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Masterpiece Mystery: The Escape Artist
Masterpiece Mystery: The Escape Artist
DVD ~ David Tennant
Price: $19.99
10 used & new from $13.28

5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone deserves a defense., June 25, 2014
"The Escape Artist," written and produced by David Wolstencroft and directed by Brian Welsh, is another outstanding thriller from the PBS "Masterpiece Mystery" series. The story focuses on Will Burton (David Tennant), a brilliant but cocky London barrister who has never lost a case, even when his clients were obviously guilty. "Everyone deserves a defense," Burton says, though the limits of his philosophy are tested when he has to defend Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell), a particularly disgusting and depraved rapist-murderer. Burton gets Foyle off too, but receives a massive dose of his own medicine in consequence of his refusal to shake Foyle's hand after their victory.

Some reviewers have revealed the plot here, but I will not, because you need to know as little about the plot twists and turns as possible going in. I will just say that the writing and direction are every bit as polished as we are accustomed to seeing from the BBC; that Tennant is wily and charismatic as Burton; that Toby Kebbell (who looks like a cross between Prince Andrew and Frankenstein's Monster) is a masterfully hateful Foyle; and Sophie Okonedo is simply smashing as a professional rival of Burton's. When it comes to murder mysteries and courtroom dramas, nobody does it better than the BBC, and "The Escape Artist" proves that point once again.


Chef (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
Chef (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
Price: $24.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Yum!, June 20, 2014
If you're looking for a happy, charming comedy full of delicious delights that require no sharp utensils for their consumption, look no further than Jon Favreau's "Chef." Favreau plays Carl Casper, a brilliant, driven chef whose family life fell apart because of his single-minded devotion to his art. Though a master of his craft, Carl is not master at the Los Angeles restaurant where he works; the owner (Dustin Hoffman) insists that Carl continue to make the dishes he created a decade ago, on pain of being fired. This leads to conflict with a snobbish restaurant critic (Oliver Platt) who accuses Carl of creative stagnation. Carl accidentally touches off a Twitter/YouTube war with the critic that leaves him professionally humiliated and out of a job. In a Hail Mary attempt to salvage his career, Carl flies back to his home town of Miami to start a food truck and drive cross-country with it. In the process, Carl also finds himself reconnecting with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) and small son (Emjay Anthony).

"Chef" isn't deep or profound in any way, but it is a breezy, consistently pleasant film that goes by far too quickly. Just as much as the characters and the dialogue, you will remember the profusion of mouth-watering food Favreau presents--Cubano sandwiches in Miami, beignets in New Orleans, barbecue in Austin. The movie's back-to-your-roots theme has led some critics to opine that Carl's story is symbolic of Favreau's own: after directing blockbusters such as "Cowboys and Aliens" and the first two Iron Man movies, Favreau is returning to the low-budget, character-driven comedies such as "Swingers" that first made his name. Perhaps that is so; I only know that "Chef" is a wonderful movie. Besides the aforementioned actors, such wonderful performers at Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale are also on hand, adding richness and flavor to the mix. "Chef" is a must-see--and make sure you've scoped out a good restaurant to go to after seeing it!


The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee
The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee
by Marja Mills
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.63

10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating, touching glimpse into a beloved author's life., June 15, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
No author has become so famous or beloved from one novel as Harper Lee. (Even Lee's fellow Southerner Margaret Mitchell can't match Lee: "Gone with the Wind" is becoming more and more of an historical artifact, whereas "To Kill a Mockingbird" grows stronger with each passing year.) Millions of readers hunger to know more about the small-town Alabama author who, throughout her long life, has shunned the limelight and refused either to be interviewed or to publish another novel. ("I'll talk to anybody," Lee once told a source. "Just not for publication.")

This changed in 2004, when Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills won the confidence of Lee (who has always been Nelle, never Harper, to her family and friends). With the blessing of Nelle and her attorney sister Alice (whom Nelle described as "Atticus with a skirt"), Mills moved next door to the little house in Monroeville, Ala., shared by the Lee sisters. For the next eighteen months, she shared in the quiet pattern of their lives: fishing for catfish, feeding the ducks in the park, going for coffee or barbecue with friends, attending services at the Methodist church they've belonged to since childhood, and reading, reading, reading. The result is Mills' new book, "The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee."

Nelle and Alice agreed to talk to Mills largely to counter the lies and half-truths told about them and their family over the years, especially by Truman Capote and his equally mendacious aunts. (Of Capote and his family, Nelle said, "They fled from the truth as Dracula from the cross.") Patiently, Mills filled notebook after notebook and tape after tape with material about the Lee family history. We learn of Nelle and Alice's father A.C. Lee, the model for Atticus, and the terrible tragedy of the unexpected deaths of their mother Frances and their brother Ed (the model for Jem) within a few weeks of each other.

