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GlynLuke (York UK)

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Funny Games [DVD] [1997]
Funny Games [DVD] [1997]
Dvd ~ Susanne Lothar
Offered by The World Cinema Store
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A midsummer nightmare, 27 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Funny Games [DVD] [1997] (DVD)
I'd heard quite a bit about this film, and was genuinely nervous about seeing it, given its reputation as a film that's almost unbearable to watch. The latter is true, though as the perverse, relentless story unfolds I found myself mesmerised, needing to know 'what happens'.
Aha! Director Haneke had me hooked, like a gasping fish on his line, reeling me in, letting me flounder a while, reeling me in again...
That the film is playing - toying might be a apter word - with its audience becomes obvious after a short while, with one character winking at us directly, or talking to us as if we're complicit in the appalling, amoral events taking place in the holiday home of Georg and Anna - played perfectly by real-life husband and wife Ulrich Muhe and Susanne Lothar (sadly both having died in their fifties since the 1997 release of the film). Both are quite astonishing in their roles, but so are Arno Frisch and the late Frank Giering as the intruders Peter and Paul, who create polite but lethal havoc in the lives of Georg & Anna and their small son, for no apparent reason.
For no apparent reason...and that's exactly what's so hard to take, among much that's tough to stomach, in a darker than dark kind of nightmarish fairy-tale in which the bad men are very bad indeed, and will blow your house down or eat you for supper with not a moment's hesitation. Fairy-tale? In a way, yes. It's also of course 'a film about violence' - or at least about audience's ways of viewing violence, our blithe acceptance, even approval, of it in so many movies. Cannily, Haneke shows little actual violence, but its implication and its results are all the more disturbing for that.
All four central performances could hardly be bettered - and it's a film that very much depends on credible acting - with Susanne Lothar a standout as the doughty but hopelessly outgunned wife and mother, and Arno Frisch despicably ingratiating as the calmly talkative Paul, a man 99% of viewers will wish to kill within five minutes of his appearance. And there's another uncomfortable idea our devious director is dispassionately happy to put into our minds!
Then there's the teasing scene with the remote...
The DVD extra feature is a useful, illuminating interview with Haneke, an affable chap all things considered.

An important, subversive film that might well haunt you.

Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead [DVD]
Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead [DVD]
Dvd ~ Andy Garcia
Price: £3.89

4.0 out of 5 stars Huge drinks!, 27 Feb. 2015
With a terrific, unusual cast, a superbly crafted screenplay by Scott Rosenberg, and atmospheric direction by Gary Fleder, this latterday film noir is a delight.
Andy Garcia is told by local Denver kingpin Christopher Walken (in his most haunted, cold-eyed mode) to put the frighteners on the fiance of his paedophile son's onetime girl. So Garcia gets together a dubious gang from 'the old days' to carry out what ought to be a simple job.
Guess what? It isn't simple, and a lot goes wrong.
That's it from me for plot. But it's a good plot, with interesting, and often very funny detours along the way.
The whole cast seems entranced by the film they've found themselves in, and appear to be having a ball. the rather underrated Garcia is just great, Christopeher Lloys makes me realise how much I like this veteran actor, Walken chews the scenery as much as only he could from a wheelchair, Treat Williams is perfect as a disturbed wild card, William Forsythe is solid and likable as the family man of the gang, Bill Nunn (as the character Easy Wind) gives great value, Jack Warden is wonderful as a kind of Greek chorus commenting on and explaining the story to buddies in a local cafe, Steve Buscemi (who else!) is suitably minimalist as the drolly named contract killer Mr Shhh, Gabrielle Anwar is mistily romantic as Andy's angelic on-off lover, while Fairuza Balk is brilliant as local messed up punk girl Lucinda.
You'll also find bluesman Buddy Guy in a couple of scenes, and Don Cheadle crops up briefly too.
The varied soundtrack is well chosen - and any film that starts with Tom Waits growling out Jockey Full of Bourbon and ends with Warren Zevon singing the 'title song' is going to have something going for it.
Other reviewers have mentioned Tarantino as an influence, but I didn't get that at all. It looks further back than that, to those dark forties dramas, only with a nineties look and feel. If anything, it's less self-consciously 'cool' than a Tarantino movie. More like the Coen Brothers at their darkest and drollest, I'd say.
Garcia's controlled performance is what anchors the film, but he's helped no end by some of the best in the business, and a script any actor would want to get their chops round.
One to watch more than once - a keeper.

As the man says: huge drinks!

