Sunday, May 31, 2015

Game of Thrones Episode Review: Hardhome (S5, E8) Spoilers!!



Disclaimer. I have read the books, and I like to compare the show and the books. Be warned, I will give Book spoilers in my discussionJ.
Wow! Let this episode sink in. I just finished the episode, and I am still in shock at how well it was done. The last twenty minutes were so intense, so jammed pack with action and emotion I did not want it to end. I cannot wait for next week. They could have saved the end battle of this episode for the finale, and I would have been happy for the season to end.  It was a great ride this week, and can’t wait to see what is in store for the last few episodes.
We opened up with Tyrion and Daenerys. Tyrion proved himself by offering wisdom. He navigated a tricky situation, by telling Danny to spare killing Jorah, but still send him away because of his initial betrayal, and not telling her when he had multiple chances to do so.  This was a great exchange, and proved once again how smart Tyrion is. Daenerys did not want to kill Jorah, but she felt she must in order to keep her word. Tyrion showed her a justifiable way out. Later in the episode we see them again. Daenerys decides not to kill Tyrion, and to keep him around as counsel. I loved this exchange, as I am sure most fans did. It puts two of the most beloved characters of the series together. BOOK SPOILER: This is something Martin has yet to do in the books. I hope it is as satisfying as it was in the show.
We touch briefly with Arya, who is becoming an oyster merchant. She is given her first assassination assignment after she learns things on the street. I was hoping to see more of Arya in this episode. I could have done without the brief scene with Reek and Sansa, if it meant seeing more of Arya prepping for her assassination. I like Arya’s storyline in the books, but it is not my favorite. Martin seems to make it move slowly. It is one of my favorite in the show.  Maisie Williams is masterful as Arya, and I, at least, want to spend as much time with her as possible. The brief scene we get with Sansa and Reek is important due to the fact Sansa learn Theon did not kill her brothers. Sansa was able to breakthrough to Reek, and hopefully he is finally going to help her escape from the dreadful Ramsay Bolton.
There are a few scenes with Cersei. Book Spoiler:  She is about to break, and confess her sins. They may break from the books, but I can only hope they keep this storyline as is. She gets to make the ultimate walk of shame.  Lena Headey is awesome as Cersei, and has been for the entire show. I love to hate her, and this storyline is not disappointing.
Now for the conclusion. WHAT A FINISH! The build up to the battle was great. The speech Jon gives to win the wildings over is spot on. The only thing which did not ring true was cussing in the middle of it. I don’t mind the cussing, it just didn’t seem a natural part of the speech. This is really my only gripe for the entire last sequence. A very tiny one.  I honestly was not expecting the battle.  I thought we would see them put people on the boats, and check in with another story to end the episode.  Nope, I was wrong, and glad I was. We stick with Jon, and the white walkers attack with all of their zombies.  The final battle is insane, and is shot well. We finally get a Game of Thrones/Walking Dead mashup. While I admit the zombie kills were not the greatest, it was still great to see.  Jon’s valyrian steel sword made mincemeat of a white walker. It works just as well as dragon glassJ. I actually cheered when Jon smashed through him with the sword. It scared my three year old, who was dozing on the couch next to me. I had him give me a high five after he woke up, which he gladly did.
Then we come to the end. I am guessing the white walker at the end is a king, or leader of some kind. It looked like he had a crown of ice around his head, which was actually part of his skull. Very cool!  The sequence with him looking out at Jon, and him starring back was chilling. Then the ice king promptly raises the dead!  It gave me goosebumps, and was the perfect way to top off this week’s episode.  

