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Still Alice
Still Alice
DVD ~ Alec Baldwin
Price: $19.99

6 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If only the rest of the movie were as excellent as Julianne Moore., February 13, 2015
This review is from: Still Alice (DVD)
Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's "Still Alice" is an earnest, decent film about one woman's tragic deterioration, featuring a superb, deeply moving performance by Julianne Moore. Moore plays Alice Howland, a linguistics professor at Columbia University, happily married with three beautiful grown children, whose perfect life is interrupted by sudden, inexplicable lapses in memory. She forgets the words she wants to use in class, and gets lost on the campus where she has worked for years. Soon she receives the diagnosis: early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

Moore makes Alice's fear palpable, and you will really feel for her when she invents computer and cell phone games for herself, struggling to remember common words and, finally, the names of her own children. If the rest of the film were as excellent as she is, it would be a masterpiece. Unfortunately, every other character in "Still Alice" is a stock character. Even Alec Baldwin, who can be unforgettable given the right material, is consigned to a purely reactive role as Alice's husband. Once Alice receives her diagnosis, the story basically goes on autopilot, except for a fairly easy-to-guess mystery involving a computer message Alice leaves for herself. "Still Alice" is worth seeing for Moore's performance, but not memorable except for her.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 20, 2015 1:12 PM PDT


In the Night of Time
In the Night of Time
by Antonio Muñoz Molina
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.42
86 used & new from $6.78

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful novel of the Spanish Civil War., February 9, 2015
This review is from: In the Night of Time (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"Surrounded by the confusion in Pennsylvania Station, Ignacio Abel stopped when he heard someone call his name." This, as they say in the trade, is a grabber, and it is the opening sentence of "In the Night of Time," Antonio Munoz Molina's dense, poetic, nightmarish novel of a man trapped between two cultures in a time of war. Ignacio Abel, we learn in the next few pages, would have no expectation of anyone calling his name in New York, where he has just arrived and knows no one. Fleeing a Spain that has exploded in blood, where Franco's Fascists are poised to take Madrid, Abel--an architect by trade--is a ragged, worn-down refugee, having traveled alone for many weeks toward the vague promise of a commission to design a library at a small college in upstate New York. In the solitude of his travels, he is haunted by memories of his early life, his unhappy marriage, the indiscriminate carnage of the Spanish Civil War, and especially Judith Biely, his American mistress, who awoke in him emotions he thought he did not possess.

"In the Night of Time" is a marvelously rich book, almost Proustian in its detail of 1930s Spain. The detail, however, turns Orwellian as the bodies pile up in the streets of Madrid, where the multiple warring factions turn murderous on the flimsiest of pretexts. The book is far from an easy read, but it is a compelling one, leading the reader to the final, cathartic pages in which the themes of memory, desire and fear intersect. Spain was a microcosm of the upheavals of the past century, and Ignacio Abel, a man who coasted through his life until history forced him to take notice, is an emblematic figure of that century. "In the Night of Time" is a big book, both in size and in ambition, and it achieves its ambitions.


Stone Mattress: Nine Tales
Stone Mattress: Nine Tales
by Margaret Atwood
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.68
97 used & new from $5.91

5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful and enthralling., January 31, 2015
The nine stories in Margaret Atwood's "Stone Mattress" are exquisitely written, wildly imaginative, sometimes grotesque but always enthralling. Having reached a certain age, Atwood writes with wit and insight about characters who have reached old age with many, many issues from their youths still unresolved. The book gets off to a bravura start with three interlocking stories--"Alphinland," "Revenant," and "Dark Lady"--about a fantasy novelist, a poet and an ad executive who still bear the scars of a love triangle from half a century before. The title story has a woman on a polar cruise, unexpectedly meeting the man who ruined her life many years ago. "The Dead Hand Loves You" is the story of a writer haunted forever by the pact he made with his college roommates. Atwood even reintroduces the protagonists of "The Robber Bride"--Roz, Tony and Charis--in "I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth," which relates what happens when an unwelcome old boyfriend of Charis' suddenly reappears.

My favorite story in the book is the shortest, "Lusus Naturae," a tragic and poetic story about a horribly afflicted young woman. However, every story in this book leaves no doubt that you are in the presence of a master. The very first sentence in the book--"The freezing rain sifts down, handfuls of shining rice thrown by some unseen celebrant"--draws you in, and Atwood's artistry grips you to the very end.


