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rob crawford "Rob Crawford" (Balmette Talloires, France)
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Persian Fire: The First World Empire, Battle for the West
Persian Fire: The First World Empire, Battle for the West
by Tom Holland
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars flowing narrative chock full of fascinating ideas, 15 Mar. 2012
Holland is one of the best popular historians writing: while up to first rate scholarly standards, he can speak to lay readers with graceful clarity and intelligence. It is a unique combination of gifts, especially when you compare it to the dry writing of most academics. This book was particularly welcome to me because, having read Creation by Gore Vidal over 20 years ago, I have been looking since then for a history book that could explain from an academic point of view what the great novel did.

This book is about the collision of at least 3 worlds. First, you have the Persian Empire, the first multi-national fighting force that sought to exploit (and to a degree, respect) the attributes of its innumerable ethnic groups rather than impose the domination of one on them by force. This was the work of Cyrus the Great, who took a mountain nomad tribe that raised horses as tribute to whoever dominated them at any given time, and is a defining moment of administrative genius: rather than simple repression and exploitation, he united opponents to the brutal Assyrian Empire under the same banner and forged a fighting force the world had never seen, its population at one time encompassing 40% of all living human beings. Holland offers a detailed and fascinating portrait of him and his successors, in particular the usurper Darius and his son, Xerxes. Second, there are the middle eastern peoples, which included the exiled Jews living in cosmopolitan Babylon, but also Phoenicia and Egypt. It is a dazzlingly rich patchwork of people.

Third come the Greeks, who represented a poor, fractious backwater of over 700 city states, virtually all of whom were in a state of near-incessant war. Of the Greeks, the Ionian colonies (in modern day Turkey) were conquered and then co-opted by the Persians. Unfortunately, Darius reduced this unique culture to a smoldering ruin when crushing a rebellion. It was there that philosophy first fluorished and its potential will never be known. Then there are the Spartans, who lived under a kind of military socialism, its nomenklatura being aristocratic generals. Finally, there are the Athenians, who were experimenting with democracy and emerging from a long period of class struggle and backwardness. Of course, hundreds of other city states are included, but they are essentially petty kingdoms at war.

Once Xerxes ascended to the throne, he set his eyes on Europe. His father had failed there (at Marathon) and Xerxes wished to distinguish himself with the glory of conquest. To counter the threat, for the first (and only) time in their history, the Greeks united: with Spartans as military leaders and the backbone of the fighting force, the Athenians converted their fighting forces into a sea power. A number of remarkable leaders emerged, including Themistocles, a demagogue and genius of military strategy; and Leonidas, the Spartan king who knew his life was forfeit at Thermopylae in order to buy precious time. Against overwhelming odds - perhaps 10 or more to 1 - the Greeks held back and then beat the Persian military.

Holland goes into great detail about the military tactics and technologies, the story of which is the core book and 2/3 of its content. While war interests me less than culture, Holland masterfully weaves details and issues into the narrative as they arise. For example, when the Athenians have to evacuate their city, Holland offers a wonderful sub-chapter on the cloistered, repressed status of women in Athens, as they had to WALK the streets to leave; this was a scandal to aristocrats.

The book ends on a wonderful note that plays on Greek mythology: the goddess Nemesis, purportedly the mother the Helen with Zeus (think Iliad), moved to destroy virtually all of the heroes that emerged. Themistocles was ostracized and exiled to Persia, where he became a traitor and satrap in charge of Ionia and Pausanias, who had adopted an oriental bias for opulence that offended his Spartan subjects, was starved to death. These are the kind of details and skillful storytelling that make this book so memorable.

The theme of the book is that this war was what saved the West, what enabled Athens under Perikles to lay the greco-roman foundations of what would become European civilization. I must admit that I find this to be a dubious claim, similar to the one that Europe would have been Muslim if Charles Martel had not held out at Poitiers. Persia had reached its apogee, if only because it was so large that incorporating EUrope was all but impossible to conquer, let alone maintain. Perhaps western civilization would have emerged under a different form - we can never know.

