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E. A. Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA)

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Marvel's Doctor Strange [DVD] [2016]
Marvel's Doctor Strange [DVD] [2016]
Dvd ~ Benedict Cumberbatch
Price: £5.50

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mister Doctor?, 3 Dec. 2016
When the world is threatened with alien invasion or killer androids, the Avengers are the ones who save it. But who saves the world when a MAGICAL threat comes up?

Yes, the previously sci-fi-based Marvel Cinematic Universe has now added a fantasy movie to its roster, introducing us to the mighty sorcerer Stephen Strange (who is due to make at least two more appearances in the MCU movies). While the story is a fairly standard superhero-origin-story, it's elevated by the mind-blowingly special effects and action sequences, as well as the excellent performances by Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor and the rest of the main cast.

Brilliant but self-absorbed neurosurgeon Stephen Strange is on his way to a gala dinner when he takes his eyes off the road... on a rainy night... on top of a clifftop road. Shockingly, he crashes. And while most of his body heals, his hands were smashed through the dashboard and suffered devastating fractures and nerve damage. Desperate to find a cure, Strange goes to a man who somehow recovered from spinal paralysis, and is sent to a remote city in Nepal.

There he is reluctantly accepted by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), an immortal sorcerer who opens his eyes to the possibilities of the universe. And after a slow start and lots of skepticism, Doctor Strange begins to excel at his magical studies.

Unfortunately, a former disciple of the Ancient One, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson) has begun drawing on the power of the evil Dormammu and the Dark Dimension. His goal: destroy the three Sanctums that protect the world, destroy the Ancient One, and stop the ravages of linear time. When Strange accidentally stumbles into this little war, he finds that he may be the only one who can stop Kaecilius from handing our entire planet over to Dormammu.

"Doctor Strange" is in some ways a fairly standard superhero origin story -- the main character suffers some kind of handicap or tragedy, he finds a way to overcome it that gives him superpowers, and in the process he learns to be heroic and save the world from an appropriate threat. What makes this one different is the use of magic, which is mingled seamlessly with the more science-fictiony aspects of the Marvel Cineverse. Lots of multiverse theory, for instance.

The first half of the story is a bit slow and talky, with many scenes of other characters explaining plot-related magical stuff to Strange. However, it really takes off after Strange is thrown into the New York Sanctum, particularly in the psychedelic-tinged action-scenes -- gravity is warped, portals to other places are used to get rid of thugs, flying cloaks batter the bad guys, and the walls and floor ripple as if the very fabric of reality is being twisted. It is breathtaking, as if someone took the visual effects of "Inception" and dialed them up to eleven.

And despite the dark, bleak beginning of the story, and Strange's ongoing quest to cure his hands, the movie manages to include some charmingly lighthearted moments (Strange trying to run in one direction while his cape drags him in another). Flaws? Marvel has an unfortunate tendency to have underdeveloped, one-off bad guys. It's quite clear that Scott Derrickson and writer C. Robert Cargill were trying hard to dodge this particular problem, but there are a few key dots that remain unconnected between his motives, thoughts and actions.

But one thing that ISN'T flawed is Benedict Cumberbatch's performance. He's played the role of an arrogant, intelligent man of amazing talent before, and he also has the sense of gravity and razor-edged intelligence that Doctor Strange demands. It helps that Strange is written pretty well here -- he's a man whose entire identity is wrapped up in being a Great Doctor, so he's left literally with nothing when he loses it. The entire story is about him forging a new identity, and that being a doctor is no longer quite as important.

Of course, all the actors here are pretty awesome -- Mikkelson has the quiet, icy menace that a good villain demands, and Kaecilius is actually one of the better-written one-off villains, since it's hinted he has suffered great tragedy in the past. Ejiofor does an outstanding job as the painfully idealistic Mordo, a man who has devoted himself body and soul to the Ancient One, and whose faith and beliefs take a devastating hit. Rachel McAdams does a solid job with what little she has, and Benedict Wong is continuously awesome as a sort of warrior librarian who is mildly annoyed by Strange at first, but comes to appreciate his unconventional ways.

And... Tilda Swinton. It's painfully awkward that this character has been whitewashed, but Swinton's performance is continuously excellent -- she moves with both wiry strength and ethereal fragility. And Swinton's delicate acting allows us to see that while some of her students (like Mordo) revere her as if she were a goddess, she is only a human being, with all the complex flaws and anxieties that come with it.

"Doctor Strange" isn't the greatest that Marvel has given us, but it's a good solid story to occupy a few hours of your time -- enchanting visuals, a brilliant cast, and hints of just where the good doctor will be showing up later.

