Monday, April 7, 2014

Captain America – The Winter Soldier

First, the quick review: HOLY SHIT WHAT AN AWESOME MOVIE!!!

Now the long: As you can probably glean from the above, I managed to actually see Captain America 2 in the theater on opening weekend. That, in itself, is an achievement, and a testament to my status as a Captain America fangirl. Of course, I would have seen it had it looked like crap. But, it didn’t, so I feel justified.

Suffice it to say that, like many reviewers have stated, this film ups the ante for Marvel movies. The bar is set high on many levels. Story, action, cinematography, acting…it’s all top notch. I’m no film reviewer, so I can’t really go into the nuances and subtleties of what makes a great film great. I can only give you my visceral, gut feeling.

And that feeling is that this has supplanted The First Avenger as my favorite superhero movie.

The story and character development in this one were amazing. In the end every major character goes through a character arc, and comes out changed in some way. And I really liked that, even though it was a Captain America movie, both of his partners got major screen time and some good characterization. The villains were suitably subtle and evil, and the overall plot was well-executed, and worthy of the best of what makes comic books great.

And then there are the Easter Eggs. I know I probably missed a lot of them, but I also know I caught a lot of them; names mentioned, places mentioned, quotes strategically placed. I even liked that a lot of details were put out there for the fans of the comics, but they didn’t require any previous knowledge about them to make the movie work for casual fans of the films. The fact that I knew who certain characters are in the comics, just made it that much cooler for me.

In the end, it’s a great action movie, with a strong “political thriller” vibe. There’s some surprises, some gasp-worthy moments, and even some deep feels. Seeds were planted for Cap3, as well as other Marvel movies, and I am really looking forward to those.

So, yes. At this point, a “perfect” movie. 5 Stars. A 10/10. Four enthusiastic thumbs up. However you want to scale it, this movie is awesome. And well worth seeing on the big screen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Mighty Hercules!!

It's no big secret that I am a fan of just about every incarnation of Hercules. Steve Reeves, Reg Park, Kevin Sorbo, Jason and the Argonauts, the Disney animated film, and, of course, Marvel Comics' own Prince of Power. Heck, I even liked The Three Stooges Meet Hercules. But, as of this moment, they all pale in comparison to the upcoming Hercules, starring Dwayne Johnson.

I have long been a fan of "the Rock." From his wrestling days, to his first few attempts to break into Hollywood, to some of the best action movies around, regardless of the quality of the film itself, I have consistently liked him. If I were to make a list of the top "new school" action heroes, he would be #1 right now.

So, when it was announced that he would be playing Hercules in a film based on a rather highly-acclaimed graphic novel, I was in like Flynn. I didn't even care that Brett Ratner was directing (honestly, I think he's a decent director, given a good script).

Take a look at the trailer, and tell me what you think. Are you as excited for July as I am right now?

I need to start working out more.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Four Marvel heroes who need on-screen appearances

I am a long-time fan of Marvel comics. I will choose Captain America over Superman any day of the week and twice again on Sunday. Thanos kicks Darkseid’s ass every time. Not that I don’t like DC characters, movies, and TV shows. But I’m a Marvel guy to the core.

So, with all of the MCU movies past, present and future, as well as some really well done DTV animated films and TV cartoons, this is truly the Marvel Age of Film, IMHO. And here are four characters from the Marvel Universe that have no current plans for film adaptations (that I know of), but I think need to be seen somewhere.

Given a choice, I prefer Hercules over Thor any day. The charismatic, battle-loving, tragic hero of Greek mythology (sorta), the Prince of Power himself, Hercules needs to be seen on screen. Ideally, I’d love to see him in his own film. I’d even settle for an animated, DTV film. But, if they could just have him guest star in a good TV series, or co-star in a film, that would be cool. I’m looking at the whole “Hulk vs….” idea as a great way to introduce him. Hulk vs. Hercules. Imagine the action!

Union Jack
Technically, the original Union Jack has already been seen on screen. The British soldier in Captain America – The First Avenger is none other than James Montgomery Falsworth, the first Union Jack. I think the perfect way to introduce the character would be in Captain America 3, where the current Union Jack helps Cap out, and Cap learns from Nick Fury the history of the persona, dating back to his old war-buddy. The character would be perfect for the gritty, low-powered, espionage direction Captain America is going in the MCU.

Moon Knight
Although he is loosely based on Batman (Marvel and DC have been doing this for decades), Marc Spector, aka Steven Grant, aka Jake Lockley, aka The Fist of Khonshu, aka Moon Knight has an original enough origin and background that he could make a good street-level vigilante, without being too derivative. They could also introduce some more supernatural elements, as MK’s first appearance was in Werewolf By Night. I’m hoping he makes an appearance in one of the “Marvel Knights” shows coming from NetFlix. Otherwise, an animated short similar to what DC did would be very cool.

