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Mr. Laurence Williams "laurence_p_williams" (UK)
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Lord of War [Blu-ray]
Lord of War [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Nicolas Cage

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Entertaining, Morality-Analysing, Drama/Thriller: Looks and Sounds Great on Blu-ray, 7 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Lord of War [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
'Lord of War' is a film which follows the life and career of Yuri Orlov (played by Nicholas Cage, who was also a producer), a Russian man who moved with his family when a young boy to the USA; for almost all his adult life he has been a professional international small-arms dealer. On Blu-ray it looks excellent and, despite the audio soundtrack 'only' being Dolby Digital 5.1, sounds very good.

As there are spotlights on tragedy, strife and morality it is perhaps tempting to pigeon-hole the genre of the film more precisely, but I would label it as a drama with some elements of being a thriller (so don't expect anything like 'Die-Hard' !). However, I am quite certain that it is not, as the Amazon synopsis refers to it, a 'black-comedy' in the general sense of how I judge such films; I don't think there are any laughs to be had nor opportunities to refer to various occurrences as bleakly ironic. There are obviously some very serious aspects to what it depicts, namely: the often nasty personalities involved and eventual victims of the 'products' being bought/sold, but the overall aim is to 'lighten' the associated moral messages with stylistic, often novel, production-values and a snappy musical soundtrack. Be in no doubt though, that whilst the presentation is designed to entertain the overall aim is to inject those moral messages into your thought process....

The opening of the movie reinforces that concept, by way of an artistic collation of scenes depicting the 'journey' of a bullet from manufacture to being fired into the head of a young African boy who himself is firing a gun; aside from being unusual in presentation, the message derived from what we see is clear - things are usually dealt with more subtly from then on. We are then introduced to Yuri, by himself, and see the rest of the film (which covers a period of several decades, starting in the 1980s) from his viewpoint with him providing regular voiceover 'annotations'. As we not only see his globetrotting activities, but also 'hear' his thoughts (which obviously often raise contradictions !), some attempt can be made to understand the dilemmas he often finds himself in whilst remembering all along that he is arms-trading voluntarily and for profit, so ultimately we should feel little sympathy for him. We also see how his profession affects his personal life and essentially that his apparently pleasant persona is really a veneer covering someone who is really quite cold and without scruples. Finally, interspersed amongst his primary dealings, the attempts of officialdom to bring him to justice are covered....

The production-values (signposted by that previously mentioned opening sequence) of this film are excellent, with many stylish scenes involving dramatic action, explosions, backdrops and tailored musical accompaniment. The action involves those explosions, some flying sequences, a dramatic aircraft landing and (of course) quite a bit of weaponry being fired. It is notable to observe that little, perhaps no, CGI is used for the special-effects although a bit of digital jiggery-pokery clearly is employed when the cast and ironmongery or explosions get into close proximity ! In the same vein, almost all the weaponry is genuine - right down to us seeing several thousand rifles stored in a warehouse or a long row of smartly presented Russian T-72 main-battle tanks !

Without giving anything important away, a good example of the type of production you can expect would be a short slow-motion scene where Yuri watches a 'customer' firing a Kalashnikov rifle, which is accompanied by the song 'Money (That's What I Want)' by the The Flying Lizards with each cartridge ejection embellished with the sound-effect of a cash-till 'ringing'. Similarly, and for once, it is safe to watch the 2min theatrical trailer (Internet video sites have it) to get an idea of the way the film is made and will pan out, without spoiling a later viewing of the complete movie....

Contrary to some other reviewers I found the HD image to be sharp, bright and clear without any obvious or intrusive grain or 'snow' to spoil things; the reproduction of black-levels and scenes in dark surroundings (of which there are quite a few) is especially good. Similarly, the soundtrack has great clarity and is very lively, despite 'only' being Dolby Digital 5.1; this movie on Blu-ray shows that, like the similarly specified disc of 'The Island', you don't necessarily need an HD audio format to produce the necessary level of clarity and power for the sound to be impressive.

This disc includes an insightful director's commentary, several featurettes/interviews (the words from which often are included in the featurettes so there is some repetition), deleted scenes and a trailer - all in all a Blu-ray worth getting and watching.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 20, 2014 6:05 AM GMT


Conditions
Conditions
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £5.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Easy-Listening, Several Standout Songs - Excellent Reproduction, 6 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Conditions (Audio CD)
Yet another CD I have bought on the strength of hearing the music on the soundtrack to a film, this album presents the music/vocals with great clarity. 'The Temper Trap' are an Australian band and considering that this is their debut issue it shows they are already quite accomplished artists with great promise.

