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Budge Burgess (Troon, Scotland)

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Ex Machina [DVD] [2015]
Ex Machina [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Domhnall Gleeson
Price: £10.00

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A break from hoovering, 2 Jun. 2015
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This review is from: Ex Machina [DVD] [2015] (DVD)
Probably warrants an average rating of 3 stars only because there are some very pretty scenes in it. Hailed as an exploration of the nature of Artificial Intelligence, the storyline is utterly predictable ... and dire. It really does strive to be clever - there are spells of dialogue which sound like a Wikipedia entry explaining some of the philosophical questions about AI. The overall sense is a claustrophobic drama - it's very difficult to actually like or sympathise with any of the characters.
Genius programmer wins competition to spend time with the man who has redefined the nature of technology - his software is the world leader ... in fact, has a near monopoly of the world's operating systems. Genius programmer is to spend a week in an idyllic setting, but he's there for a reason. He's to interact with the entrepreneur's latest 'toy' ... an all-too-human robot. And the action and dialogue are mechanical.
It's dire ... and, despite the usual glowing Amazon reviews, your best guide to this movie is to look at the number being sold as "Used - Like New ... watched once". Watching once is about as much as I could take ... in fact, I took a break midway to make a meal, do some hoovering (the hoovering was more entertaining), and psyche myself up to enduring the second half. Dire, but pretty.

An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth
An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth
by M.K. Gandhi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Want to learn about Gandhi? Don't start here., 16 July 2013
Gandhi described his life as a series of experiments in truth, and his autobiography does take on a serial format - you start at the beginning, you progress to a final chapter. Autobiographies can and do fall into this serial trap - they recount episodes, they do not offer a critical evaluation, do not necessarily give any real or accurate insight into the emergence of the thinking or philosophy of a man as significant in 20th century history as Gandhi.

What is missing from this Autobiography is an historical perspective - siting the man in the India of his childhood, the England of his legal education, the South Africa of his emergence, and back again to the India he would help transform. What is missing is a critical appraisal of Gandhi's development and role.

Instead, we get a mixture of the mundane and the simplistic. He describes his angst at being encouraged to try meat over a one year period by a friend. He is coy about his sexual experiences, embarrassed by his marriage at 13 to a 13 year old girl. He talks about visiting a prostitute, he talks of his horror at scuffing someone's top hat. He portrays a young man completely at sea and addrift from others.

For a man of his time, this is perhaps honest, but it lacks depth of explanation and exploration. It is clawingly coy. You sense he struggles to understand people, to form relationships, you sense that, because of this, he is reluctant to introspect, certainly publicly. He is a man clearly absorbed in his own psyche but - because he lacks insight into others - he has limited perspective. He finds it easier to understand causes and ideas than individuals.

You sense a man who has problems fitting in - he hurries to buy the appropriate Western clothes when he arrives in England. On the one hand he seems desperate to conform, on the other he can be steadfast in his beliefs. He may struggle to fit in, he has no problem standing out. He is pursuing truth, he wants others - particularly in the West - to understand the truth of empire and racism, to get an honest perspective on their role and the hypocrisy of their lifestyles. But still, you just wonder how honest he is with himself.

Clearly, Gandhi has an intellectual and 'spiritual' struggle - he will advocate ascetic, non-materialist principles, but his is a privileged background (although he protests his family was poor). He describes stealing pennies from the servants so he can experiment with cigarettes, he describes accounting for every farthing he spends while studying law. He describes his pursuit of truth - explaining his religion as the pursuit of self-realisation, his deity as the embodiment of 'Truth'. But is this an honest account?

Overall, what you get are edited highlights of an ascetic life. There's an element of rationalising in his account - of smoothing things over so you get a straight line emergence of the man at the end of the book. It's not consciously dishonest, you just suspect it's not entirely honest ... that there are places he'd prefer not to go, or at least prefer to keep to himself.

