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Daisies Of The Galaxy
Daisies Of The Galaxy
Price: £3.54

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars silver linings, 28 July 2000
This review is from: Daisies Of The Galaxy (Audio CD)
"I don't know how you take in all the s*** you receive" sings E on the infectiously upbeat yet often sarcastic "Mr E's Beautiful Blues". Perhaps the answer lies in the light, simple feel of much of this album. A marked departure from the tragic mood that prevailed on "Electro-Shock Blues", E spends much of "Daisies of the Galaxy" with his head in the clouds.
The funereal opener, "Grace Kelly Blues" offers closure, a final cathartic release. A stately brass band pounds out a sombre, skeletal introduction seemingly wandering in from a 1980s Tom Waits album, before giving way to an acoustic guitar and E in a reflective mood. Surveying the world in which he's woken up yet again, he lets loose a silent chuckle and sums up with genuine wonder, "I think, you know, I'll be okay". Somehow it's certain he means it, particularly when the song segues seamlessly into the gorgeous "Packing Blankets", E's voice full of hope and liberation as he sets off on an unnamed path, determined to put an end to "all the troubles you and I have seen".
The open-road imagery of "Packing Blankets" suggests a long hot summer, a theme echoed throughout the album. E's at one with nature, whether studying the daisies pushing themselves up through concrete, or swatting the flies in his kitchen. Even the giant man-made spectacle of a rocket launch leaves him unfazed, preferring to stare beyond "the trophy wives of the astronauts" to the birds that flock all around, unaware of the scale of the disruption they face.
For all his newly-revealed joie de vivre, E's songs still display a rich awareness of the need for human contact and comfort. "Jeannie's Diary" is a heartbreaking tale of unrequited love, albeit with a sly admission of the shortcomings of both the dreamer and the object of his obsession ("oh she's got a dark side too, even murderous..."). "Its a Motherf***er", probably the best song here, evokes the longing and loneliness of a distanced lover (or possibly a recently-abandoned one) with stark simplicity. Album closer (save for the oddball bonus inclusion of the single), "Selective Memory", delivered in a childlike falsetto, is a companion piece to "Manchild", the tender conclusion of "Beautiful Freak". Its regret for the distance between what we want to hold in our mind's eye and the memories that slip away is offset by a naive belief that "if I lay my head down, I will see you in my dreams".
The cute children's illustration on the cover is no red herring, suggesting a nostalgic simplicity. E's given himself a straightforward enough brief: pare the songs down, tighten the production and stick to the standard three minutes. Despite the occasional piece of Beck-ish percussion and grooves, particularly on "Mr E's Beautiful Blues" (a bonus track presumably because it sits slightly at odds with the pastoral tone of much of the rest of the album), its a curiously old-fashioned trick. Yet E gets away with dumbly praising birds, and resurrecting homespun philosophies such as "don't take any wooden nickels, when you sell your soul", mainly because the tone is so affirming. If this sounds twee, he figures, so be it. Sometimes its best to go back to the simple things, filter through the best bits of your selective memory, and remind yourself of the good things. As E probably knows too well, life's too short.

Gods and Monsters [VHS] [1999]
Gods and Monsters [VHS] [1999]
Offered by auczobe
Price: £5.00

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a perfectly-pitched performance, 19 July 2000
Clearly relishing and savouring every moment he inhabits the irascible character of James Whale, Ian McKellen brings terrific dignity, humanity and ultimately pathos to a role that could so easily have become mawkish. With the stock elements of an old luvvie queen, old age, war trauma, disease and period costume all in place, "Gods and Monsters" could so easily have become another example of worthy-but-dull cinema. Thankfully however, it steers well clear of any notion of the sentimental chocolate-box nostalgia that marrs so many British 'heritage' movies.
McKellen is greatly helped by the sharp, intelligent and surprisingly bawdy script he is given. (His expletive-ridden outburst at an aristocratic party lingers long in the mind.) He seems to relish too playing the dirty old man. The film takes great delight in numerous homo-erotic set pieces, most notably when Whale agrees to an interview with an enthusiastic Frankenstein fan on the sole condition that his interrogator remove an item of clothing upon each reply.
Lynn Redgrave proves a wonderful comic foil as Whale's housekeeper, tut-tutting his love of boys and grumbling over her insurmountable duties, yet clearly keeping a soft spot for her demanding employer.
This is no frivolous piece however. A real heart resonates throughout the script, and in the wonderful, generous interplay between McKellen and Brendan Fraser as his ex-marine gardener-come-model. Fraser's role is possibly the most difficult, and many a lesser pretty-boy actor would have been tempted to overplay the initial homophobia and strident masculinity as a direct counterpoint to McKellen's gentle persuasion. He gets the balance right throughout, showing a perfect mixture of confusion, intrigue and discovery throughout the scenes they share.
Then there are the extra touches. The half-remembered war flashbacks that never outstay their welcome and never over-explain themselves. The magical moments when Whale's house is transformed in his eyes into the blissful summer haunt of his youth, filled with beautiful young male bodies. And finally, what shall be elliptically referred to here as the "gas mask" scene, one of the strangest and most puzzlingly disturbing sequences in recent British cinema.
Given Whale's fame in the horror genre, comparisons with Tim Burton's loving tribute to sci-fi failure Ed Wood are inevitable. While never scaling Burton's film's dizzying heights (a feat Burton himself will probably never manage again either), "Gods and Monsters"' aim is somewhat simpler. Aside from the obvious Fraser/Frankenstein correlation (perhaps a bit too obviously signposted in places), and the authentically reconstructed black and white sequences, the film is less about film than about a man quite at odds with the world, yet somehow finding his own happiness, however jaded by experience. Like Fraser's character, the audience has spent some time under someone else's skin, never quite getting the whole way in, but staying just long enough to have their world-view shaken a little. Which is no bad thing. Judging from this film, Whale would probably have approved.

