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All reviews - Movies (276) - TV Shows (42) - Books (13) - Music (75) - Games (82)

Look how far we've come.

Posted : 8 years, 2 months ago on 19 July 2009 05:55 (A review of Grand Theft Auto IV)

I'd heard a lot of things about GTA IV that took the edge off of my expectations for the game. I was told that it was much scaled down, size-wise, compared to San Andreas. I was also told that some of the little things that made SA so perfect were also removed, such as base jumping platforms and the ability to nose-dive 747s into the middle of Las Vegas, seconds after parachuting out unscathed. My perception, therefore, was that GTA IV would be a game built solely to test the power of the next gen consoles, before they rolled out a bigger and better GTA V.

After completing the game, I can say without hesitation that neither of these features really obstructed my enjoyment of GTA IV. However, it was nowhere near on par with San Andreas in terms of replayability or initial impressions. There are just some things lacking with GTA IV that make it feel like an incomplete gaming experience. It has the potential to be wholly satisfying, but for some reason it isn't.

You play as Niko Bellic, an Eastern European immigrant fresh off the boat and ready to capitalise on the American Dream. Before long he realises he's been brought to the US under false pretences and he is rapidly absorbed into the criminal underbelly of Liberty City. I immediately disliked the main protagonist and he failed to completely win me over throughout the course of the game. Niko is a direct, soulless killer driven by the simple desire to acquire money. I got bored of him really quickly, and this is partly due to the fact that each of his meetings with new acquaintances play out in exactly the same way - 'I'll do anything as long as I get paid'.

Liberty City has some really visually appealing areas, such as the Times Square inspired 'Star Junction' and Coney Island's representative, Firefly Island. There are obviously countless Manhattan landmarks that also appear, many of which are truly inspiring places to visit in a computer game. What I felt the map did lack was a large open space to cruise around in, as that was a particular favourite past time of mine in San Andreas.

The plot is a standard GTA affair. Much maligned male becomes involved in petty crime and builds a reputation to the extent that he meets super crime families. Nothing new is explored here, though on very few occasions you have the choice to end certain missions in one of two ways, though it is so obvious which is the 'good' and which is the 'bad' outcome on each that it's not really a choice at all.

Several aspects are improved on the last GTA game, including the ability to summon the emergency services with a phone call. This is handy if you need a paramedic or need to steal a squad car. It is also now possible to outrun the police, given that they have a sphere of detection when they're after you. If you escape their patrol route then you can consider yourself a free man. It's amazing how much of a great addition this is to the game as you no longer wait for chance or cheats to lower your wanted level. Many of the over-complicated RPG elements from San Andreas are also removed, such as the need to work out, swim and increase your ability to drive certain vehicles. In my eyes, that's a good thing.

The PC version has an absolute nightmare with the insulting Digital Rights Management security system. When I first installed the game it was fine, but a re-install some months later caused all manner of cataclysmic problems and required several patches and ultimately a different disc drive to make the game work again. How publishers can get away with this, I'll never know. The graphics are also ready and waiting to be slid up to maximum, but I'm not sure any graphics card is quite prepared to show you liberty city in all of its stunning detail just yet. I still had a thoroughly enjoyable gaming experience and night time helicopter flybys of the statue of liberty were still sufficiently impressive enough to drop my jaw.

In short, the characters and the diminished map meant I didn't enjoy this GTA as much as San Andreas. A one-dimensional protagonist and a cast of uninteresting support characters also sapped my intention to ever play the game through again. Whereas I could lose days just wondering around San Andreas post-completion, the lack of places to explore in Liberty City and the infuriating 'friends' feature go far to drain the enjoyment of roaming in GTA IV once the main campaign is finished. Other than that, it's just another GTA game, a welcome addition and one that's well worth playing anyway.


