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Trance is a gripping British thriller directed by Danny Boyle.
Simon (James McAvoy) works for an auction house and is assisting in the sale of a valuable Goya painting, estimated to reach £25m. When robbers try and steal it, Simon quickly follows procedure. However as he attempts to put the painting in a secure vault, he is stopped by one of the robbers (Vincent Cassell), who hits him and knocks him out.
Simon gets amnesia and not all is as it seems, as it appears he is on cahoots with the robbers, but they don't have the painting, Simon has hidden it elsewhere. Trouble is, he doesn't remember.... The gang hire hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to help him get his memory back and she becomes part of the gang but Simon isn't alone in having feelings for her.
The film is set in East London and is very slick and a bit dark in directional style. At first, the plot was easy to follow, and didn't try to be to clever, however, I felt that when it started to twist again, you remained in the dark for a while and not everyone was as you first thought. Loose ends are tied up at the end, and there is very little ambiguity.
Overall I enjoyed the film, it kept my attention throughout apart from as one point when it seemed to get a bit confusing. I can't fault the directing or the cast, who gave excellent performances and were convincing.
It is a 15 film which surprised me due to nudity, violence and sexual scenes. At just over 100 mins it is not too long either
Please note I watched this show on Netflix, so did not buy the DVD so cannot comment on the extras. However, the show is what it is all about and for me, this is a winner.
Following a successful election, congressman Francis (Frank) Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is passed over for Secretary of State position he had hoped for. He plots revenge in order to get a prize seat in the White House, to this end he is helped by his wife Claire (Robin Wright). He also manipulates Washington Post reporter Zoe (Kate Mara) who he has an affair with. The plot is very clever and you don't need to have an insider's knowledge of American politics to follow it. Frank is quite manipulative and even evil in some respects, but you have a begrudging respect for how he so often ends up on top, even if things didn't quite go to plan. At odd times Frank may address the camera so the audience gets an insight into how he is thinking. I didn't like this at first, but it is easy to gte used to and usually only happens occasionally.
The cast is superb, even though I was only familiar with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright prior to this (although I have spotted supporting cast members in a number of subsequent dramas now) and I cannot fault the acting, production or direction. It is a slick, political drama without being over-done and 'too slick'.
I have to say it was one of my favourite TV programmes of 2013 and I loved watching it.
I first saw this in the cinema and have subsequently seen it on stage. I have probably seen the film a few other times since then as it is very watchable. It is set in Baltimore, USA in the early sixties. Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is a local schoolgirl who loves the Corny Collins music show, and dreams of dancing on it. However, being a larger sized girl meant she didn't get on, as bitchy Velma (Michelle Pfeiffer)makes sure of it. However when Corny himself (James Marsden)sees her dance, he makes sure she gets in and she soon become very popular and a rival to Velma's daughter Amber (Brittany Snow). Meanwhile Tracy becomes aware of the racial segregation that affects the show and is upset that she cannot dance with her black friends.
Whilst the show has a moral message against segregation, there is a little romance with Tracy and lead male dancer Link (Zac Efron), as well as a sweet scene between Tracy's parents Wilbur (Christopher Walken) and Edna (John Travolta). Yes, you did read that right. John Travolta is in drag and a fat suit and still has all the moves.
The songs are mostly upbeat and catchy, the slower tracks are still good sing-along type numbers. The final number 'You Can't Stop The Beat' is a real toe tapper.
The film brings a smile to my face every time I watch it and I love all the songs. Performances (including those already mentioned, as well as Queen Latifah and Amanda Bynes) are slick and professional. The dancing is always immaculate. If you saw the ropey vocal performances in the film adaptation in Mamma Mia, then you need not worry - this is a classy and slick production.
Having been recommended this book by koshkha (see below), I finally got round to reading it this week, and I am very glad I did.
Rukhsana is a young Afghani woman who had been able to study in India before the Taliban took over her country. Whilst there she played on the women's cricket team. Back home and the Taliban are in power so she has to wear a burkha and can barely see what's in front of her let alone catch a ball (just as well sports were banned, especially for women). However the Taliban have decided that cricket could be acceptable to them as an international sport to make them seem more open to the rest of the world. They organise a competition, the winners get to go and train is Pakistan.
