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EA Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA)

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Tokyo Ravens: Season 1 - Part 1 [Blu-ray] [2013] [US Import]
Tokyo Ravens: Season 1 - Part 1 [Blu-ray] [2013] [US Import]

3.0 out of 5 stars I want you to be an omnyo mage!, 30 April 2015
Onmyōdō was a form of yin-yang magic/natural science that was practiced in Japan for many centuries -- think Druids, but with more Taoism.

It also hasn't been practiced in a few hundred years. But in the world of "Tokyo Ravens: Season 1, Part 1," it has endured into the twenty-first century and is a recognized, state-supported way of dealing with big disgusting monsters and the occasional world war. The first half of this anime series is a pretty spotty affair -- it has likable characters and is both epic and spellbinding when it deals with actual onmyoji stuff... but for some reason, there is a lot of high school drivel crammed in there too.

Harutora Tsuchimikado is part of one of Japan's oldest and most respected onmyo families, despite a "Great Disaster" caused by a spell gone wrong by the legendary Yakou Tsuchimikado. Despite this heritage, Harutora has no supernatural abilities, and absolutely no ambition. He just wants to hang out and enjoy his final high school year with his friends Touji and Hokuto... until a rogue onmyoji appears in town, and Hokuto is brutally killed. Even weirder: she turns out to be a magical shikigami being controlled by an unknown mage.

Enraged, Harutora asks his awkward cousin Natsume to make him her familiar, which will give him supernatural powers and allow him to get revenge for Hokuto. Despite Harutora's inexperience and Natsume's ineptitude, they manage to save the day... but now Harutora and Touji have to go to Tokyo to attend an elite academy for onmyo mages.

Harutora soon finds that not flunking is the least of his problems -- adorable but overzealous familiars, hostile classmates, and having to hide Natsume's gender. Yes, Natsume is pretending to be a boy for.... some reason, which causes the obvious hijinks (especially with dorm mothers obsessed with pretty teen boys getting it on). Unfortunately, they soon encounter the darker side of this magical world -- a fanatical cult of Yakou worshippers, Touji's inner monster, and a supernatural threat that could level the city.

The biggest problem with "Tokyo Ravens" is that it can't make up its mind what it wants to be. It wants to be a lightweight high-school comedy, but it also wants to be a twisted, action-packed urban fantasy series about ancient magic. So it swings like a pendulum between wacky hijinks (Misunderstandings! Romantic tension! Arguments! Hiding in love hotels! Field trips!) and explosive battles between monsters and mages. And there's no real transition between these two kinds of stories.

And frankly, the school stuff is pretty awful -- a giant mass of school/comedy cliches, with gags that you can see coming a mile away (oh noes! People think Harutora is gay because Natsume pretends to be a boy! WACKY!). The show hits its stride when it sticks to the darker magical stuff, which is kept tightly intertwined with the character development. For instance, a running subplot is that Touji has an evil oni that feeds on his dark thoughts and threatens to turn him into a monster, which is triggered by the magical chaos running rampant in Tokyo. And of course, Natsume is being stalked by mad-eyed cultists who will kill anyone who gets in their way.

The action scenes are the meat of it, despite some painfully obvious CGI models (that spider-demon is just painful to watch) -- lots of explosive colorful energy, swords and the occasional dragon. And the government agency that uses onmyo mages is a pretty interesting one -- being on the "good" side doesn't mean that some of them aren't deranged and/or nasty.

One of the series' stronger points is Harutora -- despite being kind of dim (it literally takes him ten episodes to figure out who Hokuto really was, despite the OBVIOUS HINTS), he's depicted as a slackerish, good-hearted guy who just kind of goes with the flow and doesn't take anything too seriously unless pushed. It's also a bit rare to see an anime action hero who is actually the coolest-headed person in the cast.

And they do a good job developing most of the supporting characters, such as the seemingly too-cool-to-emote Touji, who has an ugly dark side at war with his altruistic impulses, or the feisty and rather loud Kyoko. The problem is Natsume -- not only is she one of those romantic interests who whines, blushes and has tantrums all the time, but she is revealed to have been secretly stalking Harutora for YEARS. Presumably this is supposed to be because she has never had any friends, but she still seems creepy and passive-aggressive.

"Tokyo Ravens Season 1 Part 1" is at its best when it focuses on the omnyo magic instead of the school hijinks -- and its biggest handicap is the wild swinging between these two genres. It's a fun show, but it could have been a lot more.

