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The Age of Adaline
The Age of Adaline
Price: $14.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Ages and ages and ages, June 30, 2015
At the age of twenty-nine, Adaline Bowman suffered a bizarre car accident, where she plunged into a frozen river and was struck by lightning. In the decades since the accident, she has not aged a day.

It's an intriguing premise for a magical-realism romance, especially if one considered the vast, sweeping changes that have happened over the last century. Unfortunately, "The Age of Adaline" never achieves more depth than a pretty but shallow picture -- it drapes the most twee of old-fashioned trappings around a modern plot, surrounding a blandly pleasant Mary Sue heroine and a vaguely inspirational message about how you should live your life or something like that.

After the FBI took an interest in Adaline's lack of aging, she started adopting a new identity every decade or so, so no one will notice her lack of aging. The only one who knows her secret is her daughter Flemming (Ellen Burstyn), who now could pass for her mother's grandmother. Though independently wealthy from early investments in Xerox, her latest identity is a librarian named Jennifer, but she's planning to trade in that persona and retire to a remote farm in Oregon.

But her plans are derailed on New Year's Eve when she encounters Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), a wealthy young man who relentlessly pursues Adaline until she agrees to date him. She finds herself falling in love with him despite her determination to stay emotionally unattached -- but when she accompanies him on a visit to his family, his father (Harrison Ford) recognizes her from a long-ago relationship. Now Adaline must make a fateful choice: keep running away, or finally embrace life and love?

"The Age of Adaline" is presented as if it were a sort of modern American epic mingled with cosmic magical-realism... but sadly it doesn't really have the backbone or the cojones to really be what it aspires to be. Instead, it's a picturesquely soppy romance that lingers lovingly on many pretty tableaus -- antique cars roaming over grassy hills, glimmering rain and stars, elegant parties, lushly green North California forests and as many shots of the Golden Gate Bridge as a rack of tourist postcards.

So it only dips lightly into the problems Adaline would be expected to have -- mainly bumping into old flames and a five-second-long encounter with Sinister Government Forces. And though the selling point of any story about an immortal is the weight of time's passage, there's no real sense of Adaline having done much than attend a few parties and have a few romances. We're supposed to see her as a woman weighed down by her long artificial life and the isolation it brings, but it feels like she hasn't gained any baggage except her elegant wardrobe.

And it has a message that is just as bland and twee: you should be courageous enough to love and live.... instead of the alternative, apparently. Despite dipping lightly into some of the problems you would expect Adaline to have -- such as the FBI wanting to find the cause of her immortality -- the movie quickly darts away from anything that isn't prettily romantic, narrated archly by an omniscience narrator who describes everything significant down to the molecular level. It desperately wants the epic sweep and tragedy of an immortal's life... but it also wants to be a safe, cozy little romance.

And of course, "living" and "loving" are entirely expressed through a rather trite, blindingly sentimental romance, which is only memorable because Ellis is kind of creepy. Seriously, he stalks Adaline and uses her job as a means of extorting dates from her, yet this behavior is presented as if he's merely charmingly earnest and a little awkward.

Blake Lively does a serviceable job as Adaline, and you sense that she's throwing herself into the role with all she has. However, she doesn't have the luminous charm, the gravitas, or the sense of age that Adaline is supposed to have. In fact, Adaline herself is a rather blandly perfect figure -- she lives a glamorous life while also being a librarian, independently wealthy, speaks many languages, met various twentieth-century celebrities, and every man who sees her instantly falls in love with her her and obsesses on her for years. She's well-read, wise, witty, beautiful and generally perfect in every way. She's like a romantic bookish teenager's Mary Sue.

But the actors are to be commended for doing a pretty good job all around -- Ford has a brief but wrenching role as a former paramour of Adaline's, who has been haunted by her for all these years. It's probably the best performance he's given in years. Burstyn is quite good as Adaline's elderly daughter, and Huisman does what he can with a rather flat romantic figure.

"The Age of Adaline" strives to be something grand and wrenching, but falls back into a safe little nest of cliches and pretty scenery. Not so much a bad movie as a profoundly forgettable one, despite its intriguing premise.

The Complete Wheel of Time
The Complete Wheel of Time
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $104.42

3.0 out of 5 stars The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, June 30, 2015
The Wheel of Time Series is probably the biggest epic-fantasy series in literary history. Not in terms of popularity -- although it definitely was a perennial bestseller -- but in terms of bulk.

But they bundled all fifteen books together in "The Complete Wheel of Time," from the backstory-filling prequel "New Spring" to the long-awaited grand finale in "A Memory of Light." Robert Jordan's series is both captivating and violently frustrating -- it was a sprawling, complicated epic, full of classic fantasy tropes and an air of myth and legend, but the middle of the series bogged itself down until near the end of the story.

It tells the story of Rand al'Thor, a young man from a humble village known as the Two Rivers (think the Shire, but with more gender-based bickering and less food), whose life is disrupted by the arrival of a Fade and a horde of Trollocs. They attack his farm and nearly kill his father, searching for young men of a certain age. It turns out that they're hunting him, of course, because he is actually the Dragon Reborn, a legendary reincarnated warrior both feared and revered across the world. He's also the only male in the world who can use magic without going bonkers.

