Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

I have to say, I liked this movie right up to the big finale... that... uh... missile was completely UNREALISTIC.

Otherwise, fine movie.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Black Light by Stephen Hunter (novel)

Cover of "Black Light"Cover of Black LightBlack Light is another of Stephen Hunter's novels about Bob Lee Swaggert and his father Earl Swaggert. Both are sort of larger than life genuine American that prefers the outdoor, law, and military, and neither is afraid to do what needs to be done, even if it is killing people outside the realm of the law. In a way, this is very reminiscent of Lee Child's "Jack Reacher" novels. Both are sort of "knight errant" out to correct a few wrongs.

This book has a "bookend" dual-plot-line book where Bob Lee was enticed into looking into his father's last day on earth, and uncovers a conspiracy, which is still ongoing today. You got two tracks going, one in 1955, and one in "present day".

Earl Swaggert is a sheriff's deputy, a lawman, and while he grew up all white, he's not a racist. When a black minister asked him to look for a missing black girl, he did so... and found her body. Later that night, he's dead, supposedly died in a shootout with the most wanted felons in Arkansas. He was buried as a hero.

In the present day, Earl's son, Bob Lee Swaggert, is a retired farmer who was approached by a writer, whose father was severely wounded by a man who was the son of the man that killed Earl Swaggert (and was killed by Earl as well). The "kid" wants to write a book about how that one fateful night can have consequences down another generation. Bob Lee was initially not impressed, but later, after going through some of his father's effects, he realized there's something VERY wrong with his father's death... the evidence doesn't match the reports. Something is very wrong.

So they went digging... by going back to Arkansas, and found a conspiracy that started with his father's time... and is still active, with layers and layers of lies, from various parties. And Bob Lee gets to deal out a bit of death when his opponent decided to silence him...

The book is exciting, and the ending is oddly appropirate and surprising at the same time. If you like the idea of someone out to right wrongs this is a great book.
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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Playing "Mount & Sword"

Actually bought this game twice... once as a bargain bin special, then bought the full pack on Steam

MB is a medieval simulation here you play a guy (or girl) out to make his or her fortune and fame as adventurer / mercenary. The most interesting part is third-person real-time combat, where you need to block / parry / attack using a variety of weapons, including two-handed weapons, one-handed weapon, one-handed weapon with shield, bows and arrows, crossbows, throwing weapons (knives, rocks, javalins, etc.) and you will do fighting on  foot AND horseback (yes, shoot arrows too).

You roam this world with multiple factions, and war parties passing back and forth, bandits roam the countryside, and you need to raise a band, and later, an army, swear allegiance to a particular lord (and raid his enemies), keep your band fed, trade for supplies and equipment (and food), and when it is time, besiege enemy castles and storm them (or defend your lord's castles against invaders).

Later expansions added larger parties, better tactical controls, as well as firearms and formations.

It's a pretty weird game, as it's partly like Sid Meier's pirates (lots of random encounters, and freedom to do almost anything), but with more randomness and 3D graphics.

I will report back with progress of my campaign.
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Monday, August 8, 2011

KCR: Thunder in the Deep (novel, submarine)

U.S. Navy Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) members emerge f...Image via Wikipedia"Thunder In the Deep" is a sequel to "Deep Sound Channel"  which was reviewed earlier. It describe a nightmare scenario... a resurgent Nazi Germany, working with a new Apartheid South Africa, and their super ceramic hulled subs, armed with nuclear torpedoes. No surface ship can survive in the ocean. It is up to the American supersub, and its captain, crew, and SEAL commandos, to deal with the latest German attempt to turn the tide... another secret weapon. Except this time, the Germans know the Americans are coming...

Thunder In the Deep can get a bit thick in terminology, and it's a bit over the top with the captain going along with the SEAL team and get into gunfights, but it's interesting nonetheless. It's better to read it from the beginning of the series though.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

KCR: Cowboys and Aliens (movie, western, scifi)

Went to see Cowboys and Aliens yesterday. It was a fun movie that is about the same as Battle: LA... looks great, but the motivations doesn't make sense, esp. for the other side. It's fun, but it's not THAT good.









Movie starts with the hero wakes up in the middle of the desert with almost no memory, wound, almost no cloths, but a very good survival instincts... when set upon by 3 brothers. There's this mysterious bracer on his left wrist. He went into town, was helped by the preacher, met a mysterious woman, and was arrested for being a wanted outlaw who robbed a stagecoach belonging to the local rich man... oh, and he pissed off the rich guy's spoiled brat.

As he's about to be transported to Santa Fe, the rich guy arrived with his "mob"... they want the guy... and the son... then the flying aliens attacked, and roped off a lot of people. The stranger, who we now know is "Jake", found his bracer activated into a weapon system, and shot down one of the flyers.

Now it's a battle. How will Jake find out who he is, what happened to him, and who is that woman in his dreams or visions? And what horrible things had he done that he can't remember?

