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Donaldo "Book lover" (Manchester, England)

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hot chip - dj kicks
hot chip - dj kicks
Offered by Direct Entertainment UK
Price: 8.59

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit underwhelming, 6 Mar 2008
This review is from: hot chip - dj kicks (Audio CD)
This one starts quite well, but soon meanders off and becomes fairly forgettable. The first track, Night Moves, brings you in nice and slow, then POW! Positive K with I Got A Man gets your hips and shoulders working. After that some enjoyable electronic noodling, which then lasts the rest of the album. It gets to the point I can't tell one tune from the next. Aside from the first 3 or 4 tracks, there doesn't feel like there is any direction in this mix, any energy, any variety. Don't get me wrong, there is track after track of great, great tunes, but considering how good Hot Chip are at creating fun, energetic and enjoyable music, this album is surprisingly flat.

Tricks Of The Mind
Tricks Of The Mind
by Derren Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting in parts, 15 Jan 2008
This review is from: Tricks Of The Mind (Paperback)
I've always been pretty ambivalent towards Darren Brown's TV shows - I never really made a habit of watching them, seeing the odd one-off. I read this book largely out of professional interest. When flicking through it in a bookshop the other day. I noticed there is a large section in this book on being able to tell when people are telling the truth to you or not, something I thought would be interesting to look at as I am a criminal investigator.

I can report that the section relating to detecting lies is very good indeed. It manages to balance good, simple facts about lying, whilst not going into too much detail which would overwhelm the casual reader. I found it quite gratifying that a couple of the techniques he indicates I have been using myself for years! He is spot on about the misconceptions - it's not in people breaking eye contact or blinking - it's about the changes in the pattern of their behaviour, and the often limited and bland content of a lie. But he does well not to go on too much about what you should do in certain situations and make it some dreadful how-to guide - the problem is that it is only through experience and practice that you will get the hang of it, and this can take a very long time - years, commonly. And your technique may well be completely different from someone else's.

As for the rest of the book, it's pretty uneven. The section I mentioned before about spotting lies is probably the best written - it's straightforward, without too much rambling off at a tangent - which unfortunately most the rest of the book seems to suffer from. There are some interesting parts when he talks about card tricks, coin tricks and suggestion. He tells us some ever so slightly nauseating showbiz stories, and there is something cloyingly needy about some of his writing - he tries to be funny sometimes and just comes across as slightly creepy instead. There are some very rambling sections - some of which make me wonder if the book was edited at all. Popping up about a dozen times in the book are his thoughts about religion - unfortunately, he seems to be one of these bandwagon jumping Dawkins-type Atheists, boring and evangelising us at length with generalised and half-thought through observations (it comes as no surprise to me he used to be a happy clappy evangelical Christian - another set of boring people with half-thought ideas and a desperate need for certainty). Sections on the book such as his rant against fraudulent psychics and mediums could be drastically cut - his experiment when he out-mediumed the mediums is very interesting, but his pre-amble rant to this goes on for pages.

In conclusion: once you get past the often unfocused writing, there is actually some very interesting stuff.

It's A Free World [DVD]
It's A Free World [DVD]
Dvd ~ Kierston Wareing
Offered by Discs4all
Price: 6.46

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good., 14 Jan 2008
This review is from: It's A Free World [DVD] (DVD)
This is certainly one of Loach's better recent films. I wouldn't say it is brilliant, but there isn't anyone else out there making interesting, challenging and intelligent political films at the moment.

In terms of the script, the selection of the main character is really what turns the film from a boring also-ran into something quite clever. Angie is very much a modern woman - independent, perhaps not too academically smart but certain not stupid and prepared to work hard and ambitious for herself and her son - particularly given the Dad's utter uselessness. Very much one of Thatcher's children, her experience in the workplace is of people screwing her over - so the only way to get ahead is to do the same to others. To do this, she starts up an agency paying `starvation' wages to illegal immigrants. She justifies this to herself as doing them a favour - at least she is getting them employment.

It's a convincing, compelling performance, an accurate portrayal of a modern mindset - socially liberal, but politically only self-interested. It's done well that we both sympathise and revile Angie's behaviour. Without a character as carefully crafted as Angie - this film would be pretty dull and predictable. It certainly allows the film to rise considerably above the average.

