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E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA)

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Red Planet (Sous-titres français) [Import]
Red Planet (Sous-titres français) [Import]
DVD ~ Val Kilmer
Price: CDN$ 6.67
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2.0 out of 5 stars Spiders... er, roaches of Mars (spoiilers), Feb. 24 2014
As far as the movies are concerned, Mars is cursed. Almost every movie set on the red planet has been a complete flop.

Unsurprisingly, "Red Planet" belongs to that pack of awful Mars movies. However, it is somewhat better than the typical bad Mars movie, since it basically follows the typical monster-movie formula with no pretensions of being anything new or special. The only problem is a single, massive plot hole that sucks out the center of the movie... which is oxygen-pooping bugs that literally come from nowhere.

Since Earth is hopelessly overpopulated and polluted, humanity has begun terraforming Mars. For the past twenty years, they have been sending bioengineered algae to Mars -- but then the oxygen levels start dropping, and nobody knows why. So the first manned mission sets off for Mars, led by Commander Kate Bowman (Carrie-Ann Moss) and populated by the usual baffling mix of weirdos, hotheads and a space janitor (Val Kilmer).

But when things predictably go horribly wrong on the ship, most of the crew ends up stranded on the surface of Mars, with dwindling oxygen supplies. Also, their exploratory robot has gone into "battle mode," meaning that it's going to kill then in a few hours. But the greatest threat comes what has been targeting the algae: omnivorous space cockroaches!

You can tell that "Red Planet" is a clunker right from the opening scenes, where Moss' voiceover awkwardly tries to cram all the movie's backstory, setup and characterization into a five-minute monologue. It's as if the opening text crawl of "Star Wars" also included summaries of the important characters ("Han Solo is a rogue with a heart of gold") so it wouldn't be necessary to actually develop them.

And sadly, the rest of the movie is not much better -- it feels less like a finished Hollywood movie than a first draft of the script that somehow got rushed into production. Admittedly, this is better than other bad Mars movies like "Ghosts of Mars" or "Mission to Mars," mainly because it has no illusions about what it is about. This is basically a monster movie set on Mars, and can be brainless fun at times.

But that doesn't mean it doesn't suffer from major problems -- massive continuity errors (so the bugs poop oxygen... and yet oxygen levels are DROPPING?), dropped plot threads and head-slappingly stupid ideas. Seriously, why does an EXPLORATORY ROBOT need a battle simulation mode? And some parts of the story -- like the tortured theological musings or the romance that literally comes out of nowhere -- feel like they were stuck in just to fill up space.

But the biggest flaw in the movie is the Martian insects, which seemed to have simply popped into existence because the plot says so. Nobody ever questions WHERE they came from or WHAT they ate before the algae arrived -- they're just THERE.

All of the characters have just enough depth to blow away in the wind, and the actors are either not trying or misused. Carrie-Ann Moss does little except yell at wall panels and get naked occasionally, and Val Kilmer seems only vaguely interested in what's going on. Most of the other characters are more or less interchangeable, and it's easy to forget which one is which.

The tragedy of "Red Planet" is that, had it been polished, it could have been a decent popcorn flick. But the hideously contrived opening, the massive plot holes and the basic continuity errors make it painful. At least the robot is cool-looking.

Fargo (Special Edition)
Fargo (Special Edition)
DVD ~ William H. Macy
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Price: CDN$ 25.44
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yah yah, you betcha!, Feb. 24 2014
This review is from: Fargo (Special Edition) (DVD)
Hollywood prefers to ignore the Midwest. When it is featured at all, its people are often depicted as either drooling yokels or simple yet wise folk who exist just to teach life lessons.

One of the few exceptions is "Fargo," the Coen Brothers' breakout movie. It's half kidnapping caper, half valentine to their home stage of Minnesota -- and despite the heaps of snow and the occasional dead body, it has a warm charm embodied in Frances McDormand's pregnant sheriff. This movie could have had no plot at all, and it would still have been fun.

Car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is facing financial ruin, so he comes up with a cunning idea: he'll hire a pair of loser thugs, Carl (Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare), to kidnap his wife so he can extract a ransom from her wealthy father. But things go awry during the kidnapping when Gaear shoots a traffic cop and the passengers of a car.

