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E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA)
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The Strain: Season 1
The Strain: Season 1
DVD ~ Corey Stoll
Price: CDN$ 24.97
6 used & new from CDN$ 24.97

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worms and gore, Jan. 11 2015
This review is from: The Strain: Season 1 (DVD)
After years of being tortured by pale Byronic models who pretend to be vampires, it's kind of refreshing to see vampires that are unapologetically monstrous. And by monstrous, I mean nightmare fuel. So what better vampires are there than hairless, ravening abominations with stinger-tongues and little white worms that will burrow into your skin?

And anyone who has seen "Blade II" will probably know what to expect of "The Strain Season 1," adapted from Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan's gloriously grotesque horror novel. It's a slow, increasingly grotesque build up to the inevitable vampire apocalypse (which is like the zombie apocalypse, but worse), hampered mainly by the fact that the main character is a very whiny, unsympathetic person.

When JFK International Airport loses contact with an incoming plane, it's suspected that there is a deadly contagion on board. CDC doctors Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) are sent to investigate, and find that all but four passengers are inexplicably dead. There is also a giant antique cabinet missing from the hold, which Jim Kent (Sean Astin) has arranged for ex-con Gus (Miguel Gomez) to smuggle out of the airport. Bad idea.

The only person who seems to know what is going on is a Harlem antique dealer, Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), who tries to tell Eph that all the bodies and the cabinet must be destroyed. They really should have listened to him. In the days that follow, the released survivors begin to sicken and transform (losing their hair, genitals, normal eyelids) -- and the dead ones vanish, only to reappear in the homes of their loved ones.

As the vampires increase in number, Eph and Nora are forced to acknowledge the reality of what is happening: an ancient vampire is taking over New York, with the help of a corrupt billionaire, a hacker and an undead Nazi. So the few remaining humans who understand what's going on must band together to stop the Master, while also keeping their loved ones out of the Master's grasp.

"The Strain" feels a little like a modern version of Bram Stoker's "Dracula." The opening episode is reminiscent of the ruined ship filled with dead men landing on England's shore... but with modern cities and easy transportation, it's a lot easier for vampirism to spread. And of course, lots of people who automatically dismiss anything with a whiff of the supernatural, even if there is a scientific explanation for what's going on (namely, white worms).

And trust me, it's nightmarish -- worms burrowing into flesh, gore, Nazis, the transformation into screeching stinger-tongued vampires, and the claustrophobic sensation of being trapped in a convenience store by a bunch of Strigoi. Even Mr. Quinlan, a relatively friendly vampire commando, is still very freaky. And perhaps the most horrifying aspect of them is the idea that a newly-turned vampire will hunt down and turn their loved ones into monsters like itself -- it's a very emotional idea.

What can defuse the scariness? Well, the Master. They should have just kept his hood on. He was scarier that way -- very fluid and fast and grotesque... and when we see his face, it's just silly.

The story begins very slowly, introducing the vampire threat bit by bit, fragment by fragment. Every episode contributes to the various characters, most of whom are not directly connected until the vampire threat starts to pull them together. And as a bonus, viewers are also shown the history of Eichhorst and Abraham in the Nazi death camps, and how Abraham became the Van Helsing of this story. Yes, I recognize the literary allusion.

However.... Eph is a horrible protagonist. Stoll does a decent job, but he's fundamentally playing a very whiny, hypocritical person who uses his job as a way to avoid dealing with messy emotional issues (sorry, just don't buy that he's ALWAYS needed at the CDC), and complains about his wife's boyfriend after having an affair. After a few episodes, his self-righteous I'm-always-right petulance becomes downright irritating.

Maestro doesn't have a lot of chemistry with him, but she gives a pretty good performance as a stressed, increasingly desperate woman who wants to keep her dementia-addled mother safe. Bradley is also quite awesome as an elderly pawnbroker who also kills vampires with a silver sword-cane, and keeps a vampire heart in a jar in his house. Just try to beat that. There are also some excellent performances by Astin, Kevin Durand as a tough rat exterminator, and Richard Sammel as a vampire who was a horror even before he died.

"The Strain Season 1" is a slow descent into bloodsucking, worm-riddled nightmare fuel, which is mainly hampered by a protagonist who needs a swift kick to the gut. For those who want their vampires to actually be scary, look no further.

