Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Movie Review: Marvel's Black Panther

Black Panther is a second-tier superhero who is virtually unknown outside of comic books (until Captain America: Civil War), and yet Marvel Studios has managed to create a highly-successful major motion picture starting that character. That is marketing at its best.

Marvel's Black Panther is a 2018 action adventure superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. It is rated PG-13 for language, violence, and a vulgar gesture and is appropriate for tweens and up.

The Good


Car Chase. In the middle of the film there is a pretty exciting car chase scene that presents action and other elements we haven't seen in a superhero movie before. It was pretty fun and way too short.

Accessibility. Black Panther is one of the lesser known superheroes having almost never appeared in media outside the comic book until now. The filmmakers filled in all the backstory information a non-comic book reader needed to understand the characters and story, and did it in a way that was interesting and didn't distract from the story or hurt the pacing.

Solid Story. The story was solid, easy to follow, and didn't have any glaring plot holes or problems. I felt very satisfied at the end that the major arcs were complete and the themes sufficiently explored.


The Bad


Played it Safe. This movie follows the Marvel formula and felt like the last six Marvel movies I've seen. They missed an opportunity to do something a little more original and unique.

CGI Characters. CGI was used to create the Black Panther during several action scenes and stunts, and it looked like a bad video game. Iron Man was so well done and set the bar so high for believable effects that it makes subpar CGI look even worse.

Villains. Like most Marvel movies produced by Disney, the villains were underdeveloped. This film has two main villains, and I think that was the mistake. It meant each only got half as much screen time as they needed to develop them beyond single-minded, two-dimensional characters. Klaue is presented as a lunatic who can't stop shooting and wrecking things, and Killmonger is focused on revenge and nothing else. Neither are likable or elicit much sympathy. Focusing on one villain would have given the movie time to develop one of the villains into a more fleshed out opponent.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


In the Jack Kirby run and Brian Stelfreeze run of the Black Panther comic book, both artists use a very weird, abstract style that is really quite stunning to look at. I wish the filmmakers had been a little braver and brought that look into the art direction. They missed a real opportunity to create a unique look for the movie that would have made it stand out from all the other superhero movies. This looked like almost every other Marvel movie.


Overall


Marvel's Black Panther delivers exactly what you expect from a Marvel film. If you liked the last half dozen films, you'll like this one, because it follows the same formula. There are a couple of great action scenes but not as much humor as we're used to. The filmmakers missed an opportunity to adapt some of the unique designs from the Jack Kirby and Brian Stelfreeze runs on the comic that could have given this film a really unique look and made it stand out from all the other superhero films. The story is solid and the filmmakers present a lot of new characters and background most viewers will be unfamiliar with in a way that is interesting and doesn't distract from the story or slow down the pacing. I give this film 4 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.

    

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Book Review: The Cordell Logan Series by David Freed

I love finding a new series of books where each entry is as good as the last. Often books in a series get worse, or occasionally better. But once in a while you find one that starts great and never veers left or right.

The Cordell Logan Series is a series of action adventure mysteries sprinkled with a little romance about a pilot and former black ops operative who finds himself involved in life and death situations. They are available as eBooks, audiobooks, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

The Good


Characters. The characters are so likable and so enjoyable to read. They're not all that unique (you will probably recognize people you know in them) but they are fleshed out in such a way that they feel real and relatable. I find myself caring what happens to them and feel like I know them.

Pacing. The books are all well paced. The mystery begins early on with a clear goal and steam forward full speed ahead. There are moments of comedy and romance to give the reader a breather, and then it's back on with the chase.

Romance. There is romance in these books, but it's more realistic than overblown and is never overused in the books. It helps to flesh out the characters and make them more human than literary figures.

Predictability. If you've read one Cordell Logan book, you've read them all. But they are so charming and

Ray Porter. Ray Porter is a master of reading audiobooks. I buy audiobooks just because he reads them, and even mediocre ones he elevates to pretty good.

The Bad


Second Story. The second story is NOT read by Ray Porter and so isn't as good as the others. I wish they'd release a new edition with the proper voice talent.

Death of an Important Character. In the fifth book, the author kills a major character. The sixth book is definitely missing that character and just isn't as enjoyable without them.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the author hadn't killed off a certain character in book five, because book six was lacking.

Overall


The Cordell Logan Series by David Freed is so enjoyable with fast-paced action, exciting adventure, a sarcastic protagonist who gives his jaded opinion about everything, and other great characters who feel so real and so human and so familiar. This series is pure entertainment with each book delivering exactly what you expect. I give this series a solid 4.5 out of 5 eReaders.