Doctor Strange [DVD]
Doctor Strange [DVD]
Dvd ~ Patrick Archibald
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.53

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I need some options!", 3 Dec. 2016
This review is from: Doctor Strange [DVD] (DVD)
Stephen Strange was an arrogant, brilliant neurosurgeon... until the day his hands were practically destroyed by a car wreck. So he became a wizard instead.

It's kind of an odd backstory for a superhero, but the animated "Doctor Strange" movie is a thoroughly solid origin story for one of Marvel's odder superheroes -- it's a slow, somber burn that effectively introduces the character of Doctor Strange, breaking him down and building him up into a true hero. There's plenty of magic and action woven in, but the real fascination is in seeing the title character working towards being a sorcerer.

While driving home one night, Strange sees a demonic flaming face and the spirits of children watching him -- so he promptly spins out of control and goes over a cliff. When he awakes, his hands have sustained massive nerve damage that leaves them barely able to do anything with them. Over the following months, he bankrupts himself seeking a cure, and finally attempts to kill himself after losing his home... but is rescued by a strange man named Wong who promises a cure.

That cure requires him to find a mysterious sanctum in the remote mountains of Tibet, where the magically-adept Ancient One puts him to work while claiming that the cure for his hands resides "inside you." But a terrible power called Dormammu is threatening our world, and the Ancient One must teach Strange his mystical powers in order to save it -- despite the treachery of one of his followers. Hint: it's the guy who's always complaining.

Marvel has more recently produced a live-action "Doctor Strange" movie, but the animated film is also a pretty solid retelling of the origin of this particular superhero. And it's more fascinating than many superhero origin stories -- while most end up becoming superheroes because of a personal loss or because they've seen injustices worth fighting, Doctor Strange's losses are merely what has shaped his life as a doctor, and he has to move past them to become the Sorcerer Supreme and a world-saving hero.

And as you'd expect of any story that involves nerve damage, demons, suicidal depression, comatose kids and losing all your worldly possessions.... it's a rather somber and dark story. The first two-thirds of the movie move fairly slowly, following Strange as he crumbles physically and mentally, such as when he's toiling to tear down a literal stone wall that keeps rebuilding itself overnight. At the same time, it somberly explores how he became what he is now, even as the Ancient One tears away the last of his arrogance and callousness.

But don't worry, slow does not mean boring. The story veers into Baron Mordo's ongoing battles against supernatural hellhounds and other supernatural problems, even as the Ancient One tries to unravel what Dormammu is doing. And when Strange finally comes into his powers, the action begins amping itself up -- we finally get to see Strange as he was always meant to be, and ger some nice battles both physical (Wong and Mordo duke it out with magical swords) and metaphysical (firing energy blasts at Dormammu).

As for the animation, it is decent but nothing special -- the animation style can be a bit choppy and sometimes doesn't quite get across the mystical, psychedelic quality. But it does a solid job with subtle facial expressions and gestures, and there are some very nice, clean designs (such as Dormammu, who looks a bit like a spectral balrog, or the Tibetan sanctuary's fantastical mountain castle).

And it takes a lot to make us empathize with an arrogant and uncaring doctor, but the movie somehow succeeds at making us care -- we see Strange struggle and crumble and build himself back up. And through flashbacks, we see the loss of his young sister, which he's never entirely gotten over. The flaw in characterization seems to be the warrior Mordo, whose reason for becoming evil is... well, it's that he doesn't like how his boss is doing things. And by "doing things," I mean "not promoting me for sacrificing my men and wanting to murder comatose children."

"Doctor Strange" is a pretty solid animated origin-story for the Sorcerer Supreme, and a pretty decent way to familiarize yourself with Marvel's most magical superhero... if you can overlook the thin secondary villain.

Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined (Twilight Saga)
Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined (Twilight Saga)
by Stephenie Meyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not exactly my brand of heroin, 3 Dec. 2016
The "Twilight" series is anything but scary... and yet "Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined" has given us something truly bone-chilling: Stephenie Meyer trying to write a book from the perspective of a GUY.

Yes, apparently as an effort to dismiss the accusations of sexism in the Twilight books, Meyer decided she would PROVE how not sexist her books were by flipping the genders of the characters... and then rewriting a thousand little passages to maintain and even add to the sexism. As if that wasn't bad enough, this "reimagining" is a dry, dusty retelling of the same story, with none of the same frenetic, stalkerish, creepy lust that made "Twilight" successful.

Whiny, self-absorbed Beau Swan moves to the small town of Forks to live with his silent lump of a father. Yes, everyone else in this book is gender-flipped (with many names straight from Utah), but I guess the idea of a flaky, irresponsible man and a sullen female cop is beyond Stephenie Meyer's imagination. And of course, Beau encounters.... Edythe Cullen. Which sounds like the name of a Southern great-grandmother who makes everyone uncomfortable, but allegedly she's a hot vampire girl.

