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Everybody Dies
Everybody Dies
by Lawrence Block
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
55 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Another extraordinary mystery from the Master., Jan. 16 2001
This latest entry in the Matt Scudder seires is a haunting powerful tale of life, death, and loss. Scudder, the private investigator and reformed drunk, is older now; perhaps not wiser, but clearly interested in slowing down. He's married, he actually has a license from the state, he's not the carefree man he was ten or twenty years ago.
Scudder's life, though, will not necessarily allow him to just walk away. In particular, his close friendship with organized crime "boss" Mick Ballou proves very troublesome. Some unknown gang is attacking Ballou and his associates, and Matt finds himself caught up in the middle of it. Despite his ties to Ballou, he still tries to stay out of it. Friendship will only carry him so far. But when his own life is threatened as well, he is left with little choice.
The plot is interesting and suspenseful, the mystery entertaining as Block's always are. But more than that, this is a moving book, a book that touches you and makes you think. The title Everybody Dies may be more figurative than literal, but there is still enough death and pain in this book to reach even the coldest heart.

The Matlock Paper
The Matlock Paper
by Robert Ludlum
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
52 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars This paper gets an A!, Aug. 24 2000
This review is from: The Matlock Paper (Paperback)
This book follows the prototypical Ludlum plot: take a somewhat ordinary man, throw him into a situation of international conspiracy, deceit, violence, and terrible danger, and watch him find the courage and the will to do great things. It's a plot that has worked many times, for many different writers, and Ludlum does it as well as anyone.
"The Matlock Paper" is my favorite of the early Ludlum books. It has a plot that moves swiftly and believably (as such things go), with jeopardy and intrigue that are both gripping and gratifying. I found the academic setting to be particularly interesting, as I did the main character of Matlock. (It doesn't hurt that I'm a professor myself.)
I recommend all of Ludlum's books to readers who enjoy a good thriller. This one ranks towards the top of the list.
--David Montgomery, Mystery Ink

The Far Western Frontier 1830-1860
The Far Western Frontier 1830-1860
by Ray Allen Billington
Edition: Paperback
15 used & new from CDN$ 6.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Billington's Frontier...and Turner's, Aug. 1 2000
Frederick Jackon Turner, onetime Harvard professor and former president of the American Historical Association, was one of the most influential scholars in the field of U.S. History. His greatest contribution was the "frontier thesis," first advanced in 1893. The Turner thesis (as it is also known) stated, in brief, that "the existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development."
This thesis has been one of the most important and lasting interpretations of American history. It has also been one of the most repudiated, challenged, and attacked theories, so it has certainly needed its defenders over the years. Turner had one defender, however, who stood head and shoulders above the rest. That was Ray Allen Billington, a noted scholar in his own right, the former curator of the Huntington Library, and one of Turner's staunchest and most tireless disciples.
In writing The Far Western Frontier (first published in 1962), Billington had two expressed purposes in mind, which he laid out in the preface. The first was to describe, in all possible detail, the movement of settlers into America's Far West, along with the events, both national and international, that influenced their migration. His second objective was "to advance evidence pertaining to the generations-old conflict over the so-called 'frontier hypothesis.'" Implicit in that second purpose was Billington's desire to advance evidence in favor of the frontier hypothesis (i.e., the Turner thesis).
The Far Western Frontier tells the story of America's western migration from approximately 1830 to 1860. It is divided into twelve chapters, each telling the history of the settlement of a particular region (e.g., "the Mexican Borderlands," "The Mormons Move Westward," and "the California Gold Rush"). As part of his analysis, Billington judges the extent to which each of these settlement processes confirmed or refuted Turner's thesis. This is generally done in a subtle fashion; he seldom engages in any explicit discussion of Turner's hypothesis. However, the entire book is shot through with the very spirit of Turner. His presence lingers on every page.
As is characteristic of Billington, The Far Western Frontier is wonderfully literate, informative, and well written. The lively and eminently readable narrative is only fitting for a study of the American West-an area of history filled with great heroes, cowardly villains, and profuse myth-making. Billington, however, was not one to ignore his responsibilities as a historian in favor of the pursuit of drama. His methodology is sufficiently rigorous and objective to give much weight to his arguments. In typical Billington fashion, The Far Western Frontier is well documented (one might almost say exhaustively) and contains an extensive, if not comprehensive, bibliography.
Billington undertook a very serious take in writing this book-the rehabilitation of the Turner thesis-and he set about it in a most serious way. He brought to bear all of his considerable skills as a historian and scholar in an effort to describe and analyze the unique course of the settlement of the Far West, and to do so in a way that demonstrates the validity of the frontier thesis.
Ultimately, though, The Far Western Frontier must stand or fall according to how well Billington achieved his two stated objectives. On that basis, the book is a resounding success. It effectively recounts the movement of settlers into the Far West and the influence of world events on that migration. It also goes a long way toward not only re-examing the American West in terms of Turner's thesis, but in advancing the validity of that hypothesis.
The Far Western Frontier is a book both for the historian, and for anyone with an interest in this crucial part of American's history.

