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      30.04.2008 00:07
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      Brilliantly scripted story of NY Firefighters post 9/11

      Rescue me is an American drama set amongst a crew of New York firemen post the 9/11 tragedy. It stars Denis Leary, who was reunited on this series with his co-writer Peter Tolan, their previous offering being cop drama The Job. The subject of firefighting is close to Leary's heart; he lost a cousin and a close friend in the service in his home state of Massachusetts, and gives his name and active support to a charitable foundation that has supported the service there as well as families of the FDNY firefighters killed at 9/11.

      In the series, Leary plays Tommy Gavin, a New York Irish firefighter who struggles to cope with losing his cousin Jimmy at 9/11. His trauma results in the dead Jimmy appearing to him constantly, and he becomes an important side character in the show, as Tommy's conversations with him reveal new aspects of his character as the series progresses. Tommy has recently separated from his wife and kids, and has taken a house opposite what was the family home. An anti-hero, Tommy struggles with alcoholism, violent rages, and attempts to numb his trauma through riskily throwing himself into drink, drugs, promiscuity and most importantly, his job, where he has a reputation for being brave and is much admired throughout the service. His increasingly desperate attempts to engineer a reconciliation with his wife, coupled with a large self-destructive streak make him an effective character, as his hero status starts to come into question following his risk taking at work, his dubious mental state, and his growing closeness to Jimmy's widow, Sheila. Dating the widow of a 9/11 victim is taboo amongst the service, and in the absence of heavy involvement with his own family, Tommy helps out with Jimmy's widow and son as much as he can, and an attraction soon develops.

      The stories in this first series centre on Tommy and his family, and the other members of the crew. There are some fairly standard soap style storylines, but more serious themes are explored beneath the veneer of male camaraderie. Anyone familiar with Leary's comedy roots will recognise some familiar subject matter, but the dialogue crackles between the crew. It's completely non-pc and wouldn't be to everyone's tastes, but serves as a believable environment for working class guys who risk their lives for a living. No subject is taboo, and very little remains private as they constantly trade stories of sexual experiences. The only thing they can't discuss is their personal trauma and feelings.

      The crew comprise of:
      Chief Jerry Reilly (Jack McGee) - The man in charge, loved by his crew, struggling with a gambling problem, and a member of the old guard who has notched up years of service.

      Lieutenant Ken Shea (John Scurti) - 'Lieu', Senior firefighter with Tommy, struggling to release his feelings and secretly writing poetry as a recommended form of therapy. The most intelligent member of the crew, he spars verbally with Tommy constantly.

      Franco (Daniel Sunjata) - Prides himself on being shallow and promiscuous, his past catches up with him when he finds out he has a four year old daughter after her mother dies.

      Sean (Steven Pasquale) - The least intelligent member of the crew, subject to a lot of practical jokes, but more sensitive than he lets on.

      Mike (Michael Lombardi) - 'Proby' - the junior member of the team, fresh to the job. Young, impressionable, and subject of many new apprentice style jokes, he is stalked by a fire victim obsessed with repaying him for saving his life.

      Laura (Diane Farr) - the female firefighter introduced to the previously all male team, which changes the dynamic significantly.

      The storylines cover the issues of homophobia, sexism, male relationships and fidelity. The acting is excellent and you find yourself drawn into the world of these characters, where the mundane realities of paying bills and holding family and work together bite hard, punctuated with great action footage of them fighting fires. The series has a significant investment in the special effects and set pieces required, and became a significant success in the states, where it has run for four series so far.

      I like it for a couple of reasons: mainly for the honest, realistic portrayal of the way people working closely together relate to each other, where the dialogue is funny and severe by turns. Leary's grounding as a comic is evident in some of the one liners and rants that the characters come out with.

      Secondly, the characters are exceptionally well cast, with believable performances from familiar faces if not necessarily familiar names.

      Also there are some deft touches that border on the surreal, such as the use of subtitles when Tommy talks to his father, where the true meaning of what is actually said is displayed, and the sensitive handling of Tommy's hallucinations.

      The pace can be a bit frenetic at times, but the tempo is skilfully varied, and by the end of the series, I found myself involved with the characters and as a piece of drama, felt almost in touch with an alien environment I had no concept of before.

      It's an adult drama so if sex and swearing offend you in this context give it a miss. I'd recommend it, however, particularly as getting to see it on cable has become nigh on impossible since the Sky/Virgin tiff, and it wasn't ever on particularly promptly before that.

      The box set is 4 discs holding 13 episodes, and has some good extras in the form of audio Commentary for a couple episodes with Denis Leary & Peter Tolan, a Blooper Reel, Deleted Scenes and a couple of good mini documentaries on the making of the series. You can grab this great example of contemporary American drama for £17 on Amazon.

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      • American Beauty (DVD) / DVD / 69 Readings / 64 Ratings
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        17.08.2007 01:40
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        Dissecting Suburban America

        Released in 1999, Sam Mendes’ American Beauty is one of my favourite films, and achieved the rare double of receiving both critical and commercial acclaim. A big screen debut for both director Mendes and writer Alan Ball, it was nominated for eight Oscars, and won five. It’s a film of some depth, taking an everyday suburban existence and examining its appearances and relationships in terms of (amongst other things) personal fulfilment, family ties, the concepts of beauty and freedom. The tag line of the film was ‘look closer’ – and guided by Mendes’ skilled direction, you do.

        Lester and Carolyn Burnham (Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening) are a typical middle class suburban couple: nice house, decent jobs and a teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch) in high school. They get on well with the neighbours, drive nice cars and gather each night for a family dinner with no TV. Carolyn is an ambitious, driven and success-hungry realtor, while Lester works for a magazine. Lester’s voiceover in the opening scenes is the first hint that all is not well, not earth-shatteringly terrible, just not quite right. Carolyn is frustrated with a husband that doesn’t share her ambitions, Jane is becoming detached from her parents, and Lester has become in his own words ‘sedated.’

        At Jane’s cheerleading performance, where Lester and Carolyn attend to try to be ‘supportive,’ Lester first catches sight of Angela (Mena Suvari), fellow cheerleader and Jane’s best friend and is smitten by her beauty. He overhears a conversation between them where Angela comments (mainly to gross out Jane) she would sleep with him if he worked out, and he is snapped from his lethargy into starting an exercise regime. If he can attract an 18 year old girl, what else might he be able to do? Has he still ‘got it?’ He sets about changing his life in a dramatic fashion, in what to the casual observer might be viewed a typical mid life crisis, as his life and attitudes regress to his college years. Carolyn is appalled, and sees Lester’s transformation into a self assured, carefree alter ego as a direct confrontation, and yet more pressure on her. When rival realtor Buddy comments incredulously that his estranged wife views being driven to succeed as some kind of character flaw, she senses a kindred spirit.

        A new family moves in next door, the ultra conservative ex marine, Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper), his quiet, detached wife and their son Ricky (Wes Bentley). Ricky leads a double life as a small time marijuana dealer, and is constantly seen with camcorder in hand, videotaping seemingly innocuous things and looking for the beauty in them. He falls for Jane and bonds with Lester, and this links the two families as their stories unfold. If you haven’t seen the film, I won’t give away any more of the story, but all the cast members go on a voyage of self discovery through the film, and all are in some way driven by Lester’s central transformation.

        The pacing and construction of many scenes is elegant and artistic, no doubt a debt to Mendes’ roots as a theatre director and there is a real beauty to some of the shots, as we’re invited to observe the superficial beauty on display, before exposing the underlying true nature of a situation. The barbed conversations between Lester and Carolyn across the picture perfect dining table are a classic example. In another scene, Ricky’s filming of a dead bird and describing it as beautiful to an incredulous Angela and an intrigued Jane seems to demonstrate that there are two camps here, those that are content and reassured with the superficial, and those who want some deeper meaning. Of course, it’s not that simple in real life, and thankfully proves more complex as the film develops.

        There’s a fair amount of humorous content here, too, and having seen the film at the cinema, there were some genuine, whole audience laugh out loud moments. I think these balance the darker themes very well, and especially in the hands of this skilled group of actors, led by a superb Kevin Spacey as Lester.

        You’d be forgiven for thinking this was Spacey’s film, and his Oscar-winning performance is undoubtedly a star turn amongst a strong showing from the whole cast. I’ve seen the film a fair few times now, and some new subtlety in a particular scene seems to come to my attention every time. His enthusiastic pursuit of a body his daughter’s best friend will find attractive is a bit disturbing, but placed in the context of the other changes he’s making in his life does make a kind of sense, but he’s skilled enough to bring a warmth and depth to Lester that stops you from dismissing him as a purely pathetic specimen. His worm that turns routine is excellent, and I’m sure guys of a certain age will watch some of these scenes and wonder ‘what if I…’ His exchanges with Annette Bening are not savage in the ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf’ mould, but are funny, tragic and believable.

        Annette Bening is a revelation in this film. I’d not really been a fan of her films prior to this, but I saw a few more as a result of it. Her portrayal of Carolyn as a sharp, aggressive, dominating wife suddenly confronted by a husband who’s had enough and not only refuses to keep his head down and keep the peace, but violently questions her belief systems is brilliant. She was Oscar nominated for the role, and has several highly intense solo scenes which give you a more rounded picture of her as you realise her unforgiving nature extends to herself as much as anyone. Along with Mena Suvari’s Angela, the character is initially a superficial one, and would be easy to dismiss were it not for the performances giving you a reason to care about them.

        Thora Birch gives a memorable performance, depicting the teenage awkwardness of the best friend of the high school beauty queen, and her gradual withdrawal from that circle to a more mature relationship with Ricky. There are some moving intimate scenes between Bentley and Birch, and some jarring, brutal scenes between Bentley and his on screen father Chris Cooper, demonstrating some real range.

