Gale Courses – Instant Italian


If you have been following this blog for a while now you know I have been active in reviewing our Spanish language courses, but we also offer resources for learning several other languages. This month I will be looking at Italian.

Have you ever thought about taking a trip to Italy? Connect more with your Italian heritage or work on genealogy for Italian relatives? Maybe you just want a new hobby? If so you then you might consider taking up Italian with Gale Course’s Instant Italian.

This class follows the same basic framework as the other Gale courses that I outlined in my previous post. A six week course with two lessons released every week, each containing five chapters, an FAQ, short five question quiz, an assignment that could be 30 minutes of immersion (TV, Songs, news articles, etc) or a game. The only graded assignment is an open book final exam with 36 question that can only be taken only once. Get 70% of them right and you pass the course!

This course is geared towards tourists planning a medium to long trip to Rome or other exciting locations in the boot shaped country. It covers several useful phrases for getting around and asking for directions, numbers, dates, time, shopping, finding a hotel or hostel, emergency situations, and best of all, dining out.

That said, I had several problems with the course:

  • Does not stress grammar enough. Vocabulary and phrases are nice, but do not build fundamentals. It also does not stress immersion as much as I would like.
  • Several of the assignments are flash-based, which are fine in theory, but look like they have not been updated in years and would often not work or break.
  • The discussion section was dead. It depends on the instructor as well as the students to have a healthy rapport, but you will have to speak up if you have any questions about the material.

Still, the formalized structure is useful to introduce learners to the basics of Italian grammar and it will give tourists enough to bumble around Italy without too much trouble. Do your best and remember that this is just the start of learning a language. Make sure to practice every day using variety of sources such as books, movies, or songs. The ultimate goal of fluency will be harder to reach without other speakers to practice with so consider joining a club or hiring a tutor if you are hard up for conversation partners. The only thing limiting you is the time you plan to devote to studying.

Session Start Dates:
February 13
March 13
April 17
May 15

You can join the course through Gale Courses in our Eresources section under the lifelong learning tab, see:

Buona fortuna!


Mango Languages – This service covers a number of languages, but its Italian section is fairly robust with 23 hours of content as well as several supplementary conversation examples and films. This is also found under the same section on our site as Gale Courses.

Duolingo – A free online service dedicated to making language learning accessible to everyone. It’s a more active alternative to Mango and geared towards daily practice. I use it extensively for studying both Italian and Spanish. They also host meet up groups for members to practice, check your area for more details.

Cooljugator – Simple online tool that will spit out a conjugation chart for every Italian verb!

Fluentin3months – A blog that hosts countless resources for learning a variety of languages, including Italian.

The library also offers a respectable amount of materials in Italian in our Foreign Language sections. Check with staff at the Media and Reference desk for more details.


The Shrine

the shrine1

A young journalist and friends travel to a remote village in Poland to find out more about a string of  tourists disappearing in the area.  Upon their arrival they’re greeted by hostile locals and a religious cult willing to do anything to keep visitors away from the strange fog emanating from the forest.


What I liked:

shrine cast

I wasn’t expecting much going in but the story surprised me a lot and I liked it.  It was very atmospheric and creepy.  The reporter Carmen, her cameraman and boyfriend Marcus, and her colleague Sara, come to this village to find out more about a guy that went missing here while his luggage was found at an airport he never even visited.  They read the guys journal and see that he spoke of a strange fog sitting in one spot in the forest next to the village he’d been in.  When they arrive at the village they’re met with hostility from the locals who just want them to leave.  Instead, they sneak into the forest at night and Carmen and Sara enter the fog.


the shrine statue

Inside they see a strange statue of a demon holding a heart.  We never get to see Saras experience but with Carmen we see that the statue is supernatural.  She looks at it and takes a picture of it, then moves to the other side of it to take another picture.  When she looks up at it again she sees that the statue has turned its head towards her.  The eyes of the statue then start to bleed and the stone heart in its hand starts to beat.  The group exits the forest where they again encounter the villagers.  The trio is captured and it is then determined that Carmen and Sara will be unwilling participants in a ritual sacrifice.  Sara is executed first when she’s stripped and dressed in a gown and has an ornamental mask with spikes protruding from the eye area hammered into her skull.  Marcus, who was being made to dig his own grave elsewhere, escapes and arrives to save Carmen and the two escape.

