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Poltergeist Ii [Blu-ray]
Poltergeist Ii [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Craig T. Nelson
Price: $7.99
21 used & new from $7.18

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The beast returns, March 30, 2015
This review is from: Poltergeist Ii [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
"Poltergeist" is probably one of the most perfect horror movies ever made. Everything about the movie simply WORKS, from the still-impressive special effects to the acting.

But of course, they had to make a sequel. They always have to make a sequel. And while it's not terrible, "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" is not the tightly-written scarefest that the first movie is -- when it's good, it's very good... and when it's bad, it's unintentionally funny and tends to meander. It's a passable '80s horror movie with a wandering plot.

A year after their house imploded, the Freelings (minus the eldest daughter, whose absence is never explained) have relocated to Grandma Jess's (Geraldine Fitzgerald) house. They're still pretty paranoid about the paranormal, especially since Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) still has those mysterious clairvoyant abilities, and her grandmother encourages them shortly before her death.

Then strange things start happening. A weird old man starts following them and tries to enter their house, and Carol Anne receives calls on her toy phone. The supernatural attacks are back.

Then a Native American shaman named Taylor (Will Sampson), a friend of Tangina's (Zelda Rubinstein), appears to help them by making Steve (Craig T. Nelson) a "warrior" for his family. And Tangina reveals the horrifying history of the Beast -- aka a preacher known as Kane -- and why he and his followers are so determined to claim Carol-Anne. No matter where the Freelings go, the evil will follow them.

"Poltergeist II" is one of those sequels that has a fairly decent story on its own, but it keeps trying to one-up the original (let's have even MORE people fall into the other dimension!). Oh, and we're never told what happened to the eldest daughter. Yes, I know that the actress was murdered in real life, but a token mention of "She's at boarding school" would have been nice.

The plot tends to meander somewhat until the final third, when the whole thing finally gels into a real conflict. But that final third is a genuinely disturbing experience, and despite a deus ex machina resolution, it genuinely manages to be more terrifying in places than the original, inducing a wholly different kind of fear. Also, Kane is creepy. All those teeth!

As for the horror elements, they're hit-or-miss. Some are hilariously bad (the killer braces scene -- come on, who thought that was a good idea?), and some are skin-crawlingly creepy (the tentacled, slimy worm-creature with Kane's grinning face).

The cast (minus Dominique Dunne) is the same here, and they all do solid jobs (although at times Nelson comes across as a bit manic) -- JoBeth Williams gives a particularly good performance as Diane struggles to deal with her mother's death and her child's psychic powers. And despite some 1980s-style Native cheesiness, the late Will Sampson gives a great performance as Taylor -- he is a genuinely comforting, calming presence, with gentle humor.

"Poltergeist II: The Other Side" has some ups and downs -- not as good as the original, but a decent horror movie in its own right. The same can't be said for the next sequel.

Hercules Returns (1993)
Hercules Returns (1993)
DVD ~ Bruce Spence
Offered by Savers Sales
Price: $20.96
6 used & new from $20.83

5.0 out of 5 stars "I am but the toe jam from between your mighty feet!", March 27, 2015
This review is from: Hercules Returns (1993) (DVD)
Gag dubs are a pretty common occurrence now, since any idiot with a computer and some film-editing software can create his own.

But not so much in 1993, when Australia produced one of the funniest gag dubs in existence, in a little movie called "Hercules Returns" -- a tongue-in-cheek redub of the old Italian movie "Samson and the Mighty Challenge," which overflows with sex jokes, muscled men and wacky misunderstandings. You'd expect the framing device of plucky cinemaphiles saving an old theatre to be boring by comparison, but it's almost as funny.

Brad McBain (David Argue) is a prominent employee in Australi's largest theatre chain... but he's unhappy. His boss Sir Michael Kent (Michael Carman) is a cruel, callous employer who is always searching for ways to make money at the expense of his patrons. So Brad quits his job and leases the old Picture Palace, hires his porn-projectionist buddy Sprocket (Bruce Spence) and feisty publicist Lisa (Mary Coustas), and decides to show the last movie the last movie shown at that theatre.

But when the night rolls around, the trio discover that the Hercules movie is in Italian with no subs. Yep, Kent switched the film reels, as a form of revenge against Brad. So Brad, Sprocket and Lisa have only one option: live-dub the movie themselves from the projection booth.

In THEIR movie dub, the mighty but pinheaded Hercules goes to the land of Chlamydia, where he rescues Princess Labia from drowning. He's delighted to find out her mother Muriel owns the Pink Parthenon nightclub, but Muriel is determined to have Hercules marry her daughter -- which is complicated by the fact that Labia is in love with Testiculi, the son of Muriel's greatest rival. She makes it very clear she's uninterested in Hercules, whom she refers to as looking like a "condom full of walnuts."

