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E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA)
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The Conjuring (Bilingual)
The Conjuring (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Patrick Wilson
Price: CDN$ 11.99
6 used & new from CDN$ 8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "There is something horrible happening in my house.", Feb. 24 2014
This review is from: The Conjuring (Bilingual) (DVD)
You don't see a lot of horror movies anymore. Oh sure, you see lots of movies with obnoxious characters meeting messy, violent ends, but that is more revolting than horrifying.

So "The Conjuring" has a strangely timeless, old-school feel to its story -- the entire first half of the movie is devoted to building up the creeping, shadowy feeling that something terrible is lurking just out of sight, followed by a second half of nightmare fuel. That second half is a bit less gripping, but still pretty good vintage horror.

Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) move into a rather shabby farmhouse with their five daughters. Almost immediately, strange things start happening -- their dog is killed, birds crash into the house, Carolyn finds inexplicable bruises on her body, and the children are tormented by mysterious things in their bedroom. Then Carolyn is locked in the basement by a ghost.

Desperate for help, Carolyn begs paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) to come see her house. They immediately conclude that there is a supernatural force at work here, and that it should be exorcised. But the malevolent forces in the Perron house are working fast, and the Warrens may have to take matters into their own hands to save the family.

"The Conjuring" feels like a much older movie than it actually is -- the slightly faded sepia tone, the lack of sex and gore, the old farmhouse with peeling paint, and the antique furniture wreathed in shadows. And with no initial explanation of just WHAT is haunting the Perron family, you're left wondering what is going on.

That sense of mystery is what makes the first half of the movie so intensely spooky -- nothing is seen. Instead, James Wan builds up a slow, creeping sense of horror that seeps into the most innocent of actions, using things that you cannot see -- a nasty smell, a shuffling in the dark, a mysterious bruise, a tugging on a kid's leg, an unseen specter lurking behind a door.

In fact, the second half is less effectively horrific because we actually start SEEING things (people yanked around on wires, ghosts vomiting themselves into someone's mouth). The movie's biggest flaw is that early on, the Warrens declare that ghosts don't possess people... and yet they never mention this declaration when TA-DA! an evil ghost is found. It's a bit confusing.

It also has uniformly amazing performances -- Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are amazing as the professional demonologists, believing that this is a God-given duty. But they give some nice nuance to their characters, with Ed's concern over his wife's well-being and Lorraine's serene awareness of the supernatural.

And they have equally good performances by Livingston and Taylor, nice ordinary people who find themselves in the grip of something dark and malevolent. And the kids who play their daughters prove that there are excellent child actors out there -- the scene where Joey King tearfully whispers about "something behind the door" is enough to make your spine creep.

"The Conjuring" shows a bit too much in its second half, but it doesn't stop this quietly atmospheric movie from being astoundingly creepy -- partly because of what we never see,

Birdemic 2: The Resurrection [Import]
Birdemic 2: The Resurrection [Import]
Price: CDN$ 16.95
13 used & new from CDN$ 10.81

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Also, global warming, Feb. 24 2014
"Birdemic" was meant to be a serious romantic-thriller (trademarked and everything) with a Serious Message about global warming. Instead we got a gloriously amateurish so-bad-it's-good disaster... like "Troll 2" and "The Room."

So of course, James Nguyen (Master of Romantic Thrillers, TM) made a sequel: "Birdemic 2: The Resurrection." Yes, the floating gif birds are back, as is everything you loved to mock about the first movie -- Natalie's mom, Random Bird Expert Man, coat-hangers, Random Global Expert Man, and so on. But it also has a self-referential story set in Hollywood, gratuitous boobs, and the giant jumbo jellyfish.

The self-referential humor starts with indie director Bill (Thomas Favaloro) slowly meandering down Hollywood Blvd. and chatting up a disinterested blonde Gloria (Chelsea Turnbo), whom he tries to convince to audition for his new movie "Sunset Dreams." He then meets his wealthy friend Rod (Alan Bagh) and his distractedly vacuous girlfriend Natalie (Whitney Moore).

Rod is going to be an investor on "Sunset Dreams," and after Bill convinces Gloria to audition for (and win) the lead female role, she begins double-dating with him, Rod and Natalie. But their pre-production bliss is ruined when giant prehistoric eagles (just go with it) explode from the lake and begin randomly killing people all throughout Hollywood. Can Bill, Gloria, Rod and Natalie escape the terror of poorly-animated gif birds?!

