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Groundhog Day (Collector's Edition) [DVD] [2002]
Groundhog Day (Collector's Edition) [DVD] [2002]
Dvd ~ Bill Murray
Price: £5.99

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent. One you'll play again and again., 13 Jan. 2004
What would you do if you had to live the same day over and over again? 'Groundhog Day' follows the story of Phil Connors - the cynical and egotistical weatherman for an american regional TV station who feels he's just on the verge of leaving it all behind for the big time except he's being forced to attend the annual groundhog day festival down in rural Punxsutawney (and for the fourth year in a row, for that matter). Little does he realise that this time around, strange forces are at work and that he will find himself replaying the same day over and over again - possibly until the end of time.
I have to say that Groundhog day is one of my favourite comedies - one of those feel-good movies almost guaranteed to cheer you up on a rainy day. In terms of comedy, it delivers consistently - Bill Murray's lines are crisp as a Punxsutawney winter and his timing has really never been better. Harold Ramis also has to be congratulated for managing to play the trick of repeating the same scenes over and over again just enough that you get an idea of what hell Phil Connors is going through without it becoming an irritation (as I found it did with the more serious film "Memento").
Murray's character seems effortlessly at home in the lead role who at times both offends with his arrogance and amuses with his razor sharp wit. It's no surprise then to note that in his director's commentary, Ramis notes that Bill Murray's own changeable character is not a million miles away from the incorrigible Phil Connors.
It's to Murray's (and Ramis's) credit that we fully emphasise with Murray's transition when, as each new day seems to remain February 2nd, he becomes at first baffled, then drunk with the power to do what he wants and then lonely, depressed and suicidal before he realises what life is really about and tries to turn his life around.
In that there's a little message for all of us living out our own little groundhog days. I particularly enjoy the moment where Phil (crying into his beer with his new-found drunk friends) begins complaining about his lot: "What would you do if you were stuck in one place and everyday was exactly the same and nothing that you did ever mattered?" he says, fishing for sympathy. His friend weighs up his life stuck in a dead end job in Punxsutawney and says with a drunkard's irony: "That just about sums it up for me". Priceless.
I'd recommend you buy Groundhog day and put it on one lazy Sunday. I'll guarantee you'll play it again and again. You just won't have to play it every day (unless you really want to). My only negative comment is that the DVD package itself is not very inspiring and the menu itself just a little embarassingly twee.


American Gods
American Gods
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Paperback

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strangely lopsided but enjoyable, 13 Jan. 2004
This review is from: American Gods (Paperback)
I am in two minds about this book. I want to like it - as I am a great fan of Gaiman's previous writing - but there are just some things which do not feel right. It just sits there at three stars and stubbornly refuses to deserve four.
The premise (as always with Gaiman's books) is rich and exciting. Our hero, the mysteriously named Shadow, is drawn into a world in which the ancient gods still live on, battling against hope to survive in a world increasingly owned by the new gods of technological change. The battleground is, naturally in that shopfront of the new world - America - and the story naturally roams as freely through the geography of America as it does through the pantheon of gods. Our guide through all this, an ex-con called Shadow, quickly allies himself with a stranger named Wednesday - revealled to be one of the many aliases of Norse god Woden.
The book itself suffers from being bloated and unwieldy, its pace only really picking up far too late into the 600+ pages, by which time it feels as though we're now rushing to a finish line we should have at least headed for with some conviction many chapters ago.
Pace is not the only problem, though. Once again Gaiman makes the strange choice of making his central character a strangely bland everyman who often gets lost when surrounded by more colourfully drawn players (It's something he's done in both 'Neverwhere' and 'Stardust') but whilst those fine novels benefit from their brevity and sense of honest fun, Shadow seems as lost in the bigger story as we do trying to maintain some sort of empathy for him and his equally unengaging wife (who at least has the virtue of being one of the undead to explain her behaviour). It is strange, though, considering that so many of the gods are painted so enthusiatically. I do not know if Gaiman is purposely trying to show the gods as more richly-textured individuals than the grey mortals of our world but the end result is that we don't really care that much for a character who is supposed to be the protagonist and our eye on this strange world of gods.
I would recommend 'American Gods' to anyone - but with the suggestion that readers pick up 'Neverwhere' or 'Stardust' to see Gaiman's true strength - a (often breath-takingly)beautifully written shorter novel. For Gaiman's part, it is hoped that future novels (particularly if they are to be the length of this one) show a stronger central character - one who doesn't get so lost amongst the colourful cast that Gaiman seems gifted in assembling - though only in supporting roles.


