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Book Review: Game of Thrones

I finally got around to reading George R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones.” It’s a classic fantasy book with battles, intrigue, and fantastical creatures. When I first heard of the series, my original impression was that it was just a simple medieval setting without any fantasy creatures. I don’t know why I had that impression, but I did. As it turns out, I was completely wrong: It’s got the medieval armies and the fantasy creatures. Specifically, just in book one, it has direwolves, wights, and dragons. It also mentions a few other critters that may rear their heads in later books.

The story is complex and convoluted. There are quite a large number of point-of-view characters: Eddard, Catelyn, Tyrion, Danerys, Sansa, Arya, Jon, and Bran (I think that’s all). Things start out simply enough with most of the action taking place in the northern citadel of Winterfell. Soon enough, however, the storyline fractures. Eddard Stark is appointed the King’s Hand. As a result, one group of people goes south to King’s Landing, another group stays at Winterfell, and Jon Snow (Eddard’s bastard son) heads even further north to the Wall. There is also the building side storyline involving Danerys who, I think, is on an entirely different continent not shown on the book maps. I assume she’ll be crossing the water soon enough, but on the whole, it makes it difficult to follow the plot … not the major thrust: the assassination attempt on Bran and Catelyn’s investigation into such and Eddard’s intrigues at court. That went well enough, but the problem was the whole horde of characters in this book. There’s probably five or six or more characters for each point-of-view character, so very soon, the sheer numbers of such become unmanageable.

Also, this book should come with an adult warning. There’s incest, teen sex, and a six-year-old boy who still breastfeeds just to name a few eyebrow raisers. I also read somewhere that things go very poorly for the Starks in later books, which is a shame, because those are the characters I liked the most … particularly Jon Snow. Because of that, I probably will not read any further in the series. I read the first book and overall I’d say my reaction was lukewarm. It wasn’t bad; it was decent, but the eyebrow raisers listed above and the fact I was forewarned about a number of Starks dying does not inspire me to read more.

Strengths: I liked the direwolves and dragons, and the Night’s Watch. The writing was decent and the main characters were likeable enough. Weaknesses: there were too many characters, too many things done simply for shock-value, and for some reason or other, I never fully sank into the book. Sometimes, it was almost a chore to read.

Ultimately, I’ll give “Game of Thrones” by George R. R. Martin three stars out of five.

This review was originally published on Goodreads on 6/27/13.

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Movie Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness

I’ve been wanting to see this movie for quite some time, but I kept putting it off. I’m sorry I did. It was a great movie. It continues the reboot of the “Star Trek” series of movies. We have the original cast of characters being played by different actors. These include: Chris Pine (Captain James T. Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Science Officer Spock), Zoe Saldana (Communications Officer Uhura), Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy a.k.a. “Bones”), and Benedict Cumberbatch (Khan). It’s basically a reboot (in a very loose roundabout way) of either “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan” or the original series episode “Space Seed.” Only because it involves Khan and the 72 other superhumans of the Botany Bay crew.

 

The story begins on a distant planet where Kirk steels a valuable artifact from a primitive culture in a ploy to get them away from an erupting volcano so Spock can set off a device to neutralize the volcano. Things get hairy, Kirk is forced to violate the Prime Directive a couple of times, and Spock files his own report detailing that. That sets up the tension between Kirk and Spock (and also Spock and Uhura) throughout the movie. From there, they return to Earth, whereupon they learn of a terrorist whose name escapes me (It is really Khan, but he’s going by another name). They determine that Khan has fled to the Klingon home world of Kronos. So, the Enterprise is sent in pursuit armed with special photon torpedoes. Their orders are to kill Khan from a distance. But Kirk leads a landing party to capture him. After single-handedly wiping out most of a Klingon patrol, Khan surrenders. And from there, things get really dicey.

 

Strengths: There were a lot. The acting was good. The special effects were good. The story was good. And the character conflicts and crises were believable. There was only one logical flaw that I can think of in the movie, and that was a pretty minor one. Weaknesses: well, I think the sexualization of Kirk was a little overdone—he was always kind of like that, but they were more discreet in earlier films and the series (of course, that’s some forty years ago or so—oh well). Also, there was that logical flaw where transporters worked while the shields were up in one scene, and then not in another (Or did they lower the shields? I don’t remember, now).

 

Anyway, I’ll give “Star Trek: Into Darkness” four and a half stars out of five).

Movie Review: The Man of Steel

I saw this movie last week and have been taking my time getting around to review it. According to IMDb it earned around 8 out of 10 stars and I find that almost laughable. I think someone got paid off there. The movie has some big name talent (in notably smaller roles): Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and a few lesser names-in-the-making: Henry Cavill, Harry Lennix, etc… The story, well, it’s about Superman. It’s basically a reboot of the entire series; it gives the whole genesis of Superman and the destruction of Krypton from the get-go, and works in a plot basically derived from Superman 2 in the original series.

 

The plot in a nutshell: Kal-el (Superman) is one of the only survivors of Krypton. He is launched in a spacecraft to Earth where he finds a home with the Kents. Meanwhile, while Krypton is the process of imploding, General Zod tries a coup, but is defeated, and he and his forces are sent into a cryo-state in the vicinity of a black hole (or something like that). So, Krypton dies, and General Zod and his forces escape their imprisonment after their sentence is up. So, they seek out Kal-el (who is now grown up on Earth) to find the genetic information to rebuild Krypton that was sent with Kal-el on his craft (or so Zod thinks). When they arrive, conflict ensues. It is Superman versus several dozen other super-beings from Krypton.

