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The Lace Reader: A Novel
The Lace Reader: A Novel
by Brunonia Barry
Edition: Hardcover
447 used & new from $0.01

48 of 58 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Vine Reader, October 20, 2008
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
You'll notice that over half the reviews from this book are from the Amazon Vine program, a program which gives top reviewers free products in an effort to better promote the product and ultimately sell more. These reviews are easy to spot, not just by their lime green promo lines, but by the garrulous and verbose language they are usually penned with (apparently this makes their writers feel more "official"), and more poignantly by the almost universally glowing favor they have for their counterpart product. I assume that these writers feel obligated to not only write a review so they can continue receiving more mediocre free stuff from Amazon, but to make that review overwhelmingly positive for the same reasons.

I, however, do not fall into this category.

When being invited to Vine program I was intrigued, and having once been a top reviewer and then stopping for a year or more, I was also wanting to get back into writing more reviews. This seemed like a good prodding in that direction.

The first thing I noticed upon joining the Vine program was the selection quality. I had never heard of any of the authors in the meager offerings, and moreover they looked like the kind of books that *needed* this kind of additional help to sell...in other words, they just looked boring. After a bit of deliberation, "The Lace Reader" was the only one that seemed worthy of a read, so I ended up with it.

Within the first two pages I knew what I had received: A book from a first-time novelist writing about an area that she's from, recounting all to familiar events in her life (the extremely overdone "write what you know" syndrome).

Something about this book that most reviewers fail to mention is that it is written in first-person present tense. In the hands of a great author, this is still a slippery medium to navigate, especially for the entirety of a novel. In the hands of Brunonia Barry? Awkward, clumsy and disjointed. This is a vehicle best suited for experimental short stories, not full-length novels for first-time writers. It's unfair of me to slay this book in such a way without some examples, so here you go.

Barry has the laziest verbs I've encountered in recent memory. As Stephen King says, "the road to hell is paved with adverbs" and The Lace Reader is littered with them. Furthermore, even for a first-person narrative, the book is just far too introspective. Her main character, Towner, chooses to simply tell us every suspicion that pops into her head, rather than show us why it did. She always says phrases "a bit too sharply", or perhaps, "a bit too loudly." One of the many "Writing the Breakthrough Novel!" books that undoubtedly litter this writer's workspace should've informed her that good writing is showing, not telling. I don't need to have the narrator tell me she said something too sharply, I need to see the character she's speaking to frown and slightly recoil, making the narrator wonder if it came out wrong. This sort of expertise is starkly absent, and as a result many readers (as several fellow reviewers have also lamented) will be unable to connect with the characters or the narrative, and have difficulty trudging through.

Don't be fooled by the high 4-star average rating of this book. The majority of those reviews came early on in the pre-release phase from the all too majestic digital pens of my fellow Vine members who I'm sure felt compelled to rave over this average offering to up their Vine brownie points, something which doesn't exist. I have no qualms about decimating this novel, freely offered to me or not. Maybe honest and yes, sometimes negative reviews will encourage Amazon to inject some quality products for us to actually review, not to simply rid their warehouses of overstocked books or pimp out novels from the highest paying publisher.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 31, 2010 10:33 AM PDT


Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
by Mary Roach
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.30
277 used & new from $0.51

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Scary for all the wrong reasons, October 20, 2008
It wouldn't be truly fair to say that Mary Roach has the sense of humor, maturity level and research skills of a fourteen-year-old boy - fair to a fourteen-year-old boy that is. Because I assume many of them are forced by their teachers to look beyond Google searches for their information. And surely many of them don't see the necessity of finding toilet humor in every odd name or tangential topic they happen to uncover in that research. (Consider this gem on page 73, when discussing phrenology, she suddenly finds reason to diverge into one of the subject's inventions, a "portable hydrogen gas generator [which she proudly references Google for, no less], and goes on at length to describe the machine's use to detect flatulence...I mean...is this really relevant information? And I'm being gentle. This is actually a fairly mild example of her constant and unnecessary deviation into detailed discussions of bodily functions.) This is how Mary Roach and fourteen-year-old boys are best distinguished; I'd be less worried about the 14-year-old embarrassing me in public.

