Auto boutiques-francophones Simple and secure cloud storage giftguide Kitchen Kindle Black Friday Deals Week in Music SGG Countdown to Black Friday in Lawn & Garden
Profile for EA Solinas > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by EA Solinas
Top Reviewer Ranking: 16
Helpful Votes: 5892

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Amazon Communities.

Reviews Written by
EA Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA)

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20
Gothic (Full Screen) [Import]
Gothic (Full Screen) [Import]
DVD ~ Gabriel Byrne
Offered by importcds__
Price: CDN$ 11.66
22 used & new from CDN$ 11.64

1.0 out of 5 stars As long as you are a guest in my house, you will play my games, March 1 2015
In the summer of 1816, the poet Percy Shelley, his lover Mary Godwin and her stepsister Claire Clairmont spent some time at the Villa Diodati, which was being rented by Lord Byron. They were the rock stars of their era, immersed in art, sex and drugs.

And you would THINK that it would make a spellbinding movie, especially since this summer spawned the gothic classic "Frankenstein" and the more obscure novella "The Vampyre." But not so much in Ken Russell's hallucinatory "Gothic," a mesmerizing, acid-soaked, baffling movie populated by well-respected, talented actors who are doing some of the worst work of their entire careers.

Shelley (Julian Sands), Mary (Natasha Richardson) and Claire (Myriam Cyr) arrive at the Villa Diodati, where Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) and his fawning physician Dr. Polidori (Timothy Spall) are living. Byron warmly welcomes Shelley and Claire (who wants to resume their torrid sexual affair), but is somewhat less welcoming to Mary. Mary, for her part, is worried that the sexually-rapacious Byron is going to hurt her sister, who claims to be pregnant with his child.

That night, the group amuses themselves with a volume of ghost stories, hide-and-seek, opiates and an impromptu orgy, which climaxes with Shelley climbing naked on the rooftop because he believes it is "the spark of creation." They decide that they have the godlike power to bring forth a new creation by resurrecting the dead -- only for Claire to collapse in a seizure.

As the night goes on, the five of them are haunted by the ghosts their little ritual has conjured up -- Polidori's sexual guilt, Mary's past miscarriage, and the feelings simmering between the two brilliant poets. Strange sex and grotesque visions plague the people in the villa, as they become convinced that they did indeed call something forth -- and that if they don't send it back, it will drive them all mad.

Some of the weirdest aspects of "Gothic" are actually rooted in fact -- for instance, the seemingly random scene where Shelley start rambling about a woman with eyes in her nipples is actually based on something that happened. But a lot of the weirdness is purely Ken Russell's doing -- the whole movie has an overheated, sweaty, hallucinatory quality, like something you might dream of when you were really sick and feverish.

Furthermore, Russell drapes the story in past cinema (a heavy influence from Italian giallo) and art (Fuseli's "Nightmare" is very explicitly referenced when Mary dreams of an imp perching on her sleeping body), and name-drops quite a few works of actual gothic literature and/or Romantic poetry. It adds a sheen of respectability to the goings-on.

Unfortunately, the movie ends up collapsing under the weight of its own artistic pretensions, becoming a grotesquely silly, overwrought experience that is just trying to build up to the "shocking" moment when Byron finally kisses Shelley. Male bisexuality among artists -- how shocking. Until then, Russell just peppers the feverish story with all sorts of random moments, mostly filled with phallic symbolism (a snake on a suit of armor -- WHAT DOES IT MEAN?) and some truly baffling scenes that lead nowhere (a confused-looking Shelley watching a robotic belly-dancer).

Russell also had a glorious cast to work with -- Byrne, Richardson, Sands, Spall, all respected actors who have done excellent work elsewhere. Unfortunately, they are all MESMERIZINGLY bad here. Byrne seems checked out and listless throughout most of the movie, Richardson looks baffled by whatever she's doing, and Sands manages to give a performance both flat and manic, scenery-chewing through speeches about galvanometers and narcolepsy.

It also is painfully misrepresentational of the real-life people at the villa. Shelley is perhaps the only one written well, as you can see why this golden-haired, strangely childlike poet would enchant any man or woman. But Byron is almost exclusively depicted as a sadistic manipulator. Claire is just a goggle-eyed, giggling nymphomaniacal goblin who fantasizes about being raped by suits of armor, and spends the movie's climax slithering around the wine cellar covered in filth, like a pornographic Gollum.

And Mary is depicted as -- of all things -- a flat, prim, dull woman who would be completely unremarkable if we didn't know what she would later write. There's not a spark of genius or even charisma in this portrayal, just of a weepy, prissy woman who barely tolerates her lover's infidelity.

But the worst depiction is of Polidori. I don't know why Russell apparently loathed Polidori so much, but almost every aspect of him is misrepresented here. In real life, he was a young, stunningly beautiful, hotheaded, bisexual genius who probably had a crush on Mary Shelley. In this movie, he's a simpering, sweaty, unattractive, middle-aged gay man who is tormented by religious guilt over his sexuality -- which seems unlikely in circles where bisexuality and free love were common. Russell even goes so far as to suggest that he committed suicide because he must have been gay (depicted with a face-full of grotesque makeup), even though the motives for his suicide are pretty well-known.

