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rob crawford "Rob Crawford" (Balmette Talloires, France)
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010) [DVD]
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Noomi Rapace
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.16

5.0 out of 5 stars a great, original suspense drama, 27 Aug. 2012
Though it shows how out of it I am, I had no idea that there was a version of this earlier than the Hollywoodization, which is also a first-rate production. The plot is virtually identical, except for a few variations. I am happy to say that this one is equally good and yet very different, in large part because of the actors. Rapace plays Lisbeth as a far more vulnerable and human character when compared to the cold, ethereal Roony version; she also does not make her the kind of lithesome sex kitten that Roony does, but is simply tough, gender ambiguous, and not all that pretty. Blomkvist is also less heroic and more human (egoistic, ambitious, not so saintly if cause-driven), indeed he looks like a real person rather than the too-perfect Craig. Frankly, it is great fun to have 2 versions, but this one is better.

Recommended with enthusiasm.

Green Zone [DVD]
Green Zone [DVD]
Dvd ~ Matt Damon
Price: £1.27

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars gritty war thriller that scores political points, 27 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Green Zone [DVD] (DVD)
Most of the negative reviews of this are that it doesn't follow a simplistic patriotic line. Instead, in my view, it makes an attempt at realism, and it does make a political point: that we were dupes to local pols and then were too cowardly and dishonest to admit it. Sure, it is a political opinion, but what if it is true?

Damon gives an excellent performance, though I couldn't judge the realism of the military experience and must trust the other reviewers. It is suspenseful, scary, and moving. His personal quest - to figure out where the claims of WMD came from after he can't find them - is completely believable. Another aspect I liked was how hard it was on the press: rather than simple heros, they were flawed as well, duped by the administration and ashamed of it. Damon's American adversaries were believable brutes, if brave in their own ways. Finally, the Iraki Freddie, a helper who goes his own way in important details, was a very interesting twist.

This is up there with Syriana, you can see the complexity of what we have gotten ourselves into. Recommended.

The Assassination of New York
The Assassination of New York
by Robert Fitch
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars an interesting polemic on urban policy, New York, and the Rockefellers, 27 Aug. 2012
THis book is definitely worth a skim. The basic thesis of the author, who is a kind of radical populist, is that the Rockefellers pursued a certain urban policy for New York because they wanted to enhance the real estate value of that great albatros, the Rockefeller Center. According to Fitch, it was a bad investment that tied them all down financially, so they used the political system - all the while posing as Republican champions of the free market - to boost the price of their holdings. This involved, he argues, the collusion of Wall Street financiers, the Insurance companies, and real estate moguls. Amazingly, with the sale to Mitsubishi in the late 1980s for $3 billion, they succeeded in a multi-generational conspiracy to do so.

According to FItch, the Rockefeller Center was a bad idea: without good transport, it was hard to fill the office space created, hence there was over-capacity; the timing (1928) couldn't have been worse; it was on the wrong side of the city, i.e. the west, which the rich avoided; they didn't own the ground, which was what appreciated much more than the buildings. To overcome this, they plotted to raise the real estate values of the island, essentially making it a kind of elite haven for rich string pullers and getting rid of the working class and manufacturing. While bad for the city - it was an unsustainable model that kept the tax base too low - it did help them to get rid of the Center. To conclude, he says they were trying to make an elite city like Babylon (governing provinces on the outside, getting tribute, and keeping workers like peasants down or outside), that this "post-industrial" model has nothing new to it whatsoever. He thinks that a more balanced approach to the city is needed, with attention to and respect for the working class in order to make it a more balanced community with a sustainable base.

To be honest, I do not know enough about urban policies to evaluate his ideas, but I found them intriguing and will explore them further. The book is not always easy to follow: Fitch makes many asides that can be very personal, throws in acronyms constantly, and refers to many things of which I was ignorant. It is also 20 years old, so out of date. That being said, I lived in NYC at the tail end of the time he describes and, if he is correct, it explains an awful lot about what I observed then.

REcommended. But it is only a start.

