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M. van Beek "Noldor" (Netherlands)
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The Magic Flute [2006] [DVD]
The Magic Flute [2006] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Joseph Kaiser

4.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly charming, 6 Feb 2012
This review is from: The Magic Flute [2006] [DVD] (DVD)
The incredibly dull looking picture on the front cover of this dvd belies what lies within.

Here we have an beautifully sung version of Mozart's 'Magic Flute', with an especially strong performance from the Queen of the Night. Although I would not rate her singing especially out of the ordinary, she certainly delivers with style and energy. Her presence is wonderful, but unfortunately her performance is sometimes marred by strange and unnecessary CGI intervention.

That said, most of the visualization of this movie is beautiful. Usually enhancements work, and especially impressive are such sequences involving Papageno, whose strange fanatasies are brought to the screen in a way that can only be done on film and not in a stage production.

Thankfully, both Papageno and Papagena are wonderful, as I find the piece does not work without them. Many sequences involving him are the most imaginative in the movie, such as the Birdcatcher's song and the bit where he plays some magic bells and the bad guys dance off.

The setting of the piece in the trenches of the First World War seems out of place at first, until you realise that this modern setting does not mean that any of the symbolism or magic needs to be jettisoned. You will not get any sense of gritty realism, and the piece manages to keep its lighthearted character.

The weakest part of the whole production is probably the translation of the libretto. I am not aware however that better translations are out there, and to be fair the libretto has never been the strongest part of this piece anyway. However, it is perfectly obvious this is not originally English as syllables extra syllables are slid in where they are hoped to be overlooked, rhymes are missing or the text is accentuated in strange places. However, if you have never heard the Flute at all, this will probably not be so obvious.

The order and meaning of many of the aria's has been changed, but not in a way that would annoy anybody but the most puritan. What I find most disturbing about the sound is the presence of a large amount of sound effects, especially in the overture. Some effort has been made to synchronize this with the music, but it makes for a poor opening for a movie that improves vastly after this. Thankfully this does not happen too often after the overture.

All in all a very enjoyable evening lies in store if you choose to watch this, if you enjoy Mozart's music and symbolic scenes rather than realistic ones.


Mein Kampf
Mein Kampf
by Adolf Hitler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

16 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pretty awful, 12 Jan 2010
This review is from: Mein Kampf (Paperback)
I read part of this, but just couldn't be bothered to keep going. Normally I'm quite interested in different viewpoints, but this was just too boring to finish. If you are a history student, particularly interested in the period or have some other reason to read this, by all means go ahead. If not, I would not recommend it.

Up to about halfway, there seems to be just a confirmation of the kind of things we all know Hitler said, and the pages are littered with hate and anti-semitism (obviously...). There does not seem to be a reason to read this book to obtain any additional information on the thoughts of Hitler himself. Seeing as the book was written mostly as propaganda, it would seem improbable to find anything new here. There is much incorrect information on history, and the movements of different peoples in the past.

The translation seems to be done quite badly as well. The long German sentences seem to have been translated almost word for word. The resulting English is long, complicated, difficult to read and extremely tortuous. Apart from this, there are flaws in what I would imagine to be the original writing. Paragraphs seem to exist only because someone bothered to hit the enter key a couple of times every few lines. Ideas do not flow along, and the entire book seems to consist simply of unconnected sentences, never exploring an idea very far, or providing any argument for it. This means that even as a mental exercise of following and shooting down arguments, this book is worthless.

Also unfortunate is the physical quality of the book. Mine started de-paging the moment it arrived. Bits started to fall out or off, and some pages were stuck together on the right side and required tearing apart.

All in all, not a great buy.


Undergraduate Commutative Algebra (London Mathematical Society Student Texts)
Undergraduate Commutative Algebra (London Mathematical Society Student Texts)
by Miles Reid
Edition: Paperback
Price: £27.86

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read, 12 Jan 2010
Very mathematically sound work, and written in a style easy to follow. The author does, sometimes, sacrifice too much to his bantering style, and some (very few) exercises and passages are unclearly formulated. No material on projective modules is included, which is a shame. Definitely a good introduction to the subject of commutative algebra, and I know no better book for self-study.


