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EA Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA)

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Housebound [DVD] [2014] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Housebound [DVD] [2014] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Price: £8.54

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Halfway house of the damned, 23 Feb. 2015
I've learned something over the years -- New Zealanders seem to find it difficult to make a straightforward horror movie. They have this quirky sensibility that just seeps into their horror movies.

And we can add "Housebound" to the pile of very funny, quirky horror movies that came from New Zealand, and definitely one of the better examples. This very low budget film would be a somewhat passable haunted-house/murder mystery if it weren't so quirky, but it definitely wouldn't be as memorable or delightfully weird. Case in point: there is a demonic Teddy Ruxpin that seems to be stalking the heroine.

After a failtastic ATM robbery gone wrong, Kylie (Morgana O'Reilly) is sentenced to eight months of house arrest in her old family home, with her chatterbox mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) and quiet stepmother Graeme (Ross Harper). Kylie does little except eat and lie around watching daytime TV, much to her mother's dismay -- and after Miriam calls in to a radio show, declaring that there is a bedsheeted ghost in her house, Kylie heaps even more disdain on her.

Then she wanders down into the basement at night... and a hand grabs her ankle. Security guard/anklet monitor Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) believes the declaration that there is a ghost in the house, and insists that Kylie should help it find peace.

Investigating some old stuff in the basement, Kylie soon finds out that her childhood home is actually a former halfway house -- and there was a gruesome murder shortly before her mother bought the place. After finding some crucial evidence, she unsurprisingly thinks it was the creepy redneck neighbor -- but soon discovers that the truth about both the ghost and the murder is far stranger than she could have imagined. And it might get both her and Miriam killed.

Consider "Housebound" tio be an example of how low budgets don't equal poor quality -- this movie was made on a mere quarter of a million US dollars, and has no huge stars in it. It excels because it's just really, really well made, from the drifting camerawork to the spooky, perpetually shadowy interior lighting, fizzy electronica and some really jarring scenes like a sheeted figure looming over one of the cops while the lights flicker on and off.

Writer/director Gerard Johnstone also seems to be drawing inspiration from some classic movies like "The Changeling" and "The Shining," in a way that still feels fresh rather than derivative. But he brings something extra to the table -- that wickedly quirky New Zealand sense of humor. While still harrowing and spooky, he brings humor to the movie from the very first scene (the ATM robbery is crammed with fail). So we get everything from the subtle (Kylie trying to pry her sleeping neighbor's dental plate out) to the gloriously weird (a killer chases Kylie and Miriam with a giant knife... while stuck inside a laundry hamper).

If there's a flaw, it's the slightly disorienting shift that takes place towards the climax, when the whole ghost concept is dropped like a stone in favor of a more earthly explanation for everything that's going on. I actually found this incredibly confusing when I first saw the movie, and had to see it another time before I fully comprehended it.

It takes a while to warm up to O'Reilly's Kylie, which is clearly the intention -- Kylie is a bratty, self-absorbed woman who doesn't seem to have gotten past her teen rebellion phase, and who blames her mother for... existing. Her transition into a decent human being isn't explicitly explored (there's no psychobabble moment that changes everything), but she gradually changes into a scrappy, strong-willed heroine who actually cares about other people.

There aren't a lot of supporting actors, but they are all excellent -- Wiata as Kylie's sweet, chatterboxy mother and who just wants to live a pleasant life; Harper as her pleasant rarely-speaking husband; and a delightful turn by Waru as Kylie's monitor/partner-in-investigation, who steadfastly believes in ghosts and occasionally smacks some sense into our anti-heroine. He's a delight, and we should see him in more movies.

And... Eugene. Ryan Lampp's Eugene. It's impossible to describe Eugene without giving away the entire twist of the movie, except to say that he looks like a perpetually-surprised goth squirrel-man. He is one of the greatest characters in the world, and it's a shame we don't see more of him.

Clever, smart and spooky, "Housebound" manages to take a lot of cliches and make them feel fresh as new. A must-see for those who like some laughs with their blood and spookery... and possibly a three-quarter-size Jesus statue.

Kingsman: The Secret Service [DVD] [2015]
Kingsman: The Secret Service [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Colin Firth
Offered by Shop4World
Price: £4.68

10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Are we going to stand around here ALL day, or are we going to fight?, 23 Feb. 2015
Here's an idea for you -- James Bond in the style of "Kick Ass," with a side of Harry Potter. Awesome? Awful?

Yeah, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" -- based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons's comic book series -- could have been the biggest, most grotesque flop in years. Instead, it ends up being a quirky, clever spy thriller that uses all the cliches in fresh ways -- it has the updated villains and razor-edged violence of newer spy movies movies, combined with the style and Empire sensibilities of the older ones. Also, Colin Firth as a secret agent.

Smart but aimless, Gary "Eggsy" Unwin is like thousands of other working-class British youths -- he lives in a rotten little apartment with his neurotic mother and abusive stepfather, and has gotten in some scrapes with the law. The one unusual thing about him is that when his father died under classified circumstances, and a mysterious man named Harry Hart (Colin Firth) left him with a medal, a phone number, and a code phrase for if the Unwin family ever needed help.

