Monthly Archives: December 2013

Movie Review: 47 Ronin (4 *’s)

47 Ronin is the latest movie starring Keanu Reaves. It is a retelling of an ancient folk tale of the Japanese culture. It is set in ancient Japan in time where fantastical monsters, witches, and demons were real. Keanu Reaves plays Kai, a human half-breed (Caucasian and Japanese) servant in the house of a powerful Shogun. Because he is a half-breed, his is of lowly stature. No one respects him, except the Shogun and his daughter, both of whom care for him. The daughter, in particular, falls in love with him.   The story begins with Kai and a hunting party tracking a mythical beast. Although Kai’s skills lead the party to the beast, they disregard his warning and advice, and try to take the beast out immediately. The result is nearly a debacle, with the beast tossing Samurai around like toy dolls, until Kai heroically slays the beast to save one of the Samurai. Unfortunately, that Samurai takes the credit for the kill and still treats Kai with scorn. At the time, Kai sees a white fox whom he later learns is a witch bent on doing his lord harm. With her magic, she bewitches the Lord’s champion so that Kai must fight in his place to protect the family honor. Unfortunately, in the midst of combat, his deception is revealed. His opponent is about to execute him, when Mika (the lord’s daughter) rushes to his side. His life is spared, but at the cost of great honor. Then, the witch bewitches the lord causing him to attack a guest. From such dishonor as that, only ritual suicide can offer any cleansing. With the lord dead, the enemy shogun is given permission by the Emperor to marry Mika. The lord’s samurai are banished as ronin (masterless samurai) and Kai is sold into slavery. What follows is the story of the ronin’s revenge with the help of Kai.   Strengths: the acting was fine (although I think Keanu was a little forced in places), the action was excellent, and the special effects were good. I liked the sinister Japanese witch and I liked the characters Kai and Mika. Feminists might object that it’s all about the men going to rescue the poor helpless damsel—which is true—but it’s basically an ancient fairy tale: cut them some slack! Weaknesses: I think I expected too much, because it did not fully grip me. The story was straightforward and logical, and maybe a bit too simplistic. Still, it was an enjoyable way to pass the afternoon.

 

I’ll give 47 Ronin three and a half or maybe four stars out of five.

 

Remember: I’m still running a contest with a signed hardcover copy of my novel Drasmyr ($25 value) and a Drasmyr bookmark as the prize. You can find the details of the contest: here. I encourage everyone to sign up for my newsletter and post a response.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas Everyone and Happy Holidays! As a result of the holiday, I’m not posting anything today, just well-wishes to all. Oh, and I want to remind you …

I’m still running a contest with a signed hardcover copy of my novel Drasmyr ($25 value) and a Drasmyr bookmark as the prize. You can find the details of the contest: here. I encourage everyone to sign up for my newsletter and post a response.

Once again, Merry Christmas!

Book Review: Steelheart (Brandon Sanderson 4 1/2 *’s)

Steelheart is one of the more recent works of Brandon Sanderson. It is a young adult novel that comes in at nearly four hundred pages. The setting is a kind of post-apocalyptic Earth. However, in this case, the apocalypse was brought on by an orbiting glowing red comet or asteroid that gave a multitude of people super-powers and turned them evil at the same time. The resulting evil super-heroes or Epics, as they are called, wreaked havoc upon the Earth and basically took over. The United States is now known as The Shattered States and consists of a variety of city- states, each one run by a powerful Epic answerable to no one but him/herself.

 

The protagonist in the story, David, has lived all is life in Newcago, the city that was once Chicago, but is now the domain of the most powerful and most evil Epic of all: Steelheart. Steelheart can fly, turn inanimate matter to steel, and even control the very elements themselves. He has no known weaknesses, and is believed by many to be completely invulnerable. But David knows otherwise. Years ago, when Steelheart first revealed himself to the world and killed David’s father, David witnessed a solitary gunshot from his father’s hand. A gunshot like no other. A gunshot that injured Steelheart and gave him a scar. David has seen Steelheart bleed, and if it is within his power, he will see him destroyed. So motivated, he sets out to join the Reckoners, a group of humans bent on bringing the Epics down. They have fought and successfully defeated a number of minor Epics, but so far, have been unwilling to engage an Epic the likes of Steelheart, believing he is invulnerable. Now, with the new information David has given them, they may yet have a chance. Can David and the Reckoners destroy Steelheart and liberate Newcago? Or is it all just a fanciful dream? After all, knowing Steelheart has a weakness, is not the same as knowing what Steelheart’s weakness actually is.

