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EA Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA)

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Flame of Recca Complete TV Series [Import]
Flame of Recca Complete TV Series [Import]
Price: CDN$ 91.47
14 used & new from CDN$ 59.62

4.0 out of 5 stars My heart is burning, Jan. 20 2015
Recca Hanabishi is a massive ninjaphile -- which isn't surprising, since he seems to be from a past era himself. Based on Kentaro Yabuki's longrunning manga "Flame of Recca," this solid little anime series is a heady little shonen story, with countless fiery duels and strange ninja artifacts. The storyline and writing are pretty well done, although the second half is overshadowed by a constant string of one-on-one fights.

Recca is badly hurt rescuing his sweet-natured classmate Yanagi -- only to be miraculously healed when his "princess" touches him. Impressed by her kindness and special power, Recca pledges to be her personal ninja.

But then a shadowy woman named Kagehoshi appears, and attacks them both in an effort to make Recca show his "fire" -- and when she tries to kill Yanagi, flames appear on Recca's hand. She further enrages Recca by manipulating his classmates -- tomboyish Fuko and icy swordsman Tokiya -- into attacking him with their ninja "madogus," but then a mysterious pair of thugs kidnap Yanagi.

To get her back, Recca, Fuko, Tokiya and lug-with-a-heart-of-gold must infiltrate a vast mansion and fight an escalating string of madogu bearers. Unfortunately the most deadly is Kurei, a masked man who reveals a secret connection to Recca. And after that, as the group begins training to become stronger, Kurei invites them to the Underground Death Tournament.

There, the four teenagers must triumph in the tournament to keep Yanagi from going to Kurei. They're forced to fight a series of other teams whose madogus control paper, hair, flesh, size, a beast-man, plant matter, sound, and many other things. Even worse, most of the teams are on Kurei's payroll. But Recca and his friends refuse to be beat -- and Recca's right arm holds an ever-expanding power that may give him victory...

The biggest problem with "Flame of Recca" is that it starts chugging along nicely for the plot-heavy first third, slows down somewhat into the Death Tournament's sequential fights, and then.... stops. It doesn't even come close to finishing Kentaro Yabuki's storyline, and it doesn't really get a conclusion of its own. It just stops.

But it's a fun ride up until then -- loads of action involving increasingly sinister madogus, and some fire duels with very unexpected combatants. Even in the less violent episodes, we get glimpses of terrible things like Tokiya's tragic, bloody past, or the ghastly fate of the Hokage ninja. And the last two thirds are a string of dramatic fights between various teams, with plenty of flashy ninja magic and the occasional dirty trick (such as a trap door leading to a drowning pit) by Kurei's loyal goons.

Fortunately things are somewhat lightened by But it's worth noting that the animation is not that great -- hair and faces often shift and grow, and some of the hand-to-hand fights are awkward. And the voice actors range from brilliant (Domon, Tokiya) to nails-on-chalkboard annoying (Kaoru Koganei).

What keeps this interesting is Recca himself -- he's a likable kid with a big heart and a short fuse, who learns greater wisdom as he starts unlocking his new fire powers. Yanagi is a suitably sweet love interestung, but feisty Fuko and the big-ugly-punk-with-a-heart-of-gold Doman are nice counterpoints to Recca. And haughty, beautiful Tokiya is Recca's complete opposite in every way, but his tragic past and fondness for Yanagi keep him from being too unlikeable.

And since every series needs a Big Bad Guy, we have a crazy-eyed megamogul and the slightly insane, masked Kurei ("This is getting kinda fun," he chuckles as Recca sets of fireworks). Most of his goons aren't very likable, but a few are such as the chirrupy boy-warrior Kaoru, or the melancholy ninja Raiha.

Though the plot grinds to a halt in favor of one-on-one fights, "Flame of Recca" is a solid action anime with some surprising twists. Definitely worth seeing.

Princess Grace (Grace de Monaco) (Bilingual)
Princess Grace (Grace de Monaco) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Nicole Kidman
Price: CDN$ 21.00
13 used & new from CDN$ 6.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Graceless of Monaco, Jan. 19 2015
Once upon a time, there was a girl who became a Hollywood superstar, and then she married a handsome prince from a faraway land. Okay, "handsome" is pushing it... he wasn't horribly unattractive. And now being a beautiful princess, she was the most important person in this land's history, and everything revolved around her.