A Most Violent Year
A Most Violent Year
DVD ~ Albert Brooks
Price: $11.99
44 used & new from $8.96

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bleak, wintry film about moral compromise., January 25, 2015
This review is from: A Most Violent Year (DVD)
I saw J.C. Chandor's "A Most Violent Year" yesterday, and I am still trying to decide whether I liked it. I certainly admired the coolness with which Chandor upends virtually all our expectations for the plot. I also admired the acting, especially that of Oscar Isaac as Abel Morales, a home heating oil executive in the winter of 1981, who is suddenly beset by criminal charges and thugs hijacking his trucks; Jessica Chastain as Anna, Abel's hot-blooded, finagling wife; and Elyes Gabel as Julian, one of Abel's drivers, who finds himself victimized on all sides.

Fans of Chandor's first film, "Margin Call," will not be surprised by his portrayal in "A Most Violent Year" of the business world as one of utter moral compromise. The cinematography of Bradford Young presents a bleak, washed-out landscape which seems to pervade the marrow of the characters' bones. In the penultimate scene, Abel makes a simple but cold-blooded gesture that demonstrates, emphatically, where his heart was all along. Unfortunately, "A Most Violent Year" drags in its first half, and its second half is only intermittently exciting. It presents some food for thought at the end, but although it is interesting, it is not compelling..
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 4, 2015 10:04 AM PDT


Selma
Selma
DVD ~ David Oyelowo
Price: $17.99

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant and important historical film., January 24, 2015
This review is from: Selma (DVD)
Ava DuVernay's "Selma" takes us to one of the most crucial events in the history of the civil rights movement--the march from Selma to Montgomery, led by Dr. Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo). It isn't so much a biopic of King as a portrait of him and several of his associates at a time when--literally--they could win the voting rights they sought, or die trying. There is nothing stuffy or pompous about this historical movie. DuVernay and screenwriter Paul Webb make sure "Selma" is urgent, edgy, often terrifying: they present the story through the eyes of the marchers, who experienced police and government power as an oppressive and even murderous force. Recent headlines suggest that things may not have changed as much in the past fifty years as we hoped.

"Selma" has been the subject of controversy, because of criticism of its portrayal of President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson)), and also because it received only two Academy Award nominations when many more were expected. A lot of articles have been published about "Selma's" historical accuracy, and they have persuaded me that "Selma" doesn't stretch the truth any more than is standard in a historical film. Seeing the film also convinced me that DuVernay, Webb and especially Oyelowo deserved to be nominated. Oyelowo doesn't sound all that much like King, but in his oratorical scenes he captures both King's cadence and his fire. In the quieter scenes, Oyelowo is supremely effective in portraying a man of conscience and intellect, plagued with worry but always resolute as to the justice of his cause.

There are many more fine performances in "Selma," including Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, and Tim Roth as a ratlike George Wallace. But it is Oyelowo you will remember, as well as the images of police on horseback, clubbing and whipping peaceful, unarmed marchers. It all happened only fifty years ago, and it isn't entirely gone yet.


Thou Spleeny Swag-Bellied Miscreant: Create Your Own Shakespearean Insults
Thou Spleeny Swag-Bellied Miscreant: Create Your Own Shakespearean Insults
by J. B. Hofer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $10.77
69 used & new from $4.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Provides hours of nasty fun., January 21, 2015
"Thou Spleeny Swag-Bellied Miscreant" provides hours of literate and catty fun for Shakespeare fans (and even those who aren't so enamored of the Bard). Whatever your political inclinations, it is great fun to see an unloved politician or tyrant on the news, take out your Shakespearian flipbook, and brand that person as a milk-livered burly-boned ban-dog, a plume-plucked onion-eyed hedge-pig, or a bawdy flap-eared harlot. You might even want to use this book against people you know--but only at the price of being revealed as an odious harpy bloodsucker! In any case, "Thou Spleeny Swag-Bellied Miscreant" is a delight for all of us cankered murderous nut-hooks!


Big Eyes
Big Eyes
DVD ~ Tim Burton
Price: $14.78
19 used & new from $14.78

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tim Burton's best film in years., January 16, 2015
This review is from: Big Eyes (DVD)
Tim Burton's "Big Eyes" is his best film in years. It tells the true-life story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), a San Francisco housewife and painter circa 1960 who is dragooned by her husband (Christoph Waltz) into painting fanciful portraits of big-eyed waifs that he can pass off as his own. The film has a great deal to say about the rampant sexism of the period (when Margaret goes to a priest for help, he tells her to submit to her husband in all things), and it is deeply satisfying when Margaret, in a forthright yet delicately nuanced performance by Adams, manages to claim her rightful place.

