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    • Stalker (DVD) / DVD / 11 Readings / 92 Ratings
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      04.07.2002 21:30
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      I debated waiting for the DVD category to appear for this but, as I've said quite a bit about the film, I thought it was just as appropriate to pop it here. The DVD review is at the bottom. Director Andrei Tarkovsky Writer Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky Stars Aleksandr Kajdanovsky, Alisa Fredndlikh, Anatoly Solonitsin, Nikolai Grinko, Natasha Abramova Certificate PG Running time 155 minutes Made Russia 1979 In the movie world, where sci-fi equates to hi-tech space operas, like Star Wars, or gothic excess, such as The Matrix, it is good to be reminded that there is more to the genre than flashing light sabres and cool sunglasses. Tarkovsky's Stalker is a film which makes you rethink your perceptions and encourages you to ponder deeper questions of humanity. The eponymous Stalker makes his living by leading people into a mysterious Zone, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering wife. Thought to have been created by a meteroite or, possibly, an alien species, the Zone is fiercely protected by the government, that doesn't want anyone going there, themselves included. Yet, within the Zone, is a room with the power to grant the deepest wish of those who dare to seek it out and enter in. The promise of fulfilment of earthly desire is enough to make a professor (Nikolai Grinko) and a writer (Anatoly Solonitsin) prepare to brave bullets to reach it and we follow their journey as they embark on one of the most thought-provoking road trips ever commited to celluloid. Getting out of the city proves difficult enough, but when they reach the Zone it seems that the going will not get any easier. We travel with them as they debate the nature of desire and dreams in the physically daunting Zone. Considering that there is little in the way of action in this film and that it moves in a slow and epic manner, it is surprisingly tense. The initial scenes in the industrial wastelands of the city are shot in bleak sepia, giving way to the vibrant colour and greenery in the Zone - one thing's for certain, as they step off their hijacked train wagon, they're not in Kansas any more. The Zone is an oppressive force in its own right, bearing witness to people who have ventured into its confines in the past and never returned, hostile to all but those who treat it with care and reverence. The question is, will our intrepid trio make it through the wilderness and what will they do in the room, if they reach it? There is no easy watching to be gained here, but nor is this a hard slog - each scene is beautifully crafted, painting a vivid and fascinating picture of Tarkovsky's vision. Once you adjust to the pace and frequent long gaps between dialogue, you begin to welcome the pauses so that you can ponder on the questions facing the protagonists at the same time as they do or, if that all gets too much, simply sit back and let the resonant score wash over you - though the version you are listening to (the 5.1 or original mono) will occasionally alter what you hear, more of which later. The acting is superb throughout, with the enigmatic Stalker paradoxically evangelising the wonders of the Zone while carrying the weight of his own disabled daughter on his shoulders and yet showing no interest in entering the room himself. This internal conflict provides the perfect counterpoint to the analytical and mysterious professor and the self-obsessed alcoholic writer as they find that it is not just the threat of the Zone they must worry about, but the demons they carry within themselves. There is much that one could make of the symbolism - does it represent a supernatural force, a landscape of the mind or a bizarre parable of the West, where hopes and dreams become reality? The answer, I think, is none of these... and yet all of them, and that is the beauty of the film. Tarkovsky is adamant that h is au dience should think about what they are watching and therefore shies away from neatness and resists the urge to lead his viewers by the hand. I suspect that you could watch Stalker a dozen times and get something different from it on each occasion. What more can you ask of a filmmaker? --DVDetails-- Ratio Fullscreen 4:3 Sound Original mono and Dolby Digital 5.1 Extras Scene selection; Stills Gallery; Cast and crew biographies and filmographies; Interviews with director of photography, A Knyazhinsky, and production designer, R Safiullin; Extract from Tarkovsky's diploma film, The Steamroller And The Violin. Artificial Eye's presentation of Stalker is a bit higgledy piggledy, with the extras scattered across two discs. Perhaps the best way to describe them is "before" and "after". On the first, we are presented with the first part of the film along with an excerpt from Tarkovsky's diploma offering, The Steamroller And The Violin, Tarkovsky's biography, a Tarkovsy-esque meander through the house he lived in as a child and in-production shots, leaving the post-production interviews and other cast and crew biographies for the second disc. Aside from the slight quirk of positioning, the presentation is excellent. The animated menus are engaging and easy to navigate, with a good size of print which doesn't leave you squinting around to find the subtitle menu. The colour and clarity is excellent for a film of its age, with no obvious scratching. The sepia portion is richly coloured and the colour sequences also well realised. The sound is available in the original mono and in Russian 5.1. Beware, these two representations are distinctly different in places. Perhaps most notable is on the train trip into the Zone, where the original version relies on the rhythmic "music" of the train, travelling over the tracks, to carry the viewer, whi le the 5.1 version overlays some of Artemyev's ambient music. Occasionally the music in the 5.1 version seems overly loud and once or twice the sound is "cleaned up", losing some of Tarkovsky's original intention. The 5.1 version, I suspect, equates more closely to Artemyev's vision than that of Tarkovsky. As regards the extras, they are few but enjoyable. The excerpt from his diploma film demonstrates how good Tarkovsky was, right from the outset of his career, and it is only a shame that there isn't more than the few minutes we get to see. With luck, Artificial Eye will release the full version at some point. Tarkovsky's House is, in fact, a short film, entitled Memory, which intercuts sequences from Stalker's dream with Tarkovsky's derelict boyhood home. Shot in the style of the director himself, this is a poignant and thought-provoking sequence in its own right. There are just 10 production photographs here, with only one shot in colour. The most interesting - and most sad - extras are the interviews with director of photography Knyazhinsky and production designer Saifiullin. The former, filmed in a care home, seems overcome with melancholy at the thought that so many of the cast and crew, who worked on the film, have since passed away - he, too, died not long after. His brief interview - at around five minutes in length - offers an insight into the area of Estonia, where most of the Zone shooting occured, explaining that much of the standing water used on the sets was present already and discussing how they used this to their advantage, but it is disturbing to watch somone who is so ill talk about things that he misses. Saifullin's interview is much meatier, as he talks about the devastating loss of the first half of the film after negatives were spoiled a year into the shoot. He also reminisces about Tarkovsky's eye for detail - "He wanted to know the motivation of every flower&qu ot; - and discusses his belief that elements of the Stalker character were based on himself. The only downside is that occasionally the subtitles slip into pidgen English, not so much that you lose the thread, though. The cast and crew biographies are in a sensible typeface, so that you can read them from across the room - other DVD manufacturers please take note. Watch out, while you are reading them for Artemyev's, which contains a not-so-hidden feature of a 21 minute interview. Why Artificial Eye hasn't just packaged this to appear alongside the other interviews is beyond me, as it is a fascinating insight into the way that Tarkovsky viewed the scoring of his films. He was keen to use as little music as possible and had Artemyev reading dissertations before composing in order to achieve the right ambience for certain scenes. Also, squirrelled away in Artemyev's filmography, is a teaser for Solaris. Overall, the DVD extras have been chosen well and genuinely add to the viewer's understanding of the film, without seeming contrived. It is just a shame that some of them are so hard to find.

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        13.05.2002 18:50
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        Once upon a time in a galaxy not so very far away a man named George Lucas produced a film that became a huge box office smash and changed the face of film merchadising overnight. It was so successful that he went on to produce a sequel - The Empire Strikes Back, which set new standards in sci-fi swashbuckling, leaving a nation of youngsters - myself included - open-mouthed and gagging for more. More came, but for many both Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace lacked the pace and style of the first two movies. So, the question is, does Attack of the Clones - possibly the worst subtitled movie in cinema history - stem the tide of tedium? When we meet with our intrepid bunch of intergalactic goodguys this time it is some ten years since the days of Darth Maul, and little Anakin has grown into a typically sullen youth. This seems odd, however, as no-one else in the cast seems to have aged a day - especially not the love interest Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). Padme is now the senator for Naboo and, as ever, is trying to bring peace to the republic, which is currently locked in negotiation regarding the creation of a huge army. She re-encounters Anakin (Hayden Christensen) who is still undergoing his apprenticeship with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) as they pledge to protect her from assassination attempts. Needless to say, an attempt is made - in the form of very creepy creepy crawlies - and the rest of the film is shaped by Obi-Wan's attempts to track down the assassin and Anakin and Padme making out like rejects from Dawson's Creek. Obi-Wan's travels take him to a mysterious planet, where he discovers they are manufacturing a cloned army at a now-dead Jedi's request, based on the DNA of bounty hunter Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), his task now is to find out what the purpose of such an army is and what it is being set up to fight, which takes him to the heart of intrigue and corruption in the senate. While all this is happening - very, very, very slowly, yawn - Padme and Anakin seem to be lost in a Cadbury's flake advert on Naboo - surely a left over set from Captain Correlli's Mandolin - where they agonise about love while Padme goes through a seemingly limitless number of costume changes. All this, believe it or not, is only a very small fraction of this immense movie. It starts off briskly with some fantastic special effects and a great high speed chase but then seems to founder on the shores of bad script writing, meaning that it waffles of onto a complete tangent for about 45 minutes before rallying quite well with another mass of effects redolent of Gladiator and the previous Star Wars movies. Hayden Christensen as the young Skywalker follows in a fine line of Star Wars heroes epitomised by Mark Hammill and is beyond dreadful - his light sabre has more acting ability. This, coupled with a lumpen script, makes it difficult for anyone but McGregor and Christopher Lee (as the malevolent Count Dooku) to turn in performances that rise above the pedestrian. Many of the jokes fall especially flat - even those from the usually reliable C3PO (Anthony Daniels) - although on the plus side, Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) has been relegated to a very minor supporting role. This film, much like its predecessor, also leaves it far too late to introduce the villain of the piece and its insistence on making so much of the chocolate-box romance between Anakin and Padme is bound to be a real turn-off to the male teenagers in the audience. There is one picnic scene in particular that boasts some very dodgy CGI and which would have been far better left on the cutting room floor. It is unfair to say that this is a dud, however, as when the pacier scenes come along they are gripping and well filmed, catching you up in the enthusiasm. The chase scenes are excellent and, by and large, the CGI effects very good, but this film is far too long at mo re than two hours, a length which I think will see many of the younger cinemagoers' attention wandering - even mine was at some points. This is a perfectly OK popcorn movie, better than Episode I by a considerable margin but lacking the tension of The Empire Strikes Back. What is so frustrating is that you can see how much better a movie it could have been if only someone had had the good sense to edit it back. Perhaps Lucas should be encouraged to feel the Force of a pair of scissors next time. Star Facts This is a PG and I would say it is perfectly suitable for any age group. There is no nudity or bad language and only a couple of little 'boos'. I'd really like to give this one three and a half, but you'll have to settle for me being stingy (upgrade to four if you are a massive SW fan)

