Review: I, Robot

First of all, just to get it out of the way, I haven't read the stories. As a card carrying geek, I hang my head in shame.

I have every belief that if I had indeed read Asimov's work, I'd spill hatred and bile into the review, wondering how anyone could make such crap from such wonderful source material.

But, since I haven't, I must judge the movie on it's own merits. Based on that restriction, I think the movie is a cookie cutter action flick... that I enjoyed watching a lot.   [Read more...]

Review: The Piaculum

Just between you and me, I thought the life of a book reviewer would have more glamour to it, you know? A little cash, a little flash, a little redheaded something on my arm once in a while.

Nope. The life of a book reviewer sucks. No chicks. No cool cars. Have to dig around in the couch cushions for laundry money.

But sometimes I come across a book that makes me smile.   [Read more...]

Review: King Arthur

It's not your father's Knights of the Round Table. Director Antoine Fuqua and producer Jerry Bruckheimer decide to re-tell the legend of King Arthur, but their quest falls short...   [Read more...]

The Luck of Madonna 13

Usually, as I'm reading a novel, I get an idea of how I'm going to start off the review. Usually a theme coalesces and is fully formed by the time I reach "The End." But with The Luck of Madonna 13, by E. T. Ellison, I honestly have no idea where to begin, other than to say that this is easily the weirdest book I have ever read. Which must be a good thing, as I whole-heartedly believe that was one of the author's intentions.

St. Coriander is an isolated, self-contained, and self-sufficient community in what used to be the southwestern United States. The town is based on a unique religion based around luck and probabilities. Glendyl Fenderwell, the town's luckiest sixteener, is awarded the great honor of going on a quest for the Last Nevergate, a quest no one has returned from alive. (Luckiest my white hairy ass.)

If that last paragraph made absolutely no sense, don't worry, you'll have that feeling for most of the time you're reading the novel. The book seems to be a gigantic exercise in science fiction world building more than anything else. And this is a big, complicated, multidimensional world created by an obvious madman who needs to be locked away before someone gets hurt. You have: clones, genetic engineering, parallel universes, world governments rising and falling, magic wands powered by orbital satellites, artificial intelligences, secret hundred year old schemes, talking book bags, twin on twin action, purple-and-yellow squirrels, and enough dates and names to make you hold your head and cry "make it stop!"

The Good: I've read quite a few self-published and small press books reviewing for the Dragon Page. This is one of the few books from a small press that I thought was written well enough to be published by a big press. Man, can E. T. Ellison write. It was almost distracting, as time and time again, I would read along, and stop, and re-read a line, and stop, and think, "wow, what a fantastic sentence," and move on. His knack with coming up with unusual yet spot-on metaphors is remarkable.

And while building strange, exciting new worlds to play with is nothing new in science fiction, the depth of back story and intricacy in Ellison's world staggers the mind. If you're a fan of series like Discworld, if you can talk for hours over Star Trek universe continuity, you'll pee your pants in excitement reading this book.

The Bad: If you don't care all that much about world building and invented histories and the like, you probably won't like this book. One of the bigger "controversies" concerning the book is that the first chapter, called Genesis, is a thirty-seven page appendix on the history of St. Coriander and the surrounding area. And it's at the beginning of the book. There are also detailed footnotes throughout the book, even in the appendix. If that weren't enough, in certain spots it refers the reader to find even more information on the Last Nevergate website. Many, many words have been dedicated to sculpting this world.

In fact, so much of the text is devoted to world building that I think the story suffers from it. After four hundred pages, I finished the book feeling I've only read the first act of a play. I generally dislike books that are obviously written as first volumes in a series, rather than as entire stories in and of themselves. I hate unresolved sub-plots, cliffhanger endings, and the like. The Luck of Madonna 13 begs for at least one more volume to finish the story.

The Ugly: As much as I liked Ellison's writing, I was disappointed in his dialogue. It read quite stilted in spots, and sometimes came across as silly. This didn't happen often, and I don't think most people would mind the style, but I'm picky about dialogue, and it bugged me a bit.

When it was all said and done, the book didn't disappoint, but didn't thrill me either. However, I have a feeling I'm in the minority. I see a bright future for The Chronicler.

The Luck of Madonna 13 was awarded ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year award for 2002, and made January Magazine's list of the 92 best books of 2002.

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Luck of Madonna 13 by E. T. Ellison
Published by: Wynderry Press; July 2002
ISBN: 1931347131
Genre: Science Fiction
Author's Webpage: www.etellison.com

Author's Webpage: www.lastnevergate.com   [Read more...]

