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John (London, London United Kingdom)

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Queer African Reader
Queer African Reader
by Sokari Ekine
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.95

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting and unique anthology, 11 Nov. 2013
This review is from: Queer African Reader (Paperback)
I approached this volume with a little trepidation, as many of the contributions are quite academic, but actually I found it (in the main) very readable & full of interest, and often very moving. It's intended to be a conversation by Africans with Africans, and so there's much debate (both political-pragmatic and conceptual) about problematic Western influences, including not only the obviously negative influence of the (neo)colonial legacy but also the Western mindset behind the framing of notions of human rights and the at-times presumptuous & problemamtic approaches of NGOs in advocating for LGBTQI people. However, this is in no way a collection of victim narratives: the emphasis is on self-empowerment and uplift.

Unusually, despite a brief opening piece by murdered Ugandan activist David Kato, in this volume women and trans voices predominate, which gives the book a different and particular focus and energy from many LGBT anthologies, in which men's voices predominate. It doesn't aim to - indeed actively resists attempting to provide - a single unified narrative or grand theory of LGBTQI liberation for the continent, and the contributors are by no means always in agreement.

As well as academic and political pieces, there are personal memoirs (in the main focused around activism) and identity pieces; and also some poetry and fiction. Some of this is excellent, some less so - but it provides a human level to the anthology: to be brought into the worlds of the characters, (as for instance in Diriye Osman's exellent 'Tell the Sun not to Shine'), as opposed to listening to people hold forth. There are also pieces on & by the great South African photographer Zanele Muholi, and trans activist/artist Gabrielle Le Roux, whose work I didn't know, but is excellent & very touching.

I did find one or two of the essays rather too opaque (stand up, Charles Gueboguo), and there is an element of repetition of theme, of course.

This is a wonderfully timely collection. Some pieces (about specific artists or fairly current events and dramas such as Nigeria's 2011 Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill) will no doubt recede in importance, but much of value will remain: LGBTQI equality doesn't look like being achieved any time too soon, alas. Four & a half stars, rounded up to five.

Fairytales for Lost Children
Fairytales for Lost Children
by Diriye Osman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First ever LGBT Somali book! Amazing!, 22 Oct. 2013
I loved this book of short stories about gay and lesbian Somali lives in Kenya and Peckham, South London. The language is a really original mash-up of bits of Kiswahili, Somali and London Blackney. Sometimes it's poetic and lyrical, sometimes it's tough and UK urban. Really unusually Osman gets inside both gay men and lesbians - and trans characters too, so it feels like a wide palette and psychological landscape. If there's an overall theme I'd say it's about acceptance and self-acceptance. I was particularly interested in the stories that deal with mental illness in a vivid and alarming way - including an autobiographical essay about the author's own experiences - but it's not at all a book about that, though mental health problems hit the lgbt community particularly hard.

There are really very few (fictional) books putting lgbt African characters at the forefront, never mind Somali ones, which makes this a unique read. This book is sometimes sad, sometimes sexy and sometimes even funny, and even when it gets dark, it's never despairing. It's full of insights into the migrant experience, the traumas afflicting the whole Somali community, and the challenges and joys of being same-sex attracted in a hostile world. I felt I learned a lot without realising I was doing so - all the fascinating cultural details (like the traditional Somali wedding the alienated lesbian protagonist of Earthling disastrously decides to attend with her girlfriend in tow). Personally I most enjoyed these grittier stories, and yet the shorter, lyrical pieces (like the last one, about braiding marigolds into a lover's dreadlocks) are really memorable and sweet too.

The cute line-drawings (by the author) between each story, and the title, make this a good book to give as a gift, but it's also full of writing of real substance as well. I really liked it a very great deal.

Sexuality and Social Justice in Africa: Rethinking Homophobia and Forging Resistance (African Arguments)
Sexuality and Social Justice in Africa: Rethinking Homophobia and Forging Resistance (African Arguments)
by Marc Epprecht
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Incisive & insightful - a must-read..., 12 Sept. 2013
...for anyone interested in engaging constructively with the struggle for sexual minorities' rights in Africa. In a focused but very readable way Epprecht explores and explains the particularities, cultural, historical and political, that inform LGBTQ issues & identities in Africa today. He suggests ways we can take what works about Western models of sexual identities & rights while rejecting the assumption that the Western model is the only - or in particular the universal - one, and shows how African perspectives and philosophical underpinnings(such as Ubuntu, or African humanism) also have liberatory potential for LGBTQI citizens, and human truths to reveal. I found this aspect particularly rewarding as sometimes in debate activists have called for - in various terms - solutions rooted in Africanness, but have tended not to articulate in detail what that might mean. This book begins that journey.

This is a call to activism, but it's also a fascinating lesson in cultural nuance, and the need for the understanding of nuance if one is to be as effective as possible, and in order to avoid potentially counter-productive approaches.

