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x_bruce (Oak Park, ILLINOIS United States)

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Encyclopaedia Britannica 2004 Deluxe Edition
Encyclopaedia Britannica 2004 Deluxe Edition
2 used & new from CDN$ 168.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still one of the best sources for information, Jan. 9 2004
The title says it all. Encyclopeadia Britannica 2004 Deluxe Edition features the entire 33 volume books, additonal volumes starting at 1993, Webster's dictionary, theasaurus, articles from the people who made history including notibles like Albert Einstein, world maps and a functional interface that has some problems with the search function and being somewhat sluggish.
The critisism of old information may be true although I profess, I don't spend that much time focusing on one region of the world that changes incredibly quickly. Articles are in-depth and well notated. The language is at times almost poetic and on occasion technically intimidating. The difference between this and the more expensive version may help those of us that want to read about sub-atomic particles without needing to take notes. Yet this attention to detail is why Encyclopeadea Britanica is so world acclaimed. The information on complex subjects is written to the complexity of the subject. Read articles on domesticated house pets and you won't drown in a sea of formulae and densely written text. At it's best Encyclopadea Britannica brings new detail to the subject at hand. Looking over the word "drum" brought about a scholarly response with unexpected richness while at the other end of the spectrum was the Britannica's discussion on Zappa, Frank - typing it in as Frank Zappa gets you nowhere, the strict adherence of proper language important as the flowery prose written about the deceased Composer/Rock Star/Satirist. Zappa would be having a good laugh at the cereberal treatment of his work. Encyclopaedia Britannica takes itself seriously if not laboriously.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica 2004 Ultimate Reference Suite may make some discussions a bit easier as there are three versions based on school age along with dictionary tools of similar age groupings. You get about 5000 extra multimedia elements which are probably interesting but hardly necessary. The reference suite seems age based in a completeist way.
Encyclopaedia Britannica 2004 Deluxe Edition has the same tools as it's larger, higher priced version. It stays within the adult realm. This is a serious thing to consider as you are expected to have well rounded educational skills in this adult version. Having not used this software before it is hard to say the quality is better or worse than previous editions. The updates are generally dated at 2002 as are the Encarta discussions.
One major difference is getting to additional information. You get a full year's worth of content updates opposed to Encarta's fixed date of October 2004. You also are spared having to open an extra internet account (MSN) which Encarta asks of you. Premium services are available for 60 days with an offer to purchase an extra year of premium services at $25. This is slightly less than half price should you join Britannica's online service for 12 months. Again, with Encarta you must become a MSN user with a flat fee of $4.95 a month for their premium service which is often where the expanded content is.
Therefore, Encyclopaedia Britannica is a better value and doesn't tie you into propriatary services, a real disincentive when you have high speed access and are expected to pay for much of the depth of Encarta's information.
What you need to consider is:
1. how do you best learn? If it is visually then you may find Britannica to be a bit on the boring side. As one that enjoys visuals I can say I don't miss them in the face of so much inforation available within Encyclopaedia Britannica. But in terms of media and a fun quotient Encarta is hard to beat.
2. what education level are you comfortable learning in? Again, Encyclopaedia Britannica doesn't compromise much. There is more substance here but with the expectation you will put effort into checking areas you are unfamiliar with. This is very much a encyclopedia in the real sense of the word. But for the good cross reference tools and links to other sites you are reading a book, not "experiencing" information which is Encarta's strongest point and weakest point at once.
3. should you upgrade? Based on others who seem hell bent to pummel this excellent CD set it seems the answer is no. It may be better to stick with Britannica's web solution instead.
In conclusion, Encarta beats Britannica hands down in terms of interface, performance speed and colorful content. But Britannica's best suit is the addition of a theasauras, dictionary, world map, study tools and content. Britannica also has vastly more detail and articles, it's Year in Review books from 1993 to 2002 along with about the same up to date material as Encarta. In terms of comparing software it isn't fair to compair Encarta Deluxe with Britannica Deluxe, the amount of additional material in Britannica Deluxe compares favorably with Encarta Reference Library where again, Britannica wins in most every catagory of information.
I can't give Britannica five stars due to it's slower operation and less developed interface. Nor could I give it any less than 4 stars based on information and find it astonishing that reviewers here are so rough on this wonderful software. Should you want the best of both worlds I'd suggest both Britannica and Encarta but I would also warn you that Encarta Reference Library is the way to go as it is substantially more developed than Encarta Deluxe.
Of the two Britannica is the superior package, providing comprehensive knowledge is what you are looking for.

Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2004 (Small Box)
Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2004 (Small Box)

4.0 out of 5 stars Building on an already attractive encyclopedia, Jan. 8 2004
In my review for Encarta Deluxe 2004 my basic points were...
1. if you are a visual learner and not in upper division classes from High School onward Encarta has a great deal to offer at an attractive price.
2. if you need detailed articles Britianica is probably the better purchase as there are more subjects and more intensive treatment of them.
If you are still hovering on which to get and you do not need the kind of detail Britanica has you will appreciate this expanded Resource package. In Encarta Reference Library 2004 Microsoft pulls out all the multimedia stops and delivers a highly entertaining and educating encyclopedia that is a pleasure to simply roam around. The additional African Encyclopedia, Maps, extra content and lots of additonal useful information such as quotes and a very nice section on world musical instruments complete with the sound and ensemble works of these exotic instruments most of us otherwise would be unexposed to.
The dictionary and theasaurus are suited to the content and tie in nicely with the standard information. The result is a rich and involving multimedia learning experience. That makes Encarta Reference Library 2004 indespensible for casual and younger readers. While it is a nice gesture including the African Encarta the extra detail paid Africa at times seems disproportionate in it's importance compared to the rest of the reference libraries content.
While this may be an unpopular thing to say it is almost verging on political correctness. While I applaud a deeper, and to some degree necesary involvement of African cultues contribution to the world I would have liked seeing a bit more attention paid the existing areas that are a little underdeveloped like political science, world history and the sciences.
This is a minor quibble and the material on Africa is exceptionally well produced. Still, I think I'd rather hear and read more of Dr. King and Malcom X, or more detail about the Chicago 7 trial. No matter what, if you enjoy this well rounded multimedia experience. It is hard to imagine almost anyone not impressed with this exceptional program.

Storytelling [Import]
Storytelling [Import]
DVD ~ James Van Der Beek
Offered by Imagine This Music
Price: CDN$ 36.99
9 used & new from CDN$ 12.06

5.0 out of 5 stars Reality for the hell of it, May 22 2003
This review is from: Storytelling [Import] (DVD)
Storytelling, based on two acts, on first glance may appear to be somewhat unreleated. But there are fine points to the ever downward spiraling hell that is Todd Solondz's vision.
In part one we see the story of a disfigured and disabled student and his lover, she doesn't want to hear his revised story. Things start sinking with their eventual breakup. This leads to an encounter that is humiliating and in a story characterized as rape. More bad things happen and we get to examine what exactly is 'fiction' and 'reality'?
The answer depends upon the viewer. One take is the humiliation is a form of rape, if not physical, then emotional. And there is no question that issue is fair game, but so is the choice the character makes in a series of smaller humiliations which leads to her crushing experience. Or perhaps the another train of thought is don't get involved with self-absorbed (fill in your favorite invective).
The second, longer segment is about a slacker type filmmaker. He has a mid-life issue and focuses on school days 20 years ago, in particular High School. This leads him on a search for a subject which he finds after some rejections. Eventually he finds his subject in Scooby, a seemingly lost person that doesn't seem all that removed from his documentor.
As the documentary unfolds and we see the life beyond the documentary we meet the seemingly normal American nuclear family. We see the disagreements between siblings, the disinterest between family members and their various stages of being out of touch with reality...courtesy of, that's right, suburbia. Now this could easily be a film killer as Solodnz has done three films about (sub)uban decay and has managed to outrage and get laughs at the expense of this sub-culture. Thankfully there is some seeming self-deprecation in this segment of Storytelling.
As the plot progresses betrayals of all kinds and sizes occur with different results concluding in a - depending on your way of thinking - ironic or sick ending. I lean towards ironic and intentionally ambigious to one of the major characters. There seems to be a lot of self awareness in Storytelling, the other thing that could easily kill a film. What keeps this film fresh is it's black humor and it's premise.
In the end the meaning between both parts of the whole is fiction is just another form of reality, that those that want to ignore parts of their existance do so and lead a fictional life. Conversely, those that deal in fiction find themselves within the story whether intentional or not. The way we percieve reality and fiction are a fine line and one Storytelling does a fine job of getting across even if it isn't evident immediately.

