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William Sommerwerck "grizzled geezer" RSS Feed (Renton, WA USA)
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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
33 used & new from $3.59

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.


Captain No Beard: An Imaginary Tale of a Pirate's Life
Captain No Beard: An Imaginary Tale of a Pirate's Life
by Carole P. Roman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.99
32 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The best thing about this book is that it has absolutely ..., 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.

"Captain No Beard" is a plotless story about kids pretending to be pirates. The drawings are slickly professional and not unduly cute (though I'd prefer something more ragged-looking -- they are pirates, after all).

The best thing about this book is that it has absolutely no point or moral (other than perhaps being grateful for mermaids who bring us cookies *). I hate kids' books with a social or political agenda (from either side) the author is trying to force-feed the reader.

* Ms Roman is obviously aware that a child's principal interests are food and money.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 24, 2014 3:06 PM PDT


The Lone Ranger (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy)
The Lone Ranger (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy)
DVD ~ Johnny Depp
Price: $19.71
95 used & new from $5.59

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DON'T BELIEVE THE CRITICS!, September 18, 2014
"The Lone Ranger" shot itself in the foot with ads that made it look like a noisy, stupid film. And downright silly. (Why does Tonto carry a dead bird on his head?) Too many critics saw what they expected to see -- that the emperor was naked, even though well-dressed. This led to a general trashing. But if you pass up "The Lone Ranger", you'll be missing 2.5 hours of great popular movie-making.

Jerry Bruckheimer set himself a difficult task -- reimagining the Lone Ranger, while simultaneously poking fun at the material without disrespecting it. That he largely succeeds is remarkable.

This isn't to say "The Lone Ranger" doesn't have problems. The major one is that John Reid is too much the comic nebbuch. There's nothing wrong with this at the beginning (the discovery of one's hidden strengths is part of The Hero's Journey), but the story waits too long to show a significant shift in his character. The humor sometimes goes over the top, most notably in a scene with Red (a madam), where Reid flashes his Texas Ranger badge and warns Red about possible health violations in her bordello (!!!), including a questionable bottle of unrefrigerated pickles (Tonto's contribution to the argument). Fortunately, this is the only humor that truly gets out of hand.

On the positive side, there is much to praise. The action sequences are spectacular, played for both thrills and laughs, poking fun at action-film conventions. The dramatic elements are taken seriously. And Tonto is no longer the "faithful companion", but the principal actor. Like Salieri in "Amadeus", Tonto narrates the story. And like Salieri, he is not necessarily a reliable narrator, coloring his tale to make John Reid look like a "stupid white man". (His hatred of whites -- especially stupid ones -- is so strong, he even tries to bury the still-living Reid.)

This adds conflict the original version lacked. We also see the story from an aboriginal perspective, especially the spiritual. As crazy as Tonto is (he's a damaged soul), we gain respect for a character that was previously no more than a sidekick. But John Reid has the last laugh, with a poke at Tonto the writers must have found irresistible.

Not surprisingly, the plot is the populist "wealthy people are the biggest threat to society" story that fuels so many Westerns. Given this country's movement towards theocratic plutocracy, we can't have //enough// films attacking the church and the wealthy. But populism is so much a part of the traditional Western, most viewers won't notice. It's significant that Reid ultimately defines himself and Tonto as outlaws working against "the system".

As for the PG-13 rating... This is a violent film, but generally lacking in gore (other than the director). However, when Butch Cavendish cuts out the heart of the still-living Dan Reid, even adults will squirm. One might argue this justifies an R rating.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 18, 2014 6:09 PM PDT


Two Gentlemen of Lebowski: A Most Excellent Comedie and Tragical Romance
Two Gentlemen of Lebowski: A Most Excellent Comedie and Tragical Romance
by Adam Bertocci
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.81
98 used & new from $1.79

5.0 out of 5 stars parodic perfection, September 14, 2014
This is a work of genius. It is not a shallow spoof, but a fully formed translation of "The Big Lebowski" into Elizabethan/Shakespearean terms.

Bertocci doesn't hesitate to poke fun at literary scholarship. The left-hand pages have explanations of those things a modern reader might not be familiar with, as well as an analysis of the author's choice of words. What is particularly amusing is his naïve ignorance of plainly sexual references (eg, back-door mine (p128); reading Ben Jonson manually (p146); fig eaters & bareback riding (p174)).