The Aes Sedai sorceress Morgaine and her companion Lan take Rand (along with his friends Egwene, Mat, Perrin and Nynaeve) on a globe-spanning quest to fight against the Shadow, which can only be accomplished by uniting the kingdoms and peoples before Tarmon Gai'don. But as they struggle to stop the evil forces from taking over, Rand himself grows increasingly dark and -- dare I say it? -- a little bit crazy. Will he be able to save the world, or will he be the one to wreck it?

One thing to not really look for in the "Wheel of Time" series is originality. It has a lot of the standard high fantasy tropes -- special swords, medieval villages, kings, (female) wizards, magic, dark lords, monstrous troops, a Chosen One, and so on -- with some new names and concepts grafted on. And Jordon also took a lot of influence from J.R.R. Tolkien's works, Nordic/Celtic myth, Judeo-Christian and Buddhist theology, Arthurian legend and Campbellian hero myths (particularly for Rand).

And it's those familiar elements that make "The Wheel of Time" palatable despite its complexity -- it has a simple story composed of familiar elements, but presented with lots of political intrigue and increasingly intricate plotting. This also applies to many of the characters, who are familiar types (wise mentor, naive farm boy, smart girl) who remain tied to Rand's story, but who have their own subplots and wacky adventures across the world. Some of them involve wolves, insanity, magical weapons, and a massive heat wave.

So what's the big problem? That would be the fact that the plot starts slowing down after the third book... and by the eighth book, "A Path of Daggers," the spinning wheels had dug a rut that Jordan never wrote the story out of. The following volumes were nothing but padded filler, riddled with Jordan's infuriating literary tics (women folding their arms under their breasts) and drawn-out descriptions of literally everything the characters see, feel and encounter. The series only arose from that rut when Brandon Sanderson took over after Jordan's death, and the final three books are much richer and substantial than the volumes immediately preceding them.

"The Complete Wheel of Time" is a simple story given plenty of texture and intricacy, despite a sagging, motionless middle section that nearly derails the entire series. If you can stomach that part, it's an entertaining if not particularly deep high fantasy series.

Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter)
Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter)
by Laurell K. Hamilton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.98
71 used & new from $11.85

226 of 249 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars “I’m Anita Blake.”, June 9, 2015
One of the worst things to ever happen to the Anita Blake series was that Laurell K. Hamilton received a coveted "no-edit" clause in her contract. Even if the books were bloated, tedious, repetitive trainwrecks.

And the best parts of "Dead Ice" are the ones that clearly show the mark of an editor's scarlet pen. But while it starts strong, the book quickly sinks into a clammy, dismal quagmire of relationship issues, few of which are actually even slightly interesting to read about. Instead, we get long stretches of Anita being the toughest, manliest, most misogynistic macho-man in the universe, broken only by a disturbing subplot that heralds future necrophilia.

The FBI enlists Anita to help them on a case that really shouldn't be new to them: someone is raising zombies so they can be molested in porn videos. This doesn't surprise Anita, since she has encountered such plots in the past -- but the Internet is bringing a new dimension to such things. That plot sounds exciting, interesting and chilling... so it is set aside for almost the entire book. Not kidding.

Instead, we follow Anita as she shops for jewelry, has sex in cars, plans who's going to be in her mass commitment ceremony, and has useless power struggles that nobody cares about to show us how she is tougher/sexier/cooler/better than everyone else. And, of course, everybody sits down to eat bland food like a "family," and talk about relationships. Hooray. Occasionally we dip back into the zombie-porn plot, only to be dragged back into Anita yelling at random new characters.

In a way, "Dead Ice" is the most disappointing book Hamilton has written in years, because the beginning is... good. It has the subtle touch of a good editor who has streamlined out all the filler and repetition, and the FBI agents are written as reasonable human beings who have legitimate issues with Anita. Add on a zombie case that is horrifyingly plausible, and a rather clever connection to one of the earlier novels... and you have the makings of an actual good Anita Blake thriller.

And then... it just sinks into the same ol' same ol'. Most of the book is a poorly-written filler, full of with ghastly dialogue ("How can any of us stand near the flame of your beauty and not want to be closer to the heat of it?") and power struggles that nobody really cares about. It feels less like a cohesive novel, and more like a string of short stories and vague ideas tacked together, with the "main" plot being forgotten for what seems like an eternity.

Of course, we have the usual Anita Blake staples: sexism (Anita has to LEARN that sometimes women don't give men a "reason" to beat them), preaching the gospel of the gym, unsexy sex scenes (Anita picking pubic hair out of her teeth), logical plot holes (Micah is now a wereleopard AND weretiger), casual insults to people of various sexualities (an asexual person is "cured" by Anita and JC) and long scenes that exist just to glorify Anita. One scene involves a character comparing Anita's looks to those of Helen of Troy... without an ounce of humor. That is the stuff of parody.

