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tomflint
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    • Rear Window [1954] (DVD) / DVD / 29 Readings / 29 Ratings
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      07.02.2011 01:16
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      Quality film

      This is a review of the dvd which is available as part of the Universal boxset or seperately.

      'Rear Window' was made in 1954 and is a perfectly 'acceptable' selection for someone as their favourite Hitchcock film. It is a recognised classic and with good reason. I had seen bits of the film over the years but had never sat down and actually seen the whole thing. The most obviously impressive thing about the film is the amazing set which Hitchcock had designed in the studio at Paramount. It is testament to his stature as a director that Hitchcock was able to request that the floor be dug out of the studio [presumably at massive cost] to allow the building of the ground floors of the tenement building set.

      James Stewart plays L.B Jeffries a photographic journalist addicted to danger and putting himself in harm's way. His latest endeavour has resulted in a broken leg which confines him to a wheelchair with nothing to do but look out of the window of his Greenwich Village apartment. Stewart's view from the rear window is the most commonly used shot in the film as the viewer becomes an active voyeur in looking into the other tenants apartments. While most of the tenants provide interest or amusement, it is the somewhat sinister behaviour of Lars Thorwald that occupies the attention of Jeffries. At first Thorwald appears to be attending to his wife who is bedridden, but as Thorwald's behaviour becomes more mysterious Jeffries becomes convinced that a murder has taken place and sets about trying to prove the case to his friend a detective [played by Wendell Corey], his girlfriend [Grace Kelly] and his nurse [Thelma Ritter] and also the viewer, has this man commited a murder or is it a fantasy that Jeffries is concocting?. As ever I'm not too concerned in going into the plot as more enjoyment is to be had by seeing the film, but that is the basic set up.

      The film often ranks in the top 100 films of all time and when I recently mentioned to several friends that I hadn't seen it there was a bit of scoffing so I thought I had better watch it!. And who am I to argue with the universal 5 star reviews the film gets?. Hitchcock is at the top of his game here, not only is the set amazing, but the use of sound is quite extraordinary, instead of using a traditional score Hitchcock uses the sounds from the other various apartments as a kind of aural collage and as a viewer we hear what James Stewart's character hears as he sits in his wheelchair. This was a very new idea at the time and again shows Hitchcock pushing the envelope in the sphere of film making.

      There are some small gripes which could be made, for a start it seems HIGHLY implausible that someone like the Grace Kelly character [Park Avenue fashionista] would fall in love with Jeffries. There is also the age of James Stewart in the film, in real life he was pushing 50 yet his nurse refers to him at one point as a 'young man' who should settle down and get married!?. Anyway those petty annoyances aside, and the fact that I'm not a huge James Stewart fan, the performances were good from all and Raymond Burr was very good as the suspicious Thorwald.

      I don't really feel I can write much about a film such as this as it has all been said before, but the dvd contains an interesting 1 hour documentary with discussions from the technical crew about the production and various sons/daughters of the deceased important players involved behind the scenes make a contribution. There are also some trailer compilations and the usual subtitle and language options. There is also much mention of the restoration project which took place on this film before its re-release as a 'special edition' dvd in 2000 with beefed up picture and sound quality. Of course we are shown lots of before and after shots of how the film has been improved, which is sometimes a bit suspect and mostly a back slapping exercise. But making sure these films are available in a cleaned up print for future generations can only be a good thing, especially as it was filmed in glorious Technicolour.

      A total classic then, 'Rear Window' is a totally engrossing piece of film making which will have any viewer entertained for it's duration. I shall certainly dig this one out again and it goes onto my long list of favourite films!. Available for about £5 on Amazon UK separately or as part of the Univeral boxset which can usually be got for a snip at around £15 online or in HMV.

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      • Rope (DVD) / DVD / 26 Readings / 26 Ratings
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        29.01.2011 02:08
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        Decent enough

        This is a review of the dvd to be found in the Hitchcock Universal boxset or available seperately.

        'Rope' is from 1948 and is Alfred Hitchcock's first foray into Technicolour, this is clear from the sumptous beginning shot of the street from an aerial viewpoint. In this shot Hitch delivers one of his famous walk-ons and can be made out strolling along the street. Panning upwards to a window on the top floor is the sound of a man screaming.....he is being strangled by his college friends. The whole premise of 'Rope,' which was originally a stage play by Patrick Hamilton, is that two college friends murder another purely to see if they can get away with it. One of the conspirators is clearly more calm about the crime than the other and the whole dramatic tension [or not] is based on weather their old school teacher, who was a crime buff and taught them some ideas of how to commit the 'perfect murder', will rumble their plot at a party they host for people associated with the dead man. The idea is to prove their intellectual superiority by hiding the dead man's body in the apartment and have the diners come along and be unaware of what is happening.

        'Rope' stars James Stewart in the important role of Rupert Cadell, the student's former prep school housemaster who filled their minds with this nonsense about the 'art of murder'. Also starring are Farley Granger as nervous conspirator Phillip Morgan and John Dall as the slimey and confident Brandon Shaw who is the real mastermind behind the whole grisly affair. I can imagine in 1948 people thinking this was in quite poor taste, but by today's standards it is all rather tame. The film is very short at only 75 mins duration and is famous for being shot in 'real time' with Hitchcock panning into the back of one of the characters and panning back out again into the room to hide the camera cuts. At that time a film reel would only last 10 minutes so Hitchcock kept the whole film moving with no 'traditional' cuts though it is obvious where the cuts are by the zooming in of the camera.

        It is fair to say that 'Rope' is far more interesting technically than it is plot wise. For what it was in 1948 this was a highly experimental film from a mainstream director trying out something new with a huge budget at his disposal. The Technicolour cameras were enormous and were moved on rollers, the entire film is shot on a single sound stage which is carefully set-up to accomodate the camera movements. If you've seen the Lars Von Trier film 'Dogville' you'll know the kind of idea in place.

        James Stewart seems miscast here, not handling the material very well, as though he was uncomfortable with the whole premise. The 'tension' is massively dissipated by the fact that anyone could work out what was going on here, Stewart tries to look all knowingly into the distance as Morgan drops one of his infinite clangers but where's the tension when the whole thing is obvious?. If you think of a TV show like 'Columbo' although the audience knew who had commited the murder, the script was well written enough that you could marvel at how Columbo figured it out. Here they might as well walk around with signs saying 'we murdered someone', perhaps this is just a modern reaction of someone used to more sophisticated murder set ups and resolutions, but it seems pretty poor.

        Despite this the film has some plusses, John Dall is excellent as the confident and evil Brandon Shaw the picture of stupid arrogance. Farley Granger does well in a difficult role as a whingy co-conspirator who can't help giving clues away every five seconds. Another issue for me was how did Shaw manage to convince Morgan to go through with this in the first place??, he's so reticent and regretful about the whole thing. I was impressed by the 'real time' element and the decision to effectively just film a play....that said this would probably be more compelling as a play than a film, a revival started in the West End in 2009 though I believe that has finished it's run.

        'Rope' is certainly worth watching and won't take up much of your time, if it wasn't for the technical innovations that are on display I would give it less marks but as a technical exercise it is interesting.

        The dvd contains another 30 minute documentary [as with the other Hitchcock dvds] in which people still alive who were associated with the film give us some recollections. Hume Cronyn, who starred in 'Shadow Of A Doubt' wrote a treatment of Hamilton's play which was fleshed out by Arthur Laurents and their contributions are interesting as they point out that Hitchcock was clearly much more interested in the technical flash of the new Technicolour cameras than he was in the story. It is also bizarre to see Farley Granger talking about his involvement, someone who I wouldn't have thought was still alive!. Aside from this there are some production notes and subtitle/language options, so a decent dvd package. The film looks wonderful in crisp Technicolour and the sound is fine as well.