        In short I can’t criticise any of the performances, but then I did say this was one of my favourite films. My only disappointment in the film involves one of the characters key to the ending revealing a secret, which I felt was a bit of a lazy plot device, but it’s a small air of dissatisfaction than a major gripe.

        The DVD can be bought for under £4 on Amazon, and the version I own has two excellent special features - a full commentary from the Writer and Director plus a behind the scenes documentary which provides some real insight into the preparation and filming. It carries a certificate 18 and this seems fair, it’s not a particularly graphic film, but the references and themes are definitely adult.

        There are many great scenes in this film that I’d live to quote here, but it’d give too much away. Suffice to say I would recommend this film very highly; it’s full of memorable dialogue, striking visual images and strong characters, and when I first saw it, I felt I’d seen something very special. Thanks for reading.

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        • Mighty Aphrodite (DVD) / DVD / 48 Readings / 45 Ratings
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          08.07.2007 19:43
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          A good Allen Film

          I’m in the process of replacing my videos on DVD, so here’s the latest…

          Mighty Aphrodite is an identity–based comedy from Woody Allen, where a man goes in search of his adopted son’s natural parents, and sets in motion an unexpected chain of events as a consequence.

          Lenny (Allen) is a sports writer married to Amanda (Helena Bonham-Carter), and they decide to adopt a child. As the child grows, he shows signs of exceptional ability and intelligence, and this leads Lenny to embark on a search to track down his parents. Upon doing so, he is only able to track the mother, who it turns out is a prostitute and adult film star, and the father is a mystery.

          Linda, the natural mother, is played by Mira Sorvino, who puts in a powerhouse performance, something of a trademark for Allen’s leading ladies. Actually, she won an Oscar for best supporting actress as the damaged and dim Linda, who attempts to tough it through life with disarming honesty and naivety while covering up her hidden heartbreak over giving away her child. The dialogue is great, her timing superb, and killer lines are delivered in a shrill, grating accent that puts your teeth on edge.

          For what sounds a pretty stereotypical character, Linda actually has considerable depth, and goes a long way to explaining why the cream of Hollywood talent was queuing to appear in Allen movies at this time.

          With many attempts at self-justification, Lenny attempts to interfere with Linda’s life and turn it around. As a sports writer, he comes into contact with a boxer (Michael Rapaport) and attempts to fix them up. He seems an intellectual match - ‘I’ve had 16 fights and I won all of them but 12’, and there seems to be some promise as long as her past stays secret. Lenny’s obsession with ‘saving’ Linda causes him to neglect his own marriage and ignore the developing personal relationship between his wife and her business partner (Peter Weller).

          It’s all fairly familiar ground in terms of examining relationships, and the throwing in of some off-kilter personalities to clash with the central characters educated middle class sensibilities. The weird bit for me is the continual cutting to a Greek chorus in an amphitheatre as narrators; I read once that this is partly a reference to Pygmalion, who fell in love with a statue of Aphrodite which he carved himself. It’s clever, and serves to show Lenny analysing his developing relationship with Linda, plus there are some great one liners, but it adds a surreal edge to the film that puts me off a bit. Maybe I’m just not clever enough to get all the references, but it doesn’t quite work for me, although their advice to Lenny is frequently humorous.

          It’s a 15 certificate, and given the nature of Linda’s work, there are some very explicit sexual jokes and dialogue, so this should be borne in mind if you’re sensitive to that kind of content. As is usual with Allen, there are no extras on the DVD, apart from the original trailer, and I got mine from Amazon for just under £5.

          I’d recommend the film on the basis that it’s consistently funny, and there are some good performances, even if Helena Bonham-Carter is underused. But Mira Sorvino is fantastic.

          It’s just that voice…

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            15.05.2007 10:25
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            Nice snapshot of intelligent 80s pop

            Back in 1985, it wasn’t all synths and silly haircuts. There were bands that played ‘real’ instruments and crafted songs and were still considered pop. It wasn’t all grinning Stock Aitken and Waterman stable mates either, as there were several gloomier bands around for those who like that sort of thing, the sublime Cure, the magnificent Smiths and errr, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions.

            No, seriously. The splendidly glum (and in no small part, pretentious) Lloyd Cole produced some great pop music in the mid eighties, mixing twangy guitars with his deep, understated vocal style and employing exponents of some of the lush productions of the time, such as Anne Dudley (ABC/Art of noise/Frankie etc). I believe he was a philosophy graduate and there are some obscure references in his lyrics that I think may be attributed to this, but there is also a poetic aspect here that’s helped them endure.

            After their debut album ‘Rattlesnakes’ became a student classic, featuring the excellent single ‘Perfect Skin’, the boys from Glasgow produced their follow-up, Easy Pieces in 1985. It’s an album I still play occasionally now, and replaced on CD for the nostalgia value. It serves as a reminder that not everything I bought back then was rubbish.

            A brief rundown of the tracks:

            1. Rich
            Big drum sound dominates the opening, with a brass and string backing. Listen closely and the gently picked guitar is still evident in this mid tempo opening, with a rock and roll feel.

            ‘She left you 1958, When the thought of another fifteen years
            Was more than she could face
            But did you miss her much well hey, You never gave her too much thought.’

            2. Why I Love Country Music
            Great song. Jangly guitar and a sparse arrangement as Lloyd tells of a relationship that’s ground to a stale halt in the midst of an alcoholic haze and self generated distractions.

            ‘But she says she is fine, She tells lies most of the time
            What she needs I don’t have
            That’s not in the hand that I’m holding
            So we drink Spanish wine, She plays country records until the morning’

            3. Pretty Gone
            Slowing down a bit, with a measured approach. The guitar is more prominent on this track, which while still a gentle approach, the rhythm section sits further back and there’s a definite country feel. I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly what this one’s about, but there’s a definite feel of stealing innocence in the lyric.

            ‘And was she easily lead, Well can you tell me that you were not
            You unwashed and undressed, She with her head full of your cigarettes.’

            4. Grace
            An almost Byrds-style opening for a mid tempo trip with those twanging country-rock style guitars, sharp percussion underpinned by clear, poppy bass and what sounds like accordion in the background. The pace of the album is maintained, and the vocals are poignant and clear.

            ‘Jesse honey is it hard to take, does it feel so bad to be 28 you were 23
            And you could do anything now you open your mouth, and spit the gutter out’

            5. Cut Me Down
            One of the hit singles from the album, and one of my favourites. Heavily produced, it starts sparsely, but has some lush string backing and the occasional splash of brass (courtesy of Anne Dudley no doubt). An almost mechanical drumbeat is accompanied by a simple and effective twanged guitar hook. Melancholic and soulful, this is probably the best vocal on the album. Strangely, it’s a bit faster than I’d remembered, but a great trip down memory lane.

            ‘I have wasted all my summer, I’ve been aching just to fall
            Cut me down.’

            6. Brand New Friend
            Another hit single, a drum machine beat with accordion backing, this has a classic eighties pop feel, and is probably the record company throwing a bit of cash in to try and crack the American market. There’s still room for a trademark guitar hook, and there’s the addition of backing vocalists and more strings to give a polished sound. Anyone who remembers Paul Young’s backing trio will see the sound they were aiming for. It’s a great pop song, with a memorable opening lyric:

            ‘Walking in the pouring rain, walking with jesus and jane
            Jane was in her turtle neck I was much happier then’

            7. Lost Weekend
            My favourite track, this is well paced with a constant, clean guitar presence, and almost Dylan-esque lyrics. Hammond or accordion in the background again, but this has a rich tone, with a great vocal, as Lloyd laments, well something, let’s say an affair ending.

            ‘This morning I woke up from a deep unquiet sleep
            With ashtray clothes and miss lonelyheart`s pen
            With which I wrote for you a lovesong in tattoo
            Upon my palm `twas stolen from me when jesus took my hand’

            8. James
            The pace of the album loses its way somewhat here, as this is a morose and brooding effort where the musical tone actually matches the grim lyrics. I really like it, but it seems an odd placement after the three slick and bouncy singles. A meagre arrangement of drums and tinkly percussion join a deliberate guitar melody and miserable, heartfelt vocal. This makes for a touching song, and it’s better than I make it sound.

            ‘Ugly children with poor complexions and greasy hair
            Receive no concessions and it`s a heartless world’

            9. Minor Character
            Speeding back up again with a similar feel to Grace here. Strings are again prominent, but those melodic, jangling guitars are back. The vocals are a bit quiet here, and could have been more prominent. This track lacks a bit of bite compared to some of the others, and I’m not so bothered by it.

            ‘She said she’d throw herself off a bridge
            He stood and laughed and she never did’

            10. Perfect Blue
            A bit of harmonica, which I’m a bit of a sucker for, and the guitar takes on a more steely, blues feel. This one’s pleasant enough, but unmemorable for me. Again the vocals seem to have lost some of their richness by being a bit lower in the mix.

            ‘I`m kind of blue blue for you again
            I guess i`m a fool at least i`m not innocent
            But what to do whatever I touch turns blue’

            My CD has three bonus tracks:

            11. Her Last Fling
            Again a sixties country rock feel here. The guitars wouldn’t be out of place on a Crosby Stills and Nash album. Again the production is pretty slick here, but not one of my favourites.

            12. Big World
            This one goes full out country and western style guitars, and has a barn dance tempo with busy arrangements and another low vocal. Can’t say I like this one, but the rock n roll Elvisy type ending makes me smile.

            13. Nevers End
            A pretty, melodic ending, with an honest, sombre vocal. The guitars combine nicely with a percussive bass, and the closing track keeps the tone of the overall album without the feel of obviously being tacked on, which, for a bonus track is well, a bonus.

