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Ormskirk Writer "Cactuslaan" (Lancashire, U.K.)

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The Invisible Woman [DVD] [2014]
The Invisible Woman [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Felicity Jones
Price: £7.98

3.0 out of 5 stars THE INVISIBLE FRISSON, 2 April 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Ralph Fiennes’ biopic of the liaison between Dickens and Nelly Ternan - an actress over twenty-five years his junior - ploughs fertile furrows of literature, romance and the contradictions of Victorian morality.
The story, drawn from Claire Tomalin’s book, portrays with care a dimly-lit world of understated attraction and emotional turmoil. Fiennes’ Dickens and Felicity Jones’ Ternan are drawn to each other more by their differences than the little that they have in common. She’s restrained, he’s exuberant; he can get away with a lot, she can’t.
The opportunities for the film are large and are best realised in the performances of Tom Hollander, as a well drawn Wilkie Collins, and Fiennes, when he’s showing us the more frenetic sides to Dickens’ personality. Kristin Scott Thomas does her best with the limited opportunities provided by playing Ternan’s mother. At other times, the restraint of the production leaves a sense of a fire only half kindled. You feel little of the vital chemistry that there must have been between the lovers, and the sequences set in Ternan’s middle age reduce the amount of time which might have been spent developing the key period in her relationship with Dickens: for example, the depictions of her miscarriage and the Staplehurst rail disaster are perfunctory.
This is a tale which needed more space to breathe, with greater opportunity given for us to feel that enormous creative and emotional force which drove Dickens to turn his back on his family, and embrace a secret life which, in turn, accelerated his self-destruction.

H is for Hawk
H is for Hawk
by Helen Macdonald
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BEYOND HUMAN NATURE, 23 Mar. 2015
This review is from: H is for Hawk (Paperback)
This intense and captivating book is a memoir and exploration of two critical threads of experience and how they became entangled during a short period of the writer’s life, when she loses a father and gains and trains a goshawk.
The goshawk is an enigma: one of our larger birds of prey, made extinct in England, then successfully reintroduced: as charismatic as it is hard to bring under the falconer’s wing. If you can imagine training a dog, but through a process which is about ten times as engrossing, and twenty times as physically and emotionally demanding, you’ll have some idea of the extraordinary journey Helen MacDonald takes in her first few months with Mabel.
At the same time, the writer is grappling with the very sudden loss of her father, the respected photo-journalist Alisdair MacDonald, who collapsed in a London street, doing the job he loved. In working to the last, he championed a complete dedication to - and patience in - watching and capturing the minutiae of the moving world. In passing on these gifts to his daughter, Alisdair ensured that they were wrapped in a nurturing, humorous kindness that his daughter is devastated to lose.
Simultaneously, Helen becomes enthralled by the life and work of T.H. White, teacher, author of The Once and Future King (and other Arthurian novels) and, critically, a self-taught falconer. Like White, Helen’s experience of training a goshawk becomes a vehicle for deeper self-examination. However, she’s much more competent, and far less troubled: Mabel is not the first bird that Helen has worked with, and she’s an easier subject than White’s Gos. But that’s relative: in bringing her goshawk to a point where they can truly work together, Macdonald is dragged backwards through any number of real and figurative hedges (woods, pheasant pens etc.). This makes for an exhilarating read, as you are drawn into the essentially lonely worlds of MacDonald, White and, ultimately, the goshawk. They are places seen via the razorly perspective of the bird of prey, and coloured with the melancholy of loss and a deep affinity and knowledge of the English landscape, its flora, fauna and anatomy.

Calvary [DVD] [2014]
Calvary [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Brendan Gleeson
Offered by MusicnMedia
Price: £5.67