        Can be bought as part of the Hitchcock Universal boxset or from Amazon UK for around £5. I would rent or wait for a TV screening unless you are a big Hitchcock fan.

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        • Shadow Of A Doubt (DVD) / DVD / 24 Readings / 23 Ratings
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          25.01.2011 18:29
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          Great film.

          This is a review of the dvd which can be bought as part of the Alfred Hitchcock collection or seperately.

          'Shadow Of A Doubt' was another of Hitchcock's 'early american movies' and is rightly lauded as one of his best from that period. When asked his favourite of his films Hitchcock would often say it was this one. Listening to the documentary on the dvd its easy to see why he would have enjoyed the experience so much. Shot in the sleepy town of Santa Rosa [sleepy in 1943, now something of a large urban area] its location right in the heart of California's wine country meant that Hitchcock was able to indulge his love of fine wine after a days hard work on the film. It appears there was lots of drinking of wine and eating at fancy resturants with the cast, at the the head of which was Joseph Cotton, a good friend of Hitchcock's. Despite the 'happy' nature of the film set the subject material here is pretty dark.

          Cotton plays Charlie Oakley, a man the police suspect may be involved in the 'Merry Widows Murders' where rich widows are being killed and having their fortunes stolen. Charlie's niece, Charlotte or 'Charlie' as she is known, is bored of Santa Rosa where nothing ever happens and looks forward to a visit from her uncle who she is convinced will bring some much needed excitement to proceedings. Charlotte is named after her uncle and has a kind of sixth sense telepathy with him, she can see if he's hiding something or is disturbed in some way. The rest of the family, including Charlie's sister are very happy he is there and don't notice anything at all about Charlie, just his charming personality.

          I won't go into too much more on the plot because its always more fun to watch knowing as little as possible plot wise before hand. I will talk about the performances: Joseph Cotton is excellent as the mysterious Charlie Oakley, the film pivots on his performance, if it was a little below par, as I believe Robert Cummings was in 'Saboteur,' then the whole thing would have flopped. Oakley is a much more interesting character and the film operates on a higher level because of this. Is Charlie Oakley really a psychopath or is he just someone very angry and disillusioned with the world?. Also good are Teresa Wright as female 'Charlie' and Patricia Collinge who gives quite a moving performance as Charlie's sister Emma the head of the household. As another reviewer stated, this is really a family melodrama more than anything else, but a highly engrossing one.

          Hume Cronyn [famous to many of us as one of the feisty old people from 'Cocoon'!] gives his debut film performance here, providing light relief as a next door neighbour obsessed with crime novels. He would go on to work with Hitchcock on several other projects including the screenplay for 'Rope'. This is definitely Cotton's film though and he should have been lavished with awards but sadly wasn't. Teresa Wright's character has to go on a journey through the film from the innocent and naive girl at the beginning to a more world weary character at the end, this was well done. In fact it is hard to come up with any negatives about the film really, much of the action takes place in rooms so there isn't even the uncharitable accusation that the special effects look ropey as there aren't really any!.

          Hitchcock is often accused of misogyny and there is some present in 'Shadow Of A Doubt'. Much of this 'hatred of women' could be possibly traced back to Hitchcock's own relationship with his mother who he found to be very cold towards him. This could well have led to a bitterness and resentment, probably best represented by the hideous 'mother' character in 'Psycho'......I'm not trying to get all Freudian it's just people often have a reason for acting the way they do and film makers sometimes work through their personal demons on film. If you can get past a couple of jarring moments of this in the film, the story and performances are superb.

          The dvd has a decent set of extras, with some of Hitchcock's production drawings and another 35 minute documentary, which is of particular interest for the contributions of Teresa Wright and Hume Cronyn, who have now both sadly passed away. The film was a very enjoyable experience for both of them and they speak very warmly about working with Hitchcock. Long a critics favourite, 'Shadow Of A Doubt' deserves its plaudits and I'm sure I will return to it in the future.

          The film can be bought for around £5 seperately on Amazon UK or as part of the 'Hitchcock Collection' from Universal Studios which is constantly on sale in HMV and online for £15!, a very good deal.

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        • Saboteur (DVD) / DVD / 24 Readings / 24 Ratings
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          24.01.2011 20:12
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          Rainy Sunday Movie....

          This is a review of the dvd which is part of the Alfred Hitchcock collection boxset.

          A couple of years ago I was browsing the racks of HMV and saw a rather weighty boxset of Alfred Hitchcock films for the paltry sum of £15....to be precise, £15 for 14 films!. This film is the first chronologically from the boxset and was not familiar to me previously. I'm a bit of a Hitchcock fan and have, as yet, not seen a 'bad' film by him although this one is not really a classic in my estimation. This comes from the period when Hitchcock had freshly moved to the USA after nearly 20 years as a successful film maker in his native England. He was somewhat underfire for leaving England at the start of the Second World War for 'deserting' his country. In some ways that might explain the annoying and occasionally cloying comments about the 'allied effort' and 'those who would try to destroy our wonderful country' etc, but I think that can be excused and seen in the light of the times in which it was made.

          The fact is, 'Saboteur' is not really all that great although it does have some fine Hitchcock flourishes. The story centres around aircraft factory worker Barry Kane who is falsely accused of starting a fire at the factory which he works at. There's always that thing in England about setting fire to the monarch's boats is the last treasonable act punishable by death, this may have been on the mind of Hitchcock and the writers at the time. Kane flees the authorities and sets about trying to prove his innocence, if you think of the plot of 'The Fugitive' you'll be able to fill in the blanks from there. The film does contain this element of 'fifth columists trying to sabotage America from within to assist the Nazi's', this all felt a bit clunky and was just an excuse for lots of patriotic speeches.

          One of the problems with 'Saboteur' is the casting, although Robert Cummings seems fine enough as an actor, he doesn't quite have the flair of a Cary Grant or James Stewart to hang the story around. His Barry Kane isn't a particularly complex character when you think of the brilliant characters Hitchcock was to bring to the screen later, such as Norman Bates. This is all a bit two-dimensional, but having said that the 1hr 45mins duration doesn't drag too much and its an enjoyable entertainment. The female lead is played by Priscilla Lane [who actually got top billing in the films credits] though I'm not really familiar with anything else she's been in. She was suitably glamourous and did have a bit more to do than the average role for women at this time would have called for. She and Kane team up for a kind of cross country search across America for the infamous 'Fry' the REAL saboteur who started the fire at the factory killing Kane's close friend. [By the way, I'm not giving anything away here that isn't SPELT out in the opening 10 minutes of the film]

          No viewer will be in any doubt by the end of the film that Barry Kane is supposed to be a real stand-up guy and would never be involved in anything as nasty as that which he's accused of. Cummings seemed to fluff his lines on at least a couple of occasions as if the enormity of his leading role status was a bit much for him. The final scene at the Statue of Liberty is hailed as a classic set-piece from Hitchcock's career but the passage of time has somewhat dulled it's impact it still deserves applause for effort, the ambition was certainly there.

          The dvd is nicely presented, picture and sound quality appeared fine to me. The extras include a 35 minute documentary where we mostly hear from Norman Lloyd, the actor who played Fry, giving his reminiscences about the film. At first this seemed a bit annoying and one-sided [Lloyd was quite opinionated at times] but then its better to have that than a film historian just rambling on about a project he/she has read about or researched but had nothing to do with. There were some other contributions from Hitchcock's daughter and one of the art directors on the film, but in fairness all of the main principles are now sadly deceased. There are the usual subtitle/language options making this a decent dvd presentation. I'm not sure I'll watch it again and it will probably slip to the bottom of the box in terms of use but a fan of Hitchcock should at the very least try it out, perhaps wait till its on TV on a rainy Sunday afternoon though.