Review: Bubba Ho-Tep

Bruce Campbell gives the performance of his career in this slightly spooky, sometimes touching, and downright hysterical Bubba Ho-tep. A comedy- horror film that raises the bar for low-budget horror movies and independent films everywhere!   [Read more...]

Review: "My Soul To Keep" by Tananarive Due

Tananarive Due writes a character driven adventure with an African-American heroine in a literary field of plot driven stories about white male heroes. That alone makes me recommend it. The fact that the book will chew you up, spit you out, and make you beg for more? Gravy.   [Read more...]

Review: "Chronicles of Riddick"

Didja have high hopes for this movie? You did if you were a fan of Vin's earlier portrayal in Pitch Black. Unfortunately, this installment comes up short-- way short.   [Read more...]

Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I gotta tell you, most of the time reviewing a book or movie is a piece of cake. I read the last page of a book, or stare at the end credits of a movie, and then I think to myself, "Self, what do you think? 2 out of 5? 2.5 out of five? Nah, 2 out of 5," and that's what ends up on the website.

But in deciding whether or not to recommend Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I could go on for hours about what worked and what didn't, and what I think should have been done differently. I'm serious, you should see the first draft of this review.   [Read more...]

Review: "The Dark Wing"

An alien race, following their religious doctrines, shatter their latest peace treaty with the Sol Empire by launching an unprovoked attack against a deep space outpost. This time, however, the war between humans and aliens takes on a far more sinister overtone as the admiral of the Imperial Fleet proclaims himself "The Bringer of The Apocolypse" or The Dark Wing, a Military SF epic from Walter H. Hunt and Tor Books.

Rating: 4 out of 5   [Read more...]

Master & Commander: The Far Side of The World

You want a REAL epic adventure? Forget the wooden horse and Achilles' heel. You want sailing ships, guns forward, and swashbucklers fighting for king and country. Now of DVD, Russell Crowe serves as the Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World. Adventure awaits!

RATING: 5 out of 5

You heard me fire off a full broadside on this summer's epic, My Big Fat Greek Invasion...er, sorry, Troy...and in my review I make mention of how hard Troy tries to be the epic that everyone expects. Some fans of the this cinematic exercise of pretentiousness have critisized me for this comment, asking me to cite an example of an epic film that doesn't try to be AN EPIC. Sure, there are "trademarks" to an epic film: big names, big soundtracks, and big battles. Now available on DVD is a movie that didn't set out to be an epic. It just happened as its heroes set sail for Brazil. This unexpected epic is Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World is a far cry from the 2003 summer swashbuckler adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl. It is, however, closer to A&E's adventurous mini-series, Horatio Hornblower. Master and Commander follows Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey. He's the captain of the HMS Surprise (c. 1806), and considered the best guy to set out on a voyage. Why? When it comes to combat on the oceans of the Atlantic, "Lucky Jack" is unmatched. So, with Napoleon Bonepart playing a game of "chicken" with England, Jack receives his next orders from the crown: hunt down the French privateer ship Archeon. Capture her, if possible. Sink her, if necessary.

Easier said than done. Turns out this Frenchie thinks, sails, and fights just like Jack!

Master and Commander sports what could be one of the best historical looks at "life on the high seas" since Das Boot (ironically, directed by Troy's Wolfgang Petersen). The depiction of the British Navy being "not just a job, but an adventure" is realistic, from the cruel to the creepy to the extremely cool. You see all sides of life on theSurprise, and you get to know these guys. You see them facing life and death together, fighting for home and hearth thousands of miles away, and even letting loose with a few rounds of rum, grog, and wine. This isn't simply an epic adventure on the Atlantic, but it is definitely a GUY movie with battles galore, stuff blowing up, and guys just being guys...

...but the ladies will dig Master and Commander because Russel Crowe's breeches are spray-painted on him. And he's doing the high boots look. Yeah, don't kid yourselves -- Maximus can also swash a buckle if called to General Quarters!

