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E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA)
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Big Eyes (Bilingual)
Big Eyes (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Amy Adams
Price: CDN$ 16.88
4 used & new from CDN$ 16.88

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When I see those "Big Eyes", Jan. 26 2015
This review is from: Big Eyes (Bilingual) (DVD)
Tim Burton has kind of lost it in recent years. He's had too much bad comic relief, too much pancake makeup, and too many roles where Johnny Depp mugs for the camera like a deranged lemur.

But "Big Eyes" may hint that he's gotten his creative spark back. This biographical movie about artist Margaret Keane is a much more subdued, character-driven piece -- while Burton's darker and/or over-the-top sensibilities occasionally surface, it's in a more subtle, believable way. And Amy Adams gives a sublime performance, completely vanishing into the persona of the trembly-voiced, anxious woman who paints big-eyed children to express her own torment.

After leaving her cheating husband, Margaret (Adams) and her daughter begin a new life for themselves. Her only real skill is painting, and her paintings catch the eye of the more outgoing, charismatic "Sunday painter" Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), who paints shallow, mediocre cityscapes. Eventually they marry, and Walter begins trying to sell their artwork to galleries and clubs. When people start noticing Margaret's paintings -- all of large-eyed, tragic-looking waifs -- Walter takes credit for them himself.

Margaret is understandably upset by this, but Walter convinces her to support the ruse -- first by claiming that her paintings wouldn't sell otherwise, and then by pointing out that they are engaging in fraud and she'll end up in jail. So Margaret is sent off to a locked room to paint every day, churning out more and more pictures of "big eyes."

Walter's business acumen turns Margaret's art into a small empire, lavishing the pictures on all the right people and churning out inexpensive prints. But Margaret's simmering resentment comes to a boil as she realizes that her increasingly abusive husband is not just a con man, but an artistic fraud as well. And after he drives her away, she is inspired to finally reveal the truth about her paintings -- only for Walter to fight her back in court.

"Big Eyes" is probably the most "conventional" movie Burton has done in a long time, since most of it is handled in a smooth, elegant but fairly non-goth-kitschy style. There are many sunny windows full of light, smooth white buildings in California and colorful gardens filled with Hawaiian blooms, not to mention the palatial modern house of the Keanes. The darkest place in the whole movie is a nightclub, and at times it feels like Burton is holding back a little too much.

However, it's still recognizably Burton. For instance, one scene has Margaret wandering through a grocery store, having a bizarre hallucination where everyone around her has... BIG EYES. Big, spooky, zombie-like painted eyes. Yes, she finds this as terrifying as I do. In fact, the whole "big eyes" art style, with its dark eerie quality and huge eyes, seems like a natural focus for Burton's style, and it adds the note of gothic whimsy to the movie without being over-the-top about it.

But most of the darkness comes from the slow emotional imprisonment of Margaret. She is trapped in a soul-choking web of lies and finally abuse, which start out small and seemingly innocuous, but which accelerate little by little until she's being chased through the house by a grinning, drunken Walter, who tries to ignite the cans of turpentine in her studio. Yet oddly, Burton finds some grotesque humor in the story, mostly from Walter's increasingly delusional insistence that he's the artist -- the climactic courtroom scene is a masterpiece of uncomfortable weirdness, topped by the gloriously irritable judge.

Amy Adams gives one of the best performances of her entire career here -- she vanishes into the doe-eyed, platinum-haired Margaret as if she were putting on a diving suit. Here Margaret is a fragile, shy creature who keeps trying to do the right thing, and channels all the unhappiness she feels into her big-eyed children. Through subtle acting, she conveys the flickers of angry strength that Margaret is starting to feel, the angry bitterness, and finally the quiet triumph of an artist who has reclaimed her work before the world.

And yes, Burton does let us know (via the narrator's breezy sum-ups) that Margaret's life was made even harder because of the times she lived in, when men dominated women all the time and women were taught to just smile and put up with it. But thankfully, he doesn't belabor the point with straw men or "wimmenz can do stuff too!" speeches.

The other half of the equation is Christoph Waltz. He is absolutely terrifying here -- he has the charm and charisma to make an utterly plausible sociopathic liar, but from the beginning there are hints that he is bad news. There's a subtle shift in Waltz's acting over time, where his wide friendly smiles become more manic, toothy grins with wild empty eyes. And his wild imagination tipples right over into borderline nutbagginess when he turns the courtroom into a one-man show of filibustering, talking to himself, and constant celebrity name-dropping.

While Tim Burton is perhaps a little TOO restrained sometimes, "Big Eyes" is a delightful little movie with top-notch acting from both Waltz and Adams. It's unnerving, funny and -- for Burton -- quite subtle.

