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Lawrance Bernabo (The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota)

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The Yankee Years
The Yankee Years
by Joe Torre
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.97

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't let the door hit the knife in your back on the way out, Joe, 25 Feb. 2009
This review is from: The Yankee Years (Hardcover)
At first glance it seemed strange that when "Sports Illustrated" published an excerpt from this book in a recent issue that it was the final chapter of "The Yankee Years." But now that I have read the book it makes sense because from start to finish the punchline that the Yankees let Joe Torre walk away from the job of managing the team pretty much overshadows everything that happens. It is like there is a subliminal message behind every success Torre had on the field that whispers to the reader "Can you believe they would ever fire this guy?" I started rooting for the New York Yankees in 1965, and for those of you without an encyclopedic recollection of the history of the team that was the year they stopped winning World Championships until George Steinbrenner bought the team from CBS and started playing his own peculiar brand of money ball. When Torre was hired to manage the Yankees I did not think it was necessarily a bad move, but I certainly did not think it was a great move. Any doubt that it was the right man in the right place at the right time, was removed years ago and "The Yankee Years" only confirms what seems obvious to everybody in baseball. It also reinforces the idea that the aforementioned punchline is not even remotely funny.

Joe Torre's name comes before Tom Verducci's and there is no doubt as to which of them has the greater cachet (I was always suprised that he was not the first manager that McFarlane Toys put out as an action figure in their quest to have at least one Yankee in each and every series). But "The Yankee Years" is much more Verducci's book; he is the one telling the story and making the arguments, with Torre providing period commentary. There is a sense in which the book reads like a documentary, and you can imagine the clips of Torre or any of the players and other baseball people quoted running. In fact, there are portions of the book in which Torre's voice disappears, and that brings into focus the other supporting voices in the story. Representing the "Before" and "After" perspectives are Yankees pitchers David Cone and Mike Mussina, with the attendant irony being that unlike the old Charles Atlas ads, the "Before" period for the Yankeees is the better one where they were winning four championship in five years.

As the years go by and Scott Brosius, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez and Bernie Williams are repalced by Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, and Johnny Damon the reader is repeatedly reminded that these new players have not produced titles like their predecessors (I would be willing to bet that Brosius, O'Neill and Martinez are mentioned more often in the book after they had retired or left the Yankees than when they played for Torre, and with each mention they take another step towards being on the fabled plateau of Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio). It is not privileged as such, but for me the decision not to resign Andy Pettite is the line of demarcation and it has been all downhill for the Yankees since that point. That being said, despite Torre's refusal to blow his own horn when he speaks in his own voice in this book, Verducci makes an excellent case for Torre's Hall of Fame credentials as a manager, not just because of the seasons with the rings, but with the results he got with teams that should not have made the playoffs. For Steinbrenner and Yankees fans a year without a World Series title is an empty cup even if it is otherwise filled almost to the brim. This is presented as the stark reality of the New York Yankees, and although there is an obvious impulse to think it is not fair, I am reminder that in life nobody promises fair and then you die.

The villain in the piece ends up being Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, in part because George Steinbrenner's deteriorating health becomes an abrogation of the Boss's power. A strong undercurrent of the book is Verducci's indictment of Cashman as the GM, specifically in comparison to a couple of his counterparts, Oakland's Billy Beane and Boston's Theo Epstein. "The Yankees Years" certainly chronicles all of the bad moves Torre has made on the field, but on balance the good moves certainly outweigh. However, by the end you are hard pressed to use up all of the fingers on one hand trying to count the good moves Cashman made as GM, especially given the growing litany of overpriced broken down pitchers the Yankees have signed this century. In a lesser battle, now rendered irrelevant because of his admitting using steroids, A-Rod is seen as not even playing the same ballpark as Derek Jeter, and if there is a new indication of steroid use as a result of this book it is going to tar any player that demands his own trainer. It is unfortunate that Rodriguez's admission has become the unwritten coda to this book, but it should have been the final masterstroke of irony, namely that last season for the first time since before Torre took the helm, the Yankees did not make the playoffs, while Torre's new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, did make it to the postseason. Yankees fans might not want to admit it, but it makes for a better punchline.
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Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: Best of Season 3 [DVD] [2008] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: Best of Season 3 [DVD] [2008] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Half of one season of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour is better than nothing, 6 Jan. 2009
It would certainly be ironic and arguably hypocritical for the Smothers Brothers to censor their own programs, but I do not think that is the case here. Granted, the episodes are shorter than they should be and not all of the guest stars appear long enough to justify being on the show. But I think that the explanation comes from the fact that these were the dozen episodes that were rebroadcast on E! Take into account that there are more commercials today and the shows would have to be edited down. Then throw into the mix the introductions and conclusions with Tom and Dick, plus sundry interview clips with key figures, and you lose another healthy chunk of each show. Consequently, I do not think there was any censorship; these episodes were edited down before being rebroadcast. That begs the question as to why they could not go back and just show the complete episodes regarldess of what was aired on E!, but they did not.

