Sci-Fi Blockbusters: When Did Humans Become So Boring?

The summer movie season of 2014 has been filled with charismatic monsters, robots, apes, and aliens… and a wealth of slack-jawed humans to gawk at them while offering nothing resembling a personality. If you’d never seen Bryan Cranston or Ken Watanabe in anything else, Godzilla certainly wouldn’t cause you to scan their IMDB pages. Cranston plays an obsessed father who dies rather stupidly (on a falling bridge, like Captain Kirk) early on, leaving his son, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kickass) to carry us through the remainder of the movie. Taylor-Johnson is one of those magical military types who just happens methodically through every major plot point (despite the story taking place across half the planet) and seems to be the only character with the powers of perception. He can command fellow soldiers with nothing more than a convincing speech. Of course, the titular monster does not disappoint, and the movie soars whenever he shows up. Godzilla obviously can’t talk, and thus can’t explain to the audience who he is, but it becomes clear through his actions. By the end of the film, Godzilla is a far better character than the humans who marvel at him. Perhaps that’s as it should be, but we spend much more time with the bland humans. Continue reading



I’m not sure who “Maleficent” was made for. A fan of the character will want to revel in her villainous antics, which this movie mostly denies… except for that one time she got carried away in a totally understandable fit of anger, which she quickly feels bad about. No one else will be given a reason to care. As a hero, she isn’t particularly captivating. 

Angelina Jolie is perfectly cast. She puts a lot into her scenes, but the screenplay tries too hard to make her sympathetic. It’s a testament to Jolie’s talent that she effortlessly rolls with the punches, but there’s only so much she can do.

Continue reading



(Spoilers contained within. Ye be warned.)

Name's Electro. The "DERP" is silent.

Name’s Electro. The “DERP” is silent.

Thanks to Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, the Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn’t entirely suck. It only kind of sucks. It really sucks whenever Electro (Jamie Foxx) is onscreen, and composer Hans Zimmer, who apparently had one shroom too many while writing the score, insists on generic dubstep with a repetitious chant (“You used me! You lied to me! You are dead to me! Spider-Man is my enemy!”) evidently meant to echo the voices in Electro’s head. Unfortunately, the voices in Electro’s head are morons, and so is the character.

Before he becomes Electro, Foxx plays the under-appreciated Oscorp worker-bee Max Dillon with a nerdy passive-aggressiveness far too reminiscent of Jim Carrey’s Edward Nigma in Batman Forever. In a scene ripped from another Batman movie, Max is wandering down the very same street that Spidey happens to be battling an angry Paul Giamatti (I’ll get to him later), carrying a bundle of blueprints, which he of course clumsily drops, because that’s what Selina Kyle did in Batman Returns. Spidey saves Max’s life, because that’s what Batman did in Batman Returns. In a new development that the screenwriters came up with all on their own, Spidey notices Max’s name on his name tag, and addresses him by name while basically mocking him and his silly comb-over. Max is immediately smitten, overjoyed that Spidey has acknowledged him, and too stupid to realize he’s being mocked by a superpowered hipster in spandex. Continue reading


Black Sails Review: Exciting and Authentic Pirate Action

The-Black-Sails-gangBlack Sails immediately captures the brutality and theatricality of pirates with an opening that is as fearsome as it is breathless. The action is smartly portrayed from the perspective of the victims, as their ship is mercilessly set upon by vicious pirates. This exciting opening sparks a plot that is intended to lead directly into Treasure Island.

Black Sails is a stunning, lavishly detailed production, blurring the lines between big budget film and television. Bear McCreary provides a stirring score that isn’t overly piratey. The acting is surprisingly solid from a cast that is generally a little too good-looking. I’m not yet sold on this interpretation of John Silver (Luke Arnold). His charming rogue-ishness seems a little forced, and is one of the few genre cliches to be found. Of course, this is a younger Silver, before the loss of his leg. Captain Flint (Toby Stephens), on the other hand, is a very interesting character, and has some fun interplay with his quartermaster.