The writing remains coy - perhaps self-effacing might be a more charitable description. When he describes his thoughts and responses to situations, you do sense he smoothes out the emotions and anguish, delivers a sanitised version of his truth on the matter. You feel you need more background, you need a more critical and clinical evaluation, you need a devil's advocate to get in there and argue with him. The book becomes one dimensional.

As an insight into Gandhi's thinking, perhaps the Autobiography does make some contribution, but, if you'll forgive the pun, you do wish there was more meat to it. If you want to find out about Gandhi and his role in the 20th century, read a biography or two, read up on the histories, come to the man more obliquely than this volume allows. The writing, here, is dated; it is idiosyncratic, it is just a touch quaint, a touch affected. This is a man who would bring iconic, inspirational authority to non-violent protest, a man who would put his freedom and his life on the line for others. The Autobiography seems trite by comparison - seems to lack the passion and energy the man could clearly evoke. An interesting adjunct to your knowledge and understanding once you've read a series of boooks on Gandhi's life and times - just don't start here.

AS/A-Level English Literature: Doctor Faustus Student Text Guide (As/a-Level Student Text Guides)
AS/A-Level English Literature: Doctor Faustus Student Text Guide (As/a-Level Student Text Guides)
by Anne Crow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent set of notes - don't forget to read the play, 17 Mar. 2010
A word of caution needs to be delivered about all study notes - they won't answer the question for you, they won't pass your exams for you. Read the play in conjunction with them, use the notes to stimulate ideas and questions, not to find answers. Good notes should fuel your enthusiasm as well as your knowledge.

With that caveat safely out of the way, what needs to be said about this AS/A level guide? Well, first of all, it does precisely what it says on the label - it's a guide for 6th year studies at secondary school, and may translate into a useful resource for 1st year university. That's the level it's pitched at. The more sophisticated or prestigious your level of study, the more you will need to supplement these notes with more extensive reading and research.

This volume opens with some 40 pages of background notes on Marlowe, his Canterbury, his life and works, the basics of the Elizabethan theatre, a quick introduction to the Renaissance, magic, the Faust legend, and a critical history of the play's staging. All this is clearly laid out, concise, informative - but don't imagine you've acquired really in-depth knowledge of such a vast range of subjects; this is your starter for 10, enough background to give you an intelligent perspective on the significance and place of the play, enough background for you to build solid foundations for further study.

The book now moves on to 13 pages of scene summaries - a useful set of notes to remind you of the overall structure and dynamic of the work, something you can and will refer to if you're studying the play in any depth. Further pages explore the various characters, themes, imagery, and specific aspects of the play, concluding with a glossary of literary terms and concepts. And the book will conclude with a couple of specimen essay questions.

The real substance of these notes may well lie in the 60 or so pages which explore the structure and body of the play. There's certainly enough here, when taken in conjunction with you reading the text at least twice, to stimulate your knowledge and understanding of the work. Getting to grips with an Elizabethan drama can require a bit of archaeological skill - you have to dig for meaning, understand the play at different levels, and garner enough knowledge to be able to step back and see the big picture.

I have to admit, I am no great fan of 'Doctor Faustus'. Study of the text is best achieved in conjunction with a viewing of the play in performance (and, if you're tempted to watch the Burton film, well, it's interesting, but ...). This book certainly helped me get to grips with the play - it was never going to persuade me to love it - and, taken in conjunction with, say, the York Notes guide and a good, annotated text, this will give you a substantial grounding in Marlowe's play, era, and place in literary/theatrical history. It will not, however, pass your exams for you. And I'm sorry, but I have to repeat that.

And that's, perhaps, excuse to flesh out a final word of warning. You are not the only person to read this study guide (or York Notes, etc.), and your examiner will be well aware of the content and arguments of the various guides on the market. Don't expect to simply regurgitate what you find on the pages of this book and get a significant mark. This is a guide - a good guide book can help you find your way round a strange city, but it won't do the walking for you. Use these guides to get a perspective, find your own vision of the play, and feed your own enthusiasm and ideas by further reading. And, no, I can't guarantee you'll enjoy the play, I surely didn't, but there are aspects of it which intrigued me, and these notes helped me find interests and themes which stimulated my awareness. Overall, they provided me with essential background information and a clearer understanding of the text, and I don't suppose you can ask more than that.