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          10.05.2002 17:17
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          Hurrah! At last a DVD that I can recommend, this one has extras and everything folks, so prepare yourself for a few hours serious viewing. I am particularly referring to the Anniversary Special Edition here... please note the US version of this - with an ice pick pen - is the one pictured here... sadly we in the UK don't get a toy! Certificate: 18 Director: Paul Verhoeven Writer: Joe Eszterhas Stars: Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzunda, Jeanne Tripplehorn Runtime: 128 minutes Made: USA 1992 Rating: Three-and-a-half (or four if, unlike me, you don't think Verhoeven overdoes the sex thang) Paul Verhoeven is certainly no stranger to controversy, with Robocop labelled ultra-violent and Showgirls ultra-sleazy. Basic Instinct manages to combine the best (?) of both worlds - with the saving grace of a tense plot and great acting. Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is a hard-bitten detective with a Past. He killed a couple of tourists once while high on coke and the memory lingers on, as does his relationship with his police shrink (Jeanne Tripplehorn). When a rock star is murdered in the throes of orgasm with an ice-pick - an attention-grabbing opening sequence to a film if ever there was one - by an unknown partner, Curran is called in to investigate. His hard exterior proves fragile, however, when he meets the prime suspect, author Catherine Tramell - Sharon Stone on fantastic form as the femme fatale - and finds himself bewitched by her charms, which she doesn't hide under a bushel or, indeed, underwear. People in Catherine's life have a nasty habit of giving up breathing. To make matters worse, the mode of their passing tends to be violent and mirrored in her novels - her latest is about a cop who 'falls for the wrong girl'. Is Catherine a ruthless, psychotic killer or merely a bad girl who taints everything she touches? Curran's character is equally complex, seemingly con trite about his past in one scene, displaying a worrying propensity for sexual violence in the next. Much was made at the time of the film's release about the fact that Catherine is bisexual, openly flaunting her relationship with Roxy (the very sultry Leilani Sarelle) at the same time she pursues Nick in the name of book research. The US gay community claimed Verhoeven's film reinforced stereotypes, while he said her bisexuality was not an issue, an argument which proves compelling as you watch the film. For little, if any, mention is made of the fact that she is bisexual; she just is and it really doesn't seem to bother anyone except Roxy, who begins to have some murderous thoughts herself. The word 'Hitchcockian' is bandied about so much these days that it has almost ceased to carry any weight, but Verhoeven is definitely attempting to emulate the Master here, and is frequently successful. Many of the aerial shots of San Francisco are resonant of Hitchcock, and some of Stone's costumes were based on those of Kim Novak in Vertigo. But Hitch never had it so seedy - Verhoeven drags us into the boudoir at every possible moment, and while the issue of whether Ms Stone really shows her all when she crosses her legs in the infamous interrogation scene is likely to be cleared up by the prescence of perfect freeze-frame - not to mention the zoom feature on some players - it is the practical date-rape of Tripplehorn in one scene which is more likely to offend. This film goes beyond gritty and into grime without being a better movie for it. While, obviously, some of the sexual content is necessary, much is not and comes across as voyeuristic pap - perfect for teenage boys of any age. The snappy dialogue and high-calibre acting both by the central characters and the strong supporting cast - which features the ever-watchable George Dzunda as Gus, Curran's more stable sidekick - keeps the film from tipping over the brink into Showgirls' territory. Utlimately, Basic Instinct is an engaging and interesting thriller which bucks against the easy storylines so often trotted out by Hollywood and has lost little of its impact in the ten years since it was made. --DVDetails-- Region: 2 Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen Sound: English 5.1 dts, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, German 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish Dolby Surround Subtitle tracks: English, German, Spanish, Portugese, Dutch, Turkish Extras: Scene selection, audio commentary by Paul Verhoeven and Jan De Bont, audio commentary by feminist critic Camille Paglia, "Blonde Poison" (The Making of Basic Instinct), Cleaning up Basic Instinct, featurette, photo gallery, storyboard comparisons, original screen tests, theatrical trailer, theatrical teaser. Rating 4 star Momentum Pictures has gone to town on the production of this disc and its efforts have paid off. The print is crisp and clear with no scratches or graining and a clear crisp soundtrack which brings out the best of Jerry Goldsmith's wonderful and haunting score. The packaging is good too, with excellent animated menus. The scene selection lets the side down, however, as it doesn't feature a picture still from each scene, making the film hard to navigate unless you can guess what part of the movie phrases like 'Love Hurts' and 'Deadly Jealousy' refer to. The audio commentaries are a great addition to the film, with the feminist critique by Camille Paglia particularly innovative. Verhoeven and De Bont - who was responsible for the movie's cinematography - are a joy to listen to. They seamlessly discuss the film, the characters and how they constructed many of the shots, particularly with reference to their use of lighting and Verhoeven's homage to Hitchcock, without getting too technical or too boring. They're evidently pleased with their work, but keen to convey the complexity of it to a wider audience without recourse to technobabble. Verhoeven is unintentionally amusing from time to time too, especially when he describes the Tripplehorn/Douglas violent sex scene as 'erotic'. Er, yes, Paul, maybe in the Netherlands... Camille Paglia's feminist critique is both informative and something of a hoot as well. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, since she was obviously paid to do this, this is one of her 'favourite' movies. She happily draws parallels with a whole raft of Hitchcock films and takes us through what she views as a dichotomy between male-dominated and female-dominated scenes in the movie. If you can manage to take her occasional references to houses looking like 'wombs nestling in the woods' this is genuinely engaging. The only downside to both of the commentaries is that the original track of the movie is incredibly muted under them. This is fine when the commentators are making their observations, but in the lulls it makes it difficult to follow the film unless you have a volume control handy - quite a basic mistake. Disc 2 doesn't disappoint, either. Blonde Poison, in particular, is an interesting extra and was made specifically for this anniversary edition. It features Verhoeven and De Bont along with sundry other crew members and Jerry Goldsmith, who discuss the difficulties of shooting the film in the face of animosity from the San Francisco gay community. Interestingly, people from the gay groups get their say here too, making for a fully-rounded picture of the film's conception. The only downside of Blonde Poison is that it contains little from the actors - there is only one small snippet of Douglas, taken from a 1991 interview - and is perhaps a little short at 30 minutes. It would have been interesting to know what Douglas and Stone made of the furore but, perhaps, they just don't want to discuss it. The Featuret te, however, does give you a chance to see what the main protagonists thought, albeit dating from the time of the movie. It is interesting, but brief. Cleaning Up Basic Instinct gets my vote for amusing extra of the disc, as it is a montage comparing the original film version with the sanitised alternative used for TV. So, we get Gus describing Curran as an SOB on film curiously translated to 'Son of a Buck' in the televised version. If the choice of replacement words is not humorous enough, the dodgy voice doubles are certain to raise a smile. I've never come across this type of extra before but, on the strength of this, they should make it a regular feature. Many of the remaining extras on the disc are more standard fare. There are the inevitable trailers and teasers - interesting to see that we didn't give away huge chunks of our thriller plots back then - and photo gallery. The latter is just a straightforward collection of onset snaps, without the benefit of background music. The storyboards are interesting enough, if you like that kind of thing, but the film comparison is confined to a small corner of the storyboard, making it difficult to make out unless your television is huge. My favourite extra on the disc, though, has to be the original screen tests with Stone and Tripplehorn. Not only is it interesting to see them both without the benefit of four hours in make-up - sadly, ladies, Stone still looks gorgeous - it is also interesting to see them acting 'in the raw'. The snippets here serve to reinforce the fact that Stone is a blindingly good actress, shame she hasn't done a lot more. Tripplehorn comes across as being not so good initially, but perhaps that gives hope to all would-be starlets out there. All in all, this is a thoughtfully constructed disc which genuinely offers the viewer something in addition to the original film. Recommended. (Reprinted with permission, oh, you know the drill, it's mine, see, mine, all mine!)