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Hollywood 101

Posted : 8 years, 3 months ago on 22 June 2009 05:50 (A review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen)

Michael Bay laughs in the face of global recession with his 2009 summer blockbuster. It must be quite fulfilling to know that you can splash 200 million dollars on a film and guarantee that it's going to claim it all back at the box office. If you ever watched the first Transformers film then you'll know exactly what to expect from the second:

1. An unchallenging plot
2. Megan Fox in skimpy clothes
3. Sixty foot robots kicking the hell out of each other
4. US Army recruitment drive

All of these are present in abundance in the sequel. The action starts immediately as the Autobots continue to hunt down and eradicate rogue Decepticon enemies in the name of a free Earth. As always, some nerdy pen-pushing chucklefuck decides that the indispensable job carried out by the Autobots is a bad thing and tries to get them to leave the planet. Luckily, the Decepticons manage to kick up a fuss before they leave and Man and Machine must unite again to fight the alien threat.

In the middle of all this, Shia tries to go to college (with hilarious results) his parents try to go on holiday (with destructive results) and Megan tries to fix cars (with skimpy results). The Autobots take a bit of a back seat until the end of the film, which culminates in another mother of all battles between woefully ill-equipped humans, monstrous machines and a hapless Egyptian landscape.

There's not much left to say other than the fact that the dialogue is ultra cheesy, there are gratuitous slow-motion running shots of Megan Fox, the robots sometimes fight too quickly for you to figure out what's going on and the damage to public property is relentless. And so in all, it's a mildly entertaining mind-number with plenty of (but some how not enough) explosions.


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Red Dawn

Posted : 8 years, 4 months ago on 25 May 2009 01:42 (A review of Red Dawn)

Red Dawn is a surprisingly well executed 'alternate reality' film involving a scenario where the United States is invaded by communist forces. From the opening scene, the film pulls no punches in terms of violence and shocking imagery, as soviet paratroopers drop into school grounds before rounding up and firing on young children. Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen star as young brothers who sally out from the communist clutches before seeking refuge in the nearby mountains with a handful of other escapees.

It isn't long before their home town is turned into a ghetto, with their families bundled into 're-education' camps and murdered at whim by ruthless communist generals. The scenes galvanise the young children into forming a guerilla resistance group. Calling themselves 'Woverines' after their school football team, the rebels are responsible for some serious destruction, but the war and its lack of a conceivable endpoint soon takes its toll on the youngsters.

The ending of the film, as well as the fate of a handful of characters is left ambiguous, but the action was relentless and violent throughout. If nothing else, it was an extremely thought provoking film. There are obvious biases towards the right to bear arms and national patriotism, but these are more subtle than I expected, considering this film was released at the height of the cold war. The only truly negative aspect of the film was how ludicrously competent the children become with high powered weapons and military tactics, which was perhaps the most far fetched aspect of all. Otherwise this was just a great action film with plenty of harrowing and contemplative scenes.


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Altered Carbon

Posted : 8 years, 5 months ago on 7 April 2009 02:40 (A review of Altered Carbon (GOLLANCZ S.F.))

Proving once again that judging a book by its cover almost always pays off, I picked up Altered Carbon for no other reason than the intriguing Da Vinci-esque anatomical sketch adorning the front page. Interestingly, I’ve never seen this version of artwork in any other bookshop, leading me to wonder whether it has been discontinued altogether, which is a crying shame. Armed with my copy of Richard Morgan’s first published tome, I meandered to the cash desk only to have to fend off excited advances from the geeky female attendant who seemed determined to jump my bones, just because I was an Altered Carbon fan. Things were looking promising.

Altered Carbon is a piece of hard-boiled detective fiction, set on a future Earth, where important technological advances have fashioned a whole new way of existence for the human race. To say the book hits the ground running is an understatement. You’re thrown immediately into the action as the principal protagonist - Takeshi Kovacs - and his girlfriend are slaughtered by rampant commandos amidst the opening pages. I have to admit, I haven’t read many books that begin by killing off the lead character in the prologue, but it certainly made an impact…

Luckily, there are now two types of death. Mankind has achieved the impossible by digitising the human ’soul’. A person’s memories, experiences, abilities and personality traits are all saved automatically onto a ‘cortical stack’ - implanted deep in the spinal column at the back of the neck at birth - which can then be uploaded into another body (or ’sleeve’) or stored indefinitely. Real Death can only be inflicted by destroying the stack, otherwise the human conscious can simply be downloaded again into a new sleeve to fight another day. Takeshi’s death was purely superficial and upon awaking again, he finds himself on Earth, millions of miles from his home planet and in a non-descript, middle aged sleeve.

