Profile for L. E. Cantrell > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by L. E. Cantrell
Top Reviewer Ranking: 3,462
Helpful Votes: 1215

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
L. E. Cantrell (Vancouver, British Columbia Canada)
(REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1-10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21-30
pixel
Poirot Collection [DVD] [2003] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Poirot Collection [DVD] [2003] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars David Suchet returns in four dramatized Christie Novels, 5 Sept. 2010
This set of Poirot adventures consists of four of Dame Agatha's novels dramatized at TV feature length. The four novels are "Death on the Nile" (1937), "Sad Cypress" (1940), "Five Little Pigs" (1942) and "The Hollow" (1946). Four other novels are dramatized in the companion set, "Agatha Christie's Poirot - Classic Crimes Collection." The two sets contain the output of the new A&E production team to 2007.

The new series diverge from the old in a number of ways. They concentrate on Christie's novel-length works rather than her short stories. Far more important to Amazon US vreviewers, though, seems to be the change in casting. The dim but endearing Captain Hastings, the hyper-efficient Miss Lemon and that stolid plod, Chief Inspector Japp are all gone. We find Poirot alone in his new, smaller, gloomier, distinctly less impressive flat--although he's apparently still in the same building. Some note that the new scripts make references to modern sexual sensibilities that certainly, unquestionably, indubitably did not appear in Dame Aggie's writings. Typical reactions among those who mention this change involve one or all of dismay, disgust and disdain. Others have drawn attention to production values for the new series. One reviewer put it this way: "[T]he production value of the films has gone through the roof. Simply put, these are the best looking Poirot films made so far, particularly with regards to `film moment' shots and the use of color in regards to theme." Finally, there has been the obvious effect of all-devouring time; the now portly Suchet is sixty-ish and he looks it.

Let's consider that point, the older Poirot. In 1920, Hercule Poirot appeared in Agatha Christie's first book, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles," a novel set in the middle of the First World War. Captain Hastings, wounded on the Western Front, is back in England to recover. He happens to meet an odd little man named Hercule Poirot (a name plainly impossible for any self-respecting Englishman to pronounce correctly.) Poirot is described as an elderly Belgian refugee who is a retired policeman. Considering the events that took place in Belgium in the late summer of 1914, it must be assumed that he retired no later than the first half that year. If Poirot retired at sixty--Christie writing at age 30 would probably have considered that to be elderly--he was born no later than 1854. If at sixty-five, then 1851. The earlier his retirement, the earlier his birth date.

Poirot's career in England stretched from the horrors of the Western Front to what he and his creator clearly regarded as the only slightly less baleful era of rock 'n roll. For production convenience, the original series was set in 1935. 1937 seems to be the date for this series, considering that the name of a certain Mrs Simpson appears in the newspapers. In 1937, Hercule Poirot must have been at least 83 years old. All things considered, David Suchet was and still remains entirely too young for the part.

In 1916, Agatha Miller Christie was thinking about writing a book for pin money. (Monetary cpnsiderations aside, her older sister had bet her she couldn't do it!) She and her dashing husband Archie Christie were bright young things, but on their beam ends financially. She wrote letter to a friend in which she whined that they could afford only two servants. She decided to write a mystery. At the time, there was only one true pattern for a detective and its name was S. Holmes, still very much a living literary figure. Twelve stories of his Canon were yet to be written and they wouldn't be published between hard covers until 1927 with "The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes." After collecting a set of galling rejections, Agatha's first book, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" and Hercule Poirot saw print in 1920.

Holmes had a biographer named Watson, plodding colleagues at Scotland Yard, beginning with Inspector Lestrade, and a landlady-housekeeper, Mrs Hudson. Following the set pattern, Christie gave Poirot his biographer in Captain Hastings--the complete boob that Watson NEVER was--and he introduced Inspector Japp. Later, Poirot would find his London flat and enjoy the ministrations of Miss Lemon. In all but a single short story, she is a background figure.

In the older TV series, Hastings got into everything. Miss Lemon's role expanded beyond anything in Christie's writings. All police detectives combined into Chief Inspector Japp. All this, first to humanize the little Belgian detective, then to ease the endless task of explaining plot points.

In 1926, Christie hit the big time with "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd." She was universally acknowledged as the great successor to Conan Doyle. But Hastings wasn't even in "Ackroyd." She realized that she had no need to follow Holmes anymore, so she sent the tedious Hastings off to molt in some remote South American exile, bringing him back only on a rare, sentimental occasion.

In this Hastings-, Lemon- and Japp-free series, the new producers have done no more than follow Christie's lead. Nevertheless, I miss them, just as I sometimes miss them in the written versions. The producers really ought to bring them back for at least one show in each season.

Regarding post-Christie sensibilities on sexual matters, heaven knows it's mild enough stuff in these productions, but why do they bother? The stories are set in 1937, not 2007 or even 1977. Whatever people were doing then, they certainly were not talking about it freely, as here. (Yes, I am perfectly aware of such people as Sackville-West and Trefusis, but that was a juicy scandal, not a casual aside as in "The Hollow.")

Finally, there are the production values. Some reviewers are impressed. I am not. Whatever the current producers are paying, they are not getting their money's worth. The old series was a gem. Remember those opening graphics? And that annoying but unforgettable theme music? The old series showcased Art Deco artifacts and architecture. The Deco movement peaked, then fell away in hardly more than a decade--two at most. I am convinced the old series showcased every good example of Art Deco architecture to be found in all of Britain. By contrast, the new series is flat and uninteresting. Instead of bright, clean-lined Art Deco, we are shown nothing but the same-old-same-old Masterpiece Theater/A&E Presents visual blahs that turn up a dozen times a week on PBS. Even worse is the rhythm of the new series. Several times in each episode, with the regularity--not to mention the soul--of a stopwatch, everything comes lurching to a halt. (Why they do not display a card saying "Insert Commercial Here" I cannot imagine.) And the music! That old tune is still there, but almost inaudible in the background. What a waste! Let's not even talk about the opening credits.

