Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Movie Review - Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows (2012) * *
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter and Eva Green

From IMDB:
"In the year 1752, Joshua and Naomi Collins, with young son Barnabas, set sail from Liverpool, England to start a new life in America. But even an ocean was not enough to escape the mysterious curse that has plagued their family. Two decades pass and Barnabas (Johnny Depp) has the world at his feet-or at least the town of Collinsport, Maine. The master of Collinwood Manor, Barnabas is rich, powerful and an inveterate playboy...until he makes the grave mistake of breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). A witch, in every sense of the word, Angelique dooms him to a fate worse than death: turning him into a vampire, and then burying him alive. Two centuries later, Barnabas is inadvertently freed from his tomb and emerges into the very changed world of 1972. He returns to Collinwood Manor to find that his once-grand estate has fallen into ruin. The dysfunctional remnants of the Collins family have fared little better..."

My Thoughts:
I never watched the original series, partly because I wasn't born yet when it started and it ended when I was three years old.  And somehow I never managed to get into the series via reruns.

I've also never seen the 1991 remake of the series that NBC attempted and then cancelled.  So going into the Dark Shadows movie I had very little in the way of expectations, except that the trailers made it look really campy.  Which, considering that the film is directed by Tim Burton, was not completely unexpected.

However, Bob reeeeeallllly wanted to see it, and I like me some Johnny Depp, so on Friday night after dinner we took ourselves to ye olde trusty neighborhood theater to watch us some vampire Johnny goodness.

Unfortunately, the movie was every bit as campy and cheesy as I had thought it would be, complete with extra camp and cheese.  At times the film is so bad that it passes that narrow window where bad movies become good, and then smashes out the other side into truly atrocious.  But in between the atrociousness, there is, now and then, the hint of a possibility of the potential to be really cool and amazing.

There are some funny moments here and there, though not the ones that were planned.  There's even some really good acting here and there.  Occasionally there's some decent writing, and the set designs are mostly fantastic in a Burton-esque "totally-over-the-top" kind of way.  But these little moments of almost-borderline awesome are hidden underneath a lot of bad writing, lame jokes, and unrealized potential.  The ending was predictable and sorta boring.

I'm giving Dark Shadows only two stars, which is probably generous, and I feel bad, but Tim Burton and Johnny Depp should have been super-awesome, instead of just fizzling out.  One thing the film does have going for it though - Helena Bonham Carter.  That's not enough of a reason to go see it, though.  Save your money, or go see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel instead.

Have you seen Dark Shadows yet?  What did you think?  Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Teaser Tuesday - The Desert of Souls

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just:
* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title and author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their To Be Read (TBR) Lists if they like your teasers!

----------

I'm almost finished with The Desert of Souls, so this will be the last Tease from this book.  I've quite enjoyed it!  In this Tease, Asim and Dabir have returned home but are in disgrace for failing to stop Firouz from accomplishing his evil plan...

The Tease:
 "By Allah, if Dabir had been wrong...my one hope had been that Firouz would arrive to carry out his plan and my friend would be vindicated when the Magian was stopped.  But there was no sign of Baghdad's doom.  Normally I would have been happy of that."
 -The Desert of Souls, by Howard Andrew Jones

What's your Tease?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Movie Review - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) * * * * *
Director: John Madden
Starring: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel

From IMDB:
"A group of British retirees decide to outsource their retirement to India, where it is less expensive and seemingly exotic. They are enticed by advertisements for the newly-restored Marigold Hotel and are bolstered with visions of a life of leisure.

They arrive, after an arduous journey, to find the palace a shell of its former self. The phones don't work, the building is run-down, and the food isn't to their liking.

Though the new environment is less luxurious than imagined, they are forever transformed by their shared experiences, discovering that life and love can begin again when you let go of the past."

My Thoughts:
Bob & I have both been wanting to see this movie for several weeks, and this last weekend the film's "Limited Release" finally brought it to our local theater.  Not wishing to miss the limited opportunity to see this movie we immediately dropped everything and went to the first available showing!