Fargo: Season 1
Fargo: Season 1
DVD ~ Martin Freeman
Price: CDN$ 19.99
3 used & new from CDN$ 19.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oh yah, sure, Jan. 11 2015
This review is from: Fargo: Season 1 (DVD)
I admit to being wrong -- when I heard that the classic Coen Brothers movie "Fargo" was being made into a TV series, I thought it was a disastrous idea.

But it turns out that "Fargo: Season 1" is not a re-adaptation of the movie, but the first season of an anthology series that exists in the same continuity as the movie. It's a darker, more murderous experience (lots and lots of bodies) with some genuinely sociopathic characters, but the heart is still the amiable, pleasant people of a snow-encrusted Minnesota town.

After timid Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) has a brief conversation with con-man/murderer Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), Malvo decides to do Lester a favor... by killing his old school bully, Sam Hess... which attracts the attention of the sheriff, the local syndicate, and two rather quirky enforcers who are sure Lester is the murderer.

And Lester is a murderer... just not Sam Hess'. After years of ridicule, he snaps and bludgeons his nagging wife to death with a hammer, and Lorne shoots the sheriff (but not the deputy) when the officer finds what Lester has done. All Lester can do is knock himself out and lie.

But Lester soon finds himself ensnared in a web of lies, odd evidence and yet more murders, orchestrated by Lorne (who is himself arranging an elaborate scam on a supermarket magnate). Only plucky young cop Molly (Allison Tolman) suspects that the timid insurance salesman may be the center of all this mayhem. And as the months roll by, it seems that Lester might have gotten off scot-free... but a chance encounter with Lorne means more dead bodies in Fargo.

"Fargo: Season 1" is a somewhat darker story than the movie it's based on -- there are more nasty people in Fargo and Duluth, and a LOT more death and infidelity. It doesn't hurt that the two pivotal characters -- Lorne and Lester -- are pretty much sociopaths. One was a callous, casual monster already, and the other becomes one out of self-interest.

And both Thornton and Freeman do excellent jobs. Thornton plays as an almost stunningly casual killer, who pontificates philosophically about life, death and the dog-eat-dog nature of reality, when he isn't calmly blowing away whole criminal syndicates. And then there's Freeman as a timid little man who slowly becomes a charming, dead-eyed person who will calmly send his loving, sweet-natured wife into a situation where she'll get shot in the face.

However, the heart of the story is Molly, an earnest young cop who combines brains and gut instinct, while also having an adorably earnest romance with a cop-turned-mailman. Her little family and circle of friends -- even the inept new sheriff -- remind us that despite the cold sociopathy of the pivotal characters, there is still good and kindness in the world.

And it maintains a certain amount of Coen Brothers quirkiness, whether it's hitmen arguing in sign language or a pair of pleasantly bumbling FBI agents. But it never goes too long without some horrible deaths of one kind or another (though no wood chippers are involved). And the complex tangle of subplots and characters (only some of them directly connected to the murder) keep things interesting even when nothing too dramatic is happening. For instance, a plot thread from the movie is picked up in one subplot.

There's a lot of blood, guns and Minnesota Niceness in "Fargo Season 1," a solid example of what a well-written TV show can be. And there are plenty more violent stories to be told in Fargo.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

5.0 out of 5 stars Something rich and strange, Jan. 11 2015
Most fantasy books are merely bad ripoffs of Tolkien, or other well-known (though not always great) authors. Hero's journey, quests, stock characters, etc.

But Susanna Clarke dazzles in a subtle way in her debut novel, "Jonathan Clarke & Mr. Norrell," a sprawling historical-fantasy opus that took a decade to write. Think if Jane Austen had written fantasy about feuding magicians, and you'll have a pretty good idea of how this reads -- a slow-moving and intricate story, presented with a delicate, sumptuous style like a bejeweled silk gown transformed into words.

It's the early 19th century, in England. The Napoleonic wars threaten England, but that's not the only struggle going on. Magic is all but dead in England; the so-called magicians don't actually want to handle it, but want to leave it to old books and stories. Once the English magicians were powerful and respected, but now they just write boring essays about magic. Except for Mr. Norrell, a cautious little Yorkshire man who taught himself how to do magic.

