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Epiphany
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Member since: 17.01.2001

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      05.02.2006 09:43
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      This site has had an extremely positive effect on my life.

      ~~ Introduction ~~

      This opinion is written with people who have an interest in web application development in mind. Whilst I hope that it isn’t too technical, I will not explain everything, as I am assuming you already have an understanding of what .Net is.

      As the IT employment marketplace changes, it’s important to keep up with the latest developments. I have been in the market for a new job for a while, and it is for this reason I wanted to learn and use .Net. I had little opportunity to develop the skills within my current employment, so I started learning in my own time.

      www.learnvisualstudio.net

      This website has to be given a great deal of credit for the amount of knowledge I have gained in such a short time. The site gives you access to over 520 video tutorials covering the full spectrum of abilities; from absolute beginner to advanced professional. Being video based with audio commentary, it will aid a wide variety of people.

      If you’re serious about learning .Net, you will have no qualms about signing up for membership of the site, but you might initially want to see what the site has to offer before parting with your money.

      The site itself is attractive, well laid out and fairly easy to navigate. From he front page you can access some example free videos and see what others there are on offer to you should you take up membership. You can also sign up for free videos by e-mail. As I have only just done this for the purpose of this opinion, I can’t really comment on this service at this moment in time.

      ~~ Membership ~~

      From the front page you can also signup for membership of the site. This allows you to access and download as many of the videos as you want, and you can even store them on your PC to access at a later date should you not want to become a lifetime member of the site.

      There are 3 levels of membership, which are essentially differentiated by the length of time you can access the subscription area of the site. 3 months access will cost you $39.95, a year will cost you $69.95 whilst lifetime membership will cost you $99.95. Lifetime membership gives you access to the subscription area of the site for the lifetime of the site. It means that you can access the videos forevermore, including new ones as they are created.

      Subscription payment is by PayPal, and when I did this, it gave me instant access to the videos and allowed me to get learning immediately.

      ~~ The videos ~~

      At this point it is worth mentioning that there haven’t been many new videos added for a while. This was my primary reason for choosing the 3-month subscription, because I wanted access to the videos that were in existence but didn’t think a longer-term membership would be beneficial at this point in time.

      The videos are extremely good teaching aids and allow you to learn fairly effortlessly. Most of the videos are practical, that is, they capture the events that are happening on the screen as the creator, Bob Tabor is building the application. There is commentary throughout, explaining what is going on, and each video begins with some narrative explaining the aim of the video. The remaining videos are narrated presentations to explain key concepts of the .Net framework, for example. Where appropriate, the source code for the video is also provided.

      There are two full courses to assist you in learning VB.Net and C#. These include a workbook that introduces relevant programming concepts, questions and activities, videos, presentations, source code and also workbook answers.

      ~~ Subject Areas ~~

      As already mentioned, there are two full courses to assist you to learn VB.Net and C#. Most of the videos use the Visual Studio 2003 application, but there are also a number of videos that use the new 2005 Express Edition applications. Other key areas that are covered include ADO.Net, ASP.Net and Visual Source Safe.

      ~~ In Conclusion ~~

      I cannot recommend this site highly enough. If you want to learn .Net, are just getting started or want to expand on existing skills, $39.95 is money well spent.

      As for me, I have now landed a new job and I am in the process of packing up my flat ready for the big move in about a month. Without this website in particular, I would not have had the confidence and skills to have impressed my employer-to-be.

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        09.12.2005 08:39
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        It's fine, noting more, nothing less. No surprises here.

        Sub-title: A dramatisation.

        ~~ Intro ~~

        When I put this suggestion in a month or so ago, I was feeling over-dramatic. The truth is, there are very few things that make one shampoo stand out over another and testing and controls are so high these days I would be extremely surprised if using a shampoo caused your head to fall off (or slightly more likely: your hair to fall out). So I guess you won’t be surprised if I tell you by using this shampoo my head didn’t fall off, nor did my hair fall out.

        Until my over-dramatic morning, I wasn’t even going to write about this product because I figured one thing that people should know about a shampoo is what happens if you get it in your eyes and, I’m sorry, but I wasn’t planning on getting the suds in my eyes intentionally just for you guys! Then it happened, and so here I am.

        ~~ The Product ~~

        Head and Shoulders products are advertised as anti-dandruff hair care products. There was a time when there were just a couple of choices on the market (do I want separate shampoo and conditioner, or a combined product? How frequently do I wash my hair and what kind of hair do I have?), but all of a sudden Head and Shoulders products have bred into shelves of choices for men and women with countless (OK, 10 with different size options available) ‘flavours’ (scents) to choose from.

        This review is about the Ocean Spa (with sea minerals) anti-dandruff shampoo for frequent use, 500ml size. The blurb on the back says “it not only fights dandruff, but leaves your hair full of life and invigorated” apparently it “works directly on the scalp to fight dandruff where it starts”. The recommendation is to use it every time you shampoo and apply it to the scalp and hair, lather, rinse and repeat if required.

        ~~ My Experience ~~

        The shampoo in my bottle of this product is extremely runny. Not only can I not control how much I use, but it also gets all over the dispensing area, down the bottle and makes a mess, which is a bit annoying.

        The shampoo itself lathers well and cleans effectively (no surprises there). Beware though; getting it in your eyes is EXTREMELY painful. When I got some in my eyes, the air in my bathroom turned blue with expletives!

        The smell is surprisingly similar to other head and shoulders products. I can’t really describe it, other than to say it’s pleasant, not overpowering and not especially masculine or feminine a scent.

        It doesn’t leave my short, curly hair any shinier or softer than any other shampoo. It also doesn’t have any other secret benefits regarding manageability (my hair is still wild), and doesn’t leave me feeling ‘invigorated’ as the packaging suggests.

        I don’t tend to suffer from chronic dandruff, despite having fairly sensitive skin (and scalp), but I use Head and Shoulders as a safeguard against it in some respects. I trust the brand and it doesn’t GIVE me dandruff, so I continue to use it.

        ~~ Summary ~~

        This product is basically the same as any other Head and Shoulders product and has no feature that makes it stand out for any of the other products they offer. It is no better, worse or different to any of the other shampoos and doesn’t stand out from the others in any way shape or form (unless you count the image of the wave, seaweed and starfish on the packaging).

        ~~ Supporting Information ~~

        There is a list of complex sounding ingredients on the back of the bottle that are as long as your arm. I would suggest that if you know you have allergies to certain chemical compounds, you check out the back of the bottle just to make sure it’s not contained in the list. I don’t know enough about these ingredients to comment on them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them were standard ingredients in modern day shampoos.

        Head and Shoulders Ocean Spa is distributed by Procter & Gamble UK but it is made in France. There is a contact address and telephone number on the back of the bottle to enable customers to provide feedback to the company.

        Their website can be found at http://www.headandshoulders.co.uk/index.jsp. Here you will find further blurb about this product and the others in the Head and Shoulders range, but other than that, the site isn’t particularly useful.

        This product costs £3.95 from Tesco online, but is not listed on the Boots website.

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        • Maid In Manhattan (DVD) / DVD / 39 Readings / 34 Ratings
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          07.12.2005 21:17
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          One to watch

          OK. So I think I might have bitten off more than I can chew with this review, but I’m game, so let’s see what you make of it.

          The thing is, for some reason this movie touches me more deeply than many films do. It’s because I’m so touched, so involved and so absorbed by the story that I’m not sure I can write a good review about it. I think I saw it first on a plane to (or perhaps from) Australia. I didn’t expect to like it, but I enjoyed it so much I bought the DVD.

          Maid in Manhattan is the story of a maid, Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez), who meets a candidate for the Senate, Christopher Marshall (Ralf Fiennes). He doesn’t know she’s a maid, they hit it off but inevitably he finds out the truth and before you know it, her world starts tumbling down.

          It’s a love story, with some very touching moments but also with a healthy helping of humour thrown in for good measure. It’s fast paced, but perhaps a little predictable in places. It’s a Cinderella story, only Cinders knows she’s going places that her mother won’t even dare to dream of. It’s a story of class divides and self-respect.

          The more I see of Jennifer Lopez in movie roles, the more I like her. I really enjoyed her performance in this movie and I found her portrayal of a maid, a mother and someone who has been brought up to believe she is a member of the ‘under-class’ highly believable. I loved the grit and determination she also showed in her character and her overall presence in the movie.

          Ralph Fiennes is also captivating. I’m not sure he made a very believable Senate candidate, although I guess they do have a tendency to get themselves into trouble! He certainly played the role of a man captivated by a beautiful woman really well.

