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Simon McMahon "Film Buff" (Chelmsford, Essex, UK)

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Radio 4's History of Private Life (BBC Audio)
Radio 4's History of Private Life (BBC Audio)
by Amanda Vickery
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 20.59

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Find an epsiode list before buying!, 18 Nov 2010
I was really looking forward to receiving this set, I loved the idea of bite size social histories and it certainly started off with great promise. The first episode deals with the bedroom, or rather the bed and it's fascinating to hear what an important role the bed itself played in the 16th and 17th century. Shakespeare's bed for example formed a substantial financial part of his estate at his death. And the small dramatised clips of separated spouses writing to (and yearning for) each other.

However, some of the later episodes failed to hold my interest. I think this might come down to personal preference episodes about visitors to the home, the bachelor life and "illicit" lovers are subjects I find fascinating. The episodes dealing with servants, decorating and furnishing the home... not so much. For me it's about a 50/50 split. I'd recommend trying to find an episode list before buying.

The second episode highlights one of the problems I found in this set, though it seems a bit unfair to level this one. The second episode deals with witchcraft and haunting and is brilliant. But the bite size nature of the show means it can only scratch the surface of a very deep subject. Like I said, it's unfair to say really, as the nature of the show is that its bite size chunks. But I wish a couple of the subjects had been split over two episodes to give a little more depth!

Anyway, I would recommend this to people interested in all aspects of home life and the domestic front as a whole. I think this a great little programme but perhaps it tries to cover too broad a swathe for me as I ended up enjoying about half of what I heard whilst for the other half my mind began to wander.

Life on Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster (BBC Audio)
Life on Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster (BBC Audio)
by Sir David Attenborough
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 17.85

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dinner with Sir David?, 18 Nov 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Both myself and my partner are huge fans of David Attenborough. We are slowly collecting the DVDs of his Life collection and regularly plonk down in front of the TV to watch one of his shows. So when I had the opportunity to get Life on Air through the Vine programme, I jumped at the chance. As the title indicates, this is the story of Attenborough's career rather than his personal life (though this is touched upon now and again) and as such provides a fascinating insight into the world (and the origins) of natural history programming. The great thing about it being an audio book is that we can both listen together.

This is a truly wonderful, in depth account of his quite incredible career. What surprised me was how amusing it is, I laughed aloud on occasion. I particularly enjoyed Sir David's impressions of various people he met over the years. I never thought I'd hear his German accent! This really is a riveting listen even though there is a vast amount of ground covered it never gets boring. One very helpful feature is the fact that each CD is divided into tracks of 2 or 3 minutes making it very easy to get back to where you were after switching off for the night.

I'd also like to point out the great packaging. I have a lot of audio books and these unabridged readings often come in oversized plastic CD boxes with extra sections inside for the additional CDs. These are prone to breakages. This set however looks like a mini VHS box and has all the CD's on a thick spindle. It's a great idea and I have high hopes that this set will stand the test of time... in more ways than one.

I really can't recommend this set highly enough. Sir David has a wonderful voice and this is as close as we'll get to sitting down over dinner and listening to his anecdotes and tales of his Life on Air.

Remington S7902 Wet2Straight Hair Straightener
Remington S7902 Wet2Straight Hair Straightener

4.0 out of 5 stars Wet2Straight? Wet2Awesomely Straight Hair morelike!, 18 Nov 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I was a bit wary of this product at first. To be honest my hair isn't in the best condition from some uber bleaching I did a few years back so frazzling did pop in to my mind when I thought of Wet2Straight type hair tongs. However, they are marvellous!

Before I use these lovelies I tend to towel dry my hair and maybe blow dry it for 20 seconds or so just to get some excess moisture away. Then I put the straightners on at their higher setting, tie a section of my hair up and go for it! It's a bit strange seeing your hair steaming, but after a few goings over it's as straight as a straight thing, fantastic! And also very smooth - bonus!

You can also use these when your hair is dry and for that there's a special lower heat setting. Marvellous! It still gets great results and doesn't fry my hair (thank gawd!). I've since handed on my old straightners to a younger sister and kept these bad boys for myself. Bwahaha!