Warmly recommended.


Cleopatra [Blu-ray] [1963] [Region Free]
Cleopatra [Blu-ray] [1963] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Elizabeth Taylor
Price: £8.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars very fun and lush, if riddled with laughable historical inaccuracies, 11 Mar. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This restored version - the 4-hour release that was immediately rejected by theatres as impossible to screen 2x per night, forcing more than an hour to be cut - is an absolute delight for the eyes. From the first minutes when Caesar appears, I was utterly riveted by the splashy spectacle, the evocation of a vastly different time, and acting that can only be called first rate. The only thing that threw me off, as a Roman history nut, was the ridiculous historical inaccuracies that could only be made by an ignoramus.

On the positive side, the drama is a complete success: Cleopatra, the last Ptolemaic queen of Egypt, uses her feminine attributes and fine mind to advance a dream of staying in power and perhaps even create a new empire based on Roman power. To do so, she seduces first Julius Caesar, who restores her to power in a civil war with her brother-husband, and bears him a son. Once Julius dies, she then seduces his lieutenant, Marc Anthony, eventually losing to the wily Octavian, Caesar's adopted son. In the process, she genuinely falls in love with Anthony, perhaps for the first time in her life. They die together by their own hand. Surely, this is one of the greatest dramas of power and love in the history of mankind and it is the basis of this film, executed to perfection.

The costumes, sets, and images of sex and power are wonderfully vivid, which the bluray version (I have the British one that is available for $10 in Europe) brings with the sharpest of clarity. Beyond the actors (whose salaries were the highest ever paid), these props are the reason for the cost of the film. In my opinion, they were worth every penny as there are few film experiences that could compete.

Finally, there is the acting. Taylor, just after her 1950s prime, is at her best as a politically savvy seductress, aging and scrambling to maintain her nation and heir in their positions of prominence. I found her convincing, astonishingly beautiful, and realistically shrewd. In my view, Rex Harrison believably projects the universal genius of Julius Caesar, whose calm in the face of overwhelming odds and ever-changing political calculus are implacable and unpredictable. McDowall is also a good Octavian, who he plays as a sleazy, effeminate conniver, ultimately perhaps the smartest of all. The only principle I feel does not give a subtle and interesting performance is Burton, whose Anthony, while flawed as a love-starved drunk, is blandly formulaic. The supporting characters, such as Agrippa, are not all that distinguished, with the exception of the courtier Hugh Cronin.

On the negative side, the script really needed a scholar as consultant. Given that Mankiewicz was re-writing the script while directing, this was perhaps impossible. It is a pity, because while most of the blooper inaccuracies do not detract seriously from the storyline, they were constant irritants kind of like a buzzing mosquito at night. For example, Agrippa appears as a middle-aged lieutenant of Julius Caesar, when the person with whom he rose to prominence was Octavian, his coeval. But there are bigger problems as well. Just prior to his assassination, Julius is shown as demanding that he be named King by the Senate, which he was far too subtle ever to do in life. This fundamentally distorts his character, making him more of a simple tyrant than a master manipulator whose end game, if he had one, will never be known due to his premature death. Finally, there are many political complexities that are left uncovered, such as Anthony's massive and unprecedented failure to conquer Parthia. Anthony also had many implacable enemies, such as Cicero, whose right hand he had nailed to the Senate doorway during the civil war that followed Caesar's assassination. I know I sound like a pedant, but given the lavishness of the production, why not have made it more accurate?

With all of its flaws, I still recommend this warmly. The extras are also excellent, such as the documentary of the chaos of its production.


Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years
Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years
by Jared Diamond
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars geography as a factor in the emergence of civilization, 11 Mar. 2012
Because I had heard that this book was an extended attempt to reduce the whole of human civilization to geography, I was wary of it being a long and dreary exercise in simple determinism. I could not have been more wrong! Not only is this book an absolutely first rate intellectual adventure, but it is a nuanced interpretation that deserves every effort. Even better, it is a complete delight as a reading experience, full of fascinating, unexpected ideas and facts on every single page, and superlatively written.