I can't rightfully rate a book lower than 3 stars if I actually *finished* it - which I did in this case. But it sure feels like a 2-star bomb thinking back on it. From such an intriguing title comes an awkward, displaced, meaningless and utterly irrelevant collection of chapters that are each just a quick editor's glance away from taking their rightful place as B-rate magazine articles. And, most poignantly, none contain the slightest bit of the actual intrigue so latent within the title. It's as though she wants to be a satirical writer rather than present any actual information on the alleged subject, and there isn't the slightest hint of a journalistic mind present in the writing. Here. Imagine David Sedaris had the "talent" part of his brain removed, and then tried to write a book on a random topic he had little or no previous knowledge of. Essentially, you would have "Spook."

What Roach has done is simply recounted the most obvious hoaxes in the history of supernatural studies, and in other cases she's dabbled in some variety of modern science attempting to discover actual paranormal activity, all the while admitting how little she actually knows about what the experts at hand are talking about. In one case she mentions asking a researcher to respond to her by "pretend[ing] you are talking to a seventh-grader,"(p.105). Is this the level of authorship and topical knowledge that we've come to accept as publishable material? Apparently so, judging by Roach's high sales.

Ultimately, this book is complete and utter fluff with not the slightest bit of substantial information that an average person with a laptop and internet connection could not find out for themselves in about an hour and a half on Wikipedia. The only sense of awe the reader of "science tackling the afterlife" is left with, is that an average college graduate with a B.A. in psychology convinced a publisher to fund a book on a topic that said author may as well have picked out of a hat of a hundred other subjects about which she admittedly knew next to nothing.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 8, 2009 7:08 PM PDT


The Secret (Extended Edition)
The Secret (Extended Edition)
DVD ~ Rhonda Byrne
Offered by Media Wholesaler
Price: $3.99
317 used & new from $0.23

13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I've seen better infomercials, April 6, 2007
Ok let's take The Secret out for a spin...I'm visualizing a very negative review...and...oh my god...wow! It's appearing before my eyes! It works!

So I was bored, shopping in Borders and wanted a few new movies. For some inexplicable reason they had this in the *top sellers* section at - yes, number one - in the Movies. (Wait, were the film makers visualizing a number one DVD and it somehow happened?) Ok...this is not a movie. But, not always being up on the current movies I assumed I let one slip by so I purchased it. It's packaged to look like a real movie.

What it is, unfortunately, is a glorifed infomercial, except at least an infomercial has the intrinsic value of actually selling something. This was a bunch of talking head 'expert' nobodys telling you to simply think positive thoughts and they will magically materialize in your life.

I'm going to start by visualizing going back to borders, visualizing me telling the manager they are ripping people off by placing a 3rd rate self-help dvd in the top sellers section so unknowing buyers will be scammed into buying it, and then visualize getting my money back. We'll see if it magically just happens, or if I have to just get up and achieve what i want through planning, action and common sense.


The Ruins
The Ruins
by Scott Smith
Edition: Hardcover
449 used & new from $0.01

18 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A great title...ruined., September 12, 2006
This review is from: The Ruins (Hardcover)
The deep jungle...mysterious ruins...an ancient secret... It's probably a good thing for Scott Smith that the byline left off "and a talking, intelligent man eating vine."

Like many readers, I purchased this book based solely on the review of Steven King. I love King (pre-sober King at least) and he raved so fervently about "The Ruins" I assumed I was in for the ride of my life. However, it didn't really work out that way. What I got was essentially a mediocre Steven King short story stretched out into a novel. Are people this desperate for good horror that this is even considered passable? Judging by the reviews on Amazon I'm pleased to see that maybe the answer to that question is "no."

