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Superman: Ending Battle
Superman: Ending Battle
by Geoff Johns
Edition: Paperback
26 used & new from $5.41

41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One Of The Most Epic And Riveting Large-Scale Superman Arcs, September 3, 2009
Reprints Superman (1986 series) # 186, Adventures Of Superman # 608, Superman: Man Of Steel # 130, Action Comics # 795, Superman # 187, Adventures Of Superman # 609, Superman: Man Of Steel # 131, and Action Comics # 796.

Sometimes in the comic books world, a major story that embodies the word 'epic' - in all the best senses of the word - comes along and flies under the radar of much of the comic-reading public, simply because it wasn't accompanied by the requisite hype blitz. Such was the case with 2002's Superman crossover 'Ending Battle', which sold good numbers but certainly didn't set the comics world ablaze the way an event of this magnitude - one of the definitive story arcs for one of comicdom's top characters - might have been expected to. And it was only just recently that it finally got its own Trade Paperback edition. 'Ending Battle' might be compared in scope to Identity Crisis (DC Comics) - in ways smaller, because it focuses on one hero (Superman, obviously) but in ways larger, because it's a globe-spanning tale bringing in a ton of characters for some of the grandest action and most seemingly insurmountable obstacles the Man Of Steel has ever faced.

It starts with an attack on one of Superman's oldest and closest friends, Pete Ross (who's actually serving as the Vice President of the United States at the time this story takes place) by the Master Jailer and Neutron, an attack Superman manages to put a stop to without too much difficulty. Superman might think that this particular adventure ends then and there except for a phone call placed shortly thereafter - to Clark Kent, Not Superman - expressing no surprise that the plot was foiled, because "You're faster than a speeding bullet." That combined with attacks almost immediately after the Jailer/Neutron incident, with separate villains targeting both an obvious choice (Ma and Pa Kent) and a less obvious one (Clark's old high school football coach Walt Andrews, who even I had never heard of before this arc) and the pattern is undeniably clear: someone major knows Superman's secret identity, and is getting at him by targetting everyone he's ever been close to. It's been a nightmare scenario for Superman all along, and for most of the other superheroes - hence the need for secret identities in the first place - and now it's all coming true with terrifying speed that even Superman might not be able to contain. Some of the initial wave of foes being sent in for the attacks are relative lightweights, including Terra Man and especially Ratcatcher, but the stakes get rocketed right into the stratosphere when one of the attackers is Evilstar (frequent Green Lantern adversary), a character with a power level that can threaten entire planets. From there Superman has to fight the fight on three fronts - directly, against the increasingly dangerous opponents joining the fray; pre-emptively, trying to round up all likely targets to a secure location and enlisting allies to protect them (who ultimately may not be up to the overwhelming onslaught they're about to face); and ultimately, to find and confront the mastermind behind the whole affair. There are several potential candidates, but one stands out as liklier than others in Superman's mind... Whether he's right or if it's some less heralded dark horse villain who's stepped in to pull this off, isn't revealed until later in the story.

'Ending Battle' called in a huge array of villains from the ranks of Superman's enemies (and sometimes from outside those ranks; I don't think he'd ever encountered Evilstar, for example, before this) plus a host of brand new (mostly as-yet unnamed) powerhouses for a veritable war against the Man Of Steel. When you stack these kind of odds against your protagonist - even one on a Superman level - and then aim to have any chance at all of having the good guy win, or even just hold his ground against so much powerful opposition, you run the risk of, well...of just having the story fall on its face and look stupid. Probably every comics fan has read at least a couple of stories where it's a case of, "there's no way, if they're going to be even roughly consistent with pre-established power levels, or even the power levels within this one story, that this guy's gonna last five minutes, unless it's just that he's Scripted to win". In 'Ending Battle' though (and I'm not going to reveal whether Superman's efforts are a 100%, unqualified success or not; but by the time he's taken down Evilstar and is still keeping up with the new villains, you know he's at least doing pretty bloodly well for himself) it doesn't seem fake. That it re-establishes Superman on an even higher power rung (not quite as high as the post-Infinite Crisis Superman power levels, but I think even DC realized they'd set him a bit TOO high at the end of Infinite and in the issues immediately folowing, and pulled back on the reins a bit so he was more believable after a few months) and does it so credibly speaks volumes of the skill with which this arc was put together. Superman's arguably pushed harder than ever before, and we see him adapt by using his powers in new ways, but it doesn't feel contrived. For an arc of this scale, if you want to keep presenting the character with credible challenges afterwards, you can't have literally All his rogue's gallery going after him, so: no Doomsday, no Darkseid, no... I'll just leave it there and say there's a few other major enemies he doesn't take on directly in Ending Battle. But those that are there represent some A-list villains by themselves. You can see Mongul and Silver Banshee right on the cover, so it's not giving anything away to say that they're in here - characters who can give Superman a real tough time one-on-one, let alone partnered together and with a slew of other powerhouses (sometimes big-name ones, sometimes obscure). I'm still, after all this time, impressed that they pulled this off so well.

