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The Pit and the Pendulum (1990) [DVD]
The Pit and the Pendulum (1990) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Lance Henriksen
Offered by HalfpriceDVDS_FBA
Price: £11.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pit of a Swinger!, 12 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
After horror king Stuart Gordon dealt out a horror trilogy for all others to pale by between 1985-1987, he then made the same mistake the much feted John Carpenter did-with both brazenly entering the vampire genre, instantly displaying an embarrassing absence of mastery and understanding of it, and both ended up on the business end of a sharp deserved stake. It really was a toss-up to see who fared worse-it was probably Carpenter; with a slavish devotion to old Romero films, David Cronenberg body horror and an apparent alien-subplot, it was a complete mishmash of everything but a vampire flick, but one expects much from the far better Stuart Gordon, who is much more my chalice of blood, being from that proper 80s horror school of variety, but his result unfolded with all the snap of a drunken snail-race and ended up a plastic soap opera, utterly wasting Anthony Perkins in one of his last roles. This thing was purported to have come from 1987, and maybe it did, but it was released to TV, after Gordon turned briefly to a scarily pre-'Transformers' sci-fi tale 'Robot Jox'. Thankfully, after both these things, Gordon returned to far better material he could immediately assert mastery of-his version of the Edgar Allen Poe tale here being the first.

And it owes very little to Poe at all, is a full torture chamber ahead of the old Vincent Price version, and as I care little about that first movie, I've no problem recommending this far above it. That's not to say it's an easy watch, it's nasty, black-humoured, descends into high camp in moments of random abandon, sick-inducing for the middling of stomach and should induce much tightening of limbs and grimaces of observational pain-but all that means is Stuart is back to doing the day job and long may its blood and guts run.

Written by Dennis Paoli, a breadmaker's wife, a highly principled girl feels the martyred need to finally voice the utter shamefulness at the flippancy with which the truly sick Grand Inquisitor Torquemada (sleekly played in the vilest way by horror fave Lance Henriksen) orders mass executions, public beatings, whippings and worse in his bizarre quest to purge all their souls of their temptation to sin. When she goes too far by expressing so as a young boy is flayed while watching his own parents get exterminated (an equally sick equivalent scene is remembered-and shown to us-recalled by a character in Gordon's ten year away masterpiece 'Dagon'), she is hauled up for high treason, thus dragging her nice husband along with her as with futility he tries to explain away her indignant protestations. Into Henriksen's lair they are dragged, yet while they're awaiting what's in store for them, this being a Stuart Gordon film, it may not be too much of a surprise to find the High Inquisitor quite taken with his subject, not that may halt his affectations for 'justice'.

Stuart Gordon's inspiration for the steadily teasing and necessarily brutish, though fun torture sequences, was his first to the Great Tower of London at some point in the early 80s, and swiftly said in a later documentary (possibly an extra on a new edition of this film in the future?) that nothing he could assemble on screen could touch just what atrocities and depravities an uncivilised society used to practice on each other daily, and he has a point, possibly letting himself in for accusations of watering down his own film with it, but gore hound should find enough sick to chew on here, and for anyone else, a churning sensation at least!

The sets are cheap, not especially stunning, and compares to his 80s offerings, a bit ramshackle and amateurish in moments. Jeffrey Combs is great fun as the scribe, leading the way into high camp at odd moments, and it's also interesting to see the only other adult survivor of 'Dolls' here in another role entirely. Oliver Reed doesn't seem to be quite all there, but Rona De Ricci is luscious as the lead-girl, and brave too considering she has to put with Barbara Crampton usually has to suffer on screen, but she doesn't match her in the acting stakes, but a huge improvement on 'Daughter Of Darkness's' wilting Mia Sara. There is a dream scene where an aged witch she shares a cell with tells her she will overcome her hell which borders on true embarrassment, and doesn't feel real, though for later purposes is needed. Maria's hubby is all-round good guy Antonio (Jonathan Fuller), intriguingly sidelines in bits, as his male-to-the-rescue runs out of gas before he intends it to, but a bigger shock than that, and knowing she may well have to rescue him instead, is knowing that this good-looking and genial guy is the monstrously deformed creature-man hidden under fantastical make-up in Gordon's enticing, disturbing and underrated next movie 'Castle Freak', which also returns Barbara Crampton to us.

'The Pit And The Pendulum' may feel dated, less showy and impervious to a mainstream now deluged with antisocial brats/A-listers forgetting their dead till the twist-ending/tiresome twits in masks/fake exorcisms and soup-stained mysteriously diseased biters weirdly beginning with Z instead of C (how must the 1961 version register then?), but this is one of the more important horror of the truly fallow first part of the 90s period, and probably inspired something like the Sean Bean 'Black Death' film of a few years back. For me, though it lacked the creature-feature monstrosities of 'From Beyond', corpse-fun of 'Re-Animator', fish-zombie followers of sea demon 'Dagon' and enchanted evil toys, the spell casting vibe for the greater good of 'Dolls' is present, and with everything else already mentioned, it's more than a reasonable success, and a huge up from that vampire mistake. The riveting tension created as that nasty Roger Corman blade swings nearer and nearer the stricken, several scenes involving a tongue, and a bullet-sized hole in the head used mainly to dig fingers in as a disciplinarian exercise are a nice touch (sorry) and worth £4.25 at the time, though I now regret it as it's now seen two different DVD releases, as well as a Blu-ray. All of which, I'm told, have the extras that this Full Moon Entertainment edition is completely exempt of. Picture quality is workable enough, but less said of the three trailers it suffers that merely remind you that some pitiful excuses for lens-work were never meant to go near someone of working grey matter, unless you absolutely deserved them to. It's times like this I can't help feeling there should be a law against such beyond ineptitude ill-jokes to horror having advertisment space on a copy of a cool movie made long before the student purveyors of such cack were even dropped on their head by mommy. Pit-i-ous.

Killing Time
Killing Time
Offered by westworld-
Price: £20.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Killing Tunes more than Killing Time in an otherwise talent-free wasteland of musical death in the late 90s., 8 July 2014
This review is from: Killing Time (Audio CD)
The worst thing happened to music in 1998 when the great Kim Wilde had her completed album cruelly and rudely locked away in an MCA (now Universal vault) in which it has remained ever since (typical songwriting and publishing dispute bull that only seems to affect the best women and those over 35), but of course, that's not counting all the other rotten things happening to music, which since 1990, had started to worsen every year, and with the advent of the horrific career-killing X Factor and grim reaper Simon Cowell, plus the never ending equally vile return of Madonna ('Ray of Blight' more like) alongside the toxic barbies of both sexes, and the c/rappers of so old and not new still enveloping the world of song in a death cloud, 1998 was as low as it could get at that point (even Ace of Base's worst album as a unit was done that year, almost all artistic integrity compressed out of it by their label), but a glimmer of light appeared, got brighter and she was called Tina Cousins, and even more gratifying, she was a Brit. Admittedly this album was released in 1999, but even then, that year would only have been notable for the few 80's artists with a record out to cherish, most notably Big Country's great swansong "Driving To Damascus".

She burst into the scene as the tunefully ( unusually for a dance record) vocal purveyor of techno tune 'Mysterious Times' from instrumentalists and producer's Sash, and this song, while the biggest and best song on here, is still in rather cracking company. The biggest shock is, while it's dance heavy, none of that old 2 Unlimited rule about dance equalling one repetitive rhythm-free beat padded out by an irritating squeal of just one stupid word or line repeated over and over applies here, these are songs, constructed songs, built around melody and signposting a vocal style to cherish. In fact if you only get any one record from 1998, here it is, yet it must be said, what else was there to get?

