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    • The Hunger Games (DVD) / DVD / 83 Readings / 80 Ratings
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      09.07.2012 19:40
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      If the Running man was too violent for you, this should be just right :-)

      So I'm a little late to the party (ok, about 3 and a half years late) but I finally got round to reading The Hunger Games; I then lasted approximately 15 hours before I had to see the film too. (I have this thing, y'see, where I always have to read the book first. It's movie OCD.)

      For those not in the know (people living under a rock / my parents) the Hunger games is set in a dystopian future in which "Capitol" rules over the 12 unfortunate districts which are the remains of what was once known as the USA.

      Citizens are controlled with a shortage of food and rebellion is strongly discouraged. Just in case anyone's getting any ideas, they are kept in a culture of fear by the annual hunger games; 2 teenagers from each district are sent to battle to the death, gladiator style. The last survivor wins (duh), and the whole thing is televised. So it's like Big brother / I'm a celebrity get me out of here, but with instant death instead of the slow demise of appearing at G.A.Y and miming. It's also kind of like the classic Arnie / Stephen King combo Running Man. (It's one of my faves!)

      The internet has been ablaze with accusations of plagiarism because of the similarities between Suzanne Collin's Hunger Games and Koushon Takami's Battle Royale, published almost a decade earlier. (I haven't yet read this but comparing plots on Wikipedia, yes, it's the same book.) Like Stephanie Meyer claiming that she never read The Vampire Diaries or The Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood novels despite the striking similarities to our beloved Twilight stories, Suzanne Collins says she had never heard of the Japanese book. This may stretch credibility, but isn't impossible. The idea of a televised battle to the death isn't the hardest idea to come up with, and the Big Brother-style spying as victims are picked off is almost becoming passé. With films like Kickass proving popular, it's logical that murderous kids will hold a particular fascination.

      So, the book: read it. It won't give you lines of epic beauty that you will want to write in a note book because they're so poetic and lovely, but it will keep you reading. I chomped this down in a day. The film? It's better in some ways, inadequate in others. Jennifer Lawrence is spot on as Katniss - she's believable as a hunter, protector and quick thinking adversary. There have been complaints that she is "chubby" which is nonsensical - she does have round cheekbones which suggest she would still look like a bonny wee lass even if she was skeletal, but she is clearly fit and healthy. Bratty teenagers have been whining "But the whole point is that she's hungry - she would be thinner." Yes, the districts are starving, so I WILL NOT REST until I can source hundreds of anorexic and emaciated actors. I'm talking method, people!

      Oddly, nobody makes any complaints about the boys being muscular or the general, adult population being normal sized. The districts aren't starving anyway - there are bakeries and butchers, and others, such as Katniss and her best buddy Gale, go hunting to feed their families. If the Hunger games participants were malnourished, the show would be over in a day, and where is the fun in that?

      The rest of the casting is INSPIRED. Stanley Tucci is flawless as the game show host who conceals a kind heart under TV patter and bouffant hairstyles. Elizabeth Banks brings the vacuously selfish host Effie to vibrant life, and Woody Harrelson provides mentor Haymitch with more character and authenticity than the book would allow. I wasn't sure about Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, (I had imagined someone more solid and phlegmatic, not the love child of Alex Winter and Alan Tudyk) but he grew on me as the film went on.

      The trailer is probably better than the film in terms of swift storytelling; it also features Liam Hemsworth heavily although he gets barely 5 minutes of screentime in the film. I haven't yet read the 2 sequels in the book franchise but I am guessing that they didn't cast the hottie for a bit part.

      Visually, the movie has a lot of fun with the Capitol folk - it reminded me of Dangerous Liaisons or Amadeus; these are hedonistic, carefree people. When Lenny Kravitz appeared as the kind and protective Cinna, my first thought was "OF COURSE!" - he fits the bill perfectly. Imagine my astonishment when I read that his casting, and that of Amandla Stenberg as little Rue, was considered controversial because they're black. You can read more about this at http://hungergamestweets.tumblr.com/, in which stupid people humiliate themselves by tweeting their surprise and disgust that "all the good characters are black." Much hilarity ensues when it's pointed out that Rue is actually described in the book as having dark brown skin, so IN YOUR FACE, suckas! But, wait... if Suzanne Collins had omitted that one little line of physical description, would Rue default to white anyway, leaving the casting director without a leg to stand on? Really????

      I've long believed that racism in movies will only be overcome if actors from all ethnicities are cast, with no changes to the script. If it doesn't matter to the plot what race someone is, let's push the boat out and make them non-white! This film did exactly this and has been pilloried for it. In 20freaking12.This is slightly more depressing than a TV show about children killing each other.

      (Because really, who are we kidding? If the Hunger Games existed, we'd totally watch it. The fact that Jerry Springer and Jeremy Kyle have TV shows is rock solid proof of that.)

      Impeccable casting aside, the film does suffer a couple of flaws. There are small ones, such as the annoyingly uncommunicative flashbacks of Peeta giving Katniss burnt bread - if you've read the books, you'll know what's coming; if you haven't, you may wonder what incredibly profound part of the story is being imparted. Also - I'm sorry, art director, but when you burn bread, it doesn't leave half the loaf pale and the other half an incinerated lump of coal, with a neat line down the middle. I know you're trying to make sure we can see it's bread, but... that looked really, really stupid.

      I thought director Gary Ross also blundered at the moment when Prim Everdeen is picked in the lottery of death. The book convincingly describes the paralysing shock that delays Katniss's reaction, but by focusing instead on Prim, the long pause implies a good 60 seconds of thinking "Damn, my little sister got called. I wonder if I should volunteer to take her place, maybe? I guess I should. Ok - WAIT! I VOLUNTEER!" If we could have seen a shot of Katniss looking stunned, it might have helped convey the instant and uncompromising nature of her protectiveness towards her sister.

      And one last niggle: I know it's a law that horror films have to feature dark nights because it's scarier than broad daylight, but in this case of the grand finale, it was hard to see what the hell was happening. Besides, certain engineered horrors are more hair-raising if you can actually see them clearly.

      On the whole, the film covered all the bases and I look forward to reading and watching more. Not everyone was as enthusiastic; The Daily Mail proffered an article from a moron who was trying to jump on the Samantha Brick bandwagon by writing things so stupid that people would have no choice but to publicly ridicule her.

      With the headline "Why I feel I'm a bad mother for taking my girls to The Hunger Games." Shona Sibary went on to explain why she actually is a pretty bad mother. She took her two daughters, aged 11 and 13, to see this film - apparently nothing in the "children battle each other to the death" description tipped her off that it may not be ideal viewing for a child who cries when somebody steps on a ladybird. (Ms Sibary worries about the film leaving her children with lasting emotional scars, it doesn't occur to her than any of their classmates might read newspapers.)

      Just like Jan Moir's take on New Moon (which I wrote about on my blog) she mixes in untruths with garbled hearsay. Firstly, it's not "targeted quite deliberately at young children," it's clearly aimed at teenagers. (There are clues to look out for; films aimed at young children often feature talking animals and they don't tend to be rated 12A.)

      Nor is it "dressed up as wholesome, family entertainment". Sibary opines "The first half-an-hour of the film lulls you into a false sense of security that this is nothing more than a skewed take on our modern-day obsession with televised, X Factor-style elimination games. But then the grotesque twist becomes apparent." What, the grotesque twist being the children fighting to the death? Like you saw in the trailer? That twist?

      She seems to have seen a different film from the one I saw; "At one point a young girl's neck is ruthlessly snapped." (Ok, I don't remember that at all, but maybe I wasn't paying attention.) "At another, a child has a spear skewered through her stomach." Yes, but you don't actually see that. It's all done very carefully to stick to the 12A rating; you see a spear sticking out of a bloody torso. It's no more gruesome than anything you'd see in one of those Sunday afternoon John Wayne films that we encourage kids to watch because they're classics.

      She goes on "But perhaps even more gruelling is the gradual awareness that dawns on you that this is not a story about good overcoming evil. It's about innocent children being forced to turn on each other and - against any received moral or human code - fight for themselves till the end. Like any decent parent, this is not a message I'm keen to expose my daughters to."

      Wha...? Perhaps Sibary is not one for subtle moral messages in films. Did she miss Katniss volunteering her life in exchange for her sister's? Or the part where she befriends one of the children she is meant to be fighting against? (This is partly because Rue reminds her of Prim, and partly because Katniss isn't a mindless killer - even when her life depends on it.)

      Actually, a strong theme in the film is that even in the arena, Katniss and Peeta are determined not to sink to the Capitol's level - they must retain their integrity if they are to remain "themselves". Shona Sibary, try reading "Man's search for meaning" (Victor Krankl) if this concept is something you've never heard of. This film is deeper than you think.

      *This review also appeared on my blog.

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      • Arcam Solo Mini / CD Player / 81 Readings / 77 Ratings
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        03.06.2012 15:14
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        I love mine and hope it will outlive me (thus making the pay-per-use quite cheap.)

        I was quite sad when my old Technics stereo system finally conked out (I calculated that I'd had it for between twelve and fifteen years though, so it had a pretty good run.) Of course, the bright side was that it was now time to go shopping again, yay! My brother (resident expert on all things music and technology related) sent me a link to the Arcam Mini solo, saying he had some Arcam amps and speakers which sounded fantastic, although he figured it might be a bit more than I wanted to spend. It was too late - I was in love.

        The Arcam Mini solo is quite a dinky little system; a compact silver box which is roughly 23cm wide and just 9cm tall. It costs about £599, but you will need to buy speakers separately. I got mine as a package deal (with Arcam speakers included) for £750 from John Lewis. Unfortunately they are no longer running this offer, but if you shop around you should be able to get a comparable price. I know £750 sounds like an insane amount of money to spend (my friends thought I was mad) but this is WORTH IT.

        I did my research before investing in such a pricey piece of kit - not only do Arcam get great reviews from buyers, this system has also won numerous awards. These include various categories (including best overall system) in What Hifi in 2008, 2009, and 2010. (You'll notice it's been around for a while, so you won't get cutting edge technology. But sound quality is always in fashion...)

        The official specifications:
        * Integrated CD, radio, stereo amplifier
        * CD or MP3 playback from CD discs
        * 2 x 25wpc linear amplifiers
        * Internal DAB/FM/AM or FM/AM radio tuner (market dependant)
        * Integrated iPod control via optional rLead/rDock
        * Front panel USB input for additional media
        * Six additional analogue inputs (5x RCA rear, 1x 3.5mm jack front)
        * Alarm clock with "wake to" CD/Tuner/Alarm
        * Remote control
        * Full IR and RS232 serial control

        It's an impressive list - I especially like the fact that you can plug in anything that has a USB cable. With my addiction to Spotify, it's amazing for me to be able to play music that I don't actually own on CD. It also makes up for the fact that there isn't a streaming facility on this stereo (something that is becoming standard with more recently released high-end systems).

