Technology too advanced for humans not to abuse

Forbidden Planet blu-rayposter-forbidden-planet_03$10.01 at Amazon 

 

(3/5)

Pros: soundtrack, sets

Cons: pace, cliched characters

I only just got around to watching the 1956 MGM “Forbidden Planet,” the first sci-fi A-picture (not counting the German silent “Metropolis”). I can see that it was pioneering, not least in electronic music (which was not permitted to be credited as a music score for Oscar competition), and some vague connections to “The Tempest.”

Its philologist Prospero (the mellifluous, deep-voiced Walter Pidgeon, given the ominous name of Morbius) has better reasons to abjure his magic than I see in Shakespeare’s original version, but the visitors do not crash. Rather, they are on a mission to see if there are any survivors from two decades earlier and take them back to earth. And the visitors have not wronged Prospero, causing him and his daughter (Anne Francis as a virginal Miranda). Robbie the Robot is a clunky, unsprite-like Ariel and there is no Caliban. A lot of time is spent explaining the technology developed by lifeforms (Krell) that vanished 2000 centuries ago, but left in smoothly running, self-maintaining condition.

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The movie was lovingly restored in 2006 for its 50th anniversary. I cringe at the dimestore Freudian heart of the movie (a savage id rather than a death instinct) and consider the characters unoriginal with the possible exception of the robot, though his originality is difficult to see having seen later sci-fi movies with compelling mechanical servants (the computer HAL in “2001”, the robot R2D2 in “Star Wars” movies). Anne Francis seems particularly vapid in very short skirts (miniskirts après la letter) and Earl Holliman’s boozy cook/dishwasher is as much a cliché as the mad scientist devoid of self-insight (or a good Freudian analyst, though the spaceship’s doctor takes a stab at analysis delivered to the captain rather than to the analysand).

Forbidden Planet

A young Leslie Nielsen played the commander and love interest. The old Nielsen pops up on bonus features to marvel about various things. The (2010) blu-ray is loaded with bonus features, including a 56-minute documentary about 1950s Hollywood sci-fi (Watch the Skies!), a 27-minute celebration of the movie, 14 minutes on engineering Robbie the Robot, 22 minutes of deleted/alternate scenes and unused special effects, plus Robbie the Robot’s appearances in a definitely B-picture followup (The Invisible Boy) and in an episode of the tv “Thin Man” (with Peter Lawford as Nick Charles), and two two-minute “MGM Parade” teasers and theatrical trailers for both “Forbidden Planet” and “The Invisible Boy.”

 

No. He is NOT a racist..!!

Go Set A Watchman

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See it at Amazon …  Go Set A Watchman

(2/5)

Pros: No, you do NOT get to redefine this American Literature icon

Cons: Hands off my Atticus..!!

All readers and viewers of film/TV have characters they have come to know who are inviolable in their mind.  We know their heart and mind.  If there is one fictional character in my mind who I know …it is Atticus Finch.

Atticus Finch is no racist …not as portrayed in Go Set A Watchman.

Years after having left Maycomb,  Alabama, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch has come home from New York City.  Servant Calpurnia has left the family’s employ.  Aunt Alexandra now tends to the needs of the aging Atticus.  Scout’s brother Jem had “dropped dead in his tracks one day” years earlier.  After mourning his loss, Atticus fixes on war veteran Henry Clinton as the one who would now take on his law practice.  Louise and Henry being ‘an item’ is an extra benefit …whether Aunt Alexandra cares for his ‘white trash’ background or not.

The faint embers of the civil rights movement have come to Maycomb.  The Maycomb County Citizens’ Council has gathered to fight this perceived threat of black activists and the NAACP.  “Nothing’s happened here in Maycomb yet, but it’s always wise to be prepared.” Alexandra tells Louise.  Atticus and Henry sit at the same table with other members of the Citizens’ Council.  Louise’s faith and belief in her father are cut to the quick.

Author Lee mashes up this mess of clueless Louise, racist Atticus, bigoted Aunt Alexandra, love interest Henry, and others for hundreds of pages.  More than a few flash-back stories are told of Scout, Jem, and Dill learning life’s lessons.

The Bottom Line

I call Go Set A Watchman a ‘mess’ …well, because it really is.  A reader with a strong vision of Maycomb, the Finches, and Atticus will have a tough time buying into this story-line gone loony.  I could not and did not accept it.  I will not recommend this story to others.  Coupled with the apparent (to some) crass commercialism and ‘lucky discovery’ of this early, unpublished Lee novel . . .it is all just too much for me.

