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Kenji Fujishima (East Brunswick, NJ USA)
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Cliffhanger (Special Edition) (Bilingual) [Import]
Cliffhanger (Special Edition) (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Sylvester Stallone
Offered by PaperbackshopCA
Price: CDN$ 6.69
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Exciting action flick, though not up to DIE HARD, July 12 2004
A previous reviewer called CLIFFHANGER a "guilty pleasure," and that is pretty much the way I see the film.
CLIFFHANER was a return to action form for its star Sylvester Stallone, after he had made his indelible mark on the genre with his RAMBO trilogy in '80s. His character here, Gabe Walker, is drastically scaled-down, befitting the film's "high" concept, which is basically "DIE HARD on a mountain."
Okay, so the premise (which is actually credited in this movie to a man named John Long) is not breathtakingly original---a nasty group of robbers led by evil Eric Qualen (John Lithgow, effectively playing his role to the hilt) lose three cases of American money in the Rockies and force Walker and companion Hal Tucker (Michael Rooker, he of HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER) to help them find it. Director Renny Harlin---who also directed DIE HARD 2---brings all his action expertise to bear on the thin plot and actually succeeds in crafting a good action film out of it. He was lucky in getting cinematographer Alex Thomson on his team, and Thomson makes the most of the Italian Dolomites (standing in for the Rockies) mountain settings by creating shots that revel in its scenic grandeur and impart an appropriately dizzying sense of vertigo to the proceedings. And Harlin uses his penchant for fast action pacing to good effect here, generating an exciting sense of momentum that hardly ever lets up until the final showdown.
So, as action entertainment, CLIFFHANGER can be counted as a success. So why do I find it a "guilty" pleasure rather than simply a pleasure? Well, I have to admit that I found some of the violence in the second half of the film a little too much at times---not only gratuitous but sometimes downright brutal. The first half of the film is much more discreet with the bloodshed, relying more on genuine suspense-building and awesome special effects and stunts to make its proper effect (the first twelve-minute sequence is arguably the last word in sweat-inducing suspense and mounting tension). In the second half, though, the script (credited to Michael France and Stallone) and director let rip with gory abandon, and thus we get images of a black bad guy getting skewered upon a stalactite by the hero, and scenes like Tucker being kicked in the ribs and nose like a soccer ball for a good minute or so by a British terrorist (with some tasteless slo-mos to draw out the grand brutality). Did we really need to be subjected to such witless violence? Do the filmmakers assume that we are all so base in our tastes that we actually get turned on by this bloody stuff? Well, who knows? Maybe they have a point there, since I admit that the first time I saw this film I was shocked but hardly appalled by the violence on offer here. It is only after having seen it a few times since then that I am starting to question the validity of the violent scenes on offer here. Harlin started the film out so well, but then, after about an hour or so, it turns into a second-rate one-upping of icicle-in-the-eye scene in his superior DIE HARD 2.
Notwithstanding my unease about the violence in this movie, though, it must be said that CLIFFHANGER works. It is sometimes very exciting and suspenseful, the performances basically get the job done, and overall this is one of the better DIE HARD clones, thanks to some great cinematography and noteworthy action scenes. If neither of the first two DIE HARD films are available for rental, this will fit the bill. Just don't be surprised, after it is over, if you feel a little guilty about having enjoyed it as much as you did.

Cliffhanger (Special Edition) (Bilingual) [Import]
Cliffhanger (Special Edition) (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Sylvester Stallone
Offered by PaperbackshopCA
Price: CDN$ 6.69
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars See above, July 12 2004
Sorry, posted this review more than once by accident. See above

Cliffhanger (Special Edition) (Bilingual) [Import]
Cliffhanger (Special Edition) (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Sylvester Stallone
Offered by PaperbackshopCA
Price: CDN$ 6.69
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars See above, July 11 2004
Sorry, posted this review more than once by accident. See above

Sym
Sym
Offered by BestSellerRecordShop
Price: CDN$ 9.58
14 used & new from CDN$ 2.12

