DVD Review: Paintball

Hi!

Paintball. What is it exactly? It boils down to individuals or teams competing against each other to see which team can eliminate the other players and/or complete one or more objectives. Each player has a paintball gun loaded with paintball ammunition (capsules containing paint or dye) used to “mark” other players.

Though this is a game, many competitors take it very seriously. There are now several professional teams around the world, each of which is sponsored monetarily or with equipment to take part in worldwide tournaments. However, most participants are amateurs, participating in their free time to blow off steam and compete with (or against) their friends and coworkers.

Paintball, directed by Daniel Benmayor (now working on the sequel to Hitman), takes a group of eight strangers out for a fun weekend of being weekend warriors and turns it into a live fire game of cat and mouse. When I heard about this movie, I was intrigued and wanted to see how Benmayor and writer Mario Schoendorff would turn this simulated combat into a horror thriller.

Honestly, I was surprised at how well it worked. It has a mix of elements from thrillers, adventure films, and horror that comes together nicely.

The players – Frank (Neil Maskell, Nil by Mouth, David (Brendan Mackey, Touching the Void), Eric (Patrick Regis, Anaconda III), Anna (Jennifer Matter, Dead Cert), Iris (Iaione Perez), Brenda (Anna Casas), John (Peter Vives Newey), and Claudia (Claudia Bassols) – start out in the back of a truck, blindfolded and taken to a remote location. They all answered the call for the “ultimate” in paintball competitors. And some of them are hardcore.

As they start after the first of several flags, the team starts to gel. Working together, they find shelter in a bus in the hail of paintballs from the opposing team. In the bus, they find a case that contains a strange piece of equipment and a bullet-proof vest. One of the team puts the vest on thinking it strange, but playing along. As they start heading to the next objective, he takes a shot to the chest. It turns out to be a real bullet. And when another teammate is shot in the head, they know something has gone horribly wrong.

The group quickly starts to panic and things continue to get worse as they move from flag to flag, hoping that if they get to all of the objectives they can go home in one piece. Of course, the sniper trying to kill them one at a time might have other plans…

I absolutely loved the international nature of the team. That’s something I find lacking in most American-made films. The group was from all over the United States and Europe. But when the stuff started hitting the fan, everybody reacted like a real person would – fighting their fight or flight response.

The other thing I found fascinating was the relative lack of blood on screen. Instead of bathing everyone in red every time a limb is hacked, a person is stabbed, or when bullets rip flesh and bone, the director chose to switch to a nightvision view from the perspective of the killer. The shades of gray make arterial spray look bright white. So the violence is still seen, but mitigated a bit.

Is this film going to win an Oscar? Probably not. Is it fun to watch as person after person gets eliminated? Definitely. And as you go through the story, you catch glimpses of the truth of what’s going on behind the scenes to try and piece things together.

In addition to the film, the DVD includes the trailer, some teasers for other IFC Films releases, and a “Making Of…” feature that focuses on Benmayor and producer Julio Fernandez talking about what their goals were with the film. They wanted a story that would appeal to the average viewer, engaging them with the trials the characters on film were going through. The work with handheld cameras and longer sequences was used to bring viewers into the action in a more real-time way. At the beginning, I have to say the “shaky cam” effect was a bit much, but it does work for the majority of the film where it’s used.

If you’re looking for an atypical thriller set during a paintball weekend, I’d definitely encourage you to check out Paintball. It was fun and has some interesting twists and turns to keep you guessing to the very end.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Paintball at Barnes & Noble below…

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Book Review: Terminator Salvation: Trial By Fire by Timothy Zahn

Hi all…

Before I can talk about the book Terminator Salvation: Trial By Fire by Timothy Zahn, which follows upon the events of the 2009 movie Terminator Salvation, I need to provide a bit of background.

Arnold Schwarzenegger truly was a machine in 1984 when James Cameron’s movie Terminator burst onto the scene. He played a cyborg assassin from the future sent to the past to stop John Connor from being born. To do that, he needs to kill Connor’s mother, Sarah (Linda Hamilton) before he could be born. Of course, the Terminator wasn’t the only thing sent back in time. Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) was also sent back by the John Connor of the future to prevent this from happening. These three characters – John, Sarah, and Kyle – are intrinsically tied across time throughout the entire series.

