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William Cohen (London)

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The Death of a Pope
The Death of a Pope
by Piers Paul Read
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars The new versus the old in the Catholic church, 21 July 2014
This review is from: The Death of a Pope (Hardcover)
I've read nearly all of Piers Paul Read's novels and I like the milieux and the characters. I finished this one in a week - it's bit of intrigue set against the election of the new pope. It's a bit far-fetched but it also gives some insights into the motivations of terrorists, and how middle-class women might be drawn into their idealistic campaigns.

The Pursuit Of The Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages
The Pursuit Of The Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages
by Norman Cohn
Edition: Paperback
Price: 16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The depressing history of eschatological false prophets, 25 Jun 2014
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This is a fascinating history of what happens when socially alienated group, struggling for economic survival, find a messianic leader offering hope.

The ecstatic religious expectations can be manipulated and attract a devoted following. Cohn is clear how given the right conditions, you can generate a toxic revolution, which is very bad news for the established church, local government and the Jews. The behaviour of the Nazis was actually a throwback to many violent uprisings which characterised medieval Germany. They secularised the eschatology, but they used the same emotions with very similar results.

There's a horrifying pattern. It starts with a desire to cleanse the heathen and set up a new model community. That community doesn't tend to be much interested in working hard to build a new society. So they quickly end up resorting to rape, pillage and murder to keep the show on the road.

Thomas Muentzer, John of Leiden, Jan Matthys - they stirred up some serious trouble with their 'End of Days' ideas.

It's curious how in that era accusations against corrupt clergy in the medieval era are the same as the ones made against politicians, today. And we're also seeing some populist parties getting votes from this.

It's a gripping book, which charts the progress of a very dangerous set of ideas.

Frances Ha [DVD]
Frances Ha [DVD]
Dvd ~ Greta Gerwig
Price: 4.50

5.0 out of 5 stars What it's like to make your way in the Big City, 23 Jun 2014
This review is from: Frances Ha [DVD] (DVD)
I spent nine years in London from 1994 to 2003 trying to make my way as a writer/journalist and I could completely identify with the struggles of Frances Ha. The betrayals, the frustration, the setbacks - and the painful compromises. This is a brilliant portrait of a spirited young woman looking for love and recognition, but not getting it.

It's so rare to have money troubles dramatised on film - it's done very well here. The leading lady is funny, sexy and loveable. I really liked the bit when she made a trip to Paris on her own, only to find it makes her feel even more lonely. I've done that.

Her parents are supportive but hopeless, and her friendships are all a bit complicated. The director has included text message games, flatmate tensions and a few jokes about the internet, making it feel very modern. Like Nebraska, the b & w adds to the charm.

What Do Jews Believe?
What Do Jews Believe?
by David S. Ariel
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction, 9 Jun 2014
This review is from: What Do Jews Believe? (Paperback)
I'm not Jewish, but I've become fascinated by Judaism.

This book is very well-written. It states clearly what Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Jews believe. I became aware of some of the leading figures in Jewish history, like Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Rabbi Akiva. I found out how to distinguish between Haredim and Hasidim.

I know what the halakha is. And I derived some insights into messianic thinking. A very helpful book.

Nebraska [DVD]
Nebraska [DVD]
Dvd ~ Bruce Dern
Price: 9.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humorous melancholy, 9 Jun 2014
This review is from: Nebraska [DVD] (DVD)
I loved the bleak settings for this charming story. Payne films malls and motorways in black and white to enchant them. The small details like the Hell's Angels overtaking turn the banal into the lyrical.

A quest to recover a $1m prize becomes a vehicle to re-examine relationships in a dysfunctional family. Lots of pain, lots of laughs, lots of truth.

Cuban Fury [DVD] [2014]
Cuban Fury [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Nick Frost
Price: 9.99

0 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars John Travolta need not lose any sleep, 28 May 2014
This review is from: Cuban Fury [DVD] [2014] (DVD)
I did salsa for four and a half years, so I was hoping to see some genuine insights into a very special world.