HP ScanJet G2410 Flatbed Scanner
HP ScanJet G2410 Flatbed Scanner

57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Definite value for money, 25 Feb. 2010
This is a highly practical and easy to use product - insert CD to load the software, plug in the scanner, connect it to your computer via the USB cable provided and, hey presto, it's up and running in under five minutes (or 15 if, like me, you forget to press the on switch to the rear of the right hand side of the machine): once you realise you need to switch it on, it works like a charm.

Within an afternoon I'd scanned in scores of old photos and uploaded many of them to Facebook and other outlets. Picture quality is excellent, the software to enhance and improve upon colour, brightness, contrast, etc., works simply, and you can readily re-size and re-orientate your photos.

Probably not the fastest scanner on the market - but you could pay an awful lot more money for little in the way of improvement. This is, after all, an exceptionally economical tool (I bought mine purely and simply because I wanted to transfer a load of photo prints to disc, and beyond, and it has proved more than satisfactory on that score).

Drawbacks - the only one I can discover, so far, is that the screen seems to become very greasy when you scan in photos. It's worth keeping a duster on hand and giving the screen a good wipe down before you load the next batch of pictures. I also tried scanning in a picture still in its frame (and thus behind glass) - you can get a bit of glare and reflection from the glass, so better to remove pictures from frames before scanning).

So far I've only scanned photos - I've not tried slides or negatives, etc., but don't foresee any problems with these.

On the plus side, not only extremely economical, but extremely fast delivery - I opted for 'free home delivery' via Amazon when I ordered my machine late on Sunday night ... the machine was delivered Wednesday afternoon. Excellent value, excellent service, and a robust, easy to use and decidedly portable machine (you don't need to keep it permanently on your desk, it plugs in and unplugs rapidly, and will fit in a drawer when not needed). Very definitely very pleased with my purchase.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 16, 2010 8:25 PM BST

CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA by George Bernard Shaw - 1945 - Vivien Leigh - DVD
CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA by George Bernard Shaw - 1945 - Vivien Leigh - DVD
Dvd ~ Claude Rains

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shaw and Tell, 22 Feb. 2010
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The density and sophistication of the dialogue mark this out as a theatrical production transferred to film - there are few breaks in the dialogue, few silences, little scope for special effects or distractions. It's a film to be watched with intense concentration, an actors' and a playwright's film rather than a cinematographic extravaganza.

Regarded as the most expensive film yet made in Britain (1945), it suffered the interruption of German bombing and necessary delays following Vivienne Leigh's miscarriage. It suffered from director Pascal's need for realism - he sent to Egypt for sand to ensure he got the right colour! An epic, yes, but not one which suffers from too much glitz or show. What comes across, vividly, is a sense of scale - you do get the impression of the vastness of Egypt and the scale of empire, and not just a sense that the sets are huge and elaborate. In 1945, the cinema-going audience knew all about the scale of Egypt, the size of the desert, knew the way from Egypt to Italy and beyond - they'd all followed the epic story of the Desert War for years.

The film's dialogue, of course, is Shavian - rich, terse, comedic, intelligent, with just a nod to Shakespeare. You have to listen - the cast deliver their lines at times with machinegun pace, and the wit, social commentary, and morality come at you like sledgehammers. The settings are exotic, some of the costumes a trifle bizarre ... but Leigh looks elegant and regal throughout. And somehow or other, Pascal contrives convincingly naturalistic images and settings.

You have immediate doubts. Claude Rains was a fine actor, but as Caesar? As a man of action, a front line soldier? He wanders across the desert and talks to the Sphinx ... to discover Cleopatra hiding there. Enter Vivienne Leigh, without fanfare or ceremony. And she is entrancing. She appears as the 18 year old Cleopatra, childlike and manipulative in her demeanour.

