Archive for Reviews

Dead in the West

At the recommendation of a friend in a comment on this very weblog, I have read Dead in the West by Joe R. Lansdale.

Undead things are afoot in the town of Mud Creek and the Reverend Jebidiah Mercer figures this might be his chance to redeem his ways. This book isn’t your traditional zombies, but sometimes that’s for the best. It was a good quick read (despite being listed on the site for a week, I actually read the book in about three to four hours). I’d be interested to check out some of Lansdale’s other works.

So it gets a thumbs up from me.

X-Men: The Last Stand

Let’s just get it out of the way… it definately wasn’t worth staying up until 3am to see it at the midnight show. If I were to use only one word to review this film, that word would be: weak.

The original pictures I saw of the Juggernaut made me cringe. I can at least happily say that in the finished film he looked a little more impressive. Although him actually using the line “Do you know who I am? I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” was just about the worst possible thing. Well, maybe next to the fact that they didn’t bother to show in any way that Cain Marko (the Juggernaut) is Xavier’s half-brother (or something like that, its been so long since I read an X-Men book). And then of course, Peter, you know Colossus, he’s not Russian any more appearantly. And they did the fastball special, twice, and it was stupid both times.

On the other hand, while I remained solidly underwhelmed by the movie, I wasn’t disappointed. It was exactly what I expected. The film is a fanboy’s wet dream and nightmare combined. They managed to cram in so many comic book references and characters that the theater was constantly filled with little chuckles and gasps. At the same time, they managed to deviate from the comic in so many ways that those same fanboys were bordering on tears. And of course, the plot of the movie rears its head every now and then, something about a cure and Magneto fearing a repeat of the Nazis, oh and Jean kills lots of people. It was pretty much exactly was I expected going in. Well, almost… in both the first two X-Men movies, they went to great lengths to avoid killing people. In this movie, however, when I say Jean kills lots of people, I really mean lots of people. And Wolverine too. Without blood of course, but still, lots and lots of dead people.

Hopefully when they do the Wolverine movie next, it will be good since it will only have a couple or three main characters instead of twelve with a few dozen more supporting ones.

The final word then is weak, but fun. Its not a horrible movie, but it could have been better.

Odd Thomas

So, I’m not really a fan of Dean Koontz. I read a couple of his books years ago and something about his writing style just didn’t click with me. Sadly, that has not changed with Odd Thomas.

I picked up the book because it was in the bargain bin. Books-A-Million had some UK versions of a couple of his books reduced for quick sale, so I picked them up to give him another try.

Lets begin with the titular character, Odd Thomas. No, Odd is not an adjective, it really is his first name. Fitting since Odd has the ability to see dead people, occasionally have prophetic dreams, and to see dark shapes he calls bodachs which don’t appear to have any affect on the world but do seem to gather and thrive off violent deaths. And predictably enough, he sees dead people, has a prophetic dream, and notices and unusually large gathering of bodachs in his small town of Pico Mundo.

Was is a bad book? Not really. The story was engaging enough, and the characters were well defined enough, and the appearance of Elvis Presley in places in the book made me smile. But… I don’t know… something about the manner of the telling of the tale just left me… dry. With a really good book, it makes my eyes hurt. I am mildly in need of reading glasses. Regular book print held at reading distance for lengths of time will cause my eyes to hurt, even give me a headache after a while. I can counteract this by looking away from the book and focusing on something distance for fifteen or twenty seconds every five minutes or so. If a book is really good, I’ll forget to do that, and after an hour of solid reading, when I look up, my vision will be blurry and my eyes will water and hurt. Odd Thomas didn’t do that for me, not even close.

I was certain the book was going to end one of two ways, and Dean Koontz didn’t surprise me, although at least it was the better ending of the two I imagined. There is a sequel to this called Forever Odd, and I might pick it up, but I’m in no rush. It was good for a read, but nothing I’d overwhelmingly recommend.

Just My Luck

I am married, so just get over the fact that, yes, I went to go see a chick movie in the theater.

That said, its wasn’t a bad film. It was funny, all the parts well cast and played, although it was typical, and by that I mean the basic plot is a “switch” story, like a Freaky Friday, Vice Versa, Like Father Like Son or 18 Again, only without the body switching. In this case, an almost teminally bad lucked guy switches his fate with that of an overly blessed young girl. His life is crappy, hers is blissfully wonderful, and then suddenly his life is fantastically awesome and hers is in the pits. And of course, when he (unknowingly) runs into her again he can sympathize with her woes and helps her out, leading to romance…

Yeah, typical chick movie. But I laughed, so its all good. Well, except for the $14 we spent to see it. AMC raised their matinee price to $7. Now it will actually be cheaper to buy movies on DVD than to go to the cheapest showing at the theater.