            Hope that gives a flavour of the album, it’s been a fun trip down memory lane to write it. I’m not sure the CD is still available, but I saw one on Ebay for £1, and I bought mine a couple of years back for a fiver. I’m sure there a few tracks posted on you tube if you fancy refreshing your memory.

            Easy Pieces was the band’s most commercially successful album, but I expect die hard fans will always prefer Rattlesnakes. I think it’s a good example of thoughtful pop music produced at a time when bands were donning silk suits, filming videos with the production values of independent films, and losing any sort of real connection with the spotty 17 year old strumming away in his bedroom. I may have said too much...

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            • A Kind Of Loving (DVD) / DVD / 54 Readings / 52 Ratings
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              26.03.2007 22:32
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              A fine example of British New Wave cinema

              The film of what is probably my favourite book, A Kind Of Loving by Stan Barstow, was made in 1962, before I was born (honest). I sought it out after reading the book in my teens, and it became one of my favourites, so I’ve recently purchased it on DVD to replace my old tape. The film is probably most noted for two things, a directorial debut for future Oscar winner John Schlesinger and an early lead role for Sir Alan Bates.

              Filmed in Black and White and set in an unspecified Lancashire town, the story is relatively simple, in that it deals with a young man (Vic Brown, played by Bates) and his struggle to distinguish between pursuit of his desires and a realistic, responsible approach to life. This is clearly highlighted by his relationship with a girl at work (Ingrid Rothwell, played by June Ritchie), whom he physically desires but has no real emotional connection with, but is also borne out in his dealings with work and family. Given the time restrictions of a film, some of those themes get less attention than they do in the book, as the director necessarily concentrates on the relationship that is central to the story, depicting it with honesty and a total lack of romantic mawkishness.

              As part of the ‘British New Wave’ of film-making (or kitchen sink drama, if you prefer), the subject of class is as expected, present. Whilst the movement presented for the first time an accurate portrayal of the home lives of ‘ordinary’ families, in this film the subtle distinctions between certain trades and family backgrounds within that broad class are used effectively, and it’s interesting to see in that context. This is based among the first generation of young working class kids who went into offices and banks instead of factories and pits, and are one of the reasons why class is (arguably) such a minor part of life today.

              It was probably quite controversial in its time, but seems pretty tame by today’s standards and still carries a 15 certificate for some reason. I assume this is because of the more adult parts of the story where Vic basically pesters Ingrid into making their relationship a sexual one.

              As Vic, Alan Bates gives an assured performance as the young draughtsman at the local engineering works, who falls for pretty typist Ingrid. His initial infatuation is satisfied as she agrees to go out with him and after a false start or two, becomes his girlfriend. As familiarity grows, he allows his lust for her to dictate the relationship, when it’s clear he doesn’t really have any deep feelings for her and in fact, doesn’t like her all that much as a person. Ingrid is aware of this, but holds to the relationship in the hope that her feelings will eventually be reciprocated.

              While Vic is a bit cleverer and more articulate, he is also too self-centred to be a true hero of the story, and displays some pretty ugly traits in his treatment of his girlfriend. Some of his comments about women are a bit unenlightened, but bearing in mind the time it was set, and the age of the lead characters, it’s believable.

              Ingrid’s character is a bit one dimensional as the dim typist who is obsessed with new clothes, gossip and the latest TV shows, but June Ritchie is very believable as a girl who wants what society suggests she should, a husband and family, and the relationship would bear fair comparison in a more up-to-date setting. As Vic attempts to cool the relationship, Ingrid falls pregnant so he offers to marry her, and the ‘Kind of Loving’ of the title is his attempt to make the best of a ‘forced’ marriage, and this is the main theme of the film.

              There is a strong supporting cast, with Vic’s family forming a realistic family unit, with typically forthright opinions on the rights and wrongs of his situation. There are cameos for future stars such as James Bolam and Leonard Rossiter as workmates, but the best supporting role is Thora Hird playing Ingrid’s mother, who is not happy at the union, considering her daughter to have married beneath her. Her referring to workmen of the same background as Vic and his family as ‘those people,’ and his reactions to her opinions on miners and railwaymen is priceless.

              The film is an interesting dramatic snapshot of a section of British life at an interim point in our recent social history, where the austerity of the post war years was over, but the liberation of the sixties not yet arrived. It probably doesn’t say much new about relationships, but does place common dilemmas in the context of that time, and on a personal level is still an engaging story.

              I bought the DVD for £5.99 on Play.com, and there are no extras available.

              In summary, I’d say it was an engrossing film and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys stories that depict relationships in a realistic manner, or is interested in a fine example of British cinema of this era.

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              • Husbands And Wives (DVD) / DVD / 44 Readings / 42 Ratings
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                21.03.2007 23:46
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                One of Allen's better films

                You’re part of a settled, contented couple, and so are your best friends. On your regular night out to dinner with them, they arrive and announce coolly that they’re separating, it’s no big deal, it’s amicable, and where shall we go to eat?

                So opens Husbands and Wives, a Woody Allen study of marriage and fidelity that hits very close to home. Filmed in a documentary - in parts almost home movie - style, it examines how marriage and a person’s role within it can define and to an extent, dictate, not just who they are, but who they think they are.

                The plot line - Two couples who are close friends, one couple splits up and the other is left to examine whether they are really as happy as they think they are – is a fairly standard film device. What places this one above the average for me is the sense of involvement you feel with the main characters. Whether this is the intimate nature of the direction or the great acting I don’t know, but they are both worth a mention.

                The splitting couple are played by Allen favourite Judy Davis (Sally) and a first time actor’s outing for award winning director Sydney Pollack (Jack). The other couple are (the then real life couple) Mia Farrow (Judy) and Woody Allen (Gabe).

                As Sally and Jack begin to settle into their single lives, and date other people, the sight of them experiencing new things and their own differing reactions to the situation cause Gabe and Judy to re-examine their relationship and the realisation dawns that they do not have the marriage they thought they had, and as people have slowly grown apart.

                Judy Davis is again excellent in this film and rightly received an Oscar nomination for her performance. (She lost out to Marisa Tomei in ‘My Cousin Vinny’). Playing Sally, ‘The World Class Ball-Breaker,’ she again demonstrates her knack of realistically portraying the dual facets of external toughness and internal fragility. Sally’s passage from cool sophistication to brutal hysteria at the actions of her separated husband remains believable, where it would be very easy to move into cartoonish spurned wife territory.

                Another revelation is the Oscar winning director Sydney Pollack as Jack. As the married man rediscovering his lost youth with a much younger partner (Lysette Anthony plays his aerobics-teacher girlfriend), he is called upon to justify himself to an incredulous Gabe, cope with the massive gap in age and intellect, and best of all cope with his (self-inflicted) embarrassment at her conversation topics at a sophisticated party. He is excellent.

                You know what you’re going to get with Woody Allen, and he plays the middle aged intellectual bordering on mid life crisis well. He plays a writer turned college lecturer who has fans who prefer his earlier, funnier, works. Mia Farrow, in her last big role for Allen, is excellent, giving a pefectly measured performance as the passive aggressive Judy, who introduces new partner Michael (Liam Neeson) to Sally, despite obviously having some feelings for him herself. The process of Gabe and Sally examining their own relationship in comparison to the old and new ones around them moves the story along, and when Gabe starts spending time with his young but precocious student Rain (Juliette Lewis), the parallels with Jack and his younger woman start to hit home.

                Neeson gives an understated and honest performance as the gentle and sensitive Michael, a big contrast to the other male roles, and dominated by the female characters. Juliette Lewis gives an interesting performance as Gabe’s Lolita-style student, and provides some humorous scenes with the introduction of her family and boyfriend.

                I tend to refrain from mentioning Allen’s private life as I prefer to enjoy his work free of that distraction, and find it largely irrelevant, but in this case it’s hard not to draw parallels. The film was made in 1992, and it was in this year that Allen and Farrow separated and he publicly took up his relationship with his current wife Soon Yi, who was at the time Farrow’s (not Allen’s) 22 year old adopted daughter. The cool accuracy of a relationship under critical examination and the minor theme of men making fools of themselves with younger women do make you wonder how much of their personal life was spilling over and I must admit does make for a more interesting viewing experience.

                As a film, I think it’s up there with Allen’s better ones, but the experimental feel of the directing style is occasionally jarring, although it does add that touch of realism. There are some darkly comic moments, but I’d hesitate to brand it a comedy in light of the wider context. It’s one of those films where I might wince at a scene while my wife hoots with laughter. (Actually she’s not much of a hooter, but I’m running out of inspiration, and you get my drift). I think there’s a fair bit of sadness and bitterness here, but I can understand why certain scenes are funny.

                It can be picked up for 7 or 8 pounds on Amazon, and is worth a watch. I’d recommend it - and hope our friends stay together…

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                • More +
                  05.03.2007 23:34
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                  A well deserved laugh at the family man

                  The National Lampoon vacation films follow the Griswald family on a succession of family holidays, which despite Dad’s (very) careful planning, seem to go awry at every step. These comedies rely very heavily on the central presence of Chevy Chase, who plays the father, Clark, and his patented all round family guy, gradually losing it as events spiral beyond his control.

                  The Griswalds hail from Chicago, and are Dad Clark (Chase), an executive in the food additives (‘NOT preservatives’) industry, and his long suffering wife Ellen, played superbly by Beverly D’Angelo. Various child actors play the kids Rusty and Audrey, such as Juliette Lewis and Anthony Michael Hall and that is the central family unit. Well worth a mention is ‘Cousin Eddie,’ the brilliant Randy Quaid, who mugs it up big style as the unlucky, loveable idiot in a few of the films, with his ever expanding, poverty stricken family in tow.

