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Of Cabbages and Kings
Of Cabbages and Kings
Price: $16.74
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4.0 out of 5 stars A forgotten flower from a perfumed garden - 4 & 1/2 stars, January 25, 2015
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This review is from: Of Cabbages and Kings (Audio CD)
For an album that's been dismissed by so many allegedly "cool" critics over the years, this fascinating change-of-pace from Chad & Jeremy is actually a lovely, enjoyable artifact of a brief but glorious moment in time, capturing the essence of the baroque-psychedelic era to perfection. What was Side One is just one good melodic song after another, with gorgeous harmonies & a potpourri of peace-&-love in the best sense of the phrase. If they were a little late to the psychedelic party, they were among its most entertaining & memorable guests!

As for what was Side Two, the "Progress Suite" -- I think it works very well, sounding quite a bit like the soundtrack to a satiric, pointed animated short film about the commercialism & shallowness of contemporary culture. When I listen to it through headphones, I can almost see everything it's depicting via a smart, carefully crafted sound collage. A lot of young artists got over-indulgent & overly ambitious around this time; but Chad & Jeremy kept a sense of humor & a sense of proportion, both of which contributed wonderfully to this successful experiment.

Add to that the handful of bonus tracks, along with liner notes including comments from Chad & Jeremy themselves, and you have a quietly beautiful creation from 1967, the Summer of Love, when it seemed as if the world could indeed be changed for the better, if only -- highly recommended!

The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School
The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School
by Neil Postman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.18
133 used & new from $3.93

5.0 out of 5 stars Technically skilled cabbages or thinking human beings?, January 24, 2015
20 years after this book was first published, its argument & conclusions are more pressing than ever. Postman wrote then of the increasing emphasis on the means rather than the ends of education; and even more urgently, the transformation of education from ongoing growth of mind & soul to a matter of job skills & nothing more. It was depressingly true then, even more so now. Every public statement about education these days, whether from politician or pundit, is essentially about the best way to create productive, skilled drone who do their jobs & do them well, but don't do much critical thinking or analysis of Why? involved.

That Why? is the crux of Postman's book. In his initial chapters, he discusses the need for a guiding, defining narrative in any culture -- call it gods, belief, myth. Whatever the label, it's nothing less than the meaning of life -- individual lives, and the lives of a community or society overall. As he notes, the true gods of our current culture are Technology & Consumerism, Making & Getting, Power & Wealth. And it requires very little effort to realize how shallow & insufficient these gods are for any thinking person. Yet everything is devoted to just those things, so much so that the very planet is in peril from endless development & consumption -- mostly of meaningless (if shiny & diverting) trash.

So what is the purpose of education? Is it merely to churn out more producers & consumers? Or is it about something deeper, something far more precious & meaningful -- a life of substance, a life with spiritual or metaphysical resonance? What sort of world do we want -- more to the point, what sort of world do we truly need? And what sort of people do we need to be in order to go on living, not merely existing? Postman doesn't pretend to have all the answers. But he does pose the important questions -- now it's up to the rest of us to continue that dialogue. Most highly recommended!

Rock Follies
Rock Follies
Price: $11.99
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5.0 out of 5 stars Still sounds great after 4 decades!, January 22, 2015
This review is from: Rock Follies (Audio CD)
Has it really been 40 years since the TV mini-series "Rock Follies" first appeared? I thoroughly enjoyed watching it on PBS back then, and immediately bought the soundtrack on vinyl. Now, after all that time, it's available on CD -- and with a bonus track, as well! I'm happy to say that it's stood the test of time, with the songs working both as musical numbers for the show, and as songs that stand on their own. It really brings to life this tale of three women struggling to make it in the music business, going from life on the road & grubby pubs to an ill-fated image makeover via retro-1940s pop to a truly awful & ludicrous detour into the "glamorous" world of very soft porn -- "Hot Neon" anyone? Through it all the Little Ladies struggle to maintain both a living & their sanity -- a bumpy journey reflected beautifully in these songs. The sequel soundtrack "Rock Follies of 77" is also available on CD ... now, if they'd only release both series on DVD in America! Until then, the songs are here to be enjoyed anew -- highly recommended!

