Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015 Volvo S60 T5 Premier

Well I never thought I'd be driving a Volvo, but that's mainly because their MPG always hovered around 22, much like Infiniti and their bulletproof 3.5L engine that always got exactly 20 MPG. But by sheer chance during my research period, I read that starting with their 2015 cars, Volvo put in a new engine called the Drive-E which supposedly boosted the MPG substantially. Since I've been a Swedish car fan since the Saab days, I thought I'd give it a go. It's funny actually...during my whole search for a replacement car, I only had my eyes set on a 2nd Gen TSX, but when it came down to it, it was all about location and where you went to look at a car. I went to Carmax since I wanted to see two Acuras with fair prices, but when I looked at the actual cars, their condition was a bit more 'used' than I would've liked.

After test driving the Acuras, we test drove this S60 and it was a night/day difference. The seats were way comfier, the power was more pronounced in the Volvo, and everything felt more upscale. We decided to just go for the Volvo because we were already in the 20k range; might as well pay a few thousand more to get a newer car with less miles.

Positives
  • The car is pretty fast after you get it going. There's a turbo lag from stop, but after the initial acceleration is out of the way, it's pretty speedy.
  • Even though the MPG is nowhere near 37, I still get 29 MPG on average so that's pretty good considering the turbo and the engine size.
  • The seats are super comfy; leather is very nice and the electric seats/memory = a godsend.
  • Appearance-wise, the outside looks great; much better than a BMW, Audi, or even the TSX.
  • The blind spot monitoring system is pretty slick. If someone wanders into your vicinity on either lane, an orange light will appear on the A-pillar. It's an unobtrusive feature that works.
  • The HUD (Heads Up Display) can be changed to 3 different modes which was a selling point, but I don't like how 2 of them look, so I just stick with 1 and never change it.

Negatives
  • The center console is super cluttered. I've gotten used to the controls, but yeah it's not an ergonomic setup.
  • The two cup-holders have some very flimsy flaps on the sides to keep a smaller soda from moving around too much. Unfortunately the previous owner broke these flaps off since they are made of some flimsy rubberish material. Additionally, the 2nd cup-holder is on a different 'level' from the first, and thus it doesn't have the same height coverage for a soda, so any drink placed in it can more easily tip over. I think the best design for cup-holders were from the older 2006 Civic.
  • The dual climate control system doesn't have a "sync" button. Because of this, whenever you change one temperature control dial you, have to do it for both. Even my old Infiniti could be linked. I honestly wished that they would just get rid of the auto control. It's way more efficient and fun to control the temperature and fan speed manually.
  • There's next to no storage space. Sure there are 2 cup-holders, but that's about it. Car-makers need to know that there always needs to be a miscellaneous space to put stuff. Behind the waterfall control center there is a nook but you have to bend your hand in an awkward way to get back there. Additionally it isn't deep enough to withstand a turn, so whatever you have in there will fly out (sunglasses). The door cubbies can hold random stuff minus a water bottle, so WTF?
  • There is a pretty hefty blind spot when you check the rear-right. I always thought the Prius had it bad, but ironically this car is worse because of the sloped doors and the high rear end. The design sure looks good from the outside, but man oh man does it suck while you're driving.
  • There is no manual oil dipstick that you can check. It's all electronic, and as I found out later, the measuring methodology is all out of whack. What I mean by this is that it only tells you if you're OK, Not OK, or Over OK. Think about that for a second. If your car is losing oil for some reason and you're 1 ml away from being in the 'low' range, the car will still display OK until it reaches that threshold and then Bam! you're Not OK (low oil state). Oil is the most important thing for a car's engine, so it's irresponsible for the manufacturer to let consumers get so close to being in a low oil situation.
  • The auto start/stop feature for the engine was supposed to be a highlight selling point, but now I find it more annoying than anything else. I'm always turning it back on/off because the damn thing will shut off when it's totally unnecessary, such as inching up an on-ramp, in a drive through, behind a guy at a 4-way stop, etc. They really should just have a button that you can press to manually turn off the engine and then it would just turn back on when you lifted your foot off the brake.
  • Depreciation. I know it was its depreciation that allowed for this slightly used Volvo to end up in my hands at the price I paid for it, but man I know that after the warranty runs out on this thing, it'll be worth close to $10k if that. I'm sure the Prius will still be worth more than it even though its 5 years older.

Thoughts
I like the quiet cabin and fancy feel, but sometimes it seems like too much when I think about the price. The car's warranty will expire in 2018, so I'll keep on owning it past that time unless the maintenance starts costing me more money than I would like. The car feels much larger than I'm cool with though...I totally miss smaller cars as they're more nimble. Ironically this year the newly redesigned 2016 Civic got released, with a new turbocharged engine mated with a CVT and regular gas. They will be releasing a hatchback version within a year and I think I'll be enamored by it; just my luck.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Ex Machina (Sci-Fi 2015)

So this movie was both deep and simple at the same time. It reminded me of Moon for some reason. Yeah it was all about the Turing test and how this smart robotics coder created a robot and brought in a 3rd party to see if the robot would pass.

The fact that the robot is this Swedish chica added to the types of T&A that were in this film. The whole plot built-up to the ending that was a bit controversial. Should being human lean more towards having some semblence of compassion or having the mindset to maximize survival? The ending bothered me, but I'm sure it's because it made me think. All acting, ambiance, and details were pretty good though.
Rating - B

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Sci-Fi Action 2015)

Opening weekend, 11:20PM, and talk about a sleepy me at 3AM getting home. I haven't done that in a long while. Was it worth it to see SW again? Yes...yes it was.

