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Reviews Written by
Christopher M. MacNeil "Chris M" (Fort Wayne, IN USA)
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Hours, the
Hours, the
VHS
3 used & new from CDN$ 14.34

4.0 out of 5 stars Life as an unfulfilled promise, Oct. 30 2003
This review is from: Hours, the (VHS Tape)
Exquisite and beautified by four flawless performances, "The Hours" is a period and character study of characters whose lives are, for whatever reason, unfulfilled and made unbearable by inner demons or the fates already pre-determined. Brilliant but tormented author Virginia Woolf's dark novel "Mrs. Dalloway" is the thread that connects the writer's character of 1921 and 1941 to those in 1951 and 2001. Each time frame has its own lead character painfully recognizing and then coming to terms somehow with the anquish and disappointments of their own lifes, and the power of the film is that each character superbly conveys the torment of their lives. Little wonder that Nicole Kidman, truly nearly unrecognizable, copped a richly deserved Best Actress Oscar for her devastating portrayal of the doomed Virginia Woolf. But, if it could have been, Oscars were as worthy for Julianna Moore as the '50s housewife who can't be contented with the facade of family harmony in that sedate decade, and for the incomparable Meryl Streep in her study of the contemporary character whose life seems to be lived as an extension of others. As a lifelong friend of Streep's character, actor Ed Harris delivers an equally painful and stirring performance as a gay man dying of AIDS. Far from being a "feel-good" movie, "The Hours" is an emotional experience for anyone who has hit the point when life doesn't seem to be enough and where the desperation stemming from absolute unhappiness can take us. Though it offers little to feel good about, the film is nonetheless a powerful force that begs the question how much of life each of us needs to be happy. The film's leads are no less powerful in conveying it and then looking for answers, some that, tragically, don't always exist. It's one of the best films of its type.

Wars Of Watergate
Wars Of Watergate
by Stanley Kutler
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.62
39 used & new from CDN$ 3.35

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The most comprehensive Watergate compilation, May 8 2003
This review is from: Wars Of Watergate (Paperback)
The Watergate break-in and coverup scandal that toppled the presidential administration of Richard Nixon is, maybe arguably, one of American history's watershed events. Why is clearly explained by Richard Kutler in his historically rich book that is very probably the most comprehensive and easily understood publication on the subject. Kutler begins with the approval by the president's men of the break-in at the headquarters in the Watergate complex of the National Democratic Committee and, after the plot's five burglars are nabbed, the conspiracy to cover up the involvement of the White House in the break-in. Kutler is rightly clear in pressing the point that there has never been any evidence that Nixon himself approved the break-in (that was OKed by the president's operatives). But, just six days after the June 17, 1972, break-in, Nixon ordered the coverup in the now infamous smoking gun taped conversation with chief of staff H.R. Haldeman. From the apprehension of the break-in's participants, Kutler takes us to the Senate investigative committee that gradually chipped away to lead to the articles of impeachment that were being advanced but not forwarded to the House because of Nixon's resignation. The number of participants in the Watergate affair is sheer numbing, but Kutler does a tremendous job in not getting his reader too bogged down in trying to keep the cast straight. In the end, though, the historical value of Kutler's contribution is why Watergate essentially redefined the presidency, how it altered the American public's perception of the nation's highest office and why and how the built-in safeguards against a tyrannical presidency worked. As for Nixon, it goes without saying he was a truly tragic figures whose pettiness sabotaged what could likely have been one of the most effective presidential administrations in history. Kutler concludes with a tantalizing question: assuming that Nixon did, to some extent, rehabilitate his public image in the years before his death, was that rehabilitation due to the fallen president's changing his character's fatal flaws, or was it because he simply out-lived most of what he called his "enemies?" All this and more in one of the most compelling documents in the Watergate fiasco.