Godfather I
Godfather I
VHS
Offered by Time Traveller Books
Price: CDN$ 25.00
15 used & new from CDN$ 1.25

5.0 out of 5 stars The Greatest American Epic, July 31 2000
This review is from: Godfather I (VHS Tape)
There are many classic scenes in "The Godfather," but two of them stand out in my mind. The first is the long sequence that opens the film: the wedding day of the Don's daughter Connie. A parade of well-wishers and favor-seekers visits the Godfather, each seeking his favor and counsel. Thus it is established that this is an important man, a man of respect. When he finally steals away enough time to dance with his daughter, we cannot believe that this man is a criminal.
The sequence that closes the film is equally powerful: the christening of Connie's child (with Michael as his godfather), intercut with the murders of Michael's rivals for domination of the Mafia. Thus we learn that the son, too, is a man of respect, a man who will stop at nothing to continue his father's legacy.
These opening and closing scenes show us the transition of power and honor, from father to son. We see the importance of religion and tradition in the lives of these young Americans, as well as the depths of their hypocrisy. Michael is a new kind of leader, though. One with a vision beyond the violence, a vision of a better future. Like the Kennedys (who similarly rose from crime to respectability), the Corleones eventually rise above their sordid past. Despite their flaws, or perhaps because of them, they are a quintessentially American family.
Reviewed by David Montgomery, Mystery Ink

Omerta: A Novel
Omerta: A Novel
by Mario Puzo
Edition: Hardcover
71 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars An Offer You Might Be Able to Refuse, July 27 2000
This review is from: Omerta: A Novel (Hardcover)
"Omerta" is the third and final book in Mario Puzo's Mafia trilogy. (The first two were the brilliant "The Godfather" and the above-average "The Last Don.") Puzo died shortly after completing "Omerta," so this is the last we will ever read from this great American author. When I first got "Omerta," I eyed the rather slim size (only 316 pages) and the fairly large type and was worried. My immediate thought was that Puzo died before he could actually finish the book!
Once I started reading it, though, I was reassured. The book might be short, but it is good, and it is classic Puzo. The story tells the rise to power of Astorre Viola, foster son and heir of the great Don Raymonde Aprile. The Don has left Astorre in charge of his financial empire, which becomes the target of an evil alliance between a drug kingpin and rival Mafioso.
Astorre must not only defend the Aprile fortune, but his own life, as well as those of the Don's children. He is beset on all sides, just only by the mob and their contract killers, but also by the FBI, and the NYPD. His chances of success might seem slim, but underestimating Astorre is always a mistake--usually a fatal one.
I found the plot to be an interesting one, but it is not fully developed enough to be as gripping and exciting as it could be. It definitely seems incomplete in areas. For example, the book refers to Astorre's years in Sicily, but we only catch glimpses of those formative events. Also many of the characters (especially the Don's children) seem only partly drawn, never fully formed.
Might Puzo have intended to write more, to flesh out these characters and their lives? We can't know, but I suspect he did. The book would certainly be much better had he been able to.
"Omerta" is clearly the least successful book in Puzo's Mafia trilogy. It can't come close to equaling the brilliance of "The Godfather" or even "The Last Don." That doesn't mean it's a bad book. I actually enjoyed reading it very much. But when judged by the standard that Puzo set in the past, "Omerta" has to rank as a disappointment.

The Story of Us (Widescreen)
The Story of Us (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Bruce Willis
Price: CDN$ 9.99
18 used & new from CDN$ 4.83

2.0 out of 5 stars If this is your story, please stay away from me!, July 11 2000
This review is from: The Story of Us (Widescreen) (DVD)
You know how embarrassing it is when you're with a couple and they start to fight? Remember how uncomfortable you feel? Well, that's the feeling I got sitting through 90 minutes of Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer fighting in "The Story of Us."
The basic story is about a couple (Willis and Pfeiffer) who fight almost constantly. As the Willis character says, "Argument has become the condition for conversation." And boy do they do a lot of it.
Much of the film consists of flashbacks of various fights the couple has had. This begs the question: what exactly are they fighting about all the time? Who knows! The film never tells us. We see lots of shouting and angry faces and slamming doors, but we never really get any insight into who this couple is and what they're all about. Why are they fighting? Why do they still love each other? How did their kids turn out so great? These are questions that "The Story of Us" never bothers to answer.
In the midst of all the fighting there are several painfully unfunny scenes featuring comedic actors Rob Reiner, Paul Reiser, Rita Wilson, and Julie Hagerty. What's going on here? These are funny people! But not in this movie. In this script, comedy consists of lines such as "Don't you hate it when men leave the new roll of toilet paper on top of the empty tube?" No, actually I just hate it when screenwriters think cliches like that are funny.
"The Story of Us" was directed by Rob Reiner, who previously made the brilliant "When Harry Met Sally..." This film is nothing like that one. As I was watching it, I kept asking myself, "Who read this script and actually thought it would be a good movie?" Apparently Reiner, Willis, and Pfeiffer did. But they were most definitely wrong.
The only saving grace of this film (and the thing that keeps it from getting 1 star) is the terrific acting. Willis and Pfeiffer are very good. The script is horrible, but they work very hard to make the most of it. I wanted to learn more about these people, I wanted to understand them, I wanted to care about them. "The Story of Us," unfortunately, never delivers on those hopes.

