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Malcolm for President (Malcolm in the Middle)
Malcolm for President (Malcolm in the Middle)
by Tom Mason
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars MITM Malcolm for President, 22 May 2014
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Fifth in a series of Scholastic novelizations based upon the TV series Malcolm in the Middle. It's intriguing because it's an original story so not based upon any original TV episode. It's written in the first person with Malcolm as narrator, and the writers capture the character's voice really well. Language is straightforward and vividly descriptive, the writing flows and is very readable. Malcolm finds himself nominated by his fellow Krelboynes to run for Class President. 'I didn't want to run... But when has what I wanted ever had anything to do with my life? What's worse? Having to run on the Krelboyne Independent Party ticket? Or being forced into making Reese your campaign manager? He puts the 'pain' in campaign. I know how Dr. Frankenstein felt when his monster ran through the village.' Malcolm's campaign is sidelined when Francis comes home from military school with a spare ticket for a rock concert. Francis tells Malcolm and Reese that the first to frame the other and get them grounded, will get to go with him to the concert. This storyline is of course similar to one in the writers' TV episode 'Malcolm Vs. Reese' but is cleverer and more inventive. Malcolm's distraction causes a rift between him and his best friend Stevie, who himself decides to run for President. Their campaigns get really dirty and personal, threatening their friendship for ever. Malcolm is torn between friendship and his desire to win, despite not wanting to be President in the first place! It's easy to visualize this fairly complex story as a TV episode making this reviewer wish it had been!


The Exchange Student (Malcolm in the Middle)
The Exchange Student (Malcolm in the Middle)
by Pamela Pollack
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars MITM The Exchange Student, 19 May 2014
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Fourth in a series of Scholastic novelizations based upon the TV series Malcolm in the Middle. It's written in the first person with Malcolm as narrator, and captures the character's voice fairly well. This is intriguing because as an original story it's not based on any existing TV episode. Malcolm's family have a Krelboyne exchange student to stay for a week. 'Her name is Camellia. She's the same age as Malcolm, and every bit as smart. She's as tough as Reese, as cute as Dewey - everyone likes her... Mom and Dad are ecstatic, she's like the daughter they always wanted.' The boys resent her arrival immediately because Lois gives Camellia exclusive use of their room and they are forced to sleep on the couch. Graphic chaos soon descends on the family when the boys misbehave big time, Mother's Day looms, and Francis smuggles incriminating evidence out of Marlin Academy. Camellia quickly learns how to take advantage of everyone and every situation. Malcolm feels his genius status threatened and that his place in the family is being taken over by Camellia. Things go from bad to worse, but along the way, the boys learn a lot about Camellia, and in doing so, they learn a lot about themselves. The book is a bit hard to get into at first, perhaps because the boys are relentlessly unpleasant even compared to the TV episodes, and the writers sometimes forego originality and quote incidents from the TV episodes to set up original scenes. But the writing and story do get much better in later chapters, making it ultimately a more satisfactory read, and making this reviewer wish it had been an actual TV episode.


Lauritz Melchior in Concert (1944-1949)
Lauritz Melchior in Concert (1944-1949)
Offered by FastMedia "Ships From USA"
Price: £47.54

5.0 out of 5 stars Lauritz Melchior in Concert (Eklipse), 19 May 2014
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A portrait of the great tenor with concert examples of his famous Wagner roles, Italian opera arias, some more unusual repertoire, and an interview. Lauritz Melchior is justifiably renowned for his powerful velvety tenor with a baritonal quality embossed with gleaming higher notes, used to great effect in the Wagner roles Lohengrin, Tristan, Tannhauser, Parsifal, Siegmund and Siegried. Live performances of these roles are preserved on Metropolitan Opera broadcast recordings, even so, this set is valuable and interesting, because as well as some thrilling Wagner, it also covers a more varied selection of Melchior's artistry. The selections are as follows.

