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Archive for the ‘One Star’ Category

Portal to the Forgotten: A time travel story

Tyler and Grace, a young couple in rural Arkansas, are out for a walk in the Ozarks, when Grace suddenly disappears into thin air on the trail right in front of Tyler. When Tyler tries to explain this to the authorities later he is arrested for suspected murder of his girlfriend.

Luke is Tyler’s cousin. His hobby is building primitive weapons, hunting with primitive weapons and tools, and playing survivalist in the woods of Arkansas. When he hears about Grace’s disappearance, the believes Tyler, and he goes on a quest to figure out what happened. On this way, a mystery woman who claims to be a writer, befriends him and they retrace the steps of Tyler and Grace.

Sure enough, there seems to be a “portal” in the woods. They traverse the portal and end up in “another dimension.” But they don’t have much time to reflect. Luke finds himself in a net, trapped like game in the woods by tribal savages.

Portal to the Forgotten is sold as a time travel story, and that’s how I stumbled upon it. But it really has little to do with time travel. The protagonists are simply tossed into a world that is completely different from their own, with seemingly no way back.

The author romanticizes his characters. Luke, for instance, happens to be a primitive hunter. He drives his pickup truck into the wilderness, parks the truck, walks away, sort of like they do in Naked and Afraid, and builds tools, hunts animals, and lives off the land. That’s his hobby. Supposedly he is REALLY good at that. Now what are the odds of such a person ending up jumping through a portal into a primitive prehistoric world, without any weapons or tools? Yes, the plot in this story is too contrived.

Luke is the perfect primitive hunter, better than any of the tribal adversaries. Moon turns out to be a one-man army – think of Rambo. Grace, a martial artist, is also a fighter in her own right. So the people stumbling into the “other dimension” are all super heroes with super hero skills.

The land where they end up is not quite the past, or perhaps the deep past, but a prehistoric world full of different tribes, some more advanced than others, but who all are killing each other. The world is so savage, that every time two human males of different tribes cross paths, one of them dies. Of course, our super hero crew always wins, and the savages fall like leaves. Still, a society where human males always kill each other on contact would not survive very long, but that seems to be the world they are thrown into. And let’s not forget, there is the obligatory Nazi named Karl who time traveled to the same world in an effort to steal ancient technology, kind of like in Indiana Jones. True to expectation, it’s the Nazi and his mission who makes everyone’s lives complicated.

Portal to the Forgotten is a somewhat clumsy story with an unlikely plot. It starts out interesting, but as it evolves, it gets boring. There is a lot of editing needed. Sometimes the author uses wrong words or poor grammar. The book could use some professional editing. There is a lot of exposition, where the author tells us what the protagonists are thinking. So we are constantly in the heads of the protagonists, and their thoughts are often just puerile.

For instance, at one point in the story, still back in the Ozarks, Moon had passed out drunk and naked and Luke had brought her into the cabin and put her into bed. So it’s established that Luke had seen Moon naked before.

But later, in savage land, there is the following passage:

“While you are whittling on that, I’m going to bathe.” She stood. “I trust you won’t look.” Luke immediately turned red. He hated himself for it. “That is so cute.” He turned redder and scraped harder and faster, wished she would just go bathe. He heard her behind him taking her clothes off. He was tempted to look, but he was too embarrassed to say anything, much less turn around.

Gschwend, John. Portal to the Forgotten: A time travel story (p. 55). UNKNOWN. Kindle Edition.

The passage continues for a while where Moon is all prissy about standing in front of the fire to dry off and making Luke close his eyes. So these two adult super heroes are stranded in a wild country and they are worried about seeing each other naked? The book is full of descriptions of such unlikely and inconsistent behavior, it makes the characters unreal and incongruent.

Portal to the Forgotten has too much crammed into the story that does not belong there or add to the plot. The science is babble-science. I like my science fiction to the SCIENCE fiction. The plot is contrived and the characters are just not very interesting.

