Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Book Review: Mind Games by Kiersten White

Mind GamesMind Games by Kiersten White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It isn’t easy to write Young Adult stories that have appeal to adults. The melodrama. THE MELODRAMA! Nothing brings out the wrinkly curmudgeon quicker than reading teen angst.

Fia and Annie are sisters who are offered a place in a school for gifted girls after the tragic death of their parents. Annie is blind but can see the future. Fia (short for Sofia) has perfect instincts. And the school is a training ground for spies. Let the fun begin.

Paranormal isn’t a genre I’ve read a lot of in recent times, and young adult is not generally a genre that entertains me, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel by Kiersten White. The story is told in a stream of consciousness style that allows the reader to experience the teen angst and melodrama without it playing out like a TV soapie. Now I used the terms teen angst and melodrama but these are reactions to situations and events that warrant reactions of this kind. Which is probably why the novel worked for me.

And let’s be honest, we all remember being teenagers and thinking the whole world is against us. Kiersten’s novel plays on this whilst telling an interesting tale of two sisters being exploited as seers and assassins.

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Book Review: Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer

The Sins of the FatherThe Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If there is one lesson to be learned from this novel it is that no matter how bad things look – be it war, prison, fraud, or being a prisoner of war – as long as you are rich or have rich friends you’ll be fine. Oh, and having a peerage title is kinda inherent in the rich part.

Sins of the Father follows several characters through the events in and around the second world war. Harry Clifton was going to marry Emma Barrington, and despite Emma being pregnant, decides to join the navy after finding out that she could be his sister. Harry trades identities with Tom Bradshaw because reasons, which lands him in jail…… Okay, so this is just one long tale of misfortune disguised as a plot: you get the idea.

Archer deftly weaves his way across multiple time periods with multiple characters suffering multiple hardships. But I found that I was only really interested in two characters, Maisy Clifton (Harry’s mother) and Emma Barrington. This may have been because these were the strong willed characters who were grabbing circumstances by the horns and winning the tussle (or at least fighting the good fight). Archer takes several potshots at the issue of class and the peer system in the UK, the ones that work hard are rewarded, the ones that just sit back and inherit ultimately lose (is that a spoiler alert?). But he still manages to have the rich and peerage-d folk avoid death when their less fortunate and not rich commoner friends aren’t so lucky.

This was an engaging read but was let down by the ending. I’ll quite happily ignore the idea of the House of Lords having nothing better to do than spending an entire day debating who gets to inherit what, rather than say running the country as per the job description. I’ll even allow the speeches being included as part of the story. But I won’t abide Archer leaving this plot point unresolved until the next novel. That’s a deduction of one star from the rating right there.

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Recycling Jokes

I realised today that I’ve become guilty of recycling my own material. It is one thing to steal someone else’s jokes (Dane Cook, Dennis Leary), it is another thing to retell the same jokes hoping to have a new audience to the material. But it is really sad when you trot out the same joke again and again.

What was this joke, you may well ask. Well, voice in my head, it was a little satirical one-liner poking fun at pro-gun advocates. The first time I used the joke in question, it was after a recent shooting.

Police in Idaho say a two-year-old boy shot and killed his 29-year-old mother in a Walmart store after finding the weapon in her purse. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/dec/30/idaho-toddler-shoots-kills-mother-walmart

To which I responded: If only there had been a good toddler with a gun to stop the bad toddler with a gun. This went down a treat with the other news commenters.

And then I used it again, less than a month later when this happened:

A 46-year-old man in Davidson County, North Carolina was shot in the neck on Thursday when his 3-year-old grandson found and fired an unsecured weapon. http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/01/north-carolina-man-steps-out-of-shower-and-gets-shot-by-3-year-old-grandson/

This is just terrible. My joke that – as highly original as it is – plays on the famous quote from NRA president Wayne Compassionate LaPierre, is going to wear thin very quickly. Despite how appropriate the joke is, capturing the ridiculousness of the pro-gun response to senseless and preventable tragedies, I’m going to have to write new material.

At least these things aren’t regular occurrences happening with surprising frequency:

Federal data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that between 2007 and 2011, an average of 62 children age 14 and under died each year in unintentional shootings. By this measure, American children are sixteen times more likely to be killed in unintentional shootings than their peers in other high-income countries. http://everytown.org/documents/2014/10/innocents-lost.pdf

A tragic young army mother was shot dead by her three-year-old son as she changed her 10-month-old daughter’s nappy. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/mummy-shot-words-toddler-who-4697433

NEW YORK: In yet another shooting incident in the US involving a toddler, a 2-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his 11-year-old sister while playing with a handgun. http://www.ndtv.com/article/world/2-year-old-boy-shoots-and-kills-11-year-old-sister-in-us-505473

Boy, 2, accidentally shot and killed by his 3-year-old sister in fourth death in the U.S. this month caused by a firearm finding its way into the hands of a child.
The 3-year-old Utah girl accidentally shot her brother with a rifle that had been left in the living room of their parents’ home.
In South Carolina, a 6-year-old boy accidentally shot a 22-year-old woman with a gun he found in the back of his mother’s car.
Also in South Carolina, a 7-year-old girl was fatally shot by a 5-year-old boy who thought the gun he was holding was fake.
11-year-old Jamara Stevens was killed in Philadelphia when her 2-year-old brother accidentally fired a gun the kids’ mother’s boyfriend had left in the home. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2609758/Boy-2-fatally-shoots-3-year-old-sister-fourth-death-U-S-month-caused-firearm-finding-way-hands-child.html

A Kentucky mother stepped outside of her home just for a few minutes, but it was long enough for her 5-year-old son to accidentally shoot and kill his 2-year-old sister with the .22-caliber rifle he got for his birthday, state officials said. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/01/us/kentucky-accidential-shooting/

http://kidshootings.blogspot.com.au/

My New Year’s Resolutions

new-years-resolutions

I’m looking forward to 2015. With each New Year there is a chance to change ourselves and the world around us, to make it better, to lay plans to bring about a better Australia. It is always best to make these plans at the beginning of the year, not at any other times throughout the year, because the earlier we make the plans, the easier it will be to forget them when it comes time to follow through.

