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Reviews Written by
Kenji Fujishima (East Brunswick, NJ USA)

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Dark Side Of The Moon
Dark Side Of The Moon
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5.0 out of 5 stars In a word: brilliant!, June 12 2004
This review is from: Dark Side Of The Moon (Audio CD)
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON was my first exposure to Pink Floyd, and I haven't forgotten the sense of discovery I felt listening to this band's slow rhythms and near-psychedelic atmosphere. The music of course is great. All of it is memorable, although my personal favorites are the fun-to-listen-to "Money" (its lyrics cleverly alluded to in the film version of THE WALL) and the moving anti-war song "Us and Them." And that feeling of having come to the end of a long but worthwhile journey with Pink Floyd in the final song "Eclipse" is simply priceless. I don't know if this album on a whole has a deep meaning or theme of the kind that informed their magnum opus THE WALL, but it is frankly still fun to listen to even after hearing it many times. A rightful classic, highly recommended.

The Rundown (Widescreen) (Bilingual)
The Rundown (Widescreen) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Dwayne Johnson
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3.0 out of 5 stars Ultimately forgettable, but a nice try at being different, June 12 2004
In my younger teen years, I admit it, I was a fan of The Rock on what was then called WWF (now WWE, of course). He just always made me laugh whenever he delivered his hilarious insults and one-liners. "...If u smelllllllll what the Rock is cooking!" Which self-respecting wrestling fan couldn't resist that, hehe? Now he is trying his luck as a Hollywood action star, and I've always thought that if there was to be a new action star on the level of Schwarzenegger and Stallone in the '80s, The Rock (he should really start crediting himself by his real name, Dwayne Johnson) could be it. Who cares if he ain't a great actor? Charisma, a tough physique, and even a tough presence is all an action star really needed (anything else is a bonus), and The Rock pretty much has all three.
Okay, I'm not the biggest Rock fan in the world. I have seen neither THE SCORPION KING, in which he got his first top billing, nor the recent remake of WALKING TALL, in which he plays the role Joe Don Baker played in 1974. I have, though, seen this movie, Peter Berg's THE RUNDOWN. In it, he plays a bounty hunter named Beck who has to go through one last mission down in El Dorado before he can retire the business and open his own restaurant. And what a mission it is! Having to deal with a brat looking for treasure (Seann William Scott), a mad dictator (Christopher Walken), and a bartender (Rosario Dawson) who turns out to be a tribal leader (I think) also looking for the same treasure as Scott's character. Needless to say, it's more than Beck bargained for.
Unfortunately, the movie he's a part of is a little less than I bargained for. I respect director Berg's attempt at being something other than the usual frenzied, overscaled brainless action spectacle that is seemingly the norm today, and perhaps it can be argued that the Amazon settings of the movie are worth the extra time. Still, I couldn't truly work up a lot of enthusiasm for THE RUNDOWN. Despite some interesting plot twists and turns, it seems to me basically another genre picture, and ultimately a forgettable one at that. It had more intrigue than most, but overall it wasn't as much fun as I expected.
Who knows, though? Maybe it's simply b/c I saw it on the reduced proportions of a TV screen rather than on the much-bigger, wider screen of a theater that I react this way. It might seem grander---particularly its pictorial imagery---on a big movie screen then it would on the small screen, with its grandeur vastly reduced. At least, though, the small screen doesn't diminish the performances, which were all at the very least competent. Seann William Scott may simply be playing a slightly smarter version of his Stifler idiot in the AMERICAN PIE movies, but at least he does it well. Rosario Dawson also doesn't have much of a developed character, but at least she looks very nice (as she always does) and delivers her lines with conviction. I gotta say that, to me, Christopher Walken seems to be on autopilot in this movie, but at least he resists overacting as the bad guy---his madness is subtle---and Christopher Walken on autopilot still isn't totally without interest for the audience.
And as for The Rock...well, once again he may not blow anyone away with his acting skill, but in the confines of this role, he has that formidable presence and conviction that a powerful action star should have. He shows here that he certainly can be an action star, and while this movie doesn't totally succeed for me as an action flick, it at least tries to be smarter and better than those dumber-than-dumb star vehicles for Stallone and Schwarzenegger in the '80s.
Still, despite its noble ambitions, I would not recommend THE RUNDOWN.

