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Jason N. Mical (Kirkland, WA, USA)

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Magician: Master
Magician: Master
by Raymond Feist
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.40
84 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Magician Part Two: The Epic Continues, Aug. 3 2002
Magician: Master, the second half of Raymond E. Feist's Magician after it was subdivided for audiences with shorter attention spans, picks up some years after the first half ends. Pug has been captured and enslaved on Kelewan, serving the Tsurani. One day, a passing Great One (magic user) notices Pug's latent magic power and immediately takes him for magical training. Unlike Pug's homeworld of Midkemia, on Kelewan magic users are revered, as they form the basic protective and governing body of the Empire (Star Wars fans, think Jedi Knights).
Pug, now called Milamber, continues his training until he becomes a full-fledged Great One, and one of the most powerful at that. His mastery of the two paths of magic - the Greater Path, taught on Kelewan, and the Lesser Path, taught on Midkemia, makes him a force that few have seen the likes of on either world. Milamber, exasperated at the Empire's treatment of his countrymen and its own political infighting, makes an important decision to affect what, in his opinion, will be the best for the Empire itself.
Feist begins to interject many more adult themes into Magician: Master, and those who dismissed the first book as typical teenaged fantasy fare are going to be disappointed, because they will have missed one of the most thoughtful fantasy books ever penned. Milamber wrestles with the philosophies of power and the precepts of the Utilitarian principle: how far can one go before the ends no longer justify the means? These are grown-up issues treated with grown-up finesse, and in a memorable scene where Milamber/Pug returns to the princess he forcibly left in Apprentice, the reader sees exactly how much of his childhood has been stripped away, leaving the adult. So, too, does Feist's meticulous storytelling follow this model, sloughing off the final remnants of Pug's childhood for the adult he becomes.
For those who like their fantasy thoughtful and well-written, be sure and get both Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master.
Final Grade: A-

Magician: Apprentice
Magician: Apprentice
by Raymond Feist
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.39
84 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars The Start of a Great Fantasy Epic, July 31 2002
Magician: Apprentice is the first half (with some added material) of Raymond E. Feist's fantasy classic Magician, originally published in the early 1980s and broken into two books in the mid-1990s, when Feist's work was gaining a snowballing audience. Magician deals with the early life of two boys, Pug (the title magician) and Tomas, his more physical pal, both destined for great - or interesting - things. Apprentice follows these two boys from the early parts of their lives, at about 12 years old, to their late teens.
Pug, the main character, is the bookish sort chosen as an apprentice magician in his remote outpost town. Buddy Tomas is chosen to be a member of the Duke's guard, the profession obviously more preferable to the average teenaged boy. Pug discovers that he isn't very good at magic, as he's barely able to work the simplest spells, even though his teacher's magical instruments say the exact opposite - that the boy is brimming with power. A clue to this power is unleashed when Pug must protect the Duke's daughter (who happens to be his own age, and attractive to boot) from trolls and he manages to torch them all with fire from his hands. Nice!
After establishing Pug's character and the relationships between the others, the Tsurani - invaders from another planet (and plane of existence, it seems) whose planet is hopelessly weak in resources. Fearing the death of their culture and civilization, they employ powerful wizards (Great Ones) to create "rifts" to other worlds and times, so that they may hunt for the resources they lack. It seems Pug's world of Midkemia is ripe for the picking, so before Pug has a chance to grow up, he's whisked off in the middle of an all-out war between the two worlds. With the help of elves, dwarves, and other standard fantasy fare, the Midkemians prepare to defend against the invaders, while Tomas discovers an ancient secret that turns him into something other than a human and Pug is captured by the Tsurani and made to be a slave.
Feist's work is epic, no doubt about it. The story starts off almost child-like and simple, with a small world full of wresting and games and a pretty girl that everyone likes. It soon turns much uglier, and as Pug grows up and his concerns become more adult, so too does the mood of the book shift from the relative innocence of his personal youth to the gritty reality of war. Feist has a likable, easy-reading style, and his enjoyment and knowledge of the world he's created is evident in every page. Many fantasy books are only half-formed worlds with half-formed characters, or great worlds with paper-thin characters. Feist has his cake and eats it too in Magician, making a world as real as Middle Earth and memorable characters about whom it's easy to care.
Magician is a great read for the fantasy fan, and if you find the book a little immature at the beginning, it's only because Feist employs this device to get into the head of his main character and show the difference in concern between Pug the youth and Pug the adult later in the series. If you buy Magician: Apprentice, Magician: Master is a must: the two cannot be read apart, unless you like torturing yourself with cliffhangers.
Final Grade: B+

