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Robert J. Crawford RSS Feed (Balmette Talloires, France)

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The Messengers
The Messengers
DVD ~ Dylan McDermott
Offered by Sunday River
Price: $6.05
265 used & new from $0.01

1.0 out of 5 stars incoherent junk, August 9, 2014
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This review is from: The Messengers (DVD)
I love a good supernatural yarn, especially when it has some thought and mystery behind it. Alas, this film is just slapdash, throwing elements together that make little sense, so lazy in conception that it doesn't bother to strive for minimal coherence. There is not a jot of originality to it, but instead it just borrows from other films. Even worse, in spite of an excellent cast, the acting comes off as wooden and dialogue is stilted. I simply never believed any of it while watching.

A troubled girl arrives with her family to start a new life on a remote farm. Strange things start to happen that the parents don't see - until they do see them. A stranger is hired to help with the work and he is nice - until suddenly he isn't. Monstrous crows attack the males at odd times, then don't. The girl is scared of the apparitions, then wants to help them, then is attacked by them, then they help her. The actions of the apparitions appear to be illusions of the mind, then they are real. The ending, of course, is happy, everything resolved miraculously, and the cops (there is a body to deal with) just nod and go.

Not recommended. I thought this was a complete bore. If you have a minimum of expectation that a film should be thought through, don't get this. If all you want to spookhouse jolts, you might find it OK.

1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History)
1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History)
by Eric H. Cline
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.78
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An ambitious enquiry into the unexplained end of the Bronze Age, August 5, 2014
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This is an academic book that strives for, but never quite reaches, a popular and relevant history that would please a wider audience. It is about the system that collapsed at the end of the Bronze Age, an unprecedented network of trade and common (elite) civilization of extraordinarily fertile cultures and prosperity. As the title implies, this is supposed to be relevant to the current age, which may also be in danger of collapse, but instead, it gets bogged down in academic proofs and tedious detail. Only occasionally does it bring that world to life or provoke a sense of wonder.

Beginning some centuries before the 1177 date of near-simultaneous catastrophe, a spectrum of mediterranean civilization were flourishing, from various Greek kingdoms to Egypt and several others in the Near East (e.g. Hittites and Babylonians). They traded with each other, had developed a written lingua franca, and had highly developed systems of central administration. Seemingly all at once, and without any satisfactory explanation, they disappeared and ushered in a dark ages that lasted several centuries, when the Iron Age cultures emerged. Though some survived, like Egypt, they had decisively lost their energy and were set for a slow decline.

According to Cline, there are several possible explanations. First, earthquakes clearly destroyed some cities. Second, this is contradicted by evidence that warfare destroyed others, though not everyone. It has been argued, for example, that the "sea peoples" destroyed the empires or that chariot warfare became obsolete, but again, not everywhere. Third, there is evidence of climate change, which caused drought and then famine, but again only in some place. Fourth, there may have been internal rebellions, a kind of rise of populism against the elites that used them as slave labor, though there is almost no evidence - archaeological or written - to prove this. Finally, perhaps the end was a chaotic phenomenon, a systemic collapse that was both a perfect storm of all these factors but also the proverbial unprovable causality of a single factor spinning out of control and causing a cascade of failures throughout the entire system, i.e. a butterfly in Brazil might have beaten its wings at the wrong time.

That is about it for the ideas, though there are many interesting asides, such as correlating events in the Bible (the liberation from Egypt of the Jews around that time or the Trojan War). There are also many individuals discussed, like Ramses and Agamemnon. This is very fun and interesting, but they are haphazardly thrown in.

This is a good academic book and worth a serious read, but it is not for lay readers. Its level is high undergraduate, for majors in Classics or Archaeology, and it is only obliquely relevant to the concerns of today. Recommended.

From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776
From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776
by Pauline Maier
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.83
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3.0 out of 5 stars reads like, and is, a disseration-turned-book, July 19, 2014
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This is a very academic book intended for a limited audience and was relevant for a certain time, in the beginning of the 1970s. The writer was a young academic out to smash a "paradigm", the "progressive version" of how Americans became revolutionaries. The idea is very simple (and is expressed with perfect clarity in a new introduction): the old interpretation was that poor upstarts opposed the conservative rich, who supported the British Crown; the upstarts mobilized the "mob" with whatever means they could, including republican rhetoric (which was ill-defined), which was ignited by the stamp protests. Maier argues that protest was a long and accepted tradition and that the process of radicalization was gradual, beginning with the success of getting the Stamp Act revoked and then getting sharper with repeated failures and ham-handed rebuff by George III. That is it for the ideas. The rest of the book is one long academic proof of this, in unbelievably turgid detail.

