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Unfinished Business: Memoirs: 1902-1988
Unfinished Business: Memoirs: 1902-1988
by John Houseman
Edition: Paperback
12 used & new from CDN$ 6.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Unputdownable, March 23 2002
When I started this book, I had no idea who John Houseman was, other than that he was vaguely associated with theatre arts. From page one, I was hooked. I had just finished "Goldwyn" by A. Scott Berg, and was pleasantly surprised to find many similar names - people, places, movies, plays. The book is well written, with a novelist's pleasure in words and phrases. John Houseman, with no false modesty, but with no avoidance of the fame and honour that came later either, tells his own, remarkable and colourful story. A tale that chronicles, in a unique way, the history of American theatre since 1918 or so to the 1980s. What makes John Houseman's life interesting to read about is not only the famous people he worked with (and the famous collaboration with Orson Welles plays a significant yet overall only a small part in the complete story), but also Houseman's own personality: born of a Jewish-Alsatian father and a British (Welsh-Irish) mother, Houseman grew up in Europe and was educated in Britain before leaving for Argentina and then the US. He jumped at exciting opportunities throughout his life, and did not let facts like complete lack of experience or qualifications deter him! He produced, directed, managed, helped write scripts and screenplays, started theatres and theatrical programs, got into movies, radio, the Voice of America, and much later television and acting. He doesn't seem to have been much of a father or husband, but this does not detract from his fascinating and inspiring story. My only gripe was the large number of typos (in the Applause paperback 1989 version).

Keeping the Books: Basic Recordkeeping and Accounting for the Small Business, Plus Up-To-Date Tax Information
Keeping the Books: Basic Recordkeeping and Accounting for the Small Business, Plus Up-To-Date Tax Information
by Linda Pinson
Edition: Paperback
17 used & new from CDN$ 3.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Bookkeeping for dummies - brilliant!, March 23 2002
When I started my first business, I found this book priceless: step-by-step instructions on how to keep business accounts and what accounts need keeping, and when to update them. The appendix contains templates of all the major records needed for a small business. For someone who knew nothing this was a real lifebelt. Very easy to read, and immediately useful.

Billy Elliot (Widescreen)
Billy Elliot (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Jamie Bell
Price: CDN$ 14.99
39 used & new from CDN$ 2.26

4.0 out of 5 stars Another gritty winner from northern England, March 23 2002
This review is from: Billy Elliot (Widescreen) (DVD)
If successful films made money for their locales, northern England would be rolling in it: Little Voice, Brassed Off, The Full Monty, Chicken Run, and "Billy Elliot" (aka Little Dancer). This movie has a similar background of mining communities and strikes, but the "odd man out" is even more out of step with everyone else: a boy who prefers ballet to boxing, and his friend who wears his sister's dresses when she's out. I enjoyed this movie enough to buy the DVD. Several scenes stick in my memory: a pillow fight between Billy and his ballet teacher's daughter, full of pubescent sexual tension; and Billy's dad, turned "scab" to pay for Billy's ballet career, riding the police-guarded bus through the picket lines; and Billy and his teacher dancing in the gym.
The tension in Billy himself between his environment's "boys don't do ballet" attitudes and his own love of dancing is nicely played out. I felt everyone came around to a supportive position a little too easily and predictably, like, "Come on, there's only a 30 minutes of this movie left, so we better gather round and drop all the negativity", but that may be a comment on the editing rather than the acting or direction. The colours and photography were great, tho the winter scenes were so completely unconvincing it was funny! And Jamie Bell himself is brilliant - his acting even more than his dancing. This is an interesting story, about the difficulty of growing up without a mother, about breaking social and sexual expectations; it is NOT a movie about miners or politics. Too bad about the swearing, which, like "Little Voice" makes me hesitant to heartily recommend this movie for kids, who would otherwise enjoy it.

Goldwyn: A Biography
Goldwyn: A Biography
by A. Scott Berg
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 29.92
34 used & new from CDN$ 2.13

5.0 out of 5 stars Rags to riches, March 17 2002
This review is from: Goldwyn: A Biography (Paperback)
What a story! A remarkably easy to read account of Sam Goldwyn's rags-to-riches life. Did you know "Goldwyn" was not his real name? Did you know he was thrown out of the MGM company after a few years?! Goldwyn worked at some stage or other with just about every famous name in the business, and also fell out with just about everybody he ever met. A cantankerous and perverse character who loved contradicting people. When people quit because he made their lives intolerable, he sometimes felt personally attacked and betrayed. The book is full of colourful characters, and Scott Berg has done a wonderful job of using quotations and dialogues to really bring these people alive: Gary Cooper, Marlon Brando, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Lillian Hellman, William Wyler, Billy Wilder, and the remarkable Hilda Berl. It reads like a movie! By tracing Goldwyn's history, the book also covers the story of many of the other famous movie companies that are still famous today: United Artists, Universal, Paramount, Warner Brothers, RKO and of course MGM. Goldwyn also came across many young actors and actresses before they were stars: Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, David Niven, Marlon Brando, John Wayne, etc. And of course the famous Goldwyn malapropisms are here, though limited to the ones actually traceable (as far as possible) to Goldwyn himself: "Anyone who sees a psychiatrist should have their head examined! Include me out! A verbal agreement isn't worth the paper it's written on," to pick just a few.
A remarkably well-written and well-researched biography that brings this vigorous, infuriating, yet oddly attractive ugly duckling to vibrant life. This must rank amongst the best biographies, up there with Ron Chernow's book about the Morgans. Anyone at all interested in movies and movie history will enjoy this.