the shrine2

They break into a families home in an attempt to steal their truck so that they can finally leave.  This is where the movie reveals its twist.  While inside with the family, Carmen begins to hallucinate that everyone is a demonic creature and after her.  She retreats to another room where Marcus follows.  Marcus finds himself alone in the room and trapped as the doors are locked.  He then hears the family screaming as they’re being brutally killed.  Once he’s finally able to leave the room he’s attacked by Carmen, whos possessed.  The rest of the villagers arrive and proceed to execute the same ritual that they performed on Sara on Carmen.  Unfortunately Carmen manages to kill a few of them in the process.  Marcus ends up assisting the villagers in their ritual when he realizes what’s been happening all along. the shrine

The twist was the the villagers were actually the good guys.  Carmen and Sara, as well as the missing guy and several tourist before him had all entered the forest and looked at the demonic statue, which allows the demon to possess them.  The ritual that the villagers performs is the only way to save those who’ve seen it and prevent the destruction and death that the demon causes.

What also played into the creepy atmosphere that isn’t used much today is the lack of subtitles for the parts where the villagers were speaking Polish.  It puts you in the same confused state as the other actors because unless you speak Polish as well, you have no idea whats going on or what they’re planning for them.  It makes the nature of the rituals they do all the more mysterious and its pretty effective.


I was also a fan of the effects used in this movie.  The horror effects were all done practically and they were good and gory.  The demonic faces when the women were hallucinating looked like cheap costume masks but they way they were used in the film made it passable.  There was a lot of blood and body parts strewn about when Carmen became fully possessed and I thought it added to the fear factor of what she had become and why the villagers had been doing their rituals over the years and their hostility towards outsiders.

What I didn’t like:

The acting ranged from average to awful.  The characters gave wooden performances  like there was no emotion behind what they were doing.  Sometimes I felt like they could be reading from cue cards or something because of their dry delivery.  The best acted character was one of the villagers in my opinion.  He had more feeling and better delivery in his lines than everyone else.

Final thoughts:

The Shrine is a surprisingly good movie that flew under the radar, most likely due to the low budget.  It’s an ambitious alternate take on the familiar theme in horror movies of demonic possession, or dangerous religious cults.  The story is pretty good as well as the special effects, the only thing that brings it down a bit is the mediocre acting.  All in all, this is a good movie and worthy of a watch.





A romantic camping trip goes awry when a couple is car jacked and held hostage by a dangerous criminal and his strung out girlfriend as they attempt to evade the law.  The situation gets worse for them once they find themselves trapped in a gas station with a gruesome monster standing between them and safety.


What I liked:

The acting in this was solid all around.  Dennis, the carjacker, was the best acted character in my opinion, while Polly and her boyfriend Seth were solid as well.  I usually gripe about characters being dumbed down to make things interesting but what I liked about this movie was that they established early on that Seth was a coward, he was more interested in science than anything else and it played into his choices he made in the movie.

splinter cast

For instance, there was a scene where Dennis is outside of the gas station trying to retrieve his girlfriends corpse because he thinks she’s still alive.  Polly justly wanted to lock him out and just leave him for dead.  This guy kidnapped them at gunpoint, hit Polly, and threatened to kill them at several points and they had no idea whether he would go through with it or not, especially after his girlfriend was killed.  Meanwhile, Seth is yelling at Polly to let the guy back into the gas station because he’s afraid the guy will shoot them through the glass even though they could just hide behind something.  Theres also another scene where the creatures severed arm is smashed but Seth uncovers it so that he can study it, when it’s still a threat to them all, as getting stuck by a single spike is enough to turn an entire person.


I was a big fan of the creature effects in this.  Practical effects made the creatures look gory, horrific, and real.  This was pure body horror and it was great.  The creature is some kind of slime mold that infects animals and kills them while using their corpse as a zombie to attack and infect others.  The coolest part came when the creature would absorb other creatures into its current host.  You’d have this massive creature covered in blood with black spikes jutting out of it everywhere and it’d look like a person with another person randomly mixed in.  Also, despite being in a human host, the creature didn’t move like a human at all.  It sort of moved around on all fours like an agitated animal and it looked great.  At points in the movie it’s even capable of ripping off some of its limbs which still function as normal and try to attack people.  It was like looking at Thing from the Addams Family, only its covered in blood and has black spikes protruding from it.