I would recommend these to anyone and wait to see a better pair of straighters which doesn't damage your hair whilst essentially cooking it straight. Now folks, go! Go and buy this great product and have shiney straight hair forever more!

2012 [Blu-ray] [2010] [Region Free]
2012 [Blu-ray] [2010] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ John Cusack
Price: 6.03

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Watch the trailer and save your money., 1 Sep 2010
I love disaster movies, and I have a soft spot for big summer popcorn films like this. I hated this film. Why? Because it's a terribly "un-fun" film. It's almost like Emmerich looked back at Independence Day and said "with current technology I can do the blowy up cities better". And that's what he tries to do.

Essentially the film is a series of disaster set pieces. We have a massive earthquake tearing apart LA. A super volcano. A couple of tsunamis (a ship capsizes in a nod to the Poseidon Adventure). The trouble is this film has no heart. John Cusack is estranged from his ex wife (original) who is now living with their kids and the stereotypical Very Successful Man. Can you take a wild guess how this family situation turns out? The only original thing here is that the VSM is actually likeable. There's also the American president (dignified), his daughter (professional but caring), a fellow who might be a geologist (passionate and caring - I wonder who he'll end up with) and a Russian millionaire (a bit of a selfish scumbag - who has the deepest voice I have ever heard, if the Earth ever spoke it would sound like him).

Despite all the action the film really drags. I thought we were nearing the end and realised we had over an hour left (in fact we had to stop the film and continue it the next night as we really did struggle with it). This could have lost 40 minutes and possibly worked better. Most of the set pieces go on a bit too long and as such end up losing their sense of threat and danger. Each one could easily have been trimmed here and there.

One of the biggest issues for me was the visual effects. Check out the trailer. You'll see the best bits. In fact it's almost as if they decided which shots would be in the trailer and spent more time working on them than the rest. The shots of LA when the earthquake hits in particular are just not very good. The 14 year old model work of Independence Day probably works better. There's no sense of weight in the 2012 scenes and it's almost as if they bit off more than they could chew and ended up with so many effects shots and not enough time to finish them off to a high standard. I found these weaknesses were very obvious on Blu-Ray.

In the end I found myself bored with this film. And as this is meant to be an action packed disaster film that's not right at all. It may not seem like it but I really was looking forward to this film, I loved Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, Twister and the Poseidon Adventure. I ended up feeling really let down. This tried to do so much in one film that I think it's lost its way and ends up being evern duller than The Day After Tomorrow. Like I said, download a high def version of the trailer and watch that back to back a few times. You really won't be missing that much.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 21, 2010 10:55 AM GMT

Easy Tasty Italian
Easy Tasty Italian
by Laura Santtini
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Easy? Not for beginners!, 14 July 2010
This review is from: Easy Tasty Italian (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The cover of this book is fairly bold in it's statement "Easy Tasty Italian". The bright gold font on a black background is quite difficult to miss. However, I suppose we all have a different definition of easy and I reckon my definition is different from Ms. Santtini's.

When I first opened the book I was really impressed. It looks lovely. It's wonderfully colourful and looks very interesting. However, when it comes to using it practically the book falls down. The contents are exceptionally confusing with colourful rather than practical titles such as "Water: I was cooked" and "Earth: I am tasty". Being as this is a cookbook I would expect most things to be cooked and tasty but hey ho. I actually found it a very difficult book to browse for recipe ideas. Maybe I'm a bit simple but I like cookbooks to be laid out in such a way that I can find the kind of thing I fancy with ease.

As for the recipes themselves one thing that frustrated me was the fact that some of the recipes pictures were not placed next to them but rather were on seperate "plates". This meant I'd be looking at a recipe and have to flick a few pages to see what it looked like. For me personally the look of a dish has a lot to do with me having a go at it, rightly or wrongly. Much of the writing is also quite small which can make it difficult to read whilst deep in the organised chaos of cooking!

These points aside the recipes themselves are fairly easy to follow. The first recipe I did was the Bolognaise which was fairly similar to the recipe I usually use. Although I did increase the time for cooking. Some of the recipes could be broken down more, as many are solid paragraphs of text and can be difficult to consult when cooking.

