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S. Harris (Spotsylvania, VA)
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Vertigo (Widescreen)
Vertigo (Widescreen)
DVD ~ James Stewart
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 39.93
15 used & new from CDN$ 4.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Darkest Hitchcock, July 18 2004
This review is from: Vertigo (Widescreen) (DVD)
"Vertigo" is a disturbing tour de force. You would probably have to roll forward to David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" and "Mulholland Drive" is find comparable weirdness. Is it Hitchcock's best? That's a tough question. Personally, I think "Notorious" is a better film, because the story fits easier into expectations of what a story should be, while at the same time being very edgey in matters of men and women, sex and love, and intrigue that blurs the lines. Everything about "Notorious" is balanced. But "Vertigo" takes chances few directors are willing to attempt, and that has to be recognized - especially when it involves a director with the abilities and genius of a Hitchcock. With that in mind, "Vertigo" is the important film, necessary if you want to fully understand Hitchcock.
"Vertigo" is about obsession. Ex-detective John Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) is following the wife of an old friend, who fears his wife is losing her mind. It's a deadly scam, but you know that. The real story is Ferguson's descent. Stewart is excellent and increasingly strange as the movie progresses. Novak also works, but in a way she strikes the viewer as a deliberately coarser version of the Hitchcock "blondes." I don't pretend to be a Hitchcock specialist, but I've been spending this summer going through the major Hitchcock films, and I've noticed a few things that have me wondering over Hitchcock's creative arc in general. Blondes, yep. But look at the role of mothers. "Strangers on a Train" has psycho killer Walker's mother as a babying influence, and "Vertigo" has former Stewart girlfriend, played by Barbara Bel Geddes, visiting Stewart/Ferguson, and telling him "mother" is there for him. And check out the Nazi mother to mama's boy Claude Rains in "Notorious." The capper is of course the "mother" of Norman Bates in that movie explosion called "Psycho." What was it with Hitchcock and mothers? Also note that the swirl imagery of "Vertigo" reappears in the swirling drain of "Psycho."
"Vertigo" is a much more free-floating effort, and deserves all the praise. Narrative structure is allowed to slacken, and interior pathologies allowed to take priority, all amazing terrain for a director to explore - and to be allowed to explore by the dollar driven studios. The logic of the "story" is in fact is so suspended, that the fact that there is a murder and a murderer become secondary - they are merely triggers. Oh, Stewart/Ferguson eventually remembers he's a cop, but the difference in "Vertigo," which sets it apart from even "Psycho," is that it doesn't matter and darkness falls. And with it a final madness?

The Dreamers: Original Uncut NC-17 Version (2004) [Import]
The Dreamers: Original Uncut NC-17 Version (2004) [Import]
DVD ~ Michael Pitt
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 83.86
6 used & new from CDN$ 37.54

2.0 out of 5 stars An indulgent "Dreamers", July 17 2004
"The Dreamers" is indeed Bertolucci's Valentine to films. (The ones he likes, at least.) But so what? Many of the films referenced I have seen, some I have not. Nevertheless, it all plays like an erotic Trivial Pursuit game. The sex is graphic, but ultimately boring. Roger Ebert in his review talks about the sex existing within a successfully created context. I disagree, and have to wonder seriously about reviews from cinema wonks. There is a corresponding irony in the film that perhaps Ebert should take to heart when serving up such questionable verdicts: Theo masturbating on a poster of Marlene Dietrich. I think a better erotic/art film example could be found in "Henry & June." Not perfect by any means, but at least Miller and Nin were creators . "The Dreamers" only offers spoiled posers. Two stars for some good camera work.

House of Games (Widescreen/Full Screen)
House of Games (Widescreen/Full Screen)
DVD ~ Lindsay Crouse
2 used & new from CDN$ 15.51