"Gothic" was clearly meant to be a trippy grotesquerie, and in that it was successful. But it also has mesmerizingly bad acting, pretensions of art, and horrifically twisted personalities that it's almost impossible to care about.

Mirror Mirror / Miroir Miroir (Bilingual)
Mirror Mirror / Miroir Miroir (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Julia Roberts
Price: CDN$ 4.88
16 used & new from CDN$ 1.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Snow would have to fall, Feb. 28 2015
Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there was a director named Tarsem Singh. Tarsem had magical abilities to create spellbindingly lovely sets and costumes, in a way that few other directors could. But Tarsem was constantly plagued by an evil force: mediocre scripts that didn't do justice to his spellbinding visuals and direction.

Yes, "Mirror Mirror" is yet another movie in the series that I like to call "Movies That Let Tarsem Singh Down Because He Didn't Write Them." This comedic retelling of the Grimm fairy tale "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" is not actually a bad movie, mostly due to Tarsem's focus on the dwarves and the prince -- but the excessive wackiness and the wooden acting of Lily Collins don't do the story justice.

I won't bother summing up the origins of Snow White, because everyone probably already knows it. In this version, the evil queen (Julia Roberts) has been ruling the kingdom for ten years, ever since the king (Sean Bean) was presumed dead because of a monstrous beast in the woods. His daughter Snow White (Collins) has practically been a prisoner for that decade, not realizing that the queen's expensive tastes are grinding the commonfolk into poverty.

Now that the queen has bankrupted her whole country, she's on the prowl for a rich guy to refill the coffers -- and when the wealthy young prince Andrew (Armie Hammer) turns up, having been robbed and stripped by bandits, she decides he's her next husband.

When Snow White finally figures out how cruel the queen is, she ends up fleeing into the snowy woods, where she is taken in by a group of dwarf bandits with... accordion legs. She soon becomes one of them after a training montage, gets a costume change, and manages to rescue a bespelled, puppy-like Prince Andrew from a wedding. But unfortunately her stepmother has figured out that Snow White isn't dead, and is determined to fix that problem.

I am not sure whose brilliant idea it was to make the story of Snow White a wacky comedy. Seriously, it's not something that comes to mind when I think of Grimm's fairy tales. But the resulting movie is... not terrible. It's not that good either, especially since it seems acutely aware of its own arch humour. But it does have an airy, artificially-flavoured charm, especially when it veers away from the traditional fairy tale and tries to do its own thing.

The story itself moves along at a brisk pace, with lots of wacky jokes (the dwarves keep getting locked in their own house), modern dialogue ("There's 'I'm in the same room as a prince' crazy, and then there's good old fashioned plain traditional psycho crazy") and the queen constantly saying not-witty "funny" things that seem to be winking at the audience. It's pretty pedestrian until Prince Andrew and the dwarves enter the story, when it suddenly gets an injection of life, and the story feels less pristinely Disneyesque and more like a well-rounded comedy.

And as usual, the story kind of pales beside Tarsem's direction. There are some missteps (the forest seems to be about an acre square and filled with fake trees), but he brings a genuinely spellbinding aesthetic to the magic and costuming -- for instance, the "mirror mirror" actually involves the queen walking through a portal, and emerging from the sea in a mirror dimension where she can speak to her suppressed "good side."

In fact, the entire aesthetic feels very fairy-tale -- the snow-draped castle that seems to be made of marble and spun sugar, with glittering balls and sweeping gowns. But since this is Tarsem, he brings a slightly eccentric, hallucinatory element to his design. Consider the accordion-legs that the dwarves use when robbing people, or the Bollywood musical number that closes out the movie.

One problem is that Lily Collins is.... bad. She is worthy of many cringes throughout the movie's first half, playing another oh-so-pure-hearted, ineffectual princess who talks in a floaty voice and is so wooden you could drill holes in her. She does thankfully improve when the dwarves give Snow White an action-chick makeover, and suddenly she becomes a stronger, more independent heroine who decides SHE wants to save the day. She doesn't become GOOD, but she becomes tolerable.

And while Julia Roberts is quite well-cast as a vain, evil queen, she's miscast in the sense that... it's hard to be upset about someone else being "the fairest" when you weren't that pretty to start with.

The real scene-stealers here are Hammer and the dwarves, played by Danny Woodburn, Martin Klebba, Sebastian Saraceno, Jordan Prentice, Mark Povinelli, Joe Gnoffo, Ronald Lee Clark. Hammer's prince is a rather clueless but nice guy who spends a lot of time having bad, wacky things happen to him, and he's a fairly likable person. And the dwarf actors -- despite each having a single defining character trait a la Disney -- are absolutely delightful, with perfect comic timing and plenty of personality.

"Mirror Mirror" is a movie that teeters back and forth between the sublime and the ridiculous -- and if they had toned down on Roberts' one-liners ("They're just... crinkles!") and gotten a lead actress who can act, it would have been quite good. As it is, watch it for the seven dwarves.

Murdoch Mysteries: The Movies
Murdoch Mysteries: The Movies
DVD ~ Colm Meaney
Price: CDN$ 35.99
15 used & new from CDN$ 26.78

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Murder in gaslight, Feb. 24 2015
Before he was the protagonist of a TV series, Detective William Murdoch had a DIFFERENT kind of mystery series -- three TV movies starring Peter Outerbridge.

