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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
by J. K. Rowling
Edition: Paperback
78 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Classic And Unforgettable, March 5, 2010
Thirteen years after the publication of the first book in the series (not to mention the follow-up of six sequels, plus the first six movie adaptations), any charges from the original critics that the Harry Potter series was going to be just a short-lived fad have long since been rendered obsolete. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone (aka Harry Potter And The Sorceror's Stone) may have been the reading world's most valuable entry in years because it started to reverse the decades-long erosion in book-readers - particularly among children - and in doing so has played a role in seeing to it that novels and other written works continue to have a healthy future in the digital world. Beyond all that, though, it's just a tremendously valuable book for a simpler reason - it's a great story well-told, with great ideas and some of the most memorable characters you're ever likely to read about.

The gist of the story is almost universally well-known by now. Harry Potter, an unhappy, parent-less, seemingly ordinary boy, living with relatives who really don't like him, suddenly finds out he's from a long line of wizards. Not only that, powerful magic flows through his own veins, he's already immensely famous in the hidden world of magic, and he's just been invited to attend Hogwart's School Of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The reason for his fame is that, in some way nobody understands, the infant Harry played a key role in the defeat of the Dark Lord, Voldemort - the most dangerous dark wizard of all time - on the very night his parents died years ago. But now at Hogwarts, with friends and a hopeful future for the first time in his life, Harry finds that not all the danger has disappeared from the magical world. Although this first volume is a relatively short novel, it marks the beginning of a huge-scale cycle of fantasy, adventure and discovery.

If any newcomers to the series are wondering whether they should go for the Potter books or the Potter movies, the answer is simple: go for both. The two enhance each other greatly - the books, as good as they are on their own, are even better after seeing the movies, and the opposite holds true: if you see the movie first and then read the book, you'll likely enjoy the movie even more the second time around. You get huge insight into not only the characters but into the overall magical world, and a host of small but enriching details that didn't make it into the films. A lot of the omissions are because the missing aspects are embedded right into the writing of the books themselves. Take, for example, this excerpt from early in the book, describing some of the reactions by Harry's uncle Vernon to some of his first encounters with the bizarre: "...He also thought he had been called a Muggle, whatever that was. He was rattled. He hurried to his car and set off home, hoping he was imagining things, which he had never hoped before, because he didn't approve of imagination." Perfect. And that kind of dry wit is throughout the book, and sometimes there just isn't an opportunity to transfer those specific moments to film. Likewise, the movies have enriched the books, in large part by the perfect cast which have truly made the roles their own. On re-reading this first volume, for example, if it's a scene between Harry, Ron and Hermione, I see and hear the characters as they look and sound played by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. Not just those three, but the whole cast, and seeing and hearing the different expressions, mannerisms, and voices, livens up even the smallest scene.

The books are whimsical and fun, but are as intricately plotted, rife with excellent characterization, and as long-lasting as anything outside of the 'Young Readers' section. In fact, if you're an adult reader, especially one who enjoys Fantasy (Tolkein, Robert Jordan, William Horwood, etc.) and related fields, but still avoids the Young Readers section of the bookstore, you're missing out on a good chunk of the best in the field.

The Harry Potter books aren't really children's books, they're All Ages books. Because to call them children's books would imply that few people over twelve or so would likely enjoy them, and that's just not the case as has been evidenced by millions of much older readers around the world. They're as fit for a ninety year-old as a nine year-old. Some critics have charged that the Potter series is too dark and scary for younger readers. That's not a problem with the early entries, although those elements are present. The later entries - in both the books and movies - do get darker and scarier: one of the most interesting aspects of the series is that it advances at the same rate as the main characters and their experiences. When they're eleven, the style is one way, with things seen very much through children's eyes; when they're sixteen and seventeen the 'feel' of the books has changed greatly. But still kept the key points that drew you in in the first place. Almost like a diary written over many years, from childhood on up (but never losing that spark of childhood, just like a person doesn't have to lose it even if they live to be a hundred). If you're wondering if they're too scary to read to a five year-old for their bedtime story - no, not the first ones. The latter ones - eh, start them out on the first couple and see how that goes. If they're not old enough right now for the latter installments, they will be before too many years, and you can enjoy the first ones together right now. Kids aren't the simpletons some people think they are.

For myself, the addition of darker materials later on isn't a bad thing, but the relative abscence of those elements in The Philosopher's Stone isn't a bad thing either. They're just different, and they had to be that way to make the cycle fully realized throughout its evolving stages. This one is a delightful tale chock-full of adventure, imagination and mystery, and it introduces most of the saga's most famous characters - the central trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione; Hagrid, Professor Dumbledore, and so on. A truly must-read book.

DVD ~ Keir O'Donnell
Offered by Mediaflix
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly Effective And Unique Movie Crossing Through Multiple Horror Sub-Genres - 4.5 Stars, March 1, 2010
This review is from: Amusement (DVD)
Amusement is an imaginatively put-together movie - it starts off seeming like an anthology movie, only one whose portions are more like end-slices of full-length films rather than individual stories. Then it starts drawing these pieces in together until you have the full story unfold. It taps on elements familiar from such movies as Friday The 13th to House Of Wax to Trick R Treat to Saw, creating a whole that's very well-produced, original, sexy, and with genuine shock moments that don't telegraph themselves a mile away, or even an inch away. Personally, I think a movie like this - where it's the intention that you don't figure out the actual connecting story until about half-way through - is best watched with as little foreknowledge as possible, and for anyone already considering getting this I'd advise you to stop reading and just go ahead and get it - if you're into horror, you won't likely be disappointed.

