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H. Bala "Me Too Can Read" RSS Feed (Recently moved back to Carson, California, or as I call it... the center of the universe)

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Rocky Road
Rocky Road
DVD ~ Mark Salling
Price: $14.99
34 used & new from $2.39

3.0 out of 5 stars This is Puck after Glee - it's not good when the heyday's in the rear view, March 4, 2015
This review is from: Rocky Road (DVD)
If this is Mark Salling's first sally into film projects, post-Glee, he needed to be more awesome in his decision making. Rocky Road is a family film that presents okay watchability, except it mostly misses the mark due to lazy writing and shallow characterization. Salling plays smug Wall Street trader Harrison Burke whose firm lays him off due to downsizing. So there's the spoiled 30-somethin' hotshot leaving behind the Big Apple bustle for an ignoble bus ride back to his hometown. There, he ends up at his parents' and toiling for his dad's failing ice cream truck business. A paper hat awaits the prodigal son.

Can Harrison get over his big city snobbery? Can he rekindle romance with his high school sweetheart Suzie (Rebecca Dalton) with whom he hadn't spoken in eight years? It'll be a tough go because Suzie is seeing his old lawyery rival and isn't about to fall again for Harrison's smarmy sort of charm. And can Harrison rescue the family business and earn approbation from his disapproving dad (Nicholas Campbell), never mind that he's the son who never gave his parents grand-children? And how many Sundays in a row can he attend church? Because the community has a betting pool going.

This baby recycles a crap ton of small town tropes, so hunker down, Betty. Rocky Road premiered on the UP(lifting) channel on Sunday, July 20, 2014, which happened to be National Ice Cream Day in America, so that's neat. Also neat is that Mark Salling wrote and recorded the song, "Back at the Starting Line," specifically for the film. It's a wise choice for Salling to take on a character that veers away from his bad boy role in Glee. Now, I sort of want to stop here because I do like Salling and what's next is essentially my crapping on the movie.

An unimpressed 2.5 out of 5 stars for this oned. I feel that it's just an okay movie. The actors give it a go but are thwarted by a script that sucks ass. The wiseacre reverend may well be the film's most refreshing character (loved the sermon in which he picks on Harrison). And Salling, when he delivers his series of Oy-I-have-turned-my-life-around speeches, isn't very convincing. There's this line he gives in one rally speech - and it goes: "At the risk of sounding corny, sometimes the best road is the rocky road home." - that made me wince because he's right, it did sound corny. At least, Salling's sneaky courtship of Rebecca Dalton is something to root for. Moving on, at first, I wasn't predisposed to like his parents (Nicholas Campbell, Deborah Tennant), they who never even bothered to open any of the gifts he'd sent them. You do feel bad for Harrison when he finds this out. So, it turns out, Papa Burke is resistant to change. It's partly why his ice cream truck enterprise had been flagging so. It's a given, natch, that Harrison would arrive at these newfangled ideas to improve on the product, and maybe mom's penchant for cooking up delish meals on sticks would come into play. See Rocky Road if you're a Mark Salling fan or if your remote is stuck on the UP channel or if you're in humor for a very vanilla movie about a guy who learns to appreciate the charm and values of a small town. Or you could just rent Doc Hollywood. Or Northern Exposure. Or Country Remedy. Or Finding Normal. Or Hallmark's Christmas Under Wraps.

The Dragon Rises
The Dragon Rises
by Adrienne Martine-Barnes
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
24 used & new from $1.44

4.0 out of 5 stars Over and over, savior of man or eternal warmonger?, March 3, 2015
Lot of times we never do learn why a writer stops writing. We can only assume that life got in the way. I'd always wondered what in heck happened to Adrienne Martine-Barnes. In the 1980s and '90s she turned out some terrific fantasies. She's known for her Sword tetralogy, for the Fionn mac Cumhal series (co-written with Diana L. Paxson), and for a smattering of Darkover novels (co-written with Marion Zimmer Bradley). My favorite read by her is THE DRAGON RISES, a mash-up of sci-fi and Arthurian mythos that published in 1983. I liked it a lot and even stole a meal prayer from it. Check this: "Here is quietude. Here is stillness. May the food on this table sustain our bodies and the essence of sanctity sustain our spirits through all eternity." I love her words, and expect me to quote a lot off this book.

THE DRAGON RISES was proposed as a tetralogy focusing on the theme of archetypes, and I don't understand why there were no sequels. The hook is irresistible. THE DRAGON RISES posits that, down the centuries, him what's known as the Dragon has been reincarnated time and again to champion man during his greatest need. He's worn many names, and stood many a last stand, and is fated, always, to be betrayed by those closest to him. In this time, set in a far-flung, war-torn future, the Dragon awakens in the guise of Gilhame ur Fagon, wily Admiral of a mighty space fleet in service to the Kardus Temporal Empire. From there, you're expected to keep up and keep tabs on the few Arthurian parallels that surface.

