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E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA)

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Unbreakable (Legion)
Unbreakable (Legion)
by Kami Garcia
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Unbroken... until they break, 11 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Unbreakable (Legion) (Paperback)
The Legion series has a lot to live up to -- after all, Kami Garcia is one-half of the team who wrote the bestselling "Beautiful Creatures" series.

Well, her first solo book doesn't have the Southern charm of those books, but "Unbreakable" has its own brand of gritty, spooky suspense. In fact, it's one of the more entertaining urban fantasies for young adults in recent years -- a straightforward quest mingled with some drama and romance, but with a non-conclusion that leaves you dangling off a cliff until the second book comes out.

Four weeks ago, Kennedy found her mother mysteriously dead. But the day before she's to be shipped off to boarding school, a ghost possesses her cat and almost kills her. She's rescued by Lukas and Jared, identical twins who specialize in dispatching "vengeance spirits" -- ghosts who crave the life they lost. And yes, one of them killed her mother.

Kennedy soon learns that they are two-fifths of the Legion of the Black Dove, a secret organization devoted to sealing away the demon Andras, whom their ancestors accidentally semi-freed. And she is one of them too, but her mother never told her about this or trained her for what was ahead. So she's immediately in over her head with the angry, dangerous ghosts that the Legion contends with.

But there does seem to be hope when Kennedy finds an old inscription about the Shift, some sort of artifact that might have the power to destroy Andras for good. But it's been disassembled, so the Legion must unravel the riddles that show where the pieces are, and deal with the ghosts that are guarding them.

"Unbreakable" has a fairly straightforward narrative -- unravel a riddle, defeat a dangerous ghost, find a piece of the Shift. Rinse, repeat. You don't really get many twists until the last few chapters of the book, when Garcia unexpectedly flips your perceptions of everything that has happened -- and of course, leaves the ending wide open for the second book of the series. Without revealing too much, it would be hard for stakes to get any higher.

But until then, she spins a fast-moving, spooky take with a lot of genuinely grotesque ghosts -- just consider the woman with the broken neck, or Alara being bound into an electric chair. The Legion's quest gives the story a very gritty, flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants atmosphere, as they rush around to haunted mansions, prisons and tiny towns. There's even a fun stint in Lilburn Mansion, a real-life haunted house that I have actually seen.

The biggest problem is perhaps that it seems implausible that -- photographic memory or no -- Kennedy would be the ONLY person to ever notice the information about the Shift. Yes, she needs some way of proving herself, but it's reaching.

But Kennedy is a thoroughly likable heroine -- she's an ordinary girl with no special powers except a photographic memory, who had an ordinary life until she encounters the twins. There's also a dash of romance with Jared, a brooding teen who (naturally) is harboring his own personal demons. Lukas isn't as well defined -- it's hard to know what drives him -- but the blunt-spoken voodoo action-girl Alara and quirky tech guy Priest round out the cast nicely.

With a likable cast and some nicely creepy moments, "Unbreakable" is a solid paranormal treasure-hunt that promises to blossom into something darker and creepier.

Hamlet (Two-Disc Special Edition) [DVD] [1996]
Hamlet (Two-Disc Special Edition) [DVD] [1996]
Dvd ~ Kenneth Branagh
Price: £5.60

5.0 out of 5 stars ... Tis well. I'll have thee speak out the rest, too., 11 Jan. 2015
"Hamlet" doesn't need any introduction -- the tortured Dane, the ghost, meditations on suicide and a climax full of death.

And for many years, the definitive version has been Kenneth Branagh's sprawling four-hour movie, "William Shakespeare's Hamlet." Branagh -- who both directed and starred in it -- sometimes bombasts his way out of scenes that deserve more subtlety, but the richness of the acting, the beautiful cinematography and the wells of powerful emotion make this a rewarding experience.

Prince Hamlet of Denmark (Branagh and his peroxided hair) is understandably upset when, only a short time after his father's death, his mother Gertrude (Julie Christie) marries his uncle Claudius (Derek Jacobi), who is now the new king. But when Hamlet encounters the tormented ghost of his father (Brian Blessed), he learns that his dad was murdered by his uncle. But he's plagued by indecision, since he's unsure if the spirit was truly his dad.

