Saturday, July 27, 2013

Movie Review - The Wolverine (2013)

Last night I saw the latest of Marvel's X-Men franchise, The Wolverine. I'd seen a number of trailers and promotion over the summer, but I wasn't sure if we were getting something worthwhile, or a repeat of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Thankfully, this movie was everything its predecessor wasn't: carefully paced, relatively low-key, contemplative, and created with a stark style and sensibility which actually felt Japanese.

The plot is pretty simple. Logan is taken to Japan to say goodbye to Yashida, a man whom Logan saved from the Nagasaki blast. Yashida, now an immensely wealthy and powerful businessman, offers to take Logan's healing and immortality from him, so Yashida can live on. Yashida likens Logan to a ronin, a masterless samurai, a soldier looking for a death he cannot find. Logan refuses, but soon after is struck with an ailment that hinders his regenerative abilities. Wounded and on the run from Yakuza thugs, trying to protect Yashida's granddaughter,  Logan has to find something to live for in order to survive.

After the movie, discussing it with friends, we've noticed a trend with superhero movies lately;  the stripping and deconstruction of the hero to the point of being a normal man, thereby seeing why they're needed. Although this was done very well in Superman II, lately it has been revived with the latest Batman, Iron Man, and even the latest Bond movie (see my review of Skyfall for more about this). I think in general, this sort of plotline works very well, especially for the more well-established characters who are notoriously hard to challenge. In fact, I'd say that if this movie does have a big flaw, it is in its villains. I found their motivations murky, poorly developed, and ultimately more complicated than what was needed to be effective.

Overall, however, this was a solid film, and I hope the next X-Men film learns from the strong points in this film.

Friday, July 26, 2013

My Short Fiction is Free This Weekend

I've put all four of my short works on free promotion status this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This includes:

They're all available via the links on the right hand side of the blog. Except for The Train to Calais, which has enjoyed surprising popularity thanks to its association with the Commando books, the other short stories have sold poorly, despite all-round positive reviews. I suppose I shouldn't worry too terribly, since the novels are now my bread and butter, so these promotion days are more for the sake of fishing for new readers with my short fiction, in the hopes of catching folks who would be interested in my novels.

If you haven't picked any of these up yet, please take a look and give one (or all) of them a try. Can you beat free? Well, I'm not going to pay you to read 'em, so free is as good as it's going to get.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Movie Review - Snitch (2013)

In 2003's The Rundown, there's a moment as Dwane "The Rock" Johnson's character walks into a nightclub when he passes Arnold Schwarzenegger, making a cameo appearance in the film. Schwarzenegger nods to him and says "Have fun" with a knowing look on his face. Although only three films into his Hollywood career, it was clearly understood by anyone paying attention to Johnson that he was going to be the spiritual successor to Schwarzenegger's Hollywood legacy.

Ten years later, I think it's fair to say that prediction was spot-on. Dwane Johnson has gone on to make a number of films in a variety of genres, from kids movies (Race to Witch Mountain, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, The Tooth Fairy, The Game Plan) to dramas (Gridiron Gang, Southland Tales) to action-oriented movies spanning the spectrum from gritty thrillers like Faster to his historical fantasy films in the Mummy series, from sci-fi splatterfests like DOOM to G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Lately, Johnson has found a place in the last two Fast and Furious franchise films, and he's listed as having a part in the next film as well.

I say all this to illustrate a point; his very impressive career, spanning a relatively short time frame, while touching on a wide variety of films, mimics in many ways Schwarzenegger's own career over the 80's and 90's. If anything, I think Johnson has proven his ability to handle a range of movies that's even greater than Schwarzenegger's, especially in being cast in movies that aren't just comedies, but children's films. And yet, at the same time, he can go on to make films that are brutally violent (Faster is a perfect example here).

