Saturday, June 28, 2014

Babylon 5: The Gathering (live action movie)

Rather than argue with someone on the Internet about this series, I opted to do a Babylon 5 re-watch project instead. We'll see how long I can keep it up.

I decided to begin at the beginning, with The Gathering, the series pilot and the first movie. I had forgotten how bad it was.

The Gathering is both a mystery and an introduction to the world of B5 and most of the main characters. I could probably fill half a page with details, but the basic story is that a new ambassador is scheduled to arrive at Babylon 5, a space station built by humans and intended to accommodate both humans and all known alien races. The new ambassador, Kosh, is a Vorlon, an alien hardly anyone knows anything about. Within minutes of arriving on Babylon 5, Kosh collapses, the victim of an assassination attempt. Efforts to learn who attacked Kosh and what poison they used lead to the revelation that Sinclair is the most likely culprit. Sinclair insists he's being framed. Unfortunately, he only has a short period of time to prove his innocence before the Vorlons arrive to take him away for trial on their home world.

Had I started my B5 experience with this movie, I don't think I would have gone any further. The story felt very choppy until the point of it all was finally made clear (with the attempt on Kosh's life). The series' creator, J. Michael Straczynski, tried to cram too much detail into the script. Then there were the visuals: the makeup and prosthetics looked sloppy, and I had forgotten how simplistic the CGI sometimes was.

Commander Sinclair was stiff, even with his girlfriend around to try and humanize him a little, and Commander Takashima seemed like she was trying too hard to sound commanding. I didn't dislike everyone, though: Garibaldi and Londo were probably my most favorite characters in the movie.

The occasional attempts to add “sexiness” were cringe-worthy. Sinclair's girlfriend's comment about having picked up some “completely frictionless” bedsheets was stupid – think about it for two seconds, and you'd realize you couldn't even sleep on those sheets, much less have sex on them. And G'Kar's offer to pay Lyta to either sleep with him or allow him to harvest her DNA so that the Narns could develop their own telepaths was both gross and not well thought out – Lyta and G'Kar sleeping together is unlikely to produce any children at all, considering that they're two entirely different species. I was not amused when G'Kar said Lyta could opt to either be conscious or unconscious during the sex – he would prefer conscious, but “I don't know what your...pleasure threshold is.” Ugh. No.

As far as the murder mystery aspect goes, I still don't understand how the poison was administered to Ambassador Kosh in the first place. Lyta, the telepath who “witnessed” the attack via Kosh's mind, saw a patch put on Kosh's wrist. However, 1) I don't think Kosh has wrists, glowing or otherwise, and 2) one of the characters stated that Vorlons could not be outside their encounter suits or they would die. The series later shows that #2 isn't exactly true, but, at the very least, Vorlon secrecy should have prevented Kosh from showing a part of his body to a human, even Sinclair.

All in all, I don't recommend this movie to anyone except die-hard B5 fans. It has many, many rough edges and, besides, several details introduced in this movie are dropped in the TV series. It would probably be less confusing for B5 newbies to skip this entirely and start with the TV series. The main things people would be missing out on are the introduction of the mystery of Sinclair's "lost time" at the end of the Earth-Minbari War and a wicked little joke played on Ambassador G'Kar.

Extras:

The one extra for this movie is a commentary track featuring J. Michael Straczynski and John Iacovelli (production designer). There was a lot of information in the commentary that I didn't know, such as explanations for why Johnny Sekka (Dr. Kyle) and Tamlyn Tomita (Commander Takashima) disappeared after this movie and were not a part of the TV series. JMS also discussed why Delenn's original makeup made her look so androgynous - he had originally intended for her to be a male who morphed into a female at the end of Season 1. Those familiar with the history of the series will also recognize several attempts to avoid directly naming Deep Space Nine. For the record, I watched and enjoyed both shows, although I was a much more religious viewer of B5.

A Lot Like a Lady (e-book) by Kay Springsteen and Kim Bowman

A Lot Like a Lady is a Regency romance published by Astraea Press. I'm not sure about the word count, since the e-book version no longer appears to be available from any online retailer. The paperback version can still be purchased through the Amazon Marketplace for about $12, but otherwise this book appears to be out of print.

Review:

The writing was okay, if bland. I only noticed a couple typos/misused words. Unfortunately, this still managed to be a completely and utterly terrible book.

