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Reviews Written by
Gary F. Taylor "GFT" RSS Feed (Biloxi, MS USA)

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Price: $6.99
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some Remarkable Cuts, But Generally Second Tier, September 12, 2015
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This review is from: BANGA (Audio CD)
Patti Smith is never less than interesting, but some of her work is more interesting and some of it is less. Like WAVE and GUNG HO, the 2012 BANGA falls into the latter category. It has spectacular moments, to be sure, but it is uneven—and perhaps more significantly, it lacks the usual edge one associates with Patti Smith, whose work ranges from rock and roll savagery to delicately performed poetry. BANGA has a bit of both, but only a bit.

The opening “Amerigo” is promising indeed, an unexpected mix of poetry and strings and drums. Both melody and lyrics are simple, smooth, intriguing, and the following “April Fool” has a pop-inflected charm. But the following tracks are trivial. “Fuji-san” is, in a word, uninteresting. “This Is The Girl” sounds like something Blondie might have recorded for John Waters’ 1981 movie POLYESTER. The title cut, “Banga,” has some interesting lyrics, but they really don’t go anywhere worth mentioning.

The collection begins to recover itself with “Maria,” which has a melancholy elegance; “Mosaic” and “Tarkovsky (The Second Stop is Jupiter)” only hint at the power of Smith’s best incantations. Even so, it isn’t really until “Nine” that Smith achieves the sharpness one expects, and then the following “Seneca” is yet another “not quite” incantation.

Smith usually includes an unusually long piece on most of her albums, and these are sometimes spectacular (most famously “Land” on HORSES) and sometimes singularly unfortunate (notably the title cut from RADIO ETHIOPIA.) On BANGA, the big piece is “Constantine’s Dream,” with a run time of ten minutes nineteen seconds—and here she redeems the previously lackluster pieces, offering a swirling vision of artists and warriors and dreams. I would not describe this as among Smith’s best, but its pretty damn close.

The collection ends with a cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush." I have to say that I did not expect much from this—Smith isn’t exact the sort of vocalist you expect to hear covering Young—but she gives it a powerful but simple interpretation, ending BANGA on a strong positive.

Patti Smith has been one of my favorite artists since I discovered her with her first album HORSES in 1975. If I wanted to introduce her to a new listener, I would pick HORSES, EASTER, PEACE AND NOISE, or TRAMPIN’. But while it has its moments, BANGA is distinctly second tier.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

I Confess
I Confess
DVD ~ Montgomery Clift
Offered by Fulfillment Express US
Price: $8.75
95 used & new from $1.26

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If You Knew What He Knew What Would You Do?, September 8, 2015
This review is from: I Confess (DVD)
Released in 1953, Alfred Hitchcock’s I CONFESS had a long and occasionally tumultuous history. Paul Anthelme Bourde (1851-1914) was best known as a contributor to the French newspaper Le Temps—but he also wrote at least three plays, including the 1902 NOS DEUX CONSCIENCES (Our Two Consciences), a play about a Catholic Priest who hears the confession of a killer, but is then accused of the crime himself, and is executed because he will not break the seal of the confessional. Hitchcock apparently saw the play at some point in the 1930s, but did not begin to work with the material until the 1940s.

The script went through at least twelve hands over the course of eight years. Even so, Warner Brothers was certain it would offend millions or Roman Catholics, and demanded changes that softened the original material. There were unexpected difficulties shooting in Quebec and several casting problems. Perhaps Hitchcock’s greatest frustration was with leading man Montgomery Clift. Hitchcock was a very technical director and Clift was a formidable “method actor.” The two styles were incompatible, they frequently butted heads. The end result pleased neither reviewers nor audiences, and the film was dismissed as one of Hitchcock’s lesser works.

Seen today, the film is oddly uneven. Karl Malden, O.E. Hasse, and Dolly Haas walk off with the acting honors, and Brian Aherne makes an impression in a small role—but Clift’s performance seems too internalized, and leading lady Anne Baxter is a poor match for him. There is little, if any chemistry between them. The film is only about ninety minutes long, but it has a languid quality , and when all is said and done the single best thing about I CONFESS is the cinematography by Robert Burks, who gives the movie the look of a black and white engraving with norish flourishes. It’s not a bad movie, but it isn’t one that is going to put you on the edge of your seat, as many Hitchcock films do.

