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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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Wonder Woman 2009 (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Wonder Woman 2009 (Two-Disc Special Edition)
DVD ~ Keri Russell
Offered by Magic SuperCenter
Price: $13.05
58 used & new from $3.65

5.0 out of 5 stars in your satin tights, fighting for your rights, and the old Red, White and Blue, February 7, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
- Wonder Woman (briefing Steve Trevor on Ares): "Imagine a god whose sole mission is to propagate terror, to incite eternal war and fan the flames of hate. A god who won't stop until the earth's populace, Amazon and outsider alike, lies murdered in a battlefield grave."
- Steve's response: "You smell good."

It'll be some years yet before the live action Wonder Woman movie comes out, so why not revisit the animated 2009 direct-to-DVD version? I'm partial to that iteration, seeing as how it's a loose adaptation of George Pérez's comic book reboot in 1987, namely the epic "Gods and Mortals" arc. I happen to think Pérez's interpretation was the most dynamic yet. He stressed the mythological aspect of Wonder Woman - the blood and guts of it - while honoring her status as a feminist icon. I love the emphasis Pérez placed on the dichotomy of Diana's push for peace while remaining very much the kickass warrior. Unlike the Lynda Carter version who wasn't allowed to punch the baddies, this Wonder Woman doesn't hesitate to get her hands dirty. She wrecks people and monsters!

Countering her knack for mayhem is her guilelessness. There's an appealing innocence about her, this never more pronounced than when she steps into man's world. The film's first act develops the mythology all over again, and it's a more comprehensive retelling. In times of antiquity, it chronicles Hippolyta and her Amazonian warriors' brutal campaign against Ares, God of War, and Ares's subsequent defeat and imprisonment in the bowels of Themyscira, his godly powers suppressed by Hera, rendering him unable to draw from the psychic energies of war. So, only minutes in, I guess we'd seen the last of the God of War, am I right?

Follows then the familiar origin story: Diana sculpted from clay by Hippolyta and given life by Hera; cocky USAF Colonel Steve Trevor crashlanding on the hidden island of Themyscira; the contest in the arena to determine the Amazonian emissary to the world of man (and Trevor's escort back). It's a fine script penned by Michael Jelenic and Gail Simone. The modern twists and turns they inject serve to keep tuned in we jaded comic book fans familiar with what creator William Moulton Marston wrought almost 75 years ago.

The cast of voices is strong, with Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion anchoring things as the two leads. Much of the humor springs from the battle-of-the-sexes banter between Diana and a womanizing Steve Trevor. Lots of gender jokes. See Steve flirt with Diana, to her bemusement. Also, see Steve try to drink Diana under the table, key word being "try."

Ever wonder how the Amazons end up with an invisible plane? Don't bother. It goes unexplained. On the other hand, it's neat that we find out why Diana's costume is splashed with the star-spangled colors.

Note that characters engage in frank, adult discourse. Be aware that the violence leans toward the more graphic. There are beheadings and impalements, and Diana, in all her innocence and compelled by the tugs of sisterhood, instructs a little girl at the park in the ways of swordfighting.

I can't tell you with any confidence why Wonder Woman isn't more popular. My best guesses are that 1) she's perceived as this bland, boring superheroine, 2) it's hard to relate to her origin story, and 3) it's super-hard for a woman to cross over in a patriarchal society. I've hopes for Gal Gadot. I hope she knocks it out the park. But while we're waiting, we could do worse than check out the 2009 animated movie. It's got blood and guts. It's crammed with action and with humor. It showcases Wonder Woman at her fiercest even as it presents, on even footing, her philosophy of peace and equality and sisterhood. But she'll kick your ass in a heartbeat.


The Professionals (Special Edition)
The Professionals (Special Edition)
DVD ~ Ralph Bellamy
Price: $9.62
69 used & new from $1.98

5.0 out of 5 stars "You won't lose your pants. Your life, maybe. But what's that?", February 7, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
"It would take a battalion at least a month but a few daring men — specialists — could do it in one bold swift stroke," remarks the well-heeled old rancher (Ralph Bellamy) in 1917 to three rugged soldiers-of-fortune, them what's eyeing $10,000 each, tasked with retrieving the rancher's kidnapped wife, now in the clutches of the notorious bandido, Jesus Raza (Jack Palance), said to be "the bloodiest cutthroat in Mexico."