Closely Watched Trains
Closely Watched Trains
DVD ~ Václav Neckár
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4.0 out of 5 stars Wanna see this one again, June 11 2004
This review is from: Closely Watched Trains (DVD)
I watched Jiri Menzel's CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS today, and right now the best praise I can give it is that I'd definitely be willing to sit through this one again. I didn't fully catch all the subtle political satire that some reviewers claim are in this film, and thus I'd be willing to watch it again to see if I can catch these added nuances to what is already a very good film.
So what caught my eye this first time? I think simply the quiet texture of the film is what I liked about it most---it captures the rhythms of this sleepy little town in an authentic manner. I was amused by the character of Milos Hrma: as WWII rages on around him, he focuses on not doing too much (as a wannabe train dispatcher, he doesn't have to do all that much) as well as losing his virginity. In other people, that would be called ignorance; in Milos' case, it's pure innocence. And I suppose it must have been a rather daring feat at the time (1966) for Menzel to juxtapose wry human comedy with the undertone of WWII. In short, I liked its insights into human nature, I liked its slow pace---nothing truly significant happens for most of the picture, and yet we're intrigued anyway---I enjoyed its subtle eroticism, and I was rather fascinated by the main character, even if he himself wasn't necessarily the most fascinating character around.
Maybe I'm just stupid, but I wasn't sure why such a big deal was made by the disciplinary commission over the stamping incident involving Zdenka and train dispatcher Hubicka. I'm sure perhaps Menzel was making some kind of sly, subtle political statement was being made there, but I'm not quite sure what exactly. That is why, if I ever get the chance to see this film again, I would not mind it to perhaps catch the nuances I missed this first time. Still, for my first viewing, I was, on the whole, charmed by the movie and genuinely shocked by its deliberately dark ending. On that basis, I recommend CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS---and i'm sure if I finally understand everything about the movie upon a second viewing, I might add a star to my current four-star rating.

Red Violin [Import]
Red Violin [Import]
DVD ~ Carlo Cecchi
Offered by niff78
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Uneven but fascinating and beautiful musical journey, June 10 2004
This review is from: Red Violin [Import] (DVD)
Having once been genuinely passionate about the violin myself, I figured that, at the very least, Francois Girard's THE RED VIOLIN would at least be entertaining. But, finally having seen it all the way through recently, I didn't expect it to be fascinating and even tear-inducing---Joshua Bell's violin solos and John Corigliano's music (which won a well-deserved Oscar) are almost beautiful beyond words.
It is true that, on a whole, some parts of the film work better than others. This is basically an anthology of stories with the Red Violin being the connecting thread---barely---and while three of the stories are fascinating and even enlightening and moving (the Cremona, Vienna, and Montreal sequences), the two others (the Oxford and Shanghai sequences) are either unintentionally funny (the former) or simply slight and kinda pointless (the latter). And yet the dud sequences are hardly enough to counteract the great things in the movie: not only its technical flash and beautiful music, but its resonant theme about how we all, at one point or another, yearn for perfection and can't let it slip away so easily when we find it. Certainly instrument evaluator Charles Morritz (Samuel L. Jackson, in a restrained but powerful performance) cannot let his vision of perfection, which the Red Violin embodies, escape him.
If nothing else, THE RED VIOLIN will perhaps enlighten non-music lovers about why we love the violin, and even music, so much. And that is enough for this uneven but overall wonderful film to be worth seeing by everyone.

Sym 2/Vocalise Intermezzo/Danc
Sym 2/Vocalise Intermezzo/Danc
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5.0 out of 5 stars A rightful classic reading of one of the great symphonies, June 8 2004
Other than Vladimir Ashkenazy's performance of Rachmaninov's Second Symphony with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (I believe), this classic reading with Andre Previn leading the London Symphony Orchestra---the first fully uncut performance of the piece---is the only performance of this wonderful work that I've heard, and frankly I'd be just fine having only this recording in my library to represent the work. Previn's tempos in all four movements may be deliberate, but still the reading as a whole never fails to convince. What matters most with this piece is that Rachmaninov's great melodies and soaring emotion are not shortchanged by either conductor or orchestra, and on that level the LSO and Previn do not disappoint. They are masterful in all four movements, but it is the third movement Adagio that a listener will most likely remember most. It may be slow (Ashkenazy was slightly brisker here, while Mikhail Pletnev, in his more recent DG recording, even more brisk and unsentimental) but it still packs an emotional wallop.
The couplings are also very good, particularly the short and sweet "Vocalise." Right now, this is one of my favorite classical recordings, and my enthusiasm for it is not likely to lessen anytime soon.