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          • Simpatico (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 39 Ratings
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            06.05.2002 15:30
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            Director Matthew Warchus Writer Matthew Warchus, David Nicholls Stars Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges, Sharon Stone, Catherine Keener, Albert Finney Certificate 15 Running time 106 minutes Made US 1999 Based on the stage play by Sam Shepard, this is theatre director Matthew Warchus's first foray into film and it's a pleasant run over the jumps. Carter (Jeff Bridges) is a rich and successful horsebreeder, married to the beautiful Rosie (Sharon Stone). When he receives a phone call from Vinnie (Nick Nolte), their best friend some 20 years previously, asking for help, he finds his perfect life under threat from a betting scam they have kept secret for two decades. Vinnie sets out to right the wrongs he thinks they have done to Simms (Albert Finney, on fine form), while Carter and Rosie sink into despair. This is an engaging movie, which shows its theatrical origins, both positively and negatively. On the plus side, there is a sharp script, with crisp punchy dialogue, although somewhat confusing for the first 20 minutes, as the premise of the story is revealed little by little. This adds to the tension, while requiring considerable concentration from the viewer, as we ricochet from modern day to flashback, from Kentucky to California, in the blink of an eye. Although the storyline is slight, the superb performances from the older experienced cast and the young actors, playing the teen trio, lift Simpatico above the norm. Bridges, Nolte and Stone are compelling, as individuals trying to come to terms with their past, and Finney is in his element as their nemesis, who has already come to terms with his. Catherine Keener's performance, too, is finely pitched. The characterisation may be a little lacking and some of the personality changes rather swift, but with a cast of this calibre it's hard not to be carried away by their sheer ability to play these parts to the f ull. In the end, Warchus wins his first race into film, if only by a nose. DVDetails Region 2 Ratio 1:85:1 Sound Dolby Digital 2 Extras Scene selection; trailer; featurette This is a competently packaged DVD, but holds little of interest other than the film itself. The print is sharp, with good colour saturation and the digital sound clear. There is no visible grain or scratching, but you wouldn't expect such blemishes in such a recent film. It is a shame to see that there are no subtitles. It can't cost much to include them and they make DVDs so much more accessible to a wider audience. When it comes to extras, the trailer is just that, the scene selection is static and the featurette somewhat pointless. Lasting only around ten minutes, it is more of a love-in between the leading actors and director than anything else, intercut with scenes from the movie and one or two pieces of footage from the shoot. It offers little insight and seems merely to be included because they had it kicking around. All in all a decent print, released by a company unwilling to go that extra mile in terms of additional features. This review was reprinted with permission from my own review on www.insideoutfilm.co.uk.

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            • Heathers (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 43 Ratings
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              03.05.2002 23:53
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              Please note my star rating is for the DVD and not for the film (which I would give 4 stars). The Film Certificate: 18 Director: Michael Lehmann Writer: Daniel Waters Stars: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty Runtime: 102 minutes Made: USA 1988 In a decade when teen drama seems to largely revolve around goofball antics, bottom gags and getting laid, a retrospective viewing of Heathers provides a breath of fresh air. Veronica (Winona Ryder) is a typical tortured and artistically inclined teen who becomes an honorary member of an elitist high school clique, comprised exclusively of girls named Heather, with a penchant for colour-coordination. Once in with the in-crowd, however, Veronica discovers that she does, indeed, have to go where they go and do what they do and quickly realises that their brand of calculating cruelty is hard to bear. When loner JD (Christian Slater) arrives on the scene, she hooks up with him and quickly discovers that staying popular really is murder. Christian Slater is something of a revelation, proceeding to out-Nicholson Jack himself. On the strength of this performance you would have thought he would become a leading light in the Nineties, so considering his career since this you have to wonder what happened. Winona Ryder and Shannen Doherty, too, excell as the unwitting mark sucked into crime and a queen bitch. This is the archetypal Stateside teenage world, where being slender and cool holds power and being a Jock means you can sleep with who you like regardless of your lack of brains. Parents are just an abberation, ineffectual and no help when it comes to the all-important business of growing up. This film is dark as night but great fun, taking teen issues by the scruff of the neck and holding them up as the rather unpleasant exhibits they are. While Heathers slows in the back quarter, seemingly unable to shuck off that teen ne ed for a sassy, yet neatly tied-up, ending it is still a very powerful and witty piece of satire which leaves many of the current decade's offerings looking anaemic and juvenile by comparison. DVDetails Region: 2 Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic Sound: English Stereo Extras: Scene selection. Rating: 1 star This is a great film, but the DVD release couldn't be more basic if it tried. For such a cult movie, you would have thought they would have made a bit more effort. The print is fairly clean, though a little grainy in places and with only stereo sound on offer there is little to write home about there either. There is a complete lack of extras on this disc and, considering that the Region 1 (USA) version contains a plethora of added goodies including an audio commentary with director Michael Lehman and a documentary, I would recommend that those with a multi-region player plump for that version or wait for the inevitable 'special edition' which will no doubt make it to these shores eventually. Reprinted with permission from my own review on www.insideoutfilm.co.uk.

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                23.03.2002 19:54
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                Living in Leeds for ten years I was spoilt in terms of good curry and didn't even realise it. It was only when I moved up (even further) north to Edinburgh that I discovered how addicted I had become to them and the hunt was on for a new haunt. Three years on and the results have been somewhat disappointing. Late night curry houses aren't really the 'thing' up here, rather curry is on a parr with other restaurants - though on the whole more in terms of price than quality. All is not lost, however, as hidden in the back streets of Leith is the very reasonable, thoroughly enjoyable and distinctly different Gulnar's. Something of a Leith mainstay, the owner Mohammad is Egyptian by birth and has attempted to recreate the atmosphere of a Bedouin-style tent. As you enter the restaurant it is refreshing to see the walls and roof draped with marine blue hangings - a welcome change from flock wall paper and dodgy artwork. Once you are in the tented confines of the restaurant, service is slick and pleasant. There are always plenty of members of staff to take your order and complimentary pappadoms and a pickle tray are swiftly brought to your table. The lime pickle is particularly good here, so don't forget to try it! Once you are seated and crunching happily away, you will be given time to look at the extensive menu. You will find all the Indian staples here, from bhaji to bhuna and dansak to korma. Do take time to check out some of the Egyptian dishes on the menu, though, as these are distinctly different and all lovingly prepared. If you a hothead when it comes to curries, I thoroughly recommend Gulnar's rooflifter - it certainly does. For those, like myself, with a more mild disposition, there is plenty of choice, I'm a big fan of their spinach dishes, in particular, but I can honestly say I have never had a bad meal there. One word of warning though, avoid the 'pes hwari' nan, which is merely ordinary nan bread smeared with jam, stick to the plain version, they're lovely. If you are looking to wash your meal down with something alcoholic, there is a fully stocked bar, though my tipple of choice is water or cobra beer. While, the food is good in Gulnar's, the entertainment alone is worth stopping by for on a Friday and Saturday night. Because at the weekend you will be treated to bellydancing by either his wife or one of her students - you can learn all the moves to work off your curry at lessons in a studio beneath the restaurant twice a week - while you eat. While there isn't a great deal of room to manoeuvre, the ladies manage pretty well and it is a skill worth seeing. They're very easygoing too, on my other half's 40th birthday we took a huge crowd down and one of them decided he fancied having a go at the dancing and the dancer was more than happy to share the limelight with his cavorting. Back to your meal, and deserts are pretty much staple for curry houses, with the usual round up of kulfi and icecreams, though I'll be surprised if you have room left after your main meal.It is worth ordering coffee just to see the waiters in action as they pour it from pointy spouted coffee samovars from outrageous heights, without spilling a drop - though it is a bit of a worry for those of us with nerves! I have eaten in Gulnar's at least once a month since I arrived in Leith and also frequently availed myself of their take-away and home-delivery service. If you order on the premises you can occupy yourself by looking through one of several photograph albums on display, but I frequently let them deliver. They are always prompt, polite and all take away's come with a free portion of onions and some Bombay mix. You will sometimes even find a free bottle of booze nestling next to your nibbles. But, back to the restaurant. I've eaten here in b oth afternoons and evenings as part of a couple and in groups of up to 20 and it has always been good. I have always been able to walk in off the street and get a table too - which is particularly heartwarming. A meal for two course meal for two with a bottle or two of beer each will set you back somewhere between £20-30. If you just go for a main dish and stick to the water with a shared rice and nan bread, though, you can easily eat here for under £15 for two. There are other kids on the curry block in Leith including the much-vaunted Raj and the allegeded 'best curryhouse in Scotland' Britannia Spice, but for a consistently enjoyable curry experience hot foot it here.

