Monthly Archives: August 2014

Book Review: Legend (David Gemmell) (3 ½ *’s)

Legend is the first novel of David Gemmell. It tells the story of Druss, Captain of the Ax, a hero of legend. There are other characters as well, of whom Rek and Virae are probably the two most important. As a whole, the story is about the siege of a great fortress, Dros Delnoch. Much of the book is a build up to the actual siege. The invading army is the barbarian Nadir horde; they sit poised to conquer Dros Delnoch and the Drenai kingdom it protects.

 

The story begins with Rek awakening in an inn with a young woman. He has just had a powerful dream, a vision of a burning fortress and he feels himself tied to that as if drawn to destiny. To add to the tension, he learns that the Nadir horde is on the move. They will soon besiege the mighty fortress of Dros Delnoch. This citadel is the last hope of the Drenai, for if it falls, their kingdom will be left unprotected. Before leaving the inn, Rek encounters a fortune-teller who reads his fortune and tells him … more likely things about his nature, rather than future events. He tells him he is of uncertain character and sporadic courage, a thief and a dreamer, etc… Rek, of course, disregards this and goes on his way. Shortly, he encounters the young woman, Virae, and rescues her from bandits in the forest. They do not hit it off well; at least, at first. However, soon they wind up in bed and provide the romantic subplot for the book. Virae, the daughter of the Earl of Dros Delnoch, is actually carrying a message for her father. Rek, of course, offers to assist, and soon they are swept up in events revolving around the upcoming siege of Dros Delnoch and the legendary ax-wielding warrior, Druss.

 

Strengths: I’d say the greatest strength of this novel is the pacing and the flow. The characters were okay, but he only had 350 pages to work with and even though he popped in and out of heads with great abandon, there were too many characters to fully develop them all. The most important, as I said, were Rek and Virae, and Druss, of course. Weaknesses: well, this is a first novel, and as such, the writing isn’t great—it’s okay, passable, but there are a number of obvious newbie flaws. For instance, the tendency to jump from point-of-view to point-of-view without breaking up the text. Likewise, I think he used the infamous mirror-trick three times in the book. I think that’s a record. Of course, saying that, I used the mirror trick in my first book, too, so I probably shouldn’t complain (for those that don’t know: the mirror trick is when an author uses a mirror to describe a character in that character’s point-of-view. Basically, he looks at himself in a mirror so he can describe himself to the reader. It’s generally considered a newbie tactic. Personally, though, I don’t have a strong issue with it; after all, mirrors are real objects; what else are you going to see when you look a mirror head on? And using a mirror is not an uncommon action.)

 

Anyway, despite the lower quality writing, I’ll give this novel, Legend, by David Gemmell, three and a half stars, or maybe even four if I’m feeling generous, out of five.

Movie Review: Oculus (4 *’s) (2013)

Oculus has an intriguing concept for a movie. Basically, there is a cursed/demonic mirror responsible for a string of deaths reaching back several hundred years. Two twenty-somethings, a brother and a sister, who witnessed the deaths of their own parents, are preparing to prove the mirrors culpability to the world, and, hopefully, destroy the mirror in the process. The movie stars Karen Gillan (playing Kaylie Russell), Brenton Thwaites (Tim Russell), Katie Sackhoff (Marie Russell—the mom), and Rory Cochrane (Alan Russell—the dad). The only one of those I’ve seen elsewhere is Katie Sackhoff who plays Starbuck in the remake of Battlestar Gallactica and a mercenary in Riddick (the third movie in featuring the dark hero played by Vin Diesel).

 

The movie begins with the psychological evaluation and subsequent release of Tim Russell. He is now an adult, having been confined to a criminal sanitarium for the murders of his father and mother. He meets his sister and they have a brief joyous reunion. Then, things start to turn dark. Tim’s nearly decade of psychological treatment has succeeded in warping his true memories of the seemingly impossible events of his parents’ deaths. He no longer believes in the mirror. Now, he has accepted the responsibility as the murderer of his parents. The sister, however, who has never undergone therapy, has not forgotten the true events and, after much research and hard work, she has found the location of the mirror. The first half of the movie consists of Tim and Kaylie arguing over the truth or falsity of their experiences. Tim says it didn’t happen; Kaylie says it did. Kaylie has set up an elaborate quasi-scientific experiment to prove to all the naysayers that his brother was innocent and that true culprit was the horrid power of the mirror. Woven into this dialogue are the reawakening memories of Tim regarding the horrid events of his past. It is seamlessly woven together and combined it makes for an intriguing trek. The tension builds throughout until reaching the deadly climax.

