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Mr. I. S. Fairholm "epilepticgibbon" (Cheltenham, UK)
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Doctor Who: Trading Futures (Doctor Who S.)
Doctor Who: Trading Futures (Doctor Who S.)
by Lance Parkin
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Huge fun, 28 Dec. 2008
Clearly designed to be Doctor Who meets James Bond and it's certainly that, skillfully combining elements of the two. It all works wonderfully well and Lance Parkin, who usually writes engaging and entertaining Who, comes up with a fast moving plot, good versions of the regular characters, and just keeps throwing in delightful little twists and turns throughout. The novel starts with a bang and never lets up.

Sometimes maybe Mr Parkin is having too much fun for his own good and there is a slight silliness that more serious-minded readers may object to but if you enjoy both James Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s and the Eighth Doctor's regular novel-length adventures then this acts as the perfect cocktail of the two. You'll almost certainly be shaken and stirred.

BTW, it's not essential but if you read Parkin's earlier (and also brilliant) 'Father Time' before reading this then I think you'll get even more out of the experience.


Down (New Adventures)
Down (New Adventures)
by Lawrence Miles
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clever and yet disappointing, 28 Dec. 2008
Lawrence Miles is a very clever writer, an author with more brains and originality than most so-called Doctor Who writers and he has frequently shown this in books such as 'Interference' and 'The Adventuress of Henrietta Street'. It's his big ideas that shine out best. He is a good writer, a reasonable storyteller, but it's his invention, wit and conceptual thinking that make his books such good and thought-provoking reading. Sometimes, however, other elements suffer because they can't match up with the strength of his ideas and the boldness of his concepts.

It's these strengths and weaknesses that are both apparent in 'Down', a Bernice Summerfield New Adventure that lacks The Doctor (for legal reasons) but still makes frequent (though usually obscure) references to the Whoniverse (great if you spot them but they're not essential to understanding the plot).

It's a real mixed bag of a novel, full of Douglas Adams/Robert Rankin style humour rather ill-advisedly mixed with dark reflections on the nature of personal narratives, archetypes and the universe. These two extremes work reasonably well in isolation but when they clash (and they frequently do) the whole thing just feels uncomfortable, perhaps reflecting the post-modern take on traditional old-school science fiction romps that Miles is clearly going for. Miles would later do something similar within the Doctor Who two-parter 'Interference' but in my opinion would do so much more successfully than here. In 'Down' this approach feels a little clumsy, like a first draft at the style but with too many incongruencies and brutal edges.

It certainly has its moments and contains more ideas within a few chapters than most Doctor Who spin-offs do in their entirety. But weighty ideas and gags at the expense of dodgy sci-fi films about hollow earths and dinosaurs do not make for great stories in themselves. There's a neat twist towards the end of the narrative but the conclusion of the book feels bolted on, as if Miles didn't know how to end things, and indeed I can see why because his own mixed-up tone would be likely to make any ending seem less than entirely satisfying.

And don't get me started on Bernice Summerfield, a character who I usually relish. Miles has gone on record as saying that he doesn't really like her at all (or rather what other writers do with her) and it rather shows in his own interpretation. She's no replacement for the Doctor and although she was never intended to be the absence of a Doctor-like character in this novel means that all too often the story just meanders from one event to another, waiting for someone to do something. If this is Miles' point then he makes it very well but it's nothing to feel smug about - a Doctor-less Doctor Who story just feels like one with a Doctor-shaped hole in it. As this is the first Bernice Summerfield solo adventure I've read I would hope that others make more satisfying use of her. I'd much rather that more was made of her strengths (try imagining Emma Thompson playing Indiana Jones but where the adventures take place in space) rather than emphasising her character flaws (that she likes to re-write elements of her past - a point that is hammered home here) and what she's not (she is not a Doctor-like character but shouldn't have to be).

So overall 'Down' is a disappointment but it still has enough funny jokes and numerous big and genuinely clever ideas to make it worth buying and reading. Just make sure you know what you're getting - neither Bernice Summerfield nor Lawrence Miles at their best.


The Cottage [DVD] [2008]
The Cottage [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Jennifer Ellison
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £3.82

5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What's the cardinal sin of horror comedy?, 15 Dec. 2008
This review is from: The Cottage [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
The answer is simple: a horror comedy must be both horrifying and funny so the cardinal sin of the horror comedy is if it succeeds on neither of those fronts. Unfortunately The Cottage suffers terribly on not one front but both. It is not particularly scary, partly (but not entirely) because it spends too much time trying to be funny and therefore struggles to set up any dramatic tension. When the genuine horror does occur it's difficult to take it seriously. But alas it falls down with its alleged comedy too because there are few laughs, the script is very poor, the gags fall flat and the characters are so painfully unsympathetic that there's nothing to be gained from rooting for them (in the unlikely event that you might want to). How an actor as talented as Andy Sirkis came to be wasting his time on a terrible project like this is anyone's guess. But at least he comes out of the film with more credibility than Jennifer Ellison whose character's foul-mouthed routine ceases to be funny, er, almost immediately. Horror comedy is a tricky balancing act but can be done successfully, e.g. 'An American Werewolf in London' or more recently 'Shaun of the Dead'. This film, with its poor British sitcom style laughs and its routine horror cliches, is at the other end of the scale altogether. Further evidence that the British film industry is in a sorry state of affairs and this is by far the worst film that I have seen in 2008.