          I’m not going to mention all the cast and characters, but there are two remaining members of cast that I want to mention especially.

          The first is Bob Hoskins who plays the role of Lionel Bloch, a butler at the Berrisford Hotel (he might even be the head butler). He was totally believable and deadpan. Extremely efficient but very perceptive, I also thoroughly enjoyed the scenes he was in.

          The final cast member I want to mention is Tyler Garcia Posey who plays Marisa’s 10-year-old son, Ty Ventura. The lad is so cute and I thought his performances were also excellent.

          What more can I say? I love the story, the cast is excellent and the performances are wonderful. There is a cool sound track to back the film up and I find the cinematography truly inspiring. The filming is almost artistic in places and I love the different views of New York that are presented.

          ~~ DVD Extras ~~

          - Trailers -

          I must admit, I’m actually a bit of a fan of trailers. I like going to the cinema and seeing the forthcoming features, and I tend not to skip through the trailers on videos. The emergence of the DVD has put an end to that mostly, but on this DVD there are a few trailers for movies other than Maid in Manhatten.

          Maid in Manhatten – This trailer is actually pretty good. It gives you a good overview of the story without giving too much away and it has a very soft, romantic feel about it which captures the feel of the overall movie.

          Anger Management – This trailer is OK, but I’m not a huge fan of Adam Sandler or Jack Nicholson. It looks amusing, maybe even funny, but not a movie I plan to see any time soon.

          Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle – This trailer is GREAT. It gives you a real feel for the action and comedy of the movie. It also has plenty of shots of the girls all looking fabulous, which has got to get the attention of the guys.

          Daddy Day Care: Erm… no. Eddie Murphy and a whole bunch of kids? Really not my bag. It might turn out to be really funny, it may even be a masterpiece, but based on this trailer, I won’t be seeing it.

          The one downside about the inclusion of these trailers seems to be that the makers of the DVD have decided not to put any other features on it. You can have subtitles in various languages, and have the film played in Spanish, English or French but there is nothing else. No directors commentary (which in my opinion is a good thing), no the-making-of-behind-the-scenes, no biographies… nothing.

          So I guess that marks the end of my review!

          ~~ The Dull Stuff... ~~

          ¤ Release Date: September 15, 2003
          ¤ Classification: PG
          ¤ Director: Wayne Wang
          ¤ Aspect Ratio: 2.40 Wide Screen
          ¤ Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
          ¤ Disc Format: DVD 9
          ¤ Region 2 encoding
          ¤ PAL, Widescreen

          This DVD is currently available from Amazon for £4.97 or from Amazon Marketplace for around £1.

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          • crucial.com / Online Shop / 53 Readings / 48 Ratings
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            03.12.2005 10:45
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            A straightforward shopping experience

            ~ Choosing Memory ~

            Let’s get one thing straight; there is no need to be scared. The subject of memory (the electronic kind) can be daunting, and it is possible to enter the Crucial website feeling unsure of yourself, only to become overwhelmed by the jargon and the choices, which then results you running and screaming from the computer (probably straight to the morons at PC World).

            Trust me, it doesn’t have to be like that. Remain calm and remember to breathe. Crucial do all sorts of memory, so first you need to determine what you need. Is it a flash card for a camera? A memory stick so you can make your files portable? Or do you need the scariest memory of all: RAM? Don’t be put off by all of the links on the homepage. Remain calm and think about it logically.

            If you don’t know what you want (i.e. you can’t remember what it looks like, let alone what it’s called), refer to manufacturers websites and your product documentation. If you have a vague idea of what it is that you want, check out the handy pictures that Crucial provide to go with their items. This should help you find the kind of memory you need and there are always extra help pages to help you choose what you need and explain the jargon and specifications. Are you remembering to breathe?

            Now on to RAM. RAM is by far the scariest kind of memory. There are so many options that it can completely fry your brain. Even if you know how much you want, you then have to find the right type (DDR, DDR2 or SDRAMM? SIMM or DIMM?), the one with the right number of pins and then you have to consider the processing speeds. Crucial provide links under all the products that take you to a page explaining what it all means, and don’t start panicking if it’s still all too overwhelming, there is another EXTRA SPECIAL utility that Crucial provide.

            Before I tell you about the EXTRA SPECIAL utility, I would like to draw your attention to the Crucial Memory Advisor tool. This is very handy if you know the manufacturer of your PC/motherboard (the bit that holds the memory) as you can use the dropdown list to help identify the kind of memory you need. This makes the whole process so much simpler, but it is no good if you had your PC custom built by a friend… That’s where the System Scanner comes into it’s own.

            http://www.crucial.com/uk/systemscanner/

            The system scanner scans your PC to find out what kind of motherboard you have. It can then tell you exactly what kind of memory you need, and will provide you with recommendations. This is what I did. I also had my PC’s motherboard manual and so I could confirm that the analysis of my machine was accurate and the System Scanner enabled me to buy exactly the right type of memory for my computer.

            ~ Buying Memory ~

            The Crucial website is pretty simple once you have decided what memory you want and have added it to your shopping basket. The purchasing process is very similar to all other online retailers and is very quick and simple to use. There is no need to sign up for an account and log in before you can buy anything; you just do this in the process of checking out.

            There are a number of buttons on the page, which can be confusing, but if you remain calm and follow the instructions and the text, you should be fine.

            ~ Delivery ~

            My memory was delivered by Royal Mail by special delivery. You need to bear this in mind if you can’t get to your local sorting office during their really random opening hours. It is possible to get your memory delivered to an alternative address, but you need to inform your credit card company and get the address authorised. (All this is made clear on the website.)

            My order was confirmed and dispatched within 48 hours, and arrived in less than 72 hours.

            ~ Installing ~

            If you have bought RAM, as I have done, Crucial’s service does not stop there. When you complete your purchase, you are made aware of a link that you can refer to for instructions regarding installing your memory when it arrives.

            When the e-mail informing you of the dispatch arrives, it also has a link to this page. Finally, in the box the memory comes in, there is a quick reference guide to installing the memory.

            Now, installing memory is actually really easy. You have to make sure that you are grounded (not that you are emotionally and mentally stable, grounded as in you are free from static) and then you line the memory up with the slot and press it in firmly.

            The website goes through all the steps (9 of them) in lots of detail, with pictures and in easy to manage chunks. The leaflet in the box is much more succinct, but between them you should find enough information, and in the format you prefer to enable you to successfully install your memory.

            ~ Overall ~

            I think the Crucial website can seem a bit daunting. It can be difficult to find the products you want at the best prices by just clicking on the right links and the links can appear on the left, right, middle, top or bottom of the page which sometimes makes it a little tricky to navigate.

            The help is invaluable for those of us who are not total computer nerds/freaks/geeks and the memory advisor tools are by far the most reassuring way of helping you buy the right kind of memory.

            Communications, delivery and the packaging of the product were excellent and the supporting documentation was very handy. In addition to this Crucial’s prices are excellent (I had a look on PCIndex and couldn’t find anything cheaper) and my order was delivered free.

            So, I would recommend Crucial based on this (my first) transaction with them, and I hope that you have as much success with them as I have done.

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            • Mean Girls (DVD) / DVD / 52 Readings / 43 Ratings
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              23.11.2005 08:24
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              (In the style of Mean Cady) Shut up! This film is so fetch and Damian truely is too gay to function.

              I’ve been getting a bit worried. Over the past few weeks the things (mostly films) that I used to like just don’t do it for me any more. I thought I was getting old, or loosing my sense of humour or something. I am happy to report that this is not the case. Mean Girls is as good, if not better than the first time I watched it.

              Let me put this in context. I saw this advertised at my local cinema and really wanted to see it. It’s a teen chick flick, but it looked like loads of fun. My mate, a divorcee well on the road to retirement wasn’t so keen, in fact she flatly refused to even consider it.

              Fast-forward a few months. I’m with another mate of mine, a guy my age (27ish), a canoer, into Green Day and Lost Prophets (as am I) with a lip piercing. We’re checking out movies to watch and he agrees to watch Mean Girls if I watch Shaun of the Dead. Deal. And you know what, he actually liked it too (more than I liked Shaun of the Dead)!

              Mean Girls is based on the book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” by Rosalind Wiseman, whilst the screenplay was written by Tina Fey. It documents what it can be like for girls of school age (and older!) and how women often treat each other. It tells the story of Cady Heron, played by the beautiful and talented Lindsay Lohan who arrives at a public high school in America, having been home schooled in Africa. To say the move is a culture shock would be an under-statement. Cady soon makes a couple of friends in Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese) who soon start plotting the infiltration and demise of the ‘popular’ (plastic) girls, Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert) and Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried).