The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance
The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance
by Ron Chernow
Edition: Paperback
42 used & new from CDN$ 0.77

4.0 out of 5 stars Running out of adjectives, Nov. 26 2001
A huge door-stopper of a book. I wouldn't have read it if a friend had
not recommended it. Once I'd started it, though, it grew on me: Chernow has written a very readable
personal history of real people, warts and all (literally!), in writing this history of perhaps
the most famous bank in the world.
Reviewing this book is not easy: one runs out of adjectives to describe
author Ron Chernow's success in handling the vast amounts of material
and information. I personally found the earlier parts (which are more about
individuals) more interesting and easier to read than the later parts (which,
as the times change, become more about larger numbers of smaller people; the
names and the companies proliferate to a mind-numbing swirl), and I lost interest
towards the end, skimming through to the parts that I found of particular
personal interest.
First, it's a history book, but one that not only impinges on the present
(I find out how Chase Manhattan and Citibanks were born, for instance)
but also comes right up to date (well, OK, it ends in the late 1980s).
Second, it's a history book that manages to be about both large-scale events
(like the 2 World Wars) and real, individual people (I learned that "J.P
Morgan" was actually 2 people - father and son). Chernow does a great
job of bringing all these people to life: many of them faced the same dilemmas as people today, and many of them (tho not all) were phenomenally successful, yet lived and died lonely, frustrated, or unhappy.
A fascinating tale, but definitely a book for a long vacation.

The Partner
The Partner
by John Grisham
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
251 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1.0 out of 5 stars A thriller??!? No way!, Nov. 13 2001
(...)I did not like this book. I read and enjoyed "The Firm", but this one is nowhere near as good.(...)
This is quite simply bad writing. The book starts well, with a man on the run finally being caught, but even as his captors start torturing him to find where he hid the $90 million, his friends are moving to help him. There is tension, there is excitement, there is a beautiful woman. Who will get to Patrick first? But after that it's all downhill. 1) Grisham cannot sustain suspense. Far too many pages are taken up explainig how things were done when the reader already knows the outcome. No tension at all! 2) Grisham does not seem to understand the narrative function of dialogue versus narrative. He merely uses dialogue when 2 or more characters are talking to each other! His dialogue is sometimes almost good - we get some wit and cut and thrust, which is almost totally absent in the narrative - but mostly it's very humdrum. 3) The ending is poor because it is almost completely unprepared. A good ending can shock, but the reader should be able to look back in the narrative and find clues that prepare for it. I only found 2 and they are very weak. 4) Grisham is too thorough, like his protagonist who has everything planned. The only tension left is to find out what really happened and how he did it. And this is explained in painstaking and boring detail. For example, Grisham spends several pages first telling the real story of who (or what) was burned in his car "accident", THEN drags us through the whole business of contacting the relatives and digging up the coffin and opening it to find... exactly what we knew was in there all along! No guessing necessary. Patrick refuses to reveal the name of the dead person, but this is description of a legal tactic; it provides no narrative tension because the reader already knows! "They left Biloxi in Sandy's Lexus". Who gives a *** about the brand of car? It plays absolutely no role whatever in the story. All it does is say, "See? Characters in my book are rich and successful! When they make the movie, this should be a clue to the director!" Poor editing. In one scene in which a female (sexist stereotyping) takes notes of a meeting, Grisham explains to the reader that the note-takers in the previous meeting were now unavailable because they had gone back to headquarters. Who cares? This is just anal attention to pointless detail, realistic maybe, but narratively meaningless!
5) The characters are not developed at all, they are all just 2-dimensional, even the protagonist. The main female lead, Eva, has been desribed as "the love interest", but there is almost no tenderness or real expression of love in the whole novel at all! Patrick is clearly a control-freak who is so into faultless planning (which becomes the focus of the book) that he has no time left for any finer feelings, or even any feelings at all, except a few trite "I love yous". Grisham grossly neglected the fun part of the whole deal. Compare "The Girl, the Gold Watch, and everything".
Booring! A very thorough and clever story by a writer very familiar with the legal world. But a THRILLER?!?? NO WAY! Grisham should take lessons from Agatha Christie.