Based on Frank O'Rourke's novel A Mule for the Marquesa, The Professionals, out in 1966, is a gritty western that serves as a forerunner to The Wild Bunch. Director Richard Brooks claimed he was surprised at his movie's success. But The Professionals clicked with the viewing audience, and much of that approbation has to do with the solid choices made by Brooks. Instead of staging the conventional damsel-in-distress scenario, he swerves enough to lend color and complexity to his characters. There's this palpable sense of uncertainty throughout the film as the viewer is given no solid footing in terms of what each character would do at given moments. Even the designated damsel-in-distress, the rancher's wife (Claudia Cardinale), fosters her own agenda and demonstrates a grit of her own and a substance. The Professionals is given to eruptions of violence, but it's foolin' ya. What this movie really is is a fascinating character study propped up as a sagebrush shoot-'em-up.

It's neat that Brooks allows key moments to celebrate the star power of this blockbuster ensemble before diving back into character work. So now we know what's required for such a daunting rescue mission: an ex-Rough Rider like Henry "Rico" Fardan (Lee Marvin); an ex-cavalry man and horse whisperer like Hans Ehrengard (Robert Ryan); a scout and rifle- and bowman like Jacob Sharpe (Woody Strode); and an explosives expert and last-minute-addition like Bill Dolworth (Burt Lancaster). It's just plain dumb luck for Dolworth that he's pals with Rico, else he'd still be cooling his heels in penitentiary in his delicates instead of out and about and in trousers. Of course, now, he's out and about in the unforgiving heat of the Mexican desert.

It's a perilous stretch of one hundred miles south of the border and then a sneak job into Raza's impregnable compound. Shot on location in Death Valley, Lake Mead, and Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park, this was reportedly a troubled shooting, factoring in the grueling climate and then Lee Marvin's boozy ways and Burt Lancaster's surging temper at Marvin's boozy ways. Richard Brooks deserves much praise for smoothing out the wrinkles. He surely deserves his Academy Award nominations for direction and best adapted screenplay.

Choice dialogue. Mounting tension. Jangled nerves that stem from a sustained sense of unpredictability. Lee Marvin lands the more traditional do-right hero role. It's Lancaster who sinks his teeth into the meatier part. Plenty of the built-up suspense rides on the end game of his calculating dynamiter/resident loose cannon, and the sense we get is that even Dolworth himself wasn't sure which way he was going to go. In any case, he deserves Marvin's passing testimonial: "That, gentlemen, is the whirlingest dervish of them all."

If you're a history buff, The Professionals sets itself against the backdrop of the 1917 Mexican Revolution, and, sure, the motivations of certain characters from both sides spring out of their involvement in the cause and muddy up the hero versus villain dynamics. Jack Palance as the big bad turns in a multi-faceted and unexpectedly sympathetic performance. If you're not a history buff, there's still plenty for you here. An all-star cast who came to play. An irresistible "a few daring men against hundreds" premise. Brooks' dynamic storytelling. A gorgeous, fiery Claudia Cardinale. A playful Marie Gomez as the well-endowed, gun-toting bandida "Chiquita." Ah, Chiquita...


Lucifer: Season 1
Lucifer: Season 1
DVD
Price: $24.99

5.0 out of 5 stars "Stop caring. You're the Devil.", February 7, 2016
This review is from: Lucifer: Season 1 (Amazon Video)
This really, really shouldn't have worked. LUCIFER as a concept is too offbeat, too controversial, too sacrilegous. And to dredge up the nerd's lament, it departs too liberally from its comic book roots. It is a *gasp* buddy cop crime procedural. But, oh my days, what fun it is! Contemplate this premise: What if the literal, biblical, honest-to-gosh Lucifer Morningstar, the Devil himself, after ages and ages of reigning in Hell, got bored and went on holiday? What if he went down to Los Angeles (suck it, Georgia) and opened a nightclub? And then what if he decided to partner with a cop to solve crimes?

Several things have to click in order to make this endeavor work. Most importantly, the guy playing Old Scratch has to have the chops. Well, English actor Tom Ellis is a find, although I've no doubt them Brits across the pond are familiar with his résumé. Ellis is effortless at being diabolically charming, and you cannot repudiate that playful gleam in his eyes. Most times, you and me tend to crap on those smarmy, obnoxious, dickish roles. Only, this time, those traits are warranted. Of course, the Devil would be smarmy and obnoxious and dickish and would say stuff like "I gave up an awesome foursome to be here." Women love bad boys, and this guy is the ultimate bad boy.

LUCIFER is at its best when it gives Ellis room to ham it up. And yet you can't sleep on Lauren German who I feel has crackling chemistry with Ellis. She grounds Ellis' more grandiose take. She's a striking presence and I simply love her character's back story - because only in L.A., right? But there's something about LAPD Detective Chloe Decker, gargantuan chip on her shoulder, pariah in her own department, that renders her immune to Lucifer's infernal brand of persuasion. And this intrigues him.

