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Berlitz Learn Spanish Premier (PC/Mac) (6 CD Set - Windows & Macintosh)
Berlitz Learn Spanish Premier (PC/Mac) (6 CD Set - Windows & Macintosh)
Offered by Quality Media Supplies Ltd.
Price: £26.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Everything you need to learn at home or on the move, 16 Nov. 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
For under £30 I would rate this package as fantastically good value for all it contains. 4 Audio CD's each running at over an hour, mp3 exercises to be played on your iPod, and the computer based language course itself which already I am finding fun and easy to use. In fact, it's giving me some much needed confidence that I will be able to respond spontaneously in basic situations next time I visit Spain.

The video role-play exercises are extensive and thorough, covering all the basic scenarios from arrival at the airport to eating out. You can select to play any of the various speakers and you have numerous means of reviewing and testing your progress including a very impressive analysis of your attempts at pronunciation.

The only real gripe I have so far is that on the audio CD's you aren't given much time to 'repeat after me'. In fact I'm continuously giving my effort simultaneously as the Spanish is repeated on the disc. That was irritating at first but I'm beginning to find that it might actually turn out to be a help.

With the cost of evening classes being increased and the perennial difficulty of getting a place on rapidly booked up Spanish courses, I'm rather pleased that this winter I can now stay snug at home and learn efficiently at my own pace on the computer. Excellent value for money.

The Machinist [DVD] [2004]
The Machinist [DVD] [2004]
Dvd ~ Christian Bale
Offered by TwoRedSevens
Price: £6.71

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent film that just about deserves Bale's performance, 10 Nov. 2008
This review is from: The Machinist [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
I remember that this film came out around the same time as Adrian Brody's 'The Jacket'. The themes of both films are remarkably similar - a tortured individual is increasingly plagued by bizarre intrusions into his everyday reality, with both he and the viewer desperately trying to ascertain if what he is experiencing is real or merely a descent into madness, scrambling for clues in a dense thicket of intimations, references and flashbacks to the characters past.

I enjoyed 'The Jacket', but found this to be a notch higher in the mind-bending rankings, firstly because all the loose strands were tied up at the end, and secondly, because of a quite outstanding and intense performance from the unnervingly gaunt Christian Bale. The unbearable responsibility of self-judgement played out in a contemporary and real yet disturbingly soulless backdrop, turns this film into one of the best adaptations yet of a novel that Kafka never wrote, and that's the kind of accolade that Bale's sacrifice to his art surely merits.

The Clouded Yellow [1950] [DVD]
The Clouded Yellow [1950] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Trevor Howard

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow burner that builds to a thrilling climax, 5 Nov. 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Whilst falling short of the classic mark, and after a rather ponderously slow start, this film gradually builds to a breathless and redeeming climax. That should go some way to satisfying those who might buy it thinking it is a Hitchcock film (the blurb on the back is VERY misleading!).

The entire ambiance of the picture is pervaded by variations on the title's 'butterfly collector' theme - captivity, capriciousness, the attraction to flighty beauty, and the thrill of the chase that makes up the second half of the feature as the excellently played lead roles try to escape the net that is closing in on them.

Fault wise, the film does take a while to get going. To me, the age disparity between the leads jarred a little, not in any moral sense but rather in the way that the Howard character is repeatedly described as being a young man when he looks to be over 40. Of course the whole thing is outrageously dated, but any potential purchaser probably won't care about that and in fact will probably welcome the step back into a different world of values of which this film and it's male hero gloriously typifies.

I'm neither an expert nor a major fan of this era in British cinema, but it seemed to me to hold up pleasingly well to some of the classics I have watched. Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons do seem a tad miscast together as romantic leads but both play their roles admirably and, satisfyingly, the same can be said for the minor cast, above all several quirky little characters who make fleeting but memorable appearances.

Hardly a surprise that the DVD contains no extras, but with Amazon selling this at a tenner, for fans of Hitchcock or British Film Noir cinema I'd say it's a good one for the collection.

