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Joseph Haschka (Glendale, CA USA)

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Nowhere in Africa (Special Edition)
Nowhere in Africa (Special Edition)
DVD ~ Juliane Köhler
Offered by biddeal
Price: CDN$ 52.33
9 used & new from CDN$ 9.75

5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful film, Dec 9 2003
Simply put, NOWHERE IN AFRICA is a beautiful, beguiling film that explores the essence of what is "home".
The film begins in the snows of Germany in 1938. Jettel Redlich (Juliane Kohler) and her 4-year old daughter are out for a day of sledding. Amidst the frolic, each is rudely knocked to the ground by anonymous fellow citizens. The Redlichs, you see, are Jews in Hitler's Third Reich.
Having suspected the direction that National Socialist anti-Semitism will take, Jettel's husband, Walter (Merab Ninidze), had previously given up his law practice and gone to Kenya to prepare ground for the family's emigration. He's gotten work as the range manager on a drought-plagued cattle farm. Despite the hardships, Walter writes to Jettel to come immediately with Regina and bring only the essentials and/or whatever the Nazis will allow them to carry. So, several months before Kristalnacht, mother and daughter take ship from Europe, leaving both sets of grandparents behind to their wartime fates.
Depicting a span of nine years and "told" through Regina's eyes, NOWHERE IN AFRICA examines the response of each Redlich to immersion in a vastly different physical environment and culture. Walter, the realist, embraces his new circumstances as the key to survival, even as his fortunes change multiple times over the course of the film. Jettel, arriving in Kenya a pampered, upper-middle class wife, learns the hard way. She's initially horrified by the heat, dust, dryness, monotonous diet, local customs, lack of genteel amenities, and the necessity of having to interact with native Blacks. Regina (Lea Kurka and Karoline Eckertz) copes the best of all, beginning with her immediate attachment to the family's congenial native cook, Owour, marvelously played by Sidede Onyulo. Of the three, the daughter becomes the most Africanized.
After nine years, after having endured a roller coaster of experiences and a sometimes troubled marriage, Walter and Jettel must decide whether or not to return themselves and Regina to a defeated and devastated homeland. Do they owe anything to the country that rejected them and liquidated their relatives?
Every aspect of NOWHERE IN AFRICA can be described by a superlative. It's a sedately paced love affair with Africa in all of its seductiveness. Even locusts play a part. In the very last scene, perhaps Jettel and the viewer realize that "going home again" may not be an option when the realm of the heart has shifted forever.

Kandahar (Sous-titres français) [Import]
Kandahar (Sous-titres français) [Import]
DVD ~ Nelofer Pazira
Offered by marvelio-ca
Price: CDN$ 29.95
11 used & new from CDN$ 26.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Burkha, Dec 8 2003
An Iranian film produced before the American invasion of Afghanistan, KANDAHAR isn't so much a feature film with a contiguous story as a series of 1-act plays that portray the harshness of life for women, and life in general, under Taliban rule.
Nafas (Nelofer Pazira) is a young woman of Afghani birth who emigrated as a child with her family to Canada. Her sister, who had lost both legs to a land mine, was left behind. Nafas has learned that her sister is planning to commit suicide coincident with the final solar eclipse of the twentieth century. As the film begins, Nafas is being ferried by helicopter to an Afghani refugee camp in Iran. From there, she hopes to smuggle herself across the border to KANDAHAR, where her sister lives, and persuade her to go on living.
Both the beginning and end of the film are minimalist. Instead, the viewer is witness to a series of vignettes, some almost surreal, that reflect the dismal state of the country. Of course, during her journey, Nafas wears a burkha, that head to foot drape that women must wear in public and which relegates them to the status of non-entities.
Two sequences are particularly evocative of the film's message. When Nafas becomes ill and seeks help, the male caregiver is limited by law to examining his patient's mouth and eyes through a small hole cut in a sheet barrier while asking questions via a child intermediary. And later, as a Red Cross helicopter drops prosthetic legs by parachute into a desert aid station set up to help civilians maimed by landmines, we watch a dozen or so amputees desperately scrambling on their crutches to reach the drop zone. Indeed, the prosthetics are so much in demand that a scam artist, seeking to acquire them as a goods for future enrichment, is shown bedeviling foreign medical workers.
Pazira's Nafas is attractive, and the dehumanizing effect of the burkha is striking on those occasions when she must unveil.
KANDAHAR is presented in a pseudo-documentary style. Unfortunately, while the individual sequences are hard-hitting and revealing, the lack of a unifying story, and especially the absence of substantive ending, doesn't make for a completely satisfying film. The viewers' sympathies may perhaps remain detached.

