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John Davidson (Edinburgh)

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Curse of the Golden Flower [DVD]
Curse of the Golden Flower [DVD]
Dvd ~ Yun-Fat Chow
Offered by b68solutions
Price: £3.89

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Raise The Red Lantern than Hero, 22 Sept. 2007
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This film blends elements of courtly intrigue and power struggles a'la Raise the Red Lantern with the more crowd-pleasing Hero style wire fighting and action.
It is an awkward mix and lacking in the warmth and romance of the director's previous two films that got wide western viewing (Hero & House of Flying Daggers). The first half of the film is almost oppressively beautiful and told at a stately pace, but the courtly manners and understated events mean that none of the characters are sufficiently sympathetic or well drawn out to make the second half of the film meaningful.
When it comes, the action is intense and well coreographed and the final battle in the inner courtyard of the Forbidden City is as another reviewer suggested almost on a par with LOTR for its epic scale, but with the CGI monsters replaced with crysanthemums.

The ending is satisfying and conclusive, but again given that all of the protagonists are pretty despicable for one reason or another it lacks emotional power.

None the less this is a beautiful, well made film and while not perfect beats watching the vast majority of holywood movies by a long way.

Apocalypse Now Redux [DVD] [1979]
Apocalypse Now Redux [DVD] [1979]
Dvd ~ Marlon Brando
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £4.17

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A curio rather than a definitive cut, 22 Sept. 2007
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Apocalypse Now was always an awkward movie to categorise - a Vietnam war movie, a drug movie or an art house reflection on the nature of warriors. It had some absolutely classic scenes but equally it descended into a bewilderingly slow denouement.
In many ways it conveys the real horror of war; things happen for no reason and there is a sense of dislocation and disorientation that pervades through the film from start to end. However, what makes great art doesn't always make great cinema and Apocalypse Now always teetered on the brink between brilliant and overblown.

Redux adds nearly 50 minutes to an already long film, restoring the 'lost' act in the anachronistic French colonial rubber plantation. I had heard about this sub-plot and was curious to see what it involved. It is an interesting interlude and one which provides a historical context for the war as well as trying to provide some emotional depth to Willard's character but it is far from essential and in fact detracts from the pace of the movie considerably. This is also true of the extended Playboy bunny segment which is also restored.

For people who know the original film, Redux offers an interesting insight into what other aspects of the story Coppola wanted to tell, but as a piece of story-telling itself it fails to deliver.
Brando epitomises Kurtz and to adegree the whole movie, perhaps almost by accident, in his corrupt and corpulent form, but fails to convince as a mad but effective military strategist.

If you can look beyond the lack of cinematic pacing and the cod philosophical nonsense in the last act you should be able to sit back and enjoy the 'poetry' of the film which for all it's horrors is still beautifully photographed.
But if you were hoping for more action or for the added scenes to help you make sense of the last act then I'm afraid you'll disappointed.

Invincible: The Ultimate Collection Volume 3 (Invincible Ultimate Collection)
Invincible: The Ultimate Collection Volume 3 (Invincible Ultimate Collection)
by Robert Kirkman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kirkman's creator owned superhero remains Invincible?, 10 Sept. 2007
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This is the 3rd volume in the ongoing series of stories about Marc Grayson aka Invincible. If you haven't already read Volumes 1 & 2 (in hardcover) or the previous (six?) softcovers then don't buy this just yet.
However for those who have been reading this series, volume 3 continues to deliver everything that was enjoyable from before.
The art has grown on me. It is quite cartoonish but the composition is good and the storytelling is excellent.
Kirkman obviously loves to throw curve-balls and this volume contains at least two that I didn't see coming but which keep the narrative fresh and the stories engaging.

Now that Marc is established Kirkman takes time out to help the supporting characters develop in interesting. The book however does remain focussed on the main protagonist and is a long way from being an ensemble piece.

Overall it's a fun read and without being wildly original it has enough charm to keep me interested and I suspect that if there is a 4th hard-cover volume in due course I'll be back for more.

Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers
Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and entertainign strategy game, 29 Jun. 2007
= Durability:4.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:4.0 out of 5 stars 
As with all of the best games, this can be played over and over without becoming tiresome and allows players to develop tactics and strategies of their own once they learn the game mechanics.

Unlike the other Carcassonne games which supplement the original castle and countryside theme this game is complete in itself and is based on a prehistoric hunters and gatherers theme.

The game mechanics are almost identical with tile laying and the placement of wooden 'meeples' to indicate ownership of forests, rivers and plains but there are a couple of additional features, appropriate to the theme, that make the game a little different.

The Hunters and Gatherers theme is engaging and has (in my experience) more unisex appeal than the medieval castles of the original game.

Each player picks a new tile every turn and must place it on the playing surface so that it joins up with the existing pieces. At its most basic level this helps children with simple pattern matching skills but also helps them to think about strategies. Should they finish off a small forest and get quick points or expand on a previous one with the risk of it never finishing. Each player also has a limited number of wooden pieces (meeples) with which to indicate ownership of an area. Points are gathered when an area of forest or river is complete and in the case of plains 9and river huts) at the end of the game.

