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Oh, Kim Wilkins, how I adore you
Though my bank account is in a rather sorry state now that I have devoured all of your novels from bookshelves across the country. But that is neither here nor there.
My real mission is to extol the virtues of Grimoire by perhaps saying a bit more than sgood, as I have already told my mother seven times this morning.
~ Plot ~
Grimoire tells the deliciously dark and Gothic tale of the obsessional quest for eternal life. Straddled between two time frames and two continents, this novel encompasses 19th century London and 20th century Melbourne, with characters inexplicably linked from both settings. In Melbourne, three young academics uncover a Satanic ritual group who have become far too close to reaching their goal of achieving immortality. In London, a sick man manipulates those around him for evil means, and his actions have some very far reaching consequences such as bringing about the end of the world. Sounds preposterous? Quite shockingly, it ISNT.
~ So why am I so enthralled? ~
Kim Wilkins has a rare talent for creating the most believable and engaging characters you could ever encounter in a novel. Her insistence on planning novels for months beforehand and carefully visiting and researching her settings means that by the time she comes to putting pen to paper, she knows her characters as well as she might know her own family. The results are superb. Grimoires Holly, Justin and Prudence are three characters that will stay with you for some time, lovingly crafted by Wilkins to create realistic yet rather romantic personalities and backgrounds.
Wilkins skill in characterisation extends also to her general talent as a writer. Her ability to swing from two different eras and continents without creating disparity is an enviable one. At no point did I feel she had departed from one storyline too quickly or too late, but her balance was indeed perfect. The two stories intertwined so well that by the end of the novel the conclusions of both plots meld seamlessly into one another.
The plot itself is very compelling. Fans of Gothic novels will devour this story, as all of the traditional elements are present as well as several new factors thrown in by Wilkins to great effect. The dark Gothic Melbourne college is a superb setting for a contemporary horror novel, and its presence creates the fitting link between Australia and England. Wilkins inclusion of the archetypal Gothic characters, i.e. the wealthy and decidedly nasty Humberstones, the grotesque Peter Owling and some angelic saviours, is of course apt, though she spices things up by creating the character of purple haired, immature and vivacious Prudence, a character one does not usually come across in Gothic novels. It is this, along with several other contemporary flavours, that makes Grimoire something special, and thus far more than your usual Poe-esque Gothic horror.
Wilkins is in no hurry to speed the plot along, which is something I appreciate a lot in authors, since there is nothing worse than the sense that a story and its characters has not had enough time to flavour, or create a lasting impression. She takes her time over the story development, which gives the characters enough time to flower properly within the mind. My only criticism would be that she abandons this technique in the latter part of the novel. Almost as though she has run out of steam somewhat, the climax is over and done with rather quickly, and the epilogue not very thorough. On the other hand, it is nicely ambiguous, and the resolution is one that will shock and surprise, since Wilkins is not the kind of author to imbue her characters with every quality bar morality issues. Holly, Justin and Prudence do not necessarily live happily-ever-after, which is a nice change from the status quo of endings.
Amongst the Gothic and horror elements of the novel, it should be recalled that Wilkins examines quite a chilling and relevant message. The fear of death is a powerful emotion that every human being will inevitably experience at some stage of their life. What they do about it though, is another matter. The quest for immortality is not so ridiculous when one realises what drives people towards it, and Wilkins certainly explores this drive in 'Grimoire'. Not one single character escapes the lure of eternal life, thus it's message is really quite a chilling one, and one that poses some questions on your own fears.
~ Last thoughts ~
Grimoire is a thrilling Gothic horror that combines the traditional with the contemporary, making for a vibrant read. Wilkins skill with characterisation and technique is immense, and I defy and reader to find fault in her development. Genuinely scary and utterly compelling, this is a novel you will wish you never had to finish, so the quick-fire ending may disappoint somewhat. At the end of the day though, it is hard to find fault with this book, and I found it to be one of the most thrilling horror novels I have ever come across. Edgar Allan Poe may well remain the king of classic, Gothic horror, though Wilkins has certainly given him a run for his money.
Available at £5.49 on Amazon, this is a steal, so get ordering my friends!
Title; Fortunes Rocks
Author; Anita Shreve
Genre; Romance/period drama
Price; £6.99 paperback
Ive never been a fan of romance novels. In fact, I have been known to become physically red faced in embarrassment merely by standing in the same named section of the library. Its a literary genre that has been thought of , perhaps somewhat unfairly, as the flighty, womens only kind of literature. Why then, if I so clearly agree with this notion, read Anita Shreves unashamedly romantic Fortunes Rocks? Simple really my favourite aunt loaned the book to me and I felt obliged. Was I right in my assumptions? Read on and find out .
Shreves novel tells the woeful tale of 14 year old Olympia Biddeford, a girl on the edge of womanhood who takes the leap into adult life perhaps too early, and indeed with spectacular style. Her controversial method of gaining maturity is to embark upon a torrid, passionate affair with the much older, and married, John Haskell. If this novel had been set in more contemporary times it would have found itself being completely outlawed, though since it is set way back when, it appears its perfectly alright for ridiculously young girls to have sex with men in their thirties. The terms paedophilia or statutory rape didnt exist in 1899, apparently.
Aside from the fact that Shreve doesnt seem to find her central relationship a bit of a perversion, the novel isnt TOO bad. The affair between the two principal characters is one that is quite compelling, most notably due to the age difference, but also because you dislike both characters so much youre absolutely dying for their secret to be revealed and decidedly nasty fates to befall them. There is a deliciously looming sense that their relations could be exposed at any time, which would not only limit Olympias chances of ever finding a decently rich husband (oh woe!), but John might lose his wife, who he loves so dearly that he feels compelled to sleep with other women. Hmmm
Shreves prose is, thankfully, a great deal better than her plotting. She is certainly a skilled writer, and it rather pains me that she has so much potential though chooses to waste it on ridiculous efforts like this. Her descriptive passages are beautiful at times, and her elegant, almost ecclesiastical style is very fitting for the period the novel is set. This, however, is again marred by the seediness of such an old geezer lusting after a mere child.
The plot, unfortunately, doesnt hold up for the length of the novel either. Focusing entirely upon the relationship between John and Olympia, Shreve leaves some glaring holes. I found myself vainly hoping for a nice villain, or even a death dammit, to spice the story up a bit. Quite frankly, the plot runs out of steam at an early stage (after all, how many times can you write about secret, lusting looks across the dinner table?) and I found myself mind-numbingly bored by many, many passages. The end arrived with a predictable, puttering whisper that was neither interesting nor satisfactory in terms of John and Olympia having to face any real consequences.
Fortunes Rocks is a decidedly sad affair. I couldnt bring myself to like either of the main characters (perversion, lying and adultery for some reason tends to put me off people), and I found Shreves portrayal of the relationship to be far too accepting. Her main vein of thought seems to be that their affair was wrong purely because of Haskells wife. I, on the other hand, being a normal person of intelligence, find it wrong because Olympia is FOURTEEN FOR GOODNESS SAKE!!! Im sure there are many, many far superior romance novels on the market, so please, do yourself a favour and avoid this, because its a morally skewed, boring novel that isnt worth the paper its printed on.
Title: Six Feet Under
Genre: Comedy/drama (make that very black comedy)
Created/directed by: Alan Ball
Comedy centred upon death, you say? What a tricky concept. Indeed, Six Feet Under is a deliciously darkly comic show that focuses on the lives and business moves of the Fishers, the most unconventional family to grace our television screens in recent years. As they go about their daily duties of running a suburban funeral home, we are permitted a birds eye view of the humour and (the whole lot) of drama they deal with. Alan Ball (known principally for the groundbreaking film American Beauty) writes and directs most of the episodes in this season, and indeed the 3rd is the best this show has so far had to offer.
The DVD package was released only last month despite all episodes having aired over a year ago and season four already finished. However, it was well worth the wait, and the season three boxset has arrived at the price of £39.99, which gets you all 13 episodes and a nice set of extras.