Siege Of Isfahan
Siege Of Isfahan
by Jean Christophe Rufin
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.05
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Light-weight adventure, Dec 6 2003
This review is from: Siege Of Isfahan (Paperback)
THE SIEGE OF ISFAHAN is perhaps the perfect bedtime read for a school night. While mildly entertaining, you wouldn't be tempted to stay up and finish it in one sitting and thus lose sleep.
Physician Jean-Baptiste Poncet lives with his wife Alix in Isfahan, the capital of the decaying Persian Empire, in the first quarter of the 18th century. Francoise, a former servant in the employ of Alix when Poncet and Alix were but unmarried lovers in Cairo, appears after a separation of fifteen years. She reports that her husband, Juremi, a good friend of Jean-Baptiste's, was captured by Tzar Peter the Great's troops while serving in the Swedish army, and was exiled with other captured prisoners to an area north of the Caspian Sea. Loyalty, and a desire for adventure, sends Poncet and his adopted son, George, off to Russia to rescue his old friend. During Jean-Baptiste's absence, a ragtag Afghan army lays siege to Isfahan, causing hardship for Alix, the Poncet's daughter Saba, and Francoise.
Author Jean-Christophe Rufin's story is imaginative enough. However, he never puts any of the principals into such genuine peril that the reader fears for their lives. There's no real drama or edge-of-your-seat tension as the plot unrolls. Indeed, the manner in which Jean-Baptiste and Alix are reunited has the elements of a farce.
One of the most interesting minor roles is that of Bibichev, a member of the Russian secret police who's attached to Poncet's party as it travels into southern Russia and beyond. Bibichev's imagination and paranoia ascribe all sorts of conspiratorial motives to the most ordinary of Poncet's actions, and the agent's reports back to Moscow HQ make for amusing reading. Unfortunately, Bibichev's role in the meandering storyline becomes less visible as it progresses until, at the end, he's barely in evidence. It's too bad because Bibichev was, in his own sinister way, one of the book's more engaging characters.
THE SIEGE OF ISFAHAN was good enough to finish, but I rushed through the last sixty or so pages just so I could be done with it and move on to something better. This in itself became a chore as the sappy ending seemed to go on forever. Enough already.

Persuader
Persuader
by Lee Child
Edition: Hardcover
15 used & new from CDN$ 4.24

5.0 out of 5 stars Jack gets his teeth loosened, Nov. 27 2003
This review is from: Persuader (Hardcover)
PERSUADER, the seventh installment of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series, is perhaps the best so far.
On a Boston sidewalk, Reacher almost collides with a man shot three times - including twice in the head - and pitched off a cliff into the Pacific ten years before. Having a former colleague in the Military Police put a trace on the man's license plate brings the Drug Enforcement Agency to Jack's door. And what might your interest be, sir? Reacher, is it?
Jack, a former Army MP major that now wanders the United States as a near-vagrant always on the lookout for wrongs to rectify, finds himself aiding the Feds as he goes undercover to penetrate a fortified mansion on an isolated headland on Maine's wild coast. The DEA suspects that the mansion's owner, Zachary Beck, is using his importing business to bring in something other than Oriental floor coverings. And Beck apparently has a connection to Reacher's sidewalk ghost. Jack doesn't care about Beck or his rugs, but does have another old score to settle once and for all. And this time he going to get it right, or die trying.
The plot of PERSUADER includes the first time I can recall Jack feeling fear. Well, not fear maybe, but at least apprehension. Beck's gatekeeper, Paulie, is six inches taller, ten inches wider across the shoulders, and two hundred pounds heavier than our hero. Paulie's arms are bigger than Jack's legs. And he's surprisingly quick. Both you and Reacher know that, at some point, he's going to have to fight this monster. From Jack's point of view, that's going to be the dodgy bit. The reader savors the expectation.
Jack's my favorite Loner and Tough Guy in the Trashy Literature genre. But, his habitual physical impregnability becomes almost monotonous. So, the fact that Reacher's life comes within a gossamer thread of being extinguished more than once in this thriller is refreshing. Now that his vulnerability has been established, I look forward more than ever to Child's next volume.
Part of Jack's allure is that there's a hint of dysfunctionality to his personality. In PERSUADER, the reader learns that during Reacher's time in the service as an Army officer, he owned no civilian clothes. In an earlier book, it's revealed that Jack doesn't even know how to iron a shirt. Child's hero has some serious issues, which I hope someday the author will explore.

