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E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA)
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The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game
DVD ~ Benedict Cumberbatch
Price: CDN$ 19.88

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine, Jan. 16 2015
This review is from: The Imitation Game (DVD)
Alan Turing is perhaps the most underrated genius of the 20th century -- the creator of a computer that allowed the Allies to win World War II. In return, his country persecuted him for his sexuality, and eventually may have killed him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Picture (Sous-titres français)
The Big Picture (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Kevin Bacon
Offered by Mikani Collectables
Price: CDN$ 29.99
7 used & new from CDN$ 10.99

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Strain: Season 1
The Strain: Season 1
DVD ~ Corey Stoll
Price: CDN$ 25.00
2 used & new from CDN$ 19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Worms and gore, Jan. 11 2015
This review is from: The Strain: Season 1 (DVD)
After years of being tortured by pale Byronic models who pretend to be vampires, it's kind of refreshing to see vampires that are unapologetically monstrous. And by monstrous, I mean nightmare fuel. So what better vampires are there than hairless, ravening abominations with stinger-tongues and little white worms that will burrow into your skin?

And anyone who has seen "Blade II" will probably know what to expect of "The Strain Season 1," adapted from Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan's gloriously grotesque horror novel. It's a slow, increasingly grotesque build up to the inevitable vampire apocalypse (which is like the zombie apocalypse, but worse), hampered mainly by the fact that the main character is a very whiny, unsympathetic person.

When JFK International Airport loses contact with an incoming plane, it's suspected that there is a deadly contagion on board. CDC doctors Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) are sent to investigate, and find that all but four passengers are inexplicably dead. There is also a giant antique cabinet missing from the hold, which Jim Kent (Sean Astin) has arranged for ex-con Gus (Miguel Gomez) to smuggle out of the airport. Bad idea.

The only person who seems to know what is going on is a Harlem antique dealer, Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), who tries to tell Eph that all the bodies and the cabinet must be destroyed. They really should have listened to him. In the days that follow, the released survivors begin to sicken and transform (losing their hair, genitals, normal eyelids) -- and the dead ones vanish, only to reappear in the homes of their loved ones.

As the vampires increase in number, Eph and Nora are forced to acknowledge the reality of what is happening: an ancient vampire is taking over New York, with the help of a corrupt billionaire, a hacker and an undead Nazi. So the few remaining humans who understand what's going on must band together to stop the Master, while also keeping their loved ones out of the Master's grasp.

"The Strain" feels a little like a modern version of Bram Stoker's "Dracula." The opening episode is reminiscent of the ruined ship filled with dead men landing on England's shore... but with modern cities and easy transportation, it's a lot easier for vampirism to spread. And of course, lots of people who automatically dismiss anything with a whiff of the supernatural, even if there is a scientific explanation for what's going on (namely, white worms).

And trust me, it's nightmarish -- worms burrowing into flesh, gore, Nazis, the transformation into screeching stinger-tongued vampires, and the claustrophobic sensation of being trapped in a convenience store by a bunch of Strigoi. Even Mr. Quinlan, a relatively friendly vampire commando, is still very freaky. And perhaps the most horrifying aspect of them is the idea that a newly-turned vampire will hunt down and turn their loved ones into monsters like itself -- it's a very emotional idea.

What can defuse the scariness? Well, the Master. They should have just kept his hood on. He was scarier that way -- very fluid and fast and grotesque... and when we see his face, it's just silly.

The story begins very slowly, introducing the vampire threat bit by bit, fragment by fragment. Every episode contributes to the various characters, most of whom are not directly connected until the vampire threat starts to pull them together. And as a bonus, viewers are also shown the history of Eichhorst and Abraham in the Nazi death camps, and how Abraham became the Van Helsing of this story. Yes, I recognize the literary allusion.

However.... Eph is a horrible protagonist. Stoll does a decent job, but he's fundamentally playing a very whiny, hypocritical person who uses his job as a way to avoid dealing with messy emotional issues (sorry, just don't buy that he's ALWAYS needed at the CDC), and complains about his wife's boyfriend after having an affair. After a few episodes, his self-righteous I'm-always-right petulance becomes downright irritating.

Maestro doesn't have a lot of chemistry with him, but she gives a pretty good performance as a stressed, increasingly desperate woman who wants to keep her dementia-addled mother safe. Bradley is also quite awesome as an elderly pawnbroker who also kills vampires with a silver sword-cane, and keeps a vampire heart in a jar in his house. Just try to beat that. There are also some excellent performances by Astin, Kevin Durand as a tough rat exterminator, and Richard Sammel as a vampire who was a horror even before he died.