And "The Murdoch Mysteries Movie Collection" is very different from the gleaming, quirky steampunk of the TV series. Instead, the three TV movies are less glamorous and more realistic in tone -- they're more about the dirt, seediness and shadows of Victorian Toronto, where prostitution, drugs, insane asylums and brutal murders can only be served by a quiet man on a bike.

"Except the Dying" puts Murdoch (Outerbridge) on the case of a girl found naked and strangled near the homes of several prostitutes. An autopsy by coroner Dr. Julia Ogden (Keely Hawes) reveals that the girl was not only drugged with opium, but was pregnant. And Murdoch soon discovers that the girl was connected to a rich, powerful family with some nasty secrets of their own.

In "Poor Tom is Cold," Murdoch is shocked by the apparent suicide of a bright young policeman. But when his fingerprint evidence is dismissed in court, he has to find new evidence to support the murder theory -- including a prostitute hired to act, a family with a madwoman who may not be mad, and a fiancee who was engaged to two men at once. Who had the means, motive and opportunity?

Finally, "Under the Dragon's Tail" has Murdoch discovering that an alcoholic woman's death may have been due to something else -- she was an illegal abortionist. Despite his revulsion, Murdoch begins investigating the many motives, including her religious neighbors and the one-off boyfriend of a pregnant girl. But his case goes into nasty territory when he learns of a connection to a wealthy, prominent judge and his family... and a missing book that holds all the dead woman's secrets.

"The Murdoch Mysteries Movie Collection" is a much darker kind of mystery than the spinoff series -- everything seems grimy and shadowy, lit by unflattering gas lamps. There's a greater emphasis on the struggles of women (prostitution, the brutally nightmarish asylum) and the lower classes than you usually see in late 1800s/early 1900s stories, as well as the early stages of modern police work.

However, the grimness of Murdoch's working life is gently leavened with a tinge of romance, and some gently humorous scenes (Murdoch's attempts to learn how to waltz, which his tired teacher compares to a "water buffalo"). The biggest problem is that the denouements of the first two mysteries are... a little confusing. The motives of the murders aren't fully explained.

And Peter Outerbridge does a simply superb job as Murdoch -- he captures the sadness and compassion of a man who genuinely believes in justice, guided by his strong Roman Catholic faith. Even when he condemns a murder victim (like the abortionist) he still tries to give them the justice they deserve, respecting every one even after death ("Someone must speak for the dead").

And there's a solid supporting cast, especially the two women who come to love Murdoch: Keely Hawes as a cool, clever doctor with a knack for autopsies, and Flora Montgomery as a fiery prostitute/fortune-teller. The always-awesome Colm Meaney makes a good Inspector Brackenreid, who often puts political pressure on Murdoch's investigations; and Hélène Joy (who later plays Ogden in the TV series) has a single brilliant role here.

"The Murdoch Mysteries Movie Collection" is a darker, grimmer kind of Detective Murdoch story than you may be used to, but the brilliant performances and subtle crimes are stellar.

Broadchurch: Season 2
Broadchurch: Season 2
DVD ~ David Tennant
Price: CDN$ 11.49
22 used & new from CDN$ 11.49

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not guilty, Feb. 24 2015
This review is from: Broadchurch: Season 2 (DVD)
The first season of "Broadchurch" was mystery TV at its most sublime -- the story followed both the effect of a murder on a small town, and the police investigation unfolding over several weeks.

And I admit, I expected "Broadchurch Season 2" to be similar in theme. Instead, the sophomore season dives into a complicated court case to determine whether the person we know is guilty IS guilty, along with the the case that originally disgraced Hardy. It's a fragmented, often overwrought season that swings wildly between things we already know (the trial) and the ridiculously convoluted, inept Sandbrook subplot.

During Joe Miller's (Matthew Gravelle ) trial, he shocks everyone by pleading not guilty to the murder of Danny Latimer -- meaning that a full trial, with evidence and testimony and possible acquittal, is going to happen. This not only devastates the Latimer family -- who are expecting a baby any day now -- but Joe's soon-to-be-ex-wife Ellie (Olivia Colman), who has gone into personal and professional exile.

Beth (Jodie Whittaker) and Mark Lattimer (Andrew Buchan) desperately want to hire the brilliant former barrister Jocelyn Knight QC (Charlotte Rampling), and she agrees only because Joe has hired her vicious protege, Sharon Bishop (Marianne Jean-Baptiste). But as the weeks drag on, the residents of Broadchurch are hit by a new wave of devastating accusations from the lawyers -- of betrayal, abuse, infidelity and murder.

In the meantime, Ellie discovers that Detective Inspector Hardy (David Tennant) has been secretly hiding a woman in Broadchurch -- Claire Ripley (Eve Myles), wife of the main suspect of the disastrous Sandbrook double-murder case. Even worse, Claire's husband Lee Ashworth (James D'Arcy) is now in Broadchurch, and he's searching for his wife. This reunion inspires the ailing Hardy to focus all his energy on reopening the Sandbrook case.