This movie was pretty good. I think it lived up to the hype as it had everything that one would expect from a J.J. Abrams film. The style was totally different from something like Episode 1, but it was inherently still SW. I think this film will resonate well with the current fan base since both action and sci-fi films have changed so much over the years. But it's safe to say that the franchise has been re-ignited; can't wait till the next one.
Rating - B

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Extinction Age (The Extinction Cycle Book 3) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith (Book 2015)

This was a very enjoyable 3rd book to the series. Again we're facing genetically mutated human baddies instead of regular zombies, so that backdrop always adds a lot of flavor to each firefight.

Everything in this book was pretty spot on for what you would like; action, more action, and the ending in this one was great. There were never any boring parts and you really get to know the core group of characters. I very much look forward to the next few books in the series.
Rating - High

Threshold (Chess Team Adventure series Book 3) by Jeremy Robinson (Book 2011)

Pretty good 3rd book in the series. It took the legend of the Tower of Babel and ran with the story. Not bad, but perhaps not as good as some of the earlier books. Details and pace were decent but I think that it overall went too fast in areas that could've had more background. I do like how one book builds from the last so the reader can just jump into the cast of characters vs re-learning what happened in the previous novels. I got a few more book in this series ready to go so here's to more adventure.
Rating - Mid

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Battlefront: Twilight Company (Star Wars) by Alexander Freed (Book 2015)

With the release of the new Battlefield game, they also pumped out a book to probably try and increase the hype. The plot follows around a group of infantry grunts fighting for the alliance during the time of the Battle of Hoth. Although the primary characters were mentioned and/or made brief cameo appearances, most of the Jedi/Sith stuff remained far far away.

The story was all about a group of soldiers as they work to complete missions/tasks to fight the Empire. As a standalone story, I've read better in the Star Wars world to be honest. Even at the end I didn't feel any connection to any of the characters, even the primary. There just wasn't enough character development although there were attempts; nothing really stuck. Additionally the author would build up to a battle scene just to end it with a one paragraph summary vs. a play-by-play sequence. I didn't like that at all; and this occurred on numerous occasions and the story didn't flow very well because of it. I would rate this book definitely below par.
Rating - Low

Spectre (Action 2015)

It's been a while since a Bond movie got released. I'm sure I'll be forgetting about the plot in this one, just like I forgot all about Skyfall, but it's Bond, so action-action it is.

This film is in-line with all previous Bond films in the past. It has cars, girls, guns, lots of location changes. Baddies are villainous and explosions are everywhere. It was good for an action flick, but there was nothing really memorable that sticks out.
Rating - B

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Into the Dark (Alexis Carew Book 1) by J.A. Sutherland (Book 2014)

This book was a bit different. The setting was a hybrid of how sailors used to speak and behave in the 18th century, but only in space. Weird concept since the ships still had sails, masts, and the like, but the author tried to explain the whole environment.

The story followed around a spunky teenage girl who joins the Navy as a midshipman when her life choices were to either get married off like in a Jane Austin novel or to do something different. The book was all about her development as she learns the ropes in becoming a Naval spacer while also being the only female on a military ship. The whole 18th century dialog gave the book a unique feel, so that was a plus, but as a standalone book it was only fair since there wasn't enough space action.
Rating - Mid

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Extinction Edge (The Extinction Cycle Book 2) by Nicolas Sandbury Smith (Book 2015)

So after clearing out the first book of the series many months back, I finally got around to reading this second book. I'm glad that I did because now I remember what a good series this was.

This book wasn't like the other zombie books of the past; the mobs are genetically mutated humans and are fast. But the main positive is that the characters are believable, memorable, and not cardboard cutouts. Situations seem more raw and real and that adds to the positives.

This second book continued on with the story as the remaining Deltas have to go on missions from Command to try to retake key cities around the US from the mobs. The ending wasn't super suspenseful, but it did leave the reader wanting more. There are a few more books left, so I anticipate that they'll be just as engaging as the first two.
Rating - High

The Martian (Sci-Fi 2015)

So I finally found time to get to a theater and watch this movie. Was it worth the 2-3 week wait? I'd say yes in that it wasn't a disappointing film, but unfortunately it didn't reach the level of being something great.

The movie's trailer was definitely more dramatic vs the actual film, as it turned out to be more tame and grounded. The plot was interesting and kept my attention the whole way through though. If you compare this film to Interstellar, it's in 2 very different categories. Interstellar, even though unbelievable at the end, was badass and very space-oriented. This one was all about survival on Mars. As I'm writing this, I'm noticing the difference, but I suppose my inner self was expecting a better space film; I guess I like that genre better. Matt Damon performed his part as he normally does, and the long list of supporting actors contributed enough to make the film better. Kristen Wiig was in it and the whole time I was expecting her to say something funny; she didn't.

So although I did enjoy the movie, it wasn't awesome. There were a few reasons for this, but the main one I can think of is that there was no real theme music. Again, I believe I'm thinking too much of space films and how music and sound are so integral to the creation of the ambiance...like Gravity.
Rating - B

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Star Wars: Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp (Book 2015)

Here's a random SW book that made it onto my list. It was pretty good and moved along fairly quickly. This one was a side story of sorts that took place after Episode III. A bunch of Twi'leks tried to incite a rebellion by taking down Vader and Palatine. The two Sith Lords became marooned on a planet and had to mow down lots of local wildlife. The book added more personality to the two main characters of the series and that's about it. That's the things with side stories...they add just a little but it doesn't do anything to the main series.
Rating - Mid

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Reasons Why Las Vegas Sucks

Here's a random picture of a limo driver finishing up his attempt at shoving a huge, expensive beanbag into the trunk. Obviously the clients are out-of-towners and rich.