He has been commissioned to help an unpopular, yet extremely wealthy suicide victim who is convinced he was actually murdered. Those with extreme wealth can not only afford the extravagant cost of re-sleeving, but also keep reserve clones of themselves, as well as back-up stacks, making them seemingly invincible. No longer restricted by the ageing process of the human body, the wealthy now seek to extend their lifespans ad infinitum, earning them the nickname of Meths - of Methuselahs.

Kovacs is sought after because of his status as an Ex-Envoy. With the human race now spread across the galaxy, the UN mandate expanded exponentially and a ‘Protectorate’ was formed. The ultimate tool in the Protectorate arsenal is the Envoy shock troops. Designed to beam across the universe into dormant sleeves, and then engage in either stealthy or all-out warfare, the Envoys are the ultimate peacekeeping soldiers. Each individual is intensely trained in combat, self-control, subterfuge and slaughter. Kovacs knows how to look after himself due to his relentless mental training.

Some of his experiences with the Envoys are alluded to as the story unfolds, as well as the reasons for him quitting the unit. His flashbacks and psychological delusions were some of my favourite parts of the book. In times of great distress he speaks with his dead friend Jimmy de Soto who seems to help him overcome incredible odds, or spark him back into life after taking a thorough beating. Such spectres of his imagination give you an idea of how Kovacs manages to maintain his sanity against the brunt of such clinical and inhumane Envoy conditioning. His ability to harness and channel his anger into effective energy is devastating, saves his life on numerous occasions and presumably made him such an effective candidate for Envoy training in the first place.

The future universe created by Morgan is packed with intelligent ideas and a superb Martian mythology side story. I loved reading about humanities interaction with an alien species and how that, combined with re-sleeving technology almost eradicated organised religions. The present state of Earth, and humanity’s extrasolar existence is elaborated on in mere snippets as the story progresses, and as a result, you’re never overwhelmed with information or swamped with the cyber-jargon that seems to be a mainstay of most sci-fi novels. For Kovacs, Earth itself is an alien-world and so he acclimatises to his new surroundings with the same hesitancy as we do as a reader. Morgan also overflows with ideas of how re-sleeving can be abused, how human flesh is now a commodity to be bought and traded and generally how all of the issues that plague humanity today are still firmly unchanged in this futuristic universe. The abuse of the poor by the rich is simply taken to whole new levels of depravity and the fear of an overwhelming military might still exists in order to frighten the human race into obedience.

Along with the outstanding world-building, the characterisation is a real strong point for Altered Carbon. Kovacs is a demi-god of a protagonist who you never tire of reading about. He is such a ruthless and effective murderer that you begin to believe that violence is like an addictive drug for him. Yet despite his borderline psychosis, he is still troubled by very human emotions, such as love. Morgan’s writing style is extremely easy to digest. I never once found myself lost within the text and even the combat scenes were described with crystal clarity. Short, engaging chapters resulted in me reading much more of the book in single sittings than I’d intended.

Altered Carbon is an outstanding sci-fi novel that begins an engaging Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, leading into Broken Angels and ending with Woken Furies. I think it was actually half way through the second book that I realised I was in love with the world that Morgan had created. I found myself imagining what life would be like in this futuristic dystopia and was constantly over awed with the authors brilliant imagination. Altered Carbon became an instant favourite and I’d recommend its furious-paced futuristic action to any science fiction fan.