While I initially cringed with fear and dread over the defunct old music poisoner dinosaur Pete Waterman's names being among the credits, and it recorded at his death-studio no less, he is virtually absent fro proceedings, as songs like the smokey, utterly elegiac 'The Fool Is Me' (check out that killer chorus line: "You're a melanoma and you burn"!) and haunting 'Until The Day' pointing to a more characterful, individual approach share space with more typical pleasantries like 'Breathless'. Amazingly this album managed to see five single releases, even after huge hit 'Mysterious Times' appeared on it, and while the intriguingly stop-start approach of 'Killin' Time', romantic 'Angel', driving urgency of 'Pray' and 'Forever', and less impressive choice of last single 'Nothing To Fear' all managed the Top 50, none saw the chart life they deserved over all the tuneless, plastic bilge scumming up the non-charts, and while they managed No.15, No.20, No.45, No.46 (with the last unsurprisingly failing to chart), that, while a good strike rate for a first album, was hardly what they deserved, but they and she were clearly too good for the UK scene in 1998. Even worse, despite the album having that killer Sash song, plus enough chart entries for the rest, the album went even lower, appearing at No.48 and then probably dropping then out! You can help right a belated wrong by buying it now!

People never cease to astound me with their utter lack of receptivity over decent artists and tunes, yet any old piece of slut-bore rubbish, or tone-deaf idiots sporting guitars and anything c/rapped and they'll take it! Well, take it elsewhere already, and preferably to a black hole and throw it in.

Tina would go on to make a second album, which did even worse, not even charting at all, not helped by the fact it has many covers and took a full seven years to appear, by which time who would care, but she'll still probably remain knocking about for some time and let's hope so. Australia, particularly seems to love her, and like Kim Wilde before her, the UK doesn't appreciate its own past talent, preferring the later robotic barbie/howling/swearing ill-formed rubbish girls of today instead. Tina dumbed down to spend time with the more brainless examples of what passes for "music" with an Abba tribute the year following this album, needless to say she was the best thing about it.

One hopes she won't disappear entirely, but she should really knock ongoing covers on the head ('Sex On Fire' from idiotic Kings of Leon was her first "new" song of this decade), they do not a forwarding career necessitate or propagate. After such an undervalued, yet artistically and timely pleasing start (and following dance/trance songs by other acts like Lange showcased a certain amount of musicality and oxygen left in the genre), that's no way for a talent like Tina to be Killin' Time.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 22, 2014 12:13 AM BST

Piranha 3D [DVD]
Piranha 3D [DVD]
Dvd ~ Elisabeth Shue
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £2.98

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Jawless Non-Wonder Bubbling Over With Blunder Best Left Way Down Under., 8 July 2014
This review is from: Piranha 3D [DVD] (DVD)
Alexandra Aja's remake of Wes Craven's 'The Hills Have Eyes' is one of the better, if hard to get wrong, reboots of these hellish times of excessive non-creativity, but this man should have closed up menu with the remake business, before the stupid plea of curiosity whined in my ear to make me dip in this woefully underwhelming and mercilessly irritating 'Piranha 3D'. A few half laughs and a smattering of decent enough body-ripping sequences cannot compensate for the massive drag net of problems this shoal of depleted scrag ends bursts the seams with: average direction, nil suspense, a tragically stupid implausible threat, episodic acting from the few members of the clearly wasted 'what the hell are we doing here?' cast (Dina Meyer, Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott), and above all, a nasty preoccupation with the tastelessly brain dead beach culture of American involving a load of indentikit idiots in speedos, briefs and bikins on sand banks, jetties and boat decks, swaying around to the usual naff hip/hop c/rap that the US are so bizarrely in wedded bliss with; and this clearly matters more to Aja than those other withering matters of immediate concern when making a movie, especially an attempt at an utterly unasked for "remake"; you know, things like tension building, believable action, kinetic plot, natural character interaction in a difficult situation or any intelligence on hand at all.

It's plus points wouldn't fill a sandcastle's moat, but includes pretty imagery (even if the ocean's a tad unlikely pristine clean green to actively engage the scene), Jerry O 'Connell's unintentional laughter lines (not necessarily those he said, but check out the result of that steroid-kicking cold turkey), the whacking of a few robot fish with a frying pan used like a rounders bat in a sinking kitchenette aboard a boat, and Brit model and some-time 'actor' Kelly Brook's knockers out all those poor bimbettes around her, especially in a beautifully choreographed naked underwater swimming scene, like something out of a marine ballet. Oh, and while the attack scenes are pitifully naff (an absolute sin in an animal attack picture, forgetting the actual sin itself is this picture being made in the first place), the results of displayed evisceration down to the bones of the dead and dying trying to crawl beachward or be pulled aboard a boat packs a genuine thrill of knots, is something you truly don't see every day, and needs to be netted out and put in any amount of better horror movies (throw a dart at an A-Z).

But the high pollutant content: pedestrian explosions, average direction, numbing acting, drained dialogue, an overdose of hilariously inept CGI portraying fish that are supposed to have lived once (the clumsy, ill-advised and desperation reeking references to prehistoric specimens litters the film) yet they appear as nothing more than miniature motor-controlled mini-Arnie terminators with fins and stupid glowing red eyes (which tells us, I suppose, the waterproof batteries are still working), and the CGI-heavy attacks on all robo fish bait is as pathetic with the 3D specs on (that the stupid film comes with) or off. Which fossil record did these marine deluges ever appear in-short history of the developing world of 'The Terminator' from 1984 and not mentioned till now? Enter Richard Dreyfuss and Christopher Lloyd's equally pointless cameos (the former should be truly sorry) and the complete extinction of excitement and character involvement sinks this so-called piece of regurgitated celluloid to the bland canyon these silly metal toys came from.

The extras matter not in a sewer poor piece like this (and I can't even remember them, maybe just a featurette on this version), and I'm utterly sorry to Joe Dante and myself I even watered my curiosity with this attempted rape of his better than a million leagues beneath the sea abyss original, and his long awaited return to film around this time with 'The Hole' he shot while this shot itself in the over-inflated large ego, despite being little more than a PG rating, and a virtual remake of 80s horror 'The Gate' is still fresh enough, and with more proverbial snap than a beakless puffin-i.e 'Piranha 3D' in other blurbs.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 19, 2015 10:44 PM GMT

Link [DVD]
Link [DVD]
Dvd ~ Elisabeth Shue
Price: £6.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Animal Horror gets another Link in the chain., 6 Jun. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Link [DVD] (DVD)
The fantastic animal attack genre of the 70's, so commonly thought by many to have been flip-started by 'Jaws', was actually blazed by 'Frogs' as long ago as 1972, yet it all truly began with the double-hitter of Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds' and the barely known 'Black Zoo', both from 1963. What 'Jaws' did was make them fashionable; a decent handful of various threatening species followed swiftly, most good, but the first Jaws sequel and 'The Pack' topped the crop. By the 1980's, a whole new bunch of horror threats went into the stratosphere, brilliant for the Jack and Jill of all tastes, but animal horror kind of dropped; there was the rather choppy and hard to stomach 'Wild Beasts' of 1984 from Italy (with an equally horrific attitude to the wild animal cast), and now, finally thanks to Cannon Films, the far better 'Link' is made available via Network, which has been putting out some past great TV shows, most noticeably 'Birds Of A Feather'. For the UK, 'Link' has been given a brand new transfer from the original print, and it looks pretty good, though the disc comes with no extras bar a stills gallery and its two trailers, the awful theatrical exposing way too much of the film.

