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Michael Bulger (Rochester, NY, USA)
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Signs (Bilingual)
Signs (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Mel Gibson
Price: CDN$ 6.93
108 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars A stumble for Shyamalan, April 19 2004
This review is from: Signs (Bilingual) (DVD)
M. Night Shyamalan rocketed into the pantheon of my favorite modern directors with his first two films, "The Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable." His signatures are twofold: an element of the supernatural, and a glacial pace, which serves to highlight the moments of action that do happen. The pace in particular would have to be Shyamalan's trademark; after watching only two of his films, I imagine I could now identify another one in the absence of any other information merely by viewing a few minutes' worth. His characters walk through his stories like zombies, nearly devoid of obvious emotional reactions, contributing to the effect. The result is peculiarly dreamlike, further enhancing the creepiness of "Sixth Sense" and the portentousness of "Unbreakable."
Shyamalan's third film is a new take on the basic "War of the Worlds" premise--aliens invade and quickly overrun the planet, only to be beaten off by the most primitive of means (although not, in this case, due to disease). The twist here is that Shyamalan chooses to view the proceedings almost entirely from the perspective of a family of four in their rural Pennsylvania farmhouse; the only window on the rest of the world is provided by the TV. The family itself is made up of a father (and recently ex-Father) his two children--an asthmatic boy and a younger girl, the latter prone to prophetic dreams--and his brother, an ex-jock who has come to live with the family after the death of their mother.
Shyamalan has a second twist to add, however, in that the real focus of the movie isn't the alien invasion, but a question of faith. Or, to paraphrase Gibson's character, are you the sort of person who believes in signs and miracles, or who sees only coincidences?
It's an interesting idea, and Shyamalan infuses "Signs" with enough style to nearly make you forget the B-movie premise beneath it. Nearly, that is. There is enough humor in the movie to deflect accusations that it takes the alien invasion premise too seriously, but the climactic scene is patently ludicrous. Shyamalan has not provided a blueprint for how to make a ridiculous premise believable in a dramatic presentation. In the end, the alien invasion gets too much in the way of the crisis of faith that is clearly the main point of the film. No matter how much I was supposed to care for Gibson's acceptance or rejection of the "signs" that have been given him, I failed to see how it amounted to more than a hill of beans in relation to the vast invasion taking place in the wide world outside that farmhouse.
I still want to give Shyamalan his style points, since there are a few moments of genuine eeriness before it gets too silly. But this is a minor effort compared to Shyamalan's earlier work.

Leave a Whisper
Leave a Whisper
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 33.95
7 used & new from CDN$ 11.98

2.0 out of 5 stars Let me rain on the parade., April 13 2004
This review is from: Leave a Whisper (Audio CD)
While surfing through Rochester radio one day (you have to surf here, since all of the radio stations are awful), I came upon "Fly from the Inside": "I found a way/To steal the sun from the sky/Long live that day/When I decided to fly/From inside." Now, in my own mind, always willing to make more of a rocking song like "Fly" than is actually there, the song was called "Icarus' Dream." It was the triumph of Icarus, exultant that he had managed to steal some of the sun's own fire (thus justifying the operatic vocals and histrionic guitars). Of course, it was really just a dream racing through Icarus' sunburned brain as he fell to his death, a metaphor, if you will, for the consequences of all of mankind's attempts to usurp godhood from Nature.
Alas, it is not to be. Upon closer examination, the song is little more than another paean to pitiful teenaged male youth ("Weight of the world on my shoulders," "Can't take the pain"), blown up to ridiculous proportions. So too with the rest of this album. Shinedown, like so many cookie-cutter hard rock bands these days, is careful to avoid letting anything resembling a sense of humor to intrude upon the intense suffering in their songs.
That isn't to say that someone with a good sense of humor can't have a good laugh at this stuff, though. "45" or any number of other songs here could have genuine power if they were one or a few among different styles, but every song on this album is so uniformly intense that in the end it all drags out to a monotonous whine. I can imagine these guys bringing the same intensity to the decision of whether to buy wheat thins or graham crackers for an afternoon snack.
Which means "Fly from the Inside," even if it isn't a profound metaphor for the aspirations of man, is a great track to include on your MP3 player, but that "Leave a Whisper" is another signpost on the way to the death of the long-playing album as a vehicle for popular music. There are artists who can make the long form interesting; Shinedown isn't one of them.
P.S. As of this writing, the "official" Amazon word on Shinedown is that they are carrying on the tradition of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Tom Petty. Whoever came up with this was completely clueless. There isn't a trace of either artist to be found here.