So I've been living in Vegas for about 2 months now and I'm still very much not impressed with this place. It has a better variety of shops and eating establishments, but so does any larger city. I've visited many cities in my day and this one is still one of the worst. I came here with an open mind and a non-judging attitude, but it's hard to find any positives as most things just suck. Let's go through some of the reasons why.

Water. The water here tastes really bad. Even pumping water through a Brita water filter 2x times, water still tastes nasty and is super questionable to drink. So now my expenses go up because I have to buy other liquid refreshments or those large multi-gallon jugs of water.

Drivers. The drivers here are fucking assholes. Every single one of them. If you're on a freeway and make a turn signal, expect for that gap to be bum-rushed by some punk within 1.5 seconds. It's like white on rice man...super fast like they're on crack. And to top it off, they will pull one of those accelerate fast, just to brake hard a few seconds later as to not run into the person in front of them. Why the fuck do you need to fill that gap so fast? People used to talk about crazy Cali drivers, but what I noticed after driving in Cali, there is a concept called 'flow of traffic' where packs of cars enjoy driving at the same speed...may that be 75mph or 90mph. These roving packs will wander through the freeway, but they might seem crazy to slower drivers even though they're just trying to maintain their set pack speed. In Vegas there isn't a pack mentality, it's totally solo so you have one asshole there or one asshole here who is totally driving fast just to brake like a bitch because they're cornered in. Additionally, if you try to change lanes on surface streets, nobody will let you in, and I mean nobody. Turn signal or not, everyone will accelerate to block you, especially on the strip. So really the only thing you can do is cut people off and hope they don't shoot you.

People. A very large percentage of people here are standoffish pricks. I’d say that 97% of my interaction with folks have been pretty negative. This can be anyone from a neighbor, waiter, HOA rep, medical worker, salesman, security person, retail employee, etc. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing or if you're a direct customer or not, you’ll get treated very coldly and with a total lack of care. What I really don’t get is why people like waiters and service industry folks are like this. I mean...you go to work to get tips. All I want is normal service with no attitude. If I get bad service and an attitude, you get $1 as a tip or nothing at all. Who wins here? Nobody, since the customer is unhappy and the server gets no money. Straight up...go to another city/state to see how other waiters are supposed to behave.

Hustle. Everyone always seems to want to take advantage of you in some way. May that be your standard upsell, or a medical professional recommending something unnecessary. If somebody outside of work is talking to you, they’re trying to get something from you. And the weird thing is that they don’t even try to be nice to you when trying to hustle. (See People above)

Prices. I guess this is dependent on the city, but it does seems like you're paying $5-$8 extra for everything food-related. I’m always blowing around $15 everyday at lunch for the same quality of food that should cost around $8-10. Maybe it’s a tax thing, but yeah very lame.

DMV. The DMV here sucks as they lost my registration tags twice. WTF people...it’s not that hard to have an automated system mail out the damn tags. On top of this, I’ve heard that you can go to the DMV at the ass crack of dawn to wait in line and essentially spend all day there and STILL not get your business done because they are so slow. It’s not that hard to be efficient...it really isn’t.

UPS. The UPS man will throw packages onto my balcony as opposed to just leaving them next to my door. Sure, the door in my complex is like a hotel door, but I get a lot less traffic near my door vs the number of random asshats that pass by my balcony. UPS man: You are a lazy fuck.

In the end, remember Ghostbusters II where Vigo, the 'Scourge of Carpathia', is totally growing in power because of the pink slime powered by the negativity of the city? Well lemme tell ya, NYC has nothing on Vegas. Vegas is filled with HS graduates and dropouts who somehow made a living doing the bare minimum.

The Atlantis Ship: A Space Opera Novel (A Carson Mach Adventure) by A.C. Hadfield (Book 2015)

This first installment of the series was OK, but nothing to write home about. The characters were fairly bland, even though the author tried to make it into a Firefly type of environment.

The story was fair...your random band of freelancers, who used to know each other a long time ago, going on a mission to find and capture a mystery ship. It was a decent premise but in the end very forgettable. If I liked the characters more I would continue reading this series, but as it stands, there are probably better space operas out there.
Rating - Mid

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Hawk Seven (Flight of the Hawk Book 4) by Robert Little (Book 2011)

"Never judge a book by its cover", or so the saying goes, but it's so true as this book falls into that category. Although the cover is very plain Jane, it was actually a very long and very well written space opera.

The book followed around a budding Space Navy Lieutenant and his fellow officer friend as they are thrust into a war instigated by an unknown species. Yes, this base plot always seems to be the foundation of every space opera I read, but for some reason it never gets old. As long as the characters are personable and the story flows well, I'll read it.

The plot in this one was good, it had a solid set of characters, and it was a very enjoyable experience overall. I liked it a lot, as it will definitely go into the memory banks as a good read that was worth the time.
Rating - High

Monday, September 21, 2015

Kraken Rising: Alex Hunter 6 by Greig Beck (Book 2015)

I've been waiting for many years to see if Greig Beck would go back to his roots and continue on with perhaps the most engaging adventure story of this decade. Needless to say, I was thrilled to find out that he wrote this book and I was happy to give up precious hours of sleep in order to clear it in one sitting.