Hanging Up
Hanging Up
DVD ~ Diane Keaton
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 25.76
41 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars "Hang up" ... and connect, Sept. 10 2001
This review is from: Hanging Up (DVD)
I don't know what upset so many people about this movie - it's light, not deep, so what else is new in movies? OK, Diane Keaton is waaay too old to play the older sister of Lisa Kudrow, but hey, this happens all the time in theatre, remember the musical "Peter Pan"?
Meg Ryan and Lisa Kudrow and Diane Keaton are all fun and pretty to watch. Problems with the movie are, as many have pointed out, problems with the script: why have a FOREIGN woman be the one with the wisdom? I suspect the simple reason is, "that's how it happened", because it has dramatic implications that don't seem to have been thought through (Americans are not only maniacally busy, they're also too STUPID and cut off from their roots to know what to do about it). OK, so the Iranian doctor has a cute accent, but is that reason enough to put him AND his mother in a movie? Yes, it's a Meg Ryan vehicle, but I didn't feel that was a drawback. Walter Matthau is funny as always, playing the irascible, unpredictable and irreverent old grouch. But his character has little depth, he's just a foil for the daughters (and I didn't buy the scene where he gatecrashes his grandson's birthday party); he doesn't change or grow, repent or regret anything; age just withers him.
The movie is light and what else could a director do with this material but make it a laugh-and-cry comedy? Parents age, grow dotty, and die; when they do, we tend to forget all the bad things and recall only the good; and death brings people together. Nothing earth-shattering there. The real theme of the movie is not aging parents or death, but dealing with stress. We're MEANT to feel irritated by all the phone calls, and stressed by trying to keep track of who is talking to who. Some people feel bound by duty and burn themselves out because they don't know how to say "no", and Meg is one such person. A very funny scene is when Meg finally twigs, and goes round the house ripping all the phones out - it didn't occur to her that she could simply just stop answering them! And we never see the kind old woman again.
Do we really have to see all 3 sisters' faces crying at the death-bed of their father? It would have been just as effective to have them crying off-screen, but no! we have to be shown that ALL 3 are GREAT actresses because they can all equally cry effectively on camera. And Lisa Kudrow has demonstrated time and again in "Friends" that she is excellent at expressing pain and grief with just her face and her body; she doesn't need to be given explicit lines like "I really feel grief and hurt to see my father die". And why did they have to wear black all the time? Except at the very end when only Meg wore white, why? To show that she has "hung up" but the others haven't learned that life-lesson yet? Or to show that she is the one that brought
them all together? It jarred a bit because the final scene is all about "sisterhood" and "having fun together", where egos are finally laid to rest (temporarily). The final shot, drawing back from the 3 sisters goofing around, was very effective - too effective, I felt, for the rest of the movie. It seemed to suggest, "and one day, these 3 laughing spirits will also pass away, as their father has done", but of course that kind of perspective would have jarred the fluffy, light tone.

