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Charlie Chan and The Curse of the Dragon Queen
Charlie Chan and The Curse of the Dragon Queen
DVD ~ Joe Bellan
27 used & new from $3.38

3.0 out of 5 stars A laugh every two hours, July 6, 2016
Great cast playing a host of zany characters, but I think it was supposed to be a comedy. It wasn't. Perhaps the writers thought that frenzied slapstick was enough to make it so, but somehow, with nothing better to do, it just dragged on from one uninspired prattfall to the next. The only rolling-on-the-floor laugh in the whole movie comes when a trained attack dog is tricked into blowing out a candle. It was so stupid it was hilarious, but it wasn't enough to save what is essentially a turkey. Too bad, too, because the cast of crazies offered something to work with (although Brian Keith's apoplectic cop could have stayed home). Best one word description I can come up with is "insipid." Or maybe it was just me.


Snow White & the Huntsman (Extended Edition)
Snow White & the Huntsman (Extended Edition)
DVD
Price: $2.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Incre--errr--uncredible, July 15, 2015
Any tale, even a fairy tale, must be faithful to its own internal tenets and conditions to retain narrative credibility, and this one fails miserably through one simple blunder. Kristen Stewart plays the emasculate warrior princess quite convincingly, but she fails as Snow White on the simple fact that, were one to query the mirror, and the mirror answer truthfully, it would necessarily reveal what is already obvious to the viewer: this Snow White is actually quite homely and poses no threat whatsoever to the step-mother's vanity, thus making for considerable wasted film and effort.


Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur Film (Arts and Politics of the Everyday)
Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur Film (Arts and Politics of the Everyday)
by Patricia Rodden Zimmermann
Edition: Paperback
Price: $19.95
69 used & new from $4.83

3.0 out of 5 stars Fractured History, November 27, 2014
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I hesitate to take this on, partly because it involves taking issue with one of the accepted authorities in the field, and partly because the work Ms. Zimmermann put into her research was sincere. Because I know first hand the difficulty involved in this research and the obscurity of much of the material, I don't wish to offend her or belittle her efforts, and I fear that impression is inevitable in what I have to say about this. After 20 years of research and with all due respect:

The main premise of the book is interesting, but one must read the historical background she provides with a grain of salt, because it is largely wrong. She never quite comes to a real understanding of the nature of the early history of amateur film, especially after the introduction of the 16mm format. For example, she states:

"The very design of 16mm gauge and cameras insured that their use would be confined, at least until World War II, to family leisure activities."

Yet the original Cine-Kodak was produced specifically with the expectation that the people using it would want to make scripted films, and many did. Kodak's whole marketing effort went to elaborate lengths to encourage that end by producing sample scripts and offering much advice on how to produce these films effectively. The first 16mm camera was a scaled down copy of the larger box-like professional 35mm studio cameras of the day. When simpler cameras were added to Kodak's line, there was no cynicism in rebilling this original box as a camera for the "advanced amateur." Both local clubs and national groups like the Amateur Cine League (in which Kodak was a silent partner) were formed to encourage and recognize the production of high-quality scripted amateur work. The actual use of the cameras ranged, as would be expected, through the spectrum of subjects from family portraits, often of people standing around looking awkward or waving at the camera, to very high quality cinematic story-telling. One of the best of these, a film called "Fly Low Jack and the Game" was produced by a Rochester amateur theater group (albeit with some direct under-the-counter help from Kodak, who provided the film and processing) entirely with simple Cine Kodak Model B cameras. There was nothing in the design of either format or equipment that restricted use to family leisure activities, but it should also be noted that the format was never designed for theatrical presentation; it was intended for non-theatrical uses, a fact that Ms. Zimmermann often seems to forget in her efforts to expose otherwise non-existant obstacles to theatrical exploitation of amateur formats.
She says:

"In 1921, Eastman Kodak and Bell and Howell...colluded to standardize amateur-film width at 16mm to discourage amateurs from splitting the standard 35mm film into two strips of 17.5mm stock."