The Young Victoria
The Young Victoria
DVD ~ Emily Blunt
Price: CDN$ 6.49
18 used & new from CDN$ 2.75

4.0 out of 5 stars The queen and the woman, Jan. 26 2015
This review is from: The Young Victoria (DVD)
Throughout history, most royal marriages have been between people who tolerated each other at best, passionately hated each other at worst (seriously, google King George IV and his views on HIS wife). Romantic love was saved for others.

One of the rare exceptions was Queen Victoria and her beloved husband Prince Albert. And while their marriage was based on a once-in-a-lifetime love, "The Young Victoria" pays attention to ALL the factors that brought these two together and made them effective, forward-thinking rulers -- love, politics and Victoria's oppressively weird childhood. A lot is resting on Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend, and they both deliver excellent performances.

Young Princess Victoria (Blunt) has been raised almost in isolation, smothered and harassed by her dim-witted mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), and her mother's abusive, power-hungry comptroller Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong). The sickly king (Jim Broadbent) is not happy about this, especially since Conroy is constantly trying to bully Victoria into signing a regency agreement, which would allow her mother (and him) to effectively rule the empire when she eventually becomes queen.

Fortunately, Victoria is too intelligent and strong-willed, forming an alliance with Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) to protect herself. UNfortunately, her cultivated naiveté means that everyone around her considers her easy to manipulate for their own ends.

However, the English nobility are not the only people trying to manipulate her. Her uncle Leopold (Thomas Kretschmann) and Baron Stockmar (Jesper Christensen) want a Coburg male to marry and control Victoria, so they send off the handsome, cultured Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). Albert isn't really comfortable with this, but he begins to fall genuinely in love with Victoria -- and she with him, once he drops the coaching of Baron Stockmar.

Then the king dies, and Victoria becomes the queen -- only to discover that even small decisions (choosing her ladies-in-waiting) have massive political repercussions that undermine the public's confidence in their new monarch. She also continues corresponding with Albert, who has some ideas for the betterment of Britain -- specifically, for the commonfolk that Victoria has been told to ignore. When they finally do marry, it's not for the political gain of others... but for themselves.

"The Young Victoria" is.... well, it's a story about love winning over politics. The story follows two young people trapped in political webs like two helpless flies, breaking free and finding love with one another as leaders, rather than as pawns. And for the most part, it's based on reality -- Victoria did love her husband so dearly that she had his clothes laid out after his death, and Albert was really a forward-thinker who promoted many causes now taken for granted.

It also presents 19th-century English politics in a fairly easy-to-understand format, for people who don't know much about early Victorian political climes. Director Jean-Marc Vallée does a pleasant but nondescript job here, although he presents the different facets of royal life through light -- Victoria's childhood is murky and closed-off, German rooms are all stark light and shadow, and Buckingham Palace is bright with with gold and glass. At times the pace can be slow, but the intertwining of different political plots with the burgeoning romance keeps it from getting sluggish.

The biggest problem with "The Young Victoria" is that, as with many historical movies, it does play fast-and-loose with some details for the sake of drama. For instance, while Victoria and Albert were shot AT a few times, Albert was never near-fatally wounded and dragged bleeding through the palace. But it makes a nice climax.

But a lot of the movie rests on the shoulders of Blunt and Friend. And they have charming chemistry, moving from the awkward adolescent crush of their first meeting to the strong bond between two co-rulers. Blunt is quite good as a vulnerable young girl who can also be strong and decisive, and she's backed by solid performances by Richardson, Broadbent, Bettany as a rather manipulative but not unkind Melbourne, Julian Glover, and many others.

But Friend deserves special praise for his depiction of Albert. His Albert is intelligent, attractive and more aware of the world than Victoria, and the movie makes a point of noting his passionate devotion to social reform, science and art. He brings a sweet vulnerability to the earnest, dashing young prince, who comes to love Victoria -- and though her, England -- and desire to have the ability to make decisions beyond that of a mere consort.

"The Young Victoria" can be slow going, but it's also a beautiful, well-performed movie, highlighting both the romance and the politics with a deft hand (although it sometimes goes too far with the embellishments).

Pride (Bilingual)
Pride (Bilingual)
Price: CDN$ 17.98
4 used & new from CDN$ 12.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For they are women's children, Jan. 24 2015
This review is from: Pride (Bilingual) (DVD)
You know what oft-used phrase sends me screaming for the hills, determined to hide until the horrors are over? "Heartwarming true story."

Usually it means a sappy, sentimental tale with inspiring music and lots of emotional manipulation. But in the case of "Pride," you get a hilarious, oddball story about two very different groups of people coming together and forming an unshakeable bond -- specifically, striking coal miners and 1980s gay activists. It's a warm, pleasant look at a difficult time, dealing with heavy topics like work strikes, AIDS and government oppression without becoming preachy.

