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Tom "stardashstar" (London)

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Casablanca [1942] [DVD]
Casablanca [1942] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Humphrey Bogart
Offered by Discs4all
Price: £4.89

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars believe the hype, 8 Jan 2003
This review is from: Casablanca [1942] [DVD] (DVD)
Coming from a generation reared on high octane Hollywood thrillers and darker smaller films I was unsure what a film like Casablanca had to offer me. Why would I want to watch a dated, smulchy, overhyped romantic fantasy? I wouldn’t but then Casablanca is none of these things. The film starts in a predictably slow and unengaging 1940s kind of a way but that changes the minute Bogart steps into the shot. The two leads obviously light up the screen but they are admirably assisted by a host of lesser characters. This is more than a love story though and tackles the issues of redemption, self sacrifice and moral compromise in desperate times in a serious, moving and satisfying manner.
Oh yeah and its got some great lines.

Three Colours: Red [DVD] [1994]
Three Colours: Red [DVD] [1994]
Dvd ~ Irène Jacob
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £5.93

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and transcendent, 7 Jan 2003
For my money the best film ever made. The previous two parts of this trilogy are both very good and very worthwhile but never quite get over the fact that they are simply French art house films for those who like that sort of thing. The lyrical beauty and deceptive simplicities of ‘Red’ however transcend all genre limitations. Although I’ve watched the whole trilogy it this film that I keep on coming back to.
The core of the story is pure simplicity, a young naïve model meets an old embittered judge, at first they don’t get on but then they do. And that’s about it. Except that there’s so much more. In the spaces between them and in the stories they tell, and in an apparently unconnected sub plot, Kieslowski weaves grand themes about betrayal, loneliness, redemption and fate with the lightest touch never crudely hammering his point home.
Kieslowski once again shows himself a master of handling and harmonising light, colour and music without ever letting them swamp the film, as to be honest they do a little in Blue. Almost every shot is almost luminously beautiful and its worth five stars for that alone.
Irene Jacob, Kieslowski’s favourite muse, turns in a truly excellent performance. Her character’s vulnerability seems dangerously close to growing into bitterness and she is simply adorable as another lost soul trying to find her way. The Judge character is equally compelling, both powerful and enigmatic. The relationship between the two is exquisitely handled, never straining creditability or becoming maudlin and sentimental.
Three Colours Red is the work of a master at the height of his craft. It is simply the most beautiful film I have ever seen and manages to capture the transcendent qualities latent in the most everyday things and situations. Simple genius.

Dracula 2001 [DVD]
Dracula 2001 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Gerard Butler
Offered by CP UK And Global LTD
Price: £4.91

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dracula, the millennium edition, 7 Jan 2003
This review is from: Dracula 2001 [DVD] (DVD)
Two things are essential to get anything out of this film: beer and company. Its that kind of flick. But given those circumstances its great fun. Stylish and sexy enough to make up for the whole intrinsic silliness of the thing. Dracula himself broods admirably and the secret of his true identity, whilst hardly profound, is a nice idea and diverting enough.
Given that this isn't a particularly serious film I didn't find the product placement too annoying, even funny, but it couldn't have been more obvious if they'd had van Helsing simply confessing his love for Richard Branson and thanking him for everything.

The Eagle of the Ninth
The Eagle of the Ninth
by Rosemary Sutcliff
Edition: Paperback

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sutcliff's best, 6 Jan 2003
This review is from: The Eagle of the Ninth (Paperback)
This was probably my favourite book as a child and so it was with some trepidation that I picked it up again all these years later, after all, my tastes have changed quite considerably in the intervening years. Reading through it though I remembered exactly why I had loved this it in the first place. The breathless fear and excitement of the final chase, the palpable sense of dread in the hillside shrine and the sheer thrill of adventure remained as evocative as I remembered.
What I'd forgotten though was the contemplative side of the book. As much as an adventure story, which it surely is, it's about reconciliation to loss and disappointment. Marcus learns to live with his shattered leg and shattered dreams and both Esca and Cottia learn to accept Roman occupation. This is never handled in some saccharine 'smiling through the tears' 'inspirational' way but with a genuine feeling that nothing stays the same nor should it. This contrasts sharply with some of Sutcliff's other work, such as the Lantern Bearers which is sharply bitter.
Yet here the characters are both believable and sympathetic even if one of them, an Hireoniniamous, is utterly unpronounceable. Even the bad guys in this are sympathetic and are motivated solely by loyalty to their gods and their tribe, the same things that drive Marcus. This is quite simply a wonderful book and deserves a wider audience both amongst children and adults.

