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John Winterson Richards "lisvanebooks"

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Two Swords
Two Swords
Dvd
Offered by Lovefilm UK Limited
Price: 1.89

7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Made My Day, 18 Jun 2014
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This is the first time I have ever used this way of watching videos - it will not be the last. I knew nothing about it before and it was pure Providence that it I came across it yesterday while searching for something else entirely. Before that I was resigned to waiting the best part of a year for the DVD box set. It really is perfect for those who want to avoid the hassle of cable/satellite subscriptions but do not want to spend months dodging spoilers before seeing popular shows or films. Note, however, that there do not seem to be subtitles on this version, and, of course, you will still need to wait for the DVDs if you want their very entertaining commentaries. As for the content, Game of Thrones is one of those things you love or you hate - to coin a phrase, `there is no middle ground.' If you are into fantasy, sex and violence, and realpolitik, or at least any two of those three, you are in danger of addiction, if not addicted already. Everyone else is advised to steer clear: this is not for the easily offended or the emotionally fragile. Season Four gets off to a slow start, almost gentle by GoT standards, but stay with it because the last episodes deliver a series of hammer blows to the stomach. Martin and the other writers build to a dramatic conclusion that seems predestined - and then do the opposite. Like rugby backs of the Golden Era, they change direction completely in a moment after selling us a perfect dummy - and they do it again and again. The plot twists come thick and fast like a blizzard North of the Wall. Not all are satisfactory, but they leave us desperate to know what happens next. It is as if the producers were worried that, even after last year's notorious `Red Wedding,' the characters and relationships were getting too cute and Disneyfied. No danger of that now.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 18, 2014 10:38 PM BST


Muck And Brass - The Complete Series [DVD] [1982]
Muck And Brass - The Complete Series [DVD] [1982]
Dvd ~ Mel Smith
Price: 8.25

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Is How It Was, 12 Dec 2013
Although barely mentioned in his obituaries, this was possibly the late Mel Smith's finest hour as an actor - even if it hard to imagine anything further from the comedy roles for which he is remembered so fondly than this bitterly realistic urban drama. He is simply perfect as Tom Craig, a seedy, sullen but strangely magnetic property developer on the make in a fictional Midlands city during the early 1980s. Watching this for the first time in 30 years - with, in between, considerable experience of local government in a similar provincial city later in the decade - it is simply breathtaking how accurately the cast and the writer, the undeservedly forgotten Tom Clarke, sum up the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Thatcher Years. Almost every major city had its flagship renewal project like this series' `Slatterly Festival': some were extremely successful, laying the foundations of future prosperity, but at the price of a lot of dirty dealing behind the scenes. Clarke, a barrister, has a wonderful eye for the details of technicalities like share structures, planning permissions, and local authority tendering. He also understands, as Alan Bleasdale did not in his over-rated `GBH,' that local politics in the last two decades of the 20th century was usually less about Socialist-versus-Tory grandstanding than about the lower profile but far more ruthless struggle between old-guard municipal barons and Thatcherite - or, later, on the Labour side, Blairite - modernisers. That has never been portrayed as perceptively it is here. Against this background, Craig's rise from a seedy middleman to the head of a major corporation plays out as a sort of morality tale, or rather lack-of-morality tale. Smith's great achievement is to keep us involved with a deeply unpleasant man: we never get to like Craig or care about him, but we do care what happens to him. The support cast is excellent, including two of Smith's fellow comics, Jim Bowen and Paul Shane, also playing it straight to good effect. Best of all are two rising stars of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Darien Angadi as Craig's accountant - a superb blend of unscrupulousness and primness - and James Faulkner as the painfully ambitious Conservative Leader of the Council. Sadly it was Angadi's last role before his tragically early death at 32 and Faulkner did not find leading roles worthy of his talents in the Dark Age of British Television Writing that followed in the 1990s. Indeed, it is hard to think of a contemporary drama from the UK that has been done better in the three decades since this was first shown. It is a shame Smith never got to do a sequel: it would have been interesting to see how Tom Craig fared in the 1990s and the 2000s: one suspects he would have done very well for himself.


