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Sarah Rayner "Sarah Rayner" (Brighton)

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There Will Be Blood (2 disc Special Edition) [DVD]
There Will Be Blood (2 disc Special Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Daniel Day-Lewis
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £4.99

10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Accomplished film making with hollow core, 1 Aug 2008
To quote from Amazon's own review: `that we don't entirely understand Plainview at the film's conclusion is not a shortcoming, but rather a tribute to the depths of this most vile creature and this most brilliant film.'

Well I beg to differ: but it IS a shortcoming. Or it felt like one to me.

Just like No Country for Old Men, which I watched the subsequent night in a double bill of shattered-American-Dream masochism, it's an accomplished piece of film making containing a virtuoso performance or two. But likewise, it has been praised beyond its due and fails for not dissimilar reasons.

Day Lewis' character seems to have come from nowhere and journey from there to a richer, lonelier nowhere. Other than a brief insight into his motivation midway - where he illuminates us that he hates mankind - there is no explanation for his actions and his ruthless drive for money. He betrays everyone - townsfolk, son, brother. And his nemesis - preacher Eli - is just as scarily off the sanity Richter Scale, so there is no moral measure against which to guage him.

Some - like Amazon's own reviewer - will argue this doesn't matter. Except that makes it hard to care what happens to anyone, so by the time we reach the final scene it seems grotesque but dissatisfying. Plainview's son, his fellow oil men, the village inhabitants are too thinly outlined - characters are brought in, like the stubborn farmer who will not sell his land, then disappear - and was I the only one confused by the two lookalike-y brothers at the start? The result is not just rambling but disengaging, as man's every raison d'être - capitalism, faith, familial love - is set up and knocked down; and nothing remains, or emerges in its stead. I've heard this film described as a parable for our times. But where, exactly, is the moral or spiritual insight to justify such a term when the core is hollow?

At risk of being yet more incendiary (no pun intended), whilst there can be no doubt the film is a great vehicle for Day Lewis, I'd contend that he has been better. More than once I felt he was Acting with a capital `A'. Am I alone in having found him more subversive, moving, and above all subtle in his earlier films such as My Beautiful Launderette, My Left Foot and The Unbearable Lightness of Being? Whereas here, as with Gangs of New York, he seems to over egg it, creating a sense he is playing in a different movie to everyone else.

Finally, talking of over egging...that score. It interrupted constantly, like a radio in the same room tuned to a different station. At times it felt better suited to a thriller, at times to an epic romance. Never did it seem to sit with the film it had - presumably - been written for. And that, for me, sealed it. 3 stars. No more, no less.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 18, 2008 11:32 AM BST

No Country For Old Men [DVD]
No Country For Old Men [DVD]
Dvd ~ Tommy Lee Jones
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £2.96

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ends not with a bang but a whimper, 1 Aug 2008
This review is from: No Country For Old Men [DVD] (DVD)
Let's get this straight from the off: this is supposed to be the best film of the year. It's by the Coen brothers. It's had a raft of plaudits from fellow Amazonians. Expectations are high.

But both this, and There Will Be Blood, which I watched two nights in succession, left me cold and somewhat mystified. They seem from a similar school: portraying a bleak, soulless America, where people - or, more specifically, men - are self serving, violent, and driven by money. If you're after a double bill of existential nihilism, I recommend them both.

However, call me a girl, but I want more from a film. Some humanity would be good, failing that some laughs to alleviate the tension. After all, the Coen brothers films are often bloodthirsty - though I have wondered if they'd stand up equally well without so much gore - but they also are deliciously, darkly funny. In `No Country' they have taken a more singular direction - downplaying their offbeat humour to focus on an explicitly bloodletting theme.

Yet whilst this makes the film less to my personal taste, it isn't my main quibble. Many enjoy gore, and all in all it isn't that violent. Rather, it's that within the terms of the film itself, it didn't hold together as well as it might.

Narrative tends to work according to certain structural rules. It's difficult to break too many at once, or like a clay pot tumbling over on a wheel before completion, you end up with a vessel that won't hold water.

Structurally, it is hard to have a film without a human centre. And in `No Country', I was left floundering, wondering where, or specifically, who, was it? Was it Tommy Lee Jones' Sheriff? We start with his disillusionment, yet somehow he is too insubstantial to hold the film. By the time we return to his rambles at the end, I didn't give a hoot.

So was it then, Brolin's Moss? Here, again, I felt led up the garden path. After over an hour of cat and mouse, which, yes, is tense, but not that tense (cf. The Shining anyone?) I had at the very least expectations of some kind of denouement with Bardem's Chigurh. Instead the film's until then main protagonist is killed off screen in a scene which left me feeling `...huh?'

