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Reviews Written by
Alejandra Vernon "artist & illustrator" (Long Beach, California)

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Magic Flute
Magic Flute
VHS
7 used & new from CDN$ 18.88

5.0 out of 5 stars a magnificent adaptation, June 6 2004
This review is from: Magic Flute (VHS Tape)
As the film opens with the overture, it focuses on the face of a beautiful child in the audience, and it is as if we see this fantastic production through her innocent eyes; it's an adaptation that captures all the playfulness and enchantment of Mozart's glorious last opera, and brings it to life with renewed vigor.
The attractive cast, though occasionally vocally uneven, is a total delight; Josef Kostlinger is superb as Tamino, Hakan Hagegard shines as Papageno, Ulrik Cold impressive as Sarastro, and Elisabeth Erikson is adorable as Papagena.
The sets, which sometimes seem to shift like smoke, as well as the costumes, are masterful, and include everything from lovable fuzzy creatures, to a brilliant vision of the "dark regions", with dancers writhing and wrestling as its tortured inhabitants.
I also enjoyed the backstage views during intermission; Tamino and Pamina playing chess, Sarastro looking over a score of Parsifal while a chorus member reads Kalle Ankas (a Donald Duck comic book), and especially the formerly fire-spewing dragon trudging past a doorway.
I never fully appreciated "The Magic Flute" until I watched this film; it's strange that Ingmar Bergman, more known for his somber films, should bring out so much light and joy from this magnificent opera.
It would make a perfect introduction for young people to opera, and the singing in Swedish seems quite natural and enjoyable (especially for us older folks who have listened to the great Jussi Bjorling for decades), and the subtitles are excellent and easily to read.
Those who like filmed opera, will surely find this to be an imaginative, wonderful production. Total running time is 135 minutes.

3pc Box: the Prayer of Jabez -
3pc Box: the Prayer of Jabez -
VHS

5.0 out of 5 stars be all you can be, for God, June 5 2004
With 321 minutes of Bible-based teaching, this powerful set is perfect for study groups, for personal growth, or whenever you need some guidance and a little extra push in your relationship with the Lord.
Dr. Wilkinson mentions the many misconceptions that surround his message; "The Prayer of Jabez" is not about asking God for a new car and a promotion, it's about getting one's life in line with God's will, and there is nothing wrong with asking for a blessing, as Jesus told us to do in Matthew 7: 9-11, "...how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask". Nevertheless, there are those who claim Dr. Wilkinson's message is not Biblical, seemingly not having knowledge or understanding of what his message really is.
There is a wide range of topics, and some are hard-hitters, especially in the last session, when he talks about how sin can creep in and ruin your life; lust, pride, and the danger of the desire for possessions, "for those who desire to be rich fall into temptations and a snare" (1 Timothy 6: 9-10), are discussed in depth.
Another subject is "stepping out of one's comfort zone", a topic that I believe is essential, and most of all, hearing and obeying God's will, where our primary aim should be "my will is choosing to do Your will".
Dr. Wilkinson is a dynamic speaker, and also has a good sense of humor. I have read all his books (my favorite is "Set Apart"), and heard him lecture in person, but consider his video teachings the most significant of all his work for those of us seeking a closer walk with the Lord.
The production values are excellent, and at the start of each tape there is a dramatization of Jabez that is quite effective, with some lovely music by Julie Larson.
A word of caution: There is a time lapse between "Sessions", so don't stop the tape too soon !
The "Sessions" are broken into the lines of the Jabez Prayer:
Session One: "Bless me indeed !"
Part A and B: On how to come to God, and the variety of blessings in scripture.
Session Two: "Enlarge my territory !"
Part A and B: Moving beyond the comfort zone and doing more for God.
Session Three: "Put your hand on me !"
Part A and B: Learning God's power and purposes.
Session Four: "Keep me from evil !"
Part A and B: How to stand firm against temptation and Satan.
There is so much content in these sessions that it would take countless viewings to absorb it all, and is the kind of teaching where one will hear new things as one grows with the Lord. So take the "Jabez challenge", and perhaps you too will find your life revitalized and radically changed by God's mighty will for your destiny.

