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Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Price: £4.99

13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great film, not so great book, 26 Dec. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I’m familiar with Alan Dean Foster, having read a few of his books over the years, right back to his novelisation of the original Star Wars (which was credited to George Lucas) when it came out, of which I had two editions – the original with a yellow cover and the Special Young Readers Edition with a red cover and slightly simpler text. I still have them. I also read Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and enjoyed it. So I was pleased to see that he had written the novelisation of the new film.

Having loved the film, I have to say I was quite disappointed with the book. As movie tie-in novelisations go, it’s very much par for the course. The prose is pretty turgid, and the dialogue – which isn’t slavishly lifted from the screenplay – is very bad. In some cases, General Hux being a notable example, it’s atrociously over-wordy. He doesn’t talk like that in the film, nobody talks like that in real life, so the decision to have him talk like that in the book seems to be based on the notion that villains like to use lots of big words. It’s a jarring and unnecessary departure, not to mention barely readable. Don’t get me wrong – I like big words. I know what they mean. Cramming loads of them in the mouth of a character in virtually every conversation they have, however, is just silly and distracting.

There are expansions on various sub-plots, which in some cases add little splashes of colour and exposition (which may or may not be based on scenes that were cut from the film), but by and large just feel like filler. There are no missing details or answers to be found here.

What did I expect, though? I’ve read several Star Wars Expanded Universe novels and have yet to come across one that was in any way well-written, so I gave them up a long time ago. I guess I expected better from Alan Dean Foster. Perhaps writing within the constraints of an existing screenplay, which itself is within an established franchise, isn’t playing to his strengths. Or perhaps he’s just not as good a writer as my much younger mind thought.

Here is an object lesson in movie tie-in novels – they’re never really any good.


Star Wars: Death Star
Star Wars: Death Star
by Steve Perry
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A dull, tedious, very poorly written waste of paper. I should have known better., 7 Mar. 2010
This review is from: Star Wars: Death Star (Paperback)
I haven't yet finished this book. I've been struggling through it for the last couple of weeks. Not that it's in any way a heavy read - far from it - it's simply that it is so turgid that the only thing that has forced me to see it through to its no doubt underwhelming end is the dogged sense of determination that comes from having spent money on it in the first place. It was an impulse buy I really wish I'd resisted.

I should have learned my lesson years ago. I went through a phase of buying Star Wars novels, and even though every single one was a poorly-written disappointment, it took seven of them before I had the good sense to just stop buying them. Timothy Zahn has a lot to answer for. It's easy to see why his books - the first to advance the story and original characters beyond the events of Return of the Jedi - were so successful, given that at the time of publishing there had been virtually nothing new for several years. But, nice as it was to catch up, I found the 'new' trilogy a profoundly irritating read, simply because of Zahn's many shortcomings as a writer. A severely limited and repetitive range of descriptive prose, everyone saying "Point" all the time, dreadful, stilted dialogue... it was tiresome fan fiction, put through spellcheck and inexplicably given access to an editor and a publishing deal. And it opened the floodgates for dozens more barely literate entries to the canon, lapped up by rabid fanboys who, I can only assume, haven't read any proper books and therefore lack the ability to distinguish bad writing when they see it.

Do I sound like a snob? Probably. At least people are actually reading something, true enough, but there are far better writers writing far better stories than the ones being churned out by those under licence to Lucasfilm. If Lucasfilm might hire them, there might at least be an increase in quality. Given this latest example, however, it doesn't seem likely.

So what do we actually get? A bit of background on the Death Star, that's what. The (mostly) human story behind its construction and deployment, told from the point of view of a handful of disparate characters, most sympathetic, some not (in this case, characters we're already familiar with), in their various roles as part of the several thousand staff and crew. Their paths cross one way or another as the story lumbers on. Relationships are formed, consciences are pricked; a couple of them have some raw connection to the Force, familiar events from the original film are clumsily shoehorned in alongside equally clumsy dialogue quoted verbatim; we learn that one or two established events had an unseen helping hand from various of these disparate characters; Alderaan gets blown up, which provides a catalyst for the aforementioned pricked consciences; Luke and co turn up in the background, Vader has his day with Obi-Wan, just like in the film...

And that's where I'm up to at the moment. Of course, we all know what happens at the end. Luke fires a torpedo down a vulnerable exhaust port (and yes, its placement is addressed at one point - it's apparently because someone signed off sick before agreeing to a change in the design) and the whole thing gets blown to smithereens.

