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John B. Maggiore RSS Feed (Buffalo, NY United States)

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Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (Widescreen Edition)
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (Widescreen Edition)
DVD ~ Ewan McGregor
Offered by Media Megalodon
Price: $43.29
221 used & new from $0.42

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great!, January 12, 2006
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The Star Wars movie was great. I feel so good about it, I don't know where to start. It was a very serious, very adult movie. It was modeled after a Greek or Shakespearian tragedy, not a Saturday morning serial or western.

Here's what I liked:

The saccharine lightness of the last three movies (including Return of the Jedi) now seems like a giant set up, to make Anakin Skywalker's fall more shocking and more emotional. He does some very, very bad things that are far more disturbing than the larger-scale, but less personal evil of destroying a planet.

The movie is very personal and very human, which is, I think, intentionally ironic because it so heavily relies on special effects. Killing children and striking Padme (with the Force) were genuinely jarring. I had an emotional reaction.

I very much liked the parallel operations on Padme and Anakin, where they both sort of die and are both sort of reborn. Padme is "reborn" in her children while Anakin was reborn as the Darth Vader we all know and love. I liked how the Vader suit came off as a prison, the fitting of the mask was like the slamming of the cell door. It reminded me of the end of the Godfather movies where there's a religious ceremony going on concurrent with a bunch of assassinations.

I liked being kept off balance. Significant characters were dying at all points in the movie. Dooku got it earlier than I expected (and how he got it was the first of Anakin's jarring evil deeds). Mace Windu was killed off in the middle, Padme died in the end.

Up until this movie, The Empire Strikes Back was the only big-budget blockbuster aimed at a wide audience that ends with what amounts to a win for the bad guys. This bad-guy win is more absolute, more total. I like that because life doesn't always have a happy ending (if all big budget movies ended this way, I'd like the occasional happy ending). The story of life is never as neatly complete as the end of Return of the Jedi. Shakespeare wrote comedies, that ended well, for amusement, but there's a value in tragedy, too. That's sorely, sorely lacking in pop culture, so I appreciate its use here.

With the possible exception of Empire, Sith really isn't like any other movie. One of the reasons I like Empire is that it isn't a re-hash of Star Wars. Sith isn't a re-hash of anything at all (except, maybe Oedipus Rex or Julius Creaser).

Despite all the heaviness of the movie, it never gets weighted down. All this happens at a break-neck pace. No drawn out, boring scenes in a swamp.

Ewan and McDirmad (sp?) acted very well.

Here's what I didn't like:

I would have liked to have seen more of the masked Darth Vader. He still has some transformation left. He remains impulsive and emotional in this movie. He's cold and calculating in Star Wars and Empire. So to some extent he's still not the character we come to know later.

I don't quite get the Emperor. What's his end game? What does he really want, and why? What does he do for the next 20 years? Is he happy? What's his vision for the Galaxy? He is established as a liar, so all his talk of peace and order is disingenuous, but though he caused the wars up to his ascension as Emperor, is the implication that the next round of wars is caused by the "good guys?" There seems to be a suggestion that the Sith and the Jedi really aren't too different. Yoda sends Obi-Wan off to kill his friend, which is the same thing Palpatine does with Anakin. If that's deliberate, I think we would have had a better sense of there being two sides of the same coin if we had a better idea of what life under the Empire would ultimately be like, and how it would be worse than life under the Republic, which seems characterized by corrupt government, constant war, tolerance of slavery and gangsterism, and, for that matter, high taxes.

Jar Jar didn't die!

No Title Available

10 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Munich is better, January 4, 2006
This movie has been getting great reviews. It's supposed to be a message movie about how corruption is behind everything bad that happens in the Middle East. It stunk. It managed to be intensely preachy and extremely slow moving at the same time. In place of subtlety it progressed along an intentionally confusing non-linear storyline; to the extent it has a story. So it was supposed to be confusing in order to blur its black-and-white message. I actually didn't find it remotely confusing - I pretty much could see where everything was headed by about 45 minutes into the film. I guess it did have a storyline, but as it meandered around it didn't feel that way. That's my biggest problem with it. As with Traffic, I didn't object so much to the unmistakable message of the movie, just in its telling and in its lack of nuance. I also found the faux nuance insulting.