Six Feet Under, in its previous two seasons, has entertained fans with the story of Nate and Brenda, the sex crazed couple who cheat on each other and whose emotions stretch to such an extreme it wouldnt be too much of a leap to see them resorting to physical violence towards each other. We have also dealt with the shock death of the Fisher patriarch, Nathanial Fisher (who nevertheless makes appearances in many episodes after his death in the form of a very amusing ghost), the growing pains of troubled teen Claire and the coming out of uptight homosexual David. Season three picks up on all these storylines, though with a distinct twists. Without revealing too much, the opening scene of episode one will shock, as some time has passed and there has been a very interesting development.
Season three excels so far past its predecessors for one main reason; the portrayal of the relationship between Nate and Lisa. This story arcs over the entire season, culminating in an explosive set of last episodes that have an impact on every character. The main theme of the entire season is that of relationships, and so we are treated to a complex, but still funny, study of each relationship on show, i.e. David and Keith, Claire and her various amours, Ruth and her various amours, Nate, Lisa and Brenda and Rico and Vanessa. With romance and romantic wars being the principle focus of the season, you will find each episode is highly charged and indeed nail biting at times. The uncomfortably honest and close way in which Alan Ball has chosen to capture these relationships makes for must-see viewing, indeed I watched the entire season over the space of three days!
The acting, as we have seen over the past two years, is on top form. Peter Krause as Nate, Frances Conroy as Ruth and Lauren Ambrose as Claire are particularly impressive in this season, as each of these characters go through some rather harrowing and joyful experiences alike. For such a young actress, Ambrose portrays her character with flair and a quiet skill that will see her recognised by Hollywood at some point soon (though hopefully not so soon as to lure her away from this engaging character). There are also some fantastic guest appearances from the formidable Kathy Bates, who plays the free spirited and joyous friend to Ruth.
Direction and writing throughout season three, whilst always humorous, has developed to encapsulate the even more weird and wonderful that Six Feet Under has previously shown us. Frequent dream-like sequences make for initial confused viewing, but once understanding is reached the brilliance of Alan Ball is clear. A new habit of flashback sequences also comes into play towards the end of the season, and these serve as entirely effective in reminding viewers of essential scenes and emotions felt by characters. These flashbacks also provide us with scenes we have not already encountered, which is very enjoyable to watch as a fan.
The extras on this seasons DVD are far more impressive than those I have encountered previously with the past two years boxsets.
The five audio commentaries by Alan Ball and several other crew members are illuminating and interesting. These commentaries are reserved for the more exciting episodes, with is apt, though unfortunately this merely left me craving commentaries for the episodes neglected from this privilege. However, you cant have everything, and five episode commentaries is a fair amount compared to other DVDs.
There is also a nice selection of deleted scenes, which, as a fan, I greatly appreciated and found interesting to the point I was eager to see them placed in their rightful context within an episode.
A more unusual extra comes in the form of the short featurette Living on the Ledge: A Birds-eye View of the Third Season. The title would suggest this is an overview of the events of the season, but it is in fact a documentary based upon the filming and idea behind a promotional advert for the show, shown in the run up to the airing of season three. The promotional shot is incredibly well directed and captivating, coming across as a highly arty music video even, though its context is quite misplaced. Its an interesting watch, though not exactly essential viewing or required for any understanding of the show.
In entertainment terms, season three of Six Feet Under is a fantastic and incredibly enjoyable watch. The story arc of this season is the most compelling one I have encountered on a television show for some time (alas, I do miss Buffy), and the acting at times takes your breath away. The perfect mixture of dark comedy and drama, this show will surely appeal to a wide audience.
However, if you have not seen seasons one and two, I would suggest you do so before purchasing this product. Certain storylines/characters will be very confusing without previous knowledge of the show.
The DVD extras, although not that extensive, are all interesting and well worth a watch/listen. Fans will find Alan Balls insightful commentaries particularly entertaining and useful.
In short, at the price of £39.99 (which inevitably reduces each year to around £30.99) you are presented with an attractive boxset that will provide hours of entertainment and awe. The acting, writing and direction of this show are all top class, and indeed this season is the most enjoyable to boot. Id suggest anyone with any taste get themselves familiar with this series before it disappears from our TV screens, like so many good shows have done of late. In other words, please go buy this now, if not, you will regret it!
Thanks for reading,
Title: Laurel Canyon
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Running Time: 1 hr 39 mins approximately
Starring: Frances McDormand, Kate Beckinsdale, Christian Bale, Natascha McElhone & Allessandro Nivola
DVD retail price: £6.99
If Joni Mitchell and Spinal Tap were to team up in some fictional alter-reality with the aim of producing a movie, you could perhaps then explain how Laurel Canyon came into being. Lisa Cholodenkos follow up to her breakthrough High Art is a rock and roll soap opera of the rich and spoiled, set, surprisingly enough, in LAs Laurel Canyon (home to the rich and famous, it seems). This movie tells the tale of the free-living, strong-willed, morally loose cannon that is Jane (if ever the most ironic name). The record producers life takes a very different turn when her rather uptight son and his similarly straight-laced fiancé pit stop at her home, smack bang in the midst of an album recording and her love affair with the young English Frontman.
Laurel Canyon is rather difficult to pigeon hole, since it deals with issues ranging from the romantic, the erotic, the psychological and the musical. If you really had to put a genre to it though, it would be a romantic drama, spiced up by the rock element.
As director Lisa Cholodenkos second film, Laurel Canyon has been shot surprisingly well, in a sophisticated manner that perfectly captures the nostalgic, semi-unreality of the area and people in question. This is no doubt due to the guiding hand of Cholodenkos director of photography, the very capable Wally Pfister. The first time the audience sees Laurel Canyon itself, its from the beautiful sweeping view of a helicopter, and then from the birds eye view of a car driving up the winding hills. Filmed on a sunny day (not exactly rare in LA), these opening shots set a nostalgic atmosphere that is a nice throwback to the Joni Mitchell era, and provides the main tone to the movie. Cholodenkos directional skills have also extended to creating some fabulous set pieces that provide the film with the secluded record producers home that seems so shut off from reality, which makes Alexs (Kate Beckinsdale) transition from uptight university lover to her embroilment in the rock and roll lifestyle seem all the more possible.
In terms of acting, there is little to fault. Frances McDormand never fails to impress, and once again she provides a truly believable performance that is engaging and endearing at the same time. The relatively unknown Alessandro Nivola is deliciously funny as the carefree English upstart so sure of his own sexuality and musical talent, and his screen presence is one that I can see growing to a formidable force. Kate Beckinsdale and Christian Bale, as the uptight couple, give performances that wouldnt gain them any real praise, though at the same time you cant fault either since they dont really do anything WRONG as such. The problem with these two is that they merely coast through without making much of an impact. Natascha McElhone, on the other hand, is alluring and sexy as med student Sarah, and to me she was far more intriguing and attractive that Beckinsdale, the actress more known for her beauty. This cast ensemble works well together, and the chemistry between Bale and McElhone was especially effective on screen.
Thus, so far I have only had praise for the acting, direction and general feel of this film. Indeed, I enjoyed it well enough to watch it twice in quick succession. However, there are some issues I must quibble over. For one thing, the script and plot is at times like that of a soap opera. Melodrama galore and with several scenes that you could have seen screaming towards you at breakneck speed, Laurel Canyon falls short of a five star rating since at times it is annoyingly ridiculous. The cringe worthy threesome pool scene between Nivola, Beckinsdale and McDormand almost knocked my socks off, not because it was especially erotic or enjoyable, but because it was so silly, and went too far, too quickly for Beckinsdales character. From being such a scared, straight-laced little girl for the past half-hour of the film, I find it a bit of a leap to find her next sharing sexual encounters with her fiancés MOTHER and her younger boyfriend. It is this aspect of the film that loses it credibility. At times the plot was so soap opera themed I was given the distinct impression that Cholodenko secretly stays at home all morning devouring the Hallmark channel over the likes of All My Children, Days of Our Lives and, oh God, even Sunset Beach.
