Saturday, August 19, 2017

TV Show Review: Marvel's Defenders (Netflix Original Series)


When I heard about the Marvel's Defenders TV series from Marvel, I couldn't wait for it to arrive. After watching the masterpiece that is Marvel's DareDevil, I became even more excited. So how did the reality match up to my ridiculously lofty expectations? Fortunately, the other Marvel series were pretty disappointing and tempered my excitement.

Marvel's Defenders is an 8-episode 2017 Netflix Original Mini-series based on the Marvel Comics superhero characters of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Power Man. It is rated TV-MA for language, violence, and gore and is appropriate for older teens and up.

The Good


Characters. The best part of this mini-series was the characters. While Daredevil was the only character strong enough to carry his own show, as a team all the characters work well and are likable. I also appreciated how all the major characters from the previous mini-series were included in this, several having fairly large roles.

Lack of CGI, Wirework, Green Screen, and other Special FX.
 I love how down to earth and real this show looks. There are no cgi Hulks or green screen battle scenes or wirework flying or other special effects one sees in almost every superhero adaption that look mediocre now and will look terrible in ten years. This all looks very real, and will hold up for years to come while other superhero adaptions will just get sillier and sillier as time moves on.

Tying up Previous Threads. I was concerned about how the producers would be able to stuff all four characters and their stories from five 13-episode series into one 8-episode mini-series, but they did it. All of the storylines and conflicts from the previous Netflix Original Series were tied up nicely with the characters set up to start new stories. And it was all done very satisfactorily with nothing feeling rushed or short changed.

Colors.  The first two episodes make use of each character's unique color (Daredevil - red, Jessica Jones - blue, Iron Fist - green, Luke Cage - yellow) in the background to signal who was being featured at the moment. It was subtle, but a nice touch.

The Bad


Pacing.  The first two episodes moved very slowly and dragged. Too little happened both plot wise and emotionally. The story didn't really pick up and get going until halfway thru the third episode.

Fragmented Story Telling.  The producers made a very deliberate effort to give each character equal screen time and not wait too long to show the next character. This caused the first few episodes to feel like brief vignettes that felt very disjointed and unconnected.

Scope / Gravitas.  Other than the earthquake early in the series, the stakes never felt very high nor the danger very real. Almost all the peril came from characters saying this was series, but the audience never saw it on screen and so never really felt like the stakes were very high or New York was in that much danger.

Production Design.  The previous series had beautiful visuals in set design and action scenes. This mini-series lacked the grandeur and beautiful visuals I've come to expect from these shows.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the story had been stronger by focusing on one or two main arcs instead of fracturing the plot so everyone had equal screen time and things to do. I also wish the show had looked as nice as the previous mini-series with better sets and other visuals.

Overall


Marvel's Defenders does an excellent job of bringing these four very separate heroes and their stories together and tying up all the threads and storylines that have been playing out during the previous five series. While it begins a little slow and fractured, by the third episode, the story kicks into high gear and holds your attention. I'm excited for Phase Two. I give this show 4 out of 5 remotes.



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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Movie Review: Batman and Harley Quinn (DC Universe Original Movie)

The DC Universe Original Movies have been pretty hit or miss for me. Some of them, like Batman: Under the Red Hood or Justice League: New Frontier, have been absolutely brilliant. Others, such as Superman: Doomsday or Batman: Gotham Knight, have been painfully unwatchable. While the trailer for Batman and Harley Quinn didn't appear to be anything special, it was in the style of Batman: The Animated Series and had input from Bruce Timm, so I decided to give it a chance.

Batman and Harley Quinn is a 2017 DC Universe Original Movie. It was released theatrically for one night via Fathom Events and then released as Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD. It is rated PG-13 for language, sexual content, and violence and is appropriate for older teens and up.

The Good


Acting. The acting was really strong, especially Harley Quinn's character. She felt like a real person with real struggles and real motivations.

Humor. This movie had some pretty funny jokes that I hadn't heard in a Batman story before.

References. This film made a lot of references to previous versions of Batman, especially the 1966 Adam West version and, of course, Batman: The Animated Series. Some of the references, such as the visual sound effects, were pretty clever and went places I hadn't seen visual sound effects go. I also appreciated Catwoman's cat men lackeys.

The Bad


Thin Story.  This story was a simple bad guys get super weapon that will destroy the world and Batman stops them plot with nothing to make it stand out from any other story. There were no twists, surprises, or anything else standout to justify this film's existence.

Florian Man. I applaud DC for using lesser known villains, but other than the name, he was manaical thug number 10. He had no real personality or distinguishing characteristic.

Too Even Pacing. This movie suffered from poor pacing. The fight scenes and the slow scenes moved at the same pace making them all feel a little boring. It really needed variety and to pick up the pace during the action scenes so they were exciting instead of blah.