Elisabeth Shue, in a movie that remains her best, is Jane (clever ode to British primate expert Jane Goodall); she's charming, idealistic and increasingly resourceful as an American student who takes a summer job with her tutor Terence Stamp, a rather stuffy know-all who believes he's the holy grail of knowledge of interacting with incarcerated apes. Movie opens with a shocker to pull you in, and once we relocate to a creepy old mansion that resides imperiously and imposingly near the edge of a cliff, but facing away from it, isolated except by a winding highway through steeply sloping fields of sheep country, interposed with free running dangerous dogs, things get intense quickly. All very Hammer Horror in setting-and very welcome. Less so is what the animals themselves must have had to go through for the finished product. Little information on this exists (by convenient deliberation?), but any decent viewer will feel truly uncomfortable seeing the lovely but truly scary orang-utan of the title stuffed into miniature butler livery, smoking a cigar and being told to "bring this, do that!" and the chimpanzees, an adult called Voodoo made out to be insane when she's really just bored stiff and imprisoned against her wishes and away from her own kind, and an unrelated baby called Imp, probably don't fare much better. From film perspective, many scenes stand out at once; Link, shrouded in shadow-appearing instantly like a squat dwarf-like person opening the front door to Shue when she arrives, and a creepy, discomfiting, but daring naked shot of him almost leering at her later when she tried to take a bath, and of course when the apes prepare to rage. The movie is well-shot, always interesting and ticks away like a time-bomb as the ape (or apes) get slowly crazier at their treatment, and it's a weird but intriguing slant when Shue needs to become more in control as her tutor loses it and he loses our sympathy too, always supposing he ever had it, securing the services of a vivisectionist to take Link off his hands, merely exhibiting the closing cycle of the circle of all animal cruelty by humans: the orang-utan is unmanageable, and having been taken from his Asian home in the forest as a baby (which naturally entailed killing his mother to secure him)to be beaten and humiliated for the circus, (and one wonders just how autobiographical all this is), then dumped on death row because humans cannot get it through their sick heads that "taming what's wild isn't natural" (a line from 'The Howling'), never mind what it is ethically and morally.

While the horror is pitched perfectly, the chase sequences staged with heart-pounding menace, and all three apes, especially Link, truly memorable and daring to be pushed just that tiny bit further to full explosiveness, whilst the humans generally makes clear just how dire the situation is, you do wonder a bit how Stamp can get students to his place of study without such rigid safety regulations in place to prevent all but those who truly know the wild apes working with them, and then to keep leaving Liz alone, whilst arrogantly believing that there's no harm she could possibly come to. Or does he secretly hate her? Turn him down, did she? Chauvinistic jerk, perhaps, you decide. I also have a big problem with apes being referred to as monkeys, this happens all the time on American films and TV shows, leading me to believe that ignorance, stupidity and full disinterest and detachment from the living world (or what's left of it) is almost universally irreversible. People call out all sorts of niggles in films or books, why never this, when it's a big one?

And are they truly referring to Link throughout as a chimp? What stupidity is this, could they not find/imprison another for the film? I guess not, so what they do? They go down 'The Beastmaster' route and presumably sprayed his fur black (orang-utans have russet-coloured hair). Considering the tiger from 'The Beastmaster' died from the "treatment", this is particularly sick, and while I hold this film up in terms of truly great horror deliverance, the fact its premise warning about our wanting to own animals and will them to servitude and worse will end us up in the deserved sticky rough seems rather pat and ill-served when the animals themselves have to go through this exact treatment to visually make the point. Yes, this movie is done and dusted, and not watching it won't help any of those simians now, and as I said, it's a great horror, (and at least Liz Shue's Jane speaks up to Stamp about her strong disagreement on dressing up apes, allowing them to smoke and so forth), but it's not hard to feel relief at something like the later 'Congo', where by 1995, the final development of CGI and animatronics meant animals weren't needed at all, except in location shots from a distance going about their wild business. Though the capture and eventual fate of the imprisoned orca Keiko in 'Free Willy' just two years before it does make you wonder if animals on film will ever be free from "necessary" cruelty. Superior film wizardry conjures up whole landscapes today, yet with animals, aren't we still back in caves, only this time with the knowledge of right and wrong?

Aside from all this, 'Link' is yet another top horror from the 80s, the best animal attack horror of a decade where admittedly hardly any sprang from, though its idea and story did originate from 1979 from director Richard Franklin, but he didn't get it going, until screenwriter Everett De Roche presented him with a Jane Goddall article about chimp violence, though what this has to do with the far more peaceful orang-utan (temperament akin to gorillas, i.e pretty gentle despite their adult size-the one in the film is obviously a young one) I'll never bloody know. Stupid of the film to refer to him as a chimp when he isn't one, and we try and ignore this as it flourishes many other coups, not least its emergence of Shue's character as a strong girl taking control with strength, speed and intelligence, if only to stay (and try to keep others) alive, several imaginative deaths, a really good jump sequence with a corpse, a rousing finale, and a twist end that may surprise, and may not, but is good for all that. And so is the film, so clink the Link.

Agatha Christie: An English Mystery
Agatha Christie: An English Mystery
by Laura Thompson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthy read indeed, but on the manner of author-enticity, Why Didn't They Ask Christie's?, 3 Jun. 2014
Laura Thompson has certainly give many Agatha Christie admirers a little something more to enjoy and think about, and throughout a rather rambling scattergun approach, which nonetheless holds the attention probably as much as a more chronological progressions of Ms Christie's life and works, it does satisfy as it puts to print a number of important points, not least much needed validation of Agatha as a timeless author who wrote more than just "puzzles" to entertain, and how her understanding of characterisation and ability to see outside the so-called limited simplicity of her detective fiction all helped solidify her still one of the most enduring names today, and certainly for me, the peerless continuing Queen of the Whodunnit? She challenges strongly the "why-write-it" condescension of critics towards it, comes up with novel, enticing, and some very interesting new ways of looking at some of her novels (possibly, though, the ones Thompson admires of others which doesn't exactly always make for equality, especially not if your own ideas on what's great and what's trailing in the wake). She even stages, perhaps, a slight (I like to interpret it that way) contempt at how a later crime writer like Ruth Rendell is seen as more salient in her own salient approach-and a fair point too, as Rendell was one of the 'celebs' interviewed on the 1992 Channel Four show 'J'Accuse' being rather cutting about Christie's legacy, presuming her own far more worthwhile, no doubt. To date, I still don't care about Rendell's written works that much, but not because of this programme, though that didn't help.

One thing I really relished about this book was just how prevalent and regularly the author delves into many of the crime novels, and actually explores the characters, singling them out by name even and even listing their virtues and what they were striving for. This will fly in the face of many readers, and to those of you out there who are eager to read this, it will probably be by far the best idea to buy it and then leave it on a shelf until you have completed a fair number of Christie novels. For Ms Thompson, in a structure many will have to adapt to get to the end, randomly plucks at a harp complete showdown moments where murderer's identities aren't just showcased, but even discussed. And boo to the woman you may feel, but as someone who has by now read far more Christie than I've missed, I found the likelihood of being caught out this way very rare, but the minute a book title came up I hadn't yet clutched or rattled through, I averted my eyes and turned the page. This can be annoying for anyone, but as this book seems to map about with facts and actual true-life happenings-or suppositions in a snakes and ladders method, you won't be missing out on too much, depending on what exactly you want to read, as some parts are more engaging than others. Or you could write down the number of pages bothering you in this way, returning to them later once you're a bit more clued up on more of the titles and their characters or endings scrutinised.

