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Robert J. Crawford RSS Feed (Balmette Talloires, France)
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Under the Skin [Blu-ray]
Under the Skin [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Scarlett Johansson
Price: $15.99
27 used & new from $11.81

4.0 out of 5 stars hard scifi arthouse film, with the added plus of you-know-who naked, May 19, 2015
This review is from: Under the Skin [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Though this is a very slow film that at times seems completely unfathomable, it is in fact very good hard scifi. Through the entire film, I was fascinated with the mystery of it - what the heck was going on? - as well as the mesmerizing presence of Scarlett Johansson, who proves herself a versatile and cerebral actress. If you are not put off by the unusualness of it, the film is a rewarding experience of how an alien might perceive life on Earth. You can watch it multiple times and see more each time.

The nameless woman is a kind of observer and predator, bringing men to a mysteriously otherworldly lair where they disappear into a kind of primordial muck. She attracts them with sexual allure then goes out in search of her next prey, seemingly hungry for experience but at a distance from human emotion. She even witnesses the destruction of a family on a wavy beach with complete lack of emotion. In time, she seems to become curious, first observing her body and then apparently wishing to experience the senses that come with it. She lets one of her victims go, a lonely deformed man. This makes her vulnerable and she goes kind of renegade. I do not wish to reveal what happens in the end, but it is a surprising transformation.

One of the things that kept me going on first view was the unexplained. It is great food for the imagination, as only the best scifi can do. For example, she seems to have some accomplices, but what they are doing and what their relationships are never become clear. The last images are wonderfully striking, only adding to the mystery. In multiple viewings, there are many details that seem to fit, such as the tear in the woman's eye in the beginning.

I can see why this was a box office failure. It is serious and yet obscure hard scifi, not action or even horror. While it worked for me, I suspect it won't for most viewers, though it will certainly achieve cult status. Unfortunately, the marketing tool of displaying Johansson stark naked may overshadow how fine and subtle her acting is. The film operates on many levels.

Recommended with these caveats.


Orientalism
Orientalism
by Edward W. Said
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.84
223 used & new from $1.96

3.0 out of 5 stars excellent critique of an intellectual construction that obscured more than illuminated, May 19, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Orientalism (Paperback)
It is always risky to read a heavy intellectual book regarded as a classic. In cultural studies, "Orientalism" was one of the most talked-about books of my generation, so I approached it with some trepidation (after having carried it around for nearly 30 years). While I was not disappointed, much of it is now dated. The book is about the West's view of the "oriental", a construct referred to as "orientalism", i.e. just about anywhere east of Turkey that is not European; the book concentrates on Islam and Arabs, but is supposed to apply to the far east as well.

As I see it, the book has three basic ideas. First, following the pre-Renaissance view of the "orient" based on fear and as an exponent of religious evil, a new point of view has emerged during the Enlightenment. This view was that Islam and Arabs were inferior, overly sensual, immune to or incapable of rational thought, and in general kind of soft in the head. It was condescending, made ridiculous generalizations, and was based primarily on primary texts rather than any contact with people. Second, this approach was influenced by - and helped to shape - the colonial expansion, particularly in the 19C, i.e. justifying imperialist domination and whatever impositions that Europeans cared to make through military occupation. Third, as universities were being established and expanded in the 19C, orientalism was established in institutions, based largely on philology, or the comparative study of ancient languages.

There is no question that Said makes many good points. I will never view Islam or Arab culture in the same way, and see how I myself and many of my favorite writers (e.g. VS Naipal) made unsupportable generalizations. Indeed, we are made acutely aware of how alive the debate is today, in such claims as Israel being the "only" democracy in the middle East, which implies that Arabs are incapable of it or that religion and the state have "never been separated" in Islamic countries. For this, I am thankful and I think that Said accomplished his purpose.

That being said, there are many problems with this book. Most important, Said consciously refuses to advance any idea of what the picture of the "orient" should be - he is content to demolish the intellectual construct as fatally biased and dangerously distorting. It is like he critiques a doughnut hole, but neglects to let us know what kind of doughnut it was. I also found large sections of the book to be turgid rehashes of the views of obscure academics, which is necessary for his argument but, well, outstandingly boring except in a few instances where I knew the authors, such as the 19C explorer Richard Burton. The reader needs a good grasp of the history and a grounding in Islamic culture and religion to get the most out of the book, so it isn't for beginners. Finally, while the prose can be elegant, it is still stuffily academic for the most part. I didn't like the way he wrote.

