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Willow, Special Edition
Willow, Special Edition
DVD ~ Ron Howard
30 used & new from $12.66

5.0 out of 5 stars Medieval Fantasy with Heart and a Swordswoman, July 14, 2014
This review is from: Willow, Special Edition (DVD)
Willow's a medieval fantasy movie with a lot going for it. Val Kilmer is the down-on-his-luck swordsman, Joanne Whalley is the swordswoman daughter of the evil Queen, and between them is a baby that neither of them has much concern for. But, as tends to happen in these stories, their hearts are softened.

Luckily for the baby, a Nelwyn (fantasy term for little people) woman takes it in - and her husband, played by Warwick Davis, gets drawn into caring for it. Val only agrees to help out in return for being let out of a cage. But he, too, is drawn to the little cutie. Joanne is a tougher nut to crack. It's her evil mother who wants to grab the kid and do harm. Joanne's been raised all her life to be mercenary. She's excellent with the sword and commands the loyalty of her troops. But a few encounters with Val, a bit of magic dust, and romance is in the air.

I like that they at least try to give some justification for the typical falls-in-love-and-abandons-all-reason type of storyline. Still, I do think the transformation comes a bit TOO strongly without enough supporting meat. Joanne has been raised since birth to be cold and hard. This is the way she is. I'd like it if they spent even a little more time on her thawing process with Val. Still, the movie gets immense kudos for allowing her to stay strong and skilled. So often in these movies the heroine is kick-butt in the first scene and then turns into a flailing "help me! help me!" by the first half hour.

The cinematography is awesome in this. There are so many vistas that I took photos of (from my home DVD) to use as inspirations in my artwork. Gorgeous settings. Glowing colors.

The acting is a bit mixed. The brownies definitely get the highest of kudos, though. They are small parts (heh heh) but Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton make them absolutely shine. There are so many lines that I could quote from this because they are delivered perfectly. Then again, there are some that suffer. Val's complaint that he doesn't want the baby to come along with him, but they're going the same way so he has to, always stands out in my mind. A high school performer could easily do better. So a bit of up and down there.

This is clearly fantasy medieval, but it does still feel like a coherent world. The rustic Nelwyn village is a bit shiny, but it's quaint and lived-in. The taverns are appropriately rough and tumble. There are definitely scenes in here where you wonder if the Lord of the Rings guys watched this a few times to get ideas.

So, all in all, I like this a lot. Where many children-aimed movies make the women into babbling idiots (George and the Dragon, I'm looking at you) here we have all the characters with complex, multi-faceted personalities. Sure, the queen is Pure Evil, but the rest of them aren't shimmering gold. They're real people with flaws and issues. They have to overcome those to reach their goal. That's a lesson I think we can all learn.

Being Human
Being Human
DVD ~ Robin Williams
Price: $17.96
16 used & new from $13.02

5.0 out of 5 stars Reviewed for its Medieval Content - I Love Medieval Era Scenes, July 14, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Being Human (DVD)
Being Human is definitely an anomaly for a movie that touches on medieval life. Most medieval-era movies are about the plague, bloody battles, or bloody battles in a plague-ridden area. In comparison, Being Human with Robin Williams is slow, thoughtful, and looks at how people lived.

This is actually a movie about five different time periods. Robin Williams starts out in prehistoric days, living in a cave with his wife and two kids. Then he's a Roman-era slave. Then he's a medieval crusader returning home. Next he's a Renaissance man who is shipwrecked. Finally he's a modern day man. It's sort of like he's being reincarnated, although of course he doesn't know that. All he knows, in each life, is that he's struggling with issues of family, home, children, and responsibility.

So, for example, in the first one he fails completely. His wife and kids are stolen away by raiders, and while he eventually tries to get them back, he isn't able to. He has to watch, sadly, as they are taken from him. In the very last one, he'd been an absent father after a divorce. He's tentatively trying to reconnect with his kids and rebuild a relationship with them.

The medieval scenes fall between the two. He's been off at the crusades, which was fairly common for men in this time period. His wife and kids are home waiting for him to return. But along the way he falls for a French woman even though the two can't talk to each other. He sleeps with her and goes back with her to her house.

He realizes she's a widow - she has her mother and a young child living with her. The house is warm, clean, everything he could hope for. And he's tempted. But at last he says no. As much as it would be lovely, he has his actual wife and kids to get back home to. They are waiting for him.

The medieval scenes are fairly well done. The style of house, the clothing, all of it fits reasonably well with this era. There are minor issues - at this time period the people wouldn't have had plates to eat off of. Food would be served on a platter and then the people would use old crusts of bowled bread to eat the food from. Nothing to wash up afterwards :).

So a good movie, slow, but interesting. The use of recurring themes across the timelines is fun, and the message that we all face the same sorts of hardships no matter what era we live in is fairly poignant. There's nothing new under the sun.