OK, three paragraphs in and I haven't talked about Snitch. This 2013 film stars Johnson as John Matthews, the owner of a small but apparently successful trucking company that specializes in construction. His son from his first marriage, a newly-minted 18 year old, does something incredibly stupid and gets arrested with a very sizable amount of Ecstasy on him. Federally-mandated sentences for drug-related charges in this volume dictate that the young man is going to prison for at least the next ten years, unless he can aid the government in making other drug arrests. Unfortunately for Matthews' son, the only drug dealer he knows is the friend who sent him the Ecstasy - the same friend who rolled over to the cops and got him busted in the first place.

In a panic over the thought of his son going to jail for the next ten years (a sentence Matthews worries the boy won't even survive), Matthews pleads with the prosecuting attorney (icily played by Susan Sarandon), offering his own services in making arrests on his son's behalf. At first the offer is rejected, but when Matthews uses an ex-con on his employ to get an introduction with a local drug lord, the attorney agrees to make a deal if Matthews is successful.

From there, the plot really kicks off. Matthews uses his trucking business as a means to transport drugs and cash, but it turns out that the local drug lord is involved with a Mexican Cartel kingpin, a whole other magnitude of danger for Matthews. When it is made clear to him that his chances of getting out of the situation alive are next to nothing if he tries to play ball with the Cartel and the government at the same time, he takes matters into his own hands to see things through to the end.

What I liked most about Snitch is how surprisingly low-key the whole movie is. If this had been a Schwarzenegger vehicle back in the late 80's or early 90's, Matthews would probably have had a military background, a locker full of guns...well never mind - he made this movie, and it was called Commando. And while Johnson is involved in some gunplay during the climax of the movie, to my best recollection, he doesn't throw a single punch the entire film. In fact, Johnson's physicality is almost a non-factor in this film; the role could have been taken by almost any actor. The fact that someone felt that Johnson had the dramatic chops to handle the part speaks volumes for his talents, especially his approachability as a human being. While Schwarzenegger made a career out of his near-superhuman presence, Johnson comes off in most of his films as surprisingly human, even when he's at his most Herculean in the F&F movies or the G.I. Joe film.

As much as it pains me to say this as a lifelong Schwarzenegger fan, I think Johnson will go on to, if not match his predecessor's reputation, perhaps even exceed it someday.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Short Story "A Pirate's Honor" by J.M. Aucoin Now on Amazon

Click Above to See on Amazon

J.M. Aucoin has an obvious love of classic pirate tales and swashbuckling adventures, and it shows in his debut short story. We've got quite the rogues' gallery of characters, and the author is able to fill his scenes with rich historical flavor.

Although this story is a little light on swordplay, there's plenty of tension and drama, and some great character development. By the end of the story, there's definitely enough here to whet our appetites for more of Jake Hawking and the crew of the Night Howl.

I've read the next short story in this series - a great "caper" of sorts - and I know there's a third story written already that I hope to read soon. Justin also has a historical novel currently being edited; hopefully we'll see it sometime in the next year.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review: Dinosaur Wars - Earthfall by Thomas P. Hopp

Every so often, you come across something that looks so completely and utterly ridiculous, you just have to check it out. Maybe it's a bizarre restaurant or shop. Perhaps it's a late-night movie or a new television series. Sometimes, it's a book you've seen in a free book promotion email.

A book about dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs...with lasers.

From the Moon.

 I saw this in a book promotion email a couple of months ago. It was free, and shockingly, the vast majority of reviews were very favorable. Not only that, it was selling surprisingly well. And let's face it, look at that friggin' cover. I mean seriously - look at it. Tanks, attack helicopters, a cowgirl, a freakin' Tyrannosaurus Rex, a comet or spaceship or something falling from the sky, and A Giant Laser Beam From The Moon. 

