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Michael K (Cambridge, UK)

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The Restraint of Beasts
The Restraint of Beasts
by Magnus Mills
Edition: Paperback

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mc Kafka, 9 Aug. 2006
This first novel is apparently a brave attempt to re-invent/relocate the world of Franz Kafka from pre-war bourgeois Prague to post-Modern proletarian Great Britain. The Trial of the hero is fence construction or more precisely the management thereof. The crimes are overtly committed along the way, initially shrugged off by the reader as amusing incidents. As in The Castle, the hero has two comic but sinister assistants, Scots rather than Bohemian. Kafka's Castle and Trial officials become butchers. As in The Trial, a woman is attracted to the accused. The fence metaphor becomes more threatening, and perhaps life threatening, as the story progresses, echoing the torture machine in In The Penal Colony. The dark use of repetition in the closing stages of the story points to a Kafkaesque hell with Satanic butchers. Perhaps more Carry On Coetzee than J M Coetzee.

Elizabeth Costello
Elizabeth Costello
by J M Coetzee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kafka, vegetarianism, Hitler, death, 5 Oct. 2003
This review is from: Elizabeth Costello (Hardcover)
Coetzee is without a doubt one of the most brilliant living writers in the English language; "Elizabeth Costello" extends his canon further into greatness, by way of Franz Kafka and intense mortal introspection. The book appears on the surface to be a curious sort of "autobiography" - the central character is a famous writer who left Africa for Australia, who doesn't like the public but adores Kafka, but is female, is a creative spent force and has a nun for a sister. "Elizabeth Costello" starts as a mixture of near travelogue and vegetarian didactism, moves ever closer to death through Kafka, with asides on evil, ending curiously in pure Kafka. On balance I found this a depressing book, albeit beautifully written.

The King of Torts
The King of Torts
by John Grisham
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy money, 29 April 2003
This review is from: The King of Torts (Hardcover)
Never having read a book by John Grisham, but being highly interested in the subject of US mass torts, the use of the internet and TV advertising in their promulgation and their impact on Corporate America, I was intringued by the prospect of "The King of Torts", possibly the first mass-market novel to address this topic (although I cannot say for sure, not being a particularly avid consumer of these).
Whilst slightly thin on literary device, internal narrative and psychological nuance, this book - a sort of American Faust - does provide a layman's guide to the mechanics and economics of US product liability litigation, laid out in a well-paced, easy-to-read fashion. The plot is moralistic to the point of self-irony but that does not matter one jot; it is still quite good fun if slightly reminiscent at the start of "Bonfire of the Vanities" (alas Grisham is no Woolfe).
The simple, linear plot is largely a variant on the "America: Land of Opportunity" theme. It explains the ease with which a person can join a class action against a pharmaceutical company, to seek redress over alleged drug side effects, and the almost comparable ease with which a person's tort attorney can become fabulously wealthy, collecting town houses, models, private jets, ranches, yachts and such like along the way.
The ending is many ways charming in its complete absence of cynicism.
Perhaps this is the book that can achieve tort reform; not good news for the private jet and condo salesmen.
You may well enjoy reading it.

Life of Pi
Life of Pi
by Yann Martel
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The maths don't work out, 4 Feb. 2003
This review is from: Life of Pi (Hardcover)
The best thing about this book is the cover illustration, which incorporates the principal leitmotifs: sea, boat, boy, tiger, sharks, turtles, flying fish. Oh, and it doesn't take long to read.
Despite the title, this is not a book about the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. There is no maths at all, unless you count the probability of being eaten by a tiger on a lifeboat during several months in the Pacific (which apparently is zero). There is however quite a lot of cod zoology as well as tips on zoo-keeping and animal training (not to mention survival techniques). For the aspiring Ernest Hemingway there are also lots of short sentences. The chapters are of two varieties: curt and truncated.
In case you were curious, rather than a ratio (so-unspiritual), the eponymous Pi is named after a swimming pool (Piscine Molitor) and preferred the diminutive to avoid getting teased at school. He also has a keen interest in religion, practising Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, concurrently without apparent contradiction, in the city of Pondicherry, a rare French foothold in India.
I thought this book at heart was about coping with massive trauma and loss, and the way the mind can devise ingenious constructs to disguise and defeat reality. In the end we learn that religion is no substitute for a vivid imagination.

