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      19.11.2005 21:46
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      Why is it only women who should stay at home?

      I have been looking at some research which shows that today's generation of fathers are spending more time than ever with their children yet debates like this one always seem to centre around whether or not the mum stays at home and perform her "duties".
      Last year, my wife and I had our third child, and we had to look very hard into childcare costs should my wife return to work when our baby daughter was 10 months old. My wife looked into becoming a childminder, although for the work involved, the financial gain would not have been on a par. One night, she made an off the cuff remark along the lines of "why should I be looking for a change, when you could do it to". It had never dawned on us before, and as I earned about 40% less than my wife, it made complete sense. I decided to work evenings when the children are in bed, and my wife can pursue a career she has worked hard to build. Many people have asked me how I will cope, or commented how brave I am, and I just don't understand why. I am their dad, and am very hands on, so I will cope the same way my wife would, and why is it brave? Answers on a postcard please. I have to say, 3 months on, it is the best decision I have ever made.
      I come from a completely different family background, and my father was the traditional breadwinner, whilst my mother stayed at home, kept house and baked a lot. My relationship with my father is not a paricularly close one, and I do believe this is because he did not get an in depth understanding of me growing up from a child into the man I am today, and he has been one of my harshest critics, even hinting that he thinks I am not a real man! I don't really know my father, and I am so glad and so proud that I can be there for my children. I still provide financially from my part time work, and in fact I am earning as much as I was when I worked 12 hour shifts in a warehouse. How misled I was!!
      I hope that people will start to alter their attitudes, especially any stay at home mothers reading this who take every opportunity to slate women who work or even dare to forge careers once they have children.
      Parent and toddler groups are in the main still mother and toddler groups, and I have been a couple of times, but I detest being the token male, and I can only compare it to a woman walking into a traditional working men's club.
      My daughters are thriving on the attention they are receiving from me, and then once my wife arrives home, they all have quality time together when I go to work, so how can that be a bad thing?

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        07.10.2005 18:20
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        A good value health grill suitablr for all families

        Three years ago, my brother bought me a small George Foreman grill as a Christmas gift. I wasn’t as convinced as he was that it would be such a vital addition to my kitchen that I actually put it away in a cupboard and left it there until May the next year. I was having some work done to my kitchen so was without a cooker, and decided that it was time to give the George Foreman a try, and I have never looked back. I am a health grill convert through and through. Recently, my ‘Baby George’ gave up the ghost and it was time to replace it.

        I was in a for a pleasant surprise when I looked in the Argos catalogue as there wasn’t just my model to choose from, and many other manufacturers including Carl Lewis and Rosemary Conley had come onto the scene. After much deliberation, I decided to go for another George Foreman, but this time a more substantial model, “Café George” priced at £59.99, although Argos seem to have different offers at various times, and I have seen it as low as £39.99. We also received a “Baby George” for free, so passed it onto my mother in law in order to convert her too.

        This is the ideal grill for a family, as it can take up to 6 burgers or 6 chicken breasts at a time, although when had 8 burgers on not so long ago, so it is dependent on size. It has a top and bottom grill so that the food is cooked from both sides at the same speed which means there is less chance of it being burnt on the outside and raw in the middle, which has happened to me many times! The hinges also have a floating feature so you can cook panninis and other items which are too thick to allow the grill to completely close. It also has a timer feature so you can set the grill for a certain time, and it will switch off at the end of that time so that the food is not overcooked or burnt. To be honest, I have not used this timer much as I never really look at the time guidelines for food and tend to go with my own taste, although if you were busy trying to cook a meal this function is ideal.

        As with other grills, it is slightly angled downwards so that the fat and juices drip into a separate grease tray meaning your food is not greasy and as healthy as possible. You actually receive two of these trays so when one is being cleaned (it is dishwasher friendly) then you can still use the grill without making any mess on your benches. Any residue which is left on the grill is easily removed with the specially designed spatulas which fit in the grooves of the grill to remove the debris without damaging the cooking surface. Cleaning it is so much simpler than cleaning after a standard cooker grill pan.

        I would say that this model with it’s extra features makes it worth the extra money compared to the standard grills which are currently on the market.

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        • Britax Eclipse Si / Child Car Seat / 31 Readings / 27 Ratings
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          17.09.2005 10:56
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          A well priced, well thought out car seat.

          Time has gone so quickly since our second daughter was born, and last weekend, the time came to choose her ‘big girls’ seat. She has been using the rear facing seat that came with the Graco travel system we bought, but her feet were hanging over the edge, and once they weigh 20lbs it is advised you move to a bigger seat which is generally front facing. After some less than encouraging experiences with our local Toys R Us, we decided that Mothercare or Halfords was probably the best bet, especially as we wanted advice on which seat would be most suitable for our car, and then expert advice on fitting the seat. We didn’t make it to Halfords because Mothercare had a very comprehensive range of seats on offer, and as it was safety week, they were offering discounts on many of the seats we were looking at. We were driven slightly by price as the money tree we planted last year has failed to provide a cash windfall, so we narrowed it down to a Mothercare own make seat for £69.99 and the Britax Eclipse Si, which was originally £99.99 but reduced to £79.99 for the safety week event. Both were suitable for children aged approximately 9 months – 4 years, or 9 -18kg in weight. The consultant in the shop was happy to take both seats out to fit them in our car (Picasso) to check which one was best. She was able to fit the seat quickly and easily, however checked that we had seen what to do and also urged us to read the instruction booklet when we got home.

          They were both one piece seats, in that there was the actual car seat but this was attached to base unit which was secured by the car’s seat belt, rather than seat belts having to go across your child which can be awkward at the best of times. This means that you just clip and unclip your child in the seat when you want without having to ensure the seat is correctly positioned and secured each time you travel, although I would recommend you do check this every so often as the seat belt in our car has been knocked by other passengers before and the belt securing the base came loose. The base is quite bulky but no wider than the seat, and on further investigation, Britax claim it is a slim base to fit into the increasing range of slimmer cars available. We decided to try the seats in the back of the car, however they can be fitted if you disable any airbags, but I just feel safer with them in the back.

          The side wings which are the side impact protection on both seats were sufficient, however the Britax offered more bulk and in my eyes protection, and I was sure our daughter would be safer in this seat should the worst happen. The rest of the seat appears to be equally well padded, ensuring maximum comfort for our daughter. The child safety straps (2 over shoulder and 1 crotch) are also padded so that they do not dig into the chest, shoulder or crotch area, which are small but very important details. This harness is also height adjustable to ensure it can accommodate your growing child. Also, as our daughter is still so young, she tends to fall asleep quite often on car journeys, and this often means children her size sleep with their heads flopping forwards which must be uncomfortable, and with this in mind, Britax have a 5 position recline facility on this seat. It is a simple pull handle at the front of the seat, and it can be reclined without disturbing your child.

          Our daughter immediately seemed at home in the seat, and it’s high position meant not only could she see us better, but she could also see out of the window, which has amused her a great deal so far. We were happy and reassured by this and also when our research showed that Britax seats are the most thoroughly tested out of any car seats available at the moment. We have previously used a Britax seat when we had our first daughter and were impressed with the features it offered, albeit on a rear facing newborn seat, so we were confident that chosing the Britax brand meant we would get a quality product which fulfilled our requirements. This belief is backed up when you read the details on their website.

          The seat comes in many colours, whilst the design is always a check from what I have seen. The one we chose is a grey checked design, although my first choice was the charcoal fleece lined model (Stirling), but this was an extra £20, and I could not justify it. The covers are removable and washable which is ideal, otherwise the seat would look grubby within a few weeks. I would recommend the seat for a number of reasons:

          1. It comes from a good brand name who are open about the tests they do on their seats.
          2. It is in the mid price range so should suit most budgets
          3. It is easy to fit and use on a daily basis
          4. The features such as the recline make sure your child is very comfortable
          5. The covers are washable!!

          I am happy with the purchase and will update this should anything change.

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          • Samsung SGH-D500 / Mobile Phone / 19 Readings / 17 Ratings
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            11.06.2005 10:01
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            I am a sucker for the latest gadgets and I renew my mobile phone every year to keep up with the latest developments as they change so quickly. At the end of last year, after reading many reviews and much deliberation, I chose to go with the recently released Samsung D500, which I received for free on my current tariff with Orange which costs me £25 per month, which considering the phone was costing in excess of £350 was a good deal.

            The phone is a sliding model, in that the keys slide down from behind the front panel when you want to use them which makes it a very neat compact phone to carry. When it rings, you either press the answer button or just slide the pad down to answer the call. It only weighs 99g too so it won’t weigh down your pocket, and you won’t even notice it in your bag.

            The navigation pad looks like it will be really fiddly to use, but as a man with big hands, I can assure you it is comfortable as are the soft keys either side of it, and it is not too sensitive that small touches on the keys take you places you don’t want to go. Everything is accessed quickly and easily from the home page which is clear to read on the colour screen which is standard with this phone.

            Text and photo messages are made simple with predictive texting which can be switched off if you so desire. The polyphonic ringtones are very clear, and I have downloaded some music tracks which are now my ringtones, and they are instantly recognizable as the quality is that good.

            The camera is 1.3 megapixel, and whilst the images are good, they are not a patch on the images captured by my wife’s Motorola. The camera lens sits on the rear topside of the phone, and has a small mirror next to it should you desire to take some photos of your gorgeous self! It is simple to use, just point and click. It does have a zoom on it, but as with any digital photography, the image becomes slightly more grainy, the more you zoom in. As I only use the camera for capturing spontaneous shots where the quality is not the issue, it certainly fits the bill. Also, you can record video with this phone, and although I have not done this yet, I will be over the summer months when we go out and about as a family and I don’t want to carry the camcorder with me. It is similar to using the camera, just point and film, whilst you can also receive and video footage from friends whose phones have the same capabilities.

            It has an infrared port on the side of the phone which I have used easily and it transfers information extremely quickly. Bluetooth is also included on this model, although the Motorola and this phone have a huge problem finding each other using this method. This model has more memory (80mb) than I can use, so I cannot imagine many users finding that this does not suit their needs.

            One of my favourite functions is the speakerphone. It has an excellent level of clarity and allows my wife to hear all of my conversations instead of constantly whispering “what did they say?” whilst I am talking!

            It claims to have over 10 days standby time, although I would dispute that and say maybe 6 at a push before it needs charging again, although this phone charges up very quickly. Other features which I have not fully tested or experienced are triband, e mail, games, MP3 player, voice recorder, calendar, and the handy media album where you can store your pictures and sounds.

            All in all, it is a very impressive phone, and may be the one that makes me keep a phone for more than a year.

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              07.11.2004 20:58
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              As many of you know, I love music, and try to experience and enjoy as many types of music as I can, however as hard as I try, there are 3 types of music I really struggle to enjoy, or even appreciate. They are country and western, jazz and finally classical. I was having a discussion with another member of this site, and they recommended that I try watching the Classic FM channel on Sky. I duly took their advice, and saw a track by ‘The Opera Band’, and whilst it didn’t immediately grab me, I took enough notice of it to look out for it on one of my outings to my local library. I got it about 2 months ago, and it has opened my ears somewhat to classical music.

              There are 12 tracks on this album which was released at the beginning of 2004.

              Prayer In The Night (Sarabande)
              Senza Catene (Unchained Melody)
              Canto Alla Vita
              Vita Mia
              Requiem For A Soldier (Band Of Brothers)
              Whisper Of Angels (Pavane)
              Pearl Fishers (Au Fond du Temple Saint)
              Soave Sia il Vento (Cosi Fan Tutte)
              Nimrod (Lux Aeterna)
              Song To The Moon (Rusalka)
              Zadok the Priest
              Nessum Dorma (Turandot)

              The Opera Band are actually a quintet of classically trained musicians, who have a much purer sound than others I have heard. (Don’t even get me started on G4 who are currently on The X Factor). There are 2 sopranos which are clear to hear on the tracks, 2 tenors, and a basso, which is a term I was not familiar with, although from the sound, it would seem that this is a tone lower than the tenor.

              It is a pretty light album in terms of how the music affects you, but that is in now way a criticism, as in the past I have not enjoyed classical music which I have found to be a sound that can overtake even the thoughts in your head!! This album is full of songs which sit nicely in the background waiting to be listened to and appreciated, but not demanding you to do so. This group succeed where the likes of Bond have failed, as they do try to make the music more modern and appealing, but they don’t rely on changing the tempo too much, and leave it down to the arrangements which are fresh and easy on the ear. They take familiar songs and mix them with no so well known tracks to ensure that the listener has a good balanced dose of the music, and I for one did enjoy it.

              The album is not something I would sit and listen to intently, but as background accompaniment to a meal or a book it is an excellent choice, and I have since added it to my collection for the bargain price of £4 from Ebay. This is the kind of album that classical avoiders should try out, as it may just be the one that changes their mind.

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                07.11.2004 00:32
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                Sometimes when I am in my local library, I like to take a browse through their CD collection, and often I choose a wildcard, a band or an artist that I have never heard of just to see if I can widen my musical taste and knowledge in anyway. Last week, I chose this album, and had no idea how popular this band were, as I had never actually heard of them before, so I apologise in advance if I do not do them justice in this review!

                This album is a greatest hits type collection, however unlike so many others which are released, this album does not contain anything new, so straight away will only appeal to die hard fans who want to own each and every album, or people who just like a few of their songs, and don’t want to have to wade through the rest of their music to listen to them.

                First released in 1972, and included on many film soundtracks, ‘A Horse With No Name’ was probably the only track I had heard of from this band before I listened to this CD, and even then I couldn’t have told you their name. Not surprisingly, there is a country influence to the song, and that is a theme that carries on throughout the item to varying degrees.

                ‘I Need You’ is the most boring, repetitive and frankly morose song that I have heard in a long long time. It fades out to nothing, and had me scratching my head because even when I listened to it again, I just missed the point totally. ‘Sandman’ is not to be confused with Metallica’s ‘Enter The Sandman’, unless you want to be very disappointed. This is a guitar lead track, where again the lyrics are repetitive and monotonous.

                ‘Ventura Highway’ by all accounts is another well known and cherished song amongst fans of the band. It sounds very much like ‘Horse With No Name’, and I think for that reason, it is one of the more likeable tracks in the collection. ‘Don’t Cross The River’ ranks alongside Chris De Burgh’s ‘Don’t Blame The Ferryman’ in terms of quality and subject matter…..enough said I think!

                ‘To Each His Own’ reminds me of the theme music from ‘Cheers’. It is nice enough, but just lacks some grit and substance. This is all just too wishy washy for me, and ‘Only In Your Heart’ is in much the same vein, even though the band try hard to emulate the sound of The Beatles when they were at their best. ‘Muskrat Love’ is a song where the title did not fill me with much hope, and once again, I just hated the song. It sounds like a very amateur Bee Gees tribute act. The harmonies just don’t work, and the understated music needs to be beefed up if it is to make an impact.

                I am not sure if the lead singer had a sore throat when he recorded ‘Rainbow Song’, but he sounds hoarse, and as if he is struggling to hit even the easiest of notes. In terms of 1970’s ballads, I have to concede that ‘She’s Gonna Let You Down’ is not too bad. It is melancholy, but the lyrics are more complex than any of the other songs that have gone before.

                There is a distinct Spanish influence on the up tempo ‘Tin Man’, and it works quite well, resulting in quite a sultry and very listenable track, but very quickly, the cowboys ride back into town with the mundane ‘Lonely People’, which is quickly followed up with the horrendous ‘Sister Golden Hair’. The vocals on this are absolutely terrible, and it sounds like the singer is being gripped in a particularly sensitive part which has knocked his voice up an octave or two.

                ‘Daisy Jane’ is the girl the lead singer wants to go back home and find, and I can only hope she has left town and not stopped running, because if he catches her, she will suffer a long and painful death at the hands of his clichéd lyrics and warbling.

                ‘Woman Tonight’ is the most confusing song on the whole album, as one minute the singer thinks he is Mick Jagger, and then the next he has changed to Bob Marley. It is absolutely bizarre to listen to, and certainly not an experience I will be looking to repeat anytime in the near future.

                ‘Today’s The Day’ slows the tempo right back down, and settles into the mundane genre the band seem so content to churn out song after song. I admit I only listened to the whole album so that I could honestly review it on here, because otherwise I would have switched off long long ago.

                After chasing Daisy, the singer moves his attention to ‘Amber Cascades’, which if I have read the song right is not actually a woman, but a body of water!!! ‘God Of The Sun’ goes back to the ‘Cheers’ style song, where the piano player skips across the keys, and the rest of the band try to harmonise with the lead singer, with less than impressive results!

                Nearly there I promise, only 5 more songs to endure. Don’t sigh! You’re reading a couple of lines about them, I am the one having to endure listening to them!! ‘Political Poachers’ is the band showing that they have some social awareness, but again it just lacks any grit for me to take it seriously as any kind of commentary.

                Apparently the band are still going strong, so I am sure their theme tune must be ‘Survival’. It is one of the few tracks which has any energy, and sounds like the band actually tried to make a good song. It is bizarre how so much rubbish can last through more than 3 decades.

                Whilst listening to the dreary track, ‘The Last Unicorn’, it dawned on me that I am grateful for one thing with this album…..that it is not a double CD!!! This song sounds like it was written as the soundtrack for a Disney film, but rejected because it is just crap!!!‘You Can Do Magic’ and ‘The Border’ bring this boring experience to a predictable lacklustre ending, and I am very glad. Never again!!!!

                There is a booklet inside the CD which gives a history of the band, but frankly after being subjected to their music, I had no desire to know how and when they got together, and the journey they have made together since. The music is very dated, and has not aged well at all, so I would not recommend you part with any of your hard earned cash to listen to this CD, but if you are still interested then try your local library or Ebay, and you may save some money.

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                • Just Cause (DVD) / DVD / 22 Readings / 19 Ratings
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                  21.10.2004 00:32
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                  The tag line to this film is “Buried deep in the Florida Everglades is a secret that can save an innocent man or let a killer kill again”. Now, as someone who really enjoys a good thriller, this looked like it would be just up my street. I duly paid a few pounds for it from Ebay, (which is why I am only reviewing it now, when it is nearly 10 years old), and began to watch with baited breath.

                  We are quickly introduced to Harvard teacher, Paul Armstrong, played by the unmistakeable Sean Connery. He is taking part in a talk/debate about the rights and wrongs of capital punishment. He is not getting it all his own way, and when victim’s rights are raised, he ends up coming off second best. A woman has been watching Armstrong’s debate, and it is immediately clear that her motive is not to hear him speak. She approaches him and asks him to help her get her grandson off Death Row. Without much persuasion, and totally against the grain (as he has not been in a courtroom as lawyer for over two decades), he agrees to help, and is unaware of the atmosphere it will create in the local town.

                  Next, we are introduced to the Death Row inmate, Bobby Earl Ferguson, played by Blair Underwood, and it is at this point that the film runs into difficulty. Underwood is too much of a pretty boy to be considered for the part of a convicted child rapist, murderer and drug dealer. He lacks the aggression that is needed to make this character believeable. We are told that before his conviction, he had gone straight and become a successful student with a promising university place offered to him. This is believeable, but there would still be traces of the old bad boy, and this man is portayed as holier than Jesus at times! He is not a stranger to Armstrong, as we soon learn that Armstrong’s wife Laurie prosecuted a case where Bobby was accused of child kidnap, but claimed he was set up. Small world eh?

                  Bobby Earl’s defence centres around the fact that he was beaten into giving a confession by a team of officers led by Officer Brown, played by the highly watchable Laurence Fishburne. Brown is adamant that at the end of the day, the right man is serving time, and refuses to consider than anything untoward has gone on, and it is from here I just began to dread the inevitable, predictable plot twists, and without giving anything away, my fears were to prove true.

                  There is the frankly unnecessary inclusion of serial killer Blair Sullivan, played by Ed Harris, who is held with Earl, and hints at having important information. The scriptwriters tried to be too clever, and it is a gamble which does not pay off, and I am left feeling that I am watching something which does not feel real, believable or most importantly, enjoyable.

                  Connery is very watchable, and takes on the limited role to the best of his ability, and in all honestly stops the film becoming a complete write off. I am a big fan of Fishburne, but I have to wonder if he actually read the script before accepting the role, as his stupid one liners overshadow what is actually a compelling visual performance. Harris is over the top, which is unusual for him, as I normally find he plays his characters just to the right level. Underwood is, as I have said, totally out of his depth with this role, and it shows from the first scene.

                  Director Arne Glimcher takes on a pretty big job considering his previous offering was the very mediocre ‘Mambo Kings’, which I switched off less than halfway through. I was surprised to see him tackling such a different genre, but hoped that his debut was a blip. In a way, I was right, and he does a better job, but this time he just plays it too safe and does not push the action as much as he could have, and ends up with nothing more than a copycat film made up of some of his favourite films!

                  The characters were just too predictable to be enjoyable, and there were many times that I found myself shaking my head with frustration at some of their action. I felt like I had seen it all before, just done much better. The people behind the film have relied on the fact that the film is full of so many bankable names, that they took their eye off the ball, and failed to give them a film to match their talents.

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                  • Legends of the Fall (DVD) / DVD / 17 Readings / 14 Ratings
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                    19.10.2004 23:49
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                    Raking through our pretty extensive and varied film selection, my wife decided that it was a long time since we had watched ‘Legends Of The Fall’, and that last night was the night to put that right. Being truthful, I was dreading the thought, as I don’t think I managed to sit through it all first time round as it was just too much of a romantic girlie film for me, but eager to please, I vowed to stay put last night.

                    The film was first released 10 years ago, when Brad Pitt was only starting off on his climb up the Hollywood fame ladder. The film is based on a book by Jim Harrison, but then isn’t that so often the case nowadays, but sadly most of the time the films falls well short of the literary version. Edward Zwick is in the director’s chair, and I am sure that this is not his first film, however his is not a name that conjures up images of successful and enjoyable films. The film focuses on the lives and loves of an early 20th century family who live in the mountains of Montana. It is narrated by Decker, an Indian man who lived with, and was practically part of the family. He lives with the family, along with his wife and daughter Isabelle Too, who is named after the departed Mrs Ludlow.

                    Head of the family, is the father, bitter ex serviceman William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins), who is a firm but fair, and without doubt a devoted father to his three sons, Alfred (Aidan Quinn), Tristan (Brad Pitt) and Samuel (Henry Thomas). Throughout the film, we watch the brothers grow and develop very different characters. Alfred is driven and determined to make a life away from the mountains in the “big city”, and finally gain his father’s approval, as he has always been biased towards Tristan. Tristan is happier at home, working and living from the land, whilst mousey Samuel is intelligent and more thoughtful than his older, brasher brothers, and is the first to bring home a bride to be. Susannah(Julia Ormond) is the perfect match for Samuel, and it seems that his simple life is to be complete. Susannah brings a female influence into the house, which has been missing since William’s wife Isabelle decided that life in the mountains for not for her.

                    The family are a solid unit until the call of war takes the three brothers away to fight against the increasingly powerful German forces. Susannah begs Samuel not to go, but his need to do his duty is a stronger calling. They all witness different events, and experience different traumas, which when they return home, affects them all in different, but dramatic ways.

                    I will not spoil the film by telling you what happens to the brothers whilst they are at war, as it would certainly prove too much of a spoiler. All I will say, is that second time round, I found this really enjoyable, and far less girlie than I remember. It has got romance, but that is balanced with equal amounts of bitterness, hatred, jealousy, rivalry, bloodshed and death.

                    The characters are well developed, and the actors chosen to portray them are very watchable. Hopkins looks much older than his years, and puts in the dependable, steady performance he has become renowned for. Pitt delivers an excellent performance as the troubled middle brother who feels that life has dealt him too many hard blows and the only way to cope is to fight back. This kind of role really suits Pitt, as it allows him to show he has true talent, rather than being the stereotypical pretty face so many people have him pigeonholed as. I like Aidan Quinn, and I think he is an underrated actor, and whilst he is a good choice for Alfred, Pitt’s performance leaves him in the shade. Julia Ormond sets foot into a predominantly male film, and she does well, although at times she was too wet, and I was sure some of her experiences would have left her a tougher, even quite bitter person.

                    James Horner provides the score for the film, and whilst it certainly adds to the ambience of the film, it is not the kind of music which immediately comes to mind when recalling the film. The cinematography is at times stunning, but then that is more down to the landscapes than the talent of the technical team, but then it would be hard to take on nature and beat it!!

                    I am glad I gave this film a second chance, and I would recommend you do the same if you think you will not like it.

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                    • Cookworks Rice Cooker / Slow Cooker / 19 Readings / 16 Ratings
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                      17.10.2004 18:31
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                      Pasta and rice are probably the basis of most of the meals in our house. I have never found pasta a problem to cook, but when it comes to rice, I alternate between cooking the rice for what seems like an eternity and still nearly cracking the enamel on my teeth when I eat it, to boiling it too quickly and being left with a sticky clump of grains. Never ever do I get the fluffy rice that I see on so many television adverts, and even boil in the bag isn’t foolproof I assure you!!

                      One day, whilst waiting in Argos to collect something, I spotted a display of various kitchen items, one of which was a rice cooker priced at £9.99. I did not give it much thought, and probably more down to boredom than anything else, I bought it there and then, thinking if it was rubbish, at least I had spent less than a tenner. The model I bought was the RCG-1500 which is in the current Argos catalogue for £17.99 (catalogue number 422/0790).

                      The cooker needs to be plugged into the mains, however the cord is detachable to make the cooker easy to move about, and also much easier to store. The cooker itself is made of a ceramic style material, and then the inner section is a removable metal dish, and this is all covered with a glass lid so you can keep an eye on what is being cooked at anytime. It is very simple to use. First off you choose how much rice you want to make, and remember that whatever quantity you start with will be doubled by the end of the cooking process. Each cup of rice must be matched with 1.25 cups of warm water. You place it all in the metal pan, and then slightly twist it to ensure that the heating element at the bottom of the cooker is in contact with the pan.

                      Switch the cooker on at the mains, and the indicator light will show yellow. Flick the cook switch and this will immediately change to red to indicate that the cooker is working. It is here that the rice cooker really becomes a winner for me. There are no timers to listen out for, or guide times that you have to follow, the cooker simply cooks the rice and switches off automatically when it is ready. This of course minimizes the chance of over/undercooking.

                      The indicator light then returns to yellow, and at this point you should leave the lid on for at least another 10 minutes, or until you are ready to eat, and this ensures that the rice is completely cooked. Once the rice is cooked, as I have said you don’t even have to eat it there and then as the cooker will keep it warm for at least 1-2 hours after cooking at a steady 60 – 80 degreees Celsius, although the longer you leave it, the less moist the rice becomes, and it does have a tendency to stick to the bottom of the pan a little.

                      It is easy to clean, and I find that simply putting the pan into some warm soapy water takes off any residue, and leaves the pan ready to go into action again. I also cook pasta in here if I am making a lot and don’t have the time to keep checking on it, and the results have been just as impressive. I would highly recommend this to you all, but be careful your other half will start to take liberties and leave you to do all of the cooking because you have a new toy!!!

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                        16.10.2004 13:52
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                        Norah Jones is someone who I really didn’t think would be my cup of tea, but when my wife raved on so much about her debut album, I relented and gave it a listen, and was immediately transfixed by her voice and the songs that she sang. From that day, her album became a firm favourite in my CD player, alongside Alkaline Trio and The Foo Fighters! At least I can profess to have a varied musical taste!

                        Her debut album won countless awards, and for me as a music lover, I think it is always so hard to follow up an album like that, and many have fallen at the wayside trying, so the question on many people’s lips was “Could Norah Jones buck the trend of one album wonders which seem to be ten a penny at the moment?” I hoped she could, and was pleased to see the release of this album was not greeted with the hype that it could have been, but I wish people would stop referring to her music as jazz, because it really does not give the true picture of her music, and whilst there are jazz influences, there are also soul and sometimes pop and even country influences as well. It is this diversity which makes me enjoy her music so much.

                        ‘Sunrise’ was chosen as the track to greet the listener, and for me it was a sensible choice, as it is very similar to the music from her first album, so immediately the listener is in their comfort zone. My wife appreciates the emotion of the songs more than I do, but I can still sit back and enjoy the songs for what they are, which is lyrically and musically very pure and consistently enjoyable. This track is heavy on the guitars and piano, but it is the vocals which draw the listener in, as Jones’ warm, almost velvety tones tell the story of two lovers who hate to be parted once they see the sunrise. A very nice track. 8/10.

                        ‘What Am I To You’ slinks across the speakers, and Jones’ vocals sound almost effortless on the opening of this track. It is an honest and open song, where she tells her partner what they mean to her, and then ask them to do the same, as she doubts whether his feelings match hers. It was in the middle of this track that I realized she was easily living up to the massive expectations placed upon her, because she stayed true to what she loved doing, even if it was not following the popular commercial route. It may have been a gamble, but it was certainly one that has paid off. An excellent track. 9/10.

                        For me, ‘Those Sweet Words’ is about finding out how someone feels about you, but not quite believing it. It is a dreamy song musically, and one which will always chill you out rather than getting any blood pumping. It is a nice enough song, but there is just something missing that I can’t put my finger on. The more I listen to it, the more I am inclined to think it lacks emotion, but I know many who disagree with me. 5/10

                        ‘Carnival Town’ is the slowest track on the album, and sounds very much like it belongs on a film soundtrack, accompanying a scene of much pondering! It is a strange subject choice, and basically says that although you may laugh and have fun at the carnival, you will still be a lonely saddo when you get home!! There is an underlying humour to this song, but is it just me who sees that! 6/10

                        ‘In The Morning’ is one of my favourite tracks on the album. There are many different takes on this song, as the lyrics can be construed to mean many things. She sings about an addiction, which could be to a person, or a substance such as caffeine! The vocals are quite gravelly at times on this track, and I love that quality to her voice, and when she rocks it a little, it works for me everytime! 9/10

                        ‘Be Here To Love Me’ is a cover version, but I am afraid I know very little about the original, so I can tell you no more than that. It sounds more country than the other tracks that have been included on this album, and always gives me the mental picture of her sitting at some barn dance on a stack of hay while singing this to the dancegoers. Not being a lover of country music, I like this toned down version very much. 8/10

                        ‘Creepin In’ is a song you would refuse to listen to if I analysed the subject matter too much as it is about a holey shoe! When I tell you that this is a duet with country queen Dolly Parton, you will not be surprised to hear that this is an uptempo, banjo playing, thigh slapping, foot stomping good old country song. I hate it!!! It is repetitive and just to twee to be enjoyable. 3/10

                        Back to a more soulful tone with ‘Toes’. It is a nice song, which would be perfect on a hot summer day, but it is cold and grey outside, and dipping my toes in the local river is the last thing on my mind at the moment, and even Norah’s voice can’t persuade me otherwise. 7/10

                        ‘Humble Me’ is the standout track on the album for me. It is about a woman (maybe Norah) whose last relationship broke down, and secretly she is ashamed to think how badly she treat her ex. She finds herself in a situation where he is the only person who can help her, and she has to eat a huge chunk of humble pie and face up to the person she has been, and how much she misses what they had, and how he used to make her feel. It is a slow, country influenced ballad, but it is the lyrics and their delivery which makes this winner for me. 10/10

                        No matter how many times I listen to ‘Above Ground’ I just cannot make up my mind whether or not I like it. It is a sultry, jazz heavy song, which just feels that it needs that final push to deliver what it hints at. 5/10

                        The opening bars of ‘The Long Way Home’ are like something you’d see on an old cowboy film, and does not get the song off to the best of starts, but when this lolloping beat continues through the song, it overpowers the vocals, and makes for a disastrous song. It is a cover version, and in my opinion, one that she would have been better off leaving well alone. 0/10

                        ‘The Prettiest Thing’ is a strong track, and brings back the soulful, mellow Norah Jones which has been missing from the last few tracks. This song has the arrangement which always works best. Strong piano playing, and easy vocals singing a clear lyrics which allow you to form a hundred mental pictures throughout the song. 9/10

                        The final track is ‘Don’t Miss You At All’ has Norah singing over Duke Ellington’s ‘Melancholia’, and I only know that from reading a magazine article about the album. Jones’s has made slight changes to the lyrics to make them more her style, but as an ending to the album it is just lacklustre for me I am afraid to say, and leaves me feeling a little flat.

                        I always try to put the disappointment of the last track to the back of my mind when I think about the album. So did she meet expectations? For me, she did not, but it is still a very likeable and enjoyable album, and maybe it is not as great as I wanted it to be because I had set my standards too high based on her debut. I would still say give it a try, as it is a nice collection of songs to feel mellow with.

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                          10.09.2004 23:42
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                          My user name gives it all away really, but just in case you aren?t sure, I am a huge Foo Fighters fan, and more specifically, the man behind it all?the legend that is Dave Grohl. 1997 release, ?The Colour & The Shape? was the second album release from the band which Grohl put together in 1994 after his Nirvana heyday, and it was without doubt more commercial than their debut. When he put the band together, he had the confidence to be the front man, and not hide behind a drum kit unrecognized as he had done for so many years before. The line up on this album is different from the one you see today. Grohl is and always has been the front man, with Nate Mendel on bass providing talent, and the humour behind a lot of the videos that the band release. At the time of release, Pat Smear was the guitarist and William Goldsmith was the drummer, albeit only on two tracks, and Grohl drummed the rest. They have now been replaced by first Franz Stahl and now by Chris Shiflet and my wife?s favourite Taylor Hawkins. The album opens with a less than 90 second blast of a track called ?Doll?. When I say blast, I do not mean in terms of noise, as it is a pretty low key opener which leads nicely into an immediate high point on the album with the majestic ?Monkey Wrench?. It is a fast track dependent on heavy guitars and drums accompanying Grohl?s vocals as he asks ?What have we done with innocent?? Wouldn?t we all like to know!! ?Hey Johnny Park!? has the best chorus on the whole album. It is a mixed tempo track which at times comes across as truly heartfelt, and there is a lot of passion in this song. This is the kind of song which cements my belief that although it is not commonly believed, that Dave Grohl is a genius, and gets far less credit and exposure than he des
                          erves, although sometimes I am sure he likes it that way, and he can just concentrate on doing what he loves. The intro to ?My Poor Brain? would make many people skip the track as it sounds like radio interference before the mellow opening of the song takes over. Grohl?s vocals are barely audible until the chorus kicks in briefly before returning to the mellow verse. If I had to pick my least favourite song on the album then this would most likely be it, purely because it is probably the least memorable, and affects me much less than the other tracks do. ?Wind Up? is a song where the music is more important than the words, as it assaults your ears right from the word go. Grohl?s vocals are more screamed than sung, in much the same way he sings ?Monkey Wrench?, although the screaming makes the lyrics barely audible which is why the song needed to have such extreme drumming and guitar playing or it could have fallen flat on it?s face. The tempo drops dramatically with ?Up In Arms?, as Grohl soothes the listener with understated vocals and music, and even when the faster, rockier section of the song kicks in it fails to spoil the mood that the song initially created and I always feel quite mellow when I am listening to this track, when by rights my blood should be pumping pretty hard. An absolute stand out track is how I would describe ?My Hero?. The band are back to playing knock out music, whilst combining it with lyrics to really hit home. I have read many theories that Dave wrote this song about Kurt Cobain, but I am not convinced as I truly believe that Dave was more responsible for the greatness that was Nirvana than many people think, and no way was he in awe of Cobain. ?See You? has a bit of hillbilly rock feel to it, and seems like a jokey track rather than the band trying t
                          o make a serious piece of music. It is so different from anything else on the album, but the bubbly upbeat song is one I always enjoy listening to, and shows another side to the band, which we have seen when they are in video, but not witnessed in their music. Just to show they haven?t gone too soft, the next track ?Enough Space? goes right back to the hard hitting rock roots that the band evolved from. The drums steal the show, but when you have one of the best drummers in the world behind the set (Grohl) then I would expect nothing less. Played live, this is an absolute knock out of a track and really gets the crowd going. ?February Stars? should stick out like a sore thumb on this album as it is just so different from the other songs in the collection, as it is laidback, soothing and a bit girly if I am honest, however it works, and I have no idea why as it sounds like it would be more suited on a ?Snow Patrol? album. The lyrics make you take time out to really listen to them, and for me that is the key to the success of the track. If you have never heard ?Everlong? then I urge you to hunt it down somewhere and listen to it at least once, as it is one of the best songs I have ever heard in my life. Played live, I cannot think of a better track to listen to, and I know the majority of Foo Fighters fans would share that opinion. If ever a chorus made a song, then it is the chorus on ?Everlong? as it just takes you on a journey, which when a song can do that it has to be something special. Go and listen to it now I beg of you!!! ?If everything could ever be this real forever,? ?If anything could ever be this good again,? ?The only thing I?ll ever ask of you,? ?Gotta promise not to stop when I say when? When my daughter was a baby, only weeks old, she used to love me to
                          sing to her when she was tired, and the song I always used to sing was ?Walking After You??.no, there was no Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, it was Foo Fighters all the way, and now 4 years later, she can sing every word on this album!! The song is a haunting ballad, a love song even, which was used on the soundtrack to ?The X Files? film. It is an understated song which may take a couple of listens to really appreciate, but when you do, it will stay with you. We?re at the last track already!! ?New Way Home? finishes the album off nicely, and as a song it fits right in the middle of what has gone before it. It is rocky, but less pitchy than ?Monkey Wrench? and the like, but it is not as mellow as the slower tracks. It is a nice upbeat rock song with simple lyrics and ties everything up neatly, and is a perfect example of the polished production. This album appeals to a wide range of listeners, in that it ticks most boxes that rock music fans will look to fill, but then it also attracts the listeners who like the music a little more toned down or with a more commercial feel. A lot of that is down to the fact that the production is much slicker on this album, and a lot of the rough edges have been smoothed off. Many people feel that the lean towards a more mainstream sound, and the loss of Smear and Goldsmith meant that this album was where the band peaked and quickly went downhill, but I have to disagree, and say that the band are now about making brilliant music, and the band members do not have hidden agendas. It is an essential album for anyone?s collection. Capital letters courtesy of: http://www.chuckleweb.co.uk/fixit.php

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                            02.09.2004 05:42
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                            Downloading music for free on the internet is a contentious subject, and there are many reports that music artists are losing out because of this practice. I have to say in my case, they only lose out if their material is not up to scratch!! I heard an Alkaline Trio track by chance on a music channel about 2 years ago, and rather than be stung for the price of an album without knowing what I was buying, I downloaded some of their tracks, and was an instant fan, and it has now resulted in me buying their back catalogue, seeing them live, and most recently purchasing some DVD?s on Ebay. So downloading is bad, but this band have done well out of it from little old me!! Out of the back catalogue, it is this 2001 Vagrant records release which I favour most. At the start of their career, they tended to release EP?s, and created an underground following, which forced them to face their moment in the spotlight when they were discovered by more and more people. The band are mysterious characters, and little is written about them, but for the record, lead singer and guitarist Matt Skiba seems the most comfortable in the spotlight, backed up by Dan Andriano, and the drummer at the time Mike Felumlee, although he has since been replaced. Single release ?Private Eye? opens up for the band. It?s fierce opening guitar riffs put me in mind of The Foo Fighters in their finer and darker moments. The lyrics in the chorus do contain some swearing, so parental discretion is needed for younger listeners. The music is as manic as the thoughts going around in the confused mind of Matt Skiba, and you start to wonder how the band manage to get up and around each day. ?Mr Chainsaw? lightens the mood?in that the music is not as dark, and the lyrics are less intense. My take on the song, is that it is one about growing up, and trying to find your own identity whilst others try hard to mould you. ?When was it that you lost your youth or traded it for something more fo
                            r them to use so jaded? is a line which sticks in my head from the very first time I ever listened to the song. Skiba?s vocals take on a new quality, and there is a rawness that was not there on the opener. Not surprisingly, with a title like ?Take Lots With Alcohol?, this is a song about desperate drink and drug addiction mostly, but the subject of depression is also tackled. When I was suffering from depression and was at my lowest, many would think that music like this would bring me further down, but it actually lifted me, and proved that music has more power than we give it credit. It sounds very clichéd when I read it back, but it is truthful. ?Stupid Kid? is the outstanding track on the album without a doubt. It was the first song to be released as a single from the album, and was the song that I heard on TV which made me want to know more about the band. It is a song about regrets, and how growing up can make you look at things from a different perspective, and is probably as close to a love song as you will get from this band whose emotions in this area are somewhat dampened. ?Another Innocent Girl? sees Andriano take centre stage, and I really like his vocals, and I can understand why he has released solo material, as he is very good as a front man. I love the chorus on this track, as I just find it so uplifting, and the lyrics really hit home. It is about relationships, and people pretending they are something they aren?t because they think that?s how outsiders should perceive them. The guitar riffs are superb on this track, and it was a close choice between this and the previous track for my top choice. ?Steamer Trunk? is the song I love to sing along to when I am driving, and it has qualities in it that make it a fans favourite when played live, and one that I heard asked for a lot when I went to see the band. The lyrics are darker than the song suggests, as the music is quite light in comparison to the opening lines
                            ?Why you turned out the way you did, That thunderstorm still crashing in your cranium, find that all the funny faces look the same?. A shrink would have a field day with these guys!!! ?You?re Dead? is the song of the hurt and dejected adolescent, who hits out to hurt others as much as he is hurting after putting his feelings out in the open to be shot to pieces. ?Remember when I said I loved you, well I take it back??..how often have we tried to cover the hurt we are feeling by trying to pretend it doesn?t matter, I have many times. ? Armageddon? struggles to follow on from this track, and tends to get a bit lost in the track listing, and it is one of the songs which I tend to remember last when recalling the album. ?I?m Dying Tomorrow? is a quick blast of a song lasting just over 2 minutes, but it sort of clears the palette for what is to come, and that is a masterpiece of a song in ?Bloodied Up?. This is the track where the band wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, and put all of their emotions out on public display in order to try and right the wrongs they have done in their relationships. Lyrically, this is a triumph, and you totally get what they are trying to say, and then you realize that musically this is a tremendously strong track too. Penultimate track ?Trucks and Trains? is almost beautiful in a way only a listener of this album could understand. This is a band that do not water their music down no matter how much it does not fit in with the idea of mainstream acceptability, but then there really is no need, as they are singing about real life issues and experiences, which happen to many of us reading this review every single day of our lives. Final track ?Crawl? ends the listening experience brilliantly. It addresses being in love and holding together a relationship whilst drink and drug addiction fight for your attention too. The lyric that sticks out is ?Never had a drink that I didn?t like?, and I can only imagine th
                            at for an addict then that is the most truthful thing they can say. The subject matter is not always the most pleasant, and the band presents us with scenarios including suicide, relationship breakdowns and addiction to drink and drugs. Don?t let that put you off though, because this is a band that are truly talented, and are thoroughly enjoyable to listen to. They aren?t trying to be anyone else, and don?t apologise for who they are. I am not really sure which category the band and their music fit into. Some may class them as edgy pop, but I assure you when you hear their music played live, it is anything but pop, it is rock, with a punk influence apparent, and the riffs are effective and almost instantly catchy. It may be going too far to call this a masterpiece, as it is still a little rough around the edges, but it still ranks as one of my all time favourite CD?s. If you like the music of Green Day, and to a lesser extent Blink 182, then I urge you to give this band and their music a try. Capital letters courtesy of: http://www.chuckleweb.co.uk/fixit.php

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                            • America's Sweethearts (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 20 Ratings
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                              21.07.2004 02:16
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                              After recently joining www.dvdsontap.co.uk, my wife has taken it upon herself to choose our latest viewing material. Now, this is not a choice I leave with her often, as it normally ends up with me watching some long drawn out chick flick, getting wrong at least 5 times in the first 15 minutes for mocking the cheesy plot, and telling her what will happen before the film ends! Annoying? Probably, but it is a sure fire way to let her choose what we watch, as then I admittedly have no grounds for criticising anything I choose. Anyway back to the review. The DVD that landed on our doorstep yesterday was 'America's Sweethearts', and the first thing I noticed was that it certainly was an all star cast. Could my wife have finally picked something worth watching? Let me tell you..... The lead characters are played by John Cusack and Catherine Zeta Jones. Eddie Taylor and Gwen Harris are both Hollywood stars, married to each other, seemingly with the world at their feet. They have the Midas touch, and thousands of adoring fans, but it all goes wrong when Gwen falls for Hector, a fellow actor, played by Hank Azaria. The spilt was very messy, and played out in public, until Eddie was sent off to rehab after trying to kill the pair by driving his car through the window of a restaurant they were eating in. It seems like the pair will never exchange another word nevermind ever work together again, so Gwen decides to go it alone, but her films flop badly, and she has accusations hurled at her that she is nothing without Eddie. All of her problems could be over though, as the film that she was making with Eddie at the time of the split needs to be publicised in order to make it a success, but it all relies on Eddie agreeing, and the wayward director Hal Wideman played by
                              Christopher Walken actually turning up with the showreels so that the film can be shown to the press pack who are waiting with baited breath. Sounds confusing, but believe me it is not! They are brought back together by failing publicist Lee Phillips, played by Billy Crystal. He claims to have the best interests of the stars at heart, but truthfully he is out for his own personal gain, and will exploit them in any way he can. He has been told by double crossing studio boss Dave Kingman, played by Stanley Tucci, that he can have his old job back if he gets the couple to publicise the film. Now when I read reviews of the film, I was lead to believe that Julia Roberts role as Gwen's dowdy sister Kiki was going to be a huge change for Roberts. She was going to look totally unglamorous, and pale into insignificance when put next to Zeta Jones, but confusingly this was not the case. Admittedly, there are a couple of flashback scenes where she was heavier and wore glasses, but for the majority of the film she comes across as an attractive and confident woman, who is anything but in the shadows of her more famous sister. Predictability is the name of the game with this film, and it did not let me down. The plot was so simple it could have been written by a child. I won't even tell you who ends up with who as that would be just too much of a spoiler, but I am sure you will manage to work it out pretty quickly. I am a fan of some of the work John Cusack has done, and 'Grosse Pointe Blank' is one of my all time favourite films, but in this he has sold out completely, whereas in 'High Fidelity', he was only half way there. He has finally gone for what seemed like a guaranteed big pay day, but the film was just not up to scratch, and I think he needs to go back
                              to the drawing board if he think he is the perfect leading man in a romantic comedy, because believe me.....he is not. He does not have the looks, the charm, or the screen presence to carry it off. Zeta Jones and Roberts were instantly forgettable in these roles, which is a shame, as we all know that they are capable of much much better. Hank Azaria brought one of the few smiles to my face during the film with his over acting in his portrayal of the Latin 'C' list actor with the unfortunate lisp, who hit lucky when Gwen fell for him, and the final scenes where he protests about the rumoured size of his equipment are genuinely amusing. The whole thing was just stale, it has been done hundreds of times before, and much much better. There are a few humorous moments, but on a whole the film was lacking spontenaity and some good old belly laughs. It claims to expose the real goings on behind the scenes within the movie industry, but I am sure that this claim cannot be taken seriously, as it was just not tongue in cheek enough to be accurate, and Joe Roth must bear the brunt of this criticism, because as director he could have opened up the business a lot more, and created larger than life characters instead of the lifeless Gwen and Eddie. Not really recommended, and even my wife said that it was ok, but she would not hurry to watch it again.

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                              • Angel Eyes (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 20 Ratings
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                                18.07.2004 17:38
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                                There seems to be much talk about whether or not Queen Diva Jennifer Lopez can cut it as an actress. I have to say that I have watched her in a few films and not thought that she was terrible, and I could probably name another 10 well paid Hollywood actresses who I think are inferior to her. I am sure she will never win any Oscars, but she entertains, and that is what her job is, so up to now I have no complaints about her performance on the big screen, or in her parallel career as a singer. By no means am I her number one fan, but I find her pretty inoffensive, but anyway onto the film. The film is a drama with a touch of romance, so by default does that make it a romantic drama, or a dramatic romance? You decide! On first glance, the cast list seems to be pretty promising, obviously the lead name is Lopez herself, and the male lead is Jim Caviezel, who most recently starred in 'The Count Of Monte Cristo'. Lopez plays Sharon Pogue, a policewoman working in Chicago. The film opens with what seems like a routine call out for Pogue, as she attends to an accident victim. To the viewer, there is nothing apparent about this scene, but later in the film it becomes a pivotal moment. A year down the line, Pogue is then seen chasing a suspect who manages to ambush her, and she finds herself in a very dangerous predicament looking down the barrel of a gun, until a nameless stranger saves her life. We soon find out that the stranger is Catch (Caviezel). Catch is clearly an outcast, shunned by most people he comes into contact with because of his unsettling behaviour. He pursues Pogue, and she soon realises that he is the accident victim that she helped in the first scene of the film, and although they have nothing else in common, they share the bond of having experienced events on the n
                                ight of the accident. Catch barely has any recollection of his life before the night of the accident, however during the course of his relationship with Sharon, he starts to remember more and more, which he has tried to block out because the memories are so painful, due to the fact his wife and child died in the accident. Instead, he has spent most of his time trying to do good things for people, but more often than not his actions are misinterpreted, and his offers of help rebuffed, because people completely misunderstand his intentions. The relationship between the two characters is never really explored more than the obvious, and I found it quite hard to get to the bottom of why they both felt so strongly about each other, and the on screen chemistry between the two was clearly lacklustre, and this made the two characters look as puzzled as I was. The title of the film was never really explored more than the fact that Catch remembered Sharon's eyes before he closed his on the night of the accident, and in a way it left me feeling short changed, as the emotions and turmoil surrounding the lives of the two characters could have made way for some very emotional and dramatic scenes. The plot was full of holes, and whilst the film tried to create a lot of dramatic tension, for me it just fell short, and limped along towards a very disappointing ending which felt very much like a cop out, and director Luis Mandoki must surely take most of the blame for this, as it was complete misdirection. There was romance, although too contrived to feel real, there was drama, but there was also the element of the film being a thriller, and in the end the whole thing had a very confused feel about it. Lopez plays the character of Sharon Pogue well, and she shows the conflicting emotion of dealing with criminals in her job, whilst wrestling with the fact that her father is a wife be
                                ater, and has shunned her after she had him arrested for his violent behaviour. Caviezel is alright, nothing spectacular, and I wonder if he took on this role expecting it to be a guaranteed hit due to his co star, as I cannot believe that he read this script and thought it would win him many plaudits. There are many actors who can deliver a scene without speaking a word, but he is not one of them, and as Catch rarely speaks, you can see where the problems may arise. I cannot recommend this film to you, as even the world famous Lopez cannot save this weak offering, which could have and should have been much more.

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                                  12.07.2004 00:09
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                                  Before we went to see the most recent Harry Potter film at the cinema, we thought we would refresh our minds in terms of the second film as it seemed so long since we had seen it. 'Chamber Of Secrets' is the second film in the Harry Potter series and it is based on the book of the same name, although as with most films it is not an exact replica of the story in the book as time constraints mean that this is not possible. I will say straight off that if you want an in depth review of the film, then this is probably not the opinion for you, as I will be concentrating on the DVD and the features rather than the plot and production of the film, which for me is a new experience so please be gentle with me! The young actors from the first film return to reprise their roles. Daniel Radcliffe looks like he was born to play Harry Potter, as he closely resembles the mental image JK Rowling conjured up in her books. Emma Watson is excellent as the fiesty Hermione Grainger, and completing the trio is Rupert Grint as Harry's best friend Ron Weasley. They are joined by Richard Harris (Dumbledore), Alan Rickman (Prof Snape) and Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), although there are some new cast members this time round, and the most entertaining has to be Kenneth Brannagh's portrayal of conceited teacher Gilderoy Lockhart, whose heartthrob status is not all that it seems. It seems that every actor around is desperate to secure a part in the latest Harry Potter movie. In short, the story this time round sees Harry escape the tight clutches of his loathsome Aunt and Uncle to return to Hogwarts School for a second year, ignoring the warnings of a mischevious house elf called Dobby who gets Harry into trouble at every opportunity. The st
                                  ory is slightly darker than the first, and this is something which happens with each book to coincide with Harry growing up and experiencing more and more. The framework for the plot is the same in each book in that Harry suffers living with his in laws, returns to Hogwarts, gets into a few scrapes, realises something evil is afoot, fights it, realises some new things about himself, and braces himself to return to his in laws. That said, I have over simplified it there, as the story surrounding those events is thoroughly enjoyable, and certainly has all of our family hooked. The film is directed by Chris Columbus, and he does a good job, but in truth he couldn't really go wrong, as the story has the viewer hooked, and the extra helping of special effects such as flying cars and frozen people make for great viewing, and is certainly helped with the excellent eye for detail in terms of character costumes and visually stunning scenes towards the end of the film, especially when Harry feels he has to fight evil forces to gain revenge for his parent's untimely and unjust deaths at the hands of Lord Voldemort. Don't switch off before you let the end credits finish though, which you may be tempted to do when you have spent over 2 and a half hours watching the film. Released in 2003 by Warner Bros, I have the Region 2 DVD which has 37 chapters, so the features I mention are in line with that, and I am not sure if the Region 1 version differs at all. I paid £16.99 for it, but you can now get it for less than £9 on sites such as Amazon. The film is rated PG, and there are some parts of the film that my daughter found a little scarier than the first film, so keep an eye on the youngsters! There are 2 discs, with the first showing the film, and the second being packed with extras and special features. The language is Engli
                                  sh, however the subtitles are English and Arabic with English as the chosen language for the hearing impaired viewer of the disc. The first does have limited special features, which are mostly trailers, but thoroughly enjoyable whilst whetting the appetite for more Harry Potter. Extras on the 2nd DVD are in abundance, and that is what sets it apart from the competition. BEHIND HOGWARTS *An Interview with JK Rowling and screenwriter Steve Kloves, which at just over 15 minutes long was not top of my list to see, but it ended up being a fascinating insight of just what is involved in transferring such a successful book to the big screen. This is a feature which appeals more to the mature viewer, as most children aren't really interested in listening to interviews when they can go to other areas of the disc and experience many interactive features. Personally, I enjoyed it, as I find Rowling and her story very interesting. *A very interesting self guided tour, where you can explore places such as Dumbledore's office at your leisure. *Interviews with Daniel, Emma, Rupert and many other cast members about the making of the film.Here we get to see what the actors think about their own characters, and also what their friends and family think. ADDITIONAL SCENES *A whopping 19 additional or extended scenes. Most of these are scenes that you have already watched, and admittedly there is not a lot of new material in there, but nonetheless, it is entertaining viewing. These scenes back up a point I made earlier about how difficult it is to stay 100% true to the original book. GAME PREVIEW As
                                  with most successful books and films, the merchandise can gross as much money as the main releases, and this section gives a preview of one of the latest HP console games to be released. ACTIVITIES This is the interactive, and most interesting section, at least for my daughter. There is The Chamber Challenge, where you tour the Chamber Of Secrets and get a few surprises along the way. The Forbidden Forest Challenge and Colin's darkroom don't hold the attention as well, but the tour down Diagon Alley is a favourite in our house. In another section of the disc is the Spellcaster Knowledge Challenge, which is quite difficult for younger fans I feel. GILDEROY LOCKHART'S CLASSROOM The entertaining Lockhart was certain to feature in the extras, and the photo gallery is the main section here, but my daughter loves the certificates, and details are the required reading are mildly interesting. *PC Users can take advantage of the DVD-ROM trailer, but to be completely honest, it does not really provide anything extra that you can see when you view the disc normally. It is the puzzles which really make this section a bonus, as there is something to suit everyone with puzzles, challenges, screensavers, trading cards, of which many are excellent interactive games. This DVD is certainly worth the purchase, as the extras only add to the brilliance of the film.

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