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March The Wretch: The Flying Zombies Trilogy Book 2
March The Wretch: The Flying Zombies Trilogy Book 2
Price: $3.22

5.0 out of 5 stars The Brazenly Bizarre Apocalypse Has Resumed, April 24, 2016
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For those of you who haven’t read March the Damned (The Flying Zombies Trilogy Book 1) (Volume 1), Jeremiah Israel’s original delightfully gonzo, avant garde entry in the zombie genre, I recommend you drop everything and do so now.

For those of you who have, “March the Wretch” picks up exactly where “March the Damned” left off. Hollywood director Dennis March has just trekked across a zombie infested California and postponed the apocalypse through literally making a deal with the devil. He then turned the experience into his magnum opus, and now that production’s complete, he’s about to start the press tour for the controversial film. Critics say he’s exploiting the zombie outbreak, and March doesn’t have any ambitions nobler than promoting his movie. But soon he’s sucked deep into conspiracy, while the metamorphosis he began in the previous book and his symbiotic connection with the alien entity he calls “Sis” make him something more and more inhuman.

All in all, “Wretch” is a stronger novel than “Damned”, largely because it’s further divorced from a typical zombie story. While there are sequences of the novel that focus on zombie outbreaks in major cities around the world, the main plot is more about the conspiracy theory topics touched on in the final act of the previous novel, with most of the main action following the shadowy rituals performed in the dark corridors of the ornate manors of sinister cabals and deranged experiments performed in the test chambers of the hidden laboratories of government scientists. Being less bound by the tropes of the typical zombie story allow Jeremiah Israel’s unique voice as an author to come through more loudly. While this book follows many of the same characters and themes as the previous entry, it’s less of a zombie story than a matinee creature feature, and uniquely one that uses the heroes of its prequel as the things that go bump in the night, as the survivors of the Cali Plague face not just metaphorical demons but literal monsters living inside of them.

“March the Wretch” is everything in “March the Damned” cranked up to the nth degree. The characters are even more morally ambiguous. March wasn’t exactly heroic in the first book, and new insights into his backstory, as well as the path he goes down in this novel, continue to blur the line between anti-hero and all-out villain. The previous book’s darker-than-black-coffee humor is still present, and even darker here. Most of the humor comes through the character of Dr. Zinski, a colleague of the previous novel’s mad scientist character Perry Prost. The best new addition to the cast, Zinski not only provides comic relief but is also an unpredictable character who will keep readers guessing where his loyalties lie and what he’ll do next.

The previous book’s running commentary on modern pop culture, particularly horror films and hip-hop music, is continued here. There’s also an underlying theme of the fear of sexuality, both as in the fear of sex in general, as demonstrated in an early scene where a sexual encounter involving several partners takes a horrifyingly violent turn, and the fear of one’s own sexuality, as demonstrated in one of the book’s most darkly hilarious moments, where a research subject is tricked into being aroused.

This is by far one of the most explicit, disturbing, and offensive books I’ve ever read. To say it’s “not for the faint of heart” is to put it lightly. “March the Wretch” will bother and offend everyone who reads it. But those who can stomach it will find every page not only wildly entertaining but also incredibly thought-provoking.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Ultimate Edition Blu-ray + Theatrical Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Combo Pack)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Ultimate Edition Blu-ray + Theatrical Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Combo Pack)
DVD ~ Ben Affleck
Price: $24.99

7 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Worst Batman Movie Since "Batman & Robin"; The Worst Superman Movie Since "Superman Returns", March 26, 2016
Just how bad is "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice?" "Batman & Robin" was a better Batman movie. "Superman Returns" was a better Superman movie. "Daredevil" was a better super hero movie starring Ben Affleck. "Waterworld" was a better movie featuring Kevin Costner.

Those movies were all misguided messes, but at least I found them entertaining the first time I watched them, which is more than I can say for the joyless two and a half hour drag that is BvS.

Can Ben Affleck pull off Batman? That's been one of the big questions on everyone's mind since he was cast. He can and he does. While I wouldn't call him the best actor to ever dawn the cowl, he's suitably intense and brooding. If the movie was cut down to just Affleck's scenes, it still wouldn't be good, but it would at least be watchable. As for another questionable casting choice that pays off, Jeremy Irons' performance as Batman's faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth is pitch-perfect. Despite normally being associated with villainous roles, Irons' Alfred is the film's biggest bright spot. But this is far from the only terrible movie Jeremy Irons has been the only bright spot in.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor. Great actors like Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey have chewed their way through the scenery in the role before, but Jesse Eisenberg takes it to a whole new level of over the top. From adopting a Southern accent to quote "A Streetcar Named Desire," to sharing a Jolly Rancher with a hapless Senator, to a mumbling Paul Revere impersonation, Eisenberg seems to be channeling the Joker rather than Superman's cerebral foe. There's such a thing as a villain that audiences are supposed to love to hate, but Lex Luthor had me wanting to walk up to the movie screen and punch it for all the wrong reasons. And the explanation for how the character goes from flowing locks to his iconic chrome dome had me scratching my own scalp.

The other performances are about what you'd expect. Henry Cavill fares just as well as Superman as he did in Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel." Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, and Jason Momoa get too little screen time to make much of an impression as the other members of the Justice League.