There is a sequel, but I won’t read it.


 

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Two brothers live together in their boring, unsatisfying lives. One day a package arrives in the mail which contains a video message that eventually inspires them to go back to a cult where they were born and raised many years ago. They drive down to San Diego – I can tell because they pass the San Onofre nuclear power plant in our neighborhood – and then up into the hills in the Julian area. The entire movie plays in a camp in the highlands in eastern San Diego County – an area that I call home and where I have spent much time hiking. There are also a few scenes that were shot in the Borrego Springs area.

In the camp there are a couple of dozen goofy characters living odd lives. Strange things happen. Slowly, ever so subtly, the brothers are pulled back into the community. They stay an extra day, then another one, and soon it becomes clear they might not leave at all.

The Endless is an impossibly boring movie with no plot whatsoever, that goes on – well – endlessly. It’s also a very low-budget movie. They needed one car, access to a mountain camp, some twenty actors, most of them without any speaking roles, and very few props or costumes of any type. Even the special effects are cheesy and cheap. The story makes no sense. There really isn’t an end, and the moral is supposed to be that we’re all trapped in our lives, in endless loops, longer or shorter, repeating day after day, or week after week, or minute after minute.

Good grief! How this got 96% on the Tomatometer is beyond me!

Save yourself the endless, pointless, listless agony and don’t bother with this movie.

Half a star for the movie, and another half a one for the soundtrack – typical horror-suspense but at least somewhat enjoyable.


 

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As I have done for pretty much all my life, when a new Star Wars movie comes out, I go see it within the first few days. It is a ritual, a rite, something I do, and I know it’s the same for many of my contemporaries.

As usual with Star Wars, I can’t really follow the plot. There are always people who are on far-away planets who are needed for help with some impossible task and emissaries go to find those people. Then there are the mysterious telepathic connections between the Jedi and his disciples, which transcend time and space. Luke, who is the protagonist of this movie, is not very satisfying as a character. He is the last Jedi, but a burned-out one, a reluctant one, and a lot of the movie’s energy is spent on making Luke just do the right thing. To me, that is not much of a plot.

My favorite and repeated complaint with Star Wars is about its disregard for physics. Spaceships don’t fly, they just wink in and out of ordinary space when they go into lightspeed seemingly without acceleration. Except when it’s the old Millennium Falcon, which seems to have superpowers and always flies like a fighter plane in the atmosphere, pulling tight curves, whether it’s in space or not. Fighters continue to fly like there is air, and orbital dynamics is completely ignored.

My most enjoyable experience with Star Wars is usually its depiction of aliens in ordinary settings. I can think of the classic bar scenes that seem to be customary in all episodes. This time, there is only a short sequence in a casino, where there are a few aliens, but they are all humanoids. It seems the entire Star Wars galaxy has devolved into humans with head masks. I am sure that’s to make production cheap, but it’s trite and uninspiring to me. Why isn’t there ever a real alien that is part of the mainline plot? No, I don’t mean another Jar Jar Binks, who himself was nothing but a human in an amphibious suit.

This episode does not tell much of a story and seems to exist only to set the stage for the sunsetting of the two characters most intimately associated with Star Wars: Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill, of course) and Princess Lea (played for the last time by the late Carrie Fisher). We say our good byes to both of them, amid a story of fireballs of exploding ships, spaceships racing in tight spaces, comical droids, rubber-mask aliens, desert rust-bucket floater-ship races and a Wookie.

There is nothing new in this episode. The franchise has run out of original ideas and every movie is just a collection of old concepts and special effects, rendered on a new stage, in a slightly different story between good and evil.

True to Star Wars legacy, every conflict in the galaxy is eventually resolved by a swordfight between two humans. All the action stops, high-tech weaponry goes silent, armies of star troopers vanish, spaceships float inactively, the crescendo of the music rises, and the light sabers zap out of their handles. Plot resolved. Deus ex machina.

