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A Most Wanted Man (DVD+DIGITAL)
A Most Wanted Man (DVD+DIGITAL)
DVD ~ Philip Seymour Hoffman
Price: $22.93

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly acted, suitably depressing spy thriller., September 8, 2014
Anton Corbijn's "A Most Wanted Man" is a well-made, suitably depressing adaptation of a John Le Carre novel. Set in modern-day Hamburg, it stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gunter Bachmann, a cynical, hard-drinking intelligence officer heading a special anti-terrorism unit. His latest assignment is to track the movements of Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a suspected Chechen terrorist who has literally washed up in Hamburg for reasons unknown. Others involved in the story include Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), an idealistic civil rights lawyer who tries to help Issa; Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe), a shady banker who holds the secret of Issa's presence in Hamburg; Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), a CIA operative with her own agenda; and Dr. Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), a Muslim philanthropist who may be funding more sinister projects than hospitals and orphanages.

Corbijn and screenwriter Andrew Bovell tip us off early, via the film's palpable sense of impending doom, that nothing good will emanate from the collision of these people. Nevertheless, the film is compelling, particularly as a showcase for excellent actors playing fascinating characters. As sad as "A Most Wanted Man" is, the saddest thing about it is that Hoffman, who so masterfully inhabits the skin of Gunter Bachmann, is no more. This is one of Hoffman's finest performances, and it is unbearable to think that, except for a handful of movies still awaiting release, we will not see him again.


A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster
A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster
by Wendy Moffat
Edition: Paperback
36 used & new from $2.67

5.0 out of 5 stars An important addition to our knowledge of Forster., September 7, 2014
Wendy Moffat's "A Great Unrecorded History" records in detail the sexual life of E.M. Forster, in an attempt to show how his homosexuality influenced his writing and thought. (Of course we already know the saddest influence it had on Forster: for the last 46 years of his life, he published no fiction, though he continued sporadically to write it.) Moffat tells us many interesting details about the men in Forster's life--especially the great love of his life, Bob Buckingham--as well as his occasionally rocky friendhsips with other gay authors, such as J.R. Ackerley and C.P. Cavafy.

In many ways, "A Great Unrecorded History" reminds me of Neil McKenna's book, "The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde." Both books do an excellent job of connecting their subjects' sexuality with their philosophies and bodies of work. However, Moffat is a much better writer than McKenna--McKenna never uses one word when ten will do--and she is also much less prurient than McKenna. Moffat's work doesn't replace that of P.N. Furbank, any more than McKenna's replaces that of Richard Ellmann. But "A Great Unrecorded History" is an important supplement to the established biographical work about Forster.


Swing Time
Swing Time
DVD ~ Fred Astaire
Offered by ClockworkCornucopia
Price: $9.61
79 used & new from $2.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Some of the best dancing ever recorded on film., September 1, 2014
This review is from: Swing Time (DVD)
"Swing Time" has the reputation of being Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' best musical, and it deserves that reputation for the dancing alone. For my money, the greatest dance duet ever recorded on film is Fred and Ginger dancing to "Pick Yourself Up." The sheer joy and abandon of their dance, coupled with their incredible timing and acrobatic physicality, ensure that this number has no equals. The Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields score--including "The Way You Look Tonight" and "A Fine Romance' as well as "Pick Yourself Up"--also merits a stellar place among movie musical songwriting.

Although I like Fred and Ginger as actors--and I also really like Victor Moore, Helen Broderick and Eric Blore--I find the story of "Swing Time" dull, much as I do the stories of very nearly every Astaire-Rogers movie. But that's OK, because with a DVD I can fast-forward to the singing and dancing. Fred and Ginger's song-and-dance numbers tell the story far more movingly than the actual screenplay. In any case, "Swing Time" is Fred and Ginger's masterpiece. Not to see it is not to know what Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were all about.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 3, 2014 12:41 PM PDT


Trafic (The Criterion Collection)
Trafic (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Honore Bostel
33 used & new from $8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Not Tati's best, but still well worth seeing., August 30, 2014
In some ways, Jacques Tati's "Trafic" might be considered a smaller-scale version of "Playtime," his film from four years before. Whereas Tati tried to capture all of modern life in "Playtime," in "Trafic" he concentrates on the world of transit--particularly the eccentric yet remarkably standardized behavior of people driving cars.