One thing I really did like about the book though was the "Tasty Transformation" sections that some of teh recipes had. This basically gives you an additional idea to change a recipe up and is a great idea. I also liked the layout of the marinades and pastes. The top of the page has the basic mariande or paste then it's followed by a number of varients. These are quite handy.

Overall this is a cookbook that's let down by it's layout. I think cookbooks should be practical things. This feels more like a nice looking coffee table book which for me is a big no no. I haven't really gone back to this book for some time now and I think this is down to the layout more than anything, it's just too difficult to find a recipe to suit your mood!

Razor Blade Smile [1998] [DVD]
Razor Blade Smile [1998] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Eileen Daly
Price: 3.85

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Razor Blade Sad Face more like., 14 July 2010
There are films out there that are so bad they become good. You can have a few friends over, stick the DVD in and have a laugh. Razor Blade Smile has this quality for about 15 minutes. Then it reaches the point of being so bad it's painful.

The film tells the story of a sexy vampire. We know she's sexy because she wears a rubber cat suit which shows a healthy dose of cleavage. Subtle. We know she's a vampire because she quite frequently unveils her teeth and hisses. I lost count of how many times she hissed in the film but we counted 12 hisses in the final 3 minutes. That's a lot of hisses, which is great as hissing is underrepresented in films.

The vampiric teeth are for some reason (probably health and safety) blunt and rounded. When the poor actress has these in she seems to find it difficult to close her mouth so will often walk around with her mouth gaping open or in a sort of "Oooo" look.

Oh look, I said "poor actress". Yes. This could have more than one meaning. Eileen Daly who plays the lead in this film is... well. She's not very good. She seems to be constantly talking in a forced whisper and really doesn't seem to feel comfortable in the role. Her previous acting credits include Striptacular and my personal favourite, Electric Blue: Suburban Wives 8.

Ultimately it all feels like an adult movie. But one where all the interesting bits have been removed. You're constantly expecting people to tear each other's clothes off but aside from two rather awkward sex scenes it never materialises.

None of the other actors come across much better than the lead. It's a rag tag mix of amateur dramatics and people who've played "Shoplifter 2" in the Bill. The actor who plays the medical examiner at the first crime scene seems to be struggling to remember his lines and then for no apparent reasons begins to whisper. He also reveals his nickname amongst the Police officers is... I kid you not... "The Horror Movie Man". Catchy.

To mix things up a bit most of the henchmen seem to be played by local bouncers who seem to be drunk or drugged. There's one fella at the beginning and none of us could understand what he was saying, though I think it was rather colourful.

I've gone on a bit now. But I'll just quickly mention the script. Terrible. We're told that we know "F*** all about vampires" in a really awkward voice over. Please don't bother with this film. It feels like it's been written by a 15 year old boy who wanted to see someone running around with a lot of cleavage on display and dropping the occasional F-word to make it seem adult. I came away from this feeling slightly embarrassed for everyone involved. There are much better low budget vampire films out there. Try all of them. But not this.

Servant of the Underworld: Obsidian and Blood Trilogy, Book I
Servant of the Underworld: Obsidian and Blood Trilogy, Book I
by Aliette de Bodard
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing supernatural murder mystery..., 26 Mar 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I ordered this novel with little idea of what to expect and I have to say this book hooked me pretty early on. The story, as outlined above, revolves around the murder of a priestess. It's written from the 1st person perspective and we observe the story through the eyes of Acatl, the high priest of Mictlantecuhtli, god of death and the underworld who is assigned to investigate the killing. Pretty quickly the matter becomes personal and the very existence of the planet is placed in jeopardy...

Readers who are expecting a straight forward historical whodunnit should be warned. Elements of the book read more like a fantasy novel. Acatl has access to magic and indeed is soon encountering gods both in human form on earth and in their own domains. Powerful supernatural forces become involved both on the side of Acatl and ranged against him. I found this aspect of the book fascinating and must admit to looking certain names up on the interweb.

Talking of names... the residents of the Aztec empire don't make things easy and many of the names in the book can be tongue twisters (take the aforementioned King of the Underworld, Mictlantecuhtli). I personally found this great a source of great enjoyment, but I love weird things like that.