Mystic River (Bilingual) [Import]
Mystic River (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Sean Penn
Offered by vidco
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4.0 out of 5 stars Imperfect along the way, but the destination is devastating, June 6 2004
Well, since i see a lot of reviews having already been written for a DVD that hasn't been released yet, I might as well add my own take to this mostly wonderful film.
I saw this in the theater many months ago, so some of the film's details may be fuzzy. But the memory of the film's tangle of powerful emotions, as well as its great performances and tragic ending, have remained vivid in my mind.
While the destination is devastating and even chilling, the journey itself isn't perfect. For some reason, I never warmed to Clint Eastwood's music score---it sounded like a third-rate Aaron Copland imitation, and it was insufficient at highlighting emotions the way Eastwood clearly intended. I was disappointed that the solution to the mystery of who killed the Markums' daughter was so arbitrary, not to mention arbitrarily handled throughout the film. Yes, I understand that, in the final analysis, the mystery and its solution doesn't truly matter as much as the tangled emotions it arises in its main characters. Still, I found it a small disappointment (although perhaps that same solution is in Dennis Lehane's novel; I wouldn't know, since I, alas, have not read it). As for the subplot involving Sean Devine's wife---who is always silent whenever she calls him until the end---I concede that it is debatable as to whether it serves any justifiable purpose in the film, although I will also admit that I was hardly bothered by it at all while watching it.
Maybe that is an indication as to what a powerful film this is cumulatively. Despite the aforementioned missteps, Clint Eastwood gets the big things right: particularly the performances, but also the mood, the texture, and the elucidation of the major themes. Sean Penn may be the more flamboyant actor (not that his sheer power detracts from his performance here at all), but Tim Robbins has the pivotal role as the child abuse-scarred Dave Boyle (it is, the way I see it, the story of Dave's personal tragedy above all else), and he comes through with a heartbreaking performance that is fully worthy of the Best Supporting Oscar he won at this past year's ceremony. In fact, in its overall impact, MYSTIC RIVER was really the best of the five Best Picture Nominees this past year. Certainly it has more authentic humanity than anything in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (impressive though they were technically, although really the two are not in contention).
In short, MYSTIC RIVER may not be perfect, but it is still a great and powerful film, one definitely worth seeing at least once.

Mystic River (Bilingual) [Import]
Mystic River (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Sean Penn
Offered by vidco
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4.0 out of 5 stars See above, June 6 2004
Sorry, posted two reviews for this by accident. See above

