Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Movie review: Ant-Man (2015) - fresh air in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Ant-Man has always been one of the weirdest comic book heroes created by Marvel. Although his super powers are ridiculous in comparison with his peers, which includes hammer-wielding alien gods and superhuman captains, he is still considered a formidable opponent in his own universe. Imagine this: a man can reduce his size to ant-like dimensions while retaining his human strength and even gaining super strength, and he can also communicate with all kinds of insects which serve as his loyal army. In doing so, he can also do various gross things such as riding bugs, straddling red ants and things that would give any kid nightmares, which says a lot about Marvel's marketing strategy.

Dat suit!!

Of course, in today's world, this automatically equates to a big budget - although in this case the budget was a "mere" $130 million compared to its more illustrious comrades such as The Avengers, Iron-Man and Captain America. Funnily enough, this may well turn out to be the best Marvel movie ever released, which goes a long way in proving the fact that it's not how much money you spend to make the film, but how you end up doing it.

Ant-Man's plot is simple or complex depending on who you are and what you expect from the movie.

Here's how it plays: there's a guy who gets to wear a suit that gives him the power to reduce his size in a jiffy and be awesome.

If you are new to the Ant-Man universe, it's a very basic story with no mind-numbing revelations and an easy one to sink into.

If however you are a huge Ant-Man fan (very unlikely in Mauritius), have read all the comics and talk to insects during your free time, you may feel annoyed that the movie actually focuses on the second generation Ant-Man, but even then, the movie does a great job at also including the original Ant-Man (played by Michael Douglas).

The plot may seem weak, but it's actually really solid, faithful to the source material and fun to sink into. In an ever-expanding Marvel colony, it is hard to find a movie that is actually fun to watch and not just about earning as much money as possible while putting cheesy scenes onto another (yes, I'm looking at you Avengers).  There was also much talk about Ant-Man not having a top billing character as the lead as the hero is played by Paul Rudd. Sure, he's a not a world renowned actor but he pulls off a great job. I personally think this actually works out in favour of the movie as more emphasis is thus put onto the action rather than ensuring that the actor comes out shining like bright light in every scene (yes, I'm looking at you Tom Cruise).

However, this is not only the good thing about Ant-Man. The action is great, the editing is perfect - and this is very high praise for a Marvel movie, I kid you not. This is probably Marvel's finest effort in their gigantic cinematic universe, even beyond the first Iron-Man and basically the only movie I enjoyed watching in a cinema in Mauritius this year (my fault: I missed out on the awesome Mad Max). In other words, if you have not watched it, do so as soon as it's out on Bluray, DVD or whatever.

The good: everything!

The bad: it's no longer in theatres. They should just get rid of all the crap that's playing right now, and play Ant-Man again.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is out soon

Metal Gear Solid V:The Phantom Pain, one of the most anticipated games of the decade, if not the century, is coming out on September 1. The gaming world is already in a frenzy about the release of the latest instalment of one of the most discussed video games. The fact that Hideo Kojima, the revered creator of the Metal Gear series, has been forced out of Konami and this is their last collaboration is also a factor which has contributed to an even larger buzz around the release of The Phantom Pain.


Reviews of the game have actually already been posted, and all of them have been positive. Of course, this is not very surprising as the Metal Gear franchise is acclaimed for its quality and exceptional plot (albeit with very long cutscenes in the previous title. Many are in fact predicting that the release of the game will cause PlayStation 4 sales to increase as many gamers will want to experience it on the latest console and video game is serious business!

Personally, I'm sticking to the PlayStation 3 version. Call me silly, but I don't see the thrill of buying a console for a single game. But then I've been known to change my mind before, and I'm already giggling like a little girl at the prospect of an open world Metal Gear game.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Movie review: Fantastic Four (2015) - yes folks, it's bad

Comic book adaptations are the rage nowadays. And since they make big money in spite of being fairly crap, studios are releasing numerous movies to create the gigantic Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) so that they can make tons of money. They can then use this money to make even worse movies about superheroes being dumb.

