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EA Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA)

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Lifeforce [Blu-ray] [Import]
Lifeforce [Blu-ray] [Import]
Price: CDN$ 29.11
20 used & new from CDN$ 16.35

2.0 out of 5 stars You're one of us. You always have been (mild spoilers), April 6 2015
Have you ever seen a movie that starts out well, but later completely falls apart? It's a disappointing experience, and the better the beginning is, the more disappointing the inevitable crumble becomes.

And "Lifeforce" is possibly the most extreme example of that -- it begins as a haunting, artistic sci-fi movie with a beautiful score and stunning special effects. But once the action is transferred to Earth, the movie begins a slow, subtle descent into outright silliness that grows more intense with every passing scene. Hamtastic acting, massive plot holes and even the once-lovely special effects grow more bizarre as it winds to its jaw-droppingly bad conclusion.

A space shuttle with a joint US/UK crew has been sent to investigate Halley's Comet, under the command of Colonel Thomas Wolfe Carlsen (Steve Railsback). But they promptly stumble across a vast alien spaceship hidden in that comet, which is filled with dead batlike creatures and three humanoids in suspended animation. When the shuttle returns to Earth, everyone on board is dead except for the three suspended humanoids... who turn out to be life force vampires.

The female (who is naked and the director never lets you forget it) promptly sucks the life-force out of some poor guy, who temporarily resurrects himself by sucking the life from someone else. If these newly-made vampires don't feed regularly, they shrivel up and explode. The Space Girl (seriously, that is what they call her) also apparently can float around and possess people... usually more sexy women, but occasionally Patrick Stewart.

The only one with a vague idea of what is going on is Carlsen, who was found in an escape pod in Texas, and who seems to have a psychic link to Space Girl. So of course, he is humanity's best hope for thwarting the space vampires before all of London is turned into a playground of alien-infected zombies. Did I mention there were zombies?

"Lifeforce" is almost a hypnotic experience, because most movies don't descend so steadily or completely into wretchedness. The opening scenes of the movie are some of the most spellbinding sci-fi exploration that has ever been put in a film, with exquisite matte paintings and hauntingly rich atmosphere. These scenes are probably the best work director Toby Hooper -- who directed "Poltergeist" just a few years before -- has ever done.

And yet... as soon as the action moves down to Earth, EVERYTHING deteriorates. It's like the movie was written and directed in one-off shifts by people who never actually conversed with one another. There are plot holes the size of the alien spacecraft (that's over a hundred and fifty miles, if you don't know) and massive continuity errors that stagger the entire storyline.

For instance, consider the infected humans. Initially, they are turned into dried-out mummies that return to normal (mentally and physically) by sucking the life force out of hapless humans. Unless fed, they will return to their mummified state and EXPLODE. That is... until the final act of the movie, when suddenly they become masses of telepathic rage zombies with oozing sores, who can be killed by a gunshot to any part of their anatomy. Why does this happen? Never explained.

Hooper tries desperately to tie together this sagging, hole-riddled mess with lots of nudity (but only from the FEMALE alien, never the males!), and the sight of Carlsen racing around the British countryside in an effort to interrogate the Space Girl (ugh, that name). But by the movie's grand finale, it's deteriorated into a mass of sleazy, weird, unexplained cheez involving columns of blue energy, zombies, a big sword, and the weirdest sex scene you'll ever see.

That slow descent into silliness also applies to Railsbeck, who starts off pretty subtle and normal, but slowly descends into ham worthy of Christmas dinner ("WHERE ARE YOOOOOOU? WHERE'S YOUR BOODDDDYY?"). It doesn't help that his character makes no sense, since he is often stated to be one of the space vampires himself... but this is never explained or shown at all. It's just a cop-out explanation for why he has a plot-convenient psychic link with the Space Girl.

Speaking of the Space Girl, aka French actress Mathilda May, her acting is negligible at best, but she clearly was cast for her more tangible talents. Two of them. And since those are very nice, I suppose she works well. Patrick Stewart is wasted as a character who mostly lip-syncs and screams, but Peter Firth gives a very good performance as the cynical, no-nonsense SAS guy who has to drag the screaming, melting-down Carlsen around.

"Lifeforce" isn't merely a bad movie -- it's a disappointing one, starting out with beauty and mystery and ending up a silly mass of boobs, zombies and hammy acting. If there's ever a movie that desperately needed a rewrite and remake, it's this one.