One of the fascinating parts of "Broadchurch" was that it followed two intertwined stories -- the police investigation, and the repercussions on the townsfolk. Not only was the crime-solving very realistic, in its painstaking gathering of details and testimonies, but it felt like it happened in a real place, with realistic people. Sadly, that feeling is gone in the second season. It also has two stories... but there is absolutely no connection between them. They might as well be two different TV shows.

Since we already know who the murderer was and all the details of the case... the only suspense is whether he'll get off or not. The writers try to present the facts in a suspenseful manner, as though some new evidence will arise or a new suspect will be found... but it never does. It's effectively the first season being slowly recapped in a courtroom, only with more accusations that we already know are false (such as the claim that Ellie is having an affair with Alec).

Only a few residents of Broadchurch are involved, and they appear barely as cameos. The newspaper people, Nigel and Susan, Lucy, Tom -- all these have a small part in the court proceedings, but are otherwise absent. The new personal subplots -- Jocelyn's emnity with Sharon, her late-in-life same-sex romance with Maggie, Susan's illness -- are handled in such a rushed, halfhearted way that nothing really comes of them.

Only the Reverend Coates gets any real screentime, mostly to ineffectually urge Joe to reverse his plea, and then just sort of hang around looking sad. The only townsfolk who get any attention are the Lattimers, and that is mainly so Beth can vent her rage on Ellie and Mark, and Mark can sit around being repressed.

The whole court case might not have been so bad had we been presented with a good murder case... but we're not. It's hard to care about thee Sandbrook case, since there is no emotional stake. The victims aren't introduced as human beings until the final episode (when we see a flashback of them alive), and the parents are barely introduced, let alone developed. It's a big seething mess of lies, obvious lies, more lies, convoluted plot twists, and a crime so ridiculous that it borders on farce.

The one saving grace of this series is the acting: Tennant and Colman still have excellent chemistry, and Tennant gets to show more fire and intensity (and brogue!) as he throws himself into a case he's actually passionate about. Rampling has a quiet dignity as an aging barrister who, frankly, does a pretty awful job in court. D'Arcy is excellent as a menacing, muscular man overshadowed by a murder, and Myles is similarly great as a devious liar who may be using Alec for her own ends.

After the perfection of the first season, "Broadchurch Season Two" is a flop -- two disconnected stories, neither of which work. It would have been better to just have a new crime to solve, rather than a torturous recap and a halfhearted cold case.

Jason: An Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Novel
Jason: An Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Novel
by Laurell K. Hamilton
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.99
39 used & new from CDN$ 1.82

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Alert: puppy pile ahead, Feb. 23 2015
Not too long ago, author Laurell K. Hamilton came out as polyamorous and bisexual. This information is for all the people out there who don't read the highlights of her life... lucky jerks.

Normally I wouldn't comment on the personal life of an author in a review of one of their books, but that almost impossible to do that when it comes to Hamilton's second Anita Blake side-novel, "Jason." This novel is effectively part of Hamilton's ongoing fictionalization of her real life. Unfortunately, that means it's full of "kinky" and "edgy" sex as imagined by a sheltered evangelical Christian grandmother who only vaguely knows what BDSM is.

Jason has a problem -- he's in an open relationship with his lesbian-leaning bisexual girlfriend JJ, but she's not fulfilling his BDSM wants. She is totally okay with him having someone else do that for him, because she isn't into that. Yeah, the "problem" in this book isn't really a problem, but for some reason we're supposed to think it is. The real issue that is a single person in the vast far-reaching web of Anita's lovers' lovers is NOT into BDSM orgies. God forbid!

And of course, since JJ is bisexual, she needs to have both male and female lovers. Because we need one of the most harmful stereotypes of bisexuals, presented casually as a fact.

Jason wants Anita to educate JJ on how sex in the Anita Blake series works, which is that everyone must like the sex that Anita likes. So Anita is going to have sex with JJ, among other people, while also forcing her lover Jade to do things that terrify her, then blaming her when she doesn't like them. Effectively, Anita now has a white girlfriend, so she doesn't want the Asian one anymore.

Here's the problem with "Jason," as well as most of Hamilton's recent books -- nobody is allowed to be anything but what she is. According to her, you are an awful person if you are monogamous, monosexual (in practice or in sexuality), don't like painful sex, aren't okay with "sharing" or don't want to participate in orgies. God forbid she accept that different people express their sexuality in different ways.

It also takes place in a parallel universe where all people ever think or talk about is sex. Seriously. One character laments that she doesn't like taking showers because "you can never take a shower without a man thinking you want sex.” Maybe on Hamilton's home planet that is true.

And anyone hoping for vampire hunting in this "Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter" novel will be bitterly disappointed. The characters spend the book either:
A) Having sex
B) Talking about sex

Both of these are absolute torture, especially to anyone who doesn't like Hamilton's very specific fetishes (such as having her private parts "worried" as if by an angry terrier) or her tendency to talk about sexual body parts with the passion and eroticism of a half-asleep octogenarian schoolmarm. And it's full of cringeworthy things that she thinks are cool -- for instance, after some group sex, Nathaniel and Jason fist-bump like a pair of frat boys.