Lack of Color. Batman: The Animated Series was dark, but also very colorful with bold, high chroma hues which made it a wonder to behold and was a great contrast to the darker tone and stories. This film was very dull and grey. The dull colors only made the slow pace feel even slower and the dull story seem duller.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish this had a better story that deserved to be a movie. It really felt like a machine had generated this movie based on a prescribed formula and past episodes. There was nothing original or notable in the plot.

Overall


Batman and Harley Quinn does an excellent job exploring Harley Quinn, her motivations, and her struggles and has some pretty funny jokes and cameos. Unfortunately, the story is very thin with clich├ęd villains and plots. I give it 3.5 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.

   


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Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Review - The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back by Clark Elliott

I love learning about the human body, the amazing things it can do, and the surprising discoveries researchers make about its abilities. It never ceases to amaze me what a marvelous creation it is. I especially love reading about new abilities and aspects. That's what caught my attention with this book.

The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back is a nonfiction autobiographical story written by Clark Elliott. It's available as an eBook, audiobook, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

Overview


Clark Elliott was the victim of an auto accident resulting in a concussion which severely limited his abilities. After dozens of doctors told him he'd just have to live with it, he found two that could repair much of the damage using a series of puzzles and special glasses.

The Good


Story. While I feel terrible for the author and all the challenges he had to deal with, his story was fascinating and had a happy ending.

Eye/Brain/Body Connection. I had no idea the eyes were connected to so many systems of the body, and that by altering the light that entered and adjusting where it focuses on the retina affects brain paths and emotions.


The Bad


Repetition and Details of Difficulties. The author spends waaaaaay too much time describing his difficulties in waaaaaay too much detail. I actually skipped past a few chapters.


What I Would Like to Have Seen

I wish the author would have elaborated on Brain Plasticity and gone into more detail about the exercises he went thru. That was much more interesting than the 75% of the book where he describes his difficulties.

Overall

The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back by Clark Elliott tells a fascinating story in a less than fascinating way. The author spends too much time on the problems and not enough time on the solutions, but it is a story still worth reading. I give it 3.5 out of 5 eReaders.

    


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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book Review: Replay by Ken Grimwood



I'm a big fan of time travel stories, but find myself disappointed that every story has been done at least four dozen times and there are no new twists or takes on the genre. Then I read Replay.

Replay is a character-driven romantic drama written by Ken Grimwood. It's available as an audiobook and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

Overview


Jeff dies of a heart attack. Then he wakes up in his younger self decades in the past with the chance to live his life again with all of his previous knowledge. And he takes full advantage of it and even finds out he isn't the only one.

The Good


A New Take on Time Travel. I was really surprised to find a new take on time travel. While it isn't radically different or original, it's different enough that it felt fresh and new and I didn't know exactly what was going to happen.

Characters. The characters felt very real and developed. I felt like I was reading about actual people going thru actual experiences in a biography. It's rare an author can write characters that aren't obvious versions of himself.

Ending. The ending wasn't a huge shock or twist, but it wasn't what I was expecting. And it added a really nice close to the story.

The Bad


Melancholy. The only minor quibble I have with this story is at times is got a little too melancholy with the characters spending too much time moping.


What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the author had revealed how the characters were able to relive their lives. It wasn't necessary to the story, but inquiring minds want to know.

Overall


Replay
 by Ken Grimwood is a really intriguing character-driven romance that takes a fresh approach to the time travel genre. The characters are so real it feels like reading a biography at times. I give it a solid 4.5 out of 5 eReaders.



      


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Monday, August 7, 2017

Book Review: Smashing Physics by Jon Butterworth



I love learning about science and reading books about the latest discoveries. I've followed the story of the Large Hadron Collider in the news, but wanted to hear the real story from someone actually involved in the project

Smashing Physics is a nonfiction history / science book written by Jon Butterworth. It's available as an audiobook and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

Overview


Jon Butterworth is one of many particle physicists working at CERN on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). He tells the story of how the LHC came to be, about the failure of the first attempt to turn it on, and the benefits of waiting a year. He then discusses the search for the Higgs boson and the media coverage surrounding it.

The Good


Honesty / Lack of Dogma. I used to subscribe to Scientific American, but only read it for a year, because the writers were so full of themselves and so dogmatic that they twisted any facts or discoveries to fit their preconceived notions instead of being open to new discoveries. Jon Butterworth does not suffer from such hubris. He is a truly honest scientist that wants to discover the facts whether they agree with his beliefs or not. He is also honest about the limitations of science and how science can never prove anything or lead us to truly know anything. He is also honest in admitting particle physics doesn't actually deal with or detect the particles but the results of their interactions with the particles being conjectured from those results.

Behind the Scenes. The author was at CERN working on Atlas from the beginning and saw much of the work first hand. He also understands what is actually happening and what it means. It's nice not having to read the story thru the media's uneducated and biased glass.

