Tuesday, May 31, 2011

KCR: Star Trek (2009)

Chris Pine as James T. Kirk in the 2009 film, ...Image via Wikipedia
Chris Pine as James. T. Kirk in Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek, the 2009 version featuring the JJ Abrams reboot, completely destroys the universe in favor of a huge time travel, plots that relies on so much coincidences that defies explanation, but ultimately produces a tale that seem to satisfy most fanboys, and features a lot of new faces in places of old names.

The setup: A hole in space... a ship emerges... and the life of James T. Kirk, yet to be born, is changed forever. Adrift without a father, Kirk was lost until Captain Pike saw his potential and recruited him for Starfleet Academy. When the giant ship reemerged in Federation space, and wiped out most of Starfleet, the young Kirk, along with Spock, McCoy, Scottie, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura may be the only hope to save Earth...

The problem with this movie is the plot is forced instead of arising naturally out of what happens. Things just... happen, often for the dumbest reason available. The whole movie is so full of coincidences that it's utterly ridiculous. What's more, the plot doesn't make sense BECAUSE there's a ton of material you have to read from the prequel comics that most people do not "get".






Nothing wrong with a little time travel. Lots of Star Trek plot is that way, and the intro is great. However, it also meant the next 15-30 minutes have little action except the contrived kind... like the young kirk throwing the Mustang into the valley. Then you get various funny scenes until you meet up with that big ship... why does it need to be that big, and why does it look the way it does? It makes no ****ing sense. It's supposed to be a MINING ship, so it should look UTILITARIAN. So why does it look like a porcupine in a wind tunnel, with all the barbs facing the wrong way? Why would Spock have so much red matter any way? How much of it does he plan to use? Why would the mining ship have to "drop" a drill which then shoots the cutting beam, instead of just shoot the cutting beam from orbit? Why would the drill have guards? How did Kirk end up on Delta Vega, just happen to land near Spock Prime, and it just happens to be the same planet Scottie is on? And so on and so forth. Too many ****ing coincidences. Oh, and how the heck did Kirk, a cadet who didn't even graduate, was given command of the best ship in Starfleet (heck, probably the ONLY ship in Starfleet), and rank of Captain?

Still, the special effects are great, and characters are not caricatures of the originals, but can stand on their own. A few twists like Uhura and Spock are interesting. And yes, Simon Pegg makes a pretty good Scottie. I like the movie, but I do wish it to better.

Single DVD, Double DVD, Triple Disc Blu-Ray / DVD,  Prequel Comic leading up to movie

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KCR: Final Fantasy: Spirits Within

Final Fantasy: The Spirits WithinImage via WikipediaFinal Fantasy: The Spirits Within has NOTHING to do with the Final Fantasy universe of the games. It is also COMPLETELY computer-generated, making it one of the most expensive movies made, ever. However, it was also an abysmal failure at the box office. People don't quite "get" the plot. However, if you are willing to sit through the movie, and take in the message, you will find that the result is a fascinating tale with a heavy gaea message.

The Setup: Earth was invaded by nasty aliens who can't be "destroyed", merely driven off slightly. However, they CAN kill humans, by snatching their "spirits". Surviving humans have been driven to hide behind the citadels protected by "bio-energy shields". When research by Dr. Cid and Dr. Aki Ross produced some results that suggests that there are surviving bits of life on Earth that can generate a field to counter the alien energy, and they must brave the savage Earth full of dangerous aliens and collect the remaining life samples. However, a Terran general wants to use the space cannon on the aliens instead, which may just destroy Earth instead of saving it. In between is Captain Edwards and his fellow marines. And it just happens that Edwards was Ross's ex-lover...

The graphics are virtually photo-realistic. The only "problem" is the skin-tones are just slightly off and lighting slight off to look weird. The graphics however are gorgeous otherwise, and animation with all the subtleties of real people that it is hard to notice any discrepancies. If you don't tell people they may not even realize this is computer generated.

Worth watching once, if just to see what a computer can do in terms of the movie... all by itself, with NO real cameras involved at all.

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KCR: Sky Crawlers (anime movie)

Dogfights (TV series)Image via WikipediaSky Crawlers is not what it appears to be at first glance: an anime movie about aerial dogfights. Instead, this movie is about what is war, and what are the effects on the warriors, and how a society can be structured around war.

The Setup: two planes are on patrol when they were ambushed by "the Teacher", an enemy ace that had NEVER been defeated. Later, a new pilot, who looked like a kid, arrived at the base as replacement. Somehow he had a sense of deja vu... as if he had done this before. What sort of secrets is this airbase hiding? Why does the commander look so hostile and tender at the same time, almost as if she recognized him?

The animation itself is gorgeous, the flight sequences beautiful. It is hard to further discuss this movie without spoiling the plot, suffice to say that this makes a huge political statement about the necessity of war, and its effect on the warriors.

Rating: Worth watching at least once

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KCR: First Blood (movie)

John Rambo in 1982, after returning to civilia...Image via WikipediaI never read the book written by David Morrell that the movie was based on, and I doubt few have.

