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4 Classic Albums
4 Classic Albums
Price: $16.69
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fanning Lionel's flames to an even hotter degree of swing and exuerance., January 24, 2015
This review is from: 4 Classic Albums (Audio CD)
Terry Gibbs earned the epithet "Wild Man" of the vibes in the 50s and early '60s because of his hard-driving swing and exuberant spirit, both frequently exceeding the equally effusive Lionel Hampton (an eternal personification of energy). And whereas Lionel usually surrounded himself with a cast of 10-18 players, Terry loved to go at it with a quartet (before his W. Coast "Dream Bands"), especially if the pianist could come close to the leader's level of energy and complement him as a musical "sparring partner."

The eponymously titled "Terry Gibbs" is for me the stand-out in this set. I recall wearing out the grooves of the LP, with as much credit due to the hard-swinging Terry Pollard, the first of 3 top female pianists who appeared with Terry in the relatively brief time period of 7-8 years. (My question is: why didn't these supremely gifted pianists receive the same attention and promotion as Marian McPartland, Barbara Carrol and Toshiko Akiyoshi?) Pollard would be followed by another gifted female pianist--Pat Moran (who recorded with Bill Evans' legendary bass player Scott LaFaro, before Bill and Scotty had met up). The 3rd and final pianist in this female trio was Alice McCleod, classically trained and perhaps the most proficient technically but not as hard-swinging in her attack and approach as Pollard or Moran.

The trick is to find recordings that present all three women pianists (I finally landed LPs of all 3). I heard Alice with Gibbs in Birdland 1963, when Gibbs' quartet was splitting the bill in the original Birdland (a basement room on Broadway) with the John Coltrane Quartet. There was a noticeable infusion of sheer force and power when Trane's Quartet took the stand, and none of it was lost on Alice, who sat at the other end of the room, directly opposite to John during his set. (Neither musician cast a glance toward the north side of the room, where I was sitting.)

Soon Alice would replace McCoy Tyner in the Coltrane Quartet--in the dual role of John's piano player and his bride. She would be with John during the final, most inlfammatory and explosive, years of Coltrane's life. It was controversial music, as close to complete "freedom" as any group I've ever heard. But this music of Trane's last two years--after Elvin and McCoy had both left his group--was a period when I witnessed his audiences heading for the exits. (Two such occasions are especially memorable--once at Soldiers' Field in Chicago and another time at the University of Wisconsin Mamorial Union in Madison, Wisconsin.) It was sonic mayhem (much of it originating from the tenor not of Coltrane but of Archie Shepp and Pharaoh Saunders).

I remained (except in one instance, when my wife-to-be gave me an ultimatum) out of respect to Coltrane, not the music that was being played. From his earliest recordings with Miles (1953) through "A Love Supreme" (1965), Coltrane was the most storied and arguably influential musician in jazz. For the first half of jazz history, the 3 most prominent forces in the music were Armstrong, Ellington, and Charlie Parker. For the 2nd half of jazz history, my observations have convinced me that Coltrane was the single most seminal voice in jazz, followed closely by pianist Bill Evans (Miles was the music's "advance scout," an enabler and opportunist whose mere presence marks the major changes in the music's entire history). But Bill's whole and complete 25 year musical odyssey was that of a man who played as though every note might be his last--a sense of urgency that led him to new discoveries in harmony and rhythm--his last period a fitting (though admittedly disturbing) finale for an improviser who began as the music's first true "impressionist" and ended as its most adventurous and profound "expressionist." At the very least, it was a time when music--instrumental and jazz, at that--was sufficient, in the days following a concert such as Coltrane's--to provoke controversy in the press and on the air waves I'm afraid our ears are no longer as sensitive as they were at this time ('65-'67).