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seven Days to Choose, 20 Mar. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Calvary [DVD] [2014] (DVD)
In this ultimately bleak, but often warming story from County Sligo, John Michael McDonagh has constructed an arresting and compelling journey through the angst of modern Ireland.
The journey takes the form of a completely ‘unholy’ week in the life of a priest, who is played with dignity and considerable warmth by Brendan Gleeson. As a Dad and widower with a late vocation, Father James seems to embody less of the traumatic legacies of the Catholic Church in Ireland. However, the moment he has to listen, from his confessional, to the film’s shocking opening line, we know that he will be held accountable for Catholicism and the country’s wider ills. In that dark moment, he is told that he will pay the ultimate price for the sins of other Fathers, being sacrificed, Christ-like, as a ‘good priest’.
And his very goodness is subsequently corrupted by his fear and indecision about who to relate the threat to, and how; the supercilious bishop is cordially unhelpful, while a retired police friend is as sceptical as he is cynical about the cleric’s plight. Understandably, his troubled daughter (played with great edginess by Kelly Reilly) is spared any hint of the present danger, but, when Father James decides to fly out of the area to avoid his appointment with death, there’s a sense of relief: why would you stay to be killed?
Yet, as it turns out, there is to be no easy escape for the priest. The dysfunctional cocktail of his parishioners’ woes and self-destructive cynicism tugs him back for a final act of self-abasement. Having given so much, it seems as if he is giving in to it all: the acerbic, atheistic doctor; a young, incarcerated serial killer; the arson of his Chapel; a rent boy, emboldened what he sees as the ruined institution of the Church; the parishioner who flaunts her promiscuity; a corrupt financier, who has everything, except love, and a purpose; Father James’ fellow priest – decent enough, but too emotionally stunted to be able to connect. His only real spiritual soul mate is a young French widow, devastated by the death of her husband at the hands of a car of youngsters. They’re killed as well. She leaves.
There is no obvious redemptive message to Calvary, but this does not mean that it’s defiantly anti-Church. Its central irony is that there is little to like about the many characters who’ve rejected or reviled the faith of their fathers. The hand of fate, however, feels powerful, in the legacy of abuse that stains the action, from the outset, in the car crash and in that ultimate penalty which Father James seemed doomed to have to pay.
This is not a one-dimensional allegory for the despair of modern times. It’s an often humorous work, with many great cameos, and a thread of compassion which holds the story together as strongly as the self-destructive forces which want to tear things apart.
But perhaps it’s not the best choice if you’re looking for a ‘feel good’ fil-m.

The Hundred Foot Journey [DVD]
The Hundred Foot Journey [DVD]
Dvd ~ Lasse Hallström
Price: £4.00

40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars EXTRA HELPINGS, 14 Mar. 2015
This beautifully-shot romantic comedy offers a sensuous menu of French culture and countryside, Indian and French cuisine and some appetizing acting from its four romantic leads.
We’re drawn into accepting the unlikely scenario of two restaurants positioned (and determined to thrive) one hundred feet apart, on a rural road in south-west France: on the ‘posh’ side, a Michelin ‘star’ restaurant, in the grand style, run with a firm hand by Helen Mirren’s ‘Madame’; on the rustic side, the Indian competition, run with verve and daring by the widowed Om Puri, more than ably assisted by his eldest son, an extraordinarily gifted cook.
Be warned: to enjoy this film, several slices of disbelief will need to be suspended (or at least left in the cake tin): Mirren’s shift from uncompromising self-preservation to benevolence, the families’ rapid reconciliation, and the immediate crushing of some racist nastiness are all essential to the piece de resistance at the end of 100 Foot’s many courses.
But the unabashed purpose of the film is to warm the cockles with a lot of tasteful camera work, as the ingredients of the romantic narratives are carefully stirred. The concocted romance is equally engaging between the well-seasoned chefs (Mirren and Puri) and their al dente juniors (Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon).
It would be wise to eat before viewing, if you wish to avoid a two hour battle with hunger, induced by the gastronomic kaleidoscope of scenes of food, before, during and after its preparation. And perhaps postpone for a couple of years the holiday in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, to allow this beautiful place to empty itself of 100 Foot Groupies.

