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Legal Vampire (Buckinghamshire, England)

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Pretty Little Liars - Season 3 (Exclusive to Amazon.co.uk) [DVD] [2014]
Pretty Little Liars - Season 3 (Exclusive to Amazon.co.uk) [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Troian Bellisario
Price: £11.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I know you won't tell what I said, `cause 2 can keep a secret if 1 of them is dead, 30 Oct. 2014
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I don't know how the people involved in making this wonderful series manage to keep everything both the same and yet different from year to year. All the things good about Seasons 1 and 2 are still there in Season 3, yet it is still new, interesting and sometimes moving. The few reviewers who disagree possibly watched this Season too soon after the end of Season 2; you must take a break or it becomes too much.

As ever, enigmas are solved only to reveal more mysteries behind them; a mid-season revelation of who else is working for "A" is quite a shock. The 'extras' include alternative versions of that scene in each of which a different character is revealed as `A's agent; I do not know if these were filmed because the writers had not yet decided who it would be or (more likely) to keep people guessing if contradictory rumours escaped from the production prior to broadcast.

As this series has now been approved in the States for an eventual total of 7 Seasons to be made, I hope they can continue to keep up the same high standard of characters, acting, ingenuity of plot and even the girls' fashions and backing music. (I especially like the extended excerpt from Lana Del Rey's `Ride' in Spencer's love scene in the last episode, but I can't tell you who Spencer has the love scene with, following Toby's disappearance, without giving away too much of the plot!)

I also hope the mystery makes sense when the last parts of it are presumably revealed in the final season!

Great credit to I. Marlene King, of whose career I know nothing except that she devised and runs this television show. I assume credit also due to Sarah Shepherd for writing the books on which it is based, although I confess I have not read them yet.

As ever, the regular cast are both good and reassuringly stable; most of the same actors and characters from the first season are still there, including the four girls of course. I have always liked especially Lucy Hale as Aria Montgomery and Troian Ambrosiano as Spencer Hastings, but this season increasingly like Ashley Benson as Hanna Marin as well. I really hope Pretty Little Liars hangs on to the same talented cast in future Seasons, and hope we shall see more of the cast members in other good programmes and films in future.

Of their parents, the mothers make more impression than the fathers. I especially like Laura Leighton as Mrs Marin (Hannah's mother) and Holly Marie Coombs as Mrs Montgomery (Aria's mother). Keagan Allen as Toby continues to be good among the boys.

If you want to be pedantic I am sure you could sit down and list quite a few things about the plot that considered objectively are improbable, including, as often in American television, a cast of supposed high school students played by actors and actresses mostly in their mid or late twenties. However, to be pedantic about realism in a work of fiction is to `let daylight in upon magic'; so don't, just enjoy this programme.


Their Eyes Were Watching God (Region 2) (import)
Their Eyes Were Watching God (Region 2) (import)
Dvd ~ Halle Berry
Offered by ____THE_BEST_ON_DVD____
Price: £8.94

3.0 out of 5 stars three stars, 29 Oct. 2014
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Some other reviewers here clearly love this film. I can only give my personal reaction, which is that it has interest but is not essential viewing.

It is about a black woman living in the USA in the early 20th Century, played by Halle Berry, over about 20 years of her life, through two marriages, widowhood and one unmarried relationship.

The unusual title comes from the fact that her character likes serenely floating on her back in a lake looking up at the sky, and when asked what she is doing replies "Watching God". Nothing wrong with that, although it is probably meant to convey some more profound message than I can discern.

I increasingly think Halle Berry has an abundance of that real but hard to define thing `star quality', but only middling ability as an actress, except occasionally when the character and story especially inspire her, as in Face of An Angel aka Introducing Dorothy Dandridge [DVD] [1999] and Monster's Ball [DVD] [2002].

Halle B's character is supposed to age in the course of this film from her teens to about 40, but looks much the same throughout, which may be a failure by the make-up department. This is confusing at the beginning when it is not immediately clear that we have jumped between scenes over 20 years apart.

The other characters are almost entirely black people. Indeed, much of the film takes place in what is described as having been founded as the USA's first `black town' (I do not know if there actually were such things). I think this is because the makers wanted this to be a film about black people but not about relations between blacks and whites, so wanted both the wealthy and prominent citizen characters and the poorer and lowlier characters all to be black.

With hindsight, I am not certain I would go out of my way buy this as a DVD or Blu Ray but I would watch it if it happened to be on television, hence three stars.