The setup: a Vietnam vet, John Rambo (Stallone) was drifting across the US, looking for a friend, only to be told he had died months ago upon arrival. He drifted through a town, and the local sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehey) was basically not very nice to him, and shipped him out of town. When Rambo decided head back into town, the sheriff slapped Rambo with some "vagrancy" charge and arrested him. In the prison, Rambo was abused, which triggered a violent flashback to his days as a POW, forcing him to escape. Sheriff Teasle and his deputies, embarrassed, started a manhunt, only to find that they are no match in their own woods against a master of jungle warfare who hunting VC for a living... when Teasle called out state police and national guard with orders to shoot first and ask questions later, the only one who can save the town of Hope and Rambo himself may be his old commander, Colonel Trautman...

The movie got a reputation for being bloody that it never deserved. The ONLY confirmed death in the movie was... ONE... the ONE deputy that tried to kill Rambo with the rifle from the chopper. Lots of people were wounded, some in very nasty fashion. But there were no deaths. Rambo was restrained in his response when he could have easily killed a ton of people around him. This is one guy who was pushed over the edge.

The action really did speak louder than words in this movie. The last half of the movie is virtually all action, non-stop. And they had to redo the movie many times, trying to decide whether Rambo lives or dies. In the book Rambo dies at the hands of Trautman. In the movie, he lived in repentance for the sequels that will surely follow (and it sure did, 3 more movies).

In fact, Stallone seem to be marketing a clothing line based on the John Rambo and Rocky Balboa look.

The movie is worth watching at least once, and in fact, several times, as it's a classic in pacing and tension.

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KCR: Black Mask, starring Jet Li (movie)

Black Mask is a Hong Kong action movie starring Jet Li dated 1996. Production values are lousy by today's standards, and plot is cliche. However, you watch this movie to see Jet Li fight, and it's good stuff.

The setup: A group of supersoldiers, who had brain surgery to sever their pain center, can perform nearly super-human feats. However, they are about to be betrayed by their government, so one guy distract the guards and the rest of the unit slipped out. That one guy is "Michael" (or Tsui Chik, according to IMDB), who settled down in Hong Kong as a simple librarian, trying to leave his past behind. Unfortunately, his old unit, now a crime syndicate, to rival all crime syndicates, is coming to Hong Kong... And they start by slaughtering all crime bosses in spectacular fashion, then bomb the police, all in a plot to steal the Interpol database (all of it). The only one who can stop them is, of course, "Michael", who, in order to conceal his identity, wears a "black mask". Together with detective "Rock" of HKPD, they may yet stop the bad guys...

The sci-fi stuff is minimal, and there are a lot of bull**** elements. They even borrowed the "railgun" from Eraser, except they decided to use something as simple as an Aug Steyr. It's laughable to any one who knows that the after effects are just "drawn" in.

Still, the fighting stuff is pretty good.

If you are interested, there is actually a sequel (not with Jet Li) that's actually not that bad.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

KCR: Missing in Action / Delta Force 2 double pack (movie, military)

This Chuck Norris combo is from his much earlier days. Missing in Action was dated 1984, and Delta Force 2 dated 1990. The action holds up, though the lack of special effects is quite, meh, at least by today's standards.

Missing in Action was actually the 2nd movie made, though this movie was released first. Plot is simple: Col  Braddock (Chuck Norris) was a part of team investigating possible MIAs and POWs in Vietnam after the war's over. With some intelligence that was not enough to convince any one, Braddock went to see how old friend in Thailand and mount an expedition into Vietnam, highly illegal, to break the Vietnamese lie.

This movie was released JUST before Rambo: First Blood Part II, and I must say, was worse in almost every aspect. The spy stuff is forced and stiff, and action pretty stale compared to the exciting stuff in Rambo. Still, it was first. If you need some classic Chuck Norris action, this one is okay, as this is one of the first movies that featured the cliche... hero hides underwater, bad guys looking, looking, then hero bursts out of water, machine gun blasting, mowing down the bad guys.

Worth watching... once.

Delta Force 2 is basically Delta Force vs. Columbian drug lords. When DEA agents were captured and held captive by Ramon Cota, infamous drug lord, Delta Force is called into action to deal some American justice!

You are not supposed to treat the story seriously, as these guys are not acting like Delta at all. They are acting like Chuck Norris and his disciples, all wearing black... much like his other movie: Good Guys Wear Black.

Keep in mind that these movies also reflect the times. In the 1980's, it's "winning Vietnam and make up for the 70's". In the 1990's, it's "war on drugs", so you have various movies about that (even 007 had a movie about that).

I honestly would not pay more than $5 for these two movies nowadays. Though if you are a Chuck Norris fan it may be worth it to add these to your collection.

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KCR: Dangerous Ground (novel, military, submarine)

Dangerous Ground by Larry Bond is not quite his usual fare. Larry Bond is probably best known for collaboration with Tom Clancy for "Red Storm Rising" (even though Larry Bond's name was not on the front cover), and later his own novels "Vortex" (South Africa) and "Red Phoenix" (Korea), both of which are in similar vein to Red Storm Rising... large regional conflict.