As I interpreted it, the crux of his ideas are: 1) land must be fertile, large enough for widespread farming, and the climate the right temperature; 2) geographical boundaries - or their lack - must allow dissemination of ideas across similar landscapes via trade (i.e. horizontally, not vertically cutting across latitudes); 3) a wide variety of animals, in particular domesticable large mammals (for food and muscle labor), must be available to complement farming culture. Eur-Asia had the cow, horse, and pig, a unique endowment that other regions lacked. When all of these pre-conditions are met, a people can convert from hunter-gather bands to farming communities in massive numbers. Once they do so, civilization can arise as they 4) begin to accumulate surplus foodstuffs, expanding population growth, 5) freeing workers from hunting and thus becoming sedentary, eventually 6) to develop specialized labor and hierarchies (in tribes, clans and eventually nations), enabling them to create 7) sophisticated administrative apparatuses (to govern populations where everyone cannot know each other as they do in bands and tribes), writing to preserve knowledge, and more complex technologies. Finally, beyond superior technology and organization, 8) the larger groupings in cities and nations confer disease immunities on diverse populations, which devastate simpler, more isolated cultures.

That is it in a nutshell for the ideas. That being said, Diamond is by no means arguing any superiority of various civilizations, only that their establishment and growth are scientifically predictable when the three preconditions are met. As such, it is neither genetic endowment nor invention that led to the dominance of the Eurasian peoples, but geographical luck. I know it sounds too pat and deterministic to state it this way, but the true rewards of the book are a breathtaking tour of human pre-history, to the beginnings of civilization as seen through what people ate, how they obtained their food, and what barriers to further productivity they faced.

The canvas he paints includes every major continent and civilization, from Eur-Asia to Africa, the Americas and Australia, with a concluding chapter on Japan. Though I have been on a binge of broad-brush histories of human development and civilization, I can say without hesitation that this one is the most fascinating and fun, in addition to being the deepest inquiry into the forces that shaped human destiny. I knew many of the details and concepts, but this book pulled everything together with subtlety and clear logic. It is truly a masterpiece that I will read more than once.

I do have some criticisms of the book. First, he appears to regard the destructive collision between hunter-gatherer peoples as inevitable and unstoppable, particularly with the advent of industrial technologies. I am not at all sure that any culture will necessarily annihilate another, particularly when we are slowly developing greater appreciation and respect of other ways of being. Now, we can choose whether or not it will occur. Second, towards the end, he introduces many ideas kind of helter skelter that are far less well thought through than in the first 2/3 of the book, to the point that they lack coherence. Third, he attempts to extend the logic of his approach too far, in particular with prescriptions - e.g. that it is applicable to modern businesses, with the laughable kinds of cross-over arguments that are made in business schools from scientific research in other areas - that I found naive and superficial.

Warmly recommended.


The Man Who Knew Too Much [DVD] [1956]
The Man Who Knew Too Much [DVD] [1956]
Dvd ~ James Stewart
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.62

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars hitch at his best: a family suspense thriller, 15 Feb. 2012
This is one of my favorite films from childhood: a family - not exactly normal because Doris Day is an internationally famous singer - on vacation get embroiled in a caper that is unusual and complex. It starts in Morocco, where they meet a friendly if circumspect Frenchman, who wheedles his way into their room for a drink. Thus starts an outlandish adventure that is completely believable while you are watching it, leading them back into Europe and into international intrigue.

I was a bit afraid that this wouldn't stand up to my memories, but it was as fun, even as moving, as I remembered it. James Stewart is an irascible surgeon - intelligent, controlling, and competent, perhaps over-confident. Doris Day, with her Que Sera song, is a rather hysterical housewife, who when confronted with the situation gets sedated, faints, and then steels herself to the task of finding her abducted son. They have real chemistry on the screen, even their fights exude an affection and respect for the other. I think they are one of the best couples in any Hitchcock film. Their fear and desperation are completely believable as they decide to avoid the authorities and attempt to solve the mystery and face the dangers on their own. OK, the kid is basically a kid, but he is cute.