In 1984, British miners were on strike, much to the displeasure of the Thatcher administration. So gay activist Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) had a brainstorm: since both miners and gays were being oppressed by the government, why not support each other in their fights? So with a band of friends, he formed Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (yeah, bisexuals and transexuals might as well not exist in this movie... kind of like the real-life movement), and began taking donations for the miners' fight during their parades.

Then they contact the miners of the small Welsh town of Onllwyn, who are taken aback by the seemingly random support from a gay/lesbian alliance. After some initial awkwardness, the two groups start getting along -- the gay people help the stolid mining folk loosen up and open their minds, and the mining folk give the gay people the acceptance and familial bonds that they may have been missing. But a few miners aren't willing to accept the gays and lesbians, even if it means wrecking their own political movement's chances at success.

A lot of people talk about how it is easy to accept people who are very different from you, but "Pride" demonstrates that sometimes it takes a little unselfish goodwill to actually get the ball rolling. And while GLSM seemed like a little thing at the time, the movie's end reveals that that acceptance and goodwill ("Where are my lesbians?" an old lady cries out as the miners arrive at a gay pride parade) can indeed do important, sometimes world-changing things. They're just not always the things you expect.

Make no mistakes -- "Pride" still deals with serious issues, including LGBT youth rejected by their families, AIDS, political strikes, the pressures of a small community, and a violent attack on one of the GLSM members by some random thug in the street. It gives a bittersweet note to the story, especially when we learn that the flirtatious, carefree Jonathan was the second man ever diagnosed with AIDS, and even when his lover Gethin is in the hospital, all Gethin cares about is making sure that Jonathan is taking care of himself.

But ultimately, these problems are not what the movie is about. What it's about is love, and people forming unbreakable bonds regardless of how different they may be. No message here except "love other people, and show them the kindness they deserve as fellow human beings." Do unto others and all that. And what makes it truly heartwarming is that these people were (for the most part) real individuals, and their lives were all changed by what happened. Sometimes it was a whole change in worldview, and sometimes it was just providing a shoulder to cry on or some sage life advice.

And there are some truly lovely moments, such as when the Welsh women stand up and sing "Bread and Roses," and everything falls silent until they have finished. However, it's also raucously, delightfully funny -- lots of dancing, amiable parties, humorous conversations ("Which one of you does the housework?") and the sight of wacky Welsh ladies rooting around in a gay guy's bedroom (turning up sex toys and porn).

All the actors here are doing good jobs, with characters ranging from the awkward, semi-closeted college student by George MacKay (who serves as a sort of audience surrogate) to Imelda Staunton's peppery, clever Hefina and Bill Nighy's stammering, secretive Cliff. Of special note is Schnetzer as Mark Ashton -- he gives this real, sadly-departed activist a charming, passionate, jaunty charisma that sucks in every person to schemes and ideas that seem kind of weird at first. And Andrew Scott gives a smaller, subtler performance as a young man who struggles to reconnect with his religious mother.

Despite being about two major political situations -- which are still very relevant today -- "Pride" is really all about the heart and the connection between people. A savvy, snarky little movie with a heart of gold.

The Odyssey: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
The Odyssey: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
by Homer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.87
70 used & new from CDN$ 5.65

5.0 out of 5 stars The man of twists and turns, Jan. 24 2015
Poor Odysseus. First he spent a decade fighting in a war he didn't want to go to in the first place. Then he spent ANOTHER decade trying to slog home.

And in one of many spinoffs of "The Iliad," the classical, archetypical trickster-hero spends the entire epic poem "The Odyssey" doing his absolute best to get home, despite the entire universe conspiring to stop him. Like the poem before it, it dances in odd chronological side-steps, with stories within stories, yet the presence of an intelligent and wily hero (just consider how he fools the Cyclops) keeps the story as fresh as ever. And Fagles' translation is a masterful piece of work.

It begins ten years after the end of the Trojan War. Odysseus has been missing ever since the war ended, and everybody assumes he's now dead. His son Telemachus is moping, and his wife Penelope has been fending off her ambitious suitors for several years. The goddess Athena, after interceding on Odysseus' behalf, begins guiding Telemachus to find news of his long-absent father.

Turns out Odysseus is actually alive, and has been the captive of the lovestruck sea-nymph Calypso for seven years. But when he finally gets away, he ends up shipwrecked on a far-off land (due to Poseidon being angry at him), and relates his bizarre story to the people who rescue him.