Over the days that follow, Hamlet's behavior becomes more bizarre and erratic. He treats his girlfriend Ophelia (Kate Winslet) horribly, arranges a play that mimics real life a little too closely, and generally acts like a loon. But when an argument with Gertrude ends in tragedy, Claudius plots to have Hamlet killed upon his return to England. And as madness and death fester in Denmark's palace, Hamlet is drawn back to have his final vengeance -- but doing so may destroy him and everyone he knows.

"Hamlet" is one of those plays that only really comes out two ways -- either you have a passionate, intense tragedy full of very human characters, or you have two boring hours of some whiny guy talking to himself. While "William Shakespeare's Hamlet" has some draggy bits (which isn't surprising, considering the FOUR HOUR length), the sheer passion and verve keeps it energized.

And Branagh stages everything like a play, set on a very elaborate stage. The forests and expanses of Denmark look faintly artificial, and the palace is a great black-and-white checkerboard with mirrored doors and scarlet carpets. Branagh follows Shakespeare's immortal writing faithfully, but also adds some wild, vivid spins of his own -- the action-packed duel, Ophelia getting hosed down, Hamlet's fantasies of stabbing his uncle.

The biggest problem? Sometimes Branagh gets too bombastic and flashy when he should show more subtlety -- when he mentions hell, the ground splits open and spews flame. And the final clash with Claudius is marred by a falling chandelier that seems more Errol Flynn than Shakespeare.

Branagh (and his peroxided hair) play Hamlet as almost bipolar -- when he isn't roaring with manic energy (guess what happens during the play!), he whispers unblinkingly with wire-taut tension. He clearly has an intense love for the material, and it becomes almost exhausting to see him pour so much passion and emotion into every line that Hamlet utters.

And Kate Winslet gives the most perfect Ophelia performance ever, descending into glazed-eyed, giggling insanity halfway through the movie. Branagh also managed to get an all-star cast for this, with some mesmerizing performances by Christie, Jacobi, Rufus Sewell, Nicholas Farrell, Richard Briers and Blessed (why did he get Brian Blessed playing a character who only whispers?).

There are also some smaller performances by A-list actors, who all seem very delighted with roles that are barely more than cameos -- Sir John Gielgud, Judi Dench, a clearly enthusiastic Charlton Heston, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and Gérard Depardieu.

"William Shakespeare's Hamlet" is a powerhouse. While it could use a little less bombast, the rich acting and passionate delivery make it far more intriguing than most four-hour movies can be.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 21, 2015 5:56 PM GMT

Dial M for Murder [1954] [DVD]
Dial M for Murder [1954] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ray Milland
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £4.63

5.0 out of 5 stars The perfect murder, 11 Jan. 2015
Alfred Hitchcock committed many fictional murders onscreen, but I suspect he knew that few of them would plausibly work in real life.

In fact, "Dial M for Murder" is all about how murders can never be pulled off perfectly -- especially the complex, think-on-your-feet types that are usually seen in murder mysteries. In this adaptation of the stage play, Hitchcock keeps a low-simmering tension throughout the story, even as he juggles several clues and misdirections that end up tangling all the wrong people. It's not a question of whodunnit, but whether the truth will be found.

Wealthy socialite Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly) has been carrying on a secret affair with crime-fiction writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). But when a love letter from Mark (the MacGuffin!) is stolen from her handbag, she reveals to Mark that she's currently being blackmailed by an unknown person. Her husband Tony (Ray Milland), seemingly oblivious to both the blackmail and the love affair, invites Mark to a stag party.

The twist: Tony knows all about the affair, and he is the one who stole the letter. He's also afraid that if Margot leaves him, he'll be left destitute since she has all the money.

So he enlists an old schoolmate named Swann (Anthony Dawson) to murder his wife, and stages the "perfect" crime and alibi. But things go wrong when Margot manages to stab Swann with a pair of scissors, and the carefully-arranged crime becomes a tangled web of clues and secrets that all seem to incriminate Margot. Will the truth be found before she is hung, or will Tony get away with murder?

