbull, who closed the ceremony with one of the weakest closing performances in recent memory.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

IWSG: Goals and Resolutions for 2016


It's the first Wednesday of the month, and time for members of the Insecure Writer's Support Group to share their writerly insecurities. The group was started by Alex J. Cavanaugh, and those interested in joining in can visit www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com for more information.

Today, I would like to share with the group my goals and resolutions (read: plans) for the year. The fact that this post is coming in a full month into the year serves as an indication of how strapped for time I have been. The combination of a full-time job and studying for a masters degree at the same time is a lot more demanding than I had imagined.

As such, it is high time I find a way to get things under control. So going with that train of thought, my goals for the year are as follows:

Goal #1: Get Organized

I need to start organizing my activities in such a way that I'll be able to allocate enough time for work, school and writing. I've never been one to come up with a strict day-to-day schedule of tasks, not to talk of actually following one, but it seems that is the only way to keep your head above water in this life. So this year, or what's left of it anyways, I am going to start prioritizing my activities. The starting point is ensuring that my work stays in the office. Once that is achieved, I can allocate what I have left of my time to school and writing-related activities.

Goal #2: Leverage Exposure

As most of you already know, my short story would be appearing in the upcoming IWSG Anthology. This would mark the first time that I am working with a small press. We recently completed first round edits, and my fellow authors and I are currently talking promotional tactics. Promotion has never been one of my strong suits, but I am hoping to learn from those in the group with more experience. I also plan on using the opportunity to gain more eyeballs on my existing work, and to possibly have new work by the time the Anthology is released.


Goal # 3: Be Happy (No Matter What)

Last but not least is the all-important need to find unconditional happiness. My year is already off to a great start, with my short story winning a place in the IWSG Anthology, so it is just a matter of keeping the ball rolling. But even if things went south all of a sudden, I need to stay grounded by reminding myself why I enjoy doing the things I do.

And speaking of the things I enjoy doing, I won't be doing the A-Z Challenge this year it seems, mainly because I'll be having exams that month, and I wouldn't be able to allocate enough time for writing posts and visiting other blogs. But I should still be participating in a lesser capacity if I can help it. I'll fill you in with more details as soon as I have them.