Monday, March 31, 2014

IRIS - South Korean TV Drama Review

        This is a South Korean drama that started in 2009 with 20 episodes.  It’s a drama about a dissident group called IRIS, a large terrorist group that wants to destroy the governments of both North and South Korea so they can take over the country.  The group is very powerful and has a people in the government as well as the NSS and the police.  

          The star of the drama is Byung hun Lee, who has appeared in several movies now that include the GI Joe movies as well as Reds 2.   In the first episode, he is told to assassinate the leader of North Korea from his director, Baek San.  Since this is a direct order from his supervisor, he goes through with the assassination.  

           After the assassination and a huge chase by the police, which includes a helicopter launching a rocket in order to take Kim Hun Jun down, the scene switches to when Kim is back in the 119 division of the army where he is being trained with his good friend, Jin San Woo.  The story would then move to a day in school where he first meets Choi Seung-Hee during classes where they discuss conspiracy theories in the United States such as the Kennedy assassination.  

            The three of them would build a friendship and love triangle that would bring them together to the NSS, the South Korean version of the CIA.  It is there that that the three of them would go on missions and Kim Hun Jun would learn more about his background since his parents death when he was eight years old.  

             The first five episodes were more or less a replay of the assassination with more details added.  It seemed out of place for me but I went with it, hoping that it would get better and it did.  The action was intense with a car chase, gunfights, and several martial arts scenes where Kim was fighting for his life while trying to find out why the NSS and Baek San abandoned him.  

             Once Kim started to learn the answers, he went to fight for the North Koreans with the intention of revenge for being cast aside by the NSS.  The action would continue with more battles since the governments of North and South Korea were planning to have a unification and IRIS was standing in the way, even with the threat of setting off a nuclear bomb.   If anything, Kim didn’t know who to trust since IRIS had people in North Korea as well.  

             There were times that I would watch at least two episodes at a time, being hooked, wondering how Kim was going to get out of the trouble he was in.  There are a lot of surprises along the way, along with action and romance which is a nice blend of suspense which kept the drama moving for me. 

              Fans of the series 24 would probably draw comparisons between the series and like me feel that there is no comparison between Kiefer Sutherland and Byung hun Lee since you would find that the characters in IRIS are more sensitive than in the series 24.  It may not be a fair comparison since Sutherland has been around a lot longer than Lee but Lee does excel in his performance and has plenty of great scenes where he shows that he should have a great future in more movies. 

              If there were flaws in the drama, I would point to a hitman who was on IRIS early on in the show who would battle Lee named Vick.  After a major showdown where Lee needed to save a 10 year old girl named Yuki, Vick doesn’t appear again until the last few episodes of the series.   I kind of felt that the whole scene of Vick going after Yuki’s family was done out of shock value and while we never saw anything, it seemed that this could have gone another way. 

           The finale of the series was surprising but again, filled with flaws, the biggest one being how the terrorists managed to get the hostages to impersonate them.   I don’t think this is a spoiler to the ultimate end of the series but the whole scene with that and the way in which the hostages were saved didn’t seem believable to me.  

           IRIS is still a good drama filled with a lot of suspense, action and romance.  If you’re longing for the days of watching another series like 24, this would come close.  I still enjoyed the series enough to give IRIS 4 stars.  

Slay Ride by Frank Kane - Pulp Fiction Review

          Although this is the third book that Frank Kane has written, this is a good starting point if you want to get into the Johnny Liddell series since all the main characters start here. First, you have Inspector Herlehy, the gum chewing homicide detective. Then there is Jim Kiely, editor of the Dispatch. Then of course, there is the introduction of Keily’s daughter, Muggsy Keily, who is the girlfriend of Liddell throughout the series. 

           In this story, Liddell works for Acme Company as an op for this insurance company. His boss, Steve Baron, strikes a deal with a gang of jewel thieves to buy back the jewels that they stole for a price. In the opening scene of Slay Ride, Liddell is blindfolded and taken to meet with the people involved. They set a time and place for a second meeting where Liddell would bring the money and the jewels would be returned to him. 

