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Andy Orrock (Dallas, TX)

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Northern Star (W/2 Bonus Tracks)
Northern Star (W/2 Bonus Tracks)
Offered by importcds__
Price: CDN$ 7.48
31 used & new from CDN$ 0.47

4.0 out of 5 stars Best post-Spice Girl release, March 17 2004
I'm a US-based middle-aged male who (quite sheepishly) can name all five Spice Girls. Chalk it up to pop culture awareness rather than anything musical. I never really cared for their tunes. However, I got hooked on the soundtrack to "Bend It Like Beckham" and I was struck by Mel C's excellent contribution to that effort, "Independence Day" (especially when compared to ex-bandmate's Victoria Beckhams's "I Wish," included only probably as a quid pro quo favor for getting husband David's name up on the marquee).
You can't find "Independence Day" on any Mel C stateside album (or import for that matter), but given her reputation as "the only Spice Girl that can acutally sing," I thought it was worth the effort to track down one of the erstwhile Sporty Spice's solo efforts. This import version of 'Northern Star' is worth seeking out. It's widely acclaimed as the best post-Spice Girls outing.
Okay, that's not exactly like comparing Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison's post-breakup efforts, but still - 'Northern Star' stands on its own merits. Favorites are leadoff tune "Go!," dance club fav "I Turn to You," and Garbage-influenced (as noted elsewhere) "Ga Ga." One complaint - echoed elsewhere on these pages - is that the mix of styles is *so* diverse (Mel's desire to please, I guess), that someone's bound to be disappointed along the way. For example, fans drawn to "I Turn to You" will do their utmost to skip the ballady title track and the handful of others like it.
All in all, a very good effort.

No Title Available

5.0 out of 5 stars Artistic triumph for director Vadim Perelman, March 15 2004
You can read elsewhere on this page about the great acting jobs turned in by Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly. Both are outstanding here. I had just seen Kingsley in 'Sexy Beast' so the constrast was stunning. And Connelly is better here - forced to plumb greater depths - than she was in her Oscar-winning turn in "A Beautiful Mind." (Why no Oscar nomination here if Kingsley and Shohreh Aghdashloo got them? Seems an obvious oversight.)
The real revelations here are co-star Aghdashloo and director Vadim Perelman. Aghdashloo was justly rewarded with an Independent Spirit award and that Oscar nod. Great to see the Academy go a little wider afield in their recognition.
With Aghdashloo and Whale Rider's Keisha Castle-Hughes, it's obvious there's a sea change coming. Aghdashloo deserves that nomination. She's the stitching that pulls together each of the film's different threads. Plus, holding your own in scene after scene with Sir Ben Kingsley is quite a feat.
Perelman's personal story is inspiring. What a trip for this Ukrainian imigrant who was known up until this point as a director of commercials. He formed a bond with writer Andre Dubus III because he saw that "House" was a bleak, uncompromising story - he made a promise to Dubus not to mess with that tone...no contrived, uplifting ending here. Far from it. This is one of the more savage, stunning ends to a film you'll ever see.
Perelman's next project is 'The Talisman' (based on a Stephen King story), with Executive Producer Steven Spielberg (due out in 2005). It's obvious that Perelman's debut effort turned some heads in Hollywood.

Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs
Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs
by John Bowe
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.16
24 used & new from CDN$ 0.72

5.0 out of 5 stars Great look at American work ethic, March 11 2004
'Gig' isn't a book to read cover-to-cover, but rather one to be cherry-picked and enjoyed in small doses. The real stars of the book are the interviewers and editors who have done a wonderful job tracking down a diverse group of people, then coaxing the stories out of them. You, the reader, are presented with what appears to be a monologue, but you can be sure that these texts are actually pieced-together answers from some very skillful questioning.
What really struck me was the juxtaposition between those people who would appear to have a lot going for them but have just been mailing it in vs. those people who have everything going against them, but see the glass not simply as half full, but overflowing.
An example of the latter: Janice Lejeune - a merchandise handler. Born deaf. Legally blind through a condition called Usher's Syndrome. Recently divorced. Kids grown and moved out. And you think you've faced challenges?
On the surface, it would be very easy for this woman to give up and simply rue her fate. Yet, she finds value and self-worth in work. She sees herself as an example of what blind/deaf people can do. It's about the most inspirational thing I've ever read. I have chills recounting her story even as I write this.
'Gig' has that type of effect - I really didn't expect a book with such power. These tales will stick with you.

Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary (Sous-titres français)
Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Traudl Junge
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 73.95
5 used & new from CDN$ 19.73

3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed production, but a worthwhile effort to get on film, Feb. 27 2004
It's amazing to think that Traudl Junge carried a story of this much importance and - more than 50 years and counting later - no one had gotten her recounting on paper, tape or video. So, kudos have to go to directors Andre Heller and Othmar Schmiderer for their persistence and their apparent ability to win Junge's confidence.
That being said, I was a little taken aback by the sub-par production quality of Blind Spot. Obviously, Heller and Schmiderer were working on a shoestrong budget. I respect that. But in this day and age where Mac-based video-editing tools can make a director out of anyone and the full-length documentary has been raised to new heights by masters like Errol Morris, the quality of the product here is a bit disappointing.
I feel this is worth noting because it gets in the way of one's watching of the film. The video seems blurry, the sound quality goes from lukewarm to - at points - muddled (in certain scenes, I believe they have misplaced the microphone), and the subtitles at times obscure Junge's mouth.
Also, Heller and Schmiderer have been undermined a bit by the film's marketers here: the coverbox features shots of World War II-era events. Some viewers (this one included) expected cutways to newsreel footage tied to specific events that Junge recounts. For example, the story of the assassination attempt on Hitler - and Junge's memory of the injuries he sustained to his arm - would have been strengthened by splicing in the famous footage at the time of Hitler obviously favoring the arm and greeting new (and obviously terrified) Hitler youth conscripts.
All that aside, the world owes Heller and Schmiderer a debt of gratitude for getting Junge's story on film. They obviously were playing against the clock here: the brittle Junge was suffering from cancer and (as I recall) lost her battle the day before the movie's premiere in Germany.
Junge herself is a cipher. Her view of Hitler is as a paternalistic father figure, seemingly detached from the horrific policies of the Third Reich. Heller and Schmiderer seem convinced that the young, impressionable Junge was in so close to Hitler and his coterie, that "she was in blind spot." Junge herself floats this view and the filmmakers and marketers have run with it. Judging from the opinions on this review page and elsewhere, there is considerable debate over Junge's naivete. It's a debate worth having, and we need to credit Heller and Schmiderer for initiating it.

Whale Rider (Special Edition)
Whale Rider (Special Edition)
14 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Will far surpass your expectations, Feb. 24 2004
'Whale Rider' was a shock for me. I had no expectations for it, other than knowing that (a) Keisha Castle-Hughes got an Oscar nomination for it; (b) it had been very well-reviewed by the mainstream movie press; and (c) the track record for New Zealand filmmaking over the last couple of years (as exemplified by Peter Jackson) has been very, very strong.
Even with all that factored in, 'Whale Rider' was still a complete shock: it is nothing short of wondrous filmmaking. If you liked the message of empowerment carried by films such as 'Bend It Like Beckham,' then 'Whale Rider' will make your spirits soar.
Oh, and believe it: Keisha Castle-Hughes - born of an Australian father and a NZ Maori mother - deserves that Oscar nomination. It's very hard to believe this was her first time on a movie set. She is electric. You will have no problem envisioning Castle-Hughes' "Pai" as the next Maori 'great leader.' In fact, everyone in the movie has it figured out, save the one that matters: her grandfather and current leader, Koro (in a fierce portrayal by Rawiri Paratene). What will it take to get him to see it? Nothing short of a simply amazing event.

