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The Early Learnings Of
The Early Learnings Of
Price: 9.46

4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Close but no cigar, 28 Nov 2007
This review is from: The Early Learnings Of (Audio CD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Looking like the lovechild of Elliott Smith and John Major, 21 year old Eugene Mcguinness seems vaguely ill at ease on the cover of his first album. The uninspired artwork has 'bargain bin' written all over it. As for the music itself, I think some reviewers have been way too harsh - but there's no denying it suffers from being a mish-mash of too many influences (none of them John Major thankfully). The phrase 'hit and miss' might as well have been personally coined for Eugene Mcguinness. The boy's got heaps of promise but no real direction - yet.

The strident opening track 'High Score' wears its druggy references in the title like the aforementioned Elliott Smith's 'Speed Trials', but there the similarities end. Very few songs are completely baffling but this is one of them. It's two parts good old-fashioned knees-up, one part sixties folk and half a cup of Chas and Dave, but the lyrics are something to do with ravers. I think. The keyboards in 'Monsters Under the Bed' wouldn't be out of place on a Scooby Doo soundtrack, and he goes all Chris Isaacs on 'Vampire Casino'. 'Bold Street' is quite jaunty and has something to do with the Big Issue. 'A Child Lost in Tesco' must surely be a joke, though? It's like a song in a comedy sketch show. 'Vela' is really pretty and worth a listen, but let down by some on/off low-grade vocals (and a tendency towards yodelling). More promisingly, 'Madeleine' reminds me of some old John Cale tracks circa 1974, which is probably why I like it so much. And I really do like it, more and more with each listen. The grammatically-dodgy final song is really catchy, but again the vocals could do with a polish in places. It's a pity they didn't bother. The whole album comes across as half-baked, half-hearted. Personally, I'd have taken out half the songs and released an EP instead. And spent, oh, maybe half an hour longer designing the cover. There are far worse things you could do with half an hour of your life than listen to this, but the truth is (obvious joke coming up) he's still got lots to learn. A couple more years playing toilets on the gig circuit wouldn't have gone amiss for Mr Mcguinness. Download the last three tracks, but as for the rest - save your pennies.

1408 - Director's Cut Edition [2007] [DVD]
1408 - Director's Cut Edition [2007] [DVD]
Dvd ~ John Cusack
Offered by Jasuli
Price: 3.95

21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An extra star for shock value, 12 Nov 2007
Okay, so '1408' isn't the world's best film or anything, but the last time I jumped out of my skin this much I was watching the bag scene in 'Audition'. Admittedly I caught this at the flicks, which is kind of a different experience to the one you'll have with the DVD in your living room. But the scene at the window (you'll know when you've watched it) had me hunched in my seat with fear, and when it comes to horror films that's high praise indeed.

This bears scant resemblance to the Stephen King short story it was based on. (You can find this in 'Everything's Eventual' if you're so inclined.) Ghost-hunter Mike Enslin, purveyor of low-grade horror stories (not that this is in anyway autobiographical...) checks into the Hotel Dolphin with his laptop and trusty dictaphone, having just had a tip-off that room 1408 might be haunted. Add up the numbers...ah, now you see how clever he's been! Samuel L Jackson is a convincing presence, as always, playing the hotel manager who tries to dissuade our hero with pricey liquor and gory tales, but the film really belongs to Cusack. From the moment the door locks behind him, it's basically one man and a raft of special effects. If you witnessed Cusack's mildly annoying straight-to-camera performance in 'High Fidelity' (hey, only Ferris Bueller can get away with that kind of thing) you might have your head in your hands at this point, but it's okay, he's on Malkovich form this time and infinitely watchable.

