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The Twelve
The Twelve
by Stuart Neville
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A passable enough read, 5 Mar. 2016
This review is from: The Twelve (Paperback)
I bought this after seeing the writer Ben Kane raving about it on his Facebook page. Mr Kane described it as one of the best thrillers he'd read in years. I was less enamoured.

On the plus side it is quite original, mixing the thriller genre with revenge and supernatural stories. The pages fly by. Its description of Belfast is atmospheric, and there is some good writing, 'the smell of mice and mould lingered in [his] nose'. However...

I also found it a bit over the top in places, the dog fight and chapter where O'Kane first appears, for example. There are quite a few clichés, such as the corrupt politician, and words and expressions are lazily repeated - 'rippling aches', 'layered odours' etc. I also thought the book had a nasty edge to it that I didn't like. Normally I'm not bothered by violence or swearing in books/films - but I found both on the wrong side of gratuitous in this novel.

Overall, it just didn't grab me - so a passable enough read, but nothing special in my opinion.

Mad Max: Movies of Apocalyptic Mayhem
Mad Max: Movies of Apocalyptic Mayhem
by Edwin Page
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A word of warning if you're thinking of buying this book!, 11 Jun. 2015
It always pains me to write bad reviews because I know how much effort (and sincerity) people put into their work; however, I want to warn other readers about this book before they consider buying it.

I recently saw the new 'Mad Max’ film and afterwards wanted to read something about the original movies. A quick search on Amazon brought this up and I duly bought it. At the time it had no reviews. As soon as the book arrived I realised it was self-published, especially from the layout – which is still in Word format. I would have been fine with that if the content had been okay... but this is a piece of superficial, fan-criticism not a serious analysis of the films. Reading it is like listening to the views of some not-particularly-well-informed bloke down the pub.

For a start it’s lacking in any research beyond what you could find from a few clicks on the internet. There’s certainly zero primary research. The author criticises IMDB but comparing the trivia there and the contents of the book, it’s obvious he’s visited it for much of his information. There are also assertions that the slightest bit of digging would undermine. For example, the author recounts the oft told story of how Mel Gibson got the part of Max, then dismisses it as 'erroneous’. And yet on Youtube you can find a clip of Mel Gibson on 'Aspel’ (a British chat show from the 80s) where he recounts the same story himself! OK, there might still be an element of mythologizing, but the fact it comes from Gibson’s own mouth adds credence. Another search of Youtube would have brought up several interviews with Vernon Wells in which he explains how his ‘pillion partner’ in 'Mad Max 2’ is actually an adopted son, not lover (which is how the author describes him), thus mirroring the Max/Feral kid story. Wells recounts how a scene was cut from the film that explains this backstory. I’m sorry to say, but Edwin Page has just not done his homework.

The material is also thin. Although it’s a 240 page book, part of its size is because of the large Word formatting and line spacing. There are also two extended but dire pieces of fan fiction that add very little. And the final chapter, about 'Fury Road’, was written before the film came out, so is mostly speculation/conjecture from the trailers. This leaves 120 pages about the films themselves, and this mostly consists of retelling the plot with only limited analysis. For example we are told that Brian May’s music 'adds to the mood of the film, underscores the visual content’. Er... isn’t that what all scores are supposed to do? There’s no examination of why/how the score works. And the author makes no comment about the implications of Maurice Jarre scoring the third film. The 120 pages on the original trilogy also include lots of repetition. One example that really grated was the constant reminder that 'MM2’ was released as 'The Road Warrior’ in the States.

The book could also do with a thorough copy edit. Spelling and syntax errors abound e.g. 'blonde man’, 'money’ instead of 'monkey’ and my favourite about 'Thunderdome’: 'a bugger budget’... I can only assume 'bigger’ was meant! And talking of the third film, why throughout the text does the author refer to 'Thunder Dome’ [two words] when the actual title of the film has it as one? There are also silly mistakes such as calling OPEC OAPEC!

I could go on, but you get my point. If you know nothing about the original films you might just find this an interesting overview (though Wiki will give you as much in a shorter space and for free). If you know the films and are hoping for some insight, considered criticism or unexpected stories about the making/history of them – as you get in BFI guides or Laurent Bouzereau’s work – you will be sorely disappointed.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 5, 2015 2:33 AM BST

The Trinity Six
The Trinity Six
by Charles Cumming
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what I was expecting..., 14 Aug. 2013
This review is from: The Trinity Six (Paperback)
Given the critical acclaim Charles Cumming has received, including notices from writers of the calibre of William Boyd and Robert Harris, not to mention the comparisons with le Carre I was expecting a lot from this book. Alas I found it rather a disappointment. I thought I was going to read a serious spy novel - instead it's a bit of a caper. The title is also misleading, as the Trinity Six are more a leap board to the bulk of the narrative rather than the subject of it.

On the plus side it was very readable, with some great twists and turns and plenty which kept me guessing. That said, the plotting is often weak (relying on that soap opera trope of people withholding information) or convenient - Gaddis's visit to the toilet during the bar scene in Vienna, for example.

