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The Silmarillion - First American Edition First Printing
The Silmarillion - First American Edition First Printing
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Hardcover
29 used & new from $13.84

5.0 out of 5 stars The Bible of Middle-Earth, December 26, 2014
Consider this -- J.R.R. Tolkien's fantastical epic "Lord of the Rings" is only the tail end of his invented history.

Yes, Tolkien spent most of his adult life crafting the elaborate, rich world of Middle-Earth, and coming up with a fictional history that spanned millennia. And "The Silmarillion" was the culmination of that work -- a Biblesque epic of fantasy history, stretching from the creation of the universe to the final bittersweet departure of the Elves from Middle-Earth.

A complete summary is impossible, because the book spans millennia and has one earth-shattering event after another. But it includes:
*The creation of Tolkien's invented pantheons of angelic beings under Eru Iluvatar, also known as God.
*How they sang the world into being, and the creation of Elves, Men, and Dwarves (hobbits are not really covered).
*The legendary love story of Beren and Luthien, a mortal Man and an Elf maiden who gives up her immortality for the man she loves.
*The attempts of the demonic Morgoth and his servant Sauron (remember him?) to corrupt the world.
*Feanor and his sons, and the terrible oath that led to Elves slaying one another.
*The Silmarils, the glorious gems made from the the essence of the Two Trees that generated the world's light.
*Elves of just about any kind -- bad, mad, dangerous, good, sweet, brave, and so forth.
*The creation of the many Rings of Power -- and the One Ring of Sauron.
*And finally, the quest of the Ringbearer, Frodo Baggins, and the final battle that would decide the fate of Middle-Earth.

If you ever were confused by a reference or name mentioned in "The Hobbit" or "Lord of the Rings," then chances are that "The Silmarillion" can enlighten you about what it meant. What is Numenor? Who are the Valar? Who is that Elbereth Gilthoniel that people keep praying to? How did the Elf/Dwarf feud originally begin? And how exactly is Elrond related to Aragorn?

For the most part, it focuses on the Elves and their history, especially where it intertwines with the history of Men -- although Dwarves and Hobbits don't get nearly as much ink devoted to them. But in that story, Tolkien weaves together stories of earth-shattering romance, haunting tragedy, gory violence, good versus evil, the rise and fall of cities and kingdoms, and much more.

However, it's not really written like Tolkien's other works. It's more like the Bible, the Mabinogion or the Eddas. Tolkien didn't get as "into" the heads of his characters here, and wrote a more detailed, sprawling narrative that would have needed countless books to explore in depth. But while his prose is more formal and distant here, it still has that haunting starlit beauty ("Blue was her raiment as the unclouded heaven, but her eyes were grey as the starlit evening; her mantle was sewn with golden flowers, but her hair was dark as the shadows of twilight").

It's clear to see, while reading this, the extent of Tolkien's passion for his invented history. Someone who had a lack of enthusiasm could not have spent much of his adult life writing, revising, and polishing a history that never was. It's also almost frighteningly imaginative and real: It isn't too hard to imagine that these things could actually have happened. In a genre clogged with shallow sword'n'sorcery, Tolkien's coherent, carefully-written backstory is truly unique.

Casual Tolkien fans probably won't be able to stick it out. But those who appreciate the richness and scope of Middle-Earth should examine "The Silmarillion," a sprawling fictional history full of beauty, tragedy and love. A work of literary genius.

Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Repair Moisturizer, 1.7 fl. oz.
Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Repair Moisturizer, 1.7 fl. oz.
Price: $65.00
2 used & new from $65.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Juicy fruity, December 26, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I ordered "Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Repair Moisturizer" primarily as an option for my mother, so that she could try it out and see what the

The product is a pretty good moisturizer -- it's not overly thick or thin, it smells like fruit (actual fruit rather than an artificial scent), and it doesn't cause one's skin to break out. It also comes in a container that allows for the dispensation of only a small amount of the product, although I was initially kind of confused about how it worked.

As for the "cellular repair" aspect of the moisturizer, my mother didn't notice a huge difference after several days of daily usage, but did see some slight reduction in facial lines and a softer feel to the applied areas.

Frankenstein (Everyman's Library)
Frankenstein (Everyman's Library)
by Mary Shelley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.14
71 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A man made of the dead, December 26, 2014
Everyone has heard of Frankenstein's monster... or at least the Hollywood version, with green skin, boxy head and bolts in his neck.