This year I plan to make a few small changes, and if others follow my lead, we may have a better country by 2016.

Join a gym.
Last year I tried to lose weight using the Paleo Diet, which was based on the diet that someone who failed history and biology thought our ancestors ate. This year I’m going to join a gym for the year and then stop attending sometime in the second week of January. Regular gym members appreciate it if New Year’s Resolutioners leave before the end of January so that they have forty-eight to fifty weeks of the year they can work out unhindered. Gyms appreciate the extra memberships to keep their business running without having to invest in more equipment and space.

Do something about climate change.
I know I’ve been putting this one off since the 1980s, but this year for sure. Look, I know that coal is good for humanity and that climate change is crap, but I have all of these scientist friends who work for all of these science organisations who have been pestering me. I think at this stage it would be easier to stop using fossil fuels just to shut these experts up.

Stop reading the fantasy fiction genre.
There has been a lot of fantasy fiction released this past year. Regular series were back again with tales from Fox News, The Australian, in fact just about everything published by News Corporation. Until these fantasy authors start producing more realistic stories, such as Matthew Reilly’s story about a zoo filled with dragons, then I will have to stop reading them.

End my expectation of entitlement and join team Australia.
Australians have been far too entitled for far too long. Living in a first world economy that survived the 2008 Global Financial Crisis relatively unscathed has made us complacent. We have to stop expecting welfare, job security, privacy, and a fair go, unless we are rich, white, coal miners.

Start saving for my kids’ education.
Part of being entitled was the idea that we could expect an education that would give Aussies a good start at the fair go. Now it is up to me to make sure that my kids can afford an education. Our leaders know that it isn’t realistic for Aussies to expect a free education like they had, it is much more realistic to saddle young Australians with huge education debts, or have rich parents. Not being rich I’ll have to save money now for my kids’ education, they’ll just have to do without clothes, shoes and food in the meantime.

Write more letters of support for politicians.
Our nation’s elected leaders had a tough time in 2014 with experts from science, economics and ethics disagreeing with their policies and statements. Whether it be scientists pointing out that climate change was real, economists disagreeing with the budget measures and pointing out that the carbon tax was working, or the Human Rights Commission condemning the asylum seeker policies, it is clear that our politicians need more support for their uninformed policies. So I will be writing letters of support in 2015 encouraging them to stay the course, no matter how many uppity experts, with their facts and logic, disagree with them.

Book Review: The Valhalla Prophecy by Andy McDermott

The Valhalla Prophecy
The Valhalla Prophecy by Andy McDermott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At the rate Andy McDermott is going there aren’t going to be any ancient historical mysteries left to blow up. In this one, Nina and Eddie destroy Valhalla.

This is the ninth Nina and Eddie adventure, so at this stage there isn’t much need to describe the plot…. Oh okay. Ancient myth turns out to be real, there is a race to get to the archeological site first, things get blown up, people get shot at, world crisis averted. Or as my friend Iain summed it up: “Stupid, overblown, ridiculous, unbelievable, and utterly fucking brilliant.”

I always enjoy Andy’s adventure series, and his Persona Protocol was also good fun. You can’t help but enjoy his stories.

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Book Review: The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

The Great Zoo of China
The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My mother bought me The Great Zoo of China for Christmas, which makes her the best mother in the world. Well, unless your mother bought you a copy as well, in which case the title of best mother in the world would have to be shared.

CJ is a herpetologist specialising in large animals like crocodiles, and being a Matthew Reilly novel, she also specialises in avoiding dying every page or two. She is recruited by National Geographic to take a press junket trip to a new zoo in China. The Chinese government have developed an amazing new zoo that is set to wow the world, assuming their main attractions don’t try to escape and eat everyone. What could go wrong during the promotion junket for a zoo filled with dragons?

Yep. Dinosaurs, sorry, Dragons.

I’ve seen some reviews that suggest Matt’s novel is just a rip off of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. I agree completely. I also like to ignore that Jurassic Park is a rip off of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, which is in turn a rip off of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, or possibly Off On A Comet – if you want to count dragons as dinosaurs. Because every idea is 100% original and comments complaining about rip-offs don’t primarily show the complainer’s ignorance.

Ignoring that point – because who cares? – Matt’s latest novel is all of the elements we’ve come to love from him. The story is fast paced, life and death, adventurous fun. I really enjoyed The Great Zoo of China: enough said.

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TV that entertained me in 2014

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The small screen has continued to gain ground on the big screen in 2014, producing entertainment that is better written, produced, acted and engaging. Sorry, is it still a small screen at 50 inches?

Living hours away from the nearest cinema, TV, or at least the streaming version via my internet, is my go to pass time outside of reading. And like my lists of movies and music that have entertained me this year, TV has had a stella year.

24: Live Another Day
It is easy to forget how cool 24 was, especially with later seasons feeling a bit too recycled. But this shorter season was a return to form for Jack Bauer, reminding people why this show was such a success. Plus, I don’t think we have enough people being tortured on TV these days.

Almost Human
Suffered from the Firefly syndrome. Another sci-fi show on Fox that had episodes shown out of order, wasn’t given a proper time slot, and was cancelled before really finding its footing. I’ve written before about Almost Human and what it could have been. Pity.

Archer
There aren’t too many successful cartoon shows for adults that haven’t tried to be a Simpsons clone. Archer blasted into the world with a different style, especially in the humour department. So it was a pity that the Archer Vice season wasn’t up to the normal standard. There was plenty of humour, but not own it on Blu-Ray like the previous 4 seasons.

Arrow
After following this show for the first two seasons I was looking forward to more action-drama from Arrow. Oh, and abs, CW is the abs network after all. Two episodes into season 3 and I’ve decided to not bother anymore.

