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Caroline Galwey "pedantic romantic" (Essex, UK)
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For Whom The Bell Tolls (Vintage Classics)
For Whom The Bell Tolls (Vintage Classics)
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hemingway's best, 24 Jun. 2009
I'll stick my neck out and say this is far and away Hemingway's finest novel, the only one of his that I like: the `early', atypical work, the one that barely gets mentioned in lit-crit overviews of Hemingway because it doesn't show his developed shorthand-of-doom style and the preoccupations he developed with death and the male will: it still has time for women, love, life, pleasure, the possibility of good action, all those things he gave up on, much to his detriment, when he became `mature' Hemingway. How often one finds the unhappy logic of authors' own personal imbalances infecting and darkening their work as time goes on: Tolstoy and D.H. Lawrence spring immediately to mind.

The central character, Robert Jordan, is a young American who has gone to fight on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. He is a scholar but comes from a military family, and thus is able both to take an effective part in the action, and muse on its historical significance for our benefit. The three days that the story covers are occupied by his attempts to organise two guerilla groups to blow up a bridge somewhere in central Spain as part of an attack which he suspects will end in all their deaths. For this very reason he seems to cram a whole lifetime into those three days. He develops intense friendships with some members of the group and acute loathing for others, he hears vivid stories of their lives, loves and wars - especially from Pilar, the group's larger-than-life matriarch - and, most importantly, falls in love. The phrase `the earth moved', from this book, has often been ridiculed, but in context it is totally believable.

There is a wonderfully sprawling, rag-baggy generosity in the structure of this novel, as it constantly distends its tight unities of time and place to make room for extra characters and narrations and even to enter the consciousness of characters other than Robert Jordan. This all helps to reinforce the impression that it is about the whole of life, the possibility of living life to the full.

The dialogue seems to cause some readers problems. You have to understand that it represents the way the American narrator, a fluent but non-native speaker of Spanish, hears the Spanish characters speak, as he translates their speech word-for-word into English in his head. If you have studied Spanish even at phrase-book level, you should be able to appreciate how this enables Hemingway to catch the rhythm and personality of the language. The way he censors the swear words - `Go then unprintably to the camp with thy obscene dynamite' - and, once we have got the idea, occasionally allows himself to give the actual Spanish words and let us guess their meaning, is a brilliantly witty way of getting round the limitations on what one could say in literary prose in the 1930s. It is a pity that some people seem so linguistically leaden-footed that they cannot relish the exoticism and energy of this dialogue: it was always one of my favourite things in the book.

Bother restraint, blow irony: here is one of the top writers of the twentieth century pulling out all the stops and writing an epic and a romance in one, as well as he could, and if it was out of tune with the spirit of the age, and the critics slagged him off, then so much the worse for them. I'm still waiting to see this, not the stupid Old Man and the Sea, judged by history and given its proper place in the canon.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 19, 2011 7:20 AM GMT


In The Frame
In The Frame
by Dick Francis
Edition: Paperback

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dick Francis's fastest and finest, 24 Jun. 2009
This review is from: In The Frame (Paperback)
In later years, Dick Francis diluted his brand a little by churning out too many novels that were too much the same, but this one is vintage (an apt term since the development of Australian wine exports is a plot point) and, in my opinion, his finest. From the opening page, in which the hero arrives for a family visit and is dumped in the middle of a crime scene, you are in the thick of things and the pace never lets up: especially as this is a chase novel as well as a mystery. Painter Charles Todd finds himself playing gooseberry to his newly-wed best friend and wife as they help him keep one jump ahead of art-forging crooks in a rampage around Australia. The local colour is great ('Come to paint Australia red!' enthuses one character), crazy comedy alternates with high drama, and even characters we only meet for a page or two have an immediate reality.
Francis has his limitations: not least the way his gorgeous heroines seem to manifest their 'impact-making intelligence' mainly by hanging on the hero's every word and asking all the right questions. Still, he manages to pack more nuance into fewer pages than almost any other thriller-writer. For the record, I think his other best books are Slay Ride, Odds Against, Smokescreen, and Forfeit. Flying Finish, Bonecrack and Reflex are good as well.