The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Special Extended DVD Edition) [DVD] [2001]
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Special Extended DVD Edition) [DVD] [2001]
Dvd ~ Elijah Wood
Price: £4.08

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If only all DVDs were like this!, 8 Jan. 2004
Hands up anyone who has bought a DVD version of a film that they like, stuck it in the DVD player, gone to the special features menu and despaired to find only a manky old theatrical trailer (complete with cheesy voice-over), a cast list showing other films you might like to rent/buy, or maybe simply the option of watching the film with Slovakian subtitles? I live in fear of DVDs that list their special features as "Interactive Menus" and "Scene Access". So I can play the film OR choose a scene? Feel the excitement!
If those films represent the worst failings of DVD releases than the LOTR box sets represent everything that is good. To start with, the film is extended by in excess of 30 minutes and (somewhat staggeringly) the music score has been partially rewritten to accomodate the extra scenes. The updated scenes all add flesh to the film. You can see how time restraints caused them to be removed (unlike some movies where the cut scenes fully deserved to end up on the cutting room floor).
Whilst the movie itself is extended, the real bonus in this box set comes from an additional two discs packed with behind the scenes footage about every possible aspect of the making of the film. Don't get me wrong... this is no feeble 30 minute "HBO Making of..." documentary you get released on TV to puff up the film's takings but real, loving, in-depth features that show as much care and attention to detail as the film itself. Even the DVD menu for navigating around is something special. Why can't all DVDs have this attention to detail?
I am no fan of DVD extra features. I rarely turn on the director's/actor's commentary on a DVD (especially after accidentally turning it on during one of Mel Gibson's movies only to hear him continually talking about the weather during filming - YAWN!) and I hardly ever watch the "making of" specials but this is something else - truly stunning. Buy it and you will have new respect for the director and his team, the cast and the crew - not to mention the art of film-making itself. Magic! Truly Stunning! Worth 10 stars! To paraphrase Bob Geldof and Richard Nixon: "Get your [expletive deleted] money out NOW!"


What You Make It: Selected Short Stories
What You Make It: Selected Short Stories
by Michael Marshall Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing, Dark and Edgy, 24 Oct. 2002
At the start of this collection of short stories, Michael Marshall Smith is careful to alert the reader to the difference between a novel and a short story - and it is a warning that the reader would do well to heed.
One of the strength of MMS's writing is in his honest and very raw dealings with human emotions. His novels often balance out the warmth of his central characters against some of the more brutal things that happen in the course of the story. There's just not enough time to build that warmth here in these stories so they inevitably end up very raw, very bleak and ever so slightly disturbing.
That said, the stories are still expertly written (although his humour is something else that doesn't get much of a look-in in some of the stories) and they give a good idea of MMS's ideas pared down to their simplest forms and maybe a little better idea of what makes him tick. It's interesting, for instance, to speculate how "The Man who drew cats" was influenced by the writing of Stephen King for instance.
All in all a very good book - imaginative, stylish and scary. Just don't read it if you're looking for something to cheer you up on a rainy afternoon. It's likely to make you wonder if the rain is ever going to stop.


Ima
Ima
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £10.17

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Blissed out and ambient, 17 Oct. 2002
This review is from: Ima (Audio CD)
Marketted as trance, this is actually more at the ambient end of things. I first picked this up in 1995 - drawn to the wonderful single "Loving You More" but was hooked instantly. Sure, some of the whale sounds and sounds of crashing waves are a little clichéd but this has more than enough for any fan of relaxed, chilled out music. "Divinity" is so atmospheric that I can almost feel the warm sun on my back everytime I hear it. Do yourself a favour, though, and checkout the import version. For a little bit more money you get the original CD interspersed with extra tracks and remixes - and for a change these actually add to the CD rather than pad it out (especially "Blue Skies" which features Tori Amos on guest vocals).


Northern Lights: Adult Edition (His Dark Materials)
Northern Lights: Adult Edition (His Dark Materials)
by Philip Pullman
Edition: Paperback