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
by Simon Schama
Edition: Paperback

32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars superb guide to a hard topic, 3 Jan 2003
This was the first history book that I read for pleasure, and all the way through, and as such occupies a special place in my heart. I read it during my A-levels studying the rise of the liberal nation state in Europe down to 1870. It wasn't until I read this book though that I had any context in which to place these events, an understanding of the French Revolution is essential to understanding Europe in the nineteenth century and, to a lesser degree, the whole modern world. Schama's history is an excellent place to start.
I was warned at my university course that Schama was controversial, post-modern even, this was before he made his name retelling televisually friendly grand narratives, but I could never really work out why. This is perhaps because, opposed to dryer academic accounts, he chooses to focus on the individuals involved and on minor characters, Malashearbes, Lucy de la Tour du Pin, as much as on the obvious biggies, Lafayette, Danton and of course Robespierre. He also displays an awareness that history and the past are not the same thing and that the former is in a constant state of flux whilst the former remains ultimately unknowable. All admirable traits to my mind.
That said Schama's thesis, whilst convincing seems unremarkable. He argues that the violence that finally consumed the revolution along with all its leading players, and a good few thousand others besides, was inherent from the start. For anybody who ever wondered why Britain's teeming cities and stygian factories never burst into this kind of revolt Schama makes very clear that oppression alone does not make for a revolution. The French revolution, to a greater extent even then the Russian, was the direct result of an internal crisis of the Ancien Regime which due to a massive loss of financial credibility coupled with, perhaps undeserved, scandal found itself without legitimacy.
Schama's main skill is though that he can outline these big themes, and others, introduce us and involve us with a whole plethora of characters and guide us through the convoluted course that the revolution took without losing anything along the way. The revolution is such an obviously massive topic with whole libraries of material devoted to it that a book of this sort had to be ambitious to be worth the effort. There are areas that Schama does not do full justice to, though not many, but that is inevitable. He is to be applauded for producing a coherent, readable and enjoyable book that manages to combine a synthesis of current historiography with original scholarship. All in all a very fine book.

Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £4.33

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, dark, dark, 2 Jan 2003
This review is from: Mezzanine (Audio CD)
If ever there was an album to which superlatives apply then this is it. Less soulful and playful then earlier outings this is nonetheless Massive Attack's finest album. From the low throb of opener angel to the last clatter of exchange this is an album to love. Dark, bruising and fractured certainly yet still swelling with a subsumed emotion that is worth a million Will Youngs.
This is an album that can aptly be described as 'difficult' without actually being difficult to listen to. Massive Attack's strange and threatening audio world is so artfully arranged that it never strikes as discordant or awkward. If a first listen beguiles, and I assure you that it will, then repeated attempts will reveal new wonders and finally will render the darkness warm and cozy and the only sane response to life.
Played at a low volume the sounds that ooze from the speakers sit sulkily lurking at the corners of the room, ripe with menace. Played loud the heavy metal thunder of Angel or Dissolved Girl will work its corrosive magic in a way that the nu-metal fraternity can only dream of. The vocalist most associated with this album is Elizabeth Frazer and its easy to see why. The distinctive style of her vocals perfectly offsets the sullen and richly textured sounds in which they are set, like diamonds in black velvet. However personally I find Sarah Jay's only track, Dissolved Girl far more effecting. Her low voice is both sexy and, like Beth Gibbons of Portishead, conveys volumes of stark emotion just veering off desperation. Horace Andy's caramelised voice adds sweetness to every track that he sings on.
Despite the various different styles and plethora of vocalists, five in total, this album still manages more coherence then more straightforwardly structured bands seem capable. There isn't a duff track here and while no two tracks are the same they all share a certain indefinable quality that's unique to Massive Attack.
All in all a massive achievement and if, as seems likely, its their last album then a worthy swansong for one of the finest bands of the nineties. Oh yeah and its quite dark too.