I've previously mentioned our willingness to see any movie starring either Judi Dench or Maggie Smith without even knowing what the film is about, but with this movie we did know a bit of the plot from the one or two previews that we had seen, so we were very excited.  So excited that we got to the theater waaaaaaaaay too early.  As the starting time approached a few other viewers began trickling in, and by the time the previews started the theater was nearly full, at which point Bob and I suddenly realized that it was entirely possible that we were the youngest people there!

Whether it's been aimed at older viewers or not, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a perfectly stunningly fabulous movie.  Some reviewers have complained about the dramedy's "feel-good" approach to story telling, but I'm really not sure what's wrong with that.  It doesn't always work, but it does work extremely well here.  The movie will grab you by the heart-strings and cause you alternate between tears and laughter, and sometimes both will occur simultaneously.  And if you don't desperately desire with all your heart and soul to travel to India IMMEDIATELY upon leaving the theater then your heart and soul might be two sizes too small!  Just saying!

The cinematography is gorgeous, as is to be expected, but where the movie excels is in the characters themselves.  The individual stories are fascinating and layered, so the characters become so real that the viewer becomes totally immersed in their world, and completely loses track of time in ours.  The individuals grow and learn and are transformed by their experiences, and pull the viewer along with them through their journey.

I highly recommend this movie for anyone, young or old, and happily give it five stars.  The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is now my favorite Dramedy of all time, and just might be my favorite movie ever!  And YOU should totally go see it right now, if you haven't already!

If you have seen it, why not leave a comment below and tell me what you thought?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book Review - The Watchers of Ur: Cradle

The Watchers of Ur, by Lamonte M. Fowler
1. Cradle       05/11/2012     * * * *

From Goodreads:
"From before the Dawn of Man, good and evil have battled on the Earth. As humans progressed from Eden to the skies and to space, Azrael watched over humanity — teaching, guiding, and protecting the Children of Earth.

The Enemy, imprisoned on Earth for their rebellion, carry out the Master’s plan to end their bondage and take the war to a new front — a pristine ‘cradle’ world where suffering and war are not known. Using the Emperor of Earth and the resources of his vast empire to build mankind’s first star ship, the Enemy weaves a plot that spans generations, and threatens two sentient races.

In Book One, Azrael enlists Father Bo┼╝ydar Joffre, a Jesuit priest, and Kavan Ferre, a brilliant physicist, to prevent the Enemy from escaping to the stars. Joined by an unlikely group of space pirates, Azrael leads an epic race across the solar system to halt the Enemy before their great migration can begin.

THE WATCHERS OF UR: CRADLE will take you from Earth to Mars, Europa, Titan, and beyond on an epic journey filled with fast-paced action, gripping human drama, and stunning glimpses of the future of Mankind."

My Thoughts:
This novel was an interesting experiment for me to read, because I really had no idea ahead of time whether or not I would like it.  Usually when I pick up a book and start reading I have some idea of whether or not I'm going to find it enjoyable, but that wasn't the case here at all.  I was excited to read it, and excited by the basic premise of the story, but having never read the author I knew nothing about his style of writing or pacing or if the story itself would actually be any good.  Luckily for me, it was.

Mr. Fowler presents an interesting question - If Lucifer and his fallen angelic followers were imprisoned on Earth and left without the ability to transport themselves through time and space, are they tied to the planet itself, or to the human population?  If humans leave the planet, can the enemy of good follow them into space and ultimately to other worlds?

"Cradle" takes place approximately 500-600 years in the future, and the human race has spread out across the solar system.  Earth and parts of the solar system are ruled by an emperor, though some of the space colonies have various levels of independence from the Empire.  Azrael, an angelic being, is involved in a long, on-going plan to stop the "Enemy" from completing a top-secret project to build a new type of spaceship that can quickly cross the vast distances between planetary systems.  In their desperate attempt to escape Earth, the Enemy uses the immense resources and military authority represented by the Empire, while Azrael has only a few people on his side, whose skills and abilities seem ill-fitted for the task at hand.  "Cradle" ends with a bit of a cliff-hanger and the story will continue in "Offspring," due in July of 2012.

