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Sam H

Sam H
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Member since: 07.08.2000

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      18.04.2001 07:25
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      Like "Huddro" I am fresh from an Easter weekend in Brussels, the city with an inexhaustible supply of exotic beers you just have to try. Its tourist industry has no doubt boomed as a result of its newly-acquired status as "that other city you can get to on the Eurostar", but it isn't really a patch on Paris. Still, it has its points. We were staying at the Ibis in Gras Markt, and I can't take issue with the hotel at all. Judging from other opinions, you can probably do better on price if you go for the youth hostel option, but if you are looking for a more upmarket place as a family or couple, it does very well. Like all good hotel breakfasts, it's very hard to convince yourself that they have so many different varieties of croissants and rolls in order to give you a choice - surely, I keep thinking, you're meant to have one of everything. This is in keeping with the Belgian way of doing things; for those of us used to stingy restaurant meals that always leave you faintly unsatisfied (why are lamb chops always so small, for example), Brussels is a welcome break. Restaurant portions are invariably huge. As for where to eat... where to start? The most unassuming bars all have enormous menus full of authentic Belgian food (I'll get to that in a minute), or if you want ethnic you can choose from the multitude Italian, Chinese, Greek and Indian restaurants on offer. Rue des Bouchers, a stone's throw from the Grand Place, has all the fine eating you could ever want, though the prices can be a little less palatable. On that same road you will find Chez Leon, which seems to be the place that comes up in virtually every guide to Brussels I read before my visit. To be honest, I found it slightly disappointing - not bad by any means, but you can do much better. As I say, if you want to eat as the Belgians eat, your best bet is to go somewhere that looks like a bar rather than making a beeline for the bright
      lights. As far as the local cuisine goes, mussels spring to mind as the best-known speciality. Indeed, seafood in general is of a consistently high quality – many places serve “Bouillabaisse”, essentially a bit of everything from all its seafood dishes, served in a vaguely soupy sauce with gruyère cheese and toasts. There are many variations on the “meat in beer sauce” theme, including rabbit in Kriek (strawberry beer) or Gueuze (cherry beer) sauce, steak in Lambic sauce, and chicken in Frambosen (raspberry beer) sauce. Then there is “Waterzooi”, which is a chicken or fish dish often described (please be mature now) as “creamy soup-cum-sauce”. Stop giggling. Then – beer. My recommendation is that you never have the same one twice. The most fun thing about being in Brussels is that you can order as many beers as you like and there’s still always one variety you’ve never tried. Hoegaarden is one of the most famous, and one of the few that is imported into the UK. It is a cloudy wheat beer, and has a fantastic flavour. Leffe, in both blonde and brune form, is another favourite of mine, particularly Leffe blonde. Orval is great (I’ve written a review of it in the relevant section of Dooyoo, if you’re interested). There are all those I’ve mentioned above, plus Duvel, Jupiler... I guess I should stop ruminating now, but you get the idea. I should write a bit about what to do when you’re not eating or drinking, though frankly those two activities are going to form a pretty important part of any holiday in Brussels. Much of the art is housed in one building, to be found just north of the Place de la Justice – the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts. It is divided into the Musée d’Art Ancien (everything up to 1800) and the Musée d’Art Moderne (1800 – present). I only had time for the 20th century, my favourite period, and the collection
      is enormous and very good. Magritte, being Belgian, is well represented. So is Marcel Broodthaers, another home-grown talent, though to be honest I can’t say he does much for me. I reckon it’s a pretty good bet that the standard is high throughout the two museums. Access is from 3, Rue de la Régence. They are closed on Mondays. The Manneken-Pis is a statue of a little boy relieving himself (no, really), and though it may not be a spectacular monument, it would be a shame to come to Brussels and not see it (him?). By the time you see the statue, though, you will already have seen photos of it on a million postcards, so it rather loses its effect. However, this is more than mitigated by the fact that you can buy a pack of Manneken-Pis playing cards, each of which sports the little guy wearing one of the many costumes they have affectionately dressed him in. His Elvis impression seems to be the most popular. A little way out of town, the Atomium is an imposing strucutre in the shape of an atom (or something; it’s too technical for the likes of me). You can go inside it and see exhibitions of comic strips (a national institution), mostly about the atomium. There is also an exhibition, cheerfully enough, about “Viruses and Vaccinations”. If that works up a good appetite, there is a restaurant at the top. Across the road from the Atomium is “Bruparck”, the closest thing on offer to a theme park. Its main feature is Mini-Europe, which boasts models of buildings representing each EU country, though to be honest I found the Legoland equivalent more impressive. Still, it’s good fun and has little interactive things like buttons you press to play the national anthem of each country you visit, or make Mount Vesuvius erupt. I’m guessing that won’t do much for most people reading this review, but the kids seem to like it. Getting around in Brussels... the metro is fast, clean and reliable, and
      I thoroughly recommend it. Trams are good; buses are probably good but not as easy to understand and probably, in most cases, not as quick. *Don’t* take the car. It’s not big enough to be worth it, parking is impossible and expensive, and the only way to really experience the city is to walk around it anyway. The Parc du Bruxelles is charming, if a little scruffy, but I found that added to the experience. You can have enough of neatly-trimmed lawns and sanitised environments, and I think a more rugged feel has more character. There are also palaces – the Palais Royal, the Palais de Justice and the Palais d’Egmont. All are big, impressive and worth a look, all of which also applies to the Cathedral. The best thing is just to walk around and see everything in the process; you get so much more of the flavour of the place that way. I’ve left the Grand Place till last because I don’t really need to sell it; it would be impossible to go to Brussels and never find yourself there. Still, it’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, sporting a magnificent town hall. On some evenings they do “Son et Lumière” shows, which, ifyou haven’t seen one before, does exactly what it says on the tin. Sound blares out of speakers – operatic overtures seem to be the favoured fare – and a building changes colour according to various lights shone on it. We saw the town hall experience life as a red building, then a pink one, then blue, green, and (less exotically) white. At the end of the day, Brussels is not a really, truly, great city. It doesn’t have the glamour and reputation of Paris, London, New York or quite a few other places. Nonetheless, it’s a nice place to visit, the people are mostly pleasant, the food and drink is unrivalled, and the ambiance is agreeable. There’s not much for families with young children, but it’s probably ideal for romantic h
      olidays with your better half. And it’s so convenient with the Eurostar that it seems a shame not to spend a weekend there sometime and have a look around for yourself.