While "Dial M For Murder" is based on a stage play by Frederick Knott (who also adapted it for the movie), it's one of those stories that just feels very Hitchcockian. There's a "wrong woman," a MacGuffin, murder schemes, a beautiful blonde, a high-society setting and a charmingly genteel psychopath who calmly plans the murder of his wife just because he wants her money -- it seems perfectly designed for Hitchcock's storytelling style.

The first half of the movie is devoted to the "perfect crime" going wrong. While Tony insists that he's planned out the perfect murder, little unexpected things cause his scheme to go awry -- a stopped watch, an old man, a pair of scissors, and a missing key. The second half... well, it's about untangling the same web from Margot, and somehow figuring out how it all applied to Tony. There are some leaps in logic, but for the most part it juggles the clues well.

And Hitchcock brings a low-simmering sense of suspense to the story, with events unfolding prety slowly... until Swann tries to strangle Margot, when everything becomes raw and visceral. Despite the languid pacing, he actually keeps the movie pretty lean and nimble. For instance, Margot's entire legal battle is summed up in a nightmarish montage of questions and condemnations, and it lasts less than a minute before she's condemned to death.

This is probably the best performance I've yet seen from Grace Kelly -- she gasps and sobs incoherently through the attempted murder, slowly crumbles through the investigation, and floats numbly through the final act. Milland gives a chillingly genial performance, although Cummings is just kind of... well, he's enthusiastic, but the character is an idiot. And of course, there's John Williams as the veddy veddy British Inspector Hubbard, who is much more devious than anyone gives him credit for.

"Dial M For Murder" can be a bit slow at times, but the slow-burning tension and intricate plot were beautifully handled by Hitchcock -- and the clever subversion of the "perfect crime" makes a nice brain-bender.

Inception [DVD] [2010]
Inception [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Leonardo DiCaprio
Price: £5.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Non, je ne regrette rien..., 11 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Inception [DVD] [2010] (DVD)
Christopher Nolan may be the most brilliant, unconventional mainstream director working in Hollywood today, crafting intricate stories where narrative forms are stretched and twisted.

Nowhere is this more obvious than "Inception," which turns into a multi-level Möbius strip -- worlds within worlds, dreams within dreams. Nolan delights in being able to conjure strange worlds that could never exist in real life, but he crafts a very heartfelt, powerful story for those visuals -- a story of love and loss, ambition and power, and a broken man haunted by guilt that constantly chases him through every dream.

In the not-too-distant future (next Sunday A.D.), the military has created a technology that allows artificial shared dreaming. Within multi-leveled dreams, architects can create elaborate worlds, and special "extractors" can get information from a sleeping subject's brain. Oh, and there are several layers of dreaming, each with a different period of time passing.

The movie opens with Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) trying to extract some information from tycoon Saito (Ken Watanabe). It turns out that this was actually an elaborate audition by Saito, who wants to hire them for an "inception" -- to plant a new idea in someone's head. Cobb isn't interested until Saito offers to clear him of the murder of his wife, which would allow him to return to his young children.

Their target: Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), who has just inherited a massive energy conglomerate from his cold, callous father. Saito wants the company dissolved before it can become too powerful, so he wants the idea incepted into Robert's head.

So Cobb gets together a gang of the best: clever forger Eames (Tom Hardy), dream-chemist Yusuf (Dileep Rao), and the new architect Ariadne (Ellen Page). But only Ariadne sees how troubled Cobb is, and that the memory of his dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) is deliberately sabotaging every mission he undertakes. As the team weaves their elaborate web of deception and dreams around Robert, Cobb finds that his demons are threatening their mission.

You have to give it to Christopher Nolan: he doesn't dumb down his movies for the masses. "Inception" is a hard movie to even summarize because it's constantly growing more complicated -- the team is spread out over different dream levels, with different time periods passing and different perils attacking them simultaneously. It's half heist caper and half sci-fi meta-thriller... if that even makes sense.

And while Nolan sculpts a strange Escheresque dream-world of labyrinths and never-ending stairs, he also crafts some powerful subplots about love and loss. As the plot unwinds, he intertwines Cobb and Fischer's personal issues with the main story of inception. Suddenly the constant firefights, explosions and free-falling elevators/vans aren't the only reason we're invested -- the audience is truly left wanting to see both men work out their issues and find some measure of inner peace.