…tom…

Be Afraid by Mary Burton – decent, but don’t be afraid to skip this one

Be Afraid by Mary Burton

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See it at Amazon 

(2/5)

Pros: decent who done it, and why

Cons: characters I couldn’t stand

Mary Burton’s Be Afraid is a thriller that uses one of my favorite techniques. Tell us about a traumatic event from someone’s childhood, then move on to the present, where something is happening that has ties to the past event.

In this case, Jenna had the horrible childhood experience. Her family was killed and she was taken and trapped in a closet for several days before she was rescued. She was only five when it happened, and she’s been told that the killer/kidnapper died of an overdose.

Now it’s 25 years later and Jenna is a forensic artist. Coming back to her childhood home floods her with memories. But her world is really rocked when women start turning up dead, and clues to their murders tie with Jenna’s own childhood trauma.

Overall, Be Afraid is a decent thriller. It definitely gives us a bit of a mystery to solve as we want to find out what really happened all those years ago. And, of course, figure out who’s killing the women today, and why.

But it has several flaws. First of all, I hated most of the characters. Even Jenna, for whom I surely have a ton of sympathy. After all, her childhood contains nightmares far beyond the norm. But she doesn’t get a pass for being an obnoxious brat, now. I know I’m supposed to think of her as “head strong” and “independent”. But mostly I just think she’s a brat.

Then there’s the detective who helps Jenna along the way. We get a snippet into his family life, and there’s some nonsense there that was ridiculous. There’s a giant rift in his family. And when you find out what it’s all about, you’ll surely roll your eyes, as I did.

Of course, Jenna and the detective have to hook up. Why? Because that’s the logical thing to do when women all around you are dying, I guess. And, because, thriller authors seem to think that every book requires a romance angle, whether it’s logical or not.

So, as you can see, “decent” is about all I can say about this book. If you find it sitting around and you have nothing else to do, give it a read. But don’t go out of your way for this one. It’s just not worth it.

 

Classic.

Goodfellas

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$9.99 Blu-Ray or DVD at Amazon 

(5/5)

Pros: Everything

Cons: Nothing

(This review originally appeared in slightly different form on Epinions.com.)

I always hate it when people ask me what my favorite movie is. There are so many that I love it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. But if I were ever to travel to a desert island and could only take one movie with me, there’s no question which one it would be. Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese’s 1990 masterpiece, one of the best movies of all time and my personal all-time favorite mob movie.

It is commonly believed among serious students of film, hardcore cinephiles and aspiring writer-directors (like yours truly) that Scorsese is the greatest American filmmaker working today. It is also commonly observed that he has managed to produce at least one masterpiece in each of the five decades he has been making films. In the 2010s, it’s The Wolf Of Wall Street. In the 2000s it was The Departed. In the 80s it was Raging Bull. In the 70s it was Taxi Driver. And for the 1990s, it was Goodfellas.

At heart Goodfellas is a mob movie. That basic description is accurate. However, simply calling it a mob movie is too limiting a description. In essence, Goodfellas is a perfect portrayal of modern life lived by characters who just so happen to be mobsters.

“As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a gangster. To me, being a gangster was better than being president of the United States”. Those are Henry Hill’s opening words as Goodfellas begins. To a young man growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s, that’s the gold. Today, it’s the thing to dream of growing up to be Silicon Valley billionaires or NFL stars. Back then it was different.

Young Henry is drawn in by the mobsters who work at the cab stand across the street from his home. At 13, he goes to work for them part-time. However, it isn’t long before he’s quit school and gone to work for them full time. At first, his father does not approve. However, when the mobsters stop the postal service from delivering truancy letters to Hill’s house, school is soon a complete thing of the past (as are the butt whippings we witness him receive from his father when he realizes Henry has been skipping school.)

Not long after, Henry is taken under the wing of Mob captains Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) and Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro). All this as he grows up into an adult played by Ray Liotta. The glamour of organized crime is seductive and before long Hill is working his way up to where he can get personally escorted into the Copacabana, along with his woman Karen (Lorraine Bracco of The Sopranos). So the glitter of organized crime is there. However, there are also the downsides (possibly getting whacked, prison time).

