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E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA)

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ocean and the hidden ways, 24 Feb 2014
The Hempstock farm is a special place -- a pond is an ocean, monstrous things lurk in the forests, and an old lady may have lived longer than the world.

Welcome to "The Ocean at the End of the Lane," an exquisite short novel that shows anew why Neil Gaiman is one of the best authors alive. Part fantasy, part horror and part coming-of-age tale, this bewitching story is made even more beautiful because of Gaiman's clever use of magic, mystery and a villain who would seem silly in any other story.

As a child, the protagonist was shy, bookish and didn't really have any friends... until he met Lettie Hempstock. She was a strange girl living with her ancient grandmother and mother, who claims to have an ocean on her family farm -- and when she takes him exploring in the woods on her property, they encounter strange and sometimes dangerous creatures.

Unfortunately, one of those is a monstrous ancient being made of canvas and rotted wood, which follows him home. And once she takes the form of a human woman, she begins to torment the young boy and tear apart his family. His only hope may be Lettie and the Hempstock women -- but the solution for the monster may be even worse.

One of the best aspects of Neil Gaiman's storytelling is that he never shows you everything. There are glimpses of other worlds, ancient creatures, strange magic, but he never kills the magic by overexplaining. There is just enough magic, horror and timeless mystery to stoke your imagination, but not enough to bog down the story.

A lot of that comes from the Hempstocks, whose true natures and powers are never truly outlined -- all we know is that they are ancient and powerful, particularly the grandmother. And their farm -- including the mysterious "ocean" -- is a place of magic that both enthralls and terrifies. Gaiman's prose is exquisite ("The silk filled with candle flames moved then, a slow, graceful, under-the-water sort of a movement") and sharply descriptive.

He also has a rare gift for getting into the mind of a child -- the unnamed protagonist is young enough to still accept the strange and weird, but old enough to realize the enormity of what is happening. He also grows up as the story proceeds, learning to defy the cruelty of the adults around him (like his emotionally-abusive father) and gaining the courage to fight the canvas-creature.

And despite their weirdness, the Hempstocks are pretty fun characters too, especially the doughty grandmother who may be older than the universe. Lettie is a particularly intriguing character, both an ancient power and a sprightly little girl, as opposed to the rotten, malevolent Ursula.

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane" is a magical book in every way -- a coming-of-age tale about horror, enchantment and a farm that is not what it seems. The best book (so far) of 2013.

Stoker's Manuscript
Stoker's Manuscript
by Royce Prouty
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

3.0 out of 5 stars Back to Romania, 24 Feb 2014
This review is from: Stoker's Manuscript (Paperback)
Bram Stoker's "Dracula" has been reimagined, reinvented and turned inside-out over the past century -- and with "Stoker's Manuscript," it has gone meta.

Royce Prouty's debut novel mixes fiction, fact and facts about fiction in one novel about a young man who discovers that "Dracula" may be a little too real. The novel has a lot of intriguing ideas and some heavy atmosphere, but Prouty needs a little more seasoning before he writes heavy emotional scenes. They seem a little stiff.

As a child, Joseph Barkeley and his brother were rescued from Ceaușescu's Romania, and raised in the US by nuns. He has an almost magical knack for "feeling" books' age and composition, which makes him sought-after to authenticate old, rare books.

He's hired to authenticate, purchase and deliver the original manuscript and notes for Bram Stoker's Dracula, which includes a long-lost epilogue and ending. The client is anonymous... but he lives in the legendary Bran Castle in Romania. The people around Joseph are worried about him, either because they believe the client is a vampire, or because they don't want him going back to Romania.

Well, it's pretty obvious to everyone except Joseph that the client IS none other than the legendary Dracula, and he is searching for something in the original manuscript. Soon Joseph is not only enmeshed in a nightmarish web of vampiric weirdness, but he's also being implicated for multiple murders... where the victims were impaled.

"Stoker's Manuscript" has a pretty fascinating concept -- it mixes together real-life horrors in Romania (both recent and ancient) with genuinely creepy vampire mythology. A lot of people have made the "Vlad Tepes = Dracula of the book" connections, but Prouty adds real depth and mystery to it. And he gives the Romanian countryside a sense of eerie, sinister presence, where you can believe in the bizarre being real.