Will I go see the next episode in a year or so?

Probably.

 

 

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Movie Review: Kingsman

Kingsman

Watching Kingsman was like watching a cartoon. And, I guess, it’s not surprising. The story is based on a comic book.

Kingsman: The Secret Service tells the story of a super-secret spy organization that recruits a street kid (Taron Egerton) through one of its agents (Colin Firth).

A tech tycoon (Samuel L. Jackson) creates a global threat, and the street kid, with his innocence and gusto, saves the world.

The movie got a surprising 75% rating on the Tomatometer. That just goes to show you that movies are now made for slapstick humor, lots of bang-bang-bang and you don’t really need to think.

It’s only been a few days since I watched Kingsman, and I have basically forgotten about it already.

Please don’t bother going.

Rating - One Star

 

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John Wick

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is an ex-hitman who lives a quiet life in New York City. He mourns the recent death of his wife. He gets hassled at a gas station by a young punk in a hoodie who acts like he wants to buy his car, but he gets away. But the punk persists and somehow figures out where John Wick lives and shows up at night in the house with a few other thugs, beating him, killing his dog and stealing his car.

It turns out the punk is the hapless son of a Russian mafia boss (what is it with me and Russian mafia movies these days – see here for The Equalizer, which tells a somewhat similar story). To make things worse, Daddy knows who John Wick is. He is visibly afraid of him and wants to work it out. But John doesn’t buy it. If you kill John Wick’s dog, a present from the beloved late wife, there will be no mercy.

John Wick starts a one-man war against the entire Russian mafia in New York City. This is reminiscent of McCall in The Equalizer or Rambo in First Blood.

The movie is one hour and 36 minutes long, but seems much longer. With minor interludes, it consists of John shooting Russians by the dozens, by the hundreds. At the beginning of the movie, hoodie overpowers and beats John in his house. But then John gets mad and overcomes 10 killers all at once in the same room, all movie long.

I don’t understand how this got 83% on the Tomatometer.

The movie seems like a video game where the main character just wanders around the city in all sorts of different locales and keeps shooting people in the head. Nobody seems to ever hit him. It goes on and on.

And on.

And on.

There is nothing else.

Rating - One Star

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From_Time_to_Time

It was late in the evening on a weekend. I was up alone. My mind was fried. I had no initiative for creative work of any kind.

I flipped through the Netflix pages and found From Time to Time, where the description talked about time travel.

Time Travel! I am always ready for a good time travel story. So I watched it.

Tolly, a British teenager returns to his ancestral home for a long vacation in 1944, towards the end of World War II. His grandmother thinks that his father had died in the war, but the boy does not believe it. He senses his father is still alive.

As he explores the old house, he finds that he can mysteriously travel between the present and the 1700s, or the people that lived in the house in the 1700s overlap the present like ghosts that only Tolly can see. He communicates with the ghosts and actually interacts with them. This helps him unlock family secrets that have been sleeping for centuries.

From Time to Time is a dry and slow ghost story, just interesting enough that I kept watching, but not good enough that it mattered that I didn’t quite follow the full plot. When it was done I realized that I’d hang on to the memories just long enough to write this review.

And that would be that.

Rating - One Star

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Like our first kiss and the birth of our children, we remember forever the first book we read in a new language.

My first German book was Die Smaragdenstadt, a story about a group of children traveling to an Emerald City. It was the first “chapter book” I read when I was probably seven years old. I remember how proud I was when I had finished it.

My first English book was Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. I was a foreign exchange student in an American high school, and I don’t know why I picked that book of all books to be my first. It kept me reading, I kept turning the pages, and I looked up words incessantly in my German-English dictionary. I learned.

My first Spanish book was Once Minutos by Paulo Coelho. It’s a paperback of 242 pages. I bought it in the beginning of December 2009 on a trip to Oakland, and it’s taken me until now to finish it, much longer than I thought it would.