It also has spectacularly good special effects, particularly Arthur's battle in the hotel -- he scampers across the walls and ceilings, grappling with projections as he floats through empty halls. Not to mention the scene where Ariadne turns a whole city upside-down... literally.

Honestly, the biggest problem with the movie is that the dreams sometimes make too much sense. Why do Fischer's projections have to actually TRAVEL to attack the team instead of... I don't know, materializing inside the building?

Nolan also populates "Inception" with a lot of actors that he's cast in other projects, especially "The Dark Knight Rises." In fact, I can't help but wonder if DiCaprio's role was originally offered to Christian Bale, because we've also got Cotillard, Hardy, Watanabe, Murphy, Gordon-Levitt and Michael Caine. There are actually only a couple major actors who haven't worked with Nolan elsewhere.

But this is one of DiCaprio's best roles, even if he's not very convincing as a father -- his Cobb is riddled with guilt and numb sorrow, and it's only prodding from Ariadne that finally gets him to confront his issues. All the other actors give lovely performances as well -- Cotillard is particularly wrenching as a strange shallow shade of a madwoman, as is Murphy as the downtrodden son of a powerful man.

"Inception" is the kind of movie that we desperately need more of -- a wild Möbius strip of complex ideas, brilliant direction and powerful acting. This is truly a one-of-a-kind film, and not one to be missed.

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin HC (Dresden Files (Dynamite Hardcover))
Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin HC (Dresden Files (Dynamite Hardcover))
by Joseph Cooper
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.14

4.0 out of 5 stars Small-town Dresden, 11 Jan. 2015
One of the best things about Harry Dresden is that he can go anywhere and still be a funny, irritating trouble-magnet.

Exhibit A: "Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin," which takes place between the second and third books of Butcher's urban fantasy series. But it's a solid self-contained Dresden story, which takes him outside Chicago and into a small Missouri town... which brings its own problems, both supernatural and human. Think giant snakes, curses and a feud between two nasties.

A small-town deputy hires Harry to investigate a string of mysterious deaths in the town of Boons Mills. According to Bob, the entire Talbot bloodline is cursed -- and as Harry snoops around, he runs afoul of both a ghoul and a goblin. Apparently the two are fighting over the town as their territory, and the Talbots are paying the price.

But as Harry tries to untangle the whole supernatural mess, he also finds himself in a quieter battle between the mayor (who has her own supernatural secret) and the narrow-minded sheriff (who, naturally, wants to blame the "out of towner" for all the problems). Can Harry thwart the ghoul and goblin, and save the remaining Talbot children?

"Ghoul Goblin" is a pretty standard Dresden Files short story -- explosions, gore, snark and weird supernatural beings that normal people don't even know of (including a shapeshifting naga). It just so happens that this one has lots of pretty pictures. And oh yeah, Harry isn't in Chicago, and he has nobody from the supporting cast except Bob.

But Butcher's mixture of dark, gritty fantasy (more Talbots die than are saved) and snarky humor ("Shedding the trappings of man" -- ie, getting naked... outdoors... on a very cold night) is very much present here. He also tangles in some smaller mysteries about the ghoul's true identity and the mayor's peculiar secret, which all tie in to the main plot about the curse. Perhaps the biggest problem is that I never quite got what the connection between the Talbots, the ghoul and the goblin WAS.

The art is pretty decent here, fairly realistic and with not too many "cartoony" panels. Joseph Cooper doesn't shy away from the more grotesque parts of the story, like the ghoul's ape-from-hell proportions or the disemboweled Talbot victims. Everything seems to be muted, with lots of blues and greys.

And of course, Harry is the big draw here. He's tall, lanky and permastubbled, snarky and sometimes reckless, but is also a big ol' softy who will do anything to save children, orphans and people who are genuinely good at heart (like Pres). He also gets beaten up quite a bit in the course of his duty, but always considers it worthwhile when he's doing the right thing.

For those who enjoy Jim Butcher's regular books, "Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin" will be a fun experience -- a solid short story brought to visual life. Give it a read.

300: Rise Of An Empire [DVD] [2013]
300: Rise Of An Empire [DVD] [2013]
Dvd ~ Eva Green
Price: £7.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What happened in Athens stays in Athens, 11 Jan. 2015
Out of all movies, "300" doesn't seem like it could have a sequel. After all -- spoiler alert -- the movie ends with almost everybody dying.