 

Strengths: the writing was excellent (Brandon Sanderson is my favorite living author), the characters were well-developed and manageable in number, and the plotline was smooth. The action was excellent, and the conclusion skillfully handled. I do pride myself on the fact that I saw a good number of the twists coming, not all of them, but enough that I feel justified in bragging … a little, anyway. Weaknesses: perhaps the use of humor. I just have the feeling that throwing a comedic character into a mix of serious characters is kind of an over-used technique (I know, I use that technique myself). Still, in spite of that, it was an excellent book and I’m not even sure the humor used counts as a weakness. I might just be getting jaded in my old age.

 

Anyway, I’ll give Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson four and a half stars out of five.

 

This review originally appeared on Goodreads on 12/1/13.

Note: I will not be posting on December 26th. I will be taking the day off for Christmas. Also, remember:  I’m still running a contest with a signed hardcover copy of my novel Drasmyr ($25 value) and a Drasmyr bookmark as the prize. You can find the details of the contest: here. I encourage everyone to sign up for my newsletter and post a response.

Movie Review: Frozen (2013) (4 1/2 *’s)

One of the latest Disney flicks to hit the big screen is Frozen. It’s an animated film starring the voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, and Jonathan Groff. None of whom have I heard of. Still, it’s a Disney film, kid-friendly … so, I decided to review it for my blog.

 

The story is unusual in that there really isn’t a really bad guy up until the very end. The plot revolves around a misunderstanding, or perhaps, a foolish fear that separates two inseparable sisters at a very young age. The sisters are Anna and Elsa both princesses of the kingdom. Elsa is the older sister, so she is the heir. But she has a secret. Ever since birth, Elsa has had the power to summon cold and frost, to conjure ice from thin air. Unfortunately, though, she can’t control this power. At a young age, she injures her sister in an accident. As a result, with the encouragement of her parents, she swears off using her powers ever again, hoping she will learn to control them. Well, her reasoning is clearly flawed, because if you never use your powers, you will never learn to control them. But neither her nor her parents realize that. In any event, her parents eventually die and leave her the kingdom. On the day of her coronation, her sister, Anna, meets and falls head-over-heels in love with a visiting young nobleman named Hans. They decide to get married. But Elsa, having a much cooler head, will not give her blessing because the two “lovers” have only known each other for less than a day. In a sisterly spat, Elsa’s powers are revealed to Anna and the whole kingdom. Feeling upset and vulnerable, Elsa flees into the mountains. But the incident plunges the kingdom into eternal winter. Now, Anna must venture into the mountains after her sister in the hopes she can lift the terrible spell.

 

Strengths: it’s a classic Disney flick, so it’s good family entertainment. There’s an interesting little twist on the standard “love will break the spell” trope. Despite the lack of a bad guy for much of the movie, there was good tension, plot, and dialogue and I found the movie quite interesting. Part of me wishes that they’d done the whole movie without a serious bad guy, just to see if it would have worked out well. Weaknesses: I kind of liked the character that turned into the bad guy prior to the transformation, so I don’t quite know how to feel about that. Other than that, I don’t recall any major weaknesses. Well, maybe the love story was a bit too complicated and its nuances might be lost on the young audience to whom the movie was targeted. There was lots of song, but that’s to expected from a Disney flick. In the end, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit.

 

Overall, I’ll give Disney’s Frozen a whole four and a half stars out of five.

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (4 *’s)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is Peter Jackson’s latest attempt to translate J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterful work to the big screen. And … if I never here the phrase “What have we done?” in a movie ever again, it will be too soon—just sayin’.