However, things take a twist when he gives his help in the battle against Napolean -- a new magician enters the scene, the enthusiastic and charming Jonathan Strange. The two magicians begin to work together, but things begin to go awry when Mr. Norrell realizes that Jonathan is attracted to all magic -- including the more dangerous varieties. He's increasingly fascinated by the legend of the Raven King, a changeling child who ruled Faerie and Earth...

Historical fantasies have rarely been as detailed and rich as this one -- usually either the "historic" or the "fantasy" is abused. Often the best authors can do is write alternate universe stories where America lost the Revolution, the Roman Empire never fell, or vampires existed since time immemorial, and so on. But Susanna Clarke shatters that with her richly-realized look at 19th-century Britain, with unique magic and a slight mythologic twist. This is an England where, even though magic is stagnant, it's still something of rich power, awesome presence, and the creatures involved in it are completely otherworldly.

Clarke keeps her writing solid, detailed and dignified, also footnoting extensively, with little wry winks and nudges to keep the book from being too serious. It does get tedious at times, and the finale gets a bit stretched out, but the positive far outweighs the negative. She has a flair for the historical parts of the book, keeping dates, battles, and political movement entwined in the plot.

But she doesn't neglect the fantasy either; there's a mythic flavor in the story of the Raven King and the old magicians, reminiscent of old legends from ancient times. Her handling of magic is especially good -- less is more, and hints of past greatness make the magic all the more stunning.

The title characters are the best of the book -- both are products of their times. Mr. Norrell is cautious, studious, ingenious and quiet, the sort of person you could imagine chatting with some classic author about the nuances of their work. On the other hand, Strange has more of the wild, society-be-damned wit that characterized some great artists of that time -- like a less promiscuous, more magical Lord Byron. And there's a memorable array of supporting characters -- servants, faeries, scholars and the like.

If Jane Austen had written like Diana Wynne-Jones, the result would have been something like "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell." Well-written, enticing and thoroughly original, this is a keeper.

Halo: Nightfall
Halo: Nightfall
DVD ~ Mike Colter
Price: CDN$ 13.88
26 used & new from CDN$ 10.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nobody is putting anybody down, Jan. 11 2015
This review is from: Halo: Nightfall (DVD)
First, an admission: I have never played Halo. Ever. I find it fascinating as a story, but I've never actually sat down and played any of the games.

So I have no real preconceptions about "Halo: Nightfall," a miniseries that apparently is meant to link two of the games by introducing one of the main characters for "Halo 5." And even to relative noobs to the Halo universe, it proves to be a harrowing, intense story, as well as a good introduction to Jameson Locke -- lots of man-eating space worms, terrorists, and a planet that hates anyone who sets food on it.

On the remote planet of Sedra, a Covenant Zealot sets off a bioweapon in a crowded marketplace, spreading a disease that only kills humans. While hundreds of people sicken and die, ONI agent Lieutenant Commander Locke (Mike Colter) and the Sedran commander Aiken (Steven Waddington) investigate further, despite the fact that the Sedrans don't really like ONI or the UNSC. At all.

But in short order, they discover that the bioweapon is made from a heretofore-unknown element which is found in only one place in the known universe: a chunk of the Halo Ring orbiting a red giant. And if the Covenant gets ahold of any more, it will wipe out other planets.

So Locke leads an ONI/Sedran team to the floating shard of the Ring, where he will have only hours to apprehend the smugglers and destroy the deposit of the element. If they take too long, they are literally toast. But when their ship is taken, the group finds itself stranded on a hostile place with little air and man-eating eel-creatures that swarm whenever they detect technology. Even worse: their only hope is a two-person tug... and they have more than two people.

"Halo Nightfall" doesn't feel so much like a miniseries as a cohesive movie in the vein of "Pitch Black" (hostile planet, ravenous creatures, a scrappy band of survivors). While there were a few references to events in the games (mainly the Halo Ring), it was relatively easy to understand what was going on and how the Halo universe worked -- the Zealots are the bad guys, the Sedrans are primitive yet strong-willed colonists, and the ONI are the military. Nothing too esoteric for sci-fi viewers.

