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Mr Gary E Whorwood (Auckland, New Zealand)

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Assassin's Quest (The Farseer Trilogy - Book 3): 3/3
Assassin's Quest (The Farseer Trilogy - Book 3): 3/3
by Robin Hobb
Edition: Paperback

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking and original, 12 Dec 2004
There are so many fantasy books out there now that all blend together and seem to be the same as each other. To read a series that stands out from this crowd is like a breath of fresh air. Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy is one such read.
This is a spectacular trilogy of books that gets better with each volume culminating in the emotional climax at the end of "Assassin's Quest". The journey of the central character, Fitz, from childhood into maturity was reminiscent to me of that in Charles Dickens' David Copperfield. Such a well illustrated character is vital to the emotional response from a book like this.
Add to that the original concepts of the Skill, the Wit, and the Elderlings and you have a fantastic recipe for a refreshing and exhilirating read. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for lovers of quality fantasy writing.

Neanderthal (Airport Only)
Neanderthal (Airport Only)
by John Darnton
Edition: Paperback

2.0 out of 5 stars Simple story, simple characters, nothing special, 6 July 2004
It's always a bad sign when a book is headlined as being 'in the tradition' of another author. In this case, the unfortunate comparison is made to Michael Crichton. The only resemblance to a Michael Crichton novel here is the pseudo-scientific premise. The similarities end there because Neanderthal is a fairly simplistic story with quite a linear plot.
The characters are mostly one-dimensional and there are no suspenseful storyline developments or twists. Most disappointing of all is the fact that there are no interesting revelations about the Neanderthal at all (beyond their special powers - but that is revealed on the dust jacket anyway).
This is a fairly easy read but if you're expecting a fascinating, edgy, scientific thriller, then you're looking in the wrong place. Disappointing.

Lost Discoveries: The Multicultural Roots of Modern Science from the Babylonians to the Maya
Lost Discoveries: The Multicultural Roots of Modern Science from the Babylonians to the Maya
by Dick Teresi
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and enlightening, 18 Jun 2004
This book is an interesting read. Its main focus is to enlighten the reader as to the scientific achievements of various ancient civilisations. It appears to be well researched and whilst it seems to be trying to refute the common perception that most major scientific advances came out of the Western world, it does not go down the route of some other sensationalist works which try and ascribe ludicrous powers to our ancestors (e.g. it doesn't try and claim that the Egyptians had space travel).
This is a reasonably easy read and a fairly interesting walk into history. It doesn't require much scientific background to enjoy. I recommend it to anybody who has a passing interest in either science or ancient history.

All in Time
All in Time
Offered by Bear Family Records GmbH
Price: 5.67

4.0 out of 5 stars Good old Memphis blues, 31 Dec 2003
This review is from: All in Time (Audio CD)
Preston Shannon is a popular live performer on Beale Street in Memphis with his energetic blend of blues and soul. This is a great album with the tempo varying from the soulful "That's the Way I Feel About Ya" to the edgier "I'm Tired of the Ghetto" to the manic cover of Prince's "Purple Rain" (a real crowd pleaser during his live shows with his lengthy sweaty guitar solo). Shannon is passionate about his music and it shows on this album. He's been around the traps long enough to have been inspired by some of the Memphis greats and although this isn't always 'classic' blues, it is up there with the best that modern artists have to offer.

Icewind Dale II
Icewind Dale II
Offered by GeeksWholesaler
Price: 15.90

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Has kept me entertained for hours!, 3 Jun 2003
This review is from: Icewind Dale II (Video Game)
There has been a lot of discussion around the place about whether this game is any good compared to Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, or the original Icewind Dale. There has also been a lot of debate about the relative merits of the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules used in this game.
As I have never played those other games, and have no idea about what 3rd edition D&D rules even are, I cannot enter into these debates. All I have to go on is the fact that I bought this game more than two months ago and have been playing it constantly ever since. And for me, that makes it a winner because it means I am getting excellent value for money out of it.
I find the interface easy to use, the graphics more than sufficient, and the story reasonably interesting. I like the variety of different characters you can play, and the different approaches that means you can take (e.g. load up with tough guys and hack 'n' slash your way through vs talking your way out of trouble vs flinging magical spells all over the place).
Overall, I have found this game to be brilliant. Which means that I'll be sure to give those other games a go as well (if I ever get bored of this one).

