Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review: Daisy Miller

Daisy MillerDaisy Miller by Henry James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I definitely enjoyed the first act of this story better than the second when Daisy Miller travels to Rome. This novella, which came attached to A Turn of the Screw, I have no idea why, is a much simpler tale than the aforementioned Turn. It's also a lot less interesting. In summary, it's pretty much a tale of an American flirt who either doesn't see or doesn't care about how society views her. In a sense, it's about her innocence being questioned, which is interesting to a point, but grows tiresome as the story wears on. Honestly, I don't know what I expected by the ending, but it's unfulfilling to say the least. Still, I'm glad I read it.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Three Solid Reasons Why The Hobbit Trilogy is Worse Than the Star Wars Prequels

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Yeah, yeah, yeah. Nothing can be worse than the Star Wars prequels, right? Wrong! I genuinely believe that the Lord of the Rings prequels are actually WORSE than the Star Wars prequels and I have three solid reasons why. Read:

1. The Star Wars Prequels Look and Feel Entirely Different from the Original Star Wars Trilogy, while the Hobbit movies look exactly like The Lord of the Rings

Here's probably my biggest complaint about the Hobbit movies. They look just like the movies we loved not too long ago, but the dip in quality is so severe that you kind of wonder if you really should have liked The Lord of the Rings in the first place. So, yeah, it makes you question whether the original trilogy was even actually good or if it was garbage. But no, it wasn't garbage, and yes, it's just as strong as you remember it. It's just these Hobbit movies, with their turgid pacing and overlong battle sequences, suck the big one. On the other hand, the Star Wars prequels look so different and so terrible, that there's no mistaking them for the cinematic abortions that they truly are. So fans of the original trilogy can point to the screen and say, "See this? THIS is good? This over here, bad. Original trilogy, good. New trilogy, bad." It's not so clear cut with these abysmal Hobbit movies since they look so much like what came before them.
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2. The character arc, believe it or not, is actually better in the Star Wars prequels than it is in The Hobbit trilogy.

Okay, I know, I know, George Lucas meddling with the original trilogy and sticking in corny additions, like the picture above, are inexcusable. That in itself may make the Star Wars prequels worse than The Hobbit movies. But I offer you this--At least the Star Wars prequels follow one character's story arc in Hayden Christensen's Anaken Skywalker. I mean, it might be clumsily put together, and the transition from kid to Hayden Christensen from Episode I to II is beyond jarring, but even so, his story evolves and by the end of it, he becomes Darth Vader. The story makes sense. But these Hobbit movies, oh, man. Where do I begin? For a movie actually called The Hobbit, he sure plays a very tiny role in the story. Another huge gripe I've had with these bloated, CG monstrosities is that the title character, Bilbo Baggins, feels like a background character. Instead of us truly going on an adventure with him, you know, there and back again, we're instead thrown a whole bunch of other stories--side quests, if you will--that detract from the main story. If it isn't the dwarves, it's the dragon. If it isn't the dragon, it's the man who's going to slay the dragon. If it's not him, it's the elf/dwarf relationship. If it's not that, it's the Legolas/elf who loves the dwarf relationship. In the end, the story of Bilbo Baggins gets lost and you're wondering what the hell happened amidst all those extremely long battle sequences. At least Revenge of the Sith has a semi-satisfying conclusion. "Nooooooo," and all.

3. You can feel that George Lucas actually tried to make a good trilogy. Peter Jackson was just in it for the money.

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And finally, the biggest insult is the fact that you can tell by every overlong CG fight scene, or segment where Legolas is talking, that Peter Jackson was just in it for the money. The movie, initially, was supposed to be split into two, which, I'm sorry, is pretty ridiculous given the source material. But after it was turned into three pictures, you could tell that a majority of each film's run-time was just padding, filler. Peter Jackson was bowing to the pressure of New Line cinema and making his project a bloated mess. And while the Star Wars prequels, especially Attack of the Clones, feel obscenely long, at least you can tell by every corny joke and lightsaber battle, that George Lucas poured his heart into that garbage. It may have been terrible, but the heart was still there. Even a heart in the right place is better than a heart clogged with dollar signs.

But what do you think? Do you think I'm just talking out my ass and that my arguments are invalid? Leave comments below. I'd love to hear what you think.

Review: The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the ScrewThe Turn of the Screw by Henry James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, now, after reading Henry James in college and being absolutely flummoxed and bewildered by what I was reading, I decided that maybe I wasn't ready for Henry James at the time. Maybe I wasn't mature enough. Well, after reading The Turn of the Screw, which may be his masterpiece, I have decided that I was right. This fiction is rich stuff! (No pun intended).

The Turn of the Screw is a ghost story. Or maybe it isn't, which is why I ended up enjoying this novella. Unlike other old tales, where the hidden connotations are so mired in history that you have to study the time period to truly grasp its deeper meanings, The Turn of the Screw is timeless enough that issues like child molesters and psychosis can be read into the narrative as being possibilities. It definitely holds up, and I definitely caught its gist.

The only reason this novella isn't getting five stars from me is because of Henry James' narrative approach. Sometimes, he would use pages upon pages to describe an emotion or feeling that could have been cut down to a single paragraph. So that much I still remember hating about Henry James. But otherwise, this is a masterful story written by a master writer. A stellar achievement.

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Top Ten Best Movies I Saw In 2014

Since I didn't get to see either Selma or Whiplash this year and probably won't get to see them until January (Damn you, nearby indie house. You have failed me), I can't include them on this list. But I did get to see scads (I like that word. Scads) of great films this year, and here are the best ones. To see the worst movies I've seen all year, click here.

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10. Guardians of the Galaxy

It MUST have been a good year for cinema if this stud of a picture makes it in at number 10. Arguably one of the greatest (If not THE greatest, depending on who you talk to) Marvel movie of all time, this ragtag group of intergalactic losers who become heroes is the feel good movie of the year. It also represents a watershed moment for Marvel/Disney who took these mostly unknown characters (Definitely D-List in regards to Marvel standards) and made them the biggest stars of the year. So, basically, Marvel could turn Squirrel Girl into a blockbuster success if they wanted to. Now, if only they would ever consider doing it for Moon Knight. I refuse to lose faith!

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9. Edge of Tomorrow

Live. Die. Repeat, er, I mean Edge of Tomorrow is the best movie you didn't see this year. Exciting, funny, and a genuinely great star turn for Tom Cruise, Edge of Tomorrow, had a silly premise that actually ended up working. I think it's mostly because it played against expectations, which may have been to its detriment when trying to get it out there to the general public. But the trailers made it seem like it was going to be some big, gimmicky, rah-rah, sis-boom-bah action movie with a Groundhog's Day twist, when it was actually much more than that, mostly because it never took itself seriously. It's a pity, really, since you'll never truly see that grand battle on the beach in the same way on a small screen. You really had to see it in the theater.