We are, of course, supposed to care about this band of sympathetic new characters once we've got to know them and how they ended up there. They've either been co-opted by the Empire with no choice in the matter (a galactic King's Shilling, if you will), or been in the service of the Empire for most of their lives and become quite cynical about it. By the time Alderaan goes boom, they've seen enough of what the Death Star is about and what it represents to have just about ruddy well had enough. The problem is, given the sheer effort of will it's taken me to get this far, so have I. I'm supposed to hope that they somehow escape before the X-Wings turn up, perhaps sign up with the Rebel Alliance and maybe end up dancing with the Ewoks in another clumsily inserted 'straight from the film' sequence during a later novel set during the events of Return of the Jedi. Oh please, spare us Death Star 2.

I actually don't care. I guess some of them will make it and some of them will meet tragic and/or heroic ends, no doubt the ones who have forged romantic bonds, just to emphasise the tragedy of it all. I'll find out as I force myself through the 62 pages I have left to go.

Amazingly, it's taken two people to bring this dull, plodding saga to the page. Bless them, they do try and inject some spirit into it, but this generally extends no further than adapting popular adages into more Star Wars-ey prose. Witness: "What the frip?!"; "Get out of my milking way!" See what they've done there? That's swearing in the Star Wars universe, that is. Wait until you get to their version of "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush". It's priceless.

Please, don't bother buying this book. Quite apart from the writing being buttock-clenchingly banal, lurching from one facile, trite cliché to the next, the story is extremely dull. There is nothing to hold the reader's attention or engender sympathy with any of the characters designed to inspire it. The idea of interweaving a new story in amongst the events of the original film may be an interesting concept, but it doesn't come anywhere near to living up to its potential. Revisiting the film from a variety of different perspectives was what piqued my interest, and I don't doubt the fanboys will slaver over it with the uncritical fawning particular to the more rabid Star Wars fan, but it really isn't worth it. It is dreadful. Avoid.


The Cosmos Rocks
The Cosmos Rocks
Price: £5.71

19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Cosmos Shocks, 2 Oct. 2008
This review is from: The Cosmos Rocks (Audio CD)
I really wanted to like this album. I didn't expect it to sound like Queen, and whilst certain trademarks remain, it doesn't. As promised, it represents a "new" sound.

But I'm sorry to say that I've been left underwhelmed and not a little embarrassed. What destroys this album is its shockingly bad lyrics.

What is it about rock stars of a certain age that inspires them to churn out endless reams of turgid, cringe-making verse about how the world is a bad place, war is bad, politicians are rubbish etc, but it would all be so much better if we just loved each other? That's the "ultimate truth", apparently, if Time To Shine, with all its po-faced, fist in the air faux-profundity is anything to go by. We Believe repeats the sentiment, as if your buttocks haven't quite relaxed from the last saccharine assault, and further suggests that we "make peace with every nation", that "there's a better way to fight" and that the best way to win a war is to "give what we need to receive". Oh, and let's not forget the children of course. Perhaps they should send a copy to Afghanistan. That'll sort it. All you need is love, you see. John Lennon said that forty years ago. He said it again a couple of years later in Imagine. Far better than anyone else since, especially QPR. Leave the protest songs to those who were good at it. Let it be. Oh, he said that too. Well, actually that one was Paul McCartney, but let's not split hairs. Oh god... here comes Warboys. More cringy "war is bad, yeah?" to the theme tune from the snooker on BBC2.

Perhaps if you're a rock star with a long career, some classic stadium anthems under your belt and a colourful life (and I'm speaking generally here, rather than about anyone in particular), you've come to a few realisations. You've done the booze, the drugs, the groupies and the rehab, seen the world, had some kids, seen a couple of marriages go expensively awry, and had some sort of spiritual awakening. You feel that you have something serious to say to everyone. Johnny Cash, for instance, had a few well-documented struggles in his life, and gave us some real classics as a result. Brian May wrote some really beautiful, poetic lyrics in his time, particularly in the early years. Roger Taylor gave us some fantastic laments on misspent youth. I don't know who wrote which lyrics for which songs here, but between them they've come up with a set of real clunkers. Perhaps they've mellowed and their world view has followed suit. I don't know. I'll let you know when I hit my 50s. But I won't be writing songs about it, if there's anything to be learned from the lyrics on show here.

In the midst of all this toe-curlingly earnest whining about the state of the world, we are reminded that they may be knocking on a bit, but they've still got it. They're Still Burnin'. What's wrong with the `g'? Does replacing it with an apostrophe denote a youthful swagger, the middle finger raised to The Man and his love of acceptable grammar? "Rock n' roll never dies", see. They've missed a trick with this song. Had the old Queen sense of humour been present, it might have been a wry look at the harsh reality of being a rock star in your late 50s/early 60s. By all means remind us that you've still got it, but with a dry wit tell us that it comes at a price at your time of life. Still Burning (I've taken the liberty of removing that objectionable apostrophe) could, for example, be a humorous look at the problem of a dicky prostate in the older male and the sensation of that difficult first lavatory visit of the day. You've had a bit of a laugh at your own expense and raised awareness of an important issue. And you've rocked out convincingly too. Job done.

