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

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Go Set a Watchman: A Novel
Go Set a Watchman: A Novel
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $13.99

11 of 13 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 (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 22, 2015 6:25 PM PDT

The Monkees - Head
The Monkees - Head
DVD ~ Micky Dolenz
Price: $13.58
32 used & new from $7.94

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
19 used & new from $39.95

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: $17.98
26 used & new from $13.79

1 of 2 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: $12.99
43 used & new from $1.00

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
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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 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 $0.88

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

I Bury the Living
I Bury the Living
DVD ~ Richard Boone
Offered by Hermosa Creek Films
Price: $12.49
32 used & new from $1.45

4.0 out of 5 stars Sold 1950s B Thriller, May 24, 2015
This review is from: I Bury the Living (DVD)
Richard Boone (1917-1981) was an extremely popular television star during the 1950s and 1960s, particularly known for the role of Paladin in the series HAVE GUN—WILL TRAVEL. Although most of his work would be in television, he did make a number of movies, and in 1958 those movies included I BURY THE LIVING, a black and white thriller directed by Albert Band and written by Louis Garfinkle, the latter of whom would have a hand in such notable films as THE DEAR HUNTER.

Inexpensively filmed with notable character actors Theodore Bikel and Herbert Anderson, the film concerns businessman Robert Kraft (Boone) who is forced to serve a term as chairman of a local cemetery. In theory, it is a job that will require an afternoon once a week or so, and the facilities include a map of the cemetery in which white pins represent burial plots not in use and black pins represent burial plots in which the owners have been interred. On his first day at the cemetery, Kraft sells two plots to newlyweds—and accidentally puts black pins on the map to mark the plots they have buried.

Kraft is shocked when the newlyweds are killed in a car wreck. He is also perturbed. Is it possible that he somehow caused their deaths by accidentally using black pins instead of white? He conducts an experiment and death is the result. Although the other members of the cemetery committee, his friend, and his fiancée try to convince him that is all coincidence, unexplained deaths begin to pile high every time Kraft uses the map, and he begins to fear he is losing his mind.

I BURY THE LIVING was released as a B movie, the sort of thing that could be shown at the local drive-in, but it is a cut above most such films. Although the script doesn’t always add up, the story is interesting, the cinematography is elegant, and the film is especially memorable for the strange map, which seems to take on a life of its own as the movie progresses. This isn’t an absolute “must see” in the same sense as such 1950s horror flicks as INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, but it’s fun, and fans of the genre will enjoy it.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

Gung Ho
Gung Ho
71 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Gung Ho is Ho Hum, May 24, 2015
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This review is from: Gung Ho (Audio CD)
At her best, Patti Smith’s recordings possess an emotional ferocity, visceral intensity, and intellectual insightfulness that combine to make her one of the most unique recording artists of our era. But now and then she lacks focus. RADIO ETHIOPIA has some spectacular selections, but it is half extraordinary, half self-indulgent. WAVE has some of Smith’s most beautiful recordings, but it is an extremely uneven collection. And then there is GUNG HO, which doesn’t sound like Patti Smith at all. No, it sounds like George Harrison’s sitar was high-jacked by Missing Persons and then sideswiped by The Red Hot Chili Peppers for a series of songs that Debbie Harry turned down for the 1981 KOOKOO.

The first couple of songs, “One Voice” and “Lo and Beholden,” are unfortunately hilarious, a mixture of Indian and Middle Eastern melodies turned to pop with incredibly ridiculously lyrics. Sorry, Patti, but I just can’t imagine you performing the dance of the seven veils without a giggle. There follows a series of unmemorable songs with pretentious lyrics and then we have “Glitter in Their Eyes,” which received an Emmy nomination for 2001’s Best Female Rock Vocal. In truth, Smith’s voice is powerful here, but the song itself is semi-rap nonsense with a bouncy beat and nothing much to remember.

Smith is particularly well known for extremely long tracks that mix poetry, politics, and her artistic intensity, and GUNG HO offers two: “Strange Messengers,” which runs over eight minutes, and the title “Gung Ho,” which runs just short of twelve minutes. The first starts out well with its images of the evils of slavery, but it soon falls apart with Smith sitting in judgment on the descendants of those slaves in a series of lyrics that can only be called silly. As for “Gung Ho,” it’s hard to know what the song is about until Smith very specifically mentions Vietnam.

There is one song in the collection that is a surprising knock-out: “Libbie’s Song,” one of Smith’s fairly rare takes on the Appalachian folk music sound. Written as the lament of Gen. Custer’s widow Elizabeth, Smith not only nails the style, she renders it beautifully. But one song isn’t enough to make an entire collection worth the effort, and while the musicianship is obvious, the power simply isn’t there. This is a CD that only hardcore Smith fans will want to add to their collection—and even then I doubt they’ll play it often.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

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