"The Strain Season 1" is a slow descent into bloodsucking, worm-riddled nightmare fuel, which is mainly hampered by a protagonist who needs a swift kick to the gut. For those who want their vampires to actually be scary, look no further.

Fargo: Season 1
Fargo: Season 1
DVD ~ Martin Freeman
Price: CDN$ 34.99
2 used & new from CDN$ 34.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oh yah, sure, Jan. 11 2015
This review is from: Fargo: Season 1 (DVD)
I admit to being wrong -- when I heard that the classic Coen Brothers movie "Fargo" was being made into a TV series, I thought it was a disastrous idea.

But it turns out that "Fargo: Season 1" is not a re-adaptation of the movie, but the first season of an anthology series that exists in the same continuity as the movie. It's a darker, more murderous experience (lots and lots of bodies) with some genuinely sociopathic characters, but the heart is still the amiable, pleasant people of a snow-encrusted Minnesota town.

After timid Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) has a brief conversation with con-man/murderer Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), Malvo decides to do Lester a favor... by killing his old school bully, Sam Hess... which attracts the attention of the sheriff, the local syndicate, and two rather quirky enforcers who are sure Lester is the murderer.

And Lester is a murderer... just not Sam Hess'. After years of ridicule, he snaps and bludgeons his nagging wife to death with a hammer, and Lorne shoots the sheriff (but not the deputy) when the officer finds what Lester has done. All Lester can do is knock himself out and lie.

But Lester soon finds himself ensnared in a web of lies, odd evidence and yet more murders, orchestrated by Lorne (who is himself arranging an elaborate scam on a supermarket magnate). Only plucky young cop Molly (Allison Tolman) suspects that the timid insurance salesman may be the center of all this mayhem. And as the months roll by, it seems that Lester might have gotten off scot-free... but a chance encounter with Lorne means more dead bodies in Fargo.

"Fargo: Season 1" is a somewhat darker story than the movie it's based on -- there are more nasty people in Fargo and Duluth, and a LOT more death and infidelity. It doesn't hurt that the two pivotal characters -- Lorne and Lester -- are pretty much sociopaths. One was a callous, casual monster already, and the other becomes one out of self-interest.

And both Thornton and Freeman do excellent jobs. Thornton plays as an almost stunningly casual killer, who pontificates philosophically about life, death and the dog-eat-dog nature of reality, when he isn't calmly blowing away whole criminal syndicates. And then there's Freeman as a timid little man who slowly becomes a charming, dead-eyed person who will calmly send his loving, sweet-natured wife into a situation where she'll get shot in the face.

However, the heart of the story is Molly, an earnest young cop who combines brains and gut instinct, while also having an adorably earnest romance with a cop-turned-mailman. Her little family and circle of friends -- even the inept new sheriff -- remind us that despite the cold sociopathy of the pivotal characters, there is still good and kindness in the world.

And it maintains a certain amount of Coen Brothers quirkiness, whether it's hitmen arguing in sign language or a pair of pleasantly bumbling FBI agents. But it never goes too long without some horrible deaths of one kind or another (though no wood chippers are involved). And the complex tangle of subplots and characters (only some of them directly connected to the murder) keep things interesting even when nothing too dramatic is happening. For instance, a plot thread from the movie is picked up in one subplot.

There's a lot of blood, guns and Minnesota Niceness in "Fargo Season 1," a solid example of what a well-written TV show can be. And there are plenty more violent stories to be told in Fargo.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

5.0 out of 5 stars Something rich and strange, Jan. 11 2015
Most fantasy books are merely bad ripoffs of Tolkien, or other well-known (though not always great) authors. Hero's journey, quests, stock characters, etc.

But Susanna Clarke dazzles in a subtle way in her debut novel, "Jonathan Clarke & Mr. Norrell," a sprawling historical-fantasy opus that took a decade to write. Think if Jane Austen had written fantasy about feuding magicians, and you'll have a pretty good idea of how this reads -- a slow-moving and intricate story, presented with a delicate, sumptuous style like a bejeweled silk gown transformed into words.