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8. How To Train Your Dragon 2

When I initially saw How To Train Your Dragon 2, I pretty much went ape shit over it, calling it the best animated movie I'd ever seen in my entire life. Well, turns out those claims were a little premature. That's not to say that HTTYD2 isn't phenomenal, because it is. It's pretty much The Empire Strikes Back of sequels. But it's not the greatest animated picture I've ever seen. That would still be Spirited Away. But there are still so many great things to say about this sequel, which is far superior to the original. The story is much better, the characters are more likeable, and the stakes are constantly raised throughout. It's pretty much everything I love about movies, and so much more. It's almost perfect. One of the very best films of the year.

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7. The Boxtrolls

While I did go ga-ga over How To Train Your Dragon 2, The Boxtrolls is the better, uh, animated picture (Though, it's not really animated. It's stop motion) this year. Highly underappreciated, The Boxtrolls was the right kind of weird and dark for me. The story was absolutely ridiculous, but it still worked, and Laika has now become my new favorite company (Yes, even more than Pixar) when it comes to "kids" movies. If you love The Nightmare Before Christmas and other bizarre tales, then you'll ADORE The Boxtrolls. Definitely pick it up when it comes out on tape (On tape. Listen to me, dating myself).

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6. The Imitation Game

I actually just saw this yesterday, so it still has a big impact on me, but The Imitation Game was spectacular Oscar bait that truly delivered. Telling the true story (Though, my conspiracy theory loving dad doesn't believe a lick of it) of Alan Turing and how he cracked the Germans' Enigma Code, Benedict Cumberbatch proves himself to be a staggeringly good actor in this fascinating story, which is more plot driven narrative than biopic. I much preferred this to The Theory of Everything, which I actually find strange parallels to when it comes to telling their stories. Maybe it's the backdrop of WWII that does it for me, as I'm a sucker for that time period. Or maybe it's the internal struggle that Cumberbatch goes through with Turing as a gay male. Whatever the reason, I loved this picture and thought the pacing was fantastic. See it. It's playing in most theaters right now.

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5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Starting the summer off one month early, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, may very well be the greatest Marvel movie ever made. Yes, even better than The Avengers. I constantly go back and forth on that decision. What made Cap Am 2 so great was that it raised the stakes so much, that even while watching it and knowing the story of The Winter Soldier, and knowing that Cap Am was set to appear in the next Avengers movie, I still wasn't certain he was going to make it out alive by the end. The action scenes were that intense. I also loved the slower, spy-thriller vibe of the film. Robert Redford added the kind of gravitas that's starting to make these Marvel movies seem less like comic book pictures, and more like just regular movies. They definitely raised the bar with this one. When it comes to comic book pictures, I may even like it more than The Dark Knight, which is no small claim. I adore this film.

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4. Boyhood

Is Boyhood impressive for filming the same cast for 12 years? Well, yeah, of course. Richard Linklater should definitely win Best Director for his insane commitment to this project and actually pulling it off. But outside of that massive stunt, Boyhood is still a spectacular film. One that, while not truly a great representation of the experience of growing up for all boys, is still one that is relatable and fascinating. And for such a long movie, I was surprised that I was engrossed the entire way through. Watching the actor grow up was an experience that can't be matched by merely changing the actor or applying make-up to a character. You feel the growth and change. Boyhood tells a simple story in a grand, sweeping way, and for that, I applaud it.

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3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A lot of people scoffed and made fun of my taste when I proclaimed that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a masterpiece, but I don't care. I still stand behind that decision. DotPotA is not only the best Planet of the Apes movie ever, it's also one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever in modern times. There's nothing else like it. Where else will you find a silly story about apes, that's turned into a modern day recreation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar? Not only that, but the battle scenes were so good. I only have four words for you: Ape riding a horse. Okay, wait. Scrap that. Let's make it eight: Ape riding a horse WITH A MACHINE GUN! I mean, you can't get any better than that. And dammit, Academy, when are you going to recognize motion capture as acting? Andy Serkis, as Caesar, deserves your love. How good was he? The answer: Too good. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was better than Boyhood. Yeah, I said it, and I'm sticking to it. It was.

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2. Nightcrawler

It's rare that a movie that has so much to say can also be this enthralling, but Nightcrawler pulls it off with aplomb, and Jake Gyllenhaal, and first time director, Dan Gilroy, are to thank for it. Telling a story of what the news has become, what we have become by watching the news, and, oh, for good measure, an introspective look at a sociopath, Nightcrawler moves at a staggering pace that's sometimes hard to keep up with. So much happens that it's over before you know it. But, given all that, it still resonates and manages to entertain in a fantastic three act structure. It raises the question, who's worse? The media, or us for buying into it and salivating over all the blood and gore they bring us night after night? There is no real answer by the end of this movie. You'll just have to come up with one yourself. Spoiler alert: You might not be happy with what you find.

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1. Birdman

Birdman is not only the best film I've seen all year. It's also the best film I've seen since There Will Be Blood. It's a modern day masterpiece and one of the greatest American movies ever made. I mean, God, I feel I could watch it a hundred times and find something new to admire about it every time. What's not to love? Telling a story about madness (Or magical realism depending on how you look at that ending), depression, rebirth, and about a million other things, Birdman is not only an enjoyable film, but like Nightcrawler, it also has a lot to say. And while it may not tackle "important" matters like Nightcralwer does, it definitely tackles issues in regards to the theater, actors, superhero films, critics, and even our sick compulsion to want more out of actors than them just putting on a show. All the while, it has probably the greatest, most skittering soundtracks in recent memory, which totally vibes with the scattered mind of its protagonist, who may or may not be suffering a mental breakdown. Oh, and did I mention that it all feels like one massive single shot? Boyhood will likely win best picture for 2014 since it's the safer choice. But I predict that Birdman will be the movie that people look back upon and say, "Man, that really should have won." It's the Taxi Driver/Goodfellas/Pulp Fiction/Apocalypse Now/Citizen Kane of this generation. It's a movie that's so brilliant, that it's too brilliant. And that's why it's my favorite movie of the year and likely won't win. Oh, well. At least I appreciate it.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Review: Arrowsmith

ArrowsmithArrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Being the fourth book I've read of Sinclair Lewis' (The other three being his other major works-Main Street, Babbitt, and Elmer Gantry), I was pretty much set to be blown away by this novel since it's widely considered to be his best and his most read. But honestly, it is my least favorite of his books so far. It's mostly because of the title character himself, Martin Arrowsmith, who is most certainly the least comical protagonist I've read thus far from Lewis. In that way, a great deal of the satire is lost since his central figure is not a buffoon or harboring outrageous delusions of grandeur. Instead, in many ways (Except for the ending), Arrowsmith is a truly admirable character, striving to adhere to his beliefs and not to be corrupted. In every way, he's not the kind of character I would expect out of Sinclair Lewis, which, in this instance, is a bad thing. I barely laughed at all while reading it.

That's not to say that Lewis is only good when he's providing that biting, acerbic wit when it comes to casting characters. But being that this is less a character study, and more an actual story, it kind of threw me off. In the end, I wasn't entirely impressed. Given all the science involved, I'm sure this was a very important and relevant novel at the time, but today, it doesn't really seem all that impressive. This is always usually the case when something new and fresh is invented. So many others make it their own over the years that it begins to feel tired and unoriginal, even though it's actually the genuine article. For that reason, I find Arrowsmith a bit blah. It's most certainly a well-written novel, but it wasn't what I expected, nor was I pleasantly surprised. In the end, it's just "Meh" for me.

