Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Thor: The Dark World (film)

Thor: The Dark World, Marvel Studios, Alan Taylor

Synopsis: Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all.

My thoughts: Thor: The Dark World is, in short, a hit. With a new and different threat, the battle takes place behind the lines, in wastelands, and on metropolis Earth, rather than the cold world and small town scene of the first film. Trickery, subtlety, and cunning take the place of brute force this time, and it's a good direction to take.

The characters, for the large part now established, were furthered well. Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) was played well, but could have spoken up a great deal more near the end. It should have been more shocking when he finally spoke English, in fact I don't recall the exact moment he started.

The action in this film was great, but skipped a few beats at times, which is forgivable this time with Loki's interchanges with Thor. Marvel did meet my expectations with intermittent comedy, once again. This sequel was full of it, and each time it was written and performed very well, and got a laugh from the whole audience.

The movie is family-friendly except for fantasy violence, two moments of direct violence, partial nudity (a character is shown in public on television, but is thankfully censored), and less worrying details seen here
. See it in 3D, see it in 2D, either works. 3D doesn't stand out, for better or worse. All in all, Thor: The Dark World is worth seeing in cinemas.

P.S. Stay after all the credits roll, and you'll be doubly rewarded.

I was given early access to see the film by Walt Disney Studios. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions here are my own.

My rating: 8 stars

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Memory's Door

Memory's Door, James L. Rubart, Thomas Nelson, Suspense/Fantasy, 368 pages, August 6, 2013

Synopsis: The prophecy brought them together. But the Wolf has risen, and now th
eir greatest battle begins.

The four members of Warriors Riding have learned to wage war in the supernatural, to send their spirits inside people’s souls, to battle demonic forces, and to bring deep healing to those around them.
But their leader Reece is struggling with the loss of his sight. Brandon is being stalked at his concerts by a man in the shadows. Dana’s career is threatening to bury her. And Marcus questions his sanity as he seems to be slipping in and out of alternate realities.
And now the second part of the prophecy has come true. The Wolf is hunting them and has set his trap. He circles, feeding on his supernatural hate of all they stand for. And he won’t stop until he brings utter destruction to their bodies . . . and their souls.

My thoughts: After reading the first novel to this series, I was immediately interested in reading Memory's Door. Speculative fiction, unusual circumstances, and the like are often favorite reads. These strange events happened on two levels. One: extending the main theme of the novels, and the second: providing a bit of variety with alternate realities. To be fair, the second didn't extend far enough to have much variety, but instead accomplished the same goal as the main theme: restoration. (restoration and a deeper relationship with the Spirit was the theme in the first novel, and likely will be for the series as a whole)

Partly because of this, I feel as if I'd read Soul's Gate over again. Another reason is that the characters don't seem to have progressed far beyond their state at the end of the first novel. Most problems were both introduced and remedied in this book alone. The cast had a developed base, but didn't register easily this time.

There were a few scenes where the suspense was fairly heavy, and I didn't expect much suspense in Memory's Door, so props to Rubart for that.

Overall, I didn't find much that hadn't been explored in the first book, apart from the suspense. Here's hoping that this was largely an interim novel, and that the next shows us more variety.

*This book was provided free by the author. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions expressed here are my own.*

My rating: 3 stars

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Planes (film)

Planes, Klay Hall, DisneyToon Studios.

Synopsis: Dusty is a cropdusting plane who dreams of competing in a famous aerial race. The problem? He is hopelessly afraid of heights. With the support of his mentor Skipper and a host of new friends, Dusty sets off to make his dreams come true.

My thoughts: It doesn't take very long to notice that Planes is a watered-down film. All you need to see is the logo to realize there isn't much to see that's new. A ridiculed dark horse makes his way to the big leagues, realizes he must change to continue the course, and with the help of his friends shows everyone who's the real winner. I'm beginning to wonder if a non-Pixar animated studio will be capable of releasing anything different for a few years (save for the HTTYD and CWACOM sequels).

