Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Movie Review: Cars 3



I am not a fan of Pixar movies. They are too formalistic for me, ie. they religiously follow a formula making them so predictable that they become boring. But the first two Cars movies were fun, so I was excited to see what they'd come up with for number three.

Cars 3 is a 2017 action, family, 3-D animated film from Pixar. It's rated PG for mild violence and is appropriate for all ages.

The Good


Visuals. This film looks amazing. Pixar is the master of creating gorgeous 3-D graphics. From the characters to the backgrounds to the action, everything couldn't look better.

Racing Scenes. The racing scenes are extremely well done. They're fun, they're well filmed so you can see what is happening, and yet they manage to somehow put you into the driver's seat so you feel like you are on the track yourself.

Mentor Theme. The main theme and message of the film revolves around mentors and inspiring the next generation. The first 3/4 of the film involve Lightning  remembering his mentor from the first film, Doc Hudson, and all that he learned. The last quarter focuses on Lightning moving into a mentor role himself.

The Bad


Cruz Ramirez. The idea of the Cruz character, a wannabe racer who doesn't have a chance without Lightning opening the way for her, is a really smart direction to go. Unfortunately, they picked a lousy character for that role. Cruz is annoying, winey, unlikeable, and unbelievable as a racing champ. I wish the school bus had sent her to the big car lot in the sky.

Weak Villains. The new rookies are supposed to be the villains of the film, but they aren't very mean and don't spend much time on screen, which is unfortunate, because they have so much potential. The filmmakers had two choices: portray the rookies as truly mean bullies (the obvious less interesting route) or show them as the misunderstood cool new generation that doesn't mean to cause problems but do. Unfortunately, Pixar took a very walk-on-eggshells approach afraid to make them too mean and not willing to make them misunderstood ultimately making them lukewarm villains at best. A hero is only as good as his villain, and these villains that should have been so awesome were unnecessarily weak.

Lack of Conflict and Peril. I never once worried that Lightning wouldn't come out on top. None of the obstacles were that hard for him to overcome. It cheapened his victory at the end.

Moping. Lightning spends most of the movie moping. It really slows the pacing down to where it feels like the film is dragging much of the time. It reminded me of the second Twilight film. Not really what I'm looking for in a fun family flick.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the movie had better utilized and developed the villains into a true threat. I wish there was real peril for Lightning to face and actual struggle to overcome the obstacles. I wish they had replaced Cruz with a character the audience could actually like and root for instead of against.

Overall


Cars 3 is an entertaining flick that brings a nice conclusion to the story begun with the first film. The racing scenes are amazing, and the theme of mentors is fitting and well developed. Unfortunately, the new villains are weak and not menacing, and the new hero is so unlikeable you want to see her fail and are disappointed when she succeeds in the end. I give it 3.5 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.



   

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Review: Dead Men Can't Complain and Other Stories by Peter Clines



I am a huge lover of short stories, especially science fiction short stories. I buy and read a lot of anthologies, but find myself disappointed by a good number of stories in almost any collection (Edmond Hamilton collections being an exception). The two books I've read by Peter Clines were both excellent and original, so I thought I'd give his short fiction a whirl.

Dead Men Can't Complain and Other Stories is a science fiction short story anthology by Peter Clines. It's an Audible original and exclusive.

The Good


Original Approach. Peter Clines takes the common, overused troupes of the science fiction and horror genres and gives each one a unique twist. I've never seen stories quite like these, which was a refreshing change.

Variety. Each story deals with a different genre from time travel to zombies to superheroes to magic to dime novel detectives, and each is done so well.

Development. The stories are very short, and yet almost none of them feel short. The characters feel sufficiently realized and fleshed out. The stories almost all have a beginning, middle, and end (unlike a lot of short stories that are little more than a scene that leaves you hanging). The ideas and messages are all clear. At the end of each story (with the exception of two), I felt satisfied, and yet still wanting a sequel.

Ray Porter. What more can be said about Ray Porter than what I've already written in other reviews. He is a master of his craft and at the height of his powers.