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! [DVD]
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! [DVD]
Dvd ~ Victoria Abril
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £4.16

4.0 out of 5 stars Bonding, 25 Feb. 2015
I've never been so torn by a film.
For about the first hour I felt an intense dislike of both the film and the central male character Ricky played by Antonio Banderas, who comes across as a wholly unsympathetic psychopath, who kidnaps Marina, played by Victoria Abril, in her own home. Both performances are pitch-perfect, Abril offering a subtle and utterly truthful portrayal of an ex-porn star with a bad toothache who's 'going straight', and Banderas alternately loathsome and (as the film progresses) winning as her abductor.
Most of the action, once the kidnap is underway, is confined to Marina's, and also a neighbour's, apartment, in which she is repeatedly tied up, abused by Ricky and, in the second half of this admittedly brave film, won round by his dedication to her, however initially misguided.
Their lovemaking is shown fairly explicitly, and is bracingly realistic - in a way Hollywood rarely even attempts - and the final minutes are audacious and barely credible, which in an odd way is the film's final saving grace.
I can't help but admit that the film, and its initial premise, irritated me beyond measure for a good portion of its running time, but Almodovar is an unlikely safe pair of hands, and ultimately tells a crazily compassionate tale, aided no end by Abril and Banderas, who are both brilliant in this perverse 'comedy'.
It is interesting, to say the least, to imagine, say, Doris Day and Rock Hudson, or Grant and Hepburn, in these same roles. Well, why not?
I'll watch this again, and I would never have said that during this confounding film's first hour or so.
Don't that beat all!

The Poetry of Zen
The Poetry of Zen
by Sam Hamill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.52

5.0 out of 5 stars A gust of spring wind, 24 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Poetry of Zen (Paperback)
From Basho to Buson, Tu Fu to Li Po, taking in Chinese and Japanese poets, haiku and other forms of verse, nature poetry, philosophical musings, zen koans, and much else besides, this is one of the most beautiful little books I know.
It really is small too, and is a semi-hardcover edition, which renders it more durable.
It's compiled and translated by two Americans and is published by the excellent Shambhala, whose books are always lovingly put together and good to own.
There are introductions to each section, and the format of this jewel of a book makes it easy and pleasing to browse. It would be a fine addition to pocket or bag, to dip into any time.
The title gives plenty of leeway to include poems which are not necessarily strictly of the zen tradition, but burn with its spirit. Some of these are of a sad or melancholy character, such as this timeless poem by Saigyo from the 12th century:

This loneliness is
not simply the result
of autumn colors -
even mountain evergreens make
me feel like autumn evening

Some are deceptively simple yet, like ripples on a lake, meanings reach out into infinity, as in this single brief example by the 17th century poet Soin:

Settling, white dew
does not discriminate,
each drop its home

This is a very lovely book, and a rare one too, in that its presentation is as considered and near-perfect as its contents.
Here's a humorous one courtesy of Buson:

With no underrobes
bare butt suddenly exposed -
a gust of spring wind

We've all been there...

The Gilded Palace Of Sin & Burrito Deluxe
The Gilded Palace Of Sin & Burrito Deluxe
Price: £9.14

3.0 out of 5 stars Gilded but tarnished by time, 21 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
To my mind - and I do realise I'm in a minority among country-rock lovers - Gram Parsons is one of the most overrated singers of the past fifty years. A great songwriter but as a singer, though he had his moments, particularly on tortured ballads or in duet with Emmylou Harris, he consistently sang slightly flat, and too often on these admittedly classic tracks (well, some of them, anyway) sounds disengaged - which, by all accounts he was, at least by the time of the second of the two LPs presented on this useful disc.
There are still some essential tracks, mainly on the first record, The Gilded Palace of Sin. However, even here I think Gram & the Burritos' versions of the Penn/Oldham songs Do Right Woman and Dark End of the Street aren't a patch on other attempts by singers such as James Carr, Percy Sledge, Aretha, Etta James or Ry Cooder.
Hot Burrito #1 (aka I'm Your Toy) is a beautiful number, and Gram's voice does his own song justice, though it's a close thing: what others hear as a vulnerable, broken baritone I hear as a fallible, barely-in-tune vocal instrument missing a string or two. Sorry to Gram's devoted fans, but I really have tried. His two albums under his own name are much better and more cohesive, with Emmylou adding to the overall musicality.
There are to my mind better records from the period, for example by the Dillards, Poco, NRPS, and of course GP's onetime cohorts The Byrds. These tracks too often sound shoddy, with GP's haunted, lonesome voice over-indulged by both the band and the man himself. He was a great and influential talent, and a much missed one, but this Burrito compilation doesn't show him at his best.
You may not agree with me, and many won't, but know that I write 'more in sorrow than in anger'.