Rukhsana, her brother and cousins decide to form a team to enter the competition as a way to get them out of the country. This is the story of how a woman in a burkha trained a mis-match of men and boys.
Firstly, I have to say that I don't watch nor understand cricket. I haven't got a clue what the game is about and the book doesn't baffle me with technical terms. We learn all we need to know in Rukhsana's explanations to her family, and the book doesn't go into details. the information was clear and was just enough for me to follow the story. Really cricket is just a plot device to drive the story. The rest of the story is interspersed with snapshots of daily life for women under the regime (the book was set in 2000) and it can be pretty grim reading.
I was unfamiliar with the author Timeri Murari, who is an Indian author, but he has managed to write and accessible and engaging international novel (not all international novels are this easy to get into).
Shame is a 2011 film starring Michael Fassbender as Brandon, a New York executive with a nice apartment and a sex addition. Brandon is happy to drift along in his life, picking up women, hiring prostitutes or watching porn. Nothing has much meaning for him. One day his younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) appears and lets herself into his apartment and back into his life. He clearly adores his sister but doesn't like the disruption to his ordered lifestyle. Sissy is emotionally unstable after a relationship breakdown.
With Brandon feeling stilted and Sissy sleeping with his boss, their relationship is put under strain and Brandon attempts to date rather than shag women. It is revealed he has never had a relationship of over 4 months (I'm starting to wonder about the parents here - as the kids are a complete mess!).
I thought the performances of the two lead characters, as well as supporting roles of Brandon's work colleagues were all done well, and I thought Steve McQueen's direction also excellent. All three (Fassbender, Mulligan and McQueen got a number of nominations at awards season, for this film, and some wins in some of the more modest awards organisations.
However, this aside I found the film dragged at times for me and was hard to stick with. There isn't a huge amount of dialogue and whilst the story is told well I found my attention waning on a couple of occasions. I still think this is worth a watch but you will need to keep focused to get the best out of the film.
It's an 18 certificate with a lot of nudity, swearing and sex scenes.
When booking a recent holiday to Turkey through Thomas Cook we were automatically assigned to a flight run by Thomas Cook airlines. For that reason I cannot give you price guidelines as that was part of our package price.
Our flight was London Gatwick to Bodrum and departed at 12.10 on Sunday, arriving just after 6pm local time. Our return flight was 19.10, landing in London at about 9pm.
You caqn check in online and print your own boarding passes - I found Check-in/bag drop staff to be helpful and polite in both airports and all flight attendants were happy and cheery. I was impressed as I have flown with some of the big, international brands and not had the level of courteousness and warmth from staff.
When booking (we went through an agent) we were given the option to pay a supplement to reserve seats to sit together (we were travelling as a three), extra legroom and to pay for in flight meals. We elected not to do this for a shortish flight (4 hours) but had no problems getting sat together, nor did our friends who checked in later than us.
Luggage allowance is 20kg in the hold - a few went slightly over but no surcharges were applied. Hold baggage is 6kg, and there are size restrictions - no worse than any other airline.
We had a big meal at the airport and bought snacks for the plane. You can purchase things on board - 40g Pringles or crisps are about £1.50. Or you can get a Hot Meal Deal with a chocolate bar and a soft drink for about £8. You can buy soft, hot or alcoholic drinks and they have carious 'deals' with discounts for buying two mini spirits or half price chocolate fingers with a hot drink. It isn't cheap but there is a good selection of snack items to help keep boredom at bay.
The sell Duty Free items and other gifts on board - my friend got some perfume that was a good deal.
They will show a film on shared screens that drop down. You can buy headsets for £3 or use your own.
Leg room on our 757 (3 seats either side of an aisle) won't be as good on transatlantic flights but it was OK for short haul.
Overall I was very impressed with my first experience with this airline.
Last summer I visited Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan for a little over a week. It may sound like an unusual choice but I had family members working out there on a three year contract, so took the opportunity to go and see them and explore a region I was quite unfamiliar with.
Mostly the new part of the city is very Western with many well designed buildings – for example The Flame Towers, which light up at night (Azerbaijan is the Land of Fire).
