Saturday, September 28, 2013

"Technomancer (Unspeakable Things: Book One)" by B.V. Larson

So I was looking for some books to download to my newly acquired Kindle that were on the cheap side and I stumbled across one that was a mere 99 cents. The title was “Technomancer”, the first part in a trilogy called “Unspeakable Things” by author B.V. Larson. The cover looked kind of rad and the description given piqued my interest. It sounded vaguely cyberpunky, like something that would take place in the Shadowrun universe. I decided to give it a shot. My reasoning being that if it sucked ass it cost me less than a dollar.

“Technomancer” ended up being one of the most consistently entertaining and creatively realized books I’ve read in some time.

Quentin Draith awakens in a Las Vegas mental hospital with no memory and a broken leg. After escaping he comes to realize that he’s involved in strange happenings that seem to follow him wherever he goes. He sets out to not only reclaim his past, but solve the mystery behind a series of bizarre murders that may be linked to an alien invasion that threatens the world.

In a nutshell this is a fantasy novel, not unlike something out of Dungeons & Dragons. The twist is that it takes place in modern day Las Vegas. Instead of orcs and trolls there are The Gray Men, hulking alien invaders from a parallel dimension that have found a way to rip through to our plane of existence. Instead of spells and magic there are Artifacts, everyday items that have been altered and enable them to bestow their owner with a power of some sort. For example, Draith comes to possess a pair of sunglasses that allow him to make metal pliant enough to bend. He uses them to open locked doors, safes and escape handcuffs. These items are highly sought after by members of The Community, powerful Artifact hoarders that have laid claim to whole areas of Vegas, known as Domains.

Draith is known as a Rogue, someone who operates outside The Community with the assistance of Artifacts. He reminded me a little bit of Harry Dresden. The character is written as a tabula rasa which is a cliché I admire a great deal as it helps me identify with the main character more easily. It also helps that Larson writes the book in the first person, so as Draith learns about the strangeness going on around him I learn right alongside him. Draith is sort of like a Jason Bourne of the weird, being drawn inexplicably toward all the supernatural/extradimensional shenanigans in Vegas. He’s not the greatest hero in the world as he’s just as flawed as everybody else he comes across, but he knows how to woo the ladies and kick some ass. He’s slightly nihilistic and nutty, but for the most part he’s a very likeable unlikely hero.

Most of the other characters Larson creates are just as likeable, some higher and some lower on the scale. The plot is fast paced, interesting and fun. His twists on the fantasy formula made me want to keep reading to find out what mainstay he’d mess around with next. He does tend to either overdo his action scenes or completely underplay them. The big finale is kind of a rush job that left me wanting more since it felt like he was saying to himself “Shit, there’s only thirty pages left! Gotta wrap this bitch up pronto!” as I read it. But he’s an inventive guy and I will give him a pass on that. There are the expected twists and turns, double crosses and revelations, some are predictable and others come out of left field. Regardless, I blew through this book at record speed which is really saying something.

I especially liked the way Larson showed off a seedier side of the seedy side of Vegas. The fact that people are mindlessly throwing their money away in a futile attempt to get rich while a private war is being waged that could destroy the world is taking place just outside their field of vision is cool in the extreme.

One issue I had was that I couldn’t figure out if I was reading a young adult novel or an adult one. Larson writes in a simple, yet completely adequate style that a younger reader would be able to follow easily. However, there are F-Bombs being dropped left and right, gore and ultra-violence splashes across the page in ample amounts and one character is a stripper. Larson doesn’t seem to be able to decide what audience he was aiming for, but maybe that was his intention to lull readers into a false sense of security. Make them think they’re in for a tame young adult book and then have people getting ripped apart descriptively for shock value.

My main gripe is the way Larson writes dialogue. I understand that some characters are more “high class” than others, but when you have gutter rats speaking in a highly formal and overly educated manner I have to call bullshit. There were numerous times when a particular character’s speech patterns would change to that style out of the blue and I’d say to myself “no one talks like that no matter how educated they are”. Sometimes its cheesy, sometimes its annoying. There were times where it took me completely out of the story.

All in all this was a great read that came out of nowhere and whooped my ass. I didn’t want it to end since I fell in love with the universe it takes place in and all the mysteries that encapsulate it. I especially enjoyed the Artifacts and their varied abilities. It’s a bit pulpy, but never smutty. It’s just a ton of fun and I couldn’t wait to download the next installment in the series, “The Bone Triangle”.

I highly recommend this surprisingly taut thriller that plays with fantasy conventions in entertaining ways. You won’t be disappointed.

4 out of 5

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Miami Connection

Miami Connection has a sordid history behind it. I will not go into the big details surrounding the drama of its production, but just know that the movie was made in 1987, released into a small number of Florida theaters in 1988, was called “the worst movie of the year” by local critics and disappeared without a trace. Drafthouse Films purchased the rights in 2012 and gave it a full restoration and a limited release into arthouse theaters across America. It is now considered a cult classic.