In "Trafic," his last full-length film, Tati once again plays M. Hulot, who this time is an automotive designer trying to transport his gadget-laden prototype camper from Paris to an auto show in Amsterdam. It gives nothing away to say that M. Hulot fails to get the camper to Amsterdam on time, because M. Hulot never succeeded at anything in any movie. As in all Tati movies, the journey is the point, as Hulot and his associates (including an imperious PR flack played by American supermodel Maria Kimberly) run into all sorts of weird people and situations, sometimes literally. The multi-vehicle pileup in the film's midsection, which plays like a collaboration between Rube Goldberg and Mack Sennett, is the film's centerpiece, though there are plenty of other standout gags.

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of longueurs in "Trafic" in which nothing seems to happen, and other scenes in which nothing explicable happens. There was a always a slight nonsequitur quality to Tati's films, but in "Trafic" that tendency is pronounced. However, there are enough enjoyable gags to make "Trafic" worth seeing, as well as plenty of scenes that pay tribute to Tati's remarkable visual sense. The final scene, in which Hulot and Maria Kimberly try to flee the rain through a screen-filling gridlock of brightly colored cars, looks like what Mondrian would have come up with if he'd worked with cars instead of paints. It is as witty and pertinent a commentary on man and machine as has ever been put on screen. If Godard had had a sense of humor, he'd have been Tati.


Boyhood (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)
Boyhood (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)
DVD ~ Patricia Arquette
Price: $35.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece, pure and simple., August 11, 2014
Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" is based on a simple but daring experiment. Linklater filmed his cast a couple of weeks every year over 12 years, creating a film in which the actors aged organically, without resorting to makeup or recasting the child actors. Ellar Coltrane, who plays the central role of Mason Evans Jr., begins the film as a boy of six, and ends it as a young man of 18.

"Boyhood" is the story of how Mason grows up in various towns in Texas with his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and sister (Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter). Sometimes Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), Mason's father and Olivia's ex-husband, is also in the picture. The film doesn't have a plot in the conventional sense; it records the major events in Mason's life, which for the most part comprise a typical American boyhood. He rides his bike, plays video games, is forced to move away from his friends, makes new friends. He is bullied by schoolmates and two successive stepfathers, gets the usual spectacularly bad advice about women and sex from older boys, has his first love and his first breakup. Six-year-old Mason begins the move staring up the night sky from his front yard, and 18-year-old Mason ends it by staring up at the night sky, with his new college friends, in Big Bend National Park. In between, he's already made a major voyage through time, with the strong implication at the end that even more exciting adventures await him.

I can see why some people might be disappointed in "Boyhood." The film doesn't offer any major plot twists or revelations, and a few critics have accused Linklater of dealing in cliches. In response, I would say that "Boyhood" is cliched only in the sense that life itself is cliched. Linklater tries to give us life as a boy lives it, and he succeeds. If some of the scenes seem a little clumsy or unfinished, isn't that the same with the events in our own lives? In any case. Linklater makes us care deeply about Mason, Olivia, Samantha and Mason Sr.; their triumphs are our triumphs, their sorrows are our sorrows. The scenes in which Mason is bullied or rejected are especially painful, because they echo so profoundly with the emotional hurts in our own lives.

We come to love Mason, and it was Linklater's great luck that Ellar Coltrane is just as lovable as a gangly 18-year-old as he was as a cherubic six-year-old. He loses none of his charm with the passing years, and none of his ability to engage an audience. (Unfortunately, as we have all seen, that doesn't always happen with child actors.) Of course it doesn't hurt that Hawke and Arquette give the performances of their lives.

One critic opined that "Boyhood" is about nothing and everything. I agree. It captures the flow of everyday life to a degree few films ever have, and it is unique in the way it records the growth and change from childhood to adulthood. Not even Michael Apted's "7 Up" movies managed what Linklater does here. Personally, I think "Boyhood" is a masterpiece. Certain immortal screen classics, such as "Citizen Kane" and "Vertigo," left their original audiences behind because they were so different from the movies of their time. "Boyhood," I think, will be listed among their number.