But my wife, as we were watching Master and Commander, asked me "Why didn't I give a s--t for the characters in Troy like I do for these guys?" My answer: Peter Weir. Weir, the same director who gave us films like Dead Poets Society and The Mosquito Coast, really knows how to direct actors, write a script, and shoot a film. His films bring class actors who create a chemistry together and you strike up relationships with them as individuals and as a family. His movies are not just cool but they are cool looking. Weir embraces the landscape (and the seascape, in this case) to create a breathtaking look at the world around our heroes, making the environment an essential part of the cast. But Weir never forgets one of the essentials in putting together a great movie: a great story with great characters. The story is, at its core, a game of the hunter and the hunted, and Captain Aubrey prefers to be the former and not the latter. While telling this story, Weir brings us closer to these characters in scenes such as two friends playing music to pass the time, cutting loose a shipmate struggling through a storm to return to safety, and bidding commrades goodbye after the battle is won. Wolfgang Petersen's Troy tries to emulate this, but the relationships and dialogue feel forced. In Master and Commander (and his other films), Weir never loses sight on what makes a story compelling: its storytellers...who just happen to find themselves in the middle of a larger-than-life adventure.

If you saw this movie on the big screen, get the DVD. It stands up on the television. If you missed Master and Commander, check it out. This movie rocks!   [Read more...]

Review: "Far-Seer" by Robert J. Sawyer

In the ancient battle between science and religion over how the universe works, I can't understand why religion hasn't just thrown in the towel already. If I were a boxer (well, ok, let's be honest here - a sumo wrestler) and I got my ass kicked every single match, it wouldn't take long for me to get the hint.   [Read more...]

Review: Troy

With testosterone thick in the air, we step back to the legends of Homer (*DOH!*) and the battle for Troy, a film of epically disasterous proportions.

RATING: 2 out of 5

How's your Greek history? Spotty? Well, no need to worry about it...because Troy really centers around Achilles and how tough it is for him to be good looking, bulging in all the right places, and undefeated in battle.

Yeah, tough life.   [Read more...]

Review: Van Helsing

One part - Dracula. One part - Wolfman. Many parts - Frankenstein's Monster. (Hold the Abbot and Costello.) Add a dash of Jeckyll and Hyde. Sprinkle in a hot chick with sword, sexy harpies, old castles, and interesting gadgets to give this film a steampunk aftertaste. Serve chilled. Your order of Van Helsing has arrived. Enjoy!   [Read more...]

Letters From the Flesh

You get a phone call. Your best friend, who you haven't seen in a while, is coming over for dinner. She shows up on your doorstep with a "ta-da!" in her voice and a grin that reaches all the way up to her hairline. She asks you if you like her new haircut. Oh, shit. You don't hate it, exactly, but you can feel the saliva in your mouth turning to sand as you contemplate your answer.

My mouth feels like the Sahara right now.

Robert J. Sawyer is one of the Dragon Page's best friends. Besides the fact that he writes ridiculously good science fiction, he has been generous with his time and has given us several great interviews and plugs. Which is why I'm trying to rehydrate my parched lips as I type. I'm giving the first title from his new line of books a thumbs down.

Letters From the Flesh, by Marcos Donnelly tells two stories that are interlaced every other chapter. Every odd chapter reaches back two thousand years to tell "the true Hollywood story" of the conversion of Saul, the bane of the early Christian church, into Paul of Tarsus, Christ's most passionate and most prolific disciple. Every even chapter tells of the modern day conversion of a high school teacher from a man of scientific reason to a man of religious extremism, from the point of view of his cousin Dr. Lillian Uberland, PhD. The two stories are essentially separate until they merge in the final chapter.

The most unusual aspect of the book is that both stories are told in a Screwtape Letters fashion. For those of you who have not read C. S. Lewis' classic, the Screwtape Letters recounts the tale of a young demon, Wormwood, who is given his first human soul to corrupt; and, having some difficulty, he solicits advice from his older uncle, Screwtape. The entire novel is told in the form of letters from Screwtape to his nephew. Wormwood's letters are never shown. In Letters From the Flesh, Paul of Tarsus' story is told in the form of epistles from Paul to those of "[his] kind, the No-Flesh Asarkos." The modern day tale is told in the form of emails from Dr. Lillian Uberland to her wayward cousin.

The Good: What I like the most about Letters From the Flesh is that the two stories, while told in the same letter format, differ in many ways. Though it doesn't sound like it, the story of the conversion of Saul into Paul is definitely a science fiction story. The story of the high school teacher, on the other hand, is a fiction story about science. While one tale is of aliens and wave frequencies and telepathic communication with people's souls, the other discusses Newton's Second Law, entropy, and the scientific method. The book has a very yin-yang feel to it as you switch from one story to the next. This keeps the book interesting, and is a natural way to create suspense, as the story will switch just as things are getting good.

And, come on, a Biblical story with aliens in it? How cool is that?