The structure of "The Mockingbird Next Door" is deceptively simple, and I was afraid it would end up telling us too much about Mills and not enough about Nelle and Alice. In the end, however, we get a clear portrait of quiet, steady Alice and the more mercurial Nelle, two women rooted so deeply in their Alabama hometown that they could not imagine a life outside of it. Nelle always spent a few months every year in her Manhattan apartment, but she always returned to Monroeville. Alice--suffering from an inner ear condition that made it impossible for her to fly--led a life of deep contentment in her hometown, surrounded by friends and her many books.

This is a touching book, made even more so by the fact that Mills suffers from lupus and was gravely ill the entire time she researched and wrote it. She got to know Nelle and Alice none too soon: as the book closes, both sisters are forced to move to assisted living facilities. But we now have Mills' book. and fans of Harper Lee have every reason to be grateful for it.


Mahler: Symphony No. 7
Mahler: Symphony No. 7
Offered by newbury_comics
Price: $17.52
45 used & new from $3.48

5.0 out of 5 stars Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony are superb., June 5, 2014
This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No. 7 (Audio CD)
Michael Tilson Thomas has made the San Francisco Symphony one of the supreme orchestras in the United States, and their recordings together are consistently distinguished. I have not heard Thomas' first recording of the Mahler Seventh with the London Symphony, but this recording is superb. The liner notes by Michael Steinberg, which delineate the place of this stormy, moody symphony in Mahler's life and thought, are fascinating and informative.


Locke
Locke
DVD ~ Andrew Scott
Price: $16.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Sorry, Wrong Number" for the digital age., May 25, 2014
This review is from: Locke (DVD)
In Steven Knight's "Locke," a man's entire life unravels during one ninety-minute drive down an English motorway, via a series of Bluetooth phone conversations with several people: his assistant, his boss, his sons, his wife, and another woman. To say any more would be to give too much away. You can justly call "Locke" a digital-age version of "Sorry, Wrong Number," except that "Locke" is even more claustrophobic than the earlier film. Except for an opening shot at the massive construction site where Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a supervisor, the entire film takes place behind the wheel of Locke's BMW. Thanks to Knight, Hardy and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, it is a dazzling experience. We learn that Locke is a man who prides himself on being a problem-solver, the one who holds things together when everyone else is panicking. And we see what happens to him when life throws him a situation that even he can't solve.

Above all, "Locke" is a triumph for Hardy, one of Britain's most impressive younger actors. Hardy has already won a substantial fan base through his supporting performances in such films as "Inception" and "The Dark Knight Rises." Here, he proves he can keep an audience riveted just sitting still in the driver's seat, using only his eyes and voice. We come to like Ivan Locke, for all his flaws, very much indeed, so that the fragile wand of hope that Fate holds out to him in the end feels completely earned. "Locke" is a must-see for adventurous filmgoers.


No Title Available

11 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic special effects and nothing else, if that's what you want., May 18, 2014
Pity poor Bryan Cranston. Sure, he's at the top of the world between "Breaking Bad" and his Broadway hit playing LBJ, but in the new "Godzilla" he looks like an idiot. The cast of "Godzilla" is not only solid but distinguished--Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson--but the others get to mutter their silly lines and collect their paychecks, while Cranston is actually expected to emote. Because the human story in the new "Godzilla" is so perfunctory, Cranston looks ridiculous getting tremulously sorrowful over what, in the end, is just another Fall Down Go Boom movie with spectacular special effects.

Richard Corliss of "Time" hit the nail on the head when he said the trailer for "Godzilla" promised a far more moving, powerful cinematic experience than the actual movie. The three gigantic, CGI-created monsters are genuinely impressive, and the scenes of Tokyo, Honolulu, Las Vegas and especially San Francisco being laid waste create new standards for cinematic shock and awe. But the story is dull, the continuity terrible, and the actors superfluous. The filmmakers even advance the idea that we're supposed to admire Godzilla for destroying the other two monsters, never mind that Godzilla has killed just as many people and destroyed just as many buildings as the others. I recommend this film only to viewers who value special effects above all.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 18, 2014 1:17 PM PDT


Dom Hemingway [Blu-ray]
Dom Hemingway [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Jude Law
11 used & new from $17.41

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Law Goes Wild., May 15, 2014
This review is from: Dom Hemingway [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Some directors like to test the endurance of their audiences, and Richard Shepard, writer-director of "Dom Hemingway," is one of them. The very first scene shows the title character (Jude Law) naked in prison, shouting a long, profane and boastful tribute to his favorite anatomical feature. Long and profane monologues, we soon discover, are typical of Dom Hemingway, who has all the macho bravado of his author namesake if not that author's laconic style.

