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    • The Ant Bully (DVD) / DVD / 42 Readings / 38 Ratings
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      20.07.2007 19:29
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      Film about Them again, the ants with a moral backround

      For those of you familiar with these films, you may wonder about the originality of this movie given the choice of main characters before even watching. This is because this is the third animated film made in recent years featuring a colony of ants. Following on from “A Bug’s Life” and “Antz”, you may not wish to see another film with Them, our formic acid friends. This insect does seem to have taken the monopoly of such films given its stereotypical nature of all of them working together for the common good of all. Do not other insects demonstrate this phenomenon? How about bees, for instance? Ants aren’t exactly cuddly and we try to remove their nests if they are situated too close to our own house.

      However, this movie is different from these other films and so, for this reason, it deserves to be looked at independently. For one thing, this movie includes an interaction between ants and humans. A small boy called Lucas is subject to bullying from a much larger kid. In his frustration and feeling unable to defend himself, he takes it out on the anthill situated in his front garden. The ants recognise their constant tormentor and give him the name of “The Destroyer”. One of the ants is a wizard called Zoc and he devises a potion to make Lucas as small as they are so he can be fought on equal terms. For me, this seems merely a plot device purely to find a way to make Lucas small. It just doesn’t feel right in context. Whilst in “A Bug’s Life”, the inventor was also out of the mainstream of Them, it fitted seamlessly into the ants’ lives as he was looking to improve their food collection. In this case, the wizard is just a maverick. He makes spells and so now they can take on “The Destroyer”. It just didn’t hang very well as it did not relate to natural behaviour.

      Once Lucas has been made small, he is taken to the colony and put on trial. Despite Zoc wanting to kill the boy, he is sentenced, by the wise queen, to learn to live like an ant before he can return to the human world. Hova, a nurse ant, volunteers to train him. This leads to a predictable journey of learning about the ant world, their differences and their similarities to humans. This did produce some nice repartee especially when comparing the merits of the internal and external skeletons. However, the training regime look so staged that again it did not hang together well in context.

      Then the incident from near the start of the film regarding the exterminator came into play in an obvious way and drives the rest of the film. Whilst still big, Lucas had been bullied into signing a contract for the exterminator to do his stuff on their property. This was clearly ridiculous as a child cannot make any such agreement. Anyway, as he is now with the ants and changing his mind about them anyway, he has to reveal that a worse destroyer is coming and they have to work out ways to prevent their own Armageddon.

      The ants have been animated with a realistic look. They have six workable legs and move about in a generally realistic manner. However, this is in stark contrast to the humans, who look extremely weird. When I first saw Lucas’s mother, I was so surprised by her appearance with her bottom half swelled up out of proportion with her top half that it completely put me off what was happening. The other humans fare little better, with even their personalities given some too off-the-wall characteristics. Grandma, known as Mommo for some unexplained reason, is really weird (and not in a good way) being obsessed by aliens and UFOs. Later in the film, it can be seen why these characteristics were assigned to her, but my daughter thought her too strange to be taken seriously or to be believable in any way in the remainder of the film.

      The overall morals of the story were handled weekly. There was no subtlety with the direction. For instance, when Lucas is bullied at the beginning, his immediate response is to attack the ants. Although it is a common reaction that when one is bullied there is a natural tendency to pick on someone even smaller, there was no logical progression to get from one point to the other. This followed on with the further points such as the need for cooperation to achieve goals, working for the common good as well as not bashing those smaller than yourselves losing all of its emphasis.

      My son did like the bit where Lucas is shrunk and he has to run around naked. However, as soon as he manufactured some clothes for himself, my son lost interest. He wants funny action pieces and this was severely lacking in this film, in his opinion. The attack of the wasps was well done but then it highlighted the vast areas of slow periods without much of interest happening.

      The big name actors did not really bring anything to the film to justify the use of their voice characterisations. Nicolas Cage (Zoc) and Julia Roberts (Hova) did not have sufficiently distinctive voices that can bring their animated characters alive. Meryl Streep was good as the Queen but as that was not a very big part, it did not require her to greatly extend herself. Paul Giambatti plays the exterminator in the required mean and nasty manner. However, it is rather clownish and detracts from his evilness.

      There were some very good witty remarks dotted throughout the film but they got lost in the general ambilevance to the action. For instance, Mommo was wishing Lucas good night, she added such a great line after “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” that we all laughed out loud. Another good line is after the colony is flooded and the ants complain that it will take them a whole day to rebuild the nest!

      EXTRAS

      Six Shorts: These are six very short scenes that seek to exploit our familiarity with the characters of the film for some extra laughs. They are a good idea in principle but they are too short to make a real impact. As with the film itself, it could be seen that there was something good within, it just didn’t come out enough.

      “It took a colony” This is a typical documentary of how the film was made that appears as many an extra on DVDs. Unless they have something new to say, they are not very interesting and just feel like padding. That or they were just trying to feel clever. In this case their attempt to make it feel interesting is to take the minor character of the beetle and having him “interview” the director. Also presumably in an attempt to get you to pay attention or perhaps for the youngsters watching, they also ask you to spot the animated ants that appear throughout the piece. If anything it detracts from what they are saying as you cheerfully cry: “I see one”. But then again that might be a blessing.

      “Ant habitat”. This is a strange little piece. It shows one of these ant farms in a glass case that you can have in your homes, where you can see all their activity underground. It is kind of mesmerising for awhile but then you realise that it is on a continuous loop and it is never going to stop unless you press the menu button. It was an interesting idea but it needed more variety and different sequences to be re-watchable.

      Deleted scenes. These were interesting for once. I felt that some of these could have been left in the film and would have made it better. The scene with the exterminator at the door would have added sense to the situation of his pressurising Lucas to sign the agreement. Also the scene of the parents calling home to grandma was quite funny and would have added much needed comedy to the film as a whole.

      Theatrical trailer. This starred the beetle again. If they liked him so much why didn’t they feature him more in the film? It was also odd because it didn’t really give you a proper idea of the film. Perhaps that was why it wasn’t too successful at the cinema.

      The film had the potential to be very good but it seems to fall down when it needed to step up. My children didn’t really enjoy it, though they didn’t hate it and would watch it again. It must be noted, however, that the first time they began to watch it; they didn’t stay until the end. They did watch it later but their comments were very bland about it, which is not a good sign. Off the top of their heads, they could name several films they preferred but couldn’t name any that they liked less. This is an even worse sign. Theirs may have been a bit of an extreme reaction to the movie as the quality of the animation, especially the battle scenes, and the general idea of the story is pretty good. However, it just didn’t seem to hang together in many parts and hence did not feel real enough in context. This was a shame because it had all the ingredients of a good film but these only seem to come out in snatches. It is worth watching at least once but it will not make you feel better about Them.

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        23.06.2007 20:02
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        An attractive, friendly place to stay with young children

        My young family had a lovely time at this hotel

        Location
        Hotel Suave Mar is located in Esposende in North Portugal. It is about half hour on the coach from the airport at Oporto. This is a great distance for the kids’ tolerance. This is on top a much shorter flight from the UK compared to other sunny destinations.
        It is a smallish hotel, which gave it a comfortable and cosy atmosphere.
        The hotel is set a little walk away from the centre of Esposende where there is a pleasant enough market square. However the town is a small, ordinary place and there is not really much to see of interest. It would be a good base to explore the area of the Costa Verde and Oporto, but being with young children that was not for us. It is also set fairly close to the beach, although you do need to cross a fairly major, though not busy, road and walk round to get to it. There is a more direct way across a sort of inlet but it is not practical with small children. The Atlantic coast did not make an inviting sea with its rolling waves so that was not a popular destination for the kids, despite the large, sandy beach. We found it quite windy so we did not go there very much.
        The place, at least, had the feel of Portugal and the guests were mostly British and German. There were not many other children around but that made the facilities less crowded than they might have been so it was great for us.

        Accommodation
        We stayed in a first floor room consisting of bedroom, bathroom and balcony. The room did not seem huge but there was room for double bed, a single bed and a cot so it couldn’t have been small. The bathroom was fine and the balcony had a high enough wall to be safe. We had a family room that looked out nicely into the central courtyard of the hotel consisting of its swimming pool and sun terrace area. This was a more interesting look out than the front of the hotel as there was more to see and be involved in. It cost slightly more but was well worth it and I believe it was necessary in order to get the extra bed in. The room was regularly and well cleaned. Inside the room, it was air-conditioned and had a television. There wasn’t much in English on the television but the children enjoyed children’s programmes in any language, especially the ones in German!

        Facilities
        The main attraction of the hotel was the attractive central courtyard, as described above. The main pool was deep, even adults could not touch the bottom in most parts, and a bit cold in the morning. However, with armbands, the children would venture in the afternoon. The main focus was, though, the baby pool. This is a huge circle with steps and safe shallow water. Being shallow it had the added benefit of warming up quickly in the morning. We played in there all the time such games as ball, Frisbee, boats and chase. There was plenty of space on the terrace to base us for time out of the pool. One night we realised what it really was when the area was cordoned off and a wedding reception took place there with the pool becoming a wonderful fountain. We stayed as half board so the children had lunch at the poolside café and essentially we had little reason to return to our room, except perhaps for a siesta! All meals could be put on your room and paid for at the end of your stay. This saved having to carry money about and we put our valuables in the central safe at reception. The attractive low-rise buildings of the hotel leant shade on one side or the other plus there was the cloister area running all the way round the courtyard and there were also parasols.
        Other facilities included the restaurant. The meals were not fancy but very nice. My child did not like much on the menu and ended up having something called a Brazilian kebab virtually every night! However, the waiters were very friendly and seem to positively enjoy having children around. In the morning there was a large unlimited buffet breakfast that kept us adults satisfied all day. Only the kids needed a lunch after our morning feast.
        There was a nice bar area. At one end of this was a giant chess game. The children loved to play with the pieces that were as almost as large as themselves and learn how they moved. They would spend every evening moving them about. Also they were allowed to play pool if no one else was playing. It all had a completely unstuffy atmosphere about the place that was very refreshing. Reception was more formal but that was an amusing contrast.
        In another area, there was a satellite TV lounge with a big screen. This was good to watch the major sporting events that occurred during our stay.
        Around the back of the swimming pool, there was a small gym and playground. However, we never saw either of them used. The playground did not look particularly safe or inviting.