Bye Bye Love [Import]
Bye Bye Love [Import]
VHS
5 used & new from CDN$ 5.79

2.0 out of 5 stars Better than TV? It IS TV!, June 27 2000
This review is from: Bye Bye Love [Import] (VHS Tape)
[I actually give this movie a rating of **1/2.]
The phenomenon of divorce is one of the most pervasive, and unfortunate, in contemporary American life. It is a subject rife with pathos, laughter and tears. As such, it is a very fertile topic for a motion picture. If the makers of "Bye Bye, Love" don't mine the lode as deeply as they might have, it is still a passably funny and generally enjoyable movie.
The story revolves around a trio of divorced dads: Dave (Matthew Modine), Vic (Randy Quaid) and Donny (Paul Reiser). Between the three of them, they pretty much run the gamut of divorced male experience. Dave is a carefree playboy who romances the mothers of his son's soccer teammates. Vic is a bitter man who loathes his ex and her new boyfriend. Donny, the warmest of the three, is still in love with his former wife.
Together, these three friends try to make some sense out of their mixed-up lives. They meet their former spouses each Friday afternoon for the new great American pastime: "the exchange of custody." These scenes are as awkward as you would expect them to be, often because the participants don't want them to be easy. The movie makes the obvious point that divorce is hardest on the kids.
The guys have an easy rapport, their conversations taking on the rhythms that old friends have. They talk about their kids and the new women in their lives. They also gripe about their exes and trade secrets for good meatloaf. ("Look at me! I used to trade baseball cards. Now I trade recipes.") They make good characters because they are all so likable. A nice change, though, is that their former wives are also portrayed sympathetically. Usually in movies like this one half of the couple is the bad guy. This film doesn't do that.
Surely the hardest part of divorced life is starting a new relationship. All three of the men try, but none of them are very good at it. The night Dave has his new flame Kim (Maria Pitillo) over to make friends with the kids is the same night two soccer moms he's been sizing up unexpectedly drop by. At the same time, Vic goes on the blind date from hell with the uber-neurotic Lucille (Janeane Garofalo). While that's going on Donny drops in on Dave's ex-wife Susan (Amy Brenneman) and finds that she may be just what he's looking for.
"Bye Bye, Love" was written and produced by Gary David Goldberg ("Family Ties") and Brad Hall ("Saturday Night Live")--two seasoned TV pros--and it has a definite television feel about it. In fact, as I was watching it I thought that it would make a great pilot for a weekly sitcom. The writing, lighting, directing and acting would all seem more comfortable on the small screen. (The cast contains veterans of "Mad About You," "All in the Family," "NYPD Blue," and "Chicago Hope," among other shows.)
That is not to say that this movie is terrible. The line between television and film is an increasingly blurred one today. Some people have argued--Barry Diller, former CEO of Fox for one--that television programming has surpassed feature films in terms of quality and subject matter. While I do not agree, I am capable of appreciating and enjoying good TV. "Bye Bye, Love" falls into that category.

Merl Reagle Sunday Crosswords
Merl Reagle Sunday Crosswords
by Merl Reagle
Edition: Paperback
10 used & new from CDN$ 22.24

5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Sunday Crosswords!, June 15 2000
Merl Reagle has twice been named the "Best Sunday Crossword Creator in America" by "Games" Magazine. I heartily agree with that distinction. Reagle's puzzles (which appear weekly in the L.A. Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, and other newspapers) are consistently witty, inventive, challenging, and very entertaining. He has a sense of humor and creativity that make his puzzles a delight to solve. They are hard enough to be a fun challenge, but not so hard that you they are unsolvable. I find that I can usually complete them all, with the exception of a word or two.
Another thing that distinguishes Reagle's work is his wonderful themes. He loves to play with the long answers, using inventive tricks that rise above the simple puns that most Sunday puzzles use. (A couple of favorites: a "Low-Fat" crossword in which the letters "l-a-r-d" are left out of some of the words; "Buggy Baseball" with answers like "seventh inning scratch.")
I've been working my way through Reagle's puzzle books and I haven't gotten tired of them yet. I think the collected volumes of his puzzles now number 8. They all come highly recommended.