So Labia arranges a fake message from Zeus saying that Hercules is actually gay, and that his perfect partner is Samson. Yes, Samson from the Bible. He's in this. Somehow. So Hercules is expected to fight Samson -- if he wins, he gets to marry Labia; if he loses, he marries Samson. And while the powerful yet wimpy Samson is quite enthusiastic about fighting Hercules, his girlfriend Delilah is not so pleased -- so she gives him a quick haircut. And somehow two other muscle-men -- the Scottish brawler Ursus and the flamboyantly gay Machismo -- are involved.

One of the best things about "Hercules Returns" is that it more or less follows the original plot of "Samson and the Mighty Challenge." The original movie was obviously pretty silly (one scene has an Irish little person clobbering an oracle with a giant matchstick) and was just an excuse to bring together four musclebound heroes from Italian cinema, even if their presence together makes NO sense at all. Seriously, Machismo and Ursus don't really have a reason to be here.

So obviously the movie becomes even more entertaining with a gag dub -- lots of sex jokes ("What is that man doing with his hand on my Labia?"), ethnic accents, Hercules frequently breaking into song, and making loud slurping noises anytime someone kisses. It's just far enough from the original movie to not just be riffing (Fanny is a crepe cook just PRETENDING to be a medium), but with the freedom to mock whatever is going on onscreen ("I'll fight you on one condition... that you lower your nipples!").

It sounds like the framing device would be extraneous, but it's almost as funny to watch the projection-room mayhem as they produce all the necessary sound effects with nothing but their bodies and a few props. And it's kind of fun to see these passionate cinephiles (see Bruce Spence almost throttle someone over the autobiographical content of Scorsese's movies) going up against a scenery-chewing mogul who just wants money, money, money.

For people who love riffing, sword-and-sandal movies and/or Aussie senses of humor ("But she's only popular with Cretans!"), "Hercules Returns" is an absolute delight. Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree...

Origin: Movie - S.A.V.E.
Origin: Movie - S.A.V.E.
DVD ~ Artist Not Provided
Price: $9.79
22 used & new from $4.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Plants... OR ELSE, March 27, 2015
This review is from: Origin: Movie - S.A.V.E. (DVD)
It's easy to get blown away in the first few minutes of "Origin: Spirits of the Past," where we're treated to exquisitely creepy celestial visuals and a gorgeous theme song.

It's also a suitable lead-in for this beautifully animated movie about a not-so-distant future in which human civilization lies in dystopic ruins, and a vast sentient forest has taken control. The animation is stunningly lush and complex, and the lone-hero rescuer story is surprisingly moving... and it almost makes up for the fact that the eco-friendly plot makes absolutely no logical sense.

When a young boy named Agito stumbles on an underground chamber, he finds a girl cryogenically preserved for the past three hundred years. Toola is understandably upset by this -- and since she has an electronic neck device, her presence angers the Forest, who fear that she might be used by the militaristic land of Ragna. Of course, the Ragnan leader Shunack -- another survivor from three hundred years ago -- turns up to persuade her.

It turns out that Shunack wants to use E.S.T.O.C., a mysterious device that will return the world to the way it once was, and Toola rather understandably decides to help him. Agito's only hope for stopping them -- and keeping the forest safe -- is to undergo "enhancement" that genetically bonds him to the Forest's trees. But even that might not stop the might of Ragna's armies... and stuff, especially since Shunack is also "enhanced."

"Origin: Spirits of the Past" is a gorgeous film -- the animation is lushly-drawn and full of ruined buildings, vines, shimmering glades, great writhing vines and vast moving mountains full of weapons. Some of the more chilling images (such as Agito's dad slowly turning into a tree, or the seeming loss of Toola in a burning train) are exquisitely haunting, all the more so because they aren't played for horror. It is, simply put, a gorgeous piece of work.

It also comes up with an intriguing and slightly eerie concept for a sci-fi movie -- that plants engineered to withstand extraterrestrial life would mutate and become the dominant force on Earth, changing themselves even as they become integrated by humanity. The ruinous dystopia that results is both beautiful and disturbing.

The problem is, the plot makes no sense: presumably the whole living-in-harmony-with-Forest thing is symbolic of living in harmony with nature. But since the Forest was mutated by humans, wrecked the world, genetically altered the survivors and keeps civilization in a stagnant stranglehold, it's about as unnatural as you can get. And the alleged bad guys just want to switch the world back to its pre-mutant-plant state when man and nature were in balance... meaning that the Designated Anti-Nature Bad Guy is actually the Pro-Nature Good Guy.

Evidently, logic need not apply. Even director Keiichi Sugiyama belatedly seems to realize this, so he throws a rather random "villains will destroy a town" twist into the mix to the bad guy will really seem, y'know, bad. It doesn't quite work.