 In my opinion, the best parts of this novel, and where I feel that the author excels, is in the world building.  Fowler has imagined an amazing and fantastic future history in which humans have overcome the obstacles of space and colonized the most incredible environments.  Space navies patrol the inner planets, pirate fleets operate on the fringes of society, and scientific complexes inhabit deep seas and hollow asteroids.  Reading the authors' ideas of where humans have gone and what they've done once they got there in this future was impressive and highly entertaining, and definitely made me fall in love with the story.

What didn't always work quite as well were the characters inhabiting this amazing landscape (Space-scape?).  While some of the characters are well written and their existence makes sense within the confines of the story, more than a few of them felt a little flat or shallow, and there are several instances where I felt that some of the characters' motivations didn't make sense.  For example, one character makes a life-altering decision in what feels like a heartbeat, when perhaps that choice should have been more difficult, or taken more time to think and consider the ramifications of the choice.  Characters walk away from home or career without a second thought and no remorse afterwards, and it just doesn't always "feel" like something a real person would do - merely that the story requires the character to be in a specific place and so they move there.  Oddly, some of the secondary characters seemed more realistic than most of the main characters did.

Fortunately, the rest of the story, together with the world building, tends to push these concerns towards the back of the mind, but every now and then they popped back up and pulled me out of the reading experience briefly, which is the only reason I mention them.  None of the other reviews I've read talk about the characters at all, so maybe it was just me.  But the lack of real character depth would probably be my only complaint about "Cradle," but it certainly isn't enough to keep me from reading "Offspring" when it becomes available.  I'm giving "Cradle" four stars, and I look forward to seeing where the authors' vision takes us next.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Teaser Tuesday - The Desert of Souls

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just:
* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title and author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their To Be Read (TBR) Lists if they like your teasers!

----------

So far I'm really enjoying this book, it's very entertaining!  In this scene our heroes race after thieves who have kidnapped a girl and stolen some valuable - and potentially dangerous - items.  The thieves have already destroyed one of Asim's boats with magic while on the river, and he contemplates what should happen if they meet again on the ocean...

The Tease:
 "Sails shone like white wings here and there on the horizon, and I wondered if any of them might belong to the thieves, and if so, whether we might face a great flaming hand aboard this vessel. 
There would be no swimming ashore from here."
 -The Desert of Souls, by Howard Andrew Jones

What's your Tease?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Movie News - Skyfall Movie Poster Released!

Sony Pictures and MGM have released the new movie poster for the 23rd James Bond adventure movie, "Skyfall."




Stunning!  I can't wait until November!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Movie Review - The Avengers

Marvel's The Avengers (2012) * * * * *
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johnasson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Clark Gregg

From IMDB:
"Nick Fury is (the) director of S.H.I.E.L.D, an international peace keeping agency. The agency is a who's who of Marvel Super Heroes, with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Black Widow. When global security is threatened by Loki and his cohorts, Nick Fury and his team will need all their powers to save the world from disaster."

My Thoughts:
The short version is that I honestly think that Hollywood should just roll up the sidewalks and stop making superhero movies, because this is the best they've ever done, and I can't imagine that they will ever do a better superhero movie!

 Joss Whedon does an amazing job as director (and writer!) with this film, and it's full of comments, references, and humor that Whedon fans will instantly recognize.  I don't want to spoil anything, (but really if you haven't seen it stop waiting and go already!), so I'll try not to mention the plot too much.

To me it felt like the first half of the movie spent a lot of time dealing with the age old questions of "if this hero was in a fight with that hero, who would win.?"  When the Avengers are assembled by director Fury, there's a lot of time spent bickering and posturing, and initially the team doesn't want to work together, because they are not used to the concept of being a team.  Through a series of events orchestrated by Loki, and then later manipulated by Fury, the group of heroes pull together to fight against the overwhelming threat to Earth.  The second half of the film follows the epic battle as they use their own strengths, and weaknesses, to fight the enemy as a unit, instead of battling each other.

The film is fast paced with very few slow moments, and I hardly noticed that the movie was over two hours long, as it all flies by so fast.  The special effects are amazing, and overall the movie is just plain Fun!!  Even someone who isn't a fan of the Marvel comics or familiar with the characters back-stories can still enjoy the movie and follow the plot.