                  The films follow a fairly set pattern, in that Dad has big plans for the family vacation, wanting to spend quality time with the family and puts immense pressure on himself and his family to strive for the perfect holiday experience. This is usually self generated and in ignorance of the genuine wishes of the other family members. Humorous mishap follows mishap until a meltdown ensues, usually with Clark going on some minor rampage.

                  I’ll try not to give away too much, the box set contains:
                  Disc 1 National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983, cert 15)
                  There are no extras on this disc.

                  First in the series and Clark plans a family cross country road trip from Chicago to California, home to Wallyworld, and its famous Marty Moose (possibly based on something…) On his meticulously planned itinerary, he includes stop offs at St Louis, Dodge City, Cousin Eddie’s home, the Grand Canyon and finally Los Angeles. He doesn’t quite make it to the largest mud house in the USA, or the largest ball of string in the world, but does enjoy the flirtatious attention of Christie Brinkley, as she shoots past several times in her red Ferrari, seemingly on the same route.

                  This film has great similarities to ‘Planes, Trains’ and is very funny, as the family get lost a couple of times, have to take the odd detour and pick up unwanted passengers in the form of aged Aunt Edna and her vicious dog. Still, Clark keeps pushing on, getting more and more stressed, with his eyes on that final prize: Wally World.

                  Disc 2 National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985, cert 15)
                  There are no extras on this disc.

                  The family fluke a win in a TV quiz show, and get an all expenses trip to Europe. They take in London, Paris, Bavaria and Rome. Now teenagers, the children want some freedom, and Audrey is distraught at the time away from her boyfriend. Whilst not quite as good as the first, this still has some funny moments, such as Clark’s trouble driving on the left in the UK, a Bavarian thigh slapping dance turning into an all out fight, and the loss of a rather personal home video.

                  Worth a particular mention here are some great cameos in the UK leg, featuring Mel Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Maureen Lipman and a magnificent turn by Eric Idle. Unfortunately, no Cousin Eddie in this one.

                  Disc 3 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989, PG)
                  A selection of outtakes and the original trailer are extras on this disc.

                  Clark plans the perfect family Christmas at home, inviting both sets of Grandparents and an aging aunt and uncle to stay for the festive season. Not cousin Eddie and Family, but fortunately they ‘coast in on fumes’ in an aging RV anyway, which they park out front. Join the family as they follow the great traditions of selecting a tree, shopping for gifts, decorating the house inside and out, a little Christmas sledding and the traditional dinner.

                  This is probably my favourite of the four, as while I’m not likely to go cross-USA or Europe, we all love the thought of the perfect picture postcard Christmas. As usual, Clark piles on the pressure until he reaches breaking point with one of my all time favourite rants.

                  The yuppy next door neighbours are worth a mention, played to eighties perfection by Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld’s Elaine) and Nicholas Guest.

                  Disc 4 National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation (1997, PG)
                  The original trailer is the only extra on this disc.

                  My least favourite of the four, this does seem a little tired and has the feel of a tacked on sequel, but is rescued by good cameos by some Vegas veterans and the performance of Randy Quaid, as the affable but stupid Cousin Eddie, who knows Vegas inside out.

                  An unexpected bonus allows Clark to fund one last family holiday before the kids (now in their late teens) are too old. He chooses Vegas, where by good fortune cousin Eddie now lives on some condemned land outside town. An eventful flight and they are settled in their casino hotel, ready to enjoy the shows and a little gambling, a trip to the Hoover Dam and a chance to renew their wedding vows. Clark predictably turns out to be an unlucky gambler, Wayne Newton takes a shine to Ellen, Rusty purchases a fake ID and tries his luck, and Audrey falls under the influence of her pole dancing cousin Vicky. As the money runs lower, the family spends less time together and tensions rise, will Ellen say yes again? Chevy has one last shot at redemption as the good family man he is at heart.

                  In summary, I think the films work because you like the family, and Clark is a likeable guy with good intentions who genuinely cares about his family, but gets hopelessly obsessive about things. He usually just needs reminding, though and that’s pretty much the point of all the films. They’re not cutting edge or groundbreaking, but are a comfortable watch with some genuinely funny moments, and are excellent examples of this 80s genre of American film comedy. If you like the film ‘Planes Trains and Automobiles,’ then that’s a good guide to the tone of these. These films were also written by the same renowned comedy writer/director, John Hughes, but he didn’t take up the directing reigns for this collection.

                  Family fun, but not necessarily fun for all the family, as it carries a 15 rating, according to the cover due to the bad language but there are also a couple of topless scenes in the first two films. I’d say it’s risqué rather than rude (it’s certainly no American Pie but carries the same certificate), so best watch first before deciding whether to let the kids see them.

                  I bought this set because these are films we would make a point to watch every time they came on TV, and would always laugh when we saw them. Now that we’re parents, we find they have an extra appeal, and once seen, any attempts to over-plan any aspect of a family holiday are met with, ‘Don’t get all Griswold on me’.

                  The box set is pretty cheap online, and is available for £12.99 at my local Virgin megastore. Well worth a watch.

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                  • The Complete Denis Leary (DVD) / DVD / 47 Readings / 45 Ratings
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                    22.02.2007 21:45
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                    Two classic stand up sets

                    The complete Denis Leary is a two DVD set of the controversial comic’s two must famous stand up recordings, No Cure For Cancer and Lock and Load. As Denis Leary is very much an ‘adult’ comic, the DVD carries an 18 certificate due to the strength of language and drug references. If this type of thing offends you, please don’t read on, I’ll put some quotes at the end, and even though I’ll disguise the fruitier words with ***, I’m sure you’ll still guess.

                    A veteran of 40 plus movies, Denis Leary is probably best known as the main character Tommy Gavin in the very successful US drama series ‘Rescue Me’, in which he plays an Irish-American New York fire-fighter, tortured by his own demons and post 9/11 trauma. However, he cut his teeth as a successful stand up comic, and he maintains this is where he is most comfortable. You may remember he first came to attention with short, ranting vox pops to camera on MTV.

                    Controversy has followed him, with his act being rude, aggressively presented and notoriously un-pc. Offstage, the similarity of his material to that of the late (and great) Bill Hicks has led to numerous accusations of plagiarism. As a fan of both, I can certainly see the argument, but where Hicks’ delivery set up his legendary explosions of bile with a more laconic, occasionally surreal and intellectual style, Leary is usually in full rant pretty much out of the gate, and carries off his ‘regular guy really pissed off’ persona extremely well.

                    Recorded in 1993, the live audio recording of No Cure for Cancer was an extremely successful release, and the first DVD here contains the Showtime special featuring that set, a short ‘Making of…’ documentary and the video for the song ‘A**hole.’

                    The live performance opens with a rendition of his famous song ‘A**hole,’ accompanied by guitarist, before he takes to the stage to loud applause and launches into one of his favourite topics –smoking. The stage props are a barstool, bottle of beer and cigarettes.

                    Calling heavily on his upbringing as the child of first generation Irish immigrants in New England, his experiences of the seventies ("There we were in the middle of a sexual revolution wearing clothes that guaranteed we wouldn't get laid!") and moving on to the man that shaped, Leary has a predominantly staccato, sneering style of delivery. He stops off on the journey and gets his teeth into familiar US subjects such as therapy, rehab, rock music, and the French.

                    He has pretty entrenched working class attitudes to the trappings of the middle and upper classes, and any attendant navel-gazing they may indulge in. Therapy gets short shrift, but we do get treated to his therapist fantasy: ‘That's my new book. 'Shut the F*** Up, by Dr. Denis Leary'. Patients come in. 'Doctor I-' Shut the F*** up! NEXT!! 'Doctor, I've got this-' SHUT THE F*** UP!! NEXT! 'He made me feel so much better. He just told me to shut the f*** up. Nobody ever told me that before!'

                    His outrage at the world makes for pretty funny stuff, but in this set especially, the shadow of Hicks falls quite heavily. I think he’s at his funniest when describing his childhood and relationships with his brother and father and examining machismo in a traditional working class family. His story of being hit by a neighbour’s kid with a bow and arrow is hysterical.

                    The second disc contains 1997’s Lock and Load, another TV special, with the video to his song ‘Love Barge’. The delivery still jackhammers along, punctuated with breathlessness and anger, but the topics and material have mellowed somewhat. It’s a little slicker, and Leary paces the church themed stage as he laments the passing of ‘coffee-flavoured coffee’, the attitude of 7/11 staff, his kids’ treatment of his stuff, pretty standard comedy fare but with some serious bite.

                    On the way we’re treated to his President Leary fantasy – ‘My foreign policy? F*** you! My domestic policy, F*** you!’ his views on current fashions (‘Pull your pants up!’) and piercing, and middle aged masturbation. ‘I’m beyond porno, I’m back to regular TV. Anyone wanna know why Caroline In the City has massive ratings? I’ll tell you why!’

                    This set contains some big set piece routines, the first one being the passing of old fashioned coffee houses, and the inability to get a plain coffee any more. His furious tirades against Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and finally 7/11 are hilarious if a little alien to those of outside the US. However, if you draw the obvious parallels of the homogenization of UK high streets (Ironically partially by large US chains), then you can relate. He then moves on to bars and ‘micro-breweries’ and those of us who have seen the pubs of our youth turned into chain bars will love it.

                    It’s normally a kiss of death for a ‘cutting edge’ comic to start talking about their kids and pets, and there’s a fair portion of this in here. It makes for a bit of a flat point in the set, much as I can relate to sandwiches being posted into the VCR. The image of him walking a mini poodle at midnight in NY calling out ‘Pongo!’ makes me smile though. It is rescued by ‘the rules’ – of marriage, living together and religion, and then ‘Sin is in’ – Leary’s religious manifesto of his ‘Lapsed Catholic Church’ backed by rock music.