When Lady Annabella's mother tells her that she's being sent to her stepbrother, Grey, the Sixth Duke of Wyndham, in order to spend the Season in London and find a suitable husband, Annabella throws a fit (no, really – despite being almost 21, she has a tantrum and breaks things). Later, Annabella concocts a plan to send Juliet, her maid, in her place. Grey hasn't seen Annabella since she was a child, but Juliet does such a terrible job of pretending to be Annabella that he realizes something's going on almost immediately. Since Annabella's great aunts insist that Juliet is who she says she is, Grey sends a friend to investigate the situation and find the real Annabella. This frees him up to take “Annabella” to parties and give her presents and to look into troublesome evidence that Annabella's mother is siphoning off the family's money.

There are two ways that some parts of this story might have been saved, or at least made less horrible, and both would have involved changes early on in the book.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

To Catch a Virgin Ghost (live action movie), via Netflix

To Catch a Virgin Ghost is a Korean horror-comedy. For those who are nervous about watching horror movies: it's really not that scary. A few creepy moments, and that's it. There was only one scene I couldn't bring myself to watch, in which a character inadvertently pounded a nail into someone's forehead. But that's me, the horror wimp.

This movie started off boring and mediocre, then became a bit like watching a train wreck, and then morphed into something that was actually pretty decent and included several surprises.

At the beginning, we see Seok-tae, who has betrayed Yang-e, a fellow gangster, and run off which a baggie of diamonds. He gets into an accident and ends up at a tiny village where everyone lives in a single large house. While there, he accidentally conks his head and is presumed dead. Except he's not. Seok-tae goes through a lot during the course of this movie. Anyway, the villagers find one of the diamonds inside his nose. They decide to keep it, sell it, and share the money.

Unfortunately, first they have to survive Yang-e and his thugs. Yang-e tracks Seok-tae's phone to the village and knows he's probably there, but the villagers refuse to talk. Yang-e doesn't have a lot of time – if he doesn't get the diamonds back in three days, his boss will kill him. He's not inclined to be nice. However, the villagers aren't the only thing he has to deal with. He keeps spotting a freaky long-haired girl who may be a vengeful virgin ghost.

Like I said, this movie didn't quite work for me at first. Initially, I could sympathize with the villagers' desire to keep the diamond they found on Seok-tae's body. That one diamond represented more money than they'd seen in a long time, maybe ever. However, when Seok-tae regained consciousness and the villagers decided to continue going through with their plan, no matter what they had to do, I was horrified. I found it difficult to believe that they didn't feel a twinge of remorse, regret, or even worry. Yang-e and his men were scary, but I couldn't help but think that the villagers deserved to be scared – they were at least as bad as the gangsters.

I thought this was going to be a black comedy in which Yang-e tried to scare the truth out of the villagers before eventually being run off by the virgin ghost. I can't say much without spoiling things, but that's definitely not how it all went. The twists later in the movie were pretty good, even though I was never able to completely buy into the “gangster with a heart of gold” bit.

All in all, I wouldn't call this a great movie, but it was better than I expected and turned out to be an okay way to spend the time. I laughed when the big, tough gangsters tried to scare off the virgin ghost by running around naked (one man remembered hearing that virgin ghosts are afraid of men's "things"), and the ending was kind of sweet.

The Laundress of Silver Lake (e-short story) by Julie Jansen, plus some Freading app first (and last?) impressions

“The Laundress of Silver Lake” is a short science fiction story. It was one of my public library e-book checkouts.

There is a slight spoiler near the end of the review. And there's no read-alikes or watch-alikes list for this one.

Review:

Ever since Freading “upgraded” their site, the only way I've been able to open their e-books on my tablet is with the Freading app. I currently have this story and a novel checked out via Freading, and I decided a short story would be a less daunting way to try out the app.

This story is very short, only five or six pages according to the app. The main character, Arvid, is investigating sightings of the Laundress of Silver Lake. Josephine Fritzkiev, the legendary Laundress, was able to get clothes amazingly white. No matter how often people asked her, she never shared her secret. When Silver Lake and all its inhabitants were vaporized by a massive solar flare in 2270, it was assumed that Josephine's secret had died with her. Now, over a decade later, people swear they keep seeing her out and about, washing dirty laundry. Those who have tried to find her have never returned. Arvid is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Arvid was not a very intelligent person. Either that, or he was a complete and utter urbanite who had somehow never learned that nature could be dangerous.

The secret to Josephine's clothes whitening abilities was mildly humorous (in a dark sort of way), but I was left with a lot of questions. If a solar flare had somehow destroyed the town of Silver Lake, would there really have been that many animals and that much greenery left in the area? Can solar flares even do something like that? Prior to the solar flare, how did Josephine manage to deal with the significant drawback of her clothes whitening technique without anybody noticing? After the solar flare, why did she stick around? Was doing laundry really her only purpose in life? And what kind of purpose is that, when there's no one else around who has laundry that needs doing?