However, Prouty isn't quite seasoned enough to make the story fully work. He has an intriguing, richly-detailed style that echoes Stoker's Victorian style, which works well with a modern-day twist on "Dracula." And he sketches out a vampire species that is scarily realistic, complete with biological functions, different sub-breeds and methods of reproduction. It's a little removed from the more mystical approach of "Dracula," but interesting.

The problem is that Prouty's writing never really quite handles the intense stuff -- moments and recollections of deeper emotions (such as Joseph having a mini-meltdown) feel stiff and awkward. As a result, Joseph is an interesting protagonist but not really a gripping one. Sadly, the most interesting people -- like the weird vampire-obsessed Romanian lady -- don't get enough time in the spotlight.

"Stoker's Manuscript" is a decent novel that could have been a brilliant one. Excellent ideas and a great mix of fact and fiction are dragged down by prose that isn't very comfortable with emotions.

by Amy Tintera
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.97

4.0 out of 5 stars Rebooted, 24 Feb 2014
This review is from: Reboot (Hardcover)
If you die, you may come back to life as a Reboot. You're stronger, faster, colder, more ruthless, more resilient -- and the longer you were dead, the better a Reboot you are.

Unsurprisingly, they're used as soldiers. And in the dystopian future Texas of "Reboot," it takes a good-boy Reboot to remind the Rebootiest of Reboots that there is something to be said for the human heart. Weave in some solid, bloody action scenes and a secret conspiracy that may be taking down the lesser Reboots, and you have a solid sci-fi thriller.

Like all Reboots in the Republic of Texas, Wren works under HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation) for law enforcement. She's a One-seventy-eight, which is how long she was dead before she rebooted -- she's cold, efficient and virtually unstoppable. So when she meets Callum Twenty-two, she's both annoyed and baffled -- he's still very human in his thoughts and attitudes.

And as she tries to whip him into shape, Wren discovers that something strange is happening at HARC. Experiments are being performed on some of the lower-number Reboots, turning them into mindless savages -- and after her superiors demand that Callum be eliminated, Wren must do the unthinkable in order to keep him alive.

"Reboot" is grittier and bloodier than your average dystopian/sci-fi teen novel -- splatters of blood, broken bones, guns and the occasional berserker rage from chemicals. But it's not a graphic bloodbath. It's just a very grim story, and Amy Tintera does an excellent job telling a very slow-building story, even if the first half sometimes feels a little slow.

Most of that first half is all about Callum slowly breaking through Wren's icy, unfeeling shell -- while he doesn't transform her into a whole new person, he does touch her with his steadfast morals and kindness. Even though he's weak, his goodness can impress someone who valued strength above all else. There IS a romantic element to their connection, but Tintera wisely doesn't make it too intrusive or instant.

But things rev up in the second half, which switches the focus more to the dastardly deeds of HARC (which is only slightly more dastardly than real-life corporations) Tintera shows a knack not only for the more personal, subtle interactions (such as the tragic scene where Callum tries to reconnect to his old life) but also for some blood-spattered action scenes and conspiracies.

Those seeking a slightly darker, bloodier dystopian tale might like "Reboot" -- despite a slow first half, it's a solid, powerfully-written sci-fi tale.

Phantoms (Meridian) [DVD]
Phantoms (Meridian) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Sherilyn Fenn
Offered by A2Z Entertains
Price: 7.00

1.0 out of 5 stars ... or, I had sex with a werewolf, 24 Feb 2014
This review is from: Phantoms (Meridian) [DVD] (DVD)
If Laurell K. Hamilton ever wrote a straight romance novel, it would probably be something like "Meridian" -- lots of flowing shirts, rape... and sex with a furry werewolf.

And if you aren't a fan of those things, then "Meridian" won't have a lot to recommend itself. This movie tries to be both a sexploitation movie AND a "beauty and the beast" gothic romance, but just ends up being painfully slow-moving and incoherent. Not to mention that the constant rape and furry sex completely neutralizes any hint of actual sexiness to be found.

