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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (DVD)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (DVD)
DVD ~ Chris Evans
Price: $16.99
19 used & new from $12.85

4.0 out of 5 stars A Captain America for the modern times., October 28, 2014
What's life like when you've been frozen for a few decades, then revived to become a champion of the modern era? Complicated. Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) moonlights as Captain America, except it's really who he is all the time: a popular figure head, bouncing back and forth at the orders of his immediate commander Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). But when he finds himself on a questionable mission, immediately followed by an attack on a key S.H.I.E.L.D. figure, Rodgers must face the ultimate question: has he actually been used as a weapon against freedom?

THE WINTER SOLDIER is a far superior film to its predecessor, which was glamorous and entertaining, but ultimately rather shallow. SOLDIER has some bite; there are genuine repercussions here that will affect Marvel films to come. There's also quite a bit of violence: the slick, stylized action sequences meant to dazzle (and they do), but also a few quick scenes that are actually rather disturbing. There's a moral ambiguity that pervades the film, as the good guys and the bad guys seem to change from scene to scene. It's not truly groundbreaking (come on: at the end of the day, the Cap will come through for us), but it's got some grit that many superhero films seem to lack.

What truly helps elevate this film is the cast: Evans is charismatic, sort of a humble Robert Downey Jr. He and Scarlett Johansson have great chemistry; it's also nice to see Johansson being more than just eye candy, which she was when Black Widow made her debut in IRON MAN 2. Jackson does his thing (it seems to get better with each Marvel film, as he has more to do), and Redford injects a nice bit of humor into his role, especially near the end. Anthonie Mackie is a welcome side-kick, and Sebastian Stan's stunt double is a great, nearly-unstoppable force as the titular villain. Packed in are a couple of recurring roles that I won't spoil, plus a post-credits scene that would be absolutely perfect if not for certain copyright issues.

The gist: THE WINTER SOLDIER is a CAPTAIN AMERICA film for the real world. He's not just Uncle Sam's bosom buddy; he's a regular Joe forced to realize that his government may not have his best interests at heart. That said, the good guys ultimately win, which is what we want in a Marvel film: enough bite to put us on edge, but an ending that is at least happy enough to make us think that tomorrow might be better. But then again, that post credits scene...maybe not so happy after all.

X-Men: Days of Future Past [Blu-ray]
X-Men: Days of Future Past [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Hugh Jackman
Price: $17.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars: The X-Men film we've been waiting for., October 27, 2014
In the not-so distant future, war has broken out. Mutants have been hunted to the verge of extinction, along with their human sympathizers. Leading the slaughter: the heinous Sentinels, automated warriors that are nearly indestructible and utterly relentless. In a last ditch effort to save their species, a group of mutant holdouts--led by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen)--band together to send Wolverine's (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back into his 1970s body. His time-trippy task: to unite past Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) in an effort to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from starting the entire destructive war in motion.

Well, things get a bit messed up, as they are wont to do, and that's where X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST hits its true stride. It's an X-MEN film that genuinely makes you think things aren't entirely safe. Largely this is due to the performances, especially Fassbender's, who takes his performance up a step from the last film (and that's saying something). Also, of course, Jackman, the improbable superhero. The rest of the cast is filled out by familiar faces playing the parts we love them in. And also Peter Dinklage, because GAME OF THRONES is awesome. The plot is a bit complex; and like most time-travel scenarios, it's so full of holes, you just have to shut your mind off to them. (I will say this: FUTURE PAST handles the time-travel conundrums much better than many other films.)

Personally, this is the X-MEN film I've been waiting for, as I actually felt FIRST CLASS didn't live up to all of its promise (though I enjoyed it immensely, except for Kevin Bacon's hairpiece). By going back to the original film's director (Bryan Singer), the franchise has actually breathed some fresh life and exuberance into these characters. It's nice to see the gang all back together (especially some sweet cameos), but it's even better knowing that the future (hehe) is in good hands.

