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Gary F. Taylor "GFT" RSS Feed (Biloxi, MS USA)
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Scooby-Doo! Stage Fright
Scooby-Doo! Stage Fright
DVD ~ Various
Price: $12.96
35 used & new from $5.11

4.0 out of 5 stars Phantom of the What?, February 6, 2016
This review is from: Scooby-Doo! Stage Fright (DVD)
Released in 2013, SCOOBY-DOO! STAGE FRIGHT is twentieth in the “feature length” Scooby-Doo cartoon series created specifically for the home market.

STAGE FRIGHT riffs on popular reality shows like American Idol and the stage musical The Phantom of the Opera—with slight nods to Phantom of the Paradies, Svengali, and The Wizard of Oz, among others. In this story, Fred and Daphne are in the finals of “Star Talent,” and Scooby and the gang head off to Chicago for the performance. But the old opera house is haunted by a phantom who declares he wants a particular contestant to win: the incredibly obnoxious child singer Christine.

Pretty soon the various contestants begin to decamp one by one, leaving only Christine, violin prodigy Emma Gale, and Fred and Daphne to perform. But is the phantom really the same phantom who haunted the opera house in the 1970s? Or is it a newer model? And why does it want Christine to win when it also seems intent on destroying the theatre before the performance can take place? The plot is a bit more twisty than most Scooby Doo ‘movies,’ and I thought it wore a bit thin toward the end, but fans will enjoy it.

I like to point out that, while no one would accuse the Scooby Doo cartoons of being great art, they are usually well done and entertaining. It is always fun to revisit the gang, the plots cleverly make fun of their own clichés (in this film Fred tells Daphne that everyone must run into ghosts and monsters all the time, it would be too weird if it only happened to them) and the animation here is particularly sharp. Recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


Beckett on Film DVD Set
Beckett on Film DVD Set
DVD ~ Kristen Scott Thomas
Price: $109.99
7 used & new from $105.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Eh, January 30, 2016
This review is from: Beckett on Film DVD Set (DVD)
Samuel Beckett (1906 – 22 December 1989) was born in Ireland and became associated with James Joyce. Although he lived in Ireland and England, and traveled extensively, his primary residence was Paris, where he was a member of the French Resistance during World War II. Fluent in several languages, he wrote in English and French, often writing in French and translating the work into English. He became well known with the production of WAITING FOR GODOT in 1953. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.

Although he wrote poems, novels, essays, television plays, and radio scripts, Beckett is perhaps best known for his plays. He is often thought of as an absurdist or a surrealist, for his plays often involve bizarre theatrical devices to make symbolic statements about his characters and their situations. Most of his plays might be described as black comedies in which the characters endure a physical frustration that corresponds with their mental and emotional states. Beckett’s plays tend to focus on a shattered sort language (or its absence; he is a master of silence) and are generally without any clear resolution.

Beckett on Film is a four DVD set of every known play (excluding television, radio, and film) that Beckett wrote. The collection includes a number of celebrated actors, including Julianne Moore, Jeremy Irons, John Hurt, and John Gielgud, and a number of noted directors, including David Mamet, Anthony Minghella, Patricia Rozema, and Neil Jordan. Unfortunately, the result is less than satisfactory.

Part of the problem is that stage plays, as a general rule, do not film well. That is very much the case with Beckett’s work, and most of the humor is lost and the literal nature of film (including special effects) tends to reduce the plays to the commonplace. The most obvious disasters are WAITING FOR GODOT and HAPPY DAYS, both of which are filmed in a genuine landscapes that have the effect of making both these extraordinary plays seem extremely commonplace. KRAPP’S LAST TAPE, starring John Hurt, is extremely good, and so too is the short FOOTFALLS, starring Susan Fitzgerald, which captures mood and tone to a remarkable degree. ACT WITHOUT WORDS 1 is very funny and ACT WITHOUT WORDS 2 is interesting, perhaps the only pieces in the collection that actually use film to their advantage. But the rest are pretty ho-hum, neither so bad you can’t stand to watch them or so good you want to see them again. Indeed, I can’t imagine wanting to see any of these films again, which range in run time from about two hours (WAITING FOR GODOT is the longest) to a few seconds (BREATH.)

The DVD set includes a making-of documentary, which is less about Beckett than it is about the directors and actors. It is a collection that will appeal most to established Beckett fans and academics, but I doubt many will be unreservedly enthusiastic. This really is a case of better seen on the stage or read on the page than subjected to the camera.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


Scooby-Doo! Mask of the Blue Falcon
Scooby-Doo! Mask of the Blue Falcon
DVD ~ Naoak Drake
Price: $14.69
48 used & new from $1.13

4.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the Mega Mondo Pop Comic ConApalooza!, January 30, 2016
Released in 2013, SCOOBY-DOO! THE MASK OF BLUE FALCON is nineteenth in the “feature length” Scooby-Doo cartoon series created specifically for the home market. In this release, Shaggy takes the gang to Mega Mondo Pop Comic ConApalooza, where he and Scooby enter the costume contest as their favorite comic and television show heroes, Blue Falcon and Dynomutt. They are anxious to meet Owen Garrison, who played Blue Falcon in an earlier television series; Freddie wants to see the new Blue Falcon movie, which has left Owen in the dust, and Daphne is eager to purchase stuffed toy collectibles. Velma is bored by the whole thing—until she discovers the ConApalooza has been attacked by a mysterious entity named Mr. Hyde, the comic book nemesis of Blue Falcon.