But the movie's flaws go much deeper than the casting. BvS seems like it's trying too hard to be the antithesis to Disney's breezy Marvel Cinematic Universe. While those movies make comic book adaptations fun and enjoyable for mainstream audiences, BvS sucks all the fun out of the room. That's not to say that the film shouldn't be dark and gritty. But even Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns," the graphic novel BvS takes most of its plot cues from, had its own warped sense of humor, and Heath Ledger's Joker and Tom Hardy's Bane had audiences laughing at, and still quoting, their darkly humorous quips throughout Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy.

The plot finds Superman suspected of war crimes after once again flying heedlessly to the rescue of damsel in distress Lois Lane. Meanwhile, mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent is appalled that the vigilante Batman in Gotham City has taken to branding the criminals he takes down, marking them for prison justice. Even for an alien that has only been on Earth for two years, it seems crazy that he would think he can curb Batman's brutal methods twenty years after the Bat Signal's been installed.

The two characters spend two hours dramatically circling each other before finally throwing down in an anticlimactic fist fight. (Batman seriously punches Superman in the chin several times before realizing the Man of Steel won't flinch.) And even with the slow crawl to the battle, it seems like key scenes had to be edited for time. With all the plot holes, it's hard to understand why Bats and Supes are finally fighting, or why we should care who wins. Or why so much time that could have been spent developing the plot was wasted on dream sequences.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 28, 2016 2:22 AM PDT

Afrin No Drip Severe Congestion Pump Mist Nasal Spray 12 Hour relief 20 mL Bottle (Pack of 2)
Afrin No Drip Severe Congestion Pump Mist Nasal Spray 12 Hour relief 20 mL Bottle (Pack of 2)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Afrin. Not Even Once., January 1, 2015
Afrin has a warning on the label that says you shouldn't use it for more than three days, or congestion "may" return even worse than before. First, there's no "may" about it. Congestion returns, and it's even harder to suffer through. Second, if you can stop using it on that final dose of that final day, then maybe you have the will power to not even need to buy Afrin in the first place.

I had a sinus infection one January. Through using Afrin while also taking antibiotics, I was able to drop the bottle after those first three days and breath somewhat normally. Then, early summer a couple years later, I spent several sleepless nights with a stuffed up nose. I bought myself a bottle. Used it for three days while being too broke and stubborn to consult a doctor for something to treat the underlying cause. When that fourth day rolled around, I decided to disregard the warning on the bottle and go for a fourth day.

I don't know what it is about the third day cut-off that has some sort of magical power to cut off side effects, so I'm inclined to believe that it's actually easy to form a chemical dependence on day one. When Afrin is used, it causes the blood vessels to the nose to constrict. Nose breathing becomes wonderful and pleasant and easy again. But when the effects wear off, those blood vessels start working again in double time. This is what's known as the "rebound effect" or "rhinitis medicamentosa." You can Google it.

Now, you might say, "Why didn't you just follow the warning label on the bottle and quit after the three days?" Because my congestion was just as bad as it had ever been on the night of the fourth day, I was about to start my first real job the next day, and I made the decision that if it was a choice between having to use the Afrin for the rest of my life and getting a good night's sleep or throwing away the bottle and pacing around the room all night gasping for breath, I was going to get the good night's sleep. It's a decision that has haunted me for the last six years.

After the first bottle ran out, I spent the next night awake, sitting up in bed and reading through a stack of comic books, hoping they'd put me to sleep. When I still couldn't bring myself to lie down, I hopped on my bike at 3 A.M. and rode all the way to a 24-hour Wal-Mart to stock up on the stuff.

Over the next six years, I went from using the bottle twice a day, to three times a day, to once every four or five hours, to every two hours, including waking up several times at night and desperately clutching for the bottle I kept on my night stand. Instead of one spray up each nostril, I was using up to six. I had a bottle on every flat surface in my room, one in every bag I carried, had a habit of sticking one in my pocket each time I left the house, a few emergency bottles stashed at friends' houses, and a huge bag of spares next to my bed. I'd just accepted that constantly sticking the bottle in my nose was going to be something I did for the rest of my life.

Then, one week, the bottle didn't help as much. I bought allergy pills, cough drops, a humidifier. My nose was so clogged I watched in horror as I stood in front of the mirror, pumping spray after spray into my nostrils and just watching the "no drip" Afrin run right back out. My sinuses were so swollen that I couldn't even force my nose to sniff.

After finally spending the whole night awake, accepting mouth breathing as a viable option, I went to see a doctor, mentioning the Afrin. She told me I'd been abusing Afrin way too hard and should throw all of it away. I was already ahead of her. I'd emptied all my bottles into the trash after spending the whole night reading about stories of Afrin addiction online.

I'm now on day two of Afrin withdrawal. I feel like I have something crammed into each nostril that's bigger than my entire nose. I'm having to train myself to ignore my nose like it's a pesky co-worker. But I have no choice, because after six years, the Afrin wasn't even working for me anymore.

You'll have to learn to breathe through your mouth eventually. The best way to quit Afrin is never to start.

March the Damned (The Flying Zombies Trilogy Book 1) (Volume 1)
March the Damned (The Flying Zombies Trilogy Book 1) (Volume 1)
by Jeremiah Israel
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.95

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Most Brazenly Bizarre Tale of the Apocalypse You Will Ever Read, October 2, 2014
How best to describe “March the Damned”, Jeremiah Israel’s debut novel?