When he's arrested for car theft, Eggsy calls the number and is promptly bailed out by Hart. He soon finds out that Hart isn't just an aristocratic gentleman -- he's a Kingsman agent who can easily take down a whole pub full of thugs. So when Eggsy is offered a new life as a Kingsman, he takes it immediately. There's only one opening, but his street smarts, kindness and intelligence put him far ahead of the Oxbridge-educated youths he's competing against.

While he's undergoing a grueling training regimen, the Kingsmen are investigating a plot involving a kidnapped professor, a dead Kingsman agent, and the lisping billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Celebrities and world dignitaries are going missing, and Valentine's plans for the world may be the most devastating ever. Can the Kingsmen — new and old — bring him down?

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a fascinating take on the whole secret agent cliche. It both subverts (Eggsy) and affectionately homages (Harry) the whole idea of the upper-crust secret agent who loves fine liquor, fine suits and dangerous missions -- and unlike many a homage, is entirely entertaining in its own right. This is the kind of movie where a diabolical villain has a giant cheesy prison where he keeps everyone who won't agree to his master plan!

And it has some gloriously over-the-top action scenes, including some Bond-style goons (including an acrobatic assassin with bladed prosthetic legs) and stylishly gruesome violence (flips, flying teeth, heads exploding with fireworks), which are glorious when handled with the sort of sleek, elegant style of the Kingsmen (one of them catches a glass of fine whisky in mid-fight because "It would be a sin to spill any"). Paired with that is a wicked sense of humor, such as a villain who plans to kill everyone on the planet... but can't cope with the sight of blood.

But it also has a surprising amount of substance, mainly by looking at the class system still unofficially in place in, among other places, England. The leader of the Kingsmen makes it clear that he wants "the right sort" to be these positions, and Eggsy has to complete with a bunch of people who have all the advantages in life. "... judging people like from your ivory towers, with no thought about why we do what we do." Kids like Eggsy can do great things, but only if given the opportunity.

What flaws does it have? Well, the whole "Kingsman education" sequence is skimmed over as quickly as they can manage (partly by putting Harry in a months-long movie coma), but it STILL kills all momentum going on in the movie. Things don't pick up again until Eggsy is almost finished.

The elder Kingsmen are a who's-who of beloved British actors -- Michael Caine, Mark Strong, and of course Colin Firth as a gloriously gentlemanly agent who can take out a whole pub full of thugs with only an umbrella and a watch. He has good fatherly chemistry with Taron Egerton, a brashly endearing youth who just needs a door opened to show off that he's smart (despite not knowing a pug from a bulldog), strong and compassionate. And of course, Jackson is clearly having the time of his life as an old-school destroy-the-world villain who serves McDonald's at his exclusive dinner parties.

Despite losing its way in the training montage, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" is a fun, wild adventure that blows a kiss to the old-timey spy thrillers, while also carving out a niche of its own. Smart, sleek and entertainingly violent.

Lord of Illusions [Blu-ray] [1995] [US Import]
Lord of Illusions [Blu-ray] [1995] [US Import]
Offered by Newtownvideo_EU
Price: £19.12

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Taste the darkness, D'Amour, 20 Feb. 2015
If someone told you that Clive Baker had written and directed a noir thriller... then "Lord of Illusions" is exactly the kind of movie that you'd expect him to produce. In other words, Barker's third full-length movie -- adapted from his short story "The Last Illusion" -- fulfills a lot of the tropes of a hard-boiled mystery, but interwoven with shadowy magic, fleshy gore and pure nightmare fuel. Oh, and Scott Bakula as a detective with a special knack for the supernatural.

Thirteen years ago, a group of friends broke into the compound of the evil cult leader Nix (Daniel von Bargen) to free a young girl he was planning to sacrifice. Swann (Kevin J. O'Connor), a former acolyte of Nix's, manages to kill him by sealing his head in a steel mask, but not before Nix screws with his head.

In the present day (aka, 1995), private detective Harry D'Amour (Bakula) is in the dumps after exorcising a demon from a young boy. I know that's what I call private detectives for: exorcisms. A friend of his sends him on a mundane, easy insurance-fraud case in Los Angeles, hoping that some sunshine will improve Harry's mood... but Harry almost immediately stumbles across a gruesome murder committed by two of Nix's followers.

Then Harry is hired by Dorothea (Famke Jansson), Swann's beautiful wife. Swann has done quite well for himself, becoming a famous illusionist... but that night, he dies in an escape trick gone horribly wrong, and Harry encounters the same thugs who committed the previous murder backstage. As he tries to figure out who has killed Swann and his former cohorts, Harry soon realizes that dark magic is involved in this case -- and it might just bring Nix back from the grave.

"Lord of Illusions" has a lot of the tropes of a standard noir thriller, like you would expect from Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett -- you have a witty, world-weary private eye, a beautiful woman, a long-ago crime that everyone is hiding, and so on. But this noir just happens to involve a cult of crazed Manson-style worshipers, blood-soaked magic, and a bad guy who literally wants to murder every person on the planet.

And where most directors would have to work to unite "bloody horror" and "film noir," Barker makes it feel very seamless. His direction veers between a complicated murder mystery (stabbings, suicides) and sorcery (burning specters) without any real divide between them, and Harry never has any skepticism to work past.