Martyer’s Alley & the Eternal Flame - commemorates victims of a massacre at the hands of the Soviets during a pre-Independence demonstration. At the end is an 'eternal flame' below an arch, and some good views of the city below it.
The Old City is a must visit and there are a number of things to see here – some are more of less ruins of bathhouses and there is a small miniature book museum for those that like to see something a bit random! The two main attractions are The Palace of the Shirvanshars and Maiden Tower.
The Palace of the Shirvanshahs was supposedly built in the early 15th century, the palace has been excavated and restored over the last few centuries. There was quite a bit to see here- the palace has a number of artefacts that fit in with the period and were likely used by those that lived here. As well as the actual palace, there is a small mosque, tombs and a number of out-buildings to explore. The palace is in good condition and work is still being done on parts of it. The gardens are landscaped and it is a pleasant space to walk around in.
Maiden Tower was one of my favourite attractions and is one of the most famous in the country. Its original purpose is unclear, and within the fascinating exhibition housed here, we learn various theories – such as defensive or an observatory. I liked how it was presented and it allowed the visitor to decide the themselves . The origin of the name of the tower is also disputed and the exhibition presents seven slightly different legends which are popular. Basically all but one end with a maiden throwing herself off the tower. There are lovely views from the roof of the old city and indeed the city as a whole. If you only have time to do one thing in Baku, then this is the thing to do.
There are a number of parks and landscaped boulevards to explore, as well as swimming pools. Keep an eye out for the interesting life size statues at ground level around the city.
The city (and country) have more to offer, but I don’t have enough space!
Last summer I visited the city of Edinburgh in Scotland. One place we visited was Holyrood Palace where the Queen often stays when on official business in Scotland.
The site of the palace was once an abbey, but from the early sixteenth century a palace was built here although the palace seen today is not quite the same. The admission, which includes an audio guide, is £11.60. This is for the palace, gardens and ruined abbey only - it is a little more if you also want to visit the Queen's Gallery.
The audio guide gives you some historical background and takes you around the palace giving you an idea of how the palace is used today as well as it's more colourful past when it was home to Mary, Queen of Scots and the site of a murder. This was probably most people's highlight - a good Royal scandal from almost 500 years ago!
Holyrood Abbey is a ruined 12th century abbey in the grounds of the Palace. It does not seem to have been very big, I would guess it is about the same size as an average parish church. There is only a roof left over on one side and it looks impressive (and quite high) and I imagine it was an amazing looking building in its day. It seems very Gothic in style to me, and was the place where a number of Scottish royal coronations, weddings and funerals took place. Some were buried here but it is not clear where (and probably not for public access).
The abbey had a rocky history with some restoration working occurring following damage from various sources (weather, angry mobs, general disrepair) but ultimately was severely damaged by a storm in the mid 18th century and has never been repaired. After this continue round to look at the rest of the gardens and the back of the palace - hopefully it won't be raining!
Admission isn't cheap, but you get access to the gardens also, and the abbey I thought the audio tour very informative and engaging - it wasn't dry or dull. There is also a nice café and gift shop on site.
This film was released a couple of years ago and I caught it recently on Film 4, so cannot comment on DVD extras. Josh (Rafe Spall) and Nat (Rose Byrne) have a whirlwind romance and the perfect wedding. As Nat's fabulously acerbic sister (played by Minnie Driver) says to her long-suffering husband, "I Give It A Year".
Obviously Nat and Josh do hit some speed bumps - Nat is tempted by a handsome American client, whilst Josh finds himself spending more time with his ex, Chloe. His useless best mate Danny (played by Stephen Merchant) crashing about, not helping. They end up going to see a disillusioned marriage guidance counsellor with anger management issues (Olivia Coleman).
The film is supposed to be a British rom-com, but it's not really a comedy. Or that romantic. I can't say I laughed at any particular moment. I cringed every time Danny went over the top and can't understand why anyone would keep him as a friend. Merchant can be funny, but for me it was a bit over-done in this film and the director let him carry on, even giving him a monologue during the closing credits. Also, Olivia Coleman is a fabulous actress, and didn't disappoint performance wise, however her character was so over the top it wasn't believable and you wonder why anyone wouldn't just get a different counsellor. It just seemed that the film went to close the line with 'silly' too often for me to really engage with it as a comedy.
