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Reviews Written by
Aidan J. McQuade (Ireland)

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows [DVD + UV Copy] [2012]
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows [DVD + UV Copy] [2012]
Dvd ~ Robert Downey Jr.
Price: £2.81

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Holmes and Watson do a Butch and Sundance, 24 Dec. 2011
In this movie the always watchable Robert Downey Junior's Sherlock Holmes confronts his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, brilliantly played by Jared Harris. What follows is a delightfully convoluted plot that hops across Europe, realising late nineteenth century London and Paris in some exquiste detail.

In common with the recent television updating of Holmes, in this movie Watson is a major protagonist in his own right, and less the sidekick seen in the Basil Rathbone or even the Jeremy Brett adaptations. In this role Jude Law shows himself both a proper movie star and a brilliantly convincing action one: one scene in which he is stalked by a sniper wittily echoes Law's Stalingrad film, "Enemy at the Gates", as well as "Saving Private Ryan".

As a "writer-director" Guy Ritchie has been only intermittently successful: after fine films such as "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch", his directorial talent has been let down by his written material. However with his Sherlock Holmes films Ritchie seems finally to have thrown off the shackles of his "writer-director" identity to do what he does brilliantly: direct.

Few places are his talent more apparent in this film than a long sequence of a running battle through a forest. Ritchie combines the latest pyrotechniques and camera tricks of more run-of-the-mill action movies, with an attention to realism and rooting the violence in the physical world, comparable to directors like Katheryn Bigelow. The result must rate as one of the best action sequences of the year.

While Holmes in this movie remains the infuriating, forensic calculator of old, some purists may baulk at the some of Ritchie and Downey's interpretation of the character. Still, anyone else looking for a brilliantly entertaining piece of pure cinema should enjoy this.

by Elmore Leonard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More twists and turns than a twisty turny thing, 23 Dec. 2011
This review is from: Djibouti (Paperback)
Just read the Joe Hill, "amazon exclusive" review of this book, and in its style and substance gives a better sense of what to expect from the book than anything I will write. However I would add a couple of things:

I've only been to Djibouti twice, 15 years ago, so its hardly a city I know well, particularly in its current manifestation. Yet the spare descriptions Leonard makes of the place I found hugely evocative.

The book starts off as one about pirates, and then twists off in very different directions. But the deviations in plot are as nothing to the characterisation. For example the initial introductions to the female characters in the book, Dara and Helene, leads you for a moment to expect them to be niave innocents abroad in need of rescuing. Very quickly the reader is disabused of this notion and the depths of these characters become significant drivers to the plot. Similarly Leonard is deeply and surprisingly sympathetic to the Somali pirates, who he portrays as honourable by their own lights and, certainly in contrast to many of the American characters, generally non-violent.

So, while this may not be Elmore Leonard's finest book, bad Shakespeare is still Shakespeare!

The Redbreast: A Harry Hole thriller (Oslo Sequence 1)
The Redbreast: A Harry Hole thriller (Oslo Sequence 1)
by Jo Nesbo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sins of the fathers..., 8 Dec. 2011
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In this novel Inspector Harry Hole begins an effort to trace a deadly sniper rifle, which he fears has been imported to Norway for a high profile assasination. His investigation leads him to encounter Norway's wartime past and its contemporary far-right subculture.

Many reviewers have compared this work favourably with some of the great contemporary Scandanivan thriller writers like Larsson and Mankell, and, aside from the setting, in their consideration of neo-nazism and social issues there are important common themes. The hopping time lines of this book, from turn of the 21st century Norway to the Eastern Front of the 1940s, also reminded me of Phillip Kerr's recent book "Field Grey". Both of these books mix serious consideration of some of history's less well remembered episodes into craftily contrived thriller plots.

However if that makes it sound too worthy, don't worry. Its a cracking thriller with some shocking twists and some pitch black humour. Great craic!