Worst of all: Anita raises a zombie for the first time in aeons, while being her usual unprofessional self. Instead of somehow tying this into the zombie porn plot... it turns into a necrophiliac romance based on Anita raising zombies who are practically alive. This means in another two or three books, Anita will raise a zombie and have sex with it. Just wait and watch. And as the final embarrassment, Hamilton wrote part of this as a rather pitiful jab at Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files" series.

Anita is her usual self here -- a dumb, thuggish bully who loathes anyone she considers "weak" or too "PC." Hamilton tries desperately to cast her as a goddess of kindness and strength, but only makes her look like a clueless bimbo who throws tantrums all the time. Oh, and there are some halfhearted attempts to make her seem less violently misogynistic ("Girls rule; boys drool") but she's still casually misogynistic and resentful of all other women.

As for the hundreds of other characters, they mostly seem to be there to fill up space. Anita's brainwashed boytoy Nicky is there just to remind us that he's a sociopath every two pages, which is dull at best. Asher is just there to be told how much everyone hates him. Jean-Claude is barely present in the story, and Hamilton's boredom with the character is almost palpable. And Anita's rapist/true-love Micah is secretly manipulating different were groups to enhance his own power base... and fortunately for him, Anita is too stupid to be worried about this.

"Dead Ice" is a hideously frustrating book. When the editors were involved, it's a pretty decent thriller... but most of the time, it's the same old swamp of bickering and whining. Alert to the editor: give the whole book the red-pen treatment!
Comment Comments (39) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 30, 2015 9:05 AM PDT

Doctor Who: The Beginning (An Unearthly Child / The Daleks / The Edge of Destruction) (Stories 1 - 3)
Doctor Who: The Beginning (An Unearthly Child / The Daleks / The Edge of Destruction) (Stories 1 - 3)
DVD ~ William Hartnell
Price: $20.79
15 used & new from $14.21

4.0 out of 5 stars "Doctor Who?", June 4, 2015
"Doctor Who" has been a beloved science fiction series for more than fifty years, and (as I write this) is currently on the twelfth incarnation of the Time Lord known as the Doctor.

But every epic story has to start somewhere. "Doctor Who: The Beginning" brings viewers back to the very first episodes of "Doctor Who" in 1964 -- there was no mythos or history, just a strange old man who travelled time and space in a police box. And despite the slow pace, these are some very well-written, intriguing episodes that easily introduce viewers to the Doctor, his greatest enemy, and the first humans to find out how weird the universe can be.

Schoolteachers Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Ian (William Russell) are both perplexed by a student who attends their school -- Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford) is a genius in some areas, but seems woefully ignorant in others. They decide to talk to her grandfather about her, only to find that her address is a junkyard with a police box in it. When they stumble inside, they discover the truth -- Susan and her grandfather, the Doctor (William Hartnell), are actually aliens, and the police box is a TARDIS, a ship that can travel instantly through time and space.

Since humans have found out what they are, the Doctor declares that he and Susan need to leave then-contemporary London, but Susan is adamant that she wants to stay where and when she is. So the Doctor decides to go on a jaunt into the very distant past to avoid exposure... whether Barbara and Ian like it or not. As a result, they end up imprisoned by a tribe in the Paleolithic, where a power struggle is going on over who can make fire.

"The Daleks" become a problem when the TARDIS lands on a planet full of radiation and petrified trees. When they wander into an alien city, they are captured by the Daleks -- vicious, mutated cyborg creatures who believe them to be their enemies, the pacifistic Thals. And escaping from the Daleks is only the group's first problem. With a vital piece of the TARDIS missing, they must convince the Thals to make war on their ancient enemies, before the entire planet is wrecked.

And "The Edge of Destruction" rains even more trouble on them, when the TARDIS stalls out, knocking out the inhabitants and causing them to suffer bouts of amnesia. Susan has bouts of violent behavior, the Doctor suffers a concussion and becomes paranoid about his human passengers, and the doors keep opening and shutting for no reason. Has some alien creature managed to infiltrate the TARDIS, or is the problem one of them?

"Doctor Who: The Beginning" is a weird experience for people only introduced to the Doctor later in the series -- not only is the whole thing in black-and-white, but he's old and crotchety and doesn't seem very fond of humans in general. Plus, he also has a teen granddaughter. Furthermore, the now-established staples of the series (the TARDIS, the Daleks) are just being introduced here, giving the feeling of a show that has yet to take a definite shape.

But these three serials are pretty good science fiction -- one story takes place in another time, the second in another world, and the third explores the nature of the TARDIS -- and they form a foundation for the series to come. The writing is pretty solid ("What are we going to do? Can we live here? What do we eat? There are millions of questions." "A very good idea. I'm hungry"), and despite the simplicity of the stories, there's a depth and complexity to the morals and motivations of the characters -- the Doctor is tempted to kill a man to save them, and the Thals are caught between their pacifistic hatred of war and the need to fight to save others.