Or at least, that is what "Grace of Monaco" would have you believe. This movie is almost a hypnotic experience -- it's filmed like a very long perfume commercial, with bizarrely precious acting from Nicole Kidman and a story that tries to combine international politics with a Disney Princess plot. It's a glossy, glazed experience with nothing at its center -- like a creampuff that someone forgot to inject cream into.

In 1956, Hollywood actress Grace Kelly (Kidman) retired from a successful film career -- including three movies with Alfred Hitchcock -- to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco (Tim Roth). It's a glamorous, glitzy life, hobnobbing with the wealthy and highly-placed. But six years later, France's Charles de Gaulle is puts pressure on Rainier, and without a military, Monaco doesn't have a real chance of defying the French.

And for... some reason, the presence of an "outspoken" (meaning she occasionally offers an opinion) American princess is suddenly a problem, both for the French and the people of Monaco. And no, apparently Grace NEVER realized this before or took any measures to fit in.

At the same time, Grace is considering a return to Hollywood after Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) offer her the lead role in "Marnie," which would give her some freedom from the "princess" role (and a much-needed cash injection). But as the situation becomes more tense, Grace finds that being the perfect Monegasque princess might change her country's destiny.

One of the first things that one notices about "Grace of Monaco" is the way it's filmed -- soft-focus and full of gauzy, blurry light, like an expensive perfume commercial that drags on for two hours. It adds an extra layer of unreality to a movie that only vaguely resembles what actually happened, and whose main character is as ridiculously perfect and saintly as an early Disney princess.

How perfect was Grace? She was super smart and honest, an amazingly talented actress and a perfect mom; she wanted to build hospitals for the sick children; she figured out a treacherous plot against Monaco, and she saved Monaco by being the Perfectly Perfect Princess Whom Everybody Rightfully Worshipped, and making a hideous speech about believing in fairy tales that de Gaulle just can't resist. I was just waiting for the part where she turned water to wine and learned how to fly like Superman.

And how did this paragon of perfection cause everyone to worship the ground she walked on? Obvious photo ops, pretty clothes, and being taught how to waltz by Derek Jacobi. Yeah, it's really that shallow. And yet the final shots of the movie show Grace surrounded by light, while an angelic choir sings.

The sad fact is that Grace's whole subplot makes no sense, because it's set six years and two children into her marriage. Her "oh noes, I don't know how to princess!" dilemma might have worked if it came soon after marrying Rainier, or if the story stretched over those six years. Instead, it makes her "shocking" outspokenness and social gaffes seem rather ridiculous. Even the "getting dressed for a reception" scene is handled with such melodramatic seriousness that you would think Grace had never worn a pretty dress and a tiara before.

The reason it's set in the early sixties is... well, to be perfectly honest, it's probably because Nicole Kidman is fifteen years older than Grace was at this stage in her life, and the soft-focused cinematography can only hide so much. Kidman's performance is also quite bizarre -- very precious and girlish, with countless silly cheesy lines (such as bleating "I can't do this without you!" over swelling violins).

But Tim Roth deserves some credit for actually making Rainier a somewhat three-dimensional character -- a man oppressed by his duty and France's empire-making agenda. You actually feel very sorry for this man's struggles, and I really wished we would focus more on the political intrigue and the remaking of a nation... than on Grace floating around smiling at the commonfolk.

"Grace of Monaco" fails by making its center a contrived, silly drama about a former actress learning how to wear pretty clothes and smile, instead of the more interesting international drama. It seems more like an attempt to show Grace as a fairytale princess than as a human being.

Silas Marner
Silas Marner
Price: CDN$ 0.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Gold and golden hair, Jan. 19 2015
This review is from: Silas Marner (Kindle Edition)
In the nineteenth century, men didn't typically adopt children by themselves. Even today, it's a relative rarity -- when a single person adopts a baby, it's usually a woman.