Despite the disappointing element of melodrama, Laurel Canyon maintains its potential for enjoyment and praise through its stellar cast and shooting. I was particularly impressed with the beauty of each shot, which I found to be effective in portraying why so many people craved the lifestyle on offer by Jane. Even the ridiculous plot twists were saved somewhat by the core of the story; that of a young couple secretly questioning their impending marriage, a mother and sons rocky relationship and the insecurities we all feel in our romantic dealings.
In short, Laurel Canyon is enjoyable to watch if you dont mind the decidedly melodramatic feel. At its centre there is an engaging story and set of characters, portrayed skilfully by each cast member. Even if the stunning cinematography and acting isnt enough, its worth it purely because you will NEVER have seen Frances McDormand like this before. She is truly quite shocking.
The DVD extras, although they would appear to be rather good, are not so impressive. The directors commentary is annoyingly similar, if not the exact same, as what Cholodenko says throughout the featurette option, which can cause boredom, what with listening to her say the same things twice. However, amidst the similarities, Cholodenko offers some nice extra details and explanations that a true fan would appreciate, making the commentary worth a listen (just dont watch the featurette immediately afterwards the sense of déjà vu will be incredibly frustrating!). Filmographies, as always, are handy if you find yourself being impressed by certain actors (Natascha McElhone for one), and the TV spots and theatrical trailers are enjoyable to watch. There is also a weblink feature, which, to be honest, I havent bothered to check out yet, though Im sure its good enough.
The extras could have been bulked out a bit more, for example some deleted or extra scenes are always a welcome addition, though the DVD covers the basics at least. Its alright for £6.99, in other words.
With an impressive cast ensemble and the capable workings of Wally Pfister, Laurel Canyon is an enjoyable, though not fantastic, film to watch. With enough DVD extras to keep regular Joe satisfied, its sale price of £6.99 is well worth the purchase. If youre a seasoned movie expert though, I might avoid this, since melodrama is not usually a component film lovers salivate over.
In short, its not bad, but its not GREAT either.
Thanks for reading
There are very few films I have seen that I can find little or no redeeming qualities in. I've allowed myself to commend the melodramatic hash-bash that was James Cameron's 'Titanic', I sat through the dreadful, takes-itself-too-seriously 'Halloween Resurrection' and even conceded that there was some enjoyment to be had through watching the many universally slammed Hollywood run-of-the-mill horror movies. I seem like a fair filmgoer, then, don't I? It's possibly surprising then that I simply cannot think of ONE good aspect of Cameron Crowe's 'Vanilla Sky'. It's quite frankly, a load of bollocks.
It's disappointing indeed that this film is so poor considering Crowe is usually a very capable director. In this case, however, he falls severely short of anything that could be called quality.
The first problem is the fact that this is a remake of what was a perfectly good film in the first place. I've always maintained that directors should steer clear of re-hashing enjoybale movies, because really, what's the point in that? Remakes should be reserved for films that were bad the first time around, thus a remake will improve things. Sadly, Crowe apparently doesn't agree with me on this count. Based upon the Spanish film 'Open Your Eyes', this film ruins what was done in a far more sophisticated, realistic and interesting manner the first time around.
A plot summary would be quite redundant in that...well, there isn't much of a plot. If I were to make any attempt, it would be something like this: Rich guy, not very nice. He has fun being a bit of a self-centered loser before he falls in love with a suitably beautiful girl. But hold on!! Things are not so sweet, after all. He's being stalked by the woman he spurned, and, oh ho, does she have it in for him. So much so that she drives him off a bridge, kills herself, then somehow manages to resurrect herself in order to steal his true love's identity and frame him for murder!!!! It's about as realistic as the Monster Raving Lunatic Party (which is headed by a CAT, no joke!) winning the General Election with a landslide majority.
Tom Cruise stars as the undeservedly rich David Aames. He's a decidely unlikable chap in that he sleeps around, whines a considerable amount of the time and doesn't seem to place much honour in the bonds of friendship. He carelessly casts aside the beautiful and clearly unbalanced Julie (Cameron Diaz) for Sofia (Penelope Cruz), despite the fact he is well aware his best friend is in love with the stunning, intelligent, Spanish laydee. What ensues is a jumbled concoction of confusing events that are badly edited, filmed, scripted and acted.
Cameron Diaz is suitably erratic, though she comes across as annoyingly childish, which is hardly appropriate considering her character is supposed to by sly and sexy. Cruise bumbles as he portrays David in a lacklustre performance that is only notable for his ridiculously poor attempts to look confused or angry. He quite simply can't. Penelope Cruz has never been particularly adept or impressive, though she did do a far better job playing the same character the first time. In this turn, she's merely dull and at times incredibly saccharine sweet, which hardly serves to help the audeience understand why David is so infatuated with her.
The script is laughable in its unashamed cheesiness. The scenes between Cruz and Cruise are cringeworthy as both spout romantic musings that are so overblown it's ridiculous. The scenes between Cruise and Kurt Russel also fall short, as the script falls into the same old, same old patient/psych relationship dialogue.
The main problem though, is the utter confusion you feel throughout the entire film. What could be explained away as bad editing is in fact done PURPOSEFULLY, which is quite shocking. I'm a fan of mysteries, and I don't like the plot to be spelled out for me, but in this case the join-the-dots game just falls flat in that it would be impossible to second-guess this silly plot. The jumping about between scenes serves only to frustrate and further confuse, and no, things do not become crystal clear at the end of the film. matters do, however, take on extremly preposterous proportions. I can guaruntee the resolve of this plot is one of the silliest you will ever encounter. Fantasy epics have had more realistic endings than this.
In short, this is one of the most diabolical films I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. Whilst I did quite enjoy the original Spanish 'Open Your Eyes', I found 'Vanilla Sky' to be a pathetically over-written, confusing juimble of crap. Badly acted with few engaging characters, poor scripts and a laugh-out-loud plot all make for a truly terrible film. Watch this at your peril.
They said it would never happen. Those music industry bozos claimed that Britpop was gone for good. I was most upset, as a fan of Blur, Ash and the likes. But now I have a resounding 'HA!' to those people who scoffed at this musical genre. Because, it's back. Oh baby, it is back with a vengeance. I introduce to you...the Kaiser Chiefs. They're Britpop with an arty/punk twist, and their debut album has just gone platinum in the UK. Here's why...
Kasier Chiefs have emerged from their hometown of Leeds amidst a cloud of hype akin to the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and the Futureheads. I'm normally one to be wary of hype, especially from the corner of NME, which tends to merely jump on the hype bandwagon till they grow bored of praising and turn on a band. However, I first came across this band last December, a bit pre-hype, when they supported the mighty Franz Ferdinand in the SECC in Glasgow. I was very, very impressed with their energy and catchy, I-can-dance-to-these songs. So, when their debut album 'Employment' was released, I was first in the queue.
A song-by-song rundown:
'Every Day I Love You Less & Less ' (get my title now?!):
This is an unusually impressive openening track for an album. I often find I dislike the first tracks and thus skip them, but in this case the first introductory seconds of beating bass line are a fabulous first hook. As the band's forthcoming single, this is a track that will have your head bobbing, your fingers snapping and feet pattering away. With fabulously funny lines such as 'I can't believe that you and I once did sex...cos every day I love you less and less', it's a funny and engaging song. The guitar riffs are britpop enthused and extremely catchy. A definite dance one.
'I Predict a Riot'
This was the guy's first single, and it's a harder, rockier song that EDILYLAL. With a very good chorus that has everyone who hears it singing it, it's another one to dance to. The melodies are very, very reminiscent of the likes of Blur, except with that arty twist (think Franz Ferdinand).
This is my personal favourite track from the album. Opening on a slower note than its predecessors, it takes time to mount into a fabulous anthem-esque song that you can just see being played on a stage at Glastonbury sometime soon.
'Na Na Na Na Naaa'
Incredibly upbeat and catchy opening of the same title, this song is pure fun. With a fast-paced chorus and slower verses, it's easy to let this wash over you and have your feet tapping. It does, however, sound quite similar to 'I Predict a Riot'.