The only problem is that "The Edge of Destruction" has a rather underwhelming ending -- the explanation for what's going on is just kind of underwhelming, especially after such a haunting, intense buildup of paranoia and suspicion. But hey, at least it introduces the fact that the TARDIS is no ordinary spaceship/time machine, and reminds us that while Barbara and Ian are traveling with the Doctor, none of these people are really friends.

And despite the crotchety nature of the First doctor, William Hartnell still made his character a very impressive one -- his doctor can be arrogant and presumptuous (since he basically kidnaps Ian and Barbara), but he's fair-minded and admits it immediately whenever he screws up. Ford is a pretty standard drama-llama teen girl who spends a lot of time yelling and crying, but who does have a genuine yearning for new experiences. Hill and Russell make pretty decent "everymen" for audiences to identify with, and over these serials they evolve into real characters on their own -- Barbara isn't afraid to bellow at the Doctor when he accuses her and Ian of sabotage.

"Doctor Who: The Beginning" reveals the infancy of the "Doctor Who" series -- the story was raw and unformed, but still intelligently-written and overflowing with imagination and potential. It has a few snafus, but it's a fascinating watch.

Iron Man 3-Movie Collection
Iron Man 3-Movie Collection
DVD ~ Robert Jr. Downey
Price: $16.99
19 used & new from $15.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Let's face it, this is not the worst thing you've caught me doing, June 2, 2015
This review is from: Iron Man 3-Movie Collection (DVD)
Tony Stark didn't seem like anyone's idea of a superhero -- he was a hedonistic billionaire genius who made all sorts of weapons for the US military.

But this unlikely superhero ended up turning the Marvel movies into a world-dominating franchise, which all started with a guy in a metal suit. The "Iron Man" trilogy has its ups and downs (the controversial Mandarin casting), but overall A lot of the movie's entertainment comes from Robert Downey Jr.'s charming, powerful performance as the title character, but these stories are also filled with explosions, high-octane action scenes, and connections to other Marvel movies.

While in the Middle-East, Tony Stark (Downey) is attacked and kidnapped by a terrorist cell, who want him to create weapons for them. Even worse, he has bits of shrapnel in his chest that -- if not restricted by an electromagnet -- will pierce his heart and kill him. With the assistance of a fellow imprisoned scientist, Tony manages to construct a weapon for himself: an iron suit that bashes and blasts his way out of there.

However, Tony's experience has shaken him -- he shuts down the weapons division of Stark Industry, goes into seclusion, and builds a metal suit with all the latest tech, including an arc reactor and repulsors. But as he uses his new suit to clean up hotbeds of terrorism, he doesn't realize that his old friend Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) is determined to create an iron suit of his own -- and turn it into the ultimate weapon.

In "Iron Man 2," Tony seems to have everything he needs -- fame, adoration, the new Stark Expo, and his new girlfriend Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow). And when the grasping government tries to get ahold of his armor, he makes it clear that "I have privatized world peace." But no one knows that the core of his arc reactor is slowly poisoning him, and his mortality is driving him to increasingly erratic, risk-taking behavior.

Then a deadly enemy appears -- Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian ex-con who blames Tony and his father for the destruction of his own father's life. Even worse, he has the ability to create weapons to rival Tony's own. With the help of the bratty industrialist Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), he sets out to destroy Tony Stark before the world -- and to survive, Tony will need help from a very unexpected source.

"Iron Man 3" takes place some months after "The Avengers," and Tony is now crippled by fear. Not only is he struggling with panic attacks and insomnia, but he is desperately building a whole army of Iron Man suits. Then a mysterious terrorist called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) unleashes a series of bombings on US soil -- one of which injures Happy (Jon Favreau). When the angry Tony challenges him, the Mandarin bombs his seaside mansion to the ground, and Tony is presumed dead.

However, he's not actually dead. He's stranded in Tennessee with only a broken suit and JARVIS. And as he works to fix his suit, Tony discovers that the terrorists are somehow involved with an experimental virus known as Extremis -- which the think-tank genius Killian (Guy Pearce) has been showing off to Pepper. Now Tony must not only get himself back together, but unravel an elaborate conspiracy centered around Extremis. If he doesn't, he may lose everything that he loves.

"The Iron Man Trilogy" is the bedrock of the current Marvel cineverse. While their movies have spun out in different directions, these movies laid out the foundation for everything they did later -- the organization known as SHIELD works its way into the story, and Tony finds himself dealing with the problems of a world caught in the middle of a galactic war. And of course, there's that giant anti-authoritarian streak, with Tony thumbing his nose at a greasy, sleazy Congressman who wants to claim his suit, much to the delight of the public.

But even if you take these three movies on their own merits, they are still delightful blockbusters -- lots of shiny explosive action (Tony punching through a wall to beat up a terrorist), lots of tongue-in-cheek dialogue ("Sir, I'm gonna have to ask you to exit the donut!"), and plots that are simple but still have some excellent twists. They do have some flaws, though -- the second movie has a villain too similar to the first's, and many fans howled when they found out the twist about the Mandarin in the third.