They could've gone in any number of ways regarding tone. I'm so glad they stayed away from what's morose and brooding and rolled with insouciant and irreverent. LUCIFER is TV-14 lecherous. It gleefully plays up its campiness. I love that Lucifer has no filter. He calls it like he sees it. He every time declares to the world that he's the Lord of Hell and immortal. It's just that no one believes him... at first. Much of the levity derives from his off-handed, often inappropriate observations.

It just has to make sure it doesn't drown in dense mythology building. Whenever the narrative ventures into such territory, whenever Lucifer is tormented with existential angst, the show perceptibly bogs down. And I'm sorry but whenever the wrathful angel Amenadiel (D. B. Woodside) graces the screen, I couldn't help but think, "Oh, hey, it's Principal Wood from BUFFY."

I wasn't sure at first what to make of LUCIFER. But, some minutes into the pilot, once Lucifer began detecting, I settled in for a fun ride. Its subject matter will inevitably draw in controversy and dissension. But Fox has hit on something here. It's a FUN show. It doesn't take itself seriously. I think it's got a good chance of sticking around. As long as it stays true to its premise: The Devil is a detective solving crimes.

Lastly, I badly need a copy of Hot Tub High School.


The 6th Day (+ BD Live) [Blu-ray]
The 6th Day (+ BD Live) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Arnold Schwarzenegger
Price: $12.33
29 used & new from $6.24

4.0 out of 5 stars "He smoked my stogie, too? That sonuvabitch!", February 6, 2016
Jean-Claude Van Damme (1991's Double Impact [Blu-ray]), Jackie Chan (1992's Twin Dragons), and Jet Li (2001's The One [Blu-ray]) all had a turn at playing twins or doppelgangers. So why not Arnold Schwarzenegger? The 6th Day, released in 2000, is set in the near future ("sooner than you think," cautions the title card at the start). It's a world populated by nacho-flavored bananas and artificial kid companions like Sim-Pal Cindy and you may access public services such as a virtual psychiatrist or a virtual defense attorney or even a virtual girlfriend. It's a world in which human cloning is possible but made illegal. A human clone is looked on as an abomination and calls for a 6th Day violation, and the repercussions are harsh, man. Still, there's man's insatiable thirst for knowledge or some form of manifest destiny or just plain hubris...

Today is pilot Adam Gibson's (Schwarzenegger) birthday, and, turns out, he's had better birthdays. In this age of swift technological advances, of DNA tampering and such, Adam is of the old school persuasion. He believes in nature's natural process. When his 8-year-old daughter's dog dies, he refuses to get a clone version of the pet, never mind his kid's devastation.

But, no, I wouldn't wish Adam's birthday on my worst enemy, unless he yearns to be illegally cloned and then get chased by assassins who it doesn't matter how many times you kill them - they keep coming back! Worse than that, Adam must go thru the torture of witnessing his doppelganger live his life and be with his family. And the final insult? "He smoked my stogie, too? That sonuvabitch!"

3.5 out of 5 stars for The 6th Day, meaning I liked it. But don't twist this. The 6th Day, while a watchable enough sci-fi thriller, doesn't achieve the lofty heights of Predator (Ultimate Hunter Edition) [Blu-ray] or Total Recall [Blu-ray] or the first two Terminator movies (The Terminator [Blu-ray], Terminator 2: Judgment Day [Blu-ray]). It's also not as much fun as the campy The Running Man [Blu-ray]. By 2000, the big Austrian's star was on the wane, thanks partly to missteps like Jingle All the Way, Batman & Robin, and End of Days. The 6th Day underperformed at a $15 million profit against an $82 million budget. So, yikes. Maybe it was too high concept or too existential. The plot plumbs the hot button topics of cloning: the ethics of it, the practicality of it. There are questions of identity that Arnie's character wrestles with. And the movie does go on a bit too long.

But if you've an appetite for grand corporate conspiracies or for Schwarzenegger's corny lines and blunt force heroics or even for plucky anti-cloning fundamentalists sticking it to the man, then this movie's got something for ya. Or maybe you're a Michael Rooker enthusiast. He's sinister and just a wee bent as the lead henchman. Robert Duvall and Michael Rappaport have key supporting parts, and we can make much of their colorful approach. Anyway, The 6th Day is underappreciated cinema that scans better thru the passage of time. So, yeah, come for the philosophical discussions. Stay for Arnie's man-on-the-run mission and the ultimate in ego stroking - two Schwarzeneggers standing face to face and trading quips.

