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Louise the book worm (Kent, UK)

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The Homesman [DVD] [2014]
The Homesman [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Tommy Lee Jones
Price: £4.38

10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quietly devastaing western that tells the story of the people that get left out of the Making of the West myth., 18 April 2015
This review is from: The Homesman [DVD] [2014] (DVD)
I thought we were in for something elegiac, but director Tommy Lee Jones wasn't going to make it that easy.

Homesteader Mary Bee Cuddy is showing the world how it's done. She has the respect of the farmers, of her minister - but she lacks the one thing she desperately wants - a husband, maybe a family. Constantly pushed back because of her plainness, she is also accused of being too bossy - quite unfairly, seen through my modern eyes. But in the 1850s, even the mighty Dickens was busy painting his heroines as tiny little flowers with cherry mouths, seen and not heard. What chance did a plain woman who knew her own mind, and which end of a plow to use, have against a society that needed her hard labour, but wasn't willing to reward it?

Props to Jones and Hilary Swank for their feminist western - everyone who says this isn't a western is talking nonsense. The western has persisted through many decades because it's such an elastic art form, and so many things can be said through its medium. This film absolutely takes its place among them. It may be an overlooked corner, in the long run, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have a quietly devastating power waiting for anyone who cares to look past the hats, the guns, the more obvious 'western' tropes. This time around, it isn't honour, or valour, or age, that is the subject: it's the little told story of women and the crucial role they played in the formation of the 'great American West' myth. Stripping away the myth part, this film lays bare how harsh the life was, how few survived, how still fewer survived with any gusto.

If people like Swank and Jones didn't linger a while to tell these womens' stories, who would? The reviews here alone testify to how little prepared we are, in a man's world, to slow down and listen to stories like this. So well done to them for telling it anyway.

Jamaica Inn [DVD]
Jamaica Inn [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jessica Brown Findlay

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hmmm...long on atmospherics, short on suspense, 28 April 2014
This review is from: Jamaica Inn [DVD] (DVD)
So, BBC embraces mumblecore...just a bit of a pity they chose the tightly plotted drama so expertly written by Daphne du Maurier as their petri dish. I didn't, all in all, find all that much difficulty following the dialogue (did I see a different version or something?) but then I'm an avid fan of The Wire, and so have been well prepared for hard-to-understand dialogue. But I kept wondering, throughout, why they'd felt it necessary to mess about with the story quite so much. It's not as if du Maurier's heroine wasn't already headstrong, plucky, feminist and independent. It's certainly not as if the original story lacked heaps of drama and suspense and great characters. I think maybe they thought the story would be so well known there was no point in trying to 'pretend' she didn't know what was going on - and consequently she knows, or suspects, what her uncle is really up to almost immediately. But this saps the drama of its suspense, leaving her apparently walking in pointless triangles over the moors while not much happens. Her aunt becomes a sort of scared adversary, vying with her niece for her horrible husband's attention - her role in the book wasn't really significant enough to require updating in this way. Jem looked to me like one of those ratty boys who scrape through a hard childhood and a violent adolescence - and I can see what they were aiming for, but I just wasn't sure it was what I wanted to see. And why did Jem have to take Mary to a hotel? Wasn't that searing and romantic kiss, stolen on a freezing Christmas Eve, good enough?

But in fact there were some terrific elements in this production. Sean Harris' Joss Merlin looked like a man with at least one foot on the hot side of Hell - much smaller and wirier than I'd imagined, but no less sinister and scary for that, with those black eyes burrowing into the back of his skull. Joanne Whalley's portrait of poor old aunt Patience may not have much resemblance to her fictional counterpart, but nonetheless provides a pretty devastating portrait of the daily collusions and tragedies of an abused wife, once a beauty, who alternately loves and fears her husband, unable to separate either feeling or act to help herself. The luring of the ship was extremely well done, and the ways in which, everywhere Mary turned, her uncle's awful associates kept cropping up nearby, felt truly sinister and true to life, for a small community like that. The beautiful Cornish moors were of course the main star, as indeed they should be.