Koyaanisqatsi/ Powaqqatsi [DVD]
Koyaanisqatsi/ Powaqqatsi [DVD]
Dvd ~ Christie Brinkley
Offered by Rapid-DVD
Price: £12.42

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars World out of joint, 12 Jan. 2003
The title of this film, Koyaanisqatsi, is a word from the Hopi native American language meaning world out of joint or world in chaos. The film uses time-lapse photography to show the inherent madness of modern life, disconnected from nature. People and their technology are depicted in a head-long rush to nowhere, out of touch with their living environment. Although 20 years old, its central message is still highly relevant today. The images are startlingly beautiful and often breath-taking. The soundtrack by Philip Glass, with its waves of repetition and surges of church organ, fits perfectly. The Hopi indians had little technology and even less need for freeways and skyscapers. Watch this film and judge who was/is better off.

Minority Report --Two Disc Set (DTS) [DVD] [2002]
Minority Report --Two Disc Set (DTS) [DVD] [2002]
Dvd ~ Tom Cruise
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £1.26

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not getting away with murder, 19 Dec. 2002
"Minority Report" is set in the not-too-distant future in a USA (Washington DC to be precise) devoid of murder thanks to precognition technology, in which future homicides are predicted in dreams. Murderers are arrested before they commit their crimes by officers from the Pre-Crime unit, led by Cruise. This is a perfect world where people drive Lexus sports cars down vertical freeways and GAP store computers advise you on your wardrobe. Obviously, a world ripe for something to go wrong in the classic science fiction thriller way.
"Minority Report" is a blend of Kubrick (don't forget director Steven Spielberg had just made "AI", his long-running collaboration with Stanley Kubrick), Francois Truffaut (as in "Fahrenheit 451"), Ridley Scott (think "Blade Runner" in Middle America and without the rain), Hitchcock (handsome hero pursued in error)and Raymond Chandler (strange rich person in greenhouse). There are even references to "The Day of the Triffids", 1960s James Bond (rocket backpacks}, "The Matrix" (people stored in glass tubes) and even "Harry Potter" (animated newspapers).
Like most Spielberg films, there are plenty of jump out-of-your-seat moments and Cruise gets fewer opportunities than is usual in his films to smile. In fact, Cruise plays a little out of his normal screen character, with no simmmering female co-star, toying with drug use and vigilante murder. Even his hair doesn't feature as prominently as usual.
The film is full of neat touches. Despite Cruise's heavy use of what looks like Windows 2050 at work, putative murderers' names are carved on wooden balls. Retina recognition technology means billboards call you by name and Spielberg can create some squeamish moments involving eye balls. The three "Pre-Cogs" who predict the future share their first names with real crime writers, eg Agatha.
Like all science-fiction films, "Minority Report" tells us as much about the director's view of the present day as it does about the future. Thus we are in a world of brands - Lexus, Gap, American Express - and shopping malls. Indeed it is difficult to recall another film in the science fiction genre with so much product placement; surely Spielberg doesn't need the money. In the end civil liberties are seen as more important than prevention of murder.
I must admit though I enjoyed "Minority Report"; despite the rather too neat ending and its socio-political implications. The world would be a worse place without Steven Spielberg.

A Clockwork Orange [DVD] [1971]
A Clockwork Orange [DVD] [1971]
Dvd ~ Malcolm McDowell
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £4.38

18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Your name is Alex. You can help the government., 18 Dec. 2002
It's the future; you can tell by the costumes and settings. Your name is Alex. You are a rather mature-looking schoolboy. You like Beethoven. You live on a concrete housing estate in Southeast England. Your parents are uninspiring and your mum has very bad taste in clothes. They have a cocktail bar in their sitting room. You're in a gang. You don't have a mobile phone. They don't appear to have been invented, but neither have CDs, Play Stations or the internet. Your only pastimes therefore are either carnal or violent or both. Other people live in modern houses with extreme 1960s modern furniture and art collections. Although the milk bars sell drugged concoctions, society is otherwise strict. You must be punished; it's important for the government to retain its majority.
There are no oranges in this film, clockwork or otherwise, except the gaudy colouring of some of the clothes. The title comes from the Northern English saying "As queer as a clockwork orange". There is some orange in the classic 1960s clothes; Alex's mum does a nice line in PVC miniskirts. The film is essentially a political satire. Unlike in Hollywood, in Kubrick's view of the world, wrong is not necessarily punished in the end. We are in a world not far from New Labour although characterised by Cold War ideas like brainwashing.
"A Clockwork Orange" has many of the elements one has come to expect from the director, Stanley Kubrick: long takes with fixed camera position and centred subjects, obsessional composition, crystal-clear lighting, unusual costumes, antinaturalistic dialogue, classical music and close-ups of naked women (cf "Eyes Wide Shut"). It is carried by Malcolm McDowell as the central character, Alex, and his extraordinary voice-over, based the Russian-derived slang of the original Anthony Burgess novel.
This film has in many ways come true. Tramps are kicked to death in London. Schoolchildren do take drugs and wear bizarre clothes. The police do take the law into their own hands. Drugs are used in prison to reform offenders. Politians do use the criminal justice system to get votes.
Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime. It is ironic that Kubrick withdrew the film after its release following complaints from the police.