The Crown Conspiracy
The Crown Conspiracy
by Michael J. Sullivan
Edition: Paperback
16 used & new from CDN$ 21.06

5.0 out of 5 stars Slaying a villain in the service of your king is the stuff of legends and what heroes are made of, April 5 2015
This review is from: The Crown Conspiracy (Paperback)
Royce the thief and Hadrian the swordsman are known as Ririya -- for the right price, and given enough time, they can steal pretty much anything.

They are also the last people you would expect to be suddenly in the middle of a massive political and religious war, but that is what happens in "The Crown Conspiracy," the first of Michael J. Sullivan's Riyria Revelations. Rather than overstuffed mythology or dark-and-gritty realism, Sullivan crafts a tale with most of the fantasy tropes which somehow manages to feel fresh, fun and complicated.

A foppish noble hires Royce and Hadrian to steal a legendary dueling sword... but when they get to the place where it's hidden, they don't find a sword. They find the king's corpse instead. In a matter of minutes, the two find themselves framed for the king's murder, and the enraged Prince Alric orders them gruesomely executed the very next day. Fortunately for the pair, Princess Arista knows that someone else killed her father, and she fears that soon the same person will assassinate her brother.

So she is willing to free them, with the stipulation that they kidnap Alric for his own safety, and take him to someone named Esrahaddon. Given the choice between death and babysitting a bratty new king, Royce and Hadrian decide to drag the king on a road trip, but they quickly discover that they are being hunted.

And they also learn that this conspiracy to seize the crown has a lot more elements than a simple assassination -- an ancient magical prison for a notoriously powerful wizard, a fallen empire, a burned-down abbey and a powerful religion centered on a demigod emperor. They never asked to be national heroes, but Royce and Hadrian find themselves enmeshed in this conspiracy, struggling to keep the new king and princess alive as they try to uncover the root of the treason.

Most high fantasy these days falls into two basic categories:
- Derivative of Tolkien, where the author chokes the story on excessive worldbuilding that the story doesn't actually need.
- Derivative of Martin, where the author bogs down the story on grim, dark grittiness until it's no longer entertaining.

And what makes "The Crown Conspiracy" so charming is that it isn't like either of these. Sullivan embraces a lot of fantasy tropes and cliches (elves, dwarves, wizards, Europeanish medievalish culture), but the story he spins out of them is oddly refreshing. He weaves out a genuinely epic story, based on centuries of fictional history and complex international politics, but the story itself stays a pretty intimate affair without any fat to trim.

It's also pretty fun to read -- Sullivan's prose is nimble and quick-moving, with lots of clever dialogue ("It's my first day.""And already I am trapped in a timeless prison. I shudder to think what might have happened if you had a whole week"), suspenseful battles and clever traps sprung by the thieves. However, Sullivan does stumble in a few areas. He skims over things that would be better shown (the guys assaulting the monks and making their way out of the dungeon), and his grasp of Ye Olde Englyshe is very... Yodaish.

Hadrian and Royce have a touch of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser about them, but these are very distinct characters on their own -- one a dark, mysterious thief with a rather cruel outlook, and the other a soft-hearted mercenary who totes around three swords. They're confident, smart and spend their free time hanging out with the beautiful local madam (whom Royce clearly carries a torch for), a rough bartender, and an assortment of rogues and weirdos.

And the supporting characters are equally interesting -- Alric starts out as a bratty prince, but slowly matures into a good king as he realizes what must be done to save his country. The timid monk Myron provides plenty of comic relief ("They are even prettier than horses") but also a poignancy and innocence, and there's also the mysterious handless wizard Esrahaddon and the strong-willed, magic-using princess Arista.

While "The Crown Conspiracy" wraps itself up nicely, Sullivan leaves a few plot threads dangling for the next chapter in the Ririya Revelations series. A fun, action-packed debut, which charms simply through being a clever, well-developed story.

The Happiness of the Katakuris [Import]
The Happiness of the Katakuris [Import]
DVD ~ Kenji Sawada
Price: CDN$ 37.95
8 used & new from CDN$ 37.95

5.0 out of 5 stars With my family, I know I'll grow up to be really cool, April 5 2015
A woman is eating soup when she finds a strange object in her soup -- a curly-headed pixie who becomes enamored of her uvula and steals it. Thus begins a weird claymation sequence involving ghastly rag dolls, snakes, killer crows, and more pixies.

This one scene alone tells you just what kind of movie "The Happiness of the Katakuris" is, and whether you're going to like it. Takashi Miike -- well known for gruesome action movies -- is pretty obviously having a ball as he tells the colorful, chaotic story of a singing family and the people who have the misfortune to visit their hotel. Zombies, random musical numbers, and family strife are all here in abundance.

