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Bielutine: In The Garden of Time(English Subtitled)
Bielutine: In The Garden of Time(English Subtitled)
Price: $1.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What's going on here ?, October 9, 2015
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Bielutin is a short film. It could almost be the teaser trailer for a real documentary that could easily run 3 or 4 hours. So even if you absolutely dislike it, you will have wasted only 35 minutes of your time. And, unfortunately, it reinforces a few Russian stereotypes... heavy drinking, cramped apartment, unreliable electrical supply. Then add a dozen candles, a couple of cats, an old crow, a bit of earthy mysticism, and it all becomes rather Gothic. It has the look and feel of a home movie which adds a somber kind of creepiness to the film. Diversions with those little Happy Meal toys only adds to the weirdness.

But we're all here for one reason and one reason only, THE ART. Without the paintings, I'd have turned this off in a heartbeat. The paintings, however, are never front and center (except for the Velasquez self portrait). Exactly which paintings are hung about the apartment and how they came to have such masterpieces is not discussed in any detail, and precious little is available on the web in English. The single most informative thing I found, a bit of original Russian journalism translated into English, is pasted in the comments section of this review.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 9, 2015 9:45 AM PDT

Angelmaker (Vintage Contemporaries)
Angelmaker (Vintage Contemporaries)
by Nick Harkaway
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.61
82 used & new from $0.84

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mechanical Bee Keeping, August 3, 2015
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This book is too long and I don't recommend it. What carried me through 477 pages? The writing. But I almost gave up after about 70 pages, and then at least twice thereafter. Give me some real meat! Drop the bomb already! Lose the overly detailed descriptions of everything from crime scenes to car rides.

Then try to overlook the gimmicky bits: a foxy professional woman who hits an especially high climax when vibrations from a passing train rumble through her bedroom at just the right moment; an arch villain who is evil enough to carve up his own aging mother; and... wait for it... a baby elephant in a box saves the day. I also found it hard to believe how absolutely floored Joe (the main character) was to discover that is father, the crime boss, financially supported his grandfather's cash-strapped clock repair business. Seemed like an unreasonable bit of naivete.

Next, there's the Apprehension Engine. How exactly does it create zombies and bring about the end of civilization? Perhaps the clarity it provides, the lack of moral or logical ambiguity, is just too strange for the human mind to cope with. The engine was designed to be marginally helpful if set to mild or medium. That's why the calibration drum must not fall into the wrong hands. Perfect clarity breeds confusion, fear, and ultimately complete dysfunction. All somehow administered by roving swarms of mechanical bees. Got it. I don't mind fantastical fictional elements, but I don't find this one clever enough to be truly marvelous, horrific, or especially devious.

Poor Joshua Joseph Spork. Lots of his scraps, scrapes, and painful episodes could have been resolved so much easier if only someone loved him enough to give him a Sig Sauer Equinox, and a proper introduction to his real family history, before those spidery mechanical henchmen stormed the convent and hauled him off to Happy Acres.

So, after a year of on-and-off reading, I finished the book. The beginning of the end starts with the transformation of Joe Spork, then a train wreck, and finally a showdown with the boogie man. It's a bit cartoonish. I give the story a rating of 2, then an additional star for the writing.

IST Optical Corrective Scuba Diving Snorkeling Mask- RX Prescription- Clear Blue- Nearsight-4.0
IST Optical Corrective Scuba Diving Snorkeling Mask- RX Prescription- Clear Blue- Nearsight-4.0
Offered by Shop 709 Corp.
Price: $49.99
4 used & new from $49.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good mask, excellent lenses, fair price, April 13, 2015
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Unless you are accustomed to swimming with contacts, a prescription mask is the way to go, especially if you're -4.0 like me. I have a smallish face, so this mask fits me very well and I haven't had any problems with seal or leakage. The quality of the optics is very good. Like all masks, you will have issues with fogging sooner or later. Get a small bottle of liquid specifically designed for that purpose (these are tempered glass lenses, not plastic like most pool goggles). Dive operators usually have such liquids on hand. The mask comes in a clear plastic case. Use the case to hold your regular eye glasses while you're in the water.