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        08.04.2001 06:03
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        Berg, along with Webern and Schoenberg, was a member of the "Second Viennese School". This meant he subscribed to the twelve-tone method of composition, which means that the twelve notes of the scale always appear in a set order, and no note can be re-used till all of the others have been sounded. This means that each note assumes equal importance, i.e. atonal music (unlike tonal music, such as Mozart, Beethoven, or pretty much anybody before 1900). This system was invented by Schoenberg, and although Berg took it up, he was less diligent in using it than his two contemporaries. In addition, even the serialist music (another name for the same thing) he produced was much less harsh-sounding than Webern's or Schoenberg's. He attempted to use the system to create music people could listen to on its own terms, without needing to understand the principles of his methods or to have heard other examples of such music. For Berg, serialism was just a means to an end. I personally prefer Berg's Violin Concerto to any other serialist work, and to anyone thinking of trying out this music I would definitely consider it the best place to start. It doesn't sound nearly as atonal as most other twelve-tone music. Berg's style is best described as expressionist - it is, if you like, the musical counterpart to Edvard Munch's painting "Scream". The emotions are extreme, often unbearably so - everything is overstated. It's not as bad as it sounds! In the same way Munch took Van Gogh to the next level, Berg took Wagner and Richard Strauss to the next level. Describing music in print is difficult at the best of times, so I think I will stop trying at this point and invite you to find out for yourself. Not all of Berg's music is serial - another very beautiful, non-serialist work is his piano sonata (Op 1) in B minor. Get yourself a CD and see what you think.

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          08.04.2001 05:45
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          I first saw Kurt Masur when he was conducting the London Philharmonic, where he is now Principal Conductor. They are based at the Royal Festival Hall (see review) and are one of the best orchestras in the country, so he's not doing badly. Masur's conducting style is unique, but no less impressive for that. He knows his scores flawlessly - I've seen him conducting a Mozart symphony without even having the score in front of him. When the strings are playing legato, he mimes the bowing action. His body moves in response to the music, but he is never pretentious or showy - just completely caught up. The sound he gets from his orchestras is, of course, phenomenal. At (I think) 6'3", Masur is a big man, and it always looks a touch odd when you see this terrifying personage dancing around on the podium. Still, it seems to work. He is as fearless as he looks - in 1990 he was one of the best-known champions of the East Germans' independence, and he still has a close interest in the politics of the area. Masur has conducted all around the world, from the US to Israel, and claims to have learnt different things from each country he has worked in. He is just as versatile when it comes to musical style, equally happy with Mozart or Brahms, with concertos or symphonies. As principal conductor of the LPO, and as guest conductor to various other orchestras, he can often be seen waving his arms around in the UK, so if he is conducting anywhere near you, I strongly recommend going to watch. You won't be disappointed.

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        • Thomas Hardy in general / Fiction Book / 0 Readings / 10 Ratings
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          08.04.2001 05:25
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          Many young people in the UK, myself included, first meet Thomas Hardy in GCSE and A level set texts. He is most famous for his novels, such as "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" and "The Woodlanders". However, my main interest is in his poetry, which I personally think some of the most beautiful in English literature. Bloomsbury publish a pocket-size book, "Selected Poems of Thomas Hardy" (volumes also exist for a number of others). This is as good a place to start as any. Just to get a taste of Hardy's style, I'll pick a poem that many will have encountered in their GCSE anthology, 'In Time Of "The Breaking Of Nations"'. Only a man harrowing clods In a slow silent walk With an old horse that stumbles and nods Half asleep as they stalk. Only thin smoke without flame From the heaps of couch-grass; Yet this will go onward the same Though Dynasties pass. Yonder a maid and her wight Come whispering by: War's annals will cloud into night Ere their story die. Like most of Hardy's poetry, the scene is rural. The poem originates from 1914, when war was just breaking out in Europe. His reference to "thin smoke without flame" that "will go onward the same [forever]" is a metaphor for war. However, the poem ends optimistically: though war is eternal, love is even more so. The last two lines of the poem mean that war will be a thing of the past before love (the "story" of the "maid and her wight") is. Without being simplistic, Hardy is direct. He sees clarity as his goal, but he still uses beautifully expressive language. Indeed, I would say that the simplicity of his words is integral to their appeal. A lot of people find Hardy's books too full of superfluous, flowery passages. I don't think this is true, but you certain
          ly couldn't say that of his poems. If you have any interest in them, or if the one I have reproduced above excites any, do get hold of some and read them - they are, in my opinion, as good as any English poetry written since.