In summary, these are acceptable, if sometimes VERY loose adaptations of Christie's mid-career novels. They're OK, but they are not the visual treats they used to be. On the other hand, even mediocre Poirot is better than no Poirot at all.

Four stars wit' ze little grey cells.


Poirot: Classic Crimes Collection [DVD] [1989] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Poirot: Classic Crimes Collection [DVD] [1989] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by IMPOSSIBLE-TO-BEAT-PRICES
Price: £20.47

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars David Suchet returns in four dramatized Christie Novels, 5 Sept. 2010
This set, "Agatha Christie's Poirot - Classic Crimes Collection," consists of four of Dame Agatha's Poirot novels dramatized at TV feature length. The four novels are "The Mystery of the Blue Train" (1928), "Cards on the Table" (1936), "Taken at the Flood" (1948) and "After the Funeral" (1953). Four other novels are dramatized in the companion set, "Agatha Christie's Poirot - The New Mysteries Collection." The two sets display the output of the new A&E production team.

The new series diverge from the old in a number of ways. They concentrate on Christie's novel-length works rather than her short stories. Far more important to Amazon US reviewers, though, seems to be the change in casting. The dim but endearing Captain Hastings, the hyper-efficient Miss Lemon and that stolid plod, Chief Inspector Japp are all gone. We find Poirot alone in his new, smaller, gloomier, distinctly less impressive flat--although he's apparently still in the same building. Some reviewers note that the new scripts make references to modern sexual sensibilities in ways that certainly, unquestionably, indubitably did not appear in Dame Aggie's writings. Typical reactions among those who mention this change involve one or all of dismay, disgust and disdain. Others have drawn attention to production values for the new series. One reviewer put it this way: "[T]he production value of the films has gone through the roof. Simply put, these are the best looking Poirot films made so far, particularly with regards to `film moment' shots and the use of color in regards to theme." Finally, there has been the obvious effect of all-devouring time; the now portly Suchet is sixty-ish and he looks it.

Let's consider that point, the older Poirot. In 1920, Hercule Poirot appeared in Agatha Christie's first book, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles," a novel set in the middle of the First World War. Captain Hastings, wounded on the Western Front, is on leave to recover back in England. He happens to meet an odd little man named Hercule Poirot (a name plainly impossible for any self-respecting Englishman to pronounce correctly.) Poirot is described as an elderly Belgian refugee who is a retired policeman. Considering the events that took place in Belgium in the late summer of 1914, it must be assumed that he retired no later than the first half that year. If Poirot retired at sixty--Christie writing at age 30 would probably have considered that to be elderly--he was born no later than 1854. If at sixty-five, then 1849. The earlier his retirement, the earlier his birth date.

Poirot's career in England stretched from the horrors of the Western Front to what he and his creator clearly regarded as the only slightly less baleful era of rock 'n roll. For convenience, the original series was notionally set in 1935. 1937 seems to be the date for this series, considering that the name of a certain Mrs Simpson appears in the newspapers. In 1937, Hercule Poirot must have been at least 83 years old. All things considered, David Suchet was and still remains entirely too young for the part.

In 1916, Agatha Miller Christie was thinking about writing a book for pin money. (Monetary considerations aside, her older sister had made a bet with her that she couldn't do it!) She and her dashing husband Archie Christie were bright young things, but on their beam ends financially. She once wrote a self-pitying letter in which she complained she could afford only two servants[!]. She decided to write a mystery. At the time, there was only one true pattern for a detective and his name was S. Holmes, still very much a living literary figure, with twelve stories of his Canon yet to be written. After collecting a set of galling rejections, Agatha's first book, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" and Hercule Poirot finally saw print in 1920.

Holmes had a biographer named Watson, plodding colleagues at Scotland Yard, beginning with Inspector Lestrade, and a landlady-housekeeper, Mrs Hudson. Following the set pattern, Christie gave Poirot his biographer in Captain Hastings--the complete boob that Watson NEVER was--and he introduced Inspector Japp (among others). Later, Poirot would find his London flat and enjoy the ministrations of Miss Lemon, a background figure in all but a single short story.

In the older TV series, Hastings got into everything. Miss Lemon's role expanded beyond anything in Christie's writings. All police detectives combined into Chief Inspector Japp. All this, I presume, to humanize the little Belgian detective and to ease the endless task of explaining plot points.

In 1926, Christie hit the big time with her seventh book, "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd." She was acknowledged as the great successor to Conan Doyle. But Hastings wasn't even in "Ackroyd." She realized that she had no need to follow Holmes anymore, so she sent the now-tedious Hastings off to molt in some remote South American exile, bringing him back only on a rare sentimental occasion.

In this Hastings-, Lemon- and Japp-free series, the new producers have done no more than follow Christie's lead. Nevertheless, I miss them. The producers really ought to bring the trio back for at least one show in each season.

Regarding post-Christie sensibilities on sexual matters, heaven knows it's mild enough stuff in these productions, but why do they bother? The stories are set in 1937, not 2007 or even 1977. Whatever people were doing then, they certainly were not talking about it freely, as here. (And yes, I am aware of such people as Sackville-West and Trefusis, but that was a juicy scandal, not a casual aside, as in "The Hollow" in the companion series.)

