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League of Extraordinary Gentleman: Century 2009
League of Extraordinary Gentleman: Century 2009
by Alan Moore
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

13 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Okay, Alan, I think we're done., 17 July 2012
There's been a lot in the news recently about Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion and the difference between them, and I got to thinking about this whilst I was reading this book. You see, it reads less as a literary effort and more like an exercise in Copyright Evasion; Century 2009 is limited in the characters it can use due to contemporary copyright issues, and so we get a plot built around a thinly veiled Harry Potter - who as the single biggest British cultural meme of the last decade has become a representation of Britain in the latest and last issue of the series. Few other direct characters from the modern era make it into the background in the way they did in earlier issues, and many of those are anachronistic (Bolly and Gene from Ashes to Ashes? That was set in 1982).

What we have here is a tale in which the magic of Crowley (Haddo) has become the magic of Potter, and it's not what Crowley wanted. It has become less artistic and more aggressive, thoughtless and bestial, and how the League, bested by the aspect of this modern world, are only saved by something a little purer and more noble - personified by Mary Poppins. And that's your lot. It's a slight story - far more so than any previous entry into the series - and one which just feel rushed and angry and dismissive of anything modern, like Alan couldn't wait to get it finished.

I remember the first copy of 2000ad I ever picked had DR and Quinch in it - that anarchic satire of American culture which marked Alan Moore's explosion onto the comic scene. It's fitting therefore that he should end his career with cultural satire, but it's depressing that a style which was once so exuberant should have become so bitter and angry in the intervening decades.

It's a shame that the writer which gave us Watchmen and Swamp Thing and From Hell is now giving us Harry Potter shooting lightning from his kn*b; it's not the work of genius some die-hard fans claim, it's just petty and small. The League has ended with barely a whimper and I suspect the author is now free to go about telling other writers to keep the heck off his lawn, an abjuration he's only to happy to ignore when it suits his own purposes.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 14, 2012 9:36 PM GMT

Fallen Grace
Fallen Grace
by Mary Hooper
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Fallen Grace, 8 May 2012
This review is from: Fallen Grace (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Despite being dubious about adults reading books intended for children (I allow myself an annual re-reading of Emil and the Detectives and that's it), I was pleasantly surprised by Mary Hooper's Fallen Grace. In her sensitive telling of Grace's story, Mary Hooper does not underestimate the intelligence of her young readership, nor patronise them by obscuring the less than pleasant aspects of life experienced by the mid-Victorian poor. Grace's hand-to-mouth existence and her illegitimate pregnancy give her greater integrity as a believable character.

Mary Hooper is particularly good at evoking the smells, colours and sounds of the 19th century and of creating Grace's world with a large degree of authenticity. But she never forgets that she is also writing a book for young adults and the story moves along at a good pace.

I particularly enjoyed the scenes involving the evil Unwin family, who scheme to take from Grace what is rightfully hers.

My only criticism is that it's made obvious fairly early on what has happened to Grace's newborn baby, and while it's interesting to know something that Grace doesn't all the way through the book, I felt that this was a weakness in the long term.

Veet for Men Hair Removal Gel Cream 200 ml
Veet for Men Hair Removal Gel Cream 200 ml
Offered by TK Logistics
Price: £8.99

63 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable., 20 April 2012
Having recently won a role in the adult movie industry, as part of the preparation I needed to engage in some intimate depilation. Might I say this stuff is perfect for the task. As well as removing all hair from my nethers, it also made them turn bright red and swell to almost twice their usual proportions.

The incredible pain also resulted in me screaming like an angry baboon for two solid days.

All-in-all, the director said I was a 'natural' and doubled my fee. Two thumbs up.

John Carter [DVD]
John Carter [DVD]
Dvd ~ Taylor Kitsch
Price: £4.48

109 of 128 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fast, fun and likeable., 18 Mar. 2012
This review is from: John Carter [DVD] (DVD)
What with Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, Hollywood is mad keen to find potential established intellectual properties to turn into movie franchises. Franchises are easy, you see. If people love the first one, they'll go and see the others no matter how rubbish they are (Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean, I'm looking at you) and guaranteed revenue streams are the dream of, well, not just Hollywood executives, but it is definitely their dream as well as everyone elses.