Beginners take note: Do not show up on the boat without using all of your gear in water first. Find a swimming pool and make sure you've got a handle on how it all works before jumping into waves and salt water. A little practice in the pool will greatly improve your time on the reef. Always swim with a buddy and rinse your gear in fresh water afterwards.

Price: $14.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An oddly shaped tomato... let me try to slice it for you, April 10, 2015
This review is from: Birdman (Amazon Video)
First of all, the acting is generally good, often superb, especially Michael Keaton. Secondly, I thought the movie was interesting and watched it in one sitting with a bio break and a cup of tea about midway. Early on, for just a minute or two, I was worried that I’d get bored, but it was after work, I wasn’t up for anything else that night, and shortly thereafter the movie pulled me in. Hollywood can do a lot with modern cinematography, good actors, appropriate dialog, atmosphere, special effects, and plot development to keep you involved. You are unlikely to learn anything new or significant from films such as Birdman, but Hollywood can be awfully good at employing these devices to craft a story. One element that is missing from this movie is humor. It has some comical elements, but no real humor.

So what’s this film about? To be succinct, it’s about a very serious midlife crisis. Riggan, the main character, formerly an action hero called Birdman, is suffering from clinical depression brought on by lots of retrospection, introspection, and the stress of producing, directing, and acting in his own play. He hears the voice of Birdman, his younger and ever-present alter ego, he levitates and imagines that he has telekinetic powers, and unfortunately he’s self-medicated with alcohol, violent bouts of destroying household objects, and even a little pot. It’s all very well done and culminates when he discharges a weapon in the general direction of his own head. There is nothing profound going on here. Only in a twisted or abnormal way would ignorance have any virtue.

Finally, here’s my take on the movie’s magical realism. Riggan is not Gandalf. He has no fantastical powers and no one shares his hallucinations. Although it gets a bit confusing when one of his actors is injured by a falling stage light that Riggan claims to have caused, first suggesting sabotage or wishful thinking and then, in hindsight, perhaps psychokinesis. This also becomes an issue at the end of the movie which, by the way, is lousy. It isn’t clever or endearing and would have turned the movie into a farce had it occurred earlier in the film. Mental illness also seems like the right way to understand Riggan given that he questions something that obviously runs contrary to reality. Why isn’t he loved? Well, very clearly he is loved, very much so, by his daughter, by his ex-wife, by his girlfriend, probably by his production manager, and even by his fans on a much shallower level. But Riggan isn’t loved by one very important person. Himself.

I’m on the fence between 3 and 4 stars. I’ll round up.

The Road of Lost Innocence: The Story of a Cambodian Heroine (Random House Reader's Circle)
The Road of Lost Innocence: The Story of a Cambodian Heroine (Random House Reader's Circle)
by Somaly Mam
Edition: Paperback
159 used & new from $0.01

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Grotesquely abused, but now brave. . . maybe not, January 9, 2013
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And so this blessed creature has given us her story, short and anything but sweet. You could read this book from cover to cover in a day or two. And you should. It's a clear description of chattel slavery in our time, thick with suffering and violence against children. Make no mistake, human trafficking plumbs the depths of depravity and misery. If only Frederick Douglass were alive today. He would be extremely proud of this particular woman, a modern-day Harriett Tubman.

Edited on June 9, 2014

Rating changed from 5 stars to 1 star. Legitimate questions regarding the veracity of Mam's autobiography were raised by Simon Marks in his cover story for Newsweek titled "Somaly Mam: The Holy Saint (and Sinner) of Sex Trafficking", May 21, 2014. It would appear that key parts of Mam's story are, at best, a composite of experiences from many women in the sex trade or, at worst, complete fabrications which seems likely given her silence on the discrepancies raised by the reporter and her resignation from the Somaly Mam Foundation.