        Negatives? Well, if there's one more thing I'd like, it's the ability to load up several CDs at once. With all the other luxurious aspects of this player, it's surprising that you still have to get out of bed (or, um, get up from your chair) to change the CD you're listening to. And one more thing - this is really petty, but... when you turn the system on / put a CD in, it takes a few seconds to get itself ready to go. This means I tend to hover over it waiting for the moment I can press Play and start enjoying the music. I probably wouldn't have noticed this if it wasn't significantly (well, 2 or 3 seconds) slower than my old system, but it would be nice if it was faster.

        The Mini solo is very easy to use - everything is self explanatory. You slide CDs into a slot, so there is no flimsy little shelf. It has options to play CDs on repeat (useful if you ever feel the need to listen to your favourite new album constantly for hours on end, and you're too lazy to keep pressing play) as well as repeating specific tracks, shuffling, etc.

        I tend not to listen to the radio (all the annoying chatter! Play MUSIC!) but this stereo has DAB / FM / AM radio and room for 70 presets across the board, so there are plenty of options if you're an advert-avoiding channel hopper.

        Of course, the most important part is the sound; this is where you realise that your expensive stereo was worth every penny. The sound quality is SUPERB. (This is especially apparent if you listen to music that you have often heard on inferior systems - the first time I listened to a Pink album, it sounded completely different to the tinny, compressed version I've heard so often on TV.) Whatever your musical taste, you are guaranteed to hear every strand of intricate vocal arrangements, enjoy deliciously deep and clean bass, and appreciate incredible clarity in every detail. In short, everything sounds amazing. (Unfortunately for your neighbours, the louder it is, the better. I am, of course, a respectful neighbour and keep volume to a reasonable level, but I actually feel vaguely nauseous if I listen to music really quietly. I think it's a kind of Pavlovian response to all those car journeys in which music was my only distraction from travel sickness, and my parents always played the radio at BARELY audible levels.)

        Overall, this is a somewhat expensive system, but it looks chic, sounds incredible, and has hordes of happy customers to recommend it. Including me.

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          17.05.2012 23:45
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          Give it a try. Who knows, you might actually LIKE the guy.

          In 1992, 24 year old Chris McCandless walked into "the wilderness." Four months later, his emaciated body was discovered by hikers. This book is an attempt by Jon Krakauer at piecing together what happened, and what drove the young man to abandon his comfortable lifestyle and his family in the first place.

          My first problem with the book is that I took an almost instant dislike to Chris McCandless. We are introduced to him via an account from Jim Gallien, an electrician who picked him up as a hitchhiker. Gallien notices that Chris is ill-equipped for the trip he is planning - with barely any food, crappy hiking boots and the idea that he could "climb a tree" to evade any wandering bears he might meet. From the get go he comes across as arrogant, naive and full of youthful swagger.

          My second problem is that I just can't get on board with the basic message of the book: it glorifies stupidity and arrogance. Why not write a book about all the kids who felt the call of the wild and managed to plan a trip with their brains engaged, live off the land for a while and return to civilisation unscathed? Why pay homage to the kid who was so arrogant that he didn't bother to take a map? (His theory was that if he couldn't see the map, he must be in unchartered territory...) As an approach to creating a story, it's as irresponsible and ill-thought out as the TV programme Teen Mom ("What, you'll follow me around with the cameras, as if I were a glamorous member of the Kardashian family, or at the very least, dating Peter Andre? And all I have to do is get pregnant at 15? Count me in!")

          Basically, the book is a paean to selfishness. Yes, Chris did well to live off his wits for as long as he did. Yes, it takes a certain something to walk off into the wilderness and enjoy it as a journey of self discovery. But the problem is, he essentially broke his parents' hearts by leaving, formed no real attachments to anybody, and died in a completely unnecessary way. (He starved while camping in a bus only 16 miles from where hundreds of tourists hike. So much for the great unknown.)

          If he had just bothered to pack a map, he would have survived. His death was pointless, stupid, and vain. But Krakauer is so unashamedly on Chris's side that he becomes a suicide apologist. Having once been a gung ho mountaineer himself, Krakauer can identify with Chris and fully understands the magic that happens when one is pitting one's wits against the outdoors. He quotes an interviewee who had seen many men go missing in the wilderness over the years; "At least they tried to follow their dream. That's what's great about them. They tried. Not many do."

          (To paraphrase then, the opinion he keeps stuffing down the reader's throat is: "Yes, Chris's death was pointless and he was a blithering idiot. But the point is, he DID WHAT HE WANTED TO DO! Stuff his family! That's what we should all be doing, yeah?"

          The reason I dislike Chris so much is partly jealousy, of course. I want to drive to Alaska, and then hitchhike when my car breaks down. I want to hop on a freight train and have a series of cash jobs and kayak down rivers. I want to wake up in the morning knowing that all I have to do that day is walk, and eat berries, and find a good place to camp. (Actually, I did spend six months travelling around the states, but I'm not sure if greyhound buses really count as adventure.) It's clear that Chris was always a bold explorer type; at the age of 2, he got up in the middle of the night, found his way outside without waking his parents, and entered a house down the street to plunder a neighbour's candy drawer.

          "Chris had so much natural talent," Walt (his father) continues, "but if you tried to coach him, to polish his skill, to bring out that final 10%, a wall went up. He resisted instruction of every kind." Hmm. This kind of attitude sort of goes against the advice you'll read in pretty much ANY self help book, doesn't it? But then, teenage boys aren't generally known for their humility and willingness to learn.

          The descriptions of Chris which are apparently supposed to make him sound like a free spirit or an intellectual strike me as being his more irritating traits. For instance, a fellow wanderer describes him thus; "He was playful, like a little kid. I had puppies, and he was always putting them under laundry baskets to watch them bounce around and yelp." Hmm. That's not very nice. Then the lady whose son brought Chris home as a guest after employing him; "There was something fascinating about him... Alex struck me as much older than 24. Everything I said, he'd demand to know more about what I meant, about why I thought this way or that." Fascinating? Sounds pretty tedious to me.

          He also proves my long held view that you can never trust a man who gives himself a nickname. Chris adopts the moniker "Alexander Supertramp" and writes a diary about himself in the third person. "Alex looks quickly around for any sign of trouble, but his entry of Mexico is either unnoticed or ignored. Alex is jubilant!"

          Krakauer views wanderers as being admirably brave and iconoclastic but also points out that Chris was evading the messy intimacy of relationships - slipping away from even the most casual acquaintances on the road. One was Ron Franz, a man who prays that God will keep an eye on Alex; When he hears the news of the young man's untimely death, "I renounced the Lord. I withdrew my church membership and became an atheist." Which seems a tad unfair to God, when Chris's death was a result of his own choices. Krauker quotes Edward Whimper in his book Scrambles among the alps. "But remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime."

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          • The Back-up Plan (DVD) / DVD / 95 Readings / 95 Ratings
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            14.02.2012 01:00
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            In the words of Mark Kermode, it's "knuckle chewingly poor."

            I had an evening of sewing to do, so I thought I would watch something mildly entertaining which would need very little concentration. Forget Inception, a JLo romcom seemed the simplest option.

            The plot is thus: Zoe is in her thirties, single, and desperate for a baby, so she takes matters into her own hands. On the way home from the insemination, she meets a reasonably attractive stranger, they keep bumping into each other, they start a relationship. All this, you can tell from the poster. (And the oh so droll tagline, "Fall in love. Get married. Have a baby. Not necessarily in that order."

            So far, your average, pleasantly diverting rom com, yes? Except, it was awful. Not awful in a too-cheesy way, or the "penniless temp lives in New York loft" way either. It was the strangest mix of rom com and gross out that I recall seeing in recent years.

            Movie execs don't have that difficult a job, do they? The idea that you should know your audience might pop up occasionally. So who was this aimed at? Teenage boys? Far from being woman-centred, it felt as if it was written from the point of view of the bewildered man who finds himself in an instant family set up.

            Apparently the top dogs in the movie industry now believe that EVERYONE loves a good gross out film. Even those of us who thought we would see JLo dress up in a variety of attractive outfits and generally be charming, in a nasally-Bronx whiney kind of way.

            The film misses no opportunity to be disgusting, or suggest that childbirth, and women's bodies in general, are disgusting. JLo has to retrieve her pregnancy test from a pile of dog vomit. (At least, I hope it was vomit.) Her suitor works in the cheese business, so of course, he think a big warehouse of cheese will be the ideal location for some romance. (If you have ever been in a cheese shop, you may have the tiniest inkling of what a warehouse would smell like.)

            Breastfeeding is ridiculed. Women's bodies, post child birth, are ridiculed. The word "vagina" is used, not just as a one-time punchline but as a repeated joke. (It just keeps getting funnier!) Seriously, why do so many screenwriters think this is comedy gold?

            Poo also makes several appearances - in a playground, in a birthing pool, (incidentally, JLo appears to have never heard of such an apparatus... which kind of makes sense given the throwback to 1970s "wimmin's group" which the film so "hilariously" parodies.

            As always, the disappointment is deepened by the fact that this was written by a woman (Kate Angelo); surprising because so much of the film seems to be holding up women as objects of hatred and contempt. However, the more disgusting aspects of the movie are down to Alan Poul's direction.

            Maybe by the time it came out, someone had realised what a deeply awful production it had become, because the trailer is an exercise in damage limitation. It looks like a vaguely amusing relationship movie, and there is very little in the way of poop gags.

            You may be amused by Mark Kermode's take - I think he hated it even more than I did, if that is possible. (unlikely.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRlNOz05q2U

            If you find the idea of a small dog having his back end held up by wheels (and falling over) funny, this is the film for you.

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            • Child's Play 3 (DVD) / DVD / 106 Readings / 103 Ratings
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              22.11.2011 21:55
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              For devoted fans only

              May contain spoilers if you're not familiar with the first two movies....

              In case you're unfamiliar with the Child's play films, they centre upon a killer (Charles Lee Ray, or "Chucky" as he's known to his friends) who has used voodoo to inhabit the body of a creepy, child-sized sized doll. Despite the fact that Chucky completely melted into a plasticky goo at the end of the 2nd film, the money-grabbing sequel machine demands that he must be resurrected....