'You Can Have it All
This is a more mellow track with some nice synthesizer action!! Frontman Ricky Wilson takes on a crooner persona for this song, and it makes for a calm, romantic listen. Very enjoyable indeed!
Oh My God
As the second single, this is unsurprisingly another rockier song with a very singable chorus. Opening with a scatty piano beat, it changes from an Ash 1977 type song to a soaring melody, combined with guitars and some bashing drums.
Born to be a Dancer
Once more opens with the piano before taking on a slightly harder edge. Its quite slow in tempo, with some fantastic melodies from several of the group. They combine their different tenors extremely well to create an upbeat but more mellow track.
In keeping with the slower tempo of the later tracks of the album, this remains relatively slow-paced, but with enough energy in voice and instrument to keep it a compelling listen. This song has some cracking lyrics and shows the bands more arty leanings.
What Did I Ever Give You?
This is a true nod to Blur. Very reminiscent of their early says, this is a kooky track that takes time to develop into a funky tune with an upbeat tempo. The boys all sing on this track, making for some nice contrasts in tenor.
Time Honoured Tradition
This reminds me of Madness in that its a bit crazy and offbeat. Staccato, bizarre lyrics to a moderately slow tempo make for a listen that will see you smiling. In fact the more I listen to it the more it comes across as a Monty Python-esque parody. Catchy chorus.
This track makes less of an impact but is good nevertheless. The slowest track on the album, it see Ricky Wilson and drummer Nick Hodgson combine some nice melodies here, their voices working well to offset each other. The piano backing adds something extra, but does make this track sound more serious, I think the word would be.
As the last track, its a nice album ender, relatively slow paced with some crooning vocals from Ricky Wilson. It doesnt take off on flight like the earlier tracks, so could be more of a background song. Its not spectacular, but a well written and instrumentally constructed song.
Employment is a well-balanced and refreshing listen. With influences ranging from The Yardbirds to Blur, this band may not be the most unique one on circuit at the moment, but they are certainly very appealing. The album on a whole is the perfect mixture of makes you want to dance around to just put on something for the background. With stand out tracks such as Every Day I Love You Less and Less and Modern Way, I think this band has a lot of promise. They are already doing extremely well, and I foresee a future quite alike that which has befallen my fellow Glaswegians Franz Ferdinand.
Their style is Britpop with a flavouring of arty-punk, which is a good mixture, in my humble opinion. Buy this if you like:
Ricky Wilson has a fresh, strong voice that adapts extremely well to the various styles of song on the album. With some skilled band members who also combine their vocals, this album comes across as a work of love and intelligence. I can also guarantee they are good live!! They may not become your favourite band, but this album will certainly become a regular on your CD player if youre wise enough to go purchase it now.
N.B. This is a review of an actual novel by Kim Wilkins which is not categorised separately. I apologise for this, but its not my fault really, its Dooyoos (wink wink, hint hint Dooyoo).
The Autumn Castle
When science fiction/fantasy review rag Starburst declared that this novel was horribly compelling, it was the understatement of the century. I read this 463 page book in one sitting. No joke.
Im sure its clear, then, that this book is a fantastic read that you will have trouble leaving behind. It tells the tragic story of Christine Starlight, a young woman troubled by crippling pain and deep insecurities after the death of her parents in a car crash that she alone survived. Living in an artists colony with her long term partner Jude, she begins to feel unsettled, both by memories of a strange friend from her past as well as the niggling thought that Jude does not love her to the great extent that she loves him. Just to complicate her life for the worse, this friend from the past turns up on her doorstep, beautiful, impetuous and morally loose and a faery queen. What follows is a fantastic read about the problems Christine faces as a result of the arrival of Mayfridh.
The Autumn Castle is, for sure, the best fantasy novel I have stumbled across for some time. Like my favourite fantasy author Sheri Tepper, Wilkins combines the modern day world with the fantasy realm in a delicious mix that creates the much needed sense of disparity and juxtaposition. Writing from the perspectives of several characters also helps in this aspect, as well as giving a nice, balanced storyline that is refreshingly free of the bias you sometimes encounter in fantasy novels (you know what I mean the story is all told in a 3rd person narrative, concentrating solely on the thoughts of the protagonist. It usually becomes a bit narcissistic for me!).
The first aspect of Wilkins writing I would like to commend is her characterisation. Forget your usual ridiculously perfect hero with immense powers, courage, blah, blah, blah Christine Starlight and her cohorts are wonderfully flawed, making for a far more realistic and interesting read. Christine herself is very self-pitying and insecure, which sure enough creates an element of sympathy, but at the same time you find yourself frustrated with her, as you are rightly supposed to be. Mayfridh, too, is quite a deliciously nasty piece of work. Not one for good intentions, she is concerned only with her own needs and causes Christine no amount of bother. Its fantastic to read these characters like this, purely because it draws you in far greater than you normally would be. I found myself at many points rooting so hard for Christine to stand up for herself or merely come out of her shell, whilst at others I wanted to throttle the character of Mayfridh. I was indeed very involved in this novel! The flaws of these characters and the misguided actions of several others also presents a very interesting moral take on life on the behalf of Wilkins. I found the ending of the novel extremely satisfying, unusual and interesting in that she doesnt do the and everyone lived happily ever after scenario. Thats not to mean you will be depressed. You just get a nice look at what some people would call karma.
Wilkins narrative flits intelligently and skilfully between the worlds she is describing, managing to portray a busy German city with fantastic realism and a fantasy realm with the perfect amount of escapism and beautiful prose. The contrast is palpable, which works well with the story, of which a great part is devoted to questioning which is the best place to live.
The story itself is, as I have already said quite explicitly, very compelling. Wilkins doesnt shy from the shock element, there are several twists and turns that take you quite unexpectedly, and she clearly isnt a fan of the barely escaped by the skin of your teeth scenario. Characters do not escape without consequences or injury, which once again makes this a realistic read, and sets the novel apart from a lot of fantasy authors who stick to the same formula of dramatic safe escapes and happy endings.
At the end of this novel I was left in no doubt that Wilkins is a gifted fantasy writer, and a quite unique one at that. She deviates from the status quo in many ways, which makes this novel a refreshing read for fantasy fans. Its a hefty read (I dont know how I managed it one day I must be damn gifted), but there is no sense that the narrative is convoluted or bogged down by unnecessary information. When reading each passage, I could see the relevance and enjoyed every page.
I am looking forward to reading more by Kim Wilkins in the future, but for any out there looking for her novels, start with The Autumn Castle, because it really is fantastic!
With lesbian escapades galore, Victorian ideals, a fish shop and even the highs and lows of theatre, Tipping the Velvet appears to be a bit of an eclectic read. Most of you will know that author Sarah Waters territory lies firmly in the I write bizarrely set lesbian tales category. When I began reading Tipping the Velvet, I was quite unaware of this, which made for a surprising read indeed. In the end, I cant quite comprehend this novel. The only thing I can say for sure is that it is certainly unique.
Set in the late 19th century to early 20th , Tipping the Velvet follows the lives of Nan and Kitty, two young ladies who happen upon each other, fall in love and embark on an exciting relationship that entails a whole lot of graphic sexual experimentation and becoming a double act for the stage. Strange stuff indeed. Then again, I read science fiction novels, so who am I to complain?
Waters narration is of a good enough standard to evoke some good mental images, meaning Victorian London becomes a nice reality to place the characters in. This becomes especially useful as the story develops and Nan spends her time in the city alone. Waters descriptions of the streets and buildings as dark, gothic and creepy images intensifies Nans sense of being alone. However, shes not going to be winning any Nobel prizes. Her dialogue screams average!, excepting the many sequences in which the reader is subjected to the graphic and entirely unromantic sex discussions. These sequences are anything but average. What they really appear to be are thinly veiled sex tips for the shy or closet lesbian readership. Suffice to say I didnt really find these sections particularly interesting, then.