However, most people are going to want a bit more to go on, so I'll elaborate a bit, first with my usual warning.


The various seemingly unrelated segments are connected by a common past shared by at least one character in each segment - a past in which they each came into contact with a demented individual who's now tracking each of them down. The killer likes to play games with his targets, but it's not just another variation on the widely influential Saw theme where the victims are trapped and challenged to survive tests. In this case, it's elaborate scenarios that the targets don't even know Are set-ups orchestrated by the killer, often where the disguised killer himself is playing a role completely unbeknownest to any of the other people involved. Often there's nothing at all to indicate that events are being manipulated.

A couple of these sceanrios, admittedly, have flaws from a story stand-point. Some are very believable, but at other times coincidence plays too large a role, and in at least one case it's difficult to see how the character in question could have walked into the circumstances without major alarm bells being set off. So how much of a hinderance is it to the whole movie? Not very much, really. A little bit of retooling could have probably eliminated most of the problem; and if you want to think about it a bit it's not too hard to come up with a "Well, maybe if..." explanation as to how a seemingly nonfeasible situation could have actually worked, perhaps with events that simply took place offscreen. When you're this good, if your biggest fault is that it calls for a bit of conjecture on the part of the viewer to fit a couple of the pieces together, that's not too big a problem. Ninety per cent of Amusement is very well crafted and thought out, only about ten per cent affected by some plot holes.

As for what it's got right - original concept and (mostly) highly skillful execution, fine acting, good solid production values, freaky visual imagery, nice characteriztion, high-quality special effects, gorgeous female cast members, genuine suspense and a couple of real jolts. What is there left to say? Four-and-a-half stars.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 10, 2012 6:08 AM PST

Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile
Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile
by Bill Willingham
Edition: Comic
95 used & new from $0.76

4.0 out of 5 stars Four-And-A-Half Stars - Radically Original And Well-Executed Take On Familiar Characters, February 28, 2010
Reprints #s 1-5 of the Fables ongoing DC/Vertigo series, plus an original illustrated prose short story.

Here's a strange murder mystery for you - who killed Rose Red, sister of Snow White? Was it jilted suitor Bluebeard? Her current boyfriend Jack (of Jack And The Beanstock fame?) Or someone else? The investigation takes place amidst all the hustle and commotion of modern-day New York city.

Those who aren't familiar with the Fables mythos might wonder what all these storybook characters are doing in New York - that's the second main angle of this collection, and this angle, rather than being wrapped up here, is only beginning. The realms of myth and fable have fallen, one land after another conquered by a mysterious, horrific entity known only as The Adversary, and the Fables - beings from these magic lands - have long since fled into 'our' world. They live amongst us hidden, never revealing their true natures to the 'mundanes'. Familiar characters abound, although not in the familiar forms from classic childhood stories. Old King Cole is the mayor of Fabletown, Snow White is technically his assistant but in actuality the real power behind the crown, Bigby (Big B.) Wolf maintains a human form most of the time and is the top Fable private investigator. As the investigation into the murder that rocks the Fable world continues, we're introduced to many of the key characters and ideas that will play roles through the larger series. Not all the characters are what they first appear, and part of the fun and suspense is figuring out who you're going to be rooting for and rooting against in the overall epic. Dark without being nihilistic, and through all the 'real-world-style' bickering and pettiness, the story continues to add little touches of whimsy; those who after reading just the first issue or two lament the loss of innocence (and in some cases, likability) of these legendary Disney-esque characters may find themselves surprised as the series goes on. The characters are very well-developed with multiple nuances, and in a lot of cases the original elements of the fairy tale characters's pesonalities still co-exist with the edgier, angst-ier character traits in this re-imagining. Having seen their largely idyllic home kingdoms devastated and then trying to make a go of it in 'our' world could darken a talking woodland critter or fairy-tale princess, I guess. The murder mystery is solved in this story arc, but the larger mysteries of the overall Fables tale are just beginning. Great writing and beautiful, distinctive art.

Also in here is an original 6-page prose story (accompanied by 2 full-page illustrations) taking place during the great exodus from the Fables's homelands, back when the Adversary was overrunning everything. We see the first meeting between some of the series's most important characters, and it adds a lot to the overall saga.

Superman: Unconventional Warfare
Superman: Unconventional Warfare
by Greg Rucka
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Part Of An Extended And Under-Appreciated Superman Arc; Introduces The 'Ruin' Character, February 25, 2010
Reprints the short back-up stories from Adventures Of Superman #s 625 & 626; and Adventures Of Superman #s 627-632 in their entirety.