For Whom The Bell Tolls (Vintage War)
For Whom The Bell Tolls (Vintage War)
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.03

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Masterfull but ultimatley flawed, 2 Jan 2003
I certainly enjoyed this book yet feel that it falls some way short of being any kind of masterpiece. The style of writing is clear, lucid and engaging and Hemingway is obviously a master of his craft in this respect. However I had nagging doubts that I managed to suppress throughout most of the book as I wanted to be taken in by it. However at the denouement itself I realised that I no longer cared, in fact had never cared, whether the hero lived or died, perhaps because he was a little too obviously heroic.
The strengths of this book, and they are many, lie in the more peripheral characters and subplots. The scene were the Carlist Requetés surround and finally exterminate a different band of partisans is not only one of the best depictions of war I have read but one of my favourite pieces of writing ever, all the more so for being morally ambiguous. The young guerrilla who, facing death, switches communist platitudes for the fervent Ave Marias of his youth is the most moving character in the book. On a side issue the son of the Communist demagogue, La Passionaria, was in fact in Moscow at this time but met his death at Stalingrad. Fate catches up with us all it seems.
This highlights the problem with Jordan. For one thing this was not his war and for all that there were many like him and his reasons seem believable enough it lacks the visceral punch of those fighting for their homes. Mainly though he is simply too uncomplicated, he would have been more sympathetic if he had been portrayed at least in part as some kind of thrill seeker moving towards a genuine understanding of war. But no, he's dull and he falls in a dull fashion for a dull, though sweet, girl. Maria is actually a more interesting character but she serves only as a foil for Jordan's heroism. Which, like the lives of the saints, is admirable but strangely uninspiring as it lacks a certain humanity.
The disillusion that many felt with the socialist movement is evident in this book although not as pronounced as in say Orwell. The Communist general, whose mind is so diseased by ideology and paranoia that he lives in a total fantasy world but who is kept in place for political reasons is another brilliant creation. It seems a shame though that Hemmingway's depiction of the anarchosyndicalists is so thoroughly informed by the Communist propaganda that he elsewhere deplores. This is perhaps understandable however as the Revolution was written out of all histories of the Spanish Civil War until around the 1970s.
This is a good book though not a great one. It sparkles in all the right places except one. It is a shame though that Hemmingway chose to make the one flat note in this otherwise excellent novel the centrepiece of the work. The overall quality of the book serves to mask this flatness until the end when the emotions that should be boiling over in us simply don't come. I also felt that although dramatic the ending was a little pointless and was so designed simply in order to be grand and poignant and to tug on the heart strings. Maybe if I'd genuinely been bothered I wouldn't have found it contrived and just a little manipulative.
Three and half stars is possibly a fairer rating for the sheer excellence of certain sections although overall I was left with a feeling of bathos, never a sign of a good novel.

The Silmarillion
The Silmarillion
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Paperback