The Katakuri family is made up of four generations of family, criminal activity, and general hopelessness -- the only one currently immune is the little granddaughter.

And things are not improved when the head of the family Masao (Kenji Sawada) is laid off from his job. So he purchases a remote hotel, after being told that a major road is going to be run nearby. But nobody checks in until one rainy night, when a strange man appears -- and then stabs himself on a sharpened keychain. Cue the Japanese techno and dance number!

Terrified that the suicide will ruin their reputation, the Katakuris surreptitiously bury the man in the woods -- only to have more guests die in bizarre ways, and end up buried in the woods. Oh yeah, and Shizue's (Naomi Nishida) new boyfriend is a criminal. As a typhoon approaches and their secret burials are threatened with discovery, can this family of failures pull it together -- or will everything blow up in their faces?

I have to say that Takashi Miike -- famous for the graphic and horrific "Ichi the Killer" -- is not the first person I'd have chosen for a black-comedy/musical about a family running an ill-fated hotel. Especially since I have a special fondness for the Korean movie it remakes, "The Quiet Family." But Miike's work on this is nothing short of brilliant -- a comedy of increasingly grotesque errors, leading up to a literally explosive finale.

A lot of its charm is that Miike does not let his style be constrained by logic -- there are wild random musical numbers, claymation interludes, disco balls, wacky spiritualists, and a flying conman who claims to be the Queen's secret nephew ("Diana! If only I was there!"). He shows no restraint at all, even climaxing the film in a crazy scene where the fear-addled Katakuris -- who are trying to re-bury those troublesome corpses -- do a carefree song-and-dance scene with a bunch of zombies. It has to be seen to be believed.

And it's really funny too. While the plot starts at a rather relaxed pace (excluding the uvula-stealing pixies), Miike cranks up the absurdity with plenty of lowbrow humor (a sumo wrestler dies during sex, and crushes his girlfriend), gore, and a general feeling of surreality. Things just get more hysterical and desperate for the poor Katakuris, and Miike never gives them a break ("Maybe we should prepare for the worst," one of them says when a guest solemnly requests some cord).

Surprisingly for a black comedy, the characters are rather likable, if pathetic -- the dad and mom are just trying to keep the hotel afloat while proclaiming love to each other. Tetsuro Tamba's lovable old grandpa is just trying to keep his family safe when he isn't killing crows and assaulting suitors. Nishida is also quite good as an eternally desperate divorcee, who is almost superhumanly gullible when it comes to men.

"The Happiness of the Katakuris" is a perfect example of a black comedy -- warped, wild, wacky, and full of clay pixies and singing zombies. Now if only somebody could get Peter Jackson to remake this puppy...

Poltergeist II [Blu-ray] [Import]
Poltergeist II [Blu-ray] [Import]
Price: CDN$ 18.99
17 used & new from CDN$ 11.10

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The beast returns, April 5 2015
"Poltergeist" is probably one of the most perfect horror movies ever made. Everything about the movie simply WORKS, from the still-impressive special effects to the acting.

But of course, they had to make a sequel. They always have to make a sequel. And while it's not terrible, "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" is not the tightly-written scarefest that the first movie is -- when it's good, it's very good... and when it's bad, it's unintentionally funny and tends to meander. It's a passable '80s horror movie with a wandering plot.

A year after their house imploded, the Freelings (minus the eldest daughter, whose absence is never explained) have relocated to Grandma Jess's (Geraldine Fitzgerald) house. They're still pretty paranoid about the paranormal, especially since Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) still has those mysterious clairvoyant abilities, and her grandmother encourages them shortly before her death.

Then strange things start happening. A weird old man starts following them and tries to enter their house, and Carol Anne receives calls on her toy phone. The supernatural attacks are back.

Then a Native American shaman named Taylor (Will Sampson), a friend of Tangina's (Zelda Rubinstein), appears to help them by making Steve (Craig T. Nelson) a "warrior" for his family. And Tangina reveals the horrifying history of the Beast -- aka a preacher known as Kane -- and why he and his followers are so determined to claim Carol-Anne. No matter where the Freelings go, the evil will follow them.

"Poltergeist II" is one of those sequels that has a fairly decent story on its own, but it keeps trying to one-up the original (let's have even MORE people fall into the other dimension!). Oh, and we're never told what happened to the eldest daughter. Yes, I know that the actress was murdered in real life, but a token mention of "She's at boarding school" would have been nice.

The plot tends to meander somewhat until the final third, when the whole thing finally gels into a real conflict. But that final third is a genuinely disturbing experience, and despite a deus ex machina resolution, it genuinely manages to be more terrifying in places than the original, inducing a wholly different kind of fear. Also, Kane is creepy. All those teeth!