Additionally, Toola and Shunack are the most likable characters in the mix -- Toola is understandably miserable and freaked by the loss of the world she once knew, and the people with it. And while Shunack has made his place in this remade world and gotten a position of power, he's wracked by guilt over his part in the Forest's rise. Agito is a pleasant little hero who goes to extreme lengths, but he seems rather bland by comparison.

"Origin: Spirits of the Past" is a gorgeous piece of animation with a hauntingly sober backdrop, but the actual plot about the Forest makes no sense at all. Enjoy for the copious eye candy, but don't expect deep stuff here.

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell (Kindle Single) (Cosmere)
Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell (Kindle Single) (Cosmere)
Price: $2.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I know a little about such a life, March 17, 2015
Quick warning: this story has been previously published in the "Dangerous Women" short story collection, which Sanderson admits in the intro he was a bit anxious about. So if you own it, don't buy this.

One of the fun things about Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere multiverse is that, with multiple worlds to play in, he can create lots of little side-stories with interesting characters without being restricted. One good example would be "Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell," a novella about a powerful bounty hunter who doesn't fit the leather-wearing, snarky stereotype -- which makes the story all the more intriguing.

In the Forests of Hell, there is a legendary bounty hunter known as the White Fox. According to the stories, no one knows the White Fox's identity -- and if you see his face, he'll kill you. He's afraid of nothing, and only goes after big-time criminals (not, say, small-time horse thieves). No one would ever guess that he has anything to do with the middle-aged innkeeper Silence Montane.

When bandit-turned-assassin Chesterton Divide and his men come into her inn, Silence immediately recognizes them -- and so does Sebruki, a child whose family was murdered by him. With the help of her daughter William Ann, she goes out into the night to find Chesterton's gang... only to be cornered by another gang of vicious bounty hunters and a swarm of shades. And before the night is our, she may lose what is most precious to her.

Most of Sanderson's stories are a bit more urban in nature, but "Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell" takes place in a more remote part of this fantasy world. It's in a sparsely-populated forest continent, riddled by ghostly shades who can only be banished with silver arrows, and which are attracted to motion, flames and blood. It gives the feeling that this is a place which is actually pretty scary -- think the Wild West combined with a haunted forest full of ghosts.

Sanderson's writing is typically robust and riddled with poetic moments ("The heads rippled, faces shifting like smoke rings. They trailed waves of whiteness about an arm's length behind them"), and he puts plenty of horrifying moments in what seems like a standard bounty hunt. He manages to cram a lot of plot and worldbuilding into a pretty brief story, including a scheme by the cruel Theopolis to force Silence to sell her inn.

And Silence is a pretty awesome character -- she's strong and deadly without being icy or sociopathic, and breaks the mold of what people imagine an action heroine to be. What's more, she isn't one of those characters who revels in her ability to go out and bludgeon bandits to death; if anything, she's scarred by a childhood with her cold-blooded grandmother, which comes to a head as she deals with all the worst things in the forests.

For those who are just getting into Brandon Sanderson's work, "Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell" is a strong little introduction -- and longtime fans will know exactly what to expect. Powerful writing, some solid twists, and a genuinely spooky setting.

Aragami: The Raging God of Battle
Aragami: The Raging God of Battle
DVD ~ Masaya Kato
Offered by S&J Deals
Price: $15.09
18 used & new from $8.85

4.0 out of 5 stars You can't do that forever, March 16, 2015
In 2002, director Ryuhei Kitamura was challenged to to do something very usual -- make a full-length movie made with one week's shooting time. One setting. Two actors. A fight.

The result... is kind of like a rock'n'roll samurai version of "My Dinner With Andre," where two men contemplate the meaning of life and death, and the value of either when a person is immortal. But with more booze, swords, guns, severed limbs and the occasional upgrade to godhood. "Aragami: The Raging God of Battle" is a weird, wild movie with a slow-burning fuse... right before it explodes into sparking, sword-swinging action.

A wounded samurai (Takao Ohsawa) drags his dying friend (Hideo Sakaki) into a shrine during a thunderstorm. When he wakes up, he finds that his wounds have healed, his friend is dead and cremated, and he's the guest of a very peculiar man (Masaya Katô) and a silent woman (Kanae Uotani). Since it's not yet safe to go outside, the samurai reluctantly agrees to stay and drink with his host, who has a collection of alcohol and weapons from all across the world.

But he soon discovers that something very weird is up with this man. The man claims to be a war god -- an "aragami" -- who and he has done something horrifying to turn the samurai into a nearly-invincible immortal.

What is the aragami's reason for doing all of this? He's tired of living an immortal life... and cue Queen's "Who Wants To Live Forever?" But as a war-god, he can't die except by being defeated by someone in one-on-one combat. He's also one of Japan's most famous historical figures, who was famous for... being incredibly good at fighting and killing people. Despite that, the samurai finds himself forced into the ultimate sword battle that will decide both their destinies.

