Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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Poster for the movie "Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"

Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

20191 h 24 min
Overview

Batman, Batgirl and Robin forge an alliance with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to fight against the Turtles' sworn enemy, The Shredder, who has apparently teamed up with Ra's Al Ghul and The League of Assassins.

Metadata
Director Jake Castorena
Runtime 1 h 24 min
Release Date 31 March 2019
Details
Movie Media DVD
Movie Status Available
Movie Rating Good

As a kid, I remember imagining crossovers between heroes from my favorite cartoons. While I am not sure Batman and Ninja Turtles are ones I ever mixed together, I am happy to see the combination as an adult. For starters, this film really mixed the two series together well. It had the dark broodiness of Gotham and Batman while at the same time maintaining the more light-hearted and comedic tone of the Turtles. Some scenes are Batman being classic, serious Batman. Others are the Turtles goofing off, like when they openly question why Gotham and New York are so similar.

For the villains, we have Shredder mixed with Ras Al Ghul. The Foot Clan allied with the League of Assassins. Ras was his usual self, but in this film, Shredder was more impressive. Thankfully, this is a serious Shredder along the lines of the 2012 Turtles show instead of his goofy 80’s counterpart. This is a Shredder who can take all four Turtles in a fight. And face off against Batman to a standstill. As fun as goofy 80’s Shredder was for his time, the character comes off better as a true villain. Especially in a more serious setting like Gotham.

Plot-wise, this movie is very simple. Apparently, this is based on a comic where a lot more happens. But for an 84-minute animated film, it does a good job. It is a classic tale of heroes stopping the baddies, which is really all you need here. This could have just as easily been a multi-part crossover episode between two different TV shows. And given that the target audience is children, it works. For a crossover like this, the focus is more the characters than anything else. There is never really any doubt that the heroes will save the day here. What we really want to see are the Batman family and Turtles onscreen together.

On the whole, this movie is just fun. If you like Batman and the Turtles (or even just one), it is worth it. If you like Batman and want to hear Troy Baker say the word “cowabunga”, it is extra worth it. For being a fun crossover and not a DC exclusive film, the animation was great too. It had a classic feel but still had a touch of modern animation techniques as well. While it is not a masterpiece of cinematography, there is nothing really “wrong” with this film. It is just a fun childhood dream come true.

May 26, 2019

The Warded Man (Demon Cycle #1)

Published Post author

The Warded Man (originally The Painted Man) Book Cover The Warded Man (originally The Painted Man)
Demon Cycle
Peter V. Brett
Fantasy
Random House (originally Harper Voyager)
March 23, 2010 (originally September, 2008)
Paperback
453

As darkness falls after sunset, the corelings rise--demons who possess supernatural powers and burn with a consuming hatred of humanity. For hundreds of years the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards--symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile. It was not always this way. Once, men and women battled the corelings on equal terms, but those days are gone. Night by night the demons grow stronger, while human members dwindle under their relentless assault. Now, with hope for the future fading, three young survivors of vicious demon attacks will dare the impossible, stepping beyond the crumbling safety of the wards to risk everything in a desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past. Together, they will stand against the night.

 

Many of the best fantasy stories are ones with some sort of unique plot hook. The driving force needs to be something more generic than “go slay the evil dragon”. Peter V. Brett hit that nail on the head by twisting an age-old concept into his own idea. Demons are real in this world, rising from the ground each and every night. Mankind’s only defense are walls protected by magical wards, whose own defenses are imperfect. But mankind was not always the prey and The Warded Man begins a tale of resurgence against their demon oppressors.

In a word: wow. The Warded Man just gets everything right. It does not show, at all, that this was Peter V. Brett’s first novel. This is the level of work typically seen of authors with decades of experience under their belts. The world-building here is absolutely beautiful. Brett guides viewers into the state of the world despite all the history humanity has lost after centuries of demon attacks. The rediscovery of some of this lost knowledge is extremely important to the plot. Even still, enough rocks are left unturned that they can be revealed in the later books.