One of the important rules of "So Bad They're Good" movies is that they can't be self-consciously awful. These have to be real, serious, heartfelt pieces of art that just happen to be brain-meltingly bad... and that is why "Birdemic 2" is not in the same league as the first movie. It's too AWARE of its badness, and too quick to homage James Nguyen's (Master of Romantic Thrillers, TM) filmmaking flaws.

Yes, "Birdemic 2" is an entertainingly bad story -- James Nguyen (Master of Romantic Thrillers, TM) injects random over-the-top nonsense like a zombie attack and a woman being attacked by a "giant jumbo jellyfish" (to which Gloria blandly asks the screaming bloodstained woman, "Are you okay?"). The acting is awkward at best, and Nguyen (Master of Romantic Thrillers, TM) even tosses in a totally gratuitous scene where bare-breasted women bounce around swatting at the birds.

But it's not as fun because it knows that it's a terrible movie, and refer a lot to the terribleness of the previous movie. You have the random side-characters, the bad sound, the global warming message, the coat-hangers, the special effects that Internet reviewers do better... except now they're done intentionally. Half the side characters are cameos by characters from the first.

However... there are moments where you start to wonder just what Nguyen (Master of Romantic Thrillers, TM) INTENDED to be bad, and what he just intended to be random. For instance, I don't think he meant for Bill's relationship with Gloria to feel so... casting couch. It's icky.

As for the acting, it's... awkward and weird. Bagh is as affectedly weird as ever, and Moore's Natalie comes across as a perky airhead who rarely speaks (and when she does, it's usually too loud). Favaloro and Turnbo give equally odd performances -- they seem pretty plausible, and Favaloro actually seems pretty enthusiastic, but are clearly being directed to act BADLY. So yes, woodenness all around.

"Birdemic 2" is not the masterpiece of ineptitude that the first movie was, but it is a pretty entertaining self-parody that dances between true ineptitude and the parody of it.

Blandings: Series 1
Blandings: Series 1
DVD ~ Timothy Spall
Price: CDN$ 39.74
24 used & new from CDN$ 24.99

4.0 out of 5 stars PIG HOOOO-EEYYY!, Feb. 24 2014
This review is from: Blandings: Series 1 (DVD)
P.G. Wodehouse was a wellspring of comedy. When someone adapts his works, they have a lot to live up to -- especially after the brilliant "Jeeves and Wooster" series.

And while "Blandings Series 1" is not comic perfection, it's a funny, light, frothy little sitcom set in a Downton Abbeyesque country estate where wacky things happen on a regular basis -- romantic trials, pig competitions, domineering aunts and the occasional avalanche of dog biscuits. An excellent cast -- including Jennifer Saunders and Timothy Spall -- doesn't hurt either.

Lord Blandings (Spall) is a simple man who loves nothing more than gardening and caring for his prize pig, the Empress. Unfortunately, his officious sister Lady Connie (Saunders) is determined to have Blandings Castle run "properly," and his flaky son Freddie Threepwood (Jack Farthing and a mass of hair gel) brings a bunch of his own problems to the table.

His life is particularly thrown into turmoil when Connie hires a domineering secretary (David Walliams) to sort out his life of pleasant disarray, and it will take the help of the alcoholic manservant Beach (Mark Williams) to thwart him. Also, there are sabotaged pig competitions, pig calls, dog food investments, Portuguese dancers, violent bookmakers, air-guns (in the butt!), London children, and a grasping widow determined to make Lord Blandings her new husband.

Simply put, "Blandings" is not quite up to the Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry standard. There's only so much Wodhouseian wackiness you can cram into half an hour. But taken just on its own merits, it's a fun show -- and it has all the Wodehouse staples like scary aunts, clever servants, and an endless stream of nieces and nephews with needlessly complicated love lives.

And it has that lovably bizarre wackiness, with lots of flittering slang-filled dialogue ("I'm stony as Chisel Beach, Beach!") and a healthy dose of slapstick (everybody shoots Baxter in the butt with an air gun). There are a few subplots that don't quite bloom (the controlling Scottish gardener) but most of them end up twining together nicely, with suitably gooftastic payoffs.

