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Valjean (Salem, Ma United States)

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by James Burke
Edition: Audio Cassette
17 used & new from CDN$ 9.61

4.0 out of 5 stars A materialist view of history needs illustrations, July 18 2004
This review is from: Connections (Audio Cassette)
The point of James Burke's Connections is that material inventions and environmental conditions (not ideas) are the driving force behind the way that societal interaction is structured. As such, Burke reopens the centuries-old Marx-Hegel debate about whether or not our world is structured by the ideas of prominent thinkers (ie: Martin Luther) or the invention of certain objects (ie: the deep plow) and other material conditions (ie: the Black Plauge).
While you may or may not agree with Burke, on all levels, he does a great job of supporting his central argument. From the claim that the first cities were formed as the result of the receding ice age to the idea that romance became viewed by society as a "private" thing with the invention of the fireplace, he is consistent in his thinking. And while, the gaping hole in his argument is his failure to acknowledge that it was the *ideas* of certain "gifted" persons (ie: Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers) to put available materials together in a useful way, he still reaffims my conviction that social relations are a function of the material world around us. Bottom line is that we don't structure our world as much as we like to think.
Sadly, I found the lack of illustrations in the abridged audio edition had the overall effect of weakening his argument to some degree. I'm really not big on illustrations in texts, but I think to thoughroughly appreciate James Burke's ideas, you have to "see them". For instance, it's very distracting to try to visualize "Volta's Electric Pile" in your head and keep track of what Burke is talking about. I suppose that's why the Mini-series and the book did so well. (5 stars for the now unavailable book, by the way)
On the other hand, I take strong exception to the reviewer who claims that Burke "...goes off on tangents..." in Connections. His attention to fine detail is much appreciated as both thoughtful commentary and, more importantly, substatiative evidence to his claims. Reviewers who do not see the value of such introspection perhaps lack the attention-span that is required to read (or listen to, as the case may be) Burke's treatise.
In sum, I deduct one star for the audio edition for its lack of illustrations.

Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
by Carl Sagan
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.16
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astronomer or Sociologist?, July 18 2004
Although Carl Sagan made a prominent name for himself as an Astronomer in the 1970's, his final contribution to the academic world was a piece that was very Sociological in nature. The thesis of the book is that America's obsession with science fiction and popular myth has curtailed the growth of the United States as a scientifically literate society. As such, Sagan's final work is laudable as one of the most poignant and effective commentaries on the Zeitgeist of American society at the turn of the 21st century.
At the beginning of "Demon-haunted", Sagan comes across as a "killjoy", who is bitter about the seemingly innocuous pleasures that many Americans indulge themselves in (Star Trek, Atlantis, Crystal Power, etc.). He points out that at the time of the book's release, "Dumb and Dumber" was the number one movie in the box office. He also spins a wonderful anecdote about his cab driver who, upon finding out that Sagan is an Astronomer, tries to demonstrate upon Sagan his scientific "fluency" through his knowledge of "Atlantis". It all seems quite funny, until Sagan points out that the cab driver got quite frustrated when Sagan challenged his belief systems about the mythical island continent. With this wonderfully concrete example, Sagan renders the reader aware of how dangerous popular myths about science can be.
As the book progresses, Sagan continually points out that a little diversion can be a dangerous thing. He points out that Americans in the 1990's would rather spend a day watching the X-files than studying real stellar constellations; or reading tripe about Atlantis, as opposed to reading scientific books about continnetal plate shift. Eventually, the "candle in the dark" analogy is revealed as an analogy for science in America, where beliefs in the supernatural often publically usurp real scientific fact.
I think the thing that shocked me the most about this book was the fact that it wakes the reader up to the "dumbing down" of the American educational system, which Sagan implies, is a factor of the general American's willingness to believe just about anything that's entertaining.
Of the more forboding points that Sagan makes, there is one that he is rightfully salient about. This is that "pure science" (that is science in its abstract form) is becoming replaced by "profit-oriented" science. To back his argument, he points out that almost none of the technology that we enjoy today would have been discovered if it were not for the pursuit of pure science. For example, he points out that without abstract study of magnetism and electricity, things such as radio and television would not be here.
Like any good social theorist, Sagan ends this book with a series of solutions that could be enacted to further the pursuit of true science. First, he calls for a return to funding initiative for non-profit oriented scientific study. Second, he comments in passing that several opportunities are being missed by the educational system to teach children the priniples of true science by using the world around them as examples. For instance, at one point, he shows the applicability of basketball to physics. In sum, Sagan proves to be a brilliant Social Theorist.