One of the albums in this collection ("Jazz Band Ball") features both the vibes of Terry Gibbs and Victor Feldman (and, for good measure, those of Larry Bunker, once a drummer with Bill Evans)--reason enough to pick up this set. (Feldman was the British-American pianist-vibist-percussionist-composer-arranger who recorded and traveled with both Miles and Cannonball Adderley. Had he and the equally polymath drummer Frank Butler accepted Miles' invitation to travel with his group, Herbie Hancock's and Tony Williams' talents would have been much slower in coming to the public's attention. Instead, Feldman and Butler were denied the audience both deserved, But a call from Miles necessarily came with high expectations and potentially unbearable pressure: Hank Mobley played his heart out for Miles but seemed forever thrown off his game from the experience. Sonny Stitt was an unlikely replacement for Coltrane from the start. To his credit, Sonny remained true to his roots, refusing to change his Bird-influenced voice on alto or tenor, despite Miles' repeated attempts to push him into free, aharmonic territory. (The evidence is on the recordings made of their 1960 Paris concerts.) After his tour with Miles, Stitt seemed to return to his old form with renewed commitment, answering the fusion and rock-jazz sounds of the 1970s with some of the best "pure" bebop of his entire career Tune-Up!.

Boston Acoustics Duo-I Plus iPhone/iPod Dock AM/FM Stereo Radio and Clock Functions (Gloss Black) (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
Boston Acoustics Duo-I Plus iPhone/iPod Dock AM/FM Stereo Radio and Clock Functions (Gloss Black) (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
2 used & new from $225.00

3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing (discontinued) descendent from a peerless(deceased) progenitor: the BA Receptor Radio, January 24, 2015
For at least ten years there were three excellent, high-end, full-frequency. hi-end, deceptively compact, full frequency monaural radios (each going for approx. $100) for fastidious consumers to select from as a bedside or desk companion (not that each wasn't csapable of filling an entire room). The Tivoli Model One was the first radio to impress my wife, who had never heard such rich sounds from a radio until the Model One. Even though the price has inflated (currently going for $125 tp $150). it can still be considered "best of breed" in this category and price range (and the radio has jacks for easy integration with an iPhone or player). The model has remained unchanged (still has one speaker and no tone controls): the Henry Kloss technology inside and the wooden cabinet outside together make for a marvelous instrument of grace and simplicity plus more than adequatre power. Tivoli Audio Model One M1CLA AM / FM Table Radio, Classic / Walnut

But soon the proponents of two other radios made their voices heard. One camp championed the Sangean WR-2 (my wife remains attached to Sangean's miniature portable radios--all day and all night at least one of them is at work pulling in BBC and NPR broadcasts--a lifesaver for those who don't depend on the internet for all their news).. As I had by now become a radio geek, I ordered a Sangean WR-2, which is on my side of the bed. Like Tivoli's Model One it's a weighty, solid wood cabinet but offering more flexible and sophisticated technology than the Tivoli. The sound, moreover, is full, deep and powerful, very close to the Tlvoli's. And the digital tuning dial is more accurate than the rotary dial of the Tivoli. The only reason I wouldn't recommend it for everyone ahead of the Tivoli is the relatively steep learning curve required to use all of its features (keep the instructions close by your bedside table). It's partly digital wherea the Tivoli is 100% analog. Thankfully, Sangeam has made no conspicuous changes to this flagship model. Sangean WR-2 Digital AM/FM Tabletop Radio, Walnut

But there was a 3rd contestant in in the contest for best compact FM radio with the smallest dimensions and biggest sound: the Boston Acoustics Receptor--not only the smallest of the three but the least expensive (I bought it new and sold it used for $80, which is what it cost me) and the "sexiest" style--a black beauty going with a synthetic, "crescendoing" shape rather than the more traditional, squarish wood cabinet. Despite its size the bass from the Receptor was practically "startling" coming from its well-conceived ported speaker. BA's decision to discontinue the model in favor of models with more speakers, more knobs and "with it" features along with an iPod/iPhone dock (remember those?) seems, in hindsight, one of the more ill-advised decisions by a major player in this small niche of the audio market. The BA Duo-! sounds good, but like many of Harman's products (JBL) from this time (2002-2008), its extra features are either inoperative or obsolescent. If a BA bedside radio with exceptional audio quality still holds interest , I'd look hard for a BA Receptor listed in "like new" condition and priced close to the $100 mark. Forget the satellite speaker: Boston Acoustics Receptor Radio HD.