Dom has spent 12 years in prison for safecracking; he would have gotten out sooner, but he refused to squeal on his boss, the mysterious and sinister Ivan Fontaine (Demian Bichir), in expectation of a big payday when he gets out. The movie is the story of what happens to Dom when he's finally sprung. There are many twists and turns he doesn't quite anticipate, though nearly all of them are caused by his notable lack of impulse control. Besides Fontaine, the characters involved include Dickie Black (Richard E. Grant), Dom's dapper best friend; Paolina (Madalina Ghenea), Fontaine's gorgeous but mercenary mistress; Evelyn (Emilia Clarke), Dom's grown daughter, who wants nothing to do with him; and Lester (Jumayn Hunter), a gangster who has never forgiven Dom for killing his cat.

In the end, "Dom Hemingway" is a lightweight film. But it's a wild and usually exhilarating ride, thanks to Law's go-for-broke performance and the scintillating scatological dialogue Shepard writes for him. The supporting cast is fine, but this is Law's show all the way, and it is a compliment to say he makes a spectacle of himself.


Greatest Hits
Greatest Hits
Price: $5.98
40 used & new from $1.15

5.0 out of 5 stars An impressive collection of some of Debussy's best music., May 13, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Greatest Hits (Audio CD)
I normally don't buy "Greatest Hits" collections of the work of great composers. But since this one begins with "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" and ends with the complete "La Mer," both played by the London Symphony Orchestra under the great Michael Tilson Thomas, why not? I would have preferred the original piano version of "Clair de Lune" to the Philadelphia Orchestra version, but otherwise there's little to quibble with here, and at the bargain price it's an especially excellent buy.


It's Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches
It's Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches
by Orin Hargraves
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.60
8 used & new from $17.51

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An ingenious, entertaining and thought-provoking book., May 10, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"Words work best when they are specifically chosen for the work you wish them to do," writes Orin Hargraves toward the end of his new book, "It's Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches." Cliches are unavoidable in spoken and most written language, Hargraves notes, and are often useful as verbal or linguistic shorthand to express a concept that otherwise might seem stilted or awkward. Too often, however, the cliche doesn't match the concept. This, Hargraves tells us, is because speakers and writers don't think about what they are trying to say.

Using a corpus--which Hargraves defines as "a collection of natural language in machine-readable form, assembled for the purpose of linguistic research"--Hargraves identifies some of the most commonly used cliches in English, ranks them on a scale of 1 to 5 for frequency of use, and considers what each cliche actually means. He breaks them down into several categories: Cliches That Name Things, Adjectival and Quantifying Cliches, Adverbial Cliches, Predicate Cliches, Framing Devices, Modifier Fatigue, and Cliches in Tandem. Conisidering each cliche, Hargraves offers several examples of its use and points out, wherever possible, when its use is actually appropriate. This is what he writes about the vastly overused "by any means:" "This phrase is not a cliche in the tiny minority of cases in which it's used literally...It has an air of bluster and wordiness and many sentences in which it occurs read better without it."

Throughout the book, Hargraves stresses that he does not seek to make speakers and writers avoid cliches entirely, only to avoid them when they are inaccurate or vague. "No writer can or should avoid cliches altogether, all the time--any more than a cook should strive to serve completely novel and unfamiliar dishes at every meal," he writes. But cliches, like all language, should do the job they're intended to do, and facilitate rather than hinder communication, he says. Speakers and writers who actually like to think about what they're saying, and who are interested in what words really mean and communicate, will find "It's Been Said before" an entertaining and enlightening read.


Two Weeks In Another Town [Remaster]
Two Weeks In Another Town [Remaster]
DVD ~ Kirk Douglas
Price: $10.99
39 used & new from $6.79

4.0 out of 5 stars A double-cream Brie movie., April 30, 2014
Vincente Minnelli's "Two Weeks in Another Town" is pure cinematic cheese, but cheese of an exalted kind--sort of a cinematic double-cream Brie. Minnelli, screenwriter Charles Schnee and producer John Houseman (yes, THAT John Houseman) frame "Two Weeks in Another Town" as a followup, though not a sequel, to their previous Hollywood soap opera, "The Bad and the Beautiful," which also starred Kirk Douglas. Here, Douglas plays a washed-up alcoholic actor who flies to Rome on the promise of two weeks of work from an old director frenemy (Edward G. Robinson). From there, Douglas is forced to deal with his much-hated, much-lusted-after ex-wife (Cyd Charisse), Robinson's drunken harpy wife (Claire Trevor), a self-pitying baby of a young leading man (George Hamilton), and many other viperish types. But there is still time for Douglas and Robinson to screen their previous big hit ("The Bad and the Beautiful," of course).

"Two Weeks in Another Town" is garish even by early-Sixties soap-opera standards, and wildly overacted in the bargain (especially by Trevor, Charisse and Hamilton). But Minnelli's direction is expert, and Schnee's runaway-freight-train style of storytelling keeps you watching, no matter how much you hate yourself for it. The film probably deserves a rating of between three-and-a-half and three-and-three-quarters stars out of five, and I don't mind bumping it up to four.


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