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Sally-Anne "mynameissally" (Leicestershire, United Kingdom)

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Special Extended DVD Edition) [DVD]
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Special Extended DVD Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Elijah Wood
Price: £11.06

10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great accomplishment, 17 Dec 2004
Opinions differ, so satisfaction can't be guaranteed. Even though it's hard for me to understand how anyone could fail to enjoy this film, clearly, some reviewers were disappointed with it. So I cautiously wholeheartedly recommend this film. I can only say that I, personally, am delighted with the extended version and all the extras that accompany it. The theatrical version was very good but I found it slightly disjointed in places. Those problems have been remedied by lots of extra scenes that make the story seem more coherent. Now we know what happened to Saruman, how Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas got hold of the ships, why Éowyn seems so cheerful about Aragorn marrying Arwen and so on. Some extra scenes don't add to our understanding but they do add to our enjoyment:
• the drinking competition between Gimli (boasting about swimming with hairy little women) and Legolas (whose elf liver was more than a match for Gimli's dwarf liver);
• the avalanche of millions of skulls from the decaying walls of the city of the dead;
• the horror and surprise of the Corsairs of Umbar when the dead attack.
The only omission that troubled me, though I've learned to accept it, was The Scouring of the Shire. I can understand why it was left out. Peter Jackson explained it during an interview on The Appendices Part 5 disc. Still, it would have been better if the four had returned to a Shire that had gone through its own trials and where the hobbits who had been left behind had been forced to grow in maturity and confront the evils beyond their borders. As Legolas told Gimli when they were preparing to ride off to battle, his people had no need to march to war because war would march to them (I paraphrase). Sauron's malevolence was reaching out north and west across Middle Earth and The Shire was a changed place when the travellers returned. Even if the scouring couldn't be part of the film, the hobbits of the fellowship could still have returned to a Shire that had experienced some of the horrors.
Apart from that single niggle, this film (together with the accompanying documentaries and film commentaries) is as close to perfection as any film I've seen. It completes an extraordinary and wonderful trilogy. It's sad that the team who made it have to disband and go their separate ways. Perhaps they could get together again to perform their prodigious magic on the tales of The Silmarillion.


The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Special Extended DVD Edition) [DVD]
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Special Extended DVD Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Elijah Wood
Price: £11.06

19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great accomplishment, 15 Dec 2004
Opinions differ, so satisfaction can't be guaranteed when it comes to recommending this film. I can only say that I, personally, am delighted with the extended version and all the extras that accompany it. The theatrical version was very good but I found it slightly disjointed in places. Those problems have been remedied by lots of extra scenes that make the story seem more coherent. Now we know what happened to Saruman, how Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas got hold of ship, why Éowyn seems so cheerful about Aragorn marrying Arwen and so on. Some extra scenes don't add to our understanding but they do add to our enjoyment:
• the drinking competition between Gimli (boasting about swimming with hairy little women) and Legolas (whose elf liver was more than a match for Gimli's dwarf liver);
• the avalanche of millions of skulls from the decaying walls of the city of the dead;
• the horror and surprise of the Corsairs of Umbar when the dead attack.
The only omission that troubled me was The Scouring of the Shire. I can understand why it was left out. Peter Jackson explained it during an interview on The Appendices Part 5 disc. Still, it would have been better if the four had returned to a Shire that had gone through its own trials and where the hobbits who had been left behind had been forced to grow in maturity and confront the evils beyond their borders. As Legolas told Gimli when they were preparing to ride off to battle, his people had no need to march to war because war would march to them (I paraphrase). Sauron's malevolence was reaching out north and west across Middle Earth and The Shire was a changed place when the travellers returned. Even if the scouring couldn't be part of the film, the hobbits of the fellowship could still have returned to a Shire that had experienced some of the horrors.
Apart from that single niggle, this film (together with the accompanying documentaries and film commentaries) is as close to perfection as any film I've seen. It completes an extraordinary and wonderful trilogy. It's sad that the team who made it have to disband and go their separate ways. Perhaps they could get together again to perform their prodigious magic on the tales of The Silmarillion.


