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Louise Stanley (Reading, Berkshire United Kingdom)

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Black Cat, White Cat [DVD] [1999]
Black Cat, White Cat [DVD] [1999]
Dvd ~ Bajram Severdzan
Offered by DaaVeeDee-uk
Price: £24.99

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cat's Cradle, 19 Nov. 2005
This is a riot of a film - as one has come to expect from Kusturica. Filled with the joy of life, it is set in a wild Balkan Gypsy milieu of gangsters and their bling, dwarf brides "waiting for Mr Right", gallows humour (quite literally) and a father who refuses to stay dead long enough to make it to his own funeral. With characters and action like that, it is a million miles away from the worthiness and dullness of some European cinema, and refuses point-blank to take itself seriously even for one minute. It taught me the secret of writing pure comedy - the behaviour must be so outrageous as to be utterly beyond belief - for life itself has a habit of turning what might be tragic into comic relief.
A Roma man owes a debt to Dadan, a gypsy mafioso surrounded by girls in white body-stockings and eye-popping make-up. In exchange for cancelling the debt, Dadan forces him to marry off his 17-year-old son to Afrodita, his stunted sister. The son has other ideas and another girlfriend, and searches for excuse after excuse not to marry her; while Afrodita equally has plans of her own. Into all this chaos comes the man's father, a snaggle-toothed veteran swindler now retired to a preposterously upholstered bed, who has a habit of stopping the show at critical moments to ensure the reluctant bride and groom are allowed to go their own way.
Mostly in the language of the Roma but occasionally lapsing into Serbo-Croat, the film detaches the word "Balkan" from "balkanisation" and proves that despite the upheavals of the last fifteen years Yugoslavia can become known for something other than blown-apart houses and desperate refugees tugging at western heart-strings. It also paints Roma life in bold, shocking colours; there are no heroes or villains in the story, just human beings as they are and as they should be - full of lust, vigour and chaos. A masterpiece of mayhem from Europe's most gifted director.
Oh yes - three more words - pit bull...terrier! This nutty pop-song provides Dadan with just the right kind of theme tune and was subsequently blasting out of every hi-fi in the Balkans.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 19, 2011 9:40 PM BST

Groundhog Day (Collector's Edition) [DVD] [2002]
Groundhog Day (Collector's Edition) [DVD] [2002]
Dvd ~ Bill Murray
Price: £3.77

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good morning Punxatawney!, 11 Nov. 2005
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a film that ought to be compulsory for everyone to watch - there are a lot of those - but the mixture of philosophical drama, slapstick comedy and the romantic feel-good factor is just right. Although Murray plays his character with comic gusto and there is never a dull moment when he's on-screen, the poignant, terrifying and lengthy process of his redemption shocks the viewer into the realisation that this is not, strictly speaking, a comedy film. It is, however, a testament to the cast and the directors that it manages to keep its pace and sense of humour and doesn't turn into a leaden moralising mass. Although Americans can't make a war film about another country's war, they can do this kind of magical fiction about their own society.
What is good about the setting and the people in it is that it is so believable - despite "Hairdo" at the beginning, the cast is full of the misfits and weirdos very rarely seen in American productions. Murray is not a clean-cut kid, and in his very smugness at the beginning is ten times the character that Andie Macdowell is, and since her Rita too is flesh and blood, that is saying an awful lot. Too many ordinary heroines would fall for Phil Connors' womanising and his too-hasty attempts to gratify her, both while he is still manipulating various townswomen into sleeping with him and after he has begun to realise that he should start to treat women (in particular) better. Although Rita is a liitle saccharine-sweet at the beginning, she knows herself and Phil enough by the end to come across in a better light. Eventually you begin waiting with baited breath for 6am, to see whether Phil has made it out or whether he must live yet another day. And the final scene does keep you in suspense just a moment longer as the clock ticks over one last time from 5.59 to 6.00...
The director calculates in the commentary that to become as good a piano/synth player as Phil Connors ends up, he'd need to spend at least ten years in his loop cycle - and that's not including what has gone before he takes his first piano lesson. That's the scariest part about it, and when you watch the included documentary and listen to the commentary (which is essentially watching the film over again, as the director takes care not to speak over the dialogue) you begin to realise the enormous amount of thought that went into the production of this. One frame does cut to a shot of the "Woodstock Jewellers" - showing up the fact that this was actually filmed in a small town in Illinois, as the real Punxatawney is not as picturesque as the film requires the town to be - but otherwise the illusion is firmly implanted in th e viewers' minds. Sadly the problem with the car chase scenes is that - if the roads are so good after a blizzard strong enough to close the freeway out of town, couldn't he just try to leave? Although it raised a question in my mind, the effect is only slight and if you are fully absorbed in what must be the most gripping film I've ever watched, then you'll hardly notice.
The DVD (my Collector's Edition at any rate) comes with a lovely set of extras, including a full range of dub languages and subtitles. I watched it through in English with Polish subtitles (I speak this fluently and find it good to learn more colloquialisms by this method) but heck, if you wanted to try, say Italian with Hungarian or French with Czech, you could end up watching the film a hundred times - which really would be a Groundhog Day experience. Also when you click on a menu item the cursor changes from 5.59 to 6.00, which is a classic touch and which more DVDs should have.