Twin Peaks - Complete Season 1 [DVD] [1990]
Twin Peaks - Complete Season 1 [DVD] [1990]
Dvd ~ Kyle MacLachlan
Price: £10.00

20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars American Surrealism, 17 Nov. 2002
"Twin Peaks" is a murder mystery that Luis Bunuel might have made if he were American and highly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock (and possibly also on LSD). First released in 1990, "Twin Peaks" was a ground-breaking TV series, part comedy (edged black), part horror and part fantasy, by David Lynch, America's greatest unconventional director, who has since gone on to make "Mulholland Drive", another surreal fantasy of America life. "Twin Peaks" has many echos of Lynch's masterpiece of small-town American strangeness "Blue Velvet" and in many ways build and extends this achievement.
The Twin Peaks of the title is a logging town in the northern US, near the Canadian border, where the everyday is frequently bizarre and the population more than slightly strange. The series starts with the discovery of the beautiful dead body of Laura Palmer, the teenage "Miss Twin Peaks", who, it is revealed kept a secret diary and had a taste for promiscuity. It ends with the discovery of great evil known matter of factly as Bob.
As with Lynch's other work, the greatness of "Twin Peaks" lies in the rich mixture of normality and strangeness of his characters, which range from straight and true Dale Cooper, the FBI investigator with an addiction for coffee and donuts, to the Log Lady, who carries a log everywhere and offers prophetic remarks. Lynch himself plays an enlarged comic cameo as Cooper's profoundly deaf FBI superior, Gordon Cole. I particularly like the slick and slimy lawyer, Laura's father, Leland Palmer, who has a curious taste for Hollywood song and dance, and the sublimely stupid receptionist at the Sheriff's office, Lucy Moran.
"Twin Peaks" is set in the everyday, small-town America of the golden era of Hollywood (think of "It's a Wonderful Life"), twisted and shot through with strangeness below the surface (and some times on it). Laura's dead body is found to have the bite marks of from mynah bird, for example. One character, the suspiciously masculine, Nadine has her sole purpose in life the development of silent drape (ie curtain) runners.
There are many references in "Twin Peaks" to Middle American icons: Agent Cooper, echos Gary Cooper; the Double RR Diner is run by Norma Jenning (eg Norma Jean); the town big-wig and his slightly weird brother are called Ben and Jerry (Horne), and yet are far from ice cream. Benjamin Horne's Great Northern Hotel is straight out of Kubrick's "The Shining". He also runs a brothel is nearby Canada called "One-Eye Jacks" (a reference to the Marlon Brando western). His daughter Audrey is delicious.
I highly recommend "Twin Peaks" and classic seditionary television. Without it there could have been no "League of Gentlemen."

In Search of Lost Time (6 Volume Set)
In Search of Lost Time (6 Volume Set)
by Marcel Proust
Edition: Hardcover

43 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Find time to read this, 13 Oct. 2002
"In Search of Lost Time" by Marcel Proust is a book that should be read by everyone, especially those with an interest in human perception, snobbishness, the inner self, obsessive love, Modern Art and very long sentences. It is a masterful traverse of French society before and after the First World War, which brilliantly and beautifully illustrates the lingering figures of an aristocracy, which many today might have thought died out with the guillotine. Proust paints his characters as brightly as Toulouse Latrec and as sharply as the previously mentioned blade. The reader will particularly enjoy the narrator's reverence for the deeply fashionable M Swann, his descriptions of the interminable soirees of the drearily nouveau-riche Mme Verdurin, his claustrophobic love for Gilberte/Mme Guermantes/Albertine, and his encyclopaedic wit and wisdom on everything from the stage, fashion trends, the stock market, the telephone, the automobile, and sapphic love, through to hawthorns and those famous little cakes. For those that do not make it to the end the last word is time. What's a million and half words anyway?
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LEGO Island 2: The Brickster's Revenge (PC)
LEGO Island 2: The Brickster's Revenge (PC)

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lego Island 2, 16 Sept. 2001
I found this game pretty challenging at first. My favourite part would have to be pelting the snakes with coconuts. I also like the skatepark and Pepper's tricks. The only disadvantage is that it takes a long time to load

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