But the undead patchwork creature is quite different in Mary Shelley's immortal debut novel "Frankenstein," a gothic sci-fi tale which starts off rather slow but builds into a tragic, darkly hypnotic tale about tampering in God's domain, and the terrible consequences that come from it. Also: if you create a new creature out of dead body parts, don't disown and abandon him, or he'll kill your family and chase you into the Arctic.

During a trip across the Arctic, a ship picks up a starved, half-frozen man named Victor Frankenstein. As he recovers, Frankenstein tells the sailors his life story -- especially about how he became fascinated with science (mad sexy science!), and developed a vaguely-described process to reanimate dead tissue. In a sense, he was able to conquer death itself. Eventually he constructs a new creature out of dead body parts, and brings him to life with.... well, science. Of sorts.

But while the creature is intelligent and articulate, he's also hideously ugly. Horrified that his creation is not beautiful like he expected (a creature made of corpses isn't gorgeous? Who could think such a thing?), Frankenstein flees... and has a nervous breakdown. Wimp.

But months later, the murder of his younger brother brings Victor back to his home, where he figures out that the creature was involved. And to his horror, the creature reappears in his life, and reveals that he now wants a mate. But the loathing between them -- caused by Frankenstein's disgust and the creature's increasing bitterness over how humans loathe him -- leads to even more tragedy.

"Frankenstein" is one of those rare novels that is almost beyond classification -- it's gothic horror, it's a philosophical work, it's fantasy, it's sci-fi, it's a tragedy, it's a tale about scientific ambition that goes where it shouldn't go. Mary Shelley was only eighteen years old when she began writing this book, but she interwove religion, science and a fiercely intelligent knowledge of human nature into it.

Her writing is a bit stuffy at times ("All praises bestowed on her I received as made to a possession of my own"), but that's because it was written in the early 1800s. Despite this, Shelley's writing skills shine in the more horrific moments of the story ("I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs"), and she imbues it with a sense of painful, grimy suspense.

But the complicated characters of Victor and the creature are what really make the story work. While the narrator and seemingly the protagonist, Victor is actually a pretty horrible person -- while he's a tragic figure whose unnatural ambitions end up destroying his wife, brother and father, he's also incredibly cruel and callous to the creature because... he's ugly.

The creature, on the other hand, instantly gets our sympathy. He's intelligent and childlike at first, but his ugliness causes everyone to immediately hate and fear him. When him becomes embittered and eventually murderous, you still feel sorry for him, because it is soon clear that nothing will ever go right for this miracle of science.

Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" is one of those few, rare horror books -- it adds a little more of that scientific gothic atmosphere to a classic tale of horror, blood, slime and sorrow. And in so doing, Shelley created a story that terrifies and mesmerizes.

Shiver Series (Shiver, Linger, Forever, Sinner)
Shiver Series (Shiver, Linger, Forever, Sinner)
Price: $28.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Shiver on, December 25, 2014
For many years, we were inundated in paranormal romances -- including quite a few about werewolves. But Maggie Stiefvater's "Shiver Series" has a delicate, haunting, wintry quality that most paranormal romances lack, as well as a romance that tosses aside "Twilight"-style crushy obsessions in favor of a gentle, sweet romance threatened by nature itself as well as humanity.

In "Shiver," Grace has been visited by a yellow-eyed wolf every winter, ever since he saved her life as a small child. When a teenage boy is killed by wolves, and his body is stolen from the morgue, she somehow knows that supernatural stuff is afoot.

When a bunch of illegal hunters try to kill the local wolf pack, Grace rushes in to save her wolf -- and finds "her wolf" as a wounded, naked human boy. It turns out that cold triggers his transformations, while "warm makes me me. Makes me Sam." But as the cold approaches the town again, Grace may lose Sam in more than one way -- if she isn't destroyed as well.

"Linger" picks up with Sam and Grace trying to have a semi-normal HUMAN life -- getting a job, thinking about college, and fending off a police investigation into Olivia's disappearance. But Cole is determined to lose his pain in his wolf form, until he inadvertently stumbles into Isabel's life, and she finds herself drawn to him. And Grace's happiness at having Sam back is overshadowed by a mysterious illness, which may draw her even closer to the world of the werewolves.

"Forever" has Grace returning after her first winter as a wolf, still unstable. She hides in Cole and Sam's house, and for a brief time the young lovers are blissfully happy. But someone has been killed by one of the wolves, and Isabel's father has used his influence to have the entire pack killed. And as the four teens try to save the pack, their only hope may be a cure Cole has been searching for.