Munich, which hasn't been getting as good reviews, was much better. I guess some people are finding the mixed message about the cycle of violence objectionable. Unlike Syriana, exactly what that mixed message is is not exactly clear. The point seems to be that violence begets violence and is dehumanizing, but at the same time no alternative is presented. Beyond that, it worked better as a movie. The story was linear, characters developed and it was simply more interesting to watch.

46 Pages
46 Pages
by Scott Liell
Edition: Hardcover
70 used & new from $0.01

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars 46 pages never seemed so long, March 12, 2005
This review is from: 46 Pages (Hardcover)
"46 Pages" unfortunately refers to the length of the Revolutionary War era pamphlet, "Common Sense," rather than this book about said pamphlet. Unfortunate because Liell could have made his basic point in 46 pages, or even much less.

As it is the book is pretty short, but we get the idea of Liell's thesis quickly - "Common Sense" sparked a change in the way Americans thought about their relationship with England. Before, Americans sought rights within the British system, after they wanted a whole different system. Further, "Common Sense" helped Americans think about a republican form of government rather than an independent government based on the British model. Good point. Now, if you want to read it again stretched over about 150 pages, pick up this book.

Liell runs into trouble in part because he's not sure what he wants to do with his book. There's a little bit of Gary Wills' "Lincoln at Gettysburg," a little bit of Richard Brookhiser's short biographies of the founding fathers, and a little bit of a grade-school text book. The combination does not achieve what any of its component parts succeed at.

Wills' book on Lincoln's speech explores its historic context, analyzes its every phrase, and then describes the effect it had on American thinking during and after the Civil War. A glaring absence of Liell's book is much analysis of the language of "Common Sense." He touches on it, emphasizing that it was written to be understood not just by the framers but also by common farmers, but we don't really come away with much appreciation of the actual language of the pamphlet.

Liell probably would have been better off writing a straight biography of Thomas Paine. Again, Paine's biography is touched on, but his life is glossed over. This may be because Liell is aiming at a very general audience and is afraid of being offensive. For instance, Liell mentions in passing that after the Revolution, Paine wrote against organized religion in Europe, but doesn't really explain Paine's views. Though the brief story goes on to discuss how Paine was imprisoned in France for his views, and was almost a victim of the Reign of Terror, I almost got the sense that Liell was avoiding Paine's more controversial positions out of fear of a modern reign of terror that reacts poorly to evidence of founding fathers' anti-religiosity.

Another glaring absence is "Common Sense" itself. The book's very title tips us off that the pamphlet is a short work; it could easily have been included as an appendix. Instead, the book reviews much of what anyone who knows what "Common Sense" is probably already knows. With our curiosity piqued, the end of the book would have been an opportune time to read the work, probably for the first time.

Devoid of in-depth biographical information, textual analysis and "Common Sense" itself, "46 Pages" is left with the same basic point repeated over and over again. Despite its brevity, the book therefore moves slowly to a scattered conclusion about "other founding fathers" (all of whom had already been discussed), and an epilogue about Paine's later life that hints at, but does not explore, what seems like a truly interesting story.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 7, 2007 12:17 AM PST

Foucault's Pendulum
Foucault's Pendulum
by Umberto Eco
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
215 used & new from $0.01

35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's hard to get into the swing of this Pendulum, January 30, 2005
This book was on my shelf for years but I finally got around to reading it after reading the DAVINCI CODE and ANGELS AND DEMONS. They have similar themes, but Foucault's Pendulum has a much larger point having to do with the search for meaning. The point is that the search itself is compelling, and the temptation of searching for secret meaning can become obsessive. But it's hard to get into the swing of PENDULUM. To get to that main point, Umberto Eco constructs a story that manages to pack speculation about just about every occult group and secret society in history into one unified theory. Are the characters discovering or creating their story? Or is their imagination producing reality? Or are they, or at least the narrator, simply delusional? I think that's what I was supposed to be wondering while reading the book. I was pleased with the ending, which though a little ambiguous did not turn out to be confirmation of magic or the discovery of a secret of secrets. Dark and mysterious figures seem small and petty by the end. Cleverly, Eco leaves us at a point where the narrator simply arrives at a new theory, which he had been doing throughout most of the book, so I suppose what's really going on could be just about anything, but at least the ending seems to be about human nature in this world.