Perhaps it's best, as with other modern-day adaptations, to just not think too much about how different book and dramatisation are. But I don't think this is one I'll be looking to get on DVD. It's quite rare for these things to end up less rich than the source material - but they've managed it. The old adage goes...if it isn't broken...
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 15, 2014 11:45 AM BST

Young Man with a Horn (New York Review Books Classics)
Young Man with a Horn (New York Review Books Classics)
by Dorothy Baker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing biography of a jazz musician, 16 Jan. 2014
I picked up this book on the strength of the back blurb and the reviews, and I'm glad I did. There's a style, and a tone, about the way "Young Man with a Horn" is written, that stands notably out from the crowd, even at the distance of so many years. Her confident, slightly quirky authorial voice keeps you reading. The book immerses you in the full swing of the Jazz Age, much as "Mad Men" does in 1950s and 60s New York - to the point where it no longer really matters exactly what type of music was being played during the period she writes about, or what you yourself think about it: it's how the music made everyone feel that got them all steamed up. Even in the late 1950s the kids were still playing jazz as a form of rebellion against the "light popular music" mainstream, so back in the 20s it must have been utterly revolutionary.

The attempt - to set down the musical equivalent of oral history, as it sizzled away in a moment in time - is brave, and I think masterfully done. It's sometimes necesary to recall that elements of the content or style that might somehow come off as slightly cliched, shorthand for "jazz", have only become so since she wrote this. She was the pioneer, modernist in the poetry of her writing, in not caring whether her characters were white or black, and in endeavouring to set down on the page what jazz music feels like, played right there in front of you.

She writes about music well, but she writes about musicians better. Assuming - is it safe to assume? - she knew men and women like this in her own life, at least some of her acquaintances must have winced, just slightly, at her cooly scathing summings up of what some of her fictional jazz musician characters were actually capable of. It made me think of Spike Lee's great "Mo' Better Blues."

It seems Baker's memory lives on largely because of the label given this book, of its being "the first jazz novel". I don't exactly have a knowledge of "jazz novels" to know what that means; it wasn't a draw for me, but I'm glad if it helped ensure the book continues to be in print, and read.

by Dashiell Hammett
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding, dark, brutal literature about corruption, for all time, 13 Jan. 2014
"Hardboiled" detective fiction in its more recent guises doesn't do much for me: I find James Ellroy's world grotesquely gory, for example. Hammett's detection fiction glitters darkly, with its exposees of corruption and amorality, but don't mistake the machine-gun dialogue and femmes fatales for some kind of Jessica Rabbit cartoon: the world of fictional city Personville in "Red Harvest" is owned and run by some of the nastiest, most amoral people around. Just because the jugular lacerations and blood spatter aren't lovingly described doesn't mean you don't emerge, at the end, somewhat shellshocked after all the death and destruction, just another baffled civilian, not included in the vicious inner circle of characters that form the book's dark heart.

"Red Harvest" is the full-length outing for his Continental Op ("hero" of many great short stories), the nameless ronin who hires out his fists and his noggin to the Continental Detective Agency, not from any urge to do right, but simply because that's who he is. He's no charming gumshoe: he's brutal, amoral, with more than a passing resemblance to the bad guys he hunts down. He'll pursue the end in hand like a wolf, be what it may: whether providing agency assistance, solving a murder, despatching bad guys, setting them against each other (sounds like a cliche? Hammett did it first and best) or bribing snitches. The Continental Op doesn't care what you or anyone else thinks of him, but he reveals just a little something of himself, and makes a rare mistake, in his involvement with the wonderfully drawn Dinah Brand.

Blacklisted, torn apart by TB and a lifetime of boozing, 1940s style, Hammett's career didn't end with a blaze of glory, but his star never fades, because peple keep rediscovering his extraordinary modernist style and enjoying it all over again. Did he know, in the last year of his life, that the great Japanese film director Kurosawa had been inspired by "Red Harvest" for his film "Yojimbo"? The spartan, taciturn world of the samurai and Japanese culture that was emerging to the view of American artists of all types (including Frank Lloyd Wright) in the prewar years must surely have inspired Hammett's writing, only for Hammett's writing in turn to inspire a Japanese filmmaker to make one the great movies of all time.

