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Movie Review: Godzilla

Seek cover! Godzilla returns to the big screen this summer, roaring like the King of the Monsters should.  Bolstered by outstanding effects, a cast with Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and absolutely none of the mistakes that plagued the 1998 film, the new Godzilla is blockbuster summer fare on a grand scale [insert “scaly” joke here!]. Godzilla_poster

Because everyone goes to see  a Godzilla film for the familial drama, yes, the 2014 attempts to build its heart around good soldier Ford Brody, his father, his wife, and son (and a lost boy about halfway through), but the true beating narrative is the cold blood pumping through the titular monster.  It turns out that Godzilla is the Earth’s protector, created to bring “balance” whenever other scary, giant monsters turn up and ruin vacation spots like Hawaii and Vegas.  Godzilla emotes far more believably than the human cast, although Watanabe deserves credit for delivering the film’s best line (“Let them fight,” in answer to the U.S. military’s convoluted plan to knock out all three monsters at once). 

Snark aside, this is nevertheless a blast with high tension throughout--and when the monster fights do happen, the audience would be wise to clear their throats of any excess popcorn. There are cheer-worthy moments when Godzilla comes to the rescue, and the scope of destruction is immense and impressively managed.

Be advised that this film features more of the destruction that the monsters cause than the monsters themselves. This is a classic Godzilla approach, as the Kaiju retain their terror and mystique without overexposure. And when he is given ample screen time, Godzilla is a wonder to behold; his new film is best viewed on as big of a screen as possible and with eyes open wide


R.I.P.D.: From Comics to Film and Back Again

R.I.P.D. series creator Peter Lenkov and R.I.P.D.: City of the Damned writer, Jeremy Barlow share their thoughts about the path the series has taken from the original comic book to making the upcoming film and finally revisiting the comics with the City of the Damned prequel.

Creator Peter Lenkov:RIPD

It was an interesting journey taking R.I.P.D. from book to screen. Before it was even published, Universal had interest in turning it into a film. We had initial meetings about what the movie should be, what would translate well onto the big screen, what needed to be expanded upon. At the time there were only four issues—not much mythology. But once the story was decided on, it went through numerous drafts, lots of writers, everyone working to nail that blend of action, science fiction. and comedy that the story needs. It’s a complicated process.

With casting, we considered a lot of actors, but we were blessed to get Ryan Reynolds. He’s always had a great passion for the project. For the character of Roy, Jeff Bridges was at the top of everyone’s list, but he’s so selective; you never think you’re going to get him. You just can’t get better casting than these two. And the funny thing is that they look like the characters in the original book.

The creative vision of the film is absolutely that of our director, Robert Schwentke. I actually went to Schwentke’s office during the early days of preproduction. We talked about the comic and his vision for the movie. He showed me all these pre-vis sequences that were done with this amazing animation. I was instantly impressed and knew the film was in good hands. And Mike Richardson, one of the producers and the publisher of Dark Horse, was kind enough to keep me in the loop throughout. The film turned out better than I could ever have hoped for. I can’t wait for fans of the genre to see it.


RIPDCityDamnedJeremy Barlow, writer of R.I.P.D.: City of the Damned:

I was brought aboard to translate what R.I.P.D. had become for the screen back into graphic novel form. Editor Patrick Thorpe had teamed up artist Tony Parker and me for a couple of short anthology stories a few months prior, and the creative chemistry between the three of us was instantaneous. The kind of collaboration you always hope for.

  Very early in the process Peter Lenkov and I had some great conversations about the different approaches we could take, both of us wanting to show just how vast and interesting this world of afterlife peacekeepers could be. Here was an imaginative concept that stretched all the way back to Creation—we could literally go anywhere and do just about anything with it.

 We settled on telling Roy’s story in City of the Damned, which gave us the means to dig into the Rest In Peace Department’s rich history, and to expand on Jeff Bridges’s character, giving context to some of his motivations in the film. Knowing where Roy’s story was going—and being able to “hear” Jeff Bridges’s and Ryan Reynolds’s voices as I wrote the dialogue—was a tremendous advantage.