Legion and The Emperor's Soul
Legion and The Emperor's Soul
by Brandon Sanderson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Invisible friends and faux Emperors, 30 April 2015
It seems that Brandon Sanderson is a font of creative ideas. When he isn't churning out books for multiple series -- both in and out of his multiverse Cosmere -- he's writing numerous short stories and novellas.

And two of the best examples are compiled here: "Legion," about a man with many imaginary friends who complicate his life and "The Emperor's Soul," a Hugo-award-winning novel about the extreme efforts to keep an empire from collapsing into chaos. This shows the range of his artistic talents, as one story is set in the same fictional world (though a different part of it) as his debut novel "Elantris," and one is a fast-paced little thriller set in our own world.

Stephen Leeds is known as "Legion": he has several "aspects" that he hallucinates, each with valuable skills and knowledge that allow him to do almost anything. One is a deductive genius, one is an elite soldier, one is a linguist, and so on. While technically crazy (and of great interest to the medical community), Stephen is able to use his aspects to make a comfortable life for himself doing rather unusual things.

For instance, a woman named Monica approaches him with a very odd mission: find a scientist named Balubal Razon, who has somehow developed a camera that can see back in time. Now he's gone to Jerusalem to find out if Jesus Christ truly existed (although how he would know where Jesus was is at any exact point in time never really explained. Maybe he just planned to walk around and photograph everywhere). So Stephen, Monica and the various aspects set out for Israel. But soon they find that locating Razon isn't their only problem, because a dangerous terrorist group also wants his camera.

Then in "The Emperor's Soul," the expert Forger Shai is in prison, awaiting execution by the Rose Empire, when she's offered a chance to earn her freedom. The Emperor has been assassinated, and while they were able to fix his body, his mind is now gone. His advisors have bought some time by claiming that he's grieving for his wife, but that will only last ninety days. They need Shai to do something terrible: Forge a new soul for the Emperor.

Not only is this act considered an abomination, but it's incredibly difficult because forging ANYTHING requires extensive, intimate knowledge. Shai has no choice, so she begins learning everything she can in order to create a soulstamp for the Emperor -- which is no easy task, since she has to know what kind of person he truly was. But the hardest task may be planning her escape, especially since she's now enmeshed in a deadly political scheme.

Brandon Sanderson is a master of the doorstopper fantasy epic, but "Legion" and "The Emperor's Soul" prove that he's just as good in shorter works -- these are compact, rich stories that aren't as complicated as his usual fare, but have ingenious ideas at their core. In one story, we have a man whose odd schizophrenia has manifested itself with many different "imaginary people," and in the other we have a magic system that can turn any item/person into what it MIGHT have been, by reweaving reality.

With these premises, Sanderson comes up with two very different stories, both rife with political intrigue (terrorists, a malevolent usurper) and presents them very differently -- "Legion" is more of an action thriller with guns and explosions and a magical camera, whereas "Emperor's Soul" is more of a small, subtle story that rarely leaves Shai's room. It still has action (martial arts and some particularly grotesque sorcery), but the focus is mostly on the magic that Sanderson has dreamed up, and the ways it works.

And he creates some very unique, likable characters as well -- Stephen is a guy who is constantly surrounded by his "aspects" and all their various quirks and eccentricities, but who finds it difficult (due to the talking-to-the-imaginary-friends stuff) to deal with ordinary life. And Shai is a truly likable heroine -- she's clever, tricky and knows plenty about human psychology, but she also has a kind heart. Her appreciation for the art of Forgery, and in making things better through it, has some intriguing implications for the new Emperor.

One high fantasy, one urban fantasy. One a globe-trotting thriller, one an intimate exploration of magic. "Legion" and "The Emperor's Soul" show that Brandon Sanderson is capable of a pretty wide range of fantasy/sci-fi stories, and the Hugo Award is just the icing on the cake.

Perfect State (Kindle Single)
Perfect State (Kindle Single)
Price: £0.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Soft music. Dim lights., 7 April 2015
Once you've successfully taken over the world, and have everything you could ever dream of... what next?

That seems to be the problem for Kai, an immortal divinely-appointed emperor who has fallen into kind of a rut. The sci-fi/fantasy novella "Perfect State" shows off Brandon Sanderson's knack for creating epic fantasy backdrops for very human characters, and poking some gentle fun at them along the way. And despite the horrifying concept behind the Liveborn, it's an interesting little side-story that begs for more expansion.