As for Tivoli, they too have been scorched by some of their efforts too stay with the crowd in the rapidly changing digital "world of the cloud." The Tivoli clock radio was an insufficiently versatile and inaccurate clock radio, according to my wife. The Tivoli iPal radio--lauded by some reviewers as the perfect carry-along radio or iPod companion--proved a huge let-down for me. When I brought it to a booth promoting our local public radio station, the iPal completely "wimped out." You had to bring the radio, even at full volume, right up to your face in order to hear it at an outdoor event with competing crowd chatter. When I see the radio going for $200 or more, I'm simply in disbelief. (Would someone please take mine off my hands for fifty bucks (it even has a new battery--which is an essential fix every several years--just make certain you have a complete collection of Phillips screwdrivers)? At least Tivoli did not (to the best of my knowledge) waste time and money on the biggest radio bust of all--"HD radio" (Sony made 3 models, each equally unremarkable. Best Buy's Insignia brand got there first and ended last with an unworkable digital version. Harman came out with several space-ship shaped models that didn't work right. Only lowly ILuv, to its credit, made a genuinely useful, dependable, versatile stereo HD radio with all the right inputs and timer features along with clear, well-tuned speakers that, unlike my $100 Monster Blutooth speakers, have never distorted at any volume--all for $70). I can no longer even find this underappreciated gem on Amazon (though there are iLuv "bed-shaking" clock radios going for under $50). In short, I no longer encounter anyone who even owns an HD radio. Apps like TuneIn and iHeart have demolished a consumer fad that, before 2010, was as hot as 3D printing. On the other hand, the iLuv HD radio has out-lasted all 3 generations of Sony HD radios as well as 2 Insignia HD radios and one Harman. It continues to serve me daily while remaining in its place beside a treadmill.

The value in Tivoli speakers is the Model One and the misunderstood, highly uderestimated one-piece Tivoli "Stereo System." Tivoli Audio Music System Two Wireless Bluetooth Speaker (Cherry/Metallic Taupe). Henry Kloss was an inventor and proponent-promoter of low-efficiency speakers (like the game-changing AR2 and AR3). If you can crank up the volume of the Tivoli Stereo and choose the "Wide" spatial setting, it will fill your house with resplendent sound--easily the most music in the smallest cabinet--and with Tivoli's decision several years ago to cut the price of this system by 50%-60%, I can only dream of a house with two more stories for an excuse to accommodate a couple more of these.

The Proper Care of Guinea Pigs
The Proper Care of Guinea Pigs
by Peter Gurney
Edition: Paperback
23 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't repeat all of the other guide books, January 23, 2015
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Although Gurney's book is not the most recent, it may be the most engaging in terms of the writer's personal voice. He generously shares his emotions about these creatures and says things that don't sound like they've been copied from other books about the pets that he champions above all others.. For example, while conceding that they're pack animals, he's willing to recommend a single guinea pig as assurance of a closer bond between owner and pet. And he extends this idea to a suggestion that the pig's sleeping box--a necessary "sanctuary," according to most GP guides--merely encourages the animal to disappear when its threatening, potentially predatory, owner enters the room. (Obviously, Gurney doesn't always follow his own advice. He owns up to having 35 or more guinea pigs at any given time.)

C2G / Cables to Go 40016 Velocity Right Angle Toslink Adapter
C2G / Cables to Go 40016 Velocity Right Angle Toslink Adapter
Price: $5.09
10 used & new from $4.12

5.0 out of 5 stars Essential for use of the iMac Headphones Out jack., January 23, 2015
I thought i had broken my 3.5mm Headphones Out Jack on a recent iMac, which would rean an expensive repair requiring a whole new logic board. The moment I plugged this adapter into my iMac jack, it was recognized, as he Sound Board in System Preferences gave me a "Digital Out" option. Problem solved. Now I don't have to rely on "Internal Speakers," using the keyboard to control volume, etc. (awkard!). Instead I can integrate an Onkyo receiver and external Wharfdale speakers with the iMac.

[Important: Besides this plug and a digital cable, you may require a "digital to analog converter box" (they go from $8 to $80, despite performing the same function). On the other hand, if your interface and receiver/amplifier have a digital input, you should be good to go. (I'm ordering the least-expensive box.)

