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Cosmokat
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Member since: 12.09.2009

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    • Vampire's Kiss (DVD) / DVD / 25 Readings / 24 Ratings
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      22.08.2010 17:49
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      I've got a soft spot for this dark, daft movie

      Reality and delusion is the subject of this 1990 film by Robert Bierman. Nicolas Cage plays the lead role of Peter Loew, who works in publishing and appears to be highly stressed and having problems in his relationships with women. Peter is seeing a psychiatrist for this difficulty. He meets and is bitten by a vampire, played by Jennifer Beals (of Flashdance fame), and begins to experience changes within himself as a result. It is unclear exactly how much of what he experiences is in his mind, but it is obvious that he is controlled by his madness while he feels the vampire is controlling his life. As his psychosis progresses, Peter makes the life of his secretary, Alva, miserable with his bullying then terrifying behaviour. He forces himself to eat a live bug (well done Nic) and purchases some vampire teeth when his own fail to grow. Some of these scenes are heartbreakingly and tragically funny.

      Nicolas Cage is in full overact mode, which works for me in this film. I think his performance is hilarious, if self indulgent and ridiculous. The therapy session scenes give him free reign to leap around and Peter's affected accent is absurd. He manages to recite the alphabet in what must be the most entertaining way possible. What grounding in reality this film does have is due to the victimised Alva, played by Maria Conchita Alonso, and the shrink, played by Elizabeth Ashley, whose normal responses to Peter's aggression and bizarreness generates sympathy from the viewer.

      With some pretty grim events, Vampire's Kiss has it's dark, disturbing elements, but doesn't set out to take itself seriously and the end result is humour. This is not a great film, but lovable and quotable. 'I'll take the plastic'.

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      • Desserts / Recipe / 54 Readings / 53 Ratings
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        29.06.2010 18:21
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        Tasty Summer Recipes

        Three Summery Strawberry Treats

        Strawberry Meringue Cake

        I can't remember where I saw this recipe originally but the first time I made it I must have only been twelve or thirteen. There aren't many recipes that I still return to nearly 20 years later, but this is so simple and so tasty it's still one of my favourite desserts to make, and of course, to eat.

        Ingredients
        3 eggs
        60z caster sugar
        3tsp lemon juice
        3tsp cornflour
        200ml dbl cream
        30z fromage frais
        12oz strawberries, chopped
        optional - extra strawberries and cream to decorate

        Whisk egg whites until stiff, then slowly whisk in 6oz caster sugar. Add lemon juice and cornflour. Add a couple of drops of red food colouring now for pink meringues. Draw outline on 4x9inch rectangle onto baking parchment x 3. Place the paper on baking trays.

        Divide the meringue onto the parchment in the rectangle shapes. Bake for 50 mins at 140c. When ready, remove from oven and leave to cool. Whip the double cream, stir in the fromage frais and add the strawberries.

        Spread half the cream mixture onto the first layer of meringue, then add the second meringue to the top and add the rest of the cream. Top with the third meringue. Decorate with extra strawberries and cream if you want.

        Gratin of Summer Berries

        Again this recipe is great for its simplicity. I always make prepare-ahead desserts if I'm having people round for dinner to save on last minute hassle, but this is so speedy even I can manage this hot dessert at the last minute.

        Serves 4

        Ingredients

        140g strawberries, hulled and cut into halves or quarters.
        140g each fresh raspberries and blueberries
        grated zest one small lemon
        100g white chocolate
        142ml pot dbl cream
        2tbsp icing sugar

        Scatter the berries into medium ramekins or a large, shallow heatproof dish, preferably in a single layer. Sprinkle with lemon zest, cover and chill til ready to serve.

        Break up the chocolate into small heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a pan til almost boiling then pour onto the chocolate. Leave for 3 mins then stir slowly til dissolved. Allow to cool to room temperature til thickened.

        To serve, heat the grill for 5 mins til glowing hot. Spoon the chocolate cream over the berries, sprinkle over the icing sugar and place under the grill. Grill for 2-3 mins til the sauce begins to brown. Remove and serve immediately.

        Strawberry Daiquiri

        Who want to spend ages baking when the sun finally shines? And who needs an actual dessert when you can drink cocktails instead? I tried this recipe recently and blended the ingredients instead of mashing and shaking them, it worked really well and was delicious.

        The recipe is for 4 very small cocktails, if serving in Martini glasses would work better, but if using bigger glasses make more!

        Ingredients

        16 strawberries, plus 2 for serving
        8tsp sugar
        140ml white rum
        4tbsp strawberry liqueur
        100ml lime juice

        Blend strawberries, sugar, rum, liqueur and lime.

        Pour and serve with ½ a strawberry in each.


        Hope some of you enjoy making, eating, drinking these! :)

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          25.06.2010 14:40
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          Lovely book

          I blame this book entirely for my lack of review-writing for the last few months. Since I bought it with my dooyoo points I have spent all my spare time crocheting.

          The Harmony Guides appear to have a wide range of knit and crochet pattern and instruction books. This is the first one I've used, but lots of them look good. I bought this book because I wanted small motif patterns specifically for making jewellery, and it's great; there are 250 small motifs all in one place.