Rafe Spall was engaging and likeable as Josh, even he went too far a few times and Rose Byrne played Nat as just a bit too uptight. However Minnie Driver stole the film for me with her bitter sister-in-law act. Again, it could have gone over the top, but she pulled it back before it went too far.
For me, the most enjoyable part was spotting other British actors in supporting roles. I can't recommend purchasing this film - maybe worth a watch if it comes back on TV and nothing better is on. It's not the worst film I've ever seen (not by a long way), but I felt it fell short of the mark.
I bought this Babyliss Turbo Shine hair dryer in Boots almost three years ago, it is still going strong. I think I paid around the £20 mark.
It isn't as heavy as some hair dryers of the same size and has a 170 cm power cord and a loop to hang it. It came with a removable concentrator styling nozzle, but no diffuser. I use the nozzle nearly all the time as it helps direct the heat to the parts of the hair I want. It has built in ionic conditioning to minimise frizz.
Function wise it is fairly basic, but this is what I was looking for - I want a hair dryer that is reliable and dries my hair without damaging it. AThere are three heat settings - one of which is actually a 'cool shot' setting (I rarely use this). There are two speed settings also. I use the top one most of the time and (on highest heat) it gets my hair 80% dry in just a few minutes. Both controls are side by side on the outer side of the handle for easy access as you dry. As I tend to style my hair afterwards with straighteners or tongs, I look to my dryer just to dry my hair. There are more powerful hair dryers on the market but this one does what I need it too, so I have been very happy with it for the last few years.
If you are looking for a basic hair dryer that is substantial and reliable enough for day to day home use then I do recommend you have a look at this product. If you like a few more bells and whistles, then you will no doubt find there are other products that better suit your needs.
This is one of the most unusually written books I have read for a long time. The writing is almost poetic, and very descriptive as far as actions are concerned.
The book is set in the late nineties, on a street in a northern English town. There are two sides to the story, told alternately throughout the book. First is an unnamed protagonist: a young woman with an unexpected pregnancy, still traumatised about an event she witnessed on the street in her university town back in the nineties. We don't know her name but we see a bit of her back story, as she meets up with the brother of one of her former neighbours.
The other side is the events that happened one day, on the street in the Northern town, where our protagonist from the other part of the story was a student getting ready to head back home. Here we meet other residents of the street, fairly superficially, we don't know their names and we have a very vague physical description - 'the boy in the tie', the daughter of the man with the scarred hands', 'the man in the attic flat of number 20' etc - but we know what they are doing. At first this is frustrating - trying to remember who was who - but actually think it is typical of many streets or apartment black - we see people all the time and exchange greetings, but we don't always know their names.
This is my first novel by Jon McGregor, and I loved his writing style. I usually get frustrated with overly descriptive passages, that seem to pad the book and make you lose the story. Here he is describing the detail of what you see, but don't always notice when you spot your neighbour washing his car, or the out of context conversational snippets you here as someone passes by. I thought it very cleverly done, and by the time we reached the key event that they all saw, I'm hooked.
If I had a criticism it was the ambiguity of the ending, but again that is reflective of our modern lifestyles - we don't always know what happens to our neighbours. They may have moved but the circumstances aren't always known to you, so we are left to make our own assumptions.
I recently visited Edinburgh zoo during a trip to that city. One of the highlights was a chance to see the only pandas in the UK but I thought the zoo had a lot to offer as well. I do recommend booking in advance if you wish to see the pandas - there is no extra charge but you can only visit on certain time slots as they are a popular attraction. It was great to see them but they were rather shy and it is not guaranteed they'll be doing much (I don't think they ever do much!). Both were asleep in separate enclosures when I went, if you're lucky they'll sleep somewhere you can get a good photo.
Koalas are another exclusive (in the UK) and my friend was very taken with them the most. I also really liked the big cats and the monkeys, who can often be entertaining. The cats were mostly keeping a low profile though.
Penguins Rock is the penguin area, and the penguins are supposed to parade around the outside of their enclosure once a day. It seems they couldn't be bothered the day I went, but I didn't mind as I got excellent views of the juvenile pool, with some very photogenic young penguins. It is one of the better penguin enclosures I've seen.