As for the horror elements, they're hit-or-miss. Some are hilariously bad (the killer braces scene -- come on, who thought that was a good idea?), and some are skin-crawlingly creepy (the tentacled, slimy worm-creature with Kane's grinning face).

The cast (minus Dominique Dunne) is the same here, and they all do solid jobs (although at times Nelson comes across as a bit manic) -- JoBeth Williams gives a particularly good performance as Diane struggles to deal with her mother's death and her child's psychic powers. And despite some 1980s-style Native cheesiness, the late Will Sampson gives a great performance as Taylor -- he is a genuinely comforting, calming presence, with gentle humor.

"Poltergeist II: The Other Side" has some ups and downs -- not as good as the original, but a decent horror movie in its own right. The same can't be said for the next sequel.

Offered by importcds__
Price: CDN$ 9.95
6 used & new from CDN$ 9.93

5.0 out of 5 stars "I am but the toe jam from between your mighty feet!", March 29 2015
This review is from: HERCULES RETURNS (DVD)
Gag dubs are a pretty common occurrence now, since any idiot with a computer and some film-editing software can create his own.

But not so much in 1993, when Australia produced one of the funniest gag dubs in existence, in a little movie called "Hercules Returns" -- a tongue-in-cheek redub of the old Italian movie "Samson and the Mighty Challenge," which overflows with sex jokes, muscled men and wacky misunderstandings. You'd expect the framing device of plucky cinemaphiles saving an old theatre to be boring by comparison, but it's almost as funny.

Brad McBain (David Argue) is a prominent employee in Australi's largest theatre chain... but he's unhappy. His boss Sir Michael Kent (Michael Carman) is a cruel, callous employer who is always searching for ways to make money at the expense of his patrons. So Brad quits his job and leases the old Picture Palace, hires his porn-projectionist buddy Sprocket (Bruce Spence) and feisty publicist Lisa (Mary Coustas), and decides to show the last movie the last movie shown at that theatre.

But when the night rolls around, the trio discover that the Hercules movie is in Italian with no subs. Yep, Kent switched the film reels, as a form of revenge against Brad. So Brad, Sprocket and Lisa have only one option: live-dub the movie themselves from the projection booth.

In THEIR movie dub, the mighty but pinheaded Hercules goes to the land of Chlamydia, where he rescues Princess Labia from drowning. He's delighted to find out her mother Muriel owns the Pink Parthenon nightclub, but Muriel is determined to have Hercules marry her daughter -- which is complicated by the fact that Labia is in love with Testiculi, the son of Muriel's greatest rival. She makes it very clear she's uninterested in Hercules, whom she refers to as looking like a "condom full of walnuts."

So Labia arranges a fake message from Zeus saying that Hercules is actually gay, and that his perfect partner is Samson. Yes, Samson from the Bible. He's in this. Somehow. So Hercules is expected to fight Samson -- if he wins, he gets to marry Labia; if he loses, he marries Samson. And while the powerful yet wimpy Samson is quite enthusiastic about fighting Hercules, his girlfriend Delilah is not so pleased -- so she gives him a quick haircut. And somehow two other muscle-men -- the Scottish brawler Ursus and the flamboyantly gay Machismo -- are involved.

One of the best things about "Hercules Returns" is that it more or less follows the original plot of "Samson and the Mighty Challenge." The original movie was obviously pretty silly (one scene has an Irish little person clobbering an oracle with a giant matchstick) and was just an excuse to bring together four musclebound heroes from Italian cinema, even if their presence together makes NO sense at all. Seriously, Machismo and Ursus don't really have a reason to be here.

So obviously the movie becomes even more entertaining with a gag dub -- lots of sex jokes ("What is that man doing with his hand on my Labia?"), ethnic accents, Hercules frequently breaking into song, and making loud slurping noises anytime someone kisses. It's just far enough from the original movie to not just be riffing (Fanny is a crepe cook just PRETENDING to be a medium), but with the freedom to mock whatever is going on onscreen ("I'll fight you on one condition... that you lower your nipples!").

It sounds like the framing device would be extraneous, but it's almost as funny to watch the projection-room mayhem as they produce all the necessary sound effects with nothing but their bodies and a few props. And it's kind of fun to see these passionate cinephiles (see Bruce Spence almost throttle someone over the autobiographical content of Scorsese's movies) going up against a scenery-chewing mogul who just wants money, money, money.

For people who love riffing, sword-and-sandal movies and/or Aussie senses of humor ("But she's only popular with Cretans!"), "Hercules Returns" is an absolute delight. Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree...