Wonder Whats Next
Wonder Whats Next
Price: CDN$ 8.68
34 used & new from CDN$ 1.06

3.0 out of 5 stars Almost overcomes the obstacles it sets for itself., March 16 2004
This review is from: Wonder Whats Next (Audio CD)
Lita Ford (does anyone remember Lita Ford?) once asked, in one of those VH-1 rock retrospectives, where did all the rockin' music go? If I could contact her, I could tell her where. All of the bands that in another age would have made that fun, happy-go-lucky, misogynist rock music are busy connecting with their inner rage and putting out self-pitying, morose, misogynist stuff like this.
Actually, that's not entirely fair. I haven't paid quite enough attention to the lyrics to figure out if there's any misogyny at play here. But the moroseness and self-pity are abundant. And that's sad, because this is a band with genuine talent, talent that's desperately trying to break through the navel-gazing and create music worth hearing. To take one example, in "Send the Pain Below" (the title alone can make me cringe), there's a break section toward the end with a sinuous guitar riff that I wish had been made the basis for a whole song; even the wordless screaming that accompanies it gains new power. The lyric to "Closure" is just depressing, but the sound beneath it, somewhere between the sound of acoustic and electric guitars and always moving like a snake, is completely arresting.
In short, these guys aren't Nickelback or Creed or Staind or Sevendust or any of that ilk. If they wanted to, Chevelle could make good music. I wish that Chevelle would give up making soundtracks to the pathetic inner dialogues of self-obsessed teenage boys and widen their emotional range a bit. Even when I was a self-obsessed teenage boy this would have been monotonous to me. As it stands, I'll punch up Weird Al Yankovic's "Angry White Boy Polka" one more time and have a laugh at their expense.

1992-2003 Singles
1992-2003 Singles
Price: CDN$ 8.00
47 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars For me, only a few highlights among these highlights, March 16 2004
This review is from: 1992-2003 Singles (Audio CD)
Like so many pop bands, especially in the age of video, No Doubt is one part music to one part image. The image is from a rather old model--blonde sexpot leads band of otherwise anonymous boys; the most recent touchstone on this score would have to be Blondie, but you can go all the way back to Glenn Miller and other pop/swing bands of the 30s and 40s if you want. Regardless, the more I think about it (and until deciding to write this review I hadn't thought much about it all), the more it seems to me that Gwen Stefani is the true heir to Madonna. Who else recently, with similarly modest looks and musical gifts, has managed to transmute herself into a teenybopper sex symbol? Has even managed to grace magazine covers? Alright, maybe Pink, but Stefani's act is pure mid-80s Madonna, right down to the navel-baring.
The attractions here are modest at best. I have trouble remembering most of the songs on this disc, although there are exceptions. "Don't Speak" was one of those once-in-a-career pieces of pop perfection that come out of nowhere when you least expect them; this song belongs in a good musical; wonderful. The only other track that stands out is the remake of 80s new-wave band Talk Talk's "It's My Life," which while falling far short of a re-invention, or even reinterpretation, of the song, still betters the original. My advice is to buy these two tracks through an online service and forget the rest. Most of it is just a hair's breadth from being novelty material anyway (somewhere someone has made a mix with Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," Madonna's "Material Girl," and No Doubt's "Just a Girl").