Going the Other Way
Going the Other Way
by Billy Bean
Edition: Hardcover
26 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Courageous, the stuff of role models, April 8 2003
This review is from: Going the Other Way (Hardcover)
At its inception, "Going the Other Way ..." could easily have been little more than a professional athlete's bio of protecting his homosexuality in what remains one of the sexuality's near-hallowed taboo, and even going that far would be courageous. But ex-baseball player Billy Bean takes his private story further by not only coming out publicly but by submitting the subtle question if sexual orientation really has anything to do with a person's worth as a family member, friend and working in whatever profession. In doing so, Bean's story is a lesson not only in coming to terms privately but also in being accepted by rendering impotent the social tendency to over-use labels like straight, gay and bi. Until Bean made good his dream to play major league baseball, his story was essentially non-descript: a loving family supporting his athletic ambition, a straight A student, girlfriends, marriage to a breathtakingly beautiful woman. Bean's "wholesome" story becomes unique only when he actually makes the big leagues but has to stay in his closet to avoid the potential multi-dimensional issues associated with coming out. Remarkably, Bean's is both a baseball and coming-to-terms book, and he manages further to posit the thought that sexual orientation may actually have little to nothing to do with any person's total worth. Bean also goes into some detail about his gay sexual experiences and concludes he was bassically "lucky" to have dodged the fatal bullet of AIDS. Still, that portion of his narrative poses the thought that public discussion about homosexuality and AIDS, even by the anti-gay faction, may actually be productive in blunting activity that risks the disease. In the end, though, Bean's story is an important contribution in learning to accept oneself and by doing it in such a way to be accepted in general with little to no qualification of sexual orientation being a factor. Beyond that, Bean's story is a one of courage and unshakeable faith in his own worth as a human being, and it and he are the stuff role models are made of.

The Federalist Papers
The Federalist Papers
by Alexander Hamilton
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
34 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars The groundwork for a constitutional government, April 1 2003
The founding of America wasn't quite as easy as the original colonists banding together to revolt against the mother country and, once done, putting a new country on the map. Long before the Revolutionary War, the men who would be forever identified as the country's founding fathers, had to have colonists' support by convincing them that the new nation they envisioned promised a better life. In doing that, the eventual founders published their ideas and ideals in a collection called "The Federalist Papers," so titled to identify the proposed new government as a federalist one that established a federal government of three branches (the executive, judiciary and legislative) with checks and balances, and independent of what would be territorial states. Here, in essay form, the towering historic words of such founders as George Washington, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay lay out their vision of a new country not under the stifling governance of the mother country. The ideas of the founding fathers, in their time, were widely feared, criticized, debated and disputed. But the idealism of a new country won enough support that colonists revolted against the mother country. Far from the revered ideologies that laid the groundwork for America's constitutional form of government, "The Federalist Papers" are a must-read for anyone seriously interested in how we as an American people began and why we're where we are now.

Geography Club
Geography Club
by Brent Hartinger
Edition: Hardcover
19 used & new from CDN$ 2.37

4.0 out of 5 stars More than coming of age, a contemporary commentary, March 25 2003
This review is from: Geography Club (Hardcover)
Though a fictional piece about a group of teen-aged gay comrades, author Brent Hartinger's "Geography Club" is less another coming-of-age story and more a reflection of the sometimes ponderous social and educational restrictions on today's teens struggling to validate themselves despite their same-sex preferences. The "Geography Club" here is intended to do just that, but peer pressure and rejection force it to become Goodkind High School's Gay-Straight-Bisexual Alliance. Given current court challenges to some schools' prohibition against such alliances, Hartinger seems to have tapped into a contemporary nerve. It's a realistic portrayal, and Hartinger's characters - Russel Middlebrook and school baseball stud Kevin Land, both of whom give in to a mutual attraction to each other - can be Everyman's teen-aged kid. Russel and Kevin, working hard to keep their covert relationship hidden, nonetheless are found out by three other teens who, coincidentally, are also gay. In trying for some degree of acceptance, even from each other, the enclave establishes the "Geography Club," designed purposely to be so boring that no one will join it, thus protecting the hidden purpose of the club. It's only when social forces collide to bring the small gay group out into the daylight that the "Geography Club" meets a challenge from peer and educational prejudices. Hartinger's character development is incredible, and his injection of occasional expletives are by no means gratuitous but instead serve as a mirror of real life. Though the reader need not be gay to try to benefit from the book's sublimial message, it is a potentially important wakeup for the gay teen struggling for peer, parental and self-acceptance, and to parents who might get a clue to how crushing a weight their childrens' closets can be.

