Review: The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

The phrase “page-turner” is easily banded about these days, but Evan Winter’s debut fantasy novel earns the accolade.

Set in a mystical fantasy world, filled with Dragons, giant lizards, magic and an endless war The Rage of Dragons manages to deliver one of the most human and relatable fantasy epics in recent memory.

Rather relying on characters that are larger than life and wholly unattainable, Evan Winter creates a world populated with emotionally driven characters who, like all of us, have their own unique flaws and motivation.

The protagonist of the story, a commoner called Tau Solarin is the perfect example of a flawed individual. Rather than being the often-trod paragon of virtue that you can find in many, especially older, fantasy tales Tau is instead a young man who often does the wrong things for the wrong reasons. Despite us seeing the world through his eyes, thanks to Winter’s writing we are both able to understand Tau and disagree with his actions. Creating the perfectly balanced and compelling character that makes you want to keep reading, to keep turning the pages to see how their story continues to unravel.

And therein lies the biggest strength of The Rage of Dragons. Beyond the compelling protagonists and the fleshed out ensembles of characters that surround them, beyond the well realised world that is unlike any that have come before and beyond the intricately woven rules of the magic that takes our characters quite literally to another plane of existence. The strength of this novel lies in its story. Evan Winter does an expert job of keeping the reader focussed on Tau and his personal story of revenge. Then as if being jabbed with a hidden blade Winter exposes the reader to the wider connotations, the grander paths of subterfuge, betrayal and loss. The story appears to take the right step at every single turn in the path and I cannot fault any directions that Winter decided to opt for.

I would be doing a disservice to the novel if I finished this review before mentioning the love story. Yes, like most stories The Rage of Dragons does indeed feature a love story. One that at first I felt was both forced and unnecessary. But I am happy to admit when I am wrong, and by the end of the novel Winter had successfully caught me in a spun web of young love.

Everything flows near perfectly, and it’s almost astonishing to think that this is Evan Winter’s first foray into the realm of fantasy. I dare to say that this series could be something special. Get in there now and read The Rage of Dragons before it becomes something much larger. Hold on to that and brag to your friends in a few years time that you were a part of this world before it was cool.

Book 2 of The Burning can’t come soon enough and you can now consider me a full-blooded Indlovu, I am now part of this world.

Final Score: 9/10 Porgs

Review: Westworld Season 2. Episode 1

After what feels like an eternity of waiting, Westworld has returned to our screens to bring violent ends to these violent delights.

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Westworld Season 1 ended with a multitude of questions that still needed answering. Whilst we do receive a small handful of answers to kick-start the new season, Episode 1 unfortunately leaves us with two new questions for every one we have answered. It’s in this vein that the episode finds its core thread, it’s a new beginning both for the TV show itself and the characters within.

It’s an episode that deals with self-discovery on quite a large scale. Whilst the story of Bernard took center-stage, the motif of self-awareness ran strong throughout every storyline and I find it highly doubtful that this theme will suddenly dissipate in the coming weeks.

The episode itself, whilst intriguing in the numerous plot points it established, was slow at times. Despite being an hour and a half long episode, it didn’t feel the need to rush events too far. Instead it took a slower approach to proceedings, giving characters plenty of time to re-establish themselves with the audience. What did disappoint however was that new characters were often given one line introductions and then left to sink or swim. Gustaf Skarsgård’s new character Karl Strand, Head of Operations for Delos, feels highly important to this seasons storyline, but received little in the way of introduction or fleshing out. This isn’t unheard of for Westworld though as season 1 was inherently a very slow show until the latter stages. I have enough faith in the character work shown by the show so far that all these characters will be given enough time to fully develop in future episodes.

So, unsurprisingly, it was characters of old who stole the show this week. As always the acting was fantastic across the board, but it was great to see Evan Rachel Wood depict a much darker version of Dolores Abernathy. If I was a betting man I would say that her relationship with James Marsden’s character, Teddy Flood, will be one of the better threads of the season. It’s also worth noting that The Man in Black once again had an episode stealing scene, this time with the younger version of Robert Ford.

I’m certainly intrigued to see where the story takes us across the course of Season 2. The time-jumping is also something that makes it openly different to Season 1, as rather than secretly installing different timelines, the show is instead using them as a device for confusion and to engage attention.

Roll on Episode 2 and let’s just hope that now we’re fully integrated back into the world, things can pick up slightly quicker than they did in Season 1.

Final Score: 8/10 Porgs

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Review: A Quiet Place

Director: John Krasinski
Writers: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski
Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe

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A Quiet Place is an Oscar-worthy film.