I might have enjoyed Josephine's secret more if I hadn't seen Jurassic Park. “The Laundress of Silver Lake” reminded me a little too much of one particular scene.

Additional Comments:

Now, the verdict for the Freading app itself. I like its night mode, which features light gray text on a black background. I am less enthusiastic about how visual display options must be applied. Unless there's some kind of setting I'm missing, everything from text size to background and font color must be changed by going into “Settings.” No pinching in and out on the text to increase or decrease font size, no swiping to change the screen brightness.

While the Freading app allows users to highlight text and take notes, it has its own annoying aspects. Highlighting color, like all other visual settings, must be changed in the “Settings” screen. That is, if you can get the change to stick. I tried changing my highlighting color from yellow to green and every new thing I highlighted kept showing up as yellow.

Highlighting text activates an annoying “text magnifier.” Mantano Reader also did this when I first installed it, but I was able to change the setting and make it go away. This doesn't appear to be possible in the Freading app.

All in all, while this app can do many of the things my other reading apps can do, it does them in a very clunky way. I haven't yet decided whether having access to library e-books is worth having to deal with this app. It's not like I don't have lots of e-books of my own to read, and I can finish up the Paratwa Saga via ILL. Still, I'll miss being able to try out something new in seconds, without having to buy it.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl (live action movie), via Netflix

The Ladies vs Ricky Bahl is an Indian romantic comedy inspired by John Tucker Must Die. I'm not sure how similar the two are, since I don't think I've ever seen John Tucker Must Die.

This turned out to be better than I expected, although it was overly long and the ending was way too neat and easy. At the beginning of the movie, we see party girl Dimple, who is head-over-heels in love with her personal trainer, Sunny. Sunny tells her a sob story about how his family home was stolen from him, so Dimple convinces her father to take the house back by force. Dimple's father then buys the run-down home from Sunny. By the time he learns that it wasn't Sunny's to sell, Sunny is already gone.

Then we see Sunny, now calling himself Deven, conning a tough and determined businesswoman named Raina. Raina's mistake almost costs her her job, and she ends up on the news. Dimple sees her and calls her up, as does Saira, another woman conned by Sunny/Deven. Raina comes up with a plan: the three of them will hire charismatic and fast-talking Ishika to con the conman and get their money back.

Although I wish it had been shorter, this is one of those movies that grew on me. The bit at the beginning, with Dimple, was kind of painful to watch, because Dimple's dad fell for Sunny's con so easily – sending goons to Sunny's supposed family home without first checking to see if Sunny was telling the truth, and then buying the place without having anyone look it over first. Plus, Dimple was kind of annoying. I found that I liked Dimple, Raina, and Saira best when they were working together.

The thing I loved most about the movie was when Raina's plan was working. Although I couldn't help but think about how much work it was taking them, it was so much fun watching them trick the “Bloody Scoundrel” into spending a lot of money on cheap fakes.

The romance didn't work quite so well for me, unfortunately. Anushka Sharma (Ishika) and Ranveer Singh (Vikram/Sunny/Iqbal/Deven/Ricky) were good together, but we mostly saw things from Ishika and the other women's side. I had a hard time trusting Ricky (I'll just call him that from now on) because he lied so easily. He seemed to like Ishika as much as she had grown to like him, but he'd also seemed to genuinely enjoy Dimple and Saira's company when he was with them. I worried that Ishika was going to get her heart broken and possibly her bank account cleaned out.

The ending was way too easy and not very believable. Basically, everyone went away happy. The cotton candy sweetness of it was a bit much, although I suppose it was preferable to an ending in which nobody but Ricky got what they wanted.

All in all, this was an okay way to pass the time, even though the story fell apart a bit near the end. Watching the plan unfold was fun, and Ranveer Singh is ridiculously easy on the eyes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Freading's latest "upgrade"

First, some background. A couple days ago, I tried to download another book from Freading, my public library's e-book lending service. I read on my tablet via Mantano Reader, and this has been working well for me since I started using the site. For some reason, however, my latest attempt to download from the site didn't work. I've since tried upgrading everything, from my Chrome app to my operating system. Nothing fixed the problem.

After a few back-and-forth emails with the Freading's tech support, I think I've figured out what happened, and I'm not happy. Freading recently did a site and app upgrade. It looks like part of the "upgrade" involved making the Freading app the absolute only way users could read Freading e-books on mobile devices. Since I didn't have the Freading app installed, there was nothing for the website to connect to, so it couldn't download and open any books.