Having heard the song 'Sweet Disposition' in the film '300 Days of Summer' (a poor film, notable only for exposing me to some decent music !) I was encouraged to investigate - the highlight of that song for me being the distinctive and really quite striking Falsetto singing voice of the lead vocalist. Not all of the songs on this album feature that precise style of singing, so things don't get 'mundane' and anyway there is enough variation in the melodies on offer to help prevent that happening. The instrumental work is skilful and often quite prominent - this album does not rely on the lead singer alone....

Whilst aside from 'Sweet Disposition' I couldn't really say any the titles themselves of any of the other songs remain in my memory but the music does; things open strongly with 'Love Lost' before the pace quickens into 'Rest' before that false climax of 'Sweet Disposition'. I would say quite a lot of thought has gone into the playing-order of the songs, as there is a definite quickening of tempo as things progress along with the vocals becoming more integrated with the instrumentals, rather then being at the forefront as in the first few tracks (which are the ones I prefer).

If you have heard something of the 'The Temper Trap' then this CD is well worth getting. If you enjoy good quality vocals with rhythmical melodies and haven't heard this group before then I suggest you audition the samples on offer by Amazon; if you like what you hear then, again, buy the CD - it promises some very enjoyable easy-listening with several standout songs.


SanDisk Sansa Fuze 4GB MP3 Player with Radio and MicroSD/SDHC Slot - Black
SanDisk Sansa Fuze 4GB MP3 Player with Radio and MicroSD/SDHC Slot - Black

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Feature-Packed with Good Sound/Screen - Great Value, 5 Dec. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Made by Sandisk, this fantastic little device does everything I want in something so light and portable - the fact I managed to grab one recently for less than £40 new makes ownership all the sweeter ! I bought it in preference to the newer Fuze+ as I have read many reviews criticising the new touch-sensitive controls of that device - the Fuze uses a rotating control-wheel with 12/3/6/9 o'clock click-positions and a central 'OK' button that works faultlessly.

I think it has all the features and functional practicalities you could wish for plus a 'killer-feature' not many devices like this have : an SD/SDHC card expansion slot.

This means you can expand the storage capability above what the machine is supplied with internally and access music files etc seamlessly as though they were stored in the memory of the machine. It also means you can add/modify the files on the card via your PC as you wish, then simply slot it back into the Fuze ie you don't have to have the Fuze connected via USB - excellent.

The headline features are :

1. A usable screen.
2. Video player !
3. Music player, compatible with Windows Media Player (including Playlists).
4. FM radio.
5. Picture viewer.
6. Voice Recording.

The sound and video are presented very well, especially when you consider how 'dinky' the screen is. The unit is well-built, the controls work smoothly and battery life appears to be elephantine. The front/side are shiny plastic with the back being lightly rubberised to aid grip/reduce damage - now there's attention to detail ! The retail pack includes the necessary USB cable, headphones, a CD with a 'pdf' of the User Manual and a light/thin storage 'sleeve'. Connection via USB/Internet allows you to download the Sandisk file conversion software and firmware updates.

I particularly like the fact that as Sandisk are a prominent manufacturer they are good at improving the functionality, solving glitches and adding features via firmware updates (there is also a seemingly very popular user forum) - not all companies are very good at doing this....

Having said all that, the player is (of course) not perfect. Here are my (minor) gripes :

1. The USB connector on the device is proprietary, not standard, so whilst out you need to have the dedicated USB cable with you for charging (or accessing the internal memory).

2. There is no bookmark facility for music/audio files (although it does 'remember' the last point of playback when you next access the file). Somewhat inconsistently, there IS a bookmark facility for video files...

3. To use the provided file-conversion software the Fuze must be also be 'present' via a USB connection (hence the aforementioned SD card capability being a bonus). This can be quite tiresome when, for example, converting video files which take a bit of time to convert...

*** HOWEVER, do note there are standalone 'utilities' you can download on the Internet that can be used to circumnavigate that irritation. I have added the info and Internet URL for that software as an Amazon 'Customer Discussion' post on the item page (as reviews cannot contain external Internet links).