Trapped [DVD]
Trapped [DVD]
Dvd ~ Kevin Bacon
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A perfectly good film to see, but not a `must see', 28 Oct. 2014
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This review is from: Trapped [DVD] (DVD)
A perfectly good film to see, but not a `must see'.

It is about an elaborate plot to kidnap for ransom of the little daughter of a successful doctor who has patented a lucrative new treatment. The plot involves the child, her father and her mother each being held separately by one of the kidnappers so none of them can alert the authorities while the parents authorise payment of the ransom. For much of the film we therefore switch from scene to scene between 3 odd couples each of a family member and the gang member guarding them.

The writer and Director attached great importance to the kidnappers' arrangement that the one guarding the kidnapped girl is under orders to kill her unless one of the others rings him every 30 minutes to confirm they are still in control of the situation. That should add tension and urgency but somehow does not

Of greater interest is how as the hours tick by each captive gets to know their captor. A different kind of relationship develops in each case.

There are interesting performances from especially Charlize Theron (she seems always to give a good performance) as the kidnapped girl's mother, from Courtney Love as the only woman among the criminals and from Pruitt Taylor Vince (although he lacks the looks to be a Hollywood Heartthrob) as the gang member guarding the little girl herself.

Near the end of the film the sequences in which the pilot of a light aircraft has at considerable risk to switch off the engine and let the plane glide silently so as not to be heard are unusual and stay in the memory.

Likewise the scene in which Charlize Theron cunningly conceals a weapon in her black underwear.

While I do not particularly enjoy watching Kevin Bacon's performance as the ruthless leader of the kidnappers he is I am sure skilful in acting the role.

The Director's and Writer's commentaries included are both interesting, and there is a 'Making of' featurette including short interviews with most of the main cast, in which Charlize Theron says she was interested to play the role of the mother because it is so different from her actual life, in which she has never had children.

So, quite a few positive things to say about this film. My only significant `but' is not that there is anything wrong with it, just that, despite some high points, overall, at least for me, it fails to rise above the `perfectly good film to see' category, not a `must see'.


Jesus of Nazareth [DVD] [1977]
Jesus of Nazareth [DVD] [1977]
Dvd ~ Robert Powell
Price: £4.50

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Has lost whatever magic it once had, 26 Oct. 2014
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'Lew Grade Presents a Franco Zeffirrelli Production 'Jesus of Nazareth'', starring nearly everyone famous from Robert Powell and Ian Holm to Laurence Olivier, James Mason and Peter Ustinov (young persons reading this who don't know who Lew Grade, Laurence Olivier, James Mason or Peter Ustinov were -or these days even Jesus of Nazareth??- believe me, they were famous in their day.

When this series was on television in the 1970s it was a smash hit with critics and public alike and shown around the world. Girls at my then secondary school who were not otherwise particularly religious admitted crying at the scene where Jesus dies.

So it should have been good.

For some reason I missed most of it at the time and only realised afterwards what a success it had been so many years later ordered a DVD to find out what I had missed.

Sorry to say it, but to me whatever magic this series may once have had is lost. I cannot help wondering if some of the 5 star reviews here are based on people's memories of the impression this series made on them all those years ago rather than an appraisal of how it holds up now.

Yes, I understand that this is a shortened version of the original, which included some controversial scenes adding things to Jesus' life not recorded in the Gospels. However, from what I have seen I would not want this to be even longer than it is.

What is left is frankly a fairly conventional portrayal of Jesus' life, its style looking back to what had already been done before in the Cecil B De Mille-type Biblical epics of the 1950s, ending, in this edited DVD, with James Mason as Joseph of Arimathea staring at Christ's empty tomb and saying with unconvincing portentiousness 'This is how it begins. This is how it all begins'. The music was probably good once, but the sound quality of the recording has deteriorated

Jesus of Nazareth has none of the fresh impact of say Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ [DVD] (which is interesting, although not for the faint hearted, because of its realistic stress on the cruelty and violence of execution by crucifixion.)


Veep: The Complete Season One [DVD] [2013]
Veep: The Complete Season One [DVD] [2013]
Dvd ~ Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Price: £6.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, clever, lively, cynical comedy, probably closer to reality than we would like to think, 14 Oct. 2014
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Enjoyable, clever, lively, cynical comedy about an imaginary woman Vice President of the USA and her staff.

