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Themis-Athena (from somewhere between California and Germany)

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English Patient [DVD] [1997] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
English Patient [DVD] [1997] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Unknown Actor
Offered by WonderBook-USA
Price: £2.65

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ownership, belonging and an earth without maps., 27 April 2005
After the publication of Michael Ondaatje's Booker-Prize-winning "English Patient," conventional wisdom soon held that the novel, while a masterpiece of fiction, was entirely untransferable to any other medium: too intricately layered seemed its narrative structure; too significant its protagonists' inner life; too rich its symbolism. Then along came Anthony Minghella, who reportedly read it in a single sitting and was so disoriented afterwards that he didn't even remember where he was - but who called producer Paul Zaentz the very next morning and talked him into bringing the novel to the screen. Two major studios and several fights over the casting of key roles later, the result were an astonishing nine Oscars (Best Picture, Director - Anthony Minghella -, Supporting Actress - Juliette Binoche -, Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design, Original Score and Sound), as well as scores of other awards.
"The English Patient" is an epic tale of love and loss; of ownership, belonging and the bars erected thereto. It unites the stories of five people: Hungarian count Laszlo de Almasy (Ralph Fiennes), mistaken as English by a British Army medical unit in Italy after professing to have forgotten his identity; Hana (Juliette Binoche), Almasy's Canadian nurse; Katherine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas), his erstwhile lover; Kip (Naveen Andrews), a Sikh sapper and Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe), an ex-spy and thief. All outsiders, they are struggling to come to terms with their lives: Almasy, on his deathbed, reflects back to his life as a North African explorer and his affair with Katherine; Hana believes herself cursed because everybody she cares for dies (in the movie her fiance and her best friend; in the novel her fiance, her father and her unborn baby), Katherine is taken to an all-male company of explorers in Cairo by her husband Geoffrey (Colin Firth), Kip, like Hana, is far away from home (the only Indian in an otherwise British and Italian environment) and Caravaggio lost his livelihood after his thumbs were cut off in captivity by the Germans, on a sadistic officer (Juergen Prochnow)'s orders.
Like the novel, the movie's story largely unfolds in flashbacks: After Hana convinces her superiors to let her stay and nurse Almasy in an abandoned Tuscan villa, she and new arrival Caravaggio, who holds Almasy responsible for his fate, extract the details of his life in Africa and the truth about Katherine, Geoffrey and the events uniting him with the Cliftons and Caravaggio from Almasy in a series of conversations. But at the same time, the story is anchored in the present by Hana's growing attachment to Kip, which shines a different light on the themes also driving Almasy and his relationship with Katherine. The film's outstanding cast, which in key roles also includes Julian Wadham as Almasy's friend Madox and Kevin Whately as Kip's sergeant Hardy carries the story marvelously: Probably their biggest award loss (besides Fiennes's and Scott Thomas's Oscar and other "best lead" nominations and Minghella's screenplay Oscar nomination) was the 1997 SAG ensemble award, which instead went to "The Birdcage."
In his screenplay Minghella made several changes vis-a-vis the novel; the biggest of these doubtlessly a shift in focus from Hana, Caravaggio and Kip to Almasy and Katherine, and the fact that the film is much more explicit about Almasy's identity than the novel. Both were wise choices: Hana's inner demons in the novel are largely exactly that - *inner* demons, moreover, substantially grounded in the past and thus even more difficult to portray than Almasy's and Katherine's. Similarly, once the focus had moved to the latter couple, Kip's back story would have extended the movie without significantly advancing it; and the same is true for the intersections between Caravaggio's path and that of Hana's father. Secondly, mistaken *national* identity is overall more central to Almasy's character than identity as such; so the novel's intricate mystery about his persona might well have proven unnecessarily distracting in the movie's context. Indeed, once Almasy had become the story's greatest focus, much of its symbolism virtually even required that there be no real doubt about his identity.
But in all core respects, Minghella remained faithful to Ondaatje's novel; particularly regarding its profoundly impressionistic imagery, as shown, for example, in the curves formed by the Northern African desert's endless sand dunes, which in John Seale's magnificent and justly awardwinning cinematography resemble those of a woman's body as much as they do in Ondaatje's language, thus uniting Almasy's two greatest loves in a single symbol.
Doubtlessly the most important image is that of maps: Guides to unknown places like those drawn by Almasy and his friends during their explorations, but also tools of ownership like the cartography of Northern Africa made possible by Geoffrey Clifton's photos, and ultimately symbols of betrayal, as Almasy surrenders his maps to the Germans in exchange for a plane after he feels deserted by the British. And while Kip, who spends all day searching for bombs but wants to be found at night, guides Hana to himself by a series of tiny signposts in the form of oil lamps - but still never tries to expect her, in order not to get too much attached to her - Almasy, the perpetual loner who declares that he hates ownership more than anything else, gets so attached to Katherine that he claims her suprasternal notch as his exclusive property and later refers to her as his wife, which due to her marriage to Geoffrey she couldn't truly be in life and could only symbolically become in death. - The final word on maps, belonging and ownership, however, is part of Katherine's legacy to Almasy (and I still prefer the novel's language here):
"I believe in such cartography - to be marked by nature, not just label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. ... All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps."
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 22, 2008 7:13 AM BST


Seven - 2 Disc Set [DVD]
Seven - 2 Disc Set [DVD]
Dvd ~ Brad Pitt
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £2.25