I'm not going to even attempt to keep spoilers out of this review, so if you haven't read "The Ruins" and I haven't scared you out of it yet, then you may not want to read the rest of this review. Here's the rundown. After about 12 pages of an extremely boring introduction (it took me two or three tries to get into it), a group of travelers in Mexico finally make their way to an ancient mining site in the jungle to look for one of their friends that has disappeared. After stepping onto a massive mound, they are prevented from leaving by a group of Mayans from a nearby village. They quickly realize they aren't alone on the mound - it is in fact inhabited by a flesh-eating vine that exhibits not only a high degree of intelligence, but also pointless malevolence and malice, an evil bully that likes to toy with and torture its victims. The reason for this is, like so many other points in the book, left completely and utterly explained.

Since the positives are so few, let's get them out of the way. The book did hook me and I read it in only a day or two. I won't say it was exceptionally well-written, since I do have many problems with Smith's writing, (constant repetition, the hackneyed repeating of a phrase over and over in italics as if that makes it more impacting, etc.), but there was at least enough suspense to keep me ardently reading to see what would happen - and as I progressed that turned to "if" something would happen. Ok, that's that. Now on to the negatives.

I was about two-thirds though the book when I really started getting annoyed. As I progressed through the last third it became evident to me what was going to happen...nothing. After investing my time reading a few hundred pages, I was very frustrated when I realized that the book wasn't going to end...it was going to fizzle out. And that's exactly what it did. When I was done reading the book, my overriding thought was "Why?" Why did Scott Smith tell us this story? The characters didn't change or grow. There was nothing different about this group of travelers at the "ruins" (um...what ruins?) than the dozens of others before them - they simply floundered around, argued with each other, then died. So why even tell it to us? Tell us the story of a special group that gets off the hill. Hell, at least one that *almost* gets off. Is that too much for you Scott? Okay, how about a group that manages to at least put together a coherent *plan* to get off the hill. No? Okay...maybe a group that *attempts* to put together a plan? Still no? Ok then. We'll settle for Stacey, Jeff, Eric and Amy - oh, and "The Greek" - a bumbling bunch of adolescent twenty-somethings who do nothing but bicker and are actually stupid enough to get drunk while stranded in the middle of the rain forest with no shelter. These are meaningless, inconsequential characters who don't matter to us. The only one approaching a hero is Jeff, who despite displaying moments of brilliance and leadership, never manages to put together anything resembling a plan for helping them get off the mound, other than "sit on the hill and look for the Greeks to come miraculously rescue us." It was difficult to invest in this since any idiot could see that even if someone *did* come, and even if they did manage to see them coming and warn them, clearly the Mayans would never allow the would-be rescuers to leave, for the same reason they forced the other 4 hikers onto the mound after only Stacey stepped on it. So it was very hard to put any stock and hope in this plan - the only plan they had in fact for the duration of the novel (sorry Scott, I'm not counting "try to run like hell, streaking into the jungle when it's really dark" as a viable plan) - when even a child could see that there was no way it would work. So all the suspense was sort of sucked out of it.

What made this worse was that the average reader could probably think of a dozen ways to get off the hill. Use the tequila bottles to make Molotov cocktails and throw them into the jungle at night starting a forest fire and escape in the confusion. Wait it out on the top of the hill where the Mayans can't see you until they suspect you are dead, then escape when their numbers thin. Throw pieces of the vine into the jungle at night, then when the Mayans see it's contaminated anyway, they might disperse. You know...*something*, Scott. Let them try *something*. Not just sit there, go through some rudimentary survival exercises, and then die like the others before them. Actually, I'd imagine that the particular group of travelers Smith chose to show us was probably one of the least interesting groups to die at the evil clutches of the vine.

