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brewster22 "brewster22" (Evanston, IL United States)

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AN American Tragedy
AN American Tragedy
by Theodore Dreiser
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
37 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A Simple Plan, Jan. 6 2004
The film "A Simple Plan" could have easily been called "An American Tragedy," and the book "An American Tragedy" could have just as easily been called "A Simple Plan." The plan at the book's center seems so simple indeed. The novel's protagonist, Clyde Griffiths, impregnates a girl below his social station, and he's so terrified by the idea of being exposed and ruining his chances at a life as part of the social elite (and losing the local well-to-do beauty to whom he's hitched himself) that he actually finds himself driven to kill her as his only escape. But Clyde has a simple mind, and his efforts to claw his way out of a desperate situation that inexorably suffocates him is compelling fiction.
Theodore Dreiser has been called one of the worst great writers in the history of literature, and that claim is justified. He can hardly compose a sentence that doesn't drop like lead from the tongue. He's especially fond of the double negative, which can become pretty tedious in a 900+ page novel. And in retrospect, the amount of plot on display in his novel does not seem to warrant its length, but somehow, I was able to overcome these two factors and find myself engrossed in it anyway. It doesn't for one second become boring or slow. And it offers some especially candid and frank ideas about the nature of guilt and the culpability of those who take lives, whether they're working on the side of crime or the law. Most fascinating for me were the novel's final pages, when Clyde tries to turn to religion for solace when he's at his loneliest, but can't get around the notion that there's really nothing to turn to.
Dreiser pulls off quite a feat by making all of his characters sympathetic. I didn't want Clyde to get away scot-free with what he'd done, but my heart couldn't help but go out to him. Likewise, Roberta, the girl he wrongs, could have come across as shrewish in another author's hands (she does in the film version, "A Place in the Sun," if you're interested in a literature to film comparison) but she doesn't here. Even Sondra, who could have been so unlikeably spoiled, comes across as essentially a warm character.
1925 was the literary year for deconstructing the American Dream. Both "An American Tragedy" and "The Great Gatsby" came out that year, and while I have to admit that "Gatsby" is a better written book, "Tragedy" just has a visceral appeal for me, and it's the one I enjoyed more.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (Two-Disc Special Edition) (Sous-titres français) [Import]
Yankee Doodle Dandy (Two-Disc Special Edition) (Sous-titres français) [Import]
DVD ~ James Cagney
Price: CDN$ 35.13
19 used & new from CDN$ 19.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Yankee Doodle Cagney, Dec 5 2003
I didn't expect to like this movie at all, as I'm not much of a flag waver and from the isolated scenes I had seen from this film, that seemed to be all that took place in it. It's still pretty cornball in its approach to American patriotism and fervour, and with the American government currently bullying its way around the world, the "let's be proud we're all Americans" broo-hah-hah on display in the film is even harder to digest. But don't avoid this movie if those are your only reservations about it.
"Yankee Doodle Dandy" has an energetic drive to it that many films lack. The 125-minute running time flies by, and the film is never once boring. This energy is due almost entirely to one thing: James Cagney.
Cagney tears into the role of George M. Cohan with everything he's got, and just try taking your eyes off of him whenever he's on screen. He can't sing at all, and he's really more of an acrobat than a dancer, but he pulls off the role of a Broadway showman effortlessly.
The rah-rah American sentiments are obviously a product of the time, and little more than World War II propaganda at moments, but I could swallow them easier in this film for some reason. Maybe because when they're at their most intrusive (the "Grand Old Flag" number, for instance), the spectacle is so rousing that I would have been just as moved if they'd been singing about cheese and crackers.
A deservedly beloved American classic.
Grade: A

Devil & Daniel Webster
Devil & Daniel Webster
DVD ~ Edward Arnold
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 64.74
14 used & new from CDN$ 38.86