splinter (1)

What I didn’t like:

For all the trouble the production crew went through for their amazing creature effects, it was ruined by the horrible camera work.  I can tell that the creature looked amazing from the clear glimpses of it that are visible.  The sad part is, whenever the creature was attacking someone the camera would be all over the place to the point where it was too difficult to tell what was even happening on-screen.  There would also be way too many cuts during this time, I counted over thirty in a short scene lasting less than fifteen seconds.  For the movie to have such good creature design, only to ruin it with bad camera work is really disappointing.  My guess is that it had to be budgetary reasons that they couldn’t show the creature as clearly as possible.

Aside from Seth’s stupid decisions that fit in with his character, the movie did fall back on some common horror tropes such as cops being useless, and it was kind of hilarious as a result.  At one point when everyone is stuck in the gas station they hear the creature that used to be Dennis’s girlfriend on the roof of the building trying to find a way in.  While tracking it through the building they come to the front door and find that there’s a cop there with her gun drawn yelling at Dennis that she’s going to take him in and that Polly and Seth are finally safe.  So for a minute or so, this cop stays outside the locked door with her gun pointed at Dennis, telling him that he’s going to jail.  Meanwhile Polly and Seth are yelling at her that she isn’t safe and she should get back into her car.  No one offered to unlock the doors and let her into the building for some reason, I mean if she was planning on arresting Dennis she’d have to enter at some point or have him come out to her.  She attempts to radio for help at the insistence of Polly and Seth and is unable to get a response.  Still continuing to stand in the same spot and do nothing she’s attacked by the creature and killed.  The thing splits her in two and absorbs her top half, making her a part of it.  It was hilarious because within a second of her showing up on-screen I could already tell she was gonna die.  Why is it that cops never listen to what people are warning them of in horror movies?  Even if she didn’t believe them that there was something outside with her, would it have hurt her to try to enter the building?


Final Thoughts:

Overall I was surprised that I liked Splinter.  It was a made for TV movie and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those that I liked.  Splinter had a good plot, the acting was good, and the effects were great.  Unfortunately I felt cheated by the camera work.  This is a monster movie and they were stingy with the monster.  This was sadly a movie with great potential that had it ruined by something easily fixable.





After being framed and unjustly fired from his job in a corporate law office, Derek Cho struggles to survive once the building is placed under quarantine due to a virus that strips the inhibitions from those infected.  Now Cho must fight for not just his job, but his life as the infected grow increasingly violent around him.

The good thing about this movie is that it doesn’t take itself seriously.  Its all about action and ultra violence.  Once the virus kicks in, the movie shifts into high gear and remains there until its over.  Everyone in the building is quickly infected and chaos erupts as their deepest violent impulses are finally unchained.  Steven Yuen does a great job in his role as the protagonist.  He’s charismatic and funny as he fights his way up to the top floor of the building to get revenge on his corrupt boss.  The rest of the cast give pretty good performances as well, some tended to be over the top though.

One thing that didn’t make sense to me though was how the board members seemed unaffected by it.  I mean they’re clearly infected as the virus turns one eye red, but that is the only thing that implies that they’re infected.  There is one board member that fights someone, but she was attacked first and responded with violence to defend herself, the rest of the board remains just as they were when introduced before being infected by the virus.

Overall, Mayhem is an average movie.  Its fun and packed with action that grabs you early and refuses to let go.  With a plot that is as generic as can be, the lead actor and the excessive violence prop this movie up more than it should be.



Bird Box


A mysterious occurrence creeps over the world’s population.  No one knows what it is or what causes it, the only thing that’s certain is that those that see it are compelled to suicide.  The few remaining survivors must then struggle to exist in a world they must navigate through while blinded in order to survive.