In fact, it's the special effects that get in the way. What's sinister about this film is the concept - a kind of pitch black Groundhog Day. You'll never hear The Carpenters again without being seriously creeped out (if you weren't already) and it's the little touches like the mint on the pillow, the folded toilet paper, the weird telephone calls, that give you the goosebumps. They really didn't need to break the bank making walls turn to water, etc, as proven back in the eighties by Kubrick's version of that other hotel story, The Shining (running out of ideas, Stephen?). Visually there's nothing here to rival those two little girls, and I'm betting they cost a lot less than the CG budget for 1408... There's a highly annoying red herring as well, and a bit of hamfisted backstory about Enslin's father that doesn't go anywhere. You might not necessarily like the ending. But don't be holding any drinks when he steps up to the window, or you're pretty much guaranteed to wet your pants.

Zodiac [DVD] [2007]
Zodiac [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Jake Gyllenhaal
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: 4.19

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow but steady, 7 Nov 2007
This review is from: Zodiac [DVD] [2007] (DVD)
Zodiac is a good, solid film, but the thing that was strikingly obvious to me was that the second half (when Jake Gyllenhaal really gets going) was a lot better than the first. There could have - should have - been a lot more snipping in the editing room. The performances from the stirling cast are all note-perfect, no doubt about that. But the story feels unbalanced. It's not unusual, by any means, for this kind of film to be drawn-out and a little verbose, but I still think it's over-long. And in the style of these procedural-type dramas there's an awful lot of fast-fire dialogue that you struggle to catch (or maybe that's just me being cloth-eared).

It's a slow burner, that's for sure. But it's also well-shot, well-crafted, with the visual flair you'd expect from Fincher and a decent helping of the usual short, sharp shocks. Well worth a look.

The Story of You
The Story of You
by Julie Myerson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.65

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Between grief and nothing..., 7 Nov 2007
This review is from: The Story of You (Paperback)
This probably isn't her best book, but the prose is delicious as always. Yes, it's kind of slow and some of Myerson's stylistic quirks border on the annoying from time to time. The conclusion is rather predictable. But very few writers play to the senses the way she does - her descriptions of baby Mary are so incredible you feel you've actually seen, held, touched, smelled the child yourself. That's pretty extraordinary really.

Grief does peculiar things to the mind. Nicole has lost her youngest child in a terrible accident, and the boundaries between dreams and reality are suddenly blurred. There's a filmic quality to this, as she wanders the snow-covered streets. You shiver, reading it. Illusions are broken down, and then built up again. The book is very much like a dream itself. And, yes, it's old territory, but every sentence has a newness to it that few other writers achieve. I liked all the shifting uncertainties, the fact that we can't really trust her.

The dialogue, though, is touched with the same magic wand as the rest of the prose. This works, of course, in the hazy way she communicates with her lover, but falls down when you try to imagine her teenaged sons coming out with such strangely beautiful sentences. Oddly enough, the thing that grated most for me was her constant use of the phrase 'she had on' instead of just plain 'she was wearing'! She's a little self-consciously arty at sometimes. But I think if you like her other work - or if you're a fan of Helen Dunmore and Rachel Cusk - you'll also like this. You'll probably like Sleepwalking and Laura Blundy better, but there's so much to admire here too. The Story of You will annoy the hell out of some people. For others, like me, it will seem almost as real as if you lived it yourself.

Price: 6.15

5.0 out of 5 stars Either this or 'XO'..., 4 Oct 2007
This review is from: Either/Or (Audio CD)
There's no disputing that the late, great Elliott Smith had a knack for catchy, pretty tunes. Unlike the average pop song, though, their beauty goes way more than skin deep. You can't move these days for melancholy guys and their guitars... goodbye, my lover, blah blah. But if you're looking for music to nurse you through breakdowns as well as break-ups, then you've come to the right place.

Yeah, these are mostly love songs but so much more. It's hard to explain, but some music you don't just listen to, you kind of absorb it. His fragile, unassuming voice gently shuffles its way into your subconscious and takes root. `Between the Bars' is so beautiful, you could listen to it a million times and never tire of it. Elliott Smith fans generally come in two camps- you either like this one best or you like `XO'. As for me, I'm most attached to his posthumous album `From a Basement on a Hill' so as an impartial advisor I suggest you buy all three and then `Roman Candle' as well. If you already own any of these, you don't need me to tell you that `Either/Or' is essential listening. Highly, highly, highly recommended.

