Dillon and the Pirates of Xonira

Dillon and the Pirates of XoniraThey say that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, but I’ve got a third certainty: a Derrick Ferguson Dillon yarn will always be spectacular.

I’m no stranger to Ferguson’s writing or the world of Dillon. I was both fortunate and unfortunate enough to jump onboard when the first book, Dillon and the Voice of Odin, was initially released almost ten years ago. I say fortunate because I’ve gotten to spend that time with this character, reading and in some cases re-reading his adventures. I say unfortunate because that also means I’ve had to endure waiting for the next book to come out. There have been four Dillon books to date: Dillon and the Voice of Odin, Dillon and the Legend of the Golden Bell, Four Bullets For Dillon (a collection of short stories), and now Dillon and the Pirates of Xonira. Each one has been superbly written, with white-knuckle action, snappy dialogue, and witty humor.

This latest tale comes on the heels of The Legend of the Golden Bell, and just like in that book, we see Dillon returning to the fictional nation of Xonira. When I first heard that this book would take place in Xonira again, I have to admit some skepticism on my part—we just finished a tale there, so why did we need to return so soon when Dillon is a global adventurer? But my skepticism was unfounded, as Xonira feels as fresh and as intriguing a setting now as it was a few years back when it was first introduced in The Legend of the Golden Bell.

Dillon, of course, is back. Along with his frequent partner-in-crime and mentor, Eli Creed (who, despite retiring, seems to be doing a very bad job of actually staying retired, and bless him for that as he’s always a fun addition). Signing up for this mission as well is Toi Lahayne, a representative of the mysterious Braithwaite Group and Allie and Shon Pierri, a mother-and-son team of French defense agents. On the other side, we have the Pirates of Xonira, commanded by a man who has some history with Dillon.

The action moves along at a brisk pace. At a little over two hundred pages, it feels like a lot less, given how quickly you can progress through the book. Ferguson very rarely lets up on his characters, even for the briefest of moments, and there’s always something either happening or on the verge of happening (or sometimes both simultaneously).

While the roles of one of the characters seemed a bit too obvious to me at first, Ferguson flipped it on its head slightly at the end of the book. I won’t say anything more about it than that, other than it’s a very realistic thing in this situation, and serves both to give Dillon a bit more humanity by presenting him with a problem he can’t really solve as well as opening the door for a follow-up in the future. And speaking of follow-ups, the last scene hints at exactly that in a very big way.

I’m not sure when the rest of that adventure will be told, but I will be waiting for it.

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Sentinels: A Distant Star

I absolutely loved Van Allen Plexico’s first Sentinels book, When Strikes The Warlord. So much, in fact, that once I finished, I immediately bought the second book, A Distant Star. These two books, along with Apocalypse Rising, form the first Sentinels trilogy, “The Grand Design.”

In this volume, we see the return of the Sentinels — Lyn Li/Pulsar, Ultraa, Esro Brachis and Vanadium. We also see the return of the enemy from the first book, the Warlord, albeit in a different form. There are a succession of Warlords, and every time one dies another takes his place, and it’s all part of something known as the Grand Design. Where this leads to is still something of a mystery that I assume will be the focus of the third book.

The Sentinels’ universe also expands with this book, with the introduction of the Kur-Bai, an alien race coming to Earth in order to eliminate the Xorex, a planet-destroying entity that served as the master of Kabaraak from the previous volume. Upon landing on Earth, one of the Kur-Bai, a warrior named Mondrian, and Esro get swept off on an adventure of their own in space, going up against Mondrian’s former shipmate in a Barsoomian setting.

There’s a lot of jumping around in this book as the Sentinels are seemingly pulled apart in all directions. Ultraa is injured, Pulsar has family issues, Vanadium appears to be corrupted, and the government is prepared to cut their support for the Sentinels, especially with Esro missing. All the while, the Warlord is scheming, but it’s really Esro and Mondrian’s story that serve as the most interesting set-pieces here.