Bowling for Columbine (DVD, 2003)
Bowling for Columbine (DVD, 2003)
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 33.23
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2.0 out of 5 stars Not Moore's finest hour, July 18 2004
So many people are tied up in the politics of Michael Moore, they fail to realize that documentary is an art form. It is an artistic means through which to examine a thesis. I like Moore's work in general, but find the "Columbine" film to be sorely lacking in clarity. In a nutshell, the film's thesis (assuming it has one) is kind of "wishy-washy". I watched the film once and kept waiting for Mike to "get to the point" and found that his gift for sardonically presenting bitter ironies and "slapping viewers awake" was wasted on subject matter that is perhaps best left in the perview of Criminologists. Then, to see if it had any redeeming educational value, I watched it again and drew the same conclusion about the movie. I was very disappointed.
As I said, I like Moore and I will gladly rethink this review if someone can prove me wrong by telling me in a sentence or two, what *exactly* the thesis is. Is it a statement on the state of youth of America? Is it a statement about spoiled rich kids who kill their classmates? Is it a statement about parents, the educational system...gun control...what...why? Who is to blame for the terrible events in Columbine? Alas, the film raises tons of questions, but answers none.
While many people have criticized the film for pushing a political agenda related to gun control, this is perhaps Moore's most objective documentary. People who see an "anti-gun agenda" in this film are just seeing what they want to see based on thier emotions about Moore.
While watching Columbine, I actually got the feeling that Moore himself was uncomfortable with the grayness of the subject matter. It's almost as if Moore was aware that a strong pro-gun control argument would put him at odds with the constitutional freedoms that he has spent the better moments of his career defending. As a result, the film tends to branch out into too many areas (such as Militia groups, popular music, popular cultural notions about guns, etc.) leaving the viewer with a general impression that yes, we do live in a "Gun Culture" - but knowing this fact may or may not provide any adequate solution to the next Columbine.
The result of the muddled thesis, however, might have given Moore the appearance of "neutrality" that I suppose it takes to win an Oscar. Or perhaps that was Hollywood's indirect way of acknowledging that he had deserved credit for earlier (and much better) work. No matter, fans of Mike will acknowledge that he is better as a documentarian when his work puts him at odds with big corporations and big government. He should stay away from the "garden-variety" crime issue.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this film is it's break away from the traditional "Moore style" which is laced with genuine humor and clever camera-work. There are a few chuckles when Moore opens an savings account at a Northern Michigan bank and gets a "free shotgun" for his patronage, but the film is otherwise humorless. The camera-work in the film is as sophmoric as any piece on 60 minutes. Contrast this to Mike's quick-cut camerawork and shocking transitions in Roger and Me!
With regard to Moore's the issue of content, the movie doesn't fare to well either with Mike bouncing footage around from Militia groups to interviews with celebs, and so on. There seems to be no linearity in his presentation whatsoever.
Moore is definitely out of form on this one. I would however, give him two stars. One for a valiant effort to root out the etiology of the Columbine incident. And another for showing enough refrain so as not to make any sweepingly bold and overpowering statements in the foggy area of gun control, in spite of the way in which many people seem to have interpreted Bowling for Columbine.