            Once Liddell is back in the office, he tells Baron that he doesn’t want to go on the second meeting. It’s decided that they will send another op named Steve Raymond. Raymond just started with the agency and is anxious to do more work. Raymond would leave to meet with the thieves with the money but would be killed. The money disappeared and he had no jewels to take back with him. 

             Liddell feels guilty over Raymond’s death and is determined to find out what happened. He enlists the help of Jim Kiely, the editor of the dispatch, a long time friend who helped him out on other cases. Liddell would then meet Muggsy and Jim at Lugi’s restaurant, a place that didn’t have a sign but had food ready for the customers if they came in for a late dinner. Eventually, Liddell would be introduced to another character called The Dummy, a man who has people on the street can follow people among other things. The Dummy isn’t a regular in many of Kane’s books. 

              From there, the story is fast paced and intense as Liddell tries to track down the people who murdered Steve Raymond. It’s not just a Q&A with the suspects and usually, there are fights and shoot outs and it’s hard to find the right suspect since many of them are murdered in the story. Along the way, you get some snappy dialogue from Muggsy and Liddell that keeps the story moving as well with a lot of humor while working Liddell works with Herlehy.

              By the end, Liddell is ready to solve the murder and I was surprised by who did it. Kane even brings Sherlock Holmes into the story as one of the later clues which I thought made the story even more fun to read. 

              This action is fast paced with great dialogue with Muggsy and Herlehy, making it a five star story. It’s a great read even though it’s only 160 pages. 

Ron Hummer 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Street Kings - DVD Review

       At one point, there was a question asked to Keenau Reeves.  It was are there any good cops left?  I think that summed up the movie.  

       In this case, I guess we can thank James Ellroy and Joseph Wambaugh for Street Kings.  The producers say since Ellroy and Wambaugh are big hits that we can continue to create the same formula right from the beginning just like LA Confidential. 

        The movie opens with Reeves talking to some Korean men.  He’s trying to make a deal with them to sell them guns and of course, he’s speaking Japanese.  They ask him if he is a raciast and of course, he says what’s the difference.  Then later on, his former partner, who is African-American, talks to him and again, Reeves character jokes that he is a raciast. 

         In any case, Reeves gets beaten up by the group but that was the whole idea.  After all, it’s not like they’re going to kill him.  Then he follows them back to their hideout and goes in, guns ablazing, killing all the men in order to find two missing children who these men are holding captive.  Of course, we don’t know how Reeves knew all this but that’s okay, the movie goes on, with one cop laughing and sayng that’s sacred because Reeves shot one of the men while he was going to the bathroom.  

         From there, the plot moves to Reeves former partner, who is in Internal Affairs and he’s after Reeves.  Reeves is angry and follows him to a grocery store where his plan is to punch the man in the mouth with a belt that is tied to his fist.  Those plans fail when he sees two gangbangers come in to shoot his partner.  Again, Reeves plays the corrupted cop by taking the DVD recording from the maching in front of his boss - Forest Whittaker - so he won’t be implicated in the shooting. 

         The movie moves along as Reeves wants to find the men who killed his former partner.  That leads to more gunfights and surprises as the tention builds, making you wonder if Reeves is going to come out of this alive.  

          In many ways, the movie is no different than LA Confidential since it’s a constant battle between cops and cops.  Yes, the movie is unpredictable but it seems ridiculous as well.  With all that said, I can only give this movie three stars.  

Ron Hummer 

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain - Book Review

           Have to admit that I loved the setting of this book which made it very unique.  You have men from a unit called Bravo who have been fighting the war in Iraq during the Bush administration who have been invited to Dallas, TX, to see a football game between the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys.  

           There are an assortment of characters such as Abort, Mango, Dime, and Lodis, and of course, Billy Lynn.  All of them are considered heros for going off to fight the war and Iraq and now they will be honored at the game during halftime which includes a show with Beyonce when they were Destiny’s Child.  

           Much of the story is portrayed about glorifying them and people talking to them about the war.  How are we doing?  Are we going to win the war?  Is it going to be over soon?  