Dark Blue (Special Edition)
Dark Blue (Special Edition)
DVD ~ Kurt Russell
Offered by LeftoverDVDs
Price: CDN$ 8.29
42 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars The pits, Nov. 23 2003
This review is from: Dark Blue (Special Edition) (DVD)
As a resident of the Greater Los Angeles area, I'll be the first to say that LA isn't the most salubrious place to live. But DARK BLUE paints such an unflattering portrait of the city and it's police force that even I was mildly disgusted.
Kurt Russell is LAPD Sgt. Eldon Perry serving with a special investigations unit. Both his grandfather and father were also LA cops. The family tradition is that you take a sleazeball off the streets by subduing him, shooting him in cold blood, planting a bogus weapon, then claim self defense in the subsequent Internal Affairs hearing. Perry's new partner, rookie Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman), is learning the ropes. The Perry philosophy is shared by his boss, Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson), who has crooked deals going on the side that even Eldon doesn't know about. Out to nail them all is Deputy Chief Holland (Ving Rhames), whose skeleton in the closet is that he once slept with his aide, Sgt. Beth Williamson (Michael Michelle), who herself is now bedding Keough.
This film has no engaging characters. Russell's Perry makes Denzel Washington's Alonzo Harris (TRAINING DAY) seem positively charming in comparison. Holland is the nominal good guy, but he demonstrates all the vitality and leadership qualities of a brick. Keough is so muddled that, by the time he sorts himself out, it's hard to care. Williamson is a knockout in her dark blue dress uniform, but otherwise has all the warmth of a police .38 stored in an icebox.
DARK BLUE adds insult to injury by positioning the storyline during that week in April 1992 when Rodney King's police beaters were acquitted and parts of Los Angeles were looted and torched by angry mobs. At the very end, as I gazed on a downtown panorama of flames and smoke, I wished that all Midwesterners, Southerners, Northerners, and Easterners wishing to move to overcrowded SoCal could see this film. Perhaps they'd decide to relocate to the Balkans instead.

Future Of War
Future Of War
by Marc Cerasini
Edition: Paperback
24 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Top Guns to join dinos?, Nov. 21 2003
This review is from: Future Of War (Paperback)
In THE FUTURE OF WAR, Marc Cerasini shares with us the neat gadgets with which the U.S. military can kick butt in the 21st century. Hooo-rah!
Part 1 of the book makes the point that the high tech weaponry used in the 1991 Gulf War is but an introduction to better things to come. I should hope so. (The First) Gulf War is by now ancient history. Who have we thrashed lately? (And where ARE those Iraqi WMD, anyway?)
Parts 2 and 3 describe the upcoming clever goodies to outfit, arm and carry our men and women into battle on the ground and the sea. Such things as exoskeleton suits, robots, stealth ships, nifty tanks and helicopters, flying amphibious assault boats, electrothermal and electromagnetic rail guns, precision guided arty shells, and color-changing battle uniforms. Special sections address the future of special ops forces and the Marines. Nuclear subs, by the way, are pretty much at a dead end.
It isn't until Part 4 that Cerasini gets to the really cool stuff, i.e. hardware for combat in the air and space. (After all, that's why we civilians lap up films like TOP GUN and STAR WARS.) Interestingly enough, however, the author maintains that conventional, manned warplanes are on the endangered species list. Unmanned drones will be able to do the job more effectively, especially at levels of maneuverability that would kill a human pilot. (Say it ain't so, Tom!)
THE FUTURE OF WAR is also a Who's Who of defense contractors: Martin-Marietta, Boeing, General Electric, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Honeywell, Raytheon, and McDonnell Douglas. As a matter of fact, much of the book's text has that measured enthusiasm of a corporate marketing piece created, say, for levering more money out of Congress. Indeed, Cerasini rarely mentions anything so gauche as cost to the taxpayer, prototype failures, or - heaven forbid! - cost overruns. (In all fairness, the author does say about the Osprey helicopter - the subject of a damning "60 Minutes" expose - that "the program to develop the Osprey has been troubled.") As the author would have the reader infer, the business of cutting edge weapons development is pretty much an on-time, within-budget, rosy place. Puhleeze!
Don't expect much in the way of photographic illustrations. There are only five, and they're virtually worthless.
The last chapter, "When, Where, and How to Deploy?", is Cerasini's opinionated discourse on the subject in which his political leanings show. It's not that I disagree with most of what he says, but I just don't care to be preached at, and I think perhaps that the inclusion of this rant in an otherwise factually stated (as far as it goes) and interesting book was unwise.
I started this review intending to award 4 stars, but I've just talked myself down to 3. A mind is a dangerous thing.