Shang Chi
Created in the 70’s in order to capitalize on the Bruce Lee craze, Shang Chi, the Master of Kung Fu, is actually a pretty nuanced character, with a lot of potential. And with the number of Hollywood/Hong Kong collaborations these days, you could really go all over the place with him. Realistically, though, I am hoping he does make an appearance in the Iron Fist NetFlix series.

So, do you have a favorite Marvel character that you think needs some screen time?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Practically speed-reading!

In my last update, I had just finished the first book in my pile (after a false start with a book that I ultimately decided to abandon for now). That was just over a week ago, and last night I finished book number two in my pile.

This one was The Executioner #67, Beirut Payback. Written in 1984, it's set in the height of the Cold War, with the city of Beirut as a violent backdrop. Mack Bolan has severed ties with the government, officially, and is on the top of every intelligence and law-enforcement agency's hit list. So, what does he do? Heads into the most volatile city in the world on a mission of justice and revenge.

My wife once read a Mack Bolan book, and described it as being "like reading an action movie." And this one was just that. Filled with over-the-top gun fights, explosions, and hand-to-hand combat, some of the descriptions were a bit melodramatic and excessively detailed. Mack is once again the super soldier who never misses with his faithful sidearms. In a couple of instances, the guns seemed to fire magic bullets, even. The dialogue was occasionally corny, the characters a bit more like caricatures, and the continuity of the passing of time a bit of a stretch.

Despite all of this, I had a blast. And it was all I could do to stick to my pile, and not just grab another Executioner last night.

My next book is the one I decided to replace the Amber book with. Keeping with the fantasy theme, I chose Conan - The Road of Kings, by Karl Edward Wagner. KEW has been a staple among sword & sorcery fans, and this is largely considered the best Conan pastiche ever written. It tells the tale of how Conan gained the throne of Aquilonia, which was a story that Howard himself never got around to writing. I'm looking forward to it.

In school news, had a bit of a panic last week. On Tuesday I suddenly realized I had a 5-7 page essay due this past weekend. Then, on Thursday, I realized that my professor decided to cut a day out of my work time on it, by making it due Saturday (every other class has weekly assignments due on Sunday). So, I spent most of Friday cranking out a 5 and half page essay. We were going to be out of town on Saturday, so I needed to turn it in early. The quality of the essay is questionable, but it got done and turned in. I need to keep more on top of these assignments. I'm just getting so burned out on school these days, it's hard to even want to do anything.

I have already failed to meet my first writing goal for my sci-fan book. The outline isn't done yet, and I should be well into writing prose by now. I may go ahead and start cranking on the prose of the first few chapters, and see if that inspires me to finish the plot and outline. I'm kind of at an impasse now, and not sure how the story should progress to get to my ending. We'll see how that goes.

Monday, February 24, 2014

1 down...

Last night I finished The People That Time Forgot. In true Burroughs fashion, it sort of just ends. All the loose ends are tied up neatly, but the climax is a bit underwhelming. Over all, it's not his best work, but it was a fun little romp (weighing in at a scant 125 pages). Incidentally, when I was putting it back on the shelf, I noticed that I actually already have the first book in the Caspak series, The Land That Time Forgot. I'll have to dig into that one at some future date. It's much longer, and probably more detailed and better written.

The next from my pile is going to be a Mack Bolan book. I have a ton of these from the 70's and 80's, and I'd like to work through as many of them as I can. I had settled on a title, but after reading the reviews at, I'm thinking of finding a different one. Either way, they're all about 200 pages, so they fit my needs. I'm kind of excited to read some good, old-fashioned paramilitary action. These books provide a good inspiration for the type of writing I'm working on now.

Speaking of which, I haven't really been able to sit down with that project much lately. But, I plan to remedy that soon. Also, I'm probably going to alter my plan for this book. I'm still aiming for 50k words in the month of March. However, I will also aim for another 30-50k in April, with revisions and editing in May. As many pointed out, 50k is pretty short for a novel.

Other than that, school is in full swing. This class seemed like it was going to be difficult, but I am finding that much of the first few weeks are covering stuff I learned in my last class, so there's not a whole lot of reading and research required at this point. For my research paper this time I am focusing on the Teutonic Knights. I was going to compare/contrast the Templars, Hospitaller and Teutonics. But I have decided to narrow my focus. We'll see how that goes.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Simple Tastes

This is the best cover for this book.
As you may recall, a few weeks back I made a commitment to read five short novels in a two-month period. I did this mainly because I seem to have ADD when it comes to reading, and I struggle mightily to read anything more than 250 pages long. So, with that in mind, I made a small pile of books from varying genres, and set to it.