So with "300: Rise of an Empire," they had to make a movie which is 90% side-story (stuff going on at the same time as "300") and only 10% sequel (stuff going on after "300"). It's not a bad movie, but it lacks the bombastic testosterone over-the-topness of the original film, especially from the lead actor Sullivan Stapleton. It feels less like a true sequel, and more like somebody's fanfic.

The story is recounted in flashback by Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), who describes how the Athenian general Themistocles (Stapleton) killed King Darius I of Persia during a battle. The devious naval general Artemisia (Eva Green) convinces his grieving son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) to become a god-king... and it's not really explained what this gives him, aside from baldness and lots of chains.

As Xerxes' forces approach by land and sea, Themistocles appeals unsuccessfully to Gorgo for help -- he knows that only a united Greece can defeat the Persians. He's particularly worried about Artemisia, who was born Greek but defected to the Persians after Greek hoplites killed her family, raped and enslaved her. You can see why she's angry. Now she is the commander of Xerxes' navy, and her ships vastly outnumber the Athenians'.

But Themistocles' cunning allows them to drive back the Persians, and Artemisia reveals that she has both a professional and personal interest in him -- but his attraction to her can't compete with his loyalty to Greece. As the brave 300 are destroyed and the Athenian navy crippled, Themistocles faces a defeat more terrible than death.

Like I said, "300: Rise of an Empire" feels kind of like someone wanted to write a fanfic around the original story, "Hey, you know what would be cool? If there was ANOTHER battle going on, except they were from Athens! And instead of Xerxes leading the navy, there will be this cool warrior lady, and she and Themistocles are hot for each other but they're enemies..." And so on, and so forth -- a different story, which periodically dips back into Spartan affairs to remind us, "Hey, this is going on too! Because the movies are connected!"

The biggest problem is that director Noam Murro just... isn't making it as exciting. It just lacks the over-the-top, testosterone-soaked bombast that made "300" so good -- you don't get the feeling of ravenous passion from Stapleton and the Athenians. Stapleton's performance is just too subtle and subdued, compared to the roaring hyperenthusiasm that Gerard Butler brought to Leonidas (which also made him a meme).

Granted, Stapleton is not bad -- he gives a pretty decent performance as Themistocles, a noble leader who has trouble getting people to follow him. Eva Green gives a deliciously scenery-chewing scene as a vengeance-hungry leader, who has a love-hate relationship with Themistocles -- when they aren't having room-smashing negotiation sex, they are trying to impale each other on big phallic swords.

Sadly not a lot of the Athenians are memorable except a kid trying to prove that he's a man; the best supporting roles are people from "300," particularly Lena Headey and stock footage of Gerard Butler. Keep an eye out for David Wenham!

But taken on its own merits, "300: Rise of an Empire" is a decent movie, smushing together comic-book fantasy with bronzed-light and slow-motion. The battles between the Persian and Athenian navies are pretty spectacular, filled with fire, arrows and explosions, and culminating in a pretty nasty swordfight. But while it's interesting to see Xerxes' backstory, the first third of the movie is too heavy with exposition and flashbacks.

"300: Rise of an Empire" might have been more enjoyable if it had not been a sidequel to the prototypical Greco-action movie. However, Eva Green and the action scenes make it worth watching.

In the Name of the King 3 - The Last Mission [ 2013 ] Uncensored
In the Name of the King 3 - The Last Mission [ 2013 ] Uncensored
Dvd ~ Dominic Purcell
Offered by brrsales
Price: £17.99

1.0 out of 5 stars Time travel, again, 11 Jan. 2015
It's hard to imagine, but I think Uwe Boll is actually getting worse.

Yes, yes, Boll is considered one of the worst directors of all time... but at least his movies like "Bloodrayne" and "In the Name of the King" used to be entertainingly bad, with faster pacing and miserable-looking name actors. Ever since Germany closed a certain tax-shelter loophole, his movies have devolved into cheap, tedious affairs that appear to have been funded by a six-year-old's lemonade stand. "In The Name of the King 3: The Last Mission" is one of these.