 

Strengths: at least Superman looked physically fit. That was about it. Weaknesses: my biggest beef with the movie was the fact that the fight scenes consisted basically of nearly indestructible beings slugging it out, throwing each other through buildings, causing explosions, and making virtually no progress. It was boring and repetitive, and did not make for a very entertaining movie. I heard that this movie was supposed to have Christian overtones: the Heavenly Father, sends his only son, to inspire and lead the Earth. You can interpret it that way, if you wish, but I personally think it was just a movie about an orphaned alien. Looking for a religious subtext gives the movie more credit than it deserves. You could also look at it as a metaphor for Moses just as easily.  What is it they say? There are basically five different stories that form the root of all stories: each one adds a little flavor here or there, but they all come back to the same thing. Some of these stories are told well, others, poorly. This one was told poorly.

 

In the end, I’ll give “Man of Steel” a whopping two stars out of five.

Old Movie Review: Taken 2 (2012)

I enjoyed the original “Taken” movie when it first came out, so, a friend and I thought we’d take a gander at the sequel “Taken 2.” It stars Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, and a few other actors and actresses I’m not familiar with. Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a retired CIA operative, and Famke Janssen plays Mills’ ex-wife, Lenore. They have a daughter, Kim, (played by Maggie Grace).

 

The movie begins slowly. Bryan arrives at Lenore’s house to give Kim a driving lesson. But she’s at her boyfriend’s. This section of the movie serves only to play up Bryan’s aspect as being overprotective (he has a background check done on the boyfriend) and to establish that the main players are leading relatively normal lives in the good old USA. Then, Bryan goes to Istanbul where he has a security job for three days. Lenore and Kim join him after he is done; it is meant as a kind of gift to Lenore who is in the midst of a very nasty divorce. Of course, that’s when things go wrong.

 

In the preceding movie, “Taken,” Bryan wiped out a whole slew of bad guys; it was a ring of criminals who had abducted his daughter with the intent to sell her as a sex slave. Of course, it is an unwritten rule of nature: If you kill somebody, regardless of the reason, someone somewhere else will be upset. In this case, the dead criminals come from a family of criminals, who are now quite irked at Bryan and are intent on evening the score. They set out to Istanbul to do so. They kidnap Bryan and Lenore, and almost do the same to Kim. And then, the real fun begins. There is a lot of killing and violence. Bryan proves himself to be one of the deadliest people alive as he wades through bad guys like a scythe through wheat.

 

Strengths: well, this was a hardcore action movie, with lots of death and hand to hand combat. If you like that stuff, you’ll probably like this movie. For what it was, it was decent. The storyline held together well. The acting was pretty good. And there were no looming plot holes. Weaknesses: in my opinion, this movie was made simply to make more money from the “Taken” concept. It was very short, 92 minutes, and even the storyline seemed to be a kind of straight line from point A (kidnapping) to point B (relentless slaughter of everybody), with very few perturbations from the path. There were no twists or turns; the whole point of the movie seemed to be just an emphasis on Bryan’s skills. He handled the bad guys with relative ease.

 

In the end, I’ll give this movie three and a half out of five stars.

Old Movie Review: The Factory (2012)

Old Movie Review: The Factory

 

“The Factory” is a crime/action/thriller inspired by true events and starring John Cusack and Jennifer Carpenter. The IMDB rating gives the movie 5.4 stars out of 10, which I think is absurd. This is a really good movie, with a killer twist. Of course, it is based on true accounts, supposedly, and truth is often stranger than fiction, or so they say. Regardless, I heartily disagree with the IMDB rating.

 

Anyway, John Cusack plays the main character, detective Mike Fletcher, a rough and tumble cop, and Jennifer Carpenter plays his partner, Kelsey Walker. Together they are investigating a series of disappearances. They suspect a serial killer, but have no bodies, only missing person reports. But the catch is (and the killers mo), all the victims are prostitutes. As a result, there’s hardly an outcry to solve the case; in fact, detective Fletcher is under some pressure to wrap it up and let it go. But he’s not willing to let it go. He’s hell bent on finding out what’s happened to these women and no one’s going to stop him.

 

Then, the unthinkable happens. Mike’s teenage daughter, Abby, goes missing. At the time of her disappearance, she is roaming the streets and dressed, as some teenage girls are wont to do, in rather scanty ill-concealing clothes. Mike fears the worst, and soon the evidence begins to mount that his fears are justified. Now he’s on the case of his own daughter’s disappearance, and he’s running out of time.

 

Strengths: well, the movie held together well; it was easy enough to follow. The acting was fine and the plot was engaging. And, like I said, there was a killer twist. Maybe saying that much gives away too much. But it’s worth watching just to see the twist. I saw it with two other people, and none of us saw it coming. And when they did the flashback sequence to “explain” it, they did drop plenty of hints throughout the movie, nothing too obtrusive, but lots of small things that when taken together came together well. Weaknesses: well, there was one strange sequence which didn’t make sense at first, but was explained by the end. So, perhaps that’s not a weakness. Also, there were a few cases of weak dialogue, but not a lot. Of course, all that said and done, it is kind of disconcerting that it was inspired by true events.

 

Anyway, as a piece of pure art, I’ll give it four stars out of five.

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