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Ocean's Eleven [DVD] [2001]
Ocean's Eleven [DVD] [2001]
Dvd ~ George Clooney
Price: £3.75

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You Can Never Have Too Many Heist Movies, 27 Feb. 2003
This review is from: Ocean's Eleven [DVD] [2001] (DVD)
There's probably an rule somewhere, scribbled into some mysterious 'Great Book of Hollywood Rules', that you can never have too many heist movies. And it's a good rule, in my opinion, because you never can have too many heist movies. So as you can imagine, I didn't come to 'Ocean's Eleven' (another heist movie) with any trepidation at all. And I wasn't disappointed: Soderberg really does deliver, producing a movie about a robbery which is witty, well-shot, nicely paced, strongly acted (and with that cast, you'd be hard pressed to get weak performances), and overall, a joy to watch. Admittedly, it ain't going to win any prizes at any of the Big Prize Ceremonies, but these days you've got to do something really inventive like, well, feature Virginia Woolf writing, or a sad old mathmetician, to win prizes at Big Prize Ceremonies. So the lack of Big Prizes shouldn't be taken as a bad thing - 'Ocean's Eleven' is fantastic movie, and Steven Soderberg a fantastic director (if you want to see other good Soderberg and Clooney collaborations, 'Out of Sight' and 'Solaris' are probably worth a peek).
The characters played by George Clooney and Brad Pitt, put basically, bring together a band of their old friends to pull off an apparently impossible heist. With me so far? Then, they go about planning the heist. Still following? And then, to our amazement, they get the loot, get out of the joint, and go on (we presume) to live a life of rich, idyllic happiness. You get the point? This is a heist movie to a familiar template. 'Ocean's Eleven' isn't 'Buster', so don't expect a whole lot of social commentary on why theft is bad. That said, there is a nice touch at the end, where the casino-owner's hoods are seen following Clooney, Pitt, and Julia Roberts as they leave (Clooney has to serve a couple of months in prison, as a side-effect of the robbery - he had skipped bail to commit the crime) the prison to begin their new lives. But Soderberg isn't really saying: "their dream is going to be shattered". The point is lighter, more ironic than that - a little nod to the audience that he knows how these films usually ends, and wants to mix in something a bit different, to show you he knows. And the whole of 'Ocean's Eleven' works because
The narrative (excluding a few scenes at the beginning and end) takes place in a glitzy and flashy Las Vegas, shot not as the usual down-and-dirty seedy land of dead-beats and no-bodys, but as a daylight flooded land of oppurtunity (if you're a thief. It's a refreshing take on a city that has seen its fair share of film crews. And 'refreshing' can be applied to a lot of what Soderberg does right in this film. He is a film maker who knows a lot about the cinema, and as a result, knows how to surprise the audience a little. Soderberg wants to show the audience something a little different, a little more thought out than in your average heist movie.
The 'Ocean's Eleven' DVD is highly recommended, not just for the film, but also for the commentaries and documentry. The latter is your usual on-set thing, with some piss-take interview scenes from the cast, where you get a real sense that it was a fun film to make. The former, however, are the real treats. In the actor commentary, you get banter from some of the leading men, but it isn't as banal as these things can sometimes be, because the actors provide really intriguing insights into the film-making and acting process. The director-and-writer commentary is less witty, but even more intriguing on the production aspects. I rarely listen to both commentaries on these discs, but did in this case, and I wasn't disappointed.

Spider-Man: Music From And Inspired By
Spider-Man: Music From And Inspired By
Offered by ReNew Entertainment
Price: £7.64