5.0 out of 5 stars "Trust no one", July 16 2004
David Mamet's "House of Games," is another of that director's giant flip jobs. I've been working my way through the Mamet catalogue, and one can't help but feel the director sees the world itself as a giant con. Well, that's perhaps a bit simplistic, but Mamet does cling, in movie after movie, to some core principles. One of these is that you must trust no one. In "Spartan," "The Spanish Prisoner," and "House of Games," this very line is uttered, usually by a villain to an innocent. This sounds like a negative credo, but it really isn't. First, consider who's issuing the warning: the villain. Will the innocent learn from experience? And will the learning result in corruption? (Important questions for Mamet.) Second, trusting yourself and knowing yourself (weaknesses included) in a dangerous world is advisable, necessary, in order to survive . I have to believe Mamet is a big reader of Joseph Conrad.
The story behind "House of Games," involves Lindsay Crouse as Margaret Ford, a doctor and popular author. Her "big book" is titled "Driven," about compulsive and addictive personalities. It doesn't take long to figure out the book is about herself. So driven is Margaret that she is beginning to make Freudian slips in her conversations, slips that reveal dark corners of her own personality. She may be heading for a breakdown - and a teaching colleague warns her, tells her she must slow down. But "slowing down" comes as another writing project presents itself, seemingly accidently due to the dilemma of a patient , when Margaret is introduced to the world of the Con at a local bar and pool hall called "House of Games." This introduction comes at the hands of Mike (Joe Mantegna), a handsome and slick con man who is willing to provide a tour - though he does warn her: "Trust no one."
To reveal any more would be telling. Like all Mamet films, the dialogue is essential. I don't think I've ever seen a director make such interesting use of dialogue. On one level the dialogue in all of Mamet's films (that I've seen so far) is seemingly stilted. But it works! Why? I can only attribute this to Mamet's precision as a director. What seems stilted, comes across instead as elevated speech - as in Shakespeare. Mamet is a dramatic poet who no doubt has Shakespeare's great maxim engraved upon his mind, and present in the framing of each scene: "Suit the action to the word, and the word to the action." (Good actors must love working with this guy.) So pay attention, there's no fat in a Mamet film, and always plenty to ponder. "House of Games" is no different. See it.

Echo Bay
Echo Bay
by Richard Barre
Edition: Hardcover
17 used & new from CDN$ 3.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A Master of Hard-boiled Dialogue, July 15 2004
This review is from: Echo Bay (Hardcover)
Master of Hard-boiled Dialogue
Shawn Rainey, ex-Olympic hopeful skier, is now a gimp-legged fixer who combines the skills of a slick-talker working the cameras, a paralegal who knows how to research opposition dirt and, when necessary, a thug that can drop you with a punch. He's been given one last chance (read: Redemption) to regain partial custody of his children, by assisting in a shady deal being pushed by sleazy ex "business" associate, Terry Dahl, who now lives with Shawn's former wife. The deal involves the raising of the "Constance," which has been lying at the bottom of Lake Tahoe since 1940. The media (and money) frenzy surrounding this possible event has the allure of an inland "Titanic." But the "Constance" has secrets buried with her, and the 70-something year old daughter of the owner that scuttled the ship wants to keep it that way.
At its best, "Echo Bay" deals with the sins of the past and the need to let them go - or risk drowning in the bad mix of new sins and haunted memories. Thus, as a metaphor, "Echo Bay's" ship works as a fine McGuffin for all the intrigues to cluster around. But turning away from the past doesn't mean you can avoid confronting the truth - no matter how old, no matter how deeply buried. Rainey's diggings and conflicts reveal many a hidden skeleton, including a few from his own closet. Barre's use of dialogue is really what drives this story. It's tough and spare, often funny, but not in a smart-aleck Carl Hiasson way. The players here are all playing for keeps. For the most part it works. Up until the last 100 pages or so I thought I was reading something special, given the plot and the tough talk, "Echo Bay" seemed to have struck a balance, and was moving beyond genre, providing the kind of contemporary snapshot that penetrates, through its insights, the culture of a time and place. But for some reason "Echo Bay" never really establishes the tragic vision of, for example, Lehane's "Shutter Island," or Robert Stone's "Dog Soldiers."
By novel's end things get nicely arranged, loose ends are tied up, intriguing characters flatten out into types, and you're already thinking of what next to read. I can't help but feel this novel opened with higher stakes on the table. That said, Rainey is a great character and I would definitely read Barre again. His dialogue is every bit as good as Leonard at his best, and that in itself is reason enough to read on.