"Aragami: The Raging God of Battle" is a very odd movie. At least eighty percent of it is just two guys sitting in a single small room, drinking and talking. And at first, it's not particularly scary -- the silence and sudden appearances of the Aragami and the Woman are offputting, but not necessarily unnatural. But he drops subtle hints at the unnatural qualities of these people, through careful lighting (which often makes the Aragami look strangely undead) and peculiar evasions.

After the Aragami reveals his nature, Kitamura slowly unravels the conversation into a discussion about life, death, suicide, immortality and divinity. He occasionally livens things up with some humor (the Samurai throws back a whole glass of vodka... and regrets it) and action (severed limbs, impalement), but it's fundamentally a very philosophical film. The battle and the conflict are not ones of hatred and hostility, but of some deep primal inclination to fight.

For instance, one of the most intriguing scenes is when the Aragami offers the Samurai his choice of various weapons, including a broadsword, a very modern pistol, Wolverine claws and throwing stars. In another movie, this would be a tense scene, but it's oddly relaxed as the two men prepare to kill each other, and the Aragami pleasantly offers his opinions about the virtues of different weapons.

And despite the medieval setting, the director also gives the whole experience a strangely rock'n'roll, modern flavor -- especially since the Aragami somehow has access to vodka, French wine and a bunch of weapons from different times and places. The rock soundtrack doesn't hurt either.

This is a movie that relies heavily on its actors, and both of them are absolutely perfect. Katô plays his character with almost inhuman coolness and casualness -- he seems like a very cool, interesting guy who would be fun to hang out with... except he's also a war-god who seems to be missing some compassion chips. He even seems to change physically through the movie, looking more solid and grand at the climax, with a mane of red-tinged hair.

Ohsawa balances him out nicely -- he IS just an ordinary guy at the start, and he reacts to the various shocking revelations in exactly the way you'd expect. Fear, horror, puking, hysterical laughter, and even a bit of grinning crazy. But his character transforms into something colder and deadlier as the movie wears on, as if he were being refined down to his purest form of self. Ohsawa handles the transition beautifully.

With only two speaking actors and a single room to play out their battle, "Aragami: The Raging God of Battle" could have been a really boring movie. Instead, it's a fascinating little movie about battling with words and swords.

Pride and Prejudice (Alma Evergreens)
Pride and Prejudice (Alma Evergreens)
by Jane Austen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $7.95
48 used & new from $3.73

5.0 out of 5 stars A truth universally acknowledged, March 16, 2015
"Pride and Prejudice" is undoubtedly one of the most beloved classic novels in history -- it's had countless adaptations, sequels and homages lavished on it over the years.

And Jane Austen's grand opus is still beloved for a good reason. While it's rather stuffily written much of the time, it has a vibrant core of witty dialogue and strong characters that shine like lanterns in the night -- and the best part of it is the interplay between the two strong-willed main characters, whose initial dislike of one another blossoms into love once they learn how to overcome his pride and her prejudice.

The Bennett family is in an uproar when wealthy Mr. Bingley moves into the neighborhood, and Mrs. Bennett is especially happy when he takes a liking to the eldest Bennett daughter Jane -- since their estate is entailed and there is no Mr. Bennett Jr., a good marriage is considered essential for at least one of the girls. But her forthright, independent sister Lizzie immediately butts heads with wealthy, aloof Mr. Darcy, who scorns the rural village and seems haughty about everything.

A flurry of proposals, road trips and friendships happen over the course of the following months, with Lizzie fending off her slimy cousin Mr. Collins, and befriending the flirty, hunky Wickham, who claims to have been wronged by Darcy. Lizzie believes Wickham's account -- and she's in for a shock when Darcy unexpectedly proposes, and reveals what Wickham won't tell her about both of their past lives, and what Wickham did to offend Darcy.

And finally things take a scandalous turn when Lizzie's idiotic younger sister Lydia elopes with Wickham, while staying with a friend in Brighton. The family is plunged into disgrace, which also wrecks any chances of a halfway decent marriage for the other daughters. The only one who can set things right is Darcy, who will do whatever he must to make amends to Lizzie -- and unwittingly establish himself as the man she loves as well...

Reading "Pride and Prejudice" is a bit like watching someone embroider a piece of cloth with subtle, intricate designs. Lots of balls, dances, visits and drawing room banter between Lizzie and virtually everyone else, and interwoven with some rather opinions from Jane Austen about haughty aristocrats, marriages of security, entailment, and the whole idea of what an ideal woman has (intellect and strength).

The only real problem: Jane Austen writes very much in the style of her literary era -- it's rather formal and stuffy much of the time, and the narrative is kept distant from the characters. So, not for casual readers.