What's of most alarming rashness is the way that a number of things are presented as facts when they seem little more than erroneous whispers or speculations on the author's part, as in Ms Christie's world-famous 1926 disappearance, or the prevailing insistence on explaining away much of Agatha's life through her Mary Westmacott novels, as if these held the only key to all sorts of gilded depositories on her "difficult" relationship with her daughter Rosamund, her two husbands Archie and Max, her state of mind following her divorce from Archie, and of how she viewed other people and other things happening in her world, and her relationship to them. On the other hand, this is buoyed up charming anecdotes about how much Agatha loved her dogs and dogs in particular (not just from descriptions in her novels-especially the fact little Bob from 'Dumb Witness' was her way of delivering her then just dearly departed to the page), and any dog lover could almost feel her coming off the page at this moment. Details of her relationship with her publisher and agents, and how Hollywood continuously mucked about with her work make also for fascinating reading, though as Agatha was and remained as private person ("why do people have to know about the author over her books?" was an often used refrain), it should be expected that not all answers will be found here. Some stabbings in the dark may hit beauty spots of truth, others will hits the thick shadowed drapes, leaving little but a scratch, and perhaps that's why Laura felt the need to shoehorn her own interpretations of certain things and hope they translate into fact, maybe she thought some answers are better than none. That's for you, who end up reading this, though, to ultimately decide, and whether or not you find it increasingly intolerable.

And while I do admire this book more often that not, I do confess, as others already have, to skipping some sections, as the wanderings into Agatha's life seemed to meander off into perilously brittle notion, interest then going with it. In direct contrast to many disgruntled reviewers here, I actually applaud Thompson's singling out of many novels, and while this naturally illuminates the hidden facade of many wonderful denouements, I would have expected many people by this late date to have read many of these books already and know this. After all, it's surely through a strong familiarity of a certain person's work that you tackle a biography on them in the first place, though this is by no means the first one, but it does add enough freshness to the mix. I love the way she plucks out many characters names that have exact bearing to whatever is being discussed, after all, a writer has to feel affinity and love and believe in what they are writing, otherwise they would never finish or continue. She invokes further the life Christie gave to these creations, and from pages 374-408 in the chapter 'English Murder' she delves clearly into a clear defence of Agatha's much misunderstood battering at sniffy critic hands that layered such continuous demeaning charges that she couldn't write depth of characters, couldn't convey real depth of emotion you'd feel with a death or succession of them, skipped over the gore and messiness of death itself, and wrote "murders" that couldn't possibly happen in reality"-like she thought they could or something. This is where the book really gets it strength from, this clear, unbending and fastidiousness of taking every charge levelled against her (including snobbery, racism, xenophobia), examining the source (often naming books and praises which is most helpful in defence), commenting on how certain accusations could be true, but only when taken in context (i.e the highly offensive rhyme in 'And Then There Were None') which was merely a reproduction of a nursery rhyme often chanted in nurseries in the 1920s or 1930s, and then rather expertly and politely dismantling most everything the whining detractors had hammered out so effusively. It's at this moments the book is alive with wit, insight and smart salient fact, with an obvious love for the Ms Christie's general output.

This doesn't mean slavish praise, however, and while this would only ever accord with individual taste, as an individual writing it, I will merely present myself what others have already stated-that it does get on one's wick. I utterly reiterate her belief that the beautifully written, and truly amazing 'Five Little Pigs' is one of the best, ditto 'Crooked House', 'Towards Zero' and 'The Moving Finger', something appreciated with time passage too, as I probably wouldn't have a decade ago, but when she picks out another favourite (in this case 'The Clocks'-a rare one I came really late to, but was blown away immediately by) and defines it as "weak" more than once, like it was a truth all Aggie fans were crazy to think otherwise of, I want to shake her, not least cos it was one of the few books in her latter years where the murderer was someone you wouldn't even consider for a moment upon immersion, something that was her truly defining mark back in the day. She doesn't say why, she does says it is, and this unfortunately tars her clever revelations with a sticky residue that slips, of which is equally bad on her assertion 'The Hollow'-which actually does have a weak and (unusually for Agatha) an utterly unbelievable, incomprehensible person as the killer is on par with 'Five Little Pigs' in quality and reverence, if only cos it has a brilliant woman character called Ms Savernake. Possibly this is half admiited as the reason (a pin thin one), but earlier she's accused 'The Mystery Of The Blue Train' (a much better book with much better killer/s) of being only good because of a certain main character, another woman called Katherine Grey. Annoyingly, ridiculous, absurd. She only tries expansion on her dismissal of 'The Clocks' because its "human interplay bears almost no relation to the crime". What a stupid, idiotic notion, the crime in that book isn't supposed to do with anyone else, except the few people about to be exposed as an extremely underhand individuals and then feel driven to react to it. But they have to live somewhere, why the hell does everyone else have to feature as a "person to the whole", surely they are just by being on the spot or as possible witnesses. Never mind the fact the book (especially as a very late one-dealt when Agatha was over sixty) starts with an amazing premise-not least an unidentifiable man whom no one knows and no one can get any information on, found in a house utterly at odds with such a happening. Thompson also does have a happen of repeating titles she loves and while other classics are referred to obliquely ('Dead Man's Folly', 'Mrs McGinty's Dead', 'Peril At End House') they barely feature at all, though even worse are several truly dynamic books, so supreme in structure, plot and characterisation (things Ms Thompson doesn't hesitate to praise repeatedly in a number of others) that are utterly missing in any sort of even passing scouring, the most insultingly devalued of which is the sublime and creepy 'Sleeping Murder' with its marvellous building of terrifying suspense rivaled on by its audacious unveiling of killer in the final chapter.

She also shoots herself in the foot in the best chapter 'English Murder' again, which she starts off with the supposed revelation that Ms Christie wrote her best works before her fame spread rapidly, and how often it is that an increased profile and popularity means a descent in quality, something I could agree with so often with recording artists or certain actors, but certainly not here. It's coupled with the apparent surprise her name grew to such latitudes because of adaptions of her books, rather than the books themselves, daft in the extreme, especially in the light of the actuality that any clamouring for an artists's work to be presented in another medium is surely measure of just how wonderfully regarded they are (not that you'd know it from the result so often) and how much they've achieved. For these reasons alone, the books will remain extensively read and reread long after the uniformly listless and often downright dreadful theatre, TV and film productions are, many of which Thompson correctly downgrades herself, especially the more recent ones. It's a shame because so much of this chapter is brilliant and resoundingly lethal in its debunking of common myths-i.e that Agatha was interested in murder as an act-or THE act, that she only saw the world one way in terms of supreme simplicity and so on, but in between these coups, she then makes another assumption on a book she so clearly hasn't bothered with beyond a superficial once-over as she states that 'After The Funeral' features possibly the "most weakest motive of all". I won't go into what it is-unlike her dissecting of many books, Ag fans should always come to unread books without the faintest inkling, but suffice to say that gaining something is a little more than that for the sake it is, for this person, their life, as they see it, has been committed to drudgery and this has to grow into something bordering on pathological hate-and its these things together that make the murder in 'After The Funeral' so nasty and accepted to the killer as completely requisite. Clearly she needs to re-read the book again, and 'The Clocks'.