It's not all non-stop action, with lots of suspense in here as well, and some dramatic revelations and consequences in the final acts. There are two moments in particular from Action 796 (the finale issue to this arc) that are really emotionally powerful and just shocking.

Drawbacks - in a couple of the issues (each title had its own artists), the art on a couple of the villains could have been rendered a bit better. There's one I'm thinking of in particular - who I won't reveal because he came in later on in the story - who could have benefitted from a more photorealistic depiction, rather than the highly stylized one he got. Other than that (and one's hard pressed to even notice so minor a shortcoming on the first read), no drawbacks I can think of.

Although not the most heralded of the big, multi-issue Superman arcs, in my mind it's one of the most essential. If you're a DC fan or comics fan in general and haven't read Ending Battle yet, I really encourage you to get it as soon as possible.

Green Arrow: The Archer's Quest
Green Arrow: The Archer's Quest
by Brad Meltzer
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.46
38 used & new from $9.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Multiple Quests Actually, And Very Powerful, Character-Driven Storytelling, August 31, 2009
Reprints Green Arrow (2001 series) #s 16 - 21 (Note- I think having it listed in the description as 'Volume 4' must be an error, because Green Arrow: The Sounds of Violence (Vol. 2) collects #s 11-15, and this picks up direct from there)

Following his return from the dead in issue 1 of the 2001 ongoing GA series, Oliver Queen continues to find that transitioning back into day-to-day life is complex task, and continues to work on rectifying the mistakes of his past. The first issue in this collection, # 16, presents a new mystery to Ollie, as, visiting his own grave and going through photographs of his funeral, he notices an unexpected face at the service - Thomas Blake, better known - when he's in costume - as the villain Catman (keep in mind this all takes place before Catman's rose to prominence in the DC Universe in Villains United (Countdown to Infinite Crisis) and 'Secret Six'), who's been out of the public eye for a while. His prescence would indicate that he knows Ollie's secret identity, as well as, quite possibly, the secret identities of the other mourners at the funeral - Clark Kent was there, Carter Hall was there, and so on. So Green Arrow embarks on a quest to track Blake down and find out what he knows and what possible threats he poses.

This is only one of the quests in the book. A parralell thread has Ollie and Arsenal (Roy Harper, aka Ollie's former sidekick Speedy) tracking down old mementoes from Ollie's life that have special meaning. Along the track of this particular quest, it's secretly unravelling a mystery you don't even know exists until the closing pages of # 21, and which I won't say anything more about here, except that it packs quite the impact. And parralell to these two quests, Ollie continues reconnecting with two of the most important people in his life, Arsenal and Ollie's own son Connor, who took over his father's mantle as the Green Arrow after his death, and continues on as a second Green Arrow.

Shortcomings - the adversary Ollie faces and defeats in # 18 (I'm not going to mention him by name because if you haven't seen the covers to the original issues, his appearance may come as a surprise that I don't want to spoil), the victory is too easy over an enemy of this level, and maybe shouldn't have happened at all. Now, this character's power levels wax and wane depending on the circumstances - not just whatever the script calls for, with this character there are actual, sensible Reasons why he's sometimes much more powerful than other times - but still, I found the battle just didn't ring true. I've actually described as realistic in previous reviews Batman's getting past this guy on other occasions, and Batman is, like Ollie, a character without superpowers, but every time Batman's faced him, the best he can ever manage is to 'temporaily incapacitate' him, not a decisive all-out victory like Ollie gets (and gets without even exploiting the character's known weaknesses). It's not nearly as implausible as some unlikely victories in comics history (ex. when Spider-Man beat the cosmic-powered {as in Silver Surfer-level} Firelord back in the 80s by, um...getting real mad and punching him...) that when you read it you just kind of moan, but it was something that I think could have been handled a bit better. Give Ollie some real hi-tech arrows that are well suited to the enemy's weakness, maybe? Anyway, it actually Was a good battle, I just had a bit of trouble buying into its ending. Other shortcomings - none, really. (Well, unless I count that one moment in # 19. I wonder if anyone else was as ticked off as I was at Kyle Rayner's rather snotty-sounding joke about Zatanna. Maybe I'm just extra sensitive to any potshots anyone takes at Zee, one of my alltime favorite characters. A shame too, because it clouded an otherwise poignant scene between Kyle and Ollie)

So with a couple of hitches overall, I guess I should be rating Archer's Quest at no more than four-and-a-half stars, but no can do. The power of the revelations at the end of # 21, and how brilliantly it was all handled and the way it's affected this one character and how he tries to live his life now, means this has got to get a 5-star. It's an excellent story arc and a true Green Arrow essential.

Green Arrow: The Sounds of Violence (Vol. 2)
Green Arrow: The Sounds of Violence (Vol. 2)
by Kevin Smith
Edition: Paperback
21 used & new from $29.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Up To The Task Of Rivalling The 'Quiver' Story Arc, August 30, 2009
Reprints Green Arrow (2001 series) #s 11-15.