It also has one of the most shocking intros to appear in a full-length movie, since the downfall of Nix almost feels like a short film on its own (although I'm not sure why there is a mandrill in these scenes). After that, Barker swathes the movie in a sense of creeping horror, the feeling that something twisted and rotting is creeping into the mundane world. In the meantime, he also gives us lots of gore, including people repeatedly stabbed, shot, burned, and a guy impaled on a massive steel pipe -- not to mention the hideous quicksand scene.

He also creates some eerie, skin-crawling dialogue ("You ever watched a man die? If you watch very closely, you can sometimes see the soul escaping") and some true nightmare fuel. "Flesh Through A God's Eyes" is a prime example, where the person sees the skin of those around him split and slough off, revealing thready, slimy monstrosities in the void within.

Scott Bakula gives a very solid performance as the supernatural detective -- Harry has no special powers, just an unfortunate attraction to the supernatural. So he has the weary, worn-down feel of a man who has seen too much, yet he is still noble enough to not be corrupted by Nix. He has good chemistry with Janssen as the not-very-fatale femme, who married Swann out of gratitude but falls in love with Harry; O'Connor gives a skittery, nihilistic performance as Swann; and von Bargen is absolutely nightmarish as the casually sadistic villain, who wants to blast the world into a ruined cinder.

This edition is particularly worth having, since it contains both the R-rated theatrical version and the unrated director's cut. They aren't dramatically different, but the director's cut flows slightly better -- there are some character introduction scenes ("Where'd the flower go?"), more gore, a full-on love scene rather than just the implied sex, and some further fleshing-out of Swann's motives. It also looks like some of the special effects may have been cleaned up.

"Lord of Illusions" is a spellbindingly sharp, tightly-written story that seamlessly blends film noir with the dark, gruesome horror that Clive Barker is best known for. It just leaves you sad that he didn't direct more films.

The Girl With All The Gifts
The Girl With All The Gifts
by M. R. Carey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Pandora of zombies, 20 Feb. 2015
Zombies are everywhere right now. Hit zombie TV shows, zombie movies, zombie books. All we need is a remake of "I Walked With A Zombie."

But unlike most fantasy creatures -- vampires, werewolves, et cetera -- zombies eventually need some kind of new twist, because it's hard to give human complexity to animated corpses that just want to eat brains. Therein lies the charm of M.R. Carey's "The Girl With All The Gifts," a clever little novel set in a future where "hungries" have reduced human civilization to ruins, and the only chance for its rebuilding may be a little zombie girl.

That little girl is Melanie, who is perfectly normal in some ways -- she's very intelligent, loves books, and goes to school every day. But she's not so normal in others: she lives in a subterranean cell in an army base, and is immobilized in a wheelchair whenever she is allowed out of her cell. Sergeant Parks and his soldiers seem (to Melanie) inexplicably hostile to her and the other children, and to her idolized teacher Miss Justineau for her kindness to the kids.

Gradually, it is revealed why: Melanie and the other children are not human. They are hungries. In this postapocalyptic future, a variation of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis has infected the human race, turning them into hungries. The surviving humans either live in roving Mad Max-style gangs known as junkers, or fortify themselves in army bases.

But in the ruins of civilization, the army has found zombie children who seem to retain their intelligence for some reason. They can think, learn, speak and are in all ways normal as long as they don't get a whiff of human flesh. If that happens, they temporarily lose their minds and go all chompy chompy BRAAAAINNNNNNSS. So while Miss Justineau teaches the children, Dr. Caldwell occasionally dissects them in hopes of finding a cure for the fungus.

And when she tries to dissect Melanie, Miss Justineau finally can't take it anymore and barges in to stop her. Coincidentally, that is also when the base is swarmed by the hungries, forcing Justineau, Caldwell, Parks, Melanie and one other guy who isn't important to flee. They stumble across a mobile lab that the dying Caldwell uses to finally finish her research -- and Melanie makes a shocking discovery about herself and the other children.

The interesting thing about "The Girl With All The Gifts" is the idea of zombie children who are somehow able to retain their mental faculties. They're still clearly "hungries" -- one scene has Melanie horrified by her almost biting chunks off Miss Justineau -- but their intelligence makes this a more complicated, morally ambiguous story than just "people shoot zombies in head, zombies eat human brains, the end."

Carey's writing is mostly in the present tense, which takes a little while to get used to, especially since he flips wildly from one perspective to another -- while a lot of the story is from Melanie's third-person perspective, we also see the perspectives of of Justineau and the soldiers. His prose tends to be pretty straightforward and simple, but detailed enough to keep the gritty, decayed atmosphere alive ("Grey threads have broken the leathery surface of their skin in a network of fine lines, crossing and re-crossing like veins").

Admittedly, Carey's plot is rather slender, since for most of the book, the characters either just wander through the deserted countryside or bicker in their bunkers. But it moves along pretty quickly, and he weaves in some real-life science (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the e-blocker) that won't leave the audience tearing out their hair.

Melanie is a striking protagonist merely because she is actually a zombie, but has the feelings and morals to be appalled by her involuntary urges -- she's a genuinely kind little girl with a ravenous hunger for knowledge as well as human flesh. And her childish crush on Miss Justineau is rather charming, and helps tie in to Justineau's oddly maternal feelings and awakening moral sense. She knows that the children have real feelings and thoughts, and she can't bring herself to hurt them.