              It is very cleverly written with some really wonderful one-liners and comedy situations. There are also some very real insights into what school life can be like and I found myself cringing in parts as I identified with the characters.

              The casting is fabulous and there are very few performances that let the film down. Tina Fey’s portrayal of the maths teacher Ms. Norbury is very amusing. She isn’t like any teacher I’ve ever known!

              Cady’s love interest comes in the form of Jonathan Bennett who plays Aaron Samuels. Again, the casting is spot on as I’m sure the majority of girls out there will find this guy SERIOUSLY GORGEOUS. His character isn’t the most developed and his performance isn’t outstanding, but he doesn’t do a bad job of it either.

              I REALLY like this film. It’s funny and fun (I really need to work on my adjectives). It’s very clever, very humorous and offers great insight. I’m sure you will recognise someone from your school days in this movie, maybe you yourself were plastic (or still are). It’s a young film, but in my opinion it’s not JUST a chick-teen-flick, it’s a lot cleverer than that.

              ~~ Extras ~~

              ~ Commentary by director Mark Waters, screen writer and actress Tina Fey and producer Lorne Michels ~

              Woohoo, commentary. My favourite bit. Just kidding. I’ve never listened to the commentary on a DVD, and I’m not about to start!

              ~ Featurettes ~

              Only the Strong Survive – A regular short film (24mins) that discusses the film, shows clips and interviews with the cast, crew and writers. It’s OK, and fairly interesting if you like to know what goes on behind the scenes and the theoretical background behind the characters and the casting.

              The Politics of Girl World – This is by far the most interesting featurette I have watched on a DVD to date. Rosalind Wiseman talks about how her book (Queen Bees & Wannabes) came about, the things she has learnt and what she does to help young people (‘The Empower Programme’ for example). The key points are illustrated by scenes from the movie, which just make them even more poignant and the movie even more meaningful.

              Plastic Fashion – This featurette is about the costumes used in the movie, particularly those of the girls. It explains the rationale for each outfit, which is probably a bit too much information for the average movie watcher, but interesting if you like to know about attention to detail.

              ~ Word Vomit ~

              This is an utterly charming way of introducing out-takes and bloopers. The term is taken from the film, and some of the out-takes are amusing, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch them again.

              ~ So Fetch – Deleted Scenes ~

              Some of these are quite amusing, and worth a watch if you get a chance to and have nothing better to do (which apparently, I don’t).

              ~ Interstitals ~

              These are three short trailer type clips that I assume were used to promote the film on television. They are quite good, and very short, so even if you’re really busy you can still check them out.

              ~ Theatrical Trailer ~

              In contrast, the theatrical trailer is too long. It starts well but I feel that it gives too much away and just goes on and on and on and…. Oh, well, you get the picture.

              ~~ The Dull Stuff ~~

              Director: Mark Waters
              Writers: Rosalind Wiseman (book), Tina Fey (screenplay)

              Mean Girls is currently available from Amazon Marketplace for less than £5, although you can also buy it from other DVD retail outlets.

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              • Mystery Men (DVD) / DVD / 37 Readings / 33 Ratings
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                22.11.2005 18:30
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                Losing it's charm over time...

                Mystery Men has lost its charm for me over the years (it was released in 1999). I was looking forward to watching it this evening, but I have found it slightly tedious.

                The movie is based on characters from the independent comic book series ‘Flaming Carrot Comics’ by Bob Burden and the plot is as follows: The superhero Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) has done such a wonderful job of cleaning up Champion City that he has virtually put himself out of business. Literally. This is a superhero who is concerned with branding and endorsements as much (if not more so) as he is with crime fighting.

                Kinnear’s performance is pretty good for a character who is essentially as shallow as a saucer. You believe he is an over-grown child, all brawn and no brains.

                In order to keep his sponsors interested, and the media in a frenzy, he arranges the release of super-villain Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) from an asylum. Casonova wastes no time in blowing up the asylum and easily tricking and capturing Captain Amazing.

                Rush plays the role of crazy super-villain impeccably. Again, the character is very two-dimensional and is typical of this kind of character and of most of the parts in this film. Let’s face it, I don’t think it was produced for it’s in depth characterisation!

                Meanwhile, a team of wannabe superheroes are trying to do the work they believed to be their destiny. They are:

                Blue Rajah (Hank Azaria) - His weaponry is made up of tableware, excluding knives. Although he’s American, he pretends to be British and the accent is a little annoying.

                Shoveler (William H. Macy) - wields a shovel as his weapon and has some of the corniest lines in the movie.

                Bowler (Janeane Garofalo) - whose weapon of choice is a bowling ball possessed by her dead father and also containing his skull. I think hers is one of the best characters.

                Spleen (Paul Reubens) – whose secret power is extraordinarily paralysing flatulence and whose puss filled spots are positively repulsive.

                Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) – who is only invisible when nobody is looking and bats his eyelashes to get in on the action in the first place

                Sphinx (Wes Studi) – whose only talent is being ‘terribly mysterious’, and the ability to slice guns in half with only the power of his mind

                Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller) – who isn’t really all that angry, or scary

                Unfortunately, the wannabes do the super-hero stuff really badly and end up doing more harm than good.

                Now, this is a big budget movie (reportedly $100 Million) and some of the scenes, especially the ones of Champion City in the beginning, are very impressive. Overall, it is quite disappointing however. There are some funny moments, some good acting, some good lines, but on the whole there isn’t much that can be said about the two-dimensional characters (but they have come from a comic book!). I used to think it was fun and funny, but when I watched it last night I found it a little tedious and verging on pathetic. Even the appearance of Eddie Izzard as Tony P, the disco boy didn’t have me giggling like normal.

                For those of you who don’t know, I’m a huge fan of Eddie Izzard. Usually I would chuckle at his performance in this film, but looking at it with a critical eye, his American accent was awful, his performance was wooden, but it did still make me smile.

                ~~ Extras ~~

                ~Spotlight on Location~

                Clips of filming on set, interviews with cast and crew, bloopers; this is mildly interesting but no big shakes.

                ~Feature Commentary with Kinka Usher~

                I’m almost tempted to listen to the commentary, but not quite. Rest assured it is here if that’s what floats your boat.

                ~ Deleted Scenes ~

                Yeah, I can see why they ended up on the cutting room-floor. They don’t add anything to the story or characters and are rather boring.

                ~ Music Highlights~

                These are all clips that feature music and are taken directly from the film. They aren’t music videos, but do give a brief idea/reminder of the soundtrack of the film.

                ~ The Origin of the Mystery Men Comic Book Characters ~

                Textual account of the story behind the film. There is a lot of information here, which is great if you enjoy reading from a TV screen.

                ~ Production Notes ~

                More on screen text relating to the film.

                ~ Cast and Filmmakers ~

                This gives textual biographies/filmographies of 12 of the main actors and members of crew involved in this film. By this point you will be sick of reading on-screen information.

                ~ Trailer ~

                The trailer is pretty cool. It gives a good feel of the film without giving too much away. The humour of the film comes through, as well as the main themes, which is what I look for in a trailer.

                ~ DVD-ROM Features ~

                If you insert the DVD into your PC, you are invited to install the PCFriendly software. By doing this, you will get access to various website links and the ‘Play Movie’ option. It’s really not very exciting at all, and as soon as I have finished writing this I will be uninstalling the software from my machine.

                ~~ The Boring Stuff ~~

                Director: Kinka Usher
                Writer: Bob Burden (comic book series by Dark Horse), Neil Cuthbert

                Mystery Men is currently available from Amazon Marketplace for just £3.00. Of course, you can always purchase it from an alternative DVD retail outlet.

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                • More +
                  21.11.2005 17:21
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                  A very clever story which is very clevely filmed.

                  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind is a mind bending tongue teaser.

                  Essentially, it’s the story of a failed romance between Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). Joel finds out that Clementine has undergone a procedure to erase him from her memory following their break-up and he finds himself undergoing the same procedure. There are sub-plots in the movie, but I think part of its charm and beauty is the unknown. It’s satisfying to be able to put the pieces together yourself, so I don’t want to give away more of the plot than I have to.

