Friday, July 7, 2017

Literary Retreat

Dear Readers,

During May I met my dear friend, Farooq Qaisrani, to discuss an idea for a website. That idea has turned into a reality this month:

Literary Retreat is dedicated to the memory of the late film-critic Roger Ebert and his eponymous website. The reviews and star-ratings pay homage to his legendary career.

As you have already assumed from the title, Literary Retreat is a haven for literature lovers. We publish book reviews in every possible category. It doesn't matter when the book was published, or who wrote it, as there is no bias regarding topics on which the articles are written.

The best part is that we have an interview section. Every month we select 1-2 authors from distinct genres to crown them as our Authors for that particular Month. For July we had addiction-horror specialist, Mark Matthews, and I'm certain that he won't be the last wordsmith we'll interact him.

Farooq is responsible for all the advertising and design-related aspects of the website. Abdullah Riaz is the second contributor being a writer himself. And I am the primary content writer.

So enjoy reading the interviews and reviews. Please comment and share the articles as much as you'd like. This is more of an intellectual venture and I hope that all our visitors will leave Literary Retreat with new knowledge gained.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017) - All Hail The King

Kong: Skull Island (2017) is that kind of film where you know what you're in store for, as soon as you take your seat. The opening gross of this feature proved that monster movies are far from dead. And that's not a bad thing.

The following review contains spoilers.

The Plot: Scientists escorted by military personnel, travel to an undiscovered island, where they have to survive in the midst of Kong and other creatures.

The Good: The visuals are too good. This is the best CGI I've seen this year yet. Definitely worth watching in the theater and especially in IMAX. The second-best aspect is undoubtedly the sound effects. Not only is watching the gigantic gorilla enough, but combined with stunning audio, hear the king roar!

We get a sneak peek of Kong early on unlike 2014's Godzilla. It's set in the backdrop of a fight between Japan and America. Setting this movie in war and post-war eras was smart. This showcased that even during man versus man the greatest obstacle is animals.

The action is spectacular. Whether it be Kong brushing away helicopters like flies, or fighting off the "Skullwalkers", the sequences are meant to kickstart adrenaline.

This movie is never boring and perfectly paced. Each scene has its own visual beauty. The cinematography is one of this century's best. And you won't find a better looking monster movie anytime soon. Consider the scenes of the main team entering the island's airspace. The lighting-filled hurricanes top most of the VFX incorporated in disaster movies. And all the creatures were designed immaculately; inspiring awe and fear at the exact same time.

The Bad: Kong is not without its flaws. The ensemble isn't lacking but the characterization sure falls short. Our protagonist is a generic decommissioned special agent, and the heroine is an idealistic anti-war photographer. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are wasted in such limited roles.

Yet Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly manage to stand out. Though Jackson's obsession with killing Kong and Reilly's survival story, seem far-fetched they still make for the most intriguing subplots for a storyline that is heavily clichéd.

And some parts, such as the introduction of multiple carnivorous creatures showcased through jump scares, were painfully predictable. The ultimate showdown between Kong and the biggest Skullwalker works as a redeemable effort.

The Verdict: Kong: Skull Island is the best monster movie in decades. It's visually pleasing and keeps you at the edge of your seat throughout the 118 minutes duration. Plus it makes the most of Jackson's screentime, and as an action fan, you couldn't ask for more.

The Rating: 3 out of 4.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Logan (2017) - One Last Time

Hugh Jackman hangs up his claws in his last outing as the titular character in Logan (2017). The following review contains spoilers:

The Plot: The year is 2029 and almost all the mutants in the world have become extinct. The survivors are Wolverine, Professor Xavier and Caliban. But when Professor X gives a hint to Logan that a new mutant has emerged, it seems that there is still hope for their kind.

 (First poster by CAMW1N on DeviantArt)

The Good: Firstly, the action is unparalleled by other superhero ventures. This Wolverine feature finally got an R-rating, and though it's a bit equal to Deadpool in terms of blood spilling, the latter does not share the former's serious level of gore.

We get a taste of what the overall action will be in the beginning. Logan is busy sleeping in his limousine when he's awakened by the sound of a gang stealing his vehicle's tires. He gets out of the car and badly mutilates almost all of them. This scene does two things: One, as I earlier mentioned, it allows us to see what's in store for the razor-sharpened sequences. Two, we realize that Wolverine is not at his prime anymore. So, it was a smart move by the director to incorporate this scene at the starting point.