Lagaan: Once upon a Time in India (Widescreen)
Lagaan: Once upon a Time in India (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Aamir Khan
3 used & new from CDN$ 23.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Set aside a night to watch Lagaan, Feb. 19 2004
If cross-cultural hits like 'Monsoon Wedding' and 'Bend It Like Beckham' have piqued your interest in Indian cinema, a good way to dip your toe into the real Bollywood experience would be to try Aamir Khan's 'Lagaan' - a four-hour spectacle that will require you to set aside a whole night for viewing. It's worth doing.
There's some good filmmaking here - Director Ashutosh Gowariker vividly depicts life in a small Indian village at the height of the Raj and shows the onerous thumb of taxation that threatens the village in the wake of a deep drought. Then, he painstakingly shows the Raj/village confrontation, the cricket challenge that results, building the team, and playing the match. Even if you don't care for cricket, or even if you know nothing of the game, you *will* care by the end of the movie. Gowariker and Khan will earn your interest.
A couple of things worth nothing:
- This is a typical Bollywood production with muscial interludes. Some of the pieces can be an unintentional hoot. A sample:
In this shower of love
Our heart and body will be soaked
After the downpour the earth will be a mirror made of water
And earth will wear the seven-colored rainbow!
Okay, just a bit stilted. Since the original lyrics are Hindi, we'll assume that lost a little something in translation.
- Paul Blackthorne is kind of ridiculously one-dimensional as the sneering, haughty, villainous Captain Andrew Russell, who almost has to snap his words through a permanent sneer.
- Rachel Shelley is delightfully peaches-and-cream, milk-and-honey all English wonder girl as the captain's sister Elizabeth. Obviously, she grabbed all the charm when it got handed out in the family. Her song - a paean to her crush on Khan's Bhuvan - is the musical highlight of the film.
- Have I mentioned that Rachel Shelly is delightful?

Smilla's Sense of Snow (Widescreen)
Smilla's Sense of Snow (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Julia Ormond
Offered by thebookcommunity_ca
Price: CDN$ 47.97
8 used & new from CDN$ 33.96

3.0 out of 5 stars What a weird one: like two different movies, Feb. 16 2004
First, let's start off with what's good about "Smilla." You can list these easily:
1. Julia Ormond
2. Julia Ormond
3. Julia Ormond
Why is this stunningly beautiful and talented actress so underused? Her imdb.com filmography is scandalously short, given her obvious talents. She's brilliant here as lead character Smilla Jeperson - complex, alluring, conflicted and committed. For Ormond alone, check out this movie.
But, wow, are there some peculiarities here. Let's start off with a group of American and English characters roaming about Copenhagen, ostensibly Danish (one would think), all speaking English in shifting accents. Reminds me of the recent John Malkovich-helmed "Dancer Upstairs" - set in quasi-Peru, all in English with Spanish accents. Just weird. Weird here, too.
Then there's the progression of the movie. Its first half is this pretty tight, intense *little* thriller. Then, in the second half, it's off to Greenland by freighter, Ormond turns into a Bond girl, bodies start dropping, throbbing meteorites somehow figure greatly, huge explosions go off. I mean, what happened?
The odd casting is also worthy of comment. Robert Loggia as Julia Ormond's father? Ummmm....No. And although Peter Hoeg probably lays this out in excruciating detail in his 500 (or so) page book, the moviegoer never gets any explanation of how/why the Loggia character was in Greenland, how he met and wooed Ormond's Inuit Mom, why he's in Copenhagen now, etc., etc.
Despite all these oddities, 'Smilla' is worth a rental or purchase.

Muriel's Wedding (Widescreen) [Import]
Muriel's Wedding (Widescreen) [Import]
DVD ~ Toni Collette
Price: CDN$ 9.99
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Fast start for the great Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths, Feb. 10 2004
It's now 10 years since "Muriel's Wedding" first release, and for the most part it has relegated to the back of people's minds as "that ABBA movie." However, with the exception of one side-splitting scene featuring a gotta-see-it-to-appreciate-it lip-synched rendition of 'Waterloo,' the music is but the background to a great story of rejection and friendship.
When I saw "About a Boy" recently, I was reminded again about the fearlessness of Toni Collette, who I believe is one of the world's great (and certainly most underrated) actresses. 'Muriel' is where it all began for her. Check her out in 'Muriel,' then 'Emma,' and finally 'About a Boy.' This is a beautiful, talented lady not afraid to do whatever the role requires. She's incredible. Watch the bar scene in Hibiscus where her friends essentially disown her. Her reaction is so stark and heartbreaking that I suspect that even her fellow actors were uncomfortable. It's no wonder this role won her Australia's equivalent of an Oscar. She's that good.
This is where it also started for Rachel Griffiths, heartbreaking as Rhonda Epinstalk, Muriel's best friend. This is your chance to see two real stars making their initial marks. What a thrill in that.
Also, never pass up a chance to see Bill Hunter, who put together three stirling performances back in the 1992 - 1994 timeframe: "Strictly Ballroom" (as Dancing Federation Chairman Barry Fife - *the* funniest role ever on film); "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" (as 'Bob,' potential suitor to transvestite Bernadette as played by the great Terence Stamp); and here as failed local politico Bill Heslop ("You Can't Stop Progress"). Bill Hunter knows comedy.