It's the early 19th century, in England. The Napoleonic wars threaten England, but that's not the only struggle going on. Magic is all but dead in England; the so-called magicians don't actually want to handle it, but want to leave it to old books and stories. Once the English magicians were powerful and respected, but now they just write boring essays about magic. Except for Mr. Norrell, a cautious little Yorkshire man who taught himself how to do magic.

However, things take a twist when he gives his help in the battle against Napolean -- a new magician enters the scene, the enthusiastic and charming Jonathan Strange. The two magicians begin to work together, but things begin to go awry when Mr. Norrell realizes that Jonathan is attracted to all magic -- including the more dangerous varieties. He's increasingly fascinated by the legend of the Raven King, a changeling child who ruled Faerie and Earth...

Historical fantasies have rarely been as detailed and rich as this one -- usually either the "historic" or the "fantasy" is abused. Often the best authors can do is write alternate universe stories where America lost the Revolution, the Roman Empire never fell, or vampires existed since time immemorial, and so on. But Susanna Clarke shatters that with her richly-realized look at 19th-century Britain, with unique magic and a slight mythologic twist. This is an England where, even though magic is stagnant, it's still something of rich power, awesome presence, and the creatures involved in it are completely otherworldly.

Clarke keeps her writing solid, detailed and dignified, also footnoting extensively, with little wry winks and nudges to keep the book from being too serious. It does get tedious at times, and the finale gets a bit stretched out, but the positive far outweighs the negative. She has a flair for the historical parts of the book, keeping dates, battles, and political movement entwined in the plot.

But she doesn't neglect the fantasy either; there's a mythic flavor in the story of the Raven King and the old magicians, reminiscent of old legends from ancient times. Her handling of magic is especially good -- less is more, and hints of past greatness make the magic all the more stunning.

The title characters are the best of the book -- both are products of their times. Mr. Norrell is cautious, studious, ingenious and quiet, the sort of person you could imagine chatting with some classic author about the nuances of their work. On the other hand, Strange has more of the wild, society-be-damned wit that characterized some great artists of that time -- like a less promiscuous, more magical Lord Byron. And there's a memorable array of supporting characters -- servants, faeries, scholars and the like.

If Jane Austen had written like Diana Wynne-Jones, the result would have been something like "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell." Well-written, enticing and thoroughly original, this is a keeper.

Halo: Nightfall
Halo: Nightfall
DVD ~ Mike Colter
Price: CDN$ 19.95
13 used & new from CDN$ 16.24

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nobody is putting anybody down, Jan. 11 2015
This review is from: Halo: Nightfall (DVD)
First, an admission: I have never played Halo. Ever. I find it fascinating as a story, but I've never actually sat down and played any of the games.

So I have no real preconceptions about "Halo: Nightfall," a miniseries that apparently is meant to link two of the games by introducing one of the main characters for "Halo 5." And even to relative noobs to the Halo universe, it proves to be a harrowing, intense story, as well as a good introduction to Jameson Locke -- lots of man-eating space worms, terrorists, and a planet that hates anyone who sets food on it.

On the remote planet of Sedra, a Covenant Zealot sets off a bioweapon in a crowded marketplace, spreading a disease that only kills humans. While hundreds of people sicken and die, ONI agent Lieutenant Commander Locke (Mike Colter) and the Sedran commander Aiken (Steven Waddington) investigate further, despite the fact that the Sedrans don't really like ONI or the UNSC. At all.

But in short order, they discover that the bioweapon is made from a heretofore-unknown element which is found in only one place in the known universe: a chunk of the Halo Ring orbiting a red giant. And if the Covenant gets ahold of any more, it will wipe out other planets.

So Locke leads an ONI/Sedran team to the floating shard of the Ring, where he will have only hours to apprehend the smugglers and destroy the deposit of the element. If they take too long, they are literally toast. But when their ship is taken, the group finds itself stranded on a hostile place with little air and man-eating eel-creatures that swarm whenever they detect technology. Even worse: their only hope is a two-person tug... and they have more than two people.

"Halo Nightfall" doesn't feel so much like a miniseries as a cohesive movie in the vein of "Pitch Black" (hostile planet, ravenous creatures, a scrappy band of survivors). While there were a few references to events in the games (mainly the Halo Ring), it was relatively easy to understand what was going on and how the Halo universe worked -- the Zealots are the bad guys, the Sedrans are primitive yet strong-willed colonists, and the ONI are the military. Nothing too esoteric for sci-fi viewers.