The story follows Catherine Bomarzini (Sherilyn Fenn), an American art student who returns to her family castle in Italy. Then her idiot friend Gina (Charlie Spradling) invites a troupe of wandering magicians to dinner at the castle, led by the arrogant Lawrence (Malcom Jamieson). Then the troupe drugs the two women so Lawrence can rape them, followed by him handing off Catherine to his twin brother Oliver (Jamieson again).

Apparently we're supposed to view THEIR sex as being real lovemaking, but she still seems rather dopey. Oh, and Oliver turns into a werewolf while raping Catherine.

The following day, Catherine begins seeing strange visions from the past -- a dead girl in a flowing white dress, a werewolf (guess who it is!) and a secret passage filled with red light. She also begins to figure out that there is a longtime curse associated with her family, and that Oliver (whom she thinks is the same person as Lawrence) can only be freed by her.

The first half of "Meridian" is pure sexploitation (rape, boobies, Sherilynn Fenn naked), with every possible excuse to show boobs bouncing out of tight shirts. But after our first glimpse of the werewolf, director Charles Band starts trying to turn it into an atmospheric gothic romance with curses, a werewolf, a tormented Byronic hero in flowing white shirts and a mysterious painting. It fails. A lot.

The movie sludges along at a painfully slow pace, with awful dialogue ("I have no world without you") and a lot of things that are never explained (that giant secret passage leading directly into a bedroom? Never explained). It drapes itself with scarlet velvet, moonlight, silver jewelry and shirts straight off of a romance novel cover, but Band can't hide the wretchedly contrived story.

And the climax is fascinatingly ludicrous: a werewolf holding a crossbow is thwarted by a whip-cracking dwarf in Elizabethan garb. I felt like someone had slipped drugs into MY drink.

One of the biggest problems is the rape. Not only does the villain date-rape the heroine and her friend, but it's shot in a slow-motion, erotic manner, as if Band was trying to make it alluring. And it's made even worse because the HERO also rapes her. Yes. While the heroine is meant to be coming out of her drugged stupor, her lack of reaction to having sex with a werewolf shows she was still pretty out-of-it.

Oh yes. There is sex with a werewolf in full furry form, and we're supposed to find it erotic. It's not erotic. It's actually rather grotesque to those without furry fetishes, and it negates any slight hints of sexiness that the movie might produce.

And despite Fenn's decent acting, the characters are just awful. Catherine is a walking blank who reacts instead of acting, and Spradling's entire purpose in the movie is to clean a painting and pick up a crossbow. As for Jamieson's double performance as Lawrence and Oliver (oh, cute), he's a little too excessive as both the evil mustache-twirling rapist and the brooding sad-eyed woobie.

"Meridian" is a disaster in every way -- a rapey sexploitation movie that tries to transform itself into a gothic romance. As anything other than a showcase for slow-motion boobs, it fails.

Witchouse [1999] [DVD]
Witchouse [1999] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ariauna Albright
Offered by Prestivo2
Price: 7.30

1.0 out of 5 stars Witchery afoot, 24 Feb 2014
This review is from: Witchouse [1999] [DVD] (DVD)
The first question to contemplate about "Witchouse" is: why is it one word? Why isn't it "Witch House" or "Witchhouse"?

The second is why anyone made this movie in the first place.

"Witchouse" is one of those so-bad-it's-hilarious movies that Full Moon Entertainment/Pictures/ Features/Whatever churned out in the '80s and '90s, usually with nonsensical scripts and entertainingly awful acting. "Witchouse" is one of the more hilariously awful examples of their output -- it's a pretty awful horror movie, but it's fun to laugh at the constant ineptitude. Seriously, who DOESN'T notice an evil undead witch walking five feet behind them?

Several stereotypical college students (slut, jock, virgin, bad girl, stoner, nerd, mousy girl) are invited to Witchouse, an old mansion in the town of Dunwich. Their hostess is Elizabeth (Ashley McKinney), a rather strange former classmate who has decided to celebrate May Day with a creepy Halloweeny party. She also regales them with the story of her ancestress Lilith, a powerful but rather indiscreet witch who was burned by witch-hunters after she tried to sacrifice a child.

Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth is actually a witch herself. And since evil powers aren't enough for her, she plans to sacrifice a pair of people she already beheaded in order to resurrect Lilith (Ariauna Albright), who now looks like a cut-rate "Buffy" vampire. The potential victims have all split into their own little groups, and it's up to the only people with brains to figure out why they were singled out for Lilith's vengeance.