It reads as a Regency romance masquerading as a space opera, with Martine-Barnes perhaps giving a nod to Georgette Heyer. If there are flaws in this book, it's that the story feels unfinished, what with a slew of dangling plots. Like, what's with the animal avatars biding their time in the Glass Castle in the prologue? And what key role will the Lion play in the final Pattern? What is it with ur Fagon's recurring nightmare about the pleading child? Yeah, there are some unresolved threads.

But never mind. It's obvious that the author was setting the stage for future stories, but then just never got around to them. What she delivers in THE DRAGON RISES is complex storytelling, a well-defined setting, and rich characters. Gilhame ur Fagon is a compelling character, a canny soldier all too aware of his previous lives. His push-and-pull romancing of the red-haired, green-eyed, sharp-tongued Alvellaina is a constant highlight of the book. And we all know who Alvellaina really is, right? Martine-Barnes' knack for the well-turned phrase really manifests during their incessantly caustic banter.

- Alvellaina to Admiral ur Fagon, testily: "Stop being thoughtful and polite. I prefer you when you are slightly menacing."

The two leads also get into some interesting discussions that sometimes take a heated philosophical turn:

- Ur Fagon: "If men will stop making war, I will cease to exist."
- Alvellaina: "No. You can't get out of it that way. You ARE war, the very spirit of it. I have thought and thought, and I think it is the fact that you have existed that inspires men to deeds of valor. You make killing romantic."
- Ur Fagon: "Do I? Perhaps. What would you have me do?"
- Alvellaina: "Make it all so ugly and sickening that no one would ever wish to fight again."

Maybe the coolest thing about that dialogue is that, immediately after, we learn that one of the Dragon's previous incarnations happened to be a certain undead impaler.

I can't emphasize enough that the style of this book - specifically in that it's a smartly-done comedy of manners - also reminds me of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan stories, and I guess we're circling back to that Georgette Heyer influence. The space battles are staged decently, but the action sequences really only come alive when ur Fagon himself springs into close combat, but he doesn't do this nearly enough. Anyway, it sucks that there's no follow-up to this story. We'll never know if Gilhame ur Fagon, gallant and besotten and weary and fraught with visions, ever did wrest free of his endless cycle of fighting and dying and returning once more in some new age. Can he escape the recurring purgatory of the Glass Castle? Will Alvellaina betray him as she'd always done before? Only Adrienne Martine-Barnes has a clue, and she's not talking - or writing.

Interstellar [Blu-Ray+ DVD+ HD]
Interstellar [Blu-Ray+ DVD+ HD]
DVD ~ Matthew McConaughey
Price: $22.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interstellar - or, oh, hey, where did all the time go?, March 2, 2015
Hey, a soap box! The scary thing is that the notion of a global catastrophe as posited by the Nolans isn't so farfetched, not when you consider man's overpopulation and his wasteful consumption of natural resources and the casual abuse of environment. We'd best learn our lessons quick or get a move on with colonizing other habitable planets. And, okay, we're gonna have to work on that wormhole thing. One of our point-of-view characters, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), laments: "We used to look up in the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down, and worry about our place in the dirt." Cooper was once a NASA pilot and an engineer, and not even his current dreary Dust Bowl farmer days have diminished his explorer's soul. Cooper gets a chance for a big adventure. Set in a bleak near future, our dying Earth triggers man's last-ditch effort to stave off extinction. And there's Cooper, part of the crew that secretly embarks on an interstellar voyage to seek out sustainable worlds. Never mind that this means his leaving behind his 10-year-old daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy). Cooper also leaves behind a teenage son, but it's obvious that the heart of the film locks onto the father-daughter relationship.

Love it or lambaste it, INTERSTELLAR is an audacious cinematic experience, a must-see in the theater. The astounding scope of the visuals alone is worth your donating at the box office. Seems almost a shame that GRAVITY the year before sort of stole Nolan's thunder in terms of depicting the grand scale of space. Still, you feel the enormity of space and how tenuous and miniscule our place in the universe. Christopher Nolan really is a visionary. At least credit the guy for taking big risks and for putting out a movie that is so ambitious and cerebral. INTERSTELLAR may well be his most human picture. Nolan does a sensible thing by grounding his high concept with a sustained emotional punch. Yes, Cooper and company get to exploring another galaxy and experience adventures that boggle the mind. And yet Cooper's unflagging, overriding motivation is to return home to his daughter. He's frantic to do this.