Hollywood Bowl Concert 1948 with Helen Traubel, in scenes from Lohengrin and Tristan und Isolde, conducted by Eugene Ormandy.
In Lohengrin's Act 3 narrative, In fernem Land, Melchior's Lohengrin is, as always, more muscular and gleamingly heroic than ethereal. These same qualities are coupled with tender passionate singing in the Act 3 bridal chamber scene, Das susse Lied verhallt. Melchior inflects his delivery effectively and trumpets the Hochstes vertrau'n. Helen Traubel (Elsa) has a really beautiful, powerful voice and characterful delivery. In the Tristan und Isolde scenes, Traubel and the orchestra get straight to the heart of the piece in Isolde's Act 1 narrative and curse, and Traubel turns in a blistering, emotion-laden rendition of this powerful music. The concert ends with a really passionate, energetic (and slightly abridged) Act 2 Liebesnacht, O sink hernieder. At least as good here as in their Met performances,Traubel and Melchior are on great form, blending well together, their vast experience in these roles shows. Eugene Ormandy gets the music to swell and surge as it should. A very enjoyable concert. What a great introduction to Wagner's wonderful music and two legendary singers.

Judy Garland, Danny Kaye and Lauritz Melchior introduce a 1949 radio broadcast of Vesti la giubba (Pagliacci), their humour at odds with the sadness of the aria.

Standard Hour 1949 from San Francisco.
The helmsman's song Mit Gewitter und Sturm (The Flying Dutchman) is given sturdy enthusiastic Melchior treatment and is energetically conducted by Alfred Wallenstein. A soulful, moving Ave Maria (J S Bach / Gounod) follows, then thrilling, passionate renditions of Torna a Soriento (De Curtis) and Spring Came Back to Vienna (Spielmann).

Concert Hall 1944 conducted by Donald Vorhees.
An ardent but so-so Recondita armonia (Tosca) is followed by a thrillingly sung Danish hunting song. Melchior sings the prize song from Die Meistersinger with such ease, ardour and lack of strain, and ends the concert with a soulful Schubert's Serenade.

Concert Hall 1947.
To more energetic conducting by Donald Vorhees, Melchior proves at age 56 he can still sing a thrilling Notung! Notung! (smelting song) from Siegfried, with such ease and ringing top As. A super Wintersturme (Die Walkure) follows, then a stirring Lohengrin's Farewell, Mein lieber Schwan. Apparently Melchior advocated only singing on interest and never expending capital. This sort of thrilling singing makes me wonder what he would have sounded like tapping into his reserves!

Finally an amiable and interesting 81st birthday interview with Melchior recorded at his California home.

Sound quality is mostly very good for 1940s live recordings, with slight surface noise, balance generally favours the voices a little. Sound is best from Hollywood and San Francisco. That of the 1944 concert has more surface crackle, wear and some thumps. The set includes a brief biography of Melchior and two b/w photos of him. Glad to find this, having been looking for the Hollywood Bowl concert for a few years.


Verdi: Un ballo in maschera
Verdi: Un ballo in maschera
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £11.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Un Ballo in Maschera Gigli on EMI, 16 May 2014
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In this historic 1943 studio recording, Beniamino Gigli is clearly at ease in the part of Riccardo, his voice youthful and pleasing, his interpretation ingenuous, lighthearted and full of his trademark humour. Maria Caniglia is an impassioned, dramatic Amelia. The braying vibrato of Gino Bechi (Renato) is a bit offputting but his Act Three Eri tu is excellent. Fedora Barbieri is a rich-voiced characterful Ulrica. The orchestra play well under the firm guidance of Tullio Serafin. However, in an opera brimming with melodies, personally I didn't really enjoy the whole recording for some reason, the real highlights for me are Gigli's performance and an impassioned Act Two duet.

Sound quality is basically very good mono for 1943 with minimal distortion and light surface noise. Personally I find it best to reduce bass and increase treble slightly to avoid some heaviness to the orchestral sound at times. There are notes, libretto and translation, a few b/w photos, and a sensible layout with Act 1 on CD 1 and Acts 2 and 3 on CD 2.

This replaces a damaged Naxos copy of the same recording and gives an opportunity to compare the transfers, on the Naxos disc that still plays. The sound on Naxos is also good but is slightly less prominent with slightly more surface noise, it depends how tone controls are set, on the other hand a little brighter than on EMI. The Naxos set runs two minutes shorter than the EMI over the two hour recording, which suggests some of the 78s have been transferred at slightly different pitch. Interesting...