The Possession: Uncut Edition [DVD]
The Possession: Uncut Edition [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £3.52

2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a bit boring & derivative, 10 May 2013
This is basically a self-consciously artily-shot variant on the Exorcist, using the dybbuk, a malign spirit from Jewish folklore. To me this ultimately fell flat in various ways. In the Exorcist the morality and psychology of the narrative was oriented round the mother's atheism and the crisis of faith in the priest called upon to perform the exorcism. The mother has to accept the possibility of the spiritual (even when it's evil) and the priest, in finding spiritual evil real, finds his faith is rekindled.

In the Possession I was expecting to discover the mum & dad were Jewish - secular or non-observant - and that they would have a spiritual journey to go on in addressing their identities & heritage. But they're not: they're just secular white folks. This evacuated the story of both moral and psychological interest for me. Even in terms of the dad not being Jewish, his journey into the folklore doesn't require any shift in his belief system or cosmology: he finds he has a problem (a dybbuk) & goes to the experts to sort it out in about as interesting a psychological spirit as someone trying to book a plumber to sort out rising damp.

The documentary about the dybbuk box is mildly interesting. It was a small display-cabinet the original purchaser used as a drinks cabinet. For the purposes of the film the screenwriters decided to make it into a small puzzle-box. They announced this as if it was strikingly original, whereas in fact it's strikingly derivative - of Hellraiser & its numerous sequels, most obviously. Creepy boxes have featured in the Outer Limits (Don't Open To Doomsday), Dr Who (Kinda), Sapphire & Steel (Adventure Six), The Box of Delights (BBC children's serial from the early 80s) & so on & on.

So overall I felt this film threw away what could have been rather interesting, &, tho short & well-acted, was oddly dull.

The Cabin In The Woods [DVD]
The Cabin In The Woods [DVD]
Dvd ~ Chris Hemsworth
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £3.54

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This film is silly really, 27 April 2013
This review is from: The Cabin In The Woods [DVD] (DVD)
Essentially it's a derivative hotch-potch of Evil Dead & any number of slasher movies (which alas means we couldn't care less about the characters), Men In Black (the end sequence), the Halloween entry with Buster Rhymes (reality TV show surveillance motif), Wrong Turn 2 (ditto), with a slop of the TV series Lost chucked in.

In the first ten minutes we see some sort of enormous, bureaucratic surveillance facility that employs tons of people in shirts and ties. The drab technocrats trade banter about fertility. Then we go to some college kids who exchange leaden dialogue and head off for the weekend to the eponymous cabin. We see they are under surveillance. They meet a cliche mean gas-station attendant. They drive through a tunnel. A badly-done cgi bird flits by & flies into a sort of invisible wall of electrified hexagons. So okay, this is science-fiction. Oh, but five minutes later there are some zombies that seem to be real zombies.

I just found the elements all cancelled each other out. The slasher elements were so brazenly a pastiche they lacked suspense, and the knowing banter of the surveillance people worked against drama. The intrigue as to why the surveillance people were doing what they were doing had the - to my mind - lethal effect of just wanting to get the teenagers killed & out of the way to find out why this was all happening.

Then it all came to a really ludicrous conclusion with not very good CGI.

What's impossible to imagine is how this sci-fi bureaucracy got established, given what it's for. It gets so garish & silly that I came away from it feeling I'd really wasted my time. And unexpectedly I was bored for most of the running time.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 7, 2014 1:01 PM BST

A Small Life
A Small Life
by Suki
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully illustrated, sharply written, sexually candid, 24 Sept. 2012
This review is from: A Small Life (Paperback)
I enjoyed this very much - the semi-fictionalised diary of troubled life-model and struggling poet and aspirant novelist 'Suki', the alter of Susan Vickerman, author of the actually really good novel 'Special Needs'. Like that, this has a dry Northern sense of humour; unlike that, it's sexually frank & all the more interesting for it. Interspersed among the diaries are some good poems that link with the entries,(& link to audio recordings if you have an iPhone, tho I don't), and each entry is illustrated by a full-colour (except where the images are black & white) image of Suki/Sue. Each illustration is by a different artist & all are appealingly different in style & range in quality from good to excellent. The writing is concise, & I felt self-exposing and occasionally self-excoriatingly honest, & this is a fast, easy read.