Cosmos Rockin' (look, another apostrophe! The Man is coming in for some serious stick from this lot) is a traditional 12 bar blues straight-ahead rocker. Nothing at all wrong with that, until you hear the words. We're rocking - sorry, rockin' - and we're not gonna stop! The neighbours are complaining and they've called the police! Oh no! Ooh look, the neighbours are rocking now! And the policeman! Quick, somebody get him a tambourine! Crikey, It's spreading fast... now we've got the solar system going as well... and it's not stopping there... blimey, now the entire cosmos is at it! It's all old hat, of course. There have been "we're rockin' and nobody's gonna stop us" songs since time immemorial. Hearing three respected men around 60 at it, however, just sounds like your dad and your uncles drunk at a wedding and embarrassing everyone. And just when you've finally banished the uncomfortable image of your Uncle Derek playing air guitar on one knee with his tie around his head, here comes Surf's Up ... School's Out! Please, Derek... the kids are crying. Think of the children.

Call Me stands out. They're having fun with a simple song, sounding like they recorded it in a garage and all the better for it. But it's too brief a respite before we're back to being told that love will make the world better, war is bad, we all need to come together as one, we all get a bit sad sometimes and need somewhere we can hide away, think of the children, all things that glitter aren't necessarily gold but sometimes might be, music keeps us all going; hang on, here's a soulful and well-executed guitar solo. Thank heavens there's no "uplifting" key change anywhere in sight, but at this stage it's no real comfort.

Sorry. I tried to like it. The lyrics wouldn't let me.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 6, 2012 12:36 PM BST


Little Lady Fauntleroy [DVD] [2004]
Little Lady Fauntleroy [DVD] [2004]
Dvd ~ Keith Allen
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.99

38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Little Lady Lost, 9 Aug. 2005
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Keith Allen's documentary takes us into the bizarre, delusional world of the Harries family, focusing on Lauren (previously James) Harries, the former child prodigy who came to fame in 1988 as a precocious ten year old antiques expert and tycoon.
The early parts Allen's film are liberally sprinkled with clips of James' many TV appearances, most notably an appearance from the early 90s on Terry Wogan's chat show with Jeff Goldblum and Frank Skinner. Goldblum's expression is priceless. James seemed to think that he was conveying important knowledge to the great unwashed; unfortunately his particular brand of tongue-tied oration just didn't wash, and one got the uncomfortable feeling that he was being invited to appear on such programmes simply to be made fun of.
By the time Allen catches up with the family, James has undergone a sex change operation and is now Lauren. Along with the rest of the family, she is a Doctor of Metaphysics and practising counsellor. It is this area which catches Allen's main interest, as it transpires that every qualification each family member has was either purchased over the internet or awarded to themselves through their own home-based college, with no actual studying, training or experience to back it up.
What follows is Allen's gathering of evidence against Lauren and the rest of the family, as he prepares to confront them at the end of the three days he spends with them. Along the way we find that Lauren is desperate to nurture a TV career, stating that she feels she is a naturally gifted performer. Indeed, during his entertaining voice-over Allen comments that he got the impression that Lauren was treating the programme as a three day audition. So we see Lauren trying to sell herself as a performer in every way she can muster, with predictably cringe-making results. It goes without saying that she proves hilariously inept in every regard, yet her belief in her abilities is seemingly unshakeable.
And therein lies the problem with this programme. Lauren is clearly a very disturbed individual in genuine need of extensive psychotherapy. The short cuts taken by the family in order to bring about her sex change operation without fulfilling crucial legal and psychological requirements (her mother was her assigned counsellor under a false name, for instance) are startling. As Allen says, she doesn't seem any happier as a woman than she was as a man. So we really ought to feel sympathy for her, for the fact that she has grown up in such an isolated and duplicitous family environment, and for the fact that bricks are constantly hurled through their windows from prejudiced locals. But instead, you can't help but watch the programme with a sense of appalled incredulity as the extent of their dishonesty unfolds. Against your better nature you find yourself understanding why they suffer so much abuse.
Allen certainly seems to reach this conclusion. Unfortunately, his growing irritation with the family gets the better of him during what should be the programme's gripping climax as he confronts them about their fraudulent qualifications and activities. Having spent most of the programme giving them enough rope with which to hang themselves, he loses his temper and the meeting simply dissolves into a shouting match, which at one point looks dangerously close to becoming violent, before he storms out in disgust leaving them only semi-hung.
And this is where Allen falls short. His interviews with the family members are faultless - he asks the right questions in a subtle enough way to elicit very telling information. Not much digging is required on his part, as they seem trusting and self-assured enough to incriminate themselves time and again. His conversations with Lauren are sensitively handled where appropriate, and her responses tend to be comically vapid and inarticulate. He sets the whole thing up perfectly for a Poirot-style exposure at the end of the programme, only to blow it by losing his temper. It's such a waste - Allen is more than a match for any of them. I wonder how different the programme might have been if it had been made by Louis Theroux or Jon Ronson, whose methods are far more subtle and never aggressive.
As it is, there is enough here to show the Harries family as arrogant, snobbish, and happily living in a delusional world of their own invention. That they apparently see no wrong in festooning themselves with fake degrees and setting themselves up to counsel people with genuine problems is a disturbing testament to this. And, as Allen says, they must have known that the validity of their "qualifications" would be exposed. Nobody deserves constant bricks through their windows, but in agreeing to take part in the programme they have certainly done themselves no favours. I don't doubt that selective editing was involved in the making of this programme, but it's difficult to imagine how much worse the Harries could have been made to look. Allen even makes this point himself in his voice-over during the confrontation.
Despite the frustratingly abrupt ending, this is nonetheless a highly entertaining film. Allen's voice-over is suitably sarcastic and bilious, and the optional DVD commentary featuring Allen, Ned Parker and Victor Lewis-Smith is illuminating and hilarious. This is compelling and enjoyable for all the wrong reasons, and you may find yourself watching it through hands clasped across your disbelieving face. The extras include 43 minutes of unused footage, notably more of the disastrous Dramaturgy workshop where Lauren demonstrates exactly why she isn't a natural performer, and her entire karaoke rendition of "Send In The Clowns", which does so again. An intriguing question is also raised about a mysterious text message Allen sent to Lauren.
I'd recommend this DVD. You'll laugh, you'll cringe, you'll probably feel a great swell of pity for Lauren. You may even feel the urge to throw a brick of your own through their window, although I certainly wouldn't condone that.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 6, 2014 5:44 PM GMT