Among his adventures: his encounter with the Lotus-Eaters and a cruel man-eating Cyclops, the Laestrygonians, the sorceress Circe (who turns his men into pigs), the deadly Sirens, Scylla and Charibdis, and the wrath of a god when the crew eats sacred cattle. But even after all this weirdness and twenty years away, Odysseus is still determined to return home and reclaim his family and kingship.

Out of all the stories spun off from "The Iliad," "The Odyssey" is probably the most famous. Perhaps this is because it's one of the least tragic, despite the high death count -- with some divine help from Athena and Hermes, Odysseus can actually get home to Ithaca, his wife and his now-adult son (who is not king, for some reason -- a puzzling detail that I never quite understood).

It's also more colorful and magical than other such stories -- instead of mundane human enemies, Odysseus' story is awash in magical, mythical creatures both fair and foul. There are gods, sorceresses, man-eating monsters and a six-headed creature over a whirlpool. In fact, the story doesn't truly settle back to the "ordinary" life until Odysseus finally gets back home, and has to deal with more human enemies: all the men who want to bonk his wife.

And Odysseus' determination to get home is literally legendary. He's already an endearing character, being a clever trickster-king and a formidable warrior -- but his love for Penelope and his unshakeable, unswerving determination add a depth and intensity to his personality. Telemachos comes across as kind of pouty and sulky at first, but becomes a sort of secondary hero when he learns that his father is not actually dead.

Robert Fagles' translation is a pretty good one -- he maintains the quality of oral poetry ("under her feet she fastened the supple sandals, ever-glowing gold, that wing her over the waves") while being very fluid and easy to read, without getting tangled up in rhyme or line length. There are some phrases that are awkward and anachronistic, but overall the experience is quite lovely.

"The Odyssey" is a timeless, enchanted epic, expanding on one of the most likable characters of the whole Trojan War -- and his magical, terrifying, decade-long adventures are still fascinating literature even today. A masterful must-read.

Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore Bilingual [Blu-ray]
Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore Bilingual [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Hiroshi Hamasaki
Offered by moviemars-canada
Price: CDN$ 17.95
3 used & new from CDN$ 17.95

3.0 out of 5 stars "I would like.... a vacation.", Jan. 24 2015
For some reason, Marvel Animation has outsourced a number of projects to anime studios, including four different TV series and a series of movies.

One of those movies would be "Iron Man: Rise of Technovore," which is approximately 65% Marvel action and mayhem, and 35% contemplative Nietzsche-quote-dropping anime. Gorgeous animation and some fun supporting by much-loved Marvel characters (Punisher, War Machine, Black Widow and Hawkeye), but it does have a slight problem with the whole Tony Stark Vs. SHIELD subplot that could have been avoided with just a few minutes of discussion.

Tony Stark is preparing to launch a satellite that will allow global surveillance to stop crimes and attacks before they happen... which sounds an awful lot like the villains' plan from "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." But before the satellite launch, a mysterious young boy in bio-tech armor (referred to as Technovore) attacks the facility, and both Tony and Rhodey are attacked by men in flying suits of mech-armor.

But when Rhodey is seemingly killed in the battle, Tony goes on a rampage. Nick Fury tries to contact him, but when Tony ignores this attempt, an all-out assault is launched to stop Tony -- including sending Black Widow and Hawkeye to intercept him. So the eccentric billionaire joins forces with the Punisher to smoke out the mysterious attacker, and figure out what kind of technology he's using. If they fail, SHIELD itself will be the next target.

"Iron Man: Rise of Technovore" is an odd hybrid beast -- some parts of it could have been transplanted directly from a Marvel live-action movie, like the opening scene of Tony and Rhodey zooming over a version of Utah that could only have been dreamed up by someone who has never been there. There's plenty of smashing cars, Mandroids blowing up, people aiming guns and arrows at each other, and occasionally the Helicarrier getting tangled up in long streamers of white biotech goo.

In between those action scenes, it's very clearly a product of Japan. There are long contemplative scenes at times, such as when we see the mysterious Technovore sitting in a glowing white room with a mysterious woman, quoting Nietzsche and conjuring blue butterflies from the air. In fact, the design of Technovore is very clearly anime-styled, more so than anything else in the story -- a long, slender, almost insectile design, with an eyeless mask that evaporates and balls of corrupting white... STUFF that just dart away into nanobots.

The story's biggest problem is that one of the main conflicts -- SHIELD trying to hunt Tony -- comes across as completely over-the-top and avoidable. Yes, Tony is grief-stricken, but literally two minutes of dialogue would have avoided a lot of the story's destruction, and the whole contrived "SHIELD hunting Iron Man" story would have been flushed away. It feels like a distraction from the rather slow-moving central plot, which is too simple and straightforward to stand on its own.