Of course, there's buckets of contrived sexual tension, mostly involving petty bickering and talking about things that don't matter -- and eventually he realizes that she's actually a vampire after she saves his life. A sparkling one, naturally. But after Edythe finally introduces Beau to her creepy vampire family, an evil tracker decides she wants to kill Beau. See, it's feminist because the MAN is the one in danger now. See?!

If there's one thing the Twilight novels have shown us, it's that Stephenie Meyer understands the male psyche as well as she understands string theory. So an entire book from a male perspective is kind of torturous -- her idea of writing a male perspective is to just toss in some token mentions of watching violent action movies, reading books with monsters, Monty Python and sports. It's kind of like masculinity as seen by aliens.

Admittedly she did adjust her writing somewhat, since her flowery, melodramatic style is ridiculous enough for a girl, and would be hilarious coming from a guy. And she adjusted certain scenes, such as turning the attempted gang-rape into a hilariously contrived confrontation with a pair of cartoonish thugs(because obviously guys never get raped! Rape exists as a peril to swooning girls so they can be rescued!).

But the attempt at a stripped-down style ("It was probably beautiful or something") just ends up being boring. When Smeyer does sound like herself, she writes lines that no guy would ever actually think or say ("I was well aware that my league and her league were spheres that did not touch"). And it's wildly inconsistent, with some scenes stripped-down awkwardly to make them more masculine, and others are just as flowery, melodramatic and silly as ever.

And does gender-flipping the characters somehow diminish Meyer's misogyny? No, of course not. It actually makes it worse. Rather than letting the gender-flipped characters simply do the same things, Meyer painstakingly went through the original text and changed the prose in a thousand little ways. That means the author deliberately changed these things JUST to promote her sexist belief that women are irrational, vicious, childish idiots, and men are rational, calm and sensible. Even the changed ending can only be explained as a gesture based on sexism.

As a result, the characters are actually rather different from Edward and Bella -- Beau lacks Bella's vindictive snobbery and martyr complex, which makes him as interesting as a Wheat Thin, and the sneering, domineering creep Edward has been transformed into the inoffensive, smiley Edythe. And since Edythe is a woman and not Stephenie Meyer's fantasy sexual partner, the descriptions of her attractiveness feel bloodless and vague, and she's completely devoid of even the pretense of menace. Even in a book where the powerful, dangerous vampire is female... Meyer can't bring herself to actually have her seem credibly scary.

Nobody wanted it, and guess why. "Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined" actually takes the misogynistic vampire romance, and somehow amps up the sexism even more. Only for die-hard completists.

The Complete Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft (Knickerbocker Classics)
The Complete Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft (Knickerbocker Classics)
by H. P. Lovecraft
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Singular hideous madness of squamous blasphemy!, 3 Dec. 2016
The imaginary New England of H.P. Lovecraft is an eerily mundane place -- small towns where inhuman creatures lurk, lightless tombs and caves, sea-borne horrors that sleep under forgotten cities, and other cold, slimy, claustrophobic places.

So when reading "The Complete Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft," expect a constant gnawing sense of dread, even on the rare occasions when something creepy isn't going on. While his purplish prose can take some getting used to, Lovecraft's imagination was an avalanche of slow-burning nightmares -- and rather than explaining everything, he lets us know that everything seen and experienced is only the tip of the iceberg.

His stories include tales of immortal sorcerers, of mysterious creatures living in caves, soldiers haunted by alien worlds, a hick haunted by horrifying telepathic visions, an ancient family of cannibals, the mysterious Whately clan, a doctor whose reanimation fluid creates zombies, a house that opens into an abyss, the fishy people of Innsmouth, a mine with horrors in its depth, alien creatures that possess the bodies of humans, and a lot of people who end up in mental asylums due to having seen things Too Horrible To Describe.

Certain stories are part of Lovecraft's invented mythos... and it's a lot grosser and more terrifying than anything by Tolkien or Dunsany. He wrote about fishy monsters dwelling under the sea, of ancient ruined cities under the sea or ground, of vast indifferent Elder Things of immeasurable power, of people driven to complete insanity by what they've seen ("It shall not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!").

Everybody is at least familiar with Lovecraft's oeuvre -- he's responsible for everybody's favorite tentacle-bearded Great Old One, and he's been a shaping influence on many horror writers, including Stephen King, Tim Powers, Mike Mignola and so on. And what do you think of when someone mentions Lovecraft? Probably tentacles. Lots of tentacles. Also, old horrifying godlike-creatures that will drive you mad instantly. And tentacles.

