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Before the Dinosaurs: Walking With Monsters
Before the Dinosaurs: Walking With Monsters
DVD ~ Kenneth Branagh
Price: $37.90
24 used & new from $3.58

2.0 out of 5 stars Too much drama and speculation for a documentary, May 18, 2014
While I enjoy looking at the reconstructions of the animals interacting in environments, I really wish this documentary had spent more time talking about actual science than creating these dramas between animals which are pure speculation. I've heard somewhere that behavior doesn't fossilize, so I don't know where the documentary-makers get the idea that Dimetrodons would fight for a whole day, non-stop, to protect its eggs. The documentary spends more time talking about the unproven / unverified behavior of these animals than actual scientific facts like the creation of Pangea causing dry weather and destroying the forests of the carboniferous, which in turn favored the rise of amniotes over amphibians during the Permian.
There's only three episodes that cover 7 geological periods (about 300 millions years). The first episode crams in 5 geologic periods, which leaves a lot out, like the massive extinctions at the end of the Ordovician, and Devonian. They also don't show certain "famous" animals like Dunkleostus or Cameroceras. The second episode focuses on the Permian. The third episode is about the end of the Permian and the early Triassic. Interestingly, the documentary doesn't give any explanation for the Permian extinction. I know the debate about its cause hasn't been put to rest, but it would have been nice to see some explanation besides "it got really hot".
Lastly, and this is a minor peeve of mine, I feel like the animals in these "Walking with..." series make too much noise. In my experience, animals tend to be pretty quiet. They don't spend every minute making random vocalizations.

House of M
House of M
Price: $10.49

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A terribly-crafted story, November 25, 2013
This review is from: House of M (Kindle Edition)
To put it bluntly, I hated House of M. If you read all the tie ins, this whole event might be more satisfying, but as a stand alone series, this book is sorely lacking. The setup of the story is that the Scarlet Witch has recreated the world so that her father is ruler of the world, and mutants are a majority while human are discriminated against.

The big thing that annoyed me with the story is that it was not told through a singular point of view. Wolverine is the main focus for three issues, and the rest of the issues is divided up amongst the heroes. Now, I think the most powerful scenes in House of M are the ones with the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, and I would have liked the focus be on them and Magneto because ultimately the book was about their relationship (I'm not going to say more as I may be giving too much away). Instead we get Wolverine for three issues because apparently you can never have too much Wolverine. Now don't get me wrong, I don't hate Wolverine, I just think he's over exposed. Let Wolverine star in books where he's got a personal stake in the story, not in House of M , where his stake in the event is not greater than any of the other heroes.

Then there's the issue of the brand new character, Layla Miller, who's got just the right power to fix this whole mess. That felt very contrived to me. Some people say that Wanda created Layla as a fail-safe, but where does it say that? Wanda explicitly says in the story she doesn't know Layla. Not to mention that the little Deus ex machina has no character development at all. Why does Layla want to put the world back the way it was? What's her motivation? How did she find the superheroes to help her in her quest? In the story,she's literally a tool: useful power but no personality. Makes me wonder why Marvel bothered creating her character at all. Just give her power set to an already established mutant., it would have made as much sense.

Lastly, I'm really not fond of the way Bendis writes dialogue. There's something about characters repeating each others lines that really gets on my nerves. It might be more "true to life", but if I wanted the read something rue to life, I wouldn't read super hero comic.

Avengers: The Children's Crusade
Avengers: The Children's Crusade
by Allan Heinberg
Edition: Hardcover
39 used & new from $15.49

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars no emotional punch, July 26, 2012
Let me start off by saying that I don't read a lot of superhero comics, but I do have general knowledge of the Marvel universe. I know superhero comics are ultimately about good fighting evil, and there has to be epic fight scenes, but I was hoping there would be time for getting to know characters' motivations and what not. Instead this book throws as many characters as possible into this mess of a story.

