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ds (Whitby, UK)

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Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North
Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North
by Stuart Maconie
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, if undemanding fun., 23 Aug 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The notion of what defines the north, either physically or spiritually is one that has been endlessly debated for many years. It would be somewhat optimistic to expect Maconie's book to answer the question definitively, which is a good job because it doesn't. But, by his own admission he doesn't really try to.

Instead, what we have is this: a neat, funny travelogue of sorts that manages to take snapshots of what (some) of the north is like. Being from Wigan, Maconie seems to concentrate his attentions on his own particular part of the north, though he does manage to branch out a little.

Others have commented that his prose can be a little rambling at times, but I don't find that much of a problem, feeling hat it's much more relaxed and chatty than it otherwise would have been. There are errors though, some major and these are less easy to forgive, others are more minor. Claiming in an extended passage about north-east football that Wilf Mannion played for Sunderland is, for a Middlesbrough boy like me, almost unforgivable.
A couple of more minor errors include that the NYMR that runs into Goathland is NOT a narrow gauge raliway. There are some others and they slightly spoil an otherwise good book, though we should perhaps castigate the editors rather than the author for failing to pick up some of this.

I'd certainly recommend it as fun holiday read or if you have a bit of time to pass on a journey. It's light, it's not too demanding and it's fun. And that, I think is the whole point.

How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions
How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions
by Francis Wheen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Misleading Title, 23 Aug 2007
Just looking at the title of this book, you would think that it's a light read pointing out the absurdities of modern "new age" charlatans. If you did, you'd only be partly right because this book is so much more.

In the clamour around some of Richard Dawkins's latest works, I wonder why this accomplished piece of work hasn't been flagged alongside it as an exemplar of how to write intelligent, sceptical work defending the position of rationalism in the modern world.

I found the first few chapters the best of all, with the nice juxtaposition of Iran and the UK in 1979 showing a sea change in the world, followed by a commendably brief and illuminating (no pun intended) discussion of the enlightenment.

Some of the targets are a little obvious, but he does have lots of fun piling into the absurdities of neo-classical 'voodoo' ecomonics, the hive mentality of financial markets, US foreign policy and of course postmodernism and its adherents, including a nice little summary of some of Alan Sokal's debunking of some of po-mo's more ridiculous excesses.

Wheen writes with an indignation and crispness that is great to see, though he always does so with a sense of fun which makes his writing very easy to read. That is more than enough reason to recommend a book that any intelligent sceptic should spend some time with.

Light Years: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra (1997)
Light Years: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra (1997)
Price: £6.91

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An utter steal, 14 Aug 2007
For less than seven quid, this album is just a fantastic steal. Thirty seven tracks including all the hits and a couple of what, in reality, are lesser known gems.

As others have said, the track order is a little screwy, though it does encourage you to listen through a disc and not just cherry pick with programming. Not that that's too much of a privation in all honesty, because there is surprisingly little filler on there.

My one, tiny peeve is that the unutterably wonderful 'Bluebird' from Secret Messages doesn't merit a place on this collection (I certainly prefer it to Getting to the Point, for example). But you can't have everything.

Doctor Who - The Complete Series 3 Box Set [DVD] [2007]
Doctor Who - The Complete Series 3 Box Set [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ David Tennant
Offered by Quality Media Supplies Ltd.
Price: £28.49

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Yin and Yang, 7 Aug 2007
With six discs to go at it's a pretty fair bet to say that this series of Doctor Who will pack more features than ever before into the package. This is not entirely a bad thing and will have most serious fans queuing to purchase. It's just that this year the series has seen more average Who than previous ones. However, it's not been all bad, not by a long shot. There's been much more that's good to talk about, so let's start.

The opener was the strongest first episode we've had yet: better than 'Rose' and infinitely preferable to the dull and stolid 'New Earth' of series 2.

Episodes 2 and 3 (Shakespeare and Gridlock) were admittedly slight on plot but full of nice characterisations and fun. Just what is required for peak-time Saturday viewing.

Unfortunately, the whole series lost its momentum when it hit the insipid, dull and not very convincing dalek two-parter. It wasn't all the writer Helen Rayner's fault but something was missing from the story and it just fell utterly flat.

The Lazarus Experiment and 42 steadied the ship somewhat, being solid if unremarkable, but it wasn't until we hit Human Nature and Family of Blood that the series really hit the heights again. Pretty much everything about those two episodes are perfect, with a connection that leads us into the final three episodes of the series (of which more soon).

Then we come to Blink. A tour de force from the Moff, who simply doesn't do Doctor Who duffers (this from the man who has all four series of the wonderful Coupling sitting at home). Well written, supremely acted and all done with very little Doctor at all. Inspired.