          Can be bought as part of the mentioned boxset, or individually for a bargain price on Amazon UK of around £5 after postage.

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            13.01.2011 23:08
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            One I play a lot...

            This is a review of the 2004 Island Records remastered C.D

            'I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight' was Richard Thompson's first collaboration with his wife Linda, though he wrote all the material, Linda's pure and beautiful folk voice provided the perfect showcase for her husband"s songs. After Richard's debut 'Henry The Human Fly' had sold very poorly he was perhaps beginning to regret his decision to leave Fairport Convention, a band he co-founded in 1967 at the tender age of 17. But this album confirmed that his decision had been correct with many 'Thompson standards' contained within. I love the album and listen to it on a pretty regular basis, in fact this is my second C.D copy of the album!, with a slight improvement in sound quality over the original Island C.D release. Island records in the 70s really was a hotbed of excellence: Free, John Martyn, Nick Drake, Bob Marley, Traffic, Cat Stevens, John Cale, Richard and Linda Thompson, Sandy Denny.....the list goes on, Chris Blackwell was a genius at spotting talent to sign. Richard and Linda slotted in nicely with this company, tales of discussions over tea in the Island canteen between the above artists makes fascinating reading. It's a fact that the roster of artists all had enormous regard for each other, Richard Thompson has played on several great records from the 70s, his reputation as a guitar player appreciated by his fellow musicians even if not by the public at large.

            Richard Thompson selected engineer John Wood [who had done Nick Drake's albums] to work with him on producing the album and Sound Techniques studio in Chelsea London was the location, as with many classic Island records of the era. Thompson called upon his old mate from Fairport Simon Nicol to assist on rhythm guitar and John Kirkpatrick one of England's foremost traditional instrumentalists to provide accordion and concertina playing where needed. That's one of the main joys of 'Bright Lights' as an album, the fusing of folk with a modern singer/songwriter sensibility. I'm not sure anyone has ever done it as well as Thompson [Bob Dylan is an obvious exception], these songs sound like they were traditional standards in fact they are contemporary Thompson compositions.

            SONGS

            1. When I Get To The Border

            A great opener, Thompson sounds almost nervous as he takes the vocals, this is a personal favourite of mine, it sets the tone well for the album. Overall the songs are sombre in tone with a couple of brighter moments, I spose Thompson's voice can take some getting used to, but I really like it now having listened to it for some time, it's an acquired taste though.

            2. The Calvary Cross

            This becomes a huge guitar work-out when performed live, here in its shorter version Thompson displays only a brief glimpse of his guitar wizardry with a great intro, bending strings in a way possibly not heard before on record!. Another great song.

            3. Withered And Died

            A great piece of songwriting, covered by other artists such as Elvis Costello and Kate Rusby and this is the kind of thing that gets covered by american country artists like say Emmylou Harris or Linda Ronstadt, which shows the broad appeal of the song, certainly not 'strictly' english folk. Linda does a superb job with the vocals here.

            4. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight

            The title track is another classic, again heavily covered over the years by a mixture of english and american artists. Often Richard would sing on the 'rockier' numbers leaving the ballads to Linda, but there's a nice reversal here as Linda is left to sing the line 'couple of drunken knights rolling on the floor, is just the kind of mess I'm looking for!'....A great shuffling rhythm, also a cool 'getting ready to go out song'!!....

            5. Down Where The Drunkards Roll

            Another superb combination of songwriting with a great vocal performance from Linda, a sympathetic low-key backing lets Linda's voice really shine here.....I'm all out of accolades!.

            6. We Sing Hallelujah

            This may be where some listeners 'get off the bus' with a more obviously 'english folk' sound this is one of the 2 weaker tracks on the album, it's relative though, I still sing along to this one when it comes on!...a more 'sing-along' folk number, still I'm fond of it personally....a lighter tone here

            7. Has He Got A Friend For Me

            A return to the more introspective sombre tone of 'Down Where The Drunkards Roll', Linda takes on the role of a lonely woman wondering if 'he's got a friend for me?'. It's another flawless vocal performance though and reminds me of Sandy Denny, a close friend of the Thompson's.

            8. The Little Beggar Girl

            Before the emotional wallop of the album's last two tracks there's some light relief here, one of the two weaker tracks, this is still good fun. Richard joins Linda on the chorus of 'I'm only a poor little beggar girl', definitely in the english folk vein again, another 'sing-song' track.

            9. The End Of The Rainbow

            I don't see how anyone wouldn't think this was a great song, folk fan or not. A very dark lyrical tale as Richard sings to an unborn child: 'life seems so rosy in the cradle, but I'll be a friend I'll tell you what's in store, there's nothing at the end of the rainbow, there's nothing to grow up for anymore....' Probably not one to hear if you're feeling depressed!, great song though...

            10 The Great Valerio

            Linda arguably saves her best performance to the end here, backed mostly just by Richard's acoustic guitar this sombre ballad closes out the album in great style. A song about a trapeze artist?, powerful stuff nonetheless.....

            If you hadn't already guessed I'm a massive Richard Thompson fan, I've seen him live 3 times and hopefully off to see him again in a couple of weeks. He's a recording artist that has stayed true to his songwriting muse and hasn't become swayed by fashions or fads. He's crafted a unique sound as a guitarist blending the modal scales of folk music with blues and rock, certainly a lot more original than the usual blues chunking which people go crazy over. The songs are the 'business' though, if you don't like Thompson's voice [as many don't with Dylan] there will be someone with a more palatable voice out there who's covered a lot of his songs anyway. There's almost 40 years of brilliant music awaiting those that want to jump in....

            Can be bought for about £5 on Amazon UK

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            • Maladroit - Weezer / Music Album / 37 Readings / 37 Ratings
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              17.12.2010 21:03
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              Great album

              Weezer are a band I have always enjoyed. Their punky/pop sound, which in a bygone era might have been called 'power-pop' is just what you need on these cold winter nights to get you fired up. I'm usually a bit harsh on a lot of recent music, preferring the 60s and 70s as musical eras. Weezer is one of the best bands about today though, they have rather precious fans who like to say that nothing the band has recorded since 'Pinkerton' is any good, to me that is plain nonsense. Admittedly the sound became a bit more commercial and the guitars became crunchier, but 'Maladroit' is an excellent album full of catchy songs.

              Things get off to a very rocky start with 'American Gigolo' and a personal favourite of mine 'Dope Nose' which has a great riff and some impressive harmony guitar playing. Chief songwriter Rivers Cuomo's seemingly endless stash of catchy riffs is in clear evidence here. Only 2 of the songs on 'Maladroit' break the 3 minute mark and this seems to reflect the fast punky spirit of the album. There's a clear Beatles influence in effect in places, this is displayed well in the third track 'Keep Fishin' which has a kind of 'Beatle-esque' bridge part to it, another classic. After such a strong start 'Take Control' feels like a slight dip in quality but is still a fine song, the riff is a bit 'recycled' from a load of other more famous rock songs.

              'Death and Destruction' takes the pace down a little and is a mildly engaging ballad, though little more. To me, 'Slob' is an absolute classic, I love the lyrics: 'I don't like how you're living my life.....get yourself a wife....get yourself a job....you're living a dream......don't you be a Slob!'. It's also a fantastic vocal performance from Rivers Cuomo, terrific all round in my book. 'Burndt Jamb' has an interesting Bossa Nova style rhythm which just adds nicely to the vibe of the album as a whole, different from everything that has gone before but still maintaining a catchy punky sensibility, another winner. After two very strong songs, 'Space Rock' is a bit throwaway coming in under 2 minutes but again I like the guitar sound on this one.