        The hotel was an attractive, friendly place to stay with young children. However, if the weather hadn’t been so good, there might not have been so much to do. Older children might prefer somewhere with more children about and entertainers. For us it was a great holiday and would like to return another time.

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          20.06.2007 19:05
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          Traditional colonial hotel near centre of Madeira offering great views.

          We had an enjoyable stay at this hotel.
          What sold the hotel to us was its look. It has a traditional colonial appearance; a Madeira building that guests must have stayed at a 100 years ago. It has its own unique character and is such a contrast to all the big modern concrete blocks of hotels set along the coast. It may not be luxurious but it more than makes up with charm and grace of a bygone era.

          Location
          The hotel is situated in Funchal, the main town of the Portuguese island of Madeira.
          The airport is located in the outskirts of the town so the transfer time here is short. The hotel is situated close to the centre of Funchal. However, it is positioned up a steep hill without public transport. As such it offers magnificent views over the town, the sea and the mountains. If you have children or you are not very mobile, however, it would be totally unsuitable. The hotel does run a minibus to and from the centre but not frequent enough to be of any use to us. We walked; and it was quite a walk. It was very steep so good for fitness but a bit tiring at the end of the day after going out for dinner. Being so steep it wasn’t that easy going down either. We did the trip twice a day usually: once to go out sightseeing and another for our evening meal. It was, though, the closest hotel to the centre that we came across. All the other large family hotels were set so well out from the centre that a bus would be needed to get to and fro.

          Accommodation
          We stayed in a twin room. This was a good size with a very high ceiling, which was excellent for coolness. It had a bathroom including a shower, toilet and bidet. The room was very basic but comfortable. Since we were out all day, this was all we required. It is possible to have a room with a sea view if you pay a supplement. We found this to be unnecessary as we only went to the room for nighttimes. There were plenty of excellent views from the terrace area and it was more pleasant to sit there than take in a view from our room.

          Facilities
          We stayed on a bed & breakfast basis. Thus we had limited experience of the restaurant. We had dinner there only once and it was not that good. My partner was vegetarian and asked specifically for food without meat. When drinking the soup, we found pieces floating in the pea soup. On enquiring the waiter he said something on the lines of “It is OK, it is not meat, it is only ham!” There were plenty of inexpensive restaurants in Funchal itself to make it unnecessary to eat at the hotel.
          There is a nice swimming pool. It is unusually located round the back further up the hill seeming like it was on top of the hotel itself. There are further lovely views from the surrounding terrace and even whilst swimming in the pool!
          The highlight, though, is the terrace where you can sit under the big leaves of banana trees and relax after a hard day’s sightseeing.

          We found it a great base from which to explore the island. As long you have the legs for the climb up and down into town and prefer style to substance, then this is the place to stay.

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            16.06.2007 09:16
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            An interesting twist on the original Disney version of the story.

            This is the second sequel to the popular main feature story of Disney’s version of Cinderella. Here the story initially takes place a good while after the happy marriage of the Prince and Cinderella. Apparently, it was not known at the time to the evil Step-mother and the ugly sisters that Cinderella achieved her status through the magic of her fairy godmother. One of these step sisters, Anastasia, finds out one day when she discovers the fairy godmother in the woods. She steals her magic wand and takes it back to her mother to reveal all. The Step-mother then uses the magic wand to turn back Time to just before the Grand Duke arrives at their house to try out the glass slipper on all the females’ feet to find the Prince’s mysterious partner at the ball. Using the magic further, the glass slipper is made to fit Anastasia’s foot, much to everyone’s surprise, including Cinderella and the Prince. There, then follows the attempts of Cinderella to get to the Prince and to break the spell.

            I like the concept of time travel in stories but actually here it is more of a “What if?” question, where it is considered how subsequent events can turn out differently when a change happens in the original occurrences. It reminded me of the film “Sliding Doors” and the play “Intimate Exchanges” by Alan Ayckbourn in this respect. Do things really turn out differently? Is there a hand of fate, which makes things inevitable? Do things end up the same anyhow but by a different route? These questions and more are a bit too in-depth for a Disney film but at least ideas are thrown into the ring, which makes the film a bit different from the usual run-of-the-mill offerings.

            The film also raised the question about the glass slipper not necessarily only fitting the one who danced and then fled from the Prince but this is not pursued. Presumably this would have raised too many issues for this type of film to cope with but then in that case, maybe it shouldn’t have been raised in the first place.

            The question of how Cinderella was going to break a spell that she didn’t know existed was also a difficult one for the film to cover. It was fudged in the end by the mice, Jaq and Gus, telling her the whole story after witnessing some magic performed by the Step-mother. However, they couldn’t possibly be aware of the whole story from the beginning so that was rather a let down, even if it was wonderfully portrayed by the mice in an amusing manner.

            The characters are pretty well portrayed with at least Anastasia shown in a more three dimensional light. The Prince is portrayed as such a nice guy but not in a sentimental or sickly way. He is polite, modest and heroic especially with the wretched Anastasia. Cinderella shows herself to be not a bad heroine herself. A good example is her actions in the pumpkin coach, which was a nice take on that original magic spell. Other favourite characters make reappearance in this film including Prudence the house keeper and Lucifer the Step-mother’s cat. The palace cat, however, is nowhere to be seen. There are plenty laughs in this film with slapstick which always seems to go down well. The funniest bit seems to be when Lucifer, the cat, is miniaturised and the mice are now bigger than it is. However, they are still no match for it and still have to run away from it. Another is the repeated verbal joke of “Are we in the right room?” when the Prince enters a room to be faced by an unexpected situation.

            There are weaknesses in the plot such as no mention of, let alone a search for, the fairy godmother. The other sister, Drizella, gets no look in as the replacement bride, despite her showing the greater evil streak and remorselessness. However, what I thought was the biggest ambiguity, being the complete disregard for and divorce from the first sequel, Cinderella 2 – Dreams Come True, is neatly circumvented right at the end. However, it is done in such a nonchalant manner that it is not even clear that the filmmakers were even bothered by any potential anomaly.

            EXTRAS

            · Video of “I still believe” by Hayden Panettiere. This is a straightforward video of her singing whilst walking round a neighbourhood intercut with scenes from the film. A perfectly pleasant song without making any great shakes. She is now appearing in the new Sci-Fi show, “Heroes” so she can probably safely abandon her pop career. It will not be a great loss to music.
            · Game. This is a very simple game that involves going round the castle transforming things using the magic wand or deciding who has made the changes. As it is not very challenging or stimulating and, frankly down right boring at one point, this will not become a favourite unlike the ones with “Lady and the Tramp” or “Heroes”.
            · DVD ROM game for the computer. This has been untried so cannot comment.
            · Sneak peaks. The usual type of trailers of forthcoming releases.

            This is not a great or very entertaining film but at least it tries something a bit different rather just rehashing the original story in a similar way that Disney has done for other sequels such as Peter Pan and Brother Bear. My five year old son caught hold of the concept very well, which I thought was quite sophisticated of him. However, in the end, it is the comedy that he is after and there needed to be a bit more of that included. For a sequel though, it was imaginatively done and for this alone it deserves praise and encouragement.

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              13.06.2007 12:19
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              Story of how actions of people have effects upon their descendents

              This book is the first novel written by William Brodrick so my selecting to read it was solely based on it appearing in the list of Richard & Judy’s 2005 Book Club. I usually find that they are good reads, with some notable exceptions, so I felt confident in my enjoyment before I started. I must say that I was not disappointed.

              My time for reading is at bedtime so I like my books to be easily read without over elaboration or difficult language. This book’s 400 odd pages are nicely spaced over 50 chapters and these are in turn separated into 2 or 3 sub-sections. This made it easy to read in manageable short bursts without forgetting what had happened previously and giving me natural breaks from which to continue from the next time. It also had the added benefit of keeping the plot tight and nicely ticking along.

              The story is set in present day England. However, the plot revolves around the events that took place sixty years ago in Nazi occupied Paris. In the present day, Agnes is an old dying woman. She is finally ready to tell to her granddaughter, Lucy, the tale of her survival from the Holocaust and her involvement in The Round Table, a resistance cell dedicated to running an escape route for Jewish children in war torn France. At the same time an alleged Nazi war criminal, Eduard Schwermann, has his cover blown and seeks sanctuary in the monastery, Larkwood Priory. He happens to be the German officer who broke up The Round Table group. She sees the resultant media coverage and then she clings on to life whilst the full truth of the past is finally revealed.

              Agnes maybe the central character that drives the plot but the two characters that run the story are Lucy, her granddaughter, and Anselm, a monk at the monastery where Schwermann seeks sanctuary.
              Lucy is the only one of her family to be able to get through to Agnes and be the one to get her version of the terrible events that she had kept so secret and damaged her subsequent life and relationships. She searches out the truth and acts like you could see a modern day Agnes performing in order to pursue the truth and justice previously denied to her.
              Anselm is a novice monk who used to be a barrister in the real world. His commitment to the church is not as strong as he would like it to be. Given their unwelcome visitor, he is charged by the church to follow back the trail of this old Nazi. This is because there are connections and trails interwoven with the church in the past and the present, which they need to know in order to protect their reputation.