Finally, there are the production values. Some reviewers are impressed. I am not. Whatever the current producers are paying, they are not getting their money's worth. The old series was a well-designed gem. Remember those opening graphics? And that annoying but unforgettable theme music? The old series showcased Art Deco artifacts and architecture. The Deco movement peaked, then fell away in hardly more than a decade--two at most. I am convinced the old series showcased every good example of Art Deco architecture to be found in all of Britain. By contrast, the new series is flat, uninteresting. Instead of bright, clean-lined Art Deco, we see nothing but the same-old-same-old Masterpiece Theater/A&E Presents visual blahs that turn up a dozen times a week on PBS. Even worse is the rhythm of the new series. With the regularity--not to mention the soul of a stopwatch, everything periodically comes to a lurching halt. (Why they do not display a black card saying "Insert Commercial Here" I cannot imagine.) And the music! That old tune is still there, but almost inaudible in the background. What a waste! Let's not even talk about the opening credits.

In summary, these are acceptable productions of (sometimes VERY) loose adaptations of Christie's mid-career novels. They're good enough, but not the visual treats they used to be. On the other hand, even mediocre Poirot is better than no Poirot at all.

Four stars wit' ze little grey cells.

----

ON THE ANTIQUITY OF HERCULE POIROT:
In "His Last Bow," which takes place at the end of August 1914, the age of Sherlock Holmes is specifically given as sixty. He must, therefore, have been born no earlier than September 1853. In a series of deductions worthy of their idol, Holmesian scholars have convincingly conjectured that his birthday was in January 1854. (The deductions start from an out-of-sorts and probably hung-over Holmes in an adventure dated to January.)

From the argument in the review above, it will be noted that the youngest possible Poirot is an exact contemporary of Sherlock Holmes. It is entirely possible that he is the elder of the two by about five years.

From time to time, Holmes speaks in praise of detectives in other countries. One such detective is a Frenchman. I find it impossible to believe that Holmes would be unaware of such a formidable colleague just across the Channel, or that Poirot would fail to take note of the Englishman. For all his acumen, Holmes was very much an Englishman and I find no difficulty in believing that he shared the universal English indifference (as so often and so carefully chronicled by Agatha Christie) to the trifling fact that Belgium and France are two separate countries.

Poirot's last case is set out in "Curtain," published after Christie's death in January 1976. The book was written in the 1940s to bring the saga to a fitting and final close, then set aside until the author felt her own end coming. If Poirot died in 1942, say, he must have been at least 87 or 88. But Poirot did not die in the 1940s, for in one of his later adventures he is exposed to young people listening to rock music on portable radios, neither or which he likes. If Poirot died, then, in 1972, he departed this world in glorious style at the age of 118.

Evoe, Hercule!


Crusader Gold
Crusader Gold
by David J. L. Gibbins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Mr. Brown, Mr. Cussler, meet Dr. Gibbins who is poaching on your territory, 5 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Crusader Gold (Paperback)
In 2007, when this review was written, the website of David Gibbins, the author of "Crusader Gold," roared off with this boastful trumpet blast: "New York Times bestselling author and archaeologist David Gibbins, whose novels Atlantis and Crusader Gold have sold more than half a million copies since 2005 and are being published in more than 30 languages." Who am I to doubt a word of it? Gibbins holds a Ph.D. in archeology. He was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, but he has based his education and career in the UK. Throughout the 1990s he was a university lecturer who taught archaeology, art history and ancient history. He is now, we are informed, devoting himself to writing novels and carrying out archeological fieldwork on a full-time basis.

Dr. Gibbins' fiction inspires some pretty profound reactions. At the Amazon UK site, the first of the two spotlighted reviews for his previous book, "Atlantis," offered these comments: "This is quite possibly the WORST book I have ever had the misfortune to read. I stuck with it thinking it has to get better when they get to Atlantis.... Please for the love of God save your money and buy something else! This book is a thinly vailed [sic] Science [sic] lesson masquerading as an adventure novel!" The second said, "Despite the atrocious ratings that have already labelled this book a disaster, I personally think that it was not all that bad." On the back cover of the book the English newspaper, the Mirror, is quoted rhetorically asking, "What do you get if you cross Indiana Jones with Dan Brown? Answer: David Gibbons." One Amazon UK reviewer snorted at that, saying, "I rather feel that the Answer should have been more along the lines of `A complete waste of money'."

This is a "what if" type of book. The particular one here being what if Harald Hardrada, the Viking King of Norway who invaded England in 1066, hadn't actually died in the battle at Stamford Bridge at the hands of the defending Anglo-Saxons? Now Harald was a barbarian's barbarian; he'd been everywhere and done everything that a Viking thought worth going or doing. He was the kind of guy who would buy Conan the Barbarian a beer and maybe offer him a few pointers. As a youngster on the losing side of a Viking battle, he'd high-tailed it down to Constantinople, risen high in the Imperial Guard, then returned home flush with loot, murdered his brother Magnus and settled in to be a king.

What if, asks Gibbins, Harald had only been wounded in the battle? If he had recuperated at the Monastery at Iona, then sailed off into the western sunset? He even quotes Tennyson on that point, but not very appropriately, I'm afraid. Here's a much more pertinent jingle from the Poet Laureate: "Death closes all; but something ere the end, / Some work of noble note may yet be done / ... for my purpose holds / To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths / Of all the western stars , until I die. / ... Tho' much is taken, much abides, and tho' / We are not now that strength which in old days / Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are."

Gibbins' idea is a fine one: tracing Harald in his last work of noble note. His execution of the idea, though, is atrocious. The man simply hasn't a clue about dramatic pacing. The plot has the regularity and predictability of a Ferris Wheel: voyage, lecture, discovery, lecture, crisis; voyage (last crisis now virtually forgotten), lecture, discovery, lecture, crisis ... and so on to the end. The great final confrontation (you didn't imagine there would NOT be a great final confrontation, did you?) is neither more nor less than any of the half dozen or more crises that preceded it.