But it doesn't really sink in how expansive his imagination was until you read ALL of his short stories, and see the breadth of his subject matter -- everything from gothic horror to Poe-like suspense stories, and even early sci-fi. But one thing is always true of his stories: there is always the sense that something immeasurably vast and horrible is lurking under the ordinary world, and that what horrors we're seeing are only a minuscule glimpse of the whole.

However, Lovecraft's writing style takes a little getting used to. It tends to be ornate and verbose, and only the unrestrained grotesqueness keeps it from being purple prose ("for the taint of thunder was in the clouds, and a hellish phosphorescence rose from the rank swamp at the bottom of the hollow"). And his descriptions of the misshapen supernatural creatures are enough to make you want to crawl under the bed and never come out ("Vast, Polyphemus-like, and loathsome, it darted like a stupendous monster of nightmares to the monolith, about which it flung its gigantic scaly arms").

Flaws? Well, it's not a secret that Lovecraft had racist views that would make the KKK blanch, and there are moments that can make today's readers cringe. And that's the stuff that's explicit rather than merely subtextual (the fish-people of Innsmouth are meant to be a warning against interracial/interethnic relationships).

Expect things squamous and slimy in "The Complete Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft" -- while the writing style takes a bit of getting used to, the imagination and sense of creeping, slimy horror are second to none.

Marvel Blade: Animated Series [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Marvel Blade: Animated Series [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Bloody Blade, 3 Dec. 2016
In 2010 and 2011, Marvel Studios collaborated with Japanese studio Madhouse to produce four anime series based on Marvel properties, which take the relevant characters to Japan. Three of them are obvious choices: two focus on X-Men characters, and one on the popular Iron Man.

But the fourth series was a slightly less obvious choice: Blade, the longcoat-wearing, vampire-slaying dhampir made famous by Wesley Snipes' live-action movies. And since Blade's whole schtick is slaying vampires, that gives "Marvel Anime: Blade" a distinctly darker, bloodier tone than its three sister series -- expect lots of gore, monsters, Asian vampires, and a sinister villain whose schemes overhang the entire thirteen episodes.

Before he was born, Blade (aka Eric Brooks) was infected with vampirism when a strange four-fanged vampire attacked his mother. As a result, he has all of the vampire's superhuman abilities... but he can fight his bloodthirst and walk in the daylight. And once his mentor Noah Van Helsing helped him to control his thirst, he began searching for the vampire who had cursed both him and his mother.

And at last, he discovers who it was: the cruel Deacon Frost, a leader among vampires. But Frost quickly flees to Asia, forcing Blade to follow him. And in turn, Blade finds himself with a new companion: a young vampire-hunter named Makoto.

Unfortunately for Blade, Asia is a very large place, and Deacon Frost seems to be constantly moving around, and Blade encounters a number of strange breeds of vampire in different countries. And as he uncovers Frost's trail, Blade discovers that Frost is not only harming humans, but conspiring against his fellow vampires -- and the legendary daywalker may be an integral part of his master plan.

Anyone who has seen the other Marvel anime may not be entirely prepared for what "Blade" is made up of, despite the standard appearance of Wolverine (an old buddy of Blade's) and the mutant assassin Kikyo Mikage. This is a darker, more tragic tale, especially since Blade himself is a character rooted in horror and tragedy -- and the story reflects it, with a number of likable, good people being destroyed amidst bloody, acrobatic vampire fights, including at least one person whom Blade cared deeply about.

The story itself unfolds in two parts -- the first half of the series is mostly about Blade stumbling across vampiric infestations in different Asian countries (Manananggals, Mandurugos, water tigers, bolongs) and having to kill all the bloodsuckers around. Expect lots of gore, a lot of fascinating vampiric folklore (the Manananggals alone are mind-blowingly weird), and stories that can only end tragically, as well as flashbacks showing how Blade became the daywalking dhampir he is today. Hint: lots of death is involved.

But the second half focuses more on Deacon Frost creating a revolution against the foppish Eurocentric vampires of the Council, making the battle against him much more essential than just Blade's quest for revenge. And of course, it all boils down to a massive, epic battle in a vampire city, with added genetically-engineered vampires who... look kind of like fleshy xenomorphs.

As for the characters, Blade can feel a little wooden as a character, until his backstory reveals that he's just incredibly repressed because of his determination to fight his vampire side. And as he gets to know Makoto, we see more of his passionate hatred for Deacon Frost, and the trauma that has defined and haunted his life. Makoto's impulsiveness can be a bit annoying, but the pleasantly paternal Van Helsing and his awesome vampire-slaying dog are thoroughly likable. And even Deacon Frost -- the coldly cruel vampire who plans to throw the world into turmoil -- is explored in detail near the end, showing us how he became what he now is.