            As soldiers, many of the people in the Bravo unit aren’t put in the best of light to say the least.   I can see war veterans feeling offended especially by comments made by the soldiers when they were talking about Beyonce as well as a woman who was an executive for the Dallas Cowboys.  Of course, this is contemporary literature and the story is character driven so the story moves on this wondering how the soldiers will act in each chapter.  

            Billy Lynn is much different than the other soldiers and during the second part of the story, he meets a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader named Faison, a woman who is very religious.   Of course, Billy is in love with this woman and I’m wondering if anything will come of it before the story comes to an end.  

            While this is a great idea for a story, I felt that the writing was tough to follow.  Fountain at the very least has a lot of run on sentences that you would see in a William Faulkner book.   When you read this on a Kindle like I do, you would see the sentences take up as much as an entire screen many times.  For me, it was like swimming in molasses.  

             It seemed that Fountain was going for shock value in the book when it came to the dialogue and there were times that he went way over the top when it came to comments that the Bravo unit made about Beyonce for example.  Late in the book, there was a heckler who was drunk and obnoxious who was going on about the don’t ask don’t tell policy in the military.  It got to the point where it was a very nasty rant which I really didn’t want to read.   That was the main reason I couldn’t even buy the whole dialogue.  

              If Fountain wanted to create a heckler, then the least he could have done was have the heckler criticize Bush, Cheney, or even Rumsfield.   That would have been more believable since there would have been a lot to talk about when it came to them such as their slow response after 911, their ineptness at capturing Osama Bin Laden 
or the fact that Iraq didn’t even have chemical weapons.  

                With all that said, I think I would have given this book more than three stars if Fountain painted a more realistic portrayal of this time period and stayed away from shocking his readers.  

Ron Hummer

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Enough Said - Movie Review

        In this movie, Julia Dreyfus takes the lead as Eva, a Masseuse going door to door to meet with various clients.  Eventually, one of her clients is Marianne, a poet who has been published.   

         In the meantime, Dreyfus also meets James Gandolfini, who plays Albert, at a party and their relationship develops.  What Eva doesn’t know that Albert is the ex- husband of Eva’s friend.  

          This is the plot of Enough Said although you don’t know until the middle of the movie that Albert is Marianne’s ex-husband.  What makes Eva’s friendship with Marianne more difficult is that Marianne is constantly complaining about Albert and all his bad habits.  

          If that isn’t enough, Eva is also developing a relationship with her daughter’s friend, which at times seems as if Eva cares more about her daughter’s friend than her own daughter.  At one point, Eva is giving her daughter’s friend advice about having sex with her boyfriend and that it’s okay for her to do that.  Of course, that advice comes back to haunt her during the movie as well as her relationship with Albert.  

           It’s hard for me to say that this wasn’t a good performance by Dreyfus or Gandolfini.  I think the problem in the movie was the script.  There wasn’t much of a plot and the subplot of Eva getting involved with her daughter’s friend seemed more than unusual and unrealistic.  My question would be wouldn’t have been more interesting if the focus was Eva’s relationship with her daughter and the question of whether she should have sex with her boyfriend instead of her friend being in that situation.              

            As far as the relationship between Eva and Albert, the only thing that seemed to hold them together was that their children were going off to college.  Other than that, as much as you heard Marianne complain about Albert’s habits, the only scene where it was visible was when Eva was having dinner with Albert and her friends.  If anything, the problems didn’t seem that big.  Maybe if the problems were worse, then this would have made the relationships more interesting to watch and develop.  

            If anything, you never really heard Albert complain about his ex-wife.  You would think that for all the problems that Marianne said that they had, you would think that it would be good to hear Albert complain about Marianne.  At the very least, you can see if Eva would be torn between the two in the relationship she was with them as a result. 

             For what it’s worth, it was good to see Gandolfini in a role outside of being a mobster.  I thought his performance was much better than Dreyfus since he didn’t have the problems with the script that Dreyfus had with her character.  Maybe I would have taken Dreyfus’ character more seriously if Eva were a therapist instead of a Masseuse.  

             You would think that since this was a comedy, Eva character might bring laughs to the movie since she is a Masseuse.  Instead, the only time that there was a chuckle in the movie was when one of her clients wouldn’t even help her up a long flight of stairs to a house when Eva was carrying heavy equipment. 

