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Blackhorse47 "I.J. Parnham" (Moray, Scotland)

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The Cosby Show Season 4 [DVD]
The Cosby Show Season 4 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Bill Cosby
Price: 10.00

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A slight change in direction this season, 4 Dec 2009
For a cosy sitcom that trundled along happily without seemingly changing much throughout its run, this year features some major tweaking of the format. Lisa Bonet leaves to star in the spin-off show A Different World and so is only an occasional visitor, which is something that I didn't mind as I never warmed to her character.

To compensate Sondra's husband Elvin Tibbadeaux gets a larger role in which he turns away from their previous career path and tries to run a store, causing much angst for the family. Theo also gets to leave high school while the other children bumble along with the youngest now being old enough to move beyond just being cute. There are also a few characters who start to enjoy recurring roles including the ever dependable Wallace Shawn.

So this is another solid season of wholesome laughs. Hopefully season 5 won't be far away.

The King Of Queens: 6th Season [DVD]
The King Of Queens: 6th Season [DVD]
Dvd ~ Kevin James
Price: 9.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A slight drop in quality this season, 3 Dec 2009
Season six is perhaps the weakest year so far. It still provides plenty of laughs, but some of the spark is noticeably lacking this year. I think this was about the time that Kevin James started to get more film work, as he does appear to be distracted. He doesn't put as much effort into his performance as before and that makes him often come over as selfish and arrogant.

Leah Remini is also increasingly distracted as the season progresses as this is the year she has a baby, in real life only. I usually find it amusing when a pregnancy is not written into the story and they have to go to ridiculous lengths to hide the bump, but the reasoning used here does unbalance some of the episodes. Probably worst of all though the show had become popular enough by this stage, presumably, to get a budget increase and so more sequences are shot outside. It's one of those strange sitcom oddities that some shows just don't work as well when out of a studio, and Queens is one of them. Still a lot of fun though.

by John Varley
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: 4.75

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unsung sf classic, 2 Dec 2009
This review is from: Titan (Mass Market Paperback)
A giant alien structure is discovered orbiting Saturn. Inside there are lifeforms that have been specially created to worship the structure's god-like creator. The exploring astronauts' leader Cirocco Jones decides to free the inhabitants, but how can she succeed in a closed environment in which everyone is controlled by the world itself?

This is an enjoyable romp. Initially it starts as a giant structure exploration story in the style of Rendezvous With Rama with a bunch of astronauts investigating a large and fascinating artificial alien environment. But then it veers away into more interesting territory and almost becomes a fantasy genre type work with quests and ultimate battles between good and evil.

Although the themes are free will and the nature of god, it doesn't spend much time on being philosophical and instead it provides plenty of action and humour. Along with a great location, a god with a love of 'B' movies and one of the best female leads in sf, this a tale that's well worth reading.

How I Met Your Mother - Season 2 [DVD]
How I Met Your Mother - Season 2 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Josh Radnor
Price: 10.00

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last!, 1 Dec 2009
After two years of waiting for season 2 to emerge it's finally here. If you haven't caught the show yet, or saw a clip and thought it was trying too hard to be another Friends (it isn't), the basic premise is that some years from now Ted tells his children a story of how he met their mother. But his story starts before that event and so we're left to slowly work out who his future wife will be. This arc story allows us to meet his friends who are his sometimes girlfriend Robin, his unpleasant womanizer friend Barney, and Marshall and Lilly, a sickeningly happy couple (mostly).

The star turn, and most of the funniest lines, is provided by Barney, but all the cast spark well with rapid fire witty comments that come over as being natural and in character rather than the writers giving everyone sharp words to say. In truth, the stories are usually contrived in a routine sitcom sort of way providing nothing you haven't seen before, but then again that adds to the charm of the show. It works because the characters are so well-drawn and are just real enough to be appealing. And the editing is fast to ensure that not a moment is wasted, but for once this technique is used to good effect as the stories move around in time and place.