Seeing it now, there were a few loose ends that I had hoped would be filled and weren't, including the political motivations of the conspirators. These are minor quibbles, however: this is a film of Hitch at the height of his powers, a masterpiece of craftsmanship that should be in the library of every collector.


The Pillars of the Earth [DVD] [2010]
The Pillars of the Earth [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Ian McShane
Offered by HarriBella.UK.Ltd
Price: £17.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars interesting, but essentially a crude and lurid melodrama, 15 Feb. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
As a history buff with an particular fascination with the Gothic era, I had high hopes for this mini-series. It promised not only the court intrigue and a particular view into an alien age, but at its core it was about the achievement of a new art from: the Cathedrals that required the development of fundamental innovations in stonework, in structural engineering, and in the mobilization of communities, sometimes for centuries. Instead, I found a film that drowned in graphic sex, horrendous violence, and two-dimensional characters. It is full of ridiculous stereotypes about the Medieval era, though there are some redeeming features. I say this less as a pedant than with disappointment that I could not become absorbed in a narrative with a sense of awe and longing to know more. Alas, with its lurid details and melodramatic plot lines, I could not suspend my disbelief. Even my high school daughter was disgusted at its lack of subtlety and finesse. This is second rate.

The plot is complicated, involving a sunken ship, secrets later uncovered because of a stolen ring, a coup that initiates a generation of civil war, and unscrupulous courtiers, both religious and secular. Lower down, there is a master mason with a vision, who finds a situation in a village with an extraordinary Prior, who is not only going to build an early Gothic Cathedral, but revive the economy of an entire region. Of course, this pits the Prior - a pious, honorable, good, and competent man - against the interests of aggressively evil rivals. Obstacles to the Cathedral are thrown up, there is lots of violence and lust, but all's well that ends well in spite of many tragic injustices.

There are some extremely good actors in this. Unfortunately, the director largely squanders their talents. Some of it is indeed moving, such as the love between the humble mason and the disgraced princess, but most of it fits into silly film conventions, like the princess' brother becoming a crusader to redeem himself over the 20 years, taking the most brutal vengeance when the time comes, or the working out of prophesies.

If you want a kind of slashing swashbuckler with good v. evil, etc., this is passable. I wanted much more than this, which I believe it could have been. Not recommended.


THE RISE AND FALL OF ANCIENT EGYPT BY Wilkinson, Toby A. H.( Author)Hardcover on Mar-15-2011
THE RISE AND FALL OF ANCIENT EGYPT BY Wilkinson, Toby A. H.( Author)Hardcover on Mar-15-2011

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolutely first-rate longitudinal history of a unique civilization, 8 Feb. 2012
It took me 3 tries to find a book that would offer a comprehensive tour of Egyptian civilization, from its origins in prehistory to its end with Cleopatra 3000 years later. The two previous books I read were deadly dull, one the driest of academic treatments (The Oxford History), the other a scholastic mess, ANcient Egypt; the former got mired in esoteric academic controversies while the latter was so flavorless and elementary as to bore completely. In contrast, this book offers snapshots of the dynasties and how they evolved, gives an interpretation of the religion and what drove the civilization, and makes hard judgments as to the type of society it was. All in wonderfully vivid, crisp prose. While written by a scholar for accuracy, it appeals immediately and effortlessly to laymen. The result is a genuine masterpiece that I was beginning to fear was impossible to achieve.