Due to the USB cable issue for charging I recommend owners acquire a small hard case of the style usually advertised for very compact cameras - one of the right size will protect the device from knocks etc (remember it has a screen so the supplied sleeve won't provide that kind of protection) and also store the USB cable.

Along with my comments, to confirm this little gem will satisfy your particular requirements, I recommend you download the User Guide and give it a perusal - or just buy one anyway as it's great !


Metropolis [Reconstructed & Restored] (Masters of Cinema) Limited Edition Dual Format Steelbook [Blu-ray & DVD] [1927]
Metropolis [Reconstructed & Restored] (Masters of Cinema) Limited Edition Dual Format Steelbook [Blu-ray & DVD] [1927]
Dvd ~ Alfred Abel

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Package with Restored/Enhanced Content and a Magnificent Soundtrack on Blu-ray, 5 Dec. 2010
---
[I've added some photos to the item page showing the steelbook packaging and the internal arrangement/contents]

There is a dedicated website about this new edition. I have added the URL for it as an Amazon 'Customer Discussion' post on the item page (as reviews cannot contain external Internet links).
---

This is a German film originating from 1927, so obviously is filmed in black-and-white and it relies on dialogue 'frames' interjected into the footage and a musical soundtrack to emphasise what occurs. Considering when it was made it is extremely innovative with the futuristic depiction and the grand/often complicated production aspects.

Being interested in it but not having watched the film before I pre-ordered this steelbook Blu-ray/DVD combination as the previews stated that, considering how many different iterations have been issued beforehand, it was likely to be about as good as we can get for completeness, restoration quality and originality (especially regarding the musical soundtrack). Whilst a bit pricey, this Limited Edition issue can be considered something of a treasured investment, not just for the updates but because of the 'package' as a whole. On Blu-ray the basic 'stock' of the film looks very good and the audio is quite superb if you can exploit properly the DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. In comparison to the DVD version there is an improvement for the picture, but the difference is especially significant for the audio presentation.

For the uninitiated, the (very) basics of the plot are that a father (who is the master of 'Metropolis') and son are at odds with each other, with the son unhappy with the way the workers of the city are treated; ultimately, he sets out on a path of rebellion on their behalf.....

I have learned that this version is heavily restored and includes a significant proportion of previously 'missing' footage from a recently discovered negative which was not in the best of condition; a leader to the film provides a short history for the new elements and explains the changes and how they will appear. To my eyes there are 4 different qualities of picture incorporated: the main (significant majority) stock is clear/sharp, some apparent 'secondary' main stock (as I saw it at least !) is slightly less sharp but otherwise the same, the first of the 'new' footage is bright but blurred (imagine viewing a vivid b/w film through a fogged-up lens !) and the most degraded 'new' footage is quite poor but still perfectly watchable, with blur and prominent damage represented in the form of a lot of vertical lines running across the frame (much like how we might normally see very old b/w films !).

I am not a 'Metropolis' aficionado but the added sections often seem to add a lot to the storyline. Sometimes they are before/after extensions to existing scenes, but often they are entirely new scenes with significant dialogue or 'action'. I cannot say how the story was covered without the missing footage but it was either entirely omitted or somehow explained with subtitle embellishment....The dialogue cards are white on black full-frame, in German and can be displayed with selectable English (white) subtitles which appear at the base of the frame. The viewing experience is very good and the film enjoyable, not just when one appreciates it's age but also because of what we see and, most significantly, hear courtesy of that marvellous soundtrack (of which more later).

On Blu-ray the footage is, at its best, bright and quite sharp. On DVD the only difference appears to be a slight reduction in sharpness.

Now to the soundtrack, where there is the most significant difference between the disc formats. This edition features a new 2010 symphony orchestra studio recording of the original 1927 Gottfried Huppertz score; the DVD has DD2.0/5.1 options and the Blu-ray DTS HD Master Audio 2.0/5.1 options. The DD5.1 and DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 versions appeared quite similar to me, being clear and with good definition - rather like listening to a CD of the music. However, those options are blown out of the water when the DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 is played (on a multi-channel audio system of course). In comparison the DD5.1/DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 appear quite 'flat' and focussed to the front channels whereas the DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 audio is much, much clearer and multi-dimensional; it doesn't create a 'surround experience' like action films as such, but utilises the extra speaker channels to make the orchestral presentation sound and acoustics as authentic as possible - the music is recreated in such a way that you really feel as though you are in a hall and there could be an orchestra playing in front of you. It is magnificent !