Blue Velvet: Special Edition (Widescreen) [Import]
Blue Velvet: Special Edition (Widescreen) [Import]
DVD ~ Isabella Rossellini
Offered by importcds__
Price: CDN$ 10.16
28 used & new from CDN$ 1.68

5.0 out of 5 stars Completely Stunning, July 18 2002
"Blue Velvet" was my second foray into Lynch, following my positive experience with "Mulholland Drive." Where "MD" was a WOW experience, "BV" totally destroyed my idea of what movies can do and rebuilt it again, bigger, better, and more powerful than before. Rarely will a movie stick with you like "BV," haunting your waking thoughts, even if you didn't like it. Rarely can a movie look like a work of art while communicating a point not necessarily original but definitely done in a new way. "BV" is a masterpiece of cinema in every sense of that word.
Young Jeffrey, played by Kyle MacLachlan, arrives in his small hometown of Lumberton, USA from college after his father suffers a heart attack. While walking around his neighborhood, he finds a human ear in a field, and being the fine, upstanding citizen he is, he takes it to the police. After talking with the detective assigned to the case, Jeffrey meets his young, high-school aged daughter (a fresh-faced Laura Dern, nary 18 when this film was shot). They hatch a plan to investigate the ear case, and Jeffrey ends up in the apartment of Isabella Rossellini, and begins to discover a horrific circle of drugs, violence, and sexual deviancy surrounding the psychotic Frank (played to perfection by Dennis Hopper). Jeffrey's world unravels as he finds himself in over his head in something he doesn't understand.
Although not as shocking today as it was in 1986, "BV" is highly charged, tackling taboo, closed-door issues without batting an eyelash. It isn't as weird as "MD," but "BV" still has that Lynchian feel of otherworldliness about it; Lumberton is a mirror-image of many small towns, and one must wonder if this isn't what's going on behind the neighbor's closed doors. That being said, "BV" isn't for everyone. It's not artsy-fartsy like "City of Lost Children," nor is it conventional cinema in any sense of that term. It's something unto itself, and for those that don't like Lynch's style, there won't be much of redeeming value in this film. It's cinema that requires attention and thought, and it engages the audience as much as any book or painting could - and that's saying something. The acting is all top-notch, from MacLachlan's sharply divided protagonist to Dern's almost symbolic portrayal of the "normal," to Rossellini's abused woman at the end of her rope, to Hopper's out-and-out, but believable, evil sociopath. Add to that Lynch's attention to detail, and "BV" is, in a literal sense, a perfect film.
The new special edition DVD presents the film in dazzling anamorpohic widescreen with a solid (and surprisingly dynamic) 5.1 soundtrack. The "Mysteries of Love" documentary doesn't really shed any light on the film, but it does tell the story of how it was brought to the screen, which is interesting. The deleted scenes are pretty blah - the movie stands on its own. But, for the video and audio quality alone (the blues leap off the TV and kick you in the face they are so sharp), this is a reference-quality disc.
Lynch may not be for everyone. If you haven't experienced Dave yet, "Blue Velvet" would make an excellent introduction. Rent "BV" before you buy it, but if you like it, this disc needs to be in your collection. Like, now.
Final Grades
Film: The Ultra-Rare A+

