March 2010

The Cello Suites

The Cello Suites – J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the search for a baroque masterpiece, by Eric Siblin ★★★★
This book was recommended to me by Dr. Fred Leitz since he knew that I enjoyed Bach. It was an excellent read. This is the first book of Siblin, who writes music critics for a major Canadian magazine. The book is the entwined stories of J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, as well as Siblin’s own investigation as to the origin of the cello suites. It is quite cleverly written to hold the reader’s attention while bringing to mind the lives of two great musicians. My greatest criticism of the book is the unduly high regard given to Casals, who, while he single-handedly resurrected and popularized the Bach Cello Suites, also was a radical socialist revolutionary with a not-so-desirable lifestyle. In contrast, J.S. Bach lived an impeccable, though also somewhat revolutionary lifestyle, fighting more for advanced artistic expression than for any political-social agenda. I would highly recommend this book to any music lover.

Alice in Wonderland (1966 BBC)

Alice in Wonderland 1966 BBC production ★★
This movie is NOT a faithful reproduction of the Lewis Carroll narrative, but rather is a fanciful political statement based roughly on the Alice in Wonderland story. It is definitely British, and definitely 1960’ish, even with the background music of Ravi Shankar. The movie is in black and white, and very choppy in its movement from scene to scene. Apparently, it was made by the BBC as a low-budget Christmas film. The Alice actor is rather bland, though most of the other characters are quite humorous in their bizarreness. The film holds a surrealistic vision of upper-class England, yet treats the Queen as quite tawdry. Perhaps the producer caught the spirit of Lewis Carroll in this rendering, yet it is a little too bizarre for modern viewing.

The Adobe Photoshop CS4 Layers Book

The Adobe Photoshop CS4 Layers Book, by Richard Lynch ★★★★
This is an excellent though the advanced text on Photoshopping. I remain with the continued quest to produce a perfect photograph. Unfortunately, not only must one have the right tools, they also need the skills. Regardless of one’s skill with Photoshop, obtaining a properly taken photo in the field remains the most important, and requires the most practice. Unfortunately, one often wishes to obtain a photograph at a given setting, when the light isn’t right, and it simply isn’t possible to remedy the photographic technique to make a classy photograph. Unfortunately, it is those situations where Photoshop isn’t able to make up for field problems in order to help one get a prize-winning photo. Yet, the quest remains. Lynch takes Photoshop to another level. Having now read several intermediates to advanced technique books on Photoshop, I’m realizing the multiplicity of techniques to obtain a quality product. Lynch’s system uses multiple baby steps, each step forming another layer in the photo-editing process. This can become quite cumbersome but allows a person to safely retreat when the outcome seems to be going in the wrong direction. Sometimes, the steps are quite numerous in order to achieve a given effect, yet he repeats the technique enough times that one figures out what he is doing, and is able to duplicate his process. This is not an easy book and would be the best read more than once to grasp the techniques he is pointing out. Sometimes, he carries editing a little too far, in that much of his portrait works ends up slightly artificial, yet, it is probably the technique of most magazines. I had wished for more landscape and other forms of photography in the book. All in all, this is a valuable book to grasp. My last few Photoshop books will be a Channels and Masks book, and then yet one more Layers text. Hopefully, my photographic output will improve through all this effort.

Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest, starring Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver ★★★★
This film was watched at brother Dennis’ request. It was a film that Betsy actually enjoyed watching, and laughed at most of the way through. It is a tremendous spoof on sci-fi films and movies, especially the  Star Trek series. It starts at a Star Trek groupie-like convention, where the main actors did not get along with each other, nor take serious their roles. That is, until real space aliens, the Thermians, take them away, to help save them from the enemy, General Sarris. The subsequent adventures are hilarious as they save themselves and their alien friends. I won’t give the movie away, as you need to watch it and enjoy it.

Batman Series

Batman ★★, Batman Returns ★★, Batman Forever ★, Batman and Robin ★, (all with Michael Keaton as Batman), Batman Begins★★★, The Dark Knight ★★★ (both with Christian Bale as Batman).
These are two series that illustrate that too much of a good thing usually goes bad. Unfortunately, in this case, it was a lot of a mediocre theme. Both series can be criticized for very poor character development, characters being more trivial and immature than super-heroes or super-villains. The first Batman film is excellent only in that the Joker with Jack Nicholson was superb. Nothing else about the film was praise-worthy. The remaining Michael Keaton series attempted to wow the audience with high-tech graphics while forgetting about storylines that are meaningful or consistent. Unfortunately, the films often made the worst of good actors, like Arnold Schwarzenegger playing Mr. Freeze. It was especially unnerving when the immature and irresponsible characters of Robin, and then Batwoman come on the scene. There were more than a few ipecac moments. The second series lapsed into its own problems, the first film attempting to offer a realistic start for Batman, where he goes off to the East to learn the disciplines of the Buddhist Kung-fu experts, only to discover that they were the ultimate enemies of Gotham City. All in all, the storyline was simply stupid and inane, not really worth watching. Again, both films of this second series show an inability to maintain a quasi-realistic storyline or develop real characters. The second series did flow better, especially the Dark Knight, which is why it received three rather than two stars.