The voice acting is overall quite good -- Matthew Mercer, John Eric Bentley, James C. Mathis III, Kate Higgins, Troy Baker and Clare Grant all give solid performances, mimicking the movie characters pretty nicely. The characters are also rather similar -- while the Tony of this anime doesn't have the charmingly arrogant snark of Robert Downey Jr, he is well-developed as a mischief-maker and grief-wracked friend.

Norman Reedus' Punisher is perhaps the odd duck out. He's not badly-dubbed or out of place, but he feels oddly extraneous to the main story. Eric Bauza's Technovore/Ezekial is probably the weirdest performance -- he's got a distant, gauzy, childish personality that seems less developed than the other characters, and his motives seem kind of disjointed.

"Iron Man: Rise of Technovore" is a fairly entertaining little Marvel story, but it does suffer from slow spots and a rather contrived subplot about SHIELD attacking Iron Man. Worth a watch and beautifully animated, but the script could have used a few more rewrites.

The Great God Pan
The Great God Pan
by Arthur Machen
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 7.36
4 used & new from CDN$ 5.48

4.0 out of 5 stars One such horror lies at the heart of "The Great God Pan", Jan. 24 2015
This review is from: The Great God Pan (Paperback)
The scariest things are the ones you can't see -- the horrors that lurk just out of sight, only glimpsed out of the corner of your eye.

One such horror lies at the heart of "The Great God Pan," where dabbling in things beyond "the veil" leads to unspeakable horrors, madness, degradation and death. Sort of like getting involved in national politics. Arthur Machen's prose tends to be rather dense and impenetrable, with rambling pseudo-poetic dialogue, but the web of creepy, unspeakable horrors ends up being utterly chilling because of everything you don't see.

The weird Dr. Raymond has a rather bizarre goal, namely to "lift the veil" of illusionary reality and see what exists beyond it: "You may think this all strange nonsense; it may be strange, but it is true, and the ancients knew what lifting the veil means. They called it seeing the god Pan." He plans to accomplish this via an experimental surgery on the brain of a young woman, but the surgery merely turns the girl insane and catatonic.

Strange things happen in the years that follow. A young girl with a sinister presence who terrifies a boy and leads to the monstrous rape of a young girl. You can probably guess what she is and where she came from, but it takes a little while longer for the characters.

And some time later, a man named Villiers encounters an old friend, Herbert, who is now a filthy, half-crazed homeless man. Herbert relates how he married "a girl of the most wonderful and most strange beauty," and how that woman somehow "corrupted my soul," bringing him face-to-face with horrors he can't even explain. A few days later, Herbert is dead. Villiers consults with Clarke -- who saw the original experiment on the orphan girl -- and the two realize that something inhuman and horrifying walks among them. Something from the great god Pan.

Let's be brutally honest -- Arthur Machen was no Lord Dunsany, H.P. Lovecraft or Edgar Allan Poe. His writing style is rather dense and slow-moving, with dialogue that often tangles itself up in its own poesy (" It was as if I were inhaling at every breath some deadly fume, which seemed to penetrate to every nerve and bone and sinew of my body"). The characters tend to launch into page-long monologues, never broken by others characters or anybody reacting to what is said, leaving readers to struggle through giant blocks of text.

So it's a credit to "The Great God Pan" that it still succeeds in being bone-chillingly terrifying, from the misogynstic brain surgery to the final grotesque confrontation with the supernatural ("The blackened face, the hideous form upon the bed, changing and melting before your eyes..."). Machen conjures up the sense that endless, unspeakable horrors lurk just out of the sight of our eyes and minds, and even the seemingly ordinary -- Helen Vaughn -- may have a terrifying monster behind a seemingly ordinary, beautiful face.

What's more, he doesn't give the sensation that this is an isolated incident. Even if the protagonists manage to foil the monster, only a thin veil protects us from whatever is lurking underneath us. There is evil, corruption and madness there, and the depthless horrors of an endless pit -- it's like standing on a piece of frosted glass that BARELY keeps you from seeing a dank, slimy canyon under your feet.

Most of the characters are fairly ordinary people -- middle-aged, white upper-class Englishmen who are ill-suited to deal with the freakier side of the world. Some are utterly despicable (Raymond, who coldly raises an orphan so he can experiment on her brain) while others are fairly likable (Villiers, who stumbles into the freaky stuff entirely by accident). And Helen is a murky, almost ghostly presence, but her malevolent, corrosive personality seems to seep into even secondhand accounts of her.

Arthur Machen's writing could be dense and awkward, but he knew the best way to scare people silly -- "The Great God Pan" is full of terrors and horrors just out of sight, which are only made plain at the story's end. It takes some patience, but the creep factor is off the charts.