The DVD has an interesting “making of” documentary that is worth seeing, but this really is in the second tier of Hitchcock films, technically well-made but lacking that extra something that makes the best of Hitchcock feel special. Recommended, but primarily for established Hitchcock fans.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 9, 2015 8:22 AM PDT

Go Set a Watchman: A Novel
Go Set a Watchman: A Novel
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $14.99

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Early Draft of Mockingbird, of Academic Interest Only, July 21, 2015
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It is very, very obvious that GO SET A WATCHMAN is neither prequel nor sequel to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. It is clearly an earlier version of MOCKINGBIRD, a version of which Harper Lee, her advisers, and her publishers thought better and did not print.

Harper Lee (b. 1926) published TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in 1960. The novel was an instant success and quickly regarded as a modern classic. Lee, however, found that she greatly disliked the personal celebrity that went with the book’s success, and within a few years ended all contact with the press. She occasionally told friends that she was working on another project, but she also told friends that she would never write another novel because, after the success of MOCKINGBIRD, she had “nowhere to go but down.” As time passed she became increasing reclusive and eventually withdrew to her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, her interests protected by her attorney sister. It was not until after her sister’s death, with Lee an octogenarian recovering from a stroke in a nursing home, that GO SET A WATCHMAN became available—pulled from Lee’s personal archives by new representatives more interested in making a buck than in protecting Lee’s literary reputation.

WATCHMAN is set in the 1950s. Jean Louise “Scout” Finch is a young woman residing in New York who returns to her Alabama hometown once a year to visit her father Atticus, her aunt Alexandria, and her suitor Hank. (Her brother Jem has died some years earlier.) On this occasion, she is shocked to discover Atticus and Hank are involved in the segregationist movement—and in a legal case in which they plan to defend a drunk black man who accidentally ran over and killed an equally drunk white man, primarily in order to avoid the black man from being defended by the NAACP. Jean Louise is horrified by their racism and their hypocrisy, which she also finds pervasive throughout the town.

Some of the novel is told in Harper Lee’s voice, but some of it seems alien, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the book has been augmented by other hands. It also possesses a preachy quality—characters often address each other as if they were lecturing—and overall it has an uneven, rough, and abrupt quality, filled with superfluous episodes that have nothing to do with the story or the nebulous point it is trying to make. It possesses islands of greatness, but they are few and far between and in a very choppy sea.

Lee ripped characters and events and even descriptive passages from WATCHMAN (her descriptions of Aunt Alexandra and the Missionary Tea are the most obvious) to create MOCKINGBIRD, but there is no question as to which is the more memorable book. Had WATCHMAN been published instead of MOCKINGBIRD, Harper Lee would be a forgotten footnote in American literature. So, is WATCHMAN worth reading? Yes, but only if you are interested in comparing it to MOCKINGBIRD. It has passages that foreshadow the greatness of MOCKINGBIRD, but it is in and of itself embarrassingly trivial, and I find it hard to believe that Harper Lee knowingly and willingly allowed its publication.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 16, 2015 7:28 PM PDT

The Monkees - Head
The Monkees - Head
DVD ~ Micky Dolenz
Price: $13.79
35 used & new from $6.62

3.0 out of 5 stars Fun If You Don't Expect Too Much, July 4, 2015
This review is from: The Monkees - Head (DVD)
Most people know The Monkees (Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith) were not an organic band; they were just four actors put together by television producers Robert Rafelson and Bert Schneider to star in a television series that riffed on the popularity of The Beatles. But Rafelson and Schneider got more than they expected. The actors turned out to have pretty serious musical chops, and as the television serious and recordings took off, they began to demand more control of their material. When tensions soared, the series was canceled—but The Monkees remained together as a popular band for several more years, and then continued as a band through several reunions until the sudden death of Davy Jones in 2012.

One of the band’s post-television projects was HEAD, written by Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack Nicholson) and Bob Rafelson with significant input from the band members. It is an impossible-to-describe fit of surrealism that scrambles the band and various guest stars (including Annette Funicello, Terri Garr, Frank Zappa, Jack Nicholson, and Victor Mature among others) through a series of movie sets and story lines that very deliberately fail to connect up. The result is rather like flipping through a series of television channels—and a rather acid comment on the entertainment business.