Fifty years ago, Kairominas successfully took over his State of Alornia and made himself the godlike emperor, with all the perks -- he's immortal, wealthy, and has the power of Lancing to effortlessly alter the world around him. He spent hundreds of years having epic adventures, and now has the whole world in the palm of his hand. And... he's in a rut. The only thing that livens up his life of peak world-dominating tedium is the fact that he has a nemesis.

It also turns out quickly that this is actually an elaborate simulation overseen by the Wode (whoever they are), and Kai has spent his whole life as a brain in a tank with his own personal Matrix. He and "Liveborn" people like him can also hack into each other's States if they want. Now the Wode have sent him a new assignment: A DATE. With a woman. Who has own her State to rule. But though the date starts off well, Kai soon discovers that not everything about it is as it seems.

It takes a little while to get past the central idea of "Perfect State," namely the fact that the main character has been in the Matri since he was a fetus. Which is horrifying. Really, really horrifying. Admittedly Sanderson adds a twist to the old Descartian brain-in-a-vat concept by making the brains completely aware where and what they are, and living out lives of actual danger and achievement within their little States. It's kind of horrifying, but try to get past it intellectually.

In effect, "Perfect State" is about a man who has been surrounded by artificiality to the point where he barely recognizes the difference (emotionally, anyway) between "reality" and his State. It's like the ultimate stereotypical gamer geek, taken to the most madcap extreme.

And this gives Sanderson the opportunity to subtly blur the question of what reality is and isn't. Are the Machineborn capable of being as real as the Liveborn? Is a false reality where you have lived your life, fought, struggled and been endangered just as real as the "real" world? Or do you have to defy the "set" life and forge your own path for it to be "real"? No, Sanderson doesn't turn the story into a soapbox. Instead, it's about how the experience of connecting with another person causes Kai to slowly emerge from his little isolated world.

Sanderson also writes this in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner, with lots of clever meta jokes about the States ("Have you discovered the lost continent yet?" "There's no such thing." "Of course there is. There's always a lost continent"). And he gives a real sense of texture to the different States, which could make you almost believe that a person could live a satisfying life there. After all, Kai has Machineborn friends who seem to have some artificial intelligence, and "dying" in his State will kill him for real.

But he also creates a melancholy undercurrent to Kai's journey, as he comes to realize how isolated he truly is, and how a life lived in artificial surroundings isn't enough. There's a bittersweetness to his story, and it leaves you wanting to know what's going to happen in the future.

"Perfect State" is another little peek into the many-faceted imagination of Brandon Sanderson -- this time with thought-provoking, well-developed worlds within worlds. Smart, sleek and fast-moving.

Zombie Jerky
Zombie Jerky

5.0 out of 5 stars A superior kind of zombie flesh, 7 April 2015
This review is from: Zombie Jerky (Grocery)
Zombie jerky is the best kind of jerky. I mean, sure, there are kinds of jerky that are more delicious than the dried flesh of the mindless undead. But let's face it -- zombies crave the brains of the living, so there's a certain poetic justice to eating them as jerky.

I mean, sure, there are some unfortunate problems. It has an odd chemical aftertaste, often there's some green fuzzy mold on it, and about 40% of the polled customers admitted that they had developed rotting sores and a slight craving for brains. But no other kind of jerky gives you that amazing radioactive thrill as you eat it. Does turkey jerky cause your eyes to glow in the dark like convulsing jellyfish? No it doesn't!

So considering how awesome it is, it's a relief that Harcos Labs is creating zombie jerky that has been approved by the FDA and held up to industry standards. No longer will people have to catch and butcher their own zombies before making jerky out of them, a hazardous and time-consuming activity. And it tastes amazing -- that faint hint of nuclear waste is overlaid by a subtle smokiness, and the taste of the more rotted parts has been masked by that teriyaki flavor.

Even better, Harcos Labs is taking the health of its customers into consideration when making zombie jerky. They are not using zombies that have been stuffed in cages, surrounded by their own filth, and fed inferior, hormone-riddled food. These are free range zombies who are only fed the finest of hormone-free brains. And yes, they have a rabbi at the slaughterhouse, so this zombie jerky is completely kosher.

"Harcos Labs Zombie Jerky Teriyaki" is a little expensive compared to making your own, but the quality cannot be denied. And it's definitely safer than having to hunt down your own zombies for that delicious post-apocalyptic-survivor taste.