Lastly, did I miss something? (SPOILER alert now):

So evil mogul Michael Drucker's (Tony Goldwyn, who's good here, by the way) long-standing contingency plan dicated that all the clones be imprinted with this or that terminal disease to make them easier to control. So why would the Adam Gibson clone's DNA have zero defects?


Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened
Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened
DVD

5.0 out of 5 stars slaying the Thanagarian snare beast, February 1, 2016
If I were to tell you that, once upon a time, there was a Superman movie directed by Tim Burton, written by Kevin Smith, and starring Nicolas Cage, would you be intrigued or amazed or scornful? No matter what, it would've been a trippy movie. Except the Warner Bros. suits, so fidgety they made coffee nervous, pulled the plug just as shooting was about to start. In today's climate of ubiquitous and intrusive social media, news of this wouldn't have been as hush hush or low key. At least, there's Jon Schnepp's colorful 2015 documentary to chronicle just what in heck happened.

It's obviously a passion project for Jon Schnepp. He's got street cred with me. I've seen him on YouTube often, whether on the old AMC Movie Talk or on the Collider channel where he hosts his own comic book-themed show titled Heroes. He's the most sweaty of sweaties, and he puts in work, does his due diligence with The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? It abounds with fascinating material. He gathers interviews with most of the key movers of Superman Lives, including Burton, Kevin Smith (who had first crack at the screenplay), and producer Jon Peters. Sucks that Cage refused to participate. Still, there are archival interviews of Cage and, more importantly, ample fly-on-the-wall footage of Cage during costume testings wherein he tries on the Superman outfit in its various incarnations and spitballs ideas with Burton.

Schnepp also scores with engrossing anecdotes and insights from others in the filmmaking crew (WB exec. Lorenzo di Bonaventura, costume designer Colleen Atwood, and involved comic book creators like Dan Jurgens, Grant Morrison, Kerry Gammill, and Jim Palmiotti). If concept art is your jam, that's here galore, including Tim Burton's sketches, stuff from the artist Brom, and a glimpse of an awesome model of Brainiac's skull.

For better or worse, the star of this documentary is dickish producer Jon Peters, him who started out as Barbra Streisand's hairdresser. If you'd ever wondered if producers in real life were like what the books and movies portray them to be - that is, super-sleazy - look no further than this documentary. Jon Peters should've been in Get Shorty, he's such a caricature. For Superman Lives' getting the axe, you could blame an assortment of fcukery, from a series of movies that were released around that period and tanked mightily (Batman and Robin, Steel, The Postman, to name a few) to an unsatisfactory script (despite three script writers having taken a crack at it) to Nic Cage as the Man of Steel to the WB suits just wigging out about Burton and his offbeat ways. But it's hard to not think that producer Jon Peters, with his ego and his smug and his choices, had a detrimental role in all this.

It's, uh, interesting the way Schnepp interweaves his interview with Peters with interviews with other parties, and how often those other parties would gainsay Peters' assertions or at least provide an alternative perspective. Peters is so seedy he makes my skin crawl, with his annoying hair and his boast that he'd been in 500 street fights. Kevin Smith recounts the three rules Peters gave him when he was starting to write the script: no flying, no Superman suit, and there must be a giant spider for Superman to battle. The only way Smith could justify the presence of a giant spider was to call it a "Thanagarian snare beast." There are other incidents that he brags about and that others mention, but maybe the most damning thing I can bring up is that when the third scriptwriter, Dan Gilroy, was in the midst of writing the scene of Superman's death, and Princess Di had just died and there were videos of her funeral, Peters instructed Gilroy to "Just copy what you see on TV and write it into the script." Peters justifies this with "I wanted the grandness of a world of weeping."

I'm not sure it was Peters who said this, but some idiot also wanted there to be ninjas for Superman to fight. That someone also wanted guards at Superman's Fortress of Solitude for Brainiac to fight. When explained the definition of "solitude," that someone then ordered there to be polar bears instead.

Superman Lives was a chaotic undertaking. And maybe the wonder of it is that it got so close to being made. Who knows what the finished product would've been like. We suspect it would've been a strange, strange movie. It could've been a masterpiece. It could've been a beautiful train wreck. I would've loved to have seen it for Burton's unique, deconstructionist take alone.

I put this out to the universe: For Jon Schnepp's next documentary, I wish for him to poke around and put to film what really went down behind the scenes of the making of Josh Trank's Fantastic Four. That would be sweet!


