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James Hayes "JM Hayes" (Herts., UK)

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The Bargee [DVD]
The Bargee [DVD]
Dvd ~ Harry H. Corbett
Offered by Direct Entertainment Supplies
Price: £9.87

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Daughters up your lock..., 31 Aug. 2010
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This review is from: The Bargee [DVD] (DVD)
Britcom aficionados hoping that this collaboration of 'Steptoe & Son' talents - Corbett, Galton & Simpson, and Duncan Wood - would result in similarly classic big screen results will be disappointed by 'The Bargee'. The film is not much more than light-hearted romp, resting on a meandering plotline that's propped-up with tiny amount of implied naughtiness. Harry H. Corbett performs with his customary verve, but one is left with the impression that the script didn't provide enough for him to get his acting 'teeth' into. Hugh Griffith also takes some acting honours as the lock-keeper whose daughter is impregnated by the bargee.
Several familiar faces from the British comedy firmament feature in supporting roles, including pre-famed Ronnie Barker and Richard Briers - but funny lines are few and far between. Broad comic relief should come from Galton and Simpson Associated London Scripts colleague Eric Sykes playing a bumbling boatman; but Sykes is miscast, and his gawky routines sink rapidly. Sadly the locations reveal almost no 1960s details that might have lent the 'The Bargee' some more engaging period charm.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 18, 2012 3:49 PM BST

Screen Legends: Fred Astaire [DVD]
Screen Legends: Fred Astaire [DVD]
Dvd ~ Edward Everett Horton

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great value - but could've been even better, 17 Aug. 2010
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This slipcased collection is surely great value, comprising 'Top Hat' and 'Swing Time' from the Universal Pictures UK issues, and 'You'll Never Get Rich' and 'You Were Never Lovelier' from the Sony Pictures Home Entertainment issues; it is however partly marred by the fact that the 1935 Astaire/Rogers tour de force 'Top Hat' does not look like a first-generation transfer from the original celluloid; alas, like other Fred and Ginger Region 2 issues from Universal, it looks copied from a NTSC-standard intermediate master, resulting in rather smeary picture quality; the fact that the other three titles in the collection are fairly good quality PAL transfers accentuates the below-par appearance. I gave up on watching `Top Hat' about 10 minutes into it, knowing that there is a much better quality viewing experience to be had. Perhaps remastering for Blu-Ray will provide Astaire and his dancing partners with the presentation that they deserve.

It's a PC World: What it Means to Live in a Land Gone Politically Correct
It's a PC World: What it Means to Live in a Land Gone Politically Correct
by Edward Stourton
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not correct enough, my masters..., 10 Aug. 2010
Alas, 'It's A PC World' falls short of an attempt to produce an objective history of Political Correctness, and despite its subtitle - 'How to Live in a World Gone Politically Correct' - it is certainly no self-help book on how to survive dinner parties without mouthing ostracising gaffes.
Over 150-odd pages Stourton delivers an over-personalised and rather meandering discourse around a broad (at times nebulous) definition of his subject: he touches on some of its history and possible origins in the higher realms of religion and state, and quotes generously from previous writers around the subject. Chapters are punctuated with anecdotage about his own encounters with political incorrectness, and even a couple of asides revealing Stourton's own culpability regarding behaviours that the 'political-correctness-gone-mad brigade' might condemn. But his focus fails to address many of the areas where PCness has had a profound, often deliterious, impact on social mores, and the way in which people now often relate to eachother (i.e., instantly judged by their attitudes and opinions in a PC context). Some major aspects of the PC phenomenon are covered only slightly, if at all.
For instance, the way early PCness gained much initial notoriety in the 1980s when older-generation stand-up comedians were roundly castigated by right-on arrivistes over sexist and racist material. Neither does Stourton tackle the societal friction caused by PCness's class origins - i.e., middle-class adherents' admonishing of 'unreconstructed' conservative lower and upper classes with the claim that PCness is a 'moral' issue. This has evokes hostility between segments of society who resent being 'corrected' over their choice of colloquial nicknames, or told that certain nursery rhymes may be found offensive by minority groups. In my experience, such PC/non-PC clashes can sparked violent animosity between social groups who are otherwise decidedly apolitical in regard to party allegiances.
Stourton is right to say that political correctness (and political correction) is a major cultural phenomenon of the last 25 years, but it is one that deserves a more detailed and rigorous examination that 'It's a PC World' provides.

