November 2011

Bicycle Dreams

Bicycle Dreams ★★★★
This movie is a documentary on the Race Across America, the longest and cruelest ride in bicycle racing. The ride goes over 3000 miles and is often done in 9-12 days, with an average of 350+ miles/day. The competitors rarely sleep more than two hours a night and often spend the entire night and day riding. During this documentary, which was made during the 2005 ride, one of the competitors, a surgeon from Minnesota, was killed by a semi-truck. This was his sixth time riding the RAAM. There was one lawyer attempting the ride, who didn’t last more than two days. The agony of the riders is well documented. It assured me that this is a race I would never ride, even if I could. The film won numerous awards, fitting for the quality of this documentary.

Concert Masterpieces

Concert Masterpieces, by Robert Greenberg ★★★★★
Greenberg does it again, producing a delightful review of eight concert pieces of value from the classical repertoire. In this set of 32 45-minute lectures, every four lectures cover a given piece of music. Included are the Mozart 25th Piano concerto, Beethoven 5th piano concerto, Dvorak 9th symphony, R. Strauss Death and Transfiguration, Beethoven Violin Concerto, Brahms violin concerto, Mendelssohn Mid-summer night’s dream, and Liszt Totentanz. Each set of four lectures covers in the first lecture a broad survey of the musical scene. The second lecture then focuses on the particular piece in its setting with other similar pieces of music, and then the last two lectures delve into the details of the piece of music itself. The entire lecture set remains very easy to listen to because of Greenberg’s humor mixed with a steady stream of fascinating information. He is never too technical and spends much time filling in the listener to the music theory and technical details of the piece. This set is a wonderful way to familiarize yourself with these eight pieces of music. It also helps build one’s ear for listening to any piece of classical music.


Hell on Wheels (Höllentour), starring Team T-mobile ★★★★

Hell on Wheels is a documentary of the 2003 Tour de France from the viewpoint of the riders on the T-Mobile team, with a special focus on Eric Zabel. It was an intimate account that documented the frustrations, exhaustions, and rare joy that occurs when competing in the Tour. The film is in German, with a moderate amount of French, and occasional English, but with subtitles to make it all work. This movie did not show what would be seen on television. It showed rather what one would see and sense as a rider or intimate spectator of the tour, including the set-up of cameras, conversations with the T-mobile riders between days, and expression of the moods of the moment when riding the Tour. Between scenes, clips of historic Tour de France scenes were shown. The Tour has come a long way! For Tour de France aficionados, this film will be a delight.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter Complete 8-film Collection ★★★

If one were to read the reviews, you would find to sets of reviews, those that are 4-5 stars and those that are 1 star. The 1-star ratings are offered simply because sufficient extras were not included in the set, and that certain director’s cuts were not included with the films. I have read the Harry Potter series, and it was a “cute” children’s story, which became darker and more foreboding with each episode. The movie seems to follow reasonably closely the book storyline. On a second time through the Harry Potter story, a number of thoughts come to my mind.1. I don’t think that this story glorifies witchcraft and evil too much more than the CS Lewis stories. Contrary, the greatest failure is for the series to fail to offer a true distinction between good and evil, and the source of both, other than that Harry and his closest friends were good, and that Voldemort was bad. Sure.2. Character development left shallow personalities in all, including Harry Potter. The characters were flat, and never showed evidence of advancing or truly growing up. This is especially true of the students, who were either just good or just bad. The kids are smarter than the adults, but just not as powerful as the adults.3. Filmography on DVD was oftentimes way too dark, leaving much clipping when presented on a large screen tv. Otherwise, the graphics of the film were fairly stupendous.4. Each book had its own separate storyline or challenge that Harry Potter had to face, but there was a prevailing theme of the return of Voldemort, and his eventual defeat through the “chosen” one, Harry Potter. Who chose Harry is never mentioned. Which leaves a larger question mark with the entire series. Each story of itself had a strong sense of unbelievability, with Harry and his friends getting into trouble, and just somehow coming across the solution in the nick of time. Some of the plots were very poor, such as having Severus Snape swear allegiance to Voldemort in order to infiltrate his attack on Harry. It’s not exactly what you want to teach kids, of true heroes standing up to their word, especially when their word is sworn.5. In the long term, the Harry Potter craze will wear off, and the series will be confined to the dustbins of countless other chronologically failed novels. There is no reflection of higher virtues. There is no basis for good and evil. Harry Potter is a flawed savior who passes into ignominy with time. The book/movie series has no compelling reason to be considered great other than the phenomenal graphics.