Khartoum [Import]
Khartoum [Import]
DVD ~ J.K.Rowling
5 used & new from CDN$ 20.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "out of the vast, hot, African nowhere...", June 4 2004
This review is from: Khartoum [Import] (VHS Tape)
Though the historical events in this film took place in 1884-85, there are aspects of it that remind one of today's headlines; this is a sadly underrated film, with a fantastic cast, massive battle scenes, and a beautifully written script about an extraordinary man.
There are scenes that take "artistic license", but the film is quite accurate in its facts on General Gordon; a military genius who hated war, a deeply religious man who worked to end slavery, and who fell in love with the desolate scorching sands and the people of the Sudan.
The pairing of Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier is fabulous, and their scenes together are riveting. Heston is gaunt in this film, to closer portray the slightly built Gordon, and speaks with a subtle but excellent English accent; Olivier is the fanatic who calls himself The Mahdi ("The Expected One"), waging a holy war with his followers to destroy anyone who opposes his beliefs, with the aim of conquering the world for his fundamentalist faith.
Other wonderful performances come from Richard Johnson as Col. Stewart, Ralph Richardson as Prime Minister Gladstone, Nigel Green as Gen Wolseley, and Johnny Sekka is a delight as Gordon's servant Khaleel.
After British-led Egyptian forces are massacred by The Mahdi's insurgents, the British government asks Egypt to give up the Sudan, and General Gordon is called to evacuate the European and Egyptian civilians from the Sudan; he stays to ward off the terrorists and the siege of Khartoum takes place.
The sweeping panoramas of the desert and the Nile river are sumptuous (cinematography by Edward Scaife), and the Frank Cordell score is terrific, though it owes a bit to Maurice Jarre's music for "Lawrence of Arabia"; released 6 years earlier, "Lawrence" has some comparisons to this film, as they are both about adventurous men of courage who felt comfortable in Arab lands.
This film sparked my imagination and made me want to know more about Gordon's fascinating life and the history that surrounded him, and it is one I could watch repeatedly. Total running time is 134 minutes.
"...but there is this: A world with no room for the Gordons, is a world that will return to the sands".

First Bible Stories
First Bible Stories
by John Dillow
Edition: Hardcover
10 used & new from CDN$ 3.80

4.0 out of 5 stars a nice starter Bible, June 3 2004
This review is from: First Bible Stories (Hardcover)
This would make a good first Bible for a youngster, either to be read to, or for when the child has become proficient enough in reading skills to do so alone, as the language First Bible Stories is written in is fluid, simple, and easily understood.
The illustrations by John Dillow are plentiful, briskly drawn and colorful; The expressive faces of the people have a cartoon quality, and the animals are adorable. There are plenty of cats and dogs in the pictures too, like a cat with the farm animals in the manger, and two dogs with the people listening to The Sermon on the Mount.
The pages are thick with a matte finish, and it is sturdily bound and quite a heavy volume. Each story has the Bible chapter reference, and Jillian Harker has done an excellent job with this adaptation; with 30 stories from the Old Testament, and 35 from the New Testament, there should be enough wonderful reading for many years of a child's life.
"Everyone who listened to Jesus' stories was amazed at how simply they told the truth of God" (page 273).

The Miracle of the Bells
The Miracle of the Bells
VHS

4.0 out of 5 stars like molasses, a little slow but very sweet, June 2 2004
Based on Russell Janey's novel, the Ben Hecht/Quentin Reynolds script for this film is sometimes sappy and often uneven, but it's also a nice sentimental story, told in flashback, by William Dunnigan (played in a somber manner by Fred McMurray), a press agent who was never a very happy guy, and is burying the woman he loved (but was never able to tell her so).
The real reason to watch this film is to see Alida Valli play Joan of Arc, in a "film within a film" segment. She is luminous and incredibly beautiful, and would have made a terrific Joan. Coincidentally, the lavish "Joan of Arc" production starring Ingrid Bergman was released the same year as this film.
Another reason to view "The Miracle of the Bells" is to see Frank Sinatra, skinny as a rail, in the unlikely part of a soft spoken priest; this was five years before his success in "From Here to Eternity", and he is surprisingly good, but far from great. He sings "Ever Homeward", a cappella, as he sits among the grave stones; there's a lot of gloomy aspects to the film, one of them being that the setting is a poor coal mining town...though it all has a nice pay-off.
Lee J. Cobb is Marcus Harris, the film producer making "Joan of Arc", and he has the humorous moment in the film with his "I won't stand for any press agent miracles !" rant, which was funny enough to make me laugh out loud, a rarity for me.
Some might say it's improbable that headlines of "Nation Mourns For Movie Star" could ever happen, especially when the "movie star" is unknown, but seeing how today's media obsesses about inconsequential stories, and runs with them for days (nay, weeks !) on end, on a slow news cycle, anything could happen.
Total running time is 120 minutes.