Origin: Spirits of the Past - Special Edition Movie - S.A.V.E.
Origin: Spirits of the Past - Special Edition Movie - S.A.V.E.
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 10.97
15 used & new from CDN$ 6.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Plants... OR ELSE, March 29 2015
It's easy to get blown away in the first few minutes of "Origin: Spirits of the Past," where we're treated to exquisitely creepy celestial visuals and a gorgeous theme song.

It's also a suitable lead-in for this beautifully animated movie about a not-so-distant future in which human civilization lies in dystopic ruins, and a vast sentient forest has taken control. The animation is stunningly lush and complex, and the lone-hero rescuer story is surprisingly moving... and it almost makes up for the fact that the eco-friendly plot makes absolutely no logical sense.

When a young boy named Agito stumbles on an underground chamber, he finds a girl cryogenically preserved for the past three hundred years. Toola is understandably upset by this -- and since she has an electronic neck device, her presence angers the Forest, who fear that she might be used by the militaristic land of Ragna. Of course, the Ragnan leader Shunack -- another survivor from three hundred years ago -- turns up to persuade her.

It turns out that Shunack wants to use E.S.T.O.C., a mysterious device that will return the world to the way it once was, and Toola rather understandably decides to help him. Agito's only hope for stopping them -- and keeping the forest safe -- is to undergo "enhancement" that genetically bonds him to the Forest's trees. But even that might not stop the might of Ragna's armies... and stuff, especially since Shunack is also "enhanced."

"Origin: Spirits of the Past" is a gorgeous film -- the animation is lushly-drawn and full of ruined buildings, vines, shimmering glades, great writhing vines and vast moving mountains full of weapons. Some of the more chilling images (such as Agito's dad slowly turning into a tree, or the seeming loss of Toola in a burning train) are exquisitely haunting, all the more so because they aren't played for horror. It is, simply put, a gorgeous piece of work.

It also comes up with an intriguing and slightly eerie concept for a sci-fi movie -- that plants engineered to withstand extraterrestrial life would mutate and become the dominant force on Earth, changing themselves even as they become integrated by humanity. The ruinous dystopia that results is both beautiful and disturbing.

The problem is, the plot makes no sense: presumably the whole living-in-harmony-with-Forest thing is symbolic of living in harmony with nature. But since the Forest was mutated by humans, wrecked the world, genetically altered the survivors and keeps civilization in a stagnant stranglehold, it's about as unnatural as you can get. And the alleged bad guys just want to switch the world back to its pre-mutant-plant state when man and nature were in balance... meaning that the Designated Anti-Nature Bad Guy is actually the Pro-Nature Good Guy.

Evidently, logic need not apply. Even director Keiichi Sugiyama belatedly seems to realize this, so he throws a rather random "villains will destroy a town" twist into the mix to the bad guy will really seem, y'know, bad. It doesn't quite work.

Additionally, Toola and Shunack are the most likable characters in the mix -- Toola is understandably miserable and freaked by the loss of the world she once knew, and the people with it. And while Shunack has made his place in this remade world and gotten a position of power, he's wracked by guilt over his part in the Forest's rise. Agito is a pleasant little hero who goes to extreme lengths, but he seems rather bland by comparison.

"Origin: Spirits of the Past" is a gorgeous piece of animation with a hauntingly sober backdrop, but the actual plot about the Forest makes no sense at all. Enjoy for the copious eye candy, but don't expect deep stuff here.

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell (Kindle Single) (Cosmere)
Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell (Kindle Single) (Cosmere)
Price: CDN$ 2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I know a little about such a life, March 17 2015
Quick warning: this story has been previously published in the "Dangerous Women" short story collection, which Sanderson admits in the intro he was a bit anxious about. So if you own it, don't buy this.

One of the fun things about Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere multiverse is that, with multiple worlds to play in, he can create lots of little side-stories with interesting characters without being restricted. One good example would be "Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell," a novella about a powerful bounty hunter who doesn't fit the leather-wearing, snarky stereotype -- which makes the story all the more intriguing.

In the Forests of Hell, there is a legendary bounty hunter known as the White Fox. According to the stories, no one knows the White Fox's identity -- and if you see his face, he'll kill you. He's afraid of nothing, and only goes after big-time criminals (not, say, small-time horse thieves). No one would ever guess that he has anything to do with the middle-aged innkeeper Silence Montane.

When bandit-turned-assassin Chesterton Divide and his men come into her inn, Silence immediately recognizes them -- and so does Sebruki, a child whose family was murdered by him. With the help of her daughter William Ann, she goes out into the night to find Chesterton's gang... only to be cornered by another gang of vicious bounty hunters and a swarm of shades. And before the night is our, she may lose what is most precious to her.

