April 2004 through July 2004
31. The Book of Willie
32. Greatness in Tragedy
33. CBS Evening News
34. Weekly World News 35. Queen Mary 2
36. The Corrections
37. Blurbs for The Corrections
38. Nickelodeon Magazine
40. Listen The Night
Review #31 (4/04)
Title: The Book Of Willie
What is it?: Poetry collection by Charles Kesler
Technical Quality: High. Nicely made book is easy to read , has color cover, and heavy black end papers.
Average Review: Though publicized as a book of poetry, this is more a collection of 31 short prose stories cut in poetry form. They cover the quiet life of Vietnam Vet Willie in his hometown of Dallas ("the belt buckle of the Bible Belt"), his slightly offbeat behavior and the reactions of his long suffering wife. They talk of small incidents often with larger meanings here and there and lots of sly gentle humor. Some incidents include: Willie going to church to find a wife, a panhandler pretending to be a vet, one tree in a field with an angry bull , Halloween trick or treating when the kid wants nothing to do with small talk and blurts out, "Gimme my damn candy Mister", 'orgasmic' oranges at the health food store, and more. They were a delight to read and think about. And its a real pleasure for me to find a poet of such consistent quality in his work. I look forward to the next installment.
I had two quibbles - the cover is of a US Soldier in battle gear that seems to suggest that this will be a book of poems about war - instead they were more about life after serving in the war, and the high price of $10. Oh and one more. How about a name for 'the wife'? Otherwise, I give high marks to a well made book with consistently well crafted Willie stories. The best way to convey what I mean is to end with a poem:
THE SILENCE WILLIE MUST ENDURE
Now that Willie is a poet
his wife has stopped talking to him.
Everything she says and does
ends up in his poems.
When they are with people
Willie just smiles as the nonexistent one
and from behind her back mouths
to others "This won't last long.
This won't last long."
Willie doesn't know that
his wife is mouthing words too.
"Well see. We'll see."
Contact Info: www.firewheel-editions.org firstname.lastname@example.org
Overall Grade:: 6.3 out of 10.0
Review #32 (4/04)
Title: Greatness In Tragedy
What is it?: CD by the band, Greatness In Tragedy
Technical Quality: Extremely high. Well engineered recording. Backup musicians play very well (though totally uninspired - like studio musicians) and the lead singer has a first rate rock voice that is very expressive. Also jacket design and liner notes ok and band photo - above average.
Innovative Quality: Not a drop anywhere. Review: Extremely well made and recorded CD hasn't a drop of originality in it and could just as easily been called Generic Rock CD of 2004. There is a total lack of trying anything new and no one is taking chances. This is best seen in the drums, base and guitars. Everything here is robotic and by the end of the album one wonders if these are studio musicians who don't care or synthesizers. The singer has a fine rock and roll voice - unfortunately he is saddled with songs that convey so little meaning they would have been more expressive if written in a foreign language. And note no background voices to help him out or for him to match and structure and augment his vocal track around. Songs are convoluted and poorly structured. There was no notable chorus anywhere, and nothing anyone would hum or not even any memorable rhythm stretch to shake their head at (excluding a bit on the verse of 9).
No lead guitars - and in heavy rock like
this that is very bizarre. There was an opening whistle in cut 6
that almost suggested some fun - but soon panned out into the
same - sameness. And overall no hit. Not a chance for anything to
be ever played on the radio. It is clear and obvious that this
record took lots of time and money to do it this professionally.
Why didn't any one tell the band that it's a waste of all that
time and money if they don't have a hit - or at least an album so
original that it doesn't need a hit. Even corporate art "Big
5" weasels, that crave sameness, would rather have the next
clone WITH a hit rather than without. And shame on those who took
the money from the band and didn't tell them that it was all
vanity stuff without a hit or some originality.
Contact Info: www.greatnessintragedy.com, email@example.com
Overall Grade: 2.6 out of 10.0
Editor's Choice mini Reviews: You open a magazine and they begin to rain down - those postage-prepaid postcards for you to subscribe or inquire. I say let's fight back and when you have collected a hefty stack of these - drop them in the mail and use up their postage. Overall grade on this overkill - 0.5 out of 10.0
Review #33 (4/04)
Title: CBS Evening News (4/29/04)
What is it?: CBS TV Network News 5:30-6:00 PM
Technical Quality: Above average.
Innovative Quality: Nothing new here.
Review: Ill at ease anchorman, Dan Rather, presents almost all war and gore reports with a bias toward conflict news. First 4 major stories are on war: 1. President in front of the 9/11 Commission. 2. Iraq casualties and battle news with battle front photos. 3. Iraqi prisoner abuse with gory and graphic photos of abused prisoners. 4. World War II memorial opening.