Robert Downey Jr. was simply the ideal choice for Tony Stark -- he comes across as intelligent and quick-witted, with sharp snarky repartee and lots of charm. His Tony is an irritating, arrogant guy, but he has a good heart underneath it all. And as the trilogy winds on, it becomes obvious that his confidence covers a core of fear -- whenever he encounters something bigger, badder and more dangerous than he is, he tries to use technology to make himself feel safe.

And there's a solid cast surrounding it -- Don Cheadle as Tony's best buddy, a budding superhero in his own right who keeps the crazy billionaire somewhat grounded; Scarlett Johansson as an acrobatic superspy who can effortlessly take out a dozen men at once; Sam Rockwell as a dorky crooked industrialist who desperately wants to surpass Tony (and may have a crush on him); and Paul Bettany as the acerbic British AI known as JARVIS.

The "Iron Man" trilogy is a must-see for fans of the Marvel movies, fans of superhero movies, or just anyone who enjoys a big splashy blockbuster with lots of wild action and interesting twists. Smart, entertaining and intense.

Doctor Who: The E-Space Trilogy- The Tom Baker Years 1974-1981 (Stories 112-114)
Doctor Who: The E-Space Trilogy- The Tom Baker Years 1974-1981 (Stories 112-114)
DVD ~ Tom Baker
Price: $30.19
14 used & new from $24.11

4.0 out of 5 stars Why can't people be nice to one another, just for a change?, June 2, 2015
The modern incarnation of "Doctor Who" is known for having elaborate seasonal story arcs, slowly building to something epic and grand. But the old series had its fair share of story arcs as well, where multiple serials were tied together in some kind of quest.

One good example is the "E-Space Trilogy," which brings together the Fourth Doctor serials "Full Circle," "State of Decay" and "Warrior's Gate." These are fairly solid adventures in a parallel dimension no less strange than ours, with everything from slavers to the Creatures From The Black Lagoon to space vampires -- and the biggest problem is that the Doctor ends up losing the competent and warm-hearted Romana in favor of a useless, treacherous little brat.

"Full Circle": The TARDIS is dragged onto a completely unfamiliar planet, despite its equipment declaring that this is definitely Gallifrey. The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Laila Ward) quickly figure out that they have somehow entered E-space, a small universe existing alongside ours. Unfortunately, they don't know how to get back.

And of course, they immediately become embroiled in local affairs. The Alzarians, the people of this planet, dwell near a vast colony ship, and whenever Mistfall comes upon the planet, they all hide from the toxic gases and giant spiders... except the real problem is the amphibious Marsh-men, not the mist. The Doctor begins investigating this oddly perfectionist, unquestioning society, slowly discovering a secret that not even they are entirely aware of -- but since Romana has been bitten by a giant terrifying spider, she is being mind-controlled into helping the Marsh-men.

"State of Decay" brings the Doctor, Romana, K-9 and the stowaway Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) to a planet with a sort of generic medieval society, where technology and science are deemed heretical. Not to religion, mind, but to the three terrifying lords of the planet -- Zargo, Camilla and Aukon -- who regularly cause young people to vanish from surrounding towns. As the Doctor tries to figure out what caused this "state of decay," he finds that the answer is both simpler and weirder than you'd expect: vampires!

In "Warrior's Gate," the TARDIS appears in a strange black expanse, where E-space and normal space intersect. The only other creatures there are a slave ship whose crew immediately kidnap Romana so she can be their new slave navigator, and the Doctor finds a stone gateway in the nothingness. Unfortunately, K-9 is malfunctioning due to the null space, and mysterious teleporting cat-people are appearing and vanishing throughout the ship and the gateway. Will the Doctor and his friends ever make it back?

The stories of "The E-Space Trilogy" technically didn't need to be set in a different universe -- the adventures in this strange unknown place aren't much weirder than the Doctor's regular adventures. But the unfamiliar setting does provide a certain sense of mystery and suspense, since very little of what the Doctor encounters is familiar to him. Sure, there are a lot of humans rattling around E-Space, and one of the villains is from our universe... but the planets he comes to and the strange problems of null space are entirely new.

And in the midst of trying to extricate themselves from E-space, the Doctor keeps stumbling across injustices that need to be righted, and civilizations threatened by mysterious alien forces -- we've got slave ships, a crumbling castle with vampires, and a vast swamp outside an oddly geological spaceship. And though some of the Doctor's quirky humor is here (he tries to figure out if he can stick a riverfruit in his pocket), the tone tends to be rather serious overall.

"Warrior's Gate" is perhaps the weakest of the three, being rather repetitive at times (with Romana being kidnapped multiple times). But it's also slightly bittersweet, as this marks Romana's departure from the series -- and it's suitably built up to, with her becoming more rebellious and less eager to go back to Gallifrey. She's lived life as the Doctor does, and is unwilling to be anything else now.

The biggest problem with this trilogy? Adric. This character is one of the most insufferable characters in TV history. In every single episode of these three serials, he spends his time either being useless (usually whining or trumpeting his math skills) or a vile little coward who shrugs off the forthcoming murder of Romana because (paraphrased) "Hey, at least I'LL be okay!"