"Marvel Anime: Blade" introduces a darker, more heated, bloodier type of Marvel anime -- a dark tale of vampires, flashing blades and fiery death. Wild, dark and gory.

The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories
The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories
by P. D. James
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Snow on a murder, 3 Dec. 2016
The late PD James was one of those authors you could always rely on for a good mystery, with that classic Anglo elegance that most contemporary mystery authors cannot (or don't want to) capture.

And since we lost Ms. James in 2014, it was a pleasant surprise to see "The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories," a slim volume of four uncollected short stories that have that combination of elegance, eloquence and cold-blooded murder. The short format means that some parts of the stories feel like they could have used more fleshing-out, but her prose is enchanting and her haunting plots sprinkled with four very different kinds of murder.

"The Mistletoe Murder": After being widowed in the early days of World War II, a young woman is invited to the lavish estate of her elderly grandmother for the Christmas season, along with her cousin and a smug "wingless" RAF officer. But when the houseguest is found bludgeoned to death, the protagonist must unravel who did it -- and the answer can only be a terrible one.
"A Very Commonplace Murder": Ernest Gabriel revisits a crime committed when he was younger, involving a secret affair and a woman's brutal stabbing and rape.
"The Boxdale Inheritance": Chief Superintendant Dalgleish is called in by his godfather to investigate a possible sixty-seven-year-old crime, that being the suspected murder of his long-dead uncle by his recently-dead aunt.
"The Twelve Clues of Christmas": En route to his aunt's on Christmas Eve, Dalgleish is stopped by a man who claims his uncle has committed suicide (and left a very rude note). But of course, he discovers half-burned scraps of paper that hint at murder, and twelve clues will tell him whodunnit.

Perhaps the biggest problem with "The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories" is that PD James excelled more at long-form mysteries, and in these shorts she sometimes feels... unfinished. Not fully fleshed-out, as evidenced by the titular story's protagonist's rather vague relationships with her family members. However, they also unfold in slightly different ways from a longer mystery, with the resolution of each mystery settling on the reader like an autumn leaf falling.

Her writing is typically exquisite, with haunting descriptions that enhance whatever mood she was trying to evoke ("a moon was reeling between the scudding clouds") and dry metafictional wit (the library is referred to as "that most fatal room in popular British fiction"). And the murders here are pretty varied -- motive, narration, method and even the time period it took place in are all different -- but James never lost sight of the evil that lies at the core of every murder, whether it's in a manorhouse or a gross little apartment.

She also does an excellent job with most of the characterizations. Dalgleish has the familiarity of a well-worn character that doesn't need to be introduced, and Ernest Gabriel is a feverish, creepy little guy. The most interesting -- yet flawed -- is the title story's protagonist, since she feels almost like a James self-insert. She's an aged mystery writer reflecting on her past, and except for her widowhood, she's pretty featureless. Still delicately-characterized, though (she reflects that the murder affects her less than you'd think, because "good people were dying all over the world and the fact that one unlikable one had been killed seemed somehow less important").

This slim collection of four short stories is a surprisingly gripping one -- and perhaps it's because of PD James' strong grasp of not just mystery, but what lies at the core of a murder. A nice little addition to one's James collection.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2016 Edition) [Includes Digital Download] [DVD]
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2016 Edition) [Includes Digital Download] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Daniel Radcliffe
Price: £6.99

0 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not so magical, 3 Dec. 2016
One of the bestselling series of all time is the Harry Potter series, about a downtrodden orphan who discovers that he is a wizard. So of course, a movie adaptation was inevitable.

And unfortunately, the movie adaptation of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" didn't quite manage to capture movie magic. While a competent enough retelling of JK Rowling's debut novel, it's still hampered by a trio of child actors who haven't figured out how to act yet, mediocre direction by Chris Columbus, and special effects that are... not very special. What keeps this movie from completely sinking is the performances of the talented secondary cast.

For his entire life, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has been abused and downtrodden by his only living family, the repulsive Dursleys. But on his eleventh birthday, he's greeted by the giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), who reveals Harry's true nature -- he is a wizard. Even more impressive, he was the "Boy Who Lived" -- a mere baby who somehow killed the malevolent Lord Voldemort after the evil wizard murdered both his parents. And now he's being whisked away from his miserable life with the Dursleys, to attend the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Despite his newfound celebrity, Harry quickly adapts to his new life of owls, casting spells, invisibility cloaks, dark enchanted forests, paintings that speak, and a broomstick-based sport called Quidditch. But he begins to suspect that his surly potions teacher Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) is scheming to steal an ancient magical object called the Sorcerer's Stone -- and that he might be trying to restore Voldemort to power. But as he and his friends try to get to the Sorcerer's Stone first, they find that they may be out of their depth.