I also have to assume that E! gets saddled with the responsibility for only picking a half dozen of the season three episodes and looking only at episodes from season three, as well as the credit for rebroadcasting them in the first place (or in showing them for the first time, as would be the case with the infamous episode that broke CBS's back). I never saw any of these episodes when they first aired because my father was stationed in Japan. But the last show I watched before we left the U.S. was "The Smothers Brothers Comedy" hour and I still have my autographed pictures of Tom and Dick from belonging to their fan club (although I did have to find a replacement for my "MOM ALWAYS LIKED YOU BEST" button). I got to meet Tom Smothers once and was able to tell him how important the Smothers Brothers were to making me who I am today. I had all of their records by the time I was in the 6th grade and I can clearly trace my love of satire and vocal harmony back to those records.

For the most part the music is superior to the comedy on these episodes, with performances by the Doors, Mama Cass Elliott, Donovan, Dion, Ray Charles, Judy Collins, the Ike & Tin Turner Review, Joan Baez, as well as Tom and Dick doing their lovely version of "They Call the Wind Maria." The best comedy comes from the guests, from Bob Newhart and Jonathan Winters to Geroge Carlin and David Steinberg. The banter between the brothers was always better than their sketch comedy, but they were certainly. The politics is represented by such pieces as "Don't Stop the Carnival" by Harry Belafonte set to footage of the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, David Frye and others doing "A Fable for Our Time" with medieval versions of politicians, and Mason Wiliams' poem on "The Censor." Those certainly stand out the most, mainly because each one of them is another giant leap towards the precipice the brothers Smothers were heading for in that third and final season.

The fourth disc is devoted entirely to the late Pat Paulsen, which is ironic given that he was on so rarely during the third season, but totally understandably given how important he was to the career of the Smothers Brothers (Paulsen was writing material for them before they made it to television). There is the "Pat Paulsen for President" mocumentary that aired as Show 205 and a host of other pieces, from his appearance at the 1968 Democratic National Convention to an entire stand-up act at a comedy club in Anchorage, Alaska, from 1992. They also uncovered raw footage of Bobby Kennedy talking to both Paulsen and Tom Smothers about Pat's candidacy. Throughout the discs the bonus features usually find complete interviews with performers and writers from the show, from which excerpts were culled for the E! broadcasts as well as some assorted gems, such as a complete Jackie Mason routine from the show's dress rehearsal.

Yes, it would be nice to have all of the episodes from all three seasons of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," but apparently that is not going to happen. I am still trying to figure out why we cannot get all of their albums out on CD (and also why they would do "Aesop's Fables The Smothers Brothers Way" before "The Smothers Brothers at the Purple Onion" or "Mom Always Liked You Best"). It would be nice to think that down the road we might have companion sets with the best of the first two seasons of the show, but I have the feeling that this is all we are going to get and while it is a proverbial case of being better than nothing.

Ghost House Underground Eight Film Collection [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Ghost House Underground Eight Film Collection [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You can get all eight of these films or just pick and choose the two good ones, 31 Oct. 2008
Two years ago I went and caught the original After Dark Horrorfest in the theater. The bad news last year was that Horrorfest did not make it to the Zenith City and this fall the bad news is that the next edition has been postponed until January because as of this month are are only 5 and not 8 films 2 die 4. So, in order to ease our pain and line their pockets, not necessarily in that order, Lionsgate has released the Ghost House Underground collection of eight horror films this October. Here are the films, presented in the order I saw them because the order always seems to matter to the ranks and ratings:

"No Man's Land: The Rise of Reeker": This is actual both a prequel and a sequel to an earlier film about the title character. The opening flashback is interesting enough, but this is a kitchen sink horror film where trying to make sense of it all is not worth the bother. Several recognizable faces in the crowd, but like "Crazy Eights," that hardly matters in the final analysis. (Ranked #6, Rating 2.4).