The lost-in-another-universe arc stays around just long enough to be interesting, without ever overstaying its welcome -- and the one-off adventures of "Doctor Who: The E-Space Trilogy" are entertaining, serious sci-fi, marred only by the dreadful new companion Adric.

Lord Peter Wimsey - The Complete Collection
Lord Peter Wimsey - The Complete Collection
DVD ~ Ian Carmichael
6 used & new from $274.99

4.0 out of 5 stars I say!, June 2, 2015
Dorothy Sayers created a rather unusual sleuth in Lord Peter Wimsey -- think Bertie Wooster, except with a formidable crime-solving brain, a haunted past and a tendency to stumble across murders. And "Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries: Complete Collection" brings together all of the solid BBC adaptations of her works starring Ian Carmichael, which are hampered mainly by the fact that the cast is a bit old for their roles.

In "Clouds of Witness" Peter is on vacation when he finds out that his brother, The Duke of Denver (informally "Gerald"), is on trial for murder -- he had a blowup with his sister Mary's fiancee, Denis Cathcart, and the next morning, Cathcart was found shot through the heart by Gerald's gun, with Gerald bending over the body. The Duke stubbornly refuses to explain why he was out in the rain at three in the morning. Now Peter must unravel a mass of lies, secrets and red herrings, and figure out who truly killed Cathcart.

"The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club" happens while Peter is lunching with his mentally fragile friend George Fentimen -- elderly General Fentiman expires in his chair. Because the exact time of death is unknown (and the general's sister died at around the same time), it's not clear who the inheritance is going to. And when the body is exhumed and examined, it's found that the old guy was actually poisoned.

"Murder Must Advertise" when an employee at an advertising agency falls down a spiral staircase and breaks his neck. Using the name "Death Bredon," Lord Peter goes undercover at the agency, and quickly discovers that he has a natural talent for it. He also discovers that the agency is involved somehow in a seedy drug smuggling ring, and has links to an upper-class party crowd. Oh yeah, and there are more murders.

Then in "Five Red Herrings," a fishing/painting vacation to an arty little village in Scotland goes horribly awry. Bunter and Wimsey stumble across the body of Sandy Campbell -- a violent, malicious, verbally-abusive painter who has alienated almost everybody in Galloway -- face-down in the pond. At first it appears to be an accident, but Wimsey soon realizes that it was murder. Now he has to figure out who actually murdered the man everyone wanted to throttle.

And finally, in "The Nine Tailors" Wimsey helps out the bellringers at a remote village by helping them ring in the New Year... and of course, a corpse is found the next day. As Wimsey investigates the identity of the mystery man, he discovers that it's connected to stolen emeralds from several years ago -- AND the biggest mystery is not just who killed the man, but HOW.

The BBC did an excellent job preserving the spirit of Dorothy Sayers' classic mystery novels, steeped in the atmosphere of post-World War I England -- gentlemen's clubs, tweed jackets, wood-paneled manorhouses and flapper dresses. There's incisive wit in the dialogue, clever humor ("Every time I get my pay packet, I glow with honest pride!"), and an array of characters including fusty old gentry, office drones, feisty artists to drug-addled flappers.

Even better, these are genuine whodunnits. All three mysteries are tangles of lies, deceptions, infidelities, errors and the occasional bizarre twist such as a Nosferatu-esque man scaring a maidservant into a few grey hairs. In every situation, the solution ends up being wonderfully simple.

Perhaps the biggest problem of the story is that the cast is a bit long in the tooth: Ian Carmichael, Rachel Herbert and Anna Cropper are all at least a decade older than their characters are. It's a bit weird, especially since Carmichael is old enough to be his own character's dad. But despite being in his mid-fifties, Ian Carmichael plays Wimsey with a light, incisive touch and a clever tongue ("I like facts... and there are remarkably few of them in this case"), and he's a likably plausible detective who can be steely when the occasion demands it. Glyn Houston is a warmly jolly Bunter, and he's sorely missed whenever he isn't in one of the stories.

"Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries: Complete Collection" has a cast that's a bit old for their roles. But otherwise it's a solid collection of murder mysteries that stick close to the original books.

The Salterton Trilogy: Tempest-tost; Leaven of Malice; A Mixture of Frailties
The Salterton Trilogy: Tempest-tost; Leaven of Malice; A Mixture of Frailties
by Robertson Davies
Edition: Paperback
36 used & new from $3.70

4.0 out of 5 stars Salterton drama, May 30, 2015
Robertson Davies excelled at creating deep, detailed stories about little communities and the strange things that happen in them.

And his Salterton trilogy is no exception. These three loosely-intwertwined books -- "Tempest Tost," "Leaven of Malice" and "A Miixture Of Frailties" -- take readers to the deceptively quaint Canadian city of Salterton, which is distinctive for having one university and two cathedrals. And while it's one of Davies' lighter works compared to his Deptford trilogy, this winding story still has a poignancy and cleverness that shows his skill with his odd characters.