 When you’re playing in someone else’s sandbox, you’re often limited in the toys you’re allowed to use. R.I.P.D. gave us some amazing toys. Peter and Patrick encouraged us to stretch our imaginations and load up City of the Damned with outlandish ideas and compelling characters, and we really went for it.

 City of the Damned reveals the scope of Peter Lenkov’s vision, working both as a prequel to the movie and a gripping adventure in its own right. I’m proud of what we accomplished.

"Man of Steel" Review: You Will Believe a Man Can Fly

By now, it’s old hat (cape?) to state the inherent difficulties in making a film about Superman.  We know he’s an alien; we know he’s a “good guy;” we know Superman is invulnerable.  What, then, is a believable threat to the Man of Steel and how does a contemporary audience relate to a god-like alien who is the anti-anti-hero?

ManOfSteelProducer Christopher Nolan (director of The Dark Knight trilogy), director Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300), and writer David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight trilogy) apply their strengths to this conundrum, opting to visually stun the audience instead of solving for a relatable protagonist.  And for much of the picture, they succeed.  Man of Steel is the best-looking Superman film in the hero’s catalog.  Henry Cavill’s Superman is square-jawed, pleasant, and possessed of shoulders so broad that they could double as the side of a barn.  Snyder portrays Krypton radically different from previous iterations: it’s at the end of existence, technologically advanced but about as fun and bright as the scarier corners of The Matrix.  The camera slows and accelerates, racing with Superman as he flies, pummels, and is pummeled.  Through Snyder’s lens the old adage is true: you will believe a man can fly.  The effects are flawless--there is so much beautifully rendered structural damage that I felt bad for Metropolis taxpayers, and flashbacks are tinged with a light filter of nostalgia, adding weight to scenes between young Kal-El and his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner). 

It’s this father/son relationship that drives Superman to do-goodery (“You are the answer, son,” Pa Kent states) and it’s also the only relationship that feels earned.  Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is all bluster except when she’s not, falling in love with Superman along with somehow stumbling upon his secret lair in freezing cold temperatures, at night, and in Antarctica.  Both their relationship and Lane’s deductive skills are convenient.  The villain, Zod (a shouting, grimacing Michael Shannon), is without sure motivation.  He hates Superman because he hates Superman. 

There are complicated plots upon plots (Krypton is dying—some citizens are mad about this, while others are very mad; there is a “codex” that holds the answer to everything, and then there’s also a key. Plus Superman’s blood may also be a codex, the codex, or key, and there is a hidden ship in an ice cave manned by a holographic dead man), and yet it’s to Man of Steel’s credit that it remains engaging.  Much of this is thanks to Cavill’s charming performance, but the rest lies in watching director Snyder turn a conundrum into a soaring summer spectacle.

Man of Steel review by Kindle's Alex Carr. Want more Superman? Check out these Superman comics and graphic novels now available with Kindle Panel View.

Five Favorite Star Wars Scenes

To ramp up for May the Fourth, a celebration of all things Star Wars, the Kindle editors compiled our five favorite scenes from the films -- from the epic saber duels to Han versus Greedo to yes, Darth’s declaration of fatherhood. Selecting five scenes was no easy task, so we’re anxious to know: Which moments top your list?

#5. Yoda versus Count Dooku (Episode II: Attack of the Clones)


#4. Assault on Jabba's sail barge (Episode VI: Return of the Jedi)


Continue reading "Five Favorite Star Wars Scenes" »

Oblivion: Questions Best Left Unanswered

OblivionNo one runs better in film than Tom Cruise, and the latest cinematic offering where he is tasked with saving the world, Oblivion, does nothing to discourage this notion. Cruise, as Jack Harper, lounges in a remote but posh pad that overlooks a post-apocalyptic Earth, until his daily scout missions send him to the surface where he alternates between running toward and away from dangerous-looking things. In an exposition-heavy opening voiceover, Harper explains that aliens attacked the moon and in the subsequent battle for Earth, nuclear weapons were deployed. Humans may have won the war, “but we lost the planet.” Sort of. A giant, V-shaped spaceship hovers around what remains of Earth, sucking up its resources to be used to repopulate Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, where humanity now resides. It’s up to Harper and his coworker, swimming buddy, and lover Victoria (played by Andrea Riseborough) to make sure the resources are all extracted without incident by whatever aliens remain on Earth. 