              It is a story of how actions of parents and grandparents in past lives can have profound effects upon their descendents. The events of the past reach forward into the present and affect all that they touch. I did fear that it might be just another story involving the horror of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. However, as it was told from the point of view of looking back from the consequences of the terrible times, it gave it a whole new angle for me and I found it quite thought provoking.

              As a family historian I have spoken with older members of my family to get their stories of their past. On further investigation, I have found some memories to be false or distorted, even though they have been honestly stated. It demonstrates to me the frailty of human memory. People have their own observed version of the truth. From their experience and observation, they may truly believe what they remember to be correct. However, this novel confirms that it is not necessarily so. Just because you were there does not necessarily mean you saw or understood the whole thing. Some people have memories of distorted truth; others have distorted memories of what they want to be the truth. As a character called Father Conroy warns Father Anselm at one point:”… you’re entering one of those tents at the circus packed with curved mirrors, twisting and pulling things out of shape. Be careful. Don’t go by appearances. Nothing’s what it seems here.”

              The novel can be described as a thriller. However the protagonists are not in any danger. It is rather the thrill of the chase to the truth. Along the way, there are the stories of love, betrayal and morality. It is both compelling and moving. Some actions do not appear logical from the outside but do seem believable, given the extraordinary circumstances from which they originate. The author used personal knowledge to give the novel the ring of authenticity. His mother was involved in a similar organisation to Agnes, smuggling Jewish children to safety. He, himself, used to be a monk who then left to be a lawyer, the opposite way round of Anselm.

              This is a thoroughly good read. The memory of which will remain with me, which is not normally the case.

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              • Charlotte's Web (DVD) / DVD / 56 Readings / 53 Ratings
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                09.06.2007 09:08
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                A pig trying to survive in this live action / animated family movie

                This film is based on the classic children’s book by E.B.White. I cannot say how closely this adaptation is to the original book, as, though it is stated as a classic, it seems to have completely passed me by during my life so far. I had absolutely no recollection of the story at all so I approached this film with completely fresh eyes and no preconceived ideas as to the story.

                The introduction to the story shows how a pig is saved from early slaughter just after it was born. As the runt of the litter, the farmer was going to kill it until his daughter, Fern, wakes up in time to say she will look after it instead. The whole film from then on is structured around the story of the trying to save this pig, named Wilbur, from slaughter. The girl, Fern, made me think of my own daughter who is of a similar age. She has a great love of animals and would love to have such a pet to look after. This is more likely to end up as a dog rather than a pig but the basic premise is the same. As he grows and Fern starts to get into trouble concerning the ways she looks after him, he is moved to her uncle’s barn across the field. There, Wilbur makes new friends with the animals in the barn such as the sheep, geese, rat and most importantly the spider, called Charlotte. He is so nice with everyone and shows how easy it can be to make friends by being complementary to someone else. In this case, he keeps on saying “Great name!” when he meets someone new. He is such a kind, innocent animal that it is easy to see why he is so likeable. Unbeknownst to him, his friendly treatment of the supposedly horrible, ugly spider is the key to his very existence.

                The story progresses to show small things can make big things happen. This shows, in parallel, that even children can do wonderful things and even small things can turn out wonderful later. If Fern hadn’t woken up in the night that Wilbur was born, he would have died there and then and all the subsequent events would not have happened. Equally the amazing efforts of Charlotte show how seemingly insignificant members of a group can still make a significant contribution. Small things can have big effects. It also shows the positive effects of friendship and its involvement in all matters including, and especially, life and death.

                Several famous actors speak the voices of the animals. I found this very distracting, especially at first. Some were instantly recognisable as someone that was known to me but not identifiable and I was left wondering who they were rather than following the story. Julia Roberts’s voice was instantly recognisable as Charlotte so this was no distraction. However, as it is also so clearly she, then it rather detracted from the character of Charlotte because I kept visualising Julia. John Cleese plays the head sheep but I couldn’t place him for a bit, which was frustrating and hence, distracting. Then I kept picturing him instead of the sheep. Other famous voices that I couldn’t quite recognise were Oprah Winfrey as a goose and Kathy Bates as a cow. As they were well known to me, I was also trying to think who the others were who were playing the horse, the rat, the other goose and the other cow but I couldn’t, as I am not familiar with those actors.

                The real life actors were led by Dakota Fanning, who played Fern. I thought she was amazing in the Science Fiction series, “Taken”, and she has appeared in so many other roles already for an actress so young. I found that she gave a lovely, natural and truthful performance that made her character highly believable and sympathetic.
                I didn’t recognise anyone else but they gave good performances in my opinion. There was also a narrator, which made a clear connection to the book. I didn’t think this was done well at all. It gave it an even more saccharine feel than it already had. The triumph over disaster always seemed inevitable and the voice over made it seem just too sweet.

                The performances of the animals were spectacular. The training of the animals must have been so good and the blending in with animatronics and animation was seamless. The rat was pure animation but my partner believed that a real rat had been used; it looked so realistic. It was truly brilliant particularly as it went into its lair. It looked incredibly lifelike, in many ways too lifelike. Cartoon mice and rats are fine to look at as they don’t really look like the real things but real looking-rats are another matter. I don’t want to look at a real rat particularly as it looks so disgusting, especially when it was moving. It was also odd how none of the humans featured in the film either seemed to not notice it or to not be bothered by it. However, as a character, I must say it was the most rounded and interesting one in the film. At least there was an element of light and shade, which was missing from just about everything else.

                The other animals were like a sideshow. They didn’t add anything to the story and appeared just to be for comic effect. The sheep were quite funny as stereotypical followers of anything or anyone. The big horse was scared of little spiders to, I suppose, again emphasise small taking on big. However, he was my son’s favourite character but because he says he likes horses it implied he would have liked him regardless. The cows and geese made a good couple of double acts with some witty banter between themselves that was quite amusing in places but overall they were one-dimensional. Charlotte the spider was beautifully animated and portrayed in terms of her movements. Perhaps they won’t get such a bad rap from those who have seen the film. Having said that, my daughter says she is still not keen on spiders so that hope is a forlorn one perhaps.

                EXTRAS

                The DVD comes with numerous “special features”.
                · Commentary. There are two of these where you can watch the film accompanied by the filmmaker describing various things such as what was going on or why or how they did so and so. Here are two versions of this from different people. Since I am not too interested, I do not have much comment. Even if you are, it is something you would listen to only once.
                · Making Some Movie. This is a typical description of the making of the film with some behind-the-scenes footage showing how wonderful everything was and how everyone had so much fun making it. It was broken up into headings using “Some xxx”, which is plagiarising an iconic line from the movie.
                · Some Voices. This puts faces to the voices of the animal characters. Since most were obvious or well known, there wasn’t much to be got out of this. The most interesting was the sight of the boy, Dominic Scott Kay, who played Wilbur.
                · Flaka’s Pig Tales. This was directly aimed at kids with some interesting knowledge thrown in for those who could read the captions. There was, for instance, a follow on from Charlotte’s “Salutations!” in the movie to how to say “Hello” in different languages. It was incongruous to have a Spanish flag stuck in Mexico but they were trying to say Spanish-speaking countries in general and they had used Europe too much already I suppose. There were also some riddles and talk about the animals that kids might enjoy and learn from.
                · How Did They Do That? This showed some of the animals being trained. This was mildly interesting though slightly irritating. This was because of the stress continually made on how kind they were to all the animals with positive treats offered to the animals when they did something as required. Heaven forbid them admitting to doing anything bad to an animal.
                · What Made A Classic? This describes the origin of the book by describing the author E.B.White having a farm in Maine in the North East of U.S.A. and the idyllic, rural life there in the middle of the last century.
                · Where Are They Now? This was an interesting question but it was not relating to the actors and their subsequent work. This was to do with the pigs featured in the film. They used 42 pigs to cover the different ages of Wilbur as he grew up in the film. You might wonder if they suffered the same fate as was expected of Wilbur. However, you can breathe a sigh of relief, as this was not the case. They were all found homes for life in Australia where the filming was done. It was funny to see the baby pigs from the film now grown into some truly huge, adult pigs.
                · Two Music Videos. These are not what I find interesting so I didn’t really watch them to have any useful comment to make. OK, I will. Boring!
                · A Day at the Fair. This was a collection of stills from the filming at the fair and it was of no use whatsoever unless perhaps you are a huge fan of Dakota Fanning.
                · Farm Photo Album. This was similar to the above except centred on the farm animals. My DVD got stuck at this point and wouldn’t respond to the menu button and I had to stop completely and start again. From what I saw they were just pictures so not that interesting.
                · Gag reel. I was expecting some hilarious outtakes, as there must have been so many happening in such a production. However, it looks like I was wrong because there wasn’t much on the evidence shown here.
                · Deleted scenes. There is an option to watch about eight deleted scenes with or without a filmmaker commentary. I found it more interesting with to get the explanation of the reason for the deletion. It seems that a dog was left out because he couldn’t be trained well enough, which seemed a bit strange, as above they described how brilliant the trainers were!

                It was a nice film to watch. However, I was disappointed in the general story after I had been hyped up to its classic tale. The repeating device used by Charlotte and the human reaction to it did not seem to me to be realistic in context and required a new idea. The only subplot was that concerning the dumb crows and that seemed merely a device to involve them with the rat later in the story. The potential of the story of Fern and the boy from school was hardly touched upon and their developing friendship was under explored. Most of the other characters were also rather lacking in roundedness and depth. The rat was by far the most interesting character but because of what it is, I didn’t want it to be. All in all, it is a pleasant family film with fantastic actions by the animals. The conclusion is rather good though and poignantly done, which does always help improve the overall feel of the movie.

