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Lili Gans "" (Australia)

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Judge John Deed : Complete BBC Series 2 [2001] [DVD]
Judge John Deed : Complete BBC Series 2 [2001] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Martin Shaw
Price: £4.99

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hold on to your britches. Here comes John Deed, 18 Jan. 2008
"Judge John Deed" is one of the best shows on TV at the moment. Not that that is saying very much since television programmes are pretty abysmal. I should know because I was a TV critic for our main newspaper; so I was exposed to quite a lot of rubbish. Since I was in the enviable position of choosing what I wanted to review, however, I usually chose British programmes. But even British programmes have declined in quality nowadays.

Whereas British TV as well as the movie industry were elitist in the past, the rest of the United Kingdom caught up and now there are programmes based all over the U.K. This is a good thing, of course, since it's more representative of the entire country. We may have trouble understanding what the Northerners and the Irish are saying, but it's great to have fresh inspiration.

Sadly, though, some of the dramas are very miserable. Gritty, drug-addicted, porno, sleaze. Realistic, no doubt, but depressing. I always feel like I want to have a purging shower after watching one of those programmes.

But somebody must be enjoying watching all this misery or they wouldn't be produced.

I used to love wandering around Oxford with Inspector Morse, having a cup of tea with Inspector Wexford, counting the bodies in "Midsomer Murders" and knitting with Miss Marple. Then there is a favourite, "Foyle's War." I know the world is safe in Michael Kitchen's hands. Best of all, of course, was "A Touch of Frost." Wow!

It's been a long time since a good courtroom series has come to our sets and "Judge John Deed" is certainly absorbing. The points of law, the courtroom scenes, the conflicts of interest, all make for exciting viewing.

If the producers had left it at that it would have been brilliant. But the good old judge has one flaw. He is a satyr, so when it comes to sex he just goes crazy. He simply can't help sniffing around every female, be she a psychiatrist, witness, a barrister, a defendant. He's ready and raring to go. I suppose the producers had to cater for the plebs and an episode without the ubiquitous shagging would have lost ratings.

He's having an "on and off" affair with a barrister, the erratic Mrs Mills portrayed by Jenny Seagrove. She apparently disapproves of the fact that Deed is also having it off with anything that moves. The legal establishment is trying to catch him at it so that they can get rid of Deed and this is the thread in the series. There are government spies who spend most of their day walking up and down corridors discussing the foibles of Deed.

Frankly, I wish that the entire series would concentrate on the court cases and leave the rest to Big Brother or something. Whilst not a fan of Martin Shaw, I think he does fairly well in pulling off the role of judge. He certainly looks more impressive in his judge's robes than out of them.

I think the series is intelligent and dramatic and well worth watching. I now record the show and fast forward the tedious bits about Deed's private life. Mind you, I did that with the British hospital series called "Bodies" and found there was hardly anything left to watch.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 6, 2009 10:45 PM BST

Foyle's War - Series 1 Complete [2002] [DVD]
Foyle's War - Series 1 Complete [2002] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Michael Kitchen
Price: £12.00

51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Television at its best, 15 Jan. 2008
There are television series and then there's "Foyle's War." If one had to choose a production that depicts what the Brits are best at, it's this show.

So what are they best at? In my opinion, it's a natural leaning towards understatement combined with a steady growth in suspense. Several plot lines are developed until the conclusion which always leaves you thinking about ethics and politics. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of it and so is Anthony Horowitz, Foyle's creator.

The action takes place during World War 11, mostly around the town of Hastings. Foyle is Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle who wants to contribute to the war effort. His duty is to solve crimes on the domestic front and he always introduces himself as "a police officer."

Sometimes the crimes are political and other times they appear petty but actually, they are always very crucial because society has to function ethically during the war or there's no point in fighting for values that are not respected. A chaotic and lawless society would mean that the enemy has won.

That is Christopher Foyle's credo. Profiteers, traitors and looters will not be tolerated. It's almost like the zero tolerance policy that the city of New York adopted a few years ago when crime statistics were out of control.

In Foyle's War one is always conscious of the common good. There is a recurring theme of the need for all Brits to be treated as equals and Foyle uses this approach when it comes to crimes committed by the aristocracy. He is not impressed by status.

That does not mean that important people don't get away with misdemeanours and even murder, but as Foyle says he will come after them when the war is over. And we believe him, so strong is his moral code.

