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danielse

danielse
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      02.05.2012 13:53
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      Fun first literary novel from insider on the fast track

      If you've always wondered how to get your first novel published, Chad Harbach may provide some clues. The first thing you need to do is run a successful and influential magazine about books and the arts. It's not even that much work. Harbach co-founded n+1 (online at http://www.nplusonemag.com/) back in 2004 and they're only up to issue 13 now. Easy peasy. The next thing you need to do is write an accessible, intelligent, contemporary novel that engages readers with wit and honesty. Harbach, as the Americans are wont to say, is two for two. The Art of Fielding is set in a small private college called Westish with a less than successful baseball team and a Herman Melville fixation. Mike Schwartz is captain of the football team and captain of the baseball team. These efforts have almost cost him his knees, but he remains focused on winning and applying for law school. Schwartz finds a young shortstop named Henry Skrimshander and sees in Henry a facility and genius with the ball that could turn around the fortunes of the Westish baseball team and help them achieve greatness. Schwartz arranges a scholarship for Henry to Westish where he is installed with a world-weary room mate named Owen. The rest of the book takes place on the campus of Westish with the characters training, playing, studying and loving. Over three years weedy and shy Henry evolves into the Skrim, the most awesome shortstop, Westish has ever seen as he ties the record for most consecutive games with no errors. The record holder is none other than hall of famer, Aparacio Rodriguez, author of the fictional tome-within-the novel The Art of Fielding. Here's a sample of Aparacio's inspiring zen: "The shortstop is a source of stillness at the center of the defense. He projects this stillness and his teammates respond." All the characters in the book aspire to greatness. The greatness they aspire to is self-determined and thus all the more challenging. How much harder to live up to one's own standards than those which society attempts to force upon us. Mike and Henry rise and fall. But they fall only to rise again and they rise only by the force of their own will. It would be easy to say that Chad Harbach has hit this one out of the park, that The Art of Fielding is a home run. I very much enjoyed this novel, but it's probably more in the spirit of it to say that Harbach has hit a grounder that successfully bissected the field allowing him to safely approach second with thoughts of steaming through to third. I bought The Art of Fielding from bookdepository.com because they deliver to Israel for free. You can buy it now from Amazon.co.uk in paperback for £6.29 or download it for the Kindle for £4.99.

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      02.05.2012 13:48
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      Epic page turning thrillfest

      If you have never read Neal Stephenson, this may be a great place to start. Reamde is a nuts and bolts techno-thriller that will have you turning pages and cancelling appointments all the way through it's 1000+ pages. It goes something like this. Richard Forthrast is a former pot smuggler with a castle on the Canadian side of the US border. In his middle age, Richard has made a substantial fortune as the creator of a MMORPG called T'Rain. Richard's adopted niece is called Zula. She once walked across Eritrea. A computer virus called Reamde causes havoc within the game of T'Rain and even more havoc in the real world. The plot plays out over 20 days during which time we meet a homicidal Russian gangster and an honourable Russian security consultant. We journey across the world with a Hungarian IT expert and a Chinese video game hacker. We fall in with a brace of spies, one British of Chinese origin, one American of Irish origin. We encounter a slew of Jihadists led by a Welsh autodidact named Abdallah Jones. We travel from Seattle to Xiamen, China and back to Canada. On the way there are side plots in Taipei, Manila, Cambridge and the Torgai Hills in the gameworld of T'Rain. It's pretty manic and almost completely unputdownable, a feat which is mirrored in the book by several online game sessions that last for hours and often require characters to pee in buckets so they never have to leave their seats. In the past I have read Cryptonomicon and all two and a half thousand pages of Stephenson's Baroque Cycle trilogy. I don't think Reamde has quite the literary sophistication of those enjoyable works, but at the same time it's a more accessible book that functioned as a perfect holiday read as I lay by the pool for three days last week in Eilat. And, make no mistake, Stephenson-lite is still a more erudite and thrilling experience than almost any other popular novelist I can think of. In Reamde, fingers fly across keyboards as bullets fly across continents. Hackers hack, spies spy and terrorists terrorize. Richard and Zula Forthrast make two of the most unlikely heroes and they seem, at least to this jaded reader, as unlike the usual crop of thriller protagonists as it is possible to imagine. I bought my copy of Reamde in hardback at Blackwell's on the Charing Cross Road for half off the cover price of £18.99. You can buy it now in hardback from Amazon.co.uk for £11.20. It is also available for the Kindle at £8.15 which seems terrific value for money.

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      • Creative WP-300 / Headphones / 8 Readings / 5 Ratings
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        02.05.2012 13:44
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        These headphones do everything I expected them to do. They're comfortable and great value for money.

        I'm not ashamed to admit that my iPhone has changed my life. I'll go further and say that my iPhone is my favourite thing that I've owned ever... in my whole life. It's better than any toy, gadget, car or item of clothing that I hve ever had. I love my iPhone. I write this not as an Apple fanboy, but as a regular user. Prior to getting an iPhone I had never owned another Apple product. I never had an iPod, I shunned iTunes, I couldn't get to grips with Mac O/S. As I say, the iPhone changed my life. Fairly soon into my time with my iPhone I felt the need to upgrade the earbud experience. To Apple's credit they make no great claims about the earbud user experience. They don't consider themselves audio experts and they don't make recommendations about preferred headphones beyond the simple white earbuds enclosed with the package. I had a look at different sets of headphones available, but as much as I covet a pair of monster Beats , I just couldn't see myself laying down the best part of a hundred and fifty quid for an accessory. Also, there was another problem that I wanted to solve. I find myself using my iPhone in bed a fair bit catching up with the week's TV while my wife sleeps next to me. I was growing tired of the whole umbilical connection between ears and iPhone. I decided that I wanted to go wireless and Bluetooth seemed the best option. After some Amazon-based research (sorry DooYoo, you're not there yet), I plumped for the WP 300 Bluetooth headphones from Creative Labs. Getting Started I began by charging the headphones. The headphones come with a USB cable so you can charge them via the USB port on your laptop or PC. I connected the USB part to the mains charger that I use for the iPhone. I guess it's a bit fiddly having to pull oe cable out and stick another one in, but it's not a deal breaker. The red light on the side of the headphones changed to green fairly quickly indicating that they were fully charged. Pairing with the iPhone The headphones also came with a small instruction booklet. For once this was an essential bit of kit as there is no way I could have know how to pair the headphones with reading it here first. I had to hold down the power button for four seconds until it flashed blue indicating that it was looking for a device to pair with. Then I went into the Bluetooth settings of my iPhone and found the Creative Headphones in the list. One touch and a few seconds later my iPhone told me that the headphones had been paired. If you have difficulty with this part, I suggest you get one of your children to help you. Honestly this was the first Bluetooth device I have ever used or paired and it was remarkably pain free. Pairing with Another Device When I got to work, I decided to try pairing the headphones with my laptop. Again the booklet revealed that I had to hold down the lower volume button together with the power button to remove the existing pairing and then go through the pairing procedure again, this time using the Bluetooth setup on my laptop. The light on the headphones was nt terribly helpful here. For example it turns out you can only unpair your headphones when they are powered down. If you hold the power button and the volume button down when the headphones are still on, nothing will happen. There is no indication that you are doing something wrong, but nothing changes. Without the booklet. I would have been lost. If I lose the booklet before I have memorized it, I still may be. Pairing the headphones with the laptop was not quite as instantaneous as it was with the iPhone, but this seemed to be down to the laptop Bluetooth setup rather than a problem with the headphones. It seemed to take some time and I certainly wouldn't want to be switching between the two devices the way I could with a normal headphones jack. Headphone Functionality There are refreshingly few buttons. I can turn the volume up and down. The volume function appears to run independently of the volume on my iPhone, I so I have effectively two sets of volume controls to help me find the perfect balance. As a perpetual volume fiddler, this is a comfort. when you pump the headphones volume all the way up, you hear a small beep indicating that it cannot get higher. The headphones also have a play/pause button so you can start and stop listening without touching your device. This isn't always ideal. For example when paired with my laptop and listening to some internet radio in my browser (RadioParadise.com, eclectic and gorgeous), hitting the pause button will not pause the radio, but instead launches Windows Media Player and begins playing a random track from my musical library simultaneously with the music I was already listening to. Not great, but easy to avoid. There is also a forward and back button that will jump forward a track or go back to the start of the last one. Again this will function differently depending on what app you're currently using. This kind of functionality lotto is the result of having devices, apps and accessories all made by different companies. I'm not too upset about some of the inter-company confusion, but I think it's important to know what you're getting into. Sound Quality I'm sure I'm not the right person to answer this question as it's the least important aspect for me. The sound comes through clearly enough but I can't comment on the specificity of the treble or the depth of the bass in a way that would satisfy a real audiophile. Sorry. Range I'm only mentioning range because it's something I noticed other reviews of wireless headphones have done. I left my iphone in my bedroom and wandered all over my apartment which has concrete walls. There were some distances where the sound just cut out intermittently, but basically I can imagine pottering about doing houselhold chores listening to a podcast with very little interruption. Certainly I can go out for a walk and put the phone in my pocket without the slightest concern about which pocket on which side of my body I need to put it in. Comfort and Ambient Noise Reduction These headphones are remarkably comfortable. I have worn them for hours at a time at work with little fear of my ears getting too hot or itchy. They are better than I could have anticipated on this score. One thing to note is that with the headphones on, even with no music playing, I was able to hear less of teh world around me. They don't reduce all outside sound, but they fit snugly and cover your ears enough to block probably more than 40% of the world from reaching you. This may either be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on what you were expecting. I would certainly never wear any kind of headphones while driving, but these would absolutely be a hazard limiting your ability to hear what's going on. Value for Money Amazon.co.uk are offering these headphones for £60.66. I had a friend flying to the US so I bought mine from Amazon.com and had them shipped within the US to his address for $63.63 which was significant enough of a saving for me to ask the favour. Summary So far I am very pleased with my Creative WP-300 Bluetooth headphones. They are fulfilling exactly the function for which I purchased them. It's too early to talk about their durability but they seem sturdy and resilient enough so far. They are not fragile, but like all gadgets they should be handled with care and not slung around, dropped in water or trodden on. I'm please with this purchase. I think you would be too.