Time in Overdrive (The Cadillacs & Dinosaurs Saga, Vol. 3)
Time in Overdrive (The Cadillacs & Dinosaurs Saga, Vol. 3)
by Mark Schultz
Edition: Paperback
28 used & new from $3.85

5.0 out of 5 stars Can I get a "Qua hoon!"?, January 31, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Definitely count XENOZOIC TALES - more popularly known by its nickname of Cadillacs and Dinosaurs - as one of those unfinished comic books for which one yearns a definitive resolution. So, in that sense, gently place XENOZOIC TALES on that same much lamented pile which already includes THE ELEMENTALS, MAGE, NEXT MEN, JUSTICE MACHINE, a bunch of canceled titles from CrossGen, and does MARVELMAN even count? XENOZOIC TALES ran for 14 issues from 1987 and 1996, and that it lacks resolution is due more to writer/artist Mark Schultz's glacially slow work rate. I guess there's still hope that the man will someday pick up where he left off. This is still the best dinosaur-themed comic book I have ever read.

Not that the series ever dealt in specific details, but in the late 20th century, a series of geological catastrophes nearly destroyed the world. Countless species perished, and what's left of humanity resorted to holing up in underground shelters. Hundreds of years elapsed before man cautiously re-emerged, only to be confronted with a shockingly hostile post-apocalyptic environment, a strange ecological amalgam. Suddenly, long-extinct monsters once more inhabit the planet. Mammoths. Sabertooths. And dinosaurs. S#i+loads of rampaging dinosaurs. And there went man's standing as the preeminent creature on Earth. The very few survivors find themselves equipped with limited technology and confined to the ruins of ancient cities. And though he doesn't know it yet, man is no longer the sole intelligent life around.

XENOZOIC TALES focuses on the goings-on in the City in the Sea (which seems to be what's left of New York City). Jack "Cadillac" Tenrec and Hannah Dundee are the two primary protagonists and sometime rivals. Hannah Dundee is a scientist of sorts and an ambassador from the Wassoon territory come to visit the City in the Sea. Her scientific curiosity promptly clashes with Tenrec's fatalistic acceptance of the way things are. Tenrec is an all-around troubleshooter. He's also an Old Blood mechanic and his hobby is reconstructing vintage Cadillacs. But being an Old Blood also means that Tenrec is something of a shaman, someone who espouses the "machinatio vitae," a strict doctrine which outlines man's strict covenant with the earth. The suspicion is - because Mark Schultz never did really go into it - that man's excesses caused the great 20th century cataclysms. Of late, certain political parties in the City in the Sea are plotting to expand man's sphere of influence. This would break the covenant, would shatter man's brittle harmony with nature.

CADILLACS AND DINOSAURS Vol. 3: TIME IN OVERDRIVE reprints the black and white issues #9-12 of XENOZOIC TALES with an introduction by illustrator William Stout. In this collection, Tenrec, while out in the wilds, finds his equipment sabotaged and himself stranded, injured, and playing cat and mouse games with a sneaky broken-jawed allosaurus. Political power plays have a significant role, what with the Old Blood ways proving to be too restrictive to some. This results in the expulsion of our heroes and their desperate trek towards the Wassoon province, a place of questionable sanctuary for Tenrec and Dundee. Mark Schultz also writes side stories, drawn by Steve Stiles, which flesh out the main story arc. This set of side stories mostly chronicles the engineer Mustapha Cairo's attempts to foment a revolt and oust the new and increasingly rapacious governing order.

Mark Schultz is a master craftsman. He can narrate compellingly, and he can certainly do this with words but, even more tellingly, he can do this with imagery. When Schultz began this series he produced pretty and serviceable artwork. But his evolution as an artist from then to now is friggin' astounding. By the time these particular issues had rolled around, Schultz had evolved into a truly exceptional illustrator, and I marvel at his grasp of human and dinosaur anatomies, his lush composition and eye for details and the sheer organic dynamism he infused onto the pages. Not to dis backup artist Steve Stiles, but his stuff by comparison looks clumsy and stiff.

"Qua hoon" is a catch-all expression used by characters in the series, so I'll use it here as one of frustration. Qua hoon! So many questions left unanswered, the prevailing fear being that they perhaps won't ever get answered. What happens to Jack "Cadillac" Tenrec and Hannah Dundee? How goes the underground movement back in the City in the Sea? What about the telepathic Griths, the aliens who communicate with man thru the use of Scrabble tiles? When can I see more of Hermes the pet allosaurus? From '87 to '96 XENOZOIC TALES spanned 14 issues. It's 2016 now. Isn't Mark Schultz done with issue #15 yet?