Gibbins' wordsmithing skills are on a par with his plotting. His lectures, oh, his endless lectures! Page after page, one character explains things to another character who by all the laws of commonsense ought already to know. The teacher should be bound, gagged and locked in a closet by the thriller writer.

His characters have no inner life. They exist solely at the behest of the plot and act only to forward it. Here is an example that is appallingly typical of the whole book:

"`It's twenty-three metres from the edge of the platform to water surface, give or take a few centimetres. We'll need to rig a pretty elaborate gantry to get the machinery operational.'

"`If they could do it in the 1950s, we can do it now. I'll trust your ingenuity.'

"`As it happens, I've designed just the thing.'" [Page 307 of the trade paperback]

There are other faults, but I'll content myself with just two. Gibbins is an archeologist. He taught archeology. Why, then, are his heroes such thorough-going treasure hunters and looters that they make Indiana Jones look positively respectable and scholarly?

And why, even this Da Vinci Code-mad age, must we have yet another sinister Vatican conspiracy? Consider this:

"`There's a kind of internal inquisition, run by one of the cardinals. It's always been there. But this is more sinister, as bad as it can get.... All I can say now is he's shockingly powerful inside the Vatican. He could squash me on a whim. I've got nothing to pin on him for certain but enough to put his activities in the spotlight when I go public about this.'" [Page 198]

Hm, let's see now. The book was published in 2006. We can safely assume that it refers to events no later than early 2005. This very powerful cardinal who runs an internal inquisition that's always been there, he's a member of a clandestine organization that is strongly associated with Germans. Now, who could that be?

It so happens that I am not Catholic, but I am getting truly tired of this sort of Dan Brown-style nonsense, all for the sake of selling thrillers. Why can't we find our sinister villains elsewhere? A Mennonite conspiracy carried out by a shadowy band of latter day Cathar knights--now THAT would be something!

Two stars. After all, the book has the undeniable virtue of not being by Dan Brown.


Verdi: Aida
Verdi: Aida
Offered by \/\/ WORLD WIDE MEDIA MARKET /\/\
Price: £36.41

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Aida" as drama set to music, 5 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Verdi: Aida (Audio CD)
SOURCE:
Studio production made on August 10-12, 16-20 and 23-24, 1955 at Teatro alla Scala, Milan and originally issued on the Columbia label.

SOUND:
Pretty good mid-1950s studio recording, although probably not of leading edge quality even on the day it was laid down. Nevertheless, this "Aida" sounds better than many of Callas' complete opera recordings, some of which sound just plain awful. By digital standards, the recorded range is relatively narrow and a bit boxy, but the voices are nicely captured and given prominence over the orchestra, as was the fashion of the time. Overall, I think the sound should be satisfactory to all but narrow-minded audiophiles.

CAST:
Aida, an Ethiopian slave to Amneris - Maria Callas (soprano)
Radames, a captain of the royal guard destined for higher things - Richard Tucker (tenor)
Amneris, the daughter of Pharaoh - Fedora Barbieri (mezzo-soprano)
Amonasro, the warrior King of Ethiopia - Tito Gobbi (baritone)
Ramfis, the High Priest - Giuseppe Modesti (bass)
King of Egypt - Nicola Zaccaria (bass)
A messenger - Franco Ricciardi (tenor)
A priestess - Elvira Galassi (soprano)

CONDUCTOR:
Tullio Serafin with the Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala in Milan.

COMMENTARY:
Verdi's "Aida" can be approached as an intimate drama with elements of spectacle or as a spectacle with intimate moments. While Serafin gives nice play to the circus to be found in the middle of the opera, his real attention is directed toward the words, thoughts and interactions of the slave, the young general, the princess and the warrior-king. In spectacle-oriented performances, such as those led by Solti and Mehta, Ramphis, the High Priest, is a leading figure in the drama, for he embodies the official position of the Egyptian state so spectacularly on display. Here, he is a secondary character, not so much because Giuseppe Modesti was a lesser singer than Callas, Tucker, Barbieri or Gobbi, but because Ramphis is exterior to the dramatic core of the opera as Serafin--and indeed the old Italian tradition, saw it.

Tullio Serafin embodied the mainline of Italian tradition in performing operas. For those accustomed to the current international style, Serafin can be a shock. His manner may even seem deplorable. He did not care a fig about the present day fetish of textual completeness. His concern was with dramatic effectiveness. He was not a living metronome. His tempi are amazingly flexible (his critics would say downright loose) by current standards, but always with a dramatic purpose. He was not a drill master. He accepted a little raggedness in the chorus or less than perfect intonation from the orchestra in pursuit of phrasings and emphases that prove to be profoundly right, time after time.

Maria Callas was not a naturally-born Aida. For the sheer, glorious, creamy tone many fans expect from an Aida, you must go to Zinka Milanov, Renata Tebaldi or even Leontyne Price. Callas sang Aida in the early part of her career. A pirate recording from Mexico City captures her in full whoop-ti-doo mode with all the long-held notes and flights to stratospheric heights that her fans adored, but at which Verdi would have snarled. She made her debut at La Scala as Aida (with no great success), filling in for an ailing Tebaldi. She stopped singing the role on stage in 1953. When this recording was made in 1955, she was no longer so brilliant a songbird, but she was a vastly superior singing actress. In sound, she is good, even very good--but no more than that. In expressing the fleeting thoughts, the bounding emotions, the very soul of Aida the slave girl, she is unsurpassed.