It is impossible to recommend "Two Gentlemen of Lebowski" too highly. You'll laugh your back-door mine off.


A Serious Man [Blu-ray]
A Serious Man [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Michael Stuhlbarg
Offered by Media Favorites
Price: $8.27
66 used & new from $3.11

5.0 out of 5 stars an underappreciated Coen brothers classic, August 28, 2014
This review is from: A Serious Man [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
WARNING possible spoiler

"Saturday Night" is a great "Gunsmoke" episode that has you wondering for the first 49 minutes what, exactly, the point of the story is. Then, in the last minute, you learn. It's a shocker.

"A Serious Man" is thematically similar, and has a similar shock ending. Lawrence Gopnik is a physics teacher who enjoys pointing out to his students that we don't -- and can't -- understand "reality". When he starts having problems (the worst of which is his wife's affair with a man he considered his friend), Gopnik starts wondering about The Meaning of Life -- in particular, whether God cares about us and how we behave. Gopnik has a strong sense of morality, and wonders why he hasn't been rewarded for his seriousness.

His questions lead him to discuss his problems with rabbis (sound familiar?), who have nothing insightful -- or merely useful -- to offer. By the end of the film, his problems seem resolved -- no thanks to his good behavior, or to the grace of God -- and he decides that how he leads his life doesn't matter in the big scheme of things. Needing money to pay his brother's legal fees, he obtains it by doing something he earlier said was immoral. And then...

"A Serious Man" is one of those Coen films that a lot of critics just don't get, yet its point and purpose are obvious. I'm not a philosopher -- but I had no trouble understanding it.


Walt Disney Treasures - On the Front Lines
Walt Disney Treasures - On the Front Lines
DVD ~ Billy Bletcher
Offered by N P Sales
Price: $95.00
35 used & new from $33.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars worth the price just for the classic films, August 25, 2014
It's unfortunate this set has gotten so expensive, because it's a true Disney treasure.

It's worth having simply to see "Der Furher's Face", "Victory Through Air Power", "Chicken Little", and "Education for Death". The latter isn't the least bit dated, as it (unintentionally) touches on how //all// societies attempt to force citizens into "correct" modes of behavior and thinking.


Thomas Crown Affair [Blu-ray]
Thomas Crown Affair [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Mcqueen
Price: $14.32
23 used & new from $8.97

2.0 out of 5 stars Don't try to imitate Hitchcock if you can't pull it off., August 22, 2014
"The Thomas Crown Affair" is prime Hitchcock territory -- but Norman Jewison is no Alfred Hitchcock.

The odious comparison is with "To Catch a Thief" (a woman becomes romantically involved with a man who might be a criminal), but "The Thomas Crown Affair" isn't within light-years of The Master's work. Except (possibly) for the chess game, Jewison's direction is rarely more than serviceable. There is little suspense, and the ending is hardly a surprise.

I was expecting a slick, witty film with a clever climax. It was/had none of these things. I often jump on young'uns who gripe that older films ("Crown" is pushing 50) are boring, but in this case I have to agree. This is not an "affair" to remember.

The sound and picture of the Blu-ray transfer leave a lot to be desired. The source appears to be a theatrical print in good condition. Not surprisingly, the image is on the soft side, grain is sometimes quite visible, and the contrast (particularly in daylight scenes) is too high. Dialog has too much room ambience, and the mono soundtrack is hard and sometimes harsh. The R rating is ridiculous. It's a PG film near the PG-13 dividing line.

Unless you're hot for McQueen or Dunaway, there's nothing to recommend.


Straw Dogs (Unrated Version) [Blu-ray]
Straw Dogs (Unrated Version) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Dustin Hoffman
Price: $16.19
35 used & new from $6.98

4.0 out of 5 stars "When man traps are illegal, only criminals will have man traps.", August 20, 2014
It's easy to interpret this film as a "shabby little shocker" that appeals to the audience's most-depraved sensibilities. The audience anxiously awaits the final showdown with The Bad Guys, hoping they'll expire in brutally unpleasant ways -- and it's not disappointed. But -- dangerous though it is to try to read the mind of a deceased director -- I think Peckinpah's intentions were more than a simple gorefest.

Let's start with the casting. To view David Sumner as a coward is a mistake. Dustin Hoffman is a small, slender man. So we can't accuse him cowardice for feeling fearful when around large, nasty people.