Does it sound like one of those SyFy Channel movies you watch at two in the morning when you're kinda drunk but too wired to actually go to bed? Yes it does. And to be fair, the whole plot and the storyline comes off something like those movies, but in the best way possible, if that makes any sense. The book is pure pulp science fiction - if you strip away all the 21st century tidbits, this could have been written in the 50's, printed as a series in some sci-fi magazine, or showing up on a spinning book rack in a garish little paperback. Heck, it could be some black & white drive-in theater movie blending cowboys and army men and scientists and guys in funky rubber suits and stop-motion animation. I wouldn't be surprised if the author's agent isn't farming around the movie rights to this - not because it'd be some huge blockbuster, but because it just feels like it should be on the little big screen of direct-to-flatscreen fame.

Oh, what's that? You want a plot? ::sigh:: Fine. One day a gigantic friggin' laser from the southern pole of the Moon starts blasting key military, communications, and other infrastructure installations all over the globe. At the same time, massive spaceships crash-land all over the world, disgorging thousands of dinosaurs, as well as dino-men piloting chicken-legged attack mechanoids that probably look something like this. Chase, a wildlife re-introduction specialist in Montana, teams up with Kit, a rancher's daughter who wants to be a paleontologist, and Dr. Ogilvy, an actual paleontologist. Together, the three of them try to survive while being attacked by T-Rexes, Utahraptors, and laser-toting dino-men. JPL scientists, NORAD staffers, and some plucky U.S. armored cavalry types serve as secondary characters. The action is pretty non-stop, but although the characters aren't hugely detailed, there's enough meat on their bones, figuratively speaking, to serve us sufficiently well over the course of the novel.

Right now, Earthfall, the first of the series, is free. There are two other books in the series, with a fourth, I believe, on the way. The author, Thomas P. Hopp, is actually a full-blown biotechnology scientist, and although there's plenty of science fiction in this book, it's dressed up nicely enough to serve its purpose. If you like sci-fi, like dinosaurs, like Jurassic Park-esque plotlines, and like free ebooks, go pick this one up.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Rapid-Fire Reading Reviews

I've been a little lax on writing book reviews lately, so I thought I'd get a few short reviews out the door today.

First up, I just finished Rick Atkinson's The Guns at Last Light, the third and final installment of his Liberation trilogy, chronicling the growth and maturation of the US armed forces fighting in the European theater of World War Two. This is a great series, starting with An Army at Dawn, which covers the North Africa campaign, followed by The Day of Battle, focusing on the campaigns to take Sicily and Italy.  If you've an interest in World War Two, especially how the American army went from what was essentially a territorial peacekeeping force to a globe-spanning juggernaut, this is the series for you.

Next, I was happy to beta-read the "heavy metal horror" novella Mudslingers co-authored by Mark Allen, a writer who has visited and commented here many times in the past. Mudslingers is, as best as I can describe it, a written version of those great and gory Tales From the Crypt episodes from the 80's, or a grindhouse-y B-grade horror movie. Sex, Drugs, Rock n' Roll, and a lot of gratuitous violence. If you dig raunchy horror with a strong dose of dark comedy, give it a shot.

Speaking of beta reading, my friend Justin Aucoin has been working on several swashbuckling pirate adventure shorts. While none are on sale just yet, you should check out Justin's writing blog, and get a sneak peek at the awesome cover for his first short, "A Pirate's Honor".

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I took the plunge and read another of Leo Kessler's Assault Battalion Wotan novels, Forced March. While it still had some of the distasteful elements found in the first book (after all, the main characters are all SS...), this book was a much better read. It focused on the failed raid on Dieppe by the British and Canadian (and token American Ranger) forces, and a number of chapters are written from the British point of view. I thought this helped balance out the book a lot more, giving us someone to cheer for, even if we knew from the outset their mission was doomed to failure. Kessler (real name Charles Whiting) makes an interesting argument; that Churchill intended the Dieppe raid to fail, indeed wanted it to fail, to prove to the Soviets that the Western Allies weren't prepared to invade the European mainland yet.

That's it for now! I'm going on vacation for two weeks at the end of this week, so hopefully there will be some more reviews when I wrap that up. I hope to have a couple more posts here during that time period as well.