Macbeth
Macbeth
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £38.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Macbeth Berlin 1950 on Myto, 16 May 2014
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This review is from: Macbeth (Audio CD)
They say behind every succesful man is one strong woman, in this story one strong woman is behind several dead men. The Scottish play set to great Italian music in a German production. Wait. Verdi sung in German? Well actually no problem at all with this outstanding cast and conductor. Martha Modl's Lady Macbeth has some of the most thrilling singing I've heard. One of my favourite singers, Modl's voice has truly beautiful qualities and reserves of power. Many enthusiasts will be familiar with her 1950s Isolde, Kundry and Brunnhilde from Bayreuth. Her Lady Macbeth is seductively evil, with controlled histrionics, as Myto suggest in their catalogue, it's mesmerisingly evil and vocally thrilling, and deserves cult status. In the title role, Josef Metternich is superb, vocally strong, as appropriate for a leader, his voice pleasing in tone, and his interpretation can be subtle too. The excellent cast also includes Theo Herrmann as Banquo and Alfred Hulgert as Macduff. The under-rated Joseph Keilberth conducts an incisive, dramatic reading with plenty of attack, it's brisk and powerful, often thrillingly so.

Sound quality is remarkably good for a 1950 live taping, very clear with a wide dynamic range, any minor tape glitches are hardly noticeable. Voices are well captured, there are occasional stage noises and audience coughs, and the audience applaud after many scenes. I can hear more orchestral detail on this historic recording than on a recent (2014) broadcast from Covent Garden. As a bonus there is an excerpt from a 1950 recording of La Traviata with Metternich as Germont appealing to Clara Ebers's Violetta, also sung in German. There is no libretto, just some notes and a double page b/w photo from the production. Highly recommended for enthusiasts wishing to add an interesting performance to their collection.


Wagner: Tristan und Isolde
Wagner: Tristan und Isolde
Price: £15.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Tristan und Isolde, Solti - Four and a half stars, actually., 9 May 2014
In contrast to several lacklustre versions, the Prelude is a stirring, passionate, yearning rollercoaster outpouring of emotion. Following this, however, the disinterested, matter of fact Sailor of Waldemar Kmennt is a disappointment. As Act One unfolds, things improve from so-so, with the second half of the act much better. Georg Solti gets huge waves of sound from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra that swell, surge, then subside. It's a powerful energetic reading, with strong rhythmic pulse, and contrast too, with quieter delicacy where appropriate. At times there's a dark, even grim, coloration to the orchestral sound, with growling strings. Other times, the strings shimmer and glow. Solti can be inexorable, achieving tremendous orchestral climaxes within a well-conceived, structurally sound reading. The scene early in Act Two before Isolde extinguishes the torch comes off well, it often falls flat with some other conductors. Excellent Liebesnacht, powerful and passionate. Act Three is one glorious outpouring of orchestral sound.

Birgit Nilsson's silver toned, powerful, focussed, beautiful voice make her the Isolde of choice, and she turns in a fine performance culminating in an exellent Liebestod. As good as Nilsson's performance is, it is probably not her final word vocally or interpretively on the role. This possibly fits with a conception of singers as just another orchestral instument? I have most of Nilsson's many excellent live Isoldes, including one with Solti conducting, and will return to this point later. Fritz Uhl (Tristan) has a youthful, clean toned, unstrained voice, vocally capable with plenty of interpretive touches, if just slightly underpowered compared to Nilsson. Uhl is excellent in Act Three, never barking or shouting. Tom Krause is an earthy Kurwenal who can sing beautifully. Regina Resnik (Brangaene) and Arnold van Mill (Marke) are capable but not outstanding.

Sound quality is very good, but there's a rather dry quality to the strings. Recorded balance very much favours the orchestra with the singers slightly in the background (but not ridiculously so as in Solti's Ring). Despite the balance, every single word in the entire recording is perfectly audible. In contrast to so many live versions, it's also a pleasure to hear so much orchestral power and detail. Indeed the real stars of this recording are Solti and the VPO.

Presentation is very basic with just a synopsis but no libretto. This is apparently accessible on line but I have not tried this. The CD change points are badly placed, for example right near the end of Act One, and slap in the middle of the Act Two love duet! If my maths is correct, Acts Two and Three would have snuck on a CD apiece, with Act One on two short CDs. Who am I kidding, of course my maths is correct.