So This Is Goodbye
So This Is Goodbye
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: 9.86

5.0 out of 5 stars Chill out ambient trance pop for homesick robots, 19 Dec 2007
This review is from: So This Is Goodbye (Audio CD)
Wow, I didn't expect it to be this good. There has been a surge of interest in electro and synth pop in the wake of electro-clash, and the Junior Boys is probably one of the most promising developments to date. This is a very subtle, seductive album. To begin with I only really enjoyed the title track and Counting Souveniers, but the other tracks have since grown on me. The beats are hypnotic, there's no other way to describe it, by gently so. The layering over of different rythmns is the best I have come across in years, the way the tracks build slowly. It's some of the best dance music I've ever heard. And then there is the vocals - gentle, fragile, beautiful, eloquent and seductive. I've listened to this album over and over again since I got it, and I still can't get it out of my CD player.

The most obvious influence to compare the Junior Boys to is the Pet Shop Bopys - two men, electronic music, smooth vocals. While the lyrics are probably as memorable, you can sense the influence of 1990's dance in the Junior Boys music. Trance was mostly awful, but when it was good the tune would improve with each layer of rythmn added, and (assuming you were dancing) after a while, your body could anticipate when another layer woudl be added. This is what you hear in the junior boys, albeit with the urgency of trance replaced by an ethereal calm, but the layering and building of the rythmn is still there.

This is the best album I have listened to this year, and some of the best electro-pop you will ever hear.

When the Odds Were Even: The Vosges Mountains Campaign, October
When the Odds Were Even: The Vosges Mountains Campaign, October
by Keith E. Bonn
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books about WW2, 6 Dec 2007
This is one of the most interesting books I have read about WW2. It draws attention to an often overlooked battle - for the High and Low Vosges as the American army approached the borders of Germany towards the end of 1944 and the start of 1945. But this is not the author's only area of interest. He also bursts the myth of the Wermacht's invincibility, the myth of its doctrinal flexibility as superior to that of its (in this case) American opponents.

As the title of the book suggests, the battle for the Vosges was one which favoured neither side, yet historically, was a minor disaster for the Germans. The mountain and hill ranges of the High and Low Vosges presented a defender with a near ready-made defence. The weather was completely unsuitable for air support. Yet perhaps surprisingly, the German forces failed miserably to defend the area effectively against the Americans. The failure was compounded by the hopeless `Nordwind' counter offensive that the Germans launched.

The numbers on each side were relatively similar. The quality of the forces were not, but then the Germans did have an overwhelming defensive advantage in the mountains and hills. The Americans had mostly experienced infantry divisions, with some armoured support (which in the event did not prove that useful due to the terrain). The Germans had a large number of "Volksgrenadier" divisions - lightly manned, thrown together units made up of the shattered remains of other units and scraped together home guard. But one or two of these units were well trained, and quite capable - given intelligent and capable leadership. These were backed up by a handful of SS and panzer units.

The author's argument is that the Germans lost not because they were outnumbered, or lacked equipment and resources, but because they ignored their own doctrines, and failed to give time to their Volkstruum units to train together. At the start of the book, the author demonstrates how similar the American and German doctrines were. On paper therefore, the Germans should have fought more or less the same as the Americans. But what actually happened was that the Germans got sloppy and lazy. The volksgrenadier divisions were often not given time to gel together, with one or two exceptions. But the main problem was that the defences were created ineptly, and the counter offensives even more so. Wermacht doctrine outlines from experience how a defensive line should be constructed, with set distances between outposts, main lines of resistance, and reinforcements. These were ignored, with the predictable result that the defences were overcome. The counter-offensive doctrines indicated that an offensive should be launched after extensive recon of the enemy territory to obtain knowledge of enemy positions and suitability of terrain for tanks, etc. Before the Norwind offensive, none of this was done. The German commanders launched frontal attacks, presumably expecting surprise and élan to win the day. The result was that most units involved in Norwind barely got past their starting positions.

On the other hand, the majority of the American units seemed to be quite competently handled. The only exception was in a couple of cases - and in one of them, the author goes to some lengths to point out that this unit had been thrown together. The conclusion the author draws from the battle for the Vosges is that if an army ignores its own doctrines, then it can expect to do very poorly. The quality of the troops and the defensive advantages of the nilled by the German failure to operate in accordance with them. The fact that the Germans gave a bloody nose a couple of months before to the Americans in the Hurtgen Forest only demonstrates this point further.

The lazy assumptions made about the armies of WW2 is that the German army was consistently the best, followed by the Americans and Soviets, with the British a little further behind and the Italians with the wooden spoon. But what this book and other intelligent analysis of WW2 do (such as works by Carlo D'este and Robin Neillands) is really get to the roots of the matter. Certainly, some armies by their doctrine, equipment and organisation have advantages over others, but their existence does not guarantee against poor management and generalship.