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The Top Five Worst Movies I Saw in 2014

Being that I still haven't seen The Imitation Game, Selma, A Most Violent Year, and Whiplash yet, I'm hesitant to write a list of the best movies I've seen in 2014. So I decided to write about the worst ones instead. Thankfully, 2014 didn't produce a lot of stinkers. And the ones it did, I mostly skipped (I'm looking at you Transformers 4). So here's a list of the absolute worst dreck I had to sit through this year. You probably saw all of them and liked them. That's where our taste differs, you see.

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5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I'm just as surprised as you are that this isn't even higher (Or is that lower?) on the list, but the recent TMNT movie was more mediocre than anything else. It was certainly better than any of those God-awful Transformers movies. What saved it from being a total disaster was all the turtle fight scenes, which were actually quite spectacular...and also incredibly short. The major problem was that this was less a movie about the turtles and more a showcase for Megan Fox's poor acting abilities, as she was the main star. Not the heroes in a half shell (Turtle power!). The Shredder was awful, Master Splinter was a joke, and (spoiler alert) April 'O Neil saves the day. But other than that, it was fine. It could have been a whole lot worse.

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4. The Amazing Spider-Man 2

I genuinely enjoyed the first Amazing Spider-Man movie and actually consider it the best Spider-Man movie ever. So it's heart-breaking that its sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, is the absolute WORST Spider-Man movie of all time. I mean, even worse than emo Peter Parker/skinny Venom, Spider-Man 3 by Sam Raimi. It was seriously that bad, and for a number of reasons. One, it was so cheesy. Jamie Fox as Electro was ghastly, as it was neither funny nor interesting. Two, Green Goblin and The Rhino felt unnecessary to the point that I didn't even know what they were doing movie besides setting up the next one, which is never a good thing. Three, it was way too long. There were so many storylines going on that it became maddening trying to force myself to care about any of them. In the end, none of them worked. There are a slew of other reasons it was horrendous, but those are the three that stick out to me the most. I have now grown tired of the character, and Spider-Man was my hero as a kid. Sony, what have you done?

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3. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Oh, my God. Thank God this trilogy (I still can't believe they had the audacity to turn one book into a trilogy of movies), is finally over. Here's a pretty accurate analogy. Star Wars Episodes 4, 5, 6 : Star Wars Episodes 1, 2, 3 :: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy : The Hobbit Trilogy. I'm dead serious. I actually think these Hobbit movies are even worse than the Star Wars prequels, as at least you can tell George Lucas had his heart in the right place when he tried (and failed) with the prequels. But you can tell Peter Jackson truly didn't give a shit when he cobbled together scene after scene of CG creatures fighting other CG creatures, again, and again, and again. How are you going to have a movie about the Hobbit, and then put the title character in the background to the extent that you forget he's even in the movie? By trying to appeal to the diehard Tolkein fans, he alienated everybody else who just wanted a fun, whimsical picture. Kind of like, I don't know, THE BOOK! Anyway, moving on...

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2. Interstellar

What a clumsy and stupid movie. I know Interstellar has its fans, but honestly, I can't find a single noteworthy aspect of merit for this picture. From beginning to end, it was a complete bomb. With its treacly lame theme of love transcending space and time, to its dull as dirt characters, to Matt M's deplorable acting, this movie truly calls Christopher Nolan's directing and writing skills into question. And if that wasn't enough, the actual space exploration was yawn-inducing. Because of Nolan's now grating tendency to make everything as stark and bleak (and, uh, realistic) as possible, the planets ended up being drab wastelands that were neither entertaining or awe-inspiring. As a whole, the whole production left me feeling adrift in my seat, but not in aa good way. I kept thinking back to how much I enjoyed Gravity and wishing I was watching that movie instead. One of the biggest stinkers of the year. What garbage. What tripe.

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1. Godzilla

Not only was Godzilla the worst movie I saw all year. It was also one of the worst movies I've ever seen in my entire life. Where do I begin? Well, for starters, it was an absolute slap in the face to the King of All Monsters. Being a massive Godzilla fan, I can't stress enough how much I hate the fact that Godzilla only fought for a few minutes, and when he did, he spent half that time getting his ass kicked (The scene where he and that kid who played Kick-Ass fell simulataneously made me groan so loudly that multiple patrons turned to look at me). Another thing I hated was how Bryan Cranston was used. Spoiler alert, they KILL off Heisenburg within the first hour of the movie. WHY THE HELL DID THEY DO THAT? We didn't get attached enough to his character to care about him dying, and when he was gone, that meant that Kick-Ass and the pretty Olson sister had to run the show, which was a bad idea from the get-go. What the hell?! Finally (I don't want this to go on too long), the monsters Godzilla contended against were a complete waste of time. They were lame and they shouldn't have been in the picture. There are so many reasons why I absolutely can't stand this movie and even think the Matthew Broderick Godzilla movie was even better than this atrocity, but I'm already getting too upset as it is and don't want to raise my blood pressure. Godzilla was the absolute worst movie of 2014 and I curse it. Curse from the pit of my soul. It was a mistake. An utter and complete mistake.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Review: Song of Simon

Song of SimonSong of Simon by C.A. Sanders
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you're a fan of high fantasy, then raise my score by one star. But, given that I can't even finish reading the second Lord of the Rings book, it's safe to say that I'm not a fan of the genre. In fact, I hate it. Which says a lot for C.A. Sanders' book, Song of Simon, because I did finish it. So, uh, take that, Tolkein! :) But I do have an issue with the protagonist, and it's a major one. I didn't like him. And I mean, like, throughout the entire book. I never found him likeable and was never truly interested in his storyline. He does have growth, though, so I will give the author credit for that.

Another issue I had with the book is the tone. As a writer friend of mine told me, it's like Harry Potter in the beginning and it turns into Game of Thrones, which is absolutely the case. The violence in this book is so vividly described, that you feel like you're actually right there on the battlefield. I'm most certainly not saying that's a bad thing, but it kind of throws off whatever tone this book is trying to go for. In the end, it left me a little lost.

All the same, if you like high fantasy, you'll love Song of Simon. Personally, I don't love high fantasy, hence my "it's just okay" score.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why King James Putting His Arm Around Kate Middleton Deepens My Love For America

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It's 2014, and a Basketball player from the Cleveland Cavaliers is more important than a member of the Royal Family. Or at least, said Basketball player thinks he is. This last part is important, because LeBron James, who is arguably the most famous player in the NBA, recently draped his arm around Kate Middleton and took a picture, because hey, they're not so different. In fact, they're pretty much equals.

What's beautiful about this last statement, and why this photo faux pas deepens my love for America, is that it's actually true. In relation to the rest of the world, a self-made star Basketball player like LeBron James (oh, I'm sorry, King James) truly is of the same level of royalty as Kate Middleton.