But as simple yet engaging as the story and world-building is, the Demon Cycle is ultimately about the characters. The Warded Man bounces between three different perspectives as the main trio is slowly brought together. Stretching from early childhood into adulthood, readers see how people live in this demon-infested world. How some people are broken by it while others fight tooth and nail against it. Not to mention how people will play politics and can be as monstrous as the creatures lurking outside their wards. This first book gives us Brett’s world as it is while the other novels will show how it changes.

If something bad had to be said about The Warded Man, it would be the slow start. Aside from the occasional demon, a lot of what happens in the beginning is slice-of-life stuff. The opening of the book pours the soft clay of the main three protagonists while the rest of the story molds them. This first entry in the Demon Cycle series is letting readers know who these people are and why. As the series continues, the new hardships they face will either reshape or shatter them. Only time will tell. But either way, it is going to be a wild ride.

May 19, 2019

Fool Moon (The Dresden Files #2)

Published Post author

Fool Moon Book Cover Fool Moon
The Dresden Files
Jim Butcher
Fantasy
Roc
January 9, 2001
Paperback
401

Harry Dresden--Wizard
Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.

Business has been slow. Okay, business has been dead. And not even of the undead variety. You would think Chicago would have a little more action for the only professional wizard in the phone book. But lately, Harry Dresden hasn't been able to dredge up any kind of work--magical or mundane.

But just when it looks like he can't afford his next meal, a murder comes along that requires his particular brand of supernatural expertise.

A brutally mutilated corpse. Strange-looking paw prints. A full moon. Take three guesses--and the first two don't count...

 

Harry Dresden is back for his second adventure as Chicago’s top and only private investigator wizard. In my review of the first book, I mentioned a friend convinced me to give this series a shot. That same friend warned me that Fool Moon and book #3 do not hold up to Storm Front. But that the series does pick back up again if you stick with it for a bit. That being said, do not go into Fool Moon with the expectations set by Storm Front. If anything, be happy the series only skimmed shark-infested waters instead of jumping over those sharks this early on.

So, back to the modern-day pulp fiction at hand. Fool Moon was early in Jim Butcher’s career and that “budding author” writing style is apparent here. The characters are a bit 2D in this story, swaying towards being tropes instead of people. Some of them are almost insufferable, particularly Harry and Murphey’s currently strained relationship. The new bad guys were pretty staple villains, although Marcone pops up again and remains interesting. But while the characterization is a bit plain in that “developing talent” sense, other aspects of the story improve.

The mystery the plot revolves around is much more fleshed out in Fool Moon. This time around it is a murder mystery, with multiple suspects and twists and turns as more evidence is uncovered. And while Fool Moon can be read as a standalone story, an overarching plot starts to develop here. We start to learn a bit more about Harry’s past, including things Harry himself was unaware of. The epilogue also works on pushing the main plot forward; while a series of “adventure of the week” stories can work, the Dresden Files would probably not be as popular as it is if it had the same structure and pacing as a 90s sci-fi/fantasy TV show.

Another key thing here is this book showcasing just how powerful Harry is as a wizard. The first book mentions it but it is more explained than shown. This time around, we get a show-of-force example of how crazy powerful Harry can be when he needs to be. It is always fun to see the protagonist be a badass.

On the whole, this was a good book. Not great, but good. And if this level of quality qualifies as a “bad” book in the Dresden Files series, the great ones should be pretty phenomenal.

May 12, 2019

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Vol. 1

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That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Vol. 1 Book Cover That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Vol. 1
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
FUSE
Fantasy
Yen On
December 19, 2017 (USA); May 30, 2014 (Japan)
Paperback
292

Lonely thirty-seven-year-old Satoru Mikami is stuck in a dead-end job, unhappy with his mundane life, but after dying at the hands of a robber, he awakens to a fresh start in a fantasy realm...as a slime monster! As he acclimates to his goopy new existence, his exploits with the other monsters set off a chain of events that will change his new world forever!