The dialogue (particularly Hannah New as the hard-as-nails Eleanor) seems to be trying a little too hard to be Deadwood at times. Poetic vulgarity is difficult to pull off, though Black Sails gets props for trying. There’s room for improvement here, but even the finest shows have spent much of the first season finding a specific voice and tone. This one starts out more confident than most, but it still needs a little work. A bit more humor wouldn’t hurt.

As a rabid fanboy of historical pirates, I appreciated much of the detailed authenticity of the setting. Real historical pirates make an appearance, including “Calico Jack” Rackham (Toby Schmitz) and Charles Vane (Zack McGowan). They’re only shown briefly in the pilot, but I’m looking forward to more. The only historical element I was put off by was the portrayal of Anne Bonny (Clara Paget). By all accounts, Bonny was attractive, brash, and Irish. Black Sails gives us a fetching (even though they try to hide it) but mousy tomboy with what sounded like a British accent. This characterization would be far better suited to Anne’s partner in crime, Mary Read. Still, we get a brief glimpse of a potentially fun and formidable female character.

The show appears to use CG for the longshots of ships at sea, which took a little getting used to. I’m sure there’s no other way, given that filming actual ships at sea is probably way too expensive for a TV show. The establishing shot of Nassau, however, is utterly breathtaking. Everything on deck is very convincing and appropriately grimy.

I like that, apart from Silver, it’s not treated as a self-referential pirate story thus far. It’s all very gritty and realistic. There’s a brutal sword fight at the end of the episode that Neil Marshall (The Descent, Centurion, and an episode of Game of Thrones) directs with his usual bloody fanfare.

There’s a lot to like here, but these characters will need to evolve in subsequent episodes to keep up the momentum. It’s certainly a better start than Spartacus had, and that show turned out great. Time will tell, but this is a promising first episode in what looks to be an exciting show, and I can recommend it on the production values alone.

Black Sails premieres on Starz on Saturday, January 25th.



The Devil's Horizon PaperbackMore good news! Book 3 of the Devil’s Fire series, The Devil’s Horizon, is now available in paperback (in addition to Kindle).

Click here to get it from Amazon, or ask for it at your local bookstore.


The Golden Age of Piracy is drawing to a close. Captain Guy Dillahunt recklessly pursues the infamous Charles Vane across the Caribbean, risking the lives of his entire crew for one last chance at glory. Former strumpet Jacqueline Calloway uncovers a dark destiny she never could have imagined. The dashing Gabe Jenkins attempts to right the wrongs of his past, and meets an enemy he does not expect. Kate Lindsay engages in a final battle for her freedom, while friend and foe alike conspire against her. The horizon beckons, but few will survive to reach it.


Meet the voice of Katherine Lindsay!

Laurel SchroederThe talented Laurel Schroeder will narrate The Devil’s Fire audiobook. Laurel provides a wide array of distinctive voices and accents for each character.

“Narrating The Devil’s Fire has been one of my favorite jobs so far,” says Laurel. “I read the novel cover to cover before I stepped into the recording booth, but I still find myself on pins and needles as I record, excited to get to the next part!”

Laurel lives in Chicago, where she works as an actress in film, voiceover, and onstage. She graduated from the University of Houston with an MFA in Acting. “I’ve found audiobook narration to be the perfect avenue for all of my acting training. I love sharing stories with listeners, and especially enjoy bringing complex, well-written characters to life.”

The Devil’s Fire audiobook will be distributed by Audible early this year, available on Amazon and iTunes. An official release date will be announced soon.

Visit Laurel’s website here: http://www.laurelschroeder.com/


The Devil’s Tide: Devil’s Fire Book 2 Is Now Available in Paperback!

tide_adThe Devil’s Tide now joins The Devil’s Fire in Paperback. The third book, The Devil’s Horizon will be available in the coming weeks.



Hostage-turned-pirate Kate Lindsay returns in this action-packed followup to The Devil’s Fire, and the last thing she wants is to go back to her mundane life in London. A young pirate narrowly avoids the gallows when the governor of the Bahamas enlists his aid in bringing Lindsay to justice. A pirate hunter returns to his old ways, with the demons of his past swiftly following his trail. A beautiful strumpet falls in league with Blackbeard, witnessing his despicable crimes firsthand, before she becomes a pawn in his schemes. As all sides spiral toward a fiery climax, nothing is at it seems, and the odds are in favor of death.