In a bleak near future in which crop blight has regressed man into a rapidly decaying agrarian society, young and bright-minded Murphy Cooper yearns for the wonders of science, never mind that present schooling debunks the Apollo missions of the 1960s as a sneaky American ploy to bankrupt the Russians in a supposed race to the moon. Murphy is the other point-of-view character and we follow her travails on a dying Earth as she hangs onto science and to her father's promise to come back to her. She's not the only one to succumb to childish wonder.

Love it or lambaste it, INTERSTELLAR makes for a heated water cooler discussion. No matter how you feel about the movie right now, time and distance may well shift your perspective. I won't shout you down if you protest that there are narrative flaws and incongruities. I agree. But the level of acting is not up for debate. It's an all-star cast that performs at the height or near the height of their powers. McConaughey is bulletproof. Jessica Chastain, from the moment she steps in front of the camera, commands the screen. And Mackenzie Foy is indispensable as young Murphy in setting the stage for the film's emotional anchor. And, holy crap, I love TARS, the unexpectedly wisecracking robot what resembles a cumbersome, human-sized, walking monolith. There's also the robot CASE, but it's not nearly as vocal. Several times a wicked barb from TARS would burst the bubble of a potentially pretentious scene.

What lies beyond the event horizon? INTERSTELLAR's answer comes in the form of epic visual spectacle, a heady foray into theoretical physics, a sense of the grandest adventure, and the benediction of a love that transcends time and space. It's a film that taps into the unlimited potential of the human spirit and hints at a big destiny for man. A whiff of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY? Sure. Kubrick would've appreciated Nolan as a like-minded soul, a kindred spirit who didn't play it safe and who pushed the envelope.

So why 4 out of 5 stars? As much as I liked INTERSTELLAR and as much as I was awed by it, I feel that it's a few gripes short of a masterpiece. On a broader beef, it miffs me some that Nolan didn't trust his audience to be clever enough to figure out what's going on. He foregoes the "show, don't tell" storytelling rule of thumb. I get it that the hard science is next level stuff and doesn't make for casual comprehension. So there has to be exposition. But Nolan could maybe have been more subtle with spoonfeeding the data dump. Did someone really needed to explain to Cooper the theoretical properties of a black hole, complete with that demo of a folded sheet of paper? I appreciate that plenty of us needed that slice of knowledge, but I didn't buy that Cooper didn't already know about that. A few more things, and a ***SPOILER ALERT*** now: We're expected to buy that Cooper, applying Morse code, is able to tap the necessary quantum data into his daughter's watch so that she could solve an all-important equation. That's a lot of tapping. Also, Murph is a woman of both faith and science, but it's a reach that when she returns to the old farm house, she out of the blue realizes that the ghost had been her father all along. And then there's the reunion between Cooper and Murph which I feel doesn't pay off as much as it should've, constituting a few minutes of weepy conversation but then she dismisses him so she could be with her other family. It's awkward that Cooper doesn't engage with that family. It's odd that no sooner does Cooper reunite with a very frail Murph than off he goes again, adventuring into deep space. Nolan does an interesting thing by de-mythologizing Cooper. You'd think this later generation would perceive him as a legend.

Okay, SPOILERS end.

Listen, INTERSTELLAR had so much buzz surrounding it, it couldn't possibly live up to hype. You could call it a cinematic triumph or a noble failure, it's that divisive. Nolan strives to deliver a film that caters both to big thinkers and to the masses but doesn't quite achieve that perfect balance. What's not up for debate is that Nolan did his damndest to celebrate space exploration and the perseverance of the human spirit. And you cannot, must not, hate on that. And there's nothing wrong at all with a product that invites dialogue at cross purposes.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 4, 2015 11:12 AM PST

Project Mastodon
Project Mastodon
Price: $0.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Simak's time travel story - a thoughtful bounty of trial and error and prehistoric tribulation and modern day consequences, March 1, 2015
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This review is from: Project Mastodon (Kindle Edition)
As a kid I cut my teeth on Clifford D. Simak's contemplative, bucolic science fiction and fantasies, and it sucks that the guy's become this forgotten author. I consider him an impactful literary figure. CITY and WAY STATION are probably his most recognized works, but practically everything he wrote was worth a read. Simak entertained you and made you ponder, and he did this with a minimum of prose and an exactitude in plotting. He championed a deep fondness for the countryside and frequently integrated decent rural folk as characters in his stories. You can see why he's been referred to as the "Pastoralist of Science Fiction." Simak's distinctive approach to storytelling made him stand out. You can tell a Clifford Simak tale a mile away.

His short novella, "Project Mastodon," was first published in March 1955 in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine. It opens with a "crackpot sort of fellow" named Hudson seeking diplomatic relations with the United States, claiming that his was a new yet quite legitimate nation.