Riddick (Unrated Director's Cut Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet)
Riddick (Unrated Director's Cut Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet)
DVD ~ Vin Diesel
Price: $16.49
16 used & new from $4.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars SO Disappointed - I Adored the First Two Movies - Spoilers, July 14, 2014
I realize many Riddick fans will disagree with my review, and that's OK. We all have different movies we like and dislike. I just ask that you read my reasons behind my thoughts and consider the point of view I'm coming from. Note there are spoilers in this write-up.

First, I adore the Riddick series up to the final movie, Riddick. I've seen Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick many, many times. I love Vin Diesel and his alpha-male character. In Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick, his relationship with Kyra, the subtlety of the situation, was great. There were so many aspects of these movies that shone. The sense of man-against-the-world. The nuances of the cultures. Judi Densch was super as Aereon, the neutral entity. Karl Urban as Vaako and Thandie Newton as his conniving wife were great. There were so many characters in here which filled out the environment. The special effects were cool. It was immensely satisfying to watch.

So I went into this third version of Riddick with great anticipation.

The plot is pared down. That's fine. I loved the first Pitch Black and that had a fairly simple plot. In fact, it was pretty much this plot. Riddick on a planet. Mercenaries out to grab him. Riddick takes them all on. Beasties. Riddick wins.

Where the first two movies had superb writing and everything that happened cohesively made sense, many aspects of this one felt as if the writers took shortcuts and didn't bother to map out an overall scenario. Why would the bad guys drop Riddick on a planet which had a fully stocked mercenary base on it? Surely they knew the reputation of this guy. I know they intended to kill him - but still, you plan for all eventualities. Surely you drop him on a completely abandoned planet with NO chance of getting off. Why would the mercenaries build a base on this planet covered with death-creatures and not leave a large warning in the base to let people know this happens occasionally? You can't tell me with all their sci-fi scanning devices that they didn't notice the bodies beneath the sand. That's what mercenaries excel at - finding hiding bodies. There's situation after situation like this. The writers could easily have made minor tweaks so all of this made sense, but they didn't bother.

I do love many of the special effects in this. The puppy was quite real feeling and had expressive body language. The creatures were appropriately threatening. But in other cases the sets felt cheezy. It was clearly them standing on a stage and not a real planet. Again, just a little bit more effort would have eliminated this problem.

But the real issue - the one that has me just shaking my head in disbelief - has to do with the women in this.

Again, I realize this is a fantasy. But look at the first two movies! Kyra was amazing. Aereon was great. Dame Vaako was great! These were fantasy women with grit and strength. They had to be, to live in this world. They helped Riddick then become even stronger, as he dealt with and interacted with these women.

So, what do we have in this latest incarnation of Riddick?

Women group 1: Four totally naked slave consorts that Riddick Fs every chance he can get. They were slaves ripped from their homeworld, forced against their will to become whores. Riddick doesn't care. He Fs them as much as he can until he gets taken away.

Woman 2: Captured woman who is repeaetedly Fed by the "bad" mercenary group. She's shaking and traumatized by her ordeal. So she's released and shot in the back. The lead merc says he was getting too fond of her so he decided to kill her. I realize this is a way of showing these mercs are bad, but still. Repeatedly raped, traumatized woman forced to be a whore. Isn't this what we had in group 1 where Riddick was the culprit?

Woman 3: Starbuck!! I adore Battlestar Galactica and Katee Sackhoff. I was just so thrilled that she was in this movie as Dahl. And then my joy turned to frustration. What is Katee's role in this? To be someone every other guy wants to F. We get a view of her naked breast and Riddick comments on her nipple color. Bad merc tries to rape her. Riddick boasts that by the end of the battle she'll beg him to F her, even though she turns away all the other men. Sure enough, at the end, she asks him to F her, and one of the last lines is about Riddick wanting her to keep her "box" warm for him. So he can F her some more.

And that's it.

Good God Almighty. That's the fantasy version of women? Whores that want it, whores that are raped, and tough women who resist other guys but the hero is so studly that she gives in and begs him for sex?

It's not that the Riddick series has always been like this. The first two movies were great! Where in the world did this mentality come in? And even more concerning to me, why do so many viewers not even blink an eye that this is how women are shown? Do they think it normal that women are either whores, rape victims, or women who secretly crave a tough guy to take them? You could say that at least Katee fought off her rapist. Great. But there's still the very clear statement here, in pretty much every scene, that she is there for sex. Every guy just wants to F her, and eventually the hero will break her down and make her beg for it. That's her purpose in life, to be Fed.

She's a superb fighter, a great sniper, and has many other strengths - but the attention she gets is solely about a guy stripping her naked and using her.