Where Plexico succeeds is in his characters, once more. Mondrian is every bit as intriguing and fascinating as the characters introduced in the previous volume. Her interaction with Esro is a joy to read and Esro himself steps up to the plate, becoming a much more central character than he was in the previous book. It could be said that When Strikes The Warlord was more Pulsar’s story and in that case, A Distant Star is definitely Esro’s. There’s a grandness to this book, a sense of a larger universe outside of Earth. I know that there were aliens in the first, but this one feels more like a space opera.

That being said, one of the strengths of A Distant Star, of it feeling like a part of something greater, can also be considered a shortcoming, depending on your point of view. When Strikes The Warlord can easily be viewed as a stand-alone tale, but with A Distant Star, there’s a lot of set-up for Apocalypse Rising and you know there’s something else coming.

Apocalypse Rising is a book I will be reading in the very near future. So far, Plexico has not disappointed with his superhero epic, and I’m looking forward to an epic conclusion of this trilogy!

Sentinels: When Strikes the Warlord

Have you ever had a book you weren’t sure you would like, but then once you started reading it, you couldn’t put it down?

That’s what happened with the first volume of Van Allen Plexico’s Sentinels series. I’ve known this author’s name for a very long time, had it come up many times in the writing circles I run in. But until now, I’d never read anything of his. And despite all the positive reviews about the Sentinels series, I was a bit gunshy.

You see, when it comes to original superheroes, it really is hit or miss with me. When superheroes first appeared. there was some hook to them. Superman was…well, Superman. He was the first, the big one. Batman was an evolution of characters like the Shadow, mixed with the burgeoning superheroes. When we came up to the Marvel heroes of the early 60s like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, etc., they all had these great hooks to set them apart.

But now, it’s 2012. If you’re a fan of superheroes, you’ve got over seventy years of stories to choose from and chances are you’ve read more than a few. So if you’re trying to get people with a new hook, you’ve got a pretty tall order. Most of the times, people think they’ve got a good hook, but it’s really not and the characters aren’t well developed.

Plexico, however, takes a different route. He knows that you know all these stories. He knows that there’s no hook you haven’t heard. And instead of trying to find the next hook, he does what writers of all other mediums do — he makes you care about the characters instead.

And really, that’s all that matters, isn’t it? How many times have you seen the basic hero legend retold over and over? How many times have you see the lone warrior story? If you show someone Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, Brick, and then ask them to read Red Harvest, chances are they will get a very different experience each time, despite the fact that it’s basically the same story. And when it comes to superheroes, I doubt you could come up with a super power that hasn’t already been thought up. But does that matter? Are there many differences between the abilities of James Bond and Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne? Not really, it’s the characters that make them different.

And it’s the same with superheroes. The Sentinels does not have a unique hook. There aren’t any reality TV shows or hidden conspiracies or trying to overthrow the existing order or anything like that.The Sentinels are superheroes who fight supervillains, pure and simple. But if you’re expecting a cheap, Avengers/Justice League knock-off. you will be pleasantly surprised. Because despite the superficial similarities with popular comic book heroes (and while they’re there, they are very much in passing — I doubt you’ll confuse Ultraa with Superman or Esra with Iron Man), what sets Plexico’s Sentinels apart from the numerous other books is that he focuses on his characters as characters, not as powersets. Even the Cavalier, who is set up from his first appearance as unlikeable, becomes someone you can relate to. And that’s a real testament to Plexico’s characterization skill. Even when Plexico hits the familiar story beats (and I won’t detail what they are because I don’t want to spoil them), there’s a sense of originality because of the great development he’s invested in these characters.

And because of these characters, I could not put this book down. When it comes to books, some take me longer to finish than others. On average, I take about a month or so to finish a book. I finished all 236 pages of this book in a week. Whenever I had some downtime, my first inclination was to read more of Sentinels, and I found myself thinking about it even when I didn’t have the time. It’s rare for a writer to inspire that kind of dedication in a first-time reader.

Needless to say, immediately after I finished this book, I bought the next in the series. And that’s a rare thing for me. Not long before this, I finished The Gunslinger, the first book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. But I have not yet bought the second book. Yet I already bought the next Sentinels book.