The main thrust of the plot is the harrowing journey across the broken Ring, which quickly devolves into a sweaty, grimy trek over a deserted landscape, punctuated with some nasty death scenes. As the story progresses, the focus shifts to the cruelty and selfishness that can come when a person is forced to choose between his own life and that of others -- some people want to leave their erstwhile teammates to die, while others practically welcome the chance to sacrifice themselves so that others may live.

Perhaps the most distractingly out-of-place part of the story is Aiken's tendency to monologue over... well, pretty much any moments of silence the series has. He waxes eloquent about God, death, being a soldier, and blah blah blah. It becomes rather annoying at times.

But admittedly, Waddington does give a good performance as a former Marine who seems tormented by his past career, and weary of living when his child dies. The alternative is Locke, who is... just a good person. Colter is pretty convincing, though slightly stiff, as a fair-minded soldier who truly wants to help everyone, regardless of their politics or planet. He's even willing to give a fair chance at survival to the people they are there to arrest, and shows consideration and friendliness towards the Sedran officers, who are basically seen as yokels by the ONI agents.

Whether to fans or noobs, "Halo: Nightfall" is a pretty enjoyable little sci-fi series -- a strong, compelling story with a likable hero and giant carnivorous land-eels. If only Aiken would stop talking.

Before I Go To Sleep (Bilingual)
Before I Go To Sleep (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Nicole Kidman
Price: CDN$ 19.99
2 used & new from CDN$ 19.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lost memories, Jan. 11 2015
Remember "50 First Dates," where Drew Barrymore had a brain condition that made her incapable of remembering new things from day to day, so every day her boyfriend had to woo her anew?

Well, imagine that as a claustrophobic, grey thriller where that boyfriend may not be what he seems, and her past is being hidden from her. That would be "Before I Go To Sleep," a competent but tepid movie that is mainly buoyed up by a very good trio of performances by Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong -- it's worth watching for the three of them, though not for the predictable plot.

Every morning, Christine Lucas (Kidman) wakes up in bed with a man she doesn't know (Firth), in a house she doesn't recognize, with no memories of anything that has happened in more than fifteen years. Her husband Ben (Firth) says that she suffered brain damage due to an accident (actually an attack) that nearly killed her, and thus cannot form new memories. Every day she wakes up with no memory of what she did the day before, or any of the days before.

And every morning, she receives a phone call from a neurologist, Dr. Nasch (Strong), who has been secretly treating her condition, unknown to Ben. He also instructs her to watch/record a video diary, using it to communicate with herself after she has forgotten everything.

But over the course of a few weeks, Chris begins to realize that Ben is keeping secrets from her, including the cause of her memory loss and the existence of their dead son. She also begins to have brief flashes of memory, including the night she was attacked, and a woman whom she vaguely remembers. But as Chris explores her mostly-forgotten past, she begins to realize that someone is threatening her life in the present.

"Before I Go To Sleep" is one of those thrillers that is mostly kept afloat by the actors involved -- it's not bad, but it is a fairly generic, unexceptional thriller, despite the intriguing premise. It burns along at a slow pace, immersed in pale wintry light and grey surroundings, with a slow build of clues... and since the main character has to relearn everything every day, it kind of loses steam periodically.

The biggest problem is that the story becomes rather predictable halfway through (when Claire reveals that Chris had a lover), and the very small cast (about six people, two of whom are only shown in the last scene) means that the bad guy's identity and motivation is pretty obvious. The climax is not so much a twist as a sucker-punch of brutal violence and a spooky, harrowing confrontation.

In fact, the movie would be pretty forgettable if it weren't for the actors, all of whom give very good performances -- Kidman plays Chris as a woman who is confused and alone, adrift in a life she doesn't recognize. But she does have a core of strength behind the cracks, and her few regained memories allow her to start to put herself back together. And both Firth and Strong play against type here, Firth as an odd fragmented man whose motivations and feelings are hard to pinpoint, and Strong as a neurologist who... really sounds like a villain. Because he's Mark Strong.

"Before I Go To Sleep" is a movie that is best appreciated as a character piece, because the actors are the best part of it. The movie itself is fairly enjoyable, but rather slow and predictable.

