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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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Northern Lights
Northern Lights
DVD ~ LeAnn Rimes
Offered by Best Bargains Inc
Price: $7.99
56 used & new from $0.50

4.0 out of 5 stars "Words of advice, Chief, in Lunacy, things that seem one way usually aren't.", April 20, 2014
This review is from: Northern Lights (DVD)
I don't much read Nora Roberts, so I can't speak to the faithfulness of this made-for-TV adaptation to its source material. What I know is that even though Northern Lights is fairly by-the-numbers, it still held my attention. Partly, it's the curiosity factor. I wanted to see how well LeAnn Rimes can transition to acting. She does fine.

It's a 2009 Lifetime Channel movie that taps into a familiar premise: that of a newcomer to Alaska falling for a spirited bush pilot. It's not as successful in channeling Northern Exposure's appealing central staple, which is its quirkiness. Northern Lights introduces burnt-out ex-Baltimore homicide detective Nate Burns (Eddie Cibrian), come to the fictional town of Lunacy, Alaska to outrun pangs of guilt and remorse. Nate has had enough of big city crime. As Lunacy's new police chief, he's looking forward to negotiating the more sedatechallenges posed by a remote, sleepy town. And to add even more incentive, Nate catches a glimpse of local bush pilot Meg Galligan (Rimes) and is instantly beguiled. They formally meet on New Year's Eve, an auspicious date that is not at all flushed with romance.

But here's that cliché rearing its ugly head, the one about small towns, big secrets. Nate hasn't even had time to settle in before he turns up a 15-year-old murder, one that holds special ties to his favorite bush pilot. It takes a minute to worm oneself into the good graces of a closed-in community like Lunacy's. Ingratiation is specially hampered when one starts digging up nasty secrets. Can the new police chief hold down his job long enough to solve a murder or two? Certain citizens are grumbling about the decision to hire an outsider like Nate. After all, Lunacy's window of tourism doesn't extend past summer. Who needs an all-seasons police chief, and an outsider at that?

LeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian happen to be married in real life, and there's a bit of that synergy captured on camera, a certain comfort level. Cibrian, with his affability and his exasperating matinee idol looks, is likable. But I tuned in for LeAnn Rimes, and it seems to me that she lights up the screen. Rimes infuses spunk and vitality into her character. Meg Galligan is someone who asserts herself and who is comfortable in her own skin. In one scene, she even saves the new police chief's bacon. Chalk that one up to a lesson learned about the vagaries of moose meat bait.

Northern Lights is a rote murder mystery, made all the more routine by our sleuth's underwhelming "eureka" moment. How Nate arrives at the killer's identity smacks of dipping into that barrel of standard TV mystery investigative tropes.

Thank goodness the potential for a Cibrian-Rosanna Arquette romance was nipped in the bud early on. In light of Arquette's character's relationship with Rimes, that would've been pretty icky. Still, it's nice to see such a well-preserved Rosanna Arquette. She plays the promiscuous innkeeper (with a, yes, heart of gold).

I love the gruff-looking dog. What breed is he? Seems like a mix of American bulldog and awesome.

Mt. No Name is a cool name for a mountain.

With an aggressive name like Deputy Otto Gruber, I expected him to be more prominent in the film. After a while he just fades into the background. Bit disappointing. I wanted him and his new boss to clash more.

3.5 out of 5 stars for this one. The showdown with the murderer goes down ridiculously. Nate actually made a solid call in his strategy for catching the guy. Too bad other folks took the play out of his hand. But it's one more thing that cheapens the movie. The fictional town of Lunacy was founded in 1805, much like the mystery elements here. If you watch this and end up enjoying it, I've no doubt it's because of what LeAnn Rimes brings to the table. I hear she can sing, too.

Valentine Volume 1: Ice of Death TP
Valentine Volume 1: Ice of Death TP
by Alex De Campi
Edition: Paperback
Price: $20.31
52 used & new from $0.43

4.0 out of 5 stars Attention pour cette voiture!, April 19, 2014
With their digital comic, Valentine, Alex de Campi and Christine Larsen offer a startling take on Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812 - and wouldn't it be awesome if their slant held a whiff of what's real? The story opens in late 1812 as Napoleon's Grande Armée retreats from the harsh Russian winter, its tattered ranks that once numbered half a million now reduced to 50,000 frostbit French soldiers. Two cavalrymen from the 7th Hussars - Lt. Valentine Renaud of Brittany and his friend Capt. Oscar Levy - have become separated from their regiment. They run into a dying French couple - a woman and a general - and it's the general who hands Valentine a wrapped bundle and charges him with its safe delivery. Valentine and Oscar are soon beset by a pack of Cossacks with eyes like burning coals, and it's at this junction that we start to get an inkling that this just may be more than a historical thriller.

