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William Sommerwerck "grizzled geezer" RSS Feed (Renton, WA USA)

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Beethoven: Complete Piano Concertos
Beethoven: Complete Piano Concertos
Price: $17.96
28 used & new from $8.81

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars inspired performances, December 16, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Today is LvB's birthday, and this is the music I chose to listen to.

On the series "Alaska, the Last Frontier", one of the Kilchers remarks that money can't buy happiness, but it can buy goats. Though not a goat, this set is another example of happiness money can buy.

These are breezy (but not weightless) Classical performances, as if Mozart were at the keyboard. To extend the animal metaphor, they evoke 'possum grins.

The Choral Fantasia, which often comes off as a tediously repetitive bore, a clumsy, incompetent anticipation of 9:4, is here a brilliant, engaging showpiece.

Stop what you're doing, and buy a copy. You will be very happy (for a few hours, anyway).

WKRP In Cincinnati: The Complete Series
WKRP In Cincinnati: The Complete Series
DVD ~ Gary Sandy
Price: $84.75
17 used & new from $83.94

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does for radio what "Barney Miller" did for police, December 13, 2014
Though "WKRP in Cincinnati" is not as brilliantly comic as "Barney Miller"/"Night Court", or "Cheers"/"Frasier", it remains in the top rank of sitcoms for focusing on character-based humor, and more-than-occasionally dealing with the real world. I appreciate it more now than I did 35 years ago.

Though "Turkeys Away!" remains the best-remembered episode, there are other exceptionally good ones. "Commercial Break" (anticipating "Frasier"'s "They're Playing Our Song"), has the station creating an ad for a funeral parlor, the owner's name being "Ferryman". (Get it?) In "Filthy Pictures", Herb's attempts to figure out how he should pose to seduce a (presumed) gay man are hysterical. "Real Families" assaults reality TV, and includes Lucille Tarlek's description of "Little House on the Prairie" as a show about "blind children in the West". "An Explosive Affair" revolves around a bomb planted at the transmitter. "Jennifer and the Will" has her named as executrix of an elderly boyfriend -- marvelously played by Pat O'Brien. I've probably missed other great ones.

Some professional reviewers (most born after the series first aired) find Les Nessman's insensitive remarks about Venus to be unacceptable. Why? That's the way Les is. (Mrs Carlson calls him "obtuse", a word he has to look up.) "WKRP" repeatedly uses Venus to examine race relations, rather than just as a "token black" character. It's disturbing to see how little has changed in 40 years.

The reunion -- staged specifically for this release -- makes one wonder whether Loni Anderson has a decaying painting in her attic. Even allowing for the possibility she uses the cosmetic equivalent of gunite, it's hard to believe that she's -- wait for it -- 69 years old.

If you're on a budget and COST COntainment is a consideration, you should shop carefully before purchase.

PS: The book Les Nessman is sometimes seen reading appears to be "The Hog Book" by William Hedgepeth.

The LEGO Movie (Blu-ray + DVD)
The LEGO Movie (Blu-ray + DVD)
DVD ~ Chris Pratt
Offered by BuyAndEnjoy
Price: $24.48
62 used & new from $9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly clever -- but ultimately heartless, December 5, 2014
Like "Rango", "The LEGO Movie" is likely to appeal even more to adults than children. The amount of serious analysis it's received is not surprising.

The plotting borrows from many popular films, most notably "Star Wars", "Lord of the Rings", and "The Matrix", even to the point of copying specific scenes (eg, "The Incredibles"). But no one seemed to object, because kids use toys to re-enact familiar stories. I won't reveal the end, but everything comes together in a logically satisfying -- if not emotionally gratifying -- way. In its last ten minutes, the film tries to evoke a strong emotional reaction from the audience. Unfortunately, it hasn't done much to earn it in the preceding ninety.

I normally feel children's films shouldn't promote social or political agendas, either to the left or to the right. But I'll make an exception in this case, because "The LEGO Movie" attacks "monied interests" and encourages disrespect for authority. Awesome.

Kids will adore "The LEGO Movie". Whether adults will want to watch it more than twice is questionable.

Soundsoul M10 Metel Earphone Headphone Headset Earbud
Soundsoul M10 Metel Earphone Headphone Headset Earbud
Price: $16.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars $10? You've got to be kidding! (They were. It's now $13. Whoops. $17.), November 21, 2014
These earphones were supplied as a gift, in exchange for a review. They're far better than they have any right to be.

I'm an audiophile who listens to (and has recorded) classical music. To say that I actually >>like<< $17 earphones, is akin to Juila Child saying she liked McDonald's French fries.

Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. The M-10 is billed as having "rich bass". And that it does. There's so much of it, that it verges (for this listener) on making them unacceptable for acoustic music. Most listeners (myself included) like a bit of bass boost when using headphones, but the M-10 starts the boost at least an octave too high. The sound gets annoyingly "rumbly" with some music. Contrary to SoundSOUL's claim, the M-10 is not suitable for "professional monitoring and mixing".

As for the good stuff...

The mids and highs are smooth and fairly well-detailed. Not electrostatic, mind you, but clean and not too dry/grainy. Woodwinds are especially natural, strings not so much. The M-10 is eminently "listenable" -- and the most-comfortable earphones I've ever shoved into my canals. Suppression of outside sound is good.

Sensitivity is extremely high. You hardly have to raise the volume to get "head-filling" sound.

The cable is short, flat, un-tangly and un-fiddly. The mic is a nice bonus, but I'm not sure you'd want to use these earphones with a cell phone, as you have to press the button to engage the mic.

I don't want to overstate the case, but if I didn't know what the M-10 cost and was told these were $50 earphones, I //might// believe it. I'd certainly believe $25. (Note how the actual selling price is approaching the perceived-value price.)

Now, if SoundSOUL would just cut back the bass boost to something more natural, I could unhesitatingly recommend the M-10 to every listener who wanted inexpensive earphones. They're almost certain to please rock listeners, and at $13 are a virtual impulse buy.

Adventures of Ichabod & Mr Toad / Fun & Fancy Free [Blu-ray]
Adventures of Ichabod & Mr Toad / Fun & Fancy Free [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Bing Crosby
Price: $25.21
25 used & new from $17.08

4.0 out of 5 stars a mixed bag, but worth owning, November 16, 2014
If you're familiar with the three films (yes, three) on this Blu-ray disk, you might want to skip to the end, which discusses image quality.

After WWII, the Disney studio was in financial shambles. In an attempt to make money quickly, Disney released a number of "compilation" films, none of which was particularly successful with critics or crowds. "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad" combines "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" with "The Wind in the Willows". The latter is a surprisingly faithful rendition of the book's central story -- Toad's friends trying to get him to behave responsibly (which works well in an animated film) -- but the quieter, more-reflective parts of the book are missing. (Walt even said that the book didn't lend itself to animation.). I find it unengaging (others like it), though Eric Blore's performance as Toad is a pleasure.

"Ichabod Crane" is a hoot, though, one of Disney's very best short films. Everything about it is suited to animation, especially Crane's homely features and gangly body, and the final confrontation with the Headless Horseman -- arguably one of the great sequences in the history of animation. With Bing Crosby carrying the singing and story-telling duties, there's zero dialog, with lets the animators focus on what they do best.

"Fun and Fancy Free" is a similarly mixed bag. "Bongo" is a circus bear, in a story written by Sinclair Lewis (!!!), who longs for the wild life. It's cute the first time you see it -- and that's it. "Mickey and the Beanstalk" might not be a high point of Disney animation, but it holds up to repeat viewings.

If this disk held only these two films, it would be of questionable value. What saves it is the third, "The Reluctant Dragon". Robert Benchley * is pestered by his wife (played by an actress) to show "The Reluctant Dragon" (supposedly written by his nephew (it was actually written by Kenneth Grahame 32 years earlier)) to Walt Disney as a possible film. On arriving at the studio, he's given a tour, and we get some (not much) insight into how animated films are made. (The RCA Sonovox demonstration is particularly interesting.) When Benchley walks into the room where paints are mixed, the film switches to handsome Technicolor.

This, too, is a compilation film, with the storyboards from "Baby Weems", a not-very-interesting tale about a genius infant (I suspect the story had already been abandoned, and this was a good way to recycle it); the Goofy short "How to Ride a Horse"; and the title work. The latter two are excellent, and worth repeated views. And then there's Benchley, who's always a delight.

I have no hesitation recommending this set (which includes DVD versions). Just don't be surprised if you don't like every last thing in it.

These films have been given transfers from the original three-strip Technicolor negatives many other Disney features have received. Though this is a general improvement ("Ichabod" no longer looks dark and grungy), the fact remains that no attempt has been made to get the hue and saturation right. Technicolor was a less-than-perfect process, and the artists often used the "wrong" colors to get the right effects in the projection print. If this isn't corrected, the result can be a garish clash of over-saturated hues.

"Ichabod" is particularly bad in this respect, as such errors don't work well with a story about the supernatural. This is also true of "Mr Toad", a bucolic story where bright colors are out of place. The same problem exists in "Beanstalk" and "Bongo", but isn't too annoying, as the subjects can tolerate it.