The movie doesn’t really go far enough, isn’t really extreme enough to do what it sets out to do—but it is weird enough to hold your attention for its eighty-something-minute runtime. Although it was a tremendous flop when it came out in 1968, it has since become something of a cult film, and more than one person has noted that use of illegal substances while viewing helps a lot. The DVD includes a few extras, including trailers. It’s fun if you don’t expect too much.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

Fritz the Cat
Fritz the Cat
DVD ~ Skip Hinnant
Offered by RareFlix-N-Classix
Price: $89.95
29 used & new from $21.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uneven and Dated, Best Left To Film Students, June 22, 2015
This review is from: Fritz the Cat (DVD)
Based on an adult comic strip by Robert Crumb and released in 1972, FRITZ THE CAT was the first feature length animated film to receive an X rating. At the time, it was considered quite scandalous, a mixture of sex, drugs, stereotypes, and political satire. Today it is an artifact of its era, a movie that is more interesting for the ground it broke than as a movie plain and simple.

The story is extremely episodic. Fritz and his friends are in the park to attract women; only Fritz is successful, and he instigates and orgy in a bathtub, but his party is crashed, first by dope-smoking fiends and then by the cops (rendered as pigs, of course.) Fritz makes his escape, accidentally sets fire to his college, steals a car, incites a race riot, and travels cross country with an ersatz girlfriend to California, where he becomes involved in a terrorist plot to blow up a power plant. You might say it’s basically one damned thing after another, but with not much glue to hold the vignettes together.

The film is incredibly, incredibly uneven. A sequence in which Fritz goes sexually wild over Bertha is well animated, wickedly funny, and so politically incorrect you can’t help but laugh—but such moments are few and far between. The satire is often sharp, but it is also dated, and overall the film falls flat. It is perhaps best left to those who remember it fondly—or to film students who are interested in the era.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

Let's Scare Jessica to Death
Let's Scare Jessica to Death
DVD ~ Lampert
Price: $17.94
21 used & new from $13.20

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Let's Bore The Audience To Death, June 8, 2015
This review is from: Let's Scare Jessica to Death (DVD)
Released in 1971, LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH has a way of turning up on various “best of” lists of 1970s horror movies. But frankly I don’t see it. I thought it slow, obvious, and painful.

In a nutshell: Jessica (Zohra Lampert) has recently suffered a nervous breakdown. Her husband (Barton Heyman) and their friend (Kevin O'Connor) move her out of the city and to a rural house, where she can complete her recovery in peace. In a bizarre twist, they find a squatter (Mariclare Costello) living in the house. Jessica takes pity on her and invites her to stay. But is this strange woman what she seems to be—or is she something much, much worse?—or is Jessica going crazy again?

The performances are adequate, but the script gives the actors very little to beyond stare and smile in various creepy ways, and the pace is slower than molasses in January. It became uninteresting within the first fifteen minutes and was intensely dull by the time the final credits rolled. More power to those who enjoy this movie, but I can’t recommend it.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 21, 2015 9:11 PM PDT

Scooby Doo! Music of the Vampire
Scooby Doo! Music of the Vampire
DVD ~ Matthew Lillard
Price: $14.27
50 used & new from $4.96

2.0 out of 5 stars Really Bites, June 7, 2015
Released in 2011, SCOOBY-DOO! THE MUSIC OF THE VAMPIRE is the seventeenth in the “feature length” Scooby-Doo cartoon series created specifically for the home market. In this particular program, a close encounter with a giant cockroach monster has caused the gang to weary of monster hunts. They decide to take a vacation and they let Velma pick the destination. She takes them to Cajun country, where a small town is holding an annual “vampire festival.” Needless to say, one of the vampires soon proves a bit too real—and focuses on Daphne.

The Scooby-Doo movies aren’t high art by any stretch of the imagination, but they are fun for kids and comfort viewing for adults who, like myself, recall the original cartoon series fondly. But to be quite frank, THE MUSIC OF THE VAMPIRE is painful. For some unknown reason, the creators have styled it like a Broadway musical. Like a very bad Broadway musical. Every now and then the characters stop and break into unexpectedly bad musical numbers while what little plot and energy the movie has grinds to an absolute halt.

