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All reviews - Movies (45) - TV Shows (4) - Books (8) - Music (1) - Games (2)

Action, consequence & regret

Posted : 5 years, 9 months ago on 12 October 2012 11:34 (A review of An Inspector Calls (1954))

An atmospheric and thoughtful adaptation of an acclaimed play. Guy Hamilton made some good calls to make this work even though he had the immense advantage of being able to vividly portray flashbacks rather than only have them described by cast members. Great performances from the main cast and a solid turn by Alastair Sim.

This is not merely a story about actions having consequences. Nor is it only also about what can happen when those consequences multiply up to a large cumulative effect. It's also a gentle lesson about how small kindnesses can often have disproportionately positive offsets against large measures of selfishness, spite and jealousy.

It's a great story with a fine twist. Recommended for all ages.

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For literary herberts

Posted : 5 years, 9 months ago on 6 October 2012 11:54 (A review of May Week Was In June)

Having been unable to afford the luxury of a University education, much less at one of the best seats of learning in the UK, I found that a lot of this work is packed with esoteric and scholarly references. That doesn't make it inaccessible but it's not a free ride either.

Whilst reading it I spent more time picking up a dictionary and scribbling down names of authors and works to refer to than I did hacking my way through the thickets in the primary text. Nothing wrong with that of course provided that you have the time and inclination to do it.

To be fair to James, it's also what he did when he read - and read widely - mostly off the curriculum. In the end the journey is fairly rewarding; I treated it as an entertaining skeletal bibliography which certainly helped to fill some of my potholes of ignorance with a measure of understanding.

If you're a fan of his work and you like to read a lot, this is definitely worth the time.

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Terrifically funny

Posted : 5 years, 9 months ago on 6 October 2012 06:54 (A review of Unreliable Memoirs: Autobiography (Picador Books))

Written with typically self-deprecating Jamesian humour this is undoubtedly one of the funniest books I have ever picked up. Not only funny but it captures the golden years of childhood and evokes the beauty of that time when so many things were magical and anything seemed possible.

It remains fresh in my mind because James, by his own prosaic description turns a phrase around and around until it catches the light and the polish of his work shimmers in the memory long after the book is put down.

Using very antipodean humour James takes the sting out of the sadder parts of his autobiography and paints such a vivid picture of his life in Kogarah that the reader is transported there. There is a certain amount of regret expressed - what life would be normal without it - but it's done thoughtfully and with a certain apologetic charm and the eerie feeling that we've also been there in some form or another.

I'd also recommend the book to anyone who wishes to improve their own written output; it's the most painless and enjoyable way to absorb well written and composed essay material that is available. (I was in my teens and supposed to be reading Rousseau's Les Confessions but once I'd put it down I just couldn't pick it up again, particularly when Unreliable Memoirs was within reach.)

Here is a short excerpt (Mr. James, I've bought all your books, some of them several times when the originals fell apart, and this excerpt is on the web, please show leniency):

Even the best set of school blocks wasn't as good as the set I had at home. Passed on to me by Grandpa, they were satin-smooth Victorian creations of inch-by-inch oak, every length from one to twelve inches, plus arches, Doric columns, metopes, triglyphs and sundry other bits and pieces. With them I could build a tower much taller than myself. The usual site was the middle of the lounge room. A length of cotton could be tied to one of the lower columns, so that I could retire into hiding and collapse the tower by remote control at the precise moment when Aunt Dot lumbered into range. It made a noise like Valhalla falling. She would have one of her turns — these needed plenty of space — and demand that I be sent to school next day.


[My friend's family] had a cattle dog called Bluey. A known psychopath, Bluey would attack himself if nothing else was available. He used to chase himself in circles trying to bite his own balls off. To avert instant death, I was supposed to call out from the front gate when I arrived and not open it until I was told that Bluey had been chained up. One day I opened it too early and Bluey met me on the front path. I don't know where he had come from — probably around the side of the house — but it was as if he had come up out of the ground on a lift.

He was nasty enough when chained up but on the loose he was a bad dream. Barking from the stomach, he opened a mouth like a great, wet tropical flower. When he snapped it shut, my right foot was inside it.

You can find the full excerpt [Link removed - login to see].

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Unequalled & unmissable.

Posted : 5 years, 9 months ago on 6 October 2012 06:39 (A review of I, Claudius)

A classic BBC television serial of an interpretation of life during the Roman dynastic era. Though it looks dated now the performances from so many notable actors of the day are electric. The writing is superb and for me Siân Phillips' performance as Livia is entrancing as she speaks her words first with just her eyes allowing us practically to read her mind. Such intelligence, fortitude and skill invested into the part that one can almost forgive her - she simply loved Rome more than anyone in it.