This collection starts with two short prelude pieces - the back-up from Adventures Of Superman # 625 (which introduces Lt. Lupe Terese Leocadio-Esudero, the new head of the Metropolis Police Department's SCU) and the back-up from Adventures # 626 (showcasing Lois Lane during Superman's abscence in the big crossover that Adventures 625 & 626 were part of). It then kicks into gear with Adventures # 627, starting up one of the last big Superman arcs before Infinite Crisis. It's the arc of Ruin, the new villain obsessed with bringing down Superman, who's been studying the Man Of Steel in secret for years, precisely analyzing his strengths and weaknesses, his behavioral tendencies and the manner in which his powers work, with the aim of knowing enough to take him out where so many others have failed. Of course, this basic modus operandi could describe any number of Superman adversaries from over the years, but writer Greg Rucka and the rest of the creative team quickly establish Ruin as feeling fresh and non-generic, and a villain who could contend for one of the upper slots in Superman's vast gallery of enemies. In his initial forays against Superman - either facing him directly or using other super-powered beings he's manipulated into serving him - Ruin's not even looking to win, but to get Suprman into specific situations where Ruin and his technology can more thoroughly analyze specific aspects of his power. Ruin may not be quite on the level of Lex Luthor as a criminal mastermind genius, and even with his vast technological resources and armaments he's not the physical threat Doomsday or Mongul is, but he comes fairly close on both fronts (especially on the genius/Lex side of the equation), so he's a very multi-faceted foil for Superman, not relying on one particular power or tactic. And extremely ruthless, willing to kill anyone if he thinks it'll provide the slightest potential advantage.

Among the other plot strands weaving through Unconventional Warfare - with Lt. Leocadio's new tough, confrontational style as head of the SCU, Superman finds himself in the rare position of being somewhat at odds with the law enforcement units in Metropolis. As has happened on other occasions where various institutions - federal or international - have tried to assert more control over him, the ball is largely in Superman's court. They really can't force him to take their marching orders, but Superman is prone to bending over backwards to accomodate everybody's concerns and 'play by the rules'. There are, though, certain situations where he Won't go by somebody else's book - when the rules would hobble his effectiveness at protecting the innocent, where he feels the authorities are playing too rough and reckless, etc. Lt. Leocadio could have come off as an annoying, cliched character, but Rucka is one of the best in the game in fully developing both the cast and supporting cast of the books he writes (just see his work on the Batman titles) and the same is true here. Leocadio even turns out to be not nearly as unlikable as it initially appeared she'd be, but an intriguing part of the story. Another plot strand - this in keeping with what was going in in the other Superman titles at the time: although Superman has been continuing to be successful in his career, his role as reporter Clark Kent has been languishing a bit, and Kent has been demoted from his star reporter role to covering the beat with rookie reporters. In this case, he's tagging along with the SCU on some of their missions. Throughout the Superman titles of this period, Clark's demotion was used for both humor and personal drama. And I can't forget to mention another key story point in here: Lois's dispatchment to a war zone for embedded reporting. It's a complex war with no clear 'good guys' (remember, in DC Universe continuity, Lex Luthor was president at the time America got involved in a series of ongoing wars - the soldiers sent off overseas are generally seen in a sympathetic light, Luthor's administration is not) and Superman can't be seen in the area because he can't be seen to be taking sides, so Lois is largely on her own.

The art and character designs are great, the dialogue well-done and believable, and the various plot strands mesh perfectly into the overall story. Also includes several 'Secret Files' type bios of several characters at the end. Great, under-rated story arc that flew under a lot of radars at the time because all the attention was on the lead-up to Infinite Crisis. Enthusiastically recommended.

Martian Manhunter: Others Among Us
Martian Manhunter: Others Among Us
by A.J. Lieberman
Edition: Paperback
29 used & new from $11.00

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One Of The Best Martian Manhunter Stories Of All Time, February 18, 2010
Reprints all eight issues of the 2006-2007 Martian Manhuter limited series.

When he first came to Earth decades ago, the Martian Manhunter, J'Onn J'Onzz, was alone. Believed the last of his race after a devastating extinction event on his homeworld, J'Onn used his shapeshifting abilities to blend in with the human population, taking various forms to continue his work as a Manhunter - protecting the world, tracking down those who would harm it and stopping them. Only now it was his adopted world of Earth rather than his Martian homeworld he defended. It was years before J'Onn went public with his Martian identity (although he kept his various secret identities) and was acclaimed as a superhero. In the years following, J'Onn forged friendships with his fellow superheroes and with various other individuals, although he was always to some degree an outsider, especially in his own mind. He comes from a race of shapeshifting telepaths whose culture was far more different from Earth's than, say, Krypton was: a key reason why the Martian Manhunter seemed less able to acclimitize to human society than other aliens. The degree to which he was an 'outsider' has varied in its depictions over the years, but rather than being an inconsistency in continuity, this has merely reflected a realistic waxing and waning of the way J'Onn feels. How one feels about their place in the world at one given time isn't necesarrily the same as it was five years ago or will be five years in the future.

In the years before 'The Others Among Us', J'Onn has been put through the wringer through various events and personal losses. The net effect is that he had been moving closer to a solitary, darker figure for some time, and he's been feeling less connected to the people (humans) around him. Over the decades, J'Onn has remained the 'Last Martian'. Occasionally another survivor or survivors have turned up, but they would only be on the scene briefly and things generally didn't turn out well. In the "Renegades Of Mars' storyline that ran in #s 25-27 of the 90s/early 2000s Martian Manhunter ongoing series, for example, he discovered a group of Marians who'd been living on Earth secretly for years. Unfortunately, they were completely amoral renegades who'd been using their telepathy to take over human minds and build a criminal empire. So, for the most part, J'Onn has been cut off from his own kind.