              'Slave' has a very engaging melody, the kind of thing many would dismiss as being a bit soppy, but I don't mind a bit of soppiness now and then!, again I can't really find fault with the song itself. 'Fall Together' might appeal to those of a metal persuasion using a heavy chugging riff approach, its rather slight as a song but keeps the sound fresh enough. 'Possibilities' is the kind of song I have endless enthusiasm for though I can understand why many would hate/or dislike it, its got Buzzcocks written all over it, Weezer also share some common elements with Green Day and this could be on one of their albums.

              That just leaves 'Love Explosion' and 'December' to round out the album, I like 'Love Explosion' which once again has a great tune going on, has a bit of the 'Locomotion' in there!...and some more impressive guitar playing. 'December' is an ok finish to the album but there is this abiding rule to have to finish an album on a ballad, still good stuff.

              There we go, over in 33 minutes, Weezer albums can be a mixed bag, the sound here I would imagine would have been hard to recreate live, a cranked up processed sound that ALL rock albums seem to have to have nowadays. Still, it works well on the album and the songs are of a consistently high standard....a solid 4 stars.

              Released 2002

              Can be bought for about a fiver on amazon.

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                17.11.2010 22:40
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                The weirder side of 70s California singer songwriters.

                This is a review of just the album.

                The first time I heard Warren Zevon was when I saw 'The Color Of Money' years ago on T.V and thought; 'who is that awesome song by?' in the scene where Tom Cruise takes apart a local pool hall with his cue skills. Of course it was Martin Scorsese deciding to showcase a brilliant songwriter's music in a perfect scene, the song was 'Werewolves Of London' by Warren Zevon. The song has been covered many times including a recent 'mash-up' by Kid Rock with 'Sweet Home Alabama', which I didn't personally think much of, but if it gets more people listening to Warren Zevon then fine!. This album is probably his strongest overall containing at least 4 of his signature songs, I listen to it a lot and is a real classic in my view.

                1. Johnny Strikes Up The Band

                Not always featured on 'best of' albums, this is a great song, it definitely grew on me. I remember getting this album at uni and my flat mate finding this really annoying!, in all honesty I didn't like it at first but it has really grown on me over time. A great start to the album, it's written by Zevon alone though he often collaborated.

                2. Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner

                The first of the 4 'established' Zevon classics here a classic tale of the Nigerian civil War [??!!], with great lyrics the song was co-written by David Lindell who Zevon met and befriended when he was living in Spain.

                3. Excitable Boy

                The second 'classic' here, the album's title track has great sardonic lyrics about a young man going mad and killing his girlfriend, with a great piano riff played by Zevon. The song was co-written with LeRoy Marinell. This one is guaranteed a place on any 'best of' and is a regular on my Ipod.

                4. Werewolves Of London

                Classic number 3, if someone has not heard Warren Zevon they WILL have heard this one somewhere down the line. Another great simple piano riff by Warren is backed by Fleetwood Mac's rhythm section John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums. Total perfection, love this song which was co-written with Marinell and guitarist Waddy Wachtel, though it's the piano riff that makes it with some superb storytelling lyrics.

                5. Accidentally Like A Martyr

                A ballad which ends out side 1 of the original vinyl release in great style, the songs on the album tend to rock slightly more than a typical Warren Zevon album, but this shows his ability to craft a slower song.

                6. Nighttime In The Switching Yard

                Not a Zevon track, this is little more than a groove fleshed out into a song, it's pretty funky though with Jeff Pocaro [later of Toto] on drums giving a sort of calypso feel. Zevon had lots of great musicians as friends who were happy to contribute their services to the album taking it that notch higher.

                7. Veracruz

                Written with Jorge Calderon this is another great ballad with a poignant feel.

                8. Tenderness On The Block

                Jackson Browne co-produced this album and here he co-writes with Zevon, it has that commercial 'sheen' sound that Browne brings to his music, but I'm not sure I'm that keen on it. Browne felt that Zevon was very underrated and helped get the cream of L.A session musicians to work on 'Excitable Boy', he did a fine job as producer.

                9. Lawyers, Guns and Money

                This is my favourite Warren Zevon song, again featuring a classic simple piano riff which drives the song with some real power. When the riff is backed by the guitar [Waddy Wachtel] its a great moment, Zevon would struggle to ever top this. It's one of my personal favourite songs ever and gets a ton of play on the Ipod, a true classic.

                So there it is, Warren Zevon passed away in 2003 but left an impressive body of work behind him. His fans included Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bob Thornton and Will Self [who writes the liner notes to the 'Genius' compilation]. I would get that compilation for a good way in and then proceed to this album. Only Zevon nuts [like me!] will really need any more. This one is an absolute keeper though.

                Get the 2007 remaster on C.D for about £5 on Amazon UK.

                Credits:

                Released: 1978
                Producer: Jackson Browne and Waddy Wachtel

                1. Johnny Strikes Up The Band [Warren Zevon]
                2. Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner [David Lindell, Warren Zevon]
                3. Excitable Boy [LeRoy Marinell, Warren Zevon]
                4. Werewolves Of London [LeRoy Marinell, Waddy Wachtel, Warren Zevon]
                5. Accidentally Like A Martyr [Warren Zevon]
                6. Nighttime In The Switching Yard [Jorge Calderon, David Lindell]
                7. Veracruz [Jorge Calderon, Warren Zevon]
                8. Tenderness On The Block [Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon]
                9. Lawyers, Guns and Money [Warren Zevon]

                Running Time: 31:29 [much too short!!]

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                • The Colditz Story [1954] (DVD) / DVD / 26 Readings / 26 Ratings
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                  17.11.2010 01:20
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                  based on P.R Reid's recollections of being an English prisoner of war at Colditz.

                  This is a review of the Optimum DVD.

                  'The Colditz Story' is a British made prisoner of war film from 1955. At this time the allies were still very happy with their success in the war and were to some extent enjoying lauding it over the Germans and rubbing their noses in it on celluloid. That is not to say that this film is not highly entertaining, just a very patriotic affair. In September last year I purchased, for a stupidly cheap price, a boxset called 'The Complete War Collection'. This boxset features 12 war movies [all depicting world war two] and I only recently decided to start gingerly ploughing my way through them. I was raised on westerns and war movies as my dad was a fan of both and any other film genre was very unpopular in our house!. This one was new to me and I had no particular reason for choosing this one first in the boxset aside from the fact that at 90 minutes it was one of the shortest of the films and best fitted the time I had available to watch a film.

                  The film concerns the attempts by British, French, Dutch and Polish prisoners of war to escape from Colditz castle in Germany towards the end of the second world war. To say that not much happens in the film would be pretty accurate. John Mills is the escape officer put in charge of the British end and must liase with the other British soldiers to decide who will try and break out and when. The Germans seem a largely friendly bunch in the movie, portrayed as being merely mildly annoyed by escape attempts and mostly treating the prisoners like naughty children rather than arch enemies. I was quite surprised by this depiction of the Germans only 10 years after the end of the war. John Mills is very good in a part he played numerous times in British war movies and seems to be having a great time injecting some much needed excitement into proceedings with his performance.

                  There was a real danger with this film that it would be rather dull as the sets were quite rudimentary and the whole thing looked like it was filmed round the back of Pinewood Studios or in a disused building shortly before demolition. It's a great credit to the cast and director Guy Hamilton [several years before his days as James Bond director] that the pitfalls are largely avoided, and it sort of plays like a black and white film version of 'Porridge' but without the jokes!. I enjoyed it a lot though and will most likely return to it again at some point in the future.