                    In summary, you can pick up the DVD for around £14 online and this collection has both the definitive live performances of a cutting edge comedian who enjoyed massive popularity in his time. Some of the references are of their time, but it would be a mistake to dismiss him as just another eighties style foul mouthed ranter, as there is a lot of clever construction and identifiable motifs in his work that keep you engaged. His delivery style was pretty unique, and has spawned a host of imitators as well as critics, but fundamentally, this is the work of a comic, I think his material is very funny, and you can’t ask for much more than that.

                    As for the Hicks/Leary debate, I prefer Hicks, and think that he probably did influence early Leary strongly, but they can both stand on their own merits. This is well worth a look, although I’m sure you can find clips of his material on sites like You Tube to get a sample before you buy.

                    Recommended.

                    -----------------------

                    I’ve added a few quotes to give a flavour, but to be honest they suffer without the delivery:

                    Smoking: - ‘Smoking takes ten years off your life. Well it's the ten worst years, isn't it folks? It's the ones at the end! It's the wheelchair, kidney dialysis, adult diaper f***ng years. You can have those years! We don't want 'em, alright?’

                    Drugs – ‘Yeah, I'd like to do some cocaine. I'd like to do a drug that makes my penis small, makes my nose bleed, makes my heart explode, and sucks all my money out of the bank. Is that possible please?’

                    Music: - ‘I take music pretty seriously. You see that scar on my wrist? You see that? You know where that's from? I heard the Bee Gees were getting back together again. I couldn't take it, OK!’

                    Celebrity Rehab – ‘I'm gonna get famous. Then when my career starts to flag, I'm gonna go into a three month f***ng bender, OK? Coke, and f***ng pot, and smack, and f***ng booze, and drive over people, and beat up my kids, go into therapy, go into rehab, come outta rehab, be on the cover of People magazine, and go Sorry! I f***ed up!’

                    ‘Lord of the Dance? Who has the balls to call himself the Lord of anything? Last guy called himself Lord on this planet was crucified, Michael, okay? And we know where the hammer and the nails are.’

                    ‘You can't smoke in any of these coffee places ... I'm pretty sure coffee was invented by people who were smoking anyways. And they just wanted to invent something so they can stay up late and smoke f***ng more!’

                    “I’m big boned.” ‘You’re big-assed okay? Dinosaurs were big-boned. Put the fork down!’

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                    • Celebrity (DVD) / DVD / 71 Readings / 64 Ratings
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                      04.02.2007 00:18
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                      More thought provoking than funny

                      Celebrity is a stylish Woody Allen film, a dark comedy shot in black and white, which follows the separate paths of a divorced husband and wife, and their interaction with the world of celebrity and media. Released in 1998, almost ten years later it still seems relevant.

                      Lee, a travel writer played by Kenneth Branagh, divorces his shy, inhibited teacher wife Robin (Judy Davis), to pursue his dream of fame. He leaves behind his plans to finish a novel in favour of interviewing celebrities and trying to hawk a screenplay for an action film. Judy on the other hand, picks up her life and gains access to the world of celebrity accidentally through a new relationship.

                      It is a comedy based on satirical scenes and a couple of grotesque caricatures of celebrity behaviour. These latter, though, while bringing a wry smile to the face, aren’t really gut-bustingly funny as real life has overtaken them in the meantime, and they have an air of familiarity about them. As an example, there are passing references to concepts for reality/celebrity based TV shows that were probably very funny then, but are very close to programmes that are actually made now.

                      At its core, Celebrity is actually a pretty sad film, as the main characters seem to think they have to compromise massively to attain happiness, and the sight of a talent prostituting itself in order to achieve fame rather than work of substance is a key motif.

                      Kenneth Branagh puts in a good performance, playing Woody Allen in full mid life crisis mode. I can only assume that Allen felt that he himself was too old for the role, as Branagh gives a great interpretation that’s as close to genuine Allen as you’re likely to get. His increasingly desperate attempts to get a foot in the door of that upper circle of celebrity, where he briefly interacts with various stars on different physical and emotional levels are quite poignant. He’s not really part of that world, and it’s obvious to all of them.

                      Judy Davis is brilliant, as the abandoned wife who recovers from a devastating break up to forge a great new relationship and career, but is always looking for the catch, the hidden flaw that will prove to her she’s right that this sort of good luck doesn’t happen without a cost.

                      A special mention to Leonardo DiCaprio and Charlize Theron who appear as a brat pack film star and supermodel respectively, and give memorable performances in their brief appearances in Lee’s life.

                      I’m deliberately trying not to give too much away, but the nature of celebrity is explored through the entertainment world as stage, film and TV actors crop up, supermodels and directors right through to celebrity real estate brokers also make an appearance.

                      There are some key scenes and quotes which give a flavour of the tone of the piece. A great scene involves the frenetic back stage manoeuvring prior to a talk show as all the guests are put in their relevant green rooms. Cue Klansmen, skinheads, Rabbis and politicians gathering politely round the buffet, waiting for their slot.

                      A beautifully shot seduction scene at a subway entrance at midnight is reminiscent of the look and feel of his earlier film Manhattan.

                      On mentioning Warhol’s ‘15 minutes of fame’, one character dismisses it, saying that ‘almost nobody gets famous ever’. Later, another character reflects on how you can tell a lot about a society by those it chooses to celebrate. I think this is key to the film as there are flashes of real life where the circus of celebrity is looked at through the dispassionate eyes of outsiders. Whether these are from the art community or a back street fortune teller, they wonder why it is that the whole world seems to be hell bent on achieving that intangible definition of ‘famous’. This is reinforced by another quote from a successful character – ‘I've become the person I've always hated, but I'm happier’.

                      Another reason this film catches the eye is the impressive list of stars - appropriate given the subject matter - but Melanie Griffiths, Famke Janssen, Winona Ryder, Debra Messing, Joe Mantegna, Hank Azaria, Kate Burton, Gretchen Mol, and some other familiar faces crop up.

                      I’m a fan of Allen’s work, and this one had slipped through the net, so I bought the DVD online for about £5, and as is the way with his DVDs there are no extras other than scene selection and audio options. While I enjoyed the film enough, I wish I’d seen it earlier. I think it’s a good, solid part of his repertoire, and certainly thought-provoking but doesn’t hit the highs that some of his other comedies have, as there is an underlying unpleasantness to a lot of the characters. Also, around this time, he went through a period of having unsympathetic, dislikeable male lead characters (Deconstructing Harry an obvious example), and this is another, making it hard for me to engage or sympathise with him.

                      That said, even an average Allen movie is above the majority of other films in my opinion, so I’d still recommend a viewing.

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                      • Room 101 / Discussion / 60 Readings / 55 Ratings
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                        24.01.2007 22:55
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                        A few things I could do without

                        Yes, I do know there are real problems in the world, but these are the petty, trivial things which have got right up my nose lately.

                        1. Public Transport.
                        You try to do the right thing; you know there are too many cars on the road. You know it's better for the planet. So you forego the car allowance, get your season ticket and wait in the rain for a bus that a) is 20 mins late, b) doesn't turn up at all, or C) is full. You pay about 50p a mile to hang off a strap in what I can only describe as a mobile Petri dish, crawling through traffic at 5 miles an hour to an accompaniment of coughing, tinny MP3 music you can't quite make out, other people's fascinating accounts of their drunken night out and bumping against the lad that hasn't discovered deodorant yet.

                        2. 'Front page news'.
                        A government minister investigated for their conduct. Suspects arrested in biggest cash robbery in UK history. Lib Dems appoint new leader. Police caught on CCTV dragging a paralysed man from a car and kneeling on him.

                        Front page of my paper? The real Chantelle...by her dad. And I still bought it. I am sad to report this is genuine, and I am in my own small way, part of it. There used to be a paper called News on Sunday which just reported the news. See where they went wrong?

                        3. Pretentious Adverts for the most basic things.
                        M & S take the biscuit at the moment - 'This isn't just food, it's….'

                        …Food, actually! I know what food is, I eat it all the time, and it's exactly like that but cheaper.

                        4. Pete Doherty
                        Not the lad himself, who may be a misunderstood genius or self indulgent waster, I don't know him and I don't care. Seems to be a decent muso, and as that's what he does for a living, fair play...

                        What winds me up is the media attention caused by the man with the easiest job in the world. This is the copper who I assume is assigned to following a famous heroin addict around and arrest him for possession every other day. And then in come the tabloids - second easiest job in the world, following Pete Doherty around and waiting for the copper to arrest him.

                        Is it just me, or would the 'role model' issues disappear if they ignored him and went looking for real news to take photos of?

                        5. The Da Vinci Code
                        Finally spent a couple of weeks of my spare time on it, having succumbed to colleagues, wife etc. It's okay, but where did this massive reputation come from? Nothing particularly genius-like in writing a book about the oldest conspiracy theory in history, in my humble opinion…

                        At its best, this bloke runs round Paris looking at nice art & playing a very easy version of countdown.

                        Now countdown, THAT would be a setting for a murder mystery…

                        6. Hamsters
                        Having a hamster is pretty poor in the whole pet-owning milieu.

                        They do nothing in the day and then make enough racket to wake your kids at night, who then want to come in with you. You fill their cages with expensive crap, and they fill the cage with good old fashioned, real crap.

                        I recently got talked into buying a second one for the kids after a hiatus of a few years following the last one's death. It bit me the first time I stroked it. Hard. Blood everywhere. There's no dignity in explaining to work colleagues what caused that injury.

                        I swore, the wife laughed. The kids laughed. Pretty sure it was smiling as well.

                        Everyone thinks it great. In fact I think it's the man of the house now. That would explain why I have to clean up after it. And when it dies and I'm the only one that doesn't cry, I'll be the bad guy.

                        7. I'm a celebrity, big brother, am-dram-obsessed ballroom dancer, on the farm with the X factor, get me out of Love Island etc.