Affliction Z: Patient Zero (Post Apocalyptic Zombie Thriller)
Affliction Z: Patient Zero (Post Apocalyptic Zombie Thriller)
Price: $0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars essentially a prequel - a good read but there are issues, January 31, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Had enough of them crossovers between the zombie apocalypse genre and the military thriller? No? Good. Try this one on for size. It's got its flaws - list coming in a mo - but it is mostly a ripper of a read. It's about an Air Force Pararescueman named Sean Ryder who is attached to SEAL Team 8. When Delta Force and 3rd Ranger Battalion, Bravo Company unexpectedly go dark in Southern Nigeria, Sean's unit is deployed on a supposedly routine rescue and recover op. In southern Nigeria, they descend to a sprawling underground bunker that turns out to be a hush-hush bio-weapon research facility. Now, I could rant on about the hubris of man, but if you're at all a veteran of zombie lit, we're already on the same page.

4 out of 5 stars for this one, maybe 3.5 stars. L. T. Ryan's Affliction Z: Patient Zero is a sweet short read, a novella, really, and a nerve-jangler. What stands out about it is how it right away unsettles you and spooks you. L.T. Ryan writes with convincing detail. He knows the military jargon and their techniques and tools of the trade. He's also adept at establishing mood and building tension. And he doesn't waste time getting to the guts of the story. The two lead characters, Sean and Turk, who heads up the SEALs, are given some color to their character, never mind that the rest of the soldiers are given the brush off when it comes to developing them.

While I appreciate that Sean and Turk - especially Sean - are written as flawed characters, there's a measure of frustration with the crap choices they make (oh, and a SPOILERS alert from now on):

- On the C-160 transport aircraft, when SEAL Team 8 had already parachuted down, Sean unprofessionally takes his sweet time joining his comrades because he just has to cite the Pararescueman motto and pull out a photo of his family to stare longingly at them.

- Upon reaching the ground, Sean meets up with his fellow Pararescueman, Jules, who is tweaking because he thinks "Something's out there" and suspects the SEALs of playing another prank on them. Okay, I have a problem with that. I don't believe for one sec that an elite team of operators like the SEALs would mess around while on a deadly serious covert mission. So, chalk that up as a bonehead move by the author.

- When Turk stumbles across the remnants of Delta, surrounded by zombies, they beg Turk to kill them. Really? These are exceptionally trained soldiers. You'd think they at least could've asked for grenades, something, so that they go out taking some of the zombies with them.

- But maybe the most dumb move is pulled by Sean, designated medic, as he coldly executes the one surviving doctor in the compound who probably knew how to manufacture the zombie cure. I realize you were stressed out and p!ssed off, Sean, but why take the chance of losing the cure? So idiotic.

Idiocy aside, it's a corker of a read. The story moves fast and there's this taut first person shooter vibe (like Resident Evil). I'll tell the world that L. T. Ryan writes some badass, creepy zombies. Some of these are undead suckers can leap or move with unnatural speed, and that makes for some effective jump scares. One even has a semblance of... no, that's probably spilling too much. The ending - or is it the coda - unfolds in surprising ways and perfectly sets up the sequel. I'm halfway thru that sequel right now, and I must say that I'm not enjoying Turk as much as I did in this first one. (It's mostly to do with his relationship with his psychopathic brother.)

The Affliction Z series so far:

- Affliction Z: Patient Zero (Book 1)
- Affliction Z: Abandoned Hope (Book 2)
- Affliction Z: Descended in Blood (Book 3)


The Danger by Dick Francis
The Danger by Dick Francis
11 used & new from $16.60

5.0 out of 5 stars how to foil a kidnapping virtuoso and gain his eternal enmity - and, also, horses!, January 31, 2016
I've all of Dick Francis' novels on shelf, and it says something about their quality that, of them all, only four still look shiny and new (SLAYRIDE, 10 LB. PENALTY, SECOND WIND, SHATTERED), what with the rest having been pulled down for a re-read many number of times. THE DANGER, for example, my copy of it looks mighty threadbare.

THE DANGER is a bit of a swerve, not only in that it starts in the middle of the action, but, also, in that, for once, Dick Francis' hero isn't your average bloke holding down a humdrum job. Instead, 30-year-old Andrew Douglas breathes intrigue and danger as his daily 9-to-5 grind. He's a safety consultant for a firm called Liberty Market Ltd. "Safety consultant" seems a tame sort of gig until you take a closer peek. Andrew advises people at risk how best not to be kidnapped. And when they get kidnapped anyway - because folks just don't listen - then Andrew helps to negotiate with the kidnappers to facilitate the recovery of the victim, and for the least possible cost. Andrew has been advisor-on-the-spot in fifteen kidnappings, invaluable experience that should serve him well when he matches wits against a malevolent mastermind what toils in the shadows.