- Secretary of State: "Please tell me, sir, just where are you located?"
- Hudson: "Technically, you are our nearest neighbors."

Simak would later flesh out "Project Mastodon" into the 1978 novel MASTODONIA and would reshuffle with an insertion of a new cast and a time-traveling alien. MASTODONIA happens to be a good, old-fashioned adventure story and does keep faith with several themes of the original short story. I recommend it as a terrific read.

"Project Mastodon" is a good read, as well, but suffers somewhat from its brevity. Character development really isn't in play here. Still, with precise words, Simak introduces three men, all childhood friends, who build a time machine and begin traipsing thru a pristine Wisconsin during the Pleistocene era. It's an interesting yarn that explores several implications of time travel. How do you ensure that, when you travel thru time, you don't end up manifesting in a boulder or a tree or something else solid? And then there are the political ramifications of owning a time machine. You could go the route of Simak's characters. Or you could opt for what the folks in Steven Gould's WILDSIDE did (and, yes, I get it that WILDSIDE sits more in the alternate world genre). Anyway, it's a bit staggering for me that, back in the 1950s, a Wisconsin newspaperman would be the one coming up with these novel concepts. Then again, Simak was a different breed of writer. 3 out of 5 stars for "Project Mastodon." Read it for its flavor of the old, nostalgic relic. Read it for Simak's wonderful economy and for his knack to draw you into his make-believe world. Read it for the bits about how three modern men try to carve out a destiny 150,000 years in the past, armed with nothing but some guns and a chainsaw and, okay, a helicopter and a time machine. But what's that against the might of nervy mastodons and the predation of prowling sabertooths? And that's the frustrating thing about this short story/novella. You crave for more meat on the story. Simak evidently recognized "Project Mastodon" for the thin soup that it was because he expanded it into his later novel MASTODONIA. Yeah, I liked the novel better, liked it for its more in-depth narrative and its amiable satire and its opening premise of which is that a dog comes home to his master dragging odd bits like flint spearheads and fresh dinosaur bones. If that doesn't pique your interest...

Mistletoe Over Manhattan
Mistletoe Over Manhattan
DVD ~ Tricia Helfer
Price: $14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Can Mrs. Klausburger break thru Tricia Helfer's Cylon heart?, February 28, 2015
This review is from: Mistletoe Over Manhattan (DVD)
In Mistletoe Over Manhattan, Tricia Helfer elects to show off less her sexy Cylon infiltrator side and more of the bits where she's a beautiful career woman going thru a divorce. In Mistletoe Over Manhattan, which is a 2011 Hallmark holiday movie, Mrs. Claus (Tedde Moore) - or, rather, "Becka Klausburger" - runs into dedicated NYPD cop Joe Martel (Greg Bryk) in a New York café and accepts a job as nanny to his two kids. But maybe Joe should've run this by his estranged wife, Lucy (Helfer).

Mrs. Klausburger has an ulterior motive. Did you know that Santa and the missus first fell in love in the Big Apple? Means New York holds a very special place in their hearts. Of late, a discouraged Santa (Mairtin O'Carrigan) has begun to give up on Christmas. By reconciling the Martels, Mrs. Claus hopes to demonstrate to Nick that the Christmas spirit is still alive.

In Mistletoe Over Manhattan you navigate a well-beaten plot and cross a number of clichés. But the film overcomes those hurdles courtesy of the warmth and fine effort generated by actors who play their parts well and with conviction. This is, of course, excepting the guy who plays the ridiculous, corny elf, "Sparky Mistletoe," who thwarts the film's every effort at staying grounded - but the kids may giggle at him, and, probably, that's what counts. Tedde Moore is the heart of the show, and she delights as Mrs. Claus. I appreciate that this is sort of a revisionist type of Mrs. Claus in that she doesn't shy from taking action and isn't content as a mere supporting fixture. In New York, she allows her common sense to win out and doesn't hesitate to drop a little white lie here and there, recognizing that confessing all at the start will only submarine her goals. She's abetted - or at least cheered on - by 13-year-old daughter Bailey (Olivia Scriven) and 8-year-old son Travis (Peter DaCunha). As always, it's a relief whenever a film casts kid actors who aren't precious or talk with a cute lisp. These kids are great and great at credibly reacting to their parents' experiencing a shattering break-up.