A Walk in the Woods: Abridged
A Walk in the Woods: Abridged
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 12.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not his greatest, but still entertaining, 29 Nov 2007
There are some good and some bad points to this audio CD.

First, it isn't as good as his travels around Britain, Europe, or his notes from a Big Country. There is considerably less material here - it's all about him hiking the Appalachians with his friend Steve Katz. It's still enjoyable in itself, but Bill Bryson writes best when he is put into new, bewildering situations, poking fun at the people he meets and poking fun at his reactions. And in a Walk in the Woods, he simply doesn't meet enough weirdos with which to test his acid pen.

Bill Bryson narrating the book is a mixed benefit. On the one hand, it's always good to have the author read his own material. And the passages in which Bill Bryson desribes the hostile beauty of Appalachians are particularly evocative. The problem is that unfortunately, his voice is quite relaxing and occasionally dull. Despite the fact that he is one of the funniest writers around today, he can't tell a straight-forward gag, whereas the often irritating narrator on some of his other work (the name escapes me) at least knew when and how to tell a funny story.

Despite the shortcomings, it is still enjoyable. I listened to it whilst driving long distance, and it's very nice to pass the time to. But I don't think I'd listen to it sat at home.

The Spanish Game
The Spanish Game
by Charles Cumming
Edition: Paperback

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost perfect, 23 Oct 2007
This review is from: The Spanish Game (Paperback)
I think this is the strongest novel Charles Cumming has produced to date. He has matured quite a bit since his first novel, A Spy By Nature. It was a good decision to re-visit the main character from the first novel, Alec Milius, who is now in exile in Madrid, working for a British finance company. He fills his time having an affair with his boss's wife, and being paranoid that enemies from his previous life in Britain working for MI5 are still out to get him. His counter-surveillance measures he carries out partly out of necessity, but also partly because he enjoys the secret life, and hasn't been able to let go of it.

The setting in Madrid is good, a refreshing break from the previous two novels set in London. Alec Milius is asked to explore the possibility of his finance company investing in Basque country, and in the course of various meetings, he spends an evening with a former Basque activist and politician. They get on, and agree to meet up at a later date. But on his way to meet Alec, the politician disappears. Suspecting foul play, Alec cannot help himself but investigate, and in doing so, he gets drawn into Basque politics, ETA, and back into the murky world of espionage.

It's not a perfect thriller, but it's an improvement on his first two novels. The plotting is smoother and more effective. Unlike other reviewers, I would argue that ending is not that good - for me it was a contrivance too far. I couldn't fault anything up to that point. This is mostly because Alex Milius is such a convincing, fascinating creation. Charles Cumming makes a passing reference in the novel to The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, which is a fair comparison. Both Ripley and Milius have tremendous talents, but also the seeds of their own destruction within their character flaws. The espionage theme suggests more Le Carre than Highsmith, and again, I don't think it's an unfair comparison to Le Carre. Good espionage writers understand that the interest is not as much in the plot as in the characters - the kind of people who can carry out ethically dubious activities for a perceived higher cause are by their nature, flawed. This is what fascinates the reader, not which country is plotting against who, how and with what fancy gadgetry.

I can only hope that Alec Milius returns in a new novel, but I think that Charles Cumming was right to let him have a break between novels. Aside from the ending, this is a near perfect espionage thriller.

Superthriller 2
Superthriller 2
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: 5.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as the first album, 19 Sep 2007
This review is from: Superthriller 2 (Audio CD)
I can't tell you how disappointed I am by this album. It definitely sounds like Superthriller, but it's not as funky, and generally not as fun. Listening to such inspired lyrics as "I really love you and stuff, I really love you and sh*t" had me looking through my collection for their first album, just to make sure that it was actually as good as I remember it being.

If I'm honest, the lyrics were never Superthriller's strong point. Their first album was a hip shaking electro pop funk-out, somewhere between Parliament, Prince and Beck, and as least as much fun as Har Mar Superstar - but also a little less revolting. Lyrically it was never anything great, and you were to busy grooving to it to notice. The problem with Superthriller 2 is the lack of funk. The first track, hairdresser, would lead you to believe that Superthiller have pretty much picked up where they left off with their first album, but it doesn't go much further than the first track. There are some tracks that have promise, but have been ill-thought out. The above mentioned "I really love you and stuff" is one of them. Superthriller Motherf*cker is another one - it's a good tune, but every second word is an expletive, and it gets tiring. If it was sung by the likes of Har Mar Superstar then it might work a little better, because he has carefully crafted his tongue in cheek image of a revolting sex monster. But it doesn't really work when it's just 3 anonymous blokes from London.