Unsurprisingly, the police are interested in what happens. Local police sheriff Marge Gunderson (McDormand) begins investing the murders and the kidnapping, interviewing prostitutes and chitchatting with an old classmate. But Jerry's seemingly-simple plot keeps spinning more and more out of control -- and as Marge gets closer to the murderers/kidnappers, the deaths just keep piling up.

"Fargo" is the perfect example of a quirky movie done right, mainly because... it doesn't feel like the Coens were trying to be quirky. Instead, it feels like they are pouring all their affection for their home state in one movie -- mostly the "Minnesota nice" (even the cops are pleasant and chipper!), the laid-back attitude and the eccentric sense of humor ("Ah, hon, ya got Arby's all over me!").

The charm only really lets up when things get violent -- brief spurts of death, cursing and big scarlet spatters against the snow. Perhaps that is because the murders themselves are the only part of the movie that the Coens don't have affection for.

But the murder scheme itself is fairly entertaining, simply because it becomes more chaotic with every step. On the other hand, the investigation is handled in an oddly laid-back way, so that the audience just sort of sits back and enjoys the journey with Marg. And wound around the main plot are a series of small, oddly memorable personal subplots (Marge's husband entering an important art competition).

This is one of Frances McDormand's best performances -- a mellow police chief who also happens to be seven months pregnant ("Now I'm hungry"), and can whip out a gun when she needs to. Marge is the complete opposite of all those tortured gritty cops, and that is part of the reason she's so lovable. The sing-songy Minnesota accent doesn't hurt either -- all those people speaking like that is music to the ears.

Despite lots of blood and murder, "Fargo" is a quirky, charming little movie -- and it lets you know pretty much how the Coens see Minnesota. Definitely a timeless must-see.

Strange Days: My Life with and Without Jim Morrison
Strange Days: My Life with and Without Jim Morrison
by Patricia Kennealy-Morrison
Edition: Hardcover
6 used & new from CDN$ 27.65

2.0 out of 5 stars Strange, strange days, Feb. 24 2014
I-slept-with-a-rock-star stories are a dime a dozen in the rock bio world, and it takes something unusual to make the storyteller seem like anything but a groupie. Patricia Kennealy-Morrison has something all right, but her obnoxious attitude and sketchy details make it hard to regard "Strange Days: My Life With And Without Jim Morrison" as much more than a curiosity.

Kennealy-Morrison was a journalist/editor working for Jazz'n'Pop magazine in the late 1960s. She was sent in to interview legendary rock bad boy Jim Morrison of the Doors, and was immediately impressed by him (the feeling was mutual, she says). They soon struck up a friendship, then became lovers while remaining on opposite sides of the United States.

Morrison and Kennealy-Morrison wed in a witch handfasting some months later, despite the fact that Morrison was still with his longtime lover Pamela Courson. Kennealy-Morrison chronicles the remainder of their increasingly volatile relationship, her abortion, Morrison's mysterious death in Paris, and the production of the distorted movie adaptation by Oliver Stone.

Never has so much been written over so little. Not very often, anyway. Morrison's brief involvement with Kennealy-Morrison is blown up into an affair to rival Guinevere and Lancelot -- and yes, that's her own comparison. What an unbiased reader sees is a rather average rock romance, full of the necessary sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. And lots and lots of Kennealy-Morrison's everyday life.

Kennealy-Morrison has a curiously self-centered view of the world: whenever anybody is less than friendly to her, they must be upset over her gender, brains, religion or relationship with Morrison. Her attitude (a bull getting ready to charge at a matador) wears thin quickly. She heaps scorn on almost all rock'n'roll stars, on any girl who slept (or wanted to) with Jim, on any friend of Pamela Courson's, on Doors fans, on rock audiences... pretty much everybody. Special vitriol is reserved for Pam. Rather than take Morrison to task for his behavior, Kennealy-Morrison vents on the pleasant, clueless Courson.

While Kennealy-Morrison is clearly knowledgeable, she seems to use her IQ solely to set herself above the groupies. She lacks the class, wisdom and vibrance of other rock paramours like Marianne Faithfull, or the sweetness of Bebe Buell. If this book is anything to go by, her intellect is stagnant and unsophisticated, and her personality is childish (she beats a groupie for coming on to Jim). In fact, her claims that she's a strong, decisive, take-no-guff woman becomes funny when you see that she was allowing a ridiculous amount of guff from Morrison.