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                  02.06.2007 17:58
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                  A great hotel in Spain for a child orientated holiday.

                  We, as a family with two young children, had a lovely holiday at this hotel.

                  Location
                  The hotel is situated in the pleasant seaside resort of Alcudia in Mallorca. The transfer time from the airport is about 1½ hours by coach. This was just about the maximum time for our kids. However, this ride could well be the closest you see of real Spain on your holiday.
                  In Alcudia itself, this hotel is located close to the shops and the beach. Most of the shops close by are souvenir shops but there is also a general store. There are also some bars with arcade games and sit-in pay-and-ride toys. It is only a short walk away from a clean, wide sandy beach. However you do need to cross a main road. But there are traffic lights and the road is not that busy.
                  As stated, the hotel is situated in Mallorca, Spain. The staff is Spanish but the hotel or indeed the town has little to indicate its location. The majority of the guests and entertainers were British, German and Swedish. There is no requirement to speak Spanish to anyone.

                  Accommodation
                  We stayed in a one-bedroom apartment, consisting of a twin bedroom, a bathroom, a sitting and kitchen area combined and a balcony. This was clean and regularly cleaned and was perfectly acceptable for our needs. The bedroom was a good size and it was simple enough to push the two beds together to form a double. The bathroom was also a good size with a sink, a toilet and a bath with a shower. The sitting area was equally spacious which was necessary for us as we sat out the hottest part of the day in there. The seats folded out to make perfectly acceptable beds for the children. There was a TV but there were not many channels and none in English so we usually watched sport. To get the remote control, you needed to pay a deposit at reception. The kitchen area consisted of a good-sized fridge (which was very useful), a couple of rings to cook on and basic equipment. We self catered the whole time and we managed with this perfectly well. An oven might have been nice but wasn’t absolutely necessary. There was a table to sit round to eat so that was very handy. The balcony was a good size. It had a high wall so was perfectly safe for the kids provided they didn’t stand on the chairs. It was also the perfect place to dry clothes and towels. There wasn’t much view from ours but could just about see the pool.
                  However we stayed in the favoured low-rise block of three floors. The main block hosting reception was a multi-floored tower and was the location of most of the accommodation. When we booked we insisted on the low-rise block to be more manageable with the kids.

                  Entertainment
                  For children, there was a kids club. It wasn’t a formal one where they took the kids away all day. Rather there were particular times when the music would sound and kids would be invited to come and join in some activity or other. Examples included boule, basketball, table tennis, drawing, ball games, painting, singing and dancing. My kids were quite shy and didn’t really participate that much but other children seem to enjoy the activities very much.
                  Every evening, there was a kid’s disco starring their absolute favourite, BUFO, the intergalactic hero. (Basically one of the entertainers, with the short straw that evening, dressed in a very hot-looking dog costume.) The entertainers would sing and dance with preset moves with the children joining in up the front. Again my kids didn’t like to do the actual dancing in front of everyone, but they would enjoy watching and insist that we never miss a show. This was despite, or maybe because, it was basically the same every night.
                  This was also the time that the awards were given out. These consisted of certificates signed by BUFO, for those children and adults who’d scored highest in that day’s activities. These were played straight and not shared out to make everyone win, so some children and adults were perpetual winners. There were adult awards because there were a few activities for adults too, announced the same way as for the children. This was mainly shooting for me in the morning. Having never done it before, I went along for the experience (and something to do). It was quite fun and I was rewarded by finally winning an award on my last day! At other times of day there were group activities such as football and water polo.
                  After the kids disco there was a family show with usually the in-house entertainers performing for our entertainment. The best for us was the Disney night, which as the name suggests; they performed a medley of Disney favourites dressed in costumes. One evening, however, they had an external Spanish group perform Flamenco dancing, just in case we had forgotten we were actually in Spain! This would be easy enough to do as any local contact can be kept to a minimum if you really want to. The children loved these shows too but I found them a bit amateurish and cheesy.

                  Facilities
                  The main attraction was the swimming pool. This was spacious and attractively shaped. It was split into two levels. The top level was deep but also had some shallow walk-in areas incorporated so my child could dive in and surface safely in front of it. The main level was mainly shallow so children could stand safely but also deep enough to swim easily. It was gently sloping on most sides for easy entry by the little ones. There was also a small baby pool for the very little ones but our kids enjoyed that too. There was plenty of space around for sunloungers, with and without parasols. We didn’t always get one but we didn’t mind leaving our stuff in a pile on the grass. After all we were there to swim rather than to lounge about. The kids liked to go to the room afterwards anyway as they liked to play inside and on the balcony.
                  There is an official lifeguard on duty but seeing his inactivity, he is not to be relied upon with your kids, so always stay alert.
                  There was a nice playground set in a giant sandpit, which the kids enjoyed very much especially with its shady location during the hotter parts of the day. On site there is a poolside café and restaurant. We didn’t make much use of these as we bought most things from the shops. There is a pretty well stocked shop on-site where we could buy day-to-day stuff. However not far away there was a local shop with more things to buy and a bit cheaper. It was a little bit further to walk into town where another shop had more variety of things to buy.
                  There was supposed to be an indoor pool and spa area available but we were informed on arrival that this was not available during the summer.
                  There were also a table tennis table, pool table and pinball machines.

                  This hotel is a very good location for a kids-orientated family holiday in the sun. However, if you are looking for an experience of Spain then it is not the place for you.

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                    30.05.2007 11:13
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                    A detective and historical in one book, cleverly mixing real and fictional characters.

                    My latest reading selection came from the ubiquitous Richard & Judy Book Club. This particular one is from their offerings for 2007 and it actually won their competition as their book of the year. Having not read all the others it was up against I can't comment on that result. However, their selections are usually pretty good reads and it certainly helps take out the wondering about what to read next. This one certainly did not disappoint so I can stay faithful to the scheme. Encouraging reading must be a good thing in general and should be supported.

                    This book is predominantly set out as a detective novel. However, as it is set in New York in 1909, it can also be viewed equally as an historical novel. As such, it can be read again on that basis as the murder solution is not the be all and end all of the whole experience. The author has very cleverly mixed together real people and events with some purely fictional ones to relate a murder mystery from his own furtive imagination. The inspiration for the story comes from Sigmund Freud's one and only visit to America from where he came home deeply affected by his visit and never returned. He called Americans "savages" and biographers have never fully explained this reaction to his visit so the author has used that unknown event as a central feature of his novel.

                    The synopsis of the detective story is as follows: A young woman is found dead in a grand hotel. However, she was not just killed but also, gruesomely, her hands were tied above her head, a scarf fixed round her neck and there are marks on her back and legs that intimate that she has been whipped. When a similar incident happens again, the woman, called Nora Acton, is this time fortunately saved. However, presumably from the trauma, she is unable to speak or remember what had happened. It so happens that Freud has just arrived in America for, as it turns out, his first and only visit. He is accompanied by his friends and disciples Carl Jung and Sandor Ferenczi to give a lecture at Clark University. Given the unusual circumstances of the case and the requirements for secrecy, the mayor takes advantage of Freud's presence to get his input into the case of this young woman. This is where the narrator, Dr Streatham Younger, takes centre stage. He is an enthusiastic student of Sigmund Freud and the then new science of psychoanalysis. He is described by his friend, Abraham Brill, as not just the most talented but the only American psychoanalyst of the time. Younger does the actual analysis with Nora in person and then reports back to Freud for his thoughts and suggestions.

                    The book is an easy and comfortable read. There are different strands within each chapter as the story switches between the main participants of Younger, Detective Littlemore and Coroner Hugel. For some, this constant change in story direction and the sometimes convoluted storyline might be confusing and difficult to keep on top of. However, with the easy writing style, I found it quite straightforward to follow what was going on and with whom. Having not read a murder mystery novel for quite awhile, it was an enjoyable change and a pleasure to try and work out the solution. The climatic conclusion is well laid out without any unfairness of new unexplained characters or events. All in all, it is satisfyingly concluded.

                    This is the first novel by Jeb Rubenfeld. He is a Professor of Law at Yale University and been described as "one of the most elegant legal writers of his generation". It is considered that his writing in this novel certainly lives up to that glowing tribute. He has written a thesis on Freud whilst he was studying at Princeton University and went on to some serious studying of Shakespeare at the Juillard School of Drama. His knowledge of both these subjects shines out from the text. Without feeling at all like a textbook or an imposing of a history lesson, he introduces us to Freud's innovative ideas and to Shakespeare's use of language and metaphors. With his knowledge and understanding of Shakespeare, he uses the narrator, Younger, to discuss Hamlet and his motivations. These centre on the pivotal speech of "To be or not to be". For anyone studying literature or merely having an interest in it, the relevant discussions in this book would be extremely interesting. Also anyone with a passing interest to Freud or Jung would be interested in the discussions of the Oedipus complex. Even the title of the book is a parody of Freud's famous work: "Interpretation of Dreams".

                    For those more interested in history of places, there are wonderful descriptions of New York back in the first decade of the twentieth century. There is not only the historical perspective of the architecture with the rise of the skyscrapers on Manhatten Island but also there is an exploration of the social divisions running through the city's society at the time. Thus there are several pieces of information being explored in parallel which puts one in a quandary. One wants to stop reading and take time out to think and reflect but also there is the desire to keep reading to find out about the next dramatic instalment.