When you examine the plot a bit closer, there's a ton of problems.

1) How would an alien weapon/bracer just happen to fit a human wrist, and be activated by it?

2) Why would an alien weapon/bracer react to other aliens, when they are hunting HUMANS?

3) Why kidnap all those humans any way? There's too many of them needed for "experimentation".

4) Mining for gold... doesn't make sense at all. They could have found far more precious metals and such out in the asteroid belt. They have plenty of technology. Why come to Earth at all?

5) There is only ONE of those bracers?!  Others have those big rifles, but haven't seen more than a handful of them. Most of the aliens do hand-to-hand only.

Told you, doesn't make that much sense.
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Sunday, July 31, 2011

KCR: Shaolin (2011, Movie, Martial Arts, China)

Shaolin monasteryImage by inspbylife via FlickrShaolin, i.e. "New Shaolin Temple" is a 2011 movie starring Andy Lau as a man who seeks redemption. As a deputy of one of the warlords, he holds absolute power over all in the city... in the land next to the Shaolin Temple. He has the guns, he has the soldiers. When he tried to kill his boss, his subordinate decided to kill them both. He barely escaped, but his daughter died, and after a bit of self exploration, he chose to become a monk and trained as Shaolin. When his subordinate, now "general", decided to steal Chinese treasure and sell them to some foreigners for weapons. Can the Shaolin monks save the population, and defeat the evil warlord?

The movie is heavy on redemption, and the meaning of zen and all that. There are some funny moments, as you know when Jackie Chan's involved. Who knew cooking can be used as kung fu? There's a ton of sacrifice, tons of backstabbing, and so on. Evil is truly evil... but there is redemption. Really.

Shaolin vs. guns? There will be a lot of death, but the Shaolin give more than they get, that's for sure. Still, bring knives and sticks to a gunfight? Hmmm...

Still, it's worth watching. Really.

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KCR: The Lost Bladesman (movie, China)

A Guan Yu idol holding the guandao in the righ...Image via WikipediaThe Lost Bladesman is a movie about the ancient China's top bladesman Guan Yu, who simply had too much honor for his time, and therefore is sometimes had his honor used against him by the likes of Cao Cao. This movie gave a very interesting portrayal of this ligendary figure, who did not exactly die a good death, but he did die in battle, and was honored forever, as a part of Chinese legend.

The movie... is interesting, as Guan Yu (who is also known as Guan Gong, or Guan Yun Chang) is usually not given much detail, other than he is a VERY good martial artist with his signature weapon, the blade that now bears his name, the Guan Dao. It is basically a staff with a hard point on one end and a very sharp blade on the other end. It is a heavy weapon that requires a real master to wield well.

The plot itself gave a lot of insights into this legend's life... fictional of course. It claims he may be a secret admirer of his godbrother's wife, and again, he was used by Cao Cao for his purposes.

The movie starts with a huge state burial... of Guan Yu. That's right, this is a bookend beginning and ending. In the middle is his life... starting with him as a prisoner of Cao Cao, and ends with his... sort of... hmmm. let's just say... permanent retirement. In between, he's... too good for himself. Either he's on their side, or he's someone too dangerous to be kept alive. It's basically escaping from one ambush to another, and some wars in between. It's a tragedy of a great guy who gets used by others.


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KCR: Red Cliff (Movie, War, China)

Red Cliff (film)Image via Wikipedia
Red Cliff, international version poster
Red Cliff is a movie version of "Battle of Red Cliff", a war between Cao Cao and the "rebels" that was a part of "Romance of Three Kingdoms". This is a war movie, and it's a John Woo production, so you can expect some odd angle fires, explosions, and people flying through the air and all that. Yes, in ancient China and all that.

They picked the biggest names that are somewhat known in the west and gave them top billing, but they are not necessarily the lead actors. On the other hand, this is an ensemble movie, and even the international version is over two hours long. (The Chinese version, in two parts is even longer.)

The movie managed to cram in many of the plot points from the novel, such as borrow 10000 arrows, borrow east wind, fire ship attack, and much more. Those who know Chinese myth should find this movie a lot of fun. Those who don't know Chinese myth can enjoy the action sequences and the various tricks and strategems employed, as well as the nice costumes and martial arts.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

KCR: Future X-Cops (scifi / Hong Kong / movie)

Figure of Andy Lau taken at Madame Tussauds Ho...Image via WikipediaFuture X-Cops is one of those shameless Hong Kong "homage" movies that manage to demonstrate how bigger budget doesn't add to creativity.

Premise: after his wife was killed protecting a VIP against half-machine assassins, this cop must don a mechanical body and go back in time to prevent the assassination of the VIP, who is critical to Earth's future. However, two of the assassins are there, and they have a showdown.

The society depicted was futuristic looking... though it's hardly utopia. Regular cops have no firepower against these half-machine assassins who are obviously inspired by various comic book villains, such as Dr. Octopus (from Spiderman), and others. I mean, bat wings, prehensile tail, lobster claw... heh.