War Music: an account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer's Iliad
War Music: an account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer's Iliad
by Christopher Logue
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moments of posturing and murder before the fall of Troy, 29 Nov. 2011
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A exquistely written and consistently gripping new version of parts of the Iliad, starting from Achilles' quarrel with Agamemmon and ending with Achilles arming for battle against Hector.

In between these two points the book is brimming with arresting images and ideas: Hector compared to a desert burned Rommel; Apollo as "Lord of Light and Mice", the Sun-god and the bringer of plague; The fate of Troy decided in an ill-tempered negotiation amongst the gods echoes contemporary discussions in corridors of power to visit slaugther on nations and cities half a world away; and, almost as an aside, with the consistent referencing to Zeus as "God" and Apollo "his son" Logue asserts significant Greek influences on the development of Christianity, at the same time making the contempory resonances of the work all the more stark.

I am not familiar with other adaptations or translations of the Iliad so cannot make any useful comparisons, but I found Christopher Logue's reworking of the Iliad an exceptional work of poetry - funny, chilling, horrific and thought-provoking by turns. A stunning piece of work.

The Killer Angels
The Killer Angels
by Michael Shaara
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reimagining the leaders at a bloody turning point of history, 17 Nov. 2011
This review is from: The Killer Angels (Paperback)
The Killer Angels is a fine account of the Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the American Civil War. Shelby Foote's magisterial history of that war credits the Union victory at Gettysburg principally to Generals Reynolds and Hancock. However, with the exception of the Confederate General Robert Lee, who is a major protagonist in this novel, for the most part The Killer Angels focuses upon key second and third rank leaders, in particular Longsteet amongst the Confederates and Buford and Chamberlain in the Union army: Buford fought decisively on his own initiative on the first day of the battle to deny the Conferates the high ground, and Chamberlain conducted a brilliant defense of a hill called Little Round Top on the second day to stop the Union forces from being flanked. Both these incidents had been overshadowed in other accounts of the battle, including Foote's. Here the defence of Little Round Top is the centrepiece of the book, vividly described and for me the novel's highlight. In emphasising the Little Round Top fight Shaara ensures that Chamberlain, one of the Civil War's most outstanding figures, is properly remembered.

The book advances the thesis that aside from fine Union leadership Confederate disaster at Gettysbury arose from an overwhelming hubris on the part of Lee who seemed incapable of believing, after so many victories up to that point, that defeat could any longer be a possibility for him. However while there is probably considerable truth to this thesis it is sustained in this novel by the sleight of ignoring Lee's efforts, stopped by Custer, to get behind the Union lines with Stuart's calvary in support of Pickett's charge. Pickett's charge was a desperate gamble, but maybe not quite the sacrificial affair portrayed here. Indeed Custer perhaps should stand alongside Chamberlain and Buford for the importance of his actions on the third day of the battle in ensuring Union victory.

Foote's Civil War has been called an American Iliad, and it certainly must rank amongst the outstanding American literature, as well as history, of the twentieth century. In the Killer Angels the Homeric echoes are also poignantly present, most notably in the character of Longstreet, doomed like Cassandra to foresee in the minutest detail the coming disaster, but like her unable to make anyone believe him. The image of Longstreet weeping as he passes on the order for what he knows will be a slaughter of his troops on the last day of the battle is a powerful one.

Overall a fine novel that seeks to honour the courage of all, even those who fought for the vile cause of the Confederacy.

Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin
Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin
by Timothy Snyder
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remembering properly the central event of European history, 6 Nov. 2011
Timothy Synder strives with this book to repudiate the anonymity of the mass murders of the twentieth century, reminding the readers that each death represenented an individual human being with all the flaws and hopes of any reader.