Regarding the core conflict Mrs. Klausburger must resolve in the Martel household, the problem isn't Joe Martel because the guy is a sweetheart and desperate to repair his marriage. Oh, but Lucy Martel... I guess if you must root against someone in this movie - other than that elf (because that should be a given) - then Lucy's your huckleberry. Lucy is such an obsessed career woman. She just got promoted to head of marketing, but how much of that is because she's cozy with her boss? Tricia Helfer works hard to make her relatable, but it's a challenge to not judge her. Still, scenes come up where it's obvious there's still something between her and Joe. And we recognize that this is playing on the Hallmark channel where bitter endings are taken to the woodshed out back and beaten to death. In the end, Mistletoe Over Manhattan delivers the feel-good feels. Old lessons are re-learned, familiar insights are disclosed, and I think this movie just became an annual holiday watch in my household. And thru all this, there's Becka Klausburger, making friends and influencing people in ways that are graceful and kind and wise. Every now and then, it doesn't hurt for Santa to take a back seat. When it comes to saving Christmas, the missus can hold it down, too.

Khoobsurat Hindi DVD (2014/Bollywood/Cinema/Film)
Khoobsurat Hindi DVD (2014/Bollywood/Cinema/Film)
Offered by Navrang
Price: $12.99
2 used & new from $12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I'm going to send this doctor back. Is she even a doctor? She's always jumping around or chatting.", February 27, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Khoobsurat (English translation: Beautiful) is a rollicking 2014 Hindi romantic comedy, a fun bubblegum movie. It's also a loosey-goosey remake of the same-titled 1980 classic film that was directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and starred Rekha and Rakesh Roshan. Much of the original plot has been kicked to the curb. What remains are the vivaciousness of the female lead and her contest of will with the domineering matriarch of the household in which she comes to dwell.

In this one, Sonam Kapoor is ebullience on legs. Sonam plays Dr. Mrinalini Chakravarty, intuitive and happy-go-lucky sports physiotherapist. Mili is a middle-class Punjabi girl from Delhi, so credit her for not being cowed when she's invited to the royal palace in Rajasthan to treat Shekhar Rathore (Aamir Raza Hussain), the paralyzed Raja of Sambalgarh. While in the palace, Mili is expected to, at all times, conduct herself with restraint and decorum and punctuality. Mili is not ever any of these things. She is, instead, unconventional and spontaneous and endlessly sunny. So expect her to shake up this family of noble stuffed shirts and earn the aggravation of the imperious Nirmala Devi Rathore (Ratna Pathak), the royal matriarch.

Sonam Kapoor is a lot of fun to watch, and maybe it helps that she's real easy on the eyes. Critics have sort of raked her over the coals for her lightweight performances in past movies. But I don't know about that. I realize that mileage may vary, but, me, I've always liked her. In Khoobsurat I love her easy disposition. Her character's a bit of a goof, yeah, but Mili is so lovable. I love how she's persistently such a free spirit even in such formal company. Of course, it's a given that she'll take the oppressed 17-year-old princess, Divya, under her wing. Divya, who'd rather be an actress than attend Oxford. Of course, it's a given that she'll eventually charm - or is it trick? - the stubborn Raja, he who's been confined to a wheelchair for this past decade, into accepting her help. Never mind that Mili is the 40th (41st? 42nd?) physiotherapist who's tried to get him to cooperate, and the first to have any sort of luck.

Khoobsurat takes its cues from Cinderella and from Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries, all having something to do with the lower class girl made good. And playing the part of Prince Charming/Richard Gere/Julie Andrews is Fawad Khan - a Pakistani TV serial actor - who, here, apparently makes his Bollywood debut. You wouldn't know it. Fawad Khan is solid as the Rajput prince and cutthroat businessman, Yuvraj Vikram Singh Rathore, and superb as Sonam's primary foil. He exudes a palpable regal vibe - regal, yes, but with just enough give in him to keep him from being an unrepenting snob. Yuvraj is easy enough to like. He's engaged to a very appropriate match, the well-mannered, blue-blooded Kiara (Aditi Rao Hydari). Kiara hasn't got a shot, once Mili's entered the picture. Sonam and Fawad Khan strike up terrific chemistry. Other than Kirron Kher's strident Punjabi mama act, the humor comes across well. So, okay, there's nothing deep or original or relevant to this remake. We know the character arcs. We know who ends up with who, and whether the stubborn raja will ever get off that wheelchair. But it does the most important thing: it entertains. Sure, the plot trajectory is transparent. But it's all about the bubbly screenplay and the film's execution of it. Sonam Kapoor's effervescence and mischief making are infectious. And since this is a Bollywood joint, there are two musical numbers I liked: the palace kitchen item number "Engine Ki Sitti" in which Mili charms the palace staff and the nightclub party anthem "Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai" that serenades the end credits.