IZNAOLA: ""KITHAROLOGUS"" The Path To Virtuosity
IZNAOLA: ""KITHAROLOGUS"" The Path To Virtuosity
by Ricardo Iznaola
Edition: Spiral-bound
Price: £17.16

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely useful, 12 Jan 2010
An extremely useful help, but not sufficient in itself. These exercises are all very useful as an aid in daily study of the guitar, and definitely help to improve technique. However, one needs to vary the exercises oneself to really derive all possible benefit from them.

Some exercises are insufficient to develop the technique they claim to develop. A great example of this is the tremolo. Only two exercises on tremolo are included, which I find is not enough to learn a truly great tremolo. Rasgueado technique is also not well covered. Not enough build-up exercises for either are included. Topics that are well covered though are the left-hand shifts and extensions, and slurs.

Well worth possessing, but if you are a serious student make sure you have other sources of exercises as well. If you are not a serious student, and do not intend on becoming one, you will probably derive very little benefit from this, and I would not recommend it. It consists entirely of difficult exercises, none of which are musically interesting in any way whatsoever. Hardly any explanations are included, so you need a pretty thorough knowledge of the instrument already to get started.


Spanish Guitar Music
Spanish Guitar Music
Price: £4.99

63 of 66 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great, as usual, 12 Jan 2010
This review is from: Spanish Guitar Music (Audio CD)
Definitely worth possessing. John Williams is undisputably a wonderful player. Unfortunately maybe, the selection was quite unadventurous, with pieces by such extremely well-known composers such as Albeniz, Granados, Tarrega and Sanz.

What is good in Williams' performance is the timing - there is no excessive tempo here to turn the music into a circus act. His tone is perhaps, sometimes, somewhat colder than one would hope. This works very well with some pieces and less well with others.

All in all an extremely good cd for the novice in guitar music. Here is a player of international standing and talent, playing music pleasing to the ear and not difficult to follow. Perhaps less interesting to those already acquainted with guitar music as there will be nothing very new to hear.


Brave New World
Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and amusing, 12 Jan 2010
This review is from: Brave New World (Paperback)
This is definitely worth a read. An interesting portrayal of a future world. Unlike many other utopian writers though, Huxley makes no true exceptions to the brainwashing process - there is no Winston in this book. He needs an outsider to experience the horror within his own world - 'the Savage', as he is called.


Blind Faith
Blind Faith
by Ben Elton
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars definitely not 1984, 18 May 2008
This review is from: Blind Faith (Hardcover)
I think I am in a very special position, as I read this book before ever reading any Ben Elton before. I therefore had no idea that he usually writes funny books, and I didn't really think this was funny at all (not to be taken pejoratively).

First of all, what I enjoyed about the book: the way in which Elton manages to get feelings of disgust and oppression across. Here, I mean the sense of suffocation one can feel when surrounded, constantly, by other people. Both the physical reality of bodies pressing up, which I, living in one of the most densely populated countries of the world, can really identify with, and the mental pressure of silence being a thing of the past. This truly is something I can also identify with. Silence is an expensive commodity. Cars, television, other people's music and other people's incessant chatter when you are tired or need some time alone. These are the sort of things in this book which I have not really found elsewhere yet, sympathy with the end of humanity which just wants to be left alone.

There were aspects of the work which I did not enjoy too much. I thought there was a bit too much repetition of 'privacy is a crime!', which decreases its impact. Also, although I wouldn't go so far as call the 'evil lover' thing completely predictable, it fails to surprise and can be seen coming at least several pages in advance. I do not get the idea that this is all that important to the work, seeing as his own wife confesses, everything would have come out anyway.