How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to avoid at All Costs if You Ever Want to Get Published
How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to avoid at All Costs if You Ever Want to Get Published
by Howard Mittelmark
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-Written and Wrong, 3 Dec 2013
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As one would expect in a book on how to write, the authors get full marks for the wit and style of their writing - but a minus score for their philosophy. In that, this book is perhaps a good analogy for modern fiction in general: access to creative writing classes, writers' circles, and books like this means that most people in the West, given the effort, are capable of constructing a novel that is well-written in the technical sense, and most published authors - and indeed probably most unpublished authors - now know how to make a story flow easily from one page to the next without jarring the reader. The price of this is an industrial mindset that avoids anything original or daring that might challenge or disturb the reader. Most novels published these days are therefore easy to read but devoid of anything likely to jolt the reader out of his complacent assumptions. Part of the problem is that publishing has become a very narrow-minded business, dominated by people who share the same backgrounds, attitudes, opinions, tastes, and prejudices, and one cannot blame the authors of this book for that, but those who offer a formula of how to write encourage the status quo. Of course, the authors do not say that they offer a formula and they do not prescribe rules, etc - please insert all the usual qualifying clauses found in this type of book - but the fact remains that modern writing tends toward the formulaic and this book assents to that. Reading at least half of the individual rules, or whatever they call themselves, a reasonably well-read person will immediately start thinking of classic passages in which Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky or Austen - let alone Joyce or Proust - did the exact opposite. Of course, the point is that Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and Austen - let alone Joyce and Proust - would be unlikely to get publishing contracts these days. Since this book is aimed explicitly at people who want to get published, its defence is that is simply tells people how to play within rules that it did not make - which is true enough, but it remains part of the problem rather than part of the solution. All that having been said, this book remains a very entertaining read in its own right, and it provides a useful checklist that might help a would-be writer avoid some of the more indefensible errors. Even Tolstoy should have asked himself from time to time, "Am I really doing it this way because I am subverting the expectations of literary convention, or because I am writing in a hurry and getting a bit sloppy?"
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 7, 2014 11:40 AM BST


The Scramble For Africa
The Scramble For Africa
by Thomas Pakenham
Edition: Paperback
Price: 14.55

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Expertly Crafted Introduction, 25 Nov 2013
This book looked so daunting that it was a long time on the shelf, unread. This is not surprising, since it sets out to cover a very daunting subject: a generation in which two whole continents, Africa and Europe, came into close contact, clashed, and were both changed fundamentally. What was surprising was how compelling it was when the cover-to-cover reading finally began. Pakenham provides an excellent overview of a complex subject - although even he seems to wander off the path on occasion, like an explorer lost in the vast unknown. He also supplies a well-written book that keeps the pages turning as rapidly as most novels. As with most great historians, his success is due to his focus on individual people - a particularly wise choice in this case because he is served by an incredible cast of characters, including Dr Livingstone, H M Stanley, Gordon of Khartoum, Prince von Bismarck, Queen Victoria, Cecil Rhodes, and the prototype Bond villain, King Leopold of Belgium. Some are familiar, but it is still useful to see them put into a proper context. Others have been forgotten and deserve to be better known. This is, of course, a very controversial subject, but Pakenham is generally fair: for the most part, he avoids giving us his own opinions and theories, and sticks to the facts. The open-minded reader will find evidence both for and against imperialism, and vivid examples of both the horrors and the benefits. Pakenham makes it clear that it is impossible to understand what happened unless one accepts that both commercial self-interest and Christian humanitarianism were at work simultaneously. Just as the motives were mixed, so were the consequences. Some of the atrocities mentioned here are barely known in Europe today - because Europeans are too ashamed to admit them. However, while nothing excuses some of the things done in its name, the point should also be made that, in many cases, colonial rule was still not as bad as what immediately preceded, and succeeded, it.