                    At the end of the book, following the conclusion of the story, there follows an explanation by the author of who were the real people and which were the real places and events. This was fascinating to read and also to understand how he had altered some places and actual happenings to fit the story. This reinforced the notion that this was a work of fiction but also gave an understanding into real people, places and events. This was especially so relating to the confrontation between Freud and Jung, which apparently actually took place but at the different time and location of Vienna in 1912. The thoughts and views of these people have been painfully researched and are all accurate reflections from their own published letters, essays and statements. The case study of Nora from this novel is apparently based on the real case of Dora, which was one of Freud's most controversial case histories.

                    This is a great read and is recommended to all those who like to think about what they are reading and increase their knowledge of some cerebral matters. However, as the book can be read and absorbed on several different levels, it can be enjoyed purely for ones own individual interests if that is what is preferred. After all, there is a delicious menu to choose from. First and foremost, there is the murder mystery to enjoy with a detective and a group of suspects to follow. Then there is the historical aspects of early twentieth century New York, both in architecture and society, to appreciate. On top of that there is an introduction to the theory of psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung present to assist in your understanding. Furthermore, there is the discussion of Shakespeare with the narrator being a keen scholar able to elaborate on various theories to the meaning of certain passages. So take your pick from the selection with any combination you prefer and enjoy the mind solution!

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                      12.05.2007 12:57
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                      An investigation into the origins of Christianity and the questioning of the existence of Jesus

                      I opened the door to a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses the other day and engaged with them in a brief conversation on Christianity. After they had made their excuses and hurriedly left to get away from my scientific observations, I continued my day with a trip to the local library with my children. With the missionaries’ visit still in my head, I came across this book as I browsed along the shelves. “Look, there’s Jesus!” said my daughter when she saw the cover.

                      On the cover of this selected book was indeed an engraved symbol of a man being crucified or hanging on a cross. Immediately one thinks it would represent Jesus, being the universal symbol of the Christian religion for two thousand years. However, the Greek inscription upon it identifies the figure as Dionysus, a Pagan Godman that predates the time of Jesus. At once I was curious and was drawn into the book by this first revelation (no pun intended). What is then revealed makes the Da Vinci code seem like a playground prank. The difference being here that, in this case, this is the real story of the Christian church’s cover up and continual repression of any opposition of its true origins.

                      What follows, in an easy-to-read narrative, is a careful examination of the evidence relating to the origins of Christianity. For those of us brought up on the unopposed truth of the life of Jesus and related events, this brings a completely new perspective. I have been sceptical about the Christian religion since I was quite young due to its general implausibility but I have always believed that there was a real person who existed called Jesus. I had considered maybe all the things attributed to him weren’t exactly reported correctly, either deliberately or mistakenly. This book, however, brings into question his actual very existence in the first place.

                      Through extensive research, the writers have found no historical records to verify the existence of Jesus at all, which is considered rather surprising. The Romans were fastidious in their record keeping with prisoners and executions faithfully monitored and noted yet there is no one by the name of Jesus mentioned. Jewish writers of the time do not mention him either. Josephus was a prominent Jewish chronicler of the time and yet there is still no mention in his genuine manuscripts.

                      The authors go on to point out that many of the key aspects relating to the life of Jesus resemble all too closely those of previously venerated Pagan Gods such as Dionysus in Greece, Osiris in Egypt and Mithras in Persia. These include the following:
                      His birth on 25th December
                      His father being God and his mother being a mortal virgin.
                      His birth, in humble circumstances, being attended by shepherds.
                      He is God made human and our saviour
                      The promise of salvation through baptism
                      The turning of water into wine at a wedding
                      The riding into town on a donkey whilst palm leaves are waved
                      His death at Easter to wipe away our mortal sins
                      His resurrection from the dead on the third day and ascending to heaven
                      The celebration through bread and wine representing his body and blood.

                      For them and me, this represents too much of a coincidence and they go on to research and consider the origins of Christianity. I was aware that the four gospels of the New Testament were not written at the time of Jesus but I was not aware that there were further gospels which did not make it into the “final” version as they didn’t fit with the now established view or the alterations made to those that did to build consistencies with The Old Testament. I was also aware of some inconsistencies between the four gospels but not being a great scholar of The Bible I was not aware that there was so many direct contradictions between them. For instance, the genealogy of Jesus stated in two of the Gospels list all his ancestors going back to King David. However, for one they are completely different and for two, Jesus was supposed to be the Son of God born of a virgin so either genealogy is worthless since Joseph was not his biological father! The authors then rearrange the order of the New Testament into the historical order of writing and found that it turns into a revealing history of how the religion came about. Gnostic Christians absorbed pagan tales into their own sect where Jesus was a reinterpretation of a Pagan god. He was originally not a real person at all but a mythical representative of ancient mystical beliefs. Then Literalist Christians came in and hijacked the whole thing and decided to make Jesus a real historical person for their own political ends. To do this required suppression of all opposition, which resulted in the destruction of Gnostic texts, a cover up of the Pagan roots and similarities and the forging of texts to make evidence of a real existence to Jesus.

                      It was a very interesting book for me to read, though it is unlikely to be read by fundamentalist Christian believers. My partner, for instance, believes in God and Jesus and does not want this challenged in any way. However, in this book, what is also interesting is that the question of the existence of God is not challenged. Underneath the debunking of the existence of the Jesus figure, there remain the ancient Pagan religions along with the worship of a Supreme Being. Given their similarities, it could be taken that this is the true faith and we have been pushed off the true path of enlightenment by the corrupt, Literalist Christians who have led us to worship a false prophet who did not even exist. If the Gnostics had not been so brutally suppressed then history could have turned out rather differently given the continual on-going tension between Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It must be said though, that Faith does not rely on evidence. It is a feeling that is inside and that does not need proving to those that possess it. In fact, by its very definition, it is contrary to the following of any evidence in favour or against. Thus for the true believers in Christ, this book will make no difference. However, for those who believe in evidence first and foremost, then this is a book you really should read.

                      Despite the belittling of paganism over the years, perhaps we should all be pagans, as it appears that Christianity is merely just another pagan religion that has grown out of common roots of all the ancient religious mysteries. Perhaps, the deeper truth is buried far deeper in the mists of time well before the invention of the Christian Messiah. For instance, there are the similarities in worship by ancient civilisations such as the use of pyramids by the Egyptians and the Maya. The great ancient cultures of Greece and Egypt, for instance, both predate Christianity. In fact, the dawning of Christianity led to the destruction of so much ancient culture and heralded in the Dark Ages, which only in relatively recent times we have emerged from.

                      One small criticism of the book’s presentation was the constant use of the suffix CE (Common Era) for dates instead of the usual AD (Anno Domini (Year of Our Lord)) and BCE (Before Common Era) instead of BC (Before Christ). I suppose if the revelations in this book became widely accepted then the old suffixes for years would become redundant. However, for now I had to keep stopping to assess which year was being talked about. Was it before or after the assumed birth of Jesus?

                      The authors of this controversial work are Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy. The former has a degree in philosophy and is the author of twenty other books on world spirituality. The latter has studied classical civilisation. As said before, this book has been extensively researched with all their findings cross referenced in a very long bibliography at the end, which covers about a fifth of the book’s length. It was useful to refer to it sometimes but on the whole I found it unnecessary to see the source of everything when you are simply reading to expand your knowledge. At the end of each chapter, there is nicely laid out conclusion which summaries the main points of the chapter succinctly. This is very handy for reference as I felt the need to back ever so often to reaffirm a point made.

                      So for all these years have we actually been following a Pagan sect religion purporting to be something completely different? Given the evidence in this book, it would appear to be so. If you have had nagging questions about Christianity, then this book could well provide you with the answers you have been looking for. For those of you who have no doubts, this book cannot challenge your faith so it would still be worth reading. For me, it has put the whole of Christian origins into proper historical context and revealed to me in a clear way the many inconsistencies of the Bible and how they occurred. It has made me more interested in history of Paganism and has made me reconsider the nature of religion and inner spirituality. After all, the authors suggest that the Gnostic Christian religion is the path we should have been following had they not been so ruthlessly suppressed by the Literalists and as such have dedicated the book to the Christ within you. This book makes you think.


                      The book is published by HarperCollins and is available from online retailers from £5.59.

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                        05.05.2007 16:54
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                        Coming of age story of boy enthralled by sea life

                        This is the first novel by Jim Lynch. He lives in Washington State, USA, where this book is set. It is another book that I have read and enjoyed from the famous (or is it more infamous now?) Richard & Judy Book club. It may be considered uncool but it makes it so much easier to find enjoyable books to read. Though there have been some that I haven’t enjoyed, most have been a pleasure to float through. So I was looking forward to dipping into this one.

                        It is the story of a thirteen-year old boy, called Miles, in a coming-of-age saga. He is short and a bit out of the normal run of things for boys his age. He lives by the side of a bay and he has learnt so much about the sea life there. He has insomnia so to pass the time he either reads a lot of factual books about wildlife or goes out on to the mudflats during the night. I found the facts that fall out of the story are fascinating enough on their own. There are some truly wonderful descriptions from an author who clearly knows his subject matter. However some may find there may be too many descriptions of creatures throughout the novel so, after initial interest, in the end they could just wash over you.

                        Miles finds some unusual specimens in this bay of his. It begins one unforgettable night when he comes across a giant squid but continues with other animals, which shouldn’t appear where he finds them. So questions begin to be raised about him. Perhaps he is a special one and these animals have been drawn to him. Miles thinks it is merely that he is actually looking.