          The book is a nice size to work from, it's durable without being a hardback and will sit open on any page without being propped or held which is useful when your hands are busy crocheting. It starts with a section on Tools and Equipment, with a guide to crochet hooks and how to hold the yarn. This is followed with some basic stitches, illustrated in nice clear sketches. There are twenty two pages of instruction before the main bulk of the book, the motifs. I wasn't a beginner, but not advanced either, and this has proved useful for tips, reference and reminders.

          There are one, sometimes two motif patterns to a page, with bright attractive photography of the motifs and clear, concise pattern instructions. Each motif also has a diagram pattern, which I haven't seen before. This type of pattern probably has a proper name that I don't know. I haven't used them for most of the crocheting I have done using this book but with a couple of patterns where I have lost track of where I am this has been really useful.

          I have noticed one or two mistakes within the patterns which have been fairly obvious because they haven't fit with the rest of the pattern so haven't caused any major problems, however it is something to watch out for and a bit annoying.

          There are a nice range of motifs, some square variants, some circular, stars and lots of flower shapes. There are some unusual shapes and patterns which are really lovely and a range of chunky and delicate patterns. I also think there is a good mix of simple and more complex patterns. I'd like to see more patterns that I could increase to whatever size I wanted, but there are only a few like this.

          This book has been great for making jewellery, and I have progressed in my ability to crochet because of this purchase. The motifs could also be used to make blankets, bags, scarves, or to decorate bigger items by sewing a flower on. I'd definitely recommend this book, and I'd like to buy more in the series.

          The book is selling for £8.52 on Amazon at the moment; this was well worth it for me.

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          20.03.2010 18:51
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          A great resource for all women

          This book will suit those people who are interested in looking at their health from the perspective of the physical, the mental and the emotional. My copy was a gift from someone who had found it a useful text, and I've had it for years, dipping in and out of it. I recently got around to reading it from start to finish, as the content was so interesting, even in the places that I felt don't specifically apply to me.

          The book starts out with Part One: From External Control to Inner Guidance - looking at the need to get in touch with our own understanding of our minds and bodies. The author points out that part of western patriarchal culture (she's North American) is handing over the control of our health to the experts and not trusting our own instincts. In Part Two, The Anatomy of Women's Wisdom, she provides in depth discussion on the body's organs and processes significant to women. It is her belief that maximum health is maintained by awareness and understanding of the unconscious beliefs we hold as individuals and society, and rethinking some of these. Part Three: Choices for Healing: Creating Your Personal Plan is the self help bit, with practical advice on ways to increase personal health.

          Christiane Northrup M.D worked in obstetrics and gynaecology for over 25 years and draws continuously and honestly on her own experiences, including her mistakes and difficult learning processes. First published in 1994 and often updated, my copy of her book is the second edition published in1998, but Amazon stocks editions as recent as 2009.

          This detailed look at the way we think about our health contains a lot of useful information and I feel would be likely to benefit any woman who chose to read it. I have no doubt some would find it too unconventional in places but there is tons of valuable information here.

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          • Whiteout (DVD) / DVD / 77 Readings / 75 Ratings
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            31.01.2010 18:43
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            Crap

            This is the first review I've felt compelled to write that isn't a recommendation. Actually, it is, a recommendation to stay well away.

            Directed by Dominic Sena (Kalifornia, Gone in 60 Seconds), Whiteout was based on an 1988 comic book by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber. It did pretty badly commercially upon it's 2009 release.

            The film is set in a base in Antarctica, which is just about to shut down for the winter. US Marshall Carrie Stetko is preparing to leave with most of the rest of the people stationed there after a two year stint at the base, but a spanner in the works shows up in the shape of a body which Stetko identifies as a homicide. Her investigation makes her planned exit from Antarctica look less likely, along with a few colleagues - the Doc, a pilot and a UN Operative, who also get drawn into the investigation. While winter storms and the deadly whiteout close in Stetko uncovers a secret 60 years old and battles with the murderer determined to finish her to protect it.

            The main cast:

            Kate Becinsale - Carrie Stetko - US Deputy Marshall
            Gabriel Macht - Robert Pryce, UN operative
            Columbus Short - Delfy, pilot
            Tom Skerrit - Doctor John Fury


            Our competent Deputy Marshall is introduced to us by way of a shower scene - obviously this gratuitous bum shot served no purpose other than to show off Kate Beckinsale's body in a film where she's otherwise bundled up from head to toe for the arctic conditions. While there's nothing wrong with that it felt a bit clunky and bizarre. The ludicrous dialogue was strangely spaced and had the definite feel of a cut away scene in a computer game throughout. The script was lazily written with loads of glaring exposition, and while the delivery was often bad, even the likes of DeNiro wouldn't be able to do much with 'You've been here for two years, and you've handed your badge in so you'll be going home in three days', (or something very similar...).

            So lots of movies of this genre have dodgy scripts and acting, but the action was just as bad. Badly paced, confused fight scenes rolling round in the snow in which it's difficult to know or care what's actually happening.