But the exception proves the rule in "Silas Marner," George Eliot's novel about a hermit-like weaver whose life is changed forever when a child wanders into his house. While Eliot explores the pliancy of gender roles and qualities, at heart this is just a heartwarming story about love and family. The ending is rather predictable and a little sappy, but it's a pleasant glimpse of English village life in the 1800s.

Weaver Silas Marner moves to the town of Raveloe, and takes up residence far from other people. Nobody knows why, except for the readers -- he was betrayed by his best friend, dumped by his girlfriend, framed for a robbery and expelled from his church. He also suffers from cataleptic seizures, as if life for him didn't suck enough. Now he wants just to be alone in his remote house, and hoard the gold that he earns over fifteen years of weaving cloth.

Then one night, the squire's dissolute younger son Dunsey Cass steals his gold and vanishes from the town, leaving Silas without the one thing he has come to love. Meanwhile, Dinsey's older brother Godfrey is freaking out because of an ill-advised marriage to a poor drug addict, which would probably get him disinherited if his strict father knew.

But then the wife is found frozen to death in a blizzard, and her toddler child -- Godfrey's daughter -- wanders into Silas' house. And to the surprise of all Raveloe, Silas declares that since "it's a lone thing—and I'm a lone thing," and that he's going to care for the child from now on. This adoption will not only change Silas' life, but Godfrey's as well -- and as the child Eppie grows to adulthood, will finally bring about the admission of long-hidden secrets.

As a woman who wrote serious literature in a time when women's literary skills were scoffed at, George Eliot knew something about the bendability of gender roles. Even though the main character is a heterosexual male, she subtly positions him as having a strong feminine side -- he has a job associated with femininity ("you're partly as handy as a woman, for weaving comes next to spinning"), he's the perceived successor of the local hedgewitch, and he has nothing to do with the "manly man" pursuits of boozing it up in the local pub every night, as literally all the local men do.

And, of course, he cares for a young child with the tenderness and soft-heartedness that was usually attributed to women, not men. And yet, Eliot never treats this character with anything but respect -- he is not seen as less than other men because he has traditionally feminine traits, but as MORE. And these traits are ultimately what brings him happiness, love and friendship from everyone in the community.

But while Silas is the center of the story, Eliot fleshes out the village of Raveloe with deft strokes, from the wealthy (Godfrey and his insufferable girlfriend/wife Nancy) to the ordinary working-class folks whose lives intersect with Silas'. And she knows both the good and bad of these communities -- they have good hearts and kindness, but they also tend to be kind of judgmental and ignorant of people different from themselves. The best example of this is Dolly, a smart, take-charge woman who becomes Silas' best friend and advisor.

And twined together with Silas's story is the story of Godfrey, whose life withers as Silas' blooms. He's essentially a very weak man who shies away from telling the unpleasant truth to anyone, and misses out on fatherhood because of it. It's hard to see why he is so enamored of Nancy, though -- she's a rigid, moralistic priss who holds everyone to her impossibly high standards (for instance, she's opposed to adoption because she's decided, based on nothing at all, that it's against God's will).

The story's biggest problem? Well, in some regards the story is rather predictable, with a heartwarming ending that borders on sappy. More subtle handling is given to Silas revisiting his old home, and discovering what has come of the betrayals he's suffered.

"Silas Marner" is a fascinating little novella, twining together a story about love and family with a subtle message on gender roles. Not bad for such a simple little story.

Outcast (Bilingual)
Outcast (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Nicolas Cage
Price: CDN$ 9.49
6 used & new from CDN$ 6.39

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Templars in China (small spoilers), Jan. 18 2015
This review is from: Outcast (Bilingual) (DVD)
This is one of those movies that needs to spawn a hundred Internet memes. Consider this: it has Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen... repeatedly trying to act opposite each other.

Consider that.

But Christensen's wooden mumbling and Cage's wild mood swings are only one of the problems with "Outcast," which has the genius idea of sending oh-so-traumatized Knights Templar to medieval China. It could have been a cheesy, entertaining action movie, but its overly serious tone and around-the-board wretched acting just make it a chore to sit through.