The main thrust of the plot is the harrowing journey across the broken Ring, which quickly devolves into a sweaty, grimy trek over a deserted landscape, punctuated with some nasty death scenes. As the story progresses, the focus shifts to the cruelty and selfishness that can come when a person is forced to choose between his own life and that of others -- some people want to leave their erstwhile teammates to die, while others practically welcome the chance to sacrifice themselves so that others may live.

Perhaps the most distractingly out-of-place part of the story is Aiken's tendency to monologue over... well, pretty much any moments of silence the series has. He waxes eloquent about God, death, being a soldier, and blah blah blah. It becomes rather annoying at times.

But admittedly, Waddington does give a good performance as a former Marine who seems tormented by his past career, and weary of living when his child dies. The alternative is Locke, who is... just a good person. Colter is pretty convincing, though slightly stiff, as a fair-minded soldier who truly wants to help everyone, regardless of their politics or planet. He's even willing to give a fair chance at survival to the people they are there to arrest, and shows consideration and friendliness towards the Sedran officers, who are basically seen as yokels by the ONI agents.

Whether to fans or noobs, "Halo: Nightfall" is a pretty enjoyable little sci-fi series -- a strong, compelling story with a likable hero and giant carnivorous land-eels. If only Aiken would stop talking.

Before I Go To Sleep (Bilingual)
Before I Go To Sleep (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Nicole Kidman
Price: CDN$ 19.88
9 used & new from CDN$ 6.20

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lost memories, Jan. 11 2015
Remember "50 First Dates," where Drew Barrymore had a brain condition that made her incapable of remembering new things from day to day, so every day her boyfriend had to woo her anew?

Well, imagine that as a claustrophobic, grey thriller where that boyfriend may not be what he seems, and her past is being hidden from her. That would be "Before I Go To Sleep," a competent but tepid movie that is mainly buoyed up by a very good trio of performances by Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong -- it's worth watching for the three of them, though not for the predictable plot.

Every morning, Christine Lucas (Kidman) wakes up in bed with a man she doesn't know (Firth), in a house she doesn't recognize, with no memories of anything that has happened in more than fifteen years. Her husband Ben (Firth) says that she suffered brain damage due to an accident (actually an attack) that nearly killed her, and thus cannot form new memories. Every day she wakes up with no memory of what she did the day before, or any of the days before.

And every morning, she receives a phone call from a neurologist, Dr. Nasch (Strong), who has been secretly treating her condition, unknown to Ben. He also instructs her to watch/record a video diary, using it to communicate with herself after she has forgotten everything.

But over the course of a few weeks, Chris begins to realize that Ben is keeping secrets from her, including the cause of her memory loss and the existence of their dead son. She also begins to have brief flashes of memory, including the night she was attacked, and a woman whom she vaguely remembers. But as Chris explores her mostly-forgotten past, she begins to realize that someone is threatening her life in the present.

"Before I Go To Sleep" is one of those thrillers that is mostly kept afloat by the actors involved -- it's not bad, but it is a fairly generic, unexceptional thriller, despite the intriguing premise. It burns along at a slow pace, immersed in pale wintry light and grey surroundings, with a slow build of clues... and since the main character has to relearn everything every day, it kind of loses steam periodically.

The biggest problem is that the story becomes rather predictable halfway through (when Claire reveals that Chris had a lover), and the very small cast (about six people, two of whom are only shown in the last scene) means that the bad guy's identity and motivation is pretty obvious. The climax is not so much a twist as a sucker-punch of brutal violence and a spooky, harrowing confrontation.

In fact, the movie would be pretty forgettable if it weren't for the actors, all of whom give very good performances -- Kidman plays Chris as a woman who is confused and alone, adrift in a life she doesn't recognize. But she does have a core of strength behind the cracks, and her few regained memories allow her to start to put herself back together. And both Firth and Strong play against type here, Firth as an odd fragmented man whose motivations and feelings are hard to pinpoint, and Strong as a neurologist who... really sounds like a villain. Because he's Mark Strong.

"Before I Go To Sleep" is a movie that is best appreciated as a character piece, because the actors are the best part of it. The movie itself is fairly enjoyable, but rather slow and predictable.