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel
DVD ~ Willem Dafoe
Price: $11.99
21 used & new from $9.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I'm in no hurry to book a stay at "not so" Grand Hotel Budapest, January 18, 2015
This review is from: The Grand Budapest Hotel (DVD)
As unexpected as it is to receive attention for a review (written primarily as record of my impressions during and after viewing a film), I'm a bit overwhelmed by the piling on of negatives (10 at last count) aimed my way (it's just a movie, folks--not a Packers' collapse). Feeling all alone, I decided to see what David Thomson, a critic I normally don't read (he doesn't like Hitchcock!!). But something about "Grand Budapest Hotel"--perhaps the sense of the film's "life," if any, not arising from character and story so much as from the director's forced infusions of energy into a collection of stylized "set pieces"--this told me that Thomson might share my general feeling about the film's cartoonish shallowness. Indeed, I was more than right. The long-time New Republic critic savages the film, calling it decadently, overwhelmingly shallow-- and sweet enough to overcome any diabetics among its audience: Although I can't write as well as he, I notice we were both drawn to words like "rococo," "decorative," and "control" (only this last word, I realize, might apply to the almighty Hitch).

So what does this my side excursion prove? That the film is well-crafted pastiche, served up in over-rich vignettes of indigestible charm but lacking depth and substance? Of course not. Thomson's minority view merely offers a dissenter like me a modicum of comfort, assuring me of the company that's said to be loved by us miserable outsiders. (I don't even ask my own family to read much less rate my reviews.)

I've completely scrapped the previous review in favor of a more conciliatory approach. Unlike Thomson, I'm not condemning Hotel Budapest, and If I'm slow in booking a long stay at the hotel, I merely ask that the establishment's champions at least forgive me long enough to discover the same depth, mystery and allure that the hotel holds for them. If my previous assessment seemed too harsh (and apparently offensive, even making me question whether I'd encountered what has become an Anderson "claque"), I hope you'll agree with me that an explanation is in order.

Perhaps too many great films have led to the expectation of more of same. Moreover, especially as my life and remaining time increasingly decrease, my requirements, or criteria, invariably go beyond "mere entertainment"--whether narrative fiction, theater, music or film. Frequently, I find what I require from Hitchcock ("Vertigo"), John Ford ("The Searchers") and Ingmar Bergman (Wild Strawberries"); or from films like "Nashville," "The English Patient," "The Elephant Man," "Bringing Back the Dead," "No Country for Old Men," "City Lights," "Swing Time," "It's a Wonderful Life," "The Best Years of Our Lives," "Tokyo Story," "24 Eyes," "Citizen Kane," "Apocalypse Now." Each of these works was for me a rewarding labor of love, as measured by the extra twinge of excitement that suddenly, and without preparation, seized me, allowing me to realize the sense and meaning of it all. It's an epiphany, perhaps better described as a moment of self-recognition, and I'm let down by any work of art that doesn't, and maybe can't, deliver this tremor of exhilaration--a tingling that amounts to a manifestation of the invisible, or of the spiritual, in the spectator's physical, or optical-aural, field of vision.

I'm not going to attempt another detailed review of the film and why it fell short in my expectations. This is just another subjective, personal, "I liked it / I didn't like it" sort of response--merely one spectator's "opinion." You don't have to agree. On the other hand, I'm not so sure my personal take deserves punishment. My universe is open, not closed. It's a field of instruction, an opportunity for someone more enlightened to help me understand what I saw or didn't see--or what I saw but missed, tricked by the relentlessly literal images captured by the cinematic apparatus to see the object at the expense of the symbol, or the signifier at the expense of the signified. I'll accept any clarification and give the film as many stars as needed to please the reader. As dedicated moviegoers, I hope we can agree to disagree. Or is it really true that these days art of any kind no longer matters: only politics does.

I still refuse to find outlandish Shelley's characterization of poets as "the true legislators of the world." And I'm even willing to suspend judgment on Anderson, who may well belong among the poets of cinema. His "Darjeeling Express" was a savvy narrative with believable characters. It exposed the hypocrisy and delusory nature of spiritual quests to India (by a brotherhood reminding me of the Beetles, with Bill Murray briefly appearing as the missing member). Yet the film ultimately validates the quest--and the epiphany occurs at the moment when the three questers (and audience) are ready to abandon it.