And for a while, Oblivion delivers a first-rate science fiction film. Genre fans will spot references to classic and contemporary science fiction films, including Hal 9000 and a very Star Wars-inspired canyon chase sequence. The IMAX-friendly vistas are lovely (thanks to Life of Pi’s Oscar-winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda), the future-tech is all very believable because the CGI is focused on functionality over flash -- even though there’s plenty of the latter as well -- and the performances deliver all the grim, fractured personalities that are synonymous with “post apocalypse.” In particular, Riseborough shines as Harper’s love interest who acts as if her compartmentalized existence is just fine, while a frantic damage lurks below the surface. 

Oblivion missteps in its final act when it attempts to answer the many questions it poses. The film spends so much time lingering on small moments, to great effect, that it rushes toward its finish, explaining away twists and cataclysmic reveals with tossed-off dialogue and flashbacks. The audience is invested in the dying world and its few characters, so much so that it’s dissatisfying to be quickly ushered through its explosive finale. When it works, Oblivion shines in its grand scope (especially in an IMAX theater), and while it brims with potential, the fun lies mostly in the “What Ifs?” that ripple throughout but never materialize. —Alex Carr

Five Noir Films Author Vincent Zandri Loves

MurderbyMoonlightIntrepid author and world traveler Vincent Zandri offers up his thoughts on the movies, in honor of his book trailer contest, live now on Amazon Studios, and his newest Dick Moonlight mystery, Murder by Moonlight. Check them both out and try your hand at the contest featuring $3,000 for the winning trailer!

I don’t go to the movies.

Wait, scratch that…I love the movies. Or, films, I should say. It’s just that you’re going to be hard pressed to find me spending a Saturday night at the local mall, buying over-priced popcorn and sitting through the latest Adam Sandler flick while some high schoolers are chatting it up behind me and the seven-feet-six basketball player seated in front of me blocks the entire screen.

Ok, I know, going to the movies isn’t necessarily for the guys, but more for the gals. And it’s what you do for someone you love who is constantly doing things for you that she doesn’t necessarily enjoy doing. Like bellying up to a bar for instance.

But while we’re on the subject, I have a serious confession to make. Until recently, I’ve been single for a long time, dating here and there, enjoying some short-lived relationships, living the George Clooney life more or less, only without the bucks or the Hollywood good looks. In any case, I always find myself telling my date, or prospective date, how much I love to go to the movies. It works like a charm, every time. All I have to do is ask a girl if she’d like to go to a movie this Friday night and dinner afterwards and her eyes will light up and boom, I’m in.

So what I do after that is wait a few days and then I’ll sort of suggest we save the movie for another time since I can only get an early dinner reservation at this really cool restaurant. Usually she agrees and from that point on, I keep promising a movie, but it usually never happens. And that’s usually when the relationship fizzles out.

Problem is, in my business, I can watch movies all the time, anytime, via Netlfix or Amazon Instant Video or even YouTube. In fact, I probably watch and re-watch half a dozen movies per week.  Watching movies and reading books are essential as a fiction writer. Like a musician listening to other bands, watching movies not only sparks my creativity but it also makes me a more enthusiastic writer. I find myself watching not only as a professional, but as a fan.

The  movies I like to watch and, as I’ve already pointed out, re-watch, almost always fall into the noir or hard-boiled categories. The top 5 noir films I simply cannot stay away from are as follows:

  1. ChinatownChina Town: Hands down one of the best hard boiled, wise-guy detective flicks ever made. The Robert Towne script is said to be perfect but the performances are even better with Jack Nicholson playing the sarcastic gumshoe and Faye Dunaway the femme fatale. Look for the scene in which Jack slaps Faye around while trying to figure out if the kid upstairs is her sister or daughter. “My sister, my daughter, my sister…!!!” Classic.