At the beginning of the novel, terrified Californians watch as Santa Monica beachgoers ascend into the sky, seemingly the victims of alien abduction. But it soon turns out they aren’t being beamed up into a mother ship. Nearly invisible, flying, stingray-like aliens are latching onto humans and pulling them into the skies, stealing human DNA and replacing it with alien DNA. When the alien parasites drop their hosts, they’re shambling, flesh eating corpses, fitting all the popular tropes associated with zombies.

But when an alien latches onto Hollywood director and titular anti-hero Dennis March, it’s hit by a van before it can complete the DNA swap. As a result, March goes through a slowly evolving mental and physical metamorphosis.

That’s as good as any of a metaphor for the narrative’s structure. Despite the unusual mix of two apocalyptic thriller genres, zombie outbreak and alien invasion, the novel starts with a solid foundation by mostly playing by the rules. Once spread from the alien invaders to humans, the infection continues to spread through zombies biting uninfected humans. The zombies can only be killed by destroying the brain. Headshots are critical.

All of the usual zombie character archetypes are present, including the sexy but tough-as-nails anchor lady, the trigger-happy military commando, and the inept coward who seems determined to get himself and everyone else around him killed. There’s even a deformed mad scientist.

Then the author begins to tweak the formula. The street hood that’s just as likely to murder his fellow survivors as the zombies is just 10-years old. The character named Daryl is, well, the exact opposite of what modern fans of the zombie genre have come to expect from a character named Daryl.

Things become even more twisted when March asserts himself as leader of a group of survivors. Unlike the protagonist of most zombie stories, March’s goal isn’t to cure the outbreak, or even to reunite with family members or loved ones. He sees everything as a movie director, and his goal is to use the chaos around him to film his next blockbuster. This includes manipulating the people around him into characters from his imagination to better suit his artistic vision.

Then the rug is pulled out from under the reader. As March begins to evolve into something not quite human, the novel itself transforms, spiraling from typical zombie story deeper and deeper into a conspiracy theorist fever dream. And every time you think you have your head wrapped around what type of story you’re reading,the rug is pulled out again, ramping the story up to the next level of weirdness. To give examples is to dampen the shock and spoil the fun, but nothing can prepare you for just how bizarre things get. Let's just say that occasionally airborne undead are one of the least strange things about this story.

The last few chapters would read like the scribbling of a lunatic if the whole thing wasn't so well written. Masterful exposition keeps readers caught up with the world’s twisted internal logic, even as it enters territory that usually makes sense only in nightmares. And the vivid descriptions create such gruesome imagery that the reader can’t look away from the slimy secretions, deformed monstrosities, and copious bloodshed (in red, green, and black varieties), even though that would just mean closing the book and walking away. By the time you realize the rollercoaster’s too crazy and you want to get off, it’s too late and you just have to ride it out.

The over-the-top nature allows the story to alternate between a variety of tones, from laugh out loud hilarity to cutting social satire to deeply disturbing psychological horror, sometimes within the same scene. Even those who usually scoff at the idea of Area 51 may find themselves tossing and turning at night after reading. At the same time, the novel keeps providing all the things fans of the zombie genre love, with a wide variety of gruesome kills, both of and by zombies. The attention to details gives each zombie a unique deformity and costume, making each one stand out among the hordes.

Excellent use is made of the California setting. Thematically, it fits with the book’s scathing look at the entertainment industry. Each chapter, or “Track”, takes its name, and a few plot cues, from a hit song, usually hip hop, but with some classic rock and modern pop thrown in as well. Within the story, landmarks like the Hollywood sign and Disneyland provide the backdrops for crazy action setpieces, themselves worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster.

And if this was a Hollywood blockbuster, it would have to be toned down to even get away with a hard R-rating. Gratuitous violence. Sex. Underage drinking and drug use. Nothing is off limits or too sacred for March’s sarcastic barbs, or Jeremiah Israel’s pen. Not even the opening line, a F-bomb initiated string of profanity, can prepare you for how refreshingly vulgar of a read this is.

Although it’s the first book in a planned trilogy, “March the Damned” provides a complete story arc, merely hinting at things to come, so there’s no need to worry going in that the final chapters will leave you hanging. Still, this is a series you’ll want to get in on the ground floor of, if only to properly get acclimated to the universe’s strangeness. Even though at the climax it seems like things can’t possibly get any more bizarre, if this debut is any indication, Jeremiah Israel is just going to keep pushing the envelope.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman (Blu-ray)
Mr. Peabody & Sherman (Blu-ray)
DVD ~ Ty Burrell

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for Kids and Kids At Heart, March 20, 2014
In the trailer for "Mr. Peabody & Sherman," the hyper-intelligent dog learns that his adoptive human son and a classmate have hijacked his time machine. "You used the WABAC?" Mr. Peabody says. "Yeah. She was into it," Sherman says. Whoever edited this is a genius, creating a new joke by removing a few lines of dialogue from the final version of the actual scene (Sherman's friend was innocently "into" meeting George Washington) that had kids giggling at the characters' goofy expressions and adults laughing for a completely different reason. In the actual movie, sly double entendres like this aren't common, but there's still one type of humor aimed at kids and another aimed at the kids at heart in the audience.

"Mr. Peabody & Sherman" is a full-length extension of the "Peabody's Improbable History" shorts co-created by Jay Ward to pad out Rocky & Bullwinkle episodes. The last couple of decades have seen a slew of other movies based on Jay Ward's creations. They were all occasionally funny but ultimately failures. So what makes "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" such an unmitigated success? First of all, it's completely CGI, allowing it to stay true to its cartoon roots while giving it a more modern feel at the same time. Secondly, it broadens the humor of the original rather than just trying to imitate it, and it injects some real heart into the story.