I have not been able to locate her source, but this long-standing myth is incorrect. By 1921, the format standard for 16mm film had been set for some time, long before Bell & Howell were ever invited to see the system. It came about through a series of experiments by John Capstaff at Kodak that determined the minimum image size for optimum projection of the finer grained reversal image. He settled on a 10mm wide format, with 3mm added to each side for sprocket holes to make a total width of 16mm. This was done by 1916 according to company records (though the experiments may have been repeated in 1919 after a development hiatus brought about by WWI), and the first prototype Cine-Kodak was completed in May 1920. The format was established by the time Bell & Howell were invited into the fold. There was no such collusion, and the fact that 16mm film was smaller than the split 35mm film was merely a convenient, though welcome side effect.
She states that

"This reversal process, which remains the standard for amateur and semiprofessional films today, embodied contradictory effects. While reversal film slashed costs, it was impossible to make prints with it except by very expensive and complicated procedures. This lack of reproducibility cut off distribution and exhibition channels...."

This is simply not true. A finished duplicate film could be acquired at the same cost as the original unexposed roll of 16mm reversal film of equal length. It was no more difficult to make than any positive print from a negative, and we are presented with another of those non-existant obstacles.
She states that

"Victor's first 16mm camera closely resembled the design and proportions of the Bell & Howell Filmo."

Not so. Victor's fourth camera, the Victor Model 3, was a copy externally of the Filmo design, but that was not until 1927. His first camera, which followed a few weeks after the Cine-Kodak in 1923, was a simple rectangular box, more similar to the Cine-Kodak than the Filmo. The next two models were variations on that box form. She goes on to state that

"These similarities suggest the difficulty of pinpointing which firm actually originated the 16mm design."

Presumably she is referring to that shared appearance, which was originated by Bell & Howell in 1923, and copied by Victor in 1927. No difficulty at all.
And one last example: She states [specifically with reference to movie equipment] that

"Unlike Victor Animatograph, Kodak did not widely engage in distribution, industrial uses, or camera manufacturing."

In fact, Kodak was THE major manufacturer and distributor of amateur movie equipment from mid-1923 when they introduced the 16mm format, throughout the 1920's and 30's. It's true that Kodak produced equipment to create a market for it's films, but the company was a prolific producer. It is also true that Kodak invited Victor and Bell & Howell to produce 16mm equipment, in part to add to that film market, but also to create a degree of credibility for a brand new film format by making it more than just a Kodak project. Victor's total output of cameras from 1923 through the remainder of the life of the company (to about 1950) was smaller than the output of just one Kodak model, the Cine-Kodak Model B made from 1925 until 1931, and Kodak exceeded Bell & Howell's output at least through the 1920's, and probably a good part of the 1930's. Victor was a small, if very vocal player in an industry created and dominated by Kodak, with Bell & Howell tagging along for the ride for many years.
This is only a sampling of the degree of error and misunderstanding. In some places there are such errors in every paragraph of the historical accounts. It is a book well worth reading, but toward the broader premises and objectives of the book, any conclusions drawn based on the history she presents are subject to question because the history is so far off the mark.


The Lone Ranger (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy)
The Lone Ranger (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy)
DVD ~ Johnny Depp
Price: $13.99
72 used & new from $4.10

11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Regarding "Dim Bulb" Reviewers, July 24, 2013
I learned a long time ago that movie reviewers often are subjected to the movies they review via projectors with burned out bulbs and no sound system. Very much the case with this one. The reviews I read said that the movie suffered an identity crisis, shifting between serious story and comedy. Had they paid attention to the first two minutes of the film they might have noticed that they were being told the movie is a spoof. Boy enters Wild West Show, sees Bison in his natural habitat, then Bear in his natural habitat, then The Noble Savage in his natural habitat. The message could not have been any clearer, but it went completely over the reviewers' heads. The movie plays out accordingly and may go down in history as one of the great spoofs of all time. There are some very dark moments: one ensures that you will have no trouble taking sides against the bad guy (but is only suggested, and not nearly as gory as the reviews made it out to be), and another makes sure that though we laugh at the rest of the movie, we do not forget the very real horrors perpetrated against Native Americans during the conquest of the American West. Mostly, though, it was laughs, and laugh I did. As I sat in one of AMC's overstuffed theater chairs, I laughed almost continuously as one western movie cliche after another got turned on its head. It has everything from a tree-climbing horse to a prostitute with a loaded ivory leg. The last 20 minutes alone are worth the price of admission with Rube Goldberg-like antics with a runaway train, but it's also hard to beat watching Johnny Depp walk through the entire movie with a dead crow on his head. It should have been reviewed by more intelligent and perceptive reviewers (some sense of humor would have helped) and it should have had better attendance than it did. It's one of the must-see movies of the summer.