 

Strengths: the acting was fine; the plot was intriguing and very well done; and the shifts in timeline were well orchestrated. The special effects were well-placed and not overdone. Weaknesses: maybe I’ve seen too many of these, but I was never really scared watching the film. Startled a few times, perhaps, but not really frightened. Of course, I saw it on the TV and not in a theatre and that has an impact. Regardless, the movie held my attention throughout and it was very suspenseful if not frightful.

 

Overall, I’ll give the film Oculus a rating of four out of five stars … maybe even four and a half stars.

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (4 *’s) (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxyis the latest film adapted from Marvel Comics. I thought this movie was going to be horrible going by the trailer which did not impress me at all. Originally, I had no intention of seeing it. But I heard a few good things about it, so I figured I would give it a gander. It tells the story of a motley group of galactic heroes who, through happenstance and conscious choice, find themselves working together to save the Galaxy. It stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill (aka Starlord), Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax, Vin Diesel as the voice of Groot, and Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket (the genetically modified raccoon).

 

The main character is, of course, Peter Quill, aka Starlord, a half-human, half-alien (although he looks completely human) who was abducted from Earth shortly after his mother’s death when he was about 10 years old. The story begins as Peter Quill is recovering an orb for a galactic outlaw. What is in the orb, he doesn’t know. But soon, he’s caught up in a chaotic struggle as the orb is stolen, re-stolen, and re-stolen again. Everyone wants the orb, but he doesn’t know why. The struggle brings him into contact with Gamora, Drax, Groot, and Rocket. They are a motley collection of miscreants who eventually decide to work together—but only after they have beaten each other senseless in their own efforts to get the orb. They wind up in prison together and must learn to trust each other in order to escape.

 

Strengths: the acting was good, the plot coherent, the special effects well done and well placed, and the characters were memorable. My favorite character turned out to be Rocket the Raccoon. Going by the trailer, I thought he’d just be stupid; but I was pleasantly surprised. That said, I liked all the characters and enjoyed the action and intrigue in the film. Weaknesses: this was a PG-13 movie—I’m not sure it had to be, but it was. There was some mild profanity which was fine by the PG-13 rating, but which really didn’t fit the overall tone of the movie. It’s like they put the profanity in as an afterthought to earn that type of rating, maybe. I don’t know. But it just didn’t seem to fit the characters, because for the bulk of the movie, the dialogue was clean. Anyway, it was still a good movie.

 

I’ll give Guardians of the Galaxyfour stars out of five.

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (4 *’s) (2014)

How to Train Your Dragon 2is the second instalment in the How to Train Your Dragon series. It is, of course, an animated film by Dreamworks (I think). It was directed by Dean DeBlois (a director I’ve never heard of ) and it stars Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, and Gerard Butler as the voices of Hiccup, Valka, and Stoick respectively. Like its predecessor its good family fun, though there is enough violence in it to earn a PG rating. I wouldn’t bring children under five to it, but an older group would likely enjoy it quite a bit.

 

 

 

How to Train Your Dragon 2 picks up where the previous movie left off. Now, Hiccup is set up as Stoick’s heir; he will become Berk’s chieftain when Stoick passes away. He’s not exactly comfortable with that decision and that provides some of the tension with his father. Hiccup spends much of his time with his pet dragon, Toothless, exploring the seas around Berk and mapping the unexplored terrain. One day, while exploring, he finds an island of ice that is home to innumerable wild dragons and a mysterious dragon rider, like himself, who seems to have as much control and command of the dragons as he does. At the same time, he learns of new enemies on the horizon, led by the terrible Viking lord Drago and his army of dragons. Together can Hiccup and Toothless defeat Drago and his army? Or will they succumb to his great power?

 

 

 

Strengths: as this is an animated film, you really can’t judge it for special effects. The animation was fine, the storyline and plot were good, as was the dialogue. It can’t really be judged for acting, but the reading of the dialogue was excellent. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Weaknesses: it was rated PG, and as such, it deserved that rating. It probably isn’t appropriate for really young children because there were one or two actual deaths in the film. They were handled tactfully and as well as could be done, but still, that might be a bit much for a four year old. That alone, I think is the biggest weakness. There is one small logical flaw in the movie, though. Hiccup and Toothless are out exploring, mapping the mysterious terrain. But these are Vikings. They have ships. Wouldn’t they know what was in the surrounding ocean? But that minor detail can be overlooked for a children’s movie.

 

 

 

In the end, I’ll give How to Train Your Dragon 2 four stars out of five.