Following the resurrection Of Oliver Queen in Green Arrow: Quiver (Book 1) (note- this write-up, by necessity, contains some spoilers for the 'Quiver' storyline, which reprinted GA #s 1-10) and the 're-integration' of the two halves of the character, Ollie has some adjusting to do as he transitions back into day-to-day life, and the personal/emotional side of things looks to be more complicated than the crime-fighting side, which he swings back into easily. The Oliver Queen that appeared in # 1 of the relaunched series was the pre-1988 series version, the Green Arrow of the seventies and early eighties (in our time, not in DC Universe time), and there was a reason for that. When Hal Jordan, when he was the almost-omnipotent Parrallax, decided to re-create Ollie as his last act on Earth before heading off to face the Sun-Eater in 1996's 'The Final Night' crossover event, he opted to make him the way he was when he was happier in life, before he started killing his enemies - which always haunted him - and before his personal relationships with his friends and loved ones started to go to Hell in a handbasket. This had unintended consequences - the Ollie he resurrected on Earth was a shell of a person, a 'quiver', despite outward appearances, while the bulk of his soul remained in Heaven as a separate conciousness. When the afterlife version of Green Arrow decided to re-merge with the earthly Green Arrow in order to save the lives of several of his dearest friends, it resulted in an Oliver who basically 'was' the younger version from his pre-killing days, but once again had all the memories of his life after that point. Now, that's gotta muddle a guy's mind up a bit.

The newly whole Green Arrow is determined not to repeat the mistakes of his past - which in some ways doesn't seem as much like the 'past' as another lifetime - and to repair the personal relationships that went downhill in the years before his death. Now, Green Arrow, even in the 80s series, was never a take-no-prisoners, kill-'em-all machine like the Punisher, but he did end up racking up a pretty high body count (albeit against some pretty reprehensible bad guys) and in the back of his mind it always haunted him that he'd become a pretty prolific killer, he always was secretly tormented that maybe there was another way if it hadn't been for that first kill setting the pace. So he's determined not to go that route, but at the same time, we (and he) already know that potential for great violence is still there in his soul. At the same time, despite the fact that he's always been a good guy, there have been repeated times in his life when he hasn't done right by his closest friends and loved ones, and he's determined to do better on this front too. The fact that Ollie was a noble character who nonetheless always kept fouling up his personal life was a strong part of the character's unique appeal - a hero but very flawed, no matter how hard he tries to change his ways.

In # 11, Ollie is coming to terms with his 'fatherly' role to Mia, the girl he rescued in 'Quiver', who seems to quickly be falling into a new 'sidekick' role, despite Ollie's best efforts. It's entertaining and almost surreal to see free-spirited, notorious playboy Ollie falling into 'grumpy old man' mold as he attempts to steer Mia clear of following in his own dangerous footsteps, an endeavor he seems to know deep down is likely to fail. This angle plays out throughout the collection, not just issue 11. #s 12 & 13 see Ollie attempting to rebuild his old romantic relationship with Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary. He also runs into Hawkman for the first time since his return from the dead, and the interplay between these two perpetual adversaries (they're on the same side, they just don't seem to play well together) provides some of the rare, true laugh-out-loud moments in comics history. Utterly golden. # 12 also introduces the new villain Onomatopoeia, a mysterious bullseye-masked serial killer who targets costumed crimefighters and speaks in 'sounds of violence' - 'scree', 'blam', 'crash', etc. Onomatopaeia quickly establishes himself as a lethal adversary, murdering several heroes and nearly killing Ollie's son Connor (aka the 'second' Green Arrow, who headlined the 80s/90s GA series after Oliver's death) and dominates the action aspects of this volume, including a brutal, extremely intense series of encounters with Ollie in the collection's latter portions.

With action, romance, comedy, tremendous tension and a slew of other attributes perfectly meshed together, 'The Sounds Of Violence' very, very nearly matches 'Quiver' in the Green Arrow pantheon of tales, not an easy task. In ways, such as the humor angle that's always been part of the Green Arrow title (even in its darkest days) it even surpasses 'Quiver'. 10/10

DVD ~ Thomas Calabro
Offered by SourceMedia
Price: $9.31
46 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Bleak But Intriguing Spin On A Lovecraft Story, August 30, 2009
This review is from: Chill (DVD)
An unusual H.P. Lovecraft adaptation set in modern times, Chill is a bleak and unsettling horror tale about a man, Sam (Thomas Calabro) who goes to work at a convenience store in a gritty, run-down section of the city, and ends up forming a bond with the store's strange owner, a recluse (Shaun Kurtz) who supposedly has a rare disease that renders him able to live only in cold envirornments, such as the permanently refridgerated rooms in the back of the store's building. In reality (and this isn't a spoiler at all, it's apparant very early in the movie), the recluse suffers from no conventional 'disease' at all, he's a practioner of the dark arts whose use of the book Necronomicon (I don't recall if it was ever referred to by name, but it's obvious that's what it is) has allowed him to come back from death. In his current state he's prone to rot at normal temperatures, and needs to (with help from his circle of acolytes, which he seems to be subtly trying to recruit the movie's protagonist into) regularly replace both skin and organs that wear out with fresh replacements, while he combs the Necronomicon for a method of perfecting his reanimated state. Meanwhile, Sam begins a relationship with Maria (Ashley Laurence of Hellraiser fame), who runs a shop on the same street, which is complicated by the fact that she's being harassed by her ex, a corrupt cop (James Russo).