A Field Guide to Dinosaurs: The Essential Handbook for Travelers in the Mesozoic
A Field Guide to Dinosaurs: The Essential Handbook for Travelers in the Mesozoic
by Henry Gee
Edition: Hardcover
42 used & new from $0.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More fiction than fact, June 28, 2013
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This is, in some respects, an amazing book: lavishly illustrated, with mostly excellent line and color drawings, diagrams, charts, and maps. The dinosaur images are finely done, though often shown in an irritatingly distorted perspective (the cover illustration is a good example). Still, they were intended to be dramatic, and they succeed in that. My main problem with the book is not altogether the fault of the authors. I was looking for a current factual guide, not a fictitious extension of the facts, so it has proven to be useless for my purposes since, based though it is on current knowledge, it proves to be more imaginative extension than fact. It would help if it were properly described in the advertising. It also contains the most preposterously reasoned cause for the dinosaur extinction I've seen to date. On page 24, the authors say:

"...it all has to do with size....large animals might be more prone to extinction than smaller ones. They are more visible and have fewer places to hide; they also tend to breed less frequently and have fewer offspring than smaller animals. By extinction [sic], we think that whatever wiped out the dinosaurs preferentially affected the larger species, leaving the smaller ones--the birds--unscathed."

The obvious problem with this is that not all dinosaurs were large, and not all small dinosaurs were birds, but all (except those few birds) were victims of the extinction event(s), so the effect was not size preferential. The Middle School quality of reasoning in this argument is disappointing coming from people who are supposed to be experts in their field.

Aside from that, it's a nice book, but requires far too much work to re-distill the facts from the mix to be useful as a reference. Still worth buying, so long as you know up front that it's largely fiction.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 20, 2013 4:43 PM PDT


The Recent Complex Creation,Torah and Science Reconciliation
The Recent Complex Creation,Torah and Science Reconciliation
by Roger M. Pearlman CTA
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.02
19 used & new from $14.00

16 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars No Science Here, August 7, 2011
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I have not the slightest doubt of Mr. Pearlman's deep sincerity and religious conviction, but sincere belief is no substitute for knowledge, and he has neither real knowledge nor understanding of the science he argues against. He appears to be guilty of reading and absorbing only the Recent-Creation literature that he already believes, without ever having approached the real science that he would like to refute. However, the book suffers from more than lack of knowledge. It is still unclear after reading it whether English is Mr. Pearlman's first language. The material suffers frequently throughout from problems of syntax and spelling (consistent use of "then" for "than," for example, with many incomplete and disconnected sentences) and it is clear that it is self-published without benefit of professional editing services. The language problem works both ways. Much of his discussion is couched in Judaic terminology that is only partially addressed in a very incomplete glossary in the back, so it sometimes takes awhile to pull meaning from context, and in many cases even that is not possible. He also has the zealot's tendency to ramble, sometimes incoherently, but it is unclear how much the incoherence might derive from problems with the language. He runs the gamut from political diatribes to investment advice to regurgitation of long-refuted anti-evolutionary creationist tracts.

His version of "science" is--to put it as politely as possible--naÔve, and in some cases so severely misinformed as to make it clear he has done no real research. His reasoning (when there is any attempt at reasoned argument) is based only upon his exposure to other creationist literature, not on any deep examination of the real science that describes an ancient Universe. I have a few favorites lines (there are no page numbers, so I numbered them myself starting with the introduction as page 1):

>> "Some scientists believe gravitational force can vary based on distance". (p. 54)

True enough, except for the first three words. The relationship between gravity and distance according to the inverse square law is one of the most fundamental laws of physics.

