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Godzilla [Blu-ray] [2014] [Region Free]
Godzilla [Blu-ray] [2014] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Price: £10.00

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Roar or Bore?, 22 Nov 2014
I really, really wanted to like this film but there's no getting behind how average it is. I suppose like many others I got duped by the teaser trailer that came out before the film's release which focused on some portentous dialogue delivered by Bryan Cranston over scenes of carnage. This trailer seemed to deliver two false messages about the film - one, that Bryan Cranston would feature prominently in the film; and two - that Godzilla would be delivering lots of carnage and destruction. Suffice to say, both of these things play little role in Gareth Edward's 2014 remake.

The film does have many positives as well as negatives. I liked how this Godzilla looks more like the original Toho Films version from Japan in comparison to the Emmerich/Devlin version of 1998. I also liked how the director holds back from the action every now and then. The film would have been dull if it was just two hours of monster mayhem.

Unfortunately though this film pulls too far in the other direction. There is far too much focus on the dull human characters and their trials and tribulations. Focusing on the human drama rather than the monster can work well in films like Spielberg's Jaws, when the characters themselves are dynamic and interesting, and there is chemistry between the actors.
Sadly I didn't care much for Aaron Taylor-Johnson's soldier and bomb disposal expert - Ford Brody. A large chunk of the film follows his attempts to get back home to his wife and son in San Francisco, but we rarely get to see them interacting with each other - perhaps ten minutes at best - and so there's no reason to care about them. It doesn't help that the dialogue is rather forgettable and that Ford and the others are all one dimensional.

The rest of the human-centred scenes focus on that old favourite trope of the 1950's B-movie - scenes of scientists and military personnel discussing the monster in portentous dialogue while looking at maps, screens and graphs; like in the 1953 film version of the War of the Worlds. The only thing that's missing are scenes of the US President speaking with his advisors. These scenes help raise the tension somewhat, but they drag on and there is far too much of them.

After more than two hours of these scenes we finally get to the big monster fight at the end... and it's disappointing. Every single scene with Godzilla in the entire movie only adds up to around seven minutes - and most of those are shots of his foot, leg, arm, or back; or blurry footage seen on TV news screens in the background. I suppose the director put these in to raise the tension before the big reveal but they don't make much sense as we all know what Godzilla looks like anyway. He's a 60 year old cultural icon - we don't need to be teased as if he's some unknown creature like Cloverfield! I mean he even features prominently on the DVD/Blu-Ray cover.

The final battle lasts around five minutes and it's impossible to make out what's going on. The fighting takes place in pitch black with lots of smoke and dust whirling around - so I honestly couldn't figure out what was happening. I read afterwards that this or that happened in the battle - but I can't confirm anything as I might as well have watched this part with the sound on and the visuals off. I couldn't even tell you how Godzilla disposes with one of the key enemies of the film.

After having to wade through two hours of dull scene-setting for an anti-climax, I can say that this film has failed to live up to the hype. It feels like what it actually is - an origin movie in a film franchise, rather than a good stand alone title. I half expected the end credits to roll up with 'Godzilla will return in Godzilla 2: King Ghidorah's Vengeance'. I sincerely hope the sequels will pick up steam.

Overall, Godzilla is a hit and miss. It has some memorable scenes such as his arrival in Hawaii, and some good performances from Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe. Overall though it feels too much like a compromise between the original 1954 version, some of the old Toho Monster battle sequels, and the 1998 American remake rather than a truly original take on the much loved 'King of the Monsters'.

Pompey (Command)
Pompey (Command)
by Nic Fields
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.36

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnus or Carnifex?, 15 May 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Pompey (Command) (Paperback)
Pompey will always play second fiddle to his one time friend - and later rival - Julius Caesar. Having been on the losing side of the Civil War, Pompey's earlier career tends to be overlooked as nothing more than a prelude to Caesar's ultimate glory. So does Pompey deserve title conferred on him by Sulla of 'Magnus' the Great?