"Tempest-Tost" opens with the organization of an amateur production of Shakespeare's "The Tempest." A motley crew of actors join it, including an exuberent professor, his quiet daughter, a quiet mama's boy, a beautiful rich girl, a womanizing soldier, and an infatuated schoolteacher. Love, ambition, jealousy and infatuation rapidly tangle together, climaxing in an unusually dramatic opening night.

In contrast, "Leaven of Malice" is half satire and half mystery. The Salterton Bellman announces that Solly Bridgetower and Pearl Vambrace are engaged -- the only problem is that it isn't true. Professor Vambrace sees it as a personal affront, and sues the paper. Pearl and Solly are haunted by false rumors, reports, and claims about who faked the announcement. All they can do is try to find out themselves.

"Mixture of Frailties" opens with the death of Solly's domineering mother. Her will leaves money to Solly's family only if he produces a male heir with his wife Veronica (previously known as Pearl); until then, her money is to be used in a trust for a young female artistic hopeful, who will go to Europe for a few years to study whatever she is good at. And finding the right girl is only the start of Solly's problems.

The works of Robertson Davies tended to be introspective, complicated works that focus on a lot of oddball characters over long spans of time. But this is one of his lighter works -- sometimes it's outright comedic (there's a girl called "The Torso"), with "Tempest Tost" being the most charmingly funny of the three. It's also the least focused of the three, with "Leaven of Malice" and "A Miixture Of Frailties" being tighter, but a little more rarified in humor and a little more surreal in tone.

It also has the rich, leather-chair-and-port prose that Davies excelled at, which feels like the halfway point between American casualness and the classic British style ("Really, Solly, those Hansen relatives of yours are something special. Hollow legs, every one of them"). And as the story drifts between different characters and themes, Davies deftly tackles the sins and oddities of a small community -- feuds, unrequited love, pranks and death.

It also has a wide-ranging cast of characters, with Solly Bridgetower as the unacknowledged center of the trilogy. He's the kind of guy everyone knows -- fairly unimpressive, but a likable sort of guy when you get to know him. Pearl Vambrace and her irascible father also gain prominence in the loosely-linked stories, as a scandal and a reignited feud allow Pearl to break out of her old life and become her own person. And without a doubt, Humphrey Cobbler is Davies' best character -- a vivid, devil-may-care artistic genius who winks and nudges in every book.

"The Salterton Trilogy" is often eclipsed by Davies' better-known Deptford Trilogy, but that doesn't mean it's bad. By no means. It's a pleasant and warmly amusing trio of interconnected stories, and due to be enjoyed by anyone who has read Davies' work.

DVD ~ Paul Bettany
Price: $10.45
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What is that infernal thing on your lip?, May 29, 2015
This review is from: Mortdecai (DVD)
Imagine if Wes Anderson did a movie about a wacky antique dealer engaging in international intrigue... while drunk and high. And possibly asleep.

The results might be something like "Mortdecai," a movie that might as well be called "Mort-de-career" for most of the people involved. This is a movie that desperately wants to be a classy, witty romp, but tries to cover tasteless cliches and a moronic plot with exaggeratedly arch performances and a veneer of British class. Hint to director David Koepp and screenwriter Eric Aronson: erection jokes do not magically become less tacky if you use an accent.

Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) is in trouble. He's on the verge of bankruptcy, some of his past customers want to kill him, and his wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) is repulsed by his new mustache. Even worse, Johanna's ex-boyfriend Inspector Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor) -- who is still madly in love with her -- turns up with a case that he needs Mortdecai's help on. A Goya has gone missing and an art restorer has been murdered, and for some reason he wants Mortdecai's help in tracking it down.

Mortdecai also figures out that the Goya is actually a LOST Goya, which conveniently also has the number of a bank account containing a fortune in stolen Nazi gold. And it turns out an international terrorist is after the painting. So is the Russian mob.

The plot promptly twists itself into a pretzel to keep Mortdecai at the center of the plot, as he and his faithful manservant/bodyguard Jock (Paul Bettany) go on an international chase to find out who has the Goya. Unbeknownst to them, Johanna is searching for it as well. And as they get closer to the painting, they'll have to deal with a bunch of crazy, violent people who will do anything to get their hands on it.

When a comedy fails, it tends to fail completely -- movies are usually either hilarious (to somebody, at least) or they fail spectacularly and completely. And "Mortdecai" is a mesmerizing failure. This is not just bad comedy. It is a seething, imploding mass of anti-comedy which sort of resembles actual humor.... but its increasingly desperate attempts to amuse only provoke silence and the sound of crickets.

And David Koepp wants to be Wes Anderson. Desperately. He wants that quirkiness, that archness, that self-aware elegance that Anderson has become famous for. He even tries to do some of the same tricks, such as having a narrator relating the story (though we don't know FROM WHEN),

Unfortunately, he tries to achieve this through a lot of terrible sex jokes (there's a character named "Jock Strapp"... HAR HAR), torturous running gags that never seem to end (a senile old man who relates his real thoughts into a phone), and a plot that is so riddled with holes and ridiculous "twists" that it stops being believable as soon as it begins. And scenes that Koepp clearly thought were funny end up being uncomfortably tedious, such as when a gabbling Mortdecai is cornered in an elevator by a perverted acquaintance's erection. Har. Har.