Van’s got me hooked. Fortunately, I’ve got quite a bit of material to catch up on.

Gunfighter Gothic Volume 0: Blood of the Universe

“Ignore her. She loves to throw all that time travel stuff in our ignorant nineteenth-century faces.”

That quote sums up what I love about Blood of the Universe, Volume 0 of Mark Bousquet’s Gunfighter Gothic series. It’s a snappy piece of writing and more importantly, it tells the readers that this is a world where the bizarre and unexplained is more or less an every day occurrence. Prevailing wisdom seems to be that when you enter a world like the one Bousquet’s created, you need to hold the reader’s hand, explain why all this weird stuff exists, or give you a character who’s more used to the real world.

I’m tired of that. As a reader, I have no problem being thrown into a world with vampires, zombies, werewolves, and time travel. I’ve been around the block a few times, don’t insult my intelligence by making me go through the whole “why do these pale men have such sharp teeth?” thing. 

Fortunately, Bousquet knows better. And he’s given us a tale in a genre that I absolutely love — the supernatural western. Combining these things together makes even the stale conventions of the separate western and supernatural genres feel fresh and new.

A little bit of info on the book’s story: in 1866, Jill is a well-to-do merchant’s daughter who was engaged to be married and ran off. By her side is her family’s servant and her sometime-lover, the Korean-American Hanna. Trying to start a new life, the girls get thrown right into trouble when they came across vampires, werewolves and a time traveling British spy on their train.

And then Bousquet does something really interesting. Jill, who one might assume is the central protagonist? She dies. Writing a book about a duo and killing off one of the partners in the opening pages? That takes balls. At first, I thought I must’ve read it wrong.

Jill’s death drives a large portion of the book, with Hanna now teaming up with two time travellers and an agent of President Grant. All of them are after something called the Universe Cutter, a knife with the power to resurrect the dead.

Hanna is a great character. I’m a sucker for female protagonists, especially in a traditionally male-dominated literary field like westerns and pulp. Not only is she a woman, but she’s a woman of Korean descent, which is great because minorities, particularly Asians, have gotten the real short end of the stick in pulp, dogged by extremely racist stereotypes. Bousquet seems pretty well-aware of this and he avoids any of the traditional clichés — Hanna is not a kung fu master, she’s not a dragon lady, she’s not a math whiz, and most importantly she doesn’t speak “rike dis.” She’s a very capable gunfighter, born and raised in America. Whenever someone comments on her country of origin, she always remarks that she’s American-born. Asian Americans and Asian immigrants weren’t exactly well-regarded during the late 1800s, so it’s definitely an interesting period for a character like Hanna.

Bousquet’s writing pops all throughout. The dialogue is real, even when in these unrealistic situations and the action moves at a brisk pace.

Unfortunately, for all the good in Blood of the Universe, there is a bit of bad — namely the technical aspect. In the Kindle edition, there were more than a few errors throughout, even some parts where Hanna was incorrectly named as Jill (and that was a cause for confusion more than once). These errors mostly amount to a distraction at worse, so don’t let that deter you.

Overall, we’ve got an impressive start to what I hope will be a long-running series.

Ron Fortier Reviews Dragon Kings of the Orient!

Just as he’s reviewed all my other New Pulp offerings, from Love & Bullets to Outlaw Blues, Ron Fortier has now kindly offered his thoughts on the latest installment in the fascinating and bizarre life of myth hunter Elisa Hill.

Here’s just a bit of what Ron had to say:

In this age of the popular urban fantasy genre, we seem to be inundated with more and more series featuring sparkly vampires, sexy witches and zombie private eyes.  Enough for this reader to yell, “Uncle!”  Contantine’s Dragon Kings of the Orient, packs more wall-to-wall action than any of ten of those other wimpy titles combined.  Being an American teacher in Japan, he has a unique, personal perspective on the Far East and its culture and uses it to great advantage in this rousing adventure tale. 
 