Nic Fields does a great job with the material on offer. Trying to condense the life of a towering figure like Pompey into 40+ pages is no mean feat, but Dr. Fields succeeds admirably. He analyses the whole of Pompey's career, from his early years as the 'Teenage butcher' of Sulla's regime to the Civil War era. Most of the emphasis though is on his campaigns in Spain against Quintus Sertorius, the Roman general turned rebel, as well as his famous 'blitzkrieging' of the Mediterranean pirates. Attention is also paid to his Eastern campaigns, from his stealing the victory against Mithridates from Lucullus (something he also did to Crassus during the famous Third Servile War) and his short siege of Jerusalem.

Along the way, Dr. Field's discusses the subject of what makes a good general, with frequent references to the work of the famous Napoleonic era military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz; and whether Pompey fits the criteria. Was he really a great commander or just an egotistical monster with a knack for taking the limelight? Has Pompey's reputation being tarnished by his loss at the hands of Caesar, and does his career deserve a re-evaluation?

The book is a joy to read, and shows how far Dr.Field's prose has come since the rather dry 'Roman Civil Wars: 88-31 BC' (2008). The book also contains a few great colour plates courtesy of Peter Dennis, along with the usual photographs, diagrams and maps that come with Osprey titles. All in all this an excellent short introduction to this fascinating figure of the late Roman Republi. Highly Recommended

Assassin's Creed III (Exclusive Edition)[PS3]
Assassin's Creed III (Exclusive Edition)[PS3]
Price: £14.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Parkouring the Shark, 5 Jan 2013
= Fun:2.0 out of 5 stars 
When thinking about Assassin's Creed 3 that familiar idiom pops into my mind - 'jumping the shark'. For movies you have Indiana Jones's 'nuking the fridge', but for video games I know of no equivalent. One thing I have realised is that whenever a succesful franchise approaches the 18th century, the quality begins to decline considerably. Consider the classic PC strategy series 'Age of Empires' or the 'Total War' saga; both had much loved titles set in earlier periods, but when they reached the Revolutionary War period, they produced duds in the form of Age of Empires III and Empire: Total War. Assassin's Creed 3 follows in their ignoble footsteps.

The original Assassin's Creed was a fun if incomplete experience. Feeling more like a Beta version of the real thing, the first Creed showed great potential at least. That potential was fulfilled with the Renaissance era sequel, AC2, and its excellent add-on 'Brotherhood'. Revelations on the other hand was a bit of a let down considering the success of Brotherhood but it was still a good game, albeit being a diluted and directionless re-hash. Because of the disappointment of Revelations I had low expectations for AC3, as I felt the New World setting wasn't as interesting as the Holy Land or Italy. At the very least though, I expected to be entertained by AC3; but even with lowered expectations this game still managed to disappoint.

First off I'd like to point out to fans of the series that Ubisoft have once again gone and changed the controls, and this time it's definitely for the worse. It's incredibly frustrating trying to fight your way across this game, as most of the challenge seems to come from battling the controls rather than the game's antagonists. The controls for AC were never perfect but now they are much worse, lacking the intuitveness of previous titles. As a result the fights lack fluidity, while running or jumping from one place to the next feels clunky. Why on earth have Ubisoft done this? It's like forcing someone to read a book backwards and up side down, even though it's everyone second nature to do it the other way round.

There are other frustrations and failings that other reviewers have mentioned below. These include what feels like an interminable intro that acts like a tutorial (and a very unhelpful one at that) that runs about halfway into the game, which is around 5 to 7 hours long. This intro acts as exposition too, showing the protagonist's background and life story. Unfortunately it's incredibly dull and involves nothing more than carrying out the most trivial tasks such as playing a game of hide and seek as a child, trapping rabbits in the forest, buying items in a shop, or even walking from one place to next. Inbetween these boring quests are a never ending stream of cutscenes. It feels more like an interactive movie rather than a game at some points.

