Old Movie Review: Transformers 4: Age of Extinction (4 *’s) (2014)

Transformers 4: Age of Extinction is the latest installment in the Transformers series. It stars a number of big names: Mark Wahlberg (as the gifted mechanic Cade Yeager), Stanley Tucci (as the corrupt, in-over-his-head business tycoon, Joshua Joyce), and Kelsey Grammer (as CIA agent Harold Attinger). I was never a big Transformers fan as a kid—I think they came out about a year too late for me: I thought they were kind of pedorky. Nowadays, I kind of rate them as neutral. They generally don’t get me excited, but neither do I run fleeing from them in disdain. I went to see this movie to hang out with a friend who is a much bigger fan of the Transformers. And I have to say, I really liked this movie.

There are several story threads going at the same time throughout the movie; each thread is related to the others and they weave in and out to tell a complete tale. On the one hand, there is Cade Yeager, a brilliant mechanic who enjoys turning junk into technology. One day he brings an old beat-up truck home to work on. Surprise! It turns out to be Optimus Prime. Unbeknowst to Yeager, there is a corrupt CIA agent named Harold Attinger who, in conjunction with an alien Transformer bounty hunter, is seeking out Autobots in general, and Optimus Prime in particular. Attinger has formed a special unit called Cemetery Wind to do the dirty work. Finally, there is business tycoon Joshua Joyce who has made a deal with Attinger to acquire transformium (the material Transformers are made from), study it, and develop new technologies from it. Little does he know that he’s being manipulated by Megatron. It is up to Cade Yeager, Optimus Prime, and the remaining handful of Autobots to once again save the world. Pitted against them is Megatron, who has been upgraded to a more advanced robot, and he has an army of new decepticons, also upgraded, to aid him.

Strengths: the special effects were great. The acting was good, although with Mark Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammer, and Stanley Tucci it’s hard to go wrong. The dialogue was good and the plot was engaging. I was engrossed in the movie the whole time. And, of course, the Dinobots were really cool. Weaknesses: I can’t really think of any weaknesses. There was action, excitement, and everything flowed from one moment to the next. Everything held together and made a cohesive whole. If you like Transformers, I’m sure you’ll like this movie.

I’ll give Transformers 4: Age of Extinction a total of four stars out of five.

Reminder: Book Signing and Talk for Drasmyr and The Children of Lubrochius

Matthew D. Ryan will be giving a talk on the writing process at Plattsburgh Public Library for its celebration of Teen Read Week. Afterward, he will be holding a book signing for his dark fantasy novel, Drasmyr, and its sequel, The Children of Lubrochius.

 

Talk and Book Signing Schedule
Thursday, October 16th, 6:30 p.m.— 7:30 p.m. Plattsburgh Public Library, Plattsburgh, NY

Movie Review: Dracula Untold (4 *’s) (2014)

Dracula Untold is the latest vampire story to hit the theatres. It purports to be the origin story of the most famous vampire of all time: Count Dracula (but not a real life account of Vlad Tepes, obviously). As such, it returns the traditional notion of a vampire: a potent force of darkness and slayer of men. The title role is played by Luke Evans, the guy who plays Bard in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. There are a number of other actors, of course, but I didn’t recognize any of them.

 

The story begins with a brief recap of the young Vlad Tepes’ early life. He was given, along with nine-hundred ninety-nine fellow children, as tribute to the Turkish caliphate. Here he was raised and trained as a ruthless warrior, a profession at which he excelled. Fast forward to the later years of Vlad’s life. The central conflict of the story is between the fully human Count Dracula, that is, Vlad Tepes and the ruler of the Turkish caliphate, Mehmed. Vlad and Mehmed were once the best of friends. Now, as caliph, Mehmed demands tribute. Vlad is happy to comply when such is just money. But, Mehmed is not satisfied with simple wealth. He wants a thousand young boys to train to replenish his army, one of them being Vlad’s own son, Ingeras. That goes too far and Vlad rebels. In desperation he seeks out the aid of an unholy vampire, but such aid may come at the cost of his soul.