Now, why I do not think this book is a worse version of 1984. I agree that there are definitely a lot of elements in common (and also that 1984 is superior). What makes these accounts very different is the difference between the two main characters. 1984 is very pessimistic, and basically says that human nature and its fears destroys itself. The main character is overcome at the end by his own fear, and his mind is totally destroyed. The main character in Blind Faith has a completely different message. A very optimistic view is expressed here. Trafford is a martyr, but believes himself to be completely ordinary at the end. He does not know how, but his own nature, a very human nature, help him find the strength he needs at the end. His mind is never enslaved, and he is never broken as Winston is. Moreover, he knows that half the country is on his side, if only they had the courage to defy the powers that be. All in all, a very optimistic view, and in very stark contrast with 1984. Another difference I think is there is the fact that although both Winston and Trafford think they are constantly watched, this is not true for Trafford. In 1984, people do actually care what other people are thinking. In Blind Faith, people are much too busy 'expressing themselves' to care about anything else. This absolute dedication to one's self is a theme you will not find in 1984. The paradox in Blind Faith is, of course, that in 'expressing yourself', you are merely conforming, but I think the point is that there are some people who are thriving on this self expression, which does actually agree with their own ideas. In this self expression, the great tragedy is that life is passing everyone by, because everyone is much too busy recording it so as not to lose it. There are scenes in Blind Faith, which I find very realistic: the birthday at McDonalds, for instance, where everyone is so busy filming themselves at the party. I have attended parties myself where the only point seemed to be to take pictures of people being at the party, and what nasty, boring affairs such things are! Life is not boring for Winston, I think, while boring is Trafford's whole life, and seems to be the only reason he takes to subversive activity. And yet, for such a silly reason as that he manages to make some of the first steps to liberating the mind of the country.

I do apologize for the length of the previous paragraph, in which I totally abused the concept of a paragraph anyway. I hope that all who intend to read the book find enjoyment in it, and if they have not done so already to read 1984 as well for its more terrifying, but I think different, message.


The Lord of the Rings (3 Book Box set)
The Lord of the Rings (3 Book Box set)
by Brian Sibley
Edition: Paperback

29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A challenge, but well worth the effort., 22 April 2008
This book is a challenge. This is what puts many people off it the first time they open it, especially if they have already seen the movie. The point is, this is not just easy entertainment, like the film was. Yes, they tried in places to put a philosophical gloss on, but took great care to explain this to anyone watching, just in case they missed it.

Yes, there are great long descriptive passages, but they are there for a reason. We are so used to having images presented to us that we no longer seem to find description necessary. This is a pity, because if you give him a chance, Tolkien is one of the best descriptive writers I know. We cannot explore all the detail in a single reading, just as we cannot see all the detail in a good painting in a single quick viewing. The only way to sink yourself into this world is to let the author describe it to you, there would be no point in him writing this book if everyone could just think up their own equally valid version.

The greatest thing about the Lord of the Rings is, like all great art, the fact that we cannot understand and see all in a single reading. People reread it many times, because each new reading reveals something that went unnoticed before. The immense complexity of the characters cannot be shown in a quick and easy way, employed by many fantasy writers of cheap Tolkien-spinoffs, simply by stating something like 'Tom was a very sensitive boy. Having been bullied by his schoolmates, he was constantly on the alert.. blablabla'. Tolkien understood, unlike many of these other authors, that only a very complex combination of deeds, words and thoughts can reveal who and what someone truly is.

If you do struggle reading this, and I can imagine that as I didn't manage to finish it the first time I read it, I strongly recommend an audio book. This may look like cheating as you can simply let it run, and then claim to have read it all. I firmly believe (without reading any experts on this, so I may be eating these words at some later date) that Tolkien was thinking of the great epic poems from the past while writing this. Poems from a completely oral culture. When this is read aloud by a good actor, trees and places appear before your eyes. Passages which may seem dull if you try to tackle them on your own suddenly flow past effortlessly, with your imagination free from fetters to picture the scene.

I don't think this review will ever be read by many people, this has been more of a rant for me than anything else. I do hope more people will be able to find their way to Middle Earth, simply by giving it another chance. It really is worth the effort to see your way past slightly older language than you may be accustomed to, and a style so radically different from usual. But that is something all great art has as well: a unique style, and this work should not be disregarded simply because we are not used to it.


The Silmarillion
The Silmarillion
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Audio CD

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely magnificent, 15 Aug 2007
This review is from: The Silmarillion (Audio CD)
Completely wonderful. I thought the Silmarillion itself was ok when I read it, but then I listened to this. It sounds like an epic poem, especially the way Martin Shaw reads it. It has convinced me that the Silmarillion was written to be listened to.


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