Kraken Rising builds directly upon the story from Beneath the Dark Ice, just fast forwarded a few years and x number of mini-books in the middle. It was wonderful to read about so many old characters from the series and to follow them on their dangerous journey beneath the Antarctic ice for a second time. I'm a sucker for history, military, and anthropology, and the story had all three. Of course the action was exciting and the plot could hold your attention indefinitely. The book was thorough, well paced, and well written. I couldn't have asked for a more solid story to take over where the first book left off. I highly recommended it; I just hope that we don't have to wait 5 more years for gold to be stuck again.
Rating - High

Hercules (Action 2014)

This movie wasn't really good, but that's a known fact just by looking at the poster. It was yet another spin on another mythological character, but I don't think it was meant to be taken seriously. Movies like Troy are supposed to be taken seriously, but films like this one and Wrath of the Titans are totally not; there's a distinctive difference.

This film didn't really try to be better than any other movie in the same genre, so it makes you wonder what its purpose was. Money? Doubtful. Fame? No. Who knows how Hollywood picks their candidates for the year, but I wouldn't have taken a second look at this script. You get some action, some talking, more action, more CG, and then a bland ending. No interesting characters, no fun banter in the dialog, nothing. So it's definitely not worth a rent or a second look.
Rating - D

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Hammer of God by Greig Beck (Book 2015)

This new book from Greig Beck was decent, but I think some of his older novels were a tad better. The whole story seemed a bit rushed and didn't go as in-depth as I would've liked it to.

The story followed around Alex and his team as they searched to find and stop the source of various nukings which had occurred in the Middle East. Nice initial backdrop, but then the plot went too fast and didn't seem to have time to naturally develop and marinate. The team pretty much went into two locations and then bam, the book was finished.

One thing I noticed that was missing was a deeper back-story to go along with the main antagonist. If you read Beneath the Dark Ice and Gorgon, both stories had multiple flashback scenes which I always felt added so much more depth to the main plot. I don't think there was even one of these flashbacks in this book.

The positives are still there of course, Greig's writing always flows so well that I can never put down one of his books until I've finished the whole thing; I just wish it was longer. So yes, unfortunately this one gets categorized with Black Mountain, another book that could've been so much better if more detail was put into the 'mystery' characters.
Rating - Mid

Walking In The Shadow Of Death-WTF Volume 4 by W.J. Lundy (Book 2014)

Yeah this book will be the last in the series that I read. Even though the first few books were very interesting and exciting, the 3rd book and this 4th one dragged on quite a bit. Too little action and essentially a boring read; not sure what happened. Anyway, all good things come to a close and this one ended with this book.
Rating - Low

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Internet Cap?!?!

Did you know that Cox Communications puts a friggin' cap on Internet bandwidth? Who does that? The last time I had Cox was back in 2007 and they didn't have any BS cap. Now it's just like a cell phone except at your primary home. Well I suppose it's good that I don't stream Netflix but still this is hella lame man...yet another reason why this city is kinda ass.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Moving

Too bad I didn't have a fast recording device like a smartwatch so that I could give myself reminders of things to write about. There were so many issues I had with the move and I know I'll miss a lot of important points but oh well. Here is a list of things that suck about moving that one should really keep in mind.
  1. Either rent an apartment or buy a house. It's totally not worth any sort of hassle to deal with a condo HOA and a property management company at the same time...it's double the trouble.
  2. Sell your shit before you move but don't go overboard. In our case we liquidated a ton of stuff, but when we got here, we lacked enough real desks to setup a workstation...that and this city has no Ikea so it'll be a while until we find cheap desks.
  3. Call to setup Internet much earlier so that you can have a connection when you arrive. Note that Cox Communications sucks ass and you have to manually call them to give them your MAC address. Their whole process is bonkers and doesn't work without proactively calling them up. It could've been 100% automated but they're just punks.
  4. Have a few buckets of cleaning supplies ready because you'll be cleaning like a mofo because you can never trust old tenants.
  5. Forward mail earlier so that you won't have any last minute pieces of mail that get lost in the shuffle.
  6. Try to make it so that you have a few days (weekends and weekdays) off before you start work so that you can make phone calls to utility companies if need be.
  7. Hire random movers to assist since it's so friggin' exhausting to load/unload a uhaul.
  8. For us an old school uhaul was cheaper than any other option...that and the whole upack thing only can be done from some areas to some areas...hopefully your source and destination are not on the blacklist.
  9. In the end, try not to move because holy shit...no bueno. I felt myself age a few years just from one moving session.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (Action 2015)

Well this was a fun and crazy movie; partial reason being that Charlize is a straight-up badass. After years of watching her play many different roles, she seriously can take on any task and run with it convincingly.

So this movie had a very short intro and then a shit-ton of car driving and killing. It was very entertaining even though it was pretty much the same stuff over and over again. For some reason I had no problem watching this movie, but would lose my lunch if forced to watch the repetition seen in Michael Bay's recent creations.

The plot itself was a bit on the light side, but with the correct backing it could turn into a more substantial series. Not sure what the intention of the writer and director is, but at least it's an option.
Rating - B

Monday, August 03, 2015

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos (Book 2014)

So this book was pretty good, but it dragged on for way too long. It essentially was formatted in a manner that resembled a compilation of non-fiction short stories that the author either uncovered from research or from interviews. Interestingly enough I already knew of a bunch of these stories from my light reading through the interwebs.

