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Coraline
Coraline
DVD
Price: $2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Off with The Faeries..., August 27, 2015
This review is from: Coraline (Amazon Instant Video)
If you're a grown-up looking for something you can watch with the kids and maybe even enjoy yourself, you've definitely hit the mark. The only qualifier I'd insert here is that if you are considering this film as a parent, there are a few scenes towards the end that might be a little scary for some younger children. No blood or guts, you understand. Just... perhaps a little scary.

Similarly, if you're a grown-up hard core animation fan like me who's followed the work of both Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman with great interest for decades, then again, this is a film you're going to want to see.

But...

While by no means a bad film, this doesn't quite catch either Burton or Gaiman at their absolute best. My main reservation here is that I feel the story gives itself away a little too easily, a little too early on. In previous reviews I've observed that if it's true that there are only a finite number of stories - stories that are told and retold again and yet again across the generations - then the real job of the storyteller is to disguise this fact. To somehow make us forget that we've heard it all before. Even if we ourselves must needs be - to varying degrees - complicit in that forgetfulness.

For the adult viewer, this film doesn't quite pull that trick off. We're just a little too aware, almost from the very beginning, exactly which story this is, where our heroine is going to wind up, and exactly how she's going to get there.

Provided you can live with that flaw, this is an amazing thing just to look at and to listen to. On a visual level it has the playfully Gothic charm of so much of Tim Burton's work. The sheer craftsmanship that's gone into creating the visual side of this film is incredible. Coraline was apparently created almost entirely using traditional stop motion techniques.

Of course, especially when employing the more technically demanding forms of animation, one major risk that directors need to be aware of is the temptation to include shots that exist only to show off the animator's virtuosity. There are a few instances of this near the beginning of the film, although it gets better in that regard as it goes along. By the end, the animator's art is employed entirely in the service of the greater whole.

The actors do a similarly superb job. Although I must admit that I feel that Keith David and John Hodgman both got shortchanged in the credits: French & Saunders bumped them down a notch out of deservedly higher billing - apparently by sheer weight of star power. I mean, I _like_ French & Saunders, but still...

The titular character of Coraline herself is an especially impressive creation - the work of both the animators and an enormously talented (and still very young) Dakota Fanning. You can't help but wonder at the body of work that lies ahead of her in adulthood. Somehow she strikes me as someone with a little more going for her than just cuteness - someone who's likely to beat the child star curse and do amazing things as an adult actor.

Finally, this is one of those films where the title and incidental music most definitely deserves special mention. Kudos to composer Bruno Coulais. Tim Burton has obviously long known the importance of this element of filmmaking; witness his 1989 version of Batman, which, courtesy of Danny Elfman, gave us one of film's most memorable and enduring riffs.

In the end, I see this work as a kind of flawed masterpiece. I do wish that it didn't give itself away quite so easily. But there's still an enormous amount here that's worth seeing.

Theo.


HOVEOX Women's Plus Size Strapless Stretch Seamless Padded Bandeau Tube Top Bra
HOVEOX Women's Plus Size Strapless Stretch Seamless Padded Bandeau Tube Top Bra
Offered by Rellygonecy
Price: $6.99 - $8.99

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star, August 19, 2015
Bad.
Comment Comments (16) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 21, 2015 8:10 AM PDT


AAAHH!!! Real Monsters Season 1
AAAHH!!! Real Monsters Season 1
Price: $7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of Nickelodeon's Better Efforts, June 16, 2015
This animated series from the mid nineties still stands as one of Nickelodeon's better efforts. It's not on the same level as the first season of Ren & Stimpy, but it's got nothing to be embarrassed about either.

The basic premise of the show is that there's an entire secret underground of monsters who live to scare humans. The show is centred around a group of three young monsters at a live-in academy where they've been sent to learn this skill. If that sounds like a rather prosy premise (and let's face it - it is), this is a show that nevertheless manages to make it work: mainly by virtue of its own densely grunge aesthetic. It may not be Ren & Stimpy, but it ain't Harry Potter neither.

