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Al Qantarah - Abballati, abballati! - Songs and Sounds in Medieval Sicily
Al Qantarah - Abballati, abballati! - Songs and Sounds in Medieval Sicily
Price: $8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Introduction, June 6, 2013
Is it by design that human beings are never contented? Are we hardwired by our genes to flap relentlessly against the birdcage of our own existence until at last we break our wings and shatter our breast bones?

This was the question I had long been pondering when I first met Obermeyer on the island of Sicily more than a decade ago. Looking backwards at 42, I could see that my own discontentment had long been following me, that a moldy crumb trail of unhappiness and disappointment led all the way back to the solid enclosure of childhood, into which I could no longer peer.

Obermeyer and I recognized one another at first glance - German-Americans of a certain temperament. Egregiously uptight and overly responsible, we were even temperaments in a land of Mafioso hotheads. Having both come of age in the Midwest, we were the cursed inheritors of that burdensome religious tradition known as Lutheranism. Our poor founder, bless his festering soul, had been surrounded on all sides by his own sheer ugliness. There was a reason our churches were dark, our music somber. We were grieving the very tradition in which we'd been raised.

As for Luther himself, the man was hardly anything more than a massive buildup of fat and bone, driven, it seemed, by the need to foist his misery on others. He was gouty and gassy and generally unpleasant to be around. Not that anyone was particularly sexy in 16th-century Saxony, but Luther was determined to out-ugly them all. He peered unhappily into the human condition, this Martin Luther of ours, and saw nothing but a race of beings perpetually damned for the slightest infractions, able merely to beg the mercy of a creator not especially known to have any.

If Luther himself was physically unattractive, it also helps to remember that he was excommunicated by means of a special council known as the Diet of Worms, which was practically what the lumpy old monk lived on anyways. And as if worms were not enough, miserable old Luther then found himself hiding away at a place called Wartburg Castle. Worms and warts, all the ugliness one man can handle, smelted down and molded into a German sausage grinder, churning out successive generations of guilt-yoked neurotics fearful of their own damnation. Perhaps the best-known study on this sour monk of ours is Erik Erikson's Young Man Luther, probably given that title to remind us that The Father of All Guilt had in fact been a young man at one time before becoming a scornful little despot, that he did not climb out of Hell wearing a tonsure and hairshirt at age 35.

So it was practically preordained that Obermeyer and I should each see a reflection of ourselves in the other. Beyond our inherited Germanic traits, there were the other obvious signs, clichés almost. For instance, we were the only straight-backed gentlemen on a beach of slouched Sicilians, all of whom ran joyously to and fro in graduated degrees of undress. Meanwhile Obermeyer and I had both walked down to shore in lightweight slacks and pale Oxfords, as if afraid of offending God with our nakedness, which, subconsciously, we were.

Naturally, we shook hands.

Though it was unknown to us at the time, we both had arrived in Palermo to pursue musical scholarship. I was busy tracing the influence of Islamic vocalizations on medieval European song structures. Between the 9th and 11th centuries, when Islam was just crawling out of its cradle, a conglomerate of Muslim overlords governed Sicily with a wooden hand that eventually went dry and splintered. Given that European plainchant had developed within the same historical window, so to speak, I reasoned there may have been some overlap between the two traditions, each influencing the other despite the fierce enmity between them. I had come upon this idea after discovering a little-known recording called "Al Qantarah," in which Sicilian and Islamic singing lie side-by-side like illicit lovers.

As for Obermeyer, he was in Palermo to catalog the manuscripts in the archives at the Cathedral of Monreale. With the World Wide Web having sprung into existence, Obermeyer was now on a hunt for unknown manuscripts to preserve online for the Düsseldorf Musical Library. The cathedral sits on the rim of a sunken valley known locally as The Golden Shell, primarily for the manner in which the sunlight descends upon the armies of orange and almond trees, producing a heavenly glow that Obermeyer had become fond of watching in late afternoon.

So there we were, both overly dressed for the beach, each stepping back occasionally to avoid the inrush of the morning tide. Suddenly Obermeyer remarked on the ironic placement of Sicily in relation to the Italian peninsula. "This little island is a pile of horse dung standing in the way of the Italian boot," he said, "blocking it at the toe." "And that's just the way the Italians themselves have tended to see Sicily. They'd love nothing more than to kick it into the depths of the Mediterranean. Have you breakfasted yet?"

I lied and said that I had. Obermeyer smiled knowingly and we shook hands again, with him presenting me his business card and asking that I call upon him for coffee that afternoon in front of the Cathedral of Monreale.

