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syhob "syhob" (Copenhagen)

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Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-belonger
Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-belonger
by Richard Pipes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Condensed, easy to read and full of insight., 7 April 2007
In his very condensed and interesting autobiography, Vixi (`I have lived'), Richard Pipes focuses on three phases of his life. First, his childhood in Poland where he experienced the German occupation, before his family escaped to the U.S. Second, his experiences at Harvard as a student and as a professor during what he calls its golden age between the end of WW II and the full-scale Vietnam War. Third, his involvement in U.S. policymaking regarding the Soviet Union during the 1970s and the 80s.

Bilingual in German and Polish Pipes grew up in Poland at the very center of Europe. Pipes presents a more differentiated picture of life as a Jew in Poland than usual and blames Soviet propaganda for much of the post-WWII critique of anti-semitism in inter-war Poland under the dictatorship of Pilsudski, but underscores that the situation worsened dramatically after Pilsudski's death.

Pipes presents a vivid and koncentrated personal account of the German attack on and occupation of Poland, clearly indicating when he describes his own experiences, and when he takes advantage of information obtained later on.

Pretending to be citizens from a Latin American country Pipes and his parents emigrated to the U.S. by way of Italy in the autumn of 1939. Pipes left for college as soon as possible and provides a very warm and grateful but unsentimental description of his reception and studies at Muskingum College in Ohio.

In 1942, amid growing American interest in the Soviet Union, Pipes became aware that his Polish background made it comparatively easy for him to study Russian and he started studying on his own. When drafted to the Army Air Corps he was assigned to study Russian and went to Cornell, followed by a number of reassignments within the U.S. until the war was over. During one of these assignments he read a series of lectures by French historian Francois Guizot and decided to study history. After the Holocaust he wanted to write about how evil ideas lead to evil consequences - with the second totalitarian ideology, communism, as his case - and he went to Harvard, which is described with great enthusiasm and warmth, time and again interspersed with sudden dissecting analyses, as in the rest of the book.

A sceptic in general and towards the government of the Soviet Union in particular, Pipes' analyses of Soviet policy aroused interest in some Republican circles, while other people considered him a war-monger, and in 1980 Pipes joined the National Security Council, where he worked for two years. His description of inter- and intradepartemental infighting is very interesting but hardly likely to attract readers to government service. Pipes' description of how national security adviser Richard Allen was sidelined is especially illustrative, as are his portraits of Kissinger: "His self-conscious smile seemed to say:'Yes, indeed, it is I, Henry Kissinger, in your midst: your eyes are not deceiving you, even as I myself am astonished by my existence.'" Pipes explains that his experience in government affected his writing by making him much less likely to consider policy-making a careful and rational process.

Few autobiographies are so condensed, rewarding and easy to read as "Vixi".

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A portrait of survivors, henchmen and Japan, 22 Mar. 2004
On March 20 1995 members of the Japanese sect Aum dispensed the nerve gas sarin in the Tokyo underground railway system. “Underground” is an extremely interesting tale by Nobel prize-candidate Haruki Murakami about the survivors’ experience. Unfortunately Al-Quaeda’s attacks have made the book even more topical than before. The book provides readers from abroad with a very fascinating view of the Japanese psyche – the very modest author didn’t exaggerate, when he chose the ambitious subtitle “The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche”.
Murakami acknowledges his debt to the American writer Studs Terkel, but Murakami writes in a style of his own. Like an antropologist he painstakingly describes how he and his two assistants found the persons he interviewed in 1996 and thoroughly discusses whether these persons are representative. It seems like Murakami sticks much closer to the interviews than Studs Terkel does, providing us with both his questions and the interviewees’ answers. Therefore “Underground” is not as fluent a read as Studs Terkel’s “The Good War”, but Murakami’s almost scientific approach makes it much easier to judge, whether the interviewees’ experiences were typical.
“Underground” contains interviews with 28 survivors of the gas attack, three relatives to people who died in the attack, two doctors who were involved in the treatment of the victims and eight former or actual members of Aum.
The interviews are very illuminating and moving in their descriptions of ordinary people’s reactions to a totally unexpected danger and their reactions afterwards. Fortunately Murakami remembered to interview relatives of survivors who are so disabled by the attack, that they usually wouldn’t be included in a study, and he didn’t forget to ask about relatives’, friends’, colleagues’ and employers’ reactions either. The interviews underscore how great the human costs of the attack were and presents the foreigner with an important account of “the Japanese psyche”. Don’t expect to read this book very quickly – the interviews provide too much food for thought to be read casually. For instance it is remarkable how long time it took for many survivors to accept that they were sick; how life went on as usual few meters away from the contaminated stations, the Japanese pride in “impossible” working conditions and that several survivors agree with Aum’s complaints that the Japanese have become too materialistic.
The Aum-members who participate come from Aum’s rank and file; they don’t belong to the top. It seems like many of Aum’s members were recruited among people with low self-worth, people who were unwilling to think for themselves and people who constantly felt cheated or misunderstood. Keeping Aum’s crimes in mind it is quite nauseating to read about some of the members’ self pity and denial.
This reviewer’s sole problem with “Underground” was the translation. Probably the two translators were very busy, stuck closely to the Japanese text or had a very limited vocabulary. In any case the translation is ridden with clichés and does not make for fluent reading (admittedly just like this reviewer’s reviews!).