4.0 out of 5 stars The Devil No Match for an American Politician, Dec 5 2003
This review is from: Devil & Daniel Webster (DVD)
This film could never work now, because Americans are far too cynical to accept a politician beating the Devil in a battle of morals. Now the politician would be in the Devil's hip pocket.
"The Devil and Daniel Webster" is a creepy, effective little morality tale about a farmer who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for prosperity and the politician who ends up defending him and winning it back.
What seemed startling in 1941 feels mostly creaky by today's standards, but there are still some fresh moments of film making in this one. William Dieterle was obviously open to experimentation when it comes to the use of cinematography and sound, and the movie has a striking visual look. The plot is mostly connect the dots, and there are no real surprises, but I don't know that one watches a morality tale for surprises in the first place.
Walter Huston is extremely creepy as the Devil (aka Mr. Scratch). He received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his performance even though, based on sheer screen time, he really has more of a supporting role. But he's so effective when on screen that his presence dominates the film even when he's physically absent, which probably accounts for the lead nomination.
Edward Arnold is pretty good too as Daniel Webster. Also standing out is Jane Darwell (Ma Joad in "The Grapes of Wrath") as a hardened farm mother.
Parts of this film have a wicked sense of humour, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The trial at the end (with a literal jury of the damned), is especially amusing.
On a sidenote, the film was successful in capturing the 1941 Academy Award for Best Dramatic Score.
Don't expect to see any points made that haven't already been made a thousand times in a thousand other movies, but enjoy the originality of the film technique on display.
Grade: A-

The Bishop's Wife (Bilingual) [Import]
The Bishop's Wife (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Cary Grant
Offered by Treasure Island Emporium
Price: CDN$ 39.99
25 used & new from CDN$ 3.08

4.0 out of 5 stars A Charmer, Dec 5 2003
"The Bishop's Wife" is one of the better Christmas movies out there. I wouldn't place it as high as "Miracle on 34th Street," but it's in that league, and certainly has a similar feel.
Henry Koster does a fine job of giving the film a leisurely pace without letting it drag, and the performances are uniformly solid. It is somewhat of a shame to see David Niven stuck in a part that doesn't allow him much room for humour, as he can be so funny. And I do have to admit that Loretta Young's allure alludes me somewhat. She doesn't seem very dynamic for two men (or should I say a man and an angel) to be making such a fuss over. But she's certainly more than passable.
One of my favorite performances came from Elsa Lanchester, in a minor role as the family maid.
This movie becomes magical only once---during the ice skating scene between Cary Grant, Young and James Gleason. That could have gone on for hours and I would have been transfixed. But not every movie can be magical, and this film is a very good (if non-magical) one.
Pop in on a snowy night, light the Christmas tree, make some hot chocolate, and enjoy.
Grade: B+

Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing (Bilingual) [Import]
Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ William Holden
Offered by RevivalBooksUK
Price: CDN$ 44.14
10 used & new from CDN$ 9.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Love is a Syrupy, Schmaltzy Thing, Dec 4 2003
This film looks great, and that's about where my praise ends.
"Love Is a Many Splendored Thing" came out in the very schizophrenic year of 1955, when candy-coloured nonsense like this co-existed with trail-blazing artistic fair like "Kiss Me Deadly." As a trend toward smaller, socially conscious films like "On the Waterfront" and "Marty" established itself in the mid-50's, other directors felt the need to stick with the unchallenging, pandering melodrama that classifies so many other films from that decade, and "Love" is one of the latter.
This is the kind of 50's movie where the Technicolor is used to its garish utmost and the lighting is invariably high-key; even scenes taking place in a dark room or at night are brighter than the average sunny day. I never want to hear the theme song again, as it's played frequently enough over the course of the film to last anyone a lifetime, and I certainly don't want to hear it sung by the shrill, ear-piercing choir that belts it out over the end titles. Jennifer Jones and William Holden are passable, but really anybody could have played these parts. Jones' role is horribly written--her character is incredibly inconsistent, and it seems as if whenever her character is required to make a decision about something, the screenwriters flipped a coin to decide what that decision would be.
People will undoubtedly tell me I'm taking this film too seriously, that I'm unromantic, etc. But I loved "All That Heaven Allows," released the same year and just as cornball in its own way, except that Douglas Sirk is able to turn melodrama into an art form, whereas Henry King (director of "Love") is not.
I'm usually able to enjoy bad melodrama, but in this case I was just bored.
Grade: D+