Bigger Picture. The author is aware that particle physics isn't the only area of study of value in the world. He also recognizes the importance of politics, media coverage, and practical applications, and he puts the work at CERN in its proper perspective. This is very refreshing.


The Bad


Explanation of Science. This book seems to be targeted to the layman who isn't an expert in particle physics.



What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the author had collaborated with someone who knows how to tell an interesting story and explain scientific concepts in a clear and understandable way.


Overall


Smashing Physics
 by Jon Butterworth tells the story of the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson from someone who was actually there and worked on the project. It's highly technical and will confuse the layman, but for those who want the real story without all the media misinterpretations, this is a great book. I give it 4 out of 5 eReaders.



      


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Monday, July 24, 2017

Book Review: Tilt-a-Whirl (The John Ceepak Mysteries Book 1) by Chris Grabenstein

I'm not a fan of cop shows or movies, but I find myself reading a lot of crime thrillers and other books and comic books starring cops and really enjoying them.

Tilt-a-Whirl (The John Ceepak Mysteries Book 1) is a crime thriller written by Chris Grabenstein. It's available as an eBook, audiobook, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

Overview


Danny Boyle is a part-time cop working in a beachside resort town. He is partnered up with John Ceepak, ex-military still haunted by his time in the Middle East. They come across a young girl whose father has been murdered.

The Good


Pacing. This story had a really great pace. It never moved so quickly I couldn't follow what was going on, nor did it ever drag or lose my attention.

Likable Characters. None of the characters were really special, standout, or extremely well developed, but all were unique enough I could keep them straight, and all of them were very likable, even the evil bad guys.

Twist Ending. Most of the time with mysteries I have them figured out before the middle of the story. Occasionally one will throw a small twist I didn't see coming, but rarely am I surprised by final solution. This book generally surprised me. Even though all the clues were there, I did not see the twist after twist after twist coming.


The Bad


No Sense of Peril. Emotionally this story was very even with no real sense of peril or tension at any point. It would have been nice to have been at the edge of my seat at least a few times and worry about the characters and what would happen to them.



What I Would Like to Have Seen


Other than more tension, I don't think this book was lacking anything.


Overall


Tilt-a-Whirl (The John Ceepak Mysteries Book 1)
is a surprisingly good mystery with an ending I did not see coming and yet it made perfect sense given the clues. The story is very engaging, is filled with likable characters, and maintains a good pace that never drags. I give it a solid 4.5 out of 5 eReaders.



      


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Friday, July 21, 2017

Comic Book Review: Dark Knight III: The Master Race (mini-series)


I know this will sound strange, but I was not a fan of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns but loved Dark Knight Strikes Again! Now, before you start casting stones, let me explain.

Dark Knight III: The Master Race is a dystopian future, superhero comic book mini-series and a sequel to The Dark Knight Returns and Dark Knight Strikes Again! It's available in print and digitally and will soon be collected.

The Good


Artwork. Andy Kubert is the penciler on this series, and his work has never looked so good. He perfectly captures the Frank Miller vibe from the original mini-series, but infuses his own style and current artistic sensibilities into it to create a modern-looking homage with the fun and flavor of the original but none of the dated look. The inking and coloring are good, but not stellar.

Story. The story is really, really good. It's one I've never read before, which is surprising because now it seems so obvious and such an essential part of the mythos. It involves many characters from Dark Knight Strikes Again! and basically continues that story with a few nods to the original. Unfortunately, the story isn't well told. The idea is great; the execution not so much.

Mini-comics The mini-comics are the best part. The first three have varying artists, but by issue 4 Frank Miller takes over the artistic and storytelling chores, and each is a little masterpiece. They are bold. They are exciting. They fill in gaps of the main story further exploring the individual characters in this universe. Each one is very short, and yet tells so much story, much like the classic Will Eisner The Spirit comic strips in newspapers of the 50s. These are the reasons I rushed out to buy each issue the second it was on sale.


The Bad


Pacing. The story is very unevenly told with some scenes being cut short and not fully explored and developed and others being drug out too long just to fill a certain page count.


Filler Pages. The last half dozen pages or so of each issue are basically uncolored artwork from the issue. While it was nice to look out, the pages could have been much better utilized to tell more story instead of cutting so many scenes short.


What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish this comic had followed the pattern of the first two mini-series and had only three or four issues that contained two to four issues worth of story. That would have fixed the pacing issues, although I'm not sure how the mini-comics would have worked.


Overall


Dark Knight III: The Master Race tells a really interesting story that's never been told in DC lore with incredible art but not-so-great pacing rushing certain scenes while stretching others out way too long. The mini-comics were the real jewels of the mini-series and the reason I rushed to read each issue. I give it a solid 4 out of 5 eReaders.



     


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