Deutsche Volkslieder

Brahm’s Deutsche Volkslieder, with Schwarzkopf, Fischer-Dieskau, and Moore ★★★★★

This is a delightful set of songs written by Johannes Brahms for soloists with accompanying piano. Brahms uses both a soprano and a baritone voice, and often they sing in the same piece, but never at the same time. It is a delightful set of songs that can be enjoyed though one may not understand the words. The performance could not have found a better set of two voices to represent Brahms. I had listened to this set a few times before but have never reviewed it, and felt that it was high enough quality to deserve a place in my blog site.


Seabiscuit ★★★★
This movie is supposed to be based on a true story of a smallish race horse, destined to be rejected, but purchased by a person willing to give the horse a try. The horse was run at the Santa Anita Racetrack in the 1930’s depression years, going on to become a winning horse in spite of various tragedies to both horse and jockey. It is a spirited film that gives one a good feel to the world of horse racing.

The Baader-Meinhof Complex

The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) ★★★★
This film is in German with English subtitles and attempts to re-create the story of the Red Army Faction, a militant group in the ’70s through 1990s. They had engaged in the bombing of a number of buildings, most notably the newspaper Bild building, as well as the assassination of a number of prominent political figures and police. The film is fairly well done, with fast action, a considerable amount of violence, some exposed flesh, and some obscene language (though in German), making it perhaps not good to view with small children. The film presents many questions in the mind of the viewer, including the proper balance of freedom (anarchy) and law (police state). It also questions the treatment of criminals. In this situation, many of the RAF were able to continue their reign of terror even when behind bars. Politicians were nervous about being harsh on the violent criminals because of the presence of an odd, small, highly vocal, mostly consisting of students and lawyers, group holding a sentiment in support of the RAF. Throughout the film, it was difficult to hold pity for the RAF members, especially with their immature and extremist behavior. Yet, it was public support for them that maintained their criminal activity for so long. The film is very thought-provoking and well worth watching. It should provoke some good discussions with my German friends.


Breach, Starring Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe ★★★★★
This is supposed to be a film version of the uncovering of one of the worse security breaches in US history. It is the story of Robert Hansson, who had been selling secrets to the Soviets, resulting in the death of several Soviet agents that were working with the US. There are questions in reviews about the accuracy of historical details in the film, though it seems to follow the Wikipedia storyline quite well. The movie starts slow and you wonder at first where it is going. The action never speeds up, but it remains spellbinding to the end when Hansson is finally caught in the act. The acting is superb, especially with Chris Cooper as Robert Hansson. The storyline slowly intensifies, as Phillippe acting as the young FBI operative who uncovered Hansson slowly realizes what he is doing. My appreciation to Dr. JL who introduced me and Betsy to this film.

Planet of the Apes Series

Planet of the Apes ★★★, Beneath the Planet of the Apes ★★★, Escape from the Planet of the Apes ★★, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes ★★, Battle for the Planet of the Apes ★
This is a series that started poorly and should have ended after the second episode. The plots are as follows, Planet of the Apes – Charleton Heston is stranded on a strange planet after traveling into the distant future from his rocket ship sent from earth, only discover that the planet is now ruled by apes. He is taken captive and eventually escapes with the help of two chimpanzees, only to discover that the strange planet is planet earth. Beneath the Planet of the Apes, a second rocket ship crashes, and the sole survivor meets up with Heston in underground caverns, which are clearly the ruins of NY City. The human inhabitants here are invaded by the apes, who decide on the mutual destruction of all by setting off an atomic bomb that destroys the world. Escape… two the chimpanzees who helped Heston land in a rocket ship on the shores of Los Angeles, going back in time, and are discovered as talking apes. They reveal the scenario of the future so it is decided to kill the apes and save the future. A sole newborn chimpanzee survives. Conquest… is now 1991 and all pets have been killed by man, so monkeys are now the predominant other species, used as pets, slaves, etc. The talking chimpanzee baby leads an ape revolt that takes over mankind. Battle… it is now many years later, and the first chimpanzee baby (Caesar) is now old, and there are battles between chimpanzees and gorillas and humans for control of civilization.
The films are rather benign, though there is many unnecessary obscenities and language used. There is a lot of ridicule of organized religion, and evolution is considered a given. The story plot is quite lame. It’s hard to criticize acting when most of the actors are wearing monkey suits and acting like apes. My only wonder is how they made so many sequels until somebody got the idea that it was a stupid series.