The New World [DVD]
The New World [DVD]
Dvd ~ Colin Farrell
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £2.94

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Leave cynicism behind, open your heart, 22 Jun. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The New World [DVD] (DVD)
Malick's New World: you either love it or you hate it. Some people disliked the slow pace, the dreamy voiceovers, the nature shots. They seem to have been hoping for a gorefest made respectable by political indignation (like Braveheart or The Patriot). Others again thought that to tell the story of the first encounter between English and Americans as a love story prettifies the ugly reality of the disparity of power, and perpetuates a historical injustice. That is a valid point of view. But the extreme venom with which so many people attacked this film suggests that it hit them at a level much deeper than politics. It demanded a degree of exposure, of vulnerability to delicate personal feelings, that a lot of watchers accustomed to more detached, formulaic cinema simply felt to be embarrassing, even indecent. Whether this is not what art is supposed to do - whether the problem lies with the film, or with them - I'll leave these people to decide for themselves.

There were good reasons for Malick to have decided to refract the encounter between two alien worlds through the mythical romance between Pocahontas and Captain John Smith. He argues (as did, in their much simpler way, the makers of Disney's Pocahontas) that to experience, or to contemplate, love between individuals is the best chance of making people want to know and care about the vast tragedies of history. Erotic love is both a medium and a metaphor for the encounter between two races, because it is in falling in love that one discovers the true, vast distance and at the same time the closeness between any two human beings. And the loss of identity consequent on being uprooted from one's culture is an extreme form of the difficulty in holding together an identity through life's blows and compromises that every human being has to face: so that every watcher can identify with Pocahontas's loss of a sense of herself and her recovery of it under conditions that may seem intolerable, but at least allow her to survive and even to be happy. Then the unanswerable question arises: is it better to compromise and forget, or to rage on until our dying day? Is the fact that one can't stay sad forever, that time carries away even the memory of loss, a great mercy or the saddest thing of all? That is the haunting note on which The New World leaves us, in a terribly moving final scene.

I was very much in sympathy with the aims of the film. There is nothing I like better than an intense, impossible love story, and yet I did find it a little disappointing in execution. Clearly, Malick wanted to make his effects through images rather than exposition and dialogue, yet I think he could have clarified his character development a good deal without losing the visual magic. Most seriously, the Pocahontas/Smith romance lacked some of the vital intensity it needed, and this was down to the editing, not the acting: Q'Orianka Kilcher and Colin Farrell were both excellent, but there was not enough sense of tension or danger, and too many of the scenes were too much the same. Pocahontas's second romance and marriage with John Rolfe was disappointing too, at least until near the end. Christian Bale's interest in her seemed cold and stalker-like, his smirk unbearably irritating, he was always sitting around while she was working: was this supposed to be true love?

Nevertheless this film was well worth watching, for radiant Kilcher, magnificently tormented Farrell (my only query was, why would such a sweet, pensive man choose the career of a soldier of fortune in the first place?), and glorious images. The scene where Pocahontas saves Smith's life is perhaps the best proof of Malick's ability to vault high above cliché in his dramatic visualisation.

I found the 'Making Of' documentary a bit dull: it concentrated on inessentials, but at least it provided some answer to the accusation that Malick was careless of facts and disrespectful of Native Americans.

Perhaps the extended cut that's coming will deal with some of the problems?


Little Mermaid (2 Disc Special Edition) [DVD]
Little Mermaid (2 Disc Special Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Walt Disney
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £13.98

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This is where the recovery began, 10 Jun. 2009
At the end of the 1980s the Disney studio at last realised that it was futile to keep tagging along three steps behind `pop' culture (The Aristocats, Oliver and Company) and decided to go back to its magical, romantic, fairy-tale roots. The flowering eventually petered out, as flowerings do, but not before it had produced a whole series of joyous masterpieces and communicated the imaginative renewal to popular culture in general: the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films are just the tip of an iceberg that might never have materialised without the Disney revival to show the way.

The finest two minutes of this film are very near the beginning: a caught fish succeeds in flapping overboard from the deck of a ship, and swims down, down into the dim depths of the ocean. To quiet, mysterious music, we see the wonders it encounters: jewelled clams, tentacled tubefish, the eye of a baby whale, and then, in silhouette through a rocky arch - no, they can't be - merpeople! After that the film goes all loud and two-dimensional and never quite recaptures that sheer beauty. Those two minutes stand as a promise of what Disney might do if they set aside populist demands for once and really let themselves go.