Lonely Planet San Francisco (Travel Guide)
Lonely Planet San Francisco (Travel Guide)
by Lonely Planet
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.39
71 used & new from $12.39

4.0 out of 5 stars A good Lonely Planet guide, but not one of the best., July 24, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"Lonely Planet San Francisco" is very much in the same vein as Lonely Planet's other guidebooks. It contains thumbnail sketches of each San Francisco neighborhood, describing the flavor and vibe of each one, as well as detailed listings of the attractions in each neighborhood. Throughout there are breakout paragraphs on such hard-to-classify San Francisco features as Bob Kaufman Alley (named for a leading Beat poet) and the "Sea Foraging " adventures around San Francisco Bay, led by James Beard Award nominee Kirk Lombard. For those who want to explore outside the city, there are brief but adequate chapters on Berkeley, Marin County and the Wine Country. (The Wine Country section lists two of my favorite wineries--Frog's Leap in Napa County and Wellington in Sonoma County.) This is a generally useful guide, but some of the listings puzzled me (such as the semi-dismissive description of the American Conservatory Theater, one of the artistic glories of this country). I also wish some of the maps were stronger on giving street names. In any case, "Lonely Planet San Francisco" is a good guide in the Lonely Planet series, but not in my opinion one of the best.


Savaging the Dark
Savaging the Dark
by Christopher Conlon
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.76
17 used & new from $10.20

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and disturbing., July 18, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Savaging the Dark (Paperback)
Christopher Conlon is a horror writer who specializes in the absolute extremes of human behavior. His particular genius is to uncover the aching core of humanity in even the most heinous monsters among us. "Savaging the Dark," Conlon's latest novel, is his most daring, delicate balancing act to date. "Savaging the Dark" tells the story of Mona Straw, an outwardly normal, well-liked sixth-grade teacher whose life explodes when she falls in love with Connor Blue, one of her students. Taking cues from "Psycho," "Lolita," and the Mary Kay Letourneau scandal, Conlon ratchets up the suspense to unbearable levels as Mona descends into erotomania, madness and murder.

Along the way, Conlon also has some bitter fun with the war between the sexes, as Connor--an otherwise innocent and likable boy--indulges in some behavior toward Mona that is all too common among adult men. Conlon's acuity about human nature has always been the touchstone of his work, backed up well by his skills in story structure and crafting exact, insinuating prose.

"Savaging the Dark" is brilliant, but so disturbing that it's not for everybody, perhaps not even for most readers. If you can get past the first chapter, you probably can make it through the rest of the book, though I make no blanket guarantees. Conlon provides a quiet, mournful epilogue to the book that gives readers as much closure as they could possibly expect from such a sad, disturbing story.


The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance
The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance
by Edmund de Waal
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.26
311 used & new from $1.14

5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite and unclassifiable., July 13, 2014
"The Hare with Amber Eyes" is not easily summarized, and all the better for it. It is at once a family history, an extended personal essay, a poetic consideration of a very particular art form, and a thoughtful, sometimes profound meditation on human nature. Author Edmund De Waal, an internationally renowned ceramicist, takes as his starting point the collection of 264 netsuke--tiny, exquisitely detailed Japanese sculptures, carved from wood or ivory--that he inherited from his beloved Uncle Iggie, Like Proust's madeleines, the netsuke lead De Waal into the history of his maternal ancestors, the Ephrussis, Russian-Jewish grain merchants and bankers who at one time rivaled the Rothschilds in wealth and influence.

De Waal traces his Ephrussi ancestors from their origins in Odessa to their glory days in Paris and Vienna, and beyond to when World War II scattered the remaining family members across three continents. He introduces us to some fascinating characters: Charles-Joachim Ephrussi, Parisian esthete and collector, early champion of the Impressionists, who first collected the netsuke; Viktor and Emmy, heads of the Vienna branch of the Ephrussis, a horribly mismatched couple who received the netsuke as a wedding gift from Charles; Elisabeth, Viktor and Emmy's daughter and De Waal's grandmother, a brilliant lawyer and poet who fought fiercely on behalf of her family after the Nazis plundered their wealth; Iggie, the elegant bon vivant fated to return the netsuke to their country of origin and make his life there; and Anna, Emmy's maid, whose selfless act of loyalty toward the family made De Waal's book possible.

"The Hare with Amber Eyes" may be too leisurely for some tastes. but others will cherish it and reread it often. It is one of those exquisite, unclassifiable books in which the author leads you down unexpected, enlightening, and enchanting paths.


Masterpiece Mystery: The Escape Artist
Masterpiece Mystery: The Escape Artist
DVD ~ David Tennant
Price: $19.58
25 used & new from $9.43

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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)
DVD ~ Jon Favreau
Price: $22.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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!


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