And yes, the cast is the main reason this story works so well. Spall is great as a perpetually bewildered aristocrat who just wants to mess around in his garden and pamper his pig. Saunders is gloriously controlling, but there are a few moments that do make you like Lady Connie despite her flaws, and Farthing is pleasantly flaky as Spall's perennially broke son. The only problem is that Williams seems to fade into the background too much at first, and Beach only comes into his own once he matches wits with Baxter.

"Blandings Series 1" is just like frolicking in whipped cream -- silly and frothy, with all the staples you expect from a PG Wodehouse story. Here's hoping for a second season.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
by Bill Dedman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.44
34 used & new from CDN$ 18.27

4.0 out of 5 stars An enigma from another age, Feb. 24 2014
While house-hunting online, author Bill Dedman came across a mysterious real estate listing: a $24 million house in New Canaan.

That was the beginning of a search for the life story of Huguette Clark, whose own employees weren't entirely sure she was alive. It's a big challenge for any writer -- telling the story of an heiress whose life is more mystery than verified fact -- and with the help of her nephew Paul Clark Newell Jr., Dedman brings alive the last embers of the Gilded Age.

After investigating the for-sale mansion -- which had not been inhabited since 1951 -- Dedman became intrigued by the story of the woman who owned it. Huguette Clark was 103 years old, possibly dead, and had not lived in her expensive mansions for many decades. She had not been photographed in decades, and was so fiercely private that many of her own relatives could not contact her.

But as buried as it is, there is a story behind Huguette Clark -- she was the youngest child of multimillionaire Senator W.A. Clark, grew up in an absurdly large mansion, debuted in the flapper era, married briefly, hobnobbed with royalty, and became increasingly reclusive and eccentric as her life wound on. Eventually she moved into a hospital for many years, despite being in excellent health, and died after a century of life, leaving behind a will as weird as she was.

A writer of nonfiction needs to do at least one of two things: bring the story to life as a writer, and bring factual information to light for the reader. Dedman succeeds in both things -- he resurrects countless ragged scraps of information and patches them together into a cohesive story, and he brings to life the shadowy, forgotten moments of Clark's life. Newell further embellishes these scraps by revealing the conversations he had with his mysterious relative, and the various things she said to him.

In fact, the dearth of detailed information about Clark means that Dedman's investigations are all the more in-depth -- every interview is precious, every detail is described with loving care. His descriptions of the post-Gilded-Age wealth that spawned Clark -- such as the beautiful "fairy-tale" mansion where she grew up -- are absolutely luscious to read.

And while Huguette is the focus of the story, Dedman also explores the lives and personalities of the people around her. Her father -- who is interesting enough for his own biography -- gets a few chapters, and her sister Andree as well.

But there's always a bittersweet note to the story, because of just how strange this woman became. She seems to go from a normal young girl to an increasingly strange woman, using her money to insulate herself into a comfortable little bubble of familiarity -- she almost ceases to exist, except in a nebulous, faraway sense. Through others' accounts -- including Newell -- she seems like a sweet, pleasant person, but it leaves you with a sense of sadness that her life was so devoid of normalcy.

"Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune" is a beautifully bittersweet little book, stoking a story from little smoldering twigs. Definitely an intriguing read, and a beautifully-written one.

The Song Of The Quarkbeast
The Song Of The Quarkbeast
by Jasper Fforde
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 14.43
3 used & new from CDN$ 7.93

4.0 out of 5 stars That was fun in a panicky, exciting, soil-your-underwear kind of way, Feb. 24 2014
Not long ago, Jennifer Strange brought magic back to the world... which apparently doesn't earn you a break from your job.

And after the bittersweet note of "The Last Dragonslayer," Jasper Fforde's second Chronicles of Kazam novel is a bit lighter on its feet. "The Song of the Quarkbeast" still has some darker edges, but it's a nimbler, slightly more frenetic fantasy story -- and the multiple subplots show Fforde off in an entertaining manner. It also makes you quite happy that there is no magic in our world.

Magic has resurfaced in the world, but it's still building back to higher levels. And this means more work for Kazam's resident magicians, who have a knack for attracting trouble -- think petrification spells, a mysterious evil ring in a well, begging The King's Useless Brother for a magic license, and the possibility of a new Quarkbeast arriving in town.