I am sure this is a worthy academic book, but it is not fun to read and would be barely of interest for for non-academic lovers of popular history. I skimmed it, and wondered why, since I am not an undergraduate, I was doing so. OK, it is a good review of the events, the interpretation is definitely of merit, and I feel like turning to other sources for a better narrative account (i.e. it did not kill my interest). But it conveys little feeling and it certainly never fascinated me. If I had know it was so academic, I would never have bought it.

Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age
Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age
by Peter Green
Edition: Paperback
Price: $58.01
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5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent Kulturgeschichte of the Hellenistic Empires, July 10, 2014
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This is a massive, endlessly fascinating, 360-degree view of the empires that sprung up in the wake of Alexander the Great's premature death. As the foundational period of Greco-Roman culture, not only is it essential to know, but Green writes with a literary elegance and subtlety that are a constant pleasure. That being said, it is not a book for beginners: the reader should be well versed in Roman and Greek Classical history, e.g., if you know who Sulla and Mithridates are, you will be able to revel in Green's interpretations and references to them and many others. The book is also peppered with foreign words, from French to Latin and ancient Greek, which annoys many American readers but is pretty mainstream in Europe.

The book begins with the sudden absence of a truly over-powering personality, Alexander. At the moment of his death, he had smashed the remnants of the autonomous Greek city states (polis) and carved out the largest empire that had then been known. Unfortunately, he had left neither a clear idea of what direction his empire should go nor named a successor in any provable way. As a result, about 6 of his top Macedonian generals began to compete in the "funeral games" to take over from him. Ptolemy, the only one shrewd enough to see that it was better to retreat to a defensible and self-sufficient chunk of the empire - he chose Egypt - was to establish the most lasting dynasty of these men. Nonetheless, Antigonous wound up with the old Greek mainland and Macedonia and Seleucis took the ill-defined, amorphous Asian Minor expanses; for the next centuries, their heirs would fight a desperate, defensive battle to keep their territories intact from encroachments by barbarians. Only the Ptolemies would operate in near safety (which led them to epically nasty intriguing against each other, but that is a long story).

In political science terms, all three of the new empires were run as the privately owned fiefs of their kings, simple despotic autocracies for their pleasures. This marked the end of a fabulous period of experimentation in modes of government as well as culture, i.e. the brief, beautiful flourishing of classical Greek culture was gone forever. As the polis died, so did many of the communal ideals of their citizens. Rather than contribute to the glory of the city, they withdrew under the authority of far away kings into their own private worlds, seeking to amass wealth and keep their privileges but fearing Tyche, or the unpredictable God of Fortune. As a result, much artistic culture became stultified into copies of past masterpieces or took on a more personal, realist cast of identifiable individuals rather than the ideal types and Gods of the past. This was true, too, for the philosophies (e.g. stoicism, cynicism, epicurianism) that emerged: they concentrated on finding freedom from anxiety and pain rather than contribute to the betterment of society. Interestingly, the 3 dynasties maintained a relative isolation from the local cultures, absorbing aspects of them only very, very slowly.

One of the most interesting topics covered is the failure of the Greeks to develop experimental science. First, the Greeks (and later the Romans) scorned "lower" professions that involved physical exertion, so get-your-hands-dirty experimentation was out; they also lacked precision instruments, any idea of statistical variance in observations, and failed to record the observations they did make in verifiable and communicable records. Anything practical, such as the military devices that Archimedes invented to protect Syracuse from the Romans, were products of necessity and otherwise little valued. Second, they preferred to speculate on and build over-arching theoretical systems, which were largely sterile without independent experimental verification by peers. It was not until the Enlightenment that all of these strands came together as the modern scientific method. Third, in this period the elites became deeply interested in astrology, divination, and mystery cults at the expense of the schools of rationality associated with Plato and Aristotle. Fourth, with a static, slave-based economy, innovations that saved labor - liberating people to have more time and energy to think - were viewed as disruptive and hence, under-valued. Nonetheless, there were many advances in this period, such as the founding of the libraries of Alexandria and certain medical innovations that the Arabs would discover and develop. Though also rather sterile, they are signs that Hellenistic culture was not completely decadent. That being said, there are many, many more topics like this that are covered in the book, including philosophy, the slave economy, and autocratic governance - anyone can find absorbing historical detail on what interests them here.