The Restoration of Otto Laird
The Restoration of Otto Laird
Price: £1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BUILT TO LAST ...., 9 Mar. 2015
Nigel Packer’s first novel - the tale of an aged architect’s return to London to try and save one of his creations from demolition – is a particularly enjoyable read. From the start, Packer engages us with a sympathetic protagonist and a strong narrative, delivered in a lucid and unaffected style.
Well into his retirement, Otto Laird is a rootless European from a Viennese family of Jews, who moved from their home city to Antwerp, to hide from the Nazis (with differing degrees of success). Otto’s achievements as a London-based architect are set against the idealism and the uncertainty of the sixties, as he and his English wife tread a precarious line between socialist enterprise and bourgeois comfort. At the same time, a vivid picture is created of his retirement and second marriage in Switzerland, from where, to a degree, he is rescued from the alienation and despair of widowerhood, and an estrangement from his son.
Otto’s reacquaintance with the brutal and bold Marlowe House, is full of surprises: the concrete monolith is in a poor state of repair, but its residents, and the TV crew who’ve manufactured the architect’s return, hold some affection for the building. Their perspectives – whether living there, or creating a film narrative - are sympathetic to both the environment and its creator.
More telling for Otto is the confrontation with his own mortality that is achieved during the London visit; the disintegration of his ‘signature’ creation only reflects the sharply-returning memories that emphasise how long he’s been away, and how much of his own life is over. Yet his memories are rich and unsentimental, whether rooted in the hotbed of his architects’ practice, or the bewitching microcosm of the English countryside, where his in-laws live. His Anne Frank-like childhood sojourn in an Antwerp basement is as well portrayed as the epiphany he experiences when confronting the mutual infidelities of his first marriage.
This is a fine book about London, and growing old. It skilfully portrays the relationship between the legacies we leave, and the consequences of trying to tinker with them, as if we could rewrite our own obituary.

Song for Marion [DVD] [2012]
Song for Marion [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Gemma Arterton
Price: £3.00

5.0 out of 5 stars FOUR PART HARMONY, 5 Mar. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Song for Marion [DVD] [2012] (DVD)
This film balances beautifully the tragedy of a mother’s passing, and the subsequent near break up of her family, with the irresistible good humour generated by a choir for older people.
Determined to sing to her last, the vivacious Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) holds together the various strands of the first half of the film: her withdrawn and devoted husband Arthur (Terence Stamp); her repressed and (by his father) undervalued son James (Christopher Eccleston) and the effervescent choir leader Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton).
The film is unusual in having such distinct halves to it: the first concluding with Vanessa Redgrave leading the choir in song, the second allowing Terence Stamp to do the same. In each case – for very different reasons - the impact is uplifting.
Song For Marion is remarkable for its ability to make cohere, so naturally, a series of opposing forces: the extrovert Marion versus the introverted Arthur; the subtly-shot ordinariness of the London setting versus the emerging harmonic confidence of its residents; the choir members’ contempt for age versus Elizabeth’s youthful verve; the aching grief of a husband and son versus the life-giving legacy left by the woman that they mourn.
The central performances are memorable: Redgrave for her warmth and bravery; Stamp for ‘nailing’ the triumph of dignity over despair; Arterton for an unforced exhilaration with the joy of her work; Eccleston for the sympathetic vulnerabilities revealed beneath a defensive facade.
And the singing is unaffected, original and fun, always preventing sentimentality or gloom from taking centre stage.

This Is A Reflection - Signed
This Is A Reflection - Signed

5.0 out of 5 stars THIS IS A REVELATION, 28 Dec. 2012
... and just when foolishly you realised that you had begun to think you might be able to predict the next step in this band's unique evolution, they pull a dark one.
`This Is A Reflection' is a powerful mini-album of five cover songs, in full blooded, lustrous vinyl; the range of the music is as remarkable as the ease with which it is brought to life.
The opener, Ann Peebles' `Do I Need You' was written nearly forty years ago, but is ripe for re-invention, with the band's assured voices contrasting sweetly with the subtle rhythm section. Bassist Kristofer Harris also lends an able hand to the record's production, while Katherine Blamire's organ adds a different and effective shade to the mood.
In deliberate contrast, `Wish You Well', develops Mark Lanegan's original by allowing the pensive female voices to combine with Neil Walsh's viola to capture the irony of holding to pride when the wishes have run out: a telling piece of masterly understatement.
And then there is The Cult's `She Sells Sanctuary', a disciplined and oblique piece of euphoria, sewn together by Walsh's searing viola, and Robert Wilk's studied percussion.
It would be hard to find a finer contrast to track three than `The Visitors', by Abba. Here, the lyrics' apparent simplicity suits the languid interplay of guitars, set against Jessica Davies' busy xylophone work. As the song develops, its different musical elements combine naturally with the theme of the song's subtitle: `Cracking Up', and you realise there's something cleverer going on beneath the engaging harmonies.
The concluding song, Killing Joke's `Requiem', grows from an exploratory guitar line, blues-ridden and the more disturbing as it is set against a distant whirring of wine glasses being played. The melody freezes itself once the right musical tension has been created, with the coolly delivered lyrics nailing the creeping sense of isolation. The same lyrics contribute the album's title, with the Reflection being both a moment to ponder and a chance to return to their owners bold new versions of old songs that `reflect' a shared maturity.
And, of course, the album's a devil to get hold of, which adds to the intrigue.