This is the opposite of Caldwell, who is calm, coldly calculating, and insists that the children are all just hosts for a fungus... although I doubt any fungus could fake complicated emotions and reactions to Greek myth. And while the soldiers -- including Park -- are antagonistic, Carey does remind us that they have seen the whole world fall apart, and they need to vent their hostility towards the hungries.

"The Girl With All The Gifts" is thin on plot and a little uneven in writing, but the genuinely well-crafted characters and clever twist on the zombiepocalypse makes this an entertaining read for fans of the undead. Just remember your e-blocker.

Dog Soldiers [DVD] [2002]
Dog Soldiers [DVD] [2002]
Dvd ~ Sean Pertwee
Price: £2.90

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We bust into their house, we eat all their porridge, we sleep in their f***ing beds!,, 20 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Dog Soldiers [DVD] [2002] (DVD)
If actual werewolves were ever to be found, I think we all know exactly what would immediately happen -- the government would want to capture them for use in war.

But they'd have to actually be able to fight the werewolves first. And "Dog Soldiers" certainly suggests that that wouldn't be an easy solution, as it pits soldiers against lycanthropes in the woods -- and despite the slightly cheesy werewolf suits-on-stilts, the movie is a harrowing, claustrophobic experience filled with blood and shadowy violence. In other words, it's the kind of werewolf movie that we desperately need more of.

As the plot begins, two relevant stories are shown in flashback. In one, a couple camping in the Scottish Highlands are killed by an unseen monster. In another, Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd) is being considered for a special forces unit, overseen by Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham). But Cooper gives up the chance when Ryan demands he murder a dog.

Fast forward four weeks: Cooper's squad is on a training exercise in the Highlands, where they are supposed to engage a Special Air Service unit. At first, it seems like just a bunch of guys hanging out in the woods, playing pranks and ribbing each other as guys do. Then they find the SAS unit... who have been torn to pieces ("Natural causes, my arse!"), except for the badly wounded Ryan. Cooper recognizes that they were on some kind of covert operation, but Ryan just babbles, "There was only supposed to be one!"

They encounter a zoologist named Megan (Emma Cleasby) who takes them to a little house in the woods, where they try to treat their wounded and take shelter from the mysterious attackers. To their shock, those attackers turn out to be actual werewolves -- which is pretty obviously the reason Ryan is there. The soldiers' only hope is to make it to sunrise, when the werewolves will revert to human form. It sounds easier than it is.

"Dog Soldiers" is everything a werewolf movie should be -- gruesome, gritty and dirty, with lots of fatalities and people slowly turning into lupine nightmares. No shirtless underwear models lusting after teenage girls here, just a bunch of normal guys desperately trying to survive the night. And it's a pretty graphic movie -- sometimes too graphic, with one scene having a tug-of-war between a soldier and a dog, using the soldier's own intestines.

But the gruesomeness really helps with the movie, because it makes it feel realistic; when you have soldiers fighting giant savage werewolves that kill indiscriminately, you would expect to have intestines flying everywhere. And after all, a werewolf is far more terrifying when its rampages involve bodies torn to pieces, especially when going up against trained soldiers with machine guns. And from the beginning, it's clear how scary and intelligent the werewolves are, because they apparently took out a Special Forces unit without much trouble.

The werewolves themselves... are a mixed bag. The costumes are actually quite good, with an actual lupine face and a hulking, muscular physique.... but the stilt legs just look disproportional and a bit silly. Their legs look about twice as long as they should. But about 95% of the time, you can't see them clearly, which makes them a lot scarier.

Most of the time, director Neil Marshall follows the soldiers through the murky, misty hills of the Highlands and into a tiny house that is slowly being battered from the outside. From there, it's a "Night of the Living Dead"-style struggle to just outlast the creatures outside. The dialogue is sharp, witty and frequently littered with profanity ("So if Red Riding Hood shows up with a bazooka and a bad attitude, I expect you to chin the b**ch!"), and Marshall builds up a hefty wall of atmosphere that eventually blows up into adrenaline-soaked terror.

One important thing about this movie is the cast, mostly made up of well-respected but not hugely famous actors from the UK, who give the soldiers a feeling of normalcy. These are just guys with normal concerns (football, girls, etc) who inexplicably find themselves in a horror movie. Sean Pertwee is particularly good as Cooper's commander, a brusque, smart guy who is badly wounded by a werewolf; Cunningham plays his exact opposite as a cruel, steely-eyed man who looks down on the "ordinary" soldiers, and would gladly see all of them die. McKidd is pretty good -- though not as charismatic as Pertwee -- as a young man with strong leadership qualities, which are only able to bloom when he's being menaced by werewolves.

"Dog Soldiers" is one of the quintessential werewolf stories -- scary, graphically gory and capable of making your hair stand on end. One of the best lycanthropic stories out there, if you have the guts for guts.

The Hobbit Trilogy [DVD] [2015]
The Hobbit Trilogy [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Martin Freeman
Price: £14.99

26 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There and back again, 19 Feb. 2015
Ever since the classic "Lord of the Rings" trilogy ended, fans were clamoring for JRR Tolkien's "The Hobbit" to be adapted for film as well. After all, "The Hobbit" contains the seeds of the sequel trilogy's plot, so it made sense.