No Title Available

21 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the better stage to screen adaptations, 20 Jan 2003
The big budget musical was once one of the mainstays of the movie industry. But over the last decade or so, it has gone out of favour, due maybe to changes in audience interests, or because studios do not want to risk another loss-making flop. Perhaps times are changing. Last year, we had the success of the overly post modern Moulin Rouge. This year, we have Chicago, which more successfully takes us back to the style of the traditional movie musical, and proves that there is life in this genre yet.
The story is an old one and what we now see on the big screen is an adaptation of the recent stage version. On the surface, the plot revolves around two women; Roxie Hart (Renee Zellwegger), a wannabe young starlet who kills her lover when it turns out he has been lying to her about having influential connections, and Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), an existing star who kills her sister and husband when she finds them in bed together. In jail, Roxie and Velma find themselves competing for the attention of the Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), the only lawyer with the power to secure their freedom.
But the threads of the plot are not the important thing here. The appeal of Chicago has always been the music and underlying question of the ethereal nature of 'celebrity'. Billy Flynn's skill lies not with the law, but with his ability to influence a jury by turning his defendants into media darlings (and in turn, getting a fair share of the limelight himself). Because the phenomenon of the flimsy celebrity is every bit as prevalent now as it was when the story was written (see Popstars, Big Brother, Anna Nicole Smith, Victoria Beckham etc.....) we see in Chicago, a reflection of ourselves.
The stars do themselves proud with their suprisingly good performances in the song and dance department. Zeta-Jones betrays her past stage experience in spectacular style as the cocky Velma, whilst Zellwegger seems perfect for the scatty Roxie. Gere appear to relish the chance to play the over the top Billy, whilst mention should also be made of Queen Latifah (the mercenary prison warden Mama Merton), and John C. Reilly (who plays to type as Roxie's dopey but devoted husband).
Successful stage musicals do not always translate well to the big screen. This is because the two formats have different strengths and weaknesses that must be exploited in the right ways. Here, director Rob Marshall has excelled, by taking advantage of the fact that film can be edited, to very effectively splice the musical numbers into the live action in a way that is not possible on the stage. Although I don't find the Chicago musical numbers to be great themselves (compared to those in Grease or Les Miserables, for example), the way they are used in this film is excellent.
Overall, this is about as good a stage-to-cinema adaption as we have seen for a long time. Hopefully, this will encourage others to undertake similar projects.

Moving Pictures: (Discworld Novel 10) (Discworld Novels)
Moving Pictures: (Discworld Novel 10) (Discworld Novels)
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.74

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chock-full of movie jokes, 14 Jan 2003
With Moving Pictures, Terry Pratchett turns his unique powers of satire and parody to poke fun at the power and history of the movie industry. This book is so full of brilliant in-jokes and sly nods that I'm sure I didn't notice half of them. But as usual, the story is sufficiently gripping and thought provoking that it can be enjoyed even if you don't get all the jokes. Of Pratchett's regular characters, the real star this time is Dibbler, who turns all of his sausage-vending mercenary powers into those of a profit-hungry movie producer with hilarious results. A pre-Watch Detritus the Troll and various Wizards also play cameos. Well worth a read for fans of Pratchett and/or the cinema.

Songs in the key of Springfield
Songs in the key of Springfield
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: 5.35

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius!, 12 Jan 2003
The musical components of The Simpsons series are hugely under-rated, as demonstrated by this excellent compilation of snippets. Here we hear the full range of musical styles that have been used on the show, from Broadway spectacular, to country and western, to barbershop. Musical arranger Alf Clausen has done a spectacular job over the years to put together music that is not only hilarious, but pays affectionate homage to the form being used. Experience the genius of the "Streetcar Named Marge" sequences, the B-Sharps singing "Baby on Board", or the side-splitting "Dr Zaius" from the "Planet of the Apes" musical! Brilliant! A must for any fan!