Backtrack [DVD] [1990] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Backtrack [DVD] [1990] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £17.95

3.0 out of 5 stars Inconsistent but great acting, 22 Mar. 2004
Literally by accident the stressed and succesful artist Anne (Jodie Foster) watches the mob (Vincent Price, Joe Pesci, Dean Stockwell) murder some of its own. The police is eager to use her as a witness, and the clumsy gangsters are just as eager to get her before the trial. Anne flees and tries to build up a new identity. Enter sinister hitman Milo (Dennis Hopper) hired by the mob. Milo and the not too intelligent police officers use some of the same means to track her down, but Milo has a tool of his own - using Anne's art he tries to find out how she thinks. He succeeds and that leads him to her hidingplace, but meanwhile he becomes obsessed with the image he has built up of her. After abducting rather than killing Anne Milo offers her the choice between death and becoming his - a perfect freedom of choice in his opinion. Thus in the first and interesting hour of the movie Milo and Anne come to look more and more like Clegg (Caliban) and Miranda in John Fowles' book "The Collector". Then the movie totally loses direction. It seems like the director (Dennis Hopper, uncredited) has read too much about the much-hyped "Stockholm-syndrome", and the inconsistent message of the last 35 minutes of the movie seem to be, that women can only thrive, if they are put in their proper place by a firm and somewhat older alpha male - and behind their cool surface even the toughest alpha males are just fetishistic slaves of their weird obsessions.
There are two good reasons to watch this movie: Dennis Hopper's chilling acting in the first hour or so (the temperature drops, when Hopper enters the screen wearing some of the largest sunglasses this reviewer has ever seen), and Jodie Foster's extraordinary acting throughout the movie where she shows even more different expressions and emotions than she did in "The Accused". Just don't expect to find any consistency in the story and don't waste your time wondering, why Jodie Foster looks much younger and even more beautiful when she gets abducted and raped, than when she succesfully pursues her career.
The DVD contains no extras except an outdated filmography for Foster, Hopper and Stockwell.
It is very difficult to decide, how many stars this movie deserves. The story is ridiculous and the camerawork etc. is not noteworthy, but Foster's and to some degree Hopper's acting makes the movie worth watching; but their combined efforts in front of the cameras just can't compensate for the mistakes made later in the cutting room.

Panic Room [DVD] [2002]
Panic Room [DVD] [2002]
Dvd ~ Jodie Foster|Forest Whitaker|Jared Leto|Kristen Stewart
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £2.82