 

That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime is a fairly unique take on a “trapped in a game” story. After a 30-something year old man is killed, he wakes up in a fantasy world. As a slime monster, traditionally one of the weakest enemies in fantasy video games. From the start, the storytelling features a sense of humor as his last, dying thoughts determine what abilities he starts out with as a slime. Which are crazy overpowered, by the way. Throughout the story, many enemies underestimate him due to his race. But stories with OP main characters can work so long as other narrative elements are done well.

While protagonist Rimuru is powerful, this is an alien world to him. He does not understand things that even weak monsters consider common knowledge or basic instinct. Because of his power, a lot of other characters just assume he knows these things as he stumbles into them. As powerful as he is, Rimuru is very much a fish out of water here. But that ends up being as much of a boon as a curse. Since he was originally human, Rimuru thinks differently than most monsters. His creative solutions form the basis for future plot elements.

Compared to other “trapped in a game” stories like Sword Art Online, this series is fairly light-hearted. There are dark moments, but the author uses humor to balance them out. In one way, this series is like Log Horizon in that there is no going back. You are just in a game world now; deal with it. But it is also a bit like Overlord in that the protagonist came to this new world alone. “Trapped in a game” stories are a hot topic for light novels, and it is good to see different authors take slightly different approaches to the subject.

A friend introduced me to the TV adaption of this series before I read the books. The first eight episodes of the show cover the events of Volume 1. Some scenes were reordered or skimmed over, but it did not affect the overall story too much. This is less true for the later volumes. The show currently covers the first four books, but things got rushed at the end. Some parts of the story were skimmed over or left out entirely to save time. If you really want to get into this series, read the books first and use the anime as supplementary material.

May 5, 2019

House of Horrors

Published Post author

Poster for the movie "House of Horrors"

House of Horrors

Meet...The CREEPER!

19461 h 05 min
Overview

An unsuccessful sculptor saves a madman named "The Creeper" from drowning. Seeing an opportunity for revenge, he tricks the psycho into murdering his critics.

Metadata
Director Jean Yarbrough
Runtime 1 h 05 min
Release Date 29 March 1946
Details
Movie Media DVD
Movie Status Available
Movie Rating Good

Going into House of Horrors, I had no idea it was not Rondo Hatton’s first or last time playing The Creeper. The character originated in The Pearl of Death (a Sherlock Holmes film). House of Horrors was later followed up by The Brute Man, which I had actually seen before on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Both House of Horrors and The Brute Man were released after Hatton’s death. These films were made on the tailcoats of Universal’s classic monster movies. The Creeper would have joined the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein himself if not for Hatton’s passing.

Hatton has a large screen presence in this film, namely due to his iconic face. Hollywood picked Hatton for this and other roles for a simple reason: he was ugly. Rondo Hatton was afflicted by the disease acromegaly, which causes the pituitary gland to produce too many growth hormones. He developed this condition while working as a journalist during World War I. One theory is that exposure to poison gas during the war caused his condition. Regardless, the effects of the illness enlarged his hands and feet and changed his face into the iconic Creeper. Sadly, this same disease also caused the heart attack that took his life at the age of 51.

House of Horrors features The Creeper on the run from the police, nearly drowned in a river. A struggling sculptor, Marcel De Lange, on the verge of suicide finds The Creeper and saves him. De Lange soon deduces The Creeper’s identity and manipulates his new “friend” into killing the critics who have kept customers off De Lange’s doorstep. But as the killings continue, a newspaper columnist and the police inch closer and closer to the truth.

This film is one of the best examples I have seen of horror noir. House of Horrors was made right in that period where classic monster movies had ended and classic noir detective stories were gaining popularity. While the movie does not 100% hit the mark, it is nonetheless a fantastic mix of these two sub-genres. Hatton had limited time to develop his skills as an actor, but his screen presence cannot be denied. There is a reason that now, over 70 years later, the name and face of Rondo Hatton are still known.