                  Whilst he is undergoing the procedure, he decides that he doesn’t want his memory erased after all. He overhears the technicians talking about his ex-girlfriend and the fact that one of them has since seduced her using Joel’s memories and mementos. He wants to hold on to the good and happy memories he had with Clementine and spends much of the film trying to preserve some of his memories of her in order to try resurrect their relationship.

                  It’s very cleverly scripted and filmed. If you like brain-teasing movies, then this is definitely a movie for you. If you prefer to be taxed but not completely mentally wiped out (excuse the pun) then you might want to watch the featurettes first (I will review these at the end of this review).

                  I’m not a Jim Carrey fan, in fact I seriously dislike him, but I really enjoyed his performance in this movie. He’s totally believable and his character has real depth (and real flaws). He’s slightly weedy, a little nerdy and lacks confidence.

                  Kate Winslet’s supporting performance is almost as impressive. Her character is louder than the ever-changing colour of her hair, and her language is foul. I don’t find her likeable, in fact I think she’s rather scary and if I was Joel, I think I would have ran a mile on day one!

                  Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst and Tom Wilkinson also have key roles to play in this film. All of their characters are portrayed excellently, although of the three I would say Tom Wilkinson’s performance as Dr. Howard Mierzwiak was the weakest.

                  Eternal Sunshine is a REALLY clever movie. The way it is filmed is very clever and well worth watching just for that. It’s not an easy watch though. It will leave you feeling a little uneasy. To get the most out of it and understand it, you will need to think, it’s not a movie to chill out to when you’ve had a tough week.

                  ~~ Extras ~~

                  ~ Inside Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ~
                  This is a really handy featurette. It is a short introduction to the film and will give you an insight as to how it is filmed, the time frames etc. It will mean that when you actually watch the film, your brain is less likely to be turned inside out trying to figure out what is going on (although in some ways that is part of the fun of this kind of film).

                  It features interviews with Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet along with members of the crew and clips from the film.

                  ~ A conversation with Jim Carrey and Michel Gondry ~

                  This is another interesting featurette, although I find Michel’s strong French accent hard to understand at times. It gives you real insight into the film and the characters and also shows you how some of the scenes were shot using clever direction and camera techniques.

                  ~ Deleted Scenes ~

                  These aren’t bloopers, just scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor. There’s not much to say about them really. I guess it’s interesting that even the standard of these clips is really high, the director must have just thought they didn’t add to the film.

                  ~ Polyphonic Spree “Light and day” Music Video ~

                  I quite like the song, but the video is freaky. Someone else’s mouth is super-imposed over Jim Carey’s face and it’s just spooky.

                  ~ Commentary with Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman ~

                  Now, anyone who has read my previous reviews will know I’m not one for director’s commentaries on films. I don’t like people talking over movies, so I can’t comment on what the commentary is like on this film.

                  ~ Lacuna Commercial ~

                  This is a spoof commercial for Lacuna Inc, the company who provide the memory erasing service. Amusingly, they also have a fully functional website http://www.lacunainc.com. It’s cheesy, but fun!

                  ~~ The Boring Stuff ~~

                  Director: Michel Gondry
                  Writer: Charlie Kaufman & Michel Gondry

                  Eternal Sunshine is currently available from Amazon Marketplace from £4.50, or from other DVD retail outlets.

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                  • 50 First Dates (DVD) / DVD / 39 Readings / 36 Ratings
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                    20.11.2005 18:27
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                    A nice film, but an innacurate portrayal of short-term memory disorders.

                    50 First Dates is a romantic comedy. It’s not a factual account of the trials and tribulations of memory loss. It is a piece designed for entertainment.

                    Adam Sandler plays the role of Henry Roth who meets Drew Barrymore’s character, Lucy Whitmore, in a café after his boat mast gets damaged. Prior to this chance meeting, Roth had a string of liaisons with tourists on the Hawaiian island where he works as a vet. He was a love-em-and-leave-em kinda guy, which all came to an end when he met Lucy.

                    The pair seem to immediately connect and arrange to meet for breakfast the following day. All is not as it seems though, and the following morning Roth finds out that his new love interest forgets daily events when she goes to sleep at night. As a result, she doesn’t remember him the following day and he has to convince her protective family and friends that his intentions are honourable.

                    The film follows the daily life of Lucy, and Henry’s attempt to get her to fall in love with him every day. At this point I will repeat myself: it’s not real. Lucy suffers from the FICTIONAL memory disorder Goldfield’s Syndrome caused by a road traffic accident. This film will be no use as a study guide for those interested in brain pathology, but it is a nice film for a night in with a bottle of wine.

                    Now, I’m not a fan of Adam Sandler, and this film hasn’t done anything to endear me to him. He often mumbles in his own unique way, or he screeches. There is very little personality in his characterisation and I found his character flat and highly missable. He has some funny scenes but overall I was unimpressed with his performance, which resembled every other part he has played in past films.

                    I am a fan of Drew Barrymore however and really enjoyed her performances in this film. The role of her father, played by Blake Clark was highly believable and I thoroughly enjoyed his scenes too. Sean Astin plays the role of Lucy’s brother, Doug and is the source of much amusement. He is usually on the receiving end of the slapstick humour, that is when it is not the turn of Rob Schneider who play’s Roth’s friend Ula.

                    Other notable performances are thanks to Dan Aykroyd (Dr. Keats), Joe Nakashima (Old Hawaiian Man) and the security guards at the hospital who are played by Peter Dante and Dom Magwili.

                    One final mention must go to Lusia Strus who plays Roth’s assistant Alexa. Without make-up and her harsh costume and hairstyle, she is every bit the androgynous character she is aiming to portray. It’s quite a shock to see her as she normally dresses, looking very feminine and pretty.

                    ~~ Extras ~~

                    There are more extras on this DVD than you can shake a stick at.

                    ~ Featurettes ~

                    The Dating Scene – This is a 20 minute feature about the film, it’s cast, characters and crew and makes for an entertaining and somewhat interesting piece of viewing. It does go into a fair bit of detail however, and should probably be watched after you have watched the film.

                    Talkin’ Pidgin – This is a short feature about the ‘pidgin’ slang of Hawaii which is used a lot in the film. Once again, it’s interesting and entertaining and well worth watching.

                    Comedy Centrals ‘Reel Comedy’ – A short piece entitled ‘Ula’s Movie Roundup’. I’m not sure if it was ever shown on TV, but it is in the style of a TV programme about the film where Ula interviews the other stars of the movie. It’s fun but verges on plain silly.

                    ~ Blooper Reel ~

                    A selection of out-takes; some funny, some not, lots with Drew Barrymore’s swearing beeped out.

                    ~ Sandler’s New Album ~

                    I really hope this is a spoof, because it’s awful. It must be, but I really can’t be bothered to find out more from www.adamsandler.com.

                    ~ Music Videos ~

                    Hold Me Now – Wayne Wonder (Nice song and video)
                    Amber (live) – 311 (OK song and video)
                    Love Song – 311 (I decided I don’t like this band but the video is pretty good.)

                    ~ Previews ~

                    Now I like previews and this DVD features three of them.

                    Mona Lisa Smile – I also own this DVD and the trailer is a pretty good introduction to the film. It is the story of an independent Art History teacher who begins teaching at a prestigious ladies college. It stars Julia Roberts, Julia Stiles and Kirsten Dunst and is a fabulous film.

                    Mr Deeds – Another Sandler film that could possibly be amusing, but will more than likely feature Sandler playing the same ole role again.

                    Groundhog Day – Bill Murray keeps living the same day over and over again in much the same way as Lucy does in this film. I never managed to make it through the whole of Groundhog Day though and found it thoroughly tedious.

                    ~ Extras ~

                    There is commentary provided by Drew Barrymore and the director Peter Segal.

                    The audio is available in English, Czech and Hungarian which is the strangest mix of languages I have seen on a DVD, that is until I read the options for the subtitles. You can view subtitles for this movie in the following languages: Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Slovene, Swedish and Turkish.

                    ~~ The Boring Stuff ~~

                    Director: Peter Segal
                    Writer: George Wing

                    This DVD is currently available from Amazon Marketplace from £4.05, or from your usual DVD retail outlet.

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                    • Strictly Ballroom (DVD) / DVD / 47 Readings / 44 Ratings
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                      10.11.2005 23:24
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                      A movie that makes me smile.

                      Strictly Ballroom (known to the cast and crew simply as “Strictly”) is my feel-good film. It’s less of a love story and more of a story about pushing the boundaries and breaking the mould of conformity.