With that in mind, it was sort-of inevitable that Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter series would make their way to the big screen. It is not the original man-travels-to-alien-culture-and-has-an-adventure story in spite of what some might say, but certainly a early and pivotal addition to the genre especially in American culture. Burroughs' stroke of genius with John Cater was to realise that when it was written the British had most of the globe stitched up in terms of travelling to foreign places and showing the natives who was best, and so he transferred the action to outer space. It's an idea that has been mined by James Cameron and George Lucas and many others for the last century and that is, perhaps, the biggest problem the film faces. We've seen it all before. In Avatar, in Dances with wolves, in books like Ursula le Guins The Dispossessed. Most of the reviews I've seen have taken the line that John Carter is kinda samey and unoriginal. Reviews like that are going to put people off seeing it, which I think is unfair because I really rather liked it.
Perhaps because the story is so old, it lacks any pretentions or postmodernism. It's an unapologetic adventure romp as earthman John Carter is whisked off to an adventure on the planet Mars where the yellow sun - sorry low gravity - gives him superpowers, and where he jolly well shows the natives who's best. And perhaps due to the lack of any knowing winks, political subtext or post-colonial guilt, it's a tremendously enjoyable adventure romp. John (the unfortunately named but pleasingly charismatic Taylor Kitsch) leaps about the screen showing baddies what's what and is ably supported by a supporting cast including Dominic West, Ciaran Hinds, James Purefoy, Mark Strong (typecast as a villain, Mark?) and Willem Dafoe who all ham it up with gusto. The design of Mars is great - referencing decades of pictures inspired by Burroughs' work, whilst neatly bringing up to date some of the more dated ideas (like Martians flying round in airships) and rendering the lot seamlessly between CGI, model work and location filming to create a convincing image of a life-bearing by dying mars. The director even takes the time to reference the work of Boris Vallejo in one battle sequence which ends with Carter standing atop of pile of slain enemies. All he really needed was a girl or two clutching his leg and gazing up at him adoringly.

As I sat and munched on my popcorn, one thought just kept popping into my head. Well, actually two thoughts . First that Lynn Collins, who plays Princess of Mars Dejah Thoris, is one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen and where has she been all my life?, and second the repeating thought: "This is what The Phantom Menace should have been like". Phantom Menace failed in two major areas. One, a clunky, exposition-heavy script which led to considerable yawning and bemusement by the audience, and two, a comic sidekick who any normal person wanted to see killed as quickly and painfully as possible. John Carter gets both these things completely right. The script is fast-paced, doesn't pause for breath much or take time for unnecessary exposition and instead of winking at the audience it smiles broadly at you instead. It's like the film is an playful dog, saying "Isn't this fun? Let's play some more!" before launching into some more action-packed intergalactic hi-jinks with an enthusiastic twinkle. Perhaps most impressively, the film contains an amusing comedy sidekick who - get this - you don't want to see dead or maimed and is, in fact, both likeable and amusing.

Wow. Beat that, George Lucas.

So in many ways, the reviews are correct: John Carter is dated, twenty years too late, and filled with ideas that have been done to death.

On the other hand, it's fast, fun, highly likeable, and extremely pretty. It is, like I say, everything the Phantom Menace should have been. The tragedy is that George Lucas is the one who got all the money whilst we're unlikely ever to see the heavily flagged sequel to John Carter.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 22, 2013 2:14 PM GMT

The Woman in Black [DVD]
The Woman in Black [DVD]
Dvd ~ Daniel Radcliffe
Offered by streetsahead
Price: £2.75

7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some solid and genuine scares., 21 Feb. 2012
This review is from: The Woman in Black [DVD] (DVD)
You know, when your Edwardian spine-chiller film starts with a scene of Daniel Radcliffe telling a four year old boy "You look just like your mother", my immediate reaction is "I bloody well hope not", and it really wrecks suspension of disbelief. Just saying.

Anyway, that aside, the Woman in Black. The plot centres around Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), a burned-out young London lawyer being sent to settle the estate of the recently-dead owner of a large and rambling country house. This house sits on a Cornish island just off the coast of a village high in the Yorkshire dales which is populated by people with a selection of West Country and Liverpudlian accents, so the geography was slightly confusing but I decided that it was all taking place in the county of Movieshire and after that I didn't mind so much.
Predictably enough, the villagers are surly and unfriendly in the way villagers in horror films always are, and try to put Kipps off going to the spooky old house without ever doing the sensible thing of either a) telling him why he shouldn't go, or b) just resorting to outright threats of physical violence. Instead they glower and say things like "Eeee, tha' mun' go t' spooky old 'ouse, guv squire chim-chim-cheroo" in their curious mishmash of accents, so off Kipps goes where he awakens the spook which lives there.