The root of the civilization began in the south along the Nile during the 4th C BCE, from cow herders who discovered how to apply farming techniques in the valley that flooded with fertile silt at the beginning of every growing season. This origin explains one of its oldest symbols associated with Pharaohs: the herding staff in one hand, the lash in the other. Though it began with a number of kingdoms, they were slowly consolidated under military leadership, extending north to the Mediterranean Sea. As it expanded, the empire incorporated local deities into their pantheon as a way of co-opting the loyalty of conquered locals, resulting in a huge collection of gods, sacred animals, and stories, many of them resembling Greek and even Christian traditions later. Not only was Egypt protected by natural barriers, but it was organized into one of the most effective early autocracies, mobilizing vast wealth and manpower over a coherent and safe region.

Wilkinson explains the ideology of the state with wonderful succinctness. The pharaoh was variously the embodiment, reflection, and instrument of the Gods on Earth, a keeper of the balance of nature whose power came at the price of showing the proper deference to the Gods in ritual, the erection of massive architectural tributes, and the maintenance of the economy. A large part of this was their work and life after death, when they exercised their right to join the Gods as immortals. It was an extremely hierarchical society, with everyone serving their parts, at least at first in sincere belief. It was a complete system that supported autocracy, was supposed to guarantee food and the weather, and that protected Egypt's security. Of course, if nature or events didn't cooperate, the Pharaohs found themselves in danger rather quickly.

Their works were unique in world history, massive undertakings on a scale never before seen or some would argue since. The largest 2 pyramids in Giza (after a notable debacle in the desert because too much weight was amassed on softer ground) took the work of 10,000 men over 20 years of labor! While the Giza pyramids were never surpassed, the Egyptians built almost constantly for 3000 years. They also developed jewelry, mummification techniques, and a complex writing system that conferred power of the rare literate scribes who kept the most meticulous records of early antiquity.

The contours of the state wavered between centralization and delegation that led to 2 breakdowns of authority over intervals of over 1000 years, with dark ages that could last centuries as central power re-consolidated itself. The Pharaohs were hereditary autocrats, constantly expanding outwards, and later they came from the military, as restorers of order. It was only after 2100 years that the ideology itself began to break down, beginning first with the military Pharaohs who emerged after the collapse of the Rameside dynasty, accelerating as Egypt fell to a succession of foreign invaders, ending finally with its incorporation into Rome. In the last 900 years, as ideological beliefs eroded, led to a series bizarre cults and lacked spirit and became industries, in which cats, baboons, and ibexes were worshipped and mummified. This kind of cycle should give anyone pause when thinking that our way is the right way and will endure in the vastly diverse panorama of human possibility.

To cover interesting or consequential monarchs, Wilkinson focuses on a number of them in greater detail, such as Akhenaten, the monotheist heretic and father of Tutankhamen, or Cleopatra as the last one of all. He never gets mired in academic proofs, yet provides an accurate and balanced picture that is beautifully written.

Many reviewers appear put off by the author's criticisms of the society, i.e. that it was a brutal autocracy, even a proto-totalitarian state. I would defend his right to make such judgments because they come from a lifetime of study and teaching. Besides, they stimulate further inquiry rather than glibly cut off avenues, the mark of a great educator. Recommended with the greatest enthusiasm.


The Kids Are All Right [DVD]
The Kids Are All Right [DVD]
Dvd ~ Julianne Moore
Offered by b68solutions
Price: £2.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars middle-aged crises of parents who happen to be 2 moms, 8 Feb. 2012
This review is from: The Kids Are All Right [DVD] (DVD)
This is a perceptive and intelligent film that anyone can relate to who has been married for a long time with kids. It just happens that the parents are lesbians, both having accepted seed from the same donor. First the son, then the older daughter, decide to meet him without telling their moms. The donor dad, of course, throws a delicate system badly out of balance and conflict ensues.

That is the plot. The people underneath are acted with a delicate intensity that is so good it approaches real life, as only the best art can accomplish. While very funny, this is not a comedy but a serious drama that I found moving and thought provoking. Allowing herself to appear splendidly middle-aged, Benning plays a tightly wound doctor, the breadwinner and maintainer of order. Moore is the designated full-time mother, who is less together and feeling neglected by her spouse. Their children are also realistic: the elder daughter is responsible and brilliant, the younger son rebellious and a bit of a laggard who hangs out with the wrong crowd. The donor father, Russo, is kind of a sensualist rogue, never settling down and entering mid life as a successful restauranteur.