9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Septenary of Horror., 27 April 2005
This review is from: Seven - 2 Disc Set [DVD] (DVD)
"At first sin is a stranger in the soul; then it becomes a guest; and when we are habituated to it, it becomes as if the master of the house." - Tolstoy.
Although not originating from the bible, the concept of deadly sins is almost as old as Christian doctrine itself. Theologians like 4th century Greek monk Evagrius of Pontus first compiled catalogues of deadly offenses against the divine order, which 6th century pope Gregory the Great consolidated into a list of seven sins, which in turn formed the basis of the works of medieval/renaissance writers like St. Thomas Aquinas ("Summa Theologiae"), Geoffrey Chaucer ("Canterbury Tales"), Christopher Marlowe ("Dr. Faustus"), Edmund Spenser ("The Faerie Queene") and Dante Alighieri ("Commedia Divina"/"Purgatorio"). And in times when the ability to read was a privilege rather than a basic skill, the depiction of sin in paintings wasn't far behind; particularly resulting from the 16th century's reformulation of church doctrine, the works of artists like Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder brought the horrific results of humankind's penchant to indulge in vice back into general consciousness with surrealistic eloquence, reminding their viewers that no sin goes unseen (Bosch, "The Seven Deadly Sins") and that its commission leads straight into a hell reigned by gruesome, grotesque demons and devils whose sole purpose is to torture those fallen into their hands (Bosch, "The Hay-Wagon" and "The Last Judgment;" Bruegel, "The Triumph of Death" and "The Tower of Babel").
More recently, the seven deadly sins have been the subject of Stephen Sondheim's play "Getting Away With Murder" and a ballet by George Balanchine ("Seven Deadly Sins"); and on the silver screen the topic has been addressed almost since the beginning of filmmaking (Cabiria [1914], Intolerance [1916]). Thus, "Se7en" builds on a solid tradition both in its own domain and in other art forms, topically as well as in its approach, denouncing society's apathy towards vice and crime. Yet - and although expressly referencing the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, Chaucer and Dante - David Fincher's movie eschews well-trodden paths and grabs the viewer's attention from the beginning; and it does so not merely by the depiction of serial killer John Doe's (Kevin Spacey's) crimes, which could easily degenerate into a mindless bloodfest that would defeat the movie's purpose. (Not that there isn't a fair share of blood and gore on display; both visually and in the characters' dialogue regarding those details not actually shown; but Fincher uses the crimes' gruesome nature to create a sense of stark realism, rather than for shock value alone.) In addition, Doe's mindset is painstakingly presented by the opening credits' jumpy nature, his "lair"'s apocalyptic makeup and his notebooks, all of which were actually written out (at considerable expense), and whose compilation is shown underlying the credits. The movie's atmosphere of unrelenting doom is further underscored by a color scheme dominated by brown, gray and only subdued hues of other colors, and by the fact that almost every outdoors scene is set in rain. Moreover, although screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker explains on the DVD that the story was inspired by his observations in New York (and the movie was shot partly there, partly in L.A.), it is set in a faceless, nameless city, thus emphasizing that its concern isn't a specific location but society generally.
Central to the movie is the contrast between world-weary Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman) who, while decrying the rampant occurrence of violence in society, for much of the movie seems to have resigned himself to his inability to do something meaningful about this (and therefore seems to accept apathy for himself, too, until his reluctant final turnaround), and younger Detective Mills (Brad Pitt), who fought for a reassignment to this particular location, perhaps naively expecting his contributions to actually make a difference; only to become a pawn in Doe's scheme instead and thus show that, given the right trigger, nobody is beyond temptation. As such, Somerset and Mills are not merely another incarnation of the well-known old-cop-young-cop pairing. Rather, their characters' development over the course of the film forces each viewer to examine his/her own stance towards vice.
Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt perfectly portray the two detectives; while Freeman imbues his Will Somerset with a quiet dignity, professionalism and learning, muted by profound but not yet wholly irreversible resignation, Pitt's David Mills is a brash everyman from the suburbs with an undeniable streak of prejudice, a penchant for quick judgment and a thorough lack of sophistication, both personally and culturally. Notable are also the appearances of Gwyneth Paltrow (significantly Brad Pitt's real-life girlfriend at the time) as Mills's wife Tracy and ex-marine R. Lee Ermey as the police captain. Yet, from his very first appearance onwards, this is entirely Kevin Spacey's film. Reportedly, Brad Pitt especially fought hard for his casting; and it is indeed hard to imagine "Se7en" with anybody other than the guy who, that same year, also won an Oscar for portraying devilish Keyser Soze in "The Usual Suspects": No living actor has Spacey's ability to simultaneously express spine-chilling villainy, laconic indifference and limitless superiority with merely a few gestures and vocal inflections.
While "Se7en" can certainly claim the "sledgehammer" effect on its viewers sought by its fictional killer, the punishment meted out to Doe's victims - taking their perceived sins to the extreme - pales in comparison to that awaiting sinners according to medieval teachings. (Inter alia, gluttons would thus be forced to eat vermin, toads and snakes, greed-mongers put in cauldrons of boiling oil and those guilty of lust smothered in fire and brimstone.) Most serial killers have decidedly more mundane motivations than Doe. And after all, this is only a movie.
Right?
"Sin ... engenders vice by repetition of the same acts, [clouding the conscience and corrupting the judgment.] Thus sin tends to reproduce ... and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root." - Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994).


The Oscar Wilde BBC Collection : The Importance Of Being Earnest / The Picture Of Dorian Gray / An Ideal Husband / Lady Windermere's Fan (3 Disc Box Set) [DVD] [1969]
The Oscar Wilde BBC Collection : The Importance Of Being Earnest / The Picture Of Dorian Gray / An Ideal Husband / Lady Windermere's Fan (3 Disc Box Set) [DVD] [1969]
Dvd ~ John Gielgud
Price: £9.00

85 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The truth is a thing I get rid of as soon as possible.", 27 April 2005
Best remembered for his countless poignantly witty epigrams, Oscar Wilde was a leading representative of Aestheticism, a movement espousing the notion that art exists for no other purpose than its existence itself. Born in Dublin and a graduate of Oxford's Magdalen College, he worked as a journalist, editor and lecturer before turning to dramatic writing, and produced his most acclaimed works in the six-year span from 1890 to 1895, roughly coinciding with his romantic involvement with sixteen years younger Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas. "Bosie's" strained relationship with his father, the Marquees of Queensberry, eventually caused a series of confrontations between Wilde and the Marquees, in turn resulting in three trials, Wilde's conviction for "gross indecencies" under a law interpreted to prohibit homosexual relationships, and a two-year prison sentence of "hard labor." Wilde emerged from prison a broken man and, after three years' wanderings throughout Europe, died in 1900 of cerebral meningitis, barely 46 years old.