In terms if characterisation, Waters falls short in skill here. I have not read any of her other novels thus I am not familiar with her style, but from this I have ascertained that she has little grasp of what makes fictional characters engaging. There have been ANTI-HEROES more likable than Kitty and Nan. At the beginning of the novel she portrays Nan well enough as the shy and sweet fish girl and Kitty as the sophisticated adult of the piece. However, as she attempts to develop the two girls she loses sight of their essential personalities. It is fair enough to say Nan comes out of her shell through Kittys influence, but when as she develops a backbone, she also develops a nasty streak that is very unpleasant to read. Kitty is far worse in that Waters has her do so many awful things and remain quite unrepentant for them that by the end of the novel you find yourself detesting the girl. The only light at the tunnel comes in the form of Nans later friend, who appears to be the only character who has escaped Waters obviously cynical take on human nature. However, I did get the impression that in this character Waters was merely trying to channel herself, which merely came across as a bit arrogant. In short, then, her characterisation needs a LOT of work.
Finally, I come to the one redeeming aspect of this novel, and that is the plot. As fantastical and absurd as it is, it is the one compelling factor that kept the pages turning for me. Amidst the several incredibly unlikable characters, there is at least some interesting developments. The Victorian setting in itself is bizarre enough, since it hasnt been the standard era for lesbian novels. The later portrayal of the upper class yet seedy lives of a certain London ladies club is quite brilliant. The grotesque events during this section are shocking but very emotive, and thus really quite enjoyable to read. It was this plot development alone that had me rooting for Nan, who up until this point had merely annoyed and repulsed me.
When I finished reading the last page of this novel, I was quite nonplussed. Perhaps it was merely due to the fact that I am unfamiliar with a novel of such an extremely overt sexual content. With retrospect, though, I must say I just couldnt decide whether or not I had actually liked the book. I did adore the plot, which was funny if nothing else. However, I hated Waters characterisation and poor dialogue. In this sense this is a bit of a dicey review as I write this I am still unsure of whether or not I want to give it one, two or perhaps three stars.
Like I said previously, if youre a closet lesbian or perhaps one who is just shy in the bedroom department who wants to add some spice, forget a sex manual, its all in here. In graphic detail, may I add. Thus, its not one for the kids, or those of a weak disposition. If, however, you want to read something different from your bog standard romance, why not give this a go, because its no Mills and Boon.
Im thinking three stars .but JUST.
Thanks for reading,
Christopher Columbus; what were you DOING?! Coming along, taking on the massive job of turning a world-famous book series into film and flaming FLUFFING it?! Baaad idea. Bad, bad career move. I hate to say it, but this man ruined the first two Harry Potter films. When he finally scampered off with his tail between his legs (thank God), it was Spanish director Alfonso Cuaron who took over his mantle. With a film as good as Y Tu Mama Tambien in his filmography, I was expecting bigger and better things. After seeing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in the cinema, and then another ten times or so (so far) both between the cinema and at home on my DVD player, I have not been disappointed!
Im sure the majority of you know the story by now, but just in case here goes: We join Harry as he enters his 3rd year at Hogwarts. His life is about to become complicated (once more!) when he discovers that Sirius Black, one of the most dangerous black wizards in the magical world, has escaped from the terrifying Azkaban Prison. Not only that, but it appears hes escaped solely to kill Harry. Tis troubling times, indeed.
Prisoner of Azkaban exceeds the previous two films in leaps and bounds. In the expert hands of Cuaron and with a great deal of input from Potter author J.K. Rowling herself, this film is a wonderful adaptation of a fantastic book.
***** Direction *****
Shot mainly in Scotland, the film is breathtakingly beautiful at times, and the attention to detail/study of nature is an extra bonus. Cuaron skilfully adds a more mature and complex spice to this film by taking in more of the environment, watching its progress and often reflecting it upon the events of the film. Indeed, it also goes one step further than Columbus ever did to truly bring to life the rich illustrative descriptions Rowling provides in her books.
Cuaron has also added several original ideas of his own that add some humour to the film (see the talking heads in the Three Broomsticks, and the talking head on the Knight Bus).
In terms of interaction with the cast, its clear how skilled he is in teasing out talent. He did encourage the three young stars to write essays on the maturing lives of their characters, in the hope of an increased sense of identification. It certainly appears to have worked, as Cuaron has managed to encourage far superior performances from all three.
***** Acting *****
In the previous films, I have been quite disappointed with the standard of acting from the three child stars. Finally, though, these guys are maturing, and its showing in their performances. The experience and guiding hand of Cuaron is undoubtedly a help, and thankfully Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson all put in a good turn. Radcliffe has finally mastered some facial expressions aside from the oh no, Ive just farted face he usually wears, and Emma Watson in particular impresses with a more subtle performance. With help from the great Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith, the acting standards have undoubtedly shot up with this film. Add to this the presence of legend Gary Oldman and you have a winner.
***** Effects *****
Lord of the Rings fans, check out the Dementors. They are far superior in design and construction , meaning they are very scary and realistic. Their chilling presence on screen was wonderful to behold, and blew away any impressions I had to the LOTR Ring Wraiths.
There is also the fantastic creation of Buckbeak, the Hippogriff creature that seemed impossible to visualise upon reading the book. However, the effects team have managed it with style and flair. Harrys ride through the Hogwarts grounds on this CGI creature is incredibly realistic looking, as well as breathtaking.
***** Overall thoughts on the film *****
Cuaron was the right man for the job. Improvements in script, sets, acting and visuals all add up to a far superior standard of film. As a film on its own, it is certainly a great watch. Harry Potter fans will love every minute of it, regardless of the sections that inevitably have to left out from the books. Even those who have not read the book will appreciate the style and story of this film (my boyfriend loved it, and hes a total film buff). The only people to avoid this, are young children. It may well be targeted at this audience, but the reality is that this film is longer, more mature and contains far more dialogue sections that the previous two. I found that most young kids in the cinema grew bored of these lengthy conversations very easily, so unless youre the parent of a very studious, intelligent four year old, steer them away for a year or two until they can appreciate it more.
There are still areas that could be improved upon (acting standard could still be bettered, I'm sure), and the film is not perfect. On a whole though, I feel this is a good stepping stone for the 4th film, due for release next year, I believe.
***** DVD Extras *****
I was quite impressed with the extras on this DVD, small in number they may be. Extras include:
- Unseen footage
- Creating the Vision interview with Rowling and film crew
- Visual tours
- Johnny Vaughn interviews
- CGI behind-the-scenes documentary
- Animal trainers (meet them you dont really, but oh well)
- Theatrical trailers
- Game preview
Its clear that most of these are targeted at the younger consumers, such as the visual tours and games. However, the adult viewer should enjoy the unseen footage, which is quite good really, and the Johnny Vaughn segments, which are also quite funny. The interview with Rowling and Cuaron is very interesting and reveals quite a bit (if you read between the lines) about how they went about making the film. The three main stars come across very well in their combined interview, and hardcore fans will really appreciate seeing what these kids are like in so-called real life.
You can buy this DVD for around £15 from Amazon, and Id say its definitely worth a look. Based upon such a good book, and with the presence of actors such as Rickman and Gary Oldman, its a film buff must. I'd give it five stars, but I'd still like to see a little better from Radcliffe and co. so I'll be rating this 4 out of 5.
Cuaron shoots and scores!
Thanks for reading
Unless youve reached what humanist psychologists call self-actualisation and thus live in harmony and peace with the world (which, by the way, I highly doubt), Im guessing that at one point or another youve felt stressed out. Day-to-day stress, exam worries, work woes, child induced headaches or simply feeling worn out are all problems that have one easy, and extremely nice, solution. That solution is to book yourself an aromatherapy massage.
***** What to expect *****
This kind of massage is different from your bog standard one in that the masseuse makes use of natural oils which have been proven to relax and calm. Its an incredibly nice experience, and I can guarantee a sense of relaxation will not be far behind, no matter how stressed you may be.