The Thomas Berryman Number
The Thomas Berryman Number
by James Patterson
Edition: Paperback
8 used & new from $2.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Worthy of Rediscovery - The Thomas Berryman Number, May 14, 2013
Nearly four decades ago, a young writer named James Patterson stitched together a journalistic procedural about the assassination of a black politician in Nashville. That novel - his first - was to earn him a well-deserved Edgar Award and put him on the solid path of a publishing career. However much of a dollar-dealing regurgitator he may be today, there is no denying that The Thomas Berryman Number is still a smart machine with a style and structure all its own. This is good stuff here. Forty years later and it still stands on solid legs.

Nominally, the 'thriller' aspect comes from the titular character of Berryman, a daring Texas hit-man who wows us with his flair for genius. We hate him and we love him. The real subject matter, though, is the New South itself, the land of Dixie in the immediate post-civil rights era, the place Berryman must navigate to meet his mark. And Nashville offers up the perfect setting, a city where scrubby mountain folk come down and mingle with well-to-do business leaders, a city where the George Wallace faithful collide with upwardly mobile African Americans, a place where mint julep politics is finally derailed by the marching masses. It's a setting fraught with tension, jealousy, and a fair amount of rage, all of which bubble forth on the 4th of July. How's that for irony?

The book is thoughtful in a way that later titles won't be. Told in a journalistic narrative that jumps back and forth in time, THE BERRYMAN NUMBER takes its subject matter seriously, offering up echoes of Penn Warren, Martin Luther King, and even Woodward and Bernstein. No wonder it reads so compulsively. Frankly, I was shocked at how quickly I was sucked into it and at how deeply I respected it. Entering the world depicted here, I felt that I knew it, that I'd partially lived through it, and that just about everything written here was - fundamentally - true.

All Things Censored Volume 1
All Things Censored Volume 1
by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Edition: Audio CD
19 used & new from $2.92

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Death Row Columnist, September 26, 2006
I'll grant that Mumia Abu Jamal is a gifted writer, and that he has plenty of important things to say. The problem is that after an hour of pontificating on a few select subjects, he starts to sound like a broken record. He's also so incredibly one-sided that his writing hasn't even a smidgen of balance to it.

These short editorials were made from his prison cell on Pennsylvania's death row, where he was then incarcerated for the alleged murder of a Philadelphia cop. His death sentence has since been overturned, but not his conviction. The recording reflects a romanticized notion of how society should be organized, combined with an inability to accept the way power operates. Mumia speaks from the extreme left, where facts and statistics account for little and where utopian ideology fails to take human selfishness into account. He harps on and on about how certain groups are victims of a callous and racist society, while never once mentioning the need for initiative and responsibility. Sure, the justice system is flawed. Sure, the poor do not get a fair break, and there is certainly a great deal of racism smoldering within American society.

All of that is tragic, to say the least. The majority of us wish things were different, but we know they never will be. On the other hand, it is possible for impoverished African-Americans to transcend their circumstances without becoming gangsters or drug dealers. People do it everyday. In fact, Abu-Jamal had done as much himself before getting caught up in his legal woes. So why is it that his writing has the subtext that poor blacks are passive victims who cannot do more for themselves? And why hasn't this equally racist view been noted and excoriated by more people? Probably because its easy to buy into.

The thing that really irks me about this collection, though, are the guest spots made by people like Martin Sheen, Alice Walker, and other left-leaning celebrities, whose involvement with poverty and justice activism border on nil. Their sole purpose is to reiterate the theme that Abu-Jamal has been imprisoned for his 'courageous voice' and for the 'danger he poses to the system.' The death of the Philadelphia police officer is merely a trumped up excuse to 'silence' the 'voice of a prophet.' There are plenty of other radical voices at work out there, so why haven't they been imprisoned? I would say it is because they haven't been involved in an outrageous murder. I do not know whether Abu-Jamal is guilty or not, and it isn't my place to say so. I hope he's innocent and I hope he one day walks. But I wasn't there, and neither were any of the mouthpieces who have turned his presumed innocence into a fashion statement.