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An incconsistent, but entertaining collection..., 27 Feb. 2003
I don't usually buy soundtrack albums, although there isn't any particular reason for this. It isn't because I think they're inherently inferior, or anything; in fact, the 'Great Expectations' soundtrack I own is great. However, I found myself buying the 'Spider-Man' soundtrack album, for no reason other than I was out looking for the 'Daredevil' soundtrack the other week. And I'm really pleased I got it. Admittedly, it isn't fantastic, or five-star, or anything - it is too inconsistent for that. But it is consistently entertaining background music.
One of the best tracks on the album is from The Strokes: 'When It Started' is gifted with a superb opening, superb vocals, and inspired instrumentation. I have no idea if really did feature in the film, but I don't care, because I adore this track. The Hives follow The Strokes and produce another of the album's ace tracks: ear-shakingly-sonic in all the right ways and full of raw little edges. Pete Yorn's 'Undercover' is another good reason to buy and enjoy this album, although I'm sure he's done better stuff - you can hear something quite intriguing in parts of this track, but for some reason the intriguing bits aren't as sustained as they might be. Alien Ant Farm's 'Bug Bytes' is catchy and energetic, and I like it. (My only reservation about this track is that AAF can't seem to decide what kind of music it is they're producing. Which means the track can feel a bit... random, at moments). I love the lyric "It's quite the web you've spun around her..." Although I'd heard Macy Gray sing 'My Nutmeg Phantasy' before, I hadn't heard this mix (by Morello) and it's... different, certainly.
The first track on the album is hilarious - the old 'Spider Man' theme. "Spider Man, Spider Man... friendly, neighbourhood Spider Man", etc. Very funny indeed. It is a nice, witty touch, and captures the light touch of the film really well. It is a shame they didn't put track 17, Danny Elfman's 'Main Titles' theme music on next, as track 2, but there you are (you can always program the CD to play the other way round). When you do get to the 'Main Titles' track you find a fantastically epic-sounding piece, reminiscent, in some of its phrasing, of the Batman theme. There are the grand, choral voices, and the track feels like it rises and falls to the same pattern as the earlier Elfman score; but it is distinct from that darker comic-hero movie, with its slightly more noble variety of bravery. Spider-Man is a less cynical, world-weary character than Batman, and you can hear that in this track. Elfman introduces a degree of tragedy, but predominately there is the hope and promise of youth; the strength and energy of the tribal drum. It is the perfect score for the story of Peter Parker: you can see him swinging through Manhattan as it plays. By way of contrast, the album ends with the movie's official 'theme', by Aerosmith. It has all the manic, wide-eyed, rock elements you want in an Aerosmith track - there is even frantic panting in the background at certain moments. And sirens. And much guitar-thrashing. It's a world away from Elfman, but fits into the film just as neatly.
There are some tracks "from or inspired" by 'Spider-Man' don't live up to the rest: there are always winners, losers, and runners-up. Chad Kroeger's offering is alright, but not an absolute highlight; the same goes for Sum 41's 'What We're All About', which isn't my sort of music at all. Black Lab provide a catchy song, and this makes up for the wishy-washy Bleu track 'Somebody Else'. Corey Taylor's sings a particularly mellow track, with moments of orchestra-led drama, and I'm glad it's on the album. However, I could have probably have done without Greenwheel and Default altogether.
There are a couple of tracks that I'm undecided over. 'Invisible Man' by Theory of a Dead Man, for example, is great in one way, but bad in another... It's one of those tracks that balances precariously on the fence that is my musical taste. Same for the Jerry Cantrell track... I can't quite decide whether I like it or not.
Overall, though, this is worth it for the good stuff, and a thoroughly enjoyable mix of stuff I'd not usually listen to.