4.0 out of 5 stars Two great women - four bad guys., 5 Mar. 2004
This review is from: Panic Room [DVD] [2002] (DVD)
When her very rich husband divorces her in favor of a bimbo, Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) moves into a large house in Manhatten close to Central Park and to her former home. On the two Altmans’ first night in their new house three burglars (Jared Leto, Forest Whitaker and Dwight Yoakam) enter the house looking for a treasure left by the late owner. The Altmans take refuge in a “panic room” in the building, and it turns out that the burglars are looking for something that only the Altmans have access to, and the Altmans need something located in that part of the house which is occupied by the burglars.
“Panic Room” is a really good movie due to Jodie Foster’s and Kristen Stewart’s acting and to outstanding camera work throughout the movie. Jodie Foster shows just as much of her talent as she did in “The Accused”, “Contact” and “The Silence of the Lambs”. At one stage Jodie Foster must convince two helpful persons to stay away from her house for the time being, and her acting at this point is worth watching the whole movie.
Another gem is Jodie Foster’s and Kristen Stewart’s very convincing and moving performance together as mother and daughter. This is Jodie Foster at her best and Kristen Stewart seems to know everything there is to know about being a pain-in-the-neck-teenager dependent on her parents because of a chronic illness (diabetes).
The camera work is extremely good, but fortunately the crew never gets carried away by its abilities and inventiveness - the camera work is never allowed to dominate. When you see this movie for the third or fourth time, you start to notice more and more “impossible” camera movements, which you overlook at the first and second viewing, even though they add heavily to the suspense.
The script is good as well (nowadays Morse is not learned by joining the girl scouts but from other sources). Much has been made of a few inconsistencies in this movie, like whether propane is heavier or lighter than air, but actually there are fewer errors than in most thrillers, and for once there is an acceptable possible explanation for the Cavalry’s arrival.
Unfortunately four male actors constitute a major problem. Their acting is one- or at most two-dimensional, their performances belong to a sitcom, and it is hard to believe that any of the three burglars would dare to join the two others. Another unconvincing point is, that Jodie Foster has never looked better than she does in this movie. It is hard to imagine her weak husband leaving her for a bimbo (Nicole Kidman whom we only hear once and don’t see). The movie contains more violence than it has to, and as usual the bad guys survive just about anything in order to prolong the action.
A lot of the action in this movie takes place in semidarkness or on several small monitors, so don’t expect to get much out of watching the movie on a small screen.
The DVD contains just about no extras at all.
Few other actors than Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart could make this reviewer award four stars to the movie.

Man Who Shot Liberty Valance [DVD] [1962]
Man Who Shot Liberty Valance [DVD] [1962]
Dvd ~ James Stewart
Offered by westworld-
Price: £9.98

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Progress vs. tradition., 25 Jan. 2004
A pure masterpiece by Ford on how the Wild West was replaced by civilisation.
Fresh from law school a naive Jackie Stewart arrives in a minor town where he expects his work as a civil servant will be close to life on the East Coast. To his surprise he discovers that he is going to cover a very large area where the law currently is not worth the paper it is written on.
The town continually suffers from Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) and his gang, who is only held in check to some degree by a few individuals like John Wayne.
This is one of John Wayne's saddest movies as he slowly and painfully becomes aware that he is a man of the past - just like the Liberty Valance he despises.

Hatari [DVD] [1963]
Hatari [DVD] [1963]
Dvd ~ John Wayne
Offered by Speedyhen Ltd
Price: £10.94

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Action, comedy and John Wayne in East Africa., 25 Jan. 2004
This review is from: Hatari [DVD] [1963] (DVD)
It is hard to understand why this little gem almost has been forgotten; one reason may be that it is hard to fit into a single category. Hatari includes all the classical Hawksian themes with special emphasis on male-bonding, professional leadership and fear of falling in love, but it effortlessly switches between comedy and action, and it takes place in East Africa instead of the Wild West.
John Wayne heads a team of white men with very different backgrounds and nationalities who each year converge on East Africa to catch animals to Western zoos. Hawks' choice of this group instead of traditional hunters is a stroke of genius: it appeals to a much larger audience, the hunting is much more difficult and dangerous to the men, and it involves more people and worn-down jeeps and trucks blazing (well, almost) across the savannah.
This year three complications arise: One member of the team is wounded, and not only do they need every single man, but his blood type is very rare. Second: the daughter of the late head of the team is coming of age, and third: a female photographer shows up. She has been send by a zoo which has placed a large order for animals, so John Wayne cannot just send her away, like he wants to. Hawks must have selected these complications carefully, for they are just what he needs to develop his usual themes. On the other hand it seems like he just didn't know what to do with the Africans - we see traditionally-clad inhabitants of two villages, a cook, a few drivers/assistants and we visit a larger city twice. Apart from that this is Africa without Africans.

Maverick [DVD] [1994]
Maverick [DVD] [1994]
Dvd ~ Mel Gibson
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £7.21

2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great comedy without depth., 24 Jan. 2004
This review is from: Maverick [DVD] [1994] (DVD)
Maverick” is a ”who-cheats-who?”-comedy about a number of tricksters who converge on a riverboat-gambling-competition in the Wild West. It resembles a 1940-screwball-comedy more than a western, and Jodie Foster reminded this reviewer of Katharine Hepburn at her best.
Compared to Jodie Foster's other movies she is close to overacting several times - like she is on a stage rather than acting in a movie. It is very enjoyable to watch her and a very confident Mel Gibson together, and it seems like they really enjoyed making this movie. Unfortunately the script is much poorer than the classics from the 1930s and 1940s. Despite the two actors' efforts there are just not enough one-liners to keep the story interesting. This makes the movie perfectly forgetable except for Jodie Foster's facial expressions when she cheats Mel Gibson - or discovers that she has been cheated.
Four stars is a quite generous rating, which is entirely due to the two lead actors. Any other casting would have resulted in two or at most three stars. Don't expect to watch it more than a few times.