Putting aside the dangers of time travel and altering the future by affecting the past, Terminator was a science fiction phenomenon that inspired two other movies further exploring the potential of world domination by machines – Terminator 2: Judgement Day (T2) in 1991, and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (T3) in 2003. Though I would like to forget T3, the first two were amazing films with special effects and ideas that really pushed science fiction films to become more technologically adept.

I saw Terminator Salvation in May 2009 and seem to be firmly in the minority when it comes to thinking the movie didn’t suck. Personally, I liked the film and feel it held true to the spirit of the original three films. Unlike the first three Terminator films, which started in the “present” of 1984 and headed toward the inevitable “Judgement Day” when the machines take over, Terminator Salvation picked up in 2018 after the machines had already taken over.

Skynet, an artificially intelligent computer system, started a nuclear war to destroy or enslave humanity to better protect it. The Resistance is a loose federation of quasi-military groups around the world hoping to destroy the machines and free mankind. The machines are pretty good at plotting to destroy the Resistance too.

[Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen Terminator Salvation yet.]

At the beginning of the film, John Connor (Christian Bale, Batman Begins) isn’t quite the all mighty Resistance leader he is when he sends Kyle Reese back in time in the first movie. But he’s rising through the ranks. After a successful attack on a Skynet base, he stumbles upon evidence of new type of Terminator incorporating human tissue. Along the way, they also discover a group of human prisoners used for some sort of experimentation. After John and his team leave with the rescued prisoners, one more form rises from the rubble – Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington, Avatar)…

Wright stumbles through the remains of Los Angeles and runs into a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek) and his quiet companion Star (Jadgrace Berry). They save Wright from the attack of a T-600 Terminator only to get taken prisoner a bit later. Marcus finds a downed Resistance pilot – Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood, TV’s Burn Notice and Human Target) and the two set off for Connor’s base…

Through the course of the movie, we discover that Wright himself is unknowingly one of this new type of Terminator. Skynet is testing the new model as an infiltration unit that can get inside Resistance cells and with a command from the central computer destroy anything and everything around him. It would be devastating for Skynet to have that kind of capability. No one could be trusted and the Resistance would fall apart.

At the end of the film, the Resistance and Wright attack a Skynet base to try and free Reese and some of the other prisoners before a massive attack on the base can be initiated by the Resistance high command. Though they free the prisoners, Connor gets injured and the high command is destroyed, leaving Connor in charge. To save Connor’s life, Wright gives up his own supercharged heart to be transplanted into Connor’s body.

[End spoilers]

Ultimately it’s a great exploration of what makes us human. Are we simply parts of a big machine or more than that? Can a Terminator still have humanity?

So back to the book now… Connor is still recovering from surgery, but he and his lieutenants are directing Resistance members to kill as many “live” Terminators at the Skynet base as they can and collect as many working or repairable guns and ammunition as they can for the inevitable counter-attack from Skynet.

Connor’s second in command, Barnes (Common in Terminator Salvation) and Blair are on a secondary mission to find Barnes’ brother and give him a proper burial. Reese has been sent out to collect ammunition with a team and Star has stayed behind in camp to help with repairing weapons, which she has turned out to have a gift for.

While Barnes & Blair are away, they discover a data cable leading into the mountains above the ruined base. Thinking it might be a secondary base, they follow the cable until they lose it in the trees, but find a group of people staying in the town of Baker’s Hollow. Led by Mayor Daniel Preston and his daughter Hope, the townspeople have struggled to keep a low profile and simply keep their population of 80+ safe, fed, and out of harm’s way.

Meanwhile, Kyle and his team have stumbled upon a hole covered by a partially intact Terminator. When one of the team gets stuck and they find a number of alert and intact machines below, it leads them in a perilous game of cat and mouse as they try to figure out what the machines are up to and how they can get out safely to get more backup.

Though I’ve not read anything by Timothy Zahn before, his name has appeared on my radar many times in the last 30 years. He’s written fiction in the Star Wars universe, as well as numerous novels of his own – the Cobra Series, the Conquerors Trilogy, the Blackcollar Series, and many others.