Doctor Who: Blue Box
Doctor Who: Blue Box
by Kate Orman
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hacking in Need of an Extra Spark, 23 Feb. 2003
This review is from: Doctor Who: Blue Box (Paperback)
'Blue Box', a Doctor Who novel by veteran author Kate Orman, begins and ends with a myth, or fairy tale, about a princess and a white bull. In a novel which is grounded in the reality of early-eighties computer hacking, this is a flash of something fantastical, something working on a different level completely. But it is only a flash - Orman doesn't allow these brief book-ending tellings and retellings of the tale of the bull and the princess to spread into the main narrative. And this narrative is focused on the story of the Doctor's hunt for the missing parts of an alien artefact and the attempts of an ace hacker to possess, and understand, these parts herself. The Doctor doesn't want human civilisation to be exposed to this alien technology, and so from this, the conflict evolves. Orman is good at drawing out the characters involved in the intricate online battles across America in the chase for the alien 'things': there is the Doctor, mysterious man from nowhere; Sarah Swan, ace hacker who has made an art of holding a grudge; Bob, the young computer whiz who finds himself involved in wild adventures with the Doctor and Peri. The secondary characters come to life, dialogue and motivation and personality all skilfully evoked. Equally, the descriptions of the old, now out-of-date technology are cleverly written, capturing the sense of progress at the time, while also, perhaps, gentle laughing at the excitement caused by this sense. (Or it may just be that some readers can't help but chuckle a little, no matter how earnest Orman is in her loving recreation of stone-age era hacking and cracking). This is a good book - it is better than many Doctor Who novels, for various reasons that would be apparent to any reader.
But for some reason 'Blue Box' falls flat, with the Doctor a particular problem. There are several possible reasons. One is the absence (perhaps intentional) of a tangible threat, a reason for all the anxiety and tension, a motivation for all the running around. At no point does Earth feel threatened, and Orman doesn't seem compelled to introduce a threat. 'Blue Box' entertains the reader, but doesn't really grip them in the way this sort of thriller normally would. In some respects, 'Blue Box' is marvellous. The narrative voice feels well developed, and is refreshing. Peri, the Doctor's companion, is written with such care and complexity that it puts all of Nicola Bryant's (the actress who first played Peri in the Doctor Who TV series) screen time into shadow. Sarah Swan, is a living, breathing person, like everyone else, rather than just another 'bad girl': her angry rages are some of the most real, exciting aspects of 'Blue Box', because the reader almost fears she'll lash out between the lines. But I never worried about what would happen if the Doctor failed. Doctor Who is about winning, succeeding, pulling through, against all odds; about good defeating bad, about saving lives, not losing them. When the Doctor wins, we cheer, and when we read about the Doctor, we want to know how he is going about winning. And it is on this level that 'Blue Box' fell flat. The Doctor is distant, detached, and this is either a symptom or a cause of the problem. Going about his business saving the world, telling people of the terrible potential for disaster contained in the artefact, the reader often feels like asking: "what are you saving the reader from?" or "what is this terrible potential for disaster?" Like Peri, I felt locked out of the Doctor's mind, and so locked out of the tension and anxiety experienced by Bob, the Doctor, Peri, and Swan.
Orman's latest novel is by no means a bad book. In fact, it is a very good book in many respects: the quality of writing (her descriptions of the US landscape are fascinating), characters (a small cast, but one of the best to grace a Doctor Who novel), and action (the hacking scenes are masterfully choreographed). There have been few foes as intriguing as Sarah Swan, and few moments as funny as the big revelation that the narrator, Chick, is in fact... Well, I won't spoil it. But for this reviewer, it never fully came to life.

Shroud :
Shroud :
by John Banville
Edition: Hardcover

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic of Literary Deception, 18 Feb. 2003
This review is from: Shroud : (Hardcover)
John Banville's latest novel 'Shroud' possesses all the ingredients of a classic: a narrator who is deceptive and mendacious, but who nevertheless manages to be strangely honest and open in his digressive, bitter confession; a middle section which alters the direction and pace of the novel entirely; and the final, perhaps most important ingredient, the crisp, poised prose which makes reading 'Shroud' such an evocative, all-consuming process. 'Shroud' reads as though it has been put together from the best components, with the surest of hand - it is a gift of a novel, one not to miss.
Most of 'Shroud' is narrated by Axel Vander, a wonderfully bitter old man: he has lost his wife and he has come to the end of his career as a critic, and he now spends his time looking back at how he has lived. We learn that he has received a letter, and that the content of this letter has compelled him to travel to Turin (much is made of the presence - and absence - of the Turin Shroud); it seems that a young woman has discovered a secret in Vander's past, and Vander wishes to confront the woman. Part of the what hooks the reader in the novel's first phase is Banville's masterly use of the mystery of the secret and the mystery of the finder of the secret to build tension and anxiety: we are never quite sure of what it is that Vander hopes to achieve, but there is always the suggestion of aggression and anger in Vander's narrative. We are not prepared for what in fact occurs, in relation to the young woman and Vander. The lives of these two key protagonists become entwined in a beautiful and sad relationship that culminates in a powerful (and intentionally underplayed) tragedy.
When the end of 'Shroud' is reached, when the reader is moments from closing the book, there is a feeling of both closure and irresolution. The novel itself feels complete: on reaching the final sentences it is as though everything has been carefully planned and plotted, from first word to last. 'Shroud' feels whole and complete - a work of literature, fixed forever. But within this novel, Banville constructs a narrative that does not provide the reader with all the answers, with clear cut conclusions or certainties. In fact, the opposite is true, and so 'Shroud' keeps the reader thinking, long after they have finished reading.