We then hit what is essentially a three part finale. The whole Utopia/Futurekind thread of the story is something of a McGuffin (though not totally) because the whole purpose of the whole episode is to get to the final 15 minutes and the wonder of THAT reveal, which had Who fans rubbing their hands with glee, and gave Derek Jacobi a chance to act quite stunningly evilly. The last two episodes work reasonably well, though it's easy to see why the finale itself could be seen as anti-climactic. After the peak of last year, it didn't quite match but was still one of the best things on terrestrial TV earlier this year.

Tennant has never been better as the Doctor. After occasional outbreaks of over-gurning histrionics in season 2, this season saw him get the mix absolutely bang on - not too dark, not too manic, just dark and manic enough (very Pat Troughton). Freema Agyeman has taken a bit of a pounding in some quarters; not entirely without foundation, but certainly not entirely fair either. She didn't do a bad job with what she was given and really did come good in the Human Nature two-parter. John Barrowman made a welcome cameo and give the series a nice, satisfying little twist at the end - the pay off to a question asked since the second episode of series one.

In the end, the high points of this series have raised the bar even further than it was before, showing just what new Who is capable of. The only problem is that throws the bits that don't quite hit those heights into sharp relief. This, I suppose, is the price of success.

Tampopo [DVD] [1986] [US Import]
Tampopo [DVD] [1986] [US Import]
Dvd ~ Ken Watanabe

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warm, distinctive and funny, 7 Aug 2007
Tampopo is a rare thing indeed: a film with a brain, a heart - and a stomach!

Milk truck driver Goro and his friend Gun stumble across a sleepy noodle bar, Lai Lai, while out working one evening. Lai Lai's proprietor is the widowed Tampopo, for whom times are currently very hard indeed. She is run into the ground and her son is being bullied. She's not helped by the fact that even though her pickles are to die for, frankly, her noodle soup is at best mediocre, as Goro tells her after an altercation with a drunken Pisken, one of her few remaining regulars. So, in the spirit of Shane, Goro decides (with the help of some unusual and varied friends) to help Tampopo make the perfect noodle soup so she can turn her business (and her life) around.

This is the main thread of the story, but woven through it are a succession of vignettes that show the role of food in Japanese society: some are funny; some touching and moving; some revel in the sensual pleasure that eating and food can offer. All are memorable.

Standout scenes include lunch in a French restaurant for a group of salarymen; a finishing school teacher trying to show a group of young women how to eat their spaghetti "Western style"; Tampopo's son sneaking into a restaurant with a tramp to have a (delicious looking) rice omelette skillfully cooked for him; a family sharing the last meal cooked by their dying mother. And on top of this is the infamous scene with the gangster, his moll and a raw egg yolk (and crayfish!).

Each vignette is insightful in some way about the role of food in Japanese life. The role of women in all of this is also touched upon; each time something positive or good happens, somewhere a woman is involved. To a Western eye some of these scenes may seem to demonstrate a rather chauvanistic sexism. I am not sure that this is in any way misogynistic on the part of the director, merely a reflection of the reality of Japanese culture and the roles of women within it. Neither too is it sentimental or afraid of showing reality, as some viewers should be aware when a chef prepares a turtle for a communal meal.

The ending is entirely predictable, with Tampopo's reinvigorated shop becoming a resounding success. As in life, though, the journey is the interesting thing here. No one is a bad guy, not even Pisken, who turns out to have been holding someting of a candle for Tampopo and is in no small part responsible for the noodle bar's ressurection. And of course, Goro does what all good cowboy heroes do, riding off into the sunset before the final sequence, which shows a mother giving her young baby the most simple and pure food of all.

I first saw this film nearly twenty years ago and am glad to have finally found a chance to watch it again (via a copy I purchased on My memory recalled it as one of my favourite films and time has, I'm glad to say, not dimmed that recollection: it's every bit as good as I remember. Sound and picture quality are pretty good overall, with english subtitles available. There are few extras (only really the cinema trailer). The main menu is predominantly Japanese while the chapter menus are entirely so, suggesting that little has been done to the release when brought into the US. This is not a bad thing, to be honest, and adds something to the disc's character.

Price: £6.65

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Underrated, 12 July 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Time (Audio CD)
Back in the early 1980's, Jeff Lynne's panoramic orchestral compositions seemed a million miles away from the zeitgeist, what with the New Wave, Adam and the Ants and the rise of the New Romantics. As a result this album has been rather unfairly glossed over by many, especially as it even dared to be a concept album of sorts. Talk to many ELO fans however and they will tell you just how well this album measures up against the band's 70's zenith.