During the Crusades, a knight named Gallain (Cage) randomly decides that Crusading Be Bad, and begs his young charge Jacob (Christensen) to stop fighting and go East with him. Why East, instead of home? Never explained. Jacob doesn't agree... until he decides he does in mid-battle, and just...walks away. And apparently walks to China, because the story then jumps to the king (not emperor?) of China.

The king has decided that his younger son is going to be his successor, which enrages his elder, warrior son Shing (Andy On). The king does this in the least efficient way possible by not publicly announcing it, and sending his new heir with exactly one loyal supporter, his martially-inept sister Lian (Yifei Liu), on a road trip with no supplies or even horses. Why? Because this conveniently allows Shing to kill his dad and frame his brother for it, taking the throne for himself.

So the kids end up stumbling across Jacob, who has become an opium-addicted bum, but he's SO good with his sword that he can defeat a whole squad of Black Guards (har har) while high as a kite. They pay him to help them get to loyal generals who can help them... but of course, they don't actually find these generals. Instead, they stumble across Gallain (what a coincidence!) who happens to be a notorious bandit called the White Ghost. And Gallain is... not their only hope for battling Shing. He ultimately doesn't help at all.

"Outcast" was made by Nick Powell, an experienced stunt coordinator/fight choreographer who has worked in a lot of TV shows and movies like "The Three Musketeers" and "28 Days Later." And you can tell he has seen good movies... and loves good movies like "Star Wars" and "Hero"... but hasn't quite figured out how to properly make one. He knows that certain things belong in an action epic, but not how to put them together.

So most of "Outcast" is made up of people traveling... and traveling... and occasionally having implausible fight scenes (sword-fighting while high on opium? Sure!). There are long stretches of not-much happening, and subplots that ultimately don't go anywhere. For instance, Guillan actually has little, if anything to do with the main plot, and he serves no real purpose -- he's not a voice of conscience because he's too bitterly amoral, and he's not a catalyst for redemption or anything. Yet his final scenes are handled with more melodramatic gravitas than the deaths of Boromir and Darth Vader combined -- excessive slow-motion and a choir of mournful angelic voices.

And some of the directorial choices are... bizarre. One scene has Christensen upending a bucket of water over his anachronistic faux-hawk... and the camera is shooting from INSIDE THE BUCKET. It's one of those stylistic decisions that just leaves you thinking, "Why?" And Powell misses some opportunities as a storyteller -- while both Jacob and Shing are warriors who have done terrible things in the service of someone, this duality is never explored or even hinted at.

And the climax? It wants SO desperately to be epic. But does it have loyal generals massing an army and storming the palace? Does it have "Lord of the Rings"-style battle? NO. Why would it? It has two guys having a rather awkward sword fight while a WHOLE ARMY just stands and does nothing. Absolutely nothing.

As mentioned before, Cage and Christensen display the onscreen chemistry of two large logs banging against each other. Christensen woodenly mumbles through his role, conveying none of the inner torment and self-loathing that his character is supposed to. We're told that Jacob has a deep-rooted thirst for blood and love of killing, but shown no savage glee or abandon when he fights -- he just bumbles around, looking constipated.

And Cage (who is in the movie for about ten minutes total), veers wildly between "I don't care enough to act" and "I'm chewing the scenery," sometimes in the same sentence. He also dons a terrible topknot wig and an equally terrible English accent. Most of the other actors are similarly leaden, with the exception of On -- the poor guy is pouring his all into his tormented villain role, and he's an excellent fighter. He also has bucketloads more charisma and character development than Christensen does.

"Outcast" deserves to be one -- it's a freshman bumble with a leaden pace, wretched acting, odd direction and a villain who frankly seems more developed than the hero. Avoid this mess.

William Shakespeare's Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Boxed Set: Includes Verily, A New Hope; The Empire Striketh Back; The Jedi Doth Return; and an 8-by-34-inch full-color poster
William Shakespeare's Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Boxed Set: Includes Verily, A New Hope; The Empire Striketh Back; The Jedi Doth Return; and an 8-by-34-inch full-color poster
by Ian Doescher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 41.62
35 used & new from CDN$ 29.27

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Jedi’s strength doth surely/Come from the Force, Jan. 16 2015
There's been a lot of (justified) criticism of George Lucas' cheesy writing style, and there's some trepidation about how JJ Abrams will handle the new sequel. So who could produce a Star Wars script that exceeds expectations?