Much to my surprise, I can't find anything to suggest that the apparently natural onstage pairing of Tito Gobbi and Maria Callas in "Aida" ever took place. There were baritones with better voices, but there were no better singing actors in the Twentieth Century. I saw him only a few times, at the tag end of his career, when his tattered voice was sometimes painful to hear. Despite that, he gave the best performances of Nabucco and Gianni Schicchi I ever saw or expect to see. His Amonasro sets the mark against which all his successors must be measured.

Fedora Barbieri was one of a handful of phenomenal Italian mezzo-sopranos who set the standards for the last century. Her Amneris is a textbook on the Italian style.

Richard Tucker can be criticized for his technique, especially intonation, his unique (to say the least) pronunciation of Italian, for his straight-ahead persona, but all that is irrelevant. When the man sings, he gets the job done. I am an absolute Tucker fan. For all his faults, it's a pleasure to listen to a truly heroic-sounding tenor who also manages to fit in quite comfortably with Serafin's concept of the opera.

This is a fine, historic performance that showcases a fading tradition. The four principal singers were larger than life even then, more than fifty years ago, and they remain so today.

Five stars.


Verdi: Un giorno di Regno
Verdi: Un giorno di Regno
Offered by worldcollectabilia
Price: £14.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good 1951 cast in surprisingly graceful comedy, 4 Sept. 2010
SOURCE:
Performance recorded live on January 25, 1951 for broadcast on RAI and subsequent publication by CETRA.

SOUND:
1951 Italian mono. As usual for recordings of this period, voices are well-captured and given emphasis. The orchestra sounds somewhat compressed and rather distant; the piano, in particular, sounds as though it is locked away in someone's dressing room. One's ear quickly becomes accustomed to the period sound, however, and it is perfectly listenable.

COMMENTARY:
This is Verdi's other comedy, his second opera. It premiered in 1840 with no success and served as a marker for the bleakest period of the composer's life, during which his two children and his first wife died. As Verdi, himself, famously told the story, he despaired of ever writing another opera, and fell into an uncreative depression until a publisher forced the libretto for what came to be his third opera, "Nabucco," into his pocket.

"Un giorno di regno," is hardly ever performed and seldom recorded. Like "Alzira," it is regarded as one of Verdi's misfires and better left untouched. Prior to listening to this performance, I knew that I would not hear a youthful "Falstaff." I did have some hazy expectation, however, of listening to a sort of primordial, protoplasmic Fra Melitone along with some touches of Oscar and of that drummer-girl, whatever her name is, from "La forza del destino."

I could not have been more wrong. From the overture on, I defy anyone unfamiliar with the piece to identify this as a work by Verdi. It now seems to me that in 1840, the 27 year-old hayseed from Busetto had concluded that the very model of a modern operatic comedy had been devised by Donizetti, so he set out to write one for himself. If "Un giorno di regno" is not precisely Donizettian, it is absolutely not Verdian. It even has--and this I never expected of Verdi!--passages of dry recitative accompanied by piano. It also has light, charming little tunes that might sneak in the back door of Don Pasquale's house, but would be trampled by the horses at Ernani's fortress or wither beneath Iago's sneers. Still, for all that, "Un giorno" is a charming piece of work. Just as "Andrea Chenier" is the very best Puccini opera that Puccini did not happen to write, "Un giorno di regno" might be the best Donizetti comedy not by Donizetti. This is certainly the only Verdi opera I know of which the word "pretty" can be used appropriately.

The cast is a good example of the wartime generation in Italy. Capecchi and Bruscantini acquired international fame. Lina Pagliughi's great girth kept her from performing very often on Italian opera stages but she was a strong presence in radio performances. Before the war she recorded a very formidable "Lucia" in the pre-Callas style that became part of the CETRA catalogue and is now available in various editions, including one from Naxos. The youthful Juan Oncina's voice had a pleasing quality to it and a resemblance to Tito Schipa's that I suspect was not entirely accidental.

This is a fine performance of a most un-Verdilike Verdi opera. I think it is worth five stars.

-------

HISTORICAL NOTE:
That "Un giorno di regno" is so singulary un-Verdian in subject, style and vocal character is almost certainly attributable to the circumstances of its creation. At this stage in his career, Verdi (just as Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini before him) wrote to order for a specific impresario at a specific opera house for a specific cast during a specific season. He would have written his music with the capabilities of the singers and the desires of the impresario firmly in mind. In this case the singers were Raineri, Abbadia, Salvi, Ferlotti and Scalese and the impresario was Bartolomeo Merelli, the general manager of La Scala. Ten months earlier, Raineri had been the soprano at the premiere of "Oberto," Verdi's first opera, and Salvi had been the tenor.

On the opening night, September 5, 1840, Verdi sat, as was then the custom for composers, in the orchestra pit, where he listened to hisses and boos from the audience. On the following day, the reviews were unfavorable and the remaining scheduled performances of the opera were cancelled.

Twenty years later, Verdi wrote a letter, saying this about his second opera, "From that day to this, I have never set eyes on Un giorno di regno; it is certainly a bad opera, although many other operas no better have been tolerated." (I strongly suspect that among those tolerated operas that were no better, Verdi would have placed "L'elisir d'amore" and "Don Pasquale.")

Verdi walked away from his youthful failure and never looked back, just as Wagner did with his "Das Liebesverbot," with the result that two fine works have languished for over 160 years.