The content of the book was very good and thorough, but I think there's an issue with the delivery. After the first few "stories", I started getting really bored and I just wanted to be finished with the whole thing. There wasn't a unifying plot to push the book along other than it was all about China. Stories jumped around from business, to environment, to economics, to journalism, etc. I don't even remember what happened in the beginning of the book because it pretty much had nothing to do with the stories at the end.

I know it must be difficult to actually write a book on the whole developing country of China and have it all link up somehow, but yeah it didn't keep my attention as one solid piece of work.
Rating - Mid

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (Action 2015)

Gosh it's been forever since I last watched a movie in the theaters it seems, but it is indeed summer and that means summer action films. I wasn't really tracking this movie at all since I'm waiting for 007, but when it showed up as being released this last weekend, it seemed like a good idea. Luckily the movie was fun, action-packed, and just what the summer Dr. ordered.

The whole plot moved along fairly quickly, it was easy to follow, and it didn't go too overboard with anything. It had a few good fighting scenes, car/moto chases, and a solid ending. I thought it was a very decent action movie...no real complaints anywhere.
Rating - B

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Annie (Family 2014)

Here's another movie I didn't want to watch. Yeah as expected this remake was pretty bad. All of the songs were oddly misplaced and totally rushed, the whole thing was an artificial mess, and it's shocking to see some big names overacting and trying to compensate for being in a film with a horrible screenplay.

I don't know what it was about the original Annie, but something about it made it way more simple and believable vs. a modern setting with all sorts of technology and the like. I dunno...this movie should've never been redone.

I was expecting a cool ending with the bridge and an Indian guy but alas you had a runaway Subaru as the getaway car. So although it was pretty bad, I wouldn't say it was unwatchable. I would've rather done something else with my time.
Rating - D

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Paddington (Animated Family 2014)

I'll just toss it out there that I had no inkling to watch this movie at all. It wasn't very good but who knows what I would've thought about it when I was 9 or younger. The visuals were good for animating a bear and the story was very cookie cutter for a children's film. Besides that there's nothing to write home about. British peeps, accents, and a bear who wears a hat.
Rating - C

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Brothers in Valor (Man of War Book 3) by H. Paul Honsinger (Book 2015)

This third book to the series was OK, but something was definitely missing. I think it was because it dragged on quite a bit and was also overly descriptive at unnecessary points in the story. The author did a fair amount of reintroduction of characters from the previous two books so the reader could be reacquainted with the setting, so this was convenient.

The core of the story remained the same though, as the Captain and his crew battle the main rat baddies in this universe. It did seem a bit short plot-wise and the ending was "eh", but at least there will most likely be another book.

I think the main thing I didn't like was that throughout most of the series, the captain was able to overcome many death defying situations with his wit and strategy, but then all of a sudden he had nothing up his sleeve. It's like a person scoring over 105% on many tests but then out of the blue they get a 10%. No 80%, 62%, and nothing else in between. This unevenness seems out of place within this Man of War setting...
Rating - Mid

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Jurassic World (Action 2015)

So this was a fun summer flick. It was totally better than the old school sequel that were oh so horrible. This movie totally shows what close to 2 decades can give you vs. a movie watching experience. Our special effect technology is totally on a different level and it does show.

The story, acting, and core is fairly baseline for an action flick of this caliber. It won't win any cool awards or anything, but it was a fun and enjoyable watch. Chris Pratt does his thing and the red head tries to do hers but is a pretty bland character. Dinosaurs are fun as per usual and yeah that pretty much sums it up.
Rating - B

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Callsign - Tripleshot (Jack Sigler Thrillers novella collection - Queen, Rook, and Bishop) by Jeremy Robinson & Others (Book 2014)

This was a combination of 3 short stories following around three of the major characters from the Jack Sigler series. They were OK...very short but they all had a plot and some action. I only remember the story from one out of the three plots though...so I guess that shows how mediocre they were when compared to the main books.

I'd only recommend this to fill in the gaps for the whole series, but if you're not reading the whole thing then yeah this combo book wouldn't be worth it.
Rating - Mid

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Action Comedy 2014)

So this movie was a combination of James Bond, Austin Powers, and Hot Fuzz. It's a silly action movie that had some good scenes which made it entertaining. It's a total rental though.

Action was OK but again it was silly so you can't really respect it. Most of the dialog was in a British accent so thus I was reading subtitles like crazy to make sense of a lot of it. Overall it was a fun movie for a one-off.
Rating - C

Monday, June 22, 2015

Inside Out (Pixar Animated 2015)

It's been a while, but Pixar finally pumped out another feature film. Luckily it was another good one. This movie was intelligent. Not sure what other word I can use but that's the main one that comes to mind. A lot of smart people had to have brainstormed for quite a while to come up with a lot of the psychological stuff that this film used in order to move the plot along.

It's kinda weird to say this towards a Pixar movie, but some parts weren't really young kid friendly as in the ideas and themes may be too complicated to be fully or even partially appreciated by super young kids. Additionally it was a bit dark and depressing during the sadder moments since the film takes a much more serious tone underneath its happy, cartoony surface.

Anyway, on the positive side, this whole movie was relatable back to real life since all of the primary emotions are ones that everyone has felt at one time or another. Really well done. Music integration was perfect as well as several poignant sad/emotional scenes.