I found the book to be an extremely quick read once I got back into the Terminator mindset. It was fascinating to look at Baker’s Hollow as a pocket untouched by the machines so far. The people there were simply trying to hold on to some sense of normalcy in a world torn apart by war and doing a pretty good job of holding things together. Its residents fell back to a simpler way of life – hunting, gathering, and trying to keep sheltered from the elements.

But once outsiders arrive in town, things start to fall apart…

If you want to learn more about the world of Terminator Salvation, I’d encourage you to pick up Terminator Salvation: Trial by Fire. It’s a fast, enjoyable read that fills in a few of the blanks and shows more about how Kyle Reese becomes the man we know from the original Terminator movie. Look for the book in bookstores now!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Look for these great books at Barnes & Noble.

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Book Review: The Healers by Thomas Heric

Hey there…

What will health care look like in a year? Five years? Ten years? There’s no debate that advances in science and technology will provide answers to many of mankind’s current medical mysteries. But how will men and women with sometimes questionable ethics and morals use those new tools? Will the monetary rewards for those future doctors outweigh the good reasons for helping their family, friends, and complete strangers through the challenges of addressing the seemingly endless medical issues they will face?

Thomas Heric presents a unique vision of the future that tries to answer these questions in the form of a novel that bridges multiple genres of fiction. There are science fiction, adventure, and thriller threads mixed with one of the darkest hours in our history in the form of the Nazi agenda for a perfect race. At times I was reminded of Michael Crichton‘s Jurassic Park, a bit of Ira Levin’s Boys from Brazil, and Robert Ludlum’s novels involving Nazi plots into the cold war such as The Holcroft Covenant.

The story of The Healers begins in 2021 with Wesley Anderson’s graduation from medical school. Wesley is a remarkable young man with a brilliant future in medicine and medical research. At his graduation party, he is approached by the Aesculapian Healers – a group of technologically and scientifically advanced doctors offering to cure all your ills but at an unbelievably high price. Torn between joining his father’s medical practice and learning about the cutting edge of medicine, Wesley chooses to join them when he learns of his father’s own health issues.

We tag along with Wesley as he learns more about the Aesculapian’s plans for the future and their dark past. If a group of doctors has the power to heal those with incurable diseases, why couldn’t they simply share that knowledge with the world? Wesley must wrestle with his conscience as he finds himself drawn into a web of secrets and lies. Can he save his family? His friends? The world?

Author Thomas Heric has been a practicing physician for more than 40 years and it’s obvious from the first few pages of the novel that he has a gift for not only using medical jargon correctly but translating it in such a way that the reader knows enough to not get bogged down by it. He’s written for such television series as Medical Story, The Nurses, Chicago Hope, and Picket Fences. At times I felt the jargon took over the pages of this novel, but for the most part it was handled well.

What threw me a bit was the feeling that the story was somewhat, but not completely, predictable. As a journey of self-discovery, Wesley is faced by numerous challenges along the way, testing him physically, mentally, and emotionally as any good hero should be tested. As the tale progressed, I could almost hear Joseph Campbell narrating some of the storytelling methods used in early myths in Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Heric uses many common constructs of the hero’s journey such as the hero gathering like-minded individuals around him to help him in his journey, facing his challenges in much the same way as Hercules from Greek myth, and so on.

And I felt that in places, Heric may have been sharing his own view of what might happen as the Obama Administration continues to work on health care reform in what many are calling a “socialist agenda.” Though I think the term “socialist” doesn’t apply in this case, I have my own concerns about how the medical community will be forced to change to meet government standards of care. It was interesting to read Heric’s interpretation of what might come of these changes in the future.

That said, once I got into the rhythm of the tale, I enjoyed Wesley’s journey as did his best to help his family and friends both old and new to survive such a turbulent time. The science fiction and Nazi elements kept me entertained and I will be curious to see where he takes the series in the future. The Healers is the first book of his series The Aesculapians and left me wanting to learn more about how things will resolve themselves after this story’s climactic ending.

If you like your science fiction to be more “near future” than “far future,” The Healers by Thomas Heric might be right up your alley. The action is fast and provides a great ride. Definitely one of the most interesting medical “what ifs” I’ve read since Michael Crichton passed away in 2008.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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