Which brings us to the protagonist himself, Connor. He doesn't make an appearance until several hours into the game, and by then you wish he hadn't. I don't know how but Ubisoft have managed to create a character that lacks even more charisma than the original Creed's Altair Ibn La-Ahad. At least Altair had an air of mystique about him and some quiet dignity at times. Connor doesn't even have those qualities. Despite a good scene earlier on with his mother, Connor fails win to you over enough to care about his journey for vengeance. While you may have rooted for Ezio, I expected to do the same with Connor. Playing as a Native American hunter turned assassin sounded like such an excellent idea on paper, but due to Connor's charmless character, it doesn't work. At least with Connor you now know where Desmond gets his dull personality.

The setting which Connor finds himself in doesn't quite work either. It seems it was chosen to appeal to the American market more than anything else, who are no doubt familiar with the people and places. For most of us though it feels like a let down compared to the majestic sights of Rome and Constantinople. I remember playing the Original AC and being blown away by the sight of Jerusalem at dawn while standing on a windswept cliff. I've had no similar feeling with this game. While Boston itself is beautifully realised, this small foggy town doesn't rival Venice in anyway. The wild 'Frontier' on the other hand no way matches to sights seen in the excellent Red Dead Redemption. Instead it all looks unnatural, is difficult to traverse, and there's not much to see except mountain ranges and rivers. You could hunt in the forest for cash, but it's no way as satisfying as Red Dead, and gets boring very quickly. As a matter of fact I couldn't even be bothered to finish all the tasks asked of me in my first hunt (in order to get 100% Synchronisation), let alone purposefully go out and and do it of my own volition.

The story itself is difficult to follow, and many times I've been left wondering why I'm supposed to do something, why I'm going to this area, or what I'm supposed to do. Characters are introduced and then killed off without reason such as 'Bulldog' Braddock, who seems to be the big villain of the first portion of the game, supposedly for things he has done off screen. The game skips from year to year, month to month and so on, leaving you confused as to how all the events relate to each other. I'm sure Americans have a better idea of what's going on, but unless you are familiar with the Revolutionary War expect to be confused a bit as all the historical references pass by unregistered.

Some additions have been made to the gameplay, but they feel half baked, especially the annoying sections where you have to unlock doors or chests, which once again highlights the poor and fiddly controls, which isn't to mention the frustration had with the unwieldy weapon selection or the menus and map. There other sections in the game such as playing boardgames or collecting flying manuscript pages for Benjamin Franklin that are tedious to play out. In Assassin's Creed 2 and Brotherhood I so enjoyed the mini games and side missions that I actively sought them out, but with this game I lose all interest.

I've been playing the AC franchise every year now for many years, and I've enjoyed them a lot, even if a few missions have left me enraged at times. I so desperately wanted to like this game, and I've been actively forcing myself to play through it, but it has left me so frustrated and annoyed that I feel like giving up. I can't even be bothered finishing Desmond's story even though I've been following it for the four previous games. It feels as if Ubisoft has churned this out unfinished as the missions feel uninspired, the characters lifeless and flat and the game riddled with bugs, glitches, and errors. I've even had several screen freezes. This is simply unacceptable for such a high budget release, and it's a terrible shame to see the series end on such a low note.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 19, 2013 3:29 PM GMT

The Golden Age of Roman Britain
The Golden Age of Roman Britain
by Guy de la Bedoyere
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Golden Age, 1 Dec 2012
The Third and Fourth Centuries AD have long been seen as a period of decline in Roman Britain; an era that saw the rebellious province breakaway from the grasp of Rome to form its own 'British Empire' under Carausius. This has at least been the common image of the era, popularised by the novels of Rosemary Sutcliff, and many see it as little more than a dull interlude between the conquests of the first century AD and the dawn of the Anglo-Saxon age. English archaeologist and Romano-British expert Guy de la Bedoyere argues otherwise. He sees a rich and fascinating era, exemplified with the flourishing villas built in the south of the country, with their finely decorated walls and mosaics and their even richer occupants. A famous example of this wealth can be seen in the Hoxne hoard at the British Museum. He presents a good case at explaining why this was the golden age, although it's flawed in that Bedoyere concentrates on the south of the country - from Pevensey to Caerleon - which is where the richest towns and villas were centered. The heavily militarised north doesn't feature that much in this account.