The Sixth Sense [DVD] [1999]
The Sixth Sense [DVD] [1999]
Dvd ~ Bruce Willis
Offered by streetsahead
Price: £5.67

4.0 out of 5 stars less is more, 11 July 2000
This review is from: The Sixth Sense [DVD] [1999] (DVD)
M. Night Shyamalan's film is at times so subtle that on first viewing it can be easily dismissed as merely an extended edition of "The Twilight Zone" or "The Outer Limits". Thankfully repeated viewings prove it to be more worthy of attention, if not quite the heaps of adulation it has received.
Perhaps it is because the set-up is so simple. Bruce Willis, an award-winning psychologist, becomes intrigued by a boy with behavioural problems. Wanting to help him, he soon learns the boy's terrible secret: he can see dead people. Its a classic premise, one that knowingly harks back to the old school of horror film making, when less was more.
Its in the shadows, the torchlight, the half-heard sounds, and in the curve of the camera's stare. Much of the terror in the film comes from glimpses of spirits who pass fleetingly across the screen as if extras, or who appear as visions akin to those in "The Shining". Its the feeling that its what the camera is not showing you - the intrisic fear of childhood that something is always lurking around the next corner that you can never quite see.
And its the direction that sets Shyamalan's film apart from the generic TV piece it could have been. Like many of the best 'high concept' films of recent years, from "Groundhog Day" to "The Truman Show", it works precisely because he knows how far to take the concept - and strips away everything else. This tightness stays true to the core idea and explores it to its natural end, with no long, elaborate build-up and without piling on the set pieces at the climax.
Crucial moments are dealt with economically but left to echo in the viewer's minds. Its evident when Cole hears cries for help from a closed cupboard at his schoolfriend's house, or when his mother (Toni Colette) looks at a range of photographs of her son and sees single flashes of light, each one a spirit, are by his side in each one. Nothing more is made of this, no extra explanation is given, no overbearing swell of music is added to ram the messages down the viewer's throat. Much is left unsaid and for good reason. Is Cole's schoolfriend, first seen writing lines on a blackboard while a teacher gives a class, then talking to Cole at a party, actually there at all, or one of the dead people that haunt his every waking moment? We are never told, but once such an idea gets into our head, it is very hard to shake off. This is not merely a gimmick to get people debating the film over and over. Rather, it informs the entire way we view it and encourages us constantly to review it for new ways of looking at every scene.
Willis proves once again what a relaxed, likeable and mature actor he is when given the right material. His is a very generous performance, especially since he took a cut to work with a child actor in a largely unknown director's low-budget (by Hollywood standards at least) third feature. And Osment is more than capable of holding his own. He gives an electrifying performance, capturing the absolute terrors that lurk in childhood with alarming vividness.
For all its strengths, "The Sixth Sense" never quite gels because it could have been so perfect. The problem lies not in the perfectly pitched, restrained acting, nor in the inventive direction, but somewhere within the script. Although the 'twist' is easy to miss for those not adept at spotting such things, it is still perhaps too clearly signalled. For a film so tightly controlled in all other respects, and which leaves so much to the imagination, there is a slight misjudgement in the writing, a lack of fearlessness that fails to be allusive at the crucial moments. This is a shame, for if the beginning of the film had undergone one or two more revisions, it could have been so much more.
When the moment of revelation comes however, Shayamalan plucks an ace from his sleeve. Those expecting a grand guignol moment in which he pulls out all the stops will be sorely disappointed. He just about manages to sidestep the accusations from those who had worked it out, by filming and cutting the climax as a moment, another fleeting fragment of time, in which the audience once again has to picks up the pieces in their minds. Like the boy writing on the blackboard, things that seemed so certain and wrapped up have unravelled in an instant, our perceptions have been skewed and everything that seemed certain is now less so. Maybe we can ask for no more.

