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Joe Kenney "buttergun" RSS Feed (Dallas, TX)

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P90X DVD Workout - Base Kit
P90X DVD Workout - Base Kit
Offered by Beachbody
Price: $139.80

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yet another P90X success story...., April 29, 2010
I've worked out at least 5 days a week for the past 15 years, trying a variety of routines. P90X is by far the best and most challenging routine I have ever attempted. Anyone looking to burn excess fat and gain lean muscle need look no further -- it is all right here.

My advice is to take your time the first few weeks. P90X sells itself as a "90-day" program, but the uber-fit people you see in the infomercials have actually gone through the program a few times. Myself, I've done the program once and though I've seen definite changes (especially in my arms, shoulders, and calves), I'm not at the "Bruce Lee-fit" level of the program-graduates shown in those infomercials. At least not yet! I've now started the program again...and I can only say it continues to be challenging and rewarding. So then this is a justified expense, as P90X isn't a one-time thing.

Each of the main workouts is pretty hard. I'd say the Week 1 "Chest and Back" workout is the toughest. There is a lot of variety in each; it's a shame there's only one Leg workout...especially given that you do it every week of the program. My only complaint is the cardio portion of P90X. Simply put, I found none of them challenging. Except for Plyometrics, of course! That is by far the BEST cardio exercise ever. Which just makes it all the more unfortunate that the others (ie CardioX, KenpoX) are so basic. And, really, easy. Even YogaX doesn't do much for me...and this program eats up enough of your time already. Who has time for YogaX's 90-minute workout? Instead of this and the other lackluster cardio routines, I did Billy Blanks's "Taebo Get Ripped Advanced" (do NOT knock it until you've tried it...it's the only cardio workout that comes close to Plyometrics).

Speaking of enthusiastic hosts, Tony Horton is a "hoot," as the natives say down here in Texas. Personally I enjoy his constant dialog; it floors me that the man can rattle on WHILE he's performing such strenuous routines. It does get a bit tricky, though; several times he's caused me to laugh while I'm doing an already-dangerous exercise. Sometimes you have to tune him out or he might cause you to laugh, you might drop your weight, and great injury might ensue... I also appreciate how completely obsessed he is with Dreya Webber (who appears in a few workouts with him, most notably the "Legs & Back" routine); her husband actually produced the music for P90X, so it becomes a strange sort of love-triangle, with Dreya's husband doing the music, Dreya sucking up to Tony on-camera (watch how she only improves her form WHEN Tony's looking at her), and Tony basically fawning over her.

So then, here you have a demanding but rewarding fitness program which will certainly give you results (there's no way you WON'T get results if you go through this program), plus it gives you some comedic value. My only complaint, again, is the lack of good cardio programs...but since it DOES have Plyometrics I still say it's a solid 5 stars.


Nonnos: Dionysiaca, Volume I, Books 1-15 (Loeb Classical Library No. 344)
Nonnos: Dionysiaca, Volume I, Books 1-15 (Loeb Classical Library No. 344)
by Nonnos
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.26
28 used & new from $20.28

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dionysiaca Volume 1 -- The Forgotten Epic of Late Antiquity, March 11, 2010
This is the longest surviving epic from Antiquity, longer even than the Iliad and the Odyssey, but it's been forgotten. And this is the only English language translation currently available - itself nearly seventy years old. Why the Dionysiaca (aka "The Story of Dionysos") is overlooked is a mystery, as it's a hallucinogenic, kaleidoscopic, psychedelic trip through the Greek mythos, complete with the sex, violence, and usual acts of rape, bestiality, and general unpleasantness that the Greek gods were known for. And even this translation, published by WHD Rouse in 1940, is not so bad - though it's been split into 3 fat volumes, with the Greek original on the facing pages, and Rouse's translation is in prose rather than the original verse.

Yes, an encyclopedic tale of Dionysos, written in the same poetic structure as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, so large and stuffed with stories that the titular god doesn't even appear until Book 6. And get this - it was written in the Fifth Century CE! This is enough of a hook to get anyone interested. Who could believe that an epic about the "pagan" gods would be written a hundred years (or more) after Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity? The Dionysiaca was written even after the Emperor Julian was murdered - Julian the so-called "Apostate," Constantine's nephew, who attempted to bring back the ancient gods and depose Christianity.

The story of its author is just as compelling. Story? Actually nothing is known about Nonnos of Panopolis. Only that - get this - the only other work of his handed down to us is a "Paraphrase" of the Gospel of John. Sort of a Homeric take on John, but still, Christian-themed and biased. Scholars long supposed that Nonnos wrote the Dionysiaca early in life, and his "Paraphrase" later, once he'd converted to Christianity. But recent scholarship reveals that the "Paraphrase" was actually written first; internal clues point to the fact that it was turned out by a younger pen, by a poet in the early stages of his craft, with all of the errors and internal inconsistencies such an early going would entail. The Dionysiaca however retains its form throughout its meaty 48 Books - a daunting feat for any poet, not the least a first-timer.

So, it now seems that Nonnos, a Greek living in the Hellenized Egyptian city of Panopolis around 400 CE (or even later), took up the task of restoring the ancient epics of Greece. Epics ancient even to him - Nonnos himself was writing a thousand years after the time in which Homer lived. Why did he do it? How could anyone endeavor to undertake what must have been a decades-long pursuit about gods that were now basically illegal? Gods who were spurned by the new Christian majority? Gods whose temples were being razed right around the time Nonnos was taking his stylus in hand? Again, nothing is known. Nonnos is an enigma, a cipher, and so the reader is free to imagine.

I like to think of Nonnos as the Emperor Julian of poetry; that is, if Julian had gone into literature rather than warfare. And like Julian it seems obvious that Nonnos was raised Christian (at least, there's no way he could've avoided the religion) but later rejected it - because the Dionysiaca does not feature a single word about Jesus. Good for you, Nonnos! I also like to think that perhaps Nonnos attended a Dionysian festival (aka a Bacchanalia) shortly before they were banned, drank some of the potent wine these celebrations were known for, and, in a psychedelic flash of insight, the trap door of Nonnos' mind slammed open and he realized the "True Doctrine" (re Celsus). Gone were the Christian pretensions of his "Paraphrase;" Nonnos would now devote his life to an epic of the true gods, the gods of the ancients. And what god to better celebrate than Dionysos, a god long favored in Panopolis, a god who so challenged Christianity that it seems the Gospel of John was partly written to "prove" that Jesus was the more powerful of the two (re: "The Gospel of John: A Commentary" by Rudolf Bultmann)?