There is one sentence that sums up this whole movie: "It'll get better in future movies." Just about every aspect of this movie is either resolutely mediocre, or artistically reminiscent of other stories ("Young Sherlock Holmes," the Narnia books) -- and while of course fans will thrill to see their beloved books translated into visual form, the resulting movie is simply not that good. It's not dramatically bad, just rather tedious and unexceptional.

A great deal of the blame lies with Christopher Columbus, who does a pretty solid job of introducing us to Harry, the Dursleys, and the first glimpses of the magical world... but once Harry gets to Hogwarts, the plot loses steam and just plods awkwardly along until it gets to the climax. He tries to remain faithful (sometimes too faithful, as evidenced by the "troll boogies" scene), but keeps and condenses things that feel awkward and shoehorned-in (such as Hagrid's baby dragon, who has zero impact on the overall story). In other words, he seems too distracted by fidelity to the book to adapt it properly.

The castles and cathedrals used for Hogwarts are absolutely stunning, but the film also has some painfully bad CGI -- the Quidditch scenes, McGonagall turning from a cat into a woman, the troll and the centaurs are embarrassing. This movie came out in the same year as "The Fellowship of the Ring" -- there is no excuse for these effects to look this bad.

And even more unfortunately, a story about three eleven-year-olds requires child actors. None of them can act. Yes, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson would all become respected young thespians later on, but in this movie they are a blinking plank of wood, a slightly affected and goggle-eyed kid who seems slightly dazed at all times, and a prissy little girl who OH-ver-en-UN-ciates EV-ryTHING while wagging her head like an annoying maiden aunt. Tom Felton does a somewhat better job, but is sadly given little to do except sneer.

In fact, the saving grace of this movie is the acting by the supporting cast, most of whom are seasoned veterans -- the venerable Richard Harris plays a somewhat fragile but genially grandfatherly Professor Dumbledore, and is backed by the magisterial Maggie Smith and the sullenly brooding Rickman. And woven through the remainder of the film are other great actors like Robbie Coltrane as the lovable Hagrid, Warwick Davis, John Hurt and John Cleese.

While the later movies would improve dramatically, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is a movie buoyed up by attachment to the books and little else -- it's mildly amusing, but the cringeworthy child actors and plodding pace may make it a chore for anyone who isn't a die-hard fan.

Murder, She Wrote - Season 1 [DVD]
Murder, She Wrote - Season 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Angela Lansbury
Offered by Not2day Media
Price: £6.95

4.0 out of 5 stars What do you think, Aunt Jessica?, 3 Dec. 2016
Jessica Fletcher was just a mild-mannered former schoolteacher, living in the quaint Maine town of Cabot Cove... until she wrote a bestselling murder mystery.

The initial premise of "Murder, She Wrote: Season 1" sounds like a how-they-became-famous paragraph at the beginning of an interview, but it's actually only the beginning of the story. But Jessica Fletcher's entry into the world of literary murder also was her introduction to REAL murder -- and with every episode, Angela Lansbury's endearingly intelligent, literate heroine winds her way through a twisty mass of motives, secrets and flashy 1980s fashion choices.

After the death of her beloved husband, Jessica Fletcher (Lansbury) decides to write a murder mystery just to occupy her time -- and is shocked when she learns that her nephew Grady (Michael Horton) has submitted it to a New York publisher. Soon Jessica's book is topping the charts, and she's been swept off in a whirlwood of publicity, interviews... and after a costume party, the murder of a guy dressed like Sherlock Holmes. When her nephew is implicated, she has no choice but to unravel a real-life murder mystery.

And as she continues traveling around, she keeps finding corpses everywhere -- a millionaire leaves his money to his dog; a theme park creator is shot; the producer of a tacky adaptation of her novel is bumped off; a drag club owner is killed; two Soviet ballet dancers are implicated in a man's murder; a killer strikes on a cruise; a popular jazz musician is poisoned; a famous artist is killed on a remote island; a passenger is found stabbed on a bus during a storm; ugly secrets come to light after a hanging in Wyoming, and many other strange crimes. Even her hometown of Cabot Cove isn't safe, as a wealthy man fakes his death and turns up dead for real, and a driverless car threatens to run away with her.