    
    

Monday, February 12, 2018

Quick Movie Review: Goodbye Christoper Robin


I love the Ernest Shepard art of the Winnie the Pooh books, so I was curious to see the story behind their creation. Goodbye Christoper Robin is not at all what I expected it to be. I was surprised by all the drama and domestic problems behind the creation of the beloved classic. The story was interesting, it just wasn't well told. The movie chose to jump around in time chaotically instead of presenting the story linearly, which made it a bit confusing. The actors weren't likable and the pacing was very slow. I give this film 3.5 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.

    

Friday, February 9, 2018

Book Review: Star Wars - From a Certain Point of View

I'm a huge Star Wars fan and a huge short story anthology fan, so I thought this book would be a masterpiece. I first heard about it at Salt Lake Comic-con when several of the authors sat on various panels promoted it. I couldn't wait to read it.

From a Certain Point of View is an anthology of short stories taking place in the Star Wars Universe around the events of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, and is appropriate for all ages and all audiences.

The Good


Stories Surrounding Princess Leia's Capture. The first few stories cover the Star Destroyer's pursuit and attack on Princess Leia's shuttle, and offer some interesting insights into Princess Leia's character and adventures before Episode IV. They make me want to read an Adventures of Princess Leia series.

The Bad


Everything Else. After you get off the shuttle an on to Tatooine, the story takes a sharp left turn. The characters they pick are so obscure, which would be fine if they had interesting stories to tell, but most of them aren't. They range from trite to strange to self-indulgent.

Characterization of Beloved Characters. I didn't appreciate the changes made to popular characters, especially Yoda. He was never portrayed as a whiney old man in the movies. I'm sure he had low points in his life, but I doubt this was how he handled it. Also the weird trip Obi-Wan goes on at his death is very inconsistent with how the force has been portrayed.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


Anthologies are always a mixed bag with some good, some bad, and a little great. I just wish one hadn't skewed so far towards bad.

Overall


From a Certain Point of View tells stories surround the events in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. It starts off strong with a few great tales, but quickly lapses into mediocre science fiction and uninteresting characterization. I give this book 3 out of 5 eReaders.

    
    

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Book Review: Swamp Thing Winter Special

I'm a huge fan and reader of comic books, and while I was aware of Swamp Thing, I never read a single story about him until very recently when I noticed Kelly Jones, one of the most stylish and unique comic artists alive, took over the art duties on his title. He was a much more interesting character than I would have guessed.

Swamp Thing Winter Special is an anthology containing two new Swamp Thing stories, the second by legendary Len Wein and Kelly Jones, and Jason Fabok, and is appropriate for all ages and all audiences.

The Good


Art. The art is gorgeous. The first story is drawn by master draftsman Jason Fabok and is a visual feast. Some people think "it looks like a photograph" is a high compliment to pay, but a much better compliment is "a photograph could never look THAT good" and Jason Fabok delivers this page after page. The second story is drawn by legendary Kelly Jones and is as moody and unique as you would expect.

Storytelling. Both tales are expertly told with strong narrative skill. Not only do you understand clearly what is going on, but you feel like you are there and are part of the story, which is what the best fiction does.

The Bad


First Story. While the first story was masterfully told, it was a strange story with little point or reason to exist. Maybe I just didn't understand it, but more likely it was, to quote Shakespeare, "fully of sound and furry, signifying nothing".

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the first story had more of a point to it. Otherwise this issue was a complete masterpiece.

Overall


Swamp Thing Winter Special is a masterfully crafted comic book filled with two beautifully illustrated stories well told. The first story, while well told, was a strange tale with little point or reason to exist. I give this book a solid 4.5 out of 5 eReaders.

    
    

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Book Review - Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven

I've heard you should never judge a book by its cover, but I've made many reading and purchasing choices based solely on the cover, and I rarely regret it. I wonder if a corollary would be: you shouldn't judge a book by its title. I also have based many a reading and purchasing decision on the titles. Make your bed and change the world. Who wouldn't have their curiosity piqued?

Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven is an expanded version of a motivational speech given at a university commencement and is appropriate for all ages and all audiences.

The Good


Advice. This book was written by a retired Admiral about his experiences in SEAL training and 10 things he learned that can be applied to any life. All 10 things have a lot of merit and application.

Experiences. I really enjoyed hearing about the specifics of SEAL training. The author did such a good job describing the trials that, at times, I felt like I was in the mud with him.

The Bad


Narration. I'm glad the author chose to narrate the book himself, and he has a decent voice, but his delivery is very flat and even and monotoned.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


This book is an elaboration on a speech the admiral delivered at a commencement. He gives the elaboration first--which is fascinating--and then he gives the speech with is very repetitive and unnecessary.

Overall


Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven is a retelling of his experience in Navy SEAL training and 10 things he learned that can be applied to every life. The experiences are fascinating; the advice sagacious. I give this book a solid 4.5 out of 5 eReaders.