"Brotherhood of Blood" : Okay, so there are these vampire hunters and they capture a vampire, defang him, and try to talk him to death so that they can go rescue one of the other vampire hunters. This film cuts back and forth between the inquisition and the rescue mission. This is the movie with the big names--Ken Foree and Sid Haig from "The Devil's Rejects"--but they add nothing to the mix. Some interesting ideas on vampires, but there are the least cinematic part of the movie (Ranked #7, Rating 2.2).

"The Substitute": An alien comes to Earth to find out about love and takes the form of a strapping blonde substitute teacher, so it is up to a sixth grade class of Danish school kids to stop her. The best badly dubbed movie I have seen in many years, appropriately tongue-in-cheek, and with some decent special effects. The trailer gave me no indication that this movie was going to be this much fun (Ranked #2, Rating 4.0).

"Trackman": A group of bank robbers are holed up in abandoned tunnels with a couple of hostages and the title character, who collects eyeballs. This Russian film is supposedly their first slasher movie, which explains why it is a basic by the numbers type of the slasher genre. The result is technically competent, which is good, but nothing special, which is not so much so (Ranked #4, Rating 2.7).

"Dance of the Dead": Far and away the best film of the bunch to such an extent that you wonder how it ended up with the rest of these films, especially given that five of the eight are from Europe and four of them dubbed. Zombies are headed for the prom at the high school and the geeks have to stop them in this solid zombie comedy. That is all you need to know. If you liked "Shaun of the Dead" and/or "Dead and Breakfast, " then this one should be right up your alley (Ranked #1, Rating 4.5).

"The Last House in the Woods": Basic blood and gore on a par with the exploitation films of the 1960s, this inartistic Italian movie begs the question as to why anybody needs to go back and make another movie like that today. There is probably more blood in this one than the other seven put together, if that is what you want in a horror film (Ranked #8, Rating 2.1)

"Room 205": A woman moves into a college dorm room in which an earlier occupant died a nasty death, and now the angry ghost is after her and her dormmates. Another (dubbed) Danish horror film, this is the film with artistic pretentions as the motif of glass and mirrors matters to both the style and the substance of the film, which help to combat its Scandinavian sedateness (Ranked #3, Rating 2.8).

"Dark Floors": A young autistic girl is visiting a hospital for tests and when her dad tries to take her out . This film features the Finnish heavy metal band Lordi as the monsters. If you know about the band, who perform in monster costumes, then when they show up you will laugh. I had no clue, so I was able to take this one at face value, and it ends up in the middle. Watch Lordi's music videos first, and this one drops to the bottom (Ranked #5, Rating 2.5).

So, doing the math without decimals that is three 2's, three 3's, one 4 and one 5, which works out to an average of 3.0 on the nose. But that number is skewed because only two of the eight movies are rated equal to or greater than 3. Work out the average using the decimal numbers and it is 2.9, so I have to post a rating of three. As they say there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. My recommendation would just be to get the two best films here, "Dance of the Dead" and "The Substitute," and rent the rest for a look-see if you are compelled to actually watch everything in the set. When the two best movies in a series of horror films end up being the two funniest, and both are intentionally trying to be funny, that is not a good sign.

Room 205 [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Room 205 [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by Newtownvideo_EU
Price: £10.42

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A slow moving and sedate Danish ghost story with some effective moments at the end, 30 Oct. 2008
I have been looking forward to seeing "Room 205" because when I rented "The Last House in the Woods" the enveloped did not describe that film, but this film, and since that film was so bad, I figured this film had to be better. The only thing these two Ghost House Underground films have in common is that they are both dubbed, in which case "Room 205" really ends up being paired with "The Substitute" because then are both from Denmark. The original title in Danish is "Kollegiet" translates as "The College," which apparently makes Danish film fans think horror film, a premise reinforced by "The Substitute," which also taking place in a school, although that is really more of a science fiction film (apparently schools are really scary places in Denmark).