The first time I saw the film, all I could pay attention to was Ariel's suggestive sea-shell bra. If you can ignore the Barbie-doll aspect, it's a fine film, loaded with fun and unexpected character depth. Ariel, the little mermaid, is an airhead, but her recklessness and resilience drive the story along: who can forget how, after the trauma of being transformed into a human by the Sea Witch and almost drowning, she basks in a rock pool and delightedly wriggles her new toes? As well as a plea for parents to understand their children, there is a message for teenagers not to underestimate their parents: King Triton is an insensitive, blustering father, but he unhesitatingly sacrifices himself for Ariel when she is caught in the witch's trap, as most parents would. The human for whom Ariel risks everything, Prince Eric, is so goofy as hardly to seem worth it, yet there is a touching irony in the fact that his very loyalty to his ideal - Ariel's beautiful voice, once heard, then taken by the Sea Witch as payment - is what ensnares him. And Ursula the Sea Witch herself is one of Disney's best villains. Her song `Poor Unfortunate Souls' is a show-stopper, her tentacular bloat a great metaphor for the greedy charlatanry that likes to reduce souls to shrivelled dependence in real life.

Not forgetting the comic characters: Sebastian the Caribbean composer crab, so ineffectual except for his utter confidence in his music - and Scuttle the seagull who pretends to know everything: `When have I ever been wrong? ... I mean, when it mattered?' The ending's a bit abrupt, and I don't think the chef deserved quite such a grisly fate. On the whole, though, great, and a taste of even greater things to come. Pay no attention to the misery-guts who complain that the original Anderson tale had a sad ending. So it did, and very sick and disturbing it was. Fairy tales are supposed to have happy endings: that was the standard long, long before Disney. How else are kids supposed to grow up with the hope to make the world a better place?


Beauty And The Beast (Special Edition) [1992] [DVD]
Beauty And The Beast (Special Edition) [1992] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Paige O'Hara
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £14.97

5.0 out of 5 stars The finest of them all, 10 Jun. 2009
SPOILERS!!

This is the Disney film for which even the most rabid Disney-haters have to make an exception, the one in which it all comes together. What makes it happen above all is the music: not just the songs, excellent though they are, but the symphonic use of themes that sweep the whole story along to its ecstatic finale, when the fireworks burst above the Beast's dark, gloomy castle and turn it shining white once again.

This was the first Disney cartoon in a long time to turn outwards from Americo-centrism and celebrate Europe: the loving portrait of France as it stretches towards Germany and turns to wild forests, turreted castles and oak-beamed beer-foaming taverns must go some way towards persuading Americans that there's more to the place than `cheese-eating surrender monkeys'.

What a brilliant idea, too, to replace Beauty's jealous sisters from the original fairy tale with a rival suitor. There's a timely warning against the elevation of shallowness into celebrity in the way that the villagers unthinkingly admire the brash Gaston. A chilling plausibility, too, in the way that high-minded, brainy Belle underestimates him, thinking him a buffoon until suddenly he's putting her father away in the asylum and whipping the villagers up into a mob to attack the Beast. Rat-brained as he is, Gaston swims among the people like a fish in water. In real life, of course, that would be it: the mob would get back with the Beast's head on a pole, Maurice'd be locked up and Belle forced into a life of domestic slavery. But in fairy tales, thank goodness, we get a second chance.

My only real complaint about this film is that the Beast is much more interesting as a Beast than he is when transformed back into a Prince. Why did he have to be disenchanted at 21? Surely a grizzled, Mr Rochester figure would make more psychological sense and be more of a match for Belle? But never mind, be grateful that we live in a golden age of entertainment, where all you have to do to see a more wondrous show than most people probably saw in a lifetime throughout the first few millennia of history is to press the `Play' button.

When will this marvellous movie be re-released??


When the Lion Feeds (The Courtneys)
When the Lion Feeds (The Courtneys)
by Wilbur Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

6 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Is this what men like to read??!, 8 Jun. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Cripes! I have to admit Wilbur Smith can basically write, and there's some good character observation here. He clearly knows his stuff about Africa, too. But these good things make the ethical inadequacies of the story all the more of a betrayal. I lost patience with his 'hero' Sean Courtney by page 30 or so. Here are some of the implied lessons of this book:
1. If you accidentally shoot your brother's leg off, don't worry: just carry it off with a macho air and everyone will soon be blaming him for being a one-legged weakling, and conveniently forget about your role in the matter.
2. Teenage girls are desperate to have sex with teenage boys. If they should get pregnant, don't pity them, they're sure to have some wicked wile up their sleeves and it's ALL THEIR FAULT.
3. If your best friend dies of rabies, a little elephant-shooting will soon put you back in a good mood.
In short ... if this is the kind of thing men like to read when women aren't around, our society has pushed them onto an even smaller island of caricatured masculinity than most of us realised, and something needs to be done about it.
Comment Comments (18) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 24, 2014 2:54 PM GMT