I really hope they rethink this, but, from the tone of the emails I was sent, I'm not sure they think there's a problem. Since I'd like to continue to use Freading, I suppose I'll see how the Freading app works for me (please please please let there be decent visual display options and note-taking features). I just have to get over my feelings of disappointment first.

ETA: I've been told by Freading's tech support that I'm free to use any reading app I'd like. I'd love to know how I'm supposed to do that when the Freading site is refusing to communicate with anything but the Freading app. *headdesk*

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (live action TV series), via Netflix

My Girlfriend is a Gumiho is a 16-episode Korean drama featuring supernatural romance. A “gumiho” is the Korean version of a nine-tailed fox.

Dae Woong is an immature aspiring actor who would prefer to happily spend his days wasting his family's money on various presents for himself and his friends. After running away from his grandfather's latest attempt to force him to shape up, he ends up at a temple, where a mischievous gumiho convinces him to help her escape the painting in which she is trapped. Once she has escaped, Gumiho (later named Miho) decides she likes Dae Woong and wants to stay with him. Dae Woong would rather not spend all his time and money providing Miho with meat, but he's afraid she'll eat his liver if he doesn't (for the most part, Miho has little interest in his liver, but he doesn't know that).

Miho saves Dae Woong's life by putting her bead (the source of most of her power) inside him, temporarily tying the two of them together. The more time they spend together, the more Dae Woong grows to like Miho. However, Dong Joo, a supernatural being of some sort, may drive them apart.

This series started off “meh” and just kept getting better and better. By episode 4, I was hooked.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Ash Ock (e-book) by Christopher Hinz

Ash Ock is a science fiction book published by Open Road Integrated Media, the second book in Hinz's Paratwa Saga. It was originally published in 1989. It was one of my library e-book checkouts.

No read-alikes list for this one. If you'd like some, check out my post for Liege-Killer.

Review:

Liege-Killer was a thrill ride, and I was expecting more of the same from Ash Ock. For the most part, Ash Ock took place 56 years after Liege-Killer, during the time when the Paratwa were scheduled to return to Earth and try to force humanity into slavery. It should have been an exciting book, as good or better than the first. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

As I fought to stay interested in the story, I tried to pinpoint the problem. Was it the characters? Jerem Marth was back, upgraded from whiny 12-year old to elderly Lion of Alexander. His emotional attachment to Gillian hadn't diminished over the years – in fact, it appeared to have grown. It was cringe-worthy, made more so by indications here and there that Gillian did not share his depth of feeling. Even so, Jerem was more bearable in this book than he was in the first. Susan, the series' new female POV character, was actually harder to deal with.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Laisrathera (e-book) by M.C.A. Hogarth

Laisrathera is a self-published science fiction novel. Yes, I know that looks like a fantasy cover with a magic sword, but it's not. That's a sci-fi sword. For real.

This is the third book in Hogarth's Her Instruments trilogy. If you haven't read Earthrise or Rose Point yet, don't read this book.

Review:

This is a tough one to review. I like Hogarth's writings best when her “family” groups are together, and, unfortunately, the Her Instruments group was split up for most of this book. I was all set to say that this was an okay read that got better as the action picked up, and then the Earthrise “family” was reunited, the ending happened, and it was perfect.

Laisrathera starts a while after the end of Rose Point. Hirianthial has mostly healed up and is upset that Reese was left behind on his home world. The Alliance has agreed to help the Eldritch against their pirate and Chatcaavan invaders, but they're embroiled in their own battles and so the resources they can provide are limited. Meanwhile, Reese and Irine are doing what they can to oppose Baniel, his Chatcaavan ally, and Surela, Queen Liolesa's usurper, not knowing when Liolesa and Hirianthial will manage to bring reinforcements.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Utahime: The Songstress (manga) by Aki

Utahime: The Songstress is a fantasy manga published by Digital Manga Publishing. I got it via interlibrary loan.

I'm not including any read-alikes for this. My excuse is that it's almost an anthology, because it contains two stories. And also, I'm still trying to get through my review backlog.

Review:

After reading Aki's Olympos, I knew I wanted to try something else by this author/artist. Utahime: The Songstress appeared to be the only other thing available in English (although Yen Press will be releasing The Angel of Elhamburg next Spring).

Utahime: The Songstress is composed of two unrelated stories, the primary “Utahime” story that takes up two thirds of the volume and “Darika,” which takes up the final third.

W.A.R.P. Book 1: The Reluctant Assassin (audio book) by Eoin Colfer, narrated by Maxwell Caulfield

The Reluctant Assassin is a YA time travel book.

No read-alikes or watch-alikes for this one, because I am woefully behind on my review posts.