"The Reluctant Dragon" has some beautiful Technicolor photography inside the Disney studios. Though the lighting is necessarily flat to accommodate Technicolor's limited tonal scale, the hues vary from near-pastel to highly saturated, and are consistently pleasing.

* Benchley was at the time a famous writer and comic. His best-known relative is his grandson, who wrote a popular book about a big, dangerous fish.

The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray]
The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Billy Campbell
Price: $19.62
35 used & new from $13.61

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars zzzzzzzz... [cough, cough]... Is it over yet?, November 9, 2014
Having seen bits and pieces of "The Rocketeer", and not having been impressed, the opportunity to get a copy at a low price encouraged its purchase. Unfortunately, the film as a whole turns out to be a huge snooze.

The principal problem (as I discuss in my recent review of "Oz The Great & Powerful"), is that the nominal protagonist is put in a reactive situation. He has to save his girlfriend from the evil Nazis -- and that's about it. He's given no strong "I want" desires of his own to drive the story. And, as it usually does, this makes for not-very-engaging storytelling.

It doesn't help that the script grinds through all the expected events and turns mechanically, with no real twists or surprises; that the title character is played by Bill Campbell, an actor devoid of any appeal other than good looks (Bruce Campbell would have been a better choice); and worst of all, that Joe Johnston, the King of Boring, is at the helm.

You'd think a superhero film set in pre-WWII Hollywood would be a hoot, but Johnston plods his typical characterless path through the story. Johnston was thrown out of film school because he "broke too many rules". Apparently these included the most important one of all -- "Don't be boring." Yes, he had a mediocre script to work with, but directors have been known to rewrite on the fly (ahem). And most-unforgiveable of all, he lets the film end with everyone //just standing around//!

Hey, Joe, how about this... Howard Hughes shoves the suit at Cliff and says "I want to see you fly this thing. Give me some tips so I'll know what to do when //I// take it up." Cliff takes off, and the film doesn't end with a loud and embarrassing THUD!

Oz the Great and Powerful (Blu-ray + Digital Copy)
Oz the Great and Powerful (Blu-ray + Digital Copy)
DVD ~ James Franco
Price: $17.99
71 used & new from $1.59

3.0 out of 5 stars "Saving Mr Diggs", November 7, 2014
In the running commentary for "Tucker and Dale vs. Evil" (a low-budget horror spoof -- and a good one), the writer/director remarks that "You're taught in screenwriting school not to create reactive characters." In other words, your protagonist should be actively attempting to reach a goal, rather than trying to avoid something. A reactive character lacks the motivation needed to keep the story going -- which can result in second-act collapse -- and is hard for the audience to identify with. I know this from experience, having written three treatments that fell apart in front of my eyes, before recognizing my mistake. Never again.

The screenwriters for "Oz the Great and Powerful" didn't fully appreciate this. Oscar Diggs is trying to escape Oz and avoid his prophesized responsibility to kill a wicked witch. Sure, he wants the gold in the King's vault, and he makes out with every pretty face that comes along, but frankly -- who cares? Almost every man wants women and wealth.

It doesn't help that Oscar is thoroughly unsympathetic. It's not that he's bad, it's that his behavior is wholly driven by self-interest. As he says to one of his intended conquests, "I don't want to be good -- I want to be great!" This is the issue at the center of the story -- are humans basically altruistic ("good"), or selfish ("bad")? (It also applies to Theodora.)

The audience badly wants to see Oscar discover his innate goodness. * This is the story's goal, obliging the writers to create //dramatic// situations in which we //see// Oscar struggling with his selfishness, and gradually rising above it -- not experiencing an abrupt and weakly motivated conversion.

//Showing// a character's intellectual and moral progression is harder than everything else in screenwriting put together. McKee says "Master storytellers never explain. They do the hard, painfully creative thing -- they dramatize. ... Dialogue, the natural talk of characters pursuing desire, is not a platform for the filmmaker's philosophy. ... A great story authenticates its ideas solely within the dynamics of its events; failure to express a view of life through the pure, honest consequences of human choice and action is a creative defeat no amount of clever language can salvage. ...the story's meaning, whether comic or tragic, must be dramatized in an emotionally expressive Story Climax without the aid of explanatory dialogue." ("Story", p114)

The writers have largely failed to do this -- which is why reviewers say the film "lacks heart", and why James Franco's performance is so often criticized.

Nevertheless, "Oz" is worth seeing once -- on Blu-ray, not DVD. It is one of the most spectacularly beautiful films I have ever seen. There's an attempt to give the //impression// of three-strip Technicolor, with intensely vivid -- but never garish -- hues. It's definitely a demo disk.