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                • More +
                  11.03.2002 23:42
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                  This opinion is about the double-disc DVD edition. For those not interested in a review of the film, feel free to scroll down to DVDetails. --The Film-- Certificate: 15 Director: Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam Writer: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. With music by Neil Innes. Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Neil Innes, Carol Cleveland, Connie Booth. Runtime: 86 minutes approx Made: UK 1975 Film rating: Four stars The members of Monty Python have become so well-known and successful over the last 30-odd years that it is hard to believe there was a time they didn't command pay cheques with more noughts than most of us can ever expect to see, or have financial backers queuing up to support their projects. So, it is quite refreshing to see Monty Python and The Holy Grail and remember from what small - but very funny - beginnings they came. There can be few movies which students quote from more, with learning huge chunks of the script seemingly a rite of passage for generations. However, on sitting down to watch this for the first time in years it is amazing how funny and surprisingly fresh it still is. Typically for the Pythons, this film relies on a fairly loose premise - in this instance the search for the Holy Grail - to string together a series of sketches, some of which are more successful than others. Graham Chapman takes the 'straight man' role of Arthur, maintaining a quiet dignity while John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam horse around in his wake. Some of the scenes, such as an exchange between Arthur and a group of French knights who then fling animals at him, and John Cleese's encounter with the "Knights who say 'Ni' " are hilarious. Others, such as Palin's sub-Benny Hill escapades in Cast le Anthrax, where he is set-upon by a gaggle of siren-types, have dated badly. Hardcore fans should also watch out for the 24 seconds of added footage - cut from the original, but restored here. Overall, this is a silly romp through some of the best legends medieval Britain has to offer, intercut with some fabulously surreal animation from Gilliam, featuring one of the most critically debated endings of any film ever - personally, I'm not fond of it, but plenty of people are. It is a testimony to Jones and, particularly, Gilliam's directorial vision that this film looks much more expensive than the £229,000 it cost to film, and while it slows up in the final quarter, never quite maintaining the comedic pace it sets for itself in the early part, as the trailer says, 'If you are an intellectual midget and you like giggling, you could do worse than watch this'. ----Space to imagine Neil Innes' plinkity plonkity hammond organ with Intermission flashy sign---- --DVDetails-- Region: 2 Ratio: 1:85:1 Sound: Dolby 5.1 and surround Extras: English (Hard of Hearing) subtitles, subtitles for people who don't like the film (taken from Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part II), onscreen screenplay, commentary by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, commentary by John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin, animated menus with surround sound, scene selection, Follow the Killer Rabbit feature, Hard of Hearing special feature, How to Use Your Coconuts (educational?! film), Japanese version of The French Castle and The Knights of Ni, three singalongs, feature documentary: The Quest for the Holy Grail Locations, On Location with the Pythons 18-minute BBC Film Night documentary (broadcast December 19, 1974), Theatrical trailers, photos, cast directory, Monty Python and The Holy Grail in Lego, posters, unused locations - how the directors' recce used up the budget, unused ideas (storybo ards), weblinks and 'old rubbish'. It becomes apparent within seconds of putting this DVD in your machine that this two-disc package has been lovingly put together, so lovingly, in fact, that what you receive can only be described as the full Monty. Oddly, there are so many extras detailed on the box that you could be forgiven for thinking that they were making them up - or at the very least, embellishing them - and that the whole thing would be a triumph of style over substance. Not so. The film print itself is surprisingly clear for a movie of this age. There is some grain and scratches in places but, on the whole, both it and the sound have scrubbed up very well, although the sound on the accompanying Quest for The Holy Grail Locations seems strangely muted in comparison with the main feature. Don't expect miracles from the surround sound, either, but, then, this really isn't that type of movie. The menus are a real treat for Gilliam fans, with lots of surreal animation and cries of 'Get on with it' should you dally too long in between items. Both of the commentaries on the first disc are well worth listening to, with Jones and Gilliam's concentrating more on the formation of the Python team and the logistics of putting the film together - relying on financial backing from the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin to get it off the ground. Cleese, Idle and Palin, on the other hand, talk more about the events surrounding the making of the film, with Cleese coming across as much more austere than the other two. These men's three commentary tracks are run simultaneously on the disc, although it seems that they weren't in a room together at the time. There are advantages to this, in that their individual anecdotes often complement each other or confirm one another's whimsy, but this does have the disadvantage of there being no interaction between them. Also on the first disc is a 'Follow t he Killer Rabbit' feature, a take-off of the 'follow the white rabbit' idea which originated on The Matrix. By clicking the screen whenever the rabbit icon appears - but, boy, you have to be quick on the draw or you'll miss it - you will be taken to either some storyboards or, more often, an expenses chit costing out the likes of 5 pints of Kensington gore or 82 student lunches. These interludes are fun but, unless you have a very large television, you may find yourself squinting to make them out. Watch out for the rabbit's not-so-subtle change in appearance partway through. Other features on this disc include the very amusing, Shakespearean-style subtitles for those who hate the film - for which we should all be grateful to Jessica Tipping - and a natty onscreen script, which neatly overlays the action, allowing you to practice that 'hard to remember' dialogue when you come home from the pub. There are a couple of other small features/jokes on the first disc, which are great fun and which I won't spoil by detailing here. Suffice to say, they're enjoyable and again reflect the 'loving nature' with which this DVD has been compiled. And so on to the second disc in the package, which is choc-ful of some great, entertaining extras. First up and specially for the after-pub crowd are 'three mindless singalongs', featuring the scenes and lyrics to 'Knights of the Round Table', 'Sir Robin' and, unlikely as it may seem, 'The Monks Chant'. The latter is particularly funny, so don't be tempted to skip it. The 45-minute Quest For The Holy Grail Locations is a brand new documentary, tracking Terry Jones and Michael Palin as they return to Doune Castle and other locations from the film. This is an enjoyably detailed feature, full of humourous banter and recollection from the two of them and reason enough to own this Special Edition. They both seemed genuinely enthus ed to be making the film and that enthusiasm is definitely contagious. It's also interesting to compare Jones' comments with those on the BBC footage from the time - back then, he described directing as a thankless task, whereas today he celebrates its virtues, claiming directors have much more fun. Maintaining the 'holy' theme, the next segment of extras comes under the banner of Sacred Relics. First up is a new skit featuring Michael Palin extolling the values of coconuts in an educative film, demonstrating how they can be used to create an 'authenticity of full equine motion'. Enough said, perhaps. In the spirit of something completely different, this is followed by a couple of most amusing Japanese clips, featuring subtitles which re-translate the Japanese back into English. As with a lot of Monty Python gags, this doesn't sound particularly funny on paper, but the scenes chosen - The French Castle and The Knights of Ni - make for an hilarious watch. I defy anyone not to find the Knights asking Arthur for a 'Bonsai' one of the funniest things captured on celluloid in a while. The other most substantial extra on this disc is the 1974 BBC Film Night report, On Location With The Pythons. Stagey and silly, this is well worth a watch as both cast and interviewers horse around. Cleese again comes across as Mr Serious, with Gilliam a seemingly boundless source of energy and the late Graham Chapman apparently on another planet - though, as Jones and Gilliam point out elsewhere on this DVD, he was wrestling with alcoholism at the time, so perhaps this shouldn't be a surprise. Next we come to the most refreshingly truthful extra on a DVD ever - Old Rubbish - which is, just that, a small collection of press releases and a scathing BFI review (read by Jones) from 1975. Much of the rest of the Sacred Relics extras is standard fare. Artefacts contains a series of posters, Photos are just that, from th e time of the shoot, Trailers features one from the time and one from the US re-release and the cast biographies are simply a list of each character played by each actor, with an accompanying photograph of each role. More fun can be found in the Unshot Footage section, however, with my favourite being a version of The Knights of The Round Table, shot using animated Lego men, awww. There is also an utterly silly, mocked-up location recce, basically a selection of exotic library film with an amusing commentary from Jones and Gilliam, and a series of storyboards - Unused Ideas - which never made it to film. Wittily, there is also a section entitled Excommunication, containing the weblink to their site. And, if all this isn't enough for you and you really want to squeeze the last drop from this DVD, there is even an 'Easter Egg' for you to play with. Select Sacred Relics, hit the right arrow key and then the up arrow to highlight the Holy Grail and press Enter. You will then be treated to the full list of DVD credits - well, I didn't say it would be interesting! Ultimately, this disc is most certainly worth the money for, unlike many DVDs quickly released onto the market, this has been carefully packaged and thought about. The team behind it have taken the time to not only gather together some of the more interesting extras from the time of shooting, but also to provide both informative commentaries and quirky and amusing new material. The result makes for a refreshingly complete addition to anyone's collection. PS. On a purely consumery note, this is the best DVD package I've come across since Fight Club PPS. Review reprinted with permission from my own review on www.insideoutfilm.co.uk... someone should review that site, you know.