In the past, he has offered us other series but none of them can hold a candle to this one. Elisa Hill is a truly original, fun character and I hope we get to read many more of he exploits along with those of her truly remarkable supporting cast.  People, this book is a solid must read!

As always, Ron, thanks for the kind words! You can check out the rest of this review, as well as Ron’s other reviews, at Pulp Fiction Reviews. Once you’ve done that, why not swing on over to Airship 27, Ron’s own New Pulp publisher?

You can find both print and digital copies of Dragon Kings of the Orient available in any number of online booksellers. Check out the Novels link on the menu bar for more information!

The Dark Knight Rises

So here we are, the final big superhero movie of the summer (at least if you live outside Japan, but I’ve bitched enough about the four month wait for The Avengers). Not only does The Dark Knight Rises round out the summer trilogy of big superhero movies, but it also rounds out Nolan’s Batman trilogy that began with Batman Begins. When Batman next appears on the big screen, it will be a different actor under the cowl with a different director at the helm, and in a different universe (Warner Bros. has already confirmed they will reboot Batman following The Dark Knight Rises, and I’ll get to that later).

I am a bit sad to see this series end, especially Christian Bale’s role as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Ever since I saw American Psycho, I was telling anyone who’d listen that Bale is the perfect actor to play the Caped Crusader. So when he was actually cast, you can imagine how quickly I flipped. Three movies later, I’m still happy about this choice. There are certain actors who were just born to play certain characters — Christopher Reeve/Superman, Robert Downey Jr./Iron Man, Patrick Stewart/Professor X, and I added Christian Bale/Batman to that list seconds after Batman Begins.

Nolan and Bale brought Batman into the modern superhero cinematic family with Batman Begins and proved that even after the disastrous Batman & Robin, the Caped Crusader can still be a contender. And then Nolan raised the bar for superhero movies everywhere with The Dark Knight. Not only was it a good superhero movie, but The Dark Knight was a game-changer. Now, even the snootiest of film snobs was taking another look at superheroes. And The Dark Knight, in my opinion, didn’t really do anything that hadn’t been done in superhero films before — I think HulkX-MenX2, Iron Man, and Batman Begins all did similar things as well — but the execution of it in The Dark Knight was just better (helped in no small part by Heath Ledger’s stunning performance as the Joker).

But enough on all that. This is supposed to be a review of The Dark Knight Rises so let’s get on that. Spoilers are after the jump.

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The Amazing Spider-Man

Back when it was first announced that Sam Raimi would not be directing Spider-Man 4, you’d think Sony collectively torched the comic collection of every single Spidey fan, because the Internet exploded with rage. Funnily enough, some of the same people coming out of the woodwork to defend Raimi were also raking him over the coals just a few short years ago when Spider-Man 3 came out — damned if you do, damned if you don’t, I guess.

Then came the news that Sony would not continue with the existing franchise — instead, they were going to reboot it and keep the films with Peter Parker in high school. More nerdrage followed. The casting of Andrew Garfield in the title role, again met with hatred and disdain. When the first images of the slight redesign of Spidey’s classic red and blue costume, my god, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone who was bitching about how this movie would completely ruin Spider-Man. People even complained about the freaking texture of the suit, saying it looked too much like a basketball and that this meant Spalding must be a sponsor on the movie (which I thought was particularly amusing, because the texture is pretty much identical to the texture of the suit worn by Tobey Maguire in the original films).

Throughout all of this, my comment was the same as it is about every comic book movie that hasn’t even come out yet — you’re being premature. Just wait until you get the chance to actually see the movie before you start hailing it as a harbinger of the end times. It’s something that I’ve found increasingly annoying about the fan culture — particularly comic book fan culture — and it’s why I’ve pretty much backed away from the comic book forums I once frequented (and in one case, even worked for). In the past (and I’m not an old guy, mind you), comic book fans were people who loved comic books. Today, comic book fandom seems composed of people who hate comics, but can’t stop buying them. I don’t get it, because it’s not as if Marvel and DC lace the pages of their comics with opiates (although that would be one way to boost sales — if anyone from Disney or Time-Warner is reading this, I’ve got a patent on opiate-laced comics but a price can be negotiated if you wish to use it).