The fights are obviously CGI ish and way too choreographed. How they managed to convince Andy Lau to do the lead role, I have no idea. The plot is pieced together from various major movies, like Time Cop, Black Mask 2, even a few bits from Asimov's stories (about the girl who didn't know she's a robot). Add bits from Jurassic park (hide and seek in the kitchen), Matrix (sky duel between the hero and villain), and a few bits from Superman (bad guy keep using innocent civilians to distract the hero), and you get a feeling that this is a chop suey of a movie.

And yes, Big S (i.e. Barbie Hsu) is the leading lady. Hmmm... Okay...

May be worth watching once.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

KCR: Deep Sound Channel (novel, submarine)

Submarine control surfacesImage via WikipediaJoe Buff's submarine novels have an interesting premise, but somehow doesn't quite delivers the same punch as novels by Michael DiMercurio or even Charles D. Taylor. The characters are flat, and the battles tend to go hyper-technical. They are fine if you dig the genre.

Premise: Extremists in both South Africa and Germany have staged simultaneous coup and created this unholy alliance... the new Axis Powers known as the Berlin-Boer Axis. With a bit of help from a "neutral" Russia in the form of nukes, the sea is now the hunting grounds of the latest submarines... ceramic-hulled undersea invisible monsters armed with tactical nuclear torpedoes and cruise missiles. No warships can survive, not even the vaunted American carrier battle group. New Axis powers wielded several such supersubs, and the Americans and the Brits have a few as well. In this world of ultimate hide-and-seek, one mistake will be your last...

USS Challenger, America's supersub, and its captain LtCmdr Fuller, has a special assignment: Apparently South Africa is about to make a breakthrough to tap some very rare undersea lifeform that is nearly the ideal biological weapon. Fuller must take his ship and a team of Navy SEALS, along with a South African scientist, and take out the research lab before the research can be completed. In their way is the South African supersub, the Vooertrekker... and some very formidable South African defenses...

As explained before, the characters are almost cliche. Fuller was a former SEAL, really? And he's going to accompany the team going in? Then the battle gets hypertechnical... ever heard of sonal lensing? About how certain events BEND soundwaves?

Still, the battles can get exciting once the action picks up, and this nightmare scenario can work a bit... if you really leave your brain turned off a bit. Read one and see if you like it. Joe Buff have a whole series of these novels starring the same crew.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

KCR: The Intruders (novel) by Stephen Coonts

Cover of "The INTRUDERS"Cover of The INTRUDERSThe Intruders continues the career of Stephen Coonts' favorite character, Jake "Cool Hands" Grafton. After end of Vietnam War, Grafton was assigned to a carrier mainly training jarheads (US Marines) flying Intruders, and he's paired up with a marine, and together, they have all sorts of adventures on and off the carrier. It ends with an encounter against a bunch of pirates.

This is more of an adventure novel than a military novel, as there isn't much fighting. However, Coonts knows his carrier ops, and this has more stories about carrier ops, shore leave, and stuff, plus the jokes, the friendly joshing between Navy and Marines, and more.

If you read Flight of the Intruder, you should also read The Intruders.

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KCR: Rambo (2008)

Cover of "Rambo (Widescreen Edition)"Cover of Rambo (Widescreen Edition)Rambo 4 is a good wrap-up of the John Rambo lore. It gave the character much needed humanity, about believing in something, Trivia on IMDB said that "Live for nothing, or die for something" became a battle cry for the real Karen rebels, and Stallone is quite proud to have contributed that.

Premise: John Rambo is in Thailand, working the "simple life" as a snake hunter and boatman, no questions asked. One day, he got a request from a Missionary Group to take them into Burma / Myanmar, to help the Karen villages. He was successful. After he left, the village was attacked and razed government troops, with the missionaries dead or captured, and all occupants killed or fled into the jungle. The Missionary leader came to seek Rambo for help: a group of mercenaries will go back to find what happened to the missionaries, and needs his help. He agreed...

The movie is quite slow at the beginning, but there is some tension, as the boat tries to sneak into Burma, past the river patrols and the pirates. The attack sequences are brutal and thus, excellent, rivaling "Saving Private Ryan" in intensity of Omaha beach sequence. You can almost feel the mortar rounds dropping and guns firing. And it all builds up to the big fight at the end, and the conclusion.

Problem? Let's just say there's a ton of body count... 236 kills as counted on IMDB, mostly at the end. Also, some of the battle tactics makes little sense. Why hit the patrol boat with the rocket after everybody onboard is toast? It has only one flame-thrower (very short range) and one HMG any way. Once the sniper took out the HMG gunner, the boat is no threat. Also, what's with the 50-cal sniper rifle? It's in there because it looked cool, but a smaller rifle would have made much more sense. At least with the huge rifle you can pretend the body will be flung back 10 ft without a head.

Still, it's heck fun to watch if you dig this type of movie.