My Rating: Worthy to watch live. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Super 8 Movie Review (Re-watch): A Modern day kid adventure movie (kind of)


I watched Super 8 two nights ago with my son and his friend who was staying over. I wanted to introduce both of them to a movie they had never seen. This proved more difficult than I initially thought. My son’s friend is quite the movie buff. I was slightly surprised when he said he had not seen Super 8, so we cranked the surround sound, and settled in.
I initially saw Super 8 in the theater, and loved it.  I loved it enough to buy it the day it came out on Blu-ray. I, however, never watched it all the way through again until last night. I know I have streamed the digital copy a couple of times, and I have also stopped and watched it when it was on TV for a few minutes, but never all the way through. Honestly I am not sure why, other than I own way too many movies, and it just is not one I think about re-watching on a regular basis.  Watching it completely for a second time proved it still holds up, and it is a worthy addition to anyone’s movie collection.
The main premise of the movie is a bunch of kids, who are making their own movie, get involved in an Air Force alien cover up after they witness the alien escape, due to a train crash. What makes the movie great is the kid actors, and how JJ Abrams directed them in the movie. They acted like middle school kids act. They cussed and ripped on each other. They got jealous over crushes. In short, the interaction rang true to real life.  A great example is how the kids interact around parents. The main character, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), says yes sir and no mam addressing his friends parents, but isn’t afraid to let the cuss words fly around his friends. It is completely appropriate, and I loved the authentic feel it gave the movie.
This movie really recaptured the magic of the kid adventure movies from the 80s. From Goonies, The Explorers, or Stand by Me, this movie rekindles the spirt of those types of movies from those days (ugh I used “those days”). While I would not let younger kids watch the movie for its language, older middle school kids could watch. Be honest, they are using the language, the same as the kids in the movie, just behind your back (like any respectable pre-teen should).  
The movie is fast paced, with just the right amount of sentimental value to make you care for our lead characters. Elle Fanning is great as the main female lead. She really could carry the movie on her own. Great casting choice, I know she has been in a few more things since Super 8. I have not seen many, but I cannot imagine her not doing well for years to come. The action is spot on and believable. The train crash scene is amazing, and really played well on my surround sound last night. My wife complained when she got home that she could hear the movie outside. My response was: So?  Leading up to the train scene the kids are prepping for a scene in their own movie. This is where I noticed JJ Abrams love of lens flares. To be honest I started looking for them here, and noticed them. After this scene I did not look for them again, I know there are probably dozens, but they did not pull me out of the movie.
I did not care for the CG of the alien in the movie. You don’t see the alien a ton in the movie, only close to end. I am ok with this aspect. It added a bit of mystery and horror to the movie which I enjoyed. The CG when we did see him is not up to par, and it does not hold up well today. Maybe it is just dated from 2011, but that isn’t long ago. Maybe there where budget restraints, and they could not use much CG. I don’t think this is the case.  They were able to turn a town into a late 1970s, early 80s version of itself, that doesn’t seem cheap to me. The CG is not a deal breaker, could have been better, but it does not take away from the rest of the movie.
While I liked the movie being set in the late 70s or early 80s, I think I may have preferred a modern day setting looking back now.  My first watch I loved the setting, but watching it with the boys they asked me a few question about how things are portrayed in the movie. For example: Did everyone have CBs in their cars (Yes those where pre-historic cellphones)? And, why did the lady bring up the Russians during the town meeting (Please watch the original Red Dawn for information on this topic)? I know the movie was not intended for kids, it was geared towards kids who grew up in the 80s. Looking back, this could have been this generations Goonies, or ET. It has that fun vibe, and set in a modern setting it could have captured a wider audience, and been more relatable to today’s generation. The boys both really liked the movie, but I don’t know if they would ask to watch it again.   
In the end Super 8 is a fun movie which I am glad I own, and hopefully will re-watch it more times over the next few years. Anyone have any favorite adventure movies from the 80s? What are they?  I snuck two of my favorites in the review, Goonies and The Explorers.
My Rating: Must Buy
·                   Must Buy
·                   Must see in Theaters/Will stop and watch every time on TV
·                   Rentable
·                   Wait for HBO release
·                   Has a good scene or two. 
·                   Don't Bother

·                   Craptaculur (Guilty pleasure)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Golden Sun: Book II of the Red Rising Trilogy, by Pierce Brown: Book Review