The Bad


Two Bad Stories. Only two of the stories weren't excellent, and they weren't so awful I had to skip past them.



What I Would Like to Have Seen


More stories!!


Overall


Dead Men Can't Complain and Other Stories by Peter Clines is an incredible anthology of science fiction and horror stories, each taking an original angle on a tried-and-true troupe of the genres. Even though the stories are short, they don't feel rushed or cut short. Each feels fully realized and left me satisfied while wanting a sequel. I give it a solid 5 out of 5 eReaders.



      




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Friday, June 23, 2017

Movie Review: The Mummy (2017)



I enjoyed the classic Universal monster movies, and I really enjoyed the Brendan Fraser remake of The Mummy (at least the first two), so I was curious to see what Tom Cruise would do with the franchise.

The Mummy is a 2017 action, urban fantasy, thriller, remake of the 1932 classic starring Boris Karloff and is the first in Universal's new Dark Universe series. It's rated PG-13 for language, violence, and brief nudity, and is appropriate for teens and up.

The Good


Visuals. This film looks really good. All the costumes and sets are well done. The stunt work and cgi is solid.

Story. This film has a really good story. Unfortunately it wasn't told as well as it could have been.

Action. Like all Tom Cruise movies, the action and stunts are second to none.

Dark Universe Set-up. I'm actually really excited for the Dark Universe. This movie hinted at a lot of cool stuff to come.

The Bad


Not Scary. This movie was trying to be a classic horror film filled with suspense, and there were definitely scenes filmed to be suspenseful. Unfortunately, they were mediocre copies of scary scenes in other movies, and none of them made me jump out of my seat.

Storytelling. The storytelling was at a Hallmark movie of the week level, not summer blockbuster level, so it was good but not as good as movie goers were expecting.

Predictable. Nothing in this movie surprised me, none of the reveals or twists, which in a suspense/terror movie isn't a good thing.

The Mummy. Having a female mummy was a clever idea. I just wish they had cast some other actress and written her a better role, because she wasn't scary, she wasn't beautiful, she wasn't dangerous, she wasn't intriguing in any way like a good villainess should be.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the movie had been scary (they were going for terror but never made me jump out of my seat) and that the storytelling had been stronger (a lot of which could be fixed with some clever editing).

Overall


The Mummy is an entertaining flick with great action and great visuals and is a nice introduction to the Dark Universe. While it's a good movie, it's not a great movie which is what everyone was probably expecting and why people are hating on it so badly. I give it 4 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.



    

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book Review: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn



I love Star Wars and when I was younger I hoped for the longest time they'd make more. When I was in high school I saw a friend reading Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn and got really excited about more Star Wars adventures. I eventually read the trilogy and loved it. Then he followed it up with a duology that wasn't as good. So I wasn't sure what to expect from his latest outing.

Thrawn is a science fiction space opera set in the Star Wars Universe by Timothy Zahn. It's available in all formats: eBooks, Audiobooks, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

The Good


Writing. The writing is very crisp and clear. The author cares primarily about telling a story and never lets the words get in the way. Unlike some, he doesn't feel the need to impress the reader with his extensive vocabulary or eloquent locution.

Characters. The characters are all very interesting and fleshed out enough that the reader has pretty strong feelings about all of them.

Strategy. The majority of this story consists of incidents and how Thrawn uses strategy to deal with them. It very fun to read and fascinating to watch.

Movement Thru Time. This book covers several years and does a really good job jumping from one incident to another several months or several years later so the reader never feels bogged down by unnecessary explanation or exposition.


The Bad


Too Short of Time Span. This story covers the period of time when Thrawn meets the Empire to when he becomes a Grand Admiral. I was expecting to find out more about the character. I suppose that means there will have to be a sequel.


Change in Character. The Thrawn presented in this novel feels like a different character from the Thrawn in Heir to the Empire and its sequels.


What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish we had seem more of Thrawn's early life to better know him as a character.


Overall


Thrawn is a great book that held my attention from page one. It feels like the Star Wars Universe and faithfully adds to the mythology. I give it a solid 4.5 out of 5 eReaders.