The 2006 Fall TV Season

All this week, networks were unveiling their fall line-ups for the upcoming season. The following are my thoughts, as they progressed through the week, so don’t complain when I speculate about things that by the time you see this are already known.

NBC

I was happy to see the return of Las Vegas, Medium, and My Name Is Earl. Good shows all three, and they will continue to be on my watch schedule. Scrubs, as usual a fan favorite but not well rated, managed for the first time in 5 seasons to not be cancelled, but will be held off until mid-season (likely to fill the hole of some show they cancel within the first couple of weeks). I’m sad to see that Surface isn’t returning as it was the best, most exciting of all the alien invasion TV shows from last season. Heist is gone, which sucks because frankly it was more exciting to watch than Thief on FX (Thief has a better cast, but it was so slow in its plodding storyline). Teachers bids farewell as well, a shame because it was pretty funny, in my opinion, as was Four Kings (also not returning). Conviction is missing from the line-up, which is too bad because I was really enjoying it. As for new shows… Heroes looks great to me, which means it should last exact three episodes, nine tops. Kidnapped also looks interesting, in the vein of all the other mystery serials, this one could be good. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip has a stellar cast, and Sorkin is a good writer/creator (see the first seasons of The West Wing). 30 Rock, well, I like Tina Fey, she’s a good comedy writer, I’ll watch the show, but I’m iffy about its chances. I really want to see Andy Barker, P.I., but its been relagated to mid-season status, so I’ll have to wait. Raines might be good, but as much as I like some of the actors the plot seems like it could be a bit too hokey for me. As for the rest of NBC’s line-up, I really don’t care… ER I gave up on long ago, though I’ve heard its been decent. The various Law & Orders, I catch those on TNT, USA and other stations when I’m trying to go to sleep. Friday Night Lights? Didn’t enjoy the movie, I’ll probably not enjoy the show. Deal Or No Deal? I’ll care when they come to Atlanta and I get to be on. America’s Got Talent? Like the Deal, only care if I’m on it. NBC also got the contract for Sunday Night Football, which means at least one night a week I don’t have to even bother checking to see what’s on that channel.

ABC

Lost is sticking around (Yay!), as is Grey’s Anatomy (Woot!). Freddie is gone (Boo!), and The Night Stalker got axed early this past season, as did Emily’s Reasons Why Not. I’ll miss In Justice, The Evidence and Commander-in-Chief. Invasion is out… however, I know the CW has expressed interest in picking it up, and I’m conflicted about this show. Previously I wrote that it was the worst of last season’s three alien TV shows, and for about the first 9 or so episodes, it clearly was. The pacing was godawfully slow, and it made me want to scream at the TV, but seeing as how I was a huge fan of American Gothic years ago, I wanted to give Shawn Cassidy a chance, so I stuck with it. Now, at the end of their season, Invasion has gotten alot better. There is action, and plot movement, and stuff makes more sense now. If the CW doesn’t pick it up, I won’t be too upset, but if they do, I’ll keep watching. So, on to the new shows… Day Break, eh, not so interested but I’ll watch it for Adam Baldwin. The Nine sounds interesting, but I’m willing to bet it gets cancelled rather quick. Six Degrees will get some attention from me if only because J.J. Abrams (creator of Lost) is involved. I refuse to watch Traveler, because it sounds kind of lame, and I don’t think it will last long at all (Best Buy, however, will sell exclusively the complete series that contains as many as six unaired episodes). I’m going to pass on most of their comedies… I might watch the Ted Danson one, Help Me Help You, if enough people tell me its good, and Let’s Rob… might be a winner, but then I love Donal Logue (only not in a gay way). Every show I didn’t mention, I have no interest in. Betty the Ugly and Men in Trees have to be the two worst named TV shows ever. And American Inventor? This season was so horribly crappy that it won’t sucker me in again… what a hunk of garbage!