This spook (the ghost of a suicide many years previously) hangs about the place wearing all black and screaming "I shall never forgive you" a lot - rather like at least one of my ex-girlfriends - and murders local children with gleeful abandon. Such gleeful abandon, in fact, that for a while the film stops being an adaption of The Woman in Black and turns into The Gashlycrumb Tinies - The Motion Picture.
Indeed, as I watched, I became utterly convinced that Jane Goldman - who adapted the book for the screen - was deliberately referencing the Gashlycrumb Tinies. One child perishes in a fire, one swallows lye, others drown in a bog, are swept out to sea and are squashed flat by a train. The similarities are so great as to be unmissable once you've seen them - especially one late shot of the morbid black-clad ghost surrounded by the ghosts of children which is, compositionally, a direct lift from the cover of the Tinies.

However, despite my mockery, there's a lot of the film to like. It plays its cards well and is a very effective chiller, especially for an extended sequence in the middle where Kipps spends the night in the haunted house. I honestly can't remember the last time I was in the cinema where the film made some members of the audience scream out loud, and it happened twice when I saw it. At another point (the scene at the window, if you've seen it), the girl behind me jumped so hard she threw popcorn all over my head, which simultaneously demonstrated the effectiveness of the scares on offer whilst giving me a free snack. So two good things in one, there. There are a number of very well constructed jumps to be had if you're in the mood for them. Radcliffe uses his three emotions (Confusion, Concern and Earnestness) to their utmost effect and is moderately convincing as the lead and even the ending resists the trap of a climactic clash-of-the-CGI-titans fight which films often fall into (such as the otherwise excellent Silent Hill film).

In all, it's not a great or a classic film, but it does what it sets out to do very well indeed. I fact, I just have one major question. What happens to the dog? It just vanishes halfway through. Answers in comments, please.

*Edit* Actually, no, I have another question: It's Edwardian England, and there's a ghost in the spooky old house. Where the heckers is the vicar?
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 19, 2012 11:26 AM GMT

HealthAid Osteoflex Cream - Glucosamine & Chondroitin - 100ml
HealthAid Osteoflex Cream - Glucosamine & Chondroitin - 100ml
Price: £8.53

4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty Good, 18 Nov. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I work out a lot and so tend to end up with aching muscles a lot too. I usually use Deep Heat, but this came up and I thought I'd give it a go.

In short - it's a good as deep heat, but significantly less greasy and the skin seems to absorb it better. I'd use it again.

Cross My Palm
Cross My Palm
by Sara Stockbridge
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Passes the time, but doesn't engage., 4 Nov. 2011
This review is from: Cross My Palm (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is the first novel by Sara Stockbridge that I have read. I knew her name, but only in her guise as Vivienne Westwood's muse. If you're looking for something of the same calibre as `The Crimson Petal and the White', or `Possession', this isn't it; but it's not intended to be. This book is a slight affair that keeps you turning the pages, but doesn't engage on an emotional level.

Instead, `Cross My Palm' rattles along; taking in the worlds of mid-Victorian clairvoyance, philanthropic ladies and Romani travelers along the way. What I enjoyed most was the lack of a conventional heroine; instead, there is what you could call three anti-heroines. All three are brought low by varying degrees of naivety, trickery, selfishness, law-breaking and, of course, love.

It's their inter-twining stories and, ultimately, fates that keep the reader's interest and the story moving smartly along.

Cave Of Forgotten Dreams [DVD]
Cave Of Forgotten Dreams [DVD]
Dvd ~ Werner Herzog

64 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable, 30 Sept. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
When a group of caving enthusiasts broke through a rockfall into a long-buried complex in 1994, they unexpectedly stumbled on a collection of cave paintings over 30,000 years old which had been preserved against time by their isolation.

The caves remain secret and for the most part sealed; open for only a few days a year to a small number of researchers in order to prevent damage to the paintings, which could be harmed even by a rise in atmospheric CO2 from human breath. However, after years of trying, Werner Herzog was allowed to take a camera crew into the caves for those few days to capture this frankly amazing 3D documentary.