How about Shakespeare?

That seems to be the idea behind Ian Doescher's "William Shakespeare's Star Wars Trilogy," a deliciously witty reimagining of the Star Wars saga in glorious iambic pentameter. While obviously a very funny spoof ("Now is the summer of our happiness/made winter by this sudden, fierce attack"), it's also a very well-written and eloquent experiment in pseudo-Elizabethan verse.

Anyone who has paid attention to pop culture in the last fifty years knows the main story already -- two droids land on Tattooine, give a message to old Ben Kenobi, he trains the plucky hero Luke Skywalker to be a Jedi, there's a guy in a dark helmet who (spoiler) turns out to be Luke's dad, Luke snogs his sister by accident, a few Death Stars blow up, and so on. If you know none of this, then please join the rest of the world.

A lot of people don't realize that, pre-copyright laws, Shakespeare actually was the master of taking preexisting stories (some fictional, some not) and sculpting them into the classic stories we know and love today. Yes, Shakespeare was the original producer of remakes, reboots, and "re-imaginings." Wrap your brain around that.

So the idea of him writing a somewhat less awkward Star Wars screenplay isn't actually that hard to imagine. And Ian Doescher... well, he does a really, really good job of bridging parody and actual sort-of-kind-of Shakespearean verse in this. He's clearly studied Shakespeare's writing, and rather than just adding a few prithees and "eths" to the preexisting screenplay, he actually reworks almost every line in it. Well, except for Chewie and R2D2. There's only so many ways you can translate "Auugh!" or "Beep."

One example? Like Shakespeare in his time, he includes the stage directions in the actual text ("I turn to thee, thou rebel. Aye, I lift/Thy head above my own") and asides to the audience ("O news that fills my heart with utter dread!").

And he writes whole swaths of dialogue that have no parallel in the original, but are the kind of things that Shakespeare would probably have done in his own time ("How strange this hand, which feeleth like my flesh/Yet is such stuff as droids are made of"). It has lots of witty little moments and fun in-jokes that make it even funnier (ghostly Obi-Wan reflects that "’Twas well I spoke/Not of the midi-chlorians to Luke,/For then he would have endless questions still"), as well as some fun moments (R2D2 is very eloquent when he's not talking to other characters).

While fun as a novelty, "William Shakespeare's Star Wars Trilogy" is also a very cleverly-written reworking of a classic space opera.... in the style of a classic playwright. Clever, witty and funny, and of interest to even casual Shakespeare nerds.

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis [Import]
Justice League: Throne of Atlantis [Import]
Offered by Rarewaves-US
Price: CDN$ 21.26
17 used & new from CDN$ 21.25

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Waterlogged, Jan. 16 2015
If they want to make a new Justice League cartoon show, they should just make it -- because "Justice League: Throne of Atlantis" feels like it was written as a multi-episode arc.

And yet, this sequel to "Justice League: War" is strangely flat. Supposedly it introduces the character of Aquaman, king of Atlantis, while also exploring the growing pains of the Justice League. Yet both are handled with an oddly passionless approach, with all the characters -- except Cyborg -- sliding into their new positions with little actual conflict or trouble.

The Justice League is having trouble coming together as a group -- Batman is busy doing his solo thing, Superman and Wonder Woman spend all their time macking on each other, and Cyborg is having trouble adjusting to his new body. But when a submarine is destroyed by an Atlantean army, they have to get together and investigate.

Meanwhile, lighthouse-owner Arthur Curry is mourning the death of his dad when he's attacked by a bunch of mysterious sea creatures. Turns out he's the lost crown prince of Atlantis, and his mother the queen wants him to take his rightful place. But his older brother Orm isn't happy about that, since he wants all surface-dwellers to be extremely dead. And he's willing to murder his own family for that.

The biggest problem with "Throne of Atlantis" is that it doesn't feel like a movie, or even a sequel to one -- it feels like an episode of a TV show. While TV shows can neglect characters or storylines for a few episodes, a movie doesn't have that option -- and "Throne of Atlantis" leaves most of the Justice League thin as paper dolls.