You can finally hold The Devil’s Fire in your hands…

df_adYou have no idea how long I’ve waited to make that pun.


It’s been a long time coming, but The Devil’s Fire: Book One is now available in a beautiful trade paperback edition! Not everyone likes Kindle ebooks. Some people want to hold a product in their hands and smell the pages. Now you can. Books are as old as time, and I don’t think they’re going anywhere anytime soon.

I’ve enjoyed great sales and received emails from countless Kate Lindsay fans. Many of you have asked for a physical version of the book, and this is for you. For me, the book has been made real at last. It’s no longer just digital air.

The book is now available on Amazon and will be available in bookstores in 2014, including Barnes and Noble. The more people that ask for the book, the more stock bookstores will order. So when you’re in your local bookstore, be sure to inquire about it!

The sequels will follow in the coming weeks. Keep a weather eye on mtomerlin.com, or facebook.com/thedevilsfire.

1397993_605276172863714_411214889_oOfficial synopsis:

The waters of the Caribbean run red in this brutal tale of revenge during the Golden Age of Piracy. Katherine Lindsay, the pampered young wife of a wealthy ship captain, has left her leisurely life in London to accompany her husband to America. So far, their journey has been uneventful, even boring. But when ruthless pirates suddenly storm the ship to plunder her husband’s riches, Katherine is one of the treasures they steal, sparking a bloody chain of events that will alter the course of piracy in the Caribbean forever. Pirate and adventure lovers will find no shortage of treachery, cutlass duels, ship battles, buried treasure and much, much more.


Endless Fun in the Golden Age of Piracy: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review

A kinder Blackbeard... at first

A kinder Blackbeard… at first

When I wrote the chapter in “The Devil’s Fire” which describes a pirate ship broadsiding a Spanish galleon in a tumultuous Caribbean sea at the height of the Golden Age of Piracy, I never expected I’d be able to experience such a thing. The latest Assassin’s Creed game has allowed me to do that, and a whole lot more.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag gives the player free reign of the Caribbean, starting in 1715, when history’s most infamous pirates made their names. The seamless transition between sea and land is exhilarating. As you explore the Caribbean, you’re free to furl your ship’s sails and leap into the crystal blue waters and explore any island you happen across. The gameplay yields to the wants of the player, rather than the other way around. You can attack ships, hunt whales and sharks, explore mysterious coves and Mayan ruins, or wander an island town and engage in a tavern brawl.

Black Flag stars Edward Kenway, a Welshman who has temporarily (he hopes) left his wife in order to pursue fortune in the Caribbean. He naively tells her he will be gone a year, two at the most. But Kenway’s plans change when he stumbles upon a Templar conspiracy.

Those who are unfamiliar with previous Assassin’s Creed games, which have constructed quite a complicated mythology, need not worry. Black Flag continues the story but doesn’t require players to have a deep knowledge of prior games. While the same Templar conspiracy that propelled Assassin’s Creed 1, 2, and 3 also runs through Black Flag, the story is fairly easy to get a handle on. It may carry the title of a popular franchise, but this is a pirate game through and through.

Edward Kenway’s story weaves conveniently in and out of history. He meets up with Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch (not Teach, in this telling), Benjamin Hornigold, Charles Vane, “Calico Jack” Rackham, and Anne Bonny, just to name a few. Kenway acts as a behind-the-scenes instigator, sparking key events in history but wisely remaining under the radar. When Woodes Rogers claims Nassau and turns out all pirates, Kenway helps Captain Vane set a ship on fire in the harbor as an act of defiance. The incident is just one of many that actually occurred. Hornigold’s surrender to Governor Rogers, which earned him the bile of his former compatriots, was particularly fun for me to watch, given Hornigold’s part in The Devil’s Fire series.

