Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘One and a Half Stars’ Category

Alex Jacobs (Kyle Gallner) is a washed-out but brilliant cryptographer. When government agents recruit him with an offer he can’t refuse, he finds out that he is being drawn into a world he was not prepared for. His job is to decrypt a message encoded in an American satellite that has been in orbit for apparently a long time, and was definitely not launched by America.

It turns out that the message is from the future and contains a blueprint to build a machine.

Alien Code is a low-budget film with fairly bad acting, awkward special effects, and a very difficult plot to follow. It takes a lot of concentration, and after a while, I just found myself giving up and just enjoyed the ride.

If you want secret message conspiracies, bad men in black, caricatures of government agents, time travel, scientific brilliance stereotypes, it’s all in this movie.

After you’re done watching, you’ll forget about it all quickly.

Read Full Post »

Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) is a former Boston policeman with a dubious reputation who just got out of prison. He wants to get out of town and start a new life. But his friend Henry (Alan Arkin), who runs a gym and fighting school, talks him into coaching Hawk (Winston Duke), a young and huge black amateur, whom he has taken under his wings. Spenser, pretty much half of Hawk’s size, is able to teach him a thing or two.

When his former girlfriend Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger) get back into the picture, Henry sees trouble. And then two of Spenser’s former cop buddies end up killed, he decides he has to get to the bottom of what has happened. In vigilante style, with the help of his friends, he takes on the Boston police department and finds ever deeper layers of corruption.

Spenser Confidential is a simple who-dunnit movie, with a comedic twist, a good story, but overall not very inspiring. Mark Wahlberg is a good actor, and I have never seen a movie with Alan Arkin I didn’t like. He is such a convincing actor, and he always seems to get the dirty-old-grandpa roles that fit him so well.

I would not recommend you go to the movies and pay for this, but hey, it’s 2020, it’s on Netflix, and if you have nothing better to do at 11:00pm and want to get a couple of hours of entertainment – don’t let me stop you.

Read Full Post »

Seb is a regular dude who finds a new girlfriend. One day, without warning, he just disappears. Or at least that’s what it looks like for us in the normal world. From his point of view, he simply wakes up a year later, skipping forward in time. From his girlfriend’s point of view, he was gone, and then, without explanation a year later, he comes back. It takes several of these jumps before the two of them figure this out. How do you have a relationship with a man who is only “with you” one day every year?

This movie is surprisingly well done for such a weird central concept. It’s a movie looking for a reason to exist, but, hey, it came out in 2020, what do we expect?

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Usually I put a photograph here that represents the movie, and if I can’t find a good one, at least the movie poster is better than nothing. I could not find any images for Chronological Order. Rotten Tomatoes does not have it listed at all, and IMDb has a listing with a few details, the trailer, but no images at all. And there are no images to be found relating to this movie in a Google image search.

That all tells you something, I guess.

This 2010 movie is about a guy named Guy – how creative – (Brett Jacobsen) who lives somewhere in a beach town in Southern California. All the scenes looked eerily familiar. Somehow, we never find out exactly how and why he is rich. Rich enough to have nothing to do. He has a lawyer named Murray (Vic Stagliano) who is also his best, and apparently only friend. There is also a dad that is part of the picture. Guy does not seem brilliant enough to have made his own money and sold out, and he also didn’t inherit it from his father, because we find out that he supports his father. But be that as it may.

One day Guy walks along the ocean and a door (with hinges and a door knob) washes up on the beach in front of him. We see him take the door home. It’s not clear how he manages that, since his only means of transportation is a bicycle. He must have walked home with the door, but that leaves the question on how he then got the bicycle home. I guess he made two trips.  The movie is full of plot holes like this.

Don’t ask how, but he figures out that when he mounts the door and walks through it, he travels back in time. This enables him to stalk himself in the past and leave notes for himself, presumably to change his life.

This is a bad movie, with a seriously flawed plot, poor execution, pretty bad and stilted acting, unrealistic dialog, especially between Guy and his father, and not much of a story line to follow.

I would normally give it one star at best, but I boosted it by a half, because of three small reasons: (1) I did chuckle occasionally about the quirky scenes with the door, (2) it’s a time travel story and I have an affinity for those, and (3), I found the score (the music) actually quirky and a bit refreshing.

Now don’t all run to Amazon Prime to watch this masterpiece, unless, of course, you’re time travel buffs. Then you have to.