Afterglow
Afterglow
Offered by thebookcommunity_ca
Price: CDN$ 25.87
29 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars A vast and arid wasteland., March 16 2004
This review is from: Afterglow (Audio CD)
Once upon a time, Sarah McLachlan could rock. I understand if you don't believe me; it's not a quality that shines through on any of her albums. But if you can find one, pick up a tape or a bootleg of one of her older live performances--any tour through "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" will do--and try to tell me that this wasn't a transcendently great rock artist. There's even a hint of it in the version of "Possession" found on the live release, "Mirrorball." There is nothing in pop music more entrancing than beautiful melodies that rock.
But whither Sarah McLachlan now? After breaking though, albeit over the course of several years, with the modern classic that was "Fumbling," she opted for a more conventional set of ballads and pop songs on "Surfacing." That album was still listenable, if only because the melodies were among her best yet--"Adia" in particular. But along with that release, the live "Mirrorball" recording was an unfortunate sign of things to come, reaching an artistic nadir in a performance of "I Will Remember You" that was a note-for-note recreation of the studio version, and as such, an utterly pointless exercise all the way around.
Now we come to "Afterglow," written and recorded after the close juxtaposition of the death of McLachlan's mother and the birth of her child. I wish her the best, but from my perspective neither of these events justifies the syrupy wasteland of ballads she's given us here. There is a fine line between pretty and over-pretty, and McLachlan doesn't even bother trying to straddle it anymore. It often seems on this album that she is turning herself into Sarah _Brightman_. If you think that's a fine ambition, then this release is probably right up your alley. The rest of us deserve better than that. Sarah McLachlan is capable of _much_ better than that.
It's curiously appropriate, though, that the new release should be named "Afterglow," presumably a reference to the distinctly female experience of tenderness and satisfaction after really good sex. Appropriate from this male perspective, anyway, since after one listen I just wanted to go to sleep.

Hulk (Widescreen Special Edition) [2 Discs]
Hulk (Widescreen Special Edition) [2 Discs]
DVD ~ Eric Bana
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 35.93
28 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed, but not nearly as bad as you may have heard., March 15 2004
I watched this movie solely out of loyalty--to the comic books I read in my youth, to fond memories of the old Hulk TV show starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno (who appears in a brief cameo early in the film, and looks stiff even without a line to speak). The reason for my reluctance, of course, was the parade of negative reviews, along with uniformly bad word-of-mouth. The movie was supposed to be slow, with corny-looking CG effects and too much comic-book hokum to try to make sense of.
Well, it's all true. By modern action-movie standards, this one is pretty slow to develop. His enormous green badness doesn't make his first appearance until more than 40 minutes into the film. The CG-animated Hulk occasionally looks exactly like a CG-animated Hulk, and after Spielberg's dinosaurs this might be a disappointment. And while most of the comic book silliness does manage to hold together, the final conflict is a step too far, and difficult to follow besides. On top of this, Eric Bana is not the most convincing actor you'll see, and Nick Nolte's performance as Bruce Banner's criminally psychotic, mad genius father is entirely a matter of personal taste. At one point in the movie, the Hulk picks up a tank by its gun and swings it around like he's performing the hammer throw at the Olympics; only a few seconds later, as if to underscore what exactly is physically impossible about this (even after you've accepted the notion of a big green man who can throw a tank thousands of feet), he bends the gun of another tank, and the tank fails to move. Finally, we are forced to swallow the now completely discredited fad notion of repressed memories as a psychological motivation for our man Bruce Banner.
Ugh.
To balance this, however, we do have Ang Lee's completely arresting visual style, augmented here by the use of split screens in what must be meant as an homage to the comic book medium from which the Hulk originates. What others seem to perceive as "slow" I perceive as "well-paced." Lee is a good filmmaker, not a maker of music videos, and his care does show.
So does his seriousness, and this really seems to set a lot of people off. Do these critics really believe the movie would or could have been better if Lee had brought more campiness to it? Or is there some deeper need to relegate a character from a comic book to a style they can view with ironic detachment? For in the end, the Hulk is little more than Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with more fireworks, and I seem to remember that Stevenson's tale had more going for it than campy shenanigans. The word "archetype" comes to mind...
There's a lot to quibble about in this film, even if you take it for entertainment value alone. But there's a lot here that other action-film makers could learn from. A lot of viewers, too.
Postscript: the extras in the two-disc version are no more or less than you might expect. I don't really have the time to watch these sorts of things anymore--working for living and all--but in general I've found that too much of these "making of" documentaries can interfere with enjoying the film as a _film_, with forgetting the artifice of it all and losing myself in the movie. Deleted scenes are particularly deadly in this respect. Only the "true" fan will want to watch them all. The rest of us should settle for the single-disc version if we settle for any version at all.