Is this really the level our fantasy movies have sunk to? That women are solely sex dolls to be grabbed, used, and discarded? Maybe killed if they get in the way?

Conan had Valeria, a tough-as-nails fighter who matched him. Madmartigan had Sorsha, amazing with a sword. Riddick has ... slave whores? And a "warm box"?

This is a fantasy world men or women want? Why not fantasize about living on a planet with cyborg sex dolls?

All Glass Aquarium AAG10005 Tank, 5.5-Gallon
All Glass Aquarium AAG10005 Tank, 5.5-Gallon
Offered by Fat Happy Pets
Price: $28.22
8 used & new from $15.51

5.0 out of 5 stars Great for Tadpoles - But Buy Locally if Possible, July 11, 2014
This review is written from the point of view of a tadpole raiser.

Tadpoles need somewhere clean to live where they have ample room to swim, nooks to hide in, and places to bask. A 5 gallon aquarium tank can provide the perfect environment for all of this.

Definitely a glass-walled aquarium is key. It might be a bit heavier than acrylic, and you have to use a little more care so you don't drop and break it, but it's well worth it. Glass doesn't scratch easily, meaning you don't get little grooves and nicks in it. For you, it means you can clearly see your pets and observe for any signs of illness or disease. For your pets, it means that algae and other growths won't build up in those grooves, becoming nearly impossible to remove. Glass is far easier to clean and maintain.

The rule of thumb for tadpoles is that you want about 1 liter per 5 tadpoles. A liter is about a quarter of a gallon. With a 5 gallon tank, you can have it 3/5ths full and have about 20 tadpoles in there without any issue. This is probably the most you want to deal with at the same time, anyway. This will keep you going until the froglet stage. At the froglet stage the ratio is 1 froglet per 1 liter of water, so you'd want to have only 12 froglets in there. For most tadpole parents, their intention is to raise the tadpoles to the froglet stage and then let them go into the wild (assuming they are raising local eggs they gathered themselves). So, again, the tank will be fine to handle the remaining tadpoles while the larger onese are set free.

A great size and material for the typical tadpole parent.

A note on the price. I usually avoid price statements since items on Amazon can fluctuate wildly based on who is currently selling it and what the market is. But as I write this review, the price here is fairly high. Be sure to shop around and see if you can get it for less money locally. It could be in a month or two that the Amazon situation will rectify itself and the price will come down to be more in line with local options.

Maki Hakoda draws Fire Emblem (Japanese Import)
Maki Hakoda draws Fire Emblem (Japanese Import)
by Enix
Edition: Tankobon Hardcover
7 used & new from $13.51

5.0 out of 5 stars Great, High Quality Drawings, June 23, 2014
I own a number of books on art. I've seen many books purporting to be on manga, anime, and similar topics which have drawings which range from atrocious to iffy. It's a relief to have this one to go back to. Maki Hakoda provides that extra quality that brings the characters to life.

It's important to note, first, that the entire book is in Japanese. I don't read Japanese, so I use this as an art book. For those who only read English, be aware of this situation.

A second thing to note is that only the first 32 pages are in color. The rest are in black-and-white. The black-and-white illustrations are still quite good, but it's a point to know about.

The characters - both the color and black-and-white ones - have a true soul to them. You can feel their happiness, their sorrow, their confusion, their strength. It's again so refreshing to look again at these images after I have to review some of the other "how to" books I have. There's such power here. And it's a sign of the immense talent of the artist that even the line drawings shine. Even the "intermediate stage" images shimmer with energy.

Highly recommended.

Manga Mania: How to Draw Japanese Comics
Manga Mania: How to Draw Japanese Comics
by Christopher Hart
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.75
272 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars A Few Good Examples but Many Questionable Ones, June 23, 2014
Manga Mania: How to Draw Japanese Comics by Christopher Hart purports to provide everything you need to know - from start to finish - on drawing manga. It certainly has some good aspects to it - but it's not the book that beginning artists should be getting.

There are a large number of examples in here. Flying characters. Elf characters. Battle mechs. Hart shows you how a given character can be drawn in good, better, and best angles.

The problem is that many of the drawings are of iffy quality. You'd think the entire section on "Drop-Dead-Gorgeous Manga Babes" (yes this is a real category) would at least have good drawings, but some of the line drawings are quite bizarre. The full color versions can border on pornographic.

And while the elf characters are quite good with glowing hair and sparkling dust, other images look like they were mis-drawn or mis-scanned. School Punks has such a poor resolution that it could have been printed on an old dot-matrix printer. It's quite confusing.

So a mixed bag. With so many superb books out on this topic, I'd pass by this one.