In Search of the Titanic ( Tentacolino ) ( Alla ricerca del Titanic )
In Search of the Titanic ( Tentacolino ) ( Alla ricerca del Titanic )
Dvd ~ Jane Alexander

1.0 out of 5 stars At the fishoteque, 7 April 2015
"The Legend of the Titanic" is one of the worst animated movies ever made. Its stilted, doll-faced animation style, flat characters and cliched script are nothing compared to the way that it casually co-opts the senseless deaths of over fifteen-hundred innocent people into a piece of anti-whaling propaganda. It's grotesquely insensitive and cruel.

So of course, they made a sequel.

And though it doesn't seem possible, "In Search of the Titanic" (aka "Tentacolino") actually manages to be... EVEN WORSE than the first movie. It's just as cluelessly insensitive and flatly-characterized as the first movie, but somehow manages to weave in talking toys, the lost city of Atlantis, bad techno music and the most evil "good guys" in the history of animation. This is the "Zardoz" of children's movies -- a frenetic spiral into candy-coated madness that will leave you gibbering with rage in a padded cell.

In 1915, Juan and Elizabeth decide to go find the Titanic for reasons that are never actually revealed, along with their dog Smiley and the two useless mice. How? A bathysphere... which wasn't effectively invented or used for another fifteen years. But their bathysphere is damaged by a gang of evil sharks because it's... yellow. The puppy-faced octopus Tentacles -- or as he's now rechristened, "Oddi" -- finds it but is unable to save them. So are the dolphins, who are supposed to have magical people-saving powers.

So who rescues them? Multicolored Antlanteans riding aquatic My Little Ponies. I wish I were kidding, because that might imply some kind of logical connection between this story and the real world. It turns out Atlantis is populated by dead-eyed smiling fish-people, angry rats and living toys that refuse to shut up.

When the rats and evil sharks conspire with the evil Baron Vandertilt (a rather tasteless joke, if you know what happened to a Vanderbilt in 1915) to steal the Elixir Of Life, Juan and Elizabeth... don't really do anything. They leave it to the King of Atlantis to begin an underwater war in which nobody is even slightly hurt because... the makers of this movie think that children need to be sheltered to the point of not knowing what mortality is.

I've never spiraled into pure madness, but I like to think that the experience would be something like "In Search of the Titanic." Nothing in this movie makes logical sense in the world we live in... or with the movie it's a sequel to... in fact, it makes no logical sense within itself. Things simply HAPPEN with no rhyme or reason, and they keep blindsiding the audience with bizarre storytelling choices that will leave any sensible person goggling in horror.

For instance: a battle march is interrupted so we can hear the sob story of a toy Scottish gunner who is upset about wearing a wig and makeup. There is a dog firing Atlantean laser beams. There's a techno dance sequence starring talking toys. There is a jack-in-the-box fish with a GAY LISP who likes to dress like Napoleon.

The worst part is that... there is not really a story. The writers of this abomination coat it in a candy shell of sickly-sweet friendliness, where no conflict is allowed except from the rats... who aren't particularly threatening, since they believe the ability to breathe underwater will allow them to take over the world. The plan is that idiotic, and thus there are no actual stakes because it's difficult to believe that any world domination plot this head-smackingly stupid could ever succeed.

Meanwhile.... the good guys are evil. Completely evil. They trick Juan and Elizabeth into drinking the Elixir of Life, which carries the stipulation that they are never allowed to return to the surface world. Of course, we're meant to see this as a sign of how nice and generous they are, and are quickly assured that the humans don't care about their measly friends and family. Nah, they're just fine with being tricked into immortality and eternal isolation. Because logical conflict is bad.

The returning characters in this movie are the same flat creatures as before -- Juan is a creepy vacuous Ken doll, Elizabeth has become even more spineless, and the mice are annoying. But it does introduce the King of Atlantis, who resembles a Ringwraith who just got back from Mardi Gras. He is one of the most evil villains to ever be hailed as a "good guy," partly because of his godlike power to grant life to inanimate objects.... including his throne. He gave life and sentience to something... just so he could plant his butt in its face.

Also, he created the character of Pingo. The gay jack-in-the-box fish with the Napoleon hat, who rambles about how screwdrivers will kill him... and then befriends a screwdriver. This character will make you long for Jar Jar Binks.

"In Search of the Titanic" is a truly transcendent experience... much like looking into the face of a Lovecraftian horror. Dripping with creepy, candy-coated madness, this is a movie to avoid except when drunk and high enough to enjoy it.

Lifeforce [1985] [DVD]
Lifeforce [1985] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Steve Railsback
Offered by ____THE_BEST_ON_DVD____
Price: £4.99

2.0 out of 5 stars You're one of us. You always have been (mild spoilers), 7 April 2015
This review is from: Lifeforce [1985] [DVD] (DVD)
Have you ever seen a movie that starts out well, but later completely falls apart? It's a disappointing experience, and the better the beginning is, the more disappointing the inevitable crumble becomes.