April 28, 2019

Zoe’s Tale (Old Man’s War #4)

Published Post author

Zoe's Tale Book Cover Zoe's Tale
Old Man's War
John Scalzi
Sci-fi
Tor Books
August 19, 2008
Paperback
335

How do you tell your part in the biggest tale in history?

I ask because it's what I have to do. I'm Zoe Boutin Perry: A colonist stranded on a deadly pioneer world. Holy icon to a race of aliens. A player (and a pawn) in a interstellar chess match to save humanity, or to see it fall. Witness to history. Friend. Daughter. Human. Seventeen years old.

Everyone on Earth knows the tale I am part of. But you don't know my tale: How I did what I did — how I did what I had to do — not just to stay alive but to keep you alive, too. All of you. I'm going to tell it to you now, the only way I know how: not straight but true, the whole thing, to try make you feel what I felt: the joy and terror and uncertainty, panic and wonder, despair and hope. Everything that happened, bringing us to Earth, and Earth out of its captivity. All through my eyes.

It's a story you know. But you don't know it all.

 

In a nutshell, Zoe’s Tale follows the same story as The Last Colony. But this time around the story is told from Zoe’s point-of-view. Scalzi is able to accomplish three things by doing this. One, it fills in some of the unanswered questions from the last book. Two, it gives Zoe more character development since she was a little sparse on that before. Three, Scalzi once again shows he is capable of writing very different points-of-view. Across this series, we have gone from standard soldier to spec ops soldier to ex-soldier civilian to teenage girl. And each time he switches up perspectives, it works.

Being written from a teenage girl’s POV, Zoe’s Tale reads very much like a YA novel. She is deeply embroiled in events that will determine the ultimate fate of humanity and countless alien races. At the same time, she is a teenage girl. She has normal teenage girl problems on top of the “save humanity” stuff. Not to mention her tragic background stretching back to the second book. All the while, the adults do not fully grasp what she is going through as they deal with the threats everyone is facing in their own way.

One of the key things about Scalzi’s writing is the lack of descriptions. Sci-fi concepts like unique aliens are barely described, if at all. The ideas are good but the writing is simple to follow. Characters are a bit of a mix between 2D and 3D. There is a big, bad but also “good” government in place to keep order despite committing atrocities. All of these factors are pretty common in YA books. Since Zoe’s Tale is more of a YA book than the rest of Old Man’s War, all of that writing is more in line this time around.

That being said, there is no reason to read Zoe’s Tale if you have not read the previous book. Certain key details from The Last Colony are not mentioned here. This is meant to be an expansion of the previous novel, not a story in and of itself. And while all the extra details are nice to have, it does not really advance the story any. Old Man’s War was originally written as a trilogy and everything past book three really feels tacked on. Not necessarily bad reads, but not on par with the original three novels.

April 21, 2019

Caina

Published Post author

Caina Book Cover Caina
Joe Albanese
Mystery
Mockingbird Lane Press
July 5, 2018
Paperback
174

Growing up, Lee Tolan was barely the shadow of his twin brother, Grant, and eventually grew to despise him. After ten years of not seeing him and in debt to multiple gangs, Lee has no choice but to crawl back to his estranged brother. Upon learning of Grant's untimely death, Lee assumes his twin’s identity to finally bask in his glory. But there, forced into deals with the mob, the DEA, and a drone delivery company, Lee finds that in the corners of Grant’s success are dark secrets that will finally show Lee the brother he never really knew.

 

A copy of Caina was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Caina follows the story of Lee, a man with debts associated with the less-than-savory members of the Los Angeles community. With nowhere else to turn, he reaches out to his estranged twin brother, Grant. But Grant was not entirely the little-goody-two-shoes Lee remembered, and Lee’s problems soon go from bad to worse. For a little novella, Caina was pretty entertaining. It had its ups and downs but was overall a fun little story.