And you could play bingo with the tired, overworked Anita Blake tropes on display -- casual misogyny, biphobia, hatred of blondes, random rage, bashing Richard, Nathaniel being creepy, Anita whining about her dead mom/ex-fiance/looks/anything imperfect like Jason not drinking his coffee, and pages and pages of descriptions of clothes and hair.

But the most hideous part of the book is how the character of Jade is treated -- since Jade is wildly androphobic and won't "get over it" for Anita's convenience, Anita decides to FORCE Jade to have sexual contact with males. She does this, sobbing and terrified. So we learn that Anita wants a girlfriend to emphasize how she's "edgy" (in the pop music "I kissed a girl and I liked it" sense), but doesn't want to be bothered by actually caring about an abuse survivor. If ONE therapy session doesn't "fix" her then she clearly isn't willing to be fixed.

Needless to say, Anita now comes across as more evil than your average Bond villain -- all she needs is a shark tank for people who have displeased her. Anyone not "therapied" into a happy polyamorous Stepford wife is tormented, and she now demands that people sit in order of how much she likes them. Most hilariously, she has to be massaged into sexual bliss to avoid blowing up during a conference. She's like a mad monarch, but less impressive.

"Jason" manages to be disgusting, unintentionally hilarious AND grotesquely boring -- an impressive feat for any paranormal romance, especially one that doesn't even have a plot. Dodge this silver bullet.

Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham
Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham
by J.R.R. Tolkien
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
56 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars In the vulgar tongue, Feb. 23 2015
While most of his genius went into the world of Middle-Earth and its fantastical history, JRR Tolkien produced a number of smaller stories during his life.

Two of the best-known examples: "Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham," which pairs together a beautifully fantastical fable that drips with Tolkien's love of fairy tales.... and a wacky story about a not-very-frightening dragon and the hapless hero who is after him. While these two novellas are very different in style, they have Tolkien's love of mystery and magic, language and humor.

"Smith of Wootton Major" takes place in a little town "not very long ago for those with long memories, not very far away fro those with long legs." The Master Cook of that village takes a vacation, and returns with an apprentice in tow. But something odd happens at the Feast of the Cake -- the cook stirs in a "fay-star" with little trinkets in the cake, and it's accidentally swallowed by a boy there.

The boy (later called Smith) is changed by the fay-star, which sparkles on his forehead. When he grows up, Smith ventures into Faery itself, and even meets the Faery Queen herself. The message she gives him is for her mysterious, missing husband, the King -- who turns out to be the last person anybody in Wootton Major would have expected.

And in "Farmer Giles of Ham," Aegidius de Hammo (or in the "vulgar tongue," as Tolkien archly tells us, Farmer Giles of Ham) is a pleasant, not-too-bright farmer (a bit like Barliman Butterbur) who leads a fairly happy, sedate life. Until the day his excitable dog Garm warns him that a giant (deaf and very near-sighted) is stomping through and causing mayhem. Giles takes out his blunderbuss and takes a shot at the giant, and inadverantly drives him off.

Naturally, Giles is hailed as a hero. Even the King is impressed, and sends him the sword Caudimordax (vulgar name: Tailbiter), which belonged to a dragonslaying hero. By chance, the not-so-fierce dragon Chrysophylax Dives has started pillaging, destroying and attacking the nearby areas. Can a not-so-heroic farmer drive off a not-so-frightening dragon?

While these aren't Tolkien's deepest or most intricate stories, they do show the range of his writing. One is a robust little comedy of fantastical proportions, and one of them is a delicate, crystalline piece of moonlit prettiness. They have almost nothing in common, except that British-country atmosphere that Tolkien brought to every hero's home.

Specifically, "Farmer Giles of Ham" is wacky and arch, especially since Tolkien expertly blends the whole high fantasy thing with a wicked sense of humour ("if it is your notion to go dragonhunting jingling and dingling like Canterbury Bells, it ain't mine"). And he has some fun little linguistic jokes woven in, along with the gentle parody of high fantasy cliches that HE CREATED (Caudimordax, a sword which is incapable of being sheathed if a dragon is within five miles of it).

"Smith of Wootton Major" is not humorous, but it is beautiful. His glimpses of Faerieland are too brief, but written with the exquisite, haunting quality of his better-known works ("Once in these wanderings he was overtaken by a grey mist and strayed long at a loss, until the mist rolled away and he found that he was in a wide plain"). And he gives the impression of a world of magic far greater than any human could grasp ("... bearing the white ships that return from battles on the Dark Marches of which men know nothing").

The characters of "Smith" are somewhat less developed and memorable, though Smith himself is a fascinating little allegorical figure -- the fairy star is the creative spark, and Smith the one who can see the Fairyland that inspires great art. Farmer Giles is a little easier to like immediately, being a good-hearted, somewhat thick "ordinary" person with an excitable dog and a rather inoffensive dragon.

"Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham" pairs together two shining gems of early fantasy -- one an enchanted fable, the other a tongue-in-cheek comedy of errors. For those seeking more Tolkien, these are a must.

Housebound [Import]
Housebound [Import]
Price: CDN$ 19.97
21 used & new from CDN$ 8.79

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Halfway house of the damned, Feb. 23 2015
This review is from: Housebound [Import] (DVD)
I've learned something over the years -- New Zealanders seem to find it difficult to make a straightforward horror movie. They have this quirky sensibility that just seeps into their horror movies.

