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The White Lioness: Kurt Wallander
The White Lioness: Kurt Wallander
by Henning Mankell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Day of the Springbok, 21 April 2012
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I can only conclude than Mankell has read the excellent 'The Day of the Jackal' and thought how can I transpose this into some cock and bull Swedish/South African hybrid? Stick to the Frederick Forsyth. Disappointing to say the least.


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

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Man Who Went Up in Riga, 25 Mar. 2012
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I really enjoyed the first 232 pages of this book. Unfortunately the final 100 or so pages are just silly.

Without wanting to spoil the plot, this second Wallender novel sees our hero investigating some gruesome murders in then communist Latvia. In this regard Mankell is surely paying homage to the great Martin Beck series of novels: the second Beck novel ('The Man Who Went Up in Smoke') sees Beck investigating a case in then communist Hungary. Indeed at one stage in 'The Dogs of Riga' Mankell gives Kurt Wallender the alias of 'Martin': surely another homage.

Although the book is, of course, very well written one gets the feeling at times that the plot is more akin to the novelisation of a cold war spy film. Better to have left Wallender in Ystad.


Guy Burgess - A Portrait with Background
Guy Burgess - A Portrait with Background
by Tom Driberg
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars propaganda, 21 Mar. 2012
This book is such a travesty of the truth as to make the reader wonder whether it can legitimately be called factual. Driberg seeks to convince the reader that Burgess was a conscientious Foreign Office diplomat who, disgusted by British foreign policy, defected to Moscow of his own volition to work for peace: nothing more serious than a student taking a gap year to work on a kibbutz. In reality, of course, Burgess was a KGB agent who was ordered by the Kremlin to accompany his fellow spy Donald Maclean to Moscow. Driberg never mentions this: a bit like writing a biography of Nelson Mandela and not mentioning the ANC.

Are we really to believe that Driberg, a working journalist and MP, was so gullible as to swallow Burgess's version of events? Well it is believed that Driberg, who like Burgess was a notoriously indiscreet homosexual, was blackmailed by the KGB into working for them. This does perhaps put a different perspective on this book: was Driberg genuinely duped by Burgess or was he effectively coerced into writing propaganda? I tend to believe the latter.

Andrew Lownie is supposedly writing a biography of Burgess. Maybe this much anticipated work will shed new light on the Burgess/Driberg episode.


Hour Of The Wolf [DVD]
Hour Of The Wolf [DVD]
Dvd ~ Max von Sydow
Offered by Discs4all
Price: £9.28

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely nothing to do with wolves, 16 Mar. 2012
This review is from: Hour Of The Wolf [DVD] (DVD)
It is fair to suggest that 'The Hour of the Wolf' is one of Bergman's lesser known films. Watching it recently for the first time and knowing nothing about it, except that is was supposedly Bergman's only horror film, I not surprisingly thought it might have something to do with wolves or possibly even werewolves. How wrong I was. The title is a reference to a metaphorical hour before the dawn when the human soul is at its most vulnerable.

And poor old Max von Sydow's soul really goes through the mill in this film, playing an insomniac artist whose rather fragile mental state forces him to confront some increasingly surreal and (presumably) metaphorical demons which makes life rather uneasy for his pregnant wife played by the ever excellent Liv Ullmann, an actress with one of the most expressive faces in film.

I must confess I really cannot make my mind up about 'The Hour of the Wolf'. If I had to describe it to someone who had never seen it, but was familiar with Bergman's other films, I would say it is either (a) the dream sequence from 'Wild Strawberries' expanded to 90 minutes and directed by Sigmund Freud; (b) a rather slapdash re-edit of all Bergman's other films distilled into one; or (c) a dry run for 'Persona'.

To someone who was not familiar with Bergman's work I would say it was a bit bonkers. But I mean that in a good way as art should be provocative and as Bergman is clearly seeing to explore the dividing line between genius and insanity, so too the audience will ask itself whether the film is a surreal masterpiece or self-indulgent twaddle.

But away with caution, dear comrades. 'The Hour of the Wolf ' is not only an Ingmar Bergman film but it is an Ingmar Bergman film photographed by Sven Nykvist and starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann. That is good enough for me. Plus it would never in a thousand years have been passed by a Hollywood preview audience.


Richard Strauss: Sonata, Op. 5; 5 Piano Pieces, Op. 3
Richard Strauss: Sonata, Op. 5; 5 Piano Pieces, Op. 3
Price: £6.32

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and poignant, 7 Nov. 2011
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This CD is a revelation and an essential historical document. Not only is it fabulous music - honestly, the Beethoven inspired piano sonata is magnificent and the playing is full of Gouldish joie de vivire - but the sleeve notes tell us that this was Gould's last ever recording. How sad, yet wonderful that his last recording should be so joyous and memorable.


La Grande Illusion [DVD]
La Grande Illusion [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jean Gabin
Offered by vector trading
Price: £7.50

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is this the greatest movie ever made?, 8 Oct. 2011
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This review is from: La Grande Illusion [DVD] (DVD)
Well, no it isn't as that honour must surely go to 'Casablanca' but it is still pretty damn near the top of the list.

Director Jean Renoir saw the world as being organised along parallel lines - i.e. a French farmer having more in common with a Chinese farmer than with a French financier - and he explores this philosophy in 'La Grande Illusion', turning what in the hands of a lesser director would be a run-of -the-mill prisoner of war drama into a moving study of friendship. Indeed, the more Renoir explores the common bonds that unite soldiers, prisoners and civilians irrespective of national boundaries, the more the viewer is tempted to ask "what was the point of the 1914 - 1918 war?" - perhaps that is the Illusion of the film's title. As one character states:"Frontiers are an invention of men. Nature doesn't give a hoot".