 

Strengths: the plot held together well, the acting was fine, and the special effects were well-placed and perfectly respectable. The count’s desperation was well-exemplified and well portrayed. And although there was romance in the film, it was not of the cheesy Twilight variety. Vlad’s vampire nature did not make him more romantic; the romance was beset with tragedy. Vlad’s vampire nature was not regarded as a blessing or in any way positive. Weaknesses: I would almost call the fight between Vlad and Mehmed at the end a weakness. Vlad, as a vampire, should have ripped right through Mehmed. But the movie made clear that the silver present weakened Vlad, so the climactic fight could be, in fact, a struggle. I can’t think of any other true or pseudo weaknesses at all. I liked this film.

 

I’ll give Dracula Untolda grand total of four stars out of five.

Movie Review: Left Behind (4*’s) (2014)

Left Behind is the latest Hollywood release that focuses on a fundamentally Christian event, although one that supposedly occurs in our future and not one from the distant past. The event: The Rapture: where Jesus of Nazareth gathers the worthy up into the sky so they don’t have to face the final tribulations before the end of the world. It’s based on the novel of the same name which is the beginning of a series of novels about the end of the world and the experiences of those people left behind from the Rapture. If you can accept the premise, it’s actually a good movie. Non-Christians, obviously, will probably find the movie to be too “Biblely” in concept, but I enjoyed it. There are a number of main characters in the movie: Rayford Steele (Nicholas Cage), Chloe Steele (Cassi Thomson), Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray), and several others of less importance.

 

The movie begins with Chloe Steele flying home into an airport to visit her family for her father’s birthday party. Unfortunately, her father Rayford, a pilot, has been called in to work so he will be flying out soon. They meet each other at the airport and have a brief, tense, conversation. Chloe is angry that Rayford is working while she’s visiting. At the airport, Chloe also meets Buck Williams a famous, investigative journalist for the news and there is a little bit of romantic tension. There is also a ‘bible-thumper’ who is on-screen only for a couple minutes to relay the usual spiel that all the wars and disasters are signs of the Second Coming. Chloe tells her off, and she does not reappear in the film. Of course, a short while later, while Chloe is at the mall with her brother, and Rayford is flying a plane, the Rapture occurs. There is an initial bout of pure chaos as the people of the world try to cope with millions of people simultaneously disappearing in the blink of an eye. The story follows Chloe and Rayford in their search for answers and the desperate attempt to land Rayford’s plane.

 

Strengths: like I said, you have to accept the premise. Once you do so, this is a pretty good film. It held my attention the whole way through. It was religiously motivated, but it didn’t seem too over the top—at least to me. The characters were just average people dealing with a very unusual situation. Weaknesses: I don’t think there were many weaknesses. The only thing I’ll say is that it probably won’t appeal to non-religious, or non-Christian people, at least in concept. Those with an open mind, however, might like it.

 

Over all, I’ll give Left Behind a solid four stars out of five.

Upcoming Book Signing and Talk for Drasmyr and The Children of Lubrochius

Matthew D. Ryan will be giving a talk on the writing process at Plattsburgh Public Library for its celebration of Teen Read Week. Afterward, he will be holding a book signing for his dark fantasy novel, Drasmyr, and its sequel, The Children of Lubrochius.

 

Talk and Book Signing Schedule

Thursday, October 16th, 6:30 p.m.— 7:30 p.m. Plattsburgh Public Library, Plattsburgh, NY

Movie Review: Hercules (4 *’s) (2014)

Hercules is the latest reimagining of the amazing Greek hero of antiquity of the same name. Finally, it is played by an actor who actually looks the part (although that could be said of The Legend of Hercules, too). I mean, I loved Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys but he’s just not quite as buffed up as I would have preferred. After all, Hercules was known for his great strength. Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock of wrestling fame, is so ripped, it’s ridiculous. He looks the part. Dwayne Johnson is supported by a small cast of actors who make up Hercules’ traveling company. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize anyone else except Ian McShane, who I’ve seen somewhere else, but I couldn’t quite place. Going by the credits, it could be Pirates of the Caribbean, or a few other things. Also, there was John Hurt who played Lord Cotys (spoiler alert), the true villain of the movie. I’ve seen John Hurt in a number of things and like him as an actor.