Without revealing the spoiler details, once Russo throws a spanner into the works, all the relationships are thrown into question. Benning is threatened, but she plays it very down-stated, with faux pas and overly strenuous attempts to ingratiate herself. Moore acts out, with devastating consequences. The kids move from admiring Russo to shocked disappointment. It leads to one of those great resolutions that is as unsatisfactory as it is realistic when it comes to long marriages.

If the film has a point, it is that this is a family like any other, just with 2 moms. I don't know if the point needs to be made, but it doesn't distort the drama in the slightest.


The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt
The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt
by Toby Wilkinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.74

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolutely first-rate longitudinal history of a unique civilization, 8 Feb. 2012
It took me 3 tries to find a book that would offer a comprehensive tour of Egyptian civilization, from its origins in prehistory to its end with Cleopatra 3000 years later. The two previous books I read were deadly dull, one the driest of academic treatments (The Oxford History), the other a scholastic mess, ANcient Egypt; the former got mired in esoteric academic controversies while the latter was so flavorless and elementary as to bore completely. In contrast, this book offers snapshots of the dynasties and how they evolved, gives an interpretation of the religion and what drove the civilization, and makes hard judgments as to the type of society it was. All in wonderfully vivid, crisp prose. While written by a scholar for accuracy, it appeals immediately and effortlessly to laymen. The result is a genuine masterpiece that I was beginning to fear was impossible to achieve.

The root of the civilization began in the south along the Nile during the 4th C BCE, from cow herders who discovered how to apply farming techniques in the valley that flooded with fertile silt at the beginning of every growing season. This origin explains one of its oldest symbols associated with Pharaohs: the herding staff in one hand, the lash in the other. Though it began with a number of kingdoms, they were slowly consolidated under military leadership, extending north to the Mediterranean Sea. As it expanded, the empire incorporated local deities into their pantheon as a way of co-opting the loyalty of conquered locals, resulting in a huge collection of gods, sacred animals, and stories, many of them resembling Greek and even Christian traditions later. Not only was Egypt protected by natural barriers, but it was organized into one of the most effective early autocracies, mobilizing vast wealth and manpower over a coherent and safe region.

Wilkinson explains the ideology of the state with wonderful succinctness. The pharaoh was variously the embodiment, reflection, and instrument of the Gods on Earth, a keeper of the balance of nature whose power came at the price of showing the proper deference to the Gods in ritual, the erection of massive architectural tributes, and the maintenance of the economy. A large part of this was their work and life after death, when they exercised their right to join the Gods as immortals. It was an extremely hierarchical society, with everyone serving their parts, at least at first in sincere belief. It was a complete system that supported autocracy, was supposed to guarantee food and the weather, and that protected Egypt's security. Of course, if nature or events didn't cooperate, the Pharaohs found themselves in danger rather quickly.

Their works were unique in world history, massive undertakings on a scale never before seen or some would argue since. The largest 2 pyramids in Giza (after a notable debacle in the desert because too much weight was amassed on softer ground) took the work of 10,000 men over 20 years of labor! While the Giza pyramids were never surpassed, the Egyptians built almost constantly for 3000 years. They also developed jewelry, mummification techniques, and a complex writing system that conferred power of the rare literate scribes who kept the most meticulous records of early antiquity.

The contours of the state wavered between centralization and delegation that led to 2 breakdowns of authority over intervals of over 1000 years, with dark ages that could last centuries as central power re-consolidated itself. The Pharaohs were hereditary autocrats, constantly expanding outwards, and later they came from the military, as restorers of order. It was only after 2100 years that the ideology itself began to break down, beginning first with the military Pharaohs who emerged after the collapse of the Rameside dynasty, accelerating as Egypt fell to a succession of foreign invaders, ending finally with its incorporation into Rome. In the last 900 years, as ideological beliefs eroded, led to a series bizarre cults and lacked spirit and became industries, in which cats, baboons, and ibexes were worshipped and mummified. This kind of cycle should give anyone pause when thinking that our way is the right way and will endure in the vastly diverse panorama of human possibility.