Sleepy Hollow: The Complete First Season
Sleepy Hollow: The Complete First Season
DVD ~ Tom Mison
Price: CDN$ 19.97
6 used & new from CDN$ 19.97

4.0 out of 5 stars Heads off to you!, Jan. 11 2015
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about Ichabod Crane and his encounter with the Headless Horseman... and apparently forgot to mention the witches, George Washington, the demon Moloch, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Yes, there's not much about "Sleepy Hollow Season 1" that resembles the original story, except a handful of names and the idea of a supernatural horseman with no head. But it does have the Horseman firing machine guns, so that's something -- a grim yet imaginative supernatural thriller, where a small New York city becomes the stage for a battle between the forces of evil... and a cop/guy-out-of-time duo.

In 1781, Revolutionary spy/soldier Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) is mortally wounded when fighting the supernatural Headless Horseman, and his witch wife Katrina (Katia Winters) bespells him into a magical sleep. Over two hundred years later, he emerges from the grave, since his life is now bound to the unlife of the Horseman. A local cop, Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) is understandably skeptical of the man claiming to have served under George Washington and raving about the Headless Horseman killing her mentor.

But she soon discovers that the Headless Horseman is very real -- and he's actually one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, serving the demon Moloch. Hang on, there's a lot of supernatural backstory in this story, mostly related to stopping the end of the world.

As two "witnesses" foretold in the Bible, Abbie and Ichabod find themselves bound together, and dealing with some weird, weird stuff -- a cult of evil witches, some evil Hessians, the lost colony of Roanoke, an angry dream spirit, a haunted house, a demonic possession, a golem, and the ongoing quest to keep a doorway to Hell from being opened. The key to it all may lie in Abbie's past, and Ichabod's very messed-up family.

"Sleepy Hollow Season 1" has a rather ridiculous premise, and sometimes it isn't afraid to just run with the absurdity (usually by Abbie sarcastically questioning something). But most of the time, it takes itself pretty seriously, spinning up a complex mythology that has a large number of plot twists, such as pretty much everything about Ichabod and Katrina's son. Seriously, nothing about him is untwisted. There's something fascinating and oddly admirable about a show so wholeheartedly embracing its weird side.

And don't worry: there isn't constant comedy about Ichabod being a fish out of water. Yes, there are some gags based on Ichabod being from the late 1700s (he refuses to get rid of his ratty coat for fear someone will "wear it ironically" and rages about sales tax and skinny jeans), but it's not too annoying. Instead, the story relies on lots of decapitations, "Evil Dead" tree roots, gloomy brick catacombs and misty forests where demons rise between bone-white trees.

The core of the show is the relationship between Abbie and Ichabod -- she a no-nonsense cop who initially doesn't buy into all this supernatural hooey, and he an occult expert who hobnobbed with the Founding Fathers. Beharie seems rather stiff in the first few episodes, until it gradually becomes clear that she's playing a very repressed, walled-up woman. And the sublimely beautiful Mison is excellent as a VERY open-minded Englishman who defected to the American side, and now finds himself afloat in an alien world.

There's also some solid side performances by Orlando Jones as Abbie's long-suffering boss, who reluctantly finds himself enmeshed in the world of the supernatural; John Noble as a reclusive "sin-eater"; Lyndie Greenwood as Abbie's scrappy sister; and John Cho as a weak-willed witch who serves Moloch.

The weak point? Katrina. She's effectively a passive, paper-thin damsel who just sits around looking sad and saying Important Things in a wispy yet melodramatic voice. And quite honestly, Winter's chemistry with Mison is so nonexistent that it almost forms a black hole.

Despite that one major flaw, "Sleepy Hollow Season 1" is a solid, serious supernatural thriller, with plenty of violence and weird demonic goings-on. Just grit your teeth through Katrina's presence.

Tales From Earthsea [Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
Tales From Earthsea [Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Timothy Dalton
Price: CDN$ 29.96
23 used & new from CDN$ 29.95

3.0 out of 5 stars A darkness in the heart, Jan. 11 2015
"Tales from Earthsea" is a Miyazaki movie. Just not THE Miyazaki.