                  The other role of note was that of the senior British officer at the prison, played by Eric Portman, an actor I know very little about except that he had a distinguished film and theatre career in the UK. He does a great 'stiff-upper lip' job and several scenes are made infinitely more watchable by his presence. The film won't appeal to everyone and may drag to some modern viewers used to a quicker pace of action, but I would recommend it for a rainy afternoon's viewing.

                  The DVD has minimal extras, just trailer and subtitles/languages etc but the print and sound seem pretty good and the presentation is good. Can be bought for around £5 on Amazon UK or as part of the 'Complete War Collection'.

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                • Man of the West (DVD) / DVD / 29 Readings / 29 Ratings
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                  06.11.2010 02:08
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                  Cooper bows out on a classic.

                  This is a review of the MGM dvd release.

                  'Man Of The West' was director Anthony Mann's final film in the western genre, which had seen him team up with James Stewart for some highly successful adventures. This was also one of Gary Cooper's final roles, as he died 3 years after this film was made. It is a more than fitting end for both men as both direction and performance are of the highest order and 'Man Of The West' is a great western which I will certainly return to again in the future.

                  Link Jones [Cooper] is on his way to Fort Worth, Texas to set up a school and hire a school mistress. He has been entrusted with some savings to get these plans off the ground. It is obvious early on that Jones is some kind of reformed outlaw, anyone that's seen Clint Eastwood's 'Unforgiven' can spot this sort of thing a mile off!. A train he is travelling on is hijacked by robbers who steal his savings. Off the train, he teams up with saloon singer Billie Ellis [the highly attractive Julie London] and conman Sam Beasley [Arthur O'Connell]. Before they have even had a chance to relax for the night they happen upon Jones's old gang and their unstable leader Dock Tobin [a great performance by Lee J Cobb] who never really got over Jones going straight and becoming good. Before he knows what he's doing Jones has been roped into a bank robbery in the sleepy local town of Lassoo, but will he go through with it??.

                  'Man Of The West' was a film I was keen to see as it has a bit of a reputation for being a classic of the western genre. I was not disappointed, all the cast members play their parts well and Mann handles the tone shift well from a jokey sort of atmosphere at the beginning of the film to the more deadly serious stuff once Jones is forced to team up with his old cohorts again. Of course the 'reformed outlaw' story is as old as time, but if done well [as here] it really doesn't matter too much.

                  Gary Cooper, in one of his last films, really does look like he's been through the mill. He was in his late 50s at the time and looks like quite a haggered old man. That suits the role very well of course and the punch-up he has half way through the film looks like someone who could once handle themselves attempting to get back to where he was, its all done pretty well.

                  Julie London is very beautiful, and was a very talented singer with an amazing voice. That voice is curiously not heard very much in the film even though her character is supposed to be a bar singer. This may have had more to do with London herself who seemed very self-concious about her singing ability [an interesting BBC 4 'legends' programme provided some insight] and later quit singing entirely to focus on starring in a hospital soap-opera on US T.V. This was one of her finest film performances though.

                  The other main stand out in the cast is Lee J. Cobb, a dependable character actor who could always be called upon if a craggy faced 'seen it all before' character was needed. Here he slightly hams up the drunken Dock Tobin character, but gives it enough menace and gravitas to keep the audience convinced that he is dangerous.

                  At 95 minutes, 'Man Of The West' is no epic western and when I looked back over the film I had just watched I realised that nothing much really happened in the film, but this is not too important as the performances are believable and there are several well played out action sequences, a couple of great shoot-outs and the messy punch-up scene halfway through the film between Jones and one of his arch rivals. This was certainly a fine film for Gary Cooper to end his western career with and it deserves its place as a 'cult classic' of the genre.

                  The version I have has no real special features to speak of, just chapter selections and language/subtitle options. But having a couple of the Optimum Western Classics Series dvds as well I'm pretty sure that there's little difference between the MGM version and the one pictured here. Both are available for under £5 on Amazon UK but I'd rent it out and see what you think.

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                  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona (DVD) / DVD / 32 Readings / 31 Ratings
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                    20.10.2010 13:26
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                    Not one of his best......

                    This is a review of the DVD.

                    'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' is a film directed by Woody Allen and released in 2008. As a big fan of Woody Allen's work, I was pleased to see this one drop through the post the other day as I have lost track of Woody's more recent work. I saw 'Small Time Crooks' on TV the other night and now have a desire to take in all of his movies from the last 15 years or so which I'm not so familiar with. I think the general charge against Woody Allen; that he hasn't made anything really decent for about 20 years ['Manhattan Murder Mystery' was the last one I REALLY enjoyed] is true, though with some reservations. Woody Allen is a director whose films I can always sit down and watch, even the bad ones, because you know what you're going to get and whatever it is probably won't tax the mind too much.

                    'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' is the story of two women: Vicky and Cristina, who spend a two month summer holiday in Spain soaking up the culture and scenery. Why Vicky and Cristina have gone to Spain for two months isn't something Allen is particularly interested in, the narrator informs us that Vicky [played by Rebecca Hall] is doing a Masters in Catalan culture and Cristina [Scarlett Johansson] is a free spirit who wants to go to Spain to lose herself in a new artistic and cultural environment. Vicky has a distant relative [played by Patricia Clarkson] who they can stay with out there, rather handy!.

                    The film begins with the pair travelling to Spain and the audience sees nothing of the home life in America where they've come from. Vicky is very sensible [at least at first] and wants only to learn and study, while Cristina wants an exciting 'experience'. Their lives are changed when they meet handsome artist Juan Antonio Gonzalo [another fine performance from Javier Bardem] who arrogantly proclaims that they will go to Oveido with him for the weekend, they will drink fine wine and make love; Cristina is intrigued, Vicky is appalled. Once in Oveido, an interesting love 'square' is formed between Juan, Vicky, Cristina AND Juan's unstable ex-wife Maria Elena [the lovely Penelope Cruz]. I won't go too much more into the plot, but it's all fairly par for the course for a Woody Allen film.

                    The story itself is not particularly original so a lot is riding on the performances of the players. In the case of Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, Allen has cast well as both play their roles convincingly and any of the humour in the film, which mostly seems strangely absent, is provided by these two characters. Scarlett Johansson is clearly Woody Allen's latest muse, and if he were 30 years younger she would also be his girlfriend. I liked her performance here and she certainly has no problems playing a seductress type of character.

                    The weak link was poor old Rebecca Hall, saddled with the Woody Allen character which Woody is now too old to play himself. Many actors in recent recent years have tried and failed to do an onscreen impersonation of Woody Allen, Will Ferrell and Kenneth Branagh immediately spring to mind. Why does this happen?, is it that annoying luvvie actors think they will stretch themselves if they try and become Woody Allen?, or does Woody himself demand that they do it this way?. I suspect that they get the script and then start trying to speak like Woody Allen because there is that rapid delivery dialogue, but it would be great to see an actor doing something a bit different, dare I say 'organic', rather than a lame impersonation of Allen, just knock it off!. The film immediately loses points for this.

                    Another thing which annoyed me about this film was the use of a narrator, here used to catch the audience up with what has happened to the characters on screen. One of the problems with Woody Allen films now is that he is not in them!, when watching a classic Woody Allen film you see how much of the backstory he reveals on screen with his performance. He doesn't need a narrator, his rapid fire verbal delivery insures the audience knows what they need to know. As he is now too old to play this part himself he gets another actor, frequently who seem to be happy to be attached to a 'Woody Allen' feature but have little interest in making the character come alive. I know I've pretty much made that point already but it annoys me SO much!!.