Pocahontas (2-Disc Special Edition) [DVD][1995]
Pocahontas (2-Disc Special Edition) [DVD][1995]
Dvd ~ Irene Bedard
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £14.97

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Admit it's not history, just great romance, 26 April 2009
Funny place, America. It has enormous controversy machines, and then a huge majority of the population that doesn't seem to realise that they exist. With Disney's Pocahontas, it was almost inevitable, however the white capitalist behemoth presented the Native American princess, that some Native Americans and far more academics and journalists would be outraged; it was equally inevitable that if they presented Native American culture in at all a positive light, the Christian Right would protest that paganism and savagery were being foolishly idealised. Both happened. What is remarkable is that by far the majority of viewers uncritically liked the film anyway, and the makers of the film didn't seem to expect that anyone wouldn't. The pro-native critics ought at least to admit that it might have been far worse than it was: the early sketches for the character of Pocahontas are utterly patronising, indistinguishable from Tiger Lily in Peter Pan, back in the 1960s! Thank heavens, the Powhatans were given some dignity. Of course the one group that didn't protest was the group that got really hostile treatment in the film: the English. But then we don't expect anything different from Hollywood, and we reckon we're grown up enough to take it.

As far as I was concerned the only problem was the oddly naÔve disingenuousness of the filmmakers in claiming that their story was `true' and `historical'. If they'd admitted upfront that it was a fantasy romance very loosely hung on the names of a few historical characters, I don't see that there would have been any problem. There's no harm in basing fantasy on history as long as you're clear that's what you're doing. To me, the Pocahontas-Captain John Smith affair was the best love story Disney have ever made, its achingly sad ending conveying, in romantic code, a sort of emotional truth about the tragic outcome of the encounter between Europeans and Native Americans. Pocahontas was strong and graceful, while John Smith, brave, conflicted and ethereally beautiful, was a stunningly successful departure both from historical `fact' and from the bland goofs that usually partner Disney heroines. Thanks to Glen Keane? Having thus created a brilliant romance in blissful disregard of historical reality, Disney then got cold feet in the inevitable straight-to-video Pocahontas II, and traduced the romance that had worked in favour of the historical reality they'd already irretrievably thrown out: they had Pocahontas abandon John Smith for her real-life husband John Rolfe. To this day Pocahontas websites and fan-fiction forums echo with the outrage of the loyal fan base: one web-user has even given herself the online name of PocahontasJohnSmithForever!

The cute animals are grating, but I suppose they had to include them for the sake of the children. And in the re-release, it was definitely a mistake to include the song If I Never Knew You: it's a good song, but it spoils the drama of the moment completely. Also the extras on DVD in the re-release are terrible: the 'Making Of' feature is the dullest I've ever seen on a Disney movie, spending all its time being pointlessly defensive about the historical accuracy issue. Still this is a much better Disney movie than it's usually given credit for being.

If you love this film and want to experience it in a different guise, see the retelling by 'best obsessed' on fanfiction[dot]net. Or if you want a more grown-up, but equally romantic take on the story, try the Terrence Malick drama 'The New World'.


The Hunchback Of Notre Dame [DVD] [1996]
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame [DVD] [1996]
Dvd ~ Demi Moore
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £8.43

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars learned and passionate, 22 Feb. 2009
I think that people either love or hate this film for the same reason: that it's not light, frothy Disney fare, but weighed down with a great deal of knowledge and respect for medieval Catholic culture. While the story rolls excitingly (and sometimes almost too violently) on, you get a real sense of a teeming, complex world in which the humane decency of the Archdeacon and the twisted religious mania of Frollo, the coarseness of the crowd and the grandeur of the great cathedral, could co-exist. The music is just sufficiently reminiscent of Carmina Burana without being a rip-off. This film is an answer to all those who say that Hollywood, and Disney in particular, always dumb culture down.
Those who wish the film to have stuck more closely to Victor Hugo's original, with unhappy ending - are you sure? The book is full of pre-Freud kinky sadism, and reflects nineteenth-century attitudes to women all too clearly with its nauseatingly passive heroine. The difference between Hugo's helpless Esmerelda and Disney's fiery figure reflects some real progress we can be proud of. So does the fact that today's deformed, ugly Quasimodo can end up being loved, which seemed to be too hard for Hugo to imagine.
Finally, the lyrics at their best are as witty as in the great days of Broadway. Some people say that our adult culture is becoming infantilised. It often seems quite the other way round to me, that those who want to create joyous and graceful adult art have been forced to take refuge in children's books and films. When a Disney kids' film contains the verse
'We all have gaped
At some Adonis,
But then we crave a meal more nourishing to chew,
And as you're shaped
Like a croissant is,
No question of, she's gotta love a guy like you...'

the flood of illiteracy has clearly not engulfed America just yet, or for some time to come!


