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Piano Concerto Op. 33
Piano Concerto Op. 33
Price: CDN$ 10.16
22 used & new from CDN$ 6.46

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent performances of little-known works, Feb. 17 2004
This review is from: Piano Concerto Op. 33 (Audio CD)
Many will be surprised to learn that Dvorak has actually written a piano concerto. Listening to it, however, will bring them back to familiar territory: all of his symphonic works' chief characteristics are present here, including deceptively simple themes, a constant battle between major and minor tones, and a preference for expressiveness over pure virtuosity. In other words, it is everything the notion of a Dvorak piano concerto promises to be, and the elaborate first movement (lasting about 20 minutes) might be the most impressive. Comparisons with Brahms have been suggested; among Dvorak's other contemporaries, I would personally mention the concertos of Saint-Saens and Grieg as interesting connections, although the piece is Dvorak's alone. Completing this recording is The Water Goblin, the first of five symphonic poems Dvorak composed in 1896-1897; listeners with a taste for his beautiful orchestral Legends (op. 59) will certainly appreciate this late, evocative work. The excellent performances make this release even more of a success.

Confidential Report:a.K.a. Mr.
Confidential Report:a.K.a. Mr.
VHS
3 used & new from CDN$ 20.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Welles' richest and most underrated fables, Jan. 13 2004
We will probably never know exactly what Orson Welles envisioned Mr. Arkadin to be, but even in its present state, it remains a commandable achievement and one of his most underrated films. His storytelling mastery is evident throughout, both in the sound and images. As in Citizen Kane, the main character's life is gradually explored, but this time it's the subject of the inquiry who started it himself; this brings the film in the territory of initiations and psychoanalysis. Seemingly to uncover his own past, Arkadin sends low-profile hood Guy Van Stratten in a complex initiatic quest, one in which the initiated is mostly lured by money and luxury. Like Kane, Arkadin takes shape mainly via other people's testimonies, and he undergoes his own type of initiation: for the very first time, he is stripped of the masks and disguises he always relied on, and he is scared at the perspective of his private self (his Jungian 'number 2' personality) being discovered by the only person he cares for. Fables are scattered throughout the film, and the movie itself is such a tale, Arkadin acting as its grand, imposing Ogre, a character possessing strange and far-reaching powers. His overbearing abilities are illustrated in various ways, notably through the film's rapidly changing settings (a device also used in The Trial). The work's depth can also be measured by this consideration: Mr. Arkadin's universe is a huge maze in which Arkadin himself is Minos, Dedalus and the Minotaur all at once. This dense, rich and dreamlike film has never really received its due.

Fires
Fires
by Lorenzo Mattotti
Edition: Paperback
11 used & new from CDN$ 45.64

5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece like no other, Jan. 13 2004
This review is from: Fires (Paperback)
Amazingly enough, this 1986 work was Lorenzo Mattotti's very first foray into the medium; it resulted in a masterpiece of exceptional richness. The English version seems hard to find, but all efforts are justified by the book's extreme quality. I personally own the 1997 French edition, whose cover is nothing short of extraordinary. 'Fires' is the densely symbolic tale of a group of officers venturing near an island deemed dangerous because of strange past events; one of these men is about to go through a life-changing experience. Everything about Lieutenant Absinthe, the main character, is unforgettable, from his angular visual style to his constantly evolving and unstable situation. Mattotti shows with high acuteness the emotion felt by someone standing on the brink of the unkown, the unspeakable. 'Fires' is clearly an initiatic story: on the first page, Absinthe says that both his body and soul are about to undergo a transformation, and the book's last page, furthering our knowledge of the character and adding yet another level to the story, gives us a few more clues towards the work's mystical, alchemical angle (among other things, Absinthe initially feels entrapped by the boat's steel). The use of fire is often allegorical, along with recurring death-resurrection themes. Mattotti's enigmatic, abstract storytelling asks a lot from the reader; this is one of those works that can't be truly described, but only experienced. Very highly recommended.

Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman: The Killing Joke
by Alan Moore
Edition: Paperback
17 used & new from CDN$ 52.46

5.0 out of 5 stars Eerie and powerful, Dec 26 2003
Batman's high-profile villains are actually Asylum inmates, and this should place them apart from most of comics' other foes; still, not all of those who wrote these characters have made the most out of this aspect. Alan Moore understood this: his Joker carries as much of a burden as does Bruce Wayne, even though both chose opposite ways to deal with the anger that resulted from it. But Moore plays down this opposition throughout the work, and not only in the conclusion. This is not a Batman readers are accustomed to, but there are two seemingly unrelated advantages to this: on one hand, Moore states explicitely many details that were mainly hinted at previously (especially concerning Batman's nature and motivations), so it's not as if he ignored what had been done before; on the other, this Batman is strange, peculiar enough to underline the fact that this book is the work of an outsider (or two, also counting Brian Bolland), of someone who has his own take on the eeriness of the characters and their milieu. Bolland's great work is in evidence everywhere, notably in the first few wordless pages featuring very evocative visual narration; and it's easy to understand why colorist John Higgins' name was included on the cover. In short, this is a Batman-Joker confrontation that feels fresh, inspired, dynamic and poetic at the same time.