Personally, I am not used to novellas. Most of my reading comes from novels, so that does affect my judgment with Caina. This story seemed like it could have had more to it. The small page count keeps things fast-paced, with things like mid-chapter scene jumps between paragraphs. These transitions are a bit rough and can make it a little tricky to follow the story.

For the limited page count, the characters are very well developed. Lee is a deadbeat but grows throughout the story as he is forced to play the role of Grant. His friends/associates are pulled into this mess with him and none of them are quite the same by the end. Everyone gets a little growth and development instead of being 2D cutouts.

If you read the synopsis, you pretty much know what Caina is about. It follows a fairly by-the-book pattern for this type of mystery-crime story. The short length makes the novella feel more like an episode of a crime drama TV show than anything else. On the whole, it is a good little afternoon read with deeper, underlying tones. If Joe Albanese wanted to expand this into a full-fledged novel, he could do it. There is room here for a lot more, but as it is now the story is still good.

April 14, 2019

Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1)

Published Post author

Storm Front Book Cover Storm Front
The Dresden Files
Jim Butcher
Fantasy
Penguin ROC
April 2000
Paperback
322

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he's the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the "everyday" world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most don't play well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a—well, whatever. There's just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks.

So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry's seeing dollar signs. But where there's black magic, there's a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry's name. And that's when things start to get interesting.

Magic - it can get a guy killed.

 

A close friend recommended The Dresden Files series to me, which was my main reason for picking it up. This particular friend is very familiar with what I like and do not like in fiction and knows urban fantasy is not really my thing, but he recommended it anyway. With all that in mind, I picked it up based on his suggestion and was happy to be proven wrong. Despite my current attitude towards urban fantasy, I used to love it. Storm Front is far from the first urban fantasy book I have ever read. That all being said, lots of things in this review are going to reflect my own experiences and biases with urban fantasy.

So more about the book itself and less about me. Harry Dresden, wizard and private eye, living in Chicago. Kind of like that one old HBO movie from back in the day, but with magic being low-key. Dresden himself is a somewhat typical urban fantasy protagonist. He is very powerful but shunned by his branch of the supernatural community because of <reasons>. Dresden is a loner, a smart aleck, a man caught up in trouble because of his innate need to do the right thing.

The world-building here is also pretty standard. Supernatural stuff is real and exists just under the surface of regular society. And the more well-known stuff is in pop culture, the better the odds of running into it. Tropes non-withstanding, it is easy to see why fans regard The Dresden Files to highly. The setting and characters are just complex enough. Nothing feels 2D but it is not difficult to follow either. On the whole, everything feels real. People are making decisions in a mix of emotion and logic, not just adhering to one or the other. Other characters are not as dynamic as Dresden himself, but they just have less face time so what are you gonna do?

Storm Front can read like a standalone book, which is true for most of The Dresden Files from what I understand. It will probably take some time before an overarching plot and villain appear. That being said, this is the issue I have seen with many urban fantasy series. They have strong starts but struggle to keep going. Oftentimes, the hero passes up opportunities to stop the villain and end the madness for moral or arbitrary reasons. I plan to keep reading The Dresden Files between other books, so hopefully, it breaks that cycle and holds my interest throughout. On the whole though, Storm Front is one of the best urban fantasy books out there.

April 7, 2019

Us

Published Post author

Poster for the movie "Us"

Us

Watch yourself

20191 h 56 min
Overview

Husband and wife Gabe and Adelaide Wilson take their kids to their beach house expecting to unplug and unwind with friends. But as night descends, their serenity turns to tension and chaos when some shocking visitors arrive uninvited.

Metadata
Director Jordan Peele
Runtime 1 h 56 min
Release Date 14 March 2019
Details
Movie Media Cinema
Movie Status Available
Movie Rating Very good

Let’s start by saying that Us is an absolutely terrifying horror movie. Easily within the top 10% of all horror movies in terms of scariness. That being said, it is a horror movie. You may be tempted to compare it to Get Out, but this is not a thriller like Peele’s previous film. This is a movie designed to invoke fear and get your heart racing. Is it a masterpiece of cinema? No. Is it a masterpiece of the horror genre? You absolutely bet it is. So, get that out of your system now before diving in.