American Beauty [DVD] [2000]
American Beauty [DVD] [2000]
Dvd ~ Kevin Spacey
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.95

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding - A Genuine Classic Of Our Time, 19 Mar. 2004
This review is from: American Beauty [DVD] [2000] (DVD)
It is certainly a film which requires repeated viewings, such is the complexity of interweaving themes and the emotional responses they provoke. It is a story about beauty, love, loneliness, self-imprisonment and escape, with a real twist at the end. It is very funny, very angry and very sad. It works on so many different levels, and each time you watch it it's never quite the same experience. It is one of those rare beasts: a Hollywood film not specifically created to fit an audience demographic, which actually challenges its audience not only to think but to make up their own minds as to what is actually going on and why. Whether Lester is raging against the fading light or simply being selfish and childish is left up to us. But we cheer him on nonetheless. It wrong-foots you at every turn.
Ostensibly, the central theme at first appears to be Lester Burnham's journey through a mid-life crisis, but there is so much more going on within and besides. And although he is the central character, it is still very much an ensemble piece, with each character strongly defined in all his or her complexities and superbly performed.
Lester stumbles along through his mundane existence, unable to fully articulate his overpowering sense of a life unfulfilled, until two people enter his life and provide twin catalysts for the transformation he subsequently undergoes. Angela, his daughter's beautiful, sexy but vacuous friend, reinvigorates his libido and thoroughly laps up the attention she receives from Lester as he embarks upon a quest to reclaim his youth and rediscover the person he used to be. Ricky, the boy who has just moved into the house next door, reintroduces Lester to the forbidden pleasures of pot smoking and inspires him into a few acts of rebellion. It is also Ricky who is the most knowing character in the film, despite his outwardly creepy demeanour and odd appearance, and it is through his eyes we come to see Lester spread his wings. He is the only character truly at peace with himself, an attribute Lester finally inherits just before his death.
It would perhaps be unfair to single out any members of the cast for particular brilliance, as they all shine so brightly. Besides, there isn't really anything I can say about how superb their performances are that hasn't already been said elsewhere within these pages. But mark my words: you will be hard pressed to find a film so replete with such powerful performances throughout from all concerned.
Sam Mendes' pedigree in theatre shows through very strongly. Many of the scenes (notably the standout dinner scene) are very theatrically presented and are all the more powerful for it. A period of character development and rehearsal prior to the start of shooting (very rare in cinema) for the whole cast really paid off, and the film is all the richer for it. Add to this the stunning cinematography from Conrad L. Hall and the unusual but beautiful and haunting score from Thomas Newman, not to mention superb production design and art direction from Naomi Shohan and David S. Lazan (the significant use of the colour red throughout is noteworthy) and you have a very beautiful film indeed.
In the hands of anyone other than Mendes, this film could have been catastrophically pretentious and self-indulgent, or worse, dumbed down and rewritten in order to provide a more positive slant on American life and the American Dream. Post-September 11, this might very well have been the case.
One moment that did make me wonder if any such rewrites had perhaps taken place, however, was the scene where Lester finally gets to seduce Angela. How this turns out and how he chooses to handle it did arouse suspicions that perhaps this scene had been toned down somewhat. I may be being slightly too cynical here, but toned down or not the scene still works beautifully.
The audio commentary on the DVD, thankfully, is not provided by the woman I was sitting next to in the cinema, but by Sam Mendes and writer Alan Ball. It is extremely illuminating, drawing our attention to various subtle details which may have passed us by initially, such as Lester’s reflection in his workstation monitor display giving the impression of a face behind prison bars. Watching the film with the commentary provides yet more levels on which to appreciate the film.
“American Beauty” is an essential addition to any collection, reminding us that amidst the multitudes of blockbuster trash constantly churned out by Hollywood, there remains the true art of film and its power to genuinely move us, and there are still some who are dedicated to that cause. Alan Ball and Sam Mendes are two such people. I hope they remain so.