Saga of the Swamp Thing Book One
Saga of the Swamp Thing Book One
by Alan Moore
Edition: Paperback
12 used & new from CDN$ 12.98

5.0 out of 5 stars An atmospheric and evocative book, Dec 22 2003
Despite representing only a sixth of Alan Moore's famous run (#21-27), this trade paperback offers two complete story arcs and can be seen as a self-contained work. The first four issues feature a new look at Swamp Thing's nature through an autopsy done by the Floronic Man, Jason Woodrue, and the far-reaching consequences of the latter's discovery; issues 25-27 resurrect Jack Kirby's Demon in an intense exploration of fear. The 'new origin', far from nullyfying all that went on before, enables the reader to experience Swamp Thing and his world differently. Whereas Len Wein and Berni Wrightson's work on the character - collected in the excellent 'Dark Genesis' trade paperback - could be read as a reflection on the link between body and soul, Alec Holland being fully conscious but trapped in a bodily prison, Moore's rather deals with the link between two realms, human and vegetal. It thus keeps the tension and duality of the former but sends it in a personal and intriguing direction. These stories are not only conceptually ravishing, but also visually: ingenious and beautiful page constructions are far too numerous to mention, from the brilliant title pages to the dreams scattered throughout the work. From the first page to the last, this is a very atmospheric and evocative book.

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub
Memoirs Found in a Bathtub
by Stanislaw Lem
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.96
26 used & new from CDN$ 11.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Enter the labyrinth..., Dec 22 2003
These memoirs are presented in the foreword as the last remnant of a dead civilization, and its twisted hierarchical organization and jargon justify the archaeologist of the future in thinking that this is the artifact of a bizarre religion. As such, it is a religion that radically cut itself from transcendence: its Temple is a shadowy museum of illusions and deceptions, with no hope whatsoever of receiving the light of order; pseudo-heresies are created by their unknowing priests, revelations are elaborated at will only to be contradicted soon after. This is the world that the book's nameless hero must brave - he experiences several 'signification crisises', going back-and-forth between allegory as a universal rule and a complete negation of sense. The Building in which all the events take place is a sort of fiction-generating machine (like Lem's book itself), perpetually spinning tales, intrigues and conflicts. What makes the book powerful is that Lem equates his reader with the main character, both sharing an elusive mission; the work starts smoothly, until reader and agent are completely immersed in this world of mirrors, crypted informations and thwarted enigmas. The desire to understand remains, but there is nothing to understand as the personal quest (the agent's and the reader's) becomes more and more convoluted and drowned into a complex string of half-truths. A maze of a novel.

The Greeks and the Irrational
The Greeks and the Irrational
by E. R. Dodds
Edition: Paperback
20 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating, despite a questionable agenda, Dec 13 2003
It is not uncommon for major figures of Ancient Greek thought to be deemed 'rationalists', a word often tainted by modern science in its implications. E.R. Dodds' book is fairly difficult to gauge on this. On one hand, it reconsiders the 'rationalist overview' by tracing back various guises of irrationalism that permeated Greek culture - a belief in daimons, the conception of a useful mania, theurgy, astrology, mystery cults. Writing about these elements, Dodds surveys a wide variety of authors and themes and provides a lively compendium. On the other hand, his methodology has shortcomings. The reader soon realizes that the ambivalence of Greek thought between the power of reason and its limitations is not a virtue according to Dodds. This is a legitimate point of view, but it has important consequences on the book's agenda. It is unabashedly teleological: irruptions of irrationalism are usually seen as 'symptoms', as setbacks from Dodds' ideal of positivistic rationalism. This is emphasized by his characterization of 5th century BC as Greece's Aufklarung. The chapter on theurgy is equally representative: while it is well-researched and in-depth, it is also filled with simplifications (the equation 'theurgy = magic', frequent in 1950s and 1960s scolarship, is stated repeatedly) and shows little sympathy for either theurgy or its theorists; this section would color many subsequent studies on the spirituality of late Neoplatonism, until scholars such as H.-D. Saffrey (a pupil of Dodds) favored an approach which was more open-minded and receptive. In spite of this, Dodds' book remains extremely stimulating and should be read by all those who are fascinated by the blurred line between reason and what is out of its reach; but it should not be considered as the last word on its objects of study.