And "Lifeforce" is possibly the most extreme example of that -- it begins as a haunting, artistic sci-fi movie with a beautiful score and stunning special effects. But once the action is transferred to Earth, the movie begins a slow, subtle descent into outright silliness that grows more intense with every passing scene. Hamtastic acting, massive plot holes and even the once-lovely special effects grow more bizarre as it winds to its jaw-droppingly bad conclusion.

A space shuttle with a joint US/UK crew has been sent to investigate Halley's Comet, under the command of Colonel Thomas Wolfe Carlsen (Steve Railsback). But they promptly stumble across a vast alien spaceship hidden in that comet, which is filled with dead batlike creatures and three humanoids in suspended animation. When the shuttle returns to Earth, everyone on board is dead except for the three suspended humanoids... who turn out to be life force vampires.

The female (who is naked and the director never lets you forget it) promptly sucks the life-force out of some poor guy, who temporarily resurrects himself by sucking the life from someone else. If these newly-made vampires don't feed regularly, they shrivel up and explode. The Space Girl (seriously, that is what they call her) also apparently can float around and possess people... usually more sexy women, but occasionally Patrick Stewart.

The only one with a vague idea of what is going on is Carlsen, who was found in an escape pod in Texas, and who seems to have a psychic link to Space Girl. So of course, he is humanity's best hope for thwarting the space vampires before all of London is turned into a playground of alien-infected zombies. Did I mention there were zombies?

"Lifeforce" is almost a hypnotic experience, because most movies don't descend so steadily or completely into wretchedness. The opening scenes of the movie are some of the most spellbinding sci-fi exploration that has ever been put in a film, with exquisite matte paintings and hauntingly rich atmosphere. These scenes are probably the best work director Toby Hooper -- who directed "Poltergeist" just a few years before -- has ever done.

And yet... as soon as the action moves down to Earth, EVERYTHING deteriorates. It's like the movie was written and directed in one-off shifts by people who never actually conversed with one another. There are plot holes the size of the alien spacecraft (that's over a hundred and fifty miles, if you don't know) and massive continuity errors that stagger the entire storyline.

For instance, consider the infected humans. Initially, they are turned into dried-out mummies that return to normal (mentally and physically) by sucking the life force out of hapless humans. Unless fed, they will return to their mummified state and EXPLODE. That is... until the final act of the movie, when suddenly they become masses of telepathic rage zombies with oozing sores, who can be killed by a gunshot to any part of their anatomy. Why does this happen? Never explained.

Hooper tries desperately to tie together this sagging, hole-riddled mess with lots of nudity (but only from the FEMALE alien, never the males!), and the sight of Carlsen racing around the British countryside in an effort to interrogate the Space Girl (ugh, that name). But by the movie's grand finale, it's deteriorated into a mass of sleazy, weird, unexplained cheez involving columns of blue energy, zombies, a big sword, and the weirdest sex scene you'll ever see.

That slow descent into silliness also applies to Railsbeck, who starts off pretty subtle and normal, but slowly descends into ham worthy of Christmas dinner ("WHERE ARE YOOOOOOU? WHERE'S YOUR BOODDDDYY?"). It doesn't help that his character makes no sense, since he is often stated to be one of the space vampires himself... but this is never explained or shown at all. It's just a cop-out explanation for why he has a plot-convenient psychic link with the Space Girl.

Speaking of the Space Girl, aka French actress Mathilda May, her acting is negligible at best, but she clearly was cast for her more tangible talents. Two of them. And since those are very nice, I suppose she works well. Patrick Stewart is wasted as a character who mostly lip-syncs and screams, but Peter Firth gives a very good performance as the cynical, no-nonsense SAS guy who has to drag the screaming, melting-down Carlsen around.

"Lifeforce" isn't merely a bad movie -- it's a disappointing one, starting out with beauty and mystery and ending up a silly mass of boobs, zombies and hammy acting. If there's ever a movie that desperately needed a rewrite and remake, it's this one.

Crown Conspiracy
Crown Conspiracy
by Michael J. Sullivan
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Slaying a villain in the service of your king is the stuff of legends and what heroes are made of, 6 April 2015
This review is from: Crown Conspiracy (Paperback)
Royce the thief and Hadrian the swordsman are known as Ririya -- for the right price, and given enough time, they can steal pretty much anything.