I absolutely love the way Horowitz shows two sides of a story. Nothing is simple or inevitable and the viewer is not insulted by too much explanation.

Basically, "Foyle's War" is a thinking person's detective story in which historical events play a crucial part. For example, in one episode there is a reference to Dunkirk with a description of what really went on there and how ordinary people went over to Dunkirk in the flimsiest of vessels to rescue their soldiers. It will make you cry because of the powerful emotions that are repressed by the fishermen. It's a million times more effective than that tedious Dunkirk episode in the film "Atonement."

As for the cast, there is Michael Kitchen in the role of Foyle. His portrayal is amazing. One slight twitch of his lips is all that's required to convey the deepest of emotions. A shrug, a raising of the eyebrows, even a moment of silence, says it all.

And it's his acting style that leaves an imprint on the other actors. His driver, Samantha Stewart, who is a little more emotional than her boss, is still the epitome of British stoicism and dedication with a touch of charming femininity. She is perfect in the role. Honeysuckle Weeks is spunky yet vulnerable in the portrayal of Samantha.

Paul Milner (played by Anthony Howell) is also perfect casting. He is Foyle's assistant who has been wounded in action in Norway and so has to return to home duties. His private life is a disaster because of his injury and this makes for interesting personal situations.

This is the trio of principal characters who will lead the audience from August 1940 to the end of the war in 1945. The final series is yet to be shown and I am certainly looking forward to it. As a matter of fact, I couldn't wait for it to be shown on Australian TV so I have pre-ordered it and hope it arrives soon.

Dirt Music
Dirt Music
by Tim Winton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

11 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Short on story/ long on padding, 2 Jan. 2008
This review is from: Dirt Music (Paperback)
There is nothing light and frivolous about Tim Winton's novel, "Dirt Music". I know he's Australian and I know that he wins awards, but I had to struggle through this book. Winton's motto appears to be "to make a short story long". One almost wonders if he were paid by the word.

Whenever I fail to be impressed by something Australian it makes me feel bad. Australia is my adopted country and it has been good to me. In fact, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

But reading Winton is a chore which strains my patriotism to the core because he's so slow and revels in churning out metaphors that milk the Aussie myth. The one about laconic men who suffer in silence and women who are worn down by the harshness of the land. Pioneer stuff from a century ago.

International readers can't be blamed for thinking that we all live in tin sheds, fish or hunt for our food, wander around aimlessly in the inland desert and befriend an aboriginal who's wise and sarcastic.

Too many Aussie films and novels have done that theme to death in the past.

In reality, while some Aussies live in the outback, Australia is much more urbanised than the U.S.A. We live along the coastline in very large cities and the interior is a huge void. Ours is a metropolitan way of life. We shop in malls and in supermarkets, drink coffee at Starbucks and order pizzas "with the lot". I have never met a full blood aboriginal in my life, nor have I tripped over a kangaroo in the street.

Winton's characters are as foreign to me as Laplanders. Perhaps they live next door to Winton in Western Australia. They certainly remind me of those early cowboys in American Westerns. Tortured by some terrible ordeal in the past, trying to escape the angst by riding the trail and then being redeemed by a good (or bad) woman. Those cowboys stories were an appealing part of American mythology but they were an invention as well.

In "Dirt Music" we have a trio of caricatures. Georgie, who's been everywhere and done everything and is now living with a rich fisherman, is the woman in a love triangle. She is not happy.

Jim Buckridge is the fisherman who is extremely wealthy but misses his late wife. His two sons resent Georgie. Once again, he reminds me of one of those ranchers in Westerns, all powerful, rich but repressed emotionally. We never learn what makes him tick. We just know that like a ticking bomb, he's going to explode.

The third member of the triangle is Lu Fox who is haunted by the violent death of his family. He's a poacher who encroaches on Jim's fishing lease as well as on his woman.

When Lu is forced to run away because of his poaching, he travels North. He swims, hitches some rides and walks on very blistered feet. I view this as a journey into the proverbial desert so that he can get lost and then find himself.

He meets a few Aussie characters on his journey who have problems of their own.

A disconcerting trait about all the characters is that they speak in the same way, Winton's way, which can be confusing. In my opinion, a good writer should be able to vary his characters' dialogue. We should be able to recognise who's talking by something distinctive in their language. Winton's style makes this impossible. Furthermore, the people Lu meets are very one-dimensional and so cliché. I have read the original "Pilgrim's Progress" and this is a poor relative of that genre.