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Appaloser

Posted : 8 years, 5 months ago on 7 April 2009 02:26 (A review of Appaloosa)

I was absolutely salivating at the prospect of seeing this film. All it took was one look at the cast-list, followed by a glimpse of the promotional posters to make me realise that it had all the right ingredients to be a really great film. Just check out [Link removed - login to see]">THIS poster of Ed Harris - oh yeah, he looks grizzled and bad ass. And then look at [Link removed - login to see]">THIS poster of Viggo Mortensen - oh yeah, he looks grizzled and bad ass too! All they need now is a ruthlessly grizzled and bad ass villain to pit their wits against. Look no further than [Link removed - login to see]">Jeremy 'GODDAMN' Irons. This cast-list is the stuff of dreams.

The film starts off on a high, showing what a merciless threat Jeremy Irons' corrupt landowner poses to the nearby town of Appaloosa. Just when things are looking bleak for the settlement, salvation appears in the form of crime fighting renegades Harris and Mortensen. The stage is set for some intense encounters with the lawmen staking their authority at the expense of the anarchic gang and their drunken antics. There are several tense encounters which see the lawmen hugely outnumbered, but never out of control as order slowly creeps back into Appaloosa. But you know, you just know... it's not going to remain peaceful for very long.

Then - the unthinkable happens. After a fantastic scene-setting introduction to the film, any enjoyment or anticipation you have is completely and utterly dissipated. How? Well in the interests of science, I've summed up the entirety of the film with this irrefutable graph.



That's right. The introduction of one lousy woman - a woman I had completely missed from all the promo posters I'd seen of the film - manages to completely drain the machismo and entertainment from the movie. She also makes Ed Harris' cool, collected and efficient character look like a complete moron. That's just not going to fly. What's so bad about her? I still can't place her character, I think the gist of it is that she's a sex-crazed slapper who just waltzes from man to man, no matter how heinous their reputation.

This film could've been a lot better than it was. The combination of a poor female part twinned with a poor female actress really dished out a deathblow to a film with an abundance of potential. I have given it a 5/10 purely because Ed Harris directed, and I love the man. If the cast-list fills you with high hopes for this Western adventure, then prepare to be disappointed.


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Dear Jesse

Posted : 8 years, 6 months ago on 16 March 2009 02:51 (A review of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a detailed portrait of the infamous American outlaw during the final years leading up to his death at the hands of fellow bandit, Robert Ford. Weighing in with a running time of a cool two-and-a-half hours, this epic story runs almost as long as the film’s unnecessarily long title, though with the original cut rumoured to have stretched over the four hour mark, I’m not complaining.

Contrary to most Western films, the action element is subdued, and much of the time is spent focused firmly on character interactions and development. Indeed, the opening scene depicts a train robbery (the last ever committed by the James brothers) and very little action is witnessed hereafter. As a result it does feel like a slow-burner. The film introduces us to Jesse James with a narration that paints him as a Messianic figure, set to beautiful accompanying music, we are instantly sold as to just how brilliant he is. Competent, flattering, a much-adored gentleman, we’re not supposed to regard Jesse as a criminal, but rather a majestic individual who, despite being America’s most wanted man, even had the unwavering support and respect of the everyday man on the street.

This is in stark contrast to the manner in which Robert Ford is introduced. Initially given zero attention as he flits invisibly around the train-robbery gang members, he is eventually told to leave by Jesse’s brother. His speech is feeble and unnatural, he almost seems eternally on the verge of bursting into tears. He is the direct opposite to Jesse, every inch the weak minded and bodied character. He is played to perfection by Casey Affleck. The title of the film alone makes you dislike him immediately, though by contrasting him so starkly against Jesse, you somehow come to despise him more. It makes you angry that a man so seemingly incompetent could be responsible for Jesse’s downfall.