                      It tells the story of Scott Hastings, played by dancer and actor Paul Mercurio, and his desire to dance his own steps in the finals of the Pan-Pacific dance competition. This is the last thing that one of the key organisers (Barry Fife played by Bill Hunter) wants however, and he goes to great lengths to prevent Scott dancing his unconventional steps. His motive is that “if you can't dance a step, you can't teach it, and if you can't teach it - we might as well all pack up and go home”. It’s a self-preservation thing, not something that is good for dance.

                      The movie stars an Australian cast and was written and directed by Baz Luhrmann (of Romeo & Juliet and Moulin Rouge fame), who is also Australian. This makes it a slightly quirky film, and although quirky, the humour in this film is inoffensive. There are some funny slapstick type moments that never fail to make me chuckle, albeit briefly.

                      “There's something in the air. It might be love -- but it isn't.”

                      Strictly “features some of Australia’s most well known actors” but you’re not likely to recognise many of them, if any! As far as I’m aware, none of the actors have ever played parts in Australian soaps such as Neighbours or Home and Away (is that a sigh of relief I hear?!). I’m not sure the acting is particularly good, but this is a comedy, and a quirky comedy at that, so the sometimes wooden and unbelievable performances can be forgiven. I can also forgive the general lack of characterisation because the underlying storyline more than makes up for it.

                      Although I’m not a ballroom dancer myself, I think the cast make passable dancers especially considering many of them were not professionally trained. The professional dancers among the principal cast include Paul Mercurio (Scott Hastings), Antonio Vargas (Rico), Sonia Kruger (Tina Sparkle), and Leonie Page (Vanessa Cronin). I’m sure if you look really closely, as I have done this evening, you will see errors and mistakes, but to the untrained eye the dancing is very good.

                      “ You're a gutless wonder! Vivir con miedo, es como vivir a medias!”

                      Tara Morice plays Fran, who becomes Scott’s dance partner. She also played the part in the stage production and sang the vocals on the soundtrack song “Time After Time”. I really enjoyed her scenes, and of all the performances and characters, I liked hers most. (I also really enjoyed the highly entertaining scenes – mainly one-liners - starring Lauren Hewett as Scott’s little sister Kylie.)

                      “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.”

                      Pat Thomson plays Shirley Hastings Scott’s over-bearing and dominating mother whilst Barry Otto plays Doug Hastings Scott’s long-suffering father. Both parents are essentially caricatures and therefore cannot be believed or taken seriously, but provide some additional amusement. Sadly, Pat was killed in a car crash before the film premiered.

                      ~~ Extras ~~

                      This DVD auto-plays and had I not watched the movie right until the very end last night, I would not have found the extras, not that they are terribly impressive.

                      Biographies – There are biographies of Baz Luhrmann, Paul Mercurio and Tara Morice. Each has 3 pages of details which is OK, but slightly insulting to the other members of the cast and crew who got no mention at all.

                      Trailer – I don’t like the trailer. I’m not sure why, but it doesn’t make me want to watch the film. Perhaps it has too many quick changing scenes and tells too much of the story.

                      ‘Love is in the Air’ Music Video – I’m not a huge fan of this song, and like the video about as much…. That is, not very.

                      Strictly Ballroom Behind the Scenes – This is the usual compilation of short interviews with some of the cast and crew. Some parts are quite interesting, but most of it is fairly dull.


                      ~~ Amusing Trivia ~~

                      During a shoot in Fran's house, a real food inspector came onto the set and demanded paperwork because he thought it was a real shop.

                      The film received a 15-minute standing ovation when it played at the Cannes Film Festival.

                      ~~ The Boring Stuff ~~

                      Runtime: 94 min
                      Country: Australia
                      Language: English
                      Certification: PG

                      English subtitles are available, but there are no additional language options.

                      Strictly Ballroom is currently available from Amazon Marketplace from £4.27, and from all good DVD retail outlets.

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                      • My Best Friend's Wedding (DVD) / DVD / 37 Readings / 35 Ratings
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                        09.11.2005 21:45
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                        Nice film.

                        I don’t want to review this movie. The thing is, I have written some reviews but I’m waiting for the DooYoo team to create the categories for them, but it appears they have gone on holiday (no crowns, no new products, but let’s not get me started on a rant).

                        Yes. I’m in a foul mood, not a good time to watch a romantic comedy, especially being broken hearted ‘n all. Yet, out of the DVDs I own, this was the only one I could contemplate watching. I remembered that it was a good film, a bittersweet comedy, and not so slushy that it would put me in a worse mood than I already was. However, the film is not as good as I remembered.

                        “Give it up kid, you can’t win ‘em all”

                        My Best Friend’s Wedding stars Julia Roberts as Julianne Potter, a food critic who “had this one hot month” with Michael O'Neal (played by the gorgeous Dermot Mulroney), a sports writer. Julianne was never interested in marrying Michael, that was until he announced his engagement to Kimberly Wallace who is played by Cameron Diaz.

                        Julianne then embarks on a one-woman (mostly anyway) mission to break the couple up and remind Michael why he loved her for 9 years. She is assisted in parts (and hindered in others) by George Downes who is played by Rupert Everett. He acts as both her support and her voice of reason at different points in the movie.

                        “If he were feeling what I'm feeling then he would know how it feels.”

                        Essentially, it’s a will-they-won’t-they kind of film. You’re never really sure how it will end, just as you’re never really sure who you want to win the man. If you’re anything like me, you will understand where Julianne is coming from, and really feel for her thanks to her magnificent characterisation and performance. You’ll admire her conviction, but soon you’ll despise the deceptive lengths she will go to. Meanwhile, Kimberly ‘Kimmy’ Wallace is instantly dislikeable purely because she is so blonde, so beautiful and so perfect (but she also drives like a maniac). Diaz plays the part beautifully and believably goes from ditzy blonde to erudite young woman in the same way that Roberts goes from heartless to repentant.

                        Mulroney and Everett play their parts too but compared to the ladies, I didn’t find myself being drawn to their characters. I guess they weren’t characterised as well, or maybe their performances weren’t as good, or their parts as big in the scheme of things. Of the two Mulroney’s is the more developed character.

                        There are parts of this film that will make you chuckle, some will make you cringe, parts will touch you deeply and parts will make you groan they are so corny. There are musical numbers and some fabulous cinematographic shots.

                        It’s good, maybe even great, but not fabulous. I wasn’t gripped by it, and even left my viewing spot on several occasions. It’s a great movie if you’re in the mood for a romantic comedy, or it’s a genre you enjoy, but for me, this evening, it did nothing for me. In fact, this evening, I was more impressed by the special features than I was the film itself.

                        “This too shall pass”

                        ~~ Special Features ~~

                        “Wedding Do’s and Don’ts” – This is a black and white silent movie type narrated piece of film. It’s OK, mildly amusing narrative, mildly amusing film that looks like it was pieced together from archives, and overall… mildly amusing I guess. (Running time: 4:30)

                        “Unveiled ‘My Best Friends Wedding’” and “On the Set” – These are nice short (15 minutes a piece) interviews with the cast and crew with clips of film thrown in to illustrate points too. It’s not just a ‘back-patting’ session, and it’s really nice to hear from the people involved and also a little about some of the sets used. I found it really interesting, and I was really impressed with how articulate Julia was.

                        “’Say a Little Prayer’ sing-a-long” – This is a karaoke style piece taken from the film. Below the running film sequence are the song words, so you can sing along too! It’s cute, it’s fun, I didn’t feel the need to sing along though.


                        ~~ The Boring Stuff ~~

                        Directed by: P.J. Hogan
                        Written by: Ronald Bass (who also produced and directed)
                        Rate: PG
                        Runtime: 105 min
                        Language: English / French / German
                        Subtitles: English, French, German and Dutch

                        Currently available from Amazon Marketplace from £3.99, and from your usual DVD retail outlets.

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                        • More +
                          03.11.2005 21:18
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                          Spiffing!

                          ~~ Introduction ~~

                          I did a little research on the web in preparation for writing this review and my findings are a little alarming.

                          Mental health problems are identified as one of the top three causes of sickness absence. Some recent research shows that in any one year 25% of us are affected by mental health problems and nearly all of us experience mental health problems at some point in our lives.

                          Of people who actually see a professional about their difficulties, about 80% suffer depression, anxiety and other stress-related problems.

                          Over five million people each year in the UK consult their doctor's about such problems and estimates from the 2003/4 survey of Self-reported Work-related Illness indicate that self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety account for an estimated 12.8 million reported lost working days per year in Britain.

                          The 2003/4 survey also suggested that over half a million individuals in Britain believed that they were experiencing work-related stress at a level that was making them ill.