Game of Thrones: Season 1 (Limited Edition) (Sous-titres français)
Game of Thrones: Season 1 (Limited Edition) (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Peter Dinklage
Price: CDN$ 52.49
14 used & new from CDN$ 52.49

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A throne in turmoil, Jan. 24 2015
The mass media tends to ignore fantasy stories, especially high fantasy stories. So it came as a pleasant surprise to me that George R.R. Martin's fantasy epic A Song Of Ice And Fire was being adapted for television -- and HBO crafts it with all the dignity it deserves, with plenty of grime, blood and a tangle of convoluted storylines.

The castle of Winterfell is thrown on its ear when King Robert (Mark Addy) of Westeros arrives to ask Eddard "Ned" Stark (Sean Bean) to be his Hand. But soon after Ned agrees, he receives a message from his mentor's widow, informing him that Queen Cersei's (Lena Headey) family, the Lannisters, are secretly plotting against the king -- and that they are killing off anyone who might be a threat to them.

One of Ned's younger sons is gravely wounded when he sees something shocking, and the acid-tongued dwarf Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is framed for the crime. Ned's bastard son Jon (Kit Harington) joins the Watch near the Wall -- but has little idea of the horrors that are approaching with the White Walkers.

And across the Narrow Sea, exiled princess Daenerys Targaryen is wed to the barbarian lord Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), so that her brother can invade Westeros and take back the throne. But Daenerys quickly grows in strength and wisdom, and the Small Council of Westeros has reason to fear her when it's found that she's pregnant -- but her greatest power is that of the dragon's daughter.

As Ned takes to his new duties, he begins investigating the death of his predecessor, and begins to uncover a shocking secret about the queen and her children. Treachery, death and war will be brought to Westeros, and a war will begin with the blood of the good-hearted.

"A Game of Thrones" is truly an epic story -- it took a whole ten episodes to encapsulate a single book, and the story is far from over. There are countless plot threads woven into one enormous, bloodsoaked tapestry, linked together even if they are technically separate. And since this is only based on the first of Martin's books, it ends on a note both depressing and uplifting. Lots of plot threads are left dangling, but in such a way that you end up wanting to know what happens next.

The entire series is draped in cold stone walls, grimy medieval atmosphere, windswept steppes, splatters of dark blood and the occasional sunny day. They don't skimp on explicit violence (including the death of a beloved character) or sex, but the focus here is always on the clashing families, battles and seedy plots of the queen. And despite that focus, there is still a hint of the magical in this fantasy -- talk of dragons, the White Walkers and their undead wights.

As for the cast, it is BRILLIANT -- Sean Bean is perfection as the world-weary, good-hearted Eddard, and he's got a brilliant backing cast in Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, the amazing Peter Dinklage, Jason Momoa, Michelle Fairley, and countless others. Even the child actors like Maisie Williams and Jack Gleeson are absolute perfection.

And best of all, their characters are all so REAL. They have good points and bad points, strengths and failings, and they often change drastically over the course of the season (Daenerys turns from a pallid little wallflower to a powerful and icy queen).

"A Game of Thrones" is a truly spellbinding experience, if not one that you want to see all together. Bloody, complicated and full of richly-developed characters, this is a future classic.

Silicon Valley: Season 1
Silicon Valley: Season 1
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 27.98
14 used & new from CDN$ 19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars You need to completely change who you are, Richard. A complete teutonic shift has to happen!, Jan. 22 2015
This review is from: Silicon Valley: Season 1 (DVD)
You hear about success stories all the time. Some random nerd comes up with a brilliant social media site, or service, or application, and soon he's so rich that every night he falls asleep in a hot tub fall of thousand-dollar bills and naked supermodels.

But it's not quite as easy as the success stories make it seem. "Silicon Valley: Season 1" explores the steps between "A: Come up with cool idea" and "Z: PROFIT!!!!!!!!," following a gang of oddball computer nerds who may have the Next Big Thing... but have to deal with eccentric billionaires, rivals, obscene murals and Adderall-addled children along the way. Despite the looming threat of failure, this weird, foul-mouthed little comedy careens wildly through the planning stages of a world-changing new project.

By day, mild-mannered Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) is a low-ranking code monkey at the megalithic company Hooli. But when he shows someone else his pet project, a music app called Pied Piper, Hooli discovers an algorithm that allows perfect searchable file compression. Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) offers him a flat $10 million for the algorithm... but Richard shocks him by instead taking an offer from the eccentric billionaire Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch), which may allow him to form his own company.

So Richard hires the wacky guys in the start-up "incubator" to help him turn Pied Piper into a viable product, including egotistical Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller), stoner Satanist Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), put-upon Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), and Belson's earnest ex-PA Jared (Zach Woods). His buddy Big Head (Josh Brener) ends up working for Hooli... or rather, NOT working.