Banshee
The second season of Banshee had a high bar to jump over after such a fantastic first season. Things have only become more complicated, more violent and more naked. Awesome. Season 2 did have a slower pace, but the payoff was there every time. Can’t wait for season 3 in a few weeks.

Constantine
Meh. Actually I’ll elaborate: David S Goyer should be kept away from comic book adaptations (still love Blade 1-3).

Continuum
I have enjoyed this series as it managed to steer clear of a number of sci-fi and time travel pitfalls. The third season continued to entertain but started to make leaps in the story that seemed too convenient. With a fourth and final season announced, whilst the creators were planning 7 to 10 seasons, it is clear that they curtailed a few arcs.

Crisis
Sometimes when a series is cancelled after one season you have committed an atrocity against television, such as Firefly. Other times you can see why it happened. Crisis was interesting enough a premise, had good enough performances, but too much of the show felt bland and lifeless. Also, much like Legends, there were too many lazy film-making moments, such as the exposition scenes that are only there for the audience and completely unnatural for the characters. Still, kept me entertained when my toddler refused to let me hold a book in front of my face that wasn’t Hairy Maclary.

Defiance
By any measure this show should suck. Aliens on Earth, post-apocalypse civilisation, CGI that doesn’t rival some of the stuff on YouTube, and a home on SyFy. Yet Grant Bowler, Tony Curren, Jamie Murray and Julie “Darla” Benz head up a cast that make this show work. The writers keep a nice balance of wit, action, intrigue and drama flowing, without letting things become cheesy. All in all, an enjoyable show.

Dominion
This show is a sequel to the terrible movie Legion. But it stars Anthony Stewart “Giles” Head and received a lot of promos during Defiance, so I gave it a go. Dominion has a more interesting premise than Defiance, but has less interesting characters, less impressive performances – bordering on wooden at times – and a plot that creates pointless conflicts. SyFy fans will probably love this one.

Fargo
I have to admit that I DVR’d Fargo and only really watched the first few episodes. That speaks more to my time spent watching recorded or live TV as opposed to streaming shows than it does about Fargo. At some point I will be bothered enough to flick through all of those menus to retrieve the recorded shows and watch what struck me as a cool show. In the meantime, streaming is awesome.

Helix
Immortals, zombies, biological warfare, remote Arctic location, and scientists with really terrible autopipette technique: this show has it all.

Jack Irish: Dead Point
The third in the Peter Temple series of TV movies starring Guy Pierce was another winner. Peter Temple is one of Australia’s finest authors, so it is no surprise that his books are being turned into movies. I really enjoyed this series.

Justified
There are few shows that can claim to have impressed their audience so much that the author of the source material decides he needs to join the writing team. Justified is filled with great writing, great performances, and witty banter, enough to make Elmore Leonard proud. The new and final season arrives in January and I will be watching.

Last Week Tonight
John Oliver made the successful transition from The Daily Show to swearing friendly HBO. You’d have to have been living under a rock (in internet terms) to have missed seeing one of John’s fantastic segments this year. There was no subject too hard nor too grim for the Last Week Tonight team to cover. As a result another comedy show has handed out a lesson in how journalism can and should be done (hint: it starts with doing some bloody research!!).

Legends
Sean Bean doesn’t die in this show. Which is a shame. Legends is an annoying show as it flits between moments of greatness, such as Sean’s performance as an undercover operative who takes on different personalities for investigations, and then moments of sheer inept laziness. This could have been so much better.

Mad As Hell
Shaun Micallef is as close to Jon Stewart as we have in Australia. Mad As Hell is his ongoing satire of the week in news and 2014 has probably been his best yet. Off the wall and often forgoing the obvious jokes, this show deserves a bigger audience.

Old School
An offbeat Aussie crime drama, Old School didn’t quite wow me. Sam Neill and Bryan Brown work well together, the premise is good, if unoriginal, and the producers didn’t try to drag it out for too many episodes in the season. But it really didn’t rise above average entertainment.

Peaky Blinders
A friend introduced me to this fabulous show late this year. I cannot say enough good things about it. Cillian Murphy and Sam Neill are fantastic actors, but unlike some shows, the entire cast are great as well. Cillian may well establish himself with this role, not to mention Tom Hardy’s performance in the second season. I’m a fan of Cillian Murphy’s work, even going so far as to watch the terrible In Time. I could cite The Wind That Shakes the Barley as an obvious display of his acting chops, but instead I’m going to say that it was the film Red Eye with Rachel McAdams that won me over. Red Eye shouldn’t have been more than a B-grade thriller, but Cillian and Rachel make the material rise way beyond potential. Now imagine what he’s doing with excellent material and more than one amazing co-star.

Penny Dreadful
I mentioned in my 2014 in Movies article that I could watch Eva Green stare at the camera and find it entertaining. Well, she grabs the script and the scenery and chews them to pieces in this show. Much like Peaky Blinders, this is another well acted period drama, with no bad performances. But I want to like this show more. It suffers from a very slow pace of story telling, so much so that you almost thinking you are watching a soapie. Oh, and it has vampires in it. And they don’t sparkle. Boo-ya!

Person of Interest
Despite the modern setting, this is one of those classic TV shows. We’ve seen this “help someone each week” formula in show after show, but it never becomes boring. Whether it be The Littlest Hobo or MacGyver, shows about helping people in need always have a soft spot for me. Especially if they shoot people regularly like Jim Caviezel.

Rake – the Aussie version
Ignore the US version and check out Richard Roxburgh as a smarmy lawyer who defends any and everyone, whilst corruption and politics surround him. A classic show that doesn’t seem to have translated in the US version.

Sherlock
The third season of Sherlock was a bit of a let down. A few people described the season as suffering from a severe case of smug. Definitely not as good as the first two seasons.

South Park
I’ve drifted in and out of South Park. Much like The Family Guy, I still enjoy watching South Park, but don’t find myself compelled to watch every week/episode. That said, Trey and Matt have continued to skewer every topic with bravado.