After the Reich: From the Liberation of Vienna to the Berlin Airlift
After the Reich: From the Liberation of Vienna to the Berlin Airlift
by Giles Macdonogh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Depressing history that revisits old wounds..., 29 July 2010
This informative but often depressing and distressing account of what befell the German nation at the end of, and immediately following, the Second World War, chronicles the sometimes overlooked fact that for most of the vanquished citizens - civilian and military - the suffering and trauma of that conflict continued for months and years after May 1945, resulting in thousands of additional deaths, injuries, displacements, destruction, and (arguably) disinheritance. This predicament was not unique to this part of the world at the time, of course, but Germany's role as a primary provocateur of the conflict lends a particular interest.

MacDonogh examines the prevailing sentiment that having started war the Germans deserved the dreadful consequences of defeat, and takes a fairly dispassionate survey of the political and societal wresting of the immediate post-war period, with special reference to Austria whose ambiguous complicity with the Nazi was at times automatically assumed by its `liberators'.

'After The Reich' covers several outcomes (to use a trendy buzzterm) from the downfall that I was unaware of: for instance, the fact that so many German forces POWs were used effectively as 'slave labour' by the Allies until well after the conflict ended, and not repatriated to help rebuild their homelands; and also the huge number of German children fathered by occupying Allied troops.

Whatever one's personal or historiographical view of the events recounted here, MacDonogh's account tries to keep the human dimension in focus; but this tack also prompts some obvious questions that the author does not address. For instance, as one reads account after account of atrocious behaviour by the conquering armies, one wonders why the German populace did not do more to ensure that stocks of alcoholic beverages, and valuables such as watches and bicycles, were not hidden or destroyed before marauding armies arrived.

This long book could have just as well ended before its account of the War Crimes trials and the Berlin airlift, as I could see nothing in the chapters covering these episodes that hasn't already been previously documented elsewhere.

You Never Give Me Your Money: The Battle For The Soul Of The Beatles
You Never Give Me Your Money: The Battle For The Soul Of The Beatles
by Peter Doggett
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ...You give me your funny paper (most of it legal documents), 19 July 2010
This is a well-written and well thought-out history of the Beatles decline and disbandment, covering in moderate depth the legal tangles, wrangles, resolutions in the 1970s, and subsequent skirmishes over the custodianship of the Fab Four's fortunes and legacy brand value up to 2009. I'm not sure if Peter Doggett has uncovered anything that fans of the singing scouse quartet would not already know, but he does touch on some interesting 'what if's. For instance, how much was the band's cohensiveness compromised by McCartney's desire to explore new creative directions that he (earnestly) felt would reinvigorate its work.

The narrative is woven around several warts-and-all accounts of the boys' erratic and often self-destructive behaviour - so avoid this book if you prefer not to know the worst excesses of their personalities in and away from the studio. It is, after all, easy to overlook the fact that all four were only in their mid-to-late twenties while being subjected to huge pressures by fame and expectation.

As per usual, Yoko Ono and Alan Klein get fingered for their parts in the Beatles' fragmentation, but on reflection it perhaps seems that Brian Epstein and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi should shoulder a share of the rap. The former for not managing his protégés' business affairs more capably, and thereby fostering the fault lines that would rupture following his death in 1967; and the latter because he exposed the Beatles to new levels of self-awareness that caused them to question the necessity and value of the group experience. Ironically, as he advised his famous disciples to meditate their egos into abeyance, Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison appear to have become even more self-centred, inwardly-focused, and demanding.

One curious anomaly about this book: although there are several references to Beatles bootlegs, I found no mention of the Bootleg Beatles, the tribute combo who, arguably, for the last 30 years, have done much to keep the spirit of the foursome's finest compositions alive for ensuing generations.

Lost In Space: Season 3 [DVD] [1967]
Lost In Space: Season 3 [DVD] [1967]
Dvd ~ Angela Cartwright
Offered by Rapid-DVD
Price: £19.23