The similarities, or copies, of ideas in the Cars films were more annoying than engaging, because they didn't often develop past what Pixar did. There are only a few good reasons to see this film, and here is one: watch it to find and list all the references to concepts in Cars (such as a fuel aficionado).

There is one concept that I enjoyed seeing developed, only because Cars 2 showed such a limited scope. This concept is travel, seeing the world, beautiful views and different cultures. Because the race is all around the world, you get to see many, many places, and the vehicles that live there. My absolute favorite was the German bar, so watch for it if you choose to view Planes.

The dialogue was mostly geared towards children, with a few exceptions, and didn't have the dual charm (children and adults) that Pixar has mastered. Still, I laughed on occasion, and I've seen more embarrassing scripts.

The animation was exactly what I expected. Slightly less precise than Cars 2, but only slightly. Where the movie excelled the most, in my opinion, was in the camera angles. They were an absolute treat throughout, despite it being an animated film. The 3D was good, but didn't have any scenes where it stood out.

Here is one more good reason to see Planes: Dane Cook. Throughout the feature, his voice acting stood out as quite a talent to watch for in the future. As a side note, I didn't appreciate the John Ratzenberger cameo, as this wasn't a Pixar film, and he already has a character in the universe. Take it how you will.

The only surprise that came to me was the "ride into the sunset" moment. I wasn't expecting a bold change, but it still happened. What came after the credits cleared it up, but didn't make me feel better. Planes: Fire and Rescue is a full-length sequel being planned with the same screenwriter. I'm more than a little disappointed they already approved it.

In conclusion, this movie is great for kids, but adults can busy themselves counting the "rip-offs". See Planes for the beautiful camera angles, vehicular takes on cultures and landmarks, and Dane Cook, but expect little else to impress.

My rating: 3 stars

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Gamecocks

The Gamecocks, Stephanie M. Sellers, CreateSpace, Literary Fiction, 260 pages, March 3, 2013

Synopsis: Historical theories braid North Carolina's Lumbee Indians and America's largest ongoing mystery, The Lost Colony, with a friendship that will never leave you. Jake Wilkes has ownership of his best friend’s bank account and winery and is engaged to the woman of their dreams. But he doesn’t have the highly coveted proof of North Carolina’s Lumbee Indians’ true origins. It was stolen it from his best friend, Bruce Black. His death made headlines. So Jake bravely directs his first presentation, ‘Lumbee Indians and America’s First Christians,’ which seems like a fiasco, and receives death threats and a proposition by an unassuming wordsmith. When Jake shares his true life tale of growing up with a Lum as his best friend he reveals a secret subculture and life on the swamp becomes a jubious ride to live to tell the tale. While a world away a second chance at love rides in on a turbulent tide. Set in rural North Carolina where moonshine, conjuring, church and fifty five thousand Lumbee Indians truly are as much a part of the beloved culture as America’s largest ongoing mystery, The Lost Colony. Includes references and guide to Lumbees' endangered language.

My thoughts: The only category I feel no doubt placing The Gamecocks in is “Southern.” It has dramatic, mysterious, mischievous, and most importantly historic content. The book is set up with the main character introducing each chapter of his story by reading it to us, himself being the author. This gives a sense of realism which is necessary because, in fact, the historical reveal brought forth here is being brought forth right now.

Jake, the main character and “author”, is quite a real person. In fact, this is true with each of the greater-seen cast. The time Mrs. Stephanie Sellers invests in her characters is very clear to see, and impresses me a great deal. She tied these characters very close to the South, and therefore the reader too. I felt ready to see a rowdy procession at the church, boys being told off by their momma, or Fisk and Wart runnin’ after a snake. Likewise, she doesn’t tone the speak down completely, neither.

Now, for the history. I appreciated the beginning exposition on the discovery of the Lumbee’s origin. This helped me track the book as I was reading, and made it much easier to understand once repeated. But, I also appreciate it for not saying all that would be said. It left quite a bit at the end for the Knights Templar, the Portuguese, the Council, etc.