There's no denying that Kennealy-Morrison is a talented writer. At times her lyrical, detailed writing makes this seem almost like a novel. It's especially vibrant during scenes like Doors concerts and the famous Woodstock. But too often her words are used as arrows rather than paintbrushes.

"Strange Days: My Life With And Without Jim Morrison" is a weird read. In the end, it's hard to see it as anything but Kennealy-Morrison's side of the story, but without any wisdom brought by time and thought. This is not the place to look for the "real" Jim Morrison.

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2.0 out of 5 stars Dusty relic, Feb. 24 2014
This review is from: Relic (DVD)
A museum doesn't seem like a logical place to find a giant primordial reptilian monster with a taste for brains.

But that seems to describe "Relic," which is loosely based on a novel by Douglas J. Preston and Lincoln Child. It tries mightily to add the "Alien" monster-movie aesthetic to a more cerebral setting, but the sludgy pace and massive plot holes make it a chore to sit through -- and no matter how many gory body parts it flings at you, nothing really horrifies.

A ship arrives in Chicago with its crew horribly murdered, and Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta (Tom Sizemore) has no idea what has happened. The cargo -- crates from a roving anthropologist -- is sent to the Museum of Natural History for their "Superstition" exhibit, but Dr. Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller) finds nothing inside but a stone idol and leaves covered in a strange fungus.

Then a security guard is brutally murdered in a bizarre way -- he's decapitated, his brain is torn out and his hypothalamus goes missing. D'Agosta immediately shuts down the museum and begins searching for the killer, but Green begins to suspect that something more bizarre is afoot. But even if they can figure out what the killer is, they may not be able to stop it.

Just a warning: fans of Preston and Child's thriller series will be hugely disappointed in "Relic." The unique lead character has been completely cut out of the story -- imagine an adaptation of "Lord of the Rings" without Frodo Baggins -- and the plot is transformed into a generic monster movie with generic characters. It feels sort of like "Alien," except without the feeling of being trapped (since they can easily leave the museum) or the build-up of tension and horror.

One of the biggest problems is that the movie never really gets SCARY. There are scenes of gore and graphic violence -- heads pop off, a man is torn in half, explosions -- but it's not really frightening. The plot also proceeds at a glacial pace, with predictable twists (wow, what's going to happen at the gala?) and a big explosive finale that feels out-of-sync with the ponderous story.

It's also almost impossible to see what's happening in many scenes, except vague dark shapes careening through small rooms. Would it kill somebody in the museum to switch on the lights, or did the monster magically turn off the electricity?

And there are so many gaping plot holes and illogical elements that your brain might rip ITSELF out. For instance, we are supposed to believe that a mindless beast the size of a bull rhino is somehow able to remain CONCEALED in a museum. How? I don't know. Then again, the museum has a bizarrely large number of damp, dripping tunnels.

Most of the characters are pure stereotype -- Tom Sizemore does what he can with D'Agosta, but the character is basically a standard hard-boiled New Yawk cop with no real development. I assume that Miller's Dr. Green is meant to be the heroine, but her condescending insistence that everything that is not purely based on cold hard science (like anthropology or psychology) is "superstition" just left me wishing the monster would eat HER hypothalamus.

"Relic" is mildly diverting as a monstrous-creature-running-amuck-eating-brains flick, but the glacial pace and massive logical holes left me wishing for more monster, less tedium.

Red Moon: A Novel
Red Moon: A Novel
by Benjamin Percy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.17
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3.0 out of 5 stars Blood red "Moon", Feb. 24 2014
This review is from: Red Moon: A Novel (Hardcover)
A lot of books are written about vampires and werewolves every year. But very few of them take a "serious" literary approach...except maybe Justin Cronin.

But Benjamin Percy tackles the idea of the lycanthropes among us in "Red Moon," a slow-moving, intricate thriller about two young people adrift in a world were werewolves (aka "lycans") are an oppressed minority. While some aspects of the history and politics are handled clumsily, Percy has a strong, intense style and he fleshes out his characters nicely.

The story takes place in an alternate 21st-century where werewolves -- referred to as "lycans" -- exist. Their condition is actually a prion disease that causes them to metamorphose in a painful, and the "Lupine Republic" is overseen by the US military because of the uranium deposits. Lycans are citizens, but are required to take a medicine that blocks their abilities.