Rififi (The Criterion Collection) (Bilingual)
Rififi (The Criterion Collection) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Jean Servais
Offered by JM Video Show Place
Price: CDN$ 22.99
14 used & new from CDN$ 19.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stylish and Thrilling, Dec 2 2003
"Rififi" is a terrific heist movie, and one from which subsequent heist films have drawn ever since. Jules Dassin had a feel for the seedy underworld in which these thieves live---you will not find here the Hollywood glamour of "Ocean's Eleven." The robbers in "Rififi" don't rob for the thrill, and they're not playing a game. They rob to survive, to pay for their children's upbringing, to prove to themselves and others that they still have something to offer the world.
The much-lauded heist scene is a nail biter, filmed in virtual silence. I did have the feeling that the plot went on a bit longer than it needed to, but the high-speed race to deliver the child to his mother that ends the film is classic.
Be warned---this movie is very bleak. But it's also very good.
Grade: A-

Beauty and The Beast (The Criterion Collection)
Beauty and The Beast (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Jean Marais
Price: CDN$ 42.99
16 used & new from CDN$ 26.28

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, But Not Magical, Dec 2 2003
I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I preferred the animated Disney version of this story to the 1946 Jean Cocteau film. I'm no Disney fan, and I would personally like to stop them from taking over the world (along with Starbucks), but this is one case where I just thought they instilled this fairy tale with more magic. I missed the character of Gaston in the Cocteau version, and I missed also the delightful assortment of animated objects. And I think this story is particularly conducive to being set to music, and I enjoyed the songs in the Disney version.
However, on its own terms, the 1946 release is well done, and considered by many to be the definitive version of the beauty/beast tale. I thought the acting was bland, though Belle is indeed a beauty. And there are moments of pure movie magic: the candelabras that light Belle's way, the fireplace that watches her father eat. And for once slow motion is used in a way that doesn't feel cliche. But the relationship between Belle and the Beast isn't well developed. You don't see Belle falling in love with him over the course of the film, and when she professes her love at the end, it seems to come out of thin air. And was I the only one confused by the transformation at the end? It doesn't get explained well at all. Though it is kind of funny at how blase Belle is when the Beast becomes a hunk and says she'll have to get used to his new face.
The film is interesting in that it acknowledges the Beast's animalistic nature. He hunts wild game, he craves blood, and more than once you wonder whether or not he'd rather eat Belle than court her. There's a violent eroticism underlying this film, that I found surprising for the year it was released.
I know Cocteau asks his audience at the film's beginning to watch the film with the eyes of a child and to give itself over to the enchantment of fairy tales, and I have no problem doing that. But even so, I felt like he was using fairy tale logic to explain away things that could have been explained better.
Grade: B

Carter Beats the Devil
Carter Beats the Devil
by Glen Gold
Edition: Paperback
62 used & new from CDN$ 0.70