Central to his achievement is his taking of a holistic approach to the atrocities, considering not just the policies of Hitler and Stalin separately but in interaction, and considering the Jewish, Polish, Ukranian and Belarusian tragedies in their totality rather than in isolation. This approach is perhaps best exemplified by his consideration of the Warsaw uprisings: here the distinctively Jewish character of the 1943 Ghetto uprising is recognised but not to the exclusion of its Polish character, as demonstrated by the alliance between the Ghetto fighters and the Home Army. Likewise the Jewish contribution to the 1944 Warsaw uprising is discussed: For example after the Home Army liberated the Warsaw concentration camp many of the Jewish slave labourers joined the Home Army, "fighting in their striped camp uniforms and wooden shoes, with 'complete indifference to life or death'". (p. 302)

This approach also draws out some uncomfortable ambiguities: Tuvia Bielski, for example, is one of the incontrovertable heroes of the book. His exploits, depicted in the film "Defiance", saved hundreds of Jewish lives in what is now Belarus. In order to do this he established an alliance with Soviet partisans, which ultimately meant he, a former Polish soldier, was directly involved in the suppression of the Home Army by the invading Soviets in 1944(something not depicted in "Defiance").

In consciously repudiating more simplistic narratives Snyder make a profoundly important point: horrendous as the history of this time and this place is, it is a central episode of human history. Presuming that this was the work of monsters threatens that we may blunder into perpetrating such atrocities again.

This is a hugely important book: an awesomely impressive research undertaking resulting in an exemplary work of history, beautifully written, horrific and deeply moving by turns. It should be read be everyone with an interest in humanity itself.

The Conspirator [DVD]
The Conspirator [DVD]
Dvd ~ James McAvoy
Price: £5.85

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The silencing of law amidst the weapons, 28 Oct. 2011
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This review is from: The Conspirator [DVD] (DVD)
This film barely made it to cinema release and despite having a sterling cast and a director in Robert Redford seems to have received little attention generally.

Redford has always been a politically engaged individual who has made political films. He showed with the exquiste "A river runs through it" that he was confident enough with a story to take his time with it, and with the, in my view, very underrated "Lions for lambs" that he was not afraid of making films about ideas that also discuss ideas in some detail.

These elements are drawn together in this movie which explores a dark coda to the Lincoln assasination: the military tribunal which tried the conspirators. The film focuses upon Fredrick Aiken, a former Union officer and lawyer, who is drawn, rather against his will, into defending one of the alleged conspirators, Mary Surrat, the owner of the boarding house where John Wilkes Booth met with his co-conspirators.

This facinating story is not well known, and Redford has drawn from it clear parallels with some of the contemporary abuses of American power that war time has brought.

I think James McAvoy is one of the most exciting actors alive and here he delivers one of his trademark ham-free performances as Aiken. The rest of the international cast delivers fine support, particularly the great Kevin Kline, brilliantly convincing as Edwin Stanton, the War Secretary, whose single-mindedness in prosecuting the war to preserve the Union threatens the very principles of the Union in the absence of Lincoln's wise authority.

In summary this is a thoughtful, tense and at times very moving courtroom and civil war drama that celebrates moral courage where others have focussed on the physical variety. Vastly better than most of what is available at the multiplex of a weekend.

Drive [DVD]
Drive [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ryan Gosling
Price: £2.52

33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars man with no name wanders into contemporary LA, 23 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Drive [DVD] (DVD)
Ryan Gosling plays a stunt driver who supplements his income by driving getaways. The extended opening sequence is a brilliantly tense depiction of what this entails and why he has the reputation for being so good at it.

However, just as it appears that he might be getting a break to the (legitimate) big time, with an opportunity to drive racing cars for a new team being set up by his boss, Bryan Cranston, and funded by two shady businessmen, played with sublime menace by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, Gosling's character falls in love with his neighbour, Carey Mulligan, a young mother with a husband in prison. When the husband is released it transpires that he owes a lot of money to unnamed mobsters and is required to pull a robbery to pay this off. Hence Gosling agrees to do the proverbial "one last job" to help the family.

Of course all double-crossing hell breaks loose.