New Moon
New Moon
Price: 6.49

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For anyone who ever had a heart, 4 Oct 2007
This review is from: New Moon (Audio CD)
Another posthumous release from the sorely-missed Elliott Smith, a man with the sort of back catalogue most singer-songwriters can only dream of. This two-disc compilation is kind of a mixed bag: twenty-four tracks pulled from various sources - demos, rarities, alternate versions - all recorded in the mid-nineties when Smith was putting together seminal albums such as `Either/Or'. Most of these songs were never meant to see the light of day, so it's understandable that `New Moon' lacks the coherence of the previous offering, `From a Basement on a Hill', but it's still worthy of five stars.

Quite a few of these tracks have been knocking around on the internet for a couple of years, but there's almost certainly something here that even the most devoted fans haven't heard (or been able to own) yet. It's all pretty lo-fi really, just Elliott singing and strumming, a raw sound more like his eponymous second album than later, larger-scale works like `XO'. But there really are some gems here. We get an early version of his Oscar-nominated song, Miss Misery, and a lovely cover of Big Star's `Thirteen'. Highlights for me are `Seen How Things Are Hard', `Going Nowhere', `High Times', `Whatever (Folk Song in C)' and a truly beautiful solo rendition of 'Half Right', an old track from his Heatmiser days.

Money doesn't grow on trees, but you might be forgiven - in Smith's case - for thinking that songs do. He was so prolific in his too-short life that we've been spoiled so far with the illusion of `new' songs. But logic dictates that the treasure trove must be nearly empty by now. He was doing some of his best work in the months before he died, and listening to `New Moon' is a bittersweet reminder that we might easily have had another two or three beautiful albums by now if not for his tragic death.

The Price Of Passion (aka The Good Mother) [DVD]
The Price Of Passion (aka The Good Mother) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Diane Keaton
Price: 3.60

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great book, shame about the film, 1 Oct 2007
Directed by Star Trek's very own Leonard Nimoy, this fairly dismal film tells a watered down version of Sue Miller's excellent novel. Divorcee Anna (Diane Keaton) pays a high price for her sexual awakening when her ex-husband claims that Anna's new lover (Liam Neeson) has abused their young daughter Molly. The book is courageous and unconventional in its approach and the 'abuse' in question is a very grey area, clouded by one particular factor (I won't give it away) which the film chooses to leave out. Miller keeps the tension high throughout. By contrast, Nimoy would be hard pressed to narrate his way out of a paper bag. He cunningly avoids anything approaching suspense or drama.

Diane Keaton (lovely as she was in the Woody Allen years) is the kiss of death to the bedroom scene (as anyone who's sat through 'Somethings Gotta Give' can surely attest), and Liam Neeson slouches about like a brickie with bad teeth. Of the two, his performance is the better one, though. Keaton is desperately uneven, flatlining her way through most of the film before suddenly imploding in a maelstrom of flailing and weeping, as if realising she'd been out-acted by the furniture up until then. Visually, this has all the flare of a daytime TV show, and in terms of content it's about as stimulating as the average Catherine Cookson adaptation. Just treat yourself to the book instead.

Sunshine [DVD] [2007]
Sunshine [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Cillian Murphy
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: 2.99

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars D'oh!, 25 Sep 2007
This review is from: Sunshine [DVD] [2007] (DVD)
Sunshine is the latest entry in the canon of national treasure Danny Boyle, and it hardly needs saying by now but he and his scriptwriter Alex `The Beach' Garland have clearly been doing their sci-fi homework. Yes, it's derivative, but if you believe the dictum that all stories boil down to one of seven basic plots then you can hardly blame them for that. Working very much in the tradition of Alien and Solaris, with elements of The Thing for good measure, at least they're hoping to emulate quality work. And besides, this is hardly a carbon copy of anything that's gone before. Sunshine has its own unique qualities. It's well-acted by an international cast, and strikingly beautiful sometimes. The basic premise is a good one.