              Seeing as the final showdown of the second film took place in the doll factory itself, I suppose it's not so crazy that his blood could run, unnoticed, into the new doll moulds. (No stranger than him having blood in the first place - it seems the longer you live in a doll's body, the more human you get.) Slightly sillier (even by Child's play standards) is the idea that all that random blood could give life to just one doll. (Surely the magical properties would have dripped into more dolls, creating an army of Chuckys? Now, that WOULD be scary.)

              It's said that the screenwriter (Don Mancini) was put under great pressure by Universal to produce another sequel even as Child's Play 2 was being filmed. As a result, this is the weakest film in the franchise so far, as he admits he was short on ideas at this point.

              Bizarrely, (seeing as this film was released only 9 months after Child's play 2) we have now jumped ahead 8 years, and Andy has joined a military school. We have no clue as to what the authorities may have made of the murders of his foster parents. Or why Chucky is still pursuing Andy, even though he learned in the last film that the voodoo won't work and he cannot inhabit Andy's body. (Presumably old habits die hard - maybe he even felt sort of fond of Andy, after 2 killings. Or maybe he is just irritated at being stuck in a doll's body, and when Chucky is irritated... people die.)

              If you recall, the shaky logic of the voodoo was that Chucky could take over the body of the first person he revealed himself too. Now he has been re-moulded, in theory he gets another chance - although he ruins this idea when, strictly speaking, the "first person he reveals himself to" is the CEO of the toy company.

              Chucky manages to wrap himself up into a box and get himself posted to Andy at the academy. (www.imdb.com points out that this isn't impossible - he could have left a note to the CEO's staff to mail out the new doll. But why leave us wondering? I'm not in favour of spoon-feeding the audience superfluous information, but would a 30 second scene explaining the apparent goof be so out of order?)

              He also makes a new friend; Enter Tyler, a junior cadet at the military school; he is apparently not fazed at all by a living doll. Police involvement is conspicuous by its absence as Chucky throws caution to the wind and starts exposing his secret and killing people willy nilly. The military school seems like a last ditch attempt to shake up the Chucky storyline; unfortunately it's kind of boring. Is it bad that I found myself wishing Chucky would get more screentime? I know he's evil, but he is also by far the most charismatic and entertaining character in the film. And by this time the emphasis is on Chucky as wisecracking comedy character rather than just a psychopath.

              The film builds to a "war games" climax, with a second teenage girl companion for Andy (we never again hear of Kyle or why her testimony against Chucky was never exposed - another giant plot hole.)

              Chucky has developed the abilities of a ninja despite being a small person who cannot run without being seen. (He seems to have given up on trying to keep his identity a secret, perhaps relying on stories of "mass hallucinations" to explain the impossible.) A ghost train and a haunted house make a clever backdrop to the final climax.

              This film is, as far as I know, never shown on British TV, since being linked with horrific real life events. (If you were unaware, back in 1993, two 10 year old boys killed James Bulger, a toddler they abducted from a shopping centre.)

              Journalists claimed the film had influenced the two young boys, although there is some debate on whether they actually watched it - their parents claim they didn't, although I'm sure many ten years olds have managed to watch video nasties without adults' knowledge.)

              For what it's worth, now that I have actually seen the film for myself, I am positive that it had nothing to do with this case. The blue paint which became so famous a part of the media frenzy barely registers in this film, what with all the breaking glass and attacking remote control toys. A train track does feature, but as Police Inspector Ray Simpson was quoted as saying "If you are going to link this murder to a film, you might as well link it to The Railway Children".

              By today's standards the Child's play films don't seem particularly gruesome, but I have no doubt that a constant diet of movie violence DOES "normalise" brutality. However, media panics are never helpful and only provide a convenient excuse for horrific behaviour. (Oliver Stone was even sued by the family of a murder victim; they felt that watching "Natural born killers" was enough to incite the evildoers.) To be honest, I read news stories every day which are more disturbing than any horror film I've ever seen - most people don't seem to need any lessons from the movies in how to treat people callously.

              So, will we see Chucky again? We know the answer is yes, but I can't wait to see how they manage to put him back together this time...

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                21.11.2011 16:59
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                The internet is my most precious resource.

                I think there are a lot of rip off merchants around who know they can sell anything if they attach a celebrity name and a lot of pseudo scientific ingredients and glowing endorsements. So I'm not really one for fancy brands, although I do have a weakness for nice packaging. (I'm afraid I once bought a bottle of Philosophy "Amazing Grace" not because I really wanted the shower gel, but because I thought the message on the side was cool and I wanted to keep the bottle on my windowsill to look pretty.)

                You'll notice that my recommendations aren't really for cosmetics; I don't have any particular favourites as I like variety and by the time I've finished one bottle of shampoo / jar of moisturiser / tube of mascara, I want to try a different one rather than stick with the same brand, no matter how good it is. (I'm a fickle Sagittarian, what can I say?)

                I'm also what magazines whimsically call "a babe on a budget," so my main objective is to get the best bang for my buck at all times. I ignore reviews that magazines give to the latest designer products, because they depend on these companies to provide funding via adverts. (So it really wouldn't pay for them to give a less than positive accolade.) I prefer to scour the internet for "real," objective tips and reviews.

                Because of this, my tips are generally based on products which save you money in the long run - they are my tried and tested, "work better than anything else even if they're not so much fun to use because they don't have lots of foaming agents and pretty pink packaging" products.

                1) Clarisonic

                Ah, I owe the girls over on makeupalley.com for the discovery of this. (Incidentally, that wonderful website is where I have made most of these discoveries - check out their product reviews, especially under "unlisted brand" - this is where you will find that kitchen cupboard magic.

                Clarisonics are little massage brushes for your face - you charge it up and then just run it over your face to let the oscillating brush head do its work. This feels something like applying a giant electric toothbrush to your skin. They weren't available in the UK for some time after their US release and even now can only be found in the hallowed aisles of the "posh shops" such as Space NK, Harrods, Selfridges etc. You will pay through your newly poreless nose for one - a basic model is about £155! However, if you're prepared to use an American adaptor you can find them on Ebay - even with postage it can work out cheaper. Now, some people find these machines miraculous (Oprah is a fan) and other say "But it's no different to scrubbing your face with a flannel!" All I know is, I have been using mine for over two and a half years and my skin has barely blemished during that time. Yay!

                2) Salux cloth (available on Ebay)

                In Japan, they take smooth skin seriously, devoting hours to exfoliation and cleanliness, so it isn't surprising that the Salux actually won the Japanese invention award. These cloths are basically like those shower puff things made of netting, but left unpuffed - so it's one long piece of fine mesh, which rather cleverly enables you to reach your back without the use of a long handled brush or helpful friend. Sounds simple, but it's so effective - I give myself a good scrub with this and it lathers up my shower gel to luxurious foaminess. As I always use one of those poncey creams with moisturiser in it, I never have to bother with body cream afterwards. (I do so hate standing around naked, getting cold and tacky.)

                The extra scrubbiness is apparently great for circulation and therefore cellulite - and if you do choose to use lotion afterwards, it will absorb much more thoroughly into your skin. And my favourite part of all? They air dry super-fast, meaning no yucky mould forming.

                3) Blackhead remover.

                I did write a full review of this little gadget a while ago - and I still maintain it is one of the best money saving devices around. A box of pore strips cost about £7 last time I looked - and in my opinion, they never seem to "get everything out." A metal tool (which will hopefully NEVER need replacing) easily pays for itself within a few uses.

                Cleanliness is of course crucial to the operation - use plenty or tea tree or palma rosa oil, and remember to regularly sterilise the blackhead remover. After gently steaming your face with a warm (not too hot) flannel or just a nice warm shower, you'll probably find your pores teeming with blockages, and you can delicately scoop them out with the metal loop. Finish with a clay mask and hey presto, your nose will be nice and smooth and your expensive dermatologist will be out of job.

                4) Morroccan oil

                This is a must have for hair. My hair doesn't really frizz up, but it can be a bit flyway, so I often use serum to keep it shiny and relatively "normal" looking. I've tried my fair share of serums, but none compares with this! It really is lightweight - once you've smoothed on a drop or two, it disappears completely and you are left with perfectly shiny, healthy hair with NO BUILD UP WHATSOEVER! Yes, you're thinking of all those serums you've tried which were fine at first but then weighed your hair down and made it greasy so much faster, aren't you? Not anymore. It smells gorgeous too - a smoky vanilla scent.

                5) Olive oil

                I often see expensive beauty products based around olive oil - cleaners, shampoos, moisturisers - and I wonder why people don't just go to their kitchen cupboards. I use it for lots of things - warm oil makes a great moisturising mask for your hair, for example. (No need to buy tiny tubes of a "hot oil treatment"! If you're a fan of the oil cleansing method (check out www.ocm) it's a useful one to have around. (In a nutshell, the OCM usually means mixing a couple of different oils with different properties - say, a slightly more "cleansing" one such as Castor, with something moisturising like Olive oil, massaging it into the face and them removing with a warm flannel. It's the gentle way to clean your face without stripping your natural oils, as soaps can.) All in all, Popeye's girlfriend is an essential ingredient.

                6) Cold cream

                I reviewed this very early on in my Dooyoo career, and I'm still using it on a regular basis. There is something comforting about using a product that has been used for generations, and the proof of its long term effect can be seen in rosy cheeked sweet old ladies. It really does leave your skin soft, and feels very luxurious - especially in winter when your skin is crying out for rich moisturising creams. I'm currently using the one from Boots' "Traditional skin care" range, which smells more medicinal than Ponds. Unfortunately Ponds have changed their formula - it used to have a wonderfully gloopy, whipped cream texture, but it is now the same as all the other cold creams on the market. Which was silly of them, because now I just buy the cheaper versions - the texture was the only thing that made Ponds special for me.

                7) Aspirin

                The aspirin face mask has been an internet phenomenon for a while, and I'm sure must be mainstream by now. However, if you haven't heard of them, they are the cheapest, easiest and most effective face mask ever. Just crush about 5 aspirin with a little water / witch hazel / rose water, or even a little jojoba oil. It will be quite crumbly but should stick to your face. Aspirin contains Salicylic acid, which is one of those magic ingredients used in dermatology to fight acne.

                8) Milk of magnesia

                Not just for upset tummies! (Although I suppose you might want some on hand for that, so it's doubly useful.) Unbelievable as it may sound, this makes a brilliant "primer." You know, that fancy schmancy, completely unnecessary step between moisturiser and foundation, invented by makeup artists so they can flog us more products. This little miracle makes your skin completely matte, and it stays that way for the foreseeable future. I dab it into my nose and forehead to avoid afternoon shine, and it works a treat. Check yourself in the mirror though, as it can be chalky if you dab too enthusiastically. Some say it works for blackheads too, although I can't say I've noticed this.