Other elements that disappointed included the rather pedestrian writing (with more than a sprinkling of cliché), dialogue that is weighed down by action beats, and a rather sexist attitude towards women (I couldn't work out if this was intentional/ironic). The depiction of MI6 was more on the James Bond rather than on the realistic side.

[Spoilers.] Before I finished the book I would have been generous and given it 4 stars as it kept me turning the pages but the ending was particularly unsatisfactory. Russia's fearsome security services are neutralised with ease; the relatives of everyone who has died are paid off (which shows a disquieting commercialisation of the value of life) and on the final page we get the cliché of it all starting over again. I found it twee.

Like I said I was expecting le Carre - but as another reviewer has pointed out, this is more like an upmarket Jeffery Archer novel. Perhaps I opened the book with too many overhyped expectations but sorry to say this didn't work for me.

Monty Don's French Gardens [DVD]
Monty Don's French Gardens [DVD]
Dvd ~ Monty Don
Price: £11.50

15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 13 July 2013
Before I write anything else I want to state I'm a great fan of Monty Don, both his writing and broadcasting. However, this series was a disappointment in comparison to Monty Don's Italian Gardens [DVD] and especially Around The World In 80 Gardens : Complete BBC Series [DVD].

The biggest problem is that it's a confused series. Is it about the gardens of France? Or is it a memoir piece with Monty reflecting on his youth in France and revisiting places he'd been to as a student? Long sections about art and cooking etc only confuse this further. I watched the programme to learn about gardens, not Mr Don's views on Cezanne or to watch him eat a lemon tart. Another example of this 'filler' is the scene where he orders coffee and tells us how he needs to drink it to get going in the morning. This series isn't focused on its core raison d'Ítre (if you'll excuse my French!) - ie the gardens of France. That's why I was so disappointed.

Perhaps the problem is with the misleading title. There's just not enough material about gardening and horticulture to justify it. If it had been billed as the lifestyle piece it is, one encompassing art appreciate and food with gardening as just one of several strands, possibly I would have felt less cheated.

To that end the accompanying book is more honest in its description of itself; the first lines of the blurb are: "this is not a book about French gardens. It is the story of a man travelling round France visiting a few selected French gardens on the way". Which is what the TV series is.

This hasn't put me off Monty Don, and I'll definitely continue to watch him. Viewers looking for a pleasant enough amble around France in the company of one of our best broadcasters will probably still enjoy the series. But, if like me, you were looking for a more focused examination of French gardens, both historically and today, you may well be disappointed. 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3.

The Great Silence [DVD] [1968]
The Great Silence [DVD] [1968]
Dvd ~ Klaus Kinski
Offered by Discs4all
Price: £19.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Left me cold, 18 Jun. 2013
The Great Silence is often cited as one of the best Italian westerns but personally it left me rather cold (pun unintended). Although it shares the amorality and violence of the films shot in southern Spain this is the only spaghetti western (to the best of my knowledge) set in the mountain states of America though actually filmed in the Veneto region of northern Italy. This gives it a unique snow setting, the landscapes of which are beautifully captured. Equally visually exciting is the look of Klaus Kinski's bounty hunter complete with cowl.

But visuals aren't enough! I found the characters unengaging, the plot too plodding. Various strands of it - such as the outlaws hiding in the mountains - aren't developed sufficiently. Even Morricone's well praised score doesn't work for me. Everything feels dated here.

[Slight spoilers.] However, the film is rescued by its closing moments. They are genuinely unexpected and shocking. They don't bestow classic status on the film but they will sear it into your mind.

"Lawrence of Arabia" (BFI Film Classics)
"Lawrence of Arabia" (BFI Film Classics)
by Kevin Jackson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good overview of a classic, 16 Jan. 2013
I read the introduction to this BFI guide and nearly gave up. It's full of the most pretentious prose you can imagine e.g. 'There is a comparable (perhaps kindred) quality of the recondite about the film's unique brilliance - not hard to evoke, almost impossible to explain'. One for Pseud's Corner I think!

However, I did persevere and am glad I did as once the book settles down it is much better. Fans of the film and/or those who know a lot about its making probably won't find a great deal of original material here (though I never knew was that Nic Roeg worked as the 2nd unit director) and from Chapter 5 onwards it all becomes a bit bitty.

Nevertheless, this is an impressive overview of the historical background of the Arab uprising; attempts to get Lawrence's story on screen; the actual making of Lean's classic; and its legacy. To that end, especially if you're coming new to the film, I would recommend it. There are also some excellent stills and a comprehensive biography, though I'm surprised the latter doesn't mentioned Natasha Fraser's biography of Spiegel.

My Best Fiend [1999]
My Best Fiend [1999]
Dvd ~ Klaus Kinski

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poses & Paraphernalia, 25 Jun. 2012
This review is from: My Best Fiend [1999] (DVD)
The volatile relationship between Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog is the stuff of movie legend. This documentary dispenses with the myth and instead tries to draw a more nuanced picture. Yes, there were apocalyptic rows between the two men but there was also a deep, profound friendship; an understanding between two people that is rare.