Then two drug stories, one on lung cancer drugs, the other on prescription drug comparison on the net. Note in this regard the products advertised on this edition of the news. They included the following in this order: allergy drug, Lipitor (no reason given for what it does), Levitra (no reason given for what it does) mechanical toothbrush, diabetes shakes, air sanitizer, skin cream, denture cream, gas relief medicine, scar sheets to prevent scaring, nail infection medicine, laxative, allergy medicine, and hemorrhoid cream. There is an obvious conflict of interest between the revenues from these drug advertisers and the CBS stories on new drugs.
The final two stories showed more gore. Husband beats and shoots wife 8 times. His son wants to end his fathers custody rights. Last Oldsmobile rolls off assembly line, which leads to story of wrecked cars that are resold without telling the buyer. Film shows major wreck (perhaps someone was killed in the footage - thus being tantamount to showing a snuff film), plus an interview with a mother whose daughter had been killed in a crash with crashed car footage.
Overall there was no news of any activity
outside of war and gore from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia,
South or North America. The coverage was useless, the stories
more shocking than in any way informative, and in the end one
wonders if Rather has a gore fetish - or he and CBS have just
abandoned all hard news coverage and basic human decency in what
they do cover. Shockingly bad news coverage.
Contact Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Overall Grade: 0.9 out of 10.0
Editor's Choice mini Reviews:
Fast food chains have had 50 years to develop delicious and
healthy menus. They've failed miserably.
Overall - stench of failure.
Review #34 (5/04)
Title: Weekly World News, May 17
What is it?: Double issue of a tabloid specializing in offbeat stories.
Technical Quality: Average. All b/w photos.
Innovative Quality: Nothing new.
Review: I wonder who this bizarre collection of outlandish and false 'news' stories is aimed at? I would think anyone with the ability to read would be too smart to believe such stories entitled: Mermaid Caught in Fishing Net, Satan is Building an Addition to Hell, Kim Jong III Eats Lassie, How to Tell if Your Neighbor is a Zombie, Atheist Sues Cities Named after Saints, My Toilet Roll Holder is Possessed, WWN Is Right - Angels Do exist, Space Alien Posse Rounds Up Bad Guys, I Married an Inflatable Doll - but Divorced her when she sprang a leak!, plus other stuff for the gullible - psychic lines, tarot news, astrology predictions, lucky lotto numbers etc.
On the plus side the campy quality is sky
high, there are 2 giant crosswords, some trivia, and in this
issue a 12 page spread of pictures of 'real' ghosts in Ghastly
Ghosts and Ghouls. They claim 100 million readers (one born
every minute?) but even scarier is the price = $2.99. Now that's
both weird and true.
Contact Info: www.weeklyworldnews.com
Overall Grade: 2.5 out of 10.0
Editor's Choice mini Reviews:
Bands. After 40 years of bands the only thing they are rebelling
against now is change.
Grade: 0.5 out of 10.0
Review #35 (5/05) Title:
Queen Mary 2
What is it?: New Cunard Lines, Ocean Liner
Technical Quality: High quality ship building design
Innovative Quality: Low, no innovation in design.
Review: This review is of the outside design of the new Cunard Ocean Liner the Queen Mary 2 (QM2), advertised as the 'grandest ship to ever sail'. Traveler Magazine says, "Stephen Payne (the architect) fused elements from the original Queen Mary, the QE2, and the Art Deco Normandie into the T-shaped white superstructure..." Yet there is none of the charm here that was in the sleek, beautiful, sophisticated, and well proportioned Normandie from 1935. Nor is it up to the levels of the lesser but still attractive liner, the Queen Mary from 1936. Nor does it in anyway approach the later designs of the first Queen Elizabeth, 1946, or the most modern of the old school, the United States of 1952.
The third ship on the' fused elements' list
as stated as influences by the architect, is the QE2, 1969, and
unfortunately the new QM2, does look like it, a fatter more squat
version of an initially bad design! In the end we are left with a
bulky white elephant that reminds me of an over inflated motel on
top of a barge! Billionaire Micky Arison (CEO of the Carnival
Cruise Line), who bought the Cunard line in 1998 is ultimately
responsible for the design. I ask him directly, "Why spend
800 million (making this the world's costliest passenger ship) on
this the first oceangoing liner built in more than 30 years, and
settle for such a dull, ugly design?