"Witchouse" is a pretty by-the-numbers horror movie -- it's a standard supernatural-creature-wants-revenge plot, with a painfully typical cast of idiots who do all the usual things before dying/being possessed. There's not really a plot, just a lot of people wandering around and getting picked off VERY SLOWLY by the witch. It's about as horrifying as glimpsing the back of your fridge.

It's also pretty clear that nobody involved in production actually cared about what they were doing. One particularly laughable scene has Elizabeth attributing some of the greatest disasters in history to May Day (uh, lady, Vesuvius erupted in LATE SUMMER). Another has an unfortunate pair of lovers being beheaded by a mysterious witch... who is clearly standing at least ten feet away, and puts no energy into her swipes.

And Lilith doesn't seem to be in a hurry for her revenge. Apparently she can be stopped by a closed door, and she allows her potential victims to scheme for several minutes before actually meandering in to destroy them.
And the glimpses of Puritan-era witch-burnings establish that everybody dressed in Ye Olde S&Mwear, and for some reason they kept around a bunch of guys shaking their heads really fast.

The characters are also so gloriously shallow that they may give you paper cuts. Each one has a single characteristic -- one is a stoner, one is a slut, one is a shy virgin -- and nothing more than that, although there are some feeble attempts to flesh out the most sympathetic of the gang. McKinney is particularly bad -- her character just comes across as a bratty little girl dabbling the occult, and every single word she says telegraphs, "I am an evil witch."

And a fun fact: the tomboyish bad-girl Janet is played by Brooke Mueller, long before she became Charlie Sheen's third ex-wife. This movie will make you grateful that she didn't continue her acting career, because she has the acting ability of a rotting log -- her attempts to sound "street" are like listening to cats having a screech-off.

"Witchouse" is an awful, awful movie... and yet it's also strangely hilarious in its relentless badness. If nothing else, hold a riffing party with some like-minded friends... and plenty of alcohol.

The Lawnmowerman [10th Anniversary Edition] [DVD]
The Lawnmowerman [10th Anniversary Edition] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Pierce Brosnan
Offered by Ronald Cooper
Price: 0.99

1.0 out of 5 stars Computers are magic!, 24 Feb 2014
Whenever I see a movie about computers from the '80s and '90s, I have to ask myself, "Is this what people REALLY thought computers and the Web were like?"

And if there's a movie that can make "Tron" look reality-based, it would be "The Lawnmower Man." This is one of those ugly footnotes in Pierce Brosnan's career between "Remington Steele" and James Bond, and he is completely wasted as a scientist who (not kidding) uses virtual reality to change a person's brain. Even if it weren't a scientific farce, the acting is absurd and the "serious" death scenes are hysterical.

Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Brosnan) is developing a chemical/VR combination which can make a person more intelligent, but also possibly more aggressive. Of course, the government wants the process to make supersoldiers. But after his test monkey goes berserk and starts killing people, he decides to secretly continue his experiments from his basement.

His new test subject is Jobe Smith (Jeff Fahey), a mentally-handicapped guy who mows lawns in the neighborhood. And after Angelo begins exposing him to the magic of virtual reality, Jobe's intellect rapidly hits genius levels -- and then he begins showing signs of psychic powers like telekinesis, mind-reading and other fun abilities. But because of a mysterious government agency, Jobe is also becoming more evil.

"The Lawnmower Man" is a movie based on Hollywood's belief that computers are magic and virtual reality is another DIMENSION. And that is where my suspension of disbelief snaps -- this movie informs us that virtual reality can overcome physical, actual brain defects just by flashing information in the disabled person's face.

And then they become a genius. And a telepath. And a telekinetic. How do you gain the power to control people like puppets, generate giant golden floating heads, and turn people into golf-ball-sized whirling spots around a black hole... from a computer? Yes, this is one of those science-fiction stories that has more fantasy than science, and it actually makes "Tron" look like hard gritty reality.