                    Due to budgeting constraints, for the past few years Woody Allen has had to find alternate shooting destinations for his films due to the high price of filming in New York. This has meant a move to London for several films and now, with this film, Spain. Woody has stated in interviews that the location of these films is unimportant, the same Manhattan romantic comedies or dramas are played out just with shorter skyscrapers. In that sense, although there is beautiful scenery in the film and some nice Spanish touches, it doesn't feel that different to any other Woody Allen film you might have watched, or at least didn't to me. I found some of the dialogue, particularly the stuff said by the narrator, to be pretentious in an irritating way, as opposed to in an amusing way as has been the case in many previous Woody Allen films. The narrator sounds like he's reading aloud a set of pretentious statements rather than giving the audience genuine insights into characters.

                    So what is good about the film?, well there is a fair bit. Johansson and Cruz are gorgeous, almost as beautiful as the Spanish scenery and did a good job in their roles. Javier Bardem showed a nice light touch in his performance and was clearly at home with a comedic role as much as his more serious performances in other films which led to his critical praise. Penelope Cruz won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance here, which had all the hallmarks of previous winners of that award: turn up late in the film, chew up the scenery and steal the film from the rest of the actors with what is essentially an extended cameo. The film was a very pleasant way to spend 90 minutes and when I was annoyed by something in the film I always had some beautiful Spanish locations to look at.

                    Is this the return to 'Classic Woody Allen' that people were hoping for?, well I don't think so personally. There are some encouraging elements that show Woody has gone back to a more light hearted style after some heavy going films but this is still light years away from his best work. An enjoyable movie nonetheless, worth a rental.

                    Can be bought for less than £5 on Amazon UK, though as usual for a Woody Allen film there are no extras except a trailer and some scene selections/language options.

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                    • More +
                      06.10.2010 03:38
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                      Perry's Mason......

                      This is a review of the 2002 Epic remaster C.D

                      Always one to embrace whatever the musical trends of the day are [whether advisable or not] Ozzy's 1995 album 'Ozzmosis' seems to be seen as something of a fan favourite, but I personally find it no better or worse than quite a few of his other albums. After the excellent 'No More Tears' album in 1991, fans had a four year wait for the next disc from the 'Prince Of Darkness'. 'Ozzmosis' seems to have a very smooth sound to it, which is rather hard to describe, it doesn't have quite enough guitar raunch in it for my liking but there are some very fine songs contained here.

                      'Perry Mason' gets things off to a flying start with a riff that is from the Batman Soundtrack/Muse stable. The kind of 'Transylvanian rock' Harmonic Minor keys going on. It had been a while since Ozzy had opened an album with such a brooding and menacing track, usually going for the all-out metal attack.

                      'I Just Want You' is a slower ballad sounding track, which avoids the MEGA cheese of Ozzy's usual ballads [though I personally love those!] and would have fitted in well with the Pearl Jam and Nirvana tracks doing the rounds on rock radio at the time. Something for the Grunge generation.

                      'Ghost Behind My Eyes' starts off like 'Paradise City' by Guns 'N Roses and ends up being a satisfactory ballad, but is nothing all that special and like many of the songs on the album ends up being too long. There is also a strong Beatles influence here [Ozzy is an established massive fan] and this has shades of 'I Am The Walrus/Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds' in it as well.

                      'Thunder Underground' has a more heavy crunchy guitar sound, drawing some inspiration from the NU-Metal bands coming through, such as Korn who this resembles a bit. Ozzy's voice is a bit annoying on this one I found, but again it's a brave attempt to try something a little different to what has just gone before. This track was co-written with Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler, along with Ozzy's guitarist Zakk Wylde.

                      'See You On The Other Side' was co-written with Ozzy's good friend Lemmy Kilminster from Motorhead. It's not quite what you might expect from that combination, it's suprisingly less heavy than the music that those two usually indulge in. It's hard to know what input Lemmy would have actually had on the song as Zakk Wylde is on the credits again and there doesn't seem to be any identifiable Lemmy touches, but maybe they jammed in a rehearsal and got it that way. It's an interesting combination anyway, though the song is a little below par for the talents involved. After the impressive songs that they worked on together for 'No More Tears' this feels like the bottom of the barrel is being scraped.

                      'Tomorrow' is another more atmospheric effort from Ozzy. Some impressive soloing from Zakk Wylde here shows why Ozzy kept him as his main axeman for almost 20 years.

                      'Denial' is a little dull, probably a definite candidate for the skip button, using the 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' thing again was probably a bit much on the same album.

                      'My Little Man' was co-written with Steve Vai and is about Ozzy's son Jack who was a youngster at the time. The lyrics are heartfelt, if a little cheesy. There's a weird electric Sitar sound perfromed by Zakk Wylde which is a bit distracting, but overall this is a fairly solid ballad.

                      'My Jekyll Doesn't Hide' is another collaboration with Geezer Butler and has Ozzy on possibly the most familiar ground of any track on the album. This maybe why it's one of my favourites as Ozzy seems to fulfill the role I'm expecting from him. Some great crunchy playing from Zakk Wylde, not quite up to Tony Iommi standards, but it'll do!.

                      'Old L.A Tonight' closes out the album with a Piano intro more reminiscent of Elton John than Ozzy Osbourne. It works well though as a closing track and rounds out an altogether quite 'unusual' sounding Ozzy Osbourne album.

                      There are 2 bonus tracks on this release: 'Whole World's Falling Down' and 'Aimee'. 'Aimee' [about Ozzy's daughter, that no-one ever sees!] is another piano ballad and 'Whole World's Falling Down' is a heavy rock track. Neither song really establishes itself as a candidate for having gone on the actual album, and they both deserve their place as interesting curios on the end of the album, though I don't really like bonus tracks on albums.

                      So the verdict here is that this is definitely a grower, one to reveal itself over repeated plays. I've heard the album a few times now and I like it much more than the first time I listened to it, where it's lack of a killer hook song made me a little impatient with proceedings. I like the 'Bark At The Moon' album which many people see as the pinnacle of cheese in Ozzy's career, but I really enjoy the songs on that album!. Coming after that album on the Ipod this one takes a bit of adjusting to but I think it's another strong effort from the Ozzster, and is certainly better than the generic and mostly uninteresting 'Down To Earth' album which followed this one 6 years later.

                      So not quite up to 'No More Tears' or the mighty 'Blizzard Of Ozz', 'Diary Of A Madman' and 'Bark At The Moon' but still a very decent album with an admirable desire to experiment from a performer who was 15 years and 7 albums into his solo career at this point. Michael Beinhorn's production isn't really to my taste, and that is the album's main failing in my opinion. If you can get past that though I recommend this one for the discerning Ozzy fan.

                      Can be bought very cheaply on Amazon UK [mine was £3.99 brand new] or could probably be bought in HMV for about £5 in the sale. Worth a look after having got the established 3 or 4 Ozzy classics.

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                        30.09.2010 02:06
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                        weak ending to the definitive Sabbath line-up

                        This is a review of the C.D

                        By 1978, Black Sabbath were on the cusp of falling apart. Ozzy was becoming increasingly unpopular with the band due to his drug use and unpredictable behaviour, and there was a general fatigue beginning to set in after almost 10 years of constant touring with 8 studio albums under their belts. I personally quite like the final two Ozzy albums: 'Technical Ecstasy' and 'Never Say Die!' although they tend to get panned.

                        It is certainly true that both this album and the previous one are weaker than the classic early 70s Sabbath albums, but there is much to enjoy here and when I finally got round to purchasing this album a few months ago I found it better than expected.