Contact Info: www.cunard.com
Overall Grade: 1.8 out of 10.0
Editor's Choice mini Reviews:
The syndicated movie review TV show, Ebert and Roeper is
distributed by Disney, who also makes some of the films they
review. It is a clear conflict of interest. They should NOT
review any Disney films out of fairness. Yet there is the catch
22 - the main reason Disney distributes the show is surely to get
their films reviewed. But doing so taints the impartiality of
Ebert and Roeper.
Overall - looks bad!
Review #36 (06/04)
Title: The Corrections
What is it?: Novel
Technical Quality: Average for a mainstream published novel.
Innovative Quality: None in book design or cover. Some interesting ideas in the style of writing.
Review: The story is simple enough. Three rich kids deal with their ageing parents - the father has Parkinson's disease. The parents live in a backwater town called St. Jude, and the kids live in 'sophisticated' urban centers. The family is emotionally cold and duty has replaced most love for one another. We end up with 5 unlikable, distant, and isolated characters forced to interact because of their parents problems.
At first this seems to be an authentic characterization - and the author writes well enough with real skill in descriptions and dialogue scenes - but the total lack of reasonable feeling, and true love between any of the characters or any characters outside the family for comparison, seems excessive, and strikes a false note. The 568 pages go into detail on each person's life, but the details are mostly on the scenery around them. Or the author shifts to some outlandish plot point to spice up the story - Chip going to Eastern Europe for fast illegal cash or Dad falling off the cruise liner. Minutiae fills the pages , every brand name is mentioned, etc.; yet characterization is minimal for so many pages. The male children, Chip and Gary, are drawn the best. The female characters less well.
Franzen shows writing skill throughout, but
seems lost in these endless details. Where a great Russian novel
from that country's golden age has scope, vastness, and often a
grand theme; this novel bogs down. There is some innovative
attempts in the writing such as printing e-mails as dialogue; yet
these never are well developed and never do much to contribute to
the overall impact. Robert Frost's poem Death of a Hired Man
has a somewhat similar plot line as Corrections, yet look at how
economical Frost's work is. Everything in the poem was crucial -
no padding and the reader is better for it. Here things ramble
and scatter and don't add up to much. If the attempt was to show
dissolute, isolated lives without purpose, or much moral
backbone, that fails too. There are no characters that aren't
dissolute - no one to show the families excesses by comparison.
Nor do any of the characters inside or outside the family, show
honor, true friendship, or loyalty. A 180 page, taut , pared down
novel would have saved all the essential story, plot, and
characterization, and both the author and reader would have been
better for it. The editor should have known better if the author
Contact Info: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 19 Union Square West, NY 10003
Overall Grade: 3.5 out of 10.0
Editor's Choice mini Reviews: I don't understand 'Director's Cut' versions. Isn't that what the film is?
Review #37 (6/04)
Title: Blurbs for The Corrections
What is it?: A review of the one line reviews on the back of the jacket of the novel The Corrections
Technical Quality: ok
Innovative Quality: The back of the book cover is covered with short one sentence blurbs praising the novel. It is innovative in that usually such reviews are on inside pages preceding the title page.
Review: In Review #36 I gave my assessment of the Jonathan Franzen novel The Corrections. In brief I suggested that here was a gifted writer but a flawed work - too sprawling, too much detail, too little characterization, and too one sided in an unrelenting dark tone - among other problems. But the blurbs on the back by many of the mainstream review outlets praised it without reservations of any kind. It is time to review these 24 reviewers.
Akst, Wall Street Journal:
"Bystanders will be forgiven the instinct to whistle in
awe." His writing skill is awesome yet the novel in toto
is not. Begley, The New York Observer: "Brilliant...
Almost unbearably lifelike." The unrelenting slant towards
cold and unloving characters has no loving characters for
comparison - that is not reality. Berret, The Village Voice:
"Could this be the first great novel of the 21st
century?" (No, its flawed and does not compare well with
great classic novels). Birkerts, Esquire: "The novel
we've been waiting for ... A stunning anatomy of family
dysfunction... A contemporary novel that will endure." Other
works on this theme have done it better. Blythe, Elle:
"Yes, a genuine masterpiece... Hype be damned - this novel
is a wisecracking, eloquent, heartbreaking beauty." After
reading it I find hype be praised! Caldwell, The Boston Globe:
"Frighteningly, luminously authentic." (It is for the
cold characters. Again there were no warm major or minor
characters to round out the characterizations by comparison).
Charles, The Christian Science Monitor: "Wildly
brilliant, funny, and wise." (I found a real problem in the
almost total lack of humor). Chubbuck, The Baltimore Sun:
"Genius". (I say too soon to tell though there is real
potential here). Gates, The New York Times Book Review:
"Marvelous... Every- thing we want in a novel - except, when
its rocking along, for it never to be over." (I got bogged
down with the minutia and skimmed some pages to get over it).