Dangerous Ground takes us to a much different scenario... about one sub, one special mission. The USS Memphis, 688 (Los Angeles) class sub is about to be decommissioned, but just before she did, she was sent to do one last special mission... Infiltrate the "backyard" of Russian waters, and find out what sort of nasty nuclear waste was dumped there. The crew is tired and expected to go home when this dropped in their lap. The captain is a stern taskmaster who sees this mission as impossible. The two civilian contractors are not getting along with the crew because they're civilians. Then the sub found something that they are never supposed to find, and thus may be hunted by the Russian navy...

The book is told through the viewpoint of Jerry Mitchell, former naval aviator, now a submariner. He's new enough that he's not accepted, and in fact, some are working at cross-purposes to him. The problem is noen of this feel like much of a conflict, but rather, like a slow adventure novel where nothing really happens for much of the book, and even then it's more of a complication instead of an outright conflict. The mission isn't until 2/3rds into the book, and even then the actual "big threat" didn't appear until almost to the very end. You just don't get this "collision course" feel that good techno-thrillers give you.

What this book will give you is a very good sense what it takes to be a submariner in the US Navy, like how the boat is run, who's in what department, how the rooms are organized, how drills are done, how to deal with emergencies, how to "qual" for the dolphins (i.e. get formally qualified as a submariner by passing tests in almost every department), and some underwater unmanned vehicle control stuff.

Somehow, this book just doesn't work for me, you may have better luck, esp. if you like the subject.

Rating: Try it (but it's a bit of "meh" for me)

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

KCR: Once Upon a Time in Mexico (movie)

Cover of "Once Upon a Time in Mexico (Sup...Cover via AmazonOnce Upon a Time in Mexico was not supposed to be a coherent tale, as the plot was so ****ing convoluted, about who's on which side, who is fighting whom, and so on, it's utterly ridiculous. There's  a passel full of good guys, bad guys, and somewhere in between.

However, the action is good enough that you can almost forgive the lousy plot. ALMOST, but not quite.

The setup: Sands (Johnny Depp) is a CIA agent trying to play the middleman instigating a coup to overthrow the Mexican government by drawing out "El Mariachi" (Banderas) from retirement after death of his wife Carolina (Selma Hayak) and daughter. He needs El Mariachi to kill General Marquez (who killed his wife and daughter). He also instigates ex-FBI guy to go after Barillo (William Defoe), a local drug lord, while trying to convince Ajedrez (Eva Mendez) to join him. Marquez had been trying to kill El Mariachi for a LONG time, for stealing his woman, and Barillo cartel kills everybody in their way. So in between you get El Mariachi shooting everybody trying to kill him, Sands trying to get his revenge after being betrayed, and a revolution his the coup head-on. I told you it's convoluted.

Selma Hayak does not appear in this movie except in a few dream sequences. She and Eva Mendez are the eye candy here to balance out William Defoe and Danny Trejo. Bandera, as usual, is his suave self, almost in his Zorro mode, except he's a "pistolero".

There's a TON of physical impossibilities, and lousy props  (hey, you can't silence a revolver! and what's with that machine gun that can shoot without any sort of ammo box or ammo belt?)

The characters are paper-thin, but then, this is an action movie. And who knew that Enrique Iglesias can do so well as a pistolero?

Rating: Watch it once, then watch the extras (if available).

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KCR: A Hymn Before Battle, Posleen War #1 by John Ringo

Cover of "A Hymn Before Battle (Posleen W...Cover via AmazonA Hymn Before Battle is basically a setup for the subsequent novels, paving the way for the Earth to be invaded by the Posleen horde, by giving you some action now, and majority of the situational background. For that, it mostly delivers, though some plot points where never tied up (but you'll need to read subsequent books to realize that).

The setup: Earth was visited by friendly aliens, who brings good news and bad news. Good news: high, we're the good guys, who bring you great technology and other advances in all areas. Bad news: you are about to get invaded by people who will LITERALLY eat you, called the Posleen. Earth was hurried organized, and technology shared to build various fortresses, called up ever last bit of reserve manpower available, even seniors who can be rejuvenated with the latest Galtech (the alien technology). Why don't the aliens fight? One race is the scientist race and don't even know how. The other is the manufacturing race and is not capable of violence. The third, the most aggressive, is the merchant and administrator race and will literally DIE after going berserk if it tries to commit violence. Thus, all the fighting must be done by... humans.

Unfortunately, some of the aliens don't exactly WANT the humans to succeed as the humans are just too darn GOOD at what it does. Humans can do EVERYTHING, and are extremely adaptable. If too many humans survived, the other aliens will be living under human rule in a couple decades. So the nasty allies (with allies like these, who needs enemies?) are ordering assassinations of humans who asked too many questions.

In the meanwhile, a group of long range scouts is sent to infiltrate a planet already occupied by the enemy, and see if they can find some interesting intelligence, if possible.

The characters are a bit thin, and due to amount of 'setup' the actual plot is rather abbreviated, and as later books show, not fully resolved. The ethical implications of all this sudden influx of technology was not discussed due to the exigencies of upcoming war, and you KNOW Earth is going to get ****ed.

If you like your action mixed with a little politics and a LOT of dark humor, give this a try. The later books are even better, when the invasion actually starts.