I found out about Valentine thru Comixology, so, yay, Comixology. Alex de Campi (she writes) and Christine Larsen (she draws) created the comic specifically for the wireless device. Ten issues (out of a projected 24) comprising roughly 60-75 screens each were released, and in 14 languages. Image's trade - Valentine Vol. 1: The Ice Death - collects these ten issues, as well as a 42-page exclusive bonus story with art by Cassandra James and a painted cover by Steven Belledin. I read some time ago that Alex had run out of funds to continue telling her story. I'm so glad that she's now able to produce the final 14 issues.

In Valentine's reality, magic is real but gradually seeping out of man's world, and those supernatural visitors remaining on Earth find themselves desperately marooned. Valentine has suddenly become instrumental in their regaining passage to their eldritch dimension. Valentine finds strange allies. He also combats the Tenebrae, the nightmarish flip sides to the cute elves and fairies and such from the fairy tales. I recommend this trade. Given, Valentine Renaud seems a one-dimensional character. It's what's happening to him and around him that piques our interest, triggers our imagination. Alex de Campi writes with lyricism and with terrific pace and atmosphere. At times, her storytelling takes on an almost hallucinatory edge. Christine Larsen's artwork is very striking and expressive, with Tim Durning's colors adding tremendous punch to the panels. There's a Wizard of Oz influence in that the human world is viewed thru drab colors whereas the fairy tale realm pops with more vibrant hues. So, yeah, give this one a try. It's something a bit off the beaten path. It's Alex de Campi spinning a yarn about a gallant Frenchman who is very much out of his element. It's about unexpected travels that span centuries and dimensions and, yes, eventually, it's about getting whacked by a car. Valentine, now a long way from home, never does reunite with his regiment.

A Soldier's Duty (Theirs Not to Reason Why)
A Soldier's Duty (Theirs Not to Reason Why)
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Ia gives Honor Harrington, Esmay Suiza, and, er, Jorie Mikkalah a run for their money, April 19, 2014
The 25th Century, and no sighting yet of Buck Rogers. But as author Jean Johnson posits in A Soldier's Duty, first in her compulsive military sci-fi series, in the 25th Century, the asskicker of note is an 18-year-old precognitive girl named Ia. Three years ago, Ia suffered a nightmarish vision detailing the annihilation of her home galaxy three hundred years in the future. Ia glimpsed only one possible timeline that may avert the coming Armageddon. Then and there, Ia chose to forsake a normal life and began setting into motion a chain of events of which impact and scope would span centuries and may (or may not) save a galaxy.

The story proper begins three years later when 18-year-old Ia enlists in the Space Force Marines of the Terran United Planets. In the military Ia hopes to build up such an epic legend around her that it inspires countless people to fight for survival in that far-flung future when Ia's apocalyptic vision comes about. A Soldier's Duty charts the seeds of her mad plan, chronicles her immersion into military life and the early exploits that would earn her her nickname "Bloody Mary."

A Soldier's Duty is my gateway to Jean Johnson's writing, and you could've knocked me with a feather when I found out she's actually better known as an author of fantasy romance lit. This book is the furthest thing from a fantasy romance in the sense that it's gritty and heavily dosed with military jargon. There's nary a whiff here of a romance for Ia, which is refreshing because she (and we) could just get on with the task at hand. Johnson orchestrates these really terrific action sequences. Ia is such a complete badass. We learn soon enough that she possesses other psychic powers besides her precognitive bent, not to mention her impressive physical endowments due to her heavyworlder origin. I was thrilled at those action sequences in which Ia applies her foresight during combat, adjusting the scenarios juuuuust so, so that she comes out on top.

Thankfully, Johnson stops short of depicting her as a Mary Sue. I've heard and read others' complaints that Ia is a one-note character and that she seems too perfect and arrogant. What I observe instead is a character who is so staggeringly focused and so dedicated to her impossible mission that she has no room for outside distractions. We do get scattered moments in which she quietly rails against the universe about the unfairness of it all. As far as her being too perfect and arrogant, I think those traits fall in line with her skills set. Ia possesses intimate knowledge of the future. She's got cause to be confident. And, yet, there are moments in which her prescience bites her on the bum because while it's an intimate knowledge of the future that she has, it's not an omniscient one. She still gets surprised when an event with a low probability of coming to fruition actually comes to fruition. And in the timestream there are murky spots that cloud her vision. So she's not infallible. And in those instances in which her foresight fails her, she has to scramble that much harder to bring her long-range plan back on track. I like Ia very much. I like how she exerts herself. She's one of the most peculiar and fascinating characters I'd ever met on page. I love the desperate situation the author plonks her in. I relish how it's such an epic undertaking for Ia, of which distant end game she knows she won't be around to witness. I love the deliberate way she goes about building a legendary reputation - case in point, that bit on the hostage ship where she puts an exclamation point on the origin of her nickname.