End of Days [DVD] [1999]
End of Days [DVD] [1999]
Dvd ~ Arnold Schwarzenegger
Price: £3.72

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected, 7 July 2000
This review is from: End of Days [DVD] [1999] (DVD)
Even the most jaded viewer of action films, tired of every new entry in the genre attempting to top the last, must have given a wry smile when they heard about this one. The producers and writer could surely have needed only a three line pitch for the studios - "Arnie versus Satan" - and waited for the money to fall at their feet. In the scale of things, this kicks the legendary bout between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris (in the Colosseum, too!) in Game of Death into submission. This is it. The big one.
Yet curiously, for the most part, "End of Days" is barely an action film at all. Rather than the spectre of classic Arnie films that have blighted many of his recent lacklustre efforts, the film consciously brings to mind the classic satanic horror films of the 1970s, and most of all Alex de Inglasias's more recent superlative horror comedy, "Day of the Beast". This critically-lauded yet sadly relatively obscure gem featured a priest who deciphered exactly when Satan would return to Earth, yet crucially, failed to find out where, forcing him to embark on a diabolical rampage in the hope of attracting him.
In this film, Arnie is a bodyguard who has to protect a young unknowingly pre-destined to bear the devil's child. A gimmicky, rushed Millennium setting aside, the premise gives the film-makers a lot to work with. The opening, in which a priest tells the Pope of his discovery, reminds one of "The Exorcist", delivered with a fragile mood and subtlety, rather than bludgeoning the audience with a heavy-handed score or adding wam-bam action scenes. Before cutting to the present day, it leads to a highly uncomfortable scene in which Satan's future target is chosen. It involves a baby and a knife. And a snake. And blood. And its ominous as hell.
But this is just the first of a series of well-judged well-placed shocks throughout a mostly coherent narrative as Arnie is brought inextricably towards his destiny - from a scarily-faced vagrant messenger who first warns the girl of Satan's plan, to a ceiling crucifixion, and most bizarrely and terrifyingly of all, the opportunity to see Arnie get beaten up by, of all people, Miriam Margolyes.
The film largely works because it asks Arnie to leave his trademark quips and gung-ho spirit at check-in. Any that remains is either ridiculed or put down to the last refuge of the misguided alcoholic that he plays. As contrived as the alcoholic sub-plot might be, its a neat device to put the pathos and the fallibility into a character that muddies the waters in an already convulted story. Pairing him off with the more relaxed, naturally comic actor Kevin Pollack was an inspired idea. Putting them both against Gabriel Byrne's devil incarnate, oozing charm and menace in equal doses, was even better. (Although employing over-symbolised names for the leads - Arnie is Jericho, Satan's target is, i kid you not, Christine W York - was a bit much.)
In "Day of the Beast", a highly promising set up is marred only by a faintly silly last few minutes and alas, in the tradition of modern Hollywood blockbusters, the same is true here. For once, here is an Arnie film with more than a grain of an idea, a gripping and at times disturbing satanic thriller. The divided interests among church groups and Satan sympathisers that the mother of the devil's child would almost certainly engender creates a clever scenario, yet sadly this is squandered for the obligatory chase scenes. It is as if the studio, or ,maybe the writers, lacked the faith to see the set-up through, or perhaps feared they had overerestimated Arnie's audience. Finally falling between the two stools of clever thriller and above-average action film, the impact of a well set-up, surprisingly good thriller is diluted. If you get used to the idea early enough that its not going to know what to do with itself later on, however, there is much imagination at work here, and much to enjoy.

Mighty Aphrodite [VHS] [1996]
Mighty Aphrodite [VHS] [1996]
Offered by unclejohnsband
Price: £7.95

