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Alain English (London, England)

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Hollywood, Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon - The Case Against Celebrity (Lifestyles General)
Hollywood, Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon - The Case Against Celebrity (Lifestyles General)
by Andrew Breitbart
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.95

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bizarre account of the rich and famous, 27 Feb. 2005
Los Angeles based reporters Mark Ebner and Andrew Breitbart have come together to produce "Hollywood, Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon - The Case Against Celebrity". The book was written in response to celebrity bias in the media, and the corrosive effect this has on mass culture.
The book sets up celebrities as anti-role models, demonstrating how their success and luxury renders them great self-publicists, but utterly useless human beings, inable to properly look after themselves or their offspring. It is these same celebrities who take stands against the system that encourages their fame, and preach honest family values far removed from their own.
The book features in-depth investigations into Hollywood's sex and porn industry, Scientology, online Hollywood and how political correctness has destroyed comedy. The pair also expose a hideous Los Angeles sub-culture where out-of-work actors who meet at AA meetings are forced into selling non-stick frying pans under false pretenses to earn money.
There are a couple of missteps (including an unfunny running gag about 'the heterosexual Tom Cruise') and I thought the book could have explored the movie-making process a little more in the research (how do these films and songs get released with so many out-of-control celebrities?).
Nevertheless, "Hollywood, Interrupted" is vital reading. Although fundamentally a US-based tome, the proliferation of soaps and reality shows plus a tabloid fixation with celebrity, indicates a similar malaise may be developing over here.


Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
by John Pilger
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb body of journalistic work, 27 Feb. 2005
Australian reporter John Pilger has edited and released this compendium of great investigative journalism over the past sixty years, chronicling events from Britain to Cambodia, from Vietnam to Iraq. Like Pilger, the authors of these pieces are anti-establishment and have a knack of peering under rocks to expose corruption, deceit and abuse of power.
All of these pieces make for top-notch reading. Highlights include Martha Gellhorn's visit to Dachau; German reporter Gunter Wallraff's "Lowest of the Low", an exposure of Germany's illegal labour market; Uruguayan writer Edward Galeono's "The Upside Down World", a well argued philosophy on the how the world really works; an extra long section devoted to reporting on Iraq with pieces from writers like Robert Fisk and Jo Wilding; and the final concluding chapter from Edward W.Said, who died last year.
Riveting and thought-provoking work, this comes highly recommended.


What Do You Say After You Say Hello
What Do You Say After You Say Hello
by Eric Berne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

80 of 84 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book on the nature of human destiny (spoilers), 25 Dec. 2004
"What Do You Say After You Say Hello" is a sequel to Dr Eric Berne's book "Games People Play". In that book, Berne argued that human beings participate in a series of deceptive rituals and manoeuvres ('games') that hamper real communication and intimacy.
In this book, he extends that theory (transactional analysis) towards human destiny that he says is predetermined by a 'script' people compose in early childhood before they have reached six years old. This script will determine whether that person is a winner, non-winner or a loser. Berne's theory is well founded, taking into genetic, prenatal and parental influences that make up a person's life script. The aim of the book is to act as guide for fellow psychiatrists in recognizing scripts and eliminating their more negative aspects in their patients.
According to Berne, a person's childhood-written script follows closely myths and fairy tales, and the differing roles (Hero, Victim, Villain, Ally, etc) than in simple common sense. People are capable of changing their scripts, but more often than not stick by them, as this is easier to do than to effect any real change in their lives.
Berne covers all aspects of the script using popular fairy-tale analogies like Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood to help illustrate his points. He also includes objections to the Script Theory and a Script Check List for patients.
This book should be a handbook for human psychologists and would appeal to anyone interested in psychology. Casual readers, if they can hack the terminology, might find it interesting as well.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Series 7 Part 2 [VHS] [1998]
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Series 7 Part 2 [VHS] [1998]
VHS

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Typifies the best and worst of "Buffy" (spoilers), 7 Sept. 2004
The final end to "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" comes with these last twelve episodes, this boxset including the episode "Showtime" that was unfortunately omitted from Part 1. The episodes typify the best of Buffy (engaging story and characters), and the worst (unnecessary cast additions, and logic problems).
Sarah Michelle Gellar turns in a teriffic performance as Buffy, especially in the episodes "Get It Done" where she discovers the true origins of the Slayer and the season finale "Chosen", where she makes a decision that changes her fate forever. She is given fine support by her fellow regulars Alysson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Anthony Head et al. The return of Eliza Dusku's rogue Slayer Faith is also welcome, and adds some interesting tension between the characters.
Ensouled vampire Spike (William Marsters) becomes a complete character in this season. The episode "Lies My Parents Told Me" shows what really turned this sensitive poet into a bloodthirsty demon: killing his mother. It's a wonderful episode, rounding off his character while setting him up for his role over on "Angel".
The last-minute introduction of preacher Caleb (Nathan Fillion) is something of a double-edged sword. While he's an interesting addition to the series gallery of misogynistic bad guys, his presence severely blunts the impact of the main villain, the First. Furthermore, some episodes feature plot twists that are not adequately set up beforehand.
But these are minor quibbles. The series last episode, "Chosen", completes the story in a suitably epic, grandiose fashion.
Goodbye, Buffy, it was nice knowing you.