Adaptation (Superbit) (Bilingual) [Import]
Adaptation (Superbit) (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Nicolas Cage
Offered by Deal Beat
Price: CDN$ 21.99
40 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars antiHollywood, May 22 2003
Keeping things simple, Adaptation is a fine example of a near-Escher logic and structure. Things turn in on themselves and never quite appear as they seem.
Nicholas Cage gives two excellent performances as a seriously on the edge screenwriter with a ton of problems, in particular no way to write a story based on a book he admires that has little action and is about orchids, not a winning formular for a screenplay.
This could have gotten sophomoric easily and to the film's credit and the fine acting of the cast instead we see twists and turns within the mind and within the plot. Reality faces inner monologue and inner monologue becomes reality...oh, and the film is non-linear which takes the viewer on a sensory rollercoaster ride.
Truths are told as the convoluted story, which is fairly easy to follow, makes it's way through something you'd expect to read in a gonzo, prozac gone bad, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas kind of way.
The last 30 minutes (or if you prefer third act)change in tone and style, collapsing in mood and sudden linear exposition and action. On first viewing it was a bit of a disappointment but watching the film a second time it was a good choice and made sense.
An entertaining film and enlightening. You learn a lot about the creative process and the toll it can take on writers if you come away with nothing else, and there are many other areas explored. Adaptation is one of the few films that is fun to watch, challenging and not so arty as to be condecending to the audience which is probably how it got made. That and the success of Being John Malcovich by the same screenwriter/director team. Adaptation is everything a film should be.

25th Hour
25th Hour
DVD ~ Edward Norton
Price: CDN$ 4.88
51 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Squeezing sentiment out of a jaded man, May 22 2003
This review is from: 25th Hour (DVD)
After reading many of the reviews and sharing a wary feeling about Spike Lee's frequent sledgehammer approach to subject matter I was genuinely touched by 25th Hour. The acting is superb with Norton and cast running with the script and to his credit Spike Lee helping to get these three dimensional performances.
All the ballyhoo over 9.11 and it's unnecessary backdrop misses the point. Those that think it detracts from 25th Hour say there is no point to adding the footage but as a counterpoint to several segments of the film the idea works without getting too heavy handed. There are a few moments of United States nationalism which may not play well to some but it's heartfelt, not manipulative.
The other critiques about Edward Norton being run through similar situations from Fight Club and American History X ring hollow. The narrative for one of the comparisons is very similar to the book, that Norton did a similar monolog as a different character in another film is blaming the film for how the adaptation of the book was made. Perhaps a fair critisim but within this story in this film the critisim speaks more of some viewer's dislike for the director. In this case blame it on the author/screenwriter if you must. The motivations are different and what the audience gets from the scene has no similarity. In the scene compared to Fight Club, again, there are different motivations and meanings. The comparison isn't valid.
As a fairly jaded urban dweller 25th hour, a film that doesn't have much of a linear story, is still gripping with it's portraits of people who make decisions and the effects they have upon themselves and others. As a character study 25th Hour is a success. The closing scene is both heartbreaking and reflective. It is a nice coda to the film's story and a excellent ending as well.

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (Widescreen) (Bilingual)
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (Widescreen) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Trey Parker
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 35.27
31 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Something offensive for everyone...., April 24 2003
One of the first things I thought after viewing South Park - Bigger, Longer & Uncut was 'this is everything the television show wanted to be but couldn't'. I really wish South Park was on HBO or some other channel that didn't have to worry about language and content censorship.
I hate musicals but here is the exception. The songs are dead on to broadway and older hollywood films and undermine that format perfectly. If not for the constant swearing and taboo subjects this could be the soundtrack to any children's film.
Satan pining away over living up there, meaning here.
The mole and his exceptionally intense views on god.
Saddam Hussein as the devil's love interest
Big Gay Al's musical number...anyone notice the name on the piano? If you don't know what it is look it up it's pretty wild.
Plot-wise Bigger, Longer & Uncut is very strong with plenty of barbs about popular culture, cultural icons, has been artists...none of which you need to know for the jokes to be funny. Demonstrating the V-Chip as a form of cussing control still is funny even though it now exists, and I'm sure kids everywhere cuss at it frequently depending on mom and dad.
Also, much of the humor is situational. Kenny in hell, Stan's quest for the clitoris. They're running gags but they hold up as plot points. And Cartman, the experiment of parental control by direct grafting of a V-Chip inside him that shocks him any time he swears.
The humor works as long as you don't get offended by it and there's enough offensive material to get under a lot of people's skin. But this is a great film to stop thinking and just laugh. As I said, I'm not one for musicals but the songs had me laughing along with some hackneyed direction that made them perfect.
Part of the whole South Park thing is having a laugh at your own weirdness and taking a break from being civil. Here the intensity is cranked up a few notches but in all South Park - Bigger, Longer & Uncut is very funny.
It would have been nice with more features or commentary tracks but hey, it's still a fun film that'll teach you and your kids new and better ways of verbally abusing one another. :)