As 'The Others Among Us' begins, though, J'Onn is faced with the shock revelation that a number of Martians may have been right here on Earth with him all along, but he was never aware of it for a simple reason: for years, they've evidently been sequestered in an ultrasecure holding facility by a rogue offshoot of the military, subjected to barbaric tests as their captors attempt to uncode the superhuman capacities of Martian physiology and convert it to weapons use. Now, one of the captives has escaped, seeking aid from the other Martian prescence he senses on Earth: the Manhunter.

Suddenly he's close to a dream he never thought could be realized - finding that his race wasn't extinct after all, that others were still alive. Fueled not only by this dream but by a sense of failure that he'd let his fellow Martians down - he was never even aware that they were on Earth, and because of that they went on suffering in their imprisonment for years - J'Onn (who debuts a new look in this series, one closer to his normal Martian appearance than the 'humanized Martian' look that had been his main form since his first comic appearance several decades ago) is on the warpath to free his fellow Martians, and to keep them safe from their persecutors. By any means necessary. And he's also hellbent on getting to the root of this whole debacle and bringing the men at the top down. And again, he's willing to play very rough if necessary. His peers in the ranks of Earth's superheroes think he may be going too far, and they also think that his closeness to the situation is blinding him to certain questions about the Martians themselves. J'Onn seems to feel that nobody would be asking these questions if it had been humans in the same situation, and that his fellow Martians are being met with unwarranted suspicion even after their ordeal, simply because they're alien.

This brings us to the question of J'Onn's changing relationship with humanity that is one of the focal points of this series. A good way to exemplify this is the whole question of the Martian Manhunter's new appearance, and the reaction it gets. He looks less human now, more like a Martian's true form with the elongated head and the ridges on the skull and jaw. His physique is still bigger and more muscular than a traditional Martian's, but Martians alter their forms according to the needs of their lifestyle or vocation, and a superhero/Manhunter vocation calls for a form built for high impact performance. His new costume could be construed as looking more like a battlesuit than traditional superhero attire. J'Onn is not pleased with the reaction his new appearance seems to be getting; people are afraid of him. This next part is never stated explicitly, but it's clear in the subtext: J'Onn seems to feel that after his years of defending the world, working with the JLA, and earning people's trust, it should have now been safe to revert to a standard form closer to his true form, and hence more comfortable; and people wouldn't be as startled as they would have had he looked like this when he first appeared to them. He views this sudden lack of trust as a betrayal. However, there are different takes from this angle. In some cases, it appears that people's fear isn't motivated by the fact that he looks different, but that they don't even know it's him anymore. After a battle in Issue 1 sends him crashing through a downtown street, everyone's alarmed by his appearance. but there's the idea presented that they don't know it's the Martian Manhunter there, it's a fierce-looking being they've never heard of before. So is J'Onn being, in part, paranoid about people's reactions to him? That's left for the reader to decide, and for the individual characters to decide. At about the same time this series was originally out, the 'Enemies Among Us' story in Superman/Batman #s 28-33 (Superman/Batman Vol. 5: The Enemies Among Us) were originally hitting the stands, where an interesting third take was floated: on some level, was J'Onn's change in appearance Designed to intimdate? It was a small part of a story in which Martian Manhunter played only a supporting role, but it sheds interesting light on this series as well. On the same note: J'Onn seems to be constantly emphasising - both to others and to himself - how profound the differences are between humans and Martians. I'd always gotten the impression that a Martian's emotions are basically the same as a human's or most other sentients's. J'Onn disputes that here. Whether this wall he's building between himself and the rest of the world is aggressive or protective is a plot thread to be picked up later.

The Others Among Us is very intense, laden with mystery and a feeling of events spiralling further out of control, of the noose inexorably tightening around our protagonists's necks. Creatively written with great, realistic artwork and a beautiful job on the colors and tones. All that said, there are some definate shortcomings that stand out. Namely, there are a couple of glaring inconstistencies.

First - in issue # 3, the organiztion responsible for the Martians's imprisonment decides to take out a character by launching an assault on the upper floor on the skyscraper he's in with massive attack robots. Admittedly, it's night and the upper floors are deserted except for the character in question. However - the very next day, other characters are seen speculating about what happened to the top floors of that building. Did the first guy set off a bomb? Okay. I know attacks by massive, heavy-firepower, golden robots are a lot more common in the DC Universe than in our universe, but an incident like this in the downtown of a major city and Nobody saw it happening? Were the robots invisible? I'm not trying to be sarcastic; in the DC Universe the technology exists that maybe they were. Maybe they were only depicted visibly for the reader's sake or, perhaps, because Martian eyes could see them while human eyes couldn't? Another explanation you could come up with is that after spending years trying to 'clone' Martian powers, the organiztion partially succeeded with their telepathy and were able to alter the perceptions of any onlookers. Again, this would not be out of place in the DC Universe. But there should be some clue presented if this is the case, rather than just leaving readers to make up an explanation on their own. Also, the story falls back on the 'sinister government organiztion manipulates other heroes into fighting the main hero' scenario. While done more effectively than in a book like Superman/Batman Vol. 1: Public Enemies (some fine ideas in that one, thought there were some problems with execution though) - at least here, given J'Onn's erratic behavior, the other heroes have reason to be concerned - I still found that the heroes in question were duped a bit too easily, especially considering who they were. It would have been more believable if, for example, the organization had been able to frame Martian Manhunter for more extreme measures than the ones he'd taken to that point. As it was, the organization's manipulation of the heroes involved didn't completely shred credibility, but it stretched it a bit.