The supporting cast, it sprawls, but some characters register on our radar. Ia's nature is to be insular, to not engage in close relationships (for example, it sucks when you instantly know the time and day and the how of someone's death). And yet Ia does make a connection or three with her fellow Marines. In particular, her professional relationship with Lieutenant Ferrar lends insight into how she works within and without the boundaries of the rigid Marine Corps institution as she looks to further each step in her grand scheme.

Jean Johnson is only beginning to tap into Ia's universe, but the rich, complex world-building is already taking readers into promising territories. I'm hip deep into the second book - An Officer's Duty - and happy that there's a huge chunk dedicated to exploring Ia's newly colonized home planet and her family and friends back home. Here, we're introduced to several alien species, most of which work in concert with humans. I'm particularly curious about the Feyori who are (inadvertently?) instrumental for creating humans with clairvoyant abilities and who, as a race, are engaged in some sort of sweeping, very elaborate Game.

I enjoyed this book, really did. I've only one nitpick, and that's when Ia was at the bar with her fellow grunts and, on request, she regales them with her recent heroic exploit... in rhyme and in song. It just went on and on, much too long for me, and it read awkwardly. I would've said that it beggars belief that Ia could rhyme everything for so long in such an impromptu situation, but this is Ia. She probably had planned for that moment.

Still no sighting of Buck Rogers in this 25th Century. He's not needed anyway.

My review title references Jorie Mikkalah, and I don't know that she fits so seamlessly into the military sci-fi genre. But damn if I wasn't looking for any excuse to plug the book that she's in. The Down Home Zombie Blues (Kindle edition), y'all, by Linnea Sinclair. Jorie is, after all, a space commander so she's in the neighborhood.

The books in the Theirs Not to Reason Why series (so far):

- A Soldier's Duty
- An Officer's Duty (Theirs Not to Reason Why)
- Hellfire (Theirs Not to Reason Why)
- Hardship (Theirs Not to Reason Why)

The Wolverine
The Wolverine
DVD ~ Hugh Jackman
Price: $10.00
23 used & new from $7.88

4.0 out of 5 stars angsty snikt, April 17, 2014
This review is from: The Wolverine (DVD)
So I can't make up my mind about The Wolverine. Overall, it was a good time at the movies. But some things nagged me. One thing that's never nagged me is Hugh Jackman's performance as Wolverine. No matter the shine or the stank on the vehicle, Jackman is never less than fully engaged and committed. I don't even mind anymore that there's this 6' tall actor playing the 5'3" Wolverine. But it's an indicator of something shady when the mid-credit stinger gets your juices flowing more than the film's big action finale.

The first 75% of The Wolverine is terrific stuff. It features our snikting Canuck wallowing in an existential predicament. The film opens with a flashback to 1945 to a captive Logan held at a Japanese POW camp near Nagasaki. Shifting to present day, somewhere in the Yukon, we catch up with Logan circa post-X-Men: The Last Stand. This is a Logan who's gone hermit, who's given up, who's being haunted by recurring hallucinations and nightmares about Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) whom he had to put down to save the world.

But enter Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a precognitive mutant and a ninja. Yukio convinces Logan to journey to Japan to visit his dying old friend Yashida to settle a decades-old debt. In Tokyo, Yashida charges Logan with safeguarding his daughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto). And the dead man had cause to fret. Couldn't even wait for the funeral to get done before the Yakuza burst out of the woodwork, targeting Mariko and the rest of Yashida's progeny. And there's Logan, healing ability mysteriously stripped, charging into the breach.

To me, The Wolverine breaks down to a few highs, plenty of mediums, some lows. Gratifyingly, it's a character story and a self-contained story. It (mostly) isolates the world-weary Logan as a mutant in a human world and, in Japan, a stranger in a strange land. I said "mostly isolates" because he does share space with two other mutants, Yukio and, uh, the venomous "Dr. Green" (Svetlana Khodchenkova). Still, it's a refreshing swerve from the proliferation of mutants in X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

What works? Hugh Jackman works, more than anything else in this production. Because of his newfound weakness, Wolverine is physically tested as never before. Add in the emotional extremes his character must navigate and this just may be Jackman's most accomplished turn yet as Wolverine. Water cooler talk suggests that Jackman approached the Rock for tips on how to bulk up, and I guess Dwayne did him a solid because Jackman looks absolutely ripped. 75% of the narrative works. I love the location shooting in Japan, a glistening metropolis that consistently provides visually arresting backdrops. Rila Fukushima as "Yukio" is really terrific; I think Rila strikes up better chemistry with Jackman than does Tao Okamoto. There wasn't as much action as expected but two sequences stand out: the sprawling funeral melee and the disagreement on the bullet train (never mind that the combatants dis the laws of physics). And, of course, the almighty mid-credit stinger.

Also, I kinda love the Explorations of Mars love suite.

That was the carrot, here comes the stick. I mentioned that the first 3/4 of the movie is terrific, character-developing stuff. The one thing within that frame that I couldn't entirely buy into is the underwhelming love story between Logan and Mariko. I'm not convinced. Not enough scenes play out where we see them falling in love. They just are, suddenly. Mariko is supposed to be Logan's emotional life life, and yet I'm more invested when Logan's interacting with Yukio.