Then there's his occupation, changed from English professor in the novel, to mathematician (specifically, one studying the structure of stars). Physics is largely a mathematical study, so David is a man involved with the most-fundamental principles of the universe. That's his job -- discovering principles.

His failing (if he has one), is the belief that human beings are sufficiently rational to respect the law. He respects it, in protecting a likely murderer from the people who want to kill him: "This is my home. You have no right to do him harm." There is no surprise /whatever/ when he moves to protect himself. He isn't a wussy intellectual finally discovering his manhood, but a principled human being standing up for what he's always believed in.

The villain of the piece is his wife. She's a tease, a slut, and a sniveling coward. Though the friction between David and the town would have existed anyhow, it is she who makes everything worse, indirectly provoking the final confrontation.

This is a film worth seeing and discussing -- assuming you have friends who actually discuss movies.


A Streetcar Named Desire (The Original Restored Version) [Blu-ray Book]
A Streetcar Named Desire (The Original Restored Version) [Blu-ray Book]
DVD ~ Marlon Brando
Price: $19.59
29 used & new from $15.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars classic film, beautiful transfer, August 18, 2014
This is a review of the Blu-ray edition. It restores the material censored by the Breen Office and the Legion of Decency. The PG rating is absurd; the material justifies a PG-13.

The story has a dark humor I hadn't caught before. Stanley's passion for food is as strong as his lust for women. When he eats, he stuffs his face. Kazan (who also directed the play) properly keeps the focus on Blanche, without letting Stanley's presence overwhelm her.

It's hard not to feel sympathy for Stanley. He's oversexed, rude, and brutish -- but not stupid. If it's true that rape is an act of violence, not sex, that is what Stanley commits on Blanche. He knows from the start that she's not the delicate, "virginal" creature she pretends to be, and resents a slut calling him a greasy Pollock. His attack seems to be revenge for a phony "high-toned" woman belittling him -- especially one who's trying to seduce him. (The film alters the play by having Stella leave Stanley as "punishment" for what he did to Blanche.)

The transfer is magnificent (apparently from the negative), with deep, almost perfect blacks, and retains the photography's air of decay and desperation. The supplemental material (//in addition to// the commentaries) comprises several hours on Kazan's career, the making of the film, the play's production, etc. I also appreciated Alex North's score more than I had previously. It might not impress on the first hearing, because his "sleazy" music has become of a cliché -- but he was apparently the first major film composer to write such a score.

A terrific movie with classic performances, especially Malden's.


The Piano [Blu-ray]
The Piano [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Hunter
Price: $8.99
20 used & new from $5.03

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ultimately pointless, August 1, 2014
This review is from: The Piano [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
"Peeping Tom" is one of the worst films I've ever seen. The title character is a psychotic photographer who impales his models with the spiked leg of his tripod. For some reason, the writer (Leo Marks) decided to give the character a complex backstory, showing how his father's experiments on the child drove him to psychosis.

The backstory is so heavily contrived and implausibly convoluted that it makes little sense. And it wasn't necessary. As we have examples of insane people all around us (eg, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Bachmann), there's little need to explain why any particular person is crazy. Even "Psycho" (an infinitely superior film) doesn't absolutely need the psychiatrist's explanation of Norman's obsessive attachment to his mother. Most people would still "get it".

Unfortunately, examples of women who stop talking at the age of six and communicate through their piano playing are rare. So rare that it's difficult to grasp what's going on. Ada even admits that she doesn't know why. The result is that we don't really understand why she does what she does. This is fatal to good drama. (We don't have to like a character -- but we do have to know their motivations.)

In short... Ms Campion has things happening because she //wants// them to happen -- not because they grow in a comprehensible way out of Ada's character and personality. If we don't recognize a character's motivations -- good or bad -- why should we be interested in the character?

I find it particularly annoying that Ada's playing tells us virtually nothing about who she is, or how she feels. She seems locked in her own little world, and if communicating, it is only with herself. What is the point of a character who communicates through a musical instrument -- and then her not saying anything musically? Michael Nyman is a serious composer, yet he can't find any way to convey Ada's feelings through her music. (To give an extreme and unsubtle counter-example, consider Herrmann's "Concerto Macabre" at the end of "Hangover Square".)

I suspect Ms Campion was worried this story could easily fall into cheap sentimentality, so she held back. But she held back too much, failing to create a comprehensible character. This is not good storytelling.

Great idea -- botched execution.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 10, 2014 7:33 AM PDT


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