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      • 24 - Season 7 (DVD) / TV Series / 10 Readings / 10 Ratings
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        10.09.2009 17:23
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        Just plain nonsense

        Apologies in advance if you've never seen an episode of 24. This review assumes some knowledge of the show and its main characters. I can't imagine anyone buying the set of season 7 DVDs without having watched another episode, but I felt it was worth saying anyway. Also there may be some mild spoilers about previous seasons. Apologies again. After six seasons of 24, I had a distinct case of Bauer-fatigue. Here's why and it contains a spoiler for the previous season 6 if you haven't seen it. After enduring all manner of absurd humiliations and ridiculous threats, the show crossed a big line four hours in to the sixth season when terrorists exploded a nuclear device just North of Los Angeles killing over 12,000 people with more expected to perish in the fallout. In the same episode, Jack had to kill one of his colleagues who he felt was making a mistake. That's it. My feeling is that if a nuclear device were to detonate anywhere near Los Angeles that the world would pretty much come grinding to a halt for at least the next 8 hours as cars filled the streets packed full of people heading out of State. I do not believe that mobile phone communications would be unaffected and I certainly don't believe that it would still take 4 minutes for a car to get anywhere inside LA while someone somewhere else has a brief but politically loaded conversation. My point is, that six seasons in, whatever those patriotic numskulls in CTU are selling... I'm not buying. So now we get to season 7. What could possibly make me want to watch another 24 episodes of this silly nonsense? First up, the season was preceded by a TV movie called 24: Redemption. Seeing Jack Bauer outside of LA for the first time helped to breathe some new life into the character. Seeing him trying to find some peace in Africa, really helped. There was something about the pacing of this movie which despite its condensed running time actually seemed more leisurely than the usual frenetic craziness. I enjoyed the movie enough to start over again with Jack Bauer when the new season began properly. Big mistake. As season 7 opens we are in a new city - Washington, DC. Jack is back in the US and scheduled to appear before a congressional committee which is looking into his actions to determine whether or not he is guilty of war crimes such as torture and anything else they can pin on him. His former employer, the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) in Los Angeles, has been shut down due to numerous irregularities. Most of the irregularities pertain to Jack Bauer's liberal use of torture and his illiberal defense of it as a legitimate tactic. Before the government can probe too deeply, Jack is called back into action to defend his country and help the FBI track down some terrorists who can hack every security system in the US. So far, so silly. There are various sub-plots such as the President's husband (yes, that's right) carrying out an off-the-books investigation into the death of the First Son and an American plan to reverse a military coup in Africa. As passenger planes start falling out of the sky and Jack Bauer is forced to change allegiances at least 6 times throughout the season it soon becomes clear that the show is as dumb as ever with no relief in sight. Throw into all that giant dumbness Jon Voight chewing the walls in every scene he's in and the return of Most Irritating Character In The History Of TVTM, Kim Bauer, and you have another collection of barely coherent, jingoistic hoohah that will actually make you stupider just because you watched it. If you're already addicted to 24, there's little chance I'm going to talk you out of it. But if there's any shred of decency left inside that hollowed out husk that is your TV soul, then don't buy this trash. Instead, go out and buy as many seasons of The Wire as you can afford and watch that instead.

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      • Archos Gmini 400 20 GB / MP3 Player / 3 Readings / 2 Ratings
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        10.11.2005 14:39
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        If you can avoid getting an iPod, this is a supercool device

        When I decided to get an mp3 player, the one thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want an iPod. I know they look sexy, but there is something just too generic about them. They’re almost too perfect. Plus I had had a look at iTunes and I didn’t like the way I was being forced to work with Apple’s software if I wanted to own their hardware. Also I download the vast majority of tracks illegally and I didn’t want some globally linked program keeping records of what’s in my library. I first looked at the Gmini 400 in a shop. It seemed incredibly compact with a nice clear full colour screen. I was immediately attracted to the idea of listening to a song with the album artwork on display and I started researching the device further on the Internet. Capacity The Gmini 400 has 20 GB of space on its hard drive. I hate it when they tell you that it’s enough for 5000 or 25000 songs. Of course it’s possible to fill one of these things up if you want a load of rubbish on your player, but I reckon anybody with a CD collection of 100 discs and a bunch more mp3s on their computer would have no problem copying the whole lot over to the Gmini. I choose the songs I transfer to the player very carefully, for example, I’m a big fan of The Beatles but I don’t need to carry She Loves You with me everywhere I go. Even if you’re less selective, space shouldn’t be an issue. Format-wise, I keep all my songs as .mp3s although I understand that the Gmini can also handle .wma and .wav files. Audio I said earlier that one of the things I was looking forward to was seeing the album artwork displayed when I listen to a song. In reality this was a lot more effort that I had anticipated. First of all I had to find pictures of all the albums on the Internet and save them to my PC. Then attaching each picture to a song wasn’t a simple procedure. Using Windows Media Player didn’t help as saving a picture to a music file saves it with the album title and not with the individual track and therefore the Gmini wasn’t reading it. It took a couple of calls to Archos customer service and some trial and error with a free progam called Music Match to achieve the desired results. Playback is very simple. The Gmini’s buttons are similar to a Gameboy. You navigate the onscreen icon-based interface and choose Music. Then you can select a track by Artist, Title, Genre or Year. Of course this information is only available if you have captured it in the tag of each file, but if you’re anal enough to have done so, it’s easy to get going. The Gmini also works with playlists which you can set up on your PC or directly on the Gmini itself. I prefer to have all my songs (around 3000 at the moment) playing at random so that I never know what’s coming up. I find the sound quality to be more than adequate. The Gmini comes with a decent set of earbuds with a volume control on the wires. I soon switched to a hardier pair of earphones with no discernible difference. Photos Long before the iPod Photo became available, the Gmini was already offering to store all the .jpg and .bmp files in your collection. I enjoy knowing that I am carrying around pictures of my kids but I’m not sure how much more use I’m really going to make of this feature. The Gmini also has a built in CompactFlash™ slot for use with the right kind of memory cards, but I have never used it. Video I decided when I bought the Gmini that I was doing so because I wanted a device to listen to music. The video playback would only ever be a ‘nice’ extra as the chances are it wouldn’t provide a very enjoyable viewing experience. In fact the literature about the Gmini went into considerable detail about the specific format a video would have to be in in order for it to work on the Gmini. It made it very clear the most files would need to be converted and that although the software was provided with the device, it was not a simple process. It was almost as if they were trying to put me off. So it was with some trepidation that I started playing around with the video capabilities of the Gmini. First I installed the video transfer software onto my PC. Then I identified the .avi file that I wished to convert in order to later transfer it to the Gmini. I started with a 22 minute sitcom episode that I had downloaded. The conversion seemed to take place almost in real time taking about 20 minutes to run through the 200 MB file and tying up my computer’s CPU in the process. I was not terribly impressed. When I transferred the converted file to the Gmini and tried to watch, I found that the sound and picture were intermittently out of synch. Not terrible for a sitcom but it would make watching a movie pretty unpleasant. Just to confirm I converted an entire 600+ MB movie .avi file and found the same synch problems as before. I was about to give up when I decided to try copying over the original file without running it through the conversion program, just for kicks. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the sound and picture perfectly in synch and the video playing perfectly. Now I am no expert when it comes to video formats. I have a hundred and one different players on my PC for different files and I know how to download a codec although I have no idea what a codec is. Still I find now that the majority of programs I download (ranging from UK TV quiz shows through whole seasons of US sitcoms to one hour dramas and full length movies) play perfectly well on the Gmini. I guess that the stuff I’m downloading has mostly already been encoded with DivX or something and that the whole preamble that Archos went through was aimed more at people wanting to watch home video on the Gmini. I’m still not sure what that all means, but given that I don’t have a camcorder and I do download a lot of TV, everything is just dandy. To give you some idea, the screen on the Gmini is not something you would choose to put on a desk and watch with friends. But I travel for business a fair bit and I find that sitting in Airport lounges watching last week’s Never Mind the Buzzcocks is a very satisfying way to wile away dead time. Last month I was stuck on the M25 for over 4 hours when a lorry literally exploded a hundred yards in front of me. I found the time passed very easily thanks to several episodes of Seinfeld I had thoughtfully prepared before my trip. The Gmini also allows playback through a regular TV using the standard yellow and red input sockets. I took a couple of episodes of Extras with me when I went to visit a friend recuperating from a back operation. Despite never having tried it before, I was able to hook the Gmini up to his television and play the files as normal. Again, it’s not something I see myself doing often, but it’s a nice little bit of extra functionality. I still use the Gmini primarily as a music player, but the video playback possibilities add a real dimension that Apple devices are only now coming to grips with at considerably greater expense. Games Archos have developed some games using the Morphun engine which you can buy and transfer to the Gmini. I like video games as much as the next man, but I don’t fancy ruining the Gmini’s delicate buttons with the strenuous pounding that many games require. The Gmini comes with one complete puzzle game and four more demos. I tried them all once and didn’t bother again. File Transfer Now that I use the Gmini on a daily basis I find this to be one of its most compelling arguments. The device connects to a PC via the USB port. I was cursing when I realized that I didn’t have any spare, but then I noticed that the connection on the device is exactly the same as that for my cheapo digital camera. Now I just leave the wire in and connect whichever device I’m using. Once connected, your PC (provided it isn’t an antique) will automatically recognize the device as an external drive called “Jukebox”. Transferring files is then as easy as dragging and dropping. There are folders already set up on the Gmini for Music and Video and I have added hundred of subfolders for each artist in the music folder just so that I can manage my files better when connected to the PC. As an external drive you can also use the Gmini to store or back up any other files that you wish up to the maximum capacity. As an example, I download TV programs for the kids on my home PC, but I only have a DVD burner on my work laptop and the two are not networked. It is a simple matter to copy the files to the Gmini and then copy then from the Gmini to the laptop. Transferring over 4 GBs of .avi files took less than 6 minutes. Transferring a single song (3-6 MB) to the Gmini takes less than 10 seconds. Battery Life According to Archos I’m supposed to get 10 hours of audio playback and up to five hours of video on a fully charged battery. I’ve had the audio playing for over six hours on a plane journey (with the screen blank to save battery – so much for the album artwork!) and I’ve watched about 3 hours of video on the trot and the battery has never entirely worn down. The Gmini comes with a clever charger that includes an adaptor for Europe, UK and the US. From nearly empty to a full charge takes a couple of hours. One useful point is to keep the charger connected when the Gmini is connected to your PC as transferring files uses a lot of battery power. Already Obsolete I see that according to their website Archos has already ceased marketing the Gmini 400. They have replaced it with the Gmini 402 which is basically the same device with greater flexibility for file formats, and the Gmini 402 Camcorder which is the same as the Gmini 402, but with a built-in camcorder. Nevertheless I have seen the Gmini 400 still on sale in Dixons and this insignificant upgrade may actually help prices drop on the original. I bought mine at Heathrow Duty Free for under 200 quid. I have seen them in the high street for £240+. Amazon currently have them New and Used only from £194.99, but if you have a way of doing it, your best bet is to pick one up in the States and pay Dollars for it. Customer Service To date I have had only used Archos’s customer service once as detailed above. I found them genuinely concerned and keen to help. At one point they even called me back with further information despite the fact that I gave them a mobile number a long way outside the UK. Impressive. Conclusion I love my Gmini 400 as it does everything I wanted an mp3 player to do with a reasonable amount of efficiency and considerable style. In addition, the opportunity to watch TV on the toilet is too good to miss. To discover more about the Gmini range you can go to Archos’s own site: www.archos.com. There is also a Gmini owners forum at www.gmini400.com. Clever, eh?