Mr. Peabody is an almost flawless character. Not only is he a genius scientist, inventor, and action hero, but he's an exceptional host. (If you ever nab Mr. Peabody for one of your cocktail parties, be sure to have him mix up his specialty drink, the "Einstein on the Beach".) His skills are practically limitless. But when Peabody discovers Sherman as an abandoned baby and legally adopts him, he finds out it's his parenting skills that still need work. He creates the time-travelling WABAC machine as a teaching aid for Sherman.

On his first day of public school, Sherman is naturally eager to show off his first-hand knowledge of history. This makes him very popular with some of his classmates, and earns him the ire of others, particularly queen bee Penny Peterson. Soon a fight breaks out, bringing the dog's rights to legally raise a human child into question. (There are obvious socio-political metaphors that can be read into this, and with good reason, but I'd advise you to check your personal agendas at the door and not go digging too deeply into a kid's movie, so you don't miss something wonderful going on at the surface.)

In an attempt to smooth things over, Peabody invites the Petersons to his penthouse for a dinner party. One thing leads to another, and faster than you can say "Don't show her the WABAC", Penny's ditched Sherman somewhere in history, and it's up to Peabody and Sherman to travel through time and space to fetch her.

Penny, a new character invented for the movie, adds a great new dynamic to the classic duo's time travels. She starts out comically self-centered, but it's not long before Sherman and the bully who made his first day of class agony develop their first crush on each other. Sherman's humility and compassion rub off on Penny, even as Penny's boldness and adventurousness rub off on Sherman. It makes for a satisfyingly sweet character arc for Penny, a cute coming-of-age story for Sherman, and an interesting opportunity for Peabody to come to terms with his boy reaching that age when he's more interested in spending time with girls than with his old man--er, dog.

The main relationship of the movie, though, is between the title characters. The story is littered with some surprisingly poignant father-son moments. I found myself tearing up several times. My heart's not made of stone. But director Rob Minkoff strikes a perfect balance. Whenever the movie seems to be getting too maudlin, there's another great joke just around the corner to lighten the mood.

As expected with any Bullwinkle-related project, the movie's packed with plenty of groan-worthy puns. For example, Peabody's visit to Marie Antoinette becomes an excuse to quip, "You can't have your cake and edict, too." In a nod to how much humor has changed since the late 50's, Sherman invariably responds, "I don't get it." As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, there are different types of humor at play. For kids in the audience, Sherman is quick to point out in ancient Egypt that "King Tut" rhymes with "butt" and that you can't say "booby trap" without saying "booby." For adults in the audience, there's Peabody's puns, as well as some more clever wordplay. Also, recent pop culture informs both the film's humor and its kinetic action sequences. There's an homage to Zack Snyder's 300 (2006), set during the Trojan War, that I suspect is better than anything in 300: Rise of an Empire (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Combo Pack), which was playing in the theater next door.

Ty Burrell does an appropriately brilliant job voicing Mr. Peabody, speaking with well enunciated syllables for as posh and intellectual of a cadence he can manage without slipping into a British accent, but also adding a warmth that radiates through every line. Max Charles' and Ariel Winter's naturally youthful voices keep them believable as Sherman and Penny. Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann are both great as Penny's parents. Perhaps the film's only misstep is criminally under-using them. Patrick Warburton is hilarious as usual, with the movie's version of Agamemnon playing to his strengths as a likable meathead.

"Mr. Peabody & Sherman" is an amazing family movie. Don't have a family? A couple of the friends I went to see the movie with had their kids in tow, but I probably would have enjoyed it just as much if they weren't there. Not familiar with the source material? My memories of "Peabody's Improbable History" were vague at best. This reboot makes a great new introduction to the characters. It tugs at the heartstrings and tickles the funny bone. I just hope there are still plenty of adventures to come for this dog and his boy, and their new gal pal. Or, as Mr. Peabody would say, I hope they prove quite "paw-pular."

Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine [Blu-ray]
Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Michelle Ruff
Price: $40.29
19 used & new from $40.29

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Thing to Happen to the Lupin the Third Franchise Since "The Castle of Cagliostro", January 16, 2014
Generally speaking, I'm not a big anime buff. Out of the handful that have won me over, Lupin the Third has wormed its way deepest into my heart. So I'm surprised that it still hasn't entered the mainstream in the United States, despite enjoying a popularity in Japan for nearly five decades that rivals that of James Bond elsewhere.

Lupin's most well-known adventures internationally are probably Lupin the III: The Castle of Cagliostro (Special Edition), an action-packed but largely G-rated romp from Hayao Miyazaki, and the 1977 - 1980 anime series, a zany Saturday morning type of cartoon known by most fans as the "red jacket series." There's nothing Saturday morning or G-rated about the character's latest series, but it's arguably the best thing to happen to the franchise since Miyazaki's 1979 entry.

This is a darker, edgier reboot in the current trend, taking a more adult, character-focused approach to the series. It reimagines the first meeting of master thief Lupin III, allegedly the grandson of Maurice Lablanc's Arsene Lupin, sharp-shooter Daisuke Jigen, and swordsman Goemon Ishikawa XIII, through a different point of view; this time, the focal character is femme fatale Fujiko Mine, a popular character who, in most recent specials, has been shrunken to a supporting role. Here, she's presented as the series' lead. Sayo Yamamoto is the first female director to helm a Lupin series. It seems all the franchise needed was a woman's touch.