Update - October 7, 2014

Marie Claire, the noted women's magazine (to which I subscribe), ran an article in its October issue titled, "Somaly's Story: I Didn't Lie" by Abigail Pesta (available online). Besides its own investigative findings, the article includes the first published interview with Mam since the Newsweek story broke. Marie Claire has certainly cast doubt on parts of Newsweek's story, but it's far from definitive. Mam says she didn't lie. Ok, about what exactly? Her denial seems a bit tepid to me and I wish she would address specific accusations point by point. The saga continues...

Update - October 18, 2014

As of October 17, the Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF) has ceased all operations. An email I received from SMF has been added to the comment section of this review. The email is identical to the text which is currently on the home page of this unfortunate charity organization.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 18, 2014 8:37 AM PDT

Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam
Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam
by Zainab Salbi
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.64
182 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The pilot's daughter gets her wings, February 7, 2012
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Between Two Worlds is an autobiography. In part, it is also Salbi's tribute to her mother, a beautiful bird in an invisible cage. If the book teaches you anything, it's this: you can't leave the torments of your past behind. They follows you around like a shadow and only real freedom and true love can vanquish them. Freedom is the best ointment for decades spent under tyranny. Freedom is very comfortable, but it is not magical. Healing takes time. Emancipated people often need help along the road to independence. It's not easy for long-term prisoners to be fully functional outside the cell block. In that regard, Salbi has succeeded magnificently. I bought her book largely because of that success. She is the founder of Women for Women International, an organization which I support. This book was a lot more revealing than I expected. Salbi's past includes both psychological and physical abuse (including a bad first marriage). Look at the photo on the book's cover. Salbi's creamy complexion was first nourished by the lemon trees of Baghdad and then washed by a copious amount of tears as unfortunate events piled up in her adult life.

The subtitle, Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam, is a bit inaccurate. Saddam was more than a shadow in her life. He was literally the house guest on her living room sofa, the hand on her shoulder, the audience at her informal piano recital, and her attentive guide to a pavilion on one of his palace lakes. Salbi's father was Saddam's personal pilot. Her knowledge of Saddam is direct or second hand from primary sources. Her descriptions of him and his methods read like a playbook for narcissistic psychopathic dictators: Take whatever you want, murder those who displease you, rape whomever you like (including vulnerable women who plead for your assistance), sow fear and distrust everywhere, use force regularly, create a personality cult, brook no refusal, keep a collection of "friends" who must respond like lap dogs to your every wish whether explicit or implied, bring war upon the earth, name infrastructure projects after yourself, forego the rule of law, employ tribal bodyguards whose loyalty is certain and reward them with sex and power, build lavish palaces, kill opposition leaders, be vainly selective with your wardrobe, violently oppress or deport any group not cut from the same cloth as you, engage in domestic spying and encourage snitching even among family members and school children, punish independent attitudes or actions no matter how small, obey no one, always follow your own inclinations, maintain a veil of dignity and respectability whenever possible, and treat your entire country as essentially your own private feeding ground.

Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home
Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home
by Laura Ling
Edition: Hardcover
53 used & new from $1.29

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Big story made small, January 26, 2012
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Somewhere Inside is a well written page turner that details Laura Ling's confinement in North Korea and Lisa Ling's efforts get her out. The book is formatted with two or three page sections that alternate between Laura's story on the inside and Lisa's story on the outside. We go from capture, to confinement, to the trial, and ultimately Laura's release after a US delegation lead by former President Bill Clinton visits North Korea. That's pretty much it along with some details about family history and personal relationships. It's an interesting story, but there's no mystery here. You know how it will end.

The book, however, left me with a few questions. Was Laura's guide somehow complicit in her capture? It seemed like a set up to me. Very little info about the guide is given in the book. His hooting on the frozen river remains unexplained. (From various web source, we know that his name is Kim Seong-cheol and that he was apprehended by the Chinese authorities after Laura's capture.) And how about Laura's producer and camera man, Mitch Koss? He was nearby when she was captured along with her colleague, Euna Lee. He's an old hand at journalism with lots of field experience in hot zones. What's his take on that fateful day? Was the camera rolling when Laura was hauled across the frozen river by North Korean soldiers? Apparently his video footage was confiscated by the Chinese authorities. So what exactly did happen to him after Euna and Laura were captured? (Like Euna Lee, I guess he will have to write his own book. In any case, google "Mitch Koss" and read the speculation.)

