Book Review: STAR WARS- Balance Point

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BalancePoint_Ca_AbrKathy Tyers
Del Rey
2001

There is no place to channel the flood of refugees fleeing the murderous Yuuzhan Vong but the overcrowded planet Duro, poisoned by centuries of technological excess. Fortunately a deal is struck: In exchange for a new home, the refugees will work to restore the planet to health, under the watchful eye of Leia Organa Solo. While tempers flare between the Duros and the New Republic, Han Solo, his son, Jacen and the Ryne called Droma arrive to keep the peace. They are unaware that Leia is on Duro…and that Luke, Mara and Anakin are on their way, searching for a missing Jedi apprentice. And none realize that the Yuuzhan Vong have chosen this embattled planet as the next target in their brutal coreward thrust. Now, as the fragile stability on Duro threatens to collapse into violence, Jacen Solo must face his greatest dilemma: At what point does the use of power become aggression? Whatever he decides, his next step would tip the galaxy’s destiny toward the light or toward darkness–with the life of someone he loves hanging in the balance…

Continuing on with the New Jedi Order saga, the Yuuzhan Vong continue with their terror campaign to conquer the New Republic and shape the galaxy for their own purposes. And the New Republic is having a dickens of a time trying to hold things together. The refugees from the previous novel have been relocated to Duro, a planet essentially dead after centuries of over-industrialization, in an effort to fix things up and make it their new home. A few throw pillows here, some new curtains and a few dozen air fresheners to make the smog-poisoned air breathable, and good as new. Only, things are going about as well as you would think when you cram several hundred thousand displaced beings from multiple worlds and species under several large inverted Tupperware bowls, with a shortage of supplies and what I can only imagine is a big stench from not being able to shower. Add to this volatile melting pot a Yuuzhan Vong infiltrator stirring things up, Jacen (the whiney emo of the Solo children) deciding to give up using the Force entirely because of a dream he had, Mara and Luke finding out there’s another Skywalker on the way, and the so-called Peace Brigade and Duro officials about to betray the planet to Yuuzhan Vong invaders–who have now got a serious mad-on against the Jedi–and you’ve got another greatly amusing episode in this ongoing saga.

Author Kathy Tyers did well in keeping the story going along at a good clip, making even the moments of intimate interaction between the family members not as cheesy as they could have been. Also, lil’ Baby Skywalker’s a-comin’! But anyway, yeah, I’m familiar with Ms. Tyers’ Star Wars work by way of the short stories she’s done for a couple of anthology collections. As for Balance Point, it furthers the overall New Jedi Order arc well, and has a couple of surprises, and was well written with the action and requisite intrigue. Not the greatest entry in the New Jedi Order, but far from the worst, I think.

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Book Review: STAR WARS: Agents Of Chaos II- Jedi Eclipse

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agentsof chaos 2James Luceno
Del Rey
2000

A string of smashing victories by the forces of the sinister aliens known as the Yuuzhan Vong has left the New Republic resources and morale stretched to the breaking point. Leia Organa Solo, estranged from her husband, Han, oversees the evacuation of refugees on planets in the path of the merciless invaders. Luke Skywalker struggles to hold the fractious Jedi Knights together, even while one of them undertakes a bold but reckless undercover mission. Manipulating their alliance with the amoral Hutts, the Yuuzhan Vong leave a cunning trail of vital information where New Republic agents are sure to find it–information the desperate defenders cannot afford to ignore: the location of the alien’s next target. Then Han Solo stumbles into the dark heart of a raging battle, thus beginning a furious race against time that will require every skill and trick in his arsenal to win…

Part two of the two-part Agents of Chaos storyline finds Han Solo helping the Ryn refugee he literally ran into in part one trying to find his clan members, which takes them undercover onto a world profiting off of the thousands displaced by the Yuuzhan Vong attacks. Meanwhile, the Hutts are playing both the Vong and New Republic for their own benefit (typical), and a Jedi Knight bent on avenging the death of friends allows himself to be captured as a slave, only to discover what dwells in the hearts of the Yuuzhan Vong fleets. A little hint: it’s part Lovecraftian nightmare, part Henti fanfic. Yeah. Oh, and Princess Leia seeks the help of a former boyfriend to fight off a potential invasion, an ancient alien artifact is being brought online that has the power to make the Death Star seem like a mere bug zapper, and a New Republic senator is looking like she loves herself some Yuuzhan Vong rule.

Five books into The New Jedi Order, and thus far it’s been a rather enjoyable space opera. I especially enjoy the further exploration of the Yuuzhan Vong’s biotechnology and the way it all functions; which, when you think about it, would make the Yuuzhan Vong the ultimate ecoterrorists dreamed up. Also, Han’s interaction with the Gypsy-like Ryn refugee Droma was rather amusing, as they find themselves amidst misadventures while trying to find his people.