Grass (Widescreen)
Grass (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Woody Harrelson
4 used & new from CDN$ 24.96

5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful teaching tool!, July 16 2004
This review is from: Grass (Widescreen) (DVD)
The thesis that Ron Mann presents the viewer with in this well-crafted and colorful documentary is: that Government has always profited from laws against Marijuana; and, ergo, has refused to legalize the drug in spite of the fact that it has (arguably) been medically proven to be less harmful and addictive than alcohol. That thesis is examined thoroughly from a historical vantage point and addressed brilliantly with qualitative data, (mainly consisting of historical film footage and historical facts). Although, at times, the presentation of statistical data is somewhat dubious (Specifically, I would deduct one-half star for Mann's consistent referral to Government spending in the general "War on Drugs" as the "War on Marijuana").

I agree with most of the reviews of this film and would add that whether the viewer's position is pro-legalization or anti-legalization there is a lot of insight to be gleaned from knowing the history of Marijuana legislation in America. I would highly recommend this film for college professors concerned with teaching students about either: a) the role of political and economic power in the creation of a body of laws; or b) the power of government-sponsored propaganda with regard to the creation of sub-groups of social deviants. There is also a lot to be learned about the making of a documetary from examining the presentation of the thesis.
The most laudable aspect of this documentary, which is narrated by Woody Harrelson, is its historical "linearity" in presenting the events that eventally led to status of Marijuana in today's society. The documentary begins by showing us some footage from the early 1900's that seems to confirm that the earliest attempts to criminalize pot-smoking in America came about largely as the result of predjudice and fear toward Mexican immigrants to the US. Footage from the 1920's and 1930's seems to confirm that the government had effectively mastered the power to control other disenfranchised segments of the population (such as African Americans) indirectly through the passage of laws aimed at behaviors associated with those segments. Likewise, footage from the 1950's and 1960's indicates that the pot laws similarly geared to target first "communists" and then anti-war hippies. Footage from more recent decades seems to confirm that although by the 1970's most of the American popualtion were aware that pot was generally an innocuous distraction from reality, the demonization of grass had become so embedded in American culture that legalization was not an option.
While the presentation of the 1900-1950 data from the film is often punctuated by scare-film clips (ie: clips from "Reefer Madness", etc.) which provide the viewer with some chuckles, with regard to the substatiative content of the film, there are some particularly powerful moments that can not be disregarded. First, there are film clips taken from 1960's medical experiments, which actually show the effects of marijuana on experimental groups to be harmless. Second, evidence is presented that seems to confirm that the results of these experiements were systemically disregarded by lawmakers (especially by Richard Nixon who, in spite of medical evidence, decided to step-up efforts to punish marijuana criminals). Finally, Mann's presentation of legislation dictating the use of cannabis, accentuates the progressively counterintuitive body of law related to the drug.
In sum, although the film was produced by NORML, this is not the "government bash-fest" that I would have expected. While I otherwise liked the review, I strongly take exception to the reviewer who claimed that is "...this video is propaganda for fans of grass...". The tone of the documentary is suprisingly objective most of the time and highly academic in its presentation of historical fact and lawmaking. It really doesn't even come across as pushing a political agenda - much less as "ramming one down your throat". Show it in the classroom and see what the students think.

Roger & Me
Roger & Me
DVD ~ Michael Moore
Offered by importcds__
Price: CDN$ 16.09
14 used & new from CDN$ 3.29