The title of the book doesn’t become very clear until the end. This is where the action begins to unfold, and abruptly finishes the story. The end was unexpected, but when I think about it, was necessary. This is because it leaves much room for mystery that won’t be revealed, meaning there will likely be no sequel (not that it needs one).

In conclusion, The Gamecocks is a Southern-to-the-heart story of two friends trying to bring the historical truth of the Lumbee origins to light. It has fantastic characters which bring out the South in the reader, and has great historical enlightenment, which we would all benefit to learn.

My rating: 5 stars

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It All Trends: Hugh Jackman

Welcome to the first of many potential articles about interesting and unusual trends in film: It All Trends!

This idea has been growing on me for some time, and I've wondered if anyone else has noticed it. Have you? Hugh Jackman seems to continually take/steal children in films he leads. I'll take you through those I've found, and please tell me if I've missed any.

CAUTION: spoilers ahead!

The Prestige (2006)

Here, Jackman plays Robert Angier, a magician struggling to keep audiences amazed in rivalry with another magician; yet, obsessed with discovering the secret to his best trick. He ends up framing the other for murder, and stealing his child.

This is the most outright of those I found. What's the deal with Jackman playing the good guy lately? He does a good cruel.

Real Steel (2011)

Here, Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a forgotten boxer and robot boxer alike who finds that his ex has died and his child, Max, might end up in his care. He agrees to allow Max into his ex-sister's care for a price to buy a robot, but must have him for the summer. When that time is up, he refuses the offer he'd made, thus going against the ruling, and taking Max.

In opposition to the first example, viewers will side with Kenton/Jackman on this one. But does this make it right to steal, even if the stolen (Max) approves?

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Here, Jackman plays Bunnymund, the Easter Bunny (who is real, of course). At one point in the film, a young girl manages to follow him into a portal of sorts to the Warren, his home, becoming trapped there until Bunnymund befriends and returns her.

This one's a stretch. It's not completely his fault she came, and he did return her. But I think it's still worth noting.

Les Misérables (2012)

Here, Jackman plays Jean Valjean, a convict who....well, you know it by now. Moving from bad guy to good, in his view, relies upon taking and raising the child of a deceased ex-employee. This child is in the "care" of innkeepers. He pays them and walks off with her.

This plot detail as portrayed in the movie is good, but depending on the viewpoint and editing, could be a very sinister and despicable act.

That's all I have for now! Have you found any of this in Jackman's other films?

Look for more "Trending" articles later.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Man of Steel (film)

Man of Steel, Zack Snyder, Warner Bros.

Synopsis: A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.

Thoughts: To start, watch out for the first period of the film, set on Krypton. It's full of sci-fi and comic eye-candy.

It was great that Christopher Nolan chose a darker hero for his superhero debut. Given that he'd been directing such-themed movies (Memento, The Following, Inception), wouldn't it follow that the Man of Steel himself would take on a darker tone? While in a few ways it did, Zack Snyder's fantastic vision (as per usual) and Zimmer's cold, bright score helped breathe a different life into DC Comics' newest film feature.

While I'm familiar with only some films (and none of the comics) with Superman, I will say I enjoyed this one most. It is a wonderful, emotionally-involved origin story that leads you through the development of this Man of Steel quite well. Henry Cavill plays an extraordinary man learning what it means to be a hero. I appreciated seeing his normal human attitude shine through. After all, he grew up knowing no other way to act.

Amy Adams as Lois Lane didn't fit as I hoped, though she did fair. The Daily Planet group did well, but were slightly off-putting. I'm hoping they do more in future films, if they appear. Michael Shannon's was my favorite performance: a near-emotionless (yet obsessed) general with a greater good in mind, and nothing will stay in his way. The climax of the story was just as it should have been.