There's some halfhearted lip service paid to the idea that these people don't get along and are just getting used to being a group ("Avengers"-style). But this sort of fades away when the first crisis comes along, and by the end they're all happy, united and over any personal issues they might have had about working together. All it took was one mission, and not a very epic one.

This is made especially painful because none of the characters are very well-developed either. Batman is barely even present, even when he's onscreen -- his part in the plot could mostly be filled by an iPad. Shazam is there just to be perky and violently annoying, and both Green Lantern and Flash seem like they'll be amusing, but end up fading into the background. The only one with any character growth is Cyborg, who is depressed and struggling with the idea of being mostly machine.

And yes, that applies to Aquaman/Arthur Curry as well. Like the rest of the League, he just sort of shifts from "crusty town drunk who chats with lobsters" to "heroic monarch" in the space of about six minutes, with nothing that really explains this change in personality. He never rejects his destiny or shows any anger or confusion -- he just sort of slides into his new role (and an instant relationship with a woman he barely knows) without even blinking.

And what do we get instead of proper character development? We get the awkward, shoehorned-in romance between Superman and Wonder Woman, who have as much sexual chemistry as siblings. Seriously, either one has more chemistry with Lois Lane in her one-minute cameo. The intent was pretty clearly, "See? Wonder Woman is a MUCH better choice for Superman, not that stupid HUMAN Lois," but it backfires horribly.

Despite the thinness of the characters, it does have some excellent action scenes, both on land and at sea -- one involves Arthur duking it out with monstrous sea-creatures atop his lighthouse, causing it to crash to the ground. Another involves the climactic battle in the streets of a seaside city, with the League finally kicking much butt. And Sam Witwer throws his all into playing a malevolent usurper with plenty of enthusiasm.

The problem with the animation? The characters don't have much expression. One scene features Superman being impaled on a trident and electrocuted... and while screaming in agony, he has no expression. It's like Superman as played by Kristen Stewart.

"Justice League: Throne of Atlantis" has some good points, but the rushed pace and flat characterization -- including the too-easy formation of the League -- make it feel oddly lifeless. Let this one sink to the bottom.

The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game
DVD ~ Benedict Cumberbatch
Price: CDN$ 9.99
10 used & new from CDN$ 6.00

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine, Jan. 16 2015
This review is from: The Imitation Game (DVD)
Alan Turing is perhaps the most underrated genius of the 20th century -- the creator of a computer that allowed the Allies to win World War II. In return, his country persecuted him for his sexuality, and eventually may have killed him.

And while a movie about a math nerd making a cryptographic computer sounds rather dry, "The Imitation Game" excels at making code-breaking suspenseful and intriguing -- espionage, leaked lies, a giant clacking computer, and Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as an awkward, earnest, lonely man wrapped in his secrets.

The story veers between three major time periods -- Turing's school days as a young teen, whose awkwardness and intelligence left him with only one friend; his time in Hut 8; and finally, his decline after the war when his sexuality was finally exposed. All these periods are haunted by a grey cloud of tragedy, as you can never avoid the feeling that Turing cannot escape his tragic fate.

The most important one is his war work: hired straight out of Cambridge, Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) was confident in his ability to break the unbreakable Enigma Code, which all German communiques were coded with. Since the code was scrambled every day, the cryptographers had only a matter of hours to figure it out. But Turing knew a way -- an electro-mechanical bombe computer, which he referred to as Christopher.

He amassed a team of other math geniuses -- including a clever young lady named Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) -- and began work on his computer. Even the computer wasn't able to crack Enigma.... until Turing figured out a core phrase that they could use.

But cracking the code was the only the beginning. Turing took part in a massive web of lies and secrets, designed to hide Enigma's decoding from the Germans and English public alike. And Turing had his own lies and secrets -- as a gay man living in a time when it was illegal, he lived under a sword of Damocles that would inevitably fall.

"The Imitation Game" is both an inspiration and a tragedy, a depiction of an important period in history and a powerful personal story. By chronicling the most relevant parts of Turing's life, it sheds light on one of the most important endeavors of the last century, and a small group of people who played a pivotal part in ending the war.