Trigun: Ultimate Fan Guide Number 2
Trigun: Ultimate Fan Guide Number 2
by Michelle Lyons
Edition: Paperback
28 used & new from $0.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Like Book #1, a Useful Resource for Die-Hard Fans, June 22, 2014
Clearly, someone buying Trigun: Ultimate Fan Guide Number 2 is not a random person who hasn't heard of Trigun. They're someone who loves the Trigun series enough not only to watch and rewatch the series but to want to own books on the topic. So, from that vantage, what is in this book?

First, it has summaries of all the episodes of season 2. If you're a fan of the series you already know what they contain, but it is nice to have an encyclopedia of descriptions and images to refer to.

It has a summary of characters both in terms of the storyline and also in terms of RPG stats. That means you can refer to the information whatever your interest.

There are both screenshots from the series as well as black and white line drawings which are great for artists to work with.

All in all, it's something a fan would enjoy.

Manga Mania Fantasy Worlds: How to Draw the Amazing Worlds of Japanese Comics
Manga Mania Fantasy Worlds: How to Draw the Amazing Worlds of Japanese Comics
by Christopher Hart
Edition: Paperback
120 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars A Mix of Good and Not-So-Good, June 22, 2014
You would think that "fantasy worlds" would be a small enough category to cover properly. However, Christopher Hart's book tackles too wide an area. As a result it ends up doing well in some and not-so-well in others.

First, let's say that this is clearly not a "how to draw" book. It assumes you already know how to draw. What it's here's to provide is specific guidance on handling the fantasy world. This includes knights, faeries, sci-fi, steampunk, and more.

A problem, though, is that each of these areas fully deserves its own entire book. How do you cover "steampunk" in just a few pages? How about "sci-fi"?

Equally intriguing to me is that while some areas have drawings which are fairly weak, other areas shine. I really appreciate his faerie drawings. They have a gentle flow to them. But the sci-fi bruiser just looks awkward and clunky. The legs look like mangled, rotting potatoes. "Winged Warrior" is ... I can't even begin to describe it. It's not good.

So sure, borrow this from the library to get some of the tips. But to really learn how to draw medieval, sci-fi, or whatever your target area is, seek out one of the many great books on that specific topic. Ones that have well-drawn examples.

Manga Mania Villains: How to Draw the Dastardly Characters of Japanese Comics
Manga Mania Villains: How to Draw the Dastardly Characters of Japanese Comics
by Christopher Hart
Edition: Paperback
82 used & new from $0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Good Topic but Not Well Covered, June 22, 2014
First, I do give Christopher Hart kudos for presenting a book on villains in manga. It's always helpful to delve fully into a topic and be able to explore it. As someone who's interested in drawing, often the "cover everything at once" books are simply not helpful. If I'm trying to focus on a particular character, I like all the help I can get with that task.

So first, let's make it clear that this isn't a "how to draw" book. Hart expects you to know how to draw before you pick this book up. He is providing the specific details on villains - the slant of the eyes, the curve of the mouth. He expects you to already know how to draw eyes and mouths.

So, that being said, I just didn't find the details he DOES provide to be greatly helpful. He shows differences between a good character and bad character showing various emotions - but I don't find either version to be compelling. He'll display a "maniac gladiator" but the details are fairly blah. The "Alluring Invader" looks like she's wearing poorly-fitting pajamas.

I realize it's a bit of a pain, but it'd be far more useful for an artist to go through the web and search for villain images they adore. Create your own, personalized guide book. That way the things you learn to draw shine with your own flavor and style. If you spent your time copying from this book, I'm not sure you'd be happy with the results.

Manga Madness
Manga Madness
Price: $9.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A Mixed Bag - Great Primers but Poor Artwork, June 22, 2014
This review is from: Manga Madness (Kindle Edition)
I've got a mixed set of thoughts about Manga Madness by David Okum. The book says it provides "over 40 basic lessons for drawing Japanese comics." In some ways it's fantastic - while in others it's fairly iffy.

First, let's tackle the good. In many of my "how to" drawing books they barely explain how to draw! They show you page after page of nearly-finished art and say, in essence, "guess how this was drawn!" It's not a helpful game to play.

Here, Okum provides a wealth of information which the others completely skip. He lays out what supplies to get! He describes key terms. He explains the steps an animator takes. He talks about different styles of shading and even how different art implements (markers, watercolors, colored pencils, etc.) impact the final product. These are topics that are often completely absent from other books. Kudos to Okum for covering these important areas.

But then we get into the standard part of these books, where a series of stereotypical characters are provided for us to work with. And they're just not drawn well. Body alignment feels awkward. Faces look abnormal. I'm not just saying "manga abnormal." I'm saying "abnormal even for a manga character."

One child looks as if his head is about to twist off of his neck.

So for me this falls into the category of "borrow from the library." Enjoy the parts that help you get set up. But for the actual artwork, there are many other books out there which provide far better examples that you should work with.

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