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Brian Barratt (Melbourne, Australia)

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Verdi: Aida [DVD] [2006]
Verdi: Aida [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Lorin Maazel
Price: £24.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grand, if grandiose, 1 Aug 2009
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This review is from: Verdi: Aida [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
Years ago, I saw "Aida" at Sydney Opera House. The theatre stage in that strange complex is too small for grand opera so it was presented in the concert hall. Impressive, but in need of backdrops and scenery. A later production at the Melbourne Arts Centre was smaller, with a chorus only as large as the budget would permit. Neither attained the level of sheer spectacle of this La Scala presentation.

OK, Pavarotti was already overweight, but his voice was at its peak. While he stands stiffly, Chiara and Dimitrova not only sing gloriously but also act superbly.

There is indeed a lot of statue-shifting by the slaves but I've never seen such a huge cast so magnificently directed shifting such remarkable scenery on such a large stage. By the way, the ladies and boys, in Act II, are not naked as claimed by another reviewer -- they are wearing something, even if it's not very much.

As for the Italian language spoken in the documentary, yes, I too was disappointed that there are no sub-titles. But that is no reason to reject the whole thing. For a start, we hear the beautiful Yorkshire diction of Melyvn Bragg, who is always worth listening to. We hear snatches of some of the great singers of the past, such as Gigli and Martinelli. And we are taken to many of the places associated with Verdi and the opera, and shown many contemporary documents.

This is not a bargain basement set of DVDs but well worth buying, I reckon.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 28, 2013 8:22 PM GMT

The Secret Of Roan Inish [DVD]
The Secret Of Roan Inish [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jeni Courtney

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where worlds mingle, 26 Mar 2009
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Sometimes fat, often sleek, always entertaining, seals never fail to fascinate us in the restless seas and on rocky coasts. Unfortunately, there is a disappointingly dull history behind the name by which we know them. The word seal might be related to old words meaning, simply, blubber. On the other hand, it might come from words meaning "that which drags its body along with difficulty", originating in an ancient Indo-European root, selk-, meaning to pull, to draw along.

However, there are folk in the Shetlands, Orkneys, and Western Isles of Scotland, and in Ireland, who might be coaxed out of their reticence to tell us more about seals. In some remote places where the ocean moodily meets the land, folk memories of faerie mingle with mundane reality.

Not too far beyond living memory there are tales of mermaids and also of selkies. Yes, you can see the possible link with that ancient root, selk-. In Ireland, selkies are also known as roan, sometimes spelt roane. Belief in these rarely seen and mysterious creatures might be even more ancient than the words.

It is said that in the darkling hours of dusk, a selkie might come ashore, emerge from her seal-skin as a human, and dance and sing until dawn. If a man witnesses this and somehow manages to purloin her seal-skin, she must stay with him until such time as he gives it back to her or she can otherwise repossess it. In some versions of the story, she must become his wife until she can escape back to her real home, the sea.

"Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry" by Rosalie K. Fry tells such a tale. Screenwriter and director John Sayles made a film version "The Secret of Roan Inish" in 1993. It is a film is like no other. There can't be many films where the credits list security divers, wildlife boatmen, gull trainers and seal trainers, as well as animatronics. The animatronics are so well done that they're well nigh impossible to detect.

Filmed in Country Donegal, in the north-west of Ireland, the unfolding story is of a determined young girl, Fiona, searching for her little brother Jamie who disappeared at sea in very unusual circumstances.

Fiona is sent to live with her grandparents in a village which is just a short distance by sea from Roan Inish, which means "island of seals". There, she meets her cousin Tagh, an intense, misunderstood and sometimes reviled young man known as a "dark one" because of both his appearance and his manner. They somehow recognise something in each other. He tells her the family's own tale of a selkie and reveals that her lost brother Jamie was also a "dark one".

Fiona's grandfather evades her questions and cautions her not to raise them with her grandmother. She confides in her cousin, Eamon, who eventually believes what she is telling him -- she has actually seen little Jamie when she was taken in a small fishing boat to look round Roan Inish. He is still alive. He lives with the seals, somewhere out in the wild waters that surround the island. Fiona discovers that he secretly comes onto Roan Inish to play and sleep in one of the picturesque, derelict, old stone houses where his grandparents lived in years gone by.

Watching how they are eventually reunited, one does not need to suspend disbelief but, rather, to believe in a childlike (not childish) way in a mingling of worlds.

The sometimes wild landscapes and seascapes are a visual delight. The good honest folk are real people without pretensions. Their Irish voices are music to the ears. And the background music is magic. Yes, it is a film like no other.

Note: Contrary to what the Amazon summary states, there is no chapter-choice in this version. Nor, alas, are there sub-titles for the hearing-impaired, of whom I am one.

Footnote: Gladly edited 22/5/09 in response to an anonymous comment.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 22, 2009 12:24 AM BST

My Family And Other Animals [DVD][1987]
My Family And Other Animals [DVD][1987]
Dvd ~ Hannah Gordon
Price: £7.71

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful, 11 Mar 2009
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This is a delightful series, based on fact, of course. The more I watch it, the more I rate it alongside "La Gloire de mon Père" and "Le Château de ma Mère", for, like the films of Marcel Pagnol's boyhood, it so magnificently evokes a time long gone. And it provides so many smiles and laughs, and perhaps some tears.

The landscapes of the island of Corfu are more green and luscious than those of Pagnol's Provence, but both provide beautiful backdrops for the activities of somewhat eccentric families and the childhood of exploratory boys. "My Family" has the additional glory of rocky coastlines and glorious seascapes, not to be missed.