Defeating Communist insurgency;: The lessons of Malaya and Vietnam (Studies in international security)
Defeating Communist insurgency;: The lessons of Malaya and Vietnam (Studies in international security)
by Robert Grainger Ker Thompson
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Someone Please Republish This Book, 14 Jun 2012
Too many of the major mistakes of successive British governments over the last twenty years, across a range of issues, are due to a wholly avoidable, almost wilful, ignorance of history. The Helmand Campaign may be the most obvious example. It is no exaggeration to say that lives would have been saved if someone close to the Prime Minister in 2006 had read this book and been able to influence policy in the direction it recommends. It is therefore tragic that it is practically forgotten, out of print, and very hard to obtain at a reasonable price. It would be a patriotic act to reprint it and send a copy to every officer assigned to serve in Afghanistan, and to the far more numerous civilians in London who have a hand in Afghan policy. Sir Robert Thompson is probably the greatest authority on counter-insurgency since the Second World War: he played a vital role in the successful operations in Malaya and also proved uncannily accurate in his assessment of the situation in Vietnam - this book, published ten years before the final collapse, provides a detailed explanation for it, as well as suggestions how things could have gone differently. He is not infallible - for example, he underestimates how much more objectionable forced relocation was to Vietnamese peasants, who had farmed the same land for generations, than to Chinese squatters in Malaya - but every page of this wonderfully clear, concise, readable book is brimming with common sense. Its principles still hold good today: alter the names and every page becomes a condemnation of NATO's current Afghan policy - except, of course, that worldwide Marxism, backed by superpowers, was a far greater threat than the Taliban. One of the many gifts of this calm, old-school civil servant is an ability to put things in their proper context. Indeed, his comments on public administration and policy in general ought to be more widely read, outside the specialist discipline of counter-insurgency, because they point out the dangers of a bloated, inefficient government becoming divorced from its people, dangers that apply not only to Afghanistan but also, ironically, to most to the NATO countries, including the UK, that presume to tell the Afghans how to live.


Dead Men Risen: The Welsh Guards and the Defining Story of Britain's War in Afghanistan
Dead Men Risen: The Welsh Guards and the Defining Story of Britain's War in Afghanistan
by Toby Harnden
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.74

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth More Compelling Than Any Movie, 14 May 2012
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This powerful account of the Welsh Guards' six month-deployment in Helmand Province in the summer of 2009 does not address its greatest irony: part of their campaign coincided with the period between the submission of General McChrystal's strategic recommendations on 30 August and President Obama's announcement of his response on 1 December, three months when NATO strategy was essentially in limbo. So these men were fighting and dying at a time when there was no clear purpose in the direction of the war at the highest level. However, the book's power lies in the fact that Harnden avoids any hint of polemic. Instead, he lets facts speak for themselves. He brings three sets of skills to his work. First and foremost, he is a journalist, with a keen instinct for a story: he has persuaded a lot of very different people to talk with a frankness that is unusual in the professional military. He is also a historian, using wide background reading to put the campaign in context. Finally, he has an ability to describe events and sketch characters in a few well chosen words that a novelist might envy. It is only the thought that one would not want to trivialise the suffering and sacrifice of real people, or show any hint of disrespect, that suppresses one's immediate reaction that there is the material for a great feature film here. On the other hand, perhaps a film would be a worthy tribute, because the courage and sacrifice of these men deserves to be better known, and because the public needs to be educated about what has been going on their name in Afghanistan. It is the personalities that make this book memorable. Although there were seven Battle Groups operating in Helmand at the time, and more have come and gone before and since, the Welsh Guards Battle Group of 2009 is possibly the best known because of two men in particular: Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, the thoughtful leader, already marked for the very top but destined to become the highest ranking British soldier to die in combat since the Falklands; and Lieutenant Mark Evison, a promising young officer with a romantic streak from another age, whose diaries had a profound impact after his tragic death. No novelist would dare to invent them, but they are real people and far being from the only memorable personalities in this history. Whatever one thinks of the Helmand campaign, the overwhelming feeling of the reader at the end is that one is proud to be able to call these heroes one's fellow countrymen, doubly so if one happens to be Welsh.