The theme was 'healing' which is a reason why many people take up salsa. The main character had a trauma in his youth because of his mates thought he was effeminate for taking it up. The film picks up years later when he's trying to deal with his inability to attract women, which is rooted in this humiliating experience.

The opening shots showed the flaws in the film. The backstory was told in a crude way. The characters tell us their problems instead of leading us to see them for ourselves. When Nick Frost meets his old salsa teacher Ian McShane, the dialogue is totally unconvincing.

There are lots of funny things about salsa dancing, but the writers hadn't done enough research, and the conflict supplied by Chris O'Dowd didn't seem at all plausible.

I didn't like or identify with any of the characters. You can't make a charming rom-com under those circumstances.

How I Escaped My Certain Fate
How I Escaped My Certain Fate
by Stewart Lee
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.73

4.0 out of 5 stars Likeable, 20 April 2014
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This book provided a good insight into the difficult life of a stand-up comedian. As a speechwriter, I enjoyed the observations on performance, and the comic techniques, like 'stand back and reveal'. I like the way he's found a niche, and now goes out of his way to deter certain people from coming along to his gigs.

It's sensitive and intelligent stuff, mixed with crudity and provocation. Sometimes the footnotes to his comedy routines made reading difficult. It's like reading two separate books simultaneously.

Art of Biblical Narrative
Art of Biblical Narrative
by Robert Alter
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.91

5.0 out of 5 stars Deep insights into the way the Bible tells stories, 20 April 2014
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Robert Alter is an academic, but he writes in a very accessible way. He explains how the authors of the Bible used techniques that we're familiar with in novels. He attempts to show how the stories might be like Westerns, there are a set of expectations in the minds of the readers, that the authors can play with. He talks about repetitive 'type' scenes - where the prophets meet women at the well or the annunciation of a new child. The subtle differences in the details suggest deeper insights into the characters.

He identifies the narrative techniques preferred by the Bible authors - dialogue, repetition, special words - and shows how they work. I love the richness of the Hebrew Bible stories, and Alter offers a fresh and stimulating way to look at the texts.

Year Zero: A History of 1945
Year Zero: A History of 1945
by Ian Buruma
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 17.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A very engaging read, 20 April 2014
Ian Buruma is an excellent writer, I find I finish most of his books in a matter of days. We are exposed to lots of documentaries about the war, but not many about the aftermath. Buruma describes what happened after the concentration camps were liberated and the Allies took over.

He weaves the story of post-war adjustment in Japan and Germany together rather well, showing how the disease was different in each case, but the cures were imagined to be similar. Nearly 70 years on, it's possible to see victor's justice being applied. It's also possible to appreciate how difficult it is to get a country back on its feet after such terrible experiences. Can you get rid of all the bad eggs? Or are they needed to be part of the reconstruction?

Many of the mistakes made by the Allies were probably repeated in Iraq.

The author shows the ways that idealistic people tried to stop similar conflict happening again. As Britain questions its place in the European Union, it's good to be reminded of just how terrible the sufferings of the Second World War were, and how successful the European Union has been at keeping the peace.

The Lost Weekend [DVD]
The Lost Weekend [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ray Milland
Price: 5.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Peerless screenwriting, 24 Mar 2014
This review is from: The Lost Weekend [DVD] (DVD)
They say to write a great screenplay, the first shot tells the story. As we swoop down on a New York apartment, we see a bottle suspended on a piece of string from a window sill and a man scowling as he fears it's about to be discovered. That's the story. From that point on we get a parable worthy of inclusion in The Big Book.

We witness the restlessness, irritability and discontent of the hero, his flights of fancy under the influence of the booze. We hear about his brilliance as a writer and his reluctance to put pen to paper. It's not really entertainment, it's moral teaching.

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