Man V. Nature: Stories
Man V. Nature: Stories
by Diane Cook
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.25
59 used & new from $11.46

5.0 out of 5 stars Modern day fables that bridge the gap between reality and fantasy, October 18, 2014
This review is from: Man V. Nature: Stories (Hardcover)
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After a disaster of Biblical proportions, a man who managed to think ahead must fend off those who did not. Business executives flee a monstrous creature that pursues them through their building. Three men find themselves stranded in a life raft in the middle of a lake, with the rift between them growing. A woman must deal with a mysterious man who keeps trying to steal her children.

Diane Cook's MAN V. NATURE is a masterful collection of stories that often take on the air of fables. An undercurrent of the fantastic runs through most of these tales, though this is by no means a genre collection. It is, instead, a very solid collection of fiction that tackles the human nature by removing itself a step or two from reality, without ever quite bridging the gap to surreal or science fiction. (Many of these stories reminded me of Margaret Atwood, if that helps.) This is definitely a collection you'll be thinking about once you put it down, and entire collections like that are hard to come by.

Hall of Small Mammals: Stories
Hall of Small Mammals: Stories
by Thomas Pierce
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.47

5.0 out of 5 stars A superb, cohesive collection of touching and unsettling characters, October 14, 2014
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In this funny, unsettling collection of short fiction, Thomas Pierce merges heart with a sense of unease, painting realistically flawed characters in sometimes unrealistic situations (that come off feeling very real). A woman has an intense marriage--entirely in her head, which prompts her boyfriend to track down anyone who may have spawned the fantasy relationship. A man struggles with the knowledge that his brother's body has become a new Typhoid Mary. A woman must care for her son's cloned baby mammoth.

HALL OF SMALL MAMMALS isn't a perfect collection; the titular is perhaps the weakest of the lot, a story similar to many we've seen before (despite the fact that the narrator comes off as very interesting). But by and large, this is a very engaging collection that plays with emotions and expectations, merging quasi-fantastical elements with harsh reality with elegant prose that never comes off as pretentious, as stories of this nature have a tendency to do. This is definitely one of the more solid collections I've read in a long time. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys quality literature that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Dark Skies (Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet)
Dark Skies (Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet)
DVD ~ Keri Russell
Price: $8.99
54 used & new from $3.53

3.0 out of 5 stars Creepy and unnerving, but ultimately undermines itself., October 9, 2014
The Baretts are a normal suburban family. They've got their issues, mainly financial, but there's nothing unusual about them. Until strange things begin happening around the house. Like a mess in the kitchen in the middle of the night. The alarm going off for no reason. The flocks of birds smashing into the window. And that's just the beginning. Before long, Lacy and Daniel begin to suspect that their home is being visited by beings from another world...who want to take their son with them.

There's a lot of promise in DARK SKIES, which is why I deemed it worthy of reviewing. (I normally don't review something if it's complete crud; I mean, why waste the words?) The acting, for one, is solid all across the board, especially Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton as the parents struggling to understand what's going on. Kudos also to the two child leads, Dakota Goyo and Kadan Rockett, and especially J.K. Simmons as an abduction expert (it's actually a very nuanced performance, considering he only has one scene). There is also quite a lot of disturbing imagery, and a sense of claustrophobia that pervades the entire piece. The premise writer/director Scott Stewart brought to the table was simple: what does a normal family go through when they face a growing tragedy they can't understand?

That's the premise. The execution...that's where things start to fall apart. The first half of the film is pretty darn good; things slowly build and build. Until the final act, where it just kind of becomes the creature feature you were afraid it would be. I'm not sure how you do an alien abduction film without showing the aliens, but that would've been great; alien abduction as a metaphor for familial struggles is a nice idea, and that's where Stewart seems to be going. The final act doesn't completely undo everything, but it makes you wonder what could've been, if instead of going for the jump scares and special effects, the filmmakers had decided to keep things unsettling and ambiguous. But that probably wouldn't have sold well, huh? Oh well. DARK SKIES has a lot of promise, enough to make it worth checking out.