The story follows an American hit man with a silly name, Hazen Kaine (Dominic Purcell), who (for some reason) is working for a Bulgarian crimelord. He kidnaps a couple of girls and shuts them in a shipping container, then is sucked centuries into the past.... where, fortunately, medieval Bulgarians speak fluent English with a thick accent. A couple of young women, Arabella (Ralitsa Paskaleva) and Sophie (Petra Gocheva) rescue him from a rampaging dragon, and identify him by a tattoo on his arm as a chosen hero.

Confused? You're going to stay that way, because the tattoo is never actually explained. He got it in L.A., it happens to be the mystical symbol of a magical amulet... and that's all we have.

So it turns out that the young women are trying to take down an evil king who can't afford to hire guards or buy shirts, because he killed their father. Kaine is not particularly invested in this, but he's informed that he cannot go home until he helps them take down the Designated Villain. And so, they gather an army of about two dozen guys to defeat the Evil King and his ten or twelve ninjas.

"In The Name of the King 3: The Last Mission" reeks of unenthusiasm. The most obvious example is Dominic Purcell, who looks like he would rather be ANYWHERE doing ANYTHING ELSE -- he looks even less invested than Dolph Lundgren did in the preceding movie. And I seriously wonder if Lundgren was drunk the whole time. Purcell simply drifts through every scene, mumbling in a monotone and looking intensely bored.

The rest of the cast is Bulgarian, and I'm not entirely sure that they knew what they were saying -- they utter ridiculous lines with a complete lack of passion, possibly because they're almost unintelligible when they raise their voices. It feels less like Boll hired actual actors, and more like he plucked random Bulgarians off the street (it's cheap to film there) and cast them in his movie.

And while Boll's movies are absurdly bad at best, this is both bad and tedious. This feels like someone decided to film a really depressing, lifeless larp -- bad CGI dragon, dozens of dangling plot threads, fight scenes that are hideously amateurish (jerk the camera around! Don't bother having the weapons connect with the people they're killing!) and rickety medieval villages and ruined castles.

At first, it's fun to make fun of the illogic (yes, hide from a dragon inside a TINY WOODEN HOUSE) and the poor acting. But eventually it gets downright depressing -- for instance, it's hinted that the magical amulet can control the dragon, who is in this movie for REASON NOT EXPLAINED. Yet when the amulet is near the dragon in the present day.... nobody even tries to use it.

And funnily, the fight with Evil King is not the climax -- presumably because the movie would be too short. No, the climax involves a dragon doggedly pursuing Kaine through a modern city, then mysteriously losing interest in him once it has killed one of the villains. Yes, the movie ends with a dragon loose in a modern city... and nobody seems to care. Least of all Boll.

Hopefully, "In the Name of the King 3: The Last Mission" WILL be the last mission, because this no-budget embarrassment should be forgotten as soon as possible. Dominic Purcell will probably thank you for that.

A Fantastic Fear of Everything [DVD]
A Fantastic Fear of Everything [DVD]
Dvd ~ Simon Pegg
Price: £4.25

3.0 out of 5 stars Writers and serial killersare very similar, 11 Jan. 2015
Hedgehogs. Serial killers. Laundrettes. Clean socks and underwear.

People are used to Simon Pegg either playing comic roles in funny movies ("Hot Fuzz," "Shawn of the Dead"), or playing slightly less comic roles in serious movies ("Star Trek"). But "A Fantastic Fear Of Everything" brings up blinding, frothing-at-the-mouth terror in some of the weirdest places -- a weird black comedy with a somewhat unbalanced structure.

Children's author Jack (Pegg) is currently working on a nonfiction book about serial killers... which has turned him into a paranoid delusional mess who can barely leave his squalid apartment. He's convinced that a serial killer called the Hanoi Handshake killer is coming after him.

Then his agent informs him that a Hollywood type named Harvey Humphries wants to see his book, and it's his only chance of selling it. The meeting is at 8 p.m. Unfortunately, Jack has no clean clothes -- and in his frantic attempt to clean his underwear and socks, he ends up burning off half his hair and super-gluing a knife to his hand. And he still has no clean clothes.