Rating: get it

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Friday, May 27, 2011

KCR: Live Free or Die (scifi, novel)

Cover of "Live Free Or Die (Troy Rising)&...Cover of Live Free Or Die (Troy Rising)Live Free or Die is first book in John Ringo's new series called "Troy Rising", and the premise is simple. Some friendly aliens just jumped into the system and dropped off a jumpgate. ANYBODY can be coming through, they warned, and the gate will defend itself. Good luck. The first aliens were friendly. However, then the nasties came through, and nuked a few cities. Without sufficient tech to fight, Earth surrendered and paid tribute every year to the new overlords.

Then a guy came up with an idea... With a bit of trial and error, he found a resource that will make him the richest man on the planet, but he's not using his fortune for gain... but to create science and buy alien tech to create a battlestation called Troy, that will allow Earth to be free of the alien overlords, and be free.

Well, somebody's got to do it...

John Ringo have a knack of setting up utterly hilarious situations that'll have you ROFL, like the US declaring war on its citizen for a common breakfast item, or being the only hacker that figured out something that's truly alien. Again, this not-so-genius turned out to be the geek of all geeks, and his ideas may just be crazy enough to be able to defend Earth...

If you like Ringo's writing style (no ground action this time), you should give this book a try.

Rating: try it!

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KCR: Zoe's Tale (scifi, war)

Zoe's TaleImage via WikipediaZoe's Tale by John Scalsi is an interesting tale... if you've never read his previous books. The book is a part of his "Old Man's War" series, and is essentially retelling of his previous book "The Last Colony" from the viewpoint of Zoe, adopted daughter of the main characters.

To setup the world... the main characters were rejuvenated old people to fight a war, against aliens, who don't want humans to expand, and is willing to wipe out the colony if need be. The humans don't exactly want the colony to succeed, but felt they need to "try" if only to satisfy the masses. The leaders of the colony knew they are being played, so they are doing the best to keep the colony alive through negotiation. And the daughter tries to live a teenager's life, with boyfriend, best friend, and two alien bodyguards who worship her like a Goddess because her late father gave them intelligence and sentience (but may have been a traitor to the human race?)  Later, Zoe realized that perhaps her bodyguards may be the only hope the colony have for survival...

John Scalzi did not write many novels, but he has a talent for dialog and character voice, and the ideas do link together to form a cohesive whole, though sometimes they do come out a little rough. It was a major gamble to write this novel from the viewpoint of a teenage girl, but the result is a fresh take on the events. Still, it does read like a bit of rehash, and thus, fans may enjoy a bit more than fresh readers.

Rating: Try it

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

KCR: Skunk Works by Ben E. Rich (non-fiction, memoir)

Dryden's SR-71B Blackbird, NASA 831, slices ac...Image via WikipediaSkunk Works, by Ben E. Rich is a detailed look into the founding of the operation at Lockheed Martin's elite operation, esp. the design of SR-71, U-2, and the F-117. There are stories to tell about each of these elite planes.

If you are at all interested in the story behind the planes, read this book. It has a lot of revelations, about the compromises, and technologies that went into the designs. They have to reinvent the envelope based on what's possible.

Did you know that Lockheed Martin had a proposal for a smaller bomber than the B-2? And it would have been on budget instead of the mess B-2 eventually ended up as?

Rating: read it

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KCR: Complete Hammer's Slammers Volume 1, 2, and 3 (scifi, war)

Cover of "Hammer's Slammers"Cover of Hammer's SlammersDavid Drake was in the military and his Hammer's Slammers is basically the US Cavalry unit with rayguns, as he puts it, and hoverjeeps and hovertanks. The rest of the stuff... he was able to come up with some relatively solid sci-fi technobabble to explain it all. The rest, as they say, is history.

To give you a short history, Hammer's Slammers is a regiment of mercenaries, complete with support units such as artillery, military police, transport, interrogation, tanks, combat cars, and skimmers for the regular grunts, plus rear echelon like repair depot, resupply, kitchen, and so on. There is no aircraft, because they would not survive against "powerguns".

Powergun can be thought of as "plasma in a disc". Pistols and submachine guns shoot 1cm discs. Personal assault rifles shoot 2 cm discs. This goes up to main tank guns that shoots 20 cm discs, and those can punch through other tank's armor, or blow up a small hill. Add to that calliopes, which are multi-barreled powerguns, and it gets nasty. The discharge is lightspeed, so anything it sees, it can shoot down. Tanks and Combat cars can set tribarrels (3-barrel powergun) to air defense mode and it will automatically deal with incoming artillery.  Combat cars and tanks are fusion-powed hovercrafts that can go over 100 kph offroad in almost any terrain, but CAN be destroyed, as armor technology have not fully caught up.

Colonel Alois Hammer is the leader, and he is assisted by Joachim Steuben, his personal bodyguard and head of the "White Mice", HQ platoon, elite killers. Joachim is the fastest pistolero ever. He can fire off multiple shots from his custom powergun pistol before you can blink. Under them are variety of soldiers and commanders, some of them good, some of them loyal, some of psychotic, but all of them loyal.

Complete Hammer's Slammers is their story, including all short stories, novelettes, and novels combined into three volumes, in best order as re-arranged by the author, with some background material and/or new short stories added by David Drake.