              The only reason I can give this movie three stars was because of Gandolfini.  His performance and character made the movie better than it was.  

Ron Hummer

The Apostle by Brad Thor - Book Review

          Scott Harvath is back in another action packed adventure courtesy of Brad Thor.  Yes, Harvath is no longer working for the President of the United States because a new regime has taken over but that doesn’t stop him from taking another job. 

           in this case, Dr. Julia Gallo is working in Afghanistan and is kidnapped by the Taliban group.  The kidnapping is brutal and the tension only builds from there, leaving the reader wondering if Gallo would come out alive from her ordeal. 

           Enter Scott Harvath.  Stephanie Gallo, Julia’s mother, wants action and since she is a media mogul and a big donor to the President, she has the clout to get something done.  The President does not want to have a rescue but suggests that Harvath can pull this off without drawing too much attention. 

            In the meantime, there is a subplot going where an agent is launching an investigation to see if the President was responsible for the death of someone that worked for him.  It keeps the story moving along, making the reader wonder what will happen at the end. 

            In the meantime, Harvath is in Afghanistan, building his team.  Once he is ready, he’s taking on the Taliban and there are a lot of surprises along the way which bring the story to a great ending.  

            Harvath is a great character and his sense of humor along with how he handles his mission make for a great story.  At one point, during his battle, I thought back to Audie Murphy and how he was fighting off the Germans during WWII and saw some good parallels in this story. 

            As far as the other characters go, it is a great cast along with the agent who wants to get to the truth of how the President was responsible for the death of someone who worked for him.  Not sure if Thor meant to make a comparison with  Chappaquiddick.  

            Of course, we go into the mind of Harvath and see that he’s not happy with the President’s policies on terrorism, which seems to go after Barack Obama.  That’s to be expected since Harvath is fighting off terrorists even though this President wasn’t Barack Obama although I guess this President is supposed to be in sync with the Democrats on this.  

            Brad Thor’s books are usually five stars and this one is no exception.  If you’re into mystery, action with a good blend of comedy, then this book is for you. 

Ron Hummer

Friday, March 28, 2014

American Hustle - Movie Review

         It’s nice to say that you can go to a movie and the disclaimer appears at the beginning that says some of this is actually true.  I’m glad that that’s being done and wish that Hollywood would do that more often so we don’t have movies like JFK which is nothing more than revisionist history. 

          American Hustle is a blend of comedy and facts, loosely based on the Abscam sting of the 1970’s and early 80’s.  That part of the movie brings back memories for me when I was in college and my professor in my political science class came out and discussed the sting operation and expressed how upset he was since some of the people involved were very close friends of his and they wouldn’t do anything like that. 

          Putting that aside, the movie opens with Christian Bale, who plays Irving Rosenfelt, a con man who is trying to put his hair together with a wig.  You see him spraying glue on top of his bald head and using parts of his long hair to make himself look like he has a full head of hair but you know when you see him that that isn’t the case.   

           Then there is his sidekick, Amy Adams, who plays Sydney Prosser, who is there reassuring him that he looks fine even though he doesn’t.  As the movie moves along in the beginning, we see the history of how they met and how their relationship developed.  It was hard for me to buy into Rosenfelt’s dry cleaning business and Sydney having hundreds of outfits to choose from since so many people leave their dry cleaning behind like they did in a Seinfeld episode.  

            As far as the music went, there was a lot of 70’s music from Steely Dan, Chicago, and the Bee Gees during a scene when Prosser and DiMaso were at a disco.  Seeing Rosenfelt and Prosser bond over Duke Ellington seemed out of place being that it was the 70’s, it seemed that music of that age could have been more appropriate since the rest of the music was from that era.  

            Bradley Cooper plays Richard DiMaso, an overly ambitious FBI agent who wants to take down politicians and the mafia.  He manages to get Irving and Sydney in a sting operation and forces them to work for him to do his dirty work.  You can’t help but enjoy how his character squares off against Louie CK, who plays Stoddard Thorsen,Richard’s boss and and the other agent, who seemed like the next Rudy Giuliani.  