Here are a few ways Nolan's darker presence have seeped in. Krypton is seen as a plague, destroying to survive, but I won't go further into that. The threats in Man of Steel are very real, and have dire effects. This isn't Avengers. People die, destruction reigns. That said, the violence isn't blatant, but does happen. On that note, there is some language and frightening/intense scenes, but nothing more to worry about. I highly appreciate the lack of inappropriate material in this film.

In conclusion, Man of Steel has not let much in the past explicitly define it. A unique costume, altered chronology, real terror and threats, character accuracy and development, and more are all defined by this film more than the previous ones (or other superhero films). I recommend it to all fans and newcomers.

Rating: 8 stars

Friday, May 31, 2013

Merlin's Blade: review/giveaway

Merlin's Blade, The Merlin Spiral, Robert Treskillard, Zondervan, Fantasy, April 16, 2013, 432 pages.

Synopsis: Merlin's Greatest Weakness Could Become His Greatest Strength 

When a meteorite crashes near a small village in fifth-century Britain, it brings with it a mysterious black stone that bewitches anyone who comes in contact with its glow---a power the druids hope to use to destroy King Uthur's kingdom, as well as the new Christian faith. The only person who seems immune is a young, shy, half-blind swordsmith's son named Merlin. 

As his family, village, and even the young Arthur, are placed in danger, Merlin must face his fears and his blindness to take hold of the role God ordained for him. But when he is surrounded by adversaries, armed only by a sword he helped forge, how will he save the girl he cherishes and rid Britain of this deadly evil ... without losing his life?

My thoughts: Upon hearing of this book before publication, I was hoping it wouldn't be a simple retelling of the classic Arthurian tale. I am happy to report that it is not. Instead, Treskillard brings the perspective a few steps back, beginning with the humble Merlin and his story. The language differences don't just make an appearance to keep things in perspective, they occur often enough to make the reader uncomfortable enough to figure out what they mean. Also, he steeps the events that happen (not just the atmosphere) in the time period. Families, leadership, and professions all reflect the age, but at the same time deftly shape the course of the story.

Considering the people, Treskillard often found ways of skirting the recent character norms and cliched views of the medieval setting. ::SPOILER:: The only weak point I found was Vortipor's engagement to Natalenya, which didn't amount to much. ::END SPOILER:: Merlin was crafted well, with carefully-chosen words, as were Owain, Garth, Uther, and Morganthu.

Merlin's Blade doesn't drag at all. The pace is set very well, and a great deal happens. It's lengthy, honest, and a pleasure to read. As for the story elements that make up the Arthurian legend, Treskillard has included them soundly in the lore of this series. Many items/characters don't show up immediately, or are only hinted at, but I have little doubt they will come further to light soon.

*This book was provided free by the publisher in conjunction with The CSFF Blog Tour. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions expressed are my own.*

My rating: 5 stars

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Captives information and giveaway!

Captives The Safe LandsCaptives is Jill Williamson's newest release from Zondervan/Blink, and I am holding a giveaway for a paperback copy! (for United States residents only)

Unfortunately, I am not yet able to construct a fair review, as I need to finish reading Captives, but that review will come up before the week is out.

Synopsis: One choice could destroy them all.
When eighteen-year-old Levi returned from Denver City with his latest scavenged finds, he never imagined he’d find his village of Glenrock decimated, loved ones killed, and many—including his fiancée, Jem–taken captive. Levi is determined to rescue what remains of his people, even if it means entering the Safe Lands, a walled city that seems anything but safe.
Omar knows he betrayed his brother by sending him away, but helping the enforcers was necessary. Living off the land and clinging to an outdated religion holds his village back. The Safe Land has protected people since the plague decimated the world generations ago … and its rulers have promised power and wealth beyond Omar’s dreams.
Meanwhile, their brother Mason has been granted a position inside the Safe Lands, and may be able to use his captivity to save not only his people, but also find a cure for the virus that threatens everyone inside the Safe Lands.
Can Mason uncover the truth hidden behind the Safe Land’s façade before it’s too late?