But because politicians ruin everything, King Snodd IV decides declares that Kazam and their bitter rival iMagic will have a contest. Prize: the opposing company. And it doesn't take long before trumped-up charges land almost all the Kazam magicians in jail, forcing Jennifer and Tiger to confront a sinister conspiracy that could see all their coworkers turned to stone.

While I enjoyed "The Last Dragonslayer," it wasn't the best demonstration of Jasper Fforde's talents -- despite the wackiness of the Quarkbeast, it was rather bleak and straightforward. So it's kind of a relief that "The Song of the Quarkbeast" is a return to form, with a more convoluted plot, multiple subplots, and some rather wacky magics. Think caramelized clothes, lovestruck badgers and earwax-clearing teleportation spells.

It's still a pretty dark story in many ways, with heavy doses of treachery, political backstabbing and some severed extremities. However, there's a better balance of witty comedy and seriousness here, sometimes mingled together (the meeting with the obviously bored King's Useless Brother). And all the subplots are neatly tangled together into a convoluted plot -- all of which erupts into a beautifully dramatic climax.

And once again, poor plucky Jennifer finds herself afloat in a disastrous situation that only she can untangle, with the help of Tiger Prawns. It's fun to see a heroine in a fantasy who is an ordinary person, but still stays afloat because of brains and quick wits (take that, Bella Swan). And through these characters, Fforde gets to make some satirical points about the people in society who aren't considered "valuable," like the foundlings.

But Fforde also explores some of the magicians, both good and bad -- and while most of the Kazam sorcerers at first seem kind of petulant and egocentric, you see that they (mostly) aren't bad people. And the Once Magnificent Boo is... well, magnificent.

"The Song of the Quarkbeast" is no less dark than its predecessor, but it also has a heavy dose of clever comedy, a complex plot, and the occasional impossible animal. A fun read for Fforde fanatics.

Kinslayer: The Lotus War Book Two
Kinslayer: The Lotus War Book Two
by Jay Kristoff
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
34 used & new from CDN$ 7.57

3.0 out of 5 stars A girl even the guild fears, Feb. 24 2014
"Japanese steampunk" was basically all that was needed to interest me in the Lotus War series -- steam and katanas, kitsunes and steel.

And anyone who enjoyed (or didn't enjoy) Jay Kristoff's debut novel "Stormdancer" can easily figure out if they will like the sequel, "Kinslayer" -- because it's more of the same, really. Lots of political maneuverings, Japanese-styled steampunk trappings and explosive action, wrapped up in detailed prose that sometimes borders on royal purple.

Yukiko is now known as Stormdancer, and is powerful enough to take down airships as revenge for her dad's death. But then her former lover Hiro suddenly decides to marry Aisha, allowing him to claim the Daimyo's position, Yukiko is devastated. Not only is the rebellion against the Guilds threatened, but suddenly her powers are spiraling out of her control.

Her allies -- including the loving Kin -- are concerned about what her powers are doing. And in the meantime, assassin-maid Kage Michi infiltrates the bed of a powerful magistrate, and a False Lifer joins the rebel ranks. When Yukiko is sent on a mission across the sea, she finds herself alone in a hostile land, with Buruu mysteriously missing -- and she learns that her old friend has a nasty past that has caught up to him.

"Kinslayer" is pretty much a natural extension of "Stormdancer" -- Jay Kristoff writes in much the same style, with a feudal-era Japan filled with toxic "blood lotus" and steampunk technology, including steel "skins" and metal wings. It's an intriguing world, and Kristoff expands it in this story to a fantasy version of Russia (and some more "thunder-tigers").

Unfortunately, Kristoff's prose is both his weakness and his strength. It's rich and detailed, with vast swathes of glassy color and rich, raw energy, as well as some bone-chilling horror (those skinless monks). And while the story sprawls across a large cast of characters, most of it focuses on the relationship between Yukiko and her griffin Buruu ("I WILL REMAIN MAGNIFICENTLY SILENT").

But it also tends towards purple -- a few scenes are so drenched in metaphor and lush descriptions that I literally didn't know what was going on. And Kristoff tosses in some clunky sociopolitical commentary ("More land. More fuel") that just feels awkward.