Good cast. I especially like sweet little Anna Chlumsky (she pronounces it 'Chumsky') as Amy, with her wonderfully expressive facial expressions and body postures.

Are politics & government really like this? Speaking as an ex-Whitehall Civil Servant (some years ago) who had slight exposure to government ministers, I would guess the answer is 'yes and no', but it is probably closer to reality than we would like to think.

Only 8 episodes this season but a lot of extras, mostly well worth watching especially, the 'Chung' episode 'Apology' scene and the episode commentaries, with the show's Scottish-Italian creator Armando Iannucci and the main cast members. These are mostly great fun to listen to, and sound as though the cast enjoyed recording them too, although there may be slightly too many commentaries (12 in total).

(The next Season, Season 2, has lost a little of its freshness and making it had perhaps become a little more just a regular job for the cast, but it is still good.)


Oroonoko, the Rover and Other Works (Penguin Classics)
Oroonoko, the Rover and Other Works (Penguin Classics)
by Aphra Behn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very mixed interest but Oroonoko is a gem, 9 Oct. 2014
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The controversial late seventeenth century writer Aphra Benn was one of the first women in history to earn a living by her pen. In Oroonoko (a gem, included here) and other 'novellas' (as we would now call them) she was one of the inventors of the English novel, before Richardson, Fielding, Defoe and Swift.

In 'the Widow Ranter' (also included here) she wrote the first play ever to be set in North America.

She also wrote much else including some more standard Restoration period tales, poems and plays probably suited to their time but for many modern readers less exciting.

Popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, her work referred too frankly to sex for the nineteenth century and fell into obscurity (although those looking for titillation or pornography would do better elsewhere!). In recent times, with changing mores, as well as a feminist interest in early women writers, Aphra Benn came back into fashion in literature courses, although she is still little known to the general public.

But surely more important than any of that, for most readers, is how enjoyable her work is to read! On that basis, I can only give this collection 3 Stars overall but 5 Stars to Oroonoko (read it if you can in some form even if you do not buy this collection).

Oroonoko is the story of a African Prince, a tragic hero, taken across the sea to be a lowly plantation slave in Surinam in South America, then briefly an English colony (although later captured by the Dutch). There, Oronooko leads an attempted mass escape of slaves, until doomed by the odds against him and his followers' failure of courage. This work is as lively and interesting as Robinson Crusoe or Gulliver's Travels but with more love interest, and is just as much a novel in everything except its length and the fact that the term 'novel' had not yet been invented. (The word 'Novel', originally simply meaning 'something new', was later applied to this form of literature because people realised it was different from the kind of tales written previously, and they had no other word for it.)

Aphra Benn draws no explicit moral about slavery. We should not assume she anticipated later opposition to the institution of slavery, although I think it possible that she did. She tells us without explicit moral judgment that her hero Oroonoko, when a war leader in Africa, had himself sold captured enemies into slavery, which I suppose is arguably slightly more humane than the obvious alternative of killing them.

The authoress as a believer in aristocracy (although not of noble birth herself) may have been less concerned with general questions of race or the rights and wrongs of slavery as an institution as with her hero's naturally noble character. However, her readers then and now must have been struck by the injustice of an African man kept in slavery although his courage, dignity and intelligence exceeded those of his white masters.

I would give the 'Widow Ranter' 3 or 4 stars. Set in colonial Virginia, it is a lively if somewhat unsubtle and overlong farce, with elements of tragedy towards the end. The hero Bacon, who leads a rebellion against the corrupt and cowardly local authorities, is another tragic hero whose nobility of spirit is contrasted with the mean and squalid 'types' he must contend with (many of the other characters are literally 'types', being given names such as 'Timorous' or 'Whimsy', like personifications of vices in Pilgrim's Progress or Medieval 'Mystery' plays).

I have not yet read the other play included in this collection 'The Rover'.

Much of the rest of this book I would only give 2 or even 1 stars. But do read Oroonoko.

***

So far as the modern revival of interest in Aphra Benn as an outspoken an early woman writer is linked to feminism, then, if it is not too presumptuous to try to judge what someone 300 years ago would make of modern ideas, I think she would agree with quite a lot of the ideas of modern feminism and racial equality, in their less dogmatic forms, but scarcely at all with modern political correctness.

She wanted men to be 'gentlemanly', but to her 'gentlemanly' should definitely include being 'manly' as well as being 'gentle'.

In politics (British party politics began during her lifetime) Aphra Benn was a Tory, the more traditional party, rather than a Whig.