Casanova
Casanova
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £4.97

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent, 10 Mar. 2004
This review is from: Casanova (Audio CD)
This was the album that introduced me to the wonderfully rich world of The Divine Comedy in 1996, after hearing “The Frog Princess” on the radio. At first I thought it was Vic Reeves!
On hearing the song again it became clear to me that, although lyrically witty, it was far from the novelty record I had initially assumed it to be, and I thereby narrowly avoided the trap many people have fallen into where The Divine Comedy are concerned (although I’m sure they didn’t mistake them for Vic Reeves). Thankfully I was curious enough to find out more, and I’m so glad I did. From that point on, “Casanova” was my Walkman listening choice on the 444 bus journey between Wakefield and Bretton Hall, where I was studying at the time.
I also invested in the back catalogue - “Liberation” and “Promenade” - so I could experience Neil Hannon’s legacy in full, as well as trace the development of his music from the beginning. From that point of view, it’s an interesting journey to “Casanova”.
Apparently Hannon’s record company at the time, Setanta, funded the recording of “Casanova” with the money they had made from the release of “A Girl Like You” by Edwyn Collins, which probably explains the larger orchestral presence on the album than the recording budgets for the previous two albums could accommodate. This in turn would provide Hannon with the means to realise in full the grandiose vision he clearly had in mind.
And he really pulls it off in style. The influences always mentioned in the same breath as Hannon - Scott Walker, Jacques Brel, Noel Coward, perhaps even a touch of ELO - are very present indeed. It’s not a concept album as such, but it does have a constant theme running through it - that of casual sex and its effect on those who indulge but ultimately yearn for something more substantial - inspired by Hannon’s own experiences following his first flushes of pop success. “Becoming More Like Alfie” is the most blatant example, where Hannon likens himself to Michael Caine’s signature film character: “Now I’m resigned/to the kind of life I’d reserved/for other guys less smart than I/you know, the guys who will always end up with the girls,” he croons regretfully.
Hannon’s vibrant lyrical whimsy is hugely articulate, painting colourful pictures throughout of, amongst other things, sexual blackmail and robbery (“Something For The Weekend”), the sexual experience described like a military encounter (the superbly fruity innuendo-laden “Charge”) and sexual angst (“Through A Long And Sleepless Night”). In short, it is a very sexual album indeed.
It sounds rather like a soundtrack to an imaginary musical, and in this context it does contain one or two real show-stoppers, “A Woman Of The World” being the most prominent example, as it contains a wonderful and unexpected swing towards the end. I can almost see the top hat and tails glitzy Hollywood-style dance routine every time I hear it.
This is the album on which Joby Talbot, Hannon’s right hand man, really comes into his own as an arranger. Hannon is wise to defer to Talbot in this area, as the results are spectacular. There are so many examples of his ability to be subtle and restrained or bombastic and grandiloquent in equal measures throughout the album. I’ll not list them here, just buy the album and hear for yourself. I promise you won’t regret it.
This is an album rich in diversity, bathed in a lush orchestral glow. As ever, Hannon’s astounding bass/baritone voice booms with utter clarity. No problems wondering what that lyric was or whether you heard right will present themselves here. This is a superb album, filled with all the style, beauty, romance and decadence you could possibly fit on one disc. It epitomises Hannon’s raffish bounder persona, with which he was toying at the time, before he wisely decided to leave it behind and tread pastures new. For maximum effect, listen to this album in a creaky old oak panelled room in front of a roaring log fire, as you languish in a huge leather armchair with a nice bottle of vintage port and a couple of nubile, willing female companions. I’ve yet to try that…