Read Full Post »

Nick is a young scientist who has always been obsessed with building a time machine. He was first in his class in high school, went on to study physics and lives in a modern house in the suburbs in Michigan. His focus is on his job, and he neglects his friends, and most importantly, Jess, his wife. She has stood with him and supported him through five years of courtship and another seven years of marriage, when by 2019, she has had enough. She leaves him, and the day she serves him with the divorce papers, she also brings a box of stuff that belongs to him.

Most notably, it contains a pocket watch she gave him on their 5th anniversary of their relationship, the day he had proposed to her. That’s the watch he’s holding up on the movie poster above. When she brings it back to him along with the divorce papers, he calls it “junk” since it hardly works, they get into an argument, and she smashes it with a hammer before she leaves the house .

That very night, federal agents from the Department of Energy bust into his house, act like they’re going to arrest him, and eventually make him an offer to buy his time machine. It’s not clear how they knew it was working, and it’s also not clear how Nick would be so obtuse about that fact with his wife, who has spent years of her life supporting him in this quest. Eventually, he leads the feds down into his basement. The lead agent is Dr. Kent, a physicist who, upon seeing the time machine, seems to immediately understand how it works, and within minutes Nick and Kent are on their way seven years into the past.

Through some amazing coincidence, they arrive in his basement seven years earlier just before his anniversary party, to which he has invited some of his friends and sister, without telling his wife, because he wants to mark the occasion by proposing marriage to her with his friends present. The arrival of the time travelers pops the breakers in his house in the basement, and Nick from seven years ago comes down to check on what’s going on. Nick meets Nick, and things get complicated fast after that.

Let me just say that the busted pocket watch serves a plot need, similar to how the watch in the classic time travel movie Somewhere in Time made us all marvel: where did the watch come from?

Making Time is a cute time travel movie, but the acting is sophomoric, the plot silly and oversimplified, and the entire story is therefore not credible. The federal agents are outright caricatures, the cast of friends somewhat confusing, and the two-scene structure of now and seven years ago is too obvious for a simple plot skeleton without enough meat on the bones. And the depiction of the time machine is comical and ridiculous.

As I said: Cute. But if you’re a time travel story buff like I, you gotta watch it.

 

Read Full Post »

Mankind’s first mission to the stars has arrived at its destination. The trip took 10 years and due to the relativistic speed, dozens of years have gone by on Earth when Captain Jack Harrison and his small crew arrive.

They quickly find out that they are not the first intelligent beings that inhabited the new star system. There is evidence of systematic destruction and extermination.

In their quest to figure out what happened, they quickly become stranded and cut off from their ship. The science mission to explore a new star system quickly turns into a battle for sheer survival against impossible odds.

Prelude to Extinction is actually a good story with a lot of potential, sprinkled with unexpected twists, some of them aided by cosmological concepts like time dilation and distortion. It’s a somewhat hard science fiction story that quickly jumps over the science.

For instance, all the aliens use engines that can accelerate to practically the speed of light in minutes without the crews feeling any acceleration by doing some “alien tech” stuff without any regard to where the energy is going to come from, and how the ships will be protected at these speeds in the relatively crowded spaces of stars systems. I know it’s fiction, but the mixture of hard science fiction in the near future,  sprinkled with impossible technology of aliens millions of years ahead of us, just didn’t work very well for me. I also had trouble understanding that aliens so advanced seem to have nothing better to do than to try to exterminate any other species they come across, which is central to the plot.

But the worst of it is that the crew, the “best and brightest Earth has to offer” consistently act like boy scouts on a field trip at best. The captain constantly has trouble asserting his authority, and his crew of scientists keep making incredible blunders that just make no sense. By making all the human actors in the story morons, whose stupid actions eventually drive the plot along, the entire novel loses its sense of reality.

Prelude to Extinction is obviously a setup for a sequel. But the author really should hire an editor to fix the dozens, perhaps hundreds of typos and grammatical errors in this book, before writing another one.

I am passing on the next ones.

Read Full Post »

Five former Special Forces soldiers (Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal), stuck in their humdrum lives get together one last time to rob the cash a drug kingpin in South America. After careful planning and reconnaissance, they go in for the heist and come out with much more money than they even planned.

Money, even in hundred dollar bills, has weight. If you have watched Better Call Saul lately, you will know that seven million dollars fill up two large duffel bags. Now imagine 200 million dollars. You need a freight helicopter to fly that out of the jungle. And that’s exactly what they use. The problem is, a jalopy helicopter in the South American jungle can’t be overweight to cross the Andes with passes over 11,000 feet to get to the coast of Peru. That’s when things start going wrong.