The Blacklist
This show has grown on me. At first I didn’t think much of it, too forced and episodic. But then James Spader won me over with his charm. I’m sure there are other people on the show as well, possibly even writers and directors.

The Colbert Report
With Stephen Colbert leaving The Report to take over from David Letterman, it feels like we are losing a satirical show that has been without equal. Whilst I’m actually more of a fan of The Daily Show and the new Last Week Tonight, The Report has held up a mirror to those blowhards in the media and screamed at them to take a good hard look at themselves.

The Daily Show
With the rise of Last Week Tonight and the end of The Colbert Report, it is easy to forget the show that launched them. Still the original and the best US news comedy show.

The Flash
Watched the first two episodes and can sum the show up as: meh.

The Librarians
As a huge fan of Leverage I was excited to hear about the new Dean Devlin series, The Librarians. But then I realised that The Librarians sounded similar to a movie that made me want to cut myself. I was torn, watch a new show with Christian Kane in it and try to forget the horror that was The Librarian movies, or ignore potential awesome from the team that made Leverage. Well, a few episodes in and The Librarians looks like a lot of fun, much like Leverage was. Admittedly, the cheesiness that made The Librarian movies suck so badly is still present, but the fun factor is amped up. Did I mention Bruce Campbell makes a guest appearance? Oh, and Aussie actor John Kim is in the cast, and he keeps his accent, unlike many other Aussies and New Zealanders (e.g. the star of Banshee) cast in US shows.

The Roast
One of the common complaints about Aussie TV is the lack of an equivalent to The Daily Show or Colbert Report. The problem with this complaint was that we did have one: The Roast. Unfortunately it didn’t garner the attention it richly deserved and with ABC budget cuts no-one was going to support a show that took a (satirical) razor to politics and media. I think the 10 minute format was ideal for a daily comedy show, roughly matching the amount of original content their US counterparts produce daily, sans interviews. Vale.

See Also:
http://www.indiewire.com/article/the-most-disappointing-tv-shows-of-2014-20141220
http://tysonadams.com/2014/02/08/entertaining-tv-of-2013/

Movies that entertained me in 2014

best-movies-2014

Following on from my last post about my favourite music from this year, today I present the movies I watched that were released in 2014. Unlike my music list, this list is a review for the movies I watched, not just the ones I really enjoyed. As such I get the chance to highlight a couple of films that everyone should avoid watching, if they haven’t as yet been sullied.

There were a lot of good films released in 2014, especially in the action genre. But I will note that more films are suffering from the dreaded PG13 rating, whereby horrific violence is glossed over to save us from harm. All this really does is mean that we have violence without consequences portrayed in film. And no nudity. At least the DVD versions often have a more mature cut of the film available. Still no nudity. FSM forbid there be nudity. Won’t somebody think of the children!

By release date:

Snowpiercer
Technically released last year but only made it to Australia (US, etc) this year, as it was a South Korean production. I have been very impressed with the films coming out of Korea, with visuals and camera work that belie the production costs. Snowpiercer is no exception to this and managed to attract an international cast. Unlike many Hollywood films, Snowpiercer, and other Korean films I have seen, are not afraid of going for the hard ending to the film. Expect to see more from the Korean film-makers and their influence spread.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Inspired by, or based upon, or royalty check paid to, Tom Clancy for his Jack Ryan series of novels; Shadow Recruit is the latest take on the character. Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford (who killed Sean Bean) and Ben Affleck have all brought Ryan to the big screen, with adaptations of a series of books I gave up on back in my teens. There was nothing particularly wrong with this movie, it was entertaining enough, but there was also nothing that was going to see this franchise have another instalment soon.

The Raid 2: More Arse Kicking
You could be forgiven for thinking that there wasn’t further story to be had from The Raid. Given that the first film was pretty much one long fight scene that the hero won, what more was there to do? Aside from visit the hospital and spend months recuperating. But when a film that awesome is made there is always going to be a sequel, no matter how tenuous the narrative link is (although apparently the sequel is based upon a discarded script used in early development by the director). Where The Raid was flat out action, The Raid 2 has more suspense and plot, and plenty more awesome action. Can’t wait for the next Judge Dredd film to be based on it.

Non Stop: Taken on a Plane
Liam Neeson beats up bad guys on a plane. This time he’s an alcoholic and not really sure who he should be beating up. Not a patch on Taken but has a better plot than Taken 2.

RoboCop
It is hard to remake a classic film, especially in Hollywood, which generally requires writers and directors to gather up copies of the old classic to burn in a fire pit and then piss on the ashes in order to develop a script. When judged as a brand-new movie with no baggage from Verhoeven or the 80s (not one bad 80s suit or haircut appeared in this film), then Robocop is actually worth watching. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it is worth watching the film just to see Samuel L Jackson’s performance as a loud-mouth, arrogant, douchebag cable news anchor (you know, Bill O’Reilly). But we can’t ignore the baggage, so this comes off as a pale imitation. Still superior to the other Verhoeven remake, Total Recall.

The Lego Movie
Honey, where are my paaaants? The Lego Movie has grabbed a lot of attention and it is well deserved. The movie isn’t without its faults, but it is a kids film that doesn’t silently make parents wish they had decided to be ‘just good friends’ a decade ago.

3 Days to Kill
There were a lot of ingredients in this film that suggested it would taste fantastic. Instead it was a bit bland and made you feel guilty about eating all those calories for no reward.

300: Rise of an Empire
I am an unashamed Eva Green fan. I could happily spend 2 hours watching her stare at the camera, she is that good an actor (more on that in my 2014 in TV). All the ingredients that made 300 awesome are back (except Gerard Butler) with a more expansive stage. The director was clearly going for epic and almost made an action flick that got there. Unfortunately the cool visuals have been copied by too many other movies since the original, so much of the impact is lost.