The knock on this book is that it's perhaps too episodic, that it feels as if three separate adventures are packed into one as Andrew flits from Italy to England to Washington, DC, dispatched from there to there on three kidnappings. I don't see it that way as there are connective tissues that link them. For one thing, the abductions are linked in some fashion to the horseracing world and are all plotted by that same clever, cautious intelligence. For another, 23-year-old golden girl jockey, Alessia Cenci, kidnapped victim in Italy, is a recurring presence. It's mostly thru her that we sniff out some notion of the devastating impact kidnapping has on the victim and on the victim's family, during and after. I was fascinated with how Andrew always tried to negotiate for the lowest amount of ransom pay so as to not cripple the family coffers as that sometimes later leads to the family's harboring deep resentment towards the abductee.

As ever, part of the Francis allure is his side characters. This time out, all glory go to horse trainer Popsy with her brisk, bracing sensibility and to ex-S.A.S. operative Tony Vine who fancies sneaking about in the dark. I guess another knock is that we don't get too know the big villain too much. What we do learn is intriguing stuff, that he's careful and applies common sense and that his victims tend to like him. Wish we got to know him more.

In revisiting THE DANGER, which was published in 1983, I'm struck with how rapid advances in technology has drastically altered crime investigations, not only with the forensics stuff but, as pertains to this book, with how the absence of a cell phone hampers international communications between, say, Andrew and the policeman from Italy, restricting them to official landlines and the vagaries of time zone differences.

With THE DANGER, Francis delivered the goods once again. I found it a rattling good read. And, sure, Francis' favorite themes surface here. There were always be horses in a Francis book and the aforementioned interesting side characters. The hero is resilient and honorable and brims with British reserve and unexpected pluck. There's always a passage where he gets put thru the wringer. Francis established these civilized backdrops, was wont to paint good manners all around, so as to render his sprees of violence all the more jarring. And, somehow, there is some yuks because Francis invested his hero with a wry sense of humor even during the direst moments. It's telling that, in his acknowledgement at the start of the book, Francis has this to say: "No one who has helped me with the background of this book wants to be mentioned, but my thanks to them just the same." All these elements being part and parcel of a winning formula, I rate THE DANGER 4.5 out of 5 stars.


The Danger
The Danger
by Dick Francis
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
43 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars how to foil a kidnapping virtuoso and gain his eternal enmity - and, also, horses!, January 31, 2016
This review is from: The Danger (Mass Market Paperback)
I've all of D!ck Francis' novels on shelf, and it says something about their quality that, of them all, only four still look shiny and new (SLAYRIDE, 10 LB. PENALTY, SECOND WIND, SHATTERED), what with the rest having been pulled down for a re-read many number of times. THE DANGER, for example, my copy of it looks mighty threadbare.

THE DANGER is a bit of a swerve, not only in that it starts in the middle of the action, but, also, in that, for once, D!ck Francis' hero isn't your average bloke holding down a humdrum job. Instead, 30-year-old Andrew Douglas breathes intrigue and danger as his daily 9-to-5 grind. He's a safety consultant for a firm called Liberty Market Ltd. "Safety consultant" seems a tame sort of gig until you take a closer peek. Andrew advises people at risk how best not to be kidnapped. And when they get kidnapped anyway - because folks just don't listen - then Andrew helps to negotiate with the kidnappers to facilitate the recovery of the victim, and for the least possible cost. Andrew has been advisor-on-the-spot in fifteen kidnappings, invaluable experience that should serve him well when he matches wits against a malevolent mastermind what toils in the shadows.

The knock on this book is that it's perhaps too episodic, that it feels as if three separate adventures are packed into one as Andrew flits from Italy to England to Washington, DC, dispatched from there to there on three kidnappings. I don't see it that way as there are connective tissues that link them. For one thing, the abductions are linked in some fashion to the horseracing world and are all plotted by that same clever, cautious intelligence. For another, 23-year-old golden girl jockey, Alessia Cenci, once a kidnapped victim in Italy, is a recurring presence. It's mostly thru her that we sniff out some notion of the devastating impact kidnapping has on the victim and on the victim's family, during and after. I was fascinated with how Andrew always tried to negotiate for the lowest amount of ransom pay so as to not cripple the family coffers as that sometimes later leads to the family's harboring deep resentment towards the abductee.

As ever, part of the Francis allure is his side characters. This time out, all glory go to horse trainer Popsy with her brisk, bracing sensibility and to ex-S.A.S. operative Tony Vine who fancies sneaking about in the dark. I guess another knock is that we don't get too know the big villain too much. What we do learn is intriguing stuff, that he's careful and applies common sense and that his victims tend to like him. Wish we got to know him more.