Angels & Demons
Angels & Demons
by Dan Brown
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
442 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Moderately entertaining, but utter trash., Oct. 4 2003
This is not the sort of thing you read and keep proudly on your bookshelf, perhaps with the intention of going back to it again and again. Working in the vein of Umberto Eco's masterful (but flawed) "Foucault's Pendulum," Dan Brown spins a Ludlumesque thriller centered on a centuries-old secret society, the Illuminati, and their use of a brand-new science-fictional technology stolen from a European institute to attempt to destroy their nemesis, the Vatican. To say that the premise is a bit daft would be obvious; to note that the prose is barely literate would be superfluous (I doubt anyone is buying this expecting a brilliant command of the language). This is complete crap, and after a quick and frustrating scan of this book you can be sure that I now will _not_ be picking up Brown's latest in this series, "The Da Vinci Code," despite all the good press it's gotten.
But even if you approach this book on its own abysmal level, you will find a lot wrong with it. The treatment of science, of scientists and of scientific institutes is perhaps a step above your average James Bond flick, but not a large one. And the philosophical argument underlying the science fiction here--the creation of matter as a way of rationally supporting the existence of God--is laughably poor (no halfway intelligent Christian or atheist would be challenged by the fictional breakthrough described here).
To get some idea of where this novel is coming from, take the first few chapters, in which Harvard "symbologist" Robert Langdon is faxed a photo of a corpse with an oddly symmetrical brand burned into its chest (said brand, naturally, consists of the word "Illuminati," but in a form that reads the same when turned upside-down). We read that the symbol makes Langdon's heart pound, makes him feel as if he's been hit by a truck, makes him tremble, etc. For god's sake, why? It's just a symbol, and supposedly one he's never seen before, only heard of. Why does it not occur to him that _anyone_ could have fabricated a seal reading "Illuminati" in two directions? I mean, they made it up for this book, right?
Brown is enough of a professional to move his narrative along brisquely, and to sprinkle each chapter with enough forewarnings of what is to come, and enough cliffhangers, to keep the average reader going. But it's all artifice over a hollow core--the characters are cardboard cutouts from a Ludlum novel; no one behaves in any fashion that might resemble a normal human being; and it is quite clear that while Brown researched enough to bluster his way through a superficial discussion, he really doesn't know anything about either science or religion. Only worth your time if this sort of dreck is what you really like to read.

Electric Jesus Corpse
Electric Jesus Corpse
by Carlton, III Mellick
Edition: Paperback
7 used & new from CDN$ 18.26