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KCR: Equilibrium (movie)

Film poster for EquilibriumImage via WikipediaEquilibrium is either a prophetic cautionary tale warning of a dystopia without emotion, or one of the most silly but cool looking movies ever made. It is actually both, and thus, you'll either love or hate this movie. There is no in between.

The Premise: John Preston, a Grammaton Cleric, is tasked by the government to hunt down sense offenders... people who choose to not take their daily dose drug to dampen their feelings, and destroy all remaining tokens that evoke strong feelings, such as art, music, poetry, and so on. When he accidentally missed a dose of his own medicine, he realized the world may not be as he saw it before. One transgression lead to another, and soon, Preston is about to make the unthinkable choice... go up against Father, the leader of all...

In the strictest sense, Equilibrium is not comparable to the Matrix, but rather, is more akin to Orwell's 1984 brought to life, with thought-police using lethal force to enforce order, and how one man can make a difference... if he had been trained in this special martial arts called gun-kata.

And that's the biggest schtick in the movie: gun-kata. The idea is by analyzing the close-quarters engagements, you can synthesize a series of moves that combines dodging and counter-attack that will significantly enhance your chances of survival. The director, Kurt Wimmer, had one idea on what it should look like. Unfortunately,  his martial arts advisor for this movie had a very different idea. The result is a style that doesn't quite mesh, but sure is heck cool to look at.

The plot points can get rather silly, as Preston's transformation starts and accelerates. The problem mainly is the trigger to "cross the Rubicon", so to speak, is just plain silly. Let's just say the instigator is a puppy.

Still, worth watching at least once, then check out the spiritual successor, Ultraviolet.

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KCR: Jump Pay / The Lucky 13th (novel, scifi, war, Rick Shelley)

Rick Shelley has quite a few books out, concentrating on three series: the Mercenary series, the Lucky 13th series, and Special Ops Squad series. This is a part of the "Lucky 13th" series.

The premise: 13th Spaceborne Assault Team, i.e. the Lucky 13th, was called upon to spearhead a huge invasion of the enemy arsenal planet. The enemy is building up troops and equipment for an assault and a Pearl-Harbor-style pre-emptive strike will be needed to destroy most of the arsenal. The action flicks from airborne assault using newly deployed grav belts, to recon squads doing hit and fade on enemy positions, to assault howitzer crews pumping out shells on enemy positions, and aerial fighter "Wasps" dogfighting and performing close-support on the troops, and the commander trying to make sense of the chaos, the war jumps from perspective to perspective, almost too fast to keep up.

Indeed, that is the main problem I have with the series: the action just keep flicking so fast that you have a hard time keeping up. As a result, you don't really get attached to any of the characters. They feel like cliches: the hard sergeant, the dumb rookie, the contemplative lieutenant, the colonel who have to choose between duty and not spending his soldiers needlessly. The enemy have no faces, no motivation. They are simply the bad guy. The weapons described makes little sense even though they sound quite futuristic. What happened to grenades? Or tanks? Or light armor?

Or as someone else puts it, this is like Hammer's Slammers, except it makes much less sense.

Rating: borrow it from a library and see if you like the style. I don't.

EDIT: apparently Mr. Shelley died in 2001

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

KCR: Attack of the Seawolf (novel, submarine)

Cover of "Attack of the Seawolf"Cover of Attack of the SeawolfMichael DiMercurio is a former submariner who manage to combine his intimate knowledge of the systems in a sub and submarine warfare, along with a sense of geopolitics, into a series of novels that rivals Tom Clancy on excitement (but not the spy stuff). In Attack of the Seawolf, US have a submarine showdown with China.

The premise: China had fallen into civil war, and US decided to gather some intelligence by sending in USS Tampa, a 688-class submarine, and listen to the radio traffic. Unfortunately, they had been discovered, attacked, and captured by the Red Chinese Navy (i.e. not the rebels). US response is to send in USS Seawolf, commanded by Admiral Michael Pacino, with one squad of US Navy SEALs, was sent in as a rescue mission. They will go in, liberate the crew, recover the officers, and escape Chinese Waters. Or at least, that was the plan. In between them is the entire Chinese Eastern Fleet, plus the PLA Naval Air Arm and the PLA Naval Infantry. But Pacino is used to doing the impossible and the suicidal...

The plot is a little bit cliche, with the Chinese being sadistic commies (with orders to execute prisoners if rescuers come), and Americans handicapped by a lousy rules of engagement. However, the combat is fast and furious, and in the end Seawolf really *does* sank most of the Chinese Eastern Fleet, albeit in a far more logical manner than in Tom Clancy's SSN (see below for review). The ending is a major surprise.

All in all, if you like submarine novels, Attack of the Seawolf is probably one of the better Michael DiMercurio novels. His other novels are a bit too much on the fanciful side, IMHO. This one is about the most realistic, and thus, the most enjoyable for the military buff.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

KCR: Mechwarrior / Initiation To War (novel)

MechWarrior (video game series)Image via WikipediaInitiation to War is part of ROC's Battletech novel lineup, this one being in a more "personal" Mechwarrior line. The book itself is a bit too slow, and the main guy is just a little too lucky, and too much of a cliche at points. However, the mech fights are good, and overall it's an okay read.