The strings had seemingly been ditched in favour of modish synths, but that's about all that had really changed. Even the missing strings hadn't vanished, they were just a little less obvious to the ear and done in a slightly different way.

The beginning of the album can leave you in no doubt as to who it is, a short prologue leading into 'Twilight', a song that for some reason reminds me a little 'Tightrope' from 'A New World Record' (I'm not quite sure why), but in any case has that lush, wide sweep that all the best ELO songs do. The next song is the first major surprise, 'Yours Truly 2095' is a stab of bittersweet electro-pop that leads into the drum-heavy 'Ticket To The Monn', before we arrive at the lovely, acoustic flavour of 'The Way Life's Meant To Be'. The following trio of 'Rain Is Falling', 'From the End of The World' and 'The Lights Go Down' are rather downbeat and melancholic, but not in a bad way, giving the album a flow and a resonance that points out the more uptempo numbers around them.

At this point we hit the album's real stride, first with 'Here Is The News', another elctro-pop song; a fabulous song actually, one of the very best on the album, then into 21st Century Man, a song which wears its Beatles/Lennon influences firmly on its sleeve, before climaxing with the impossibly bouncy Hold On Tight, complete with French lyric in the middle eight

The thing is, as 80's and synthy as this album sounds (though not as much as the later Balance of Power or parts of Secret Messages) it is still recognisably ELO with all that that entails. And that's really why this album is so good; it manages to retain the spirit of the ELO who went before and marry it well to the fast-encroaching new technology.

The Traveling Wilburys Collection [2 CD + DVD]
The Traveling Wilburys Collection [2 CD + DVD]
Price: £14.96

79 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Finally Gets a Re-release, 9 July 2007
If ever there was one, it's this album, available now at last for the first time in what seems like an age.

As a rule, "supergroups" tend to be rather sterile, ego-driven and self-indulgent affairs. This is the exception: two albums full of great tunes made by a group of friends who were clearly having a blast together. There are even some who might say that this is probably the most musically fulfilled George Harrison got to be after the Beatles, as good as some of his solo material was, because he simply enjoyed being in a band. I think they have a point.

Volume 1 is the best of the three discs, containing a slew of wonderful songs. My particular favourites are 'Rattled', a romping good 50's skiffly-rock n roll number, 'Heading for The Light', 'End Of The Line' and 'Not Alone Any More', which has a spine-tingling Roy Orbison lead. There isn't a clunker among them, without exception each song has something wonderful and warm to give. Evidence of this is provided by the first bonus track 'Maxine', which wasn't judged good enough to make the original album, which is a lovely rather flamenco-flavoured acoustic George Harrison number. In fact, the weakest song on this disc is the second bonus, 'Like A Ship', but even this is worth a listen.

After the perfection of Vol 1, the only way to go is down. While Vol 3 is not quite as stellar or immediate as its antecedant, it is still full of rollocking good tunes and still doesn't have any real dogs on it. How can you dislike an album that has a (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) rocking sitar solo! (The Devil's Been Busy), including a riff swiped wholesale from I Believe in Father Christmas by Greg Lake. Other highlights include 'Poor House', 'Inside Out' with its layered Beatlesque harmonies, the shambling 'Where Were You Last Night?' and, of course, the wonderfully dumb but fun 'Wilbury Twist'

The second disc is a collection of documentary materials and videos, all of which are certainly worth having and watching. The documentary about the making of the first album is a particular joy, full of smiling happy faces and the pure joy of making great music together.

As a package, you can't really fault it, bringing both these fabulous albums together in a single place for such a low price. As a deal, you'd be hard-pushed to find a better buy anywhere. Quite simply this is a MUST BUY for anyone who has any kind of serious interest in music.

Negima!, Volume 14 (Negima!: Magister Negi Magi)
Negima!, Volume 14 (Negima!: Magister Negi Magi)
by Ken Akamatsu
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars After The Budokan, 9 July 2007
After the major events of volume 13, things settle down a little and we get a volume with what may uncharitably be described as some filler.

More accurately, we get some more character development for the previously skimmed-over Ako, who gets to tour the fair with Nagi, our hero's "cousin". Poor Yue's situation comes to a head and is, to some extent, resolved in a way that is quite surprising to her. Meanwhile, Asuna has the biggest shock of all...

In other hands this sort of material would be fairly flat, but Akamatsu manages to inject things with a lightness of touch and sense of fun that has his mane stamped all over it. The only small problem is that the Festival arc is a pretty long and gruelling one which is not due to be resolved for a little while yet (at least not until vol 18 (Chapter 162). This creates its own problems with sustaining the narrative and keeping things afloat, but by and large it is done with no little style and elan.