To précis; the beginning and middle of this film are better than the end. It isn't funny, and it isn't really that clever. As a result, it isn't the best film of the year; it isn't even the best Coen brothers' film.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 13, 2008 5:40 PM BST

I, Lucifer
I, Lucifer
by Glen Duncan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lucifer fails to catch fire, 4 July 2007
This review is from: I, Lucifer (Paperback)
It seems a shame that when reviewers give a book few stars, their take often gets deemed `unhelpful' to other readers; there seems a pattern of four and five star reviews being the ones granted `helpful' status. Surely it's good to have a balance, especially when, as in the case with I, Lucifer, the book is really not going to light everyone's fire. I've thought as to why: my hunch is that it's a boy's book. I agree with the previous reviwer on this, and say `boy' advisedly. My guess it will appeal far more to young men still hell bent on hedonism than 40-something women like my good self who have come somewhat out the other side. Contrary to the TLS, I didn't find it a `wonderful act of ventriloquism', but then I've never been a huge fan of Orville anyway. I found the writing self conscious to the point of irritating - if I'd not been reading the novel for a book club I'd never have finished it. (All those asides. Jeez! Get ON with it.) Duncan writes like an author desperate to prove how clever he is. Granted, his vocab is broad, but good writing is about so much more than that. Then there was the fact that I couldn't' rid myself of the niggling feeling `I've seen this, heard this, got the t-shirt' long ago. 17th century Milton - even films such as Angel Heart - seem to `do' the devil so better. And as for all that endless snorting of coke and prostitution, it seemed so 1980s to me. But for me the real failing of the novel was its glibness. Is indulging in the sins of the flesh really the ultimate evil? I think not. Yet when it came to tackling more than mere rebelliousness but the terrible reality of man's cruelty to man, Duncan can't cut the mustard. The Spanish Inquisition, paedophilia, even the Holocaust for goodness' sake, he skates over these issues like a man on very thin ice, dodging the questions they raise with his oh-clever-me! writing style. And this, for me, is the book's ultimate failing. Thus two stars, max.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 4, 2012 4:33 PM GMT

by Kathryn Harrison
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.64

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Emotionally astute, psychologically insightful and sexy to boot!, 19 Feb 2007
This review is from: Envy (Paperback)
No one recommended this author to me; no one recommended me the book - I just liked the sound of it, and I shall be going back for more by this author for sure. Kathryn Harrison is that rare breed - an intelligent, challenging writer, who not only has a keen power of observation but can also tell a story so tranfixing you cannot put the book down. Hurrah, what a find!

Harrison tackles difficult emotional terrain and taboo subjects with grace and insight, and - to me anyway - creates a very convincing male protagonist. Now I maybe a woman and wrong about that, but one thing I am SURE of - she can write about sex. Which is an art in itself. Double hurrah!

I won't give away the plot, as it has some wonderful - if slightly O.T.T. (hence my four not five stars) - twists and turns, but I will heartily recommend it.

My mother and I have BOTH devoured 'Envy' in a handful of days apiece. Give it a go!

A Million Little Pieces
A Million Little Pieces
by James Frey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Addictive and well-written - hence the fuss, 22 Feb 2006
Ah me, an age-old dilemma, where does fiction begin and fact end? Perhaps we ought confer with George W Bush. Meanwhile, we have AMLP. And from its turbo-charged opening to its tension-filled ending, this book is addictive. Maybe we should expect no less of a recovering addict, but few are as accomplished when it comes to the written word as Frey is. Boy, can he tell a story, write dialogue and convey character. In spades. If he couldn't, there would be none of this controversy, as, frankly, noone would care.
So, yes, he’s manipulated the truth. Inevitable, surely, given Frey’s a recovering addict? Those I know are past masters of the art. But before we judge, consider - don’t we all do it, in a million little ways, each day? Call me a cynic, but surely many memoirs involve ‘embellishment’ of some sort; after all, who on earth can remember conversations verbatim from yesterday, let alone years ago? Moreover, isn’t the hoo-ha also a reflection of how publishers narrowly categorise books these days? After all, Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ probably blurs the same lines as Frey, yet no one’s disclaimed that of late; it neatly side-steps public censure by being marketed as ‘classic’, rather than a memoir. In other words, the publisher has played a part. And I don’t see John Murray recalling all the copies like a faulty car.
Reasoning aside, I was disappointed to read that Frey had been exposed. But personally I was more let down that he acknowledges making himself appear "tougher and more daring and more aggressive than in reality I was, or I am" than that he’d exaggerated his jail term or criminal offenses. To reflect my revised opinion, I’ve dropped from 5 stars to 4. But I cannot deny the book spoke to me nonetheless. And if it adds weight to my opinion, the majority of those in my book-club agreed, giving it eight out of ten, regardless. So, to read, or not to read? The choice, dear reader, is yours.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
by Susanna Clarke
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Amusing but not spellbinding, 3 Mar 2005
There's heaps about the story already here, so to cut to the review: there's a lot about this that is fun - the wry observation, the daft spells that wreak havoc, the dialogue. There's a lot that's beautifully written: it creates a wonderful sense of time and place and you can palpably 'feel' the atmosphere - something only enhanced by the enchanting illustrations. But it's not a classic, for me, at any rate. Why? It is too long, for starters, and there are way too many asides - not just in terms of asterisked stories but also descriptions within the main text - which do interrupt the narrative drive. The best novels, so an author once said, should have the propulsion of an arrow leaving a bow; they start with a burst of energy and fly up high, high into an arc, then come down more swiftly than they went up, borne by gravity, to the end. This novel really doesn't do this, and the end is more of a whimper than anything. Secondly, unlike Austen and Rowling, the characters simply aren't sympathetic enough, or the central two at any rate, to captivate. Neither seem to like people very much (one loves books, the other loves his wife too fleetingly), so I was left wondering why I should be do them the honour, in return, of caring about what happened to either of them or the world they inhabit. In a classic, one of these flaws would probably be fine. But to have both left me feeling I'd lugged around a massive tome for too little reward.