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            07.04.2001 03:20
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            I guess I just about qualify as an experienced dooyoo member, so I will humbly offer up a few tips for anyone new enough to trust my opinions :-) ... 1) BEFORE YOU START. Read a few opinions before you write any. Read the bumph about what criteria opinions are assessed on for being crowned. Look to see which opinions get rated the highest and what separates them from others. 2) WRITING STYLE. When you write, don't be too dry. Don't be afraid to use "I" and "me" - personal opinion is definitely a good thing. It isn't your A level English coursework. Use short, snappy sentences. Organise your ideas coherently so your opinion reads well. For opinions geared towards providing specific advice, the bullet point style I've used here often works well. For a more general opinion, e.g. a restaurant or tourist attraction, make sure you talk about what you did and didn't like, keeping in mind that your job is to help people assess whether or not they want to use the product or service you are reviewing. 3) THE DOOYOO COMMUNITY (i). It is good manners to rate opinions that you read. It is *VERY* bad manners to rate vindictively, or to respond to low ratings by doing the same thing to the person who rated you badly. Take criticisms on board and learn from them. There is a growing feeling that it is polite to leave an explanatory comment when you rate an opinion "somewhat useful" or "not useful", which I fully support. Also remember that when you leave a comment it cannot be removed, so if you have a comment to make about a spelling or grammar mistake (for instance) it is better to e-mail. Use the comments to respond to the content of the opinion. 4) THE DOOYOO COMMUNITY (ii). Use it! There's no point belonging to a site like this if you're not going to take full advantage of it. If you're after a restaurant, club or pub to go to in an area you don't know well, there'
            ;s a good chance of finding one here. If you're trying to decide which hifi or mobile phone you want, browse through the opinions here and see what people have said about the various options on offer. 5) ANYTHING ELSE? If you don't know what to write about, look at the profile of another user and see what opinions have had the most reads. Try to cash in on knowledge you have that not many other people do - lots of people can review Paris, but how many can review the 13th quarter? But nearly as many people want to read about the 13th quarter, so the ratio of readers to opinons is probably higher. Think in these terms and you can maximise your reads. "Trusting" people will also bring more people to your reviews. A big circle of friends is a good idea. and finally... have fun!

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              16.03.2001 04:38
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              Hainanese is a buffet offering limitless quantities of Chinese food for a set price. For £5.50 per person at lunchtime (£5.90 at weekends) and £8.20 in the evenings (at all times), you get as many trips to the buffet as you want - and you will want lots. The food, while not premium-quality, best-you've-ever-tasted stuff, is very enjoyable, and duck pancakes remain a perennial favourite with everyone. From the soup, through the dim sum, to the meat and veggie main dishes, there is a lot of variety - probably around 20-25 different things are on offer. The chicken dishes are particularly good, in my opinion. To drink, the choice is basically between trendy eastern beers (Tiger, Tsingtao) at £2.50 - £3 a glass, or as much Jasmine tea as you like for about £2. You may be interested to know that monosodium glutomate is a chemical that occurs frequently in Chinese cuisine and can often produce a headache when mixed with alchohol, which is why many people (myself included) prefer to drink tea. It tastes wonderful, and because it is mostly water you can happily drink vast quantities (at no extra charge after the first refill). Alternatively, there are soft drinks, and there is also a small selection of wine and other alcoholic drinks. Desserts are also available, including free vanilla ice cream or fruit salad. I recommend the fruit, as it's very refreshing, slightly different (the base is lichee juice), and if you have room for ice cream then frankly you haven't eaten enough plates of food! You can buy other desserts, but I never have. Chopsticks or cutlery are both on offer, and the restaurant now leaves knives and forks with the plates, at the buffet, so you don't have to embarrass yourself asking for them! This wasn't true when I came here for the first time... but let's be honest, do you really think the Chinese use a knife and fork when they eat sausages and chips? Service is included, at 10%. Depend
              ing on whether people drink beer or not you will probably find you pay £10 - £12 per person. The service is pretty irrelevant as you just go to the buffet, but you do need them to take away your old plates (you get a new one whenever you get more food) and bring more drinks, and as far as it goes they are OK. It's a small place, not nearly as big as its big brother in Belsize Park, Weng Wah. At lunchtime, or most evenings, you can just turn up - if you're going on a Friday or Saturday night, on the other hand, you will be queueing unless you book. The number is at the top of the page.

