Saturday, May 24, 2008

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" review

To all those original Indy fans out there, it's been 19 years since the hero in the fedora graced the screen for what everyone thought would be the last time: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And this movie has more skeptics than just about any other movie I've seen. But, hey, they haven't seen the picture. I have. I was standing in line at the box office. There are two groups in front of me. One says, "Two for Indiana Jones." The next says, "Two for the same." Then behind me, I hear an elderly man whistling that all-too-familiar Raiders March.

Hold on to your hats. This is going to be a wild ride.

Indiana Jones is back.

Summary: After a near-fatal (and very creative) run-in with Soviets at Area 51, Indy returns to the college he has taught at for all these years. And he finds out he's being put on an extended-leave-with-pay. The FBI had started snooping around, and they didn't seem to like Indiana Jones.

Indy is about to leave for Europe when, out of the swirling fog, rides Mutt Williams. Mutt finds Indy and tells him an old colleague of his by the name of Oxley has been kidnapped on a hunt for the Crystal Skulls and the Lost Temple of Akator.

Another person was kidnapped as well-- Mutt's mother, Marion.

Evaluation: Man, it's good to see Indiana Jones again. I was admittedly afraid of what would become of this new installment. Last Crusade had a great ending as it was. To be honest, though, I think I like Crystal Skull's new, more complete ending. And the moment at the end was a real kicker for me. The torch has almost-- but not quite-- been passed to the next Jones.

Of course, Henry III will have to finish school first...

My rating: 9.5/10-- The perfect summer blockbuster.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"PENDRAGON-- Raven Rise" review

It has begun.

After 8 books, the Convergence has finally arrived. Saint Dane unveils his sinister plan that we've been waiting to hear about for so long. The Battle for Halla has truly started in earnest. But is it as good as the others? Of course. Better, even.

Hobey ho, let's go.

Summary: This is where it begins. The showdown for Halla. At stake is nothing less than all that ever was and all that will be.

There's only one thing missing--Bobby Pendragon.

While Bobby remains trapped on Ibara, the battle moves to his home territory: Second Earth. Mark Dimond and Courtney Chetwynde are left on their own to defend Second Earth agsinst the forces of Saint Dane. They must face off against a charismatic cult leader who has risen to power by revealing a shattering truth to the people of Earth: They are not alone.

The Convergence has broken down the walls. The territories are on a collision course. The final phase of Saint Dane's quest to rule Halla is under way.

And Bobby Pendragon is nowhere to be found.

Evaluation: This series keeps getting better and better. Each book takes readers to a new level of suspense, mystery, and involvement in the story. You care about the characters. They're fleshed out, three-dimensional (no pun intended), and dynamic. And D. J. MacHale isn't afraid to kill some of them off. This raises the stakes even more. In PENDRAGON, anything can happen. But if you think it's going to happen, it probably won't.

I honestly wasn't expecting Second Earth to be the next territory fought over, though it makes perfect sense in hindsight. Sometimes, it seems there's no way the characters can make it through (and some of them don't). Sometimes, it seems that though what Saint Dane is doing isn't "the way things were meant to be", it's the way things are going to be. And, of course, there's a cliffhanger. The book's ending raises a LOT more questions than it answers.

Bring on Book 10. Next May can't come soon enough.

My rating: 10/10

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Indiana Jones" reviews

Well, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hits theaters this Thursday. So I figured that it would be a good idea to review the first three movies in the series before its release. They are staples of summer blockbuster history and surely deserve a mention on this humble blog. So, here it is:

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark: Release date-- 1981. The opening sequence of this film is legendary. Indy tries to retrieve a golden idol in a booby-trap-infested cave, encountering traitors, spiders, a chasm, angry natives, and a huge boulder that chases him out and into his rival's hands. From there, he returns to his home in America, where he is an archaeology professor. He is called to a meeting where he learns that the Nazis are getting close to finding the fabled ARK OF THE COVENANT. This sends Indy across the world with his ex-flame, Marion Ravenwood, in an attempt to find it before the Nazis do.

In this film, there are some of the greatest action pieces ever recorded on celluloid: Indy shooting the swordsman, the truck chase, the bar fight, and the brawl on the Nazi landing strip. No moment is wasted, and it has a great, ironic ending.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Release date-- 1984. The fight at Club Obi-Wan kicks off this second, darker, more gruesome installment in the Indiana Jones series. Indy just barely manages to escape a plane crash, where he lands on a raft in India with his child sidekick, Short Round, and an annoying singer by the name of Willie. They arrive in a village only to find that all of the children have been kidnapped and forced into slavery by the evil Thuggee cult. Also, the village's SHANKARA STONE has been stolen, and Indy must bring it back with the children.

This film can be kind of gross at times, and it's in my opinion the worst in the series, but it still has it's moments, particularly in the incredible climax. If nothing else, it's good for nostalgia value.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Release date-- 1989. A glimpse into Indy's past launches viewers into his third adventure. In it, Indy is informed that his father (played by none other than original James Bond Sean Connery!) was getting extremely close to finding the HOLY GRAIL... before he was kidnapped by the Nazis. His searches bring him to Venice, Italy where he meets up with his father's assistant-- Ilsa. They face rats, a boat chase, a booby-trapped, Nazi-occupied castle, a fight atop a moving tank, and three dangerous challenges before they can reach the Grail.

