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The Twilight Saga: New Moon [Blu-ray]
The Twilight Saga: New Moon [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Kristen Stewart
Price: $9.99
188 used & new from $0.01

49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Blu-Ray Buyers Read This First!, March 23, 2010
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Amazon only sells the Blu-Ray 1-disc "Special Edition," with very limited special features - if you want deleted scenes and more, you must buy the 2-disc "Deluxe Edition" from Target! If you're just a casual movie watcher (and this review isn't for the movie, but rather the Blu-Ray disc package) and are just interested in seeing the film, with some "making of" and music video-type extras, this edition is just fine. However, if you are (or are buying for) a more devoted Twilight fan, you will definitely want to purchase the "Deluxe Edition" with the second disc that is (to the best of my knowledge) only available at Target stores. It includes all the bonus stuff found on the Amazon version, along with these 2nd disc extras: Deleted Scenes; Introducing the Volturi Featurette; Frame by Frame: From Storyboard to Screen Featurette; Fandamonium: A Look at the Die Hard Fans; and The Beat Goes On: The Music of New Moon Featurette. The Amazon Special Edition has none of those, but costs $5 less. The "Deluxe Edition" also has a collectible film cell. I made the mistake of pre-ordering from Amazon without knowing that there would be two versions, so am forced to return mine to get the better version for the Twilight fan in my family.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 25, 2012 5:54 PM PST

Riedel Vitis Tasting Set, Gift Boxed
Riedel Vitis Tasting Set, Gift Boxed
Price: $151.92
6 used & new from $135.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Looks and Great Taste, March 12, 2010
The Vitis series is the most modern looking of Riedel's varietal-specific, shaped wine glasses. Depending on your taste, this can be good or bad. They are certainly elegant and stylish, but they are also huge. If you're only used to "normal" store-bought (or wedding-gifted) glasses, these will likely surprise you coming out of the box. Once you get used to them, those other glasses will seem insignificant. Looks aside, the big question is: do they affect the taste? If you're a wine connoisseur, you'll likely notice some difference. If not, well, you probably won't. However, you still can impress your friends with the great looks, but to actually use them with those friends, you'll need to buy more than one of these boxes. Keep in mind that the set comes with only one of each glass, so to even share with your significant other, you'll have to pony up for a second box (of glasses; not wine!). If you are one of those wine connoisseurs, you'll want to keep in mind that Riedel offers only six styles of the Vitis series for wines (three reds, two whites, and champagne), plus one for martinis. Their other series have many more to choose from.

1-year update - I love these glasses, but they have one major flaw: the crystal is exceedingly thin and fragile. Out of the dozen or so Vitis glasses I own, I've broken three of them through hand washing. Several factors combine with the thin crystal to make them very prone to breakage. Some of them have very narrow openings, which makes it difficult to insert a sponge for cleaning or towel for drying. I was doing just that when one of the glasses just "popped" apart, fortunately not cutting my hand. The length of the glasses, which looks very elegant, makes them difficult to wash in a standard-sized sink. If you even tap the edge of the bowl on part of the sink (or anything else), they break. Since they only sell these in 2-packs, you have to spend another $60-$70 for another pair if you break one and want to drink with a significant other. FYI, Riedel is contradictory in its washing instructions. In some places they say to hand wash these, in others they say they are dishwasher safe. Even if you want to try to put them in the dishwasher, you won't fit more than a few of them in the top rack becaue they're so long. So for these problems, I'm subtracting a star from my original 5-star rating.

Fisher-Price Diego Adventure Trike (Colors may vary)
Fisher-Price Diego Adventure Trike (Colors may vary)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun, but Flawed, March 12, 2010
= Durability:4.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:4.0 out of 5 stars 
My son loves this Diego "motorcycle" because of all the buttons, lights, and sounds. We haven't had any trouble with its durability and it is handy that the seat can be positioned differently as your child grows. Our major problem with this is its tendency to tip over. When the seat is in the highest position (for the smallest children), the center of gravity is much too high, meaning that even a slight turn of the handlebars while going downhill can cause the whole thing to tip over. Luckily, we've only seen skinned hands as a result (so far!). The narrow rear wheelbase and small front wheel (both compared to a traditional Big Wheel) exacerbate the problem. While it's not quite a Suzuki Samurai from the 1980s, we have to be very attentive when our son rides this and always make sure he has his helmet on. Because of this, I think a regular Big Wheel is in our future.