                9) Sudocrem

                Remember when there was all that fuss about a nappy cream which was flying off the shelves when people noticed it benefiting their skin? Well, savvy shoppers have been using Sudocrem for years. Bizarrely, it seems to dry out spots yet moisturise your skin, simultaneously. I only use it for one night at a time, as I think more constant use could end up drying out my skin. But used every once in a while, I wake up to (appropriately) baby soft skin. However, its spot fighting prowess can be attributed to the fact that it's designed to kill of rashes and infections, so it's strong stuff.

                A word of warning though - only use this at night - if you're alone. It strongly suggests geisha makeup.

                10) Perfume
                I know I keep banging on about www.blackphoenixalchemylab.com. But I cannot express to you quite how much these perfume oils have affected my life. OK, so perfume doesn't actually MAKE you more beautiful. But it can make you feel beautiful on a day when your hair needs a wash and even your tracky pants feel tight. (Not to mention the fact that some of my beauty insights have come from the girls on the forum, another reason to be grateful.)

                Try channelling Anne Bonny (a fearsome lady pirate) with the scent of red patchouli, red sandalwood and frankincense. Or express your gentler side with Cordelia (the Lab has a whole bunch of scents based on Shakespearean characters) - lilac, lemon, green tea, wisteria, osmanthus, white cedar, and Chinese musk.

                Of course, any perfume could make you feel pretty, but it's so much more fun to wear a close-to-the-skin oil blend designed to encapsulate Nefertiti, than it is to spray on the latest chemically, air-freshener style scent designed by a bimbette from a reality show.

                The scent list grows every year and there are seasonal extras - right now the Halloween scents are still available (until December 13th) and the Yule scents will be around until January. Bottles are generally around $15 - $20 and a pack of "imps" (sample sizes) cost $20 for 6. Delivery information can be found on the forum - www.bpal.org. as can reviews of the scents (so you don't have to buy completely "blind" if you don't happen to know what vetiver or lotus smells like.)

                And a few last tips? Witch hazel and rosewater make great toners. My skin seems to benefit from nothing more complicated than a splash of cold water in the mornings - I think simple is best and too many products can overwhelm skin. Oils of any kind - coconut, olive, avacado, sweet almond - can all be used with great effect on skin and hair. And advertising is never to be trusted....

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                  18.11.2011 14:23
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                  Packed full of interesting analysis!

                  "When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." C.S. Lewis

                  It seems I am not the only one to be "into" fairytales - Red Riding Hood made a cinema appearance earlier this year, while there are two, count 'em, TWO film versions of Snow White coming up next year. (Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron are due to star in Snow White and the Huntsman, while Lily Collins and Julia Roberts will be appearing together in Mirror Mirror.) I say, bring it on! The more the merrier.

                  I recently read "The uses of enchantment," by Bruno Bettelheim. Not everyone would agree with his (heavily Freudian) interpretation of the tales, but it is fascinating all the same. Read it and you will want your children to read the most dark, Grimm fairy tales around - as the sanitised Disney versions largely miss the point, rendering them useless (although I am still a sucker for a cleaning session involving helpful chipmunks.)

                  What fairy tales basically boil down to is this: you want to have sex with your parents. Yes you do, don't deny it! Oedipus rules in fairyland, hence the ubiquitous storyline of a princess who suffers at the hands of her evil stepmother. Our heroine is always beloved by her father, but he remains powerless to rescue her from his wicked wife and, er, marry her. This is one reason why it's no good being politically correct and changing the evil step mother in a story to a biological mother - the whole point is that she is a usurper taking the heroine's rightful place as daddy's number one girl.

                  Children relate to storybook heroes in other ways: For instance, every tale features a protagonist who has to proceed for some time in isolation. Bettelheim puts it thus: "the fate of these heroes convinces the child that, like them, he may feel outcast and abandoned in the world, groping in the dark, but like them, in the course of his life he will be guided step by step, and given help when it is needed."

                  Bettelheim theorises that when children are prematurely forced to view reality in an adult way - not allowed to have fairytales and imaginative play in their formative years -they will often retreat into a fantasy world in their teens - sometimes manifesting this with drugs or other reality-bending tools. (I'd hate to mention World of Warcraft here, but I can't help it. Although to be fair, the only reason I don't play it because I'm afraid I'd really like it and while away my life on the computer. Which I'm totally NOT doing right now, obviously.)

                  Small children often feel dumb and inadequate compared with everyone else, which is why many fairy tales start with the hero being considered stupid, eg Cinderella, Jack and the beanstalk, etc etc. Children love Cinderella and Snow White because they reinforce the belief that being put upon and made to do chores means that you are actually envied for your beauty and general wonderfulness. But Bettelheim indicates that they also feel that they deserve dirtiness - because they figure if they were that great, their parents would never criticise or disappoint them.

                  Bettelheim (whose book was published in 1976) also put paid to the common rumour that Cinderella's slippers turned from fur to glass because of a mistranslation, what with the words for fur and glass being similar in French. He points out that the original story featured birds alerting the prince to the ugly sisters' bleeding feet- which would have been obvious if the slippers they had squeezed into were glass. It seems that Perrault knew exactly what he was doing when interpreting the story and changed the fur into glass simply because he wanted to.

                  Whether you take it with a pinch of salt or not, Bettelheim's take on sex in fairytales is fascinating. While we can all see that the story of Little Red Riding hood being stalked by a slobbering wolf could be interpreted as a morality tale for young women (no, don't tell him where you're going, you bimbo!) who knew that the frequent appearance of frogs in tales also symbolises sex?

                  Take the story of The Frog King, for instance. If you're unfamiliar with this story, the gist is that a princess accidentally agrees to letting a frog sleep in her bed. She tries to renege on the deal but after a few weeks the frog wins her over - and turns into a prince. (Surely there is a market for a grown up fairytale in which women start out with a prince and he slowly transforms into a hairy, smelly, moody beast? Only kidding, fellas.)

                  Says Bettelheim "It must be conveyed to children that sex may seem disgustingly animal-like at first, but that once the right way is found to approach it, beauty will emerge from behind this repulsive appearance."

                  (Freud believed that children NEED to find sex repulsive, otherwise the oedipal longing would make them want sex with their parents. Yes folks, it was apparently the only thing keeping incest taboo.)

                  The "animal-groom cycle" continues in Beauty and the Beast - it's only when she decides to break the oedipal ties to her father and return to the beast that she decides that actually, she would quite like a bit of action with him.

                  Things get a little more *out there* in Bettelheim's interpretation of Jack and the beanstalk. Apparently this is all about children masturbating and fearing "The ogre" (eg, parents) will find them out. Despite the fear, they also enjoy the feeling that they stealing some of their parents power over them. (Incidentally, there is a similar theory that children like squishing about in their dirty nappies before alerting their parents to their need for a change. It is quite literally their "dirty little secret." Hope I haven't put you off your tea). The beanstalk story (let's not even get into phallic interpretations of that one) reassures them that they will not be destroyed for their daring.

                  Bettelheim warns against bowdlerised versions of the story which justify Jack's stealing with a back story of the giant first stealing from his father. It isn't a story about retribution, it is meant to be about achieving manhood. (The white washed version features Jack gaining independence from his mother only to obey orders from a female fairy, which also rather misses the point...)

                  Other themes recur frequently; deep sleeps symbolising rebirth and the time of rest that must precede it. (This time of seclusion can also work as protection. For example, Sleeping Beauty gets her first symbolic period and is immediately hidden from would-be suitors by deadly brambles

                  The lesser known story of "The fisherman and the Jinny" tells of a jinny (let's just call him a genie, shall we?) who sits in a bottle for hundreds of years He starts out by thinking that whoever lets him out will be lavishly rewarded... but as the centuries unfold he gets angrier and angrier until he has decided that he will KILL whoever lets him out (our fearless fisherman, who tricks the genie back into the bottle).

                  Bettelheim points out that "This is exactly how a young child feels when he has been "deserted." First he thinks to himself how happy he will be when his mother comes back; or when sent to his room, how glad he will be when permitted to leave it again, and how he will reward mother. But as time passes, the child becomes angrier and angrier, and he fantasizes the terrible revenge he will take on those who have deprived him." Without addressing this explicitly, the story can offer the child relief regarding his "bottled up" feelings.

                  Through fairytales, children learn that before the happy life can begin, the evil and destructive parts of our personalities must be brought under control.

                  Bruno Bettelheim was an extraordinarily sensitive psychoanalyst and has put together a fascinating read - and makes an invaluable contribution to the studies of child development.

                  If you're interested in more analysis of old tales, you might like "Women who run with wolves" by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It is longwinded (I think all psychiatrists like to repeat every paragraph at least three times, to make sure you really get it) but it does offer some fresh insight into traditional stories. (It is very long; the sense of relief and achievement when I finally finished it was unbelievable.)

                  Also Neil Gaiman fans - if you haven't read "Snow, Glass, Apples" the last short story in his book "Smoke and mirrors," please do. As his intention, you will never see Snow White the same way again.

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                  • More +
                    17.11.2011 20:53
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                    Kelly's best yet

                    After internet leaks and a delayed launch, it's Kelly's long awaited new album! And there is barely a non-single track among them.

                    By now we've all heard the first single "Mr Know it all" which, in typical Kelly style, admonishes a guy for thinking he knows her when he actually has no clue. (We've all known guys like this, right? I had one tell me that I didn't like children. When I had been running an afterschool club and was planning a month working in an African orphanage.) While the lyrics are Kelly personified, the melody and musical stylings are strongly reminiscent of the Bruno Mars hit "Just the way you are" (a fact which hasn't escaped the critics' notice).

                    While the song would appear to be aimed at an individual, the video twists this into an attack on the media, with Kelly singing in front of a wall of headlines - which apparently are genuine newspaper articles.

                    This blow at the media continues in "You can't win" as Kelly lampoons pretty much every criticism ever levelled at her - and everyone else in the public eye."If you're thin, poor little walking disease; if you're not, they're all screaming obese," and "If you're down; so ungrateful, and if you're happy, why so selfish?"

                    The second track on the listing carries the oft-repeated message that "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Now we're back in familiar Clarkson territory - a pounding beat, singalong chorus, and "Let's get on that treadmill and work out our aggression against the boy who dumped us," feeling. Kelly has hinted that this will be the second single, which both pleases and disappoints me. It's a cool, catchy pop record which has a positive message and will surely get lots of airplay. However, haven't we had an awful lot of those songs from Kelly? Wise as it is to stick to the formula that works, it would be nice if the non-album-buying public could hear some of her more thoughtful and multilayered songs.