Let me explain.

In America, being rich and, more importantly, being famous, equals royalty. People will bend over backwards for you and you're pretty much above the law no matter where you are in the world. You're a Czar. You're a King. You're the Pope. A DWI means nothing but a bad mugshot, and if you want to kill somebody, go ahead. It will probably make you even more of a star (See: OJ Simpson, who's notoriety has extended his shelf life much longer than if he'd just been a football player/actor). In America, you can EARN your royalty, rather than just be born or marry into it. And this photo is evidence of that. As shallow as we are to worship actors and athletes over teachers and doctors, it does say a lot when a Basketball player wouldn't even question putting his arm around the Duchess of Cambridge. Because really, what's royalty in England worth, which has centuries of traditions, when you have Nike endorsements and McDonald's commercials?

What's even MORE beautiful about all this is that it wasn't intentional. LeBron James truly didn't feel like he was doing anything wrong by putting his arm around her. That's sort of like if some famous Cricket player from India came over here and put his arm around the President. Or, hell, if some famous Cricket player from India came over here and put his arm around LeBron as if they were best friends. And that's just it. LeBron honestly didn't see a problem with this, and there isn't one. LeBron is, most likely, more well-known that Kate Middleton will ever be, and that's just fine. Entertainment trumps "tradition".

And that's why I love America. Some might call it ignorance, and some might call it an inflated ego. But I just call it swag. I love you America. You've got swag.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Review: The Exorcist

The ExorcistThe Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, I guess I can now put The Exorcist on my list of movies that are much better than the book (It's right up there with Fight Club, The Shining, and A Clockwork Orange, two of which were directed by Stanley Kubrick). It's not that The Exorcist is bad, per se, as there were a few moments that really got under my skin. But it just can't compete with the movie. That music, that face, that voice. Just everything about the movie trumps this book by a mile.

And I think lot of that can be attributed to the lackluster side-story. The Detective Kinderman sections felt like they made up half the book, and they weren't even that interesting (I don't even remember the character in the film to be honest). And while the book is a relatively quick read, I felt that there were sections that moved much faster than others. Again, anything with Kinderman felt slow, while all the stuff that dealt with the possession moved at a rapid pace. If you're deciding on reading the book, I'd say to just watch the movie instead. It's superior in every way.

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review: The Dark Knight Returns

Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Dark Knight Returns is TERRIBLE. I don't understand why people still talk about it to this day. I understand its significance and importance in relation to what Batman is like today, but outside of the context of Batman, why do people STILL like it? I've heard people put it up there with The Watchmen, and let me just say this--It is nowhere NEAR as good as The Watchmen. The Watchmen is actually like literature. It had something to say. But this, well, it has nothing to say. Batman is old and he's in a society that feels they don't need vigilantes anymore, until they do. And then Batman comes back, does some stuff, gets a new Robin, rides a horse, fights Superman, the end. Honestly, that's the whole story, and it meanders all over the place.

Frank Miller, author of Sin City and a whole bunch of other crummy comics, was not and is still not a very good writer. I'm not saying he's not a good comic book writer, because he suits his purpose. But he's no Neil Gaiman. He's no Alan Moore. Hell, he's not even Sam Keith, who penned the brilliant comic, The Maxx, back in the early 90s. What Frank Miller did was change the whole vision of Batman, which is to be commended, sure, but not to be applauded to the extent that The Dark Knight Returns is considered one of the greatest graphic novels of all time. It's not even close. To cite one of the lines of this terribly boring book, The Dark Knight Returns is "balls nasty." And not in a good way, like it's used in this book, but in a bad way, like balls actually being nasty. Especially if they're not cleaned.

I know you've heard a lot about this book, but it's not justified. It sucks. Plain and simple. Read something else instead.

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Review: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

The Heart is a Lonely HunterThe Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I almost gave The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter a four star rating instead of five since the description on the back totally misrepresents the story I just finished reading, which really pisses me off. Why would they push the book the way they did on this vintage version that I picked up? It doesn't make any sense. Even the photo on the cover (my cover is different from the one presented here) doesn't truly represent this staggering work. It's strange. While reading the book, I kept turning it over and re-reading the back to see when the "loss of innocence" would occur, or why they say that Mick Kelly, who is important in the overall narrative, would be called the main character, as this is a book where every character is important. It's just really poor marketing on the publisher's part, and I don't get it. Why?

But, moving on.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is a masterpiece as it clearly represents a collage of loneliness. Every character suffers from it, and in a sense, you get the feeling that whole world suffers from it as the characters represented here are about as diverse as you can get. You get the educated black doctor who was born too early since the things he wants out of life are outside of his reach for another 20 years. You have the loner Communist who doesn't entirely know what he wants, but he avidly thinks he needs to get it and soon. You have the aforementioned, Mick Kelly, a 13 year old girl who has music in her heart and dreams of the future, but lives in abject poverty and searching for something more. And then, you have arguably the most complex character, Biff, who is most likely a homosexual, but not really sure or even desiring to confirm it in himself. They are all tied together by a deaf mute named Mr. Singer, who is also most likely gay, but also just as lonely, if not even lonelier, than the rest of the cast. His one true love, a fellow deaf man who may or may not even understand his only friend, is the glue that keeps Mr. Singer together. Every last character is essential to telling this story, which is one of the most depressing and beautiful I've ever read. There is hope at the end, but you wonder if it's justifiable hope. In the end, who's to say?

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is a rich, complex, layered novel and one that I will never forget. Its stature as a novel has only risen over the years, and for good reason. It's a true masterpiece.

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In the Eyes of the Law (New Short Story)

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Here's a short story I had published recently. It might be offensive to some, and even I question its content now after seeing and hearing recent events (I wrote it last August in the heat of the Michael Brown incident), but a published story is a published story. You can find it here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Review: Main Street

Main StreetMain Street by Sinclair Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Main Street is the kind of novel you can't just read today like it was written yesterday. You have to look at it from the lens of the time period. I'd call it a zeitgeist novel, but it represents a very specific time (the early 1900s), making it feel dated in a sense. But it's still good all the same. Sinclair Lewis could do no wrong.

The story concerns a woman named Carol Kennicott who is trapped in the wrong time and the wrong location. I don't mean that in a sci-fi sense, but rather that she's a woman with great ambitions caught in a town that doesn't want to do anything but stay the same. This affects Carol greatly as she deeply wants to do something with her life. But after getting married and having a baby, those ambitions get squashed every chance she gets as the denizens of Gopher Prairie don't want change. They want things the way they are. Carol ends up feeling smothered.

Why this book can't be seen as anything more than a time capsule is because you can tell that Sinclair Lewis had his eyes toward the future. But he couldn't see far enough to make the novel more damning toward the residents of Gopher Prairie. You get a sense that Carol is sometimes silly and not committed to her plight to change Main Street, and we don't so much as sympathize with her as we merely shrug our shoulders at the idea that she was just born too early. Her day would soon come in only a few decades.