For serious film and animation buffs, there's a lot to take in. For example, in a recurring role as Simon The Monster Hunter, Jim Belushi reveals himself to be an extremely talented voice actor. Tim Curry does the same in his role as the bug-like monster Zimbo. For those more specifically interested in animation, Charlie Adler, arguably the pre-eminent voice actor of the era, appears in what is essentially the show's starring role as Ickis.

Perhaps most interestingly, serious animation enthusiasts will notice a definite similarity in the music used in this series, and that of the adult animated series Aeon Flux. Not surprisingly, that's because the two share a common composer: Tim Blake. The unique sound he provides - a kind of absurdly operatic cacophony - contributes much to this show's twisted aesthetic.

Like any cartoon from days gone by, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters will doubtless pick up a certain number of sales from pure nostalgia. Fair enough. But even from a strictly grown up perspective, it does have more going for it than that.

It is a show you can watch for the first time as an adult, and still grow to love.

Theo.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 15, 2015 8:31 AM PDT


Guardians of the Galaxy (Plus Bonus Features)
Guardians of the Galaxy (Plus Bonus Features)
DVD
Price: $14.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not so long ago in a Marvel Universe far far away..., June 16, 2015
Okay, I couldn't resist the Star Wars reference. And truthfully, there is a little Star Wars here. But what I love most about this film is that it reminded me what I love most about Marvel: that sense of a true Universe that comes along as part of the Marvel package. A rich and storied cosmos with history and depth and an ongoing continuity all of its own. A fantastic, larger than life realm where big personalities abound, and around any corner we might find people or things filled with electrifying energy; events pregnant with cosmic portent. A place where godlings walk among us, and every flame burns just that much brighter.

Yes, I love the Marvel Universe. And we are deep, deep inside it in this film.

The Star Wars thing... can be overstated. It's there, but the people who dwell too long upon it have not, I think, seen very much in the way of science fantasy. For example, one scene in this film reminded me of nothing so much as an old episode of Invader Zim. Specifically "The Fry Cook What Came from All That Space". And trust me: that's a good thing. As you might then guess, this is not a film that takes itself too seriously. That's another good thing. It is, quite simply, an enormous delight to watch. It's laugh out loud funny, but at the same time, a long long way from mere spoof or self-parody. It's more of a rollicking swashbuckler, but with spaceships and blaster pistols instead of tall ships and rapiers - and get down funkiness in place of rococo.

Through most of this film I really thought I was going to give it five stars. However, I found the ending just a little weak. For that and that alone, I'm knocking it down to four.

Nevertheless, if you're looking for a movie that's just plain fun, you'd be hard pressed to do better than this one.

Theo.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 10, 2015 9:41 AM PDT


Cougar Town Season 1
Cougar Town Season 1
Price: $14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little too warm and fuzzy..., May 27, 2015
If there's one thing Couteney Cox brings to her character, it's an immense likeability. Seriously, you just instantly like this woman. I'm sure Sally Field would be proud. In fact, you like all of the characters. They're all soft and cuddly, likeable people. No sharp edges anywhere. Except perhaps in the aptly named "Barb", who's brought in for a few seconds here and there as comic relief. It's like dwelling in a universe of stuffed toys: every plushie's fantasy.

But I ask you: is that enough? Because this show is SO gosh-darned likeable, you really want it to be smart too. And edgy. Unfortunately it isn't even remotely either one of those things. In fact, despite the "adult themes", it's got to be the farthest thing from a truly grown up show I've seen in a long time.

Take Grayson, our heroine's across-the-cul-de-sac neighbor. Within literally three seconds of meeting him, we know he's her real series-spanning love interest: Dylan to her Brenda; Sam to her Dianne. And unless this is the first TV show we've ever seen (and I do mean EVER) we also instantly know that it's going to take as many seasons as the writers can manage to string this thing out for for these two people to really get together properly and make it work. At the same time, we also just as instantly know that there'll be many near misses and a few ill-fated false starts along the way. And of course, once they do get properly together the writers will have to break them up again, because a stable, mature relationship doesn't make for good television. Seriously, all this is instantly obvious within three seconds.

My Little Pony is edgier than this. WAY edgier in fact. Come to think of it, the latest incarnation of that particular franchise actually is kinda edgy in its own sweet way. But... you get my point. For edginess, go to My Little Pony. Not Cougar Town.