8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reveals mythological basis of later work, 20 Dec 2002
This review is from: The Silmarillion (Paperback)
The best way to appreciate this work is if you understand a little of the background to what inspired Tolkein. He was a philologist who had a particular interest in Anglo Saxon and Nordic language and mythology and the influences show throughout his work. The whole concept of separate races of men, elves and dwarves originates in Norse myth, as do several of the names that Tolkein employs including Gandalf (a largely unimportant dwarf connected to the Nieblunglied) and Gimli (a sort of post Ragnarok New Jerusalem). Of all the people in his work the Rohirrim most closely resemble the Anglo Saxons, down to their toast (was hail) and even the scansion of their epic poetry.
Tolkein's first love was language however and Quenya, the Elvish Language, lies at the heart of all his later works. Composed largely as an esoteric intellectual exercise, the Silmarillion had its genesis in giving this language context in the form of the myths he loved so well. Thus was the whole idea of Middle Earth (Midgard) born.
These tales inevitably bear the traces of their pseudo mythic origins and it is best if they are approached in this vein. Indeed the complete body of work that this, fairly coherent, collection is drawn from is often contradictory and incomplete as is often the case with genuine myth (if that's not a complete oxymoron).
That said the work is far from a derivative recreation of the Nordic cosmology and Tolkein succeeds in making them his own. This is most especially true of the elves and when the world thinks of elves it is in Tolkeins terms rather than their mythic forebears. The characterisation and writing are often patchy but certain passages (Fingolfin's fight with Morgoth and large portions of the Beren and Luthien tale) show Tolkein at his evocative best. The narrative and pace do pick up considerably towards the end of the Quenta Silmarillion proper and becomes consequently easier to read and more straightforwardly enjoyable. If a lot of this sounds pretty dry and academic than that's deliberate as this is not a straight forward piece of writing and its certainly not a novel or a collection of short stories.
However for those who want to know their Tolkein and are prepared to take a bit of effort, and aren't put off by the needlessly esoteric opening chapters, this is a rewarding read. It does stand on its own as a work apart, its mythic basis is part of what sets it, and Lord of the Rings, miles ahead of the opposition, but unless you've read Lord of the Rings or else you're just really into mythology, you probably wouldn't bother. If you just want the background to Lord of the Rings though you're better off just sticking to the appendices.

Requiem for a Dream [DVD] [2001]
Requiem for a Dream [DVD] [2001]
Dvd ~ Ellen Burstyn
Price: £4.75

4 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars First Rate Style let down by overblown plot, 18 Dec 2002
I really wanted to like this film and am obviously all but alone in believing it to be overrated. It would be churlish to deny that Aronofsky continues to push the boundaries of contemporary stylistics that he began to explore with Pi. The use of splitscreen, often an annoying contrivance, was exemplary and the cinematography was beautiful throughout, well as beautiful as some of those images could be. The problem arrives with the plot however which at no point got beyond the simple message that "Drugs are bad." While it is not this reviewers purpose to dispute this premise the subject was not handled with any subtlety and pales in comparison with a film like Traffic in these terms. For all it innovation this film is at heart an updated version of 1950s government films like "Reefer Madness." It damages its own credibility by its relentless depiction of a worst case scenario that do not correspond with the realities of drug use. Most heroin addicts will not end up amputatees and most users of diet pills will not end up lobotomised. Some of the plot contrivances in this respect are limping at best. The sordid and debasing pass that Connolly is brought to comes about as she puts herself in the power of the only man in town who has any smack, who also happens to be a colossal pervert. That a city like New York should ever run truly dry in this respect seems ridiculous. Burstyn receives absolutely no medical supervision for her prescription drugs, if this was a point of the film then it passed me by and I'm still not sure what exactly the Leto character was arrested for.
Perhaps this is quibbling. Perhaps Aronofsky is deliberately placing his film in a post modern hyperreality where such paltry concerns with plot are made redundant. Certainly Burstyn's zapped out zero consciousness is redolent of the post modern condition even before mind altering substances are introduced. However such intellectual game playing, valid though it is, marries uneasily with serious social commentary. Pi suffered from none of these concerns as its subject matter was so esoteric and was consequently a more satisfying film.
Overall I didn't rate this film but I would still recommend it to anyone who cares about cinema. Flawed and nasty though this was I'd still rather see something like this then Julia Robert's latest. The execution is as good and as original as anything that I have ever seen. It also succeeds in creating a mood that is haunting, mournful and elegiac. I understand why so many people found this film as impressive as they did but ultimately I found it preachy, overly simplistic, conservative and uninterested in seriously engaging with its apparent subject matter. And I can never look at Jennifer Connolly in quite the same way again.

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