That said, the book is still funny and a joy to read, even if it meanders a bit. If you like Sinclair Lewis, I'd say give it a go. It was that first novel that really put him on the map.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review: Wergild

WergildWergild by J.L. Hickey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wergild starts off very well, with interesting characters and good dialogue, but I found the ending didn't fit the attitude of the protagonist at all, even after going through some trying circumstances. The story concerns a young artist who is pushed into a terrible ordeal due to his wretched uncle, who is my favorite character since he's such a scoundrel. A lot of the story, which is much more of a short story than a novella, concerns the time period itself and the concept of what the gods, or the creator, have to do with the daily lives of mankind. This theme is played out in a story within the story written by the protagonist, who has the potential to change the world some day with his words.

That said, there is a bit too much philosophy going on in this story, which slows down the otherwise pretty good pacing. I would have liked if that aspect--the questioning of theology and the troubling times of the story--had been put on the back burner, and the compelling narrative itself had taken center stage, but oh, well. I will say that I did enjoy the overall story arc and the growth of the protagonist (Even if it's not entirely consistent), so this story definitely has that going for it. The author is very talented and knows his stuff around crafting a story, so I will definitely read more of his work someday. He is quite skilled.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Christopher Nolan Has Actually DOOMED DC's Cinematic Universe, Not Saved It

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Christopher Nolan got quite a few Marvel fanboys upset the other day when he commented that "real" movies don't have post-credit scenes. (The director has since said that he was misquoted, which I believe). Listen, I like Christopher Nolan and always have ever since I saw his second movie, Memento.

But the truth is, Christopher Nolan has officially RUINED DC's cinematic universe rather than saved it. Let me explain. It all goes back to The Dark Knight. Sure, Batman Begins was okay, but it wasn't the touchstone film that its sequel, The Dark Knight, was. In fact, The Dark Knight created a sea change within the industry of comic book movies. After TDK, comic book films became much darker, and if they weren't dark, then they were seen as goofy and childish (Like Green Lantern, which bombed). This is a problem that has actually stuck with Warner Bros./DC and doesn't seem to be going away. While Marvel distanced itself from this concept of brooding superheroes, Warner Bros./DC seems to want to continue with the notion that if you're watching a DC movie, it's not going to be colorful and playful like a Marvel film. Man of Steel is a clear example of this.

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Instead of being bright and colorful--a real showcase of the red, the white, and blue--we instead got a much darker, both in color and in tone, picture, where Superman actually KILLS General Zod. This has caused contention with many fans of Supes, and has spelled a new era of Superman. This is an era that I will call "The Nolan Effect". Unlike "The Avengers Effect", which is all about throwing in as many characters as possible and making it one large spectacle, DC/WB is still under the impression that people want lugubrious and heavy superhero pictures. In other words, DC/WB is still trying to prove that they're NOT MARVEL. And if you want something for babies, then watch something like The Avengers. But if you want something more introspective and grown-up, come to us.

Don't believe me? Just look at this poster for Batman v. Superman:
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I mean, jeez. More darkness? More bad times? No levity? I thought this was supposed to be SUPERMAN. Not The Crow. "It can't rain all the time," right?

So, in many ways, if DC stays with the Nolan mentality, it will effectively doom the DC Cinematic universe, as these are COMIC BOOK MOVIES. Maybe Batman can be taken seriously (I guess), but it doesn't apply for all of these other characters who are soon coming out the gate from DC. Because if something as corny as The Flash is going to be like watching a World War II movie, then they're doing wrong.

Lighten up.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review: The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of GilgameshThe Epic of Gilgamesh by Anonymous
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While short, The Epic of Gilgamesh is quite boring. I expected much more from it. What's boring about it is that all throughout, lines are repeated over and over and over again, and for no real reason whatsoever. I don't blame the translator, since they were just doing their job, but it's just a bit much. I grew tired of it after awhile. It's so damn repetitive.

Besides that, I also wanted a great deal more from it. Being that this is the oldest epic poem on record and also the basis for the hero's journey, I thought it would be much more drawn out and specific, but it wasn't. It meandered quite a bit, and it didn't leave me satisfied. Later epic poems, like The Illiad, would nail what we call "plot" much better than this early snooze-fest.

That said, given its history and legacy, I can't grade it too low. This started it all, so it definitely deserves credit for that. Overall, an unsatisfying classic. At only 63 pages, you might as well give it a read.

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Top Ten Best NES Soundtracks of All Time

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I love freaking much. And listening to it just now, it actually got me thinking about my all-time favorite NES soundtracks. People are always so quick to point out Mega Man 2, but eh. I always found it just okay. But these babies below are solid (Solid as a rock). Disagree? Do so in the comments below. And suggestions would also be appreciated. (NOTE: I have not played EVERY game in the NES library, but I have played most of them through emulators, so if I'm missing anything, please forgive me).

10. Ninja Gaiden

This soundtrack is just so cinematic, which works because of the (snicker) "in-game cut-scenes" (I laugh because of how primitive they are compared to today's standards. But hey, it worked back when we were kids). I remember how intense some of these songs were, and how angry I would get at tough jumps, throwing my controller at the wall. This soundtrack reminds me of the best possible way.

9. Super Mario Bros. 2

My favorite soundtrack of the three SMB's on the NES, I just love how bizarre it sounds. It totally plays like a totally different entity, which it is. The game started out as another game called Doki Doki Panic in Japan, and Mario characters replaced those characters because Japan thought their version of SMB2 was too hard. That game would later become The Lost Worlds. But most importantly, this soundtrack is just so catchy. I love it!

8. Adventures of Tom Sawyer

There's a sense of adventure with this soundtrack, which is why I think it fits the game it accompanies. Though the game doesn't quite live up to its tunes, I definitely think it compliments the game quite well. Give it a listen.

7. Duck Tales

Everybody always raves about "The Moon Theme," which is good to be sure, but this whole soundtrack is fantastic, to that perfect title music, to the stage select screen, to pretty much everything. Such a good soundtrack.

6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

A truly lousy and frustrating game, but man, were those tunes slamming. It's upbeat at times, sinister at others, but always different and interesting. I will always hate this game (That f**king dam stage!), but the music still holds up, even to this day.

5. Bubble Bobble

I know I might catch hell for this, since The Legend of Zelda theme is not on this list, but I really love the Bubble Bobble song, which pretty much plays throughout the entirety of the game. This song drives my wife nuts, but I can't get enough of it.

4. Double Dragon II: The Revenge

A pulse-pounding, fist-pumping soundtrack to one of the best beat-em-ups on the NES. There are so many great layers to each level's song, which is surprising because most of the levels are so short on this classic.

3. Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest

A crummy sequel to the original, but probably my favorite music in the entirety of the Castlevania series, right there next to Super Castlevania IV.

2. Metroid

Spooky, atmospheric, dense, you truly feel lost in space with this haunting soundtrack. Great game, even better music.

1. Taboo

And now for a soundtrack that nobody has ever heard before. Seriously, Taboo is probably one of the least unplayable games ever made, but man, oh, man, does this soundtrack creep me out. Everything about it just gets underneath my skin. I had nightmares about the music in this game, and any soundtrack that can stick with me like that wins the title of best NES soundtrack in my mind.