No one would accuse the Scooby Doo cartoons, either old or new, of being great art, but the premise and characters (inspired, it is said, by a mixture of the radio and television series I LOVE A MYSTERY and THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS) are usually well done, and BLUE FALCON is especially clever. The ConApalooza provides plenty of amusing swipes at such venues and plenty of chances to revisit old Hannah-Barbera cartoon characters like Frankenstein Jr. and The Herculoids. This time it is very easy to spot the bad guy, but the plot is unexpectedly twisty. It is all a lot of fun. Recommended for fans both old and new.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


Amy [DVD + Digital]
Amy [DVD + Digital]
DVD ~ Amy Winehouse
Price: $11.99
33 used & new from $7.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Portrait of a Star that Imploded, January 23, 2016
This review is from: Amy [DVD + Digital] (DVD)
Amy Winehouse was born in London in 1983. She attended school for the performing arts and, from about the age of fourteen, made several quasi-professional appearances before a friend sent a demo tape to A&R. This led to a series of auditions, and Winehouse was signed by 19 Management. She spent some time under wraps and ultimately signed a deal with EMI. The result was the album FRANK. The recording was a smash in England, but Winehouse was not satisfied, for she did not have complete creative control over the recording. She made sure this would not be a future issue, and in 2006 released BLACK TO BLACK. It was immensely successful and it launched Winehouse into the white hot fame that would prove so corrosive. She made personal appearances and recorded more material, but she would not live to create another album. She died at age 27 in London in 2011.

AMY, directed by Asif Kapadia and released in 2015, documents Winehouse’s life from about the time she began to perform professionally until her death, but it does so in a somewhat unexpected way. There are no “talking heads,” no opinions from biographers and musicologists. The film is drawn from casual video footage taken by friends and family, from television and concert productions, and similar sources. Very often there is contemporary commentary from friends and family, other artists and business associates, but by and large the emphasis is on Amy being Amy. The result is both magical devastating.

AMY, directed by Asif Kapadia and released in 2015, relies exclusively on video footage taken by friends, family, television events, concert performances, and the like. AMY begins with footage of Winehouse from her teens, cheerfully young, and continues chronologically through her early successes and then into her addictions, her public disasters, and ultimately her death. The earlier footage is remarkable for her youthful charm. The later footage is remarkable for the image of hell she becomes.

The journey between those points is dramatically captured in the commentary that underscores the film footage. AMY does not make judgments about its subject or the people in her life, but I think it is fairly safe to say that her father, Mitchell Winehouse, and her eventual husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, come off very, very poorly, and they are indicative of the self-serving people that coalesced around Winehouse as she became a superstar vocalist, shutting out people who genuinely had Winehouse’s best interests at heart. But there is no escaping the fact that Winehouse was an addictive personality, and like all addicts, she did not realize she was one until she became one. There were interventions, efforts at rehab, a media feeding frenzy, concert disasters, and a commonplace, sordid end.

Winehouse is often compared to Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix, all of whom died at age 27, but I think she is probably best compared with Judy Garland. They share many traits. But AMY is not interested in comparisons; it is interested in Winehouse as an individual, who she was, what she became, and what she might have been if she had survived the ferocity of fame, a very bad love affair, and her own addictions. It is an astonishing and powerful film. The DVD includes several brief bonuses and an audio commentary that is worth hearing. Strongly recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


Scooby Doo and the Cyber Chase
Scooby Doo and the Cyber Chase
DVD ~ Scott Innes
Price: $4.99
52 used & new from $0.55

3.0 out of 5 stars A Mild Entry in the Scooby-Doo Feature Series, January 8, 2016
Released in 2001, SCOOBY-DOO AND THE CYBER CHASE is the fourth in the “feature length” Scooby-Doo cartoon series created specifically for the home market. In this particular story, the gang visit a friend who has created a video game based on their adventures—and now a computer virus has taken human form and emerged from the game to create havoc. In a twist borrowed from TRON, a laser transports the gang into the game, where they must fight through ten game levels to escape and expose the villain who created the virus.

The idea is clever, but in truth the show doesn’t do much with it until the gang reaches level ten, when they meet their cyberspace doubles and confront a series of monsters from past adventures, including The Creeper and Old Iron Face. The animation is good, but not spectacular, and while CYBER CHASE seems to be among the most popular titles in the series, it is not an especially memorable one. Even so, recommended for Scooby fans young and old.