Each disc includes the same complement of extras: a commentary track, a 55min 'restoration' documentary and a re-release trailer.

The Blu-ray sized steelbook is nicely finished and includes a 56-page booklet (colour with lots of photos) dedicated to the film and the restoration. I have 2 (small !) gripes: there is a spine-length information card 'wrapper' on the opening end/back of the steelbook which, while attached with non-damaging adhesive, means it gets in the way, and the 'piggy-back' storage of the discs makes the bottom disc both elusive along with being rather tricky to remove as it is both firmly held in the case and sits underneath an overlapping lug portion for the upper disc. See my photos...

So, any fan of 'Metropolis' is likely to be pleased with this offering. As you can buy this edition in 3 different versions it is worth noting that the DVD is perfectly acceptable and omits no content (advertising implies that all editions include the booklet), but if you have a Blu-ray player you can take advantage of better visual presentation and (better still and assuming you have a surround sound system) a truly magnificent musical soundtrack. The steelbook DVD/Blu-ray combination seals the deal !
Comment Comment | Permalink


Body And Soul
Body And Soul
Price: £7.68

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Timeless Classic - Full of Rhythm, Musicality and Feeling, 11 Nov. 2010
This review is from: Body And Soul (Audio CD)
This is an absolutely wonderful album which includes some superb and truly memorable songs and is presented to perfection due to the unusual setting for the recording; it is an all-time classic and deserves to be heard by as many people as possible. I see a 'Remastered' edition is now available. I'm not sure if that can really improve on the original CD since the recording was digitally recorded in the first place and already sounds magnificent....

I first heard this album on release and owned it on vinyl; my high opinion of how good it is proven by the fact that it was the 2nd CD I ever purchased on acquiring a CD player in the '80s. I felt compelled to write a review, despite the album being nearly 30 years old, when I noticed just one other contribution had been made for the CD on Amazon; something which amazes me and makes me hope more people have actually heard and enjoyed the album than what is suggested by the low review-count.

First-off, the aspect which really contributes to this album being such a joy to listen to is that it was recorded not in a studio, but a hall with superb acoustics (inside a Masonic lodge !); when coupled with a recording-quality of immense clarity this ensures you can fully appreciate the instrumental sounds and vocals. The percussion bursts out of your speakers, the brass ensemble/singing voices reverberate (just listen to the short sample Amazon of the opening track, 'The Verdict' to appreciate what I mean) and, along with all the other instrumental contributions, everything melds together to form a smooth and beautifully melodic musical experience.

Of course the tonal aspects of the recording would not be as significant were the artistic qualities poor and the songs bland, but they are not - of course ! What's here forms a wide-range of styles, from duets and ballads to instrumentals and the more accustomed songs with vocals and accompanying instruments.

The album opens powerfully with the aforementioned 'The Verdict', unusual for not only having prominent instrumental/vocal sequences but also subdued periods where the vocals of Joe Jackson (who is a gifted singer/songwriter) are only lightly 'supported', which also allows you to immediately appreciate the recording is not studio-based. Things move to a 'Salsa'-style of music with 'Cha Cha Loco' (where we are also introduced to the contributing female vocalists). A subdued ballad, 'Not Here, Not Now', follows - then the tempo rises with the, probably familiar, 'You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)'. The remaining tracks finalise that collective wide-range of styles theme I suggested earlier and includes my favourite on the album, 'Happy Ending', a duet of beautiful tonality and rhythm which really exploits the acoustic quality of the setting to its best.

The only problem with the album as a whole is that it is relatively short. However, I would prefer to call it 'small, but perfectly-formed' as what is on offer is of such quality; there are no duds, many classics and you really need to listen to it - it's as simple as that.


Hellboy [Blu-ray] [2007] [Region Free]
Hellboy [Blu-ray] [2007] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Ron Perlman
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars A Terrific Action Movie with Wit, Grit and Heart !, 1 Nov. 2010
Hellboy is a terrific, quirky, fantasy/superhero film from the talented Mexican writer/director Guillermo del Toro which has marvellous action sequences, spectacular creatures/creations, an often very amusing screenplay and an excellent lead-performance. It somehow manages to successfully combine horror, gore, terror, tender emotions, witty dialogue and some light-hearted scenes to present an entertaining, intelligent and multi-layered storyline. It looks superb on Blu-ray, significantly better than upscaled DVD, and offers the unique option of a lively PCM soundtrack as well as the 'normal' Dolby 5.1 - although it loses quite a few extras vs the 3-disc DVD edition.