5.0 out of 5 stars A notably different kind of Bruckner Fifth, July 11 2004
This review is from: Sym (Audio CD)
If, like me, you have heard Herbert von Karajan's well-known DG recording of Bruckner's great Fifth Symphony played by the Berlin Philharmonic and found it occasionally too slow-moving and lumbering (particularly in the first movement), then this EMI recording of the piece with the London Philharmonic conducted by Franz Welser-Most is most certainly for you. This is all the way at the other end of the interpetive spectrum, fast and driven where Karajan's is broad and weighty. And yet Welser-Most's dramatic approach to this epic piece never seems merely superficial. The first movement, for instance, makes the most of the contrasts between fast and slow passages, and has a fiery conclusion to top it off. The second movement Adagio has a quick that might not appeal to everyone (Karajan's slow but moving reading of the movement on his recording is pretty imposing), but you never get the feeling the emotions are being shortchanged in favor of speed. And if Welser-Most's third movement Scherzo pretty much conforms to interpretive tradition, the Finale, with its two big fugues, once again receives a fast but undeniably exciting reading with culminates in a glorious homecoming, the LPO brass fully seizing the opportunity to play out (but never degenerating into crudeness).
In sum, I liked this performance a lot. Welser-Most might choose fast tempos for most of the performance, but I never felt the music being shortchanged in favor of hollow flash (although you could say the tempos in the Finale are perhaps a bit too speedy for its own good, not giving enough weight to the huge fugues). The LPO may not match the sheer clarity and perfection of playing that Giuseppe Sinopoli receives from the Dresden Staatskapelle in his equally notable DG recording, but they still play brilliantly throughout, and the sound is as good as you expect considering that this was recorded in a concert hall (the Konzerthaus in Vienna) during live performances. For those who know this symphony very well, this might not be a first choice for the library shelves, but introduce this EMI recording to a first-time listener, and he/she might respond to it very positively. Recommended.

Syms 7/11
Syms 7/11
Offered by @ ALLBRIGHT SALES @
Price: CDN$ 56.02
6 used & new from CDN$ 49.76

5.0 out of 5 stars Two very good performances of Shostakovich!, July 10 2004
This review is from: Syms 7/11 (Audio CD)
These are two performances, one very good and one great, of Shostakovich's Seventh and Eleventh Symphonies, two works that usually aren't considered the composer's finest symphonic utterances. Most people consider these works to be shallow and bombastic works, and certainly not the equal of, say, his Fifth, Tenth, or Thirteenth Symphonies. But of course, in a good performance, even less-than-great classical works can sound like masterpieces, and conductor Paavo Berglund and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra certainly succeed in making Shostakovich's Eleventh ("The Year 1905") sound like a much more visionary work than it arguably is. Certainly this is an emotionally powerful performance with a compellingly solemn first movement; fiery and tumultuous second movement (particularly the central "massacre" section); deeply moving third movement; and a fourth movement with a touching middle section that feels like a haunting look back at all that has occurred in previous movements. This is the only performance of the Eleventh I have heard, and even if you are not a fan of Shostakovich's Eleventh, this is still quite a performance to hear. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra play with passion and power, and Berglund's interpretation is strong and insightful without in any way drawing attention to himself. It has everything to do with the music, and as you listen to it you never get the feeling that Shostakovich is being shortchanged here in favor of histrionics or subjective point-making.
Berglund's reading of Shostakovich's Seventh (the infamous "Leningrad") probably stood out more upon its release in 1974, since at that time the work was commonly thought to be merely a crude political potboiler without much artistic merit. All in all, it is a very good performance---it has an exciting first movement (its "invasion" section marvelously done, with an unwritten but highly effective accelerando throughout the many repetitions of the main theme) and a touching third movement (wonderful flute solo in the introduction of its contrasting theme), as well as a notably ambivalent reading of the finale's final peroration (a very un-triumphant-sounding triumph). But of course, Berglund didn't count on Leonard Bernstein to re-record the piece fourteen years later for DG with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and furthermore direct a performance so overwhelming in its impact that I don't feel that any other performance can truly compare to it. (Certainly the Bournemouth brass cannot compare to the Chicago brass; the former sounds weak by comparison at times.) That two-disc DG performance of the "Leningrad" is the one I would recommend for first-time listeners.
Still, Berglund's Seventh is by no means negligible---for those who know and love the work, it would make a noteworthy alternative to Bernstein's unforgettable account---and his Eleventh is an even better performance. Anyone adventurous enough to purchase this EMI twofer will certainly not feel like they've wasted money.