I have a radio interview where Birgit Nilsson recounts an amusing anecdote from the recording sessions. Apparently fed up with the huge orchestral volume, Nilsson and Regina Resnik contrived to feign a simultaneous collapse at the microphones, as if they had died of the sound. Returning to an earlier point, the recorded balance may be why Nilsson's Isolde can be heard to better advantage elsewhere. The most well known is Bayreuth 1966 (the official DG version) where the strings are better recorded, but while there are some outstanding passages, Karl Bohm's conducting fails to convince me in its entirety. Also with respect to Wolfgang Windgassen's artistry (Tristan) his voice is often thin, lacking body and power as recorded here. I have a recording of an amazing performance at Covent Garden on a sweltering night in July 1971, in mostly very good(ish) mono sound, where Nilsson is partnered by Jess Thomas, who practically trashes his voice so strong is his commitment in Act Three, with Donald McIntyre, Josephine Veasey and David Ward outstanding in support, and Solti on tremendous form in the pit, a searing, overwhelming experience. Many of Solti's qualities are in evidence in the studio recording under review, in slightly better stereo sound, so while perhaps not the best ever version of Tristan und Isolde, it is a very good recommendation, and one I will enjoy returning to in future.

PS Amazon have put my review and those of some others on a 1961 Met broadcast with Birgit Nilsson which is definitely not the recording under review, it wasn't me, honest!


Stay Alive [DVD]
Stay Alive [DVD]
Dvd ~ Movie
Price: £5.25

4.0 out of 5 stars Stay Alive, 8 May 2014
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This review is from: Stay Alive [DVD] (DVD)
While beta testing a horror survival game, a hardened video gamer (Milo Ventimiglia) is killed by the same grisly method as his game character. His New Orleans gamer friends are eager to try the unlicensed game, Stay Alive, thinking it an exclusive opportunity, while dismissing their friend's death as coincidence. One by one, they suffer the same grisly fate, dying in exactly the same way as their game character. The game Stay Alive is based upon a historical story of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the 'Blood Countess', who slayed her victims and gutted them with silver shears. Players have to recite a chant 'Come to me clouds...' to log into the game, and a voice informs them that now they have spoken the words, they are marked for death, and that the evil courses through their veins. As the story progresses, the distinction between reality and the game world begins to blur. This is achieved subtly but effectively. From the outset, the movie deliberately avoids or minimizes scenes of the 'outside world', thus concentrating viewers' attention on the 'game world'. This is helped by copious sound effects such as computer noises and creepy, claustrophobic photography. The concept is interesting and thought provoking, and it's a very chilling story, with most of the horror in the mind and not in the screen gore.

At his friend's funeral, the main character Hutch (Jon Foster) hooks up with game novice Abigail (Samaire Armstrong). This allows ample opportunity for the other gamers to inform her, and therefore game novice viewers such as myself, of a lot of game technicalities and jargonese. However the strongest and most interesting characters are the irreverent Phineas (Jimmi Simpson) and his feisty sister October (Sophia Bush), and the extremely clued-up, very serious, nervy Swink (Frankie Muniz) who is definitely the gamer friend to have as the horror of their situation unfolds. The acting is effective although some of the characters could be better fleshed out. I especially like the juxtaposition of Samaire Armstrong's innocent wonderment and Jimmi Simpson's irreverent mockery, for example when the group first play Stay Alive. Frankie Muniz plays one of his most likeable characters in Swink, he would also surely get a world record for fastest line delivery? Apparently this is the last movie shot in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina. There's a superb atmospheric orchestral music score. Unfortunately no special features apart from optional subtitles.