The final 25% sucks as the plot gives way to mindless CGI crap. The film required a villainous foil that could engage the viewer better. The Silver Samurai? Viper? Please. As it were, the big build-up meant nothing to me. So there's a slew of missed opportunities. The non-impactful big bads. The weak ending. The unconvincing romance. That extended sequence in which a horde of ninjas shoot arrow after arrow into a walking away Wolverine fails to deliver a payoff. I was waiting and waiting for Logan to turn around and administer berserk Wolverine justice... but nah.

It's lovely to see Famke Janssen reprising her Jean Grey role... for the first, oh, two dream sequences. After that, I was done, yo.

I could've sworn Logan spoke Japanese. But, probably, I'm getting my comic book mixed up with my movies.

Finally, to maximize your viewing enjoyment, you should probably watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine first, after which awfulness The Wolverine will come off as the best thing ever.

3.5 out of 5 snikts for The Wolverine.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 18, 2014 11:42 AM PDT

The Raid 2 - Trailer
The Raid 2 - Trailer
Offered by Short-form Videos
Price: $0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars "With all due respect, I don't really like acting tough in toilets.", April 17, 2014
This review is from: The Raid 2 - Trailer
Somewhere Tony Jaa is hearing footsteps coming up fast behind him. I don't think it's premature to crown Iko Uwais as today's preeminent onscreen martial artist, and this based on only two movies (no, I'm not counting Merantau). The Raid: Redemption (2011) was a gamechanger. It made the other action films go home to weep into their momma's apron. The Raid 2: Berandal sequels it up and, as expected, it's a bigger, more ambitious venture. It's not as good. The knock isn't against the action scenes which are eye-popping stuff and match up well against those in the first movie. The bee in the bonnet is that The Raid 2 runs 148 minutes long. Welsh director Gareth Evans is perhaps today's best action director. Here, he channels his inner Scorsese. He infuses his bloated narrative with sprawling gangster drama. But to me, it's mostly filler material, expository stop-gaps that mark time until the next pulverizing fighty fight. When the participants aren't engaged in murderous motion, the film sometimes drags. Sorry, I couldn't give the murky storytelling a pass.

Poor, poor rookie cop Rama (Uwais), him what just survived a tenement populated with homicidal tenants. What's that phrase? "Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in!" The Raid 2 picks up directly from the closing events of the first film as a superior officer convinces Rama to dive right back into the rabbit hole. If The Raid is about battling for a block, The Raid 2 is about securing a city. Jakarta, Indonesia is infested with widespread police corruption, and Rama reluctantly agrees to do his part, to infiltrate one of the powerful crime families and, from within, identify who's dirty in the constabulary. A crucial step is landing in prison so he can cozy up to the local kingpin's incarcerated son Uco (Arifin Putra, who looks eerily like Brandon Lee). Rama is briefed that he should only be in prison some months. Heh.

Despite strong echoes of Donnie Brasco and Infernal Affairs, The Raid 2 is best served when hordes of thugs are aiming to put a hurt on Rama and our guy reciprocates by educating them on the glory and brutality of silat. Iko Uwais' character is a pit bull, man. He takes a licking, etc. What differentiates him from other celluloid asskickers is that Uwais actually has it in him to act like the blows he absorbs actually hurt him. All credit to Gareth Evans, Iko, and the rest for translating that reality to the screen. I don't have it me to express just how raw and brutal and, yes, creative the action sequences are. Evans, gifted with an impeccable visual sense of timing, captures Iko's form of martial arts, silat, in its expressiveness and fluidity and pure batsh!+ awesomeness. There are six or seven extended fighty fights that'll have you shaking your head, marveling and maybe even instinctly dodging in your seat when the arterial spray and the ripped-out viscera come hurtling. My three favorites: the melee at the prison bathroom stall (after which Rama says, "With all due respect, I don't really like acting tough in toilets."); Rama's hallway scrap with the Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and the Baseball Bat Brawler (Very Tri Yulisman); and Rama's machismo-drenched kitchen showdown with the hand sickle-wielding assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman, an internationally renowned silat practitioner). Meanwhile, Evans stages an electrifying car chase that, in my opinion, edges out the car chase in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There's a moment during the car chase in which Evans treats us to an amazing overview perspective - as if the car roof was removed - of Rama's battle with his four captors. Yeah, The Raid 2 is an action masterpiece. It's some next-level sh--. And to hold down its arthouse creds, it even holds up as a suspenseful crime drama. Mostly. (I'm looking at you, extraneous plot threads.)