This was a big story, but Somewhere Inside gives you the intimate Laura-and-Lisa version which makes it small and endearing. For a peek deep inside North Korea, you'll have to look elsewhere. In that regard, I recommend Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick and North of the DMZ by Andrei Lankov.

Searching for Angela Shelton, the documentary
Searching for Angela Shelton, the documentary
DVD ~ Angela Shelton
Offered by Angela Shelton
Price: $12.95
2 used & new from $9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Looking back, but going forward, August 11, 2011
Angela Shelton and her step-siblings were sexually molested by her father. The physical abuse is over and done but the psychological scars remain. There are plenty of films, books, and websites that strive to disseminate information about this deplorable subject to a wider audience. However, the concept behind Angela Shelton's documentary is unique and quite clever. She surveys about forty women across America with exactly the same name: Angela Shelton. The road trip, via a large motor home, is a voyage of discovery. Angela covers a lot of ground throughout the United States and through the lives of the women she meets. She finds violent relationships, thriving marriages, other cases of child abuse, rape victims, and drug addiction. Her nominal twins are white women, women of color, wealthy women, poor women, single moms, happy homemakers, successful entrepreneurs, and a variety of professionals.

Equally superb are the photos and video segments of Angela and her brother, Steve. I hope that they hold on to each other and thereby divide the pain and multiply the joy. The discussion (or confrontation) with her father out on his front porch may be rather typical of aging pedophiles. Angela does a nice job of that difficult encounter. She is calm and doesn't play for the camera, no hokey drama. It's all rather mellow. The meltdown comes later. As they say, denial is not a river in Egypt, and her father does plenty of that. For a similar experience with a soft spoken beast, watch Deliver Us from Evil. It's a documentary about Oliver O'Grady, a pedophile priest and serial child rapist. Neither O'Grady nor Angela's father ever spent a day in prison.

Now for some technical details and other observations. First of all, Angela is easy on the eyes. While in her late teens, she worked as a model in New York, Paris, and Italy. She is very attractive, with a beautiful face and a pleasant voice. Her maturity is tempered by a youthful innocence and a joyful disposition. Secondly, the production quality of the documentary is generally pretty good, with interviews, black and white photos, and telephone conversations interspersed with various travel tidbits. Sometimes it looks like a home movie, but that's part of its charm. Finally, one small beef: The audio for some of the phone conversations was too distorted or garbled to understand. Subtitles for those segments would have been helpful and are probably available on the DVD. (I watched the movie on Netflix through internet steaming.)

Sucker Punch
Sucker Punch
DVD ~ Emily Browning
Price: $3.74
141 used & new from $0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's like Megan Fox in Alcatraz with Sigmund Freud and a Glock 357, August 9, 2011
This review is from: Sucker Punch (DVD)
Abused, exploited, and falsely-imprisoned girls are looking for a way out of Lennox House insane asylum in lovely Brattleboro, Vermont. Baby Doll, the main character, and her svelte companions are on a quest for freedom. Simple enough. Just go with it. Let the CG fantasy worlds wash over you. Rock and roll to the rattle of machine gun fire. Watch Baby Doll get busy with her samurai sword and stainless steel handgun. Enjoy the gorgeous faces (and figures) of Jamie Chung and Vanessa Hudgens. Again, just go with it. Don't analyze it to death. Towering samurai warriors, steampunk zombie soldiers, orcs, and terminator-type robots... all getting whacked by a contingency of young commando babes. There's a lot of visual goodness here. If you paid for and then disliked this movie, you didn't do your homework. If you think Fight Club or American Beauty are "important" films then something like Sucker Punch may be a bit too straightforward for you. To the director's credit, Sucker Punch never becomes preachy (like Avatar), and it doesn't pretend to be more than what it is (like the overblown Matrix Trilogy). The plot rambles much less than the second Transformers film (Revenge of the Fallen) and you'll care more about the main characters, especially Rocket who befriends Baby Doll and then deliberately makes the ultimate sacrifice. If you liked Underworld Evolution or The Crow you'll probably like Sucker Punch.

