Friday, 31 October 2014

Syfy's Z Nation is Entertaining with a capital E.

After watching a few episodes of SyFy's latest offering Z Nation, it's safe to speculate it's no The Walking Dead. But what is more gratifying is to add, that, it has no inclination to be. SyFy knows its audience well, so it doesn't bother to make a critique of modern society through the perilous lenses of a quasi-futuristic world where humanity is in direct confrontation with inhumanity, both within and without. Instead, it ventures into the more-traveled path in the zombie sub-genre, and embraces its roots of blood and gore of the old world cinema from a simpler time period.

Starring Kellita Smith (Three Can Play That Game, Imperial Dreams), DJ Qualls (Memphis Beat, The Core) and Tom Everett Scott (That Thing You Do, Southland) Z Nation tells the story of a group of survivors making their way through the zombie-ravaged America. This particular odyssey, as it happens, is not without a genuine reasoning. They are escorting the only man ever to survive bitten by zombies with his sentience intact, and in whose blood the cure for the plague may be hidden, after his original protector, an Ex-Delta Force officer has been killed by, wait for it, a zombie kidlet. The story shifts back and forth between them and Citizen Z (Qualls), a hacker, and possibly the only living employee of NSA, and his dog, both trapped in frozen tundra thousand miles away from the main group. Every episode the group faces a new set of antagonisms, ranging from dead to living, from the desolated industrialized world to the mother nature herself; as Citizen Z tries to guide them through the deformed, infested scenario, while battling his own demons of loosing the grip on his sanity due to acute seclusion and loneliness.

 Admittedly, it does take a getting used to, so to appreciate the show as it is, and not, as how we envision our television to be these days. And that is not helped by the acting for the most part. Where Scott as the default and stereotyped leader Charles Garnett is a good casting and Michael Welch as Mack Thompson is promising, the rest, well, being relatively unknown, at least they try. Smith's Roberta Warren feels like lacking convictions of the very character she sketched out as and comes off wooden. Qualls, playing the role with perhaps the most potential doesn't simply have the talent to pull it off.

Even so, the show cannot be dismissed. Post Game of Thrones, 'the shock value' has garnered a viable popularity and now people expects, no demands, it from everything they intake as entertainment. This is not an audience that can be easily sated with predictable storylines, relatable characters and the underlying social message you know the show producers feel imperative to be delivered with subtlety and fineness; it turning out neither. No, we are so numbed by the constant and unending flow of media, interaction, and information, that nothing short of a big bang jolts us out of that stupor to pay attention and response. There, this show excels with brilliance. In one its recent episode it did something that completely stunned me, made me wonder where would they go after this. It was unexpected, unforeseen, unbelievable. A risque card to play this early in the show's existence. And perhaps really, that, combined with the showrunner Karl Schaefer and Craig Engler's ability and desire to give us a full forty-two minutes of uninhabited, thrilling television each week will pave the success in the future as well for Z Nation.

Final Verdict: Worth the watch.  

Thursday, 25 September 2014

It's not the mainstream, but the fringes that are winning, proves Guardian of the Galaxy.

With the summer drawing to a close, one might not look back at the recent months and consider the movies being the most memorable thing about them, as there was no dearth in news, political, economical, or social, worldwide. But because entertainment is quite an important activity in our day to day life, we can at least pay where the credit is due. This year particularly, when the cinematic experience has simply been sublime.

Guardian of the Galaxy following that trait delivers in the enormous promise that its trailers generated. Indeed, when the first one premiered on Jimmy Kimmel Live back in February, and the subsequent release on Youtube, it became an instant hit, garnering mass favoritism with its quirky and somewhat self deprecating sale-pitch. Months passed, and the following trailers only increased those expectations. That humor, that ability to laugh at, and mock one's self, and at the ever expanding genre that they belong to, is the thread that binds all the Marvel movies together. It is the maintained familiarity, no mater if we are taken to the deep space, or to the mythical lands of Norse pantheon.

With GoG, writer(along with Nicole Pearlman)-director James Gunn goes beyond the limits set by the brilliant Iron Man (the first one,) and bravely treads the ambiguous line between what is witticism and what is downright buffoonery. Although frankly, if your superhero roster reads a talking raccoon, and a space-ent with an apparent vocabulary issue, what else you are to do? In comics, the Guardian of the Galaxy is a relatively newer team with the publication history reaching only back to 2008- there was another team by the same name (1969), but that was the 31st century alternative time-line, keeping up with the multiverse shenanigans frequent in comics- though the members, individually, or as part of other rosters, have appeared in various publications for decades. It has been overstated, but in view of loosing the top tier of its characters to other studios, Marvel being forced to use its secondary characters has been proven its greatest boon. From RDJ's Iron Man to Evans' Captain America and to Johansson's Black Widow, those ex-not-so-popular properties have massed a dragon's horde for the studio. And that holds true for none more than the GoG. At least with Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, The Avengers and the co. people outside the comic book readership had a merest notion of who or what they are and what they stood for. GoG, in that retrospect, was an utterly alien product. The risk was higher than ever, and the expectations it had to meet was colossal. And Boy, does it deliver!

As a movie GoG has no pretension about what it is, and what it wants to be. An entertainer from beginning to end, it strives to keep you seated and hooked on the screen, and succeeds for the most part. The story centers around Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), abducted from Earth at a very young age after his mother's death, and grown up to be this galactic marauder with a distinctive taste in music. As he steals the not-so-figurative orb of plot device, we, the audience, are thrown into the midst of action through engaging storytelling, which, at the same time, is both crisp and clear. Within half an  hour we are introduced to the rest of the roster: Gamora(Zoe Saldana), the adopted daughter of mad titan Thanos, Rocket (voiced by Bradly Cooper), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and Drax, the Destroyer, the 'Walking Thesaurus' (Dave Bautista), who belongs to a race, that according to Rocket cannot comprehend, let alone use, metaphors. This unseemly bunch of thieves, thugs, assassins, and maniacs are pitted against Lee Pace's Ronan, the Accusar; a radical extremist from the highly militaristic race of Krees. Also in the fray are Karen Gillian's Nebula, Michael Rooker's Yondu Udonta, and Thanos himself (voiced by an uncredited Josh Brolin).