Adding to the frustration of the novel are several continuity issues, which possibly could be explained, but for some reason are left completely unexplained by Smith. Consider this. A team of archeologists was visiting the mine? How did they hear about it? If this vine killed all of the miners centuries ago, and killed any unfortunate explorers that happened to wander onto the mound, how did word that this mine even existed possibly get out? Furthermore, a university isn't going to send a team of archeologists to a site to set up camp and research it if none of them have *even been to the site before*! The fact is, there is almost no way that researchers could have heard of this site to begin with (since everybody who has been there in the last few centuries has died). Let's go over just a couple more issues.

- The Mayans...how could they possibly have hoped to see every traveler going up the slope? Was there always a child out in the field playing when a hiker walked by? Surely someone would've wandered up onto the mound and then back off again before the Mayans noticed.

- Given the trouble the Mayans had to go through to guard and eventually kill everyone who wandered onto the mound, wouldn't you think they'd make more of an effort to keep people off the mound than a few palm leaves stuck in the ground in front of a path?

- When the Greeks arrived Smith said the path was well worn down from the activity of Mayans...well, when the first group arrived - Stacy, Jeff, etc. - the Mayans would've just finished off killing the archeologists...so one would assume there should've been some wear and tear around the paths then as well. However, they barely even found it.

Clearly the book made me think. But unfortunately all it made me think about was how it could've been better. Many people criticized "The Ruins" for the cartoonish vine that conjured images of Little Shop of Horrors...I didn't really have too much of a problem with this. I can accept that the vine just is...it exists and this is the way it is. I cannot, however, accept the many other unexplained incongruities with the story itself (laid out above). And leaving things unexplained is one thing...but as a reader I felt simply ignored by Smith. I mean really...NO explanations whatsoever? One of the Mayans can't speak some broken English and give the hikers even a little bit of insight as to what's going on here? And the actual mine itself...NO explanations as to what the mysterious upper shaft is and where it leads?

I think Steven King should be embarrassed for recommending this book and Scott Smith should be even more embarrassed for writing it. I understand it's difficult to write a novel, even a bad one like this - if it weren't then we'd all be doing it. But "The Ruins" is filled with silly, amateurish fiction writing 101 mistakes and plots. The best thing about the book is the alluring title, which unfortunately, due to the lack of actual ruins in the novel, is now ruined itself by this low-grade comic book adaptation.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 18, 2006 6:30 AM PST


Equations of Eternity: Speculations on Consciousness, Meaning, and the Mathematical Rules That Orchestrate the Cosmos
Equations of Eternity: Speculations on Consciousness, Meaning, and the Mathematical Rules That Orchestrate the Cosmos
by David Darling
Edition: Hardcover
74 used & new from $0.01

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Speculations indeed, May 7, 2006
While searching for the right words to describe what this book is actually "about" it appeared to me in the subtitle of the book itself - "Speculations on consciousness, meaning, and the mathematical rules that orchestrate the cosmos." Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. The truth is, the book is all over the place - not necessarily in a bad way - but so much so that it's difficult to sum up it's contents with a few simple words. It's anthropology, metaphysics, quantum physics, computer science, teleology, futurism...you name it, it's probably making an appearance in David Darling's "Equations of Eternity."

The first quarter of the book addresses the evolution of human consciousness (thus the anthropology), discussing our near evolutionary ancestors and the development of the forebrain. From there he takes a turn into what to me was the most laborious section of the book, the metaphysical section. Here he just gets a little too "if a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" for my taste. Except he takes it a step further and seems to ask "if nobody is there to see it, does the tree even exist at all?" Just when I was about at my metaphysical breaking point, he quickly changes gears into the realm of quantum physics and starts giving the science behind what he is saying (Schrodinger's cat, etc.). It's during this part of the book that the lay reader may get a little lost in the science (I did once or twice) but by and large the book is extremely readable.

Suddenly Darling turns to the world of computer science and how computers might one-day work...random, I was thinking. But I began to see how he was assembling all of the information he laid out in his book and used it to coalesce into his final couple chapters, his "grand theory" of the evolution of consciousness, where he foresees all of humanity - no, all of the universe - existing as one single, massive collective consciousness millions of years from now.