Water Park (Malcolm in the Middle # 2)
Water Park (Malcolm in the Middle # 2)
by Tom Mason
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Water Park - MITM #2, 25 April 2014
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Second in a series of Scholastic novelizations based upon the TV show Malcolm in the Middle. This book is an adaptation of the episodes 'Water Park' and 'Traffic Jam'. For the most part it's written in the first person with Malcolm as narrator, and captures the character's voice well. His commentaries sometimes go further (and cruder) than the screen commentaries to camera. The storylines with Dewey left at home with the babysitter, and those with Francis at military school, are written in the third person. Dialogue basically follows the TV scripts but is often expanded upon. For example as they hurtle down the Liquidator, 'My best hope is she's so disoriented by the ride, I can overwhelm her with concern... Who am I trying to kid? My Mom was broken in by Francis and perfected by Reese. She knows every excuse, reason, and rationalization that was ever whined by every kid...' There are also some differences and omissions. For example in the TV episode where Malcolm pretends Reese can't swim, for reasons known only to himself an over-enthusiastic member of the public gives Reese mouth-to-mouth, in the book it's just the lifeguard. In the TV episode there are highly amusing scenes where Francis is going for a record eating 100 Quacks and the other cadets count up, and up, then down, then up, in the book it's abbreviated and loses the comedy and impact in both examples. Language is straightforward but it flows, is readable, and the narration vividly descriptive. Knowing the episodes pretty much off by heart makes it virtually impossible to know what a reader unfamiliar with the show would make of the book, but it would probably make an amusing and tantalizing introduction to the world of the boy genius and his crazy family. My 4 star rating is perhaps too generous. Recommended for fans and collectors, an amusing read, but the experience is so much better with the visual comedy and facial expressions. A case in point is the poignant scene at the conclusion of Malcolm's 'doomed encounter' with Jessica as the dog takes the paper with her phone number and the facial expressions are priceless.


Life is Unfair (Malcolm in the Middle # 1)
Life is Unfair (Malcolm in the Middle # 1)
by Tom Mason
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Life is Unfair - MITM #1, 25 April 2014
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First in a series of Scholastic novelizations based upon the TV show Malcolm in the Middle. This book is an adaptation of the episodes 'Pilot' and 'Krelboyne Picnic'. It's written in the first person with Malcolm as narrator, and captures the character's voice well. His commentaries sometimes go further (and cruder) than the screen commentaries to camera. Dialogue basically follows the TV scripts but is often expanded upon. For example there is a scene with a snake Cleopatra in the Krelboyne class not in the episodes. Language is straightforward but it flows, is readable, and the narration vividly descriptive. For example at Malcolm's triumph at the Krelboyne picnic, 'Challenges were called out from every corner and every age group. I let my mind go free. It soared across a vast expanse of numbers, shapes and theorems... I snapped back answers as instantly as questions were called out.' For the most part however, the adaptation concentrates on the comedic. Knowing the episodes pretty much off by heart makes it virtually impossible to know what a reader unfamiliar with the show would make of the book, but it would surely be a tantalizing and amusing introduction to the world of the boy genius and his crazy family. Also recommended for fans and collectors, a highly amusing read but the experience is so much better with the visual comedy and facial expressions on the TV show.


Agent Cody Banks 2 - Destination London [DVD] [2004]
Agent Cody Banks 2 - Destination London [DVD] [2004]
Dvd ~ Frankie Muniz
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Agent Cody Banks 2 Destination London, 10 April 2014
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Cody Banks (16) is a junior agent working for the CIA, he is smart, athletic, with many skills and talents. The story opens at Kamp Woody, where the junior agents are trained under the guise of a summer camp. Cody is tricked into helping rogue CIA honcho Victor Diaz, a nasty piece of work, steal the software for a revolutionary mind control device. Diaz is in league with British scientist Lord Duncan Kenworth and they plan to use mind control over world leaders for their own megalomaniacal ends. Lady Kenworth runs a summer school for talented youth musicians, so Cody's mission is to enrol and infiltrate the operation. Small problem - Cody is no talented musician, he faked it and joined a marching band to meet girls (?). In London he teams up with new handler Derek, who is still a boy at heart. Cody on the other hand is all grown up and serious. Cody has an incredible array of gadgets to assist his mission, including a clarinet that plays virtuoso on its own! There is a comedic nod to Bond movies with the introduction of eccentric inventor Neville. Many of the characters are British eccentrics and a cynic may view the movie as a tourist guide to London with action taking in many well known locations and attractions. Even so it's fast paced with a good story and plenty of thrilling chases, action scenes and stunts, and is at times really funny.

Frankie Muniz has charm and assurance as Cody, doing most if not all his own stunts, these look very polished, so he makes a convincing secret agent. Anthony Anderson (Derek) adds a lot of comedy, Hannah Spearritt is outstanding as mysterious flautist Emily, and Keith Allen clearly relishes his role as Diaz.

Special features include 'back in action', deleted scenes, extended scenes and subtitles. Only one question remains, what happened to Cody's first love Natalie? Only one criticism, with just this one sequel, Cody only gets to save the world twice.


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