A Million Ways to Die in the West (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
A Million Ways to Die in the West (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
DVD ~ Seth MacFarlane
Price: $22.96
13 used & new from $14.13

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I'm gonna close the Bible now.", October 8, 2014
Seth MacFarlane is Albert, a cowardly sheep farmer ("I'm the guy in the crowd making fun of the hero's shirt") living on the frontier. He's grown to hate his life; after all, there's a million ways to die out there. The only good thing he has going is Louise, until she gets fed up with his cowardice and starts shacking up with a wealthier, more-mustachioed gentleman. With nothing left to hold him in Ol' Stump, Albert's about to head to San Francisco...until he meets the beautiful, quick-witted Anna, who promises to help him make Louise jealous and get her back. Except Anna has a little secret: she's married to the deadliest gunfighter in the territory, and he's on his way to town.

I can see how A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST isn't for everyone; it's a bit over the top in spots, much like MacFarlane's FAMILY GUY and AMERICAN DAD have been in recent seasons. (Fortunately, however, these moments are brief.) And the film drags in spots, surprisingly. It's so funny when it's on, that during the more serious moments, time seems to drag.

Still, MILLION WAYS is absolutely worth your time if you're at all a fan of MacFarlane's, or if you love hard-R comedies that actually have some intelligence behind them. The film is not only hilarious; it looks and feels like a western, much the same way BLAZING SADDLES did. I'm not really comparing the two films; MacFarlane and company didn't set out to make another masterpiece, they just wanted to have a little fun. And they did. Solid acting from all involved, quick-witted jokes and some nice slapstick, and beautiful cinematography help carry the film. In case you're wondering: MacFarlane's wit helps carry him; he probably couldn't do someone else's comedy, but he's the master of his own. And he's surrounded himself with a cast (Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris, Amanda Seyfried, Charlize Theron, Sarah Silverman, and Giovanni Ribisi prime among them) that's on the same page he is. (Also look for the cameos. And for some, you'll definitely have to look.) Is this a new classic? Nope. But it's a movie you'll want to watch every now and then for a few solid yucks.

Resolution (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack)
Resolution (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack)
DVD ~ Resolution
Price: $14.99
43 used & new from $6.46

3.0 out of 5 stars Heavily flawed, but worth a viewing or two, September 28, 2014
Michael (Peter Cilella) heads out to a reservation to save his friend Chris (Vinny Curran) get clean. When Chris refuses to go to rehab, Michael handcuffs his friend to the wall. However, while examining the property, Michael discovers some old photos and film. It feels like someone is playing a game with them. Could it be the reservation security personnel, who had no idea Chris was squatting? Could it be the junkies, whom Chris owes money? Or could it be something else, something a little more supernatural?

RESOLUTION has its flaws. It never truly makes much sense, which is perhaps the most unforgivable Indie horror sin. The plot feels stretched out; this is a 90 minute film that could've been 75 or so, easily. However, despite these (admittedly critical) faults, RESOLUTION has an absolutely fantastic atmosphere; things never feel very safe, as though at any second the whole world could be knocked out of whack. And the lead actors have outstanding chemistry; their friendship keeps the film going, even when things (maybe?) begin spiraling out of hand. I can't recommend RESOLUTION to everyone, because it certainly doesn't appeal to mass audiences. But for those who like horror films that stick around a while, that go for more atmospheric scares as opposed to jump scares, then this one is at least worth a shot.

Single Mothers
Single Mothers
Price: $9.49

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I'm not drowning, I'm just seeing how long I can stay down.", September 15, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Single Mothers (MP3 Music)
Justin Towne's Earle's father, Steve Earle, made a career out of writing about hard-luck hillbillies, men who've come to a crossroads in their lives, politically and economically. Earle (Jr.) has followed a similar career path, except he tackles the emotional roadblocks faced by the pre-millennial generation.