Logan director James Mangold is also responsible for the previous Wolverine entry titled The Wolverine (2013). It's been four years since the last one but it was well worth the wait. Whereas X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) was a popcorn flick that didn't do justice at all to the titular character, The Wolverine was far superior, and I consider it one of the foremost X-Men movies.

Mangold continues his directorial brilliance with this farewell to the character. It doesn't even look like a superhero movie. It's more like that kind of film where the main character just wants to drink themselves to death. Still, the desert landscapes and casinos complement the desolation of Wolverine and what's left of the mutants. In previous X-Men films we saw hope with the inclusion of the X-Mansion. But here the cinematography by John Mathieson is depressingly perfect. There is no better way to showcase a dystopian world in terms of a comic-book adaptation better than Logan.

The movie is based on the graphic novel Old Man Logan written by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven. And though there are many differences between the comic book's plot and the film's storyline, screenwriters Scott Frank and Michael Green did a top-notch job in the writing department. Mangold is also credited with the story idea for this exhibition.

The second-best aspect of Logan is undoubtedly the acting. Hugh Jackman deserves another Oscar nod for his portrayal of one of Marvel Comics' greatest anti-heroes. After 17 years of portraying Wolverine, he didn't let fans down with his ultimate enactment. In my opinion, this was his all-time best movie performance. The make-up and costume design of all the individuals added to the depth of the cinematography. Logan is just a shadow of what he once was in the previous outings. Here, his hair and beard have a hint of gray and his body is badly scarred, and not healing as well as it used to.

(Second poster by CAMW1N on DeviantArt)

Even Patrick Stewart's Professor Xavier is looking his worst. And so is their associate Caliban. Hopelessness is the primary theme of Logan and it's translated so well onto the screen you simply feel like crying. Jackman did his best as Logan whether at moments of joy, sadness or his berserk rage, the thespian gave it his all. Wolverine is my second-favorite comic-book hero with Superman being the first. And to see my sophomore-prized individual portrayed so well gave me tears of joy. The ending of the movie is the most emotional one yet for a superhero picture.

Boyd Holbrook, who was dull and bland in Netflix's Narcos as DEA Agent Steve Murphy, is menacingly on-point as the villain Donald Pierce. Richard E. Grant and Stephen Merchant also gave excellent performances as Doctor Rice and Caliban respectively. What I didn't expect was such awesome acting by the newbie to the franchise, Dafne Keen, who played Laura AKA X-23. She was as wonderful as Jackman and Stewart and I hope to see her in upcoming ventures. 

I could also say that Logan is more of a character-based movie than a narrative one. Sure, there are many twists in the plot as the movie progresses, but our attention is always focused on the road-trip trio. You want to know what will happen to these three primary characters and that suspense is what drives the plot forward. I've been an X-Men fan since I was nine years old and this was an emotional rollercoaster of an action flick for me.

Praise must be given again to the fight sequences. The most thrilling of which were those between Wolverine and X-24. I have to say I didn't see a new Wolverine clone being introduced in the movie. That part where the clone stabs Professor X made me jump in my seat. And Wolverine's emotional outburst after burying his mentor is one of the most sentimental sequences depicted on celluloid.

The Bad: Logan is not without its flaws. There were two main faults: The slow pacing and unexplained events. The former can be forgiven as the gradual pacing does suit the narrative at times, yet at other moments, the movie becomes tediously sluggish. Still, it's a farewell flick, and it wasn't meant to be fast paced.

In case of the following point, there were no flashbacks to depict the backstory. This issue is resolved by dialogues stating that one of Professor Xavier's seizures caused seven mutant deaths at Westchester where the X-Mansion is located. And later on Doctor Rice reveals that he wiped out mutantkind by a virus the Transigen Project created to curb the mutant population and create their own mutants as weapons. Still, those new to the series might not be able to grasp the pre-narrative events until halfway into the running time.

The Verdict: Logan is a must-watch for comic-book fans and non-enthusiasts alike. It's distinct from the typical comic-book adaptations, and its R rating only adds to its uniqueness. It isn't the finest X-Men installment, that honor belongs to Deadpool, but it surely is the penultimate-best one to date.

The Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Just Pray (2016)

Dear Friends,

I recently made a public service announcement and posted it on YouTube. You can check it out here:

(Just Pray)

Do tell me what you thought about it in the comments below. Thanks for watching!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Multiple Personality Disorder (2016)

Dear friends, I'm pleased to announce that I've uploaded my new short film on YouTube. The title is Multiple Personality Disorder and it showcases the main character dealing with this psychological condition.

(Multiple Personality Disorder)

I'm eager to know what you thought about it in the comments below.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Legend of Tarzan doesn't live up to its legacy

Just when you think you've had enough of 2016 summer blockbusters, you come across a film with a recognizable name, but no familiarity with its source material. The Legend of Tarzan (2016) is a movie which would've been better off unproduced.

The Plot: Tarzan and Jane are happily settled in London, but when there's a sudden danger reported in Africa, our protagonist must visit his homeland once more.

The Good and The Bad: I disliked this flick so much that it was difficult for me to find any positivity from it. I reckon that the single saving grace was Samuel L. Jackson's portrayal of George Washington Williams. Jackson showcased humor at the right time. And his sarcasm was spot on just when you'd think there was no hint of versatility in the narrative.

The CGI was bearable, although given its $180 million budget, it could've been better. The animals were sleekly designed and overall the cinematography was average. I preferred the darkened scenes over the lit-up ones. The venture in its 110 minutes duration, heavily relied on style over substance, just like for the casting of the main role.

Alexander Skarsgard looks super awesome as Tarzan yet his acting was like a muscular wax figure had been given the gift of life. Margot Robbie was brilliant as Jane but maybe more so because she suited the role than due to her talent. I was shocked that Christoph Waltz and Djimon Hounsou, both Oscar-nodded actors, wasted their skills in this flick. Waltz looked more like a Bond villain throughout the picture, and Hounsou seemed like he starred just to pass the time as Chief Mbonga.

The script by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer was just bad. There are too many small plotlines incorporated into the central narrative. And not only is the movie's usage of flashbacks generic, but its predictability level is quite high, with the conclusion becoming foreseeable just after the initial hour has passed.

David Yates, the director, should have spent more time adapting the screenplay properly than relying on Jackson and Waltz to shift focus away from the clichés that this feature offered on a grand scale. The characterization was good, the action was moderate, but without a unique take on the story, the end-result was a failure.

The Verdict: To view The Legend of Tarzan as holiday entertainment, and not on a serious note, is the only way it can be watched. It's safe to declare that Hollywood has made Tarzan more of a brand name instead of trying to revive a legacy long forgotten. 

The Rating: 1 out of 4. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Shallows (2016) - A Review

The Shallows (2016) has been generally classified as a horror flick, but it comes out as more of an exhibition of survival.

The Plot: A mere 200 yards from shore, surfer Nancy is attacked by a great white shark, with her short journey to safety becoming the ultimate contest of wills. (IMDb)

The Good: Some years ago I attended a course called Production Practices 1 at my university. There another student asked the professor that what would he do if he had limited resources but wanted to make a proper thriller. The professor told him that if you want to make any kind of feature properly then utilize the resources already at your disposal.

So, that is where The Shallows succeeds brilliantly. It doesn't have much to offer narrative-wise, and by viewing the trailer you could easily see that $17 million as a production cost was intelligently utilized. And the worldwide gross of $99 million ensured that everything paid off. 

These resources not only included the hiring of only one famous thespian, but also that the rest of the cast was smartly included at the right moments. We have Mexican locals as Nancy is an American tourist. And these locals range from the friendly ride-giver, to fellow surfers, and even a drunk middle-aged man (wait for his appearance because it's the funniest sequence in this venture).

Another positive factor is Blake Lively's lead performance as Nancy. Not only does the actress look hot in a bikini but she manages to pull off a strong, will-driven act throughout the 86-minutes duration. The CGI-created shark is also to fear but it's all down to how Nancy will fight to her last breath to survive.

The Bad: However, Anthony Janswinki's script didn't promise more than what you watched in the trailer. Sure, The Shallows has everything a survival picture can offer, but nothing more than what meets the eye. It's a showcase where what you see is ultimately what you get.

The Verdict: In my opinion, I found that The Shallows was not hard to review, but difficult to assign a rating to. If you have high expectations as a veteran viewer then you'll be disappointed, but if you watch it solely for the purpose of entertainment, then it is a satisfying experience.

The Rating: 2.5 out of 4. 

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