            I would like to say this action thriller type movie was just a clichéd piece of fluff, but it was worse than that, it was so boring that I could barely bring myself to focus on the plot at all. The clichés were there though, from the fact of the Marshall having handed in her badge to the flashbacks of her traumatic past. It didn't help that within the first five minutes it was pretty obvious what the ending would look like. Not that I made it to the end - I watched this with my boyfriend and after about 30 minutes we watched Surrogates instead - that was pretty good by the way. We went back to Whiteout afterwards and though I dozed off just before the end I'm told my predictions were accurate!

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              08.01.2010 19:55
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              Recommended especially for Lynch fans

              I discovered 'Celine and Julie Go Boating' by chance, browsing the internet for ideas for my sister and myself for a movie-characters-themed fancy dress party. The description of the film caught my eye - 'two women run amok in Paris', and when I stopped laughing at the idea of us going as them I bought my sister the film, which sounded pretty intriguing.

              My Sis and her husband live in France and on our next visit out there we settled down to watch the movie. If you're gonna watch it make sure you have plenty of time, at 193 minutes it's quite a commitment. Celine et Julie vont au bateau is the proper title of this French film. Directed by Jacues Rivette and released in 1974, it apparently is full of literary and film references, the only one apparent to my uncultured self being Alice in Wonderland.

              The somewhat confusing and fantastical story that unfurls begins with Julie and Celine as strangers. In the opening scene Julie follows Celine who walks past her in a park dropping items a la white rabbit. The pair play an unspoken game in which they alone know the rules, or at least, make them up in a similar way. Their connection is palpable and the amnesic Celine decides to move in to Julie's flat. The link between the two women is shown further by the story playing around with their identities. Julie is due to meet up with a childhood sweetheart and unbeknownst to her Celine takes her place. In a parallel move, Celine takes Julie's place in an audition for a cabaret club.

              The tale gets stranger as it continues. The events focus on a story within the story that is rather like a stage play and takes place inside an old mansion. When either Celine or Julie enter the mansion they appear to be cast in the role of housekeeper and they witness the incidents inside, where a young child is in danger amidst the tense dynamics of the 3 adults, a widower and two women jealously vying for his affection. When they return they are in a confused, drugged like state, and have forgotten what happened, but each discovers a sweet in her mouth. Celine and Julie work together to try to help the child, by using the magical properties of the sweets and solving the mystery of the mansion.

              The narrative becomes self reflexive as the heroines meddle with the story. I was not sure if they were supposed to be really living the events as we see them, or if they were creating a story of their own. From the start they are depicted as imaginative people who delight in their playful instincts. Even Celine's profession as stage magician highlights her love of illusion, and we see Julie spinning tall tales to impress her friends. Many of their antics reminded me of the spontaneous games children play.

              This convoluted and surreal plot examines the concepts of creation, imagination, play and magic. There is plenty of humour amongst the weirdness, Julie's brilliant physical comedy in the audition scene won me over, and both women indulge in a bit of slapstick at various stages. Watching the first hour I was mostly bewildered but found the tone of the film appealing. After a while I settled into their world and found myself charmed and inspired. I really doubt that it would have the same effect on everyone though, my boyfriend went off to read his book in a less bizarre environment. There is not a little of the David Lynch about this film. Think Lost Highway with added mischief.

              The cinematography style is nicely realistic, with lots of outdoor filming and use of natural light. The lengthy, unhurried scenes are constructed with some unconventional stopping and starting that complement the sense of being lost in the film along with its characters, and not fully knowing what is going on. The direction is very well handled, for a film this long and strange to feel so well balanced is testament to that. I think Celine and Julie is disjointed in a structured, considered way; there is the contradictory feeling that everything about this film happened on purpose, even down to the spontaneous feel of it's loops and curves. I don't speak much French, but the subtitled English seemed well-translated as far as I could tell. The script isn't the main focus of the film anyway, there are lots of quiet moments with the emphasis on the visual and the atmosphere.

              The central characters of Celine and Julie are played by Juliet Berto and Doinique Labourier, respectively. Both actresses skilfully handle their parts with warmth and humour. The character of Celine is that of a bohemian free spirit with Julie seeming to be a little more solid, two sides of the same magic coin. I'm sure this film won't be to everyone's taste, and anything this meandering and fantastical will run the risk of appearing pretentious. However, if you're a fan of David Lynch you might want to invest £8.68 and an afternoon in Celine and Julie Go Boating.

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                06.01.2010 11:30
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                Superb TV

                Deadwood is a US TV series set in the real gold rush town of Deadwood, South Dakota during the 1870's. The town eventually grew into a city but the TV drama takes place during its founding and growth from an illegal camp to established town.

                I watched the series chronologically, and loved series one and two. The third season developed the plot and characters beautifully and ended on a high note, there was no sign of tired writing at all.

                I'm sure if this was on TV and only picked up at this point the performances and writing are of a high enough quality to draw you in, but for full enjoyment I'd recommend watching the series in order otherwise you'd definitely miss out on the complexity of the relationships between characters and the development of the show as a whole.

                There are 12 episodes in season 3 running from episode 25 to 36, indicating the flow from the previous series. I have to say there are a multitude of elements that make this programme work so well.

                The script. Brilliantly written mainly by David Milch, who also created and produced the show, Deadwood's script is a fine balance between the authentic and the contemporary. Olde-worlde speak is combined with plenty, and I mean plenty, of bad motherfucking language. The anachronism is justified by the harshness this brings to the finished product, it's proportionate, a modern audience wouldn't get the sense of the ruthless environment without it. And no easy options are taken here - the script is poetic and a work of art.