The Age Of Revolution
The Age Of Revolution
by E J Hobsbawm
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars dense, brilliant, evocative analysis of a watershed, 27 Aug. 2012
This review is from: The Age Of Revolution (Hardcover)
This is one of those wonderful books about a subject I know well, but that pushes in new directions and yet reviews everything I have struggled to comprehend. It is very rare for me to find such a book, one that makes me feel awestruck all over again for something I have read about for years, renewing my hunger to dig deeper. I finished it, then read it all the way through again, underlining like I used to as an undergraduate. It felt that fresh to me, even though it is about 50 years old and supposedly "marxist". (The only thing I could identify as marxist was an emphasis on class relations, but it fits what was going rather than forcing different kinds of factors into such an analysis. I ended by not being sure what marxist even meant.)

The book is about a double revolution. First, there is a political revolution of profound importance: the French Revolution swept away the old order of aristocratic privilege, opening jobs in government and the military to talent. The traditional hierarchies disappeared, crushed finally by a violent purge of those in power. Many reviewers in the US think that this is misplaced emphasis, that the American Revolution is the one of real significance, but I think Hobsbawm makes a convincing case that it was France's that was most important because it was also a social revolution. The American one left most social structures in place, life went on more or less the same as before, as a free-enterprise society whose hierarchies and privilege already were far more fluid than those in EUrope; its value was in the creation of democratic institutions that could evolve, which also occurred later in Europe. This also meant that, in EUrope, the old certainties died, freeing peasants from hereditary obligations but also at the loss of at least minimal help from property owners or aristocrats - they were free to stay put, migrate to cities, and seek entirely new kinds of careers without traditional protections. It was left to Napoleon to spread these ideas to the rest of Europe by force, beyond merely the realm of ideas.

The second revolution is industrial and perfectly symbiotic with the French socio-political revolution: it was a new means of production and organization of both the economy and society, behind that of a capitalist system. A new class arose, the bourgeois, who invested in business and accumulated capital, basing their livelihood not on agricultural resources and property ownership, but on an ever-changing "market" for goods. At the very beginning, Hobsbawm identifies three parts that fit in Britain: 1) the invention of the textile industry; 2) a rise in steel production, principally for new machines and railroads; 3) the creation of a new market of consumers, who will buy the new goods and find employments making them. It represented a huge expansion in trade. The new economic actors - bourgeois managers and their working class counterparts - fundamentally changed the urban landscape.

Interestingly, Hobsbawm also convinced me that the visions of rising living standards - now such standard fare in the political salesmanship - was impossible to foresee, particularly at the beginning. That means that the system survived by brute force rather than good will. As markets matured and the original textile industries were no longer profitable, it was the workers who paid in the form of reduced salaries and living standards, often in the most horrible of urban slums. This explains the rise of socialism, also coeval with the industrial revolution, a radically different means of ownership of production. It reached a crisis point in the 1840s with a major depression, of which the Irish potato famine was merely one example, leading directly into the transnational insurrectionary convulsions of 1848; its consequences were only worked out after WW1 in more democratic regimes, but also in the birth of the USSR, the radical communist experiment.

These are the core ideas of the book. But Hobsbawm doesn't stop there: he also explains the intellectual currents of the time in a way that fits with his core ideas. This is about the transition from reason, particularly as that of enlightened despots, to shape societies. The ideas that rise in their place are those of the romantics, with their respect for a nascent idea of the unconscious, the view of society as an organic construct that evolves in multiple directions, and the relativism that is replacing the certainties of a mechanistic world of near-platonic ideals. These changes came with the sweeping away of traditional social structures and certainties, in particular the consolations of pervasive religious fundamentalism.

This is a valuable analysis of historical forces. It is not a narrative and there isn't enough for me about the diplomacy of the time. (I wanted a better explanation of Metternich's system, for example.) But these are available elsewhere. The synthesis at the heart of this book got me thinking about all of this with excitement. I will have to do more research into the period. Recommended with the greatest enthusiasm. This deserves a slow, careful read for rich rewards.

Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings
Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings
by Amy Kelly
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The perfect companion to Becket and Lion in Winter, 27 Aug. 2012
If you are fascinated by the excellent O'Toole films and want to know more about the history behind them, this is the ideal book to read. It tells their stories in the form of a luscious narrative, spanning Eleanor's lifetime in historically accurate detail. The characters in this historical turning point are absolutely remarkable, but the reader also gets a view of the Crusades, the birth of the Gothic era, and the high point of feudalism. This is a major meal and I enjoyed every single page.

Eleanor was a rich princess of Poitiers/Aquitaine of Western France, truly one of the most important women of her time. Whoever married her gained the allegiance of all her vassals and hence, control of her lands. She started very young as the queen of France with Louis VII (the Capet dynasty), who apparently she found something of a pedestrian bore, even though she accompanied him on the 2nd Crusade, and was feted in the greatest Christian courts before its disastrous collapse into disorder. She then got her marriage annulled (due to co-sanguinity), eventually consenting to marry a Norman Prince, Henry, who become the King of England by a chain of circumstances and luck, beginning the Plantagenet dynasty. They ruled over an empire that included the British Isles and Western France. Though officially vassals to Louis VII, their power - and Henry's genius for intrigue and war - vastly surpassed his.

Eleanor and Henry's family - they had 8 children - was the cause of a great civil war. Apparently fed up with him, Eleanor retired to Poitiers, where she cultivated a court to train leaders that was unrivaled in its splendor and intellectual brilliance, and schemed against him. Her sons rebelled against Henry, who forgave them and imprisoned her for about 13 years, until his death. At the same time, Henry laid the foundations for the supremacy of civil law in Britain over that of Catholic Rome and defended his territories with a cruel ferocity (this a large part of the Becket story). Their sons are equally fascinating: young Henry was the preferred eldest, but he was forever at odds with his father, though he died young. The remaining one - Richard Coeur-de-Lion, Geoffrey, and John - were bitter rivals, forever seeking treacherous alliances as they maneuvered for power and succession (the plot of Lion in Winter). It is an absolutely fascinating case of dysfunction with catastrophic consequences. After so many years of stress, Henry dies during the next rebellion, feeling that his entire life was a failure. This releases Eleanor, enabling her to consolidate power in the cauldron of feudal politics, truly a fascinating portrayal of machination, betrayal, and brute force. In a way, I understood feudalism better after Klein's masterful evocation.

That leaves Richard as King, who promptly goes on the 3rd Crusade, which is described in truncated form. The author admires him and portrays him as a great war leader of singular potential. It is a wonderful mini-bio. Upon his untimely death on return, it is John's turn. Meanwhile, under Philip Augustus (also in Lion in Winter), the Capets are resurgent, in spite of his weaknesses as a leader and thinker. Eleanor ends her life in uncertainty, as John's cruel style taints his kingship and alienates his vassals.

The prose is extremely dense, almost baroque, and it takes some getting used to, but the rewards as a reading experience are ample. I enjoyed the book so much that I didn't want it to end. That being said, it is a narrative that cannot offer the reader an up to date idea of the latest scholarship - that will have to be sought elsewhere. Also, Eleanor herself is really kind of a backdrop in this; the 4 kings are the true focus.

Warmly recommended.

Wrath of the Titans (DVD) [2012]
Wrath of the Titans (DVD) [2012]
Dvd ~ Sam Worthington
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.89

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars multi-facetted dud, 27 Aug. 2012
This is not just a bad film, it is an awful film. Beyond CGI and spectacular action, there is nothing behind it of interest. There are many reasons for this.

First, for anyone who knows mythology, it simply ignores what is known as the most basic stories. Perseus was one of the earliest heroes, and because of his abilities was seen as a direct challenge to the Gods, but they all survived for later adventures, in particular for the Iliad and Odyssey, but everything else that followed. Yet here, you have the gods dying off! Moreover, the plot of Cronus emerging is also essentially made up. Now, a hollywood version doesn't need to precisely follow known mythology to forge a good plot, but this is so far off that they shouldn't use the names of the Greek Gods at all. (This was extremely disappointing to me as an amateur classicist, but it will not disappoint just pedants - it is bad for kids interested in mythology.)