All the performances were terrific, many outstandingly so and the cast is all top-grade. Even Brian Blessed as Augustus whose giant heartiness begins about eight feet from his physical person manages to keep himself within frame "QUINTILIUS VARUS WHERE ARE MY EAGLES!?" he booms, to all of BBC TV centre and much of London. John Hurt as Caligula minces lethally across the set leaving even those who know he's only acting looking distinctly nervous.

Watching it is like having a front-row seat at a good theatre with comfy seats and a riveted hushed audience. The camera work is excellently directed, favouring tight close-ups allowing each player to use the tiniest facial changes to produce the desired effect. This series set the standard that has put BBC period dramas amongst or at the best and most sought after in the world.

Graves's first book of the same name, from which this series is adapted, is also a good read - much better than its sequel Claudius the God.

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Chicken Run (2000) review

Posted : 5 years, 9 months ago on 5 October 2012 04:31 (A review of Chicken Run (2000))

A fun film featuring many well-known British voices. And I seem to recall an obscure American in the line up as well (just kidding, Mel).

I'm a big fan of Nick Park's work as I've always been in stop-motion animation. It has a realistic feel that Pixar-style animation has only been able to simulate in the last few years because it's so computationally demanding. I recommend the DVD because it includes a decent length "making-of" featurette which shows the amazing amount of skill, patience and time that went into making this film and into Park's subsequent effort Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Recommended for children aged 8 to 80.

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Scrat: No Time for Nuts review

Posted : 5 years, 9 months ago on 5 October 2012 03:35 (A review of Scrat: No Time for Nuts)

The animators did a great job with Scrat, perfectly capturing his industrious darting movements, expressive bulging eyes and addiction to nuts. This is a fun and clever little short, one of the Pixar gems in the Ice Age short lineup.

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Posted : 5 years, 9 months ago on 24 September 2012 10:10 (A review of In the Loop (2009))

A richly comic example of what can be done when portraying the ludicrous tribalism and confusion that is the hallmark of modern politics.

The core topic was a little late to the table since the invasion it alludes to had already taken place and that topic was so complicated that it could barely be fit into a series of films let alone one.

Iceman, the alcoholic source for the case for war was an unsubtle nod to the (now infamous) source Curveball who provided the wafer thin ice on which the Iraq invasion was floated. There are enough echoes of the Iraq debacle to hint at it but this is more generic and perhaps will seem prescient in the future when the next inevitable land-grab is launched by Washington.

A very funny film, with savage biting wit and painfully awkward moments. A must-see for any lovers of The Thick Of It from where many of the characters were drawn.

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Surrogates review

Posted : 5 years, 9 months ago on 22 September 2012 05:01 (A review of Surrogates)

This film has many messages but I'll digress, if you'll forgive me for this, into a simple interpretation of the narrative:

What does it mean to be human? What if we could exist in our 'perfect' states and live for 70+ years as the perfect young adults we all love? To feast and laugh and love and fuck and rejoice in existence as if life was a beach party from beginning to end?

Could it be any better?

Yet, heroism presupposes a significant loss else it's an abbreviation. For this I couldn't connect but the gist was enough to parlay the message of loss and sacrifice and if it didn't have the trite payload of that illusory concept of the selfless gesture then I'd have spread it on toast. But still Id've fed it to the pet.

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Magicians review

Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 18 September 2012 09:55 (A review of Magicians)

As someone who is familiar with Mitchell & Webb's work as skit comedians and in their seminal (no pun intended) TV series Peep Show, it was perhaps easier for me to like this film.

The lead characters are really just transferred from Peep Show into a different milieu so if you don't find those characters amusing then you'll probably not enjoy this film.

Comedians have a tough time crossing into film roles, even when they're comic, because they're expected to play to their strengths which usually means more of what they've already become famous for hence Webb showing his usual callous self-centredness and Mitchell as the tightly wrapped perpetually anxious figure. Anything else seems out of place. (Alexei Sayle had the same problem, Robbie Coltrane less so).

If you like M&W you'll like this.

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Apollo review

Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 17 September 2012 12:04 (A review of Apollo)

Sometimes background atmospherics are the only solution when a long think or deep read is ahead. This kind of thing is Eno's forte and the track An Ending (Ascent) has an excellent tribute, a trance remix by Michael Dow (on A State of Trance (2007)) which is perfect for launching a fast vehicle down a twisty forest road.

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