That said, uncritical kids will probably be amused, and yes, the animation is pretty good. But SCOOBY-DOO! THE MUSIC OF THE VAMPIRE really bites.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

Enter a Murderer: Inspector Roderick Alleyn #2 (Inspectr Roderick Alleyn)
Enter a Murderer: Inspector Roderick Alleyn #2 (Inspectr Roderick Alleyn)
Price: $8.69

4.0 out of 5 stars Marsh Takes A Great Leap Forward With Her Second Novel, June 6, 2015
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Ngaio Marsh (1985-1982) was one of the four “Queens of Crime” (the others being Marjorie Allingham, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy L. Sayers) who largely defined the 20th Century English murder mystery. All her mystery novels feature Inspector Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard, and the 1935 ENTER A MURDERER is his second appearance. The novel also marks the first appearance of a character that will eventually be known as “Br’er Fox,” Alleyn’s most trusted assistant.

Although she is now best recalled as an author, Marsh was also a professional stage actress and director, and ENTER A MURDERER is set against the theatrical world that she knew so well. Reporter Nigel Bathgate has received two tickets for a popular stage thriller playing at The Unicorn Theatre, a play titled The Rat and the Badger. He invites Alleyn to join him for the performance—and pretense becomes fact when an actor is murdered.

In Marsh’s first novel, A MAN LAY DEAD, Alleyn was a cardboardish figure, and most of the novel followed Bathgate. In ENTER A MURDERER, however, Alleyn is much more developed and completely in charge, and the result is much more satisfying. The people who work at the theatre, and the atmosphere of the theatre itself, is also memorably developed. This is still not Marsh at her best, but it is easy to see how rapidly her confidence as a writer has improved, and although the book takes a few mis-turns, it is a fascinating read. Recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

A Man Lay Dead: Inspector Roderick Alleyn #1 (Inspectr Roderick Alleyn)
A Man Lay Dead: Inspector Roderick Alleyn #1 (Inspectr Roderick Alleyn)
Price: $8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars An Apprentice Work, June 6, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Ngaio Marsh (1985-1982) was one of the four “Queens of Crime” (the others being Marjorie Allingham, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy L. Sayers) who largely defined the 20th Century English murder mystery. All her mystery novels feature Inspector Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard, and the 1934 A MAN LAY DEAD is his first appearance.

Most writers go through an apprentice period, and in truth A MAN LAY DEAD reads very much as if Marsh is copying an Agatha Christie formula. A number of people are invited a country house for a weekend party. The guests include a womanizer, a reporter, and an oddly-behaved Russian. The entertainment includes a variation of “the murder game:” a pretend killer selects a pretend victim and the other guests play sleuth. Unfortunately, an unknown element steps into the game and turns pretense into reality, and a very real corpse is found with a somewhat mysterious dagger protruding from his back. Fortunately, Alleyn is soon on the case.

Marsh’s first novel is not only derivative, it is stiffly written. Even so, all the elements are there: her well known skill for mingling character and setting begins to show even here, and several of the characters—Alleyn, Nigel Bathgate, and Angela North—will go on to become reoccurring characters in Marsh’s later and more expert novels (B’rer Fox does not make his appearance until Marsh’s second novel, ENTER A MURDERER.) It may be clunky, but it is clunky with talent, and while you might spot the killer early on, the manner of the murder is quite inspired. Even so, this isn’t the novel I’d select to introduce a new reader to Marsh—it is more likely to appeal to an established fan who wants to read all of Marsh’s works. Recommended to such.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare
Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare
Price: $7.50
56 used & new from $0.32

4.0 out of 5 stars One of the More Entertaining, Imaginative Entries in the Series, June 4, 2015
This review is from: Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare (DVD)
Released in 2010, SCOOBY-DOO! CAMP SCARE is the fifteenth in the “feature length” Scooby-Doo cartoon series created specifically for the home market. In this release, Fred takes the gang to Little Moose Camp, where they plan to work as camp counselors for the summer—but the arrive to discover that all the silly campfire ghost stories have suddenly begun to come true! The result is one of the more imaginative films in the series, with the gang battling three different monsters, discovering an underwater city, and becoming involved in a search for bank robbery loot.

The Scooby-Doo movies aren’t exactly high art, but this series of movies is very well imagined, with the characters updated but still recognizable from the 1960s originals. The animation is generally good, and the story cracks along at good pace. CAMP SCARE is a bit creepier than some of the Scooby-Doo movies, so parents may want to preview it for very young children. That said, it’s tremendous fun, and one of my favorites in the “feature length” series.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

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