What I liked:

The acting in this ranged from good to great.  Sandra Bullock as Malorie the protagonist put forth a great effort as a single mother trying to keep herself and two children alive during the apocalypse.  I liked her character arc as she went from a reluctant, unattached pregnant mother to five years later being the guardian of two children she tries to distance herself from but ultimately comes to love as her children.  For instance, she literally names the children Girl and Boy as well as makes them call her by her first name.  At one point she had a decision to make where while traveling in a boat down the river they would hit rapids and someone would HAVE to look in order to help her navigate.  She decides that it has to be one of the kids, Boy initially volunteers to look and she tells him no and that she will decide.  She then stares at Girl for a bit.  In a flashback we learn that Boy is in fact her biological son, whereas Girl is the child of a fellow survivor whose mother died immediately after birth.  Her immediate refusal to allow Boy to be the one to look and prolonged look at Girl made me feel like she would be more comfortable with Girl being the one to sacrifice herself since she didn’t feel like she was her mother.  There was also a scene where everyone ends up separated from one another and once Malorie and Boy are reunited and calling for Girl, Boy tells her that Girl is afraid of her.  Despite all of the hardships, once they make it to a sanctuary Malorie finally gives the two children names.  Girl is named Olympia, after her birth mother while Boy is given the name Tom, after the man who served as their surrogate father until he died before they reached sanctuary.  Other than Bullock the rest of the cast gave a good performance, but nothing really stood out to me.

I was also a fan of the monsters, demons, spirits, or whatever they were.  Even though the movie never specifies what it is or even if there is an actual creature, I liked the concept.  I like to think that it has to be some kind of sentient life form since it can not only make people see their worst fears, it can speak to them and try to manipulate them into removing their blindfolds and looking at it.  It has an element of Lovecraftian horror to it, in that there are cosmic beings that are so beyond human comprehension that merely laying eyes on them will drive a human mind to insanity or worse.  The closest thing we get to seeing what the monsters might look like is through the drawings of Gary and a creeping shadow over one of the video monitors from an earlier characters death.  It’s the unknown aspect that I like best about it.  It allows you to come up with your own interpretation of what you think the characters might be seeing.  I prefer this approach rather than if the movie had spent all this time hyping up the monster only for it to be disappointing.  It may not be something that works for everyone but it worked for me in this case.

What I didn’t like:

The inconsistencies in this are glaring.  For instance, the monsters and their effect on people.  With the vast majority of the population looks at one, their eyes morph before they kill themselves.  For some reason that’s never explained, crazy people are able to look at them without being driven to suicide or practically any ill effects, yet they’re driven to force other people to look at the creatures.  The movie shows us several of the crazies, all of which have seen the creatures, yet some of them have the morphed eyes and some don’t.  Take Gary for example, he shows up outside of the home the survivors have holed up in and when they let him in, he appears normal and even has normal eyes.  By the next day or so we see his eyes morph as he starts drawing his pictures of the monsters.  I thought it could have been due to seeing the pictures as we saw a character have the suicide response from looking at a creature through a security monitor, yet another character looks at the same pictures that Gary does to no effect.  So how was Gary able to hide his morphed eyes, or was there a delayed response to seeing the creatures somehow?  There’s a group of crazies that drive around in cars and they don’t have the morphed eyes, yet Malorie encounters a crazy on the river that does have the morphed eyes, as well as a guy they encountered in an earlier scene in the supermarket.  There is also the fact that the monsters seem to be everywhere, yet we have to see them approach people to effect them.  When Gary forces a survivor to look outside she immediately kills herself, same with another survivor that was locked in the garage.  Was there a monster sitting outside the entire time waiting for someone to look out, or are they just there always?  It’s not like they’re being forced to wait with their eyes open for a creature to appear.  During the climax we see that Malorie is being chased by the monsters, as we can see them physically effecting the plants and trees around them as they move through them.  So would Malorie have been fine if she’d taken off her blindfold as long as she didn’t look behind her?

The monsters are also shown to physically exist as bushes rustle, trees shake, and leaves are moved when they move through them.  There is also a scene where the survivors are navigating in a car using its proximity sensors and everything goes off at once in an area where it shouldn’t indicating one of the monsters is near, as it shakes and rocks the car.  So….why can’t they open doors or forcefully remove people’s blindfolds themselves?  How is it that survivors can navigate the world completely safe with only a blindfold if these creatures are physically present?  How is it that they’re only present outside?  Whenever a survivor enters a building they can remove their blindfold and look around without issue, they only need them outside for some reason.  Are the creatures vampires?  Do they need permission to enter buildings?  How can they be physical entities, yet unable to break a window, open a door, or touch someone?  But if they’re not physical entities, what is stopping them from just going into a house and appearing in front of people?  No one wears blindfolds indoors it would be easy for them to get everyone.  It doesn’t make sense.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, Bird Box is a fairly average movie, with a below average plot propped up by great acting from Sandra Bullock.  The rest of the cast puts forth solid acting performances but the plot is lacking.  There are major inconsistencies that pop up and drag down for the movie for me.  Its entertaining, but at certain points it boring and drags.