Review: The Harlem Hellfighters

The Harlem HellfightersThe Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

War. It's a topic that Max Brooks is good at writing about. Whether it's a war against zombies, or a real war back in WWI, Max Brooks is a master at building characters and scenes that really resonate with the reader. The Harlem Hellfighters is no exception.

I actually heard about this book in Entertainment Weekly and found it an odd topic for the author of WWZ to write about. Even weirder, it was a graphic novel. What could this man possibly have to say about black soldiers in a war that very few people even talk about these days (WWII gets all the attention)? Well, apparently, a lot.

I had never even heard of the Harlem Hellfighters and everything they accomplished until this very graphic story. Max Brooks writes with sparseness, making it an easy and quick read, but one that sticks with the reader. There are scenes, like when a decorated black officer is applauded in France but is belittled by his own country, that truly filled me with rage. I gnashed my teeth, and it just goes to show how good Max Brooks is to make me feel that way about injustice. In an age of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, it's hard for any race related incident to get my blood boiling any longer since it's unfortunately so frequent, but this book managed to do just that. That's no small achievement.

That said, it's hard to sometimes follow certain characters because they come and go and you don't really get a sense of who they are or what they're here for, so that's one weakness of the book. Other than that, though, I encourage anybody who wants a good read to pick this up. Max Brooks does it again. I'm looking forward to seeing what his creative mind gravitates toward next.

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Review: The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The Man in the High Castle" is the kind of book that when you finish it, you get angry. "Is that it?" I asked aloud as I turned it over and read the back again to see if I was missing anything. I then sat and thought about it. What does a novel about the Japanese and the Germans winning WWII have to do with antique dealers and the I Ching? I left it on my table and walked away from it, very upset that out of all the great Philip K. Dick novels I've read, THIS is the one that won him the Hugo award and is possibly considered his masterpiece.

What was I missing?

Well, like a movie that is critically acclaimed that I just didn't get (Like Lost Highway, by David Lynch, for instance), I decided to read what others thought, and I found that I wasn't alone with my confusion. There were many who "didn't get it," and very few who actually did. But reading the summaries from those who did made me have a new liking for the book. It also made me see that it really does fit snuggly in with the theme of "What is real?" that Philip K. Dick liked to play with in his books. It's just much more subversive here, and even more cynical.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a book about an alternate reality in which the Allies lost WWII and the Axis of Evil won. What would the world be like if that actually happened? There are ideas scattered throughout--The Germans would be tyrannical, and the Japanese would be internal and reflective--but the book is more than just that. It's the idea that even if that reality WERE to have happened, what makes it actually real? For that matter, what makes the world we're living in now real? What is money? Well, that's easy. Money is paper and coins, but what else? What is success? What is tyranny? All of these questions are left open-ended to the extent that even the ending feels like there are pages still missing. This is a book that is not meant to be read for enjoyment, but rather, to make you think, which makes it one of the least concerned about the reader's feelings that I've ever read.

That said, PKD was such a master that I was still strung along for the ride, even though I didn't know where I was being strung along to, or what for. In the end, this is essential reading if you love science fiction or what if? novels. It is a landmark work by one of the masters of the craft. Give it a read. Just don't think you will be satisfied by the end. You will have more questions than answers.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Boy and His Corpse Will be FREE Tomorrow

A Boy and His Corpse will be free for download tomorrow (the 29th) and Thursday (the 30th). You can find it here. Get excited! :)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Review: Secret Seekers Society

Secret Seekers Society and the Beast of BladenboroSecret Seekers Society and the Beast of Bladenboro by J.L. Hickey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At times, Joe Hickey's Secret Seekers Society invokes fond memories of Harry Potter. It genuinely is that good. The story concerns a brother and sister who enter a new world where strange creatures (Known as cryptids, such as Bigfoot and Nessie) exist. This emergence into this new world creates a lot of conflict, as the protagonists are not only just learning about this society their parents one belonged to, but there is also a strange creature on the loose--the eponymous Beast of Bladenboro--that the kids are on the move to stop. It makes for compelling fiction.

What I think I like most about this book is the pacing. All throughout, the story moves at a steady clip and it never really slows down (Even though the beginning takes a little while to warm up). I think this is mostly because the characters are likeable, especially Uncle Joe, so you genuinely care about them. There is also a great deal of intrigue as the author keeps his cards close to his chest about the society until the very end. This is both a positive and a negative, as the last few pages feel kind of bogged down with information. Still, I do prefer this over getting inundated with info too early on in the story. I don't know. I'm a little mixed on the matter.

One other thing that I thought could have used some work was the primary antagonist, which, being the beast, doesn't really have much to say other than growls and snarls. It's an interesting approach, making the bad guy a monster that doesn't really have anything to say, but it is fascinating to say the very least. We learn more about the characters and the organization because the main enemy doesn't talk back. Again, I'm a little mixed on how it was handled, but it works.

Overall, Joe Hickey's Secret Seekers Society is one of the few independent books that sustained my interest all-throughout. I highly recommend this story for any and all ages. There's a little bit of magic for everyone. Definitely pick it up.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Win a FREE, signed copy of my new book, A Boy and His Corpse

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Boy and His Corpse by Richard B. Knight

A Boy and His Corpse

by Richard B. Knight

Giveaway ends October 31, 2014.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Review: The Toynbee Convector

The Toynbee ConvectorThe Toynbee Convector by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Toynbee Convector is highly misleading in both title and cover. Ray Bradbury, who has written both exceptional novels (Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes) and short story collections (The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man) swung and missed with this book of bite-sized tales, and mainly because it feels so disjointed and aimless.

The stories in this collection are all over the place, and only one of them ("The Toynbee Convector") could even come close to being considered science fiction. This is the reason I said the title and cover are misleading. Most of the stories feel hollow, and it's strange, given the richness of most of Bradbury's work, rest his soul. There are a few highlights here or there, but mostly, the stories are unfulfilling. You're left wondering, why did I read that?

Overall, The Toynbee Convector is a weak book of short stories from a master in the field. It happens, I guess. So even if you're a Bradbury fanatic, there's no need to read this book. There is much better material in his collection out there. Read that instead.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Boy and His Corpse is Now Available!

Just in time for Halloween is A Boy and His Corpse, my latest novel. You can find a print version here on Amazon. A digital version is coming soon. Thanks so much!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Teacher Man

Teacher ManTeacher Man by Frank McCourt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Frank McCourt was the kind of teacher I always wanted, and somewhat, the kind of teacher I usually got when I went to school--supportive, open, and revealing. It just goes to show that a truly great teacher cares more about the student's well-being than the lessons themselves.

Being a teacher, I saw a lot of my own faults while reading this book, which is both enjoyable and insightful. Having read Angela's Ashes, I already knew that Frank McCourt was a masterful writer, but I actually believe this book is even better. It's probably because I relate to the subject more, and can find ways to grow from it. Even when writing about his own life, Frank McCourt found ways to teach life lessons that truly resonated. And when reading his books, we see ourselves in his characters, who are actually real people. This just goes to show how alike we all truly are in the long run. McCourt was a genius in finding this out about people by finding it out in himself. That's incredible.