Need for Speed
I played a lot of Need for Speed when I was younger, so it was awesome to watch the game being brought to life in the movies… Is that an oxymoron? Aaron Paul holds this film together, since the material is paper thin, and NFS wasn’t exactly weighed down with plot as a game. Enjoyable whilst being nothing amazing.

Captain America: Winter Soldier
This was just such an awesome film. The script was inspired by the classic run of comics by Ed Brubaker, with the writers and director managing to capture so much of what a good superhero comic is all about. Without much doubt, Captain America: Winter Soldier, was my favourite film of the year.

Sabotage
Just awful. There is virtually nothing to like about this film. All the characters are unlikable, the script doesn’t make sense, the ending feels like a let down, and not even Arnie’s charisma can stop this steaming pile of elephant crap from being one of the worst films I’ve ever watched.

Transcendence
Not many people liked this film, yet it wasn’t as bad as most claimed. The hate is probably a hangover from the last Johnny Depp vehicle, The Lone Ranger, which will haunt him to his deathbed. That doesn’t make Transcendence a good film, as it is slow, predictable, and crammed with undeveloped characters. But it has Cillian Murphy in it and Paul Bettany does his Paul Bettany thing, so the movie is watchable.

Brick Mansions
Brick Mansions is a remake of the French film District 13. They even got the original star, parkour legend David Belle, to play the same role again. There is nothing to like about this film, they even managed to ruin the parkour scenes with terrible camera work and editing. Watch the original, this was pitiful.

X-Men Days of Future Past
The problem with watching an X-Men movie is that we have seen The Avengers, Iron Man, and the previously mentioned Captain America. There is nothing particularly bad about this movie, but we have just had a slew of excellent comic book movies (which is a rarity), so this pales in comparison. X-Men suffers from being far too serious, lacking humour and interesting dialogue. Also, Hugh Jackman is a tad too lean and veiny in this film.

Edge of Tomorrow
I don’t know that I’ll ever forgive Tom Cruise for making Jack Reacher a foot shorter than he should be. But Edge of Tomorrow goes some way toward making amends. This was an excellent movie and was not the usual Cruise fare. The only thing that annoyed me about the film was the ending, which was the typical Hollywood rubbish. If they had stuck with the ending from the book then they would have had something remarkable.

A Million Ways To Die In The West
Family Guy is one of my favourite TV shows, despite having gone off the boil in recent seasons. Seth MacFarlane made a successful transition to movies with Ted, but some people aren’t enamoured with his brand of humour. I am and this was the funniest film I’ve watched since Ted. It isn’t as good, however, as A Million Ways To Die In The West suffers from being about 20 minutes too long. It seems all recent films are clocking in at 2 hours long, which is 30 minutes too long for a comedy, in my opinion. And A Million Ways could have retained most of the material and come in shorter, just by utilising tighter editing.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Of all the comics to become a blockbuster movie, Guardians is not an obvious choice. But everything about this film is done just right. Everything about Guardians says that it has to walk such a fine line that it should fail miserably. Instead the humour hits its marks, the acting stops the characters falling into Batman & Robin territory, the action is awesome but not overdone, and there is a sentimental note to the film that could have easily become soppy. My second favourite film of the year.

Lucy
It is hard to get past the ridiculous premise of this movie when it is a well known brain myth. But even if you dismiss that, Lucy is a rubbish film, so the use of the 10% Myth is the least of its problems. The main thing I hated was the problem that many of these “I’ve just become super smart” themed movies have (Transcendence had this as well to an extent), and that is the idea that the smarter you become, the more inhumane you become. Smart people = jerks, apparently.

The November Man
This was a solid action movie starring Pierce Brosnan (who killed Sean Bean) showing that he hasn’t lost his action chops. Nothing amazing about this spy-action-thriller, which means Brosnan carries the film. One thing I did hate was the ending, which seemed really odd. I’m sure there is a director’s cut that will be released that will make more sense, as clearly there was a scene missing.

The Equalizer
Denzel Washington is a Man On Fire…. Wait, different movie. Denzel Washington is a man with a particular skill set… Sorry, that’s Liam Neeson. Denzel Washington kills some Russian mobsters using hardware supplies and Sony product placement. The Equalizer is a pretty standard vigilante action movie. What sets it apart, or makes it worth watching, is Denzel, because when is he not worth watching, and the understated story-telling. A lot of films like this go out of their way to beat their audience over the head with various plot points, The Equalizer just pokes their audience in the face.

A Walk Among the Tombstones
Liam Neeson doesn’t beat up nearly enough people in this film.

Christmas Gift Ideas For Senator Leyonhjelm And Your Other Libertarian Friends

In the wake of the shocking Sydney Lindt Hostage situation our brave libertarian Senator Leyonhjelm struck straight to the heart of the real cause of the events and hinted at a foolproof solution. He pointed out that we are a ‘nation of victims’ and need to have access to guns to solve our problems, because it has worked so well in the USA.

His nuanced dissection of the events is a breath of fresh air. This was definitely not an issue of a man with a violent criminal history, nor his lack of treatment for mental health issues, nor about issues surrounding bail in our justice system, nor about racial and religious tensions in Australia. Nope, this was all about not being able to shoot people you have a problem with.

We should be thanking Senator Leyonhjelm and his fellow libertarians with gifts, which is appropriate timing leading into the Festive Season and our desperate need to stimulate the free market. So make Joe Hockey proud and buy some libertarian gifts.

Gift Idea: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, with foreword written by Rand whilst on welfare.
Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is a must have for all libertarians. The all-new edition has a foreword written by Rand in the 1970s explaining her principles and complaints about how small her welfare checks were.

Gift Idea: Smoker’s lungs desk ornament, with bonus lungs of their children who rode in the car with them while they smoked.
This is a great gift for libertarians as it acts as a conversation piece to allow them to discuss how over-taxed smokers are.