Following a brutal mugging that resulted in the loss of his wife and paralyzed him, Grey must overcome his aversion to technology when he receives an advanced AI system.  Together Grey and STEM, the experimental AI implanted into his body, seek out the ones responsible for that night to execute brutal and gory revenge.


Upgrade is a fun movie.  It takes elements of sci-fi body horror and action and mixes them up into something nice.  The best part of the movie for me had to be STEM.  STEM was a great and kind of unexpected villain.  I say unexpected because I figured it would be the villain but I didn’t expect it to be the mastermind behind everything from the beginning.  STEM forced its creator to orchestrate the mugging as STEM caused the car crash that stranded Grey and his wife in the area.  Once it was in Greys body it spent the next few days ensuring that he was constantly exerting himself to the point where his mind would be too exhausted to resist it, enabling STEM to permanently take over his body.  Once that happens Grey is stuck in a dream like state where everything was a dream and he’s woken up in the hospital with his wife next to him, meanwhile STEM has a human body which he can navigate society easily with.  STEMs character integrating into human society with his hyper intelligence and superhuman combat abilities is something I wish we got to see, unfortunately that may be only be shown with a possible sequel.

This movie had some really great action scenes as a result of Grey turning over control to STEM.  Being an AI he’d move in this fast and jerky robotic style, dispatching enemies with cold, calculated precision.  It was kind of like something out of the Matrix except STEM was way more brutal and devastating. These scenes looked pretty good and made for some pretty sick kills with STEMs lack of emotional attachment to human life and all.  The use of practical effects for the kills made them look gory and visceral and was a great throwback to old school action flicks that did the same.  Practical effects will always reign supreme over CGI in my opinion and it’s great to still see it being used in film today.

The main actor did a really good job as well.  Its interesting to see him torn between wanting revenge for his wife being murdered yet also disliking how STEM wanted to go about it.  Because of the way they’re connected to each other, Grey is fully conscious of what STEM does when it takes over.  Grey was visibly disturbed by the things that STEM did and it took its tole on him mentally, to the point where he wanted to give up his pursuit of revenge, only to be forced to coninue against his will, reduced to a passanger in his own body.

Overall, Upgrade is a great movie.  Its got great acting, a good story with a great villain, and great effects.  The mix of sci-fi body horror with action is interesting and was executed pretty well in this.  Coupled with the great use of practical effects, this movie is a must watch.



The Devil’s Rock

devil's rock

On the eve of D-Day, two New Zealand commandos undertake a covert operation to infiltrate a Nazi base on the Channel Islands to disable a weapon.  Upon landing and infiltrating the base, they discover the mangled corpses of its Nazi staff and strange Occult symbols along with a woman who shouldn’t be there.


The Devil’s Rock is a low budget film that exceeds expectations.  What I liked best about this movie were the use of practical effects and the way the demon psychologically manipulated people to achieve its goals.  The small cast of actors did a solid job in their roles, especially the actress playing the demon. There isn’t a lot of action onscreen so the majority of the movie is character driven and there is a lot of dialogue.  The demon was originally summoned by a secret branch of the Nazi regime that specializes in the occult.  Once she was summoned through, she decides to manipulate and feed on the ones who bought her into this world.  The demon spends the film manipulating the two men as we find out later that she’s able to take the form of the woman they love most to influence their behavior.  With this ability she can get close to and kill anyone, something the Nazis hoped would help them triumph over the Allied nations.

I was a big fan of the practical effects in this movie.  Old school gore like the good old days of horror.  There’s buckets of blood and plenty of mangled and dismembered corpses leftover by the demon.  The set design with the occult symbology in the room with the dismembered human limbs looked great.  The makeup on the demon also looked great to me.  I like the attention to detail with how it looked where she had stumps where her wings had been ripped off.

Overall The Devil’s Rock is a pretty good film that went unnoticed.  Its got solid acting, great special effects and a pretty good story to go along with it.  It’s definitely worth watching, especially if you happen to be a fan of horror movies featuring Nazi occultism or just happen to be a fan of great practical effects.