The concentration on this cultural period filled a significant gap in my perception of classical civilization. It was at this time that the uncultured Romans - they were too busy perfecting a military machine that would enable them to conquer and manage the known world for over 400 years - became impressed with Greek culture and sought to adopt it. With the Romans on the book's periphery, rising as they were, I got a very different (and highly detailed) view on the decline and absorption of this incredible civilization into a more brutish empire. The book is chock full of amazing characters and cultures, from the Jews to Cleopatra. Though this is not a narrative history and it is better to know the traditional stories, Green alludes to these people with vivid images and many wonderful illustrations (and excellent maps).

A word of warning to the general reader. This is an advanced text, at the high undergraduate level or beyond, and solidly academic. While it is not a thesis-turned-book that seeks to argue dull academic proofs and the like, it strives to present a comprehensive picture in a scholarly manner - over 1/4 of the book is footnotes and references. This will put many people off, as will the foreign words that frequently pop up. However, for those familiar with this world, this book is an indispenable masterpiece that will define scholarship on this period for many generations to come.

This is personal, but I found the book to be an utterly spell-binding intellectual adventure, putting it in a class by itself. Green often makes observations that are profound, even beautiful. For example, on an extended discussion of the slave economy, he mentions that we were unable to finally eliminate it until industrialization liberated us from menial tasks. There are many instances of this kind of philosophical observation that will speak to each reader personally. I also loved Green's writing style. Recommended with the greatest enthusiasm. This is a great book, a classic.

Eraserhead [Blu-ray]
Eraserhead [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Jack Nance
Price: $33.96

5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lynch establishing himself as a master of the incomprehensibly weird, June 30, 2014
This review is from: Eraserhead [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
If you are a David Lynch fan, this is a must see. He unfurls what can only be described as a poetic, visual nightmare: an inhibited man lives in a bleak, post-industrial landscape, amidst abandoned factories, cheap apartments, and living appliances. He does not understand the people around him, even blundering into fatherhood with an equally clueless young lady whose mother may have a thing for him. It is increasingly unclear what he is imagining and what is real, like the deformed singing lady somewhere inside his radiator to the sperm-like creature that is apparently his son; in one unforgettable scene, he is served a chicken that is kicking while emitting a black slurry. For those who enjoy this kind of thing - and nothing is clearly explained, so it must be interpreted - this is a cult treat. The acting, while occasionally amateurish, is also quite good.

As I enjoy interpreting stuff like this, I will offer mine here - ***spoiler alert***. The man hates his surroundings and relationships so much that his way of coping is to go insane. He is seeing what he is feeling inside, and is creating a fantasy world (eraserhead). While hopeful that he might find some human contact, like the loose woman across the hall, he also feels complete disgust at the reality of physical intimacy, hence his perception of his child as a spermatozoid from himself. As he slips further away from reality, the images become more bizarre and disturbing, until he is completely lost.

For an early directorial effort, the film is really striking and bold. I can't say I enjoyed watching it again, but it is fun to see a talent like Lynch's in embryo - he adds plot and far more interesting characters to his later work, but the atmospherics are present in this. I would recommend renting this rather than buying, unless, of course, you love this cult genre.

DVD ~ Gia Carides
Price: $8.38
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4.0 out of 5 stars a beautiful vignette about friendship, loneliness, and human possibility, June 25, 2014
This review is from: Maze (DVD)
This is a poignant story about a sensitive and lonely young man, who is alienated because of his disability. He has extraordinary talent, a giver in every sense, and he falls for his best friend's girl. Holding back then unable to when the friend is away on a long mission (yes, the friend is selfish and doesn't appear to deserve such a wonderful woman), he fills the void that is left. She understands and needs his friendship for many important reasons, so she takes what he has to give, well aware of what it is costing him. In the best Indy tradition, the plot does not conform to feel-good nonsense. Where the characters end up is very real, ambiguous, and fraught, but still with a beauty to it. The acting is absolutely first rate, particularly Morrow and Linney, the would-be couple.