Yukiko seems to have lost a lot of her equilibrium in this story as well -- her emotions can cause mass slaughter and earthquakes, and she seems to freak out a lot. Hiro becomes even more despicable than before, while Kin continues seeping into the readers' affections -- and you're left wondering what kind of romance MIGHT bloom up between him and Yukiko, assuming that his nebulous future doesn't come to pass.

"Kinslayer" is a decent sequel to "Stormdancer," with a wider scope and more details about the magical animal sidekick. However, the prose is still a bit too over-the-top for its own good.

Airborn
Airborn
by Kenneth Oppel
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.49
14 used & new from CDN$ 2.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Up in the air!, Feb. 24 2014
This review is from: Airborn (Mass Market Paperback)
Kenneth Oppel, best known for writing about bats, seems to be channelling the spirit of Jules Verne in "Airborn," a steampunk/airpunk novel that spends all its time aloft. Between mysterious flying beasts and pirate attacks, Oppel gives readers a glimpse of life aboard an airship... if airships, not planes, were the major way to travel.

Matt Cruse is on the crow's nest, as the "ship's eyes," when he catches a glimpse of a sinking airship. The dying balloonist dies shortly afterward -- but not before telling Matt about glorious winged creatures. Matt dismisses these as hallucinations -- but one year later, a routine cruise on the airship Aurora becomes something more when the dead man's granddaughter Kate arrives. Wealthy but treated like a nuisance, Kate is determined to find whatever her grandfather saw.

She shows Matt her grandfather's writings about these winged creatures, and Matt is slowly convinced that the old man wasn't just hallucinating. But their investigations are interrupted by a sudden pirate attack -- which leaves the Aurora sinking from a rip in its envelope. Soon the airship and her crew and passengers are stranded on a deserted island, which may hold the secret to Kate's winged beasts... but it also holds the pirates.

Oppel really hits his stride in this book, mixing science with science fiction and wrapping it in a fantasy tortilla. While his bat books were quite good, "Airborn" has the rare quality of slipping readers into his imagined universe. It's one of those stories that can be easily imagined as a reality, even if we do have planes and not airships. He even describes how creatures like the cloud cats could fly, were they real.

After the initial rescue, which gets readers hooked into the story, Oppel takes his time to unfold the plot, described in careful detail and with plenty of rich skyborne atmosphere. His setting seems to be, like Hayao Miyazaki's "Castle in the Sky," a mix of old and new -- while it's full of airships and similar technology, the attitudes seem to be that of the Victorian or Edwardian era.

The pre-pirate plot is a bit slow, but very necessary -- Oppel introduces readers to the Aurora, her chummy crew, and the rich passengers they ferry over the ocean. It also gives Kate and Matt time to get to know each other -- for real, not merely "we're two teens in the same place, we're friends! And maybe more someday!"

Speaking of Matt and Kate, they are definitely good lead characters. Matt is "airborn," a kid born in an airship and now at home nowhere except in the sky, even though his father died there. Kate is a good counterpoint, since she is everything Matt is not -- wealthy, adventurous, and all too willing to let people know when she is frustrated. The supporting characters, from the prissy chaperone to the genial captain, are also well-drawn; the only exception is rich boy Bruce, who doesn't get much time.

Kenneth Oppel created a rich new fantasy world in "Airborn," and left plenty of sky left to explore in sequels. A bright, fast-moving steampunk/airpunk delight.

Twixt
Twixt
DVD ~ Val Kilmer
Price: CDN$ 4.88

2.0 out of 5 stars Twixt confusion and weirdness, Feb. 24 2014
This review is from: Twixt (DVD)
Once upon a time, Francis Ford Coppola made movies like "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now." He also made "Bram Stoker's Dracula," but that doesn't eclipse his accomplishments.

But Francis Ford Coppola clearly has entered the "I'm going to do whatever I want, even if it makes no sense" phase in his career. Exhibit A: "Twixt," a baffling little movie that twines together ghosts, vampire bikers, child murder, Edgar Allen Poe and a big messy knot of subplots that may or may not be real.

I once tried to summarize "Twixt" to an acquaintance, and ended up babbling incoherently about Poe, vampires, ghosts and dead children. But I'll try to tackle it anyway: Second-string horror author Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) is touring for his latest novel, and ends up in a small town that doesn't even have a bookstore. That evening, he encounters a strange, ghostly young girl who calls herself "V" (Elle Fanning).

