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D. Mok (Los Angeles, CA)

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Dark Angel:S1
Dark Angel:S1
DVD ~ Jessica Alba
Offered by torontomediadvd_com
Price: CDN$ 40.88
14 used & new from CDN$ 14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed brilliance., Oct. 10 2003
This review is from: Dark Angel:S1 (DVD)
One of Dark Angel's great gifts is that unlike Alias or La Femme Nikita, this show did not overuse and exploit the sexuality of its female lead. The other two shows craft their own action heroine, but often condescend towards her from a strictly male perspective. Dark Angel's Max is a far more interesting and truly strong character with strengths and flaws, and as a result makes a better female lead.
Jessica Alba isn't that experienced an actress and her performance in the first third of this season is good but flawed. She always excelled at the comedic moments, but she didn't nail the latent ferocity of the character until later in the season. By the time William Gregory Lee (Zack) enters the picture, happily, Alba is in control, and the show finds its narrative focus as well. John Savage is excellent as the ruthless but strangely vulnerable Lydecker, and the enormously charismatic Michael Weatherly is the perfect foil to Alba. The supporting regulars are perfect: Valarie Rae Miller, as Original CIndy, deserves applause for playing one of the first truly well-rounded lesbian characters I've seen on TV. This character is not defined or trapped by her lesbianism, but merely enriched. Alimi Ballard is a hoot and a half as ganja-smoking Herbal Thought; Richard Gunn is lovably bumbling as Sketchy; Jennifer Blanc plays sultry roommate Kendra; and J.C. Mackenzie's turn as obsessive Republican fanatic Normal is a comic delight.
I'm not too fond of Dark Angel's overt passes at post-modern techniques -- those video speed ramps got on my nerves after one episode, and the opening titles look strangely cheesy. However, the production values throughout are high, and the action scenes are terrific, making the martial-arts scenes in Buffy the Vampire Slayer look downright primitive. And the world of post-apocalyptic Seattle they created is intoxicating, a never-ending wasteland of hip-hop culture, old-New-York-style graffiti and technoscapes.
Some of these episodes are slow and ponderous -- the weakest being the dull, snail-paced serial-killer yarn "Pollo Loco" and "Shortie's in Love", which was hurt by an overtly preachy pro-lesbian tone and a weak, one-note performance by Tangelia Rouse, who is simply no match for Valarie Rae Miller and only serves to bog her down.
All in all, this was a very good show. Given its enormous production scope, I was hardly surprised that the show didn't survive. But even given its short lifespan, Dark Angel has already left an impressive legacy and will no doubt become one of the premier cult shows of the decade.

La Femme Nikita: The Complete First Season (6 Discs)
La Femme Nikita: The Complete First Season (6 Discs)
DVD ~ Peta Wilson
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 46.04
11 used & new from CDN$ 28.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good plots, undone by serious casting mistake., Oct. 9 2003
It was the knowledge that this show was made by the creators of the groundbreaking 24 show that drew me to this DVD set. Right away, something felt wrong.
The Joel Surnow/Robert Cochran signature of dark story lines, ruthless characters and violent plots is there, but the pilot had me gagging. It was a fatal error to copy the first half of the original French film into the restrictive 50-minute TV format; events happen with almost no impact, and the whole setup seems wrong. An agent with an Australian accent, a quaint oh-so-French name, mixed in with a mostly Canadian cast, set in Toronto locations but passing for an undisclosed U.S. location? The Canadian locales wouldn't be so noticeable if they hadn't cast Peta Wilson as Nikita. While she's hugely attractive and has a to-die-for figure, Wilson's Australian accent throws Nikita's character hopelessly off-balance with everything else. Also, being an ex-model, Wilson's acting ability is somewhat shaky. She improves about halfway through the show and grows more and more watchable, but she is highly self-conscious in the beginning third of the season. This problem is nothing compared to whom they'd cast as her love interest...Roy Dupuis is simply horrible, horrible as Nikita's mentor and action man Michael. Dupuis's Fabio-style mullet, baby-soft eyes and perpetual pout reduce him to a boy-toy character without an ounce of strength. It's a little more bearable to watch him play sadder scenes, but to see him try to take command in the field is simply painful. What this character needed was an actor with a steely core such as Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer in 24) or Michael Weatherly (Logan Cale in Dark Angel). Where Dark Angel succeeded in generating a rich, complex, and fascinating relationship between its main characters in one episode, it took me about 15 episodes of this show until I began to even care what Michael does.
There are also some unnecessarily cheesy touches to this show that serve to cheapen its value. The cinematography, for example; some reviewers have called this show noir and not without reason (thanks to the insidious plotting), but the look of this show is all bright, almost kindergarten colours. Add that to the directors' fondness for overusing that post-production slow-motion technique (which looks like a shutter-speed effect) especially in action scenes, and you got one low-budget-looking show.
Luckily, the scripts are pretty interesting, and Surnow and co. are never afraid to make the worst happen -- always a good thing when it comes to action-suspense stories. And the supporting cast holds a few gems: Matthew Ferguson is entirely engaging as tech nerd Birkoff, and Alberta Watson is fine as the matronly Madeline. Some terrific guest spots as well, such as Peter Outerbridge (Kissed). You may know him as the sadistic Ronnie Stark from 24's Season Two, but his sensitive guest turn here is highly moving. Felicity Waterman is also great as enigmatic new recruit Karyn, and Surnow favourites Harris Yulin and Tobin Bell (Roger Stanton and Peter Kingsley in 24) show up to lend a touch of class to the acting department, almost successfully offsetting the big black hole that is Roy Dupuis. Surprisingly, veteran Canadian actor Maury Chaykin does a sub-par job playing a Rain Man ripoff character; Chaykin is usually quite good at making unusual choices, but here he's all cliche.
La Femme Nikita, the series, obviously doesn't have the budget or innovation of 24. Still, I think most of its problems aren't related to budget, but to choices -- Dupuis being the most glaring mistake. As it is, it's a watchable series, but far from great.