At times the book bordered on a new age philosophy, but he usually avoids this by quickly backing up his claims with scientific research. Whether or not you ultimately buy his theories, the book is well worth the read and he doesn't make too many intellectual leaps, if you carefully follow his arguments. When he does present something that sounds outlandish, he is quick to point out that the standard "accepted" solution of the same problem is often just as outlandish - it's just that we're accustomed to it.

It's a fun book that will really get you thinking, and it's easy to get through with a few night's investment. Well worth picking up - it could be the kind of book that changes your life (as it apparently was to some other reviewers, and I can see how this is possible) but for me it was just an enjoyable foray into some realms of science that are currently almost 100% speculative. But as Darling proves in this book, speculating can be very entertaining.


Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
by Bart D. Ehrman
Edition: Hardcover
206 used & new from $3.22

22 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where the new testament came from..., May 1, 2006
I highly recommend this book. Bart Ehrman is a biblical historian at UNC and writes, at least in this book, with a simple fluidity that is easy to follow and understand. (Note that this book is intentionally written for laymen...some of his other books are a little denser.)

This book deals with the formation of the New Testament and how it came to us in its current form. He gives particular attention to the copying of the new testament books by scribes through the centuries. He covers the errors that were made in copying, some of them accidental and some of them intentional. Where appropriate, he provides a historical context for who these scribes were and what political, social or religious pressures were influencing them.

It can be a challenging book to read for Christians, particularly those that adhere to a strict literalism or doctrine of inspiration. He unapologetically chronicles the known errors throughout scripture and doesn't hold back in giving the statistics - the most staggering one being that there are actually more errors between the New Testament manuscripts that we have than there are *words* in the New Testament.

This is a great introduction to the field of textual criticism for the laymen with little or no background in the subject, and because Ehrman isn't an evangelical he's not afraid to present the data as it is, bringing a much needed scientific mind to a field often dominated by tainted motivations and worldviews.


Holy Blood, Holy Grail
Holy Blood, Holy Grail
by Michael Baigent
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
571 used & new from $0.01

24 of 35 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Holy Crap, April 30, 2006
Given the record-setting popularity of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code", some of his sources of inspiration have also risen greatly in popularity. Thus, we have the resurrection of Henry Lincoln's "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," the book that provides, almost solely, the entire set of factual data for Brown's novel.

Among other things, "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" claims to unlock the secrets behind some of the most magnificent conspiracy theories ever. Was Jesus' crucifixion a hoax? Was Mary Magdalene really the wife of Jesus? Furthermore, did they have children and does that bloodline still exist today? "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" says "yes" to all of the above. And thus we have a sleuth-driven conspiracy book that rushes us through the vast history of Europe all the way to present day America, naming everyone from Leonardo Da Vinci to Isaac Newton as propagators of the cover-up.

The book is written under the guise of strict historical authorship and claims to use a variety of sources, which it does. As a prime source, however, the book cites a group of documents found in the Bibliotheque Nationale, which among other things, provides us with a genealogical list of the bloodline of Jesus and details about a secretive Templar group called "The Priory of Sion", including a long list of previous grandmasters of the organization - some of them being Isaac Newton, Botticelli, and yes, Leonardo da Vinci. This list in fact, is the identical list included in the introduction of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" as part of the "facts" that the book is built upon.

This is all well and good, but there's a slight problem. It is now known and very well reported (in a French documentary and a series of books) that the documents found in the Bibliotheque Nationale are a complete and utter hoax by a man named Pierre Plantard. Plantard, it seems, wanted to establish himself in the hypothetical bloodline of Jesus and included his own name in the list of the Merovingian descendants (the Merovingian dynasty is the supposed bloodline of Jesus). Plantard had some help in his fraud, and the men involved came forward and confessed it, leading to the widespread reporting (widespread in France, not America apparently) on the conspiracy.