That’s the basic story of Goodfellas in a nutshell. The story is quite entertaining. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

First off, there are the characters. There’s Henry Hill, who begins the film as curious pre-teen and ends it as misplaced adult cursing his fate. The trajectory is quite good. He starts the film as somewhat innocent and ends it as beaten. But not remorseful the way most movies of this type would end. Hill is something of an asshole. But we feel a certain sense of sympathy for him.

Then there’s Jimmy Conway. As played by DeNiro, Conway’s one mobster whom you do not want to cross. But he does have certain layers of humanity. Same goes for Paul Cicero. Cicero’s the mobster who won’t harm you as long as you don’t harm him. But if you do…

Then we have the truly psychotic Tommy DeSimone (Joe Pesci). Psychotic is the true word for Tommy. Watch him go from cracking a joke to blowing someone away. If Macaulay Culkin had gone up against Tommy in the Home Alone movies, he wouldn’t have utilized Rube Goldberg devices against him. No, he would’ve run away screaming.

We can’t forget the women either. There’s Karen the tough no-nonsense lady who begins the film as Henry’s disbelieving mistress, only to gradually be simultaneously appalled and drawn in by all that Henry’s lifestyle offers. There are a few moments where Scorsese switches the telling of the story from Henry’s POV to Karen’s. This is a tricky thing to do as it could’ve easily thrown the rhythm of the story off. But Bracco and Scorsese make it work.

That brings us to another aspect that makes Goodfellas a classic: the direction. Scorsese (who wrote the movie with some assistance from Nicholas Pileggi) brings the characters and the situations to life. Watch that tracking shot where Henry and Karen walk in to the Copa. Watch the scene where Henry, Jimmy and Tommy dig up a corpse and are almost collapsing from the smell. Notice how they give you the you are there feel.

Scorsese knows how to use humor and tension at just the right moments. Witness how he inserts some footage of Henny Youngman into a scene and manages to lighten the scene without cheapening it. Watch the climactic scene where a coked-out Henry gradually thinks he’s going crazy as he heads for his downfall.

That scene itself is set to a superb classic rock soundtrack, which brings us to another great aspect of Goodfellas: the music. There’s lots of great music in the film. But Scorsese had more on his mind than selling soundtracks. He doesn’t just throw songs on as background noise. Witness the aforementioned classic rock montage for the climax. Witness the use of the piano outro from Derek and the Dominoes “Layla” for a scene where a body is disposed of. The songs are used in a way that complements the story.

I try to think of any possible flaws there might be with this movie and the ones that do come to mind are so minor (a few glitches in editing) that they aren’t worth mentioning. Goodfellas is one of the few times where a filmmaker has actually achieved cinematic perfection. So I say this: see Goodfellas if you haven’t already done so. If you have, yet haven’t watched it in a while, watch it again. Buy it on DVD or Blu-Ray.

The Spanish “Running Out of Time”

Dias contados (1994)

 

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(3.4/5)

Pros: Gómez, Bardem, gratuitous female nudity

Cons: nihilism

The Spanish “Running Out of Time,” “Días contados” (1994; there is also a 1999 Hong Kong one that I like better;  “Numbered Days” is a more literal translation of “Días contados”) to have been made to show Ruth Gabriel’s body. Except for the bottom of her feet and the top of her head, all of it is displayed. In some scenes she is topless, in others bottomless, and is completely nude for extended stretches of the movie. Her character, Charo, is a heroin user who is not quite addicted and a sex worker who is not quite a prostitute. She is mostly an erotic dancer, while her nymphomaniac friend Vanessa (Candela Peña) provides the blow jobs.

gabriel                                                      clothed Ruth Gabriel

The protagonist, Antonio (Carmelo Gómez [El portero] with a constant 3-day stubble) is a Basque (ETA) terrorist, come to Madrid to blow up a police station. He occupies the apartment next to Charo, who soon shoots up, takes a bath, and poses for photographs in his bathroom.

Antonio does not seem to believe in what he does (kill Spanish policemen, blow up things in the name of Basque independence), but has some interest in sex, albeit with sex workers rather than with his terrorist colleague and former bedmate Lourdes (Elvira Mínguez [Tapas, Pudor]).

Antonio’s nihilism (no doubt, he is supposed to be numbed by violence by and against ETA) and the look of the rundown Madrid neighborhood seem right out of a Luc Besson movie, “Léon, the Professional” for instance, though Charo is older and far more jaded than Natalie Portman’s character in “Léon.”