Sleepy Hollow: The Complete First Season
Sleepy Hollow: The Complete First Season
DVD ~ Tom Mison
Price: CDN$ 29.97
6 used & new from CDN$ 29.97

4.0 out of 5 stars Heads off to you!, Jan. 11 2015
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about Ichabod Crane and his encounter with the Headless Horseman... and apparently forgot to mention the witches, George Washington, the demon Moloch, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Yes, there's not much about "Sleepy Hollow Season 1" that resembles the original story, except a handful of names and the idea of a supernatural horseman with no head. But it does have the Horseman firing machine guns, so that's something -- a grim yet imaginative supernatural thriller, where a small New York city becomes the stage for a battle between the forces of evil... and a cop/guy-out-of-time duo.

In 1781, Revolutionary spy/soldier Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) is mortally wounded when fighting the supernatural Headless Horseman, and his witch wife Katrina (Katia Winters) bespells him into a magical sleep. Over two hundred years later, he emerges from the grave, since his life is now bound to the unlife of the Horseman. A local cop, Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) is understandably skeptical of the man claiming to have served under George Washington and raving about the Headless Horseman killing her mentor.

But she soon discovers that the Headless Horseman is very real -- and he's actually one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, serving the demon Moloch. Hang on, there's a lot of supernatural backstory in this story, mostly related to stopping the end of the world.

As two "witnesses" foretold in the Bible, Abbie and Ichabod find themselves bound together, and dealing with some weird, weird stuff -- a cult of evil witches, some evil Hessians, the lost colony of Roanoke, an angry dream spirit, a haunted house, a demonic possession, a golem, and the ongoing quest to keep a doorway to Hell from being opened. The key to it all may lie in Abbie's past, and Ichabod's very messed-up family.

"Sleepy Hollow Season 1" has a rather ridiculous premise, and sometimes it isn't afraid to just run with the absurdity (usually by Abbie sarcastically questioning something). But most of the time, it takes itself pretty seriously, spinning up a complex mythology that has a large number of plot twists, such as pretty much everything about Ichabod and Katrina's son. Seriously, nothing about him is untwisted. There's something fascinating and oddly admirable about a show so wholeheartedly embracing its weird side.

And don't worry: there isn't constant comedy about Ichabod being a fish out of water. Yes, there are some gags based on Ichabod being from the late 1700s (he refuses to get rid of his ratty coat for fear someone will "wear it ironically" and rages about sales tax and skinny jeans), but it's not too annoying. Instead, the story relies on lots of decapitations, "Evil Dead" tree roots, gloomy brick catacombs and misty forests where demons rise between bone-white trees.

The core of the show is the relationship between Abbie and Ichabod -- she a no-nonsense cop who initially doesn't buy into all this supernatural hooey, and he an occult expert who hobnobbed with the Founding Fathers. Beharie seems rather stiff in the first few episodes, until it gradually becomes clear that she's playing a very repressed, walled-up woman. And the sublimely beautiful Mison is excellent as a VERY open-minded Englishman who defected to the American side, and now finds himself afloat in an alien world.

There's also some solid side performances by Orlando Jones as Abbie's long-suffering boss, who reluctantly finds himself enmeshed in the world of the supernatural; John Noble as a reclusive "sin-eater"; Lyndie Greenwood as Abbie's scrappy sister; and John Cho as a weak-willed witch who serves Moloch.

The weak point? Katrina. She's effectively a passive, paper-thin damsel who just sits around looking sad and saying Important Things in a wispy yet melodramatic voice. And quite honestly, Winter's chemistry with Mison is so nonexistent that it almost forms a black hole.

Despite that one major flaw, "Sleepy Hollow Season 1" is a solid, serious supernatural thriller, with plenty of violence and weird demonic goings-on. Just grit your teeth through Katrina's presence.

Tales From Earthsea [Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
Tales From Earthsea [Blu-ray + DVD] (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Timothy Dalton
Price: CDN$ 29.96
17 used & new from CDN$ 29.96

3.0 out of 5 stars A darkness in the heart, Jan. 11 2015
"Tales from Earthsea" is a Miyazaki movie. Just not THE Miyazaki.

No, this extremely loose adaptation of Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series is directed by Hayao Miyazaki's son, Goro Miyazaki. And it has the earmarks of a promising first effort -- the visuals are hauntingly lovely, the dialogue is sometimes beautiful, and there's raw passion in its making. But honestly, the story is often confusing, and fans of Le Guin's books will probably implode with rage over the story changes.

The archmage Sparrowhawk encounters a young boy named Prince Arren in the desert, and takes him under his wing. Arren is on the run from his own kingdom after committing a horrible crime, and Sparrowhawk is out to find out why magic seems to be draining out of the world, and darkness is creeping into people's hearts.