The Dionysiaca is most comparable to Ovid's Metamorphoses. But whereas the Metamorphoses jumps from story to story, spending little time fleshing any of them out, Nonnos takes his time building up and drawing out his scenes. An example - Ovid covers the battle between Zeus and the Titan Typhoeus in a few scant lines. Nonnos plays the confrontation out into two entire books. It's for this reason that I actually prefer the Dionysiaca to the Metamorphoses.

Volume 1 contains Books 1 to 15. The sweep is overwhelming -- we go from the origin of the gods to a war amongst them, with humans suffering the fallout. Dionysos doesn't appear until Book 6 but it turns out to be a different Dionysos; there were two myths of the god, and Nonnos covers them both. Indeed, this entire epic comes off like a hagiography of Dionysos, and if some new cult to the god were to spring up, they'd need look no further for their Bible. The volume gradually builds to a war Dionysos wages against India, and there it ends. Nearly six hundred pages and you've still got two more volumes to go. Now THAT'S an epic!

"Rouse is not universally praised," wrote Andrew Dalby in the Notes of his "Bacchus: A Biography," a book incidentally which leans heavily on the Dionysiaca. I myself have a soft spot for Rouse; his prose translation of the Iliad and the Odyssey were the first ones I read. It's true, his translation shorns the Homeric verse of Nonnos' original Greek, reducing it all to a sort of "novel." But beggars can't be chosers; there's no other English translation of the Dionysiaca out there. On the positive side, Rouse strives to lend his prose a "poetic" feel; he creates words in what I swear is inspiration from Joyce's "Ulysses" in that they are certainly Joycean. He also provides copious footnotes (some of which snarkily poke fun at Nonnos' grand ambitions - ambitions which sometimes fall flat), explaining the multivarious gods and myths Nonnos casually mentions, assuming his reader is well-versed in said gods and myths. The vast majority of us, these centuries later, are not. Rouse, luckily for us, was. Nonnos also likes to show off his knowledge of astrology; though, as Rouse explains in his notes, Nonnos is often wrong. So you have to take it in stride - though there are many negatives to Rouse's translation, I think the positives outweigh them. And until a modern translator takes up the task (I'd nominate Burton Raffel or Stanley Lombardo), this is all we have.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 28, 2013 8:35 AM PST


The Palm Beach Story
The Palm Beach Story
DVD ~ Claudette Colbert
Offered by Mediaflix
Price: $7.99
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Palm Beach Story: Madcap, Surreal Classic, December 15, 2009
This review is from: The Palm Beach Story (DVD)
A definite, certifiable classic. Impressed with writer/director Preston Sturges's 1941 film "Sullivan's Travels," Claudette Colbert - then at the height of her fame - told Sturges that she was interested in working with him. In response Sturges wrote The Palm Beach Story for her, thus giving Colbert one of her most popular roles ever - a movie in its day that was, finally, as big a hit as her 1934 turn in "It Happened One Night."

In a way Colbert's character here, Gerry Jeffers, is a twisted funhouse reflection of her character Eve Peabody from the 1939 classic "Midnight" (a movie, by the way, which did not receive the instant acclaim Palm Beach Story did, and only gathered it over the ensuing decades). But whereas Eve Peabody was a social-climber only in that she scampered from one locale to the next, searching without realization for Mr. Perfect (who somehow turned out to be...Don Ameche!!), Gerry is a manipulative schemer who just wants a better life for herself. She leaves her hardworking but financially-strapped husband (Joel McCrea, as good as ever) because she wants to live in opulence, opulence he can't provide. So what that she loves him, and that he loves her? Gerry leaves him anyway. She wants the life he can't provide. Indeed, the character is the most base Colbert ever played, right there alongside her turn as Empress Poppaea, from the 1932 DeMille extravaganza "The Sign of the Cross." Only The Palm Beach Story is played as a comedy, and with her snappy banter and cute expressions, you never realize that Gerry's as soulless and calculative as Nero's empress.

But anyway - this is a rip-roaring movie that doesn't let up from the opening to the ending credits. Indeed, the opening credits themselves are a delight - a surreal, fast-paced montage of unexplained situations...a montage that goes unexplained throughout the course of the ensuing film, only to be rekindled at the very end, in one of the greatest "a ha - so THAT'S what that was all about!" moments in film history. The entirety of The Palm Beach Story is like this. While the Second World War rages (unmentioned) in Europe and Asia, the characters in this wacky film bumble about in a world ungrounded in reality. The clues are everywhere - for example, what city in the world would buy, let alone build, Joel McCrea's "steel hammock" airstrip landing? But this is just one example of the movie's irreverence. Sturges excelled in madcappery; he could write witty barbs as good as Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, but he also gelded the dialog with hijinks to match. The Palm Beach Story is a spoof of the screwball comedies that were so popular at the time. Whereas those movies featured unexpected and unexplained coincidences in an otherwise "normal" world, The Palm Beach Story is twisted to the core. Twisted in a wonderful way.

So, Gerry leaves husband Tom (McCrea) and bounds off for Palm Beach, Florida, where she can get a quickie divorce. (How much simpler it is these days, when one can visit a simple website and do the same thing.) Along the way she encounters a trainful of drunk, shotgun-wielding club-members, a mega-wealthy bachelor (Rudy Vallee) and his jet-setting sister (Mary Astor), and an incredibly annoying foreigner of uncertain background who speaks an uncertain language (Sig Arno). And along the way she endures a host of baffling, surreal, and hilarious experiences. At the same time husband Tom sets out after her - his ticket paid for by a wealthy octogenarian who has made his millions selling hot dogs, of course. It all builds into a sequence of characters pretending to be someone they aren't, culminating in one of the most staggering, "HUH?" climaxes of all time. The first time you watch this movie you'll be shaking your head and rubbing your eyes when the end credits roll, slackjawed by the unexpected ending - unexpected AND unexplained, that is, until you recall the dizzy flurry of those opening credits, ninety minutes ago.

We should all be glad Colbert enjoyed "Sullivan's Travels" and let her opinions be known to Sturges. If not, The Palm Beach Story likely wouldn't have happened; Sturges wrote the film specifically with Colbert in mind. And she delivers in spades; the lady never, not even once, gave a bad performance. She was always good, usually great, and here she's fantastic. As mentioned, you don't even realize how heartless her character is, so delightful and personable is Colbert. And yet Gerry Jeffers is the kind of woman who would giggle as she carved the heart out of your chest. That Colbert made the character so likeable (indeed, you fall in love with her just as much as do McCrea and Vallee's characters) is just one more example of how gifted an actress Colbert was.