                The casting. It's impossible not to gush over the fine performances from the cast. With a large number of main players all up to standard, the most notable performance probably comes from Ian McShane who plays Al Swearengen, owner of the Gem, local saloon. In turns frightening, poignant and hilarious, he is startlingly good, and the show is worth watching for this alone. Robin Weigert is similarly excellent, funny and tragically lovable as the drunken Calamity Jane. Paula Malcomson's Trixie a tough, principled ex prostitute and Brad Dourif's long-suffering Doc Cochran are similarly brilliant. The crawling coward E B Farnham is sickeningly fantastic, played by William Sanderson. The list goes on, and full casting is detailed on the HBO site http://www.hbo.com/deadwood/cast/

                The sets /costumes etc. Deadwood is a dangerous and dirty place and still outside of the law in may respects in Series 3. It is brought alive by the set design and feels genuine, an amazingly detailed result. Apparently Milch set out to create Deadwood the town as a character in its own right, this was well achieved. Some of the characters are based on real people that lived in Deadwood at the time, some are fictional. Wikipedia shows that those that are based on real people are instantly recognizable.

                So what can fans expect form Season 3 in terms of storyline? Well political tensions build throughout the series as they approach election day, Al battles with George Hearst for control of Deadwood. The theatre arrives in town, headed up by Jack Langrishe (Brian Cox). There is the obligatory scattering of innocent and not- so - innocent deaths, Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) seethes with anger throughout, one hell of a lot of whiskey is necked and one very memorable fight scene is played out.

                Deadwood has been nominated for 22 Emmys and won 7. Ian McShane picked up 2 Golden Globes in Series One and Two. Series 3 come highly recommended by me.

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                • Time Trumpet / TV Programme / 68 Readings / 66 Ratings
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                  29.12.2009 12:32
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                  a humorous look at today's (and tomorrow's) popular culture

                  The concept of this satirical programme allows the makers to look at the events of today and imagine those of tomorrow with originality and humour. Time Trumpet is a talking heads show set in 2031, that looks back on the first part of this century. The events are discussed by 'cultural commentators' of the time and interspersed with clips of real shows as well as footage created for Time Trumpet of stuff that is supposed to have happened. There are also interviews and soundbites from older versions of people that are currently famous.

                  Richard Ayoade, Stewart Lee and Adam Buxton are some of the faces providing insight into the past, with suitably inane commentaries in keeping with the style of the programme, they're very funny. All aspects of today's popular culture come under fire. Some of the events they are asked to talk about are Tesco's invasion of Denmark, Tony Blair's descent into madness, Bob Geldof's concert to End Death and David Beckham's implant of a vagina onto his arm as a fashion statement. There is no shortage of imaginative writing and the endless possibilities of the premise really utilised.

                  There are older versions of lots of celebrities and politicians including Jamie Oliver, Ant and Dec, Alastair Campbell, David Cameron and Tom Cruise. These are some of the funniest moments of the programme for me, the actors are great.

                  Time Trumpet runs for 6 half hour episodes and was shown in 2006. Created by Armando Iannucci of The Thick of It fame, it is a superbly well made show. The DVD is available on Amazon for less than £10 and I have just discovered Time Trumpet has a quality website where you can watch loads of clips - http://www.timetrumpet.co.uk/

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                    09.12.2009 21:22
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                    You've got to want it

                    The body of James Robertson's novel is presented as Gideon's own writings about his experiences, sandwiched between a prologue and an epilogue by the fictional publisher of his memoir, Patrick Walker. Mr Walker describes how the manuscript came to be in his possession and sets the context of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the events within. So, the reader is provided with a lot of information in the first few pages, and the basic plot is of course summarised on the book's cover. The Testament of Gideon Mack is a tale of an adulterous minister who does not believe in God until he falls into a gorge and is rescued and nursed back to health by the Devil. His subsequent strange behaviour and disappearance from his remote Scottish Parish was briefly covered in the national press.
                    Once Patrick Walker has outlined the above details Gideon's testament begins. He starts with his childhood, his gloomy, repressed childhood devoid of demonstrations of love or warmth. Little Gideon was denied any freedom to play or explore his interests. The dominating figure of his father, a minister, who feared and abhorred all things modern, shaped young Gideon who was to follow in his footsteps in many ways. 'The minister: grave, forbidding, slow to anger but fearsome when roused, ... the lawmaker...a man, to my childish eyes, so fashioned in what I presumed was the image of God that God, looking at him, might have momentarily have thought himself in front of a mirror.' His mother he describes as 'timid... habitually apologetic and creeping for cover, sense of humour crushed like chalk beneath a schoolmaster's heel.'
                    The testament is scattered with some present details from the time of writing but is for the most part linear, and tracks his lonely life through his battle over TV watching with his father, his parallel rebellion against God, who he stops believing in and into young adulthood. He marries and decides to become a minister, despite his atheism, it appears a sensible path to follow for many reasons. The joylessness of his early life follows him like a vacuum into his lacklustre marriage throughout which he lusts after his wife's best friend, who is married to his best friend. Following the death of his wife Gideon's life falls into a settled routine until the big day he tumbles into the 'Black Jaws' a local gorge where his life changing revelation occurs. I won't give away any of the following plot.
                    I bought this book because the subjects of belief, madness and legend fascinate me. I found it really difficult to get into however, and almost gave up on it a number of times through sheer boredom. The gloom of Gideon's childhood was actually quite penetrating and I felt it settle over me and bring me down. This is not to say that I only enjoy upbeat reads, but there was something about this book that just didn't stimulate my interest. I kept reading in the hope that the meat of the story would kick in soon, knowing this meeting Satan event was going to occur made it difficult to put the book aside. 268 pages in it did get more interesting and I was glad to have stuck with it.
                    There is a lot right with this book. The characters' psychological lives are convincing and the subject matter is varied and explored in depth. There's a lot in it that I haven't even mentioned. There are some interesting characters, notably Catherine Craigie, an elderly agnostic historian Gideon finds friendship with. On the other side of the coin Myth is woven into the tale with an art installation about the local area and it's surrounding legends. The author is able to reflect the contrast of, and relationship between, fact and fiction, reality and fantasy - pertinent to any examination of Religion. As the whole thing is told from Gideon's point of view, the reader cannot be sure what is real.
                    I would recommend this book only to someone particularly interested in the subject matter. It's well written but I found it dull in tone.
                    The Testament of Gideon Mack is available for £4.89 on Amazon.