All of his albums tend to focus around this theme; HARLEM RIVER BLUES remains his best (I'd rank it as one of the best overall albums of the past 20 years, but that's my opinion), but SINGLE MOTHERS is a welcome entry into his cannon. Per usual, Earle sings about the different spectrums of commitment, this time set against bluesy/rock melodies. All of the songs are strong, though some have a few weak points shining through ("Worried About the Weather," for example, revolves around a rather weak pun). Still, this is an album to listen to while you sit back, sip some cheap wine (or maybe an imported beer), and smoke a couple cigarettes. In other words: it's exactly what you expect from Justin Townes Earle. Solid songcraft, relatable and poetic lyrics, and a pervasive atmosphere that ultimately comes across as optimistic, no matter how sad it tries to seem.

Beautiful You: A Novel
Beautiful You: A Novel
by Chuck Palahniuk
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.41
79 used & new from $11.95

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "A billion husbands are about to be replaced!", September 14, 2014
This review is from: Beautiful You: A Novel (Hardcover)
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Penny Harrigan is a nobody. She's not attractive; she's not ugly. She's not an intern at her law firm who's failed the Bar Exam twice, but she keeps finding herself retrieving coffee and chairs. One day, on a gopher task, she bumps into C. Linus Maxwell. You know him; he's only the richest, most popular man on the planet, with a long string of beautiful and satisfied starlets in his wake. Unexpectedly, Maxwell asks Penny out for dinner. Suddenly, Penny finds herself a tabloid sensation. But it's not quite a romance. She's actually a test subject for a new line of sex toys, devices so...uh, potent that they could possibly lead to Maxwell single-handedly controlling the most powerful economy and government in the world. Which, coincidentally, might just be his master plan.

I'm hit and miss on Palahniuk; I know people who swear up and down by him. Personally, I think he tends to get overrated; he's written one brilliant book (HAUNTED) and another pretty good book that spawned a far-better movie (FIGHT CLUB). His others, you can take or leave. BEAUTIFUL YOU is a stronger effort. It's quick, it's entertaining. It's gross and perverted and a straight jab to the underbelly of modern American society. It's meant to be something of a mockery of the 50 SHADES OF GREY phenomenon (dear God, casual readers, your taste is awful), but at times actually seems to sink down to that level. That's what has always bugged me about Palahniuk's work; often times, he becomes (if only momentarily) the thing he's trying to mock.

That said, BEAUTIFUL YOU is certainly a must for Palahniuk fans. If you haven't read him before, steer clear; I mean, by this late date, if you're at all into this kind of thing, you've at least perused a copy of FIGHT CLUB. Or maybe not, and you're just now broadening your tastes; in which case, I'd say start with HAUNTED, check out FIGHT CLUB 'cause you pretty much have to, and then give BEAUTIFUL YOU a shot. Is it great? No. But it's (mostly) smart, very entertaining, and in no small way disturbing.

Fallen Land: A Novel
Fallen Land: A Novel
by Patrick Flanery
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.17
118 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars In this beautifully wrought novel that spans generations, September 12, 2014
This review is from: Fallen Land: A Novel (Hardcover)
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In this beautifully wrought novel that spans generations, Patrick Flanery takes us inside the lives of Nathanial and Julia Noailles, a family moving from Boston, seeking a new future for themselves and their young son. They settle in an abandoned subdivision, done in by its troubled creator/designer, Paul Krovik. But the story of the land goes back even further, to the early twentieth century, and the gruesome crimes that occurred there.

In FALLEN LAND, Flanery's prose saves the day. He is a careful, meticulous writer, creating gothic overtones in this novel rooted firmly in America's heartland. It's slow, at times; almost abysmally slow, in fact, so much so that at moments I thought about giving up. But I held on, and I'm glad I did, because of Flanery's way with characterization. I'm not a big fan of novels with this much scope; I feel they have a tendency to focus on the bigger picture. Flanery keeps things intimate, almost claustrophobic, because his real character is the landscape, and the stories that spring forth from it. FALLEN LAND is definitely worth your time. It may take a bit of effort, but it's worth it.

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