Then a plane is attacked by a lycan, leaving only teenage Patrick as the sole survivor. In the aftermath, the government agencies -- led by the cruel Tall Man -- kill the parents of another teenager, Claire, who happens to be a lycan. The killings force her to go on the run to her aunt Miriam, a hard-bitten ex-Resistance warrior, in hopes of protection.

Patrick has a lot of trouble adjusting to regular life after the attack -- but his loyalties begin to divide when his path crosses with Claire. There is also a sleazy anti-lycan politician who is infected by a Resistance, but whose determination to ruin the lycans is unchecked. As the years go by, the government's choke-hold on the lycans becomes ever more oppressive -- and the only solution can be bloodshed.

"Red Moon" is a muscular, slow-moving thriller that takes its time getting through the story -- Benjamin Percy writes in painstaking detail about everything that happens in his story. There's buckets of gore, sociopolitical intrigue, remnants of sixties extremism and a pair of young people with differing ideologies, who are just seeking their place in the world.

In fact, the characters are the strongest point in the story. Percy is unafraid to have them drift into unsympathetic territory (Patrick falls in with a gang of anti-Lycan skinheads, Miriam is a hard, leathery ex-revolutionary), and he explores each of them in detail. Even the characters we're meant to hate are given history and a personality, and he places bad guys on both sides of the board.

However, he sometimes focuses too much on things the readers don't need to know about (prions), and skims over things the readers DO need to know. It took me most of the book before I worked out exactly what the Republic was, and I STILL didn't understand where it came from or why it existed. It feels like Percy thought, "oooh, a werewolf country, cool idea!" but didn't fully integrate it.

And honestly, the preachy "werewolves as Muslims" metaphor makes little sense -- not only does it comically simplify the whole issue, but it equates a chosen belief system to an involuntary physical infection (what?!) and has various people becoming lycans against their will. Actually, it's a TERRIBLE metaphor, and the attempt to include it undermines an otherwise solid story.

"Red Moon" suffers from a bad, preachy metaphor, but Benjamin Percy does deserve some credit for trying to give contemporary depth to the age-old werewolf story. Worth a read, despite its flaws.

The 5th Wave
The 5th Wave
by Rick Yancey
Edition: Hardcover
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4.0 out of 5 stars The last human in the world, Feb. 24 2014
This review is from: The 5th Wave (Hardcover)
When aliens arrived on Earth, they had no interest in conquest or peace. They only wanted to kill everyone... and after four "waves" of destruction, they have pretty much succeeded.

Compared to a lot of the young-adult sci-fi, "The 5th Wave" is a bleak, genuinely harrowing story -- Rick Yancey throws his readers into a ruined world where humanity is almost extinct, and the few people who are left have been killing each other off. The constantly-splintering perspectives make it a little hard to follow, but the story is so horrifying, raw and tragic that it can be overlooked.

Cassie may be the last real human being on Earth. Ever since her father died and her brother was taken away, she has been wandering through the wasteland of what was once human civilization. Since the Fourth Wave, any human beings may actually be possessed by the aliens -- and so Cassie kills anyone she meets, before they have a chance to kill her.

But when she's badly injured by a sniper, Cassie finds herself rescued by the mysterious Evan, who nurses her back to health. In the meantime, her brother is whisked off to a military camp, where the boy Cassie was once infatuated with has transformed himself into the cold, guilt-ridden Private Zombie. But when Cassie discovers the truth about Evan, she finds that the 5th Wave is more terrible than anyone expected...

Rick Yancey clearly wanted "The 5th Wave" to be as grim and bleak as possible without actually featuring extinction. The first thirty chapters are entirely devoted to Cassie wandering through the wilderness, contemplating the extinction of the human species and thinking about the previous Waves. By the time she gets shot, it seems like things can't get any more depressing.

But once he introduces Evan, Yancey begins slowly revving up the story -- we have dual subplots, a military academy, a hint of romance (thank God, only a HINT) and a mysterious alien race whose nature is pretty nebulous. His prose is dense and slightly snarky, but with a melancholic undertone that really makes you feel like things might not turn out all right. It doesn't help that the aliens are so ridiculously powerful.