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Now You See Me (film)

Now You See Me

Synopsis: An FBI agent and an Interpol detective track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.

Thoughts: It is very important to realize that this movie must not be spoiled. I will not be discussing anything not shown in the trailers, and I ask you not to go looking for such secrets online, but only by watching it yourself. This movie is designed to entertain, and to a degree it does just that.

I haven't seen many of Leterrier's films, but I enjoyed this about as much as The Incredible Hulk, but more than Clash of the Titans. There were still disappointments. Magic movies have been a great interest of mine, and from the trailer I had to wonder, does Michael Caine + woman in a tank = The Prestige? Truthfully, the similarities stopped there, including magic's screentime.

Despite magic taking up most of the trailers, it was too scarce in the film itself. I wanted more magic. I know that doing so would take screen time from Ruffalo, but he wasn't the best of the bunch. In fact, they were Freeman, Caine, and Laurent, respectively.

The screenwriting didn't allow for many to develop character well. The Four Horsemen were usually smooth-talking brick walls. And was that Dave Franco I saw? He had no screentime! (except for brief fancy dodging falling fighting)

These character holes would be acceptable if the movie were a large show. But as mentioned before, magic only came in smaller pieces, when at all. Some were amazing, some were old already, and some were hilarious.

It seems like I didn't appreciate the movie much, but I could only talk about what I didn't like. The rest, the secrets, I loved but can't talk about. Suffice it to say that many surprises are in store, and they're worth watching the movie for. That said, it's best to go in without guessing and predicting, because seeing the many reveals is where most of the entertainment lies. Don't spoil it for yourself.

This is a film some would be happier seeing in theatres, but if you don't think you'd spend ticket money for this, you'd probably regret it, so wait for dvd.

As a warning, there is a suggestive/inappropriate scene near the beginning that ends up going nowhere, but children's eyes should be turned aside. Also, there's a moment in a mardi gras parade that needs to be avoided, and minor language throughout. I'd recommend this movie for 17+, not only for these, but for the understanding of the secret material I can't bring up.

My rating: 7 stars

Sunday, May 12, 2013

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend, Colin Duriez, Lion Hudson, Biography, November 7, 2012, 192 pages.

Synopsis: Long before the successful The Lord of the Rings films, J.R.R. Tolkien’s creations, imagination, and characters had already captured the hearts and minds of millions of readers. But who was the man who dreamt up the intricate languages and perfectly crafted world of Middle-earth? Tolkien had a difficult life for many years—orphaned and poor, his guardian forbade him from communicating with the woman he had fallen in love with, and he also suffered through the horrors of World War I. An intensely private and brilliant scholar, he spent more than 50 years working on the languages, history, peoples, and geography of Middle-earth, with a consistent mythology and body of legends inspired by a formidable knowledge of early northern European history and culture. J.R.R. Tolkien became a legend by creating an imaginary world that has enthralled and delighted generations.

My thoughts: Do you pride yourself on knowing all you can about The Lord of the Rings? This book can teach you quite a bit about the one who knows more than any fan: Tolkien himself. From his early life to post-publication habits, a lot of material makes it into this small book. It is very concise, but still very enthralling to read. Duriez has a way with biographical words. Having written seven titles about members of the Inklings (five of which concerned Tolkien), and one on C.S. Lewis being released later this year, Duriez certainly proves a perfected knowledge of Tolkien's life and work, alongside those of the other Inkling members.

One of the best uses I've found for this book (beside learning of Tolkien's personal life) is the appreciation that comes with reading the amount of work he put into this world and the languages it holds. All the other work he performed in education (which was substantial), this was his primary focus, and this impresses me very much. I very much wish to read each of his works again after digesting this book. I suspect other readers will feel the same, and I urge them to find this book someday, whether it is before or after reading Tolkien.

*This book was provided free by Kregel Blog Tours. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions expressed are my own.*

My rating: 5 stars

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