To an extent, GoG is a road movie, which also happens to be a space opera. Gunn masterfully blends these two quite different, and yet in so many ways very similar genres together, creating a vivid sense of insignificance in the vastness of the universe, while still keeping the story rooted into its characters' development. We are also given a glimpse of the outer reach of Marvel's mythology, and if the studio's future projects do get around to explore them, it will be a pioneer territory, as hardly ever before cinema has ventured to answer the big question of 'where we came from',  neither from the perception of science nor of religion.

Pratt's boyish charisma lends credibility to a character who is just not a likable rogue, but we root for him from the very first moment as he browses through the ruins of the abandoned planet Morag, with 'Come and Get Your Love' playing from his Sony walkman, and the opening credits rolling. There have been comparisons made between Quill, who stubbornly insists to be called Starlord time after time from people after people, and Han Solo himself. And yes, to a degree, it makes sense. But the major difference is that, in the first movie of the second trilogy, Solo while one of the protagonist, wasn't necessarily the one with whom we were supposed to relate. Quill, on the other hand, in the sea of aliens with superpowers, and aliens with strange idiosyncrasies, serves that very purpose.

Saldana is as good as a green alien warrior of awesomeness as she was as a blue alien warrior of awesomeness. Is she being typecasted, who knows. But if the result of that is playing the pivotal female leads in the biggest summer blockbusters, then why the heck not? Diesel, as always, is a revelation outside his action-adventure comfort zone. This is the second time (after The Iron Giant) he has proven the less can amount to so much more. With only three words. arranged always in a similar order, the man brings forth a kaleidoscope of emotions.  As he says them that one last time, we can't help but whisper along with him, our eyes hardly remaining dry. Bautista, even if the weakest link as an actor, still manages to fulfill the role he was meant to, the perfect juxtaposition of humor and pathos.

It is that juxtaposition which saves the gun-slinging, foul mouthed raccoon, and in turn the movie itself, from becoming a caricature, and to stand out as a continuation of the superhero genre. Cooper, in his brilliant, cohesive, fast-talking, obnoxious best explores the classic nuisances of an anit-hero. Somberness is often succeeded by pure sarcasm, self-destructive, self-serving psychosis reluctantly ascending to heroism. It is also that same humor and pathos, or lack thereof, that makes the villain of the story the single biggest flaw about the movie. And that is frankly, confusing. Lee Pace surely has the range, if his past works are any proof. Why not allow him the same levity as the rest of the cast, and instead make him yet another generic baddie with no depth whatsoever?

Overall, GoG gets a solid A for its script, direction, graphics, and acting, and for its unusual and nostalgic soundtrack. If there are small gripes here and there, well, that's what the sequels are for.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Holy Batman: It's Diana, princess of Themyscira!

One of the many fantabulous things that came out of this year’s SDCC, perhaps the most eagerly anticipated was the first look at Wonder Woman in Batman vs Superman : Dawn of Justice. While there had been no official word if they would showcase anything, the expectation had been indeed high. As the platform was appropriate  and it is the same that Snyder had used last year to shout out to the world of what he was venturing out to do. So this time he walked into the stage in his usual gait radiating confidence and no slight amount of arrogance, and within moments the man had the crowd well wrapped around his finger. What followed didn't disappoint.
No matter what his critics say about Snyder, there is an unanimous conclusion, generally, that his movies look damn good. Within minutes we were teased with a fraction of video featuring both Bruce and Clark, locking glowing eyes, surrounded by the Bat-Signal, Gotham at night and an ominous cloud formation. Now, it might be a part of the movie itself, or simply something they put together to show to the audience at the comic con, and keep the interest at sky high. Doesn’t particularly matter, either way, really. Because that less than a minute teaser have us now by hook, line and sinker. It is everything that these kinds of promos supposed to be. Short and sweet and promising.
Then the big reveal came and wallah, lo and behold, we had our first look at Wonder Woman.
My first reaction was probably along the lines of most fans out there, which is, ‘Meh, too drab!’  But just about the color schemes mind you, about the rest, I was in profound awe. But then I learned it was filtered brown like every other promotional pictures Snyder has published over the years. The real image without filtering looks like this:
In coming weeks, months, there will be a lot of discussion,  a lot of argument, for and against this version of the princess of Themyscira. Personally I love everything about the costume; from the dark blue skirt, to the engraved sword, from the down-reaching tiara to the beaten bronze armor. I love the complete lack of American flag motif. She is just not an American heroine anymore, rather she has become an inspiration to the entire world. Heck, I even love the wedges and that she is having a not too great hair day.
And I love, love, LOVE, the person wearing it.
There is a surreal peacefulness about the way Gadot is beautiful. There is not a singular trace of harshness in her feature. As if it is, and she is, completely untouched by the absurdities of the real world. Perhaps it is that innocence which led Snyder to cast her to begin with. Diana, beyond being a warrior princess, and a superheroine, is a woman of duality. And many of those traits resonate from Diana’s ethereal appearance.
So here we are, we have our trinity and 2016 can’t come soon enough.

#wonderwoman, #batman, #superman, #galgadot, #DCComics, #BatmanVSuperman:DawnofJustice.