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                15.03.2001 02:50
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                The Royal Academy has got it right with this show. The period depicted is an exciting one, covering the conception and birth of the Baroque period. There is a strong emphasis on painters' links with Caravaggio - many of the cards next to painting refer to the ways in which each painter is, or is not, "Caravaggesque". Seriously. Caravaggio is a pivotal figure in the history of art. His enormous contribution was to extol the virtues of realism, in contrast to the idealised world of the Renaissance painters. His saints have dirty hands and world-weary expressions; people's faces are shown in odd contortions, and the emotion they express is not always obvious - as in real life. To some extent he represented an alternative path to the more conventional route taken by Carracci, his contemporary, although in some ways their visions converge. Carracci himself was by no means uncontroversial or conservative. There are eight rooms in the exhibition, and the material is sensibly organised by theme. There are the still lifes, the holy families, the betrayal of Christs, and so on. It is clear how the works fit together and this clarity of conception makes it much harder to get tired out while walking round the exhibition. I often do, but this was an exception. The show took me somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes to see. In that time I was able to look at every painting, read about three quarters of the cards (leaving out those that didn't interest me), and sit down for five minutes to take stock and leaf through my brochure. I strongly recommend doing this when visiting any gallery - the brain can only take so much, and if you don't then you will find that you stop taking an interest in the individual painting and just walk around the rooms mechanically. I didn't get an audio guide - never do - so I can't comment on the quality of it. It is probably high, as the Royal Academy can usually be relied upon for thi
                ngs like that. Personally, I find it restricting to listen to someone babbling on about what's in front of me - far more fulfilling to discover for oneself. But at the same time, you may prefer to be as well informed as possible when you look at an exhibition, and that is equally understandable. Go with your instinct. As far as content goes, there are actually not all that many Caravaggio originals - perhaps one or two per room. Carracci features prominently, as do a couple of other important painters whose names I forget. Either way, one could not complain about the consistency of quality - most of the paintings there interested me in one way or another. The Caravaggios themselves are stunning, of course - the show is worth a visit just for them. Go while you can.

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              • Orval / Beer / Cider / 0 Readings / 4 Ratings
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                12.03.2001 18:17
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                Belgium is famous for three things: beer, chocolate and Jean-Claude van Damme. The order is significant. What Belgium is particularly known for is its line in "Trappist" beer; that is, beer brewed by Trappist monks. There are many such brands, but in my opinion Orval is superior to most of them. Describing the taste of something in print is not easy, but I'll have a go. Orval has a refreshing, light taste, of the sort you would associate with a slightly paler brew. It is not a lightweight's drink, though - not just in that 6.2% is good going, but also in that it has a very distinct taste. One thing you can be sure of with your Belgian beers is that it won't be just so much more homogenised, mechanised lager. The taste is individual, and you should sample it for yourself. In London, the best place to drink Orval is in one of the three "Belgo" restaurants, Belgian joints famous for having a beer list that easily swamps the food menu. The beers are divided into sections, and a great meal can be had sampling different ones from one glass to the next. However, I suggest starting with Orval! You won't be sorry - though you may be a touch more tipsy than you bargained for after a few of these delicious babies. Pricewise, it is not appreciably more costly than anything else of the same genre, though of course your average pub pint would come a little cheaper. It's served, if I recall correctly, in 330ml customised glasses. And one more, slightly random pointer: if you ever find yourself in the Latin quarter of Paris, there is a Belgian beer bar near Rue St Michel that serves this and other Trappist brews. Check out my review of the Latin quarter for more info. And in the meantime, drink lots of Orval.

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              • Jagged Edge (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 2 Ratings
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                28.02.2001 23:37
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                “Jagged Edge” is about the court case that follows the murders of Page Forrester, a San Francisco millionaire, and her maid. The defendant is her husband, who inherits her enormous fortune after her death. He is played by Jeff Bridges, and his attorney is played by Glenn Close. Without giving too much away, I think I can briefly describe some of the issues the film throws up. The chemistry between Bridges and Close is central throughout, and she makes their relationship more personal by saying at the beginning that she will drop the case if she suspects him of lying. In other words, she will defend him only if she believes him to be innocent; he is not just another high-paying lawsuit. This is born of her initial reluctance to come back to criminal law at all, having given it up four years previously to concentrate on corporate. In the absence of any certainty of who killed the two women, the film needs an unambiguous villain, and this is provided by the state prosecutor. He symbolises everything we hate about lawyers – arrogance, cynicism, and unashamed careerism. There is no doubt that he has skeletons in the cupboard, and Glenn Close’s connection with his past is another issue that is explored as the film progresses. Away from the courtroom, we are also shown Close at home with her two children, a girl (maybe 12) and a boy (maybe 9). She is divorced, but she is on good terms with her ex, and we see them having dinner together and talking on the phone. Seeing Close at home allows us to appreciate her character’s more human side, although this is also alluded to when she is working. The two children give mature performances, neither too wisecracking nor too innocent. There are some poignant moments between Close and her daughter. There are other important characters, but none so much so that they have to be described here – to do so would begin to detract from the appeal of seeing the film. Suf
                fice to say that the film is well paced; the script (and particularly the dialogue) is excellent, and almost always manages to remain plausible; the actors deliver good performances all round; and the dénouement at the end is a clever closing touch. This film won’t change your life, but if you’re stuck for something to get from the video store, it is worth seeing.