But then, everyone's at the top of their game in The Palm Beach Story. McCrea, fresh from "Sullivan's Travels," is dashing and handsome; it's hard to believe this movie was made a decade after "The Most Dangerous Game," as he looks nearly the same here. Rudy Vallee excels as a mega-wealthy Rockefeller-type who regardless is as naïve as a newborn. And Mary Astor, as usual, turns in a delightful performance. The rest of the cast is composed of the usual Sturges crew, a host of memorable faces and memorable characters. Sturges himself - well, it goes without saying. He was at the pinnacle of his powers, and it's incredible that he not only wrote such an entertaining piece of cinema, but that he directed it with such panache.

The DVD presents a very nice package - both audio and video are sharp. There isn't much grain and the picture appears to be restored. Unfortunately there are no extras - no commentaries, no trailers. But the film itself justifies the price of admission - buy it, watch it, watch it again. Who knows? Maybe on your tenth viewing you'll be able to figure out who's who in the opening credits, and maybe even discern the meaning behind those veiled looks the characters cast from one to another in the final shot of the film (slight spoiler warning: it's possible the wrong twin married the wrong twin!).


Midnight (Universal Cinema Classics)
Midnight (Universal Cinema Classics)
DVD ~ Claudette Colbert
Price: $9.12
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Screwball Classic in a Glossy, Artificial Paris, December 15, 2009
It's lauded as a classic these days, but I didn't much like Midnight the first time I viewed it. Don't get me wrong - I'm obsessed with Claudette Colbert, and I thought she gave a great performance (but then again when doesn't she?). I also thought the Charles Brackett/Billy Wilder screenplay was as sharply humorous as any of their others from the period, and Mitchell Leisen's directing as always delivered the requisite faux-Lubitsch I expected of him. I didn't even mind John Barrymore quite obviously reading his hidden cue cards (notice how his bleary eyes roam about the set while he speaks, momentarily fixing on something - you can even see his eyes scan the dialog at certain points). I just felt that the film's two plots didn't fully gel - I wanted the movie to either stick with the Ameche/Colbert romance or just play out the "steal away the lover of Barrymore's wife" bit to its full.

But on my second viewing it all fell together. The budding Colbert/Ameche romance, the elaborate courtroom finale, even the way the movie ends a bit sooner than it should. The film moves at a snappy pace, all one-liners and witty barbs and glamorous sets. Colbert flits through the first half of the movie in a luminous evening gown which at times shines so bright it threatens to overwhelm the camera. And the artificial Paris is exquisite. I love the artifice of old movies. Rather than shoot on location in Paris they'd just build a replica of the city on the studio lot. Cynics today claim "the sets look like sets" but I say that's part of the charm of old films - the artificial worlds these characters inhabit only serve to heighten the fairy tale aspect of the movies themselves.

And Midnight is a 1939 fairy tale for sure, loosely based around Cinderella: Colbert is a fast-talking American without a red cent to her name, looking for a job in Paris. Instead she meets and quickly falls for cab-driving Don Ameche. Soon though she flees, not wanting to delve into another affair, and finds herself swept into the high society world of millionaire John Barrymore, who at length employs Colbert to pose as a Baroness. Her mission is to seduce the wealthy man who cuckolds Barrymore, and she carries it out with aplomb. This convoluted plot actually develops organically, and the movie rolls along full steam ahead. It's entertaining throughout, not to mention hilarious. And most importantly it rewards multiple viewings.

Those who enjoy this film are encouraged to seek out The Claudette Colbert boxset, which features her 1938 movie "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife." This Ernst Lubitsch-directed, Gary Cooper-costarring film is very much along the lines of Midnight; it's even written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, the same pair who wrote Midnight (as well as Colbert's 1940 "Arise My Love," a movie yet to be released on DVD but one Colbert claimed was her favorite of her own films). "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" has for whatever reason been assailed over the decades while Midnight has been praised, but I actually prefer it - indeed, I'd say it's Colbert's best screwball comedy, even considering "It Happened One Night."

The DVD for Midnight includes the original trailer, which does a wonderful job conveying the film's "Cinderella" theme. The movie's picture quality is mostly fine, if a bit grainy, but I've noticed that's pretty common in most classic film DVDs. (Strange when you consider that most of these same films, when broadcast on cable network TCM, are noticeably free of grain.)


Pre-Code Hollywood Collection (The Cheat / Merrily We Go to Hell / Hot Saturday / Torch Singer / Murder at the Vanities / Search for Beauty) (Universal Backlot Series)
Pre-Code Hollywood Collection (The Cheat / Merrily We Go to Hell / Hot Saturday / Torch Singer / Murder at the Vanities / Search for Beauty) (Universal Backlot Series)
DVD ~ Cary Grant
Offered by discountedmediaoutlet
Price: $17.42
16 used & new from $17.25

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Universal's Pre-Code Hollywood Collection: Hopefully The First Of Many More, November 24, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Universal owns a vast catalog of Pre-Code movies, many of which the studio purchased in the 1970s from Paramount; I hope this boxset collection is the first of many. Offering six movies on three DVDs, the set doesn't feature the most outrageous or even the most memorable of Pre-Code Hollywood, but it's a start. Maybe if enough of us buy a copy Universal will take notice and continue releasing more...

Image-wise the movies look relatively good. Grain is as always evident, but each of these movies is over seventy years old. There are no commentaries or special features, which is a shame. It appears to my untrained eye that these films have been somewhat restored; there's none of that subrate quality one will find on low-tier label releases (I'm looking at YOU, Alpha Video!). For some odd reason the set comes with a pamphlet reprinting the Production Code, the document which neutered the industry. Are we supposed to burn it in rage?

The movies:

The Cheat (1931): Tallulah Bankhead plays a troublesome wife with dreams of glamorous living. Frustrated with her husband's interminable promise that he's soon to make a windfall, she gets mixed up with a globetrotting millionaire who takes a shine to her. Pretty soon it's "Indecent Proposal" six decades early; the globetrotter offers Tallulah money but it's obvious what he expects in return. A hammy melodrama, what most impressed me about The Cheat were the sets, which combine `30s art deco with a Hollywood idea of "oriental." There's nothing particularly "Pre-Code" here. Other than the expectation placed upon Tallulah in return for the money, nothing really happens - except for an unexpected scene in which someone gets branded!

Merrily We Go To Hell (1932): Fredric March plays an upcoming playwright with one heck of a drinking problem. The movie attempts to be a social relevance type of thing, warning of the dangers of alcoholism, yet it can't help but revel in the glamour of high-society partying, complete with tuxedoed drinkers and opulent art deco surroundings. If anything the movie made me WANT to drink. March is good in the role. Sometimes he comes off as too stiff but here he gets into the role, he's fluid with it. In a drunken blur he meets a girl, courts her, and the two get married. Soon after March finds success, but he also runs into an old flame. Blossom rekindles despite his marriage - Pre-Code material for sure, as March and his wife develop an open relationship. The whole thing comes off like some "Ice Storm" sort of 1970s free love/open couples affair, only with booze instead of pot. And the factor which saves their relationship is a depressing event which itself wouldn't be allowed in a Hollywood film, Post-Code.