But instead of a straightforward adaptation of Bilbo Baggins' linear adventures, director Peter Jackson sets the stage for everything to come in his earlier movies. In addition to Bilbo finding the Ring, it is about the corruption of Middle-Earth as the Dark Lord returns to conquer everything. It has some notable flaws (primarily the contrived love story) and isn't quite as brilliant as the "Rings" trilogy, but the overall effect is a strong, epic story with a sublimely talented cast.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is a nice boring gentlehobbit who has no interest in adventures. Then the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) descends on Bag End with thirteen dwarves. They are setting out for the lost city of Erebor, which the dragon Smaug stole many years ago, and now Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) wants to reclaim it. He especially wants the Arkenstone, a jewel that symbolizes kingship of the dwarves. Bilgo soon gets into the swing of the journey, despite vicious trolls, goblins, giants and an albino orc who literally wants Thorin's head (preferably separated from the rest of him).

But unknown to the dwarves, Bilbo has encountered a grotesque creature known as Gollum (Andy Serkis), and found a golden ring that gives invisibility. He uses this Ring -- and his newly acquired courage -- to survive the attacks by giant spiders of Mirkwood, and later avoid imprisonment by the deadly wood-elf King Thranduil (Lee Pace) and his son Legolas (Orlando Bloom).

When they reach Erebor, Bilbo is sent in alone to find the Arkenstone... and accidentally wakes Smaug, who immediately figures out what Bilbo is doing there, and goes on a burn-everything-to-the-ground rampage over the human city of Laketown. The only one who has a chance of stopping him is the stalwart archer Bard (Luke Evans) -- but even with Smaug gone, Thorin's paranoia and growing madness spark off a war between the dwarves, humans and their wood-elf allies.

While all this is going on, the wizard Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) warns Gandalf of something that moved into the old fortress of Dol Guldur, poisoning the forest and raising the dead. Gandalf believes that this may mean that Sauron is returning to his old power, and starts snooping in old mountain graves and the ruins of Dol Guldur. But what he finds is more horrifying than anyone in the White Council expected.

"The Hobbit Trilogy" is not adapted ONLY from Tolkien's original novel, which is a very linear and simple story written in a childlike manner. Peter Jackson mined a lot of material from the "Lord of the Rings'" appendices, which give background information on Sauron's rise and the way that the White Council attacked him at Dol Guldur. Since Tolkien himself once considered rewriting "The Hobbit" to make it more closely tie in to "Lord of the Rings," it's not that strange an idea.

And rather than a trilogy of movies, the "Hobbit Trilogy" feels more like a very long movie divided into thirds -- "An Unexpected Journey" is the setup and the beginning of the plot; "The Desolation of Smaug" expands the plot and cast, while building up to the grand finale; "The Battle of Five Armies" is the climax, when everything from the preceding films rushes together into one vast, glorious battle. In fact, the third movie's titular battle is so long and complicated that it dominates most of the movie.

And Jackson does a typically brilliant job evoking Middle-Earth's danger and majesty, sweeping us across glittering mountain citadels, murky forests and rotted fortresses. There are some absolutely stunning action scenes, such as Thorin stalking down a fallen, burning tree to fight his mortal enemy, or the sinuous, slithering Smaug filling the stone caverns with fire. Some of the fat could have been trimmed, but most of the stuff here is pretty solid.

The biggest problem? The whole subplot involving Tauriel. Don't get me wrong -- she's a good character and Evangeline Lilly does an excellent job, but the whole idea of her falling in love with resident hot dwarf Kili is painfully cheesy and goopy. Also, the whole character of Alfred. Why is he there?

Freeman is the perfect mix of fussiness and gutsiness as Bilbo, and we can see him slowly growing into his friendships with the Dwarves and earning their respect. It's too bad that he often is sidelined, since he IS the titular hobbit. Armitage is similarly brilliant as a butt-kicking dwarf prince who can be prickly and crabby, but Jackson shows audiences how much loss, pain and humiliation he has suffered over the years. By the third movie, Thorin is a tragic figure who is crumbling under the weight of his own hubris.

There are many familiar faces -- McKellen, the elegant Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving, a typically acrobatic Bloom as a younger and less experienced Legolas, and the sonorous-voiced Christopher Lee. Benedict Cumberbatch deserves special praise for giving a silken-voiced sadism to Smaug, and there are some amazing performances from Evans as a stalwart, noble man who fiercely loves his family; McCoy as a delightfully scatterbrained wizard who spends all his time with animals; and Pace as a sinuous, elegant elf king with a raw core of pain.

One thing to note is that this is the theatrical trilogy, not the extended director's cut that will presumably be out in a year or so. The difference is not as striking as it was in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, but it does feel like the theatrical cut is missing some stuff.

It has some flaws like the cheesy love story, but "The Hobbit Trilogy" is a strong, majestic prequel to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, mingling fantasy adventure with a sense of Shakespearean tragedy. Just don't expect a direct adaptation.

Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy (Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy 1)
Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy (Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy 1)
Price: £1.89

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars School daze, 18 Feb. 2015
Back before she wrote the Mortal Instruments series, Cassandra Clare became mildly famous (and infamous) for the novel-length Harry Potter fanfics she wrote.