For those of you who don't know what Battletech and Mechwarrior is... Battletech is a book about 31st Century. Humans have settled most of the planets, but virtually continuous war, now mainly done with walking tanks called "battlemechs", have pretty much ruined the entire galaxy. The factions are varied, the intrigue and assassination are frequent. Add pirates and mercenaries, and you have a grand universe where almost anything can happen. Mechwarrior are the pilots of these walking tanks, and they are considered elite.  The game had been running for 25 years, and the universe is so vast it has assumed its own life.

In this book, the planet Epsilon Eridani is having a bit of civil war, instigated by outside forces, and a new recruit, Tybalt Kelly, newly minted mechwarrior (okay, mechwarrior in training) is in the middle of it. The problem with the book is pacing. There is very little tension until the war starts, which is about half way into the book. There is very little tension. Things just happen, and you barely care. The kid has a father who don't approve of his career choice, and has a teammate who is a bully. Other teammates are far more sympathetic. Add a hardcase commander and the cliche is complete, esp. when multiple females fall for the "hero". The tech wants a piece of him, he wants a piece of fellow mechwarrior Sam(antha), and when Sam was lot on a campaign Duke's daughter went to bed with him as sort of consolation for saving her. **** me.  The fighting is described pretty well, but the technical details sometimes break the pattern, and the end is basically one lucky shot after another.

While this book ain't bad, it ain't that good either.

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Monday, July 4, 2011

KCR: Tron Legacy (scifi, and yes, I was late)

The redesigned Light cycle as featured in the ...Image via WikipediaYes, I missed Tron Legacy. In fact, I missed the original Tron as well.

For a sequel to a film made almost 30 years ago, the movie looks absolutely amazing, even by today's standards. The original featured state of the art graphics for its day, and the idea of a world within the computer completely independent of our own has since been redone by a dozen films, including the Matrix trilogy, and in a certain level, by Inception.

The plot is relatively simple: Sam Flynn, son of Kevin Flynn, investigates the old arcade, and was zapped into the virtual world inside the machine created by his father. As Flynn discovered the rules in this virtual world, he encountered "Clu", a program that look just like his father, and later, his father, Kevin Flynn himself, and a program called Quorra, Sam Flynn wants to take his father home, when he learned the stakes of his failure to go back through the portal. Because Clu has a plan for all the "users" of the system...

The modern graphics are absolutely amazing, as the virtual world, previously only somewhat visualized in the original Tron, is now fully realized, by combining CGI with live action, and a LOT of post-processing. Disc combat is now far more stylized yet deadlier, and scenes that evoke "remake" of the original are now much better. The light cycle races are brilliant, and the lightjet dogfight is beautiful, if a bit cliche.

The plot is a bit formulaic, but the plot points and complications are laid out brilliantly, and character growth feels natural, nothing too forced here. My problem mainly is how much power Kevin Flynn has over the grid himself, as it seem to be wildly inconsistent. Also, about crossing over.. seem to violate conservation of mass. :)

All in all, Tron Legacy is a beautiful sequel / homage to the original, while making a ton of sense standing by itself. You don't need to know the original to enjoy this one.

Definitely watch it at least once.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

KCR: Memorial Day (novel, terrorism)

U.S. troops in AfghanistanImage via WikipediaMemorial Day is another Mitch Rapp novel by Vince Flynn, and its premise is chilling enough to make you wish that Mitch Rapp is real. With enough twists and turns, Memorial Day is a tout thriller if a bit formulaic.

Premise: Mitch Rapp is hunting Al-Qaeda with US troops in Afghanistan, and their raid turned up something very serious... evidence that a nuke is being smuggled into the US by bad guys. With a bit of help from Rapp, a team successfully intercepted the nuke, and everyone relaxed... Except Rapp, as he knew that the bad guy must have a backup plan, and indeed, they do. A second nuke is being smuggled through Mexican border. When a truck driver was found dead due to radiation poisoning, Rapp is relentless in chasing down the leads. The obvious target is the Memorial Day Parade...

Vince Flynn have a knack in portraying the power plays in Washington as politicians maneuver without regard to their consequences, and how real "heroes" such as Rapp are there to save the politicians when they screw up. This book is no exception. The hunt is intense and even though it is somewhat formulaic it is still a great read.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

KCR: Mission of Honor (scifi, war)

Mission of HonorImage via WikipediaMission of Honor, book 12 in "Honorverse" by David Weber, is the proper Honor Harrington novel, as the war between the Republic of Haven and Star Kingdom of Manticore is about to come to an end, but enemies are moving against both sides, and other players are joining in.