                        SONGS

                        'Never Say Die!' was a successful single which was a feeble attempt lyrically to try and show that all was OK in the band's camp, though fans must have seen the writing on the wall for this line-up. The song prompted a rare appearance on Top Of The Pops, not seen since 'Paranoid' 8 years earlier. The musical landscape had changed, a quick viewing of the audience of the band on this performance reveals Bay City Roller types, a world away from the unwashed hippies they played to in 1970. Despite all this I rather like 'Never Say Die!' as a song, and it frequently pops up on my Ipod and isn't skipped....

                        'Johnny Blade' starts off with some very crummy sounding synthesizer, understandable for 1978, a group trying to keep up with relevant sounds. Trouble is, if you don't really know what you're doing with synths it just sounds like some hippies messing about: a bit unfocussed. Compared to The Who's use of the instrument on tracks like 'Who Are You' and 'Won't Get Fooled Again' this sounds a bit tepid. It's also a rather uninspired song with quite a weak melody, and at well over 6 minutes is far too long. One to skip.

                        'Junior's Eyes', I rather like this one though I'm not totally sure why!. I've been listening to this album a fair bit this week on the journey to and from Portsmouth on the Hovercraft from the Isle Of Wight, this song I've sought out a few times, I really like the chorus. It sounds strangely like a song which Ozzy's successor in Black Sabbath [Ronnie James Dio] would have performed, it's oddly more in HIS style. Tony Iommi dishes up some great strident power chording and the whole thing rocks much more than 'Johnny Blade'. Perhaps a bit too long again at 6.42, but I like it.

                        'A Hard Road' has a decent enough riff and usually ends up on most 'Best Of' compilations of the band. More honest about the band's plight from a lyrical stand point. The chorus has a kind of 'Chant' quality to it, I can imagine the band seeing the song being a concert favourite getting the crowd to sing the extended refrain: 'Ohhhh it's a Hard Road.....', the whole band joins in at the end with Tony Iommi even getting behind the mic!. Nothing amazing, but no disgrace either.

                        'Shock Wave' is quite an effective little rocker, probably a bit generic but the band sounds quite invigorated on this with some powerful drumming from Bill Ward. Tony Iommi keeps the song from getting too stale by mixing up the riffs a bit and the song is a fine opener to side 2 of the album. Probably wouldn't be in anyone's list of favourite Sabbath tunes, but a fine rocker nonetheless.

                        'Air Dance' is an odd sounding tune, from the off it has a Thin Lizzy type of riff, that dualling guitar sound. I'm not totally sure how I feel about it, it's an interesting change in sound with some good piano work from Don Airey, but the jazzy chord changes don't really work too well. And at several points it sounds like the band is trying to sound like Mike Oldfield!, not a direction that is particularly appropriate for Sabbath. Then at the end it turns into a mixture of 'Moondance' by Van Morrison and Santana [??!!]. At least the keyboard playing here sounds competent, not like before where Ozzy might as well have been leaning on the keys!. Overall an interesting failure.

                        'Over To You' returns to a more familiar Sabbath sound but is mostly quite forgettable, though Tony Iommi does some fantastic chunky riffing, he's one of my all time favourite guitarists when he starts dishing out this sort of thing, sadly its not enough to save a mediocre track.

                        'Breakout' is the obligatory Black Sabbath instrumental that usually crop up somewhere on an album. A lot of Saxophone on this one!, perhaps this was played as entrance music on the tour but seems to have little other use, just a continuous Sax riff. At least it's quite short.

                        'Swinging The Chain' ends the album in rather poor fashion. Bill Ward isn't a very good singer and whilst his vocal added a whimsical quality to 'It's Alright' on 'Technical Ecstasy', here it's just a bit annoying. Having said that the song is not very good anyway so I don't think Ozzy singing it would have made that much difference. Some Harmonica playing towards the end is a nice nod to the band's original Blues roots which had them started in the clubs.

                        In the end, 'Never Say Die!' can only really be recommended to established fans of Black Sabbath. There is nothing bar 'Johnny Blade' that I found hugely awful, but equally where earlier albums had their share of terrific highpoints here they are few and far between. I would say a bad Sabbath album is still better than a lot of bands output and this compares perfectly favourably to what Led Zeppelin and other contemporaries were putting out by 1978. It's probably best to start at the beginning with Black Sabbath and then get to this album last out of the Ozzy releases. It's a shame that this version of the band didn't end on a high, much as I like the Dio fronted version of the band I still prefer the Ozzy stuff and would love to see the original Sabbath line-up do one more tour and album and maybe provide a more fitting coda to their superb legacy.

                        Can be bought for around £5 on Amazon UK but I would scour the charity shops for it cheap if you want to give it a go.

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                        • Bottom - Series 2 (DVD) / TV Series / 19 Readings / 19 Ratings
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                          23.09.2010 15:40
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                          Tight-Mouthed Larry......

                          This is a review of the BBC DVD.

                          The second series of the filthy sitcom aired on the BBC in the Autumn of 1992, the situations here remain much the same as in the first series, Richard Richard [Rik Mayall] and Eddie Hitler [Ade Edmondson] are still living in their disgusting flat in Hammersmith getting drunk and bemoaning their lack of 'birds', and it might be a fair assessment to say that the joke was perhaps beginning to wear thin. For me personally I find 'Bottom' amusing so whilst there is perhaps a slight dip in quality with this series compared to the first, there is still plenty to keep fans of physical comedy happy.

                          This DVD contains the following episodes:

                          1. Digger- Eddie and Richie decide to join a dating agency, with Richie pretending to be an eccentric member of the aristocracy in a desperate attempt to get a woman. Eddie is given the less enviable task of pretending to be Richie's butler [Jives] and this leads to some amusing scrapes as they attempt to entertain the Viscountess of Moldovia [a nice turn from Helen Lederer].

                          2. Culture- In this rather below par episode, Eddie and Richie attempt to entertain themselves in the absence of the T.V with a game of Chess, inevitably it descends into chaos......

                          3. Burglary- After drinking Old Spice and Bleach, Eddie passes out 'drunk', after waking him up, Richie realises that there is a burglar in the house and the two come up with one of their characteristically ludicrous schemes to get rid of him. Although there are some amusing stunts and set-pieces, this is again a slightly weak episode.

                          4. Parade- This is probably the best episode of the series featuring several guest appearances [Julia Sawalha, Robert Llewellyn, Chris Langham]. Eddie and Richie are involved in an identity parade scam in which one of their friend's mother pretends she has been assaulted/burgled and they get paid for taking part in the line-up. Down at the local pub they also have a scam to get free beers in the pub, the landlord is wise to this though and Ritchie, Eddie and their friends are tricked by the landlord and associates and given a 'fake tip' on a horse which loses badly. Lots of amusing moments.

                          5. Holy- In a Christmas episode, Eddie and Richie are left with a baby to look after, prompting Richie to believe he is a re-incarnation of the virgin Mary. This episode contains an infamous scene where Richie cuts his finger off and blood sprays everywhere, I must confess this makes me wince everytime!.

                          6. S'Out- Was not originally broadcast in 1992 after its original filming because it depicts Eddie and Richie being terrorised by a flasher on Wimbledon Common. Earlier that year a brutal murder and sex attack had taken place there and so for reasons of sensitivity the BBC did not show the episode until 1995. It is a slightly rare episode of the sitcom in that it takes place on an outside 'set' instead of the usual flat setting of the majority of 'Bottom'. I found this one to be fairly unamusing and strangely 'uncharacteristic' of 'Bottom', Richie seems to say things in this one that his character wouldn't normally say, at least it got them out of the flat though!.

                          The second series of 'Bottom' is not quite as amusing as the first, there are plenty of pratfalls/foul language and silly scenarios to keep fans of the first series happy, and I like the show personally so I'll give it 4 stars, but it's not quite as fresh as the first season.