The good news is that this audiobook is mercifully short. Abu-Jamal's editorials only run about 3 minutes each, and they are interspered with the superfluous celebrity endorsements I mentioned above. One or two of them are quite powerful, to say the least. There's a touching homage to the strong-willed mother who raised him and his siblings in poverty, and an insightful condemnation of the materialism found in modern rap. On the whole, though, its a relentless flurry of leftist ideology, based on shoddy generalizations and unsupported by any sound facts. Mercifully, the entire audiobook only lasts about an hour and a half, and its an easy listen. I suppose Mumia is recording from his prison cell, which explains the annoying echo that mars the sound quality. Overall, though, its a worthwhile listen, but it certainly is no masterpiece.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 29, 2008 5:56 AM PDT

Learning to Kill: Stories
Learning to Kill: Stories
by Ed McBain
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.99
116 used & new from $0.01

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mastering the Craft of Crime: How Ed McBain Learned to Kill, September 25, 2006
Ed McBain was one of those writers who must have never slept. Writing under four separate pseudonyms, he produced more than a hundred novels in a span of less than fifty years. His contributions to crime fiction are legion. He is credited with being the creator and undisputed master of the police procedural novel, as exemplified by his 87th precinct series. His writing style was spare and effective. Only slightly wordier than Papa Hemingway, his work inspired numerous writers including Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy.

His career began in the mid 1950s, almost by a fluke, when he responded to an ad for a low-paying copy editor position in New York City. The job fell into his lap, and pretty soon he found himself writing short stories, as well as checking facts and correcting typos. His stories resonated with the same tone that Raymond Chandler had perfected, and he was able to crank them out at will. They were gritty and pulpish, peopled with ruffians, lowlifes and cheap gumshoes. Set in the abandoned warehouses and run-down tenement neighborhoods of the lower west side, the material was drawn from McBain's own experiences as the son of first-generation Eastern European immigrants.

Shortly before his death in 2005, the author sat down with his publishers at Harcourt and compiled this collection of early stories dating back to the 1950s. These writings represent his early attempts at crime fiction, hence the title of the collection. There are 25 stories here, every one written in his fast-paced and edgy style. The stories are divided into sections based on character types. There are tales about juvenile delinquents, femme fatales, private eyes, precinct detectives, innocent bystanders, the mentally imbalanced, gangsters and so on. The action moves quickly, and the dialogue is snappy and filled with countless ironies. In one story a young punk celebrates his first arrest, only to discover that he's accidentally killed his victim. In another, numerous passersby refuse to give aid to a stabbing victim because he's wearing a gang jacket. He must have had it coming, they figure.

There are hardly any good guys here, at all. Sometimes the protagonist is only barely likeable, and that's only because he's not as bad as everyone else around him. These are not tales of good versus evil; they are stories about the pretty bad going up against the downright ugly. There's a kind of emptiness in them, too, a sadness about the depravity that sometimes obscures the human condition. These poor characters have resigned themselves to life on the streets, doing what they do because it's the only thing they know.

McBain does not glorify crime, or even make it seem exciting. Instead, he reveals it as the ugly thing it is. The brutality here is mundane, the kind that police officers shrug off as inconsequential. "What does it matter if one more hoodlum ends up on a stretcher," one character asks? These are stories about muggings and knifings, gang brawls and the like. If its glamour you seek, you won't find it on these pages. What you will find, though, is real literature masquerading as penny fiction. You will find a maturing writer exploring the seedy and tawdry underworld around him, trying to humanize the very thing he deplores. This is social commentary without the preachiness, art without the niceties. It's easy reading that purposefully disguises the genius behind it. Why McBain moved away from the short story isn't fully clear. What is clear, however, is that this collection is a raw masterpiece, one that you aren't likely to forget anytime soon.

Historic Photos of Memphis
Historic Photos of Memphis
by Gina Cordell
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Step Back in Time, August 31, 2006
You'd think it would be easy to put together a book of historic photographs, especially since you don't even have to take the pictures. I mean, don't you just grab up some old snapshots and slap them together into a book? Well, not quite. Actually, there's a lot more that goes into it, as this well-thought volume of historic images aptly demonstrates.

The best photography books tell a story, the way this one does. The pictures run together thematically, and there's a logical progression to the way the book is laid out. The process is anything but willy-nilly, as I learned while watching Gina and Patrick comb through the Memphis Room's 16,000-odd historical images. It was intimidating to watch, to say the least. The two of them ran back and forth with bundles and bundles of photographs, selecting this one, rejecting that one, changing their minds and then changing them back again. Everytime I walked through the processing room the two of them would be huddled over some photograph or other, giving it the once-over and deciding its fate.