The film wasn't as uplifting as Up or Finding Nemo, but it was good in a different way. Additionally, if you've ever moved around during your childhood, the core story will definitely speak to you.
Rating - A

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Everything Before Us (Romance 2015)

So I've been following the guys over at Wong Fu Productions ever since they started out as new, talented Youtubers. Since the mid-2000s they've created many great shorts and one mini movie that I reviewed back in the day. This film was a ton better; goes to show what close to a decade of work and experience can do.

So yeah this movie is a touchy-feely type of romantic flick. It follows around two couples as they go through life in a kinda odd world where people have an emotional integrity score garnered from past relationship experiences. This score is much like a credit score in that it can make or break one's career or getting a loan and such. It was an interesting angle to take, but beneath this premise, the story further bolstered the well-known fact of how relationships are all non-linear and quite complicated.

I liked how the two couples were very different in that the first set followed a HS relationship through to college, while the secondary one was more grounded in the post-college career world. I think I would've had more of a connection with the film if I were a youngin' back in college watching this, but everything was still relatable.

This movie wasn't necessarily solid as it still faltered in some places like missing plot transitions and some occasional overacting , but it was indeed much better than many movies I've seen as of late that had a much larger budget.

The main set of props goes out to the creators who totally followed their dreams of making movies and other visual media and they seemed to have succeeded. The story, cinematography, transitions, music selection and integration were all spot on. They did a really good job considering they did all the work with no big-money support. So yeah gold star for taking a risk in life.

So would this film survive as a standalone in the box offices? No, mainly because these days the average movie-goer mainly expects a lot of special effects and/or tier 1 actors. Would this film do well at any indi place? Definitely. It would take a slightly artsy crowd to appreciate what was created here, especially towards the end of the film. This was a good watch that was definitely worth the $5 streaming rental.
Rating - B

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia (Book 2009)

This was an excellent book that starts off a new series for me. This first one was free and it certainly did its job in making me want to read more.

The plot follows around an average, everyday accountant who suddenly gets attacked by a werewolf. The setting is our world where monsters aren't supposed to exist, so after this event the main character comes to the realization that monsters do exist, the government knows about it, and a secret group of hunters go around and eliminate said monsters for bounty money. Just picture MIB for a general layout.

The story in this book was not short and not superficial. It had many twists and turns and it continued to build up the main character and all of his buddies. Very good plot and a nice, thorough novel. It had a bunch of detail and was exciting to boot. So if you want to read about mercs hunting down monsters while keeping their existence on the dl, then this may be your cup of tea.
Rating - High

Sunday, June 07, 2015

The Age of Adaline (Romantic Drama 2015)

This film was surprisingly good. It was about a chick who was born in the early 20th century, got into a freak accident, and stopped aging. It didn't go too deep into how she managed to survive on illegitimate papers and such, but that's OK. We'll assume she winged it for a century.

The story, of course, concentrated on the main character and her involvement with a present-day gent. That allowed for the plot to move forward, but I would've liked to not have the dude in it, and instead have more of the story follow around the main character through the decades. The gold star goes out to the acting itself, because I thought it was superb. Although I haven't seen this Blake Lively person in anything else, I thought that she did a fantastic job portraying a 100+ year old lady in the body of a late 20s chica...very elegant and intelligent with 1930s feel to it.

Of course the choice of words, mannerisms, and clothing assisted in "making" the character, I thought it was a cool combination. So yeah, not to go into too much detail, the movie was good and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm not game with all of the romantic stuff since there didn't seem to be that much natural chemistry between Lively's character and the main dude, but I did like the music and how the story was conveyed.
Rating - A

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Prime (Chess Team Adventure series Book 0) by Jeremy Robinson and Sean Ellis (Book 2014)

Eh. This was an OK prequel of sorts. I think Pulse was a bit better though. This adventure story was not as believable as the other book so maybe I just didn't like the main plot that the book was carrying.

Writing was more/less the same, as were the characters, but yeah it didn't have the same spark I was looking for. The baddies were super unrealistic FYI. Even super-augmented mutants should die after a shot to the noggin. Anyway, it was still worth the read if you plan to go through the whole series in order, but as a standalone I'd have to think about that some more.
Rating - Mid

Stiger's Tigers (Chronicles of An Imperial Legionary Officer Book 1) by Marc Alan Edelheit (Book 2015)

Wow, excellent book and a great start to a promising new series. The setting of the story is pretty neat. Picture imperial Rome as the base, but set in a fantasy-like atmosphere, so nothing historical.

The story follows around an infantry officer as he is tasked with building up his company from scratch and is ordered to complete a specific mission. The writing has a lot of detail and fully develops multiple characters while slowly moving the plot along.

Great writing and pace. This was definitely one of those books that you can't put down. Considering it was the author's first book, kudos to Mr. Edelheit. Well done.
Rating - High

Friday, May 29, 2015

Jupiter Ascending (Sci-Fi 2015)

Sigh...well this movie sucked. Predictable of course but sometimes you have some hope, right? The movie started out with a good amount of potential but then it turned into a special effect slugfest where half of the time you couldn't tell what was going on and the whole 100% of the time you just didn't care.