Some critics accused Waltz of going way over the top in his performance as Walter Keane. Personally, I thought he was great, reminding me both of Joseph Schildkraut in "The Shop Around the Corner" and John Cleese in "Fawlty Towers." Another high point of "Big Eyes" is the rich, varied cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel, recalling the glory days of Technicolor. "Big Eyes" may lack the final touch of urgency that would make it a great film, but it is still a highly enjoyable one--funny, harrowing, and satisfying.


2010 Parducci Library Reserve Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Mendocino County 750 mL
2010 Parducci Library Reserve Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Mendocino County 750 mL

5.0 out of 5 stars A smooth, delightful Pinot Noir from an old-line winery., December 16, 2014
I love Parducci wines in general, and the Parducci Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is one of their best--smooth, fruity and altogether delightful. The winery itself is delightful--old-fashioned, warm, with a beautiful patio out back. But if you can't go there, drinking this wine will be like a vacation in Wine Country!


Whiplash [Blu-ray]
Whiplash [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ J.K. Simmons
Price: $14.99
34 used & new from $12.32

11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good job? NO! Fantastic job!, December 15, 2014
This review is from: Whiplash [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Damien Chazelle's "Whiplash" is one of the purest shots of cinematic adrenaline ever, even if it won't leave you with any warm, fuzzy feelings about the human race. "Whiplash" tells the story of the war of wills between Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), an obsessed young jazz drummer who wants to be the new Buddy Rich, and Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), his sadistic, exacting teacher at a prestigious music school. Neither Andrew nor Fletcher is precisely likable, but Andrew is by far the more sympathetic, as Fletcher slaps his face, throws chairs at him, and forces him to practice until blood stains his drumsticks and drum kit.

All of this is done in the service of attaining Fletcher's nearly unattainable standards of excellence. The worst thing you can tell anybody, Fletcher is fond of saying, is "Good job." In a sense he is right: to be satisfied with mediocrity is to cheat both your students and your art. Yet, seeing Fletcher's relentless bullying of Andrew and his other students, we wonder whether his is the only way to mastery. Andrew doesn't wonder, and our hearts bleed for him every time Fletcher commits a fresh outrage against him. The story leads to a final musical showdown that is scintillating and horrifying in equal degrees. I'll just say it isn't the absolute triumph it would be in any other movie.

Aided by cinematographer Sharone Meir, film editor Tom Cross and composer Justin Hurwitz, Chazelle fashions "Whiplash" into a jazz-filled wonder of a film, never letting the audience out of its grip for one second. Miles Teller makes Andrew's obsession achingly real, and J.K. Simmons proves what we all knew all along: that inside the Farmers' Insurance guy there was a major talent raging to be freed. "Whiplash" isn't exactly an uplifting cinematic experience, but it will get your blood pumping as surely as one of Andrew's drum solos.


Nightcrawler (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
Nightcrawler (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
DVD ~ Jake Gyllenhaal
Price: $19.99
30 used & new from $12.00

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As scary as "Gone Girl," and even darker., December 11, 2014
Before I saw Dan Gilroy's "Nightcrawler," I had thought "Gone Girl" would be the scariest portrait of a sociopath I would see this year. But "Nightcrawler" at very least is a match for "Gone Girl." Jake Gyllemhaal plays a nocturnal thief and scavenger in modern-day Los Angeles who comes across a freelance photographer shooting videotape of a horrific traffic accident and decides he should get in on that action himself. Soon he obtains a camera (no fair saying how) and goes on the prowl for whatever car crashes, fires and murder scenes he can find. Nina Romina (Rene Russo), the TV-station news manager to whom he sells his videos, is appalled by Lou--Saddam Hussein would be appalled by Lou--but also fascinated. Nina senses in Lou the same sort of hunger she had when she was a rookie reporter. And besides, she desperately needs the videos Lou provides to boost the station's sagging ratings.

"Nightcrawler" is a mesmerizing, pitch-dark thriller. Many critics have described it as a bitter satire of 24-hour news operations and their never-ending need for sensational stories, and indeed it is that. But, even further, it is one of the most searing condemnations ever of the American way of doing business. Lou Bloom has a commodity to sell, and he can provide it faster than anyone else. If a few people, or a few dozen people, have to die for him to provide it, it's fine with him, and also with his customers. "Nightcrawler" is one of the scariest portraits of a sociopath--and of the sociopathy that lurks just underneath the surface of our world-- I've ever seen.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 9, 2015 3:09 PM PDT


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