Ravenous [1999] [DVD]
Ravenous [1999] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Guy Pearce
Offered by ____THE_BEST_ON_DVD____
Price: £4.72

5.0 out of 5 stars Calling it horror doesn't do it justice, 18 Oct. 2008
This review is from: Ravenous [1999] [DVD] (DVD)
I wouldn't want to define what this movie is but for the purposes of a review that's what I have to do so here goes. Basically this a vampire movie, of sorts, but there aren't any vampires in it. It's set in America in the 1840s which makes it feel a bit like a historical film, maybe even a Western but it's very different from what you might expect from that description. The 'vampires' don't do their normal trick of drinking blood, no they eat flesh instead, which takes away the sexual and control elements that have belonged to the genre since Bram Stoker's Dracula and instead replaces them with cannibalism and power. The question here is, if eating the flesh of another human can make you powerful then is it okay to do it? Well, of course it isn't but the film addresses the seductive elements of power and how lines of morality can be so easily erased by the lust for power.

There are many twists and turns in this dark, thrilling and bloody yarn. So it's a horror film but it's a psychological horror film. It's designed to make you think and not just gross you out. And yet it's also very gory so although it's not merely a gorefest I wouldn't recommend it to the squeamish out there. And finally it's a very black comedy. The humour won't appeal to everyone and it is on the quirky side but it definitely worked for me, once I got settled into the story. You might find the humour jarring at first but try to go with it because it's a rewarding element. Plus there's a great soundtrack too, which really helps to add to the atmosphere and is striking and memorable too.

Did I mention the performances? Splendid. Guy Pearce was really on a roll here, with 'Ravenous' following 'LA Confidential' (1997) and coming just before 'Memento' (2000), and here he provides another one of his sympathetic but morally ambiguous protagonists. Robert Carlyle is great too but I won't give too much away for fear of spoiling the plot. The rest of the cast are a bunch of oddballs, in keeping with the rest of the film, but don't grow too fond of any of them because, well, you'll see...

Overall a smart, gripping and funny horror film but it's so much more than that genre tag might suggest. Highly recommended.


Devil May Care (James Bond)
Devil May Care (James Bond)
by Sebastian Faulks
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More parody than pastiche, Mr Bond, 15 Sept. 2008
As someone who has recently read all of the Fleming Bond novels I feel I have a fairly good grasp of their style and tone. It seems Faulks does too but unfortunately although he may technically be a better writer than Fleming (something which is apparent in the early sections of the book particularly) that doesn't mean he's entirely comfortable with this genre or the type of stories Fleming wrote for Bond. This is all too obvious throughout much of 'Devil May Care'. Fleming's Bond stories were often preposterous and towards the end the author started to copy his older material even to the point of parody. Here Faulks does much the same thing, often painfully aping older Fleming characters or story elements, or intentionally imitating Fleming's decidedly un-PC stance to women and homosexuals. But often what Faulks seems to regard as playful homage feels more like clumsy parody.

The plot is patchy but again that's nothing new for a Bond novel, but this does feel like one of Fleming's later (or less successful) plots. All the classic characters are there and feel about right but it's almost like Faulks is ticking them off a checklist rather than doing them justice.

At least one of the plot twists (about two thirds of the way through) is completely pointless and feels like padding (it covers a couple of chapters). It's inconsistent, makes little sense and serves little purpose to the story. Surely someone as smart as Faulks realised this so is he being purposefully ironic or has he been reduced to writing the equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster - adding pointless set pieces to the plot just because that's what is required.

And the final key twist that is 'revealed' right near the end of the book is extremely predictable. Faulks hammers it home nearly every time a particular character appears so I'm fairly sure it would be obvious to anyone over the age of twelve. This particular twist is also odd given M's knowledge of Bond's character and private life. Overall, a pointless attempt to do something different in a novel that is otherwise rather too safe.

I'll admit that at times I was very impressed and overall I did enjoy reading 'Devil May Care'. It was easy to read, it has some fine moments, and genuinely makes for a welcome addition to the list of Bond novels, but it's inferior to many of the Fleming originals (which it tries and often clumsily fails to be so loyal to) and hardly feels like the landmark event in publishing that it's been heralded as.

I'm currently reading the late John Gardner's 'Licence Renewed' from 1981, the first major attempt to relaunch the Bond book franchise and although it's not standard Fleming fare I have to admit that I'm enjoying it more than 'Devil May Care' which sadly runs close at times to being more parody than pastiche.