The lack of the written sources for this era (in comparison to the first century) means that this is an archaeology heavy book. Bedoyere analyses the remains of towns and villas of the era, as well as dwellings in the countryside, although he does translate some of the latin inscriptions that have been found all over the country. Because of this intense archaeological focus, the book can be dry at times, but the information contained within makes up for it. The most interesting chapters in my opinion were on the secessionist Gallic and British Empires, especially the era under Carausius and his usurper, Allectus; and how the Britons were then 'liberated' by Constantius Chlorus.

The book is well written, although it's showing its age by now, having being written in the nineties. As a result some would argue that Bedoyere's book is a bit dated, but I think it still stands up well to more recent popular efforts such as UnRoman Britain. If you can bypass some of the academic tone of the book you will find a great and eye-opening guide to this much neglected era. If you want a more accessible and modern guide to the whole of Roman Britain, then Bedoyere's Roman Britain: A New History (2006) would make a good alternative.

Contents (Chapters & Appendices) -

1. Introduction, 2. The Carausian Revolt, 3. Restoration of the Eternal Light, 4. Town, 5. Country, 6. The Pagan Revival, 7. Art and Culture in the villas, 8. Conspiracies and reconstruction, 9. Treasure hoards at the end, Chronology, Visiting the Golden Age, Sources, Inscriptions, Further Reading, Index.

Samurai - Loyalty, Honour and Discipline[DVD]
Samurai - Loyalty, Honour and Discipline[DVD]
Offered by The Canny Store
Price: £9.73

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Way of the Warrior?, 11 Nov 2012
The History Channel's the Samurai is an ok but largely uneven set on these legendary Japanese warriors. This box set contains three discs on which we have three different documentaries of varying degrees of quality and historical accuracy. The first disc contains a relatively recent (2009) documentary on the samurai hosted by martial arts expert and actor, Mark Dacascos, as he follows in the footsteps of the (in)famous Miyamoto Musashi.
This documentary is by far the slickest of the set. Unfortunately it's the weakest in terms of accuracy. Dacascos -who comes across as a nice, cool kind of guy - is a martial artist and not a historian; and as a result his view of the samurai is very much biased and filled with all sorts of inaccuracies. First of all he makes the silly error of referring to multiple samurai as 'samurais', forgetting that the word samurai is both singular and plural. This is only the first of many glaring errors. Some of these mistakes are minor and forgivable things such as mispronouncing simple Japanese words like Edo (which he calls ee-do), getting dates mixed up or incorrect, or misquoting several accounts -he claims that Musashi was behind the famous saying "The way of the warrior is found in death" which is actually attributed to Yamamoto Tsunetomo. Some of the other errors are more serious, such as his claims about Musashi's antics on the battlefield of Sekigahara (historians aren't even sure if he was present at the battle), his claims that Toyotomi Hideyoshi was shogun (he wasn't), that Musashi fought for the Tokugawa at "the Battle of Osaka" (he didn't - he was probably on the opposing side, and it was a siege not a field battle) or his claim that the Tokugawa Shogunate banned the use of guns (they actually had tens of thousands of them) and on and on and on.
Practically everything he says is questionable in one form or another, while his views on Musashi are heavily biased to say the least. Dacascos says that Musashi was the greatest warrior of all time - that's debatable, considering that during his own lifetime he was regarded as a great painter rather than a warrior. He also claims that Musashi invented all forms of sword fighting techniques used by the samurai (that's impossible) and that the samurai were primarily swordsmen (that's incorrect). He also whitewashes Musashi's story by omitting some of his more disagreeable traits. There are many other things wrong with this documentary but it's impossible to go into them all. It's visually arresting though, with great cinematography, some high quality reconstructions, and some nice touches such as the cartoon sequences of Musashi's sword battles. (Runtime - 47 mins)