                          “Occupation and industry groups containing teachers and nurses, along with professional and managerial groups particularly those in the public sector have high prevalence rates of work-related stress in the SWI and SHAW surveys. The THOR datasets SOSMI and OPRA also report high incident rates of work-related mental illness for these occupational groups, along with medical practitioners and those in public sector security based occupations such as police officers, prison officers, and UK armed forces personnel.” (The Health and Safety Executive, http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.htm.)


                          ~~ So what? ~~

                          Some of you may be wondering what the significance of me providing this information is in a review about a book. The thing is, with mental health problems being so prevalent in our lives, communities and work force today, we need to find ways of combating it. Furthermore, not everyone wants to be prescribed SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Prozac to help them get through it. Prozac and other drugs prescribed for such mental illnesses don’t cure the person; they merely treat the symptoms. The causes of the illness will still be there when the person stops taking the drug, unless they do something about it.

                          Finally, as a member of an ‘at risk’ profession (I work in the public sector and my working arrangements are particularly stressful) and having suffered from depression for as long as I can remember, I am a member of the target audience for this book. (Although, had I not been taking Prozac myself, I would not have regained my desire to get better rather than plotting my demise.)


                          ~~ Get on with the review of the book ~~

                          The author, Dr David Servan-Schreiber, claims that 50-75% of all visits to the doctor are stress related and thus recognised the need to find better ways of ‘curing’ people suffering from mental illness. He recognised that not everyone wants to take drugs or engage in ‘talking therapies’ and that also the drugs don’t ‘cure’ the illness. He set out to find a more acceptable way of treating patients that had more chance of curing them than existing methods.

                          The first few chapters give you details about some of his experiences, his background and the impetus for writing this book. It’s a very difficult book to summarise because there is so much information of great value. Although the concepts that are related to the reader are not difficult to understand, it’s hard to explain them convincingly whilst remaining succinct.

                          What Dr Servan-Schreiber came up with was 7 alternative methods for dealing with depression and other stress related illnesses, together with scientific evidence, which serves to back up their effectiveness. Essentially, these methods are targeting the ‘emotional brain’ (the limbic area of the brain) directly in order to promote it’s healing. The emotional brain does not respond so well to cognitive and linguistic therapeutic regimes so the methods identified attempt to heal the emotional brain via the body.

                          Each chapter combines clinical evidence, physiological information, case stories, personal insights, suggestions and descriptions of the methods. It helps if you know a little about physiology, but it is by no means a prerequisite. Every chapter in this book is written exceptionally well and provides the reader with enough information to explain the methods without overwhelming them. Although the book is medically biased, it can leave the layman reader, such as myself, feeling incredibly motivated and uplifted. At times it is really touching, something that adds to it’s overall appeal.

                          The 7 methods of healing are:

                          1) Heart Coherence

                          The heart and the brain are closely linked. Normally your cardiac rhythm is irregular or ‘chaotic’ and the aim of this method is to train it to become more regular and enter a state of 'coherence'. Chaotic rhythms are associated with stress, anxiety and depressive states and are a leading predictor of high blood pressure, heart disease, and even mortality. The theory is, if we can become more coherent, we can become happier and healthier.


                          2) EMDR : Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

                          This is a really interesting method and theory. The suggestion is, when we experience a traumatic event, it leaves a wound in our emotional brain. Sometimes we can’t heal these wounds effectively or quickly enough and EMDR appears to enhance the brain’s ability to deal with past traumatic events.

                          This may be through eye-movements resembling those that take place spontaneously during dreaming, or by purposely eliciting the movements. It sounds far fetched, but the information presented about it is fascinating.


                          3) The Energy of Light

                          The emotional brain is very sensitive to different biological rhythms including that of light. Most of you have probably heard of SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which affects people in the winter months (October to March in the Northern Hemisphere). The theory is, we can use light to lift our spirits. Not only this, but using a ‘dawn simulator’ we can wake up gradually to a simulated dawn, rather than wake up with a start to the sound of our alarm (or the local radio station). (Personally I don’t think this is of much use to me. I haven’t heard the sound of my alarm for months because normally I am up and out of the door before it even goes off. I think it’s set for about 8am and I wake up between 5 and 6!)

                          This gradual waking enable us to start the day in a more positive and relaxed manner and our bodies have a chance to move from the sleeping state to a state of waking. Dreams can wrap up and we can wake up feeling refreshed and relaxed (that sounds really good!).


                          4) The Control of Qi ("Chi")

                          This method utilises acupuncture to promote the flow of energy through the body and stimulate the brain. For over 2,500 years, traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine has relieved stress, anxiety and depression with acupuncture. Research using cranial imaging has shown that stimulation with fine acupuncture needles directly controls key areas of the emotional brain.


                          5) Omega-3 Fatty Acids

                          Did you know that 20% of the brain is made of essential fatty acids that cannot be manufactured by the body? For the emotional brain to work optimally, it needs a supply of the omega-3 essential fatty acids, which need to be drawn entirely from what we eat. These fatty acids are found in fish (more so in the oily fish varieties such as mackerel), seaweeds and some green vegetables.

                          Recent studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids are powerful antidepressants in addition to their well-established benefits on cardiovascular function.

                          Included in this chapter is a very useful table containing the best sources of naturally occurring omega-3.


                          6) Prozac or Puma?

                          Physical exercise (twenty to thirty minutes three times a week) has been shown to have powerful effects on anxiety and depression.

                          Local authorities in Devon (championed primarily by Mid-Devon District Council) are currently promoting a 5X30 campaign that recommends that you undertake 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times a week. This program aims to improve the fitness and general health of residents. It is well known that exercise releases feel-good endorphins into the blood, but if you take part in an activity with other people, that in itself can be pleasurable and mood enhancing.

                          Apparently, after treatment, patients who recovered through exercise relapsed four times less than those who had recovered through the antidepressant. This chapter not only provides illuminating cases, but also suggestions for forms of exercise.


                          7) Emotional Communication

                          “We now know that love is a biological need, on a level comparable to food and protection against cold temperatures.”

                          This chapter is dedicated to emotional relationships, and getting the most from them and also covers dealing with conflict and criticism. It’s a very ‘fluffy’, ‘touchy-feely’ chapter that talks of learning to “be more emotionally present with those around us, while learning how to set meaningful limits”. It does make sense to me however and I wasn’t surprised to read that the love of a dog or a cat has powerful effects on mood, and can reduce our responses to stress. (As any animal lover and pet owner will already know!)

                          This chapter identifies the need to be part of a community; to feel like we belong and have something of worth to give to others. It makes suggestions for doing just this.


                          ~~ Summary ~~

                          I found this book incredibly engaging, uplifting, motivating and above all interesting. It is written so wonderfully and elegantly that it requires no effort at all to read. This book is like a breath of fresh air and offers a unique and alternative perspective to an ever-growing problem of today.

                          I am fascinated by everything Dr Servan-Schreiber had to say and hope that some of the methods identified in this book help guide me towards the permanent recovery of my own mental health.

                          If you want to know a little more check out the following website: http://www.nofreudnoprozac.org

                          ~~ Update ~~

                          In all my enthusiasm, I forgot to mention about the price. RRP, and the price I paid is £7.99, and worth every penny but you can get it for just £3.99 from Amazon (so now I'm wishing I hadn't checked that, or that I had checked it before going on my impulse buying spending spree...)

                          ¤ Paperback 304 pages (May 6, 2005)
                          ¤ Publisher: Rodale
                          ¤ Language: English
                          ¤ ISBN: 1405077581

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                          • More +
                            02.11.2005 08:11
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                            An inspiring and motivating common-sense book for those who need a little helping hand.

                            SUMO (Shut Up, Move On) claims to be “The Straight Talking Guide to Creating and Enjoying a Brilliant Life”.

                            I bought this book on an impulse one day at the height of my book-buying obsession. It’s a thin paperback and yet it still costs £12.99. At the time I needed something inspiring that would put a smile on my face and figured £12.99 was worth it. Having read it and reviewing it after a few months, I’m not sure it’s worth £12.99, but it is a good read. You can currently get it online for less than £10 (including delivery), which is a much better price.

                            SUMO begins with 3 pages of testimonials regarding the author’s presentations and workshops. I have to wonder if this is really necessary. It is clear that all sorts of organisations have requested the author, Paul McGee, to present to them, but is it really necessary to promote these at the beginning of this book? The list of organisations is impressive, but what use is this to an individual such as myself?!