What was I talking about? Oh yes, The Amazing Spider-Man. Well, I’ve finally gotten the chance to see it (for once, Japan gets a movie slightly early as opposed to getting it a few weeks before it’s due for a DVD release in all other countries — we’ve still got about another month before Avengers comes out here). And I don’t want to say I told you so, but… I freaking told you so!

This movie improves on the Spider-Man franchise in virtually every single way — the only place it falls short is the exclusion of J.  Jonah Jameson (and if they do have Jonah in the inevitable sequel, I hope they get J.K. Simmons to reprise the role, because I doubt anyone else could do it). My major criticism of Tobey Maguire in the first three films is that he made a great Peter Parker, but he could not handle Spider-Man. Maguire is a great actor and he plays the nerdy aspect of Parker extremely well. But when it comes to the sarcasm and the wit of Spidey, Maguire looks like a poor amateur at a stand-up open mic night. Pretty much every joke he attempts to deliver in those movies falls flat on its face.

Garfield, however, completely embodies every aspect of the character. He’s got the teen angst thing going for him, he’s got the shy awkwardness, he’s got the slight selfish streak that Peter’s been known to display, and he’s also got the sharp, witty tongue. When Garfield makes a joke or a witty comeback, it’s actually funny. Cliff Robertson’s Uncle Ben was one of the best things about the first Spider-Man, so that would be a difficult role to top. But when you’ve got the great Martin Sheen, you’re on the right track. I wouldn’t say Sheen is better, because he plays a slightly different Uncle Ben than Robertson. He’s a lot more stern and gruff and it’s a great way to handle it. Sally Field’s Aunt May is also a bit more stern, but we don’t get to see enough of her in this film, so it’s a bit hard to compare her to Rosemary Harris.

The rest of the supporting cast is similarly on-point. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is pitch-perfect casting. I’ve loved Stone ever since I saw her in Easy A. And if there’s one person who can keep up with Garfield’s wit, it’s Stone. The two have wonderful chemistry together. And unlike Kirsten Dunst, who fell into the screeching damsel role in the first three films (and I say screeching because that’s virtually all she did — I do not like Dunst at all, it was the one time when I rooted for the villain to kill the damsel), Stone’s Gwen is actually capable in her own way. She doesn’t play the damsel role, she’s proactive and helps out. Whereas Maguire and Dunst’s interactions were driven by cheesy dialogue and overdone melodrama (try watching those movies again and not cringing whenever these two have a heart to heart), Garfield and Stone feel like real people when they interact. Even when they’re talking about the strange circumstances they find themselves in, they still feel real.

Denis Leary plays her father, Captain Stacy, and Leary is always a joy to watch. And now we come to the bad guy — Rhys Ifans as Curt Connors/the Lizard. He plays both roles perfectly, going between friendly and good-intentioned Connors to the vicious and twisted Lizard. Plus there are definite openings for sequels, which I’ll get to shortly. Even Flash Thompson, played by Chris Zylka, gets more development here than he got in Spider-Man. Whereas in Spider-Man he was just a meathead bully, he gets a little bit more here. After Uncle Ben’s death (that’s not a spoiler, everyone knows Uncle Ben always has to die), Flash has an interaction with Peter in the school and you think it’s going to be another bullying incident — but it turns out not to be. That one scene gives Flash more depth than he had the last time he appeared in this franchise and it hints to the future of the characters in the comics where they eventually become close friends.

The way Spidey moves in this movie reminds me a lot more of the Spidey from the comics. He’s quick and agile and no contortion is too difficult. He’s got very insect-like movements and it’s thrilling, especially on the big screen and in 3D. They’ve also got an interesting way of linking his back-story between the past and present by having his father a former scientist at Oscorp. I thought Oscorp would just be used as a nod to the comics, but we do get a bit more insight into Norman Osborn, although he remains an off-screen presence.

And now, to get into some spoiler territory. Continue on to read the rest.