CBS

Of the shows I watch How I Met Your Mother will be back, so will The Unit, Numb3rs, and Ghost Whisperer. Yes, Ghost Whisperer is a stupid show, but for some reason (and it couldn’t possibly be Ms. Love Hewitt’s breasts) I keep watching it. Threshold, of course, got axed early this past season, and won’t be returning. CBS is actually renewing 18 shows, more than anyone else, so there isn’t alot to complain about in the cancellation department. New shows… sitcom The Class sounds like it might be okay, but the appearance of Lizzy Caplan in the cast doesn’t bode well for the WB’s Related, which I can now assume is not getting picked up for the CW. Smith is another “people stealing stuff” drama, Heist didn’t last and I found Thief kind of boring, so I’ll give this a try but I’m not holding out much hope (though the cast is stellar). Jericho sounds like it might be interesting, Skeet Ulrich as the lead isn’t a big draw for me though. With the possibility of real nuclear war looming in the Middle East these days, either people will heartily embrace this story, or flee from it, I don’t see much middle ground. Shark… well, since I lost Conviction, I suppose my TV line-up is missing a court drama, so I’ll give it a shot. If the world didn’t so love all the various CSIs, I’d say can them and pull a couple of the midseason replacements out… Waterfront sounds promising, but then I’ve always had a soft spot for Joey Pants (and, really, not in a gay way). So it looks like I’ll be trying all of CBS’s new offerings, how many stick is another story.

FOX

Prison Break, Bones, The O.C., and The Family Guy all return (though I’m getting less enthused by The O.C. each season Marisa continues to live). 24 is back, of course, but I’m still many seasons behind and have decided I’ll just watch them on DVD, but as long as they are good, I’ll be happy they keep making them. The Loop is coming back, and probably bringing is crappy theme song with it, but only as a pair with the American Idol Results show on Wednesdays. And yeah, Americal Idol will be back. Reunion died long ago, and the only show they axed I was watching was Free Ride, and I really won’t miss it. Vanished sounds like it might be good, but frankly I’m getting pretty tired of the “you must watch every episode or else you’ll be completely confused because this show is really one 24 hour story” shows. A couple is fine, a few is pushing is, but next season it looks like there will be aboout fifteen of them. Standoff looks better since its more episodic (like Numb3rs, The Unit, and a few others). Justice… well, it’ll be either Shark on CBS of this, I really don’t want too many courtroom dramas on my schedule. Shark may win just because “James Woods > Kerr Smith”. ‘Til Death sound formulaeic, but fun. The Winner might be a winner, except I got burned on Reunion last year, so a time warping comedy drama looking back to the days of 1994 probably won’t make my list unless the word of mouth is extremely good. Yeah, and Simon Cowell has another show, Duets… more singing on TV. On The Lot might be the first reality show I actually get excited about rather than just watch because its on and people talk about it. (New Fox Shows don’t have links because I can’t find links to New Fox Shows)

The CW

Veronica Mars survives the merger! WOOHOO!! So did Supernatural, Smallville, Gilmore Girls, and One Tree Hill (I hate that I’m addicted to this show). Pepper Dennis and Related didn’t make the cut. Neither did Everwood, of which I wasn’t a fan watching every week, but I enjoyed every episode I saw. I honestly don’t know why they renewed 7th Heaven. It wasn’t a bad show, but I never felt it was any good either, it was very bland family happy-happy-joy-joy drama. But I guess I can’t begrudge a network wanting at least one wholesome show on TV. Sadly, they are keeping both the UPN’s and the WB’s reality shows. Runaway seems like an odd plot… its The Fugitive, only the guy doesn’t run off alone, he takes his whole family with him. It could work. They’ve picked up Palm Springs for midseason, which sounds like The O.C. only with really dark secrets. As long as Marisa Cooper isn’t there I’ll be watching. No word anywhere, but I hope that they at least try out Mercy Reef (the Aquaman TV show) to see if people like it instead of just letting it go. And it seems they did pass on Invasion, something about it being too expensive. I wish they’d take the 7th Heaven money and put it in Invasion instead. Well, I got my Veronica Mars, so I guess I’m happy for now.

Other Networks

TNT is starting up another season of The Closer this summer, and it looks like they cancelled Wanted. FX will probably keep Rescue Me and The Shield, even Thief might run another season. USA has a show called Psyche about a private detective who pretends to be a psychic by lying, guessing and using inside information. And beyond that, I don’t really know any more…

The Amulet of Samarkand

I suppose one of the things that always kept me away from the Harry Potter books were the descriptions of Harry himself. In the beginning he’s pure and noble, and everything he does is for the good. Its almost sickening sweet. The later books help fix him up right as he makes mistakes and costs people their lives.