This will assume you have read this the first book of the trilogy, and know the character’s names and plots from the first bookJ.
If one word could sum up Golden Sun it would be, predictable. I still enjoyed the characters, the overall story arc, and the world the story is set in. The big glaring issue with the book is its predictability. Maybe it is just me, but I found I knew what was going to happen with characters five to ten chapters before Brown got around to finally making it happen. There is one glaring example of this, in fact, I was hoping Brown was going to throw me for a loop. He could have made the character not do what he had hinted at for almost the entire book. In the end he did what he had hinted at, and the book went according to plan. The issue is these parts are supposed to be surprising. I guess they are supposed to be surprising for Darrow, but if he knew his friends, they should not be.
To summarize the plot, some slight spoilers follow. We find Darrow a couple of years after we left him. He is getting ready to graduate from the fleet academy. He fails to take top prize at the school, and as a result falls out of favor with Augustus. Darrow must find a way back into Augustus favor so he can continue to try and bring down the Gold society from within. He is able to reestablish his favor, and in doing so, kicks off a civil war. Darrow hopes that by starting the civil war it will spark the other castes in the society to rise up, and reform and rebellion will ensue.
The intriguing part of the book is Darrow’s character development. He feels utterly alone, and Brown does a great job of showing how isolated Darrow feels. Spoiler: Darrow revels he is a Red to Sevro. It is an extremely touching well written exchange in the book. Darrow has not been able to find the Sons of Ares, and he is not sure what he is supposed to be doing. He is adrift with no true purpose. When he is finally able to revel his true self to one of his Gold friends, Darrow breaks down. It is great job of writing, the feeling jumps off the page.  This is the part of the book which really shines. The development of Darrow is spectacular. He grows as a person through his struggles and triumphs, and Brown should be commended for how he makes the character change in the novel.
I like the plot, and the action is top notch. Brown does a great job writing the action, and you never feel lost while it is going on. The action in this book was more developed and improved from the first novel. There is only one spot in the novel that did not think add to the overall story. I will not go into detail, but Darrow meets up with Harmony, Mickey, and Evey in the first third of the novel. This story line does not really add any substance to the overall plot. It could have been cut, or maybe changed so it would have had more impact on the novel overall.  This one small point is all I had to quibble with the plot, and the pace of the book.
So why, if I like the plot, would I classify the book as predictable? It simply is. You know who is going to pop up, who is going to die, and who is going to backstab our hero.  It is still a great read and kept me entertained. I am invested in the character, and I want to find out how Brown gets us to the end point. Slight Spoiler:  A few characters betray Darrow during the course of the story. Not saying which ones, but you will be able to figure it out. One instance is extremely obvious. While the action was unfolding you know the character is going to betray Darrow. It is just in the characters nature. Darrow should have known, and it was out of character for Darrow not to know. This is the only part of Darrow’s character development which did not mesh well with his other growth. Brown may be trying to show how much Darrow trusted his friends, when he shouldn’t have.

The book is more about the journey than the destination. You know where it is going to go, but it is a great ride to get there. If you read the first book, you will enjoy the second. It is fast paced action, and still has some of the deeper social aspects from the first book. It is not quite as deep as the first, but a reread might be needed to absorb some of Brown’s finer points.  Give the trilogy a try if you like an interesting world, and great characters. I will look forward to reading the third book when it comes out next year. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Ex Machina: A tension filled Sci-Fi Thriller