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The New Scarlet Spider

Ben Reilly as the Scarlet Spider

I was skeptical about this series when it was first announced. You see, as crappy as the Clone Saga was in the 90s, there was one good thing that came out of it — Ben Reilly, clone of Peter Parker who took on his own web-slinging identity as the Scarlet Spider. In a really convoluted story where Ben was revealed to be the original Peter Parker and Peter the clone, Ben ended up becoming Spider-Man. The less said about that story, the better. It was very poorly handled, and you can read all about how editorial and marketing forced the story into being such a massive pile of crap over at the Life of Reilly (a really good and informative read).

Marvel eventually realized they made a mistake with the way the story was handled and as damage control, they said Ben was actually the clone and Peter the real deal, and so Peter became Spider-Man again. Of course, they also decided to do two other things, which I rank as two of the dumbest moves Marvel’s done with Spider-Man. First, they revealed Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin), who had been dead for years and who died in a very good story, was actually alive all this time and manipulating Peter’s life from behind the scenes all this time. The other thing they did was kill off Ben Reilly, a perfectly viable character with endless potential.

The Scarlet Spiders from Avengers: The Initiative

Since then, Marvel has teased numerous times that they were going to bring Ben back to life. There was Spider-Man: The Clone Saga, a limited series that told the original Clone Saga story in the way the writers had intended. There was a story focusing on a character from Ben’s past in the Spider-Man books, and they even reused the Scarlet Spider name in the pages of Avengers: The Initiative for a trio of characters as the Scarlet Spiders (although eventually all but one of them died). Marvel even said Ben was coming back to life and he was going to get his own series out of the deal. I was ecstatic about that one, until I realized what day they announced it on.

Can you guess what day it was?

That’s right, April Fool’s Day. That’s just mean, Marvel.

The really irritating thing about this whole thing is then-Marvel Editor in Chief Joe Quesada went on a tirade numerous times about how he hated the fact that Spider-Man was married to longtime love interest, Mary Jane. Quesada felt that a married Spider-Man was less relatable to the audience (apparently, only single guys read Spidey comics).

The whole “relatable” argument has always struck me as ridiculous, whenever it’s used. One prime example is people claiming Superman is unrelatable because of his powers but Batman is relatable because he doesn’t have powers. Never mind that Superman’s civilian life and the way he grew up is a lot closer to the way the majority of us grew up as opposed to Batman’s upbringing. And never mind that no one can really relate to being a globe-trotting, Nazi-fighting archaeologist in the forties or a suave, British spy with an arsenal of gadgets, yet no one complains about Indiana Jones or James Bond being unrelatable.

Anyway, I digress. The thing that annoyed me about Quesada’s argument is that in Ben, they had that single Spidey character. The solution? Bring Ben back and then have two books — one with Ben as a freewheeling bachelor and one with Peter as a married guy. Problem solved.

Instead, we got a story in which Peter and MJ sacrifice their marriage to Mephisto and have him muck with the timestream in order to save the life of Aunt May (who’s likely about to croak in a few years anyway). Because nothing bad could possibly happen by asking the goddamn devil to mess with the space-time continuum.

The new Scarlet Spider

But recently, we got a new Scarlet Spider in a snazzy new costume. And I thought this is it, Marvel has finally decided to bring Ben Reilly back to life.

Then I found out that no, Marvel hasn’t done that. What they did do was bring back Kaine. He was the first clone of Peter, but was imperfect and went a bit crazy and tried to kill both Peter and Ben on numerous occasions.

Now apparently reformed, Kaine was getting his own series as the Scarlet Spider. This seemed to me like another great disappointment. Once again, Marvel had teased with the prospect of restoring Ben, but stopped just short of doing it. Of all the characters Marvel has resurrected in recent years, Ben has probably been the one most-often requested. And yet, he seems to be the new Bucky (previously the only character Marvel would never resurrect…until they did).

The series, however, seemed intriguing. Chris Yost (one of the writers on the excellent Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes TV series) was handling the writing duties, so I decided to give it a shot based on his presence alone.