Javier Bardem is on hand as a very creepy pimp and police informer and heroin addict with rotted teeth. Aptly, he is called Lisardo. And there is a dealer called Portugues (Chacho Carreras) who endures more unpleasantness than he is shown providing.

The ending is predictable—not from early on, but no surprise. I would have liked more insight into why Antonio does what he does, but Imanol Uribe seems French in his lack of interest in character psychology. There is much less violence in “Días contados” than in any of the Besson movies I’ve seen.

Bardem appeared in what I think is a more interesting Spanish movie about urban terrorism, “The Dancer Upstairs” directed by John Malkovich from a novel by Nicholas Shakespeare.

The DVD includes a making-of feature and a trailer.

 

 

Decayed urban school drama with some superb acting and questionable direction

Detachment  (2011)

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(3.3/5)

Pros: acting

Cons: directing, editing

Considering that British director Tony Kaye is best known for frequent and fierce clashes with Edward Norton over the 1998 “American History X” (for which Norton was nominated for an Oscar), it is surprising that Kaye could assemble the acting talent he did for “Detachment” (2011), starting with Oscar winners Adrien Brody and Marcia Gay Harden, and including tv stars Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, William Petersen, plus old-timers James Caan and Blythe Danner. The latter two are quite funny and I wish there was more of them in the movie. Cranston (only one of whose scenes survived cutting) has said that he and other actors thought that Kaye had botched execution of the terrific script that was written by ex-teacher Carl Lund. (“I felt that Carl Lund, the writer of Detachment, wrote a really beautiful, haunting script. And I didn’t feel that it was honored. I was upset with that. I really was.. And I’m not the only actor on that film to feel that way.” From http://www.hitfix.com/blogs/motion-captured/posts/ZZaxMQkjPLuKr8Ku.99)

The very messy (think Terry Gilliam-messy) movie includes what could have been a very good movie about a school that is a dumping ground for difficult students and the burnt-out teachers (including the pill-popping Caan character, and Tim Blake Nelson playing a teacher who believes he is invisible) with Harden as the frustrated principle and Liu as the frustrated guidance counselor.

detachment-poster-headerBrody plays Henry Barthes, a roving substitute teacher, hired to teach English for a month. Meredith (Betty Kaye; I don’t know if she is related to the director), an overweight, bullied, artsy female student develops a crush on him. Outside the school, he attempts to shelter and rehabilitate a teenage prostitute played by Sami Gayle. She is effective enough, but the whole good-hearted, tough-exterior prostitute and her savior is hopelessly clichéd and takes time away from the more interesting urban school movie.

Brody&Kaye                                      Adrien Brody and Betty Kaye

As if these two movies were not enough to intercut, there is also a dying grandfather (Louis Zorich) who raised Henry after Henry’s mother committed suicide (he found her naked body) when he was seven… and whom Henry suspects had molested his mother.

Kaye (who photographed as well as directed the movie) intercuts bits of what look like home movies as flashbacks. And there are also chalkboard animations, plus what appear to be interviews of Brody from after the month at the school (he has grown a beard) and some prosaic poetry Henry writes.

I think that in general Brody and Harden are underappreciated and woefully underutilized (among the movies few have seen in which each (respectively) is especially impressive, I’d recommend “The Dummy” and “If I Were You”). Their performances and Betty Kaye’s and the snippets of performances by others justifies “Detachment.” It also has a great sequence on Parent Day (/night) and of a state education bureaucrat spewing BS.

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I hope the out-takes are preserved, though it is probably too much to hope that someone other than Tony Kaye might assemble the potentially great school movie I suspect that he shot and then subordinated to the teacher/teen prostitute movie. (BTW Brody’s Henry shows no erotic interest in either of the troubled teenagers who look to him to save them from despair. If his grandfather was a pedophile, Henry is not following that heritage.)

There are two bonus features with Kaye and Brody, copresent but not interacting (in a studio(5 minutes) and at the premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival (3 minutes). Both include clips from the movie, so add little beyond the impression that the producer/star and director/cinematographer don’t like each other but are trying to promote the movie (which barely had a theatrical release and is being dropped from Netflix streaming in another week).

 

Unlucky 13 by James Patterson – lives up to its name

Unlucky 13 by James Patterson

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See it at Amazon 

(2/5)

Pros: a bit of excitement here and there

Cons: but definitely not the best of the series

In general, I enjoy James Patterson’s The Women’s Murder Club series. But Unlucky 13 really lives up to its name as it was pretty awful.