American Psycho
American Psycho
by Bret Easton Ellis
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.08
63 used & new from CDN$ 1.25

3.0 out of 5 stars Easton's stab at ironic horror, April 23 2003
This review is from: American Psycho (Paperback)
I read this book twice, when first pubished and recently. At the first reading I had to make a decision on whether I wanted to finish American Psycho or just say, ok, I get it, I get it, there's lots of trashy white people that have lots of money and leverage it as power. I get the obsessive irony, the faux humor, the gruesome killings where sometimes said humor is also injected. Having finished the book it left me cold. Nihilism for the sake of it doesn't work for me. Worse, if I read another Gen-X book I might go postal.
But there are things that make American Psycho either annoying or enthralling based on your perspectives. The almost numbing attention to detail. If there's a item of clothing it can not be called a sweater, nor a red sweater, nor a tailor made fit in a classic design, a sweater trancending time with it's burgandy warmth and form fitting shoulders.
Even the last example of description, a intentionally poor style of writing makes Ellis' description and attention to detail as viewed through his anti-hero's mind seem terse. It's about a nut and his skewed look on life, I get it, I get it. And every so often let's throw in some gruesome violence to punctuate that point. Let's once again do a Bret Easton Ellis deconstruction on wealth in the hands of the children of yuppie scum. I get it, I get it!
The violence in American Psycho is some of the most disturbing I've read although that is actually a compliment. At times the uber-degeneracy is wildly creative. The problem is there are no sympathetic characters, just a bunch of self involved drifting souls that live hedonistic lives and are depraved or indifferent. Ok Bret, I get it!
After many years I revisited the world of Justin Bateman and still find the satire of spoiled kids now spoiled whining adults annoying. Ellis is a good writer and makes his case well in American Psycho. I knew people like the ones populating American Psycho and Ellis' prior novels.
What I don't like in his writing is his two dimensional characters, characters that could easily be him. American Psycho's themes are old and the book's approach is creative but there is nothing to connect to here, nothing close to a sympathetic character and nothing resembling anything beyond a melting down narrarator's perspective on the cheapening of life, vacuity of emotions or any view close to human. Even psychopaths have their moments, but not in this over the top book.

Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor
DVD ~ Ben Affleck
Offered by WonderBook-USA
Price: CDN$ 66.79
15 used & new from CDN$ 4.33

3.0 out of 5 stars A good argument for the DVD format, April 23 2003
This review is from: Pearl Harbor (DVD)
While far from historically accurate and not even much of a good love story you get a lot of mishmash in Pearl Harbor. While nowhere as annoyed as many reviewers and accepting that films take license with reality Pearl Harbor was an acceptable film.
The acting is neither terrible nor good, split right down the middle, probably more to do with directing than acting. The script can't decide if it's a love story or war film although by the trailers and teasers it appeared to be a war film, especially as the press junket tours indicated.
That is the biggest problem, deceptive marketing.
What Pearl Harbor reminds me of is 30s and 40s war films brought to technicolor and with lots of gloss in modern Hollywood style.
There is good news with the DVD sets however. The material including two History Channel documentaries, the cursory making of documentaries and much more are uniformly excellent and provide more insight and entertainment than the film.
To conclude. Based on your acceptance of how films are made you'll love or hate it, or if you can get out of technical mode and just watch Pearl Harbor for entertainment you'll probably feel you saw a decent film. If you're a history buff you will be offended and if you're a love story fan you will probably be annoyed to some degree with all this annoying and gory war stuff going on. It's easy to understand the outrage some history and war buffs have and they have every right to be angry at being marketed by a film that is half romantic fantasy - and not as horribly realized as some make it out to be - but edited or scripted poorly. I suspect editing but have to give all negativity to the direction of this film. It is the director's job to give a film it's tone, it's character and to do so by making decisions about what kind of story to tell. Unconventional writing isn't a bad thing, three act books, plays, films are often the stereotypical kind of things many people object to here.
Pearl Harbor was made to make money and anyone who thought otherwise is foolish. Films like "Saving Private Ryan" are the exception to the norm, they are great films - period. Pearl Harbor is war story lite.
Th main reason to buy Pearl Harbor, especially the 4 disc set is for the documentaries and shorts that do a vastly better job of telling the story of Pearl Harbor. They are less ponderous than Pearl Harbor, the film.
Film: 2 1/2
Extras: 4
Print to DVD: 4