Haberman, People: "Spellbinding... Both funny and
piercing." (Still not funny). Heller, The Philadelphia
Inquirer: "Let's not mince words or pussyfoot with fancy
lit-crit lingo. This is a great book. It needs to be read."
(I think the lit-crit group didn't read it or they simple haven't
read enough vast classic novels to know better. Start with the
golden age of Russian Novels, Mr. Heller). And on and on it goes:
Pat Conroy, Michael Cunningham, Don DeLillo, Hoffman - The
Providence Sunday Journal, Kipen - San Francisco Chronicle,
Leonard - The New York Review of Books, Matthews - San
Jose Mercury News, O'Nan - The Atlantic Monthly, Prose
- O, Talk, Torkells, Fortune, Towers, Vogue,
Wallace. All of these reviewers should know better. Their praise
is unfounded their reviews soft, and their opinions, circumspect
from now on!
Contact Info: Individual reviewers.
Overall Grade: 2.5 out of 10.0 for these Reviewers remarks. Let's hope for their sakes that they were taken out of context.
Editor's Choice mini Reviews:
FCC continues to fail to ensure diversity in the radio spectrum.
This may well lead to real danger for our country's basic
Overall grade 1.0 Out of 10.0
Review #38 (7/04)
Title: Nickelodeon Magazine.
What is it?: Children's magazine for June/July 2004 from the company that brings you Nickelodeon TV - a Viacom company.
Technical Quality: above average with lots of color and a comic book section of newsprint type paper.
Innovative Quality: low.
Review: Totally unredeemable children's magazine is nothing but ads for junk. Almost all the ads are full page with: 14 for sugary snacks, 12 for movies, TV, music, books, etc., 7 for toys, 6 for Nickelodeon TV, and one for a hotel chain that actually says, "Ask an adult to book only at holiday-inn.com .... 34 full page ads (listed as advertisement) total - out of 82 pages of the magazine.
But the stories are ads too: "Welcome Back, Potter" about the Harry Potter movie, 'Simon Cowell Talks', from the TV show American Idol, 'Biggest Movie Bloopers', 'How to be Famous', 'Garfield... Hits the Big Screen', 'Our No-Sweat Guide to Summer Movies', etc. The theme of every article is clear - pump up movie, and TV sales through colorful graphics, silly games, and other sleazy sales strategies. And what's missing? Any mention of science, art, geography, social skills, or any other worthy aspect of human behavior. It's as if the Nick people want buy robots that will only parrot back ad filler while they open their wallets.
This is despicable, slimy, unforgivable,
greed propaganda. Nickelodeon and Viacom need to apologize for
this mess, and stop publishing this magazine immediately. Have
they no shame?
Update: The Nickelodeon editor wrote me and told me that this was the entertainment issue. And on a 2nd look the contents page it does say "This Month's Special: Entertainment".
Contact Info: NickEditor@nick.com
Overall Grade: 0.2 out of 10.0
Editor's Choice mini Reviews: I have a saying "When everything is praised, nothing is valued". Fair reviews are a big part of any healthy culture. Help promote and support fair reviews.
Review #39 (7/04)
What is it?: Experimental Music by David Pointer
Technical Quality: Recording sound and musical instruments are very good. Singing voice was fair to poor. Spoken voice was fine. CD art above average
Innovative Quality: Above average with a fascinating combination of music, storytelling, and spoken word mixed together.
Review: Nashville poet David S Pointer has recorded a 3-track CD with the first two standouts, and the last one not as strong. The liner notes say, "Each track ... provides a mindscape panoramic view of how the broken cogs on the cosmic wheel still rock and reel with the rest of the world." Yet I think its more down to earth storytelling than that blurb suggests.. What is unusual is how the singing and spoken word, music, and sound effects are all edited together into a sort of collage musical work. On all three he begins with a basic musical phrase and repeats it with variations and spoken breaks. On all three the stories are about outcasts living hard lives Track one: Blue Handed Man has a strong and catchy base line with a solid rhythm tract throughout . The story is about a blues player who lost his arm, and switched from guitar playing to harmonica. The song has a good, edgy jazz, film noir style to it.
Track two: The Town Drunk is about the last days of a drunk who supports all the neighborhood bars with his government check. "Has he reached the pint of no return?" The music has a relaxed, woozy, tipsy, feel to it with a country rock style.