This one definitely isn't for the kids. The opening titles alone are almost filled with enough nudity to make series creator Monkey Punch blush. Fujiko isn't shy about going unclothed, particularly throughout the first couple of episodes. That said, I'd hesitate to call it "fan service", as the term brings to mind usually-innocent characters going to a beach to model skimpy swimsuits or other such improbable situations. Fujiko Mine is a classic femme fatale who uses her body as the deadliest weapons in her arsenal. Her nudity services the character, not just the fans.

The Woman Called Fujiko Mine manages to strip each of the five classic leads down to just the qualities that make them cool. Lupin, boasting the green jacket from his first anime and Cagliostro, is still a goofball with a flair for the dramatic, but the new series paints him more realistically, making him more eccentric than plain cartoonish. Jigen is as cool as ever, with a new backstory that explains his attachment to his iconic weapon. Goemon is a surprise stand-out. While stories throughout the franchise that have centered on the character have traditionally been among the weakest, this version keeps the elements that work for the character and jettison the ones that never quite have. For the first time, this Lupin anime had me wanting to see more Goemon.

Fujiko Mine in the original manga wasn't a consistent character so much as a name applied to most of the women Lupin and his gang encountered. Here, she's the main character, something proven when Lupin himself sits three of the thirteen episodes out. Different episodes focus on different sides of Fujiko, competing with the others for loot or simply observing their adventures.

The most interesting character reboot might be Lupin's nemesis, Inspector Zenigata. Often portrayed as a bumbling cop, this version of Zenigata is more hard-boiled, willing to stop at nothing to catch Lupin. He has a tryst with Fujiko and doesn't seem overly concerned with bringing Lupin in alive. He's also given an androgynous subordinate named Oscar, who goes from merely being Zenigata's shadow to becoming a major player in the series' events, with an agenda of his own. Not every episode is concerned with shoe-horning all the major players into the plot, so each has a chance to shine.

While darker and edgier, there's still plenty of Lupin's trademark humor. Even when Zenigata is trying to draw blood, his cat-and-mouse game with Lupin feels as much like a Bugs Bunny cartoon as it ever has, and Lupin's love of pranks is still very much in play.

The unique art style really makes this series stand out. While the pencil work and cross-hatching are reminiscent of Monkey Punch's original manga, to say the art style is pulled directly from the source is to sell character designer Takeshi Koike short. The art style's unlike anything I've seen in any anime or Western animation, and, for the most part, the animation itself is smooth, making even some of the wackier movements look fluid and natural. The score is also worth mentioning, with Naruyoshi Kikuchi's electric jazz suffering only in comparison to Yuji Ohno's long established themes.

Interestingly, while the episodes are divided almost evenly between the two included DVD's, the Blu-Ray separates the episodes at the point when the series moves from mostly stand-alone capers with overarching motifs in the background to a central plot which attempts to tie all the loose threads together. While these episodes are still watchable and don't go completely off the rails, the episodes on the first disc, which most closely follow the classic Lupin formula, are far more enjoyable.

Funimation's release includes both the original Japanese audio and an English dub. This is good news for those who prefer reading subtitles, as they get solid voice performances from seyiuu with varying degrees of experience with the characters; most impressively, Kiyoshi Kobayashi has been voicing Jigen for a solid forty years, since the original anime. There's good news for dub fans as well, as Funimation's cast does the series justice. Sonny Strait does a wonderful job voicing a more smart aleck-y Lupin, while Christopher R. Sabat's naturally gravelly voice is perfect for Jigen. Among Funimation's usual players, Mike McFarland's Goemon doesn't fare as well, but is still serviceable, and an improvement over his performance as the character in earlier Funimation dubs.

For several Lupin fans, myself included, the definitive English voices are the cast of the Geneon dubs of the 1977 - 1980 series, so it's a real treat that voices from those dubs round out the cast. Richard Epcar, Geneon's Jigen, voices Zenigata here, playing the character like a film noir lead, adding to his new hard-boiled feel. The most critical casting is Fujiko herself. Michelle Ruff is the only English voice I've ever fully accepted for the character, and it's a thrill to hear her reprise the role.

Special features include commentaries and interviews with the Funimation dub cast. While these are fun, and the voice actors have the chemistry you'd expect from Lupin and his gang, they also demonstrate how removed dubbing is from the complete project, with the cast members stating several times that they have yet to see the complete episodes and sharing some dubious Lupin trivia.

Overall, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is a unique and memorable series that I'd say is worth a look for anyone, anime fan or not, Lupin III fan or not.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 12, 2016 10:58 AM PST

Bioshock Infinite: Premium Edition -Xbox 360
Bioshock Infinite: Premium Edition -Xbox 360
Offered by Shoppesville
Price: $49.50
22 used & new from $18.81

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Worth the Wait, April 7, 2013
BioShock Infinite is a BioShock game through-and-through. While the totally new setting, characters, and storyline allow new players to jump in, fans of BioShock Ultimate Rapture Edition will immediately feel right at home. The game starts at a lighthouse. Right away, players can look around for currency (Silver Eagles replacing Ryan Dollars) and food, as well as clues to the situation the player character, private eye Booker DeWitt, has found himself in and the situation he's about to be launched into. Launched by rocket instead of bathysphere, and in the opposite direction from Rapture.