Metropolitan [Import]
Metropolitan [Import]
VHS

4.0 out of 5 stars A Gatsby for the 90s, June 15 2000
This review is from: Metropolitan [Import] (VHS Tape)
This 1990 film by writer-director Whit Stillman is wonderfully refreshing and intelligent. It is sure to please audiences with a taste for the avant-garde or those just looking for something a little different.
The story follows a group of upper-crust New York preppies during the Christmas debutante season. These are kids for whom black-tie balls at the Plaza Hotel and charming little soirees in Park Avenue apartments are serious matters. They are the UHB-"urban haute bourgeoisie"-a social circle carrying out traditions so anachronistic as to seem alien; traditions, in fact, which were outdated before these characters were even born.
A middle class outsider and budding socialist named Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) happens into this elite group and briefly livens things up. He shocks them with his leftist rhetoric (he is a devotee of Fourier) and anti-deb outlook, but they nonetheless find themselves drawn to him. Tom finds a kindred spirit in the cynically fatalistic Nick (Christopher Eigeman). Nick is the most self-aware member of the inner circle and he provides comic relief with his devastating ongoing critique of their lives and behavior.
Stillman's characters seem to have everything going for them. They are bright and educated and come from very wealthy families. We learn, though, that privilege is both their blessing and their curse. These children of status are destined to always remain in the shadow of their very successful parents. As one of them puts it, "We're doomed to failure." We come to realize that even though they are well-off in many ways, they still must struggle with the same insecurities and fears as the rest of us.
The characters in "Metropolitan" are the kind of people that F. Scott Fitzgerald knew so well. Indeed, if Fitzgerald had been a director rather than a writer, this is the type of film he might have made. It is intelligent and literate with dialogue that almost crackles with its liveliness and wit. "Metropolitan" gives us a rare glimpse into a world that scarcely exists anymore, if it ever really did. It is a real treasure.

Othello (1952)
Othello (1952)
DVD ~ Orson Welles
Offered by OMydeals
Price: CDN$ 213.45
5 used & new from CDN$ 60.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare & Welles--A Brilliant Combination!, June 13 2000
This review is from: Othello (1952) (DVD)
If people today remember Orson Welles at all, it is probably as the pitchman who would "sell no wine before its time." The more "film literate" might know him as the director of "Citizen Kane." Most, though, will be unaware that he directed a number of other outstanding pictures that rank among the very best. "Othello" is one of those.
Incredibly, "Othello" was filmed over a three year period from 1949 to 1952, in nine different cities in Morocco and Italy. Welles never did assemble adequate financing for the film, so he was forced to shoot in a series of small spurts. They would work until his money ran out, then he would rush off to take acting jobs to raise cash to start filming again.
One scene-between Othello (Orson Welles) and Iago (Michael MacLiammoir) on the beach-starts on one continent and ends on another, a full year later. Somehow, though, Welles kept the whole picture alive in his head. He also improvised when he had to. On the day when they were to film Iago's attempt to murder Cassio (Michael Laurence), the necessary costumes had not yet arrived. Welles quickly moved the action to a Turkish bath where he could dress his actors in only towels and sheets. It is now one of the most effective scenes of the film.
As was typical of Welles, he took many liberties with Shakespeare's text, trimming it to a tight ninety-one minutes and cutting out the comedy. The story now begins and ends with the funerals of Desdemona (Suzanne Cloutier) and Othello; scenes not contained in the orginal, but done here to good effect. (For those of an auteurist bent, "Citizen Kane" and "Mr. Arkadin" also open with the deaths of the main character.)
The first words of the film, spoken by Iago are, "I hate the Moor." Thus Welles tells us right from the beginning what the play is about. (He later did the same thing in "The Trial.") Iago hates Othello and he will stop at nothing to bring about his downfall. He chooses Othello's wife Dedemonna as his tool to undo him, cunningly manipulating the Moor until his natural jealousy turns to murderous madness.
A familiarity with Shakespeare's play will help ease viewers' passage through the film. The action is sometimes confusing, a fact not aided by the total dubbing of the dialogue-much of it by Welles himself. Although, his brilliant vision may have been hampered by his scant resources, it was not destroyed. Welles remained committed to telling the story visually, as well as through Shakespeare's prose, and he succeeded magnificently.
This is no mere filmed play. It is a stunning work created by one of the greatest artists the cinema has ever known. If, ultimately, it is more Welles' "Othello" than Shakespeare's, we are still the richer because of it.

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