Here's the jist of the story: the young Avengers are searching for the Scarlet Witch who has been missing since the events of House of M because two of the young Avengers, Wiccan and Speed, think she may be their mother. Magneto and Quicksilver soon joins them because they've also been looking for their daughter/sister. So at this point in the story we have a cast of 9, which is a bit much and personally I would have preferred it if only Wiccan, Speed, Magneto and Quicksilver were the only ones in the story. There would have been more opportunity to explore their emotional connection to the Scarlet Witch and each other since they're all a family...a very weird family.

Unfortunately, the cast of 9 expands exponentially to include 1 more Young Avenger, Doctor Doom, 10 Avengers, 7 X-Men, 4 X-Factor. And the plot which was complicated since the beginning, devolves even more. We go from "let's find the Scarlet Witch", to simultaneously "Let's fight Doctor Doom" and "Kill the Scarlet Witch". Not to mention all the various subplots about dead characters coming back to life, and bickering between the different teams.

Now personally, I'm a Quicksilver fan, and I was really disappointed that his reunion with his sister took just one panel. This is a character who has been protecting his sister since they were children and put everything on the line just so his sister wouldn't die, and he gets one panel to hug her. I would have liked to know if the Scarlet Witch still loves her brother even though he made a terrible mess of things for her. And what about Magneto, her father? She depowered him and most of the mutants because she was angry at him at the conclusion of House of M, yet she has no problems hugging him when they finally see each other. Not to mention that throughout the book, you're not sure whether Magneto truly cares for the Scarlet Witch or just her powers. It would have been more interesting if the writing wasn't ambivalent in that regard. As for Wiccan and Speed, their relationship with the Scarlet Witch is so abstract (She's not their biological mother, and they don't seem to have any memories of her raising them) that I would have needed more pages to understand why they wanted to save the Scarlet Witch.

So by the end of the book, I was very unsatisfied. Sure the book brings the Scarlet Witch back, exonerates her for her "crimes", brings some characters back to life, kills others, but it didn't make me care. Also, I found a lot of the characters grating, Wolverine especially. I thought Wolverine was supposed to be a good guy with a gruff exterior, but the guy is so gung-ho about killing it makes me wonder what he's doing next to Captain America.

Drawings of Mucha: 70 Works by Alphonse Maria Mucha Including 9 in Full Color
Drawings of Mucha: 70 Works by Alphonse Maria Mucha Including 9 in Full Color
by Alphonse Marie Mucha
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.75
83 used & new from $4.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice price given the content, January 16, 2011
I own a couple of other books that feature Mucha's artwork, but I jumped on getting this book because it has something which the other books have very little off: the preliminary drawings/ sketches. I buy artist's sketchbooks and drawings to try and figure out their artistic process. Looking at the collection of drawings in this book it's hard to tell whether Mucha is able to render his very clean drawings in one pass or whether he progressively tightens up his drawings as he works on them. I would assume it's the latter, but the man was talented, so I may be wrong.

The book not only contains pencil drawings, but also some preliminary paintings and prints. It also has a good variety. You won't see Mucha's famous posters in here, but some equally pretty, lesser known works. And although the bulk of the book depicts women, it actually has a couple of drawings of men (at one point I wondered if Mucha drew men at all, and in fact he does, just not often).

The quality of the reproduction is average. The drawings mostly look gray, however since the drawings are old, it may not be wise to expect high contrast between line and paper. Anyway, even with the gray-ish backgrounds, you can still see the drawings, so it's not a big problem. There are 9 pages that show artwork in color, but there is some artwork which should be in color but aren't printed that way. Some of those works look a bit muddier than the line drawing reproduction, but thankfully there's very few of those in the whole book.

So in conclusion: if you're a fan of Mucha, this is a very good book to get, especially for the price. Highly recommend.