He soon finds that strange things are afoot in this town -- time seems to be frozen (none of the clock faces move), there is a gang of bikers who may be vampires camped out on the lakeshore, and the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe visits him in his dreams to reveal half-forgotten secrets. And what does all this have to do with the recently-murdered girl lying in the police station?

It's really hard to even pass judgement on "Twixt" -- it would involve understanding what the director was trying to do... or thinking... or understanding ANYTHING. It feels like Coppola had four or five different ideas for stories ("Vampire bikers! A vampire/ghost orphan! Dream messages from Poe! A failing author with personal issues!"), and so he squashes all of them into one movie.

The result feels like a mad hybrid of Stephen King and David Lynch. The small-town setting, the supernatural threats and the eccentric characters feel somewhat like something King would put in a story... but the way it's presented is wildly Lynchian, with giant lumps of misty symbolism and blurred borders between fantasy and reality. You could watch this movie a dozen times, and still not be sure what is happening.

For instance, one scene features Baltimore wandering into a blue-lit bar, where he listens to two people who speak in an affected, dreamlike way and occasionally sings "The Big Rock Candy Mountain." After one of them attacks V, they babble some more about how the clocks do not work and time cannot be measured... and Baltimore just leaves. Utterly baffling... and no, it is never referred to again.

I suspect that Val Kilmer was just as baffled, because that's effectively the performance he gives -- total confusion. He does a decent job with Baltimore's frustration and grief over the problems in his life, but most of the time he's left staring around in confusion. Elle Fanning isn't in much of the movie, but she does do a good job as a girl who may be a ghost, a vampire, a dream, or whatever.

But one thing that Coppola does not fail at is making the movie beautiful -- it's a misty, night-hued story that drifts over lakes, through ruined stone walls, through moonlight-dappled forests. Some of the greenscreen is a bit obvious, but it doesn't distract from the hauntingly lovely, surreal visuals that fill most of the movie.

Francis Ford Coppola has become the elderly winemaking version of people who make amateur horror shorts and put them up on youtube. "Twixt" is utterly baffling and bizarre, but at least it's a pretty kind of baffling/bizarre.

The Canyons
The Canyons
DVD ~ Lindsay Lohan
Price: CDN$ 18.98
4 used & new from CDN$ 12.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Canyon of emptiness, Feb. 24 2014
This review is from: The Canyons (DVD)
There are bad movies that make you angry. There are bad movies that make you laugh. And then... there are bad movies that make you feel a little depressed and icky, but mostly just bored.

"The Canyons" is the last kind -- a hollow low-budget melodrama that begins and ends with empty pretension. It has roughly the same kind of story (shallow rich people, sex, murder) that Bret Easton Ellis has been writing for the past several decades, centering on a rapidly deteriorating Lindsay Lohan and her smoker's croak.

Rich brat/movie producer Christian (James Deen) is in a relationship with Tara (Lohan), an aging party-girl who desperately wants the financial security he gives her. Every night, Christian brings in other people (both male and female) to have sex with Tara while he watches, and sometimes they participate in group sex.

Tara convinces Christian to cast struggling actor/bartender Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk) in his latest schlock movie -- without mentioning that Ryan is her ex-boyfriend, and that she's having a secret affair with him. But Christian suspects what Tara and Ryan are up to -- and he sets out to destroy his rival in any way possible. Even murder.

Even before it was made, "The Canyons" was overshadowed by the forces behind it -- it was written by Ellis, directed by Richard Schrade, and starred the perennial train-wreck Lindsay Lohan in her "comeback." What was more, the movie was funded by Kickstarter and distributed on VOD. This movie could have been on the vanguard of the new wave of entertainment production...

... but to do that, it would have to be good. And it's not. Instead it feels like Ellis is running on empty, so he's regurgitating pallid knockoffs of the shocking, controversial kind of stories that he's written about in his books. It's like a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox, and it just leaves me wondering why he was so desperate to make this movie.

Bless Richard Schrader, he's trying to do SOMETHING with this mess, but doesn't seem to know what. The plot aimlessly wanders around, following Tara and Christian in their little cat-and-mouse game, having awkwardly unsexy sex and boring us into a stupor with the stilted, hackneyed dialogue. As the final indignity, they try to throw "twists" into it, but they are either nonsensical or predictable.