This book is well worth the read, but large sections of it should be skimmed. As a cultural studies book, it is not in my usual interest areas of international politics or straight history.


Lucy [Blu-ray]
Lucy [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Scarlett Johansson
Price: $14.99
43 used & new from $7.87

4.0 out of 5 stars Nice mix of concept and action, May 19, 2015
This review is from: Lucy [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Besson is the Ken Russel of action/scifi: his best films are over the top to the point of the ridiculous in both action and concepts, yet somehow - if you get it - you can suspend your disbelief and enjoy it. Of course, if you don't get it, they can just seem silly. This is subjective, they are not for everyone.

I have felt both ways about Besson's films (Nikita is perfect, 5th Element is hilariously entertaining, but Columbiana simply didn't work - for me). Fortunately, I liked Lucy, indeed I enjoyed everything about it - the concepts, the acting, the bad guys, the astonishing visual spectacle. The film has a magic all its own, forming a whole that you can enter with wonder and glee regardless of how preposterous it is. OK, it isn't a classic like Blade Runner or 2001, but it is a great success. I would give it 4 1/2 stars.


Reuben, Reuben
Reuben, Reuben
DVD ~ Tom Conti
Price: $16.66
26 used & new from $12.88

3.0 out of 5 stars Conti makes an alcoholic narcissist sympathetic and pathetic, May 15, 2015
This review is from: Reuben, Reuben (DVD)
This is a brutal film about a man in decline, a once-gifted poet whose life has degenerated into self pity and debauchery with bored middle-aged women in Connecticut. He is destructive to everyone around him, yet somehow still attractive and in demand. Many despise him, particularly the restauranteurs he rips off, but he doesn't care. If he feels or regrets something, he gets completely drunk. Then he falls for a girl, a youth who is entering her prime (Kelly McGillis as she was starting out), and begins to see his life the way it is. I found it profoundly sad.


Heavenly Creatures
Heavenly Creatures
DVD ~ Melanie Lynskey
Price: $5.58
29 used & new from $4.16

5.0 out of 5 stars psychotic symbiosis, May 10, 2015
This review is from: Heavenly Creatures (DVD)
This is an absolutely mesmerizing film about 2 adolescent girls, troubled in their own ways, but together a violent mix of fantasy worlds and murder. What is unique about the film is the way you enter the minds of the girls, actually share their visions and hopes. It is so vivid and fresh that I felt genuinely frightened for them. On their own, would they have developed such savage personas? Or would they have remained somewhat strange, alienated perhaps, but eventually ready to enter a normal life? It is weird and ultimately unfathomable, but completely believable.

Of course, a great treat of the movie is Kate Winslet debut: she looks rather plain and dorky, barely a teenager, who would strip off her clothes and run nearly naked in the woods, eventually turning into a delusional murderess. I was also unaware that Peter Jackson directed the film, one of his early serious efforts.

Recommended with enthusiasm. I have never seen anything like it.


Alessi Augh Extensible Trivet
Alessi Augh Extensible Trivet
Offered by musei
Price: $102.00
5 used & new from $80.00

5.0 out of 5 stars elegant, durable, useful, May 7, 2015
This review is from: Alessi Augh Extensible Trivet
This is one of my favorite Alessi products. It is designed to protect surfaces from hot pots, but unlike a normal hot plate it is an incredibly elegant user experience. The trivet folds into tidy shape to store. If you undo it, it becomes a star, a larger trivet guard. But by the way it unfolds, you feel that it is a superbly manufactured industrial product that will last a long time, a piece of art.

If you look at the price, you think, "no way, I would never pay that much for a simple trivet". But if you feel it in your hands and use it, you will recognize what a masterpiece it is. If you get it, this is an everyday object you will never forget, that you enjoy seeing every time you go into the kitchen. That is the reasoning behind its design.


DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Thailand
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Thailand
by DK Publishing
Edition: Paperback
Price: $19.08
59 used & new from $12.09

2.0 out of 5 stars Nice pictures, but inaccurate and misleading, May 3, 2015
These DK books are about high school reading level, supposedly covering the basics in an understandable manner. Unfortunately, their quality is uneven and the editorial staff appears to do little or no fact checking, perhaps to save money. Some of them are quite good, but not this one.