Once they had their photographs in order, then they had to go back and write captions for them, as well as introductions to the various sections. That was yet another Herculean task. Gina and Patrick had definite things they wanted to say about the pictures, and the stories that they tell, but they also had to research each image in order to get their facts straight. A snapshot for the Business Men's Club, for instance, tells us that "the organization was founded in 1900 and moved to 81 Monroe in 1907. Beginning in 1913, the building (they had occupied became) the headquarters for the Memphis Chamber of Commerce." It takes a lot of work to find all of that out. A lot of digging and poking through dusty old books and half-readable microfilm reels. Now imagine doing that 198 times. Sounds daunting, huh? I can tell you from the looks I sometimes saw on their faces that it definitely was.

But about the book itself. There have been numerous Memphis photograph books, but this is easily the best. Not only does it have a pleasing size and shape, but the paper and the ink settings are of very high quality. In short, it's a coffee-table book that you can hold in your hands. But the thing that really makes this book special is the thoughtful photograph selection and sequencing that lies behind it. Naturally the book follows a historical progression, but there are thematic ones as well. The opposing images on pages 32 and 33, for instance, both show us the uglier side of industrialization in 19th-century America. Other photographs stress the beauty of the landscape, the majesty of the river, and the ebb and flow of social change. Sometimes the images capture the hustle and bustle of everyday life in a growing city, and sometimes they catch a private moment that would otherwise be lost forever. In my personal favorite, a scene from Court Square in 1932, an off-duty railcar conductor feeds the pigeons that alight at his feet. Some of the birds are captured in mid-air, their wings a flapping blur of motion.

The photographs also give us a chance to learn things we never knew. I was shocked, for instance, to learn that a lonely country road, passing through a grove of trees, was actually Union Avenue. I was also taken aback by the enormity of the trees that lumbermen felled in days gone by. Who knew that such tall giants once stood watch over Memphis? And all that flooding? I never dreamed that water could rise so high. Thank God for levees, I say.

But the very best thing about this book is that it includes everyone. The Memphis that emerges from these pages is a melting-pot in its brewing stage. Sure, there's an elite upper-crust, but there's also a throng of working class people, male and female, black and white. we see them in crowds, but we also get glimpses of their individual faces. They stare boldly from the pages, asserting their rightful place in our collective memory. There are snapshots of mule drivers, cotton loaders, beauty queens, gamblers, motorcyclists, gossiping women, policemen with tommy guns, schoolchildren, and even a rare shot of a jug band. The list goes on, but why should I spoil it? This is an everyman's Memphis, as the book makes plainly clear. As such, its a tribute not only to what Memphis once was, but what it is today and what it someday might become.

Mayor Crump Don't Like It: Machine Politics in Memphis
Mayor Crump Don't Like It: Machine Politics in Memphis
by G. Wayne Dowdy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $45.00
18 used & new from $10.00

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside The Crump Machine, August 31, 2006
To this day, Memphians still refer to E. H. Crump as "Mayor Crump." But in all actuality, the man only served as mayor for one term. So why all the fuss? What's the big deal about E. H. Crump, anyway?

As it turns out, E. H. Crump is a very big deal. There is perhaps no one more divisive in all of Memphis history than the red-headed kid from Holly Springs, Mississippi, who went on to run one of the most powerful political organizations in America. Supporters celebrated the modernity he brought to Memphis, while detractors charged that he had "out-hitlered Hitler." Regardless, the fact remains that for more than thirty-five years, Crump was a kingmaker of sorts. He hand-picked a succession of Memphis and Shelby County mayors and commission members, dictating city policy and wielding power behind the scenes. Whether he was serving in the U. S. House of Representatives or on the Democratic National Committee, politicians and business leaders across West Tennessee bowed to his will.

But how was he able to achieve such influence, especially since he wasn't even from Memphis to begin with? What was the source of his unparalleled power in local politics? Those are the questions Wayne Dowdy sets out to answer in his political study of Crump, recently published by the University of Mississippi Press. Mr. Dowdy is a librarian in the History Department at the Benjamin Hooks Central Library, where he has spent a great deal of time working with Crump's personal papers and manuscripts. No one is perhaps more uniquely qualified to write this book, which is the culmination of several years' worth of researching and writing about Crump's political machine, than Wayne Dowdy. His is a brief account, to be sure, but at the same time it is incredibly eye-opening.

Dowdy makes two key points about Crump. The first is that he was not nearly as powerful in real life as he has become in our collective memory. Indeed, as Dowdy demonstrates, Crump's hold over local politics was often tenuous. His political organization was rife with bitter infighting and, quite frequently, Crump simply fell from favor with the local electorate. He often earned the displeasure of state and national political leaders, and that didn't help matters much either. In 1916, for example, he was ousted from the mayor's office, and was forced to completely rebuild his political machine. During Prohibition, Crump elected not to prosecute alcohol consumption, a decision which made him popular in Memphis but drew the enmity of policymakers in Washington and Nashville. Crump's long tenure as kingmaker, then, was hardly a continuous one.