Fosse (Widescreen)
Fosse (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Ann Reinking
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 118.42
6 used & new from CDN$ 65.53

3.0 out of 5 stars Is it the real Fosse?, Nov. 9 2003
This review is from: Fosse (Widescreen) (DVD)
I'm reviewing FOSSE from a position of relative ignorance about the man and his achievements. Hey, it's never stopped me before.
FOSSE records a live-audience performance of the musical, which is a compendium of selections from various other Broadway productions which Bob Fosse choreographed: "Big Deal", "Liza with A Z", "Dancin'", "Sweet Charity", "Kiss Me, Kate", "Damn Yankees", "Pajama Game", "Chicago", "Pippin", "Cabaret", and "All That Jazz". I've never seen any of them performed live on stage, but only the screen versions of DAMN YANKEES (1958) AND CHICAGO (2002). Obviously, I need to get out more.
The musical "Fosse" was, by the way, not choreographed by the great man himself. He's dead. Rather, the dance numbers were re-choreographed by Ann Reinking, Fosse's protege and girlfriend, with the participation of an aging Ben Vereen, one of Fosse's favorite performers. Between acts, the two are interviewed about Bob's style and work ethic.
The only production I've ever seen in which Bob Fosse had a hand was the excellent 1979 film ALL THAT JAZZ, an autobiographical piece which he directed. From it, and the Reinking and Vereen recollections, I gather that Fosse was a hard-driving perfectionist, and infer that the musical "Fosse" would not have come up to his exacting standards. In many instances, the dance numbers seemed, to my inexpert eye, sloppily done. Vereen's presence in several of them, while appealing to the nostalgia of the audience, did him no particular credit. But, that's show biz, folks.
Two songs from "Chicago" were included in the FOSSE program: "Razzle Dazzle" and "Hot Honey Rag". As performed in "Fosse", both were disappointingly anemic versions of their exuberant equivalents in the blockbuster, Oscar-winning film CHICAGO. This perhaps suggests that a new film version of "Damn Yankees" being produced by Miramax, which released CHICAGO, will be well-worth seeing even if the cost of movie tickets doubles.
I'm being wishy-washy and awarding three stars to FOSSE. I suspect it's but a pale reflection of Fosse's original choreography, but I may be wrong. I guess you had to be there.

Real Women Have Curves
Real Women Have Curves
DVD ~ America Ferrera
Offered by niff78
Price: CDN$ 69.97
20 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Real women battle cellulite, Nov. 7 2003
This review is from: Real Women Have Curves (DVD)
REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES continues the recent spate of cute generation gap films that began with MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, then continued with MONSOON WEDDING, BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, and WHALE RIDER. In all cases, we are presented with a female protagonist endeavoring to break traditional cultural bonds being imposed by an older generation - father, mother, or grandparent.
In REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES, Ana (America Ferrera) has just graduated from a Beverly Hills high school, to which she buses every day from her family's home in east central Los Angeles. Not only is Ana a gifted student, but she's won a scholarship to Columbia University. However, her Latino parents, and especially her mother Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), expect her not to abandon the nest, but rather work in her older sister Estela's (Ingrid Oliu) small clothing factory that creates fancy dresses for high-end retailers. Because Estela chronically operates short of employees and money and perilously close to production deadlines, her establishment is a figurative and literal sweatshop, especially since the fans can't be turned on as they would blow dirt onto the finished goods. Needless to say, Ana loathes working for her sister.
Ana is also overweight. It doesn't help her self-image that Mom, who fears for her younger daughter's marriage prospects, habitually addresses Ana as "Fatty". The two have a tense relationship.
Because the creators of this film apparently endeavored to keep the storyline true to life, it also perhaps lacks entertainment value in comparison to the other movies mentioned. The finale of MONSOON WEDDING dazzled the viewer with a vibrantly colorful and joyous Indian marriage ceremony. BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM had a sports theme and included the Big Game. MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING was overtly comedic as a vegetarian WASP incorporates himself, via marriage, into an extended Greek family - emphatically neither vegetarian or WASP. WHALE RIDER included everybody's warm and fuzzy animal - whales. REAL WOMAN HAVE CURVES offers little more than a teenage girl with an understandably Bad Attitude.
I'll not say that this film is totally without merit. The best sequence involves Estela's employees, all zaftig, and including Ana, comparing stretch marks and cellulite, much to Carmen's horror. And the film's very last scene leaves the viewer feeling good about Ana's prospects in life. However, the movie as a whole isn't any more entertaining than watching the next door neighbor kid be normally rebellious. I wanted something more clever.

