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Miles D. Moore (Alexandria, VA USA)
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The Thurber Carnival
The Thurber Carnival
by James Thurber
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.95
18 used & new from CDN$ 1.78

5.0 out of 5 stars It's about time for a major Thurber revival., March 15 2001
This review is from: The Thurber Carnival (Hardcover)
"The Thurber Carnival" was a beloved companion of my early youth; I laughed out loud again and again at the stories of "My Life and Hard Times," the hilarious "Fables for Our Time," "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," and other classics. What was really important to me about Thurber was that he came from the same part of Ohio that I did, and actually had had relatives and attended family reunions in Sugar Grove, Ohio, where I grew up. That meant all the world to me, because it showed me that someone who had ties to Sugar Grove could be a famous writer. Now, I love Thurber's work more than ever; as an adult, I can better appreciate the nuances of a story like "The Catbird Seat." Thurber's work is a precise, funny, yet deeply serious portrait of an America which had just recently completed the transition from a frontier to an urban society. Women, having just won the right to vote, were flexing new-found muscles; men, divorced from the need to wrest a living from the soil, felt suddenly unmoored and emasculated; a new breed of self-help authors arose to make a quick buck from the newly uncertain populace; and oceans of alcohol fueled the newly stirred resentments between the sexes.Thurber recorded it all, in a prose style as elegant and lucid as any in the history of American literature. "The Catbird Seat," "Fables for Our Time" and the self-help parodies of "Let Your Mind Alone!" are every bit as fresh and pertinent as when Thurber wrote them 60-odd years ago. Unfortunately, some aspects of his work--most glaringly his portrayal of African-Americans--have not stood up so well. But one can only say of Thurber what the Duc de Saint-Simon said of Louis XIV: "His virtues were his own, his faults were his times'." The best of James Thurber ranks with the best of Mark Twain, Ring Lardner, Woody Allen and any other American humorist you can name.

Before Sunrise
Before Sunrise
VHS
6 used & new from CDN$ 9.75

4.0 out of 5 stars A tiny, overlooked, but brilliant little gem., March 11 2001
This review is from: Before Sunrise (VHS Tape)
"Before Sunrise" is a small film but a charming and rewarding one. Celine, a young Frenchwoman, and Jesse, a young American, meet on the train from Budapest to Vienna. Jesse has 14 hours before he must board his plane back to America; he persuades Celine to spend that time with him wandering around Vienna; they spend the time talking, meeting various eccentric Viennese, and falling in love. In the morning they part, probably never to see each other again, although they vow that they will. That's all there is to it, but it's delightful, thanks to Richard Linklater's savvy writing and direction and the sweet performances of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. The dialogue captures perfectly the thoughts and personalities of two intelligent, thoughtful but not-quite-mature young people, and Linklater's camera takes us on a panoramic tour of Vienna (including several sites immortalized by an earlier, much darker film set in Vienna, "The Third Man"). What is most affecting about Before Sunrise, however, is the poignancy and urgency it gains as Celine and Jesse's time together comes to its inevitable end. Jesse's quotation from W.H. Auden--"O let not time deceive you,/You cannot conquer time"--is most appropriate, and as touching an endorsement of the philosophy of "Carpe Diem" as has ever been put on screen.

Say Anything
Say Anything
VHS
9 used & new from CDN$ 3.06

5.0 out of 5 stars Here's a rarity--a gentle, civilized teen comedy., March 5 2001
This review is from: Say Anything (VHS Tape)
If you're seeking an antidote to "American Pie" or some other incredibly vulgar teen flick, you can't possibly do better than "Say Anything," which balances its robust humor with tenderness and delicacy of feeling. This would be the greatest date movie of all time, if only girls wouldn't punch their boyfriends at the end and say, "Why can't YOU be more like Lloyd Dobler?" As played by John Cusack, Lloyd is probably the most lovable fictional teen since Huckleberry Finn, and Ione Skye, as Diane Court, is equally memorable as the inaccessible dream girl who is really sweet and vulnerable at heart. Add John Mahoney's masterful performance as the overprotective dad who turns out to be a thieving, manipulative liar, as well as the frisky supporting performances of Lili Taylor, Joan Cusack, Eric Stoltz, Loren Dean, Jason Gould and others, and you have one of the great teen romantic comedies of all time. "Say Anything" actually dares to take the feelings of its characters seriously, and to create genuine laughs that arise naturally from the characters.

