Saturday, August 25, 2012

Book Review: The Third Gate by Lincoln Child

This book took me FOREVER to read. Mostly because I'm just so busy I hardly get time to sit and devour a book anymore. Also because it didn't suck me in like a good book should. I have long been a fan of Lincoln Child-- I own all of his and Douglas Preston's Pendergast books, and while I have not been impressed by their new joint venture, the Gideon books, I always give their books a chance.

You can read a full synopsis of the book elsewhere, I'll give you the short version. Jeremy Logan is a scholar of unusual phenomena, an empath, and a sophisticated "ghost hunter", who is recruited by the world's leading archeologist to accompany a team of people who are the best in their fields: an egyptologist, a doctor who runs a center for people who've had near death experiences (including his wife, who is along to see if she can communicate with any ancient egyptians) and various archeologists and technicians, etc.

The story unfolds with a very familiar pattern, similar to Jurassic Park and other books like it. I enjoy these kinds of stories, though, so I figured, even though it was familiar, I would keep going. People go into a situation thinking they've got everything figured out, thinking they are in control, and slowly, in this case mysteriously, bad things begin to happen. There's an ancient Egyptian curse, a mucky swamp in the middle of the Nile, far away from anyone, they're cut off from civilization and looking for a tomb miles below the surface of the swamp. Things go from mysterious to scary and adventure ensues.

I liked Logan's character, as well as the female Egyptologist. I liked the Egyptian stuff, hieroglyphs and tombs and curses, cool stuff. I liked the setting and that Child isn't afraid to go supernatural. It's a good read. It's pretty standard Lincoln Child stuff-- well-conceived characters, fascinating science, history and technology, tension and excitement. Will I buy it? No. Will I read it again? Not likely. But it was a decent one-time read.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Really Good Show You're Not Watching. Unless You Are.

"Justified" is an FX show based on a book called "Fire in the Hole" by Elmore Leonard. I have not read the book, though I would like to, as well as the others featuring the character of Raylan Givens.

The show is set in Kentucky, where Givens has been relocated after spending a few years in Florida. Givens is a Federal Deputy Marshal, who grew up in the coal-mining country of deepwoods Kentucky, in Harlan County, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Marshals' office where he is assigned, unearthing a series of Givens' complicated relationships, including his ex-wife, his ex-con father, his boss (played ingeniously by Nick Searcy-- who threatens to steal every scene he appears in) and the men and women he grew up with, who operate on various sides of the law.

In the TV show, Raylan is played by Timothy Olyphant, who succeeds at being tough, fearless, humorous, sexy and emotive all at once. Raylan is an extremely quick draw, faster with his gun than any of the baddies he ends up fighting, and the depth of the character's development is surprising.

The only thing I hate about this show (other than the fact that once begun, I have trouble not watching 4 or 5 episodes at a time) is the opening credit music, Gangstagrass' "Long Hard Times to Come", here: It's pretty awful, but I've come to love/hate it, because it indicates good TV viewing approaching...
I'm currently about halfway through the second season and this is one of those shows that just gets better and better. The evolution of Boyd Crowder's character has been outstanding. Expertly played by Emmy nominated Walton Goggins, he began as a baddie I loved to hate, but over time has become a character with such depth and unexpected developments, that I can't wait to see what he'll do next. And I find myself liking him in spite of his lawlessness.
"Justified" has a unique western-but-not feel to it. Set in the deep South, peppered with neo-nazis and moonshiners, it's definitely not set in the wild west. Raylan's cowboy hat and boots and action-packed, quick-draw shoot-outs, combined with that slow southern drawl is a captivating mix of flavors.

Oh, and lest you think "Justified" is exclusively filled with men, I should mention how incredible the women are. They really are. The whole cast is fantastic, very believable and the writing is clever, full of unexpected twists and the directing is tight. Oh, and it's been fun to watch "Lost"'s Jeremy Davies as Dickie Bennett. Brilliant bit of casting.

I hope Netflix picks up the show soon, because it really is great, and it's hard to find. Seasons 1 and 2 are out on DVD, and 3 will be soon, I'm sure. I assume Season 4 will begin soonish..

Sensitivity Warning: This show is quite violent; occasionally I end up cringing with my eyes and ears covered in anticipation of a violent act, like someone's hand being smashed with a hammer, but usually it's just gunplay or fist-fighting. Also, they are fond of the s-word and sometimes use religious swears. And there are random sexy scenes as well, though not too graphic. This show is definitely not for young people or children. Or uber-sensitive adults. :) Consider yourself informed.

UPDATE 9/3/12: We just finished Season 3, wherein the writers & director upped the ante on the sheer wickedness of the baddies and the gore, a bit. I hope Season 4 doesn't try to top Season 3 or I will have to stop watching. There was one character in Season 3 that was shockingly evil and it was not enjoyable to watch. Just sayin'. Although the climactic final episode was satisfying, it was unpleasant getting there.

UPDATE 3/25/15: The show is in its final season, and I stayed with it. With the exception of the nastiness of the bad guy in season 3, I have LOVED every bit of this show. I'll be sad when it ends!!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Bourne Blahgacy...

I probably got my hopes up too much going into "The Bourne Legacy" tonight.  I went in hoping for a movie matching the caliber of 2002's "The Bourne Identity", which is my favorite of the original films. I went in hoping that Jeremy Renner could carry off the action-hero physical-weapon-super-spy character that Matt Damon made so believable and sympathetic. I went in with high hopes that the new director, who did not direct any of the first three films, but was a writer on them, would resist the urge to use shaky-cam close-up shots. I was also hopeful that the story would be compelling, as Bourne's original story was. I was disappointed on all counts, except the camera work, which, while here and there it was shaky, it wasn't nearly as motion-sickness-inducing as the second and third Bourne films were.