Our heroine is Katrine (Neel RÝnholt) has recently suffered the death of her mentally ill mother, and has moved into a dorm at a university in Copenhagen. Katrine is assigned Room 205, where it turns out that something not very nice happened there once, which would explain the apparition that she starts seeing in the mirror. However, Katrine's immediate problem is that she has gotten on the bad side of Sanne (Julie R. Olgaard), after sleeping with her boyfriend. The precipitating event is a mean spirited prank that goes awry, and then things start to happen in this 2007 movie, which is good because the first half develops at a lathargic pace and the dominant tones of brown and yellow start to ware thin on the eyes. The dubbed voices are emotionally flat, but I have to admit that matches the sedate Scandanavian personalities of the characters (although I must acknowledge that when this movie was dubbed for American audiences they did not also tack on a bunch of heavy metal music to juice things up, but stayed true to the original artistic vision). The combination of these elements might be enough to have a lot of horror fans hit the eject button before we get to the hour mark, but that is actually when things pick up, relatively speaking.

Eventually we get the two requisite elements for a ghost story like this one, namely the exposition of the rules for ghosts and mirros provided by Rolf (Mikkel Arendt), who is certainly Katrine's match in terms of being low-keyed, and the backstory on what happened to the girl who died in Katrine's room. I sort of expected all of these college students to start turning on each other as the paranoia gets wratched up, but the ghost has no serious competition in this film. I do not know if the credit goes to director Martin Barnewitz or writer Jannik Tai Mosholt, but the motif of mirrors and glass does add some distinct touches to this movie. More imporantly, "Room 205" is one of those increasingly rare horror film that reverses the usual pattern and has a much better ending than a setup. This movie is more about tension and atmosphere than it is about blood and gore (with the elevator scene being the exception that proves the rule), and when it comes to having motivation to come back from the dead and kill people, this ghost has it in spades. Plus I like it when the heroine is smart enough to now the end is not the end, reversing one of the most hackneyed of horror movie cliches. However, most of you will probably find the ending to be too little, too sedate.

Last House in the Woods [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Last House in the Woods [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by Newtownvideo_EU
Price: £10.42

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It is not the house or the forest that is going to get you, it is that chainsaw, 29 Oct. 2008
When I got "The Last House in the Woods" in the mail it turned out the description on the sleeve was not for this Ghost House Underground movie but for a different one, namely "Room 205." Since that one is about a college student moving into a haunted door room and this one has parents driving with their young boy out in the country, it was easy to tell this was not that movie. After watching "The Last House in the Woods" I was wishing this had been the other movie, because despite my limited knowledge of the laws of probability I have to believe it is way better than this one, which currently has the distinction of being the worse of the six GHU films I have checked out on DVD so far this month.

Rino (Daniele Grassetti) has broken up with Aurora (Daniela Virgilio), but as he tries to get back on her good side the unlucky couple are attacked by a trio of thugs. The good news is that the parents with their son come along, rescue the couple, and take them back to their house. But since this is clearly the last house in the woods, this is really bad news. Ultimately, what I am remind of are some of the exploitation films from the 1960s I have seen, like "Wizard Of Gore," in that "The Last House in the Woods" is trying to provide a similar level of blood and gore. The problem is that we are almost a half-century past that approach, so I have to wonder what is the point? If you have never seen a good old fashioned exploitation film with buckets of blood, then this one will get you back up to speed. But at least exploitation films were always trying to come up with some distractions, no matter how weird or inane, to justify all the blood and gore. This one just has a single-minded "kill, baby, kill" mentality that is so rudimentary it is ultimately boring.

Written and directed by Gabriele Albanesi, this film's original title in Italian is "Il Bosco fuori," which translates as "The Forest Outside" and makes no sense as the title of this particular horror film since almost all of the horror takes place in, well the last house in the woods and not outside in the forest. The PAL version of this movie actually calls it "Italian Chainsaw" and that is ultimately as good a two word encapsulation of this 2006 film as you can have, and as soon as that is said I have to assume that everybody has seen better chainsaw movies, whether we are talking an original or a remake. Yes, it is probably absurd to accuse a chainsaw movie of being inelegant, but even bad artistic pretensions are better than none.

In terms of DVD extras, the cupboard is not completely sparse here. Albanesi provides a commentary track along with his short film "L'Armadio" ("The Closet"), where how the little kid acts after the "punch line" is revealed does not jive with his actions prior to that point. You also have a backstage featurette and the trailer (the trailers for all of the other seven Ghost House Underground films are at the start of the DVD, and it is more interesting to go back and look at them after you have seen the movies to judge how well (or not) they set up these films (at which point you will learn that what they thought would be the hook for this one was something other than "chainsaw").