Ex Machina may not be for everyone. If you like movies which make you think, are filled with tension, awkward circumstances, and dashes of mystery, Ex Machina will be right up your ally. The story is slow moving. It is filled with dialogue and little else. If you need a fast pace, I would stay away. I enjoy both movie types, and I was highly entertained by Ex Machina.
Ex Machina has three main characters, with a minor role for one other person. That's it, four people make up the main cast for this movie. Our main character, Caleb (played by Domhnall Gleeson), wins a contest to spend a week with the founder, Nathan, of a fictitious google like company he works for. Caleb is whisked away to Nathan's mansion. The mansion is in an extremely remote area which can only be reached by helicopter. Once Caleb arrives Nathan springs on him he has created an AI. He wants Caleb to interact with Ava, the AI, over the course of the week to help validate she is in fact artificial intelligence.
From this point on, the tension builds. The interaction between Nathan and Caleb is strained. I would feel weird too. I would not know how to interact with my billionaire boss, who has asked me to be included in one of the biggest breakthroughs in human history. Nathan is eccentric, and Oscar Isaac does a great job in the role. Slight spoiler: Nathan at one point in the movie is talking about his house, and how it was built. He mentions he has everyone who worked on it killed afterword, so no one can reveal all its secrets. Caleb thinks he is joking, but he and the audience are not quite sure. Nathan is just a little off, and you could see him possibly doing it. The weirdness just builds between the two characters, and is heightened as Caleb interacts more and more with Ava.
Alicia Vikander, who plays Ava is, amazing. She really steals the show. Her interactions with Nathan build on each other. You can tell Nathan becomes infatuated with her. What you don't know is if it is because she is programmed to be that way, or if she truly has feelings for him. Caleb actually questions this in the movie, and makes for another tension filled scene with Nathan.
In the end we are left with a human morality problem. What to do with this creation? Is it in fact alive? Does it have rights, the same as a human would? Should Ava be locked up in this secluded house, never to see the light of day? The movie does a great job in posing these questions, but does not really answer them. I am not sure we can answer them, until an AI like this is built. We do not currently even treat all humans equally, we strive too, but it has not happened yet.
The interesting thought is, AI is coming. These questions in the next one hundred years, are coming. I think we will have some form of human like AI within my lifetime, maybe even in the next twenty years. Google is on the brink of creating AI with the ability to have natural conversations (IGN Article). Bill Gates and others have weighed in, and think we are heading into dangerous territory with the computing capabilities we now have, and will have in the near future (Washington Post Story). As long as there has been science fiction books and movies, there have been ones dealing with the dangers of AI. Science fiction is on the verge of being science.
I was extremely entertained with Ex Machina, and would buy the movie to add to my collection. Again I do not think the movie is for everyone. If you are a science fiction fan, I think you need to see it. The movie can spark interesting conversations.It is the type of movie that will get better with each viewing. I will enjoy watching it numerous times. It could be used in college courses to spark debate. I would say high school if it was not for the nudity. I will eagerly await the day I can watch it with my boys to see what they think. I want them formulate opinions on how human AI should be treated and integrated into our world (Yep, I am a nerdJ).
My Rating: Must Buy

 

 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Krull Movie Review (Spoilers)




I wanted to review an old movie from my childhood that I personally love, but many, for good reason do notJ. I grew up lucky enough to have HBO and Encore. Many a hot and humid Oklahoma afternoon was spent inside watching movies on these premium movie channels. What type of movies during the late 80s and early 90s populated the airways you ask? One such movie was the sci-fi epic Krull. I adore this movie, and I probably shouldn't. It is campy, has a week plot, and the special effects, even for the early 80s are not well done. It does have some redeeming qualities. James Horner's score is excellent. Horner is a great cinema composer, and he did not phone in his effort for Krull. The movie also is not horribly acted, while the script is bad, I think the actors made the best of it. I am probably one of the few who think this, and I know I am biased. I saw the movie in my formative years is my only defense.
The movie is truly a hodgepodge of science fiction and fantasy. The Beast, the main villain in the movie, arrives on the planet Krull to conquer and rule. The Beasts henchman, Slayers, have one shot laser rifles. The people of the planet Krull just have swords and other midlevel type weapons. The people of Krull do have magic. One character can shapeshift into different animals. Another is a witch who can see the future, but is held captive by a giant spider. The world also has flying Clydesdale horses, what kid wouldn't fall in love with this movie!
The plot is a straightforward hero quest. The Beast kidnaps the princess and the prince, Ken Marshal, with the help of an old wise man, must rescue her.
Side note on Ken Marshal. I was watching Deep Space Nine, and the security/
maquis officer was bugging me. I knew I had seen him in something before, but could not place him. IMDB to the rescue! He has lost almost all of his hair, and I did not recognize the handsome prince from Krull.