They are also the last people you would expect to be suddenly in the middle of a massive political and religious war, but that is what happens in "The Crown Conspiracy," the first of Michael J. Sullivan's Riyria Revelations. Rather than overstuffed mythology or dark-and-gritty realism, Sullivan crafts a tale with most of the fantasy tropes which somehow manages to feel fresh, fun and complicated.

A foppish noble hires Royce and Hadrian to steal a legendary dueling sword... but when they get to the place where it's hidden, they don't find a sword. They find the king's corpse instead. In a matter of minutes, the two find themselves framed for the king's murder, and the enraged Prince Alric orders them gruesomely executed the very next day. Fortunately for the pair, Princess Arista knows that someone else killed her father, and she fears that soon the same person will assassinate her brother.

So she is willing to free them, with the stipulation that they kidnap Alric for his own safety, and take him to someone named Esrahaddon. Given the choice between death and babysitting a bratty new king, Royce and Hadrian decide to drag the king on a road trip, but they quickly discover that they are being hunted.

And they also learn that this conspiracy to seize the crown has a lot more elements than a simple assassination -- an ancient magical prison for a notoriously powerful wizard, a fallen empire, a burned-down abbey and a powerful religion centered on a demigod emperor. They never asked to be national heroes, but Royce and Hadrian find themselves enmeshed in this conspiracy, struggling to keep the new king and princess alive as they try to uncover the root of the treason.

Most high fantasy these days falls into two basic categories:
- Derivative of Tolkien, where the author chokes the story on excessive worldbuilding that the story doesn't actually need.
- Derivative of Martin, where the author bogs down the story on grim, dark grittiness until it's no longer entertaining.

And what makes "The Crown Conspiracy" so charming is that it isn't like either of these. Sullivan embraces a lot of fantasy tropes and cliches (elves, dwarves, wizards, Europeanish medievalish culture), but the story he spins out of them is oddly refreshing. He weaves out a genuinely epic story, based on centuries of fictional history and complex international politics, but the story itself stays a pretty intimate affair without any fat to trim.

It's also pretty fun to read -- Sullivan's prose is nimble and quick-moving, with lots of clever dialogue ("It's my first day.""And already I am trapped in a timeless prison. I shudder to think what might have happened if you had a whole week"), suspenseful battles and clever traps sprung by the thieves. However, Sullivan does stumble in a few areas. He skims over things that would be better shown (the guys assaulting the monks and making their way out of the dungeon), and his grasp of Ye Olde Englyshe is very... Yodaish.

Hadrian and Royce have a touch of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser about them, but these are very distinct characters on their own -- one a dark, mysterious thief with a rather cruel outlook, and the other a soft-hearted mercenary who totes around three swords. They're confident, smart and spend their free time hanging out with the beautiful local madam (whom Royce clearly carries a torch for), a rough bartender, and an assortment of rogues and weirdos.

And the supporting characters are equally interesting -- Alric starts out as a bratty prince, but slowly matures into a good king as he realizes what must be done to save his country. The timid monk Myron provides plenty of comic relief ("They are even prettier than horses") but also a poignancy and innocence, and there's also the mysterious handless wizard Esrahaddon and the strong-willed, magic-using princess Arista.

While "The Crown Conspiracy" wraps itself up nicely, Sullivan leaves a few plot threads dangling for the next chapter in the Ririya Revelations series. A fun, action-packed debut, which charms simply through being a clever, well-developed story.

Poltergeist II [Blu-ray] [US Import]
Poltergeist II [Blu-ray] [US Import]

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The beast returns, 6 April 2015
"Poltergeist" is probably one of the most perfect horror movies ever made. Everything about the movie simply WORKS, from the still-impressive special effects to the acting.

But of course, they had to make a sequel. They always have to make a sequel. And while it's not terrible, "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" is not the tightly-written scarefest that the first movie is -- when it's good, it's very good... and when it's bad, it's unintentionally funny and tends to meander. It's a passable '80s horror movie with a wandering plot.

A year after their house imploded, the Freelings (minus the eldest daughter, whose absence is never explained) have relocated to Grandma Jess's (Geraldine Fitzgerald) house. They're still pretty paranoid about the paranormal, especially since Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) still has those mysterious clairvoyant abilities, and her grandmother encourages them shortly before her death.

Then strange things start happening. A weird old man starts following them and tries to enter their house, and Carol Anne receives calls on her toy phone. The supernatural attacks are back.