Perhaps Anderson's not-so Grand Hotel Budapest will ascend to the luminous firmament of great films. At present it still strikes me as an artificial star on top of a meticulously designed, brightly lit-up and colorfully decorated Christmas Tree. (Mine is due to come down.)
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 24, 2015 3:59 AM PST

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Price: $16.79
44 used & new from $10.89

2.0 out of 5 stars Another impressive performance by a singularly talented performer, but what's the point?, January 17, 2015
The transformation of Audra McDonald's soaring and powerful lyric soprano into Billie Holiday's ravaged vestige of an instrument in her final days is remarkable, impressive and not a little shocking. It's an accomplishment asking for comparison with Billie's own will to portray herself as "Lady Day" when her voice and very corporeal being screamed in denial. I remember the controversy provoked by the release of "Lady in Satin" by Columbia (the label responsible for her greatest work in the '30s and early '40s, when a young Frank Sinatra identified her as his greatest influence). Columbia's refusal to release "Strange Fruit" was a cowardly testament to racism in American society, but the same label's decision, in 1958, to publish the emaciated figure of Billie in a gaudy satin gown and to "dress her out" in schmaltzy strings seemed to many of us a new low in sensationalist exploitation--an attempt to appeal to the ghoulish instincts of a public that was largely ignorant of Billie's gifts as a jazz singer, whose ability to communicate "jazz standards" may have exceeded even Ella's and Sarah's.

To recreate the days immediately preceding Billie's passing seems more questionable than "Lady in Satin." Many Lady Day followers were incensed by the sanitized Hollywood treatment of "Lady Sings the Blues," which cast Diana Ross as Billie. But Ross demonstrated an understanding of Billie's phrasing while retaining a vocal quality that was her own. McDonald, on the other hand, alters her voice to sound like the moribund Holiday who was a shadow of her former self, hanging on to both her voice and her rationality by the thinnest of threads. More than the movie, "Lady Day at Emerson's" must be judged not on its musical but its dramatic strengths. And in dramatic productions, the question necessarily goes beyond performance to purpose.

As good as it is, this performance strikes me less as a tribute to Billie, or even as a Holiday-inspired performance, than as an "impersonation" of Billie. However "spot on" it might be, it can't be representative of the artist's musicianship. If I'm wrong, I will gladly award the performance 5 stars--especially if it motivates listeners previously unfamiliar with Billie to pick up her best work on Columbia ("The Essential Billie Holiday") or her later work on Verve ("The Best of Billie Holiday," from "Strange Fruit" on). If the recording does not lead to discovery of Billie's musical world and to a revelation about jazz singing itself, then I'm afraid that McDonald's enactment, as impressive as it is (by a performer whose talent, like Billie's, is seen once in a lifetime), is little more than an isolated event, a musical "freak show" for some of us who love Billie and remain protective of her musical legacy as well as that of The Great American Songbook.

21" Shoe Horn Rosewood Stain
21" Shoe Horn Rosewood Stain
Offered by JapanSuperMall
Price: $5.99
3 used & new from $4.75

5.0 out of 5 stars When a man's reach no longer exceeds his grasp yet he's loath to forfeit heaven, January 15, 2015
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"A man's reach should exceed his grasp -- or what's a heaven for?" When Robert Browning, a true post-Romantic idealist, wrote those words, people didn't live as long and were more likely to find practical satisfaction from the spiritual motivation implicit in such a mandate. They reached for the heavens--and as a consequence of that action managed to lace up their shoes (or find a cooperative servant).

But we live in a different age--one in which the combination of faster time and more cluttered but longer lasting lives necessitates a few workarounds for the time-consuming business that hounds us. Because of this shoe horn I'm no longer held hostage by the loose-fitting, shabby loafters I usually require to get along with my day. In fact, I'm now able--after several years of torpidity--to slip into my ankle-high Donald J. Pliner boots as efficiently and quickly as those loafers (which I've just discarded).

The shoe horn itself is made of wood--not unbreakable but sufficiently pliant to serve its purpose long enough to justify the expense. And frankly it didn't cost much--practically a third the price of some similar items that, unlike this one, don't ship postage-free. If you can wait the extra couple of days (since I don't think this one is available with Prime), I'd say go with the loafers until this one arrives. In the meantime, await your Rosewood instrument's arrival with the expectation of Browning's Victorian over-reacher, and when it comes (which in all likelilhood it will), be prepared for the now-heightened pleasure of indulging yourself in a small taste of heaven.