The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia)
The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia)
by C. S. Lewis
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sterling Silver, 8 Nov. 2005
Possibly the most underappreciated of the Chronicles of Narnia, you are left wondering about the title until the very end. Like the others in the series it has a definite moral - here it is that appearances can be deceptive and even those who look good on the outside can have evil in their hearts, a message as relevant to children now as it was in the 1950s when the book was written.
The book introduces put upon Jill Pole as the schoolfriend of Eustace Scrubb, the spoilt brat of "Dawn Treader" redeemed through his adventures at the end of the world with Prince Caspian and Reepicheep. Eustace and Jill escape bullies into Narnia and are given a quest by Aslan. Jill struggles to remember Aslan's instructions, and constantly fails, until they are led straight into the giants' lair at Harfang. All the time they are lured by good things only to be deceived at every level - and almost leave the real good to its doom in underground caverns.
Pauline Baynes' illustrations, like in all the Narnia books, enliven the story and characters from the Marshwiggle to Harfang and beyond.
Carrying a moral rather than a specifically Biblical message, the book delights readers of all ages and the Chronicles as a whole should be on every child's reading list. Hopefully the new film of "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" will introduce a new generation of children to this beautiful series; this book in particular develops the character of Aslan beyond "nice cuddly lion" and is worth picking up. Even though my copy is not the new edition, the cover art updates the series for the new millennium.

Yes, Prime Minister - Series One [1986] [DVD]
Yes, Prime Minister - Series One [1986] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Paul Eddington
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £5.48

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Double-sided double-talk, 7 Nov. 2005
I'm glad that the DVD is double-sided - since I rented this through Amazon's scheme, I only had to pay for one DVD rather than two. So there are some advantages!
This could not be made today. Political comedy never had it so good - this was before the Thatcher revolution made comedy writers (such as Andy Hamilton and Armando Iannucci) indignant and prey to overt politicisation in sitcoms (e.g. The New Statesman, Drop The Dead Donkey). Thankfully, although the series deals with familiar geopolitical issues (for example nuclear weapons, the Soviet threat and infiltration by the KGB - Humphrey? A spy?! - and the Falklands conflict is mentioned in passing) it stays clear of hot topics in favour of the clever words and general issues surrounding British politicians and bureaucrats in general. Armando Iannucci made a brilliant contribution to the Britain's Best Sitcom series two years ago which juxtaposed Hacker with Blair, Howard, and the rest of them, proving that although the issues may have changed, the politicians themselves have not - and we can only guess what has happened to Sir Humphrey, but doubtless he is still chuckling to himself behind the scenes as yet another minister is caught red-handed and packed off back to the back-benches.
Although the verbiage sometimes takes over, there is enough variety in the episodes to make it pleasant, relaxing watching (though I gather Nigel Hawthorne had to take beta-blockers to relieve the stress of learning all those horrendous monologues!). I always enjoy the one about the Downing Street cook, and Hacker even dabbles in Church of England politics as he is called upon to appoint a new Bishop - who preferably believes in God.
This is highly recommended to anyone interested in the way Britain does things, even though it may seem rather quaint talking about the Russian threat.