Khoobsurat runs at 128 minutes, which is short for a Bollywood picture. This DVD comes with the option for English sub-titles. Bonus stuff (a lot of it in English) includes:

- Making of KHOOBSURAT (00:19:30 minutes)
- Fawad Character Introduction:Fawad Fever (00:01:50 minutes)
- Sonam Character Introduction: Mili Madness (00:02:19 minutes)
- Making of "Engine Ki Sitti" (00:03:27 minutes)
- Making of "Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai" (00:04:58 minutes)
- Making of "Maa Ka Phone" (00:02:44 minutes)
- Making of "Baal Khade" (00:03:42 minutes)
- "Baal Khade" official music video
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 1, 2015 5:55 AM PST

Quas Starbrite
Quas Starbrite
by James Berry
Edition: Paperback
54 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Quas Starbrite - an obscure space opera hero who deserved more shine, February 23, 2015
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This review is from: Quas Starbrite (Paperback)
James R. Berry was purported to have more in his published résumé than Quas Starbrite (1981), but his stuff is more elusive to track down than a spastic hummingbird. I think it's the same guy who wrote the YA stories Dar Tellum: Stranger from a distant planet (1974) and Magicians of Erianne (1988) and the sci-fi novel The Galactic Invaders (1976), but don't you quote me on that.

I read Berry's Quas Starbrite when it came out in the early '80s, and I remember savoring it and hoping for a sequel that never came. Quas Starbrite was a fun, epic space opera that carried unmistakable whiffs of Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and the Gil Gerard version of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It presents an insane 2000-year-old emperor - the KraKon - whose overriding imperative is to conquer and ravage all universes. The KraKon, whose immortality rests on his organs having been replaced by superior cybernetic counterparts - has of late turned his baleful gaze on a newfound galaxy - ours.

Berry sets his story in the 36th century, in the year 3510, a period in time that finds untested young officer, Capt. Quas Starbrite, chafing under a desk-bound assignment as aide-de-camp to the Commander of the Spaceforce of the Galactic Federation. So, good on him that his ennui is shattered when he's tasked with escorting a legendary war hero, an interplanetary anthropologist, and his beautiful astrophysicist daughter, Lyra Orion, on a scientific research mission to the Nether Quadrant to study up on why the colonies there have been so edgy and restless. A top cadet graduate, an ace star pilot and expert judo artist, and whose psych profile indicates a knack for daring improvisation, Quas Starbrite craves deep space adventure. Oboy, he'll get it.

From jump Quas's "routine" mission is rife with mortal peril, what with sabotage ever lurking, a human traitor in the shadows. Because that's where the KraKon gets you, with his promises of eternal life deliverable courtesy of cyborgnization (I may have just coined a word).

This book is space opera at its liveliest, and the dashing, resolute, resourceful Quas Starbrite gives Flash Gordon, Capt. Kirk, and Luke Skywalker a run for their money. James R. Berry invigorates his worldbuilding with vivid images of dueling spaceships, encroaching immortal cyborg armies, and our old, polluted Earth now rendered a desolate mausoleum planet abandoned by humanity in a Great Migration some 850 years ago. Interestingly - and maybe I mean that it's a flaw - crucial to the plot to foil KraKon's Dark Horde invasion is a detour to old Earth as man's original home seems the site of forgotten knowledge. I'll spoiler it a bit and say that this forgotten knowledge has to do with data gathered in the 1980s regarding black holes. To me, it's hard to fathom that, in the centuries since, this data hasn't been made readily accessible to the Galactic Federation.

Those expecting deep character development should give up the ghost. It's a roaring, breakneck, Silver Age-y, save-the-dang-galaxy adventure that compels our hero to scurry out of one breathtaking scrape into another. The Big Bad Emperor rages in histrionic exhibitions and, when stymied, shakes his fist like the nutty, melodramatic boss that he is. The author likes his science and inserts exposition heavy on hard science and theoretical stuff such as black holes as gateways to other galaxies. However, don't let the sciency folderol distract you from a grand time. Berry knows how to rivet you with his storytelling. Years later, I still have indelible memories of Quas Starbrite's felling cyborgs with his jujitsu or taking on Dark Horde spaceships with his awkward-looking, gyroscope-controlled, ridiculously maneuverable Whippet spacecraft. That space battle was simply awesome sauce. I wouldn't have minded watching a live action motion picture of Quas Starbrite, if only so I can soak in the onscreen zigzaggedy visualization of the Whippet in action. And, plus, Lyra Orion is damn hawt.

Arisen, Book Eight - Empire of the Dead (Arisen series 8)
Arisen, Book Eight - Empire of the Dead (Arisen series 8)
Price: $3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars in the zombie apocalypse it's all about who's got your six, February 23, 2015
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Michael Stephen Fuchs pens the crackling military adventures; Glynn James is the British horror meister. Put them together, and it's like the literary version of Voltron or Reese's Pieces, when mechanical lions or chocolate and peanut butter combine forces, and the sum becomes mightier than the individual parts. Fuchs and James co-author the wildly popular Arisen series, maybe the most unputdownable military zombie apocalypse arc ever.