Ghosts of Mississippi                  >
Ghosts of Mississippi >
VHS

4.0 out of 5 stars Before the movement, there was Evers, March 25 2003
This review is from: Ghosts of Mississippi > (VHS Tape)
Even before there was a name for the civil rights movement of the 1960's, there was Medgar Evers, perhaps the first casualty of the movement. June 12, 1963, the very night that President John Kennedy made his landmark speech to the nation about equality of the races and his administration's pledge to the basic rights of all people, Evers took a mortal hit in his back outside his home in Jackson, Miss., from a bullet fired out of racism and powered by hate. Nearly 30 years later, after two mistrials with hung juries, Evers' suspected killer, avowed bigot and hate-mongerer Byron de la Beckwith, faces his third trial set up by an idealistic prosecutor, acted with restrained emotionality but an unshakeable sense of justice by Alec Baldwin. As Evers' widow, Whoppi Goldberg brings a sense of majestic class to the lady who never gave up in her own quest for justice. And James Woods is nothing less than superlative in his portrayal of the accused, and Woods holds nothing back in projecting the cockiness, the poisonous racism and lethal hatred the real character apparently carried for most of his life. Director Rob Reiner treats us here to a lesson in history that perhaps has not given Evers his just due as a pioneer in the march for civil rights, and Reiner treats this very serious topic with respect, dignity, sincerity and commitment. In real life, Beckwith died in prison and with him hopefully went one more voice for hate and division. But, because it took nearly three decades to bring Beckwith to justice, "Ghosts of Mississippi" asks the subtle question if justice delay isn't also justice denied. The film is a magnificent achievement!

What Lies Beneath
What Lies Beneath
VHS
2 used & new from CDN$ 4.67

4.0 out of 5 stars A haunting by the unpeaceful dead, March 22 2003
This review is from: What Lies Beneath (VHS Tape)
Expecting the incomparable Harrison Ford to play another hero or good guy, one of this film's many stunners is that he isn't. But that revelation comes after we get clued in that the ghost haunting Ford's and wife Michelle Pfeiffer's house isn't the one of the neighbor thought to have been done in by her husband. And the third is Pfeiffer's understated but strong performance as the wife who slowly regains her memory lost a year earlier in a car crash, and how her recall puts her face-to-face with the watery death her husband has planned for her, much like the one he gave the ghost that haunts their house. Director Robert Zemeckis gives us Ford and Pfeiffer as married couple Norman and Claire Spencer, and what lies beneath is the fearful reality of what exists on the surface is, in this case, the polarity of reality. A la Hitchcock, the film takes us from the jitters of wife Claire's gradual awakening to reality, then to learning the true identity of the ghost in her midst (yes, there is a real ghost!) and, finally, how finding out puts everything in her life on the line. It's the last third of the film that is the most gripping, however, as Claire manages to tap into a reservoir of fight and sheer will (along with a little help from the ghost that turns out to be her salvation) and take on her psychotic husband in a fight to the fatal finale. Seeing Ford as a bad guy is something of an unsettling experience, but he ably adds another dimension to his tremendous acting ability. Pfeiffer is, as she usually is, magnificent, and we can't help but feel her bond to the spirit of her husband's murdered lover in the film's final frame. And as Claire's best friend, Diana Scarwid provides some refreshing light comedy in trying to help her friend make contact with the other side. All in all, "What Lies Beneath" is an entertaining ghost story and, though certainly not a message film, it serves to remind us that the real ghosts of our private hauntings are ususally the ones of our own making.