Kunis and Tatum tried to do their part but yeah the story was just so bad. The chick was totally gullible and tried to get into Channing's pants far too often, and Mr. Tatum was just saying lines to get through his scenes. The only thing cool about the movie was the spaceship designs...quite well done. Everything else was loaded with cheese and it had a unrealistic ending.
Rating - D

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Deadly Nightshade by H. Paul Honsinger (Book 2015)

Pretty good short story that gives a little background to the main character in the Man of War Series. Other than the fact that I hoped that it was a bit longer, there was nothing wrong with this book. Writing was still wonderful and descriptive and the story was good enough to hold its own. The ending was kinda rushed, but extending it out wouldn't have extracted much more out of it.

I think the author may be writing a few more of these shorter books? If so I might wait until they all get sold in one set vs. purchasing them individually.
Rating - High

Friday, May 22, 2015

Escape: The First Omnibus WTF I-III by W.J. Lundy (Book 2014)

This was a pretty good start to a new series. It's a fast zombie book that follows around a bunch of military folks as the escape Afghanistan after the fall and try to get back to the US. The author is a soldier so it's interesting to read about small details here and there that would not be possible without a bunch of research or experiencing both the exciting and mundane parts of being the the military.

This book was actually a combination of the first 3 books. There are currently 5 in the series as of the date of this review. I flew through all three with no pauses. Can't wait until I can get a hold of the last two. The story was sorta like a good adventure as the scenery and characters change, but the action stays consistent. Not many slow parts and definitely a lot of details to picture the whole thing. The fact that the group has a tangible goal allows for the story to progress quickly.
Rating - High

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chappie (Sci-Fi 2015)

Yeah this movie was a mix of District 9, Robocop, and Short Circuit. Friggin' weird combination that totally didn't work because of the linear story and crappy acting, but nice concept I suppose.

The movie followed around this police robot that got new firmware uploaded to it and that code somehow created sentient life. The idea totally goes beyond regular AI programming since that much 'learning' in digital format would require a shit-ton more storage and processing, but yeah, let's just run with it. It took the Short Circuit theme of a robot developing through experiences and interactions and it even had a de facto Indian programmer as the creator. The main baddie was a mech called Moose that looked very similar to Ed 209; sigh, need I say more?

The idea was cool, but again, it has already been done. Mixing all of these stolen ideas from previous movies doesn't make it better. That is like me mixing some Ninja Turtles on Captain Jack Sparrow's ship and then shoving them into an Avatar plot...WTF would that ungodly mess turn into? One thing that totally annoyed me was how they tried to portray an average hooligan or punk. Not sure why it struck a cord, but damn was it fake and over-done.
Rating - D

Monday, May 18, 2015

Cinderella (Disney Fantasy 2015)

Since everyone already knows the story, I didn't feel the need to watch it, but the company I was keeping thought otherwise so I was forced to sit there and waste a few hours of my life.

Yeah this movie is called Cinderella...it has the same story as Cinderella via a main character named Cinderella. They changed nothing and somehow still managed to make some money; foolish consumers.

There was nothing really good or bad about this film. It copied the old school cartoon and put real actors in it. I'd wager to say that the cartoon was better since unnecessary remakes are just that, unnecessary. This movie also had no songs; I remember the original had singing mice. Hey Disney, do you know why Frozen took off and made you a shitload of money? That's right...songs. Stop wasting time on these nonsense live action films and get back to animation and music.
Rating - C

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Extinction Horizon (The Extinction Cycle Book 1) by Nicolas Sandbury Smith (Book 2014)

So I found this book randomly on Amazon one day when it went on sale for $.99. Got lucky this time as the book turned out to be pretty good. It reminded me of the Arisen series, but better because that series seemed to drag a lot.

This book followed around a small squad of Deltas as they battle not zombies, but an accidental bioweapon creation that was very contagious and spread around the planet. The baddies are fast and mutated, so yeah it adds to the story in that it's not your average, slow mob.

The writing was good, but not super spectacular compared to some of the Sci-Fi books I've been reading, but it wasn't generic writing either which is a plus. Hopefully the next few books will have more of a robust story and more character development. One good thing is that people are dropping like flies vs having Rambo-like soldiers; go realism!
Rating - High

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Angles of Attack (Frontlines Book 3) by Marko Kloos (Book 2015)

I'm a bit bummed since I think this was the last book in this magnificent series, but kudos to the author since he sure can write.

So yeah this book builds upon the ending of the 2nd book that I read many months back. Unfortunately don't totally remember all of the details of what happened prior, but the author alluded to enough events that allowed me to put the plot together. The story follows around the main networking grunt as he and his crew find their way back to Earth from the ice planet they were deployed to. The plot gets more interesting and exciting as it moves forward, and although it did build up for an epic ending...it opted for a smoother landing of sorts, but did leave the story open for more books although I doubt more will be made.

By remembering more and more small details of the first 2 books and then combining those memories with what I just read, this truly was a great series. It should be made into a TV-show a la Battlestar. It's unfortunate how nobody has the funds or gumption to make good sci-fi anymore.
Rating - High

Sunday, May 03, 2015

RoboCop (Action 2014)

Yeah this movie was another forgettable remake that should've never happened. They tried to give it a story, but compared to the quirky characters that the original had, this film fell quite short.

I mean first off, who the fuck is Joel Kinnaman? I certainly have never heard of him. And actually...nothing else matters after the main character is so plain and not famous. At least other new, primary actors are kind of good looking or have mad skills. This joker has none of these things.