Hot Saturday (1932): No matter how long I kept watching this movie, it just wouldn't end. There are a bujillion Pre-Code movies that could've been included here instead of this one. But this is what we've been handed: a tedious movie only brightened by Cary Grant's small role. A gaggle of twentysomethings plan a huge weekend party, complete with bootleg booze. Grant plays the dapper gadabout who hosts the party. Our heroine swoons for him, spends most of the night mooning over the lake with him - because he's just a nice guy after all. But next day the lie gets out via her jilted beau that our girl is a floozy. Her image is bashed by an outraged town and her parents threaten to kick her out. Will she find redemption? Pre-Code material: two girls fight over a pair of underwear, with one of them actually pulling it off of the other.

Torch Singer (1933): Oh, how I adore this movie. And what's funny is I'm so completely outside its target audience. For this is a weepy, soapy, maudlin melodrama, one designed and aimed like a rocket for the hearts of a female audience. It's about a single mother forced to give up her child - and who, through various soap-operatic events, goes on to become a torch singer, a children's radio show host, and finally an obsessed seeker of her abandoned child. And why do I adore this movie? Two words: Claudette Colbert. Ricardo Cortez, her co-star in this, was quoted in Lawrence Quirk's 1985 Claudette bio as saying that the Torch Singer was only good because Claudette "willed it." A true and knowing statement; if you've ever wanted to witness a star carrying a picture on her back, then this is it. I'm positive I wouldn't even like this movie if it wasn't for Claudette. But yet I've watched it three times already. Claudette shows off her entire range here: from comedy to pathos. In her "torch singer" faze she vamps it up with delight, singing in key and spinning out one-liners with aplomb. Then when she moves into her "children's radio show host" she's utterly in the moment; there's a scene where you can witness the realization cross her face - that as she delivers this dialog over the airwaves, her abandoned daughter might be somewhere out there, listening. It's a heartbreaking moment. She even gets to play a "down and out" angle; convinced she'll never find her daughter, Claudette escapes to a bar where she drinks herself into a mascara-streaked stupor, a mound of cigarette butts piled beside her lolling head. My definite favorite movie of the collection. And possibly the most Pre-Code movie here, even though it doesn't show anything naughty. Yet Claudette plays an unwed mother and while in her "torch singer" incarnation she acquires a definite "reputation" - two factors at least which would be verboten in Hollywood just a year later. And finally, I find myself humming Claudette's theme song "Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Love" at the oddest times.

Murder at the Vanities (1934): Mitchell Liesen's first sole credit as director; previous to this he'd directed (without credit) some of DeMille's 1932 "The Sign of the Cross" and had co-directed the forgotten Claudette Colbert/Fredric March 1933 film "Tonight Is Ours." A longtime DeMille assistant with a thorough experience in set and costume design, Liesen handles his first assignment with the assured skill of an old pro. The only problem, for me at least, is that the movie's just not very good. For one, it's a musical, and I've never liked musicals. Two, the plot just never gets moving, far as I'm concerned. It's all about a murder which occurs backstage during a musical revue; Victor McLaglen, of all people, plays the inspector who just happens to be in the audience and so investigates the crime. What makes the movie Pre-Code is the flesh-revealing costumes the chorines wear. In the midst of opulent and ornate musical numbers, attractive young women will materialize from the scenery in the skimpiest of costumes. In one sequence a group of them emerge from colossal flowers, topless, covering their breasts with their hands. None of this would be allowed once the Code was enforced. To add gravy there's another number all about marijuana. But despite all the topless, marijuana-praising wackiness there's something about the movie that just bores me. I intend to rewatch it someday soon to see if my feelings for it have improved.

Search for Beauty (1934): A movie calculated to exploit all those elements we seek in Pre-Code cinema. Nudity, unsavory characters, wanton attitudes: all are here in this grubby little gem. My man Larry "Buster" Crabbe appears in his first starring role, a year out from the first "Flash Gordon" serial and with his natural brown hair. We also get, in a marvelously hammy role, Robert Armstrong - "King Kong's" Carl Denham himself. The plot revolves around Armstrong's plan to cater to the burgeoning "raincoat" crowd by publishing a fitness magazine, one which will become more titilating with each issue. In other words, a respectable skin rag. Crabbe's hired on as an Olympic athlete who will lend the magazine some respectability. Only, he soon gets wind of the publisher's exploitative plans and does his best to prevent the ruining of his image. But yes, it's a comedy film - one which peeks into a men's locker room and focuses on alluring women in the midst of form-revealing stretches and workouts. But it's not a particularly funny or memorable comedy, and seems to exist only to exploit those very same elements which its sordid main characters seek to exploit in their magazine.

All in all, six forgotten films from the era in which Hollywood knew no boundaries. For myself I only enjoyed one of these movies enough to watch it multiple times - Torch Singer, of course. But there is a plethora of unreleased Pre-Code material in Universal's vaults. So let's hope they release another Pre-Code boxset - one with a better selection of films.


The Claudette Colbert Collection (Three-Cornered Moon / Maid of Salem /  I Met Him in Paris / Bluebeard's Eighth Wife / No Time for Love / The Egg and I)
The Claudette Colbert Collection (Three-Cornered Moon / Maid of Salem / I Met Him in Paris / Bluebeard's Eighth Wife / No Time for Love / The Egg and I)
DVD ~ Claudette Colbert
Offered by MightySilver
Price: $33.28
12 used & new from $28.42

40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Claudette Colbert Collection -- Six Classic Films, November 24, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I'm a diehard Claudette Colbert fan - she's my favorite actress by far, and I've seen many of her sixty-plus movies. This boxset has been a long time coming; I can only hope more are on the way. Featuring six films spanning the years 1933-1947, the set focuses on comedy - a Colbert specialty. The thing about Claudette was that she was good no matter the quality of the film; luckily, all of the movies in this collection are good (and in the case of "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife," phenomenal).

The set comes in an unfolding case, similar to Universal's "Pre-Code Hollywood" collection. The cover's graced by a nice color photo of Claudette, taken from the promo material for 1943's "No Time For Love." The inside features other promotional images from the six movies included here, synopses of each plot, and a brief Claudette bio. Three DVDs, each containing two movies, and the film quality for each is very good. I only detected a bit of grain here and there - understandable for movies seven decades old - and all of the films are uncut. Unfortunately we get no bonus features other than the short "Claudette Colbert: Queen of the Silver Screen," a bio also included on the recent "75th Anniversary" DVD of her 1934 film "Cleopatra."

