Wednesday, March 23, 2016

STAR WARS: REBELS Season Finale Features Vader vs. Ahsoka

The other day I found the following trailer for the March 30 second-season finale of Disney's Star Wars animated series Rebels.

I first became aware of the series when I was attending a couple friends' wedding at Disney World in 2014, but I never watched it except for some YouTube clips. From what little I know of it, it seems pretty cool. For example, it brings back into canon the Inquisitors, Imperial Force-wielders who use the Dark Side to hunt Jedi and enforce Palpatine's will.

(I didn't agree with junking the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe, but this does show that Disney is willing to bring back into canon the good parts of the EU. After all, what's the point of being a Sith Lord if you're not lord of something? Just a single apprentice doesn't seem like much.)

Vader facing off against his former apprentice looks to be poignant as hell, not just due to the relationship they had before as seen in the clips but also due to the obvious pain the situation is putting Ahsoka in. See the clips below:

I'm not sure if I'll be able to watch it when it comes out, but I'd definitely like to see how this shakes out. Given how Ahsoka is never mentioned in the original films I suspect it won't end well for her, but it could be a lot of fun to watch.

Book Review: Bigfoot Crank Stomp

I have recently decided to try to finish the first draft of my novel Little People, Big Guns, which almost certainly qualifies as bizarro, this coming summer. I decided to do some research into the genre, so I bought Erik Williams' horror novel Bigfoot Crank Stomp, which I first became aware of after meeting representatives of Eraserhead Press and Deadite Press (they're all part of the same company) at the World Horror Convention last May. It was a short novel and a quick read, so here's my review...

The Plot

A group of meth-cooking petty criminals have captured Bigfoot and for some reason have gotten him hooked on methamphetamine. They intend to get him high and then burn down the cabin around him once they're finished cooking one last batch of meth, but some drug-dealing rivals interfere. Bigfoot gets loose and goes into a withdrawal fury and it's up to some local sheriff's deputies, a traumatized Iraq veteran, and a random camper to put a stop to him. Think a deranged, comedic cross between Breaking Bad and Harry and the Hendersons...

The Good

*One thing I like about bizarro fiction, even though I haven't read much of it, is that the plots are really creative and often hilarious. For example, Eraserhead put out a novel entitled Shatnerquest in which a bunch of nerds try to rescue William Shatner after the apocalypse--only to find he's grown into a Godzilla-sized monster and is rampaging around. Bigfoot Crank Stomp certainly fits this tradition, as the plot by itself amusing by virtue of just how ridiculous it is.

*One character gets high and a significant chunk of the story is told from his point of view. I've never done any sort of drug (let me make this quite clear) so I don't know how it feels to be intoxicated, but I like how the point of view shifts all the way to bugnuts insane. And some of the decisions the character made in this condition made me laugh out loud.

*The novel is never boring. It's a quick, entertaining read.

*There are some good descriptive passages, like how Bigfoot's roars and screams sound and how a man who fell off a cliff is described as looking like "he tried to kiss the inside of a tree trunk at high speed."

The Bad

*It's never explained just how the first set of criminals captured Bigfoot in the first place, or why they decided to get him hooked on meth. People who do drugs often make extremely questionable decisions, but we have scenes from the point of view of the meth-cookers who got their hands on Bigfoot and we still don't get so much as "it seemed like a good idea at the time." A character lampshades this by saying they'll probably never know (in response to a character who's astounded someone actually did this), but still.

*The scenes from Bigfoot's point of view refer to meth as "food." But wouldn't it differentiate meth from the more normal sort of food it eats? Perhaps some kind of modifier of "food" like "happy food" or "sleepy food" or something. If anything, even if Bigfoot is a being of less-than-human intelligence, it would differentiate between the food that it eats and something that goes up its nose.

*Another group of characters are introduced a little over halfway through the story. It would have been better if they were at least mentioned earlier. Perhaps as clients of the drug dealers, or someone whom the sheriff is suspicious of? Think Chekhov's Gun.

*The novel isn't very long--according to Amazon it's 156 pages, but it cost $4.95. Marko Kloos's much-longer Frontlines e-books (as of this review Terms of Enlistment, Lines of Departure, Angles of Attack, and the forthcoming Chains of Command) are around three times as long each at the same price. Although the novel was a quick read and entertaining, it's far too short for an e-book price that high.

*Not sure how much staying power the novel has. When I reviewed Clive Barker's The Hellbound Heart (you can see that here), I criticized the purchase price for being too high for something that short, but I've re-read The Hellbound Heart at least twice. I'm not sure if I'll re-read Bigfoot Crank Stomp.

The Verdict

Although it's a fun book, it's too short for the purchase price and I don't foresee it having a lot of re-read value. If you've got Amazon's Kindle Unlimited, though, a borrow would be worth your while for a trip to the gym or killing a couple hours. Six out of ten.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Join My Mailing List!

Based on advice I've received from the podcast The Sell More Books Show and the example of my friend Alex Hughes, I have decided to set up a mailing list. I used MailChimp, something I learned how to use when I worked for Kiss The Limit Productions a few years ago.

Why should you join? Joining this list allows you to keep up with my various pursuits, including my short fiction and novels, the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, movie and book reviews, and interesting things I find via Twitter. You'll know when my products are available on Amazon or elsewhere for free or at a reduced cost. There will also be free fiction and background material available for subscribers only. If you're interested in science fiction, fantasy, horror, science, writing, or related topics, you'll love being on my mailing list.