The Cornish Trilogy: The Rebel Angels, What's Bred in the Bone, and The Lyre of Orpheus
The Cornish Trilogy: The Rebel Angels, What's Bred in the Bone, and The Lyre of Orpheus
by Robertson Davies
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.75
48 used & new from CDN$ 0.91

5.0 out of 5 stars Even more satisfying than The Deptford Trilogy, Feb. 25 2001
While my favorite novel by Robertson Davies remains Fifth Business, a book so dazzling it leaves me almost speechless, I feel the three novels of The Cornish Trilogy--The Rebel Angels, What's Bred in the Bone and The Lyre of Orpheus--are more satisfying in the aggregate than The Deptford Trilogy. The middle novel, What's Bred in the Bone, is the lynchpin of the trilogy--the "biography" of Francis Cornish, a wealthy art collector and restorer who in time will be suspected of being an art forger, but who in reality is a great artist of high inward purpose. To remind us of Mark Twain's dictum that a man's true biography is what goes on in his own mind, the book is narrated by the two invisible spirits who served as Cornish's guardians on Earth--the only ones who will ever know the whole truth about him. What's Bred in the Bone is sandwiched in between The Rebel Angels, about mayhem and skulduggery among a group of academics when they inherit the bountiful legacy of the late Francis Cornish, and The Lyre of Orpheus, concerning the convoluted doings when a young musical genius tries to recreate an unfinished opera by E.T.A. Hoffmann. This book features a particularly rollicking gang of characters, including E.T.A. Hoffmann himself speaking from the grave. Davies' style glistens with his trademark scholarship and wit; his Jungian philosophy, deep spirituality and often profound insights into the artistic process make these novels important works of art as well as delightful semi-satiric, semi-fantasy romps. One major complaint I have about Davies is that all his characters tend to sound like erudite, well-settled, middle-aged men--fine for the Rev. Simon Darcourt, but not for Maria Theotoky Cornish, the 23-year-old, half-Gypsy beauty. Also, some of his set pieces simply go on too long, such as the contentious "Arthurian" dinner party thrown by Arthur and Maria Cornish. However, the totality of Davies' gifts is so enormous that I'm willing to forgive him his flaws.

I Claudius Box
I Claudius Box
VHS
2 used & new from CDN$ 129.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The glory of British rep., Feb. 15 2001
This review is from: I Claudius Box (VHS Tape)
This remarkable TV miniseries, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, is famous for its elegant, literate dialogue and infamous for its frankness in detailing the sordid doings of Imperial Rome in the 1st Century A.D. For me, however, "I Claudius" is most remarkable for the enormous number of juicy scenes it gives to a wonderful troupe of classically trained British actors. To say that these actors make the most of their opportunities is an understatement. "I, Claudius" is virtually a short course for theater students on the use and control of voice to create character. Whether it's Sian Phillips' contralto sneer, John Hurt's manic bleat or Derek Jacobi's golden, stammer-muted trumpet, you know you are listening to great soloists who unite to make a grand theatrical symphony.

Backdraft
Backdraft
VHS
Offered by Indigoheirlooms_Media
Price: CDN$ 6.38
11 used & new from CDN$ 0.56

2.0 out of 5 stars Weep for the possibilities., Feb. 11 2001
This review is from: Backdraft (VHS Tape)
There are several good things about Ron Howard's "Backdraft"--namely, the truly incredible fire sequences and solid performances by the great veteran actors Kurt Russell, Robert De Niro and Donald Sutherland. Unfortunately, the movie's flaws weigh far more heavily: the mawkish, cliche-ridden script; the almost total waste of the fine actors Jennifer Jason Leigh, Scott Glenn and Rebecca De Mornay (De Mornay at least has one good, if very short, emotional scene with Russell); and, worst of all, the completely inadequate lead performance of William Baldwin. Almost any reasonably good-looking, well-built actor of Baldwin's age group would have done a better job. (Baldwin's role was originally written for Tom Cruise, who would have given the movie some much-needed star power.) Ron Howard grew up in TV, and his is predominantly a TV sensibility. This works fine in comedy, such as Splash and Parenthood, or in dramas with a well-defined beginning, middle and end, such as Apollo 13. In films which call for the director's shaping hand, however, Howard's limitations become glaring; just whose idea was it, anyway, to have Baldwin and Leigh make love on top of a speeding fire truck? This movie should have been an action- and character-driven pop masterpiece, but instead is barely adequate.