Ken Marshal's character must first find a magic weapon, the glaive, to defeat the Beast. It is a special blade that looks like a modified Chinese throwing star. When he uses the glaive he can control it with his mind, I guess, it is never really explained, and send it to cut and slash who he wants. With the help of the glaive and a band of merry men, he makes an assault on the Beast's spaceship/castle, and rescues the princess. A very young Liam Neeson has a minor role as a member of the band of men the prince recruits to his cause. His character is a womanizer who has many wives across the world. Not sure why I am including this, but I find it interesting.
This really is the whole movie. A simple rescue plot with a princess locked in a tower. I wonder why I ate this up as a kid. It may have been the cool Cyclopes in the movie. He did have an interesting backstory. All Cyclopes can see into the future, but they could only see their own death. The Beast, according to the wise old man, made a deal with them so they could see into the future. The Beast, the tricky devil, only allowed them to see their own death, and just the date and time. The Cyclopes in the movie makes for a good tragic figure. The comic relief in the movie is amusing, which I guess is the point. Ergo is a magician who can turn himself into animals. He does a poor job at it, always trying to turn others into things, but turning himself into them instead.
Krull is one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies. I own it on DVD. It was one of the first DVDs I bought after I purchased a DVD player in college. I made the trek to the mall to find it at one of those chain video stores. This was still when they mostly had VHS tapes. I know I paid an enormous amount to get it, when I could easily get it for a few bucks today. I recently even bought the disc to digital for the movie. I now can drift off to sleep listing to James Horner score, and watching Ken Marshall dispatch the Beast on my iPad. If you have never seen Krull before, watch it just for a nostalgic peak back to early 80s cinema. If you have seen it, watch it again and escape back to your childhood. (If you were born in 80s that isJ)
My rating: Craptaculur
My Ratings:
  • Must Buy
  • Must see in Theaters/Will stop and watch every time on TV
  • Rentable
  • Wait for HBO release
  • Has a good scene or two. 
  • Don't Bother
  • Craptaculur (Guilty pleasure)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Red Rising, by Pierce Brown, Book Review:


I am sucker for an author who can create an intriguing world within a novel. Pierce Brown hit it out of the park with Red Rising. Thank goodness for Amazon recommendations, or I would miss out on a ton of good books. Brown creates a world, or solar systems is more apt, that is peeled back for the main character, Darrow, and the reader at the same time. We learn about the world and "the society" a bit at a time. We did not learn everything about Darrow's universe in the first book. Mr. Brown just wets our appetite with a small glimpse behind the curtain. This left me wanting more, and I gladly started reading the second book as soon as I finished the first.
The book starts out simply enough, and it is a tad predictable. I am ok with predictable as long there are interesting characters, and an intriguing plot. I love the backstory and history of the Reds on Mars. I wanted to know about their family units, why they loved to dance. Why Darrow father was killed for signing a song. We get a taste of how hard life is for Darrow, but also how sweet it is for him. He loves his wife, and really just wants to be happy with her. His wife has a little more fire, and does not want to live with the hand she has been dealt.
Our main character is born in the Red Caste. It is the lowest caste in "the society." The highest caste are the Golds. The Reds are slaves in all but name. They have to fight and scrap for every morsel of food they receive. If the Reds don't meet their mining quotas they do not receive rations, which are meager to begin with. I like the explanations Darrow gives in the first few chapters about Red society. There are different groups within the caste. The Gamma's receive more food and better goods, because they have better results every quarter. This gives Darrow hope, he thinks if he can mine more helium 3 for his clan they will get more rewards than the Gammas. Slight spoiler: Darrow and his clan mine more than anyone else, and do not win. The prize still goes to Gamma, and Darrow is crushed. The society takes some aspects of capitalism, working harder gets you more, and communism, everyone working together for the greater good. The society is neither, it is a totalitarian rule of one group over others, and uses these other mechanism to keep control. Brown reveals this aspect in a subtle way through the eyes of Darrow.
Slight Spoiler: Darrow finds himself in Gold society, going to the elite school, which will allow him to start or help the revolution of the other castes. This part of the book can be closely comparted to Hunger Games. Align, divide, and conquer is how you win at the school. Darrow is more apt than others, mainly because of his Red upbringing. What I like most is how Brown makes Darrow befriend the Golds at the school. He does not hate them, he likes most of the people he meets. They become close, and the revolution Darrow hopes to inspire is not going to be as easy as killing all the Golds so the other castes can take over. He laments when he must kill others.
The book is very human. It shows all the good and bad humanity could become. I like the stark contrast, and the fact nothing is clear cut. As the reader you root for the Reds, and want them to rise up, however not all Golds are evil, and should not have to pay the ultimate sacrifice. You could make a parallel, to the United States struggle over slavery. Not all people in the south were evil just because of the place they were born. They however lived with, and did nothing to rid the oppression all around them. How much can we as a culture get away with claiming social norms? What needs to be challenged? Brown's world echoes are own, and had me question social norms in practice today.
The book may not be for all Science Fiction fans. It is not a technical science fiction book. Brown does not get into how all the worlds have been terraformed for humans. Almost every world and moon now is livable. The only explanation Brown gives is the Helium 3 that is mined on Mars. This substance powers humanity, and all we do. I know some science fiction fans will take umbrage in the lack of a true technical explanation. Brown does not go into how his shields, and guns work. They all just work, and I am ok with this fact. I like reading about how things work in the world, but it needs to be sporadic, and cannot replace a good story. I may be in the minority of science fiction book fans on this, but I can suspend my belief and let a good story develop.
The only downside of the book is its predictability. Some of the big revels in the book were fairly obvious. Some may think the surprises Brown had were well done, but I just inferred and knew what was going to happen before it did. This did not take away from my enjoyment of the book. I could not turn the pages fast enough. It was a fast paced adventure, which also made me think. It is a rare book which can do both. I highly suggest anyone, science fiction fan or not to pick up Red Rising.
MUST READ
    