No, this extremely loose adaptation of Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series is directed by Hayao Miyazaki's son, Goro Miyazaki. And it has the earmarks of a promising first effort -- the visuals are hauntingly lovely, the dialogue is sometimes beautiful, and there's raw passion in its making. But honestly, the story is often confusing, and fans of Le Guin's books will probably implode with rage over the story changes.

The archmage Sparrowhawk encounters a young boy named Prince Arren in the desert, and takes him under his wing. Arren is on the run from his own kingdom after committing a horrible crime, and Sparrowhawk is out to find out why magic seems to be draining out of the world, and darkness is creeping into people's hearts.

After some misadventures with slavers, they make their way to Sparrowhawk's friend/love interest Tenar, and her adopted daughter Therru. Unfortunately, the malevolent mage Cob has learned of Sparrowhawk's presence nearby, and plans to use Arren in his quest for eternal life and revenge againt Sparrowhawk... unless Therru can help her friend come to terms with his inner darkness.

Like most movies from Studio Ghibli, "Tales From Earthsea" is visually stunning almost beyond belief -- ivy-draped cities, azure seaports, dark looming castles against twilight skies, and long sweeping green fields dotted with trees in the morning sun. There's a genuine sense of magic and mystery to this world, and you can really feel the passion that Miyazaki had for his story and the way it's depicted.

However, the story itself is kind of mixed. The dialogue is strong and often hauntingly powerful ("But only to men is it given to know that we must die, and that is a precious gift"), and the story has some scenes that linger in the mind afterwards. But the narrative is often confusing -- the murky cosmology, undeveloped backstory (what are the tombs of Atuan?), and the whole subplot about Arren is just befuddling. His initial actions -- before we even get to know him -- are baffling.

Most of the story's character development centers on Arren. He seems like a nice polite young boy, but from his very first shocking scene we see that darkness and despair are slowly consuming him. Miyazaki crafts a solid father/son relationship between Arren and Sparrowhawk, and the archmage is also a powerful character -- understanding, forgiving, and universally kind.

Miyazaki also spins up a solid bond between Sparrowhawk and his old friend Tenar, who have the comfortable feel of an old married couple who know each other so well that they can practically finish each other's sentences. Therru is flawed, though -- she's not really fleshed out much, and she does something near the movie's end that left me scratching my head. It wasn't really foreshadowed or hinted at -- it just happens.

As for the villain Cob... uh, he seems like just a pallid effeminate villain at first, but he gets progressively creepier as we see more of him. Example: the scene where he slips Arren a roofie to get his true name. That was... disturbing.

Goro Miyazaki isn't the master that his father is, but there is still plenty of power, beauty and promise in his movie debut, "Tales From Earthsea." Beautifully rendered, but flawed.

Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems
Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems
Price: CDN$ 0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars I was mortal but am fiend, Jan. 11 2015
I've always had a liking for Edgar Allan Poe, with his tales of horror, mystery and suspense, done in the atmospheric prose of a master writer. Since I live close enough, I've even made some trips to his gravesite, a place that is always surrounded by a sense of sadness.

Poe was a tormented genius who died young, under mysterious circumstances, and at the time of his death he wasn't deservingly popular. Certainly his work was not cute romances for the masses -- he explored the darkness of the human heart, love, satire, and the earliest whodunnit stories. And "Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe" brings together all of his poetry and writings in one book.

Poe's fiction writings include short stories and novellas, which tend to be rather weird -- a treasure-hunt and a golden insect, a ship caught in a whirlpool, a hypnotized man talks about the universe, and stories of despair, madness, and occasionally beauty. There is also his trilogy of Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin stories, which were the first to feature a brilliant detective solving an impossible crime.

Most people know about "The Raven" (which even has the Baltimore Ravens named after it) but Poe actually wrote a lot of poetry, most of which readers never heard of. Sometimes dark, or whimsical, or even both. "By a route obscure and lonely/Haunted by ill angels only/Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT/On a black throne reigns upright..."

And, of course, the horror. This is what Poe is best known for, including such well-known stories as "The Fall Of The House Of Usher." But there are also lesser-known gems -- tales of a plague invading a party, being buried alive, a portrait that siphoned the life out of its subject, and a nightly visit to an Italian crypt leading to madness.