Not all stories are about the Slammers. There are a few about other people around the Slammers. One is about the commandant of a rear rest-and-refit port, and how he had to deal with some... personal and personnel issues up tlose and personal. Another is about some rebels who managed to steal one of Slammer's Tanks, and their little adventure on how they deal with their own people and the Slammers chasing them. There's another story about how a kid helped Slammers deal with a traitor who's about to entrap them and turn them over to a rival merc unit.

The stories are varied, but invariably about warriors dealing with death, some with brutality, some with indifference, some with joy... and some just stop caring. But war is hell, and sometimes, you need demons to fight the wars... as long as they are on your side. Many of the stories were inspired by historical events... There's the story about how a band of mercenaries bottled all the rebels in a stadium and went in and just about slaughtered EVERYBODY... clearly inspired by the story from the Roman times (AFAIK).

If you like your war stories with a bit of sci-fi, David Drake is your man. I didn't quite like his "Cinnabar" series as it's a bit too "light" to my taste, and too adventure-y, but they are interesting as well.

Rating: Try it, get it it you like the genre.

I actually have all the books in individual volumes, but I bought these any way. :)

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

KCR: Post-Mortem, a Kay Scarpetta novel (crime, forensic, detective)

Patricia CornwellImage via Wikipedia
Patricia Cornwell
Post-Mortem is the first Kay Scarpetta novel by Patricia Cornwell, and the author was a former crime reporter that have worked closely with police and medical examiner's office. The case was also based on a real-life case in Richmond Virginia, and the result is a thriller that has you peeling back the layers with plenty of red herrings to keep you distracted and surprised, then a forehead-slap "Why didn't I think of that?"

Premise is simple: Kay Scarpetta, a new Chief Medical Examiner, is trying to catch a serial killer, while manuevering through city politics, personal life, life with her niece, crime reporter, staff, and stay sane amidst death and other things. The serial killer has a signature: he hogties his victims, and adds a rope around the victim's neck, then sodomizes her and tortures her and eventually strangles her. Yet he had left behind very little physical evidence, and the victims have almost nothing in common, except they all live alone. Amidst false leads, barking up the wrong trees (and there were lots of them), the ending is a surprise, even to me.

All the characters are multi-dimensional, and all are flawed in more ways than one. Marino the detective is hard-broiled street-smart, but is a bit too cynical. Kay Scarpetta herself have a bit too much self-doubt and have personal relationship issues, esp. when her sister (her niece's mother) is a total flake, leaving Kay with the kid. The kid's way too smart beyond her years. The reporter, the politicians, and more are all imperfect, and all have proper motivations to do what they did. The premise is solid enough to have this warrant a great read.

The book came out in 1995 and hold up even today as a murder mystery. Some of the SQL server command descriptions are a bit too dry and too simplified, but that's almost tolerable. If you like crime fic, you should read this novel.

Rating: Read it!
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KCR: Desperado (movie, Antonio Banderas)

Cover of "Robert Rodriguez Mexico Trilogy...Cover via AmazonDesperado is what "El Mariachi" should have been. Robert Rodriguez made "El Mariachi" in 1992 for $7000, by doing all his own editing and filming, and doing everything in one take (and edit out the mistakes by cut away to some other shot). The plot was a bit confusing, but it is great filmmaking nonetheless. Desperado is done in 1995 with a proper American budget (7 million, still cheap) and proper stars like Antonio Banderas, Selma Hayak (practically her intro to American cinema), Steve Buscemi, and pushed by Quentin Tarantino (who guest starred). The result is as stylish as any Hong Kong production, albeit not quite as polished, with typical "Hollywood" physics, like people driven back 10 ft from a little cut-off shotgun hit, and so on.

The story is about as cliched as well. "El Mariachi" (Banderas), the legendary vigilante with guns in a guitar case, is looking for "Bucho", and he seem to be killing his way across Mexico to find Bucho, who is a drug lord. Along the way, he ran into the beautiful Carolina (Hayak), and there will be a big shootout at the end, as you can expect, after a few plot twists.

The plot is cliche, and vigilante justice is hard to accept for some, but for entertainment and action, this movie delivers... However, it has that "hey, look what I can do!" feel that somehow felt out of place.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

KCR: Shooter (autobiography, sniper, non-fiction, war)

Cover of "Shooter: The Autobiography of t...Cover via AmazonShooter, by Sgt. Jack Coughlin, is an autobiography by the top shooter in Iraq, with 60+ confirmed kills. He was there when they pulled down the Saddam statue that ended up on TV. He was in Somalia, and everywhere else there is a need for a good marine.

This book is not as jingoistic as one may suspect, but another warrior's memoir. The man is plain-spoken, and Donald A Davis helped polished up the prose quite a bit, having previously published several history books and crime books. The officer Casey Kuhlman also contributed a lot of the facts and recollections for overall perspective.

The book is about the conditions of the job, and the comraderie and trust between warriors, not about the tally of the kills and such. This also serves as a first-person account of Battle for Baghdad. Most Iraqis are glad to see the Americans topple Saddam... at least at first.

If you like the warrior memoirs, you need to pick this one up.