What is remarkable is that although this book is based upon a well known hoax, you will find no mention of it within the covers of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", and more shockingly, it is used as the primary *fact* that Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" is based upon. The notion that Da Vinci was a member of the Priory of Sion is ludicrous on many levels, most notably because the harmless boys club wasn't even formed until 1956. There is nothing connecting Da Vinci to the Templars, the grail, or the Priory of Sion other than the faked, manufactured documents of Plantard.

The unfortunate (and irresponsible) thing is that in "The Da Vinci Code" this well known hoax is listed as a "fact" upon which the novel is based, and the vast majority of the book-buying public has no idea that it is completely and utterly untrue. I cannot stand with those that just roll their eyes and throw their hands in the air and say "It's just a fiction book..." as though that's all Brown's novel is. True, it is a work of fiction, but it is stated very clearly in "The Da Vinci Code's" introduction that the work of fiction is based upon a set of "facts". So although we are in a world of fiction, it is built upon many newly established historical facts - and the majority of those facts are completely bogus. Completely. And as a result many readers come away from this book believing things about history that just aren't true. "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" is the primary reason for this.

For anyone interested in the *actual* history surrounding the world of "The Da Vinci Code" I'd recommend "Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code" by Bart Ehrman. Ehrman is a scholar of the early church and it's documents - a historian actually - at UNC. Unlike the majority of Da Vinci Code spin-off books, Ehrman is writing as an actual expert in the field, not a journalist interested in the subject or an evangelical pastor trying to convert you to Christianity in the process.

In the end, you may find that "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" is more a work of fiction than the "Da Vinci Code" itself. For a more detailed debunking of this book, you can purchase U.S. News and World Report's "Secrets of The Da Vinci Code", an interesting little magazine-like book that has several articles covering the many intriguing aspects of Brown's novel. Included is a scathing diatribe on "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", classifying it as the pseudo-historical drivel that it is. "Holy Blood, Holy Gail", much like "The Da Vinci Code", has the tenor and tone of actual fact and history, enough so to make the majority of readers believe they are actually caught up in something real (that adrenaline rush that drives most of the gullible conspiracy theorists that rated this book so highly). But in fact there is scarcely a shred of historical accuracy or scholarship in it. The book is nothing more than an attempt to prove a pre-supposed theory - specifically that the church covered up many damaging truths about Christ - and the authors use a variety of specious and highly contested ideas that are presented and supposed as factual. It is possibly the most irresponsible book I've ever read, given that the main document it uses as a source has been proven fraudulent since its publication - and yet they continue to sell it!


The Village (Widescreen Vista Series)
The Village (Widescreen Vista Series)
DVD ~ Joaquin Phoenix
Price: $6.30
408 used & new from $0.01

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Another M. Night Sham, December 4, 2004
After seeing The Village, I began wondering exactly how much money M. Night Whatever made off The Sixth Sense. It's more than you think. Because revenue-wise, most of Unbreakable, half of Signs, and virtually all of The Village is the remnant of it. What exactly am I saying? I'm saying that had it not been for The Sixth Sense and the hope of genius that it brings with it, not only would I have not paid money for any of these latest three, they probably would have never even been made. Shyamalan has steadily grown more and more mediocre since his brilliant debut.

I've wondered why this is from time to time, and a quick glance at the film credits yields the answer - Shyamalan has been given more control, and when one person has as much control as he has on a film, it's a dangerous thing. The fact is that although he wrote and directed all four of these films, he did *not* produce The Sixth Sense; he *did* produce the other three. That means the following - any of the poor plot/direction/writing choices that Shyamalan made on The Sixth Sense were caught and regulated by someone else - on the latest three? Nope. He had the control and could do whatever his little heart desired. Combine this with the fact that The Sixth Sense was just a brilliant idea and the others were somewhat lamer and less dramatic, and you have your answer to the question of how the mind that gave us The Sixth Sense also gave us "Swing away!"