Rock Band 2 Double Cymbal Expansion Kit
Rock Band 2 Double Cymbal Expansion Kit
Offered by Costa Abode
Price: $13.99
15 used & new from $13.95

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid addition (& fix for slippage), January 12, 2009
= Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars 
Fixing the cymbal slippage problem-
This is for those of you who are experiencing the problem of the poles that support the cymbals slipping down in the clamps: I had this problem at first, but the corrective is fairly simple and actually is in the directions. It's hard to interpret on the graphic, but what you need to do is to mount the clamps to the drum set, without the cymbal poles in their holes. Then you have to squeeze the two halves (right/left)that make up the clamp together in the middle as hard as you can (I used pliers) until they snap together completely. You'll know it's right when you hear the "snap" as indicated in the directions and the gap between the two halves is totally gone. Then you can insert the cymbal poles and tighten the wing nuts on both ends. If the two halves aren't snapped together, the clamps can't get tight enough to hold the pole in place. Of course, designing a smooth plastic pole to fit into a smooth plastic clamp probably isn't the best idea, but hey...

For the review-
I'm a long-time drummer that bought this kit to make the decidedly unrealistic RB2 drums get a little more realistic. They do allow you to add the positioning of real cymbals, to a degree. Unfortunately, they lack any realistic flexibility for placement. You can basically rotate them a little side-to-side, based on which pole they're attached to and you can move them up and down, but that's it. You can't place one in the traditional high hat location, to the left of the snare, or to the far right of the drums where you'd normally have a ride cymbal. Adding some sort of boom setup to one of the cymbals would help with this problem. it's also the main reason I didn't buy the 3-cymbal setup, since you couldn't put them in the typical spots for most drummers. The other omission is a lack of a tilting mechanism for the cymbal surface itself. Few drummers like their cymbals perfectly horizontal, but that's pretty much what you get here. That makes doing a ride pattern on the shoulder (top) surface of the cymbal difficult. It's ok for crashes, but doing a sustained ride on the cymbal's edge feels awkward because of the way the cymbals rebound. Along that lines, the "feel" of these cymbals is ok if you can get the right amount of tightness on the wingnuts holding the cymbal down. Too loose and the rebound goes to zero. And yes, these are lounder than the new RB2 drums, especially when you have to play on the edge all the time.

While these comments may make it sound like I don't care for the cymbals, I am actually very glad I bought them. They do add a degree of realism when playing the game, especially when I reach up to hit the crash without thinking about it, rather than going down to the lower right drum pad. They smartly added the feature where the cymbal pads act as cymbals all the time, but the drum pads go either way, just as they do in the absence of the cymbals. That means you can hit the right note (i.e. a crash) either on the pad or the cymbal and not be wrong. The nice thing is that during the fill and rock ending parts, the cymbals sound only as cymbals and the drum pads only as drums, making more complicated fills possible.

Omnimount 20.0 Stainless Steel Speaker Mount (White) (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
Omnimount 20.0 Stainless Steel Speaker Mount (White) (Discontinued by Manufacturer)

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars These Things (Don't) Rock!, February 8, 2008
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
These turned out to be the perfect mounts for my application. I have unusually heavy bookshelf speakers (Aperion) that I wanted to mount for use as my rear speakers in a 7.1 setup. I had trouble finding sturdy and unobtrusive mounts that would support them and give me some flexibility in terms of positioning. My speaker company recommended these, so I gave them a shot. I needed to get the 20.0 ones (they have smaller ones with lighter load ratings) because my speakers were pretty close to the 20-pound limit. They mounted easily and firmly to my ceiling and attached to the back of the speaker using the included bracket with no problem. The best thing going for these is the ball socket. I knew from experience using Yamaha drums that have ball mounts for their toms that you could lock them into place and they'd stay there, even under heavy pounding. You can swivel, angle, and aim them any direction you want, tighten the allen bolt, and it will stay exactly in position. I can try to rock my speakers by hand and they barely move. After over a year in place at somewhat odd angles (pointing in and down), my speakers haven't slid (crept) a bit. In other words, they don't rock at all. In terms of utility, they definitely do rock!

Highly recommended for everyone who needs a sturdy, yet flexible heavy-duty speaker mount that can work on either the wall or ceiling.