Little Love Letters
Little Love Letters
Offered by beaches_music_canada
Price: £3.60

5.0 out of 5 stars Love letter to Carlene, 20 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Little Love Letters (Audio CD)
I love this album. It's as spunky, powerful, upfront and musically sparkling as most records by Carlene Carter, Johnny Cash & June Carter's only daughter, half-sister of Roseanne Cash.
Wastin' Time With You and Unbreakable Heart are just two highlights from a wonderful set of rockin' country songs, with the occasional ballad, such as the evocative and beautifully sung Long Hard Fall or the heartrending The Rain, thrown in for (very) good measure.
Carlene is one of the raunchiest singers I know of. No Nanci Griffith sweetness for her, her voice is closer in spirit and sound to someone like Loretta Lynn or Iris DeMent, and all the better for it. She sounds like a real woman, and then some.
There isn't a bad track on this 1993 record, she's backed by some of the best in the business, the booklet has lots of photos, full lyrics and track listings, and the whole shebang is a disc I play as often as possible.
CC wrote or co-wrote all these songs, and I can only sit back in awe and wonder at the lady's talents.

This is a terrific country album, by one of the very best.

The Best Of Tony Joe White Featuring "Polk Salad Annie"
The Best Of Tony Joe White Featuring "Polk Salad Annie"
Price: £8.60

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A rainy night in a Georgia swamp with Polk Salad Annie & Old Man Willis, 20 Feb. 2015
This is the swampiest music since someone handed a mic to Catfish Cody & Mudskipper Slim and told them to get on with it.
Tony Joe White seems to have been around since records began, so I was surprised to read in the excellent (if tantalisingly brief) booklet notes that his first US hit, the signature song Polk Salad Annie, didn't happen till July 1969. (His first actual hit was in France, where in 1968 they mysteriously latched onto the throwaway track Soul Francisco, proving there's no telling what the French will take to their hearts.)
Polk Salad Annie was recorded in a so-so version by Elvis, who also covered I've Got a Thing About You Baby, both included here in their pristine original versions by Tony Joe.
Some of the best songs here are the later ones, where the backing isn't quite so intrusive - his early record company and producers obviously didn't trust him to sell records without a generic country-soul accompaniment - though the playing on all tracks is of a high order, especially Tony Joe's own sinuous guitar.
One of the finest ever covers of any song is Brook Benton's aching, deep-voiced Rainy Night in Georgia, an early TJW composition, but the man himself sings it on this generous 70-minute 20-track compilation with almost the same gravely ominous quality.
Other highlights are The Train I'm On, If I Ever Saw a Good Thing, the haunting Takin' the Midnight Train, the funky-happy I've Got a Thing About You Baby, the lovely Did Somebody Make a Fool Out of You, the even lovelier For Ol' Times Sake, and the enjoyably Polk Salad-y Old Man Willis.
Tony Joe White - the Swamp Fox himself - was and is a good-lookin' devil, with the most laidback voice under heaven. He didn't really need so many musicians around him on many of these tracks, but most of the time the stark simplicity of the songs themselves shines through.
I was amazed to find just how many albums TJW has made, still going strong. This 1993 comp takes matters only up to 1973, with several tracks from the excellent LP Homemade Ice Cream. (Bet that tastes good.)
I'm giving this four well-deserved stars, but might add another when its grown on me, to the extent that I couldn't live without its downhome, swampy charms, which I think just might happen.
If you like Guy Clark, Steve Earle, and other 'real' country singer-songwriters, then Tony Joe should be right up your alley.

Hoverin' by my suitcase
Tryin' to find a warm place
To spend the night
A heavy rain a-fallin'
Seems I hear your voice callin'
It's alright
A rainy night in Georgia...
Believe it's rainin' all over the world

Lonesome On'ry & Mean
Lonesome On'ry & Mean

5.0 out of 5 stars Stars in the Southern sky, 20 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Lonesome On'ry & Mean (Audio CD)
There are stars in the Southern sky
Southward as you go
There is moonlight and moss in the trees
Down the Seven Bridges Road

It was covered by Eagles, but the original and best version of Seven Bridges Road is track 10 on this stunning 78-minute compilation of 22 songs taken from the various, mostly sadly obscure, albums by Georgia-born Steve Young.
This guy sings with so much passion, such intense commitment, that you feel quite exhausted after listening to him - spent but happy.

Now I have loved you like a baby
And like some lonesome child
And I have loved you in a tame way
And I have loved you wild

A swampy, sweaty Southern peon called Magnolias opens this disc in sturdy style, and things don't really let up till the last track, the appropriately cathartic and expansive Dreamer.
On the way, there is a decent version of Dylan's This Wheel's On Fire, a couple of choice Hank Williams ballads, the great soul number That's How Strong My Love Is (a sixties Stones cover), and the country classic Honky Tonk Man - along with fifteen songs by Young himself, which are the heart of this collection.
Highlights for me are the yearning Holler in the Swamp, vintage Young at his most intense, the agonised Kenny's Song, Hank's My Sweet Love Ain't Around and Ramblin' Man, and the song that gives its name to this comp, the superb - and superbly titled - Lonesome On'ry and Mean - as well as all the other tracks! There really isn't a dud among them.
Rock, Salt and Nails is a langorous take on the Utah Philips song, a typically powerful rendition by Steve of a song powered by its and Young's sense of presence and truth.