Mulholland Drive (Sous-titres franšais) [Import]
Mulholland Drive (Sous-titres franšais) [Import]
DVD ~ Naomi Watts
Price: CDN$ 19.34
29 used & new from CDN$ 6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Not for People Who Turn Their Brains Off at the Movies, July 17 2002
Although I have considered myself a movie buff since I was 12 or 13, it took until this last year to experience David Lynch, one of the most controversial directors in the history of film. I avoided him for years because the people who seemed to like him were the kind of film-snobs I couldn't stand to be around, and I had little interest in "artistic" movies (artistic is OK, but weird for the sake of weird is a waste of time). Until two months ago, when I watched "Mulholland Drive" for the first time.
And, wow. W-O-W wow.
The first time I watched it - and if you really want to get something out of "Mulholland Drive," you have to invest some time in it - I got the distinct impression that I was watching something great, but I felt like an outsider trying to look through a soaped-over window. So I watched it again, and read some opinions, and talked with some people, and came to some conclusions. What's the solution? I don't think there is ONE right answer, but I believe mine is correct - but what's the point in spoiling the movie when I'm trying to get you to watch it on your own?
In fact, I'm not even going to do the usual plot summary, because I would either give too much away or tell it from my point of view, neither of which are fair. It's a mystery, set in Hollywood, and Mulholland Drive plays a major role in the development of the story - that's the best one can do, and it's about what you'd get from reading the back of the box. "Mulholland Drive" is meant to be experienced.
Although I can't think of any other movies to which I can compare "MD" (except other Lynch films I've seen since), the closest thing I can think of is the video game series "Silent Hill" (Now Approaching: Nerdville). "Silent Hill" is incredibly confusing, full of twists, symbols, and bits and pieces of clues. Like "SH," "MD" is something that requires you to pay full attention to what's going on, and you have to disbelieve that which you originally thought to be true in order to have some inkling of what's happening.
Does that make a good film? Yes, I think so, although I know many others do not. You get out of Lynch films what you put into them: if you think about it and try to connect the dots, it's like solving a particularly hard logic problem (and yes, there IS logic here, I promise). It's a great feeling, and you can appreciate the film all the more because of it. If putting your brain to work is your idea of a good time (even if you don't do it every time you watch a movie), "Mulholland Drive" is an outstanding jigsaw puzzle of a film.
Final Grade: A

Empire Falls
Empire Falls
by Richard Russo
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.45
149 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece of Character Creation and Development, July 16 2002
This review is from: Empire Falls (Paperback)
Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "Empire Falls" is the kind of book that's just fun to curl up with and enjoy at a slow pace. A novel of "blue-collar life," "Empire Falls" follows everyman Miles Roby, a forty-two-year-old manager at the Empire Grill, the final restaurant holdout in the dying Maine mill town of Empire Falls. The enigmatic Mrs. Whiting owns everything in town, from the Grill to the defunct textile mills whose closing began the slow process of decay that led to the events in the book. Miles is joined by an enormous cast of characters, including his soon-to-be ex-wife, the fitness-obsessed Janine; their artistic but alienated child Tick; Max, Miles' Dionysian father; Jimmy Minty, Miles' friend from school and the main policeman in town; Zack, Minty's son, who isn't over being spurned by Tick in matters of love; and a whole host of other memorable characters.
Russo breathes life into these people through lengthy historical flashbacks, usually in the midst of their day-to-day conversations, a technique that lends the book a leisurely pace and prevents what little action there is from taking precedence over the characters and their development. The "action," which is really just an extension of the character development anyway, mostly revolves around events that lead each character to become more complete people. Note: not necessarily BETTER people, but more COMPLETE people.
It's been said that an author can never create a convincing person, just a hollow shell. Russo bucks that wisdom in "Empire Falls," managing to create people so subtle and nuanced the reader would swear they are merely doppelgangers for the inhabitants of a real town - Somewhere, USA. For that talent, no doubt, Russo took home his Prize, and deservedly so. Engaging without being pretentious, and grounded without sinking into the muck, "Empire Falls" makes a fantastic read for anyone who enjoys a good, long character-driven book. Other authors, take note: this is how characters should be developed.
Final Grade: A