The Bad: With all the good things to say about this book, and there are quite a few, it still didn't work for me. And it almost all has to do with Dr. Lillian Uberland, the point of view character for the modern day story.

Early in the story, I got a vibe from Dr. Uberland that can only be described as "icky." I didn't like her. I liked many of the points she brought up about the different mindsets that exist between people of science and people of faith. I liked the specific points of debate she brought up when discussing evolution vs. creationism. But, as I kept reading her "emails," I liked her less and less on a personal level. Something was definitely wrong with this woman.

Then, about two-thirds of the way into the book, in a drunken, confessional email, I found out what that something was, and I almost put the book away. "Hell, no! They did not just go there!" I said. And if I didn't, I should have.

I was quite pissed with the turn the book took. "It's a good thing Michael pays me as much as he does," I thought. I gritted my teeth, pressed on, and made it to the end. To be fair, a plot twist did come later that addressed the whole issue, and actually turned it a bit on its head, but for me it was "too little, too late". I couldn't shake the skuzzy feeling.

And not only did I have issues with the fair Dr. Lillian, but the entire point of the book seemed to be that religion's greatest gift to mankind is that it leads to a near suicidal despair for its followers, which the aliens of the book were able to use to mutual advantage. As neat and twisted as the idea is, I'm not sure I can buy it.

So there you have it. Nothing "Ugly" to finish off the review.

One thing I have yet to get used to is writing a review that goes against what most other people are saying. I don't mind so much when I like something everyone else hates, I just figure everyone else is stupid. It's another thing when I can't stand a book that others are raving about. Even though it feels awkward, I just have to accept the truth about situations like this. I'm still right, just ask me.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Letters From the Flesh by Marcos Donnelly
Published by: Robert J. Sawyer Books; April 2004
ISBN: 0889953023
Genre: Science Fiction   [Read more...]

The Rundown

Okay, so it's The Rock from WWF. Okay, so it's Stiffler from American Pie. So what?! This is an action film, not Shakespeare...and it will surprise you how good it is.

RATING: 5 out of 5 (Yeah, this was a solid action film!)

In 2003, The Rundown hit the theatres. If you missed it, it is now available for rental...and you will want to rent it. This movie was so much fun that I'm clearing a spot in my DVD collection for it.

So I guess this movie makes me a fan of The Rock.

The Rock plays a "retrieval expert" named Beck. Not your average muscle man, Beck really wants out of the bad business he's in and plans to open his own restaurant. What was supposed to be his "last assignment," his boss changes plans and sends him down to South America for one more job. The final job is his son, Travis, played by Seann Williams Scott. So Beck flies down to the gold mining town of El Dorado (nicknamed HELLdorado), run by the tight-fisted and slightly psychotic Hatcher, played by Christopher Walken. This was supposed to be a simple job. In and out of The Amazon. No fuss. Beck reunites wayward son with mob father, and Beck gets his restaurant.

Nope. Not by a longshot.

Now when it comes to action films, you have to suspend disbelief. This, however, is an action comedy. Unlike classic action films like Die Hard, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Leathal Weapon, The Rundown is clearly going for the laugh as well as the high body count and collateral damage. If done right, action-comedy can be a lot of fun, but usually the combination results in films like Firewalker or Hudson Hawk. The Rundown gets this tough-to-pull-off formula just right, and has just as many side-splitting belly laughs as it does eye-popping action sequences. And what could make this movie any better? The comic timing from The Rock and Seann Williams Scott are reminiscent of great comedy teams (and no, I don't mean Stiller/Wilson), but they have to be stellar as Walken is hardly "phoning in" his performance. He almost steals the show. Almost. Complete with a cameo from Arnold Schwartzenagger, The Rundown is a movie that doesn't take itself seriously, has way too much fun in its storytelling, and provides solid entertainment. This is a movie that dares to be FUN...so kick back on the couch and get ready for a two-hour joyride. Get ready for The Rock to give you The Rundown.   [Read more...]

Review: "Team of Darkness" by Tony Ruggiero

In the twenty-first century, amidst six billion people and surveillance equipment able to tell a gnat's sex from outer space, four monsters hid together in caves just outside the city of Kacianik, Kosovo, for nearly a century, until they attacked a captain of the US Army and left witnesses.

General Stone could barely contain himself. Vampires. Real life, blood sucking, coffin dwelling, God damned vampires. What if they could be captured? Studied? What if they could be kept under control and compelled to follow orders?   [Read more...]