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kdmagnusson

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13 reviews in total 
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8 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Decent on its own merits, but a mediocre adaptation of Chrisite's novel, 4 October 2006
5/10

This episode of David Suchet's Poirot series is entertaining enough, but strays quite a bit from Dame Agatha's novel. Nurse Leatheran is removed from her role as narrator and assistant to the great detective, similar to that of Dr. Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (the same adjustment is made in the TV adaptation of that book). The assistant role is then mostly filled by Captain Hastings, who does not appear at all in the novel. At least two members of the archaeological team (and therefore that many potential suspects) are removed from the story, and some that are left in (including the main victim) are not developed even to the degree that they are in the novel. Christie is always fairly minimalist in her character development; characters are explained only as much as the plot requires, and this adaptation falls short even to that degree. To satisfy TV's blood lust, I guess, there is also an additional murder in this adaptation. Most of the changes to the story have the effect of granting Monsieur Poirot additional screen time and importance, which is understandable for TV, especially given how good Suchet is in this role, but is very far from the novel, in which Poirot does not appear until after the first murder, well into the story.

Those who have problems with the more recent Geraldine McEwan "Miss Marple" series might not like this very much either, though it does at least resemble the original in most important plot points. It's not bad, but in my opinion, the story as originally written was much more interesting.

Art Heist (2004)
4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Not as terrible (IMHO) as most reviews here say..., 3 August 2006
5/10

But it's certainly not very good either. Most of the acting is pretty flat, but I blame that more on the writers' incompetent dialog than on the actors' ability. Ellen Pompeo is pretty, but in such as way to be believable as an art history expert. The plot has enough twists to keep you guessing (and keep watching) and yet enough clues to help you figure it out. That said, it's still pretty trite and implausible. You do get to see some famous Barcelona landmarks, but the filmmakers haven't exploited their locale to the fullest. I thought the chase scenes were fairly well done, except that they all start looking the same after a while.

All-in-all, I'd have to say that the current IMDb rating of 4.1 is fair; several of the reviews here give it a "1", which should be reserved to the worst movies of all time, which this certainly isn't.

I picked up a used DVD copy at a local bookstore hoping to revisit Barcelona. In that sense, "Art Heist" was a bit of a disappointment. It's (barely) worth seeing if you have an interest in art history and in Barcelona and can see it for free, but for those really wanting a sense of this wonderful city, the best bet is "L'Auberge Espagnole".

13 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Excellent PBS documentary, 11 May 2006
9/10

This excellent PBS documentary series consists of three parts of 1 hour each covering Japanese history from the arrival of the Portuguese in 1543 to the arrival of Perry and the Americans in 1854. Narrated by Richard Chamberlain, interspersed with interviews of Western and Japanese academics, this fascinating show is illustrated with re-enactments and period art work. Part I covers the Momoyama period of civil war through Nobunaga to Hideyoshi and tells of the rise of Tokugawa Ieasu and ends with the siege of Osaka castle in 1615. Part II covers the Tokugawa Shogunate from 1603 to the Shimabara rebellion in 1638, which led to the closure of Japan under Ieasu's grandson. Western influence, including Christianity, is important in this period. Part III covers the period of Japanese isolation, from the time of the Dutch concession in Nagasaki harbor up to the arrival of American commodore Matthew Perry in 1854. The Samurai class declines during this period as the merchant class rises, Japanese culture flourishes, and Edo (Tokyo) becomes the largest city in the world.

47 Samurai (1962)
0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Something of a disappointment, given its reputation, 6 July 2005
6/10

This telling of story of the 47 Ronin has more in common with those 1950's Hollywood biblical epics (Quo Vadis, The Robe, The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur) than it does with the samurai masterpieces of Akira Kurosawa. The impression starts with the choral music heard over the opening credits and remains throughout this very long, unrelentingly solemn movie. The sets and costumes are so spectacular that they make for a very attractive picture visually, but the cinematography and style of direction are very conventional and not particularly imaginative. The acting is good but in a stylized, overdone manner (again like the '50's biblical epics).

It's a well-made film of an interesting story, worth seeing, but there's nothing really special going on here.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
You can't go back, 1 October 2004
5/10

You can't go back is the theme of this movie, and it appears that as a viewing experience, it is determined to prove its point to anyone wishing to revisit Spain by seeing this movie. I spent the summer of 1983 in Barcelona (where this movie is set) and was hoping to get a feeling of revisiting the Spain of my youth, as did Dr. Foster in the movie, but was let down in large part by the amateurishness of the production. "Espana otra vez" also rates low on the tourism scale; you won't see much of the picture postcard Spain in this, nor get much a sense of the 1960's, the time period during which it is set.