Kung Fu
Kung Fu
DVD ~ Carradine
Price: $17.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars 3/4 of a solid sequel, January 21, 2015
This review is from: Kung Fu (DVD)
Fans of the original "Kung Fu" series welcomed this 1985 sequel TV-movie, which made good use of an early episode to provide a son for Caine -- and appropriately, a son used as a tool of vengeance by the royal family whose nephew a younger Caine had killed so long ago. For most of the film, it plays like a well-written episode of the original series, incorporating flashbacks & philosophy set against the West of the 1880s. The martial arts action is kept to a minimum, which is fitting for the tone of the series; the web of corruption in places of power is shown to chilling effect, with William Lucking's evil deputy especially loathsome in his smiling, slimy way; and Kerrie Keane is very good as the grieving but strong-willed widow who becomes both ally & potential love interest for Caine. And of course the young Brandon Lee, in his small but crucial role as Caine's son, exudes both arrogance & then bewildered innocence in his portrayal -- he's a real screen presence already.

Where the film falters is in its climactic duel between father & son, as orchestrated by the vengeful Manchu -- Mako, as good as ever. The film gets too overwrought at that point, indulging in 1980s excess & bombast, when a simpler, plainer approach would have been far more effective, I think. It's as if the creators of this sequel were a little too influenced by "Rocky" & similarly in-your-face-triumphant films of the period. It's entirely the wrong tone for Kwai Chang Caine.

Even so, there's a certain satisfaction in seeing a conclusion to the series, as it comes full circle by placing Caine in the Master Po role to his son as another "grasshopper" waiting to learn. You'll have to wince a little through the final sequence, realizing how much better it could have been if they'd had the sense to indeed be "humble, like the dust" in filming it; but there's still enough here for longtime fans to enjoy. Recommended with that single caveat!

Where the Shadows Lie: A Jungian Interpretation of Tolkiens the Lord of the Rings
Where the Shadows Lie: A Jungian Interpretation of Tolkiens the Lord of the Rings
by Pia Skogemann
Edition: Paperback
Price: $22.46
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Self & the Soul in Middle-Earth, January 15, 2015
The danger of any psychological approach to a work of art is in diminishing it, by forcing it into pre-determined categories & pigeonholes of rigid, constrictive dogma. Happily, the opposite is true in this Jungian examination of Tolkien's masterwork -- the psychological & spiritual aspects actually enrich & enlarge the work, opening it to newer & greater possibilities, without ever reducing it to "nothing but" or even outright pathology. Author Pia Skogemann approaches the classic fantasy tale as one who has read it & loved it for many years, searching for subtle & complex layers of meaning that lie just below the surface of the narrative -- or sometimes in plain sight, if you know how to look for them.

In doing so, she not only sheds light on the uses of Jungian psychology in both art & life, but on the nature of Tolkien's work. For as becomes quite clear, Tolkien was using art to find & shape meaning, not only of the world but of himself -- albeit on the unconscious level, which is the only way it can ever really work. Skogemann notes that Tolkien was truly working in myth, shaping one that made sense of his life experience on both an existential & spiritual level. In this, he's much more reminiscent of a visionary artist like William Blake than the many fantasy writers who've followed in his wake, creating often exciting stories that still end as entertainment & little more. Not to disparage entertainment! But Jungian work is soul work, and it's obvious that on the deepest level, Tolkien was engaged in just that.

A basic familiarity with Jungian thought is helpful to the reader; for those unfamiliar with it, Skogemann provides links to online introductions to Jung & his thought. She then looks at "The Lord of the Rings" in terms of the classic archetypes -- the Hero, the Anima, the Wise old Man, the Shadow, the Self -- and shows how these concepts are embodied in many variations throughout Tolkien's astonishingly detailed creation. This eventually leads into a discussion of the current world situation& the ways in which Jungian thought can illuminate the unconscious drives & forces that under lie much of what plagues civilization today -- and makes a powerful argument for Tolkien's work as being not just literature, but spiritual in natural -- outright religious, in fact.

For my own part, I found this slim volume enlightening & thought-provoking. After decades of reading countless books about both Jung & Tolkien, I wouldn't have thought there was much left to say or learn on the layman's level -- but Skogemann proved me wrong, and I'm grateful for it. This is a book I'll be returning to more than once in the future -- most highly recommended!