But it's a pretty dreadful movie even on artistic merits. The plot itself feels like "Flowers for Algernon" with a cliche sci-fi twist, and the attempts to be horrifying are absolutely hilarious, such as when Jobe uses a supercharged lawnmower to kill someone. It also feels like large chunks of the movie were cut out, since the mysterious "Shop" is never really explained and Angelo's wife just sort of evaporates from the movie.

The CGI has also not aged well. The more surrealist parts are actually pretty decent, considering how old the movie is -- but when humanoid CGI figures move and speak, it's terrifying. It brings home just why Pixar took so long to animate humanoid characters in their movies.

It doesn't help that Fahey is absolutely dreadful in this movie -- at first it seems like he's doing a really bad impression of a handicapped person, but he actually gets WORSE when Jobe becomes smart. Pierce Brosnan is clearly just phoning in it, possibly because his character is so utterly unsympathetic -- he swings between being a jerk and being a blah non-hero.

"The Lawnmower Man" is one of those movies that hasn't aged well, and is probably best appreciated through a pair of thick nostalgia goggles. Otherwise, the silly premise and absurd execution just make it a chore.

The Place Beyond The Pines [DVD] [2013]
The Place Beyond The Pines [DVD] [2013]
Dvd ~ Ryan Gosling
Price: 5.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An American tragedy, 24 Feb 2014
They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. "They" might as well be talking about "The Place Beyond The Pines."

This quiet little story revolves around two men joined forever by a single act of violence, and how it affects the people they love. It sometimes feels like it needs severe trimming, but Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling both give very powerful, understated performances -- and Derek Cianfrance is able to provoke the audience's thoughts without preaching to them.

Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is a wandering motorcycle stunt driver, with no ties to anyone. Then he discovers that his ex-lover Romina (Eva Mendes) has given birth to his son Jason, but Romina has since gotten involved with a new man named Kofi (Mahershala Ali) and doesn't want him around. Desperate to be in his son's life, Glanton teams up with a mechanic (Ben Mendelsohn) to rob local banks, so he can provide for Jason.

But after a fight with Kofi, an increasingly desperate Glanton finds himself robbing a bank alone -- and a tiny delay causes the police to pursue him. Rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) manages to corner Glanton and ends up accidentally killing him.

Though he's hailed as a hero, Cross is racked with guilt because he fired the first shot -- and is even more guilt-ridden when he finds out Glanton had a baby son the same age as his own son AJ. His feelings of guilt and his quest for justice will cause ripples in his life through the years, especially when he runs for Attorney General -- and Jason discovers the tragic truth about his father.

At its core, "The Place Beyond the Pines" is a story about having good intentions, but doing things that are bad (or at least questionable) to fulfill them -- one man turns to theft to be close to his son, the other shoots a man to uphold the law. It's a tragic story with no easy answers, especially since it shows us the story's middle-climax from two different viewpoints.

Derek Cianfrance (the guy who brought us the equally tragic "Blue Valentine") films the movie in a gritty, realistic style -- no glamour, no overblown soundtrack, no sweeping visuals, no fakey movie dialogue. It gives a strangely intimate flavor to the story, particularly as the camera tends to focus on Cooper and Gosling's faces. It relies completely on the actors to make you feel and empathize, which is a rare thing in movies.

And those actors are more than up to the challenge. Gosling's bleached hair is a bit silly-looking, but he gives a heartrending performance as a man who is changed forever by fatherhood, and who desperately wants to be a better dad than his father was. And Cooper proves he's much more than the "Hangover" guy, giving a subtle, tragic performance as a haunted man who discovers that every death is a terrible loss.

The one problemo: it needs tighter editing. Some of the scenes ramble on a lot longer than they need to, such as the scene where Cross is being questioned about the shooting.

"The Place Beyond the Pines" is a beautiful -- if sometimes overlong -- piece of work, resting on the shoulders of two excellent actors. A gritty, well-developed tragedy.

The Fall of Arthur
The Fall of Arthur
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.34

4.0 out of 5 stars The ode of Arthur, 24 Feb 2014
This review is from: The Fall of Arthur (Hardcover)
JRR Tolkien had a passion for ancient myths and legends. But for some reason, he never wrote much about the stories of King Arthur.