Permission To Land
Permission To Land
Offered by Todays Great Deal
Price: £2.48

25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Permission Granted, 23 Feb. 2004
This review is from: Permission To Land (Audio CD)
There seems to be a certain amount of snobbery from some quarters towards The Darkness, usually from people sneeringly dismissing them as a novelty band, whilst at pains to remind us of the existence of bands such as AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Queen et al long before The Darkness came into being. These people appear to be missing the point altogether – surely one of the band’s main purposes is to remind people of the same thing? In a time when more people are reportedly taking up the guitar than ever before (myself included), it would seem the message is getting through.
I think there’s a touch of Harry Potter Syndrome going on here. Too many people pour scorn on the Potter phenomenon, deriding adults for reading books aimed at children and going to great lengths to pick the books apart and question JK Rowling’s talent. They snootily remind us of the works of writers such as Roald Dahl, whilst ignoring the fact that the books have encouraged a generation of children weaned on TV and video games, conditioned into being consumers with short attention spans, to actually read a book and discover for themselves the wonder of the written word, and from there move on to discover other books. Whatever your opinion of the Harry Potter books may be, at least they have got children reading again, which in this day and age is no small achievement.
And so it is with The Darkness. Of course they aren’t massively original, but better The Darkness be an example of what rock music ought to be about than the likes of the carefully manufactured Busted, who need to learn that jumping up and down and pulling faces whilst pounding a Flying V does not make them a rock band. Better still, put their Flying V’s to better use and beat them severely around the head with them.
It is a typically British trait to knock something because it’s popular – “Well, if it’s popular it must be rubbish!” – when the attitude should be slightly amended to “Just because it’s popular doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good”. Whether applied to rock music or children’s’ fiction, the philosophy is exactly the same.
So, are The Darkness any good?
The answer is an unequivocal yes. Having been popular on the live circuit long before the release of “Permission To Land”, they have had plenty of time to hone their skills and gel as a band before going into the studio, and it shows. What we have is a collection of well-crafted rock songs containing all the required elements: huge choruses, screaming guitar solos, not to mention innumerable hooks and riffs as a result. All shot through with good old-fashioned British gusto and good humour. What is clear throughout is that they are all consummate musicians, far from the novelty tag that many apply to them. And who would have thought that a song about genital warts (“Growing On Me”) could be as infectious as its subject matter? The Token Power Ballad (“Love Is Only A Feeling”) is fantastic… why do those acoustic guitars remind me of Abba though?
In short, the album is chock-full with infectious punch-the-air anthems that will tempt even the most reluctant air guitarists to knock out a power chord or two. To paraphrase Justin Hawkins, for too long the world of rock music has been dominated by those who feel that their petty emotional suffering is of supreme artistic merit and relevance. The Darkness are here to redress the balance and remind people that rock used to be about fun. And if they are turning kids away from the likes of Busted and all the other soulless, faceless manufactured rubbish normally rammed down their throats, and towards the past and the likes of Led Zeppelin and Queen, to a time when rock was outrageous and unpredictable, and above all fun, then that can only be a good thing. Just like Harry Potter takes kids back to a time before TV and PlayStation and reminds them that they do have an imagination.
So there you go. The Darkness and Harry Potter go hand in hand. Long may they reign. Buy it.