Come to think of it, it's ironic that Hellraiser alumni Laurence is in this, because it was in a write-up for the movie Hellraiser - Deader (not featuring Laurence, but she Was in four of the other chapters) that I noted that 'bleak' was perhaps the hardest mood to get right in a movie. That chapter of Hellraiser, which was the only one in the saga I'd descibe as having a 'bleak' motif, did it right, and so does Chill, albeit to a bit of a lesser extent. When you're doing something all bleak and ultra-grim, it's easy for the movie to fall into the realm of the depressing. I don't know about other people, but personally, I think sad movies are fine, tragic movies are fine, but an outright depressing movie is a different story (documentaries are an exception - sometimes it can't tell the truth about a topic without being depressing). I found that's what went wrong with The Midnight Meat Train - fine cast, excellent special effects, but it was so much less than what it could have been because a more depressing and nihilistic movie is hard to find. It was actually too depressing to be scary, if that makes any sense (although that's just my opinion). Now here in Chill (and in Deader), it successfully navigated that tightrope where it was very grim, very disturbing, but didn't become suffocatingly so.

And really, for this movie to work, it had to be set in a very grim slice of the world. A section of the city where everything is going downhill, where the characters involved have largely lost hope, where evertday atrocities go unpunished and even unnoticed. For example, the people abducted to serve as replacement parts for the reanimated Dr. Munoz are never even looked for in-depth by the police - the police in this part of town are corrupt, as nasty as the criminals, and don't really care to look for the missing because they're 'only' prostitutes or the homeless. In a place like this, where life is seen as disposable and the future as hopeless, the power offered by something like the Necronomicon, you can see how a manipulator like Munoz could gather followers, who are willing to overlook the horrors of what he's offering just to grab on to something grander than the horrors of everyday life. It would be why he'd set up shop in the worst ghetto he could find, why it's there that all the victims would be claimed. All this is never stated explicitly in the movie, but it's the vibe I got from it. But even amongst all this, some characters - including some of the last ones you'd ever expect - find themselves willing to try and save the victims of Munoz's cult.

The production values are pretty low, but it's possible that that was intentional, to add to the worn-out, crumbling-life, theme the movie was going for.

There's no question that this movie isn't for everyone, but those looking for a well-done excursion into some of the grimmer, mustier corners of horror; or looking for a unique take on Lovecraft's themes, should check Chill out.

No Title Available

26 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Original And Eerily Believable Horror Great, August 30, 2009
Pontypool is one of the most original and unique horror movies out there, one of those rare movies that has the potential to not only be a big hit with big-time horror fans like myself, but also the potential, like The Ring (Widescreen Edition), the Alien Quadrilogy (Alien/ Aliens /Alien 3 /Alien Resurrection) and I Am Legend (Widescreen Single-Disc Edition), to draw in loads of non-horror fans, and hopefully turn a few of them permanently on to the horror field. Unfortunately, this didn't happen, with the movie being utterly drowned out in the stampede of high-publicity summer movies, but I think this may be one to steadily grow its fan base over subsequent years.

Over 90% of the movie is set at a small radio station on the outskirts of a small Canadian town, during a winter blizzard. Only three people are working the station that day, station manager/producer Sydney (Lisa Houle), switchboard operator/techician Laurel (Georgina Reilly) and on-air host Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), a former big city radio personality who's been kicked off the airwaves one too many times for his controversial comments and is unable to find work in any venue larger than the tiny station where he's recently begun employment (no, despite that angle and despite some of the promo material, Pontypool is Not a horror-comedy: it has its humorous moments but most of the film is played straight). The movie follows the three as they start the day and the broadcast, and is engaging from moment one partly thanks to exceptionally well-developed characterization and performances; Grant, for example, isn't the one-joke pony his 'big-city-shock-jock-reduced-to-small-town-DJ' description would make him out to be, but a highly interesting, multi-layered and even sympathetic character who we get to know deeper and deeper through tiny cues. Anyway, as the day begins, the station begins getting some fairly unusual reports from their roving reporter Ken Loney (Rick Roberts) and his calls into the station (he's supposed to be reporting on weather and traffic, but sees some decidely less-than-everyday sights during his travels) and from listener calls. As the reports coming in get more unusual and more frightening (starting with an agitated mob surrounding a doctor's office, and escalating from there) and more Bizarre, the official news wire remains strangely silent on events, and the trio within the station wonder if they're the victims of some weird hoax. But the calls coming in get more disturbing still, the BBC phones in from England wanting to know what the hell kind of catacylsm is going on in Ontario, and eventually the strangeness starts moving in closer to the isolated, snowbound station.