This marvelous collection brings together four of his best-known works in productions from the BBC's long-running "Play of the Month" series, starring an array of Britain's finest actors; plus a biography with contributions by, inter alia, renowned scholar Isobel Murray, Wilde's grandson Merlin Holland and "Bosie's" great-grandniece Lady Alice Douglas, as well as many well-chosen excerpts from Wilde's works and the trial transcripts, visits to the locations of his life's key stations, and a wealth of photographs.

"The Picture of Dorian Gray" was Wilde's only novel (first published 1890; republished 1891 after widespread condemnation as "immoral," with a preface explaining Wilde's views on art); the tale of an exceptionally handsome young man who sells his soul to maintain his beauty, letting his portrait age in his stead, and soon growing increasingly evil, believing that his beauty will make up for any and all acts of cruelty. Those who know the splendid 1945 adaptation starring Hurd Hatfield in the title role, George Sanders as his seducer, decadent Lord Henry Wotton, Lowell Gilmore as painter Basil Hallward and young Angela Lansbury as Dorian's innocent lover, actress Sibyl Vane, will come to this with high expectations, but the BBC's 1976 cast more than holds its own. Peter Firth is a perfect Dorian, complete with "finely-curved ... lips, frank blue eyes [and] crisp golden hair" (Wilde) - the proverbial golden boy turning ugly under an angelic, albeit increasingly arrogant exterior. Sir John Gielgud, probably the 20th century's best British actor with an uncanny ability to portray *any* character as if he were born to play that role and that role alone, turns in a stellar performance as Sir Henry, dropping some of Wilde's most biting epigrams with an unmatched deadpan expression and impeccable timing. Jeremy Brett, best-known to later TV audiences as Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, completes an excellent leading trio as Basil Hallward. Scripted by noted playwright John Osborne, this dramatization somewhat streamlines the novel's storyline, without, however, straying from its core; and pointedly (but never gratuitously) uses its medium to reveal the three protagonists' homoerotic relationship (as well as that between Dorian and his friend Alan Campbell); only alluded to in the novel and yet, besides its mockery of 19th century society's shallowness, the one factor most contributing to its initial condemnation.

"The Importance of Being Earnest" (1895) is a comedy of manners revolving around two friends, Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, their love interests, Jack's ward Cecily and Algy's cousin Gwendolyn, and the problems arising from both ladies' preference for a husband with the first name Ernest and from Jack's ignorance about his origin, as he was found in a bag in a Victoria Station cloak-room, which Gwendolyn's mother Lady Bracknell scorns as a show of "contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution," assuring Jack that she'll never allow her daughter to "form an alliance with a parcel." Again there's a superb cinematic adaptation against which this 1988 BBC production has to compete, the 1952 film starring Michael Redgrave (Jack), Michael Denison (Algy), Edith Evans (Lady Bracknell), Joan Greenwood (Gwendolyn), Dorothy Tutin (Cecily) and Margaret Rutherford (Cecily's tutor Miss Prism). But while this production isn't quite such a class act - nor as visually dazzling as the less faithful 2002 movie starring Colin Firth (Jack), Rupert Everett (Algy), Judi Dench (Lady Bracknell), Frances O'Connor (Gwendolyn), Reese Witherspoon (Cecily) and Anna Massey (Miss Prism) - it does feature fine performances, particularly from Joan Plowright (Lady Bracknell) and Rupert Frazer (Algy).

"Lady Windermere's Fan" (1893), Wilde's first truly successful play, deals with the moral trials faced by a young woman of society whose uncompromising, Puritan views of life are tested when she has reason to suspect her husband of infidelity with a Mrs. Erlynne, a divorced (and for that reason alone, ill-reputed) woman trying to make a comeback into London society after years of living abroad. Helena Little and Tim Woodward acquit themselves well in the BBC's 1985 adaptation as Lady and Lord Windermere, but the true standout performances are Stephanie Turner's (Mrs. Erlynne) and Sara Kestelman's (the Duchess of Berwick, who in a wonderfully ad-libbed line sends her daughter to go outside and "look for" - instead of at - the sunset).

"An Ideal Husband" (1895) finally takes a rather darkly sardonic look at blackmail, hypocrisy and corruption in politics. Although brought to the big screen in 1999 with an all-star cast led by Julianne Moore (Mrs. Cheveley), Cate Blanchett (Lady Gertrude Chiltern), Minnie Driver (Mabel Chiltern), Jeremy Northam (Sir Robert Chiltern) and Rupert Everett (Lord Goring), the BBC's 1969 version holds up well; if for no other reason because of young Jeremy Brett's captivating portrayal of Scarlett-Pimpernellish Lord Goring, Margaret Leighton's devious Mrs. Cheveley ... and because it's actually a faithful production of Wilde's play, whereas the 1999 movie, like 2002's "Importance of Being Earnest" directed by Robert Parker, takes several crucial artistic licenses, not the least, the omission of Lord Goring's and Mrs. Cheveley's face-off over a certain bracelet.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 1, 2011 11:46 AM BST


Out of Africa [DVD] [1986] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Out of Africa [DVD] [1986] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Price: £7.76