I do find myself a bit mystified as to the choice of subtitle: Jedi Eclipse. Except for a handful of scenes, the Jedi weren’t really featured prominently. Then again, the further vilification of the Jedi by the New Republic governing body amidst the Yuuzhan Vong crisis might have something to do with the subtitle. Regardless, Jedi Eclipse was another good, well-executed entry in this ongoing space yarn odyssey.

Book Review: STAR WARS- Agents Of Chaos I: Hero’s Trial

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agents of chaos 1James Luceno
Del Rey
2000

Merciless attacks by an invincible alien force have left the New Republic reeling. Dozens of worlds have succumbed to occupation or annihilation, and even the Jedi Knights have tasted defeat. In these darkest of times, the noble Chewbacca is laid to rest, having died as heroically as he lived–and a grief-stricken Han Solo is left to fit the pieces of his shattered life back together before he loses everything: friends, family, and faith. Refusing help from Leia or Luke, Han becomes the loner he once was, seeking to escape the pain of his partner’s death in adventure…and revenge. When he learns that an old friend from his smuggling days is operating as a mercenary for the enemy, he sets out to expose the traitor. But Han’s investigation uncovers an even greater evil: a sinister conspiracy aimed at the very heart of the New Republic’s will and ability to fight–the Jedi. Now Han must face down his inner demons and, with the help of a new and unexpected ally, honor Chewbacca’s sacrifice in the only way that matters–by being worthy of it.

Book number four in the overall New Jedi Order saga focuses on everyone’s favorite intergalactic smuggler-turned-Rebel-hero-turned-husband and father to Princess Leia and three next generation Jedi, respectively: Han Solo. It’s been hard for the lug since his lifelong best bud Chewbacca died months earlier in the book Vector Prime (in the most METAL way possible); at the funeral ceremony on Chewie’s home world of Kashyyyk, Han decides to take the intergalactic equivalent of a walkabout to try and gain some perspective, to finally let go and move on. The galaxy is being invaded and slowly conquered, and it would be nice if he focused sooner rather than later, after all. This brings him across an old smuggling friend of his, who talks Han into investigating the goings-on of a group calling themselves the “Peace Brigade”, human collaborators with the Yuuzhan Vong. Meanwhile, a female Yuuzhan Vong priest and her bird-like companion defect to the New Republic, but like everything else involved with the Vong, not everything is what it seems. The Jedi are in desperate need of new PR, as well as unity within their ranks, and a remote space station that both Han Solo and Leia happen to be on is attacked by a giant space snake dispatched by the Yuuzhan Vong, and by the end of this first parter Han has gained a new buddy…at least temporarily, much to his chagrin.

As the first part in this duology in the New Jedi Order maxi-series, this one pushes the overall story forward nicely, giving some closure and further substance to Han Solo’s plight since the controversial death of Chewbacca earlier, and there are some nice call-backs to the Han Solo trilogy and the events in the novel The Truce at Bakura, not to mention the Outbound Flight Project and the Black Fleet Crisis. Yes, I realize how big of a nerd I am, here. Regardless, plenty of action and duplicitous subterfuge abound, and the Yuuzhan Vong are by far one of the more terrifying and daunting enemies the Jedi and New Republic have faced. So far, so go. And on to the next installment in the series.

Movie Review: CROSSROADS

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Crossroadsposter1986Columbia Pictures
1986
R

“Lots of towns. Lots of songs. Lots of women. Good times. Bad times. Only thing I wanted anyone to say is, ‘He could really play. He was good.'”

Eugene Martone struggles with the devil and his destiny when he goes down to the crossroads in this contemporary drama. With a potent blend of adventure, romance, and music; the film takes gifted young guitarist Martone into a dangerous and challenging new world. Obsessed with unlocking the mysteries of the blues, the fledging musician finds cantankerous Willie Brown, a master of the blues harmonica, and frees him from prison. The unlikely duo hobos from New York to Mississippi as Maratone searches for fame and Brown tries to break a contract he signed years ago with the devil. En route, Martone meets and falls for sexy runaway Frances. With a rich mixture of Delta blues and driving rock, the film takes Martone and Brown on an intense odyssey that leads them to a dramatic climax at the crossroads.