The Accused [DVD]
The Accused [DVD]
Dvd ~ Kelly McGillis
Offered by Qoolist
Price: £9.99

13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A revolting masterpiece., 24 Jan. 2004
This review is from: The Accused [DVD] (DVD)
At times "The Accused" is just as unpleasent to watch as "Man bites dog" and "A short film about killing", and weak casting allows Jodie Foster to steal the picture. Still Jodie Foster singlehandly turns it into a masterpiece.
Sarah (Jodie Foster) is a piece of pot-smoking poor white trash who sometimes goes to a seepy bar with a female friend in order to compensate for her dull work and her boring boyfriend - even though women are expected to enter only if they work there or are with their boyfriend. One night she is raped by several men who are cheered on by bystanders. We follow Sarah to the emergency room, where she undergoes a humiliating gynaecological examination, and we get an impression of the basic police work in rape cases including a questioning of Sarah which leaves her with the feeling that SHE is the accused rather than the rapists. The counsel for the prosecution makes a deal with the defense keeping in mind that Sarah will be an easy victim for a character asassination in court and aiming for any kind of prison term for the rapists rather than a prison term for rape as such.
Sarah considers this a kind of second betrayal following the rape and pushes the counsel to try something else.
Jodie Foster's outstanding acting and the absence of easy solutions are the main qualities in this remarkable movie. The director could have made a saint out of Sarah; but fortunately he didn't. Or the director could have exploited the rape scene to boost income but again he didn't; it is only sickening. I have seen this movie several times and this is one of the movies where the reactions from the audience are very interesting to follow, if you remember to look away from the screen. Once I watched this movie with an all-male Saturday night-audience, who entered the cinema eagerly looking forward to "The gang-rape-movie" but fell totally silent during the rape scene.

Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing
Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing
by Ted Conover
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A depressing, fascinating and very important book., 24 Jan. 2004
The job as prison guard is about care, custody and control. The gray uniforms are the good guys, and the green uniforms are the bad guys. And in twentyfive years you will have a pension.
This is the core message journalist Ted Conover and his class mates receive when they enter the prison guards' boot camp in New York. Most of the recruits have applied for a job to gain job security, while Ted Conover has found this line of approach the only way he can do research on life in prison in New York State. It is fortunate for the rest of us that the Department of Correctional Services tried to get in Ted Conover' way, because his experience as prison guard - sorry; correctional officer - gives us a much broader view of life in prison than any book by an inmate.
This thorough and extraordinary book is full of ironies and cases of Orwellian newspeak, but what is most fascinating is Ted Connor's critical view of himself, his reactions and his fast dehumanization in Sing Sing, together with his description of the complex prison sociology. When you have read his detailed and vivid descriptions of his working days in Sing Sing you will find it easy to understand how even the most idealistic COs get fed up with inmates in general, lose their initiative and start to focus on how to survive each work day rather than on resocializing inmates.
This book is a must for anybody who takes an interest in prevention of crime or in hierarchial subcultures. It is a great pity that it is already hard to come by.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 27, 2012 10:56 PM GMT

Arabia Felix: The Danish Expedition of 1761-1767
Arabia Felix: The Danish Expedition of 1761-1767
by Thorkild Hansen
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sisyfos survives the megalomaniacs., 18 Jan. 2004
This docu-drama depicts a long forgotten Danish-Swedish expedition in the 18. century to Egypt, the Arab peninsula and Persia. The expedition's progress suffered from intense rivalry between some of the participants, sheer laziness, disease and unwillingess to adjust to the circumstances in Arabia Felix (meaning "Happy Arabia" as we are told in the beginning only to discover otherwise later in the book).
Thorkild Hansen was heavily influenced by Camus and the myth of Sisyfos. This will become very clear if you read this book and find out who came back from the expedition and what happened to its reports and collections.
The book is strongly recommended for its drama, sardonic humour and its descriptions of the areas and peoples visited by the expedition, but it is very difficult to write more without giving too much away. Just like in other docu-dramas it is very hard to distinguish between the writer's sources and his interpretations and inventions.
This bestseller and some of his other works made Thorkild Hansen very unpopular among historians who found he took too many liberties with regard to his sources, writers who envied him his success, and probably also among people who favoured closer cooperation between the Nordic countries!

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