      




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Friday, June 16, 2017

Movie Review: The Spirit (by Frank Miller)

I'm a huge Frank Miller fan and have been since Sin City: Hell & Back, 300, and the Dark Knight Strikes Again! I also enjoy classic comics from the early 20th Century, so combining the two should create a masterpiece, right? Right?

The Spirit is a 2008 action comic strip noir film from comics legend Frank Miller based on The Spirit comic strip which appeared in newspapers throughout the late 30s and 40s created, written, and drawn by Will Eisner. It's rated PG-13 for language, violence, and nudity, and is appropriate for teens and up.

Overview


The Spirit is a cop who everyone but the police chief thinks is dead. He battles a wild villain, The Octopus, and a former lover.

The Good


Style & Visuals. This film is absolutely beautiful to behold. It looks like nothing else you have ever seen with an amazing mix of Frank Miller's chiaroscuro artwork and classic Hollywood film noir. The style alone makes this movie worth watching.

Actors. This film features a lot of really great actors from Gabriel Macht to the father from Wonder Years to Beckett from Castle. Their acting is really good, but is marred by bad dialogue.

San Serif Story. Half this film features a story taken from the comic strip about The Spirit's first love, and it is a really good story. Unfortunately, it isn't the only story.

Credits. The credits are Frank Miller's storyboards which are works of art and make a really unique and fun credit sequence that I've watched several times.

The Bad


The Octopus. Samuel Jackson plays the Octopus, but instead of following the comic strip version, which was pretty cool, he was written and directed to portray the character as a live action Wile E. Coyote from Looney Tunes, which did not work at all. Ridiculous and unwatchable doesn't even begin to describe this character. In fact, I usually just cue past all of his scenes, and it makes for a pretty good movie.

Dialogue. The dialogue is awful. It is stiff and feels like an amateurish attempt to capture classic Hollywood detective movies. The narration is pretty good, but everything else is terrible.

Pacing. This movie is very slowly and unevenly paced.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the Octopus had been portrayed more like he is in the comics, as a mysterious hand controlling crime in the city with a big reveal at the end. I wish the movie had better dialogue and was edited more tightly with more exciting music. There are a lot of great elements and great story that just aren't presented well, but could be.

Overall


The Spirit is a beautiful film with more style and gorgeous visuals that almost any other, a great story, and great actors. Unfortunately, it is mired by a lousy second story, an overly cartoony villain, and dialogue that will make your ears hurt. I give it 3.5 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.



  


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Monday, June 12, 2017

Book Review - Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning by Benjamin K. Bergen

I'm a big fan of how things work. It's one of the reasons I used to buy trade paperback collections of comic books I already owned and had read and DVDs. (I wish they still included the behind-the-scenes stories and documentaries they used to. Oh well, that's money I can save not buying DVDs and TPBs.)

Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning is a nonfiction book of scientific studies and theories about cognitive science and the embodied simulation model of how humans understand words by Benjamin K. Bergen. It's available in all formats: eBooks, Audiobooks, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

The Good


Detailed the Studies. Too often people say, "A recent study showed or proved..." without detailing the study design or how is was carried out so the listener has no idea whether the study was valid or not. This book meticulously detailed each study so the reader could better judge how reliable the conclusions were.

Willing to Admit What He Doesn't Know. Too often "experts" think too highly of themselves to truly acknowledge their limitations. They may add a small section of "humility" where they pretend to admit they have limitations, but most the time it seems to be nothing more than a show to boost their own image. This author isn't like that. He is a scientist in the true sense of the word willing to admit that science can never prove anything, merely suggest and support.


The Bad


Ignores Certain Possibilities. It's clear the author isn't religious, because he completely ignores the spiritual possibility which may or may not hold the answer. And while you can't really test for it, a truly objective scientist would acknowledge the possibility.



What I Would Like to Have Seen


I didn't feel like anything was missing that could reasonably be added.