The best idea is to book your massage with a professional, who will ensure you have a one on one session before the actual event. This session will establish some important points about your lifestyle, eating habits, worries and general emotional state. This then allows the masseuse to choose the right blend of oils for you (each oil has a different purpose/effect) and also to concentrate on any area of your body you feel tension in or have bother with. I found this session to be quite informal and easy-going, though some people may feel uncomfortable being asked about their menstrual cycle or weight (this obviously only applies to women). Male participants are usually given some much more general questions, as I discovered when comparing my session with that of my boyfriend, who had a massage in the room next to mine (this all happened in the superb Edinburgh Floatarium, just in case youre interested).
Pre-massage preparation merely involves the masseuse briefing you on what he/she will do, advising you how to position yourself on the bed and then leaving you to undress. Dont be fazed by your nakedness, you are allowed to keep your lower underwear on and your private areas are covered discreetly by a towel. As a very shy person, I expected to feel very embarrassed, but once the massage started I forgot all about my bareness, and soon realised that these people see this every day, thus its no big deal!
The massage itself can vary depending on who you go to. I was lucky enough to experience a full body massage, which is self explanatory Id say! My boyfriend was given a more sparing massage, though I wouldnt say this spoils your enjoyment, as he seemed very pleased with the experience regardless. Anyway, the massage is gentle, and not in any way painful. The oils create a wonderful aroma that lulls you into a very nice relaxed state. A good masseuse will always have made sure you do not have any allergies, and should also ask you at each point if their touch is too strong, or painful. If they do not, theyre not doing the job properly, and you should complain immediately. Aromatherapy is all about gentle relaxation, so roughness should not come into the equation.
The full body massage begins with the upper and mid back area. You can literally feel any tension melt away as you experience this. Believing it cant get any better than this, you are then pleasantly surprised when your legs are attended to. This was extremely nice, which did surprise me. Arms, hands, then neck, face and head follow. Each step makes you feel gradually more and more relaxed, and as the oils take time to truly form, youll find that as time marches on the aroma will become much nicer and more mellow.
Once the massage itself is over (unfortunately), the masseuse brings you some water, which you MUST drink to flush out any oil that has made its way into your system. Afterwards, you dress, have one last briefing in which youre advised to keep cosy, relax, and aim to keep the oils on for the rest of the day.
After leaving, your skin should feel luxuriously soft and you should feel very relaxed and happy.
***** The benefits *****
After an aromatherapy massage, youll find your whole mood has altered. I found myself to be in good spirits for the remainder of the day, and I felt very calm and easy-going. Its a very nice experience, and the exam jitters I had previously been dealing with seemed far less worrying now. This is due to the oils. The masseuse informed me that the blend she used was ideal for reducing your worry levels and relaxing you both physically and mentally. Believe me, it worked!
In more serious terms, this form of massage can be of great benefit to people who have suffered injuries in the past, and still experience tension in the same area. Tight muscles can be relaxed if attended to in this way regularly, thus those who suffer from stiff necks should certainly try this!
People who are depressed or very stressed out will also reap the benefits of this wonderful experience. Its a very soothing mental experience, and I believe those feeling down will feel a great lift from this (my mother, who was depressed at the time of her massage, came out looking much happier than she had for a long time!). Its not a long term cure, but it can help to soothe the daily feelings of wear and tear.
***** Expense *****
You can book an hour long session for around £35, which is a bargain, considering how lovely this is! Prices will of course vary, but the most expensive youll find should be around £50, anything above this you should avoid, because thats simply ridiculous.
If, however, youre skint like me or dont fancy a stranger massaging you, you can buy aromatherapy massage oil from various outlets. Id think it would be a nice bonding experience with a partner, and this way solves any cost/time/travel problems. Nivea do a nice massage oil for £12, which seems pricey but it lasts for a long time, and is certainly worth it. You can purchase this kind of oil from most chemists, Boots, Superdrug etc,
***** Conclusion *****
This is a wonderfully relaxing and beneficial experience. Id advise anyone feeling a bit worn down or worse to try this remedy.
The only people who shouldnt try this are pregnant women, those with heart problems or severe allergies, as the oils may cause some interference.
All in all, its a damn good experience :)
Hamsters are one of the most popular pet choices across Britain today. We hamster lovers have been waging an all-out war against those cat and dog fanatics, and are now proud to say that more hamsters are bought per year than their bigger furry friends. Britain is no longer the land of the canine. I introduce to you, ladies and gentleman, the land of the HAMSTER.
Now, Ive had a fair few hamsters in my time. First off there was Sammy (original name, eh?), who slept night and day, got incredibly fat and yet lasted two years, which is a long time for a hamster, which has the average shelf life of 18 months. More recently, my lovely boyfriend bought me two for my birthday, since I was missing my little friend so much. These two characters are Benny and Joon (of the same named film, which I love), both female, and supposedly Russian dwarves. I say supposedly because Benny has grown into a monster, and Im beginning to doubt her stellar breeding background. They were bought in Focus, I suppose. Anyway, I have shared a lot of joy (ah the cheese) with these friends of mine, and what follows is a plea to you to make room in your life for a wee furry ball that also happens to eat, sleep and run about like a lunatic.
***** Why a hamster? *****
Well, theres several reasons why hamsters make ideal and fun pets. For one thing, theyre perfect starter pets for young kids. Not too big, and lacking the same attention and care dogs or cats require, hamsters are ideal for introducing kids to feeding needs, how to handle animals with care and keeping them clean and happy. If the child grows bored of the pet (which usually successfully proves the parental view that they are not mature enough for a bigger pet), then its pretty damn easy to take over the caring yourself.
Hamsters are also the premier pet for someone who wants a furry friend, but hasnt got the time to spare. If youre a nine to five person, the hamster is an ideal choice, since the majority of them sleep all day whilst youre out doing the hard work. When you come home at night, you can marvel at the fact your hamster is not craving the attention of a neglected doggy, but only requires his/her food bowl and water to be replenished. You can then sit back and relax whilst watching the crazy little thing run all over its cage as though youve inadvertently given it speed for its dinner. Theyre very entertaining creatures, for sure.
Lastly, hamsters are just fun. If you purchase a friendly hamster, you can occupy yourself for hours handling them (watch out for the nice little poos they like to deposit on your hand though), letting them go crazy around the house in a running ball, or simply watching them scoot about the cage, cos theyre damn well fast little things.
***** Feeding *****
Hamsters eat a couple of grams of food per day, plus storing an extra gram or so around their cage for later purchase. This means that these little guys must be fed every day, and their water bottle refilled regularly to avoid any bacteria forming, so its best to do this at the same time as feeding each night/morning. I have found hamsters are easily pleased, so you could be tempted to give them anything they bother to sniff at. Dont. Hamsters should only eat their daily helping of specific hamster meal, and the occasional bit of lettuce, apple or grape. The hamster feed can be found in any pet shop and nowadays in most supermarkets, and you can purchase a fairly large bag for around £2. Ive found that for two hamsters, these bags last around a month or two, which is quite good value for money. You can also buy hamster stick treats, which you can occasionally hang in their cage for a change in pace, or merely to sharpen their teeth (if youre brave that is).
***** Exercise *****
Lucky you, you wont need to take your hamster out on a lead in all weathers. They are incredibly active little creatures, and youll find they probably get enough exercise merely running their wheel during the night. I read somewhere that they run on average three miles per evening! However, if you want your hamster to have a little variation, you can purchase a ball for around £3. These balls are strong and secure enough that you can let your hammy have the run of the house without worrying theyve escaped (just dont leave them alone near the top of a staircase!!!). You can also buy various cage attachments which will inevitably add more exercise to your hamsters life. These attachments are cheap and fit the majority of standard cages, though beware that some hamsters simply dont want to climb up a narrow tube, and may well ignore this new extension.
***** Hygiene *****
You should clean your hamsters cage out about once every two weeks, more if necessary. The cage gets a bit more smelly as the master grows older, not sure why, but it means more regular cleaning is required. The best way for cleaning is to move your hammy somewhere its going to be secure and happy for the duration of your job. I usually empty the contents of the cage into the bin before cleaning it with bleach and fairy liquid (to get away the smell!) in some very hot water. You might want to let the cage steep for a while, but not so long that the wire will rust!!! The best cage interior is large sawdust flakes, because they are unlikely to get into your hammys eye, and its also designed to absorb moisture, thus keeps their cage nice and dry.