Although I liked the ending, I had many problems with this book. First, it took far too long to get to the ending. I think Eco wanted us to ease into the characters' descent into obsession, so the first half of the book contains too much off-the-main-plot narrative. Then Eco wants to overwhelm us with scope, so he writes pages and pages and pages about obscure secret societies, some of which I had known something about, some of which I hadn't. Where Dan Brown introduces quasi-historical organizations like the Illuminati with a lot of explanation, Eco's characters talk about them as if everyone is already familiar with them (including many groups far more obscure than the Illuminati). I don't think Eco here is trying to be pretentious. I think he's trying to establish a murky atmosphere within which he has an easier time manipulating our recollection of myth and history. But wading through pages upon pages of disorienting uncertainty can be tedious.

Eco also has an annoying habit of switching styles. At first he writes in his deliberately disorienting way, then he has pages of clear exposition, then he breaks into fine print that is supposed to be the writing of one of his characters. This too is uncomfortable, and I found the style shifts to often kill the book's momentum.

Finally, though the mysterious figures surrounding the book's main characters are rendered more plausible as frauds by the end of the book, there is no plausible explanation of why the main characters are surrounded by so many frauds, in on a lesser version of their grand plot. I think this is supposed to add to the story's deliberate ambiguity, but I'm not sure and not entirely convinced.

Ultimately I was wrong to pick up with book after reading Dan Brown's books. Brown writes "page turner" thrillers, which this is most certainly not. The right way to come at FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM is to recognize it as a character-driven novel about human nature.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 14, 2011 12:35 PM PDT

Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character
Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character
by Alyn Brodsky
Edition: Hardcover
31 used & new from $21.30

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Buffalo's President, December 14, 2004
The City of Buffalo is much like its most famous historical figure, Grover Cleveland. Both were at their peak prominence a little more than a century ago, though maybe just a little forgotten by the rest of the world today. Both are conservative but Democratic. And words like "character" apply to both. Alyn Brodsky's 2000 biography, which focuses on that quality of Cleveland is as good a place as any for Buffalonians to find out a little more about the only elected president to emerge from the Queen City.

Cleveland is probably the least-written about two-term president. Though he is remembered largely as being the only chief executive to serve two non-consecutive terms, only history buffs remember much about what he actually did. This is largely due to the fact that he served in between two great American crises, the Civil War and World War I. At first blush, the issues of the day - bimetallism, tariff reform, the Pullman's strike to seem like the most inaccessible types of ancient first. Upon closer inspection, the past has much to say about the present.

The story of Cleveland and his presidency seem for all the world like the story of Bill Clinton: Both were elected to the presidency as governors after surviving sex scandals and enduring charges of draft dodging (Cleveland famously fathered a child out of wedlock and paid a substitute to serve in his place during the Civil War). Three of the biggest issues for both presidents were free trade (Cleveland had the tarrif, Clinton had NAFTA and GATT), imperialism, recession, and what to do with a big budget surplus. Both presidencies ended with Republican candidates winning the White House without winning the popular vote (that's how Cleveland lost his first bid for a second term).

While readers might be struck by the similarities, author Brodsky doesn't see them. He writes that Cleveland has "absolutely nothing in common" with Clinton (or for that matter Nixon, Reagan or the first President Bush). That's the kind of overstatement that mars this book's all-too-frequent editorial side-comments. But what Brodsky had in mind had less to do with the obvious historical parallels and more to do with his reading of Cleveland's character. Cleveland was principled to the point of stubbornness-actually way past that point. Brodsky writes that Cleveland "opposed just about everything that was finding favor with the majority of American people." He opposed the free coinage of silver, favored a more humane and respectful Indian policy than was popular at the time, did not believe in manifest destiny and at key moments helped big business management crush labor protests. Still, Cleveland, along with Andrew Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt was one of only thee men in history to win more popular votes than his rivals in three consecutive races.