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                  • Jurassic Park 3 (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 76 Ratings
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                    15.02.2002 03:47
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                    The Film By now you know the score. Improbable opening plot gambit - this time involving dodgy parasending over dinopolis itself Isla Sorna (that's where the second dodgy dino lab lurks for those still keeping count) - results in cute moppet (Trevor Morgan as Eric) being stranded alone and having to be rescued. Curiously enough, he seems to be coping marvellously in the staying-alive stakes until his estranged mom and pop (Tea Leoni and William H Macy) con Sam Neill's Dr Alan Grant into returning to the island to search for their son. Once the adults arrive, all hell breaks loose and they face a race to try to get off the island. Basically, an excuse for the technical types at ILM to throw every dinosaur imaginable at us and for the scriptwriters to rehash the previous films while adding a dash of Peter Pan into the mix. The acting is fine, but nothing particularly special, if it weren't for Neill's prescence it would barely raise a blip on the interest scanner and Tea Leoni's seemingly constant shrieking is enough to create more chills than the sight of the dinosaurs, no matter how well-rendered they are. DVDetails Region: 2 Ratio: 1:85:1 Widescreen anamorphic Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 English DTS 5.1 English Extras: Interactive Menus Scene Access The Making Of Jurassic Park III The New Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park III Tour of Stan Winston Studio A Visit To ILM Theatrical Trailers Montana: Finding New Dinosaurs Behind The Scenes Storyboards To Final Feature Comparison Photo Gallery DVD-Rom Features Dinosaur Turntables Feature Commentary with Special Effects Team Rating: 4 stars Comments: This is a crisp, clear print, as you would expect of such a recent film, there is no graininess and the picture remains sharp throughout, although you can 'see the join' with some of the special effec ts in the opening sequence. The sound stands up well to being put through its paces, with much in the way of crashes and roars to test its mettle. The packaging of the film is also excellent, with nice opening menus, although the scene selection clips are static, which comes as something of a surprise. When it comes to extras, the list seems lengthy. When you come to watch them, however, it becomes evident that you aren't getting as much as it would appear at first, with many of the interviews with technical staff being snipped up and added to more than one of the extras on the disk, so that by the time you have watched all of them some of the comments begin to have an all too familiar ring. That aside, some of the extras are absorbing. The making of featurette, which is around 20 minutes in length is in some regards more interesting than the film itself although it does seem to be a bit of a love-in between cast and crew at points. The New Dinosaurs of JP3 is largely a different intercutting of the self-same interviews, placed over slightly different footage. The Finding New Dinosaurs featurette, is the only other extra with any real meat on its bones, featuring Jack Horner, the paleontologist consultant on the film, talking about his new and exciting(?) work excavating dino bones in Montana, sadly, rather like the bones, it is just a bit too dry. The Storyboards To Final Feature comparison, do exactly what they say on the tin, although it is nice to see, for a change, the story boards running in one action window while the film footage runs against it in a neighbouring one. The remaining extras have a very bitty feel to them and, again, seem to be largely only a slight expansion of what was contained in the Making Of segment. You certainly start to wish they had run each extra segment together rather than collecting them in a stop-start montage. Unless you are about ten years of age and/or absolutely hooke d on dinosaurs, you will also quickly discover that if you've seen one dinosaur on a turntable, you have seen them all! The only commentary track on offer is one by the special effects team. While this is interesting to a point, there are large segments, particularly before the film gets into the crash-bang-wallop stuff, where they don't talk about what is happening onscreen at all, preferring to wallow in the technicalities of monster making. This disk would have been greatly improved if they had included an actor and or the director on the commentary track to break up the techno-talk. Overall this is a fine DVD, but the extras aren't quite the monster package they first appear to be. much like the film itself. I think I'd give it three and a half over all, four if you are an dino-action junkie or small person under the age of 12. PS The DVD review segment of this detail is taken from my own review on insideoutfilm.co.uk

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                    • Monsters Inc. (DVD) / DVD / 1 Reading / 110 Ratings
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                      14.01.2002 00:34
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                      Remember when you were little and you were scared something was hiding under your bed? Or when you woke up in the night and started crying convinced there was something in the wardrobe? Bet you never knew the monsters were saving up your screams for energy did you? Well, they are, at least that is basis for this hugely enjoyable and fantastically funny family outing from Pixar and Disney. James P Sullivan - or Sully to you and me - is a loveable, massive blue and purple monster (voiced by John Goodman) and he and best mate Mike Wazowski - a small round one-eyed monster voiced by Billy Crystal - work for Monsters Inc... 'They scare because they care'. You see, Monsters Inc supplies all the power for city by sending scarers - Sully holds the current record - through closet doors into the human world and collecting the resultant screams. The drawback is that they can't be touched by the humans for fear of contamination and death - which provides the cue for a fantastic SWA(N)T (Special Weapons and (No) Tactics team take off part way through the film. And Monstropolis has a problem - the world's children are wising up and refusing to be frightened any more, leading to a power shortage. This is coupled with a fly, or rather lizard, in the ointment, chameleon-like monster Randall Boggs. Second in line to Sully in the top scarer list, he is desperate to break the world record, so he starts to do a little out-of-hours scaring which runs in to trouble when a human toddler slips through into the monsters' realm. Thus Sully and Mike find themselves mixed up in a sinister plot as they try to return 'Boo' to her rightful home amid the mayhem that is Monstropolis in fear of infection. Monsters Inc, is, without doubt, one of the funniest animated cartoons I have ever seen. All of the voice actors are terrific, with Buscemi's sinister tones lending weight to Randall as the slippery villain, while Goodman and Crysta l's loveable duo crackle with entertainment and fun. The script is pacey and there is plenty of slapstick that the younger members of the film will enjoy, while some of the nods to other adult movies will keep the older generation amused. It kind of reminded me of an animated muppet movie - if you see what I mean - which for me is praise indeed. This film manages to succeed where Shrek stumbled slightly in terms of retaining a gusto and pace right the way through. There is little time for schmaltz or sugar-coating here - though one or two scenes will have you reaching for your hankies. The human child is one of few words, thus keeping the sentimentality down to looks, which seem to work much better somehow - Pixar, better than any other animation studio I know, seems to be able to convey a huge weight of emotion with just a glance. The film is also blissfully free of song and dance routines. The animation too, is some of the best that I've seen - but then I always feel that way about Pixar. There is a fantastic chase scene in a room with seemingly millions of doors which is almost photo-real to look at and Sully's artwork, in particular, is a joy to behold. At one point he is lying in the icy wastes with snow and wind whipping around him and it seems you could almost put your hand out and touch the rippling hairs on his back. When he falls, too, he seems to have a very physical 'weight' to him that I haven't seen achieved in this type of picture before. Overall, there is nothing not to recommend about this film, in fact it has quite restored my faith which had been sorely tested by Harry Potter. This is hilarious from beginning to end, including some fantastic 'out-takes' over the credits. And don't leave the cinema too soon because there is an extra bit right at the very end of the credits too. --Animated Short-- Yes folks, you get one of these too and it is an absolute cracker before the main feature. For the Birds is a little tale of small feathered folk and a rather larger crane, who conduct a brief comic caper on a telephone cable. Watch it and weep with laughter!

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                      • Rosemary's Baby (DVD) / DVD / 4 Readings / 75 Ratings
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                        11.01.2002 17:22
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                        Director Roman Polanski Stars Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly Certificate 18 Running time 131 minutes Made US 1968 Rosemary's Baby is one of those well-crafted movies that reminds the viewer that horror doesn't necessarily have to equate to gore. The recent success of The Others only goes to prove that this tense type of thriller is just as effective now as it was back in the Sixties when Ira Levin's Baby was adapted for the screen by director Roman Polanski. It gets off to a seemingly innocuous start, resembling soap opera more than horror, as Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and her newly-wed actor husband Guy (John Cassavetes) - "He's been in two plays and a commercial", she tells anyone who'll listen - move into a massive gothic apartment building in New York. So far, so soapy, and certainly their enthusiastic, if a tad nosey neighbour Minnie Castevet (Ruth Gordon on hilarious Oscar-winning form) doesn't initially give cause for concern. However, Rosemary meets a girl in the laundry room, who later dies in mysterious circumstances, and things become more sinister. Minnie and her husband Roman (Sidney Blackmer) start to pay her more and more attention, but it quickly becomes apparent that it isn't just Rosemary they are interested in. When she falls pregnant after a night when she eats half of Minnie's specially prepared chocolate 'mouse' and begins to experience the same worries, sicknesses and doubts of many first-time expecting mums, the film begins to take on a satanic twist. What is in that "lovely" vitamin drink that Minnie makes each day, not to mention the odd-smelling herb Rosemary carries in a pendant around her neck? Is it merely coincidence that Guy's career has suddenly begun to soar and was that nightmare Rosemary had about being surrounded by naked elderl y folk something less than benign? This film ingeniously lays a horror tale over what are, for the most part, perfectly normal events often experienced by pregnant women and it is its subtlety which is its strength. The characters are thoroughly believable - we have all had elderly, friendly neighbours who we like but sometimes wish would leave us alone, or a friend that has ceased to socialise because they got married and fell pregnant. Farrow and Gordon are superlative in their roles. Gordon's ditzy delivery is both funny and spooky by turns, while Farrow's descent into near madness is perfectly executed without being over-played. If there is a criticism, perhaps some of the lesser characters are a tad wooden - Polanski admits in the retrospective interview, also on the DVD, that he cast people for their looks rather than their ability - but none of this gets in the way of a film that is as chilling now as it was back in 1968. --DVDetails-- The presentation of this DVD is a bit of a mixed bag. The picture is clear enough, although I suspect it suffers from the age of the source material, with some shots being a little grainy. The sound, however, is clear as a bell, lending all the more weight to Christopher Komeda's eerie score. The opening menu, however, is supremely unimaginative, with no music overlayed, something Paramount must be a bit embarrassed about too, one presumes, as when you put the disk in your machine it takes you straight to the film, following language selection, without showing you the main menu at all. The extras, on the other hand, are minimal but great fun, particularly the "Making of" featurette, made in 1968, that has dated considerably more than the movie itself. It features comments from Mia Farrow revealing her to be a bit of a dippy hippy back then, as she describes Polanski's directing as "groovy" and explains how the cast decorated their tra ilers with paintings of flowers and mottos of peace and love. Much of the dialogue is layed over footage of the filming, once or twice revealing elements which were obviously left on the cutting room floor. The retrospective interview with Polanski, designer Richard Sylbert and production executive Robert Evans is also interesting for casual watchers and fans alike and filled with trivial titbits. For example, Polanski reveals that he originally intended to cast a much more robust actress in the role of Rosemary - apparently he had Tuesday Weld in mind, and Sylbert explains how they instantly settled upon New York's Dakota as the gothic setting for the film. Most interesting for me, was to see how little Polanski's opinions about the cast, the book and the film have changed down the years, with many of his comments supporting what he had said all those years ago, albeit in a more flower-drenched setting. Worth buying for the film alone, there is certainly enough in the way of extras and improvement to the presentation to justify adding this Baby to your collection. Film is definitely worth four stars, DVD I'd say three and a half, so have given it benefit of the doubt.