Track three: It Wasn't My Night is about
how 1 night's behavior leads to a long stretch in prison. The
rock music is rugged and hard edged here. It's more jumbled and
less memorable and tuneful, than the other two. It sounded more
like John Lennon's #9 work and less like a cohesive work. All in
all, except for the sometimes weak singing, this would be perfect
background listening for a very cool coffee house. And I wonder
if this isn't one example of a larger musical style across the
country, that mixes beatnik poetry with rap and modern music
styles. If so I would like to hear others that are doing it.
Contact Info: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Overall Grade: 4.4 out of 10.0
Editor's Choice mini Reviews: That sax player in the SNL (Saturday Night Live) band has GOT to stop hitting that end high note. What is he doing sending signals to dogs! Give us people a break from that unbearable screech. Until you do - grade - awful!
Review #40 (7/04)
Title: Listen The Night
What is it?: 8-Song CD by "what Rwe" that mixes spoken word and music
Technical Quality: Recording quality is very high. Cover graphics, average. Guitar work is exceptional. Talking Voice is very good.
Innovative Quality: Above average in the unusual mix of repeated poetic phrases and story telling; plus , innovative guitar work that I describe as folk/jazz or bluegrass/jazz.
Review: Extraordinary guitar player Michael Panasuk, does some amazing standard guitar work (and some rock band arrangements) to illustrate the poetic storytelling of Klyd Watkins with his hypnotic voice. The bulk of the songs are a mix of Watkins's recitations over Panasuk's standard guitar accompaniment alternating with Panasuk instrumentals. Watkins words are often surreal with lots of repeated echoing phrases coming in from every angle of the stereo. It's not always clear what he is saying, or its meaning, but the convoluted message is mesmerizing and dramatic, and his voice seems perfect for spellbinding the listener. Note his Southern drawl that adds so much flavor.
Panasuk's accompaniments are a standout. His guitar work (and I'm a guitar player) is something I haven't heard before and can best describe as a mix of free form guitar improvisations that mix folk with jazz or bluegrass with jazz. The CD is set up so that the spoken stories/songs alternate with the solo standard guitar work. We have pure guitar in such songs as Herlene and Logjam Do It On The Mountain and the middle song of each of the two trilogy pieces. His guitar improvisations are worth the price of the CD by themselves. But they sound even better when it alternates with the storytelling. Song 1 Listen The Night - a cool and bluesy full band song. Song 2: (Origin trilogy) - my favorite on the album starts out with a sort of mantra of "What You Gonna Wear?", then a guitar part "The Whole Size Of the Valley, then a story about how a triangle of lovers turns into a constellation - certainly a surreal gem - called Origin of the Constellation Called Froggy's New Year's Eve. Song 3: Herlene and Logjam Do it On The Mountain - another guitar song. Song 4: Smear, and Song 6: Blab Blab - two short silly surreal nonsense songs. Song 5: Birth is A Bitch - a rock band song instrumental Song 7: (Big Love Trilogy) - which follows the form of the other trilogy. Song 8: Listen The Night (reprise) - jumbled version of the opener and my least favorite song.
The two 'trilogy' works were flat-out
wonderful and these dramatic spellbinding recitations mixed with
these spacey folk guitar improvisations in between; are
startlingly unpredictable, melodic and powerful. Same for those
cuts that feature guitar alone. The two rock songs, #1 and #5
were solid but not as original. And the others songs were not
quite as good. I wonder, if the meanings of the lyrics were more
clear, would that give the message more power? Perhaps, perhaps
not. But as is this CD is a fine accomplishment with a great
voice, an incredible guitar, and a mix that spotlights both to
their best advantage.
Contact Info: Klyd Walkins website: www.thetimegarden.com
Overall Grade:: 5.9 out of 10.0
Editor's Choice mini Reviews:
Seen the new currency? Compare them with the old and you'll see
that the past presidents have gotten facelifts and cosmetic
surgery? They are younger and more presentable. Yikes. What's
wrong with them as they were? Why change history? I thought that
was only done in "The Ministry of Truth" in the horror
novel 1984 . Stop rewriting history !
Grade - lousy.
Grading system: 9-10 Highest grade - Life's work of a master (ex. Collected plays of Shakespeare, collected symphonies of Beethoven) 8-9 Single best work of a celebrated master's career. 7-8. Best work of an era or genre or decade. 6-7 Best work of the year. 5-6 Very good. 4-5 More good than bad. 3-4 Average amount of good = amount of bad. 2-3 Mostly bad with some redeeming parts. 1-2 Nothing redeemable. 0-1 So bad it is offensively bad and outrages the reviewer for taking up that time in his life - just awful. Musea guarantees a review for all art work in any conceivable field IF you follow the rules posted on alt.zines or see our website or e-mail me.
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