So that brings us to The Village. If The Truman Show and The Big Chill had an ugly baby, it would be M. Night Shyamalan's The Village. Once again, after an impressive ad campaign based mostly on the belying "from the writer/director of the 6th Sense!" tag, Shyamalan delivers a complete and utter dud.

It has an interesting enough premise. There is an 18th century village that is bordered by thick woods, populated by mystical and deadly creatures. The village supposedly has a peace treaty with the creatures, but then strange things begin happening - animals turn up dead, marks are painted on the doors, noises are heard at night. Meanwhile a bizarre love story is developing between Lucius (Jaoquin Pheonix) and the blind quasi-female-lead Ivy (Bryce Howard). Circumstances then dictate that someone needs to go to the "towns" to get medicine, something that is strictly forbidden within the village.

I don't want to give away the "surprise" so I can't say much more. Suffice it to say that there is one, at least in Shyamalan's mind. And here we come to the problem with every one of his last three disasters. He seems to think that he found a formula with The Sixth Sense - build up suspense then unleash a massive twist - and he keeps trying to plug in various plots and characters to the same equation. I think the problems with this are numerous. First of all, we all know it's coming. With The Sixth Sense, we didn't know what to expect at all. Would there be a twist? Who knew? Furthermore the "build-up" to this twist was effortless and almost unnoticeable in The Sixth Sense but in the subsequent films it's relentlessly hammered into the viewer from the opening credits - even from the previews. So we all know there's a twist coming and there's all this shameless build-up, so much so that *nothing* could possibly live up to it. So when Shyamalan unveils his little surprise at the end? It will inevitably be a limp let-down.

Couple that with the fact that The Village doesn't have that grand of a premise anyway. If you are actually able to untangle Shyamalan's "moral" at the end of this mess, it's truly pointless. Essentially the village head goes against his own rules and in the process disproves his own point, but doesn't even seem to realize it with a bunch of meaningless rhetoric about "hope." Ultimately his whole experiment is a failure, much like this movie.

A final word - Shyamalan's dialogue is the worst I've ever heard in a major motion picture. I felt this to be true in Signs and it's even truer in The Village. I was literally covering my face in embarrassment a few times, most noticeably during the "Let's shout it from the rooftops!" monologue on love, and after Lucius' "...and yes...I will dance with you," trembling declaration. Again - this is the result of one person having too much creative control. Nobody is able to step in (as they presumably were in The Sixth Sense) and say "No, this needs to change." Shyamalan seems completely oblivious to this. I expect that he'll continue putting out these self-made movies for many more years, always trying to get back to what he achieved with The Sixth Sense and always falling short.

I don't think he'll get many more chances from me.


Collision Course (with DVD)
Collision Course (with DVD)
Price: $12.62
125 used & new from $0.01

23 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat Unfortunate, November 30, 2004
"Collision Course" is Linkin Park's second remix record, their first being "Reanimation," a brilliant 2nd take on their debut record "Hybrid Theory." Unlike "Reanimation," however, "Collision Course" features Jay-Z and each song is actually a hybrid of an LP song and a Jay-Z song. Technically, it's not really a Linkin Park record (though if you watch the extra features you can see it clearly is) but part of the MTV "Mash-up" series.

Another difference between this record and "Reanimation" is that the latter is actually a strong release with its own merit. "Collision Course," on the other hand, is a randomly assembled mosaic of two very different artists with songs of very different content. I understand that the point of the Mash Up series is to join two diverse artists, but in my opinion this is just too much - or rather it may not have been done in the best way.

What you really have here is 12 songs, not 6. Each track is roughly half a Jay-Z song with Mike Shinoda and Jay-Z rapping LP lyrics over it, and then an awkward, often abrupt transition into an LP guitar riff with Jay-Z rapping his own lyrics over it and Chester occasionally screaming. It's rare on this album that I feel the two styles are actually *combined*. Instead it's usually Section A - the Jay-Z section; Section B, the LP section.