1.0 out of 5 stars Willfully bizarre, but not worth the time., June 1 2003
This review is from: Electric Jesus Corpse (Paperback)
In a brief forward to this "anti-novel" (whatever that is supposed to mean, given that the structure of the book is hardly an antithesis of anything), the author expresses his belief that you, the reader, will hate it. Regardless of anything else you might say about him, at least Carlton Mellick III is truly a punk. Only a punker would consciously attempt to create something that everyone will hate.
Unfortunately, I was more bored with this book than anything else. The prose is either artfully inept or genuinely inept, and after a certain point I no longer had the patience to figure out if there was something--some Joycean sense of wordplay, perhaps--that I was simply missing out on, and was ready to simply call it awful. Whether it went over my head or not, Mellick's style is eventually very tiresome. The plot involves a re-framing of the story of Christ and the Apostles--hardly untrammeled ground--in some semi-apocalyptic future not long from now. Ho-hum. A prominent element is the existence of zombies straight out of "Night of the Living Dead" and every other movie or story with cannibalistic corpses that you've encountered before. Yawn. The characters are uniformly decadent, amoral and despicable. Been there, done that--such an approach can be interesting, but it isn't here.
Maybe I'm just more jaded than Mellick believes to be possible, but I didn't hate this book. I hated only the fact that I spent money on it, in anticipation of something truly subversive. This book isn't subversive, but merely scatological, and worth taking about as seriously as a 12-year-old boy writing obscenities on the bathroom wall. Naturally, devout Christians and anyone shocked by depictions of gratuitous violence, necrophilia and the like will react exactly the way Mellick seems to desire. Everyone else will be puzzled at best.
There is, of course, the possibility that I am simply missing the point; there are any number of critically acclaimed novels that I don't "get" any better than this one. But the point of a review is simply to communicate my own impressions, hopefully with enough detail to provide at least some information, even for those who might not agree. Good luck deciding if you agree or not.
[Addendum and fair notice: unlike the other reviewer currently on this site, I have actually read most of the book. I was unable, however, to muster the energy to finish it completely, although I skimmed through the parts I failed to read thoroughly. It didn't get any better.]

The Lord of the Rings (Widescreen)
The Lord of the Rings (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Christopher Guard
Offered by Movieandmusicguyca
Price: CDN$ 36.05
19 used & new from CDN$ 2.84

1.0 out of 5 stars Truly horrible--and practically unintelligible., May 15 2003
This production, on the surface at least, should have had a lot going for it. Prior to the advent of convincing computerized special effects, J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" was an obvious and natural candidate for translation to an animated feature. The array of talent assembled for it was formidable, especially the voice actors, who represent the one consistent bright spot in the film. Peter S. Beagle, one of the scriptwriters, was and is a fine fantasy author in his own right with a deep appreciation for Tolkien. Even Ralph Bakshi, despite the seeming conflict between his counterculture subversiveness and Tolkien's mainstream Christian leanings, wasn't an entirely bad choice as director. In the end, though, it is rather difficult to convey fully just how awful this animated feature is.
But I'll try. Let's start with the most glaring deficiency: midway through the production, they ran out of money. The movie ends abruptly with part of "The Two Towers" and all of "The Return of the King" left to come. As anyone who knows the first thing about Tolkien's "trilogy" can tell you, it isn't really a trilogy, but a single book split for the sake of convenience into three volumes. So, everything is left hanging, nothing is resolved, and there is no sequel to turn to or anticipate.
Beyond this, the story is, perhaps by necessity, compressed to such a degree that much of what results is incoherent. I can't imagine that anyone who is not intimately familiar with the book could make any sense of this. I can't imagine anyone not irrationally enamored of the book having any appreciation for the stilted, awkward dialogue, either. Despite some fine voice talent, and the hand of Peter S. Beagle, the script is genuinely terrible. The conventional animation sequences are occasionally interspersed with live-action footage that has been colored over (so-called "rotoscoping"), which is, to say the least, distracting; to say more, it's genuinely ugly. Although I can imagine that this technique has its own aficionados, I am not one of them. The score is equivalent in quality to that of the average 1970s Saturday morning cartoon, mostly consisting of cheap-sounding, staccato horns.
It isn't all bad. The voices are perfect (frankly, I prefer John Hurt's voice to Viggo Mortenson's image as Aragorn), and there are occasional scenes that stick out as particularly effective or genuine-Frodo's reunion with Bilbo at Rivendell, for example. It is easy to envision a fine comic book (or graphic novel, if you wish to call it that) derived from selected stills of this film. And for purists, this version is far truer to the book than the newer live-action version directed by Peter Jackson-no blown-up role for Arwen here-although it still leaves a great deal out. None of these assets come close to canceling out the dreadfulness of the production as a whole, however. If you're interested in "The Lord of the Rings," read the books, read commentaries on them, even see the Peter Jackson-directed features if you want, but avoid this film.