The Elephant Man [DVD] [1980]
The Elephant Man [DVD] [1980]
Dvd ~ Anthony Hopkins
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £6.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Painfully sad to watch but a true classic, 31 Oct. 2008
Rightly regarded as one of the classic British films of the last decades, this broadly true tale of dignified humanity shining through the gloomy, impersonal smog of Victorian London hardly puts a foot wrong. Anthony Hopkins is superb as the dispassionate surgeon who rescues the maltreated circus freak and convincingly settles his own (and our) moral doubt as to whether he has simply replaced the morbid curiosity of the voyeuristic crowds for an equally exploitative scientific curiosity and means of personal gain. But it is John Hurt's rendition of a humanity that has refused to die that makes this film so memorable, a peerless performance that is heartbreakingly never less than utterly convincing.

The Virgin Suicides [DVD] [2000]
The Virgin Suicides [DVD] [2000]
Dvd ~ Kirsten Dunst
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £3.80

4.0 out of 5 stars Dreamy, moody, good looking..just unsure of it's own identity, 14 Oct. 2008
This film could have been so much better than it was. Not that it's a bad film at all - it's quite beautifully shot, all the roles are played with ease and admirable understatement, and it's played out to a hazy backing track that matches the adolescent yearnings of the characters perfectly. Most of the ingredients are there and the film is certainly easy on the eye and extremely watchable. Yet at the end, I was left with a dissatisfyingly unsubstantial impression as to what the film meant. Why did these teenage girls committ suicide and why did I care so little? A little more imaginative crafting of the script might have enabled this film to say something more tangible about the nature of adolescence, virginity or the reasons for teenage suicide. The few attempts to do so that registered with me seemed rather heavy handed in their symbolism, unfocused or badly executed, such as the girls desperate desire to save their tree from being cut down. Apart from that, save for Kirsten Dunst, the girls aren't particularly pretty enough to convince as some kind of mythological fertility sacrifices.

Perhaps I'm being unfair as I did only watch the DVD in several chunks and was perhaps distracted. It's certainly worth watching but to my mind, not as memorable as it ought to have been. I'd say 3 and a 1/2, but I'll give it 4 stars..

Hitler: Military Commander (Arcturus Military History)
Hitler: Military Commander (Arcturus Military History)
by Rupert Matthews
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and wide-ranging analysis, 30 Sept. 2008
For a compact book, this is an admirably comprehensive look at every aspect of Hitler's role as military commander of Germany's armed forces. Hitler rebuilt Germany from the ashes of a broken, humiliated and defeated nation, restricted in it's ability to even possess even an effective defensive military and yet, within the space of decade, had come withing an icy whisker of conquering the entire Eurasian land mass. Yet, in the end, he left Germany far more ruined and utterly destroyed than it had been at the end of the first world war.

The author comes across as being scrupulously fair to his infamous subject. It is made clear that we are not looking at Hitler's appalling moral conduct, solely his record as a military leader. And this he soberly looks at from every possible angle, from Hitler's uncanny ability to cobble together military alliances in the lead up to war to his managing of the Wagnerian yet futile defence of Berlin in the final stages of the war. We even have a very illuminating chapter on young Adolf's (undeniably heroic) performance as a humble Corporal in the Great War, an experience that was to starkly shape his entire subsequent political and military outlook.

I found the prose to be a little flat but that's not a major criticism in a book which attempts (and succeeds) to deliver such a wide-ranging analysis in such a short number of pages. A clear thread runs throughout the narrative - Hitler succeeded, often miraculously so, in the early years as a kind of visionary politician guiding the military, but as he increasingly became the sole commander of nation and the entire armed forces of Germany, both luck and judgement quickly ran out. Hitler's demonic force of personality and will enabled him to rise from failed artist to heroic corporal to Fuhrer of the nation, feared by the world and close to conquering half of it. Yet, in the end, as his megalomaniac and stymieing hands took complete control of the military, his lack of patience and interest in small details, logistics or, indeed, of the appalling suffering of his troops, meant that the final miracle was that Germany held off the Russian army and 'Year Zero' for so long.