No Title Available

4.0 out of 5 stars A flawed favorite, April 16 2003
I've been using Bryce since it was ported to Windows at version 2.0. My impressions were, this is great but I can spend a brief eternity waiting for it to render. As features were added and stability was addressed we get to Bryce 5 which does a nice job of creating interesting 3D images. Created to be a nature designer Bryce 5 offers import and texture mapping of several 3D objects. This is important as it's nice to sometimes add buildings, animals or humans to pictures you design. The modeling tools are designed for natural scene creation but it is easy to create indoor scenes, 2D style studies and combinations of styles.
The renderer is excellent with many options for developing your world. Bryce's interface has always been unique but intuitive. Still you will want to read the bland manual. After market books are poor to acceptable - beware of books depending on you purchasing modeling packages or 3D clip art.
The animation options are acceptable for a program in this price range but aren't really suitable for much more than short clips, say 5 to 30 seconds. Even with a very fast, highly tweaked computer Bryce can crawl when rendering.
Some solutions are to keep your animations simple and turn off the antiailising, on smaller frame sizes it is harder to notice and saves between 20 to 60% of render time. If developing stills make your picture slightly larger and don't use antiailising, go into your favorite graphics editor and resize. You will get faster renders and usually no jagged edges. For fun and small projects Bryce is great. It is priced to be appealing to the home user that isn't necessarily an artist but will certainly learn as they compose and develop scenes and animations.
Bryce 5 is getting old and lacking in many modern features including the inability to take advantage of modern processors. Still, it is fun to work with and can create some of the most realistic landscapes or abstracts you can imagine. Bryce 5 expects little from the user, even it's learning curve is simple, especially for a 3D program, and has impressive results. Because of it's slow renderer it is not really a good professional solution although pro quality landscaping tools for high quality 3D programs cost three times Bryce's price and demand a general purpose 3D program well into the high hundred dollar to multi-thousand dollar solution.
If you were curious what you could do in the visual arts but currently don't have the talent you can realize many of your ideas in Bryce 5. Much of 3D graphics have more to do with physics than artistic skills. If you are good at visualizing Bryce 5 is an excellent and modest costing program.

Death to Smoochy (Widescreen) (Bilingual) [Import]
Death to Smoochy (Widescreen) (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Robin Williams
Offered by 5A/30 Entertainment
Price: CDN$ 63.93
20 used & new from CDN$ 2.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Whatever happened to being entertained?, April 16 2003
Death to Smoochy isn't going to win any awards for best script, best actor or best anything. It's a dark comedy that doesn't push messages down your throat nor cue you into laughing as so many comedies do. Actually, the lack of telegraphing humor makes Death to Smoochy more enjoyable.
Danny DeVito films are usually a bit twisted with humor tending to be dark by nature and Death to Smoochy is right within this niche. Edward Norton again shows his acting chops by playing what amounts to against character as the almost clueless but good hearted hero. Robin Williams delivers a good performance with a nice balance of his non-stop comedic blitz versus a desperate character who just happens to say ugly things that are funny within the context of the film.
But more importantly Death to Smoochy is fun to watch and lacks the flaws of straight out comedy. The plot and subject matter is actually interesting as are the multitude of situations found in the film.
I would recommend this to DeVito fans that enjoyed "The Battle of the Roses" or "Throw Mama From The Train". The laughs here are not bellyaches but more things that make you smile and chuckle. Non-stop humor is not here and central to enjoying this film is whether you can deal with the children show scenes. They are very well designed in a Mel Brooks kind of way, nowhere as elaborate as some of Brooks' musical numbers but of interesting complexity and surprisingly catchy rather than annoying songs.
The other interesting choice was the balance of sweet humor against some very dark humor and a bit of smutty humor added for good measure. Danny DeVito plays yet another slease-ball character and does a fine job with the films look and direction.
Most important Death to Smoochy holds up well on additonal viewings which makes it a good candidate for purchase.

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