Rating: get it

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KCR: A Deeper Blue, Paladin of Shadows #5 (novel, terrorism, hero)

Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom, Walt D...Image via WikipediaA Deeper Blue brings the Kildar back to the US, at least temporarily. A bad guy is importing VX nerve gas into South Florida, probably through drug smugglers, but other than a vague hint, there is no information available. The Kildar and his merry band of Keldara is summoned to South Florida and work. However, Kildar, don't feel like going. He's still morose after death of one of Keldara girls that he actually fell in love with, and death of so many Keldara while destroying the the Chechen threat in the area. However, when the enemy ambushed one of the teams and put two of his best friends in the hospital, he "woke up" and got right down to business... In the meanwhile, Katya former prostitute, now an ultra undercover operative, has penetrated the inner sanctum of the drug smuggler king in the area, under the tutelage of spy master "J". Will they discover the plot in time and put a halt to it with minimal casualties?

The plot isn't quite as sex-ed up but there is a lot more action. Let's just say there is a shootout in the parking lot of... Disney World, sniper on top of the Magic Castle tower... a Black Hind (gunship) in the skies of Miami, car chases on the Florida highways (think CSI: Miami) plus takedown of a freighter (and then it "disappeared"). However, this book is still NOT for the squeamish or politically correct, as Mike "Jenkins" basically ran roughsod over everybody, including law enforcement, bureaucrats, AND enemies. And there is a bit of torture near the end (to a masochist, hah).

Again, this is another big of jingoistic fantasy, but well-done. Again, the guy outrights, outthinks, and when needed, outf***s everybody too. :)

Rating: if you like the series, check it out

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Monday, May 23, 2011

KCR: Hanna (2011)

Hanna is an weird movie to rate. The premise is sorta borrowed from Le Femme Nikita, The Fugitive, the Pretender, and so on, yet the approach is fresh enough to be interesting.

Premise: a father had been training his daughter in the wilderness, away from any technology, since her birth, so she can be ready for a certain mission. Later, it was implied that her mission was to kill a certain person who was looking for her. Then she had to go on an adventure (fish out of water, wonder of seeing a world she had only read or heard about), except the bad guys are still around, and there's a big fight at the end, as expected.

The movie is quite well done, and the soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers is excellent. The viewpoint is a little shaky (not quite Blair Witch, but it ain't steadi-cam). The problem is a lot of plot points were simply not covered, like what happened to the family (you'll know if you watched the movie).

Still, it's worth one viewing, at least.


KCR: Freakonomics (non-fiction, economics)

FreakonomicsImage via WikipediaLevitt and Dubner's book Freakonomics is a ground-breaking book where the pair examined the economics in some very interesting subjects, such as cheating in public schools, illegal drugs, sumo wrestling, and more. The exotic subjects are the hook, and it pulls you in as it also manages to teach you about various economic buzz terms like "price insentive" and so on.

Some of the conclusions will like offend people, as it had concluded that the drop in crime rates in the 1980's and 90's is a result of... legalization of abortion. He's got the numbers to prove it, but can he convince people?

If you can keep an open mind, you should read this book, and check out the few episodes of "Freaknomics Radio" podcast (you can find it through the Amazon link below, and on iTunes and their website).

Rating: Read it

(though you can skip the movie, it's kinda lousy)

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

KCR: The Next 100 Years (non-fiction, forecast)

Next 100 Years attempts to forecast the next 100 years, and while a lot of the political analysis makes sense, it comes across as a jingoistic declaration of American superiority borrowing elements liberally from military thrillers with power combat suits, hypersonic fighters and cruise missiles, even armed space stations (I guess they work off the same sources).

It is interesting to figure where the predictions came from, as the author details how he sees "nationalistic needs" and how they influence geopolitics and future conflicts. Basically, each country has its own version of "manifest destiny". For the US, it was to control access to both oceans (and later, guarantee access to oil). For Japan, it is the need to secure natural resources to feed its industries. For Russia, it is to protect itself from invasions by dominating its surroundings, and that means it will collide with China in the very near future.

You may or may not agree, but it does make sense... to a certain degree.

Rating: Try it

KCR: 47th Samurai, a Bob Lee Swagger novel (conspiracy, crime, Japan)

Stephen Hunter writes good novels about his main character, Bob Lee Swagger, when it involves guns, snipers, and so on. However, when Bob Lee Swagger goes into unfamiliar territory, like Japan and samurai swords, the book gets a bit ridiculous.

The premise: the old sword that Bob Lee's father picked up during WW2 turned out to be an ancient Japanese artifact (or the remnants of one) and some Japanese ultra-nationalists are willing to kill to get it back to start a coup and topple the democratic government. Bob Lee will have to deal some justice... with a sword instead of a gun.

Frankly, I have no problem with Swagger using a gun, but him being a sword master? Sorry, defies belief. The plot is a bit contrived too. If you like the series, sure, read it, but by itself it is not quite believable.

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

KCR: Unto the Breach, Paladin of Shadows #4 (novel, terrorism, hero)

A B-1B Lancer with wings swept full forwardImage via Wikipedia
Rockwell B-1 Lancer supersonic bomber
Unto the Breach, volume 4 of the "Kildar" series (i.e. Paladin of the Shadows), is yet another jingoistic adventure where the hero outfights and outf***s everybody, but dealing with bazillion issues about the team, relationships, foreign policy, and even something as simple as staying alive. John Ringo managed to deliver a taut tale of good men doing bad things to bad people.