8 Classic Albums vol.2 - Sonny Stitt
8 Classic Albums vol.2 - Sonny Stitt
Offered by MEGA Media
Price: $15.75
33 used & new from $6.98

5.0 out of 5 stars A glimpse of an American master: the most perfect and exemplary saxophonist in jazz, January 8, 2015
No young saxophonist can afford to bypass the recorded legacy of Sonny Stitt. He may not have been the most original or adventurous player: he was content simply to be "the best." When asked in a "Down Beat" piece about his indebtedness to "Bird" (Stitt was long accused of being a Charlie Parker "plagiarizer"), Sonny responded with no small amount of indignation and sheer anger: "I was playing like I do before I'd even heard Bird. Besides, I don't see the point of the comparison. Look at Art Tatum. You can't play no better than that!"

Indeed, if Stitt had a model it was Tatum. The perfection and logic of his playing on the standards of "The Great American Songbook"--that was Stitt's game. Walk into a studio like Roost records and lay down 5-6 first-take solos on each side of the record--which he did time and time again. The clarity of his sound, his expressive use of dynamics and legato articulations, the logic of his improvised solos as well as the perfection of his fills and turnarounds--no other saxophonist has approached the perfection and consistency of Stitt's prolific recorded output (estimated to be 150 recordings for a man who did not live beyond his mid-50s).

This collection tends to focus on a period when Sonny was deliberately simplifying his approach in an effort to reach the largest audience through familiar tunes with lots of swing and soul. In the early to mid-50s he would play furious bebop (especially in the sessions on Verve arranged by Norman Granz), and in the early '70s he would return to this sort of complexity--if only to prove to those too young to remember why he had so frequently been compared to Charlie Parker. On the first track of his first "serious" jazz side in over a decade--no tenor "battles," no reliance on the "Varitone," which was an octave-doubling gadget invented for him by Selmer (but covering up his personal sound), no B3 accompanying him on basic R&B "soul" tracks--but a blistering performance of "I Got Rhythm" featuring Sonny on both alto and tenor. Suddenly, the rest of the jazz world heard what some of us had known all along. (Miles Davis was well aware of Sonny's pyrotechnics, when he hired him as a replacement for the departed Coltrane. What Miles was apparently clueless about was Sonny's stubborn resistance to "free" and even "modal" jazz. The contentious musical relationship between Miles and Stitt can be heard on at least 3 different recordings made in France.)

Anyone who can't relate to the music on these records doesn't like standards or saxophone played as well as anyone has played it. Although I could just as easily pick out 15-20 "classic" Stitt albums not represented in this set, all of the albums in this collection are most worthy. The first time I heard Sonny was in the early '60s at McKee's Disc Jockey Show Lounge at 63rd and Cottage on Chicago's South Side. Donald Patterson was on organ and Billy James on drums (when they were no longer available to him, Sonny lost interest in the Hammond B3 and went back to piano accompanists such as Barry Harris, Jimmy Jones, and Hank Jones). But on this night (in 1961, as I recall) it was the appearance of Gene Ammons, recently discharged from Joliet prison, that triggered the crowd into a celebratory frenzy.

Jug would play one note to Sonny's 100, and it was invariably that one soulful note that got the attention of the house. Undaunted--but not irritated--Stitt kept playing rings around Ammons, who had an answer for every one of the virtuoso saxophonist's turns. You can catch a glimpse of the action and with the identical cast (Donald Patterson and Billy James) on one of the indispensable albums included in this collection: "Boss Tenors in Orbit."

Ware Manufacturing Willow Branch Ball 4-inch
Ware Manufacturing Willow Branch Ball 4-inch
Price: $3.99
13 used & new from $2.55

5.0 out of 5 stars Sparky's delight, January 4, 2015
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Give your guinea pig what it wants--not one of those wooden toys that take up Sparky's limited real estate and never as much as show a tooth mark. Give the bored little critter something he really enjoys tearing into. My GP took to this immediately. In a couple of days he had reduced it to a size small enough to fit into the door of his little house, and a day later the ball had disappeared.