Minority Report [2 Discs] (Widescreen) [Import]
Minority Report [2 Discs] (Widescreen) [Import]
DVD ~ Tom Cruise
Offered by importcds__
Price: CDN$ 8.50
62 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars If only Spielberg would channel Kubrick for an entire film., May 15 2003
Philip K. Dick may very well be Hollywood's favorite science fiction writer. By now, you're probably familiar with the litany of movies based on his short fiction-"Blade Runner," "Scanners," "Total Recall." And this. Even Spielberg apparently finds inspiration in the man's ideas. Too bad Dick is too dead to reap the rewards. I understand he wasn't quite so successful when he was alive.
While Philip K. Dick was a writer of science fiction, with rare exceptions ("2001," "Solaris," "Gattaca," "The Truman Show") the film industry is unable to make anything other than sci-fi. Which is to say, they make the same movies they always make, while simply co-opting the more superficial science fictional tropes. "Minority Report" is not an exception. This is a Steven Spielberg-directed thriller first; it is science fiction second.
The premise is that three clairvoyants have been found who see, in their dreams, murders before they happen. Their abilities, and to a significant degree their humanity, have been co-opted by a corporation called "Pre-Crime," which in a groundbreaking experiment has been allowed to preempt these murders in the Washington, D.C. area for the past several years. The result: many hundreds, if not thousands, of would-be murderers placed in some sort of deep-freeze and thus removed from society-a society in which the act of murder is a distant memory. Tom Cruise's character is the most senior of Pre-Crime's enforcers, an expert at reading clues and evidence from the clairvoyants' dreams and at dropping in on the murder scene, preferably (for cinematic purposes) at the last minute, to stop the dastardly act from occurring. He is presented with something of a problem, however, when the latest prediction has him clearly portrayed as the murderer. He goes on the run, then on a quest to clear himself and get to the bottom of his own mystery.
It's a great idea, worthy of Philip K. Dick. At times, it's executed brilliantly. Spielberg teamed up with Stanley Kubrick in the preparations for filming "A.I.," and in that film as well as this one the Kubrickian influence on Spielberg's style has been obvious and welcome. The first third or so of "Minority Report" is almost like a Kubrick film without the inhuman bleakness; it's Kubrick with sympathetic characters. One wishes Spielberg could stick with it, but he can't. There has to be a ridiculous, digitally-enhanced chase scene to kick things into a higher gear--and really, is there anyone who is actually excited by this sort of "action" anymore? I was absolutely bored by it. There has to be an even more ridiculous scene where one of the clairvoyants nearly channels Cruise's dead son (although her contribution to another chase scene is more entertaining). Pre-Crime presents a potentially heady brew of issues for consideration: how can someone be guilty of a pre-empted murder? Is it possible that they might have chosen not to commit their intended offense? What is the legal basis for the dehumanizing of the clairvoyants, who are essentially robbed of their lives? The characters of Cruise and Colin Farrell briefly debate such matters, but neither delves very deeply. Such superficial treatment leaves some gaping holes in the basic premise of the film-after all, the success of Pre-Crime in averting the predicted murders is proof that what is foretold is not certain to occur, but no one in the film seems to be aware of this rather obvious argument.
Without giving too much away, the final choice presented in the film's climactic scene, while genuine, is brought about in a ridiculous way, with Cruise's character potentially sacrificing himself in a way no real person would dare. This makes for a hollow ending. Kubrick's influence apparently cannot overcome Spielberg's intense need to pander, to glue on a sticky-sweet ending no matter how much weaker the film may be as a result (a tendency that was just as egregious in "A.I.") "Minority Report" has an interesting premise and some fine execution, but in the end it's another Spielberg film. You know what you're getting into.

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