The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene (Popular Science)
The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene (Popular Science)
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting but challenging read, 8 Dec 2004
"The Extended Phenotype" is the 4th and most demanding of Richard Dawkins' books that I've read. I hadn't realized that it was aimed mainly at his professional colleagues so was surprised at the amount of concentration, hard thinking and puzzled head scratching required to work through it. But what a glow of satisfaction: to finish such a challenging book, feeling that most of it has made sense to me. Like his other books (the ones I've read: "The Selfish Gene", "The Blind Watchmaker" and "Unweaving The Rainbow"), it's beautifully clearly written, with most of the more esoteric terms defined in the glossary at the back of the book. Not all of the terms could be found there however and nor were many of those to be found in an ordinary dictionary. The book is not so self-contained as those aimed at the more 'popular science' end of the market - the ones that you can read from cover to cover without reaching for a dictionary or other source of clarification. That's why I can only claim to have understood *most* rather than *all* of the book.
This book follows on from "The Selfish Gene" and in it, Dawkins argues that the phonotypic effects of genes do not stop at the limits of the organisms that carry them. He suggests, for example, that the phenotypic expression of beaver genes stretch right to the edges of the lakes formed by their dams and the genes of some parasites are expressed in their hosts. So a snail might behave in a manner that puts itself in harm's way because the fluke living inside it has, somehow, managed to modify the snail's behaviour for its own ends - say to continue its life cycle inside one of the snail's predators. That is to say, the snail's behaviour is maximizing the survival of fluke genes rather than snail genes. He puts it very succinctly: 'an animal's behaviour tends to maximize the survival of the genes "for" that behaviour, whether or not those genes happen to be in the body of the particular animal performing it.' There are plenty of other fascinating examples of this sort. There are chapters covering such intriguing areas as evolutionary 'arms races', 'outlaw' genes and 'jumping' genes. Good use is made of thought experiments to help to figure out how and why certain adaptations might have evolved. 'Outlaw' genes for instance, might try to cheat the system to get themselves replicated more than their alleles, so how can the rest of the genome fight back? I particularly liked the idea of the 'green-beard effect' whereby genes might make the organism (not necessarily a man) carrying them recognisable to other organisms carrying that gene so that all the organisms carrying the 'green beard' gene would be altruistic towards each other but not to non-green-bearded organisms.
It's not the usual easy read. As the author points out, 'this book ... assumes that the reader has professional knowledge of evolutionary biology and its technical terms'. However, it's well worth the effort of struggling with it if you're interested in evolution and Richard Dawkins ideas about how it all works. If you've read "The Selfish Gene" and found it riveting, you'll probably enjoy this too.


Monsters Inc. [2002] [DVD]
Monsters Inc. [2002] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Billy Crystal
Price: £10.00

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Imagination runs riot, 17 Nov 2004
This review is from: Monsters Inc. [2002] [DVD] (DVD)
What a treat. The Monsters and the energetic little toddler, Boo, are not just cute, they're great personalities too - and so well animated. The film's entertaining from start to finish and a couple of the extras are as good as the film, in their own short way. Some of the good things on this DVD:
• A wonderful story. The world of the monsters runs on the power of screams that the monsters have to generate by scaring human children. They have a whole industry dedicated to extracting these blood-curdling shrieks from the poor, terrified little kids. Each child is matched with its ideal monster and their monster passes from the power factory in Monstropolis through one of thousands of bedroom closet doors - one for each child - into the child's bedroom where it carries out its job and the resulting scream is captured in a flask. The monsters have to be very careful though because they believe that children are highly toxic and can kill them with a touch. The monsters are actually tremendously alarmed at the prospect of contact with a human child. If only the children knew ....
• Excellent characters. The main ones are outstanding. The little girl, Boo is too cute to mention. Sulley (big, woolly, top scoring scarer) and Mike (small, walking eyeball and Sulley's best friend and assistant) have all the usual concerns of the average working man and they're also funny. Mike has a girl friend (she may be my favourite). She has one eye and snakes for hair. When she gets romantic with Mike, her snakes get all romantic with him too. When she gets angry with Mike, they all rattle their tails and glare and hiss. Those animators must have been inspired. What a clever idea. Randle, Boo's special monster - the one that really scares her - moves like a centipede. He's a real villain with a wicked plot go maximise scream power.
• Brilliant extras. In particular two short animated films: "For the Birds" and "Mike's New Car". I've watched them more times than I've watched the main film. Both are very funny. I've found that I can't even think about "For the Birds" without starting to laugh. There's one scene in the film where several of the small, quarrelsome birds are taking the Mickey out of the big, friendly bird - pulling faces and bristling their feathers. You'll need to see it to believe how funny this is.
I recommend this DVD. It'll be played over and over again.