Dance of the Dead [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dance of the Dead [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Price: £8.78

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It is time for these geeks to kick some zombie butt when the dead rise and crash the prom, 28 Oct. 2008
It is prom night at Cosa High School and charming slacker Jimmy (Jared Kusnitz) has struck out trying to get a date to the dance, but that proves to be the least of his problems when the dead start rising from their graves. Fortunately, Jimmy is not the only dateless geek on prom night. There is the fetching Lindsey (Greyson Chadwick), the vice-president of the student body, Gwen (Carissa Capobianco), the cheerleader who needs to be saved, Steven (Charlton Derby), the nerd who would like to save her, Nash (Blair Redord), the angry leader of a local band, and the tag-team of Jules (Randy McDowell) and George (Michael V. Mammoliti), who belong to the school's Science Fiction Club. You might ask: Why do the dead starting exploding out of their graves? Well, because this is a zombie movie, which means it might be the town's nuclear reactor or it could just be because the script says that they rise from the dead. So do not ask wherefore art their zombies, or why the only adult authority figure left standing once the zombies run amuck is Coach Keel (Mark Oliver), who has watched way too many action films. Just enjoy one of the best tongue-in-cheek zombie comedies to come down the pike in recent years.

When it comes to zombie movies I still prefer the original "Night of the Living Dead" with the traditional slow moving Old School zombies over the new and impoved frantic flesh eaters of the "Dawn of the Dead" remake, "28 Days Later," et al. More to the point, I liked "Dead and Breakfast" more than "Shaun of the Dead," and I really liked "Shaun of the Dead." Given that particular set of predilections it is probably not surprising that I am willing to round up on "Dance of the Dead," when most people will not (and, yes, I am looking forward to "Zombie Strippers"). There might be a correlation between these two principles simply because it is hard to do a zombie comedy if they are running and you are running. When it is more "The zombies are coming! Walk away! Walk away!" there is way more time to make with the smart aleck remarks (and to go out for pancakes).

"Dance of the Dead" is apparently a movie that was a decade in the making, since the writer and diretor met up in film school at USC, which might explain in part why it works so well, because the script by Joe Ballarini exhibits evidence of fine tuning. The same can be said for the special effects put together by director Gregg Bishop "The Other Side," who manages not to over indulge in the handheld camera work that so often distracts me (or threatens to make my head explode) in contemporary horror films (i.e., "Cloverfield"). But I think a big part of the success for this 2008 release is that this film follows the Franco Zefferelli approach of going out and hiring actual teenagers to play teenagers, which is why so many people make John Hughes references when talking about this film. The young cast, many from Georgia since that is where "Dance of the Dead" was filmed, give it a certain charm (e.g., when Lindsey leads the group in prayer before the ensemble has its requisite "Buffy The Vampire Slayer movement of striding purposely down the hallway with their array of weaponry, a moment that serves as the backdrop for the DVD's menu). That also means this film has the advantage of featuring unfamiliar faces instead of twentysomethings from television shows slumming in splatter flicks.

I have no idea what "Dance of the Dead" is doing in the Ghost House Underground series of horror films that Lionsgate has put out to distract horror fans from the fact that this year's Horrorfest has been delayed until January (they still only have 5 and not 8 films 2 die 4). This is far and away the best of the six of eight films I have seen so far, and if there is something better than "Dance of the Dead" still out there, that would be really sweet, but I doubt it is going to happen. This DVD also sets the standard for special features in this series, with audio commentary by Bishop and Ballarini, a featurette on the making of the film, a special look at "Blood, Guts, and Rock 'n' Roll: Effects and Stunts of Dance of the Dead," a handful of deleted and extended scenes (with optional commentary by the director), Bishop's short film "Voodoo" (also when commentary, because apparently you cannot stop Bishop from commenting, you can only choose not to listen), and the trailer (which contains the film's one flaw: which is that the best line in the trailer is actually two lines cobbled together, in reverse, from the end of the film).