  2. AngeltownAngel Heart: This one came out in the mid-1980s when I was still in college and was more or less a sleeper but a real horrific sexy shocker. Mickey Rourke plays a 1950s era P.I. who has a bit of an amnesia problem. I could tell you the plot but it would spoil the movie. But for atmosphere and acting, you can’t get a better noir performance than this one.

  3. SevenSeven: I’m a big Brad Pitt fan. He makes the big bucks and I believe he should make the big bucks times two. In this one from the mid-1990s, Brad and Morgan Freeman join up to discover who is behind a series of gruesome killings that are mimicking the seven deadly sins inside a city where it always rains and the view is nothing other than the concrete jungle. A contemporary classic with Kevin Spacey as the villain.

  4. DoubleDouble Indemnity: I don’t know about you, but I grew up thinking Fred MacMurray was a real dork considering the dad he played on My Three Sons and the goofy professor in Disney’s Flubber series. But turns out, back when my parents were still having movie dates, old Fred was bad ass. In this one, he and Barbara Stanwyck try and off her husband in order to collect the insurance dough. But it all goes bad in the Hollywood Hills. No one says “Baby,” better than Fred “Flubber” MacMurray.

  5. ForeignForeign Correspondent: This one was made by Hitchcock pre-World War II and it’s more of an atmospheric, paranoid suspense thriller than anything else. Dark shadows, tight claustrophobic settings, crooked camera angles, and in my mind, one of the first and best English speaking foreign noir films ever produced. Joel McCrea’s performance is remarkable in that it’s stood the test of time. I love to watch this one when travelling in Europe.

So those are just five of my tough guy noir favorites. There are of course, many, many more. Tales of the Gun, The Killers, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, among them. My choices range from the classic black-and-white to the horrifying to the campy as all hell. But I love them nonetheless and all have influenced my novels, especially the Dick Moonlight series (Murder by Moonlight), in one way or another. I suspect I’ll be watching them again and again until my dying day.

I’ll leave you with one last confession regarding my movie dating situation, or lack thereof: Just last year, my ex-wife Laura and I decided to start dating again. One of the things that made her come back to me was my convincing her I would take her to the movies once a week. Well, ummm, it’s been a year and we still haven’t gone. But we’re going to get there (I promise, baby). But lately I’ve been thinking that maybe we won’t get there until one of my own films is finally released.

But even then, I might not feel like going to the movie theater. Or maybe I will. I can just see myself sitting in the back row with Laura on one side and some stranger on the other. Knowing me, I’ll poke the stranger on the arm.

“I wrote this,” I’ll whisper.

“Good for you,” she’ll whisper back, maybe with a roll of her disbelieving eyes. Or maybe she’ll get up and move her seat, thinking I’m some crazy dude or full-of-himself tool. Whatever the case, at least I will have finally made it to the movies.

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Bitter Drink: An Interview with F.G. Haghenbeck

HaghenbeckNovelist, historian, and comic-book writer F.G. Haghenbeck is the author of The Secret Book of Frieda Kahlo, among other titles. His latest to be translated into English, Bitter Drink, won the Otra Vuelta de Tuerca award in Mexico for best mystery novel. 

Question: What inspired you to write Bitter Drink?

F.G. Haghenbeck: I decided to write a novel like the novels I love—something with a charismatic main character and the feeling of the pulp noir books that Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett wrote. Also, I've always loved the culture of the '60s: the cocktails, music, and film. I knew from the beginning that the story would happen in that decade.

At that time, I was living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and the writer William Reed told me a real story about John Huston: He gave golden guns with silver bullets to each actor and actress in The Night of the Iguana. He figured that when the actors wanted to kill each other, they could use these weapons. I wondered what would have happened if someone had been killed with a gun like that. The rest came to me like magic. Then I was in the middle of writing the book and I felt something was missing—an outside voice that tied it all together. I used my knowledge of mixology to create the right environment, including drinks and songs in each chapter. I loved the result and have used it in other novels since.

Q: What are the key ingredients for creating a great noir-esque detective?

