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High Sierra (Snap Case)
High Sierra (Snap Case)
DVD ~ Ida Lupino
33 used & new from $9.47

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Nice Transition from Gangster to Noir, June 10, 2007
This review is from: High Sierra (Snap Case) (DVD)
Firstly, I think Koehler's review is largely spot on in its criticism of this movie. The blatant racism made me cringe several times (thankfully, though, the filmmakers had enough taste not to use a white man in black paint), the sleep-talking scene does seem like a cop-out, and the dog is too explicitly a vehicle for fate. On top of that, I'll add that some key moves in the end are hard to understand--why did Earl give all the money to Marie? Why did he subsequently rob a store without filling up with gas first (presumably the reason for the robbery in the first place)? This movie is by no means perfect.

But it does have, I think, a good bit of substance to outweigh all these relatively minor detriments. The innovation of a complex gangster, for instance, is very enjoyable and already sets the tone for the "decent fellow forced into corrupt ways" nature of film noirs that was right around the corner. There is quite a bit of similarity in this respect between High Sierra and, say, Criss Cross, The Urban Jungle, or Out of the Past, where the main characters also are fundamentally decent and are trying to get back on the straight path by pulling off one final dirty deed.

To my pleasant surprise, the female lead here is even better than in most classic noirs. Not only is she in my opinion much prettier and a better actress than most, but her character is actually more realistic. In a genre that typically features one-dimensional femme fatales whose job is only to lure the male protagonist into further corruption (think Out of the Past or Criss Cross), Marie shows more than a single impulse, and what's more important, even genuine affection for Earle. She's not in it just for the money like so many of the female characters.

Lastly, there is a somewhat campy allegory involved here with the use of the mountains and the theme of busting out of jail to freedom. It's as subtle as a hammer in the way the director brings it up, since the characters talk about it a number of times (and Marie even brings up quite bluntly at the very end), but it adds a very pleasant element to the ending and makes it feel much more fulfilling. The tragic ending is still here, and the protagonist couldn't escape his fate/past, yet there is still a feeling of restored balance that most noirs lack (those who have seen the ending of The Asphalt Jungle will know what I mean).

The disc itself has little beyond the movie--just the theatrical trailer and a 10-minute documentary on how High Sierra figures into the cinematographic scene. The latter, however, is aptly done and is very informative.

This movie is on the brink of getting five stars from me, but some things simply fall short. An excellent way to spend the night nonetheless.

The Lost Weekend
The Lost Weekend
DVD ~ Ray Milland
Price: $9.14
58 used & new from $2.56

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One's Too Many and a Hundred's Not Enough, May 20, 2007
This review is from: The Lost Weekend (DVD)
As with all the great products on Amazon, the spotlight reviews have just about covered everything that should impel one to watch this fine film. I should only like to resonate and emphasize those points.

At its core, The Lost Weekend is a didactic movie that tries to show all the degenerative aspects of alcoholism, with a self-conscious sense of unflinching character. Of course, by now there are plenty of films--both fictional and documentaries--that take on the same goal. The beauty of this one, and the reason for watching it, is in the approach the director takes to relate the message.

To make sure we sympathize with Don Birnam, rather than see him as a doomed sod of a separate class from us, the director employs the film noir style. Don is not a bum or a wife-beater, but an intelligent, witty fellow, with his own quirks (like constantly putting a cigarette the wrong way in) who is driven to drink by the weight of his ambitions--a typical film noir presentation of an essentially decent man corrupted by a wrong decision. As his vice starts to dominate and he tumbles into the abyss, his surroundings reflect the change by moving from the bright cheeriness of an opera or the prospect of a relaxing weekend in the countryside to the dark and seedy halfway ward of the hospital. Here, too, the film noir technique of stark lighting contrasts and dominating shadows play an effective role. Ultimately, as Don reaches rock bottom, he intends to find redemption one way or another, although the ending picks, somewhat superficially, the cheerier of the alternatives.

The reason for watching this movie, then, is not the plot necessarily--even by watching the trailer, you should find out it will focus entirely on a man's spiritual dissolution--but for the empathy it aptly evokes. Don is fully fleshed out, is portrayed as a convincing representation of even the most good-natured person in the audience, and the result is that the viewer feels the heartfelt pangs of withdrawal almost as much as Don himself.

Whoever wants to see superb manipulation of lighting and character development, in other words, need look no further than this noir classic. Everything that needs to support these things is present--a great director, fantastic acting, memorable writing (a quote of which is the title for this review), all these are present. The only thing it lacks is consistency with the ending, but even that is handled so eloquently that you won't walk away with disappointment.

As a side note, since this is a review for the whole product, the DVD has nice video quality, though some of the very dark scenes do show signs of "static." The features include only the trailer, and images of production notes and actor/production team biographies. Though lacking in all, at least the production notes are very pithy.