Cleveland's most endearing trait was his honesty. It is this quality that separates him, in Brodsky's view, from modern presidents. Rather than denying rumors about an "illegitimate" child, Cleveland admitted the truth and the potentially negative campaign issue became a positive. To Republican refrains of, "Ma ma, where's my pa?" Victorious Democrats chanted, "Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!"

Of course Cleveland is remembered in Buffalo because he lived here. A former Erie County Sheriff, Cleveland was also the last Buffalo mayor to subsequently get elected to higher office. Amazingly, within the two years after being first elected mayor, Cleveland was elected governor and then president. From the one of the fastest rises in American political history, Cleveland came to dominate American politics for 12 years.

Cleveland had no great war for which he is remembered. He was more a manager of government than innovator with it and thus is not especially remembered for a legislative program. Nor did his somewhat staid personality - in stark contrast to that of his contemporary, Theodore Roosevelt-leave a larger than life impression. But Cleveland is Buffalo's president: an honest, competent chief executive who worked hard on behalf of his community and nation. Though sometimes a bit too effusive in his praise, Brodsky does right by Cleveland and reminds us Western New Yorkers another story from our proud heritage.


Going Nucular: Language, Politics and Culture in Confrontational Times
Going Nucular: Language, Politics and Culture in Confrontational Times
by Geoffrey Nunberg
Edition: Hardcover
83 used & new from $0.01

27 of 42 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stale air, October 28, 2004
I am usually disappointed when the interview part of NPR's Fresh Air show ends and the tail end commentary or review fills out the show's hour...except when Geoffrey Nunberg gives one of his little radio essays on language. For that reason I was eager to read this book, but I was frustrated to find that Going Nucular is simply a collection of those radio essays, with a few newspaper columns thrown in. I had heard most of what I was now reading, and since all of the essays were written since 2001, they were mostly fresh in my mind. Not that they weren't interesting, but they simply weren't new. I suspect other regular Fresh Air listeners will have a similar reaction. After finishing the book I scanned the cover and could not find any indication that the book was a collection of old essays, which I found sort of ironic being that the Nunberg is a communication expert.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 23, 2012 7:35 PM PDT

You Have the Power: How to Take Back Our Country and Restore Democracy in America
You Have the Power: How to Take Back Our Country and Restore Democracy in America
by Howard Dean
Edition: Hardcover
53 used & new from $0.01

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better as a memoir than a manual, October 28, 2004
Inevitably a book like this has two interwoven parts - a memoir and a litany of "we musts and we needs." As is often the case, the memoir of this rather unfortunately named book (sounds like a self help manual) is the far more interesting part. Dean is at his most interesting when discussing his take on his own campaign and various political figures. The famous scream? Dean makes a compelling case that it never happened (really!) Bill Clinton? A uniquely skilled politician who tried to undermine Dean and left many would-be successors with the wrong impression that he won because he was centrist. George Bush? The worst president since Harding (and even more dangerous). In acknowledging that his operation was not prepared to win a front-runners campaign, Dean sort of explains why he, as one of the guys who lost, should be writing about what Democrats need to do to win. I would have liked more analysis of what went wrong, and what went right. On the whole, though this slim volume is worthwhile and engaging enough to read in one or two sittings.