Blood Speaks
Blood Speaks
Offered by nagiry
Price: £10.07

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SPIRIT SPEAKS, 1 Sept. 2012
This review is from: Blood Speaks (Audio CD)
Smoke Fairies' second official album sees them moving forward on several fronts: musically, thematically and lyrically. This expanded edition includes three additional tracks which enhance and diversify further this excellent piece of work. More of them later.
There is a muscular melancholy in the two singles positioned near the beginning of the album. `Let Me Know' is brief piece of thrusting, but controlled longing, while `The Three of Us' is a gutsy and expansive exploration of the impact of a journey upon relationships and identity, guitars and cymbals slashing through the swaggering rhythm section. The lyrics seem stark and functionally descriptive at first, until the tensions between the `three of us' explode into controlled frustration: `Could this be where we part?'
Between these two tracks, nestles `Awake', a sweet melody elevated to something special by the interplay of guitars and the crescendo of its instrumental conclusion. Lines like these could slip unnoticed, but shouldn't: `I woke too soon,/ Soft blinds of dawn in the morning./ The world so quiet./ Dreaming in ultraviolet./ Are you awake?/ Do you feel the space/ That was once filled by me/ Send shivers through the morning?'
The piano line woven through `Daylight' sways across the song, but its seductive dreaminess is quickly dislocated by an insistent metre and unsettling enquiries like: `Is there much further now, are you losing the meaning?' or ` Is this the year when we lose our direction?' The guitar line that follows appears jagged and directionless but adjusts itself cleverly to resolve the end of the song.
The beguiling title track is a new departure, introduced with unaccompanied vocals, then swelling slowly like a cautious anthem for what we might think and how we might feel as the possibilities aroused by a nocturnal wander gather a head of steam.
`Take Me Down When You Go' sounds like the beginning of a Side Two from LP days: abrupt yet restrained both in its melody and sentiment: `Something dies when you fall in love./ Something lives when you've had enough'. The sense of loss, balanced by release is set cleverly against a tautly-constructed tune and a barrage of ironic hot/ cold imagery. By the end, you don't know whether to feel happy or sad, and that's the point.
On the other hand. `Feel It Coming Near' is a delicious piece of bluesy, boozy scene setting. The delicate guitar line, and lyrical sense of premonition is effortlessly and repeatedly sidestepped as the band allow the song to capture a sense of elemental fear and wonder through a stirring yet unsettling chorus.
The tone of the album shifts once again with the light electrical brush strokes of `Hideaway', almost child-like at the outset. The trick of the song is in its delayed and brief chorus, accompanied by a wider sound, full of a harder resolve. This leads deftly into the dry tones of `Version Of The Future', which is pleasingly exploratory, like `Blood Speaks'.
This deluxe version of `Blood Speaks' concludes with three further tracks, something of a coup de grace, particularly since they follow so adeptly the `official' concluding song, the superb, `Film Reel'. Taken together, the four songs illustrate the diversity of the band's work through the range of what each achieves - at a lower tempo.
The lyrics of the first are laid over a delicious guitar duet: `I saw my life pass like a film reel', As the song evolves, distant and distorted voices hover into the background and one electric guitar line gently asserts itself upon song's conclusion, affirming its tribute to assured regret.
`Radio Clicks On' and `The Wireless' bubble playfully and work as both pastiche and carefully crafted vignettes of the prompts for love, and its flippancies.
They are bisected by the `The Bells' a beautifully constructed recollection of child and parenthood. The enveloping melody is set off subtly by lyrics which underline the band's complementary gifts; `I remember you called me back at dusk./ Crows stirred in the branches over us./ You were stood in the doorway,/ In blooms of swirling dust.'
This is the way they make their music, riven with deliberate and intricate poetic contradictions. Its self-doubts and yearnings peel themselves away from convention or trend, where nothing is fixed and the only movement is forwards.