Symphonies 1 & 5
Symphonies 1 & 5
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good performances of both works from the reliable Karajan, June 4 2004
This review is from: Symphonies 1 & 5 (Audio CD)
Bruckner's Fifth Symphony is one of my favorite symphonies. I dunno why that is, but I just can't get enough of the piece. So many moments stand out from this work: the exhilarating ending of the first movement, the soulful second movement Adagio (not on a par with, say, the Adagio of Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, but moving nevertheless), and the brilliant central fugue of the finale, not to mention its grand coda, one of the most powerful codas in all of the symphonic literature.
It was through Bernard Haitink's wonderful Concertgebouw recording of Bruckner's Fifth that I made my first acquaintance with the piece, and thus it will always have a place in my experience of it. So, in its own way, will Karajan's, in this 2-CD set from DG (coupled with Bruckner's First Symphony). They are so different: Haitink taut and light on his feet, Karajan broader and considerably heavier.
If I was to choose between both, I honestly would probably go with Haitink over Karajan, but that is not to say Karajan's performance is an inferior one. Karajan conducts a slow but powerfully expressive Adagio, one of the best I've heard, and his account of the Finale is also mightily effective---the tempos are broad but a sense of forward momentum is preserved all the way through 'til the coda, which is played with proper grandeur by the Berlin Philharmonic.
For me, it is Karajan's first movement that is this performance's snag. This first movement is indeed pretty episodic as Bruckner wrote it---it alternates wildly between Adagio and Allegro sections. Haitink recognizes this, but still manages to fashion an excitingly dramatic narrative out of it---he isn't afraid of making huge tempo contrasts, as written in the score. Karajan unfortunately allows his tendency to smooth things over to get the better of him here. He sets an Adagio and hardly wavers from it throughout the course of the movement. This one-tempo-fits-all approach might give the listener a superficial sense of a symphonic whole---the tempo at the end of the first movement does indeed match the one set at the grand peroration at the very end of the symphony---but it undermines the movement's drama and forward momentum, and makes it sound overweight and lumbering instead. (Giuseppe Sinopoli, in his recent DG recording with the Staatskapelle Dresden, takes a similar approach to the first movement but makes it work better than Karajan's by preserving a sense of forward movement via a slightly faster tempo in the Allegro sections.) In this case, Karajan is lucky to have the powerful Berlin Philharmonic brass players on hand, since they play with such an impressive sense of grandeur that they make it sound monumental rather than merely sluggish. By themselves, they make it work...almost.
So the first movement doesn't quite succeed. Still, the rest is glorious enough that I think for the most part it deserves at least some of the hype received upon its release in 1977 on LP.
As for the coupling: I am not sufficiently familiar with Bruckner's First Symphony to gauge how successful Karajan's performance is. Still, it sounds like a considerable reading, if arguably too heavy-handed at times for what is a relatively early work (written at 40, but still relatively early). The performance of the Fifth is the thing here, though, and 3/4s of it is good enough for it to earn all the 4 stars I've given it here.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Widescreen)
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Zero Mostel
Offered by WheelNDeal
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3.0 out of 5 stars Overall not great, but has its good isolated moments, June 4 2004
I do not claim to have a broad knowledge of Broadway musicals, and so this, Richard Lester's film version of Stephen Sondheim's A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, was my first experience with this musical.
Mr. Sondheim is certainly something, isn't he? In such classic musicals as GYPSY or WEST SIDE STORY, his lyrics always seem to sparkle with such exhilarating wit. It's the same here, at least in the few numbers the filmmakers retained from the Broadway show in the film, particularly with the catchy opening tune "Comedy Tonight" (a tune that's still stuck in my mind right now).
As for the stretches without music---well, for me it's a mixed bag. Having not seen Richard Lester's more famous previous films (like A HARD DAY'S NIGHT), I can't say whether the frantic editing style he employs here is a trademark of his or not. Mostly it works here, giving the material a welcome screwball farcical edge. Lester, though, pursues this chaotic style at the expense of clarifying the story, resulting in a movie that eventually becomes a mess in terms of plot (since so much seems to be going on at once). Perhaps the climactic chase scene towards the end is the prime example of this fault: Lester and his editor John Victor-Smith hardly bother to clarify at certain points who's chasing whom---it's simply chariots and horses flying by, in a visceral whizz of fast motion. That's basically the problem with the storytelling overall. In short, the style is mostly effective but self-conscious (although perhaps it is a forbear of the blitzkrieg comedy style of later movies like AIRPLANE!).
Still, the movie has its moments, although most of those moments come in the witty songs and Zero Mostel's likably over-the-top performance as Pseudolus (a precursor to his classic portrayal of Max Bialystock in THE PRODUCERS). It's not a great film, but for the most part, it's good entertainment.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Much-admired, though I find it uneven, June 3 2004
This review is from: SYMPHONY NO. 1 (Audio CD)
This, Leonard Bernstein's second official recording of Mahler's witty First Symphony, has often been called a reference edition by many, but I've always thought that the whole was better than the sum of its parts. The first and fourth movements as performed here are indeed tremendous. In the former, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (exquisite all throughout) help bring Mahler's burgeoning spring to vivid life, and its conclusion is powerfully joyful. In the latter, Bernstein lets rip with his typically acute sense of drama, with every expressive nuance conveyed, and the coda never fails to exhilarate.
That may be enough for some listeners to agree with the hype surrounding this recording. Still, for me, the inner movements have always been problematic, interpretation-wise. I've never been convinced by Bernstein's reading of the second movement Landler, just too slow and heavy-footed for my taste. And as for the third movement... This is one of Mahler's wittiest creations, a parodistic funeral march to the tune of "Frere Jacques," with elements of a Jewish cafe band thrown into the mix, as well as a beautiful pastoral section in the middle of it all. In this performance, Bernstein decides on an opening tempo for this movement that hardly suggests a funeral march at all, and while I recognize his attempt to accentuate the parody element that Mahler calls for, the fast tempo kinda destroys what is so witty and delightful about the movement in the first place. Other readings---Kubelik's, for example, in his 1968 DG recording---are more subtle with the humor of this third movement, and thus much closer to Mahler's intentions.
Ok, so the second & third movements don't quite convince---but since the performances of the first & fourth movements here are so good, I think this oft-acclaimed Bernstein reading of Mahler's First Symphony is worthy of the four stars I'm giving it here. I still find it uneven, but even the unsuccessful elements are not necessarily without reason. Maybe you just have to get used to them.

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