Anne Bonny plays a large role

Anne Bonny plays a large role

Edward Thatch’s transition into Blackbeard is natural and surprisingly poignant. This is a slightly different interpretation of the man who would become the feared Devil of the Caribbean. He is not an overly cruel man who kills beyond necessity, but he plays up a frightful visage when it becomes clear that it will take him that much further.

Black Flag does not brush over the details, including the large role that women played in piracy. Kenway has run-ins with Mary Read and Anne Bonny. Bonny is a fiery Irish lass who takes what she wants when she wants it.

The graphics are stunning. The gorgeous Caribbean sea stretches for leagues, with beautiful, realistic water effects. Islands are green and lush, and the sandy beaches are white and inviting. The weather is unpredictable, and before you know it you might find your ship caught up in a violent storm, struggling to avoid dangerous funnels that stretch from the clouds to the sea. Rogue waves can be just as devastating as a frigate’s broadside.

There are three major cities: Nassau, Kingston, and Havana. Liberties have been taken with the geography, but that is probably a necessary evil when making a game that is both fun to play and easy to navigate. In concurrence with history, Nassau changes drastically over the course of the game, beginning as nothing more than rundown shanties and evolving into a bustling town.

A varied cast of talented voice actors bring every character to life. I particularly enjoyed Blackbeard and Bonny’s voice actors. The sound design is excellent, from the crashing of waves against your ship’s hull to the strange animal ambiance that accompanies nightfall in an island town or jungle setting. Brian Tyler’s (Watchmen) score is very cinematic, with a catchy main theme that I found myself humming when I wasn’t playing.

While I’ve progressed through most of the story missions, I’m nowhere near done with it. I’ve got plenty more whales to kill, ships to broadside, forts to terrorize, shipwrecks to investigate, and islands to explore. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a must for anyone even remotely interested in pirates.


“It’s too violent!”

The Devil's Fire LogoI get this a lot.

My pirate books are too violent.

Let’s think about that for a moment. I wrote The Devil’s Fire specifically because I was tired of fanciful, romantic pirate stories. In reality, there was nothing fanciful or romantic about being a pirate. Quite the opposite. It was a horrible life that soured even the most innocent sailors. It is no wonder that after months at sea pirates so viciously swarmed upon the first vessel they came across. Their thirst for water, which was satiated with the poor substitute of rum, was swiftly confused with a thirst for blood.

I received an email recently asking if I would be so kind as to edit a young adult version of The Devil’s Fire series. I love the phrase, “Would you be so kind?” because it implies that anything less than compliance would be unkind.

The short answer is no, I will not be so kind, because this is not a kind story. It’s a gritty pirate story specifically written for adults. The fact of the matter is pirates are rarely treated seriously in any form of entertainment, and they haven’t been for some time now. There are hordes of romantic pirate novels out there. The modern view of 17th-18th century pirates is far removed from the reality, and I think that’s why the violence and profanity in The Devil’s Fire is so shocking to some readers.

Pirates were not nice people, and they did not live long lives. They often died terrible deaths. There were a thousand ways to die in a ship battle, few of them pretty. There is nothing romantic about being stabbed in the gut by a sword or shot in the face with a musket ball… let alone being impacted by a cannonball.

Now imagine a woman amidst these starved monsters. Should that be a fun tale? Should she fall in love with the man who murdered her husband? Should she be unaffected by her experience? I’m not interested in telling the story of a complacent woman among pirates, who swoons half-naked in the captain’s arms while the sun sets in the distance.

Everyone wants to be a pirate, or at least wanted to be one when they were younger. Pirates symbolize freedom from conformity and responsibility, and that is always a romantic notion. If I’ve done my job, The Devil’s Fire should make you think twice about wanting to be a pirate. Pirates did not lead the easy, happy-go-lucky lives that movies would have you believe. The irony of their lawless abandon is that their lives were typically harder than if they had simply conformed to the societal standards of the time.

There is nothing young adult about an innocent woman being kidnapped by pirates. Nor do I think it would be appropriate to turn such a story into a passionate romance. I would have trouble respecting a heroine who gave her soul to the man who destroyed her life.

I have no difficulty respecting Kate Lindsay.