                        He has the usual teenage angst. He has a crush on a girl called Angie, who used to be his babysitter, so she is obviously too old and so it has to be unrequited. Or does it? You shall have to read to find out what actually happens between them. His parents are no longer a couple so he fears a divorce and what might be worse: a move away from the Bay. They are as dispassionate as he is passionate, which made an interesting contrast. It also gives a useful device of Miles spending a lot of time unsupervised and hence free to pursue his activities on his own. In a time when normal parents keep a close eye on their offspring, if Miles had such parents, his adventures in this book could not have taken place.

                        The other main characters are well-described and brought vividly to life. He has an assistant called Phelps, who he takes out onto the flats to help pick up specimens to sell. Phelps is more of a usual rock (as in music rather than those on the ground) related teenager who likes to play air guitar and wouldn’t normally be seen dead with someone like Miles. But they share the proceeds and he gets to mickey-take and feel superior to Miles so he gets something out of their relationship too.

                        His best friend, however, is a supposedly psychic old lady called Florence. Her determination to stay in her own home, with Miles’s help, as she becomes increasingly frail is poignantly told. She makes predictions but who’s to say if they come true or not? As the chosen one, who finds peculiar creatures, he “ borrows” her prediction of a very high tide and events move out of his control. He becomes a local celebrity attracting TV journalists and weirdoes. Yet really, he is more worried about the mundane things bathing in his life such as his passion for Angie and his arguing parents.

                        He is an unlikely hero. He sees all the creatures that are there in the Bay because he is the only one that is really looking. Others could see them too if they were not so busy doing something else. As the Bay is the centre of his life, he takes the time to see. Perhaps we should do so also. The natural world might do better with mankind around if there were a few more people like Miles who give us the opportunity to see even when we do not have the time or the inclination to look for ourselves. He inspired the people that he knows in this story. Even those who wouldn’t normally give him the time of day are impressed by his knowledge and his finds. So maybe the readers of this book could be similarly inspired. I did happen to go to the beach recently. It was unfortunately nothing like the Bay where Miles lived. But I searched amongst the sand and pebbles to see what I could find. If you take the time to look, there are always interesting things to see. Even the ordinary can look extraordinary if you let them swim around in your mind.

                        Whenever I think of a youth growing up in a story, I always think of Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye. I don’t think anything could really beat that. But this book is a beautifully told story. Miles can capture your imagination. There appears to be the making of a real classic novel within this book but it doesn’t have that special something to take it up to that elevated level. There was the feeling that there was more expected from within the story itself. Perhaps a more detailed plot containing more drama may have helped. Maybe that is too much to ask from this author’s first novel but it shows real potential for his future works. However, this story is an elegant and poetic piece of work using its unusual setting very well. It was simply a pleasure to surf through.

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                        • Flushed Away (DVD) / DVD / 58 Readings / 57 Ratings
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                          24.03.2007 13:09
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                          An entertaining animated film for young and old starring rats

                          A few weekends ago, my daughter completed her star chart for completing maths homework and learning the times table. The reward that she chose was a visit to the cinema. She chose the film “Flushed Away” on two premises. Firstly, that it sounded like a toilet and secondly because she knew it featured rats so her parents would freak out (aren’t children wonderfully sweet things). So we duly went down to the local cinema, bought the obligatory popcorn and settled down to watch a movie about our friendly rodent chums.

                          This is an Aardman production without the input of Nick Park. CGI production is used instead of the normal plasticine though the animation is made to look like the familiar plasticine figures seen in Wallace & Gromitt, Creature Comforts and Chicken Run. The hair and the big lips are the biggest parallel similarities. This was kind of off putting at first but was soon got used to. In fact my partner didn’t even notice! As for the use of rats as the stars, we needn’t have worried. These are very cartoonised and look nothing like the real thing. You wouldn’t even know that they were rats without the situation and the prior knowledge.

                          The story centres on a house pet rat called Roddy. He has an easy life in a big cage in a big house in the posh area of Kensington in London. The family who own him go away on holiday leaving him the run of the place in their absence. He is not restricted to his big cage, as he knows how to get out of it. He plays with the child’s dolls, treating them as real even though they do not respond.

                          This beginning worried me. It seemed rather dull even though I understood that it was the scene setting of Roddy’s lonely existence. His life is then rudely interrupted by the arrival of a sewer rat. (I didn’t quite understand how he got in). Roddy is an upper class twit (as stereotypical as his surroundings) who thinks he can easily outwit this lower class oik by fooling him into thinking the toilet is a Jacuzzi. Rather too obviously, the street-wise rat knows better and it is Roddy who is “Flushed Away” down to the underground world of the sewer rats. This is an underground city modelled on the real city of London above, only this time made out of rubbish. Now the film took off for me. The arrival of the slugs got my attention and attracted my interest. The occasional presence of these singing slugs (we think they were slugs but we were never quite sure) was a fascinating touch. They keep on popping up to comment on the proceedings at various points in the film. They are generally hilarious and worth looking out for. I would especially recommend looking out for the “high five” joke towards the end.

                          Roddy gets to meet Rita, a sassy girl rat who has her own boat, the juicily named “Jammy Dodger”. Inevitably and rather obviously, initially they don’t get on, mainly due to his pomposity and clumsiness but after events draw them together, they strike an uneasy deal for her to get him back home. From then on, Roddy’s realisation of what his own empty life consists of begins to take root. His lonely life up top is starkly compared to the big family and friends of Rita. This is essentially the moral of the film – that the possession of worldly goods is no match for the love of friends and family. Thankfully this is not rammed down your throat; in fact I thought it was nicely conveyed in an understated manner.

                          There are plenty of the obligatory chase scenes that this type of film generally has but they were well done and my son said that he enjoyed them the best. For younger kids the old comedy chase seems to work every time. These scenes probably explained the use of CGI rather than their normal use of plasticine, as I can’t imagine how they would have done all those water scenes otherwise. I wouldn’t think plasticine and water would mix very well for special effects.

                          Of course there had to be baddie. In this case it happens to be a toad that has world domination on his mind. That is the underground world. He is “assisted” by a couple of hench rats and some frogs that are laughably French and wickedly and ridiculously stereotypically funny.

                          Once we got to the point that Roddy met Rita then I really started to enjoy the film. It may have been a regular story feature but that is perfectly good enough for the kids. They love chases, slapstick humour and funny characters. This film has all these. It may miss the subtly and light touch of Nick Park with his ideas and models but for a funny feel-good move at holiday time, this is as good as any. It should be remembered that this is a film for kids and so there is no obligation for it to be profound, clever or subtle. However, nowadays, filmmakers do consider the grown ups dragged out to these films and there are plenty of little touches that will amuse the adults too.

                          The voice actors generally do a very good job. They are mostly big names but their voices blend into the characters they are portraying well so it was not immediately obvious who they were. Ironically the lead character’s actor, Hugh Jackman, was perhaps the weakest voice portrayal. Kate Winslet played Rita beautifully. Perhaps we are so used to hearing her do an American accent recently; we have forgotten her natural one. Ian McKellen was rightly pompous as the villainous toad but not so over the top as he has done in other voice over roles. But those of the lesser roles stood out the most. The characters of Spike and Whitey were hilariously enhanced by their voices rendered by Andy Serkis and Bill Nighy; Jean Reno humorously played the mercenary frog and Shane Richie covered the sewer rat surprisingly well.

                          Running time is 85 minutes so it is just about the right length of time for the little ones and not so off-putting for the older ones. We all enjoyed it and congratulated my daughter on her choice, even if was done for less than noble reasons. We all recommend this film as nice family viewing. There is the excitement and base humour for the kids and there are older gags for the grown ups. It may not be a classic to be seen again and again but it is entertaining and sometimes that is all you need in a film for an afternoon at the cinema.

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                          • The Fountain (DVD) / DVD / 46 Readings / 42 Ratings
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                            02.03.2007 19:42
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                            Dramatic film that gives you plenty to think about

                            This is a film of three stories taking place in parallel. They connect, criss-cross and inter-weave with each other across three eras of time linked by the lead character and the Tree of Life.

                            The first takes place in the 16th Century. Tomas is a conquistador advancing in the Mayan heartlands of New Spain. He is seeking the Fountain of Youth as the last resort to save his queen, Isabella, from the Inquisitor.

                            The second takes place in the present day. Tommy is a medical research scientist testing new medicines. He is seeking a cure for his dying wife, Izzi.

                            The third takes place in the distant future. Tom is an astronaut travelling through space in a clear spherical bubble, accompanied by the Tree of Life, heading towards the nebula where he expects rebirth and immortality by saving the Tree.

                            Cast and characters:
                            Hugh Jackman – Tomas, Tommy, Tom.
                            Rachel Weisz – Queen Isabella, Izzi.
                            Ellen Burstyn - Dr. Lilian Guzetti, Tommy’s boss in his research laboratory.
                            Stephen McHattie - Grand Inquisitor Silecio.
                            Cliff Curtis – Captain Ariel, Tomas’s second-in-command.
                            Donna Murphy – Betty, a lab technician.
                            Ethan Suplee – Manny, another lab technician.
                            Sean Patrick Thomas – Antonio, yet another lab technician.
                            Mark Margolis – Father Avila, the priest who helps Tomas in his quest with the Mayas.

                            Hugh Jackman plays all the lead characters in each of the three segments. He essentially carries the film on his shoulders alone as he appears constantly. He is excellent all the way through this fascinating journey and he manages to portray superbly the wide scope of emotions that his characters experience.
                            Rachel Weisz is a beautiful focus for him, playing both the queen and his wife. However, she does not have all that much to do, half of which she is prone in a hospital bed.
                            Ethan Suplee, I recognised him as Earl’s brother from “My Name is Earl”.