And don't worry. I won't spam you with wave after wave of e-mails, I promise. :)

Here's a direct link to sign up. Let me know if you don't get the verification e-mail. I'll send out a test newsletter soon.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

I'm not sure why I titled this movie review "Blast from the Past" considering I only saw some snippets of Big Trouble In Little China when I was in elementary school, but it is for the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood. Here's the podcast.

And now for the review...

The Plot

Trucker Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) and his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) find themselves mixed up in ancient magic dating all the way back to the infamous First Emperor of China. Mayhem ensues as they--along with the elderly Egg Shen (Victor Wong) who is more than he appears--have to rescue Wang's fiancee Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) and Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) from a street gang who's kidnapped them and evil undead sorcerer Lo Pan who seeks to marry one and sacrifice the other...

The Good

*The filmmakers are clearly familiar with the dictum "show don't tell." Rather than explaining that trucker Burton is friends with the Chinese community in San Francisco, they start out the film with him pulling his truck into Chinatown and sitting down with Wang and a bunch of his friends for a traditional sort of gambling. It's depicted as though it's just another night for him.

*The film plays with genre conventions. The hunky lantern-jawed white male ostensible lead Burton is only intermittently competent, while Wang, who'd be the plucky ethnic sidekick in most films, is the real mover and shaker. During the podcast, Daniel said that the movie is a deconstruction of a lot of movie tropes and a lot of people don't understand that. He's right. According to TVTropes, the filmmakers intended the movie to be an even more blatant subversion of Mighty Whitey, but the studio executives prevented that. I asked on the podcast if Burton or Wang was the protagonist and although I didn't get the chance to mention this, the notion reminded me of someone on the Harry Potter fan-site FictionAlley forum who claimed Hermione was the real protagonist of the series and that Harry was the "frontkick."

*When Burton confronts a group of human traffickers at the San Francisco airport, things don't go well for him. Always watch your six, especially if you already know there's more than one enemy. This does a good job expositing that Burton, though brave and good-hearted, clearly acts first and thinks later.

*Wang's characterization (initially) avoids stereotypes--he's neither a wimpy geeky guy, nor is he a Bruce Lee karate master type either. At least at first...

*There's a Chinatown funeral parade in one scene. In Chinese culture, white is the color of mourning. The producers clearly did their homework.

*Shooting into water to kill underwater targets doesn't work in this film. Good. It generally doesn't work in real life either.

The Bad

*For an action film, it's fairly slow-moving much of the time. That's one of the single biggest flaws in the picture. There's a ritual scene where the three demigods do martial arts for an extended period and it seriously slows the movie down. There are some other dull spots too, but that one takes the cake.

*It's not clear what Gracie's actual job is. Is she a crusading attorney? Some kind of social activist? Her initial purpose seems to be preventing a Chinese immigrant from being kidnapped into prostitution by a gang, she's clearly familiar with the residents of Chinatown (to the point she can call Burton an outsider and none of the Chinese point out she's just as white as he is), and she knows one of the gangs will kill her on sight. There's some potentially interesting backstory there.

(The TVTropes page for the film actually suggests that many of the film's characters could be protagonists of interesting stories in their own right.)

*The Chinese gang kidnapping someone at the airport in front of dozens of people? They must be the Z-team of human traffickers. Think the crew from Taken who openly, flagrantly kidnap an American tourist in Paris rather than the safer route of tricking or outright kidnapping Romanians or other impoverished Eastern Europeans. It would have been more plausible if they'd staged an ambush away from the crowds or even kidnapped her in Chinatown itself. Given how Wang and Egg seem friendly with one of the rival gangs, them attacking Wang's restaurant or ambushing Wang and Miao on the street is pretty sensible. Burton can get his behind handed to him there just as easily.

*Sometimes the dialogue isn't very good. Kurt Russell doesn't deliver "son of a bitch must pay" very well after the traffickers nearly run him over in a car.

*The actions and especially the facial expressions of the three demigods (who I refer to as "Lord Raiden knockoffs" in the podcast even though this movie is nearly a decade older than Mortal Kombat) who break up the gang fight were unintentionally hilarious. A couple times they come off as looking constipated.

*When Miao is kidnapped, Wang seems more concerned about himself than her, never mind that at this point they think she's going to be sold into prostitution. He tells Burton that, "My destiny is in your hands," not "Miao's safety is in your hands." Wang has known Miao since she was a child; he claims to be in love with her. Wang doesn't seem to be a self-absorbed lout generally, so I'd chalk this up to bad writing.

*Burton at one point shoots padlocks to free some girls the gang has kidnapped. That doesn't work in real life. Heck, Mythbusters used the film to introduce the segment. It would've been better if he found a jailer and made him hand over the keys at gunpoint.

*Although Wang is introduced as being this normal guy, his martial-arts skills get more and more extreme as the story progresses to the point he's able to go full-blown Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with a demigod. If they'd had some back-story where maybe he and Burton became friends taking karate as kids, that might've explained why somebody who's not initially depicted as being a Bruce Lee type by the end of the movie is busting out Bruce Lee-esque (if not better) skills.

*A character is supposed to be fleshless (except in a particular form), but he seems pretty tangible in several scenes, including touching other characters and being touched himself.

The Verdict

It deserved better than to bomb as it did, but there are still legitimate flaws. See it once, especially if you can get it for cheap off Amazon Instant Video like I did. 6.5 out of 10.