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mad Max Fury Road Review: Nothing but Action



As of May 19, 2019, Mad Max Fury Road has a 98% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/mad_max_fury_road/), 230 fresh reviews to 4 rotten. That is a very impressive number for any movie, and I went into Mad Max Fury Road looking to be thoroughly entertained. I was entertained, but not to level of the hype I was expecting. Do not get me wrong, I really liked the movie, it was fun and action packed. It had a great hero and heroine, a good villain, and a compelling world. The movie just left me wanting something more. This is purely off the hype. I was expecting out of the world greatness, and saw a good to great movie. Lesson learned, do not get over hyped for a movie. Easier said than done, but gosh darn I will give it a try.
Most of the reviews I have read have given heaps of praise to Charlize Theron character Furosa, saying she stole the show, and out shined the title character. I do not think I would go quite so far. She was great in the role, and kicked major ass. I feel Tom Hardy is getting downplayed for his great portrayal of a character who was made famous by a legendary actor (he's an ass, but still legendary). Hardy's Mad Max was spot on with his depiction of the Road Warrior. The dilemma to not want to get involved, to just survive, and then his pull to help, echoed the second movie of the series, which is my favorite (Fury Road, now is a very close second, and if I was born today Fury Road probably would win. Sue me for being nostalgic). Part of the credit has to go to George Miller for this. The world and all the characters feel like a Mad Max movie. True he created the world, but to be able to go back to it after so long, and recapture the same magic is short of amazing. The Wives from the movie are the best embodiment of this, they have some of the same actions and mannerisms from characters from the previous movies.
George Miller's world is the star of the movie. The action is amazing, and I'll give it its credit, but it is the post-apocalyptic environment which creates these characters that I enjoy above everything else. The main villain is good, but it is his cult of followers who steal the show. They worship gasoline, and the cars that are fueled by it. Steering wheels, chrome, and nitro are all part of the religion. Why would it not? The ones who control these things rule the world. It is an easy step to elevate them to Gods if no one knows any better. The pharos of Egypt were gods, and acted as if they controlled the Nile, it is similar to the main villain in the movie. He controls guns, gas, and water, and is worshipped as a God.
While I was enthralled by the world that spawned the people, most everyone is talking about the action of the movie. It is non-stop, with only a few breathers. The movie doesn't bog down in those moments, which is another credit to Miller. Most critics are gushing over Miller's use of practical effects instead of CG. Don't kid yourself, there is still plenty of CG in this movie. The huge sand storm stands out to me in particular. I like the cars, and the real car crashes in the movie, but I don't know if using CG would have been to the detriment of the movie. If CG is done right, you cannot tell the difference. This is one of the main reasons I think the movie has such a high score on Rotten Tomatoes. Big time critics have an aversion to CG being used too much, so when someone bucks the trend they slobber over the movie and make it something it is not. If this movie was released 30 years ago, around the same time the originals, it would not be getting the same love it is today. Is CG overdone in today's movies? Yes it can be, but to completely ignore its usefulness is asinine. Miller still used CG in the movie, and I think found a good balance between the two. The pendulum for lack of CG cannot swing too far back in the other direction, a happy medium is needed. Ok, sorry, off my soapbox.
Fury Road is a good movie, one I will eventually own. The Mad Max world is one I cannot wait to introduce to my 11 year old when he is a few years older. If you like action, you should enjoy the movie. Don't expect a spectacular movie. Avoid the over-hype and expect a solid action movie.
My Rating: Must see in Theaters/Will stop and watch every time on TV
My Ratings:
  • Must Buy
  • Must see in Theaters/Will stop and watch every time on TV
  • Rentable
  • Wait for HBO release
  • Has a good scene or two.
  • Don't Bother
  • Craptaculur (Guilty pleasure)