Loving Mr. Spock: Asperger's Syndrome and How to Make Your Relationship Work
Loving Mr. Spock: Asperger's Syndrome and How to Make Your Relationship Work
by Barbara Jacobs
Edition: Paperback

16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Combines personal perspective with thorough research, 17 Aug. 2004
Asperger's Syndrome, or High Functioning Autism, is a recently discovered phenomenon. Only over the past few years has there been books of any kind available to the public looking this disorder and individuals who have it.
In this book, Barbara Jacobs, a media professional, discusses her relationship with 'Danny', a strange but curiously attractive individual she first met on holiday. Danny's intelligence and childlike sense of wonder make her fall in love with him, even as she's exasperated by his complete lack of common sense, fixed routines, socially inappropriate behaviour, and complete inability to deal with human relationships.
Although her tone tends to get a bit high-handed sometimes, she writes with an articulate fluency that really makes you feel for her. Her dilemma is interesting: continue to act like a caretaker to Danny (who cannot look after himself), or do what might be the best thing, and let him go...
Barbara ties in Danny with other known Aspergers, and uses them to point out why Asperger's Syndrome is very subtle and hard to detect. She has further included background to Asperger's Syndrome, symptoms for diagnosis, employment prospects, etc. Through the Internet she has sought out other Aspergers and their partners, and used their experiences to validate her own.
Although the actual history of Asperger's could have been left out, much of this information is intriguing to read. There are so many different Asperger personalities, all tied in through this pattern of behaviour. The information sites she lists and her concluding tips for starting relationships with Aspergers are similarly enlightening.
In it's combination of emotive personal perspective, and thorough analytical research, this is a very unique book on a still widely misunderstood disorder.


The Hurricane: The Turbulent Life and Times of Alex Higgins
The Hurricane: The Turbulent Life and Times of Alex Higgins
by Bill Borrows
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny and realistic look at a troubled sportsman (spoilers), 23 July 2004
This is an excellent book from Bill Borrows, following the life of the snooker genius and loutish drunk that is Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins. Well researched and woven together, it provides a cynically funny look at a deeply troubled individual.
Opening with an excellent "Private Eye" riff on Higgins' clashes with snooker authorities, the first chapter sets up Higgins as he is now: a demented, pathetic but strangely dignified figure, worn from constant boozing, womanizing, smoking, and a recent struggle with throat cancer. It is hooks the reader in to explore the man's history and how he has managed to get to that point, from the early days in working class Belfast, up through the snooker ranks, two world championships, a slow decline, his many drunken rampages, and a litany of damaged relationships.
Despite of a couple of careless editing errors in the later pages of the book, it is still a very well written tome. Borrows has a gift for working in references to newspapers, sports journals and one-to-one conversations into his writing without disrupting from the reading flow.
More important is his attitude towards his subject. This is no hagiography. Borrows demonstrates a keen respect for Higgins' snooker ability, contrasted with a cynically ironic approach to his behaviour off the table. He is unafraid to ridicule Higgins' fundamentally selfish nature, his 'bad boy' reputation and obsessively hedonistic lifestyle. His behaviour towards his fellow professionals in later years, particularly Dennis Taylor, is shocking.
Having said that, it's clear he likes to contrast the renegade Higgins with the stiff, formal and professional image of snooker it's executives wanted to project. Higgins went against everything snooker was meant to stand for. Because of that, he was the game's biggest star and arguably the one who made snooker popular. Borrows shows a low opinion of the Stalin-like operations of snooker administration, particularly it's regulatory body, the WPBSA (World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association).
Borrows' final thoughts are: Higgins is an instinctive, compulsive sporting animal who lives for the moment and puts himself first. This has been the making and undoing of him. He is a participant, sportsman, child, survivor. He is Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins.


Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 6 - Episodes 12-22 (Box Set) [VHS] [1998]
Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 6 - Episodes 12-22 (Box Set) [VHS] [1998]
VHS

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Effective but very depressive set of episodes (spoilers), 27 Jun. 2004
Part 2 of the sixth season of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" continues the themes of adult life and self-destruction introduced in Part 1. Season Six rubbed the fans up the wrong way because it was the Slayer and her friends who were the Big Bad this season, making wrong decisions, splitting apart and becoming weak to the point where the pathetic "Evil Trio" could actually pose a threat to them. Though it makes for depressing viewing sometimes, especially in filler episodes, it all eventually comes together in style.
The main characters continue to be well-fleshed out and are fun to watch, although Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Tara (Amber Benson) are as good as left out for most of the action. Tara was a sweetly mellow presence, but never really developed far beyond her relationship with Willow (Alysson Hannigan). Sarah Michelle Gellar is good as Buffy, but she's overwhelmed by her supporting cast.
Nicholas Brendon is on stunning form as Xander, particularly in "Hell's Bells" where he is confronted, in many forms, with his insecurities over his decision to marry Anya (Emma Caufield). James Marsters is similarly good as Spike, as the vampire struggles with his conscience and his love/lust for the Slayer.
Then there is Adam Busch as Warren, the series's first on-running human villain. Embittered geeks are nothing new to "Buffy" and many have featured in one-off episodes throughout the series. But none have been explored to quite the same depth Warren has. Through Adam Busch's superb performance, Warren evolves from a bullied, sexually frustrated nerd to a misogynistic psychopath. Yet even as he sinks to bitterness and evil, his cluelessness never dissipates.
Yet the show belongs to Alysson Hannigan's Willow, who turns evil in the season's final episodes. Hannigan does well showing the conflicted, pained insecurities at Willow's core and her last face-off with Xander, as she attempts to end the world, has plenty of emotional power.
It's all very downbeat, and with the exception of the underrated "Doublemeat Palace", there is no levity or humour here. The result is a turgid, but still compelling watch.


In Contempt
In Contempt
by Christopher Darden
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insider's view of the Simpson trial (spoilers), 17 Jun. 2004
This review is from: In Contempt (Hardcover)
It's just over ten years since Nicole Brown Simpson and her lover, Ronald Goldman, were murdered in a savage frenzy in upstate Los Angeles, California. On October 3 1995 O.J Simpson, popular actor and football player and Nicole's abusive ex-husband, was acquitted of the murders despite a mountain of evidence that pointed to his guilt. In this book, lead prosecutor Christopher Darden gives his take on why the case went wrong, weaving his own backstory into his account. Darden is honest and thoughtful throughout, though at times the tone alternates from being bitter to regretful, with a slight hint of self pity.
It is clear that Darden was probably the wrong choice to prosecute Simpson. He is, by his own admission, a shy person and may have lacked the strength of character to cope with the pressure in this case. When he was selected, Darden had been out of the courtroom for three years, therefore his trial capabilities may have been limited.
However, Darden elucidates with clarity what lost him and his team what should have been, Simpson's celebrity aside, an open-shut case. There were too many lawyers on Darden's side with ever changing priorities, contributing to indecision over how to present the case and what evidence to include and leave out.
External issues such as defense lawyer Johnny Cochrane's playing of the race card (totally obscuring the case) coupled with a jury made up of people inflamed by recent racial tensions in Los Angeles, tensions made all the harder through the presence of racist copy Mark Fuhrman on the case, could not have made things easy.
The unprecedented media attention to the trial, including cameras in the courtroom, exacerbated this. Judge Ito, enamoured with his new celebrity status, repeatedly played to the cameras and was biased towards the prosecution. The constant threats to Darden, seen as a traitor to blacks for trying to prosecute Simpson, and the media focus on Darden's colleague Marcia Clark, engaged in a bitter divorce at the time, only served to drain the energy and competence of the prosecution.
Darden explains all of this with clarity, even his self-pitying tone is a bit off-putting sometimes. His final thoughts on the case demonstrate that he, perhaps better than anyone else, has a handle on the case and its place in American history:
"There is much to. Somehow we have allowed the murder trial of a simple football player to define race relations in America. We must all find more worthy causes and more significant points to debate - a moral and political center for the civil rights movement. If there is no other common ground, we must at least agree that there is more important business to attend to."
p. 382
Darden's book is thus a worthwhile insider's look at one of the most infamous murder cases in the last century.


