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Reviews Written by
Balraj Gill (Slough, Berkshire, United Kingdom)

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The Skin I Live In [DVD] [2011]
The Skin I Live In [DVD] [2011]
Dvd ~ Antonio Banderas
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Elegant, thrilling and creepy, 19 July 2012
I saw this film two days ago, but for some reason I just cannot get it out of my head - Almodovar has succeeded in messing with my mind!

Antonio Banderas gives a chillingly elegant performance as the sauve, brilliant, but ever so mad, plastic surgeon, who cannot let go of the idea of his wife being badly burnt beyond recognition in a car crash and her subsequent suicide. We realise early on that he is experimenting with a woman kept in isolation in a room in his house for the purposes of trying a new, indestructible skin (that would have saved his wife). But the exact nature of how this woman got there and her unquestioning compliance with this imprisonment are only revealed later on. Stick with it and the pieces start to fall into place.

I would urge you to watch this film if you are comfortable with the idea of films that exist outside of mainstream conventions. It's a film which defies easy compartmentalization - you could argue that is is a psychological thriller, horror or even just a wonderfully extravagent OTT theatre play and you would not be wrong for any of those.

You cannot just settle down and watch "The Skin I Live In" and switch your mind off. You'll always be questioning the motives of the characters and the morality of what you have seen and with these questions in your head, you shall probably be thinking about this film long after the final scene.

The Iron Lady [DVD]
The Iron Lady [DVD]
Dvd ~ Meryl Streep
Offered by Discs4all
Price: £3.47

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Senile Lady, 21 Jun. 2012
This review is from: The Iron Lady [DVD] (DVD)
I was looking forward to this film, but sadly it did not live up to expectations.

Concentrating on Thatcher's days, when she is widowed, old and mostly forgotten made for a travesty of a film. No matter what you think about her, a figure as historically important and as influential on British life as Margaret Thatcher deserves a better film than this.

Much is made of Streep's performance, but frankly, I was underwhelmed. If you want to see a good performance, go and re-watch Helen Mirren in The Queen.

The (unintentional) high point for me in the film was the hilarious miscasting of Richard E. Grant as Michael Heseltine! Grant seemed to lend old Tarzan quite a camp air!

The Boy with the Topknot: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton
The Boy with the Topknot: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton
by Sathnam Sanghera
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Slice of Midlands Navel Gazing, 21 Jun. 2012
I found this book very uneven and hence quite frustrating for me to go through. I don't usually go for self-penned memoirs, but I gave this a go, as there isn't much in the way of British Asian non-fiction.

Let me recount the good points first. Sanghera does a good turn in humorous observations of Indian immigrant life in the UK; there are a couple of great chapters on his own personal experience of arranged marriage introductions and secretly getting his long hair cut as a teenager that are very funny. Plus, there were quite a few little observations and turns of phrase indicating a naturally funny style.

However, there were many times when book descended into a meandering, navel gazing and self indulgent recollection of both his childhood and his efforts to get this book written. The fact that Sanghera did not realize his dad and sister had schizophrenia until he was in his twenties, made me ponder that he must have had a very solipsistic mindset.

Furthermore, Sanghera often compares and contrasts his working life in London (glam locations, educated friends, travelling, famous people... blah, blah, blah) with the remainder of his family in Wolverhampton (provincial, cheap, restrictive) which gets tiresome and repetitive. At one point, Sanghera bemoans the base materialism of British Asians (which I agree with), but isn't shy of talking about his own French Connection coat, Prada spectacles and Porsche 911.

The climax of the book is a letter that he writes to his own mum (but which he then needs to get translated into Punjabi), explaining his predicament concerning having had English girlfriends, his "secret life in London" and generally wanting to break free from the expectation of an arranged marriage. This letter (reproduced in the book) he then hands to his mother to read whilst he shuts himself away in another room. At this point, I thought there really seems to be some stunted emotional development on display here - I mean, surely a grown-up man can sit down with his mother and talk face-to-face about the fundamentals of his own life? Writing a letter to his own mother seemed very 1870s.