Don't read "Complete Stories and Poems" all at once. It's too intense. It's better to soak it in a little at a time, so that you can get a better feel for the different kinds of writing that Poe did, and how he excelled at pretty much everything he put down on paper. Most great writers can't boast of that much.

Poe's writing is what makes even his least story or poem come alive -- he brought a gothic, misty vibrancy to his stories, and could make his quiet dialogue seem utterly chilling (" "I have no name in the regions which I inhabit. I was mortal, but am fiend..."). It's not hard to see why he was an influence on authors such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle and Franz Kafka.

"Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe" is a must-have for anyone with an appreciation for great literature and beautiful, dark writing.

Under the Skin [Blu-ray] [Import]
Under the Skin [Blu-ray] [Import]
Offered by importcds__
Price: CDN$ 20.27
19 used & new from CDN$ 20.26

4.0 out of 5 stars Under her skin, Jan. 11 2015
It sounds like the premise of a porn movie -- an alien visitor who looks like a beautiful woman wanders through cities, picking up men.

Instead, that is the central concept of "Under The Skin," a hauntingly poignant sci-fi movie that is... well, not really like anything else you've ever seen. It's strange, abstract and devoid of a typical plot, relying mostly on the subtle cues of Scarlett Johansson's acting. But the way it's filmed is somewhat disconcerting, as it veers from Kubrickian surrealism to a gritty, awkward "realism" that feels improvised.

While dwelling in a blank negative space, a mysterious young woman (Johansson) steals the clothes of a dead girl found by the side of the road. Then she wanders through a Scottish city in her van, observing and experimenting -- she wanders through a mall, tries on lipstick, buys a fur coat, and so on. And of course, she picks up a number of semi-attractive young men.

Not so unusual, right? Well, she brings them into ANOTHER blank space, this one filled with an inky black liquid. She lures them into the liquid with her body, and leaves them to be sucked dry by it. Literally. In one horrifyingly creepy scene, a man sees a previous victim dissolving into nothing but a floating mass of empty skin, drifting down into the darkness.

Among her victims are a friendly electrician who accepts a ride, a man camping on the beach, a guy at a club, and a shy man who suffers from a facial deformity. But this peculiar routine begins to change as the woman begins to yearn for human connections; one of the men even leaves when her eerie stillness unnerves him. And behind her at all times is a mysterious motorcyclist who follows her.

"Under the Skin" is not a movie that answers questions. What was the woman's purpose in being here? What does the black liquid do? Is there a practical reason for her to kill all these men, or is it part of the process of trying to absorb the human condition that she clumsily imitates?

Nope. Not answered. It's a movie that gives you several jigsaw pieces so you can fill in the gaps with your own imagination. Director Jonathan Glazer prefers to let this story drift on its own, at times almost like a silent film -- while there is sound, he prefers to let visuals tell the important parts of the story. For instance, the woman's increased attentiveness to humanity is represented by countless golden-hued images of people she sees, growing more complicated and abstract until it becomes a fluttering, scintillating map around her lovely blank face.

So what is this movie's flaw? As far as cinematography goes, it actually feels like two movies. The cinematography of the "everyday" world of Scotland shows it off in its grey-skied, slightly wild beauty, both in nature and in the grubby cities. In these scenes, it feels almost like cinéma vérité. The dialogue is awkward and stammering, dwelling on unimportant topics, with long pauses -- almost like real speech. Then we switch to the silent, hauntingly surreal science-fiction of the black sea and its seething channels of blood, filmed crisply and without the sting of "realism."

It's very disorienting, and the only thing that seems to unite these two "worlds" is the soundtrack by Micachu, which enhances the eerie otherworldliness of the story. It's twisting, trembling, stark music with a drum like a heartbeat. Whenever her music is playing, you can't forget that weird things are happening.

Scarlett Johansson's performance is absolutely phenomenal here, playing a lonely, cold creature that seeks the warmth of human experience, but cannot truly grasp it.. While technically acting "normal," she infuses most of what her character says with a subtle weirdness -- an artificiality that belies the chilly inhumanity underneath. Her character cannot grasp what humans are all about, yet we see her struggling to do so -- trying to connect to people in a clueless, awkward way, trying to eat cake, trying to have sex, and so on. Johansson conveys both her vulnerability and her cold alienness through subtle expressions and eye movements.