Gift Idea: Bushmaster AR15 semi-automatic rifle chambered in .223-caliber.
The Bushmaster is the freedom weapon of choice and a must have for defending your rights. Comes as a box set of the rifle, one thousand rounds of ammunition, and paper targets of school children.

Gift Idea: Environmental Goggles that immediately darken and block the sight of disasters.
You can’t have the environment get in the way of the economy, so these goggles help libertarians conveniently fail to see the degradation and destruction of climate change, pollution, and the future.

This article also appeared on The Sauce.

Music that entertained me in 2014

In the lead up to the end of 2014 and my announcement of The Awesomes of the year, I thought I’d cover things other than books that entertained me this year. To start with I thought I’d list some of the music I’ve bought and listened to this year. As always, I’m hoping that sharing the stuff I’ve enjoyed will promote artists and media so that maybe you’ll find something new to enjoy.

Devin Townsend
For me 2014 was all about Devin Townsend, with his new album Z2 and his back catalog on high rotation. Whilst Epicloud and Addicted remain my favourites, there is little Devin has done that isn’t worth listening to.

Epica
Whilst I’ve liked most of Epica’s work, their more recent album, Requiem for the Indifferent, had more pop-inspired vocals than Simone Simmons usual range. This lost my interest quickly. Fortunately The Quantum Enigma was a return to form for the band and Simone’s vocals. They also released one of the few lyric videos that didn’t suck, so there is that as well.

Arch Enemy
With singer Angela Gossow stepping down to manage the band, the new album, War Eternal, could have gone pear shaped. Instead Alissa White-Gluz stepped up and the band continued to kick arse.

Delain
With the second closest thing to pop on my list, Delain’s new album, The Human Contradiction, was a brighter, more rock, release than previous albums.

Diabolicus in Musica
Not to be confused with the classic Slayer album, Diabolicus in Musica share many of the elements I like in music (see if you can spot the similarities). Argia was their second album and released this year. Their studio production is improved over their first album, which makes them sound bigger and more epic.

Nightwish
Nothing new from them this year, but I did see them live so I’m counting that. With Floor Jansen stepping in as lead vocalist I was like an excited puppy to see them perform. Floor previously fronted After Forever, another band I love, not to mention her other projects.

Kontrust
This is cheating slightly because as I write this I haven’t bought the new album. But I did discover Kontrust this year and their music has also been on high rotation, particularly Secondhand Wonderland.

Deathklok
This is another cheat since Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem A Klok Opera was released last year, but I’m justifying it on the basis that Australia has to rely on illegal downloads to get content in a timely manner. So I was only able to buy this Klok Opera recently, and what a cool piece of work it is.

Amaranthe
I was watching a parkour video last year that had a song from Amaranthe as the soundtrack. I subsequently bought their first two albums and love their mix of crushing guitars and pop-inspired vocals. Definitely the most pop-styled music on this list, the new album, Massive Addictive, is more good-fun music.

Within Temptation
Given the list so far it is no surprise that Within Temptation are included here. With the release of the first single from Hydra, which included guest vocals from Tarja Turunen (formerly of Nightwish) I was excited, to say the least. But I found the album to be too inconsistent and a little disappointing. Still some great moments on it, however, such as this track:

Nicki Minaj
Kidding, just kidding. I honestly have no idea who Nicki Minaj is, except that she was one of the musicians satirised on the South Park episode I watched last night. Just wanted some clickbait. #NickiMinajNaked

Book Review: The Dead Zone by Stephen King

The Dead ZoneThe Dead Zone by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are some authors who are so far beyond reviews that it is almost an insult to review their work. Stephen King is one of those authors. Hope he doesn’t mind the insult…

Is there really much point in giving a brief introduction to The Dead Zone? It was a TV show, a movie, a bestselling book, and has been in print for almost as long as I’ve been alive. The only thing I feel the need to point out is that despite being a Stephen King novel this is not a horror story. I know King has a wide palate now, but his early work and reputation was built upon the horror genre. With the title as it is and a story about a psychic trying to stop Armageddon, you could be forgiven for stepping into this novel expecting a horror novel. Give me a break, I didn’t read the blurb or any reviews.

The supernatural elements of this story disguise a tale of living life after a setback (car crash and coma). Cut the finale and downplay the psychic angle (maybe drop the aspects that resemble plot development as well) and you have a literary novel. It is these extra elements that make this story worth reading whilst making it a very human novel to read. This is certainly a great example of King’s work and demonstrates why he has been a bestselling author for 40 years.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Deep Storm by Lincoln Child

Deep StormDeep Storm by Lincoln Child
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

It isn’t often that scientists are the good guys. Usually they are the bad guys, or at least facilitate things going horribly wrong, or they are socially inept losers. This time it is the military trying to ruin the planet…. I suppose you can’t do away with every cliché.

Lincoln Child of the widely successful Preston and Child writing duo, wrote this stand-alone novel, Deep Storm. Dr Peter Crane is a medical scientist recruited to help discover what is ailing a military and scientific team operating in a top secret deep water facility. The team have discovered something deep in the North Atlantic and are trying to uncover what it is, where it came from, and what scientific marvels it will unveil. If only people would stop going crazy and if they had left the saboteur behind.

I’m a huge fan of Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston’s work. I’ve previously read Preston’s stand-alone novels Impact and Blasphemy, the latter being one of my 5 star reviews, but until now I hadn’t read a stand-alone from Child. Deep Storm is definitely not as strong as either of Preston’s stand-alones, nor as good as most of their joint novels I’ve read. This novel had a lot of elements I liked about it, including the fairly well thought out plot. Normally techno-thrillers get bogged down in details (e.g. Crichton’s Timeline) or get the science wrong (e.g. Crichton’s State of Fear), but Child managed to balance accuracy with pacing.