The movie begins okay, with Renner surviving in a cold, northern wilderness. He's alone, being stalked by a pack of wolves, and his survival is mildly interesting. Meanwhile, we are shown scenes that make it quite clear that Jason Bourne's story timeline is sort of parallel to Renner's character, Aaron Cross' story. These scenes pepper the movie, which is kind of distracting from the Cross storyline, which begins mild and never really picks up steam.

The whole premise of the story (besides the government trying to kill him-- as required by a Bourne story, right?) is that Cross has run out of his meds, which keep his body and mind in super-human shape, whereas before he was inducted into the program, he was just a mediocre mind... nowhere near as intriguing as Bourne's story of not remembering the program, not remembering what he's done, or anything about himself, drawing us into the unraveling of the secrets of his government program and the lengths they are willing to go to cover it all up. Bourne's character is sympathetic, strong and believable. Cross is less sympathetic, less strong (not physically, but the way Renner delivers his dialogue isn't quite up to the standard set by Damon- maybe this is all in the writing) and a bit less believable.

There are rooftop chases reminiscent of Damon's turn, and a lengthy car-motorcycle chase, and the film ends somewhat abruptly, before Cross and Rachel Weisz's Dr Marta Shearing even begin to develop their relationship. Which would have made the movie better... she was quite good.

There were some good things, and Renner is decent-- he has a good physical presence and the fight scenes were okay, but I wanted more mystery, more cloak-and-dagger action, more near misses and I wanted to feel the sympathy for Cross that I felt for Bourne, but I just didn't.

By far the biggest problem with this movie is that the writers/director felt like audiences would need everything explained to us through conversations, instead of just showing us. Right from the beginning, when one character told another, "You're the director of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America!" I thought, "oh boy... here we go. If they had to have someone tell him that, they must think we're all idiots." Maybe this exposition was necessary, but I found it confusing and, frankly boring. The movie should have started with the scientist shooting things up (you'll know it when you see it). Unfortunately, the action in the movie begins rather late into it. I wanted less talking and more action!

Is it unfair to compare this movie to the original? Renner to Damon? Maybe. But reincarnating a franchise simply begs audiences to do that. Think Bond. Who doesn't compare James Bond actors and films? You can't help it... or Batman movies... or Spiderman.

I do like Jeremy Renner, and I look forward to seeing more of him. I just hope he is better used in the future. Oh and speaking of being underused,  Edward Norton in this movie? Wasted.  And he seemed to know it.

Almost redeeming factor: although there are some s-words, the movie is otherwise very clean. No sex, no nudity, and no f-bombs.

A weird thing-- IMDB says the movie is 135 minutes, but our show started at 4:00 (after 4:00, with trailers and ads) and we were out of the theater at 5:30. Explain that! I wonder if more of the film happens after the credits? Weird. Really weird. Especially since it ended oddly.

For a better review than mine, read this one.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Batman

My expectations for "The Dark Knight Rises" were somewhat shaky. After the dark, evil tones of "The Dark Knight", I was nervous to see this one, unsure what to expect, and a bit cautious in my anticipation. I knew there was a good chance this one would also be dark and evil, but I have faith in the very talented Christopher Nolan, and though I kept them in check, I did have hope that it would be a more... enjoyable ride than the second film, which was almost a painful experience-- effective, emotive, but agonizing.

"Batman Begins" is one of my most favorite movies, partly because I really appreciate Christian Bale, but also because it was a wonderful Batman movie. Gritty without being overly heavy, emotional without being melodramatic, and the origin story is authentic and heartfelt. Plus I like Christian Bale. A lot. Remember what I said about him at the Oscars this year? Impressed by his recovered classiness and professionalism? Yep. I'm a fan.

Besides the darkness of the second film, I also found myself increasingly irritated by Bale's affected, gravelly voice whenever Bruce put on the mask, and as I recall, I felt like he was in costume more than not, which is fine, but I like to see Christian Bale, and I felt like there was too much mask.

I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. I was thrilled that though it's dark and violent and has some decided brutality, there is a lot more light. Joseph Gordon Levitt as Blake is a bright, fresh face, a great actor in his own right, and Anne Hathaway is a refreshing as Catwoman- she's funny, sexy and butt-kicking-awesome without being campy or too absurd. And there is a lot more Bruce Wayne out of the mask than in the last film, so I was happy on that count, as well.

Bane provides a very frightening villain, though the dialogue was hard to understand-- maybe I rely on being able to see lips moving to be able to really "hear" what's being said, but his character was a great nemesis for Batman. 

There are a few surprises in the film that I won't give away, but the end was deeply satisfying and made it worth sticking with the franchise just for that. I loved this movie- it felt much more like "Batman Begins" than "Dark Knight", which was refreshing-- "Dark Knight" was completely right to set us up for this final film in the trilogy, though I would be fine only watching the first and third in the future... the second movie was very hard for me to watch.

I really wanted this blog entry to better thought out and executed, but I'm frightfully busy and feeling overwhelmed and I've had a broken-brain week, so this is all you get. Sorry it's not my best assessment of a movie. Short version: I liked it. Very much. Especially Christian Bale. Did I mention I kind of like him?