Also in the chapter are a bare minimum of photographs-most of which seem to have been in print for quite some time, which makes one wonder just what the Christie lineage thought of the resulting biography here, maybe they felt she submitted too many assumptions and printed them as actual facts regarding key points of Agatha Christie's life, and didn't want to let near any photographs of the lady from the family archives.

Nothing wrong with a bit of mystery in life, maybe sometimes wrong we always struggle for answers, and our appetite leads to speculation which then gets recorded as fact, which, in turn, we may then take umbrage with. Today's celeb cesspit lot tend to give you what you don't want to see or hear, but authors tend to be different and Agatha was well known for being private, a long lived irony that, while befuddling some, shouldn't really be read into than anything more than it was. As perhaps should this book!

Death Ship [1980] [DVD]
Death Ship [1980] [DVD]
Dvd ~ George Kennedy
Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Full Scream Ahead to the dead., 24 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Death Ship [1980] [DVD] (DVD)
Water may cover far more of the planet than any landmass ever will, but terribly unpredictable climatic conditions and an utter dearth of imagination tends to make movies set on water a rarity hoping to be cherished, whether the actual result deems that hope accurate. And horror on the ocean is even more scarcer, so sail forward 1980's 'Death Ship' for a cruise it can't loose, and Nucleus Films can be thanked for delivering a region 0 disc with almost as many extras as the US version has, more of that later.

The premise itself is dead on smart, and one cult floater I'd never seen, and wanting to be rammed central by it, I finally set sail. My captain's report is that it ebbs and flows with fitful moments of inspired death-scenes and mounting dread, but also threatens to deadlock aimlessly with budgetary constraints that collides unfortunately to sink certain powerful set pieces that should be pivotal, hence the liner our guests and few crew are on getting prow beaten by the death-cruiser. It may as well not have happened, the ensuing carnage is virtually nonexistent, as stock footage from old disaster movies like 'The Last Voyage' are shot through to enact the resulting mayhem, and then nothing-it dawns the next morning and the eight survivors are already in a makeshift float, barely betraying they'd experience any more than falling in the swimming pool at Aunt Coral Reef's. And not even hitting them. And no remains of the ship is in view at all. So far, so pitiful, but once that freak freighter returns to pick them up, the film begins its promise, unhelpfully slipping up yet again, though,with an accidental long-shot of a window being opened by a crew-member-you can see his arm. Minutes later, the window is opened from inside the ship with no tell-tale physicality on show, supporting the possibility the enemy is an unseen menace. So not delete that first shot?

Redubbing Sally Ann Howes, if not replacing her, as second mate Richard Crenna's wife would have been ship-shape, the stuff she literally comes out with is absurdly at-odds with the seriousness of the situation, she's the worst performer in the film, though gets by at other moments. She rivals almost the basically comatose mother in 'A Nightmare On Elm Street' with the delivery, and the kids playing her children are embarrassingly better than her.Handsome Steven Bauer lookalike Nick Mancuso drifts sadly into overacting mode in slowed-down stills that are supposed to represent a descent into madness at the mercy of the evil force on board, and the scenes of him in a big net and in a theatre room would have reverberated far more powerfully if they weren't dragged out so much. We get it, he's going mad, stop stretching the shot. Ditto a shower sequence for his girlfriend that many will liken to 'Psycho'-I care little about that, anyone can go in a shower, what bothers me if it just won't end. Sure it's memorable enough, but rather embarrassing to watch. She does it well, but once again, some producer's just have to oil up previously untroubled waters.

But the floating menace, a monstrous 2000 plus tonne lumber freighter, is the perfect monster, not living yet very much alive. It looks fantastic, a rusting, cob-webbed single-decked bringer of doom, and we're given helpful oft-shots of the working mechanics of this Nazi-nightmare: of pistons going up and down like raised guillotine heads, windows and portholes opening and slamming shut by themselves and steering wheels, levers and other parts all moving to either point an unseen enemy to be revealed later, or-perhaps the ship itself? But why, you may ask? Well, cruise with it and you'll find out. Controversially (at the time), what truly gives this horror film weight and reality-based roots is a real-life travesty not so distant yet, but hey, look what 'Cloverfield' passed off as its right to exist. Scenes of long-rotting bodies covered in cobwebs and twisted into tortured positions are generally a marvel of set design, as is old-film footage of Holocaust horror, and the musical score adds the necessary pounding terror, intercut with screaming voices of the long-dead and the whispering voice of an old dictator as it plumbs its wishes and demands into ambitiously delighted captain George Kennedy, a little hammy in bits but generally an expectantly malevolent presence. Topped off is the terrifying roar of the foghorn as the ship prepares itself for a ramming-"here I come and here you go" it could be saying. Added to this is some truly spectacular stunt-work to that regarding deaths and death attempts that often wash over stupid mishaps, like the crew-hand opening the window, and worse, one character suddenly appearing from one room to the outside deck in a badly contrived life-attempt. You want to drown the film at moments like this, but the whole obliterates and actually drowns out the missteps overall. The mono Dolby audio is wonderfully clear as well, every word spoken bell-clear, though the musical score by Ivor Stanley, while good for the most part, threatens to become shrill and tinny at times. But overall-it's all ship-shape and swimmingly done.

Plus any horror fan's got to appreciate the tidal wave of meaningful ambition and subsequent splash it truly made, rippling far and wide, becoming the biggest hit of its year-behind 'Kramer Vs Kramer' no less,whilst successfully merging the disaster movies of old with a unique horror premise, which certainly doesn't seem to have only inspired Dark Castle's 2002 'Ghost Ship', and the same year's 'Below' from 'Pitch Black' man David Twohy-set on a submarine yet with a big Nazi incorporation too. Then there's Christopher Smith's 'Triangle'-isn't it possible that these, and maybe more have cruised 'Death Ship' up and down like a forensic examiner, treading water, awaiting their sea of glory?

For a film seemingly sunk in forgotten waters, for it to resurface with such a pack of very fine extras kind of justifies the money the film just by itself is probably not quite worth, though I don't doubt its stature as a must-sea horror (sorry) in a subgenre that includes truly little. A fascinating commentary between 'English Gothic' author Jonathan Rigby and director Alvin Rakoff uncovers from the deep truly enthrall and entertain, an equally astute and compelling 42 minute featurette involving several of the actors, writer and director swims pleasingly, has a few irrelevant ducked scenes and a picture gallery, plus selected pages of the original story with its earlier working titles (about three others). The 1.85:1 widescreen presentation enhanced for HD can only rescue the film's picture quality so far, by itself the dim lighting and dull colours aren't any crime, but the early scenes right at the movie's start during the night are so static-filled and blurry they threaten to do your head in, and it also blurs out a bit at some later stages, with a few black line stains visible on the print. A shame, but if you appreciate we can only have this now thanks to a large amount of time and money spent on activating the transfer from the original Brit theatrical print, the Canadian original negatives being consigned to the deep abyss with its processing lab, it still a case of swimming over sinking. And there are worse transfers out there. Best of all-at least found footage film-making with intention to be grainy for authenticity (bull!) didn't exist back then.

Most shocking of all is Rakoff's displeasure with his finished film, and his bemusement at the high regard its now held, and I can't go higher than three stars myself, but mine is a ***(8/10) for good, not an amazon *** for fair or average, and he just doesn't seem to like horror films. But likeable this most certainly is, and durable too, especially with that wicked oil tanker of evil. Yes 'Deep Rising' is far more me-it has the monster and the budget to make a ship collision look and feel exactly what it should, plus the aftermath, but I admire 'Death Ship' for doing what only the 80's could-to take a suggestive threat conveyed with pure clarity, a main pollutant today of horror movies where all are so desperate to "keep it real" that real horror, ironically, is actually kept down so forcefully it lays down and dies, leaving a perfectly ordinary and utterly worthless thriller/drama/action film in its place. Gulity parties are all around, many in the found-footage department.