Spartacus
Spartacus
by Howard Fast
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heroic slaves v decadent masters, 13 Nov 2004
This review is from: Spartacus (Mass Market Paperback)
The gladiator slave Spartacus, was loved and respected by his down-trodden comrades and the woman he regarded as his wife. Under his leadership the slaves at the gladiatorial school of Batiatus in Capua rebelled, defeated their Roman guards and escaped. They became a magnet, a hope, a cause for the other miserable, wretched victims of Roman imperialism. A slave army grew and threatened to tear out the rotten, decadent heart of Rome. For a short while it looked as though it was really possible that Rome could become the victim of its victims. Bloody battles were fought and won by the slave army. But in the end, the power of Rome was stronger, bigger, harder, better organised, more ruthless and perhaps more desperate to preserve its parasitic way of life.
It's impossible not to identify with the briefly liberated slaves and to root for them every step of the way. The Romans in the story just seem irredeemably empty of any virtue or grace. They depend on slaves for almost everything in their day to day existence. Slaves produce the food, cook it and serve it; they work in the mines (work which kills the children very quickly and the adults fairly quickly); they provide the entertainment from performing sex to dying in the arena; they carry the Romans round in litters and they seem to be paid mainly in beatings and death. The working class Romans have been replace by slave labour so have to be supported by dole and kept quiescent by entertainments such as gambling and gladiatorial competitions. The system is rotten to the core. The meaning of life is lost, to the extent that Roman men even sell their own children into slavery when their sexual recreation results in the pregnancy of a slave woman.
It's a romanticized interpretation of the known facts from a firmly socialist perspective and that's pretty obvious. There doesn't seem to be any evidence to suggest that the real Spartacus was a socialist or had any political or ideological agenda. The Spartacus in the book was born into slavery and so was his father. The real, historical Spartacus seems to have been a free-born man who just wanted to escape Roman bondage. Even though the bad guys are unbelievably bad and the good guys are just too good to be true, it's a great read and I recommend it.


Friends, Voters, Countrymen
Friends, Voters, Countrymen
by Boris Johnson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.94

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars He's just a soul whose intentions are good ...., 3 Nov 2004
Oh Lord, please don't let him be misunderstood. Poor old Boris. He's an honest and straight-forward sort of chap - just says what he thinks and never mind the consequences. What consequences? The consequences that never seem to occur to him until it's pointed out to him that he's put his foot in it again. He's just a simple, harmless graduate of the Bertie Wooster Academy of Bumbling Buffoonery. That's how the Millwall supporters come to be armed with the ostensibly innocuous chant: "There's only one Boris Johnson" with which to taunt Liverpool supporters. You may not know what the Millwall supporters are getting at but you know Boris must have made another inadvertent gaff and somehow managed to alienate, in all probability, the entire population of Liverpool. Oh dear.
Here's a book about his campaign to be the Conservative MP for Henley, that will provide a few insights and perhaps persuade some doubters that Boris is really quite a charming and amiable sort. After all, just think how unpopular you or any of us would be if we didn't censor some the things we think before blurting them out in public. That seems to be Boris's main problem. He must imagine that everybody shares his sense of humour. Clearly he's mistaken. I think he's very funny but a lot of people think he's offensive. Here's an example from the book: He was completely put off his stroke "by some Luddite barracking from the member for Glasgow Pollock. In case you can't place him, he is almost totally bald, giving him a curiously buttock-headed appearance". Very funny. He's managed to outrage a lot of bald people and their wives, children and friends. Did it occur to him that a fair number of his constituents - the people who voted for him might fail to see the humour in that remark? Of course not. And in any case he can't resist trying to be funny. He's just a big kid really. I can't help liking him - but then he hasn't managed to insult me .... yet.
I recommend this book, but only to those who share Boris's sense of humour. It's an easy read. I learned some interesting things about political campaigning and what it's like to be an MP. I have the impression that you have to be hard or mad to harbour any such ambition. I read most of the book with a smile on my face, even though I don't agree with him on a lot of issues. If you already dislike his style and don't appreciate his sense of humour be warned, this is more of the same: classic Boris.