The first in the pile was Nine Princes in Amber, the first in the Amber series by Roger Zelazny. I was looking forward to this one as it is considered a classic, and EVERYONE I talked to assured me that I would just love it. Well…

It’s not that it’s a bad book. And it’s not that I won’t finish it. But, the truth is, it’s not grabbing me. I’m fifty pages in and all I have seen is verbal fencing matches, and a bizarre road-trip, interspersed with a couple of “ok” fights. It is interesting that the main character knows literally nothing about himself at first, and that the reader learns bits and pieces as Corwin learns them himself. But, it’s taking too long. And that is getting frustrating. Basically, when I put the book down out of necessity, I am not compelled to pick it up again by anything other than a sense of duty to finish it.

My copy has this cover.  Frazetta!
Compare this to last night. One of the other books in the pile is The People That Time Forgot, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Having read several of ERB’s books, including a couple from the Pellucidar series, this seemed like familiar territory. After tucking Connor in, I found myself more-or-less alone in the house (Michele and Faith were both at work). So, instead of plopping in front of the computer or Xbox, I grabbed the ERB book, and lay down on the couch. By the time Michele came home an hour later, I was already over fifty pages in, and didn’t want to stop.

So, the question is, why? Why are the melodramatic musings of Burroughs more appealing than the intellectually challenging narrative of Zelazny to me? I think the answer is in progression.

Fifty pages into Amber, and I know the main character’s name, the names of his siblings, most of whom I have already lost track of, and the fact that they are all somehow tied to a mystical realm called Amber (presumably as royalty, based on the title). I know that getting to Amber involves some kind of magic, but I have no clue how that magic works, or why. In short, Corwin is being pulled along through the story, and it’s all he can do to make it look like he knows what he’s doing when he clearly doesn’t.

Fifty pages into ERB and I have a summary of the previous book, a background of the main character, and enough information about the supporting cast to make them feel real without being overwhelmed with details. There’s been action, danger, and fights for survival, and even a budding romance. I have a feel for the world that makes it real in my mind, thus making the obstacles the character is facing more real. But more than any of that is the sense of forward motion. Tom Billings is being proactive, even in the face of his own sense of doom and gloom. He knows his plight is hopeless, but he moves forward, weapon in hand, and determination in his heart.

And this may be the crux of my problem. The hero in Burroughs’ tale is a Hero; a selfless man of action. Zelazny’s hero is a thinker, a ponderer, and a bit of an egotist. In short, he is not what I like in a “hero.”

All of that being said, I’m sure Amber will get better. I’m sure, as things get revealed, the plot will move more briskly, as Corwin will eventually know enough about the situation, and himself, to be proactive. But, before I get there, I want to know how Tom Billings will survive Caspak.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I have a plan...

I have made a plan in my head about how I am going to produce my first novel. And it's a doable plan, I think. But, we'll see.

Step 1 - Outline and Details
I'm already hip-deep into this one. Character backgrounds, "world" details, and an outline of the entire plot, chapter by chapter; these are all in various stages of completion. The actual plot is about 3/4 done, and I know how it is going to end. I'm at the part where the plot starts to move with urgency, so I have to figure out how to get it to the end in a way that is logical, and has a lot of action and suspense. And I even have a few ideas on that.
Deadline: February 28th.

Step 2 - First Draft
I am aiming for 50,000 words for my first draft. I would imagine that, when I begin editing, I may lose some words, but will most likely gain many more. I'm hoping to have a final word count around 70,000. I'm going to try for the NaNoWriMo standard of getting that 50k in one month.
Deadline: March 31st

Step 3 - Edit and Re-Write
Once I have the first draft complete, I will spend a month doing a full edit and re-write. Since I am chronic self-editor while I write, I would imagine that most of that will be dedicated to fleshing out parts, trimming the fat, and maybe adding subplot(s) that fit.
Deadline: April 30th

Step 3 - Submit to an Agent and pray
This is where I might hit up my more experienced friends for tips and advice (though I welcome any advice during any of these steps). I have a local friend who is a literary agent, so I may see if he is interested in it first. Otherwise, I'll be looking for an agent to shop it around for me.

During this third step, I will also be building a website (probably a Blogger page, though I might go with Worpress) for the book. I'll have inside info, non-story details, maybe some teaser art, and probably some free short fiction, all related to the book, and its (hopeful) sequels.

So, my author friends, does this sound like a solid plan? Or are you shaking your head and whispering "Amateur..."?