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                18.02.2001 20:53
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                Anton Chekhov wrote this play at the beginning of the 20th century, and it was first performed in 1904, six months before his death. It was his last play, and perhaps his greatest. The play focuses on a Russian family who live in an estate with an immense orchard of cherry trees. They are heavily in debt and have to sell the orchard to pay what they owe, but they cannot bear to. The central character is Ranevskaya, the widow who owns the estate. She has two daughters, Anya and Varya (who is adopted). Her seven year old son and her husband drowned. The other main characters are Gaev, Ranevskaya’s brother, and Lopakhin, a businessman. Lopakhin is the son of peasants, but he has made good and become rich – though, as he admits, he is still a peasant inside. The play starts when Ranevskaya and her family arrive back from a stay in Paris, to be met by Lopakhin. It is Ranevskaya’s hope that Varya (her adopted daughter) will marry the rich Lopakhin, thus saving the orchard, and she uses her charm to try and make this happen. Varya loves Lopakhin; however, Lopakhin does not reciprocate, probably because he is in love with Ranevskaya herself. Meanwhile, Anya is in love with Petya, a student; this is mutual, although he repeatedly claims that what they share is something far more than love. Lopakhin tries to persuade Ranevskaya to let cottages be built on the site of the orchard for city dwellers to come and stay in, and he insists that the revenue from this would pay off all their debts in no time. She refuses to let the orchard be touched, and she is supported by her idiotic and idle brother Gaev. Lopakhin is the entrepeneur, the capitalist basically representing a way forward where people solve their problems with money. An alternative method of progress is proposed by Petya, who is frustrated by his and everyone’s entrapment. He is aware that everyone’s speeches and procrastination are useless, because they
                will not act. He is also horrified by the squalor endured by the peasants, while idle rich families sit around talking and doing nothing. His way forward, though he doesn’t say so, is essentially Marxism. Meanwhile, the housemaid, Dunyasha, pursues Ranevskaya’s valet, Yasha. He is not interested, and does not think twice about leaving the orchard with everyone else when it is eventually sold (to Lopakhin, who outbids everyone at the auction). He leaves her behind, saying that he cannot breathe and has to get out to the city. He is selfish, and his solution to the problems is simply that he should look out for himself. He has no great interest in the welfare of anyone else. The servant of the house is Firs, an old man who wants to preserve tradition and sees himself as vital to the family’s survival. He tells off his employers for not wearing the right coats, or for failing to do things as they should be done. He is bewildered by what is going on and despairs of the fall from grace of the landowners. He is a relic, but he represents “the old way”, society based on class structure. At the end of the play, Lopakhin says goodbye to the family as they get on the train back to Paris and he prepares to cut down the orchard and build his cottages. However, the have left Firs behind, everyone believing that someone else has taken him to the hospital, and he is locked in the house. He is old and frail and he says “I will just sit here for a minute”, then a minute or two into his monologue he says “I will just lie here for a minute”. It is debatable whether he dies – Chekhov doesn’t specify, and interpretations differ. My feeling is that he shouldn’t, because a live man trapped in a house is far more tragic than a dead one – who would presumably have died anyway – and it is an easy way out for him to die. I feel that we should feel angry at the family for leaving him
                , trapped (as they were, and probably always will be). Entrapment is in fact one of the main themes of the play. As well as being trapped by their refusal to sell the orchard, an outdated white elephant, they are trapped in their respective pasts. Ranevskaya, particularly, has an overwhelming aversion to reality, and despite all the protestations of Lopakhin, she refuses to “face the facts”. Gaev (her brother) is similarly stubborn. Anya, her sweet and loving daughter, is trapped by her, unable to leave her alone. And so it goes on. Chekhov was highly influential as a playwright, though he did not want to be identified with any political or social agenda. He said: “I am not a liberal – not a conservative – not a gradualist – not a monk – not an indifferentist. I should like to be a free artist, and nothing else.” In artistic terms, though, he was tremendously important, and a great number of plays written after him betray his legacy. For example, the mother in Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” is a character very similar to Ranevskaya, in her obsession with the past, her irresponsibility, and her desire to find a rich suitor for her daughter. So, for that matter, is Edina from “Absolutely Fabulous”. The only way to really appreciate the play is of course to see it, and until 31st March you can do just that at the National Theatre. Vanessa Redgrave is superb as Ranevskaya and the production is generally very good. If you get the chance, see the play, especially if you have not seen it before. As plays go, it’s not difficult to follow or particularly hard work. Just very perceptive, witty, well-written, and extremely important.