Leigh is enrapturing, utterly convincing in her performance of a teenager learning to and yearning to become queen, terrified of the Roman arrival, terrified of her responsibilities, yet greedy for power and a chance to get one over on her 10 year old brat of a brother, Ptolemy (who happens also to be her husband, if only in name). She sees the Romans as barbarians, she appreciates that if she is to contend with Caesar, if she is to survive Caesar's arrival, she has to grow in maturity, authority, and wit.

Leigh oozes sophistication, elegance, and a sex appeal which is made more intense because of its understatement. No lavish exposure of flesh, no passionate love making. Just a radiantly beautiful woman with poise and refinement, she glides across the sets dynamically yet with an economy of movement. She enriches every scene in which she appears. And she grows in the part - the youthful queen transforms herself into a monarch.

Shaw characterises Cleopatra, and Leigh plays her as a young woman who must mature early and accept the leadership of her people, even if this means winning the hearts and minds of Roman conquerors. There is no harlot here, no witch, no voluptuous beauty seeking to use men with her bodily attractions. No this is a comparative innocent, caught up in a fast-moving world, a young woman raised to be queen. She has to cultivate her intellect, her political skills, and her sexuality if she is to survive and prosper. This is a woman to be admired.

Cleopatra learns quickly. Besieged for six months, she becomes Caesar's mistress (we assume). The carpet sequence has an entirely different role and meaning in this exploration of Cleopatra - and it gives Stewart Grainger the opportunity to steal the scene, maybe steel the scene, and display his athleticism. Leigh does not flaunt herself emerging from the carpet, rather she is demurely revealed, a confident and assertive young woman who can yet defer to her land's conqueror. She does not flirt with men, she acts as herself. She will become Caesar's pupil more than his mistress. She will learn to be a politician, to be a leader, to be ruthless and determined.

Leigh makes the transition physically - her posture, her movements, her expression, her voice change as she grows from teenage girl into mature queen. Innocent child becomes scheming murderess. She has strength, she has resilience, she has courage, she has intelligence, she has cunning.

And, again, the drama is intense, the dialogue rich and compelling. It's a film which must be watched as a play, a film which demands the audience's concentration and involvement.

Rains, meanwhile, grows in the role. He appears pale and effete in the opening shots, but he will emerge as a man with commanding presence and authority. The film will end with his departure for Rome. Leigh makes a final entrance ... alone, dressed in mourning, without finery or entourage or fanfare, but astonishingly regal and elegant. It's a riveting 'entrance'. And Caesar's farewell gift? He promises to send her Mark Anthony.

No love scenes, no hint that Cleopatra is carrying his child, no prospect of her entering Rome, no hint that she is hated in Rome. History is sacrificed to the demands of the drama. But maybe Cleopatra is spared the taunt of whore and witch, of manipulator of men and user of empires.

If the only version of 'Cleopatra' you've ever seen is the Burton / Taylor extravaganza, then this is essential viewing. Leigh and Shaw demonstrate what can be done with the role - they demonstrate that this is a role which requires genius and sophistication, that it is not simply a glossy, exotic vehicle for a Hollywood star but a part which requires exploration by an extraordinary writer and actress.

The extras provided with the film are superficial - a few potted biographies, some still shots, the film's trailer, and a little appreciation of the quality of the restoration. Picture and sound quality are excellent throughout, even if some of the colours are a tad too intense. But Leigh is a revelation, and Rains hypnotic. A wonderfully enjoyable production worth four and half stars at least.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 22, 2010 1:37 PM GMT

Cleopatra [DVD] [1934] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Cleopatra [DVD] [1934] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Price: £12.07

42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A radiant Colbert and a model for Burton, 19 Feb. 2010
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DeMille was persuaded to make 'Cleopatra' following the commercial and critical failure of his previous Colbert film ('Four Frightened People'); he was, it seems, advised to go make an historical epic, and make it sexy. This was at a time when the Hays Code was being introduced to cut out any morally questionable film making (no sex, no gory violence, nothing which undermined the virtues of marriage, etc.) The audience could still be titillated by historical epics, however - there was, after all, something uplifting about delivering classics.