Dowdy's second point is that when Crump did enjoy power, he did so by bringing marginalized groups into his machine. Most notably, his candidates were able to win the support of African-Americans by making - and then keeping - numerous campaign promises. Not that Crump was a civil rights visionary, though. In fact, he was far from it. Crump's view of the black electorate was highly pragmatic. He saw it as a necessary ingredient in his recipe for machine rule, as indeed it was. It's safe to say that without the direct support of African-American voters, there would have never been a Crump machine. So while he and his lieutenants may have supported segregation, they nonetheless worked with local black leaders to create more amenities for the African-American community. These included schools, parks, libraries, health facilities and so on. Crump's quest for power ultimately culminated in the greater inclusion of African-Americans in the city's civic life, giving blacks a stake in Memphis' social and economic development.

This is the first book on Crump to appear in more than thirty years and, despite its brevity, provides a fairly astute assessment of Crump and his tenuous hold over city politics. Dowdy handles his subject with an admirable degree of balance and even-handedness. His writing style is simple and direct, and he is able to boil complex material down to its essentials without losing the meat of his story. The Crump that arises from his study hardly seems like the towering giant that subsequent generations have made him out to be, and that in itself is an important contribution. Mayor Crump may not have liked it, but this reader certainly did.

The Boys and Girl From County Clare
The Boys and Girl From County Clare
DVD ~ Colm Meaney
Price: $7.99
68 used & new from $0.75

34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fiddley-dee, October 17, 2005
Having an Irish film without Colm Meaney in it would be somewhat like having a Harry Potter book with no mention of Hogwarts. It just can't be done. That being said, the ubiquitous Meaney is both talented and charming, the Emerald Isle's version of Gene Hackman, only a little more discriminating in the roles he accepts. Here, the actor is as likeable as always, even if the character he portrays is not.

The story involves two estranged brothers and the woman who came between them crossing paths at an Irish national music competition, where each brother does his best to deprive the other of the trophy. The story is predictable and somewhat formulaic, but that still doesn't get in the way of its charm. The film goes in the direction you expect it to, yet somehow its development seems very natural. The story's familiarity is something of a comfort. Here music serves as a bridge between people, and old animosities give way to newfound respect. Love blossoms and then finds a way to overcome its obstacles.

There's lots of good music and good acting here, and plenty of charming Irish scenery to boot. For lovers of Irish music, the film is worth watching for that alone. As for the acting, Colm Meaney and Bernard Hill come across as Irish Everymen, giving the film a kind of universal quality that helps it transcend its limited scope and setting. This is a film that just about anyone can relate to, and the charming music and bittersweet tale make it that much easier to embrace.

The Colorado Kid (Hard Case Crime #13)
The Colorado Kid (Hard Case Crime #13)
by Stephen King
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
55 used & new from $10.65

9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars And Now For A Lesson in What Not to Write..., October 17, 2005
The problem with being Stephen King is that you can publish anything you want and expect it to sell on the basis of your name alone. King could probably sell rewrites of his local telephone book if he put his mind to it. But just because you can publish anything you want doesn't necessarily mean that you should.

Take "The Colorado Kid" as a case-in-point. The book, which is really a novella masquerading as a full-length novel, is a confused and ultimately unsatisying tale that meanders lazily through 180 pages of tripe before suddenly grinding to a halt. After reading it, one suspects that King had no idea what he was doing when he started writing and that he ended up the same way as well. Instead of tabling it, as he should have, he figured what the heck? and foisted it on this small publishing house, which simply couldn't pass up a Stephen King manuscript, no matter how mediocre it might be.

The problem with "The Colorado Kid" is that it is both tepid and flavorless. Two old newspaper men sit around and chew their gums with their pretty young intern, relating a mystery that really isn't very interesting to begin with. Then, without warning, the story just ends. In a ponderous and tiring afterword King tells us that life is like that, with not much of a middle and certainly nothing in the way of a denoument. But most of us knew that before we picked the book up in the first place. Why can't King just give us what we paid for?

I suspect its because he doesn't know how. For more than two decades, King has been publishing absurd fiction stocked with ridiculous characters and situations. Works like "Insomnia," in which evil takes the shape of a giant fish in a rocking chair, aptly demonstrates that the man is well past his prime. It might be better for all of us if he just hung his hat up altogether.