There are a number of snack and restaurant stalls. Food isn't cheap but it was varied and portions were generous. There is a good size gift shop with a variety of animal and Edinburgh related gifts at all price points.
Zoos can be an expensive day out, but I thought this one was done well.
I visited Wellington, in New Zealand, for just a day or two whilst travelling through the country in 1995. Wellington is the capital and is situated at the Southern end of the North Island. With a country with such amazing natural scenery, we weren't inclined to linger in an uninspiring city (both Christchurch and Auckland had more to offer, in my opinion). It is also a good access point between the North and South island. It does have an international airport but doesn't handle long-haul flights - Auckland does that.
One of the iconic buildings here is the Beehive, which is the parliament building, but we really enjoyed the Botanical Gardens, and it is worth driving up to Mount Victoria for good views of the city. We were travelling during the New Zealand summer, but the weather had been quite cool and overcast, so we were lucky that we had a clear sunny day to visit the gardens and the viewpoints. The weather here in January/February is quite typical of a British summer - so fairly unpredictable.
Also worth a visit is the Ta Papa national museum. There are the usual city attractions like a zoo as well as some pleasantly maintained green spaces and the waterfront is quite well developed now offering lots of shopping and eating opportunities.
We stayed at a campsite just outside the city on our way South and in a hostel on our way North. There are, of course, a range of hotels to suit most budgets and is a god stopover destination, rather than the destination itself.
I read the award winning novel 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel many years ago, it took me a while to get round to watching the film, which was also highly acclaimed.
We meet Pi Patel living in Canada and talking to a writer about his story. We then see his story in flashback, starting with him growing up in a Zoo in Pondicherry, India. When the zoo closes some of the animals are sold and shipped overseas, along with the family who are moving to Canada. The ship sinks and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a zebra with a broken leg, an aggressive hyena and a sweet, gentle orang-utan. Oh, and Richard Parker. Who is a male Bengal tiger. What could possibly go wrong?!
It isn't much of a spoiler to say that sooner rather than later it is just Pi and Richard Parker in the boat. Pi needs to find away to keep them both alive until they can be rescued. You would think that a film that is mainly a boy and a tiger on a boat (or makeshift raft alongside boat to allow for Richard Parker's need for personal space no doubt) would be a bit dull, but actually it is quite interesting and watchable.
The film, directed by Ang Lee, is made with a lot of CGI (and a few real tigers) but at very few times do you think the tiger doesn't look real.
Cast wise, there are a few actors you will recognise, but mostly is supporting roles. Suraj Sharma plays the young Pi, and did an excellent job when you consider he dia most of his scenes alone in a boat, in a studio with a green screen I suspect (he never met any of the tigers).
I do recommend giving this film a watch.
Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death is the first in a series of Agatha Raisin 'mysteries' written by MC Beaton. It is also the first I have read.
Agatha Raisin is a newly retired PR executive, who has upped sticks and relocated to a picturesque village in the Cotswolds to live out her dream. However, whilst everyone is freindly, Agatha struggles to make friends and finds not a lot actually happens. She decides to enter the Quiche competition in order to get herself known within the village. However as Agatha has never made a quiche in her life, she decides to buy one and pass it off as her own. However when one of the villagers dies after eating her quiche, village life livens up somewhat, but not quite in the way that Agatha expected nor wanted!
Agatha is an interesting character. She isn't very nice to most people, being a bit grumpy and abrupt, but her heart was in the right place most of the time. I still quite liked her as she had a bit of spirit about her, even as she thundered about rubbing everyone up the wrong way. The only other characters we really got to know was Roy, one of Agatha's former colleagues, and Bill Wong a local policeman who befriended her. The other villagers are interesting enough but sometimes border on caricatures. In a short, light book like this it didn't actually bother me.
The mystery aspect is entertaining enough and there is a fair amount of amusing moments caused by Agatha's 'nosey-parkering'. It isn't a dark thriller or twisting mystery, and in some respects reminded me of Mma Ramotswe if the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency - except not set in Botswana. The story is as much about the people as it is about the mystery.
I would definitely read another book in this series again and recommend it for those looking for a quiet read.