5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lazy Allen, 30 Jun. 2000
Critics have increasingly talked about Woody Allen's films of the '80s and '90s in terms of diminishing returns. The idea that he cannot live up to his "earlier funny films", so juicily satirised in the otherwise impenetrable "Stardust Memories", long ago became a cliche. Not all of the films of that era have stood the test of time, in any case. For every "Sleeper" there's the sketchy "Bananas". "Love and Death" still hits the spot, but "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex" looks plain embarrassing.
But what is the cliche based on? The '80s provided some of Allen's most enduring gems, from the intelligent restraint of "Hannah and her Sisters" to the delicate, nostalgic, warm touch brought to minor but important - and hugely enjoyable - works such as "Radio Days" and one of his finest films, "The Purple Rose Of Cairo". The early '90s meanwhile might have delivered the weak, sombre "Shadows and Fog", but Woody still brought us the devastating "Husbands and Wives".
"Mighty Aphrodite" appeared as if to say to his critics, "hey hang on a second, I can still do light and frothy - and what's more, I can bring it to the '90s". And for that very reason, it can be seen as one of Woody's biggest artistic failures. For Woody has always been the most personally directed of film-makers, an auteur in the truest sense, who sticks to his one film a year, brings in actors he loves, and gets on with it. Lurking behind the broad comedy of this misfire is the nagging feeling that he felt eager to please.
It's there in the Greek chorus sections, where the audience finds itself staggered to hear obvious and unfunny material unworthy of Allen. Hearing the chorus appeal to Zeus, only to be faced with his answerphone message, simply doesn't cut the ice when compared to even the most throwaway gag in contemporary tv comedies such as The Simpsons, whose writers would balk at such a line.
For all the ambition of uniting the contemporary with the Greek, a lot of the writing is lazy, relying on crude references ... to get a laugh. There's a definite case of Woody repeating himself too, most notably in Mira Sorvino's squeaky-voiced prostitute, a little too close to Mia Farrow's star-winning turn in "Broadway Danny Rose" to merit the attention she received.
Woody fans should still see it of course. None of his films are without merit, and there remain glimpses of his sharp wit here and there. Helena Bonham Carter's role reminds us what a good writer and director of actresses he can be. Some of the scenes with Sorvino display a strong rapport, despite the disquiet their age gap engenders in the audience.
Looking back on the film a few years down the line, it becomes apparent that "Mighty Aphrodite" is a bit of a dry run for the far superior two films that followed. "Everyone Says I Love You" shone with its welcome light comedy and sophisticated wit (just check out the scene where Woody tries to show off his knowledge of art to Julia Roberts in a Venetian gallery). "Deconstructing Harry" meanwhile, however nasty it appears, remains the most successful of his recent attempts to do contemporary. The sheer range of characters, storylines, and stories-within-stories (a far more effective use of the idea of characters crossing from one 'reality' to the other than the Greek chorus here) he crams into 100 minutes show the director at the peak of his storytelling powers. In the later film, the crudities are part of its deliberately brash tone, its lead character far more defined as an anti-hero reprobate who uses his friends and family without care.
"Mighty Aphrodite"'s mistake, sadly, is its failure to give due care to its characters, who never appear much more than caricatures and whose reprehensible nature goes unpunished. The patronising image of Sorvino's character and the boxer she is matched up with could have sprung from the pages of Harry Block himself. Perhaps then, "Deconstructing Harry" will become to be seen as Allen's apology for the shortcomings of this intermittently entertaining, but ultimately rather sloppy work.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 11, 2009 11:02 AM BST

And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out
And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £14.45

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magic, 15 Jun. 2000
It starts with a beat, like a heart but more discordant, a nod to the last overlong and oblique album title. "Everyday" tries its best to stay remote, and succeeds. You wonder why they've opened with this, its slow, a monotone. You'd call it a dirge, but you don't like to think Yo La Tengo do dirges. So you stick with it, all six minutes, and wonder if you'll be rewarded. You are. And how. Its no exaggeration to say that the sublimely beautiful "Our Way To Fall" captures perfectly the playful choreographing of two lovers coming together for the first time, its brushed drums and breathy vocals marching to a slow-time to-and-fro waltz. By now you're in for the ride. Yo La Tengo are in love and so are you. Ira plucks up the courage for the first dance ("Last Days Of Disco"), initial awkwardness giving way to give-in-to-the-moment contentedness. "the song said 'let's be happy'. I was happy"... Yo La Tengo fight, but tenderly. Love wins out on "The Crying Of Lot G". Ira talks us through an argument, or rather finds his voice after the slamming of the door. He's preparing his speech for when, moments later, mistakes are realised and forgiven. "Don't have to smile at me, don't have to talk, all that I ask is you stop and remember, it isn't always this way"... Like the tentative dance moves, words become simpler and simpler the more the truth unfolds: "the way that I feel when you laugh, is like laughing; the way that I feel when you cry, is so bad..." Georgia understands too, gently redressing the balance with "Tears Are In Your Eyes", a song seemingly written to make grown men weep. Along the way, our hosts pick up the pace to laugh at The Simpsons ("Let's Save Tony Orlando's House"), turn cheesy 70s pop into a relentless human beatbox ("You Can Have It All") and beat Sonic Youth at their own game ("Cherry Chapstick"). But it's the slow, languid ones that will stick with you, until Yo La Tengo put you to bed with "Night Falls On Hoboken". Its 2am on a hot summer's night and Yo La Tengo are sitting out on the porch, casting their gaze to the stars and each other, like the man on the cover seemingly enveloped in light. They could end here, but ah, what the hell, they decide, lets roll on into the night. It doesn't stop because the world's gone to bed. Hell, when you're in love, the magic never stops. Leaving you with a smile on your face. Every day.

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