                            The book itself is comprised of an introduction, 6 chapters and a closing section.

                            ~~ Introduction ~~

                            The introduction is a handy summary of the SUMO principles and how they came about. It briefly talks about the composition of the book, the motivation behind it and it’s aims and objectives. It’s very straightforward and everything you would expect from an introduction.

                            ~~ Chapter 1 – Change Your T-Shirt ~~

                            The message in the first chapter is to start changing your outlook on life. You have to stop blaming other people for what is happening to you and start taking responsibility for yourself. I think this is an important lesson to learn. It is all too easy to blame something, someone or everything for what is happening to us, but we have to take responsibility for the way we react to and deal with difficult circumstances.

                            Stop BSE (Blaming Someone Else)

                            ~~ Chapter 2 – Develop Fruity Thinking ~~

                            I’m the queen of fruity thinking, but that isn’t what this chapter is trying to develop.

                            The chapter is in fact dedicated to NLP (neuro-linguistic-programming) type principles. The theory is; if you change the way you think it will have a knock on effect to the way you behave and your appearance to others, which in turn can improve your circumstances.

                            I am a great believer in this because so many good things happen have happened to me when I’ve displayed an air of confidence, and so many opportunities have come my way when I have had a laid back attitude. Compare this with nothing going right when I am in times of desperation, and I know which situation I would prefer!
                            Be aware of your TEARs (Thinking --> Actions --> Emotions --> Results)

                            ~~ Chapter 3 – Hippo Time is OK ~~

                            This chapter spells out the fact that it’s OK to wallow sometimes, as long as you don’t continue indefinitely! For anyone suffering from depression, who has been told that they need to pull themselves together, to get over it and that they have no right to wallow in their negative feelings, this chapter is a god send. For me, it meant I felt I had the right to spend a little time wallowing and licking my wounds and that this was actually OK and allowed.

                            This chapter gives you tips for hippo time, such as not talking to too many people about the situation (because you are just reliving it) and making sure you only talk to people who will help you and not hinder your progress.

                            ~~ Chapter 4 – Remember the Beach Ball ~~

                            Imagine a huge ball between you and someone standing opposite you. Your side of the ball is blue with white dots and theirs is white with yellow stars. You both have different perspectives of the same ball and no matter how hard you try, you will not be able to convince the other person that your view is ‘correct’.

                            Accepting other people’s perspectives, trying to understand them and also dealing with differences is the key to this chapter. You are much better equipped to deal with things if you understand what influences your own and other people’s perspectives.

                            It makes a lot of sense!

                            ~~ Chapter 5 – Learn Latin ~~

                            This chapter highlights the fact that you actually need to do something. It’s all well and good reading self-help books, but at some point you will have to put theory into practice and DO SOMETHING. It deals with the reasons that you might resist change and advice about how to tackle the things you are finding difficult.

                            ~~ Chapter 6 – Ditch Doris Day ~~

                            Ditch the idea that ‘whatever will be, will be’ and strive towards the future that you want for yourself. This chapter deals with defining your goals and the road to achieving them.

                            ~~ The Closing (my title, not his) ~~

                            The book closes with a personal postscript in the form of a short account of an important event in the author’s life. It highlighted the difference perspective has on your life. When you know what is truly important to you, the small stuff just doesn’t matter as much, and dealing with the theft of a car is nothing compared to the possibility that a loved one has been killed.

                            The following pages then go on to explain what to do if you want to know more about SUMO or if you want the author to visit your organisation or school. It promotes the website www.thesumoguy.com and provides other contact details.

                            The final page in this book explains that part of the profits of the book are being donated to UNICEF. It gives a short description of the children’s charity and the work they do, along with the details of the UNICEF website (www.unicef.org.uk) should you wish to make further contributions.

                            ~~ Summary ~~

                            SUMO is well written, easy to understand and fast paced. The points being made are not dwelled upon unnecessarily and as a result you don’t feel patronised. At the same time, this book may not suit some people. A lot of the principles are based on common sense, but some of us need a little help and direction sometimes, and this is a really good book for doing that.

                            It’s humorous and so doesn’t get too heavy at any point. The book is peppered with ‘personal stuff’ (personal insights from the author), exercises, points to ponder and SUMO wisdom one-liners. The one-liners are really handy summaries of the point being made, and there is an overall summary at the end of each chapter. A handy index is also included so you can find stuff (I wanted to find the part about BMWs just now). The exercises and points to ponder are really helpful and insightful questions to ask yourself. As with other books I have read, the questions are simple so you won’t feel like a failure because you can’t answer them, and they aren’t so tricky that you really need to think hard before coming up with a response.


                            So, do you still want to know what a BMW is?

                            Avoid of BMW’s (people who Bitch, Moan and Whinge).


                            Paperback 148 pages (May 27, 2005)
                            Publisher: Capstone Publishing Ltd
                            Language: English
                            ISBN: 1841126632

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                            • The Wedding Singer (DVD) / DVD / 39 Readings / 35 Ratings
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                              01.11.2005 13:15
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                              Fun for the family, easy viewing.

                              I’m going to break with tradition and do things a little differently; in fact, I’m going to do this review backwards.

                              ~~ DVD Extras ~~

                              -Trailer-

                              I’ve just watched the trailer for The Wedding Singer. It’s not very good. I don’t think I would have watched the film based on the trailer. As it is, I’m actually a pretty big fan of Drew Barrymore and I think I picked this film up cheaply at some point or another.

                              - Cast & Crew -

                              There is a biography and filmography for six of the characters in the film:
                              -Alexis Arquette who plays George Stitzer, vocalist and band member (they could have made more of an effort with this one as his biography says virtually nothing about him),
                              - Jon Lovitz who plays Jimmie Moore, a rival wedding singer with a VERY small part - Steve Buscemi who plays David 'Dave' Veltri, the best man of the first wedding we attend as viewers of the film and who also turns up as a wedding singer later
                              - Adam Sandler, Robbie Hart, The Wedding Singer
                              - Drew Barrymore who plays Julia Sullivan
                              - Christine Taylor who plays Julia’s sister, Holly Sullivan.

                              The filmograpies are well detailed and most of the biographies highlight that particular actor’s career highlights. I’m not sure why they chose these cast members in particular and not some of the others who had bigger roles in the movie.

                              The only other ‘extra’ is the ability to display English subtitles. There is no director’s commentary (although I have never listened to a directors commentary) or any other gimmicks, bells or whistles.

                              ~~ The Film ~~

                              The Wedding Singer is another romantic comedy. As I’ve grown older my collection of this genre has grown embarrassingly big. Like most romantic movies, much of it is unoriginal, but I do find it highly enjoyable.

                              Robbie Hart, The Wedding Singer, played by Adam Sandler, is strangely appealing. I can’t figure out if he is a really good actor or a really bad one, but the persona he portrays fits that feel of the character and the movie. He’s a nice man, bordering on the pathetic. He’s very watchable and yet slightly wooden.

                              When the film begins it’s 1985 and Robbie (Sandler) is due to marry Linda, played by Angela Featherstone. The first time we meet Linda is following the abandoned wedding. It’s very easy to dislike her. She’s fickle, shallow and hurtful, not to mention the fact she has huge 80s backcombed hair.

                              Julia Sullivan (Barrymore) is engaged to Glenn Guglia who is played by Matthew Glave. Again, the casting for this part was spot on. Glenn is sleazy, self-important and egocentric and Glave plays this really well.

                              As Julia and Robbie begin to spend time together, feelings grow between them and what ensues is a will-they-won’t-they kind of affair with a few good twists, touching moments and a comedic undertone.

                              Once again, it’s not the best movie in the world. The plot is interesting but hardly original or surprising and the casting was well done but the characters are under-developed. There are a few good performances, but generally the acting is not the highlight of the film. For me the highlights are the subtle ironic references and the portrayal of popular culture in the 1980s. There is a cameo performance from Billy Idol, which is pure class and you can’t miss Rosie the rapping granny!

                              ~~ Other random stuff… ~~

                              So those are the extras and what I think of the film, but there are a few other things I’d like to say about this film.

                              One of its highlights is the soundtrack. Some classic 80s anthems are used, and the one that sticks most in my head is ‘Love My Way’ by The Psychedelic Furs. I first heard this track when it was given to me by a good friend on a compilation tape he made for me, and it takes me right back to those times.

                              Also worth mentioning are the ‘costumes’. The 80s feel has been recreated wonderfully. There are Madonna-esque costumes, Micheal Jackson inspired outfits plus the obligatory 1980s blazer jackets, huge puff ball skirts and neon colours. Don’t even get me started on the hair!