Flame & Arrow [Import]
Flame & Arrow [Import]
VHS
6 used & new from CDN$ 21.95

4.0 out of 5 stars the lighter side of Lancaster, June 2 2004
This review is from: Flame & Arrow [Import] (VHS Tape)
Though the plot is silly and derivative of "Robin Hood", this film makes a great vehicle for Burt Lancaster, as Dardo "The Arrow", a man who is adored by children, loved by women, and lives in a forest with his band of freedom fighters. It isn't the type of film one usually associates with Lancaster, as he won his awards and fame with serious drama; in his mid-thirties at the time, with chiseled bone structure, an incandescent smile, and an enormous amount of hair, he did his own stunts, some which are astonishing acrobatic feats.
Dardo's sidekick is a mute named Piccolo, delightfully played by Nick Cravat, and the love interest is the lovely Virginia Mayo.
It has a rousing Max Steiner score, lavish sets, and beautiful Technicolor cinematography in golden shades of red and brown by Ernest Haller.
This was one of the first films I ever saw as a child, and it made an indelible impression on me; seeing it over 50 years later, it hasn't dimmed in its charm or exuberance. Total running time is 88 minutes.

Lust for Life [Import]
Lust for Life [Import]
VHS
7 used & new from CDN$ 5.19

5.0 out of 5 stars "I want to create things that touch people", June 1 2004
This review is from: Lust for Life [Import] (VHS Tape)
With an uncanny resemblance to the self-portraits of Vincent Van Gogh, Kirk Douglas is perfect for this detailed and wonderful production of the artist's life; it's a passionate performance of a troubled soul, whose creative urges battled with his mental illness.
The film has an intelligent script by Norman Corwin, based on Irving Stone's biographical novel. It picks up the story around 1879, when Van Gogh was 26 years old, and went to minister (unsuccessfully) to the coal miners of a destitute area, and from there takes us through his many different abodes, his relationship with "Christine", who is well played by Pamela Brown, and the flourishing of his art in his last 15 years of life.
The art direction is superb, and the recreations of the places Van Gogh painted a marvel, among them the famous yellow house he lived in and its bedroom, and my favorite, the pool hall, with its hanging lamps.
The cinematography by Freddy Young and Russell Harlan is terrific, and we get many full screen views of the original paintings, many of them lesser known pieces from private collections.
This was a multi-award winning film, and garnered an Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Anthony Quinn, who is fabulous as Paul Gauguin, whose personality was the complete opposite of his friend Van Gogh; the ego clashes when they attempted to live together are well illustrated in several scenes, and with a little addition to his nose, Quinn has been made to look exactly like Gauguin's famous self-portrait with the snake.
James Donald is excellent as Vincent's patient and generous brother, who was Van Gogh's central means of support for most of his lifetime, both financially and of his paintings.
A tremendous knowledge about art went into this film, and it's one of the best artist biographies ever put to film (another good one also came from a Stone best seller, "The Agony and the Ecstasy"), and is a must-see for artists and anyone with an interest in Van Gogh's genius. Total running time is 122 minutes.