But, to be fair, that isn't the goal of the film. As a serious study of a middle-aged American doctor who returns to Spain (where he served in the Spanish Civil War) hoping to see old friends and falling for the daughter of one of them, the story does have its merits. The acting is decent, but the English language bits of dialog feel like they were dubbed in, even though the star is an American who spent the latter part of his life in Spain. The cinematography attempts a certain amount of creativity, but you get the feeling that the producers were on a pretty limited budget and didn't have the option of re-shooting scenes. This is also not one of those movies that can advertise "no animals were harmed during the filming of this picture" as there is a fairly graphic depiction of the snuffing of a pig preparatory to butchering, but it's no worse than what you see working on a farm. I enjoyed seeing Enrique "el cojo", who features prominently in the cigarette song near the beginning of "Bizet's Carmen" (Francesco Rosi, 1984), as Maria's over-protective dance master.

I wish this movie were better, but it is still somewhat recommendable.

5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
The truth about Hiroshima, 6 May 2004
8/10

This excellent documentary takes the view that the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan primarily to scare the Soviets. Stewart Udall, being interviewed toward the end of the show, even gives his opinion that the atomic bomb prolonged the war, as the Japanese had been trying to surrender for months but the Americans weren't ready to accept any form of surrender until they had a chance to demonstrate the Bomb.

The documentary contains interviews with many people involved in this part of history from Hans Bethe and Edward Teller (who were involved in creating the atomic bomb) to several Japanese victims of the bombs as well as crew members of the B-29's that dropped the bombs. There are also interviews with aides to policy makers (as most of the policy makers of the day are now dead). The interviews are cut with archival footage of the events of the time: speeches by Harry Truman, scenes of Okinawa, the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, etc. Much of the imagery, especially of the aftermath of the atomic bomb attacks, is very graphic.

The Reckoning (2002/II)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
"The Name of the Rose" it ain't!, 2 April 2004
5/10

"The Reckoning" runs more like a bigger-budget version of "Cadfael" and I don't mean that as a compliment. The one book I read of the Ellis Peters series read like a Sherlock Holmes story transplanted to the Middle Ages but without accounting for the differences between the scientific rationalism of the 19th century and the faith-based logic of the 14th. A monk Sherlock Holmes would have been burnt at the stake!

"The Name of the Rose" was great for recreating the mentality of medieval man, with the Church dominating every aspect of life. The book went into this much more than the movie, but the script writer(s) did an acceptable job of condensing Umberto Eco's huge novel.

Barry Unsworth's novel "Morality Play" upon which "The Reckoning" is based, tries to walk a fine line between these two visions of medieval mystery solving and manages the balancing act by letting us have fun with the suspense and intrigue without (too seriously) violating the sense of how medieval people might have acted. Unfortunately, the movie version loses balance early on and by the end has fallen off the beam completely. The plot has been drastically, almost capriciously, changed and eventually disintegrates into confusion. I can see no reason for such changes except to give Paul Bettany's character more importance and even though he does a fine job of acting, the other characters, with the exception of Willem Dafoe's Martin, are reduced to almost nothing. The movie would have been well advised to follow the book's lead and make this more of an ensemble piece. "Morality Play" is only a couple hundred pages long; this should have been a cinch to turn into a movie compared to "The Name of the Rose".

Acting and production values are very good, but the adaptation misses so badly that I recommend that you might as well miss this frustrating experience.

Madama Butterfly (1975) (TV)
9 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Good video version of the opera, 28 March 2004
8/10

Since many of us have limited opportunities to see operas on the stage, it is often beneficial to be able to see them on TV (or various recorded video media) rather than just listening to audio recordings. When you're not familiar with a particular story, it is helpful to be able to see the opera performed so you can see what's going on as well as hear the music. For years, this was the best video version of Madame Butterfly widely available in the U.S.A.

Set in the late 1800's, Madame Butterfly, originally a play by American David Belasco, is the story of the teenage Japanese bride (Cio Cio San) of an American naval captain (Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton). Taking the common 19th century western view toward Asians, Captain Pinkerton takes this relationship much less seriously than Butterfly does which leads to tragedy. The music is some of the most beautiful and emotional ever; some parts practically reach into your chest and pull your heart out! The famous aria "Un bel di" which Butterfly sings while waiting for her husband to return is especially moving. In this version, she is shown walking the hills above the ocean and looking out toward sea while singing.