The walls of the caverns are decorated with horses and rhino which look as if they could have been painted last week, and scattered amongst them are smaller, more personal momentoes - someone, tens of thousands of years ago, left his handprint in ochre on the walls throughout the complex, and in the corner of one cave the footprints of a child and a wolf cross the floor together. It's these human reminders in amongst the archeology and geology which Herzog uses to try and cross the vast gulf of time between us and the artists to try to understand who the people were who made the pictures. What did they think or believe the pictures were for? Art alone, or in some way ritualistic? What purpose did the caves serve for these people? Who were they? Were they like us?

The documentary ranges widely through archaeology, prehistorians and geology to try and develop an answer to the questions, but at the end of the day time separates people from each other as much as distance and the people who created the art remain as unknowable to us as if they were on Mars. What we are left with is glimpses of who they might have been and questions as much about who we are, and were we fit into the world, as about them.

Questions you'll find yourself pondering as you watch the silent image of an ancient horse, dancing in the torchlight through an archway of stone.

As much an experience as a film. Remarkable.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 25, 2012 4:28 PM BST

Conan the Barbarian [DVD]
Conan the Barbarian [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jason Momoa
Offered by Shop4World
Price: £2.75

19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Oh well, maybe the next adaptation will do better., 30 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Conan the Barbarian [DVD] (DVD)
"Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Arius there was an age undreamed of, when badly CGI'd kingdoms lay spread across the world..."

And so begins the latest Conan film (or with words something very like them) narrated by Morgan Freeman whose warm and welcoming tones make the introduction sound like the start of a cheery documentary about penguins. Freeman, although an immensely charismatic actor, does not possess a voice which makes me yearn to hear of the days of high adventure. He possesses a voice which makes me fancy sitting back in an armchair and engaging with something heartwarming featuring either picturesque wildlife, Tim Robbins, or both. Getting him to give the opening narration is the first misstep in this film, but by no means the last. To segue straight from Freeman and his associations with fluffy antarctic wildfowl to Conan's birth (via an impromptu caesarian on a battlefield - hence 'born on the battlefield') is a trifle jarring.

Conan, you see, is a Cimmpleton - sorry, Cimmerian - a tribe of Barbarians who in ages past defeated the sorcerors of decadent and evil civilisation and captured the magic mask which gave them necromantic powers. However, rather than destroying said mask they simply broke it into pieces and hid it so nobody could ever wield such power again.

You can see where this is going, can't you?

However, the Cimmpletons plainly couldn't see what might happen next because they needed a prophecy that one day a villain would try to reassamble the mask and use its dark powers to conquer the earth anew to being them up to speed with what the rest of us twigged during Morgan Freeman's heartwarming and sadly penguin-free opening narration.
What follows is fairly familiar from the opening of the Schwarzenegger Conan from thirty years ago; the young Conan sees his tribe and family murdered by a villain (called something like 'Lord Evil', just for the slow on the uptake) and his rogues gallery of henchmen (there are a few references to the 'riddle of steel' in the dialogue to remind us that a better version of this story already exists) who are seeking the pieces of the mask o' evil. The young Conan is dragged off into slavery and generally swears revenge, blah blah blah.

What follows is less of a film and more of a videogame adaptation. The 1980's Schwarzeneggar film had a rousing score by Basil Poledouris (one of the best movie scores of the era, in my opinion) and occasional diversions into Nietzschean philosophy to carry us along, as well as a star-making turn by Arnie himself. Here we have Jason Mamoa as Conan giving it his all (as he clearly sees it as his big chance to break the big time) and a selection of supporting actors hamming it up with gusto, coupled with one of the worst scripts it has ever been my displeasure to encounter.

The ancient land of Hyborea is one of those fantasy lands where deserts, snowy pine forests, jungles, tropical oceans and deciduous woodlands all sit within easy walking distance of one another, and it is dotted with CGI cities which are differentiated by their cultural style - we have the ancient Greek City, the Tibetan Monastery city, the Cambodian Angkor Wat city and so on, none of which appear to influence the culture of any other despite being about five miles apart. Moreover, there doesn't appear to be much sign of farming going on to feed the populations either, but maybe it's only me who worries about that sort of thing.
Conan wanders this land seeking Lord Evil by tracking down his various henchmen in a strictly linear, on-rails plot which will translate perfectly to the Xbox. He travels to a new location, fights a few guards, and then has a boss battle with the next most powerful henchman before acquiring the plot token which will allow him to progress to the woodland zone or whatever. There's even a platform level during which Conan leaps about on scaffolding fighting sand golems. Achievement unlocked there, Conan.