                          Again, the DVD contains 'Bottom fluff' with some amusing outtakes and the usual scene selections and subtitles though once again a commentary and/or documentary are sadly lacking. It can be bought nice and cheaply on Amazon UK for under £5 and seems fairly cheap in the shops also when I've seen it. Can also be bought as part of a 'Bottom Boxset', which contains the three TV series and a best of episodes. 'Parade' reaches the heights of classic status but I found the other episodes more sporadic in the number of laughs in them, definitely worth it for fans though.

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                          • Bottom - Series 1 (DVD) / TV Series / 37 Readings / 36 Ratings
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                            17.09.2010 04:10
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                            'Get the tweezers.....well get the pliers then!'....

                            This is a review of the BBC DVD.

                            'Bottom' was one of my favourite programmes as a teenager, I was an 11 year old boy when it started and probably the ideal age to appreciate it's brand of 'vulgar' comedy and over the top slapstick. The series began in September 1991 and ran for 2 further tv series, spawning several live stage shows and a film version [Guest House Paradiso] in 1999. And I have to say having re-watched the 3 series again on DVD over the past few days, they hold up surprisingly well!.

                            The shows protagonists, Richie and Eddie, played by Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, were very much developments of the comedy duo's prior creations 'The Dangerous Brothers' and their characters in 'The Young Ones'. There have been several lengthy and well written reviews posted on this site already about 'Bottom' so I won't go into too much detail about the origins of the show. It's great to see that there is still so much affection for the show which tends to get remembered very fondly, even though the characters were supposed to be total groteseques.

                            Series 1 of the show contained 6 half hour episodes, all written by Edmondson and Mayall. For all the slapstick anarchy that the show is famous for, there are some well written comedic lines as well. Rik Mayall's facial expressions are often absolutely hilarious and I always particularly enjoy Richie's outrage at Eddie [ the 'how dare you!' look is always a winner]. The set-up of the show is always the same, Richie and Eddie get themselves into various scrapes, either in their disgusting flat or at various other locations; pub, roof-top, fairground etc and then come up with ever more ridiculous ideas to get themselves out of these situations. All sense of reality has to be suspended whilst watching 'Bottom', any of the things the characters routinely do to each other eg: punching someone repeatedly in the face with an iron bar, sending hundreds of volts of electricity through someones head, drinking bleach, all have no effect whatsoever, Richie and Eddie are indestructable. If comedy for you needs to have some basis in reality then steer clear of 'Bottom'!.

                            Series 1 contained the following episodes:

                            1. Smells - Richie and Eddie read in the Hammersmith Bugle about a new 'sex spray' which will make them irresistable to women, they set out to buy the spray and then use it down at the local pub. The episode begins with Eddie stumbling drunkenly into the flat before vomiting over Richie, Eddie is often featured as drunk in the episodes with Richie appearing 'appalled' by his antics.

                            2. Gas- a classic episode of the sitcom, in this episode the gas man comes round to read the meter and Eddie and Richie beat him up as they fear he will discover they've been stealing gas from their next door neighbour. The next door neighbour is played by famous British character actor Brian Glover. Probably my favourite ever episode of the show.

                            3. Contest- in this episode Richie and Eddie argue over what to watch on the TV, they end up watching the Miss World contest. There is some fine comic acting from Rik Mayall in this one as it only features the two characters with no supporting players. Like many episodes of 'Bottom', this one ends with Richie punching Eddie in the face.

                            4. Apocalypse- Another classic episode involving a trip to a fairground where Richie is read his fortune and told that he will die in three days, this prompts Eddie to devise an elaborate prank......

                            5. 'S Up- the two urchins are left in charge of their landlord's shop but instead decide to go onto the roof of the building to try and watch the Cricket.

                            6. Accident- it is Richie's birthday, but he manages to break both of his legs after two nasty falls.

                            The second series of 'Bottom' would be shown the following Autumn and it's clear that the BBC were suitably happy with the success of the first series to grant the production of another almost straight away.

                            Also included on the dvd are the 'Bottom Fluffs' which are basically just outtakes from the series, some are amusing but this is a throwback to the VHS days when this was included at the end of the video as a nice little 'surprise', it's not much of a special feature. The DVD contains no further special features apart from language and subtitle options and seems to be a straight conversion from the VHS to DVD, a bit cheap on the part of the BBC. Still, despite the absence of some commentaries or documentaries [like the ones on the 'Red Dwarf' DVDs would have been nice] the picture and sound are fine for a tv show made in the early 1990s.

                            What can I say?, I'm a big fan of 'Bottom' still!, if you haven't seen this highly amusing slapstick bonanza check it out now!. Currently available for under £5 on Amazon UK, a bargain.

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                            • Cop (DVD) / DVD / 24 Readings / 24 Ratings
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                              14.09.2010 03:06
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                              Detective pulp.

                              This is a review of the MGM DVD.

                              'Cop' is a film from 1988 and is the final of my three James Woods films sent by LoveFilm [it's taken me a while to review them I know!]. I really like this film, James Woods as ever is out of control and here he plays tough L.A detective Lloyd Hopkins.

                              Although it is based on a novel by James Ellroy called 'Blood On the Moon', a brief glimpse at the synopsis of that book shows that only certain elements of the story have been used in the film. So possibly fans of the book may be disappointed if they're expecting a faithful adaptation.

                              I haven't read Ellroy's book though I would like to as he is one of America's best crime writers, and with source material of this quality the film makers could hardly go wrong. The plot is fairly simple, Hopkins must try and figure out the identity of a murderer who is killing women in a nasty way and leaving obscure/cryptic clues. Hopkins works mostly alone and aside from a much older cop [Dutch, played by Charles Durning] seems to have few friends in the homicide department, and little interest in making any. So far so cliched, but 'Cop' is a little better than the average 'detective going against the book' story.

                              As is nearly always the case with a James Woods film the success rises and falls on the strength of his performance. No-one else gets a look in here, Lesley Anne-Down plays the part of a feminist book store owner who may be able to help unravel the identity of the killer. She struggles in her scenes with Woods as he goes from sympathetic to sarcastic to psychotic in the space of a couple of minutes!.

                              Established character actor Charles Durning is good as Hopkins's saving grace at the department who carries the can for his foul-ups and generally makes excuses where needed. Hopkins has a wife and daughter but shows little regard for them or their safety, they abandon him early in the film but there's a sense that Hopkins will go and sort that out after dealing with his job.

                              It's possible that the plan was to make this the first part of a trilogy as Ellroy wrote the 'Lloyd Hopkins Trilogy' of books in the mid 80s, as far as I'm aware the other two books have not been adapted. Much is made of the film's abrupt ending and this could have also implied that the intension was to further the character.

                              'Cop' has quite a cheap feel about it, it doesn't feel like much money was spent on it, though having read a couple of Ellroy's novels it does seem to update nicely the sleaziness from 50s L.A to 80s L.A pretty smoothly. The film was obviously a labour of love for James B Harris, who directed it, wrote the screenplay and co-produced with James Woods.

                              If you want to see lots of car chases and shoot-outs, then 'Cop' will disappoint. There's some pretty snappy dialogue though and James Woods chews the scenery in impressive style. If it's on T.V i'd recommend tuning in as Woods will hold your attention to the final reel.

                              The DVD has no extras to speak of but makes up for it with a very cheap price [I got my DVD on Amazon UK for £3!]. It will divide some, who may find some bits of the film rather misogynist, but Woods is appropriately disgusted by the antics of the killer and makes a strange and appealling anti-hero.

                              Currently available for £2.50 on Amazon UK [before postage and packaging]

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