Saturday, June 28, 2014

Movie Review -- Transformers: Age of Extinction

The latest big Summer movie is Michael Bay's fourth entry in the Transformers franchise. How does it stack up against its predecessors? I'm here to tell you.

The story begins in Texas five years after the battle of Chicago in Dark of the Moon. Mechanic and amateur engineer Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) buys a big rig from a dilapidated theater and brings it home to his garage in the hopes of salvaging parts from it. His teenage daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) disapproves, saying he's wasting his life and not providing for them. However, things go crazy when the truck springs to life and declares that he is none other than Optimus Prime (the incomparable voice of Peter Cullen). He is badly damaged as a result of an ambush by the American government who have turned against the Autobots after Chicago and are hunting down all Transformers. The Decepticon known as Lockdown (Mark Ryan) is working with them because he wants to capture Optimus for their mysterious creators, and has promised a valuable piece of Transformer technology in exchange for their cooperation. But the Autobots won't give up without a fight, and a host of new allies join Optimus in their most dangerous battle yet. There's rotund badass Hound (John Goodman), samurai Autobot Drift (Ken Watanabe), Crosshairs (Bender himself, John DiMaggio), and the Dinobots finally make their debut. They'll need all the help they can get when they go up against the human-manufactured Transformers, Galvatron (Scooby Doo's Frank Welker), and human bad guy Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer). Who will survive this mother of all giant robot beat-downs?

Transformers: Age of Extinction takes few risks. Despite a completely new human cast, it delivers the same explosive action as the first three films. If you liked those, you'll like this one. Finally having the Dinobots enter the fray is most welcome, and Marky Mark is a solid addition to the cast. I also enjoyed John Goodman doing his thing and giving us a gruff but lovable character.

But the real star of the movie, as always, is Optimus Prime, and now he's totally PO'd at the humans who have betrayed him. This time around, we see a darker Optimus who is willing to break his rule against killing humans. He's had enough, and he's ready to leave Earth for good. I like seeing this transformation in his character and his struggle to balance his rage with the fatherly figure he used to be.

However, this may be too much Transformers for some. At nearly three hours, the story drags on and on as Michael Bay takes us from one robot battle to the next. The story breaks up the action with Cade telling people about his family life, but I really didn't give a crap about any of that. We came here to see giant robots killing one another, but we got too much of it. Honestly, after the first two hours, I just wanted Optimus to hurry up and kill the bad guys already. In the first three movies Bay knew where to draw the line, so I don't know what went wrong here. Really, this film just serves as a lead-in to a much better story in the next one.

Bottom line: It's the same Transformers you know and love. Just be prepared to sit in the theater for a while.



Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Black List: Aftermath review.



This week I decided to review Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist Aftermath by Peter Telep. The book opens with Sam Fisher on a very dangerous South American road chasing a man who is believed to have information about some recently stolen Russian nuclear material. The chase ends with the death of the target. Meanwhile, in Russia computer security expert and billionaire Igor Kasperov is told that the time has come to deploy a super computer virus against the US economic computer networks and GPS system. Kasperov had been assured that the virus was only a deterrent and protests its use. Then after these protests fall on deaf ears he flees the country, using his knowledge of computer viruses to cover his tracks but unfortunately his daughter Nadia is captured while en route to the aircraft that was supposed to take her to safety. After the United States government discovers that Igor has fled, Fourth Echelon is ordered to find him and offer him asylum. In the process of the search they discover Nadia’s capture and rescue her, with a gift her father gave her providing the clue needed to find his hiding place. After a race and battle against Russian agents assigned to kill Igor who are tailing Fourth Echelon, Sam finds Igor. But than Igor reveals that the virus was just one of three independent phases of the rogue faction of the Russian government behind the plot. The struggle to stop phases two and three begins culminating in a desperate race to stop a nuclear bomb.

I give the book a 7.5 out of 10. The field mission phases of the book were great but the other parts suffer a drop in quality. Also for a story about a black ops intel unit the line between good and evil is far too clear cut for my taste. There is only one part where I feel Sam enters morally ambiguous territory and to me that part feels like it was tacked on just for that purpose. Still overall I enjoyed the book and the happy ending was a pleasant touch given some of the things that happened in the story.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Kindle Spotlight -- Claimed (Flash Gold #4)

It's been a while since I've done a book review, but now this segment is back and ready to rock. Today we have Claimed, the fourth entry in Lindsay Buroker's Flash Gold series. Refer to past posts on this blog for reviews of the previous novellas.