                    One of which is Dark side - it has a pseudo-spooky beginning like a child's music box, and a downbeat vibe. The lyrics plead that everyone has a dark side, "Can you love mine?" It's Kelly being all heart rending at her best, and her voice soars effortlessly over the wide vocal range - she truly makes it sound easy.

                    This theme continues with Honestly, which has beautiful, gentle opening bars and rises into
                    a somewhat melancholy anthem; "Make me listen to the truth even if it breaks me..... You can judge me, love me, if you're hating me, do it honestly..." Kelly apparently expects bad news, but is determined to know anyway, as she crashes into a desperate-sounding wave of "You can tell me... you can tell me....you can tell me...." (Say what you like about Kelly, but it's nice to find a "pop" singer who isn't afraid to be a bit angsty and raw emotionally.)

                    Kelly's songwriters drop the ball somewhat on Einstein. It has a promising start, with a cute first verse:

                    Simple math
                    Our love divided by the square root of pride
                    Multiply your lies plus time
                    I'm going out of my mind
                    It was heavy when I finally figured it out alone

                    You'd be forgiven for thinking "Ah, how clever. A cute, playground style song with in-jokes about Einstein!" But it's almost as if the writer exhausted his / her brain power, turned to the nearest eight year old, and said "Hey, I'm tired. You write the chorus." Seriously? Dumb plus dumb equals you? That doesn't even make sense! OK, so it might be fun for little girl to sing, but for such a quirky idea, this song really falls short of its potential. Luckily it is saved by Kelly's vocals which are dynamic as always.

                    (It's also worth noting that Directlyrics.com, despite claiming "guaranteed" accurate lyrics, have misheard this song with bizarre results. "I may not be unstopped"? You're not exactly Einstein yourself, are you?)

                    "Standing in front of you" is a song about taking the risk of throwing yourself into love rather than staying alone out of fear. Kelly turns it into an etheral, filmic sounding epic which will no doubt make it onto a rom com soundtrack at some point.

                    "I forgive you", a bouncy song about the pointlessness of holding the past against someone ("If I hate you, what does that do?") is a little monotonous but is saved by a catchy, 80s sounding chorus. I have been trying to work out what it reminds me of and have finally settled on the classic, "Kids in America" by Kim Wilde. The retro disco feel continues on "You love me" which has an electropop sound that brings La Roux to mind. (Which is logical when you consider that they are influenced by Eurythmics, and Kelly has declared herself a big fan of Annie Lennox. Don't be fooled by the optimistic title - this is another song about poor Kelly being let down by someone who only claims to love her.

                    KC has said herself that sonically this is her best album and that it sounds closer to the way she does when singing live. I can attest to this - the vocals sound so rich and textured on this album that after listening to it for a while and then switching to a previous album of hers, her previous (excellent) vocals sounded almost tinny in comparison.

                    She even sounds a little bit throaty and sexy on "Hello", a song which lacks the huge sweeping chorus of some of her other hits but has a nice line in handclaps and a twangy bassline.

                    Likewise Kelly turns in a rather sultry performance on "Let me down", yet another song about a man failing her. With lyrics such as "I think I might be a fortune teller, I read your face just like a letter..." she is soon screeching the chorus as only she can.

                    Kelly's vocals are never stronger than on "The war is over," a haunting track on which she harmonises with herself, the somewhat low key verses rising to an empowering finale.

                    Crossing genre boundaries as always, the powerful yet silky vocals on "Breaking your own heart" are as close to country as Kelly gets on the main album. (Please Kelly, release that blues and country album you keep promising us! Forget the teenyboppers who love your pop rock! Your grown up fans demand Patsy Cline and Black Keys covers!)

                    If you've bought the plain old regular album, this is your lot. However, I recommend that you invest in the deluxe version for some extra treats....

                    In the US, country music is big business (although we Brits don't really have a fanbase for songs about trucks, catfish, and mama, unfortunately. ) On "Don't you wanna stay," Kelly teams up with Jason Aldean. (Who? I hear you ask. Well, he has four albums and plenty of CMA trophies to his name, so if you like a bit of twang in your guitar, Spotify him up right now!)

                    Unfortunately if you're a cynical Brit, this song may be just a touch too glurgy for you. But if you are a secret fan of Magic.fm, you will find plenty to admire in the wistful, minor-key tune and incredible vocals in this shamelessly romantic song.

                    "Alone" is another pop-rocky showcase for Kelly's throaty vocals and for once, a song with a happy ending!

                    The feminist in me rankles at the word "girl" being used pejoratively, but the track "Don't be a girl about it" also made me chuckle to myself. Featuring lines such as "I chose the high road and you chose... to be a girl," it's tongue in cheek enough to get away with it. I actually wish this was on the main album and thus eligible to be released as a single, because it has a ridiculously catchy chorus and is generally a fun, bodacious track.

                    "The sun will rise" features Kara DioGuardi, who is a songwriter, singer, ex-judge on American Idol, and record producer. Despite her impressive credentials, I find that her voice detracts from the song rather than improving it - she is just a touch whiny, especially teamed with Miss Clarkson's clear-as-a-bell efforts. However, it's nice to end the album on a rare cheerful note (especially if you have been listening to the album in a post break up haze of tears).

                    All in all, it's probably KC's best album yet. However, it's a travesty that some of her best work doesn't make the cut. Check out youtube for "Why don't you try," an Aretha-esque bluesy number which ONLY appears on the US version of the itunes album. (Which sucks for those of us who have already bought the CD.) However, I comfort myself with the knowledge that Kelly is one of those artists who is actually better live than she is when she is overproduced, so the youtube versions are actually superior to the album track. Go figure.

                    I leave you with proof that Kelly must not be allowed to do covers of popular artist's work, because it's just embarrassing for everyone when her version is the best by about a million miles.

                    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9loaM8tae1U

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                    • The Children (DVD) / DVD / 80 Readings / 79 Ratings
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                      14.11.2011 18:44
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                      This British horror rises above the average

                      This is a movie I had been vaguely meaning to watch for a while, but I was somewhat put off by the creepy doll image on the DVD cover art (dolls are scary!). I started watching fully prepared for it to be the hokiest of cheesy horror, and I was pleasantly surprised.

                      The film starts in typically cheery style; two sisters, their husbands and children are meeting at a remote country house for a Christmas weekend. The only bleak spots in their unadulterated joy are a) the sulkiness of Casey, the teenage daughter (come on now, you don't have to be a teenager to see a weekend of "bourgeois parents with their children" as hell, do you?) and b) the fact that one child is "coming down with something."

                      Family dynamics begin to show themselves as we see the perfect sister (Chloe, played by Rachel Shelley) able to bribe her children with gold stars, while Elaine (Eva Birthistle) struggles with her kids, especially Casey ("the abortion that got away," as she describes herself.) Jeremy Sheffield makes an appearance as the husband who would be perfect if he didn't seem to be taking part in some low-key flirtation with his teenage niece, while Elaine's husband Jonah (Stephen Campbell Moore) doesn't really fit in with the middle class values on display, and has to be reminded "We don't hit children here!"

                      As you know, this snowy idyll is not to last, and the (apparently highly infectious) illness makes children appear shadowy eyed and pale. Scary, huh?

                      For about the first half hour, I was somewhat scornful of the film. Sinister children are such a cliché, aren't they? And while Village of the damned is a kitsch classic (only the original - the remake was beyond redemption) it was never a particularly great movie. Damien, Esther from Orphan....not to mention Little Lord Fauntleroy; fans of horror movies will know that certain kiddy themes are shorthand for creepiness - children singing nursery rhymes, for instance, or the sound of a carousel, or a blank eyed doll - all are used often as clues to imminent death.

                      This movie may not be the most original premise, but it is refreshingly done. For instance, rather than just being incredibly stupid and doing things no human being would ever do, the characters react much as you would expect them to. Accidents do happen - and children who seem as traumatised as anyone are hardly likely to be suspects. When the truth does begin to dawn, it is met with shock and disbelief, and a mother's instinct to protect her own children will always win against a half baked theory about children being "ill."

                      This movie plays it too straight to be satire, but there is a delicious sense of irony in the fact that nobody is paying any attention to the cosseted children, so their first forays into weirdness are ignored, while parents brightly suggest going out to play, with the bribe of gold stars. (I had to wonder "who actually talks to their kids like this?")

                      The editing is razor sharp and makes the difference between an average schlock horror and a slick production worthy of Hollywood. The film as a whole is, in fact, superior to much of what pops out of the sausage machine of LA.

                      There are elements borrowed from the wonderfully spooky kiddy film "The other," (not to be confused with the also quite good Nicole Kidman film "The others") particularly in the way the violent scenes are put together and the apparent mental workings behind them. (If you haven't seen this one, check it out. It is eerie and will creep you out for some time after your first viewing.)

                      The rather brilliant thing about this film is that, well, children are little monsters anyway. Even without being totally psychopathic, they seem to spend a lot of time shrieking and being annoying. How often do parents refer to them as little horrors? Yet it seems like the most natural thing in the world to protect them - and the last thing you'd ever do is suspect them of a crime.

                      On the negative side, I thought there was a slightly exploitative element to Casey (Hannah Tointon) spending most of the film in stockings, but hey, teenage girls do dress like that.

                      It was nice to watch a film in which there is an element of ambiguity - the last frame in particular will have you questioning what will happen next. And these days, when two hours is standard and films often appear at a bloated 150 minutes, it was a novelty to watch a film which was skilfully and tightly squeezed into around 1h 20 minutes.

                      This is a genuinely frightening film which may leave you watching children a little warily. I'd recommend strongly that you don't put it on while you're babysitting....

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                        20.07.2011 01:36
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                        Worth reading if you're a Simpsons superfan

                        Who doesn't love the Simpsons? (Well, several of my friends actually. Some even claim that Family Guy is "better." Heathens.) Well, Chris Turner loves the show so much that he's written a whole book about it. And a very dense and information packed tome it is, too.

                        Books often have a little note about the author - generally "X is a professor of Z / teaches creative writing at Harvard / has twenty years of experience at Y," that sort of thing. A little detail which tells you why exactly they are qualified to write a book about the subject. Well, this book has no such detail, so it is up to me to tell you that Mr. Turner is a former journalist specialising in commentary on culture and technology - not too shabby. And his connection with the Simpsons? Well, none, except that he is REALLY big fan. He mentions that he tried in vain to get interviews with the big players at the show, but it seems that his research skills have made up for any lack of insider track.