PROS: If your ultimate fantasy is to live in a universe of cuddly stuffed toys, then you've just come home.

CONS: You may already have seen the Care Bears.

(Seriously, if they gave those fuzzy little guys functioning genitalia and allowed them to do their thinking with them just occasionally, well, that's Cougar Town.)

Theo.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 11, 2015 12:53 PM PDT


No Title Available

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monsters From The Id, May 23, 2015
For anyone with an interest in the paranormal, visionary experiences, or just pop culture, I'd definitely rate this one as a must read. It tells - in some detail - the story of a life I was hitherto unaware of. Before learning of this book, to me the "dero" were just monsters in an old edition of Dungeons & Dragons. And "Ray Palmer" was just the secret identity of the silver-age Atom: a DC superhero who I now know was named in homage to this real life Ray Palmer.

Palmer's professional life began in the science fiction pulps of the 1930's and 40's, and ended with him editing no-less pulpy publications dealing with UFO's and general paranormal phenomena. To be completely honest, in some ways I find this journey a little sad. It seems to me that he started out in a rather fun place, and ended up devoting much of his life to the purely and simply crackpot. While I do believe that paranormal phenomena can be the subject of legitimate and serious inquiry, it is very hard to buy into the idea that Ray Palmer was ever engaged in such.

To what extent Palmer himself believed in what he was publishing is forever an open question.

Nevertheless, this is a genuinely interesting book. I would especially recommend it to anyone with an interest in the current crop of fringe conspiracy theories - David Icke's reptilians in particular. Reading this book and comparing Shaver's dero with Icke's reptilians will, I think, afford the reader a deeper appreciation of the nature of the current phenomena. One can't help but wonder who will succeed Icke in another twenty years or so, and what shape the next generation of monsters will take.

This book is also rather interesting for the questions it raises, and perhaps implicitly answers, about the nature of the visionary experience. It has been said that tribal cultures turn their schizophrenics into functioning members of society by making them into shamans. Palmer, I think, performed this service for one such individual.

To be clear, I am not suggesting this as a universal theory of shamanism, psychic phenomena, or paranormal experiences. Many people engaged in such pursuits or reporting such experiences are quite obviously not schizophrenic. Nevertheless, this biography may perhaps serve double-duty as fable, warning us all of the dangers of excessive literalism in our interpretation of these experiences. Of being too quick to take things at face value.

Interestingly, the author suggests that Palmer himself could have been prone to this kind of overly literal thinking. By way of evidence he offers up the following quote from Palmer: "Even Rod Sterling must suspect there is a Twilight Zone, or he would not write of it". Though perhaps, in this particularly telling line, there are deeper clues as to the true nature of Ray Palmer's world view, and how he regarded his own literary career.

Perhaps to him, flying saucers, the Hollow Earth, and the shining world of tomorrow depicted in the earliest of the pulps were all part of the same continuum: a transmundane domain of both wonder and horror, seances and superscience, beckoning us all to come explore. A world that, for the likes of Shaver and Icke, may indeed be accessible, even if only to the bravest and most intrepid pioneers.

But for better and for worse, for most of us that world must beckon forever.

Like the dog-headed men of medieval geography, it lies always just beyond the next horizon.

Theo.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 11, 2015 12:54 PM PDT


The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey by Nadis, Fred (2013)
The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey by Nadis, Fred (2013)
17 used & new from $44.67

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monsters From The Id, May 23, 2015
For anyone with an interest in the paranormal, visionary experiences, or just pop culture, I'd definitely rate this one as a must read. It tells - in some detail - the story of a life I was hitherto unaware of. Before learning of this book, to me the "dero" were just monsters in an old edition of Dungeons & Dragons. And "Ray Palmer" was just the secret identity of the silver-age Atom: a DC superhero who I now know was named in homage to this real life Ray Palmer.