For the hamster itself, Ive found they generally keep themselves clean, much like a cat. However, it is advisable now and again to gently brush their coats with a soft bristled tooth brush, which keeps them nice and shiny looking, plus they like it!!
***** The company hamsters may keep *****
Full-size hamsters must be kept separate from others. They are extremely territorial, and will fight to the death if affronted with another hamster. Its said that dwarves can live together in harmony, though I have to say that I had to separate Benny and Joon once they had reached about four months old. Perhaps I was just unlucky, but my two simply did not get on, so Id advise you to be careful when raising more than one hamster together.
However, the more friendly hamsters can keep a varied company. You may even keep them alongside guinea pigs, rabbits and even dogs, providing they know their place. My dads dog happens to get along very well with Benny, and we have a lot of laughs watching them gaze at each other through the wires of her cage!
***** So have I convinced you? *****
Hamsters are wonderful pets, and they have a LOT of character. Despite being so small, they take on a life of their own, and you can have a lot of fun once youve established its behaviour habits and personality. Theyre easily cared for, not too much hassle, and of course, really quite cute. You can purchase a hamster for the bargain price of around £6, so really, theres nothing stopping you!
The only warning Ill bequest is that if youre the kind of owner who needs a lot of pet TLC in return, you wont get in from a hamster, who will only go so far as to recognise your voice, and allow you to handle it. I think thats pretty good for such a small and solitary creature, but maybe others think this falls a bit short in the love category. In that case, make sure youve got the time and love and go buy a dog.
Basically, though, Im saying Yay to hamsters!!
Thanks for reading
Iain Banks is my favourite author. I have never encountered any other writer with such a diverse talent, whose novels chnage in genre from out and out science fiction, to romance, to thriller, and in the case of 'The Bridge', psychological science fiction.
Published in 1984, 'The Bridge' was written by Banks as a homage to the great Scottish author and painter Alasdair Gray. The novel is, in fact, based loosely upon Gray's monumental work 'Lanark', a book that is heralded as the greatest Scottish novel of all time (arguably!).
Now, 'The Bridge' is admittedly a difficult and complex novel to grasp. Without giving too much away, although if you read the blurb unbder 'description' you may find the plot twist spoiled, I'll give you a brief plot rundown;
The opening section of the novel describes what you think is a crash. Thereafter, we are fascinated and confused with several different sections. One details the life of John Orr, a man washed up at the foot of the majestic Bridge. Orr is suffering from amnesia, and can't quite grasp the fact that he has woken up in a place that seems to be a never-ending bridge. Amongst this we are introduced to a set of Orr's dreams, some his own fabrication, some real. Then there is the life story of an unknown man peppered throughout the novel. It is indeed complex, but incredibly compelling and very unusual.
Banks has always excelled in story-telling that requires the piecing together of a mystery. His technique of very gradually revealing past events from the life of the protagonist is one that works extremely well in this case. As the life of the man in the hospital bed is slwoly revealed, the reader comes tantalisingly close to the truth, whilst in contrast Orr's past remains frustratingly elusive, which makes turning the pages a very compelling act.
The narrative itself is, as always in Banks' case, really quite diverse. Ranging from utterly confusing (see the opening page), to your bog standard English, base Scots and Glaswegian, the language is a fascinating study (what Gray would call 'critic fodder'). Once you've reached the end of the novel and understand who the barbarian and the man in the hospital bed are, the narrative takes on a whole deeper meaning. The barabarian, with his slang and ridiculously spelled language, represents the deepest part of Orr, a part that he is deeply ashamed of.
This novel is truly unique. Not quite science fiction, not quite a psychological thriller, 'The Bridge' would not fit comfortably into any category. The story is incredibly compelling; I can guarantee you'll be itching to discover the truth behind Orr's past, as well as the identity of the man in the hospital bed, as he is known throughout the novel. The gradual unravelling of the story is masterfully woven by Banks, and I'm sure Gray would be quite flattered and impressed with his homage.
I'd advise you to read this novel if:
(a) you're an Iain Banks fan
(b) you like an interesting read that doesn't patronise or insult your intelligence
(c) you like 'Lanark'
(d) you're breathing
I'm sure we'd all fit into one of the above categories ;-p
However, if you have little patience and like things to be spelled out for you, avoid this novel at all costs. Banks leaves it up to you do pick at the elusive clues and make your own conclusions, so lazy readers beware. This is a fascinating, complex book, and I'd rate it as one of Banks' best to date. So go read it, now!!!
P.S. did any of you smarty pants work out the 'man in the hospital bed's ' name? Well there's two clues, if I give you the name, see if you can work out where I found it...Alexander Lennox.
Thanks for reading :-)
The year is 1963.
The Cold War is at its peak in tension.
There is the Cuban missile crisis.
The world is living in fear.
It is a serious time, indeed.
So what does Stanley Kubrick do? Well, he makes a film that pokes fun at the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. Dicey, yes, but absolutely and breathtakingly brilliant.
Based loosely upon the novel 'Red Alert' by Peter Bryant, 'Dr. Strangelove' began as a straight-laced nuclear threat thriller. A good way into the script production, however, Kubrick realises that perhaps this film might be even better with some humour. Dear me, was the man right (then again, when is this genius not right?). In the end Kubrick had produced a movie that was laugh out loud funny whilst terrifyingly realistic. In today's 'terror environment', 'Dr. Strangelove' seems all the more chilling in its poltical accuracy.
The film tells the story of two war-mongering baffoons (I wonder if a certain Mr. Bush and his delightful, ahem, son have seen this film? hmmm), both of whom are quite hellbent on beginning a nuclear disaster, aimed primarily at the Soviet Union. Desperate to prevent this is the President and a certain Captain Mandrake. What ensues is a hilarious dig at war generals and politicians alike, and yet the film maintains its more serious pacifist message throughout.
Peter Sellers, of Pink Panther fame, is the man behind the fantastic portrayals of characters Captain Mandrake, the President and Dr. Strangelove himself. Sellers has always been a favourite of mine, and in these three very different roles he exceeds himself. Absolutely hilarious (and also quite frightening!) as the crazy Dr. Strangelove, endearing as the well-meaning President and engaging as the poor, fumbling Mandrake, Sellers sails through his roles with ease, delivering each scene with sophistication and perfect comic timing. You would be hard pressed to find fault in his performance (three times over!), which is testament to Kubrick's fantastic directing skills, and of course to his own immense talent.
There are also notable performances from Geroge C. Scott as the obnoxious General Turgidson and Sterling Hayden as the madcap general behind the entire fiasco, Jack D. Ripper. Note the names. Absolutely fantastic :)
Running at a relatively short 90 mins, this is a film that has you riveted with its mix of humour and heart-palpitating fear. The personalities and actions of the crazy generals can be transferred qith ease to contemporary figures, which is a very chilling thought. As comical as this film may be, what you are really left thinking about afterwards is the shocking realism of the possibility of nuclear war.
The DVD itself has some impressive extras to add to your enjoyment of this purchase;
* 'Inside the Making of Strangelove' featurette
* 'The Art of Stanley Kubrick' featurette (my personal favourite, being the Kubrick groupie that I am)
* Interviews with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott
* Theatrical trailer
* Press Kit
The 'Making Of' feature is really quite interesting, dealing with Kubrick's influence, the script writing and various other aspects that a hardcore fan would love to know and bore people with down at the pub. The only thing missing from the extra features section is a commentary, which I would have really appreciated. Sadly, Kubrick wasn't quite the charismatic figure to do such a thing, meaning I'll have to make do with the making of feature (which is fair enough, I suppose, because it is of a high standard).