It is possible for players to play their own game (to a degree) and not worry about what their opponent is up to, but it is equally possible to play a competitive game where ensuring that your opponent doesn't score big is as important as gathering points for yourself.

This layering of strategic complexity lends itself to continued game play over an extended period as the players learn and adapt to each others tactics.

With such high levels of replayability and no need for supplements to enhance the basic game-play this version of Carcassonne offers the best value for money of the series.

Octavarium [U.S. Version]
Octavarium [U.S. Version]
Price: £7.02

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More of the same from prog/metals master craftsmen, 2 Jun. 2007
DT have been at the forefront of the neo-progressive rock/metal scene for a many years and this is their 8th studio album. All of the elements that one would expect from a prog/metal album are here, the 6-7 minute rockers, the slow number and the 20 minute epic. As such it offers existing fans more of the same without providing anything significant or new to attract or appeal to a broader audience.

The bands strength is in their undoubted musicianship and this is demonstrated with ample style on the opener `Root of All Evil' a powerful but melodic rocker.

The album also suffers from the bands familiar flaws. The slow number `The answer lies within' is one of their worst so far though with a bland tune and some of the most banal and clichéd lyrics I have ever had the misfortune to listen to.

`These Walls' starts out interestingly with growling motorcycle guitar effect and chunky riff, but soon descends in mid tempo blandness again. The main complaint here is that the song's lyrics and style are completely at odds. The theme of the song is madness and isolation but when the words are articulated so meticulously and the playing is so measured it just doesn't work.

`I Walk Beside You' is in a slightly different style. It starts with the chopping bass riff of a Melissa Auf Der Maur song before morphing into mid-eighties U2 style arena rock.

In `Panic Attack' the theme and music are at least in accord with frenetic guitar and drumming driving the song along. Again though La Brie's counter-sung harmony is too measured and precise, undermining the effectiveness of the mood.

`Never Enough' is straight-forward and efficient rock track with hints of a Muse-like harshness to the vocals and La Brie sounds for as pleasant change like he means what he is singing.

`Sacrifice Sons' is reminiscent of an earlier DT song The Great Debate in its use of sound-bytes to establish the mood and context before the song proper starts. The subsequent sequence is melancholy piano led ballad which despite being at odds with the lyrics (again) is pretty successful creating the image of slow motion and disbelief within a scene of carnage. The song builds towards a tremendous climax and is one of the better songs on the album.

`Octavarium' is the epic closer on the album and starts in Pink Floyd mode with long stretched out guitar/keyboard sounds. As the song progresses through a number of musical sequences we get glimpses of other influences like Rush and Genesis along the way. It's a good song and while some of notes might not always be new, they're certainly the right ones.

Overall the album is representative of Dream Theater's broader body of work, the musicians are superb craftsmen but they're let down by truly appalling lyrics at times (Yes, Genesis etc proved long ago that weird and quirky were better than banal). La Brie too is a mixed blessing. He hits the notes but often fails to deliver the phrasing that would help people to connect to the music emotionally and as the bands human voice that's the really got to be his job.

This is music that can be enjoyed and admired but it rarely transcends craftsmanship to become art.

The Heart Of Everything
The Heart Of Everything
Price: £8.44

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More fine symphonic metal - but no progress, 4 May 2007
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This review is from: The Heart Of Everything (Audio CD)
WT made huge strides between the release of Mother Earth and their previous album The Silent Force but The Heart of Everything sees them settle into a pleasant but disappointing sonic groove.

The sound is big and bombastic with crunching guitars counter pointed by Sharon's sweet vocals and overlayed with sweeping strings.

The album opens with a decent if typical rocker in The Howling before presenting the rather too obviously MTV destined What Have You Done which features a male counterpoint singer Keith Caputo. It's not a bad song at all but is just a little bit too reminiscent of Evanessence style on Bring Me to Life and WT are a better band than that.

Of the later songs far too many of them sound alike within only a couple of tracks that stand out.

Our Solemn Hour provides something, if not exactly different, at least appropriate where the song and the delivery tie up with the strong chorus that makes you want to sing along.

The Cross sees Sharon stretch her voice a little and deliver something with a bit more emotional resonance than she delivers on the majority of the tracks.

The Truth Beneath the Rose is the best of the straight up 'operatic' opuses but like the majority of tracks is constrained by a fairly one-dimensional emotional range.

Taken as individual tracks there are some very good songs, but when digested as a whole it is like a meal entirely of marshmallows: Too sweet, too big and ultimately unsatisfying.

I love The Silent Force, but I just don't need another album that sounds the same.

Snakes & Arrows [Jewelcase Version]
Snakes & Arrows [Jewelcase Version]
Price: £4.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Professionals, 2 May 2007
Unlike their previous 'proper' studio album (Vapor Trails) Snakes and Arrows opens with the sort of calm assurance that our trio of veterans have earned in their 30+ years of professional and creative partnership. Perhaps last time, after an extended break, they felt they had a point to prove, and consequently managed to produce an album containing a number of excellent and memorable songs delivered with emotional engagement over a range of tempos.