Season 2 follows on the story left at the end of season 1 in which Marshall and Lilly are having issues and Robin and Ted aren't. The overall arc story inches on and on the way there's plenty of laughs. Let's hope it's not another two years before season 3 appears.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 6, 2010 10:33 PM GMT

The Upper Hand - Series 1 [DVD]
The Upper Hand - Series 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Diana Weston
Price: 11.62

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best will they, won't they sitcom, 30 Nov 2009
Made in the early 90s, this was an enjoyable sitcom that managed to provide its fair share of laughs, but which was elevated into something memorable by an excellent cast with Joe McGann and Diana Weston as the appealing leads, and a classy Honor Blackman as Diana's intrusive mother. The premise is that Diana's character is a busy woman who hires a housekeeper to look after her children, but, shock horror, the best person for the job turns out to be a man.

At first the series gets laughs out of the gender reversal situation that was fairly radical in the early 90s, but rapidly it develops into a question of how long it'll take the leads to realize the obvious and get together. The show lasted for seven seasons and in truth, at times, it could be formulaic and repetitive as unlike most British sitcoms that usually provide around six episodes a season, this show churned out 13 or even more a year. Luckily the show managed to re-invent itself several times by allowing the arc storyline of the leads' romance to develop, so there's always much to enjoy.

Iron Angel (Deepgate Codex Trilogy 2)
Iron Angel (Deepgate Codex Trilogy 2)
by Alan Campbell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.19

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A middle volume that's different to the norm, 29 Nov 2009
I wish I had enjoyed this book more, but although it didn't work for me, I'm sure many readers will find much to enjoy here. The first novel in the trilogy Scar Night was an unexpected delight and one of the best fantasy books I've read in the last few years. Admittedly in parts it was messily written, and it had some characters I didn't care for, and it was far-fetched both in the setting and the way many of the characters acted. But that didn't matter as I enjoyed the tale. Gormenghast with action one review said, and that summed it up nicely making me feel that the genre had gained an original and entertaining voice. I enjoyed it right up until the last 50 pages where most of the mysteries were resolved. I didn't need answers as I could have happily read a whole trilogy in the style of the bulk of the book, and worse it destroyed the carefully created gothic mood. I was therefore disappointed that the sequel continues the themes introduced in the last 50 pages and largely ignores the rest of the book to the extent that I wonder why the trilogy is even called The Deepgate Codex.

This time round the story follows the further adventures of Dill after he was killed in the first book (yeah, the story is that bizarre) along with some new characters, and gods. Nearly everybody who was in the first book fails to re-appear, or if they do it's a walk-on part. I wanted to enjoy this change of direction as middle volumes of fantasy trilogies are often weak as you can usually predict everything that'll happen. Finding a book that contains nothing I expected was therefore interesting, but sadly what replaces the intriguing and involving life in Deepgate is a slight tale involving big battles, plodding quests, powerful gods, and a weird world where anything can happen. Worse, for me anyhow, a huge chunk of the story is set in Hell. Hundreds of pages devoted to describing bizarre types of existence left me cold. Added to that god-like beings feature heavily and that's not my thing. In fantasy I like to read about real people with only the occasional interlude from a god, rather than the other way round.

There's plenty of interesting imagery. For instance the god who dominates the early sections with his massive fog-bound airship and chained champion is a glorious vision, but he doesn't do anything. With the first book, having provided the chained city over Hell, the story then does something with the creation, but not here. It's a world where death has no meaning and people can transform into anything, so it's hard to get involved in anybody's plight or problems. And not knowing what's at stake and where the story is heading doesn't help to generate any tension. Scenes come over as being invention for the sake of invention. Occasionally there are great moments such as a meeting with the infamous Soft Men, something that was worth more than the couple of pages devoted to it. But time and again I felt there was an interesting story going on somewhere in this universe, but unfortunately it was happening elsewhere and the story that appears on the pages wasn't it.

Sadly, although the final section creates an intriguing situation, the journey to get there was a slog to wade through. I hope that in future the author devotes as much time to creating an involving story as he does on dreaming up original imagery. As it is, I'm not sure I'll read the final book now.