Once again, Irrational Games has excellently crafted a unique world. While Rapture was a piece of Art Deco, Columbia is a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. In the same way that Bioshock held a magnifying glass to Ayn Rand's Objectivism, Infinite looks at jingoism and religious extremism, but this shouldn't alienate anyone. It's made clear early on the United States has disowned Columbia for its extremism, and the religion practiced by Columbia's citizens is satirical but decently removed from anything practiced in the real world.

The game allows players to explore and try out a couple new Vigors (the new version of Plasmids) and weapons in a friendly carnival setting before things turn dark and enemies start to attack. Combat is similar to previous games but tweaked. The new melee weapon, the Sky-Hook, is an improvement over the wrench or the drill, allowing the player to execute an enemy low on health by breaking their neck or decapitating them, and can also be used to navigate Sky-Lines, adding a vertical element to the game's environment, allowing the player to quickly escape from danger, and opening up some new combat possibilities. The new vigors are a blast to use, some resembling traditional plasmids with new twists. For example, the Possession vigor replaces both the Hypnotize plasmid and the hacking mini-games from earlier games. Different vigors consume different units of salt (the new EVE), meaning more powerful vigors like Possession allow fewer uses than more practical vigors like Shock Jockey (the new stand-in for the old stand-by Electro-Bolt) before Booker must go in search of more salts. Also, there are no longer hypos that can be carried around and used at will to increase health or salts. Items must be found and consumed or purchased as needed, and players need to be careful about what they eat or drink, since trade-offs between health and salts are common.

There is no equivalent to the Big Daddies and Little Sisters of the original BioShock. Instead of Big Daddies, Infinite offers a wider variety of enemy types. Instead of ADAM, Silver Eagles are the only currency in Columbia, meaning the player must budget to be able to afford health, ammo, and salts, as well as upgrades to the different weapon types and to the vigors. Wearable gear replaces tonics and is able to be swapped from an options menu rather than at selected Gene Banks. Instead of a choice between harvesting or rescuing Little Sisters, the game presents a few more nuanced decisions, and the Xbox360 version makes good use of the left and right triggers during these sequences, so you don't need to worry about accidentally hitting the wrong button to make your choice, like I once did in BioShock 2.

Since Columbia is still a thriving community when you arrive, it doesn't have the same feeling of every little area yielding its secrets the way Rapture did. But the world is still interesting enough to make exploring worthwhile, even though creepy moments are fewer and farther in between than previously. Characters learned about through Audio Logs may not be as memorable as those in previous games, but the characters actually encountered are all excellent. Oliver Vaquer and Jennifer Hale do a great job as the comic relief characters, bizarre enough to be hilarious and somehow creepy at the same time. Troy Baker gives a real hard-boiled feel to Booker, a man of few words who is only chatty compared to the two previous games' silent protagonists. Kimberly Brooks' resistance leader, Daisy Fitzroy, contrasts the ultra-nationalists of the game and does a good job of showing extremists on the other side of the social spectrum aren't necessarily a lesser evil.

But the most fascinating character is Booker's companion, Elizabeth (Courtnee Draper). Her expressions are incredible, and while she'll appeal to the same protective instinct those who chose to rescue the Little Sisters experienced, she never needs to be escorted. She stays in cover during combat, tosses helpful power-ups occasionally during fights, currency during quieter moments, and is able to bring items from other dimensions to add another tactical element to battles. Those who couldn't get into previous games because of their claustrophobic nature will find the battles in Infinite hard to resists, facing large hordes of foes in open arenas. Losing a fight still has the same slap-on-the-wrist consequences, sapping away some hard earned cash and not restoring full health and salts, but respawning you in a safe spot never too far from the action, though enemies now receive health boosts themselves.

Music is another great element. Not only does Garry Schyman deliver another great score that creates a similar feel to the previous two games, but the selection of licensed music is as good as ever. Thanks to the inter-dimensional component of the game, the soundtrack consists not only of period music, but ragtime and blues covers of some of the greatest hits of the 80's.

While the ending of the game isn't as universally reviled as that of Mass Effect 3, it's not spoiling anything to say I preferred the original BioShock's ending. Also, there is only one outcome. Decisions made earlier in the game have immediate consequences in the storyline rather than resulting in alternate endings. That said, the journey is well-worth the destination.

Tomb Raider Survival/Collector's Edition -Xbox 360
Tomb Raider Survival/Collector's Edition -Xbox 360
Offered by Golden Findings
Price: $99.88
6 used & new from $99.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Reboot Successful, March 19, 2013
"Dark and gritty reboot" is a hot buzz term right now. When it works, you end up with something like Daniel Craig as James Bond or Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins / The Dark Knight / The Dark Knight Rises) [Blu-ray]. When it doesn't, you get lackluster remakes of better classics. The new "Tomb Raider" is the video game equivalent of one of the former. This applies to more than just character and story. In the same way you think James Bond will never quip again at the start of Casino Royale or it takes Bruce Wayne an hour to dawn the batsuit in Batman Begins, this reboot is almost unrecognizable as a Tomb Raider game at first, but eventually turns out to be exactly what the franchise needed to feel contemporary and relevant.

Reintroduced as human rather than iconic, clad in a practical pair of cargo pants instead of short shorts, Lara is a meek research assistant for a conceited reality TV archeologist. Part of a crew including her mentor Captain Roth and her best friend Samantha, Lara barely gets up the nerve to offer her opinion on how to find a mythical island. Her advice leaves her team shipwrecked on the island they were searching for.