Second, the characters remain almost completely undeveloped. Perseus is a kind of automaton, a superhero who miraculously recovers from wounds, etc. Sure, he has doubts about supporting the gods, but that is superficial. The worst failing is with the Gods. In mythology, they have extremely complex and multi-layered personalities, a delight to watch in a parallel story as the human drama unfolds. But in this film, they are 2-dimensional and their actions and motives hardly make any sense. This is a missed opportunity for storytelling.

Third, the film completely fails to present a coherent picture of the powers of the Gods, which have distinct limits in mythology, instead presenting them as mysteriously omnipotent and then vulnerable. Why are the monsters there, what can they do or not do, and how do they fit into the story? None of these questions are addressed implicitly, which you would expect from a subtle script. As such, it makes little sense and is another missed opportunity.

The only thing I can conclude is that the producers were disinterested and just wanted to make a glitzy action film that would rely on star power to sell it. The result is that it comes off as a crassly commercial product that utterly ignores the literary tradition on which it is based. This stand in stark contrast to the excellent productions of Ray Harryhausen, who succeeded in creating mythology films that were more or less respected the tradition while being great action films as well.

I cannot recommend this to anyone who expects more than mindless action. Even the wonderful actors are wasted in this.

Bless The Child [DVD] [2001]
Bless The Child [DVD] [2001]
Dvd ~ Kim Basinger
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £1.99

3.0 out of 5 stars nice catholic occult thriller, 27 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Bless The Child [DVD] [2001] (DVD)
This is a fun movie about a special child, in appearance autistic but in fact gifted in uniquely special ways. Her aunt, Kim Bassinger, accepts responsibility for her and, only later, encounters a secretive organization that wants to control the child for its own ends. With a good cop, Smits, she rises to the occasion, in the process reexamining her life and faith.

The strongest point of the film is the acting. Bassinger is not a sex symbol, but a normal woman who is desperate to save a loved one. Her sister is movingly portrayed as a troubled addict, while the evil protagonist is truly frightening. Smits is also excellent as a priest turned cop, having found "another way to serve him." The chemistry of these characters works extremely well. The child is also eminently believable.

In addition, though dated the special effects are quite evocative, esp. at the end. I don't want to give away the plot: suffice it to say that even though I am a non-believer, I was moved, at times terrified, always interested. The atmospherics of the film are especially powerful.

On the weaker side, the plot was a bit far-fetched, full of chance encounters and desperate moves that didn't quite ring true to me.


The Last Legion [DVD]
The Last Legion [DVD]
Dvd ~ Colin Firth
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £3.57

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars excaliber as magical legitimacy, pre-Arthur, 27 Aug. 2012
This review is from: The Last Legion [DVD] (DVD)
This is a fun kids' film, on the fall of the western Roman Empire and its re-birth in Britain as a celtic kingdom. The instrument of this transformation is the sword excaliber, which in this version was forged from a meteor's metal for Julius Caesar himself and hidden by the last of the legitimate Julio-Claudians (in this case, Emperor Tiberius). If you can swallow all that - and I am revealing nothing - then you can sit back and enjoy the film for what it is, a well-done fantasy. I was hoping for something with a bit more historical depth, but then, I am an enthusiast for the late classical era. To put it mildly, the film is pretty ridiculous if you are seeking history - sure, Romulus Augustus, the last emperor of the West Roman EMpire, disappeared, but to have him re-surface as Uther Pendragon? Whatever.

On its own merits, the film tells a good story. THere are good guys embodying Roman and Christian ideals who must escape germanic barbarians who are the personification of evil. On one side, there is the question of divine legitimacy, on the other the raw pursuit of power. There are daring rescues, wisdom gained, and loyalties forged by brutal battle. I enjoyed it and recommend it - the film isn't just background noise, but there is precious little for adult viewers in it. I would give it 3.5 stars.