Comp Syms
Comp Syms
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 43.94
21 used & new from CDN$ 40.90

5.0 out of 5 stars A must for all Schumann lovers., Feb. 10 2001
This review is from: Comp Syms (Audio CD)
John Eliot Gardiner's scholarly approach to the orchestral music of Robert Schumann has nothing fusty about it; in fact, the elegance and sprightliness of the music shines through, putting the lie to the old canard that Schumann was a heavy, unimaginative orchestrator. Besides excellent versions of old favorites such as the "Rhenish" Symphony and the Konzertstuck for four horns and orchestra, there are enticing rarities here, such as Schumann's apprentice G Minor symphony, the "Zwickau," which isn't included in his official canon of symphonies. I cannot see why any true Schumann fans would not want to have this boxed set; it is a fascinating document, presenting Schumann's music much as he must have imagined it himself.

They Might Be Giants
They Might Be Giants
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 23.95
7 used & new from CDN$ 11.33

5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful piece of rock surrealism., Feb. 8 2001
This review is from: They Might Be Giants (Audio CD)
If rock'n'roll had existed in 1920s France, one could see Erik Satie and Andre Breton teaming up to produce something like the eponymous debut album of They Might Be Giants. Except that it wouldn't have been half as much fun as this bubbly, charming, hook-filled and almost completely inpenetrable CD. If anybody can explain the significance of "Chess Piece Face" or "Boat of Car," I'm not sure I'd like to hear from them, because an explanation might well kill their daffy charm. (Performers like Beck obviously owe a lot to They Might Be Giants.) The whole CD flows from one loopy triumph to another, but for me the high point is "Don't Let's Start." Not only is its tune supremely danceable, but it contains my favorite lyrics of any rock song: "No one in the world ever gets what they want/And that is beautiful;/Everybody dies frustrated and sad/And that is beautiful."

Serendipity Green
Serendipity Green
by Rob Levandoski
Edition: Paperback
10 used & new from CDN$ 4.40

4.0 out of 5 stars A witty, imaginative, enjoyable satirical romp., Jan. 25 2001
This review is from: Serendipity Green (Paperback)
A pinch of Sinclair Lewis, a dash of Garrison Keillor, garnishes of Thurber and Twain and Dave Barry, with just a hint of Swift and Waugh: that is the recipe that Rob Levandoski concocts in Serendipity Green, and it is as darkly delicious as devil's food. Levandoski is shrewdly observant as to how tempests brew quickly in small-town teapots; he also is in touch with the need of Americans to follow the latest trend, even if it's a particularly ugly, bilious shade of green, and to believe in their own myths, even if they are patently untrue tales of an Indian maiden whose name is Polish for "nonsense." There are characters here as rich as any in recent fiction, including D. William Aitchbone, a consummate schemer on a par with Anthony Trollope's Mr. Slope, and the odd couple of Howie Dornick and Katherine Hardihood, two painfully plain middle-aged wallflowers who find each other through their mutual loathing of D. William Aitchbone. Levandoski's invention is prodigious, indeed to his detriment: he introduces so many characters and subplots that he has to scramble madly to resolve them all. The end, as a result, seems rushed and not quite all it could be. Up to that point, however, the book is a delight, and Serendipity Green is still must reading for anyone who likes a good, funny book that is ever so lightly tinged with arsenic.

Plan 9 from Outer Space
Plan 9 from Outer Space
VHS
4 used & new from CDN$ 8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars One star for quality, five for entertainment value., Jan. 14 2001
This review is from: Plan 9 from Outer Space (VHS Tape)
Average that out, and you get three stars. "Plan Nine from Outer Space" must be seen to be believed; it can best be described as a combination of utter incompetence and swaggering assurance. Everything you have heard about it is true: the wobbling tombstones, the spray-painted paper plates masquerading as spaceships, the scenes that can't even match day and night, the tall blond stand-in for Bela Lugosi, the stiff and pompous performances, the ridiculously tin-eared dialogue ("We have tried to contact the Earthlings. They refuse our existence!"). Only a director with an unshakable belief in his own star could could put such complete, festering dreck on the screen with such a straight face--which makes "Plan Nine from Outer Space" one of the great laff riots of all time. One writer once described Ed Wood as having all the attributes of genius except talent; in all the annals of art, I can think of only one other figure that resembles him--the Scottish poet William McGonagall, another guaranteed laff riot. I hope that, somewhere in a particularly goofy corner of Heaven, Ed Wood is shooting a William McGonagall script. The angels must be busting a gut!

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