John Krasinski has hit a masterstroke with his feature film directorial debut. Starring, writing and directing a film which he considered something of a personal passion will have helped this film no-end, and having his real life wife Emily Blunt along for the ride to add experience and chemistry only helped to raise this film up from good to great.

Featuring a small cast of 4 people (Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe playing the children of the aforementioned Blunt and Krasinski), set on a farm in the rural landscape of Duchess County, I doubt anyone involved with the production of the film would realise what a hit they had on their hands.

Debuting at the box-office with numbers similar to that of Ready Player One, a film which cost roughly $150m more to make, the debut film for Krasinski has already more than tripled its meager budget of $17m.

It’s hard to decide where to start with the positives of this film. Every member of the cast do an outstanding job and it’s hard to tell you exactly who the lead of the film is because all 4 characters are central to the story and family connection that the film is built around. Many people are quick to criticise child actors, but Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe are absolute stars here. Selling their fear to absolute perfection, they at no point feel out of place or outshone. Krasinski does a wonderful job in the caretaker role, playing the protective and loving father to perfection. But it’s Emily Blunt who steals the show with her performance, including one scene in particular that should call for her to be nominated in the Best Actress category come 2019.

It would be remiss of me to not mention the use of sound throughout the film, the entire premise of what this cinema experience is built on. The film makes quick work of establishing the rules of the world within which it is set; what constitutes too much noise, what noises can be heard by what camera shots, and by extension what can be heard by the lurking monsters. Hopefully you get lucky and see this film with either an empty audience or a well behaved one. Having someone talking during this movie is likely to ruin the experience, which is entirely built around there being no sound in the movie and thus in the audience either, otherwise you run the risk of detracting from the tension and story that is being told on screen.

There is very little dialogue in this movie, nearly all communication is done through sign language and facial expressions, which only serves to heighten the performance of the actors involved. But what sound is used, is done so masterfully. I imagine that this film is a sound team’s wet dream, as they were able to focus on the minutia of what the audience should be hearing, and when the time came for loud noises and action, they were able to pull it off without losing any of the tension felt during quiet moments. Again, I would be incredibly surprised not to see this film get the nod for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing throughout the next award season.

All in all a near perfect movie, the action pieces were well directed, the pacing went at a frenetic pace but didn’t sacrifice character development to achieve it and the cinematography was really good, although I would have liked more landscape shots of the farmland, just to add a little further context to their surroundings outside the farm itself.

I tip my hat to John Krasinksi and everyone else involved in the creation of this film, because it’s not only the best horror film to come out in years, but it’s generally just one of the best films period over the past handful of years. Here’s hoping that this wasn’t just beginner’s luck for Krasinki and that he can go on to be one of the next great directors.

Final Score: 9/10 Porgs

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Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising

Director: Steven S. DeKnight
Writers: Steven S. DeKnight, Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder and T.S. Nowlin
Starring: John Boyega

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Pacific Rim: Uprising is a fun ride, but one that never quite lives up to the legacy of the first film.

The original Pacific Rim was always an odd one. It was one of those films that you either loved or hated, with very few people seeming to fall in the middle. It was an anime turned live action movie, with over the top characters and classical tropes such as giant robots fighting giant monsters. But Uprising seems to tone down aspects of the story that are grounded in anime and I think it falls short of the original because of it.

John Boyega as the lead character is certainly more enjoyable as a lead than Charlie Hunnam in the original, but at the same time I feel as though his character still lacks any depth. A very vague backstory of conflict with his father does not make a character and it’s that tired and told storyline that the film leans too heavily on for emotional context. Similarly for Cailee Spaeny’s character who has a one scene backstory that barely serves any purpose in the film.

What the film does well is try to add further depth and context to the original. Trying to answer the question of what exactly were the goals of the Kaiju during the first movie. Unfortunately, these are questions that nobody was asking. Rather than giving us backstory or further expansion of the alien race who sent the giant monsters to Earth in the first place, we are instead teased that reveal for a 3rd film and in its place offered a half-hearted attempt to give the Kaiju direction and meaning which creates as many plot holes and it tries to answer.

Everything about the story feels like grand concepts with poor execution, there are multiple story-threads which happen with no real explanation and even more which the writers try to give an explanation for but it falls completely flat and makes little sense.

Perhaps it was because the film opted to go for the Stargate Universe route of a sequel, bringing in a much younger cast than the original, but it just didn’t resonate with me as much as the first film did. The directing felt off-par, particularly the fight scenes which were far less memorable than the first film.

With that being said, the music was still great and there were still some moments that managed to get my blood pumping. The series will always be a good time if you just want to turn your brain off for a while and enjoy some robots and giant monsters, without worrying too much about a cohesive story.

Final Score: 6/10 Porgs