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A song of Africa; and: What price freedom?, 27 April 2005
He likes to distill his movies' themes into a single word, Sydney Pollack explains on "Out of Africa"'s DVD. Here, that word is "Possession:" The possessiveness of the colonialists trying to make Africa theirs; to rule her with their law, settle on the local tribes' land, dress their African servants in European outfits (complete with a house boy's white gloves), import prized belongings like crystal to maintain the comforts of European civilization, and teach African children to read, to remove their "ignorance." And the possessiveness of human relationships; the claim of exclusivity arising from a wedding license, the encroachment on personal freedom resulting if such a claim is raised by even one partner - regardless whether based on a legal document - and the implications of desire, jealousy, want and need.
As such, the movie's story of Danish writer Karen Blixen's (Isak Dinesen's) experience in Kenya is inextricably intertwined with her love for free-spirited hunter/adventurer Denys Finch Hatton. Just as she spends years trying to wrangle coffee beans from ground patently unfit for their plantation and create a dam where water that, her servants tell her, "lives in Mombassa" needs to flow freely, only to see her efforts fail at last, so also her romance with Finch Hatton blossoms only as long as she is still (pro forma) married, and thus cannot fully claim him. As soon as the basis of their relationship changes, Finch Hatton withdraws - and is killed in a plane crash shortly thereafter, his death thus cementing a development already underway with terrible finality. In her eulogy Karen asks God to take back his soul with its freedom intact: "He was not ours - he was not mine." Yet, both Kenya and Finch Hatton leave such a mark on her that, forced to return to Denmark, she literally writes them back into her life; again becoming the "mental traveler" she had been before first setting foot on African soil, using her exceptional storytelling powers to resurrect the world and the man she lost, and be united with them in spirit where a more tenable union is no longer possible.
While "Out of Africa" is an adaptation of Blixen's like-named ode to Kenya, several of her other works also informed the screenplay; as did Judith Thurman's Blixen biography. And it's this combination which in screenwriter Carl Luedtke' and director Sydney Pollack's hands turns into gold where prior attempts have failed; because Blixen's book is primarily, as Pollack explains, "a pastorale, a beautifully formed memoir [relying] on her prose style, her sense of poetry and her ability to discover large truths in very small ... details" but lacking "much narrative drive" and thus, "difficult to translate to film." In addition, Blixen was largely silent about her relationship with Finch Hatton, which however was an essential element of the story, thus dooming any attempt to produce a movie without extensive prior research into this area.
Meryl Streep was not Sydney Pollack's first choice for the role of Karen, for which luminaries including Greta Garbo and Audrey Hepburn had previously been considered. Looking back in the DVD's documentary, Streep and Pollack recount how his change of mind came about (and ladies, I just know her version will make you laugh out loud). But while unfortunately neither her Oscar- nor her Golden-Globe-nomination turned into one of the movie's multiple awards (on Oscar night alone, Best Movie, Best Director and Best Cinematography, Art Direction, Music and Sound), she was indeed the perfect choice. Few contemporary actresses have her range of talent and sensitivity; and listening to tapes of Blixen reading her own works allowed her not only to develop a Danish accent but to become the story's narrative voice in the completest sense, from Blixen's persona to her perceptions and penmanship.
Much has been made of the fact that as Finch Hatton no British actor was cast but Robert Redford, with whom Pollack had previously collaborated in five successful movies, including the mid-1970s' "The Way We Were" and "Three Days of the Condor." But as Pollack points out, Finch Hatton, although a real enough person in Karen Blixen's life, in the movie's context stands for the universal type of the charming, ever-unpossessable, mysterious male; and there simply is no living actor whose image matches that type as closely as Redford's. Indeed, in this respect his character in "Out of Africa" epitomizes his "Redfordness" more intensely than *any* of his other roles. Moreover, all references to Finch Hatton's nationality are deleted here; so this isn't Robert Redford trying to portray a member of the English upper class, this is Redford portraying Redford (or at least, his public image) - and therefore, it is only proper that he didn't adopt a British accent, either.
Praise for this movie wouldn't be complete without mentioning the splendid, Golden-Globe-winning performance of Klaus-Maria Brandauer, one of today's best German-speaking actors, in the role of Karen's philandering husband Bror. (And if you think he's duplicitous here, rent such gems as "Mephisto" and "Hanussen" - or, for that matter, "James Bond: Never Say Never Again" - and you'll see what creepy and demonic really is when it's grown up). And of course, "Out of Africa" wouldn't be what it is without its superb African cast members; particularly Malick Bowens as Karen's faithful major domus Farah and Joseph Thiaka in his only known screen appearance as Kamante, Karen's indomitable cook. Several fine British actors complete the cast, providing enough British colonial feel even for those quibbling with Redford's casting; to name but a few, Michael Kitchen as Finch Hatton's friend Berkeley Cole, Michael Gough as Lord "Dee" Delamere and Suzanna Hamilton as Felicity (whose character is based on Blixen's friend and rival for Finch Hatton's attentions, Beryl Markham).
In all, "Out of Africa" is a grand, lavishly produced tribute to Africa, nature, freedom, adventure and love: Karen Blixen's "Song of Africa" brought to the big screen - and one of the profoundest love stories ever written by life itself.