Parting random thoughts/observations:

- This actually is a solidly acted film; Iwo Ukais holds his own with the thespian bits.
- Was it a vanity play for supporting actor Yayan Ruhian ("Mad Dog" in the first movie) that compelled Evans to insert him in a needless sub-plot? Yayan plays "Prakoso," a side character whose brief arc only obliquely impacts Rama's narrative yet is given two action sequences.
- I kind of judge Rama for throwing empty water bottles at the bad guys.
- Hey, I know sign language! Me and Hammer Girl can totally go out!
- Maybe Rama could just bring a gun next time
- I'd hoped Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa were cast in The Expendables 3 but, on second thought, Iko and Tony would absolutely roll thru that bunch (excepting Jet Li)
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 17, 2014 12:50 PM PDT

It All Came True
It All Came True
DVD ~ Humphrey Bogart, Jeffrey Lynn Ann Sheridan
Price: $17.23
25 used & new from $9.88

4.0 out of 5 stars Bogie, you soft touch, April 15, 2014
This review is from: It All Came True (DVD)
George Raft sure made a dumb habit of rejecting roles that Bogie would later take up and make into his own. It All Came True is another one. It's one of Humphrey Bogart's lesser known pictures, but don't sleep on it. It's sort of a departure for both Bogie and Ann Sheridan. I don't remember Sheridan showing a more gentle, vulnerable side while staying true to her cynical, street-savvy character. And Bogie, while still exhibiting that grit-teeth edge, subverts his onscreen gangster creds. Sprinkle on top a solid supporting cast of character actors and what we get is a watchable study in maudlin Americana and a send-up of the gangster genre.

The plot: Shady nightclub owner "Chips" Maguire (Bogie) flees into the night when his joint is raided by the police, but not before he plugs him what's ratted him out. On the lam, he inveigles (cough*blackmail*cough) his reluctant crony and ivory tickler, Tommy Taylor (Jeffrey Lynn), to take him to his mother's boarding house, a choice place to lay low, never mind that Tommy hasn't seen his mum in five years. At the boarding house, Chips (or, now, "Mr. Grasselli") professes to be an invalid who requires absolute privacy so as to recover from a nervous breakdown. This promptly kindles Tommy's mom's nurturing instincts.

A key subplot presents itself in the opening minutes. The boarding house, host to a number of eccentric tenants, is in dire straits. The two broke, old landladies (Una O'Connor, Jessie Busley) owe $1,189.64 in back taxes, else the bank will foreclose. It doesn't help that the hot-tempered daughter (Sheridan) of one of the landladies has come home to smooch money off her. Is it so preposterous that the reclusive new boarder can salvage the day? Mr. Grasselli, fugitive from the law and climbing the walls from sheer boredom, extends a business proposition to the lovely old birds: why not convert the boarding house into a nightclub? A bustling nightclub that hearkens back to the old-timey vaudevillian era, that recalls that turn-of-the-century nostalgia? Well, okay.

This movie was a bag of fun, rife with good comic bits and nice moments of Ann Sheridan belting out songs (my favorite is the first time she sings "Angel in Disguise"). She's just great as the brassy canary with the warm heart, and there are moments when she just glows onscreen. The hook for me, though, is Bogie who, at this time, was a year or two away from his star-making roles in The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942). Given, what Bogie does in It All Came True - the spoofing of his gangster persona - isn't a pioneering thing. George Raft (1935's She Couldn't Take It and Edward G. Robinson (1938's A Slight Case of Murder) did it before. But, here, he shows his knack for deadpan humor. You don't get a lot of chances to see Bogie poking fun at himself, and I love how, in this movie, his character retains his toughness and cynicism even as he develops a sentimental streak. It's a carefully guarded streak, mind you. Up to the film's closing scene, he's shuffling back and forth on the crossroads. Don't let the fact that this is a musical comedy sway you, or that the two old ladies view him as a kindly impresario. Chips Maguire is a hood and a straight-up killer, not to mention, a self-confessed hater of mothers. Conversely, there IS that one scene where he sings to himself a snippet of "While Strolling Through the Park One Day." Yeah, there's a reason Bogie doesn't sing much. Even his singing feels like he's threatening me.

Oh, yes, there's also a mild love triangle involving Sheridan, Bogart, and Jeffrey Lynn (the piano player what's "tired of playing for peanuts and promises," remember him? He turns out to be Sheridan's childhood pal). I almost didn't mention this because Lynn gets so overshadowed by Bogie.

Keep an eye out for the Elderbloom Chorus, a group of sprightly old women singers. They start out with a sedate rendition of "Silver Threads Among the Gold" but then delightfully ramps it up with the jive "Flat Foot Floogie."

The Kick
The Kick
Price: $3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars now I, too, want to dance fight, April 14, 2014
This review is from: The Kick (Amazon Instant Video)
The Kick, a Thai/Korean colab, keeps faith with a staple of director Prachya Pinkaew's: phenomenal action beats framed in a weak narrative. Prachya Pinkaew has built up impressive cachet, having guided the likes of Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, Tom-Yum-Goong, and Chocolate to international acclaim. The Kick tracks a Korean family of taekwondo practitioners that immigrates to Bangkok, Thailand and sets up a martial arts school.