Overall


Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning is a very technical yet fascinating look at one theory about how the mind interprets language. It meticulously details the studies performed so the reader better understands and can judge just how solid the science is. Being very technical, this isn't for the average reader looking for an escape. I give it 4.5 out of 5 eReaders.



      




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Friday, June 9, 2017

Movie Review - One Piece Film: Gold



I've heard of One Piece, but I've never read the manga or watched the anime, and I've never really wanted to. But then I saw a trailer for the film, and I couldn't rent it fast enough. But would the film live up to the trailer?

One Piece Film: Gold is a 2016 action fantasy anime film from Toei Animation based on the manga of the same name by Eiichiro Oda. It's unrated, but is appropriate for tweens and up due to some mild language and fantasy violence.

Overview


The Straw Hat Pirates visit a floating casino run by a man who has the power to control gold and engage in a battle of who can cheat whom better.

The Good


Opening Sequence. The opening sequence is brilliant! It's basically a large music production mixed with a giant action sequence that manages to introduce the main characters, motivations, and what to expect from the story in just a few minutes. I watched it multiple times.

Villains. The villains were so fun from their designs to their unique quirks to their personalities. They were, without doubt, the stars of the show.

Visuals. This film was a visual feast from the colors to the sets to the costumes to the special effects. Even if the story had been dreadful, this would be worth watching for the visuals alone.

Animation. This film was very well animated with beautiful fighting scenes to great facial emotions. The long, lanky design of the characters was used to the maximum with the frantic movements that both communicated emotion and looked cool in fight scenes.

Plot Twists. This movie had plot twist after plot twist after plot twist, most I expected but a few I never saw coming. And they kept coming up to the very end.

Nonwestern Style of Storytelling. This movie was very watchable to a Western audience, but it wasn't paced or plotted like a typical American film. There were a couple of times I thought we had hit the climax and it would end soon, but it kept going, developing everything fully where an American film would cut it short to fit a certain pattern and pacing. It was nice and refreshing.

The Bad


Straw Hat Pirates. The Straw Hat Pirates are the main characters of the series and movie, and they are probably beloved in the manga and anime series. But in this movie they were the weakest part. They were never properly introduced, so I didn't really know who they were or what they could do until I looked it up afterwards. For fans of the series, this wouldn't be a problem, but it wouldn't have hurt the film to introduce the characters and flesh them out even briefly. The title sequence wasn't enough. They also aren't the main characters of the movie, the King of the casino and his co-patriots are, and they are much more interesting and much more fleshed out.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the main characters, The Straw Hat Pirates, had been more interesting.

Overall


One Piece Film: Gold is a great movie with beautiful visuals, interesting villains, great storytelling, tons of plot twists, and amazing animation and action. I give it a solid 4.5 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.



    


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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Book Review - Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones



I grew up watching Sesame Street and The Muppet Show and loving them. They are classics. I knew they were the brainchildren of Jim Henson, and I knew what Jim Henson looked like, but otherwise I couldn't tell you a thing about him, which is strange considering how beloved his creations are and how many biographies there are for everyone else.

Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jonesis a biography of Jim Henson (hence the title), the creator of the Muppets, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and so much more. It's available in all formats: eBooks, Audiobooks, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

The Good


Information. This book does an excellent job covering both Jim Henson's personal life and his career. When I finished the book, I didn't have anymore questions or wonder about any part of his life, it was so thoroughly covered.

Writing. This book is so well written. It is very long, but it never feels long or drags. It fells like one old friend telling you about another old friend. The style fits Jim Henson perfectly.

Look into Mind and Thoughts. This book gets into the head of Jim Henson, explaining his passions, his way of thinking and approaching projects, his motivations, and his uncompleted projects he started or outlined. It's rare you get such an intimate look into a creator and his process.


The Bad


Ummm.



What I Would Like to Have Seen


Video?


Overall


Jim Henson: The Biography is a fascinating look at the life and work of an American icon telling a story you won't hear anywhere else. The story covers both Jim Henson's personal life and work. It is completely engrossing and perfectly told. I give it 5 out of 5 eReaders.



     




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