The method in which the strangeness is spreading is extremely weird, and it's a spectacular feat that it comes off feeling so eerily authentic when it would have been so easy for a movie with this angle to come off just plain preposterous. The revelations come in the movie's latter stages, but with them more questions (and that's a good thing, not to have every little nuance neatly explained), and a potent mix of horror and hope. A stunning finale wraps up one of the year's best. Horror fans and anyone remotely open to horror needs to see this one. A+
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 23, 2011 3:35 AM PDT

Twilight (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Twilight (Two-Disc Special Edition)
DVD ~ Kristen Stewart
Offered by Mercury Media Partners
Price: $5.98
370 used & new from $0.01

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One Of The Most Outstanding Supernatural Romances, August 30, 2009
Twilight stands, in my opinion, as one of the greatest movie romances of all time, with enough elements of fantasy, horror, and magical mystery to establish it as part of a small elite of genre-blending movies like The Sixth Sense (Collector's Edition Series), Ghost (Special Collector's Edition) and The Invisible (this last one, in particular, is one Twilight fans should take note of) that should have appeal to movie fans of all stripes and tastes. It's the story of a high school girl named Bella (Kristen Stewart from The Messengers) who moves to Oregon to live with her father, and ends up meeting a member of a small clan of vampires who pass theselves off as human, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). The vampires have sworn off human blood, living off the blood of forest animals, and walk a tight line between isolation in their estate off the outskirts of the small town, and walking in the everyday human world. Being around humans stirs the bloodlust the family-like unit strives so hard to control, and so their struggle to live and blend in with humans is basically limited to as little time as necessary - they live much of their lives among humans but can never become really close to any of them. This is all thrown into chaos upon the first meetings between Bella and Edward, who are instantly and irrevocably drawn to one another.

It's not a 'Romeo And Juliet'-type tale where the protagonists are kept apart by their warring families: Bella's family is unaware of the true nature of the Cullens, and Edward's family is welcoming of Bella. It's other factors that come into play - the string of murders in the general area of the Oregon coast, the emergence of a second, more aggressive clan of vampires, and the strange connection some of the area's human residents seem to have to wolves.

The movie is brilliantly made, with exceptional performances throughout, especially by Stewart and Pattinson. The creative use of striking visual imagery - like in one of the early classroom scenes between the two, where Edward is staring at Bella and he happens to be seated in front of some kind of statue or classroom model; from the viewer's perspective only the wings can be seen behind him, and they could look like either the wings of an angel or a demon depending on one's frame of mind - are top-of-the-line, and the backdrop of the forested mountains of Oregon provide further visual effect. The music is another definate plus - I find a lot of times, when a movie is packed with songs by currently 'hot' artists for the sake of the soundtrack album, the song's placement within the movie itself doesn't really fit, but in Twilight every single piece compliments its scene perfectly.

There are really no significant negatives to Twilight. It's a beautiful love story set within an electrifying horror thriller, and it gets my highest recommenation.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
DVD ~ Rhona Mitra
Price: $9.14
142 used & new from $1.48

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Horror Epic In Europe's Dark Ages, June 16, 2009
Third of the Underworld series, Rise Of The Lycans takes place in the medieval Dark Ages, hundreds of years before the first Underworld and the bulk of Underworld: Evolution, and perhaps a (human) generation or two after the flashback portion of Underworld: Evolution where we witnessed the dawn of the vampire and werewolf (or Lycan, in Underworld terminology) races. The vampires reign supreme over a fair-sized swath of territory in Europe, existing as feudal overlords to the frightened humans (who only suspect what the land's masters really are) and have enslaved almost all the remaining Lycans. The Lycans at this time are bestial and aggressive, never taking human form and assumed to be incapable of actual thought (although this is called into question later in the movie). History reaches a pivot point with the birth of a new kind of Lycan - born human, and later capable of transformation back and forth. This is Lucian (Michael Sheen), familiar to viewers of the series, and although the reigning vampire lord Viktor (Bill Nighy, also a familiar face from the previous chapters)'s first instinct is to kill the newborn infant, he hesitates - whether out of compassion or out of seeing the potential in a new breed of slave, one's never quite sure - and lets the child live.

Lucian grows to an adult and, as viewers of the original know, falls in love with the vampire Sonja, daughter of Viktor, which viewers also know is going to be the catalyst for war between the races. We know in advance that their love is going to end tragically, but, as with a movie like Titanic, knowing things are going to end badly only amps up the emotions and the tragedy. Without going into too much detail, Lucian, who's favored among Lycans but still a slave, is already moving down the path of being a potential liberator/semi-messianic figure for his terribly-treated brethren; the horrors of what happens when Viktor uncovers the relationship between his daughter and what he considers a 'beast' seal the path of fate and flames Lucian into leading a full-out insurrection, not only of the slave Lycans within the fortress walls of the vampires' domain, but of the 'wild' Lycans outside.

I initially didn't know how well a third Underworld was going to turn out without Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Michael (Scott Speedman) in it; as it turns out it worked great. The roles of Lucian and Viktor in the Underworld mythos became even larger, and both actors (who did great jobs in the original) give tour-de-force, multi-facted performances. Sonja (Rhona Mitra)'s resemblance to Selene in both appearance and temperament isn't coincidence: it was established in the first movie that Selene's resemblance to Viktor's deceased daughter was why he made her a vampire in the first place and why he favored her over the centuries. The three leads - Lucian, Viktor and Sonja - anchor the movie so well (and the performers play their parts so well) that the abscence of Selene and Michael doesn't hurt the movie (although I still wouldn't mind if they returned for Underworld 4). The character of Raze (Kevin Grevioux) from the first movie is also present, and his role is greatly expanded on.

Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans is a highly stylized (the most so of the trilogy), grand-scale, effectively gory, horror epic with terrific visuals, action, and a beautifully captured world of iron and stone, forests and labyrinths, ferocious werewolves and icy vampires.

I hope they follow this up with a fourth chapter - whether it takes place somewhere between this one's ending and the start of the first movie, or whether it takes place after Underworld: Evolution (and actually, they could even go back to before the flashback from Evolution, either in an entire movie or in little slivers as just part of a movie); this is a mythos that could continue to expand for a while longer, and could even bring in other creatures/elements from folklore and legend to play a role.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 12, 2010 10:10 PM PDT

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Two-Disc Widescreen Edition)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (Two-Disc Widescreen Edition)
DVD ~ Keanu Reeves
Price: $6.48
173 used & new from $0.01

7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One Of The Greatest Apocalyptic Movies, June 16, 2009
The apocalypse has seldom been so epic as in the 2008 version of The Day The Earth Stood Still, in which an alien envoy to Earth is assaulted by the military before getting a chance to deliver the 'coalition of civilizations''s message to the world, setting in motion a chain of Earth-shaking - and possibly catacylsmic - events. The 1951 original version (included in this set as a 'bonus disc', which I'll get to in a bit), had as its focus the growing threat of Earth's ballooning military might in the years following the development of the atomic bomb, and the reaction of extraterrestrial life to it. In the new version, the threat isn't one that the aliens are worried about affecting them directly: they've come on behalf of the planet, which they believe is in imminent danger of total envirornmental breakdown. Faced with this realization, they have two options - convince the human race to alter its path and thus stave off the disaster; or eliminate the root of the problem (humanity) and manage to save the planet and most of its species. The aliens's consideration of terminating humanity isn't based on hate or fear of humans, but on an icy logic: if the world falls, humanity dies anyway, and they've saved nothing in the end. If humanity falls first (and not that much earlier, on a cosmic scale, than it's looking to anyway) then the world and the rest of its lifeforms can still be saved. Part of the subtext of the movie is that the aliens presumably plan on offering humanity help in transitioning from an envirornmentally dangerous species to a more benign one (likely partly through pointing it in the right directions technologically) but the immediate military attack only re-inforces their earlier fears that humans are inherently violent, and incapable of being reasoned with.

The aliens's emmissary is Klaatu, excellently played by Keanu Reaves - the alien is not initially human but has been converted to human form; Reeves appears to be perceiving both more and less than an ordinary human, owing both to Klaatu's newness to his human body and to his inhuman mindframe, perhaps even to additional senses he's retained while in human form. Captured by the military and interrogated, he makes his escape from the army facility and ends up aided by a sympathetic scientist (Jennifer Connelly), who knows humanity's potentially facing destruction and hopes to convince the alien that the human race isn't as hopeless as his intial experiences wiith the military would make it seem. Connelly brings a sensitivity and compassion to the character, that, combined with the child-innocence of her stepson (played great by Jaden Smith) creates an interesting dynamic with the eerily both-human-and-inhuman Klaatu. The military has more to worry about than its escaped prisoner though. Its initial attack on Klaatu, in a truly awesome scene, awakens the GORT robot (in the '51 original it was the robot's own name, in this version it's an acronym the military gives it) from Klaatu's vessel, which "activates in the prescence of violence": a towering silver titan capable of stopping the amassed might of the U.S. army in its tracks as easily as a stampeding elephant might knock over a model train set.

Basically, the military is in a race to both contain and try to comprehend the situation, even as Connelly's character is in a race to change the alien's mind. It's a cerebral, emotional ride through destiny with many touching moments, including one (this one's easy to talk about without giving away any spoilers) in which Klaatu meets with a second alien, one who's been living among humanity silently observing for decades. Although this second alien agrees with the logic of extinguishing the human race before the whole planet falls (and even ends up nudging Klaatu in that direction as he struggles to make his decision), he nonetheless refuses to vacate Earth when offered a chance: in his decades on Earth he's come to love the human race in spite of all the flaws he sees in it, has even become part of a family; and he prefers to stay and die with humanity if that's the way events have to play out.

The movie truly keeps it up in the air as to how things are going to end up, and with great performances, outstanding special effects, cool concepts and a riveting atmosphere of suspense that starts early and doesn't let up, The Day The Earth Stood Still is a new classic and easily one of the most unjustly maligned films in recent years.