* This parallels Baum's original story, which posits that we all possess wisdom, love, and courage -- the things needed to get through life -- and need only express them.

Lost Horizon (1973)
Lost Horizon (1973)
DVD ~ Liv Ullmann
Price: $13.99
24 used & new from $13.54

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Loused Horizon, November 6, 2014
This review is from: Lost Horizon (1973) (DVD)
This rating //is// for the movie. Had it not been a musical, I might have given it two stars.

One of the high points of the Medveds' "50 Worst Movies of All Time" is their trashing of this color musical remake of Frank Capra's 1937 film. As getTV (Sony/Columbia's cable channel) was showing it (preceded by the original) yesterday, I plopped down in front of the TV in expectation of a truly dreadful experience. I was not disappointed -- by either film.

The world didn't need a musical version of "Lost Horizon" -- and certainly not this one. (One wonders what Ashman & Menken might have done with it.) Hal David's inane, empty, stupid, clumsy, idiotic lyrics would have had to struggle mightily to reach the level of simple mediocrity. They're far more risible than cringe-inducing. My laughter was accompanied by an overwhelming desire to heave rocks at the screen.

Hermes Pan's * choreography is equally inane. Much of it seems "dumbed down" for people who aren't dancers, but even Bobby Van's dance number is pretty lame.

Need I add that the flatly lit color cinematography (by Robert Surtees, of all people) works against the story; the costumes seem wildly inappropriate; and the lamasery interiors too-often resemble something out of an upscale motel?

Though the critical scorn heaped on this film was richly deserved, it has to be seen in the light of people's sentimental feelings about the "classic" original. The original //wasn't// a classic -- it's nearly as bad. The Capra version is an uneasy mixture of not-overly profound drama with cheap humor (supplied mostly by Edward Everett Horton's and Thomas Mitchell's characters). The Robert Riskin screenplay apparently softens and sentimentalizes the hard edges of the novel. (Surprised?)

Had Ross Hunter decided to produce a film closer to the novel, without songs & dances, and with an appropriate, sober approach, the remake would have been justified. Instead, he had Larry Kramer adapt the original script (most of the dialog is copied verbatim), without fixing the things that weakened the original. The broad emotions and occasional over-acting of a 1937 film were acceptable then. They were not acceptable in a 1973 film.

"Lost Investment" (as it was dubbed) is the embodiment of "ill-conceived", on every level.

I might add that, as Jane Wyatt aged very gracefully, it would have been amusing for her to have played the same character in the remake.

* Pan is best known for his collaborations with Fred Astaire.

Red Heat [Blu-ray]
Red Heat [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Geza Balkay
Price: $9.29
34 used & new from $4.30

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars nothing new, November 5, 2014
This review is from: Red Heat [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
The problem with this film is that We've Seen It All Before. I don't need to spell out what we've seen, because everyone reading this knows how such films are constructed and play out. "Red Heat" verges on being "by the numbers" storytelling.

The only thing unusual that it omits such things as the buddies developing a close emotional relationship, or going for easy laughs. (For a movie billed as at least somewhat comic, it has little humor, black or otherwise.) Neither principal is particularly sympathetic, with Schwartzenegger surprisingly stoic in the face of the murder of a close friend. Belushi's character, though heroic, is an unappealing jerk.

Ultimately, the story finds nothing fresh to add -- or anything that inverts or subverts this kind of tale. On the positive side, the dialog is intelligent, and the characters behave plausibly. Hill's direction is tight and solid.

It's difficult to recommend this for even one viewing -- unless you dote on Ahnold.

If you were me and lived in... South Korea: A Child's Introduction to Cultures around the World
If you were me and lived in... South Korea: A Child's Introduction to Cultures around the World
by Carole P. Roman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.99
31 used & new from $3.54

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a good introduction to other cultures for very young readers, October 24, 2014
Ms Roman and I were discussing "The Ghost and Mrs Muir", and decided to swap manuscripts. This is one of the books she asked me to review.

Remember "My Weekly Reader"? One of its features was an article about young people's lives in other countries (written in the first person). I remember being surprised that so many kids drank coffee at breakfast. (At that time -- more than 50 years ago -- American kids were not generally allowed caffeinated beverages at any time of day.)

Ms Roman is aiming for a younger reader, and these books are rather simpler. The focus is on activities shared by all cultures (friends, family, school), showing how they are alike and different from ours. Activities unique to the culture are also presented.

Perhaps Ms Roman will eventually write books that present a more-detailed and complex view of other cultures, for older readers.

Books like this can't do any harm, and might do some good, if only to remind American children that the world doesn't revolve around the U S of A.

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