Tomb Raider games have usually consisted mainly of elaborate jumping puzzles and platforming sequences. While Lara's still able to jump and climb better than most to traverse the island, with platforming becoming more prevalent in the later stages of the game, gameplay places more emphasis on exploration and combat. While many will find parallels with the Uncharted: Drake's Fortune games, which owe much of their inspiration to the Tomb Raider series, I found a lot in common with the Batman Arkham games. While not truly open world, with transitions between areas being accessed and blocked off through cut scenes, the island consists of several large hub areas, connected by fast travel camps that allow Lara to teleport from one campfire to another. While the plot itself is pretty linear, there are several side missions available in each area, including collecting relics (which Lara can examine L.A. Noire style) and GPS caches, hunting game for XP, and exploring various tombs. Some areas are blocked off while Lara collects and upgrades gear.

Lara's methods are far more lethal than Batman's. While the game has been advertised as turning Lara into a survivor, keeping her sheltered from the elements and hunting to keep from starving only play a role in the earliest missions. Soon, it turns from Lara surviving the elements to a more combat based type of survival. An army formed from other shipwreck victims controls the island. Lara starts with a torch and a bow and arrow, but can eventually collect and upgrade other weapons. Her arsenal's small but effective: one pistol, one shotgun, and one machine gun. While I never found much motivation to switch from the default weapon in previous games in the series, each of these has its advantages at different ranges, though the bow remains Lara's most reliable weapon, allowing Lara to pick off enemies with headshots, silently and from a distance. Lara also has access to a climbing axe, allowing her to pull off close-range stealth kills and melee attacks.

The most engaging part of this reboot is Lara Croft's character arc, taking Lara from trembling in terror and crying at each kill to the point she is hyper-confident and enemies are terrified of her. Reading about the transition from shipwreck victim to tomb raider is one thing. Experiencing it is another. This is partially thanks to a great voice acting/motion capture performance from Camilla Luddington (if you don't like her voice for Lara at first, wait until you hear her analysis of a tomb or an artifact), and partially to the gameplay itself. As more XP and salvage (in-game currency) is collected and Lara's skills and equipment are upgraded, the player feels more confident navigating the environment and battling heavily-armed foes. And, while some of Lara's deaths can be pretty brutal, she gains the ability to pull off several satisfyingly brutal finishing moves herself. Supporting characters are also well done, with back stories and motivations explored through both cut scenes and documents scattered throughout the island, rather than caricatures or plot devices as in previous games.

The highlights of the game, for me, were the optional side quests in which Lara gets to actually do some tomb raiding. The player makes their way to the center of a tomb, solves a puzzle, collects the treasure, and gets out. These are the moments that feel the most like classic Tomb Raider games.

With heavier emphasis placed on combat than platforming, the multiplayer component seems more appropriate now. Players chose an avatar for each faction, Lara's friends and the island's crueler inhabitants, and alternate sides between rounds of shooting. Refreshingly, players can do almost anything they can in single player in multiplayer, include climbing and jumping across the maps, detonating explosives, avoiding traps, and making stealth kills with the climbing axe. While not as good as many other multiplayer modes out there, it's a decent chunk of extra content.

With excellent graphics and some great set pieces that feel lifted right out of a modern action movie, complete with explosions and flying debris, this reboot is a totally new Tomb Raider with a great new direction for the series. I can't recommend it enough. Long time Lara Croft fans will find new things to love about the character, and newcomers have a perfect jumping-on point here.

The collector's edition comes with a lot of great extra content. There's some cool DLC that makes weapons from the latest Hitman game available during multiplayer, as well as 10 tracks of Jason Graves' great score for the game, a double-sided Lara Croft poster/island map, and a neat little lithograph, all in a cool "survival tin." But the highlight is the Lara Croft figure. Nearly a foot tall, several posable joints, and accessories including weapons, interchangeable hands, and iron-on badges, this collectable is like the great action figures of yesteryear.

No Title Available

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It Ain't Shakespeare, Pal, February 17, 2013
Bruce Willis cracks wise. Cars crash. Bullets fly. Things explode spectacularly. If this is what you're expecting from "A Good Day to Die Hard", you won't be disappointed.

It should go without saying that the Die Hard movies aren't exactly Shakespeare. While the first in the series revolutionized the action genre, the title has become a brand name that fans trust, and audiences have a fair idea what to expect with each new entry. Most Bruce Willis movies are carried by the star's charisma and likability, and unlucky NYPD detective John McClane is his quintessential role. While the first two movies were based on separate novels, the third was a finished script tweaked to include the McClane character, and the fourth was a dramatization of an article on cyberterrorism, Skip Woods' script may be the first written intentionally around the hero of the franchise. Not only does it have some nice nods to the previous films, but it hits all the major bullet points of the formula. As always, McClane finds himself in the most dangerous situations when he's off duty ("I'm supposed to be on vacation!" he growls several times when he's held at gunpoint). He gets out of desperate situations by improvising dangerous feats that would make James Bond think twice. Only to begin chastising himself, out loud for the audience's benefit, after he's already taken the plunge and realized what a stupid idea it was.