Hornblower - Complete Collection [DVD]
Hornblower - Complete Collection [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ioan Gruffudd
Offered by Quality Media Supplies Ltd.
Price: 27.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent But Hardly Hornblower, 19 Oct 2011
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It is great pity that no more of these fine adaptations of C S Forester's seafaring novels are being made because they are simply too expensive - a great pity but hardly a great surprise: indeed, the only surprise is that such sumptuous productions were ever possible on television budgets. They are triumphs of high production values: every penny can be seen there on the screen - in the splendid location work, in the meticulously authentic costumes, in the use of ships, in the details of everyday life at sea and on land, and in the casting, which had great strength in depth. They bear honourable comparison with the magnificent film version of Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander, which had the advantage of a huge Hollywood budget. If they could be viewed in their own right, as the tales of a generic Nelsonian-era naval officer, they would certainly deserve five stars. The problem is that, having used the Hornblower name, they open themselves to the criticism that the television Hornblower is not the Hornblower of the novels. The whole point of Forester's hero is that he is a particularly lonely, emotionally-guarded man in an emotionally-guarded environment. Some studio executive doubtless pointed out that key demographics of the target audience might have difficulty "relating" to such a character. So we have Hornblower and even Pellew emoting all over the place, and given a surrogate father-son relationship which, although acted with great skill, undermines Forester's entire concept. That said, some of the adaptations do improve on the books. The best is the second season two-parter, which expands the novel Lieutenant Hornblower into a clever tribute to The Caine Mutiny, and which boasts two brilliant guest performances: David Warner as a heroic captain losing his mind; and Philip Glenister as a warrant officer who is at first reminiscent of the satanic Master-at-Arms Claggart in Billy Budd but is gradually revealed as far more complex. As with so many Region 2 sets, there are none of the extras that seem to be found more often in Region 1 collections - which is doubly regrettable in this case because a "How They Made It" documentary would have been particularly interesting for this production.


ROAR: The Complete Series
ROAR: The Complete Series
Dvd ~ Heath Ledger
Offered by brrsales
Price: 22.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deserves More Respect, 8 Oct 2011
This review is from: ROAR: The Complete Series (DVD)
This brilliant little series has been treated unfairly: it was marketed poorly and largely ignored when it was first broadcast, and is now remembered - if it can be said be said to be remembered at all - only as the late Heath Ledger's first substantial leading role. Ledger is indeed astonishing: still in his teens, he gives a performance of extraordinary authority and maturity, the first flaring of a talent that burnt so brightly but all too briefly. He plays a young Irish prince determined to unite the many hostile tribes of Ireland against invasion by the Roman Empire. The historical evidence for such an invasion is dubious to put it mildly, but there are hints that there may have been Roman incursions into Ireland, and the Romans certainly made plans to that end, so it is not entirely impossible. This serves as pretext for a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to cash in on the late-90s fashion for historical fantasy established by Hercules the Legendary Journeys and Xena Warrior Princess. Following their example, Roar benefits from some first class photography and beautiful scenery, with Queensland in Australia apparently standing in for Ireland! It also benefits from a superb support cast: Lisa Zane and Sebastian Roche are a fine pair of commendably three-dimensional villains; Vera Farmiga and Melissa George are both charming and feisty as Ledger's potential love interests; and, best of all, John Saint Ryan is perfect as Ledger's veteran right-hand man - the interplay between the older man and the youngster is one of the great delights of the series. An unusually erudite script takes an intelligent view of politics, history, Celtic culture, and religion, with an unorthodox but by no means irreverent take on early Christianity. Indeed, its only weakness is that it tries to cram too much into thirteen 40-minute episodes, so that its rich texture is sometimes obscured and the advances in the story can seem a bit perfunctory. Yet there is still enough to suggest that there could have been something really extraordinary here, if only it had been given more time and space to grow. Note that this review refers to the DVD collection from the Netherlands, which includes the full set of thirteen episodes and retains the original English-language soundtrack but which has no English subtitles or bonus material - and which is not necessarily the version advertised here.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 22, 2011 10:02 PM GMT


Leading from the Front: An autobiography
Leading from the Front: An autobiography
by Richard Dannatt
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.05