                        My other half, who is a clever, educated, funny and adorable woman, laps this stuff up and as a consequence I never get access to the TV before 10pm while it's on. Apart from the fact that she wound up with me, her liking this stuff is the biggest mystery in my life. I can usually last a minute or two before I feel myself actually getting more stupid by the second. I really don't have that much to give away…

                        Thanks for reading, hope you found that mildly diverting, and I feel a little bit better…

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                        • Interiors (DVD) / DVD / 38 Readings / 35 Ratings
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                          15.01.2007 21:06
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                          Intense Family Drama

                          Woody Allen has a gift for examining and exposing the inner workings of human relationships, and is well known for employing humour, bordering on slapstick, to emphasise this. However, his physical presence, sense of humour and let's be honest, his private life have all been factors in many of my friends declaring that they just can't like his work.

                          What is not in doubt is that he is a critically acclaimed writer and director, and as a fan of a lot of his work, I'm likely to defend him anyway. However, I always mention Interiors as a film that might just change their minds - for a start, he's not in it. Also, there are no attempts at humour here; this is serious stuff, a raw examination of relationships within a disintegrating family unit.

                          Interiors is often referred to as Bergman-influenced, and having only a sketchy knowledge of his work, I think I can see why people say that. It's very sombre in tone, slow paced, and contains naturally lit, bordering on dark scenes, which are occasionally framed and composed like paintings. It's dialogue heavy, and some of this dialogue borders on pretentious, but this is usually in keeping with the character. It received 5 Oscar nominations, but failed commercially, relative to his other films at the time.

                          The Story

                          Arthur, a lawyer, and Eve, a perfectionist interior designer, have raised three grown up daughters, and remain at the focal point of their family, and Eve in particular. Her shadow across the other members of the family is immense. Her successful career allowed her to put her husband through law school, and he is at one point referred to as 'her project.' Arthur acknowledges early in the film that she has created a perfect life for the family.

                          They are a successful, wealthy couple and have indulged their children accordingly, continuing into their adult lives, supporting them in their careers on a financial and artistic level. Now that the girls are grown up and moved away, Arthur announces he wishes to separate, take some time for himself and consider his options. This devastates Eve, and the aftermath causes all members of the family to examine their relationships both within and outside the family, particularly when Arthur meets someone else.

                          The Characters

                          Eve (Geraldine Page), is the mother and defining character of the family. She is a creative person and uses this as a yardstick for measuring her appreciation of people. Hopeful of reconciliation, she throws herself into her work, hoping this will prove to Arthur that the marriage is worth saving. She spends a lot of time with Joey, the youngest daughter, who lives closest.

                          Arthur (E.G. Marshall), the father whose moving out instigates the chaos. Desperate to relax and have some fun, he is still keen to preserve his relationship with his daughters and see his wife come to terms with the situation successfully.

                          Flyn (Kristin Griffith), the actress daughter based in Hollywood, is held up as an example of form over substance by the creative elements of the family, and is obviously a beautiful starlet hitting a certain age where the roles are drying up.

                          Renata (Diane Keaton) is an accomplished poet struggling with writers block and obsessions of death and mortality, and is in therapy. She has moved to Connecticut and is resented by Joey for leaving her to cope alone, while encouraging her mother's hopes from a safe distance. Renata in turn views Joey as the favoured daughter in their father's eyes. She is married to Frederick with one child.

                          Frederick (Richard Jordan) is also a writer, a novelist struggling for critical acclaim, and to escape from the shadows of his more successful wife. He is despondent, has issues with anger and alcohol and seethes with barely suppressed contempt and rage in many pivotal scenes.

                          Joey (Mary Beth Hurt) is the youngest daughter, still local and the most immediately affected by each individual crisis, in her view standing alone as a voice of reason against her mother's escalating hopes of reconciliation. She suffers in comparison to the success of her older sisters, unable to hold down a job or find a creative niche. She is married to Mike, a film maker.

                          Mike (Sam Waterston), makes documentaries and comes across as the most detached and therefore rational of the bunch. He is accommodating to the continued presence of his mother in law, and tolerant of her downgrading his talents compared to Frederick.

                          Pearl (Maureen Stapleton), is Arthur's new partner. She is the antithesis of Eve, frivolous, fun and non-creative/cultured. The scene where she is introduced to the daughters serves as a catalyst for some carefully observed tensions coming to the fore, and later to a head.

                          Why I like it

                          Every relationship within the family comes under scrutiny and the daughter's marriages also get pulled into the equation. There are some raw, intense scenes where the dialogue is sparse, but clearly indicates the struggles of the characters to preserve the fragile bonds of the family without that strong, defining hub of the parent's 'perfect' marriage. It's thought provoking and effective, with the only problem in sympathising with the family being that they are rich and successful and actually able to divert themselves into other avenues like therapy or career changes to distract them from or run away from their underlying problems.

                          The acting is first class, and the slow application of tension, causing small frays at first and then increasingly exposing fractures in the family members' views of their own 'perfect' lives and relationships is believable and moving. It's a surprise in the context of Allen's other work at this time (Annie Hall & Manhattan), and all the more impressive as a risk by someone who had just gained a lot of fans on the back of those comedies. There is no humour here, and little music except for a single key scene. It's shot in a series of impressive locations which all add an 'arty' quality to the film. It's been called an attempt at European cinema and you can certainly see those influences there.

                          Geraldine Page is absolutely magnificent as Eve and is a constant presence on and off screen in the film, as is her character is in the family.

                          It's not my favourite Allen film by any means, but it's a quality drama that easily stands comparison with a lot of other celebrated films of this type. The DVD is available at around £5 online, and there are no extras bar the original trailer, but it's certainly worth a rent, if you get the chance.

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                          • More +
                            08.01.2007 21:01
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                            Slick and enjoyable medical drama

                            Quick Background

                            The EMMY and Golden Globe drama series starring Hugh Laurie returns for a second season, with a bit more investment as warrants a show with such acclaim.

                            As a quick recap, Laurie - you'll forget he's English after one episode - plays Greg House, a medical diagnostician with some of the worst interpersonal skills ever, working at a New Jersey teaching hospital in charge of a team of brilliant juniors. His renown in his field allows him some latitude from bosses in the unavoidable problems his gruff, sarcastic approach creates. His view of each patient as a puzzle, rather than a person allows him a detached and single minded pursuit of a diagnosis.

                            As with the first series, each episode follows a main theme of a patient falling seriously ill with puzzling symptoms. They get referred to Dr House and his team who 'work up' the symptoms and try various treatments to diagnose the condition, racing against time to save the patient.

                            The Product

                            The box set has six discs, containing all 24 episodes in the series and a few short bonus features - they are spread out amongst the discs, so you might have to look for them - the sleeves don't say which one is where. The box set is not luxurious, and has no booklets etc. it comprises a cardboard sleeve with 6 thin individual cases for each disc.

                            The bonus features are notable only for 'Evening With House' feature where the cast are interviewed. There is a short blooper reel and a couple of background shots of the cast adopting silly accents etc. There are a couple of interesting commentaries on two episodes though.

                            I got it online for about £35 - which is about fair give the number of episodes. Season 3 is screened in the UK this month, so I expect it'll drop in price once that is underway.

                            The Cast

                            His medical team still consists of the three doctors in the first series, Cameron, Chase and Foreman. They work with him to solve the medical conundrums each week and have their own opinions on the reasons behind House's methods, attitudes and extreme sarcasm. They also interact in interesting ways in what is obviously a competitive environment.

                            Jennifer Morrison plays Allison Cameron, the immunologist on the team, with a great bedside manner and an obvious attraction to House. Season 1 saw a failed attempt to establish a personal relationship with her boss, and this series concentrates more on her attempting to establish a more professional persona, and step outside her established role as the soft, cuddly member of the team.

                            Omar Epps again plays Eric Foreman, the neurologist, who is an extremely serious and competitive professional, who takes issue often with House's methods and appears determined to hit the top in his own right. His rivalry with House and intense ambition is explored further in this series.

                            Jesse Spencer again plays Robert Chase, an Australian intensevist, who is given more to work with this series with some challenging situations with patients and the negligence lawsuit storyline.

                            Lisa Edelstein plays Lisa Cuddy, the Dean of medicine, and House's boss. Again, her imposing 'clinic time' on House, where he has to assess clinic patients in the hospital provides more very funny scenes that serve to break up the tension. In this series, she considers having a child through artificial insemination.

                            Robert Sean Leonard plays James Wilson, an oncologist who has the dubious honour of being House's best (only) friend. The chemistry between these two really hits top form in this series, as he moves in with House as his marriage hits the rocks.

                            The New Series
                            How does it compare to the first series? It's easy to say it's more of the same - no bad thing - but there are some interesting ongoing storylines, beginning with the introduction of House's re-married Ex, Stacy Warner (Sela Ward), at the end of season 1, now a permanent cast member and the hospital lawyer. Her involvement in the medical case that left House with a limp, and the unresolved feelings between them are explored as the series progresses.

                            The medical cases are again fascinating, and it's amazing how quickly you get absorbed into the character's struggles to treat them.

                            There are two very strong story lines involving medical negligence on the part of Chase, the Australian intensevist, and the repercussions for House as his boss, and Warner who needs to represent them.

                            Secondly, the brilliant Omar Epps has an outstanding story where he contracts a deadly illness from a patient.

                            The success of the first series has provided a bit more investment in terms of musical soundtrack and the guest stars as patients. Look out for LLCoolJ and Cynthia Nixon as well as lots of familiar faces from US TV Drama. The soundtrack features contributions from Jeff Buckley, Solomon Burke and Damien Rice amongst others.