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                      17.11.2009 20:26
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                      Recommended if you like cooking traditional food with a modern twist

                      I like this recipe book very much and have used it a fair bit. Simon Rimmer, for anyone who doesn't know, bought a vegetarian cafe, Greens, in 1990 and was neither a vegetarian nor a chef. He learnt as he went along and incorporated flavours and cooking styles from around the world in his personal quest to make unusual and interesting veggie food.

                      This book is a nice solid hardback with lots of bright colours and some vivid photography of many of the dishes. The contents are divided into:

                      Introduction (this is very brief)
                      Dips and Morsels
                      Salads
                      Small Platefuls
                      Big Platefuls
                      Side Dishes
                      Puddings

                      The recipes are laid out in what I find to be a clear and concise step by step way, with a couple of lines from Simon to introduce where the dish originates or why he likes it. He uses recipes and cooking styles from Greece, Spain, Thailand, Italy, France, UK, USA, Japan and so on, so most people would easily find something they enjoy cooking or eating in this book - and it's a good way to branch out or be inspired by something you wouldn't normally go for.

                      I'll give you some examples of recipes included. Dips and Morsels includes 'spicy red pepper humous with coriander seed flat bread' which looks gorgeous but I haven't gotten around to making. Thai spiced potato cakes with spicy coleslaw also sounds very good.

                      Small Platefuls kicks off with 3 aubergine recipes in a row - Simon must be a fan of one of my least favourite vegetables. They are used diversely here though - 'Aubergine roll-mops', 'Aubergine tikka' and 'Aubergine butty with pesto'.

                      Big Platefuls includes 'Goats cheese cannelloni with cherry tomatoes.' This is a fantastic recipe if you enjoy over indulging on cheese and is not heavy on goat's cheese, it also incorporates ricotta and parmesan. The cherry tomato sauce is rich and delicious and has always gone down really well with guests. The Moroccan spaghetti is a very simple to make dish and one of my favourites. Wonderful smells fill the house when this is made and the spices and herbs are beautifully balanced. His 'Red Thai bean curry' looks like a good first Thai curry for me to try next as I've no experience making Thai food.

                      Side Dishes contains the cover photo of 'Stuffed pimentos with thyme and basil' (stuffed with ricotta). 'Pan haggerty' and 'Lentils with lemon' are also in this section.

                      There are some great Puddings in this book. 'Honeycomb ice cream' (spiked with vodka) is wonderful, if a bit of a hassle to make. The little crunchy bits of honeycomb are lovely and I think this is an unusual but not too risky dessert to serve. The 'More chocolate than is good for you' cheesecake is huge, and absolutely amazing for chocolate lovers. I intend to make his 'Hot choccy and churros' one of these days, as I love these Spanish doughnuts but have never seen a recipe for them before.

                      Simon often adapts a traditional recipe with a non-traditional ingredient or cooking method. For instance his Pudding recipe of 'Banana Tarte Tatin.' To give a fair review I'm trying to think of a negative aspect of the book, and it sometimes seems like he's tried to hard to come up with something unusual, with a result that is unappealing to me. For instance 'Sweet potato and pineapple sandwich' doesn't sound great to me, but maybe it does to others? Actually, I've always just skipped over this as the title puts me off, but on closer inspection it sounds quite good - a carribean curry with griddled pineapple slices. Maybe I'm just hungry!

                      Simple traditional recipes can also be found - 'Proper Pizza' is a delicious classic and this is an easy to follow recipe that I've found very useful. Yum.

                      This doesn't appear to be in stock on Amazon at the moment. Paperback copies are in stock but priced at £19.95! This seems really expensive for Amazon.