Feel It
Feel It
Price: CDN$ 20.35
18 used & new from CDN$ 4.25

4.0 out of 5 stars Welcome back, Juliana!, Sept. 24 2003
This review is from: Feel It (Audio CD)
After almost a decade of shaky albums (Bed, Total System Failure), Juliana Hatfield shifts gears and produces her most enjoyable album since Only Everything. By re-entering the band dynamic, with old Blake Babies bandmate
Freda Love and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Heidi Gluck, Hatfield has rediscovered her sense of melody and lyrical bite.
The subtle guitar chug of opener "Feel It" immediately makes a good impression. A simple little riff, Love's bizarre, almost machine-like drumming and a pretty vocal harmony combine to make a good pop song. Gluck steals the show on the propelling "Just Like the First Time" where her elemental slide- guitar part makes the song, and the warm, affectionate "Almost True" has Hatfield's loveliest singing since "My Darling". Gluck's instrumental embellishments are just fantastic: When that harmonica comes into "Almost True", it turns the college-pop soundscape upside down...and unbelievably beautiful. She may be the brightest spark on this new record.
I was a little disappointed that Hatfield's guitar playing is a little repetitive, with the same basic, slightly fuzzed-out rhythm tone in every song. She used to be a much more creative guitar player on past works like "My Sister" (with its addictive shimmering chimes/fuzz chords contrast) and "My Darling" (with acoustic and electric versions, different but equally good). There's one screeching solo on "You Don't Know", but she used to be more creative in her rhythm playing.
Thankfully Hatfield's rejuvenated sense of songwriting, complemented by some nice Freda Love compositions, is enough to compensate for this weakness. Heidi Gluck's inventive choice of instruments and country influence also enhance the record's sonic palette. A good pop record, free of baggage and very listenable.