Four women who pull their talents together to solve crimes. Lindsay the homicide detective. Yuki the attorney. Claire the medical examiner. And Cindy the reporter. In general, these ladies make a terrific force, working together, and making the streets of San Francisco safer for all. But in this book the ladies really don’t work together very much. Each sort of has her own story. Except Claire. She’s basically absent for this one.

So you have Lindsay chasing the “belly bomber” with her partner, Rich. What’s a “belly bomb”? Well, this book would have you believe that it’s a teeny tiny bomb that can be put into someone’s food. They eat it and when it hits the stomach acid – well – kaboom! No meal is worth that! With very little clue to go on except for the victim’s last meal, which happens to have been a popular hamburger chain, Lindsay is on the case to track an evil genius who’s making teeny tiny bombs.

Yuki is finally married and on her honeymoon. All’s well, they’re enjoying their cruise, until modern-day pirates attack.

And Cindy takes off after Mackie Morales – the antagonist from the previous book. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the previous book, this story stands on its own. You just have to know that Mackie is a bad girl, and Cindy’s chasing her all over town, with no backup because her friends are – well – busy, given the belly bomber and the pirates and such.

Three completely disjointed stories. Two were Ok. I was interested in the belly bomber. But when all is finally revealed, I was disappointed in the motive. I was hoping for something more than what I got. The pirates situation on the ship provided a lot of action and excitement. But Cindy’s story was humdrum. Just a basic cat and mouse chase, except in this case the cat is untrained for the situation and makes mistake after mistake.

As far as the personal lives go, Claire doesn’t have one, at least not in this book. Cindy still misses Rich, and hopes things can be repaired. Yuki is thrilled to be married. And then there’s Lindsay. Presumably happily married and now a mother. But I can’t help but wonder how having a newborn fits in with a homicide detective who puts her life on the line every day. It’s a tough situation, one that our finest deal with in real life. But in book form, it comes off as unrealistic. You can almost see Lindsay holding a baby in one hand while shooting bad guys with the other.

Overall, Unlucky 13 was not a great read. Three separate stories, none of which really ‘wowed’ me. And very little character development. I really hope 14 does better.

1st To Die
2nd Chance
3rd Degree
4th Of July
The 5th Horseman
The 6th Target
7th Heaven
The 8th Confession
The 9th Judgment
10th Anniversary
11th Hour
12th of Never
14th Deadly Sin

Art Without Pretension

Revolver-The Beatles

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$12.89 at Amazon 

(5/5)

Pros: Maybe the greatest album ever.

Cons: Nada.

(Note: Review originally appeared on Epinions)

Around the beginning of the 2000s VH1 did a listing of the greatest albums of all-time. The number one pick was Revolver by The Beatles.

Is it the greatest of all-time? Better than Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue? That can be legitimately debated. Is it the greatest of all the Beatles albums? Close to it (other contenders for that title include Abbey Road, A Hard Day’s Night and Rubber Soul). I’m not going to talk about its immediate follow-up right now. I’ll get to it eventually*.

In 1966, the Beatles were evolving so fast that it was probably hard for people to keep up with them. They’d debuted with Please Please Me, built on that with With The Beatles, matured with A Hard Day’s Night, paid their dues with Beatles For Sal, started to embrace the songwriting of Dylan with Help and embraced full maturity while still rocking out on Rubber Soul. So where to go from there.

The result was an album that would elevate rock and roll to the level of art, one that would start a revolution in music. That album was…

Revolver.

At this point, if you own the album, I’d suggest putting it on whether you have it on vinyl, tape, CD, Ipod or whatever. Let those sounds wash over you.

And if you don’t own it, get yourself a copy as soon as possible.

Listen as the album opens with the George Harrison penned and sung “Taxman”. Listen to the count in we hear at the beginning and the sound of Paul McCartney clearing his throat. Listen as the springing groove starts which works perfectly as a contrast to Harrison’s lyrics which are some of the best anti-government ones ever set to music. Catchy rebellion that rocks.

A modern standards follows in McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby”. Aside from Paul’s singing, none of the Beatles played on it. But unlike most corporate rock bands that would use this approach and sound soulless and overproduced, this one still sounds fresh. The scraping cellos and violins sync perfectly with Paul’s resigned singing and the lyrics which depict a dire portrait of suburban loneliness. To illustrate how well the music works here listen to the strings only version on The Beatles Anthology II. If Paul had remained silent throughout the whole song his point would have come across.