We used this book on a recent trip to Thailand and were continually disappointed. Not only did the book mix up many descriptions of temple details, but there were outright mistakes and inaccuracies that led us to waste time, often looking for things that weren't there or were not where the book said they would be. I cannot recommend this book - it is sloppy and dead flat wrong in too many instances.


Alessi La Conica Espresso Maker by Aldo Rossi - 6 Cups with Free Set of Alessi Coffee Spoons
Alessi La Conica Espresso Maker by Aldo Rossi - 6 Cups with Free Set of Alessi Coffee Spoons
Offered by Speranza Design Gallery
Price: $385.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Art for the day, May 3, 2015
This is first-rate Italian design: uniquely pleasing to the eye of the select few who "get it" - a personal thing - functional, if imperfectly so, expensive because it is artisanally manufactured, and with a lot more thought behind it than you would think at first glance. You can use it to make coffee, but also look at it in your kitchen like a work of art in everyday life, which is a key part of Alberto Alessi's design philosophy. I say personal because you either like it or you don't. To me, it pleases almost like the distorted semi-abstract Picasso painting, I completely love it. But it isn't for everyone, no judgement intended, particularly given the price.

The designer, Aldo Rossi, was an architect. He made sketches for a series of cafetières, each to resemble specific Renaissance buildings that he admired. His designs are "post modern", i.e. with ornamentation that is not purely functional. Interestingly, one of the kettles from this series is the one Jean-Luc Picard uses in his personal quarters in Star Trek Next Gen.

It does not work particularly well, I'm afraid. If you don't fill it to a certain point or screw the top on very tight, it will emit steam and only partially fill. Also, it is difficult to tell when it is done - it gurgles seemingly forever, then abruptly stops, so if you forget it, you can burn the bottom and bake the inside, affecting the coffee's taste. Finally, you have to be very careful when pouring: when the spout is too hot, coffee sputters and can make a mess.

These deficiencies are annoying, but for design aficianados, the product is completely satisfying nonetheless. Recommended. This is a product that blurs the distinction between art and simple appliances.


5.28-qt. Multi-Pot
5.28-qt. Multi-Pot
Offered by langton_distribution_
Price: $497.31
5 used & new from $442.89

5.0 out of 5 stars A masterwork of industrial design for collectors, May 1, 2015
This review is from: 5.28-qt. Multi-Pot (Kitchen)
This is a typical Alessi product, with far more thought behind the design that one might imagine. As conceived by Morozzi, an Italian architect, the concept is based on a classical Mediterranean amphora, hence the vertical handles. But it also has an internal colander with horizontal handles, which I have been told was the first one to be made in many years and now has many imitators. An original feature is the top handle, which is hollow and lets steam out. It is for making large portions of pasta for many people, a minimum of 4 and for up to a dozen servings, I would estimate.

Unlike some Alessi products, it works extremely well in the kitchen, though you must be careful about the steam from the top handle. With such a large reservoir of water, the pasta is cooked uniformly and doesn't stick. Once the pasta is done, you can raise the portion not being immediately served out of the water, into which you can dunk it to re-heat it when seconds are served. If you let any pasta fragments dry in the colander, cleaning it is not easy - you must wash it immediately after use.

To be sure, this is pricey. Perhaps not quite a luxury item like, say, a Hermès scarf, I would recommend it only for those who really like the subtleties of Alessi design. For me, the aesthetic is unique and beautiful - it gives me a thrill to look at it every time I enter my kitchen (one of Alberto Alessi's purposes in creating his artistic products). But it is for collectors more than anyone else, of heirloom quality.


14.17" Firenze Wall Clock Color: White / Black
14.17" Firenze Wall Clock Color: White / Black
Offered by KITCHENKING
Price: $80.00
7 used & new from $80.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant, simple, and keeps good time, May 1, 2015
We have had this clock for almost 15 years. The best thing about it, of course, is the unique design of an Alessi product, which is called post-modern, bringing a touch of art into normal living spaces. I look at it every day and feel a slight thrill at its unique aesthetic (admittedly, this is subjective, but if you get it, there is nothing like it). Though many Alessi products don't work all that well, this one does just fine, never had any problem with it. Recommended with enthusiasm.


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