The movie opens 28 days away from the Olympic tryouts and with the patriarch, Master Moon Sa-beom (Jae-hyeon Jo), psyched about the opportunity for the fam to win a gold medal. Master Moon is one of them stern, autocratic sorts whose word is absolute and final. He's pushing his oldest son, Tae Yang (Tae-joo Na), to master the particularly difficult tornado kick. This doesn't sit well with Tae Yang. He'd rather be a dancer than a martial artist. In fact, Tae Yang has got an audition on the sly, and this ultimately gets in the way of his taekwondo training. Watch the daddy drama attain combustible levels. But the father-son mad-on is only the sub-plot.

The story's main thrust revolves around the family's foiling the theft of an invaluable Thai national relic - the Kris of Kings - by a well-coordinated gang of thieves. For their intervention, the family is celebrated as heroes. But you just know the big bad entrepreneur (Kwan-hun Lee) - who'd masterminded the heist - is seething and plotting a retaliation.

The Kick's flimsy plot still delivers a bag of treats. The bad guy dramatics are often offset by these injections of humor, with the cast occasionally plying their martial arts to comic effect. I belly laughed all the way thru that scene in which the family is on stage to showcase their taekwondo skills - but the floor proves too slippery.

The draw is the action. The movie trots out a parade of dynamic physical sequences. I appreciate that the actors are all martial arts experts and perform their own stunts. The three principals you must keep your eye on are the high-flying Tae-joo Na, Kyung-suk Kim (who plays his sister Tae Mi), and the always awesome JeeJa Yanin (who comes in around 40 minutes in). Tae-joo Na and Kyung-suk Kim are stupendous whirling dervishes with their speed and their acrobatic spin kicks while Jeeja Yanin - who, based on Chocolate alone, is today my favorite female martial artist - stays more grounded but is as just explosive with her forceful application of Muay Thai. By the way, that's another bonus - that we're treated to side-by-side exhibitions of taekwondo and Muay Thai fighting. But my favorite action set is probably Tae-joo Na's fight scene in which he incorporates hip hop dancing into his taekwondo. It's so silly but also awesome.

Spelling police! Thumbs down on the filmmakers' lack of attention to detail. It's such a tiny thing, but it bugged me for minutes when I saw that poster in the movie promoting the International Museum of Thailand - site of the Kris of Kings exhibition - and "Museum" was spelled "Musume."

The story is sketchy, the acting is whatever, the spelling falters. Yet, on the basis of how sweet the fight scenes are, The Kick gets 3.5 of 5 stars from me. And do stick around for the closing credits for behind-the-scenes footage of the injuries accrued by the cast and stuntmen. It's like we almost owe it to the cast and crew to watch this footage to acknowledge the hard and extremely dangerous stunt work they'd put in. Respect, man.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 15, 2014 12:17 PM PDT

Off to Be the Wizard (Magic 2.0, Book 1)
Off to Be the Wizard (Magic 2.0, Book 1)
by Scott Meyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.97
22 used & new from $8.10

4.0 out of 5 stars a Seattle code breaker in King Arthur's court, April 13, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
First, let me pimp Scott Meyer's webcomic Basic Instructions. It's one of the best online strips around; it's never less than a humorous read. With Off to Be the Wizard (Magic 2.0, Book 1), Scott branches out to the realm of the long prose. Off to Be the Wizard is self-published material. It's a book about hacking into reality, time travel, human folly, and eating nasty stew and awesome burritos.

20-something hacker Martin Banks is one of them characters that ultimately leaves me cold, and that, more than anything else, is probably why I really like, but not love, the book. In Seattle, as usual, Martin is whiling away the evening by poking into the nooks and crannies of the Internet when he comes across a buried file, comprising of five terabytes of plain ASCII text characters. Martin, sort of curious, accesses the file and discovers that it's a computer program that controls reality. By editing data in the program, Martin learns he can manipulate time and space. He preaches caution to himself, but of course it's only a bit of time before he gets in over his head. But credit Martin for establishing an escape clause. When the Feds get clued in to his excesses and come knocking on his door, Martin's already gone, fled to medieval England, circa 1150.

Scott Meyer isn't the first to dive into this mash-up of fantasy lit and computer programming. Rick Cook explored this sub-genre years before with his "Wiz" Zumalt stories (Book One: Wizard's Bane). And, cinematically, of course, and with a darker sci-fi edge, there's The Matrix trilogy. And, actually, Off to Be the Wizard has more in common with Neo's world than with Qiz Zumalt's in the sense that both Martin and the rebels in The Matrix manipulate reality by crunching data on computers. In Wiz Zumalt's case, he's transported to a dimension in which magic exists and he's able to program with that magic.