So what do you get when you combine the Mortal Instruments with Harry Potter? You get "Welcome To Shadowhunter Academy," a novella that kicks off a series of new short stories following a new group of young Shadowhunters-in-training in a long-abandoned Academy. It's pretty standard school-of-magic stuff, and honestly the development of the newly de-vampirized Simon is what is most interesting about it.

Yes, that Simon. He has left home to join the newly-reopened Shadowhunter Academy in Idris. Since most of the Shadowhunters have been killed, they are now recruiting teens from far and wide to be trained -- some are from long-lost Shadowhunter families, and others are mundane orphans who have nothing to abandon. And in Simon's case, he wants to reclaim some of the cool he lost when he stopped being a vampire, so he'll be a worthy boyfriend for Isabelle.

The Academy has its own problems -- non-functioning toilets, vats of vile soup, demon possums, and so on. But what really bothers Simon is the sharp divide between those with Shadowhunter blood and the mundanes, aka "dregs," who are taught in different classes. And he's suspended between them, since he is a mundane who has sorta kinda proven himself. Also, he has made a friend in his much hotter roommate, George.

It's a little difficult to sum up "Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy," primarily because it doesn't really have a plot on its own -- there are tiny, tiny hints that there is something brewing in Idris that could be potentially be interesting, but nothing concrete. It's basically those chapters in every post-Harry-Potter series about magical schools when the main characters are getting used to their new environment, taking classes and and getting acquainted with the important characters. This includes bigotry against the mundane "dregs," which is pretty much standard by now.

Admittedly, it is interesting to read a story where the school in question is in pretty wretched condition, since Sarah Rees Brennan assures us of the decrepit state of the academy -- broken stained-glass windows, ooze-encrusted dungeons, bathrooms in non-working order, and so on. It takes some of the glamour out of learning magical stuff when it happens during a slow renovation.

And Sarah Rees Brennan's writing is quite strong here, painting a glittering picture of the City of Glass and the surrounding lush meadows, as well as a sense of danger from the wildness of the forests around the Academy (Simon keeps trying to find out if there are bears). Unfortunately -- as in the Mortal Instruments series -- the attempts at snarky wit fall pretty flat ("Do tell me more about Shadowhunters, and their occasional tendency to be unfair. I will find it fascinating and surprising").

Simon continues to probably be the most likable person in the series, mainly because he's the most ordinary. And that is what most of "Welcome To Shadowhunter Academy" rides on -- the fact that he IS an ordinary person, and he feels that his lack of power, strength or skill is what defines him. So the plot of this story is effectively that Simon needs to learn his worth as a person, and that it's not his vampire "suaveness" that attracted Isabelle.

George makes a pretty good counterpoint to Simon, being everything that Simon is not (super-attractive, athletic, Shadowhunter by birth), and it's nice to see the "underwear model" being the sidekick for once. Unfortunately, few of the other characters have much to really distinguish them, and some of them -- like Marisol or Julie -- might as well be paper dolls for all we know of them through their behavior.

"Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy" isn't so much a standalone story as an introduction to a serial story -- it's mostly about the main character getting settled in his new home, and stopping when the author felt like it. It's an interesting beginning, but only a beginning.

Nightbreed [DVD] [1990] [Full English Cover / Region 2] - Craig Sheffer, David Cronenberg
Nightbreed [DVD] [1990] [Full English Cover / Region 2] - Craig Sheffer, David Cronenberg
Offered by Popcorn and Candy
Price: £23.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No one here of that name, 18 Feb. 2015
Deep in the desert is a dead, underground city called Midian. The people who dwell there are not human -- they are the Nightbreed, the monsters of folklore who have been hunted nearly to extinction.

And let's face it, the idea of a group of magical or "different" people driven off by the "normal" majority is... nothing new. It's existed for centuries in one form or another, such as faeries or monsters driven off by gods or heroes. But in the hands of writer/director Clive Barker, the story becomes a circus of the magically grotesque -- and the movie's biggest problem is that we don't spend enough time getting to know the monsters.

Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) is haunted by dreams of Midian and the monsters who dwell there -- specifically, of being chased to the gates of Midian while they laugh and gibber and scuttle around him. His girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby) urges him to visit psychiatrist Dr. Decker (David Cronenberg), who immediately tries to convince Boone that his dreams mean that he is the serial killer who has been butchering people lately. Seriously, Decker has pictures of dead bodies ready to whip out.

Of course, Decker himself is the actual serial killer, which is obvious because... nobody sane could have that ridiculously quiet, calm voice. He painstakingly frames Boone for the murders, and arranges for the cops to gun him down at the gates of Midian. Then his body vanishes from the morgue.

But when Lori goes looking for Boone, she finds that he has become one of the Nightbreed, living in a vast underground city of monsters, shapeshifters and the undead. Some of them are not very happy that Boone refuses to turn his back on his lover. Unfortunately, Decker is also looking for them, leaving a bloody swathe in the surrounding towns as he seeks information on the Nightbreed -- and with the help of the cops and an alcoholic priest, (seriously, why is he there?) he may succeed in wiping them out.