Nevertheless, there's no avoiding the fact that it would have benefited from a while longer in script development. This smacks of a rush job sometimes, with characters not completely fleshed-out and precious little time to look around the impressive spaceship itself before chaos descends and the mission (not to mention the plot) goes haywire. I'm guessing it cost them a scary amount of money to build this thing, so why waste it? Boyle keeps urging us onwards, through a truly loopy plot development to the horrible melodrama of the ending. Cillian Murphy emotes his heart out, but we're not really bothered anymore, to be honest, because the film's gone headfirst into stupidsville. The word that springs to mind is `d'oh!'. Even Homer Simpson wouldn't take a decent film and totally stuff it up like this. They either lost their focus or their marbles, I'm not sure which, but the final sequences make a mockery of everything that's gone before. Worth renting for the visuals alone, but there's no need to own it. You'll only bother to watch it once.

The Good Mother
The Good Mother
by Sue Miller
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep and meaningful, 25 Sep 2007
This review is from: The Good Mother (Paperback)
I first read this at the tender age of fifteen and liked - but definitely didn't love - it. Now, as a mother myself, it resonates in a way it never did before. On a second reading I found myself shocked by how good it was. True, some of protagonist Anna's childhood reminiscences drag on a bit, but they do important work in building a character portrait and once you get to the meat of the story this just rattles along. It's mostly a meditation on gender equality, sexuality, artistry... all those complex, fragile things - but it's also a hugely suspenseful courtroom drama. In a nutshell, you get two kinds of book for your buck.

It's an obvious choice for a reading group. Miller excels in making her characters real and imperfect, avoiding easy choices. The narrative turns on the question of impropriety between Anna's lover and her three year old daughter, and it's a dead cert for dividing opinions. Rich and complex, it's all too easy to put yourself in Anna's situation, and the later scenes where she breaks down ring painfully true. A scary insight into the hair's-breadth between happiness and tragedy.

The Nanny Diaries : A Novel
The Nanny Diaries : A Novel
by Emma McLaughlin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.13

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A guilty pleasure, 25 Sep 2007
I've read this twice now and both times I started out hating it. The prose style leaves a lot to be desired - and I really do mean a lot - but once you get swept up in the sheer awfulness of Nan's employers a swelling sense of injustice keeps you reading through the lean times of mind-blowing boredom. The authors (yes, oddly enough there are two of them) feel compelled to give us Nan's backstory, even though it isn't remotely interesting and all we really want is more dirt on the picture-perfect dysfunctional family she works for. If you've ever wanted an insight into the lives of wealthy WASPy families in America - and the chance to feel really, really good about your own parenting skills - then the Nanny Diaries is the book for you.

But it's all a bit...generic, really, and annoyingly non-specific. Why do some characters have names while others are reduced to labels, such as `Harvard Hottie', or H.H. (which persists even when Nan starts sleeping with him)? Obviously I get the logic of Mr and Mrs `X', her employers (and the face of pure evil) because clearly they're insinuating that these monsters might just perhaps be based on actual real people. But why can't Nan/Nanny herself have a proper name? The Nanny Diaries doesn't so much have characters as `types'. You'd find more depth in a paper cut-out. Did too many cooks spoil the broth in this instance? Every sentence here is carefully balanced to convey maximum blandness. It's like they didn't want to offend each other.

Whatever. It's great fun hating Mrs X (the fact that Nan's an utter doormat just makes your blood boil on her behalf). She's the only `character' (apart from Nan's four year old charge, Grayer) who really comes alive. And she well and truly deserves a slap. There's no denying it - we love to hate, and that's why the Nanny Diaries is such a success. I hate loving it, though, because in so many ways it's completely rubbish. Three stars (because of the prose-by-numbers) even though I'd secretly like to give it four for entertainment value.

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