Offered by cdworld-ireland
Price: £11.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars El mandil de Radio Tarifa, 31 Oct. 2005
This review is from: FIEBRE (Audio CD)
Tarifa are incredible - I am a big fan of their swirling music, though not always of live albums or recordings. Indeed, I think they sound better on studio recordings, as the texture of the music is allowed to develop rather than being reduced to the tinny, applause-laden sound common to many live albums. The vocals are also slurred, particularly on Rondo Sanabrio, which makes the live version a bit less entrancing than the studio recording.
However the sound does break through in places, and when it does, is as superlative as their three studio recordings (and what's more you don't have to sit through the percussion-only tracks which irritate me on "Rumba Argelina", "Temporal" and "Cruzando El Rio". The outstanding track is "El Mandil de Carolina" - always my favourite on record and the only one actually enhanced by the live recordings. Otherwise, "Rondo Sanabrio" and "Cancion Sephardi", two of my favourite studio tracks, are paler in comparison live but still make the grade. The other tracks have been chosen well (my favourite from "Cruzando...", "Quinto", is pretty difficult to do live, as are some of the slower tracks from the third album - people at a concert don't want to listen to a mixture of slow and fast, they want the big numbers belted out to them).
4 stars only because this is still a live recording, but if you like Tarifa, the sleevenotes will give you a better insight into their work than other recordings do.

Ethel and Ernest: A True Story
Ethel and Ernest: A True Story
by Raymond Briggs
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Advantage of being Ernest..., 30 Oct. 2005
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...A nice house, new furniture, and a lovely wife! What more could anyone want? Although Ernest and his wife were the models for Jim and Hilda in "When the Wind Blows", they are spared the violence and devastation of a nuclear holocaust and allowed to see out their days in peace (despite an ill-placed Morrison shelter almost doing for them during World War 2).
Briggs' portrait of his parents is a strange book - without real plot or narrative, it jumps from one situation to another in a disjointed and unique style, capturing small vignettes of twentieth century life but never quite expanding on them. There is no commentary or moralising, no idyllic or disasterous childhoods, no extolling of the values of family life or solidarity during the Blitz or respect for one's elders - just a series of snapshots of married life, mortgages, ancient washing machines, political disputes (Ernest is a staunch socialist, Ethel an unreconstructed Tory) and hospital endings.
Briggs is probably the best cartoonist Britain has to offer outside politics; his simple drawings have been used for everything from traditional Bogeymen to the horrors of nuclear war, and still retain the fresh innocence that made the "Snowman" so great. It's this style which allows him to make such striking statements, and which got him onto last year's Christmas stamps.
A bit like "Maus" without the backdrop of the Holocaust to focus the attention, it is Briggs' most daring work yet. In the way he has chosen to portray their lives he captures the banality of the lives of Ernests and Ethels everywhere. It's worth a look, but don't expect a simple story.

One Foot in the Grave - Series 1 [1990] [DVD]
One Foot in the Grave - Series 1 [1990] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Richard Wilson
Offered by figswigs
Price: £5.10

6 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Early refinement, 19 Oct. 2005
The very first series of Victor Meldrew's antics is like many first series - raw, experimental and yet to really crystallise into a particular formula. Meldrew (Richard Wilson) has yet to start the prolonged generational guerrilla warfare with Angus Deayton and his screen wife, or develop his "I don't belieeeeeeeeve it" catchphrase. The action is limited to Meldrew's contemporaries, such as pensioners like Mrs Warboys. The action takes place in varied locations (and on location), and while it lacks depth, the breadth of the series ensures the viewer is not confined to a claustrophobic studio. The pratfalls are not quite so elaborate or absurd as in the later series, and there are no extended monologues or soliloquies from Victor and his wife (such as the classic yucca-plant-in-the-toilet or dachshund-as-phone scenes repeated endlessly).
One star off for the politically arrogant "Britain's Best Sitcom" episode shown on the DVD. Although any sitcom is a product of the time in which it is filmed (almost by definition - try making "Are You Being Served" today!) the arrogant liberally-minded reviewer cannot help himself by overstating the political background to the early nineties and assuming that everything is hunky-dory for the elderly population, when arguably the "cult of youth" has got even worse than it was in the early 1990s. Regardless of political circumstances, the older generation always find adjusting to change difficult, and I'm sure in twenty or thirty years' time there will be just as many Victor Meldrews about, particularly in a culture as cynical, aging and pessimistic as the UK can be at times.
However, this does not detract from the enjoyability of the series then or now and this DVD is definitely worth a look.