                        On the whole, this book is informative, thought provoking and funny. However, it goes off on tangents (sometimes with only the most tenuous of links with the original subject matter) and sometimes reads like a rabid fanboy's ramblings about his favourite tv show. (Because that is exactly what it is.)

                        From the very start, his slobbering admiration sets the slightly OTT tone - after a while you just want to say "You know what? It's just a show. Get over it." (Especially when he describes "entire evenings speaking to close friends almost exclusively in Simpsons references." I had evenings like this too, when I was twelve.) But it is hard to be churlish when faced with such genuine love for the subject matter. (I once read a commentary on Alice in wonderland where the author couldn't disguise his disgust and contempt for the main character, constantly saying "And the next indescribably stupid thing she does is..." which got a little wearing, to say the least.)

                        The book begins with an introduction of the programme and its phenomenal, unexpected success. Matt Groening (which rhymes with raining, not groaning) was on his way to a meeting about getting his "Life in Hell" characters made into a show. In a last minute panic at the thought of signing his livelihood away to Fox, he decided on the spur of the moment to create some new characters to sell so that his beloved life's work would be untarnished. Based on his own family, The Simpsons were born.

                        The rest of the book is split into chapters focusing on Homer, Bart, Mr Burns, Lisa, Marge, the rise of the internet and the way this fits into the Simpsons 1990s success, the Simpsons' attitude to other countries, the effect of Hollywood celebrities, and the show's place in mass media.

                        These chapters are jampacked with trivia which goes some way to explain the show's eminence - such as the fact that producers Groening, Brooks and Sam Simon insisted on complete creative control; no notes from executives, no focus group reports. They are also on record - repeatedly - as saying that the main goal of the Simpsons, beyond making fans laugh, is to instill in them a strong distrust of authority. "Entertain and subvert," indeed.

                        (Comic book guy is proof that even fans are not safe from the show's determined efforts to make fun of everyone. Simpsons viewers really had been on the internet "registering their disgust" at what they felt was the falling standard of the show... and a new star was born.)

                        Turner also claims that since the 1960s, any A-list comedy writing team in America has contained a Canadian or two. I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that Turner himself is from Canada... I jest of course. I agree with his guess that living in close proximity to the US but not being OF the US allows for a more detached, ironic attitude. One might even say, a more British sense of humour...

                        The show has taken over the world (although those "The Simpsons are going to X!" episodes do seem to ruffle a few feathers). Interestingly, it has to be marketed very differently from country to country - it was branded an "extreme" cartoon in the Czech republic, and Bart's brattiness was not popular in Japan, so adverts emphasised the school-loving Lisa.

                        The chapter on Homer probably made me giggle the most, largely because it's the most quote heavy. Interestingly, Homer is the only character who doesn't seem to warrant comparisons with other parts of culture (a la Marge and Bart) because he is interesting enough in himself. The Simpson patriarch truly is a cultural phenomenon.

                        Lisa's chapter made me realise how much admiration I have for the character - she is probably the most principled member of the family (even Marge needs a little prompting to do the right thing sometimes). She is, as Groening says, "The only one who will make it out of Springfield." (And those presidential dreams don't seem too farfetched....)

                        Marge draws comparisons with the strong morality of middle America - a fact which made George Bush Sr. seem all the sillier when he famously disparaged the Simpsons in a speech. Interestingly, Barbara Bush had earlier called the show "The dumbest thing I've ever seen" and "Marge" publicly penned a very polite letter in response, pointing out that they both lived their lives "to serve an exceptional man." Barbara Bush responded in kind, and the feud was off - deflected by Mrs Simpson's good manners. But after this second strike, there was no choice but to write the ex-president and his wife into an episode in which George fights a "prank war" against Homer and Bart.

                        The chapter on Bart veers too much for my liking into dull, blow-by-blow accounts of Nirvana gigs (I'm not exaggerating). You get the feeling that Chris just wants to write about what he wants to write about, regardless of whether it actually fits into the article. (Hey, takes one to know one.) Bart may be an emblem of punk, but can we at least discuss his character a little more? He's not just a symbol, you know! Like Burns, he just enjoys being bad for badness' sake. Unlike Burns, though, he does have a conscience and, along with Marge, I believe that deep down he's actually very sweet.)

                        The chapter on cyberspace also veers off into detailed descriptions of the dawning of the internet age, which is interesting, but it's not exactly what we signed up for with the title of the book, know what I mean?

                        The chapter "The ugly Springfieldianite" examines the relationship the Simpsons have with people of cultures other than North America. The show's creators unashamedly go for stereotypes, ostensibly because "if it had any resemblance to reality, then the stuff we get wrong would stick out even more, so we just went with the idea of getting everything wrong." But also, I suspect, because stereotypes are funny. (Because they're true.) Wait, who said that?

                        We have Groundskeeper Willie to thank for the now ubiquitous label for the French as "cheese eating surrender monkeys." Turner, being the kind of extreme liberal who would find the mere word "immigrant" to be offensive, squirms uncomfortably in the face of this, and finally admits that the post modern twist on xenophobia might just be xenophobia disguised. To be fair, the show's writers are just as merciless regarding the stereotypes of Americans.)

                        On to happier subjects - the actors involved in the show and the stubborn refusal to kowtow to the greats. Paul McCartney in a cameo? Let's have Apu singing a Beatles song. Rupert Murdoch, president of the much teased Fox? (And as I write, the recipient of a custard pie to the kisser.) He must play the version of himself dictated by Groening et al. Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin? Hilarious Hollwood parodies. The Simpsons carries enough weight that presumably the lure of being immortalised in yellow can convince stars to laugh at themselves (or maybe they really were that cool and funny to begin with).

                        Extraordinarily, the regular cast are not quite the household names you would expect - many people would find it hard to pick out Dan Castellaneta from a lineup. The advantage to this is that the Simpsons only exist in the world that has been created for them - unlike other actors, we never see them offstage, with no makeup on, or getting drunk and falling out of a bar. (Although this idea was hilariously explored in the episode "Behind the laughter.")

                        Chris Turner claims that true afficianados refer to the episode by their reference codes, eg 9F21. Which will mean nothing to you unless you check out the archive website, so it seems like a pretty stupid system to me. Just saying, for example, "Season 5, episode 1" would be much more informative.

                        Turner has his shortcomings; as I mentioned, he tends to go off on long winded tangents, normally involving his favourite bands. He's so busy discussing how Wilco got their record deal (yes, really) that we miss out on some pertinent questions. For instance, what was the casting process for the show? There are very few quotes from any of the actors involved (although this could be deliberate, when the writers and the characters themselves are the real stars). But hasn't anyone else ever wondered if they have a contingency plan in case Hank Azaria ever falls under a bus?

                        There is also an odd omission when Turner points out the Disney inspiration behind Itchy and scratchy (their "earliest work" resembling an early Mickey mouse) but makes no mention of Tom and Jerry... (I know, I'm nitpicking. But it's so obvious!)

                        Sometimes his own (rather smug and self-consciously cool) side skews his judgement - for instance, he assumes that the writers "hate musicals" (based on... what?) and that when the Springfield residents burst into song, it's because they are "beating the ever-loving shit out of the musical." He goes on to say "Even though they're excellent piss-takes, they often cross the line from kitschy parody of a near-dead art form into a sort of skilled ironic revival of same." In human language, I think this roughly translates to "I thought they were making fun of musicals, but maybe they just like putting on song and dance numbers." Considering that the cartoon format, coupled with the occasional Halloween episode, has given the writers absolute, total freedom regarding what can happen from week to week, I'd say it's a safe bet that they occasionally just like trying out different genres.

                        I think it is also a mistake to assume that everyone shares your exact political ideology, and then fit whatever they write into a kind of "that must mean they think x" when actually, you have no idea what they were thinking when they wrote it.

                        This book has its annoying moments and it could have been edited heavily without any great loss. But it is compelling, and Turner's fanatical zeal for everyone's favourite family is contagious. It's easy to underestimate cartoons which feature funny voices and slapstick, but The Simpsons truly is top quality entertainment, sure to be enjoyed for years to come. Even the most often repeated episodes (I'm looking at you, channel 4!) contain jokes you will have forgotten, and the sheer breadth and scale of the humour is outstanding. Where else will you find parodies of The Great Escape and The Birds in the space of five minutes? Simpsons, I salute you.

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                        • Rush Hairdressers / Hair Care / 153 Readings / 148 Ratings
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                          04.04.2011 13:40
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                          With a bit more attention to customer service, they'd be vastly improved.

                          I am terrible at getting my hair cut - forget 6 weeks, I have been known to leave it for 6 months. I'm trying to be better though, and last month I had been doing some reading on the power of the moon. Ever heard about getting your hair cut when it's the full moon? https://morroccomethod.com/lunar-hair-chart gives a more comprehensive guide. And yes. I am well aware that I have taken the crazy train one step too far into Kooksville, but it seems that farmers have been extolling the virtues of gardening by the moon (aka bio-dynamic gardening) for years. And the idea that your body can be affected by the moon is no siller than the idea of the moon controlling the tides.... so I'm keeping an open mind.

                          So, I was on the look out for a special offer - I am a frequent user of student hairdressers but was put off this by a slightly traumatic experience last time. Apart from taking about four hours, the (BO-challenged) young man had clearly spent most of his time working on model heads which didn't answer back or say "ow." Cue lots of head yanking and vigorous, painful combing. (He kept saying "Ooh, sorry," every time I winced. I was tempted to snarl "don't be sorry, just stop f-ing doing it!" but I didn't, because I am far too polite.)

                          So, being a cheapskate, I googled "haircut voucher" and came up with a "50% off" Rush offer.

                          Their customer service leaves a little to be desired. Their website invites you to send an email as a method of contact - which I did, since I was at work and there's a chance that making phone calls about my hair could be frowned upon. Some people just don't have their priorities right.)

                          However, this email was ignored - luckily, the salon was open late, so I was able to call after work and get a Saturday appointment - impressive for a Thursday call, yes? (Wasn't there a rush to Rush when people realised the full moon was the best day to get a haircut? How strange!)

                          (Rush's opening hours are generally 9am to 7pm, but Thursdays are late closing - 9pm. Sundays opening hours are 11am to 5pm. )

                          So, I arrived for my appointment right on time, and was taken straight to a seat. While I waited, magazine-less, I noticed there was a drinks menu , and an instruction to "let us know" if I wanted anything. In the end I did ask for an apple juice, but I thought it was a tiny bit shoddy that nobody came and offered me anything to read or drink while I was waiting.

