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‘Kick-Ass 2’ review

By on Sep 23, 2013 in Reviews | 0 comments

Hushed whispers of “Is Chloe Moretz of-age yet? No? Shoot.” filled the cinema as viewers ushered themselves in for the screening of Kick-Ass 2. I wasn’t surprised. The target audience for Kick-Ass 2 is exactly the kind of person who engages in a masturbathon while sobbing about the lack of being in a relationship that would drive him to wearing a superhero costume and pretending to be “kick-ass” to boost his self-esteem. I foolishly hoped that this sequel would live up to the pedigree of its predecessor, Kick-Ass. While the first film was written and directed by Matthew Vaughn – well-known for his work on classics such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and Layer Cake – was a smartly-written, acerbic comedy-thriller, the sequel is written and directed by Jeff Wadlow – “best-known” for his terrible, terrible screenplays for Cry Wolf and Prey; two excruciatingly terrible “thrillers”. Kick-Ass made Nicholas Cage look good: that’s how good it was. Let that sink in for a minute. Needless to say, Kick-Ass 2 was hopelessly derivative. Much of the plot made no sense and the pacing was all over the place. There isn’t any overarching theme holding the film together, and when it does try pontificating serious issues it falls flat on its face because of forced the dialogue seems. Perhaps the only redeemable feature is the aplomb with which Christopher Mintz-Plasse dives into his character of Chris “the Motherfucker” D’Amico – a caricature of what a villain should be. Who said overacting doesn’t make a film better, at times? Another area where Kick-Ass excelled and Kick-Ass 2 fails is the soundtrack; instead of the carefully-chosen songs that complemented the action in the first film, the score in the second is bland muzak that will probably be sold for pennies as elevator music by the end of the year. There’s a scene in the film where the protagonist Dave is shown wearing a t-shirt that reads “I Hate Reboots”. If there was ever a chance for the filmmakers to make a clever joke, it would be this scene – just make the t-shirt read “I Hate Sequels”. Yet this is precisely the kind of risk taking that would not happen in the circlejerk nature of Hollywood sequels which do nothing more than slap lipstick on a pig and then sink millions of dollars into marketing in the hope that enough moviegoers in foreign territories will buy tickets to recoup production costs....

Zombie book double-bill: ‘World War Z’ and ‘Dude, This Book Is Full Of Spiders’

By on Sep 22, 2013 in Reviews | 0 comments

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks is perhaps the best book I have read in the zombie genre; not that I have read many books in that genre beyond Richard Matheson’s classic I Am Legend. I tend to stay away from the zombie genre in books because while films in genre can be visceral, I have never considered it to be a style that translates well into the written form. World War Z is somewhat different from in that it’s written from the serious perspective of an unpublished United Nations report on a wide scale zombie epidemic that overruns the whole world. The treatment given to the zombie outbreak is much like what you’d expect from a story on a global virus outbreak, similar to the film Contagion. From the very onset it’s quite clear that Brooks has thoroughly researched the cultural zeitgeist of various locales that make up the settings for the book’s chapters; it lends a weight to the story that goes beyond the mere “let’s hit the rural areas!” trap many zombie books / films tend to stray into. What the book does an excellent job of doing is pointing out the hubris of the modern military and government machine at tackling large-scale, rapidly-changing scenarios. All the military force a country has crumbles quickly when faced with an enemy that literally cannot be killed because it’s already dead, and then delves into how that can psychologically affect the combat effectiveness of armed forces – and how that can spread into mass hysteria. By breaking the mould of following a single set of survivors, and instead tracking the action on a global scale, Brooks is able to highlight the psychological impact that a disaster of such proportions can have on humankind. The eventual victory is equally grim: months and years of dogged fighting to slowly make tracts of land inhabitable again. A chilling, gripping read. What prompted me to read the book was how impressed I was with World War Z, the film. And while, at the time, I was impressed by the stunning visuals in the film and the concept of telling the story of a global zombie outbreak. In those aspects, the film clearly works. But in relation to the book, the film shares absolutely nothing in common expect for “zombies” (as summed up by this Oatmeal comic). The climax of the film is particularly mind-numbingly stupid. I understand why such a decision was made, because the book’s ending is a lot more grim and in terms of box office performance making a more “authentic” film would have been a riskier bet. As Damon Lindelof, star Hollywood blockbuster script doctor says, “Once you spend more than $100 million on a movie, you have to save the world.” Yet, I wonder what a truly trendsetting a film it could have been if it went down the other path. *** I have been a fan of David Wong, pseudonym for comedy writer Jason Pargin, ever since I read his first book John Dies At The End and followed him on the Internet comedy sinkhole Cracked.com. In style that can only be summarised with a Braveheart-style battle-cry of “Wong!”, he’s back with a sequel to his first novel, this one titled Dude, This Book Is Full Of Spiders. The sequel picks up after the events of John Dies At The End, with David Wong and his friend John coping with their life as people who will have to put up with the only ones to be able to see the weird shit that goes on in their town of [Undisclosed]. Unlike the previous book which was dark and was based around demonology, this one is centred around another beloved geek genre: zombies. In typical David Wong style, the book is peppered with black comedy; admittedly a hard feat for the grim topic of zombies. Yet, the book delights at every page-turn with characteristic Wong-isms, such as: John and I have made this stuff our hobby, in the way an especially attractive prisoner makes a hobby out of not getting raped. Wait, did I just give away a spoiler that John doesn’t, in fact, die at the end of the last book? Soz! But as you can figure out from the quote, the novel doesn’t shy away from jokes that other comedians might not consider kosher. And this is precisely what sets Wong’s writing apart: that it’s unabashedly, unapologetically funny. For a book which is written by a comedy writer, there are quite a few moments in the plot that dive into existential questions of how mass media is controlled, time travel, love, and much more. Similar to World War Z, it explores how mass hysteria can spread through a population in the face of a “disease” that is supernatural in origin and can go undetected. There are parts of the book that are genuinely terrifying. Yet, it doesn’t shy away from mocking the culture of zombie-killing worship that is perpetuated by popular video games in the genre either; that killing zombies in real life would pretty much be like mashing buttons to kill them on a screen. The ending to Dude, This Book Is Full Of Spiders is somewhat tamer – almost as if written for a Hollywood screenplay – than John Dies At The End, but the book overall is a...