The League Of Gentlemen: Live At Drury Lane [DVD] [1999]
The League Of Gentlemen: Live At Drury Lane [DVD] [1999]
Dvd ~ Corrie Greenop
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £1.69

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Proving How Good They Really Are, 18 Feb. 2004
I was lucky enough to see the live show twice - once in Manchester and once during their extended run at Drury Lane. On both occasions, amongst the audience it was easy to distinguish between those who were aware of the League’s pedigree as stage performers and the origins of what eventually became the TV show, and those who just liked the TV show and catchphrases and had probably never been inside a theatre before.
So, during the first half, which revisited the original stage show and the format in which it was presented, those in the latter category again could be split into two groups: those for whom it was a wonderful lesson in character comedy and the power of the theatre, and the fact that with minimal props and matching tuxedoes, the sheer virtuosity of the League’s performances were all that were required to provide a superb, hilarious (and, of course, dark) set of sketches; and those who were a little disgruntled because they were seeing three blokes in tuxedoes when they had paid to see Edward and Tubbs asking people if they were local and Papa Lazarou calling people Dave. Of course, they perked up once the fully costumed second half started and everything was familiar again. That’s the dumb TV generation for you… I know that sounds incredibly snobbish, but I make no apology for it. The League of Gentlemen require their audience, be they a TV or theatre audience, to use their brains a little. Sadly this seems to be a problem for some people.
Reading the reviews on this website, it would appear that the same two categories can be applied here also. The first half is performed in the way which brought the League to prominence in the first place, the way in which they presented their early shows at the Canal Café Theatre, the way in which they presented their show at the Edinburgh Festival and won the Perrier Award. This is not “couldn’t be bothered to get into character”, as one reviewer put it - this is Theatre. And superbly executed at that - simply done, no frills, the performance and characterisation being the focus, no distractions. Tish, who would appear later in the third series, is a brilliant creation - the supremely pretentious and annoying fag-hag whose only friends are gay men is beautifully played by Steve Pemberton in a tuxedo, with only a floppy felt hat as any sort of costume. Charlie and Stella, the constantly bickering couple, are again brought magnificently to life, the only costume item being Reece Shearsmith’s garish earrings. The characterisation is so strong that it doesn’t matter that they aren’t in full costume - that was the whole point of the original show. I pity those who can’t see this.
The second half takes us straight to familiar territory, as the curtain rises and the Royston Vasey sign is revealed. What we get here is a mixture of sketches well-known from the TV show and some new material. This is the League in crowd-pleaser form, doing what they know the audience will lap up and doing it brilliantly. The idiots sat in front of me at Drury Lane who moaned throughout the first half because nobody uttered the word “local” were finally satisfied as their favourite characters paraded in front of them spouting catchphrases one after the other. One even heckled Steve Pemberton as Pauline, to be met with a wonderfully delivered “Save your breath love, you’ll need it for blowing your girlfriend up later!”, which shocked him to the core - evidently he hadn’t considered the possibility that Pauline might answer back and have the whole audience laughing at him. You don’t get that watching TV…
The live show is well worth adding to your collection. It balances perfectly the more literate, theatrical side of the League with the TV aspect that many in the audience will be more familiar with, without dumbing anything down and delivers in every regard. Pay no attention to those reviewers who slate it because it wasn’t a carbon copy of the TV show. There is far more to the League than what we have seen from them on TV, and this show gives you a good look at it. If you are unfamiliar with the various conventions of theatre, let the first half of the show provide you with a basic guide.
The Universal/VVL DVD presentation could be better, I have to say. There are precious few extras, and one or two sketches missing - the Hilary Briss musical was an absolute gem and I was disappointed to find it cut altogether from the DVD. I would have liked to have seen perhaps a documentary on the creation of the show, maybe some old footage (if any exists) of their early pre-radio days to give viewers a point of reference, backstage footage and the like. It might also have been nice to include some audience interviews, to give an idea of the broad cross-section to which the League appeal. As it is, we have to make do with a couple of cut sketches and the answer phone messages played to the audience during costume changes. In this respect it doesn’t compare favourably with the BBC releases of the TV shows, which are packed with special features, which is why this only gets four stars. Nonetheless, if you give this DVD a miss because it is not like the TV show, then you’re really quite stupid.


Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (PS2)
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (PS2)