The members of rock band Dragon Sound, consisting of five University of Central Florida students, become vigilantes in the name of justice to keep the Orlando streets safe from the likes of drug dealers and evil ninja motorcycle gangs.
If you are looking for a movie that epitomizes low budget 80s filmmaking, this is the one you’ve been waiting for. It has virtually everything a child of that era could possibly want in a flick – ninjas, kung-fu, gore, ample amounts of cleavage and shirtless dudes for the ladies, rock music, and even a goofy love story all passed through a fine cheese grater. This is one of the silliest movies I’ve ever seen and it has enriched my life in ways I cannot describe. Well, actually I could. I was just being overly dramatic.

Right off the bat I was hooked. We are treated to a club scene where the leads perform on stage in their band, Dragon Sound, and sing about… themselves. The song (“Friends”) serves no purpose other than providing all the character development you’re ever going to get.  Later on they sing another song called “Against the Ninja” which sets up the villains of the film and how much the heroes dislike them. I don’t know if it was intentional or accidentally clever on the filmmaker’s part to have that happen, but whatevs.
We are then exposed to the (so-called) acting from the leads. Out of them all I will only discuss the main character, Mark (played by Y.K. Kim), and one of the band members, Jim (played by Maurice Smith).

Y.K. Kim, a native of Korea, barely had a grasp of the English language at the time of filming and his mumbling dialogue recitals are more than a little painful and unintentionally hilarious. He knows how to kick some ass as he is a martial arts instructor outside the film, and his fight scenes are very fun and sometimes brutal. The problem is that he cannot act at all; a problem most of the cast shares as well. I also found it amusing that he was in his early thirties when the film was being shot and he’s playing a college student among early twenty year olds.
Maurice Smith isn’t much better, but succeeds in an endearingly oddball sort of way. He is a horrible actor as well, but he is clearly trying his hardest to be a good one. His line deliveries involving his search for his birth father (he was adopted like all the other characters) are a hoot, especially when a certain letter arrives in the mail (“Oh my GOD!!!”). He is one of the reasons to watch this movie alone.

Some of the fight scenes are laughably played out since most people are obviously whiffing with their hits, but they register against their opponent as if it were full contact. Other times the fights are acted out so slowly to allow the players to catch up or perform moves they normally cannot. Take a look at the sparring scene in the college quad where Kim fights with his band mates. They obviously don’t know thing one about martial arts and Kim slows his movements, hesitates and sometimes holds his fist/foot out waiting for the other person to come into contact with it.
A pleasant surprise was the addition of the 80s action movie staple – homoeroticism! This flick puts Commando and Showdown in Little Tokyo to shame in that department. Any scene inside the band’s home is rife with off the wall innuendos and bizarre happenings, like when Kim decides to start force feeding his roomies fruit… with his feet! As a matter of fact that’s another goofy thing I noticed; Kim loves putting his feet in people’s faces at any given time. What’s up with that?!

There’s also plenty of gore and violence once the Dragon Sound vs. ninja stuff begins to go down. There’s so many beheadings in Miami that it could be called an epidemic! The action doesn’t stop for a good while during the finale, and if there’s one thing this flick excels in it’s never being boring.
I’m not really complaining about these aspects since it is all part of the fun of Miami Connection. It’s almost like watching a train wreck – it’s horrific in every way possible, but you just can’t look away. I highly recommend it if you are fan of films like The Running Man, Cobra and some of the more low budget films of the era. It’s a fun and nostalgic ride into a time period The Expendables wishes it could successfully replicate.

3.5 out of 5

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - "Pilot"

Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe officially began this past summer with the release of Iron Man 3 and will continue when Thor: The Dark World is released in November. In the meantime the suits at Disney saw fit to create something to satiate the geeky cravings of the fans on a weekly basis – the television show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Taking place after the events of The Avengers and Iron Man 3, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. begins with a superhuman hero rescuing a woman from an office explosion. A group of SHIELD field agents, led by the not-so-dead Coulson (Clark Gregg), are assigned to take this person into custody before an opposing group can use him toward a destructive goal.
I’ve been looking forward to this series since it was announced. I am a HUGE Joss Whedon fan and have loved all his shows. Well, not Dollhouse. That was a gigantic missed opportunity. But I digress. He not only made some of the best hours of television I’ve ever seen, but he knocked The Avengers out of the park and made it one of the highest grossing movies of all time. Now that he’s in charge of all the future Marvel projects, both theatrical and television based, the fact that this show is his baby and not based on any comic book source material means that he’s now able to play by his own rules and do whatever he wants.