Berlin: The Downfall 1945
Berlin: The Downfall 1945
by Antony Beevor
Edition: Paperback

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Berlin - the final frontier, 6 Oct. 2005
I have not yet read "Stalingrad", but I assume Beevor's story of "Berlin" picks up from where the previous book leaves off, as in the opening chapters the Red Army is actually just about to enter German territory in East Prussia rather than the capital itself. It concentrates mostly on the drive from the east and skates over the Western allies' attempts to reach the "finish line" before the Soviet army, but Beevor is evidently writing more from one particular angle than attempting to survey the closing months of the war from further back.
Beevor's aptitude at writing history is impressive - unlike Shirer's definitive tome on "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", you could be forgiven for thinking that you are reading a novel. Human victims - German, Soviet, Eastern Europeans, soldiers and civilians - are portrayed vividly through diaries and eyewitness accounts by named individuals, rather than reducing them to so many thousands or millions of victors and victims. You can hear the bombs going off, feel the cold winter, and smell the fear in the bunker as the Red Army moves in. I ended up feeling sorry for Magda Goebbels and her children - the children, all with names beginning in H, were as much innocent victims as anyone else - as the chilling nature of their death is described. Beevor does them justice as much as he does the German women raped by Soviet troops in revenge for the destruction visited upon Russia, and the Polish, Jewish and even Soviet women caught up in this maelstrom of destruction which Soviet leaders and journalists stirred up mercilessly. Beevor's subjects are human, all too human.
The way all history should be written and a gripping epic.

Unwired: Europe
Unwired: Europe
Price: £7.53

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High wire, 5 Oct. 2005
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Unwired: Europe (Audio CD)
This is one of the best Rough Guide CDs available, apart from the Russian CD (and for owners of that delightful compilation, Zhanna Bichevskaya makes a welcome return). Many suffer from being filled with obtuse or obscure artists and recordings, accessible only to the conoisseur, but this is filled with sparkling tunes, particularly the beautiful and haunting "Isabelle" by Belgian Lais, and the wonderful Knodelpolka.
The range of music covers everything from fado to flamenco guitar and the beautiful Angelite Bulgarian voices. Hedningarna represent Scandinavia with the magical "Veli" (from one of their best albums, "Karelia Visa").
The British Isles, long excluded from European compilations, are represented by three tracks; Eliza Carthy's English folk song, while not my favourite, is at least more representative of English traditional music than much "English" folk music, which has increasingly become reliant on modern compositions and protest lyrics and turned its back on the spunky tracks put out by Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span in the 1970s. Altan's "Donal agus Morag" is far and away my favourite Irish song, again eschewing the more modern "touristy Irish" sound and getting back to more ethnic roots, and including a Scottish Gaelic track again brings out more of an earthy atmosphere than merely shoving a bagpipe tune on. Britain has been poorly served by recent output and deserves this showing of her own ethnic heritage.
One complaint I might make is that the emphasis is on Western Europe when much of the best European world comes from the east (particularly the Baltic Republics, which have yet to feature on any Rough Guide). However this is a minor point and one which I'm sure the Rough Guide series will rectify before long.

Stalingrad [DVD] [1994]
Stalingrad [DVD] [1994]
Dvd ~ Dominique Horwitz
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £3.21

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No more heroes, 5 Oct. 2005
This review is from: Stalingrad [DVD] [1994] (DVD)
I agree with everyone else about the dubbing. Only the Russians speak in their original voices.
German films about the war must be hard to make, particularly as they are having to deal with issues surrounding one of the most inhuman regimes ever known to man. However Stalingrad manages to inspire sympathy for the protagonists without corresponding sympathy for the situation, and in the scenes where the soldiers come into contact with the other side, the characters are as believable and human as the German soldiers followed by the film.
Dana Vavrova's portrayal of a Soviet female soldier with a German parent, who alternately assists and betrays her adversaries until she herself is unsure which side she belongs to, steals the show and balances the "Russian sympathiser" lieutenant, unaware of the brutality being meted out on the Eastern Front before he arrives at the battlefield. The exploration of the effect of the carnage on the men is enhanced by incidents of friendly fire, inevitable in the chaos of war, and the odd civilian character bundled up against the Russian winter also makes the drama more realistic and provokes moral dilemmas for the Germans, resulting in the more hardened Nazis getting impatient and nasty towards their hesitant men during a tense execution scene.
As the company is whittled down to two remaining men, it is made clear that the particular focus is on ordinary soldiers rather than their Nazi masters, although the first scene indicates that the Lieutenant at least begins filled with the righteousness of his mission and the journey towards Stalingrad is indicative of what many must have felt before they entered hell - that the conquest of Russia for German exploitation was legitimate.
No attempt is made to portray these men as anything other than confused and battered by a political machine driving them onward - they are neither heroes nor villains, and that is what makes the film stand out as essential for any lover of European war films.
It's only really the dubbing that lets it down, and they should have left it in the original with subtitles, as they did with the trailers - in fact the dubbing makes it unnecessarily comic, and the lack of subtitling makes the Russians difficult to understand to a non-Russian speaker, particularly Vavrova's final line that adds to the tragedy - but only if you understand Russian.

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