Foucault's Pendulum
Foucault's Pendulum
by Umberto Eco
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A long and arduous read, 30 Oct 2004
This review is from: Foucault's Pendulum (Paperback)
There's a kind of binary book publishing company connected by a corridor. In the offices on one side of the corridor, three men carry on a normal book publishing operation, concentrating of the production of fine, respectable books. They direct the authors of less worthy literature to their boss's office (ostensibly unconnected to their high-class publishing business), in the publishing house round the corner. Only publishing staff use the corridor and know the two businesses are owned by the same man. The trick is to make a profit out of the untalented authors whilst maintaining the good reputation of the respectable side of the publishing business. It's a simple but clever scam. Many of the unpromising authors are submitting material packed with wild conspiracy theories related to secret and ancient sects like the Druids, Templars and Rosicrucians. The boss has an idea how this mania can be exploited and sets his editors to work. To entertain themselves while they're submerged in all the esoteric mumbo jumbo, they start connecting the different sects and conspiracies - formulating a super conspiracy. They become ensnared by their own fiction and signs begin to appear, indicating that there really is a sinister plan involving a number of secret societies. Secret societies like secrets. Fabricate a secret plan and whisper its existence into a few receptive ears and you may start one of those self-fulfilling prophesy thingies. The story is interesting. It's a bit like a parable warning against the dangers of believing in grand, secret plans and other seductive nonsense. Don't fool yourself and don't let yourself be fooled. As everybody knows, the emperor has no clothes.
I would have enjoyed the book if it had been translated into plain English and was about 2-300 pages shorter - condensed down to its interesting bits. For the first 20 or so pages, I found the style so pretentious and the story so uninteresting that I doubted that I'd be able to finish the book. Then it started to get interesting and the pomposity of the writing style seemed slightly less grating. A previous reviewer mentioned a problem with "more obscure vocabulary than the ordinary [person] can cope with", and having to read his dictionary in tandem. The trouble is, if you just want to read a story, the flow is lost and with it, the enjoyment, if you have to look up a dozen or more words in each chapter. The reader is also assumed to be a polyglot. There are words, phrases, sentences and whole paragraphs written in languages other than English. If you can't understand them, you just have to ignore them and hope they have no importance in the story. But there's the suspicion that they are key to understanding some parts of the story. For example: " In our game we crossed not words but concepts, events, so the rules were different. Basically there were three rules." Then he goes on to list the rules. I couldn't tell you what the second rule is because he lapses into a foreign language. That sort of thing happens a lot in this book. Another disappointment: the "powerful computer capable of inventing connections" mentioned on the back cover review, is hardly used at all for making connections. They use if for that purpose a couple of times and the results aren't all that impressive. It's used mainly for word-processing. Just an ordinary computer running a couple of simple programmes.
This book is most likely to suit people who are multi-lingual and have a very impressive vocabulary.


The Origins of Virtue (Penguin Press Science)
The Origins of Virtue (Penguin Press Science)
by Matt Ridley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why can't we all just be nice?, 15 Oct 2004
The truth is, most of us for most of the time, are a lot nicer than we might be entitled to expect under the circumstances. The circumstances being that our natures - our instincts - have been shaped from below, by evolution and our 'selfish genes' rather than above, by some kindly supernatural agency. This book follows on so neatly from Richard Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" that he says, if there had been a volume two of that book, focused on humans, it would be pretty much like "The Origins of Virtue". Another thing that this book has in common with Richard Dawkins' books is its readability. Plain English at its very best. Not all popular science books are as interesting or as well written as this.
Matt Ridley argues that, even though our genes and evolution ensure that we are selfish, what has made our species so successful is our inclination to trust and co-operate with each other. We don't only co-operate with members of our own family (looking out for our own genes), we also help and co-operate with other members of our community and even total strangers. He examines the reasons for this apparent selflessness and his reasoning is very convincing. The main thread that runs through the book, upon which all the explanations of our apparent altruism and frequent treachery hangs, is "Game Theory" and, in particular "The Prisoner's Dilemma". According to this theory, we carefully weigh up (not necessarily consciously) the pros and cons of situations where we have something to gain or lose by co-operating, pretending to co-operate, or not co-operating with others. In these situations certain strategies work better than others, depending on the strategies exercised by the other participants in the group. It's possible to be too nice (selfless and trusting) or too nasty (selfish and greedy). Being very nice or very nasty works well when there are mostly nice people in the group but nice people/strategies don't last long when they are exploited by the nasty people/strategies. Everyone suffers when all the people/strategies are nasty. The best kinds of strategy allow for the fact that the other person's strategy is unknown: so start by being nice (co-operative, generous) and if the other person reciprocates, continue to be nice until and unless the other person cheats. Then punish them by refusing to be nice and co-operative. There are variations of this "Tit for Tat" strategy but generally, it's the tit for tat strategies that are employed by the most successful groups - and within successful social groups, trust has come to be highly valued.
To illustrate how selfish we have been throughout human history, often to our own detriment, Ridley lists some of the horrors our species has visited on our environment. Large numbers of species have been destroyed within a short period following the arrival of human kind in an area. The myth of the 'noble savage' is exploded. When homo sapiens first arrived in Australia, New Zealand, America and all the rest, species were wiped out ruthlessly and carelessly. Any notion of native peoples living in harmony with the land is a modern invention, contradicted by the evidence of recent (on a geological time-scale) extinctions. Convincing reasons are offered to explain this destructive insanity and they are to do with private and group ownership. It's argued that owning resources (like land) that can be controlled and protected (unlike herds of animals that migrate across borders), generates a sense of personal and shared responsibility. People will decimate resources that are deemed to belong to everybody in general (ie the state or nobody in particular) because if they don't use those resources to destruction, someone else will. That's "The Prisoner's Dilemma" in action. State ownership of resources and state responsibility for individuals can actually be the cause of selfish behaviour (deforestation, over-fishing and so on). When people have ownership and the ability to trade their produce, trust can be built up between individuals and groups and, Ridley concludes, "trust is the foundation of virtue".
This is a fascinating book, very densely packed with ideas, presented in a logical, coherent and persuasive way. Highly recommended.