While I was surprised enough to hear ghosts were actually supposed to feature in the film from the writer and the producer, they were actually exorcised in preference for what was chosen, and as it was 1980 back then, I utterly identify that being the correct choice, because what was used was truly different and truly worked, pre-dating the Stephen King mini-series from 2002 'Rose Red' (ironically too the 'Ghost Ship'/'Below' year) in that sense. If it were made today, I wouldn't, but then it wouldn't, would it, be made today, which is exactly my point, and a far better one that the absurd moans on its release that the German dialogue (only used in scattered moments of the broadening identity of the threat wasn't understood, and it is here that audiences' patience and rationality and common sense are just undeserving of such a movie. For God's sake when a threatened animal warns you with a charge, glare or snarl it's going to attack, you don't wait and wish for it to develop human speech so you can understand its intent. For this reason, our extras seem to actually trounce the US ones which actually include the German speaking lady on the soundtrack telling you in English what she-or the ship-was saying! Seriously, whilst being bilingually challenged isn't a social inadequacy, an inability to grasp the obvious is. Whoever these fans were at its time of release, don't all gasp for air at once, talk about 20,000 leagues of lost logistics under the sea!

Voices Carry
Voices Carry
Offered by Wizelo
Price: £8.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Voices and Talent Carry, yet don't expect the masses to listen!, 2 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Voices Carry (Audio CD)
1985 was the year which marked a downturn in US talent assembling, and never, despite its supreme size, being anywhere near as vital,important or individual to music as the UK and Europe generally, it's main problem was music's antichrist itself-Madonna-queen of the untalented ushering in a new horrible decade of attention-seeking and slut-about-town exhibitionism geared for quick-grab financial reward and public recognition in lieu of any vocal, songwriting or any obvious talent beyond getting what you want cos you scream and suck loud and hard enough to do so, while cannily convincing a generation of Big Mac kids you have what they want. Then there's the other side of the business, the talent part that's supposed to actually drive it, and whilst America seemed almost done, 1985 gave us the Bangles breakthrough, Suzanne Vega, Voice Of The Beehive a few years later, and also, Aimee Mann and the rest of 'Til Tuesday.

Whilst the New Wave scene was presumably long over by 1985, America, always behind the times when it comes to other nation's talents, finally allowed itself to notice this outfit, but sadly, the only way they predictably did it was a showy video for MTV for the second single 'Voices Carry' (the first single 'Love In A Vacuum' was ignored, and remained so when it was re-released as the third and, sadly, final single) from the album of its hugest song's title. Already the label had stuck their oar in over the "controversy" of Mann singing such a song to a WOMAN instead of a man! God, America, but what can you expect? Cyndi Lauper, having just come to prominence herself apparently wanted the song (leaving the gender unchanged) but only if 'Til Tuesday weren't to include it on their album. Stuff that they sensibly said, and I add stick with your "girls having fun" motif.

While the song did real well, and deservedly so, pulling the album into the US Top 20 in its wake, very few seemed to notice how striking it was for such a young girl to be such an expressive, heart-tearing lyricist and such an astute and assured bass player also. Whilst most earlier females tended to be either daft (Go-Gos, Belle Stars) or just plain noisy without hope of melody or emotion (Girlschool, Cramps, Suzi Quatro), Aimee Mann fitted the far more serious New Wave movement of the UK (Kim Wilde, Duran Duran, OMD, Abc, The Human League, Toyah, A Flock Of Seagulls, Blancmange etc.), so why she wasn't promoted over here in the way Grace Jones, Pat Benatar, Blondie or Pretenders were, I'll never know, and can only blame both her US label and us over here for that.

Her voice is cut-glass searing plaintive and heart-rending, but also flies to shrill in places, but would utterly mature in just a year's time for pitch-perfect singing on their second album. The other slight drawback with this album is, while there's generally more synth than there ever would be again, several songs seem to musically draw too near other contemporaries breaking through when they started, hence album track 'No More Crying'-one of the first completed for the album, sounds way too A Flock Of Seagullsy with all their trademark guitar-riffing and echos. But the song is livelier than 'I Could Get Used To This' beforehand, whose chorus is just a little too downbeat to be strictly harmonious and borders on dreary. 'Winning The War' is impressive, but scarily in its make-up is something that would possibly have been given to that horror-harridan Madonna, if a dumb disco backdrop substituted instead, and when Aimee soars with the high notes, I can almost hear her squealing along in that bleating lamb wheeze she relies on, though there's no way such epic emotion and heart-stung words like "You closed that door on happy ever after" and "I know, you know, winning the wars' not winning it all" could ever be utilised by her. But it wouldn't surprise me if you used this album to pinch something from, it's what her whole career is based on, and it not getting challenged or called out.

Whilst the astounding 'Voices Carry' (even better than its landmark video) is the best song here, the gorgeous, heart-tearing spare minimalism of top ballad 'You Know The Rest' with its attendant understated piano chords and modest guitar-work comes a close second with 'Winning The War'. Not there's anything wrong with the other two singles 'Looking Over My Shoulder' and the rudely ignored 'Love In A Vacuum'-both are wrongly ignored pop masterpieces, and beautifully played and written. 'Maybe Monday' and 'Are You Serious' are deceptively peppy, and 'Don't Watch Me Bleed' rocks the heaviest, and she attaches a most frightening "son't get me mad" vocal to it. Chiming ballad 'Sleep' sends the album out in fine form. Both follow-up albums would encroach even further into ultimately grown-up scenarios and arrangements, resulting in an utterly perfect third album, which was sadly to be their last. I recommend buying them all, and how nice this has been updated finally, not that the playing seems much louder or clearer, but it's sad both others have been passed over for the same treatment.

Whilst Ms Mann's solo career has never reached the resulting wow factor all these albums generally gave, there's no doubt she's one of the most important singer/songwriter and bass player that the US ever had the sheer luck to produce and utterly under-appreciate like they do with most of the rare best things they ever have. Strapped to this release is a booklet with a rather detailed and very welcome little history of the album's conception and all its songs and how the main members met, and guitarist Robert Holmes, keyboardist Joey Pesce and drummer Michael Hausman, as I haven't mentioned yet, are an equally vital part of this group. No lyric sheet, sadly, but a detailed flow-through of a great band getting off to a very ace start, coasting through the "difficult second album" routine easily, and then sadly quitting on completion of their 1988 masterpiece, which Pesce had left prior to making and more fool him.

Bands, singers flourish, erupt, regrow, come back, disappear, but their music stays if it truly matters and Voices Carry.