The Setup:  a special request through both the US President and Russian President... a Russian WMD scientist was forced by Chechen rebels to betray his country. His daughter was kidnapped and he was forced to smuggle out several samples of deadly smallpox. Mike "Jenkins" was asked to assemble a force to get it back... whereever it is, and destroy it, AND rescue the scientist, AND his daughter. And just in case he fails, there will be a B-1 bomber overhead if the WMD got away. Then the Chechen rebel army got the news and went after them...

This time the character of Kildar finally got some depth and the 'setup' in the previous books were put to good use. While there are still some sex, there are much more fighting this time, and the end fight, while a bit cliche'ed, is still excellent. Addition of several characters (the helicopter pilots) and death of several characters (sorry, no spoiler!) means the world evolves, and more secrets of the Keldara are revealed.

Lots of fun, definitely read it if you like the series. Again, for mature audiences only.

Rating: Read it (esp. if you are a fan of John Ringo)

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KCR: The Much Too Promised Land (non-fiction, memoir, Middle East)

Aaron David MillerImage via Wikipedia
Aaron David Miller
Aaron David Miller is a career diplomat who had worked over 20 YEARS on the Palestine issue. He was along side every president that worked on the issue until his retirement. He was with Nixon, Carter, Kissinger, and all the other major players. He had met with Arafat, Sharon, and major players from all sides. He was right there in the middle of it all.

His insights in the chaotic situation, where different factions of Palestinians and Israelis vie to international attention, and how the extremists (on both sides) disrupt negotiations with violence, is very sobering.

The characters are real, the situation all too true, full of egos that must be soothed. And the best part... he took NO SIDES. He was tough on both sides, and pointed out the fallacies of having a conflict that lasted decades.

People with their mind made up will find this book infuriating, because the book was "one-sided" when it's not. For people who are willing to keep an open mind, this book is a fascinating peek into the world of diplomacy, and ultimately, Middle East peace.

Rating: Read it (at least once)

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Friday, May 20, 2011

KCR: Blue Thunder (movie, Police, Conspiracy)

Cover of "Blue Thunder (Special Edition)&...Cover of Blue Thunder (Special Edition)Blue Thunder, a movie that came out in 1983, still holds up today as one of the best helicopter movies ever made for the big screen (Please don't even MENTION that piece of **** "Firebirds")

The setup: Frank Murphy (Rob Schneider) is a LAPD helicopter pilot chosen to test an armed police helicopter named "Blue Thunder", which has a few tricks like turbo mode, whisper mode, and some great microphone and heat-tracking cameras. However, his nemesis Colonel Cochrane (Malcoln McDowell) is the chief test pilot. One night, while testing the chopper, Murphy used the chopper to follow Cochrane, and listened to (and recorded) proof of a conspiracy... which made him a target. He was able to escape with the tape, but his observer was killed. He must steal Blue Thunder and escort his wife to a TV station with the tape where the truth will be revealed... When the entire LAPD, and even the military, will be up against him... and finally, Colonel Cochrane himself, in another gunship... in an aerial duel in the skies of downtown Los Angeles...

For a movie about an object, Blue Thunder itself sure showed up late, but that gives us a chance to learn about the characters and thus, to care about them. Murphy is on the edge of breakdown, Lymangood is new and enthusiastic, and Cochrane is sufficiently creepy to be a "bad guy". When the action starts, you know it won't stop. In a way, the plot is very reminiscent of Star Wars plot... setup, setup, setback, setup, then non-stop action, still ramping up, up, and up, until the big finish.

The special effects are lousy by today's standards, but there is little camera trickery here. It's either models and stock footage, or just cutting and splicing scenes. No CGI back then, and it's still good enough.

If you haven't seen it, you missed a lot. Even if you have seen it, the "making of" featurettes are worth watching too. How else will you learn that Malcoln McDowell was actually afraid of helicopters?

Rating: Rent it, at least once!

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KCR: Choosers of the Slain, Paladin of Shadows #3 (novel, hero)

Mike "Jenkins", i.e. Kildar is back. This time, he was asked by a powerful senator to investigate the disappearance of a rich constituent's daughter apparently into the International White Slavery Sex Trade (i.e. human trafficking). The action gets serious as Kildar and his new crew goes into action against the Albanian mafia, and ended up discovering a conspiracy involving some footage filmed that should NEVER see the light of day, involving some VERY powerful people.

Kildar (#2) was slow as heck at places, and this one makes up for it in hot and heavy action, and plenty of sex as well. Hey, you can't deal with human traffickers without rescuing a few fair maidens in the process, right? And how do these fair maidens repay their gratitude? Hmmm... Remember, "Jenkins" is not a nice guy, and he gets to exercise some of that bad side... with cause.

Great little adventure novel that still reads like a jingoistic fantasy at times, but that's part of the charm.

Rating: Try it!

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

KCR: The Last Centurion (novel, military, near-future, war)

Cover of "The Last Centurion"Cover of The Last CenturionThe Last Centurion is one of those "future dystopia" novels where the world had gone pretty much into the toilet and a few good men try to hold on against idiots and morons.