Here's where Arisen, Book 7: Death of Empires left off (and if you haven't yet read Book 7, why, for Fuchs' sake, are you reading this?). As Fortress Britain, last bastion of humanity, succumbs to wave after wave of zombie incursions, the tunnelers escort Rebecca Ainsley and her children across a chaotic London. In the South Atlantic, Operation Secunda Mortem - the ongoing mission to deliver a zombie vaccine - is jeopardized by the JFK supercarrier's detour for a desperate supply run. Compromised by a floundering chain of command, the JFK has been outmaneuvered silly by a sneaky Russian battlecruiser.

Alpha team - composed of the world's most badass, last-surviving, banded-together Tier 1 operators from the Navy SEALs, the Activity, Delta, and the SAS - has scattered on various solo assignments. Navy SEAL Homer embarks on his undersea mission to disarm and detach suspected limpet mines off the JFK's hull. Juice, formerly of The Activity, and his squad of MARSOC Marines - deployed to the South African shore on that supply run - are trapped in a naval depot warehouse in a close quarters firefight with the deadly Spetsnaz. And 1st Sgt. Aaliyah Khamsi, elite Delta sniper, has volunteered for a CSAR (Combat Search-and-Rescue) mission to retrieve a shot-down pilot. Expect things to expeditiously get more dire.

SPOILERS now? Maybe.

As ever, when it comes to this series, I dabble in awful math. So 6 out of 5 stars for this one. In Book 7, the zombies took a backseat as James and Fuchs focused on setting the stage for the harrowing events in Book 8: Empire of the Dead. In Book 8, the undead resurface in force. But the most nerve-jangly stuff is reserved for Juice's bullet ballet at the warehouse and Ali's meeting her match in a mid-air sniper duel and Homer's air-depleting encounter with a Spetsnaz combat diver team. Omigosh, Fuchs and James consistently BRING IT with the blistering action, and this without sacrificing the in-depth characterization. The military elements come off authentic. The jargon rings true. And maybe what I love best is that these authors are so good at conveying a sense of humanity in a bleak post-apocalyptic world and so good at articulating the close-knit camaraderie that develops among soldiers in the trenches. Alpha team is so damn badass. Arisen, Book Five - Exodus is still my unbeatable favorite in the series - because nothing but nothing beats the JFK's last stand against friggin' TEN MILLION ZOMBIES! But Empire of the Dead ranks highly, too. By now, we've all gotten to know each of the operators pretty well. And that's another thing the authors excel at - they make you fret on the edge of your seat because the peril seems so real and you've grown to care for the characters. Well, okay, maybe you don't care so much for the craven Anderson who, if you recall, abandoned Wesley and his mates to their doom, and for Cdr. Drake who, as of late, hasn't been holding it down as acting commander of the JFK strike group. In these pages there may or may not be a satisfying comeuppance in store.

Part of the fun in reading this series is the heap of quotables imparted by the authors. Some of my faves:

- "...from the moment a helicopter comes off the assembly line, pretty much all it wants to do is kill you."
- "...control everything you could; and then get lucky with the rest."
- "For people with explosives, 'door' was a fluid concept."

She's The Man (2006)
She's The Man (2006)
DVD ~ Amanda Bynes
Price: $4.82
34 used & new from $3.16

4.0 out of 5 stars "Is it just me or does this soccer game have more nudity than most?", February 22, 2015
This review is from: She's The Man (2006) (DVD)
There was a half a moment in which Amanda Bynes was the "It" girl, do you remember? When her salad days, her youthful indiscretions, were indulged initially as part of some coming-of-age phase rather than the onset of the cray-cray. Remember when she starred - and was pretty good - in What A Girl Wants (2003) and Sydney White (2007) and in this one, She's the Man (2006)? She's the Man is a breezy updating of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, that play about mistaken identities and gender politics and much frivolity.

Viola Hastings (Bynes) is a teen soccer wunderkind. At Cornwall Prep, she plays the center forward position like a boss. But when her school cuts the girls' soccer team, and when her twin brother Sebastian (James Kirk) sneaks away to London for a rock band gig - this is less heartbreaking than perishing at sea - Vi hies herself over to Cornwall's rival school of Illyria Prep to assume her twin's identity and nab his spot in Illyria's soccer squad. Vi, you see, will do anything to feed her jonesing for el fútbol.