The Aladdin Trilogy [DVD]
The Aladdin Trilogy [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ron Clements
Price: £12.00

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Orient, less orange, 21 Feb. 2009
This review is from: The Aladdin Trilogy [DVD] (DVD)
'Aladdin' is one of the films usually fingered by prissy critics trying to prove that Disney has vulgarised classic tales and debased the imaginations of children world-wide. But what do you see when you compare the original Aladdin story with the Disney cartoon? In the original, the hero simply gets rich by magic and wins the princess. In the Disney version, we are asked to look at the implications of Aladdin making the girl he loves think he's a Prince when he is, in fact, a street rat - and to keep up the deception, he needs to use the Genie whom he has promised to set free. Magical success comes at a price. Is that so vulgar?
In fact there seem to be two Aladdin movies contending with each other on the same disc. One is definitely vulgar and includes crass Arab jokes you're surprised they could ever get away with ('Crazy Hakim's Discount Fertiliser'), Americanised heroes and contemporary American showbiz references for those scared of anything different, a lot of ugly hyperactivity in blue and orange, and the raucous and laboured 'comedy' of the Genie and Iago the parrot, the good guy and the bad guy outdoing one another in embarrassingness. The other is magical and takes over whenever the film-makers stop trying to be contemporary and let themselves swig 70 degrees proof romantic Orientalism straight from the bottle, and particularly as soon as any of the brilliant songs starts. The composer Alan Menken is the greatest hero of the Disney revival.
The two sequels are very different in quality. Film two, The Return of Jafar, aside from a good opening sequence and one excellent song, 'Forget about Love', sung by the parrot ('Love is revolting/It's even worse than when you're moulting'), is nondescript. Film three, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, is a different matter altogether. Cleverly working in the 'Ali Baba' storyline, it introduces a wonderfully edgy and ambiguous hero/villain, the blue-cloaked, flashing-eyed King of Thieves himself. He was my 5-year-old daughter's first film heart-throb. Another good batch of songs, including the joyous opening number, 'There's a party here in Agrabah', and the villainously infectious 'Welcome to the Forty Thieves', proved that even Menken's influence could be enough.
In short, lots of fun and plenty of plot for your money. Even the TV spin-offs weren't too bad.


The Ox Bow Incident (Modern Library)
The Ox Bow Incident (Modern Library)
by Walter van Tilburg Clark
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'If you don't love, you're dead, and if you do, they'll kill you', 10 Feb. 2009
This diagnosis of the human condition by Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe pretty well sums up what 'The Ox-Bow Incident' is trying to say.

The story is a Western about a group of cattlemen who set out to lynch some rustlers and end up hanging three innocent men instead. Also, as my fellow-reviewer and every other critic has rightly said, it is a study of the compelling and elusive power of 'groupthink': the way a group of people can end up doing things that they would never stoop to as individuals. But what kind of groupthink in particular? Not many readers seem to have put their finger on the fact that the force that really drives these people is envy. A group of lonely, bitter, insecure men, they encounter, in charge of the 'rustlers', a man who is passionately attached to his wife and children and to life in general, to the point of not caring if he looks weak or cowardly. In the most moving and terrifying passage, Martin comes to realise with sorrow rather than rage that he and his workers have to die, not so much for being mistaken for rustlers as in order to allow these saddoes to go on thinking that their arid, macho self-sufficiency is the only possible way to live.
Walter van Tilburg Clark determinedly attacks the delusion - perhaps particularly a male, post-Nietzsche delusion - that to be 'strong' is to be solitary and invulnerable, and warns that if you try to 'go it alone' and do without one-to-one love, trust and intimacy you will end up destroying all that is valuable in life. But all this with a total absence of preaching, and a deep sympathy and understanding for the lonely man. Indeed a book to become obsessed with: I spent longer thinking about it than almost any other book I've read.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 29, 2012 5:07 PM BST


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