This is no stroll in the park, by the way, because Western Australia is huge and I mean huge, bigger than Texas actually, and Lu manages to cross it from South to the Far North.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch Georgie's relationship with Jim is unraveling. Georgie's family problems suddenly surface and I really think that these are included to pad the plot since nothing much happens apart from Georgie staring into space and wondering where Lu is.

I don't want to spoil the denouement for you, but suffice it to say that Jim and Georgie go in search of Lu, way up north. Do you think they find him just in the nick of time?

I was very relieved when I finished reading "Dirt Music" because it was tiresome. And yes, I had to read it for my book club or I would never have chosen it. It's the third and definitely last book of Winton's that I will pick up. "Dirt Music" is a book I could put down and I did that with a sigh of relief.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 9, 2014 8:35 PM BST

Suite Francaise
Suite Francaise
by Irène Némirovsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

13 of 78 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I remain sceptical, 25 Nov. 2007
This review is from: Suite Francaise (Paperback)
Pardon my French, but what a lot of hypocritical "merde" so to speak. Anyone who was in France during the war knows how untrue many of the "author's" claims are. How can anyone believe that a daughter could cart around her dead mother's 'diary' for half a century and never be tempted to have a peek at it? I believe that the suite was "discovered" at a time when many biographies about the Holocaust were surfacing and were being lapped up by book publishers who were only too eager to commemorate that anniversary of World War 11. Nothing wrong with that if the work was authentic, but I simply doubt her daughter's claims.
To regard this work as being of Jewish origin is an insult to genuine victims of the Holocaust. Irene had converted, did not write about Jews and should not be regarded as a Jewish author. The fact that she perished in a concentration camp is an ironic twist to a life that was marred by hypocrisy. by
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 2, 2015 12:36 PM GMT

America Alone: The End of the World as We Know it
America Alone: The End of the World as We Know it
by Mark Steyn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.99

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mark Steyn does not mince words, 23 Oct. 2007
Mark Steyn can be described as the Paul Revere of the modern age. While the West sleeps, Islamic nations have been slowly infiltrating the U.S, Europe, Australia and Canada. Steyn regards Europe as a lost cause which did not notice that Muslims were multiplying much faster than Europeans so that the most popular name for newborn babes in Europe is Mohammad. He regards this change in demography, the aging population of Europe and its low birth rate as being extremely dangerous to the future of our Western culture.
He encourages us all to change that demography by having more children.
He also warns us that Muslim fundamentalists mean business when they declare they hate the West and want to destroy it. "America Alone" is similar in theme to Melanie Phillips' "Londonistan" but is much more pertinent and interesting to read.
Steyn has a brilliantly effective and humorous style that belies the seriousness of his topic. In one sentence his message is "Don't say I didn't warn you."

by Douglas Kennedy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Douglas Kennedy leads into Temptation, 11 Oct. 2007
This review is from: Temptation (Paperback)
The best thing about "Temptation" is that it makes no demands on the reader. This novel is very, very, very, easy to read. That probably accounts for its popularity.

There's something to be said for light literature. You can read it anywhere, on a plane, at a bus stop or in a hotel lobby and still carry on a conversation or perform neuro-surgery. The plot should be simple, the characters generally distinguishable from one another and there should be some sort of denouement which will be satisfactory to the reader, even if it's rather implausible.

Kennedy fulfills all of these criteria. The novel is about a writer, David Armitage, who finds "overnight success" and proceeds to be enthralled by all the trappings of wealth. He reveals a weaker side to his character, dumps his wife and child, spends, spends spends and begins a downward spiral into self-destruction. So much for original theme.

Most of the characters in "Temptation" are self-absorbed social climbers who want to profit from David's success, but this is Hollywood, so what else is new? Apart from two nice characters in the novel, the rest are caricatures of one dimensional grubs. Into this plot enters a sort of George Souros cum Howard Hughes weirdo who never makes sense. We are supposed to regard this billionaire as some sort of Satanic creature, the snake in the Garden of Eden, perhaps, who has come to ruin David's joy by leading him into temptation.

This novel is so blatantly didactic that it smacks of the pulpit. David is a modern Icarus who flies too close to the sun and is consumed by it. Apparently, the American dream of ambition and success are bad things, according to the author and so David must be taught a lesson.