The movies:

Three-Cornered Moon (1933): The earliest film in the set. A Pre-Code movie, but there's nothing particularly outrageous about it. Misidentified as a "screwball comedy" on the cover, this is more of a "screwball family" sort of thing. It's a plot that would make for great sitcom fodder: Claudette's upper-crust family discovers their well has run dry. All the money's gone, so they must venture from the safe confines of their mansion into the slum of the "real world." Wackiness ensues. Only, it's not so wacky here, because rather than the madcap plot we might expect, the movie focuses more on Claudette's relationship woes. Will she go for the moon-eyed writer who refuses to work and who has spent years working on his novel, or will she go for the no-nonsense doctor who moves into the house to help the family make ends meet? I'm sure you know the answer, but the movie is diverting fun anyway. Plus it has Mary Boland in it, playing Claudette's mother; the two were paired again in 1934 for DeMille's vastly underrated "Four Frightened People." Oh, and for those easily offended - Three-Cornered Moon is guaranteed to offend the viewers of today. How does Claudette's sulky character "wake up" to the real world and decide which of the two men she's in love with? Why, when one of them SLAPS her, of course. And you know you're watching a `30s film when Claudette falls in love with the slapper. Safe to say, that wouldn't fly in the romantic comedies of today!

Maid of Salem (1937): Puritan-era Salem, Massachusetts, where Claudette sticks out like a rose among weeds. Here she's a doe-eyed waif whose everyday life is disrupted by the arrival of Fred MacMurray. He's a carousing rebel who's run afoul of the ruling British in Richmond, Virginia and has taken to the backwoods of Salem to hide. The two meet cute and love blossoms but in a subplot witch-paranoia breaks out; a little girl uses the ol' "she's a witch!" ruse to get revenge on someone. Soon the entire town shudders, with every woman a suspect. At length Claudette herself is accused of witchcraft and she's trussed up, sent to court, and headed for the stake. I've yet to feel the two plots gel; MacMurray's plotline suddenly becomes extraneous, and you wish they'd either skipped him entirely or just skipped the witch stuff and made it more of a romantic comedy set in Puritan times. Also, the finale is incredibly hamfisted, and while I love a happy ending as much as the next guy, it's all about as believable as that episode of "Bewitched" where Sam went back in time to Salem and confronted the Puritan judges.

I Met Him In Paris (1937): A romantic comedy with one misleading title, as Claudette spends about five minutes screentime in Paris, then heads off to Switzerland where she frolics in the snow for the rest of the movie. This is an enjoyable little film, regardless: Claudette's a hardworking bachelorette on vacation from her design job in NYC. She's saved for months to take a cruise to Paris, only to find she's alone with nothing to do once she arrives. (If only I had a time machine!) Soon enough two men enter the fray, expatriate Americans who both have an eye for her. One of them has a pretty big secret which he strives to keep from Claudette, the other acts as an ostensible chaperone. Together the three travel to Switzerland where all sorts of snowboud hijinks ensue. Bobsledding without an anchor, characters struggling to ski, etc. It's all fun, though, mostly due to Claudette - here reunited with Melvyn Douglas, with whom she'd paired in 1935's "She Married Her Boss."

Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938): The gem of the collection. One of my favorite Claudette movies, up there with "It Happened One Night," "The Palm Beach Story," "Cleopatra," and even my favorite of them all, "The Sign of the Cross" (my favorite due to Claudette and Charles Laughton's performances, that is). These days Claudette's 1939 screwball comedy "Midnight" gets the praise, but Bluebeard's Eighth Wife trumps it in every way. Produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch, written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, co-starring Gary Cooper and a very young David Niven, it's a fast-moving, entertaining, hilarious delight from first minute to last. Claudette here is radiant as a French girl who despite herself falls in love with millionaire entrepreneur Cooper, only to discover at their wedding reception that he's been married seven times already. Rather than end the relationship, Claudette agrees to proceed with the marriage only if she will receive $200,000 upon the divorce (previous ex-wives received $150,000). The marriage goes forward and soon they're living separately in opulence - however without consummating the marriage. A sterling example of screwball comedy, the movie's filled with great dialog and snappy scenes. Unusual and memorable characters appear with more frequency than in just about any other movie you could name. My favorite is a soliloquizing boxer who proclaims the merits of knockout-induced astral voyaging. A definite classic, one which for some reason has been panned by critics over the decades. I have no idea what those critics have been smoking; this movie is fantastic.

No Time For Love (1943): Claudette and Fred MacMurray again; this time she's a famous, no-nonsense photographer and he's a blue-collar lummox. After inadvertently causing him injury while photographing the subway tunnel his crew is digging, Claudette takes MacMurray on as an assistant. It's your typical Hollywood mismatch: Claudette the sophisticate, MacMurray the regular joe. And guess which of the two is "bettered" by the other? It's an entertaining movie, though, directed by Mitchell Liesen (who directed Claudette more than any other director), well performed by the entire cast. There's a neat bit early on where Liesen gets surreal, portraying a dream of Claudette's which features MacMurray as Superman, flying to her rescue. Only the film is let down toward the end when we discover MacMurray really IS an educated sort of guy, an amateur inventor who comes up with a money-making method to clear out tunnels for subway lines. The carpet's pulled right out from beneath us and it's as if the preceding hour didn't happen. But still, Claudette and MacMurray have good chemistry and the movie breezes by at a snappy pace.

The Egg And I (1947): Claudette's last "big" movie. Paired with MacMurray again she plays a housewife who finds herself living in the sticks. The `60s sitcom "Green Acres" covered the same territory: inner-city socialites trying to survive in the wild and wooly countryside. Based on a bestselling novel, the film was a huge success, mostly due to the "Ma and Pa Kettle" characters, who continued on in their own films. I'm not a huge fan of the movie though, and I wish something else had been included in its stead - especially when you consider that The Egg And I is already available on DVD as part of the "Ma and Pa Kettle" set. She performs as well as ever but somehow Claudette looks to me too tired in the role; unsurprising, as she was nearly fifty when she made this film, and her screwball-romantic heyday well behind her. If anything this set should have included Claudette's 1940 "Arise My Love" instead of this. Another Mitchell Leisen-directed, Bracket/Wilder-scripted production, Claudette once claimed "Arise" was her own favorite of her films. It's not officially available so this boxset would've made a perfect home for it. Oh well - hopefully next time, right?