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                      • Duel (Special Edition, DVD) / DVD / 130 Readings / 127 Ratings
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                        18.10.2009 18:43
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                        All round well made movie

                        The premise of Duel is simple. A man driving across California to a business meeting overtakes a big grimy truck, which then overtakes him. This act of slight intimidation progresses as the protagonist tries to shake off his aggressor, who becomes increasingly menacing as the tale unfolds.

                        Duel was the first film of Steven Spielberg and was originally made for TV in 1971. The story and screenplay were written by Richard Matheson of I am Legend fame.

                        Everyman David Mann, in a solid performance by Dennis Weaver, is initially baffled and irritated by the truck driver's actions of overtaking and slowing down. The stakes are raised when the driver waves him on into the path of an oncoming vehicle and his horror is evident. He travels through anger, fear, paranoia and even exhilaration during the course of the movie and I was right there with him. There are moments when he has the chance to stop and try to get help but these attempts prove to be futile in the face of his enemy's intent to destroy him. My boyfriend pointed out that in places Duel is a lot like Jaws, and I agree, one man against a powerful inhuman opponent with no one to back him up or even believe the threat is real, and the increasing stress of the situation pushing him to the brink of his sanity.

                        Any driver can empathise with Mann's initial discomfort as we must all have been stuck on a stretch of road with an aggressive driver. The anonymity of the largely unseen driver heightens the suspense and taps into the old 'fear of the unknown', which was Spielberg's intention. It also establishes the truck as the character rather than the driver, again, this was of utmost importance to Spielberg, and he describes the 'audition' he held for the casting of the role of the truck in one of the extras. Keeping the horror hidden enables the film to have a PG rating, so kids can enjoy it too.

                        The real basis of the movie for me is summed up by Mann when he takes refuge in a café, reeling from his experience so far and trying to get his head around what has just happened to him. He thinks something along the lines of, 'we coast along until something happens to cut those strings that keep us in place and that's it, we're right back in the jungle'. This is an uncomfortable reminder of our vulnerability, that any illusion we have of control over our existence can in fact be easily disrupted.

                        The stark desert landscape with clear blue skies and the little red Valiant make for some truly great shots. The direction is pretty much perfect and marks Spielberg out as a great filmmaker who clearly knew what he was doing even in his early 20's. Unbelievably, the entire thing was shot in twelve days! The film has dated a little in parts, for me, some of the internal monologue is a bit comical and the score is way over the top, like in most 70's films. I felt like the music was shouting at me, telling me what to think and personally prefer a bit more subtlety.

                        With such a basic plot I wondered whether the film would sustain my interest, I initially thought, surely he can't keep this up for an entire film, there must be more to it than this. To his credit though, he does, and I was pretty much on the edge of my seat the entire time. Spielberg describes how he felt Hitchcock looking over his shoulder, telling him to maintain the suspense for as long as he possibly could, so maybe he owes some of that credit to him.

                        There are a few decent extras on the DVD:

                        Steven Spielberg On Making Duel
                        Steven Spielberg And The Small Screen
                        Richard Matheson: The Writing Of Duel
                        Photograph Gallery
                        Trailer

                        I recommend the interviews; they provided an interesting insight and some nice little stories about the movie. And I definitely recommend the film, I'd never heard of it until a friend at work lent it to me - I'm surprised it isn't better known as it has all the hallmarks of a classic.

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                          07.10.2009 13:01
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                          An impressive achievement

                          Mark Dunn's first novel, Ella Minnow Pea is introduced to us as 'A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable'. I have just read it for the second time and found it charming, frightening, clever, playful, thoughtful and inspiring all at once.

                          The story is told through written correspondence, mostly between cousins Ella and Tassie, but also those of various other characters and sometimes even notes left for each other pinned to a fridge. The action takes place on the fictional island of Nollop, an independent Country 21 miles Southeast of South Carolina.

                          Nevin Nollop, former islander, is hailed as the creator of the pangram sentence 'the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog', and revered for this by the inhabitants, whose national art form is language use. As such the bulk of the letters are elegantly constructed with an extensive vocabulary. Life in the peaceful community is disrupted when a statue of Nollop begins to decay and the tiled letters of his pangram start to fall from their mounts one by one. Eventually, l, m, n, o, p are all that remain. The governing council interpret the fallen letters as decrees from the long-dead Nollop to cease use of the letters in question.

                          The first letter to go is 'z'. Although many feel life without 'z' will not be such a hardship, Tassie sees the potential ramifications of this censorship, questioning the impact on the village library and the loss of freedom of the people to communicate. Nollop is somewhat cut off from the modern world, with minimal electronic technology, and she fears the mindset of 'Island Medievalism'. Ella, too, is fearful when she considers the penalties announced by the Council for use of the illegal letter; a public reprimand for a first offence, a choice between flogging or the stocks for a second offence, and banishment for a third with execution the punishment for any who refuses to leave.

                          Island life deteriorates as the people's ability to enjoy relationships, do business, and live without fear of their government grows more and more restricted as the letters fall. Mark Dunn explores the effects of such social control and does so within the boundaries he sets for his characters. He continues to write beautifully without the use of z, then q, j, d and so on. This is clearly a man who loves language and playing with words. The writing of this novel must have been an enormous challenge just considering it's structure.