Teacher Man is an excellent book about learning by teaching others. It's fitting that the last book in his memoir trilogy actually leads him to thinking about writing Angela's Ashes, making it circular in its delivery. We lost a good soul when we lost Frank McCourt in 2009. This book is a testament to his talent.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review: Rabbit Is Rich

Rabbit Is Rich (Rabbit Angstrom, #3)Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Spoilers of the first two books abound)

While reading Rabbit is Rich, I often wondered why this book won the Pulitzer Prize, especially since nothing major seemed to be happening in it. But by the end of the book, I think I figured it out, and it's BECAUSE nothing really major happened that it won the prestigious award. By this point in Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom's tale, we've seen him desert his wife, lose a home, and even lose a baby. And in this third book, which deals with him in his mid-40s, I expected all the trappings of a midlife crisis novel. Getting the motorcycle. Shacking up with another hooker. That sort of thing. But what we get instead is a man who finally appears to be comfortable with himself and where he is in life, and why not? As the title proclaims, he's rich now. And like many of the circumstances of his life thus far, it seems unjustified. He really shouldn't be rich. I'm not going to go into why he's finally in a comfortable spot with his finances, but if you read the other two previous books, you can probably figure it out. It has something to do with a death in the family. I'll leave it at that.

Throughout the story, Rabbit is his normal, selfish self, but you actually don't hate him for it anymore. At least I didn't. There's growth in him, but it's a growth that I don't think the character even realizes, which is difficult as hell for any writer to do. Updike fully created a three dimensional character in Harry, whereas before, I think he kind of painted a facsimile of one in the first two books. This time, thought, I think I truly actually GOT Rabbit as a person, and that's why he is the way he is in this story. He's more a human being than he's ever been before.

There are also a lot of familiar faces from previous books in this entry, and it's both exciting and frightening to see them ten years older. One character in particular has changed a great deal (Nelson), and another, not so much (Janice). But in the end, I think the book paints a very intriguing story of growth and the lack thereof, and it works. Well, most of the time anyway. If there's one thing I didn't love about this book, it's that there really isn't any major event in the story to really push the characters to other places. Besides Nelson's story arc, the rest of the characters are pretty static. I'm sure that was the point--to paint middle age as not being a horror show, but rather, more like a nice settling in period if you allow it to be--but it doesn't make for the most interesting novel at times. That said, I enjoyed it for the most part, and I'm looking forward to the last official book, Rabbit at Rest. It's been an interesting journey.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Review: teenage mutant NINJA TURTLES

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Since I was born in 1983, I wasn't really old enough to seriously get into Thundercats, G.I. Joe, or The Transformers. I mean, I knew about them, had toys of them, but I wasn't that big a fan of them. I actually got into The Transformers much, much later, so the Michael Bay movies never really offended me all that much, aside from being terrible movies in general. Every last one of them.

But while I wasn't old enough to appreciate the most popular boy cartoons of the 80s, I was old enough when turtle fever finally hit, which was around 1989. I was fanatical, and I ingested every last thing I could that pertained to the turtles. Unfortunately, a lot of that stuff was garbage ("AAAh, Skipping stones!"), so I'm used to getting burned when it came to my heroes in a half shell. None of the movies were really any good except for the first and the animated one that came out around 2007. So when this new movie was announced about a year ago, I didn't get my hopes up. And when the images finally came out of what the turtles looked like, it was settled in my mind. This movie was going to be awful.

So, after seeing it last night, I'm actually quite surprised that it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Don't get me wrong. It's not good, and you won't be saying "radical!" by the time you step out of the theater. But it could have been a lot worse, especially with all the problems they had with the script. I'll just say this--It's better than all of the Transformers movies combined. I really couldn't ask for anything better than that.

But why is it bad? Well, it sucks for a number of reasons. The primary one is that it's slow. When I went to see it last night, a little girl who couldn't have been older than six whined about a quarter way through and said, "This is so BORING!" I couldn't have agreed with her more. April 'O Neill, played annoyingly by Megan Fox, takes up a huge portion of the movie as she's directly connected with the turtles. The turtles, I might add, don't fully appear for at least 15 minutes. So that sucks. And when they do appear, well, they're not so great. Leonardo doesn't really lead so much as he grimaces, Donny is made into an uber-nerd, but not in a good way (the kind you want to stick his head down the toilet and flush kind of way), and my favorite, Raph, is roid-raging and growling pretty much the whole way through. The only one with an actual personality is Mikey, and even he gets a bit annoying at times. Not good.

Also not good are the action scenes, which suck. There's one decent moment out in the snow that you've seen pieces of in the commercial, but other than that, the action is piss poor. It's cut too fast so you don't really see what's going on. And the Foot Clan is a joke. They're more terrorists than ninjas. What's the deal? Oh, and The Shredder might be the biggest offense of them all, as he has zero personality or backstory. His character could have been anyone. And...well, there are just a lot of problems with this film. The plot sucks, the characters suck, and even the music is annoying.

Buuuut, again, it could have been a lot worse. At least the movie was tolerable. I went into the film thinking, "If I was a kid and have never seen the turtles before, would I like this?" but I actually think I wouldn't. It was either too slow or frenetic fast. The only reason I didn't hate it might just because I still have a bit of the turtle fever in me yet, and it's nice to see my boys back in action, even if it's not the best showing it could have been.
Two stars out of four

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My Top Ten Favorite Music Videos

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So MTV doesn't really play music videos anymore. So what? That's what YouTube's for now. And with YouTube, I was able to find some of my favorite music videos of all time. Now, keep in mind, this list will not include Thriller on it. It's a great video to be sure, but I tend to find it a little overrated. Besides, this isn't a list of the BEST music videos of all time. Only my favorite. So now, on with the list!

10. "Candy" by Cameo

Vintage cheesiness. It features people making funny faces, a sick beat, and a red codpiece. It begs the question, what wouldn't Cameo do back in the day to get their music out there, and the answer is pretty uncertain. It's like CAHN-DAAAY!

9. "Paranoid Android" by Radiohead

I've never really been a fan of Radiohead's music, but this video alone got me to buy OK Computer. It's strange, intriguing, and even a little unsettling. Oh, and it was also a cartoon. I'm not really sure what the whole point of it was, but it certainly went along with the song, no question.

8. "Criminal" by Fiona Apple

This video truly, truly, truly made me fall in love with Fiona Apple. It was the kind of video you felt dirty watching, and then, you wanted to watch it a second time just so you could feel dirty again. What exactly was going on in this postcoital aftermath? Whatever it was, I couldn't look away. Damn, Fiona Apple. Damn!

7. "Come to Daddy" by Aphex Twin

A truly scary video from its opening shot to its last, "Come to Daddy" is like a fever dream riddled with Satanic drum beats and screaming. The very best part of the video is when the old lady gets yelled at by that hideous creature. A classic video. A scary one.