And despite my reservations, this series is really good! Kaine is a much harsher, darker character than Peter or Ben. The way he handles situations is not the same way either of the other guys would. It’s great fun watching him toe the line between hero and villain in this book.

Am I still upset Ben isn’t back as the Scarlet Spider? Yup. But that doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying this take. Yost has got me onboard for the long haul.

Apple TV 3

Last month, I bought an Apple TV 3 primarily because I wanted to digitize my DVD library.

Why do such a thing? Well for starters, my DVD collection is somewhere around 800 discs. And that takes up a lot of space, especially in a Japanese apartment. I don’t have any cases here, I left them all back in Chicago. The discs themselves are arranged in sleeves in drawers, which means finding what you’re looking for is difficult. It also makes just browsing when you don’t have an idea of what to watch absolutely impossible. So while the process of converting the DVDs is a long one (although I’m close to the end), the ease of being able to access all my movies with the touch of a button is extremely convenient.

Why go with Apple TV 3 instead of Roku? I looked into them both, but Apple TV seemed like a better choice for my needs. I like the iTunes synchronization, and I like the option of customizing the metadata and the cover images. The downside is that iTunes only works with a specific media format — mp4 (or m4v as their extension is called).

Overall, Apple TV works great. I can also access Netflix and other web streaming services. I primarily use it for my movies and TV shows, which are not insubstantial. But I do have a few quibbles, mainly about the GUI.

Mac users may remember that Mac used to have this program called Front Row. You could use it for viewing your movie library as well as browsing things like movie trailers. The Apple TV also uses the Front Row format, and what Front Row basically is is you have the right portion of the screen with a list of all the titles and the left portion shows the cover art, description and any other information about the selected title.

Simple and boring

The thing that really boggles my mind about this user interface (UI) is that Apple is capable of coming up with something better. Hell, the ATV3 already has something better. Just look at this:

Now we’re getting somewhere…

Not only is this format much nicer to look at, but it’s also got a lot more choices for customized views. Each row is a different organization. Imagine something like this, with one row being alphabetical listing, another row being recent movies, another where stuff is sorted by rating, by genre, playlists, etc. Plus all the coverart is right there, which makes it a lot cleaner and a lot nicer to sift through, especially if you have a large library.

The problem here is that this format is only on Apple TV’s iTunes Store interface. For computer sharing with your own files, you’re stuck with the Front Row format. I have no idea why Apple would limit this for people, doesn’t make much sense to me.

See, now we’re talking. These two view options are iTunes grid and coverflow options, respectively. Apple has the coverflow option in iTunes and in the iPad, iPhone and iPod devices. So why have they not added it to Apple TV, or added it in a very limited capacity?

Why all this talk about how it looks? Because that’s pretty much my only gripe with the Apple TV. If Apple could put out an updated UI that gives people the option of switching the view (or at least the option to install custom skins), I wouldn’t have the slightest complaint.

Movies linked to my iTunes library play with no problems. I haven’t had any connection issues streaming over my wireless network. The HD movies I have play in perfect HD quality.

But the UI is annoying.

There is the jailbreak option, where you can install software that allows you to change the UI. Unfortunately, the jailbreak for the new Apple TV hasn’t been developed yet, the hackers are still working on it.

Apple, please correct this one, minor problem.

The Avengers

Before I get into the spoilerific spoilers of this review (of which there will be plenty, of spoilers that is), let me tell you some things right up front: yes, The Avengers is the greatest superhero movie ever made. Yes, I have seen The Dark Knight and yes, The Avengers is better. I’ll get to why a little later in the review. So if you’re reading this to get an idea of whether or not you should see this movie, then I’ll save you the spoiler risks—go see it right this goddamn instant.

This is the part of the review where I warn you, those who have not yet seen the movie, that what follows will spoil it for you. So if you do not want to read any spoilers, please stop reading right now before you are spoiled. I’ve now bolded some variation of spoiler several times, so if you are not yet aware that spoilers will follow, you hereby revoke any rights to bitch and moan for having accidentally read spoilers. You have been warned. Many times.

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