Indy went out for twenty years with a bang. The series finished strong with some great action sequences: besides the ones mentioned earlier, a dogfight in a German plane and a motorcycle chase. Great fun with a good lesson learned by all the characters at the end.

My ratings:

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark: 10/10

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: 8/10

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: 9.5/10

Saturday, May 17, 2008

"Vampirates-- Demons of the Ocean" and "Tide of Terror" review

I was browsing the bookshelves for something new to read. You know, in between major book releases. I stumbled upon the Vampirates series by Justin Somper. It was originally published in the UK (this was a good sign, since it had to have done well enough over there for it to be published over here). It also got a good review from Anthony Horowitz, author of the Alex Rider series. Plus, there was more than one. A definate bonus. The question: is Vampirates any good?

The answer: Yes.

Demons of the Ocean: Twins Connor and Grace Tempest have just lost their father, the lighthouse keeper in the fairly distant future of Earth. (Apparently, there was a great flood that made the world turn a bit more... nautical. It also set everyone back a few hundred years, understandibly.) They sail off to escape the bad turn of events that would certainly befall them if they stayed at their home. The only problem: they sailed into a massive storm.

Their ship broke apart in the storm, and Connor and Grace are separated. Connor is pulled aboard the ship of the enigmatic Captain Molucco Wrathe, where he learns the finer arts of swordfighting and plundering. Grace is pulled aboard an entirely different kind of pirate ship, one that has been sailing the ocean for centuries...

Tide of Terror: Once reunited, Connor and Grace attempt to get used to life on Wrathe's ship-- not an easy thing to do. But when a close friend of theirs is killed in combat (not saying who), Cheng Li is able to convince them to temporarily join the Pirate Academy.

But Grace keeps getting messages from the Vampirate ship. She learns that something terrible could happen. And Connor begins to discover some mysteries of his own that need unraveling. The Pirate Academy isn't what it seems. And Sidorio is on the move...

These were both very enjoyable reads. Their interesting characters and settings set it apart from the rest of the pirate stories published these days. The author has some writing muscles, which he proudly flexes, and he isn't afraid to kill characters off at unpredictable moments. Recommended reading for anyone who likes vampires... or pirates... or a good sea shanty.

My ratings:

Demons of the Ocean: 8.5/10

Tide of Terror: 8/10

"Percy Jackson and the Olympians-- The Battle of the Labyrinth" review

After a year of waiting, the half-blood Percy Jackson returns to bookstores everywhere in this fourth installment of the bestselling series by Rick Riordan. The third book left us with a lot of unanswered questions, as well as a massive cliffhanger-- Pan is calling to Grover.

After that little shocker, Percy had to go back and try to live a normal life (something that's not easy for a half-blood). But, at his freshman orientation, he comes upon an unexpected difficulty. He has to do battle with the cheerleading squad. And they're vicious servants of Kronos. Add that to an unexpected and unlikely encounter with a former acquaintance (I DARE you to guess who it is), and you have an explosive beginning-- literally-- to a real pedal-to-the-metal book.

Things don't look too good for Camp Half-Blood. There are some new faces to meet-- but can they be trusted? Luke is getting close to the discovery of a lifetime: a secret way to enter Camp Half-Blood from the inside. And it's Annabeth's turn to get a quest, but this one could cost her her life. She, Percy, Grover, and Tyson must journey into the fabled labyrinth of Daedalus to find the answers to their questions.

My only pet peeve with The Sea of Monsters and The Titan's Curse is that they were only 300 pages long, far too short for all the time spent waiting. But The Battle of the Labyrinth runs at nearly 375 pages, making it a much more satisfying read. In fact, it's my personal favorite in the series thus far. Some questions are answered, others are excruciatingly close to being answered. And Riordan is setting up for something BIG in Book 5.

My rating: 9.5/10

Monday, May 5, 2008

This is just cool...

Some say roll with the punches. Drift with the tide. Nothing can stop the inevitability of change. There was a time when 300 Spartans disagreed with such banal thinking and stood in the gap.

Now it’s time for the 3000 to stand in the gap.Sinner is the story of Marsuvees Black, a personification of raw evil who speaks with wicked persuasion far more destructive than swords or guns. Beware all who stand in his way.

It’s the story of Billy Rediger and Darcy Lange, two unsuspecting survivors of a research project gone bad, who discover that they are quite extraordinary, perhaps the two single most powerful souls in the land. Listen to them or pay a terrible price.

And it’s the story of Johnny Drake, the one who comes out of the desert and leads the 3000. Follow him and die.

But most of all, Sinner is the story of our country just around the corner when all that was once held sacred in a free land where any man, woman or child could worship as they pleased and say what they believed on any street corner is shredded in name of tolerance. Sacrificed on the alter of hate crimes. Smothered by laws.

Most will role with the punches. Most will drift with the tide. But not all.

Not the 3000.