Mommie Dearest
Mommie Dearest
VHS
5 used & new from CDN$ 19.95

3.0 out of 5 stars So much for glitz and glamour!, March 19 2003
This review is from: Mommie Dearest (VHS Tape)
"No wire hangers!" forced its way into the American lexion by way of this film treatment of Christina Crawford's best-selling expose about her mother, screen icon Joan Crawford. In what turned out to be a near fatal career move, Faye Dunaway took on the role of the neurotic and self-absorbed Crawford and her never-ending quest to retain her youth and arguable glamour. With that and her own dirt-poor childhood as fodder for insecurity searching for something to have absolute control over, Crawford unleashed her frustration on two of her four adopted children, though this film gives us the low-down between mother and daughter Christina. She and brother Christopher (essentially absent in the film) endure such abuses as after-midnight physicial batterings, being forced to surrender birthday and holiday presents, being sent away and, in a final insult, exclucion from their mother's will. On far too many levels, this film simply doesn't work, and we don't get any real sense of what really haunted the real Crawford. It is only Dunaway's hyper performance and ability to change Crawford from a glamour queen in public to the mother from hell in private that makes the film worth watching. As the adult Christina, actress Diana Scarwid has her moments, but a script that seems to focus on Crawford's demons sacrifices the daughter's own sense of desparation and isolation. In the end, hers comes off as something of a clash between a child of want and a child of privilege. But Dunaway carries this film despite its flaws, and her Crawford makes viewers think of the word matricide. For a truer sense of reality, read Christina Crawford's book of the same title. In it, she is able to capture the souls of both women and which eludes the film.

Monster's Ball
Monster's Ball
Offered by Warehouse105
Price: CDN$ 5.48
46 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Societal, human emotions at their most raw, March 18 2003
This review is from: Monster's Ball (DVD)
Halle Berrie's accomplishment as the first African-American to win a Best Actress Oscar may have eclipsed the substance of this film, and that may be unfortunate to some extent. Here, Berrie's character of Leticia Musgrove is about to become widowed by way of her husband's execution by the Georgia Department of Corrections. In its wake, Leticia is drawn to Billy Bob Thornton's character of Hank Grotowski, a correctional officer who assists in the execution. Their attraction is strengthened but strained on both personal and social levels by the deaths of their respective children. What follows for both is an uncertain journey that evokes questions about racism, the inequities of the criminal justice system and the South's unspoken social disdain for interacial coupling. Director Marc Forster could easily have doomed his film to being another unremarkable social commentary but manages a stellar but unsettling film of substance with incredible character development. Neither Berrie nor Thornton's characters elicit much sympathy at film's start, but we actually come to feel some empathy for their lost souls and get some hope for their redemption in the film's last line, from Thornton: "I think we're gonna be alright." Not only is "Monster's Ball" difficult to watch, it's wrenching, and some scenes may actually shock, especially the one in which Berrie physically abuses her son for being overweight. In the end, though, Berrie does emerge from some kind of moral ambiguity to try to begin anew, and her performance is truly astonishing. But Thornton is no less so, and he is simply riveting! Here, he gives us yet another dimension of his obviously multi-faceted talent, and we come to feel nothing but empathy and respect for his character. More than a anti-comment on social and racial inequities, "Monster's Ball" makes that comment all the more powerful by giving us characters of incredible realism.

The Best of Crystal Gayle
The Best of Crystal Gayle
Price: CDN$ 16.99
22 used & new from CDN$ 9.38

4.0 out of 5 stars The essential Crystal collection, March 17 2003
The sister of the Coal Miner's Daughter quickly established her dominance in the country and pop fields from the mid-70's to mid-80's and, in so doing, Crystal Gayle never had the shadow of her country icon sister, Loretta Lynn, hovering over her. With sheer talent and a soothing but powerful emotional delivery eclipsed only perhaps by the immortal Patsy Cline, the Coal Miner's Other Daughter rifled off one chart-busting hit after the other, her signature song, of course, being the Grammy-winning "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue?" This exquisite collection, however, treats us to most all those other superlative swooners, from the early to later days of Ms. Gayle's celebrated career. Included among her early chart-toppers are the Emmy Lou Harris-penned "'Til I Gain Control Again" and "If You Ever Change Your Mind," the best-selling duet "You and I" with the late Eddie Rabbit, and all those later smashes, each a soulful blast from the past like the Grammy-nominated "Baby, What About You," the upbeat but doomed love of "Sound of Goodbye," the rocking "Our Love Is on the Faulline" and the mesmerizing Crystal-identified "I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love" and "Nobody Wants to Be Alone," and a powerful version of the country classic "Cry." The only noticeable exclusion in this 19-track CD is Crystal's first recorded semi-hit "(I've Cried) The Blue Right Out of My Eyes." Nonetheless, this is a truly "best of" by anyone's standard, and no Crystal collection is full without it. What a way to spend a couple of hours!

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