The action and high-tech stuff was super boring as well. Shooting endless robots who were made to look bad-ass in one scene, but then are taken out like Trade Federation Droids in another is way too inconsistent. This movie sucked.
Rating - D

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (Action 2015)

Haven't been back in the theaters for a while, but a good Marvel movie is always worth it in my opinion. Here's the funny thing with most comic book films. The first time you watch one, it all seems like the coolest thing since sliced bread because the stories go so fast, action is everywhere, and they purposely throw humor into the mix. But then six months later, only after you have had the opportunity to watch parts of it over again, do you notice how artificial most of it truly is.

So yeah if you liked the first Avengers, then you'll certainly enjoy this one...it's just more of the same with more characters and hijinks, but it was indeed entertaining. Was it a thoughtful piece of cinematic art? No, but I'm sure if it had been, I would've fallen asleep within the first hour since the action was the only thing keeping me awake. I'm so not used to bypassing midnight while watching a movie anymore.

This film, along with all of the spin-offs are all building up to the Infinity Wars; should be an exciting new series.
Rating - B

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pulse by Jeremy Robinson (Book 2010)

Well color me surprised. On a recommendation from a colleague, I put this book on the list and finally got to it last week. I was a bit wary of this author because of the inconsistent quality of two other novels he wrote before.

This book seemed to be a better version of the Dane Maddox series of stories by David Wood. I liked this series a bit better, as the characters were more interesting and the plot and background was more descriptive. Jeremy's story-telling ability in this book was a phenomenal improvement over Island 731 and Raising the Past. Ironically this book was an earlier work which means that his writing has gotten worse over time? Odd. I'll look forward to seeing if other books in this series can measure up to this one.

But yeah the story took an old, historical myth, built a fictional plot around it, and took the reader on a pretty exciting thrill ride. I enjoyed the whole thing and am pretty jazzed to read more.
Rating - High

Friday, April 24, 2015

AT&T Samsung Galaxy S6

Why
So I never thought that I would go back to a carrier-branded phone, but financially this is what made sense. At the time of writing this post, the Nexus 6 was still around $470 and I didn't really want to pay that much for a phone that was already half-a-year old. I went to a local Best Buy to wander around and I saw this phone that I totally didn't research. After holding it and tinkering around a bit, it totally felt solid, like an iPhone clone that wasn't plasticky at all. The screen actually looked pretty nice as well. I then went home and started researching. To my surprise it had exactly what I was looking for: a camera with OIS (optical image stabilization), wireless charging, and Android. On top of all of that, Best Buy was having a deal where if you upgraded with them, they would give you a free wireless charger...I'm a sucker for free stuff.

Pros
  • Wireless charging is back! Now I have 2 chargers: one at work and one at home, perfect!
  • The phone is super fast. An 8-core processor certainly helps that along and it's quite noticeable; no lag at all.
  • The phone totally feels solid with a good build and a glass back and such. Personally I'm all about having a whole unibody design. People will always upgrade phones so nobody really needs to worry about not having a replaceable battery.
  • The camera is badass...pics are super focused and has great quality. Night/day difference between this and the OnePlus One. Additionally you can activate the camera with a quick doubletap of the home button wherever you are.
  • I guess this can be a pro, but the screen is super sensitive. Compared to the OnePlus, when more often than not it would not register a touch, the screen on this S6 totally detects everything, even when you're 1mm away, which might get a bit annoying, but I'll learn to adapt. I'd rather it be too sensitive vs. not being sensitive enough.
  • It has a heart rate monitor on the back near the camera. It's sorta a gimmick, but it's kinda cool to take a reading when you're on the can or when you're all stressed out just to see the difference.
Cons
  • Battery life is much less than the OnePlus; probably minus a whole day. I guess that's what an average phone battery is like, but I just got used to the uncanny battery life of the OnePlus. You can totally survive a day, but you have to adapt charging times. I think I got the equation down though; I only need 2 hours per day to wirelessly charge the phone back up to max.
  • One of the main reasons why I initially gravitated towards the Nexus line was for the the Vanilla Android UI. This phone has the Samsung Touchwiz on top of Lollipop, and although it's much better than what I remembered of this UI to be back in the S2 Captivate days, it still is kinda ass. Luckily I downloaded the Google Now Launcher which essentially turns the UI back into Vanilla Lollipop, so it has been swell since the switch. Various menus like the pulldown are still Touchwiz, but I can deal. Samsung has worked to make this better and you can tell, but it's still invasive and unnecessary.
  • Since the phone is a branded-carrier one, that means that there are a bunch of programs that you can't delete like Uber, Yp, Skype, and also a bunch of AT&T and Samsung bloatware, but I found a way to pseudo-hide them. Just go into the Application Manager and disable each unwanted app. It should disappear from the full menu screen; not too shabby. This doesn't work on all programs unfortunately, but it did get rid of the majority of the more annoying apps.
  • Hardware-wise, I'm not game with the middle Home button that was totally meant to copy the iPhone. I mean I get why Apple folk would like this, but I think it's unnecessary to have a physical button for this function. Samsung should've copied the Nexus, made the screen bigger, and just had software buttons on the bottom for the Home, Menu, and Back functions.
  • No more using the hotspot functionality. Since it's branded, AT&T will know and then will try to take away my unlimited data. I'm gonna try to keep that for life even though I rarely even use my phone.
Thoughts
So as of this moment there isn't any part of the phone that is a dealbreaker. I live a very simple cell phone life so as long as the primary stuff I use it for works, then I'm happy. I do kinda miss having a larger screen to type on, but having a phone that easily fits inside my pocket, provides me with an equally good feeling as well.