                            Darren Aronofsky is the director. He was originally going to film this a few years ago with Brad Pitt in the leading role. However, when it was cancelled in pre production stage he teamed up with artist Kent Williams to produce a graphic novel of this story. This adapted story has now been re-adapted back to this wonderful film.

                            The film is both poetic and stylish. It is in fact a beautiful film, very visual in its display and appeal. It is not easy to understand all that was going on, but I like that. It gives you time to think and come out of the cinema trying to work out events in your own mind. A suitably atmospheric score beautifully complements that visuality. Clint Mansell, who has scored for Darren Aronofsky on previous films, is the composer. Apparently, the score was designed in parallel to the film’s production instead of the more normal post-production stage. That could be the reason it feels so intrinsic to the plot.

                            I do not know how much that is referred to is fact or not. I do not believe that it is so important. Basically, it is stated that in the Book of Genesis in the Bible, there is reference to a Tree of Life as well as the Tree of Knowledge, the famous one from which the apple is picked and the resultant expulsion from the Garden of Eden occurs. In ancient Mayan texts, there are also references to a Tree of Life. This leads to discussion of pan world religions. Do they have the same source? So are different religions in fact basically the branches of the same stem? Is it merely a coincidence that two separate peoples have belief in the same concept? Or is it natural for such a concept to be invented and developed independently, given the nature of that belief?

                            The quest of the conquistador is a parallel to the search by the scientist for a cure to his wife’s illness. They are both searching for essentially the same thing i.e. to save their loved ones. This is emphasised by the loved ones looking remarkably similar, which is why they are both played by the same actress. The present day Tommy is under a desperate deadline to find the cure for her illness and save her. But by doing so, he is missing precious time with her whilst she is dying. Should he perhaps accept her fate as she appears to? In the end, he tests out a previously untried piece of tree bark from Central America. It could be considered why he has to continue to test his ideas in order to prove a success. She is dying anyway so surely there is nothing to lose. So why not give it to her now? In one scene it appears that Tommy makes a different choice from a scene already shown. Has time changed? Was it a dream? Was it the world going round again? There are so many questions to ask yourself with no absolute answer. The whole film is very philosophical in many different ways and hence requires considerable reflection.

                            This is enhanced, for example, by the realisation that the present day Izzi is writing a book, called The Fountain, about the first story of this film. This raises more questions about the connections between the three stories. Did the first one actually take place? Is she recalling her previous incarnation as the queen? Has she merely just done some immaculate research? The book is unfinished, as she wants Tommy to complete it. Why this is could be answered as the film progresses.

                            In the third story, Izzi and Isabella haunt Tom in his dreams as he heads towards the nebula that Izzi had explained to Tommy about. She told him that this was where the Mayans had identified as the source of life and death. Does the whole universe begin and end within this nebula? Does this mean that time begins and ends here too? Does life begin again and follow the same path as before? Or does the opportunity arise for different choices?

                            The stories converge with the same themes of life, death, love and immortality. Is there rebirth? Can we live forever? Can love survive? Can we survive? Are we governed by a superior spirituality? As you can perhaps tell, this film raises far more questions than it answers. It is a film than can raise questions within you that maybe you have never considered before.


                            One small criticism was that they seem to have saved some of their budget on the lighting especially in the scenes in the Mayan temple. It was very atmospheric but I wanted to be able to see the detail a little more clearly. Possibly it was setting up a contrast with the lightness of the present and the brightness of the future. However, I believe that could have been achieved without preventing me from seeing everything.

                            Overall, there is not much narrative to the film. However, it is very dramatic and contains some disturbing scenes. It is driven by spirituality and poetic licence. It requires a good deal of reflection and thought. If you are looking for a laid out storyline, action and adventure, then this is not the film for you. However, if you like to think and discuss a film afterwards and consider things on a higher plane, then this is a film you can enjoy a great deal. After all this film is very good value for money with it being three films in one!

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                            • The Wild (DVD) / DVD / 40 Readings / 39 Ratings
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                              09.02.2007 19:22
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                              Terrible script with little for children or adults to enjoy

                              The cover describes this DVD as “Disney’s 46th Animated Classic”. What a travesty! To describe this film in the same breath as “The Jungle Book” or “The Aristocats” or “Beauty and the Beast” absolutely beggars belief. What on earth is Disney doing here?

                              This is the story of a father’s love for his son. He can’t communicate properly with him and then when his son is captured and taken away, he has to go find him whatever it takes. Does this sound familiar to you? Well to me, that is the premise of “Finding Nemo”. But the unoriginality doesn’t stop there. The film is set initially in New York Zoo; where the animals take over and interact with each other after the visitors go home for the evening. This is remarkably similar to “Madagascar” from the start and yet not nearly so good. To be fair, the animation is more realistic. In fact that was the most (only) impressive part of the film. You could see the hairs on the animals. But then that is also the trouble. It is too realistic for the storyline. You should not make the animals look so real when they are not expected to act real. Then there is Eddie Izzard, who is criminally wasted as the wisecracking koala and is used as a copy of Robin Williams’s genie in “Aladdin”. There are also plot elements from “The Lion King” and “Chicken Little” incorporating the father-son relationship questions. Then there is even the worshipping plot from “Ice Age 2”.

                              I can see you will by now be dying to see this film so I shall give you a brief synopsis of the plot. Sampson is the lion dad who tells his cub son Ryan wonderful tales about his life in the wild. Ryan cannot roar and is upset with the way his father treats him. So he disobeys his father and goes to the forbidden green crates. These get shipped of to Africa to rescue animals threatened by a volcano. Dad escapes from the zoo in pursuit, accompanied by his wacky band of friends. First of all they experience the “jungle” of New York City before commandeering a boat to get to the real jungle in pursuit of rescuing Ryan. More gripes. How did the little tugboat make it all the way to Africa without any need to refuel? It was just not real in context. Something else that was not real was the total lack of people about in the city. They drive about and meet no one. There are no cars and no sign of life. When they do encounter a man on the boat, he quickly jumps off and they drive off with the boat and are not pursued by anybody.

                              So does this film have any originality at all? There is none of the warmth and clear love of Marlin, Nemo’s dad. Here the Dad Sampson is hiding a dark secret from his son Ryan. It is pretty obvious what it is but I won’t spoil it for you, on the off chance you happen to get stuck watching it.

                              These are the friends that go along with Sampson. Benny, the squirrel, is Sampson’s best friend. He knows his secret and tries to get him to confess to his son. Benny is in love with Bridget, the giraffe. This is supposed to be funny but is so incredulous that it is quite ridiculous and not amusing at all. Nigel, the koala, has his moments thanks to Eddie Izzard but I didn’t understand why he has an English accent. Then there is Larry, the snake, who is very up front and tactless.

                              The story has various unfunny moments. The worst being the grand curling game held in the zoo after dark. They play with tortoises instead of the stones and it was incredibly dull. Most of the zoo animals were there except the gazelles. This was needed as a plot device for Ryan to mess up with his friends and get the animals panicked and hence mess up the game. I wanted to turn off at that point but thought I should persevere to the end.

                              There are some big name actors playing the voices other than the aforementioned Eddie Izzard. These include Keifer Sutherland (Sampson), James Belushi (Benny), Janeane Garofalo (Bridget) and William Shatner (Kazar, the villain who appears later than I have described in the plot above). The film is a waste of such talent and they would probably think very hard about participating in such a fiasco in future. Really, apart from the unmistakeable voice of Eddie Izzard, I didn’t recognise any of the actors’ voices until I had seen the credits. This makes me wonder why they bother to employ such stars for animated films. Lesser-known actors wouldn’t have been any different so why waste time and money with these guys?

                              Extras
                              - “Deleted scenes”. I was not very interested in what they left out. What they left in was bad enough.
                              - “Real Wild Child”. This is simply a pop video of Everlife performing this song. Why do I want to see that? Would any child watching this movie ever want to see that? I don’t think so.
                              - “Eddie Izzard Unleashed”. This just shows him performing various ad lib lines for his character as he stands in the studio. Sometimes in a split screen with his character. Sometimes not. All these lines are in the film. What is the point?
                              - “Meet Colin the Rock Hyrax”. This is a ridiculous and unfunny set up, supposedly about the real person behind the voice of the Hyrax. I don’t know if it is true or not (frankly I couldn’t care less) that the “voice talent” was plucked from the production crew. He is “shown” to have the same wacky characteristics as the film character. The only interesting point was looking up in an encyclopaedia to find out what a hyrax actually is!

                              So to sum up - the script was terrible. The kids didn’t like it. There is nothing for the adults. They seemed to be trying desperately too hard for laughs. What a complete waste of time! At least we are spared an extra saying how marvellous it all was.

                              After all that I shall point out that we got a small face paint kit with the DVD. My son probably enjoyed this part the best!!

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                              • More +
                                18.12.2006 19:35
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                                A magical story full of humour, adventure and unexpected happenings

                                Tove Jansson is known as the creator of the Moomintroll books. She was also a gifted artist. She was born in Helsinki, Finland in 1914 and lived until 2001. She wrote in Swedish in a dominantly Finnish-language environment as she was a member of the small minority of Swedish-speaking Finns. Her parents were also artists and led a bohemian life spending summers on a small island in the Gulf of Finland. This lifestyle and social background forms the basis to her Moomin books. Jansson wrote her first brief Moomintroll tale in 1945, “Comet in Moominland”. The first proper Moomintroll book “Finn Family Moomintroll” followed this in 1947. Following this there was a succession of thirteen Moomin books, which ended with “Moominvalley in November” in 1971. Tove Jansson also drew the Moomin comic strip for the Evening News, a London newspaper of the time, from 1953 to 1959 and was then succeeded by her brother Lars Jansson, who had helped her to translate the original texts into English from Swedish. These were syndicated around the world into many different countries and languages. Her books have proved especially popular in Japan, where a television series was first made in 1972 and a million Moomin books have been sold.