But despite that formality, Austen's brilliance as a writer is evident -- she slowly unfolds the plot one act at a time, with several intricate subplots that tie together and play off each other. She also wrote some unbelievably sharp-edged dialogue with plenty of witty banter between Lizzie and Darcy ("I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine"). But Austen also weaves in startlingly romantic moments between them ("No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you, can think anything wanting").

It's hard to imagine a better fictional couple than Lizzie and Darcy, despite their rocky start (a major-league snub at a dance). Both are witty, smart, and a bit snotty in their own ways, with quick minds and even quicker tongues. Darcy is a selfish, rather haughty man man who gradually becomes warm and kind, while Lizzie is strong, independent, and Darcy's equal in every way. And neither will marry for anything but true love.

It also has a solid supporting cast: the painfully practical Charlotte Lucas, slimy clerics, virtuous-looking rakes, sisters ranging from saintly to snobby, and the lovable Mr. Bingley and perpetually optimistic Jane. Lizzie's family also adds plenty of color to the story, including the screechy and hilariously mercurial Mrs. Bennett and the barb-tongued Mr. Bennett ("Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do").

Despite its mildly stuffy style, "Pride and Prejudice" is the ultimate Jane Austen novel -- a powerful and romantic story about two people who grow and change because of love. An absolute must-read.

by Brandon Sanderson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $8.09
107 used & new from $2.81

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Shaod has struck, March 14, 2015
This review is from: Elantris (Mass Market Paperback)
In the land of Arelon, random people would wake up transformed into shining immortal Elantrians with powerful magic. But ten years ago, the Elantrians suddenly became living corpses, and their once-glorious city became a prison for the afflicted.

The mystery of exactly what happened to the Elantrians hangs over all of "Elantris," Brandon Sanderson's solid but flawed debut fantasy novel. It has a brilliantly complex magical system and an epic interwoven conflict of politics, religion and history, with some genuinely likable protagonists... but it also has some freshman mistakes, as well as an uncomfortable undercurrent to the religious criticism.

Princess Sarene of Teod is shocked when she arrives in her new land of Arelan -- her fiancee, Prince Raoden, has unexpectedly died. And because of an odd clause in their betrothal contract, she counts as his wife even though they technically didn't get married. So now she's a widowed princess with a dead husband she's never seen in person.

However... Raoden isn't actually dead. He's been turned into an Elantrian, meaning he now resembles an immortal zombie who suffers from a never-ending hunger, and will eventually go mad from the assorted small injuries he can't heal from. But he decides to make the best of his imprisonment in Elantris, gathering followers and trying to clean up the filthy, slime-drenched city. And as he studies Elantrian texts, he begins to learn what caused the terrible transformation.

Meanwhile, Sarene finds herself in the middle of political and religious conflicts -- she joins up with some friends of Raoden's in order to figure out if her betrothed was murdered. She also comes up against a devious Shu-Dereth priest named Hrathen, who has been given three months to convert all of Arelon to his religion, or the entire country will be invaded. But she soon finds that overthrowing the king may only be the beginning of the chaos.

One of the best things about Brandon Sanderson's books is that he's an absolute genius at coming up with fantasy worlds and different complicated systems of magic. "Elantris" is no exception, since he slowly reveals some of the magical intricacies of this world -- particularly interesting is AonDor, an alphabet of magical signs (with modifiers!) that are drawn in the air or on objects to cause changes like light, teleportation, healing and whatnot.

The story is mostly split between Sarene and Raoden -- half about Elantris and how it went bad, and half about the crumbling kingdom. Both halves are essentially about a young, pragmatic person trying to restore order and balance to a place that has fallen into ruin (socially, literally, or both). By the end, he weaves together these two stories in a fiery, bloody, epic battle that sprawls across two countries, and keeps throwing shocking twists right up to the end.

Sanderson's writing has some noob flaws here (guess how many times Sarene blushes/flushes), but his prose has a robust, detailed quality that is equally good at the bright and elegant as the bloody and decayed. The middle section of the book tends to drag somewhat, but he keeps things interesting by switching between three different third-person narrators -- Sarene, Raoden and Hrathen -- and juggling their stories as he slowly weaves them together.

His characters are also likable... but flawed. Sarene and Raoden are practically perfect -- she's a politically-adept princess who scared off all the weaker men with her giant brain, brings feminism to Arelon, and is so persuasive that she instantly gets the masses to accept a king who is seen as undead. Raoden is pure-hearted and beloved by everyone, to the point where his paranoid, corrupt father was trying to disinherit him because he was just so awesome.

However, these characters ARE quite likable despite a hefty dose of Mary Sue -- they suffer, they struggle, they take actions they regret, and at times it seems that their cause is lost. And over time, they begin feeling more like three-dimensional people and less like perfect dolls. There are some interesting supporting characters -- the mysterious Galladon, the kindly elderly duke Roial, the roguish cooking-noble Kiin, and especially the conflicted, crafty Hrathen.