Watchmen
Watchmen
by Alan Moore
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.32
36 used & new from CDN$ 15.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Massive and hard to forget, Dec 12 2003
This review is from: Watchmen (Paperback)
This book's towering reputation is perhaps a bit overdone, and as a whole it is not Alan Moore's most satisfying work, but its richness can't be denied: multiple readings reveal details easily missed at first. At the same time, though, such further readings do emphasize a few limitations, namely a very even tone (despite the wide array of approaches used, both in the text itself and at the end of each chapter), a tendency to overstress some points (which dilutes the sheer power of certain events) and a somewhat unbalanced structure that hinders the last tier. Its novelty lies more in its massive stature than in its themes: a world has been created in Watchmen's pages, with elaborate codes that remain true from the beginning to the conclusion. There's a very high sense of cohesion, not only in the story but also between the writing and the art, to the point where it becomes difficult to isolate one from the other as the project's driving force - Watchmen is as much Gibbons' book as it is Moore's. In the end, both its weaknesses and numerous strenghts have a lot to do with the series' important lenght. More than read or watch this book, one experiences it. And whatever its shortcomings may be, that experience (and the characters depicted - especially Dr. Manhattan, whose 'solo issues', #3-4, are the most intriguing) can't be forgotten.

Animal Man
Animal Man
by Grant Morrison
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.32
36 used & new from CDN$ 10.48

4.0 out of 5 stars The transformation of a superhero, Dec 7 2003
This review is from: Animal Man (Paperback)
These first nine issues of the Animal Man ongoing series are a stellar example of a minor character becoming much more through the vision of an imaginative and challenging creator. The art is solid, clear throughout, but this is clearly Grant Morrison's book - his stories' complex structure and their multiple levels of interpretation usually dictate the tone of the illustrations, which are mostly functional. This volume showcases variety and evolution: a fairly straightforward but memorable initial arc (#1-4) is followed by a symbolic tale (#5), while the last four issues tackle, among other things, an invasion and a villain's autobiography; despite this variety, every issue has important consequences on what follows. Reading the last few pages of this volume, one does not get a true sense of closure, and some confusion arises from the later issues (crossovers are mainly to blame - Morrison's introductory notes do explain some of the difficulties) - to get the most out of these stories, it's necessary to also buy the two following trade paperbacks. The merging of worlds, which was to become the series' trademark, is only beginning here; it's rarely subtle, but often provocative.

Essential Silver Surfer Volume 1 TPB
Essential Silver Surfer Volume 1 TPB
by Stan Lee
Edition: Paperback
18 used & new from CDN$ 28.63

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pure soul seeking its true home, Dec 7 2003
Unlike the work of people such as Frank Miller or Alan Moore, comics like these are seldom mentioned by those who wish to stress the medium's full potential; still, the depth of this volume's stories is underrated. The Silver Surfer is a very rich character whose origin and situation can be read in a myriad of ways, notably because Lee and Buscema use central ideas of ancient philosophy and religion (mainly Gnosticism and Neoplatonism). As a whole, the series can be read as the adventures of a soul seeking its true home. This home is not Zenn-la (where the Surfer's beloved Shalla-Bal lives): as the first issue makes clear, life on that planet didn't truly satisfy him in the first place. When Galactus threatens his people, the Surfer sacrifices himself and is stripped of his body, gaining instead an ethereal form. Despite his new master's dubious plans, he is initially enthusiastic about this sudden transformation - on Zenn-la, he had been yearning for transcendence while all of his compatriots wallowed in excesses of all kinds. Once he rebels against Galactus, he is turned into Earth's daemon (protector), roaming around without much freedom. This pure soul is trapped in a prison from which it tries to break free throughout the book's stories. What gives him hope in spite of his deceptions, much like Plotinus and the other Neoplatonists and Gnostics, is the conscience he has ('I serve none but the conscience within my breast!', #4). This conscience never departs him, even as he faces Evil in its most horrific guises; among other opponents, it enables him to defeat an evil clone (#7) - their physical form was identical, but their souls weren't. (It is symbolic that when the Surfer seems the closest to change his ethics - the last page of #18 - the series is coming to an end.) The Surfer's nostalgia for his true home is sublimely rendered by Buscema's powerful, poignant illustrations, especially when they're inked by Joe Sinnott (witness pages 1, 6, 17, 31 and 38 of the first issue). This volume is both inspired and inspiring, and should not be missed.

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