There were also a couple of editorial shortcomings in my view. Firstly, there are quite a few black and white family photos reproduced within the pages of the text, but these are unlabelled and so I had to try and take guesses as to who was portrayed; it was only when I finished the book that I saw a photo list at the back.

Secondly, there are quite a few Punjabi words in italics spread across the text, but these Punjabi words are, in most cases, not explained. Not so much a problem for me, as a Punjabi speaker, but I can imagine it being a problem for others.

Overall, I think if Sanghera writes in the future, he should concentrate more on funny observations, as this is where his talents lie.

A Voyage For Madmen: Nine men set out to race each other around the world. Only one made it back ...
A Voyage For Madmen: Nine men set out to race each other around the world. Only one made it back ...
by Peter Nichols
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book That Every Man Should Read, 8 Jun. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I first bought this book almost 10 years ago, then gave my copy to a friend, who read it and then passed it onto someone else. Rather fittingly, it seems as if my copy has done its own round the world voyage, passing to people in places like Australia, Singapore, Ireland and the US. Heaven knows where it is now!

So I decided recently to buy another copy and re-read it to see if it lived up to the passage of time and my own decade old memories. I am pleased to say that it does and, if anything, I have enjoyed Peter Nichols' wonderful tale even better the second time around.

So why do I think that every man should read this book? Well, there can't be many men who have not thought at some time, to leave the mundanity of the modern world behind and see what the world has in store for them. Not just to sit on some paradise island, but to also push yourself to the limit, to see what your mind and body can cope with. A Voyage for Madmen provides a wonderful retelling of men doing exactly that, in a challenge that was open to everyone, not just professional sportsmen with hugely expensive equipment, as would be the case nowadays. Therefore, we have nine men setting out from England in boats to sail nonstop around the world, including one who had never sailed before, another who was a weekend coastal sailor and one who seemed to place most value on taking fine food and good wines with him in the boat.

And once all these men are underway, the book takes us through the whole range of human mental conditions that the competitors experienced - the soul-sapping loneliness, the fear of dying a watery death far away from loved ones, the romanticism of being at one with nature in the middle of the vast oceans and, most shockingly, the descent into utter madness brought about from the pressures of cheating and lying to the whole world. Yes, that's right - cheating, which was probably the most famous aspect of this race and the protagonist is probably the most (in)famous participant of any sailing race that has ever been held.

A Voyage for Madmen is one of those books that will live in your mind for a long time. It is a book that is funny, tragic and uplifting at various junctures, but it is always fascinating and I hope that many others will take as much enjoyment from it as I have.

Cyrus [DVD]
Cyrus [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jonah Hill
Offered by Shop4World
Price: £2.77

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I was crying with laughter, 31 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Cyrus [DVD] (DVD)
This is a brief but very personal review of Cyrus. Much of the film I found enjoyable and it elicited quite a few chuckles from me at various junctures. The performances from the central and well-cast triumvirate of Hill, Reilly and Tomei were solid and professional. Therefore, a good four star film.

However, there was one scene (whereby Reilly and Hill finally drop the pretences and lay bare their enmity, but still try and conceal it from Tomei) which made me cry with such laughter, that I had to pause the dvd for a good few minutes. And for that, I simply have to give Cyrus five stars.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Jungle Soldier: The true story of Freddy Spencer Chapman
Jungle Soldier: The true story of Freddy Spencer Chapman
by Brian Moynahan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A tale let down by its teller, 6 Sept. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Yes, this is an interesting tale, but Moynahan's writing style leaves a lot to be desired. It's quite drab and uneven. In certain sections, he will recount in painstaking detail a certain day in Chapman's life, but then the next few months are just rushed over, where a variety of characters are abruptly dropped into the story with no form of introduction as to what they are like or what their motives may be.