Breach [DVD] [2007]
Breach [DVD] [2007]

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another traitor within the walls and a break-out role for Chris Cooper, 4 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Breach [DVD] [2007] (DVD)
In the 1950s, British intelligence was penetrated and effectively gutted by Soviet agents. The most famous of them was Kim Philby. Before his discovery and subsequent disappearance behind the Iron Curtain, Philby had been a mentor to the American, James Jesus Angleton, who later became the chief spy hunter for the CIA. Angleton devoted the remainder of his career to a relentless, sometimes ruthless and ultimately fruitless hunt for a Soviet mole whom he believed had penetrated the American intelligence establishment. In the 1990s, the FBI's Robert Hannsen was, in some ways, a pallid and lesser version of Angleton who also conducted a fruitless hunt for the Soviet, then Russian mole. He, himself, of course, was that mole.

These deplorable events have been a godsend to novelists and movie makers. John LeCarre wrote a very good book about a British spy catcher named Smiley's successful hunt for a Philby-like mole in "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." With Alec Guinness as Smiley, it became a truly brilliant TV mini-series. Some years later, LeCarre took another bite of the same apple with "A Perfect Spy." This time the (entirely too) sympathetic focus was on the spy himself and the anguish he felt as the spy hunters slowly drew the noose on his traitorous neck. The mini-series was OK but a great falling off from "Tailor, Tinker." Angleton's agony, much softened, was the core around which the recent film, "The Good Shepherd" was built.

Hannsen's story is told in "Breach." The movie was, I gather, based on a memoir by Eric O'Neill, who participated in the final take-down of Hannsen. And that is the problem with the film. Instead of LeCarre who, for all his faults, is a gifted and keen observer of the human condition as well as a master story teller, we have O'Neill, who is a ... gofer. He was brought into the case because the spy hunters knew that Hansen would size him up in these Shakespearean terms: "a slight unmeritable man, / Meet to be sent on errands... / A barren-spirited fellow; one that feeds / On objects, arts and imitations / Which out of use and stal'd by other men / Begin his fashion: do not talk of him / but as property." Throughout most of his contact with Hannsen, O'Neill's superiors didn't feel any need to tell him what he was actually doing. When the adults actually got around to letting him know, his greatest service seems to have been talking Hannsen into driving rather than walking to work.

On the other hand, if O'Neill is the problem, the glory of the film is Chris Cooper. If ever a journeyman actor was given a break-out part, it was Hannsen and Cooper was the actor. Going into the theater, I had no idea who Cooper was. As soon as he appeared on screen, my reaction was, "Oh, that guy." Walking out of the place, I thought of "Breach" as a Chris Cooper movie. I can only hope that producers have enough sense to develop good character roles for this fine actor.

There is some talk that the film shows that Ryan Philippe is an actor as well as a pretty face. Forget it. Careers are not built on portraying gofers.

Laura Linney was OK as O'Neill's boss, but she was miscast. Hannsen's nemesis should have been a match for him, an American Judy Dench--a Kathy Bates. Against Cooper-Hannsen's heavyweight traitor, Linney was no more than a lightweight--and Philippe hardly a flyweight.

This is a film designed to do well on DVD. There is a hunched-in feel about it. For all intents and purposes the story is told in one- and two-shots. There is never a feel of spaciousness. If an expanse of freeway is photographed, just to take one example, it is a freeway immobilized with a traffic jam. A cityscape is apt to be shot jammed up against a building facade. Night scenes manage to look just like backlot sets.

An earlier Amazon US reviewer lamented that "there is nothing mind blowing about this movie. There are some thrills, but I would wait to catch this one on DVD." He was entirely right. Because of Cooper, this is actually a pretty good movie for adults.


The Titfield Thunderbolt [DVD]
The Titfield Thunderbolt [DVD]
Dvd ~ Stanley Holloway
Offered by Andthebeatgoeson
Price: £14.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasing little English comedy from the middle of the Ealing pack, 4 Sept. 2010
With a little stretching, Ealing Studios traces its origins to a studio set up in London in 1896. An Ealing Studios currently exists and is boasting, even as I write this (in 2007), of a remake of "The Belles of St. Trinians" to be released later in the year. To most North American movie fans, though, Ealing Studios is vaguely remembered as the home of a handful of respectable dramas, such as "Scott of the Antarctic" and "The Ship That Died of Shame." Its true fame came from a series of excellent and intensely British comedies that defined a genre: the Ealing Comedies.

The great days of the Ealing comedies were crammed into little more than a single decade:
"Hue and Cry" (1947)
"Passport to Pimlico" (1949)
"Whisky Galore" [US: "Tight Little Island"] (1949)
"Kind Hearts and Coronets" (1949)
"The Lavender Hill Mob" (1951)
"The Man in the White Suit" (1951)
"The Titfield Thunderbolt" (1953)
"The Maggie" [US: "High and Dry"] (1954)
"The Lady Killers" (1956)
"Barnacle Bill" (1957)

I have a few stirrings of memory relating to the first run of "Kind Hearts and Coronets" in my hometown of San Francisco. I certainly remember a junior high school friend being bowled over by what must have been a revival a few years later. He recited the whole plot, along with stretches of dialogue. When I first saw it a, not so very long after that, I was surprised to find how accurate he'd been.

When "The Lavender Hill Mob" and "The Man in the White Suit" turned up, I saw them at the first-run theaters. "The Man in the White Suit" was the first movie I ever returned to a theater to see again in the same run. The later films were far less prominent, but they all made it into San Francisco and I saw them. Each one of them, however, cut by--oh, say 200 commercial breaks, became a staple of daytime, local television programming, as often as not in the 3:30 to 6:00 PM after-school ghetto.