Unfortunately... it has an unpleasant anti-Catholic overtone. I doubt it was deliberate, but Sanderson spends a LOT of time talking about how the Wyrn (a single religious leader who is the only one supposed to speak for a monotheistic God) sucks, the assassins and warriors trained at monasteries (no REGULAR monks are ever mentioned) and the backstabbing internal hierarchy of Shu-Dereth... whose gyorns (highest priests) wear bright red. Like cardinals. Subtle.

What's more, they're all evil, wild-eyed fanatics who want to cleanse everything with fire, except for a single character who ends up renouncing his religion. And for some reason, Sanderson goes out of his way to inform us that while other religions are essentially good and at least partially true (the Jesker belief in Dor ends up being pivotal to the story), Shu-Dereth is not only evil, but fundamentally false and based on a pagan belief, and all their scriptures and culture have been lies to cover this up. So... combine this with the emphasis on "pope be bad," and it paints a rather unpleasant picture.

"Elantris" has some hefty flaws -- particularly an unpleasant religious undercurrent -- but not enough to obscure the talent and imagination that Brandon Sanderson has proven over the years. It's certainly worth a read.

Jupiter Ascending
Jupiter Ascending
Price: $14.99

19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Jupiter descending, March 11, 2015
This review is from: Jupiter Ascending (Amazon Video)
I think that I have figured out what is wrong with movies by the Wachowski siblings -- they take simple archetypical stories and try to wildly overcomplicate them.

And in the case of "Jupiter Ascending," the story is effectively a sci-fi version of a fairy tale. Think Cinderella minus the prince or the glass slipper. Or the plot. Instead, this admittedly gorgeous sci-fi movie careens aimlessly through various subplots that never connect together -- it's like the Wachowskis wanted to make a fun, action-packed sci-fi movie in the vein of "Guardians of the Galaxy," but had no idea how to do so.

So hang on, because it's a complicated ride. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a humble janitor whose only dream is of buying a telescope, and she's so desperate she's even willing to sell her eggs. But the procedure goes horribly awry when Jupiter suddenly starts levitating, the doctors and nurses try to murder her, tiny aliens swarm the room... and she's unexpectedly rescued by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a dog-human hybrid ex-soldier.

He takes her to his friend Stinger (Sean Bean), who farms bees for a living. Stinger. Ha ha. Since bees are genetically predisposed to recognize and serve royalty (no, I'm not kidding), they immediately identify Jupiter as a queen. It turns out that she is the genetic reincarnation of an ancient queen of House Abrasax, which seeds many planets with human DNA and eventually "harvests" the human population in order to make Regenex, a fluid that rejuvenates people and gives everlasting life. They also have an underclass of "splices" (human/animal hybrids), lizard alien soldiers, and advanced technology.

Apparently legal inheritance is negated if your are reincarnated (wut?), because Jupiter now can be the queen of a star empire... if she can live long enough to legally take control of it. Even worse, the dead queen's devious children are targeting her -- they all own a chunk of her empire, and they're loath to give it up. And unfortunately, the cruel Balem (Eddie Redmayne) is holding the entire Earth hostage.

One thing "Jupiter Ascending" is not lacking is imagination. The world of "Jupiter Ascending" is a big colorful, action-packed, sweeping mishmash that draws influence from "Dune," "The Fifth Element" and every young adult fantasy/SF-romance book ever written. Like "Avatar," this is a movie that is at its best when it shows us the spellbindingly beautiful visuals, with baroque palaces, lizard soldiers and spaceships filled with glass and gilded beauty.

It might have worked as a book series or a TV show, where the Wachowskis could explore the star empire, the glorious visuals (the ships) and the repercussions of Jupiter's queendom. Preferably with someone else holding the reins, because they have a lot of ideas that are wretchedly awful. The factory in the Big Red Spot. The rocket-roller-blades. The bees that identify royalty, and NO I AM NOT OVER THAT.

The problem is... the actual plot. It doesn't exist. Here's a sum-up of the plot: Jupiter is in danger. Caine saves her. Jupiter is in danger. Caine saves her. Comic relief. Jupiter is in danger. Caine saves her. Climax.

It's more a series of episodic vignettes that are completely unconnected to each other, like someone took a full-length TV series and chopped out all the character development, side-stories and intricacies to make it into a movie. All we have are fragments that lead to nothing. For instance, Jupiter spends some with her "daughter" Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), who spends ALL her time expositing. You would think a powerful character who wants to help Jupiter would be a valuable ally, and take an important part in fighting Titus and Balem. She's not, and she doesn't. Kalique is never seen again.

And the writing is awful. I think the Wachowskis were trying to create a light-hearted, colorful sci-fi adventure in the vein of "Guardians of the Galaxy," because it has these.... moments that are meant to be funny. They're not. Either they stretch the joke out until it dies (the "Brazil"-style bureaucracy-go-round) or it's skin-crawlingly uncomfortable ("I love dogs. I've always loved dogs!").