In War of Honor (Book 10), Honor Harrington have barely averted disaster by winning the Battle of Manticore, where the Havenite forces decided to gamble the future on a single dice throw: direct attack on the home star system of Manticore, and it was barely beat off, at a heavy price.

In this book, Admiral Honor Harrington was sent with a fleet to let the Havenites know that there is no hope for victory, but to preserve as much honor as possible on both sides. However, the Solarian League may be waking up, as powers within, manipulated by Manpower / Mesa, may be about to annex some planets near Manticore and precipitate another war. When Mesa unveiled their secret weapon against Manticore, causing tremendous casualties, in a true Pearl-Harbor style surprise hit-and-run attack, the tables are again turned, and Manticore will find a most unlikely ally...

The problem again, as with all David Weber "honorverse" books, is that this book will give you attention deficit disorder, as you jump from one group of people to another, then another. If Tom Clancy were writing space opera, it'd be something like this. The problem is David Weber then gets wordy as the characters discuss every thought and related thoughts with each other and that's just grating at time.

Still, the major plot advances in this book will give you a cliffhanger that will have you clamoring for the next book, as the various threads are starting to come together.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

KCR: Transfer of Power, a Mitch Rapp novel (terrorism)

Cover of "Transfer of Power"Cover of Transfer of PowerTransfer of Power introduced Mitch Rapp to the world... The uber-operator, that is NOT a soldier, but is what best described as an assassin... to kill bad guys. In this book, there is the ultimate high concept... Terrorist attack on the White House itself. The book could easily been turned into a movie, it is that good.

Premise: CIA operative Mitch Rapp is undercover in Iran... to snatch local head of Hezbollah. The operation went without a hitch, and soon interrogation yielded a bombshell... Top terrorist Rafique Aziz is in the US planning an operation against Washington D.C.. However, they don't know the threat vector. That was soon realized when a coordinated assault (enemies snuck past security in linen truck, plus sniper on a rooftop, AND Aziz, with plastic surgery, pretended to be an Arab prince and somehow bypassed security background check) hit the White House. Only through dedicated secret service agents who put their lives on the line did the President escape to his bunker, but was out of communication, but over a dozen secret service agents lost their lives and 100 hostages were taken, various staffers and such. The terrorists quickly rigged the West Wing with explosives, and proceed to issue various demands. What is the terrorist up to? While the politicians fight for power and spin control, and military and law enforcement bicker over who's in charge, CIA pulled out their ultimate weapon: Mitch Rapp, who is ordered to infiltrate the White House, and if possible, rescue the hostages AND save the president...

Vince Flynn have a flair of writing about political intrigue that sounds so cold-blooded it'll make you squirm and wonder how can people just "burn" others like that in order to give themselves a tiny advantage. In this book, the Vice President is a pushover who keep waffling over what to do, and his chief of staff keep giving him spin control advice that somehow makes himself (and his principal) look better, instead of the right thing. The actual 'fighting' is short, and yes, many people get killed, esp. bad guys, but plenty of good guys as well.

The villains are pretty much cardboard cutouts, albeit smart ones. The politicians are portrayed with a bit more character. There are a few too many characters though.

Still, the high concept makes this book irresistable read. I've been tracking to track down this book for a while, having discovered Mitch Rapp series rather late (Memorial Day was actually my first.) and this book, IMHO, was worth it.

Rating: read it (at least once)

NOTE: this is the new cover. There's an older edition that has a blue cover.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

KCR: Brooklyn's Finest (movie)

Brooklyn's Finest is a movie about three cops and one crook, whose lives brought them into this single housing project this fateful night, and they each will face their destiny. It's about each man going after his own dreams, and following his morals. It's a great crime drama.

Tango (Don Cheadle) is an undercover narc who had infiltrated the gangster's (Wesley Snipes) organization, and is torn between his loyalty to the police (who is pushing him to "get" the gangster) and his loyalty to the gangster (who saved his life before). Sal (Ethan Hawke) is a family cop working the narc detail who can't make ends meet, and is actually robbing dealers here and there. With his wife pregnant with twins and his house infested by mold, Sal is looking for a big break... Eddie (Richard Gere) is a week or so away from retirement as a regular uniform cop, but can't imagine another job, but can't imagine staying in either. Fate brought them to this one housing project, and meet their destiny.

The acting is pretty good all around, and the way the plots intertwine is pretty interesting.

Rating: watch it at least once.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

KCR: Storm from the Shadows, a Honorverse novel (scifi, Honor Harrington)

Storm from the ShadowsImage via WikipediaStorm From the Shadows is another novel set in the "Honorverse", David Weber's world of Honor Harrington and Star Kingdom of Manticore. This novel reads somewhat differently from the other novels, as this is a shift in direction for the series. Previously, most of the action is centered directly on Honor Harrington herself. This book basically features Honor's friend Michelle Henke, a fellow starship commander, and the stakes are raised by adding additional players that had previously been relegated to background status. Honor Harrington herself plays only a peripheral role in this book. The result is a book that reads familiar, yet quite different, and manages to setup the stage for later books in the series.