Looking at the relatively low number of Amazon reviews for the DVD/Blu-ray it would appear it is either not that popular or fails to excite viewers, something which bemuses me (having seen the film many times) but with which I can relate to in a way as I myself was not initially attracted to the film purely because of, I think, the title (the inclusion of the word 'boy' suggested a juvenile bias) and the way Hellboy was depicted on the disc box (which really doesn't do the film justice). I only watched it for the first time when a Region 1 Director's Cut DVD was issued at an attractive price which, thankfully, prompted my enlightenment ! To fully enjoy things you do of course need to 'immerse' yourself in the fantasy-based storyline and (slightly) 'alternative-world' depiction....

The outline of a starting plot is simple (without giving too much away): Hellboy is a demon who arrived on earth as a juvenile during World War 2 courtesy of a Nazi experiment 'gone wrong'. In the modern day, now fully developed with all his demonic powers, he lives under the auspices of the American security services in attempted (emphasis on attempted !) secrecy; he is essentially employed as a 'problem-solver' to combat 'evil' should it arrive on US soil. Due to his human-based upbringing Hellboy speaks English, is fairly domesticated, is prone to misbehaving and has some unusual and amusing quirks (I'll leave you to find them out !). When a particularly nasty group of familiar individuals re-appear, bent on destroying the planet in it's present form, things naturally get very 'upset' and Hellboy is once again called upon to do his 'thing'.......

The movie then covers the ensuing battles which involve many mythical monsters and occur largely in 'unusual' subterranean surroundings; there is some gore, but it is on the 'soft' side, and there are numerous scenes of menace to justify the '12' viewing classification. However, the story is really about the trials and tribulations of Hellboy and his varying emotions, courtesy of relationships with his 'father', love-interest (a pyro-telekinetic young woman who he appears to have known for some time) and a newly acquainted FBI-agent 'sidekick'.

The marvellous cinematography and special-effects to create the monsters/spectacular surroundings are excellent which, when combined with a succession of energetic and convoluted fight sequences, help to make the film terrifically exciting and entertaining. But what really makes the movie shine is the performance of Ron Perlman in the lead role who, supported by a snappy screenplay, is magnificent. He manages to combine aggression, thoughtfulness, sadness and wit to present a character who (despite his appearance) you ultimately get very 'attached' to; his make-up and the way the cinematography regularly depicts him in a truly majestic fashion only reinforces that 'attraction'. I really cannot think who else could have played the role better, or in fact at all, had Perlman not been around....

Whilst this film is dominated by Perlman, it would be unfair to not recognise the excellent supporting cast, in particular the on-screen presence of John Hurt (who plays the 'father') and Jeffrey Tambor (who lampoons in a beautifully understated fashion the FBI 'supremo'). Everyone performs with great gusto to help propel the storyline along, ably supported by the aforementioned range of CGI creatures of course ! Despite owning this Director's Cut edition on DVD, I eventually succumbed to buying this film on Blu-ray in the hope it offered advantages in terms of presentation (although fewer extras than my 3-disc DVD); this is despite me being disappointed with some previous Blu-ray 'upgrades', such as 'Blade Runner', which gave only marginal improvements in a few scenes versus the upscaled DVD.

The picture on this Blu-ray is superb and regularly improves dramatically what you can see vs the DVD, largely because so much of the film dedicates itself to close-ups of faces and, in particular, Hellboy himself; in HD, the 'scarlet demon' bursts from the screen with tremendous clarity (and a gorgeous hue !). Add to that the numerous iconic scenes where Hellboy 'poses' in dramatic surroundings or against climactic backdrops and you in for a visual feast. Blu-ray adds an uncompressed Dolby soundtrack which sounds great - I didn't bother to compare it with the DVD as it is in my opinion less significant than the picture and was already perfectly acceptable anyway.

This Blu-ray gets the more significant extras from the 3-disc DVD, but adds nothing new. It includes the director's commentary, feature-length documentary, deleted scenes and additional featurettes.