Moonseed (The Nasa Trilogy)
Moonseed (The Nasa Trilogy)
by Stephen Baxter
Edition: Paperback

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When Planets Die, 12 Feb. 2003
When I first began reading 'Moonseed' I had very little idea that by the end of the novel so much would have happened. Baxter has crammed into this novel a huge amount of material, creating a disaster of such a scale that it becomes difficult by the end to fully visualise the magnitude of the damage and destruction. 'Moonseed' is a brilliant creation: with apparent ease it creates a plausible scientific framework in which a completely unforseen chain of events leads to planetary-wide disaster, and on top of this it tells of how individuals survive or die in the their individual cirmustances. On one level it is a scientific masterpiece; a complex exploration of not only a huge 'primary' disaster but also of secondary catyclisms, and of tertiary effects. On another level, it is a story of raw human bravery and raw human fear. One of the most touching scenes is a description of how a small boy saves his grandfather's life with a lot of bandages and the plastic envelope of a 'New Scientist' subscription: by allowing us to believe, through excellent writing, extraordinary circumstances, we are also able to believe in extraordinary human feats.
And there is more again: the disaster is not all. Another aspect of 'Moonseed' is space. Space: the exploration of it, and the journeying into it. Space is of huge importance to 'Moonseed', because from space comes the disaster, and to space travels a scientist in an attempt to provide a solution. Baxter draws up (via careful real-life research) an audacious, rough-and-ready, and highly dangerous mission to the Moon, twenty or more years after the Moon missions have ended. A combination of Space Shuttle missions, Soyuz missions, and International Space Station stop-offs provide the framework - and a little bit of gaffer tape, and very short-notice planning, does the rest. Reading 'Moonseed' now, after the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia, is an odd experience, because on the one hand it confirms the dangers involved in all space travel, and on the other hand it confirms that there is a good and wise reason to be trying, no matter what the problems and potential perils. But like Baxter's novel 'Voyage', 'Moonseed' evokes a hair-prickling sense-of-wonder through its descriptions of space travel, and that will appeal to many sf readers.
Then, when you think one novel can contain no more, Baxter ends 'Moonseed' with a mind-bogglingly described scenario in which the cause of the disasters on Earth offers, in a truly unexpected way, a solution to the damage and destruction caused. The destroyer becomes the rescuer.
But even that doesn't fully communicate the amount of action and drama and narrative contained within 'Moonseed': it is a huge novel, overflowing with ideas. Baxter clearly has a passion for what he writes about. Let us be thankful that he carried on writing, when he was unable to become an astronaut.

Doctor Who: Fear of the Dark
Doctor Who: Fear of the Dark
by Trevor Baxendale
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars To the Caves, 19 Jan. 2003
The opening 100 pages (or thereabouts) of 'Fear of the Dark' are quite entertaining. Baxendale isn't the best author writing for Doctor Who book range, but in this story of deep space mining and eon-old evil he manages to create a little atmosphere and tension, and characters that, while quite lightly drawn, are interesting to read about.
However, as the novel approaches the 200 page mark Baxendale's lack of narrative verve starts to become a little irritating. Without an injection of good, inspired writing, a novel (however entertaining the ideas or the set up) will always start to come apart, unable to hold the readers attention as the cracks in the narrative begin to appear. In 'Fear of the Dark' there is simply too much padding, and not enough story. Slowly the secondary characters begin to die and we don't really care about it; people run around a lot, fall in holes, but without any real sense of what is happening; and the Doctor's companions avoid dying in ever more contrived ways, because they're clearly not going to be allowed to die in this novel (for obvious reasons). The many near-deaths of Nyssa become a bit daft by the end of it all. This is all a problem of unimaginative writing: some promising ideas, in a promising setting, are let down by a narrative that never really tries to do anything new. Baxendale doesn't, as they say, "think outside of the box".
And as the novel approaches its final 80 or so pages, Baxendale doesn't so much lose the plot, as run out of plot altogether. What plot there is forms a pathetically undramatic conclusion. In the novel's final chapters you can almost see the author grasping around for ways to make a silly and implausible conclusion seem epic and scientifically rational.
A quick read, with some engaging elements at the beginning, but not one to linger over too long.