In merrie olde England, Martin Banks seeks to promote himself as a wizard and thereby live the the good life. And that's where it goes wrong for him. I won't spoiler what happens next, but let's just say the guy isn't the pioneer he assumed he would be circa 1150. Turns out, when it comes to swagger at conjuring, he's at the bottom of the totem pole.

Scott Meyer's debut novel is an engaging read. It's genuinely amusing in many spots; if referencing pop culture is your bag, then you're in for a heck of a treat. Scott does a great job in detailing the mechanics of "hacking" into reality. He sets up the rules and limitations and then adheres to them. Overall, I find his premise of "reality is a computer program and humans are subroutines" to be really intriguing.

But there are bits of botheration. The primary reason I couldn't fully connect with the book is that I didn't much like the lead character. Martin is one of those hacker slackers who just exude this low-level arrogance and a sense of entitlement. I wasn't too surprised that he has such trouble connecting with his projected love interest. Martin is a tech-savvy guy, but he's clueless in a lot of areas. His saving grace is that he genuinely does mean well. But he got on my nerves.

What else? Without giving away spoilers, I will say that, in medieval England, Martin's character arc could've been served better. Instead, he ends up spending huge chunks of the narrative not doing much except to absorb. I wanted him to be more proactive. I wanted him to impact his new environment more. I wanted him to, say, introduce the practice of good hygiene or work out how his hacker magic figures into the Middle ages.

It's explained that, linguistically, the program allows for Martin to understand and be universally understood no matter his place in geography or temporally. But the result is everyone in the old England speaks in modern-day colloquial English. And there's a whiff of Renfair.

The bulk of the story is told in such a light tone that when the big bad's unsavory end game surfaces, it's a bit jarring. That's not a knock, it's an observation. If I had to break the book down, I'll say that it's 80% discovery and studying on the hero's part - which does provide a lot of cool moments - and 20% with him engrossed in action, either fleeing from the law or participating in the taking down of the big bad. If that sort of ratio agrees with you - and if you like hearing disses about the Commodore 64 - then jump on this one. I recommend it, with a teeny reservation or two. I already have the sequel (Spell or High Water (Magic 2.0, Book 2)) on pre-order. What I wholeheartedly recommend is Scott Meyer's Basic Instructions. Here's a list of the trades collecting the webcomic:

- Help Is on the Way: A Collection of Basic Instructions
- Made with 90% Recycled Art: A Collection of Basic Instructions Volume 2
- The curse of the Masking Tape Mummy: Basic Instructions
- Dignified Hedonism: A Collection of Basic Instructions

Support Your Local Gunfighter
Support Your Local Gunfighter
DVD ~ James Garner
Offered by DVDux
Price: $25.25
49 used & new from $4.59

4.0 out of 5 stars "I see a situation here where an honest man can make a dollar.", April 12, 2014
Support Your Local Gunfighter is the 1971 follow-up to 1969's Support Your Local Sheriff! It's just about as droll, but it's not as good as the original. Partly, it generates this sense of been there and done that. It's not a sequel as much as it is a reboot that returns some of the supporting cast (Harry Morgan, Jack Elam, Henry Jones, Gene Evans, Walter Burke).

James Garner plays another smooth-talking flim-flammer. This time he's Latigo Smith who, on the eve of his wedding day, develops cold feet and disembarks from the train, away from his bride-to-be. He lands in the small mining town of Purgatory where he's mistaken for the notorious gunman "Swifty Morgan." Now, Latigo intends to be in town only long enough to get rid of an ill-thought-out chest tattoo. But Purgatory is in the midst of a fight over a much coveted mother lode, and there's a need for a professional gunslinger to "arbitrate." Latigo isn't one to pass up on the easy buck. But what happens when the real Swifty Morgan (an uncredited Chuck Connors) rides into town?

What I love about James Garner is that, for all his matinee idol looks, his characters tend to be practical folks. Latigo Smith plies caution and common sense like a normal person. He can outtalk and outclever anyone, but he realizes he can't outmatch everyone physically. There's a character-defining scene in which Latigo cracks an exiting tough guy on the back of his head, and Latigo's sidekick, Jug May, marvels: "You hit that fella from behind!" Latigo's wry response: "Just as hard as I could." It's his "Han Solo shot first" moment.

To change things up somewhat, Garner's gunfighter is more flawed than his sheriff from Support Your Local Sheriff! What lands Latigo time and again is that he's a compulsive gambler. He's fixated on the number 23 more than Jim Carrey. And when he loses $4,600 in one go at the roulette table, he really paints himself in a corner. Garner is so adept in these roles. His jaw is so square, his stance is so confident, his line delivery is laconic and self-assured. But, damn, when he wants to, does he ever subvert the notion of the stalwart cowboy hero. Not only is Latigo a conman, he also guzzles sasparilla and is a dedicated train man because he cannot stand horses. I love that.