So then, a definite recommendation for Claudette Colbert fans, those who enjoy screwball comedy, or anyone into classic Hollywood films. However I wouldn't say this is the best of Claudette on DVD - that honor would go to the "Cecil B. DeMille Boxset," which contains the three movies she made with DeMille, each of which I adore: "The Sign of the Cross," "Cleopatra," and "Four Frightened People." But if you've got that and you want more Claudette (and who doesn't?), then this is the ticket.
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2.0 out of 5 stars The Gladiators, by Martin Saul, June 30, 2009
In 1966 Martin Saul published "The Last Nights of Pompeii," which I reviewed here, a slim book set in the post-Nero era of ancient Rome. In 1967 he followed that up with this novel, just as slim, a tale about a Roman citizen turned gladiator during the era of Nero's rule. I'm guessing Saul was Australian, as the book is copyrighted by some publishing house based in Australia - this Signet paperback was the first and only US edition.

Much like the previous novel, The Gladiators is basically a love story. Scaurius is the main character and narrator, Scandinavian-born but raised Roman. Just returned from warring with Vespasian in the East, Scaurius notes how decadent Rome has become under Nero. Already feeling like an outsider, he gets in more trouble when he comes across a beautiful young woman who happens to be Christian. She's on the run from the Emperor's men; Scaurius of course falls in love with her, and after various mishaps he ends up in prison with a bunch of Christians, awaiting execution in the arena.

Scaurius convinces his captors - including Nero - that he is not a Christian. At length they concede he might be telling the truth, but they keep him locked up. Only now, rather than just becoming lion-bait, he will battle as a gladiator. The second half of the novel is a series of repetitive gladiatorial matches, Scaurius usually up against a lion or three, until the last event, in which he faces off against professional gladiators. It's all very underwhelming, despite the setup.

And again much like the previous novel, The Gladiators is just underdeveloped. Scenes aren't played out to their full potential, and the narrative rushes to the conclusion. Characters as well are underdeveloped; I had a hard time buying Scarius's sudden love for the Christian girl. And speaking of which, whereas "The Last Nights of Pompeii" at least strayed clear of the Christian glurge which permeates most historical fiction set in this era, The Gladiators at times revels in it, with Christians blathering ad naseum about the wonders of their faith and the sinfulness of the Romans. Saul tries to skirt this, with Scaurius not wholly buying into it all, instead coming to a New Age understanding of "one god" who stands behind all religions. I did appreciate how despite all of that, Scaurius still has no qualms with butchering his opponents in the arena and ridicules the Christians for their pacifism.

What's funny is that the novel wraps up with a three page denouement, told in summary, in which Scaurius leaves Rome and ends up in his homeland of Scandinavia, where he eventually founds a royal line. It turns out he's the son of a king, of course, and he names his son Beowulf - the idea being that he is the Beowulf of the saga. This three page denouement is more interesting than the story told in the novel itself! Yet Saul brushes over it as an afterthought; further proof that this novel was underdeveloped.

It seems that Saul didn't write any other novels set in ancient Rome. But after reading this and "The Last Nights of Pompeii," I'm not certain I'd be clamoring to read another one, anyway. There's much better historical trash fiction from this era: Lance Horner's "Rogue Roman" and Jack Oleck's "Messalina" being two good examples. I'd say seek them or maybe some of the others on my "Swords, Sandals, Sex, and Sin" Listmania list before moving on to Martin Saul's two novels.
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The Lost City
The Lost City
DVD ~ William 'Stage' Boyd
Price: $19.93
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lost City: The Most Insane Thing I've Ever Seen, June 15, 2009
This review is from: The Lost City (DVD)
What surprises me most about The Lost City is how much I enjoyed it. This is the first serial I've watched since I was a kid - around 1987 I picked up Volume 1 of the first Buster Crabbe "Flash Gordon" serial and watched it countless times. I knew it was old, I knew it was clunky, but something about it went straight to my juvenile cortex. And that's predominately who serials were created for - kids. So to enjoy these things you have to put yourself somewhat on that level; you have to enjoy the thrills for what they are, you have to take the shoddy production values for what they are. You have to turn off your adult mind. (There is of course another way to enjoy these serials - call over some friends, crack open some beer, and let the comments rip.)

Despite all these caveats, The Lost City actually succeeds as pure entertainment. Produced and released in 1935, it's comprised of twelve cracking "chapters" which run the gamut from flat-out action to Machiavellian intrigue, with enough sexual tension to keep even the ladies interested. (Okay, maybe that last one's stretching it a bit.)

The story: the world's going to pieces, with tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes ripping apart civilization. Electrical engineer Bruce Gordon (played by the square-jawed Kane Richmond) determines that the source of these problems is in an uncharted region of Africa. Putting together a group composed of his comedic-relief pal Jerry (Eddie Fetherston) and a few professors and soldiers, Bruce heads for Africa. There he discovers The Lost City (called such even by its inhabitants), a high-tech fortress built within The Magnetic Mountain. Here evil Zolok (William "Stage" Boyd in a drunken scenery-chewing performance for the ages) helms his "Bride of Frankenstein"-esque electrical equipment - equipment which has been wreaking all of that aforementioned havoc.

Also in the Lost City is Dr. Manyus, Zolok's chief scientist, and Manyus's pretty and vivacious daughter, Natcha (Claudia Dell, apparently the original model for the Columbia Pictures logo, and a lady with one shrill scream). Natcha's of course the damsel in distress; she's a headwrap-loving girl who, it seems, has never seen a white man (and yes, she makes this distinction), other than Appollyn (Jerry Frank), a hulking stooge who serves as Zolok's henchman and who runs about in a pair of lightning bolt-emblazoned tights. There's also a hunchback named "Gorzo" afoot. Oh yes, we are in pure pulp territory here.

After lots of action in The Lost City, with Natcha instantly swooning over Bruce, the story "opens up" with lots more action in the jungle itself; indeed, chapters five through ten don't have much to do with the story proper. Bruce has, after all, come here to stop the electrical shenanigans which have caused the weather disasters back home, but all this is forgotten for half of the serial, with the story instead revolving around a lot of jungle adventure and plotting amongst various characters to get possession of the "zombie giants" created by Zolok and Dr. Manyus.

Zombie giants? Yes; in some of the most bizarre footage I've ever witnessed, Zolok and Dr. Manyus take shrieking African natives, strap them to an electrocution-style slab of metal, and enlarge them into monstrous giants. The actors portraying these giants are truly impressive; Sam Baker, who plays the "lead" zombie, Hugo (!), has to be at least seven feet tall, and he's built like a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker. He and his fellow zombies tower over the other actors, and it's to the producer's credit that Bruce and his comrades are unable to match strength with them.