L.A. Story (Widescreen)
L.A. Story (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Steve Martin
Offered by Mikani Collectables
Price: CDN$ 5.69
14 used & new from CDN$ 4.19

4.0 out of 5 stars I'll have a half double-decaf half-cap, Feb. 7 2004
This review is from: L.A. Story (Widescreen) (DVD)
This is Steve Martin's valentine to then wife Victoria Tennant. Didn't work I guess - the marriage broke up a few years later. Like other reviewers, I could never get my arms around the Martin/Tennant pairing, either in the movie or imagining their existence off the screen.
Martin's eye and writing are as clever as ever here though. The 'group espresso' scene (how else to describe it?) is a classic that elicits knowing smiles 13 years after the movie's release. It runs something like this around a circular table of eight:
"I'll have a decaf coffee."
"I'll have a decaf espresso."
"Do you have any decaffeinated coffee ice cream?"
"I'll have a half double-decaf half-cap - with a twist of lemon."
"I'll have a twist of lemon."
"I'll have a twist of lemon."
Etc. It's a perfect take on the LA scene, circa 1991. What's funny is how with Starbuck's culture, the scene seems *less* absurd each year.
Two other things this movie has going for it:
- The great Enya-based soundtrack (lifted from 'Watermark,' her masterpiece)
- A breakout performance from a young, effervescent (and then some) Sarah Jessica Parker as perpetual motion machine (and budding 'TV presenter') Sandy...spelled 'SanDeE*' (another great writing touch added by Martin). It's tough to put this into context now, given the ubiquity of 'Sex and the City,' but back then SJP was just another actress trying to breakout of the teen star thing (best known at that point for her lead in TV's 'Square Pegs'). Martin encouraged Parker to let it all hang out as SanDeE*. Read any in-depth piece about SJP, and she'll mention that 'L.A. Story' was the seminal moment of her career - she's always thoughtful enough to mention her gratitude to Martin for letting her absolutely steal every scene she's in.

The Believer [Import]
The Believer [Import]
DVD ~ Ryan Gosling
Offered by niff78
Price: CDN$ 59.97
7 used & new from CDN$ 13.25

5.0 out of 5 stars Ryan Gosling - wow, what a performance, Jan. 24 2004
This review is from: The Believer [Import] (DVD)
'The Believer' has 'small-budget film' written all over it (the presence of Titanic's Billy Zane notwithstanding). It looks small whenever lead Ryan Gosling is off the screen. But, thankfully, that's only for a few minutes. Because when he's on, the sheer raw intensity and magnetism of his performance fairly leaps off the set. This is an incredible performance.
Gosling's Danny Balint sells his demented thinking with such fervor and absolutism that he wins over follower after follower. There's a great little pastiche of scenes where Balint speaks to a small group. You see three, four of these gatherings. They're arranged chronologically. Each time, the crowd grows. The word is obviously getting out about Balint and his spellbinding oratory. That's great work by director Henry Bean.
As noted by other reviewers, the seminal scene in the film is when Danny lovingly protects the Torah as his fellow travelers trash a synagouge. Bean has done a wonderful job setting up a collison course - Balint's virulent, self-loathing anti-Semitism vs. the incultated, Othrodox beliefs and practices of his youth. The Torah scene is where it comes to a head. Knowing the 'The Believer' is based on a true story makes it all the more affecting.

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