The story forges ahead at a pretty fast pace and it's a difficult book to put down. It weaves numerous plot strands together quite cleverly and deals with matters of gods and humans equally well. The glimpses we get of the other levels of existence which the gods inhabit are fascinating and I hope these are explored further in the future.

The resolution of the mystery is well handled. Too often with books like this I feel a little dissapointed at the end, but in this case I was very happy and am looking forward to the sequel. Recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 31, 2010 10:22 PM BST

Secret Britain: The Hidden Bits of Our History
Secret Britain: The Hidden Bits of Our History
by Justin Pollard
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Bathroom Library Reading!, 30 Jan 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Are YOU the kind of distinguished, wonderful and intelligent man or woman who has a range of reading material ready for perusal next to your porcelain throne? You are? Then can I be so bold as to recommend you purchase this delightful volume at once? For I am entirely convinced that it will find a place of honour in your most important of rooms.

Like "The Interesting Bits" from the same author, Secret Britain is perfect "me time" reading material. Split into... well, bite sized isn't the word I'm looking for, but that will do and serve to preserve our modesty... "bite" sized chunks that fit perfectly into your um... "biting" time. This book provides ideal company for both the swift "bite" and the more stubborn "bite". That vindaloo giving you issues? Fear not! Read about the pickled Knight of Danbury or the rather less than Holy nuns of Higham... Too much iron in your diet? Go for the slightly longer story of the London Necropolis railway or Katherine Gray...

I can take no responsibilty for time lost in the bathroom or dinner party guests who leave the table and fail to return for hours. All I can do is heartily recommend this fantastic bit of toilet reading! Enjoy!
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 15, 2012 7:53 PM BST

The Rise of the Iron Moon
The Rise of the Iron Moon
by Stephen Hunt
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.83

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fantasy adventure without soul, 30 Jan 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is one of those times that a cover delivers far more than the book it contains. Having read the synopisis on Amazon and checked out the marvellous cover illustration I was expecting something akin to Jule Verne.

My first issue and one which jarred with me from the outset was the setting. I read elsewhere that in previous books it's hinted that the planet this is set on is Earth after some cataclysmic event. Which makes sense. For all intents and purposes it is Earth. Except the names and geography have been changed. The Kingdom of Jackals is recognisably British. The neighbouring land of Qatershift is a communist France (in fact they even have their own version of Marx and his teachings). I do wonder if it might have been better had Hunt set this in an alternate Victorian period with France and Britain etc. As it stands the use of "sound a likes" seems a little forced. Quatershift is France. It's characters are recognisably French (right down to the names). That much is obvious. Why not just call it France and have done with it?

The plot itself is a take on War of the Worlds with a bit of From Earth to the Moon thrown in. Here we have invaders from Mars (except Mars is called Kaliban, clever eh?) coming to "Earth" and smashing the whole place to kingdom come. A group of intrepid heroes then sets out to defeat them finally launching an intelligent space craft to Mars. I mean Kaliban. Which actually is Mars. It even has "canals". Here they fight against overwhelming odds whilst back on Earth a little royal girl (who has a very hard time of it at the beginning but then turns out to be... shock horror... the MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE WORLD) and her heroes summoned from the past (actually this is one of the concepts I like a lot, sort of medieval super heroes) fight the hordes and attempt to save the "Earth".

The invasion force is probably the most effective part of the book. The first 100 pages or so gripped me because of these folks. They're very, very powerful. Within the first part of the book they do masses amounts of damage and really do seem unstoppable. Some of the scenes really took you by surprise during the invasion. But after this the failings of the novel become more apparent.

One of the biggest issues here is the characters. They're all very vaguely sketched. I never really got much of a sense of any of our heroes or their motivations. We know that Molly is a science fiction writer (or rather Celestial Fiction author, clever or what?), Commodore Black is essentially a gruff U-Boat captain, Coppertracks is a super duper machine intelligence and well, that's about it. There is no concept of progression amongst any of the characters. People die and it's really not that big a deal. I should have felt for these people but I didn't. They were just too wishy washy. When one of Purity Drake's heroes from the past fall the only response it merits is "meh". We're just not shown enough of them. Occasionaly I mixed two of these fellows up because aside from names there wasn't much to tell them apart when they spoke.