                          My young hairstylist was pleasant and chatty without talking my ear off (although I might add, if I'd wanted a blow by blow account of the "comedy" of Comic relief, I'd have watched it.) I told her I just wanted a trim to take off any split ends, and I'd leave it to her to determine how much "needed" to be taken off. (A risky strategy I know. But I find that most hairdressers, far from chopping off too much, seem afraid to take off ENOUGH hair. It will grow back. Chop away.)

                          She mused "I might use a treatment too...." Now I should have asked if this would be of any extra cost - but also, she should have told me. It added roughly £10 to the cost of my session. The fact that this optional extra wasn't part of the deal slowly dawned on me when the lady next to me was offered a treatment by her stylist, who said "It's totally up to you..." She replied "I've had one recently actually" which I think is the polite way of saying "you'd have to pry the tenner out of my cold dead hand before I'd fork out money for that again."

                          To be fair, my hair did feel nice and soft afterwards but I'm sure an Aussie mask would have done the same.

                          As well as my wash and treatment, I enjoyed a wonderful head massage (my favourite bit). Then the cut, which was exactly what I asked for; a trim with a few more choppy layers for movement. One tiny complaint - when I examined it more closely at home, there may have been a tiny discrepancy with the length of the shortest layers framing either side of my face. I've noticed that student hairdressers are very exact in this, painstakingly holding the pieces of hair side by side, no doubt fearing the wrath of their tutors if the lengths are uneven. I felt that this, more confident stylist was perhaps a little too quick to say "Finished!"

                          Remember those ads with a voiceover which started "We all know blow drying and styling is bad for our hair, but we still do it...."? Well, actually I don't. In fact, the only time a hairdryer ever comes near my head is when it's being wielded in the hand of a hairdresser. The rest of the time, I use a towel and then air dry. I think I last used a curling tong about 2 years ago, and I don't straighten (I like my waves.)

                          So, it was more than a little ironic that my stylist recommended some (extortionately priced) "caring" shampoos to me while the air was actually filled with the aroma of my burning hair as she scraped it around with a hairbrush and hairdryer to leave it poker straight. I can't take hairdressers seriously when they lecture on healthy hair - unless you are going to a salon which has banned anything hot from touching your hair.

                          But then hairdressers do talk a lot of bull; I once had one who told me my hair was "really split" the first time I went to see her, before saying a few months later "You hair is so much better since you're been seeing me." Ladies and gentlemen, I had done NOTHING differently. Mind games, I tell you!

                          I also had a hairdressing tutor ask me "Do you do a lot of swimming?" to which I squeaked "Yes!" rather than admit that I didn't, when clearly my hair looked as if I did. I instantly wished I'd said "no," and left her hanging with the knowledge that she had just insulted my split ends, rather than witness her smug "See, I can TELL!" to her mouse-like student.

                          My hair is mostly straight but with a bit of a wave (I believe it's called an "S" wave) around my face and it curls quite a bit if I sleep with it wet. However, hairdressers nearly always straighten it without even asking if this is the look I want. "Let's make this nice and straight," they say, as if straight hair is somehow morally and aesthetically superior. Only two have ever offered to make it into bouncy waves, one pointing out that this would show off the freshly cut layers much better than flattening them down with the rest of the hair. I have no idea why this has not occurred to the rest of the hairdressing industry. Unfortunately while my straightened hair looked nice, and very groomed ( or "done") the mousse and spray that she used to help achieve this effect also left me with an inch of nasty product feeling at my roots (Answer to hairdressers who offer a clarifying shampoo to "get rid of build up" - I don't have any. So there).

                          A haircut at Rush is usually "from" £46; the current first-time 50% discount offer made it around £23, plus my treatment - I left paying £33.50 plus a tip. I was also given some cards to hand out to friends (presumably computer-illiterate ones who have never heard of google) which would give them 50% off, too. On the plus side, getting them to sign up would also give me a £20 discount on my next visit... if there is one. Hmm.....

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                          • More +
                            07.03.2011 14:41
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                            There must be some better books on this subject....

                            After reading some positive Amazon reviews, I thought this book looked interesting. So when I saw it in a charity shop, I snapped it up. This is one time where it might have paid to read the back cover more closely, for then I would have learned that Jenny Smedley is a columnist for magazines such as "Love it!" Now, I don't want to be snobby about such publications... but I can't help it. Reading this book was essentially like reading a bumper issue of "spiritual pets" in a trashy magazine; all presented with absolutely no scepticism or questioning.

                            I'm sure some people might enjoy Jenny Smedley's conversational style of writing, but I found all the comments of "you know" and "don't get me wrong" etc made my brain hurt. It was like having a conversation about spirituality with your extremely suggestible next door neighbour over the garden fence. Many stories were rounded off with a "There, you see! That PROVES it!" footnote.

                            She does attempt to get a bit scientific by addressing sceptics' concerns, saying that they would argue that animals don't have souls because, "if you show an animal a reflection of itself in the mirror, it won't recognise what it's looking at." But, she explains, "people look in a mirror for two reasons - to admire themselves or to try and change the way they look... animals simply never consider how they look and they're not curious about it, so generally there's no point in them recognising themselves in a mirror. "

                            Well, that's that sorted then. For a self proclaimed animal lover, you'd have thought she might have seen some of those youtube videos of puppies or kittens attempting to play with their reflections, or peeking behind the mirror to find the other animal. I may not be the most scientific type, but even I know that recognising your reflection is something that only happens at a certain stage of development - which is why babies and MOST animals can't do it. However, I don't think anyone is using this as an example of why infants don't have souls. Incidentally, as Jenny later points out, chimpanzees do pass the mirror test. With a quick google search, she would have discovered that bottlenose dolphins, orcas, elephants and magpies can also recognise themselves. (By the way, this isn't even the whole list - and I imagine, there are many animals which have not yet been tested.)

                            The book is divided into chapters such as "Spirit pets" (those which have died and return to comfort their owners) "Guardian pets" (such as the dead horse who whinnied in order to warn his owners that the barn was on fire) and "Pets that return" - the writer herself has a dog which she believes is the reincarnation of one of her former dogs.

                            Helpfully, the final chapter explains how to communicate with your own pet, presumably so they can miaow from beyond the grave to let you know the winning lottery numbers. (FYI, it boils down to relaxing and then asking your pet questions, such as "What is your favourite food?" in the hope that the answer will psychically pop into your head. Jenny points out that animals gaze at us intently, "almost willing us to understand them." This is true, although I'm pretty sure that the message your pooch is trying to convey is "Give me some of that delicious smelling grub," not "let's discuss some philosophy, old chap."

                            I am about 50% sceptical and 50% willing to go along with the ideas in this book - I see no reason to disbelieve stories of spiritual animals if we're willing to accept similar stories about human beings. I've always found it somewhat bizarre that people can happily believe that people "go to Heaven" but automatically assume that animals don't. So if this subject ever comes up in church, try them with this: If I love my cat, then either God loves her too, or I have a greater capacity for love than God does - which is impossible. See, it's simple. (Or as Jenny Smedley would say, THAT PROVES IT!)

                            Some of the tales described here are genuinely sweet and moving. However, the dreadful writing style and occasional ridiculous story makes the book as a whole unintentionally hilarious.

                            For instance, one owner of a ghostly mutt mentioned "The dogs were never allowed upstairs in the bedrooms, but now she is in spirit she has no boundaries." (Well, good luck in keeping an apparition off the sofa.)

                            Jenny also describes the theory of "soul configuration" - that souls begin as a huge number of "sparks" - they may start as a million blades of grass, then as they gather experience, graduate to 2.000 tadpoles, working their way up to mammals (perhaps four sheep souls), before finally becoming one human. (Am I the only person who thinks this theory is kind of insulting to animals?) She also describes flocks of birds as having a "collective soul," meaning that they have "a fragment of a soul and need the others of its group to function as a whole." I'm fairly sure anyone who has loved a pet bird would dispute this idea.

                            She uses the collective soul to answer that age old question "Whoever heard of a ghost ant or dinosaur?" Apparently because "an ant contains only a fraction of a soul, and therefore doesn't hang around after death, it's immediately absorbed back into the whole," and "the same would apply to early life forms such as dinosaurs." Why? It seems odd to me that the world should be awash with spectral dogs, cats and horses, while no spooky dinosaurs have ever appeared in Times Square.

                            This prejudice for pets is apparent again in her introduction to one anecdote; "When I got this following letter from Mimi about her tortoise, I was amazed. It just goes to show that just because an animal isn't fluffy and cuddly, that doesn't mean they don't have some soul inside." Well, that's a relief.

                            There are some genuinely interesting stories - we've all heard about pets who "know" when their beloved owner is coming home, but some stories can be explained by their super sensitive hearing. Not so the story of Moxy the dog, who will only relax when her master is safely home - at his university digs 50 miles away. (As he ruefully points out, this made it impossible to stay out all night without his mum knowing.) Another dog reacted oddly at the exact time his human daddy was boarding a homebound plane.

                            But for every fascinating story, there is one which makes you groan - such as the man who was afraid of cats - but accepted one which he believed to be the reincarnation of his dog. He describes the way this cat would growl and spit at other felines - "It was really strange, and to this day Cilla still won't tolerate another cat near me." Protective reincarnated dog, or averagely feisty kitty?

                            In the "About the author" section, much is made of her TV career, with one description of Jenny being introduced to a pen of semi-wild foxes "and they gathered close around her, one fox even scented on Jenny's hair to welcome her to the pack." Now, the picture in my mind may not be accurate, but it is funny.

                            If you're looking for books on animal spirituality, a better choice might be "When elephants weep" by Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy, or any of the animal related "Chicken soup for the soul" books. If you do want to read this book, check your local Oxfam - it's where my copy is going.

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                            • Child's Play 2 (DVD) / DVD / 162 Readings / 158 Ratings
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                              06.12.2010 01:15
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                              The toy cupboard will never be the same again...

                              I confess, I'm addicted to ropey old horror films. Just indulge me, please....

                              The film makers obviously didn't expect to be making a sequel, hence the film opening with the flimsy premise of the (burnt, dismembered beyond all recognition) body of Chucky being resurrected by the toy company. This is evidently a bizarre attempt to dispel any rumours about the "Tommy" doll - after a small child AND his mother blamed one for multiple murders (see first film for details). Let's ignore the plot hole of the two policemen who were also witnesses to Chucky's animation (can we assume that they denied all knowledge and left Andy's mother to rot in the mental institution alone? Or were killed instantaneously by some other means before they could tell anyone? Or they are also in the mental institution, with psychiatrists talking of "mass hallucinations"?) Whatever, all you need to know is that Andy is now in care awaiting a foster care placement.