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        • More +
          10.11.2005 10:31
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          Yo Yo Ma

          It's almost impossible to sell the world's greatest sitcom to a Seinfeld virgin. It's essentially a show about nothing. And of all the nine seasons of Seinfeld that ran on American TV throughout the 90s, season 4 is the one that deals with how to sell a show about nothing to network television. If you don't get the gag, I'm not going to try and explain it to you. Everyone who has ever complained about American culture being vapid, puerile and lightweight should sit down and watch Seinfeld. It's vapid, it's puerile and it's hilarious. Lead character Jerry Seinfeld is a stand-up comedian played by Jerry Seinfeld who is a stand-up comedian. He is a neat-freak, and an expert in sabotaging his own relationships. Jerry cares very little for anything other himself, baseball and Superman. Jerry's best friend is George Costanza ("For I am Costanza… Lord of the Idiots."). George is the only human being more neurotic than Jerry. He has no hair, no job and no prospects. He believes he could have been an architect, but Jerry doesn't agree. Across the hall from Jerry lives Kramer. Kramer is a buffoon. He has no discernable income and he spends a lot of time in Jerry's apartment looking for food. Elaine is an old girlfriend of Jerry's. They have managed to remain friends. She works in publishing and is selfish, like Jerry, George and Kramer. Here are some of things that happen in season 4 of Seinfeld. Kramer is suspected of being a serial killer in Los Angeles. Jerry and George go to the police to tell them Kramer couldn't possibly be a serial killer. Kramer swaps a defective radar detector for a crash helmet, which later saves his life when 'crazy' Joe Davola launches a flying kick at his head. Jerry and George pitch their idea at NBC for a show about nothing. Jerry throws away a defective watch that his parents gave him. Jerry's uncle Leo finds the watch in the trash and gets it fixed. Jerry and George hide from 'crazy' Joe Davola in the coffee shop. George starts dating Susan, one of the executives at NBC who will decide whether Jerry and George's idea about a show about nothing will make it to air. Susan gives George a box of Cuban cigars from her dad. George gives the cigars to Kramer. Elaine breaks up with her shrink. Elaine starts dating a guy called Joe. On the way to Susan's dad's cabin in the woods, George and Susan stop off to meet a 'Bubble Boy' who is a big fan of Jerry. By the time Jerry and Elaine arrive, George is fighting with the 'Bubble Boy' over Trivial Pursuit. By the time Jerry , George, Elaine and Susan arrive at Susan's dad's cabin, Kramer has burned it to the ground accidentally by leaving one of the Cuban cigars unattended. 'Crazy' Joe Davola threatens Jerry in a phone message. Elaine finds out that the Joe she is dating is 'crazy' Joe Davola. They break up. Jerry dates a virgin, but she eventually leaves him for John-John. George's mother walks in on him masturbating. George vows never to masturbate again. Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer stage a contest to see who can go the longest without masturbating. Kramer drops out of the contest fairly early on. Elaine sends a Xmas card with a picture of herself to all her friends and family. Jerry notices that you can see Elaine's nipple in the picture. Jerry's girlfriend dumps him because she thought he was picking his nose. George gets Susan to dump him by picking his nose. Kramer becomes a Calvin Klein underwear model. Kramer goes to baseball fantasy camp and ends up punching Mickey Mantle. NBC cancel George and Jerry's pilot because George stared too hard at the daughter of the President of NBC's cleavage. Elaine shows a lot of cleavage to the President of NBC to prove how difficult it is for men to avoid staring. The pilot is back on. Jerry and George are outed as homosexual lovers. They make it clear that it is not true but that there is nothing wrong with being gay. Jerry, George and Elaine all volunteer to look after old people. Elaine's old woman has a remarkable goiter and she once had an affair with Gandhi. Jerry, George and Elaine are banned from volunteering further. Elaine tells Jerry that his girlfriend's breasts aren't natural. Jerry is upset and dumps his girlfriend. Later we find out the truth. Jerry starts dating a girl without catching her name. Her name rhymes with a part of the female anatomy. Kramer and Jerry sit in on a delicate operation. They discover the healing power of Junior Mints. Jerry's car smells so bad that he has to abandon it. Kramer convinces George to park in a space reserved for handicapped people. This turns out to be an error of judgment. Jerry and George's pilot for the show about nothing gets cast. Jerry the comedian (played by Jerry, a comedian) will play the part of a comedian called Jerry. George, Kramer and Elaine all have counterparts on the show. There is also a butler. 'Crazy' Joe Davola turns up at the taping of the show and tries to sabotage it. The President of NBC is hopelessly in love with Elaine ever since she showed him her cleavage. He quits and joins Greenpeace. The new President of NBC doesn't like Jerry and George's show about nothing and cancels it. Over the years many different actors made guest appearances in Seinfeld. For example, the virgin is really Daphne from Frasier and the woman who may or may not have breast implants is really Lois Lane or the kooky one in Desperate Housewives. Seinfeld is an exceptionally fine show, mixing stupid behaviour with slapstick and narcissism. It is a very funny show and if you don't enjoy it then there must be something wrong with you. This DVD set is available at Amazon.co.uk for £17.97. It contains 4 DVDs and over 20 episode and extras. Yo Yo Ma.

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          • Escape To Witch Mountain (DVD) / DVD / 17 Readings / 15 Ratings
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            04.04.2005 11:34
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            • "Upside down helicopters"

            I waited many years to own Escape To Witch Mountain. I can’t remember where I first saw it but I don’t think it was in a cinema. It feels like the kind of thing I might have watched projected onto a temporary screen in a Torquay hotel rec room. I know I saw The Love Bug one Sunday afternoon at the synagogue’s adjoining community centre, so it might have been there. Either way, it was 30 years ago and I loved it. Tony and Tia are brother and sister arriving at the orphanage after their foster parents die. From the start we’re pretty sure that they are unusual. Tia can talk to animals and Tony can hear Tia’s voice inside his head. He can make things move just by looking at them and concentrating hard. Sometimes Tony uses his harmonica to help him concentrate, but he’s a pretty high-functioning telekinetic all the same, without the added burden of puberty and pigs’ blood. Aristotle Bolt, the gorgeously named bad guy, is played by Ray Milland and if you think he looked grizzled after his Lost Weekend, he must have been on a decade long bender before they wheeled him out for this performance. At the start we see Bolt consulting an assortment of financial mystics and gurus looking for a way to turn his gazillions into fantillions. Imagine his good fortune when his number one henchperson Lucas Deranian (generously underplayed by 70s psycho Donald Pleasance) stumbles across our two psychically enhanced cherubs. All the while Tony and Tia are trying to uncover the secrets of their origin by following the map that was hidden in Tia’s star case (What? You mean you DON’T have a star case?). Once the kids realize that Bolt is a nogoodnik, they begin their escape and I’ll give you three guesses where they’re trying to escape to. The special effects are lo-tech but satisfying and my kids have had as much fun with this as with Harry Potter. I have a feeling that it may turn out that with movies the story IS important after all. Three years later the kids returned in Return From Witch Mountain in which our mentalist minors are terrorized by Christopher Lee and Bette Davis. Unlike the Region 1 Special Edition, this version comes with absolutely no special features, no commentary track and barely any subtitles. Fortunately this is made up for by the affordable price charged by Amazon.co.uk of £5.97. One final piece of trivia. Kim Richards who played Tia has a sister called Kathy who married hotel heir Rick Hilton. That means Tia grew up to be Paris and Nicky's auntie. I guess all that pretending to communicate with less intelligent mammals must have come in handy.

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            • Life Is Beautiful (DVD) / DVD / 10 Readings / 8 Ratings
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              04.04.2005 11:28
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              • "The Holocaust"

              Over 15 years ago, Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol had a tremendous run at the National Theatre in London with his play Ghetto. The play told the story of a theatre group performing amid the madness of the Warsaw ghetto. In the play, one group objects to the existence of the troupe claiming that any levity in the context of the surrounding atrocities was dishonourable and in poor taste. The counter argument is that the refusal to perform, the denial of art, humour, life represents victory for the anti-humanity of the Nazis. Robert Benigni’s wonderful movie covers much of the same ground and sparked many similar discussions upon its US release in 1998 (1999 in the UK). Benigni won an Academy Award for his performance as Guido. At the start of the film we see Giudo fall in love and woo his principessa, Dora, played by Nicoletta Braschi. The chemistry between these two performers is utterly charming. Married in real life, Benigni and Braschi are such an unlikely looking couple that you cannot help but believe their happiness at finding each other. They have a son, Giosué, and they seem to be perfectly happy. But then the movie takes a sinister turn. Guido is a Jew. He is arrested by the Italian police and sent to a concentration camp. Dora refuses to identify herself as anything other than her husband’s wife and she is taken too. Somehow Giosué ends up traveling with his father without their captors knowing and Guido decides that the only way to rationalize their lives from this point forward is to pretend to his son that it is all a game. Guido explains the points system to his son warning him that he will lose points if the guards ever spot him or if he cries or if he asks to see his mother. Even writing this now I am aware what a bold movie this is. Benigni’s father was a prisoner in Belsen from 1943-45 and he wrote at the time that his screenplay was dedicated to the people who were held with his father and to the stories that survived. It is overly simplistic to suggest that the movie is life affirming. There are too many unmarked graves for this to be the case, but Life is Beautiful is a smart, funny and honourable fiction about human beings in man’s darkest hour. The DVD is available from Amazon.co.uk for £6.97 and rated PG. The DVD is in Italian with subtitles although it may also be watched with a dubbed English soundtrack. There are no special features.