The second documentary is called 'Warriors: Samurai Showdown' and was aired in 2009. This is a look at the weapons, armour and fighting techniques of the samurai by US Special Forces veteran, Terry Schappert. While this documentary is far superior to the first one, it stills has some troubles. First off, Schappert follows in Dacascos' footsteps by focusing on the story of Miyamoto Musashi, so you'll see a lot of repetition of the anecdotes that you've already heard on the first disc. The sequences where Schappert tests the various weapons of the samurai, from the famous katana to the yari (spear), yumi (bow) and teppo (matchlock arquebus) are interesting to watch, as is his demonstrations of some of the lesser known exotic weapons. In order to perfect the samurai fighting techniques Schappert trains with a great Japanese kendo sensei. The relationship between the two is fascinating to watch, as Schappert is very much in awe of this man, but neither can speak directly to each other as one can only speak English, the other Japanese. Their final exchange on the program is actually rather poignant, as Schappert is deeply moved by the kendo sensei's parting gift.
This is definitely one for the weapons buff, but I must admit I was disappointed that this episode just retraces so much of what was discussed on Dacascos' documentary. (Runtime - 44 mins)

The third and final disc is called 'Ancient Mysteries: Samurai' and was produced way back in 1997. The picture quality is grainy, the visual content is dull (lots of talking head segments with some zooming in on old Ukiyo-E prints) but despite lacking the big budget of the other two documentaries, this is the best in terms of historical content. This episode, unlike the other two, explodes some of the long standing myths about the samurai. As an added bonus Musashi is only mentioned in passing (as an artist, interestingly enough), so instead we get a history of the samurai from 12th century warriors to 20th century pop culture. It's such a shame that there has been a decline in the historical content of History Channel shows since the 1990's. If only we could have had the facts covered in this documentary on Dacascos's shows budget. Unfortunately we have to make do with zooming in and out on static pictures, with added narration. Despite the visual flaws though, this documentary delivers where it counts, by providing some actual facts about life in Feudal Japan. (Runtime - 90 mins)

Overall, this review might sound overly negative but there is a lot of interesting content to be had on these discs. I liked some of the reconstructions, the weapons demonstrations, and several other things. At this low price it's hard to complain, just as long as you don't take all of it seriously though, as it can be very biased, too reverential and not even-headed in its outlook on samurai culture, while the many errors - especially on the first disc - detract from it.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 1, 2013 8:47 PM GMT

Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt
Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt
by Paul Roberts
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.27

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient Portraits, 3 Nov 2012
It's quite an extraordinary experience to look at 2,000 year old paintings and to see familiar faces staring back at you. In this book as Paul Roberts, the author, says " Some (portraits) are so realistic that when you look at them you recognize them as someone familiar to you: a neighbour, a relative, a friend, even a film star". This book was originally designed by the British Museum to accompany their exhibit on these ancient portraits, and at 96 pages long, you can't help but think that this is a tourist souvenir, but there's much more to it than that. It contains 51 illustrations all in all, which display the various mummies recovered from Roman Egypt from places such as Hawara and er-Rubayat; with the portrait placed on one page and description on the other.

The portraits from Hawara are beautiful and evocative, and show a high degree of artistic and technical skill. The ones from er-Rubayat on the other hand seem very rushed and amateurish, but they are still fascinating. Paul Roberts provides the running commentary on each mummy portrait, while he also provides a short descriptive chapter on their discovery and origins by the English Archaeologist Sir William Petrie, some of whose comments are quoted when appropriate. One example would be a portrait of a young woman from Hawara (c.AD 100-120) on pages-44-45 whom Petrie describes as " a charming head of a girl, with an ingenious sparkling expression, yet very modern in appearance, such as one might find in any drawing room nowadays."

This is a charming little book, full of excellent examples of ancient art, that should totally dispel the idea that realistic portraits first appeared during the Italian Renaissance. This book should serve as a fine introduction on the ancient mummy portraits, although a more in-depth book is Susan Walker and Morris Bierbier's excellent 'Ancient Faces: Mummy portraits from Roman Egypt.' Its only flaw is that I wish it was longer!

The Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland and Wales (None) (Celtic Studies Publications)
The Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland and Wales (None) (Celtic Studies Publications)
by John T. Koch
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.95

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Age of Heroes, 4 Oct 2012
This book, compiled by American scholar Dr. John T. Koch of the University of Aberystwyth (Wales) , is a must for anyone interested in the Celts, as well as early Medieval Irish and Welsh history & mythology. As the sub heading suggests, this book is a collection of nearly all known references to the Celts from ancient sources.
Starting with the ancient Gaulish inscriptions - the tablets of Chamalieres and Larzac - Professor Koch shows us some of the earliest written examples of the Celtic languages, which as Koch tells us is "...Speaking very impressionistically...more like Greek or Latin than like latter-day Irish or Welsh." These two short tablets make fascinating reading, and they provide some small insight into the religious mind of the Gauls.

Unfortunately there isn't much other examples of written Celtic, and as a result we are entirely reliant on the written sources of the Greeks and Romans. These become the centrepiece of the next section of the book, which lists everything from Hecataeus of Milan's writing on the the Celts in the late 6th century BC, to the poetry of Claudian in c.AD 400. The list is by no means exhaustive - after all, if that were the case then Koch would have had to include the entirety of Caesar's Gallic Wars. They are varied and interesting enough though, covering everything from 'Ancient Celtic Women leaders' to 'The Gauls invasion of Greece'.

The second and by far the largest of all the sections in the book concentrates on Early Ireland. These mostly include the poetry and mythology of the period, such as the Dynastic poems and the famous Ulster Cycle, as well as the Book of Leinster which includes tales of the legendary Cu Chulainn. Many of the sources here are far too large to be included in their entirety, so some tales like the 'Togail Bruidne da Derga' have to be abridged.

The final section deals with the Brittonic sources, of which the majority are Welsh - although two Breton 'foundation legends' are also included. Among the first hand accounts covered is Nennius's Historia Brittonum, the poems of Aneirin, including 'Y Gododdin' , as well as the poems of Taliesin and Llywarch Hen. We also glimpse poetry by anonymous authors, such as Canu Heledd, supposedly written by the sister of King Cynddylan of Pengwern. A shame that the four branches of the Mabinogi are not included, although they might be beyond the scope of the book.

If the book has any weaknesses is that the literature of the Scots, Manx etc are ignored, while some of the sections are strangely ordered- some are in chronological order, others are ordered under themes. This makes finding the relevant information quite frustrating at times, although the index at the book can help in some cases. I would have also have liked that the book had taken a page from the Loeb Classical library, which includes the original text on one page and the translation on the other. Instead we only have the translations (except for the Gaulish inscriptions), although I can understand why the original texts are left out as this would have doubled the size of the book.

The book also includes seven maps of Celtic Europe and early Ireland and Wales (some involving hypothetical placements for the areas mentioned in the text). Overall though, this is a fantastic must have book for any students of the Celts, and my own copy is so well thumbed the spine is starting to fall apart.

A Century of the North Wales Coast
A Century of the North Wales Coast
by Cliff Hayes
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Old North Wales, 25 Sep 2012
This book is a superb collection of photographs of the North Wales coast, and provides a fascinating visual guide to the bygone decades of the twentieth century. The book is divided into several sections starting with the the Castles of North Wales. The author then leads us on to the holy sites of St Winifred, St Margaret and St Asaph; Prestatyn; Rhyl; Colwyn Bay & Rhos on Sea; Llandudno & the Great Orme; Conwy & Bangor; Anglesey; as well as providing sections of photographs on old summer holidays and antique transportation. Although the book has pictures from across the 20th century, the majority of these photographs date back to the first few decades of that century c. 1900-1950.

While the book is worth it just for the photographs alone, unfortunately I found the text lacking. There are many glaring historical errors, as well as other smaller problems. The book starts with a short history of the North Wales coast, which seems sensible, but despite the book being about the 20th century, this section only covers ancient, medieval and Victorian times. As a matter of fact it even stops as we reach the the early 1900's, which is only covered in a single sentence. This section, despite its brevity, is also littered with huge historical errors that even a complete amateur like myself found puzzling. For instance on page 12, the author writes:

"It is said that the early English tribes living in South Lancashire and Cheshire areas moved into North Wales just after the Romans left British shores in the early fifth century. This may have been to get away from the Norse and Viking raiders who were invading via Yorkshire at this time."