The feeling also comes to the forefront on John Lennon’s “I’m Only Sleeping”. The song has the feel of being asleep. But not a drowsy feeling: One more of resting peacefully.

Feeling is also evoked on the brilliant “She Said She Said” the finest song on the album and my personal all-time greatest Beatles song. Over a ringing guitar groove inspired by Roger McGuinn of the Byrds Lennon sings lyrics about an acid trip he and the other Beatles went on in LA, along with Peter Fonda. The lyrics though are universal “She said you don’t understand what I said I said no no no you’re wrong/When I was a boy everything was right”. I remember writing them on the back of my English notebook in 12th grade.

Almost as effective is McCartney’s “For No One”. The slow minimalist backing on here works perfectly well with McCartney’s lyrics which depict a collapsing relationship. Likewise the love song “Here There And Everywhere” perfectly captures the feelings of being in love and does not fall victim to the mawkishness that would drown many of McCartney’s post Beatles songs.

George Harrison makes his first full on foray (after contributing some sitar to “Norwegian Wood” the previous year) into Eastern music with “Love You To”. The lyrics seem to depict an Eastern view of love and they succeed. One of the lesser ones on Revolver. But the lesser ones here are better than the top songs on many albums.

Another relatively lesser one is “McCartney’s “Good Day Sunshine”. It may seem lightweight compared to the rest of the album. But the sing along chorus doesn’t want to make one vomit and it’s an entertaining ditty. Likewise the McCartney penned Ringo Starr sung “Yellow Submarine” perfectly evokes childhood innocence. Easy enough for kids to learn yet still fun enough for adults to enjoy as well.

Harrison’s “I Want To Tell You” is bouncy with lyrics about communication or lack thereof. Lennon gives us an ode to a drug dealer with “Dr. Robert” which innocently draws you in while not hiding the subject matter and the somewhat humorous “And Your Bird Can Sing”. Both are great.

But let’s focus on the two closing songs on the album. First up, McCartney’s “Got To Get You Into My Life”. Lyrically it’s well-done with it’s story of being alone, taking a ride and meeting someone. But the music is beyond that. The horns on here give the song a pure soulful feel. In fact, it sounds funky at times (Ironically Earth Wind And Fire’s pretty great cover would have more of a jazz sound (I say ironic given as EW&F were a funk band themselves and the Beatles version sounded more funky).

To cap off the album we have Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows”. If “She Said” was inspired by an acid trip, this one sets out to bring the experience home to the listener. Does it do it? It sure does. From the sound effects which open it to the distortion on Lennon’s vocals, everything here meshes perfectly. You feel sucked right into it and come out spent but happy.

With Revolver, The Beatles reached a peak of sorts. It was this album, not Sgt Pepper, that helped elevate rock to the level of art. It was this, not Sgt Pepper, that tore down the constraints of rock and pop. It was this album that showed the Beatles at their artistic peak.

*So why am I ranking it ahead of Sgt Pepper? First off all, it’s musically superior and more diverse. The other reason is harder to articulate. But I’ll try.

There are some people who believe that Pepper nearly killed rock and roll, that it elevated things to a level of pretentiousness we’ve been unable to escape from. I won’t say Pepper did that directly. But consider this quote from an NME article:

“We can look beyond the blues as a blueprint!’ It ushered in a new way of thinking for bands – for the first time, they didn’t have to worry about recreating things live. ”

Sgt Pepper in some ways was the first rock and roll album to have no blues elements at all. No, I’m not saying it needed BB King on slide guitar and harmonica playing from the Beatles. What I mean is that it lacked the spontaneity that drives the best blues, best rock, best soul, best jazz, best hip-hop. It replaced it with an overly processed sound that lacked feeling. If “Eleanor Rigby” perfectly evoked the ache of loneliness, “When I’m 64” comes off like nothing more than an attempt to make a piece of English Music Hall theater.

Sgt Pepper didn’t kill rock. But the overly processed formula it introduced almost did. It opened the door for abominations like ELP, Kansas, Styx and numerous others (Jethro Tull is excused as Aqualung is a fantastic album). It took the arrival of punk and new wave to help pull it out of that rut. Sure there are certain groups that have done experimental rock since then and have succeeded brilliantly ranging from The Flaming Lips to Wilco to Green Day, to Arcade Fire to Company Flow to Outkast. But they still manage to bring way more of an edge and still keep the spontaneity. In fact, the influence of Revolver is felt more in the experimental and indie music worlds today than Pepper is. Hence why it’s the better and more influential album.