6. "Where It's At" by Beck

What starts out as a homage to Cool Hand Luke soon turns into a splash of images that only Beck could pull off. A robot, fat guys fighting, and line dancing round out the video. Only Beck could make all that nonsense work. Only Beck.

5."My Mind's Playing Tricks On Me" by The Geto Boys

If there was ever a video that truly matched the dark tone of its song, it's this one. What really sticks out to me is that one scene where the fist is punching the concrete over and over again. I'll never get that image out of my head, and I don't think I want to, either.

4. "One" by Metallica

The sheer definition of epic. Pulling scenes from the movie, Johnny Get Your Gun, both the song and the video chronicle the life of a soldier who's lost pretty much everything besides the ability to think. Trapped in a bed, the video is graphic and haunting. Oh, and you gotta love that thrashing and head banging at the end. There's nothing else like it.

3. "Buddy Holly" by Weezer

"Charming" is probably the best word I'd use to describe this video, which won scores of awards in 1994. Spike Jonze made a lot of videos back in the day, but this is my all-time favorite of his. Basically, it just puts the members of Weezer in an episode of Happy Days, and that's pretty much it. Is it simple? Yes, but also extremely effective. This video put Weezer on the map!

2. "Prison Sex" by Tool

It's really hard to pick a favorite Tool video, as all of them are visually dense and wrought with meaning. But "Prison Sex" is my all-time favorite of theirs, and mostly because it impacted me on such a visceral level. I literally got nightmares from this video, and I think it's because my brain was trying to wrap its head around its complex meaning, which I'm closer to understanding today, but it still eludes me to a certain extent (I know it's about sexual abuse and molestation, but what else?). A very disturbing video, and an excellent one as well.

1. "Triumph" by The Wu-tang Clan

I know it's silly by today's standard, but I don't think any other video has impacted me as much as this one has. "Triumph" pretty much MADE me fall in love with hip-hop music and the Wu-tang Clan in general. I actually once wanted to get a Wu-tang tattoo (I know, I know) back in the day. I'm dead serious.

What's so great about this video is that it showcases every last member (And Cappadonna!) of the group, and puts them in incredibly cool situations. ODB jumps off a building, Inspectah Deck catches him, and then, he erupts into flames and now Method Man is riding the charge on motorcycles. I mean, it's never-ending. It will always be my favorite music video, whether you find it stupid or not, and it will always hold a place in my heart. It's still awesome.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've had more people recommend Ready Player One to me than probably any other book. And while I enjoyed it quite a bit, I don't know if I'd say it was one of the best books I've ever read, no matter how geeky it got. It fact, I think it got a bit too geeky at times. That's not to say that there's anything wrong with extreme geekiness. But it's just such a PERSONAL geekiness that it's a little off-putting. You can tell the author, Ernest Cline, had a good time reliving some of his favorite childhood memories while writing this book. They're just not MY memories, which is why I couldn't really connect with the book as much as I wish I could have.

Bummer, dude.

And while this sounds impossible for any author to really capture the things in my own life that made me into the geek that I am today, I think he could have accomplished it by focusing on either video games, like Wreck-It-Ralph did, or movies. But not both. It just didn't seem to work for me. Is it selfish of me to wish that Cline wrote about more of the things that I enjoyed growing up with? Sure it is, but there's a difference between reading a story about video games and movies from the 80s that I liked, and reading a story about video games and movies from the 80s that the author liked, if that makes any sense.

I'm not sure that it does.

I don't know.

Maybe if the references had taken place in the 90s I would have connected with it more. It's a petty complaint, I know, but it kind of hurt the book for me.

Other than that, it's a pretty original story. On the version I got, the cover has a quote from USA Today that says, "Willy Wonka meets The Matrix," and I think that's a pretty apt description. The story takes place in a virtual world called OASIS and it involves a hunt for an Easter Egg, which is a secret in a video game that is hidden for players to stumble upon. I really dug the quest itself, but wasn't too into the relationships of the characters all that much. Also, some of the dialogue felt forced. Again, maybe if I connected with the time period, I would have enjoyed it more. As it stands, it had a pretty good pacing, especially toward the end, and I enjoyed it. But is it a game-changer like Slaughterhouse 5 was for me the first time I read it? No. Not at all. It's a good, nerdy diversion, but nothing more than that. Unless, that is, you were born in the 70s and remember the 80s really well. Then, you will LOVE this book.

PS. I wrote this review while listening to the Battletoads soundtrack.

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (Spoiler free!)

(Image taken from:

Guardians of the Galaxy is both unlike anything Marvel/Disney has ever done before, and also exactly like everything Marvel/Disney has ever done before, making it feel both unfamiliar and familiar at the same time. And it works! By being less grounded than its predecessors, but still retaining that jokey, brightly colored Marvel aesthetic and feel, GotG manages to have a funky, out-there vibe that plays well when set in the Marvel cinematic universe. It also doesn't hurt that the characters are relatively unknown to the general public (As a comic book nerd, even I knew very little about them before the movie was announced), and it actually works in the movie's favor. Here we see Marvel's vast potential at unloading even more of its obscure characters and making it gel. Could a Moon Knight movie be that far off into the future now that we've introduced Peter Quill and his merry band of intergalactic misfits? Well, a boy can dream, can't he?

That said, for all the movie's strengths (genuine humor, excellent pacing, and gnarly special effects), the movie stumbles a bit. One of the main misfires is that the movie actually has two main villains. Sort of. The problem with this is that the main antagonist is kind of overshadowed by the other villain, who isn't really in the movie all that much, but since it's his first speaking role in a Marvel movie, you kind of have more of an interest in him. This takes potency away from the main antagonist, which is a shame because he's pretty cool and scary. They should have just stuck with him. But given that all Marvel/Disney movies are meant to be a bridge between the last one and the next, I understand why they made the decision. Without this other villain, a lot of fans would probably wonder how this movie connects to The Avengers, which all Marvel/Disney movies seem to have to do these days. It's a small problem, but a problem, nonetheless.

Another small issue is that not all of the humor hits. Most of it does, and Rocket, Groot, and Star Lord are all major highlights. But Drax the Destroyer is kind of corny after awhile, and Gamora, while cool, doesn't really have a lot of great lines. She does move the story along, though, so she's definitely essential to the plot. In fact, all of the characters feel essential. Even Drax. Warner Bros. and DC should take note. When it comes to ensemble pieces, Marvel/Disney really knows how to make every character feel necessary to the story. They did it with The Avengers, and now, they've done it again with GotG. If Warner Bros./DC could do the same with their future Justice League movie, then it might actually work. I didn't think it could, given that there are so many characters they still haven't built up yet (Aquaman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, etc). But Marvel/Disney did it with these relatively unknown characters, so DC should have a less difficult time as most people already know characters like Green Lantern and Aquaman. But I digress.

Overall, GotG is a enjoyable romp that feels fresh and yet familiar at the same time. Marvel/Disney has done it again, and if this film is successful, then the possibilities for them are endless. Good for them. They've earned it.

Three and a half stars out of four