But it's a lot more complicated and difficult than he expected -- not only do they have to iron out all the problems in the program, but they have to get the rights to the Pied Piper name, form a real business plan, and create a logo. What they actually get is an obscene mural, an Adderall-addled tween who wrecks the project, drunken appointments and money troubles. Worse: they have to get Pied Piper in working order by the time of TechCrunch Startup Battlefield. Even worse: Belson has been reverse-engineering the Pied Piper algorithm to create a sleeker, more profitable version of the same program.

At times, "Silicon Valley: Season 1" can be kind of heavy of the tech-jargon. I don't really know what makes computers work internally, and I don't really understand software design. So whenever the characters lapsed into technobabble, I lapsed into a stupor. That is the main problem with this entire season, which is otherwise gutsplittingly funny -- lots of raunchy humor (the mural on the garage door), social disasters and weird problems (Richard has to bribe neighborhood kids for Adderall).

Mike Judge has to be given credit: there is a genuine sense of suspense that hangs over this story. Richard is constantly reminded that not only are they the David to Hooli's Goliath, but that most start-up ideas are either not viable (a parking lot app that reminds you where you parked), or will end in failure because of business reasons. And in the final few episodes, it seems like Hooli is about to crush the less polished, less moneyed Pied Piper.

And yet somehow it's still incredibly funny. Every episode is packed with raunchy, F-bomb-riddled dialogue (the mathematical discussion about the fastest way to masturbate the audience), weird subplots (Ehrlich goes on a psychedelic spirit quest in a gas station bathroom) and plenty of glorious misunderstandings (Gilfoyle's suggestion that Dinesh sleep with his girlfriend). And the clever satire of major Internet companies and the billionaires who run them is absolutely hysterical ("If we can make your audio and video files smaller, we can make cancer smaller. And hunger. And... AIDS").

Middleditch is the least charismatic actor in this, but it may be intentional -- Richard is brilliant but also kind of nondescript, weak and easily swayed, and it's only in the final episodes that he finally grows a spine and learns to shine. Miller is glorious as a manipulative jerk who does have an actual soft spot for the guys in his incubator, and is willing to get beaten up for the sake of Pied Piper. Starr, Nanjiani and Woods are all fun, colorful spots in the cast, each bringing a glorious vibe all their own... and the only dull spot is Amanda Crew as the token Smurfette, who seems to exist mainly as a love interest for Richard.

"Silicon Valley: Season 1" is a natural outgrowth of Judge's classic "Office Space" -- only now the worker drones have a chance to be queen... well, king bees. Gloriously wild, funny and slightly hampered by technobabble.

The Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew
by William Shakespeare
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.73
11 used & new from CDN$ 4.14

5.0 out of 5 stars Kiss me Kate, we will be married o' Sunday, Jan. 22 2015
"The Taming of the Shrew" is probably William Shakespeare's second most controversial play -- nobody can figure out if it's misogynistic or a biting double satire on the sexes. Whatever it is, it's still a witty and hilarious comedy that pits the titular "shrew" against a crazy guy determined to browbeat her into traditional subservience... and while they're no Beatrice and Benedick, it is lots of fun.

Framing device: a local lord and his hunting party stumble across a drunken tinker, and decide to play an elaborate prank on him. They dress him in rich clothes, arrange fine food for him, and even drag a protesting servant boy in to pretend to be his wife. And they put on a performance for him as well: Baptista Minola has two daughters, the hot-tempered razor-tongued Katharina and the quiet, demure Bianca.

Since Bianca is not allowed to marry until Katharina is, her suitors form an alliance to get the elder sister out of the way, which is made more complex when a young student named Luciento falls in love with Bianca, and comes up with a clever plan to woo her. Enter Petruchio, an impoverished nobleman with as sharp a wit as Katharina -- and since he's the only one willing to marry her, her father jumps on the chance. From the very beginning, Petruchio beats her over the head with crazy reverse psychology, a ridiculous wedding ceremony, and a honeymoon from hell.

It's often debated whether "The Taming of the Shrew" is a sexist play or not, since the strong-willed, independent Katharina ends up another little obedient wifie, lecturing the other wives on giving their husbands "love, fair looks and true obedience." Blech.

But consider: this speech comes from a woman who, after years of intimidating the men around her, has been browbeaten, emotionally abused and humiliated until her boorish hubby finally "breaks" her... not exactly a rousing celebration of "the taming of the shrew," or of Petruchio! If anything, Shakespeare seems to be hinting that women should be subtle about their rebellion (as Bianca is) rather than broadcasting it to the world... and perhaps that is what the "shrew" had really learned.