Most of Sanderson's stories are a bit more urban in nature, but "Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell" takes place in a more remote part of this fantasy world. It's in a sparsely-populated forest continent, riddled by ghostly shades who can only be banished with silver arrows, and which are attracted to motion, flames and blood. It gives the feeling that this is a place which is actually pretty scary -- think the Wild West combined with a haunted forest full of ghosts.

Sanderson's writing is typically robust and riddled with poetic moments ("The heads rippled, faces shifting like smoke rings. They trailed waves of whiteness about an arm's length behind them"), and he puts plenty of horrifying moments in what seems like a standard bounty hunt. He manages to cram a lot of plot and worldbuilding into a pretty brief story, including a scheme by the cruel Theopolis to force Silence to sell her inn.

And Silence is a pretty awesome character -- she's strong and deadly without being icy or sociopathic, and breaks the mold of what people imagine an action heroine to be. What's more, she isn't one of those characters who revels in her ability to go out and bludgeon bandits to death; if anything, she's scarred by a childhood with her cold-blooded grandmother, which comes to a head as she deals with all the worst things in the forests.

For those who are just getting into Brandon Sanderson's work, "Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell" is a strong little introduction -- and longtime fans will know exactly what to expect. Powerful writing, some solid twists, and a genuinely spooky setting.

Aragami: The Raging God of Battle by Tokyo Shock
Aragami: The Raging God of Battle by Tokyo Shock
DVD ~ Ryuhei Kitamura
Offered by JnP Store Canada
Price: CDN$ 24.56
2 used & new from CDN$ 24.56

4.0 out of 5 stars You can't do that forever, March 17 2015
In 2002, director Ryuhei Kitamura was challenged to to do something very usual -- make a full-length movie made with one week's shooting time. One setting. Two actors. A fight.

The result... is kind of like a rock'n'roll samurai version of "My Dinner With Andre," where two men contemplate the meaning of life and death, and the value of either when a person is immortal. But with more booze, swords, guns, severed limbs and the occasional upgrade to godhood. "Aragami: The Raging God of Battle" is a weird, wild movie with a slow-burning fuse... right before it explodes into sparking, sword-swinging action.

A wounded samurai (Takao Ohsawa) drags his dying friend (Hideo Sakaki) into a shrine during a thunderstorm. When he wakes up, he finds that his wounds have healed, his friend is dead and cremated, and he's the guest of a very peculiar man (Masaya Katô) and a silent woman (Kanae Uotani). Since it's not yet safe to go outside, the samurai reluctantly agrees to stay and drink with his host, who has a collection of alcohol and weapons from all across the world.

But he soon discovers that something very weird is up with this man. The man claims to be a war god -- an "aragami" -- who and he has done something horrifying to turn the samurai into a nearly-invincible immortal.

What is the aragami's reason for doing all of this? He's tired of living an immortal life... and cue Queen's "Who Wants To Live Forever?" But as a war-god, he can't die except by being defeated by someone in one-on-one combat. He's also one of Japan's most famous historical figures, who was famous for... being incredibly good at fighting and killing people. Despite that, the samurai finds himself forced into the ultimate sword battle that will decide both their destinies.

"Aragami: The Raging God of Battle" is a very odd movie. At least eighty percent of it is just two guys sitting in a single small room, drinking and talking. And at first, it's not particularly scary -- the silence and sudden appearances of the Aragami and the Woman are offputting, but not necessarily unnatural. But he drops subtle hints at the unnatural qualities of these people, through careful lighting (which often makes the Aragami look strangely undead) and peculiar evasions.

After the Aragami reveals his nature, Kitamura slowly unravels the conversation into a discussion about life, death, suicide, immortality and divinity. He occasionally livens things up with some humor (the Samurai throws back a whole glass of vodka... and regrets it) and action (severed limbs, impalement), but it's fundamentally a very philosophical film. The battle and the conflict are not ones of hatred and hostility, but of some deep primal inclination to fight.

For instance, one of the most intriguing scenes is when the Aragami offers the Samurai his choice of various weapons, including a broadsword, a very modern pistol, Wolverine claws and throwing stars. In another movie, this would be a tense scene, but it's oddly relaxed as the two men prepare to kill each other, and the Aragami pleasantly offers his opinions about the virtues of different weapons.

And despite the medieval setting, the director also gives the whole experience a strangely rock'n'roll, modern flavor -- especially since the Aragami somehow has access to vodka, French wine and a bunch of weapons from different times and places. The rock soundtrack doesn't hurt either.