After the train heist, the James brothers go their separate ways, leaving Jesse on his own after Frank retires from crime. The gang splinters and disbands other than a core bunch consisting of the Ford Brothers amongst others. The following segment of the film slows dramatically. Jesse descends gradually into paranoia, expunging outlaws who were once his colleagues with very questionable motives. Brad Pitt’s on-screen moments pull this part of the film through. He is brilliant and unpredictable when on screen. During the beginning of the film he orchestrates a train robbery with the grace of a flamboyant ringmaster, whereas here he is slowly taken over by mistrust and rage. The film also utilises some truly stunning vistas to enhance the beauty of the story and romanticism of the iconic Western hero. The grandness of the surrounding countryside add further to the feeling that Jesse is increasingly lonely. It is perhaps this reason that he chooses to spend time with Robert Ford, a man obsessed with him and sycophantic in his ways as a consequence.



As Jesse becomes evermore paranoid, he invites Robert and his brother to stay with him, partly for protection, partly to scheme for a future robbery. By now the relationship between Robert and Jesse is extremely complex. Jesse is Robert’s all time hero, a man he has looked up to since birth, but his success grates him. He is a nobody in comparison and this breeds untold hatred towards him as a result. With Ford already in cahoots with the local law enforcers regarding the downfall of James, the tension seemingly builds by the second. The film eventually portrays a hopeless scenario in which the Ford’s are seemingly waiting to kill or be killed by Jesse. During this period Pitt’s portrayal takes a turn to the much darker side, where we see James behind closed doors as a terrifying human being. The film comes alive during this final third as the tension mounts and suffocates the characters, particularly Robert, whose speech once again suffers and becomes evermore faint and erratic.

The eventual assassination is a huge release of emotion and the film ends with a eulogy of James and the fates of the Ford brothers. For the briefest of times you almost feel empathy for Robert Ford, considering the state of an increasingly erratic and unstable Jesse James, though once you view their exploits after the murder your allegiances are rapidly reaffirmed.

The performances of Pitt and Affleck are blatantly strong points in the film. The visual beauty is also impossible to question and the musical score was haunting and effective. Where it falters drastically is the pacing. The film is a long film, but it also feels like a long film. The story could well do with being a lot more concise. The film’s narration also falters at times. Whereas it is used to excellent effect in the opening and final scenes, in places if feels too simplistic and obvious when it mimics the actions on screen like a tedious fire-safety video. All in all, it’s just a beautifully told story with extremely well portrayed characters. Though I can only imagine how tedious a four-hour version would have been.


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Stalker

Posted : 8 years, 6 months ago on 8 March 2009 07:08 (A review of Stalker)

The film inspired by Roadside Picnic is directed by Russian prodigy Andrei Tarkovsky. I’ve sat through only one other of his films in the past and that was Solaris. Although it wasn’t a bad film, watching it through can feel like quite hard word at times, given that extremely long cuts and droning silences seem to be his directorial trademarks. Stalker felt like a much easier film to digest, it was much lighter and a lot more interesting than the aforementioned science-fiction film.

Although based on the Strugatsky novel, there are many divergences from the written story. The Zone remains as the principle focus and its most cherished treasure is once again the target for the adventurers. Other than that, the origins of the Zone and the trespassers who are lead across it by the Stalker are all completely new characters and explanations. An unnamed Stalker, presumably based on Red from the novel, begins his day by trying to sneak away from his sleeping wife. He fails, but not even her most heartfelt pleas can persuade him to stay away from the Zone and the multiple dangers it presents. This is, after all, how he makes his living.

He meets a professor and an uninspired writer whom are both fulfil the role of his paying clientèle for this trip. The conversation between them is at first frosty and grim, though the professor demonstrates an air of experience with the zone in contrast to the writer who is more interested in drinking away his fears. After what seems like an unproductive plan of attack, the trio manage to break in past the border guards and high security perimeter, before travelling headlong into the centre of the Zone. The film abruptly reverts to colour during this time, showing the Zone in all of its overgrown and magnificent natural splendour. For the Stalker, this is an awakening, he feels at one with the zone, while his colleagues observe the place with cautious disinterest.

The Zone appears to be an incredible place. It is littered with abandoned buildings, warehouses, automobiles and railroad wreckages, each giving an insight into the thriving life that existed before the area was abruptly forsaken. Deserted tanks are strewn along the countryside casting more intrigue into the historical story of what happened to this peaceful village. It is in stark contrast to the village that the trio came from, which was cast in black and white film as a dreary, delapidated place. The Stalker’s hometown seemed to leach life itself out of its surroundings and everything caught in it. This probably explains his experience of euphoria upon arriving in the restricted area.