Unfortunately, he also has a crippling fear of laundrettes (aka laundromats), due to his mother abandoning him there. But on the advice of his psychiatrist, he sets out to confront his fear and do his laundry in time for his meeting... only to unleash mayhem in the laundrette, and encounter something that he really SHOULD be afraid of.

"A Fantastic Fear of Everything" is a much darker movie than most of Simon Pegg's previous movies -- the comedy here can be black as charcoal, even though it is still wickedly funny. Lots of Jack lurching around in his distorted little world, frantically trying to wash and dry his underpants and socks in the stove.

Director Crispian Mills makes everything look oddly distorted and nightmarish, from the squalid, smoky darkness of Jack's apartment to the bleak laundrette. It makes a nice illustration of how weird and crazy the world looks to Jack, and Pegg's narration keeps the story flowing.

However, it's also very uneven. The first two acts are almost like a one-man show; while a few people (his agent, some singing kids) pierce Jack's haze of delusion, he's mostly lurching around and monologuing in his own head. His quest is to get fresh socks and underwear, while avoiding being arrested. Simple, except for his crippling fear and awkwardness.

But in the last act, we suddenly switch to a more conventional narrative, with a villain and a love interest to interact with. It feels like we stepped into a different movie -- one that's still connected to the first by a few plot threads, but very different in style and theme.

Simon Pegg is the reason this movie works at all -- this is an uproariously funny actor who knows how to play his comedic roles straight. Jack is both pitiable and funny. You pity him because he's clearly messed-up and miserable, but Pegg manages to make him amusing with the constant onslaught of bad luck.

"A Fantastic Fear of Everything" has a weird lopsided structure that makes you feel like a different movie shoved itself into the last half. However, the pitch-black comedy and Simon Pegg mean that it's still fairly entertaining.

The Eternal [VHS] (1998)
The Eternal [VHS] (1998)

1.0 out of 5 stars Squandered potential, 11 Jan. 2015
A mummy movie is possibly the easiest kind of horror movie to make -- it comes to life and terrorizes the living. Simple, but effective.

And yet "The Eternal: Kiss of the Mummy" (aka "Trance") has managed to screw that simple formula up. Despite the ever-interesting presence of Christopher Walken and some pretty cinematography, the story itself is a flaccid, flabby mess of plot holes and basic writing errors -- including some of the least sympathetic characters I've ever seen in a movie.

Nora (Alison Elliott) and Jim (Jared Harris) are a pair of wealthy alcoholics in New York, who have decided to dry out on a visit to her grandmother in Ireland. Yes, they plan to dry out in the land of Guinness, because apparently it doesn't count as booze. But when they arrive, Nora immediately blacks out and crashes the car.

And it keeps getting better -- her grandmother has that highly selected senility you only see in movies, and her weird uncle Bill (Walken) only seems interested in the bog-preserved mummy of a druid witch who murder-suicided in the Iron Age. Of course, the mummy comes back to life... for no reason that's ever explained... and she looks exactly like Nora. Now she apparently wants to steal Nora's body... even though her own body seems to be working fine.

Director/writer Michael Almereyda seems to have only a vague idea of how proper storytelling works. Important characters appear without introduction two-thirds of the way through, logic is constantly violated (so Niamh doesn't realize that a cigarette is ON FIRE, but she knows what whiskey is?), and the awkward climax ends up pretty much making no sense at all.

Worst of all: huge oozing lumps of exposition are constantly thrown at us like lumps of excrement... from people who couldn't POSSIBLY know what they are talking about. How does Bill know the history of Niamh? Magic, apparently. How does Alice know all about her powers and intentions? Never explained. It becomes infuriating after awhile, especially when you realize that Alice is JUST there to exposit.

Almereyda tries to compensate by draping the movie in a dreamy atmosphere and Ireland's peaty, raw beauty... but it's not enough. The movie sludges by at a painfully slow pace, with lots of people wandering around and having the world's slowest conversations, most of which are pretentious muckity-mystical drivel ("Every day; all the time. You wake up, open your eyes, take a breath, start over: that's how it is"). And of course, Alice monologues over everything. EVERYTHING.

And rarely do you see a movie that is so padded, yet STILL manages to drag by at a snail's pace. For instance, several characters fall down the stairs. There's apparently no symbolic meaning to it -- they just fall down the stairs because it eats up a few minutes of screen time and looks dramatic.