Bottom line - The Avengers is an awesomely fun film that anyone, young or old, can enjoy.  I can't even think of a single thing that I didn't love about it.  I'm giving it five stars, and even Bob thought it was a pretty good movie!  So if you haven't seen it yet go now.  And make sure you stay all the way to the very very end of the credits, there are two scenes you won't want to miss!

Have you seen The Avengers yet?  What did you think?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Teaser Tuesday - The Desert of Souls

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just:
* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title and author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their To Be Read (TBR) Lists if they like your teasers!

----------

Sorry this is late today, but, this week our Tease comes from a brand new book!  How new?  Well, it's not really new, just new to me, as I started it last night!  And I'm completely hooked!  In this scene, our hero is wandering the marketplace of ancient Bagdad when a wounded man stumbles into him and falls at his feet...

The Tease:
 "Before I could draw breath, four bold rogues rounded the corner and stopped short at the heels of the wounded man.  Three wore fine clothes shabbily treated, as if they liked the look of them but did not know their proper care.  More to the point, swords were in their hands."
 -The Desert of Souls, by Howard Andrew Jones

What's your Tease?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Covering the Cover - 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Here is yet another fabulous cover for a new Sci-Fi novel to be released at the end of this month.

Here's the cover blurb:
"The year is 2312. Scientific and technological advances have opened gateways to an extraordinary future. Earth is no longer humanity's only home; new habitats have been created throughout the solar system on moons, planets, and in between. But in this year, 2312, a sequence of events will force humanity to confront its past, its present, and its future.

The first event takes place on Mercury, on the city of Terminator, itself a miracle of engineering on an unprecedented scale. It is an unexpected death, but one that might have been foreseen. For Swan Er Hong, it is an event that will change her life. Swan was once a woman who designed worlds. Now she will be led into a plot to destroy them."


I've already added this novel to my TBR list, and I found it fascinating that the publisher, Orbit Books, took the time to explain a little of the thought process behind the cover design.



So what do you think? Love it or hate it?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Movie Review - The Raven

The Raven (2012) * * * * *
Director: James McTeigue
Stars: John Cusack, Alice Eve and Luke Evans

From IMDB:
"When a madman begins committing horrific murders inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's works, a young Baltimore detective joins forces with Poe to stop him from making his stories a reality."

My Thoughts:
This movie is bloody brilliant.  Go see it now!

What?  You want more?

(sigh)

Ok here's the deal.  Bob's been wanting to see this movie for weeks, and while I thought it might be interesting, I wasn't nearly as excited about it as he was.  But it turns out that The Raven is totally amazing.  John Cusack (whom I adore) was completely brilliant as the washed-up has-been Poe, who is having an illicit affair with Emily Hamilton, the love of his life, when suddenly an insane person begins committing grisly murders that are based on Poe's stories.  Detective Fields, played by Luke Evans, notices the connection to Poe's horror tales and drags Poe in as a consultant.  But when the psychotic killer kidnaps Emily in a shocking and dramatic fashion, Poe and Detective Fields must race against the clock to solve the mystery in time to save young Emily's life.

One of the great things about the film is that even though Emily is kidnapped, she isn't a shrinking-violet or damsel-in-distress type at all, and fights back against the kidnapper in some ingenious ways, which was thrilling to watch.  Rather than waiting around for some man to show up and rescue her, she does everything she can to rescue her own damn self, and at one point very nearly succeeds.  Alice Eve plays the role of Emily, and does a darn fine job of portraying a strong woman who isn't afraid to fight back.

The film mixes multiple genres easily and almost defies definition - is it comedy horror, or mystery thriller?  Yes, totally.  Police procedural / romance?  Sure, there's some of that too.  The narrative weaves in and out of all these smoothly and seamlessly while telling the story from several perspectives, which has the advantage of making the viewer doubt who the killer is and keeps one guessing until almost the very end.  It is, simply put, a bloody brilliant movie!