It becomes apparent that their goal is a room with the power to grant the inner-most wish of whomever finds it. The Stalker is hired as a guide to navigate the Zone, though his precarious progression soon begins to grate on his associates. As a seasoned veteran of Zone exploration, he has nothing but admiration and respect for the place, it is clear he has seen its many dangers first hand at the expense of previous paying customers. During the trip we are subjected to more extremely long cuts and moments of extreme intensity, all the while the haunting abandoned landscape is showcased in its natural perfection. Some of the bizarre scenery are both profound and haunting, reminding me of modern-day photos of Prypiat, the deserted radiation saturated city. After much disagreement and moral debate, the men arrive at their desired location and the motives are revealed.

The film leaves very little in the way of explanation and to that extent, I was glad I’d read Roadside Picnic beforehand so I had a big idea about what was actually happening. For all of the inherent dangers promised by the Stalker and his explicit caution when navigating through the zone, we are never subjected to any examples of the devastating anomalies which were so fascinating to read about in the book. This did disappoint me somewhat and although I wasn’t expecting any micarulous examples of special effects from the late-70s era Soviet Union, I thought there would be more ingenious and subtle examples of supernatural phenomenon.

Throughout the journey the Stalker almost becomes an observer with the professor and writer being given most of the lines, yet he remains the most fascinating character. Initially revered for his intricate knowledge of the Zone, he is soon mocked for his cautionary nature, before being accused of playing God with the lives of his associates. Come the end of the film, he is shown to be a man who is fiercely loyal to the Zone. Rather than only caring in the monetary reward he receives by bringing travellers to the treasure it holds, he seems to have a genuine faith and a belief in the Zone, as if it is a great overseer of justice. In another subtle hint as to his character, despite being looked on as the intellectual inferior of the three, a final shot shows him back in his house next to a huge bookshelf filled with literature, which along with his penchant for memorising poetry, suggests a guarded intelligence in the head of the troubled guide. He was portrayed to emotional perfection by Aleksandr Kaidanovsky.

Although a part of me wanted to see The Zone come alive and steal the glory in this film, it was left wholly to the actors involved. I thought I’d be interested in seeing a remake, though judging on the previous butchering of Tarkovsky’s work in the form of the celluloid treachery that is Solaris (2002), and the murmurings that John Travolta is already attached to be involved in such a sham, I can safely say I’d rather see the prospect of a remake banished from the conscious of every money-thirsty Hollywood studio in existance for the time being.


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In the Zone

Posted : 8 years, 6 months ago on 8 March 2009 07:07 (A review of Roadside Picnic)

Although only a short story, this science-fiction novel has served as the inspiration for both Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker as well as the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. PC game and its follow-ups. Published in 1971, the Strugatsky brothers (Arkady and Boris) tell of a bizarre and metaphysical area of land known as The Zone, and detail how it impacts on the lives of the local residents who live nearby. Although widely renowned in Russia for their science-fiction writing, Roadside Picnic remains their single most successful work ever to be translated into English.

Aliens have visited Earth, and, with very little warning or explanation they promptly left soon afterwards. This period of time is known as The Visitation amongst Earth’s now bewildered and speculative populace. In their wake the Aliens have left all manner of incomprehensible technologies and advanced equipment, seemingly discarded haphazardly by the visiting race. The authorities were quick to fence off The Zones, both because of the tremendous dangers they now possess and to preserve the area for scientific research. The story begins several years after the visitation and describes the emergence of a subculture of men who have become willing to risk their lives in order to scavenge strange artefacts from The Zone and sell them for money on the black market. These men are Stalkers.