To give you an idea just how all over the place the script is, allow me to outline the final reel. Don't worry about spoilers, because really I couldn't spoil it if I tried.

Conan and his new best friend, a professional thief, have tracked Lord Evil to an Angkor Wat-style city with a recurring skull motif where he is now king. You'd've thought that in seeking a villainous necromancer going by the name of 'Lord Evil', checking out the chap called 'King Evil' who lives in a skull-themed city would have been a great place to start, but it took Conan twenty years (in story time. It just seems like it in film time) to get to this point.
Conan and thief break into the city by entering a cave/sewer where they find a secret door to which the thief just happens to have the key. This secret door opens into a sewer/torture chamber/prison where one of Lord Evil's henchmen hangs out with a pet giant octopus.

I'm just going to digress a moment here. Quite seriously, this guy is just sitting on a throne in a big room with a watery pit in the middle with a hungry giant octopus in it when Conan walks in. Has he no social life? Or hobbies? Is it just coincidence that he is in the room that Conan enters? Or does he spend his life sitting there, doing nothing else? Perhaps so many people use the secret door to which everyone has the key to break into the city that they need someone on constant duty in the Octopus room? Or could it be that the script just said he was there and nobody asked any questions at that critical 'making the film not suck' stage?
In the 'making of' documentaries for the Lord of the Rings films, fight coordinator Bob Shaye says that every fight should tell a story. Well, the story being told by the fight here is 'We need to sell another thousand units of the game adaptation'. Or maybe 'We have no respect for the intelligence of our audience'. Maybe both.

Anyway, digression over.

End of wave villain and pet octopus dispatched, Conan and the thief set off up a flight of stairs which brings them out at the top of the tallest tower in the city. Bidding the thief farewell, Conan sets off walking along the battlements and we cut to him walking along a beach towards a skull-shaped cave on a cliff which is apparently where King Evil hangs out. Why? And how did Conan know? I didn't care by this stage, and nor will you.
Entering Skull Cave, Conan disguises himself as an evil priest (the only people who live in Skull City, it seems. No farmers or merchants or even guards who don't have pet octopi). A fight scene happens round a chasm hundreds of feet deep with a river of lava at the bottom.

Now, should you still be awake at this stage you might start wondering about that. Skull Cave is about fifty foot up a cliff bordering a shallow sea. How does the geology work? You might be even more confused when it turns out that a huge network of tunnels and caves strething hundreds of feet down exists for Conan and King Evil to fight in below Skull Cave. By this stage I was just wondering about the logistical problems of building these without the sea getting in to concern myself with the climatic sequence, but King Evil shouts, the tunnels start collapsing, the villains fall to their doom in the seashore lava chasm, and Conan goes home. The End.

For reasons I don't understand, the words "THAT'S TWO HOURS OF YOUR LIFE YOU WON'T GET BACK" don't appear before the closing titles.

Now, don't get me wrong. There is some stuff to like about this film. Mamoa puts everything he's got into playing Conan, and does so creditably. The design aesthetic is good, especially the costumes worn by King Evil's sorceress daughter. The cinematography is really beautiful, and I reckon the director has a bright future in front of him shooting films run by people who have a clue about all the other, trickier aspects of filmmaking. But that's it. Everything else is pretty much risible. Even the sound mixing sucks, so critical lines of dialogue are drowned out by thumping and instantly forgettable music.

I went in hoping for a remake of Conan the Barbarian, but the film I'd compare it to most is the 1990's big screen adapation of Mortal Kombat, but without the humour. Oh dear.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 18, 2013 9:55 PM BST

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found
How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found
by Doug Richmond
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.25

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does exactly what it says on the cover., 26 Aug. 2011
Having bought a copy of this book, I put it down on the coffee table whilst I went to make a cuppa and when I got back it'd vanished and I haven't seen it since.

Utterly fantastic.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 29, 2013 8:40 PM BST

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