Palmer's professional life began in the science fiction pulps of the 1930's and 40's, and ended with him editing no-less pulpy publications dealing with UFO's and general paranormal phenomena. To be completely honest, in some ways I find this journey a little sad. It seems to me that he started out in a rather fun place, and ended up devoting much of his life to the purely and simply crackpot. While I do believe that paranormal phenomena can be the subject of legitimate and serious inquiry, it is very hard to buy into the idea that Ray Palmer was ever engaged in such.

To what extent Palmer himself believed in what he was publishing is forever an open question.

Nevertheless, this is a genuinely interesting book. I would especially recommend it to anyone with an interest in the current crop of fringe conspiracy theories - David Icke's reptilians in particular. Reading this book and comparing Shaver's dero with Icke's reptilians will, I think, afford the reader a deeper appreciation of the nature of the current phenomena. One can't help but wonder who will succeed Icke in another twenty years or so, and what shape the next generation of monsters will take.

This book is also rather interesting for the questions it raises, and perhaps implicitly answers, about the nature of the visionary experience. It has been said that tribal cultures turn their schizophrenics into functioning members of society by making them into shamans. Palmer, I think, performed this service for one such individual.

To be clear, I am not suggesting this as a universal theory of shamanism, psychic phenomena, or paranormal experiences. Many people engaged in such pursuits or reporting such experiences are quite obviously not schizophrenic. Nevertheless, this biography may perhaps serve double-duty as fable, warning us all of the dangers of excessive literalism in our interpretation of these experiences. Of being too quick to take things at face value.

Interestingly, the author suggests that Palmer himself could have been prone to this kind of overly literal thinking. By way of evidence he offers up the following quote from Palmer: "Even Rod Sterling must suspect there is a Twilight Zone, or he would not write of it". Though perhaps, in this particularly telling line, there are deeper clues as to the true nature of Ray Palmer's world view, and how he regarded his own literary career.

Perhaps to him, flying saucers, the Hollow Earth, and the shining world of tomorrow depicted in the earliest of the pulps were all part of the same continuum: a transmundane domain of both wonder and horror, seances and superscience, beckoning us all to come explore. A world that, for the likes of Shaver and Icke, may indeed be accessible, even if only to the bravest and most intrepid pioneers.

But for better and for worse, for most of us that world must beckon forever.

Like the dog-headed men of medieval geography, it lies always just beyond the next horizon.

Theo.


A Gaudi Afternoon
A Gaudi Afternoon
DVD
Price: $2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cinema Buffa, May 17, 2015
This is a film that was very clearly and consciously made as a comedy. Not just in the contemporary sense of the word - although it certainly is that - but in the older, original sense. The sense in which we would apply that term to the Magic Flute or the Tempest.

As you might then expect, there is more going on here than in standard Hollywood fare. It's well named: Gaudi's work provides far more than just a backdrop for unrelated shenanigans. His aesthetic pervades virtually the entire piece - from almost the very beginning to almost the very end. As a whole, the film could be described as a playful invitation to abandon dry and sterile cynicism, and join in the riotous, voluptuous, enchanting explosion of life. Architects like to believe that their work has the power to change the lives of the people who dwell within it. Whether you buy into that theory or not, to watch this film is to enter into Gaudi's world - however temporarily.

In it's own post-modern way the film ends, of course, as all comedies do. That's all I'm going to say on the subject of plot, and the closest you'll get to a spoiler. But if I had to identify just one thing that prevents me from giving the film five stars, it is this ending - one scene in particular involving the child. I have to say that I personally found it all a little trite, and certainly far too saccharine. Perhaps I am too cynical to buy into Gaudi's vision despite myself. Or at least, Susan Seidelman's. The ending, I believe, took the whole film down just a notch.

But even with this ending, Gaudi Afternoon is still a film I would recommend seeing. It is, after all, a playful invitation to join in the riotous, voluptuous, and enchanting explosion of life.

Who can - or should - resist that?

Theo.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 21, 2015 9:11 PM PDT


Epson NX130 Stylus All-In-One Color Inkjet Printer
Epson NX130 Stylus All-In-One Color Inkjet Printer
Offered by Charmed Life, LLC
Price: $139.99
7 used & new from $70.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars You Get What You Pay For..., April 19, 2015
Okay, so I needed a printer. "My printing needs are modest", thinks I. "I almost never need a hard copy of anything. I do a print out at most maybe once every few months. There's no reason to splurge here". So I bought this one: the cheapest model available.