So with these flaws, why am I giving the book a full five stars? Very simple. I've been a major Martian Manhunter fan since I was a little kid, and this story arc was among the best Manhunter tales I've ever read - definately in the top 3 or 4. Exciting, riveting, almost impossible to put down, with powerful characterization and beautifully drawn. Enough to overcome its flawed moments, with a couple miles to spare. An all-time must for Martian Manhunter fans.

Lost - The Complete Second Season
Lost - The Complete Second Season
DVD ~ Matthew Fox
Price: $20.00
36 used & new from $0.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Just As Great As Season One, February 14, 2010
In its second season Lost brought in a plethora of new characters, phenomena, plot developments, and plot theories. It all worked becuase the series let itself bring things in at their proper pace, rather than rushing all elements and major characters into the first few episodes of Season 1. The bonds and relationships that got started in the first season grow, as do the inter-group rivalries - surprisingly, the most profound rivalry affecting the series isn't between Jack and Sawyer, but between Jack and Locke, who end up on opposite poles of the leadership spectrum. Jack's approach is practical, oriented towards finding a way to get the group off the island they're stranded on, and completely skeptical of any of the increasing hints as to a possible supernatural aspect to the island. Locke's stance is grounded in the belief that there's something far bigger at a work than a plane crashing on an uncharted island, on the idea of fate, and his quest to explore and understand and participate in the 'big picture'. In one regard, though, Locke's approach is more 'practical' (in the conventional sense of the word) than Jack's: Locke is the first in the group to become convinced that there are other people on the island, that they're hostile, and that there's something abnormal about this other group and its purpose (in other words, it's not a question of 'there might be a couple of cottages over on the other side of the island where people have their summer homes', it's something more unorthodox). Most of the rest of the group seems determined not to accept this because of it's implications; Jack seems determined at this stage not to accept any suggestion that would require him to look at the island and its particular circumstances in a highly unorthodox manner, or even a fantasical one.

The flashbacks in Season 2 are among the best of the whole series, with flashbacks delving into the back stories of Mr. Eko, Sawyer, and Sayid all being particularly powerful. Of all the seasons, Season 2 is the one that may gain the most from a second viewing. Part of the reason for this is that in the second half of the season, developments occur that initially have one wondering if all the revelations are going to end up being a letdown. Without being too specific, there was an uncomfortable sense that the series was going to move in a direction that revealed all the great mysteries as more or less red herrings, that we'd get an explained situation that was too bland and stripped away the 'awe factor'. Without going into what develops later, I think it's safe to say that the series doesn't do that. Not at all. At the same time, these possibilities arising Was a vital part of the show, and the affect it had on certain characters (Locke in particular) was an important part of their overall development. Another reason it gains so much on the rewatch is that you can appreciate certain happenings that, on the first time around, no one had any idea how pivotal they were going to be. I'm referring in part to the first appearance of a certain character who goes on to have a much larger role in the overall story than it would first appear when he's discovered. Actually, come to think of it, there are two characters who could easily fit that bill... And even the characters introduced here who turn out to be more or less 'supporting players' in the overall story have important impacts.

Topped off with a tremendous double-cliffhanger ending that couples with a truly shocking revelation, the conclusion of this set'll have you rushing to buy Season 3, and with good reason. Everything from the acting to the special effects to the cinematography capturing the island (at times gorgeous, at other times menacing) right through to the care in the packaging of the boxed set itself is first rate. Highest reccommendation, although obviously newcomers to the series (or those just starting to rewatch the series afte seeing its first run on television) will want to start with Season 1.

Lost - The Complete First Season
Lost - The Complete First Season
DVD ~ Matthew Fox
Price: $19.86
606 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Far And Away One Of The All-Time Best Television Series, February 12, 2010
Ranking up there with great movies, Lost has redefined the scope and quality of what you can do with a live-action television series and is easily one of the best tv smashes of all time. The viewing experience is enhanced greatly through the boxed sets as opposed to watching an hour a week on the regular broadcasts - widescreen high-definition shows uninterrupted by commercials, with the ability to watch several episodes in a night, and, if you wish, an entire season in a relatively short span. And at a price like this (listed at just $16.99 as I'm writing this), this is just too good a value to pass up for anyone who doesn't own the sets yet. Note: the 'rewatch' quality of Lost is a lot higher than with a lot of other cases, as seeing earlier episodes with the hindsight of knowing how those early events tie into later developments, just makes for a great experience. If you haven't started the Lost series, or have only seen sporadic episodes, it's much better to start off from the beginning and see everything in order than just jumping right into where the tv show is at now. That would be kind of like starting an epic novel at page 700 and trying to figure out what's going on.