Death Comes to Pemberley [DVD]
Death Comes to Pemberley [DVD]
Dvd ~ Matthew Rhys
Price: £6.99

45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating and well made: a second stay with the Darcys, 3 Jan. 2014
A decided improvement on the P.D. James novel, which, I felt, was slightly hamstrung by its consciously being a grateful follower-on to a brilliant original. I didn't find in the book the spark and intensity that, mercifully, the scriptwriter found for this TV recreation. Perhaps this was because the TV show benefitted from a visual grammar well known to its audience, and therefore easier for the scriptwriter to latch onto than it was for James to channel Austen's unique writing style.

I thought the casting and acting were all terrific: I'd enjoyed Matthew Goode in "Leap Year", and his Wickham was the man I'd always wanted to see in previous Pride & Prejudice adaptations, but never did: a truly handsome, likeable rascal. (Otherwise, how could the sensible, lively Lizzie have possibly been so blinded by him?) Nicely done. Matthew Rhys makes a really effective Darcy in a very short space of time, despite his character in the P.D. James book seeming to me really quite shadowy. They seem to have beefed up his speaking part for the TV show and brought him into closer perspective, the scriptwriter correctly spotting the opportunity to show Darcy not as Wickham's mortal enemy, but what in fact he was and had ever been - his reluctant friend. I believed in him utterly as the breathing lord and master of a vast estate and tremendous responsibilities, traces of the old awful, implacable self there, but kinder, with Lizzie there to tie him to his humanity - very impressive.

Trevor Eve almost stole the show as Sir Selwyn Hardcastle - he brought the man to life wonderfully from what, again, had seemed in the book very thin material. Likewise Eleanor Tomlinson and Jenna Coleman, who both created likeable and believable characters as Georgiana Darcy and Lydia Wickham respectively. But my best praise goes to Anna Maxwell Martin for her mature, calm, thoughtful Lizzie Darcy, perhaps no longer striding across fields and delighting us with her liveliness, but certainly bringing her own thoughts, and her own principles, to her new, grander life, in a way I hope Austen wouldn't have been ashamed of. Her Lizzie may not sound as though she was cut from the same glass as the really posh, but she exudes her own authority.

The production values were excellent, although I still don't quite "buy" the use of Chatsworth as Pemberley. This house seems to me slightly too showy for the part of the home of a gentleman, albeit a grand one, who is not after all a peer. But still they made exquisite use of its beautiful summer woodlands and gardens to create a sense of place, and of unease and anticipation. I thoroughly enjoyed this I wonder if someone can be persuaded to cast this excellent incarnation of the Pemberley family in another spinoff drama...? The audience is out there, ready and waiting.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 27, 2014 5:32 AM GMT

Leap Year [DVD]
Leap Year [DVD]
Dvd ~ Amy Adams
Price: £3.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Undemanding and nicely charming romcom, 18 Aug. 2013
This review is from: Leap Year [DVD] (DVD)
This very undemanding romcom divides opinion - between those who know it's terrible, and those who, despite knowing it's terrible, love it anyway. Anna's materialistic drive for all the things she thinks she wants is driven by a drive away from poverty. She thinks she's got it all under control, but her carefully checklisted life has set her up for lessons to be learned and for things, for once, not to go her way.

Meanwhile, Declan's wasting his life away in a rural pub in Kerry, made bitter and cynical by love, of course. So it's a total no-brainer that things are going to happen when these two opposites are thrown together by a set of engineered circumstances. The film is part road-trip, part love-hate, and yes, the cliches come thick and fast.