FGH: The character needs to be a son of many ways, but he also needs to have a quality you can fall in love with. My favorite example is Philip Marlowe. He's like a medieval knight in a raincoat with a Remington in his hand.

Q: What are the noir novels that every mystery fan should read?

FGH: For me, one name: Raymond Chandler. He is the best 20th-century American writer. Of course, you have Hemingway or Capote, but Chandler created the hardboiled dialogue that became a trademark of urban fiction from the 1940s. His first novel, The Big Sleep, is my favorite.

Q: Which cast member from Night of the Iguana would you most like to have a cocktail with?

FGH: Ava Gardner, of course. She had dirty eyes and a really lustful smile. That's why she was called "the world's most beautiful animal." Although Richard Burton might be a better companion for a drink. He was a good drinker.

Kirk Douglas's Memoir Recalls "Spartacus" and Breaking Hollywood's Blacklist

“Kirk Douglas is many things. A movie star. An actor. A producer. But he is, first and foremost, a man of extraordinary character... the kind we always look for at our darkest hour.”

    — George Clooney in the foreword to I Am Spartacus!

I Am Spartacus by Kirk DouglasCelebrated actor, director, and producer Kirk Douglas has one noble accomplishment that may be unknown to many: he broke the Hollywood blacklist.

In his new memoir, I Am Spartacus! Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist, Douglas reveals the true story behind the making of the Academy Award–winning classic film, Spartacus, and the political implications of his decision to defy the Hollywood blacklist by publicly giving writing credit for the film to Dalton Trumbo, a blacklisted screenwriter.

This gripping, candid book describes the drama, struggles, and triumphs of bringing Spartacus to the big screen. In his own words and from his own heart, Douglas tells a story that needs to be told, as only he could tell it.

I Am Spartacus! Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist is available now for Kindle readers and features a foreword from George Clooney along with a collection of never-before-seen photos from on, and off, the set.

Watch Kirk Douglas, his wife Anne, Universal Studios President Ron Meyer, and Jeff Pirtle, archive director for NBC Universal, talk about the movie that changed it all.



Reviving the Tired Boxing Metaphor

TomSchreckGuest post by Tom Schreck, whose novel, The Vegas Knockout, came out this week. 

I hate clichés, especially boxing clichés. These days, boxing in popular media is one tired cliché after another:               

The cliché fighter is either the arrogant, grandiose, self-absorbed champion or the underachieving, sad sack whose life is filled with bad breaks. He (or now, she, thanks to Million Dollar Baby) is filled with out-of-the-ring demons. These clichés paint too narrow a picture of what boxing is really about.  

I love boxing. Besides being a writer, I also work in the fight game as a judge and I’m still a gym rat who regularly gets in the ring. Boxing is in my blood. I spend a good percentage of my discretionary time in boxing gyms and very few, if any, boxers fit the cliché descriptions.

TheVegasKnockoutIn my new book, The Vegas Knockout, my protagonist, Duffy Dombrowski, is anything but the cliché. Here’s why:

  • Duffy is a social worker fighter. Ninety-nine percent of professionals box as a second job.
  • Duffy has more than one dimension just like the real-life fighters I know. Fighting is not who he is, it is what he does.
  • If he takes a shot in the face, he feels it, unlike LaMotta or Balboa.
  • Boxing lets him forget about his demons just for the moments he is in the ring, not exorcise them.
  • Duffy is thoughtful, insightful and often lonely both in and out of the ring.
  • Boxing is about facing what’s scary and keeping on when it isn’t easy. He doesn’t win every fight.
  • Most fighters never get to fight for a title, and Duffy certainly doesn’t, but getting the opportunity to spar with a contender is almost as good.
  • Many times the expectation is for Duffy to lose a fight without looking too bad. In the boxing world that’s known as a professional opponent. You can make a decent living just losing and looking good.

Boxing isn’t always easy. Sometimes a fighter needs to find other ways to get some wins in life. Maybe that’s why Duffy sticks his nose in other people’s business and puts himself in harm’s way. Maybe he’s just evening the score, or maybe that’s just the way he is.