Mandingo For Fundamentalists.

The Passion Of The Christ

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$9.99 Blu-Ray at Amazon 

(1/5)

Pros: Great Cinematography

Cons: Reduces Christ’s Crucifixion to the level of a snuff film.

(Note: This review originally appeared on Epinions.com in slightly different form)

It is to my mind “Mandingo” for Jews. “Mandingo” was a slave epic made for those interested in watching well-built black men being mistreated. “Schindler’s List” is another example of emotional pornography.-David Mamet

I remember back in 1988 when many fundamentalists were up in arms over Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. A friend told me that he’d gone to see it and been informed by a woman outside the theater that if he saw it, he’d be going straight to that lake of fire to fry. What was hilariously ironic about it was that many of the condemners were denouncing the movie without even having seen it.

What was even more ironic was that many of those same people that were denouncing Scorsese for daring to show the life of Christ as a man torn between his duties as the son of God and his human desires were all too quick to give Mel Gibson a pass when he reduced Christ’s Crucifixion to the level of an exploitation film with The Passion Of The Christ.

Yes, I said it. The Passion is an exploitation film.

Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe the fact that it is Jesus Christ being crucified and the fact that the film is in a foreign language keep it above the level of grindhouse fare. And I just saw a cow fly by my bedroom window.

I won’t go into an on-going discussion about the religious themes of The Passion or the harrowing violence. There are already plenty of reviews that tackle that side. Let’s get straight to the point here: that the main flaw with this film is that it doesn’t take us nearly enough into Jesus’s life.

Most films about Jesus show the crucifixion after they show his full life. The Last Temptation did. So did Pier Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew. Certain elements do make their way into The Passion. But are relegated to flashback scenes. Not that this approach couldn’t have worked. But it doesn’t work. The end result is a crucifixion scene with no context and is not anywhere near as emotionally effective as the ones in the movies I mentioned

Now as for the graphic violence, I have no real complaint about it being there. Movie violence very rarely bothers me. Also I think most people would understand why it’s there. Trying to show the crucifixion without violence is like trying to make a film about the Holocaust or Vietnam that isn’t violent.

Think for a minute about the gruesome violence in this film. Let’s play pretend. Let’s say that the person being tortured and crucified isn’t Jesus Christ. Now let’s remove the Aramaic language from the equation. What do we have? A film that’s as gory as an 80s slasher flick and without the Jesus elements about as substantial.

A word on the Aramaic. I’ve seen it posited on the Internet that the reason Gibson chose to make the film in that language is because the dialogue would sound laughably bad if it were spoken in English. At first I found that an amusing shot. But then I reflected that his other screenwriting/directorial effort Apocalypto was also in a foreign language and I realize that may be the case. More likely however, Gibson probably feels that the use of Aramaic gives the film a certain level of depth, that it helps compensate for the fact that his film doesn’t have the poetic/philosophical side to it that Scorsese and Pasolini’s films did.

As for Jim Caveizel as Christ, I will say that he does the best he can with what he has to work with. The problem is, there isn’t much. I won’t say that Gibson can’t direct as he did do a fantastic job on Braveheart (which succeeded as what it was meant to be) and Apocalypto was far more effective in its intentions than this one. But his screenwriting ability is questionable as there isn’t much of a script here. And what there is, wouldn’t pass muster in a 9th grade screenwriting class.

To sum it up, I’ll say that The Passion, while trying desperately to be the film that shows exactly what Christ went through, instead comes off as an ego trip for Mel Gibson. The result ultimately does a disservice to both the audience and to Christ himself. If you want to see a film about Jesus that’s far more balanced and far more emotionally effective, watch The Last Temptation instead. If you’re still afraid of going to hell if you watch that see, see The Gospel. Both of those are far better films and far more worthy evocations of Jesus Christ than this piece of emotional pornography, this Mandingo for fundamentalists.

Windows 10 – Trading a Set of Annoyances for a Set of Troubles

Windows 10

Windows Sign In Screen

 

(0/5)

Pros: It was free.

Cons: It exists, and soon everyone will be forced to use it. Run! Run, while you can!!