Making the problem much worse is the lyrical differences between the two artists. Every Jay-Z song is topically centered around something like "I'm a pimp and I couldn't care less what you think of me." Every Linkin Park song, on the other hand, seems to be some emotional cleansing that is completely centered on how someone has hurt or affected them. Neither is bad on its own, but they mix like oil and water. The one exception to this is "Points of Authority/99 Problems" but in this case Mike Shinoda wrote entirely new lyrics for it that match Jay-Z's. It would've been much better had they done this as extensively for each song. As it is, the paraphrase another reviewer, any remix artist could've thrown this together in a weekend. The genius of "Reanimation" in completely absent on "Collision Course."

The DVD, however, makes this barely worth the purchase. Not that it's especially great, just that it adds some cool behind the scenes footage of LP and Jay-Z in the studio working on the record.

Overall I feel this is more for the Jay-Z fan than the LP fan. Most LP fans will be let down and somewhat horrified, especially at the major-keyed happy-go-lucky "Izzo/In the End." Hopefully Linkin Park will get back in the studio and Jay-Z will figure out whether or not he's actually retired.


Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow - Xbox
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow - Xbox
Offered by KingsRidgeMedia
Price: $15.40
210 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lesser version of the original, July 28, 2004
= Fun:3.0 out of 5 stars 
Like many people, I was sucked in by the first Splinter Cell and eagerly ate Pandora Tomorrow up as well. And again, like most, I was somewhat disappointed with it.

The same gameplay is here, the same engaging interface, the same main characters. There are several new villains to battle and the storyline is very involved, though not as involved as the first Splinter Cell. You do travel to some interesting geographic areas, like Jerusalem, Indonesia - even LAX.

I was initially encouraged by the game, when the second level turned out to be one of the coolest Splinter Cell levels in both games combined - the train level. At the start of the level, Sam finds himself on the top of a speeding train in the middle of the night. You have to climb down the side, almost getting clipped by another locomotive passing. The graphics in this level are amazing and it's unlike anything you'll see in the first installment of the game. Then there is Jerusalem, amazingly recreated to cinematic proportions. At this point I began to notice the music. The same Splinter Cell themes were there, but performed with a Middle Eastern orchestra, incorporating percussion and instruments native to that area only. I was pretty impressed with this attention to detail.

But then the game began to wane. It was more like work than gaming. Many of the levels have a 1-alarm limit. Someone sees you - that's it. You're restarting from the last save point, which was probably several minutes back. I found that there was very little action and a great deal of strategy, which is fine I suppose - that's what you get in a Splinter Cell game. But sometimes it was to an excessive point, and I was just trying to get to the next save point, not really engaging in the Splinter Cell world. At other times I was rather impressed with the attention to puzzles. In one level you must navigate a dark mine field - with your thermal goggles - while spotlights scan the surrounding area. However, the spotlights are timed in such a way that you must move at very specific times, in a very specific pattern. It was well thought out.

The ending was very anti-climactic, and I wasn't even sure it was the real ending until the credits started rolling. I didn't feel the game was particularly long. I'd be interested to see how it compares to the original in its length. In the first game I felt almost overwhelmed as the levels kept coming and coming. In Pandora Tomorrow, as I said, I was surprised at how quickly the ending came.

All in all, I expected much more. It was essentially the same game as the original but with new levels and a new story.

I've read some about Splinter Cell 3 due out later this year (or early next year). It's supposed to be the game that most of us expected Pandora Tomorrow to be. A completely redesigned interface, a sound meter (to go with stealth), new weapons and completely new ways to circumnavigate your enemies are just a few of the features. I suppose Pandora Tomorrow was released to hold us over until then, but all in all it's only a mediocre effort that doesn't offer much than simply replaying the original.


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