Though Clive Barker is best known for horror, "Nightbreed" is not really horrifying. Sure, some of the Nightbreed are pretty grotesque (the bloated creature with giant centipede-arms) and sometimes menacing (Peloquin talks about eating Boone), but they're not particularly scary. After after a time spent in the lightless, decayed ruins that they dwell in, it's hard not to want to know more about them and their society.

In fact, it's a shame that Barker didn't get to spend more time exploring Midian's residents -- the movie's biggest flaw is that he comes up with countless bizarre creatures (like the porcupine woman) and yet most of them are only glimpsed in passing, without much explanation for who they are. Seriously, why is so much attention paid to porcupine lady?!

The real monstrousness is reserved for the humans who hunt the Nightbreed, particularly Decker and the sadistic cops. There's a strong queer subtext in Barker's way of telling the story, especially since the Nightbreed are forced to hide themselves away from "normal" people for fear of brutal beatings and murder (one horrifying scene involves a gentle Nightbreed man being savagely beaten in the sunlight). But it works for any group of people who are oppressed for being "different," while the real monsters are allowed to roam free.

Barker's aesthetic here is one of splattered blood, fire, dust and stone, with a general feeling of eerie unease. He places Midian under a vast, crypt-filled graveyard, behind a rusting iron gate -- and the underground passages, full of arches and cathedral-like expanses, are no less striking. They're sunless and dank, slowly crumbling away out of sight. He makes the whole place feel very ancient, with its own myths and laws, which makes the climactic battle between the Nightbreed and the vicious mob even more devastating.

All the actors do an excellent job, particularly Bobby and Sheffer as the true lovers who won't let their different species keep them apart. Cronenberg as a particular standout -- you can spot him as the villain just based on his cold, distant, almost metallic performance. And the performances of the Nightbreed characters are backed up by some of the best practical effects you'll see, mainly to make the Nightbreed look inhuman -- everything from bleeding gashes to tentacles, from half-moon faces to a a writhing mass of half-defined flesh.

The one way that "Nightbreed" fails is that it doesn't quite explore the titular Nightbreed enough -- and beyond that, it's a weird, spooky ride that leaves you more scared of the humans than the monsters.
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Dvd ~ Jean Arless
Offered by VECOSELL
Price: £10.73

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars SCREEEEEEEEAMING! (spoilers), 18 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Homicidal (DVD)
It takes a certain amount of cojones to not only rip off Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," but think you can one-up one of the greatest twist endings of all time.

And for that reason alone, you have to kind of admire William Castle for "Homicidal," which copies a lot of the superficial aspects of "Psycho" -- an icy blonde, an old lady confined to a house, a small California town, a brunette in peril -- but also tries to outtwist the twist. It's pure, unadulterated cheese with Castle's trademark gimmicks (in this case, a "fright break," during which you could could cravenly flee the theatre for a full refund), and just as silly as that would suggest.

A mysterious blonde woman (Jean Arless) -- whose name is Emily, though she doesn't give it right away -- checks into a hotel, and pays an attractive bellboy to enter an immediately-annullable marriage with her that evening. They head to the local justice of the peace.... and Emily immediately stabs the guy to death and makes her escape. After returning to a luxurious mansion, Emily gloats to the elderly, mute Helga (Eugenie Leontovich), whom she seems to be the nurse/keeper for.

When she was younger, Helga was the nurse for the Webster half-siblings, Miriam and Warren, whose father was a violent misogynist who divorced Miriam's mother for not instantly producing a son, and abused Warren to make him "manly." Helga whisked Warren off to Denmark for many years, and has recently returned with Emily in tow.

And though anyone with eyeballs can immediately tell what the relationship between Warren and Emily is, Miriam is completely clueless -- she thinks that Warren has married Emily. But even Miriam can tell that something is terribly wrong, since Helga keeps trying to tell her something, and Emily breaks into Miriam's flower shop to trash the place. As the police snoop around for the murderer, Miriam begins to figure out that Emily is the killer -- and she may be the next victim.

One of the main reasons that "Homicidal" doesn't really work as a "shocking twist" story is... well, it's abundantly clear what the twist is, if you have the slightest ability to recognize faces. One of the important aspects of the "Psycho" story is that Mother's face is never shown, so nobody can tell until the very end what is going on... but in this movie, every face is shown in full light. So I spent most of the movie patiently waiting for everyone to figure out what I already knew, and wondering why Miriam has looked both Emily and Warren in the face... and NEVER NOTICED.

As a result, "Homicidal" is just not very effective as a thriller, especially since a large chunk of the story is just made up of Emily voicing threats and telling lies. But without revealing too much, "Homicidal" does have a convoluted double twist of soap-opera proportions, which only makes sense with a final explanation. It also turns out to be much less transphobic than I initially feared, but it does come across as rather silly and overly-elaborate.

Up until then, it's grade-A, B-movie cheez of the type that Castle specialized in. The opening scenes have a measure of genuine tension, which erupts into glorious hamminess when Emily starts stabbing the justice with the expression of a woman with stomach cramps, even as his wife screams like the "Home Alone" kid.