Cheyenne Autumn [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Cheyenne Autumn [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Price: £12.10

3.0 out of 5 stars hollywood treatment of a disgraceful episode, on the cusp of the 1960s, 27 Aug. 2012
Having read the fine literary version of the same title, I was very curious to see what Hollywood would do with it. Not that I was optimistic. The story is a about the tragic end of a free people, the Cheyenne. Defeated and on promises that they would receive land and provisions, they were relegated to a desert in Oklahoma, where they starved and were victims of disease, dwindling away in the most sordid conditions. Having waited for over a year, the remaining 300 or so decided the whites didn't live up to their side of the contract and left to return to their homelands in the Yellow Stone. They had no provisions, very few weapons, and only about 60 braves. So started a 240-some day trek that ended in death, murder, and long criminal trials, though they won the right to a reservation in Montana. In the book, there is this sense of the meaningless death of a complex culture. It is an absolutely awful story of a people trying to flee genocide and spiritual death by administrative oversight.

The film begins with a splendidly tragic tone, as acted by the young Ricardo Montalbam, who plays a charismatic chief disgusted by the treatment of his tribe. This is an unusual step for a major hollywood film, but the traditions of the genre soon betray the many qualities of the production. There are several interesting military confrontations, with one character growing under the eye of the stern captain. This is where the story diverges from history in increasingly ridiculous ways. Set against the Cheyenne is a humanistic captain, who must do his duty but who regrets it more and more, empathizing with the Indians while courting a lovely Quaker woman who elects to travel with them as a nurse (both apocryphal, if memory serves). Widmark is at his best here. Unfortunately, the tone deteriorates terribly with a cameo by Jimmy Stewart, who plays a comical Wyatt Earp as he leads a Dodge City saloon crowd on a hunt for the Indians, complete with a portable bar and prostitutes. It is funny, with a hooker running without her dress when the Indians fire on them, but completely destroys the mood. There is a notable episode when a group of braves lead people wishing to surrender in winter, only to be imprisonned and told that they must march back to Oklahoma, which they refuse to do on pain of starvation and cold. Karl Malden plays a stupidly wooden soldier who seeks to force them to submit, while Widmark opposes him and goes to meet the Secretary of the Interior, Edward G. Robinson. They escape at the cost of many lives. (In reality, they were captured and broke out.) By the end, the film is overwhelmed by melodrama. Widmark's romance advances, while Sal Mineo confronts Montalban over a woman. It had lost me by this point, so that I wasn't even disappointed by the happy ending they grafted on to such an awful story.

Nonetheless, there are interesting aspects to the film, particularly in view of the fact that it was made (in 1964) just before the 60s anti-authoritarian impulse became so commonplace. Viewers expected heroes and unambiguous outcomes and that is what they got rather than tragedy and gritty realism. There is a truly outstanding cast that held my attention until it degenerated into a kind of semi-serious shlock. The documentary in my version, narrated by Stewart, also piles it on with pre-Vietnam optimism and no acknowledgment that there are problems on Indian reservations or even recognizing that the Cheyenne autumn was essentially the end of an ancient culture. I would give this 3.5 stars and recommend it for film buffs but not for anyone interested in learning the history or simply a good cowboy-indian film: too schmaltzy for the former, too slow and sad for the latter. This story required more, much more, not only including tragedy, but also irony, cynicism, and an unflinching, even existential, gaze; it isn't here. Contrast this with Little Big Man, which instilled a lifelong fascination with indigenous peoples in me, and you will see my point. LBM was made just 6 years later, a true product of the wider perspctive that the 60s enabled.

Gray Lady Down [1978] [DVD]
Gray Lady Down [1978] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Charlton Heston
Offered by Discs4all
Price: £17.59

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars pretty good sub rescue film, 27 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Gray Lady Down [1978] [DVD] (DVD)
When we watched this, I was sure that it was a made-for-TV movie: nice while you're watching it, but definitely throwaway material. There are strong characters and a good script, with personal clashes, authority conflicts, and humorous friction - probably the best aspect of the film. The rescue preparations are also pretty good, and realistic so far as I can tell. But that is as far as the action goes: a rescue, run by driven, competent men, that appears realistically feasible. After 2 hours, regardless of the moments of suspense, it felt pretty thin.

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