This statement is so full of errors it's hard to know where to begin. I don't know of any evidence of English tribes from those areas moving into Wales at this date - although legend has it that Cunedda led an invasion of north Wales from southern Scotland to drive out Irish invaders from Anglesey at this time. It's also unlikely that they were English tribes, considering those areas of Britain still belonged to the 'Welsh'-speaking 'Britons' (the Saxons, ancestors of today's English, would have only just arrived in Kent in the early fifth century). I also doubt these tribes would have moved into North Wales to escape from Viking raiders in the early 400's, considering the earliest Viking raid in Britain took place at Lindisfarne in England in AD 793.

The author also provides a list of famous figures - complete with short biographies - from North Wales. Strangely enough, none of those featured are from the 20th century. One of those featured is 'Owain Glyn Dwy' (Owain Glyndwr) who the author states as being "...not of royal blood..." despite that fact that he was descended from the royal houses of Wales - from Prince Llywelyn of Gwynedd on his mother's side, and from Prince Bleddyn ap Cynfyn of Powys on his father's side.

Many errors like this have made me wary of the accuracy of the captions for the photographs, and I have noticed one mistake (pg.88 - Bangor Cathedral), where the author mentions Bangor being called "Bangor under the woods" (Bangor-Is-Coed in Welsh) in the Dark Ages. While there was indeed a place called 'Bangor under the woods' in the early middle ages, this area is actually in Flintshire - not far from Wrexham - and isn't anywhere near the Bangor in Gwynedd. I'm not very familiar with many of the places found in this book, so there might very well be more errors that local people could point out.

Overall, if you have an interest in old photographs of the north Wales coast then this book is worth having on your shelf. It's just a shame that the errors haven't been edited out despite the 2010 reprint (the book was first published in 2002).

Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire (6 DVD Gift Pack)
Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire (6 DVD Gift Pack)
Offered by The Canny Store
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Roman History for Beginners, 12 Sep 2012
Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire is pretty much a bargain at this price, and should be snatched up by anyone who is curious about Rome's military history. With that in mind I do have reservations about the program's style. First off I should mention the positives. The show basically follows Roman history from the birth of Julius Caesar up until the end of the Western Empire. The single theme that holds the series together is how Rome dealt with military invasion and rebellion, specifically invasion at the hands of Germanic tribes. As a result this is more of a military history than a social or political one. What I particularly like is how the series doesn't take the obvious routes of Roman history documentaries. Most are content to to have an episode about Julius Caesar, Nero, Jesus Christ, Spartacus and all the familiar usual subjects.

This series dares to go beyond the big subjects to deal with the obscure or not well known episodes of Roman history, these include episodes about the Aurelian's wars against Zenobia, Orestes attempts to secure the throne for his teenage son Romulus Augustulus, The Barbarian 'puppet master' Ricimer, Decius's policies against the Christians and so much more. Even when the series treads on familiar territory it still takes a different route. Take for instance the episode about Rome's campaigns in Britain. Most documentaries would go with the obvious and juicy subject of Boudica's rebellion, but this program decides to concentrate on Caratacus and his guerrilla war and Cartimandua's appeasement of Roman rule. Simply put, it's a breath of fresh air to see a Roman history documentary that doesn't deal in the obvious, although this series does still have episodes about Julius Caesar, Spartacus and all the rest.