Thank You, Jeeves
Thank You, Jeeves
by P. G. Wodehouse
Edition: Audio CD

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, well read, 10 Oct 2004
This review is from: Thank You, Jeeves (Audio CD)
P G Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster books are some of the funniest stories I've ever had the privilege to read. 'Thank you, Jeeves' is one of the best of the lot. I've just listened to the audiobook read by Simon Callow, who does Wodehouse's characters full justice. He made it very easy to imagine all the different personalities and the extraordinary and outrageous situations they tumbled into, only to be patiently extricated by the wise and resourceful Jeeves.
The tale starts with the unthinkable. Jeeves hands in his notice because Bertie has taken up the playing of an infernal instrument, the music of which, it seems, he alone can appreciate. He leaves for the country rather than give up his banjolele in the interests of peace with his neighbours. His old school chum Chuffy (who is now Jeeve's gentleman), provides him with an out-of-the-way cottage on his estate. From start to finish poor Bertie is dogged by unlikely coincidences and runs into shadows from the past. Even in the rural south west extreme of England he meets an old Nemesis from across the Atlantic who briefly manages to kidnap him in an attempt to force Bertie to marry his beautiful daughter (and Chuffy's intended). In the meantime, Jeeves has left Chuffy's employ and joined the service of Mr Stoker (the American Nemesis) and manages to rescue Bertie from certain matrimony by disguising him and smuggling him off his erstwhile father-in-law to-be's yacht. As usual, everyone gets the wrong end of the stick because, of course, every stick is presented wrong end first - so the father, the daughter, Chuffy, the policemen and anyone else grasping for a stick, are under misapprehensions that only Jeeves can remedy.
In addition to the old school chum and the old girl-friend and her despotic dad, the story is populated by: Bertie's downstairs neighbour and her Pomeranian, her doctor (a nerve specialist who also turns out to be Chuffy's aunt's doctor), two hellish kids - one belonging to Chuffy's aunt and one belonging to Bertie's Nemesis, two bumbling policemen, Bertie's new and unstable valet who goes on an alcoholic bender and, hovering on the periphery throughout there's a troupe of minstrels that Bertie was hoping to meet and get a few tips on playing his banjolele.
I recommend this audiobook. Other readers might have read it well, but I'm sure none could have read it better than Simon Callow.


Shogun Assassin: Uncut Edition [DVD]
Shogun Assassin: Uncut Edition [DVD]
Dvd ~ Tomisaburô Wakayama
Offered by WorldCinema
Price: £7.24

6 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strange, 4 Oct 2004
Strange that there are so many enthusiastic reviews of this film. It must be one of those 'cult' things. Are all the rave reviews generated by boys I wonder. In fact I bought it because of the rave reviews, hoping it would keep my brother entertained for an hour or two. It did. The film clearly isn't supposed to be a comedy. Nevertheless, it was the silliness of it that kept our attention:
• The blood gushing out of every wound like a volcanic geyser.
• The terrible script.
• The grim over-acting ... or was it under-acting? ... was it acting at all? - anyway it was comically bad.
• The plot ... was there one? Oh yes, I remember - a miserable old shogun was annoyed with the samurai hero so arranged to have his wife murdered. The samurai spent the rest of the film eviscerating, beheading, bifurcating, amputating and scowling at everything in sight. And he had an infant son that he pushed around in a wooden pram that had blades sticking out of its wheels. And the little dude was the narrator.
• the huge, insane looking hats that the poor bad guys had to wear. How were they supposed to see the samurai to fight him, wearing hats that almost covered their shoulders?
Why has this film been banned since 1983? The violence was so theatrical and the blood so obviously synthetic and pumped out under such pressure that any audience would be more likely to laugh than retch. It's true that there was one naked female breast in the film. Perhaps that was the reason.
I recommend the film to anyone who likes this sort of .... umm, schlock. A bunch of mates and a few cold beverages will help you to enjoy it.


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