Crusader
Crusader
Price: £7.15

41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When a Troubadour Was Still a Troubadour ..., 2 April 2005
This review is from: Crusader (Audio CD)
Once, there was a troubadour whose songs told stories about Country Churchyards and houses with Satin Green Shutters, about Lonesome Cowboys, Spacemen and Strippers, and about the devil cheating the Lord in a game of chess for the souls of humanity played on a Spanish Train. In those years, that troubadour's songs were simple, straightforward and enchanting, both musically and lyrically, and he published albums fittingly entitled "Far Beyond These Castle Walls," "Spanish Train and Other Stories" and "At the End of a Perfect Day."
Then, he was discovered. And while (initially) his lyrics at least maintained their poignancy (see "The Getaway"), his music suddenly joined the flood waves of overproduced pop. But just before that point, in 1979, he released what many to this day consider his masterpiece; the album most pointedly embodying the tradition in which, if interviews he gave at the time were to be believed, he saw himself. Supported by the better part Alan Parson's "Project" (minus Parsons himself and Eric Woolfson) - guitarist Ian Bairnson, bassist David Paton, drummer Stuart Elliott and keyboardists Mike Moran and Andrew Powell, the latter of whom also served as the album's producer and conductor - he put together a collection of 12 songs in turn seducing, stirring and soothing the listener's soul. There are soft songs of love and loss like "I Had the Love in My Eyes," "Something Else Again," "It's Such a Long Way Home" and "Quiet Moments." There is the heartrending fairy tale of the "Girl With April in Her Eyes." There is De Burgh's bow to the era's "save the earth" movement, the rallying cry of "Just in Time". There is the sequel to the ghastly game of chess in "Spanish Train" (to which the song's lyrics expressly make reference), the dramatic story of "The Devil's Eye" gazing back at you from your TV screen. And there is a troubadour's look at "Old-Fashioned People" wishing to be carried back to the times and places that they knew.
But the album's piece de resistance is its title track, an (especially considering the time of its release) epic, nine-minute long tale retelling the story of Richard the Lionheart's crusade; beginning quietly but rising to dramatic heights as the enemies face each other over Jerusalem, and yet, ending on a quiet, pensive note. True, the song's lyrics reflect enormous bias and are, at the very least, historically debatable; and the mere fact that the story is told from a crusader's point of view doesn't do anything to change this, for those who participated in the crusades knew better than to underestimate Saladin or put him down like this - the version we're getting here is the propaganda spread throughout Christian Europe in support of the campaign to "free" Jerusalem. But ultimately, I don't think this part of the song represents the point that Chris De Burgh wants to make. Rather, the song's most important lines are those of the last, reflective verses, which are well worth considering, particularly these days:
"What do I do now?" said the Wise man to the Fool,
"I have spent my whole life searching, to find the Golden Rule,
Though centuries have disappeared, the memory still remains,
Of those enemies together, could it be that way again?"
Then the Fool said "Oh you Wise men, you really make me laugh,
With your talk of vast persuasion and searching through the past,
There is only greed and evil in the men who fight today,
The song of the Crusader has long since gone away ..."
The album's last song, "You and Me," is a short, gentle farewell: "The time has come for me to take my bows and leave the stage," De Burgh sings, and promises to return and again take his audience "through the ancient halls and stories of the past, and the many ways of loving." Well, return he certainly did, but would that he had remembered the rest of his promise as well! Alas, that was not to be the case. But even for those of us who think he later sold out, there are still his first four albums - and particularly this one - to turn to for enchantment, comfort, and exceptional storytelling ...


Poirot: ABC Murders [DVD] [1989] [US Import]
Poirot: ABC Murders [DVD] [1989] [US Import]
Offered by multimedia-online
Price: £8.32

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Appalling Bloodshed and Cedric, the Caiman., 4 Mar. 2005
"The little grey cells, I fear, they grow the rust," Hercule Poirot regretfully tells his friend Captain Hastings upon welcoming him back from a South American vacation. No case has kept him busy, nothing interesting has happened at all. Now that Hastings is back, however, things will be different again: "But it must be no common affair, Hastings. It must be something recherche. Delicate. Fine."
And just such a case is about to begin; in fact, it will turn out be one of Poirot's most difficult ever. Because at this point, he has already received the first of what will be an entire series of letters from an apparent serial killer, brazenly announcing his crimes and taunting Poirot to catch him. In fact, this is the very day the first murder is supposed to take place, in the town of Andover, about 50 miles west of London - and in short order, a woman whose initials are A.A. is indeed found murdered there. Then, also as advised by the killer, a murder occurs in the East Sussex seaside resort of Bexhill ... and the victim's initials are B.B. The third murder's location is Churston in far-away Devon in the south-west of England - and that victim's initials are C.C. And to catch him before the fourth murder, the killer tells Poirot, he will have to travel to the Yorkshire town of Doncaster, on the day of the famous St. Leger race, no less.
By this time, the victims' surviving relatives and friends have formed a "legion of interested parties" that works with Poirot to find the killer. Their task is not an easy one, for the only link between the murders seems to be an A.B.C. Railway guide left with the body of each victim, and the strictly alphabetic order of the victims' names and the crime scenes. But eventually the detectives find themselves on the trace of a traveling salesman whose initials happen to be A.B.C.: a timid, extremely high-strung, desperately driven man who ever since his return from World War I has been suffering from epileptic seizures, repeated blackouts and (probably) what is today known as post-traumatic stress disorder, and whose presence at the locations of each of the crimes on the days when the respective crimes took place is quickly established. So is he the killer - or if he is not, what, if anything, *does* he have to do with the murders?
Written in 1935, "The A.B.C. Murders" is one of Agatha Christie's most intriguing mysteries; and this adaptation, in turn, one of the highlights of the long-running series featuring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. Like the screen versions of other Poirot stories, the present movie takes a number of liberties with Christie's novel; but as in the case of the equally brilliant and darn near unfilmable "Murder of Roger Ackroyd," the changes work well to the advantage of the adaptation. - Given Hercule Poirot's stature in the annals of mystery writing, it seems strange that except for his portrayal by Albert Finney in the star-studded movie version of "Murder on the Orient Express," for a long time there didn't seem to be any actor who could convincingly bring to life the clever, dignified little Belgian with his unmistakable egg-shaped head, always perched a little on one side, his stiff, military, slightly upward-twisted moustache, and his excessively neat attire, which had reached the point that "a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet," as Agatha Christie introduced him through Captain Hastings's voice in their and her own very first adventure, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" (1920). But the perfect Poirot was finally found in Suchet, who after having had the dubious honor of playing a rather dumbly arrogant version of Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Japp in some of the 1980s' movies starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot, now finally moved center stage. And the match is spot-on, not only physically but also in terms of personality, for Suchet shares Poirot's inclination towards pedantry: "I like things to be symmetrical ... If I put two things on the mantelpiece, they have to be exactly evenly spaced," he once said in an interview, adding however that unlike his on-screen alter ego, "I don't need the same sized eggs for breakfast!"
My one quibble with this series is that Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) tends to come across as somewhat more vacuous and naive than in the novels narrated from his point of view, and this movie is no exception in that regard. However, I frankly admit that I, too, have to chuckle at the subplot involving Hastings's travel souvenir for Poirot (a stuffed, ill-smelling caiman named Cedric (!), shot by Hastings himself in the waters of the Orinoco and causing the pedantically neat Poirot repeated spells of queasiness); and Hastings's eagerness to tell anyone who will listen how exactly he came into the caiman's possession. And of course, Philip Jackson never disappoints in his role as a wonderfully down-to-earth, sturdy Inspector Japp; the supporting cast (including, inter alia, Donald Sumpter, Donald Douglas, Nicholas Farrell, Pippa Guard and Vivienne Burgess) is uniformly excellent, and so are the movie's production values, from cinematography to art direction and costume design. Poirot even gets to have a Holmsean moment in the vein of "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time" ("The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes" - "Silver Blaze," 1894), when he points out to Hastings after the first murder that the A.B.C. Railway Guide found next to the victim cannot have been left there randomly: "The fingerprints tell us that." "But ... there weren't any fingerprints," Hastings responds. "Exactement," Poirot explains. "Our murderer, he is in the dark, and seeks to remain in the dark. But in the very nature of things, he cannot help to throw the light upon himself." And as always, Poirot turns out to be right in the end ...