The movie gives you exactly what you should expect in abundance: entertainment with rich visuals, highly-stylized characters, and thumpin' beats. The film is a mixture of A Series of Unfortunate Events (unwanted orphans with inheritance), Inception (dream sequences), Resident Evil Afterlife (machine guns, zombies, sword play), and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (with Baby Doll being Randle McMurphy and Sweet Pea as Chief Bromden). Or you could simply remake the Shawshank Redemption with battle mecha and Mila Kunis in lingerie with the fighting skills of Jet Li. Then add one big dragon, a snazzy bad guy named Blue, a statuesque Polish psychotherapist, and a brooding Gotham City atmosphere. Many reviews mention the sexual aspects of the film. Except for the skimpy outfits and moderate innuendo, the movie is not overtly sexual. There is an element of fan service, but no nudity or even a love scene. There is only one kiss in the movie and it's stolen. The theatrical cut is rated PG-13. Many rap and pop music videos are considerably more tawdry than this movie. I also find it odd that a few negative reviews call the movie "pornographic" without also mentioning the really disturbing bits: a little girl (Baby Doll's sister) is killed by her greedy sadistic stepfather, and later in the film two young women are shot to death at point-blank range in cold blood (no graphic details are shown, but it's still very disturbing).

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
by Sam Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.59
596 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Harris has big shoes to fill... but they are already snug, April 5, 2011
The End of Faith is solid contribution to the heated discussion about what's really ailing mankind. For starters, faith must go, especially violent faith, and any ancestral belief that stymies genuine human progress. Harris does a splendid job of roasting the antiquated ethics and militant practices of Islam. However, he is not apologetic for the ancient or modern beliefs of Christianity. Quite simply, he's had enough of religion and anything else that's faith-based. None of it is entirely benign. There are better ways to discover universal truths about how we ought to live together. Scientific methods and modern philosophical inquiry bring tremendous leverage to the study of ethics. On the vast majority of issues, we can objectively decide what is best for most people in the modern world. Clear thinking about the human condition gives us a powerful antidote against nationalism, bigotry, genocide, child abuse, and personality cults. Most human endeavors and festering conflicts could benefit from a hefty dose of real fact finding and rational debate about root causes.

I am not an optimist. I think we are more likely to return to a simple, possibly tribal, and perhaps even a subsistence way of life before we attain sustainable peace, justice, and general prosperity throughout the world. I'd settle for at least basic human rights and a modicum of comfort for everyone. In that regard, the path forward must be maintained, and books like this one keep brambles from clogging the trail. Suffice it to say, as his critics have rightly pointed out, that Sam Harris is intolerant of religion in general, however moderate it may be, and any other mumbo jumbo that keeps us mired in a backwater of ancient faith and old morality with its associated personal suffering, economic costs, and international conflicts. Casting off the brutal vestiges of the 14th century should help us build better societies with sound political systems and as much personal freedom as possible.

I was delighted to acquire Sam's book at a library sale and then discover the luminous prose within. The author has a spectacular command of the English language. The book is not entirely perfect, but his juxtaposition of things like torture and collateral damage gets you thinking. He could also have wrote something about the differences between true pacifists and conscientious objectors. That difference is less than subtle. He did, however, add a response in the afterword of the paperback edition to address concerns that his ideas about consciousness were an invitation to Eastern mysticism. In general, the book is a ripping good read. It positions Mr. Harris rather nicely in the lofty company of Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. I recommend it to anyone who stumbled upon Robert Ingersoll, Paul Kurtz, John Shelby Spong, or Michael Shermer and said... Wow, why didn't I know about this stuff 10 years ago? The End of Faith should be read along with Sam's other books. He's a young guy. I'll bet he's just warming up. Stay tuned.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 20, 2011 1:42 AM PDT

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