Furthermore, Moynahan paints Chapman as an all-round hero and is quite fawning, but he still does not succeed in making him appear very appealing. Whilst Chapman undoubtedly was a good soldier and someone whom you would want next to you in the trenches, he comes across as too much of an earnest goody-goody boy scout-type to really feel like wanting to get to know him and his inner character. In other words, not a fun guy to go down the pub with.

Perhaps I have been spoilt somewhat as I came to this book, straight after finishing Agent Zigzag: The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman: Lover, Traitor, Hero, Spy, which is a fantastic tale of another Chapman in the Second World War. If the author of Zigzag, Ben Macintyre, had written Jungle Soldier, it probably would have been transformed into something much more gripping.

I wanted to like this book, but I am afraid it was quite mediocre in my opinion and Moynahan's other work is not something that I shall be seeking out.

Agent Zigzag: The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman: Lover, Traitor, Hero, Spy
Agent Zigzag: The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman: Lover, Traitor, Hero, Spy
by Ben Macintyre
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Brilliant, 28 Jun. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
For me, Agent Zigzag goes straight to the top of the league - a rollercoaster story, too far-fetched to be fiction, populated by an array of great characters, both British and German, all pulled together by the fantastic, easy reading style of Ben Macintyre's writing. But at the heart of everything is Eddie Chapman, someone who just found themselves in the right place (Jersey) at the right time (the Germans invaded whilst he was serving time in a Jersey prison), to begin his incredible adventure. But after this fortunate start to the story, most of what happens in the following months is down to Chapman's incredible guile and charm.

I really would recommend this book without reservation - you don't have to possess a big interest in spying or the military to find the story gripping, as it really is more about the characters and their interaction with each other.

All-in-all, Agent Zigzag is a great read and thanks to Macintyre, I have come across a brilliant character from history in the form of Eddie Chapman.

The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst (Sailor's Classics)
The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst (Sailor's Classics)
by Nicholas Tomalin
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving, Disturbing & Essential, 26 Mar. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I first came across the story of Donald Crowhurst in Peter Nichols' brilliant "A Voyage for Madmen". If you have not read "A Voyage for Madmen", I would urge you to read that first, so as to give you a broad understanding of the Golden Globe race and all of the participants, before reading "The Strange Last Voyage", which of course goes into greater depth with regards to Crowhurst.

Crowhurst's deception basically consisted of hanging around in the South Atlantic, whilst telling everyone that he was out in the Southern Ocean, going underneath Australia, rounding Cape Horn etc., but then rejoining the race in the Atlantic for the home stretch to England. Put in those words, it sounds almost like a simple, schoolboy prank doesn't it?

However, in Tomalin's and Hall's superb dissection, we are exposed to the horrendous stress that Crowhurst put himself through in preparing for the race, the mental anguish over the hard choices he was faced with whilst in the race and finally the rapid descent into madness that marked his final days.

"The Strange Last Voyage" is a prime example of a type of forensic, investigative journalism that is sadly now dying out in British newspapers. Tomalin and Hall have taken great care and skill to show compassion and understanding of Crowhurst's plight and every effort is made to try and put the reader right in the boat's cabin. There is no spin, sensationalism or judgement being made by the authors - the reader is allowed to make up their own mind on the rights and wrongs of Crowhurst's actions.

Of course, this is a book about a sailing race, but even if you have never even see the ocean, this can still be a wonderful read, because at its heart, this book is about one man's plight and in his suffering we can see what makes us human.

A brilliant work and one that will live in my mind forever.

Away We Go [DVD] [2009]
Away We Go [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ John Krasinski
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £3.73

9 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Away We Go... for some navel gazing smugness, 2 Mar. 2010
This review is from: Away We Go [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
I quite liked Sam Mendes' last film, Revolutionary Road - it was a well directed and well acted piece, shot through with quality and class. However, matters take a turn for the worse with Away We Go.