Unfortunately, the movie lacks a strong villain for McClane to play cat and mouse with. Previous movies had Alan Rickman, Jeremy Irons, and Timothy Olyphant chewing the scenery in that capacity. This time, evil is mainly personified by the forgettable Radivoje Bukvic, but, like William Sadler in Die Hard 2: Die Harder, he's not as important as the series of plot twists and turns slowly revealing a greater evil at play. Only brief moments of exposition break up the set pieces here, starting with a lengthy car chase, one of the best I've seen in a long time, during which everything you'd want to have happen in a chase scene does. The action moves from the Moscow highway to Chernobyl, packed with exciting pyrotechnics and stunts that look like they'd be fun in real life if it weren't for the fact that they'd maim anyone who hadn't already thwarted major terrorist plots four times before.

This time, McClane learns his estranged son, John "Jack" McClane Jr., is about to stand trial in Moscow. Wanting to reconcile before Jack's thrown in prison, John Sr. makes it to the courtroom right as his son escapes, along with another prisoner awaiting trial (Sebastian Koch).

Mary Elizabeth Winstead returns as John's daughter Lucy. While she doesn't get to see any of the action this time around, she's still great in the role and it's nice to see some continuity with Live Free or Die Hard from six years ago. Jai Courtney, for his part, does a good job playing McClane's son, sharing his dad's short temper and penchant for yelling at himself when he makes a mistake. But the real stand out is Yuliya Snigir as Irina, the beautiful daughter of Jack's fellow escapee. Big eyed, pouty lipped, and leather clad, Yuliya Snigir is seriously gorgeous and commands more screen presence than any of the other newcomers to the series.

My only real complaint is that the movie ends too quickly. After the story's best plot twist, when the movie seems to be picking up real momentum, the movie reaches its finale at around the length the other Die Hard movies were just gearing up for their third act. The "Yippee-Ki-Yay" catchphrase is thrown in there, and it feels a little too obligatory.

But, to recap, Bruce Willis does what Bruce Willis does best, the stunts and explosions are thrilling and come non-stop, the script includes some truly surprising twists, and Yuliya Snigir's mouthful of a name is about to become a household one. While "A Good Day to Die Hard" is far from the best in the series, it sure beats most of the alternatives playing in theaters this February.

Gangster Squad
Gangster Squad
DVD ~ Josh Brolin
Price: $3.74
155 used & new from $0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Bloody, Brutal Action Flick With All the Trappings of a Classic Film Noir, January 13, 2013
This review is from: Gangster Squad (DVD)
Okay, I'm a bit biased. I'm partial to movies featuring trench coats, fedora, tough-talking cops, smooth-talking dames, and blazing Tommy guns. "Gangster Squad" is the type of movie I go to the movies hoping to see every year, my typical fantasies transferred directly to the big screen.

Recent attempts at the genre, like Frank Miller's misguided The Spirit and Brian De Palma's overwrought The Black Dahlia, have been hit-and-miss. But "Gangster Squad" hits the mark, having more in common with De Palma's 1987 classic The Untouchables (Special Collector's Edition). The premise alone bears an uncanny resemblance. Set in 1940's L.A. instead of 1920's Chicago, the movie follows an incorruptible cop hand-picking a team of honest cops to take down a notorious gangster, this time Mickey Cohen instead of Al Capone. But while "The Untouchables" required a great cast to carry Kevin Costner as its lead, Josh Brolin's acting chops are more similar to Sean Connery's. Brolin plays Sergeant John O'Mara, a grizzled hero whose unwillingness to stay out of Mickey Cohen's way makes waves for his superiors, but Chief Bill Parker (a surprisingly dignified performance by Nick Nolte) recruits him to head a task force bent on undermining Cohen's rule.

O'Mara contrasts sharply with younger, go-with-the-flow Sgt. Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who is content to spend his nights gambling, drinking, and picking up dames at Cohen's favorite nightclub, but soon finds himself joining the team. O'Mara recruits switchblade-wielding beat cop Anthony Mackie, old timey wild westerner Robert Patrick (complete with six-shooter and Yosemite Sam mustache), and tech whiz Giovanni Ribisi to round out the team, with Robert Patrick's Hispanic partner Michael Pena joining the party without being formally invited.

While "The Untouchables" boasted method actor Robert DeNiro as Al Capone, it was hard to forget he was Robert DeNiro. By comparison, Sean Penn disappears completely into the role of infamous boxer-turned-mobster Mickey Cohen. He's truly terrifying from the moment, barely past the studio logos, we see what he does to those who oppose or fail him.

Emma Stone, needless to say, is pretty as a pin-up as the dame, Cohen's main squeeze with red hair and redder lips. But she's not the movie's only eye candy. There's plenty of gorgeous cinematography of Los Angeles landmarks and glossy recreations of 40's nightclubs and casinos. And, as much as I want to dislike Ryan Gosling, he's great as the youthful detective whose love affair with Stone's character forms a large part of the narrative. But it's ultimately Brolin's straight-laced detective and family man who carries the movie, from the moment he punches his way into a mob-controlled hotel to save a blonde bombshell from being initiated into a brothel in his introductory scene.

While "Gangster Squad" has all the trademarks of the film noir genre, that's just the outward veneer of an all-out action flick, more in the vein of "The Untouchables" or Dick Tracy than The Maltese Falcon, with fist fights, shootouts, and a car chase (with beautiful vintage 40's vehicle, naturally) that are as bloody and brutal as anything else in movies right now. While the movie may include a few clichés too many, or Ruben Fleischer (who directed Emma Stone in Zombieland) may rely a few times too many on modern film tricks like slow motion and dizzying camera angles, "Gangster Squad" is the best entry in the genre in decades.

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