By contrast Snakes and Arrows is a much more measured piece which without sounding specifically like any of their previous albums manages to sound more like a throw-back to their 90's output ..

Other than on the opener, Far Cry, the tempo of the songs is pretty gentle and there is a regular use of almost emotionless and certainly very measured singing. That said all of the songs have their moments, whether through the introduction of a good guitar break, a running bass rhythm or a catchy chorus.

After four or five listens I've still to pick out more than a couple of tracks that I'd guarantee will be on a best of Rush play list over the long term but The Main Monkey Business (an instrumental) is the most obvious contender. It is a rocky crowd pleaser that bears up to comparison with the likes of YYZ( from Moving Pictures).

Of the other tracks:-

Armor and Sword - is a decent song but not terribly catchy/melodic at times though it is definitely improved by the chorus .

Workin' Them Angels - doesn't start well but gets into a decent rocky groove and just when you think it has gone on long enough we get a nice little mandolin or bouzouki riff that I wish had gone on a little longer.

The Larger Bowl -is straightforward mid-temp rock song, hampered only by lyrics that harbour a mixture of resignation, naivety and world weariness.

Spindrift - is slightly atonal with a riff/guitar sound that you could be forgiven for believing was from a Foo Fighters track and while not a bad song is probably the second weakest on the album.

The Main Monkey Business - is a gem of a song with a strong rhythm, classy bass licks and multilayered guitar sounds.

The Way the Wind Blows - is complex and rewarding. It flirts with the atonal sound and sentiments of Spindrift but opens and closes with a great bluesy guitar sound and contains a cracking chorus in the middle.

Hope - is a short and entertaining acoustic guitar instrumental reminiscent of Led Zeppelin's Bron-Yr-Aur

Faithless - harks back to the philosophy of Freewill but sound-wise it would have fitted in with the better tracks on Roll The Bones. It starts with a fairly pedestrian riff, but gains in power and interest as the song progresses.

Bravest Face - lacks structure and melody, again it has a decent chorus but there's little of substance to the song as a whole

Good News First - Lyrically this is the worst song on the album and the tune is a mismatch of less inspired/generic Rush sounds from the 90s.

Malignant Narcissism- despite the dodgy title is an amusing little instrumental rocker.

We Hold On - closes the album in good style with an eastern riff and drum sound and solid rocky beat and an unusual guitar solo.

Overall the album shows that Rush can still turn it on, but overall the songs and the album as a whole lacks a bit of consistency. The production is excellent but the overlays of sound are pretty dense and it needs the quality of reproduction that you get when you buy a CD.

Lucifer: Morningstar
Lucifer: Morningstar
by Colleen Doran
Edition: Paperback

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The penultimate chapter - but an ending in itself, 25 Sept. 2006
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This review is from: Lucifer: Morningstar (Paperback)
This is the second to last book of the series, but contains events which could easily be described as the climax.

Mike Carey has written an astonishingly well thought out and imaginative epic which, in my opinion, has outstripped its roots (in Neil Gaiman's Sandman).

Carey (and his artistic collaborators) have sustained a narrative arc over 1000 pages of 'comic book' to produce a work which is worthy of the title 'Graphic Novel'.

My only complaint is that the last book will have to be damned special to top this one.

This series is beautifully drawn throughout with tight characterization, great dialogue and more than a few plot twists. I cannot recommend it highly enough, but please start at the beginning, this is not an appropriate place to join the story.

Invincible: The Ultimate Collection Volume 2: v. 2 (Invincible Ultimate Collection)
Invincible: The Ultimate Collection Volume 2: v. 2 (Invincible Ultimate Collection)
by Robert Kirkman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book - great value, 13 Aug. 2006
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Kirkman continues the tale of Mark 'Invincible' Grayson as he adjusts to the dramatic revelations of the previous volume. The pace is fast and full of gentle humour and satire. This really is one of the best post modern old fashioned superhero comics on the market and Kirkman has a deft touch which allows him to play with convention and cliche without turning the book into a pastiche.

The hardcover edition is unbelievably good value for money. You get 13 issues of the comic, hardbound and with new sketches for less than the original cover price of the 'floppies'.

My only criticism is the art. It is functional and effective, complementing the light heartedness and drama of the story but it is rather telling that the finest page on display within the book is the reproduction of a cover by Frank Cho.

The Funeral Album
The Funeral Album
Price: £19.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ending on a high note, 3 May 2006
This review is from: The Funeral Album (Audio CD)
It's a tragedy that Sentenced never broke into the big time and this album underlines what the world is missing. Simply great heavy rock songs with a gothic tone.

With the exception of the mediocre Where Waters Fall Frozen all of the tracks on the album are complex and melodic providing a range of sonic textures that take in influences from Led Zep, Sabbath and the like while adding Sentenced own special style of Finnish metal polish.

The album features great riffs, good tunes, gruff but tuneful vocals and some memorable lyrics.

It is the way to go. Leaving on a high and moving on before the show goes stale.

For anyone who enjoys hard rock or metal, this album should be in your collection.

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