No Title Available

55 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent epic adventure, 11 Jan 2003
It is remarkably difficult to make any movie. There are so many things to get right that it is amazing that any make it to the big screen at all. The Lord of the Rings was the book they said could never be filmed successfully. To bring us movies of the breathtaking scale and quality of The Fellowship of the Ring and, now, The Towers, director Peter Jackson has performed a feat which is little short of miraculous.
The Two Towers is not so much a sequel, as a continuation, of the story which was begun with the Fellowship of the Ring. Here, as in Tolkien's book, the narrative fractures along with the breaking of the Fellowship, and we follow the various fortunes of: Merry and Pippin who have been carried off by the Uruk-Hai; Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas who are in hot pursuit; and Frodo and Sam as they stumble inexorably towards Mordor. Along the way, their paths cross with other influential entities including the Riders of Rohan, the Rangers of Ithilien, the Shepherds of the Forest, and the wretched Gollum.
So how successfully were the various elements of this film production achieved? First and foremost, it had to withstand the scrutiny and expectations of a planet full of people devoted to Tolkien's books. In this respect it performed admirably. Unlike the first installment which was forced to carve out significant chunks of the book, this one appears to have retained most of the main events. The most notable exception was Frodo and Sam's journey through Cirith Ungol, but this has been postponed until the next film to provide more balance to that episode, so it doesn't count. It evens adds some scenes that do not appear in the book, such as those involving Arwen and Aragorn (which has been lifted from a story in the appendix to The Return of the King). For real fans, the Two Towers is full of seemingly minor scenes that seem to be exact recreations of some of Tolkien's most detailed imagery. My favourite example was the way Eomer's riders all halted and wheeled their horses as one to turn and face Aragorn after he has arisen from hiding to hail them. That is a paragraph from the book that has always stuck in my mind and it was wonderful to see it replayed so faithfully. I look forward to more of the same in the 'extended version' when that comes out on DVD.
Secondly, Jackson had to make a film that would also appeal to those who are not so familiar with the books. While I can't speak fully for such people, I can say that the movie seemed to provide sufficient explanation for the events that were unfolding, although one would almost certainly have to have seen The Fellowship of the Ring to really understand what was going on. In this sense, the Two Towers is unusual amongst movie sequels in that it was not an afterthought, but filmed at the same time as the others. As a result, while it does have moments of drama in its own right, it does very much have a 'middle part' sense about it, which may frustrate some people. However, it would be difficult to not be excited during the buildup to, and swashbuckling action of, the climactic Battle for Helm's Deep. Plus, it is always a good sign when a three hour film doesn't feel at all like three hours.
Special effects? Not just brilliant, but so groundbreaking as to have set a whole new standard for the art. The battle scenes ring with realism and the amazing Gollum heralds the future of CGI characters. The only things that looked even slightly clunky were the Ents, but they may have stood out because of the sheer quality of everything else (along with the difficulty of making a tree-like giant seem real). As always, the hallmark of great effects is that they are not even noticed, and in this case, it is very easy to forget just how much of Tolkien's world had to be created in the effects labs and workshops.
The characters almost all seemed to hit the spot for me. Each of the actors has truly BECOME their characters, especially Viggo Mortensen who bristles with hidden kingly power as Aragorn. Orlando Bloom is dynamic as the nimble elf Legolas, while John Rhys-Davies provides most of the comic relief as the sturdy dwarf Gimli. One of the unexpected stars of the Two Towers is Miranda Otto, who has already captured the beauty, sadness, and courage of Eowyn - despite her finest hour still awaiting us in the Return of the King.
For us New Zealanders, the Two Towers provides additional entertainment. This is not just from seeing the wonderful scenery of our country which provides the backdrop for the story, or from the knowledge that so many of our countrymen (and women) have played such a big part in this production's success. It is the unintended humour that we derive from spotting some of our favourite home grown soap opera stars turning up in important roles such as Craig Parker returning as Haldir the elf, Karl Urban as Eomer, and best of all John Leigh (Lionel Skeggins from Shortland Street) as Hama, the King's guard.
There is very little that I can find to quibble about this film. It should please fans and non-fans alike and has set a new benchmark for the 'epic' film genre. The next book, The Return of the King, contains more drama and action than the other two combined as well as my all time favourite scene from a book. All we can do is hold our breath and wait a year, at which time, we can be sure to be completely blown away.

Star Wars: A New Hope
Star Wars: A New Hope

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great film needs great music, 8 Jan 2003
This review is from: Star Wars: A New Hope (Audio CD)
One of the best things about listening to a great movie soundtrack like this is that it reminds you what an important part music can play in the success of a movie. Can you imagine Star Wars without John Williams' stirring themes? The reverse also applies, as it is impossible to listen to this CD without reliving the excitement of the movie itself.
I have also found that this CD has helped me to understand how movie music is put together. It becomes clear that Williams has created a number of 'themes' (such as Luke's Theme and Leia's Theme) which he then revisits in various forms throughout the film helping to invoke the appropriate emotions from us. It's all really quite clever.
Overall, this CD makes for excellent listening for anybody when you feel like some stirring classical style music. Of course, it goes without saying that for Star Wars fans, in particular, this CD is essential.

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