"Sinner" is less a sequel to the trilogy, and more a companion piece that comes after. Isabel has gone to live with relatives in California, to get away from her lycanthropy-wrecked life and her tumultuous relationship with Cole. But Cole has come to L.A., edging back into his life of rock'n'roll fame as he tries to win her back. But both of them have cracks and flaws that keep them from easily fitting back into each other's lives.

This trilogy has a poetic quality that most urban fantasy lacks -- it's a delicate, hauntingly crystalline book where even the humdrum high-school stuff takes on an ethereal quality. Maggie Stiefvater really came up with a unique idea for werewolves as well, where their transformation is dependent on the temperature -- cold makes them wolves, warmth makes then human. (Why don't they move to the tropics then?)

And her prose has a shimmering, silvery beauty that envelops you in black-leafed forests, wintry skies, snow-encrusted fur and icy air ("Despite the chilly air that made ghosts of my breath..."). She writes dramatic, intense situations that really grasp your emotions (Grace almost drowning in a muddy pool), but without melodrama or excessive dialogue.

"Sinner" is a somewhat different beast from the other three books -- while lycanthropy is still an enduring part of the story, it focuses more on romantic turmoil than on fantasy. It's a glittering, neon-hued story about a messy relationship that will never stop being messy and passionate... which happens to involve a werewolf.

I'm also rather sick of hormonal teenagers obsessing on each other and calling it "true love." Grace and Sam's relationship is a much more moving one -- hesitant, unsure, but deeply caring and rooted in true affection. As time goes on, they become more passionate and adorable, all the more so because they have to wait for each other. We also have a much more tempestuous, unpredictable couple in the charming, erratic Cole and snarky rich girl Isabel, who are just as gripping as Sam and Grace.

Maggie Stiefvater's "Shiver Series" deftly sidesteps many of the genre cliches, and leaves you in a chilly cocoon of beautiful prose. A must-read for those who want something more poetic and less creepy than your average werewolf romance.

Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Leather-bound Classics)
Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Leather-bound Classics)
by William Shakespeare
Edition: Leather Bound
Price: $21.56
39 used & new from $16.77

5.0 out of 5 stars Tales of the Bard, December 25, 2014
Shakespeare requires no introduction -- he is "the Bard," the most imposing playwright and storyteller in the English language. And "The Complete Pelican Shakespeare" brings together every one of his plays, ranging from harrowing tragedies to airy little puffs of comedy -- and even the lesser plays are still brilliant.

The plays basically are divided into comedies, histories and tragedies. The tragedies are pretty much... tragic, the comedies are not always funny but end semi-happily, and the histories... well, dramatizations of history, which usually make a great deal more sense after some historical research.

And everybody has heard of the greats here -- the Scottish lord who murders his way to kingship, young lovers divided by a feud, a Moorish general who is driven mad with jealousy, an elderly king whose arrogance rips his life apart, a very cleaned-up version of Henry VIII's split from his first wife, the goofy Prince Hal and his growth into a great king. There are feuding fairies, bickering lovers, romantic tangles, Julius Caesar's demise, gender-bending, an exiled duke/magician on his island, and the infamous "pound of flesh" bargain.

But Shakespeare also wrote a bunch of lesser-known plays that often can't be so neatly categorized -- a rotten love affair during the siege of Troy, a Roman general attacking his own city, an Athenian gentleman embittered by humanity, Richard III's Machiavellian plot to become king, two sets of twins separated at birth, a corrupt judge obsessed with a lovely nun, Falstaff's doomed efforts to make money, and so on. Some of these ("Troilus and Cressida") aren't nearly as good as his "main" body of work, but they're still excellent.

For all Shakespeare's plays, it's best to read them AFTER you've seen a good performance. Otherwise, it's like reading a movie script to a movie you haven't seen -- easy to get lost, and the dramatic effects aren't easy to connect to. But if you've seen performances of any/all of Shakespeare's plays, then his vibrant stories and poetry leap off the page.

There are long eloquent speeches, puns, clever linguistic twists, and evocative language that soaks the play in atmosphere ("With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine/There sleeps Titania sometime of the night/Lull'd in these flowers with dances and delight..."). In fact, his plays are diamond mines of quotations -- some are infamous ("To be or not to be") and some of which have floated into public knowledge without labels ("Cowards die many times before their deaths/The valiant never taste of death but once").

And while some of his plays are basically fluff, he manages to weave in moral questions, criticism and explorations of the human soul. And his characters range as far as his plots -- kings and princes, teenage lovers, proud but doomed warriors, clever young ladies in drag, bratty queens, the witty but combative Beatrice and Benedick, and even the puppet-master mage Prospero.