Burmese Days: A Novel
Burmese Days: A Novel
by George Orwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.83
157 used & new from $2.95

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Novel in Shoddy Skin, May 9, 2007
This review is from: Burmese Days: A Novel (Paperback)
I truly believe Orwell is one of the most underappreciated novelists. Sure, everyone's read the Animal Farm and 1984, and his essays are often praised for influencing modern English prose (though rarely are they actually read), but most have never heard of Homage to Catalonia, Down and Out, Road to Wigan Pier, or his As I Please column. The Burmese Days is a prime example of a splendid yet inexplicably unpopular work of Orwell's, and deserves to be read as much as Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.

Many reviews have already mentioned how the novel is a candid account of British imperialist racism. The element is indeed there, and takes dutiful prominence by its very setting. Descriptions of kow-towing, strictly held prejudices held by every single white character (including Flory, the protagonist, though much less than the others), and mismanagement all abound. Plenty of mention is given to the garlic smell many natives apparently emanated, for instance. Interestingly enough, Orwell himself seems to be unintentionally racist in the narrator's descriptions of Burmese customs or the Burmese characters like U Po Kyin. This last habit is characteristic of Orwell's general writing, and is present in other works like Homage to Catalonia as well.

Nonetheless, accounts of racism, despite providing a very distinct theme and setting, are not why I enjoyed the book. The foremost reason for enjoying this book is for Orwell's characteristic writing style, that manages to be both homely and vivid yet sparse on the word count (the novel is only 190 or so pages) and as easy to read as a good pulp mystery. To go with the over-used term, it is a characteristic page-turner, with all the associated traits of constantly expanding the reader's curiosity of what will happen next while consuming no more than half a minute for any given page.

It does have several shortcomings, though. Most characters, despite having their fair shares of complexities and shortcomings, tend to act all too predictably and mechanically. Ellis will always be a vicious, profane bigot. Elizabeth will always be a shallow, pretentious airhead. And so on. Indeed, the only character that does seem to grow or change is Flory himself. Arguably, this is an intentional vehicle by which Orwell seeks to create an impression of Burma as a spiritual graveyard for various people who failed a life on the Continent--where everything is mired in a self-perpetuating web of complacency and banality. The book's ending is also a slight bit dissatisfying and seems out of character (odd since the novel up to that point so laboriously reinforced it), but does make sense and shouldn't disappoint.

The biggest failure of this book, and the reason it does not have 5 stars from me, is the fault of the editors rather than Orwell. This particular edition is rife with spelling and grammatical errors. Eat is sometimes spelled as each, periods are sometimes placed where commas were clearly intended to be, and various errors of this sort pervade. Proofreaders must have been lacking. This poses only on occasional annoyance, however, and should not stop you from reading this book, especially when it happens to be the only edition on the market today.

In short, you would do well to seek out this hidden jewel, and especially now, when the weather grows sweltering to complement the "prickly heat" of the novel's setting.

The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates (Signet Classics)
The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates (Signet Classics)
by Ralph Louis Ketcham
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.95
133 used & new from $0.99

82 of 84 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great But Incomplete, March 4, 2007
Everyone is probably familiar with what the Anti-Federalist papers are, and the other reviews do a great job of explaining this aspect for those who aren't, so there is no great need to do it again. Needless to say, familiarity with the basic Anti-Federalist arguments and their general themes is essential to understanding the foundation from which the Constitution arose and the twists its historical development would undertake. Believe it or not, but strains of Anti-Federalism are apparent even in today's politics, like the arguments for state power found in debates about topics like abortion or gay-marriage.

The biggest question to ask before buying this book, then, isn't why the information is important, but why you should pay money for something that can be found for free online. There are several reasons, for which I give this edition 4 stars:

First, it is an accompaniment to the Signet Classics edition of the Federalist Papers, and has a variety of cross-references to it. If you have both, it makes the search for certain topics and both sides' arguments in its regard much easier.

Second, it has a great introduction. The problem with approaching the Anti-Federalists without any editorial priming beforehand (whether from an introduction, a class, or both) is that one becomes liable to think of the group as nothing but a rag-tag group of guys with as many different opinions as there are men professing them, whose only point of unity is their opposition to Federalism. Their negative name--the "Anti-"Federalists--implies this, after all, and Madison himself tries to play off this point in one of his papers. The masterful introduction tries to prevent this, by expounding on the fundamental, unifying vision of the Federalists, the Anti-Federalists, and exactly how the two differed.

Lastly, there is a variety of tables of ideas that make finding specific points of opposition to specific topics that much easier.

For these three reasons, on top of the simple fact that it groups together all the scattered Anti-Federalist essays (making it more likely that you will actually read them), I believe this book is worth the $8 that it costs today.