The setup: the world was hit by a mini-ice age AND a pandemic that seriously depopulated enough of Earth. One of the few intact units left was Bandit Six, left to guard one of the arm depots in the Middle East. It fought its way to a port and finally got itself back to the US, defeating warlords and helping fledgling democracies along the way. Back at home, Bandit Six fought idiots and bureaucracy of a government gone mad with... organic farming.

The entire book was written first-person, blog-style. It takes aim at liberalism, anti-military, spin control, organic farming (how idiotic it is), big government, and so on and so forth. The author pulls no punches, zeroing in on the idiocy of various issues. The language itself can be quite offending, but always written like blog-style "F*** this."

If your sensibilities are easily offended, you should not read this book. If you want to see bad science eviscerated in a hilarious manner, much like Penn & Teller's Bull****! cable show (which does have an episode on organic farming), then please try this book.

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KCR: Kildar, Paladin of Shadows #2 (terrorism, hero, novel)

Cover of "Kildar (Paladin of Shadows, Boo...Cover of Kildar (Paladin of Shadows, Book 2)Kildar, part 2 of "Paladin of Shadows" series (i.e. the Kildar series) is sort of jingoistic fantasy that requires a good setup, and John Ringo delivers. It's a bit slow, but it does have a good ending.

The setup: Mike, who has retired from his days of busting terrorists, is wandering through the world, looking for a place (sort of committing suicide by drinking and f***ing) when he stumbled into a valley where he's rescued by a little girl, and ended up buying the valley (he can afford it from the bounty he got from the previous jobs) and organizing the families into a militia to help defend itself, hires his best friends as trainers, and discovers their true origin. At the end, he defeats the local Chechen threat, and wins the hearts and minds of the locals (which sets up for the later books).

Why I count this book as a jingoistic fantasy? Because the American arrives, outspends everybody, outfights everybody, then outf***s everybody too. Every woman wants to be f***ed by him, and every man was awed by him. And every enemy... winds up dead. Isn't that a jingoistic fantasy?

However, as I said before, the setup is good. Most of the book is about how Mike "Jenkins", i.e. Kildar (he got the title when he bought the valley and the retainers) discovering the valley, learned more about the inhabitants, then hiring people to help setting up the village and training them to be militia (and later, to be commandos). They also learned about various strange customs that Kildar needs to perform for the families, including... ****ing the women, no kidding, not to mention a group of girls who ended up in his harem. Yes, I said harem.

There's plenty of sex, and some direct violence (against bad guys, of course).

If you like this sort of "pulp" fiction, definitely give it a try. Just be warned, this book is a setup, so it's a bit slower than the later books.

Rating: read it!

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

KCR: Needs of the Many (Star Trek, tie-in, scifi)

Jake SiskoImage via WikipediaThis "novel" is a tie-in for the new Star Trek Online MMORPG. It was written from the POV of Jake Sisko, by now a famous writer, who interviewed many of the "celebrities" of his time, about the latest threat to the Federation, a new shapeshifter threat called the Undine, that makes the Founders look like amateurs. Klingons have turned back into hostiles. The universe is a messy place. And who is this Undine? They are formerly known as Specie 8472 (yes, the fluidic space people from Star Trek: Voyager).

The problem with this war is nobody quite know who is the enemy, as they can look just like your neighbors and friends. So the Federation is sometimes reduced to suspecting anyone and everyone, and some of the deepest moral principles have been compromised, but how far?

The problem with the book is they are presented as a bunch of interviews with the various parties Jake have access to during his time... i.e. personalities from the various episodes of DS9 and VOY. While all the characters are in character, the problem is they turn into sort of... uh... sounding platform for that person's philosophy on dealing with the Undine threat, and some of that philosophy is just completely outrageous... at least to a normal guy like you and me. Or in other words, what's supposed to be scifi turned into a political and moral discussion.

If you can pick this up from a used bookstore it can serve as a good intro to STO, the MMORPG. However, as a standalone book it is quite lacking except for the "ensemble" effect (i.e. all the familiar characters are here).

Rating: Skip it (unless you're a Trekker)

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KCR: Watch on the Rhine (war, scifi)

Watch of the Rhine is a novel of the "Posleenverse" (or Legacy of the Aldenata) series where the Posleen Horde invades Earth and wrecks it completely. This novel is about the European threater, where the Germans are forced to reactivate every last soldier and officer it has... including the few surviving members of the SS. The book is about their struggle to contain the Posleen, and failing that, to delay the Posleen so the civilians have a chance to escape. They have to do this while dealing with interior decent and as predicted a traitor in their midst. Also in their midst, a giant SHIVA tank built to kill Posleen "landers" with a motley crew trying to survive against tremendous odds.

As you can imagine, this is a controversial topic... SS is verboten in Germany... until the Posleen war left the Chancellor no choice at all. Most SS soldiers are honest Germans, but there were some truly evil people... but you need evil people to fight wars too... but can you fight a war of annihilation, and keep your humanity?

The book does make you think, about how much evil is there in war, and can you fight evil with more evil?

Rating: worth a read

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