If you already like Hellboy and can play Blu-ray this is an essential upgrade. If you are new to the format and film then I think you should really give Hellboy your attention - it is beautifully presented, entertaining, unusual, enthralling, witty but (above all) really quite touching (how many 'horror' movies can you say that of ?). My only other observation is to point out that you should watch the film right through the closing-credits otherwise you'll miss something....


The Man Comes Around [Bonus Tracks]
The Man Comes Around [Bonus Tracks]
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £8.96

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Emotional and Often Gritty Performance from this Master, Fading Artist, 31 Oct. 2010
Most people know of Johnny Cash and will have heard at least something of him performing. Whilst I don't think he was especially gifted as a singer or guitarist, he did have a lot of musical talent and knew how to entertain an audience - deservedly achieving that aim with huge success for decades.

'American IV: The Man Comes Around' is, unsurprisingly, the fourth album in the 'American' series by the late Johnny Cash (Amazon.co.uk have removed the 'American IV prefix from the sale page for some reason; perhaps because the title track is being used as background music on the telly at the moment - Summer 2011 !) and was released in 2002 with producer Rick Rubin, someone more regularly associated with heavy metal and rock music !

The majority of songs are covers, often of songs originating from musical areas outside the 'Country' themes with which Cash is normally related, and presented in an 'unplugged'/acoustic style with great clarity on this 'Enhanced' CD. The selection appears to offer titles/content suggesting an auto-biographical theme....

For me, this album is on the whole successful, but does have a few failures. It starts powerfully, with a marvellous rendition of the title track followed by an emotional (almost gut-wrenching) performance of the Nine Inch Nails track 'Hurt'. That track was in fact the catalyst for me buying the album, having heard it on BBC Radio 'Desert Island Discs' as one of the selections of (believe it or not) Johnny Vegas !

Those opening songs I think offer Cash the best opportunity of exploiting his, what was then, fading and 'crackly' singing voice at a pace and tone within his range. Less successful are his efforts on 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' (where the vocal range is not really within his capabilities), 'Personal Jesus'/'Sam Hall' (both of which I think are too 'pacey' for him and I got the impression he was having difficulty 'keeping up'); last, and very much least, is the ensemble presentation of 'We'll Meet Again', which was spoilt for me by a very cheesy backing-group (this song is best left with the iconic Vera Lynn I think....).

The CD finishes with a music video of 'Hurt' which I haven't got around to watching yet, but as it is probably my favourite track on the album I shall try and do so soon !

This album is well worth getting for anyone wanting to hear and celebrate the work of Johnny Cash. It is not the only one people should consider (his earlier work does of course contain some gems), but it deserves to be on the list due to the unusual compilation of songs and emotion-filled performance of Cash in his fading years.


The Best of the Wizard of Id
The Best of the Wizard of Id
by Brant Parker
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Quality Hardback Compilation of Often Hilarious Comic-Strips of this Wonderful Creation, 20 Oct. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
'The Wizard of Id', written by Johnny Hart and (predominantly) drawn by Brant Parker, is my second favourite comic-strip only bettered by another Johnny Hart creation (which is both drawn and written by him) 'BC';
I have been reading and collecting collections of both strips for decades, so am rather biased towards them...

The strip is long-standing, dating from the early '60s until 1997 (when Parker handed over drawing-duties to his son) and latterly 2007 when Hart died (co-incidentally the same year Parker died). It is based in the medieval Kingdom of Id, features a small cast of characters (essentially the King, wizard+wife, a royal knight called Rodney, his 'squeeze' and a lifer prisoner+keeper) and was drawn with minimal background detail, but with great attention to the characters and their dialogue.

Often hilarious, the humour relies mostly on sarcasm and witty retorts but the graphics are obviously essential to the 'experience', not just to understand the setting or any visual jokes but also because a lot of laughs are provoked by seeing the reactions of those involved when the punch line is uttered. Everyone is vulnerable to being the butt of a joke, especially the King (mainly due to his lack of height) and Rodney (as he is essentially a complete idiot and goofs up a lot); contrary to the title, the wizard is not actually a very prominent character.

In all likelihood this compilation features nothing new for me (since there are so many strips I can't remember if I haven't read some before !) as I have a vast collection of books featuring the strip already.

Nevertheless it is a delight to own and read as it is without doubt the most finely produced book to feature it, most notably being that it is hardback for once and the quality of the paper is very fine/ bright white (as opposed to the usual paperback with 'pulped' brown paper) ! It really is a quality production with thick covers and an overall chunky/weighty feel. The main reason for it being printed seems to be to commemorate the 'life' of the strip, as it has been produced after the death of Hart and Parker, so in keeping with that theme it features a history of the strip, biographies (=obituaries) for Hart & Parker as well as, what might be useful for some, short 'introductions' to each of the characters.