The main reason I think this isn’t as strong a novel as the others in the Preston and Child oeuvre is that Deep Storm feels like a “by the numbers” thriller. Blasphemy had some interesting things to say about humans and beliefs. The Pendergast novels are underpinned by one of the more interesting central characters in the thriller genre. Which is why this book, whilst entertaining, felt lacking in comparison. This was still a tense, fast paced, engaging read and definitely one for Preston and Child or techno-thriller fans.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Sign of the Cross by Chris Kuzneski

Sign Of The Cross (Jonathon Payne & David Jones, #2)Sign Of The Cross by Chris Kuzneski

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sometimes when I’m reading a book I’m not sure if I’m meant to be excited, enrapt, or cringing. It’s taken me a few days to arrive at a decision and I’ve decided to cringe.

Sign of the Cross is a fast paced action adventure novel in the vein of Steve Berry, James Rollins, or that guy who wrote the book that annoyed the Pope; what was his name? In the second instalment of Payne and Jones’ adventures, the mercenaries are hired to hunt down two archaeologists who have uncovered a secret that could bring down the Catholic Church. Meanwhile a team of killers are reenacting the crucifixion, because, you know, that’s what Jesus would have wanted. With everyone hunting for Payne, Jones and their pet archaeologists, and a few murderers running around, who at the Vatican knows and who wants the secret, and do they want it for power or payback?

This is the first Chris Kuzneski book I’ve read, and it will be my last. Now that I’ve had time to reflect upon the story and writing, I’m actually surprised I finished the novel. Kuzneski came up in my recommendations because he writes fast paced adventure novels like two of my favourite authors, the previously mentioned Berry and Rollins. Unlike those two, however, Kuzneski takes all of the same ingredients for a novel, mixes them in an overly large bowl (the book is over 400 pages), and manages to make gruel.

The novel started well, but I noticed myself cringing at the end of the chapters with the ham-fisted foreshadowing. This continued until I would start preemptively cringing as I reached the end of each chapter. Seriously, it felt like the end of every scene or chapter Kuzneski would have a line like “Little did they know that only two of them would return.” But wait, there is more. There is an underlying casual sexism and racism to the novel that is unintentional, but jarring. An early scene has one of the characters, Nick Dial, surprised to see a woman Interpol agent. Not that Nick was sexist, women could be just as good as men……. No, Nick explained that he wasn’t sexist, but some of his bosses weren’t as open minded. Yeah. I’m not sexist, but….

These two points are just the major problems I had with the writing of this novel. And it is mainly the writing that lets this book down. In the example I just mentioned, there are many ways authors could discuss Nick’s surprise at seeing a woman on the job. But the way the scene was written it sounded like the author was desperately trying to sound progressive and PC. This poor writing happened throughout the book, which actually has a reasonable plot, a bit of humour, and great pacing. Some readers may not notice these issues, although I note many reviews complain about the foreshadowing, and it was entertaining enough for me to finish reading, so others may find this enjoyable. But I would recommend reading anything by Steve Berry or James Rollins instead.

View all my reviews

How to be creative

Couple of interesting videos I thought I’d share. The first is a recent video that refers to some fascinating research that looked at musical creativity with fMRI scans.

The second video is from the indomitable John Cleese.

Creativity is not an easy thing to achieve. I hope these two videos give others a few pointers.

Tethered Cow Caption Competition

Do you like writing stupid stuff in speech bubbles?

Do you like coming up with captions for pictures?

Do you have nothing better to do whilst chewing your lunch?

Then the Tethered Cow has a competition for you! Here is my entry:

Freebird

Book Review: Rover Red Charlie by Garth Ennis

Rover Red CharlieRover Red Charlie by Garth Ennis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whenever the apocalypse happens in fiction there is always a plucky band of survivors trying to make it in the post-apocalyptic world. In real life post-apocalypse waits a few million years for the next species to come along and dig up the fossils and fail to learn from history. But in both these scenarios, no-one thinks about the dogs.

In Rover Red Charlie, Garth Ennis has journeyed back to his apocalyptic world of Crossed to ask the question, “What about the dogs?” How will they cope without their “feeders”, will they still be able to bark “I’m a dog”, and are they the ones who will inherit the planet once we’re all gone?

When I read Crossed three years ago I presented a one word review: “Disturbing.” It was quite possibly the most graphic depiction and the most depraved apocalypse I’ve ever read. Yet despite being set in the same world, Rover Red Charlie is quite light and fun; exactly what you would expect from the dog’s take on the apocalypse. The usual Ennis humour and social commentary is present (“The feeders went and messed up this world, guess they had to go.”) and the three friends and their journey of discovery is enjoyable.

An original take on the apocalypse and one for fans of Ennis and the genre.

View all my reviews

Skeptically Challenged

Skeptically Challenged 19 Oct 2014
I’ve been quite busy recently. There is the usual writing going on, but I also have a few articles in the works, another rugrat in the works, and I’ve also been interviewed for the Skeptically Challenged Podcast.

In the podcast, Ross, Ketan and myself discuss a range of topics and try to bring the science. Ketan discusses the mythical wind turbine syndrome, I discuss a recent climate paper, and we cover the promises of fusion power from Lockhead Martin and the recent Ebola hysteria.

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Consider supporting Skeptically Challenged on Patreon;
http://www.patreon.com/skepticallychallenged

Ross Balch

Ross Balch

Tyson Adams

Tyson Adams

Ketan_Profile

Ketan Joshi

 

Ross: https://twitter.com/skep_challenged

Ketan: https://twitter.com/KetanJ0

Edit: Ross and I discussed a couple of other topics in the session below: Supplements and Atheists in Rehab.