Born Under a Bad Sign
Born Under a Bad Sign

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Take it from one born on a 13th (albeit not a Friday) ..., 27 Feb. 2005
This review is from: Born Under a Bad Sign (Audio CD)
... and under a half moon on the decline: This is one amazing blues album, doubtlessly one of the greatest ever recorded, and one of the most influential records in all of music history. Because in 1966-67, when Albert King got together on a total of no more than five days with the legendary Booker T. Jones and the MGs, Isaac Hayes, and a recording team of the likewise legendary Stax records to produce this album, the blues was quietly on its way out; in danger of being sidelined by psychedelia and the rock music revolution started by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. That this did not happen is due, not least, to Albert King and "Born Under a Bad Sign."
Already seasoned musician when the album was recorded, Mississippi-born and Arkansas-raised Albert (Nelson) King was a man who perfectly understood to employ minimal construction to maximum effect; to fully exploit even the most basic elements of a blues tune and use his exquisite sense of timing, and subtleness on the one hand and emphasis on the other, rather than dazzling the listener by a frenzied race all over the fretboard. ("He can take four notes and write a volume," renowned guitarist Mike Bloomfield once said about him.) This album is a perfect example of that style, and it promptly proved so influential that King's style would be taken up, in short order, by a whole new generation of guitar players, most notably Peter Green, Eric Clapton (listen to Cream's "Disraeli Gears," in particular its title track "Strange Brew," which unabashedly emulates, note-for-note, the guitar solo of "Personal Manager") and Jimi Hendrix, who like Albert King was a "leftie" and in the habit of turning his guitar upside down, with the bass strings at the bottom - and whose respect for King caused him to forever be reluctant to share a stage with his idol, although a lucky audience at San Francisco's Filmore West did see them appear together on the club's opening night.
But this album did not only prove to be one of the most influential ones in electric blues in general; it also constitutes the cornerstone of Albert King's own musical legacy, with its Booker T. Jones/Al Bell-written title track, which has since been recorded by everyone from Paul Butterfield to its inclusion of the CD based on TV's "Simpsons;" and such songs as "Crosscut Saw," "Oh Pretty Woman," "The Hunter," "Personal Manager," and of course King's first Stax single, "Laundromat Blues." Partly R&B record, not least due to the participation of the Memphis Horns (Wayne Jackson, Andrew Love and Joe Arnold), who provide a frame and additional layers of sound to King's guitar, to the studio band (Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn and Al Jackson, Jr.), the album is a product of its time only in the length of the songs, which are generally tied to the 3 1/2-minute limit set by the then-prevailing mandates of radio airplay. Yet, at heart, this is purely blues, from the title track's first powerful riff to the quiet mood of the closing "The Very Thought of You;" and from the feeling of being down and out (summed up, deadpan, in the title track's chorus: "If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all") and the tale of a no-good woman who "kept on foolin' around till I got stuck on [her]" ("Oh Pretty Woman") to the grating guitar and verbal punches of the "Laundromat Blues" ("You better hear my warning ...I don't want you to get so clean, baby, you just might wash your life away"). Albert King's early gospel training shines through in every soulful note of songs such as "I Almost Lost My Mind" and "As the Years Go Passing By," and last but not least the album also includes King's own "Down Don't Bother Me" and the Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller classic "Kansas City."
Obviously feeling the need to convince an uncertain audience to give the record a try, Deanie Parker's 1967 liner notes summed up the prevalent blues cliches by recommending the album to anybody who had ever been hurt by a lover, deceived by their best friend or broke and "ready to call it quits" and promising: "Albert King has the solution if you have the time to listen ... he'll get through to you." Well, "solution" may be a bit over-optimistic - but there sure is plenty of feeling on this album, and some of the finest guitar solos ever recorded. And that in and of itself, as well as the name Albert King, should be more than enough of a recommendation to give the album a try.
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Unplugged/from the Cradle
Unplugged/from the Cradle