4.0 out of 5 stars A Devil of a Good Time, Dec 2 2003
This review is from: Carter Beats the Devil (Paperback)
***Some spoilers ahead***
This book took a little while to get moving for me, but once it did, it really took off and I was hooked.
"Carter Beats the Devil" is a sprawling thing, loosely historical (very loosely) and freshly unpredictable. I didn't realize until I read Glen David Gold's afterword that Charles Carter was a real magician performing in the heyday (teens and '20s) of the magic boom in the U.S. But don't be scared away by a dose of history with your fiction. The history on display here is only history in the loosest sense of the word. This book is first and foremost a work of fiction; let's face it---any book that has Warren Harding living on a deserted island with his wife and a menagerie of retired circus animals can't be taken too seriously, right?
The beginning of the book, detailing Carter's childhood and his motivations in becoming a magician, aren't that involving. For once, I just didn't care why he became a magician, and I would have accepted "he just wanted to perform magic" as reason enough. But on top of motivation not being necessary, the motivation Gold does provide isn't particularly interesting.
On top of the weak beginning, I thought the book was going to run a predictable course: Begin with framing device, explain childhood of protagonist, explain success of protagonist, explain downfall of protagonist, explain comeback of protagonist, return to framing device. I thought the novel would end with Harding's death, since that it is where it starts. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the real plot didn't even get started until after Harding has "died." Once I reached this point in the book, I couldn't put it down and found scene after scene to be thrilling and memorable: the demonstration of T.V., a secret meeting of anarchists, an over-the-top duel involving knives, a motorcycle, a tiger, a water tank and a levitation device....Oh don't ask----just read it.
A very fun book, and definitely recommended if you're in the mood for a little escapism (pun intended).

To the Lighthouse
To the Lighthouse
by Virginia Woolf
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.59
96 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, if You're in the Mood for It, Dec 2 2003
This review is from: To the Lighthouse (Paperback)
Take my word for it--if you've not read Virginia Woolf before--you need to be in the mood to read her. I think her books can be unbearable otherwise. However, I was in the mood for "To the Lighthouse," and I thought it was terrific.
I've been much more intrigued by Virginia Woolf after Michael Cunningham's "The Hours," (and the subsequent film) brought her back into the limelight. She was fascinated with the degree to which everyday, seemingly trivial details of life can seem to be matters upon which the state of the world hinge in the lives of those experiencing them. Therefore, in Virginia Woolf's world, the decision as to whether or not a vacationing family will visit a lighthouse on the following day becomes the focus of everyone's thoughts--to a little boy, it seems as if his world will end if he doesn't get to go; to the father, his ability to determine whether or not they will go gives him a sense of power and authority over his wife and children.
And at the center of all this non-drama is Mrs. Ramsay, wife and mother, who is the foundation upon which the family is built. Woolf is expert in communicating the influence Mrs. Ramsay has on those around her. Everyone is struck by her beauty, her bearing, her very existence. It's this quality in her that makes so many wives and mothers the center of their respective families, which gives "To the Lighthouse" a sort of universality that resonated very strongly with me.
There has been a lot of literary study on the psychology of the novel (especially Freudian), which has become somewhat less interesting as Freud has become commonplace. I would instead appreciate it for the utter mastery of language exhibited by Woolf, and the insights she has into male/female relationships.
"To the Lighthouse" is one of those books that left me feeling incredibly sad in a very satisfied way, and I can't even tell you why. I don't always enjoy such ethereal writing (I don't even enjoy other books by Woolf) but in this case I enjoyed every word.

I, Claudius
I, Claudius
by Robert Graves
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.89
90 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Historical Fiction, with an Emphasis on Historical, Dec 2 2003
This review is from: I, Claudius (Paperback)
I was very excited to read "I, Claudius" because of the almost unanimous praise it has received by Amazon readers. I'm sorry to say that I was disappointed in it.
It's by no means a bad book, but I found that Robert Graves' cold historical voice kept me at a distance emotionally from the story and characters. Graves relates the story in a "first this happened, then that happened" kind of way, which has the benefit of explaining the history surrounding Claudius's rise to Roman Emperor in a clear and non-convoluted way. However, Graves' approach to the story also succeeds in keeping the reader uninvolved in the proceedings, because characters never become alive, but instead remain as about as engaging as the people you read about in high school history books.
In short, I would recommend this book if you're in the mood for a plot-driven novel---and believe me, there's plenty of plot to sink your teeth into.
But if you're in the mood to wrap your mind around fully developed characters and psychological complexity, I would read something besides this.

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