So it's a bad movie. But it's not the hilariously awful, awkward train-wreck that people wanted. It's too good to be hilarious like "The Room," but too bad to be watchable.

It's also kind of sad that the best performance (no double-entendre intended) comes from a porn actor. Actually, James Deen is really, really good as Christian -- a cold, dead-eyed sociopath who has wells of white-hot fury inside him. He loves no one, and sees everyone who isn't easily controllable (like Tara) as an obstacle.

Sadly, Deen is the best actor here. Funk is painfully out of his depth here. And Lohan is effectively playing herself, though not very well -- an aging, damaged party girl who lives off the largesse of rich men because she couldn't cut it as an actress. You can practically see her crumbling away in front of your eyes, with her ravaged face and croaking voice. It adds a poignancy to her performance that her affected acting sadly can't supply.

"The Canyons" is a movie that feels like a halfhearted effort from everyone involved, except the scarily empty-eyed Deen. It's not bad enough to be entertaining, and too bad to be enjoyable.

The Iron Fey Volume One: The Iron King\The Iron Daughter
The Iron Fey Volume One: The Iron King\The Iron Daughter
by Julie Kagawa
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.24
25 used & new from CDN$ 11.65

4.0 out of 5 stars We see you. We're coming for you, Feb. 24 2014
Ever since Holly Black released her Modern Faerie Tales, countless tales of teenage girls who discover their connection to the fae have been published.

Most of them are pretty generic. However, "The Iron King" and "The Iron Daughter" may be two of the rare few who even comes close to Black's urban fantasies -- Julie Kagawa's first two novels are filled with hauntingly lyrical prose and a likably down-to-earth heroine. Even better, she weaves some rare, unique faeries into her world.

In "Iron King," Meghan Chase discovers that her brother Ethan has been replaced by a malevolent doppelganger. Her friend Robbie Goodfell informs her that Ethan has been kidnapped by the Unseelie Court and replaced by a changeling -- and in her quest to save her baby brother, Meaghan will discover the truth about her long-absent biological father. And to save Ethan, she must venture into the realm of a new king of fey -- the Iron Fey.

"The Iron Daughter" sees Meaghan imprisoned in the icy court of Winter, due to a contract she made to save her brother. Even worse, Prince Ash is suddenly treating her... well, frostily, and his brother Rowan is messing with her. But when the Iron Fey kill the crown prince and steal the Scepter of the Seasons, suddenly Summer and Winter are about to go to war -- and the only person who can stop it is Meaghan.

"The Iron King" starts the series off pretty well, most of which is Meaghan trying to get her brother back and dealing with the mysterious forces of the Fey world. "The Iron Daughter" turns the fey romance/fantasy into something much darker, introducing blood, torture and treachery into Meaghan's story.

Kagawa's exquisite prose is why this book stands head-and-shoulders above most other faery tales -- she laces the story with hauntingly lovely scenery and luscious descriptions ("Will-o'-the-wisps and globes of faery fire drifted between them, sending shards of fractured light over the walls and floor"). On the other hand, she inserts some moments of pure horror ("... his face blue and wrinkled, his lips pulled into a rictus grin").

And the faery world she creates is suitably "rich and strange" -- while it's hauntingly beautiful, everything there is deadly. The Winter court is icy, glittering, savage and unforgiving as a blizzard. But with the idea of "iron fey," she also adds something new to the genre: faerie creatures who are based on modern technology.

Meghan is a fairly average teen girl in the first few chapters, getting mocked at school and struggling with a crush, but she blossoms into a very strong, capable young woman after her brother vanishes. She does seem to wilt in the second book, where she cries more and doesn't seem freaked-out enough. However, she perks up somewhat when the story picks up.

We also have the required love triangle. Puck is a deliciously mischievous sidekick who knows how way through some nasty situations. And the chilly yet passionate Ash has some lovely chemistry with Meaghan, and his subplot has a twist that is both wrenching and romantic.

"The Iron Fey Volume One: The Iron King\The Iron Daughter" combines Julie Kagawa's first two strong, ethereal fantasy novels -- and will leave readers anticipating the outcome of Ash and Meaghan's story.

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