'Cleopatra', here, is very much a vehicle for Colbert. She had had a rapid rise to stardom. A former Broadway actress, she benefited from the arrival of the 'talkies' - Hollywood scoured Broadway for stage actors who had commercial looks and voices, who could deliver a story on film. And Colbert made an immediate hit with her very sexy role in DeMille's 'Sign of the Cross'. By the time this film was released, she'd won an Oscar for 'It Happened One Night'. She was distinctly hot property, and she knew it.

Colbert is undoubtedly the star, but the film is sold as Cecil B. DeMille's 'Cleopatra'. DeMille, after all, was a superstar in his own right. This is not Shakespeare's 'Anthony and Cleopatra' or 'Julius Caesar', though it does owe much to these; it is not Shaw's 'Caesar and Cleopatra'. This is a film targeted at an American audience, delivered in American English, without any of the classical allusions or references of Shakespeare, and delivered in a language and style comprehensible to a mass audience.

Stylistically, it is pure 1930's. It may have Egyptian and Roman subjects, but the clothing and set designs, the hairstyles and images are all 1930's interpretations. The film roughly follows the historical story of Caesar, Cleopatra, Anthony, and Octavian, but without the baggage which might confuse the audience - Cleopatra does not have a child by Caesar, or children by Anthony, she is not portrayed as hated by the Roman people, there is no cultural struggle between Egypt and Rome, or between Egyptian gods and Roman ones, sophisticated political analysis of Roman and Egyptian kingship is absent. It's a love story, delivered in the exotic imagery and imagination of a DeMille movie. And, yes, it's dumbed down.

Caesar arrives to conquer Egypt. He will find himself seduced by Cleopatra. After his assassination, she will seduce Mark Anthony, the real love of her life. They are, however, doomed lovers. Fundamental plot, graphically delivered.

Colbert is radiant. Compared to the 1963 Elizabeth Taylor portrayal, Colbert is animated, energetic, dynamic, and deliciously sexy. She is far more convincing in the role than Taylor. Oh, DeMille clearly constructed the film as a vehicle for her - he gives her acting talent full rein ... she plays romantic comedy, she plays drama, she plays tragedy, she has her highs, she has her lows, beautifully pictured and framed throughout.

She enjoys an excellent supporting cast: Warren William as Caesar has real gravitas, and a chiseled granite face which looks like a sculpture; Henry Wilcoxon in turn cuts a ludicrous and a dominant Anthony - it's easy to believe that his image would act as a model for Burton, thirty years later; and there are beautifully judged performances by C.Aubrey Smith, Joseph Schildkraut, and Gertrude Michael. A strong cast allowed to play to their strengths.

We get lots of dancing girls, lots of spectacle. Well, what do you expect, it's DeMille. This is still early days - film making is still learning to adjust to the talkies and the use of sound: there are long periods of visual action without dialogue (on the assumption that audiences wanted to see a film rather than watch and listen to dialogue), there are some patches of heavily stylised and exaggerated acting reminiscent of stage or silent performances, and the pace of the film is relentlessly driven along by DeMille to ensure that the audience doesn't get bored.

DeMille frames his actors beautifully - the photography is no less exotic or colourful for being in black and white. The print quality is acceptable - it's a bit grainy at times, but contrast is excellent, and it is still a visual joy. Sound quality is fine - I didn't notice any crackling or distortion.

There are some extras offered up with this 75th Anniversary Edition - little 10 minute appreciations of Colbert, DeMille, and the Hays Code, plus the original trailer, and a commentary on the film by one F.X.Feeney. The commentary is interesting in places, but I was left feeling a more sophisticated appraisal might have served the production better.