5.0 out of 5 stars About retracing one's steps, one blue note at a time., 27 Feb. 2005
"All along this path I tread, my heart betrays my weary head; with nothing but my love to save, from the cradle to the grave ..."
Summing up his thoughts on a recently failed relationship, Eric Clapton jotted down these words one night in early 1994, and they eventually made their way into the cover booklet of the album he released later that same year, the last line also providing the album's title. And "there's anger and love and fear on this record," Clapton told Billboard Magazine about the self-evaluation he was undergoing at the time, explaining that in recording this album, he had sought to once and for all break the - partially self-imposed - barriers and trappings of fame and fortune, girls and glamour, drugs and booze, in order to just "get out and ... say what I want to say, be what I want to be [and] love what I want to love."
What he had loved from his earliest years on, of course, was the blues; and a real blues album was thus what he had always wanted to record - ever since his days with the Yardbirds (which he left when they strayed towards more mainstream, commercial sounds) and with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, the training ground for much of Britain's blues elite of the 1960s and 1970s. So in a major way, this album constitutes a return to Eric Clapton's roots.
At the same time, however, it is a marvelous tribute to the artists on whose influence Clapton builds to this day, and who first made the songs recorded here famous. Like any good blues album, "From the Cradle" was recorded live in the studio: with the exception of some dobro and drum overdub on "How Long Blues" and "Motherless Child" respectively, all vocals and instrumental parts are the pure, unadulterated product of the recording sessions involved. With or without extended solos, Clapton's guitar work is stellar as always, and his vocals are as raw and rough as hardly ever before. He may not actually outgrowl the great Chess and Delta Blues men - listen to his 2001 album "Riding With the King" with B.B. King or to Muddy Waters's 1977 version of "Hoochie Coochie Man" if you have any doubts - but this truly becomes apparent only in direct comparison with them, and it really says more about those other musicians than it does about Clapton himself. If it were not for the fact that many of the recordings on this album have long become classics in their own right and that Clapton's voice is not easily confused with that of any other artist in the first place, I'm almost certain that you could fool a fair number of people into believing that they were listening to an album recorded 40 years or even longer ago in Chicago or Memphis. This is the real thing, folks, no question about it; and it is performed with as much skill as soul by Eric Clapton and a tremendous group of musicians consisting of Dave Bronze (bass), Jim Keltner (drums), Andy Fairweather Low (guitar), Jerry Portnoy (harmonica), Chris Stainton (keyboards), Roddy Lorimer (trumpet) and Simon Clarke and Tim Sanders (saxophone) - many of the well-known to Clapton's live audiences the world over as well.
In selecting the songs for this album, Eric Clapton purposely chose the most intense blues songs he could think of, not even shying away from classics that he had heretofore considered "untouchable," like Muddy Waters's (or actually, Willie Dixon's) aforementioned "Hoochie Coochie Man." And in a not entirely surprising turn, they - and "Hoochie Coochie Man" in particular - soon became fixtures in his own live appearances as much as they had been fixtures in the appearances of the artists who had first made them famous, from Leroy Carr's "Blues Before Sunrise" and "How Long Blues" to Lowell Fulson's "Reconsider Baby" and "Sinner's Prayer," Eddie Boyd's "Five Long Years," James Lane's "Goin' Away Baby" and "Blues Leave Me Alone," Elmore James's "It Hurts Me Too," Freddie King's "Someday After a While," another famous Muddy Waters tune, "Standin' Round Crying," and the concluding, aptly titled "Groaning the Blues." And all colors of this blues kaleidoscope also represent shades and aspects of Eric Clapton's own life, because, as he told Billboard, all of them have had a certain meaning to him at some point or another. In that sense, the album is a very personal one - maybe not quite as much as the 1970 Derek and the Dominos recording "Layla and Other Assorted Lovesongs," one of the earliest and biggest highlights of Clapton's career, but certainly close; in expressing "the thing I've loved from day one, the most exciting and satisfying thing I've known."
Coming on the heels of 1989's "Journeyman" and 1992's hugely successful "Unplugged," which had redefined the standards by which acoustic recordings were measured and, in the process, had also given an unexpectedly new meaning to the title track of "Layla," "From the Cradle" was one of a trilogy of albums which injected new life into Clapton's career and ensured that his fans would be able to enjoy his immeasurable contributions to the world of music for - at least - another decade. In 1991, Clapton had also recorded the soundtrack for the movie "Rush," arguably yet another very personal project, and released a CD documenting his marathon 24 live appearances at Royal Albert Hall, appropriately named "24 Nights." And while any Eric Clapton album will to a certain extent be an expression of the point where he sees himself and his career at the time of the recording, it's all about the music again now, and about the joy of playing. Nothing shows this clearer than his dual 2001 releases "Reptile" and "Riding With the King." "From the Cradle" was an important stepping stone in getting to this point, and I am glad we have been allowed, yet again, to share in that experience. Thank you, Eric!