                              The Wedding Singer is currently available from Amazon for £6.97 or from Amazon Marketplace from £3.25. Other DVD retail outlets are available!

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                              • Miss Congeniality (DVD) / DVD / 36 Readings / 34 Ratings
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                                31.10.2005 17:25
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                                Great family entertainment.

                                Sandra Bullock is one of my favourite actresses and she doesn’t disappoint in this romantic/action comedy.

                                She plays the role of Gracie Hart, an FBI agent with bad manners, bad hair and the last person you would imagine taking part in a beauty pageant, and yet that is just what she does. When ‘The Citizen’ plans to strike at the Miss United States Beauty Pageant, Hart suggests someone goes undercover to ensure the safety of the other girls and to try and sniff out the Citizen before anyone comes to any harm. Of course, Hart emerges as the only FBI agent suitable for such a mission.

                                Sandra Bullock’s characterisation is brilliant. From the way she eats, walks and dresses to the way she enters her apartment and deals with her fellow officers, she is every bit the de-feminated FBI agent (a woman firmly embedded in a man’s world and fitting in quite nicely thank you). Then the transformation begins. Her character is given a complete makeover and she begins to look more like the Sandra Bullock we have seen in other movies (such as Speed). I find her believable from the off and her performance is often comedic (although I guess after the first few falling-from-high-heels moments, it gets a little predictable).

                                It is down to Michael Cane’s character, Victor Milling, to bring Gracie up to the Miss United States standards and coach her in her role. His part is played wonderfully. He is one of the most believable characters in the movie, right from the moment he appears. He is completely believable as the almost obsessively single-minded coach, whose sole aim is to win contests vicariously through the ladies he coaches. He’s slightly eccentric, always professional and expects the highest standards. He also has some of the best one-liners in the movie.

                                “Oh, I have sarcasm, when every word that comes out of your mouth is dripping with disdain?!” (Gracie)

                                William Shatner makes a wonderfully placid and pathetic pageant host as Stan Fields. Meanwhile, Eric Matthews, played by the not too shabby looking Benjamin Bratt provides a potential love interest for Gracie, but I didn’t find his performance terribly appealing or believable. It’s a bit flat, weak and dry but that might be due to the role he was trying to play rather than his ability as an actor. (By this I mean that the character he plays is weak, taking Gracie’s ideas for the mission as his own and being the butt of the jokes rather than the originator.)

                                By far the funniest lines and moments usually involved ‘Rhode Island’, aka Cheryl Frasier, played by Heather Burns. She is your stereotypical blonde beauty pageant entrant – very dim but with a big heart. Her character again is very believable, and she portrays the naïve, innocent and inoffensive girl really well. Some of her lines are as follows:

                                On describing her perfect date: “I’d have to say April 25th, it’s not too hot and not too cold. All you need is a light jacket.”

                                On whether she’d ever committed a felony: “One time I stole red underwear from the department store. My mother wouldn’t buy them for me. She said they were Satan’s panties.”

                                DVD Extras:

                                There’s not just one commentary on this DVD, but two. The first one features Sandra Bullock and the screen Writer Marc Lawrence and the second with the director Donald Petrie. Now, I’m not sure about everyone else out there, but I have NEVER watched a film with the commentary going on. I’m one of those people who find people muttering in the background annoying. I like to watch the film; I don’t want a running commentary (by the actor, director, screen writer or the person sitting next to me on the couch). Anyway, as a result I can’t comment on the commentary. I’m sure it’s great though; If you’re into that kind of thing.

                                Documentaries

                                Preparing for the Pageant – A mildly amusing piece with clips from the movie, out-takes, deleted scenes and interviews with the cast, including Sandra, Benjamin and Michael. It also features the director and member of the wardrobe team and actually makes for interesting viewing.

                                The Pageant – Interviews with Michael, Candice, William et al. More out takes and film clips. This documentary isn’t so interesting. It’s more of a summary of the story, a pat on the back for the cast and not a lot else. A filler? Surely not! There are plenty of deleted scenes at the end, but they aren’t very good. Probably why they were deleted then.

                                Then there is the obligatory ‘Theatrical Trailer’. I still don’t know why this is needed on DVDs, but there you go. You could watch it as an introduction to the film… or not. As trailers go, it’s pretty good.


                                Miss Congeniality is currently available from Play.com for £14.99 or Amazon Marketplace from £4.75. Other DVD retail outlets are also likely to stock this DVD!

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                                • The Wedding Planner (DVD) / DVD / 41 Readings / 38 Ratings
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                                  30.10.2005 20:07
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                                  A feel good film, but not one for the lonely

                                  The Wedding Planner is essentially a love story. Jennifer Lopez plays the character of Mary Fiore, The Wedding Planner. Mary doesn’t long for a loving husband and the wedding of her dreams, she just organises other peoples for them, something she does this to perfection.

                                  “There’s the wedding Planner. She must lead such a romantic life!”

                                  The life of Mary Fiore is not romantic. Her life is filled by work, TV dinners and scrabble club practice with her father and the other folks at the old peoples home. Her life is as regimented as the weddings she officiates (can I say that in this context?) and everything is in perfect order. Her whole life is about control, until she meets Steve Edison who is played by Matthew McConaughey.

                                  “Did you ever like somebody and the timing was off?”

                                  When Mary meets Steve, everything changes. It’s love at first sight, or even if it’s not quite love, there is a definite spark between the pair. However, Steve Edison is about to marry Fran Donnelly who is played by Bridgette Wilson-Sampras (yes, she’s Pete Sampras’ wife). Of course, by twisted fate Mary is to plan their wedding.

                                  Meanwhile Mary’s dad, Salvatore Fiore, played by Alex Rocco is unhappy about his daughter’s dormant love life and decides to set her up with Massimo who is played by Justin Chambers.

                                  What follows is a will-they-won’t-they story with some humorous twists, some predictable turns and some very touching and some very corny lines along the way. The story touches on arranged marriages (where the love grows), the more western traditional courting relationships of today, and the phenomenon (?) of love at first sight. There is unrequited love, amicable separation and separation through bereavement.

                                  The cast portray their characters well. I really felt for Mary in places, and Massimo contributed some very touching performances. For me, the fact that I felt for the characters indicates their performances were believable and so I judge the parts to be well acted.

                                  The fake Italian accents of Massimo and to a lesser extent Salvatore were hopeless and distracting. I am not sure that the characters were meant to be presented as intellectually challenged, and yet that is how they came across. They could have tried to make more of an effort to sound more authentic.

                                  I found it very easy to dislike Matthew McConaughey’s character. I don’t really like him as an actor, and of all the performances, I believe his was one of the weakest of the main characters. He seemed fairly wooden and unreal, although in places he also delivered touching monologues. His southern-drawling accent is also not high on my list of positives about this film.

                                  The final notable character is that of Penny, played by Judy Greer. Penny is Mary’s bubbly blonde assistant and plays the supporting role well.

                                  The romantic soundtrack is appropriate at all times, and there are some nice songs to support the on-screen action. The closing titles play out to JLo’s “Love Don’t Cost a Thing”

                                  DVD extras include:

                                  - Deleted Scenes (and to be quite frank, you can see why they were deleted. They don’t add anything to the story and serve to patronise the viewer more than anything by explicitly spelling out the story and making the overall outcome more predictable than it might otherwise be.)

                                  - “The Dancer and The Cowboy” (the making of the dance scene with JLo and Matthew and contrasting that with them both on horseback. JLo being a dancer had the upperhand in the former scene, whereas Matthew's country roots gave him the upperhand in the latter one. Very short, pretty dull and generally pointless.)

                                  - Original Theatrical Trailer (not really sure why DVD makers include these... are you meant to watch the trailer before you go into the movie? Why would you want to see it after?)


                                  The extras are a bit rubbish, so my recommendation would be not to buy/rent this movie just to check out the extras. The movie is much better! Of course, there is also the usual directors commentary we come to expect from DVD movies, and various audio options for those who are hard of hearing etc.

                                  Overall, this is a very watchable film. More of a chick flick than anything, suitable for the whole family (rated PG it doesn’t feature any bad language, sex, violence or nudity). It’s good, it’s nice, it’s pleasant but it’s far from being earth shatteringly good.

                                  The Wedding Planner is currently available from Play.com for £6.99, or Amazon Marketplace from £4.73. It is of course available from other outlets that sell DVDs!

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