Grabbers [DVD] [2012]
Grabbers [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Richard Coyle
Offered by MediaMerchants
Price: £2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For all you horror fans out there, no matter where or how rare, here's a reason to go Grab-happy., 2 May 2014
This review is from: Grabbers [DVD] [2012] (DVD)
Jon Wright about turns from his first film, the actually surprisingly good supernatural/slasher Brit blender 'Tormented' from 2009, but employs the same freshness as he deliberately and lovingly mines a new movie which is several parts 'Jaws', 'Gremlins', 'Tremors' and the much derided 'Deep Rising'. The result is 'Grabbers', a booze-soaked Irish-British bit of charmingly foul-mouthed island-based horror-comedy, which, while it seems to rely more on the laughs in the 'Eight Legged Freaks' way over the flat-out scare and yuck factor method, still retains quite enough awe-striking superior CGI, deft camera angles, slimy prosthetics and skin penetrations to flinch at and get excited. 1988's 'The Blob' and older black and white features come to mind as the film opens with a meteorite striking the sea off Erin Island, a tiny coastal inlet. Within minutes (none of this infinite 'Rosemary's Baby'/Don't Look Now'/'Alien' hanging about) the monster is unleashed, and, as did 'Tremors' long before it, it in no way harms the film at all, which pulls back immediately to introduce the main characters, morose boozy cop Richard Coyle, lovely but nervy sidekick Ruth Bradely, village drunken fool (who actually isn't one in a smart stock-playing upturn) Lalor Roddy, and grin-inducing deliberate posh scientist-boffin Russel Tovey. David Pearse (from Irish charmer comedy 'Happy Ever Afters') and the usually hilarious and scary Bronagh Gallagher ( a veteran of a most surprising a blend of films ranging from 'Faintheart' and 'Divorcing Jack' to 'Pulp Fiction' and 'Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace', whilst also being a singer-songwriter and drummer too, heading up an Irish ensemble cast. Coyle and Tovey are the only Englishmen cast, but Coyle himself sports an impressive Irish lilt, leaving Tovey the sole Brit representative accent wise.

While not on the impressively large scale that US monster movies (whenever they're done) can afford to be, this one's modest ambitions are more than met and rather accurately realised. Characters you care about, a recognisably quaint yet bloshy village life, and no one doing essentially stupid things, all with a monster you can't not love aswell. Her locomotion is impressive as is her appearance, and whilst there are many scenes almost flat-out referencing 'Jaws' and 'Jaws 2' with visual shots (remember many things done in the sequel were not present in the first, for those eager to dismiss it for no other reason than it's a sequel), 'Gremlins' (especially with the bar scene where the gra-babies destroying everything they can, including one swinging round on a ceiling fanlight) and the utter blatancy of 'Tremors'-citing-everything from map-referencing where bodies have been offed leading to a central destination where the characters are actually standing to the actual naming the creature in this as a Grabber-anyone can recollect Grabboids was the name selected for those 1989 giant underground worms. it still works as its own movie, and that has as much to do with the utter scarcity of real horror movies around now, which is not to say that anything goes in desperation.

After all, how many horrors has Ireland actually given us? And considering it seems to be all about what ISN'T a horror today which maddeningly and crazily seems to MAKE a horror for people today (yeah, if you don't get it, you can't expect me to, but anyone, don't expect a cheque to explain, I'm starved not stupid), any monster movie that dares come along even half as good as this is worthy of attention just for not being shot like a kid's just picked up a toy camera, proclaiming asbo brats are the violence of the future, and didn't pretend the whole sequence was a dream caused by the two main players having a car crash and dreaming it while they waited to die. No cannibals either. I know, doesn't sound like much does it by today's malformed standards, but consider the few jewels of fresh hilarity that secures it's place among such prior named royalty, i.e the fact that villagers in a constant state of heavy inebriation repel a monstrous palate so delicately put off by the sheer toxicity, and that drunkenness for the very non-idiotic "village idiot" seems to be more a haze-clearing tonic, which enables him to survive face-offs. The blood-drinking in lieu of flesh-munching seems to point at 'Deep Rising' certainly, as does the creature's very pretty rotating gob, but is actually based on the very real vampire squid that actually lives in the sea of this world, of course many times smaller and different to look at.

To compliment this funky film's delight factor, there's a generous amount of extras, including a interview from annoying FrightFest horror 'critic' Alan Jones with Wright, a strong featurette covering all the vital ingredients, an outtake section, a cute photo gallery and a commentary featuring many involved. And while the film is funny enough for what it needs to be, the fact it actually germinated from an idea the writer Kevin Lehane had from being told eating copious amounts of Marmite repels mosquitoes due to its Vitamin B make-up is proof good ideas come from the strangest places. So snatch a Grab or Grab a snatch, whichever way you prefer it, Marmite optional, and about the only way I'd ever want it used in a review, as I don't love/hate it, I just H-a-t-e it. The love/hate cliche, that is, not Marmite. I also hate who make Marmite, but I don't hate Marmite itself. You shouldn't hate anything with Vitamin B12, that's silly, it's good for you. And so's 'Grabbers' at under a fiver, and with the way inflation's gone spacewards these days, it'll soon be cheaper than Marmite too. And it'll still make you feel good, but without the B12. That's Marmite!

Friends With Kids [DVD]
Friends With Kids [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jon Hamm
Price: £4.00

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Friends I wouldn't be keeping, no Kid-ding!, 1 May 2014
This review is from: Friends With Kids [DVD] (DVD)
'Bridesmaids' was one of the more horrible offerings of it respective year, a crazily unfunny, excruciating, min-numbing exercise in desperation humour, which in the end actually forgot the humour, despite a few good lines offered from Chris O'Dowd an no one else, but it won't be the first time the beer and curry crowd got a thing wrong in such a fell sweep. And that's one of the many big problems afflicting this ill-conceived knock-about spinning top of bratty strops, shrieking harpies and backward musings on what it apparently means to have and keep a relationship going once you have kids. Which would be a good idea, but the film refuses to explore that at all, and just presents us with three couplings, two marriages that don't strike particularly convincing and only turn into snipes and snarls whenever the so-called script puts them on screen, whereas most of the time we're spent with the two singletons that decide on the killer idea to have a baby, and just not worry about getting together, just bring it up between them, but not as a unit. What a shining nugget of wisdom for a supposedly intelligent pair of adults to make, as that's so what society is based on. And, sadly, the dread non-humour and scatterbrain yelling of 'Bridesmaids' seems to be this film's nearest companion, and for me that turns this tasteless candyfluff into scrap, and that is truly sad.

Sad because it didn't need to be this way, after all the writer-director (and star) Jennifer Westfeldt made the charming, funny and memorable Woody Allen-esque 'Kissing Jessica Stein' just over ten years ago, but none of that film's witty, acerbic, earthy,winsome and somehow endearingly real and expertly characterised players are present here, and that's criminal. It's bad enough she's made her own character a grating, whining and simpering neurotic of the first disorder, but she has three decent and usually lovable and hot leading men in this, yet none of them come across as shining, and I'm still waiting for both Adam Scott and Jon Hamm to actually star in a film I can really like. I'm still waiting. Kristen Wiig, while funny in the underrated Ricky Gervais supernatural comedy 'Ghost Town' does not seem to deserve any of the accolades presently heaped on here for what she's achieved so far, ditto Maya Rudolph, who only seems to come across well in intriguing road-movie 'Away We Go' with John Kraskinski. Most of the blame, though, has to lie at Westfedlt's door. Whether woman are better observers than men, I don't know, but she's not doing her sex any favours if this is the kind of thing getting green-lit for cinematic display, and it makes me mad when other women, like the lady who shot the winsome and grossly ignored 2003 rom-com/drama 'Carolina' with Julia Stiles, and Jocelyn Moorhouse get far better results to basically zero response.