It does have some issues, however. First, the paper quality is the same as of the Federalist Papers edition I reviewed before, with the same associated defect of leaving ink blotches behind on your finger. For some reason, it actually leaves less ink than the Federalist Papers, but the pulpy texture is still unpleasant. Second, and most important, is the relatively sparsity of the essays included. As it is, if you take a class that touches on this topic, you will invariably end up having to find several essays online that were not included into this edition. There presently seems to be no medium alternative between buying a sparse edition like this and a full anthology that can cost into the thousands of dollars, however, so you're not likely to find anything better.

Dream Essentials Sweet DreamsTM Contoured Sleep Mask with Earplugs and Carry Pouch, Black
Dream Essentials Sweet DreamsTM Contoured Sleep Mask with Earplugs and Carry Pouch, Black
Offered by Dream Essentials
Price: $9.95
3 used & new from $9.95

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great For Those With Nocturnal Roomies, March 4, 2007
I bought this because I couldn't tolerate trying to fall asleep while my roommate kept working or chatting online with his table lamp on. I'm happy to say this mask did the trick quite well.

The pros are that the mask blocks the vast majority of the light, that it is quite soft, that it is rather cheap, that it comes with a free pair of ear plugs, and that the eye bulges do indeed help out as you don't feel any pressure on your eyes (and can actually open and close them fairly comfortably).

The negative aspects are that it doesn't block all the light--there is a crack of space at the bottom where your nose is, through which you can see light if your open your eyes, though it's not bothersome at all when your eyes are closed--, that the string going around your head can be uncomfortable on your ears if resting against them, and that, despite being soft, the mask is still slightly uncomfortable to the face by the mere fact that it is resting there.

All of the above issues are common to all masks, and I can't imagine a way that they could be alleviated. The discomfort to the ears can be fixed by pushing the strap up a little, while the discomfort to your face is small enough to be easily ignored.

I would also like to say that the earplugs are a great gift to through into the package. They're not strong enough to block out the noise of an alarm clock (if you manage to keep them from falling out of your ear at some point during the night after tossing and turning in the first place), but do manage to keep you from hearing someone typing on the keyboard or rolling around his bed.

Summarily, this package has done a great service for me, and I can't really imagine a way of improving upon it (aside from lowering the delivery charge).

America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 with Poster (4th Edition)
America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 with Poster (4th Edition)
by George C. Herring
Edition: Paperback
Price: $56.09
67 used & new from $6.18

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Account of American Grand Strategy in Vietnam, February 3, 2007
Like many people here, I read this book for a college class concerned with providing an explanation of the numerous questions that arise whenever one ponders America in Vietnam, like why it was there, and why it lost. Any student or curious reader should find this work a great tool for this task.

The book is fairly short, numbering less than 400 pages. By that restraint alone, no reader should expect a thorough, voluminous exposition on every aspect of the war akin to Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, or a textbook for that matter. It's a piece on political history with a general thesis, numerous recurring themes, and plenty of information to back everything up.

The thesis is that the containment strategy America adopted around the Korean War, and its perceiving Vietnam as a strategic door to all of Southeast Asia, prevented each successive president from leaving Vietnam to the wolves and forced each one to progressively raise American stakes n the region. Numerous other variables--some consistent to all presidencies, like fear of facing the same political bloodletting as Truman got over "losing" China in 1949; some specific to the president, like JFK's need to take a stand somewhere after negotiating on Laos, and after the Berlin wall was erected--accompanied this grand one, but the central theme of this book draws a vivid picture of proud Cold Warriors refusing to back down and unwilling to commit entirely, hoping to bluff out an enemy who had already gone all in.

Of course, because it is a work with a point to prove rather than a huge collection of unfiltered facts, the reader must be wary of buying into Herring's perspective without private review of his logic. That's true for every book of this sort, however, and for what it's worth, Herring makes a very convincing case.

On the technical side of things, this book could have done more to centralize its presentation of thematic events. Since the author shifts between historical narrative and analysis, the latter could have summaries and reminders of recurring concepts on the margins. As it is, the reader has to discover themes like "US arrogance" or "governmental deception" by himself and note their recurrence without any assistance from Herring. Doing this isn't the standard for most books, though (the only one I can think off that does this is Landmark Thucydides), I can't criticize the book for not following up on these suggestions.

No Title Available

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As Everyone Else Has Said, January 21, 2007
As the other two reviews say, this is a great case if you have a lot of CDs and DVDs and not enough room to keep them in their jewel cases.

The benefits are its cloth container, the soft sheets for the CD pockets, and its big rings. There is plenty of room to add more sheets in, if you run out of space.