So, yeah, it's a comedy masquerading as a western. I liked the touches of whimsy, the humor that occasionally assumes Looney Tunes levels of absurdity. I didn't mind Jack Elam's dimwitted Jug May, although it's a really broad turn. I thoroughly enjoyed Suzanne Pleshette's high-energy performance as the trigger-happy tomboy Patience Barton. All Patience has ever wanted was to go east and attend Miss Honey's College on the Hudson River, New York, for Young Ladies of Good Family. Pleshette and Garner ignite some fine sparks together, or maybe that's the dynamite and gunpowder on dumb display outside the supply store. I think Support Your Local Sheriff! is a 5 out of 5 stars picture. Support your Local Gunfighter, not as good or fresh, merits 4 stars.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 14, 2014 9:20 AM PDT

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy +UltraViolet)
G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy +UltraViolet)
DVD ~ Channing Tatum
Offered by The Big Lebowski
Price: $14.30
133 used & new from $4.85

3.0 out of 5 stars Knowing is half the battle; the other half is kaboomy, kaboomy, April 12, 2014
So the other day I went to the Museum of Better Luck Next Time, that notorious repository devoted to failed ventures. There, I eyeballed mothballed exhibitions of the Betamax, the lambada, the last batch of M. Night Shyamalan movies, and broccoli. Halfway thru the door, two sweaty porters were hauling in G.I. Joe: Retaliation but were arguing about whether it's earned a place in the museum. After all, one porter argued, it cut an impressive swath in the box office. The other porter retorted that it was a critical disaster. Turned out these guys were lost. Minutes later I saw them hauling the thing into the Museum of Soulless But Profitable Enterprises.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is both a reboot and a direct sequel, but probably it's not worth your time to mull over that bit of conundrum. Gone are those faux-future tech battle suits. Gone is the onscreen blight that is a Wayans. Really, there's no point in comparing The Rise of Cobra with Retaliation and which is the better film. They're both guilty pleasures. They both sort of suck. But which one sucks less? Me, I prefer the cartoons. I even prefer that YouTube clip of Destro and the Baroness practicing the clarinet.

We see the fallout to a cliffhanging plot thread from The Rise of Cobra. It's been what? - months since that master of disguise, Zartan, supplanted the American President (Jonathan Pryce), took over his face, assumed his role. It was only a matter of time before Zartan set into motion a chain of events that would neutralize (and disgrace) the G.I. Joes and set free the incarcerated Destro and Cobra Commander. At 0600, in northern Pakistan, in the Indus Valley Desert, the Joes are presumed K.I.A. But not so fast. They should've been more thorough. Now, the remnants of America's most elite fighting unit must turn to the reclusive General Joe Colton (Willis), the original Joe himself. Yippee-ki-yay.

If your name is Marvin, you can't be blamed for assuming a codename... like Roadblock. We're right away introduced to Sgt. Marvin F. Hinton a.k.a. Roadblock (the Rock), right-hand man to Captain Duke Hauser (Channing Tatum). Their bust-your-chops bromance is one of the film's highlights for me. The Rock has got such a big personality, he translates to instant watchability and immediately boosts the film's energy level.

I like the additions of Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), Flint (D.J. Cotrona), and Jinx (Elodie Yung). I still wish Sgt. Slaughter had made it into the movie, but Hasbro and Mattel just weren't able to work out a settlement. It's a sprawling cast, so maybe it can't be helped that the narrative is so scattershot. There's a lot of plot going on, probably too much, as it shifts from this and that thread. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow get mired in ninja drama. It's not fair for a dumb, loud, big budget action film to expect us to use our brains. I had already parked mine.

The discriminating critic will cringe all the live long day. An ounce of forgiveness is a must if you want to enjoy this one. Yes, Bruce Willis sleepwalks in his role. Yes, RZA bollocks it up as Blind Master, and never mind that he's a tremendous devotee of wushu cinema. Yes, the whiplash plotting may get under your skin. But there's the wicked ninja action brought about by Snake Eyes (Ray Park), Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun), and Jinx. Omigosh, Snake Eyes and Jinx fighting Cobra troopers on the mountain side! It's a cool combat sequence that was inspired by Larry Hama's famous silent issue of the 1980s G.I. Joe Marvel comic. And there's Adrianne Palicki's gorgeous-ing it up in spots and you can see why she was tapped as Wonder Woman. And Flint's mastery of parkour. And, again, the Rock. The cast alone - despite Willis' phoning it in - improves the viewing experience from The Rise of Cobra. The action beats are still absurd, and that's the fun of it. Maybe the action would've wowwed me more, but I just saw The Raid 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But Retaliation, more so than The Rise of Cobra, captures the aesthetic of the classic cartoon show. Overall, I got what I wanted out of G.I. Joe: Retaliation, a soulless, profitable movie. So 3 out of 5 stars. Fun action beats and the Rock's swaggering it up and Snake Eyes' playing it cool. But I had more fun watching Funny or Die's "The Ballad of G.I. Joe" on YouTube.

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