Zolok has created these giants - incredibly strong but brain-dead - and various personages who happen to be around the Lost City want them for their own purposes. First there's Sheikh Ben Ali (played by Gino Corrado - and let me just say, you haven't lived until you've seen a fake Arabian singing a fake Arabic song), who wants to amass his power with said giants; next there's duplicitous Butterfield (played by Gabby Hayes!), an American adventurer who has no qualms with back-stabbing; and most importantly there's the jaw-dropping Queen Rama, a slave-trader who commands a legion of natives and serving-girls (played by the gorgeous Margot D'Use, who seems to have done little else).

All of these intrigues and double-crosses wind upon themselves to such an extent that I - an adult viewing this serial seventy-four years after it was produced - had a hard time following it all. But man I enjoyed it. There are all these little touches that still have me smiling: the goofy yet endearing way that Natcha grabs hold of Bruce in every single scene they're in together, from clutching his hand to full-on wrapping herself around him; Queen Rama's imperious gestures, which are just pitch perfect; the malevolent-looking devices Zolok has at his disposal, all of which spit out strands of electrify (designed by Ken Strickfaden, who designed the similar special effects for "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein"); the impromptu and irrelevant costume-changes for both Natcha and Queen Rama (the former donning a black pantsuit - complete with headwrap, of course - and the latter donning an outrageous full-body bikini made of a leopard's pelt); how William "Stage" Boyd stumbles through his lines (yet still delivering them with appropriate menace and tyranny), even tripping down a small stairway; the corny dialog Jerry delivers with aplomb (at one point both he and Bruce are trussed up, and while they're struggling to break free of their bonds Jerry observes, "So this is Africa?").

Okay, I've gone this far without mentioning the racist element of The Lost City. It's there, and there's no apologizing for it. Part of me wants to argue that maybe it's there for a reason, the producers parodying the "black fear" of whites, these super-large zombie giants acting as ludicrous extremes of "native savagery." In other words, like the serial equivalent of those frenzied last pages of Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow," where Pynchon goes into this essay about racism and the bizarre fears many whites have of blacks. But I can't make that argument, because it would be moot. The Lost City is a racist film, pure and simple, and I would not advise anyone who is sensitive to issues of race to watch it. For this is a serial in which a character will say "That's a WHITE girl's scream!" before even seeing the screaming girl, a serial where African natives beg to be "turned white" by Dr. Manyus and then jump for joy when they are turned so, a serial where the Africans are treated like wallpaper, less than wallpaper, there just to carry around victims or to bark out bizarre grunts as they attack the white heroes.

It's my understanding that this element of The Lost City was considered outdated by viewers even in 1935 (but that didn't stop it from being a hit). I'll make this clear: I am a white male, and though this element of the serial upset me, it didn't infuriate me. I'm unsure how viewers of other racial backgrounds would view it. Sam Baker (Hugo) himself later apologized to the black community for being in the serial; in one of those heartwarming stories that Hollywood surprisingly hasn't lapped up, Baker became lifelong friends with Jerry Frank (Appollyn), and the two met Martin Luther King, Jr a few decades later. Both apologized to King for having appeared in The Lost City, but MLK told them they had nothing to apologize for.

And he had a point. For despite all of its racist nonsense, The Lost City IS an enjoyable movie, and with a simple brain-change one can overlook the racism, chalk it up as a sign of a forgotten time and move on. Because, just to reiterate, I've never seen anything like this serial. It's more of a comic-book-on-film than ANYTHING Hollywood has released in the past decade, and I plan to watch it again and again.

Please note: there are two DVD releases of The Lost City currently available: there's "Lost City," released in 2005 by Alpha Video, and there's "The Lost City," released in 2006 by VCI Entertainment. The one you want is the one released by VCI Entertainment. Avoid the Alpha Video release. Sure, the Alpha Video DVD is about ten dollars less expensive than the VCI, but you're getting what you pay for; the print used for the Alpha Video DVD is noisy, filled with blemishes, and worst of all cuts off a lot of the print (ie scenes where the actors' heads are missing from the frame). The VCI print is worlds better, but that's to be expected from them; VCI actually takes the time to restore these serials, and they release them in the best format possible. So by all means, get your Lost City fix from VCI.
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Bowl of Cherries: A Novel
Bowl of Cherries: A Novel
by Millard Kaufman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.60
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kaufman's Bowl of Cherries: A novel with spunk and bite, June 9, 2009
I've read this wonderful novel three times - first when it was published, again about half a year ago, and now this third time, and I've found that my enjoyment only increases with each reading. And sadly, it's with this latest reading that I've discovered Millard Kaufman passed away, on March 15, 2009, at 92 years of age. I was floored to read that he's survived by his wife...of 66 years! I mourn his passing, but still...that's one full life, so at least we can be assuaged by the fact that Kaufman left us a lot of great material. (Including a second novel, "Misadventure," which McSweeney's will publish in Fall of 2009. I've been unable to discover what this novel will be about, but you can be sure I'll be pre-ordering it.)

Reviews for this novel are split right down the middle here on Amazon, so I want to set the record straight: Bowl of Cherries is a novel for writers. This is a novel that shows what wonder still survives in the English language. In our increasingly dumbed-down vernacular, here is a book that boldly unleashes a host of ten-dollar words without even recoursing to explaining them; how refreshing it is to be in the hands of an author who trusts in the intelligence of his readers.

The novel's narrated by Judd Breslau, a 14 year-old prodigy who attends Yale, his focus of study an obscure Romantic poet. In the course of his research he meets Phillips Chatterton, a crackpot who operates a rundown house of fellow crackpots. After a series of misadventures, Judd's kicked out of Yale and ends up in Chatterton's rundown house. His main reason for being there is Valerie, Chatterton's gorgeous, 16 year-old daughter, whom Judd swoons for at length. ("All else is trumpery," as he puts it.)

I would've been happy if the entire novel took place in Chatterton's house. The situation comes off like a funnier version of "Rattner's Star" by Don DeLillo, with an incredibly smart teenager holed up in a mansion full of quacks and kooks. Kaufman could've elaborated this into two hundred more pages easily, maybe even evolving it into a "Gormenghast"-like tale with inner rivalries and treacheries and plottings.

And he does this, to some extent, but once Judd's gotten as close to Valerie as possible, he takes his leave and moves on into the world. This leads into an enjoyable sequence of events, with Judd working at a horse ranch, getting a job as an obituary writer, and finally visiting a porn studio (beneath the Golden Gate Bridge). There he meets Valerie again, and after another set of misadventures, Judd and Valerie end up in Assama, Iraq, where the entire second half of the book takes place. And this is the main problem: the second half of this novel pales in comparison with the first.