In The Amulet of Samarkand, the first of the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, one of the main characters is a horribly flawed boy who lives in a horribly flawed world. In the London of his world, magicians rule, literally. They aren’t hidden or secret, they run Parliment and keep the “commoners” beneather their feet. Common children are sold into apprenticeship where they are forced to forget their birth names and learn the ways of magic. Nathaniel, is one such child who is apprenticed to a minor magician of small power, but Nathaniel wishes to be greater, teaching himself more than his master will allow, especially once he is humiliated by Simon Lovelace, a much more powerful magician. Nathaniel takes his self taught knowledge and summons Bartimaeus to help him get his revenge on Lovelace. The only problem is, in seeking his revenge he stumbles on to a much more deadly plot by some of London’s other magicians. While keeping revenge on his mind, Nathaniel also decides that he needs to help the society of magicians by stopping this fiendish plot.

Most of the tale is told by Bartimaeus, who like many of the demons summoned by magicians, hates magicians and their petty squabbles. He’s also a wise cracking smartass, which helps keep the book fun and fast. One of the things I really enjoyed about this book, however, is that while it does leave some loose ends, the tale sits well by itself, and if I never manage to read the rest of the trilogy, I won’t feel like I’m missing something. I would gladly recommend it to young and not-so-young readers.

Veronica Mars

If you don’t watch this show, you should.

It has been a couple days since I watched the second season finale and I’m still just amazed. The final episode, just like the season before, takes all the clues that you’ve been getting all season long, the ones that you know are related but they don’t all fit into one puzzle, and gives you one last bit that makes everything snap together and the rush for the resolution is on! Holy crap! No wait.. they didn’t just.. oh my.. wait… what… I don’t… jeez… wow… holy fu… NO, THAT DID NOT JUST… YES!!

Seriously… season one is on DVD, buy it. Season two will likely come out soon, buy it also. And season three? Well, we will find out this week if Veronica and company make it on to the CW Network’s fall schedule. And they better, because I want to know what … nah, I won’t ruin it for ya.

Under the Black Flag

My wife has an affinity for biographies, histories and other textbooks. So that’s how I even had a copy of Under the Black Flag on hand to read.

I like pirates. In the debate over pirates versus ninjas I am firmly on the “Arrr!” side. So its no surprise that I enjoyed this book. Although, I will warn you, it reads like a textbook. Facts, followed by facts, and some more facts. In the end there is even a section of charts and tables, and a full bibliography of sources. Not terribly exciting stuff, but interesting in a “Hmm, I did not know that” sort of way.

Would I recommend it? Ehh… well, if you want to read a textbook about pirates, sure. But don’t go into it looking for a grand narrative tale.

Prey

There is one thing Michael Crichton has always excelled at, and that is taking a real field of study or research, finding a disturbing way it could be abused, manipulated or get out of control, and then construct a story around it that manages to inform, thrill and scare you all at the same time.

Prey is no different. The subject here is nanotechnology, small molecule sized machines programmed to work together to perform a task. The angle, what happens when the machines are coded with animal behavior logic that is intended to be open-ended and self-optimizing. In other words, the program makes decisions and learns from its mistakes.

The book was a pretty fast read, like most of Crichton’s books, and there is enough technojargon to give the book that science filled feel to it, but it never goes so far as to obscure the story from the read in mumbo jumbo that only learned people in the know would understand.

In short, the book didn’t suck.

The Walking Dead

For Christmas, I was given a book that I asked for, The Walking Dead. Its a comic book about people trying to survive in a world of zombies. Yesterday, on a drive to North Carolina with my wife, my brother and his girlfriend to visit his girlfriend’s family, I re-read book one, and read books two, three and four.

The Walking Dead is, quite simply, the best zombie stories I have ever read. A while back I posted about Brian Keene’s books, and those were very impressive for horror books, but The Walking Dead, which is a comic book series and not novels, deals more with the people than the zombies. They aren’t zombie stories, they are people stories where the setting happens to be a world full of zombie like you might set a drama with a backdrop of World War II or the Depression Era US.

I recommend these books, and Amazon has a very reasonable deal for buying all 4 collections for $33 right now. The rest of this review is going to contain some spoilers, a little plot revelation, so avoid it if you want the books to remain secret until you page through them. Read more