Breaking Bad - Season 1 [DVD]
Breaking Bad - Season 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Bryan Cranston
Offered by filmrollen
Price: £4.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Very well made and original. Nice to see a subject like chemistry made potentially cool, 28 Aug. 2014
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Very well made, original series that maintains its standards in subsequent seasons.

Nice to see a subject like chemistry being made potentially cool.

Breaking Bad tells the story of Walter White who we first see as a High School Chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who once had greater ambitions as an industrial research chemist co-founding his own company, until he lost that chance by quarrelling with his then business partner.

When Walter is diagnosed with a fatal illness, knowing he has not made enough money as a teacher to provide adequately for his family after his death, using his ordinary, respectable job as a cover, he decides to use his scientific skills to make money fast and dangerously. He does so by secretly manufacturing the illegal drug crystal methamphetamine to an exceptionally high quality and purity compared to those previously offered by local drug dealers.

Aided by his former pupil, the volatile Jesse, played by Aaron Paul, Walter becomes drawn into a world previously foreign to him of drug dealing networks, money laundering and murderous drug barons, with whom he learns to co-operate and then compete, and shows he has a ruthless streak himself.

You might think Walter's original motive of making money to provide for his family after he is gone comes close to excusing what he does, yet the strains of leading a secret life threaten to break up his marriage and family. His need for money is also partly due to being too proud to ask his former business partner for help.

This means that although this programme is sufficiently well made that we can become involved enough to actually want Walter and his side-kick Jesse not to be caught, Walter is never fully likeable. The makers of this series intended it that way, as they, rightly, do not want us to go away thinking that supplying illegal drugs is a `cool' career choice. However, this also creates the one major weakness of `Breaking Bad' as entertainment: we can be interested in the central character and what he does, but we cannot really like him.

Hence, although Breaking Bad has won many awards, is interesting to watch and I recommend it, compared to another very good and original US crime related series of recent years that also has with a morally ambiguous hero, Dexter, while Breaking Bad may on balance be just slightly the better of 2 very good programmes for acting, directing and script writing, Dexter is just slightly more enjoyable to watch. If you can, watch both Breaking Bad and Dexter; but if you only see one, I personally would go for Dexter: Complete Season 1 [DVD].


Dexter: Complete Season 1 [DVD]
Dexter: Complete Season 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Michael C. Hall
Price: £10.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easier to Like than Breaking Bad, 28 Aug. 2014
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If I describe this excellent series it will sound worse than it is so please do not be put off from trying it.

Dexter, a forensic `blood splatter analyst' for the Miami Police, is a secret `controlled sociopath'.

A sociopath is a person with a currently untreatable mental condition whereby they have no conscience, remorse or sympathy to restrain selfish, destructive or violent impulses.

It is of course easy for someone like that to become a criminal and many do.

However, many others, the controlled sociopaths like Dexter, while realising they are different, learn to live mostly unnoticed among us, mimicking our behaviour so as not to stand out. Such people are restrained in their conduct not by any solid sense of morality or sympathy for others, but by learning that life is easier if they work within society's laws and morality; or at least, to seem to do so enough not to be caught.

In Dexter's case his adoptive father, a policeman, recognised early on that Dexter was a sociopath, but instead of disowning him taught him to direct his more violent and destructive impulses in a way that is, arguably, better both for Dexter and for society than if he had become a straight criminal. By night he secretly tracks down and eliminates murderers, rapists and such like he encounters in his day job as a scientist with the Miami Police Department who are clearly guilty but who cannot be convicted under the law with all its procedural safeguards.

I know that probably sounds terrible, but, as I have said, it will sound worse than it is so please do not be put off from trying Dexter. You may well find you like him; indeed while you might not expect to like a serial killer, Dexter is actually easier to like than the hero of `Breaking Bad' with which this series is often compared.

Particularly good among the cast are Julie Benz as Dexter's shy and vulnerable girlfriend (here playing a very different character from her other best known role as Darla the vampire in Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Angel) and Jennifer Carpenter as Dexter's policewoman sister Debra [wrong spelling of the name in my opinion but let that pass]. Both are attached to Dexter but neither knows about his darker, secret life. Like many sociopaths, knowing most people could not take the truth about him, hiding in plain sight has become second nature to Dexter.