It doesn't help that Jupiter is a failure as a heroine. Frankly, she's too dumb to recognize obvious traps and lies, and finds it deeply hurtful that the devious prince she's known for six seconds might (gasp!) betray her. She also is a sociopath -- even when she learns what harvesting is for, she doesn't seem to actually care that countless human beings are coldly murdered on countless planets, so a small number of elite humans can be young and pretty forever. She only cares if EARTH is harvested, and particularly her family.

Kunis gives a performance that is flat as paper doll, and she has a painful lack of chemistry with the visibly uncomfortable Tatum. Douglas Booth is decent as a slimy playboy, and Sean Bean gives a typically good performance as a token honeybee splice. Not kidding. But he's Sean Bean, so he infuses the flat character with a real sense of world-weary strain and loss.

But Eddie Redmayne... hoo boy. You would not know this man would win an Oscar within a year of this movie's release, because he is HYPNOTICALLY bad. He slurs out every syllable like a drugged, dead-eyed mannequin, with the occasional bipolar shriek of rage.

"Jupiter Ascending" sinks in a cloud of interesting ideas that aren't attached to anything -- the characters are flat, the story is a string of episodic perils and the writing is just painful. The saving grace is the stunning visuals and the unexplored world behind it.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 17, 2015 9:03 AM PST

Hobbit, The: The Battle of the Five Armies (Blu-ray 3D)
Hobbit, The: The Battle of the Five Armies (Blu-ray 3D)
DVD ~ Sir Ian McKellen
Price: $29.96
38 used & new from $15.14

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One last time (mild spoilers), March 11, 2015
For the last decade and a half, Peter Jackson has been bringing audiences to the legendary world of JRR Tolkien's Middle-Earth.

And for the moment, "The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies" is the final piece in this cinematic tapestry -- the big action-packed climax to the first half of this story. While it has some weak spots (such as the whole awkward subplot involving Tauriel), it packs a devastating wallop to anyone who has come to love the characters over the past two movies, from the stubborn Dwarf king Thorin to the doughty little Hobbit.

Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) is only barely stopped by Bard (Luke Evans), who manages to take down the dragon with his black arrow... but not before Smaug destroys Laketown. Bard becomes the de facto leader of the refugees, who find themselves starving and homeless as winter approaches. Thranduil (Lee Pace) comes to help them with food and other supplies, but he's also there to back up Bard's claim on a share of the Dwarvish gold, and reclaim a certain item from Erebor.

Meanwhile, the White Council comes to Dol Guldur to rescue Gandalf from the mysterious Necromancer. And they soon find that he was right about the Necromancer's true identity, and the horrifying spectres that are rising to menace the world. And Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) head to the fortress of Gundabad to figure out what is going on with the orcs.

And back at the Lonely Mountain, Thorin (Richard Armitage) is seized by "dragon sickness," a lust for treasure that makes him a paranoid wreck unmoved by the two armies massing on his doorstep. Bilbo must take desperate measures to keep Thorin's mad greed from starting a war -- but when Dwarf and Orc armies arrive, war between the armies becomes an inevitability.

"The Battle of Five Armies" is best appreciated as the final part of one very, very long movie. "An Unexpected Journey" set the scene and began the journey slowly, and "The Desolation of Smaug" was an increasingly tense build to the climax. This movie IS that climax -- at least half of it is an epic battle between multiple armies, swinging between different characters in a multilayered battle royale.

Expect lots of bloody duels on the ice, elven acrobatics, and a ragged army of angry fishermen running through a ruined city. Just as it seems that the good guys are about to win, they're suddenly bludgeoned by a new attack that leaves them crippled and desperate. And the bloody consequences of the battle isn't limited just to nameless extras -- some characters whom viewers will have grown to love will die, and Jackson gives their deaths the painful pathos they deserve.

But Jackson hasn't lost his touch for the quieter moments. The aftermath of Smaug's death has a haunting quality as the Dwarves wander their ruined halls, and the audience sees Thorin growing progressively more detached from reality. And the movie's final scenes are bittersweet ones -- the everyday world seemed stained with blood and shadowed by the presence of Sauron. Things suddenly feel unbalanced and uneasy, even if the sun is shining and spring has come again.

But there are some things that really should have been cut, such as the rather silly romance subplot -- it feels like the studio decided, "Female viewers won't watch unless there's romance!" and demanded one that makes little sense. And with the Master gone, the character of Alfred becomes less villainous sidekick and more annoyance.