After some misadventures with slavers, they make their way to Sparrowhawk's friend/love interest Tenar, and her adopted daughter Therru. Unfortunately, the malevolent mage Cob has learned of Sparrowhawk's presence nearby, and plans to use Arren in his quest for eternal life and revenge againt Sparrowhawk... unless Therru can help her friend come to terms with his inner darkness.

Like most movies from Studio Ghibli, "Tales From Earthsea" is visually stunning almost beyond belief -- ivy-draped cities, azure seaports, dark looming castles against twilight skies, and long sweeping green fields dotted with trees in the morning sun. There's a genuine sense of magic and mystery to this world, and you can really feel the passion that Miyazaki had for his story and the way it's depicted.

However, the story itself is kind of mixed. The dialogue is strong and often hauntingly powerful ("But only to men is it given to know that we must die, and that is a precious gift"), and the story has some scenes that linger in the mind afterwards. But the narrative is often confusing -- the murky cosmology, undeveloped backstory (what are the tombs of Atuan?), and the whole subplot about Arren is just befuddling. His initial actions -- before we even get to know him -- are baffling.

Most of the story's character development centers on Arren. He seems like a nice polite young boy, but from his very first shocking scene we see that darkness and despair are slowly consuming him. Miyazaki crafts a solid father/son relationship between Arren and Sparrowhawk, and the archmage is also a powerful character -- understanding, forgiving, and universally kind.

Miyazaki also spins up a solid bond between Sparrowhawk and his old friend Tenar, who have the comfortable feel of an old married couple who know each other so well that they can practically finish each other's sentences. Therru is flawed, though -- she's not really fleshed out much, and she does something near the movie's end that left me scratching my head. It wasn't really foreshadowed or hinted at -- it just happens.

As for the villain Cob... uh, he seems like just a pallid effeminate villain at first, but he gets progressively creepier as we see more of him. Example: the scene where he slips Arren a roofie to get his true name. That was... disturbing.

Goro Miyazaki isn't the master that his father is, but there is still plenty of power, beauty and promise in his movie debut, "Tales From Earthsea." Beautifully rendered, but flawed.

Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems
Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems
Price: CDN$ 0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars I was mortal but am fiend, Jan. 11 2015
I've always had a liking for Edgar Allan Poe, with his tales of horror, mystery and suspense, done in the atmospheric prose of a master writer. Since I live close enough, I've even made some trips to his gravesite, a place that is always surrounded by a sense of sadness.

Poe was a tormented genius who died young, under mysterious circumstances, and at the time of his death he wasn't deservingly popular. Certainly his work was not cute romances for the masses -- he explored the darkness of the human heart, love, satire, and the earliest whodunnit stories. And "Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe" brings together all of his poetry and writings in one book.

Poe's fiction writings include short stories and novellas, which tend to be rather weird -- a treasure-hunt and a golden insect, a ship caught in a whirlpool, a hypnotized man talks about the universe, and stories of despair, madness, and occasionally beauty. There is also his trilogy of Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin stories, which were the first to feature a brilliant detective solving an impossible crime.

Most people know about "The Raven" (which even has the Baltimore Ravens named after it) but Poe actually wrote a lot of poetry, most of which readers never heard of. Sometimes dark, or whimsical, or even both. "By a route obscure and lonely/Haunted by ill angels only/Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT/On a black throne reigns upright..."

And, of course, the horror. This is what Poe is best known for, including such well-known stories as "The Fall Of The House Of Usher." But there are also lesser-known gems -- tales of a plague invading a party, being buried alive, a portrait that siphoned the life out of its subject, and a nightly visit to an Italian crypt leading to madness.

Don't read "Complete Stories and Poems" all at once. It's too intense. It's better to soak it in a little at a time, so that you can get a better feel for the different kinds of writing that Poe did, and how he excelled at pretty much everything he put down on paper. Most great writers can't boast of that much.

Poe's writing is what makes even his least story or poem come alive -- he brought a gothic, misty vibrancy to his stories, and could make his quiet dialogue seem utterly chilling (" "I have no name in the regions which I inhabit. I was mortal, but am fiend..."). It's not hard to see why he was an influence on authors such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle and Franz Kafka.

"Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe" is a must-have for anyone with an appreciation for great literature and beautiful, dark writing.

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