And as usual, Shakespeare wraps the play in delicious wordplay ("You lie, in faith; for you are call'd plain Kate,/And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst"), weird situations (the ridiculous wedding), and an farcical romantic tangle centering on Bianca. And Shakespeare has some fun with the framing device about Christopher Sly -- while the lord is being a jerk, the whole situation is just so hilarious that it's impossible not to enjoy it.

And the characters are pretty fun as well, even when you want to kick them in the backside -- Katharina is delightfully witty, bombastic and very intimidating, and Petruchio is a hilarious, witty jerk who knows just how to counter her. Bianca seems like a subservient doormat at first, but Shakespeare hints that (in her own way) she's just as rebellious as Katharina, unbeknownst to her clownish admirers and her worn-out dad.

"The Taming of the Shrew" seems like a pretty offensive piece until you see all the little barbs sticking out of the surface. Really uncomfortable, and truly brilliant.

The Thing (Collector's Edition) (Bilingual)
The Thing (Collector's Edition) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Kurt Russell
Price: CDN$ 13.99
35 used & new from CDN$ 0.62

5.0 out of 5 stars Da-dum, da-dum, Jan. 22 2015
Quality moviemaking rule: Only produce a remake of a movie if it has/can do something the original can't/didn't. It may be special effects, an amazing actor, or fidelity to source material.

One of the best examples of that is "The Thing," one of the few remakes that easily outstrips the original -- not because the original was bad, but because the remake is just better, bringing new depth and intelligence to a relatively simple story. It's a the borderline between horror and science fiction -- a dark, icy masterpiece of claustrophobic paranoia and flesh-melting nightmare fuel, where anyone might be a malevolent alien who could bring an end to all life on earth.

In Antarctica, a Norwegian helicopter chases a dog to the edge of an American base, and the panicked pilot accidentally destroys his own chopper before being killed by the station commander. Pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Doctor Copper (Richard Dysart) are sent to the Norwegian base to find out what is going on, only to find that the Norwegian base has been burned. Even more bizarre, there is a corpse with two faces outside it -- and when the Americans dig deeper, they find a buried UFO that has been there for hundreds of thousands of years..

But something far worse is waiting for them. When the dog is put in the kennel, it absorbs all the other dogs, becoming a monstrous mass of flesh and teeth. This alien creature can infect any living thing and "become" it, with all its knowledge and skills, and can only be killed by incineration.

Since the Dog-Thing has been wandering freely through the base, anyone might be infected -- and if they don't figure out who is infected, it could spread outside of the frozen wasteland. Once it's reached the rest of the world, there will be no stopping it. MacReady is able to deduce that not everyone has been infected, and paranoia reigns as the men try to figure out which among them is infected -- but even if they find a test, they may not be able to stop The Thing.

The original "The Thing From Another World" was actually a very well-written, progressive movie in its time, but it wasn't able to be faithful to the original John W. Campbell novella because... well, it had 1950s special effects. That makes all the difference in "The Thing," allowing the alien creature to be an amorphous, insidious threat rather than a man-shaped carrot who just charges around bashing down doors. It inspires not only basic fear, but paranoiac terror.

And that sense of claustrophobic, shadowy terror is what truly defines this story -- arguments, accusations, hysterical shouting as the men point fingers at all the wrong people. This carries a lot of the story's terror, because like many classic movie monsters, the titular Thing actually doesn't appear that often. Only when cornered or attacked will it unleash tentacles, green ooze and giant torso mouths that will rip a person's arms off. And when it does do that, it's pure nightmare fuel -- think a bloated severed head oozing off its body, sprouting spider legs and scuttling across the floor.

But what really sets "The Thing" apart from most such horror movies is that... well, the characters don't do stupid things to advance the plot. Despite their all-consuming fear, the men spend most of the movie being pretty intelligent about their situation -- for instance, one of the men suggests to MacReady that each person should prepare his own food, and only from cans. There are a few scenes where they do dim things (tying up all the men for the hot wire test, which leads to them being attacked by a melty-faced Thing), but it is plausible when you consider how terrified they are.

And of course, the gnawing horror is even greater when you consider what the stakes are. Failure means the destruction of all life on earth, and even success might just put the Thing into a sort of torpor.

It also has a very strong cast, led by Kurt Russell (and his mountain man beard). Russell plays MacReady as a steady-eyed, intelligent man who gradually is worn to a frazzle by the threat of the Thing and the men around him. And there are solid supporting roles for Dysart, Keith David as the peppery-tempered Childs, Donald Moffat and Wilford Brimley... although sometimes it's hard to tell the men apart in their massive coats.

There's a reason that "The Thing" is a modern classic -- the haunting sense of crushing paranoia, the grotesque alien, and the ambiguity of what may have happened down at the South Pole. Terror, slime and fear.

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