                            Whilst you need to have some personal storylines to care about the characters, House has avoided falling into the trap of becoming soap-like, and with a seemingly inexhaustible list of obscure conditions and bizarre mishaps from the real world to call upon, there should be plenty of scope to keep providing the tense and fast paced story lines that are crucial to this series standing out from the other medical dramas around. Add on the special effects and the crackling dialogue and it's a winning combination.

                            In summary, if you enjoyed the first series, all the best features are retained, and there's a bit more investment in the slick feel of the programme. There's a lot of substance here, interesting storylines and accomplished acting combining to make one of the best dramas around. Heartily recommend it.

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                            • More +
                              11.12.2006 21:57
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                              Great budget option for Orlando holiday

                              We stayed at the Comfort Inn, Lake Buena Vista in June 2006 as part of a 14 night package holiday. You naturally benchmark the standards against the price, and as this was a budget holiday, I didn't have unrealistically high expectations of the motel, but was pleased that they were either met or exceeded on the whole. Two adults and two kids (8 & 11) had a great time.

                              Location
                              First and foremost, the location is excellent, and one of the main reasons we'd return. A lazy 35-40 min drive from the airport - I hadn't driven on the other side of the road since we were last in Florida as a couple in 1993, and things have changed in terms of traffic, but it was a nice, easy drive using the toll roads rather than the I4 (as recommended by the Dollar Rep). Found the hotel easily.

                              Palm Parkway is a short and easy drive to everything Disney. Turn left out the hotel and left then right at the next two junctions and you're within the Disneyworld area, and all their parks and attractions are as easily signed as you would expect. Turn right on to Palm Parkway and it's pretty much a straight drive to Seaworld and Universal without needing to use the I4 if you don't want to. We only used the I4 a couple of times in the holiday - to drive to Busch Gardens mainly, and the hotel is very close to the motorway.

                              The hotel runs a shuttle service to all the major parks, which we didn't actually use, but feedback from a couple of fellow Brits in the bar was that it was a good quality and reliable service.

                              There are quite a few eateries on Palm Parkway - Pizza Hut, cici pizza, Olive Garden, a couple of steakhouses and Chinese restaurants which could be walked within 10mins. A 5 min drive and you can find the Crossroads retail centre by turning left onto the 535. This has a Goodings supermarket/pharmacy, a few shops and a couple of bars, TGI Fridays, Denny's and an adventure crazy golf.

                              Room
                              Pretty much what you'd expect from a budget motel, the rooms are cleaned daily and functional rather than luxurious. Facilities included two double beds, hairdryer, TV, phone, microwave, fridge (very handy), effective air con and a safe. You can arrange internet access via the TV and also auto check out that way if you wish. We stayed on the interstate side of the hotel and we slept very well, but if you're a very light sleeper you might want to ask for a room on the parking lot side, as there can obviously be some background noise from the I4.

                              Bear in mind that in true motel style, the external walkway runs past the door of every room, and as such fellow guests/kids will be heard as they walk past. Not a concern for us, as we have kids ourselves and are used to a little noise.

                              Facilities
                              Large, coin-operated (get plenty of quarters) washers and dryers at the junction between the buildings were extremely useful to us. Also there were drinks vending machines and ice dispenser at this location as well.

                              The outdoor pools are clean and basic, with complimentary towels kept poolside. There's a small kids playground by the parking lot, but the kids weren't bothered - a bit 'young' for them and compared to Thunder Mountain…

                              The lobby service was great, and apart from an initial sales pitch for a new property development when we arrived the information stand was useful as well.

                              You'll find a nice little gift shop and a small but well stocked convenience store in the lobby. There's also a small video games room - 4 or 5 machines and the kids weren't really excited by them.

                              The restaurant service was absolutely fine - friendly and helpful, but they do get very busy at breakfast, and depending on the time you arrive, you may have to wait for a table to become free. There is a free continental option, but this was quite a free-for-all, and from observation, seemed to constantly run short of things that weren't sugar laden. We opted for the hot breakfast buffet, and I recall the cost to be something like 15 Dollars for the 4 of us (kids under 12 free with an adult). A decent cooked breakfast gave a good kickstart to a day at the parks, and we were all perfectly happy with the variety on offer. We only had dinner there on our first night, and it was a decent value dinner buffet. However, we ate out other nights because there are so many eateries to choose from.

                              We used the bar a few times, on our return at the end of the day. All the family were welcome, the barman was very friendly, and as my son and I have a passing interest in US sports we really enjoyed the big screen coverage of the NBA and Stanley cup finals that were on while we were there.

                              I will also mention that the presence of on site security was reassuring, as we saw them around the premises on several occasions.

                              In summary, for a theme park holiday where you will mainly be sleeping at your hotel, this is a good value budget option, and we found the extras to be an unexpected bonus. If you are looking for 4 or 5 star quality on the cheap, this isn't it. However, my wife and I wouldn't hesitate to stay there again if travelling on the same budget.

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                              • More +
                                05.12.2006 21:36
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                                All Weller's Singles on DVD

                                **This review was first posted under Archive Music and has now been moved - The original will be deleted soon.**

                                Right, I'm a big Jam fan - you could probably tell by my user name, and it was my birthday recently. No-brainer present - Paul Weller's Hit Parade, a two DVD selection of his singles with The Jam, The Style Council and solo.

                                The Jam released their first single in 1977, and were the first band to make a real impression on me. Unfortunately for me, this impression was not made until 4 years later when I was 14, and after begging my old man to buy me a couple of their albums (he still complains now about the volume I played them at!), they then split up a year later.

                                ‘Thank god for that!’ – Dad.

                                ‘Bollocks!’ – Me (said quietly, I was still 15 and not allowed to swear in the house).

                                Unfortunately for Dad, the Style Council kept me in new Weller tunes, and his legendary output now heads for 30 years. Post the Jam, my purchases of his material were a bit more sporadic, but birthdays are always easy for my relatives, so I sat down to watch my new 3 hour set of videos happily.

                                To review each video in detail would make for a very long review, so I’ll summarise sum to make it less lengthy. I’m not going to review the songs particularly, making the assumption that if you don’t already know Weller’s music, then a DVD collection wouldn’t be your first port of call. If you are familiar with some of the work, hopefully the short descriptions will help you remember the individual promos, and prompt a bit of reminiscence, as well as giving you an overall picture of what’s on offer.

                                Disc 1 contains output from The Jam and The Style Council:
                                The Jam
                                If you already own The Complete Jam on DVD (or Video Snap! Or The Jam’s Greatest Hits video, you’ll know the original promotional videos well. The Jam were not really a video band and the vast majority of their singles were accompanied by performance videos of them, well just playing the song, really. In those days, you didn’t make big budget videos unless you were Queen or someone of that ilk. So most of the time, Rick Buckler behind the drum kit, Paul Weller’s Rickenbacker guitar, Bruce Foxton on Bass and the Jam playing their hearts out was what you got. It was always good enough for me, and it still is:

                                1. In The City original promo
                                2. All Around The World (Top of the Pops appearance)
                                3. The Modern World (Top of the Pops appearance)
                                4. News Of The World original promo – filmed at Battersea power station I think
                                5. David Watts BBC - Top of the Pops
                                6. 'A' Bomb In Wardour Street BBC – (Live - Whistle Test appearance)
                                7. Down In The Tube Station At Midnight (Top of the Pops appearance)
                                8. Strange Town original
                                9. When You're Young original promo – playing in a park bandstand
                                10. The Eton Rifles (Top of the Pops appearance)
                                11. Going Underground original promo
                                12. The Dreams Of Children original promo
                                13. Start original promo
                                14. That's Entertainment original promo
                                15. Funeral Pyre original promo – playing in the woods in the dark
                                16. Absolute Beginners original promo
                                17. Town Called Malice original promo
                                18. Precious original promo
                                19. Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero? Live concert footage
                                20. The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow) original promo – the only non-performance video they did. Lots of moody wandering around, over a lost love type storyline.
                                21. Beat Surrender (Top of the Pops appearance) – Tracie Young on backing vocals, and a lyrical change for the teatime audience – ‘Bull frogs’ indeed.

                                I’ve quoted Dad, so it’s only fair my 12 year old son Jimmy gets his opportunity. ‘Wow, videos really sucked when you were young, Dad. When did they start filming in colour?’ Cheers son.

                                The videos don’t really stand the test of time, but I guess it makes you concentrate on the music, which is excellent. This was the pop music of my youth and it could be meaningful as well as fun. Watching the TOTP performances really made me smile as I remembered how much they hated miming, and Weller really didn’t bother trying most of the time. As I said, they’re my favourite band, so I’ll forgive them not being actors or panto performers. It might be rough and grainy, but if all that mattered was gloss and prettiness, I’d be getting a Girls Aloud DVD for my Birthday! Oh, hang on….

                                The Style Council
                                Some proper videos! Filming outside and stuff! Weller returned after the Jam’s break up with the Style council, his partnership with Mick Talbot from the Merton Parkas. Steve White usually played drums, and assorted backing singers and guest musicans helped along a more soul-influenced, mellower sound. The trade mark Weller lyrics were still very much in evidence adding the occasional political/satirical bite.