Benedict Cumberbatch is the heart of the movie. While he's playing yet another socially-awkward genius, he brings an earnest vulnerability -- almost an innocence -- to Turing's personality, and is quite plausible as an intelligent math nerd. He makes your heart bleed when he encounters an obstacle, and sing when Christopher finally breaks the code.

He also has just the right brand of chemistry with Knightley -- their Turing and Clarke have a sort of passionate friendship, based on intellectual connection. So they click, but not in a sexy way. And Mark Strong rounds it out nicely as an MI6 general who recognizes Turing's potential and importance, while also manipulating him.

Director Morten Tyldum also manages to make some parts of this movie... pretty exciting. A bunch of people sitting in a building breaking codes and watching a bombe computer clack and whirl around? It sounds dull. But he builds up powerful emotions, through a quiet sense of drama (Turing being blackmailed into silence by a Soviet spy).

What is wrong with it? Well, like many biopics, it plays fast-and-loose with many details. Most distracting is the depiction of Turing as a high-functioning autistic -- dividing his food, excessively literal-minded, socially awkward. It's like Hollywood can't conceive of mathematical genius existing in someone who ISN'T a savant, which Turing certainly was not.

"The Imitation Game" has some flaws, but the overall experience is a powerful, tragic depiction of a great man who never received his proper due in life. Without a doubt, one of the year's best movies.

The Big Picture (Sous-titres français)
The Big Picture (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Kevin Bacon
Offered by Mikani Collectables
Price: CDN$ 29.99
12 used & new from CDN$ 7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Everybody was my friend then, Jan. 14 2015
Hollywood make them, then they break them -- stars can fall as fast as they rise. Sometimes they rise again, and sometimes they disappear.

And Christopher Guest casts a jaded eye on the fickle ups and downs of Hollywood in "The Big Picture," a quirky, cynical movie which focuses on what the successful should never let go of. It has a few awkward stretches, but overall it's a darkly witty cult comedy ("You're tracking failure all over my carpet!").

Nick Chapman (Kevin Bacon) is the winner at an arty student movie competition, and instantly agents are chasing him all over L.A. In no time, he's the Rising Young Director, with a movie deal at a major movie corporation. But he's also starting to lose sight of his old life, as he tries to become a major success.

He changes the style, plot and characters of his arty movie for demographics, turning it into a beach bums/naked ghost movie. He dumps his pretty girlfriend (Emily Longstreth) for a bimbo actress (Teri Hatcher). When the studio head gets dropped, Nick falls as quickly as he rose. But a chance encounter with an old pal gives him a second chance -- an arty music video. This time, can he get it right?

Christopher Guest is best known for his brilliant mockumentaries, tackling everything from small-town musicals to folk festivals. His forthcoming one is another one about showbiz. But his talents are just as present in a "typical" movie, and Guest does a smart, quirky job of it.

The lesson: Be true to yourself and your art, don't fall for empty glitz, and don't let success go to your head if you're lucky enough to get it.

The story is a pretty straightforward one -- Nick gets great success, it goes to his head, he falls, and he rises again a wiser man. And the movie falls into straightforward lines, without many unpredictable plot twists. At first glance, it doesn't seem that unusual.

What makes it special? Well, simply put, Guest manages to infuse it with his unique type of wit, like the oddballish Pez music video and the noir fantasies of Nick's life. Not to mention the glorious dialogue. When speaking of Nick's one'n'only music video, a studio woman announces, "It's the best one yet, and I've seen 'em ALL!"

And Guest manages to show us agents, artists, students, directors and actors, but never descended to cliches. They're real people, no matter how nasty. And Bacon does a solid job as a young man who learns how empty glitz is. His best scene is the reunion with his friend Emmet, where he confesses, "I wanna be your friend again." And he's backed by good performances by Longstreth, Michael McKean and a dancing Jennifer Jason Leigh.

"Big Picture" treads where many movies have gone before, but it does so with an approach as fresh as a Pez People music video. A must-see.

The Strain: Season 1
The Strain: Season 1
DVD ~ Corey Stoll
Price: CDN$ 24.97
2 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$ 9.88
2 used & new from CDN$ 9.88

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.

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