The story starts out like Ocean’s Eleven, where Ocean rounds up his buddies, one by one, for the big heist. It’s the same here, and a good part of the movie is spent introducing the characters in their mundane lives while the leader is convincing them to join the heist.

Overall, while the action kept me on the edge of my seat, it’s really an unrealistic movie with a lot of plot holes that kept distracting me.

Spoiler Alert

Just listing one: When the helicopter crashes in a jungle village, they have this huge pile of cash in bags that they need to carry over the mountains. They procure some mules to pack it out. But the journey is treacherous and nearly impossible. Why would they do that? They could simply hide the money in the mountain wilderness, take a single backpack full of cash, hike out without a load, and then return with a proper helicopter for the loot. That does not seem to occur to any of them.

In the last scene, one member of the team hands another a slip of paper, which sets the movie up for a sequel.

I also don’t understand why the movie is titled “Triple Frontier.” The title makes no sense to me, and I’ll likely have forgotten it in a few days.

Read Full Post »

It’s been almost 40 years since John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) had someone draw “first blood” on him when we has a young Green Beret who had come back from Vietnam, lost and abused. Here is my review of First Blood

Now an old man, Rambo lives on a dude ranch in Southern Arizona where he trains horses and raises the teenage daughter of a friend who calls him uncle. She was abandoned by her abusive father when she was young and lost her mother to cancer. When she finds out that her father lives in Mexico, she wants to visit him and get to know him. Against Rambo’s best advice, she slips away and finds her father. He cruelly rejects her, and in her grief, while barhopping in town, gets kidnapped by human traffickers.

Rambo is left with no choice but come and find her. What ensues is a one-man-war against an entire Mexican band of organized crime. While Rambo does not actually kill anyone in First Blood, he does not hold back in the subsequent movies, and Last Blood is full of gory detail, from decapitations to impaling, shooting, burning, and disemboweling. Revenge sees no limits in Last Blood. The demons that haunted the young Green Beret forty years ago are still torturing the old man.

I am sure they always will.

 

Read Full Post »

A week ago, when browsing Netflix, we ended up watching Angel has Fallen, a 2019 film starring Morgan Freeman as the President of the United States and Gerard Butler, the hero, as Secret Service Agent Banning, who protects the president against all odds. At the time we didn’t realize that Angel has Fallen is the third of a trilogy starring Agent Banning. My review of Angel has Fallen is here.

Olympus has Fallen came out in 2013. The White House, under president Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), is taken over by ruthless Korean terrorists in a surprise attack from the air, on land and from inside. The president, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the joint chiefs all end up as hostages in a bunker under the White House. Former Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is the hero who enters the White House, and in the style of Die Hard, takes out one of the terrorists at a time. There is more at stake than just the lives of the president and his government, as the terrorists threaten to set off a nuclear holocaust in the United States. But in true superhero style, reminiscent of the Rambo or Die Hard movies, Agent Banning saves the day.

The Secret Service code for the White House is apparently “Olympus,” hence the title of the movie. It’s a constant barrage of military style shooting, helicopters and jet planes crashing, bad-ass terrorists killing hostages on TV and the good guys getting mowed down constantly. It does keep you on the edge of the sofa, through, and you can’t help but root for the hero.

Between Olympus has Fallen and Angel has Fallen, there was also a movie titled London has Fallen in 2016, which had worse ratings than the other two. I think I’ll skip “London.”

Read Full Post »

Craig Pelling is a 46-year-old man in England in 2016. He lives in alcohol-soft middle-age, to use a Pink Floyd phrase. He is pudgy, balding, out of shape, lazy and overall a fairly unlikable character. He has lived for more than 20 years in a love-less marriage, and his career, by his own standards, has been lackluster. When an old high school classmate and bully of his becomes his new boss, his whole world comes crashing down.

His parents are moving out of their house into a retirement home and ask him to come home and clean out his childhood room. When he turns on the computer, something surreal happens and he is transported back into this 16-year-old body. He gets to spend a weekend as his teenage self, with his middle-aged man’s experiences and knowledge of his future. He is determined to set some things right. Can he fix his life, and the lives of those around him? He definitely tries.