This is a movie that relies heavily on its actors, and both of them are absolutely perfect. Katô plays his character with almost inhuman coolness and casualness -- he seems like a very cool, interesting guy who would be fun to hang out with... except he's also a war-god who seems to be missing some compassion chips. He even seems to change physically through the movie, looking more solid and grand at the climax, with a mane of red-tinged hair.

Ohsawa balances him out nicely -- he IS just an ordinary guy at the start, and he reacts to the various shocking revelations in exactly the way you'd expect. Fear, horror, puking, hysterical laughter, and even a bit of grinning crazy. But his character transforms into something colder and deadlier as the movie wears on, as if he were being refined down to his purest form of self. Ohsawa handles the transition beautifully.

With only two speaking actors and a single room to play out their battle, "Aragami: The Raging God of Battle" could have been a really boring movie. Instead, it's a fascinating little movie about battling with words and swords.

Elantris: Tenth Anniversary Author's Definitive Edition
Elantris: Tenth Anniversary Author's Definitive Edition
by Brandon Sanderson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Shaod has struck, March 14 2015
In the land of Arelon, random people would wake up transformed into shining immortal Elantrians with powerful magic. But ten years ago, the Elantrians suddenly became living corpses, and their once-glorious city became a prison for the afflicted.

The mystery of exactly what happened to the Elantrians hangs over all of "Elantris," Brandon Sanderson's solid but flawed debut fantasy novel. It has a brilliantly complex magical system and an epic interwoven conflict of politics, religion and history, with some genuinely likable protagonists... but it also has some freshman mistakes, as well as an uncomfortable undercurrent to the religious criticism.

Princess Sarene of Teod is shocked when she arrives in her new land of Arelan -- her fiancee, Prince Raoden, has unexpectedly died. And because of an odd clause in their betrothal contract, she counts as his wife even though they technically didn't get married. So now she's a widowed princess with a dead husband she's never seen in person.

However... Raoden isn't actually dead. He's been turned into an Elantrian, meaning he now resembles an immortal zombie who suffers from a never-ending hunger, and will eventually go mad from the assorted small injuries he can't heal from. But he decides to make the best of his imprisonment in Elantris, gathering followers and trying to clean up the filthy, slime-drenched city. And as he studies Elantrian texts, he begins to learn what caused the terrible transformation.

Meanwhile, Sarene finds herself in the middle of political and religious conflicts -- she joins up with some friends of Raoden's in order to figure out if her betrothed was murdered. She also comes up against a devious Shu-Dereth priest named Hrathen, who has been given three months to convert all of Arelon to his religion, or the entire country will be invaded. But she soon finds that overthrowing the king may only be the beginning of the chaos.

One of the best things about Brandon Sanderson's books is that he's an absolute genius at coming up with fantasy worlds and different complicated systems of magic. "Elantris" is no exception, since he slowly reveals some of the magical intricacies of this world -- particularly interesting is AonDor, an alphabet of magical signs (with modifiers!) that are drawn in the air or on objects to cause changes like light, teleportation, healing and whatnot.

The story is mostly split between Sarene and Raoden -- half about Elantris and how it went bad, and half about the crumbling kingdom. Both halves are essentially about a young, pragmatic person trying to restore order and balance to a place that has fallen into ruin (socially, literally, or both). By the end, he weaves together these two stories in a fiery, bloody, epic battle that sprawls across two countries, and keeps throwing shocking twists right up to the end.

Sanderson's writing has some noob flaws here (guess how many times Sarene blushes/flushes), but his prose has a robust, detailed quality that is equally good at the bright and elegant as the bloody and decayed. The middle section of the book tends to drag somewhat, but he keeps things interesting by switching between three different third-person narrators -- Sarene, Raoden and Hrathen -- and juggling their stories as he slowly weaves them together.

His characters are also likable... but flawed. Sarene and Raoden are practically perfect -- she's a politically-adept princess who scared off all the weaker men with her giant brain, brings feminism to Arelon, and is so persuasive that she instantly gets the masses to accept a king who is seen as undead. Raoden is pure-hearted and beloved by everyone, to the point where his paranoid, corrupt father was trying to disinherit him because he was just so awesome.

However, these characters ARE quite likable despite a hefty dose of Mary Sue -- they suffer, they struggle, they take actions they regret, and at times it seems that their cause is lost. And over time, they begin feeling more like three-dimensional people and less like perfect dolls. There are some interesting supporting characters -- the mysterious Galladon, the kindly elderly duke Roial, the roguish cooking-noble Kiin, and especially the conflicted, crafty Hrathen.