5.0 out of 5 stars An unappreciated work of art., July 11 2004
This review is from: Roger & Me (DVD)
In 1993, I took a graduate seminar in documentary film making and was introduced to "Roger and Me". Unfortunately, for Michael Moore, there are so many people tied up in the political implications of his work that they fail to realize that "Roger and Me" is probably the best documentary film of all time in terms of style, content and presentation.
This movie is an expose on General Motors closing of several plants in Michigan and the subsequent effects of those plant closings. Nuff Said...It you can be pissed at GM for moving its factories to Tijuana where they can get workers for 33 cents/hour or, you can buy into Adam Smith's classical economic hypothesis put forth in "Wealth of Nations" and think that GM did the rational thing. The question is, how do you present this information to the uninformed world?
In terms of style, Moore's narrative is historically rich and laced with deadpan sarcasm. Many people have criticized the film for its "biased" presentation of fact. Wake up! This is not a CNN news broadcast, nor it it a press relase. It is a documentary, and as such, it must have a thesis. Moore presents a strong thesis: General Motors does not give a damn about suffering of American workers. He backs it up with statistics and qualitative content in his narrative. There is never a question left unanswered about why GM did what it did and what the official company line was on the issue. For a good documentary to work, you see it has to fill in some blanks, therefore, the film should not be criticized for being "biased".
While the content of "Roger and Me" gives the viewer a healthy dose of the consequences of class-war, the true art is in the way that these consequences are presented. In Roger and Me, Moore proves that he is the master of "quick-cutting" from the sublime to the shocking. Such sharp edits have to be admired. For example, at one point Moore is interviewing some upper-class people in a beautiful pastoral setting. They are talking about how people should "take control of their situation" if they do not have a job. Then suddenly, the film cuts into to a run-down neighborhood where families are being evicted from their homes. Moore uses this technique several times in Roger and Me cutting from the innocuous settings of the upper-class to the harsh realities of the working-class. The effect is as devistating to the viewer as going 60 MPH and then running smack into a brick wall.
While you may disagree with Moore's politics, people should at least appriciate what he has done for the documentary film-genre.

Spock vs. Q Gift Set
Spock vs. Q Gift Set
by Alien voices
Edition: Audio CD
Price: CDN$ 18.87
23 used & new from CDN$ 13.64

5.0 out of 5 stars adorable!, July 10 2004
This review is from: Spock vs. Q Gift Set (Audio CD)
I think that all plot points worth mentioning have been covered in the official review so I will not go into depth about the plotlines of both CDs. However, I would like to express how unusually delightful it is to actually *listen* to this form of entertainment, which can best be described as a "play on tape".
The dialouge here is superbly crafted in both the original and the sequel and there is nary a moment without playful and interesting banter between Spock and Q. For those of you who are die-hard fans of Star Trek and have never given a shot to listening (as opposed to watching) you MUST give this a shot.
Both the orignal and the sequel lend themselves to repeated listenings.

3 used & new from CDN$ 15.25

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The only winning move is not to buy this movie..., July 10 2004
This review is from: Arcade (VHS Tape)
Good Science Fiction is never condescending. This is why the makers of Star Trek (old and new)consult with scientists to make the unbelievable seem believable in theory. Ah, but, perhaps it is my affinity of John DeLancie (Star Trek's "Q") that prompted me to buy this shallow attempt at a Science Fiction movie. DeLancie, after all, is in it. Unfortunatly, he plays a very very minor role here.
Plot Synopsis: DeLancie is a software game marketer whose job is on the bubble if he does not market an addictive game soon. He hogties a group of kids into being beta testers for a new untested virtual reality game called "Arcade". The game somehow manages to make the kids literally disappear and "steals thier souls".
The protagonist, (played by Megan Ward) a girl who is having emotional problems due to her mother's suicide (not that it matters), is the first to notice the bizzare effects of the game when she suspects that her boyfriend has disappeared while playing the game (see below). She brings home a portable version of the game and hooks it up to her TV set and the game proceeds to taunt her and calls by her first name. At one point the game calls her a "bit_h" and rants "I AM ARCADE, I AM THE FUTURE" (hysterical laughter).
After finding another friend dead from the effects of the game (she too disappears after death like Yoda), Ward and another friend go to see DeLancie. DeLancie, after about 20 seconds of screen time, then introduces her to the game's designer. Apparently, he does not fully understand the workings of the game and confesses to using human brain cells in the construction of the software ( hold me back). Finally, the protagonist realizes that the only way to rescue her disappeared friends is to win the game.
This idea could have worked if excecuted as Sci Fi-proper, or even horror, or even action. However, in trying to toe the line between three genres, the film makes some glaring mistakes.
Primarily, the lack of any semi-viable explanations for the following elements of the movie will make the informed sci-fi grind teeth. First, and foremost, how does the game make people disappear? - C'mon throw me a bone here. Is there some kind "molecular disruption interface" that causes it to consume living matter as well as dead tissue? If so, why bother marketing it as a game when you can make much more selling it to the CIA? Second, how do you incorporate "human brain cells" into a softare program? Perhaps you smash them up with a mortar and pestle and smear them all over your hard drive?
No, in the end, we are expected to believe that the some things are just unexplainable. The program (I suppose because of the brain cells or something) is supernatural. Then, this is NOT Sci Fci.
Three things could heve redeemed this movie. First, thoughtful explanations could have been worked out for the bizarre behavior of "Arcade". Scientific ones. Second, the game itself, could have been more exciting in terms of its special effects. Two levels of the game look like bad versions of that game from the Lawnmower Man. Like the lack of explanations for the plotline the game is also thoughlessly constructed. Finally, I know that DeLancie is a talented writer as well as actor. I'll bet a dollar to a donut that if it the producers of this movie would have given him creative access to the script, he could have probably saved the day.