The first half of the book is describing Craig’s failures and current situation in 2016. It’s kind of slow and boring, being the fairly unlikeable character that he is. At about the mid-point he performs the time travel, and things get much more interesting. The pace picks up.

But the ending is terrible. Readers want to see the hero win, they want an upbeat story. The ending is deflating and depressing, and it becomes obvious that the writer simply set us up to read the sequel.

In addition to lack of editing regarding the plot, and the marketing of the book, it also has a good number of grammatical errors that somewhat distracted me. I was going rate this book two out of four stars, but the horrible ending just depressed me and I am downgrading it to 1.5 stars.

But that’s apparently not going to stop me from buying Beyond Broadhall, the sequel. I want to know what happens to Craig next.

Read Full Post »

After reading A Ripple in Time, I wrote this review but I didn’t think I would read another Zugg book. Then one of my readers commented under that review, challenged me by pointing out a grammatical error in my blog entry while I criticized Zugg for his, and told me there was a sequel. Well, I couldn’t leave a time travel book unread.

But, unfortunately, it’s not a time travel book.

Mason, the protagonist, makes it back to 1720 at the end of A Ripple in Time. In The Planters, he comes out on the other side and the story tells how he finds his way back to the plantation, reunites with Karen, Jeremy and Lisa, and how they make a living running a plantation in 1720.

The twist is Nathan, one of the antagonists in A Ripple in Time, who unexpectedly survived the pirate raid and comes back to the plantation. While the story illustrates life in 1720 in South Carolina, and while the four survivors are occasionally drawing on their knowledge of history to drive their actions, and while Mason uses his Glock automatic pistol once to save their lives against pirates, there is absolutely no time travel in this book. Therefore, it would have been more effective to just call it a historical novel, but as such, it would not have lived up to those of the greats like Bernard Cornwell, for instance.

There were no significant grammar error in The Planters, unlike there were in A Ripple in Time, or at least I didn’t notice them. Perhaps the author had more proofreading done. I applaud that.

The way the story ended left it open to another sequel, which I definitely will not take the time to read.

Read Full Post »

Trappist-1 is a star system about 39.5 light years away. The star is an ultra-cool red dwarf star in the constellation Aquarius, and it is found to have several earth-like planets with the potential to support life. Humanity sends a starship to explore the system.

The Forerunner One, a starship capable of traveling at half the speed of light, is outfitted with a crew that spends the 78-year journey mostly in cryogenic sleep. At half lightspeed, time on the ship moves 15% slower than it does back on Earth, due to relativistic time dilation.

But while all this is good stuff for a solid science fiction story, it’s not really relevant. As it turns out, the crew arrives at their destination, and without much thought or preparation (would you think?) they land on one of the planets, only to be attacked by the local fauna within a few hours of landing.

The local intelligent species is aviary. They are smaller than humans, about 4 feet tall, skinny, birdlike, and they can fly. The humans call them Avari. They have far superior technology compared to the humans, and within a day of arriving, having traveled most of a century, the humans are driven back to their ship and forced to flee – you get it – back to Earth.

Spoiler Alert:

It turns out that the Avari have technology to cloak themselves and even their ships. So they can be invisible. Two of them sneak on board of the human ship undetected and start wreaking havoc on the way home. Not only that, they breed a hybrid avari-human fetus in one of the females on board. Obviously, this sets things up for a lot of surprises on the trip home.

There is a twist at the end, which makes it clear that the entire book First Encounter is just there to be a setup for a series of books called The Ascension Wars, and this is Book 1.

I didn’t care too much about the writing style, the loose and unrealistic plot, and the shallow character development overall. First Encounter seems a little bit like pulp fiction, or worse, action hero comic book material. If you like light science fiction, this might be reasonable entertainment. But for me, I am done reading this series.

 

Read Full Post »

Here is a generation ship story that could have been something, but unfortunately, it was not much of anything.

First, look at the cover above! It has nothing to do with the story, nothing at all. Of course, you don’t know that when you first pick up a book. As the trite saying goes, “thou shalt not judge a book by its cover.” Covers don’t matter much anymore in the age of digital delivery, when you don’t see the book laying around or on the shelf anymore. So why do covers still matter to me? I subscribe to the opposite: “Thou art entitled to judge a cover by its book!”

Call me old-fashioned, but I want my book covers to relate to the story – somehow. And this does not.