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                          15.12.2001 06:06
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                          This is my 50th opinion, you know, and I'm quite surprised to have racked up so many. I remember but 14 months ago thinking I would probably never manage even 20, so it just goes to show - though what I'm not sure! So for my 50th I've chosen a subject dear to my heart - books - and I thought it might be nice to try something a little bit different. You see, I think books are a little bit like clothes, you may grow out of some as you get older, but at the time they were the absolutely best thing you had ever had and even when you look back on the party frocks and 'fashion disasters' of yesteryear you still hold them fondly, even if they no longer have the same importance or resonance they once did. I believe it is the same with books and as I have just notched up my 30th birthday, I thought it would be nice to try to split this opinion into age ranges and pick a book (or books) from each, so here goes. Age 0-5 The Wolf and The Seven Little Kids - Ladybird Well-loved Tales (sadly, now out of print) What a fantastic age for reading this is. Everything in the world is brand new and although you may not be able to read the words, at least at first, this is a great time for learning and for stretching your imagination which is why I had to pick a Ladybird book. These books - sadly much more limited in scope these days - featured stories in rhyme, stories in prose and wonderful pictures with really nasty, scary villains that gave you a frisson of excitement as you turned the page back in the 70s - and an excuse to cuddle your mum! The Wolf and The Seven Little Kids is a cautionary tale about latchkey kids (sorry but I couldn't resist) and why you should never open the door to strangers. Mummy goat has to go and look for food and while she is away the wolf cunningly dupes the kids into opening the door by tricking the baker into flouring his foot - this may sound complicated, but to a four-year-old it is all perfectly clear! Once in the house he swallows the children whole, except for the baby who hides in the clock case - needless to say mum comes back and embarks on a plot to rescue the children... One of the best elements of Ladybird books are the little drawings within the main pictures which allow children to talk about a different story to the main text - which they can make up and change as often as they like - something I believe we should all encourage our tinies to do. Also rans: The Magic Porridge Pot, Bob Bushtail's Birthday and the Amelia Jane books. Aged 5-10 The Enchanted Wood - Enid Blyton (though I would recommend all three Faraway Tree stories and you can get them as a 3-in-1 from Amazon for 3.99 ISBN: 0749715340 Learning to read on your own is a fantastic experience. Just being able to pick up a book of your choice from the library and have the freedom of reading it with no help from anyone is a skill to be treasured. I loved having stories read to me, but there is something truly magical about being able to read a book yourself and then tell other people about it, like a lovely secret you want to share and as you can see this is a habit I've never managed to shake. There were and are so many great writers producing fantastic work for this age group but I have picked Blyton as she was always a favourite of mine. I remember the first time I read this particular book - I was visiting a great aunt and entrusted with her daughter's hard-backed copy and a bag of alphabet sweets which saw me disappear off to the bedroom for hours. For those not familiar with the story it is the tale of three children Jo, Bessie and the unfortunately named Fanny and their adventures with the folk of a magical tree which is inhabited by a fabulous collection of fairy folk and which leads, through a hole in the clouds, to a different land every week. Yes, the names and some of Blyton's values may seem a litt le dated - they were even in the 70s when I read them - but they don't get in the way of a good story. What child can fail to want to try toffee shocks (sweets that get bigger as you suck them until they explode), pop cakes (filled with honey) or just to wander through the woods with their mum and dad trying to hear what the trees are wisha-wisha-ing to them? I certainly couldn't. Also ran writers: Roald Dahl, EW Hildick, Laura Ingalls Wilder. ----- oh dear, only 10 years in, maybe I'd better put in a chapter break ----- Age 10-15 - I've picked two here, which is a big worry considering how horrendously long this opinion is already, still here we go. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe - Douglas Adams, 4.99 Amazon, ISBN: 0330262130 My copy of this book is so well-thumbed and read its a wonder it still holds together, although I admit it has been a few years since I last picked it up - must be time again. This series was probably one of the first ever 'comedy' and 'adult' sets I picked up and I absolutely loved them, even though I probably didn't get half the jokes at the time. There was just something so wonderfully juvenile about alien Ford Prefect, he was just the kind of clever teenager you wanted to be and everything about these books - which trace the story of Arthur Dent and his adventures across the universe with Prefect, a two headed alien called Zaphod Beeblebrox and a paranoid android called Marvin - was modern, fun and frivolous. I picked the second in the series because it is so inconsequentially funny; a series of vignettes. as we watch our hero be introduced to his dinner at the restaurant at the end of the universe and his android sidekick talk a security bot into shooting the floor out from under itself. Basically, this book is a hoot and a wholesome and uplifting hoot at that, if there is anyone out there who has yet to read it, I urge you, buy it now! The Pigman - Paul Zindel Amazon 2.99 Proper teen fiction is highly underrated. Some of the most self-affirming, useful and downright entertaining books I have ever read fall into this category and I wish I could pick more than one. If you do fancy giving teen fiction a go, whatever your age, I would also recommend Robert Westall (The Watch house), Robert Cormier (The Bumblebee Flies Anyway) and, particularly, Linda Hoy's Your Friend Rebecca, although this may now be out of print. The best of the best for me at that age though, had to be Paul Zindel and this, is the best of the best! It is the story of two disillusioned teens, one with a bad home background, who befriend 'The Pigman' - a man who has one room of his house filled with china pigs - by accident and ultimately play a part in his death. I'm not ruining the plot here as they tell you this in the first couple of pages. This book is written in a quirky style, with each of the teenagers, a boy and a girl who are beginning to discover there own sexuality along the way, taking it in turns to tell a chapter of the tale in a humourous, yet touching manner. Even though Zindel wrote this novel years ago it is still right on the money as far as teenagers' emotions and reactions are concerned. I read this again quite recently because I was planning to write this opinion and all those awkward teen moments came flooding back. A great story which teenagers can relate to. Also rans here were The Rats by James Herbert - after all, who can forget their first brush with the written form of pornography? Certainly not I, ha ha. And any one of a thousand Sweet Dreams Romances - Mills and Boon for girlies. Age 15-20 - or how I lost half a decade to trashy fantasy, horror and modernism It - Stephen King, Amazon 6.39 ISBN: 0450411435 Had to get a horror in somewhere, as it was my genre of choice for about 5 years in my teens and this one was defini tely the one I loved the most. The chilling tale of a group of friends who receive a mysterious phone call drawing them back to there home town of Derry to fight old enemies and demons from their childhood along with a particularly nasty shape-shifting clown, this is, for me, King's masterpiece. The story is woven seamlessly together, with the narrated viewpoint switching from the good guys to the bad guys and back again the middle of a sentence. At the time I read this I was studying The Wasteland by T S Eliot (which I also cannot recommend highly enough) and was amazed to discover a nod to Eliot's work as King's bad guy 'measures out his life in nightlights'. People often say that horror can't be literate, but this work most certainly is, if you only read one King, make it this one. Waiting For Godot - Samuel Beckett, Amazon 7.99 ISBN: 0571058086 Not strictly a 'novel', I know, but this play is available in book form, it's my list and I loved it back then, so ner! Plot is not a word to be bandied about where Beckett is concerned, but this is essentially the tale of two tramps Vladimir and Estragon, who are waiting for, erm, Godot, for around 2 hours. A wonderful exploration of both the futility and hope that is human existence, many rubbished it when it was first performed but it is widely accepted as a classic now. I like to view it as quite an upbeat view of mankind really - although the tramps are seemingly doing nothing, they are getting by and, to a large extent, enjoying one another's company, what more can we ask as we walk our path? - We can ask for this bloody top ten list to end, I hear you cry, but sorry, there is more, still two-thirds of the way in, if this were a James Herbert book there would be a sex scene here, so perhaps you can just imagine it, watch out though, those involved usually suffer a grim fate. Also rans: Macbeth and The Wasteland. < br><br> Age 20-25 - I look at these as the wilderness years, as I finished my degree and realised that being force-fed books for 3 years had stimied my love of them rather (I'm rallying now though) Night's At the Circus - Angela Carter, Amazon 5.59 ISBN: 0099388618 If you only read one book out of my top ten, please, please pick this one. It is beyond wonderful. Carter is to the book world what Baz Luhrman is to film - bawdy, brash and, in her case, full of the sights and sounds of turn of the century London. This book tells the tale of Fevvers - a cockney trapeze artist who may or may not have real wings - and a journalist, Walser, who becomes obsessed with her, tracking their travels from London to Siberia via St Petersburg. I really want to tell you lots about this book, but I think most will have to wait for another day. Suffice to say, this is magic realism at its best. You are never sure what is real and what is not, how fast time is moving or what secrets lie just beneath the surface of the characters' stories. This is truly a world where anything can happen - and it does. But this is also a very literate work, with nods to many other genres and authors. Its fun, its frantic and frenetic and with every read I mourn her loss to the world at such a young age. Icelandic Saga - this is a cheat too, cos I recommend reading any of them, but if you must have one, then I suggest you start with Laxdaela Saga translated by Magnus Magnusson, 6.39 ISBN: 0140442189 I actually learnt old icelandic as part of my degree, so I got to read some of this in the original form and they really are great fun. All the sagas are basically tales of derring doo, romance, bloodshed, you name it, all life is there. This particular one traces around 150 years of history of one particular Icelandic dynasty, so you should get a good introduction. I think the phrase 'saga' suggests something boring that you have to strugg le to wade through (rather like this opinion), but really they are more like a series of short stories, connected by the family line. My favourite story in this collection is about the woman - it was a matriarchal society - who wants to divorce her husband. In order to get her way, she makes him a shirt with large lapels for his birthday which he has to wear to avoid offending her. However, as soon as he wears it she accuses him of being gay, due to the lapels, and gets a quicky divorce! If you like soap opera, these are for you. Age 25-30 - Phew last lap folks and such a hard choice to make here. In the last 5 years I have read many books which I think are particularly special - though I have yet to read many of the classics which are often included in other dooyooers list, which reminds me, I must buy a copy of Catcher in the Rye Blackberry Wine, Joanne Harris, Amazon 5.59 ISBN: 0552998001 In the best traditions of magic realism this is a lovely book. Chocolat was a great story, but I believe this to be a better one. Jay Macintosh is a author suffering from writer's block. He drinks heavily 'not to forget but to remember to open up the past and find himself there again.' Yes, this novel is to alcoholics what Chocolat is to Jill Murphy. While under the influence of six 'special' bottles of wine, given to him by an elderly man from his past, Jay embarks on a journey of self-rediscovery, buying a house in Lansquenet - familiar to readers of Chocolat - and learning to love and live in harmony with the everyday magic all around us. This is a book to drink down in long drafts, revelling in the headiness of the prose and enjoying its intoxicating storyline, secure in the knowledge that there will be lovely memories but no hangover to follow. All's Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque, trans Brian Murdoch Amazon 4.79 ISBN: 0099532816 'History repeats itself, has t o, no-one listens' is a truism if ever I heard one. But if you want to listen to history then this book has a lot to say. It is the tale of a young 'unknown' German soldier, leaving school full of hope only to be sucked in to the horror and numbness of war. That the 'narrator' is German is largely irrelevant, this is a chilling reminder to all nations of the effects of war on those who must fight it - the children. This is not an entirely depressing story, the camaraderie and comedy of life at the Front do shine through, but its underlying message cannot be missed. Everyone should have to read this book once every few years to remind themselves that war is not all Dad's Army and 'Allo 'Allo. As, I believe cc cummings once said: 'Old soldiers never die, only young ones'. Well, that seems to be it, 30 years in and a whole heap of reading behind me and hopefully years more of wonderful entertainment still to come. I'm sorry if this was long, I've never done one of these listy ones before so you'll have to let me off. Just one last thing, if you know any children, buy them a book this Christmas, you'll be giving them the gift of imagination.