Kinski emerges as a more complex character that his mad man persona allows with a warm, even shy persona. The interview with Claudia Cardinale is particularly revealing. Meanwhile Herzog's analysis of Kinski is measured and multi-faceted. I've heard it said that this documentary was Herzog's revenge on Kinski - but that's an interpretation I find hard to credit.

If you're expecting a traditional, cradle-to-grave biopic you may be disappointed. This is more idiosyncratic film mostly pivoting around the making of Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo (though the two men's other collaborations do appear). It is also as much about Herzog himself as it is his best fiend. The result is profound and moving.

A Journey
A Journey
by Tony Blair
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £25.00

14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Review of Audio Version, 15 May 2012
This review is from: A Journey (Audio CD)
The very first thing I want to make clear about this review is that it's not party political or a judgement on Blair himself. Reading other one-star reviews I can see people are bringing that to the table. I am not. I was never a great fan of Blair or the new Labour project, then again I was a dedicated detractor either. Which leads me on to the CD itself...

Once a month I have to make a long drive and in recent years have found a decent audio book makes the journey pass faster. Whatever you think of Blair he's certainly the most fascinating and influential politician of recent years so I was intrigued to hear his story. Alas after just two CDs I had to give up.

The prose is turgid, what should be a compelling story utterly dull. Worst of all though is Blair's delivery. Monotone doesn't adequately describe it. How such a gifted orator, a man who could capture huge crowds has managed to make his voice so dull, so unappealing is a mystery. More than once I felt myself drifting off - not a good idea on the M1!

Perhaps in book form it's better but as a CD this bored me to tears. Those looking for a more engaging account of the Labour Years, might try The Third Man: Life at the Heart of New Labour, a much more satisfying and entertaining listen.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 8, 2013 6:03 PM GMT

My Name Is Nobody [DVD]
My Name Is Nobody [DVD]
Dvd ~ Terence Hill

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One for aficionados..., 30 April 2012
This review is from: My Name Is Nobody [DVD] (DVD)
If you're a fan of Leone's Eastwood/Dollars westerns and watch this expecting more of the same, a word of warning. Although a spaghetti western, one produced and partly directed by Leone, this comes from the end of the cycle of Italian westerns. It was also made after the critical mauling Leone received over Once upon a Time in the West. As if to soothe his critics he seems to be saying that he doesn't take the genre that seriously either and is keen to send it up. The result is eccentric at best.

Leone's early films have a keenly defined aesthetic - both on screen and in their general mood. It's their cynicism, amorality and menace that make them so engrossing. Here, the tone is whimsical instead (a fact reinforced by one of Morricone's more unusual and self-referential scores). Gone are the gypsy physiognomies: in their place, fresh faced boys.

Perhaps the biggest difference is with comedy. Leone's original trilogy was often raucously funny, drawing on the comedy dell' arte, but here the humour is plain juvenile. And there's a lot of it. In fact I've seen this film described as a comedy. It may have made 70s audiences laugh, but if failed to illicit much mirth in me. The comedy is also usually in the form of sketches - the whisky shoot out in the salon (filmed by Leone himself), the bizarre urinal scene. Rather than being integrated into the plot, they stop it dead. The result is, in my opinion, on the wrong side of indulgent. When these are combined with some of the better moments - such as the wonderful riding shots of the Wild Bunch in White Sands - one feels this is a film with no unity of purpose.

Having said all that, there are some gems hidden away here: the stilt walker, the Sam Peckinpah joke, the sound design of the opening sequence. The film is also constantly visually inventive.

It's also worth noting that although we know Leone wrote the script and actually filmed large sections of it, ultimately it's Tonino Valeri who's listed as director, so perhaps I'm being a little unfair making such an explicit connection with Leone's earlier work.

One for aficionados rather than general viewers, I think.

The Sea Wolves (Region 2 import) David Niven, Gregory Peck, Roger Moore
The Sea Wolves (Region 2 import) David Niven, Gregory Peck, Roger Moore
Offered by GREAT4DVD
Price: £8.75

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I remember seeing The Sea Wolves at the cinema..., 13 April 2012
Take half the cast and crew of The Wild Geese, add a handful of big name actors in their twilight years, set the action during WW2, modify the title on a theme... and you have The Sea Wolves. But whereas The Wild Geese managed to be great fun despite its shortcomings, Sea Wolves is a big disappointment.

The level of the film is exposed in the opening minutes with a terrible, exposition-laden dialogue scene between Peck and Niven. That sets the general tone and the film struggles to rise above it for the rest of its (overly-long) running time. The whole first act is superfluous - it could have been done away with in a few more lines of that exposition-dialogue. The romance equally so: it's difficult to see what it adds to the overall structure of the plot beyond a few dismal twists and allowing Moore to do his usual charmer/Bond routine. Of course, in films like this the audience is waiting for the mission at the end to turn explosive... but when it finally does creak into action it's all very static and dated. There's also no sense of time or place, apart from a few very obvious markers. It could have been set in the 70s rather than 40s. I thought the costumes were particularly guilty of this.

I remember seeing The Sea Wolves at the cinema and rather enjoying it. I suspect the world has moved on a lot since then! Good for a rainy Sunday afternoon, maybe, but don't' expect too much.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 8, 2012 2:05 AM BST

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