 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Star Wars: Lords of the Sith, By Paul S. Kemp Book Review.



I took a long break from Star Wars books. I read some of the New Jedi Order, but gave up after six or seven books. I finished Tarkin last week, and thought it was good enough to try another book part of the official cannon. Lords of the Sith did not disappoint. Is it the best Star Wars book I have ever read? No, it's not, but it's still a great read and worthy addition to the overall canon of Star Wars
The premise of the book is a band of freedom fighters on Ryloth have been making increasingly bolder moves against the Empire, which gets Vader, and later the Emperor involved. The book does an excellent job of showcasing Vader's and the Emperor's power. Vader in particular gets to showcase his talent for mayhem and destruction. The main rebel contingent do not know Vader is a sith lord at the start of the novel. They are amazed and terrified at the way he keeps surviving after facing insurmountable odds in their favor. The other great aspect of the novel is the struggle Vader still feels in the novel. He is very much an evil person, but he still has doubts, and still thinks about people and events from his past. He is very much troubled by his actions. The killings of the younglings at the Jedi temple is brought up. Kemp does a decent job of trying to explain how Vader turned so dark so quickly, but it still is a glaring plot hole from the third movie. His other decisions and demons are the main focus, and it is enjoying to read about his internal conflict. Exploring Darth Vader between the two series makes for an extremely interesting novel, and one can only hope for a spinoff movie.
The Emperor is no slouch in this novel either. We get to read about him showing his power as well, but it is his maneuvering and premonitions which are the real shine to the story. As the reader you never feel like the Emperor is out of control. Everything is happening the way he thinks it will, he never feels in danger, and is calm in the midst of a serious shit storm. This was some of my favorite parts of the novel. Reading how the Emperor maneuvers Vader, Rebels, and Imperial traitors to his own ends. The Emperor is not all knowing, but I think Kemp does a good job of showing how he see's possible futures, and picks the most likely outcomes, based on an individual characters motivations.
The Rebel faction in the book is the weak link. They were interesting and sympathetic. Kemp set this freedom fighter group as the spark for the larger rebellion. The only gripe I have for the book is they were unbelievable in their pursuit of the Emperor and Vader. They kept seeing Vader do superhuman things, and yet they still kept trying to kill him. The only explanation Kemp used for this, was the rebels had come too far to give up on trying to kill the Emperor and Vader. I just did not buy it. After seeing Vader do what he could, there would be no way they should have kept going. Any sane person would have counted what they had accomplished as good, and live to fight another day. Kemp could have made this part of the novel more plausible, but it is a small gripe in otherwise fine effort.
The new Star Wars canon novels have gotten off to a somewhat rocky start, with many not receiving high praise. This novel deserves to be in the cannon. It has a few downsides, but overall adds to the mythology of Vader and Emperor. The internal struggle of Vader, and the machinations of the Emperor show how ruthless they can be to further their goals. The pure evilness of the Emperor shines and makes this novel a must read for any Star Wars fan.
My Thought: Must Read (if Star Wars fan)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Age of Ultron: Just the right amount of Funny, Action, and Seriousness