Cold Light
Cold Light
by John Harvey
Edition: Hardcover
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Resnick, July 10 2004
This review is from: Cold Light (Hardcover)
This is my first Charlie Resnick novel, and I must say I'm impressed. Harvey's one of the rare genre writers - in this case, crime fiction - who transcends genre. "Cold Light" in some ways reminds you of Ed McBain's cop novels. The main story, the tragic disappearance of young woman on Christmas Eve, is told from a variety of viewpoints, with numerous side stories that in the end contribute, rather than detract, from the main story. Harvey's eye for detail is impressive. "Cold Light" takes place in the early 90s of Thatcher's England. What a bleak place and time! This is underscored immediately, as a young woman crawls out from underneath her sleeping common law husband. Her life is already sad, even though she's not yet out of her teens. The government housing they live in, with two small children, is freezing and wet. Her husband is abusive, and getting worse, as hope is not even a glimmer in his devastated life. Across town, there is the near death by beating of a taxi driver, and police detective Charlie Resnick mulls over his jazz collection, but is probably dodging the extreme loneliness of his life. Separate threads that eventually intertwine, largely due to the movement of the characters. There is, eventually, a murder. And it involves, that most overused of crime figures, a serial killer. But in Harvey's hands it becomes something new, given his attention to character, dialogue, and setting. Make it real, and readers will come. Well, eventually. Unfortunately, this book is out of print. Which is a shame, since it's better than most crime novels, and better than most (big) "L"iterary efforts. A good comparative novel would be George Higgins' "Outlaws." In fact, the late Higgins and Harvey are very similar. Craftsmen all the way.

Touching the Void [Import]
Touching the Void [Import]
DVD ~ Simon Yates
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 60.45
9 used & new from CDN$ 3.96

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Simpson's Void, July 10 2004
This review is from: Touching the Void [Import] (DVD)
"Touching the Void" is indeed a remarkable story of survival. Joe Simpson's ordeal is vividly recaptured by director Kevin McDonald. McDonald's rather straightforward style, with the real Joe Simpson and Simon Yates recounting their harrowing experience climbing, and then descending, the beautiful but brutal, Suila Grande, in the Peruvian Andes, works well here. If there is hole in this story, and I think there is, it's in Simpson himself. He's one cold fish, so it's hard to work up a real measure of empathy. You half expect him to quote Nietzsche at some point. No doubt he would tell you this bleak attitude toward life and death is what kept him going. Maybe, but you get the sense that this heroic effort is being told by a mechanical man - and he was that way before Simpson cut the rope. The only time I really felt for Simpson, was when he fell into delirium, and was plagued with memories of a bad song. It's only then that his control slips, and seems human at last.

Suspiria
Suspiria
DVD ~ Jessica Harper
4 used & new from CDN$ 50.96

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Look of Horror, July 5 2004
This review is from: Suspiria (DVD)
I could of probably lived without 10 over-the-top seconds of "Suspiria." Those 10 seconds are graphic to the point of porn. No doubt Argento fans would say that such scenes are what make Argento Argento. Whatever. That said, this is a really good movie with a terrific look. Argento's use of colors and architecture to establish mood (dread) is simply astounding. I have to believe Kubrick borrowed from Argento, heavily, in his making of "The Shining." I almost didn't finish watching "Suspiria" due to a graphic murder in the beginning. What kept me hanging in there was the stylish way Argento was framing his scenes. Hairy and taloned arms appearing out of the dark, a haunting run through the woods, wild and/or garish art deco interiors that have you thinking Jack the Ripper picked out the colors and patterns, and a building that looks like it was designed in Hell.
The plot? It's ok. Not as weak as some have suggested, but it does have holes - holes you don't spend much time pondering, since it's your eyes and ears Argento is after. Acting? Almost seems beside the point. You have your various grotesque characters, some with very big teeth, doing evil things. Jessica Harper is, however, very good as the waif-like ballet student. Her physical slightness, her big eyes, all contribute to the impression that she is surrounded by monstrous horror. How will she escape? Watch and see. The soundtrack, especially if you have surround sound, is effective and eerie. Lots of evil whisperings and other ominous sounds jump from unexpected directions. So the makers of the dvd are also to be applauded. It's as crisp a picture as you can imagine. (Guess Argento wanted those "reds" to really show.)