The Time Machine
The Time Machine
DVD ~ Rod Taylor
Price: $8.79
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly enchanting both then & now, January 13, 2015
This review is from: The Time Machine (DVD)
I first saw "The Time Machine" when I was 8 years old, when it first appeared in theaters, and it instantly became a lifelong favorite. Watching it again many decades later, I can see that it retains all of its charm, warmth, and wonder. Rod Taylor was the perfect lead -- handsome, stalwart, but also sensitive & thoughtful, as befits his character -- and Alan Young was a perfect match as his closest friend. In fact, the depth & strength of that friendship is one of the things that stayed with me the most.

Of course, younger audiences will probably scoff at some of the special effects, particularly the miniatures. For me, these only add to its appeal -- and in any case, the stop-motion effects for the time travel sequences remaining beautifully effective, far more so than any CGI to my mind. And the overall design is superb, from the cozy, civilized Victorian drawing room to the properly ominous, menacing, and somewhat alien sphinx that watches over the entrance to the realm of the Morlocks. And the time machine itself is a marvel of delicate steampunk beauty.

It can be rightfully argued that this is a family-friendly version of the classic Wells novel -- much of the bleaker aspect of the original is missing, and it ends on more of a hopeful note than the novel. But that really doesn't matter. Taken on its own terms, the film delivers in every way -- from thrilling adventure, to sense of wonder, to mind-opening ideas the viewer can ponder afterward. Add to that the generous helping of extras on the disc, including a short sequel of sorts filmed years later, with Taylor & Young returning to their old roles as if they'd never left. Their affection for the film & its creator is evident in every frame.

At some point, someone may well film the original novel faithfully & do it justice. I'd like to see that! But this version is definitely a keeper, both as a beloved childhood memory & as a strong, exciting story that that any adult can enjoy as whole-heartedly as any child. In any era, this is solid film entertainment at its best -- most highly recommended!

The Fantasy Book: An Illustrated History from Dracula to Tolkien
The Fantasy Book: An Illustrated History from Dracula to Tolkien
by Franz Rottensteiner
Edition: Paperback
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When the Fantastic was literary art, not a commodity, December 14, 2014
Before fantasy became a mass-produced, mass-marketed, profit-generating & all too often formulaic genre, it was a smaller but surprisingly richer field. In this brief survey of fantasy from a literary viewpoint, published just before "Star Wars" & Terry Brooks changed things so much, we get an intelligent examination & critique of what was essentially an offshoot of Romanticism. Not yet a rigidly defined genre, its was fluid enough to offer many different modes of expression, from Gothic horror to the fairy tale (both delicate & perverse) to allegory & metaphor -- and this last aspect is what made it so fascinating & rewarding, with psychological & artistic depth. Fantasy was then a very individual creative field, with many of its masters possessing a unique voice & worldview, as Rottensteiner points out.

Added to this is his European perspective, which takes a wider & more intellectual view -- very far from the geek culture approach of today, which seems determined to approach fantasy solely on a superficial level. Warning: fans may find some mixed appraisals of their favorites in these pages, though Rottensteiner does back up his opinions with impressive reasoning & scholarship. I don't entirely agree with his every assessment myself, but he does make me look at those favorites in a new light. This can't be a bad thing.

The slim volume is profusely illustrated, which is one of the attractions of this book. Many younger readers will find it hopelessly outdated, no doubt, and its literary approach rather alien -- ironic, in that the promise of the otherworldly & unknown has become a hunger for the comfortably familiar in much contemporary fantasy, as long as it has the requisite coolness & edginess that pop culture demands as proof of "realism" -- in fantasy, of all things!

But whether taking the book as an artifact of a particular time, showing where fantasy came from & where it stood just before the huge commercial breakthrough that transformed it -- not always for the better -- or as a worthwhile source document about a genre that deserves more in-depth study than it generally gets from its current, minutia-obsessed fans, this is definitely recommended to the serious reader of quality fantasy.

The Girls
The Girls
DVD ~ Bibi Andersson
Offered by librex
Price: $12.95
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5.0 out of 5 stars Girl power indeed!, December 6, 2014
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This review is from: The Girls (DVD)
While it's called "The Girls" this is definitely a film about Women -- their rights (or lack of them), their place in society, their happiness & aspirations. And if you think that sounds drearily didactic, think again! Mai Zetterling's exploration of women in Sweden circa 1968-- and the entire world, really -- is filled with sharp wit & humor, dazzling fantasy sequences in beautifully over-exposed B&W, a complex & nuanced view of both men & women & their relationships, and the chance to watch three superb actresses normally associated with Ingmar Bergman acting in very different directions.