                          On the down side, this can come across as a bit of a gimmick. Towards the very end of the novel following the meaning of the words takes more effort as the use of language is so restricted and is written phonetically. Although I finished this last night in an airport and was very tired so this might not have been the best time! The main accomplishment of the style of writing for me is the sense of loss it conveys. The fluid letter writing at the start expresses much joy of language use by Nollopians and their crippled sentences toward the end is quite heartbreaking. For instance, Tassie describes the banishment of a young man; 'While his father pleaded to the LEB thug-uglies to ignore young William's boldly insolent hurlatory, to William's mother fell the difficult task of propelling her son with every ounce of maternal passion onto the boat that would serve both as his transport to permanent exile, and, paradoxically, the very instrument of his survival.' Later, Ella writes; 'It is a strange worlt we resite in, is it not' (It is a strange world we reside in...).

                          I like the simplicity of the idea behind this novel, and its allegorical feel. It raises important questions about some of the most relevant concerns of societies in today's world. Social control, censorship, civil rights, political rebellion and religious conformity are all up for discussion. The irrationality of the interpretation of the fallen letter tiles progresses to full-scale institutional insanity. Nollop is gradually promoted to a fully Omnipotent Supreme Being and the welfare of human citizens grows less and less significant.

                          The telling of the tale through personal letters works as more than a device to explore the boundaries of the English language. It allows the reader to see the personal effects of the constraints. Through a couple of notes left by Ella's parents to each other we feel a sense of the warm and loving relationship they share, and learn how the strains of the new laws break this down. Neighbours inform on and become afraid of each other, but also people form new alliances through their mutual hardships.

                          In summary, I found the characters engaging and likeable, and I cared about their personal struggle. I enjoyed the imaginative and unusual approach to writing and thought Mark Dunn examined some very interesting social subjects.

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                            22.09.2009 19:18
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                            Re-connect with the natural world

                            I used to love going Blackberry picking as a kid, and I grew up in a grotty town in Essex - even urban areas have pockets of wild growing vegetation. I love that there is this abundance of beautiful, sweet fruit there for whoever can be bothered to find it. For me it isn't a tough choice between a nice walk with my boyfriend on a sunny day, coming home with fresh berries or eating gigantic blackberries from a tiny plastic tub priced £3.99. You can get this whole book for £4.99. (or £2.93 on good ol' Amazon)

                            Richard Mabey's 'Food For Free' is a little Collins gem pocket book guide to edible stuff growing wild in the British Isles. It was originally published in 1972 and has sold a gazillion copies. There is a big glossy indepth version for not carting around with you on foraging expeditions.

                            This teeny book contains a ton of information, which is organised quite nicely into the following chapters;
                            Preface
                            Introduction
                            Plants and Trees
                            Fungi
                            Seaweeds
                            Shellfish
                            Glossary
                            Further Reading and Sources
                            List of Recipes
                            Index

                            There is a helpful quick reference guide to what you can expect to find growing by calendar Month, and sub headings within each chapter. The different species are listed alphabetically within their categories, so it's very user-friendly. A page or two is dedicated to each plant describing how to identify, when to harvest, and uses, including some short recipes but often just a suggestion of how to use. Most items have both a drawn picture and a photograph. For so much information rammed into a small space the pages are attractively presented and clear.

                            Ethically approached, a thread of responsibility runs through Food For Free. Richard pre-empts any objections to depletion of the countryside's resources by suggesting that getting involved with nature is the best way to encourage respect for it: 'One of the major problems in conservation today is not how to keep people insulated from nature but how to help them engage more closely with it, so that they can appreciate its value and vulnerability, and the way its need can be reconciled with those of humans.' With this in mind he sets out some rules of picking and gathering, such as never removing a whole plant.

                            I find the content of the book really interesting, and that's without even stepping outside and using it in a practical way. I like learning that North American Indians used to make sweets from the gum in water reed, but maybe that's not for everyone.

                            The guide is intended to be used with a light hearted enjoyment of connecting with the outdoors and finding new treats in our countryside, rather than a survival manual. It also points out that there is a lot more information to be had, and won't replace a detailed field guide for anyone that really wants to know their stuff. As a basic guide that you can carry in your pocket though, I think it does a really good job.

                            The big drawback to this is the amount of time it takes to find, pick and prepare much of the food it describes. But I can't really blame that on the book, I just feel you wouldn't use it for a cheap alternative to a meal that you could buy instead. You could spend a day picking acorns and chopping them, then roasting them, grinding them and roasting them again to use as a free alternative to coffee, or you could just fork out the three quid or whatever for a jar of Kenco. If you're inspired by the idea of tramping round the outdoors and excited by making something unusual then it might be worth it.

                            I haven't utilised this book as much as I would have liked in the year that I've had it, I've got good intentions for the coming year though. I like playing at alchemy, and with Autumn's arrival I've been eyeing up the Sloe berries for that delicious Sloe Gin I'll be enjoying at Christmas. Chin chin.

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                            • Happy-Go-Lucky (DVD) / DVD / 79 Readings / 75 Ratings
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                              21.09.2009 14:27
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                              Another great film from Mike Leigh

                              'Oh! What-chu-ma-call-it ding dang dilly dilly da da hoo hoo!'
                              Meet Poppy, a London Primary School Teacher whose seemingly eternal optimism guides her through life, and the central character from Mike Leigh's 2008 comedy.