The basic premise of Lost is well-known by now and simple: a commercial airliner crashlands on an uncharted tropical island and the survivors have to try and carry on, keep themselves alive until rescue comes or try to find a way off the island themselves. How the story actually unfolds, of course, is anything but simple. The first, double-length episode is a perfect example. For almost its whole running time, it focuses as if it were, in fact, just that simple: the survivors, confused, afraid, and sometimes injured, try to survive in the immediate wake of the crash, with chaos reigning and the plane wreckage still aflame. People have to come together very quickly. It's only after things have settled down, that night, at the very end of the pilot episode, that the first real sign comes to the survivors and the viewers that things aren't as cut and dried as they might seem, with the classic view of what happens off in the jungle (which I'm not going to spoil here for anybody who hasn't seen it).

Also in the first episode, the flashbacks begin to the lives of the various passengers before they boarded the plane. The continuing flashback usage was seen by some as annoying, and even I initially thought they might be over-using it just a bit, but you realize later on how vital everything is and how it all ties together. In fact, it may be less accurate to view Lost as a story being told, with the help of a lot of flashbacks; than to view it as a story that's being told in more than one time frame simultaneously. I'd seen this technique used in comic books and some movies (it's since become more prevalent in movies than it was) but I don't know if any ongoing tv series had ever tried to do this before Lost.

Few of the passengers know each other before the crash, and the initial episodes focus a lot on the early day-to-day survival, the early forming of friendships, sometimes the seeds of relationships, and in some cases rivalries and enmities. Some of the characters come into this with volatile personalities (yes, that includes Sawyer), others (like Jack and Hurley) ty in different ways to act as the glue that will hold the fledging group together, some (like Kate and Sayid) have secret pasts that will figure into things after a while, and some, most notably John Locke, quickly come up with their own, sometimes way off-the-beaten-path, ideas of what the group's priorities and long-term goals should be.

Clues begin coming that make it more evident that things aren't as simple as a plane accidentally coming down on an uncharted island. For starters, it quickly becomes apparant that the island is awfully Large for something that's supposedly not on any map. Things happen that would seem to indicate that the survivors aren't the only ones on the island, and other things seem strangely out of place, even unnatural. The first seeds of the idea that it isn't coincidence that this particular group of strangers has come to be on this island at this time, are planted, as Locke comes up with a lot of ideas concerning fate. And the season continues on to a spectacular cliffhanger season finale, which will become the standard with the show. Lost looks and feels like an extra-long big budget movie, but one of the well-written, well-executed big budget movies, not a movie with high budget but low in other factors. One of the most skillful things about the overall series is how some seemingly minor incident will happen, and only much later (sometimes several seasons later) be revealed as tying into other events in a big way.

Lost got me to re-asses television shows as a whole. I don't watch a lot of tv programming as opposed to the number of DVDs I watch, but Lost opened me up to the idea that there might be some good stuff on there I was missing. I like the boxed sets of series better than seeing the regular broadcasts with their commercials and with there often being several weeks between episodes. Renting disc one of a series and then buying the box set if disc one was good enough seems like a good way to go about it. But even as I've become more familiar with some of what's been on tv, and enjoy some of it a lot, there are still relatively few programs past or present that can come close to Lost. This is up there among my favorite movies, or favorite stories from any other medium (comics, novels, etc.). Very highly reccommended.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
DVD ~ Asa Butterfield
Offered by Marions Music
Price: $11.50
57 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful WWII Tale About The Unlikliest Of Friendships, February 12, 2010
Set during the World War II holocaust, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas follows the development of the unlikliest friendship between two little boys - one, a Jewish prisoner at one of the Nazis's extermination camps; the other, the son of the commanding officer of that very camp, who in his childhood innocence knows nothing about what his father really does for a living or the real situation of the war around them (which German children were taught had Germany as the 'good guy' and the Allies as aggressors).

Shortly after the boy's father is assigned the new commanding officer of the camp and he and his family relocate there (to an expansive manor - the contrast between the comfortable, supposedly civilized lifestyle of the German officers living right next to a death camp is striking), the boy, Bruno, who spends much of his time alone, comes to a wire fence and meets up with the little boy on the other side of it. The little boy, Shmuel, is very relucant to say anything of his situation, likely knowing that contact with any non-prisoner is forbidden and would have severe consequences. Bruno, for his part, is puzzled by the fence and why the other boy wears 'striped pajamas' (the prison garb) all the time, but decides, using innocent eight year-old logic, that all the people on the other side of the fence must be farmers who live there and just dress strangely. Despite their differences, the two become friends, and Shmuel begins to tell Bruno more of his circumstances. Bruno brings food to the fence for the under-fed Shmuel, and the two play games through the fence.

As Bruno is starting to have doubts about why is his father is running such a place, the rest of the family begins to learn more of the true nature of the camp. Some seem undisturbed and others horrified, and the question of just when did the German people start to realize what was really going on in a major plot thread. It's appalling to see the Nazi rationale for their actions, the explanations they give that the people on the other side of the fence "aren't really people", the warped propaganda that Bruno and other children are taught during lessons by their tutors. Eventually, the friendship between Bruno and Shmuel is discovered, although Bruno remains determined to stay loyal to his little friend, leading up to a calamitous and heart-rending end phase of the movie.