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                04.04.2005 11:22
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                • Scary

                With the Keanu Reeves movie just around the corner, it’s time to revisit the original hardcore incarnation of John Constantine. If you’ve never read an American superhero comic book in your life this may not be the best place to start. I’ll try not to assume too much prior knowledge, but you may quickly come across names and characters that mean absolutely nothing to you. If that’s the case I suggest you move along swiftly, nothing to see here, no hard feelings. I’m not trying to convert anyone, but there is a good case to be made for reading books featuring sequential art as being more entertaining and more edifying than, say, Dan Bloody Brown and the Da Vinci Bollocks. On the rare occasion that comic books are assessed by mainstream journalism there is a revisionist history ascribed to the medium that claims the entire industry was a primary-coloured, Thwack-Kapow, Bat-Shark-Repellent-in-your-Utility-Belt nightmare until Frank Miller came along and invented “gritty”. The trouble with that timeline is that it jumps straight from the 60s to the 80s conveniently missing out the 70s. The 1970s were good years for comics. Up until the revival that the 1978 Superman movie sparked, comics were pretty much left to their own devices. There was plenty of gritty in Denny O’Neil’s Batman scripts with Neal Adams drawing the pointy eared vigilante as a genuinely spooky bogeyman for bad guys. Over in Green Lantern, the same creative pair reinvented Green Arrow as a hero with a conscience and a sidekick with a heroin addiction. Not a Thwack in sight. But it was horror comics that flourished most naturally, away from the superhero spotlight. Horror comics were always the bastard child of mainstream publishing forcing authorities to establish the Comic Book Code. In the 1940s and 50s the code drove many publishers out of business; by the 1980s it had become a form of self censorship practiced by the bigger companies to convince themselves comics were still for kids. But there was still a demand for horror comics and it took a genius to bring them into the world usually reserved for men in tights. In 1983 Alan Moore parlayed his success in 2000AD into a mainstream gig writing for DC Comics. He took over writing Saga of the Swamp Thing for issue #20 and invented the future. By deliberately choosing to ignore the Comic Book Code, Moore helped DC Comics to admit that they were publishing comics for grown ups and opened the door to Neil Gaiman’s masterful Sandman series and the entire Vertigo line of sequential art for serious bibliophiles. Previously, Swamp Thing had been a shambling green mess lurking in swamps with little to do. Moore reinvented Swamp Thing as a plant elemental, able to reach out to all growing things attached to the planet and concerned now with more global ecological problems than rusty bicycles in the bayou. Swamp Thing needed a guide to help him understand his new place in the world. Someone with street smarts but and supernatural savvy. And so Moore created John Constantine, fouled-mouthed cynic, chain-smoking sarcastic proto-Brit and occasional occult mage. Within months Constantine had broken out of the pages of Swamp Thing and landed his own series with an inappropriately heroic subtitle. This collection, Original Sins, reprints the first nine issues of John Constantine – Hellblazer in full colour. Having his own comic did nothing to soften John Constantine. Barely clinging to his sanity he confronts demonic hunger elementals, voodoo priests and some of the goriest and most unpleasant images ever depicted in comics. Playing against type, Constantine is not a redeemable, wisecracking, loveable antihero, he’s just a bastard. In one of these early stories he sells out one of his oldest friends to stave off a greater disaster: “I suddenly remember Gaz's mum... She never did like me. Bad influence, she said. People should listen to their mothers”. Throughout these stories, Constantine is running scared. The reader is granted glimpses of Constantine’s back story in the shape of the ghosts of former friends (and lovers) that haunt him. We learn that John Constantine was once the lead singer in a short-lived punk group called Mucous Membrane. We discover that John’s spook pals (a nun, a biker a teenage nerd) have been murdered one by one following a job they were once all involved in. We begin to understand that whatever happened during that botched exorcism in Newcastle, it drove Constantine into an asylum for two years and killed all his friends either directly or indirectly. If I have one main criticism of this collection, it’s that it includes a couple of unnecessary early standalone issues where writer, Jamie Delano was just warming up and leaves out the issues which flashback to Newcastle and resolve this most important of early Hellblazer mythologies. Later in the series, Delano left and other writers had their wicked ways with John Constantine. Garth Ennis’s first act when he came on board as series writer was to give Constantine lung cancer, but that’s a whole other story. The comic is still being published today as a monthly and it’s currently the longest lasting Vertigo book. Despite occasional appearances of John Constantine in the same universe as other DC heroes such as Zatanna, the Phantom Stranger and even the Batman, he is best kept apart from mainstream comicdom and left to his own infernal devices. Hellblazer: Original Sins is a great introduction to the world of John Constantine. The original comics bore the legend “Recommended for Mature Readers” and I think that’s sound advice. Furthermore, even if you are quite mature, but prone to nightmares I would skip this in the graphic novels rack and keep moving until you get to something fluffy like Jeff Smith’s Bone, or Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan. Amazon.co.uk is offering this book at £9.39 with new and used copies starting at £7.09.

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                • More +
                  13.10.2004 23:44
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                  I was never very close to my sister growing up. She's just over two years older than me and a lot stronger. She once broke someone's arm playing lacrosse. I guess she must have ordered four tickets for some other friends and then at the last minute they let her down because we never went anywhere together that my parents didn't take us. Still, somehow, two days after my 13th birthday I was on the Jubilee Line with her and we were heading for Wembley. She had one friend with her from school and our neighbour Natalie came as well. I think now that I must have had a week's notice because I remember borrowing a tape of Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits from Michael, over the road, and listening to it every night to try to learn some of the songs. Michael was more of a Kate Bush kind of guy and, anyway, he was too busy with his CB radio to mind my taking the tape. So I listened to the tape and I learned the songs and then I went on the tube with my big sister, her friend and Natalie to the first ever concert held at Wembley Stadium. Two years after their triumphant comeback in Central Park, Simon & Garfunkel were in town. It's hard for me to remember much about the gig. We were standing on the pitch about thirty feet from the stage, but there was no pushing or unpleasantness. My sister and her friend were talking to some older boys who went to Harrow. One of them picked me up and put me on his shoulders. Only when he turned his back to the stage did I begin to understand the scale of the thing. Standing behind us on the covered pitch were tens of thousands with twice as many more sitting in the stands. Despite the crash course I had given myself, the only song I recognized was their cover of Bye Bye Love from my Mum's Everly Brothers LP. Because it was the first time a concert had been held at the stadium, no one had considered the traffic situation after the show. We walked back to the tube station, but we couldn't get on a train. We called a mini-cab but it couldn't get through the traffic. Eventually my Dad came and got us at three o'clock in the morning. It was the best adventure of my short life and the concert experience by which all future gigs would be measured and found lacking. I started to collect Paul Simon records. First was Hearts and Bones – a tragic telling of the disintegration of his marriage to Princess Leia. It's a magnificent record but one that is harder to listen to years on. I delved further back and came up with One Trick Pony, Simon's 1980 album that found him on the verge of turning 40 and enjoying every minute before the dark times ahead. One Trick Pony is a warm and infectious affair that sees Simon performing with the closest thing to a regular band he ever assembled. Many of the musicians were still around for the reunion tour with Art Garfunkel and get name-checked on the Central Park concert –Richard Tee on Piano and the great Steve Gadd on drums. The album kicks off with a nostalgic stomp. Late in the Evening follows Simon from childhood through the first flush of success. Never known for his modesty, Simon delights in remembering the first time his music started to affect people. "When I came back to the room, everybody just seemed to move And I turned my amp up loud and began to play. And it was late in the evening And I blew that room away." The title track One Trick Pony has many reference points, but it might help to see it in the context of Simon's long and complex relationship with Art Garfunkel. By 1980, they had been separated for 10 years but Simon had still failed to win the commercial success he craved. Each of his solo records had sold reasonably well but none of them could touch the last Simon and Garfunkel record, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Paul Simon was the greatest songwriter of his generation but he was forever remembered as the second best singer in Simon and Garfunkel (a bit like saying Part 1 is only the second best Godfather movie). Art had begun to establish himself as a quirky actor with interesting roles in movies like Catch 22 and Carnal Knowledge. Simon, on the other hand, had an unforgiving part in Annie Hall and very little else. In fact the record One Trick Pony accompanied a movie of the same name that Simon wrote and financed. The movie is not well remembered. Is Art Garfunkel the one trick pony of Simon's song, blessed with the voice of an angel but little other musical talent? We shall never know. "He's got one trick to last a lifetime, But that's all a pony needs." Ace in the Hole is another rocking track. Simon is trying to understand what keeps people going. What is the ace in the hole that everyone relies on to get them out of trouble? He can only speak for himself and, as usual, the thing that nourishes and comforts the artist is his music: "Your ordinary rhythm and blues And your basic rock and roll. You can sit on the top of the beat You can lean on the side of the beat You can hang from the bottom of the beat But you got to admit that the music is sweet." Simon is performing with friends and having more fun than he has had in years, but he still finds time to write some of the most affecting and melancholic love songs of the age. In the song Nobody, Simon uses the verses to cry out for intimacy and affection: "Who knows my secret broken bone Who feels my flesh when I am gone… Who is my reason to begin Who plows the earth, who breaks the skin… Nobody." It is a sad and desperate declaration of human loneliness underpinned with the gentle urgency of an ancient spiritual until the chorus quietly arrives to rescue the singer and by extension, us: "Nobody but you, girl Nobody but you Nobody in the whole wide world Nobody." One Trick Pony is a lasting testament to Paul Simon's skills as a poet and songwriter. Gifted with a talent larger than his slight frame and a unique confidence in that gift, the album is a joyful milestone in a career littered with highs. His next album Hearts and Bones was heavily concerned with his own mortality, referencing the collapse of his marriage and the death of John Lennon before the personal and critical triumph of Graceland in 1986. The original CD of One Trick Pony is available from Amazon.co.uk for £8.99 although a remastered version is also available including four bonus tracks from the movie that were never on the original soundtrack. I went back to see Paul Simon twice more in concert. Once with Natalie for the Graceland tour at the Royal Albert Hall and once with my future wife on the Born at the Right Time tour at Wembley Arena. Natalie and I are no longer neighbours and we both live on the other side of the world to the Jubilee Line, but we do live in neighbouring towns and we call each other on birthdays. I haven't been anywhere with my sister since that day in 1982, but we get along a lot better now than we ever used to. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel toured together this year and played a concert in London supported by the Everly Brothers. I hope there was some 13 year old there attending his first concert and I hope he still believes there'll be others just as good in his future.