                              The plotline provides a snapshot of Poppy as a suitably happy go lucky gal who bounces along from nights out with her mates to trampolining and flamenco classes. We see a responsible side to the character in teaching her pupils and in her social awareness. The film opens with the theft of her bicycle, prompting her to take driving lessons.

                              As with his other works, Mike Leigh's focus is on characterisation rather than plot, and he's known for working with actors to explore and develop their roles, then allowing them to improvise much of the script after being given loose outlines of the story. The resulting roundedness of personalities in the film is as superb as always as are the performances.

                              Zoe, Poppy's warmly cynical flatmate, is as down to earth as they come and utterly believable. She affectionately cautions Poppy against being so nice to everyone and is bemused by her friend's ditsy cheerfulness. Poppy's has two Sisters; Suzy, a resentful student who lives in Camden and whose smallish role is one the highlights of the film - she is hilarious, and Helen, defensively living a suburban Essex life of two up two down imminent motherhood.

                              Angry Driving Instructor Scott is another main player. His emotional problems seethe from under his Teaching Mask, and find an outlet in his lessons with Poppy, whose frivolous attitude he is both infuriated by and attracted to. The depiction of this guy's psychological problems is frightening at times but is also deeply funny.

                              Poppy herself is a combination of irritating and lovable. At first I thought 'this woman is really going to annoy me' but for this character her cheeriness does not seem like an act, but a genuinely positive outlook and desire to see the best in everyone and everything, which says a lot for the acting skills of Sally Hawkins. Poppy's sister accuses her of not taking life seriously, but we see that she is able to do so when it matters, in her empathic gestures to those around her, most notably a troubled child in her class. She also intuitively understands the anguish of a homeless man she encounters, and that of her aggressive, racist Driving Instructor. When chatting with friends Poppy is shown to be listening, or defending the underdog, and throws herself wholeheartedly into whatever she does. Over the course of the film she had totally endeared herself to me, but I could understand that this character might grate on the nerves of other viewers.

                              Mike Leigh's films are known for their depressingly gritty realism, and while Happy Go Lucky falls into this camp in parts, it probably appeals to a wider audience than some of his previous films. Don't let the despair of Secrets and Lies put you off, although if you like your movies slick and shiny this probably isn't the film for you. If, like me, you enjoy dialogue-driven films then it's definitely worth watching.

                              The cast really are something special, the central characters as follows:
                              Sally Hawkins - Poppy
                              Eddie Marsan - Scott
                              Alexis Zegerman - Zoe
                              Kate O'Flynn - Suzy
                              Caroline Martin - Helen

                              Mike Leigh, Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan and Alexis Zegerman all won awards for this picture. It's running time is 114 minutes and it's rated 15. This is a review of the film only but the DVD includes a couple of featurettes on the making and deconstruction of the film. For £4.98 on Amazon I would definitely recommend Happy Go Lucky.

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                                19.09.2009 10:51
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                                My most valued cookbook!

                                I apologise but I can't avoid the biggest cliché of them all here - this book changed my life. This book provided me with the recipe for which I had been searching for a long time.

                                Like many of us, I am addicted to Indian Food, and find it difficult to exist for long without craving a curry fix. Eating out at various Indian Restaurants is one of my favourite things to do; sadly I don't manage to do this very often. I also love to cook, and happily a fellow curry fiend bought me this book as a gift.

                                The book itself aims to allow the reader to recreate the food they might enjoy in an Indian Restaurant. Although the author doesn't specify presumably this refers to the style of cooking that is most popular in Indian restaurants in Britain. The breakdown of chapters starts with the usual introduction to herbs and spices, some nibbles and then presents the Curry Sauce - the base of most of the recipes in the book, or, The Curry Secret. This sauce, according to Kris Dhillon, is made in large quantities in restaurants and provides the sought-after depth of flavour in any really good curry. To make it is a pretty simple, if time-consuming and smelly process. One of the best things about the approach is that you can make a large batch of curry sauce, freeze it, and then on other occasions make a really good curry in a very short space of time. It amazes me every time how the process of simmering onions, ginger and garlic can smell so awful but result in such delicious and fragrant dishes. It is definitely worth it, in any case.

                                After The Curry Sauce, Kris provides recipes for a good array of Indian Restaurant staples, divided into; Starters, Breads, Chicken Curries, Lamb Curries, Balti Curries, Fish Curries, Vegetable Curries, Rice and Biryanis, Youghurts and Yoghurt Drinks and Sweets. It includes recipes for a simple Onion Salad, Dhansak, Bhuna, Bhajees, Dhal and Pillau Rice, as well as lots of tips and hints. All the recipes I've tried have lived up to the claim of delivering authentically restaurant-like food and this remains my most valued cookbook. Although while finding an online link for this review, I have discovered Kris Dhillon has released 'The New Curry Secret', with the content listing; 'The New Curry Sauce smells good during cooking'.

                                My 2002 edition of The Curry Secret is a small paper book with no nice glossy pages or any pictures, but it looks as though Amazon stocks a newer 2008 edition for £4.49 for a new copy, so that may be better presented.

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