Cannery Row (Penguin Modern Classics)
Cannery Row (Penguin Modern Classics)
by John Steinbeck
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

54 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An American Poem, 19 Jan. 2003
Although 'Cannery Row' is short compared to Steinbeck's better known novels, it is packed full of the powerful and delicate, beautiful and insightful writing which Steinbeck is the master of. There is no single story or plot binding the novella together, but the structure of the narrative is found in the many stories which Cannery Row has to tell us. Through clever and precise writing Steinbeck reveals to us characters both unique and universal, colourful and natural. There is happiness and sadness, a little tragedy, and a lot of hope - a picture is painted not just of American people before WW2, but of people who while shaped by their nationality, are not defined by it. Through all of 'Cannery Row' there is a sense that some sort of fundamental humanity will see to everything being okay in the end - Steinbeck comes across as being a great believer in the human spirit, pure and simple, stripped of all its pretentions and possessions, anxieties and angers, nationalities and politics. Steinbeck looks at the world and sees things we don't always see, and he writes honestly about evil when he sees it and unsentimentally about good when he sees that. 'Cannery Row' is the sort of book which makes you look at things a little differently, and leaves you with a peaceful smile on your face when you put it down at the end.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 18, 2012 10:57 AM BST

The Dogs of Riga
The Dogs of Riga
by Henning Mankell
Edition: Paperback

61 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Atmospheric Journey, 9 Jan. 2003
This review is from: The Dogs of Riga (Paperback)
Of the two 'Kurt Wallander' novels I have read, 'The Dogs of Riga' is the weaker: 'Faceless Killers' has a more compelling plot, and a more interesting narrative. However, 'The Dogs of Riga' is still a very good book. The ending is slightly cluttered, with Mankell pushing credibility a little, but the novel as a whole is an excellent portrait of a determined Swedish Police detective who happens to be a little unlucky and a little unhealthy.
'The Dogs of Riga' is basically a Police Procedural detective novel and a no-details-ignored, everything-included study of a middle-aged man going through a variety of problems, whether they be medical, personal, or career-related. We may not aspire to be like Wallander in all respects, but the character earns the respect, admiration, and - at times - symphathy of the reader. Mankell weaves the most mundane details of Wallander's life and police investigations into a narrative which is always compelling. And he is astute not only with regard to character: there is a superb sense of geographical place, time, and politics in these novels. And this sense is nuanced, and not in any way simplistic. If anything, Mankell paints the world in too realistic a way: it is so plausible and real that reading about certain aspects of it can be depressing.
Recommended, although 'Faceless Killers' is the first novel, in terms of Wallander's chronology. After reading 'Faceless Killers' and 'The Dogs of Riga', read 'Sidetracked' and 'The Fifth Woman', in that order.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 10, 2011 2:11 PM BST

That Summer
That Summer
by Andrew Greig
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unmissable Love Story, 8 Jan. 2003
This review is from: That Summer (Paperback)
Andrew Greig's excellent and moving novel tells the story of the relationship between an RAF pilot and a RDF ground-controller during the summer of the Battle of Britain (1940). As with all the best stories, it is far more than just this. Greig's novel looks at how we (the contemporary reader) view the past and, interestingly, how the past views us: how people in WW2 looked to the future, and imagined the world after the war: what it would be like; what they hoped it would be like.
'That Summer' is a love story (the most heart-breaking I have read in a long time) full of joy and pathos, subtle, beautifully crafted. Greig successfully evokes a time which for some readers will be very far from their world, and in evoking this time, he allows us to see some of its secrets. Always, though, it is marked off as a separate, and very special place.
The narrative frequently shifts between different first-person narratives (each of the lovers narrates different sections) and sometimes to a third-person, authorial voice, and through each of these voices Greig explores the hearts and minds of his characters. And I was left with the feeling that 'That Summer' was a novel about what it means to live - to enjoy life, while it is there, against all odds.
Although set during the Second World War, Greig's work is fiercely contemporary, and far from nostalgic. It is a novel that it is difficult not to be impressed by: compelling, thoughtful, inspiring and ultimately intensely, intensely sad.

Park Polar
Park Polar
by Adam Roberts
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Short Excursion Into The Cold, 8 Jan. 2003
This review is from: Park Polar (Paperback)
After reading Adam Roberts' superb debut novel 'Salt', I was looking forward to this short novella featuring murder and deceit in a polar research station. Even with my high expectations 'Park Polar' didn't disappoint. Equally, it didn't blow my mind. It is a competent story, and it's worth investigating. Although it wasn't as impressive as 'Salt', I enjoyed it, and I particularly liked the way the development of characters - their psychology and motivations - drove the plot, and pace of the narrative. By the end of this tightly written, atmospheric novella, the reader is left with a portrait of a thoroughly messed-up protagonist.
The book does, however, suffer because of the intense focus on the central character. Some characters feel under-developed, and some events didn't feel fully justified.
But all said and done, 'Park Polar' swept me along, and I liked the evocation of a futuristic, slightly eerie polar landscape.

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