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat: Yes, I am painfully aware that there was another movie released in 2002 titled Crossroads, staring a Brittany something-or-other. And I am also aware of the possibility of the majority of internet readers thinking this is about that movie and getting confused. And I don’t care if there is confusion; I’m just pointing that out as a pre-emptive “Yes, yes I know” to any potential “Hey, did’ja know there was” backlash, here. ‘Tis the occupational hazard of reviewing movies that were released over a decade before a lot of modern movie watchers online were even a twinkle in their parent’s eyes, or however that folksy saying goes. Anyhoo…

The 1986-released Crossroads was something of a road-trip movie that starred the original Karate Kid–Ralph Macchio–as the whitest white guy to try to play the blues since Eric Clapton. He’s a student at the Julliard School for Performing Arts in New York, studying classical guitar, but he’s fascinated with the blues, specifically the legends surrounding Robert Johnson selling his soul to the Devil at the cross road and a so-called “lost song” of his. So, he does what every young aspiring musician with superficial ties to the style they’re coopting would do: he finds a longtime friend of Robert Johnson’s–Willie “Blind Dog” Brown–and busts him out of the minimum security hospital he’s been at in his twilight years, and they hitch down to Mississippi, so that Eugene could experience the Blues first-hand…and also get Satan himself to tear up the contract Willie made back in the day to become a talented bluesman himself. Wackiness, and a guitar duel with Steve Vai ensues, and in the end, it all comes down to who knows their Mozart.

Yeah, I was 12 and in 6th grade when Crossroads came out, so there was no chance whatsoever of travelling the 30 minutes it took to get to the nearest town with a theater to see this. Or being able to rent an R-rated movie from the mom-n-pop store when it became available on VHS. And by the time I was able to, I was preoccupied with other movie genres, other than older road-trip type dramas. Yeah, I was aware of the deal-with-the-devil angle of the story, but still it took me a while to remember this movie existed before checking it out, more out of nostalgia than anything else.

Overall, Crossroads was rather decent. It was, indeed, a Faustian Southern Gothic tale by way of a road-trip movie, with a storyline that’s more derivative than original, but…it was greatly enjoyable. The dynamic between Macchio as the wide-eyed would-be Blues musician and Joe Seneca as the grizzled old Blues veteran who takes him under his wing is quite palpable, which is what keeps the story from getting too boring. Things do slow down in the middle a bit, due to the sudden inclusion of a runaway girl who is obviously there for the pre-requisite love interest for Macchio. But then she’s dispatched by the third reel, and things get better.

Really, what kept Crossroads interesting was the dynamics of the characters. Beyond the two main leads, there was a charisma that almost every other actor in here had that I enjoyed, especially that of Robert Judd as Old Scratch. It was his big smile, there, making his all-too-brief scenes memorable.

Overall, as I mentioned, Crossroads was a decent flick, some good music on the soundtrack and a good Southern Gothic feel. I don’t see myself watching it more than just this one time, though, but I am glad I did, at least to reclaim my squandered childhood.

Movie Review: The ANDROMEDA STRAIN

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the andromeda strainUniversal Pictures
1971
PG

“Fools!  They refuse to believe life exists in meteorites.  I showed them at the astrophysics conference what I just showed you.  But no!  Even with a microscope they are blind!  What do I have to do?  Hit them over the head?”

A satellite crashes in New Mexico, prompting scientists to race against the clock to stop a deadly virus from spreading in this Oscar-nominated sci-fi classic based on Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name. The alien illness that sprang from the probe has already killed most of those living near the crash site, and now it’s up to a team of scientists to stop it.

Working through the list of movies that I could never seem to get around to watching, The Andromeda Strain was one in a list of highly recommended sci-fi movies I’ve always been meaning to check out, but held back mainly because it was released at a time when sci-fi movies were all serious and bleak, before Star Wars came and made it fun and exciting again.

Based on a novel by Michael Crichton, a man whose novels I can never seem to make past the halfway point, The Andromeda Strain was not what I expected it to be.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing in this instance; but initially, going by the movie info blurb gleaned from the Net Flix, I was expecting the standard Plague From Beyond The Stars thriller kinda sci-fi thing. Eh, blame it on the era I grew up in, where sci-fi movies were barely more than action movies set in space / in the future / an alternate dimension / shrunken down inside some guy’s circulatory system.

The Andromeda Strain is really what you would call Hard Sci-Fi, which essentially means it’s less whimsical and more science fact.  It’s science fiction by and for those who aren’t too keen on the “fiction” aspect.

So, what we have with The Andromeda Strain is a 2+ hour movie that is mostly spent watching and listening to scientists study and theorize as to the nature of this deadly disease that literally fell from the sky.  There’s approximately ten minutes or so of actual thrilling moments; the rest of the time, we’re following around the scientists checking out this thing.

On the outset, yes, this does sound as interesting as a 4-hour lecture on the sexual reproductive habits of the common household dust mite, but what keeps this from becoming…well, that, is the chemistry between the scientists stuck in the underground government lab studying this thing.  They all are from different ages, backgrounds and ideologies in their chosen field, which does tend to make the dynamics rather interesting.  The pacing didn’t seem to drag too much, and it also helps that I am rather a bit fascinated by technical aspects of…stuff.  Yeah.