The plot: a touring company of the classic Aristophanes comedy "Lysistrata" finds the parallels between art & everyday life for women, as the three friends cope with their own personal relationships & their relationships with society. While the references are topical, now some 40+ years old, the ideas are as fresh & relevant as ever -- perhaps even more so, since contemporary society has hit such a retrograde, conservative obstacle in the form of reactionary fundamentalism. The questions the film raises about the roles of women, sexuality, war, jobs, the usefulness of art, and a meaningful life, are all just as pressing today.

But again, I don't want to make it sound like a preachy tract. Before all else, this intelligent & artistic film is FUN. From the sly, wry, bemused & sometimes confused faces of the characters on their outer (and inward) journeys, to the astonishing cinematography, and especially to the surrealistic fantasy sequences that let us see what these women are thinking & feeling, the film is filled with energy, sardonic jokes, and a dizzying sense of exhilaration & hopes for personal freedom -- very much the tone of the times in 1968! Whether you're interested in how people felt then, or want to see how such a film still applies today, or simply want to watch a work of cinematic art, this film is most highly recommended!

White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson
White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson
by Brenda Wineapple
Edition: Hardcover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The soul selecting its own society, December 4, 2014
As previous reviewers have noted, this superb biography of a friendship not only sheds new light on the genius of Emily Dickinson, but does even more for the unjustly neglected & often dismissed Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Clearly this reassessment is long overdue! Higginson is revealed as a multi-faceted man of ideals, passion, and integrity -- and if his literary work didn't always reach the heights to which he aspired, he was wise enough to recognize this fact & strive to do better. The excerpts from his essays on Nature make me want to read more; and as one of the few to recognize Thoreau's literary & personal merit in the man's lifetime, Higginson at his very best is a worthy companion to Thoreau. His unflagging support for so many American women writers at a time when women were seldom taken seriously as intellectuals & artists is also quite remarkable.

If offering a full, deserving portrait of Higginson were all that this book did, that would be quite enough. But the portrait of Dickinson is also fresh & illuminating. It quickly becomes obvious that Dickinson was far from the shy, fragile, ethereal, even pathological caricature many have of her -- she knew her own mind, she understood her own extraordinary gifts, she did not suffer fools gladly, and her choice to live as a so-called "recluse" was deliberate & positive. She knew what she wanted in her life, and even more to the point, what she did NOT want in her life. Higginson compared her to William Blake in his introduction to one of the first volumes of her collected poetry, and that's an accurate description -- she is indeed as visionary & clear-eyed as Blake, a voice of Eternity embodied in mortal flesh & blood, blazing with more than ordinary energy & creativity.

But not only does Brenda Wineapple reveal the souls of these two writers & friends with dazzling clarity, she sets them in context of their times, giving us enough historical & cultural information to understand what shaped their thoughts, and how they shaped their times & times to come. All of this is told with the narrative grace & lucid flow of an exceptionally good novel; the story never flags. For me, this is simply the best book on Dickinson that I've read in decades -- most highly recommended!

We Are the Best!
We Are the Best!
DVD ~ Mira Barkhammar
Price: $19.10
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely delightful & honest!, December 1, 2014
This review is from: We Are the Best! (DVD)
When two friends in early 1980s Stockholm decide to start their own punk band, despite the handicap of having no musical ability whatsoever, they find that negotiating the rapids of early adolescence are more difficult & more surprising than they had imagined. With the addition of a third girl to the band, a classically-trained guitarist shunned by classmates as being too Christian, they discover the rewards & heartaches of friendship, first crushes, and a growing self-confidence they've fully earned.

With so many American films offering ghastly caricatures of childhood & coming of age, it's a pleasure to come across a film like this, which captures the innocence & angst of being thirteen years old & not fitting in -- and not wanting to, perhaps, but in some ways resenting their rejection just the same. For anyone who hasn't blotted out his or her own memories of being thirteen too much, this will ring true -- the high drama over ridiculously small incidents, the genuine pain of interacting with other human beings & finding that your feelings aren't always reciprocated, and those brief but glowing moments of connection where everything in the world is just right for a fleeting, precious instant. Most highly recommended!

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