The biggest problem is that "Mortdecai" comes across much the same as the title character. It's crass, gross and weird, but with a veneer of false class due to the British setting and attempts at posh dialogue ("Your mother and father only knew each other for a day, and money changed hands").

It also has an all-star cast who are at best wasted (McGregor and Bettany), and at worst giving wretched performances that make you wonder what blackmail material the director had on them. Particularly bad is Depp, who plays Mortdecai like an SNL character who somehow wandered into a real movie -- he spends the whole film making his derpy, goon-faced "funny" smile, and speaking in a grotesque parody of a British accent. Considering that Mortdecai is a cowardly weirdo with no real good qualities, this performance just makes him even more insufferable.

"Mortdecai" is idiotic drivel -- a veneer of veddy veddy British class over a sad, pathetic heap of unfunny sex jokes and running gags that never seem to end. Avoid like the plague, and just watch the real Wes Anderson.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 5, 2015 5:48 PM PDT

Ghost Rider (2007) / Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance - Vol
Ghost Rider (2007) / Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance - Vol
DVD ~ Nicolas Cage
Price: $9.99
20 used & new from $8.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Scraping at the DOOR..., May 11, 2015
The Ghost Rider is a motorcycle-riding flaming skeleton fueled by satanic magic, who hunts down evildoers. In other words, the most metal superhero ever conceived of.

You would think it would be impossible to mess up a concept that awesome. And yet, they managed to ruin not one but TWO Ghost Rider movies, mostly by casting Hollywood's loopiest actor as a hardcore supernatural action hero. While the special effects are excellent and Ghost Rider's rampages can be awesome, the plots are slow and riddled with gaping holes, and the second movie in particular is an incoherent mess.

"Ghost Rider": As a teen boy, Johnny Blaze accidentally made a deal with the Devil (Peter Fonda) in exchange for curing his dying father. Of course, it didn't turn out well, and Johnny ended up with his soul belonging to El Diablo. About ten years later, Johnny (Nicolas Cage) has become a famous daredevil who is incapable of being harmed by his stupid stunts, due to that whole satanic pact thing. He's haunted by the knowledge that someday, the devil will call on him... and by his same-age-but-looks-much-younger ex-girlfriend (Eva Mendes).

Then the Devil's son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley) steals a contract that holds a thousand evil souls, which gives him incredible power for... some reason. So the Devil transforms Blaze into the Ghost Rider, a flaming-skulled motorcycle rider who brings the punishment of hell on the wicked. I guess the Devil can't defeat his wayward son, but someone who got all his powers from the Devil can. Figure that out.

And in the sequel, "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," the Devil (now played by a disgusted-looking Ciaran Hinds) is pursuing a young boy and his mother for nefarious purposes. A French priest (Idris Elba) contacts Blaze and makes a deal with him: his priesthood will.... somehow lift the curse of the Ghost Rider if Blaze saves the boy. Even though Blaze intentionally kept the Ghost Rider powers at the end of the first movie, he has now decided that they are bad and he wants them to go away.

Of course, this means that he has to go up against the Devil's minions, including gun-toting shock troops (REALLY?!) an undead demon who can cause anything he touches to rot away. But he soon discovers that both sides of this conflict are out to do something unforgivable -- so Blaze must call on his terrible powers once again, and discover what the power of the Ghost Rider truly is.

So what is the biggest death knell of the "Ghost Rider" duology? That would be Nicolas Cage, who is capable of great acting on occasion... but more frequently gives us memeworthy scenery-chewing and deranged laughter. He is also too old for the role (the first movie indicates that Blaze should be in his early thirties at most), and just too eccentric and non-threatening to ever be a terrifying, glorious creature worthy of a metal album cover. He's also a massive nerd and a dork, and it shows.

The best part of the story is probably the action sequences with the fully transformed Ghost Rider, which involve explosions, streams of fire, and a scene where a mining machine is turned into a vast flaming chainsaw. Of course, the mythology and rules change randomly according to what the plot demands, but.... it looks cool.

But the rest of the time, it's mesmerizingly awful. The first movie is pretty generic and bland, with the token love interest and a hole-filled plot. And the second is a mesmerizing stew of wretched ideas, bad dialogue ("You're the devil's babymama"), and editing that might give you a seizure. Seriously, I have never seen so much shakycam combined with random fast-forward and slo-mo in any movie ever, which succeeds in making an already ridiculous story even sillier.

And the movies are, quite simply, weird. There are countless bizarre things that are never explained or even played for comedy, like Roxanne consulting a Magic 8 Ball for relationship advice, or an anecdote about Ghost Rider peeing fire. It's like the movies are trying to be funny, but they play everything completely seriously.

"Ghost Rider / Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" reminds us why we were lucky to be spared a Nicolas Cage Superman and Batman. There is some amazing action, but it's crammed into incoherent, nonsensical masses of plotholes and insane weirdness.

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