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great series marred by tatty source transfer, 29 April 2010
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'Lost In Space' returned for a third series with new opening titles, and with Dr Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) seemingly granted a licence to do his passive/aggressive bleating routine at every opportunity, which grates when episodes are viewed in succession. Notwithstanding, LIS Season 3 has some of LIS's most memorable episodes - and also some of its silliest. By this point LIS transformed from early-evening family viewing to what as basically juvenile fare. Plot points and scenarios recur throughout the series, and despite the humour LIS is capable of mustering-up some quite scarey moments. The cast play with conviction, though there is negligable character development. Aficionados will probably need no urging to buy, but for anyone unfamiliar with LIS, I'd recommend starting with Season 2. Partly, this is due to the much-mentioned issue of the picture quality of this DVD issue. It is definitely awry - just compare it to the excellent quality evident in Season 2, as well as the fact that similar complaints have been raised for the LIS Season 3 Region 1 release on Amazon.com.
A bad telecine transfer has been suggested, but I don't think that this is the cause of the faultiness. It looks like the DVDs have been cut from retrograde video copies of each episode, rather than mastered afresh from the original 35mm film copies. Curiously, I recall LIS fans voicing similar observations about picture quality when the complete LIS was broadcast on Channel 4 TV in the late 1980s: the difference in clarity and colour between the last episode of Season 2 and the first of Season 3 the following week, was marked. Presumably there's no question that the original films still exist; just 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment being too cheap to fund new transfers, or too unprofessional to bother. Another vintage classic poorly served by its DVD publishers? That, unhappily, does compute.

Almost The Truth: The Lawyer's Cut [DVD] [2009]
Almost The Truth: The Lawyer's Cut [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Monty Python
Offered by MediaMerchants
Price: £7.09

19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Say no more, 26 April 2010
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Over the last 40 years, Messrs Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Jones, and Palin have spent much more time talking about Python than actually doing of it, and have willingly borne testimony to authors and interviewers bent on amplifying the legend; indeed, there have been more detailed exegeses of Monty Python than any other comedy phenomenon. There have been several books about it, along with biographies of individual members; the TV programs marking the 10th, 20th, and 30th anniversaries, brimmed with introspection, rumination, and revelation by the central protagonists. The group reunion at the Aspen Comedy Festival in 1998 was captured for commercial video release. So what is there left to add to the story of the world's greatest comedy troupe?

Well, so far as this series goes, very little, if anything. All five surviving Pythons talk at length about the ensemble's achievements during its relevatively brief operational period, 1969-1983. Several previously-told anecdotes are retold, and well-known Python themes revisited (origin of certain sketches, group writing/performing dynamics, censorship). There are clips a-plenty, but they are mostly the usual suspects (Parrot, Lumberjack, Cheese shop, Spam, et al). The late Graham Chapman has his say via archive interview clips.

Despite this, several long-standing aspects of 'Pythonomena' are, alas, neglected. The Python books, for instance, were crucial and innovative examples of what today we'd call brand extension (indeed, it's arguable that these and the brilliant Python LPs did more to enlarge its audience than the actual TV broadcasts). No mention is made of the excellent and underrated specials made for German TV. The fact that Python humour often strays into puerile twaddle is rarely acknowledged; and although Python's shallow attitude toward female characters has long been owned-up to, something of a veil has been drawn over the tawdry way in which Gay characters were usually depicted. The TV shows' producer Ian MacNaughton receives only a rather scathing passing mention (here and in other Python histories), although it seem likely that he did much to hold the shows together through the 45 episodes.

Was this because of lack of space? Unfortunately the producers of 'Almost The Truth' did manage to find time to include many minutes of useless `What-Python-meant-to-me-growing-up' comment from comedy second-raters like Phil Jupitus and some irritant named Russell Brand. Steve Coogan is slightly more qualified to cast perspective on Python's influence, but even he adds nothing of value. Canadian comedian Dan Ackroyd already appeared on the 1989 anniversary tribute, and 20 years on says not much beyond `They were very influential'.

The extras are rather bitty, the one item of note being a conspicuously unfunny Palin/Jone spoof for the British TV popular science programme 'Tomorrow's World'. I was hoping for the complete 9 November 1979 edition of TV chatshow 'Friday night, Saturday Morning' wherein Cleese and Palin famously clashed with Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood over 'Life Of Brian', but no such luck (although clips of this do appear in the relevant the 'Almost the Truth' episodes).

So, all in all, I'd commend this DVD only to Python completists with £16.99 to spare; for Python fans without the requisite des-inc, don't fret, you're not missing much.