Why did I pick Once Minutos?

The author, Paulo Cuelho is also the author the the bestseller El Alquimista (the Alchemist), which I had just read about a year before. The Alchemist is a fable-like story of a shepard getting life lessons during an impossible journey. The language was simple, the story more like a children’s book. So I thought this would work well for my entrance into original Spanish literature.

In hindsight, the choice was not such a good one. First, Coelho is not Spanish, he’s Brazilian, so I he writes in Portuguese. The Alchemist actually has the Guinness World Record for the most translated book of all time (67 languages). So much for my choice of an original Spanish writer.

Once Minutos (Eleven Minutes) is the story of Maria, a girl born in Brazil.

Érase una vez una prostituta llamada Maria.

There once was a prostitute named Maria, the book starts. We follow Maria through her early childhood in a backwater town in Brazil, her first unreciprocated love for a boy in elementary school, her growing up. Eventually she wants to see the wide world. She is swept up by a Swiss disco owner who is exporting exotic Brazilian girls to his Geneva clubs for Samba dance troupes. Maria becomes lonely and disillusioned and figures out quickly that she is an indentured servant with no way out of her situation. It does not take long before she becomes a prostitute. Her goal, however, remains to make enough money to buy a hazienda for her and her parents in the country in Brazil, find a husband, have children, and live happily ever after.

The “Eleven Minutes” is about the time it takes for the average couple for a love-making session. That’s all. Everything leading up to it, and down from it, is not relevant. The whole world revolves around the Eleven Minutes.

Eleven Minutes is by all means a sexually explicit novel.

Aquello era el dolor y el placer, el mango del látigo presionando el clítoris cada vez más fuerte, y el orgasmo saliendo por la boca, por el sexo, por los poros, por los ojos, por toda su piel. (pg 166)

You don’t need to know Spanish and I don’t need  to translate for you to get the gist of what this is about.

Maria discovers her sexuality, not through her job as a prostitute, but rather through a few men that teach her, through trantric teachings, through sadism and other exotic techniques.

You’d think that this would  be an interesting  read for me as my first Spanish book. If I were 15 years old, the age I was when I secretly bought Fanny Hill, as all my friends did, and read it hidden from parents, siblings and friends, I would enjoy Once Minutos. It’s written for young people that want to read about sexual coming of age. But for me, call me jaded, call me grown up, place me past my sexual prime, it was flat-out boring. I was not interested in reading about a girl and her clitoris. I chucked about sentimental musings about making love and the merging of not just two souls, but the completion of the universe.

Al mismo tiempo que sentía su sexo dentro de mí, sentía también su mano en los senos, los nalgas, tocándome como sólo una mujer sabe hacerlo. Entonces entendí que estábamos hechos el uno para el otro, porque  él conseguía ser mujer como ahora, y yo conseguía ser hombre como cuando conversamos o no iniciamos en el encuentro de las dos almas perdidas, de los dos fragmentos que faltaban para completar el universo. (pg 235)

Yeah, right!

Since the subject matter was not all that interesting, since it was not a page turner, but it was work going through this book, I didn’t look up as many vocabs as I should have, I skipped some sentences when I knew Coelho was waxing poetic and I didn’t give a damn, just to get on with it.

If you are a high school kid, like I was when I read Fanny Hill, go get Once Minutos in Spanish, if you’re learning the language, and you can read smutty stuff right in front of your parents. You will enjoy it.

If you are over 25, and you want to learn all the names of the body parts and many Spanish words for breasts, this is the book. I probably increased my vocabulary by 300 words. I doubled my reading speed in Spanish. I met my overall objective. Now, for the next book, I have to pick something adventurous, something I am actually interested in, perhaps history in the Caribbean, something about pirates, to get me through it faster.

Maybe Don Quixote, the greatest novel in the Spanish language? Nah, that comes later. After Ulysses.

Rating - One Star

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