Prince of Darkness
Prince of Darkness
DVD ~ Donald Pleasence
Price: CDN$ 14.99
15 used & new from CDN$ 7.99

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Excuse you have Satan in a can?, July 9 2004
This review is from: Prince of Darkness (DVD)
Since the other reviewers have spoiled the plotline (roughly), I will limit my review of this movie to a brief synopsis and try to keep the criticisms on a creative level.
Plot Synopsis: There is an unknown entity contained within a unusual container that has been secretly kept by a Catholic Brotherhood of Monks for several centuries. Understanding that the entity is about to break out of the container, the church is forced to call in a team of physicists to study the container and said entity.
The first hour of the movie blows your mind! Using scientific method to study the container is a a stroke of genius. The viewer is kept on edge as several facts are uncovered through analytic methods such as carbon dating. The plot thickens as the container proves to be of "alien" origin and it's contents produce quantifiable amounts of energy. Furthermore, the researchers even determine that tachyon-based radio transmissions from the future are infuencing thier dreams (don't ask).
All that leads to viewer to the point where you're thinking "damn, this is way cool!". Religious artifacts meet modern science, Very deep and very original. Something like the carbon dating of the shroud of turin maybe. However...
then...then...the movie becomes just another splatterhouse bloodfest. Cliches taken straight out of the Exorcist (ie: pentagrams, demonic possession, 666's, etc.) displace the original "scientific approach" to the problem. People are maimed, massive blood is spilled and all the scientific equipment becomes haywire. Everybody dies and the science vs. the Devil is thoughrougly discarded along with the effect of the first hour of the movie. (Stephen King did the same thing in Rose Red and it disgusts me!)
I have to give the movie only one star for my conviction that John Carpenter took the easy way out and anyone can do that. It was very uncreative of him to do this and it spoiled the movie utterly. It's insulting to anyone with an IQ over 60! Damnit, if I want to see people get thier heads lopped off, I'll go and get Friday the 13th or Nighmare on Elm Street. Why..oh Why this elaborate scientific setup if you're going to turn it into just another slasher movie?
Creative criticism: I understand that this movie was not Ghostbusters. But, oh, would I have loved to seen all that scientific analyisis of that container save the day. Let's see a movie for a change where science meets the Devil and wins! Or at least puts up a good fight.