Through Low Light And Trees
Through Low Light And Trees
Offered by BLUEGOLDFISH1963
Price: £9.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FROM SUNSHINE TO BLISS, 10 Oct. 2010
Each release by Smoke Fairies is driven by a strong sense of time or place. Their first elusive album, `Strange The Things' played the opening, stirring bars in what has become a fascinating canon of work, characterised by a natural flair for following the right tune, or the inspiration of a place.
Those principles made that 2005 release an explosion of ideas, and in the intervening years the band have dodged any convenient or conventional development, releasing the equivalent of another two albums though various singles, downloads, EPs and demos. Singles such as `Living With Ghosts', Sunshine and `Gastown' have been signposts of the evolving live tradition of Smoke Fairies: warm, distinct and musically agile.
`Through Low Light and Trees' colours a new landscape. It is a proper album: honed and delivered in one setting, Cornwall, and seasoned by the weather, the light and the cycles of some unknown corner of that special place.
`Summer Fades' is a significant opener: understated, melodic and subtle in its invocation of the originalities of autumn. At the same time, the band emerges with an assured restraint: voice, guitars, viola, bass, drums, the last three instruments surging through a number of songs with a muscular pulse.
The next two songs, `Devil In My Mind' and `Hotel Room' - which swerve and swagger and mutter with late night insights - might be pigeonholed as `bluesy'. But they simply take the principles of what some would call `folkier' songs and let the musicianship swell. The band have spent years on the road playing their way out of any convenient category and `Through Low Light And Trees' proves this.
`Dragon' follows, an unexpected musical allegory: piano and voices playing a melody like a nursery rhyme, against a tale of devastation caused by a mythical beast, like some current disaster.
The band have made a number of vinyl releases and this album seems made for that medium, with the first five songs expansive in their range, and `side two' convincingly aligned with the recording's environment, via much more than the songs' titles. `Strange Moon Rising' shudders with the images and discords of a dark and dislocated outing, while `Morning Blues' recalls the earlier cover of Orbison's `It's Over'. But this is better: a more expansive, compelling tune, with Katherine Blamire's lead vocals perfectly pitched against Jessica Davies' distant whirr.
`Storm Song' captures the record's essence: a simple, saddened verse, set against a chorus torn by grief, but secured by the broad notes of Neil Walsh's viola; as in `Erie Lackawanna', each note and syllable is penetratingly clear.
The album concludes with the atmospheric, almost casual chords of `Feeling Is Turning Blue', around which a wistful solo is twisted, and the mutating chorus murmurs the tale of broken friendship: `Maybe it's something you learn,/ You take as much away before you crash and burn'. Then `After The Rain', returns us to the simple ingredients which flavour of all Smoke Fairies' work. Here: one guitar, harmonics, that neat combination of longing and fulfilment.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 8, 2011 10:10 PM GMT


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A YOUNG(ISH) PERSON'S GUIDE TO SMOKE FAIRIES, 27 Nov. 2009
This review is from: FROZEN HEART [7" VINYL] (Vinyl)
This EP is excellent value because of the quantity as well as the quality of its contents, which indicate clearly where Smoke Fairies have come from, and where they're going.

There is a deceptive swagger to the title track, reflecting the good times which are about to expire into winter. As the song evolves, the stark imagery of late hatchlings, bus stops and closing shops matches the mood of disintegration, beautifully crystallized in the pensive final section.
By contrast, the languid dischords that underpin 'Fences' are a finely constructed backcloth for its dry narrative about emotional and literal eviction: 'Past the mountains and the boats below/ I got out way before I couldn't let go / Best to leave you on a high'. The jagged melody winds its way through the song with an engaging sense of purposelessness.
Sweeter tunes entwine in 'Morning Light': a celebration of love, and the moment, while it lasts. Further wit mixes with the anticipated regret: 'We're like a travelling show, we could be circus freaks/ But it's not that funny - home in three weeks'. Meanwhile the backing vocal adds harmonious sighs.
'We Had Lost Our Minds' is a clever and unusual song, recalling an eerie walk to some shoreline, through an unforgiving landscape. Its exploratory verses reflect the disoriented narrative, both gradually overcome by a bold and haunting chorus: hypothermia disguising love, perhaps.
Fittingly, the last piece seems to have seeped out of a smoky joint in the Deep South. 'He's Moving On' begins with a blast of harmonica, like a distant train siren, allowing the remainder of the song to drift through the bluesy ambience it's created for itself.

With characteristic ingenuity, Smoke Fairies issued this EP in separate formats, underlining how they are not interested in conventional evolution: their work is always intriguing, the next big step neatly concealed.

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