>> "If any star measures 26 billion light years away, and one dates the universe at 12 billion years old, the contradiction begs for an admission the speed of light is not fixed, or not the speed limit." (p. 62)

For those who might not be aware, no such measurement exists, because the greatest distance that can be observed is about 13 billion light years, which is supportive of the current best estimate of the age of the Universe; hence the proposed contradiction is entirely in Mr. Pearlman's imagination.

>> "Balanced heat readings across the universe is [sic] a tell tale sign the universe was formed in days, not a work in progress over billions of years". (p. 63)

>> "Scientists who postulate the existence of dark matter should not deny the Creator could have manipulated that. If string theory is true, one should admit the Creator could have manipulated this matter." (p. 63)

>> "The high ratio of double star systems is not consistent with random placement." (p. 64)

There is nothing in additional context that would clarify or alter the meaning of any of these statements, and for most, there is no additional supportive context of any kind.

It goes on. He argues that Man and dinosaur co-existed. He talks about the meteor impact that may have ended the dinosaurs:

>> "There is no crater evidence this impact happened at the end of the ice age. That is because they [sic] happened 340 years earlier during the Mabul." (p. 105. Mabul is the Noahic flood.)

The first statement is true enough, but the meteor impact in question has been reliably dated to about 65,000,000 years ago, and that dating is not controversial in mainstream scientific circles. Remnants of an impact crater of the right age and size do exist at the bottom of the ocean off the Yucatan peninsula. It's precise role in the extinction of the dinosaurs is still controversial, but the last ice age ended only about 10,000 years ago, so the connection is another product of Mr. Pearlman's wishful thinking.

The book is written with great fervor, but no understanding of the scientific issues and principles it attempts to address. I have not even scratched the surface with the examples above, and I think anyone who knows anything of the science Mr. Pearlman is attempting to refute will find it a frustrating, forehead-slapping, hair-pulling read.
Comment Comments (26) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 22, 2016 9:31 PM PDT


The Road
The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
Edition: Paperback
35 used & new from $2.37

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good read---until the end, March 27, 2010
This review is from: The Road (Paperback)
This review contains spoilers.

Mr. McCarthy has pulled a "Stephen King" on us. "The Road" is an absolutely compelling read. I read it in two sittings, and that only because I finally had to put it down at 6 one morning to get at least a little sleep. So imagine my disappointment to get to the end and find a resolution that suffers a failure of imagination on the scale of Stephen King at his worst--and worse, a failure of artistic integrity. McCarthy has created a world that is utterly dead, beyond any hope of recovery. It supports no non-human animal life (at least no land animals; the sea is left as a question mark), and all the trees are dead. The only living things are a few straggling humans who survive either by scrounging the few remaining edible remnants of past human industry, or by eating each other. Both resources are finite, and he ensures that we understand the wound is fatal by showing us the image of a newborn baby on spit over a campfire. So it's a world in which even the living are dead, and just don't know it yet.

The story of the struggle of a dying father to keep his son alive and the young son's absolute faith in his father is touching, but while the relationship makes a fine contrast with the setting through most of the story, it ultimately has nowhere to go in McCarthy's bleak landscape. When the father finally dies, instead of taking the story to a more logical conclusion, McCarthy writes the son into the care of another of the "good guys" (non-cannibals), who just happens to make an improbable appearance at the right moment. It's a contrived and silly insertion of hope after he has gone to such great lengths to establish the utter non-viability of the world. This ending is a very transparent lie on the part of the author--a failure of courage, and makes no sense in the context of the absoluteness of the death of the world. If it was meant to be ironic, it fails miserably. The real irony is the unfailing beauty of the love between father and son in a world that renders it meaningless.