Goodfellas
Goodfellas
VHS
Offered by Great Deals 4 U
Price: CDN$ 18.88
9 used & new from CDN$ 2.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing good about these fellas, Sept. 10 2001
This review is from: Goodfellas (VHS Tape)
Pauline Kael wrote: "Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" has a lift." Well,
not for me it didn't. It's a well-made movie, tho the dialogue falls
flat at times: the colours, the lighting, the camera angles, it's
all very well done. Compare De Niro's "Bronx Tale" which all seems to
take place in boring daylight or brightly lit interiors. "Goodfellas" opens
with an atmospheric car interior. When the wiseguys get out and stand
around the boot (from which the strange knocking sound is coming), they
are lit by the ominously blood-red rear lights of the car.
But as for the characters, all I could think throughout this movie was
"they're stupid!" As in "Bronx Tale", the story is told (mostly) from one
point of view - Henry Hill, who, as a kid who lives in the area of a mob, admires them, then
grows up to be one of them. We see what he sees of them, but not what he sees
in them: without Henry's explanation, we would have no idea.
As Pauline Kael wrote, we see all the characters from the outside only -
I didn't get a sense of them from the inside at all. When a close friend
is assassinated by the very mob he's in, De Niro's character goes nuts,
but does it give him pause for thought? Does he question his loyalty?
Apparently not: he goes berserk, then gets over it, and life goes on
as before.
Joe Pesci's character offhandedly kills a young boy who annoyed him.
The cold-blooded murder seems to upset Henry Hill, but again it's only
momentary and quickly forgotten. Did this and other sickening acts of
violence (burying a body then having to dig it up again 6 months later,
for instance) lead him to turn traitor in the end? The movie gives no
clue.
When Henry runs out of luck and money, and comes to boss Pauly for
cash and forgiveness, he repents, and Pauly gives him something but
then turns his back forever. Because we don't know what is really
going on in Henry's mind, the tears of contrition sound and LOOK fake.
Henry is incensed at the tiny amount of money Pauly gives him (a mere
$3,200!), yet Pauly comes out of the scene with more moral integrity
and generosity of spirit than Henry. This makes Henry's final betrayal
seem an ignoble thing, and perhaps it's meant to.
The early part of the movie describes the early part of Henry Hill's
membership in the clan, and it's all positive - the thrills, the money, the glamour, the girls, the power. The latter part is how
all this unravels. Yet the movie's opening scene comes from the latter
part of the story, and therefore shows us the extremely violent side of being
a gangster right from the start. This doesn't make sense in terms of
narrative, only in it's shock value: it's certainly a scene that grabs
you by the gut, and makes you terrified of Joe Pesci's character from
then on in.
For me, the glitter and excitement of a gangster's life is so clearly outweighed
(in the movie) by the tawdriness, the violence, simply the consequences of a gangster's
actions that there was never a moment when I didn't think "they're complete idiots!",
and I think this is the movie's biggest detraction. Apparently Henry never thought
his wife might not like him having a mistress (she doesn't) and might do something
about it (she does!). When Henry and Jimmy beat up a recalcitrant client, they never
think his wife might not like it (she doesn't) and might go to the police (she does!).
When Tommy murders a "made man", all 3 realize he did a stupid thing, but pretty soon
they forget about it and assume everyone else does, too (they don't).
I didn't come out feeling uplifted or exhilirated; I didn't come out feeling I'd learned something about human nature, that gangsters are human and have the same doubts and hopes as the rest of humanity; instead I came out feeling terribly superior: these guys have garlic for brains, they're complete morons! Watch out for Henry's wife, Karen (Lorraine Bracco - a great performance). As the credits roll, we hear Sid Vicious doing his trashy send-up of Sinatra's famous "My Way", and for me that says it all: these guys thought they were it, but their very arrogance was rubbish, not even the nobility of a tragic downfall.

Are You Somebody?: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman
Are You Somebody?: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman
by Nuala O'Faolain
Edition: Paperback
86 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars The book deserves the question mark, July 26 2001
The puffs on the front and back covers are impressive, but what I read between them left me somewhat disappointed. A brave book, certainly, because her mistakes, her failures and her loneliness come starkly through. The constant name-dropping in the middle section gets boring quickly, and comes as a surprise after the title (which suggests an anonymous drudge, not nationally famous journalist, daughter of an even more famous journalist), and of the constant repetition of "poverty" (it's only much later that it becomes clear to the reader, if not the author, that the problem is neglect, abuse and alcoholism rather than impecuity). The best part of the book is an afterword, which includes comments and letters to her from people who've read her book: this part helped me understand the book's appeal - an honest expression of pain and hope - and also made clear what the theme of the book really is: the struggle to come to terms with an abused childhood and alcoholic parents. Unlike some other reviewers here, I found no wisdom in the book at all: the book proper ends with a question mark, like the original title, and that says everything. An honest account by a brave but confused and dysfunctional woman.

Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money-That the Poor and the Middle Class Do Not!
Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money-That the Poor and the Middle Class Do Not!
by Robert T. Kiyosaki
Edition: Paperback
171 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A highly stimulating read., July 25 2001
OK, you've read the editorials, and maybe some of the other reviews here. I have a comfortable income, but from a single source, and am starting my own business, and I found this book fascinating and very useful. The author believes understanding and education (not necessarily of the school variety) are key elements if one seriously wants to become wealthy: if you are looking for specific details on what to do, when and how, you will be disappointed. The book does not advocate one particular way to earn money, tho the author uses some examples from his own experience of buying real-estate. This book is not "Finance For Dummies". It doesn't even have an index. The book is part narrative: it tells the story of how the author learned from his rich "Dad". The rich Dad sounds like an excellent teacher, probably better than the author, whose writing style is a little flat. Being a teacher myself, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how rich Dad taught his 2 "kids", and I agree with Kiyosaki's approach to learning and teaching. Not being a big business owner or high-flying investor, I cannot vouch for the financial details in the book. However, I think it does a great job of pointing out the fact that "financial literacy" is just as important and vital as "computer literacy": one is taught in school, the other isn't. It also does a great job of starting to teach me (hate math, no good with figures) about financial literacy: I appreciated the simple language and the diagrams (OK some of the narrative is a little hokey). The present economic climate has outgrown the old reality of "get a good education, a stable job with good benefits and you're all set." For me, it was a wake-up call. I immediately bought the other 2 in the series, and I want to try the game. I don't think this book is just a scam to get rich: if it was, I think Kiyosaki would have made sure his book is a success by spending a lot more on advertising than he actually did - almost nothing.

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