Anyway, the movie tells the story of a single adventure of Hercules’. There are references to his twelve labors, but this is not one of them. In actuality, the movie takes a “realistic” perspective of Hercules. He is a man of great strength, with a number of companions. One of them is the bard-in-training, Iolaus, who has the task of magnifying and spreading the Hercules legend. It’s kind of funny, tongue-in-cheek type stuff. Basically, Iolaus exaggerates the events that occurred, building up Hercules’ legend to demoralize enemies. It’s a different, and refreshing take on the legend. I think I prefer the Hercules as semi-divine hero story, to the Hercules as just a really strong man story, but I’ve always been biased toward fantasy. Anyway, the story revolves around Hercules’ encounter with Lord Cotys, a man who originally hires Hercules to train his army and bring to justice a rival warlord. Little does he know, that the warlord is really an honorable rebel, and Cotys is the diabolical tyrant.

Strengths: the acting was fine, the special effects were good, and the plot, although predictable to a certain extent, was still enjoyable and coherent. Weaknesses: if you are looking for magic and sorcery, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Like I said, the story plays up the realism angle. You are never convinced that Hercules really is the son of Zeus or not. The feats he performs, though, are sufficient to give you cause to believe such if you so choose. I kind of like that theory, so I’m sticking to it.

Overall, the movie was quite good and I’ll give it four out of five stars.

Upcoming Goodreads Giveaway for “The Children of Lubrochius”

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Children of Lubrochius by Matthew D. Ryan

The Children of Lubrochius

by Matthew D. Ryan

Giveaway ends October 15, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Book Review: The Wise Man’s Fear (Patrick Rothfuss) (4 *’s)

The Wise Man’s Fear is the second book in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles. It continues the story of Kvothe (pronounced “Quothe”) the gifted Edema Ruh (kind of a gypsy) who is currently studying at the legendary University to become an arcanist (a scientist/magician kind of). The backdrop of the story is an old inn where the elder Kvothe is telling his life-story to a man known as Chronicler and Kvothe’s demon-friend, Bast. This outer, framing story is dipped into several times throughout the book. Both interwoven tales keep the reader engaged. The book is nearly 1000 pages long. As such, condensing the plot down into a manageable paragraph is nearly impossible, particularly since I was a slow reader on this one and have forgotten much of the first part of the book.

 

Anyway, Kvothe has one real romantic interest, a young wandering woman named Denna, who pops in and out throughout the story. The first part of the story consists of Kvothe always scraping for money. It’s kind of interesting: they tell writers to make sure your characters have a goal or desire to keep the tension going. Rothfuss used Kvothe’s lack of wealth for much of the story as means to keep the tension. I found that interesting and refreshing; it wasn’t just go and kill the bad guys. Anyway, Kvothe has run-ins with another student by the name of Ambrose which continues to escalate. Finally, he takes a semester off and goes to work for a powerful noble in a distant land. The culture described is unique and interesting, although essentially feudal. While there he does some mercenary work and winds up going to another distant land and learning about another culture (basically a martial arts style culture with very unusual beliefs regarding sex and reproduction). The story ends shortly after the point where Kvothe returns to the University for the next semester.

 

Strengths: the writing was good, the character development was good, and the tension was good. I enjoyed the story, though I did not read it as quickly as I would have liked. Weaknesses: in terms of literary structure and stuff, I could not find any weaknesses. I will remark, however, that if you are offended by sexual promiscuity, this book is not for you. There is not much of it in the first half of the book, but in the second half it is chock full of it. There is a culture that treats sex almost like a sport. They don’t believe that sex causes impregnation. They believe that children just grow as a woman naturally lives. Men do not contribute anything to the reproductive process. Children are fruits of womanhood, and that is all. As a result, everyone in the culture is having sex with everyone else. And, of course, for some reason they don’t suffer from STD’s. I would mark the book with a warning because of that: not appropriate for the very young.

 

Anyway, I still enjoyed the book and I’ll give Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear four stars out of five.

 

For those interested, you may read my review of the former book, The Name of the Wind, here.

Book Review: Legend (David Gemmell) (3 ½ *’s)

Legend is the first novel of David Gemmell. It tells the story of Druss, Captain of the Ax, a hero of legend. There are other characters as well, of whom Rek and Virae are probably the two most important. As a whole, the story is about the siege of a great fortress, Dros Delnoch. Much of the book is a build up to the actual siege. The invading army is the barbarian Nadir horde; they sit poised to conquer Dros Delnoch and the Drenai kingdom it protects.