The film spoke to me in a very personal way. I fancied myself in love with someone, the "perfect one", and came to realize - especially after we tried to build a relationship - that it was more in my mind when I imagined her as an ideal. It held me back for years. But once the reality of it came to me, I was able to move on, even as I preserved for a long time one of the greatest friendships of my life. I think the character is much like this, that the film is a snapshot of that moment, and I have never seen a film that expressed this so well.

Warmly recommended.

Possession (Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill) [IMPORT]
Possession (Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill) [IMPORT]
DVD ~ Sam Neill Isabelle Adjani
Offered by SW STORE
Price: $17.95
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5.0 out of 5 stars absolutely horrifying and mesmerizing, with a consistent emotional undertone, June 25, 2014
This is a masterpiece of mystery and horror. Something has happened to these people's lives, something so horrible that it has changed their reality in a way that confuses them yet to which they learn to submit. It dissolves a marriage between the unbelievably beautiful Isabelle Adjani in her prime and a young Sam Neill, neglecting their child along the way. Then it leads to murder and an unquestioning complicity between the couple and whatever is happening.

As with all truly fascinating works of art, it leaves much unexplained, which the viewer must fill in over a lifetime of wondering. That is, if this enters your imagination successfully, and that is a very personal predilection. For me, it is a masterpiece of ambiguity and clues - I will watch it periodically for the rest of my life. You can listen to what the characters say, even watch the action for a myriad of details to stitch together.

I have an interpretation, but do not want to give away details that are not already in the accompanying blurb. There is the creature, on its way to a transformation. It has somehow infected the lives of those nearest to it, but it appears to have influence in many other areas that intersect with the principal characters, who pop up inexplicably, such as the green-eyed teacher or the strange lover. Is it a succubus? An alien? Some kind of mutant? I would think there is something satanic about it, Adjani seems to think so, but she must protect it. Neill eventually becomes her accomplice, as if there is nothing strange about what they are doing. At the end, the design - in cold war Berlin - may be apparent.

What is undeniable is the spell it weaves. It is a mix of horror, eroticism, and foreboding. It is also a delicious puzzle. Warmly recommended, but it isn't for everyone.

Deux films de Daniel Auteuil : Marius (Partie 1) + Fanny (Partie 2)
Deux films de Daniel Auteuil : Marius (Partie 1) + Fanny (Partie 2)
DVD ~ Raphaël Personnaz, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Victoire Bélézy, Marie-Anne Chazel Daniel Auteuil
3 used & new from $49.86

3.0 out of 5 stars nice re-make, but doesn't crackle with the life of the original 1930s version, June 6, 2014
So, the French also do re-makes of perfect films of the past. This is a pretty good version of the first 2 parts of the original trilogy, filmed in the 1930s. However, it simply doesn't have the same spirit and salty texture. The actors are quite good, there is just something lacking.

The story is one of young love. Marius is a nervous young man, wanting to wander for a time and angling to join a merchant marine ship to see Asia. A school classmate and friend, Fanny loves him and makes her feelings known. They fall into each others' arms, in true love (I am a sucker for this, I admit), only for it not to work out for a variety of reasons. I don't want to reveal what ultimately happens, but it is unexpected.

Recommended, but the original really is better.

Congo [Blu-ray]
Congo [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Laura Linney
Price: $13.47

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars unbelievably stupid shlock-formula flick, May 30, 2014
This review is from: Congo [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
It is hard to believe that this is a Crichton film. Not only does it have every cheap trick in the book - from a crazed capitalist looking for perfect diamonds for his lasers to a young idealist scientist starting out - but the mystery behind the plot (typical scifi element) is silly and banal, once it's revealed. The acting also ranges from terrible to wooden, even the talented Linney. Don't waste time or money on this.

A New Way to Cook
A New Way to Cook
by Sally Schneider
Edition: Hardcover
219 used & new from $0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars THere is nothing new or particularly useful about this book, May 29, 2014
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This review is from: A New Way to Cook (Hardcover)
I have now had this book for 10 years, have tried many recipes from it, and consult it on occasion for ideas and techniques. In all this time, we have not added a single recipe from it to our repertoire or regular meals and not benefited from any techniques that are not easily available elsewhere.

The basic idea is that nothing is "bad" so long as it is used in moderation. Is this revolutionary? Hardly, but it was used for marketing what is a run-of-the-mill compilation.

I cannot recommend this book, it is only taking up space on our shelf. We have decided to trash it.

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