January 24, 2014

Fly Over: ‘Age of Ra’, and ‘American Hustle’


In print:

‘Age of Ra’

Some may remember my review of James Lovegrove’s science fiction novel “Age of Aztec,” which had a premise of an Aztecan future too awesome to fail. It did, hard, but I liked the basic idea of an alternate, mythological reality that Lovegrove still had flickering in his head. So, I decided to give the author a second chance with another of his novels, “Age of Ra.” It also failed.
Taking place in a reality alternate to ours, the Egyptian pantheon of gods has taken over the entire planet and separated its territories amongst itself. Combining their ancient culture with advanced technology, many of the gods’ subjects seem happy. However, David Westwynter, a British soldier who fights for the gods Osiris and Isis and, after a disastrous battle with the forces of Nephthys, finds himself in Freegypt, the only secular nation in the world. There, he meets up with a growing revolutionary army led by a mysterious figure dubbed The Lightbringer. For reasons of his own, Westwynter joins them in their fight as the sun god Ra tries to find a way to bring the pantheon’s in-fighting to an end.
All right, as before, this premise had a lot of potential. Egyptian mythology is ripe with conflict (Set killed Osiris, he got better, his son Horus fought Set, etc.), and to have it spread to the world of man would only make it more destructive. While this does happen, most of the story is spent in or around Freegypt with the revolutionaries where I would’ve rather seen much more of the world at large as it deals with the gods’ war.
I really don’t know what else to say about the plot aside from Westwynter’s inner turmoil, which was without a doubt the best part of the book. He seemed to be the only character who looked at the notion of rebelling against the gods logically and the only one who struggled with his beliefs. The Ra storyline, while interesting to read as the different gods interacted, really had no bearing on the rest of the book; Lovegrove could’ve removed the plotline entirely and only two characters would really be affected by it.
I truly did like the character of David Westwynter. His inner turmoil, like I said, was well done and he really comes off as a nice guy who just wants to do what he feels is right. What I also liked was Lovegrove managed to balance the awkward side of him (especially around women) along with that of the dedicated soldier.
The only other two characters I really like were Ra and Anubis, the god of the dead. There’s an entire scene between the two that I thought was the only believable bright spot in the pantheon’s storyline. As for everyone else, I was mostly just indifferent about them. Set, basically the most antagonistic god, had some good development, but the payoff just made me wonder what the point of it all was.
One problem from “Age of Aztec” that I was pleased not to see here was Lovegrove’s organization of dialogue; it was much, much clearer who was talking and when. However, I’m sure Lovegrove is trying to do something new with the gods in how they speak, but I never want to hear Horus call Set a “Ginger Freak” or Geb tell Ra to “shove it where you don’t shine.”
The plot is paced well, though, even if I would’ve liked to see one or two more action scenes, and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some twists to the story that didn’t legitimately surprise me. I have a personal disagreement with Lovegrove’s recurring theme that humans don’t need gods, but here, with Westwynter and the Lightbringer, he does a fine job in relaying it.
To me, there were so many missed and mishandled opportunities in “Age of Ra” that kept me from enjoying it. Will Lovegrove’s next book on my reading list, Age of Voodoo, be any better? I hope so, because these books have too awesome a premise to not be continuously explored. Just … no more Freegypt (it’s like Egypt … only free …).


And in theaters:

‘American Hustle’

Not having cable, I don’t always know what movies to watch, but at the suggestion of a friend, I was convinced to watch “American Hustle.”
The movie is an American crime comedy-drama film directed by David O. Russell and is loosely based on the FBI ABSCAM operation, which initially targeted trafficking in stolen property but was later changed to investigating public corruption in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.
I first watched the trailer on YouTube and was excited to see that Christian Bale would be starring in the movie.
Most of us may know Bale in the Batman movie series, where he is shown as a heroic, muscular and handsome character, but in “American Hustle,” he plays an opposite character.
The movie begins with Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) getting ready and carefully applying hair glue before putting on his toupee. He is shown with not a six-pack, but a beer gut, which I later learned was real and not a special effect.
He meets with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) before going into the room where they meet with the mayor of Camden, N.J., Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). There, DiMaso slides a suitcase of money to Polito and before DiMaso can explain, Polito runs out of the hotel seemingly shocked. Instantly, Rosenfeld scolds DiMaso before running after Polito. It’s unknown what role each person plays and what’s going on. Time rolls back for the viewer to see what events have led up to the scene in the hotel.
In flashbacks, Rosenfeld meets Prosser at a pool party. Prosser, a young woman from Albuquerque, N.M., has dreams of being successful and living a glamorous lifestyle. The pair quickly fall in love and that’s when Rosenfeld, owner of several laundromats, confesses to Prosser he’s a con artist. He has people give him a down payment for a loan he will never actually give them. At first Prosser walks out on him. As Rosenfeld freaks out fearing he’s ruined it with her, she walks back in speaking with an English accent and introduces herself as Lady Edith, a Londoner with superior banking connections. They become partners and go from average to extravagant cons as Prosser boosts the scam’s numbers and size. Their life is seemingly perfect until reality hits – Rosenfeld has a wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and a son.
Rosalyn is a loud-mouthed, fake-tanned woman, who stays home all day and uses her son to prevent a divorce. Throughout the movie, Prosser questions if Rosenfeld is using her and really doesn’t love her. Rosenfeld fights to keep both women. He says he can’t leave his wife or he’ll lose his son.
Getting back to the scam, the day starts like any other for Rosenfeld and Prosser, who thought they were getting away with another con. Surprisingly, they are caught by DiMaso, a hot-tempered, curly haired FBI agent. DiMaso offers to not press charges against them as long as they teach him their ways and help him in busting higher-profiled criminals. They agree and the rest of the movie leaves the audience constantly guessing who is truly being conned.
The movie is so entertaining that you won’t notice it’s 138 minutes in length. It has romance, comedy and mystery, and just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, another twist is added throwing you off.
Bale is very believable in not only his acting but also in his appearance, since he added on an extra 43 pounds for the role. Additionally, I was impressed with Cooper who was excellent as DiMaso, a man who lives a very ordinary, depressing life at home but begins to relish making a name for himself in the FBI by conning men of extreme power.
I would definitely watch this movie again and would recommend it to those who like a bit of mystery mixed in with comedy.
“American Hustle” is rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and brief violence.

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