No need to order more than one. A Willow Branch ball every 4th month should do the trick. Any more and your critter will become jaded and lose interest in the ball.

The Interview
The Interview
Price: $2.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Boring, overlong and derivative (despite a good interview scene and a charming Kim Jong-un), January 2, 2015
[After re-screening the film, I've raised my rating--largely because of the interview scene itself, an engaging, even inspired, combination of humor, tension and character revelation. Certainly no character in the movies has pronounced the name "Dave" with more charismatic appeal than Randall Park's Kim. Most of us probably sense we could easily, irrevocably, be drawn to Kim's "honey traps," irretrievably stuck to the likable dictator's oozing charm. As a result, we can readily understand the apparent failure of the interview due to Dave Skylark's submission to Kim's portrayal of N. Korea as a Utopia and the U.S. as the world's evil empire. But just as we, along with Dave, admit defeat, the humbled American TV star (played by James Franco) serendipitously strikes fire by confessing that he's a "fraud," incompetent at doing a serious interview--but he goes one step further with his candor by connecting this flaw with a childhood relation with a parent. In this inspired stretch of scripting, it is Kim who is suddenly drawn to a honey trap when he begins to take a retrospective route similar to Dave Skylark's. Before he comprehends the implications, Kim has become visibly distraught and and is soon captured on live television in a devastating emotional breakdown--a demonstration of "humanness" that was the last thing the "divine" king wanted the world and, above all, his own people to witness. It's a 10-minute, complex sequence that works especially well, taking the viewer on a roller coaster of contrasting emotions.]

Original review:

Costing an astonishing 40 million dollars (not counting millions spent on promotions), "The Interview" says more about Hollywood values than the national leader the film purports to expose. Moreover, the project is itself too attached to the big-money, rating-stakes game to land any meaningful punches on its other target--the Western media and its gullible audience. (James Franco's portrayal of a news anchor by the name of "David Skylark" is so broad and overstated it summons up a Jerry Springer or Howard Stern--or, even worse, Ron Burgundy, the fictional anchorman played by Will Ferrell.)

But what is a send-up of a send-up? On the whole, not a work of originality or socially redeeming value--and, worse, not a film that's funny enough to justify its 2-hour length (my wife informed me of the last 1/3rd of the film, when I was in and out of wakeful consciousness). Other than a few scattered laughs and several expensive scenes with crowds and exploding missiles, the film plays like a sophomoric fraternity skit (I should know--I wrote and directed a few as a college student--but without license to use the "F" word along with "poo" and "pee" jokes whenever the muse was in absentia). Compared to the overlong, overly derivative "The Interview," even Sacha Baron Cohen's "The Dictator" (a "mockumentary" of a Mid-Eastern honcho like Hussein) begins to look like, if not exactly a "great" film, a movie of wit and charm.

I must commend President Obama--certainly the most harassed U.S. President since Harry Truman, whose appearance in theatrical newsreels invariably triggered choruses of "boos" that still resonate in my memory--for taking a firm stand as America's spokesperson on behalf of "free speech." But better had his statements been made in the context of a better film. In fact, "The Interview" makes Kim Jong-Un look better, or at least more "human," than do those in the West who insist on "demonizing" such a character as a genuine threat to our national interests and personal security. The film's best moments are those when we're allowed to see that, rather than suffering from delusions of grandeur, the N. Korean dictator actually knows the difference between the common humanity that makes him "like" us (making real pee and poo) while forcing him to "pretend" that he's a god for the benefit of himself and his kingdom.

For me, the film's moment of truth occurs when Sook, the N. Korean "hot babe" (and voice of wisdom), tells the two U.S. protagonists-turned-assassins that killing Kim wouldn't change anything. Instead, she insists, "the people need to be shown that he is not a god, that he is man." Her use of "people" clearly extends beyond N. Koreans: when Skylark challenges her, she immediately responds: "How many times can the U.S. make the same mistake?"

Skylark answers, with typically clueless nationalist brio, "As many times as it takes." At this critical moment the viewer can only hope that the more subtle meaning--but salient truth--isn't missed by the film's viewers--if they're still awake.

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