The heart of the film is the relationship between prisoner and gaoler: the aristocratic French captain de Boeldieu and his German counterpart von Rauffenstein. Both men are much easier and more relaxed in each other's company than they are with their own 'working class' army compatriots, readily swapping stories about Maxim's in Paris and horse racing in Liverpool. But Rauffenstein's faith in his class background is ultimately misguided (a grand delusion?). Whereas Boeldieu has accepted the decline and ultimate demise of the status of the aristocracy and respects the talent of his fellow soldiers without actually befriending them, Rauffenstein yearns for the maintenance of the old social order and can even barely acknowledge the working class as genuine army officers. This clash between Rauffenstein's misplaced upper-class idealism and Boeldieu's pragmatic realism leads only to tragedy.

In one notable scene, the Germans sing their patriotic song 'Die Wacht am Rhein', only for the French to retort with 'La Marseillaise'. Hang on a second: didn't Michael Curtiz copy that in Casablanca 5 years later in 1942? Hmm ... maybe 'Casablanca' is not so great after all!

If you have already seen 'La Grande Illusion', see it again. If you have not, then buy this film.


Piano Concerto No. 1 (Bernstein, Nypo, Gould)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (Bernstein, Nypo, Gould)

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Coughing Concerto, 21 Mar. 2011
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As an admirer of Gould, if I had to choose just one Brahms Piano Concerto No.1 to listen to for the rest of my days, this Gould/Bernstein effort would not be it.

There are too many things to detract from the recording: one is used to maddening vocalise from Gould, but this time it comes from the audience. Honestly, listening to this CD one wonders if this concert took place in the pulmonary diseases wing of a hospital rather than the Carnegie Hall. In addition, the recording is technically not the best and yes the tempo employed is rather broad.

However, this is an essential historical document for various reasons. First, there is Bernstein's famous disclaimer which, although controversial, I find extremely well thought out, well argued and extremely witty; second this concert and the coughing may well have been the straw that broke the camel's back and drove Gould to retire ridiculously early from the concert hall; and third with Gould's highly idiosyncratic approach, as Bernstein says, it is fascinating to have a new look at a much played work. Yes Gould does adopt a rather broad tempo but his playing is, as always, technically brilliant.

Like him or love him, Gould was the great nut/genius of classical music. How utterly boring the world would have been not to have been blessed with him.


The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: The Hound of the Baskervilles / Sobaka Baskerviley. DVD-NTSC. RUSSIAN FILM. ENGLISH SUBTITLES.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: The Hound of the Baskervilles / Sobaka Baskerviley. DVD-NTSC. RUSSIAN FILM. ENGLISH SUBTITLES.
Dvd ~ Vitalij Solomin

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Flawed yes, but terrific, 20 Feb. 2011
It is a shame that this version of The Hound of the Baskervilles is unavailable on DVD, but fear not some kind person has put it on youtube for all to enjoy.

For all the flaws of the film - some of the editing, directing and continuity are all over the shop and occasionally the acting is a touch OTT (viz Nikita Mikhalkov's rather bonkers Sir Henry) - this is perhaps the most faithful version of The Hound I have yet seen. True, it maybe doesn't have the cut to the chase energy of the magnificent Rathbone Hound, but the makers of the film are obviously in love with the source material and they are not afraid to actually tell the story as written. Part of the 'problem' with The Hound is that Holmes is absent for long periods ('Hamlet without the Prince'); but whereas other filmed versions try to speed up Holmes's return to the action, here Watson is allowed to take centre stage. Also, I think this is the first version I have seen in which the morally ambiguous character of Laura Lyons is portrayed.

Although the Baker Street of this Hound looks more like Leningrad than London and the Dartmoor looks like Siberia and sounds like the Florida everglades, there is no doubting the quality of the set designs for both 221B and Baskerville Hall. I have no idea how much this film cost to make, but it looks extremely impressive.

OK, so Vasily Livanov and Vitaly Solomin don't quite replace Jeremy Brett and David Burke as my favourite Holmes/Watson pairing, but their performances are perfectly praiseworthy.

If you are a Holmesian, hurry to youtube: there is not a moment to lose! You have simply got to see this Hound!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 10, 2013 10:35 PM BST


Heavy Weather: A Blandings Story (Penguin Modern Classics)
Heavy Weather: A Blandings Story (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Caterina Guerrero Ubach
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificient, 5 Feb. 2011
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It is obvious that Wodehouse is as much in love with Blandings Castle and its gardens as Lord Emsworth is in love with his beloved Empress. There is something achingly spell-bindingly hypnotically alluring about Blandings : an earthly paradise presided over by the benign Lord Emsworth who just wants to look after his pig and gardens. Don't we all?


Symphony 4/Variations Haydn/Academic Festi
Symphony 4/Variations Haydn/Academic Festi

5.0 out of 5 stars Why has this recording been deleted?, 5 Feb. 2011
Unless I am mistaken, this recording of the Brahms No.4 has been deleted from the catalogue, hence you are only likely (and if you are indeed fortunate) to pick up second hand copies. I did so from a Belfast charity shop and I don't think I have ever spent £2 more wisely. Why is it deleted? This is a stunning performance with the Vienna Philharmonic on top form. But the real laurels go to Barbirolli who fashions a despairing reading of the work: from the heart-rending fatalistic opening movement to its stark conclusion Barbirolli is saying: "when we are all going to die anyway, do you really expect a happy ending?". Get the recording if you can.


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