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              • Hannibal (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 21 Ratings
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                17.02.2001 06:54
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                In Hannibal, Ridley Scott has succeeded in creating a highly interesting film. As well as the considerable element of psychological and intellectual intrigue, however, the film is eminently watchable. Clocking in at a fairly standard 2h10, it is well paced and feels like it is just the right length. One could not help but worry that losing Jodie Foster would damage the film's chances of success. However, Julianne Moore brought an intensity to the role that added considerably to the film's appeal, though never diminishing Foster's own portrayal in "Silence of the Lambs". Her southern accent is certainly much less painful! Sir Anthony Hopkins is, of course, in fine form as Hannibal Lecter, delivering his much savoured lines with as much panache as ever ("I can assure you, the main course is to die for"). It is difficult to resist comparing "Hannibal" with its predecessor, "Silence of the Lambs". The two are, however, somewhat different. Firstly, SotL is largely told from Starling's point of view; Hannibal seems to give us more of Lecter's own perspective. Also, whereas SotL built up the two main characters, established their relationship, and introduced us to the horrors of Lecter's crimes, "Hannibal" focuses much more on the psychological aspects of the characters' relationship, and indeed their own private thoughts. There also seems to be more exploration of the sexuality - or not - of Hannibal's feelings towards Starling. This is to some extent inevitable: one could not probe characters so deeply without the recognition earned by the first film. The other side of the coin is that I still would not necessarily advise against seeing Hannibal without having SotL - they are complementary, but self-contained. One thing that SotL hardly did at all was to develop characters apart from the main two. Here "Hannibal" is different: Agent Starling's collea
                gues have greater definition, and there is a new bad guy - a former victim of Lecter's (superbly played by Gary Oldman). A rich man, bent on revenge, he offers a reward for Hannibal's live capture which leads to all kinds of fun and larks. Essentially, the portrays him as the force of evil, so to speak; Lecter himself seems to be outside normal perceptions of good and bad. Whether this is a good thing or not is debatable: Hopkins (the actor) was shocked to learn that some audiences had cheered his closing line, "I'm meeting an old friend for dinner". But his fears must have been overcome: if anything, the cult of Lecter is more obvious in this film than previously, and he fires off a continuing salvo of quotable lines (I won't spoil any more of them). There is not much more one could say about the film without spoiling it, except that it is one of the best films I've seen for a while and I thoroughly recommend it. I didn't expect it to be as good as the first one, but if anything I think I enjoyed it more. There is less than I expected that is revolting; only one scene is truly unpleasant, but it is written and acted with such wit that it is not really that nasty. Oh, and the use of music is excellent - pieces are used at apparently inappropriate times to great effect. All in all, a film not be missed.

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                • Sony MHC-NX1 / Hifi System / 0 Readings / 4 Ratings
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                  09.02.2001 23:59
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                  I bought my MHC-NX1 a month ago and I have been very satisfied. There can't be much on the market that is better than this for £300. I should point out that I am not by any means an expert on hifis - most real hifi gurus probably buy separates anyway. However, I know my music and I would trust myself to be able to tell the difference between a poor quality sound and a good one. It was only after I went to Tottenham Court Road and listened to various different hifis in electronics shops that I decided I wanted this one, so I have a reasonable idea what the competition is like, and I think this baby is very good value for the price. It has 5 CD trays, 2 tape decks (one recording), FM/AM stereo and optional minidisc (which I don't have, as I have a portable MD player). It also has an optical digital output, which means you can recording on to your minidisc player without having to come down to analogue sound. I mostly listen to classical and jazz music, and from that I can tell you that it is superb in the bass, often a problem with inferior systems, and that its clarity at high frequencies is also very impressive. There is a mega bass feature (which can be set to normal or high), but I almost always have it switched off - there's no need. The bass is as clear as daylight all the time, without ever being intrusive. It would be disingenuous for me to talk about its abilities with pop, rock, alternative, house music etc. because I haven't really used it for that, but I can't imagine it would be anything less than excellent. I seem to remember from when I was looking at its features on the web that it has a built-in subwoofer (speaker for very low sounds), which probably helps there - if nothing else, what a name for a speaker. There are a few more lesser features: auto switch off after a set time (sleep), auto switch on at a set time (alarm), record (at the press of a button or at a set time), high speed du
                  bbing, auto-reverse on tape decks, and program any sequence of CD tracks (using all 5, if you want). It also has frequency presets for various types of music such as rock, pop, soul, R & B, and even program types like adventure, sports, romantic etc. You can set up your own and store up to 5. In terms of aesthetics, the speakers are light brown wood and the hifi itself is, unsurprisingly, light grey. It looks quite modern and understated, but not desperately austere. It's a mini rather than a micro, which effectively means normal size. All in all, I would say that this is a very good choice for its price range. The cheapest deal seems to be on www.empiredirect.co.uk, which will do it for £273, if I recall correctly. The high street price is about £300. Minidisc costs about £50 extra.