In fact a lot of the book is vaguely sketched. I've seen someone else point out the lack of descriptive elements. There's no sense of heat for example when they reach Kaliban and are wondering through the desert. And after the initial invasion the sense of threat goes out the window for me at least. I do wonder if Hunt lost his way a bit here. It almost feels like he had this wonderful image of the invasion then really didn't know where to go. Again we get some great concepts (particularly when a time travel element is revealed) but it's all just quite poorly executed...

This was a book I really wanted to like, but in the end it felt like an homage to Verne and Wells but without any soul. Stephen Hunt certainly has a good imagination, but this book feels almost skeletal. We get from A to B but there's not much juicy filling. Perhaps if he'd done an extra hundred pages adding character development and painting a clearer picture of this world this would have worked better. As it stands I just can't recommend it.

"Doctor Who": Hornets' Nest: Stuff of Nightmares v. 1 (BBC Audio)
"Doctor Who": Hornets' Nest: Stuff of Nightmares v. 1 (BBC Audio)
by Paul Magrs
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 8.91

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable and sometimes creepy adventure..., 5 Sep 2009
I've just finished listening to The Stuff of Nightmares and was surprised to find myself having enjoyed it! I say I was surprised because of the amount of negativity this story has been receiving both here and elsewhere on the internet. I'd actually like to address this first.

There seems to be a huge backlash against this at the moment. Firstly, the BBC seem to have made a bit of a mistake in the publicity by indicating that this was going to be a full cast audio drama which people assumed would be in the same vein as Big Finish (who produce licensed Doctor Who audioplays with Doctors 5 through 8). It's not. It's closer to an Audiobook with several actors and some dramatised sections. Judging from other reviews you might think this format doesn't work. The thing is, it does. In fact I think it works very well, particularly for this story. Looking at the other reviews I believe a lot of the negative feeling is coming from people who wanted a full cast audio play and are lashing out because the BBC publicity machine made a mistake.

Secondly, this is a release that has had a ridiculous level of anticipation. Tom Baker is usually cited as the most popular Doctor. Big Finish were never able to persuade him to do something with them and most people assumed that Tom Baker would never reassume the role on audio. When news of this project came along people were understandably excited. And high expectations often lead to disappointment. Yes, he doesn't sound the same as he did in the 70's and 80's, and yes some of his dialogue is a little on the stiff side (particularly during his scenes with Mike), but not enough to ruin my enjoyment of the story and surely he can be forgiven for taking a little while to warm up to a character he hasn't played in such a long time?

The basic framework of the story is that the Doctor has invited Mike Yates to his cottage. Here he tells Mike of his most recent adventure. As mentioned above, Baker does sometimes seem a little stiff, but when he really gets his teeth into the part he shines. Richard Franklin and the other cast members also do excellent jobs.

The story itself is intriguing. Some fantastic ideas are included and some very visual elements are handled extremely well in the audio medium (the Doctors description of a "paper brain" for example). There were some genuinely creepy moments in this too and I recommend listening to it with the lights out. The sound effects when used are also very good (the hornets in particular). However, I felt the sound design occasionally could have been better. A discussion between the Doctor and Mr Noggins in a natural history museum cafeteria didn't work for me as there was a distinct lack of background effects, a murmur of voices and the chinking of crockery would have been very effective.

I can't say I was one of the people desperate to see Tom Baker return to the role. He was my favourite Doctor for a very long time when I was younger and I still love him in the role today. But I was happy with Doctors 5 to 8 via Big Finish. Now he has returned to Doctor Who I'm relieved to find that the negative comments about this play are, in my opinion, largely unfounded. I had cancelled my pre-orders of the rest of the series due to comments being made, but today I'm going to pre-order them again.

As long as you're aware of the format of this adventure and realise that Tom Baker is older and is just getting back into his stride I suggest you give this a whirl. At this price how can you not?
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 10, 2009 11:14 AM GMT

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