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Discussed topics:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25043597

https://twitter.com/The_MartinL/status/522865867529265154

http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/lockheed-martins-fusion-reactor/

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/10/calif-atheist-awarded-2-million-after-being-re-jailed-for-refusing-faith-based-rehab/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/10/13/the-inevitable-rise-of-ebola-conspiracy-theories/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/10/17/what-was-fake-on-the-internet-this-week-ebola-edition/

http://doubtfulnews.com/2014/10/black-eyed-child-crazy-is-for-the-extremely-gullible/

http://etwasluft.blogspot.com.au/2014/10/alan-jones-declares-at-least-219000.html

http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/pause-in-warming-debunked

New Captain Disillusion Video! – http://youtu.be/h0pIZH-W6b4?list=UUEOXxzW2vU0P-0THehuIIeg

Some links to the material I was name dropping:
http://blog.hotwhopper.com/2014/10/anthony-watts-has-found-another.html
http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_Chapter10_FINAL.pdf
http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-sensitivity-advanced.htm
http://www.politicususa.com/2014/10/16/rush-limbaugh-admits-causing-panic-ebola-gop-win-midterm-elections.html

Also, stay tuned until the very end and you’ll hear just one of the bits that Ross will have for subscribers, mainly jokes. Now just imagine how we managed to work rocket powered Miley Cyrus into the discussion.

Book Review: Deadpool Kills Deadpool by Cullen Bunn

Deadpool Kills DeadpoolDeadpool Kills Deadpool by Cullen Bunn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is there anyone Deadpool hasn’t killed? Not after Deadpool Kills Deadpool.

In the previous instalments of Deadpool Kills our titular merc with a mouth killed everyone in the Marvel Universe and then moved on to killing everyone in the Ideaverse (Killustrated). Odd that he didn’t kill the DC Universe whilst he was at it. Regardless, this time Deadpool is killing himself across the multiverse. And yes, that is just as awesome as it sounds.

Most recently I read Killustrated, also written by Cullen Bunn, which was a fantastic story but felt abridged or not fully realised. This instalment felt the most fully realised in the series. The irreverent humour, quips and quirkiness are on fully display, right next to the full tilt action. But the fun stuff is also backed up with the story being fully realised this time, instead of being glossed over as it was in the other Deadpool Kills. As if to illustrate just how quickly the previous plots were glossed over, we actually have the synopsis delivered multiple times without upsetting the pacing here (although it might feel a tad trite to some readers).

Next stop will have to be Deadpool Classic.

Also it is worth noting that in my review for Killustrated I mentioned the leaked test footage for a potential Deadpool movie. Well, that movie is now being made!! I guess someone saw how well Guardians of the Galaxy did at the box office and decided humorous comic book movies could be made after all.

View all my reviews

Down with Reading?

An interesting table of statistics – yes I am assuming statistics are interesting, why yes, I am a huge nerd – crossed my feed today. The table, presented below, shows the household expenditure breakdowns over time (1990-2009). The highlighted lines show the amounts spent on entertainment and reading.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics (with labour spelt incorrectly)

US Bureau of Labor Statistics (with labour spelt incorrectly)

For those of you who are blind or prefer reading my words rather than a table of numbers, the statistics show that since 1990 there has been a pretty steady increase in household expenditure on entertainment, but the amount spent on reading has been in steady decline. Clearly it is time to panic. Movies, TV and gaming have won. Time to give up reading and writing. No future in it.

Well, that would be the conclusion if you don’t go and look for the source data.

Now I am rather lazy, so I haven’t bothered to look up every year of data and tried to recreate the table. But what I have done is looked up the figures from a few of the years not included in the table: 2010, 20112012 and 2013. The spend on reading from those years is $100, $115, $109 (no 2013 data as yet) and entertainment spend of $2,504, $2,572, $2,605 and $2,482. Seems like that trend stopped, or something.

Actually, the trend has more to do with the household demographics and income than any change in book buying. Whilst in the early 2000’s there was a drop in reading for entertainment from ~0.4% of household expenditure to ~0.2%, this has been consistent since. So readers are still buying and reading books at roughly the same proportion as always.

And who are the readers? Well, from the demographics breakdown the readers tend to be middle-aged or older, higher income, educated households, or households without kids. Apparently having kids stops you reading, can’t think why. And clearly older and more affluent people are the ones who can afford the hardcover prices, or see the value in them, or just like having something on the bookshelf surrounding their money pile – rich people have money piles in their houses, right?

To me this doesn’t say reading is a dying industry, rather that there are groups being missed by the current industry. Of course I’m biased and probably daydreaming about a magical place where books hunt down DVDs for sport. The younger people tend to have less entertainment expenditure, with the average consumer spending 5% of their income on entertainment, whilst under 25s spend between 4 and 5%. Their book buying appears to have declined and is lower than the average consumer, at 0.14% (2012). This makes them a missed market (or possibly buying cheaper e-books). The other groups spending less on books are the less educated and lower income people, and again, not just in total expenditure but in the proportion of household expenditure.

Clearly these three groups could be reading just as much but instead of buying books they are borrowing them from friends or libraries, or they might be buying cheaper books. But something tells me this isn’t the case, what with the kids these days with their hippity hop music and haircuts. To my mind the fear that the market for books is shrinking, as suggested by the above table, is not borne out by the more recent data. We see more competition for entertainment dollars yet books don’t change that much ($150 to $110 over 22 years is 3 paperbacks in the US) suggesting that the problem is in who is reading. If reading is going to be only for richer, older and more educated people then we have a problem, especially if we aren’t creating the next generation of readers.

It’s banned book week again

What better way to celebrate one of my favourite weeks than with a quote from John Green about his book, The Fault In Our Stars, being banned:

I guess I am both happy and sad.

I am happy because apparently young people in Riverside, California will never witness or experience mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them.

But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality. (Source)

There are all sorts of weird reasons that books have been banned in the past and present. Last year I covered the topic at length with both the reasons and the recent favourites for the book banning trolls. As another year rolls round, nothing has really changed. Please, won’t somebody think of the children!!

More here:

http://tysonadams.com/2013/04/15/banning-books/

http://tysonadams.com/2013/04/18/banned-books-the-huff-post-sequel/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/krystieyandoli/mind-boggling-facts-about-banned-books-in-america#2r6o5qf
(I promise, this is the only time I will ever link to Buzzfeed)

http://io9.com/the-12-weirdest-reasons-for-banning-science-fiction-and-1639136022

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