All in all, a highly enjoyable and rewarding film to watch, the drawback for British audiences being that (at time of writing), it was only available as a Region 1 DVD, which might cause some potential viewers problems. Nevertheless, of the various cinematic explorations of Cleopatra, this is perhaps the most entertaining, even though it lacks sophistication in her characterisation, abandons historical accuracy, and simplifies the plot down to the lowest common denominator.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 21, 2011 10:11 AM BST

Doctor Faustus [DVD] [1967] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Doctor Faustus [DVD] [1967] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Gone for a Taylor, 18 Feb. 2010
Transferring the 16th century theological, political, and moral questions of a Marlowe play into 20th century cinematography was never going to be an easy task. It's perhaps relevant to consider the relative absence of Marlowe from the cinema - he does not transfer well, not in the way Shakespeare manages. Here, Richard Burton gives us a low-budget adaptation of an Oxford student production which leaves you wondering, if it's tedium enough to have to sit through your child's school play or musical, why would you want to subject yourself to this?

What we get is an obviously finance- and imagination-challenged extravaganza of gaudy images and kaleidoscopic camera mixes which obscure and overburden an over-Burtoned monologue. The music score attempts to impart some gravitas to the production but in places becomes a relentless drone. The sets appear claustrophobic and fragile; the low level lighting, far from adding atmosphere and a sense of bleakness, seems designed to conceal the inadequacies of the set from full view.

Much use is made of skulls and skeletons, symbolising mortality and the fragility of the human condition, but it becomes a hackneyed caricature of death and damnation, its use as metaphor overstated and oppressive. 'Hamlet' demonstrated the dramatic use of a single skull; here, we get hundreds - some press reviews comment that these reduce the film to a Hammer horror burlesque, but it's less animated, less atmospheric than a Hammer production.

Burton is the only professional actor in the film - the rest were Oxford students. Elizabeth Taylor, of course, is present as Helen of Troy; she appears from time to time as Faustus's idealised woman. But Taylor's presence was solely to provide a marketing ploy - this is a Burton/Taylor movie! You suspect it also massaged her ego - she is cast in the role of the (allegedly) most beautiful woman in antiquity. Thankfully, she is silent throughout; her acting is sterile enough without being further overburdened by the need to mouth lines. As Helen, she appears about as desirable as a woodwormed horse, a fading Hollywood myth out of her depth in classical theatre, a graceless, over-painted mannequin, capable, at best of launching only a canoe or two.

Burton dominated the film. Visually. The play is an exploration of Faustus's mind, of his rationale and reason, if not his soul. It is almost a soliloquy in five acts. And Burton dominates. His image fills the screen, his voice booms out, richly, but at times monotonously. He seems to ape Hamlet in places - he dresses that part certainly. Before he sells his soul he appears wearing grotesque spectacles, seemingly to emphasise that he is an intellectual - thereafter we get a variety of dramatic and heroic poses. But he never convinces - you recognise him as the star of the film, you never get a real feel for the character behind the star, never quite identify with Faustus and his struggle. You get 20th century Burton, not 16th century Faustus.

Stage performance and film acting styles clash in this production. There are moments when Burton's overacting embarrasses, scenes where he appears to be contesting the stage for the camera's approval, contesting it with the frivolous and intrusive photographic trickery and editing techniques. Faustus remains an image, never becomes flesh and bone.

Marlowe does not transfer well to the screen. There is little plot - Shakespeare offers dynamic plots and an endless variety of characters. "Faustus" is virtually a monologue; its minor characters are there as adjuncts, as facilitators, mere deliverers of lines and sounding boards off whom Faustus will bounce his words.

The plot - man sells his soul for wealth, power, and knowledge - rapidly grinds to a halt. Faustus achieves nothing. He ends the play, not as a man who rules the world and knows everything, a man who has sated himself with unlimited pleasure, but as an empty husk wherein echo doubts and recrimination. The play is about his struggle with his conscience, it's an exploration of a man doomed by his fabricated destiny and inability to escape Destiny.

As an allegory for religious doubt and the Calvinist doctrine that some are born saved, some born damned, it may have made sense to an Elizabethan audience, but this subtext is entirely lost to a modern audience.

Dialogue and action become obscure. This is a film to be watched only by those familiar with the play and its literary history/criticism. And, even then, its audience must necessarily be alienated by the monotonous tone and pace of this production. It's a 60's film, and already fatally dated.