That isn't to say he didn't write anything about the Once and Future King. In the 1930s, he wrote "The Fall of Arthur," an epic poem that he abandoned in favor of his more famous Middle-Earth books. This is not the genteel, courtly Arthur of Thomas Malory -- this is a rough, ancient-feeling poem that follows the rhythm and flow of Anglo-Saxon poetry.

"Arthur eastward in arms purposed/his war to wage on the wild marches,/over seas sailing to Saxon lands,/from the Roman realm ruin defending..." The malevolent Mordred convinces Arthur and Gawain to set out to war, during which he will take care of Arthur's kingdom. The two battle their foes to the east, and are wildly successful...

... until "from the West came word, winged and urgent,/of war assailing the walls of Britain." Mordred has treacherously turned against Arthur, and is even pursuing his beautiful queen Guinever, who flees the castle to avoid him. So Arthur heads back home to reclaim his throne, even as the exiled Sir Lancelot is drawn back to help the man he wronged.

Sadly, the poem was never finished, and it ends after a rousing little speech by Gawain. So to pad out the book, Christopher Tolkien wrote a multi-part essay about the poem and its depiction of Arthur -- the Saxon overtones, the presence of Rome and other countries, Tolkien's use of language, and comparisons to other works of medieval Arthuriana.

He also expounds on its connection to Tolkien's "Silmarillion" (aka the Elf Bible), the various notes that Tolkien left behind that indicate his intentions for the remainder of the poem, and the evolution of the poem, based on Tolkien's multiple drafts. These parts are not particularly interesting except from a scholarly standpoint -- the real draw is the poem itself.

Though Tolkien wrote "The Fall of Arthur," it feels as though he uncovered a forgotten piece of parchment and simply translated the story. This is a very Anglo-Saxon Arthur, with none of the polished medieval flavor that most stories have -- he's depicted as an Invasion-era Briton who bravely fights back against the eastern invaders.

And anyone who has studied "Beowulf" will recognize the way this was written -- short lines, strong alliteration, caesura (mid-line pauses) and kennings (two words connected to form another one: "the wind-wreckage in the wide heavens"). The entire poem has a strong oral flavor, with the swaying rhythms of old Saxon poetry.

And Tolkien's use of language is as exquisite as ever ("Grey her eyes were as a glittering sea;/glass-clear and chill"), evoking feelings of a wild but civilized world, of banners with ravens, ships ablaze on the sea and castles overlooking the sea.

"The Fall of Arthur" is not a work for the casual Tolkien reader -- instead, it's a beautiful, sadly incomplete epic poem that makes you wish he had been immortal, so he could have one day completed it.

The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work and Writings of Dr. Spencer Black
The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work and Writings of Dr. Spencer Black
by E. B. Hudspeth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.55

4.0 out of 5 stars Biology of mythology, 24 Feb 2014
They say not to judge a book by its cover. But with the cover of "The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black," what you see is what you get.

And to be honest, the picture of a winged-humanoid skeleton, with every bone carefully catalogued, was enough to reel me into checking out this book. It's a pseudo-biography of a fictional man who devoted himself to the scientific study of ancient mythical creatures -- and while E.B. Hudspeth spins a fine fictional biography, the illustrations are what really took my breath away.

The book tells the story of Spencer Black, a 19th-century physician whose father was a grave-robbing professor of anatomy. That fascination with anatomy carried over into Black's career -- first he became fascinated by transformation in the insect world, and then by the workings of the human body. But when he encounters the corpse of a "fawn-child," his research took an unexpected turn.

After that, Dr. Black came up with a shocking, controversial theory: that mythical creatures were not only real, but were ancestors of humanity. According to him, birth defects were just those ancient genetic traits trying to resurface. So he tried to create his own "mythical" creatures by grafting together body parts from different animals -- which, unsurprisingly, the scientific community was unimpressed by.

The late 19th century is a perfect era for the fictional Dr. Black -- it was a time of massive technological advances and strange new pseudosciences. Just think of the Fiji Mermaid. So while "The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black" is an entirely fictional work, EB Hudspeth manages to blur the boundaries between fiction and reality -- you can almost believe it is a biography of a real person.

He also does an excellent job writing a pseudo-biography, exploring the events in Black's life (failed surgery, death of his children) that fueled his obsessions. Hudspeth even writes letters to/from Black, as well as a journal entry from his brother Bernard about his first, horrifying "graft."