 

The story begins with Rek awakening in an inn with a young woman. He has just had a powerful dream, a vision of a burning fortress and he feels himself tied to that as if drawn to destiny. To add to the tension, he learns that the Nadir horde is on the move. They will soon besiege the mighty fortress of Dros Delnoch. This citadel is the last hope of the Drenai, for if it falls, their kingdom will be left unprotected. Before leaving the inn, Rek encounters a fortune-teller who reads his fortune and tells him … more likely things about his nature, rather than future events. He tells him he is of uncertain character and sporadic courage, a thief and a dreamer, etc… Rek, of course, disregards this and goes on his way. Shortly, he encounters the young woman, Virae, and rescues her from bandits in the forest. They do not hit it off well; at least, at first. However, soon they wind up in bed and provide the romantic subplot for the book. Virae, the daughter of the Earl of Dros Delnoch, is actually carrying a message for her father. Rek, of course, offers to assist, and soon they are swept up in events revolving around the upcoming siege of Dros Delnoch and the legendary ax-wielding warrior, Druss.

 

Strengths: I’d say the greatest strength of this novel is the pacing and the flow. The characters were okay, but he only had 350 pages to work with and even though he popped in and out of heads with great abandon, there were too many characters to fully develop them all. The most important, as I said, were Rek and Virae, and Druss, of course. Weaknesses: well, this is a first novel, and as such, the writing isn’t great—it’s okay, passable, but there are a number of obvious newbie flaws. For instance, the tendency to jump from point-of-view to point-of-view without breaking up the text. Likewise, I think he used the infamous mirror-trick three times in the book. I think that’s a record. Of course, saying that, I used the mirror trick in my first book, too, so I probably shouldn’t complain (for those that don’t know: the mirror trick is when an author uses a mirror to describe a character in that character’s point-of-view. Basically, he looks at himself in a mirror so he can describe himself to the reader. It’s generally considered a newbie tactic. Personally, though, I don’t have a strong issue with it; after all, mirrors are real objects; what else are you going to see when you look a mirror head on? And using a mirror is not an uncommon action.)

 

Anyway, despite the lower quality writing, I’ll give this novel, Legend, by David Gemmell, three and a half stars, or maybe even four if I’m feeling generous, out of five.

Movie Review: Oculus (4 *’s) (2013)

Oculus has an intriguing concept for a movie. Basically, there is a cursed/demonic mirror responsible for a string of deaths reaching back several hundred years. Two twenty-somethings, a brother and a sister, who witnessed the deaths of their own parents, are preparing to prove the mirrors culpability to the world, and, hopefully, destroy the mirror in the process. The movie stars Karen Gillan (playing Kaylie Russell), Brenton Thwaites (Tim Russell), Katie Sackhoff (Marie Russell—the mom), and Rory Cochrane (Alan Russell—the dad). The only one of those I’ve seen elsewhere is Katie Sackhoff who plays Starbuck in the remake of Battlestar Gallactica and a mercenary in Riddick (the third movie in featuring the dark hero played by Vin Diesel).

 

The movie begins with the psychological evaluation and subsequent release of Tim Russell. He is now an adult, having been confined to a criminal sanitarium for the murders of his father and mother. He meets his sister and they have a brief joyous reunion. Then, things start to turn dark. Tim’s nearly decade of psychological treatment has succeeded in warping his true memories of the seemingly impossible events of his parents’ deaths. He no longer believes in the mirror. Now, he has accepted the responsibility as the murderer of his parents. The sister, however, who has never undergone therapy, has not forgotten the true events and, after much research and hard work, she has found the location of the mirror. The first half of the movie consists of Tim and Kaylie arguing over the truth or falsity of their experiences. Tim says it didn’t happen; Kaylie says it did. Kaylie has set up an elaborate quasi-scientific experiment to prove to all the naysayers that his brother was innocent and that true culprit was the horrid power of the mirror. Woven into this dialogue are the reawakening memories of Tim regarding the horrid events of his past. It is seamlessly woven together and combined it makes for an intriguing trek. The tension builds throughout until reaching the deadly climax.

 

Strengths: the acting was fine; the plot was intriguing and very well done; and the shifts in timeline were well orchestrated. The special effects were well-placed and not overdone. Weaknesses: maybe I’ve seen too many of these, but I was never really scared watching the film. Startled a few times, perhaps, but not really frightened. Of course, I saw it on the TV and not in a theatre and that has an impact. Regardless, the movie held my attention throughout and it was very suspenseful if not frightful.

 

Overall, I’ll give the film Oculus a rating of four out of five stars … maybe even four and a half stars.