It's no surprise to find echoes of the original granddaddy of rom-coms, "It happened one night" (1934), and Michael Powell's wonderful "I Know Where I'm Going!" (1944) in this film. Both are significantly better than "Leap Year" and anyone who loves romcoms should see them both - but I can see here that I'm not alone here in finding myself drawn repeatedly to this film, easy and predictable as it is. The key to this, as others here have said, is the charm generated by leads Amy Adams and Matthew Goode (and of course the stunning Irish countryside). But for them, this film would be utterly forgettable. Goode's anti-Darcy has the height and looks for alpha-male gravitas, and he appears to manage the Kerry accent pretty well. There's something genuinely sweet and 'next door' about Adams - small wonder her star is fast rising. If it wasn't for those chinks in her armour that the actress allows to show through, her character Anna would be pretty unlikeable in the first third of the film. But you learn, with Declan, that there's more to her than her $600 shoes and her cardiologist 'accessory'. And Declan has things to teach her, too: to lighten up, to stop counting and checking; to laugh at herself.

John Lithgow's great cameo also adds much-needed humour and back story to the film. His presence does much to help explain Anna's approach to life. But it was a wasted opportunity not to have him back at the end of the film - even on the end of a phone - since his reaction to events would have been priceless.

All in all, better than it deserves to be. I loved it. Go on, call me a big soppy eejit.

What Maisie Knew (Wordsworth Classics)
What Maisie Knew (Wordsworth Classics)
by Henry James
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wryly devastating story of the casualties of love, 26 July 2013
I've been wondering for years how to write about a Henry James novel. Whenever I try and describe his books to friends, I sow discouragement and disinclination wherever I go, failing to telegraph the magical beauty that lies in all James' great works: the meaning, the observational intensity, the humane humour and sadness, the flashes of extraordinary insight into what makes people tick.

"What Maisie Knew" is the story of a little girl through whose eyes we watch, with sadness, wry smiles and occasional horror and trepidation, the machinations of the various adults around her, who are embroiled in her parents' epic love battles, deconstructed so that its component parts become essentially puppets in a punch and judy show, watched with intelligence and mystery by the child. The moments of real love or kindness are so rare as to be extremely touching: it's above all a tragicomedy, a satire.

The virtuoso quality of his prose thrills with the vibrato of his grasp on the myriad ways people find to communicate whatever they mean to say. In exquisite, hyper-real language he forces you again and again to look - and you see - oh, too much. Everything hidden and visible, everything spoken and unspoken. Gauzy veils of meaning, subtext and intent, corruption and beauty, reveal themselves woozily under his masterful touch, at every turn, in each exquisitely painted, impressionistic scene. They are loaded, nonetheless, with sharp little stings for the unwary (who might believe they're along merely for an elegantly pretty ride in a period drama).

That can make for an intense, almost physical reading experience that sometimes leaves me groping my way through the story, enjoying the experience while simultaneously somewhat exhausted by the effort of keeping up with it. I occasionally have to strangle a desire to shout "just SAY what you MEAN, man!" But of course it's crass as well as beside the point, to wish to tear away such painstakingly constructed layers of meaning.

Henry James left the world lasting gifts of the very finest order, justly-named 'classic' literature of a very special, rare kind, to be savoured forever. Any effort and attention needed to read his novels are richly rewarded. I also loved "Portrait of a Lady", "Washington Square" and "The Turn of the Screw", but I'd put "The Ambassadors" up there as my ultimate Henry James novel, the pinnacle of his art. In the marvellous culture-clash of the `new' world of America versus the `old' world of Europe in the nineteenth century, he found his theoretical muse.

The Spade
The Spade
Price: £12.80

4.0 out of 5 stars Punchy and entertaining US rock with intelligence added, 12 July 2013
This review is from: The Spade (Audio CD)
Did someone coin "the best artist you've never heard of" for Butch Walker, or did someone just apply it to him? Whichever - it's really true. Butch Walker emerged from a haze of Hair Metal in the 80s, survived "post punk" with the slightly college-rock but indisputably exciting Marvelous 3, and has been honing his considerable and prolific songwriting, performing and producing talent for many years now. That chameleon ability to change with the times might in a lesser performer be a weakness, but he makes it his strength, mining his past with wry humour and observant insight. Walker and the Black Widows play with the easy confidence of people who know who they are and where they're supposed to be.