To cover interesting or consequential monarchs, Wilkinson focuses on a number of them in greater detail, such as Akhenaten, the monotheist heretic and father of Tutankhamen, or Cleopatra as the last one of all. He never gets mired in academic proofs, yet provides an accurate and balanced picture that is beautifully written.

Many reviewers appear put off by the author's criticisms of the society, i.e. that it was a brutal autocracy, even a proto-totalitarian state. I would defend his right to make such judgments because they come from a lifetime of study and teaching. Besides, they stimulate further inquiry rather than glibly cut off avenues, the mark of a great educator. Recommended with the greatest enthusiasm.


Lemon Tree (2008) [DVD]
Lemon Tree (2008) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Hiam Abbass
Offered by The World Cinema Store
Price: £5.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars painful personal journeys and microcosm of the Israeli dilemma, 16 Jan. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Lemon Tree (2008) [DVD] (DVD)
This is a wonderful drama that raises a personal issue to the level of telling the story of a nation. On one side, there is a beautiful Palestinian widow, who runs a lemon grove on the border of the occupied territories. She is modest, not at all political, and yet has a quiet determination and natural charisma. On the other side, the newly installed Minister of Defense for Israel moves into a house next to the lemon grove, bringing a security apparatus and personal power to the remote area. Suddenly, the lemon grove is called a security threat and he wants it cut down, in accordance with the secret service officers who are assigned to protect him. What ensues is a legal battle that becomes a political cause celebre.

Many viewers have criticized the film as anti-Israeli, but I disagree with that judgment on a number of levels. First, there are a number of full-blooded characters on the Israeli side, who struggle with what is happening. In particular the Minister's wife: she sees the situation, yet does not know what exactly she might do and struggles with it in spite of her husband's insensitivity. When she talks to a reporter, her actions lead to unforeseen consequences, which highlight many aspects of Israel's political system yet make no definitive statement and offers no unambiguous message. In my view, this is very much like what might happen in real life. Second, the Palestinian characters are also not at all simple: some are good, some not, and many are normal people trying to get through the day. While the woman is certainly a victim, there is nothing maudlin or tendentious about her struggle: it is realistic and she faces terrible odds. There is also a lawyer of good motives but questionable behavior and nosy, conservative neighbors. Third, and most importantly, there is a vital subtext to the story. No matter what you can say about the difficulties and injustices that Palestinians face, Israeli democracy is still functioning: the protagonists can seek legal redress and due process, the press is independent, and there is no outright repression of their actions. Indeed, the Minister is embarrassed that people ask him if he is "afraid of lemons".

My whole family watched this and we were utterly riveted from the opening scene. It is an excellent vehicle to stimulate discussion. Warmly recommended.


Nightmare Alley [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Nightmare Alley [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by supermart_usa
Price: £6.55

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best film noirs, truly terrifying and sad, 16 Jan. 2012
This is the story of an orphaned youth, played by Power, who is determined to make it even though he has nothing. Working in a cheap road show, he charms his colleagues, seduces someone who can teach him a special trick, and puts together an act that will bring him into the big time. But he is haunted by the geek, an alcoholic who is hired to bite the heads off of chickens and lizards. There is another alcoholic, the companion of the woman teaching him, who also concerns him. FOr a long time, his career works, allowing him to enter the top tier of New York society. He married a beautiful girl from the carny, who performs perfectly as his assistant and they are deeply in love. Of course, things don't work out.

This is so good that it is like a psychological drama. In a way, I hesitate to call it a film noir, but that is the category it is in. I warmly recommend this film. It is of superior quality.


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