The cons include its slightly steep price (I'd consider its real value to be five bucks cheaper), the fact that the discs do slide out a little when using the spine handle, the absence of a button to open the rings (maybe there is one, but I can't find it), and the rectangular nature of the rings. The last trait adds more space for additional sheets, I guess, but it makes flipping the sheets more awkward. You really will have to guide the sheets vertically and then horizontally, although you can definitely do it with more than one at a time.

In all, it's a good container for all your movies and music, but not a perfect one. Since I've never seen anything that does the job better, I give it four stars.

Monster iCarPlay Wireless Plus FM Transmitter/Charger for iPod
Monster iCarPlay Wireless Plus FM Transmitter/Charger for iPod
Offered by VSonstrade
Price: $34.00
24 used & new from $6.95

138 of 141 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Does Well If You Have No Alternative, January 16, 2007
As someone else already noted, there are better methods of listening to your MP3 player in your car, such as through the tape transmitter. For those of us who don't have it, though, this is a sufficiently apt substitute.

First, whoever said that there are 8 presets must be thinking of some other device. You only have 3 presets here, but you define them yourself from the whole FM range, an you can always deviate from them. Hence, this thing has an advantage over, say, the iTrip because you can easily surf between three stations if the one you're listening to now starts getting static.

Second, I find it powerful enough in most situations. I live in Boston, and drive around it often enough. Downtown, most stations will give you a small amount of interference, and that is probably the best you will get. Drive around the suburbs, though, and you can easily find around 3 stations that will play almost as well as your CD player in terms of quality.

The secret to this is to set your iPod volume somewhere around the middle to upper two-thirds of its capacity. If you set it to the maximum, all bass lines will be completely distorted. Set it to the middle, though, and you'll have rather crisp audio, although you will have to compensate for the lost volume by turning up the car radio. Hardly anything to complain about, though.

My two complaints with this device are these:

First, the marked price is far too high. You can find a much cheaper device on eBay, or even in the Amazon marketplace. I paid around $20 for it, plus delivery.

Second, some types of music sound distorted even at medium volumes on a lot of the stations. I have in mind the Waltz of the Snowflakes from the Nutcracker when I write this. Beside it, just about every song I played sounded clean, although sometimes a given station would encounter pockets of interference.

Given that a more powerful transmitter would probably end up messing up the radio reception of neighboring cars, I'm prone to think that this is an inherent problem to all FM transmitters. I think this is one of the better ones, though, because of its preset options, its ability to scan the whole FM range, the fact that it doesn't drain your iPod's battery, and the fact that you can manipulate your iPod volume on it for better performance. The iTrip can't do three of these. You will, of course, have to sit down in your car and look for usable stations manually, .2 by .2, but ultimately, and if you have no other option available, I think you will find this device to do a good job. Just do yourself a favor, and find a cheaper source.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 25, 2009 3:58 PM PDT

HP PSC 1410 All-in-One Printer (Q7290A#ABA)
HP PSC 1410 All-in-One Printer (Q7290A#ABA)
Offered by Shopping_Service_onLine
Price: $219.99
6 used & new from $24.95

3.0 out of 5 stars Not Worth The Money, January 13, 2007
I got this for free with my notebook.

As far as a free printer goes, you really can't expect much more. The colors are vibrant enough, and it prints pretty fast. Haven't had any paper jams. The scanner is of fairly high quality as well.

However, it does eat up ink a good lot. As a student who has to print out lots of documents for his classes, I just use the college library printers by now, as I doubt this ol' thing could keep enough black ink to last more than 100 pages.

Hence, if you're going to use this as your primary printer for all your daily duties, I'd advise you to find a laser printer instead, as those are far more economic on the ink. Given that this model is such an ink-hog, I certainly wouldn't advise buying it for the 80-odd dollars that it costs.

Classic Albums: The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon
Classic Albums: The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon
DVD ~ Pink Floyd
Price: $10.78
85 used & new from $2.04

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great, If Short, Documentary, January 13, 2007
As most everyone has said, this is a very informative and entertaining documentary on the making of Dark Side of the Moon. What it does is basically interview Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Rick Wright, and several other people, throw these alongside of in-studio glimpses into how certain fragments of certain songs were created, and actual segments from the songs. Each chapter deals either with Pink Floyd's development after Syd Barrett but before DSOTM, or with a song from the album.

The bonus features are great, but given the short running time of the actual presentation, they really aren't bonus at all but simply portions of the documentary categorized into a different section. Some of them, like "Waters' World View" don't fit into the structure of the actual presentation, but are still very good to listen to for any Pink Floyd fan.

This documentary, then, despite its shortness, answers pretty much every question you could have about the album, and plenty of stuff you probably never figured to ask. Ever wonder why the pyramid was chosen as the symbol? Or where they got those voices at the beginning and end of the album? It's all in here.

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