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Angel of Disappointment, 16 Feb. 2004
...Or "Lara Croft Repeatedly Falls Off Ledges And Buildings And Can't Seem To Run In A Straight Line Anywhere". Suffice it to say, as many reviewers have complained, the control system is abysmal. I got used to it to a point, but it was still too fiddly to avoid falling off things again and again when lining up for a jump or to operate a switch - anything, in fact, that required a modicum of precision. There isn't anything new I can say about the controls as this glaring defect has already been covered from every angle by most of the other reviews on this site.
After reading these reviews, I initially held off buying this game as the general consensus was one of extreme disappointment. When I finally took the plunge it quickly became clear why.
I'm no avid gamer by any means, but I have enjoyed the Tomb Raider series and the original game remains my all-time favourite. The first outing on the PS2, however, is a distinctly underwhelming experience. The graphics are obviously better, but not as much as you would expect. The environments are richer and more textured, with one or two admittedly stunning locations. Unfortunately, no matter how stunning the surroundings may be, the gameplay is not in the least bit engaging. There are a couple of moments that remind us of the Tomb Raider of old (the search for the four elements in the Hall of Seasons level, for example), but by and large there is very little to encourage the player to keep playing.
The controls are obviously the main drawback, but the multitudes of bugs are also an extreme annoyance. A few more months of QA would have helped, but it would seem that after so many delays Eidos and Core could hold off no longer and released the game way before it was ready. The excruciating looped scream from Lara when she falls is one example, also the mid-air shadows Lara casts and the infinite ammo pick-up during the Von Croy's Apartment level.
The new additions to the gameplay seem silly and pointless - the system of acquiring upgrades to make Lara stronger seems an inane attempt at adding a further dimension of challenge to the game. The same goes for the dialogue sequences - choosing Lara's responses supposedly adds a touch of unpredictability to the game as the player's choice supposedly influences the outcome of the conversation and what Lara gets as a result. It doesn't, at least not in any way that will hinder your progress.
Given the possibilities that the PS2 opened up for the Tomb Raider franchise, this first outing on the new format is a sore disappointment. Practically every aspect that should have provided a vast improvement on the limited scope of the original PlayStation is a resounding dud. The extra feature, a documentary in which the people behind the game talk it up whilst spouting badly executed clichés, is pretentious and amateurish, and merely serves to emphasise how poor the game is.
Hopefully, given the resounding thumbs-down this game appears to have received, the powers that be will have taken it all to heart and gone back to the drawing board for Lara's future (if she has one). Save your money and go out and meet people instead.


Different Class
Different Class
Price: £3.52

45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Squalid, Seedy, Desperate.... Superb., 21 Jan. 2004
This review is from: Different Class (Audio CD)
For those not gullible or stupid enough to buy into the whole media-led Battle of Blur/Oasis nonsense of 1995/96, there were other bands to listen to. This was my first year at university, and it seemed that every corridor in every Hall of Residence resonated to the sound of either (What's The Story) Morning Glory or Different Class. As great and enjoyable as the former was, despite being proclaimed by many as a genius, at the end of the day Noel Gallagher's lyrics were incoherent gibberish. If you're a lyrics person who likes to get lost in the vivid world to which the words and music take you, then Pulp were the obvious popular alternative.
And it really couldn't get more vivid than the world to which Jarvis Cocker took us. Cynical and disillusioned, squalid and depraved, funny and sad, joyful and desperate ' if you could step inside the album you would most likely find yourself leaning against a urine-soaked wall on a rainy street corner on a run-down Sheffield housing estate, watching its impoverished inhabitants eke out their dead-end existence with no hope or escape, only drink, drugs, seedy casual sex and mindless violence providing any distraction from the bleakness of it all.
Depressing as this vision is, Different Class is by no means a depressing listen. Whilst it has its moments of desperate, lonely sadness (Live Bed Show), pathetic, forlorn longing (Disco 2000, Underwear) and sordid depravity (Pencil Skirt, I Spy), there are also uplifting moments of defiance and righteous anger, all of which is wonderfully underscored by Cocker's spiky wit. Opening track Mis-Shapes is a rallying cry for anyone who has ever been made to suffer for standing out from the herd, whilst Common People ' the classic for which Pulp will always be remembered ' rages magnificently against those who attempt to be fashionably working class. There is tenderness too ' Something Changed is simply lovely.
Pulp had already been around for a long time before Different Class was released, and this album represents them at the absolute pinnacle of their game. The perfect album for its time, it rose above the frenzied hype and media manipulation that surrounded the Britpop era, and perhaps serves as the most powerful and articulate example of the music produced during this period. It speaks to the secret dark side in all of us of which we are uncomfortably aware but would prefer not to acknowledge, especially to other people. Cocker is forthright and unabashed in sharing his with us to superb (if occasionally unsettling) effect.
I can get as misty-eyed as everyone else of my generation at the sound of Wonderwall or Don't Look Back In Anger ' after all, they were hits at the same time, I like them very much and they provoke very fond memories of my student days. But ultimately they are meaningless and have nothing to say. There's nothing at all wrong with that, of course. But to hear a song that takes you on a vivid lyrical journey to a very unpleasant place in all its stark, dank, grimy squalor and thoroughly enjoy the ride as well as appreciate the message is an all too rare experience. Different Class achieves this with practically every track. As an album, it is a must-have for anyone's collection. As a document of the 'Cool Britannia' period (which, again, was purely a media creation in the first place) it is invaluable ' proof that not all British rock stars of that time were drunken loutish neanderthals. And as a reminder of my first year at university' utterly indispensible.
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