Laguna Heat
Laguna Heat
by T. Jefferson Parker
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
49 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Parker's first, July 3 2004
T. Jefferson Parker is one of today's very best crime writers. Plotting, character, dialogue, all play out in a balanced and believable fashion in any given novel. "Blue Hour," "Silent Joe," take your pick. Parker is the kind of writer that makes other "name" writers jealous, simply because he's better. It's a shame his work has not found its way to the screen. But even fine writers have their beginnings, and for Parker "Laguna Heat," is his.
"Laguna Heat," is not a bad novel. In some ways it's a good one, but it is a first novel. Tom Shephard, the police detective hero of the novel is in an incomplete man. He has his demons - perhaps too many, since it seems like some sort of noir checklist. One demon in particular, his anguish over shooting a teenager, seems way overblown, given that same teenager had just opened up another cop with a knife. Then there's the divorce, the drinking, the dominating father, the missing mother, the murderer of the missing mother, and a whole can of Laguna worms, etc. Despite all of this, or because of all of them, Shephard's damaged state never really translates into a character one could care much about. In constast, look at "Joe," from "Silent Joe," another damaged figure of good, who is complex and cared for by the reader. More interesting are the various secondary characters, though even they have, by novel's end, a "stock" feel to them.
But "Laguna Heat" does have its moments. The best is perhaps Shepherd's night time swim in the ocean with his lover, Jane Algernon. This is a gorgeous passage, and alone make "Laguna Heat" worth a read. It also reveals perfectly the dark romanticism of noir:
"He kicked hard and pulled deeply to keep up with her, careful to leave a few meters between them.. Past the waves he felt the bottom falling away and knew that even a few yards from shore the ocean was much the same as it was many miles out: strong, unfathomable, unforgiving of all that is not part of it. And just as the first lappings of the waves had seemed to draw little parts of him away with them, he could now feel larger portions leaving too. He recalled that he had been married once but wasn't sure to whom. He believed that he rented an apartment somewhere in the town behind them but couldn't quote an address. He knew he was a cop on a murder case but couldn't remember the specifics. He wondered why he had ever quit surfing. But the regret soon vanished. He didn't know why and didn't want to know. Was it possible to continue this way to Hawaii, or perhaps to an uninhabited tropical island where he and Jane could live on fish and fruit, procreate, wildly, found a race? It seemed a possibility.
Then ahead of him, Jane Algernon's face collected in the darkness and it was smiling.
"Are you scared? The rocks are under us, not far," she said. Shephard could feel the churning of her legs as she kicked to stay afloat. Her hair was slicked back and the bones in her face caught the moonlight."
The above is just a portion from an extended passage. And it's such moments as these in "Laguna Heat," that signal, like lightning flashes, the writer Parker is to become.

Ghosts of Mars (Sous-titres français)
Ghosts of Mars (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Natasha Henstridge
Offered by Warehouse105
Price: CDN$ 5.48
45 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars B-movie fun, June 27 2004
It's John Carpenter, so what does everyone expect? I know what I expected, and "Ghosts of Mars" pretty much delivered. Thudding sound track, B-movie dialogue, heads on stakes, "Road Warrior" like zanies with metal sticking out of their faces stalking the "good" guys. Bring on the popcorn. Then there's a humorous twist. The "guys" in this future world live in a Matriarchy. Guys make the coffee, defer to the women, but also are told to deal with mechanical problems when they arise. (Well, at least the "breeder" - Jason Statham as Jericho - does.) Carpenter works all kinds of little jokes into the script on this wrinkle alone. Natasha Henstridge as the tough cop hero, and Ice Cube, as the con hero, are serviceable - and they know when to shoot, kick, and punch. And that's all that's needed here. I don't know who the main Martian is (he looks like Marilyn Manson in Kabuki), but he's perfect! Four stars for operating well within genre.

Spartan [Import]
Spartan [Import]
DVD ~ Val Kilmer
Offered by importcds__
Price: CDN$ 4.02
45 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Well directed silliness, June 26 2004
This review is from: Spartan [Import] (DVD)
This was my first Mamet film, so I was expecting a big deal. Well. I did enjoy "Spartan," despite gaping holes in the plot. The film has a great look to it, and Kilmer is good as the tough "mission first" agent Scott. The dialogue is tough, but in a way that has you thinking here's a (good) poet writing noir. For example, the repetitions regarding the need to "find the girl" was poet-cool, and dropped at just about the moment it would of started to get annoying. The fact she's the President's daughter is left unsaid, at least until the midway point, but you are able to make this connection with that fact unsaid. (And the unseen "President" in "Spartan" seems to be a combo of Clinton & Bush: a warmongering whoremonger.) But it's also at about the midway point that Kilmer has a conversation with a female agent that had been assigned to protect the President's daughter over the years. It has to be one of the most unintentionally funny scenes I've seen in a good movie in quite a while, and had me picking up on other "moments" as the movie went on. (But not enough to wreck the film, by any means.) On the bad side, super character actor William Macy is nearly wasted, a virtual non-entity for most of the movie. No doubt this role was as Mamet envisioned it, a character flying beneath radar, for that twist at the end. But if that's the case, a more anonymous actor would of been a better choice. On the good side, Ed O'Neil, as the ruthless Burch, further cements his own credentials as one of Hollywood's best character actors. And watch and listen carefully, or you will miss the why of the title. Not an exact fit, but it worked for me, in a wonderfully (and classically) understated way, and fit Kilmer's character as we'd grown to know him. Definitely worth a watch. Just don't peek too closely under the hood of this nifty looking car.

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