Escape From Camp 14

By on May 20, 2013 in Reviews | 2 comments

When my friend Alexandra Wilks gifted me Escape From Camp 14 – a book on North Korea – I couldn’t control my excitement to the extent that I found it hard to hold the book open because my hands were shaking so much. I may have jizzed my pants too. Those who know me will be aware that I have a huge obsession with North Korea. I fastidiously follow any news or analysis of the country. My Twitter bio reads “World’s leading authority on loving adoration of North Korea.” The country is almost cartoonishly evil: from thinking that breeding giant rabbits would be a solution to its famine problem to a brother of Kim Jong-Il being disowned from the family after trying to sneak into Japan to visit Tokyo Disneyland under a fake Dominican Republic passport where his name translated to “fat bear”. Much of the aura around North Korea comes from its relative isolation from the world at large. I bought into the online hysteria surrounding North Korea, religiously following photoblogs of Kim Jong-Il looking at things, and when his son took over, Kim Jong-un looking at things. While I was aware of the fact that human rights violations were a reality in the country, I assumed it was mostly of the kind that would result from life in a highly communist country. Escape From Camp 14 is the real-life story of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person born in a North Korean slave labour camp to successfully escape. Written as a biography based on Shin’s account by Washington Post journalist Blaine Harden, it tells how North Korea’s policy of subjecting “traitors” to three generations of hard labour is used as a means of suppressing political dissent. Growing up in such an environment, Shin never had exposure to human emotions such as empathy or love to the point that he ratted out his own mother and brother for execution in the hopes of getting more food. The narrative then moves on to how Shin learnt about human trust and trickery, eventually making his escape out of the camp on foot, crossing over into China. North Korean labour camps have existed for longer than Nazi concentration camps, or the labour camps of Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia, yet it’s a human rights violation that largely gets overlooked. Western countries provide the country food aid worth millions on humanitarian grounds to combat famines, yet much of it supposedly ends up in the hands of North Korea’s élite. The picture painted in the book of realities on the ground is far removed from the jovial smiling faces of chubby leaders in Internet memes. To his credit, Harden reviews all information objectively, often fact-checking with external sources on the veracity of Shin’s story, as well as giving background information wherever necessary, drawing on his experience as a correspondent covering East Asian foreign policy affairs. It’s an utterly bleak book that gives an insight into the kind of cruelty that goes on in slave labour camps and for the populace in general, made better by Harden’s narrative technique. There cannot be a better example of how much storytelling affects public exposure, since Shin’s story was published previously by a human rights organization in South Korea without garnering attention, until Harden’s take on the same gave this issue international exposure. I had the opportunity once to meet Bou Meng, a survivor of Cambodia’s torture camps who published a book on his survival from Pol Pot’s regime’s killing fields which went largely unnoticed, and Escape From Camp 14‘s worldwide success shows how important the narrative can be in shaping public...