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                            12.11.2001 01:13
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                            • "too long"

                            I can picture myself at the Potters Anonymous meeting now... 'Yes, I'm 30 and I've read all the Harry Potter books and, er, well, I quite liked them actually. Not great works of literature you know, rather in the vein of Enid Blyton, but entertaining and the kids like them...' So, I suppose it was rather inevitable that I would take a chance on seeing the film. Despite director Chris Columbus' dubious history, I decided not to dwell and the fact that he brought us the shudderingly awful Bicentennial Man and Nine Months and the, in my opinion, highly dubious Home Alone and Mrs Doubtfire, and chose instead to remember the fact that he is the man who penned Gremlins. The plot follows the books, religiously, and when I use that word I mean it in an almost 'cult-like' fashion. Columbus was so eager to stick to the book that he seems to put the whole damn thing on a untouchable pedestal, refusing to cut even the most irrelevant of scenes. Now the books are good, but they aren't that good. I never thought I would see the day when I criticised a film for being too slavish to a novel, but if ever there was one, this was it. It is way too long at two-and-a-half hours. I could hear children all about me getting restless - including my significant other! Just in case there is a person alive still unfamiliar with the plot, it is the tale of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), our hero, who survives an attack of black magic as a child in which his parents are killed by evil wizard Voldemort, and is left orphaned yet with a fetching lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. He then lives a life of drudgery for 11 years at the hands of his horrid Aunt and Uncle Dursley (Fiona Shaw and Richard Griffiths) and obnoxious cousin Dudley (Harry Melling), before discovering that he is, in fact, a wizard and being whisked away for a series of high jinks at Hogwarts School for Witches and Wizards. While at the school, of course, he makes jolly go od friends with a couple of good eggs Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), while making an enemy of rotter Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), and together they muddle along trying to thwart Voldemort a second time. So, was the magic there? Well, the cast most certainly was - at least as far as the seniors were concerned. Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Zoe Wanamaker and Maggie Smith, to name but a few, all put in an appearance and it is these old hands who really are the best aspect of the film. Coltrane is perfectly suited to the gigantic-yet-soft-hearted school groundskeeper Hagrid and the others on fine form as the teaching collective, with Richard Harris, in particular, seeming straight out of the book as Albus Dumbledore. Alan Rickman deserves a particularly special mention as he is, yet again, tragically underused, this time as poisons master, Snape and David Bradley was simply marvellous as the creepy caretaker, Filch. But this film had a lot of problems. Firstly and perhaps most surprisingly for an American-funded and expensive film, it had all the feel of a Children's Film Foundation offering from the Seventies. Some of the actors, such as Maggie Smith and Leslie Phillips (who plays the voice of the sorting hat) have been around since then, but many of the others could have been easily swapped with the likes of Margaret Rutherford and Alistair Sim. Ron Weasley, in particular, was very reminiscent of a young Keith Chegwin and, sadly, had about the same measure of acting ability. All the children, in fact, were very, very, very stilted in their dialogue and at times their delivery was almost laughable - certainly, the children in recent release The Others were much more convincing. And why Columbus felt the need to largely cast children with upper middle-class accents is beyond me. In the books, Hermione, Harry and Ron are all supposed to be from 'normal' working/middle class homes and I was particular ly offended by the way they turned Hermione into a snobbish individual. In the books she has plenty of know-how, but not in the holier-than-thou way that she is scripted here. Which brings me to the second problem. All the children seemed to be of public school ilk, except for the poor old fatboy Neville who, naturally, was from Yorkshire and the jolly sportsman, who was Scottish. The accents as a whole were pretty arbitrary - with Maggie Smith adopting her Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Scots brogue, while Coltrane opted for West Country for no apparent reason. The lack of anything other than caucasian children or teachers save for one bit part was also very noticeable and struck me as particularly odd, considering that Hogwarts isn't supposed to be a public school, but rather one to which anyone with magical talent can go. Sorry, I may be overanalysing this here, but it was noticeable. This film isn't a total miss, though. The special effects are pretty good throughout, particularly in the dining hall, a pretty fab chess tournament and a game of quidditch - although the latter was way too long. I was rather disappointed to see a continuity glitch in the dining hall, too, in that at the two main banquets at opposite ends of the year, the same food appears to be on the table. Draco is sitting next to a rather fine joint of meat and a bowl of corn on the cob in both and I would have thought they could have switched the food round a bit at the very least. Oh dear, I'm being all negative again and it really wasn't that bad, but it really wasn't that good either. This film can never really shake the fact that the children aren't particularly talented and there was surprisingly little humour on display. I only heard the audience laugh properly once at the screening I was in, when a troll got a wand up its nose, and the children seemed incredibly downbeat as they left the cinema. When I left Shrek the air was full of kids tal king to their parents about there favourite bits, but after this they just looked, well, tired. The movie carries a PG rating and it is easy to see why. There are several violent films which you might want very young children to see. If I could, I'd give it three and a half stars, but will settle for three.

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                              11.11.2001 17:29
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                              Usually, when I write a book review here, it is because I have loved the book enough to want to share the experience with others and, hopefully, encourage them to open its covers and enjoy it themselves. Today, however, I am hoping to achieve the opposite effect. Everything about From the Corner of His Eye is so unmitigatingly dreadful, that if I can persuade even one of you not to come within a mile of this God-foresaken tome then I will consider it worth it. At the risk of totally digressing from the book and boring you witless in the process, I feel it is pertinent to mention that I usually like Dean Koontz, I appreciate his easy style, simple-yet-effect plots and his ability to churn out pretty enjoyable works at an alarming rate. Corner of His Eye, however, is nothing more than tosh. So what exactly is wrong with this book? Let's start with the plot. If you glance at the description at the top of the page you will see the character Bartholomew Lampion is mentioned, and his blindness. Would you be surprised to learn then, that Bartholomew (Barty) doesn't, in fact, appear, except for an initial mention, until the last quarter of the book? I certainly was, in fact the first part of the novel seems to have little connection with the latter pages, save for the fact that Koontz is trying (very trying) to take us into the realms of chaos theory for beginners. Frankly, I think it is a very bad sign when even the marketing men and dust-cover writers can't precis the plot, it really doesn't bode well and the mention of the seagull just puts me in mind of Eric Cantona. In fact the similarity doesn't end there, in that Cantona's 'trawler' speech probably made more sense than this book. I will try and tell you a bit about the plot, but it is so unwieldy and improbable that I know I'm not going to do it very well, however, I just know you aren't going to take my word for it otherwise. So here we go. The story really begins with Junior Cain (deliberate name choice? Probably) and his recently-wedded wife, Naomi, embarking on an innocent picnic in the woods. Things take a turn for the worse, however, when Junior kills her in the spur of the moment and we discover that he is, in fact, not a very nice man at all. This is the part I hate Koontz for the most. This novel actually begins quite well, so you find yourself drawn in to the storyline as Junior, totally unaware of his psychopathic nature can't understand why each of his murderous acts result in a physical and torturous manifestation of his guilt. For example, following his wife's murder he throws up so much he is hospitalised. So far so horror/thriller, and when a slightly other-worldly detective - he can, apparently, make coins disappear into thin air - Vanadium, sees through Junior's profession of sorrow and begins to make it his life's quest to catch him, the reader is hooked. What a shame Koontz didn't just stick to that tale. But no, every action has an equal and opposite reaction dontcha know? So we must also follow the plot line of the woman who bore Junior's child after he raped her, with whom Vanadium has a tenuous link, and about seven other plot lines, each more fantastical than the next but which Koontz would have us believe are all linked in the great big interconnectedness of all things. Now, I'm not a scientist, but even I found Koontz's argument laughable. He is supposedly creating a world of coincidence, but what he gives us is nothing more than contrivance. Half way through I was desperate to stop reading, but I just 'had' to know what Barty had to do with all this.... and then he arrived, in typical Koontz child-prodigy form - and with him comes a whole lot of other hokum regarding parallel universes. Have I lost you? Consider yourself lucky, this is only a fraction of the dreadfulness which you will experience if you try to follow Koontz's train of thought, and I should know, because I persevered with this to the very last predictable, schmaltzy page. Even the characters, allegedly some of the most 'unforgettable' he has ever written, are so numerous that you keep forgetting who is who and who is connected to whom, so much, in fact, that after a while you cease to care. I rather think Koontz ceased to care too, because once Barty arrives the book seems to totally run out of steam. According to the rest of the dust jacket Koontz is 'venturing far beyond traditional boundaries', Well, they got that right, providing their definition of traditional boudaries involve such heinous crimes as plausible story and sensible plot development. Koontz is trying to be profound, certainly, and, I think, trying to say to us, 'hey guys, be nice to each other and especially the children, won't you? Cos it's a crazy world out there.' Oh, that he had felt able to achieve that sentiment in less than 700 pages. If you see this book on the shelves and it catches the corner of your eye, I beg you, turn away. Bookends Don't believe me? Still wish to go ahead with the folly of buying this damn thing? Oh well, if you really must - and don't say I didn't warn you - you can bore yourself witless for 5.59 if you buy this at Amazon. I, foolishly, acquired the hardback, but at least I can use it as a doorstop.