The Last Boy Scout (Widescreen/Full Screen)
The Last Boy Scout (Widescreen/Full Screen)
DVD ~ DVD
Offered by mostlymusic-ca
Price: CDN$ 7.95
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Very trashy but still entertaining action flick, July 8 2004
Tony Scott's THE LAST BOY SCOUT may be trash, but for an action flick it is very well-made, highly entertaining trash.
Of course, you could make a very good case against this film. Though I did not find it quite as woman-hating as some of the critics said it was upon the film's release, I would recognize that there is a subtle layer of misogyny throughout the movie---particularly with the two women characters in Joe Hallenbeck's life, his uncaring, cheating wife and his bratty, verbally abusive daughter---that might make some viewers more queasy than I was. And, objectively speaking, THE LAST BOY SCOUT is basically a retread of writer Shane Black's superior LETHAL WEAPON---a more foul-mouthed, ultra-violent retread with a lot of corny humor. This is an all-out testosterone-fest if I've ever seen one. If you've got a problem with people, just punch 'em in the "head or gut"---if anything else, that's the message of this movie. Really, Shane Black, where did your taste go since LETHAL WEAPON and LETHAL WEAPON 2?
Despite all that, though, this movie still delivers what matters most in this genre: thrills and exciting action scenes. Having seen this movie only recently, I must say that it is probably one of the most exciting action pictures I've seen in a long while, perhaps enjoyable because of its excesses. Tony Scott definitely knows how to film action scenes well (the climactic action scenes in the football stadium is a good example of his skill here), and of course he brings his customary slick style to the material. And its plot, involving a ruthless attempt to legalize gambling in pro football, takes some kinda intriguing twists and turns along the way. (It's like a hardcore action-film version of one of those hardboiled detective films of the '40s.)
In short, THE LAST BOY SCOUT is very trashy but still entertaining action movie that can be quite fun to watch, depending on whether you can overlook lapses of character logic (why on Earth is Shelly Marcone giving away his plan of framing Hallenbeck for Senator Baynad's murder just so Hallenbeck can outsmart 'em all?) as well as the more objectionable misogynistic aspects of the film. Personally, I felt a little guilty about enjoying it so much...but not guilty enough not to admit it. Marginally recommended.

Tokyo Story (The Criterion Collection)
Tokyo Story (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Chishû Ryû
Price: CDN$ 36.81
10 used & new from CDN$ 14.86

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A graceful, subtle, powerful film from Ozu, July 2 2004
I have only recently begun exploring some of the works of the eminent Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, and while I was able to appreciate the greatness of FLOATING WEEDS, it is his TOKYO STORY that I will remember more. Plotwise, Ozu offers more a scenario than an actual story: two elderly parents go to Tokyo to visit their children, who do not necessarily welcome them warmly. From that simple scenario, though, Ozu creates scenes that say so little and yet say so much about familial relations. That is the power of his minimalist style: a lot is left unsaid among the characters, but many things are implied, and of course it is left to the viewer to pick up on the implications and perhaps reflect on them. (The parents' children, for example, all feel exasperation at what they see as their burden when their parents arrive, but only Noriko, the widow of one of their dead sons, is truly nice to them. Obviously that says something about the others...)
Watching TOKYO STORY, I felt like I was in the presence of a wise old man who I felt could teach me, in his own silent way, a lot of things about life, especially when I eventually grow up (I am only eighteen myself) and perhaps run into these same situations that Ozu illustrates in this film. Perhaps people might react differently to this film---older people might identify with the situations, while younger ones might react in a more objective but fascinated manner. Either way, I don't think anyone who chances upon this wonderful film will not be moved in some way. What you see with every shot and every image in TOKYO STORY is life---plain and simple. It's so realistic it's haunting.

The Last Samurai (Widescreen) (2 Discs)
The Last Samurai (Widescreen) (2 Discs)
DVD ~ Tom Cruise
Price: CDN$ 7.49
89 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A near-great samurai epic!, July 1 2004
Until the ending (which a previous reviewer correctly described as "maudlin"), Edward Zwick's THE LAST SAMURAI is a magnificent samurai epic, filled with great big emotions but also blessed with more thoughtfulness and intimacy than the usual Hollywood epic. The insights into Japan during this particular time setting---the late 1800s, when the samurai way of life was slowly fading away and Westernization was taking over---are sure to fascinate, and the action scenes are first-rate, as is the widescreen cinematography here by John Toll.
Ken Watanabe got justly deserved plaudits for his authoritative supporting turn here as samurai leader Katsumoto---he really takes the screen by force. A lot of critics, for some reason, weren't so complementary to Tom Cruise, as the American Nathan Algren, here. Perhaps they thought his pretty-boy image got in the way of either the epic's grand ambition or the effectiveness of his own performance. Whatever the reason, I personally didn't have such problems with Cruise in this movie---he seemed convincing enough here, although he certainly is upstaged by the sheer authority of Watanabe's performance.
In short, THE LAST SAMURAI is overall a grand and glorious epic that admirably attempts to be more than just pretty pictures and awesome action scenes, and, more often than not, it succeeds in its noble ambitions. If the ending does come off as too preachy or over-sentimental in the usual Hollywood manner---well, I find it a forgivable lapse, indicative of the filmmakers' desire to function as both thoughtful historical commentary and great entertainment at the same time. I don't think many people will be bored by this movie (like many many people seem to be with LOST IN TRANSLATION). Recommended.