In revisiting THE DANGER, which was published in 1983, I'm struck with how rapid advances in technology has drastically altered crime investigations, not only with the forensics stuff but, as pertains to this book, with how the absence of a cell phone hampers international communications between, say, Andrew and the policeman from Italy, restricting them to official landlines and the vagaries of time zone differences.

With THE DANGER, Francis delivered the goods once again. I found it a rattling good read. And, sure, Francis' favorite themes surface here. There were always be horses in a Francis book and the aforementioned interesting side characters. The hero is resilient and honorable and brims with British reserve and unexpected pluck. There's always a passage where he gets put thru the wringer. Francis established these civilized backdrops, was wont to paint good manners all around so as to render his sprees of violence all the more jarring. And, somehow, there are some yuks because Francis invested his hero with a wry sense of humor even during the direst moments. Finally, the research invested into the book is meticulous. It's telling that, in his acknowledgement at the start of the book, Francis has this to say: "No one who has helped me with the background of this book wants to be mentioned, but my thanks to them just the same." All these elements being part and parcel of a winning formula, I rate THE DANGER 4.5 out of 5 stars.


A New Day (StrikeForce Book 1)
A New Day (StrikeForce Book 1)
Price: $2.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "White trash, criminal, thief. Whatever. Not even gonna argue it. But I've never been worthless.", January 30, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
- Portia: "You're not a hero. You never wanted to be."
- Jolene: "I'm not. And I never will be. What kind of assho1e actually calls herself a hero?"

Saturday, today, is an awesome day. I just now got done reading Colleen Vanderlinden's A New Day and One More Day (StrikeForce Book 2), Books 1 and 2 of her StrikeForce series. Color me stoked, man, whenever I stumble across fantastic superhero prose. Vanderlinden's protagonist, Jolene Faraday, is seriously badass. Jolene is white trash. She's a career crook. I dare you to not root for her.

Somewhere in the armpit of Detroit, in her dump of a neighborhood, she's known as someone you can count on for help. So what if she lives in a trailer park with her mom? Jolene is a college student and a library assistant.

She's also an exceptional burglar, meticulous and super-careful, and the very same one over whom the thwarted authorities have time and again pulled their hair out trying to collar. Jolene's sort of made a laughingstock of the Detroit PD.

In Jolene Faraday's world there exist super-powered humans, engineered from lightning strikes generated by seismic storms known as Confluences. Ten years after the first one comes the next one, and it's this second Confluence that places an even bigger bullseye on Jolene's back. Suddenly, she's being targeted by Detroit's local superhero group, StrikeForce. And, so, to echo the book blurb, Jolene has a choice to make: fully commit to her life of crime... or become a hero.

Maybe what I like best about Jolene is her temperament. A life of being down-and-out and kicked to the curb has made her paranoid and independent and absolutely unwilling to take crap from anyone. Boy, she's tough. And despite her felonious habits and her uncommon moral compass, she does have a sliver, a shaving, of a good heart. I recommend these two books for this marvelous lead character and her rewarding story arc, and also for the author's immersive worldbuilding. True, the societal ramification stuff she touches on has been explored before - and brilliantly so - in books such as Marion G. Harmon's Wearing the Cape, Matthew Phillion's The Indestructibles, Trey Dowell's The Protectors, and Rob Rogers' Devil's Cape. But Vanderlinden executes so well and writes with such smooth flow that there's this impression of events unfolding organically.

So, yeah, add her superhero book (and its sequel) to the list. They're the bonafide stuff. Contents include: A heroine who is down-to-earth and seriously relatable, down to her moral quandaries; some heist stuff; some sick superhero action stuff; a superhero group that's less than advertised; misdirections; unexpected character arcs; a riff on Batman that swerves into something else; and how a Dolly Parton movie saves the day.

Other recommended superhero books (and series):

- Marion G. Harmon's Wearing the Cape
- Peter Clines' Ex-Heroes
- Jim Bernheimer's Confessions of a D-List Supervillain
- Matthew Phillion's The Indestructibles
- Mur Lafferty's Playing for Keeps
- P.S. Power's Proxy (The Infected Book 1)
- Trey Dowell's The Protectors: A Thriller
- R S J Gregory's Cosmic Girl: Rising Up
- Blake M. Petit's Other People's Heroes
- Kirby Moore's Starfall City
- C.J. Carella's Armageddon Girl (New Olympus Saga, Book 1)
- Rob Rogers' Devil's Cape
- Joshua Guess' Next (The Next Chronicle Book 1)
- Blake Northcott's Arena Mode
- Emmie Mears' The Masked Songbird (Shrike Book 1)
- Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible
- George R.R. Martin's classic Wild Card anthologies


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