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                  • Yellow Submarine (DVD) / DVD / 4 Readings / 12 Ratings
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                    21.06.2004 20:52
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                    In the town where I was born? I don?t know when I first noticed The Beatles. I know that they were No. 1 for the last time on the day I was born and they must have been part of the soundtrack of my infancy in the years immediately following the breakup. I know that in December of 1980 I was sufficiently aware of John Lennon being shot to tape Help! when they showed it on TV as a tribute. It was our first video recorder and it used square one-hour tapes and the machine had buttons that you had to push down like an audio tape player and it had an analogue clock. When we upgraded to a VHS player the old machine sat under the sideboard with two tapes on which I had written Help! in red pencil. Later my brother and I watched Yellow Submarine and at some point we taped it off BBC2. I was the big Beatles fan in our family but I would often stumble out of my teenage slumber and find my brother giggling his way through toast and Meanies. These days The Beatles have become citizens of the world with devotees on every continent. More people have visited Strawberry Fields in Central Park than will ever peer through the iron gates in Liverpool. Yellow Submarine is a reminder of just how British they were. The movie opens in Pepperland, a psychedelic Eden of song. But paradise is under attack and the Blue Meanies are taking no prisoners. The Meanies are not nice. Their chief takes enormous delight in the destruction his troops cause. ?I haven't laughed so much since Pompeii.? A colourful statue of the word ?KNOW? is attacked leaving behind only the middle two letters. Watching this sequence with adult eyes, one cannot help but see parallels with the Na zi ethos of control through ignorance and negativism coupled with the banishing of culture and the freedom it brings. One survivor, Young Fred, escapes in the titular vessel. Fred?s is charged with finding a group of champions to save Pepperland from annihilation. We cut to Liverpool and find the nebbish Ringo wandering it grey streets. Ringo: Liverpool can be a lonely place on a Saturday night, and this is only Thursday morning. In his recent novel, The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem posits that all pop cultural groups can be broken down into Beatle archetypes. Genius parent, responsible parent, genius child, clown child ? Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty; Han, Luke, Chewie, the Droids: "Dorothy is John Lennon, the Scarecrow is Paul McCartney, the Tin Woodman is George Harrison, the Lion's Ringo? Everything naturally forms into a Beatles, people can't help it." It?s a fun game that supposes everything revolves around John but that it wouldn?t be nearly as much fun without Ringo. Back in Liverpool, Ringo is unsure of himself. He thinks he is being followed but he doesn?t know for certain: ?It must've been one of them "Unidentified Flying Cupcakes". Or a figment of me imagination. But I don't have an imagination.? Fred reveals himself and Ringo reluctantly agrees to join him. Together they recruit the rest of the band and set off back to Pepperland. Like all good quests half the story is in the journey and the way back entails many detours and distractions. They travel through the Sea of Holes (just like Blackburn, Lancashire), the Sea of Monsters and the Sea of Time. A long the way they meet the most melancholy character ever to be animated. Jeremy Hillary Boob is a Nowhere Man first encountered writing with his feet. Jeremy: These are the footnotes for my nineteenth book. This is my standard procedure for doing it. And while I compose it, I'm also reviewing it! Having nothing better to do, Jeremy joins the group providing whatever help he can. It beats making nowhere plans for nobody. Along the way the banter comes thick and fast. The Beatles were known to be fans of the Goons. John Lennon developed his wit and penchant for puns in two published works (In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works). The writers of Yellow Submarine including Erich ?Love Story? Segal and an uncredited Roger McGough must be praised for filtering the good from the bad and peppering (Pepper-ing?) the script with the best of British jokes. Fred: Oh! Frankenstein! Ringo: Yeah, I used to go out with his sister. Fred: His sister? Ringo: Yeah, Phyllis. George: Hey! There's a Cyclops! Paul: Can't be. It's got two eyes. John: Must be a "bi-cyclops" then. Ringo: There's another one. John: A whole "cyclopedia"! Once they reach dry land, our boys borrow the ancient instruments and uniforms of Pepperland?s military heroes. Sergeant Pepper and his Lonely Hearts? Club Band march again and try to restore order amid the blue chaos. Turns out all you need is? well, I don?t want to spoil it for you. I?ve watched this movie on and off for the past twenty years. Now my children watch it with me and by themselves. Despite the relat ively primitive animation, they get as much enjoyment from it as Ice Age or Shrek. Much of this enjoyment is derived from the soundtrack. Many of the songs had appeared on earlier Beatles albums. The title track, When I?m Sixty-Four and Nowhere Man were all well known before the movie appeared, but there are some new compositions that were heard for the first time when the movie was released in the UK in July 1968. Hey Bulldog is a raucous, piano-led triumph. It rocks, it rolls and it has absolutely no meaning outside of its animated context. Glorious. Of the three other ?new? tracks, it?s a Harrison composition which makes the greatest impact. It?s All Too Much is a trip. If you ever had any doubt about George?s contribution to the band?s sound as a guitarist and his influence on generations of jingly-jangly wannabes, just have a listen. The song also has one of my favourite George lyrics. The third verse starts out all Bridge over Troubled Water but ends up pure George Formby: Sail me on a silver sun Where I know that I am free Show me that I'm everywhere And get me home for tea It?s all too much? George Harrison always remained the most British of this most British band. The animated cast is uniformly wonderful. Once it was clear the real Beatles would not be providing the voices for their animated selves, the director brought in a group of actors who could provide the humour if not the verisimilitude. Character actor and Carry On Cruising star Lance Percival had voiced both Paul and Ringo in director George Dunning?s animated shorts featuring the Beatles? songs. When it came to making the movie, Percival took the part of Fre d. I had tea with Mr. Percival once in Torquay and I wish I had asked him about making Yellow Submarine. Sadly I was more interested in chocolate éclairs than the Beatles at that time so you have to mark it down as one of life?s great missed opportunities. Comedy legend Dick Emery voices Jeremy and many others without once descending into ooh, you are awful territory. His vocal virtuosity enables him to hide behind several minor characters Ringo?s voice is provided by Paul Angelis. Paul Angelis is the brother of Michael Angelis who was Lucien (with the rabbits) in The Liver Birds. Michael Angelis took over as narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine in 1991 from? Ringo. Who says God doesn?t have a plan? The crucial role of John Lennon was voiced by comedy character actor John Clive. You might be able to picture him as the unctuous car salesman in the original Italian Job, but I prefer to think of him in the 1970s teatime classic Robert?s Robots. George Harrison?s animated alter-ego was played by Peter Batten, but for more information about that I recommend the interview with John Clive at the following address: http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~ms538596/feature1.html The final revelation is the voice of Paul. A young actor called Geoffrey Hughes came in and voiced the role. It would be another six years before he won the part of Eddie Yeats on Coronation Street and many more after that before he appeared as Onslow on Keeping Up Appearances. Yellow Submarine has stayed a family classic despite changing tastes in the 35 years since its initial release. Shorn now of the contemporary link to psychotropic drug taking, the movie works as a trippy, fun adventure with a tremendous soundtrack. Bright and funny, Yellow Submarine may be enjoyed by audiences aged five to a hundred and five. The movie was re-released to mark its 30th anniversary in 1998 and Amazon.co.uk are currently asking a whopping for the DVD while play.com have it at £14.99. I suggest you shop around and try Ebay or wait for it to come on TV again.

