April 2007 Archives

Book Review: The Welsh Girl

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I finished The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies last week.  A book set during World War 2, it was on the Boston Globe's "Recommended Reading" list and I happened to see it on the shelf, so I picked it up.  A fairly shot book, it was well written and interesting.

The Welsh Girl describes the intersecting lives of a Welsh girl and a German prisoner of war, who is encarcerated in a local prison barracks.  Esther has conflicting desires to be leave her small Welsh hometown and to stay rooted, while Karsten is battling feelings of cowardice and longing.  There's also an interwoven story of a German Jewish expatriate interrogator who is trying to get information from Rudlof Hess.

I found The Welsh Girl to be interesting, but without flair. The writing was solid, prehaps even stolid. The characters were varied but never seemed to make that final leap into life.  Like a later Boston Globe review said, Davies seemed to be more interested in the big scheme of things than his characters. And I never did get the reason for the Hess interrogation.

The Welsh Girl
Peter Ho Davies

Movie Review (repost) : Manhunter

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The first Hannibal Lecter movie, Manhunter is a stylish thriller. The Director's Cut did come out, but I'm not sure what was added. This review was originally posted on June 6, 2003. I still haven't seen Red Dragon.

Manhunter is the first movie featuring AFI's #1 Movie Villian of all time, Hannibal Lecter.  It was directed by Michael Mann, of TV's Miami Vice fame, and owes a lot to his arresting visual style.  It is a very intense movie, although the ending is something of a letdown.

William L. Petersen stars as the troubled FBI agent Will Graham, who, in his previous case, finally put Hannibal Lecter behind bars.  But it left him with emotional scars, and he only reluctantly gets involved in the next serial murderer's trail.  His wife, nobly played by Kim Greist, is, of course, dead set against it, and despite even his misgivings, he heads off.

In order to get his head back into the game, Agent Graham goes back and talks with the incarcerated Lecter, played with a smarmy British evil by Brian Cox.  Cox's Lecter holds up very well to the one later made famous by Anthony Hopkins, even if he has only two short scenes.  I really like the completely white cell he is caged in.

Tom Noonan plays the wacky Francis Dollarhyde, who steals home movies of his victims and gets off watching them before slaughtering the entire family.  He does a great job of using his face and especially his hands to indicate the trauma tearing him up inside.  For reasons not explained in the movie, he only attacks during the full moon (a tad mainstream, wouldn't you say?), and there is a race to find him before he kills again.

Francis is almost saved by a relationship with a blind woman, Reba McClane (Joan Allen), who shows him that sight isn't everything.  But his own special blindness strikes again, and he envisions her cheating so he grabs her and takes her off to his house.  There the FBI, local police and Will Graham crash his planned party, with much bloodshed and violence.

I have not seen the second take on Thomas Harris' first Lecter novel Red Dragon, which starred Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes as Dollarhyde and Edward Norton as Graham, but I will and will compare it to this one.  I did really like the film work - the lighting and soundtrack did a great job of conveying the mood and action, as one might expect from Mann.  I did not like the ending, because, as a friend who watched it with me said, it didn't have anything to do with the crimes being planned.  It was an impetuous kidnapping of Reba, and the subsequent shootout happened to coincide with the kidnapping, not the planned serial murder, so you never really got a feel for his criminal mastery, except whe he sees through a ruse of the FBI, who used a reporter to try and lure him out, much the reporter's chagrin.

But it is a definite rental, and word on the street has it that there is a new "Director's Cut" DVD coming out.  This DVD was pretty barebones - a couple of small featurettes interviewing some of the actors, and the trailer.  But the new one promises to have full commentary from Mann.  Be sure to turn the lights down real low, and enjoy the film!

Vox Hunt: It Came From The 70's


Audio: It's 70's music Wednesday.

Impossible to pick just one. How about we go with 1975 and:

Let's start with "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. This is from their last good album, "Night at The Opera" and is a classic of 70s radio.  In the 80s, a local rock radio station had a top 500 of all time, and this one was number three (behind Stairway to Heaven and Can't Get No Satisfaction).  Not sure it would end up there today, but still a great song. The whole album is fantastic, produced by the inimitable Roy Thomas Baker (who also produced THe Cars).  After this one, Queen started producing their own albums and went for an over-the-top bass sound with Freddie Mercury wailing and the pop charts just a-hummin'.

From one of the greatest albums of all time, Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up In Blue" is just one of "Blood On The Tracks" perfect songs. Dig that rhythm-y blues, man.  The internal rhymes are great and the humor is pitch-perfect.  And the album just gets better too.  Most artists would consider this a lifetime worth of songs and yet it is only a single slice of all that is Dylan.