                              Andy's new home is with Phil and Joanne Simpson (Jenny Agutter, whose finest hour was surely her "Daddy! My daddy!" line in the railway children and whose career has been downhill ever since.) He has a teenage foster sister, who is rebellious and tells him every depressing thing there is to know about a life in care. He is traumatised, as you would expect, but has to accept that his carers dismiss his past as "nightmares."

                              Little does he know that Chucky is on the loose (another major plot hole being that, hours after being reborn, with the first phone Chucky has access to, he calls the children's home and finds out where Andy has been sent. As the last time they saw each other was when Chucky was being fried to a crisp and chopped up, and Andy was safely with his mother and two policeman, it does stretch credibility that he would a) know he was in a children's home, b) know the number without the aid of a telephone book, and c) they would tell a random stranger where a child has been placed. Still, this was 1990).

                              And thus begins Andy's nightmare again - but this time it's less about the suspense and more about the silliness. Now that we've established that dolls are scary, and murderous ones even worse, this movie warms to its theme. Chucky has become funnier, with some great one liners ("Women drivers!") and a dry sense of humour.

                              As always, credibility is stretched - after wreaking havoc, Chucky manages to get home and back in the position he was left in to avoid suspicion, which brings to mind some sort of Ferris Beuller style race to get home without being seen.

                              I did enjoy the darkly comedic aspects of this film, which flesh out the characters and make the film much more entertaining than a straight horror. There are some quality Chucky moments - his little legs kicking as he apprehends a victim by jumping on their back, for instance.

                              Kyle the teenager (Christine Elise) makes a refreshingly un-helpless teen heroine, replacing Andy's mother as the Sarah Connor style defending female. The goriness of the deaths has a cartoonish quality - Using the Chucky factory as a backdrop was a stroke of genius... but you just KNOW what's going to happen as soon as you see the factory machine which plugs in the dolls' eyeballs....

                              All in all, a worthy entry in the Chucky franchise. If you like that sort of thing.

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                                02.12.2010 23:57
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                                Gah. Not one I shall be treasuring forever and re-reading whenever I get the chance.

                                I never read introductions until after I've read the book in question, as I always want to get on with reading the story, and you never know what they are talking about until you know the characters anyway. My edition of "This Side of Paradise" includes an introduction by Matthew J. Bruccoli (whoever he may be). Reading this could have saved me some time, because he says (and I paraphrase only slightly) that it's a rubbish book and if it wasn't for F. Scott Fitzgeralds's later successes, there is no way it would still be in print.

                                Unfortunately, my compulsion to read "good" books led me to pick this up in a charity shop and get stuck in. Having only read The Great Gatsby, I was expecting more classic American literature. Unfortunately Scotty's first attempt at a novel, while lauded at the time, has aged horribly and was possibly only popular at the time (1920) because it was "different."

                                The protagonist is Amory Blaine, a young man who calls his mother by her first name, is popular with the young ladies, and flunks pretty much every exam set at Princeton. He has a gang of friends (similarly floppy student types) and they discuss war, pacifism, and poetry; saying things like "I don't get him at all, and I'm a literary bird myself." They also spend hours at a time categorising their peers into "Slickers" (typified by slicked back hair and a "clever sense of social values,") and "Big Men" (known by their un-slicked hair, general stupidity and tendency to call their schooldays the happiest of their lives.)

                                The trouble with this novel is that not a lot happens. Amory meanders along...and occasionally it looks as if something interesting might happen. Amory meets a girl. Hmm, this could get interesting... Oh, she's gone. A friend is killed, and Amory thinks he sees a ghost. This could definitely get interesting... no, nothing more is heard. Amory meets another girl... and so on. Nothing ever gets developed. (This is how you can tell it's based on real life.)

                                Another problem I have with this novel is that I don't know a lot of the writers that are referenced, whereas they were presumably popular and well known at the time. But who wants to read a list of books and writers, even if they are being treated to a scathing critique by Amory? It's as if F. Scott Fitzgerald was merely bragging about how many books he'd read.

                                For me, the writing improved when Fitzgerald employed a variety of styles - changing from boring prose, to poems, to a more appealing stage play style. Apparently this disparity was due to the fact that young Scott assembled the novel by filling it out with his unpublished bits and bobs. It's also said that the character of Rosalind (one of Amory's many girlfriends) was based on Zelda, whom the aspiring writer hoped to marry. She only agreed once his writing success and celebrity was promised - perhaps this mercenary attitude informed the slightly melancholy twists in Amory's life and his proclamation that "The sentimental person thinks things will last - the romantic person has a desperate confidence that they won't."

                                There are some quotable lines in which you can see the droll cynicism which would later epitomise Fitzgerald. Amory claims "When I see a happy family, it makes me sick at my stomach," and wisely observes "I know I'm not a regular fellow, yet I loathe anybody else that isn't."

                                But overall, reading this book is a bit like getting trapped at a party with a pretentious 19 year old philosophy student who wants to impress you with his reading list, and tells you why civilisation is all wrong, and society should change and live according to his ideals. It's cynical yet naive, and left me itching for an intelligent conversation with a grown up.

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                                  21.11.2010 19:13
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                                  A luxury item you can probably live without.... but it is nice.

                                  Every so often a magazine will have an article featuring the very latest in skincare technology - and this hand held "sonic cleansing system" is frequently mentioned. This makes me super smug, because I've had mine for about 18 months. You see? It pays to spend hours on makeupalley.com.... Not a waste of time *at all.*

                                  This little gadget was one of Oprah's "favourite things" in 2007 - and I think it's safe to assume she has access to every beauty product known to man. It divides opinion down the board - some say it is miraculous and has transformed their skin, some say it is a gimmick that wastes your time and money - and "you might as well just wash your face with a flannel." Me? Well, I'm somewhere in between...

                                  The claims are thus:

                                  * Leaves skin feeling and looking healthier and smoother

                                  * Removes 6 times more makeup than manual cleansing

                                  * Cleanses so well that products absorb better

                                  * Pores appear smaller

                                  * Reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles

                                  * Reduces oily areas, dry skin patches and blemishes

                                  * Gentle for use twice daily for different skin types

                                  The brush oscillates with a sonic frequency of more than 300 movements per second, (there's a nifty video here: http://www.clarisonic.com/us/professionals/technology.php) which apparently "flexes" the pores. So it's kind of like yoga for them.

                                  All this, and it claims to be gentle and not abrasive; like an electric toothbrush, the brushes won't move if you press too hard. The brush heads come in three varieties : Normal, Sensitive and Delicate (for extra sensitive skin).

                                  The Clarisonic is blessed with a system by which beeps will be emitted to let you know how long to spend on your forehead, on your cheeks etc. However, as I think we can probably stretch to washing our faces UNSUPERVISED, I'd say ignore these and do what you feel like. You can set it to run for either one or two minutes.

                                  The instructions also ramble on about the more complex system of beeps - I would summarise here but it honestly started to sound like a guide to the morse code, with "one long beep and two short beeps" being just one of the long list of possible cryptic messages your clarisonic could convey.

                                  The only important beep is the low battery signal; luckily a fully charged battery lasts for 30 minutes, so you don't have to charge all that often.

                                  So, having been convinced by the ladies on the makeup alley boards that these American-born gizmos were the bee's knees, I stalked Ebay for a while until I found a bargain - for about £80. Of course, now they are available in the UK at Space NK, but as prices start at £150 for brush and starter kit, you might still want to check out Ebay for a more competitive price. (I would normally suggest Amazon but their prices right now are even more extortionate...) Extra Heads are £20 each; officially they need replacing every 3-4 months, but careful cleaning and the odd freshen up in the dishwasher will keep them looking good for much longer. (Although of course using the same grubby, tattered ones for years on end would rather negate the whole experience...)

                                  So, once you have got over the shock of spending the cost of a weekend in Brighton on something that merely cleans your face, what's the procedure?

                                  Firstly, eye makeup needs to be removed by hand (no vibrating brushes on my eyelids, no sirree.) Then apply your cleanser of choice - Clarisonic does make its own brand, which it naturally recommends; however, I use cold cream or whatever thick luscious cleanser is currently in bathroom cupboard circulation. Now for the fun part! The first time I used the clarisonic, it felt very strange - it's a bit like using a giant electric toothbrush on your face. (If anyone with a lot of time on their hands tries this as an economical alternative, let me know how you get on....)

                                  I also got a big spot - and I have finally been convinced that this IS a sign that something is working well to draw out impurities. I also noticed my pores looking a little tighter and my skin generally felt smoother (and the spot soon went).

                                  But is it worth the expense?

                                  It feels good to know that I am getting my skin as clean as humanly possible. Before this purchase, I wished for regular facials, but now I feel I am getting the equivalent benefits, one day at a time. However, if you go to professional therapists because you enjoy being pampered, then DIY beauty may not have the same appeal.

                                  There are some unexpected benefits - the Clarisonic can work wonders on the little red bumps that sometimes appear on my arms. I also think that my skin absorbs creams better; I don't feel the same kind of greasy film sitting on my skin that you feel when you have not exfoliated.

                                  Those who have had very troublesome skin report sensational change (although I can't help thinking that taking a brush to very acne-ridden skin could become a nightmare of cross-contamination.) But as my skin was generally ok to start with, the change hasn't been dramatic.

                                  I don't use this every single day - partly because I'm too lazy in the mornings and I go with the "sometimes your skin needs a break from being fussed over" theory. One beautician affected horror when I told her (in my heady beginner days) that I used it morning and night, (as recommended) - she said it was far too harsh. However, I take this with a pinch of salt, as this "professional" had never actually heard of the Clarisonic and I had to explain it to her as being "a bit like one of those Neutrogena wave things". (Which, by all accounts, are vastly inferior to this, the big daddy of all cleansing systems.)

                                  Despite this, I am a little wary of overusing something which essentially does act as a mild exfoliant - of course *they* are going to advise you to use it as much as possible, hoping you will wear out yet another brush and come running back for more. I think using it once a day is sufficient.

                                  As far as the wrinkle reducing goes - I am keeping watch on the forehead groove (damn you, addiction to computers and books!) but generally my skin is pretty ok. Recently a new work colleague asked "How old are you then? About 15?" (I'm almost 30) So either the Clarisonic is doing its job, or it's just my joyous and childlike personality. We'll never know.

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