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                    • bol.com / Online Shop / 2 Readings / 15 Ratings
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                      20.06.2004 19:38
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                      I have always considered myself a reader, but it was only when I left full-time education and began reading for pleasure that I started reading properly. I set several rules for myself at that point. 1. I will only read something that I want to read. This seems like a strange rule, but you would be amazed how many people try to lend you books once they know reading is one of your hobbies. (Sidebar Rant: Part of this rule means owning everything that I read rather than borrowing. I feel there is more of an investment if it has cost me time and money to purchase the book. It?s one of the main problems I have with professional reviews of things like books, movies, theatre and concerts. So often the reviewer does not have the same investment as a normal person. How can they give an objective opinion of something they were never that inclined to see in the first place and then got for free. In my imaginary magazine, reviewers would only write about things they were interested in and they would have to pay the standard price for everything they review. Kind of like Ciao, but less needy.) 2. I will challenge myself, but I will also treat myself. 3. I will only read one book at a time. 4. I will finish everything I start. If you?re not careful, reading can be an expensive hobby. I have traveled the world for work and everywhere I go, I look for contraband to feed my habit. I picked up my Philip Pullmans for a song on Yonge Street in Toronto. I found a surprisingly comprehensive selection of John D MacDonald paperbacks on the Khaosan Road in Bangkok. In Manila, the exchange rate made a bargain of McEwan and Roth. When I come back to London I always spare a day to trawl the Charing Cross Road and I have to ment ion Two Jays Bookshop in Edgware, the best hometown, second-hand store a boy could wish for. Satisfying as this life of literary bargain hunting is, it has never solved the problem of keeping up with the critics. If you limit yourself to second-hand shops and remainder warehouses, you are limiting yourself to books of a certain age (and perhaps of a certain type). If you want to be reading the latest books by the current titans, you are stuck with barely discounted hardbacks or the increasingly pricy paperback versions that come out a year later. Then along comes bol.com. I first encountered the site in its previous incarnation. It was a pale imitation of other online booksellers with a limited selection and nothing special in the way of discounts. Then in September 2002 bol.com was reborn as a book club. Commitment Before you get nervous about the obligations associated with joining an online book club, let me clearly state the rules as found on the website. Your initial purchase can be as small as one book or as many as ten. After that your commitment is clearly laid out in the Terms & Conditions: ?As a member of bol.com, all we ask is that you buy at least one more book from us within the first six months of your membership. We will not send you anything you have not ordered, and we don't ask you to decline anything either.? I have been a ?member? for nearly two years now and I can assure you that this is the case. Postage One of the major obstacles to buying online is hidden charges for postage and packaging. At bol.com they have simplified matters considerably. You are charged one pound per book for postage, but if you order three or more books there is no charge at all for postage. In two years, I have never ordered less than three books at a time and, therefore, I ; have never paid a penny for postage. Prices The sales tagline at bol.com is ?Bestsellers at 60% off, everything else at least 20% off?. Let?s start with some of those so-called bestsellers. The 60% off list is currently divided into the following categories: ? Art, Philosophy & Poetry ? Biography ? Children?s ? Contemporary and Literary Fiction ? Crime & Thrillers ? Entertainment ? Food & Drink ? Health, Beauty & Self-Help ? History, Politics & Science ? Romantic Fiction ? Science& Nature ? SF & Fantasy ? Sport ? Travel All the books listed within are discounted to at least 60% off the cover price. There is a ?but?, though and for many it?s a deal-breaker. Most of the fiction books are not actually hardbacks. The majority are paperback versions of the hardback, that is, the same size and printing as the hardback but in a soft cover and usually paperback quality paper inside. If you have ever been a member of QPD or TSP, or if you have bought an oversized airport edition you will know what to expect. I should point out though, that not all the books come like this. Sometimes a book is randomly offered at 60% off and it is the actual hardback edition. I have picked up Paul Auster?s The Book of Illusions and Neal Stephenson?s Quicksilver in hardback editions. Either way the binding is clearly defined on the page for each book either as Hardback, Paperback or Special Paperback Edition. Also, if a book is not a standard size print then bol will sell it as a hardback. I bought the original editions of Schott?s Original Miscellany, Lyra?s Oxford and Eats, Shoots and  6;eaves for 40% of their cover price. These books may never be issued as paperbacks and they have been heavily discounted elsewhere, but never by 60% and never in their first month of publication. Similarly the non-fiction and cookery books usually come in their original hardback editions. My five year old has both What Not To Wear books on her shelf and my thirty five year old has a complete set of Delia Smiths on hers, all in hardback (they both like looking at the pictures). I have also bought hardback reference books including an amazing visual dictionary from Dorling Kindersley and the Times Atlas of the World reduced by 60% from £150.00 (it was a bar mitzvah present for my nephew, but I was sorely tempted to get two). One downside is that the books don?t stay at the highest discount forever. I check the site at least once a month and I often find that books that were previously at 60% off are now only 28% off or, worse, not available at all. You have to be quick. A search for all the books I have mentioned so far will only turn up one or two at the price I paid for them. At the other extreme some books stick around for ages and stay available well into their paperback printing. I notice that the overblown, underdone, potboiler Brick Lane is currently on offer for 60% below the paperback price i.e., £3.19. But the edition they are selling is the Special Paperback Edition which is exactly the same version that I bought a year ago for 60% below the hardback price which was £5.19. I don?t begrudge the two quid because it was important to me to have read the book while it was still being discussed and nominated for things, but a lesser man may feel piqued. Every month the site updates the books in the 60% below categories, but it is also worth having a look at the rest of the books available. The claim is that the books will be at least 20% off but I have found some real bargains that were not in the main listing. I bought Peter Carey?s My Life as a Fake at 78% off and I saw they were selling Zoe Heller?s book at over 80% off. Admittedly these prices were only available once the book was out in paperback, but it still provides classy new literature for under four quid. New Authors One of the great by-products of bol?s pricing policy is that I have been able to try new authors that I may have shied away from before. British publishers don?t like to take risks on unknown quantities and recently they have taken to publishing newer authors in outsize paperbacks rather than offering a paperback edition. These books carry a cover price of between 10 and 12 pounds (as opposed to 12 to 20 quid for a hardback) and if they are successful may end up in the standard paperback format. At 60% off a tenner, I have been able to sample Dan Rhodes and ZZ Packer where, in the past, I may have waited for more of a critical consensus. Customer Service I had one occasion to gripe at bol when a book which I was semi-interested in went up in price before I had a chance to match it with two more to make a free delivery. I sent an email outlining my complaint and received a perfectly polite reply offering the book to me at the cheaper price whenever I wished to purchase it. Very Satisfactory. Delivery Reading through other opinions on bol.com I notice that this has been something of a sticking point for people. Unfortunately I have to remove myself from the debate. I don?t live in the UK but I get my books sent to my parents? house and then I pick them up or they get brought out to me so time is less of a factor for me. As a result I am totally unaware of any delivery issues except my mum complaining that they always ring on the doorbell on Saturday mornings and she has to find her dressing gown and go downstairs and it?s always my bloody books. I have tried to appease her by chucking in the latest Kellerman but she?s still pretty miffed. However, I?m not sure delivery issues pertaining to my mother are strictly representative for the consumer-oriented readers of Ciao. Summary I love bol.com. It enables me to buy books now that I would otherwise have to wait a year to read. It is affordable and efficient. I find myself looking forward to the first of the month to see what new books they are offering. I have ordered from them at least once every two months for the past two years and have never been disappointed by their service or their product. Their stock is tiny in comparison to Amazon, but it changes regularly and stays current. Despite the narrower range I have found presents for nearly every member of my family at one time or another. The best bargain currently on offer is Bill Bryson?s A Short History of Nearly Everything. Although the book has now been published in paperback, bol.com are offering the hardback at 82% off cover price. That is £3.59 for a 700 page hardback. In comparison Amazon.co.uk have the paperback edition for £8.99 plus postage. If you buy new books, you owe it to yourself to check out uk.bol.com