Briliantly acted and produced, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is meant to be accessible to younger viewers, so not all of the Nazi brutalities are shown as graphically as they might otherwise be, but it's still a harrowing watch in many places, and the clearly implied incidents are as effective as anything shown outright. Upsetting and with a large focus on humanity's worst side, it also focuses often on far brighter or more positive aspects, including Bruno and Shmuel's friendship and also the reactions of certain other characters. In the days when the commander's wife thinks the camp is merely a labour camp (as if that wouldn't be bad enough) with reasonably decent living conditions (at one point we see several characters viewing a Nazi propaganda film about the camps, depicting the workers happily going about basic chores during the day and gathering at night for socialization, entertainment, and dining - a ridiculously far cry from the reality, but very similiar to what the Nazi government actually put in its real-life propaganda) she gets to know some of the prisoners who are forced to work around the family estate, and starts to question what life is really like for these people on the other side of the fence. Bruno's mother is one of the characters who's more sympathetic toward the Jewish people from the beginning, and even as Bruno starts to realize what's really going on, his mother is beginning to figure out the same conclusions on her own.

All in all, it's a dark and uncomfortable watch, but one in which certain moments of beauty and power continue to shine through. One of the most powerful World War II films ever made, and an extremely moving tale.

District 9 (Two-Disc Edition)
District 9 (Two-Disc Edition)
DVD ~ Sharlto Copley
Offered by Outlet Promotions
Price: $5.98
78 used & new from $0.01

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One Of The Best Alien Contact Movies Ever, February 11, 2010
I've always wondered why, in science fiction movies dealing with human/alien contact, the aliens are almost always the bad guys. It's always them invading us, or us getting out there and meeting with aliens who turn out to be midlessly vicious or innately evil. Assuming that there are probably a lot of alien civilizations in the hundred billion odd galaxies in the universe, it's not unreasonable to think that some of them will turn out to be warlike. But we know that humans have launched wars more than occasionally, so it always seemed to me that there should be some alien invasion movies where the humans are the invaders, or some where aliens arrive at Earth and are greeted by humanity's mean side ("Alien Nation" did this quite a while back, but it was one of the few). Also, there seemed to be missed opportunities in that in the human/alien conflicts, wouldn't there be situations where neither side was all bad or all good?

Well over the last year or two these very concepts have clearly gotten their day, and District 9 is one of the leaders of the pack. While not being a totally black-or-white scenario, the human response in this first contact situation turns out not to be as noble as one would like, and disturbingly realistic with numerous real-life parralells.

A massive alien ship enters Earth's atmosphere and rather than hovering over a city like New York or London, ends up over Johannesberg, South Africa, in what's soon to turn out to be an unfortunate irony. The ship is broken down, out of supplies, doesn't have the ability to communicate, and is packed with what appear to be starving refugees. Upon the initial arrival of the ship, the whole world is excited at the prospect of contact and the dawn of a new era. Upon the initial discovery of the aliens's sad state, the whole world is prepared to pitch in and help the hundreds of thousands of new arrivals. Flash forward twenty years, though, and it's a far grimmer picture. No new era has dawned with man being inducted into interstellar society or reaping the economic benefits of contact with and trade with a technologically advanced civilization. Humanity has never figured out how the alien tech worked and was therefore never able to tap into its potential benefits. Most of the surviving aliens, even after communication, were no more able to explain how everything functioned than the average modern human passenger on a commercial airplane would be able to tell a stone age tribe how to build their own jets. The aliens, referred to by humans as 'prawns' (a label considered derisive by many of the aliens) apparantly can't return home, and the costs of housing and accomodating their growing population became something the world started to get tired of. It also cost a lot to try and figure out how to work their technology, especially their weapons (of huge interest to the nations of the world) and no benefit came from that either. So twenty years later, rather than being honored guests, the aliens are crammed into a poverty-ridden ghetto in the middle of Johannesberg in a situation that not only bears an uncomfortable resemblance to South Africa's apartheid past, but to other world situations past and present. Humanity, once so fascinated with the aliens, is tired of them and views them as a burden. And inside the ghetto known as 'District 9', the 'prawns' have reacted to their deprived state, their seemingly dead-end future, and the hostility of much of the world around them, in the same way humans in the same situations do: they've lost hope, they're attempting to eke out meager livings on the bottom rungs of society (salvaging human landfills for junk and scrap metal, for example), some of them have turned violent in a new prawn undersociety of alien thugs, and many of them have become substance addicts (in the aliens's case, to catfood, originally simply a cheap meal that no one anticipated would have such an addictive effect on their alien physiology). Human society has attempted to limit the prescence of these 'undesirables' in appalingly familiar ways - confining them to their own ghetto and not letting them out, population control measures (even including forced abortions, in a highly disturbing angle), and now, finally, the time has come that Jonnasberg has decided that they want the aliens out of the city altogether and a private military contractor is preparing to move them - by force if necessary - to a camp in the desert that will be known as District Ten.