And the characters are beautifully written. Yes, there is a nebulous love triangle, but it comes and goes in the blink of an eye. The real focus here is on Cassie, who is a pretty strong heroine -- she was an absolutely ordinary teen girl until the Others come, and the loss of everything transforms her into an embittered, grim shell who clings to a few shreds of her past.

Evan's true nature is kind of obvious, but he is an intriguing character who transcends the cliches because... well, we aren't tortured by the cliched "humans are just so special and wonderful" garbage. And Ben is a great character -- his cowardice led to his sister's death, and now his feelings of guilt spur him to protect "Nugget" and help Cassie.

But Yancey does make a mistake with his writing: the bouncing perspectives. Most are first-person, with a few chapters in third-person. And the first-person perspective gets hideously confusing, since it switches between various people without warning -- including Ben, who isn't even really explored until the halfway point. It would have been better if the whole thing had been in third-person.

It's dark, it's bleak, and yet it's completely gripping. Despite the confusing first-person perspectives, "The 5th Wave" is a brilliant example of sci-fi for teens. Toss "The Host" aside and read something excellent.

'Til The World Ends: Dawn of Eden\Thistle & Thorne\Sun Storm
'Til The World Ends: Dawn of Eden\Thistle & Thorne\Sun Storm
by Julie Kagawa
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.96
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4.0 out of 5 stars When the apocalypse comes, Feb. 24 2014
Apocalyptic stories have been around for centuries, whether it's myths about Ragnarok or movies about zombies wrecking the world.

So guess what the three-novella compilation "'Til The World Ends: Dawn of Eden\Thistle & Thorne\Sun Storm" is all about. This collection of longish short stories by Julie Kagawa, Ann Aguirre and Karen Duvall is a solid sampler of dystopian work -- just long enough to flesh out their stories nicely, but still brief enough to not need too much of a commitment.

Kagawa's "Dawn of Eden" takes readers back to the Red Lung plague, before the vampires took over the Earth. A young doctor named Kylie is caring for the dying when a sick man is brought in with bite marks, and after he dies, he rises again as a white-eyed, fanged revenant. As the mysterious Ben helps her escape, he reveals that something new and horrifying has arisen from a possible "cure" for the plague.

In Aguirre's "Thistle and Thorne," the rich live in luxurious fortresses run by corporations... and scavenging "street rats" like Mari Thistle do what it takes to survive. But when she infiltrates a fortress on a special assignment, she has to work with the cold, efficient Thorne Goodman -- only to discover a horrifying plot that threatens everyone and everything she knows.

And finally, Duvall's "Sun Storm" takes place in a world where solar flares have transformed the world into a scorched wasteland. Sarah Daggot is one of the few Kinetics, who gained special powers -- she can sense sun storms forming. But one day she meets Ian, a fellow Kinetic who is on the run from a secret government agency. And as they try to stay free, they discover that they may be the key to saving the world.

"'Til The World Ends" has a pretty decent array of end-of-the-world scenarios -- one is a horrifying disease (think tuberculosis crossed with ebola), one is a man-made environmental disaster, and the last is a natural disaster. One is the beginning of the disaster, one takes place during the dystopian times, and one of them wraps up the disaster neatly.

And all three authors do a pretty good job with their respective stories. Kagawa tackles an older character than her other books, since Kylie is an actual doctor, and she even inserts some sexual content into the story, along with harrowing, blood-spattered horror ("fangs gleaming, like jagged bits of glass"). The only problem perhaps is that people who HAVEN'T read her other books may be a bit confused by "Dawn of Eden's" connections to them.

Aguirre's is a polished tale about a young girl and older man fighting through a treacherous, ugly slum that is faced with destruction, and it leaves you wishing to hear more about Thorne and Thistle. And Duvall's story, while it has a slightly hokey ending and simpler writing style, is a very heartfelt little tale with very evocative writing. The descriptions of the blinding heat are enough to make you sweat.

"'Til the World Ends" is a solid display of the authors' talents, and fans of dystopian fiction will enjoy three vastly different takes on the apocalypse -- plague, man-made disasters and natural chaos.

Six Heirs
Six Heirs
by Pierre Grimbert
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.96
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3.0 out of 5 stars Secrets of the emissaries, Feb. 24 2014
This review is from: Six Heirs (Paperback)
Some of the best high fantasy worlds are the ones with a sense of scope -- you can feel that there are lands and cultures outside what you necessarily see.