Much of the rest of the album is fairly forgettable, and seems to follow a similar format of just piano and vocals. Basically, Superthriller have concluded from their first album that the way forward is to drop the funk and replace it with swearing.

36 [DVD] [2006]
36 [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Daniel Auteuil
Price: 8.01

6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed, 31 Aug 2007
This review is from: 36 [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
Well it's not Heat, I can say that much. I actually found it pretty disappointing. Firstly, the script is all over the place, and pretty threadbare. The story starts out as two senior detectives in the organised crime division of a French police force going head to head to track down a gang of organised criminals. Then suddenly halfway through, the track changes entirely, as one the detectives is sent to jail. It becomes a kind of tale of revenge thereafter.

It's the script that's at fault here, but I don't think the style of direction helped. It looks a lot like Heat; it has that glossy, glamorous and yet gritty look to it. This approach sacrifices substance for style (it doesn't look realistic), which isn't a problem so long as the story is good. The sets and locations feel picked solely for their aesthetic appeal. As an example, both the main characters live in very nice houses, clearly unaffordable to your regular policeman. In Heat, the two main characters also live in very nice houses, but both show something about their characters, so it serves some purpose. De Niro's character lives in a minimalist, practically furniture-less condo overlooking the equally blank sea. Pacino's character lives in a house which is modern and architecturally fashionable, but we later learn that it is actually his girlfriends - the only thing he owns in the house is a small television set.

Without a tight plot it feels directionless. But the main problem is that the film is essentially two films - chasing the armed gang, then the revenge tale - and neither particularly seem to overlap. There is no room for characterisation at all, the actors have practically nothing to work with. Using the example of Heat again, the two main characters in that film had a lot to work with - a lot of time was given over to character development. Without the character development, it's hard to really engage with or care for the characters. The lack of character development could have been replaced with some decent thrills (think the Bourne identity) or some good tension and suspense (think The Talented Mr Ripley).

All that said, the film is very watchable, and rarely boring. It may be riddled with problems, but it's not the worst couple of hours I have spent in front of a TV this year.

The Hidden Man
The Hidden Man
by Charles Cumming
Edition: Paperback

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A decent contemporary thriller, 12 July 2007
This review is from: The Hidden Man (Paperback)
I don't think this is a great thriller, but there's enough about it to make it worth the while. The plot is relatively straightforward - an ageing MI6 officer, after years of absence, decides to patch up relations with his two now grown-up sons. One is involved in the running and promotion of a super-club, the other is an artist who lives with a mismatched flirtatious journalist wife. The MI6 officer is killed early on in the book, and the two brothers are left to find out who killed him, why, and who he actually was. The plot then changes as Russian gangsters get involved with the super-club.

I've read Charles Cummings first book, A Spy by Nature, and I was very impressed by the author's promise. This book feels more polished than A Spy by Nature, and though I don't think it's the finished article just yet, there is enough here to convince me that A Spy by Nature was no one-off. Charles Cumming excels in understanding the murky, cold world of espionage. What he understands even better though is betrayal, guilt and greed. The relationships between the characters in the novel are expertly written - the relationships between the artist brother and his flirtatious wife is reminiscent in the authors subtle observation of the relationships between George Smiley and his adulterous wife in Le Carre's novels - the artist cannot be sure his wife is having an affair, the tension slowly burning throughout the book. Tension is something else Charles does very well - there are some brilliantly written scenes in the book allowing it to build up. At the start of the book the artist is invited to meet his father at the Savoy. His father does this in the calculation that the setting will discourage his son from a confrontational situation, and you can sense the frustration and anger of the son building as he senses this manipulation.

There are criticisms, of course. It is a little slow at points for a thriller. I think it drags a little after the father dies because you expect the rest of it to be about the sons finding out about their father, which it isn't really. They find out more about him, but it's almost like a sub-plot - the main plot becomes the problem with the Russian gangsters and their increasing involvement in the super-club. I think it would have worked better the other way round - the gangsters as the sub-plot. It keeps the book plot focused.

Despite the problems, I can't ignore the fact that this is another very promising work. This is a good contemporary thriller. I think it's only a matter of time before Charles Cumming writes a Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Talented Mr Ripley, The Quiet American. He's just not quite there yet.

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