As a rule, I would consider second-guessing an author's thinking an unpardonable offense, but this was such a huge let-down that I am going to indulge in the unthinkable. The only ending that makes sense in this story is for the boy to continue his journey alone after his father's death. The last we see of him is his departure after his good-bye. We know what he faces, as does he; we know that he has not a chance of survival, but then, he had none anyway, and we've always known that. It would offer the reader the mercy of not actually seeing him die, and a degree of ambiguity about the where, when, and how, but there is a poignance in watching the last of what was good in humanity--one who "carries the fire"--walking into a sunset that is the world's as well as his own. (I know--outrageous to say "he should've written it this way," but in this case, it can't be a greater crime than the one the author commits by using his enormous writing talent to hold us enthralled while setting us up for a such a silly, contrived, and utterly dishonest ending.)

Perhaps if Mr. McCarthy intended to leave room for hope, he should have been less thorough in the destruction of his landscape. Or perhaps he simply doesn't understand the consequences of the death of trees.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 30, 2010 8:33 AM PDT


The New Biographical Dictionary of Film: Expanded and Updated
The New Biographical Dictionary of Film: Expanded and Updated
by David Thomson
Edition: Paperback
78 used & new from $0.37

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Compelling read, but...., January 21, 2010
This is an interestingly paradoxical book, fascinating and well-written, but questionable in its balance. It ranges from funny to (unnecessarily) vulgar (see the entry for Clara Bow), and I find myself compelled to continue reading far beyond the point when I need to put it down. Unfortunately, even his compliments are often couched in negativity. It's a must-read book, but in the end, the book itself offers a portrait of an imaginative writer who is more apt at basking in the self-illuminating glow of his own intellectuality than at any balanced evaluation of the people and films he writes about.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 6, 2014 6:20 PM PDT


American Photographic Patents: The Daguerreotype & Wet Plate Era 1840-1880
American Photographic Patents: The Daguerreotype & Wet Plate Era 1840-1880
by Janice G. Schimmelman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.02
34 used & new from $14.33

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Compilation--almost, August 5, 2007
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This is a great book. The amount of information is fantastic, and it's a great research tool. I'm delighted to have it in my library. But it was also a disappointment. It seems inconceivable to me that anyone would go to the enormous effort that went into compiling this information, then publish the book with only a handfull of patent drawings. That's the meat of the material, and it's in painfully short supply. It would have been most valuable as a resource if it contained a comprehensive set of drawings to accompany each of the patent descriptions. Without them, it's usefulness is greatly reduced. Still, I recommend it highly. I just hope there will be a second, more complete edition.


Tranquil Moments: French Horn
Tranquil Moments: French Horn
10 used & new from $1.47

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars With Rain???!!!, August 3, 2007
OK, I confess. I bought my copy at a yard sale. I also confess up front that I'm a musical snob and generally have no use for fragged excerpt recordings like this, but as a former Horn player, I couldn't resist (and for only a buck...). If nobody reads this review, I'll get my buck back on my own next yard sale. The rain and thunderstorn background is possibly the silliest thing I've ever heard. It doesn't match, complement, or enhance the music in any way (and the music is what it's all about). It's just a silly gimmick, and it's a fairly irritating one. The performance is mixed. For the most part, Mr Fischer's performance is excellent (but I'm not sure the accompanying piano was tuned for this recording). I'm less fond of the pinched nasal sound of the horn, though that seems to be in vogue among some players, and it's purely a matter of personal taste. I prefer a more open sound, but it's not important against a nice performance. The keyboard accompanist didn't seem to know when to quit hammering the keys. In the Andante from the Strauss Concerto No. 1, she butchers the lovely duet between horn and what would have been clarinet in an orchestral accompaniment, by stomping through it like a Cossack infantry troop (that was just the final straw. The hammering goes on nearly throughout the recording). Still, Mark Fischer is a fine Hornist, and I could have appreciated this more if they had just left out those silly rain and thunder sound effects (did I not mention twittering birds? AHHRRGGGGHHH.) On the other hand, if you might make it to my yard sale, this is the best horn recording I've heard in a month of Sundays.
A basis for my rating: For the horn performance alone: 5 stars; for the clutsy (piano) accompaniment, 3 stars; for the superfluous sound effects, a very generous 2 stars.


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