Nostromo
Nostromo
VHS

2.0 out of 5 stars A rant, Nov. 4 2003
This review is from: Nostromo (VHS Tape)
NOSTROMO is the BBC production of Joseph Conrad's novel of the same title. Set in the second half of the 1800s in the fictional South American backwater of Costaguana, the country's only resource is a silver mine owned and operated by a British entrepreneur. The indigenous people are exploited, naturally.
As the film opens, a local demagogue mounts a popular insurgence against the hated foreigners, during which spasm the mine owner is slaughtered. The storyline quickly moves forward a couple of decades when the owner's son, Charles Gould (Colin Firth), arrives with his wife Emilia (Serena Scott Thomas) to reopen the abandoned mine, make a fortune for the investors, and bring relative prosperity to the local labor pool. Charles is a benevolent exploiter. Gould must accomplish all this in the face of self-serving politicians, greedy army officers turned self-serving politicians, opportunistic banditos, another rebellion, and the disloyalty of a trusted native worker, Nostromo (Claudio Amendola), elevated by Gould to a high level of responsibility. Business as usual in a Third World armpit.
The beauty of the shoot's locations doesn't mitigate the fact that the film is five hours of tedium made possible by a succession of on-screen characters that inspired nothing but yawns.
Somber taciturnity, which was integral to Colin Furth's role as Darcy in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1995), renders Charles just a monumental bore. At least Emilia shows some spirit, but she ultimately has no effect on the outcome of anything.
Nostromo, who's apparently so important to the story that the book and film are given his name, is such an uncharismatic, minor player in the first two reels that by the time he becomes the Great Tragic Figure in the last I didn't care in the slightest.
Dr. Monyghan (Albert Finney), the Has-Been physician that lives in a personally more glorious past, and the venomous snake Colonel Sotillo (Joaquim de Almeida), are marginally interesting for the their first few minutes of respective screen time, then become tiresome because they offer no surprises.
The good friend that loaned me NOSTROMO is aware of my opinion, and called it a "rant". Now that I've put it in writing and made it public, perhaps I'll become a Horrid Person. The bottom line is that any nascent kernel of interest I may have had to read the original Conrad novel was smothered by the torpid pace of this TV miniseries evidently padded with ho-hums to fill a predetermined time slot.
So, that rant went well, don't you think?

In Search of Butch Cassidy
In Search of Butch Cassidy
by Larry Pointer
Edition: Paperback
27 used & new from CDN$ 3.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Reach for the sky, pardner!, Oct. 29 2003
If a romantic and treasured perception of Western banditry stems from having seen the 1969 film BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, perhaps you'd better not read IN SEARCH OF BUTCH CASSIDY, first published in 1977.
Author Larry Pointer's working hypothesis is that Butch Cassidy didn't die in 1908 amidst a hail of Bolivian gunfire. Rather, he returned to the United States and lived in Spokane, WA, as William T. Phillips before dying of cancer in 1937. Pointer spent 5 years building the case, and his arguments are compelling. Indeed, the basis around which the author constructs this story of Cassidy's life is William's unsold manuscript "The Bandit Invincible", an unsuccessful commercial attempt by Phillips to capitalize on his adventures. Pointer quotes lengthy passages from the document, and used it as the starting point for his own research of events after determining to his satisfaction, through handwriting analysis and eyewitness testimony, that Cassidy and Phillips were indeed the same person - a process completed by the end of chapter 3.
IN SEARCH OF BUTCH CASSIDY is a competently told, if somewhat dry, biographical narrative by a writer obsessed with his subject. The amount of detail provided is a tribute to Pointer's investigatory labors. Though not really the author's fault, the near-confusion surrounding the names of places and individuals almost compelled me to make out a score card for reference. In his manuscript, Phillips admits to changing some names of people and places. This, plus the outlaws' penchant for using aliases and inaccurate reporting by contemporary newspapers, makes the going occasionally tricky despite Pointer's best effort to keep identities straight.
The volume is nicely sprinkled with B&W photographs of the many individuals mentioned in the text. However, Pointer got too cute with three images of very extensive sections of terrain taken from space upon which he indicates the location's of Cassidy's hideouts. While first thinking these were clever additions to the whole, I then decided that they were virtually worthless as purveyors of useful information. A suitably annotated, modern highway map would have perhaps served better, or even the same photos with the critical areas enlarged much more.
For me, the book's best single feature was an extensive quote from outlaw Matt Warner's memoirs on the rigors of being pursued by a posse. This included:
"... if one of us got sick, or nearly died with rheumatism or toothache, or got a leg broke; he had to grit his teeth and trail right along ... If he died he died just like a horse or dog along the trail ... and his body would be eaten by the coyotes."
Yup, I think I'll saddle up Old Hoss and go hold-up a train.

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