And Pierre Grimbert constructs a pretty epic world in "The Secret of Ji: Six Heirs," constructing all sorts of different societies with wildly different cultures -- not to mention magical gifts like talking to animals in a REALISTIC way. But the well-developed fantasy world is somewhat hampered by clunky prose and a tendency to use too many "fantasy" words.

About a hundred and twenty years ago, emissaries were summoned from various lands -- a king, a sage, a duke, a soldier, a matriarch and others -- to the island of Ji. They vanished for two months, and when they returned, three were dead and the survivors were profoundly changed. Many years later the emissaries reunited, and since their deaths, their children and grandchildren have continued the get-togethers.

But as the latest get-together approaches, Züu assassins are killing off heirs of the Ji emissaries. The survivors -- including the slacker Reyan, villager Yan, his sweetheart Léti and Bowbaq from the frozen wastelands -- begin working to keep themselves and/or their relatives safe from the Züu. But as they come closer to the mysterious Secret of Ji, they also come closer to the fanatical cultists determined to kill them all.

A lot of the enjoyment of "The Secret of Ji: Six Heirs" comes from the world that Grimbert has sketched out -- frozen plains, a matriarchal democracy, shadowy cities full of dissolute wastrels. He pours so much densely-paceked detail into his fantasy world that at times it's necessary to stop and breathe. General tip: keep checking the glossary at the back of the book, just so you don't be totally confused about the calendar system, the major deities and even the animal life.

However, the writing tends to be rather clunky ("How could she not know that, she who had studied the history of Ith?"), although it's not clear whether the choppy portions are due to bad translation or if Grimbert just needs some tempering. He also has a tendency to use made-up words more often than he should ("centidays," "Union" instead of marriage, "dékades" instead of months).

Despite this problem, Grimbert does do an excellent job fleshing out his characters, and (in the case of Rey) changing them on a vital level. Much of the first third of the book is devoted to introducing the characters -- the naive young amazon, her shy smitten love interest, a wanderer who can talk to animals, and so on -- and by the time the adventure starts, they feel very well-developed.

"The Secret of Ji: Six Heirs" has some bumps in Pierre Grimbert's writing style, but the intense world-building and likable characters make this a solid high fantasy -- especially for those seeking something more than the usual Tolkien knockoffs.

Bag of Bones (Sous-titres français)
Bag of Bones (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Pierce Brosnan
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 25.04
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4.0 out of 5 stars Lie still, bag of bones, Feb. 24 2014
Out of Stephen King's countless books, "Bag of Bones" is probably the easiest to adapt -- it's a straightforward ghost story about revenge, murder and writer's block.

So of course it was eventually adapted into a TV miniseries of the same name, with Pierce Brosnan playing a bestselling author (take a shot) staying in a small Maine town (take a shot) with some ugly skeletons in its closet. The first half is a tedious affair, mostly setting up various clues for Brosnan -- but the second half is a genuinely disturbing, heartrending tale.

After his pregnant wife Jo (Annabeth Gish) is killed by a runaway bus, writer Mike Noonan (Brosnan) is understandably devastated. He also finds himself unable to write, so he ends up heading off to the Maine lake-house that Jo had been fixing up for several months. He also is grappling with suspicions that Jo was unfaithful to him, since he was told that they couldn't have children.

But during his stay, he begins to see strange ghostly events -- fridge magnets spell out messages, strong winds blow, and the music of 1930s blues singer Sara Tidwell (Anika Noni Rose) plays. Soon Mike figures out that there are two ghosts: one is Jo, and the other is far more malevolent.

He also inadvertently becomes involved in a custody battle between wealthy, cruel Max Devore (William Schallert) and his beautiful daughter-in-law Mattie (Melissa George) over Mattie's young daughter Kyra (Caitlin Carmichael). But as Mike tries to figure out why Devore wants his granddaughter, he learns of a string of brutal murders stretching back through the years -- and the terrible crimes that started it all.

The first episode of "Bag of Bones" moves at a very slow pace, primarily devoted to setting up the clues and the whole custody battle. In fact, a lot of it is about Mike drifting around, struggling to write and having strange visions that are (of course) prophetic -- and if it weren't for the occasional ghostly visitations, you might forget that this is a Stephen King story.