Shakespeare's "Complete Works" is a must-have for anyone who loves the English language -- his writing was unparalleled, and even his lesser plays are a cut above the rest.

Total Recall Se [Blu-ray]
Total Recall Se [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Arnold Schwarzenegger
Price: $13.49

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything you can recall, December 22, 2014
It's like a nightmare out of Kafka: everything you can remember is false, and everything you think you know about your life is a lie. Such is the dilemma at the heart of "Total Recall," which also has the honor of being one of the best movies Arnold Schwarzenegger has ever made. A lot of this comes from the plot, which is full of memorable twists and clever plotting -- not to mention the glorious depiction of a futuristic Mars.

Every night, Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) is haunted by a dream of Mars and a strange woman (Rachel Ticotin). He even wants to visit Mars, but his wife Lori (Sharon Stone) is reluctant. After all, Mars is going through a nasty rebellion at the moment. On impulse, Quaid decides to go to Rekall, a company that implants false memories for entertainment, and selects a "secret agent" fantasy on Mars.

But things instantly go very wrong when he has a convulsive reaction, and ends up dumped in a taxi. As he tries to get home, his coworkers all try to kill him -- and at home, Lori also tries to murder him, revealing that their entire marriage is a false memory.

Quaid goes on the run, with only a cryptic message from his former self to guide him. But even if he can get to Mars and avoid being captured by Lori and the cops, he has to find the mysterious Melina (who turns out to be the lady from his dream). And as he seeks out the mysterious leader of the Resistance, Quaid finds that there may be things in his past he doesn't want to remember...

"Total Recall" doesn't stick very closely to Philip K. Dick's original story, but it doesn't shame it either. The story is delightfully unpredictable from beginning to end -- while you might be able to figure out quickly that Quaid is remembering lost memories of Mars, most of the plot twists after that are genuinely shocking. And underlying everything is the haunting question: Is any of this real?

This is Paul Verhoeven back when he was good, and "Total Recall" displays him at his best -- lots of action-packed fight scenes, gruesomeness (the removal of the tracker up Arnold's nose is especially gross), and an underlying current of humor that keeps things from ever getting too grim (" If things have gone wrong, I'm talking to myself and you don't have a wet towel around your head").

And lest anyone forget it's a sci-fi movie, most of the action takes place on a delightfully sleazy Mars colony where mutants walk amongst the normal humans. Example: Quaid speaks to a three-breasted hooker at a bar. And there's a subplot about a mysterious set of alien machines that only comes to fruition late in the story.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of those actors that is normally pretty mediocre, but is amazing when he's got a good script and direction. He overflows with humor and charisma in this role ("Consider that a divorce!") and he has excellent chemistry with Ticotin. This is a hero you can actually root for, but we're also constantly reminded that we don't know the real man.

"Total Recall" is a like taking a rollercoaster ride, with lots of wild action and thrills -- as well as one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's best performances ever. Definitely worth watching.

DVD ~ Julian West
Price: $35.96

5.0 out of 5 stars A soul in fear of death cried out, December 22, 2014
This review is from: Vampyr (DVD)
The rat-toothed Nosferatu and the charming Transylvanian Count are the best known examples of early vampire movies, mostly because there weren't very many others at the time.

But more often than not, "Vampyr" gets passed over when you talk about early vampire movies -- and that's a shame. Carl Th. Dreyer's masterpiece (loosely based on the works of J. Sheridan Le Fanu) is a straightforward little story wrapped in a hazy cocoon of dreamlike imagery and haunting direction. From the very beginning, this movie clings to you like a spiderweb.

Occult student Allan Gray is staying at a hotel in the French countryside. But after being woken by a strange old man's cryptic warning, he finds that the inn is swarming with eerie supernatural happenings, including shadows that move independently. After he departs, a strange old man lets an ancient crone out of a closet.

And when Allan arrives at a nearby chateau, he finds that the owner has been murdered, and his daughter Leone is suffering from mysterious wounds. After the girl is rescued from a strange old crone, she begins acting predatory toward her sister Gisele -- and the weird old doctor says that only a transfusion will save her. But the doctor is in league with the vampire -- and is working to destroy Leone...

"Vampyr" has a pretty simple storyline, loosely based on a couple of J. Sheridan Le Fanu's short stories (including the classic "Carmilla"). But it's not the plot that makes this movie a classic -- it's the powerful, ghostly visuals that permeate it. And the beautiful real-life settings (the inn, chateau and church) don't hurt the atmosphere of it all.