Dear Mariella: An Indispensable Guide to Twenty-First-Century Living
Dear Mariella: An Indispensable Guide to Twenty-First-Century Living
by Mariella Frostrup
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.19

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating, witty and wise, 3 Nov 2004
A problem shared is a problem halved, so the saying goes, and if you've experienced worries such as 'I can't cope with being HIV-positive' or 'I'm trapped between my warring parents', help is at hand in the form of Mariella Frostrup's guide to modern dilemmas. And regardless of whether or not these predicaments strike a direct chord, other people's problems have much to tell us about our own lives in a broader sense, and Mariella Frostrup's responses (which first appeared in her Observer column) are invariably illuminating, witty and wise. She's a liberal thinker without being woolly and not afraid to take a firm moral stance when called for. And because she's very good at scrutinising each situation from every angle, she often goes way beyond the obvious and surprises with her insight. Whilst 'Dear Mariella' is hardly a replacement for professional counselling or therapy, it is certainly worth dipping into for a lighter take on some of life's difficulties.

Brick Lane
Brick Lane
by Monica Ali
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A brick that fails to build, 18 Mar 2004
This review is from: Brick Lane (Paperback)
Incentivised by the carrot of an extramarital affair foreshadowed at the start of the novel, and the fact it was the choice of the book group to which I belong, I ploughed into this with enthusiasm, and initially I believed I'd zip through it no problem, as the beginning was promising. But 100 pages in my mind began to wander - and continued to do so throughout.
Arguably, it is the fundamental task of a story teller to keep you interested in your characters, especially the central one; however good or bad, rich or poor, bright or foolish, we need to want to know what happens to them. And I grew to realise the novel's failure to hold my attention was symptomatic of a fatal flaw: Nazneen, the passive protagonist (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) bored me.
Furthermore, when I eventually reached the affair, my irritation was compounded; Karim/Nazneen seemed to just ‘happen’ from nowhere, with no real build up or explanation, and given the cultural barriers to such a liaison, this left me feeling unconvinced, mystified.
I reached the end feeling short changed; forced to ponder on the nature of the book industry. Timing suggests Brick Lane may well have been bought hot on the heels of White Teeth, by publishers keen to profit from the bandwagon. The parallels – ethnic epic/muslim fundamentalism/contemporary London setting/young attractive (for which read marketable) female author - are obvious, but it’s humourless, lacking insight and flat in comparison. Equally, the editor could have done his/her job better too; much of the prose is repetitive and lumpen – it could have been viciously hacked in places, and elements of the story built up to add credibility in others.
In short, a disappointment, unworthy of the fuss and literary plaudits it has received. (And I’m sorry to report the majority of my book group agreed. ) The best thing about this book? The one thing you shouldn’t judge it by – it’s glorious cover.

Astonishing Splashes Of Colour
Astonishing Splashes Of Colour
by Clare Morrall
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ...would be 4.5 stars if the system allowed it, 8 Dec 2003
All this argument about whether or not this novel is 'literary' or not is misleading at best, affected at worst. Surely fiction - whatever it's labelled - is no less great if it entertains and holds us rapt; indeed it's the hook of a good story that then allows a writer to enrich, enlighten and educate. 'Astonishing Splashes of Colour' is gripping story - nearly had me miss my train stop - and a very moving one too. Clare Morrall has a great, almost painterly, gift for language and her acute observations about family life and depression struck a real chord with me (but then I'm the sister of many brothers and have bouts of being blue, so perhaps that's not surprising). So what if it's middle class or has touches of soap opera? Are these crimes? Surely that it's about birth, life and death, mothering, fathering, child-rearing, marriage... are what counts - universal themes, methinks. My only criticism is that anti-depressants come in blister packs, not bottles, and it made me cry, to the consternation of my fellow commuters. In short, I loved it.

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