All in all, a tedious film. Burton is overbearing and unconvincing, Taylor superfluous, the rest of the cast barren of life, direction over-clever and pretentious, the imagery a succession of tricks without illusion. Watch, if you must; it may give you some critical insight if you are studying the play at school, college, or OU, but have a box of chocolates and bottle of wine handy to boost your morale ... and maybe try to follow the script in book form as well.

Donkey Punch [DVD] [2008]
Donkey Punch [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Robert Boulter
Offered by Rikdev Media
Price: £3.99

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars So terrifying, even the sea stayed calm, 9 Feb. 2010
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This review is from: Donkey Punch [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
I hoped, at one stage, that this was going to be a modern take on the Mary Celeste, that we would be confronted with the mystery (albeit one the audience had seen explained) of a boat adrift on that silent sea, waiting discovery by mystified coast guards or police officers. What we got was a bunch of 20-something adolescent mariners with turkeys hanging round their necks.

On the plus side, it's quite well shot, though the editing and direction are just a bit obvious - the Chekhov advice to playwrights, if you have a gun hanging on the wall in act one, it has to be used in act two. So we see plenty of artifacts which will later find a use in the plot (and generally in the dismemberment of one or other of the characters).

I do, however, use the word 'characters' loosely. You take a loose bunch of three randy Leeds lassies, stick 'em on a boat with four randy young blokes, mix in some alcohol, sunshine, sea, bikinis, drugs, and some really contrived sex, and what have you got? Well, a film with some naked women, a lot of gore (all very tastefully done), a couple of imaginative executions, and a plot which is a bit of a steeplechase ... it's driven by the question, "how do we get over the next hurdle?" You pray there is an end in sight. There are, however, no characters, just roles - the chess pieces who move the action forward.

The film was evidently sold on its sexual content. Well, Sian Breckin has a very watchable body, and she does get her clothes off and flash it around for a few minutes. The sex is extraordinarily tame ... and characterless. And predictable. And functional - the sort of sex that people do for appearance sake but don't expect to enjoy. It was like watching young strangers having married middle-aged sex. Frankly, I've had more fun peeling a cucumber.

The gore? Well, reasonably well choreographed to be fair. Well, reasonably well pictured. And, well, reasonably tasteful. The murder, mayhem and gore is a cut above the average American student gore-fest. At least there are no vampires, werewolves, psychotic serial killers, or whatever running amok here. Just seven half-witted 20-somethings.

And that's the problem. These are a bunch of half-wits. You find it very hard to believe in them as characters, you find it impossible to identify with them (mind you, the lassies are supposed to be from Leeds), and you certainly find it impossible to like them. A couple of minutes into the film and I was adopting an unapologetically sexist attitude (or maybe, just a heterosexual male one) and hoping the girls would get their clothes off - it was, after all, the only thing about them I was going to like. Gimme five minutes of nudity then have the boat blow up killing them all outright, and I won't have to sit through another hour of this.

You have no sympathy for these self-inflatable characters. You really don't care if they come to a sticky end. It is boringly predictable in places - it's obvious what the boys see in the girls, you wonder why even a bunch of Leeds lassies would fall for a bunch of guys like these or put themselves in the situations they get into. The actresses playing the roles are clearly too sophisticated in their style to be that thick ... or that desperate ... or that available.

Contrived, unrewarding, obvious, it gets one star for the picture quality, and a second for Ms.Breckin's body ... and, if you're male, once you've seen that, switch off the film and find something else to do, because that is the highlight. There's a bit in the DVD extras where the cast are asked if the sex scene was necessary - well, it's the most contrived part of the plot, the plot (as such) hinges around it, it's tame, it's unbelievable, and if you didn't get to see Ms.Breckin's opulent breasts, there would be nothing worth watching. And when a film comes down to that, you know it's lost the plot.