Anyone who becomes interested in the subject of controlled sociopaths may want to check out Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding In Plain Sight by ME Thomas (a pseudonym) and her blog socipathworld.com. She is a former assistant professor of law who is a diagnosed controlled sociopath herself. She said that this first Season of Dexter while not quite 100% accurate is was so close she suspected there was a sociopath among the script writers (she suggested if one of the writers had a CV that looked 'too perfect' it would probably be them). She thought later Seasons became somewhat less accurate as a portrayal of a sociopath but that it was still a good programme.

The novel on which this series is based, Jeff Lindsay's 'Darkly Dreaming Dexter' is also really good.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 3, 2014 5:44 PM BST


The Jazz Age
The Jazz Age
Price: £11.60

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun even if you are not normally a jazz fan, 28 Aug. 2014
This review is from: The Jazz Age (Audio CD)
Bryan Ferry's pop songs are here turned into traditional style instrumental jazz so skilfully that if you do not know to listen for the tunes of his pop songs you would miss them. Fun even if you are not normally a jazz fan.

Brian does not personally perform on this album and much credit to those who do, but it is still in some sense very much Bryan Ferry's.

By the way, if you find familiar pop songs performed in a different way can revivify them, while it has nothing to do with jazz, let me recommend the unfairly little known 1970s album All This & World War II (if only Amazon revert to offering it for a reasonable price!) in which Bryan Ferry and about 20 other famous singers including Tina Turner, the Bee Gees, Leo Sayer, Helen Reddy and many others perform Beatles songs with an orchestral backing (Bryan performs `Elena Rigby')


Ultraviolence
Ultraviolence
Offered by mrtopseller
Price: £7.35

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If you are not already a Lana del Rey fan, this album will not convert you, 28 Aug. 2014
This review is from: Ultraviolence (Audio CD)
If you are not already a Lana del Rey fan, this album `Ultraviolence' will probably not convert you, so if you are not very familiar with her music but want to know what all the fuss is about you will do better to start with her previous album `Born to Die' or subsequent singles, EPs or videos like `Ride', `Burning Desire', `Young & Beautiful' from the Great Gatsby film or the video of `Chelsea Hotel No 2' on YouTube. These are all usefully collected on LANA DEL REY Greatest Hits/Live at iTunes Festival/Videos CD DVD BOX if you can still buy that. )

This particular album `Ultraviolence' does display most of the good things about her previous work such as intelligent lyrics, good instrumental introductions and the unique sound of Lana's voice when she sings deeper notes; just not as much or enough of these things. Compare `Old Money' from this album with her earlier `Young and Beautiful', which has similarities of theme; while both certainly have an appeal `Young and Beautiful' is obviously better. The same can be said of `F*ck*d My Way Up To the Top' from this album compared to her earlier `Gods and Monsters'.

`Black Beauty' from this album, in which the singer chides her lover for only wanting to see the darkness in everything, is a good song, but would not have been a standout track on her main previous album. Perhaps Lana herself might have paid more attention to the message when making this one!

The title track `Ultraviolence' has a good if short instrumental introduction, but is not her best song. I am not sure what to make of the singer's ambivalent attitude to domestic violence:

`He hit me and it felt like a kiss/ I can hear Sirens, Sirens'

The `Sirens, Sirens' skilfully expresses in just 2 words a lot about what must have happened (we can assume the incident got out of hand, someone called police and possibly an ambulance and there was much noise and commotion). However, the sentiment is worrying, unless Lana is just expressing rather than condoning the ambivalence that, like it or not, a minority of victims of domestic violence may feel. If so, brave of Lana to risk feminist abuse for admitting this. (It is notorious among police and local authority housing officers that many women who complain of domestic violence voluntarily go back to their abusers.)

I am also uncomfortable with the album's title `Ultraviolence', given its meaning in the late Stanley Kubrick's brilliant but disturbing film of 'A Clockwork Orange', which was the first recorded use of the term; fortunately nothing on this album is actually as violent as that.

For those who bought this as a CD, it would have been nice if the little booklet accompanying it had printed the lyrics in full; Lana's lyrics are often good enough to stand as poetry on their own but it is hard to make out all the words just listening to the songs.

I do not want to be too critical of Lana who may have her own problems or bad memories, or her Muse just does not strike consistently. It cannot have helped that while making this album she is supposed to have flown into New York planning to record the song on this album `Brooklyn Baby' in collaboration with the ex-Velvet Underground musician Lou Reed, who is mentioned in the song, only to find that he had died that morning. However, this album is not Lana's best.


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