From there on out, Jean Arless (aka Joan Marshall) acts with teeth bared and eyes staring and crazy. Admittedly, Arless does do a good job differentiating her double role, playing them with different body language and expressions. But when playing Emily, she sometimes veers around like a car driven by someone on acid ("You would dry up and DIE!"), chewing the scenery like a shapely blonde paper-shredder.

And a lot of Castle's direction veers along with her -- while Emily's mind games are vaguely menacing, a lot of her actions are not very scary (such as trashing the apartment and sabotaging Miriam's engagement), and she doesn't seem to be doing much to thwart the police investigation. Most of the story seems to be filler between the shocking beginning and the not-very-shocking end.

"Homicidal" is mostly enjoyable as a gloriously goofy B-movie -- it doesn't even come close to the greats of the genre, but the ham and cheese is fun to watch. Ironically entertaining, though not much of a thriller.

The Black Hole [DVD] (1979)
The Black Hole [DVD] (1979)
Dvd ~ Maximilian Schell
Price: £3.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Nothing can escape it -- not even light, 17 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Black Hole [DVD] (1979) (DVD)
"The Black Hole" came out in a period when science fiction was making a big comeback. "Star Wars: A New Hope" had come out a year or two before, "2001: A Space Odyssey" was already a classic, and the same year brought us "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" and the classic "Alien."

And in some ways, "The Black Hole" fits in seamlessly with those other movies -- the sets and matte visuals are absolutely stunning, giving the movie a real sense of epic emptiness, and director Gary Nelson clearly was attempting to create a sense of depth that most live-action Disney movies lack ("Like looking into Dante's Inferno!"). But it also has a hefty dose of cheez, with wise-cracking psychic robots and bloodless disembowelings.

While returning to Earth, the USS Palomino spots a massive black hole with a starship orbiting it. It turns out to the the USS Cygnus, presumed lost twenty years ago -- and of particular interest because Dr. McCrae's (Yvette Mimieux) father was on board, and the legendary Dr. Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell) was leading the expedition. Fortunately the Cygnus is in some kind of gravity-nullifying field, so they manage to dock and get on board the massive ship.

Dr. Reinhardt turns out to be very much alive, but reports that the crew is all dead. Yup, all dead... and DEFINITELY not those robots who look just like masked, robed humans. Their resident robot V.I.N.C.E.N.T. (Roddy McDowall) soon discovers that the more typical robots aren't very nice either, but that's probably the least interesting part of the movie.

While wining and dining them, Reinhardt reveals that his plan is to somehow pilot the Cygnus THROUGH the black hole, to parts unknown. Dr. Durant (Anthony Perkins) is dazzled by this and totally wants to join in, but Captain Holland (Robert Forster) and Harry Booth (Ernest Borgnine) are not so sure. As they try to repair their ship, they begin to realize the true sinister fate of the Cygnus's crew -- and that Reinhardt may not let them leave alive.

"The Black Hole" is a movie that should be praised for its ambition, if nothing else. This is a valiant attempt to create serious, mood-driven science fiction in the "2001: A Space Odyssey" mold, but not so slow-moving or cerebral that it would alienate children who might be watching. And most of the time, it actually succeeds in this -- the movie glides along slowly, building up a sense of ominous suspense, while also dealing with some pretty horrific topics (and even killing off one of the crew in a pretty gruesome manner).

Nelson achieves a lot of this through the epic emptiness of the Cygnus, a ship whose interiors and exteriors seem to stretch forever, lit but lifeless. The sets have a cathedral-like grandeur, only augmented by the silent starfields that often look into the enormous windows. And almost every room is shrouded in deep shadows, giving the feeling that things are being hidden from sight. The climax is perhaps the most magnificent part, sinking the ship into a hellish red inferno as it crumbles away around the main characters, and bursting into a string of symbolic images in Kubrickian fashion.

So what is wrong with "The Black Hole"? Well, just as a ship can't escape a black hole's gravity... "The Black Hole" can't escape Disney. There's a heavy dose of cheesiness that bogs down the haunting main plot, mostly coming from the nonsensical psychic powers (which robots have... WHY?!) and the cutesy-looking, merchandise-ready comic-relief robots. V.I.N.C.E.N.T. looks like a levitating child's toy, with a personality like that of an abnormally smug C3-PO sans any of the comedy, and he hangs out with a battered model who... speaks with a Texan accent. Not kidding.

And Nelson's direction also provides some... slightly odd performances. For some reason, every character speaks in an oddly affected manner for most of the movie, which is especially noticeable whenever a crisis arises. For instance, when Vincent is nearly sent flying into the black hole, Charlie says, "What the hell are you made of? What if it were one of us out there?" without a speck of organic passion, and gets the equally flat response, "Vincent is one of us."

This is particularly noticeable with Joseph Bottoms and Yvette Mimieux, who are easily the worst actors here, while Robert Forster is just forgettable. Seriously, just try to remember him when the movie is over. Fortunately, the more talented actors manage to wring some real acting from their roles -- Perkins is pretty good as a starry-eyed fanboy for Reinhardt, Borgnine has amiable avuncularity aplenty, and Schell plays his mad scientist role with genuine charm and subtlety.

"The Black Hole" is ALMOST a great movie, with its valiant attempts to be more than just another cheesy space opera... and without the odd acting and the robots, it would have been. As it is, it's good if you fast-forward past the robot drama.

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