Dec 31

Conan the Barbarian, starring Arnold Schwarznegger ? ? ? ? ?
I’ve seen this movie probably more than 30 times, yet it continually remains funny and fresh. First inspired by Dr. Pridjian to watch this film, it nearly became a cult film for the General Surgeons at Cook County Hospital. We would get together just to watch Arnold do his thing. This film is difficult to take serious. The plot is stupid, the acting is horrid, but quotes are often from historic characters, like Gengis Khan or historica situations. The music of Prokofiev is used prolifically. It was seen again only because Andrew Flanagan had never seen Conan before, and New Years eve seemed the most fitting time to watch it, if we weren’t going to watch another version of Die Fledermaus. In spite of all its stupidity, the movie seems to work, and it’s nice to see the governor of California in one of his earlier roles. Though there is a modest amount of partial nudity, it is never presented in a vile fashion, and the biggest aspect to prevent kids from watching this film is the shear violence that occurs. Of course, this film can turn one into a violent person, as is witnessed by a generation of surgeons from Cook County Hospital.
 
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Dec 31


David Oistrakh-Concertos and Encores ?????
These concerti (not concertos!) were published by Deutsche Grammaphon, which means of superlative recording style. The sound is very forward, which on my system, is close to being in the concert hall. This set consists of a potpourri of Oistrakh recordings, but most importantly, the Mendelssohn, Bruch, Glazunov, Prokofiev, and  Kabalevsky concerti. There is some repetition with the EMI set, with the Bruch and Prokofiev concerti on both sets, and some concerti only on the EMI set, such as the Brahms, Khatchaturian, and Shostakovich concerti. The duplicated pieces are definitely different performances, and definitely better recorded with DG than with EMI. Both sets are worth having. Oistrakh is a consummate violinist, the best that could ever be, and these recordings reflect the various pieces performed at their very best. Oistrakh is not so strident as Haifetz, and not as smooth or mellow as Menuhin. It is a commanding sweetness that I would make it my preferred recording for the hypothetical desert island setting.
 

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Dec 30


Great Minds of the Western Tradition, various professors (Teaching Company).????
This series was a mix, with some very good and some very average professors. Starting with the Greeks, various notable philosophers were discussed, typically all by people who were expert on that person. I’ve reviewed some of the teachers in the blog site. The series is quite variable in quality, is highly repetitive of the Greeks, and leaves out many of the most important thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries. All in all, it’s been an enjoyable series, that I will probably listen to again someday.
 

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Dec 30


Ravi Shankar ????

OK, it’s not fair reviewing six albums at once. The third (West Meets East) and last (Shankar Sitar Concertos) were a touch different, in that they also included either Yehudi Menuhin or an orchestra, or both). In the first album, Ravi explains in western musical terms exactly what is happening with the music. First, it is not based exactly on the western 12-tone system, and will have many other tones included. It will not necessarily utilize conventional harmonies. The beat may be quite odd metered-such as 13 beat per measure. It is a mix of fixed format as well as improvisations, thou Ravi makes clear that it definitely is not jazz. All in all, it has a tendency toward serialism, or minimalism, which it also is not.  Shankar did cut an album with the master of minimalism, Phillip Glass, which shows a tendency to accommodate to such a musical form. I don’t like minimalism, though this music was rather enjoyable to listen to. The sitar is a fairly complex instrument to play, and is usually accompanied by a “drone” as well as a semi-pitched percussion instrument. I’m not sure there is a necessity of purchasing many albums by Ravi Shankar, since the pieces seem to lack the distinctiveness that would allow the listener to distinguish one piece from another. I’m sure more familiarity with his music might help a bit.
 

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Dec 28


Jascha Heifetz Tchaikovsky & Mendelssohn Violin Concerti, with Fritz Reiner and the CSO ?????
It is difficult to imagine somebody not liking the Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn violin concerti, and this recording is supremely done to enhance ones’ appreciation for these two pieces. Not only are the recordings of superb quality, but the performance by both Heifetz and Reiner are at the best that these two concerti could experience. Heifetz is an especially commanding and aggressive performer, while maintaining technical brilliance. While Menuhin (reviewed above) has a sweet, light and airy approach, Heifetz has no hesitation to attack. Both, as well as Oistrakh, are the best of the best. Yet, their particular performing styles create entirely different pieces. All three performers are worth having in one’s repetoire.
 