But one thing nobody can complain about is the acting. Martin Freeman's Bilbo is sometimes eclipsed by the dark, brooding, hubris-crippled Thorin, but he remains the amiable heart of a big, splashy, action-packed movie. Armitage is the other half of the movie's soul, slowly twisted by his decades-long obsession with regaining Erebor, and his increasingly mad lust for its gold. His final gut-wrenching scene with Freeman is absolutely perfect, bringing their troubled friendship -- and Thorin's classic hubris -- to its inevitable conclusion.

There are also excellent smaller performances by Ken Stott as the grandfatherly Balin, McKellen as a rather battered, desperate Gandalf, John Bell as Bard's tough teen son, and Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee in one brief, intense scene at Dol Guldur. Lilly and Bloom are a bit wasted, though -- they don't have a lot to do, plotwise.

Two particular scene-stealers are Evans and Pace, as the two kings -- one old and one new -- who butt heads with Thorin. Evans brings a passionate, desperate energy to Bard's role as a loving father, and easily extends that same protective care to all the people from Laketown. And we see a bit of Thranduil's raw pain and grief under his haughty smirk, when he wanders past the bloodied bodies of slain Elves.

"The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies" is top-heavy on action and tragedy both, filling in the last gap in the saga of the hobbits and the One Ring. It has some missteps, but the passion and grief make it a powerful experience. And all the brilliant, epic action scenes don't hurt either.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 26, 2015 3:09 PM PDT

Galerians - Rion
Galerians - Rion
DVD ~ Steve Cassling
Offered by Phase 3, LLC
Price: $24.99
36 used & new from $0.01

1.0 out of 5 stars It is mutual (mild spoilers), March 11, 2015
This review is from: Galerians - Rion (DVD)
Have you ever watched a video game on Youtube with the "let's play" parts cut out? That is exactly what "Galerians - Rion" feels like.

Then again, this animated movie might actually BE that, since it is a direct adaptation of the Playstation survival-horror game "Galerians"... and it feels like it. Not because of the awkward plasticky animation, but the overly simple storyline that is effectively a string of one-off battles with underdeveloped villains building up a boss battle... while also stunning us with the most predictable twists ever.

A boy named Rion awakens in a creepy hospital, with no memories of his past or how he got there. When he tries to escape, he's attacked by clearly evil scientists and their creepy robot... and discovers that he has psychic powers that can destroy anyone who attacks him. When he scampers back to what the computer says is his home, he finds his parents dead -- and a recording that informs him that this is all the doing of an evil computer called Dorothy, who believes herself to be a god and wants to destroy all human life.

The only way to stop her is a virus program in the brain of a girl named Lillia, whom Rion is telepathically linked to. To stop Rion and Lillia, Dorothy has created some psychic.... clone... things called Galerians. And so Rion starts battling the three different Galerians sent against him -- the laughing psychotic Birdman, the hate-filled Rita, and the serial-killing child Rainheart. But when the two of them encounter Dorothy, Rion is faced with a shocking (not really) discovery about his past.

The biggest problem with "Galerias - Rion" is that it follows a video game story structure, without adding much to the plot. After the initial setup, it's just Rion encountering and battling (for about two minutes apiece) one minor villain after another, finishing with a confrontation with Dorothy herself. You might as well play the game itself, because the movie doesn't add anything to the story.

Neither the writing nor the action really compensate for the lack of plot, either. Most of the fights just involve Rion screaming and shooting telekinetic lightning at whoever he's fighting, and the dialogue is clunky at best ("Telepathy means... two minds unite, and become one. It's as if we are connected. If you suffer, I too suffer. It is mutual"). Again, the sort of thing that might fly in a video game, where the player's actions can affect the fight scenes.... but when someone is simply watching a character effortlessly blast his enemies down, it simply isn't interesting.

And the twist ending... is not really a twist. A twist implies that something is actually a surprise, and the revelation about Rion's nature is so unsurprising that I didn't even realize HE was unaware of it. Of course, the murky nature of psychic powers and who they belong to makes it even harder to know what's going on.

As for the animation.... well, it ain't a Final Fantasy movie. It's not horrendous in quality for 2002 graphics, but it reminds me why Pixar took so long to have animated human characters -- they look like rubbery plastic dolls with dead eyes and not much expression. Dorothy is pretty solid nightmare fuel, though -- a giant metallic-flesh woman's torso with tentacle hair and a rolling bloodshot eyeball in her mouth.

The characters are all pretty flat here -- Rion and Lillia are blank slates with little to no experiences or backstory that actually matters, and only their final scene together is a little touching. The movie makes some halfhearted efforts to flash out the various Galerians that Rion fights -- usually by a vision of their inner self in a blank white space -- but it only happens when they're pretty much dead. And the voice acting -- which ranges from barely tolerable to for-the-love-of-God-make-it-stop -- doesn't really help.

You might as well play the video game, because "Galerians - Rion" tells roughly the same story in the same way... but without any of the excitement of gameplay. Mother is not pleased.

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