It also has a cast where you root for nobody, because nobody is likable. Christopher Walken comes the closest merely by being himself -- weird, off-kilter, and utterly unconvincing as a lifelong resident of Ireland. But he sadly exits the movie after only a few scenes, and we're left with... everyone else.

I kept waiting for a moment to come when we start to like and empathize with the lead characters -- a pair of rich, irresponsible alcoholics -- only to eventually realize that Almereyda intended for us to like them already. Elliott and Harris are mediocre and charmless here, especially since Elliott has to play the dual role of Nora and Niamh, which she does with slack-jawed dullness worthy of Kristen Stewart.

And the character of Alice is the most naked, blatant "exposition fairy" that I have ever seen in a film. I kept thinking that she was the love child that Nora claimed to have aborted, but it turns out that she is nobody special. Just a source of pseudo-mystical narration... and nothing else.

Watching "The Eternal: Kiss of the Mummy" is like being slowly dragged facedown through Ireland's mud -- it will leave you cold and miserable. And eventually, you'll want a Guinness to dull the pain.

Family Plot [DVD]
Family Plot [DVD]
Dvd ~ Karen Black
Offered by HarriBella.UK.Ltd
Price: £10.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Plots and schemes, 11 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Family Plot [DVD] (DVD)
"Family Plot" is usually only remembered for one thing: being the very last movie that the great Alfred Hitchcock directed.

And that's a shame. While it's far from his greatest work, "Family Plot" is a charming little blend of suspense and comedy, with a quick wit and a clever, twisty little plot. But the greatest strength -- aside from the writing -- is the two pairs of sketchy lovers, one whom you root for and one whom you root vigorously against, working in parallel against each other.

Fake psychic Blanche (Barbara Harris) is given a difficult task by the elderly, wealthy Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbitt) -- find Julia's long-lost, illegitimate nephew, so she can make him her heir. If Blanche and her boyfriend George (Bruce Dern) can find him, Miss Rainbird will pay them $10,000. The only problem is that they don't know the child's name, his location, who adopted him, or even if he's alive.

Well, he is. Having killed his adoptive parents and struck out on his own, he is now Arthur Adamson (William Devane), a successful jeweler. He and his girlfriend Fran (Karen Black) have a side business of kidnapping important and/or wealthy people, and demanding the ransom in valuable gems.

So while George and Blanche snatch up whatever clues they can find about the former Rainbird child, Arthur and Fran are setting out on their latest kidnapping plot: a bishop that Arthur has a personal dislike for. But the whole deal is complicated when the kidnappers believe that George and Blanche know what they're doing... and having murdered before, Arthur's not opposed to doing it again.

"Family Plot" is one of those movies that is often overlooked in a director's ouvre -- not a defining work ("Psycho") or a misunderstood classic ("Vertigo") or even just a sleek attention-grabber ("North by Northwest"). This is a smaller movie, with a clever blend of comedy and mystery that aspires to be nothing more than what it is.

Hitchcock showed considerable skill in juggling the two plots even as he intertwined them together. On one hand, we have a fake psychic and an actor/taxi driver who are trying to find someone, snatching at little clues that thankfully lead to bigger ones. On the other, we have cold-blooded kidnappers/jewel thieves who believe that the other couple are on their trail. And they don't quite collide until the very end.

And Hitchcock's screwy sense of humor permeates even the more serious scenes (Blanche turns out to be the worst person to be stuck with in an out-of-control car). He also gets a lot of humor from the scenes of fake psychic stuff -- long before Shawn Spencer, we had Blanche seeking spirits in the kitchen and raving about trees. Even the kidnapping has an oddly humorous air -- the churchgoers watch in befuddlement as the unconscious bishop is dragged out of the cathedral.

All the actors do a pretty decent job here -- Harris and Dern have some nice sparky chemistry as a pair of lovers who use his detective skills and her manipulations to make a living. Devane is particularly good as the villain -- a charming psychopath who is skilled at getting others to do the dirty work for him, and smiles toothily as his eyes harden into flint.

"Family Plot" is no "Psycho," but it's a genuinely charming, fun little movie with that timeless Hitchcock touch -- and it leaves you a bit sad that this was the last one.

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