Sometimes there's a part of me
Has to turn from here and go
Running like a child from these warm stars
Down the Seven Bridges Road

You get an impressive booklet, with extensive notes by Keith Glass, various photos of the on'ry but personable Young from different stages of his career, along with full track listings and discography to boot. This is an exemplary compilation, and if only others were as carefully and sensitively presented.
I've had this CD since its release in 1994, and it's always been, and still is, one of the first I'd rush to save from the proverbial fire. He's no orthodox country singer, for one thing he doesn't have a particularly 'country' voice, but he's one of country music's least glossy, most impassioned singers, with a shining back catalogue most might envy. Shining with Southern sweat, I've no doubt.
Steve Young: music best-kept secret. Time's long overdue to let this cat out of the bag.

There are stars in the Southern sky
An' if ever you decide you should go
There is a taste of thyme, sweet honey
Down the Seven Bridges Road

The Real... Nina Simone
The Real... Nina Simone
Price: £8.12

3.0 out of 5 stars Ain't got no..., 19 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Real... Nina Simone (Audio CD)
The first track on this mildly perverse, yet eclectic bonanza of Nina Simone songs from her incredible career is her live version of her 1968 #2 UK hit Ain't Got No/I Got Life, which brightened the charts no end back then. Except it isn't. It's live alright, but it isn't the same version we all know and love. Alarm bells rang, and kept on ringing.
Other tracks on this 53-track 3-CD compilation (no notes, only track listings, but nicely packaged) are not always the ones we're used to, which is a crying shame, as Nina's muse wasn't always on top form. Some of the live selections, though good to hear, are tracks I'll skip most times I play this. On CD3 for example is an Aretha Franklin song called Save Me, recorded live in 1969, which is a muddy mess. It's followed, however, by The Other Woman from what seems to be the same gig, and it's riveting.
So much here is vintage Nina, particularly the better known songs on CD1 such as In The Dark, the rollicking Go To Hell, John D. Loudermilk's marvellous Turn Me On (a highlight of any Simone comp), Do What You Gotta Do, It Be's That Way Sometimes, and My Man's Gone Now. Trouble is, even here they're not necessarily the best versions. It's very frustrating, since this could have been SO good. As it is, it's a curate's egg, a slightly missed opportunity.
There are some good Dylan covers, such as Just Like a Woman, I Shall Be Released, and Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, as well as her own Nobody's Fault But Mine, a lousy version of Jonathan King's so-so 60s hit Everyone's Gone to the Moon, and apathetic versions of Pete Seeger's Byrds hit Turn Turn Turn, George Harrison's Here Comes the Sun, and a pointless West Wind.
By the way, those who require any NS comp to include the seemingly inevitable My Baby Just Cares For Me will be disappointed. I was relieved, as I've always found it hackneyed and even irritating.
So many other, better songs might have been included, such her lovely version of Randy Newman's Baltimore from a later LP...much of what is here is top-flight Nina, but too much, alas, is cobbled together by compilers who don't grasp what a Nina Simone fan wants from a compilation so apparently comprehensive as this one pretends to be. I'd say two-thirds of it is tremendous - as Nina herself was, one of the greatest artists of my lifetime - but the rest can, in the lady's own words, go to hell.
I'd still recommend this as a pretty good 'starter pack' for anyone new to this great singer and pianist, but for diehard fans, it simply won't do.
The bargain-price single-CD simply called Released is a good place to start, and the impeccable Nina Simone's Finest Hour is a CD that should adorn every sentient human being's collection.
Or simply collect the albums themselves...

Two Highways
Two Highways
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars On heaven's bright shore, 18 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Two Highways (Audio CD)
Alison Krauss, she of the clear, immaculate voice, was still in her late teens when she made this first album with Union Station (whose line-up would change over the years). She was already an eloquent singer and fiddle player, and this 39-minute record proves to be a compelling mix of uptempo numbers and ballads - and oh, the ballads! - with plenty of bluegrass along with a little (thankfully not too much) gospel, as in the enjoyable Heaven's Bright Shore.
The quartet are joined by Jerry Douglas and Brent Truitt on dobro and mandolin on some tracks. Jeff White sings solo occasionally to good effect, as well as with Alison.
If you want to hear a wonderful country-bluegrass band in embryo with a superb singer gloriously fully formed, then this is where it all started. Ms Krauss would go on to win more Grammy awards than any other artist (one of them as producer!) and you can hear why. She and her impeccable band exude professionalism, warmth, integrity and that timeless something extra.
They even do a rip-roaring version of Gregg Allmann's Midnight Rider to close this very fine disc.

You'd be crazy to miss it. Lovely, lovely music.

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