Moving on, we also have the 1951 original in here. Some may think it's dated, but this broke a lot of ground in its day and still holds up well now, even without tas much of an epic feel or awesome visuals (actually, the relatively few special effects that were in the film were very well done at the time, and certain scenes, including those that capture Klaatu's ship at a distance, hold up uncannily well even today). For one thing, the remastering job on this was perfect, it looks and sounds great, looks and sounds for the most part like something that was filmed very recently, crystal clear. It's got a great cerebral vibe to it (although I thought it lacked some of the emotion of the newer version) and the fact that the two movies focus on very different themes (the war threat in '51, the envirornmental theme in '08) is a plus: there's no point remaking a movie - especially a good one - if you're just going to do it scene-for-scene and shot-by-shot; with the two versions here, even though they have the same root of an alien emmissary coming to warn the Earth and being attacked without hesitation on landing, there are a lot of differences too. Michael Rennie does a fine job as Klaatu, playing the role a bit differently than Reeves did. The Rennie version seems to adapt to being human with all its idiosyncracies very quickly (some might say too quickly, but perhaps this version of the character was more 'trained' for the mission, or wasn't as vastly different an alien: one gets the impression that Reeves's Klaatu may have originally had a form almost unfathomable to humans) and blends in easily; the Reeves Klaatu goes through a lot of turmoil as he adjusts to the mental and physical differences of having transformed into another species, of another culture. Both actors played their respective takes on the Klaatu character very well. In places, the '51 version seems a bit stiff and subdued, but the points it loses it makes right back in innovation and effective undercurrents. Overall, with both versions in the same release you can't go wrong: two very different (but both good) takes on an excellent idea.
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The Book of Flying
The Book of Flying
by Keith Miller
Edition: Hardcover
40 used & new from $2.91

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastically Imaginative And Engaging New Fable, May 30, 2009
This review is from: The Book of Flying (Hardcover)
Both an imaginative fantasic odyssey and a tribute to books and to the realm of storytelling as a whole, The Book Of Flying is a unique and multi-layered tale, a complex fable.

The novel stars Pico, a young librarian who lives in the 'city by the sea', who spends his days and nights reading, meticulously tending his library (which no one comes to anymore, since reading has long since fallen out of favor in the city) and dreaming that he could be with his beloved girl, which is forbidden because she's one of the winged ones who live in the towers, and Pico has no wings of his own. But when Pico discovers, tucked away in the library, evidence that there exists a 'Book Of Flying' through which one such as himself might gain wings of their own, he embarks on an epic quest to find this tome. He journeys far, to places unknown to any who live in his city, to exotic lands where he meets amazing people and creatures.

Although this might sound like a great All Ages book, it's definately not for the little ones, whatwith themes of cannibalism, girl-on-minotaur sex, suicide and other mature themes. But at the same time, amidst its darker and racier elements (neither of which are negatives for the book, they just mean you probably don't want to read it aloud to your six year-old the way you would Harry Potter) there are a lot of moments that harken back to fairy tales and childhood fables. The dark themes and violent characters are essential to the book partly because of the subtext they provide - in so many cases, the do-er of the dirty deeds isn't evil at heart, but feels compelled to act the way they do because of a single, fatal character flaw or a perceived duty. And if not for that flaw or 'duty', not only would they not be inflicting suffering on others, they would have virtually everything in life they could want right there at their fingertips, but they can't let go of some all-consuming envy or some code of honor that originated ages before they were born, that no one alive even understands anymore. There's the gentle, gregarious minotaur who lives a solitary life because he's the latest in a long line of guardians charged to keep anyone from crossing an ancient bridge, by lethal force if necessary. He doesn't know why the rule was ever set in place, and the violence goes against his nature, but it's also part of his nature to adhere very closely to whatever obligations honor and propriety demand of him. There's the bright, highly skilled young woman who had every talent and opportunity in life, but was driven into a life as a murderous thief because of her own insane jealousy and resentment that she's incapable of doing the only thing she really yearned to do - create beautiful works of art. And this kind of theme repeats itself throughout the book, and adds a great deal of bittersweetly moving tragedy to the tale.

It's certainly not all tragedy, with the wonderful lands, the new cultures, the fantastical beings and the fascinating 'everyday lives' of the people Pico encounters. He meets a melancholy, 'English-gentleman' -type talking rabbit who works as a botanist and studier of nature, who's allowed his study of nature to blind himself to the harm he's occasionally done its denizens in pursuit of his research, and who now seems to wish he'd been more open to just appreciating the beauty of it all, instead of caging wild birds and dissecting butterflies. There's a seller of dreams, there's an ageless obsidian castle-fortress, and there's a vast city Pico comes across in the mountains - much bigger than the city by the sea - where Pico finds friends and is delighted to find that books are still appreciated, with bookseller stalls frequent along the crowded markets that line the streets. Pico stays here for a while, and we get a chance to know more of the characters he meets more in-depth, instead of fairly fleetingly. And still, as we go along, the question remains of whether Pico ever finds (and I'm certainly not going to give away the end here) his legendary book, whether it even exists, whether there'll be a happy ending for the cast of characters.

Written with terrific skill and style, and with occasional simple-but-charming black and white illustrations throughout (not to mention the beautiful cover art), The Book Of Flying is an innovative and memorable winner.