In the end, I did enjoy The Andromeda Strain.  From what I understand, there’s mention of a remake floating around that is more or less a redundant update.  Eh, don’t think I need to watch that one any time soon.  By the way, don’t let the PG rating fool you, there is a bit of non-sexual nudity, and some disturbing images that would land an easy PG-13 had it been released a bit more recently or so.  Otherwise, The Andromeda Strain is a pretty good piece of old school sci-fi, and comes recommended by your ol’ Uncle NecRo.

Movie Review: The FINAL

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FINAL, TheLions Gate
2010
R

“I think I know what hell is. Hell is waking up everyday believing that the suffering you’re doing in life has meaning. That, somehow, if you endure it, you gain valuable lessons. The truth is, sometimes you just suffer. There is no meaning.”

Dane, an awkward student with a deadly vendetta, leads a group of outcasts who plot to avenge the years of humiliation they faced from the popular students at Hohn High School. The outcasts turn the tables on the popular students who made sport of them and prepare for a single night that will leave their tormentors scarred for life.

While watching this entry in the After Dark Horrorfest list that I’m currently going through, I was contemplating just what was going through the heads of the people who collectively made The Final happen.  Were they going for a dramatic and touching film on the consequences of bullying in High School, something that’s a bit more than just an After School Special?  Something with a pretentious and over-the-top script, ultra-hammy acting, slow pacing and a preachiness that insults the intelligence of everyone watching?  And then, when they hammered out the story, someone obviously said out loud, “You know what this script needs?  Torture porn.  Lots and lots of torture porn.”  And they all said, “Yes.  Yes, that is exactly what this movie needs.  Let’s break for Chinese food.”

Well, sirs, I hope those oodles and oodles of not-quite-chicken lo mien did a number on your digestive system, and spent the rest of the night on the toilet regretting your various decisions in life.  Because this movie you just produced and foisted onto the world?  This has the smell of your fetid feces all over it.  Not only is The Final torture porn, but it’s torture porn that tries and fails to be a socially conscience piece of torture porn.

Yes, the story involves a handful of outcasts, forced to endure the every day hell that is their High School, evidently a High School that’s populated with bros, jocks and girls who talk about nothing but sex, getting drunk and how hot they all are.  And of course, there’s no rhyme or reason given as to why the Outcasts are always picked upon, other than to have the audience cheer for the popular ones to receive their inevitable comeuppance by the outcasts.  Problem is, these are over-the-top characters that come off so fake, the story fails to make me feel any kind of sympathy for the characters we’re supposed to feel anything for.

The Final, in the end, was just another excuse for torture.  I consider the torture porn genre to be the lowest common denominator when it comes to movies.  I don’t even consider it really to be in the Horror category proper.  It was set in a house in the middle of the woods during a party…whatever happened to the good, old fashioned Setting Free A Demonic Spirit After Reading From The Necronomicon trope?  The put-upon kiddies do that, and boom.  Much more interesting movie.  But, no.  If you’re into this kind of thing, you have my pity.  Otherwise, pass The Final up.

Movie Review: The HAMILTONS

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HAMILTONS, TheLions Gate
2006
R

“What does it mean to be happy? To be content in the world around you? Mom used to say it was family. That family was the heart of everything, even existence. Without it, there’s nothing. She would always have these simple answers that somehow would sound so brilliant…”

The Hamiltons seem to be the picture-perfect American family. They are hardworking community members; giving to their local charities, attending town hall meetings and always respectful of their neighbors…except for the fact that they usually end up killing them.

It’s been said that the best and easiest way to start off a review articles is to trot out a tired, overused but apt cliche’.  So, here is the cliche’ I’m tossing out to start off this movie review:

Blood is thicker than water.  Especially since the family featured in The Hamiltons are vampires.  So that should make that particular cliche’ even more…what’s that?  I’m sorry, you’re gonna have to tone down the vulgarities for me to understand you.  Hum?

“Spoiler alerts”?  Screw the spoiler alerts.  The Hamiltons are a family of vampires.  Only, instead of coming out and saying it, the movie takes roughly 90 minutes to do so, throwing out enough teenage angst, red herrings, and subtle-as-a-brick hints to their true nature, you can’t help but guess the big twist ending within 30 minutes of starting the film.  Then you have no other choice than to sit through the rest of it, wondering when this angsty teenage drama disguised as an old Twilight Zone episode stretched out to a feature-length film will just get to it and end already.  Acting is melodramatic, and there’s not much else to say other than, “well, it was a movie.  It had a beginning, a middle, AND an end.”  Eh, pass.

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