"The Titfield Thunderbolt" was Ealing's first comedy in color--something that was still a big deal in 1953. It is a mellow little picture, lacking the sharp, go-for-the-jugular wit of the Alec Guinness vehicles, "Kind Hearts and Coronets," "The Lavender Hill Mob," "The Man in the White Suit," "The Lady Killers" and even the lesser "Barnacle Bill." "Thunderbolt's" Ealing peers were the Little-England-oriented, ensemble outings, "Passport to Pimlico" and "Whisky Galore," in which small communities spontaneously come together in the face of some (preposterous) necessity. In "Thunderbolt," semi-rural villagers living not far from London face up to the closing of their branch line rail service by running their own one-train system.

"Thunderbolt" is on nobody's list of great pictures but it is unquestionably a good movie. It had the misfortune to appear at about the same time as "Genevieve," a truly brilliant comedy (also in color) from rival Pinewood Studios. "Genevieve" mines the same veins of nostalgia and good heartedness, but with much tighter script and sharper focus.

If you must choose between the two, go for "Genevieve." Nevertheless, "The Titfield Thunderbolt" is warmly amusing, good to look at and well worth seeing. In the Amazon US version of this review, published three years ago, I gave the film four stars. Upon reflection, that seems unnecessarily peevish--so, five smiling stars.

DVD MINUTIA:
When I looked at this edition in a friend's collection, it appeared to be a good print in a barebones presentation. Yer pays yer penny an' yer gets yer movie, that's all.


Lytton's Diary - The Complete Series One & Two [DVD] [1985] [2006]
Lytton's Diary - The Complete Series One & Two [DVD] [1985] [2006]
Dvd ~ Peter Bowles

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining TV series about Fleet Street and a distant land called the 1980s, 4 Sept. 2010
On entering my local DVD rental shop I was surprised to find the familiar face of Peter Bowles smirking down at me from the box cover of a thing called "Lytton's Diary."

Well, who could pass that up?

"Lytton's Diary" turned out to be a British TV series from the 1980s that dealt with a London newspaper, and more specifically with the travails, agita and tsouris of producing a daily gossip column devoted to the foibles and shenanigans of the Brit chattering, entertaining, and empowered classes. In the first episode, the column is initially called simply the "Diary." By the end of the episode, after some maneuvering, doube-crosses and sheer dumb luck, Peter Bowles as the eponymous Lytton becomes head honcho over the team that gathers in all the crumbs that go into what is then and thereafter known as "Lytton's Diary."

And that's fine with me. I grew up in San Francisco where from the late 1930s to the 1980s, everyone either eagerly devoured the column of Herb Caen--in whichever of the daily fishwrappers he chose to honor with his presence--or loudly disdained it (after having eagerly devoured it.) Lytton is not quite the inkstained royalty that Caen was, but he'll do.

By some sort of trans-Atlantic succession, "Lytton's Diary" appeared on the airwawes just as the American "Lou Grant" was departing. Lou Grant, portrayed by Edward Asner, had been a much beloved comic character as Mary Richards' crusty boss in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." After the conclusion of that show, the Grant character, now out of a job, applied for a slot as a reporter at a major metropolitan daily. By the end of the first episode, by circumstances no more or less probable than those shown in "Lytton's Diary," Grant ended up as daily editor of the city news section of his paper.

Grant was rough, gruff, rumpled in both apparel and spirit, and ultimately devoted to finding out the facts and printing the truth. Lytton, on the other hand, was Saville Row-tailored, blow-dried, not quite totally reliable as lover, friend or boozing companion, and devoted to more than a little sinuosity in his ethics.

Both shows are probably pretty good indicators of the Zeitgeist of their respective times and places. And both shows are unquestionably entertaining.

One particularly striking thing about "Lytton's Diary" is that it is almost as good as a TARDIS trip to a far-distant place in the universe called the 1980s. In that strange and dreamlike world, the natives wear long and elaborate hairstyles. The men and most particularly Lytton wear skin-tight, over-tailored "suits" at all hours of the day, while devouring cigarettes and alcohol in prodigious quantities. They speak into telephones attached to one another by wires and controlled by primitive rotating dials instead of push-buttons. They write with the aid of large, hand-powered machines called "typewriters" in an open bullpen without a cubicle anywhere in sight. The word "computer" is never to be spoken.

Just imagine!

Normally, I'd assign four stars to this sort of show, but the evocation of the 80s and the ever-so-slightly reptillian Bowles are vastly entertaining, so five stars--and may Bowles' scales never rust!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 8, 2014 4:25 AM BST


The World of Null-A
The World of Null-A
by A. E. van Vogt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.71

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One from SF's Golden Age ... hooboy!, 3 Sept. 2010
This review is from: The World of Null-A (Paperback)
This is one of the best bad books I know.

It was first published as a three-part serial in the pulpy pages of Astounding Science Fiction Magazine during the second half of 1945, just after what was then regarded as the science fictional end of World War II. Considering the economics of scratching out a living as a pulp writer and the physical necessities of magazine publication in the heyday of the great Street and Smith pulps, it was probably written in the spring of that year. A couple of references to atomic power were, I think, hastily edited in just before the presses turned. (I have always rather fancied the atomic-powered flashlight that the hero totes for a couple of pages before it is forgotten entirely.)

Van Vogt's hero is a man whose name may or may not be Gilbert Gosseyn. At the beginning of the book, the poor schnook just wants to take a test to qualify for a job. Then things begin to go wrong, really wrong. First he gets killed, shot to pieces by machineguns, then he....

Years later, Alfred (a name he loathed) van Vogt said that he had stumbled on the name "Gosseyn" as the chief of some obscure Central Asian tribe. He had liked the sound of it: pronounceable, a bit exotic and vaguely Indo-European. He was absolutely astonished when the fans knowingly informed each other that he had meant the name to be taken as "Go-Sane."