And we can add "Housebound" to the pile of very funny, quirky horror movies that came from New Zealand, and definitely one of the better examples. This very low budget film would be a somewhat passable haunted-house/murder mystery if it weren't so quirky, but it definitely wouldn't be as memorable or delightfully weird. Case in point: there is a demonic Teddy Ruxpin that seems to be stalking the heroine.

After a failtastic ATM robbery gone wrong, Kylie (Morgana O'Reilly) is sentenced to eight months of house arrest in her old family home, with her chatterbox mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) and quiet stepmother Graeme (Ross Harper). Kylie does little except eat and lie around watching daytime TV, much to her mother's dismay -- and after Miriam calls in to a radio show, declaring that there is a bedsheeted ghost in her house, Kylie heaps even more disdain on her.

Then she wanders down into the basement at night... and a hand grabs her ankle. Security guard/anklet monitor Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) believes the declaration that there is a ghost in the house, and insists that Kylie should help it find peace.

Investigating some old stuff in the basement, Kylie soon finds out that her childhood home is actually a former halfway house -- and there was a gruesome murder shortly before her mother bought the place. After finding some crucial evidence, she unsurprisingly thinks it was the creepy redneck neighbor -- but soon discovers that the truth about both the ghost and the murder is far stranger than she could have imagined. And it might get both her and Miriam killed.

Consider "Housebound" tio be an example of how low budgets don't equal poor quality -- this movie was made on a mere quarter of a million US dollars, and has no huge stars in it. It excels because it's just really, really well made, from the drifting camerawork to the spooky, perpetually shadowy interior lighting, fizzy electronica and some really jarring scenes like a sheeted figure looming over one of the cops while the lights flicker on and off.

Writer/director Gerard Johnstone also seems to be drawing inspiration from some classic movies like "The Changeling" and "The Shining," in a way that still feels fresh rather than derivative. But he brings something extra to the table -- that wickedly quirky New Zealand sense of humor. While still harrowing and spooky, he brings humor to the movie from the very first scene (the ATM robbery is crammed with fail). So we get everything from the subtle (Kylie trying to pry her sleeping neighbor's dental plate out) to the gloriously weird (a killer chases Kylie and Miriam with a giant knife... while stuck inside a laundry hamper).

If there's a flaw, it's the slightly disorienting shift that takes place towards the climax, when the whole ghost concept is dropped like a stone in favor of a more earthly explanation for everything that's going on. I actually found this incredibly confusing when I first saw the movie, and had to see it another time before I fully comprehended it.

It takes a while to warm up to O'Reilly's Kylie, which is clearly the intention -- Kylie is a bratty, self-absorbed woman who doesn't seem to have gotten past her teen rebellion phase, and who blames her mother for... existing. Her transition into a decent human being isn't explicitly explored (there's no psychobabble moment that changes everything), but she gradually changes into a scrappy, strong-willed heroine who actually cares about other people.

There aren't a lot of supporting actors, but they are all excellent -- Wiata as Kylie's sweet, chatterboxy mother and who just wants to live a pleasant life; Harper as her pleasant rarely-speaking husband; and a delightful turn by Waru as Kylie's monitor/partner-in-investigation, who steadfastly believes in ghosts and occasionally smacks some sense into our anti-heroine. He's a delight, and we should see him in more movies.

And... Eugene. Ryan Lampp's Eugene. It's impossible to describe Eugene without giving away the entire twist of the movie, except to say that he looks like a perpetually-surprised goth squirrel-man. He is one of the greatest characters in the world, and it's a shame we don't see more of him.

Clever, smart and spooky, "Housebound" manages to take a lot of cliches and make them feel fresh as new. A must-see for those who like some laughs with their blood and spookery... and possibly a three-quarter-size Jesus statue.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Bilingual)
Kingsman: The Secret Service (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Colin Firth
Price: CDN$ 8.97
7 used & new from CDN$ 8.25

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Are we going to stand around here ALL day, or are we going to fight?, Feb. 23 2015
Here's an idea for you -- James Bond in the style of "Kick Ass," with a side of Harry Potter. Awesome? Awful?

Yeah, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" -- based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons's comic book series -- could have been the biggest, most grotesque flop in years. Instead, it ends up being a quirky, clever spy thriller that uses all the cliches in fresh ways -- it has the updated villains and razor-edged violence of newer spy movies movies, combined with the style and Empire sensibilities of the older ones. Also, Colin Firth as a secret agent.

Smart but aimless, Gary "Eggsy" Unwin is like thousands of other working-class British youths -- he lives in a rotten little apartment with his neurotic mother and abusive stepfather, and has gotten in some scrapes with the law. The one unusual thing about him is that when his father died under classified circumstances, and a mysterious man named Harry Hart (Colin Firth) left him with a medal, a phone number, and a code phrase for if the Unwin family ever needed help.

When he's arrested for car theft, Eggsy calls the number and is promptly bailed out by Hart. He soon finds out that Hart isn't just an aristocratic gentleman -- he's a Kingsman agent who can easily take down a whole pub full of thugs. So when Eggsy is offered a new life as a Kingsman, he takes it immediately. There's only one opening, but his street smarts, kindness and intelligence put him far ahead of the Oxbridge-educated youths he's competing against.