Yes, I know, the Durrell family were well off financially, and this story is not at all typical of families in the 1930s. But what's wrong with enjoying the idiosyncrasies of a good humoured and delightfully dysfunctional middle class family?

Brian Blessed is excellent as the Greek taxi driver, Spiro, who takes them under his wing. There are just two occasions when we hear the full power of his famous stentorian voice. Hannah Gordon gives an understated but insightful portrayal of the somewhat scatty mother. I'm not sure whether or not I prefer her to Imelda Staunton's portrayal in the other, shorter filmed version of the story. Darren Redmayne is very good as the boy Gerald, although I suspected in a couple of sequences that he needed just a little more coaching in the delivery of his lines. There are, however, some beautifully observed exchanges, such as those between him and the naturalist, Theodore, who takes him under his wing for a while. As another reviewer has implied, you'll quietly smile every time you hear someone say: "As you know..."

These exchanges are sometimes the skilful work of the screenwriter in adapting the original wording of Gerald Durrell's book. Some characters and sequences have been omitted, and others expanded, with no loss to the delightful tale.

And let's not forget the maggenpies, the dancing pigeon, the pregnant mantis, and the scorpions.

The background music is lovely, too. It is in some ways reminiscent of the well known music used in "Picnic at Hanging Rock, though without the quivering menace.

The whole thing is enhanced by remarkable footage from the BBC Natural History Unit.

Anyone who has, like me, worked with gifted children will find a lot more of interest in this series, too.

Planet Earth : Complete BBC Series (5 Disc Box Set) [2006] [DVD]
Planet Earth : Complete BBC Series (5 Disc Box Set) [2006] [DVD]
Dvd ~ David Attenborough
Offered by Springwood Media
Price: £11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars "Stunning" is the only word, 11 Mar 2009
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As it says on the back on the box: Four years in the making, with a budget of unprecedented proportions, impossible locations, intimate moments with our planet's best-loved, wildest and most elusive creatures... Prepare to be overwhelmed by the beauty of "Planet Earth".

This not an exaggeration. The "Diaries" after each episode confirm the incredible amount of travel, research, skill, patience, persistence, risk, and technical know-how which went into every minute of his series. It is, of course, enhanced even more by the fact that Sir David Attenborough is the narrator.

I watched the series twice on ABC TV and have watched the DVDs once, so far. I'll be viewing them again very soon. Apart from anything else, the quality of the sound, through a 5.1 speaker system, is the finest I've ever heard. The great waves of the oceans seem to be swirling and thundering right here in my living room.

Highlights? There are so many of them, but I was particularly enchanted by the underwater exploration of underground cave systems, which will never again be filmed. And by the unique shots, taken for the first time with remarkable long-distance cameras, of snow leopards. These brought to mind the Peter Matthiessen's wonderful book "The Snow Leopard" (published in 1979). His spiritual search in Nepal can more fully be understood when you've seen the photography in this series.

I can give it only 5 stars. If I could, I would give it 10.

Incidentally, if you have friends who believe in the primitive idea of "creation science", this could be the antidote for their problem.

Great British Journeys : Complete BBC Series 1 [DVD]
Great British Journeys : Complete BBC Series 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Nick Crane
Offered by rileys dvds
Price: £12.99

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some of it is excellent, 8 Feb 2009
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As an Englishman in exile for over 55 years, I found Nicholas Crane's 'Great British Journeys' a little disappointing. Alas, it doesn't rise to the standards of other BBC series such as Alan Titchmarsh's 'British Isles: A Natural History' and David Dimbleby's 'A Picture of Britain' and 'How we built Britain'.

In summary, I agree with both the positive and the negative reviews submitted by others. There are many 'Wow, I didn't realise that' segments and many fascinating and informative diversions into lesser-known paths and places. We also see an awful lot of Nick trudging through mud; choosing a difficult path when an easier one is in sight; rushing round on his various bikes; awkwardly talking over his shoulder; or pacing back and forth in small pubs. Personally, I also found the soundtrack music quite intrusive and jarring at times. Nevertheless, it is all in all a fascinating series.

It's worth persevering with the irritants, and this is why I score it at 4 rather than 3.


I am viewing it again and am really very impressed by the way Nick Crane sets his route in each episode by a different classic travel book or guide, the oldest of which was written in 1188! His exploration of social history is fascinating and informative. There are many wonderful views of landscapes both wild and tamed. It's such a pity that due to time restraints we can't be shown more of the old and ancient buildings he visits.

Yes, I highly recommend this DVD but with the same slight reservation mentioned before.

British Isles: A Natural History [DVD] [2004]
British Isles: A Natural History [DVD] [2004]
Dvd ~ Alan Titchmarsh
Price: £7.51

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and informative, 6 Nov 2006
Having seen this series on TV, I had to buy the DVD's. It is totally brilliant and informative.

The personable Alan Titchmarsh might not be a geologist but he loves the land and speaks with authority, unlike narrators of similar series who are simply actors reading a script. For instance, a more recent(?) series "Wild Europe" has dreary repetitive narration, read by Sean Pertwee at Primary School pace, and relies heavily on repetition of both words and camera shots -- it's as weak as a National Geographic documentary.

"British Isles: A Natural History", on the other hand, is a constant and captivating flow of scenery, geology, and history, with some breathtaking photography and convincing computer graphics. I've just watched it for the third time, and will be viewing it all over again ere long. Every time, there's something new, fascinating, and worthwhile to see and hear.

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