Noel Coward Trilogy [DVD] [2009]
Noel Coward Trilogy [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ The Boy Actor Captain Coward Sail Away
Offered by Passion4Movies
Price: £16.68

13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Landmark program marred here by shoddy DVD transfer, 19 April 2010
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This excellent three-part documentary, first broadcast in 1998, is an extensive if rather episodic chronicle of the great man's life and achievements, with some of his plays and musicals either scantily covered or missed altogether. In some ways ITV's hour-long 1992 'Southbank Show' portrait of Coward managed to cover his talents with more breadth, and certainly accorded more credit to Coward's songwriting: let's not forget that he composed - words and music - many standards of the '20s, '30s, and '40s, as well as movie soundtracks, operetta, and a ballet score.
However, the real problem with this DVD release - and it is an outrageous one - is that the programs have almost certainly been copied from the NTSC masters made for the Region 1 release of a couple of years ago, rather than directly from the original masters in the PAL (Region 2) format. The resulting presentation is marred by inferior picture quality: the line definition is ragged (particularly noticeable with superimposed titles and captions), the colour balance is iffy. The fact that the programs include a lot of archive footage only exacerbates the substandard viewing experience. Indeed, I'd say that the picture quality of this DVD is actually inferior to my VHS copy that I recorded off-air when 'The Noel Coward Trilogy' was first transmitted 12 years ago. And when one considers the RRP of £12.99, then Warner Classics & Jazz's brazenness toward issuing a substandard product comes close to fraud.

Maybe WC&J thought that no-one would notice the degraded picture quality; if so, it was wrong. This aside, 'The Noel Coward Trilogy' is a real must for his admirers.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 22, 2010 1:09 AM BST

The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919
The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919
by Mark Thompson
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Trench warfare 10,000ft up a mountainside..., 19 April 2010
Mark Thompson's history of an often-overlooked theatre of the First World War reminds us (as if we needed it) that when megalomaniacal leaders decide upon military expeditions for motives driven by national self-aggrandisement, the outcomes are bound to be all the more horrific. There were no outstanding militarily strategic reasons for Italian forces to attack Austrian-Hungarian-held territories in the 1915, yet urged on in part by the mad, bombastic nationalistic ravings of Gabriele D'Annunzio, and with the lack of any substantial anti-war opposition on the homefront, Italian forces embarked on a long series of often futile campaigns in which their soldiers were slaughtered or maimed in the mountainous battlefields of the South Tyrol. 'The White War' is an engaging, enlightening, though depressing, read.

A Choice Of Coward - The Complete Series [DVD] [1964]
A Choice Of Coward - The Complete Series [DVD] [1964]
Dvd ~ Margaret Johnson
Offered by NextDayEntertainment
Price: £11.22

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Coward '60s-style shows panache - and its age, 15 April 2010
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This curious two-disc offering from renowned raiders of the lost archives Network DVD comprises TV adaptations of four of Coward's best-known stage plays from various stages of The Master's career, produced by Granada and broadcast on ITV in August 1964. Of the four, 'Present Laughter', starring a pre-Jason King Peter Wyngarde, and 'Blithe Spirit', with an energetic Hattie Jacques in the Madame Arcarti role - are the best realised, probably because they are played for laughs. Coward's 1924 `breakthrough' drama 'The Vortex, and the rather inconsequential 1939 Coward/Lunt vehicle 'Design For Living' (this time featuring Coward's godson Daniel Massey, and with an ever-comely pre-Python Carol Cleveland in a minor role) make less compelling viewing.

The acting style is the rather mannered and accentuated 1920s-pastiche style that was popular for revivals on film and TV in the 1960s that one suspects never actually existed first time round, and there are several moments when the shrill, staccato, poshified delivery style grates on the nerves of 21st Century ears, but there are also scenes that are superbly played, particularly in 'Present Laughter'.

Possibly the real star of these programmes is Noel Coward himself, eyes twinkling and cigarette-smouldering, who delivers sparkling 4-5 minute pre-filmed introductions to each play, directly to camera, seemingly without the aid of autocue. It's hard to imagine a contemporary playwright talking about their work with the same fascinating aplomb.

I haven't checked against published texts, but as each runs to about 70-75 minutes, it's highly likely the scripts have been trimmed to fit, and Coward students may dispute the choice of cuts employed in 'A Choice of Coward': so I'd suggest that this issue is not the best introduction to television versions of Coward classics for those trying his work for the first time.

Sourced from original black-and-white 405-lines videotapes (these must be some of the oldest UK 405-line tapes still playable), the picture quality is surprisingly good, although comes complete with the original production hiccups: clunky video editing, iffy overdubbed music, vision-mix glitches, and the occasional boom shadow or even turret-lensed camera accidentally in shot. However, they remain valuable examples of TV drama from getting on for 50 years ago.

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