Snakes & Arrows
Snakes & Arrows
Price: $6.99
105 used & new from $1.58

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exceeds all expectations, June 13, 2007
This review is from: Snakes & Arrows (Audio CD)
Snakes & Arrows is Rush's first album in 5 years, since they released "Vapor Trails" to decidedly mixed reviews. I count myself among the long-time Rush fans that were a little disappointed by that offering and wasn't really expecting anything new from the band. Their 30th anniversary tour in the interim felt, to me, like a farewell tour. But in "S&A," Rush has delivered what in my opinion is their best album since "Roll The Bones." At first listen, I felt much differently, but after really taking the time to dissect the songs and let them grow on me (probably half a dozen listenings), I came to like it a lot. In general, the first part of the album is much stronger than the last (excepting the instrumentals), but overall, Rush seems to have found a good groove on Snakes & Arrows.

Rush establishes several themes in the album. First, drummer/lyricist Neil Peart has written that they tried to stick to more basic blues and rock song structures, with more intricate arrangements, an assessment that seems pretty accurate. Secondly, guitarist Alex Lifeson does use a lot of acoustic guitar here. Some reviewers seem annoyed by it, but I can't fault Alex for needing to experiment in the same way the band previous has with keyboards and electronic percussion. In many ways, he seems to have the biggest role in shaping the music on this album. Despite that, Geddy Lee's bass guitar parts are quite often front and center, more so than in the recent past and it works to great effect. His parts really drive the opening track and first single from the album, "Far Cry." His bassline in the choruses really drive the song and are what make it so infectious. That song is probably their best single in years. It's worth cranking up the radio every time it comes on the local rock station. Lyrically, Neil revists some familiar themes, such as his contrarian view of religion, faith, and spirituality. You'll see that in "Armor & Sword," "Faithless," "Spindrift" (in a more general sense), and most impressively in "The Way The Wind Blows." In that latter piece, he strikes particularly contemporary criticisms of religious fundamentalism of all sorts, seemingly as much inspired by his exposure to rural America as to events in the Middle East. What he says here is important and he says it well. It might be nice, however, to see him branch out a bit. I think his only misstep is the awfully-titled "Working Them Angels." The name came from one of his books and refers to a comment made about someone pushing their luck. It makes a nice spoken colloquialism, a bit of printed folk wisdom, but truly rankles me when repeated in a song. It's really too bad, because it detracts from what is otherwise one of the best tracks on the album.

"Snakes & Arrows" contains an unprecedented three instrumentals. The first, "Main Monkey Business," is the longest and apparently the only one originally slated for the album. I feel that it is without a doubt the best instrumental Rush has made since "YYZ." Their more recent efforts for felt like "songs without words" rather than showcases for their individual instrumental virtuosity. These guys have an unparalleled collection of chops - I wish they'd show them off as much as they used to. "MMB" doesn't have as many notes or solos crammed in as their earliest instrumentals, but it is entirely fitting with the overall style of the album. "Malignant Narcissism" also features all three, with an early Rush-style drum/ bass guitar exchange. Neil wrote that this song was built off of some fretless bass riffs Geddy was playing with (a welcome change of texture here). Neil did his part of a 4-piece drumset, a mere fraction of his usual setup and as a drummer, it's interesting to here how he works with a limited tool set. The other instrumental, "Hope," is an acoustic guitar solo by Alex. Recorded from a single performance, Neil called it "poignant." I'll second his opinion.

Among the album's strongest points is "The Larger Bowl." It's my favorite song of the collection, not because of overwhelming musicality, which is usually my biggest draw, but because the song just clicks in a way that doesn't seem forced or overwrought. Neil's somewhat unusual lyrical structure (the "Pantoum," which apparently involves the repetition and elevation of specific lines of one stanza into the next) works unusually well (and invisibly) to reinforce the main concepts of the lyrics.

On the downside, Geddy's vocals seem to be in a weird place. Either he's picked up a new vocal styling that might best be described as warbling or he's hitting the upper limit of his range. On this album, there are several points where seems to hit this warble, such as the awkward "whoas" in "The Larger Bowl," the "...nows" in "The Way the Wind Blows," during the chorus of "Bravest Face," and in "Good News First." Rush fans have noted for years that Geddy's falsetto isn't what it used to be, but he compensated nicely by bringing down the highest notes of the old songs during tours and composing new ones that stayed in his register. Unfortunately, Geddy's loss of range has really cut down on the intensity of his singing, which was fine with the more laid back albums like "Presto," where the mellowing of their music nicely matched his mellowing voice. But it creates a weird dichotomy during any of their harder songs (which may be why the "Counterparts" album didn't sit well with me). Without that vocal push, the driving rhythms in some of these songs seem ill-matched with the lack of vocal intensity (see addendum below). For different reason, I was disappointed when listening to "The Way The Wind Blows." The drum intro and first few bars lay down a totally unexpected conventional blues feel, then all but abandons it for the rest of the song. Finally, I felt like the album ran out of steam toward the end and found little to note about the last three or four non-instrumental tracks.