Placido Domingo is excellent as Captain Pinkerton, and Mirella Freni does a fine job singing as Butterfly, though there is the problem of having a 38-year-old Italian woman playing the part of a teenage Japanese girl. People (especially westerners who had never seen Japanese people in the days before TV) could probably pardon this seeing it on the stage from a distance, but the camera in close-up shows us incongruous details that are difficult to ignore. Ms. Freni is very pretty and relatively slender for an opera soprano, but, especially in the profile shots, can only pass for a convincing Butterfly in the context of traditional staged opera. We do have access now to a more "realistic" movie version of the opera by Frederic Mitterand (1995) in which at least Asians portray the Japanese characters. Mitterand's version is also has that more big-budget movie look with on- location settings and lots of extras, while this TV version by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle is more intimately filmed in close settings, though there is nothing stage-like about it. The young singers in Mitterand's movie, although their looks are much more appropriate to their characters, can't match Domingo's and Freni's singing.

Which one to get? Mitterand's newer version looks better. The Ponnelle version looks great also if you can tolerate a European Butterfly and has first class opera stars. So I guess it comes down to whether you want to see a movie or an opera.

"Shogun" (1980)
3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
both bad and very good, 12 March 2004
7/10

The novel Shogun (based on true events around the year 1600, though the names have been changed) is one of the best stories ever about medieval Japan and the good news is that this mini-series remains faithful to the book. The bad news is that it is the quintessential 70's-style mini-series. Made-for-TV movies have always been handicapped regarding their budget compared to theatrical blockbusters, but a lot of progress has been made TV's shooting and editing techniques in the last 20 years. There are perhaps only 10 years between the mini-series versions of Shogun and Lonesome Dove, but the latter looks fairly modern while the former looks really dated. It almost looks as if every scene was shot with only one camera. Then there are the commercial breaks. Thankfully the commercials themselves aren't included on the DVD, but the breaks are so drastic you can see where they originally were. There is even some recapping going on after the break to remind everyone exactly where the story was. And the "special" effects for the sea storm and earthquake scenes are laughable. This really cries out to be remade, except that it would take an effort and budget like Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy to do the story justice. So much for the laments. Once you get past the dated TV techniques, you will be riveted by the story. It delves deeply into Japanese culture of the samurai period far beyond Tom Cruise's recent Last Samurai, and spends enough time with the characters to portray the contradictions in a meaningful way. It shows how horrifying some Japanese customs are to a European (a petty samurai lord beheads a peasant only for not bowing to him), and how disgusting the Europeans' hygiene (lack of) customs are to the Japanese. Then there is the pheasant episode! Showing how communication problems can lead to tragedy, it is horrifying, disgusting, ironically funny, and ultimately heart-breaking. But then, Shogun has all human emotions in abundance throughout its nine hours. The costumes (and hair-styles and makeup) are very authentic, as are the settings, apparently all shot on location in Japan. By all means, watch this mini-series if you are interested in this sort of subject. It's a little like listening to your favorite symphony, played by a provincial orchestra, and recorded on scratchy LP's, but it still remains one of the very best dramatizations of Samurai Japan ever made.

Oblomov (1979)
29 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
First half-hour is tough; the rest is a gem!, 2 March 2004
8/10

I tried to read Goncharov's novel while in high school after having polished off books by Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and others, but Oblomov defeated me in the first few pages. It was just real tough to get into a story about a middle-aged, semi-retired government clerk who doesn't want to get out of bed all day. Now that I am middle-aged myself, I can relate to Oblomov's condition more. I still thought the first part of the movie (of which he actually does spend a good portion in bed) was slow, but after seeing the rest, I regretted never having finished the book. This is one of the greatest movies ever in any language describing what it is like to be depressed - afraid to make decisions and without energy to carry them out, and then what the consequences are of failing to act. With the help of his best friend, Stoltz, and his slogan "now or never" Oblomov manages to get out of his St. Petersburg apartment and begins to rebuild his life. Stoltz even introduces him to a young lady friend, Olga, and (while claiming she is "just a child") tells Oblomov that she and her aunt care take care of him (by keeping Oblomov from crawling back into bed) while he (Stoltz) is off to England. By Part II of the movie, Oblomov has shed 30 pounds and apparently 20 years, and has moved to the country, next door to Olga and her aunt. At this point the movie deals with romantic love from the point of view of a very shy, somewhat older man for a vibrant young woman, and it is this bitter-sweet part that is most moving and interesting. This is one of Nikita Mikhalkov's Soviet-period films, and while it is set is Czarist days and almost fondly lingers on the details of the opulent houses of the upper class, it also slips in several (mostly tongue-in-cheek) comments and observations about the inequality between classes and the uselessness of the aristocracy. For example, Oblomov, from his bed, chides his servant for doing nothing all day long. The cinematography is gorgeous. When Oblomov lazes in the grass among the birch trees, you can almost smell the countryside. This movie is slow to get started, but rewards the viewer's patience greatly by the end. Highly recommended!


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