Radical Evolution
Radical Evolution
by Joel Garreau
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.84

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to a profound and astonishing debate, 28 Sept. 2008
This review is from: Radical Evolution (Paperback)
That science, in particular those of genetics, robotics, information technology and nanotechnology (the GRIN technologies) is shortly going to dramatically increase the power we have to change our very physical and psychological makeups is something that few of those knowledgeable about the subject seriously doubt. This book doesn't try to give an exhaustive account of the startling developments that will likely take place, but rather attempts to explore the moral issues involved and the astonishingly profound impacts upon society that they will likely soon have, probably to the extent of transforming our very idea of human nature itself.

The book's core is divided into three parts, each of which details a particular scenario, a possible future in which the human race is either led to heaven, to hell, or simply prevails. For each scenario, there is a focus on a particular personality in the debate, a representative of the particular position and, I guess, an attempt to add a little colour and 'humanity' to the narrative. For me, this blending of real, breathing human figures into a discussion of the scientific transformation of human nature doesn't quite work (perhaps the characters are a little too 'nerdy' or at least 'untypical' for it to succeed). However, the tripartite structure of the book is fairly effective. As visions of our collective near-future, 'heaven' and 'hell' might seem overly optimistic or pessimistic respectively, but the whole (and rather unnerving) point of the changes that are predicted to come is that they are likely to be ever more extreme and rapid. Ray Kurzweil (here, the proponent of the heaven outcome) has referred to it as the 'singularity', the author of this book as 'the curve' - essentially, the growth of the grin technologies is exponential. Whether you can swallow Kurzweil's prediction that progress will soon become so rapid that within a couple of hundreds of years the entire universe could become a single grand intelligence ('alive'), it should be simple to understand that once humans can artificially make themselves more intelligent (or machines make themselves more intelligent) then further improvements are likely to become increasingly fast, surely so fast that any society will not be able to control the outcome of such changes. Partly for this reason, the weakest scenario described is that of the 'prevail' outcome, where humanity simply muddles through, come what may. Though the cause of this scenario is not helped by the choice of personality to represent it, a man named Joel Garnier, who doesn't seem to be particularly foremost in any of the Grin technologies apart from being a writer of software. He also come across rather as some new age dreamer with a lot of babbling talk about interconnectedness and the wish to have the wings of cuttle fish.

One voice strikingly missing from the debate presented in the book is that of the British philosopher John Gray. His books, in particular `Straw Dogs', contain the most powerful expositions I have yet read of the belief that humanity can never be masters of its own destiny, above all in relation to the use of technology to enhance human nature and to direct it`s own evolution. Believers in the inevitability of the curve or singularity often point to the obvious truth that the military and economic advantages of using the grin technologies to enhance human beings will be so great as to be irresistible and unavoidable. The Americans will do it, because if they don't, the Chinese, Indians or Japanese will. Yet, as Gray says, `The new, post-human creatures that may emerge from these murky rivalries will not be ideal types embodying the best human ideals: they will reproduce some of the worst features of unregenerate humanity'.

There is, however, a brief discussion of the desirability of transcending human nature (something that is the proud goal of a group of scientists and thinkers who call themselves 'transhumanists'). The author, Joel Garreau, makes clear at the end that he is strongly in favour of allowing the 'enhancement' of humanity and would fall in the prevail camp if not the heaven. To his credit, each of the arguments and scenarios does seem to be given equal space and standing. This, and the fascination nature of the debate and the illuminating prose of the author, makes this book a very useful introduction to a morally complex, incredible, yet startlingly urgent subject.