Chappelle's Show: Season 1
Chappelle's Show: Season 1
DVD ~ Dave Chappelle
Price: CDN$ 15.98
46 used & new from CDN$ 0.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Inconsistent, but a lot of comic gems here!, June 28 2004
This review is from: Chappelle's Show: Season 1 (DVD)
I'll put it simply: hilarious stuff. Not all of the sketches work, and some of them are simply empty shock humor, but on the whole this is the CHAPPELLE'S SHOW season to remember (Season Two, on a whole, was not as good as this one, I think). Probably the best episode of the season is Episode 6, with two hilarious sketches: a hilarious spoof of "Antwone Fisher" starring Chappelle in his own jazzed-up life story; and an even funnier takeoff of MTV's "Real World," in which a white guy is forced to live with five other crazy black people, with hilariously bad results. I just couldn't stop laughing throughout these two sketches! Other highlights of the season that come readily to my mind include Episode 1's controversial Clayton Bigsby sketch, the two sketches involving crackhead extraordinaire Tyrone Biggums (Episodes 2 & 8), and the sketches in Episode 4 in which blacks finally get their reparations for slavery. Episode 9's "Player Haters Ball" sketch is a guilty pleasure of mine---sure, it relies too much on hollow insult humor, but the insults are sidesplitting. As for Episode 10's infamous skewering of R. Kelly...it's admittedly one-note, but it's funny too.
I won't talk too much about what makes Dave Chappelle funny (since that would take away from the humor, now would it?). Suffice it to say, he tends to use a lot of the stereotypes of blacks that are prevalent in our society today, but exaggerates them to such a degree that it veers into hilarious parody---that is what gives his brand of sketch comedy its valuable and relevant edge.
In short, if you want to see some smart TV humor, this 2-DVD set of the first season of CHAPPELLE'S SHOW will, for the most part, satisfy. It's not consistently funny, and some skits are smarter than others, but its high points are truly brilliant, and there is always something to laugh at in every episode. Unfortunately, some of the musical performances at the end of a good deal of the episodes have been cut (apparently due to rights issues), but I certainly don't watch these episodes for its music. Recommended.

Bowling for Columbine (DVD, 2003)
Bowling for Columbine (DVD, 2003)
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 36.77
37 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Great and insightful piece of op-ed filmmaking, June 27 2004
BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, Michael Moore's unabashedly liberal, opinionated take on America's gun culture, is, if nothing else, a great piece of op-ed filmmaking that offers some valuable insights that, if you are open to hearing them, might change the way you think about not only our obsession with guns, but also change the way you look at our media. Certainly, one of the most convincing passages of the movie for me was a segment in the middle that showed how fearmongering our media can be, and how they can sometimes drum up too much fear in all of us simply by how they choose what stories to cover ("if it bleeds, it leads"). After watching that, I don't think anyone can ever truly be wholly uncritical of the media ever again.
So, okay, Michael Moore has the unfortunate reputation of sometimes staging what seems like "found" events in his films, and you cannot always trust what Moore claims to be fact in them. And some of those stunts he thinks of for his films---there's one here in which he takes two victims of Columbine and brings them to a local Walmart in an attempt to force them to faze out the selling of bullets, a stunt which actually works---can sometimes be more a debit to his argument than a credit (Moore admittedly does sometimes come off as overly smug, in here and his most recent film, FAHRENHEIT 9/11, also a great film.)
Yet, one must admit that Moore is a tremendous moviemaker, who makes his films out of passion and a need to throw certain topics into the realm of public forum via the medium of film. And if his overall message sometimes feels muddled during the course of BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE---what is he really trying to say by connecting the fact that Columbine happened on the same day as one of the biggest days of bombing in Kosovo?---well, maybe that is merely the sign of a man searching for some kind of truth in a muddled political field. If this film doesn't at least make you think, then you probably haven't been receptive enough to be able to receive his message.
Well-worthy of its Best Documentary Academy Award. Highly recommended.

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