14 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars His Flawed Material, 15 Oct. 2002
I really have mixed feelings about the "His Dark Materials" trilogy. On reading the synopsis, I felt that here was perhaps a novel that really could satisfy the mature reader's need for addressing adult issues whilst still appealling to children. Its themes, which touch on those of organised religion, free will and even advanced physics promised much. Maybe this would not just follow the success of Harry Potter but push the envelope further, offering a more challenging read. Well ultimately I have to say that I was left feeling disappointed.
Don't get me wrong. Pullman has done a remarkable job of constructing his own living, breathing, believable world, slightly askew from our own more familiar world (my own personal favourite touch was his choice of making East Anglia the home for a band of migrant Dutch settlers) and it is to Pullman's credit that the reader instantly feels at home in this strangely foreign place. I have no problems with Pullman's scene-setting. My concerns, however, lie in how Pullman's characters move through this well-constructed scenery.
Far too often (particularly towards the end) Pullman seems more content with the story's pace than with its credibility and in my view many reviewers have overlooked that Pullman's break-neck pace has been largely achieved by glossing over flaws in the plot or by throwing in coincidences to help the story along. For instance, whilst imprisoned in Blovanger, are we really to believe that Lyra is lucky enough to be incarcerated with someone who knows just the right information that will earn her freedom? In a children's book I could accept that. In an episode of Scooby Doo I could accept that - but this is something that has been re-marketted as an adult book.
I'm afraid that Pullman seems content to push his characters through what seem to be pre-arranged set pieces with no real effort to adequately explain why his characters are rattling through their scenes. Rather like watching a Steven Seagal movie, you're expected to stop thinking, stop asking questions, eat your pop corn and just look at the pretty lights - all of which is rather disappointing from a premise that promised so much. It's also unfathomable to think that a book which deals with free-will, and the over-riding, unquestionable power of the authority (God) and the Magesterium (the church) could be written in such a way that Pullman gives his own characters so little room to breath and act naturally for themselves.
If I was reviewing this as the children's edition, I could excuse the book's failings. Indeed I think that as a children's book it belongs up alongside C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling and Roald Dahl - but I cannot help but feel that Pullman's publishers are rather too keen to jump on the Harry Potter bandwagon and cynically market this as an adult book when it clearly should only be aimed at those who are progressing from children's literature into adult literature. Sadly, whilst the adult themes dealt with in this book show a definite progression from the Harry Potter books, I can only see the poor plotting and heavy-handed treatment of the characters as a backwards step. Whatever else may be said about the Potter franchise, Rowling's work is very well crafted and the "His Dark Materials" trilogy only underlines how well she earns her money!


Neverwhere
Neverwhere
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gaiman's Great and Secret Show, 19 Sept. 2002
This review is from: Neverwhere (Mass Market Paperback)
Neil Gaiman is a favourite writer of mine and this is a good showcase for his talent for his dark and potent imagination. Magically he takes that famously surreal map of the London Underground and twists it into something far stranger that lies beneath and behind the real London - a place where the famous station names come alive. Here we have a real angel called Islington, a Earl who holds court on his own underground carriage and a group of religious recluses known as the Black Friars (to name but a few).
As with all Gaiman's work, there is a great deal of dark themes in the book (The streets of London Below owe a lot to those areas of London above where the homeless live) and Gaiman makes sure this doesn't turn into a simple one joke idea. His characterisations are absolutely fantastic. Whilst Richard (the hero) is a fairly bland innocent abroad, he balances him against the sly, old Marquis de Carabas and the pantomime villany of Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar - a pair of vicious (and yet comic) characters who look to have shambled straight out of a Victorian nightmare.
The story itself is taut, beautifully-written, thought-provoking and a pleasure to read. Not a long read but one I'm sure you will come back to time after time.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 6, 2013 9:26 AM BST


One of Us
One of Us
by Michael Marshall Smith
Edition: Paperback

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine fusion of humour, imagination, emotion and suspense, 19 Sept. 2002
This review is from: One of Us (Paperback)
Some writers (like Marshall Smith) deserve praise for the way they produce works that openly refuse to be easily categorised.
Here, for instance, is a story with an exciting sci-fi premise that in the future people can get paid to temporarily "download" nightmares (or if they want to break the law, they can also download memories). It's a concept just open to abuse, and sure enough our anti-hero has been stung with a memory that he has to return to its owner - memory of a murder. It's a concept good enough to be played straight but Marshall Smith refuses the easy way out. He peppers this book with strange, surreal humour (for instance household appliances that were a little too independent for their own good, like the alarm clock with whom he seems to have a running feud). He fills it out with many refreshingly original details, quirky and strange. It's hard to adequately describe what genre you're really reading. Sci-fi? Suspense? Humour? All of the above?
It's important too not to miss out on Marshall Smith's engaging moments of genuine emotional honesty. It's rare (especially in some science fiction which can be quite dry and stollid) to find someone who can make you stop, hold your breath and take stock of a passage that has just revealled something engagingly truthful about what it is to be a real flesh-and-blood human being. Remarkable and heady stuff.
My only trouble with Marshall Smith is that sometimes the action and suspense are underplayed (the ending seems particularly rushed) but this work is worth every penny of the asking price and more for the sum of its parts and for Marshall Smith's skill in weaving them together. This was my first taste of Michael Marshall Smith's writing and it has led me to buy all the work he has released so far. You won't find many writers like this, and it's well worth coming along for the ride. Trust me. You won't regret it.


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