Barry Trotter: And the Unauthorized Parody
Barry Trotter: And the Unauthorized Parody
by Michael Gerber
Edition: Paperback
33 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Clever, But Only At First, July 15 2002
Any major phenomenon, nay any institution, makes excellent fodder for parody. In fact, it's kind of a way to know that your work is successful - as one artist put it, he knew he had "made it" when Weird Al did a parody of his song. As a lumbering juggernaut of publishing power and kid-friendly fun, "Harry Potter" was ripe for the picking, and Michael Gerber takes the first stab with "Barry Trotter and the Unauthorized Parody." Unfortunately, it's a book so in love with itself and its premise that it becomes so mired in nonsense that the humor is lost in the first few pages.
Barry Trotter, world famous slayer of the evil wizard Value-mart, has established an agreement to keep himself at Hogwash School in order to boost attendance and enrollment, and to keep the trustees happy. When a movie studio plans to do a film about Barry's life, fans overrun Hogwash, turning it into a mud-slicked New Age-ish Woodstock. Headmaster Bumplemore, furious at the intrusion and the stupidity of these fans, tells the 22-year-old Barry and his buddy Lon (whose brain was replaced with that of a Golden Retriever after a Quidditch - I can't recall the parody word for it - accident), to put a stop to it.
On the way, Gerber finds ways to parody many situations from the Potter books. There are some genuinely funny moments, but most of them involve the all-too-fleeting descriptions of characters (McGonagal roaming the halls, driven insane by Harry's constant troublemaking, is priceless). The key to good parody is not to wear out your welcome - that's why movies like "Blazing Saddles" and "Spaceballs" are so short, and why other classic parody books like "Bored of the Rings" and "Star Wreck" rarely run over 150 pages. Of course, "Barry Trotter" is still a good deal shorter than "Goblet of Fire," but it grows very old very fast as the same jokes are recycled through again and again.
If you're a fan of Harry, "Barry" makes an interesting read, although adults will probably find it more humorous than kids (when it actually IS humorous). Otherwise, it doesn't really measure up to some of the tried-and-true parody books. Hopefully, someone will do a better send-up of the boy wizard, because he certainly needs one.
Final Grade: C-

┴gŠtis Byrjun
┴gŠtis Byrjun
Offered by RevivalBooksUK
Price: CDN$ 54.28
12 used & new from CDN$ 2.60

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, Engrossing, and Very Artistic, July 15 2002
This review is from: ┴gŠtis Byrjun (Audio CD)
I'll admit, I wouldn't have picked up this disc, much less heard of Sigur Ros, without the benefit of one of my best friends, who in turn learned of it from an HBO special (and who says nothing good comes of TV?) Neither of us had heard it when he put it in the CD player while we drove around town doing errands, and by the end of the disc we were both stupefied.
The first thoughts that came to mind was that this was a nice Bjork imitation (Sigur Ros comes from Iceland, in fact), but that notion was shattered about 30 seconds into the first song. The music truly runs that gamut, from almost-pop sounding catch-tunes (sorry, I don't remember which track numbers are which, it's still too fresh in my mind) to strange medley's of even stranger sounds to Pink Floyd-esque transitions back into spiritual-sounding Enya-like tunes. That being said, "Agaetis Byrjun" is extraordinarily difficult to describe except as a whole experience - this isn't one of those albums you just buy for one song which gets ripped to your hard drive while the CD collects dust.
But the experience is a wonderful one, if the listener is open-minded enough. I wouldn't recommend it to the teenybopper crowd, but anyone who cares for good music will find much to interest them in "Agaetis Byrjun." The only complaint is that some of the music can get downright annoying when it switches into "high experimental gear," but thankfully Sigur Ros keeps such interludes to a minimum. Otherwise, it's a great disc, and would make an excellent "chill out with a drink after a long day at work" album.
Final Grade: B+