But the most fascinating part of the book is not the fictional biography, but the "The Codex Extinct Animalia." In this, we can see beautifully detailed drawings of sphinxes, harpies, fluttering multi-finned mermaids, dragons (serpentine and regular), pegasi, and countless other mythical creatures. Not only are these the most realistic depictions of mythical creatures I have ever seen, but they are the most scientifically plausible.

Hudspeth achieves this by examining these creatures down the muscles, organs and bones, which are catalogued in painstaking detail. He even catalogues them by different orders and fictional families -- for instance, the Siren Oceanus is a member of the family Sirenidae and the genus Siren, with internal lungs covered in gills.

"The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black" is an exquisite piece of work -- a solid, sometimes horrifying pseudo-biography, followed by exquisitely realistic depictions of mythic creatures. If nothing else, read this for Hudspeth's beautiful illustrations.

Mission to Mars [DVD] [2000]
Mission to Mars [DVD] [2000]
Dvd ~ Tim Robbins
Price: 3.47

1.0 out of 5 stars Mission to blahs (spoiler), 24 Feb 2014
This review is from: Mission to Mars [DVD] [2000] (DVD)
"Mission to Mars" is a prime example of a sci-fi movie that thinks it is a LOT smarter than it actually is.

Specifically, it is a movie that tries to combine the stark realism of "Apollo 13" with the fantasy-science of "2001: A Space Odyssey." Unfortunately, it fails at being either by trying to be both -- we get long stretches of scientifically-plausible filler, followed by a sharp left turn into woo-woo too-advanced-to-explain-to-the-audience alien stuff.

In 2020, the first manned mission to Mars is launched, led by Luke Graham (Don Cheadle). But the astronauts find a mysterious rock formation, and a whirlwind immediately pops up and kills everyone except Luke, who sends a panicked message back to the World Space Station. So a rescue mission is quickly thrown together, including Co-Commander Jim McConnell (Gary Sinise), who was originally supposed to lead the Mars mission.

But the mission goes horribly wrong before they even get to Mars, when the ship is blasted by tiny asteroids, which leave one of their number dead. The survivors barely manage to land on Mars, but they lose their ship in the process. The only person left on the base is a half-crazed Luke, who reveals a shocking find on Mars' surface: a giant stone face.

The biggest problem with "Mission to Mars" is that at least 80% of it is filler. Just filler. The introduction to the families we will never see again? Filler. The whole asteroid-impact-in-space? It has nothing to do with the main plot. The incredibly melodramatic death of a main character we barely know? Contributes nothing. Without the padding, this movie would be half an hour long.

Additionally, this whole movie feels like it started as ONE kind of sci-fi movie, and then got derailed into another. The first half's approach is "Apollo 13 on Mars," right down to starring Gary Sinise as a guy who didn't make it onto the first mission. We have a slow, careful, scientifically plausible approach with a home base and realistic perils. Yes, there is a standard sci-fi threat on Mars, but it's left ambiguous.

Then... the plot derails itself into Giant Martian face, mysterious artifacts, and the oh-so-dramatic history of Mars. Suddenly the space station and its Russian commander -- who was built up as a significant character -- are utterly forgotten. It clearly wants to become "2001: A Space Odyssey," but merely having mysterious artifacts and a computer that sounds like a pedophile do not make it so.

And without revealing too much about the final revelations, "Mission to Mars" ends up feeling like a clumsy prequel to "Prometheus." The final scenes are crammed with so much wretched Hollywood science and gaping plot holes that your head might explode. It's pretty clear that nobody making the movie knew anything about DNA, and massive questions (why didn't the Martians colonize the beautiful virgin planet right next door?!) are left unanswered because... woo, look at the mysterious technology!

It has a fairly talented cast, though, and Sinise and Cheadle manage to keep it from becoming completely boring. However, Tim Robbins is utterly wasted -- he has one good scene, which is absurdly melodramatic -- and the rest of the cast is either wooden (Connie Nielson) or hideously annoying (Jerry O'Connell).

"Mission to Mars" is an utter failure -- mediocre acting, a ghastly tonal shift, and a climax that feels like it was vomited up by "Prometheus." And of course, LOTS OF FILLER.

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