Fantastic Four is the latest such movie to be released in theatres in Mauritius. So how does this new Marvel product fare?

Not very Fantastic.

Note: this review contains spoilers.

The good
At around 90 minutes, it's a fairly short movie by today's standards. This is an extremely important positive thing about Fantastic Four as you'll see later on during this review.

The bad
For everybody's convenience and especially mine, I am going to make this into a list. There are so many bad ideas about this new adaptation of Fantastic Four, I'm surprised the studio went ahead with its release.

1. The Fantastic Four team is fairly young - probably to attract young audiences more easily. This may be a great marketing tactic but it changes everything about the story. When the Fantastic Four comic was first released, one of its main strengths was the fact that Reed Richards, the self-proclaimed leader of the team, was a middle-aged man. By turning Reed into a 18-year-old hipster teen, the movie is essentially ignoring the franchise's true fans.

2. The cast is bad. Really, really bad. The same can be said about many Marvel Movies but they at least had great actors who make the experience bearable such as James Spade as Ultron in the last Avengers movie, Robert Downing Jr. in any Avenger movie or Hugh Jackman in anything X-men but Fantastic Four lacks even top billing, which is crazy for a multi-million budget summer flick. Even Ant-man had Paul Rudd who, although not an A-lister, is well-known and has something of a cult following.

3. How hard is it to get Doctor Doom right? I was not a big Fantastic Four comic book reader but even I know that Doctor Doom is widely considered one of the best Marvel villains ever created as he is more of a "good ideas but bad implementation"-type antagonist. He's probably one of the biggest comic book icons ever created. However, the Doctor Doom in this movie does not even have a motive for his actions (ie, the usual destruction of the world) and has no charisma. Also, he's not even called Doctor Doom, but just Doom as he proclaims himself during the movie.

4. The plot of Fantastic Four makes absolutely no sense and has horrifying moments even for a comic book adaptation. Here are some examples:

  • Reed Richards and Ben Grimm (Thing) are hired during a school exposition to build upon their idea of a transporter. I'm sure I would also trail colleges looking for my next employees if I was in charge of critical research costing billions of dollars.
  • Johnny Storm (Human Torch) cannot even build his car to not explode but is forced by his father to join the team because "he can build things".
  • When Reed is reunited with his friends after they get their powers, he never once apologizes to them for the accident and acts as if he's in charge. Even worse, other than Ben, the others do not have anything to say about his arrogance and merely follow his lead.
  • Ben just accepts the changes to his body pretty quickly - there is nothing of the anguish seen in the previous Fantastic Four movie.
  • During the final fight (also known as the only fight), Doom miraculously knows that Sue Storm can turn herself invisible although he's never seen her display these powers.
  • One of the "best" scenes from the trailer, where the Things drop from a plane is not even included in the final cut. Talk about a case of false advertising.
5. There is no character development at all in Fantastic Four. We are supposed to relate to characters we know absolutely nothing about other than the facts that one is a genius (Reed), one gets clobbered by his older brother (Thing), one is adopted and "understands patterns" (Sue), and one can build things (Johnny). At various points throughout the movie, some scenes point to character development at later stages but these never happen (just like the trailer scene mentioned above).

6. The movie tries to adopt a serious tone, probably in response to the criticisms of other Marvel movies but this never truly works. This is due to a number of reasons including the bad pacing, the poor quality of the screenplay, and the lack of character development. In the Marvel universe, the Netflix show Daredevil is the only one that successfully pulled this off and is absolutely incredible. If you hate series and are looking for a more serious comic book movie, look no further that Nolan's critically acclaimed Batman trilogy.

7. The Fantastic Four feels like two movies. The first half is bad but still watchable as long as you don't go in expecting Interstellar-level direction (one of my next reviews - shameless plug). However, once they get their powers, everything feels rushed and the movie degenerates into a mindless cheesy action trailer. It's almost as if another director took over at that point and did not care about the project.