The novel’s principal protagonist is Redrick Schuart, a veteran of the Zone. We first see him being employed as a laboratory technician who willingly leads an excursion of other scientists into the restricted area. This is the only time he operates within the confines of the law with regard to trips into the Zone an here we are introduced to his innate survival instincts and mannerisms that have served to keep him alive for so long. Infinitely cautious and painstakingly accurate, he uses his knowledge to scout out and avoid the creeping deaths that populate the alien wasteland. The Zone brings danger principally in the form of anomalies. Reading about the various unexplainable death-traps that are housed in the book was the absolute highlight; the Strugatsky brothers have built a world that you cannot ever get bored of reading about, thanks to the consistently interesting quirks lingering within it.

Such anomalies that the Stalkers must contend with include areas of intense gravitational pull, which have the potential to crush human beings. There is a jelly-like substance which can melt bone effortlessly through skin. Wild fire traps, concentrated lightning and deadly whirlwinds all defy every established human law of science and threaten anyone within radius of their invisible danger with certain death. The goal for any trespasser is the artefacts still scattered across the Zone. Once a Stalker manages to circumvent the armed border guards and survive against the lottery of anomalies, he might just make it out with an alien technology novel enough to sell for his troubles. Like the anomalies, the artefacts induce just as much speculation as to their purpose from both the fictional scientific community and the reader themselves.

As the book progresses, scientists begin to make the smallest of breakthroughs, utilising technology harvested from the Zone for their own end. The story splits over a number of years which functions to show some of the long term effects of the Visitation. As well as the physical dangers and wonders contained within The Zone, countless other unexplainable phenomenon occur. For example, it is known that any Stalker who conceives a child will be cursed with a mutated newborn as a result. Red is no exception, with his own child earning the nickname of ‘Monkey’ thanks to the fur covering her entire body. Furthermore, anyone who emigrates away from The Zone is struck with tremendous misfortune or uncontrollable cursed powers. Wherever they go, natural disasters follow in a non-coincidental fashion, to the extent that emigration away from the zones is eventually outlawed.

The title of the book comes from an ingenious metaphor as to the reasoning behind The Visitation. While many human-centric theorists attribute the visit as a forewarning or even a gift to humanity by superior intellects in the universe, a less egotistical doctor puts forward the notion that the alien visit was nothing more than a ‘roadside picnic’ for an intergalactic race. Much like humans would pull over in a forest, spend a rowdy night around a camp-fire and then leaving the next day with all of their forgotten and discarded belongings littering the area, the aliens have done the same thing, with humans acting as the wild animals in the forest, emerging after the chaos to see the remarkable left-overs of such a trivial event.

As the years accelerate in the book, we are told contrasting stories about the fate of the Zone. With one man believing that Stalkers have all but died out and artefact’s remaining in the Zone run dry, his superior insists that the black market trade is as rampant as ever. Red himself finds that his own child is becoming increasingly less human and reluctantly decides, after an unwelcome meeting with a former Stalker, to enter The Zone once more in search of its most valued treasure - the golden sphere. Seemingly with the power to grant the inner-most wish of anyone who visits it, Red embarks on his final journey in the Zone.

Throughout the novel the occurrences in, around and beyond the Zone never cease to amaze you as a reader. The protagonist, Red, is fiercely loyal, a firebrand in every way. The turmoils that he subjects both himself and his family too often make you wonder whether death would be a more humane option for him as opposed to his continued trips into The Zone. I wouldn’t have complained if this book was at least twice as long.


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How could they get it so wrong?

Posted : 8 years, 6 months ago on 8 March 2009 04:47 (A review of Planet of the Apes)

The original Planet of the Apes is an ambitious and thought-provoking science fiction film most remembered for Charlton Heston's theatrical performance. Even by today's standards it still holds its own and I couldn't think of any reason why it might need to be remade, but with Tim Burton in charge - what could possibly go wrong?

Oh boy. Let me get this out of the way and say that this film is an absolute disaster with no redeeming features. The original was ambiguous in its back story, but it didn't rely on a flashy introduction to set the scene. Tim Burton immediately ignores the source material and comes up with a convoluted electrical space storm and a bizarre chimp training facility floating in space. Fine. Wahlberg finds himself crash landing on an unknown planet anyway and in much the same manner he is soon hunted down by a mysterious primate species.