Oasis
Oasis
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 102.95
4 used & new from CDN$ 49.93

5.0 out of 5 stars music from the heavenly realms, June 1 2004
This review is from: Oasis (Audio CD)
Originally released in 1979, this was one of Kitaro's first albums, and many would argue that his early music is his best, and that "Oasis" is among Kitaro's most exquisite recordings; "Oasis" has his unique "other-worldly" feel to it, and would make a good pairing with the fantastic images from the Hubble Space Telescope. I never fail to imagine myself flying to a distant star when listening to either this CD, or my other favorite, "Ki", which was released in 1981.
All the music is created by Kitaro, and he plays the Korg, Roland and Yamaha synthesizers, as well as acoustic guitar and percussion. There are some tracks, like "Moro-Rism", "Eternal Spring" (sometimes listed as "Aqua"), and "Oasis", that are simply superb, but all the tracks are strong and intensely beautiful. Kitaro was a pioneer of "New Age" music, and though many copied his style, no one could duplicate the spirit and melodious excellence that was and always will be simply Kitaro.
Total playing time is 49'05.

Baida
Baida
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 22.95
4 used & new from CDN$ 11.83

4.0 out of 5 stars a pop-rai mix, May 30 2004
This review is from: Baida (Audio CD)
Faudel is one of rai's brightest stars, but in this first CD, he only partially succeeds; a partial success from Faudel however is probably better than the best from many singers. He has an excellent voice, and in these songs sounds youthful and sweet, and not what one usually associates with rai music. He tends to sing in a higher register than he does in his subsequent albums, and his voice does not have the colorations and mature musicality that it has on his 2nd effort, "Samra".
Favorite tracks: "Omri": A flamenco flavored number with terrific guitar work.
"Abadou": Faudel sings in a throatier voice on this track and sounds great, and the song has the feel of a more traditional Arabic melody.
"N'Sel Fik": Here Faudel is joined by Samira Cherraj for a rousing version of the song made a hit by the duo of Fadela and Sahraoui; this track is terrific and "real rai", with no "pop" sugarcoating.
Faudel fans will also like his hit "Tellement n'Brick", which is given a second "hip hop" version on track 12, and the title song is given an "oriental" version on track 13.
If you're looking for an authentic sounding rai CD, you will only like "N'Sel Fik", if you're a devoted Faudel fan, you'll enjoy it.
Sung in a mix of Arabic and French, the sound is good, and total time is 57'58.

Song of Bernadette, the
Song of Bernadette, the
VHS
3 used & new from CDN$ 19.99

5.0 out of 5 stars the visionary of Lourdes, May 30 2004
This review is from: Song of Bernadette, the (VHS Tape)
Based on Franz Werfel's 1942 best-seller, this is an exquisite telling of the life of Bernadette Soubirous, who in 1858 at the age of 14 saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in a grotto near the small village of Lourdes, where she lived with her family in abject poverty. Bernadette received much opposition from the atheistic town authorities, as well as initially from the clergy, but kept her faith in "The Lady", and it gave her a wisdom when questioned by the unbelievers that went beyond her natural understanding.
Jennifer Jones is superb as the simple Bernadette, and she tells the story with her eyes; there are many scenes where the camera focuses on her face, and one can tell what is happening by her expressive gaze. Director Henry King screen tested many actresses by placing a stick behind the camera, and telling them to look at it, and imagine the Virgin Mary...King said that Jennifer was the only one who "saw", while the others merely "looked".
The supporting cast is wonderful, with many standout performances; I especially like Charles Bickford as the Dean of Lourdes, Lee J. Cobb as Dr. Dozous, Anne Revere as Bernadette's mother Louise, and as a lifelong adversary, a prideful nun who is jealous of Bernadette's visions, the terrific Gladys Cooper.
The film was a huge box-office success, as well as receiving critical acclaim, and was the most nominated film at the 1943 Oscars, with 12 nominations and 4 wins. It won for Best Actress, Best B&W Cinematography (Arthur Miller), Best Score (Alfred Newman), and Best Interior Decoration. The nominations were for Director, Editing, Picture, Screenplay, Sound, Supporting Actor (Bickford), Supporting Actress (both Cooper and Revere).
At 2 hours and 36 minutes, this is a film that is totally engrossing, and the time spent with it is very rewarding.
Cannonized in 1933, Bernadette's legacy continues to flourish; over 200 million people have visited the shrine, and though I have never been there, one of my few treasures is a "souvenir" cross that contains water from the spring at Lourdes (which continues to produce over 25,000 gallons a week), and proving that those in the film portrayed as wanting to commercialize the water from the site have succeeded beyond their expectations.
"For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible".

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