                                Her books have been compared to the works of Lewis Carroll, Richard Adams and J.R.R.Tolkien. This is because she managed to construct a believable, parallel world where her characters are not human creatures but have human traits. Their lives are recognisable but different in a truly magical way. She has been given the perspective to understand that people are different and even though they have many different customs, appearances and attitudes, tolerance and humanity are the most important things. Moominvalley may not be a multi-cultural society but all the characters get along with each other embracing their differences rather than undermining them. They have a sensitive conscience and a tolerance of difference, though that doesn’t prevent them getting up to mischief.

                                Normally when I think of a troll, I think of the big ugly thing that sits under the bridge waiting for the Billy Goats Gruff. But these trolls are very different. A Moomintroll is small and shy and fat, and has a Moominpappa and a Moominmamma. Moomins live in the forests of Finland. They like sunshine and warmth so they sleep right through the winter. The snow falls and falls and falls, where they live, until their houses look like great snowballs. But when spring comes, up they jump and – well, that was the moment when this story began, and Moomintroll found the Hobgoblin’s Hat.

                                This is a truly wonderful story for children. It was first published in English over fifty years ago and harks back to a bygone age where things were simpler and more straightforward. However it has a timeless quality to it also. The book has certainly caught the imagination of my daughter as I have overheard her telling her little brother all about the characters and the story. So one day all too soon he will be old enough to be read it too. In this case I will be very happy to oblige.

                                There are great characters that the author doesn’t waste boring time describing. Rather you get to know them as their adventures progress and the narrative is accompanied by some wonderfully simple illustrations, drawn by the author herself, that help bring these characters into your mind’s eye and brings them to life. They compliment the narrative beautifully. However as they are not present here, I shall give a brief indication to you of the leading characters.

                                Moomintroll is illustrated looking a bit like a little hippopotamus. He is a very loyal friend, cheerful and rather a softie. He strongly believes in fairness, regardless of how others act. Ostensively the central character, he lives with his mother and father, Moominmamma and Moominpappa in Moominvalley. (Great names to read out loud). They run a sort of open house and welcome all Moomintroll’s friends in the same quiet way, just adding another bed and putting another leaf in the dining room table.
                                Moominmamma is kind and wise. She goes everywhere with her handbag containing things that might be needed in a hurry such as dry socks, sweets and string.
                                Moominpappa is emotional and adventurous. He is usually to be found writing his memoirs.
                                Amongst the permanent guests is Snufkin who always wears an old green hat. He is a wanderer and cannot be tied down. Then there is Sniff who is always anxious and speaks in a squeaky voice. There are also Snork and his sister, the Snork Maiden, who seem to be similar to Moomintroll but when reading you are never quite sure. This added mystery to the characters can be on one hand frustrating but on the other quite exhilarating. I think it is more memorable to have unanswered questions remaining in your head to imagine yourself than to have it written in black and white for you.

                                One of the most amazingly imaginative creatures is the sinister Hattifattener, who move all together in a single, menacing crowd. They can neither hear nor speak and they see very badly. But they feel extremely well! Once a year, they come from all points of the compass to their Lonely Island, silent and serious with their small, white empty faces. No one knows why they come, as they have no object in life but the distant goal of their journey’s end.

                                The most amusing character has to be the Hemulen. He is a scientist and a collector and wears a dress. He is mortified when he realises that he has collected all the stamps in the world and is now an owner rather than a collector. So he wants to give them all away and start something new. But what should he do?

                                They all hibernate in the winter, so the story begins, after the prologue, with them waking up in the spring. Moomintroll, Snufkin and Sniff wake up first and their first adventure is finding the Hobgoblin’s Hat. They do not realise what it is or the magical powers it possesses. They take it home and exciting things begin to happen to everything to which it comes in contact with. The Hobgoblin’s Hat is an ongoing feature of the stories of this book. However the creatures also have various other adventures. These include the trip to the Hattifatteners’ Island, the Mameluke Hunt and the appearance of some other great characters, Thingumy, Bob and the Groke.

                                The stories are told in a very readable way. There is also plenty for adults to take from the books as well as children. There are the humorous author’s notes and the “philosophy” of the muskrat, which add new dimensions to the stories and further knowledge of the Moomin world. All the creatures seem to have a great sense of justice, freedom and acceptance of others’ individuality. They seem to think like us but only our best thoughts, as they want to see the good in all things. They are unlike us in appearance but their relationships with each other are how we would like to be in an ideal world, full of sympathy and empathy. They love adventure but there doesn’t seem to be a real sense of danger. It is how we would love our children to be able to go out an experience the wonders of the world knowing that they will return safely at the right time. Moominvalley is like an idyllic world that we would like to inhabit. It is rural and magical but isolated from the potential bad things that surround it. This sounds like a parallel image of Finland of the time of the book’s writing. It is of a different world, a fairy tale world where extraordinary things happen but the inhabitants treat them as normal. We can recognise so much from our own world but there it is more exciting and adventurous.

                                In later books, Jansson explores the ancestry of the Moomins and their adventures develop from mere children’s stories to explore different themes. The characters become more complicated and the tales move into the range of fantasy literature. Adults, in their own right, can read these books rather than simply making the excuse that they are just reading to the little ones.

                                This book is a great place to start your journey to get to know the Moomins. It is fun and amusing, with both magic and more homely adventure, full of good humour and unexpected happenings. Lessons about life, empathy and wisdom are brilliantly explored and are handled with a wonderfully subtle and light touch. It suits the eight and nine year olds admirably and is excellent for reading aloud.

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                                • More +
                                  23.11.2006 19:31
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                                  A pleasant read about unusual subject

                                  Richard and Judy’s book club have selected me another read. This time, Victoria Hislop, the wife of Ian of Private Eye and “Have I Got News For You” fame, authors this book. I believe this is her debut book and has none of the satirical leanings of her husband. If that were what you are expecting then you would be very disappointed. She is a journalist in her own right, after all, so any comment on her husband is really completely unnecessary. But I thought I would point it out as it is an unusual surname and people would probably wonder if there was any connection.

                                  Anyway lets move onto the book itself. It is a sort of saga being a kind of family history of a Greek family from a small village in Crete spread over the last century. I like researching my own family history so that puts me onside straight away even if other peoples’ families are not always so interesting as this one. It begins, however, with Alexis in present day London, about to decide on major changes to her life. She is drawn to her mother’s past as means of helping her to make these decisions but nothing has ever been spoken to her about it. Sofia, her mother, has only spoken of growing up in a Cretan village before moving to London. The rest is entirely secret, which indicates that it is not one of which to be proud. Alexis goes to Crete and meets Fotini an old friend of her mother. Sofia sends her a letter through Alexis giving her the green light to tell her daughter the previously undisclosed details of her upbringing. Through her the tale of Alexis’s grandmother Eleni and her two daughters Anna and Maria is told. Eleni’s husband, Georgiou is a constant through the story being the connection between the island and the mainland in more ways than one. He is the physical link as he is the boatman who takes all the people and supplies to and from the island. However, he is also the spiritual link as he is the only one to connect with both those in Spinalonga as well as Plaka.

                                  The main feature is the island off the coast from the said small village of Plaka. This she discovers to be Spinalonga, which was Greece’s main leper colony from 1903 to 1957. This island, as the book title kind of suggests, is the centre of the story and tells of this family’s close connection with it. The book also tackles the predicament people find themselves in when they are diagnosed with leprosy and the related prejudice and taboos resulting.

                                  Leprosy is a disease I previously associated with the Bible without really understanding its nature or cause. This book fills in this gap in my knowledge and portrays it in a truly human and humane way. People are not “unclean” but simply have a disease, however disfiguring and uncomfortable it makes you feel. It was shameful how they were isolated. However it shows that this isolation was not all bad. In fact in many ways their existence was better off than those of the poor villages of the mainland of Crete. There was an organised, democratic community that was supported by the state and consequently got better things than others. But a prison is still a prison and the deprivation of liberty and freedom of movement is a terrible thing for sick people to be treated like criminals. The predicament of those diagnosed is vividly described as is the taboos associated with the disease.

                                  The author shows her extensive and intimate knowledge and research of the subject of leprosy and Spinalonga, which is a real place and housed the real leper colony. She brings the story to life very vividly and it was a real pleasure to read the book, as it was such easy reading. There are some lovely descriptions and well-drawn characters. However the descriptions of the whole Greek way of life, speech and interaction does not really feel authentic. It seemed to skip the war rather. The island remained isolated during the German occupation but the story features heavily on Plaka too. Having read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, I expected far more to be happening during that period and for everyone to be affected more deeply. But there is plenty more events that happened so I wasn’t too disappointed.

                                  The main part of the story is supposedly the telling of the past events by Fotini. It is not stated directly as so and probably wise to do so as she cannot know everything that is related in the story. Also the narrative is told from various points of view of the protagonists so how can it be Fotini describing events. This was rather off putting somewhat. I think that the parts featuring Alexis are merely a device to begin and end the narrative of the story of Eleni, Anna and Maria. It is not the most interesting part at all. Perhaps the author could have thought of a better way to start and finish the story.

                                  However, all in all, I did enjoy reading the novel. It is a nice light read at bedtime to doze off with exotic images in your head and the developing family history. The location does have an evocative feel. If ever I find myself on Crete, which I really hope to do so, I shall be making sure I seek out the areas featured in this novel to see for myself. The now deserted island with its Venetian fortifications would be a wonderful sight to see. That, to me, indicates that the author has achieved a memorable piece of work.






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