24: Season Two
24: Season Two
DVD ~ Kiefer Sutherland
Offered by The Digital Vault
Price: CDN$ 57.77
22 used & new from CDN$ 8.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Less kinetic than Season One, but still highly gripping., Sept. 21 2003
This review is from: 24: Season Two (DVD)
Season Two is the true test of this show's mettle. Can 24 sustain itself now that the novelty of its groundbreaking real-time conceit has worn off?
The answer is yes. 24's writers and producers are smart enough to know that it wasn't so much the real-time aspect which connected with people, but the array of insurmountable obstacles and impossible odds with which Jack Bauer is faced episode after episode, as befits a good suspense thriller.
Season Two's nuclear-bomb plot is much more ambitious than Season One. And yes, there comes a point in the middle where the action lapses quite badly, when the threat of detonation diminishes. And the show underutilizes Jack's character for a good four, five episodes -- a mistake. It's Kiefer Sutherland's edgy, aggressive portrayal of this dogged, often morally questionable character that anchors the tone of the show, and the first quarter of the show has far too much Kate Warner (Sarah Wynter) and not enough jack Bauer.
The Kate Warner subplot, while a good one in conception, goes awry in execution for a good 50 per cent of the show. Sarah Wynter does an adequate job, but every single character in this subplot remains paper-thin up until the midpoint of the season. It's like the gooey family love-in in Season One without the physical danger. Since the characters have no weight (Laura Harris as Marie Warner is especially irritating), their fussy interactions also ring hollow, especially ranked alongside Jack's apocalyptic nuclear threat and even the Kim Bauer kidnapping subplot. Once Kate and Jack meet and she is incorporated into the conspiracy through-line, she becomes a much better character and Wynter's appeal comes through.
Sutherland remains the center of everything, befittingly. The loss of Sarah Clarke in the main cast does hurt; Reiko Aylesworth does a fine job as replacement Michelle Dessler, but she just doesn't have Clarke's arresting presence. Fans of Season One looking for closure in the Nina Myers subplot can stop looking -- Season Two gives Clarke a wonderful opportunity to chew scenery and play an insidious villainess and Clarke is terrific in this role, but don't expect any attempt to explain just how Nina Myers went from saintly sidekick to vicious double agent. Elisha Cuthbert continues to impress with acting nuances uncommon among actresses her age; she's a pro at making interesting choices at emotional moments. Dennis Haysbert is stately and subtly powerful as President Palmer, and happily, Penny Johnson Jerald as Sherry Palmer is given a more human dimension in the scripts, rather than the blindly destructive saboteur of Season One, and Jerald rises to the occasion. The best performance of the season, however, belongs to Xander Berkeley. Finally this fine actor is given a character arc worthy of his abilities, and Berkeley's portrayal of George Mason's metamorphosis is emotionally devastating, while retaining the character's defining irreverence and scuzziness. I wonder why he was locked out of the Emmys?
Suffice to say that I stayed up for another 20 hours straight watching this thing. This show has a hypnotic quality not found in any other, and you can bet I'll be first in line for Season Three -- especially since Season Two ends on the mother of all cliffhangers. I just hope the writers can keep this up.

Wages Of Sin
Wages Of Sin
Price: CDN$ 18.99
23 used & new from CDN$ 8.48

3.0 out of 5 stars Good instrumental work, terrible vocals., Aug. 30 2003
This review is from: Wages Of Sin (Audio CD)
Funny thing about Goth and doom metal -- most bands in this genre tend to couple very talented musicians (especially in the guitar and drum areas) who have considerable compositional skills and melodic flair with singers who sound like a toilet being flushed. Arch Enemy is one such band, with skillful, engaging music being ruined by laughable, incomprehensible growls that pass for lead vocals.
I know this style of singing is a staple of death metal, but that doesn't change the fact that it's damn silly sonically. It has nothing to do with open-mindedness -- my CD collection ranges from Lake of Tears to Dead Prez, from Kathleen Edwards to Jefferson Airplane. It's just that if I wanted to listen to something like this, I'll go gargle. Bands like Theatre of Tragedy, Tristania and Lacuna Coil alleviate this problem by contrasting high, operatic female vocals with death-metal growls, so that there's some dimension to the vocals. Arch Enemy has a female singer, Angela Gossow, but she never strays from the same atonal gargle, as if she's too lazy to write actual songs to go with the compositions. And while it's perversely impressive for a woman to employ this style of vocal, it still sounds like crap -- the same crap stretched out over 13 tracks.
It's too bad, because the guitar playing and composition on this record are quite impressive. The piano intro and invigorating speed riff of "Enemy Within", the Yngwie Malmsteen-influenced harmonized leads of "Ravenous", the wailing feedback lines of "Savage Messiah" -- they all point to musical intelligence on the part of the instrumentalists.
It's no surprise that comedy films like to use death metal as soundtracks. Arch Enemy will forever be doomed as a musical joke unless it realizes that it needs a massive overhaul on the vocal front. Three stars strictly for the instrumental work.