Everybody has at least one fictional character who is an integral part of their childhood, and who gives them that little warm nostalgic glow. For me, that's Jessica Fletcher. And all the credit for that can go to Angela Lansbury, who gives us the aunt/grandmother/mom that every person has ever wanted -- she's strong-willed, fiercely intelligent and does what's right, but she's also sympathetic and kindly to those around her (including some of the murderers).

And the story itself reflects that character. "Murder She Wrote" has a warm, amiable glow that is rooted in Jessica's everywoman sensibilities and simple life in Cabot Cove, a charming little town that is saved from excessive quaintness by having plenty of murder-related conflict and some endearing supporting characters. Examples: Claude Akins as a prickly fisherman friend of Jessica's, and Tom Bosley as the competent-but-not-up-to-murder sheriff.

But she works equally well in the many other places she goes -- New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, a Mediterranean island, Virginia's horse country -- and consorts with a colorful variety of people (reporters, politicians, fishermen, millionaires, artists, KGB agents, etc), and and never seems ill-fitted. The only real problem is perhaps that this season was still finding its specific niche in the murder-mystery market, and the supporting cast and Cabot Cove presence aren't as well-rounded as they would later be.

The mysteries are all pretty well-written -- a colorful or intriguing setting, plenty of interesting suspects, a number of clues (some of them red herrings), and plenty of snappy dialogue ("Don't you go to the movies?" "When Cary Grant bowed out, so did I"). Usually there's a slip of the tongue that betrays the killer somewhere in the story, along with some vital clue, and plenty of love affairs, greedy relatives, well-earned grudges woven into the mix. In short, they're solid whodunnits, and it often isn't clear to the audience who the guilty party is until Jessica lays it out, Christie-style.

The first season of "Murder She Wrote" is a thoroughly solid introduction to Jessica Fletcher and her mystery-writing/solving ways -- entertaining murder mysteries with plenty of color and memorable characters.

Marvel's Daredevil [DVD]
Marvel's Daredevil [DVD]
Dvd ~ Charlie Cox
Price: £10.00

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The sirens, the pain, the fear, all strangling Hell's Kitchen, 3 Dec. 2016
This review is from: Marvel's Daredevil [DVD] (DVD)
Everybody knows about the Avengers -- a billionaire, a super-spy, a patriotic super-soldier, a thunder-god, and so on. They are the exalted heroes who keep saving the world.

But what about superheroes who fight on the streets, fighting smaller battles that threaten not the world, but their neighborhoods, homes and families? That brings us to "Daredevil: The Complete First Season," the groundbreaking collaboration between Marvel Studios and Netflix -- a gritty, gloomy, blood-spattered series about a blind lawyer who uses his heightened senses to battle corruption and crime in Hell's Kitchen.

As a child, Matt Murdock was blinded while rescuing an old man from a runaway truck -- but developed superhuman senses that allow him to be aware of things that the sighted are not. Now Murdock (Charlie Cox) is a successful lawyer who is opening his own firm with his buddy Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), and who seeks to right wrongs in the courtroom. Except that every night he disguises himself as a sort of Zorro-ninja, and battles the criminal organizations that are dominating the streets of Hell's Kitchen.

This includes trying to discover the man who has been pulling all the puppet strings, from kidnapping a child to protecting a young woman from a murderous plot. That man is Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio), a powerful and wealthy man whose corrupt touch reaches into the police department and the media -- and by battling against him, Murdock is fighting a man who is more brutal and intelligent than any of his prior foes. It may not be a battle that any mere man can win.

It doesn't seem like a stretch to say that "Daredevil: The Complete First Season" revolutionized comic-book TV shows, that it did for these shows what "The Dark Knight" did for comic book MOVIES. Yes, it told a story about a man dressing up in an armored devil jumpsuit to fight crime... but it was also a more nuanced, complicated story that wasn't afraid to tackle issues of morality, justice versus the law, and the sins good men need to commit when evil is allowed to run rampant and destroy others.

Free of the restrictions of network TV, this show could be as violent, dark and grimy as it needed to be -- while it takes place in the same world as the glossy Marvel blockbusters, this is a story very far removed from what happens there. This is a comic-book superhero used to show the kind of urban corruption that is painfully realistic in tone, from the dark crime-riddled streets, the tragic backstory (Murdock's dad was a boxer who died trying to be someone his son could admire) and the hardscrabble lives of many of the characters.

And that applies to the antihero protagonist as well. Matt Murdock doesn't really have any superpowers aside from his senses, or any money or amazing technology to compensate. He's just a guy with epic martial arts skills. So he gets hurt, a lot -- he's savagely beaten more than once, and Charlie Cox lets us see every pained stiff motion as he fights his way through hallways of thugs. Yet Cox also gives him a real sense of intelligence and silent charisma when he's in lawyer mode, and Henson's endearing character serves to remind us of the darker side of the character ("Maybe it isn't only about justice, Matt. Maybe it's about you having an excuse to hit someone").