             Jennifer Lawrence’s character really brings the house down in the movie.  Just when you think that this operation is stable, there she is, talking to people in the mafia or making Rosenfelt’s life crazy when she starts fires in their home with a sunlamp and a microwave.  Every scene that had Jennifer Lawrence brings this movie up a notch.  The biggest scene is when the FBI team confronts the Mafia, which is lead by Robert DeNiro, and you wonder what Lawrence’s character is going to do next.  

             The move had a lot of laughs and at times was filled with suspense.  It’s tough not to give this movie five stars.  

Ron Hummer

15 Seconds by Andrew Gross - Book Review

          Today was supposed to be a good day for Henry Steadman.   Since he is a successful plastic surgeon, he was chosen to go to Florida and give a presentation at a conference in the afternoon.  

           Once he rents a car and is driving to the conference, he is stopped by a policeman for a minor traffic violation.  From there, the situation would only get worse when he is handcuffed and placed in the officers car until other police officers arrive on the scene.  

            After a long and heated discussion, the officer said that there was a mistake and he can go back to his car.  After the other officers leave and Henry is in his car, a car goes up to the arresting officer and he is gunned down.  The only suspect that is considered is Henry since he was handcuffed in the officers car just a few minutes ago. 

            From there, the tension is strong as Henry is trying to find out why this is happening to him.   When his friend is killed later on, Henry is under the impression that there is some sort of elaborate setup in an attempt to ruin his career and his life.  

            As far as the plot is concerned, it draws on Henry being chased by the police while he is trying to find the person who framed him.  At times, you would think that Henry will be caught but he is able to elude the police while trying to chase down any clues he can as to who the person was who is trying to ruin his life. 

           I like the way the author uses flashbacks in order to build the story and create more tension as part of the plot.  The characters are memorable, popping off the page, making it one of the many reasons I was able to finish this book in four days.    

            The plot only thickens when Henry can’t turn himself in because he has to save someone that he loves more than anyone in the world.  As a result, the stakes become higher as it becomes a race against time to find out who is trying to ruin his life before that person kills the one person he loves the most. 

             As far as the characters are concerned, they are not only broken but believable since another character’s life has been destroyed and he has nothing to lose when he tries to destroy Henry Steadman’s life.  This makes the story fact paced with a lot of tension, leading to an unpredictable and chilling ending.  

            Yes, 15 Seconds is a story about how a person’s life can be destroyed in a matter of minutes.  It is a great psychological thriller that is worthy of more than five stars as far as I’m concerned.  I can’t wait to read more books by Andrew Gross. 

Ron Hummer

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Now You See Me - DVD Review

        Here we have a story of a group of magicians who rob banks while they are on stage during a show.  If that isn’t enough, they’re giving the money to the audience.  In the meantime, an FBI agent and a detective from Interpol are on their trail, trying to prove that they stole the money. 

       I really enjoyed this movie along with the performances from Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, and Mark Ruffalo.  There were a lot of twists and turns in the plot and the ending was a complete surprise to me. 

        The four horseman are the magicians.  J Daniel Atlas, the leader, is a fast talking salesman type character who has a rivalry going with Henley Reeves, his ex-girlfriend who is part of the group. 

         Then there is Woody Harrelson who plays Merritt McKinney, a man who can hypnotize anyone.  Dan Franco plays the thief who will pick your pocket faster than you realize that your wallet has disappeared.  

          Morgan Freeman is Thaddeus Bradley, a man who is determined to debunk the magic and make the four horseman look bad.  Then there is Dylan Rhodes and Alma Dray, played by Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent, who are always at least 10 steps behind the horseman as they commit their robberies. 

          The magic is great as we are lead to believe that someone was teleported to France to steal money from a bank.  Of course, Thaddeus is hired to debunk the trick and show the four horseman as the phonies that they are. 

           The high speed car chase over a bridge with Dylan Rhodes and Jack Wilder is intense and fun to watch.  Of course, seeing Michael Caine being conned out of his money built tension between the characters.  

            I really enjoyed this movie and would give it five stars. 

Ron Hummer