This DVD is currently on sale at HMV for the bargain price of £6.99. If you're politically minded and fancy a laugh combined with an intellectual watch, then this DVD is the perfect choice for you. However, if your favourite film is something along the lines of 'American Pie' or 'Gothika', avoid this at all costs, because you'll probably be bored by it. This is a film for the intelligent viewer, and a lot of the humour is subtle, so beware, slap-stick lovers. It may well be a PG, but kids won't appreciate it either.
To summarise, this is a truly wonderful film, with stellar performaces, direction and scripting. Despite being made as far back as 1963, it's a modern classic in that its message can still be heard loud and clear. So do yourself a favour, and click yourself along to amazon and buy it, you won't regret it!
Thanks for reading
You could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking Toni Morrison's 'Beloved' is a literary masterpiece, what with it winning the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature. Unfortunately though, these prizes don't always go to the right people. I'll risk controvesy by maintaining that I find 'Beloved' quite awful, and simply unworthy of such a great accolade as a Nobel prize. It's a novel with delusions of grandeur, written in arrogance and, to be quite frank, a book that is impossible to engage with.
Remember the day when reading fiction was all about escapism and enjoying a read about someplace/someone doing something far more interesting than you? Now, I'm not against novels with a purpose, or a message as such, but in the case of 'Beloved', I fear Morrison takes her mission too far. Attempting to meld horror, tragedy, history, fiction and political comment all at once, Morrison has only succeeded in creating a novel that feels weighed down by it's multi-faceted purpose and excludes a great majority of its readership.
I'll start with the problem with the plot. Set in the mid 19th century, 'Beloved' tells the bizarre story of a woman who has escaped a life of slavery, only to have her daughter 'taken' from her by means of a violent death. Having haunted her mother and sister for years, the unrestful spirit then takes the form of a teenage girl who returns to her family, creating a good few problems in the process. Sounds interesting, doesn't it? Well, sadly, it's not. I found that I really had to force myself to continue reading this novel, and frequently I wanted to skip entire chapters, which were either overwritten or simply uninteresting.
The story in itself sounds simple (if silly) enough. However, Morrison complicates what possibly could have been an interesting ghost tale by adding a poltical message that we've encountered many times before. This is when things begin to get convoluted. Mixed in with the sense of Beloved's dangers, the reader is also expected to deal with Morrison's views on slavery. Whilst at times I merely wanted to find out why Beloved had returned and what she had in store for the unsuspecting family, Morrison was boring me with asides from the characters' pasts that were really quite irrelevant, and could have been left out without detriment to the story. Now, I am aware that Morrison's main point was to write a book on slavery. It says a lot, then, that when reading this said book, the reader is finding the more trivial ghost plot more interesting.
Morrison's main problem is her arrogance. She described this novel as being aimed at 'her people, her tribe, her family'. Fair enough, I understand that in the past African Americans suffered greatly at the hands of slavery. But hold on. It was 1993 when Morrison wrote this novel. How could she possibly put herself on a par with people who died many years before she was even born? She arrogantly assumes she deserves sympathy for a political effect that, really, had no effect upon HER. In fact, it's doubtful she would have any real understanding of such a plight, making her historical thread somewhat less credible.
And onto the narrative. Basically, Morrison thinks she's being quite clever in her complex dialogue. Really, she only (again) comes across as arrogant. The language in this novel at times is so bizarre that it's impossible to understand upon first reading what is being said. This only serves to exclude readers (i.e. white readers, since apparently white people do not fall into the category of Morrison's so-called 'tribe'). Her habit of writing non-sentences (she frequently neglects to include approproate verbs, adjectives and even nouns) is merely irritating, and doesn't come across as the kind of language Black people would speak, only (perhaps) young children. In short, it's contrived and only paints her characters as lazy.
Morrison's problem is that she has tried to do too much in one novel. As noble as it is to highlight the horrors of slavery, we've seen it all before, and in a much more realistic and interesting way. Thrown together with a silly ghost story, the message is bogged down and far too convoluted to be enjoyable. A plot twist that leaves you incredibly angry does not help matters.
The only redeeming feature of the entire novel is the one character of Paul D. As the only remotely interesting figure, his past, unlike the others', is very compelling. He has far more depth and relism than any other in the novel. Why? Only Morrison could answer this one. For some reason she devoted more thought to Paul D, thankfully creating one aspect that can keep the pages turning.
In short, this book does not belong on any list of Nobel prize winners. I may not have the qualifications the judging panel possess, but really, I doubt you'll need a PHD in literature to realise this novel just isn't very good. Just because a book is unique, Nobel board, this doesn't mean it's wonderful.
As a nation, Scotland is terribly proud of her heritage. Dating back to the Scottish Renaissance of the 1930's, this is a country desperate to prove her worth and discover her identity. Authors, poets, businessmen, PR people etc are all just dying to give Scotland a defining image. My advice to them, and also to those seeking a taste of real Scottish culture would be to visit the West End of Glasgow, the 2004 'City of Style'.
Why the West End? Well, it's one of the oldest parts of the city, for one thing, meaning the area is a hotbed of history and thus national culture. The University alone is a historic building that draws thousands of tourists a year (ha ha, meanwhile I'm getting paid to go there every day!). To see the main building of the University of Glasgow is an experience in itself. A relic of the gothic architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries, this building is a breathtaking sight. What's more is that the great number of students have led to the introduction of many fabulous shops, restaurants and cafes for you to peruse and enjoy.
The Botanic Gardens is another reason on its own behind visiting this area. Situated on the immense Great Western Road, this is an absolutely beautiful place to experience, and all the more enjoyable in that entry is free! On a warm sunny day, admittedly rare in Glasgow, scores of people flock to this park to enjoy the gardens. I've found it handy myself as a student, having gone there now and again to escape those university blues we all inevitably have now and again. The super attraction, in my opinion, is the building directly opposite the Byres Road entrance to the Botanic Gardens. This building is the newly refurbished Oran Mor, described as 'a celebration of Scotland'. How much more culture could you ask for?
Oran Mor is a restaurant/comedy club/music venue/auditorium. If all of the Scottish tradition or identity could have been squeezed into one building, then this is it. With a contemporary Scottish bar and fabulous Scottish styled menu, it's a must for any tourist looking to get a taste of the nation. Great Scottish comedians and bands are showcased here regularly (Billy Connelly watch your crown, it may well be stolen by some upstart from Oran Mor!) The major attraction though, is the amazing auditorium. The fame lies in the painting hanging here, by Alasdair Gray, also known as one of Scotland's greatest authors. Having attended the Glasgow School of Art and also taught at the university, Gray is a true Westender, and also a damn fine painter. I'd advise you to go check it out, because Oran Mor is more than a celebration of Scotland, it's a museum, or a homage to it.
On a more general level, the West End is an immaculate and interesting area to stroll around. You can occupy yourself for hours merely by walking along Great Western Road, then down Byres Road. Here you'll find fantastic world trade shops, some superb restaurants and quirky little cafes. As an insider I would recommend you visit:
(1) Oran Mor (as I've probably already driven home)
(2) Botanic Gardens
(3) 1 Devonshire Gardens (walk past and try to glimpse a peek of a celeb!)
(4) Stravaigin 2 (great restaurant)
(5) The Glory Hole (fab little second hand clothes shop, very retro/offbeat)
(6) The University
(7) Aladdin's Cave
(8) Cleopatra's (aka Clatty Pat's, is not classy, but it's a Scottish institution!)
(10) The Grovesnor Cinema (you can book SOFAS to watch some great films on)
The West End has a wide range of pubs, clubs and shops for the younger generations, and plenty of restaurants, sites and much of the same for the older (I know full well those over 50 still like to party!).
It's extremely easy to navigate and get around the area, what with a very reliable and handy underground service as well as more taxis than an army would require to shuffle from one trench to the next. With a Hilton hotel and many guest houses, you'll also never find yourself short of habitation options!
All in all I'd say the West End is my favourite place to hang out and have fun. Free of neds (as we call those prone to neanderthal behaviour in Scotland), it's a sophisticated and offbeat place to visit, and certainly a kooky way to introduce yourself to some Scottish culture!
Thanks for reading :)