Federal Protection [Import]
Federal Protection [Import]
DVD ~ Armand Assante
Offered by OMydeals
Price: CDN$ 53.37
7 used & new from CDN$ 14.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A bizarre comedy, made watchable by Meyer and Assante., Aug. 21 2003
This review is from: Federal Protection [Import] (DVD)
This film isn't much of an action thriller, contrary to what the cover suggests. There's a lengthy shootout scene at the end, but most of the film is an excessive, violent, aiming-to-be-hip comedy which does draw some good laughs, but ultimately falls short of being a good film.
Dina Meyer all but owns the picture. She single-handedly drives the action, and she's clearly having a ball with the scheming, none-too-bright character. She also supplies the film with its best scene, the seductive cat-and-mouse at the police luncheon. It's precisely this spark that Angela Featherstone lacks -- playing the wounded housewife, Featherstone offers nothing we haven't seen before. A shame, because she'd started her career in an array of strange roles, most memorable being Dark Angel: The Ascent -- not the James Cameron TV show, but the Full Moon Pictures gore film. She's become a token actress with soft eyes and elvish haircut, offering no surprises or star quality. Armand Assante's role in the picture isn't all that large, frankly, but he does appear more confident than most of the other actors. Too bad he and Meyer don't really have scenes together; Meyer is a much better actor than Featherstone for Assante to play opposite.
There are some good sight gags -- the golf-club gag, the aforementioned police luncheon -- but some of that is negated by over-the-top violence. Director Anthony Hickox is at fault -- what did you expect from the director of Hellraiser III? As he deserves credit for the inventiveness of the comedic routines, so he deserves blame for the excessive gore-as-sight-gag scenes, which are never as funny as they think they are.
Worth a look, but not much more.

Devil in the Flesh, Vol. 2 [Import]
Devil in the Flesh, Vol. 2 [Import]
DVD ~ Jodi Lyn O'Keefe
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 27.37
7 used & new from CDN$ 27.35

1.0 out of 5 stars Horrifyingly bad., Aug. 13 2003
This film is in need of an actress like Maruschka Detmers (who starred in the 1986 Italian version). While the Italian version was far from a great film, Detmers gave the uninhibited, feral sexual-predator performance needed to drive the concept. In Devil in the Flesh 2, what we get is the American homogenized version: A bad campus soap opera desperately trying to be an erotic thriller. And when you marry the worst elements of Felicity with Poison Ivy, expect the worst.
And you get the worst. She may be good-looking, but Jodi Lyn O'Keefe is unable to project real threat and sensuality: Her over-the-top makeup job doesn't help and in fact makes her look like a mockery, a parody of a dangerous woman. And you can literally see her actors' contract pass through your eyes when you hit the sex scenes ("No nudity...no nudity..."), where director Marcus Spiegel whips out all the worst cliches: Airy music, dissolves, body doubles with their heads cut off, and...oh! Those painful stop-motion slow-mo shots! If a soft-core stripper video is what they wanted, they certainly succeeded. This character is supposed to be the sexy, uninhibited, dangerous woman who shakes up everybody's world, and the obvious fakeness of the sex scenes just destroys her credibility. At least try to hide the body double, folks!
The directing and editing are just miserable, with the death-by-phone-wire scene being especially laughable. Shoot it three times from similar angles and use all of them -- great way to make the audience notice the stunt woman! I know this film was made for cable, but did they have to flaunt the low production values and bad taste at every turn?
A flick deserving of the utmost contempt and ridicule.

Panamarenko
Panamarenko
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 39.95
2 used & new from CDN$ 35.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Majestic pop music. Unsurpassed songs and arrangements., Aug. 13 2003
This review is from: Panamarenko (Audio CD)
The best album of 2002 finally gets a release stateside! I already own this record as a Japanese import, and it's never left my active playlist, ranking alongside Taste of Joy's Trigger Fables as one of the top five records in my collection.
Swedish band Pineforest Crunch had already released the gorgeous Shangri-La (also known as Water Garden) in the late '90s, which was a quantum leap from the band's charming, whimsical 1996 debut Make Believe. Shangri-La sounded like a career-best masterpiece, but Panamarenko tops it, incredibly, by upping the energy and turning to even more eccentric instruments than usual.
The musicians are virtuosic: Mattias Olsson's agile and flavourful drumming propels each track, locking in tight with bassist Mats Lundgren; guitarists Olle Soderstrom and Jonas Pettersson go from chiming Big Star tones to grinding riffs with equal ease; and singer Asa Eklund has perfected her vocal technique, using her high, demure voice to sing some of the loveliest melodies in pop music, while chipping in on weird instruments such as stylophone and organ. Her trademark flute doesn't make an appearance on this record, but her singing is the finest it's ever been.
The songwriting on this record is exemplary. The heartbreaking "Innocent" is my favourite, with its aching lyrics, fluid guitar lines and sublime harmonized chorus; "Slowly", despite its title, is an aggressive and dark rocker with an unforgettably strange guitar sound and rumbling bass; "College Radio Listeners" sounds like an instant car-radio classic, all strummy acoustic guitars and soaring vocals but dropping to a sexy whisper in the middle; and "Car Crash"'s flowing melodies will stay in your head for days. The band also experiments with ambitious arrangements: "Romantic Strings" sounds like a Casio keyboard demo with vocals, "Wake Up" distorts Eklund's lead vocal to an oddly fitting, muffled squeak; and "Coronation" sets machine-like beats (Olsson is also a whiz on synthesized drum pads) against a mighty chorus and one of Eklund's gutsiest lead vocals.
Simply put, this is a record that belongs in every music library. Snap it up, and also look for the EP for "Innocent", which contains the cynical yet sexy B-side "Happiness and Freedom". This album is one in a million.