There is so much symbolism here and it's all unsubtle, which is paradoxical isn't it? Everything is spelled out in full, so that nothing can be deduced or discussed. There is no controversy at all. David was greedy. David was selfish and so must suffer. It's no mere coincidence that he loses weight, grows his hair and beard and someone makes a reference to Jesus. David's being crucified. Get it? That's what I mean by nothing left to chance. Kennedy leaves no message unhammered.

Can I recommend "Temptation"? Yes, as light reading which should make all failures very content in their little hovels. Rich people bad, poor people, good. I have heard that message somewhere before and camels having a hard time getting through eyes of needles springs to mind, but as one of my favourite TV characters once commented on being reminded that the meek shall inherit the earth. "Yes, but the meek don't want it."

If you like moralising then you will be satisfied by Douglas Kennedy's "Temptation". Don't be surprised, though, if somebody turns it into a film with Jude Law or Tom Hanks as the star or maybe Tom Cruise. Surely not Mel Gibson, though he would enjoy the fallen idol and messianic role, wouldn't he?

We Need To Talk About Kevin
We Need To Talk About Kevin
by Lionel Shriver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We need to talk about "We need to talk about Kevin", 23 May 2007
One of the most thought-provoking books that I have ever read is Lionel Shriver's "We need to talk about Kevin". I can't imagine that fifty years ago it would have dared to be published, let alone win the Orange Prize for Literature.

So it's a credit to today's more candid society that Shriver could have written a book about a parent-child relationship that isn't total bliss. Whilst the novel is described as taboo-breaking, gutsy and startling, which means that most people would have had some reservations about the theme of not really liking one's child, the author has excused herself to some extent by making her child a sort of Damien Omen character and that is a kind of cop-out, in my opinion.

What I mean by that is that Eva, the narrator, rationalises her distaste for her son by having him commit a terrible atrocity along the lines of the Columbine High killings. She never liked him anyway and now she can say "well, no wonder I never bonded cause he was a potential killer."

The question that this novel asks, of course, is whether Kevin would have turned into a murderer if his mother had loved him. It's the question that all mothers ask themselves. If he has turned out to be less than she would have liked, was it anything that she did? Could she have done anything to prevent him turning into a killer?

As one of the characters in "We need to talk about Kevin" says:-

It's always the mother's fault, ain' it...That boy turn out bad cause his mama a drunk, or she a junkie. She let him run wild, she don't teach him right from wrong. She never home when he back from school. Nobody ever say his daddy a drunk, or his daddy not home after school. And nobody ever say they some kids just damned mean. Don't you believe that old guff. Don't you let them saddle you with all that killing.

Basically this would seem to be the main theme of the novel, is it nature or nurture? Not that there is a simplistic answer to that question since human beings are much more complicated than that. Anyway, it's not a given that "good and devoted parents" give birth and bring up good children. Also, how many times have we heard about so-called lousy parents having amazingly marvellous children, which would support the nature argument. That is, if one could dismiss the genetic impact of lousy parents.

One could discuss this topic forever and still keep going round in circles.

What was interesting about the novel is how blind Kevin's father was to his son's manipulating character, but on the other hand, children do treat parents differently and play one off against the other. I found Franklin to be a very silly man,but it is wrong to ignore one child's faults and one can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Or can one?

Similarly, Franklin dismissed his wife's misgivings about Kevin's sadistic nature and in the end he paid the price for being blind to his faults.

I must admit that I was taken aback when Eva, the narrator, decided to have another child. Perhaps she wanted to make up for her original disappointment and perhaps she was trying to prove that she could produce a nice child, after all. Eva also said that it would be good for Kevin to have a sibling. Hard to understand why when he seemed to hate everything and would no doubt hate his brother or sister. Not surprisingly that turned out to be a dismal failure too. Besides, the second child seemed so implausible and was perhaps meant to act as a foil for the demonic Kevin.

If there is a lesson to be learned from "We need to talk about Kevin" it's that having a child is one of the biggest risks one can take in life. There are no guarantees that we will like the child or that the child will like his parents. If we do it because we feel we should, or it's about time, or we are bored with our life, we should seriously consider that we may be buying grief. It may be a fulfilling experience or it may not.

If it's not nature or nurture, it may very well be the luck of the draw, with the highest stakes in the world.

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