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                • Lost Highway (DVD) / DVD / 1 Reading / 13 Ratings
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                  30.01.2001 00:04
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                  With such a complex and intricate film, it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps with a common point of departure: if you watched “Twin Peaks” (either the film or the series) you will be familiar with the director, David Lynch. Frankly, he is a pretty twisted individual. That is, if his work in Hollywood is anything to go by. “Lost Highway” draws, for a start, on the work of Jacques Lacan, a psychologist who divided human consciousness into the real, the symbolic, and the imaginary. Interpretations differ, but to me, the main character in this film is represented in three forms, one for each of these parts of the psyche. This, of course, means that much of what happens in the film is in his mind. I don’t really want to draw the lines too clearly at this stage, because much of the satisfaction of watching this film comes from drawing your own conclusion. I will summarise my interpretation at the end of the review; however, I urge you to think twice about reading it before you watch the film. As with Lacan, I want to introduce the most important concepts in the film without clearly telling you how they manifest themselves, hopefully allowing an informed but unspoiled viewing. It is worth mentioning another symbol that is believed to figure in Lynch’s thinking. The Moebius strip is a mathematical peculiarity which you may have encountered: it is possible, if you know what you are doing, to cut and re-stitch a piece of paper in such a way that it forms a continuous surface all the way round – i.e., it is one-sided, although at any given point it clearly has a front and a back. You can find instructions on the web somewhere on how to make one for yourself. The significance of the strip is that it is a fascinating mathematical concept, for those who care about such things (and, to some extent, I do), but more importantly that it is a metaphor for Lacan’s thinking. We all have more than one s
                  ide – maybe two, maybe more – but our personality is an unbroken synthesis of them all, rather than a tidily compartmentalised set of parts. In “Lost Highway”, Lynch invites you to consider your own internal Moebius strip, so to speak. One of the most talked-about theories proposed by the psychological philosopher Sigmund Freud is that of the Oedipus complex, each man’s instinctive desire to kill his father in order to “possess” his mother. There is certainly an element of this in the film; it seems likely that our protagonist’s mother left at an early age, making him highly possessive towards the woman in his life and emotionally incapable of understanding why she should have any interest that doesn’t concern him. A jazz musician, he fails completely to take in the idea that his wife wants to stay at home and read instead of coming to his gig. “Read?” he asks, incredulously. As you will have gathered, “Lost Highway” is not your average Hollywood blockbuster. Lynch, for me, is the Shakespeare of Hollywood directors; this film is without doubt a work of art rather than a cheap bit of entertainment. It is, to a point, enjoyable when watched simply as two more hours of movie, but if you have the remotest interest in going beyond our instinctive desire (I include myself) for a predictable storyline with a saccharine happy ending, this film is worth watching a little more intently than most. My Interpretation (probably best to print this if you’re going to read it – it’s 1,000 words long) Bill Pullman, the guy we meet at the beginning (the jazz musician), is the Real character. He is married to a woman played by a dark-haired Patricia Arquette, towards whom he is extremely possessive. She is scared of him, and he becomes very suspicious when they go to a party thrown by somebody he remembers sees her with while playing a gig. It is
                  unthinkable that there could be anything between them, but he is irrational in his jealousy. At the party, Bill Pullman’s attention is attracted by the Mystery Man (MM), a highly scary character (sort of Hannibal Lecter without the charm). MM is in fact the symbolic incarnation of Pullman’s own character. After dragging his wife home, he finds the next morning that she is dead, his hands are bloody and he is shortly put on death row for her murder. He does not remember killing her. While in his cell, Pullman morphs into Balthazaar Getty. Half realising a mistake, though not comprehending, the jail guards release him, and he goes back to his job as a car mechanic. Getty is the imaginary version of Bill Pullman, and so everything from this point on is in Pullman’s mind. Note that as he was about to change character, MM appeared. The symbolic is the link between the real and the imaginary. Getty enjoys a favoured relationship with a violent gangster going by the name of Mr Addy. He watches Addy beat up a man while out with him; the next day he turns up with a blonde Patricia Arquette in tow. The chemistry between Getty and Arquette is immediate, and they begin a clandestine relationship in terror of Mr Addy’s wrath. The blonde Arquette is Pullman/Getty’s imagined version of the dark Arquette. Mr Addy is essentially a father figure that Pullman dreams into existence, his paternal strength demonstrated by his violent treatment of a bad driver. Getty’s desire for Arquette is where Oedipus comes into it, hence his (ultimately fulfilled) need to kill his “father”, Mr Addy. It transpires that Addy’s real name is Dick Lorente, a seed sown by the first lines spoken in the film, heard by Pullman on his intercom: “Dick Lorente is dead”. Perhaps because of the phallic implications of the name, and also his repressed urge to kill his father, Lorente (not a character the “real”
                  Pullman knows) enters his consciousness as an imagined father figure, hence his return when Pullman slides into an imaginary “dream”. Blonde Arquette confesses at one point to Getty that she became associated with a nasty character (as well as with Lorente) through doing some porn films. This is still all in Pullman’s imagination, and the reason for it is that he has noted his wife’s (dark Arquette’s) instinctive apprehension when they receive videos through the mail early in the film. The content of the videos is rationally explainable only if Pullman made them himself, perhaps while suffering from multiple personality disorder (which would enable him to have forgotten it). However, like so much in this film, looking too hard for a rational explanation is futile. Lynch loves mystery, particularly of the unsolved variety, and he probably could not give you a perfectly reasoned explanation of the film’s events himself. However, Pullman, paranoid as ever, wonders whether his wife has made porn videos she doesn’t want him to see (hence her fear, though really this is just due to her constant terror of him). When she says, on the way to the party, that she met the guy through “a job”, he puts two and two together and makes eight hundred and fifty-four. Clearly she worked as a porn star for him. So there we have it: Pullman suspects his wife of making porn films while working for the guy with the thin black moustache whom he saw at the jazz club and whose party they attended, so when he appears in his imagination, the blonde Arquette confesses to making porn films for him (in the same words, “just a job”, as dark Arquette used) and he (as Getty) ends up killing him. Towards the end, MM reappears in order to threaten Getty on Mr Addy/Dick Lorente’s behalf. Again, the apparition of the symbolic Pullman foreshadows a change of character, and sure enough real Pullman reappears
                  in the middle of a lovemaking scene with blonde Arquette, when she suddenly breaks off and says “you can’t have me” and goes into their house. The house itself is symbolic, appearing in Pullman’s imagination to burn down several times throughout the film, and representing the superficiality and coldness of his real relationship with his wife through its minimal design, devoid of intimacy. It is also representative of a complex psyche, with its many corridors, and when blonde Arquette suddenly becomes unattainable as she disappears into it, we should infer that the wife Pullman wanted disappeared when they married (symbolised by entering the house) and she changed from the woman he fell in love with into an inaccessible, cold, loveless character. The last event in the film is when Pullman drives up to his house and says, into the intercom, “Dick Lorente is dead”. This is the Moebius strip, not for the first time: we have come back, through a continuous storyline, to the beginning. The Lost Highway is another metaphor for much the same thing, with the dotted line in the middle of the road possibly symbolising the split between facets of one's character. It is not really important whether the Pullman we see at the end is the genuine article or whether he is still imagining events from within his prison cell. You have to be prepared for a certain amount of insoluble mystery with David Lynch, but the result, in my opinion, is spectacular. If you’ve read all of this, despite my exhortation, without watching the film, you need to watch it.