As a drummer myself (and Peart idolizer), Neil's drum parts are always the first thing I listen for. In keeping with the simpler structures, you won't find the odd time signatures that popped up with frequency early on. The best you get in the songs is, for example, the seamless transition (does Rush have any other kind?) from 12/8 to 4/4 time in "Workin' Them Angels." You will hear Neil spend many more measures playing unadorned ride patterns than he used to. While I found that Neil wasn't necessarily "dumbing down" his parts, they felt a little more conventional on the whole than in previous albums. While perhaps appropriate for the style the band was shooting for, I didn't come away with the urge to see a lot of transcriptions from this album. There are, of course, some great exceptions to that, such as "Main Monkey Business." Sharp-eared drummers will note the similarity between Neil's intro on "Armor & Sword" with the riff fellow drummer Dave Weckl used to open his track "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" on the Peart-produced "Burning for Buddy" tribute album. I like how Neil adapted this slightly syncopated jazz riff to a beefier rock styling. You may also appreciate Neil's innovative (tongue in cheek here) use of the tambourine on "The Larger Bowl" that earned a separate credit on his back-cover bio.

Like any album, "Snakes & Arrows" has its highlights and distractions, but its overall strength lies in the subtleties the band imbued in all the songs. Those with the ear and patience for the sort of listening engagement required to appreciate those qualities will be well rewarded. On the other hand, a casual listener picking this up as their first exposure to Rush probably won't be immediately hooked. I look forward to seeing these guys play this new stuff once their tour kicks off soon, something I didn't necessarily look forward to in the recent past.

**I'd like to put in an addendum after seeing Rush in concert this past summer (for the umpteenth time). Geddy's voals were demonstrably stronger throughout the concert than I've heard from him in years, either live or on studio recordings. I'm not sure what he did in the past few years (or since recording S&A), but it worked marvelously. I'm still not a fan of the "warbles" that I describe above, but it's now clearly an intentional styling by Geddy rather than due to declining range.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 13, 2007 7:35 PM PDT

Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road
Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road
by Neil Peart
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.36
103 used & new from $3.95

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Travelling Than Healing, June 12, 2007
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Neil Peart, the talented lyricist and gifted drummer for Rush, uses "Ghost Rider" to indulge his desire to travel - and write about it - within the context of the seminal event of his life: the death of his daughter and wife within about a year of each other. The result is both a travelogue primarily of his trip across Canada, through the western US, into Mexico, and into Belize, and an accounting of the author's coping with the demise of his family. Once he parks his beloved BMW R1100GS motorcycle (the model number pops up all too frequently in the book) after that epic journey, he winters at his lake house, and then rounds out his healing road with several smaller trips. His cross-continent healing odyssey to recovery concludes on a brief note when he meets his future wife and again returns to work making music with Rush.

Disclaimer: I am a long-time Rush fan, and as a drummer myself would list him as my favorite in that profession. I have also appreciated his intellectual approach to that craft and his lyric-writing. That said, I read this book hoping to get some insight into one of my idols.

From a literary standpoint, the sort of tragedy Peart experienced and the ensuing restless urge to escape and heal should make for riveting reading from an author willing to bare his soul. The major caveat here is that Peart isn't a conventional sort of person and that is reflected in his approach to this healing process and how he writes about it. As many other reviewers here have pointed out, he dwells surprisingly little about his fragile psyche (his "little baby soul") and instead lavishes much more attention on the scenery, bird watching, and other diversions. The reader does come away with a sense that the long road trip in the first half of the book serves more to distract Mr. Peart from his grief than to force him to face it. As one of his lyrics goes, "The point of a journey is not to arrive." The incremental progress he makes in recovering is evident as the book marches on, mainly because he tells the reader it is so, but one is left with wondering exactly why. The problem is that the author mostly assumes the reader understands his situation and what's going on in his head as the book begins, and then can follow him as he climbs out of that "deep, dark hole" (to quote "Driven"). But what we're really looking for is for him to tell us his unique feelings here. For example, several times he mentions being afraid of and avoiding his "dark thoughts," but never tells us what those are. The reader can make some inferences: suicide? The readers want to peer into those depths to see what's there, even if the author is reluctant to go there after the fact. In that sense, Peart never gives the reader the sort of travelogue through his emotions in the same detail as he does the roads through Mexico. We're left without the level of empathy the author would otherwise justly deserve.