"Under the Skin" is definitely not an average sci-fi movie -- it's an odd, weird, surrealistic piece that drifts between two cinematic styles. Definitely not for everyone, but also definitely worth a watch.

Jodorowskys Dune [Blu-ray + DVD] (Sous-titres français)
Jodorowskys Dune [Blu-ray + DVD] (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Nicolas Refn
Price: CDN$ 29.99
29 used & new from CDN$ 29.96

5.0 out of 5 stars With a devil in our pocket, Jan. 11 2015
For most of cinematic history, movies have been products rather than art. Oh, many of the greatest movies have been works of art as well, but they are usually underscored by the studios and their need to market it to as many people as possible.

So there's something almost hypnotically fascinating about "Jodorowsky's Dune," a documentary about the greatest movie never made -- a nonexistent epic art film based on Frank Herbert's novel, by the director of "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain." It's almost mesmerizing how much talent and wild creative energy was gathered into a single focus... and it ultimately leaves you sad that his version of "Dune" was never seen outside of the creators' heads.

In the 1970s, Alejandro Jodorowsky optioned the novel "Dune" for his next movie, even though he hadn't actually read it yet. But before long, he had a sprawling, exquisitely-detailed space opera in his head, and began assembling a team of "spiritual warriors" to help him bring it to life -- artists HR Giger and Chris Foss, special effects artist Dan O'Bannon (later of "Alien"), rock bands Magma and Pink Floyd, and a nearly-all-star cast including Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, David Carradine, and so on.

And all the pieces seemed to be falling into place -- every person who he approached became enmeshed in his wild creative vision, including the notoriously difficult Welles (whom he had to bribe with food). Concept art from the time reveals a vibrantly weird plan, including a Harkonnen palace shaped like the Baron, camouflaged birdlike spacecraft, and the single most epic establishing shot in cinematic history.

There is nothing of this vision except for the concept art, but what little we see (some of which is turned into simple animated shorts) and hear from those involved is mesmerizing. And while technically an adaptation of "Dune," it soon becomes clear that this is not Herbert's vision or philosophy, but Jodorowsky's ("I was raping Frank Herbert...") and he was creating a spectacle with the novel merely as the springboard.

But the massive wellspring of creativity hit a brick wall when Jodorowsky was confronted by the studio, mainly over budgetary concerns, a massive running time, and the resistance to letting Jodorowsky realize his vision. And of course, it demanded special effects that would honestly be difficult to achieve even today.

Tragically, it was cancelled by the studio just before the set construction was intended to begin, and the film was ultimately given to David Lynch. And with the massive amount of creative talent involved, it actually became influential to hit movies as well -- from little things like the robot POV or the costumes, to the action of "Star Wars" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and the sprawling sets and spectacles of movies like "Prometheus," "Alien," "Flash Gordon," "Contact." And from these other projects came many of the classics of science fiction today.

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a fascinating figure even today -- the documentary spends the majority of its time lingering on the dynamic, passionate old man, expounding with excitement over the vision that never came to fruition. He's a singularity of shining creative energy, and despite his efforts to overcome it ("Dune is cancelled! Yes! So what?") he clearly still feels pain and disappointment over what happened. Even as he tries to sound happy about the success of his "spiritual warriors," there is clearly a sadness in him.

Consider the amount of money squandered on movies like "John Carter" and "The Lone Ranger," both coldly commercial and financially disastrous. It makes you wish that someone would lavish money on him today to bring his epic story to life.

But it's somehow inspiring to see so many creative people working in harmony, and creating something so purely artistic and epic that it cannot be quenched simply by studio squeamishness. Instead, the creativity and visual splendor was spread across an entire film genre, seeding the world of science fiction movies (and Jodorowsky's underrated comics) with a sublime, haunting beauty, horror and majesty that it wouldn't have had otherwise.

Ultimately, "Jodorowsky's Dune" is inspiring not because of what was accomplished despite the odds, but because Jodorowsky urges people, "If you fail, is not important. Try!" And the documentary of the "Dune" that never was is a bittersweet, mesmerizing experience because of that.

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