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                      • Russia / Destination International / 1 Reading / 11 Ratings
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                        23.05.2004 20:06
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                        It?s my first visit to Russia and frankly I am a little bit nervous about it. Over the past few months I have had several business trips in Eastern Europe. I have partied in Prague, boogied in Budapest and wowed the crowd in Warsaw. But still, something about my trip to Moscow has me a little anxious. They keep teasing me in the office about the women I will meet. Where I live, Russian women are stereotyped as peroxide prostitutes. Like all stereotypes this is grossly unfair and more than a little cruel and yet I have been warned by several reliable and serious friends that I will be approached as soon as I check in. ?It doesn?t matter how nice the hotel is,? I?m told, ?As soon as you get into your room someone will call and offer you a companion.? One of my colleagues asks me again and again whether I?ll get a blonde or a brunette. I laugh and tell him that I?m not settling for less than twins. But still, I am an incy bit concerned. The night of my flight I have to go first to a karaoke bar for my sister in law?s 30th. I don?t live in the UK but the majority of people at the party are Anglos. Unfortunately nobody rang ahead to check and the majority of songs on offer are not in English. I muddle my way through a local radio hit desperately trying to match the foreign subtitles to what I thought were the words. My younger sibling and I duet on Daniel. I am his brother. I am older than he. I am traveling tonight on a plane. It?s spooky. Then his brother-in-law offers a final piece of advice before my trip. ?Keep your money in your socks and don?t get raped.? My ride to the airport is a breeze. By sheer coincidence, someone I know is also on my flight and we hook up and cab it together. He?s been to Moscow severa l times before and he tells me some of his stories. Before we get on the plane we are met at the airport and given three big boxes to bring with us. I ask him what?s in the boxes and he tells me vaguely about his connections to the community in Moscow and how he helps them out whenever he can. I sleep most of the way, mercifully missing the meal, and waking halfway through a Meg Ryan movie which I watch without putting on my headphones. Then we land. My travel agent has arranged my visa and I hurriedly fill in the customs forms. My friend tells me it can take up to an hour to get past immigration, but somehow we are done in minutes. Our luggage arrives almost immediately and we are briskly waved through the green channel. On the other side we head for the official Taxi rank. The woman shows us a laminated price list for trips into Moscow. The price is $85 plus another 10 because we are going to different hotels. My friend looks appalled. ?No, no, no,? he says emphatically and two minutes later we settle on a total charge of $50. I am staying at the Sheraton Palace Hotel on Tverskaya Yamskaya. When you travel a lot for business, one hotel seems very much like another, but I?m grateful for the big bed and BBC Prime. I have a colleague who will be joining me for the trade show and he is bringing the marketing collateral with him, but he isn?t arriving until late tonight so I am at a bit of a loose end. There is no wireless network in the hotel which is now a greater defect than no hot water. Unable to connect to work, I decide to get out and see a bit of the town. I put everything in the room safe except my passport which has my visa in it and a thousand rouble note and go consult the concierge. Despite the online prediction of rain I emerge map in hand into glorious sunlight and kick off for the Kremlin. Tverskaya heading south towards Red Square is four lanes wide in each direction and it takes me ten minutes just to cross the road. The traffic is unreasonably heavy and made up of an unusual combination of Lada and Lexus. It?s the first of many disconcerting dialectics that will characterize the trip. Above ground, the street is lined with familiar names. I spot Hugo, Donna and Calvin and they wave cheerily from between the largest selection of banks I have ever seen. The shops are selling the best of what the world has to offer at prices that appear very normal for Western Europe, but that must seem extraordinary to the average working Muscovite. I?m told that the wage for a graduate in a suit and tie job may be $500 per month or thereabouts. Underground, people are serving all manner of goods, from hosiery to patisserie, through letterbox style hatches. The words of the prophets are not written on these subway walls unless the prophets were overly concerned with fake watches and Prada knock offs. Upstairs again, there is a stall offering Mel?s Passion on dodgy DVD for 150 roubles. Even factoring in the fluctuating exchange rate and a decent following wind this is still about 175 roubles more than I am willing to cough. I trudge back to the hotel with nothing to show for my travels except a Mars bar and some bottled water. Later that night I meet up with my friend. He has something he wants to show me and we can have dinner when we get there. I meet him in the lobby and we set off on foot heading away from the centre this time. The streets are more residential and the roads less wide as we walk for about twenty-five minutes. He tells me about the people he has met trying to find investors for his business. ?It?s all about the right contacts,? he says. ?I had to get the approval of this guy at the bank just to meet some of the big players. I?m telling you, this city is buzzing. I?d move here tomorrow but my wife would divorce me before I made it to Departures.? We arrive at our destination and it is genuinely impressive. Several of Moscow?s newly minted billionaires have donated generously to re-establish the enormous building in front of us. Seven floors housing the Choral Synagogue, and a fully fitted gym and basketball court. Years ago, Jews were forced out of Russia because of the Cossack penchant for pillaging. Later, Jews were refused exit visas to leave Russia and persecuted for practicing their religion. Today the entrance to the Jewish Community centre is guarded by several burly blond security types. I wonder if their Cossack ancestors appreciate the gorgeous irony. Inside, we are just in time for the evening prayers. The synagogue is huge but sparsely populated on this weekday evening. The majority of those present are young and prodigiously bearded having been co-opted from their own communities in Israel and the US to make up the numbers and provide a solid foundation to Moscow?s reluctant returnees to religious life. As a teenager I marched through London demanding justice for Russian Refuseniks (?? 5, 6, 7, 8. Let our people emigrate?). Since then, I have walked the streets of Germany and ridden a train in Poland, but being part of the quorum for the memorial prayer for the dead in Moscow is a new kind of life-affirming experience. One floor below the synagogue there are two restaurants ? one meat and one dairy. If you find another religion with closer links to food then you can baptize me in gravy and sign me up. Given that dairy?s for fairies, we opt for a subsidized slap up of lamb ch ops and chips with lashings of full-fat cola. Life, as Mike Leigh once pointed out, is sweet. Back at the hotel VH1 are running a Bands Reunited New Wave special. Nick Beggs in a skirt is preternaturally preserved while Limahl looks ravaged by years of pop insignificance. Then they play the video for ?Ooh To Be Ah? which inexplicably features Kenny Everett and Christopher Timothy. Moscow is turning out to be stranger than I could have imagined. During the night my colleague arrives and we meet for breakfast the following morning. The hotel generously provides a car service to take us to the show. A snip at 20 dollars. Later we find that if we had asked for a taxi instead it would have cost us less than half for the same journey. I feel greener than the fresh cut grass. The show is at Gostiny Dvor on Ilyinka street right next to Red Square. The hall is a magnificent, glass-roofed, white-tiled extravagance and we are optimistic as we set up our booth that we will meet hundreds of clients and do great business. Ten minutes before the doors open we are still waiting for the interpreter to arrive. Without saying much, it?s pretty clear that we are both hoping for someone special, easy on the eye with a sparkling personality. Then, ?Gentlemen, I am your interpreter.? The bad news is our interpreter has more facial hair than the two of us together. The less bad news is that Alexander is a charming chap in his early 40s with a healthy respect for idiom. Then the show starts. Anyone who has ever manned a booth at a trade show can vouch that it is simultaneously exhausting and dull. This one is extra dull with chocolate sauce and crushed nuts. There are simply not enough people coming in and certainly not enough from the sector we represent. People drift by all day. A lot of the men look sort of like John Alderton. That?s Thomas and Sarah Alderton with a moustache, not the Please Sir! version. As for the women, I?m not sure whether the average height is greater than I?m used to, but there is definitely a preponderance of extremely tall fillies in startlingly short skirts. There are plenty of peroxide ?dos and spiky boots, but between the clichés I spot some elegant and sophisticated-looking locals. The show closes at seven and the crowd spills out onto the street. We walk a little way and enter what seems like an American-style shopping mall. I buy a small set of matroishka dolls from a concession. Only 60 roubles. There are more brand names with a peculiar emphasis on lingerie. You can say what you like about modern Russia but they like their knickers posh. I wander past racks of lacy underthings imagining Vladimir Ilyich turning in his tomb. And then as I step out of the expensive underwear emporium I find myself in the middle of Red Square directly facing Lenin?s final home. The square is huge with white lines painted in to help the troops march straight. Lenin?s Tomb is on the West side directly facing La Perla and the host of other stores flanking the enormous GUM department store. Facing South I take in St. Basil?s Cathedral ? a garishly coloured and freakishly turreted monstrosity that looks like it came brick by brick from the Magic Kingdom. The story goes that Ivan the Terrible had the architect blinded so that he could never again design something so? unique. I have a feeling that if I stare at it much longer I?m likely to claw my own eyes from their sockets. Heading North out of the square I?m approached by a deaf man who wants to sell me an army cap covered with badges for 10 Euro. On the other side of the gate there is a crowd of people around some brass markings set in the ground. One young person stands in the middle and mumbles a prayer before throwing her loose change over her shoulder. The sight of elderly women scrabbling on the floor for a few coins turns my stomach and I head back to the hotel. Later that night the hotel lobby is populated with great-looking hookers. They sit chatting to each other and smoking, or reading to themselves patiently. None of them look at me and nobody calls my room. I don?t know whether I have been slighted. The rest of the week passes quickly. We make some decent contacts and I learn how to order a city cab. On the way back to the airport, my taxi is beaten from the lights by a souped-up Lada with racing stripes and a foot high spoiler. It is a final reminder of what I have discovered during my stay. Despite warnings and preconceptions, Russia is firmly neither one thing nor the other. My ticket to Russia was not from the UK but was remarkably cheap because it included a Saturday night stay. My hotel, on the other hand, cost an arm and a leg. The exchange rate is 50 roubles to the pound.

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                        • Bugsy Malone (DVD) / DVD / 4 Readings / 7 Ratings
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                          23.03.2004 05:24
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                          • "No \"where are they now?\" feature"

                          He's a sinner, candy-coated, for all his friends he always seems to be alone, but they love him... Bugsy Malone. I can tell you my birthday wish now because I'm fairly sure it's never going to come true. During the seventies whenever I had to blow out the candles I used to wish that I was one of the Brady Bunch. I don?t know where I thought I'd fit in, but I just thought they were fantastic. Sometime around then I remember watching Nationwide when they were showing the auditions for Annie in the West End. I thought it was a disgrace that they were only auditioning girls and I used to practice in front of the mirror dreaming of my big break. Bugsy Malone brings together all those crazy childhood feelings of wanting to be a star and wanting to sing my way to happiness and wanting to be surrounded by other kids who lived to sing and dance. I loved it the first time I saw it and I loved it when I watched it with my three children last week. The movie is set in prohibition-era America. Bugsy, our hero, works both sides of the law without doing any real harm. He makes his money scouting boxing talent and doing odd-jobs for Fat Sam, mob boss and owner of his own speakeasy. One night at Fat Sam's where "anybody who is anybody will soon walk through the door," Bugsy bumps into a doll named Brown ("Brown? Sounds like a loaf of bread."). Blousey Brown ("Sounds like a stale loaf of bread."). Blousey is there trying to audition for Sam to become one of his chorus girls but, like so many others before her, Sam tells her to come back tomorrow. The speakeasy is full of colourful characters such as Razamataz the bandleader; Tallulah, star performer and Sam's main squeeze and Fizzy the clumsy cleaner who dreams of being on the stage. Like Blousey, Fizzy is always being fobbed off with the carelessly cruel promise of "tomorrow". But when the club empties for the night and Fizzy is left alone to wash the floor he retrieves his dance shoes from their resting place and pours his heart into a song. "Tomorrow never comes. What kind of a fool do they take me for? Tomorrow - a resting place for bums, a trap set in the slums but I know the score. I won't take no for an answer, I was born to be a dancer now." Back on the street, Sam's gang of hoodlums take some time out to revel in their badness: "We coulda been anything that we wanted to be. But don't it make your heart glad? That we decided - a fact we take pride in. We became the best at being bad." But there's trouble around the corner. Dandy Dan's rival mob have got their hands on a dangerous new weapon and they?re looking to muscle in on Fat Sam's action. The town ain't big enough for both Fat Sam and Dandy Dan. Before our tale is told, it's going to get real messy and not in the way you'd expect. Along the way Bugsy uncovers a potential prizefighter, falls in love with Blousey and helps Sam fight back against the nasty tactics of Dandy Dan after Sam's boys are rubbed out. Against almost insurmountable odds, our hero helps even the balance between the two rivals and sets the stage for the big rumble. The recently released DVD restores this long deleted movie to its place in the forefront of post 60s musicals. The extras include a witty and warm full length commentary from writer/director Alan Parker as well as a tremendous feature which sets the finished movie against a detailed comic book-style storyboard so you can see where every shot came from and the development of the director's vision. This was Alan Parker's first full-length film as a director. He had carried the idea of the movie around with him for a couple of years before a young producer called David Puttnam started to push him towards making the movie. They both knew the key was in the songs, but Parker didn't have a note in his head or any idea where to get one. Puttnam asked him who his first choice of songwriter was and Parker named Paul Williams. You may not think you know Paul Williams, but you know his work. Williams wrote the lyrics for 'Rainy Days and Mondays'. He put the words to 'We've Only Just Begun'. He shared an Oscar with Barbra for 'Evergreen'. Best of all, Paul Williams wrote about "the lovers, the dreamers and me" in my favourite Muppet moment - 'Rainbow Connection'. Williams took Alan Parker's vision and composed a near-perfect collection of songs ideally suited to the story and its characters. Perhaps the only false step in the whole process was the decision by Parker and Williams to have the actors mime the songs while professional singers were dubbed in. It was an artistic decision meant to stretch the fourth wall and further highlight the artifice of the production, but it still jars today as the original intention remains lost on the audience. On an interesting side note, in the climactic scene when the crashing piano chord gives the rival gangs pause, it is the voice of Paul Williams himself coming from the mouth of Razamataz the band leader. The actors, many of them appearing in front of a camera for the first (and last) time are as good as you could expect. Scott Baio makes a charming and disarming Bugsy. He manages the little movements like setting his hat further back on his head with panache and he sells every one of Bugsy's lame jokes as if they were precious stones. Florrie Dugger as Blousey carries the weight of every young actress who arrives in the big city with stars in her eyes. World-weary yet inescapably optimistic about life and love, it's a winning performance. The supporting cast are equally strong. Fat Sam and Tallulah are both played with verve and a sense of style. I know John Cassisi who played Sam never made another movie, but I haven't been able to trace the post-Bugsy career of Jodie Foster. Who knows what she got up to? Further down the bill there are a few names worth spotting. Dexter Fletcher gets a big laugh for his small role as Babyface. Mark Curry, erstwhile presenter of Blue Peter, plays a theatre producer trying to lure his star played by Bonnie Langford back to the stage. It's hard for me to express my affection for this movie. I remember searching for the soundtrack on cassette many years ago and being told it was only available on vinyl. I didn't have a record player. Then about four years ago I found the soundtrack on CD in a HMV store in Paris. Finally this year I used some of the free money I earned doing Internet surveys to bid for the DVD on Ebay. I knew that I loved the movie, but the big question was "does it still play in Peoria?" I sat my three kids (9, 7 and 5) on the couch and gave them some information about Prohibition. I explained what a speakeasy was and how organized crime had grown powerful in a time where the will of the people rebelled against the draconian legislation of an over-protective government. Then I pressed play. Five minutes in my beautiful five year old flower said to me "What, daddy, all the grown-ups in it are children?" The boys were too astonished for questions. Days later they are still trying to catch all the words to 'So You Wanna Be a Boxer'. All we know for certain is that: "You might as well quit, If you haven't got it." Bugsy Malone has 'it' in spades. Bugsy Malone Special Edition is a Region 2 DVD rated U for Universal: Suitable for all. Amazon.co.uk is selling the DVD for an amazing £6.99 and you can buy it together with the CD soundtrack for less than 15 quid. Get it for someone you like because, as the song says: "You give a little love and it all comes back to you."

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                          • More +
                            13.02.2004 00:01
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                            • Oleta

                            If there was going to be a soundtrack to my 1980s this could well be it. This Greatest Hits album plays around with the release chronology (something I shall attempt to rectify in this review) but it does well to cover all but one of TFF?s singles between 1982 and 1992. With hindsight, Tears for Fears were a band that should never have had the success they did. Rising to prominence in 1982-1983, Curt Smith and Roland Orzabel seemed way too earnest to make it in a world dominated by the pop foppery of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Culture Club. They were always meant to be also-rans neither good-looking nor musically talented enough to make a lasting impression. And yet with a succession of appealingly crafted singles they eschewed contemporary trends and maintained a steady impact on the UK charts as well as the traditionally harder nut -- America?s AOR heartland. Leading off the first album, The Hurting, Tears for Fears released ?Mad World? in Autumn 1982. Arthur Janov has been an unlikely pop influence over several decades. Anyone who has listened to John Lennon?s harrowing screeches on ?Mother? from his Plastic Ono Band record will have heard the redemptive harshness of the Primal Scream. Tears for Fears named their first full length release after a phrase from Janov?s book Primal Scream and filled it with songs such as ?Suffer the Children?, ?Watch Me Bleed? and ?Start of the Breakdown?. In a chart filled with ?Hungry Like the Wolf?, ?True? and ?Church of the Poison Mind? these were never going to be floor fillers at the school disco. Even the album?s artwork ? a young child sitting head in hands against a stark white background ? distinguished Tears for Fea rs from their chart contemporaries. Mad World was a surprise top 3 hit much in the same way its cover version was a surprise Xmas No. 1 at the end of last year. ?The dreams in which I?m dying are the best I?ve ever had? was shocking enough when appended to the cult masterpiece Donnie Darko, try to imagine it in a Sunday afternoon chart rundown sandwiched between ?Heartbreaker? and ?Starmaker? (Dionne Warwick and the Kids from ?Fame? trivia fans). The second single from the album was ?Change?. Another synthesizer driven hit with Curt and his rat-tails on vocals and Roland looking chubby in the background. ?Where does the end of me become the start of you?? More unusually literate lyrics for a top 5 band and yet it was undeniably catchy. Tears for Fears were too pop for the NME and too ugly for Smash Hits ? no wonder we identified with them so readily. ?Pale Shelter? had been the band?s second single release after ?Suffer the Children? failed to chart in late 1981. In May 1983 it was remixed and became the third top 5 single for Tears for Fears. ?You don?t give me love, you give me cold hands? didn?t mean much to me as a callow teen but it?s a lyric that has come back to haunt me after 11 years of marriage to a woman with unbearably poor circulation. Bridging the gap until their next full length release was the single ?The Way You Are?. This is the one track from this period not included on this album and as its lyric suggests it seemed at the time the band was ?going far, getting nowhere?. It was almost another year until August 1984 when we heard from Curt and Roland again. It wasn?t an auspicious comeback. Mother?s Talk had an unnerving stop-start rhythm and a vocal from Roland that did not bode well for the forthcomi ng album release. Fortunately, when Songs from the Big Chair arrived it surfed into the nation?s consciousness on the wave of an entirely different single. ?Shout? was the result of Curt and Roland?s first attempt to write a tune to help them break America. Orzabel?s gruff vocal delivery coupled with Smith?s maturing work on the bass guitar made this a compelling single. The lyric is filled with anger and self-loathing as in ?They gave you life and in return you gave them hell? and yet the song works as classic 80s, Jonathan-King-on-No-Limits, Top-Gun-at-the-movies, power pop. The single returned Tears for Fears to the top 5 in early 1985 and the album hit No. 1 soon after. There can?t be many multi-platinum pop records that take their name from a TV mini series starring Sally Field as an extreme schizophrenic, but, if there are others, I?ll bet this is the best. The stirring success of ?Shout? still did not prepare anyone for the pop glory of their next single. Despite rarely appearing in anyone?s top 100 list, ?Everybody Wants to Rule the World? has one of the most recognizable openings of any song and remains a joy any time it comes on the radio. Still the lyrics were unremittingly gloomy ? ?Help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure, nothing ever lasts forever? ? but they were paired with some of the most uplifting white-boy soul singing of the decade. This was the record that conquered America for Curt and Roland, followed into the No. 1 spot there by ?Shout? and, for a brief moment in the long Summer of 1985, it looked like Tears for Fears really did rule the world. The fourth single from the Big Chair album was ?Head over Heels?. Lyrically more obtuse that other releases, it is a great track and a personal fav ourite from the Summer of O-levels, Live Aid and The Boss at Wembley Stadium. The last single from the album would never have been released were it not for the huge success of the previous singles. I Believe is a gospel-influenced, cry from the depths that provides welcome closure to the first two albums and the first stage of Tears for Fears career: ?I believe that when the hurting and the pain are gone, we will be strong.? Having missed the whole Band Aid bandwagon, there was some surprise when Curt and Roland agreed to rerecord their greatest hit in support of 1986?s Sport Aid. I remember pushing a temporarily injured friend six miles around Hyde Park in a wheelchair. As we crossed the finished line everyone was singing along to ?Everybody Wants to Run the World?. This charity version is not on this compilation but it?s a nice memory. And then nothing. I did my A-levels, left school, left the country and heard nothing. In the time that passed, I saw Madonna at Wembley, Clapton in Jerusalem, mourned the demise of The Smiths, marveled at the rise of George Michael and started going out with my wife. There were a group of us who had been taken by surprise by the Big Chair album. We used to swap Tears for Fears rumours from time to time. I read my first issue of Q Magazine in the 40+ degree heat of the Bet Shean valley ? Curt and Roland were recording again. I returned to the UK in Summer 1989 and Tears for Fears returned too. ?Sowing the Seeds of Love? is the second greatest ?popstar growing up? song ever recorded. Not afraid to reference their earlier songs (?if you?re a worried man then shout about it?), or openly criticize the government of the day (?Politician granny with your high ideals, have you no idea how the majority feels?), Roland was a man reborn in love and crowing about it to anyone with ears to listen. ?The love train rides from coast to coast, every minute of every hour. I love a sunflower and I believe in love power.? It was a magnificent comeback, a soaring Beatle-y excess of flower-fueled, horn-backed psychedelia. And with it, Tears for Fears burned out. Of course there was an album to go with the single and a couple more single releases from it. ?Woman in Chains? featured Oleta Adams, discovered as a lounge singer by the boys and brought to prominence. It?s not a bad song as such but there?s a heck of a difference between two sons of the 60s shielding their eyes against the blinding light of the ?love power? and two dorky white guys backing a talented black woman singing ?It?s a world gone crazy keeps a woman in chains.? Around this time I paid good money to see the band live at Wembley Arena. Never a great venue for intimacy, they seemed to be going through the motions having done all the hard work in the studio. ?Advice for the Young at Heart? was the final single release from The Seeds of Love. It is pedestrian mellow pop at best and dreary preaching at worst. Luckily it is the last track on the compilation and easily skipped. The bonus track included on this record when it was originally released in 1992 was the obligatory new song ?Laid so Low (Tears Roll Down)?. It?s a classic Orzabel track entirely reminiscent of ?Shout? which is not a bad thing and a welcome inclusion. After 1992, Curt formerly left the band while Roland continued to record under the name Tears for Fears. The best song to come from this era was 1993?s ?Break it Down Again? and could have been included on t his re-released version of the Greatest Hits without hurting anyone and certainly at the expense of ?Advice??. In conclusion. Yes, Tears for Fears were literate in a way that is often irritating. Yes they seemed to take themselves too seriously. Yes Curt and Roland are two of the worst popstar names ever. Ever. But, this compilation is a great reminder that sometimes things can work out even when they?re not supposed to. Sublime. Available everywhere for around a tenner. Amazon has second hand copies in the Marketplace from around seven quid.

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