Review:

I got this audio book for free via SYNC. I had no clue what it was about, but because I had enjoyed several of Eoin Colfer's books in the past, I figured “why not?”

The two main characters are 17-year-old Chevron (Chevie) Savano and 14-year-old Riley. Chevie was originally part of an FBI program to investigate possible terrorists in schools by recruiting orphans as junior FBI agents. Chevie was one of those orphans and the reason why the program was scrapped – she defended her target from an attacker, and her behavior, although technically heroic, was caught on camera and brought the FBI under embarrassing scrutiny. Riley, also an orphan, is an assassin's apprentice in Victorian England.

Chevie and Riley are brought together by a time machine, part of the FBI's secret Witness Anonymous Relocation Program (W.A.R.P.). WARP involves hiding important witnesses in the past. Unfortunately, Riley accidentally ends up transported to the present, and his master, Garrick, follows him and gains deadly powers.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Maleficent (live action movie), at the movie theater

I hadn't originally planned to see this. I'm not really an Angelina Jolie fan, the early previews I saw made Maleficent look like it'd be a lot of flash and maybe nothing else, and Sleeping Beauty is extremely low on my list of favorite Disney movies. However, I had been hearing very good things from various reader friends, so I figured why not? Tickets are cheap here, and I hadn't gone to the movies in a while.

I was still wary, though. I'd heard lots of good things about Frozen, too, and that one ended up disappointing me. Not that I thought it was bad, but it wasn't the "OMG so amazing, best animated Disney movie in existence" experience practically everyone had been crowing it was.

Maleficent was good. Not perfect, but not the "good but kind of disappointing" that Frozen was for me.

Note: I've tried to avoid spoilers, but I still vaguely refer to some events/happenings, so read on at your own risk.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Saga (graphic novel, vol. 2) written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples

Saga is an action-filled sci-fi/fantasy graphic novel series published by Image Comics. I got this volume via interlibrary loan.

I'm going to be lazy again and not include a read-alikes section. I really need to read up on current graphic novels that are not Japanese manga.

Oh, and no, the bloody scene on the cover does not actually happen in this volume. I think it's just a random bloody image.

Review:

Like volume 1, volume 2 has lots of action. Marko and Alana are split up almost immediately as Marko heads off to find their banished babysitter. His mother joins him, leaving his dad alone with Alana, who is just thrilled to have met her husband's parents for the very first time while wearing nothing but a towel.

The planet Marko and his mom go to is more dangerous than it looks, Marko's dad has a secret, Prince Robot IV's wife and unborn child have been threatened if he doesn't find Marko and Alana, and the heartbroken bounty hunter gains a couple extra passengers, including Gwendolyn, Marko's ex-fiancee. Here and there are flashbacks to Marko's childhood, the time period when Alana and Marko first met, and the bloody battle Prince Robot IV survived.

While volume 2 was still a joy to read, I wasn't entirely happy to see some things cut short (I have to be vague, because it's a spoiler, but nooo too soon), and some aspects didn't quite make sense to me. Readers were shown how Marko's parents taught him to hate Alana's people, and yet present-day Marko instantly trusted that his parents wouldn't kill Alana if he left them alone with her. Aside from a few comments, Barr (Marko's dad) overcame generations of hatred very quickly. It's possible that his secret had something to do with that, but it still seemed a bit odd, how smoothly he morphed into kindly advice-giving father-in-law.

Another part that was jarring for me was the progression of Alana and Marko's relationship, back when they first met. How did Alana go from “I should hit that guy in the face for even daring to speak” to “I'll secretly give him his translator rings back (even though they could be weapons for all I know)”? The rest of the relationship flashbacks were nice, if short, but that missing piece of the puzzle bugged me.

I still love this series, but I'm a little worried that it's going to speed along too fast for all the little bits that help everything continue to make sense to keep up. At any rate, despite the things that bugged me, there was a lot to love in this volume.

Alana's reaction to the book she was reading was adorably enthusiastic, and I could totally identify with her need to share that with someone (hardly anyone I know IRL likes the same books I do ::sob::). I loved that Alana and Marko fell in love over the course of secret book club meetings. Barr didn't start off all that well, but he soon charmed me with his “helpful father-in-law” behavior. I wasn't quite as interested in the bits with Prince Robot IV (exploding adorable mouse OMG) and the bounty hunter, but they definitely kept the story from standing still. I'll be interested to see where things go as far as Gwendolyn is concerned.

All in all, this was a good volume despite a couple jarring moments. I look forward to reading more of the series.

Extras:

Five pages of artwork at the end of the volume.
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