 

The movie continues the story that began with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. You can read my review of that movie here. Bilbo is still on his quest with the thirteen dwarves to reclaim their home (Mount Erebor) from the dragon, Smaug. After narrowly escaping the clutches of Azog and his orc patrols (with the help of Beorn), the company sets off through Mirkwood. They encounter spiders and elves, are dwarfnapped, escape and travel on into the ruined lands surrounding The Lonely Mountain (a.k.a Erebor) where the dragon resides. There are other threads involved in the adventure. though. Gandalf must leave the group. In the book, he simply leaves and we are given no information (except in the Appendices) as to what he’s up to while he’s gone. In the movie, though, a good deal of time is spent on Gandalf and his doings. There’s an appearance of Radagast in the movie. And a whole new character spun from whole-cloth: Tauriel, a female elf captain. Anyway, there are a number of changes from the book. If I wanted to be a Tolkien purist, I might be offended, particularly by Tauriel, the character that should not exist and really wasn’t necessary. However, I’m not a purist. Some of the changes I liked, others I did not.

Strengths: the acting was good. The special effects were good (I only saw the 2D version—I have very little use for 3D movies). The plot and storyline were good (it’s still basically Tolkien’s story). The movie is clean, although violent. I think 10 year olds would enjoy it, but I wouldn’t go much younger than that. There were no comedic asides (that I recall) like in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and that’s a good thing. Plus, I did like the bit about Smaug and the One Ring. That was a cool addition. Weaknesses: well, there are a few. I have already mentioned the complete invention of Tauriel. She wasn’t needed. And, to a certain extent, she is a disservice to the source material. My biggest complaint was that the movie seemed to spend more time on the modifications of the original story as it did on the parts that came from the original story. Beorn was there. For a moment. If you blinked, you might have missed him. Same could be said for the spiders. Another big failing was the dragon. He looked like he was made out of rubber. I was expecting much more. Maybe he’ll grow on me like the Balrog from LOTR. But probably not. I have very high standards for dragons. J

 

Anyway, I’m not sure if I should give this movie three-and -a-half stars or four (out of five). I’m in a good mood, so I’ll give it four.

 

Note: From now until the beginning of January, I’m running a contest with a signed hardcover copy of my novel Drasmyr ($25 value) and a Drasmyr bookmark as the prize. You can find the details of the contest: here. I encourage everyone to sign up for my newsletter and post a response.

Book Review: Intent to Sell: Marketing the Genre Novel

“Intent to Sell: Marketing the Genre Novel” by Jeffrey Marks isn’t one of the usual books I review for this blog. It’s not a novel; it’s non-fiction with the noble goal of helping the novice writer do that most difficult part of writing: marketing. I can tell you from my own experience that writing the novel is only part of the battle. Once it is written and polished to perfection, the next step is getting the word out. To that end, Jeffrey Marks wrote “Intent to Sell.” It’s not a long book; it consists only of thirteen short chapters; but it covers a lot of ground.

 

The first chapter begins with the basics, covering some of the concepts behind marketing etiquette. According to the author, you have to walk a line between successful marketing and being obnoxious. There is such a thing as being too pushy in your marketing and that is something you need to avoid. From there he moves on to other things like getting blurbs for your book (a very lucrative thing to do, if you do it right), building relationships with bookstores, and establishing an on-line presence (what he calls an electronic business card). Every author needs a web-site these days with author photos, a booklist, biographical information, the latest news, contact information and whatever else might add to the site.

 

Near midway through the book he starts with the social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc… He discusses how to effectively use these sites to leverage your book into public consciousness. He also discusses the press kit: what makes one, why it’s important, and when you should use one. There’s a lot more in the book; I can’t really cover it all chapter by chapter, but I can say I found it all useful and informative. The book was worth the couple dollars I spent for the ebook.

 

Anyway: Strengths: It has a wealth of information; what I listed above and much, much more. Also, there are two appendices that are crammed with pertinent information: web-sites, urls, and permanent addresses the genre writer needs to have at his or her disposal. Weaknesses: not many. There were a number of typos in the book—it probably could have used at least one more scan by a good proofreader—but other than that it was a strong, informative work.

 

After all is said and done, I’ll give it four stars out of five.

 

Remember, I’m running a month-long contest with a signed hardcover copy of my novel Drasmyr ($25 value) and a Drasmyr bookmark as the prize. You can find the details of the contest: here. I encourage everyone to sign up for my newsletter and post a response.

Old Movie Review: The Colony (2013) (3 *’s)

The Colony is a film directed by Jeff Renfroe and starring Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton. I don’t remember it ever hitting the theatres; it may have just been a made for Sy fy (I don’t believe they spell it like that!) or something like that. The lead role is played by Kevin Zegers, an actor I know nothing about. Anyway, Kevin plays a young man named Sam living in a colony (I think it’s Colony 7 or Colony 5), one of only several such places that humans can still live. The setting is a post-apocalyptic Earth, one brought on by a new Ice Age that came about after humanity developed the technology to manipulate weather and things got out of control.