6 used & new from CDN$ 4.25

4.0 out of 5 stars Suprisingly creepy, July 9 2004
This review is from: Invader (VHS Tape)
I don't to give any spoilers here, so I'll just comment on the jist of the movie and leave it at that. A reporter for a "National Enquirer" type tabloid goes out to get a scoop on stange happenings at a US Air Force base and stumbles upon a real conspiracy. He's used to covering BS like 2-headed cows and "alien-babies" and very frustrated with his career until then. He winds up cooperating with a renegade DOD agent to investigate the conspiracy and discovers that:
a. Roswell really happened
b. The government tampered with alien technology to create strategic software called ASMODIUS
c. Something went wrong
Well, if I said anything else about the movie's plot, I think I would be spoiling it for anyone lucky enough to find a copy of it. Aside from the whole "Roswell-really-happened" schtick which has been done about 120 million times, the movie kicks tail. The actors are decent; but its the special effects and the plot that are the clincher here.
In terms of special effects, you get everything from F-22 Raptors blowing up, intense air-to-air dogfights (1 Stealth vs. 2 F-16's) UFO's vs. Helicopters, F-14 Tomcats vs. F-16s, firefights and giant robots on killing sprees. The plot is also pretty tense as the laid-back reporter has both the CIA and Mind Controlled soldiers on his trail.
If they don't release this on DVD it would be quite a loss for air-to-air dogfight enthusiasts. By the way. Anything related to Roswell loses one-star in my book. It's boring in 1991 and in 2004.

Rock N Roll Juggernaut
Rock N Roll Juggernaut
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 27.95
4 used & new from CDN$ 22.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Party Rowdy Rockem'Sockem sounds, July 7 2004
This review is from: Rock N Roll Juggernaut (Audio CD)
In 1986 when the rest of the conformist world was oohing and aahing over hair-bands like Posison, Bon Jovi and Whitesnake, hordes of zit-faced so-called non-conformists jumped on the Megadeath/Metallica bandwagon and thought that they had found true alternative hard-rock. Somewhere, lurking in the background was a creative lunatic named Tesco Vee who managed to restructure a Black Flag-esque group called the Meatmen with 4 top-notch musicians. This restructuring gave him a vehicle to present his irreverent poetry with unbridled musical clarity.
The sound of the Meatmen, which Vee himself had called part of the "Psychodelic/Death-Rock/Comedy Genre", really had no generic boundaries. Unfortunatly, that sound was fleeting; beginning with 1985's "War of the Superbikes" and culminating with "Rock and Roll Juggernaut" in 1986; which is probably one of the best albums of all time (no joke, up there with Physical Graffiti...don't believe me get the album if you can).
In terms of song structure and lyrics, you might have called the Meatmen, circa the "Juggernaut" album, the "Gwar of the 80's". Although with a team of musicans consisting of Lyle Preslar (lead guitar), James Cooper (rythym guitar), Graham McCulloch (bass) and Eric Zelzdor (drums), the sound is much "cleaner" than modern death-metal.
The vocals are never muddled and the mix job brings out the the subtleties of each instrument. This is especially apparent when Preslar's crispy lead guitar-work cuts in and out like a knife over McCulloch's funky/robotic bass riff in "Turbo Rock". Preslar's extended solo on the title track "Rock and Roll Juggernaut" is also incredible and remniscent of the late Randy Rhodes in that he jumps from doing blindingly fast harmonic minor arrpagio-type licks to grinding penatonics.
Juggernaut begins with a clever title track that is fast and furious and an ode to the band itself and continues to sustain the pace throughout most of the album. There is an aggressive rage in much of the music, but it's not the pretentious teenage-agnst rage that Cobain reaccquainted the musically starved public of the 90's with. Instead, the general musical rage on Juggernaut is akin to being harrassed by an obnoxious drunken pirate named Tesco.
While many people criticized Vee for being politically-incorrect in the "Hip to Be Square 80's", his lyrics on Juggernaut are almost compassionate in comparison to many of todays artists such as Snoop Dogg. Vee's lyrics are misogynistic, he likes drugs, cars, weird sex, and endorses violence (arguably) with his tounge-in-cheek. Hey, so, if you think Huey Lewis is "rockin'" stay the hell away from Juggernaut.
It's hard to say how much influence the Meatmen had on the Musical world, as I know only about 7 people who have this album. They are all musicans. I wrote to Vee personally in 1996 to obtain this CD and he was cool as hell about it and sold me a copy. I hear that the album is now out of print. As the Meatmen's best venture, I hope it does not fade into obscurity. It's a must for aspiring guitar players.

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