We see much of the movie through the eyes of Wikus Van De Merwe (a great performance by Sharlto Copley), a civilian official working with private contractor MNU, and here's part of where the movie picks up its "not black or white" status: Wikus doesn't see himself as a bad guy, or as 'anti-prawn'; he's aware that the current situation is horrid, is aware that the solution of forcible relocation has all kinds of practical and moral flaws, but seems to see it as the best available option. He's also guilty himself on at least a couple of occasions of some horrifying actions, but he doesn't view it that way, partly because he's not relating to the alien people the way he would to human people; he actually seems to think he's doing the best thing for them. It's only when some totally unexpected events make Wikus an outsider himself, and he and some of the aliens are forced to work together, that he begins to see the brutality of their daily situation more clearly, and the cold ruthlessness of the private contactor he's been affiliated with. Also adding to the "not black or white" angle: some of the prawns Do come off as bad guys - certain ones are beligerant, crude and violent. If humanity was to judge the prawns ONLY on those representatives they'd have good reason to be wary. Two obvious real-life parallels here: the folly of judging an entire group or race only by its worst members; and the fact that we're seeing the prawns After years of ill treatment. Were the nasty ones that violent to begin with, or is it, to at least some degree, a consequence of the way they've been treated? There's another level to the run-down state of the alien society on Earth, and this one doesn't really have real-life parallels because it's based on alien physiologies and technologies and so on. It's not asked outright, but it's pretty clear in the subtext - did whatever happened to cripple their ship originally have some direct effect on the aliens themselves, either physically or psychologically?

In the first ten minutes or so of District 9, it became abundantly clear that it was a very well-done movie, but I also thought I might be in for one of the most depressing movies ever made. It's not though. There are tragic and melancholy parts to it, even depressing parts, but oh, there are also some parts that are just jaw-droppingly Awesome. The movie runs the gamut through all kinds of tragedy and triumph, unexpected plot turns, characters changing their points of view both on other individuals and on whole situations, several major turning points. The prawn aliens are very individualized, with their own personalities, temperaments, etc. - they're as much Characters as the human characters, not just a bunch of aliens where one is indistinguisable from another. An alien named Christopher Johnson (they all have names that humans can pronounce and would be familiar with in addition to the names in their own click-language, which a number of humans can understand but none are physically capable of speaking) and his young son become major players in a series of unexpected events that also involve Wikus.

Highly cerebral with great action, tremendous visuals, memorable characters and high tension, District 9 is great on all levels. Highly recommended, although certain disturbing or bloody scenes may be more than many scence fiction fans are used to. Although really, there's no other way they could have filmed this and had it be as effective. Recommended for all except young children.

Final Destination 3 (Widescreen 2 Disc Thrill Ride Edition)
Final Destination 3 (Widescreen 2 Disc Thrill Ride Edition)
DVD ~ Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Price: $5.43
315 used & new from $0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Chapter In The Series, With A Cool 'Choose Your Fate' Bonus Option, February 11, 2010
Final Destination 3 heads away from the first two movies in the series (which were linked by having some common characters) and brings in a brand new batch of players who escape death due to an uncanny premonition by one of their group, this time a high school student named Wendy (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, one of my personal favorites), only to have death seemingly come after them, as the survivors again begin dying in a series of bizarre freak accidents. The connection to the previous movies is basically established by some internet research undetaken by Wendy after the deaths begin, which uncovers a history of similar phenomenon - groups of people who avoid death thanks to a premonition, only to all die shortly afterwards, usually under weird circumstances.

This time the 'cause of death' which claims a number of lives isn't a plane crash or a multi-car pile-up on the highway, but an accident on an amusement park roller coaster ride. The Final Destination series has become famous for some really spectacular sequences involving the various accidents and/or death's attempts to reclaim its victims, and the roller coaster scenario certainly sets the stage for a continuation of this theme. As a note of interest, an additional possible link to previous films comes in the form of the 'voice of the devil' at the entrance to one of the amusement park rides: the voice is that of Tony Todd, who also played the undertaker Mr. Bludworth in the first two Final Destination films, the eerie guy who seems to know too much about this whole phenomenon. Whether this was just a neat bit of casting or whether there's an actual connection to the voice and the Bludworth character is in the same class as all the questions about Bludworth that were in the subtext of the previous movies. It's there waiting to be explored further, should they choose to do so in a future movie.

In the first Final Destination, the group who survived were members of a high school class who all knew each other but didn't necesarily get along, and they grew closer as they faced the death phenomenon. In Final Destination 2 it was mostly strangers, mostly likable characters, who quickly knit into a cohesive group. In this chapter the survivors mostly know each other peripherally, but in contrast to the first two movies, the group grows increasingly at odds and in some cases hostile as events escalate. After noticing that the deaths happen in the same order that they would have if the premonition hadn't changed things, one character even comes up with the idea that maybe most of the deaths - including his own - could be avoided if they just knocked off the last person on the list first. So the pursuit of the death phenomenon itself isn't necessarily the only threat this time around. The acting, as usual in the series is well done; Amanda Crew from The Haunting in Connecticut (Unrated Special Edition), another of my personal favorites, is also in it as Wendy's younger (by a year) sister Julie. The special effects are fantastic.

The DVD version of Final Destination 3 makes use of a unique 'Choose Your Fate' option, where the viewer will periodically make decisions for the characters using the remote, some of which actually change the movie. Very cool feature that I'm surprised hasn't been used a bit more often; it would lose its appeal if used too often, but if used for the right movie every now and then, I think it would be good. It certainly seems more appealing to me than all the next-generation special features for Blu-Ray, like watching the movie and watching the 'making of' at the same time in separate boxes.

The third chapter of the Final Destination series doesn't re-invent the wheel of the series, it just uses that existing wheel to extremely good effect and gives it some extra twists and turns. One of the best installments in a great series, and the 'Choose Your Fate' option is an extra bonus, especially for repeat viewing.

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