‘The Baader-Meinhof Complex’, ‘The Wave’, and ‘The Mist’ film reviews

By on May 5, 2013 in Reviews | 2 comments

The Baader-Meinhof Complex (originally Der Baader Meinhof Komplex) explores the growth and downfall of a radical leftist group in 60s / 70s Germany called the Red Army Faction (RAF) that engaged in terrorist acts as a form of political protest. It is named after its two main leaders, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. Unless you are German, it’s unlikely that you will be familiar with the events depicted in the film – based on real-life events – which makes the film an interesting lesson in modern history. In tone, it reminded me of Munich due to the similar subject matter – the attack on the Munich Olympics is acknowledged in this film too – except in this case the film focuses on the terrorists. The Baader-Meinhof Complex does a good job of explaining the motivations of the terrorists without glorifying them. Recommended watch for any history buff. Rating: 3.5 / 5 *** The Wave (originally Die Welle) is yet another German film that does not shy away, does not tread lightly. The setup for the film is an anti-establishment teacher in a high school who decides to offer a class on autocracy as a way of showing how fascism could have taken hold in Hitler’s Germany in a supposedly-democratic country, and things escalate quickly when the students let the power go to their head. While not quite as disturbing as the Stanford prison experiment (and films based on it), it is nevertheless considered a classic in Germany for depicting how national socialism can take root even in the modern-day world. The film just feels a tad contrived to be a rated as a “good” film. Rating: 2.5 / 5 *** The Mist – based on the novel of the same name – is perhaps the worst Stephen King film adaptation that I’ve watched. Not having read the novel, I’m not quite sure whether the fault lies in the source material or the adapted screenplay failing to capture the essence of it. A freak storm unleashes a species of bloodthirsty creatures on a small town, where a small band of citizens hole up in a supermarket and fight for their lives. The synopsis of the film sounds so C-grade movie that the only reason why I gave it a shot is because of the Stephen King pedigree. The monsters are silly, the suspense is lacking, and the special effects are bad without reaching hilarity-ensuing levels of Birdemic. The only saving grace is the crazy religious nut, who added an element of drama to the film. Rating: 2 /...

Why I love…Linkin Park

By on Apr 15, 2013 in Reviews | 2 comments

I can almost imagine the sound of readers clucking in disgust at the words “Linkin Park”. But wait! Hear me out. My first exposure to Linkin Park was, funnily enough, through the TV channel Cartoon Network at the age of 12: they used to show cartoon music videos in the commercial breaks, some from their own in-house cartoons; or, in the case of Linkin Park, Pts.OF.Athrty from their album Reanimation. The video was a wondrous love-child of Star Wars (with its giant walking robots akin to those on ice planet Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back), The Matrix (with flying Sentinel-like robots), and Halo. The 12-year-old in me loved it! That age, when we are tweenagers, is when children start making conscious choices about the music that we listen to. Linkin Park’s angsty, screaming lyrics in their first two album releases Hybrid Theory and Meteora appealed to the teenager-me immensely. Talking to friends, they often tell me they went through a similar phase of loving their music at that age. Meteora was undoubtedly the high point in the band’s discography, with all-time classics such as Faint and Numb that have an insanely addictive head-banging energy to them. Their next release, Minutes To Midnight, is perhaps when most people lost interest since they cranked out an album with “more of the same” vibe. Then, with A Thousand Suns and LIVING THINGS, Linkin Park has moved even further away from their core fan-base of nu-metal lovers. To me, however, it is this very evolution in their style that endears them so much to me. Over the years, I fell in love with many great rock bands – Nine Inch Nails, The Dandy Warhols, Foo Fighters, Rage Against The Machine, Limp Bizkit, Muse, A Perfect Circle – to present day, when my music taste decidedly skews towards indie music. But in none of those cases did the bands start and grow along with me. Much like Harry Potter fans reminisce about how it was such a huge part of their life while growing up – and still is – I feel the same way about Linkin Park. And they do throw in food for thought in their later albums to show how they have grown à la the track The Radiance which makes a political statement by quoting Robert Oppenheimer’s opinion on the Trinity test (the first atom bomb explosion ever). Part of the allure of the band for me is that I have a huge man-crush on Mike Shinoda. This primarily stems from the fact that he’s an accomplished graphic designer to boot and I have a keen interest in that field. Shinoda has designed most of the cover artwork for Linkin Park albums, as well as private artwork that he’s exhibited. One of the lesser-known gems of his career is a side project hip-hop band called Fort Minor, and if you haven’t heard them already I highly recommend you to check it out. (My favourite is Petrified.) Linkin Park isn’t a “cool” choice: it’s mainstream, it’s not that path-breaking in the rock genre, it’s not a classic choice like The Beatles nor is it a quirky, lesser-known band with hipster cred. But it’s still my choice for an all-time favourite...