If Shakespeare and Jane Austen and their ilk aren't your jam, then it's movies like She's the Man and 10 Things About You and Clueless that modernize and rephrase and reinterpret those literary classics for we contemporary, non-highbrow sorts. Shakespeare and Austen, if you dig thru their stuff even for a mo, dabbled in universal themes. They just used fancier words. She's the Man is a lot of broad slapstick, and, it turns out, that's pretty much in Amanda Bynes' wheelhouse. Bynes demonstrates a sunny disposition, excellent comic timing, and mass girl-next-door appeal. And, no, she's not for one second convincing as a guy. But you're still expected to buy into the premise, because she's a heck of a lot of fun in that role and very likable. She's abetted by a fun, silly supporting cast, what with scary, Cockney-talking Vinnie Jones playing her soccer coach, David Cross as the school headmaster, Julie Hagerty as Vi's clueless high society mom, and Channing Tatum exhibiting a promising comedic knack as Vi's jock roommate Duke Orsino, him what ends up taking Vi under his wing and training her up in soccer and incidentally making her all swoony with his hunkiness and surprising sensitivity. As a trade-up, "Sebastian" advises him in ways to woo a chick. See, Duke is not on firm ground when it comes to talking to the opposite sex and he's crushing on this other girl (Laura Ramsey).

As sure as someone sticks a tampon up their nose - a remedy Vi proposes to alleviates nose bleeds - we suspect we're in for a slew of madcap goings-on, something Shakespeare was ever wont to deliver. About to enter the fray as a lad-in-disguise, Viola Hastings gets advice from her friends in the know: "Hey, Vi, be a good boy." And she is, in all "his" preppy glory. Watch Vi try to talk her way out of playing skin in a skin & shirt practice game. At that fair, see Vi become a quick-change artist as she simultaneously plays Sebastian and her mom's debutante darling. And, throughout the film, keep an eye on Bynes' superb face comedy. She's got gift for delivering the best facial expressions, man.

Time Out of Mind
Time Out of Mind
by Richard Cowper
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
45 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars talky psychic time travel thriller, February 21, 2015
Off the backside of this Pocket Books paperback:

"As a young boy, Laurie Linton encountered a strange apparition: a ghostly man who urgently mouthed a message: KILL MAGOBION!

Years later, as members of the UN Narcotics Security Agency, Linton and the beautiful Carol Kennedy were assigned a special duty: investigation of a mysterious drug which endowed its addicts with superhuman powers.

Now, that investigation leads Linton and Carol into a bewildering speed... where international peace teeters in the balance... and where all clues point to the top-secret Ministry of Internal Security and its prestigious, powerful leader - COLONEL PIERS MAGOBION."

Time Out of Mind is a story first published in 1973 but set in the "future" year of 1996. It's a police procedural that incorporates elements of tricky time travel or whatever you call it when someone projects their consciousness and ghostly image into the past. To justify the narcotics agency angle, rookie agent Laurie Linton is assigned to investigate a 16-year-old female junkie who may or may not possess "poltergeist" abilities.

To be honest, this book isn't my jam. Englishman John Middleton Murry, Jr. - who wrote in sci-fi and fantasy under the pseudonyms "Richard Cowper" and "Colin Murry" - has a narrative style that I can't get comfy with, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's to do with unrealized expectations. When I cracked open this book, I was in a mood for a lean and propulsive thriller, and what Cowper doled out instead was something more in the vein of heavy exposition and plenty of not a lot going on. Boy, do people talk a lot in this one, so much so that I feel there should've been a PowerPoint presentation. The pace crawled.

Let's not front, Time Out of Mind hasn't aged well. Today it reads as awkwardly dated, particularly in how Cowper imagines the future of 1996 with his clunky tech. One of the ways Agent Linton is able to suss out the identity of a suspect is by utilizing a rattling processing machine into which you to insert a memory card. Shades of that movie Desk Set (1957) with Spencer & Tracy! At least, the videophone is more accurate.

There are redeeming elements. I liked the instant chemistry between Linton and Carol, and how liberated Carol seemed. I enjoyed reading about Linton's foray to the waterfront and running into that tough-talking 7-year-old girl. At a dingy fry-shop he plies her with greasy potato chips, and she gives him some good leads. The book could've done with more of that girl's moxie and energy.

Another neat thing: The plot sparks an interesting discussion regarding one of the primary posits of time travel: that altering something in the past, no matter how seemingly trivial, can result in massive repercussions in the present and future. In this book - and a ***SPOILER ALERT*** now - memories of a subversive action in the future trickle back to the past in the shape of nagging dreams, dreams that eventually lead the characters to suspect that their past had been altered - by their future selves.

In a pinch of too little, too late, the action does pick up in the final 30 pages or so. Anyway, if you've the temperament of a saint and you'd rather bask in leisurely, contemplative adventures, Time Out of Mind may be the ideal time waster. Me, I wanted more action, more sci-fi effects, more cloak and dagger, more of the agents kicking butt, less 1970s notion of future tech, more of that awesome little girl, and less talking. A generous 3 out of 5 stars for me, for the things that I did like and for the non-linear time travel angle.

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