Adam & Paul [DVD] [2007]
Adam & Paul [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Tom Murphy
Offered by Love-Your-Books
Price: £7.45

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Anonymous quest, 9 Feb. 2010
This review is from: Adam & Paul [DVD] [2007] (DVD)
This is a classic tale of the quest - not for any holy grail or a volcano in which to hurl a magical ring - but the daily quest to pass the time, survive, and score another bag of heroin. Adam and Paul are two anonymous pieces of Dublin detritus - we're never sure which is Adam and which Paul ... and frankly, but for the accents, they could be in any city in Europe or the Western world.

Their age, colour, religion, politics are irrelevant, to them as much as to anyone else. Simply two ageing nobodies who have grown up together, somewhere, with other people with similar problems, some still alive, some in jail, some dead. They exist for heroin, they will do anything to get it, they are, however, too inept even to shoplift.

They wake, one morning, on some waste ground. They don't have a home, but they need to get back to home ground, to a part of Dublin they know. They need to raise some money. They need to score. There is no other plot. Just bleak comedy as their ineptitude comes to the fore. They need one another - between them they have nearly enough energy, dynamism, wit, and nous to tie a shoelace ... though probably not a pair.

They do what 'junkies' do - adopt the Rab C.Nesbitt philosophy of recognising themselves as scum, scum with no alternative lifestyle or options, and try to eke out a day at a time by begging, stealing, or borrowing. Problem, of course, is that they're no good at stealing, no one would loan them a grain of sand, and, frankly, when it comes to begging, few have charity enough even to spare these guys a second look. Junkies, after all, are scum.

There's no attempt to win sympathy, to explain why heroin has such a hold, to analyse why it helps destroy working class communities and rip their culture and cohesion apart. There's no back story to explain why Adam and Paul are where they are. Because heroin is for today. Yesterday is already forgotten and irrelevant, tomorrow is too distant and uncertain to worry about. Adam and Paul are here, today. Their quest is to get through this barrier of time and score enough heroin to take away the sweats and sickness, and maybe give them a bit of a charge at the same time.

Bleak, dismal, darkly humourless, painfully funny. You can sympathise with the characters at times without feeling sympathy for them. The great strength of the film is its lack of sentimentality, its emotional and moral simplicity and directness. Tom Murphy steals the show - hard to believe such a talented actor should die so young. But he's alive and limping in this film, an almost Chaplinesque little hobo hobbling along in tow and in awe of his taller mate, a pair of illiterate bookends looking for a shelf to sit on.

The film ends without any sense of hope, without any sense that any one day will be different from the next. The quest ends. They get through the day, chaotically, aimlessly, inexplicably. Their prize? To live long enough to have to get through tomorrow. Superb film, worth four and a half stars, and clear evidence that an absorbing, entertaining, and thought provoking film can be made without a vast amount of special effects, a cast of thousands, or big name American stars in the leading roles.

Creative Writing 7e: How to Unlock Your Imagination, Develop Your Writing Skills and Get Published
Creative Writing 7e: How to Unlock Your Imagination, Develop Your Writing Skills and Get Published
by Adèle Ramet
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Basic level entry, sound advice, 19 Jan. 2010
Adele Ramet is best known for her ideas and advice on short story writing, her expertise probably most firmly focused on short story writing for women's magazines in the UK. It's easy to disparage this market - but it takes real skill to break into it, and there are very real lessons to be learned by any short story writer from the economy of structure and plot necessary to be published in this market.

This is a basic entry guide to creative writing - if you're already a confident, experienced, published writer, maybe you should know all this stuff already. But then you wouldn't be reading this book, would you.

If you're new to writing, if you're trying to find your way and your confidence, Ramet offers straight forward advice. If you want to write, you need to find the time, the place, the space, and the confidence to do so. Writers write - so get into the routine, learn the discipline, build your confidence, learn and relearn the skills.

Keep an open mind - read extensively - learn to spot ideas, to get ideas, to develop ideas. Read, read, read. Learn.

Straight forward advice - clear, concise, well delivered. Ramet is an excellent teacher, and this is a book which shouldn't be undervalued. If you're new to writing, get the basics right, learn good habits from the start. This is a good starter.

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