When the Wind Blows
When the Wind Blows
by Raymond Briggs
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

5.0 out of 5 stars Just about the most powerful reading experience you can have, 28 July 2008
This review is from: When the Wind Blows (Paperback)
Like many people I read this as kid because of a love for Raymond Briggs' work and also a strange fascination for nuclear apocalypse. Even given that combination of thoughts, feelings and expectations I didn't know quite what to expect and by the end was left in tears, moved more by this one 'graphic novel' than I have by almost any book or film before or since. The story loses none of its power despite the threat of nuclear holocaust not being quite as immediate as it sometimes seemed to be in the 1980s. A must read for anyone who can stomach the sometimes unpleasant imagery and, more importantly, the heartbreaking storyline. Read this and I don't think you will ever be quite the same person again.


Fear
Fear
by L.Ron Hubbard
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pointless and dull, 27 Jun. 2008
This review is from: Fear (Hardcover)
Described by some well respected writers and critics as some kind of landmark in horror fiction, it's certainly hard to see why when you actually read it. One problem with a book called 'Fear' is that you would expect it to be frightening, to produce fear in the reader to at least some extent. On this point alone it crucially fails. Whatever other strengths and failings it has as a book, this one alone seems to be of particular importance. I'll admit that whilst I wasn't frightened I was at least very curious about what happens to the central character, or at least I was for the first third of the book. But as things get increasingly surreal you soon begin to realise the truth - Hubbard had no idea where he was going with this so he simply padded it out with progressively stupider plot elements. The plot becomes excruciating slow, drawn-out and dull. When I finally reached the infuriating but, in hindsight, inevitable conclusion I was appalled by how much time I had wasted on a full novel that would have made for a fairly juvenile short story.

I would have to say that 'Fear' deserves two stars but if you can get the Bridge Publications edition, it includes a delightful short story called "Borrowed Glory", which shows that Hubbard was genuinely not that bad a writer, and it's perhaps worth getting this edition for the short story alone.


Match Point [DVD] [2006]
Match Point [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Scarlett Johansson
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £3.15

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Woody's best in quite a while, 16 May 2008
This review is from: Match Point [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
Admittedly that's not saying very much but nevertheless this is the finest thing Woody has done probably since 1999's 'Sweet and Lowdown', though it's a very different film from that. After the awful 'Melinda and Melinda' and the lousy re-telling of 'Annie Hall' that was 'Anything Else' Woody bounces back in somewhat surprising territory, but does so very successfully. This is not a comedy, in fact there are few laughs at all (just maybe one or two) so don't go expecting many, plus this is not a conventional thriller either. But it is a thriller of sorts, as well as a morality play and a mini-thesis on the central role that chance plays in life. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is successful as the amoral villain of the piece whilst Scarlett Johansson drips with sex appeal. In fact this is a racier film than I ever expected from Woody (no pun intended) - I just didn't think he had it in him. But he actually manages to write and direct something that doesn't really feel like a Woody Allen film, and at this point in his career this is a good thing. Some will find this boring, others frustrating and others will consider its amorality a problem but overall I thought the material was strong enough to bat away those criticisms. The only weakness, perhaps, is Woody's view of London which may not match with that of most other people but if you can get over that then I think you'll find this to be a rewarding experience.


White Noise [DVD]
White Noise [DVD]
Dvd ~ Michael Keaton
Offered by Qoolist
Price: £1.46

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Truly woeful, 23 Sept. 2006
This review is from: White Noise [DVD] (DVD)
Truly woeful supernatural 'thriller' (and I use the term loosely). The once great Michael Keaton may as well have phoned in his performance. Dreary, pointless, made little sense, and so bad I very nearly walked out. But no, I stayed until the end & now only wish that I'd walked out.


The Last Broadcast [DVD] [2000]
The Last Broadcast [DVD] [2000]
Dvd ~ David Beard
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £9.01

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to rate and to classify, 3 Sept. 2006
Like many people I came to this film based on the revelation that it pre-dated 'The Blair Witch Project', but didn't get any of the hype or praise. There are many similarities with 'TBWP', but also just about as many differences, so comparisons are obvious, but not particularly helpful.

Is it a horror film? A documentary? A comment on the media and how it can distort our picture of reality? Well, it's a little bit of all three. If you're expecting a conventional horror film then you'll probably be disappointed, though it is a creepy film, one that builds up a tense and spooky atmosphere, assuming you're willing to buy into the central premise. If you're not then it's likely to be a long and boring ordeal for you, but that's true of virtually any film. There's also a shocking twist at the end. You might guess what it is, but that's intentional as the film-makers throw clues in throughout the film. I didn't work it out until the end, though, and I think it made the film work more successfully for me. Again, if you're not getting into the film I expect you'll be spending time trying to guess the ending. My advice would be that you let the film wash over you and let the twist come as a surprise. It will shock you and it's one of the most powerful aspects of the film, the one element that makes it really stand above 'The Blair Witch Project'.

The film's comments on the media are rather clever and it's another element that makes it more interesting than 'TBWP', though some might find this element rather unnecessary and think that it makes the film rather slow and ponderous. It does slow the film down a bit and maybe it's a little heavy-handed, but overall I think it's intelligently done.

Although more intelligent than 95% of horror films, it's also far from a perfect viewing experience. But then I'd take an intelligent horror that tries hard over a dumb, traditional Hollywood horror film anyday.


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