My offbeat selection goes to The Alan Parsons Project's "Tales of Mystery And Suspense", the first album of Sgt. Pepper's engineer's ideas.  This album uses Edgar Alan Poe's stories as a creative springboard, and includes a great voice over by the incomparable Orson Welles, who was well into his Bartyle & James period by now. This song really rocks.

Movie Review: The Incredibles

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The girls and I watched The Incredibles the other day and had a good time.  Some very good animation, great voice acting and a good story made for an enjoyable family time.  My movie watching setup seems to have gone south, as I just couldn't get the surround speakers to work. They work fine with the HDTV cable box, and with my SACD player, but DVDs just don't seem to play through them. I can use the test found on some DVDs and dadgummit if the rear surround sound comes out my front speakers. I can't figure it out!

The Incredibles tells the story of the Parr family, where the Mom (Holly Hunter) and Dad (Craig T. Nelson) are superheroes forced to endure a "normal" life after lawsuits forced them to renouncing their super powers. The kids, Dash and Violet, also have inherited super powers of their own and chafe at the restrictions.  Only the baby, Jack Jack, seems to have avoided the curse/blessing.

But Bob can't keep his hands out of the cookie jar and dabbles in rescue misions with his best buddy, Fozone (Samuel L. Jackson), and gets lured into a real mission against a the nefarious Syndrome.  Much mayhem ensues and the superheroes once again prove their worth to a skeptical society.

I have to admit to being slightly underwhelmed by The Incredibles. My favorite animation is still Shrek. I felt that The Incredibles took too long to get going and when it did, it was just too overblown. I also felt it was too violent. Yeah, it is cartoon violence, but there is still plenty of bad guys (and even good guys) getting killed in a remarkable number of ways, especially by blowning them up. Still, not a bad movie, but not one I am in a hurry to own either.

last.fm Quilting

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This is my last.fm "quilt", showing my "favorite" albums, meaning the ones I've played on my computer recently anyway:

Vox Hunt: It's All True

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Book:  Show us a great non-fiction book.

An excellent cure to today's US Theocracy:

Joke from my dog

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  I've Got 10 Human Peeves To Talk About

  1.  Blaming your farts on me... not funny... not funny at all !!!

  2.  Yelling  at me for barking . . . I'M A FRIGGIN' DOG, YOU IDIOT!

  3.  Taking me for a walk,  then not letting me check stuff out. Exactly whose walk is this anyway?

  4. Any trick that involves balancing food on my nose . . . stop it!

  5. Any haircut that  involves bows or ribbons. Now you know why we chew your stuff up when you're  not home.

  6. The sleight of hand, fake fetch throw. You fooled a dog! Wooooo Hoooooooo - what a  proud moment for the top of the food chain.

  7. Taking me to the vet for "the big snip", then acting surprised when I freak out every time we go back!

  8. Getting upset when I sniff the crotches of your guests. Sorry, but   I haven't quite mastered that handshake thing yet.

  9. Dog sweaters. Hello ???, Haven't you noticed the fur?

  10. How you act disgusted when I lick  myself. Look, we both know   the truth . . . you're just jealous.

  Now lay off of me on some of these things.

  We both know who's boss here . . .

  You don't see me picking up your poop do you ?

I finished Val McDermid's A Place of Execution the other day and thought it a fine read.  An author with a very long line of books to her credit, but this book was my introduction to her writing. It tended a bit towards the "English parlor mystery" genre, of which I'm not too fond, but it was an enjoyable time nonetheless.

A girl disappears from a quaint English village and Inspector George Bennett is sent to investigate. This is his first big case and, as the wunderkind, he's feels plenty of internal pressure to do it well.  Two other similar disappearances may or may not be linked and Bennett is determined to get to the bottom of it.  But the insular inhabitants of Scardale only grudgingly help and Bennett is thwarted at every turn.  Eventually, the outcome of the case shakes the foundations of the little hamlet, and the repercussions continue even after Bennett is retired.

I really enjoyed the beginning of the book. The cast of characters, including Bennett himself, were all intriguingly drawn.  The mystery itself struck home, as I have two young girls myself.  The court case in the middle, while a lynchpin of the book, were a little boring.  I have little fascination with the typical American courtroom drama books, and the added complication of the mysterious English system dragged it down even further.  And while the climax definitely had me guessing, in the end I thought it a bit unlikely.  But not enough so that I felt used, so I would still give the book a solid thumbs up.

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