Chung Kuo: Middle Kingdom Bk. 1
Chung Kuo: Middle Kingdom Bk. 1
by David Wingrove
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare sf epic that justifies its length, 27 Nov 2009
The Chinese nation spreads to control earth. Then they rewrite history, ensuring future generations will remain unaware that there was a time when they weren't in control. By the 23rd century, tens of billions of downtrodden humans live in vast cities that cover the planet. Every person is ruled by the repressive super-nation. Rebellion is pointless and is always ruthlessly crushed. But the seeds of change are growing, in small ways with petty personal squabbles and in large global political changes brought on by complacency. This civilisation will crumble, but will the new life be better or worse?

This series is worth reading, but there are caveats. It's around 5000 pages long over eight books and was conceived as one epic story so that reading an individual volume won't provide a self-contained story. But although the scope of the tale justifies its length, it could easily have been shorter. Numerous sub-plots add only complexity rather than essential story threads. You usually know there's the potential for confusion when novels have appendices for the cast list. The saga presents two styles of story telling. Sometimes large sections are devoted to one story line. This works best, although it means that hundreds of pages pass before other plot lines return by which time you've forgotten what was happening in them. The other style is to run everything together with the story flitting from one plot strand to the next every few pages. With there being several dozen plot lines, this can be tiring.

What makes this story worthwhile is its effective playing out of two scales of story. There's the epic world-wide tales and the smaller character-based tales, but the book shows how each affect the other. Characters do the right things in a selfless manner while others do the wrong things for personal gain. Whichever way is chosen, every action has a consequence that leads to a real sense of history being created that in turn affects people's lives. Pleasantly, Wingrove has no qualms about killing off characters, and not just the one-dimensional ones who might as well have deadmeat tattooed on their foreheads. It's hard to work out who will survive and who won't, and although a lack of a central voice is usually to a novel's detriment, here it adds a sense of danger where you're always guessing where the story will go.

Aside from its excessive length, what ultimately becomes the main fault is the poor handling of SF themes. For vast sections there is little that you expect in SF, which is fine, but I feel that concerned the author and so in later volumes more SF ideas are introduced. This reduces the quality of the story and it finally unravels to surge off in a bizarre direction to the extent I'd recommend only reading to volume 7 and ignoring the unneeded final volume. Those caveats aside this is a worthwhile saga and a supreme accomplishment that deserves to be more widely appreciated.

The Great Silence [DVD] [1968]
The Great Silence [DVD] [1968]
Dvd ~ Klaus Kinski
Offered by Beyond Electronics UK
Price: 18.98

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most nihilistic western ever made, 26 Nov 2009
This is one of the finest spaghetti westerns, although it's not as well known as Sergio Leone's work or Corbucci's other classic Django. The reason is perhaps that morally it's too complex for mass appeal as we viewers, especially in westerns, prefer to know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, then cheer as the bad guys go down in a hail of lead.

In the unusual setting of a snow-bound winter (there's a traditional view that snowy westerns aren't as popular as sweaty ones) the townsfolk of Snowhill are suffering. With food scarce they revert to stealing to eat. Ruthless bounty hunters are called in to bring them to justice. When the nastiest hunter Loco shoots up an innocent man, the dead man's wife hires Silence, a mute gunslinger, to kill Loco...

This film is a brutal masterpiece with a level of violence that few movies could equal, and yet there is subtlety with clever scripting and good performances, most notably from Klaus Kinski in a particularly nasty role even for him. Throughout, the story blurs the traditional depiction of right and wrong. Spaghetti westerns became popular by having anti-heroes who act as viciously as the bad guys. But this film goes further. The good guys are outlaws, forced to steal through hunger, and the bad guys are bounty hunters, motivated by personal gain only. Even the law is depicted as being ineffective and ill-thought out, exploring in a way few other westerns have the dubious principle that killing a man can be justified as self-defence only when the other guy goes for his gun first.