                                22. Speak Like A Child - Tracie Young’s back on vocals for a brassy, soulful romp around the countryside –an open top bus and a rocking chair in a field
                                23. Money Go Round - D C Lee (ex of Wham! And original singer of ‘See The Day’ – back to Girls Aloud!) on backing vocals for funky outing - a black and white performance video with coloured hues and small animations
                                24. Long Hot Summer - Big summer hit from the A Paris EP. Goes a bit Evelyn Waugh, with punting and riverside picnics.
                                25. Solid Bond In Your Heart - An old unreleased (and brilliant) track from the Jam days polished up and the best video of the lot. Paul and Mick turn up for a reunion, they’re the only ones there and they reminisce – features Gary Crowley DJing as a young Mick Talbot.
                                26. My Ever Changing Moods - Great Song, video of Paul and Mick on a cross country bike race.
                                27. You're The Best Thing – One of their more famous tracks, a mellow, almost jazzy feel accompanied by a slick performance video on a ‘café at closing time’ type set
                                28. Big Boss Groove - A fun live performance-style video with DC Lee very prominent vocally on political track
                                29. Shout To The Top - Another performance video of the band playing the song in front of a large mural
                                30. Walls Come Tumbling Down! - Live performance footage in a small club and location shots, shot in the eastern bloc, Poland I think. Good strong political song – they played it at Live Aid
                                31. Come To Milton Keynes - one of the more surreal videos, with Weller and Talbot impersonating Flanagan and Allen in a music hall setting. Fits well with the imagery in the song,.
                                32. The Lodgers - stage set of a day at the races, some sharp clothes and a dance routine? A great song though, dealing with class issues in a smooth soulful way.
                                33. Have You Ever Had It Blue? - From the soundtrack of the Absolute Beginners film, a jazzy arrangement and performance in a bare white studio, a milder reworking of their earlier track ‘With everything to lose,’ stripped of its political content in keeping with the film.
                                34. It Didn't Matter - Famed for being the track where Weller just didn’t bother miming on TOTP, this is the video set on video shot with daft upper class director, the song, with funky bass prominent and a great vocal contribution from DC Lee is understated and soulful.
                                35. Waiting Video – A dark stage with individual spotlights on Paul and Mick accompanies this piano led ballad.
                                36. Wanted - Up tempo and bouncy pop filmed in a rehearsal room setting.
                                37. Life At A Top Peoples Health Farm - Some of the more ambitious output toward the end of TSC’s career, Lots of pop culture and surreal lyrical references are reflected in the quickly cut images over Weller performing on a great pop art design Rickenbacker.
                                38. How She Threw It All Away – Performance footage over background clips of previous TSC’s videos, has the feel of a final video.
                                39. Promised Land – The danciest TSC ever got, this has a driving dance baseline and drums, choral backing and set in a church. A fitting send off.

                                Disc 2 – Weller Solo:
                                Probably fitting this has a disc of its own, this is the material that a legion of Ocean Colour Scene, Oasis and Stereophonics fans probably first came into contact with as their heroes endorsed Weller wholeheartedly. Suddenly he was hip again, and along with that came some of his finest songs, fortunately. It was great to see him get the respect he deserved and reassuring to see he could still rock as hard as his young contempories.

                                1. Into Tomorrow - Great Beatley guitar sound, Black and white, mike, guitar and amp, intercut with live footage.
                                2. Uh Huh Oh Yeh! - Great pop song, Vibrant colours, Weller wandering around parks, woods and back gardens, presumably from his own past – I don’t really know Woking, forgive me.
                                3. Above The Clouds - Gentle song, solo performance on a stool with acoustic guitar in front of a blue screen with sky/aerial images
                                4. Sunflower - Funky drums and fuzzy guitar, studio performance overlayed with blocks of primary colour
                                5. Wild Wood - Fine acoustic driven song, Weller singing in a small dell, with cuts to him in the back of a vintage Jag, walking round various London landmarks and vibrantly coloured rural settings.
                                6. The Weaver - Another performance video backed by news footage of the time.
                                7. Hung Up - Set in the grounds of a country house, 1960s style video – Oasis’ Look back in Anger is a very similar feel.
                                8. Out Of The Sinking - Nice video, lots of casual backstage and tour footage.
                                9. The Changingman – Great song from the massive Stanley Road Album, probably my favourite of his solo stuff. It has the feel of a photo shoot, with Weller posing and playing in front of the same backdrop.
                                10. You Do Something To Me - Gentle ballad, filmed around Woking again, in bright yellow cornfields, visually impressive and almost as good as the song.
                                11. Broken Stones – Set on a pebbled beach, the band certainly seem to be having fun.
                                12. Peacock Suit – Grainy, rehearsal room type footage for this guitar driven sixties style rocker, reminiscent of the Small Faces.
                                13. Brushed - Mod imagery to kick off and live concert footage, reminiscent of the early punk days when bands played at markets off the back of vans
                                14. Friday Street - Kids playing football in the streets to start and another trip down memory lane as over a tracking shot of a suburban street, Weller dons his Parka and scooters along. Split screen views of two of the inhabitants preparing for a date.
                                15. Mermaids A lesser known track, Weller sings over flickering colour backdrops.
                                16. Brand New Start - Weller and band performing this in various rural fields, backed by large billowing clouds, complementing the thoughtful tone of this great song
                                17. He's The Keeper - Performance video
                                18. Sweet Pea, My Sweet Pea – pretty song for his kids, filmed in beautiful English country garden – Ray Winstone stars in this
                                19. It's Written In the Stars - Another performance video in warehouse type setting
                                20. Leafy Mysteries - Live tour footage over this melodic, brit pop style song
                                21. Wishing On A Star - Wellers version of the Rose Royce classic, he performs while sat at the piano,
                                22. Thinking Of You - Yes, the Sister Sledge song. Live acoustic version with accompanying video, surprisingly good.
                                23. From The Floorboards Up - Love this one. A return to the classic driving Weller sound, and a video in what appears to someone’s living room, mid refurb.
                                24. Come On/Let's Go - Performance video and another great song from the excellent As Is Now album.
                                25. Here's The Good News – Closes off with the latest, piano driven song, performed in what could be a pub bar.

                                In summary, this is the only collection that holds all of his single output in the same place, and is well worth 13 Quid for 3 hours if you’re a fan. The TOTP performances on the Jam section are probably new enough to keep the fan happy, but I’m not sure this would convert you if you’re not already an admirer; hopefully the corresponding CD collection would, though.

                                If you’re aware of Weller through his solo output, maybe this would be interesting to view to see the journey that it resulted from. I’d recommend it, but then that was never really in doubt! Cheers for wading through it all, Paul.

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                                • Top 10 Singles / Discussion / 48 Readings / 42 Ratings
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                                  02.12.2006 18:38
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                                  Ten tunes I really rate

                                  You know in an hour’s time, I’ll be going how did I miss that one? It’s all very subjective, I know but here goes…no particular order.

                                  Going Underground - The Jam
                                  My favourite song by my favourite band, the clipped, stuttering, metallic intro still makes me clench my fist and mutter ‘Yes!’ under my breath if it comes on a pub jukebox. Meaningful lyrics which are just as relevant today backed by driving music and the feeling that this was a band that really meant it. This was the first of three Jam songs to enter the charts at number 1, back when that actually meant something.

                                  ‘You choose your leaders and place your trust, as their lies wash you down and their promises rust, you'll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns.’

                                  Watching the Wheels - John Lennon
                                  Obvious contenders from the Beatles and his solo output in A day in the life, Let it be and Imagine, all of which I love. But this is probably my favourite, a slow piano driven number with a very personal slant, containing obvious references to his career sabbatical to be a full time dad.

                                  A change is gonna come – Otis Redding
                                  This is a great song written by Sam Cooke and covered by many soul artists. My favourite version is by Otis Redding. Blues soul is at its best here with the theme that sometimes you know that things can’t stay this bad forever, and a classic vocal from the voice that can take your heart out and hand it to you.

                                  Feels like Heaven – Fiction Factory
                                  My slick eighties pop selection, funky basslines, synths and cynical, occasionally melancholic lyrics. Loved this band, they only produced 2 albums, and this was their most famous song. It actually belied their overall approach, which was generally a bit more driving and powerful than this. A great vocal though, by Kevin Patterson, and the boys from Perth deserved a much bigger career.

                                  The man with the child in his eyes – Kate Bush
                                  Beautiful and haunting, her pure voice over a simple arrangement makes this unforgettable. Unbelievably, Kate Bush was first female singer/songwriter to top the UK chart, and she is still one of my favourites.

                                  Changes – David Bowie
                                  An undoubted genius and this track from Hunky Dory is definitely my favourite. Rock and Roll feel, mid tempo with piano and brass, it’s easy on the ear and lyrics that still make me think today.

                                  Wonderland – Big Country
                                  Great band, saw them live many times, and they stayed true to their Scottish roots with this song, which has all the attributes of what was seen as their trademark chiming guitar sound and accented vocal. Not adopting a US-oriented sound and pursuing that market meant they were never going to be a U2, but at least they would always remain vital and relevant to their fanatically devoted British following.
                                  ‘But when the thunder rolls, It comes and covers up my soul
                                  And you will take my hand, And be with me in wonderland’

                                  Suspicious Minds – Elvis
                                  Probably the greatest pop song ever – no need to describe it, everyone knows it.

                                  Redemption Song – Bob Marley & the Wailers
                                  A quiet acoustic intro and a folksy feel from the man who brought reggae into the mainstream consciousness of the music buying public. Apparently written whilst he was pain-racked with terminal cancer, this song mixes traditional Caribbean folk themes of African abduction and slavery with reflective thoughts on spirituality.
                                  ‘How long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look? Some say its just a part of it, We’ve got to fulfil the book’.

                                  This old heart of mine – The Isley Brothers
                                  Finish off with pure fun. Classic Motown, you can listen to it, you can dance to it, and it’ll get your Dad on the floor at a family wedding. Sweet vocals, thumping bassline, brass and strings. Great stuff. Altogether now – ‘I love you-ou-ou, yes I do, This old heart (ooh) darlin' is weak for you, I love you-ou-ou, yes I do.’ I’m smiling already.

                                  So there it is, oh hang on, no Who /Cure /Smiths /Clash /Blondie /Kinks /Small Faces/ Stones /Rod /Smokey etc? Maybe I’ll wait for the top 50 category.

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