The Given Day
The Given Day
by Dennis Lehane
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Boston in 1919 was more than just Babe Ruth hitting home runs..., 26 Oct. 2008
This review is from: The Given Day (Hardcover)
Any novel that begins with Babe Ruth getting drunk and stealing hats is going to grab my attention, but I actually picked up Dennis Lehane's "Any Given Day" without knowing anything about it beyond the name of the author. I am another one of those who came to Dennis Lehane's writing through the film versions of his works. When I learned that "Gone Baby Gone" and "Mystic River" were both adapted from Lehane's books, and that the former was the fourth in a series of, to date, five Kenzie-Gennaro novels (like him, love her), I went out and ordered the series. That was enough to move Lehane into the small but select category of authors whose books I pick up when they come out in hardcover.

"The Given Day" is a historical novel covering a two year period with the year 1919 in the middle. Gidge Ruth dominates the book's prologue, but the two star crossed characters are Luther Laurence, a black baseball player we first meet playing a pickup game against Ruth, and Danny Coughlin, a white Boston police officer . It seems strange that the paths of Luther and Danny should meet, but events conspire to form an unlikely friendship. Meanwhile, there are anarchists stirring up trouble in the streets of Boston , an influenza epidemic, and a police force unable to live on pre-World War wages. Boston has not seen such a fertile ground for ferment since the days of the American Revolution. Ultimately, "The Given Day" is an epic novel writ small, more comparable to E. L. Doctorow's "Ragtime" than, say, Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace." Granted, the 1919 Boston Police Strike is not on a par with Napoleon's invasion of Russia, but there are so many threads related the transformation of the United States in the 20th century that you can see how our today is connected to these particular yesterdays.

While reading this novel I consistently found myself wanting more, not so much in terms of the story continuing on past the end point, which is a constant complaint with most compelling narratives, but more in terms of wanting more details as the story went along. Babe Ruth figures large in this response because he is the historical figure who is featured most prominently in the tale. This is because he is the character situated at the tipping point in what is happening when money and labor in the novel, and there is a sense that as Babe Ruth goes, so goes the nation. More than any other character he represents the future (when we talk about important sports figures in American history there are Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson on the top plateau and nobody else comes close in importance). But while I definitely agree with the privileged position Ruth plays in the narrative, I still wish that some of the other historical figures--which run the gamut from Red Sox owner Harry Frazee and Department of Justice lawyer John Hoover to former General Motors president James Jackson Storrow and Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge--were more than transient characters walking in and out of the story.

Yes, I know that Lehane's choices in this regards are all legitimate, but I ended up wanting more because of what the author was doing with Ruth, specifically in chapter twenty-four. That is the first chapter in the section "Babe Ruth and the White Baseball," which I thought could have stood alone as a short story. The chapter begins with a molasses tank exploding in Boston's North End and concludes with may well have been the longest home run Ruth ever hit, which was in a 1919 spring training game in Tampa, Florida. American League president Ban Johnson was requiring baseball teams to play with white (i.e., clean) baseballs, which is ironic since Ray Chapman would not be killed by a dirty baseball thrown by submariner Carl Mays until the following season. Lehane's eloquence with the metaphor and the way he casually works out the logic of Ruth's plate appearance, make this the standout chapter in the novel and well worth reading just on that score alone and justifies my rounding up on "The Given Day" in the end.

Substitute [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Substitute [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Price: £8.33

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ah, the joys of a badly dubbed Danish science fiction-horror film, 25 Oct. 2008
"The Substitute" is not quite in the "so bad it is good" category, but I think it is definitely worth some laughs. The description of the film is fairly straightforward: this sixth grade class is getting a substitute teacher and they suspect that she is an alien. Sounds familiar, right? Well, this 2007 film is definitely another fun example of a movie that strikes you as being cobbled together from more familiar films. You have another teacher as alien like in "The Faculty," but they are teaching sixth graders (which makes them about the age of the kids in "The Goonies"), the flying sphere from "Phantasm," the idea of being taken to another planet like in "Cocoon", and several other cinematic points of reference that you can discover for yourselves. But that is not the main thing that makes this film fun.

THIS FILM IS DUBBED. That is because this is a Danish film and its original title is "Vikaren." Directed by Ole Bornedal ("Nightwatch") with a screenplay by Bornedal and Henrik Prip. When you pop in any of these Ghost House Underground DVDS you get the trailer for "Saw V" (or as we like to call it "Emily's Revenge," because it stars Scott Patterson from "Gilmore Girls"), and the trailers for the other seven GHU movies. The interesting thing about the trailer for "The Substitute" is that you cannot tell that this is one of those gloriously badly dubbed foreign movies that were a staple of afternoon and late night TV when I was a lad. Usually those were Japanese science fiction films like "The Mysterians" or any of the rubber suit monster movies, or the Italian muscle man gladiator type flicks. But just hearing those overly serious English voices mismatched with the lip movements of the actors takes me back to those halcyon days of yore. I forgot to check the DVD to see if you could listen to "Vikaren" in the original Dutch, the way you can listen to the Russian track on GHU's "Trackman," but as much fun as it is to listen to Dutch there is no way it can be as much fun as listening to this dubbed version.