End of Innocence
End of Innocence

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Award-winning ballads and Reaganomics: a Henley must-have., 27 Feb. 2005
This review is from: End of Innocence (Audio CD)
"Remember when the days were long and rolled beneath a deep blue sky" ... remember Paradise Lost and the Last Resort? At the end of the 1980s, his awareness of society and what's wrong with it more acute than ever, on his third solo album Don Henley took up the theme of the closing song of the Eagles' classic "Hotel California" even more forcefully than on his two prior releases. Now, however, it was no longer just "somebody" who "laid the mountains low while the town got high." Now the enemy had a face; he was "the tired old man that we elected king;" that cowboy whose name was Jingo, and who "heard that there was trouble, so in a blaze of glory he rode out of the west - nobody was ever certain what it was that he was sayin' but they loved it when he told them they were better than the rest." ("Little Tin God.")
By the time he published "The End of the Innocence," Don Henley's name was as firmly established as that of a successful solo artist as it had previously come to be known as one of the driving forces behind the Eagles' almost decade-long success. Commercially his most successful album and critically his most acclaimed, his third solo release garnered a Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocalist (for the title track) and produced several more hit singles besides "The End of the Innocence:" "The Heart of the Matter," "New York Minute," "How Bad Do You Want It?" and "Last Worthless Evening." Stylistically, the album ranges from ballads like the piano-driven title song (co-written by Bruce Hornsby, whose fingerprints are all over its instrumentation; not just in the keyboards but also in the saxophone solo, performed by Wayne Shorter, and in the song's main theme), "The Last Worthless Evening," and Don Henley's variation on the theme of forgiveness, "The Heart of the Matter" (a song that took him "42 years to write," as he explained during the opening show of the Eagles' "Hell Freezes Over" tour) - all the way to hard-rocking tunes like "I Will Not Go Quietly," featuring background vocals by Axl Rose. In between are the jazzy, introspective "New York Minute," yet another (percussion- and rhythm-driven) warning that the world "ain't no Shangri-La," the deceptively light-footed "Little Tin God," and no less than three hard, edgy songs rounding up Henley's damning verdict on Reaganomics ("How Bad Do You Want It?," "Gimme What You Got" and "If Dirt Were Dollars").
As were his previous solo albums, "The End of the Innocence" was co-produced and largely co-written by Danny Kortchmar, and likewise as on the previous albums, Henley enlisted the cooperation of a number of other outstanding musicians - in addition to Kortchmar, Hornsby, Shorter and Rose, Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, Julia and Maxine Waters, Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Stan Lynch, Toto's David Paich and Jeff Porcaro, "inofficial Eagle" J.D. Souther, and many others. Except for his greatest hits album, 1995's "Actual Miles," this was also to be the last record Don Henley would publish on Geffen; a label he did not leave without a fight (which alongside the Eagles' reunion, his marriage and his preoccupation with the Walden Woods Project, he would later list as one of the reasons why he did not produce another new album in all of eleven years).
Henley is well-known to be a perfectionist and is sometimes criticized for allegedly overly "slick" productions; a statement usually going hand in hand with accusations of superficiality and occasionally even hypocrisy (his records did, after all, earn him millions; so how serious can he be about his social criticism?). But it doesn't even take a look at his efforts to preserve the environment (in the Walden Woods Project and elsewhere), his recently formed coalition for artists' rights, and his testimony before Congress on a variety of related topics to doubt the accuracy of that assessment. This guy means every word he writes; just listen to his lyrics - and as long as "we got the bully pulpit and the poisoned pen" and "this brave new world [is] gone bad again" ("If Dirt Were Dollars [we'd all be in the black]"), he'll be around to hold up a mirror before our eyes.


Building the Perfect Beast
Building the Perfect Beast

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much more than just another '80s record., 27 Feb. 2005
Songwriting is no trifle matter to Don Henley. And although in the early 1970s the magic duo of Henley/Frey churned out hits with enough speed to allow for the production of four albums in four years, followed by an all-time best-selling Greatest Hits (Vol. 1) album even before the release of the Eagles' classic "Hotel California," he started to take things considerably slower in his post-Eagles solo career. The two years he took to follow up 1982's "I Can't Stand Still" with "Building the Perfect Beast" were actually the shortest time between any two of his solo albums; in part due to the fact that, as Henley explained, his collaboration with Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar worked along lines different from those he had established with Glenn Frey in the Eagles. These were no longer two guys sitting down together in a room with a guitar and a drum kit: For Don Henley's second solo release, bowing to the musical developments of the 1980s, they relied heavily on synthesized sounds (Henley's tour promoting the album even featured an elaborate light show, something that would have been inconceivable for any of the Eagles' tours). And while making most of the songs on the album easily "listenable" and producing several top-selling singles ("All She Wants to Do Is Dance," "Sunset Grill," "Boys of Summer" and "Not Enough Love in the World"), that choice of instrumentation also seemed to render "Building the Perfect Beast" the most easily dateable of all of Henley's solo releases.
Lyrically, however, Henley had lost nothing of his bite; the album's very name is indicative of that fact. "We're the ones who can kill the things we don't eat," he warned in the title track, musically the edgiest song on the album (synthesizers or not) - "we have met the enemy, and he is us ... the secrets of eternity; we've found the lock and turned the key ... all the way to Malibu from the Land of the Talking Drum, just look how far we've come." "Sunset Grill" and "A Month of Sundays" lament the death of small mom-and-pop farms and businesses and their takeover by large corporations; a criticism of Reaganomics Henley would take up even more forcefully in 1989's "The End of the Innocence." (Ironically, his beloved Sunset Grill in L.A. later went down that very same path, too - "Don't go there," he therefore quipped during the closing appearance of his 2000-2001 "Inside Job" tour, "it ain't there anymore. Even though it still has the same name. Even though the guy has my name on the menu. Don't go there!") "All She Wants to Do Is Dance" has a similar theme, focusing on corporate and political greed in general. "The Boys of Summer," musically based on a guitar riff supplied by Heartbreaker Mike Campbell, is a warning not to look back and romanticize the past but rather, to look toward the future - just keep your eyes open whatever you do, though, because if you're Driving With Your Eyes Closed "you're gonna hit somethin' ... but that's the way it goes."
As on all of his solo releases, Henley was able to secure the collaboration of a virtual all-star cast of musicians, from Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham and Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench to Randy Newman, Patty Smyth, Belinda Carlisle, Richard and Waddy Wachtel, Toto's Steve Porcaro and David Paich, "inofficial Eagle" J.D. Souther, and many, many more. And despite the seeming bow to the 1980s' musical tastes in the instrumentation of many of the album's tracks, their lasting quality becomes apparent like on no other occasion when Henley performs them live, as he did on his recently-concluded tour. Stripped of some of their fancy effects, they stand up even more visibly to the class of his other work, both with the Eagles and solo - and you just have to have heard that stunning, several minutes' long drum/percussion intro (not even performed by Henley himself) to "All She Wants to Do Is Dance," the closing song of the tour's regular program.
"Building the Perfect Beast" cemented Don Henley's standing as a solo artist, and it paved the way for his biggest release to date, "End of the Innocence." As he had done with his bandmates a decade earlier, Henley again proved that he was able to create something lasting, in whatever format he chose. Maturity added more focus to his work (lyrically if nowhere else); and vocally, many of the tracks on this album are among the most demanding he has ever written. Unlike the output of the era's countless hair bands, disco kings and queens and punk bands, all of Don Henley's first three solo releases still have a large enough audience to warrant their inclusion in the catalogue of every major record store - including the seemingly so 1980s-sounding "Building the Perfect Beast."


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