I have found that with successive readings you don't mind the final half of the novel as much (probably because you're expecting it), but still, after the madcap adventures of the first half, you feel like you're stuck in a mudpit as you trudge through the seemingly-endless descriptions of Assama culture and architecture and customs. How I wanted Judd to flee back to Chatterton's manse! But we're in Iraq for the duration. Judd's old pal Abdul is now king of Assama, he's gotten hold of Valerie, and he tosses Judd in prison on cooked-up charges. It all leads to a rousing finale (probably what the NYTimes reviewer was thinking of with his lame "Catcher in the Rye meets Die Hard" tagline), with all the divergent plot threads coming together.

But it really is a trawl, getting through the second half. The book just comes to a standstill, and Kaufman is very much out of his element (he claimed in an interview that he placed the novel in Iraq because the country "seems to be in the news a lot lately"). It's only here that the overuse of adjectives and adverbs and ten-dollar words - sources of much discontent for other readers - serves to bother me, because they're not supporting anything - they're just there to be there, and the story itself withers away. Things do pick up eventually, with the appearance of a previously-mysterious character, all of it culminating in an apocalyptic finale which seems out of place, until one remembers said mysterious character's fascination with the Adam and Eve story in Genesis.

There are kernels of absolute wisdom buried throughout the text , which is to be expected from a 90-year-old novelist. Kaufman even includes a few sly digs at his own advanced age via his teenaged narrator. But I do feel that some of the dialog falls flat. Young characters talk like they're in the 1950s; I've never in my life heard a kid refer to his dad as "Pop," and I've yet to hear a knockout teenage girl refer to someone as "loopy." Judd himself comes off a bit too idealized; despite his braniac nature and misfit personality, he can still hold his own in fistfights and he can still get the girl. Also annoying is his constant complaining and his refusal to do anything; several times throughout this novel characters will ask Judd to help them with something, or to take part in some activity, and every single time he refuses. It gets to be redundant.

But these are minor inconveniences; the only really challenging part of this novel is the second half, which you might in fact enjoy more than I did. But I love this novel regardless, and I recommend it with enthusiasm.

Special note: Avoid the Grove Press softcover. As another reviewer mentioned, it's missing page 244 of the text. Just pick up the McSweeney's hardcover, which features the entire text and is better packaged to book.


From Hell (Two-Disc Special Edition)
From Hell (Two-Disc Special Edition)
DVD ~ Johnny Depp
Offered by Ship and Save
Price: $15.26
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From Hell: Director's Limited Edition, June 1, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Please note: I'm here reviewing the two-disc "Director's Limited Edition."

It's hard to believe this movie's almost ten years old; seems like yesterday it was released, but it was filmed in 2001. Other than the fact that it co-stars Heather Graham (who hasn't co-headlined a major motion picture in quite some time), there's very little about this film which seems dated. In fact it's probably improved with age. Staying close to the template of "Se7en," producers-directors the Hughes Brothers adapt Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's graphic novel with aplomb, bringing the late 19th Century to life in all its opium-den decadence.

I'm sure a lot of viewers have issues with how this movie strays from the source material, but I prefer to look at it as a wholly separate entity. And it works well. In Moore's version the reader quickly knows who Jack the Ripper is, but the Hughes Brothers make this more of a traditional mystery. The viewer can, however, pretty easily figure out who the murderer is. You can expect that this film will be violent - any movie about Jack the Ripper would have to be - but it reminded me more of "Chinatown" than anything else. The web of intrigue, period details, and twisted conspiracies are all very well panned out and executed, making this much more than the grisly hackwork it could've become.

Acting is good throughout - Johnny Depp is fantastic as usual in his role, as is Heather Graham, though I have to wonder why the producers couldn't at least have gotten an English actress for the role. The actor playing Jack the Ripper is as malevolent as you could want, and I love the detail of his expanded irises when he's in "Ripper" mode, as if he's a demon in human guise. The Hughes' directing is also stylish and confident - lots of tracking shots and well-done establishing shots which pull you into the sordid world of 1880s London. I also appreciate how they filmed the gruesome murder scenes, leaving much to the viewer's imagination. Again, this could've easily become some cheap gorefest, but the Hughes have made it a bit more highbrow, going for a macabre approach that works perfectly for the material. The things the Ripper did to his victims were unthinkable, and certainly unfilmable - certainly things I'd never want to see in a film, at least.

But let's talk about the drugs. I'm all about the mystique of those Victorian-era opium dens, with the velvet walls and plush rugs and languorous addicts puffing away in contentment. Depp's character is an opium addict, so we get a few scenes in Chinese-operated dens, and the Hughes brothers bring these places fully to life. And since Depp's character solves his cases via opium-induced trances, we get a neat tripping scene, complete with worshipful close-ups of an opium pipe being prepared, fired up, and toked. But the later absinthe scene goes even further, and glorifies drug use moreso than any other scene in recent film. Depp prepares a glass of absinthe in the classic "Prague ritual" method, with laudanum-dosed sugar cube placed over a slotted spoon, doused with fire, and then plunged into the drink itself. This scene about made me want to rush out and buy an overpriced bottle of absinthe. In fact, I'm still considering it.

I'd say this movie is a good purchase, as it is one you could watch at least a few times. The first viewing you're moreso occupied keeping up with who's who, figuring out who the Ripper is, and piecing together the strands of conspiracy. And it is an enjoyable movie, despite the subject matter and the numerous prostitute-butcherings. It even has a somewhat "happy" ending that doesn't seem tacked on just to appease the Middle American market.

As for the DVD release, the movie is on disc 1 and looks and sounds great. Disc 1 also features a plethora of deleted scenes, none of which are more than two minutes long. There are about twenty of them, and they're basically little pieces that either set up scenes or provide more resolution for others. None of them stand out, and none of them were integral to the movie. That being said, since none of them are that pertinent, they could've easily been integrated back into the film, which would've truly given us the "Director's" edition promised on the cover. The only incongruous scene is the one that couldn't be integrated back into the film - an alternate ending which is the same as the one in the film itself, only taking place in a different location and a different time. It's filmed in a gorgeous Shanghai opium den (complete with a gorgeous and nude Chinese woman, about whose rear Hughes expounds upon at length in the optional commentary) and has some of the best shots in the film, but was understandably dropped in favor of the "real" ending.

Disc 2 features several making-of documentaries, including one about the Moore/Campbell graphic novel, a "tour of the murder sites" (which is a tour of the film's set rather than the actual murder locations in London), a "first look" documentary hosted by Heather Graham (which features the most annoying camera pans and zooms this side of MTV), and an insider's view into absinthe (which was still illegal when this film was made, but is now legal pretty much everywhere...even here in the US! Yep, I'm gonna buy that bottle after all.).
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