Ironically, the absence of such emotional insight in fact tells the readers much about Mr. Peart. We do in fact get a strong sense of who he is, even if we're not entirely sure what he's feeling (or at least why). As Rush devotees can tell you, Peart has long been known as the atypical rock star. He's intellectual, introverted, libertarian (small "L"), contrarian, agnostic, fiercely loyal, and intensely private. These traits make him appear elitist at worst, again as others have criticized, or standoffish at best. In other words, he's not unlike many other "Type A" personalities who demand perfection from themselves and expect little worse from those around them. He is, at the very least, not one to suffer fools gladly. Before criticizing him too harshly for being this way, it's those same qualities that brought him to the pinnacle of his craft. Regardless of how the readers interpret these traits, Mr. Peart wears them on his sleeve when discussing traffic, tourists, fellow diners, and law enforcement. Interestingly, he seems to drop his high standards when it comes to his friend Brutus, to whom he writes the many letters that compose the bulk of the second half of the book. Brutus is jailed for apparently attempting to smuggle a large amount of marijuana from the U.S. into Canada. Peart acknowledges his friend's guilt (and his acceptance of the risks involved in such endeavors), yet spends a great deal of time bemoaning the injustice of the situation and even spends his own money to hire the best lawyers to free his friend. Apparently his own vices (drinking, smoking, speeding) and those of his friends (drug using and dealing) are somehow more acceptable than those of everyone else (gluttony, driving too slowly, recognizing him in a public place).

Mr. Peart's personality clearly shapes how he wrote this book. As many of his lyrics show, he is better able to articulate the intellectual understanding of life (one hemisphere, to borrow another lyric) than its emotional equivalent. In fact, when faced with raw emotions like the attentions of a woman in his grieving state, he doesn't know what to do or say - so he flees. The other activities he slowly adds as the book moves on further illustrate his ready facility with intellectual engagements, particularly to distract him from the emotional voids. The ultimate lesson he learns is that time does indeed heal all wounds (leaving scars), but a good woman sure helps, too.

The book's construction left something to be desired, in my opinion. The major road trip of the first half essentially forms its own volume, with Peart narrating and supplemented with a few quoted journal entries and letters to friends. Once he returns to Canada, this narrative and the journals all but disappear in favor exclusively of letters to his friends (mainly Brutus) and family. In light of the author's privacy and close friendships, the reader would expect to see Mr. Peart really bare his soul in these writing. But in fact, he engages in more of the same accounts of the sites and sounds of the road, while waxing philosophically about what he's learned. These letters are perhaps a bit more candid and certainly more casual than the previous narrative, but they are only marginally "closer to his heart" than the rest of the book. The various addressees unfortunately make the latter half of the book somewhat disjointed. This approach makes it appear as if the author ran out of time to finish the book or simply lost the desire to rewrite his source material into a coherent narrative for this portion. Perhaps he felt his original, raw accounts spoke more directly to the situations at hand than he could do looking back at them. This wasn't an option for the first part of the book because he was unable to write any letters at that point (or engage in any other previously-enjoyed pastime) and only rekindled his correspondence when he was sufficiently healed.

One conceit the author uses to great effect is the quotation of his own lyrics to open and close chapters of the book. His choices are always impeccably apropos, revealing his gift for poetic lyrics. With some irony, these bookends do more to show his insight into the human condition than the thousands of words between them.

In sum, Neil Peart has written a book that is quintessentially and unequivocally his. What he writes about and how he approaches those topics show us who he is, for better or worse. I'm sure he would be delighted to know that readers are critically assessing his work and holding him to high standards. As a reader looking for more than a book about a sad road trip, I found it demanding to really engage and understand beneath its surface. Once finished I felt like I had indeed gained some insight into one of my long-time idols in unexpected ways. But as a fan, I was saddened to read that if I recognized him in a bar, he'd later curse me in his journal for interrupting whatever task to which he had currently set himself.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 3, 2009 11:41 AM PST

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