Now for the bad points. This series doesn't really follow the whole rise of Rome - as a matter of fact, centuries of early Roman history are omitted, and it essentially starts with the age of Gaius Marius, who lived only a few decades before the fall of the Republic. Some major events from earlier Roman history, such as the Punic Wars, the founding of the Republic and the revolution of the Gracchi aren't covered.
If you've read the other reviews you'll notice one of the most common complaints is the visuals. The entire series consists of those poor reconstructions of about 50 blokes running through forests in plastic armour and helmets, whacking each other with foam swords; mixed with some talking head segments by American academics. The reconstructions are typically poor quality and also misleading. They give the false impression that Roman fashion didn't change at all for centuries, while the same scenes are repeated over and over again. For instance the segment about Marius's war against Jugurtha is the same as the fourth century wars against the Sassanid Persians - the only reason they are re-used is because both wars took place in 'desert' like conditions.

Generally speaking the talking head sections aren't bad except for the one historian that's been mentioned in the reviews below several times. Dr. Thomas R. Martin of Holy Cross College. Martin is incredibly enthusiastic about Roman history, and while that's laudable his style begins to grate as the series drags on. He speaks in a thick Southern US accent, gesticulating wildly, with flecks of spit flying from his mouth every now and then. He gets so worked up he occasionally stumbles over his words and often stutters or stammers. This isn't a bad point in itself, but some of his commentary is devoid of historical content or is simply inane. For instance he babbles on about how it might have been to be a Roman soldier smelling the bad breath of a German on your face in battle, or how barbarians were angry, smelly thugs. Despite this he also provides some interesting information.

Beyond the main series you also get two bonus DVDs. These include, Rome: Engineering an Empire, which is a fairly interesting guide to Roman Engineering feats, while the other is an old 1990's show called Ancient Mysteries which is narrated by Leonard Nimoy (of Star Trek fame). This second documentary is a basic look at Roman civilisation, which occasionally mixes fantasy (Aeneas of Troy) with reality. The style is typical of the 90's History Channel, full of zooming in and out on static pictures, with some narration and simple music. Overall it's forgettable.

In General though, this isn't a bad set, especially for such a low price. Those who are new to Roman history will find much that is useful here, while even those Roman enthusiasts might find something new here - although that's debatable. I recommended it for beginners, if you can stomach the constant visual repetition.

Samurai Armor Design
Samurai Armor Design
by PIE Books
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Samurai Armour, 19 May 2012
This review is from: Samurai Armor Design (Paperback)
Samurai Armor Design is a strangely titled book that showcases in full colour photographs some of the famous examples of historical armour pieces from Feudal Japan. I say that the book is strangely titled because, to be honest, it doesn't really explain how Japanese armour was designed at all.

Instead this is a glossy paperback visual guide to the body armour, helmets, and clothing of the samurai. The book is largely in Japanese with some basic, stilted and rather vague English translations, but truth be told this isn't really a book to be read at all. A good 90% of the book is full paged, full colour photographs of samurai items collected from museums and private collections from across Japan. Examples include the helmets, armour, swords and clothing of some of Medieval Japan's greatest samurai including Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Date Masamune, Uesugi Kenshin and more. The book's main emphasis is on the armour from the Sengoku/Momoyama period (16th Century) and the Edo Period (17th-19th centuries). The practical armour from the Kamakura period (12th century) is largely avoided in this book, so fans of early samurai armour will be disappointed.

The book is divided into several sections, Part 1 looks at the equipment of the famous samurai I mentioned above, Part 2 looks at armour from the 16th to 17th centuries, Part 3 on the 'Grotesque' helmets with their elaborate maedate decorations, while part 4 & 5 looks at clothing including the samurai's jinbaori war jackets and their undergarments. The book finishes with a reference guide, although unfortunately it's entirely in Japanese.

Overall this is a spectacular, colourful look at historical suits of armour. The book has that glossy coffee table look, complete with sweet smelling pages, which is quite unusual for what is a rather small handheld paperback. The book is unusually designed though, as the cover seems to be up side down and back to front. Where the book's introduction should be is its index, so essentially your reading it backwards. I don't know if this is an error at the printers or whether most Japanese books are designed this way. Either way, despite making it somewhat awkward to read it's not really that much of a problem.

Overall if you're fascinated by Feudal Japan or Samurai, this book would make an excellent visual guide to these elaborate and exotic works of the blacksmith's art.

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