The premise: Michelle Henke's task force was ambushed by Havenite forces and her ship was damaged and left behind (on her orders). She ordered the ship self-destructed and became prisoner, only to be paroled back to Manticore with a proposal for summit and peace talks. She was sent to a different area (away from the Havenite war) as part of her parole, but stumbles into Manpower / Mesa's plan to destroy the Star Kingdom of Manticore... and the action also threatens to wake up the sleeping giant of Solarian League...

The problem with David Weber's writing, as I've explained before, is the universe is so large now there's dozens of characters, and they tend to get VERY talky as they spend PAGES talking about every angle of their thought process, violating the "show, not tell" rule. There are so many characters, you need a "cast of characters" to keep them straight! It also makes the characters too much of bit players, and the scene switching is fast and furious: a little here, a little there... It's equivalent of flash cuts in movies. If you like this style, you'll love this book. if you don't, you'll hate it even more.

This book also ends on a cliffhanger to setup the other books in the series and parallel plots, so it's not quite satisfying that way.

Rating: read it (if you're a fan of Honorverse)

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

KCR: Aggressor Six (novel, scifi)

Aggressor Six is an interesting twist on "know your enemy" novel on a sci-fi stage when the humans encountered the "waisters"... aliens that seem to bent on extermination of human species. Their technology is centuries ahead of the humans. Humans convened "Aggressor Six", a group of humans ordered to learn, act, speak, and ultimately, think like the Waisters, in order to give humans an edge in combat... if such a thing is possible. As colony after colony are exterminated, and the waisters are approaching the Sol System (the scouts were destroyed or driven off at TREMENDOUS casualties), will Aggressor Six find enough enough about the aliens to save humanity?

While the theme is hardly new, the execution is quite good, as this goes into the concept of war, on demonstration of superiority, and what constitutes sanity, and stubbornness. There's a surprising amount of actual science behind the sci-fi narrative, combined with enough action to satisfy those with shorter attention spans.

The book's old, and I encountered this in a used bookstore, but it's very good read. This is Will MacCarthy's first novel (dated 1996!)

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

KCR: The Gray Man (novel)

The Gray Man is the first in the Gray Man series by Mark Greaney, and it's a very interesting debut. The idea of "killer for hire" is nothing new. Killer for hire with a conscience is not new either, but this one is very well done, esp. for a first novel.

Premise: In the trade, he's simply known as "The Gray Man". He is a lone operator, able to get into almost anywhere, and get out, and few if any will see him coming. He used to work for the CIA as an ultimate termination team. When he was "burned", he became a lone operator, but he is specific: he only kills those who he consider is worth killing. He had just killed a target in Syria, and escaped into Iraq, when he was betrayed. The team that was supposed to pick him up wanted to kill him instead. He was able to escape. However, he soon realized that vast forces are arrayed against him... Hit teams from all over the world, and a ruthless man with almost limitless resources, are in his way. He could just disappear, but his conscience demands otherwise...

The action is relentless, as The Gray Man dodged one after another attempt on his life, and the stakes are raised. On the other hand, there are a few close scrapes that are just... too convenient. On the other hand, this guy can be hurt. He's not Rambo, and he can get grievously wounded, but he will get things done... or die trying.  The bad guys are a bit 'thin' and shallow, but they are okay as villains.

I am definitely buying the next book in the series.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

KCR: 1434 by Gavin Menzies (the book)

1434 is sort of a sequel to 1421, where the author proposed the hypothesis that the Chinese "Treasure Fleet" have visited the America long before Cristobal Colon (a.k.a. Christopher Columbus) came along. In 1434, he goes a step beyond, proposing a hypothesis so outrageous and so contrary to existing history, you cannot help but to take notice, and dismiss the author as either a crackpot or a genius.

In the book 1434, Gavin Menzies claimed that the Renaissance did not arose spontaneously from reemergence of classical knowledge (read: Greek and Roman) but instead, is the result of a Chinese expedition fleet that landed in Venice in 1434. Vast amount of knowledge was given to the Italians by the Chinese, and it is THAT knowledge that sparked the Renaissance.

Initially, the idea is so outrageous, most will dismiss the idea is simply preposterous. However, Gavin Menzies manages to pull enough threads together to illustrate how his alleged history *could* have happened, and account for vast amount of similarities between some Chinese drawings... and drawings by none other than Leonardo DaVinci and his predecessors, and a ton of other interesting clues.

Again, this book is not a serious historical account or study. Gavin Menzies never claims to be a historian. Instead, Mr. Menzies has a theory, and is seeking various evidence to prove his theory. Thus, this hypothesis cannot be "proven" this way. On the other hand, the available information that seem to support this alternative theory is interesting enough that you would want to read it to the end, and make up your own mind whether the evidence warrants further study of this theory.

Rating: maybe borrow it from the library?