Unfortunately... it has an unpleasant anti-Catholic overtone. I doubt it was deliberate, but Sanderson spends a LOT of time talking about how the Wyrn (a single religious leader who is the only one supposed to speak for a monotheistic God) sucks, the assassins and warriors trained at monasteries (no REGULAR monks are ever mentioned) and the backstabbing internal hierarchy of Shu-Dereth... whose gyorns (highest priests) wear bright red. Like cardinals. Subtle.

What's more, they're all evil, wild-eyed fanatics who want to cleanse everything with fire, except for a single character who ends up renouncing his religion. And for some reason, Sanderson goes out of his way to inform us that while other religions are essentially good and at least partially true (the Jesker belief in Dor ends up being pivotal to the story), Shu-Dereth is not only evil, but fundamentally false and based on a pagan belief, and all their scriptures and culture have been lies to cover this up. So... combine this with the emphasis on "pope be bad," and it paints a rather unpleasant picture.

"Elantris" has some hefty flaws -- particularly an unpleasant religious undercurrent -- but not enough to obscure the talent and imagination that Brandon Sanderson has proven over the years. It's certainly worth a read.

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1.0 out of 5 stars It is mutual (mild spoilers), March 11 2015
This review is from: Galerians (DVD)
Have you ever watched a video game on Youtube with the "let's play" parts cut out? That is exactly what "Galerians - Rion" feels like.

Then again, this animated movie might actually BE that, since it is a direct adaptation of the Playstation survival-horror game "Galerians"... and it feels like it. Not because of the awkward plasticky animation, but the overly simple storyline that is effectively a string of one-off battles with underdeveloped villains building up a boss battle... while also stunning us with the most predictable twists ever.

A boy named Rion awakens in a creepy hospital, with no memories of his past or how he got there. When he tries to escape, he's attacked by clearly evil scientists and their creepy robot... and discovers that he has psychic powers that can destroy anyone who attacks him. When he scampers back to what the computer says is his home, he finds his parents dead -- and a recording that informs him that this is all the doing of an evil computer called Dorothy, who believes herself to be a god and wants to destroy all human life.

The only way to stop her is a virus program in the brain of a girl named Lillia, whom Rion is telepathically linked to. To stop Rion and Lillia, Dorothy has created some psychic.... clone... things called Galerians. And so Rion starts battling the three different Galerians sent against him -- the laughing psychotic Birdman, the hate-filled Rita, and the serial-killing child Rainheart. But when the two of them encounter Dorothy, Rion is faced with a shocking (not really) discovery about his past.

The biggest problem with "Galerias - Rion" is that it follows a video game story structure, without adding much to the plot. After the initial setup, it's just Rion encountering and battling (for about two minutes apiece) one minor villain after another, finishing with a confrontation with Dorothy herself. You might as well play the game itself, because the movie doesn't add anything to the story.

Neither the writing nor the action really compensate for the lack of plot, either. Most of the fights just involve Rion screaming and shooting telekinetic lightning at whoever he's fighting, and the dialogue is clunky at best ("Telepathy means... two minds unite, and become one. It's as if we are connected. If you suffer, I too suffer. It is mutual"). Again, the sort of thing that might fly in a video game, where the player's actions can affect the fight scenes.... but when someone is simply watching a character effortlessly blast his enemies down, it simply isn't interesting.

And the twist ending... is not really a twist. A twist implies that something is actually a surprise, and the revelation about Rion's nature is so unsurprising that I didn't even realize HE was unaware of it. Of course, the murky nature of psychic powers and who they belong to makes it even harder to know what's going on.

As for the animation.... well, it ain't a Final Fantasy movie. It's not horrendous in quality for 2002 graphics, but it reminds me why Pixar took so long to have animated human characters -- they look like rubbery plastic dolls with dead eyes and not much expression. Dorothy is pretty solid nightmare fuel, though -- a giant metallic-flesh woman's torso with tentacle hair and a rolling bloodshot eyeball in her mouth.

The characters are all pretty flat here -- Rion and Lillia are blank slates with little to no experiences or backstory that actually matters, and only their final scene together is a little touching. The movie makes some halfhearted efforts to flash out the various Galerians that Rion fights -- usually by a vision of their inner self in a blank white space -- but it only happens when they're pretty much dead. And the voice acting -- which ranges from barely tolerable to for-the-love-of-God-make-it-stop -- doesn't really help.

You might as well play the video game, because "Galerians - Rion" tells roughly the same story in the same way... but without any of the excitement of gameplay. Mother is not pleased.

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