“The Ship” in this story is a giant egg-shaped vessel that spins on its center axis. Inside the decks are arranged in concentric circles, the outermost decks being the “lowest” ones with an artificial gravity due to the centrifugal force of about 2g. In the center, around the axis, is No-Weight, since there is no spin at all. The decks between No-Weight and the lowest decks are under progressively stronger g-forces. Look at the cover above and now tell me how this spaceship might resemble the actual ship in the story.

The ship left Earth about 300 years ago with 5,000 souls on board. It is on a journey to the star system of Pollux, which is one of the main stars in the constellation of Gemini, where earthbound research has found that there is a high likelihood of several habitable planets. Pollux is about 33 light-years away. At a speed of about 1/10th of the speed of light, the journey should take about 300 years.

The inhabitants of the ship are born, grow up, choose careers that are needed to maintain the ship and its small society, and once they reach a certain age around 40, they are old enough that they need to make room for the next generation. In a society that is stagnant and cannot grow in size for 300 years, where resources are absolutely limited and where there is no room for error and no possibility of replenishment,  it’s clear that absolute discipline is necessary to maintain a stable society and a healthy population.

The problem is: a computer decides who has to die when, and the “psych police” then executes the candidates, basically by murdering them, and making it look like they died by accidents. And here lies my problem with this story.

As I said above, the ship left Earth about 300 years ago. That would be like us living in an enclosed environment where 14 generations before us lived and died, since about the year 1720. That puts things into perspective. Would you not think that in 300 years they would have devised a method of maintaining a stable society that includes some form of natural death and does not rely on systematic and institutionalized murder? And would you not think that the population might have figured out what’s going on and worked on a better solution?

Be that as it may, this is the central conflict of the book, and a twist at the end makes the whole thing a bit more palatable than it was for me through 90% of the book. So it went from half a star to one-and-a-half stars in my rating.

It is, after all, a generation ship story, and I have a search category for this in my blog, and I always read them when I come across them.

Read Full Post »

Genesis is the first book of the author’s First Colony series. The story starts about the year 2200 on earth when humanity decides that it needs to send its first colony to the stars. Mankind pools its resources, builds a massive starship the call the ark, and recruits about 300,000 of its best and brightest for the one-way journey of 80 years. The travelers sleep in stasis, which means they are not conscious during the journey.

The protagonist is Conner Gates, a colonel in the special forces, who leads his squad on some of the most dangerous missions in the solar system. Through a series of unexpected events, he ends up as an unwitting stowaway on the ark. He is portrayed as a know-it-all expert of all trades and therefore wholly unrealistic and cartoon-like. Conner is just not acting like a real person would.

The story plays entirely on an alien planet hundreds of years in the future, but what is actually going on is pretty much military training nonsense that could be happening anywhere on earth.

The book is crafted in a way that the author is building a world for a series of books that can have stories take place in that world. He spends a lot of time on the minutiae of military training of special forces recruits, which fits the plot, but is overdone considering the larger epic he is trying to create. The last 10 percent of the book is very different from the main work and is presumably only there to set the stage for the next book in the series.

I don’t know why the book is called Genesis, and I can’t find anything on the cover that actually relates to the story.

In the end, while it was an interesting read, it wasn’t interesting enough for me to spend the time to read the next book in the series. There are eight, by the way. I am stopping at one.

Read Full Post »

Evelyn Slater is a young British astronaut on the International Space Station in the near future in 2036. She is a mission specialist with a psychology degree who is assigned to command the first spacecraft specifically designed to capture and destroy low earth orbit debris. During the first mission out with her Russian pilot Yuri, they encounter an artifact they immediately recognize as alien. When she eventually returns to earth, Evelyn leads a team of scientists who study the alien device.

The Visitor is a first contact science fiction story that plays largely in today’s world. It speculates about the response of our international community when it discovers that there truly are aliens. Xenophobia, religious hate and bigotry get the masses riled up.

The author writes in a stilted style. He does not show the story, he tells the story. It’s not clear why he picked a woman as the protagonist. It would have worked just as well with a man, and he would likely have been able to portray the male thinking a little bit better. The Visitor is described as a “hard science fiction” story, but it did not strike me as very hard. I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of life on the space station. He must have had access to first hand information. Otherwise, the story is weak and, frankly, not very interesting. All the characters are flat and colorless. Nothing seems real or realistic. Reading The Visitor, I was constantly aware of the fact that it was just the author’s way to communicate his political and philosophical views, thinly wrapped into a shallow plot.

At the end, he sets it up for a sequel, and I don’t think I am interested enough to read it.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: