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Victim was a bit of a bold film for 1961. It dealt with homosexuality, at a time when gay sex was still illegal in the UK. Perhaps aware that audience sympathies might not necessarily rest easily with gay men, the film hones in on blackmailers who targeted gay victims in order to extort money, painting their victims as more sinned against than sinning.
As such, it can be said to be a social issue film where the social issue is no longer really relevant. Since the legalisation, instances of blackmail must have plummeted. But the film is still of interest as a social document, and more importantly, is still a very decent thriller with a plot that gallops along nicely.
Dirk Bogarde plays a successful barrister whose career is threatened when a young man with whom he has had a liaison is blackmailed. Bogarde is drawn deeper and deeper into the world of the blackmailers as he tries to bring them to justice while keeping his marriage and career alive.
It’s especially brave for Bogarde to have taken on this role (several other actors turned it down) as he was probably gay himself. At least one member of the supporting case, Dennis Price (playing a character modelled on Noel Coward), was also gay. So it must have felt like an important project for them – one worth the risk to their reputations that came from being in it.
Sylvia Sims is Bogarde’s wife – she is perhaps a bit too idealised as a character, but is very good. The rest of the cast is stuffed with familiar faces, including one of my favourite British supporting actors, Derren Nesbitt, as the scumbag blackmailer.
It observes the gay London demimonde with a broadly sympathetic eye, and one certainly feels the injustice of the way gay men have to live very keenly. I don’t know if this film helped change anyone’s attitudes to homosexuality at the time – I suspect not – but it’s still an effective piece of work that is well worth a look.
I’m allergic to dust, and one of the ways this sometimes manifests itself is in quite intense itching (sometimes with accompanying rash) on my hands and wrists. I also get eczema on my shins once in a while, which also itches.
So I like to have something to hand to soothe the itching, as I know from past experience that scratching it (especially in the case of the eczema) will only bring fleeting relief. Eurax Cream is a perfectly decent anti-itching cream.
It’s quite thick, and especially as you start to run out and the metal tube gets crushed, it can be a little difficult to get it out of the tube. But it rubs in easily enough, and tends to have dried/vanished within a few minutes.
The itch kind of fades away when the cream settles. It’s like it shrivels until there’s just a tiny tingle, which fades away as well. That’s all I really need from it. I usually buy a small tube (30g I think), which lasts for ages usually, although I guess if it’s fighting eczema it can go quite quickly. It’s not so effective on eczema, and I found it less than satisfactory on insect bites.
It smells kind of like plaster mixed with some sort of medicinal odour. I don’t much like the smell, and am always sure to wash my hands thoroughly after applying it (apart from any bits of my hands that need it). The packaging specifies that it’s not to be used internally, so it’s not good if your bottom is itchy, I guess. Always read the instructions to make sure there’s nothing you’re allergic to. That would be ironic, since it’s mostly used for treating allergic conditions.
It's fairly cheap, at about £3.50 a tube.
This is cough medicine. It tastes absolutely vile and has never had the slightest discernible effect on any cough I’ve had.
It’s advertised as being effective in suppressing ‘dry’ coughs, so don’t go using it if you’re coughing up great wads of phlegm. The recommended dose is one or two spoonfuls every four hours, with no more than four such doses in a day.
I bought this when I had a particularly vexing cough, obviously. I dutifully took the recommended dosage. Absolutely nothing happened. I carried on coughing and coughing and coughing. The medicine did nothing. I've tried it on a couple of subsequent coughs, to similar effect.
And not only does it do nothing – it tastes absolutely vile. I’ve never actually tasted nail polish remover – I’m no fool – but it tastes exactly like I’d imagine nail-polish remover tastes. It tastes chemically and abrasive and frankly like you could dissolve metal in it. I appreciate that medicine can’t taste nice, lest a small child mistake it for a soft drink and chug the lot (presumably this is also why it has a safety cap on the bottle). But does it have to taste quite so unpleasant?
I didn’t notice any side effects – it said slight drowsiness was a possibility on the bottle. But then nor did I notice any of the effects it was supposed to bring about, ie a diminution of my cough.
I asked a doctor at one point which the best cough medicine was. She told me that no cough medicines have ever been proven to be effective at all. I can well believe it. Basically, buying this was a waste of money and made me feel seriously nauseous to no good effect. Avoid.
This is the most reliable external hard drive I’ve owned – it’s the only one of three that still works reliably (one has given us the ghost entirely, and the other is intermittent).
It has a standard USB connector, and it’s worked fine in any PC I’ve plugged it into, not to mention my Xbox 360 and two separate blu-ray players. PCs generally make a show of finding and installing drivers, but this happens so quickly it’s not something to worry about.
It’s a neat, slimline shape and can easily fit in a pocket, and is probably as portable as any flash drive, really (unless you’re looking to smuggle a portable storage device into a nudist colony or something, and I can’t imagine that’s a situation that arises very often). It’s fairly robust – I’ve sent it through the post and got it back all in one piece. It’s certainly still working after a few years, which is more than can be said for the others I own.
Although it’s supposedly 750GB, I only have 698 available, according to Windows Explorer. This is always the case with hard drives – they have a mysterious blob of memory that you can’t use – but in this case it does seem rather a lot. The other complaint I’d have about this is that it’s notably slower at transferring files than other hard drives I’ve used. This is true across a number of different computers, and trying it with different cables, so it’s definitely a problem with the drive itself.
But that’s not a huge concern. I’m reasonably satisfied that my files are backed up safely on this drive, and I feel like I should get another one when this is full, rather than buying a different brand.
Amazon is one of the biggest brands in the world, and an online shop where you can buy most anything.
It’s almost pointless explaining what’s good about amazon. The variety of stock they offer is mind boggling. I mostly buy films, books, video games and music from them, but have also used them for more expensive electronic items. Their delivery times are usually good, and downloads download immediately and without fuss. Their range of marketplace sellers offers access to items in other countries that would otherwise be more expensive to import (I buy a lot of DVDs and Blu-rays from the US. Amazon is easily the best way to do that.)
Their customer service is also usually excellent. The postal system in this country is far from perfect, and things do get lost occasionally. When that has happened, I’ve either been shipped a replacement without any hassle, or refunded if the item was no longer available.
With its huge variety and good customer service, amazon should be an easy five-stars, right? Hmm, well… not really. The last couple of years have seen a bit of a plummet in my opinion of them.
Their prices are far less competitive than they used to be, at least for Blu-rays. This may have something to do with the collapse of serious competition in the UK. Play.com basically stopped after the government closed a tax loophole, HMV went bust (and the rescued version doesn’t have an ecommerce site) and Sainsburys Entertainment switched to selling downloads only. Amazon is now routinely £3-£4 more expensive on all but the most mainstream Blu-rays, presumably in the belief that people will effectively be forced to buy from it. We are not – there are plenty of viable alternatives.
The other major problem is that deliveries are becoming less reliable. Amazon now has its own courier company, and while they do a lot of good things like delivering on Sundays, I’ve had a few packages which have been marked as ‘delivered’ but which never made it to my house. I’ve also been asked to take parcels for houses on the same street (I’ve always refused). Basically, if I order something, I don’t want one of my neighbours to get it. I guess it’s no secret that amazon doesn’t treat its staff very well; the downside of that is that it doesn’t really incentivise those staff to make sure customers get what they actually ordered.
Ultimately, amazon’s business model seems to be ‘drive everyone else out of business and then we’ll rule the world’. That sounds a bit dystopian, so I try to shop around a lot more nowadays. But I’m clearly going to continue to use them for a lot of things, and hope they’ll keep doing those things quite well.
Zavvi used to be a chain of music and video stores – they were what Virgin turned into. Then they went bust and the shops all vanished. But they still exist as an online shop where you can buy the usual stuff – films, music, books, clothes and electronics.
Obviously setting themselves up against amazon means they have to try to carve out a niche for themselves. They do seem to be a lot more focused on Blu-rays than most sellers are (I suspect this isn’t a viable long-term business plan). They produce a lot of exclusive Blu-ray ‘steelbooks’ (Blu-rays in collectable, limited-edition metal cases).
The main reason to use zavvi is that they’re often a lot cheaper than amazon. They do frequent sales, and also quite often email discount codes and suchlike. However, they don’t have anything like the variety of stock, and less mainstream items are likely to either not be available at all, or more expensive than amazon.
It’s an easy-to-use, fairly bog-standard ecommerce site. Signing up, logging in, using the shopping basket, and buying things are every bit as easy as you’d expect. They only charge for items when they dispatch.
So what’s the catch? Well, they’re often extraordinarily slow. I’ve never had an item fail to turn up (apart from the one I cancelled, which we’ll come to in a moment). But they have been known to take several weeks to arrive. They don’t always, sometimes they arrive within a few days. It seems to be the luck of the draw. They’re always well-packaged when they do turn up (I’m not interested in steelbooks myself, but if you’re investing in collectable metal cases you want them to arrive dent and scratch free).
Aside from the slowness of delivery, the general customer service is not good if you have a problem. I once tried to cancel an item, and while I was able to eventually, it required a lot of effort on my part, emailing zavvi and insisting, repeatedly, that they cancel my order (it was for a preordered Blu-ray they didn’t seem to be able to get into stock).
They’ve a tendency to accept preorders without checking if they can actually secure stock. I’ve heard of people getting stung over preordering limited editions that zavvi were then unable to fulfil. I had a problem once where I decided to cancel a preordered item that zavvi didn’t have in stock despite them claiming they did and taking my money.
But if you’re not preordering new items, and aren’t too fussed about how long they take to deliver, zavvi is a generally cheap option, and worth looking into.
This is my current PC monitor, and I’m very happy with it. I’ve had it for about three years now (I think the warranty is about to expire, so hopefully it won’t break). It’s a good size, which is the main reason I bought it – it allows me to watch full screen videos at a size that probably slightly larger than most old televisions.
It’s also in high-definition, which means that HD videos and games look very good on it. I’m shortly to get a blu-ray drive for my PC, but for now I’m limited to things I can stream – they all look great, and I can watch HD programming on iPlayer which I can’t watch on my TV (I don’t have a TV service that lets me watch in HD).
The screen is lit evenly all over (unlike my previous, much smaller and shabbier monitor, which had duller spots in the corners.) The image stays strong and stable while viewing it from almost any angle (again, unlike other monitors I’ve had). I’ve never noticed any colours looking less than 100% natural, nor any motion blur or any other problems.
It’s very easy to get up and running – it plugs into the back of a PC and installs the drivers automatically (although you’d best check that you’re PC’s graphics card can support HD if you want to get the best out of this model). The screen position can be adjusted very easily, and it can also be swivelled completely to make it vertical (portrait) rather than horizontal (landscape). I’ve never felt the need to actually do this.
Controls for brightness and other settings are found just above the power button and are easy to use (it shows how changing the brightness affects the amount of energy the monitor uses, which I guess is quite cool). I am prone to migraines, and I’ve found myself adjusting the brightness quite often to try and find the optimal setting for not triggering migraines, but sadly I’ve still to find it. As with any screen, you should make sure to take plenty of breaks for the sake of your eyes.
But that aside, this is a great monitor than will hopefully last me a few more years before I have to replace it. I’m not sure whether this exact model is still being produced, but when it does sadly bite the dust, I’ll be looking to replace it with one from the same range.
This is a rather dreary Italian science fiction film from 1965. The basic premise is similar to many films that came later – there’s a national obsession with a televised game whereby people hunt and kill each other. It’s an idea later expanded on in stories like The Running Man, Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. It may be that the 10th Victim is the first film to feature the idea, although The Most Dangerous Game from the 1930s had humans being hunted for sport, just without the televised element.
The problem with the 10th Victim is that it plays the idea for laughs. It’s inevitably a satirical concept, commenting on society’s appetite for violence and general moral shortcomings. But that doesn’t mean it has to try to be funny. Unfortunately the 10th Victim does, and does so in a uniquely tiresome 1960s style. The humour is leaden and self-indulgent, and very smug. It’s one of those films that seems to feel that famous actors appearing should be enough in and of itself to keep an audience happy, without there being any necessity for them to actually be amusing.
In this case the famous actors are Marcello Mastroianni, star of some of Fellini’s more endurable films; and Ursula Andress, a former Bond girl who never quite carved out a niche for herself otherwise. Both are infuriating in this. It’s the kind of film where having guns pop out of someone’s bra is probably the best joke, and it wears out its welcome long, long before it finally ends. The director, Elio Petri, later made the excellent Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, so was capable of great things. Sadly this isn’t one of them.
Shameless’s blu-ray looks pretty good, although it does feel like it could have been better. The film itself is fairly innocuous in terms of violence – the 18 certificate is because of the trailers, which include some fairly bloody stuff. It costs a staggering £19 on amazon at the moment, but you can almost certainly get it cheaper elsewhere.
This is the second blu-ray player I've owned. In terms of playing disks, it’s much the same as any other player. The picture quality is very good, although probably depends more on the individual disk and the TV as much as the player. Sometimes it takes a long time to load blu-rays, but I suspect that’s just the software on the disks (some take much longer than others to start up). It also plays DVDs perfectly well, although I’ve not noticed any ‘upscaling’ (allegedly playing DVDs in blu-ray players can result in a better image). Although it’s apparently a 3D player, my TV isn’t 3D compatible, so I can’t say how well that works. It didn’t come with any 3D glasses, anyway.
It also comes with various internet media players installed – things like youtube, ipayer, and others. I must admit, I never use these – searching for anything is a frustratingly slow process using the remote, and I’m happy enough to watch streamed content on my PC’s monitor, which is more than big enough for my needs.
You can also plug USB drives into the player. This is useful for playing music, as I don’t have access to my PC’s music folder in my living room otherwise. It’s a bit temperamental about file names, though. Sometimes whole folders vanish, and I’m often not able to figure out why.
The main disadvantages are that it’s slow to start up. It seems to have some kind of conflict with my TV, which means the screen goes black for a few seconds about ten minutes into anything I’m watching. The set-up screen and menu are – again – a bit slow and clunky. And the buttons on the remote aren’t terribly responsive. I’ve often found myself having to press them repeatedly, with increasing impatience.
In truth, it’s not the best player in the world. To be honest, I only bought it because I knew someone who could tamper with it to remove the region lock. I wouldn’t choose this model if you don’t have a good reason to do so.
This currently goes for about £145. I think I paid more like £180 for it a couple of years ago. It requires an HDMI cable (not included) to connect to the TV, and an internet connection for firmware updates.
Released in 1965, this spy film was offered very much as an antidote to the (deliberately) over-the-top Bond series that was so popular. The producer, Harry Salzman, was also responsible for the Bond films, so it wasn’t so much a rival franchise as an example of a producer hedging his bets.
It’s based on a novel be Len Deighton, who is more a kind of working class John Le Carre than a rival to Ian Fleming. Consequently, Harry Palmer, the hero, is bogged down in paperwork and shops in a supermarket. He’s a bit of a gourmet chef – you really can’t imagine James Bond chopping onions, but then you really can’t imagine Bond dining at home anyway.
The plot is full of paranoia and odd plot twists. There’s a healthy distrust of the establishment (again, something the Bond films wouldn’t have touched with a bargepole). Palmer’s bosses are obviously withholding information from him, and the Americans are actively working against him.
The story involves scientists being kidnapped by forces unknown. It’s a bit fanciful, and descends into the very silly towards the end. But the story itself is secondary to the paranoid world the film generates. This is generally the case in Deighton’s books. Spies are, by their very nature, untrustworthy, and his stories are full of betrayal and double-cross.
Michael Caine is Palmer, one of his iconic roles – the big glasses even made a return when he played Austin Powers’s dad. While Connery as Bond was the upper class bully, forever looking down on the people he comes into contact with (before shagging or killing them), Caine’s Palmer approaches them with the kind of chippy insubordination of a cheeky squaddie talking back to a drill sergeant.
It’s directed very well, knowing when to throw in a wacky camera angle, and John Barry’s music is terrific. There are good supporting roles for familiar faces like Nigel Green and Gordon Jackson.
This isn't the tablet I would necessarily have chosen, but it was given to me by work (and I have subsequently hardly used it for anything work-related. That that, The Man!). It's actually pretty good.
The image quality on it is very good, although at seven inches I find it a bit too small to want to watch videos on. It has a decent amount of memory (13GB) which I'm on no danger of filling up. It's a sturdy little thing, and slim enough to fit in an inside jacket pocket (for that reason, I haven't bought a case for it, although I do have a scratch resistant coating for the screen).
You can get a good range of apps for it, and installing them through the Play Store is extremely easy. I like the way you can swipe your finger over the keyboard instead of typing (although it seems squeamish about letting me write swear words that way). The internet is fast, and works well even with a signal that isn't very strong.
There are a few annoyances. It takes ages to turn on (especially since the upgrade to Android 5). When you start it up, any apps you had open when you shut it down open again automatically. This is no doubt meant to be helpful, but it feels like it's one of the things slowing it down. The battery life is OK (although certain apps burn through it more quickly), but it takes ages to recharge.
Notably, the tablet's camera faces the same way as the screen. So it's great for taking selfies, but not much use for anything else, as you can't see what you're photographing. The quality of images on the camera isn't great, although I don't know how it compares to other tablets. Weirdly, it doesn't come with a camera app installed, you have to download one before you can use the camera (there are several to choose from). The same is true of a voice recorder app – the sound quality on recordings is pretty good, but why not install an app for it as default?
Sometimes the tablet will randomly disconnect itself from my home web connection and randomly try to connect to the neighbours' (password protected) one. I can't imagine why that would be useful. And the three buttons at the bottom of the screen, used for navigating, aren't always as responsive as I'd like.
But those few small niggles don't detract from what is otherwise a pretty decent little tablet. I use it more for games and personal emails than for work, but that's fine. If you're looking for a small tablet, this isn't a bad choice.
I am a light sleeper, prone to insomnia. I live on a busy main road, which has a number of 24-hour bus routes, refuse collection lorries in the middle of the night, and lots of people wandering around making noise. I therefore need to block out a certain amount of sound before I can get to sleep.
I’ve tried a number of different brands of cheap foam earplugs, and these are the ones I’ve settled on as the best (they're about £2.50 for a pack of six). They are both more comfortable and more effective than the Boots own brand ones.
They are conical in shape, and can probably just be shoved into one’s ear canals without any adjustment. I usually scrunch them up a bit, though, to make them thinner. They then expand in my ears – this gives the feeling that they’re fitting more snugly.
They don’t keep all the noise out. If they happen to stay in my ears all night, I’ll still hear my alarm clock. But they dull the sound enough for me to get to sleep, usually.
They frequently fall out when I’m asleep, which is probably a good idea. It does feel uncomfortable if they stay in your ears all night, and they make my ears itch a bit. Usually once I’m asleep I’ll only get woken by particularly loud noises that the earplugs wouldn’t have blocked out anyway.
I suppose the main disadvantage is that when you wake up in the dark, it’s not very easy to find them if they have fallen out. If I need them to get back to sleep, I then have to switch on the light and scrabble around a bit in order to locate them. I find it provident to have a few spares near to hand in case I can’t find one in the night. Also, they have a tendencey to fall onto the floor, or just get lost. Even with six in a pack, I find I have to restock reasonably frequently.
I don’t know how hygienic it is to use and reuse earplugs, but I have yet to succumb to any foul ear-related infections. These do the job well enough.
I basically use this for one reason only. If I go to bed without it on, I will generally wake up with my lips, especially my upper lip, cracked. I breathe through my mouth when asleep – goodness only knows why – which dries my lips and makes them split open like overripe bananas.
So I smear this stuff over my lips every night before sleep, and it mostly keeps them safe from blemishes. I don’t really know how it looks on my mouth, as I go to bed immediately after applying it. It isn’t much in evidence when I wake up – I guess it gets rubbed off / dries out overnight. There’s a hint of residue on my lips when I wake up, but goodness knows, that made be saliva that’s dried or something.
I usually wake at least once overnight, and will usually want a drink of water when I do. I used to worry that the water might remove the remains of the lip balm from my mouth, thus rendering me vulnerable to lip injuries again. This seems not to happen.
It can be a bit hard to get the lid off the tin, and sometimes it isn’t very easy to get a good dollop on one’s finger in order to smear over one’s mouth. It comes in various different coloured tins, but although they claim to represent different flavours, I can’t really notice any difference. I buy green most often because it looks nicest, to my eye.
It generally costs about £1.50. A tin lasts me several months, but then I only use it for that one thing. I daresay it would also be effective at protecting your lips from the cold, or stopping unpleasant chafing of the nipples if you were running a half marathon.
This is a prestigious Hollywood movie from 1961 about a trial of Nazi war criminals. It doesn't recreate a real trial, but presents a fictional trial of Nazi judges. It is extremely moralistic, and wants to make damn sure that, rather than enjoy it, we take away Important Messages. It gets the message of its importance across by being three hours long and being full of stars trying to look like normal people.
It's actually not bad. The courtroom scenes are genuinely well done, although some of the scenes set around Nuremberg are a bit too obviously there for the film's message rather than for the drama. But it's less one-sided than I expected. This is presented as one of the last trials, when the Cold War was just starting, and America's reluctance to keep prosecuting Nazis is shown in the film. (The US needed West Germany as an ally against the Soviets, and politics trumped justice). The suffering of the German people after the war isn't sugarcoated, but nor is their willing blindness to the worst of the Nazis' atrocities.
Cleverly, the film has the most charming, likeable character be the defence lawyer (Maximilian Schell, who smiles winningly as he spouts Nazi justifications). The American prosecutor is played by sneery Richard Widmark, an actor who always looks like he's about to pull a flick knife on you. Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland both try to look unglamorous; Burt Lancaster tries to look 30 years older than he really was; and Montgomery Clift is rather good as a victim of the regime testifying against his former persecutors. Spencer Tracy is the judge, and William Shatner has a supporting part.
The main issue with it is that it's much too long. There's a lot of padding, as if the studio was so awed by the importance of the story that they couldn't bring themselves to cut even a second out of it. Nowadays the moral message has fallen by the wayside slightly – everyone reviles the Nazi regime as the worst in history, so being morally superior to it doesn't seem to be a victory so much as a foregone conclusion. The film is very heavy handed, and the use of real footage from the liberation of the concentration camps feels unnecessary and even exploitative.
But for all that, I'd still say this is worth seeing, It's perhaps a curiosity now, but it's well made, and has some effective drama in there somewhere.
Made in 1964 at the height of Beatlemania, this is generally hailed as one of the only decent pop music films of the era (or any era). Its black and white photography and Liverpudlian dialogue kind of tie it in to the new wave of British cinema with its obsessions with working class northerners hunting for money.
Except that Hard Day's Night is funny and endearing, while most new wave films are miserable and a little patronising. The director, American Richard Lester, and the scriptwriter, Alun Owen, obviously understood the Beatles' sense of humour, and effectively let the boys play themselves. The plot is almost nonexistent – the band has to get to a TV studio in time for a concert. Paul McCartney's grandfather, a creepy old weirdo, drags them into various minor misadventures along the way, and they have to try to avoid the screaming fans who dog their every move.
The band do pretty well 'acting' as themselves, although they'd already crafted a public persona for themselves which they make good use of here. They're irreverent and cheeky, but never in a way that parents might find threatening. It lets them position themselves as exciting and modern, but not revolutionary.
The film has some great shots of London in the 60s. The music is fine if you're a fan – this is when the band started to hit their stride, musically. There's an energy to the music which makes it very likeable, but it doesn't overwhelm the film. If you're not a fan, you might still enjoy the movie.
The best thing in it is Wilfred Brambell (old man Steptoe himself) as Paul's grandfather. He's still and watchful and just a bit sinister. He gives non-fans something to enjoy, and was probably included so parents taking their kids to see the film would have something to laugh at.
The best option for watching this at the 50th anniversary blu-ray, although it's a bit pricey. But it's a rare pop film that has stayed watchable long after the band it was made to promote have ceased to be. Partly this is down to the enduring fascination of the Beatles, but it's also a very good film in tis own right.