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Dec 26


M, by Fritz Lang ? ? ? ? ?
Anything by Fritz Lang is a masterpiece, and this is no exception. It is the story of a psychotic child murderer (Peter Lorre in one of his first roles), being pursued not only by the police, but by the underworld, for giving crime a bad name. The filming is wonderful, and it’s very dark story-line maintains an active pace that keeps the viewer fixed to the screen. The film is entirely in German, and there are no under-titles, so that non-German speakers may not enjoy this film.
 

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Dec 23

Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life ? to ?? ?
This is actually a set of four shorts. The first receives a 4-star, (It’s a Wonderful Life), the story of a tormented Franz trying to write the Metamorphosis, but constantly being disturbed by neighbors and people knocking at the door. It finally ends in a “Wonderful Life” fashion, with all the playors now quite happy. The second film (Seven Gates) was a rather boring story of two brothers as they drive home after years of being away. The third film (The Deal) was awful and too obscene to even finish watching. The fourth (Mr. McAllister’s Cigarette Holder) was an entertaining story of a southern hick affixed to his cigarette holder. All in all, only the first was really funny, so wouldn’t advise anyone wasting their time to watch.

 

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Dec 23


Yehudi Menuhin Mendelssohn & Bruch Violin Concerti, Israel Philharmonic ?????
As compared to the Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Khatchaturian and Shostakovich violin concerti, I am relatively unfamiliar with the Bruch violin concerto. I wouldn’t be able to compare this recording with other performances. The Mendelssohn performance is virtually stupendous, and Menuhin shows a mastery of this concerto equalled by few others. His is a sweet, melodic, flowing performance. His style reminded me of the playing of the wife of a very good friend of mine (Anita H.) in the song-like delivery of even the technically most demanding portions of a piece. Both are delightful pieces worthy of a humble collection.
 

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Dec 22


Star Wars Prequel Trilogy ??
This series doesn’t really deserve two stars, save that the special effects were quite awesome, as well as the sound. Following the great star wars trilogy, this set is a horrid disappointment. The acting is very poor, the story line is highly predictable and unoriginal, resulting in a rather boring set of films.  There is horrid character development and the characters have no depth, examples including JaJa and the young Anakin Skywalker, as well as the princess Amadala. The third of the series was the best, utilizing a concrete story line, rather than simply just throwing special effects at you. All in all, this set is not worth watching, even for the avid Star Wars fan. George Lucas could have done much better.
 

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Dec 20


Rambo Trilogy with Silvester Stallone       First Blood ?????, First Blood Part Two ????,   Rambo Three ???
It’s hard to believe that I have never seen any of the Rambo films, since they’ve been out for a number of years now. I’ve also not seen any of the Rocky films but have no intention of watching them. Rambo was very entertaining, though moderately violent. In the first film of the series, Rambo is a returning Viet Nam veteran who is unjustly arrested by a small-town Amerikan cop as being a vagrant, but who escapes and is pursued into the woods by the red-neck police force. Ultimately, he gives himself up, but only after extreme pain by the small-town police. If the second film, Rambo is recruited to identify whether there were Amerikan prisoners of war still being held in Viet Nam. Rambo finds a prison camp that has Amerikan prisoners and eventually proceeds to free them, learning that the government had no intention of rescuing them, but instead faking that they looked for prisoners and found none. In the third film, Rambo goes to Afganistan to help rescue the poor peace-loving Afghans from the nasty Soviets. In all the films, Stallone is an awesome actor, and the scenery and filming is stupendous. The first film is correct that the government really does give a hoot about you as an individual. In the second film, the statement is stronger, that the government is actually our enemy. Stallone makes a summary statement that he loves his country even though his country doesn’t love him. In the third film, Amerika is posed as the rescuer of Afghanistan from the terrible Soviets. I’m sure we now wish that we would have left the Soviets be. Oddly, our government never learns from its mistakes, and are now the replacement to the evil Soviets. The Rambo series makes a statement now that never was intended when filmed, and is an entertaining watch.
 

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