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

KCR: Collateral Damage (movie)

Collateral Damage is almost a "last hurrah" for Arnold, as he is no longer acting an action hero, and the movie is basically formula Arnold, with a couple twists and turns that borders on the absurd. However, he's also more... "human", and less action hero. It's not that bad.

Premise: Fireman Gordon Brewer watched his wife and son die in a bombing of downtown LA Pavilion. Despite several warnings from FBI and CIA, Brewer managed to get infiltrate the perp's Colombian hideout, and have to work his way to stop the next bombing, in Washington D.C.

This revenge fantasy basically have Arnold, supposedly just a firefighter, was simply TOYED with by the bad guy, as if the bad guy is amused that some moron dare come after him. It simply makes little sense. In other words, this movie has Arnold running AWAY from fights instead of toward it. It is the most un-Arnold of all Arnold movies. Some even remarked that Arnold looks rather lousy, but then he's not playing an action hero here, is he?

Not quite good enough to buy, maybe watch once.

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KCR: Slanted Jack (scifi, adventure, space)

A sequel to "One Jump Ahead", the nano-enhanced soldier Jon Moore, and his sentient gunship Lobo seem always heading into some sort of trouble. This time, the trouble came looking for him...

Premise: Slanted Jack, a con man from Jon's past, came to seek his help. He needs to protect a child, who supposedly have special powers... and a lot of people want the kid. A religious fanatic who moonlights as an arms dealer... a notorious and ruthless gang boss... and a high government official out to clean up the frontier, each wanting Jon's allegiance, each with the power to crush Jon and Lobo. Then there's the kid... How does Jon and Lobo get out of this one?

Problem with Slanted Jack is the characters came across as a bit flat, with Jon being the only one with any depth. Every body else came across as cold-hearted people out to use other people to their own purposes for little reason other it it suits them. The book is sort of adventure where the hero tries to play off one side against another. The result is satisfying, though it's a bit shallow.

If you like sci-fi action, with a bit of intrigue, go right ahead.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

KCR: God of Gambler's Return (movie)

God of Gambler's Return is a sequel to the original "God of Gamblers", a Hong Kong movie that started the "gambling movie" craze, starring Chow Yun Fat. (NOTE: God of Gamblers II is not a true sequel, but a spin-off). This one is even glossier, with some truly evil people, and enough trickery, plotting, and such that makes it a little deeper than your usual gambling movie.

Premise: Ko, "God of Gamblers", have retired to France with his pregnant wife and is living a happy life without games of chance. However, when a former rival reemerged from jail, and met up with a psychopathic gambler and killer, Ko found his wife and unborn child murdered. Before her death, she forced him to promise to not gamble for one full year. While travelling in China, Ko stumbles onto a gang turf fight, have a run from the law, and eventually have a showdown with the killer that took his family.

There is plenty of gunplay as bad guys are out to take down the good guys, and good guys shoot back, of course. There's a bit of trickery here and there, and some of the plans seem to be VERY long range, leading to a satisfying conclusion.

This movie is 1994, so production values are quite low by today's standards, and some of the stuff may make people squeam. There is also quite a bit of crude HK style humor. If you don't mind some slapstick humor this is not a bad way to spend an hour and a half.

Rating: watch it once

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Friday, June 17, 2011

KCR: Green Lantern (2011) Movie Review

Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan in Green Lantern.Image via WikipediaJust came out of a 3D screening. While the movie is not that good (not on the level of Iron Man / Iron Man 2), it's not quite as bad as DareDevil or worse, Elektra.

Premise: a UBG who feeds on fear had been imprisoned on a random planet in the lost sector by the Green Lantern Corp. A crashed space ship and stranded crew allowed the UBG to revive and escape, and destroyed several Lanterns, and two civilizations. It also mortally wounded the lantern that had previously defeated and imprisoned him, but he managed to get away... and crash landed on Earth, where he passed his ring onto test pilot Hal Jordan. When the UBG discovered the ring is now on Earth, it came to consume Earth... unless the newest Green Lantern Hal Jordan can defeat it...

Ryan Reynolds has a heavy resemblance to Ben Affleck, who had the pretty disastrous Daredevil movie to his credit. This movie will be measured up to that, and while it's not terrific, it is not horrible either. My main problem is there is not quite enough fighting, and not quite enough special effects. The fight scenes are basically TOO SHORT.   There are basically, uh... five action sequences in the whole movie. The jet, the training, the toy car, the first fight, and the BIG fight.

Also, the "cloud eating all" is a bit overdone. It's in a ton of movies, from GI Joe to The Day Earth Stood Still and now Green Lantern. It's getting tiresome. The soul-eating thing is a lot like, Final Fantasy / Spirit Within. The result is feeling of deja vu all over again, and again, and again.

Still, the backstory is sufficiently well told not to offend the fans completely but makes you wonder how much better it could have been. There is not quite enough fighting to satisfy the fans who come to see spectacles.

Rating: maybe wait until pay per view?

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