Dying In Stereo
Dying In Stereo
Offered by CAMusicFiendz
Price: CDN$ 20.30
12 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Not much to recommend here., Aug. 6 2003
This review is from: Dying In Stereo (Audio CD)
If Northern State wasn't made of three white girls, it would most likely not receive the amount of attention it has. As it is, the group's received an obscene amount of good press (four stars in Rolling Stone!?) and a pretty wide release for its record, but look beyond the gimmick and you'll see it for what it is: A green-as-lettuce, clumsy, compositionally amateurish hip-hop act with decent lyrics that hardly make up for the impoverished musical elements.
The record has maybe one or two moments which grab your ear: The fairly funky bassline of "Signal Flow", the Rhodes-like keyboard behind "Vicious Cycle". But the basis for hip-hop is rhythm, and this record is veritably Stone Age in this department -- almost the exact same beat over eight overlong tracks, with no builds or releases, and Northern State's arrangement ability is far from such that can structure a song coherently. Their voices are definitely annoying, but the Beastie Boys were able to get around this with a more ferocious sound and forceful delivery. Northern State doesn't have this kind of sonic enthusiasm, so listening to this record is like listening to your neighbours' rap-fan kids imitate their idols. You might smile and clap just to make their parents happy, but it's not music you'll ever, ever listen to for real.
It's too bad because Northern State shows promise in one area: Lyrics. There's a charming naivete to the lyrics on this record: "I'm Dr. Prynn, I fight for good, not evil", "I'm lean, I'm mean, I'm clean, I'm not seventeen". An intriguing addition to this department. Not enough to rescue a sonically thin, one-note record made by kids with more enthusiasm than inspiration or experience.

Tribe
Tribe
Offered by beachesmusic
Price: CDN$ 6.94
13 used & new from CDN$ 2.19

2.0 out of 5 stars Queensryche falls even farther from grace., July 31 2003
This review is from: Tribe (Audio CD)
Don't be fooled by the proclamation that this record "featuers the original lineup". A longtime fan, I was wildly elated by the idea of genius guitarist Chris DeGarmo, author of the band's best songs and guitar parts, returning to the fold. But he is given secondary billing, not as a regular band member, which is probably indicative of his limited input into the record.
By all accounts singer Geoff Tate has been increasingly seizing control of the band's direction, and if that's the case, he's to blame for Tribe's watery music and songwriting. The "tribal' motif is a superficial one, no less artificial than the Moroccan melody of "I Am I" from Promised Land, and the band actually relies on the tribal percussion and pretenses towards world music to give its record a semblance of substance. But the songwriting is very weak, as unmemorable as the tuneless compositions on Hear in the Now Frontier, and the tribal motifs actually jar painfully with Geoff Tate's tense prog-rock voice. "Desert Song" is one of the most boring Queensryche songs I've ever heard; "Open" is too long and melodically uncertain, Tate's voice traipsing along like a string part, unable to take control of the song's melodic direction. "Losing Myself" sounds like a bad New Wave dance track without a hook to hang onto. Most annoyingly, the band hasn't given up on the beeps-and-whistles techno obsession that had damaged Promised Land, and married to the feeble attempts at a bassier, more "alternative rock" sound (the curse of Hear in the Now Frontier), there is no longer any Queensryche personality to its music. And Tate's lyrics are now completely banal -- "Reach for the sky, reach for the sky, fly"...yeah, yeah, move on.
Some bands successfully evolve and create new, exciting, completely different versions of itself -- like U2. Other bands recognize their strength and simply flourish within those limitations without embarrassment -- like AC/DC. Queensryche is a band that forgot its own strengths in its attempts to sound more contemporary. As a result, there is no longer any reason for us to listen to it, because the unique original spark is gone, warped and erased by its own creators. This will be the last Queensryche record I'll buy, and I'll probably be selling it off soon to cut my losses.

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