 

The story is fairly linear. From the beginning it is clear that the colony is in a rough spot and the measures they have taken to ensure their survival are nearly draconian by our soft cushy standards. For them, disease is a terrible threat. Anyone who comes down with something must be quarantined; if they don’t get better in the allotted time they are given a test. If it comes back positive, they are given a choice: be shot or walk. Walking means leaving the colony and trying to make it on your own in the arctic wasteland around it. Basically, walking is a death sentence as well. Laurence Fishburne plays Briggs the leader of the colony. Bill Paxton plays Mason, the colony’s increasingly draconian bad guy.

 

There are other colonies in the area. The story really takes off when Sam’s colony loses contact with one of the other neighboring ones. Sam, Briggs, and one other colony member set off to investigate. What has silenced their neighbor? Is it simply mechanical error? Or something more sinister.

 

Strengths: I think the acting was fine. The storyline held together well enough. I don’t think there were any parts were you wanted to berate the characters for doing something really stupid. The premise was interesting … a little bit of a twist on the standard post-apocalyptic setting. Weaknesses: Bill Paxton plays the standard jerk/bad guy who everybody wants to see die. He did fine in the role, it’s just that that character-type has been done to death. Also, although the storyline held together, there really weren’t any twists to make it really intriguing. It was okay, but unexceptional. Finally, the movie did not end well. The conclusion wasn’t a conclusion. It left you with a sense of hope, but still unsure whether or not the colony survives. I wanted a stronger sense of closure.

 

Anyway, I’ll give The Colony three stars out of five.

Christmas Vampire Contest: The Jolly Old Elf Meets A Vampire

Instead of my usual post today, I’m going to start a month-long contest with a signed hardcover copy of my novel Drasmyr ($25 value) and a Drasmyr bookmark as the prize. You can find the details of the contest: here. I encourage everyone to sign up for my newsletter and post a response.

Movie Review: Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the sequel to the 2012 movie, The Hunger Games. Both movies are based on the books of the same name written by Suzanne Collins. I’ve never read the books, but I’ve seen both movies. The movies star Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen the defiant and victorious young woman from district twelve of the dystopian society of Panem. In the prior movie, Katniss and Peeta Mellark are thrown into the Hunger Games, a competition between a group of young men and women selected from the various districts. The competition is brutal to the point of death: only one individual is allowed to survive each completion. The last movie ended with Katniss and Peeta, under the guise of a romantic attachment to each other, becoming the first pair of individuals to survive the Games.

 

The second movie begins where the other one left off. Katniss and Peeta must make the rounds as Victors. They visit each of the districts together to spout a few “profound” words about duty and honor and what-have-you. Stuff to placate the masses. But things are changing. The two young “lovers” were only spared because they threatened to commit suicide in defiance of the tyranny of the Games. That defiance is being picked up in the districts outside the Capitol. Now, the scent of revolution is in the air. And the rebels have chosen their symbol: Katniss, whether she likes it or not. Seeing the up-spiral in unrest and the growing popularity of Katniss, President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland), the leader of the Capitol, decides that all the Victors are a threat. So, he “changes the rules.” Now, on the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, a new competition (he claims it is the third) is called for: the Quarter Quell. This is a competition in which only Victors play. The rules are the same as before: only one can survive. Is Katniss strong enough and courageous enough to survive the Quarter Quell? Find out in Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

 

Strengths: the acting in the movie was fine, the storyline was good, there were no serious logical flaws that I could see. And the special effects were excellent and well-used. They didn’t go overboard on the special effects, and that is a resounding plus. Weaknesses: I thought the character of Katniss was a little bit whiny. Maybe it was just me. But she seemed a little bit hopeless about the whole living under a tyrannical dictator the whole time. And then there was the unrest, and she was trying to quell it. Basically, I kind of thought that her whiny-ness would interfere with her whole becoming the symbol of the revolution bit. Maybe it was done better in the book, but on the screen something was lacking.

 

Anyway, I’ll still give Hunger Games: Catching Fire a solid four stars out of five.