Even at the beginning of the film when things are ordinary, things feel off. The main characters are not a perfect family and clearly have some issues while trying to keep it all together and enjoy their summer vacation. This is really driven home for the audience by the soundtrack. The music has just the right blend to leave you with a feeling of alien fear, a fear of the unknown as you know something that seems impossible is coming to hurt you. Some scenes are a little goofy, so the entire film is not deranged and dark. These bits provide a healthy sense of balance and moderation; a little light in the darkness.

On the other side of things, this is a movie that requires a sense of disbelief. It also requires viewers to pay close attention. There is a lot of foreshadowing and symbolism throughout the film; some things may be missed during the first viewing. It skims the realm of contemporary horror (Hereditary, The Witch, or It Follows), but just barely. While those types of films are beloved by critics and die-hard horror fans, they do not go over well with general audiences. Peele touched them just enough to be interesting but not turn most people off.

If you try to go too deep, Us is not a story that really holds up to critical analysis. There are a number of holes that require that sense of disbelief. If you think closely some can be explained while others cannot. But conceptually, that decision on Peele’s part really comes down to interpretation. If you like to have things explained and know everything about a story in detail, you may be disappointed. But if things do not quite make sense, if these horrible things that are happening seem illogical and inconceivable, that can make the fact that they are happening all the more terrifying.

March 31, 2019

The Last Colony (Old Man’s War #3)

Published Post author

The Last Colony Book Cover The Last Colony
Old Man's War
John Scalzi
Sci-fi
Tor Books
April 17, 2007
Paperback
320

Retired from his fighting days, John Perry is now village ombudsman for a human colony on distant Huckleberry. With his wife, former Special Forces warrior Jane Sagan, he farms several acres, adjudicates local disputes, and enjoys watching his adopted daughter grow up.

That is, until his and Jane's past reaches out to bring them back into the game--as leaders of a new human colony, to be peopled by settlers from all the major human worlds, for a deep political purpose that will put Perry and Sagan back in the thick of interstellar politics, betrayal, and war.

 

The Last Colony marks the return of John Perry from Old Man’s War, once again making him the central character. Having married Jane and adopted Zoe since the events of the last book, the family lives a peaceful farmstead life. Until the Colonial Defense Force makes them a new offer, filled with honeyed words and half-truths. Whereas the first book was about regular soldiers and the second followed special forces, this third installment focuses on civilians. Being the last book in the original trilogy for this series, The Last Colony has its ups and downs.

On the positive side, Scalzi once again shows people in different lifestyles and new situations. Once again, he demonstrates that he knows how to write more than one type of scenario. We see that while humans are not necessarily the good guys, humanity is much more fractured than most of the alien species. There is merit to what the mad scientist in the previous novel said about the CDF’s corruption. Overall, The Last Colony is a fitting end to the trilogy and a good story. Not quite a great story, but a good one.

The negatives of this book, and the trilogy as a whole, are what keep The Last Colony from being good rather than great. One key issue is the lack of descriptions. There are a fair number of aliens in this series and none of them get described in detail. Some just have a name put to them and that is it. The mental images readers can paint of these aliens is very, very limited. Tying into that, the world building is very light. The limited information is justified as the characters not knowing a lot in the grand scheme of things, but most other series find a way to fit more world building in.

On the whole, the Old Man’s War trilogy is one of the better space sci-fi series out there. Particularly the first book, which had a lot of unique concepts that were well executed. But the magic in that first book just lost momentum as the series went on. This last original installment, particularly, has some holes in it that the fourth book fixes later. And from there the quality of the series continues to dip further. Reading Zoe’s Tale after this book helps but after that, it is safe to stop with this series.

March 24, 2019