The rest of the book collates a selection of strips, 3 per side, grouped/separated by decade (over about 220 sides = approx 660 strips, slightly fewer than the paperback compendiums from Australia/USA); this means the former part of the strips are the most enjoyable for me since I preferred the drawing style of Parker Snr, although many might not detect a difference to what is drawn by his son later on.

Anyone would enjoy owning and reading this book, especially because it is unusual for including detailed biographies of the creators and explanations of the characters - although some of the joy of reading 'Id' for the first time is realising the personalities of the magical characters within, so they might best be skipped for later on.

Considering text-only novels sell for £10+ in HB, if available for £10-odd this is something of a bargain due to the quality of the binding and printing.


The Island [Blu-ray] [2005] [Region Free]
The Island [Blu-ray] [2005] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Ewan McGregor
Price: £7.10

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Full-Throttle Action Film Which Looks and Sounds Excellent on Blu-ray, 17 Oct. 2010
Do not be dissuaded from watching 'The Island' if, like me, you are not that slanted towards the work of Michael Bay; yes, he has produced tosh like 'Armageddon' but he is also responsible for the perfectly acceptable movie 'The Rock'. Mr Bay is not exactly an 'arthouse' film director, so don't expect deep meaningful scenes or indeed any great depth to the characters - what he usually offers is a story with some foundation to support an essentially full-on action 'experience' leading towards some kind of definite conclusion.

This science-fiction film was made in 2005, and whilst it does have a few irritating aspects it is largely very successful with a well-paced storyline and some excellent action sequences.

The overall plot cannot be divulged too much for fear of spoiling things (the Amazon synopsis and disc box information give too much away), so my attempt would be :

We are introduced to a young man (played by Ewan McGregor) experiencing a nightmare who wakes up in his accustomed, but very strange to us, surroundings of a clinical 2015 capsule 'world' created in the aftermath of a reported infectious outbreak which made the outside world uninhabitable. The standard 'population' (who all wear white uniforms, have unusual names consisting of words and numbers pronounced in a phonetic style and come across as rather naive) have strangely regimented lives monitored by 'police' who mingle amongst everyone along with a Big Brother-style camera/sensory system. Aside from work, rudimentary education and child-like entertainment little else occurs on a daily basis; the significant event is a regular lottery which selects a resident for 'liberation' to the haven of an uninfected 'Island'.

The young man, known as Lincoln Six-Echo, is clearly uncomfortable in his surroundings and his behaviour is non-conformist; the content of his nightmares mark him out for investigation by the creepy head doctor (played by Shaun Bean) of the 'establishment', who is keen to find out more about the thoughts and unusual 'memories' which L6E seems to have. The maverick side of L6E provokes him to explore areas of his world and a relationship with a female resident, Jordan Two-Delta (played Scarlett Johansson), which he really shouldn't. Whilst on one of his illegal 'excursions', L6E discovers some surprising and shocking truths; these revelations occur shortly before J2D 'wins' the latest lottery, leading L6E to take dramatic and immediate action.....

What occurs from then on is essentially a chase/journey of discovery, comprising a series of spectacular vehicle chases (which rely little on CGI, so they look very impressive) separated by the occasional bit of verbal interaction or running around, before a concluding confrontation which involves a lot of explosions and catastrophic mechanical failures. As mentioned earlier, this is the type of thing Michael Bay usually excels at and this is no exception, making it a very elongated full-throttle action sequence !

There are some negative aspects to this visual feast, namely the occasional brazen bit of product placement and some scenes/dialogue/music which are reminiscent of those from other, earlier, films. Fortunately, the product placements are not that huge in number but when they do occur are very distracting as they feature long and lingering close-ups of branded drinks bottles, for example - very irritating. If you've seen the films 'Blade Runner' or 'The Matrix' then while watching this film you will be reminded of scenes where Rachel discovers her true background, Roy & Pris ask for help or Neo is 'born' - both visually and with the dialogue appearing to be the same word-for-word ! The marvellous composer Hans Zimmer contributes to the musical soundtrack for 'The Island' and whilst much seems to be original, the finale is accompanied by music which is too all intents and purposes the same as that used at the end of 'Gladiator', except the singing of Lisa Gerrard is absent - spookily, both films also feature the same actor, Djimon Hounsou, in their final scene which makes the connection all the more obvious....