GFT


Scooby-Doo! Frankencreepy
Scooby-Doo! Frankencreepy
DVD ~ Frank Welker
39 used & new from $3.21

5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly Funny and Intricate, December 26, 2015
This review is from: Scooby-Doo! Frankencreepy (DVD)
Released in 2010, SCOOBY-DOO! FRANKENCREEPY is the twenty-second in the “feature length” Scooby-Doo cartoon series created specifically for the home market. In this release, Velma learns she is heiress to the Von Dinkenstein estate—and tells the gang that she is actually a descendent of the scientist who inspired Mary Shelly to write the novel FRANKENSTEIN. Velma is uninterested in claiming the estate, but when the Mystery Machine is bombed as a warning to her not to pursue the matter, the gang insist that she go to Transylvania, Pennsylvania to avenge the van’s destruction.

The gang soon discovers their meddling has unleashed the Von Dinkenstein curse: each one of them will lose the thing they love most and then be destroyed. Fred has already lost the Mystery Machine. Daphne goes from a size two a size eight (oh, the horror!) and beyond; Velma goes insane; and Shaggy and Scooby receive the worst blow of all: they lose their appetites! Can the gang undo the curse, escape the Von Dinkenstein castle, and expose the criminals before it is too late?

No one would accuse the Scooby Doo cartoons, either old or new, of being great art, but the premise and characters (inspired, it is said, by the radio series I LOVE A MYSTERY and THE MANY LOVES OF DOBY GILLIS) are well-done and fun—and FRANKENCREEPY is very close to the best of the lot. The story, which occasionally riffs on THE YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, is unexpectedly intricate, referencing the original Saturday morning series in an unexpected way; the adventures are surprising; and the ritual unmasking of the villains quite clever. There are quite a few killjoys who claim Daphne's weight gain is unacceptable fat-shaming, but pay not attention to them. FRANKENCREEPY is lots of fun for fans both old and new.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


Just Kids
Just Kids
by Patti Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.05
242 used & new from $5.13

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "When You Hit A Wall, Kick It Down" -- An Astonishing Memoir, November 7, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Just Kids (Paperback)
In her lyrics, Smith is famous her odd mixture of poetry, personal phraseology, intellectualism, and emotional ferocity. It is therefore a surprise to find her unexpected turns of phrase existing in JUST KIDS as grace notes, with the text itself remarkably clean. It is a side of her talent that has gone unknown, overshadowed by her status as high priestess of American punk rock and icon of all that title implies. The result is a fascinating account of her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, how the two came to meet in New York in the 1960s, and how they fueled each other’s artistic ambitions. Although they would eventually go their separate ways, they remained close until Mapplethorpe’s 1989 death from HIV/AIDS.

According to Smith, she was the more stable of the two, able to hold down jobs that paid the rent and put food on the table, while Mapplethorpe, overmastered by his talents, dabbled in drugs and spent his time creating necklaces, collages, and assemblies. Although they lived in various apartments and lofts, they most famously lived at the Chelsea Hotel, home to many avant-garde artists of the day. Determined to crash the Andy Warhol set, Mapplethorpe—with Smith unwillingly in tow—frequented Max’s Kansas City; Warhol remained elusive, but they did indeed make contact with his satellites. When Mapplethorpe’s homosexuality became apparent, Smith and Mapplethorpe did not separate, but simply segued into a deeply bonded friendship, and while Mapplethorpe had numerous lovers, Smith developed relationships with Sam Shepard and Allen Lanier. With Shepard, she co-created the play COWBOY MOUTH; through Lanier, she contributed lyrics to the band Blue Oyster Cult.

Smith does a fair amount of name-dropping in this memoir, but given the world in which she moved it would be difficult to do otherwise—and interestingly, her name-dropping is never self-aggrandizing so much as self-astonished, unbelieving that she actually met Jimi Hendrix, said hello to Grace Slick, or spent time with Janis Joplin. It is typical of Smith that when Joplin asked her how she looked, Smith told her “like a pearl”—but never claims to have given Joplin that famous nickname, indeed never mentions it again. But for all the celebrities mentioned, and for all the cultural references that range from Judy Garland to Arthur Rimbaud, the overall focus remains on the relationship between Smith and Mapplethorpe, and she writes about it with surprising honesty and without being judgmental. She is never anything less than accepting of his extremes—and indeed, never anything less than accepting of the extremes of others.

JUST KIDS will appeal most, I think, to people who already know quite a bit about the late 1960s and early 1970s art scene in New York; those who do not will find the names and locales mentioned obscure. But that excepted, this short memoir is a vivid portrait of an extraordinary relationship in an extraordinary arts era that gave rise to two memorable artists who have had tremendous influence over the long haul: Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


BANGA
BANGA
Price: $6.99
105 used & new from $1.50

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
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
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
Price: $9.99
92 used & new from $2.34

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: $12.99

16 of 18 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


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