This "Go-Sane" business arose from Van Vogt's placement of puzzling quotes at the beginning of each chapter. The quotes come from several sources, including his own editor at the magazine, but the ones everyone remembered were hacked out of "Science and Sanity: an Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics" published in 1933 by Alfred (that name again) Korzybski.

Korzybski has his legion of followers even today. (They tend to use such terms as "unrecognized genius" when referring to him.) Whether Korzybski was reconstituting human consciousness or selling intellectual snake oil, it must be admitted that the man had a memorable prose style. Here is a passage that Van Vogt did not happen to quote:

"What we know positively about `space' is that it is not `emptiness', but `fulness' or a `plenum'. Now `fulness' or `plenum', first of all, is a term of entirely different non-el structure. When we have a plenum or fulness, it must be a plenum of `something', `somewhere' at `sometime', and so the term implies, at least, all three of our former elementalistic terms. Furthermore, fulness, by some psycho-logical process, does not require `outside walls'." [Page 229 of the International Non-Aristotelian Library edition; italics omitted in deference to Amazon's software limitations.]

Now that may mean simply "the universe is neither empty nor bounded." On the other hand, it might also--or even instead (or both, of course)--mean "the Gostaak distims the doshes." It's hard to say which. Van Vogt quoted a lot of this stuff. The fans ate it up!

The serial was hugely successful. Before long, there was a sequel, "The Players of Null-A," that was almost equally popular. In 1948, "The World of Null-A" was the first pulp SF novel to achieve the dignity of book publication and, if the blurb on the back of this edition is to be believed, it hasn't been out of print since. I gather that years later Van Vogt wrote a third Null-A book, one I have never run across.

A. E. van Vogt was one of the leading luminaries of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. (Of course, the golden age of anything is about eleven.) He wrote stirring and memorable stuff. While the war was still being waged in the Pacific, he wrote a series of novelettes for Astounding about a far-ranging space vessel called the Beagle, commanded by a sympathetically portrayed Japanese captain. (In those days, that was a brave act.) The stories were gathered together in a book called "The Voyage of the Space Beagle." Read it today and you will never again regard either the movie "Alien" or the first series of "Star Trek" as having the slightest shred of originality about them.

Van Vogt's specialty, and the thing the fans most wanted from him, was the plot of almost maniacal complexity, of enigmas wrapped in hidden agendas, of wheels within wheels within hidden wheels, of characters wearing whole wardrobes of masks for the purpose of discarding one after another. Take this passage as a typical example. The speaker is Patricia Hardy, daughter of the President of Earth, to whom Gosseyn (apparently) falsely believed he was married before her death, which took place before the novel starts--of course. She had helped him leave the presidential palace in the botched escape attempt that had resulted in him being killed ... the first time. This is their second meeting and, the thing is, he's a bit confused:

"The truth is that your lack of personal knowledge has puzzled all groups. Thorson, the personal representative of Enro, has postponed the invasion of Venus. There! I thought that would interest you. But wait! Don't interrupt. I'm giving you information I intended to give you a month ago. You'll want to know about `X.' So do the rest of us. The man has a will of iron, but no one knows what his purpose is. He seems to be primarily interested in his own aggrandizement, and he has expressed the hope that some use can be made of you. The Galactic League people are bewildered. They can't decide whether the cosmic chess player who has moved you into the game is an ally or not. Everybody is groping in the dark, wondering what to do next." [Page 110-111]

Oh, yeah!

And let it not be thought that Van Vogt had to depend on Korzybski for puzzling statements. He was pretty good at it himself:

"The problem," Prescott [Deputy Commander of the "Greatest Empire" invasion force] continued, frowning, "is greatly complicated by a law of nature, of which you have probably never heard. The law is this: if two energies can be attuned in a twenty-decimal approximation of similarity, the greater will bridge the gap of space between them just as if there were no gap, although the juncture is accomplished at finite speeds." [Page 173]

Pay attention! You WILL be tested on this.

Finally, Van Vogt finishes the book with a five word sentence that is one of the great pulp endings, comparable to his own "Poor superman!" in "Masters of Time" or to his friend L. Ron Hubbard's, "God? In a dirty bathrobe?"

A TRIFLING OBSERVATION ON THE ARTWORK:
The cover shows the original painting that graced the issue of Astounding Science Fiction in which the serial version began. It is by Hubert Rogers, one of the stalwarts of the era. He also provided black and white line illustrations for the interior pages.

This is the true look of the pulp era.


Agatha Christie's Marple - The Complete Series 2 [DVD]
Agatha Christie's Marple - The Complete Series 2 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Geraldine McEwan
Price: £27.39

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars New production team and star in relentless pursuit of mediocrity, 3 Sept. 2010
I find myself in general agreement with those who look askance at this new Miss Marple series.

The simple and painfully unavoidable fact is that the new writers do not respect Dame Aggie, and they show it in each limping episode. It is entirely conceivable that the originals might be tightened up or changed for the better--but not by these insensitive hacks, and not here. Every change, every decision made by the new team plainly distorts and weakens these time-tested stories.

The writers and producers of the old Margaret Rutherford series had no more respect for Christie's writing. And she, herself, made it clear what her reaction to that was. However, they had a true force of nature in Rutherford. That superannuated but true star created an entirely new and wonderful character whose only fault was that she confusingly shared her name with an Agatha Christie heroine.

Geraldine McEwan is no Margaret Rutherford. She is an oddly retiring Miss Marple who does little more than twinkle from the corner and becomes increasingly irrelevant in each episode.

These new productions are the work of anti-alchemists. They are converting gold to lead.

A very mediocre three stars.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 15, 2015 10:44 AM GMT


Page: 1-10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21-30