On Blu-ray this movie looks and sounds excellent. The intentionally slightly washed-out image is sharp/flawless and the soundtrack, despite being 'only' DD5.1, is lively, clear and utilises the full surround potential very well - I have heard 'superior' sound formats on Blu-ray sound far less effective than the one on this disc. The extras are limited to a 15min 'Making-Of' featurette, which to be honest is all that is required for a popcorn action movie such as this.

Michael Bay manages to deliver what I'm sure he intended: an intense and prolonged spectacular action film which looks and sounds excellent on Blu-ray. Despite some distracting product placement 'events' and the occasional bit of unoriginal dialogue/visuals/music it is well-worth checking out !


Tutti Frutti [DVD]
Tutti Frutti [DVD]
Dvd ~ Robbie Coltrane
Price: £6.60

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Bittersweet Black-Comedy/Drama with Superb Acting, 15 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Tutti Frutti [DVD] (DVD)
Yet another TV series I failed to watch when it was broadcast (I think I got it mixed up with 'Hi De Hi' so gave it a miss !), 'Tutti Frutti' is a marvellous BBC Scotland black-comedy/drama (often VERY black) from the late '80s which was especially notable for being the vehicle to propel both Robbie Coltrane and Emma Thompson onto our screens in lead-acting roles (previously they had smaller/supporting parts). Other notable actors in the programme include Maurice RoŽves (the Colonel in the film 'The Last of the Mohicans' !), Richard Wilson ('One Foot in the Grave') and Katy Murphy ('Takin' Over the Asylum').

The outline of the plot is simple: Shortly before their planned 1986 'Silver Jubilee' tour, a once-popular but now rather seedy Scottish rock 'n' roll band called 'The Majestics' are thrown into turmoil when their lead singer dies. After the funeral, Danny (the bother of said lead-singer, both are played by Coltrane), who has returned from a seemingly unsuccessful career of some kind in the USA, is talked into being the replacement by the shifty and devious band manager Eddie Clockerty (Wilson). During the aftermath, and very significantly, Danny also renews an acquaintance with an old school-friend, Suzi Kettles (Thompson), after they cross paths in a bar.

What follows from then on is a multi-stranded story, that runs alongside the tour taking place, with band members/management staff getting involved in romance, adultery, dodgy financial deals and a LOT of arguing; much of what happens is comical, quite a lot is rather sad and some is downright tragic. What we initially assume will be a charming yet laughable study of people who are mostly losers (in the nicest possible way !) turns into a largely very gloomy tale as the musical aspects and relationships of those involved disintegrate before our eyes.

This 'evolution' occurs quite subtly at first but later on is far more forceful and rapid in pace, often with new characters and events that seem a little out of place with what has happened before. And this is my one and only criticism of this series, since when I started to watch episode 5 I thought I had skipped-past it by mistake and was actually watching episode 6, as what occurred was so rapidly introduced or coarsely explained. It is almost as though too little of the whole story had been covered in episodes 1-4, leaving episodes 5 & 6 to cover far more than their 'fair share' in the remaining time.....

That observation should not detract from the overwhelmingly positive aspects of the production, specifically a marvellously snappy and witty screenplay which is brought to life with so many superb acting performances requiring a range of different emotions to be portrayed with a regular 'accent' on comedy/slapstick - nobody puts a foot wrong.

This DVD set presents the series very well and includes an interview with the writer, John Byrne, who proves to be a very engaging person as well as providing many interesting 'tit bits' about the production, including a rough explanation about why the dramatic improvement in the picture/sound occurred midway through ! There is also a snippet of a 'Wogan' interview with Emma Thompson (which is only slightly relevant) and, most importantly, subtitles should you fail to properly understand some of the more 'earthy' Scottish language which occurs quite regularly throughout ! Finally, a picture gallery with accompanying musical soundtrack can be viewed, showing Byrne to also be a very accomplished artist - this prompted me to buy the book of the series, as it has all those pictures in it - especially that of the 'electrocuted' cat !

'Tutti Frutti' is a joy to watch, but you have been warned that whilst there is comedy there are also some very dark and gloomy aspects/events which occur more frequently towards the end.


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