Big mistake...

This is the kind of machine that will give you countless hours of scratching your head, thinking "Why did it do THAT??". It's a playful little devil, I'll give it that much. But beyond a certain point, you will have to reconcile yourself to reality: no power on Earth will convince this thing that THERE IS NO PAPER JAM. Take out all the paper. Put it back in again as carefully as possible. Unplug it. Plug it in again. Press every damn button it has. No difference. Not the tiniest bit of difference at all.

PROS: If you would like to spend your days fantasizing about visiting slow and agonizing death on the engineering team that created your printer (did I emphasize the "slow" part?), this is definitely a model that will fit your needs.

CONS: ARRRRRRGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

Theo.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 21, 2015 4:10 PM PDT


Who's the Leader of the Club?: Walt Disney's Leadership Lessons
Who's the Leader of the Club?: Walt Disney's Leadership Lessons
by Jim Korkis
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.16
6 used & new from $10.92

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Walks The Talk, April 3, 2015
Some years ago now, when I first started reviewing on Amazon, I reviewed The Rise and Fall of Alan Bond. To this day I consider it one of the greatest business books I have ever read.

As I said in that review: "It's one thing to sit in a lecture and hear someone tell you that leverage increases both risk and return; but this book takes the lesson to a whole new level. It not only takes that abstract idea and turns it into something concrete - it makes the lesson come alive. Yeah... I know that's a bit of a cliché. But the thing is, this book actually does it."

This is a book about leadership, not leverage. But you know that cliché I just mentioned? The one about not only turning the lesson into something concrete, but making it come alive? Well, this is another book that actually does it.

If you've read more than a few books on sales or management, I don't think this book will contain too many ideas you haven't heard before. It's just extraordinarily good at getting those "old" ideas into your head on a functional level. The gap between abstract concept and practical implementation, which so often seems like a chasm, starts to look a whole lot more like a crack on the sidewalk.

What's especially revealing is that - as you may have guessed from the title I gave this review - the author achieves this precisely by implementing his own lessons. One of the chief among these is the power of story to persuade, inspire, and yes, to lead. This book is full of stories. As a result it goes down easy, and the practical implementation is made obvious at every turn. You don't feel like you're doing work, but somehow you learn a lot. Or at least, I did.

Since Amazon's "look inside" feature makes it possible to peruse at least the beginning of a book, I encourage you to read the preface of this one. Skip the stuff that comes before: just read the preface in its entirety, which you can easily do before the cut-off point is reached. In my opinion, that'll give you the best possible idea of what this book has to offer.

Is it perfect? No. There are one or two things I would have done differently. For example, the author so often refers to his sources as "Disney legend so-and-so" (as in "Disney legend Joe Bloggs" or "Disney legend Jane Doe"), that beyond a certain point it occurred to me that you could even make a drinking game out of it. If you take a shot every time he refers to someone in this way, you'll definitely wind up plastered. Or possibly unconscious. In fact, I feel obliged to warn you that if you're a fast reader, you probably shouldn't play this game. For safety reasons, you understand.

Another thing I felt could have been handled better were the last two chapters. Each was just a series of quotes: the first consisting of things said about Walt Disney by those who knew him; the second of words straight from the mouth of the man himself. I did feel that these final chapters would have been better with perhaps fewer quotes, but more effort at pulling it all together into a cohesive conclusion. I think if Korkis had made this effort, I would have given the book five stars.

But... perhaps he would say that wanted us to be the ones connecting the dots at that stage in our journey. In fairness, the points made do all reinforce what's gone in the chapters before.

In any event, in the greater scheme of things these are fairly minor quibbles. For me, the bottom line is that I have learned from this book. Not new things that I hitherto had no inkling of. Rather, what I have gained is a deeper, and above all more practical grasp of things that previously seemed far more like remote abstractions.

I was given a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. But if a friend with an interest in business, or indeed, in leadership in any context, asked me "Should I buy this book with my own money?", I'd definitely say "Yes!".

Theo.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 12, 2015 8:05 AM PDT


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