I got this on the notion the strong male star cast (rare for rom-coms, the males are usually hideous, shallow, chest-shaving, strutting barbies of a production-line, just like in action, and often horror films) would compliment the women better, and it would somewhow echo those earlier wonderful stabs of twentysomething plus angst and the pitfalls and highs of married life and relationships that blazed the trail. Yet it couldn't be further away in quality, focus or charm than Whit Stillman's superb 90s trilogy, Edward Burns's 'She's The One' (and having the man himself guest in this, mostly looking uncomfortable, showing it up as horribly wanting), 'Tadpole', 'Miami Rhapsody', 'The Night We Never Met', 'Next Stop Wonderland', 'Smart People' and Lisa Cholodenko's double five star wattage knowing relationship dramas of 'Laurel Canyon' and 'The Kids Are All Right' and even the rather underwhelming 'Lovely & Amazing', but above all, it's also crazily as far from 'Kissing Jessica Stein' as it could be. And maybe she could have done with the other girl who co-wrote that film with her.

There's so much to dismay and disappoint, not least the clumsily mishandled treatment of overlapping dialogue which Robert Altman excelled at that just turns into repetitive and aimless yelling and chiming over one another pointlessly here. Worse, the likelihood of the charmless observation that all men can't seem to want to control or even be around their kids, or know what to do with them. Really? When I'm out, I see lone fathers out with them all the time? Or that raising a kid purposely "not as a couple to avoid kid-making problems"-really?!-is the perfect solution to the easiest stress-free life for all concerned. And don't even start me on the barrel-scraping verbal exchange between Adam Scott (by now an idiot of grand proportions, well done movie) and Westfeldt, who of course burped it. Or perhaps masticated it from Kristen Wiig, who used it in a certain film earlier. Even the extras grate like a walnut whip on sensitive teeth-where everything from Ed Burns feeling he has to call these 'characters' well rounded (try all the others I've named, mate, and more I haven't) from Adam Scott calling it "way better than Woody Allen".(notice how the comparison keeps coming up), but here he's sadly off for the worst reason, and that is that this film happily stands up the same aisle as the horror confection of 'Bridesmaids', itself a pitiful 'The Hangover' for femmes, with sub-'Animal House' chuckles (if you can), with not even the black humour of 'Stag Night'.

With 'Friends With Kids', who needs singledom-and more on track with the subject matter of the title actually being explored properly. That's right, we all do? Hell, even shows like 'Desperate Housewives' even with their heightened reality for dramatic purposes do a better job at rolling out the realities of evolving marriages and growing kids over time. See this, and 'Modern Family' or 'Parenthood' (both 1989 films and the US TV series its based on), and any of the other far better movies made out there portraying this life. Jennifer, dear Friend, you must be Kidding!


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Echoes a great start to a long-awaited solo career., 29 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Echoes (Audio CD)
The lady with the heavenly vocal instrument deserves to be far better known than just being the main sound provider of Mike Oldfield's best singles ('Moonlight Shadown', 'To France', 'Family Man' and 'Mistake'), but will likely stay as shrouded in dense fog for the foggy of mind post-Oldfield as she was when starting out. Does anyone, outside the Scots music scene, for instance, know she first came to prominence with cult Scottish funk-rockers Cado Belle, and it was there she met Stuart McKillop, who has remained a strong co-writing force with her, and key instrumental programmer with her to this day-in fact, he returned full throttle to Maggie's latest solo offering, "Heaven Sent", out late last year, and a worthy purchase to, and one of the few best records of the generally poor year 2013. Like the many years before it and since no doubt.

But in 1992, when a number of great albums were being released, though most, unsurprisingly, by the great 80s mob of legends entering their second decade of music (Kim Wilde, Sandra, Marian Gold of Alphaville, Sade, Roxette), the newer acts not up to much at all, a few did surprise. Top of the lot would be newcomer Tasmin Archer's wonderful debut "Great Expectations", but, after finally breaking free of a dance-track cycle for a German producer, Ms Maggie Reilly finally cut her first solo complete 11 track piece with an intriguing bunch of European and homegrown producers, mixers and songwriters, and "Echoes" was the very fine, rewarding,impressive, and almost as grand result. In fact Maggie would match Archer with her 1993 follow-up "The Midnight Sun" which is surely her utter masterpiece. but this is the best place for all Maggie fans and novices to start.

The perfect album opener encapsulates the listener from the start, and 'Everytime We Touch' has everything about it honed to perfection, a dreamy epic love song that still barely makes it to four minutes, by the end you'll want more, but a second helping of the track in an overly funked-up and extended form at the album's close does destroy the song's awesome sweep and beauty, best ignored; though you do get more choruses, the backing track remains unpleasant. This wonderful song has been covered by talent-free noughties zeros like Cascada, and others, but nothing could touch the original or ever will. This song's too perfect to be topped, but two other strong singles in the devastating yet uplifting 'Wait'-with tasty Spanish guitar and double tracked chorus, and searing 'Tears In The Rain' sit proudly just behind it. All the other tracks have much to recommend, and 'I Know That I Need You' is an excellent and hip dance track to end proceedings, when some overly cute touches like 'Only A Fool' and 'Echoes' threaten to come across a little bit twee. Excellent arrangements and song structuring (amped up even more for the perfecto second album) alongside beautiful singing, lie in clear abundance, and 'You'll Never Lose' and 'I'm Sorry', alongside 'I Know That I Need You' could easily have been singles too, and come across as balancing gentility with a slight ring of steel so well.

Though Maggie's albums are offensively difficult to gather printed and worded acknowledgement for outside extremely restricted areas (something the music industry seemed pretty proud of considering the lack of promos and full on support from the off), from the few fragments gathered, this rather beautiful and individual album seems to come in for some sniffy consensus, in that's it a little too "static in rock production details" and that there's too much synthesised pop on offer, Please, in a year where grunge and simplistic dance-fodder with no lyrical stance at all had truly taken off, leading the way into the non-musical hell the mid 90s-now would become, this can only be a good thing. In fact, she would, after the second album, seemingly leave this brilliant and harmonious Celtic and mainstream pop/rock behind instead of more folky, poetic and spare pieces, which lost much of the energy and quality of her early 90s approach. It's true that a couple of tunes took a few listens-'What About Tomorrow's Children', 'Only A Fool', title track and 'Real World' sounded too idealistic, twee and soppy but now all work in conjuction with everything else, and 'Gaia' is a charming little Celtic ditty along the lines of what Enya would make, and this album proudly marks her out as someone who can survive without Mike Oldfield, and why in 1992 no one was allowed to make a fuss the UK made of the far less impressive (though not vocally of course) Maria McKee, Sophie B Hawkins, Tori Amos, Bjork and downright horrors like Sheryl Crow, Mariah Carey, Gabrielle, only makes me despise the sheer elitism and snobbery and general non-cohesion, to put it mildly, of the music scene than I do already. I mean 'Everytime We Touch' has the No.1 for six weeks written all over than everyone seems to defer Cher, Tina Turner, Meat Loaf, Bryan Adams and others to all the time. And, unlike Whitney Houston and even worse vocal howlers, Maggie has a multi-tuned voice that isn't about overpowering a record, overegging a production or yelling an opera hall down, and this normal, understated, balanced, delicate yet powerful method of singing from her, Kim Wilde, Belinda Carlisle, the Bangles, Voice Of The Beehive, the Abba girls, Roxtte's Marie, Siobhan Fahey, Aimee Mann, Debbie Harry, Cathy Dennis and Tasmin Archer that wins out of the plastic auto-tuned barbie bimbos, tone-deaf guitar-swinging barkers and demonic howling love-song banalities of a Pariah Carey shrieker any day. And as for their "Echoes"...they have none, but Maggie sure has. And if you buy this great album for the £7 mark it is at the moment, so can you, and trust me, that's an Echoe you'll want on vibration.
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