Doctor Who - Mara Tales (Kinda/Snakedance) [DVD]
Doctor Who - Mara Tales (Kinda/Snakedance) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Peter Davison
Price: £12.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gems, but minor ones..., 1 April 2011
These are two interesting stories. I actually prefer Snakedance to Kinda, because the story seems better organised. Christopher Bailey, who wrote both stories, believed that the `action hero' was the lowest sort of hero, and the greatest hero was the `wise old man', who was mostly a contemplative observer. This resulted in Kinda, which was originally written for Tom Baker, an actor who could more convincingly fill the role of possessor of wise omniscience than Peter Davison, who ended up playing the Doctor in it. Producer John Nathan-Turner disliked the tendency in Tom Baker's later stories for the Doctor to be the cause of things happening. This was the premise of Kinda, where the companion the Doctor brings, Tegan, revives the destructive energies of the Mara, but the production attempted to play that aspect of the story down, I think to the detriment of the story, as it meant the Doctor became even more marginal to the narrative. JNT's rule that Doctor and companions must bicker was always perverse and in both stories is pointless and mildly irritating.
I don't think the design helps the script, and Bailey in an interview on the disk says he was disappointed by the B&Q garden-centre look of the forest, and with the clichéd South Sea Island look of the Kinda natives. The forest is so unthreatening (compare it with the legendarily well-designed alien jungle of Planet of Evil) that it undercuts and renders confusing the fears of the colonists to leave the survival dome unless they're inside the total protection suit thing (another unsuccessful effect, tho they tried their best): it simply isn't alien enough. Nor are the Kinda.
It does have atmosphere, nonetheless, and some good performances, and some intriguing ideas. The original giant snake was lame. The new cgi one is, while being done in a similar style, very effective - tho I had the same problem with the roaming signal appearing on-screen throughout the sequence.
Snakedance seems to me a better story. I'm afraid I have to agree with Janet Fielding's critique of her own performance: `I can see myself acting too much, instead of just being the thing.' But she is gutsy, and it's nice seeing her having more to do. Not having Adric in the story is also an improvement. Some odd editorial choices were made in the last episode - a concluding sequence (included as an extra on the dvd) being chopped for length, while long boring sequences featuring a Punch & Judy show and a panto snake (I mean, intentionally panto) play out at considerable length. The story is made by a louche performance by Martin Clunes, and again has atmosphere and interesting ideas in the script.
Seeing these stories again I was struck by how small-scale they are; almost plays for television using modest painted backdrops (the trees cast shadows on the sky in Kinda) and panto costume props. In the end I think they're very much minor stories. Yet they have a certain charm & magic & I enjoyed watching them again.

Harlem Quartet
Harlem Quartet
by James Baldwin
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a new Baldwin novel, 20 Nov. 2010
This is the French edition of Just Above My Head. It is mis-listed on Wikipedia as a separate novel, which is why I bought it. If you want a French translation of Just Above My Head, this is the book for you!

Survival Of The Dead [DVD]
Survival Of The Dead [DVD]
Dvd ~ Alan Van Sprang
Offered by ReNew Entertainment
Price: £2.74

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull and senseless..., 4 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Survival Of The Dead [DVD] (DVD)
For myself I think zombie films work best when they have a documentary, or at least a naturalistic, feel - which is why, of Romero's last several films, I preferred the more low-key Diary to the gaudier Land of the Dead. On a human level what I find dramatically interesting is watching people cope - or fail to cope - with extreme situations. If this is done realistically then some sort of social commentary is a natural by-product of the storytelling - as in the shopping mall setting of Dawn of the Dead. To me gore is only interesting if it arises out of plausible situations and involves characters who are (at least) tolerably believable.

Survival of the Dead offers none of these pleasures. Instead we have a bunch of below-cliche soldiers and a crack-shot geek (rescued from random rednecks in some wood somewhere) pitching up on Plum Island, 'off Delaware', where a boring feud has been dragging on forever between the two utterly implausible Irish families in cowboy hats who live there. Things drag on, people split up, shout loudly when searching for friends who have suddenly disappeared (so as to make sure any enemies or zombies hear them), & spray bullets around as if they're in unlimited supply. On the one hand people get shot repeatedly but struggle on to the point where I was expecting them to reveal they'd slipped on bullet-proof vests. On the other there's a bad Western movie gunfight at the end where people, despite being about ten feet apart, never seem to hit each other at all. And never, never run out of bullets.

Despite society collapsing people are uploading videos of themselves on the internet, which is still working, as is TV, complete with lame topical chat-shows. Electricity supplies seem to continue uninterrupted even 6 weeks after the crisis has begun. The soldiers go to the island with some notion of finding a liveable environment but the narrative is totally bereft of discussions or perceptions of survival, morality, resources, technology, fuel, medicine etc. Instead we get a thin opposition (one Irish clan keeps the dead chained up, still animate; the other shoots them in the head) passing itself off as a moral discourse, with never a discussion of practical matters. Forget the dead: what do the living have to eat on this modest island? A lesbian character was potentially interesting in the context of a grimly utilitarian debate about 'keeping up the population' but no such notion was essayed. Oddly, this (very attractive) woman is first shown, for no reason but voyeurism, masturbating in a jeep.