Dull clichés come thick and fast straight from the off. The two main protagonists are a couple in their mid-30s, who are now expecting their first child - but hang on, they are unmarried, the man wears glasses and has a beard, the lady is mixed-race, neither has a proper job, they drive an old Volvo and the man's parents suddenly decide to do what so many middle-aged Americans usually do - move to Belgium!

OK, so then our expectant parents embark on a North American expedition to find the best place to raise their new sprog. This is where the lazy stereotypes really start to kick in - first off are a crass, SUV-driving, dysfunctional bunch from Phoenix. So our kooky heroes say no to Phoenix. Then there is a new age, mystical couple from Madison, Wisconsin, where the mother still breastfeeds her school-age children, greets visitors to her home with "Namaste" and rejects pushchairs. Again, our kooky heroes say no to Madison.

They then head north of the border to Montreal to find a couple who have a veritable United Nations of adopted children in their brownstone house. Our kooky heroes love for the Quebec lifestyle (where no-one seems to speak French) is further cemented by an unbelievable scene in a restaurant, where they are dining with this wonderful Montreal couple they are visiting. Montreal man gives our kooky heroes a little pep talk in the secrets of a successful family life, by piling pancakes and other such sundries on his plate - these represent your home, yourselves and the children. He then takes a bottle of maple syrup and proceeds to empty it all over the plate, whilst he explains that this maple syrup represents love, understanding, patience, trust and all these other intangible values that our kooky heroes have been searching for. What insight!

All the while, our kooky heroes are so smug about themselves, that you suspect that they really do believe the universe revolves around them. And their contrite navel-gazing is so wearisome, that you feel like slapping them and informing them that they are not the first couple ever to have had a baby.

I also have to mention the soundtrack, which was just full of dull indie songs, most of them seemingly by the same singer. These songs would start off low and in the background, whilst the characters were talking and then, once the characters had ceased another bout of smug exchanges, rose to a crescendo. This was repeated ad infinitum throughout the film.

Overall, this feels a very artificial and forced film and how Sam Mendes put this one out is beyond my explanation.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 11, 2012 1:53 PM BST

Girl in the Park [2008] [DVD]
Girl in the Park [2008] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Sigourney Weaver
Price: £12.80

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Intelligent Drama, 28 May 2009
This is an indie film which seems to have slipped under the radar in the UK, but I would recommend seeking this out, both for the performances on show as well as the thought-provoking nature of the story.

The film opens with the sudden and mysterious disappearance of a 3 year old girl from an outdoor playground in New York. We then almost immediately cut to 16 years later and from the look on Julia Sandberg's face (played by Sigourney Weaver) as she walks down the street, you can see that this is a tragedy that still dominates her thoughts and actions. She has chosen to live an insular existence, both from her family and her work colleagues and refuses to "move on" from the events of 16 years ago.

A chance meeting between Julia and an itinerant young woman (Louise, played by Kate Bosworth) leads to Julia taking her in and letting her live in her flat. The film does not make explicit the exact nature of the relationship between the two - is Julia simply using Louise as a replacement for her daughter who would now have been roughly the same age or does she genuinely believe that Louise is her missing daughter? Similarly, is Louise some sort of con artist who is exploiting Julia's vulnerability or does she genuinely need guidance and a helping hand to assist her through life?

However, whilst the storyline draws you in, I think the more important aspect of the film is how it portrays the psychological impact of loss on an individual. We are used to being told that people can put horrible experiences behind them and get on with their lives simply with the passage of time, but this is a film that goes against the grain and shows Julia needs more than just time to heal her wounds.

Weaver and Bosworth turn in good performances, only over-egging the pudding once or twice. Also worthy of mention is Alessandro Nivola, who plays Julia's grown-up son and is not at all keen on the relationship between his mum and Louise.

This is an intelligent, thought-provoking drama and I hope people who do get the chance to see it are as appreciative of it as I was.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 22, 2017 9:07 PM GMT

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