Then a Native American shaman named Taylor (Will Sampson), a friend of Tangina's (Zelda Rubinstein), appears to help them by making Steve (Craig T. Nelson) a "warrior" for his family. And Tangina reveals the horrifying history of the Beast -- aka a preacher known as Kane -- and why he and his followers are so determined to claim Carol-Anne. No matter where the Freelings go, the evil will follow them.

"Poltergeist II" is one of those sequels that has a fairly decent story on its own, but it keeps trying to one-up the original (let's have even MORE people fall into the other dimension!). Oh, and we're never told what happened to the eldest daughter. Yes, I know that the actress was murdered in real life, but a token mention of "She's at boarding school" would have been nice.

The plot tends to meander somewhat until the final third, when the whole thing finally gels into a real conflict. But that final third is a genuinely disturbing experience, and despite a deus ex machina resolution, it genuinely manages to be more terrifying in places than the original, inducing a wholly different kind of fear. Also, Kane is creepy. All those teeth!

As for the horror elements, they're hit-or-miss. Some are hilariously bad (the killer braces scene -- come on, who thought that was a good idea?), and some are skin-crawlingly creepy (the tentacled, slimy worm-creature with Kane's grinning face).

The cast (minus Dominique Dunne) is the same here, and they all do solid jobs (although at times Nelson comes across as a bit manic) -- JoBeth Williams gives a particularly good performance as Diane struggles to deal with her mother's death and her child's psychic powers. And despite some 1980s-style Native cheesiness, the late Will Sampson gives a great performance as Taylor -- he is a genuinely comforting, calming presence, with gentle humor.

"Poltergeist II: The Other Side" has some ups and downs -- not as good as the original, but a decent horror movie in its own right. The same can't be said for the next sequel.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 26, 2015 9:26 AM BST

Hercules Returns [DVD] [1993]
Hercules Returns [DVD] [1993]
Dvd ~ Bruce Spence
Offered by PurpleBix DVDs
Price: £17.99

5.0 out of 5 stars "I am but the toe jam from between your mighty feet!", 29 Mar. 2015
Gag dubs are a pretty common occurrence now, since any idiot with a computer and some film-editing software can create his own.

But not so much in 1993, when Australia produced one of the funniest gag dubs in existence, in a little movie called "Hercules Returns" -- a tongue-in-cheek redub of the old Italian movie "Samson and the Mighty Challenge," which overflows with sex jokes, muscled men and wacky misunderstandings. You'd expect the framing device of plucky cinemaphiles saving an old theatre to be boring by comparison, but it's almost as funny.

Brad McBain (David Argue) is a prominent employee in Australi's largest theatre chain... but he's unhappy. His boss Sir Michael Kent (Michael Carman) is a cruel, callous employer who is always searching for ways to make money at the expense of his patrons. So Brad quits his job and leases the old Picture Palace, hires his porn-projectionist buddy Sprocket (Bruce Spence) and feisty publicist Lisa (Mary Coustas), and decides to show the last movie the last movie shown at that theatre.

But when the night rolls around, the trio discover that the Hercules movie is in Italian with no subs. Yep, Kent switched the film reels, as a form of revenge against Brad. So Brad, Sprocket and Lisa have only one option: live-dub the movie themselves from the projection booth.

In THEIR movie dub, the mighty but pinheaded Hercules goes to the land of Chlamydia, where he rescues Princess Labia from drowning. He's delighted to find out her mother Muriel owns the Pink Parthenon nightclub, but Muriel is determined to have Hercules marry her daughter -- which is complicated by the fact that Labia is in love with Testiculi, the son of Muriel's greatest rival. She makes it very clear she's uninterested in Hercules, whom she refers to as looking like a "condom full of walnuts."

So Labia arranges a fake message from Zeus saying that Hercules is actually gay, and that his perfect partner is Samson. Yes, Samson from the Bible. He's in this. Somehow. So Hercules is expected to fight Samson -- if he wins, he gets to marry Labia; if he loses, he marries Samson. And while the powerful yet wimpy Samson is quite enthusiastic about fighting Hercules, his girlfriend Delilah is not so pleased -- so she gives him a quick haircut. And somehow two other muscle-men -- the Scottish brawler Ursus and the flamboyantly gay Machismo -- are involved.

One of the best things about "Hercules Returns" is that it more or less follows the original plot of "Samson and the Mighty Challenge." The original movie was obviously pretty silly (one scene has an Irish little person clobbering an oracle with a giant matchstick) and was just an excuse to bring together four musclebound heroes from Italian cinema, even if their presence together makes NO sense at all. Seriously, Machismo and Ursus don't really have a reason to be here.