This movie pulls together a number of "retro" elements - much of the lighting, styling and soundtrack in the movie are reminicent of the Miami Vice tv series, the plot is straight from 1940's film noir, Gosling's unnamed man of few words refers to Clint Eastwood's signature Sergio Leone roles - to make something quite original - with startlingly graphic violence.

It is true that much of this is actually off-screen but the sound of breaking bones and collapsing faces is distressing enough. This verges on the gratuitious, but, I think, remains just on the right side of the line as it is used by the director to build tension by putting into the mind of the viewers what will become of the protagonist and those he loves should they fall prey to the mobsters who have set much of the plot in motion.

That these characters matter to the viewer is a particular achievement of the film, which spends a leisurely time building the love-story element before unleasing the dogs of mob-war on the characters. At its surprisingly romantic heart the "drive" of the title perhaps refers less to the job the protagonist does and more what motivates - "drives" - him, that is love, to endure the dangers and horrors he encounters in the course of the movie.

In summary then a very fine, on occassion unbearably tense and original thriller, but viewers will require a strong stomach, and perhaps ear plugs, during some of the scenes of violence.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 7, 2015 2:48 PM BST

Fair Game [DVD]
Fair Game [DVD]
Dvd ~ Naomi Watts
Price: £2.93

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The cost of telling the truth, 13 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Fair Game [DVD] (DVD)
This is a fine fact-based political thriller very much in the tradition of modern American classics such as "All the President's men" and "Missing". If not quite of the calibre of those two movies it is still a fine example of committed movie-making, critical of the USA because it espouses the highest ideals of that country.

Sean Penn and Naomi Watts play the real life married couple, Joe Wilson and Valerie Palme: he a retired ambassador, she a still-active covert operative for the CIA. As Bush's drive for an invasion of Iraq gathers pace both are involved in different but connected ways in the gathering of intelligence to ascertain just what sort of a threat Iraq poses. When Wilson decides to expose one of Bush's lies to the public - about Iraq sourcing yellow cake uranium from Niger - the adminstration retaliates by illegally exposing Palme's identity as a CIA operative, destroying in the process a delicate operation in which she was involved and putting at risk the lives of her informants.

At one point in the film Wilson, a former Iraq based diplomat, tells the story of how Sadaam once personally murdered a loyal official on the off-chance that he might be contemplating disloyalty. Wilson comments, quite reasonably, that this shows Sadaam to be a monster. Later in the movie it is revealed that the exposure of Palme's identity has led to the collapse of a operation run by her to obtain the defection of former Iraqi weapons scientists to the US. Following this the CIA has passed the scientists names to Israeli Mossad who have proceded in their typically ruthless way to have them all assasinated. Better to be safe than sorry, Palme's boss notes.

The point is not emphasised, but is clear: sometimes we can become the very monsters we claim we want to destroy.

Overall a fine, angry film with great performances from two of the best screen actors alive.

Tamara  Drewe [DVD]
Tamara Drewe [DVD]
Dvd ~ Gemma Arterton
Price: £3.31

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Hardy inspired rom-com with a cold edge, 10 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Tamara Drewe [DVD] (DVD)
As most viewers are probably aware the story is a loose updating of Hardy's "Far from the madding crowd" and focuses on the amorous machinations in a small Dorset community that are provoked by the return of Tamara Drewe to her home village from metropolitan London.

I am quite surprised at the relatively low rating for this film by other Amazon users. I found it an extremely funny, gently cruel movie, which touches lightly on some of the more confusing and painful truths of life, love, adultery and desire. In focussing upon the misadventures of folk associated with a writers' retreat in the village the viewer can take some comfort from the thought their schadenfreude is at the expense, for the most part, of a very egocentric and often unpleasent group of individuals. Of course the innocent and sympathetic get hurt in the process: that this truth is clearly put gives an appealing edge to the film and marks it out from the general, forgettable horde of rom-coms.

The cast are excellent but special mention must be made of Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie who are particularly brilliant as the two bored local schoolgirls who act as a sort of Chorus to the antics of the adults of the village.

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