The film stars Paprika Steen as Ulla the strapping blond Vikaren, in an over the top performance that plays well against the kids trying to respond to the crazy substitute teacher that wants to take them back to her planet so they can learn about love (this alone should indicate how big of a difference it makes to do this movie with sixth graders instead of hormonal high school students). Steen, of course, is familiar to Danish audiences in recent years as Line Anders in six episodes of "Der Kommissar und das Meer." Anyhow, she shows up as the titular figure and tells her young charges that they are stupid because they do not know anything whereas she knows everything, which she proceeds to demonstrate. She picks on poor Carl (Jonas Wandschneider) who has "lost" his mother, and Carl makes it his mission in this movie to find out what's up with Ulla. Then the problem is convincing the other kids, not to mention their parents and the town's inept authority figures, before Ulla takes the kids on the world's longest field trip.

The bottom line here is that if you intend to take this film seriously, you are probably not going to like it, especially by the time the chickens come home to roost in the finale. There are some surprisingly decent special effects in "The Substitute," which is interesting because you would think they would not bother given the hokey nature of the story and performances. But ultimately that expenditure of money only adds to the film's odd charm (emphasis on "odd"). Apparently Ghost House Pictures is going to remake "Vikaren" for American audiences, and I guess if we can remake Japanese horror films and Korean horror films then we can remake Danish horror films (although really it is more science fiction than horror). But I have to tell you, having the cast actually speak in English might well take a lot of the fun out of this one.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 26, 2009 11:42 AM BST

Sleeping Beauty (50th Anniversary Platinum Edition) (1959) [DVD]
Sleeping Beauty (50th Anniversary Platinum Edition) (1959) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Mary Costa
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £11.95

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reconsidering Walt Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" as a restored classic, 7 Oct. 2008
I have been trying to remember the first time I saw Walt Disney's "Sleeping Beauty," and I cannot remember if I ever saw it in a theater, caught it on television some time, or never sat down to watch it until it came out on videotape. What I did remember is not being particularly impressed by the movie. Certainly I did not consider it to be a classic Disney animated film like "Bambi" or "Cinderella," which is a way of saying that it was not on my "must have" list of Disney movies. Then I watched this 50th Anniversary Platinum Edition of "Sleeping Beauty" and all I can say is that however I saw this film for the first time it was NOT in this expanded version that has restored the original Super Technirama 70 dimensions of the film. I would have remembered a film that had art this gorgeous, even when it is this stylized and even when the music is classical high brow stuff. In the final analysis, "Sleeping Beauty" is clearly like no other Disney animated film, and that is a good thing.

Disc 1 includes "Grand Canyon," a contemporaneous Disney feature (1958) that combines photography of the national park with Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite," and it would be the classical music that is the common denominator to the main feature. Disc 2 has Games & Activities over in the Cottage, while the Castle is devoted to the Backstage Disney special features. The games are pretty much geared for younger children (e.g., see "mop" and click on the item the word represents), so most of the goodies on the second disc are for the adults. There is a new documentary on "The Making of 'Sleeping Beauty,'" which combines archival footage with contemporary interviews. The "Never-Before-Seen Alternate Opening" and "Deleted Songs" are not animated but storyboard drawings accompanying the original, more traditional Disney-like, songs that were written for the film before Walt decided to go primarily with a score based on Tchaikovsky's ballet version of the fairy tale.

If you have picked up any of these platinum editions, then you should be well versed in the sort of extras you can expect here in terms of storyboards, artwork, live-action reference footing, music video by some teenage singer, etc. The other one that stands out here is the fully immersive virtual tour of the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough, a Disneyland attraction that actually existed before the part opened and years before the movie was released.