Roll on volume 15

Negima: v.1: Vol. 1 : Magister Negi Magi (Negima!: Magister Negi Magi (Paperback))
Negima: v.1: Vol. 1 : Magister Negi Magi (Negima!: Magister Negi Magi (Paperback))
by Ken Akamatsu
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Hindsight is useful, 30 May 2007
From this point in time (just as volume 14 is released in thr UK), volume 1 of Negima seems like a very long time ago. However, even then, the rather facile reduction of the plot to a Love Hina/Harry Potter grated with me (to be fair, Negi's being from Wales is probely more to do with Ghibli's version of 'Howl's moving Castle' than anything).

Being honest though, this is almost distilled Akamatsu, with lashings of fanservice and ecchi. However, he gets away with this for three major reasons: first, it's pretty funny, in a puerile way; second, it is essentially good-natured and cheeky, not something I find uncomfortable or creepy; third, it's the first volume, and we know this is just the setup for what's to come.

Inevitably, there are comparisons to be made between Asuna and Naru, as they behave in a very similar way. That's a minor niggle though, because things diverge quite quickly. Later in the series there are some (tangential) Love Hina references and connections, but that's a s far as it goes really

In essence, this is a promising start to what has turned into a very good series indeed, rather cleverly and humourously subverting lots of the conventions of the genre. Recommended.

Out Of The Blue [Legacy Edition]
Out Of The Blue [Legacy Edition]

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Nailed-on Stone Cold Classic, 22 May 2007
Remember the summer of 1977? Anarchy in the UK, the Silver Jubilee and this, rather incongruously sitting amongst the gobbing and puking. And sitting right near the top of the album chart too, as it happens. The reason this album has lived on the memory so long (and why it deserves this deluxe re-issue) is simply that it is chock-full of fantastic songs.

Jeff Lynne was at the peak of his song-writing powers, seemingly unable to write anything that couldn't have been a top-ten single. This was demonstrated amply by the previous year's A New World Record (also very highly recommended) and OOTB merely continued his prolific run, and in spades.

If ever a song was a signal of intent for an album, then it is 'Turn To Stone', with its fade-in blossoming into a lush, panoramic sound, replete with the by-now trademark Beatlesque harmonies and swooping strings. 'It's Over' adds wistful to the canon, and only really serves to lead us into two absolute treats: 'Sweet Talkin' Woman' (about which much has already been said) and the gorgeous, Mariachi-flavoured 'Across The Border' which, to this day remains one of my favourite ELO songs ever.

The second quartet of songs seem to lift off the pedal a little, with 'Night In The City' almost feeling like ELO by numbers and 'Starlight' being pretty but ultimately lightweight. 'Jungle' is a silly, fun confection full of cowbells, hand claps and foot stamping (to much the same effect as Queen's 'We Will Rock You') and is guaranteed to make you smile. It is followed by 'Believe Me Now', which is one of those short, sweet Lynne interludes that takes things down ready for the beginning of something big...

...that comes in the form of 'Concerto For A Rainy Day': an unalloyed pleasure. The whole thing is beautifully pitched but the stand-outs for me at least are the winningly joyous 'Summer and Lightning', followed by the seminal 'Mr Blue Sky', the song that, even on its own, is worth buying this album for.

The back-end of the album has perhaps been maligned elsewhere in the past, but I believe it is a strong finish. 'Sweet Is the Night' is indeed sweet, while 'The Whale' is a wonderful, atmospheric instrumental, full of the trademark swelling strings and imaginative use of the electronics available at the time. Then, to close, 'Birmingham Blues' and 'wild West Hero'. The first is a joking homage to the band's home that still has enough mojo make it fun, while the latter has all the epic aching plangent qualities that all the best ELO songs possess.

This deluxe edition rounds things out with a demo of an alternative vocal bridge for 'Wild West Hero' and two out-takes: 'Quick and The Daft' and slightly less stellar 'Latitude 88 North' which are filler, but interesting filler at least. The former a rollicking and brio-filled short instrumental, the latter something that sat on the shelf for a while before being dusted down.

Even the weaker tracks on this album are songs that most other artists would have killed for, but Lynne has always struggled to throw off the Beatles-Lite accusations rather unfairly thrown at him over the years. The Wilburys canon and George Harrison's later solo work on which he was involved, amongst others, reiterated his great talents as a writer, producer and player that his album so wonderfully demonstrates.

Of course, it was all downhill from this point, with a brief bounce when the really rather wonderful 'Time' was released in 1981. but that doesn't matter, just enjoy the wonderful quality of this classic on its own terms.

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