The whole film - which I felt consistently chose the wrong things to focus on at every turn - was like a boring, super-unimaginative inversion of the seeming happy end of Day of the Dead (where the survivors end up on a tropical island, and the film closes on a hopeful note). I actually found myself longing for a P.C. schematic set-up a la the rehash of Terry Nation's Survivors: I'd rather have seen a Muslim, a housewife, someone black, a racist etc thrown together & trying to get through.

I felt George Romero had got bored with his apocalyptic set-up, and allowed that sense of boredom to be played out in the characters, who spend almost no time thinking about why what has happened has happened, or what they might do about it, or what will happen generally.

The cgi gore looked cheap a lot of the time, but that would have mattered so much less if I had cared at all about the characters or been engaged by the situation. I've read a lot of criticism of the actors, but frankly if it had been stuffed with Oscar-winners they'd all have been stymied by the crummy script.

The dvd I bought comes with no extras whatsoever.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 21, 2011 2:53 PM BST

Doctor Who - Four to Doomsday [DVD]
Doctor Who - Four to Doomsday [DVD]
Dvd ~ Peter Davison
Price: £6.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'We had personalities but no characters...', 23 May 2010
...which is Janet Fielding's assessment of Tegan, Nyssa & Adric on the commentary track, & which explains why, despite perky performances, they often come across as dull & tiresome. It's funny that producer John Nathan-Turner always slated Graham Williams' stories for having the Doctor and co turn up &, for no reason, wander about poking into corners when they could just have carried on on their way, and become involved for hopelessly undermotivated reasons, because that's exactly what happens here. There's some bafflegab about some piece of technology that turns out to have nothing to do with anything. The Doctor isn't worried about trespassing; isn't really curious about the culture or creatures whose ship it is; & isn't afraid he might get in trouble for poking about at random. I longed for Jon Pertwee to drag out an astrolabe or something to work out where they've ended up so as to set the co-ordinates (as in Frontier in Space) but no such luck. I also thought of Jon Pertwee & how he'd have known how to bow to the Chinese guy, & how he wouldn't have dismissed the Urbankan leader as 'a frog in a funny hairdo' (also, Monarch doesn't look like a frog; nor does he have much of a hairdo). Given the Tardis's telepathic circuits (eg in Masque of Mandragora) he (& indeed everyone else) would have been able to understand the Aborigine guy's language. The Chinese guy's learned English, apparently; the Aborigine guy hasn't bothered (in 2000 years or however long it is - but then why would any of them speak English - including the Greek philosopher). Everything creaks along slowly, like some old Hartnell yarn: lots of being shown to guest quarters, 'entertained' in a boring fashion, & slow chuntering on. Then some really odd 'cliff-hangers' with no real suspense (the revelation that the Urbankans can change form, & that the philosopher is an android, are presented as if they're amazing & terrifying. Interestingly that really lodged them in some young viewers' minds as striking, as other reviews attest, but they really aren't narratively speaking). I didn't really understand why Monarch was traipsing back & forth over & over, nor why he wanted to have a human crew when he had '3 billion' Urbankans in storage. Why, when spying on the Doctor & co watching the dancers, does Monarch keep the monopticon focussed on the dancers, not the Doctor? He must be exceedingly bored of them, as they have one routine each, apparently, & it's nothing too special. How can the poison of an alien version of the curare frog make someone shrink to the size of a real frog in an instant? It's magic, not science. Also it's cavalier of the Doctor to fling the vial of poison - supposedly enough to kill everyone on Earth - at Monarch's feet. Luckily none of it splashes on anyone or goes anywhere. Adric's character turns on such a dime that we have to assume he isn't taken in by Monarch, but he is. The ending is abrupt, & then ludicrous as Bert Kwouk & pals decide to just head on to some other nearby planet & settle down (perhaps with 3 billion Urbankans), so that's alright then. These abrupt elements stick out all the more because the rest of the story is so slow & directionless. Monarch wanting to travel faster than time & meet himself as God is an intriguing idea that has nothing to do with the rest of the story: it just makes him interested in the Tardis for 5 minutes. Later he isn't interested, as he walks past the open door without a glance.

I didn't mind the tat space walking effects, tho it seemed heartless to lumber Peter Davison & his companions with those awful Buck Rogers space helmets for the first few scenes that they shot together. But the lack of plot was quite disconcerting. Stratford Johns is good value, but essentially wasted. The commentary was quite fun: the cast & director had been dreading rewatching it but were surprised to find it at least looked better than they thought. There's also footage of the first studio day which is interesting in its hard-as-nailsness - no time to coax performances from the cast, just bang out the lines & on - & you can see Matthew Waterhouse at times needing (but not receiving) some affirmation that he'd managed to get it right.

Despite the foregoing I have a fondness for this story. But it's not very good.

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