Unlike our previous stalwart hero Heston, Wahlberg doesn't temporarily lose his voice. Instead he just chooses not to say anything. I thought that this was a little strange - until I realised that every human character could speak fluent English on this mysterious planet. What!? The crashed astronaut is supposed to be a superior species, a scientific marvel that dazzles the apes with his superior motor functions. The moment I realised that humans were still normal humans I knew that the film was just going to nose-dive into the depths of tedium.

Heston is belittled and his fate decided by a corrupt and unfair primate court system. He has no chance to lead a peaceful of civil life amongst the apes, but the one thing he can rely on is his tenacious humanity. Heston's character and his no-nonsense mentality is something that gives the viewer hope, and we all imagine ourselves acting in a similar manner if we were ever caught up in such a diabolical situation. Heston simply relies on his grizzled humanness throughout the experience. In Tim Burton's vision, humans have nothing to fight back with and all of the best lines from the previous film are given to the apes who deliver them with cringe-worthy weakness.

The crashed astrophysicist only temporarily has a laser gun to differentiate himself from the primal herded humans. This time around, emphasis is placed on ape dominance because of their raw strength instead of intellectual dominance, which reeks of exactly the same kind of human egocentrism that probably caused the rise of the apes in the original film. Planet of the apes (original) made for uncomfortable viewing because it displaced humans from the top of the food chain, this time around humans just seem to have lucked out.

The final insult from Tim Burton is the utterly ridiculous and non-sensical ending. There is no realisation that this misery was occurring on Earth the whole time; instead Wahlberg flies BACK through time and BACK to Earth, where he encounters apes as the dominant species again. What!? I'll leave it to anyone to watch the film and realise how this makes absolutely no sense, but until then, if you're a fan of the original and think that Tim Burton usually does no wrong, then be aware that this film is a chronic disappointment!



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Who wants to be entertained?

Posted : 8 years, 6 months ago on 7 March 2009 04:26 (A review of Slumdog Millionaire)

I gave Slumdog Millionaire a whirl because of the sheer amount of film awards it seemed to accrue in such a short space of time. I couldn't switch on the radio without news of this film's success being driven through my ears; it won 11 BAFTAs don't you know! I wasn't really disappointed.

The film centres around a young orphan who finds himself in police custody following an exceptional performance on the TV show Who wants to be a millionaire?. Despite capturing public imagination, he is accused of cheating due to his status as a slum dweller. In his defence he tells the police that the questions all relate directly to his life experiences and that fate is the sole reason he knows the answers. The police re-watch a recording of his time on the show and each question is accompanied by a flashback to a time in his life that gives him the appropriate experience to progress in the quiz.

The story, due to its time scale and location, feels quite epic in scope. I was really looking forward to watching the rest of the film after about thirty minutes, it seemed like I was set for an 'adventure' in a similar style as City of God. The storyline wins points for being such an original concept in my eyes, and as with most other Danny Boyle films, there is a good accompanying soundtrack.

However, there were also plenty of flaws that I spotted in the film. Some of the life experiences didn't really give clear answers to the question. His brother owning a gun for example, somehow informed him who invented the revolver. I own a computer, but have no idea who invented the thing! The performance of the main actor left a lot to be desired also. I couldn't place him. He was incredibly well spoken for someone who was raised on the streets. and throughout the film his confidence seemed to fluctuate from cockiness (which you'd expect) to downright simpering at other times. What he was doing and where he was living in the modern day was pretty ambiguous also.

In short, this isn't a bad film by any stretch of the imagination and it will leave you entertained (as well as thanking the heavens that you weren't born in India!). But I do think however that the media has drastically overstated its quality, perhaps just in the hope that an independent film will do well and overachieve this year. Who knows! I was going to offer the film 7 out of 10 until I saw the finale Bollywood style dance during the closing credits. Unforgivable.


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