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                  • More +
                    29.01.2001 22:52
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                    Orwell wrote this book in 1948, when Stalin was in full flow as the totalitarian leader of communist Russia and Hitler had recently fallen from the same position in Germany. To the knowledge he had of life in these dictatorships he added his ideas of the technology of the future, and in so doing he envisioned very little that either does not or could not exist in the year 2001. The central technological innovation of Orwell’s state, led by “Big Brother”, is the telescreen. Through this invention, the Thought Police can simultaneously broadcast propaganda and observe every movement and sound that takes place in people’s homes, workplaces and places of leisure, twenty four hours a day. The inhabitants become accustomed to wearing a look of quiet optimism even when in their own homes, in order to avoid incurring the wrath of the Party. Those who do expose themselves to torture, carried out in the Ministry of Love. Another creation is the official language, "Newspeak", derived from English but aimed at restricting the opportunity for expression of ideas. The title of this opinion is a newspeak construction, adding a double superlative to the simple adjective "good" (!). The hero of the tale, Winston Smith, is just old enough to have a few childhood memories of life before the Revolution, but they are hazy and he doubts himself constantly in the face of the party’s propaganda. He works in the Ministry of Truth, which concerns itself with spreading the word of the Party through newspaper articles, control of news archives, etc. We also meet a few of his colleagues, whose function in the book is essentially to demonstrate the different effects a totalitarian society can have on people. “1984” occupies an important place in 20th century literature. At the time it was written, plenty of people in the West were still prepared to endorse the idea of a communist dictatorship, and Orwell con
                    sidered saw this as a danger that needed to be averted. It is therefore a political statement of some significance. However, this should not be allowed to detract from its intrinsic value as a dramatic, gripping and highly readable book. Such is the power of the narrative that in reading it you almost forget that you live in a civilised, democratic society; Orwell paints such a vivid picture that you get caught up in the workings of his state and temporarily forget your own. Strangely, though, the relief of putting down the book and remembering that it is only fiction almost encourages you, at first, to forget how close to reality it is, if one considers some of the societies that have sprung up in the last hundred years. Orwell would have loved this sort of paradox, and similar bits of “doublethink” fill the pages of this book. It is just an initial reaction, however; ultimately, reading this book is such a vivid experience that you almost feel you have first-hand experience of the horrors of a totalitarian society. Orwell also ventures into the field of psychology, when he explores the mind-controlling techniques used to win people’s unerring support and devotion. We are shown how a rational person can be made to doubt that 2 + 2 = 4; to see four fingers and say there are five, not by lying but by believing it to be true. He grasps perfectly the techniques interrogators use to wear down a victim, and once you have read the book you will understand how wrong you were to think that no-one could ever control your mind. I said at the beginning that nothing in the book would be impossible today. While democracy is firmly entrenched in developed countries, in much of the world it is not. And it is this potential that should frighten us, when we read Orwell’s assertion that the only real difference between his state and those of Stalin and Hitler is its effectiveness. Big Brother may not be watching right now, but he is
                    still waiting. That is why the reading this book remains just as essential as ever.

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                    • More +
                      16.01.2001 04:32
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                      This intriguing and original book is an attempt to combine a potted history of philosophy through the ages with a small cast of characters acting out an implausible (but diverting) storyline. The premise is that Sophie is given a course in philosophy by an enigmatic man (Alberto Knox), and we follow Sophie's story in parallel with philosophy's. However, the story simply feeds off the more central core of the book, the philosophical part. In other words, there is nothing to be gained from going in for a bit of fiction and hoping to gloss over the boring bits; in my view they are not boring at all, but if you have absolutely no interest in philosophy the book will not keep you interested for long. The treatment of philosophical ideas and characters is to take the principal ones either individually or, occasionally, in naturally combinable groups. Every idea is explained with very easy-to-understand every day examples, so there is very little of chance of finding things going above your head. This is, indeed, the great strength of the book: you need come equipped with nothing more than interest, and it will do the rest. It is never patronising, but it impressively manages to avoid ever becoming dense or academic, always maintaining a layman's viewpoint on every topic. The format helps here; Sophie herself knows nothing about philosophy before the beginning of the book, so she asks the questions that trouble the reader and everything is comprehensibly explained. From the fiction point of view, the book is a little disappointing, particularly in the ending. However, that doesn't really detract from its immense value as an introduction to philosophy. It also sports a comprehensive index, allowing you to refer back to any philosopher or movement you didn't quite get the first time and effectively use Sophie's philosophy lessons as your own reference book. Not to be missed if the subject interests you.

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