GCSE Spanish Revision Guide
GCSE Spanish Revision Guide
by CGP Books
Edition: Paperback

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and comprehensive, 17 Sept. 2008
This is probably the best GCSE revision guide available - it is compact enough to be used as a revision aid, yet it is sufficiently comprehensive to enable students to use it throughout the course and to revise the higher level vocab and phrases needed to get the top grades. There is excellent and extensive use of underlining and highlighting of key points throughout and at the end of each revision section there is also a very useful and thorough test page to see if you are ready to move on to the next.

My only quibble, and it's not a small one, is that the lists of vocabulary are joined too closely together i.e not alligned and spaced out as should be standard in these revision guides. It's therefore difficult to hide the word in one language whilst testing yourself for its equivalent, and that's annoying. But it's really just about the only thing that stops this otherwise perfect guide from getting my 5 stars.

The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Christopher Kelly
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to ordinary life under the Ceasers., 15 Sept. 2008
A very short introduction to life under the Roman Empire would be a more accurate title, though to say this isn't really a criticism of this solidly written primer. It more than succeeds in giving a flavour of what it meant for the ordinary citizen to live under Roman rule, though perhaps those wanting to learn about the Empire for the first time would probably like a few more chronological narratives.

I did found the book to be a little patchy. It seems to get bogged down a little early in over detailed comparisons of how this obscure town in Asia Minor paid homage to the Emperor compared to another obscure town in Asia Minor down the Roman road. However, it more than comes to life when discussing matters such as the Christian conversion of the empire, a subject particularly illuminated by the author's approach of looking at the man on the street - here giving us the mindset of both the early persecuted Christians and the sense of bewilderment, mixed with sadism and fear, of the Amphitheatre crowds who watched them being tortured, burnt and thrown to the Lions.

The final chapter, the inevitable look at Rome through the eyes of later ages (itself interpreted through the subjective lens of 21st century fashionable post-modernist academia) isn't quite as revealing as it could have been. But, all in all, the book serves its purpose ; to convey a sense of the ordinary and mundane that is often obscured by the magnificence of the most legendary of empires.

Women: Theory and Practice
Women: Theory and Practice
by Bernard Chapin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.95

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique guide to dating and to life written by a man for men, 12 Sept. 2008
The first thing to make clear about this quite excellent book is that it is NOT ANOTHER PUA guide. It's not full of cheap tricks designed to fool gorgeous women into climbing into your leapord skin bed after just 10 minutes of neg hitting and carefully rehearsed palm reading. Nor is it even a relationship guidebook telling you how to find the romantic love of your dreams. If it was that latter thing, like most books of that ilk (invariably written by a female author), it would no doubt present every guy's ideal love to be some 30 something empowered career woman, ready and ripe to settle down with the sensitive new man that you will be after you've finished reading. But for this author, to present such a fake vision of female desirability would be as false and dishonest to men as the PUA lifestyle is degrading to them by asking men to change their very souls in order to become desirable to the opposite sex.

Bernard Chapin clearly deals in reality, and that's what I found so refreshing about this book which, in its treatment of the subject matter, is quite unlike any I have read before. The title refers to the difference between how our society presents women to be (the theory) and how men find that they really are (in practice). The 'privileged princess' syndrome created by modern feminism is leading only to a disjointed world in which men are reluctant to commit and both men AND women are increasingly disillusioned and frustrated. Just as the Soviets found the Russian peasant's love of vodka and God to be stronger than any Marxist theory, feminists are discovering that men can't so easily be shifted from their preference for a 1.43 hip/waist ratio wrapped up in youthful, porcelain skin.

The Norwegian pessimist August Strindberg called love 'a war between the sexes'. If the PUAs taught us how to be ruthless killing machines in that war, Bernard Chapin simply tells us how to survive it in one piece. Even, at the end of the day, if that requires us to abandon the battlefield altogether and shift our gaze to new horizons, vistas where we will see beautiful things just as meaningful and enduring, yet far more within our reach.

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