While he's undergoing a grueling training regimen, the Kingsmen are investigating a plot involving a kidnapped professor, a dead Kingsman agent, and the lisping billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Celebrities and world dignitaries are going missing, and Valentine's plans for the world may be the most devastating ever. Can the Kingsmen — new and old — bring him down?

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a fascinating take on the whole secret agent cliche. It both subverts (Eggsy) and affectionately homages (Harry) the whole idea of the upper-crust secret agent who loves fine liquor, fine suits and dangerous missions -- and unlike many a homage, is entirely entertaining in its own right. This is the kind of movie where a diabolical villain has a giant cheesy prison where he keeps everyone who won't agree to his master plan!

And it has some gloriously over-the-top action scenes, including some Bond-style goons (including an acrobatic assassin with bladed prosthetic legs) and stylishly gruesome violence (flips, flying teeth, heads exploding with fireworks), which are glorious when handled with the sort of sleek, elegant style of the Kingsmen (one of them catches a glass of fine whisky in mid-fight because "It would be a sin to spill any"). Paired with that is a wicked sense of humor, such as a villain who plans to kill everyone on the planet... but can't cope with the sight of blood.

But it also has a surprising amount of substance, mainly by looking at the class system still unofficially in place in, among other places, England. The leader of the Kingsmen makes it clear that he wants "the right sort" to be these positions, and Eggsy has to complete with a bunch of people who have all the advantages in life. "... judging people like from your ivory towers, with no thought about why we do what we do." Kids like Eggsy can do great things, but only if given the opportunity.

What flaws does it have? Well, the whole "Kingsman education" sequence is skimmed over as quickly as they can manage (partly by putting Harry in a months-long movie coma), but it STILL kills all momentum going on in the movie. Things don't pick up again until Eggsy is almost finished.

The elder Kingsmen are a who's-who of beloved British actors -- Michael Caine, Mark Strong, and of course Colin Firth as a gloriously gentlemanly agent who can take out a whole pub full of thugs with only an umbrella and a watch. He has good fatherly chemistry with Taron Egerton, a brashly endearing youth who just needs a door opened to show off that he's smart (despite not knowing a pug from a bulldog), strong and compassionate. And of course, Jackson is clearly having the time of his life as an old-school destroy-the-world villain who serves McDonald's at his exclusive dinner parties.

Despite losing its way in the training montage, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" is a fun, wild adventure that blows a kiss to the old-timey spy thrillers, while also carving out a niche of its own with bladed feet. Smart, sleek and entertainingly violent.

Lord of Illusions (Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]
Lord of Illusions (Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Scott Bakula
Price: CDN$ 28.49
24 used & new from CDN$ 21.83

5.0 out of 5 stars Taste the darkness, D'Amour, Feb. 20 2015
If someone told you that Clive Baker had written and directed a noir thriller... then "Lord of Illusions" is exactly the kind of movie that you'd expect him to produce. In other words, Barker's third full-length movie -- adapted from his short story "The Last Illusion" -- fulfills a lot of the tropes of a hard-boiled mystery, but interwoven with shadowy magic, fleshy gore and pure nightmare fuel. Oh, and Scott Bakula as a detective with a special knack for the supernatural.

Thirteen years ago, a group of friends broke into the compound of the evil cult leader Nix (Daniel von Bargen) to free a young girl he was planning to sacrifice. Swann (Kevin J. O'Connor), a former acolyte of Nix's, manages to kill him by sealing his head in a steel mask, but not before Nix screws with his head.

In the present day (aka, 1995), private detective Harry D'Amour (Bakula) is in the dumps after exorcising a demon from a young boy. I know that's what I call private detectives for: exorcisms. A friend of his sends him on a mundane, easy insurance-fraud case in Los Angeles, hoping that some sunshine will improve Harry's mood... but Harry almost immediately stumbles across a gruesome murder committed by two of Nix's followers.

Then Harry is hired by Dorothea (Famke Jansson), Swann's beautiful wife. Swann has done quite well for himself, becoming a famous illusionist... but that night, he dies in an escape trick gone horribly wrong, and Harry encounters the same thugs who committed the previous murder backstage. As he tries to figure out who has killed Swann and his former cohorts, Harry soon realizes that dark magic is involved in this case -- and it might just bring Nix back from the grave.

"Lord of Illusions" has a lot of the tropes of a standard noir thriller, like you would expect from Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett -- you have a witty, world-weary private eye, a beautiful woman, a long-ago crime that everyone is hiding, and so on. But this noir just happens to involve a cult of crazed Manson-style worshipers, blood-soaked magic, and a bad guy who literally wants to murder every person on the planet.

And where most directors would have to work to unite "bloody horror" and "film noir," Barker makes it feel very seamless. His direction veers between a complicated murder mystery (stabbings, suicides) and sorcery (burning specters) without any real divide between them, and Harry never has any skepticism to work past.

It also has one of the most shocking intros to appear in a full-length movie, since the downfall of Nix almost feels like a short film on its own (although I'm not sure why there is a mandrill in these scenes). After that, Barker swathes the movie in a sense of creeping horror, the feeling that something twisted and rotting is creeping into the mundane world. In the meantime, he also gives us lots of gore, including people repeatedly stabbed, shot, burned, and a guy impaled on a massive steel pipe -- not to mention the hideous quicksand scene.