So obviously the movie becomes even more entertaining with a gag dub -- lots of sex jokes ("What is that man doing with his hand on my Labia?"), ethnic accents, Hercules frequently breaking into song, and making loud slurping noises anytime someone kisses. It's just far enough from the original movie to not just be riffing (Fanny is a crepe cook just PRETENDING to be a medium), but with the freedom to mock whatever is going on onscreen ("I'll fight you on one condition... that you lower your nipples!").

It sounds like the framing device would be extraneous, but it's almost as funny to watch the projection-room mayhem as they produce all the necessary sound effects with nothing but their bodies and a few props. And it's kind of fun to see these passionate cinephiles (see Bruce Spence almost throttle someone over the autobiographical content of Scorsese's movies) going up against a scenery-chewing mogul who just wants money, money, money.

For people who love riffing, sword-and-sandal movies and/or Aussie senses of humor ("But she's only popular with Cretans!"), "Hercules Returns" is an absolute delight. Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree...

Origin: Special Edition Movie - S.A.V.E. [Blu-ray] [US Import]
Origin: Special Edition Movie - S.A.V.E. [Blu-ray] [US Import]

3.0 out of 5 stars Plants.... OR ELSE, 29 Mar. 2015
It's easy to get blown away in the first few minutes of "Origin: Spirits of the Past," where we're treated to exquisitely creepy celestial visuals and a gorgeous theme song.

It's also a suitable lead-in for this beautifully animated movie about a not-so-distant future in which human civilization lies in dystopic ruins, and a vast sentient forest has taken control. The animation is stunningly lush and complex, and the lone-hero rescuer story is surprisingly moving... and it almost makes up for the fact that the eco-friendly plot makes absolutely no logical sense.

When a young boy named Agito stumbles on an underground chamber, he finds a girl cryogenically preserved for the past three hundred years. Toola is understandably upset by this -- and since she has an electronic neck device, her presence angers the Forest, who fear that she might be used by the militaristic land of Ragna. Of course, the Ragnan leader Shunack -- another survivor from three hundred years ago -- turns up to persuade her.

It turns out that Shunack wants to use E.S.T.O.C., a mysterious device that will return the world to the way it once was, and Toola rather understandably decides to help him. Agito's only hope for stopping them -- and keeping the forest safe -- is to undergo "enhancement" that genetically bonds him to the Forest's trees. But even that might not stop the might of Ragna's armies... and stuff, especially since Shunack is also "enhanced."

"Origin: Spirits of the Past" is a gorgeous film -- the animation is lushly-drawn and full of ruined buildings, vines, shimmering glades, great writhing vines and vast moving mountains full of weapons. Some of the more chilling images (such as Agito's dad slowly turning into a tree, or the seeming loss of Toola in a burning train) are exquisitely haunting, all the more so because they aren't played for horror. It is, simply put, a gorgeous piece of work.

It also comes up with an intriguing and slightly eerie concept for a sci-fi movie -- that plants engineered to withstand extraterrestrial life would mutate and become the dominant force on Earth, changing themselves even as they become integrated by humanity. The ruinous dystopia that results is both beautiful and disturbing.

The problem is, the plot makes no sense: presumably the whole living-in-harmony-with-Forest thing is symbolic of living in harmony with nature. But since the Forest was mutated by humans, wrecked the world, genetically altered the survivors and keeps civilization in a stagnant stranglehold, it's about as unnatural as you can get. And the alleged bad guys just want to switch the world back to its pre-mutant-plant state when man and nature were in balance... meaning that the Designated Anti-Nature Bad Guy is actually the Pro-Nature Good Guy.

Evidently, logic need not apply. Even director Keiichi Sugiyama belatedly seems to realize this, so he throws a rather random "villains will destroy a town" twist into the mix to the bad guy will really seem, y'know, bad. It doesn't quite work.

Additionally, Toola and Shunack are the most likable characters in the mix -- Toola is understandably miserable and freaked by the loss of the world she once knew, and the people with it. And while Shunack has made his place in this remade world and gotten a position of power, he's wracked by guilt over his part in the Forest's rise. Agito is a pleasant little hero who goes to extreme lengths, but he seems rather bland by comparison.

"Origin: Spirits of the Past" is a gorgeous piece of animation with a hauntingly sober backdrop, but the actual plot about the Forest makes no sense at all. Enjoy for the copious eye candy, but don't expect deep stuff here.

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