This time the story is told from Cedar's point of view. He returns to the cave he shares with Kali to find her talking with a young reporter named Travis Andrews who wants to write a story about the airship she's building. But before he can, a Mountie arrives to ask for their help in solving a mystery. People all over the area are suddenly selling their gold claims and hightailing it out of the Yukon, and the Mountie wants to know why. Cedar suspects his sworn enemy Cudgel Conrad is involved and agrees to investigate so he can finally put an end to him. He and Kali hop on her motorized bicycle and head off to investigate. Their latest adventure has them facing an Indiana Jones-esque snake pit, armed baddies, suspicious lawmen, invisibility powder, and possibly even Cudgel himself. Will Cedar finally get his man?

I've long sung the praises of Lindsay Buroker. I think she is a very talented writer, and her quality work continues here. Claimed offers few surprises, and lacks the insane airship action of previous entries (in fact, there are no working airships this time around), but it still delivers a solid narrative. Cedar finally tells Kali how he feels about her (sort of) and the ending is satisfying. I personally want to see more of the mysterious people who view Kali as a threat for unknown reasons, but hopefully that will happen in the upcoming fifth book.

Bottom line: if you liked the previous Flash Gold books, you'll like this one. If not, it won't do anything to change your mind. This series comes highly recommended by yours truly either way.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted Review



This week I decided to review Astonishing X-Men: Gifted by Peter David. The book opens with a scientist who views the mutations possessed by many of the characters in the setting as a disease that needs to be treated, being told that funding for her project is being cut. Soon after this she meets an alien named Ord who offers to help her. Also Kitty Pryde, who had left the X-Men, decides to return and take up a teaching position at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Soon after this, the acting leaders of the X-Men decide they need to perform more visible and public heroic acts to help support their stance that mutants and humans can co-exist. Soon after this they hear of a hostage situation and move into action where they meet Ord, leader of the hostage takers who are equipped with prototype weaponry stolen from SHIELD. Ord flees, being badly injured during the battle and in the aftermath of this battle the mutation cure is announced. This leads to fighting among the X-Men and the students at the school over whether or not the cure is a blessing or an abomination. Beast meets the scientist who supposedly developed the cure and obtains a sample of it, discovering that DNA from a number of dead mutants was used to make it. This leads to a raid by the X-Men on the production center for the cure while Ord launches a raid on Xavier’s home. The raid turns into a clash between the X-Men and SHIELD, though the two join forces to stop Ord, along wth one of the X-Men long thought dead and a desperate race to save a young mutant taken hostage by Ord, who claims he is trying to prevent the future destruction of his home world by a mutant.
I give the book an 8 out of 10. It had some great comedy bits, and the humor has always been one of the things I liked best about the author’s works, and the battle sequences were entertaining, as were the philosophical questions raised. But there are a few things I dislike. First there are a number of major characters who would have done something in response to the appearance of the cure that either aren’t mentioned at all or are mentioned but never seen. Also the ending shows Ord has either gone mad or has been lying about his long term goals on Earth but gives you no clue which of the two has occurred and I see no sign of a sequel novel to answer this question. 


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Friday, June 13, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow novelization review



This week I decided to review the novel Edge of Tomorrow, also published as All You Need is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Usually I avoid reviewing movie novelizations but this one is so different from the movie, sharing only basic plot elements, and a couple of character names that I made an exception. When the novel begins a young soldier named Keiji Kiriya is part of an offensive against the Mimics that has gone horribly wrong. The Mimics are a group of alien machines which landed in various points of the ocean and have been conquering coastal areas and islands around the world for decades leaving them uninhabitable by humans as they strive to convert Earth into a paradise for their creators. Keiji is killed in action only to wake up the day before the battle. He fights the battle over and over eventually meeting an American soldier who shares his power, She tells him that to defeat the Mimics and break the loop he must destroy the lieutenants of the Mimc command unit overseeing the battle, then destroy the command unit. After several more tries he seems to achieve this only to have the day reset again with the Mimcs launching an all-out offensive against the base he is stationed in. And as the battle rages he discovers the final horrifying truth of his power and Keiji must decide if victory is worth the price that must be paid to break the loop and win the battle…
I give this book an 8 out of 10. Despite seeing slight variations of the same events multiple times the book manages to remain interesting, and while I wish the Mimc objective been explained in a way that blended with the story rather than being a side chapter with little or no connection to the main plot it was an interesting, if chilling scene, made more so by the fact I could easily see humanity trying something similar if placed in the same position.  The ending was a little too dark for my tastes but fit well with the story.