He also creates some eerie, skin-crawling dialogue ("You ever watched a man die? If you watch very closely, you can sometimes see the soul escaping") and some true nightmare fuel. "Flesh Through A God's Eyes" is a prime example, where the person sees the skin of those around him split and slough off, revealing thready, slimy monstrosities in the void within.

Scott Bakula gives a very solid performance as the supernatural detective -- Harry has no special powers, just an unfortunate attraction to the supernatural. So he has the weary, worn-down feel of a man who has seen too much, yet he is still noble enough to not be corrupted by Nix. He has good chemistry with Janssen as the not-very-fatale femme, who married Swann out of gratitude but falls in love with Harry; O'Connor gives a skittery, nihilistic performance as Swann; and von Bargen is absolutely nightmarish as the casually sadistic villain, who wants to blast the world into a ruined cinder.

This edition is particularly worth having, since it contains both the R-rated theatrical version and the unrated director's cut. They aren't dramatically different, but the director's cut flows slightly better -- there are some character introduction scenes ("Where'd the flower go?"), more gore, a full-on love scene rather than just the implied sex, and some further fleshing-out of Swann's motives. It also looks like some of the special effects may have been cleaned up.

"Lord of Illusions" is a spellbindingly sharp, tightly-written story that seamlessly blends film noir with the dark, gruesome horror that Clive Barker is best known for. It just leaves you sad that he didn't direct more films.

Stargate 20th Anniversary [Blu-ray] [Import]
Stargate 20th Anniversary [Blu-ray] [Import]
Price: CDN$ 19.90
22 used & new from CDN$ 12.65

3.0 out of 5 stars Enter the Stargate, Feb. 20 2015
If you've ever seen "Stargate SG-1" or its spinoffs, then you're already familiar with the idea of a stargate -- a big stone ring that opens a wormhole to other planets.

But the concept started with "Stargate," the movie that first spawned the ideas that were later fleshed out into an epic TV show. And taken on its own merits, "Stargate" is a pretty entertaining blockbuster with some big flaws. It uncomfortably straddles the fence between "shoot-em-up bombs'n'action" and "mythology sci-fi," but provides a solid villain, some sketchy writing, and the foundation for a hit TV show. Well, it's definitely far better than your average sci-fi blockbuster.

Egyptologist Daniel Jackson (James Spader) has just lost his job due to his wacked-out, History Channel-style theories about ancient Egypt. Immediately afterwards, a mysterious old lady invites him to become involved in a secret Air Force project, which somehow involves examining some obscure hieroglyphs. When Daniel figures out what the signs are, the Air Force reluctantly shows him what he's working towards -- a massive stone ring found in Giza decades ago. When they apply his work to the computer controlling the stargate, the Air Force is able to open a wormhole to a distant galaxy.

A recon team is sent through as soon as possible, led by the grieving Colonel O'Neil (Kurt Russell) and including Daniel so he can (theoretically) get them back to Earth. This new world is a desert planet, inhabited by a race of primitive human slaves who practically worship the strangers. But things turn deadly when a pyramid ship descends on the desert, and a malevolent "god" decides to obliterate Earth -- using a nuclear bomb O'Neil brought along.

"Stargate" is not a terribly complicated story, especially compared to its spinoff material. It has a pretty straightforward action plot -- nerdy scientist opens gateway to distant planet, good guys go to distant planet, bad guy shows up and makes trouble, good guys attack bad guy with the help of plucky natives, one side wins. This movie admittedly doesn't add much to the typical formula, but it does dress it up with gilded robes, giant stone statues, glittering starships and sandswept deserts.

In fact, spectacle is what "Stargate" excels at -- it has big armies of invading, big ships, big pyramids, and big battles with Ra's warriors. When it comes to gun battles and explosions, Roland Emmerich does a pretty decent job. However, he gets mesmerized by the gilded interior of Ra's starship and the androgynous alien "god" slinking around in elaborate robes. The middle part of the movie is very slow-moving, and it stumbles somewhat at reconciling the guns-and-bombs action movie with the glittering mythological bent of the story.

The character development is a also rather clumsy, particularly when Emmerich strains to deal with serious topics like guilt and the death of a child ("I don't want to die. Your men don't want to die. These people don't want to die. It's a shame you're in such a hurry to"). Daniel's romance with a chief's daughter is rather charming, though, and the interactions with the people of Abydos are more interesting because nobody speaks the same language.

While Daniel is little more than the "standard nerd" here, Spader pretty much steals the show as the mild-mannered nerd who finds himself on the adventure of a lifetime. And the geek gets the alien princess, not the military grunts -- a nice change from the typical trope. Russell is stuck with a rather stiff, humourless military man, although he loosens up in the last lap and gets to show some wit and cleverness. And Alexis Cruz, Mili Avital and Erick Avari all get kudos for making the lovable, deep characters come alive without a word of English.

"Stargate" relies on spectacle and slam-bang action scenes to keep the audience amused, despite a rather thin plot and some equally thin character development. If nothing else, it was the springboard for one of the best sci-fi TV shows in existence.

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20