And I should mention that it is bloody in several places.  Most of the "icky" isn't any worse than what one would see on TV in shows like "Bones" or any of the "CSI" shows, but there is one scene specifically that made me squeamish, and that's where the killer is imitating the Pit and the Pendulum.  It's straight up gross, I'm not gonna lie.  Thankfully, it was also very short, and most of the horror derives from the suspense and anticipation than the actual gory act of the death itself.

Other than that it was a great movie, and I loved it far more than I expected I would.  John Cusack seriously shines in the role, and I highly recommend The Raven, even to folks who might not normally be a fan of the horror genre.  Give it a chance and there might be something there you'll like.  Just watch out for giant falling metal blades.

Have you seen The Raven yet?  What'd you think?  Let me know in the comments!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Teaser Tuesday - The Watchers of Ur: Cradle

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just:
* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title and author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their To Be Read (TBR) Lists if they like your teasers!

----------

I'm almost finished with "Cradle," and I am actually enjoying it more than I expected.  In this scene the remaining members of a pirate crew prepare a nasty surprise for an Imperial ship.

The Tease:
 "After a few minutes Sabbatino said via biolink, "Hey, guys.  What the hell is taking you so long?"
A moment later the equipment lift door rolled up to reveal Murphy and Alvarez wearing mischievous grins, guiding a maglev rack full of 120 centimeter torpedoes.
Sabbatino shook her head and laughed, "It's always about bigger with you guys.""
 -The Watchers of Ur: Cradle, by Lamonte M. Fowler

What's your Tease?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Covering the Cover - Wards of Faerie, by Terry Brooks

It seems that this is the week to showcase new covers!  Today's reveal comes from Orbit Books, who are revealing the cover for the first book in a new series called The Dark Legacy of Shannara - Wards of Faerie, by Terry Brooks.



You can read more about the cover and the series on Orbit's website.

I really like this cover, even though I'm not really sure how it might relate to the story as they are describing it.  I love the level of detail, both in the background and on the dragon skull itself. 

What do you think?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Covering the Cover - A Memory of Light

Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series has been a work in process for well over 20 years now.  The cover artist for the first 13 books in the series was Darrell K. Sweet, who unfortunately passed away on December 5, 2011, before finishing the cover art for the final volume of The Wheel of Time series, A Memory of Light, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, who was chosen to continue Jordan's work after he passed away in 2007.  While fans of the series were often divided on the merits of Sweet's work on the various covers over the years, I think most people were sad that he was unable to finish the series that he had devoted so much of his time to over the years.

In February of 2012 Tor.com announced that Michael Whelan had been chosen to create the cover art for A Memory of Light. Michael Whelan is an award-winning science-fiction and fantasy artist who has done some stunning and  amazing work during his long career, including cover art for some of the biggest names in the industry such as Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey and Melanie Rawn, and is also one of my favorite artists.

Today Tor was able to reveal the final cover art, which Wheel of Time fans have been dying to see for months, along with some of Michael's thoughts and sketches as he worked through the project.



Michael Whelan manages to capture the style and feeling of some of the previous covers created by Darrell K. Sweet, but at the same time this is unmistakeably a Whelan cover, exuding the light and inner glow that so characterizes many of Whelan's best works.  I personally think it is stunning and simply cannot stop staring at it.

Here's the full wrap-around piece:


I love it!

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Teaser Tuesday - The Watchers of Ur: Cradle

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just:
* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title and author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their To Be Read (TBR) Lists if they like your teasers!

----------

So I've finally finished with The Barsoom Series (for now at least), and have moved on to something new, the first in a series called The Watchers of Ur: Cradle, by Lamonte M. Fowler.  I think would have to call the genre Religious Sci-Fi.  The story takes place about 500 years in the future, just as mankind is beginning to reach for the stars.

The Tease:
 "The Boa Vista was not only the flagship of Rivera's pirate fleet, she was also his greatest trophy, won during a daring assault on an Imperial Navy war games exercise with the planetary defense fleet of Venus more than five years earlier.  He had infiltrated the war games using a stolen Imperial ship code during a particularly difficult formation maneuver."
 -The Watchers of Ur: Cradle, by Lamonte M. Fowler

What's your Tease?