On the flip side, we have Vincent D'Onofrio as the kingpin, Wilson Fisk -- and his introduction shows what a complex and compelling character he'll be, where he romances a woman with genuine charm and charisma... right before brutally beheading a guy with a car door. Yes, a car door. But that sets the tone for the way this character is depicted; while he's undeniably a villain, he's not an evil-for-evil's-sake bad guy with no backstory or nuance. He is truly the opposite of Daredevil.

It's also beautifully filmed and scripted. Every episode adds gradually to the overall arc, positioning characters like chess pieces until they inevitably will clash, and the writing is a masterpiece of painful eloquence (" No buildings named after us, fancy inheritances to leave behind, just…the stories those who were close to us tell to keep us alive. Even if it's just in memory"). The gritty industrial backdrop of Hell's Kitchen allows the cinematography to be full of light and shadow, in a world dominated by grey.

"Daredevil: The Complete First Season" is a grippingly realistic addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- and without the constraints of network TV, it's allowed to bloom like a blood-spattered, grimy rose from a broken sidewalk.

Star Trek The Next Generation - Season 3 (Slimline Edition) [DVD]
Star Trek The Next Generation - Season 3 (Slimline Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Patrick Stewart
Price: £11.81

4.0 out of 5 stars Make it so!, 3 Dec. 2016
"Star Trek: The Next Generation" had a rocky start -- the first season was a wasteland of pretension, and the second season was merely mediocre.

But the third season was where the series bloomed, fully coming into its own with new writers and a lessening of Gene Roddenberry's eccentric viewpoints. It still had some issues and a few self-righteous moments, but "Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 3" moved the story into far more intelligent, well-developed ideas and political strife, as well as the return of one of Star Trek's greatest villain species.

Doctor Crusher (Gates McFadden) returns to the Enterprise just in time for her son Wesley (Wil Wheaton) to accidentally endanger the ship with his science project -- he had his nanites communicate with each other, and now they've evolved into intelligent life. This would be less disastrous if the ship weren't right next to an about-to-erupt pulsar, and an attempt to kill them didn't lead to deadly retaliation.

And that's only the start of the series. From then on, they have to deal with stubborn colonists, Q (John De Lancie) being stripped of his godlike powers, accusations of murder and treachery, ancient blood feuds, a booby trap, an escaped super-soldier, the creation of a gynoid, a living starship, a mysterious pair of senior citizens, kidnappings, shore leave gone awry, and an awkward crewman who seeks social acceptance on the holodeck.

The highlights: the arrival of the legendary Vulcan diplomat Sarek (Mark Lenard) heralds sudden outbursts of violence among the crew, and the sudden appearance of the Enterprise-C leads to a radically altered timeline. And finally, the cybernetic aliens known as the Borg begin their devastating invasion of Federation space, with a very familiar face as the herald of their arrival...

One of the best aspects of "Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 3" is that after two seasons of stifling moral certitude, it was time to examine serious moral dilemmas and issues once again. Oh, sometimes it's a bit too simplistic ("The Hunted"), but most of the time they deal with some serious issues worthy of the Star Trek ideal, such as the repercussions of the Prime Directive, the implications of new life, and the responsibilities of great power.

There's also a stronger interstellar political undercurrent to this season, with the brewing unrest in the Romulan empire that ensnares the Enterprise more than once, as well as hints that the Klingon empire may be destabilizing as well. It's not quite the arc-driven storytelling that is now much more common in TV, but it adds a feeling of depth, realism and intelligence. And even the standalone episodes are simply better quality -- one episode is essentially a science-fiction retelling of "Rashomon," using the holodeck as part of a criminal investigation.

Flaws? Well, there are a few dud episodes. Some episodes have echoes of the insufferable sense of superiority that suffused the first episode -- for instance, "Who Watches The Watchers" has a distinctly anti-religious flavor, and "The Bonding" is all about how "superior" people are immune to grief. And if you feel it, just repress it.

This season also saw the return of Gates McFadden as Doctor Crusher, and her warmth and passion are a welcome change from the second season. Indeed, the cast had clearly all grown into their roles, and each character has their own distinctive quirks and oddities -- Picard is an introvert with an impressive personality, Geordi has rotten luck with women, Wesley is becoming overly scholarly, Riker's horniness leads to a murder investigation, and Worf's powerful sense of honor leads him into conflict with his own people.

There are a few flaws, but on average "Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 3" is a powerful, well-written string of science fiction stories -- and it ends on one of Star Trek's finest hours (and cliffhangers).

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