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
by Michael Pollan
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.93
87 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A Pleasurable, Interesting Read, July 12 2002
I doubt I would have picked up a book called "The Botany of Desire" if not for some very strange circumstances. I needed something to read while waiting in the emergency room, and my best friend gave this book to my wife for her birthday. She's the gardener, and my taste in literature usually runs towards the fictive, but I found myself enjoying "TBOD" in spite of myself.
Michael Pollan operates off of an unusual, but simple proposition: that plants have evolved to use human beings as much as we have evolved to use plants. He uses four examples to illustrate his point: the apple (sweetness), the tulip (beauty), marijuana (intoxication), and the potato (control), each plant representing a basic human desire. The way those plants use our desires is evolutionarily a good thing for the plant, allowing them to propagate like mad and become hardier and far more resilient to weather and disease.
As some of the other reviewers have noted, "TBOD" is pretty light on the actual science, but the target audience here isn't scientists or those who require heavy amounts of scientific proofs to enjoy a book. It's a prose book, written for people who have little working knowledge of plants or the garden, and I found the historical anecdotes Pollan provided much more entertaining than his actual thesis (which is kind of one of those "well, duh!" things anyway). His deconstruction of the Johnny Appleseed myth (I was born in Central Ohio, and grew up with it, so it was interesting to read the facts) was priceless, as was his treatment of the historical role of flowers and drugs like marijuana.
"TBOD" is well-written, and Pollan has a mastery of prose rare in writers these days. His words not only flow off the tongue (or page, if you will), he knows how to craft a sentence and a paragraph to create and enhance the mood of the passage - it's a deft scribbling hand, indeed. If you want a guide on gardening and plant breeding, look elsewhere. If you want a good read about plants historically and evolutionarily speaking, check out "TBOD."
Final Grade: B+

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
by Douglas Coupland
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.47
112 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars The Original Gen-X Book, July 9 2002
Douglas Coupland started many trends with this postmodern "novel" - from everything to disenchantment and disestablishment ideas recycled in "Fight Club" to the title itself, "Generation X," which has become synonymous with the offspring of the Baby Boomers. Although claims of "yeah, but he did it first" are legitimate, Coupland's work should stand on its own as a great piece of postmodern literature as well as cutting-edge zeitgeist.
Coupland's three protagonists, all fed up with their respective lives, give up their unsatisfying careers to live in a desert retirement community while working "McJobs" (jobs with as little responsibility and meaning as possible) and exchanging stories. They tell stories on road trips, they tell stories at home, they think and imagine stories, because they feel their lives lack meaning, and the only way to discover the "why" is to use others (and themselves) as an example.
The book is littered with side-panel cartoons and "definitions" of new terms, some of which have entered the lexicon as common words since the book was published in 1992. The idea of the book - that people try to look for meaning in stories, although they won't necessarily find it - and the creative use of postmodern literary devices won't be as memorable as the mood and mindset this book manages to capture. Moreso than "Fight Club," which is as much a morality tale than a book about stories, "Generation X" manages to delve deeper into the "meaning" that Gen-Xers stereotypically cannot find. As such, it's elegant, and certainly worth a read.
Final Grade: B

An Evening With Wally Lando
An Evening With Wally Lando
4 used & new from CDN$ 44.75

2.0 out of 5 stars There's Much Better Albums Out There, July 9 2002
This is one of controversial comedian George Carlin's earlier albums, and was recorded in the middle of the 70s and his "experimental" phase. That being said, there's some decent stuff on here (Wurds, Names, and Baseball and Football), but overall George's performance is obviously "enhanced" (hindered) by drugs. He's slurry and very slow - a disappointment for those that have seen him live in the last ten years. Unfortunately, this detracts even from the best material on the CD, of which there are only the three above-named tracks.
Baseball and Football is an early version of this monologue, and the others worth owning are all available with better recordings (and better speech patterns) on other discs. That being said, "An Evening with Wally Londo" will only interest people looking to finish their Carlin collections. If you want a "best-of" or a good introduction to George and his fantastic wordplay, you're better off looking elsewhere.
Final Grade: D

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