In many ways, "Vampyr" is like a silent movie -- the characters are quiet, text cards intersperse the scenes, and several minutes are taken up by printed text from the "History of Vampires" book. In addition to this, the visuals are so powerful that it's almost a shock when one of the characters actually speaks out loud. Even then, nobody says anything unless it's actually necessary.

Dreyer films this movie as if it were a choreographed dream, letting the camera drift through ornate rooms and hazy hills. And he often fixed on striking images -- pale feverish faces, still windvanes, cloudy skies, scythes, and the movement of shadows on walls and the ground. And there are some spectacularly creepy moments, such as when Leone starts baring her teeth gleefully at Gisele, or Allan watching the view from inside a coffin.

And he steeps the entire movie in dreamlike effects -- hazy countrysides, skeletons, floating girls, and shadows that can dance and move independently. These strange effects are done almost effortlessly, adding to the feeling that you're surrounded by the unreal. Dreyer even puts a note of humor in from time to time, such as the dancing shadows with their little folk band.

Julian West (aka Nicolas de Gunzburg) does a pretty solid job as our unflappable hero, although I question how his suit remains pristine all through the movie -- and he does a glorious job in that bizarre dream sequence. Sybille Schmitz has a small part, but is wonderfully feral as she starts to turn vampiric, and Henriette Gérard is unspeakably creepy as the ancient, stone-faced vampire who wants other people to suffer as well.

Criterion has given "Vampyr" the treatment it sorely needed, cleaning up the prints in an effort to restore the clarity. It's also got new subtitles, loads of information about Dreyer, his filmmaking and the creation of "Vampyr," articles about it, the screenplay and one of Le Fanu's short stories. Nice to see this underrated little movie is getting the attention is deserves.

Carl Th. Dreyer's "Vampyr" is a rarity among vampire movies -- all haunting images and ghostly, subtle horror, with excellent acting and exquisite directions. It's a cinematic classic that should not be overlooked.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Special Edition) (DVD+UltraViolet)
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Special Edition) (DVD+UltraViolet)
Price: $19.99

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A final excursion into Middle-Earth (some spoilers), December 18, 2014
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.

Coraline (2D Happy Faces Version)
Coraline (2D Happy Faces Version)
DVD ~ Dakota Fanning
Price: $7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You are not my mother!, December 3, 2014
Nobody can drench a book in creepy, dank atmosphere like Neil Gaiman, infused with humor and more than a little horror. Fortunately that flavour is kept alive in the movie adaptation of "Coraline," brought to life by the talented Henry Selick. It's a haunting little dark fairy tale full of decayed apartments, dancing rats and eerie soulless doppelgangers, as well as a gutsy heroine who finds herself in this ominous "other" world.

Newly moved into an aged apartment, Coraline (Dakota Fanning) is bored. Her parents are too busy to do anything with her, and her neighbors are either insane or boring. The one exception is Wybie, a boy who annoys her no end.

It's the sort of relentlessly dull world that any little girl would want to escape from -- until Coraline does. She encounters a plastered-up door and a colourful wormhole, leading to an almost exact copy of her new home. In fact, it's so similar that she has a button-eyed "other mother" (Teri Hatcher) and matching "other father," (John Hodgman) as well as great food, games, a shimmering magic garden, a chorus of circus rodents and magic toys.

At first Coraline is fascinated by the other world, especially since her other parents are as attentive as her real ones aren't. Then she finds her real parents sealed inside a mirror. With the help of a sarcastic cat, Coraline ventures back into the other world. But with her parents and a trio of dead children held hostage, Coraline's only hope is to gamble with her own freedom -- and she'll be trapped forever if she fails.

"Coraline" is a brilliant dark fairy-tale vibe -- decayed apartments, dead children, spiderwebs, beetles, disembodied hands, button eyes, and an insectile button-eyed woman who wants to claim Coraline for herself. It's a fairy tale world that turns into a nightmare realm where souls are lost and horrific things scuttle in the shadows.

Most directors would turn the story into a cutesy, unscary affair... but not the director of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "James and the Giant Peach." Instead, Selick gives it a dark, cobwebby atmosphere, brilliant colours and surreal details (the button eclipsing the moon). And it's full of lovely details that could have been silly (the creepy-crawly claw hand) yet work brilliantly.