City of Masks: A Cree Black Novel
City of Masks: A Cree Black Novel
by Daniel Hecht
Edition: Paperback
72 used & new from $0.01

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly Innovative And Multi-Faceted Horror Mystery - 4.5 Stars, May 19, 2009
Daniel Hecht's novel City Of Masks introduces Psi Research Associates, a team of paranormal researchers comprised of Cree Black and Edgar Mayfield, researchers, and their assistant/footwork researcher Joyce Wu. The organiztion studies all kinds of supernatural phenomena, including ghosts and hauntings, documents it and comes up with theories and hypotheses, in an effort to have the study of the paranormal taken seriously by the scientific community at large. Their work is funded by making their services available to individuals needing help with real or supposed supernatural activity, including the events transpiring in New Orleans that the novel focuses on.

Cree is the main point-of-view character, and her own involvement with the whole paranormal world is rooted in an event in her own past. She'd never had any kind of ghostly encounters, never put too much stock in the idea, until the day a number of years ago when her husband died, and she saw him thousands of miles from where he was supposed to be, Before learning that he'd been killed in an accident earlier that day. Since then she's delved into the world of the paranormal, almost obsessively, hoping to understand it, to verify to herself that it's actually real, and perhaps to even make contact again someday. Cree is also an empath, picking up on the thoughts and emotions of people around her, sometimes even the 'psychic residue' left in certain places, but her empathic ability has a dangerous edge to it. If she lets it go too far (and sometimes she doesn't really have any choice about how far it goes), she starts picking up habits and mannerisms, occasionally attitudes, of the person she's empathically tuned into. At its most extreme, she can lose much of her self and, temporarily, almost 'become' the other person. And just to make it even more complex, her empathy works on the remaining, eathbound, energies of the dead as well, all of whom seem to leave at least some trace of a psychic marker in the physical world that says 'we were here'.

The case focused on in City Of Masks takes place in New Orleans in the manor of one Of New Orleans's old monied families, the Beaufortes. After recently moving back into the previously vacant Beauforte House - site of either a suicide or, possibly, a murder, in the recent past - Lila Beauforte apparantly experienced a number of strange phenomena that left her terrified and resulted in her fleeing the house along with her disbelieving but concerned (although oftentimes unintentionally condescending) husband Jack. No one in the Beauforte family aside from Lila herself believes in what allegedly transpired there, but the family has called in a paranormal investigator hoping that it'll quell Lila and make her feel that everything's been taken care of.

The types of paranormal phenomenon Cree and her partners have previously dealt with are quite different from the more familiar ghosts. Existing as old energy patterns waiting to be freed, existing often as a fragment of a person instead of the full individual - for example the ghost may be a specific memory and nothing more, a phantom acting out that one specific event with no real ties to the rest of its former existance. I've heard of ghosts who, in their earthbound state, have become fixated on a specific memory - such as their death - and have fixated on it to a point where they remember little else: these ghosts abound in all kinds of good books and movies, fixated on, for example, vengeance for their unjust death to the point where they're incapable of telling right from wrong in their pursuit for retribution. But I've never heard of ghosts who basically ARE that memory, disattached from the deceased individual. I've also heard of phantoms that are like afterimages on film: they're not really there but you can see them, just like a person isn't really in a photograph but you can see the evidence of them. This kind of apparition seems to fit more closely with some of the phenomena Cree and her partners have encountered, but it's like a functioning afterimage - almost like a sliver of a soul was sliced off and left behind. The very concepts are unsettling and unique. These are what Cree and her partners have dealt with in the past, and they don't claim to understand what they really are, but in the case of a haunting, they hope to not only assist the living but to 'alleviate' the entity, set it free, whatever 'it' is.

In New orleans's Beauforte House though, Cree encounters something previous experience, and all the paranormal research papers she's read, hasn't prepared her for: a much more tangible entity, one which can interact with the living to an uncommon degree, one that's far more nightmarish and openly malevolent than she's faced before. It's fixated its aggressions on Lila, and Cree's concern for the other woman - a likable, friendly-but-timid middle-aged woman who seems to have been Broken by something but to be struggling bravely to fight her way back from it - is the main factor for continuing to confront this monstrosity, not the scientific merits of actually documenting something this far off the radar of what's normal.

The book is extremely well written, grabbing you righ t from page 1, full of cool ideas, rich descriptions, and a a great ensemble of characters. Some are highly likable (like Cree and Lila) and others not nearly so much, though interestingly, even the unlikable characters are sometimes likable at the same time. They're well drawn out, with all these different facets to their personalities - some of their traits and behaviors you strongly dislike, while other aspects of them you can respect or even admire. Full of twists in both the plot and the characters (you may revise your opinions on who's likable and who isn't and then back again a couple of times as you go along), old buried secrets coming to light, and eerie, ghastly happenings, this is a must-read for fans of horror, mystery, or thrillers. Only caveat (not so much for horror fans as for mystery or thriller fans) - some of the scenes in here are really harrowing and disturbing. Personally I thought it worked excellently with the overall story, but it may be too graphic for some tastes. Myself, I thought it was a brilliant book and give it four-and-a-half stars.
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