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best of British, 16 Sep 2011
Some generals are cautious; others are bold risk-takers. That Lord Dannatt is in the latter category was proved by his willingness to challenge the Government when he was Chief of the General Staff. The structuring of this book is another example of his boldness, because offers us two books in one: first, a personal memoir of four decades of military service; second, a commentary on recent defence policy. Such attempts to do two things at once usually result in a confused book, but in this case Dannatt's risky strategy pays off brilliantly because his modest reflections on his outstanding career as a professional soldier ensure that his readers will like him and respect his opinions by the time they get to the more controversial bits. So when he complains of lack of clear policies, of preparation, and of proper equipment we know he does so out of real sympathy for the soldiers in the field who must suffer the consequences of those failures, because his mind goes back to the time when he was one of them. He is a soldier's soldier in the tradition of Viscount Slim, not a desk warrior. In any case, the points he made were controversial only because they were made publicly by the CGS, not because of any innate radicalism. The majority are obvious common sense - most obviously that politicians cannot expect the Army to play such an active role in foreign policy without proper resources. He is not a military revolutionary like Liddell Hart or Fuller with some new theory to spread. Even an outspoken professional soldier is still primarily a professional soldier, restrained by the organisational thinking that has been built up over those four decades, and by professional courtesy and deference. Indeed, the aspect of the book that deserves to endure is the portrait it gives of an impressive example of an impressive breed, the British professional soldier, at the beginning of the 21st century. His values, the values that used to define Britain - quiet but firm Christian faith, commitment to service, respect for tradition, and a love of country free of jingoism - set him apart from the crass materialism, in every sense of that word, which now dominates the nation to which he dedicated his career. The irony is that he seems to have enjoyed his life of useful service far more than those motivated only by the desire for personal pleasure have enjoyed their self-indulgence.


Red Monarch [DVD] [1983]
Red Monarch [DVD] [1983]
Dvd ~ Colin Blakley
Offered by A2Z Entertains
Price: 9.89

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark Humour and Valuable Lessons, 11 Aug 2011
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This review is from: Red Monarch [DVD] [1983] (DVD)
To start, a word of warning: this sort of very dark humour is not to everyone's taste. There are people, especially among the so-called "politically correct", who consider some things too serious for laughter: they will not enjoy this film. Others, including this reviewer, take the opposite view and believe that it is precisely when things are at their most serious that laughter is most needed, deflating pomposity, defusing tension, and restoring a sense of proportion: we are the people for whom this film is made. Above all, it is for the people who understand that one of the strongest weapons we have against totalitarianism is ridicule: the Hitlers and the Lenins of this world take themselves very seriously and hate, above all things, to be mocked. Here the target of the mockery is Stalin, a clinical psychotic who was practically worshipped by millions of people around the world. This idol, in the literal sense of the word, is smashed to pieces before our eyes, as the "Man of Steel" is reduced to a comic figure in a series of mini-farces, based on Yuri Krotkov's collection of related short stories. This gives the film an episodic structure - inevitably some bits are better than others - until all the strands are brought together in a sequence at the Lubyanka prison which is horrifying and humorous at the same time. The spine of the film is a chillingly credible portrayal of Stalin as a paranoid, crafty peasant who sometimes feels a little out of his depth but can never admit it. Colin Blakely is simply magnificent in the role, but his best moments are part of a macabre double act with David Suchet as Beria, Stalin's Minister of Police. Suchet, a million miles from Poirot, switches between hilarious sycophancy and unmitigated malevolence with terrifying ease: for an actor who always comes across as a very pleasant individual in real life to capture one of the most evil men in history so believably shows the highest mastery of his craft. The two of them make clever use of Irish accents to emphasise the gulf between Stalin and Beria, who were Georgians, and most of the people around them, who were Russians and are played by a strong group of English character actors. Among the latter, Nigel Stock and Brian Glover are especially convincing as Molotov and Khrushchev. Some of the episodes are fictional, but most are based on verifiable fact, and the air of constant fear seems all too authentic. This was a brave film to have made in 1983, when the Cold War was hot and many in the European cultural Establishment were openly sympathetic to Marxism, which might explain why it is not as well known as it should be. While practically all sensible people agree that Hitler was an unmitigated evil, there are still otherwise intelligent people who are prepared to defend Stalin and Mao - who makes a cameo appearance in the film - and their system. They really need to see this film, and so should everyone who is disillusioned with democracy: what we have is far from perfect but is still better than this alternative.


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