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Movie Review -- Edge of Tomorrow

Today we have the new Tom Cruise movie, Edge of Tomorrow. Based on a Japanese novel, is it worth watching?

The story begins with a meteor falling to earth. Malevolent alien monsters--called Mimic--pop out of it and begin to overrun Europe. Flash forward years later, and mankind has just scored an important victory against them thanks to skilled soldier Rita (Emily Blunt), AKA "The Angel of Verdan," AKA "Full Metal Bitch." She's adored by some and feared by others. Touting her accomplishments is military PR man William Cage (Cruise). He then gets transferred to France and is placed under the command of British General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson). Brigham tells Cage he'll be on the front lines in the upcoming push to retake Europe. Cage is no warrior, and even goes so far as to try blackmailing the general to get out of it. Brigham doesn't take kindly to this, and strips Cage of his officer status and forces him to participate in the invasion. He is given a powerful exo-suit to fight with, but he has no idea how to operate it. Nevertheless, they send him in as is. Things get so much worse when the Mimic ambush his dropship and he plummets to the beach below. He then comes into contact with a special blue Mimic and dies.

Except he doesn't. He finds himself right back at the base the day before the invasion. Somehow time has been reset. He participates in the failed invasion again and meets Rita. He also dies again. After a few more times doing this, she realizes what is going on with him. The Mimic have the power to turn back time if things don't go their way, and now Cage has managed to swipe it for himself, making him the key to stopping them. Unfortunately, he has no faith in himself. Even so, Rita decides to train him. The only catch is, if he gets injured he has to die or risk losing the power. Little by little, death by death, Cage is molded into an elite fighting machine. Still, stopping the Mimic won't be easy, especially if he can't convince the higher-ups to listen to him. Is there any hope for mankind?

Tom Cruise's last movie, Oblivion, was merely all right. This one completely blows it out of the water. It had me riveted from beginning to end. It has an original, compelling story and quality writing. It also has smart comedy. It's funny watching all the bad things happen to Cage. He dies constantly and in hilarious ways. Often this is due to Rita casually blowing his brains out whenever she decides they need a reset, but sometimes he gets killed by his own misjudging of situations. For instance, he tries to roll under a passing truck and gets squashed. I laughed quite a bit throughout this film.

However, if you regularly read my reviews, you know I usually have something bad to say, and today will be no exception. Edge of Tomorrow, for all it gets right, has a distinct lack of character development. Aside from Cage and Rita, we don't really find out much about the rest of their team. Cage rattles off tidbits about them, but that's not the same as true character development. They remain two-dimensional throughout. For the most part, their just generic soldiers. Even Bill Paxton's character doesn't have much depth.

Still, this doesn't bring down the movie, and the good outweighs the bad by a lot. You owe it to yourself to see Edge of Tomorrow.



Friday, June 6, 2014

Star Trek: The Lost Era: One Constant Star review



This week I decided to review Star Trek: The Lost Era: One Constant Star by David R. George III. When the book begins, Captain John Harriman of the USS Enterprise-B and Lieutenant Demora Sulu have stumbled upon a temporal anomaly linking multiple universes while fleeing Romulan space after an intelligence gathering operation. They find their way back to their proper universe and return to their ship. The story then skips forward almost sixteen years. Demora is now captain of the Enterprise while Harriman has been promoted to admiral. The Enterprise stumbles across a world that was devastated and is now suffering an apparent nuclear winter. While investigating the world, a number of crew members, including Captain Sulu, find themselves trapped after passing through a one way portal to another universe. The nature of the portal allows communication to pass through and Captain Sulu orders her crew to contact Admiral Harriman for assistance in a plan to return home. However, while scouting the area around where the portal transported them, Captain Sulu is shocked to discover the remains of an escape pod belonging to the USS Excelsior, her father’s command, which vanished with all hands a decade before the Enterprise discovered the portal world. And Admiral Harriman must contend with a Tzenkethi fleet which has arrived and claims the system with the portal belongs to them.
I give this book a 7.5 out of 10. There really wasn't much wrong with it but it just didn’t grab my focus or entertain me enough to be rated higher, though I felt that reading it wasn’t a waste of time. Also I was hoping to learn more about the Tzenkethi but they have much less to do with the plot than the description of the book on the back implies. And I question whether making the lost ship that first discovered the portal Excelsior was just an excuse to add a few pages related to the relationship between the two Captain Sulus, and it felt a little too cliche at points. 


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