The worse
Apparently, there's going to be a sequel.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

LinkedIn endorsements are stupid

When LinkedIn launched the concept of Skills Endorsements, a lot of social media professionals, including me, said it was a bad idea and that the concept of public testimonials was more than enough to indicate a user's skills. The argument was that the Endorsements would basically be like Facebook Likes, turn into a popularity contest and would end up hurting LinkedIn in the long run.

While we have not yet gotten to that stage, what percentage of recruiters and head hunters actually pay credence to the number of endorsements listed on a user's profile? I have professional peers, past colleagues and former students often endorsing me, which is great as I've worked with them and their feedback means a lot to me.

However, I've also been receiving endorsements from users, based both in Mauritius and abroad, who have never worked with me and don't know anything about me other than what I've decided to put up on my profile. Do they expect me to reciprocate and endorse them too? The fact is that unless I have personally worked with someone and admire their work, I will never endorse them as it would also reflect badly on me. 

This does even even take into consideration the fact that LinkedIn's endorsements are basically generated and populated by the users. For example, I have been endorsed for both "Social Media" and "Social Media Marketing" when they are the same thing. Or does the "Social Media" one simply mean that I'm good at just maintaining my personal profile on Facebook. But then the endorsement would still be a terrible one as I rarely log into my Facebook account, less alone post anything, and closed my Twitter account several months ago.

Unfortunately, I cannot just turn off the endorsements (LinkedIn does have the option) as this would mean weeding out those that I feel I've deserved from my colleagues and other people I have worked with. The ability to management endorsements and show only those I want is also great but it gets cumbersome after some time and feels more like an option to get me to log in daily.

Which I'm totally not doing!


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Book review: The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark

I blogged before about the Alliance Fran├žaise library membership and was there last week to exchange my books. There's a rather big collection of Mary Higgins Clark books there (in French, obviously) and I reckon I'd give her a try since she's a very popular author. I did read a couple of books by Mary Higgins Clark before but do not remember much about these. Since the books were so conveniently lined up before me, I grabbed two books at random.

One of these was The Lost Years, which I read in 4 days. Yes, I'm that fast of a reader but I have to admit that after reading about 100 pages, I started skipping through some chapters because the book was very badly written, boring and also a huge waste of time I will never get back. I admit I was personally very surprised by how bland the book was. Considering Mary Higgins Clark's reputation, I was expecting something very good and a book that would leave me figuring out who the murderer was until the end.

Lost indeed
However, there's absolutely nothing to like about the book. The text is poorly written with over-explanations of things not relevant to the main plot, the introduction of tons of filler characters (as an example, characters are still being introduced around three-quarter of the book), and a brutal assault on the English text which must have Charles Dickens rolling in his grave. I have not read a book such badly written since Harry Potter - the only difference is that the Potter books are fun while this one is tedious.

Here's an example of a BRILLIANT sentence taken directly from The Lost Years:
"She changed from her skirt and jacket into a cotton sweater, slacks, and sandals, and went back downstairs. She went into the kitchen, made a cup of tea, and carried it into the breakfast room. There she settled into one of the comfortable padded chairs and leaned back with a sigh."

And here's by far the best part of the book:

"It’s been handled by many people over the centuries, but there is a single DNA sample on it that is extraordinary. This unique DNA carries chromosomes with only the traits of a mother, who has to be the Virgin Mary. He had no human father." 

Yes folks, DNA tests have been around since the Virgin Mary era!

At one point, Mary Higgins Clark even introduces some old lady who has nothing better to do than taking herself for a detective and even ends up showing the baffled cops how to do their job just like in real life. But worst of all, the ending is absolutely infuriating with no suspense whatsoever and no shocking surprise to keep the reader on the edge of his seat, which is ironic coming from the so-called "Queen of Suspense".

Funnily enough, the book has a four-star rating on Amazon. I don't know what to believe anymore.