I bought my computer less than two years ago to replace my circa 2004 dinosaur that ran Windows XP. I liked XP, but when Microsoft stopped supporting it and my old computer began having blackouts, I had to face facts – I needed a new computer. The Dell Inspiron I bought ran Windows 8, which had its annoying idiosyncrasies but worked just fine. I got used to the funky photo home screen and almost got a kick out of seeing my forgotten photos appear in random slide shows. Other than that, I had no trouble with it. Even my husband, who has a difficult time getting used to new technology, was able to survive the learning curve without a scratch. My biggest complaint was that I lost the use of my Adobe Creative Suite (I just couldn’t afford the latest version). So why did I pay attention to a “Free Upgrade to Windows 10” come on?

I knew better. My graphic communications teacher taught me not to grasp onto free upgrades because they tend to be buggy. Yet, all I could think of was being stuck with another outdated operating system. I didn’t want to watch technology pass me by, so when Windows 10 was ready for installation in mid-July, I clicked the install button.

At first, I didn’t see that much of a difference. The Start menu was back, not that I recognized it. The desktop was back, but I could keep it up all the time in Windows 8. Those were the two pluses. Then there was Cortana, an interactive utility that worked well enough when I was too lazy to go online. I could easily live without it.

The other change was the browser. Instead of Internet Explorer (IE), the comfy devil I knew, I had to get acquainted with Edge, whose icon is a blue lower case “e” with a black swirl replacing IE’s golden halo. When launched, it looks like a beta version of the Windows 8 screen.

This reminds me of Odette and Odille in Swan Lake. (For those who don’t know the Tchaikovsky ballet: Odette is a white swan who is really a princess under her stepmother’s spell. At night, she returns in her true form, wearing white. Prince Siegfried see her and falls in love. They want to marry, but he must choose her from a group of princesses at a ball planned by the king. To prevent this, a cohort of Odette’s stepmother has his daughter, Odille, pretend to be Odette at the ball. She wears black but fools Siegfried by using Odette’s signal, and the rest is a tragic end for all.) Like Prince Siegfried, I was disappointed.

Admittedly, I wasn’t in a love-at-first-sight romance with IE. There were hiccups and all sorts of breaks in connectivity. I had all but abandoned it for Chrome. I only used it to play online games that didn’t run on Chrome, but my husband liked it. It was like a pair of comfortable, old slippers for him. I had to go through the hurdles of getting all his favorites back, but it went all right. Then it was time to play my online games. Only the ones I could play on Chrome would load. I contacted tech support and found out that I’d have to install Firefox if I want to continue playing old favorites. This means that Edge is now my husband’s browser. I have absolutely no use for it.

For the first couple of weeks, things worked well enough. I managed to get over having to install a third browser and learned to ignore Cortana unless I was stumped – or bored – during a search. Then the first bug bit me: Microsoft Word refused to open! This would have been bad enough any day, but on this day, I had looming deadlines for my volunteer work. I searched forum after forum until finally, I found profuse thanks for a cure. I just needed to backtrack through the thread to find the cure that everyone cheered. Whatever it was that I had to do felt like a final project in my 1990s computer programming class. It was not a quick fix, and somehow I ended up having to assign a PIN to access the computer because I’m not enough of an expert to decide which instructions have nothing to do with the fix. After three hours and a few reboots, I was finally able to begin working on my volunteer project.

I became complacent after surviving that bug. I thought that was the worst of it – until the end of August. We had been out for most of that weekend, and my husband was anxious to get to his email on Monday. It wasn’t long before he ran into an issue for which there was no “easy fix.” Emblazoned across the screen was an error window without options. The message was terrifying: “Critical Error: Cortana not working. We’ll try to fix on next sign in.” There was only one button to click. It was marked “sign out.” My husband called ATT for help, and they sent someone over. The tech was an expert, but he couldn’t figure it out. The fix he read about required starting in “safe mode.” This is done by tapping the F8 key while rebooting. Windows 10 ignored the F8 key several times. The tech apologized for not being able to start the computer in safe mode and suggested we get Microsoft to make a miracle. At that moment, the computer booted up without the angry Critical Error window. He shook his head, I said a little prayer of thanks, and he wished us well.

I thought the Critical Error window was gone for good, but it came back a week later! There was no way out. I ended up doing the same thing the tech did. After the fifth reboot, the thing disappeared.

Over the last few weeks, I talked to friends who also upgraded to Windows 10. Every one of them had complaints similar to ours. My advice: Caveat Emptor – especially when it’s a free upgrade. It’s my hope that Bill Gates happens upon this review and puts my computer back the way it was!