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                                31.10.2001 17:23
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                                History is not a subject which we traditionally associate with America - preferring rather to marvel at her futuristic cities, immense sky-scrapers and the American Dream. But a visit to Philadelphia shows that modern America as we know it has a fascinating history. Founded in 1682 by English Quaker William Penn, the city's name, the Greek for 'Brotherly Love' was chosen by him to reflect his views on religious tolerance. And tolerance was to become a big part of Philadelphia's history, as between 1774 to 1880 it became the setting for the American Revolution, when our US brethren ditched the British once and for all with Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The interweaving of this rich historic tapestry of Philadelphia, with its more modern developments makes Philadelphia an interesting place to visit. One of the great things about Philly is that you can travel around on foot easily and safely and with many of the tourist centres close together, this is ideal for those on a budget. If art - or dodgy film trivia - is your thing then a trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a must. Situated at one end of the Champs Elysee-modelled Benjamin Parkway, the museum's steps became more famous than its art when one Sylvester Stallone ran up them in the guise of Rocky Balboa. Today it seems traditional for tourists to race one another up to the top, but even if you opt for a more leisurely stroll it is worth it for the stunning views of the city skyline afforded from the museum's entrance. Inside, is a treasure trove featuring everything from American-painted masterpieces to Shaker-style furniture and a fully-reconstructed Indian Temple and Medieval Cathedral. If you have any art energy left after a tour, it is well worth stopping off at the much more manageable Rodin museum on the way back towards the town centre. This museum houses the largest collection of Rodin's sculptures outside of Paris including The Thinker, The Burghers of Calais and Gates of Hell. Being cultural can be a hungry business which is handy as Philadelphia is certainly mad about food. So much so that the mayor announced a citywide fitness drive earlier this year to tackle the issue of over-eating. Visitors needn't worry though, after all calories don't count when you are on holiday, and the perfect place to sample the local speciality, the Philadelphia Cheesesteak - thin strips of fried beef smothered in the cheese of your choice and nestled with onions in a baggette - is Reading Market Terminal. This airy market is a feast for the senses as well as the stomach, playing host to myriad tiny stalls all selling different produce or snacks. If feasting on traditional fare isn't cultural enough for you, then a trip to the Historic District and the Independence National Park, should definitely do the trick. Here you can visit the impressive Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed and see the famous, cracked Liberty Bell. Start with the free 28-minute film at the visitor centre which should help you to plan your trip and try not to scowl when the American's gloat about how they won the war. If you want to gen up on all things Independence then the Lights of Liberty evening show takes you back in time to the years of the Revolution. Five-storey images light up the buildings of the National Park, while headsets provide you with a re-enactment of the years that led to the Declaration of Independence. The show is great for children, too, with a special recording by Whoopi Goldberg relating the story in simple terms. Adult tickets cost around £12 and children under 12 about £8.30 (details from www.lightsofliberty.org). One of the great things about a visit to Philly, however, is that you needn't limit yourself to staying within the cit y confines. Shopaholics will be chomping at the bit to visit the King of Prussia Mall - the largest retail complex on the East Coast - with the added incentive of tax-free clothing. This huge mall is just 15 miles from the centre of Philadelphia and could easily make a day trip in itself. Round trip shuttle buses are available on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, picking up from your hotel for $10 (approximately £7). Garden enthusiasts too, will not be disappointed, as Philadelphia boasts more public gardens and arboreta than anywhere else in North America. In the city itself you can visit America's oldest botanical garden - Historic Bartram's Garden - or travel further afield to the spectacular 1050-acre estate of Longwood Gardens with its indoor conservatories, fountain displays and children's garden. If you are venturing out of the city, then a trip to Lancaster County's Amish community is an absolute must. Eschewing modern technology and farming techniques, the Amish travel the county in their horse-drawn buggies and traditional garb, tilling the land as they have done for more than 250 years. Dating back to the 1700s a trip to the Amish towns like Bird-In-Hand feels like stepping into another country. The Amish are happy to let you watch them go about their business of quilt-making, land-tilling and food-making, though it is worth remembering that you must not photograph them so they can be recognised as they view this as a sin before god. While in Lancaster county, you will have the opportunity to sample local delicacies such as fasnachts, red-beet eggs and shoofly pie, a chance not to be missed. If all the history and culture gets to much you can guarantee a night out on the tiles of Rittenhouse Row's hotel district or the up and coming Penn Landing will shake off the cobwebs. Traditionalists can indulge in one of the fantastic steaks at the Warwick Hotel's Prime Rib res taurant (but wear loose clothing!) while the more avant garde may prefer to sample the casbah-bedecked delights of Tangerine on Market Street, followed up by a night in one of the cities many jazz bars. Ultimately, Philadelphia is the perfect destination, whether you are looking for a city break, a shopping extravaganza or just to gain a few pounds from all the fantastic food. (Reprinted from my article in The Edinburgh Evening News)

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                                  26.10.2001 04:53
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                                  • "some other slight"

                                  Gather round the campfire children, for it is autumn, chill and foggy, and director Alejandro Amenabar has a tale of old to tell, of ghostly happenings and crying children and things that go bump in the night. But leave the marshmallows at home, for there is no place for sticky sentimentality here... Grace (Nicole Kidman) is living in an elderly Jersey mansion with her children Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley) who suffer from photosensitivity meaning that exposure to light would be fatal. Although huge, the house is oppressive, the family rattle round like peas in a drum carefully locking each door before opening another to protect the children from the light and reading the bible, waiting for husband and father Charles (Christopher Eccleston) to return from the war. One night their servants disappear, yet within days three more turn up unnannounced, the motherly Bertha Mills (played superbly by Fionnula Flanagan), Mr Tuttle (Eric Sykes turning in a neat character role, though it is difficult to shake his comic history from your mind) and the mute Lydia (Elaine Cassidy). Their arrival heralds upset as the carefully God-centric and rule-obsessed household begins to fray at the edges. Anne claims she has seen a boy, Victor, but Grace doesn't believe her, at least not until she hears someone running around upstairs and starts hearing voices of her own. Who is opening the doors and curtains and playing the piano in her locked room, and what secrets lie in an old photograph album? Grace is a woman on the edge, her carefully ordered world is coming apart and she has no-one to turn to but her children, the strangely-knowing servants and her priest... who hasn't been seen for days. This film is genuinely spooky. I hate horror movies, but Amenabar manages to create more of an atmosphere by the use of a clever score and some straightforward-yet-effective camerawork and effects than 30 gallons of blood and a caul dron full of CGI could ever manage. This film hooks you on a tense line and keeps you there, occasionally jerking you into full jump out of the seat mode and rarely letting you relax. Cuddle up to your loved one, but for goodness sake don't reach out and touch them unexpectedly. The performances are superb throughout, although poor old Christopher Eccleston barely gets a look in, which makes you wonder why he took such a small role. Kidman is wonderful as the brittle Grace - she certainly seems to have come into her own with her performances of late, perhaps the end of the Cruise era has some benefits - and both the children are thoroughly believable. The plot is predictable to a point, but then the plot really isn't the thing. It doesn't matter if you guess at certain elements because it is the film's atmosphere and superbly written script which are the thing. The exchanges between the children are particularly well-scripted and believable, with Anne, the elder, frequently baiting up and attempting to scare her sibling, often providing moments of humour at the same time. If I were to level any big criticism at The Others, aside from the lack of Christopher Eccleston, it would be that the story gets rather convoluted in the back quarter, attempting to overcomplicate itself, when simplicity is really its strength.

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