This twisted morality clearly has a subtext, and pleasingly the film doesn't preach it and nor does it provide an answer, leaving it to the viewer to interpret for themselves what it says about life during this time of expansion, and now. That aside, ultimately the film's immortality comes from its ending, which I won't describe to avoid spoilers, other than to say it's memorable and one that works because so few other films have done it. If you like westerns, this is a must see film. Just don't expect Shane.

Deryni Rising (Chronicles of the Deryni)
Deryni Rising (Chronicles of the Deryni)
by Katherine Kurtz
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: 4.79

3.0 out of 5 stars Not a great start, but the saga gets a lot better, 25 Nov 2009
Following the death of his father King Brion Haldane, Kelson becomes the ruler of Gwynedd. As a 14-year-old he must fight not only his own inexperience, but conflicts on all sides. From outside, in the shape of the powerful sorceress Charissa. From within, in the form of his own church. Most complex of all is his Deryni power heritage which he must understand to survive.

Chronologically this is one of the later trilogies, but in written order it is the first and it is the least compelling work of the saga. If you're new to the Deryni, you perhaps should start chronologically with the Legends Of Camber Of Culdi. If you have read the previous trilogies, you're obviously hooked and will read this series, but you might be disappointed. The tight plotting, memorable scheming characters, and danger in which anyone, even the central character, can die are largely absent. Many of the elements that would later be refined are here, but the quality of the fiction is lower. Worse, the structure is closer to the Tolkien model for epic fantasy rather than the political struggles and shades of grey that are to be found elsewhere.

You can feel a tension in which the author searches for a voice, which would at the time have been fairly original for epic fantasy, but which instead keeps reverting to providing yet another battle between Good and Evil. The series isn't a complete waste, but there are too many lengthy descriptions of magical conflicts and not enough tension for this to be recommended to anyone other than a fan of this otherwise great saga.

The Wicker Man [DVD]
The Wicker Man [DVD]
Dvd ~ Edward Woodward

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Citizen Kane of Horror films, 24 Nov 2009
This review is from: The Wicker Man [DVD] (DVD)
The often quoted comment that sums up the film's appeal was along the lines: it was based on a horror novel, had a screenwriter who tried to write a psychological thriller, a director who tried to make a musical, and the film won an award at a science-fiction festival. In short, it's different to other horror films in that for the most part nothing particularly horrific happens, but it nestles its way into your mind and the more you think about it, the more layers you find. The story starts simply enough. Police Sergeant Howie visits a remote Scottish island looking for a young girl who has gone missing. But his Christian sensibilities are shocked when he discovers that the islanders are pagan worshippers and he soon begins to believe that she might have been kidnapped so she can be sacrificed in a hideous ritual...

Edward Woodward's Howie is just right. He's stiff and prudish, being far from a heroic lead, but he's intelligent enough to follow clues and reveal the bigger mystery. He comes up against Christopher Lee as the Lord of Summerisle, but he too is far from the usual bad guy. He's sophisticated and friendly, and seemingly not in the least bit threatening. The rest of the cast is also not what you'd expect. Unlike the usual 'we don't like strangers around these parts' villagers, everyone is charming and welcoming, and it's only Howie's suspicions and self-imposed limitations that stop him mixing. The pagan rites too are not carried out in dark places, but in the open air, in the light and with joy, and it's that joy that creates the odd atmosphere. We are invited to view the hero as being the one who is out of touch and the alternate way as being the more sensible one.

Throughout the traditional rules of good versus evil are turned on their heads so that it's hard to know who should be rooted for. Even the ending, aside from being memorable and haunting, maintains ambiguity. Horror is perhaps one of the few genres where evil can be allowed to triumph, or at least to hint that the demon will rise again, but here the ending provides a unique variation. Nothing really triumphs in the end as both ways are shown to be impotent. Good cannot defeat ingrained evil, but evil will defeat itself. Such an uncompromising attitude ensures this film's status.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 8, 2014 5:11 PM GMT

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