The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are
The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are
by Danny Gregory
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.99
118 used & new from $7.29

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Impatient people need not read, January 10, 2011
I give the book three stars because this is not a terrible book. Although I did not get much out of it, other people may find this book invaluable. If you're the type of person with a strict daily routine who's never done anything remotely artistic, then you're likely to get a lot out of this book.
My main problem with the book is the drawing chapter. He specifically instructs people not to "sketch" in their journal but to follow the contours of the object as you see it. I suppose there's a merit to that drawing method when you've just started out, but I find that if you want to get better at drawing realistically, you need to move beyond it quick. In the "draw a bagel" exercise, instead of quickly drawing the general shape of the bagel and then doing the details, the author says to start with the details. It's like drawing a fish scale by scale. Drawing in this way is very tedious, and you generally get very crooked drawings. And in fact, Danny Gregory's drawings are crooked. His art has a certain charm, but I don't want to draw like him. Not to mention that this drawing method is useless if you want to draw moving subjects like animals and people.

Next he gives suggestions on what to draw, like "draw your entire cd collection (using the tedious drawing method I outlined before)", "draw all the fish hooks you have", "draw all the medicine in your medicine cupboard". His suggestion leads me to believe he has some sort of obsessive compulsion. Some people may just love this Proustian endeavor of cataloguing every aspect of their life, I find it terribly dull and boring.

I think the best part of the book is the motivational part, where he says not to get discouraged after one bad drawing, not to give up on the journal etc...
Lastly, the copy is laid in a handwritten font, so the book mimics the look of an actual journal. I actually think the design suits the book, but some people may have problems reading pages of text in a funky font.

A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa
A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa
by Howard W. French
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.08
112 used & new from $0.01

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tone of the book leaves a lot to be desired, June 1, 2008
I'm in the middle of the book and I'm not liking it. Part of the problem is that I cannot stand the author. Something about the writing gives me the impression he has a huge ego. Apparently he's the only westerner who understands Africa's suffering. We're all too racist and far removed to see Africans as human beings. Apart from that, I don't like his portrayals of various figureheads. Is it really relevant to the story that Leopold III slept with 10 year old prostitutes? Do I care that Mobutu slept with his wife's twin sister? I understands these people are bad guys, but these asides are uncalled for.
I was hoping to read something that wasn't so infused with the author's personal opinions. The book is interesting when he just sticks to historical facts.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 22, 2012 6:26 PM PST

German in 30 Days
German in 30 Days
by Berlitz Guides
Edition: Audio CD
13 used & new from $13.38

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Translations could be better, December 15, 2007
This review is from: German in 30 Days (Audio CD)
I've taken a German class before and I bought this to review and continue my study of the language. I was actually expecting a quality textbook since it's from Berlitz, but the translations are way too loose to actually be of any to use to me.

Now I have another "Learn German in 30 days" book, in French, from the 1960s. The translations inside that book are exact. Apart from a few places where German syntax is vastly different than the French, you can be sure that every noun, every adverb is translated exactly as it appears in the German text. Not so in this particular book. For example (and I'm picking a random dialogue in the book) the phrase "Da kann man günstig einkaufen" is translated as "Things are reasonably priced there". The German text doesn't contain the words "things" "are" and "priced". In fact what I think is being said is "There can people buy favorably". Although their translation sounds better in English, it clearly isn't the same sentence when the subject and the verb are completely different. I realize translations can't always be 100% accurate, but we're talking about another European language here (and not Japanese for instance) it shouldn't be so vastly different from English.At least translate it literally and have a "better english" translation in parenthesis.

Another example of crummy translation, taken from their vocabulary section is their definition for "glauben" in chapter 6 to "to think". In chapter 11, they introduce the verbs "denken" and "meinen" which are also translated "to think". They don't really clarify why one should use "glauben" over "denken" over "meinen". They don't mention that "glauben" actually means "to believe". If you don't know German beforehand, I think all these sloppily translated words would end up confusing you quite a bit down the road.

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