He attracts these incredibly avid fans (er...myself I guess included) but I can see that hardly anyone in the UK seems to buy or review his music, or know about him, or care. I play his music to everyone I know but it doesn't always `take'. Until I get the chance to see this band play live, I content myself with playing these catchy, wordy, smart and punchy songs again and again and again. That's the thing about Walker's brand of music: it pushes all my other varied preferences out of the window - for months at a time songs by this band are almost all I want to hear on my mp3 player. The music just makes me feel good.

"The Spade" is back-to-basics rock musicianship, played with a fresh touch, and combined with the production quality you'd expect from an in-demand producer like Walker. There's a particularly sunny, southern-rock 70's glow about it, and some songs might well seem familiar in their catchy musical phrasing. You might find echoes some well known rock songs from the past; but no one could mistake that intelligent, funny writing style. Standout tracks for me are the stonking "Summer of 89" and the gloriously laid back "Sweethearts" with its fabulously pushing, soaring backing vocals. But there are a lot of great tracks here if this fits your bill. Who knows if it does: I have absolutely no idea who would like this. If you're unsure you could check Walker and the Black Widows out on a certain online clips site first, and decide for yourself. Me, I'm hooked. I'll be buying the next album, and the next, in confidence that they're only going to get wiser and better.

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
Offered by RECTRO_GEMS
Price: £9.70

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivaldi brought to exciting, brilliant life, 25 Jun. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Having worn out the vinyl version many years ago, I don't even own this any more - but it lives on in my head, as fresh, powerful, spiky and exciting as it was when I heard it in 1989. This album rekindled my fading interest in classical music, and to this day when I hear Four Seasons movements on the radio, I find it remarkably easy to single out his version from the sleep-inducing alternatives.

It's not musical memory so much as sense memory: it's how the playing makes me feel that tells me it's Kennedy. I neither know nor care about Kennedy the self-publicist - to me it was always the worst snobbery of the classical music world that assertive publicity was considered 'vulgar'. Why exactly should classical musicians don that black evening dress and disappear into the music, be subsumed by it? I like this version precisely because he doesn't disappear into the music. I simply can't believe Vivaldi wrote that spine-tinglingly virtuoso violin music for any but but the greatest of show-off musicians, and in Kennedy he has what I think he wrote for: Kennedy's Stradivarius, and Kennedy's enthusiasm, talent and ego, making something explosively strong and memorable.

I'm going to go and buy it again, not because I need to remember it, but just to show continued support for a world-class classical musician and his exciting (and continuing) pushing of the envelope, to the horror of purists.

Philips GoGear ViBE 8GB MP3 Player - Black
Philips GoGear ViBE 8GB MP3 Player - Black
Offered by SKYWISH
Price: £52.50

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'No frills' player for the person who doesn't need to impress!, 20 Jun. 2013
My much-beloved 32gb Creative Zen MP3 player finally rebelled after being dropped one too many times, and since it no longer accepted more music, I shelved it with regret, and bought the cheapest stopgap I could, horrified at how little storage you got for your money compared to the virtual library I had on my clunky old Creative Zen. I'm not an Apple devotee; and this little thing was cheaper, and did much the same things, as an I-pod shuffle, with (to me) the improvement of a screen, and visible track listings, etc.. The postage-sized album art is nice enough but putting a video on there seems a bit pointless since the screen is so small - plus I'd have to take music off there to fit it on.

Plus points: I find the sound quality extremely good on reasonable quality headphones, surprising considering the rather cheap plasticy finish of the product itself; stonking bass and reasonable volume level; it fits in even the tiniest pocket; it's cheap - if I drop it it's not the end of the world.

The things I like less well: the restricted storage; the frustratingly limited playlist capacity (only four - not nearly enough!); the peculiar, seemingly non-random 'shuffle' feature; the relatively short battery life.

Until the blue moon comes when I can upgrade to a serious replacement for the wonderful Creative Zen, whose mad features I still miss, I'll bide my time happily enough on this. NB I didn't have any real problems with Songbird as a non-teckie person.

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