Besides reminding us again that Walt Disney was a true visionary, the special features highlight the pivotal role of Eyvind Earle, the film's production designer. It was Earle who was given an amazing amount of freedom by Walt to design the settings and to paint most of the film's elaborate background paintings (which usually took a week to do, rather than a single day like in most animated films). The interviews with surviving members of the studio make it clear that Earle did not play well with others, but he was fully committed to creating a unique animated film and now that we can see the expanded version, there is no denying that is exactly what they accomplished. Consequently, I am confident I can remember in the future that "Sleeping Beauty" is a beautifully stylized animated film that is a unique jewel in the Disney crown.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 19, 2016 1:16 PM GMT

Before Green Gables
Before Green Gables
by Budge Wilson
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A charming prequel to the beloved "Anne of Green Gables", 20 Sept. 2008
This review is from: Before Green Gables (Hardcover)
I remember being told about this great television series on PBS about this redheaded orphan girl. I checked it out the next time it was on and was immediately and totally captivated by Kevin Sullivan's adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery's "Anne of Green Gables." I watched it every time it was on and read the original novel. Within a year I had read all of the Anne books plus all of the other Montgomery books that were out in paperback and everything I could find on the shelves in local libraries. I tracked down books that were out of print and photocopied them and managed to pick up a 19th impression of "Anne of Green Gables" (from 1910) and a 1st edition of "Rainbow Valley."

When I got remarried we spent three days just driving to Prince Edward Island for our honeymoon, where we stayed at the hotel that shows up at the start of "Anne of Avonlea" and serves as the White Sand Hotel on "Road to Avonlea." We went to see "Anne of Green Gables: The Musical" in Charlottes town and saw every L.M. Montgomery site there was to see on PEI. On the way home we stopped at several of the places where they filmed the Sullivan adaptations, including the bridge where Anne finally told Gilbert she did not want sunbursts and marble halls, she just wanted him. We have a display case that has a couple of ceramic figures of Anne and Matthew, photographs of Green Gables, and assorted odds and ends including sandstone the peculiar shade of red you find on PEI. So when I found out that the Montgomery estate had authorized Budge Wilson to write a prequel to Montgomery's books, I was pretty excited to read "Before Green Gables."

Cranky old Mark Twain declared Anne Shirely to be "the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice." But for my two cents Anne has Alice beat across the board. Alice is arguably the least interesting person in Wonderland or through the Looking Glass, while nobody on Prince Edward Island holds a candle to our beloved little red-headed orphan. If you ever thought that Anne grows up a bit too quickly in that first novel, "Before Green Gables" allows you the grand pleasure of reacquainting yourself with the young girl that Matthew Cuthbert discovered waiting for him instead of a boy at the Bright River station

Anne's history is laid out in chapter five of "Anne of Green Gables," so the framework of this new novel was essentially laid out by Montgomery herself a hundred years ago. Consequently, Wilson avoids having to come up with major developments in Anne's life, unlike those writers who have tried to come up with sequels to classic novels (e.g., those divergent paths taken by the sequels to "Gone with the Wind"). Wilson was ably assisted in her efforts by an army of knowledgeable Montgomery fans and scholars who were able to provide her with every detail of Anne's past to be gleaned from Montgomery's novels and short stories. Wilson focuses on fleshing out those key chapters in Anne's life. Montgomery's strength was always writing about children, and once Anne became a mother she faded into the background in the final novels. "Before Green Gables" keeps the spotlight on our beloved Anne-girl and is filled with familiar elements from Montgomery's writing, such as the people who thought they would never be married finding happiness, bratty kids getting their comeuppances, and Anne's peculiar ways thawing the hearts of sundry adults.

The only parts of Wilson's novel that are a bit discordant are when Anne is confronted with certain facts of life. I still remember failing to pick up the subtle clues in "Anne's House of Dreams." Anne was suddenly staying at home and then Marilla shows up. Next thing I know there is a baby. Wilson deals more explicitly with such things and while she goes farther than Montgomery ever would have dared, you have to admit that young Anne would be puzzled as to how a baby gets out of a mother's tummy and think that the bellybutton makes perfect sense as an available point of exit. More importantly, Wilson captures the voice of the young Anne Shirley, including her exquisitely elaborate vocabulary. The ending of the Wilson's story was a slight disappointment to me, but only because I had become firmly convinced that Anne's final line in this book would be her first line from Montgomery's novel. However, Wilson picks a different and totally reasonable point to end the prequel, so the dashed expectations were my own fault. Overall I found "Before Green Gables" to be charming and a worthwhile addition to the canon.

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