The story starts off as merely surreal, but grows more ghastly and eerie as the movie unwinds -- and in the last third, the slow-moving story suddenly spins into a thoroughly spooky territory, and a truly terrifying climax where the Other Mother shows her true self. And along the way, there are plenty of wonderfully creepy moments -- the three ghosts in a rotting bedroom/mirror, the offering of buttons and thick black thread, weird circus acts, and much more. The horror is subtle, the delicious creepiness is not.

Coraline -- the Alice in this Notsowonderland -- is a wonderful little heroine: strong, sensible, self-sufficient but still fairly freaked out about what is happening around her. Normally I'm not crazy about Dakota Fanning, but she's quite good in this role, giving a sort of acerbic wit to our tough little heroine.

The sarcastic cat is a wonderful counterpoint, and the movie's original character Wybie makes a nice companion (albeit an extraneous one). And the other mother is the stuff of nightmares -- she's utterly inhuman and merciless, and by the movie's climax she's become the stuff of nightmares. Oh, and French and Saunders make a pair of fun cameos as the kooky neighbors.

"Coraline" is a brilliantly dark little movie, full of dark magic and eerie creatures -- definitely for fans of Gaiman, dark fantasy and stop-motion animation. A delight all around.

Warlock II: The Armageddon
Warlock II: The Armageddon
Price: $2.99

2.0 out of 5 stars He's back... or not, December 2, 2014
If you've never seen "Warlock"... then don't worry. This movie has nothing in common with "Warlock" except magic, a warlock, and Julian Sands.

So enjoy "Warlock: The Armageddon" for what it is -- a splashy, campy mess that can't quite settle on one plot. Julian Sands is deliciously evil and incredibly charming ("But I'm not a man. I'm a witch"), and he is quite easily the best thing about this movie... which is otherwise a fairly mediocre magical-teen-coming-of-age flick.

Many centuries ago, a group of druids used their power to keep Satan's son from coming to Earth... because yeah, druids apparently believed in Satan. Who knew? They succeeded, but the magical rune crystals were scattered when a bunch of clueless Christians barged in on it.

Present day: a woman makes the bad decision of wearing a rune crystal for a date... and instead gives birth to a freaky blob-thing that grows into the Warlock (Julian Sands). He immediately goes off to find the other crystals, which are conveniently all located in the continental United States, and kills the owners in various ironic ways.

Fortunately for the world, three older druids happen to be living in a small town, and two of them conveniently have whiny teen children (Chris Young and Paula Marshall) who are destined to be Druid Warriors, who are allegedly the only ones who can stop the Warlock... although it's never clear why, because they're kind of ineffectual. They are killed, resurrected and trained in magic, but they still may not be strong enough to stop the Warlock.

The only thing you should pay attention to in "Warlock" is Julian Sands. He rules this movie just by sheer force of presence -- his Warlock is charming, sinister, cruel and a massive fan of irony. He's not the same Warlock as in the previous film, though -- this guy is the actual offspring of Satan, and possesses nearly godlike powers (he turns a man into a Cubist sculpture, using his thumbs).

The problem is that the movie isn't entirely about the Warlock. About half of it follows him on his little road trip, killing people in amusing and irony-filled ways. This is easily the best part of the movie, especially since he provides plenty of nightmare fuel -- such as when he traps a man in a mirror dimension, or zombifies a cab driver to chauffeur him around.

But the other half is about a bunch of middle-aged druids trying to educate their annoying teen kids in the ways of magic... really cheesy, poorly-green-screened magic. And there's a teen romance subplot that is so boring that I won't even bother describing it. It feels like this movie is two unrelated films smooshed together -- one is a "Warlock" movie, the other is a sort of slow-moving magical coming-of-age story. The second plot only becomes interesting when Julian Sands swooshes into it, firing invisible bullets from his fingers.

Anthony Hickox gives his own odd, somewhat campy spin on the Warlock material, and at times he's really spot-on with the horror. It's gruesome, gory and sometimes wickedly funny... and then we get thrown some nonsensical plot twist -- the "Druid Warriors" are pretty useless, there's no rhyme or reason to any of the magic, and Hickox's knowledge of ancient druids is comically unconvincing. And the weepy self-stabbing scene is just... silly.

As mentioned before, Sands completely rules this movie -- he has a sort of sinister elegance even when he's wandering around naked and goopy. The elder druids are kind of fun, but Young and Marshall are intensely annoying. He is always whining and complaining, while she always acts as if she's on the verge of bursting into tears.

"Warlock: The Armageddon" is definitely a downgrade from the previous "Warlock" film, but Julian Sands' brilliant performance should be seen at least once. Too bad he isn't in the third one.

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