Chance Witness: An Outsider's Life in Politics
Chance Witness: An Outsider's Life in Politics
by Matthew Parris
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable biography (spoilers), 11 Feb. 2004
Matthew Parris is a notable journalist in the field of politics and, having been an MP himself at one time, loves to write in detail about the Parliamentary world. Much like his newspaper articles, this biography is written with an elegant, fluid and highly readable prose style that really captures it's author's personality.
The early section about Matthew's happy but highly unusual childhood travelling across Rhodesia, Swaziland and Jamaica, is well written but it would be better suited as backup to his travel books, and is not nearly as good as what follows.
When Matthew lands in England to go to Cambridge University, then his book really takes off. Matthew's highly cynical, but humourously realistic take on the British institutions he encounters (Cambridge, the Foreign Office and eventually the House of Commons) is very enlightening and he writes in such a way you can't help but agree with him.
Matthew is also well-placed to comment on several popular politicians of recent years including Michael Portillo and John Patten. He may have remained merely a backbench MP but he got to know Margaret Thatcher very well when she was in office, and he manages to capture in his own way her many strengths and flaws, building a very complete picture of this most domineering of politicians.
His opinion of John Major is equally good, as he describes the various subtleties that lay behind his "boring" image and shows the man to be a much stronger character than he was often perceived in his time. His opinion of Tony Blair is also very well written. Matthew spotted far earlier than most of us the flaws of our current Prime Minister, a charismatic figure with an excellent grasp of oral rhetoric who was (and still is in many ways) American-influenced in his speeches and politics, with a shallow grasp of policies and detail.
At the same time, Matthew shows himself to be slightly eccentric, bumbling to a degree and insecure almost to the point of madness. His homosexuality is revealed to be a large factor in this, and the sections on Clapham Common as well his Newsnight encounter capture this very well.
A highly perceptive and readable biography. Well worth a look.


Doctor Who: Paradise Towers [VHS]
Doctor Who: Paradise Towers [VHS]
VHS
Offered by stephensmith_426
Price: £12.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good story, poor production (spoilers), 18 Sept. 2003
After "Time and the Rani", script editor Andrew Cartmel came to Stephen Wyatt to pen Sylvester McCoy's second story as the Doctor. Devising a story set in a massive tower block, and drawing heavily from JG Ballard's novel "High Rise", Wyatt created a story that had alot of potential for a good social satire. Sadly what became "Paradise Towers" is let down by poor execution which fails to take advantage of the story's ideas.
Paradise Towers is a luxurious 304-story tower block designed by a non-human entity, the Great Architect Kroagnon. An arrogant and tyrannical being, Kroagnon refused to let anyone inhabit his creation. Unable to remove him or have him killed, the Tower's inhabitants encase him in the basement of his own creation, hastily leaving the building in order to go and fight a war. They evacuate the very young and very old people to live in the Towers indefinitely while the war is fought.
Hearing great things about the Towers, particularly it's swimming pool on the top floor, the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) decide to pay a visit. They find the place in disrepair and disorder. The rat-infested corridors are roamed by crossbow-toting street gangs called the Kangs; the apartments are inhabited by the Rezzies, canniballistic old women who jazz up their bland apartment existence by capturing and devouring anyone who crosses their path; the building is overseen by the caretakers, who hopelessy try to run the Towers behind a rulebook of inefficient bureaucratic regulations.
The sole outsider is Pex (Howard Cooke), a cowardly ex-soldier too scared to fight in the war. Meanwhile, Kroagnon, with the help of his deadly robotic cleaners is steadily plotting his escape...
The lighthearted almost comical approach to the story is dire, and reduces what could have been a great drama to the level of farce. The script leaves a couple of plot holes dangling and only towards the end does everything become completely coherent.
This has to be Bonnie Langford's worst story on "Doctor Who". Reduced to merely wandering around corridors and making, in light of what happens to her, unbelievably stupid decisions, she gives a very strained and unconvincing performance.
Howard Cooke (as Pex) and Richard Briers (as the Chief Caretaker) are also poor, not taking their roles seriously enough. It would have worked better had Pex been cast (as Wyatt intended) as a musclebound, Sly Stallone type. There were alot of pumped-up musclebound tough guys in cinema in those days, so to have one who was a coward would have been a novel twist.
On the plus side, McCoy is getting better (and less manic) as the Doctor and Brenda Bruce and Elizabeth Spriggs have the right amount of sinister relish as Rezzies Tilda and Tabby.
The sets are very good, but the lighting could have been more sinister and noirish in places. However, the special effects, especially the killer robots, are shoddy. The music isn't too bad though, and adds a bit of edge to the drama.
All in all, a good story with some excellent ideas. Later seasons would mould the mystery and satire presented here into much better stories.


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