DVD ~ Bent Mejding
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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Makes Plan 9 From Outser Space seem like Star Wars, October 10, 2004
This review is from: Reptilicus (DVD)
I confused Reptilicus with The Beast from 2000 Fathoms, the Ray Harryhausen movie I wish I had actually rented. I wanted to rent The Beast because of its stop-motion special effects. Reptilicus literally had the worst special effects of any movie I have ever seen. The monster made a guy in a Godzilla suit look like something out of Lord of the Rings. It was an inanimate rubber monster on, perhaps, one string. No part of it moved, except that it would occasionally bob up and down or move on or off screen as if pulled or pushed. In more than one scene it simply sat there. As if this were not bad enough, there is the crudest-ever animated green slime that took me a while to understand was supposed to be coming out of its unmoving mouth. Worst of all is a scene in which the monster eats a person. We see the person screaming, then a cut to an incredibly bad cartoon person superimposed in the general area of the monster's mouth, again unmoving. Fortunately, the movie put me to sleep. I needed the rest. It's a mystery to me why this was in the video store and no Harryhausen movie as far as I could tell was there (nor, for that matter was the original King Kong).

The Da Vinci Code
The Da Vinci Code
by Dan Brown
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.45
3403 used & new from $0.01

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a masterpiece, December 29, 2003
This review is from: The Da Vinci Code (Hardcover)
THE DA VINCI CODE is disappointing. The problem is not that the book isn't fast paced and suspenseful - it is to both. But that's all it is. There are plenty of "hooks" and plot twists, but they occur on a page-to-page level. Once the story is established as a quest for the Holy Grail, the arc of the plot becomes highly predictable. That the story is about the search for the actual Holy Grail, and the biggest conspiracy in the history of western civilization, is another problem. The scope is as big as it seems. The suspension of disbelief becomes shaky less than halfway through the book and never recovers (side diatribes about the theological implications of THE LITTLE MERMAID don't help matters). As if that weren't bad enough, after we come to realize the story really is about the search for the Grail, even after its "true nature" is revealed, even after it is actually located... we don't get to see it. Had the book ended with some doubt about whether the Grail - and the massive conspiracy about it -- was real, hiding it would have worked. But by the end of the book there is no doubt about its authenticity. We are told somewhere in the middle of the story what type of thing the Grail really is (it isn't a cup), but we don't learn much more about it once its location is discovered. The whole thing has the unpleasant smell of the new-age self-help book, THE CELESTINE PROPHESY. Well, it wasn't quite that bad - but precisely because it wasn't that bad, it was even more disappointing.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)
by J. K. Rowling
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.29
1088 used & new from $0.23

5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Potter Yet, October 4, 2003
"The Order of the Phoenix" is the best and most "adult" Harry Potter book yet. At 870 pages, with the now-teenage characters drinking coffee and sometimes looking for something stronger, dating, falling into sullen moods, and suffering emotional as well as physical pain, this is clearly a book aimed at an older audience than "The Sorcerer's Stone." The length and timing of the books seems to be a deliberate part of a plan for young people to grow with them. By the time a ten year old is finished with "Sorcerer's Stone," he or she could be eleven and ready for "Chamber of Secrets." "Phoenix" is not only long enough to scare away an inappropriately young audience (it is probably too scary for young children), but it is dark and serious enough to engage teenagers...and older audiences (like me!). The book is also more internally consistent than its predecessors, and the characters' motives are more accessible to adults. For instance, the younger Potter seemed unaccountably distrustful of adults until I came to realize that children basically walk through life afraid of getting caught. Almost anything a young child may have the urge to do is the type of thing adults put limits on. So young Harry would not go to his elders when such a course seemed, from my adult perspective, to be the logical thing to do. Harry must remain self-reliant, otherwise he wouldn't be at the center of the stories. In Phoenix, he is either physically separated from some allied adults, or is resentful towards others. Its not so much that he's distrustful as he is buffeted between forces that are affecting them too. The hideous Dolores Umbridge, subjects other adults to the same type of police-state that the younger Harry must have felt like he was living in whenever he entered Professor Snape's classroom from the start. Phoneix is the second book in which a significant character dies, which makes up for the overly happy endings of the first two books and enhances a genuine sense of suspense and foreboding as the book moves along. And the book certainly does move along. No long, boring descriptions of Quiddich, no tedious Winter Ball. Just about every page moves the plot along.
I spent the summer reading the Potter books, and this was a great one to end my run with. I suppose it may be a few summers yet before the sixth book comes out. "Phoneix" leaves me eagerly anticipating that date.

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