In the long run, this particular work may prove to be more damaging than helpful for Hard Case publishers, since it will be the first one that most readers buy. Because the book is so underwhelming, it isn't difficult to imagine a scenario in which might-have been consumers decide to pass on the hundred of other titles this company has in the works. Hopefully that won't happen. Hopefully other big name authors, like Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block, will be able to make up for the deficit created by this book. The thing is, those other books better be really good, because "The Colorado Kid" leaves a lot to make up for.

by David Morrell
Edition: Hardcover
253 used & new from $0.01

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Creepers Sleepers, October 17, 2005
This review is from: Creepers (Hardcover)
David Morrell likes to toy with his readers in much the same way that a bored cat likes to toy with its mice. If the story is a good one, such as "The Protector," then being toyed with can be an enjoyable experience. If, however, something is missing from the tale, such as with this story, then one begins to feel exhausted by the book. True, "Creepers" is based on an original premise, and the writing is spare and easy to follow. But somehow this one just doesn't live up to the standard Morrell fare, which is usually quite enthralling.

Perhaps the problem lies in all the subplots and twists that crop up from chapter to chapter. This character isn't quite who he says he is, and neither is that one, but wait!, there's yet another twist. Those devices can be useful up to a point, but after a while the reader grows weary of it. One wishes the author would simply get on with it and just tell his story. The problem with that, however, is that there really wouldn't be a story without all those twists and red herrings. A group of "urban explorers" break into a condemned turn-of-the-century hotel in Asbury Park and get chased around by some really bad guys. A few manage to survive, but most don't. That's it. End of story. To flesh out this minimalist storyline, Morrell has to invent twist after twist, all of which emerge as we read the various characters' backstories.

What's really disappointing about the book is that it starts off on a very promising note. Morrell describes genetically mutated mice and rats scurrying about his urban hellhole, and there's even a surreal scene in which the group discovers a dead monkey stuffed into a suitcase. But then the story seems to come to a grinding halt, limping along on its trick-bag of twists and surprises. In the end, its just another chase novel, dressed up with a few bare facts about urban exploring. I suppose Morrell was trying too hard to create a new hybrid genre of the horror-thriller, but was never quite able to pull it off. One has to give the man kudos for trying, and wish him better luck on his next work, but this one just doesn't quite cut the mustard.

DVD ~ Bipasha Basu
Offered by Bollywood Flix
Price: $19.97
9 used & new from $0.50

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Jism?, October 6, 2005
This review is from: Jism (DVD)
The unfortunately titled "Jism" is a bollywood remake of Lawrence Kasdan's 1981 masterpiece, "Body Heat." That alone makes it worth watching, but the movie runs into a few problems along the way. In the first place it runs way too long for such a small-scale noir thriller. What Kasdan was able to do in a little under two hours, Jism draws out to seemingly Ben-Hur lengths. This is a problem, because the story is so compact that it can be told rather speedily, leaving the director little choice but to throw a lot of filler at us. There are a couple of musical numbers, for instance, which burn a lot of screen time, but leave the viewer wondering what the heck all the singing is about. True, this is Bollywood, so musical numbers are allowed. But the songs aren't even good ones, so the exercise is mostly wasted.

In addition, the film is over-acted in that soap opera kind of way that leaves you wincing just about every time the leads deliver their lines. On the other hand, it is obvious that neither star was hired for thier acting abilities so its a little easy to forgive. But the whole thing just smacks of cheesiness. Both Basu and Abraham are so super-sexy that they put the rest of us mere mortals to shame, but that's a problem since that makes it easy for the viewer to dismiss them. Their beachside sex scenes at high tide are just goofy. Watching them roll around in the sand, it's easy to imagine big Indian housewives eating bon-bons and finger banging themselves beneath thier saris. The movie is just that shallow.

Which is too bad, because the original story is really a good one, with charged characters and a nail-biting plot. But Bipasha Basu is no Kathleen Turner, and the only way she could ever carry a film is with her double dees. John Abraham's only a little bit better, which is why he spends most of the movie with his shirt off.

The only other thing worth noting about this film is the sweat. In fact, there's so much persperation that it almost becomes another character. The intent is to make us think we are watching something sultry and steamy, a plate of forbidden sex served up from the Indian subcontinent. But the sweat has so much sheen to it that one begins to think it's really just axle grease, rubbed on just before filming commenced. Either way, it really doesn't matter. This is just porn with the good parts cut out.

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