This “Pilot” episode is a great jumping off point for a series. Starting with a literal bang and then setting up the new characters and the return of the previously deceased Coulson, with a welcome cameo by Cobie Smulders as Agent Hill, this premiere episode moves quickly and entertainingly to get the audience up to speed as to what we can expect from this show over its first season (if someone at ABC doesn’t get trigger happy and cancel it prematurely like Firefly). We also are introduced to a rival group that appears to be creating superheroes for mysterious purposes in what I can only assume will be the season long villain arc.
In the character department the leads are a mixed bag. Clark Gregg is fantastic as always as fan favorite Coulson. He’s charming and shows off his geeky side occasionally. The explanation as to why he’s still alive is what I predicted it to be, but there seems to be something else going on that, hush hush, no one is talking about. I’m thinking he’s a clone. Whatevs. Anyway, Ming-Na Wen (Street Fighter, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Stargate: Universe) doesn’t get much to do as the “Driver” of the group, Melinda May, regardless of her geeky pedigree. Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge are annoying as the fidgety autistic tech duo of Fitz and Simmons. Chloe Bennet as Skye is a little too hot and high maintenance for some hacker activist that lives in her conversion van stealing coffee shop wifi. Brett Dalton’s Ward is very one dimensional as the hard ass soldier of the group. I don’t necessarily like anyone in the group outside of Coulson, but I have a feeling this motley crew will grow on me.

I really liked Angel vet J. August Richards as the focal point of the episode, the down on his luck factory worker who has acquired superpowers, Mike Peterson. He gives an honest and heartfelt performance that really made me wish he was a part of the main cast. Seeing Ron Glass as a SHIELD agent put a smile on my face too. I hope he gets more screentime in future episodes.
Whedon’s signature sense of humor is in full force and I realized as I watched this episode just how much I’ve missed getting my fix every week. A lot of ideas are presented organically and seem to fit into the more “human” angle of the show. I was hoping for more info as to how the world has been dealing with the news that there are superheroes like Thor and The Hulk as well as aliens out to wipe us out. We get a few lines at the beginning on this topic, but it’s glossed over for the most part. I did appreciate seeing plot devices from Iron Man 3 pop up (EXTREMIS!) and the linking up of the other films. The show is well written, that’s for damn sure. I just wanted more from this pilot episode.

Everything looks slick and the production is top notch. For a first episode this has the typical issues that most new shows suffer from. I hope it is able to move past them and really blow the audience’s collective minds with all the potential I see brewing under the surface. So far this is a fun show that has a sort of a comic booky version of The X-Files that hasn’t settled into its groove yet, but I like what I’ve seen so far.

3.5 out of 5

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


There are great movies, there are good movies, there are mediocre movies, there are bad movies and there are movies that are so epically awful that you wonder why someone even considered forking over their cash to get it made in the first place.

Stranded is one of those movies.
A group of astronauts that run a mining operation on the moon are hit by a devastating meteor storm that damages their habitat beyond repair. Upon investigation they learn that a violent alien organism may have infiltrated the facility via one of the meteors, but due to the buildup of carbon dioxide the possibility of it all being a mass hallucination begins to consume the crew with paranoia.

I should have known that this was going to be a disaster of a film once I saw who directed it… Roger Christian. Yes, the same man who directed my least favorite film of all time – Battlefield Earth. If you go to IMDB and look up this talentless hack you’ll see that not one of the films he directed have received any decent positive word of mouth. His projects are universally frowned upon, save The Sender. And yet he still continues to be hired to make garbage like this.
For starters, the movie just looks absolutely bottom of the barrel. We are talking cheap cheap cheap. The outer space scenes are all made up of undetailed miniatures that look like they were purchased at a model shop and were never painted. While I do applaud the use of physical effects instead of digital ones I have to say that this is a sterling example on how not to do it effectively. The sets look like someone’s garage and outdated machinery found at a junkyard was spread around to fill out the space.

The acting is beyond abysmal, with star Christian Slater appearing to be completely disinterested in his part. I guess the mortgage was due. Co-stars Brendan Fehr (Roswell, The Forsaken), Amy Matysio and Michael Therriault are uniformly bad in their respective parts, Therriault doubly so since he also plays the possibly hallucinatory alien.
The script by Christian Piers Betley & Roger Christian recycles nearly every single science fiction/horror cliché you can possibly think of. There is nothing original at all here, and the director seems to enjoy showing off just how much he has plagiarized Alien, Aliens, The Thing and more. Sure the idea that the alien infestation (if you could even call it that) could possibly be a hallucination brought on by carbon dioxide poisoning is interesting in theory, but it is pulled off in the most hackneyed way imaginable and at times the script forgets if it’s played its hand already and given away the truth. It’s a confusing mess. And what’s worse is that the characters are written as a bunch of whiny assholes that are completely unlikable in every way. When you are just rooting for some random occurrence to take these people out just so you won’t have to hear them speak anymore you know you’ve watching an epic fail of a flick.

Laughably, the alien takes the form of one of the crewmembers (the aforementioned Therriault) after biting him on the hand in order to cut down on the money it would take to create an alien suit or some CGI creature. He’s not scary or convincing in the part (or parts since he plays two characters) and due to it the threat level it presents is a bad joke.
Everything about this movie is horrible. Nothing works, it’s unintentionally funny (but not in an amusing way), the actors don’t give a shit and the low budget works against the filmmakers at every turn. Well, it works against them whenever the downright putrid script isn’t doing it already. And to add insult to injury it’s left open for a sequel during the final moments.

Please do not watch this movie. It is a waste of your precious time and your patronage will allow Roger Christian to continue making cinematic diarrhea. If you enjoy being shat on this might be the movie for you.

0 out of 5