One advantage of the slow episode is that it gives Brosnan plenty of time to develop Mike. Yes, he's another bestselling writer character with a personal tragedy, but it feels so much more REAL with Brosnan. He really makes you feel the life-destroying anguish of losing your spouse (possibly drawing from experience), and the passionate paternal feelings that Kyra stokes in him.

But the second episode lashes together the horror, clues and custody battle into one dark, bloody package -- and suddenly the horror is flowing pretty quickly. Ironically, the most horrifying part is the human capacity for brutality (a graphic rape-murder scene, the attempts to kill children), but there is still plenty of ropy-faced zombies, curses and the occasional crazy old crone throwing rocks or scissors.

One major problem, however, is Max Devore and his crazy sidekick Rogette. These characters are so utterly, revoltingly, sadistically evil that they become cartoons rather than antagonists -- it wouldn't surprise me if they tortured puppies for fun. And it's never really explained why various men want to kill a kid who isn't theirs. Do they think it will lift the curse? I have no idea.

It takes its sweet time to drag itself to the horror content, but if you can hang on through the slow, character-building first episode, "Bag of Bones" is a dark and heartfelt ghost story.

NEW Dracula 2-ascension (DVD)
NEW Dracula 2-ascension (DVD)
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 68.93
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1.0 out of 5 stars Dracula 2001, Feb. 24 2014
If there was a vampire movie that did NOT need a sequel, it would be "Dracula 2000."

But since Hollywood cannot resist flogging a dead horse, "Dracula 2000" actually got TWO sequels that it didn't need. The bafflingly-named "Dracula II: Ascension" introduces a completely new cast of characters with no connection to the previous movie... including Dracula. Apparently vampires are Time Lords -- set one on fire, and he'll pop up later with an all-new face.

When a charred corpse is brought into a morgue, Elizabeth Blaine (Diane Neal) and her buddy Luke (Jason London) quickly discover that it is a vampire. How? A fang springs out and pricks Elizabeth's finger when she's prodding the mouth. Since her boyfriend Lowell (Craig Sheffer) is dying of a degenerative disease, they hope to come up with a cure-all derived from vampire... something.

So they take the charred corpse to a remote house, and soak it in a bathtub of blood. And who should pop up, partially renewed, than Dracula (now played by Stephen Billington) himself?

While the group ties Dracula up and bickers a lot, a vampire-slaying priest named Father Uffizi (Jason Scott Lee) is tracking them down. His goal is to first give Dracula absolution, then destroy him. However, the idiots who revived Dracula have no idea how dangerous he is, or how corruptive vampirism is -- and they also don't realize that the greatest dangers are from their own.

Except for the presence of Dracula (who isn't even played by the same person), this movie really doesn't have much in common with "Dracula 2000." It's pretty much a standard horror movie where a bunch of idiots congregate in a dangerous remote place, so they can die one by one. Also add a priest character who... doesn't really do much.

And admittedly it does have some nice touches, such as including the OCD qualities of traditional vampirism. And while Billington spends most of the movie tied to a table, he does have a lot of menacing, alluring presence even when covered in flour.

Unfortunately, that is about as far as it goes. Most of the movie is just a fetid regurgitation of the same old horror movie cliches -- a bunch of idiots hanging around a dangerous place, making stupid decisions. And the thin plot becomes even more nonsensical when one of the characters reveals his dastardly plan... which makes NO logical sense, because he was trying to trick people into giving him what they were going to give him anyway. Idiot.

Dracula is one of the few characters in this whole movie who is actually memorable, and Billington does a decent job making him actually menacing. He's also apparently a Time Lord, since now Dracula regenerates with a new body every time someone "kills" him.

Lee is the only other person who makes any impression, which is impressive since his character fails to do... anything, really. The rest of the cast is played by a bunch of supremely untalented actors, who fulfill pretty much all the cliched horror roles -- the Doomed Annoying Black Guy, the Doomed Annoying Blonde, the Supposedly Smart Vampire Groupie, the Eager Puppy Sidekick and the Obvious Villain. Each one is irritating and devoid of depth.

"Dracula II: Ascension" is barely a sequel to "Dracula 2000" -- it could have been the sequel to any other movie where Dracula temporarily dies. Instead, it's an irritatingly shallow horror movie with a few pale virtues.

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