I am way late to the party. I just watched Age of Ultron on Saturday night, which calls into question my Nerd/Geek status. I blame it on my kid, and his myriad of activities. I decided to be a good Dad and wait to be able to see it with him, rather than go see it by myself, and then take him a second time. I'll still have to see the movie a second time, in all its glory, on IMAX, since he does not like seeing movies in 3D or on IMAX. I am seriously beginning to question if he is truly my son with these strange preferences.
I thoroughly enjoyed Age of Ultron. It's the type of movie you can enjoy multiple times, and adds to the growing greatness of the marvel cinematic universe. I prefer DC superheroes, sue me I grew up loving Christopher Reeve's Superman and Michael Keaton's Batman. Doesn't change the fact I love most of the Marvel Movies, and this one is no exception.
The movie starts off with a bang and doesn't let up until the midway through the second act of the movie. It needs that break, many things are thrown at the hero's up until this point, and this break gives everyone a chance, including the audience, to evaluate how things are going. The action in the movie is stupendous, but we have seen this before, but I really enjoyed the character depth this breather added to a few of the characters. There has been some backlash on the depth that Whedon adds to Black Widows character, I personally had no issue with it, and in fact liked learning more about her backstory. I won't get into the controversy since I'm a married white male, but Whedon's record of creating strong female leads should give the man some credit and leeway. Apparently it doesn't, but again what do I know? I liked the glimpse into Black Widow's past, and can only hope she gets her own movie in short order. It may never happen, but it should.
Tony Stark's expansion is also well done, great reason is given as to why he thinks he needs to create Ultron. One of my biggest disappointment in Iron man 3 was the handling of Tony's post-traumatic stress from the end of the first Avengers movie. It did not seem real in Iron Man 3, it did in Age of Ultron. You felt his fear and anxiety in Age of Ultron, and could see he was not over the events that occurred during the first movie. You believed his need and want to save the world and protect it from what was coming. I can only imagine his anxiety and PTSD adding to the set up for Captain America 3 Civil War.
The action picks back up for the closure of the second act, and doesn't let up until the end of the movie. Spliced through the action is Whedon's classic whit and one liners. Ultron, in particular, has some of the best lines and quips of the movie. Spader is the perfect voice for the crazed artificial intelligence. Crazed the AI is, showing off deranged plans for the human race and how to best protect the world and usher in world peace. The creation of Ultron is the beginning of the Rift between Iron Man and Captain America, and Whedon does a good job setting up the next movie.
A few things feel shoehorned into the movie. Nick Fury makes and appearance, and we aren't quite sure where has been or what exactly he has been up too. Thor's part could have been elaborated on, but after reading a few other articles (Empire on Line Feature/Josh Wheadon , Whedon had to cut a bunch of information out, due to run time and how the scenes tested with audiences. I would have liked to see this expanded on, and hopefully we may get a vaulted directors cut of The Age of Ultron, I know I would buy it. These instances are few and far between though, and Age of Ultron takes the viewer on a fantastic ride. Leaving everyone satisfied once the movie is over, and wanting to get back in line to do it all over again. Subsequent viewings may take some shine off the movie, but I for one will be giving the movie more than one viewing, and will add it to my large Blu-Ray collection once it is released.
My Rating: Must Buy

 

My Ratings:
  • Must Buy
  • Must see in Theaters/Will stop and watch every time on TV
  • Rentable
  • Wait for HBO release
  • Has a good scene or two.
  • Don't Bother
  • Craptaculur (Guilty pleasure)
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