Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Review: Red Dwarf: Queeg and Parallel Universe

Series Two, Episode 5 - Queeg

This episode is a long-con that focusses more on the little read-into character of Holly, the ship's computer.

Holly needs to tell the crew something, but can't remember. The ship is then hit by an asteroid. The asteroid hits the Hologram Generation Room (a different set to the one seen in Episode Three...) where there's some fun with a screwed up Rimmer.
          Because of Holly's perceived negligence, the ship's backup computer, Queeg, a Samuel L Jackson wannabe, takes charge. At first it seems as if he is running a tighter and more efficient system, but the crew begin to see the disadvantages of Queeg's strict adhereances to the rules. Holly and Queeg fight one on one with a chess battle, and Holly loses, to be erased forever... . Then Holly reveals that the entire event had been a trick by him, and that Queeg never existed.

Holly is often used as a plot device or a comedic gap, and this episode is vital to the character's depth. It's a shame Norman Lovett only has one episode left before a four year leave...

Series Two, Episode 6 - Parallel Universe

And it's time for the Series Two finale, the end of a lot of features that gave the series depth. Hereon erupts the "classic" dwarf, the golden period, and this episode is a decent, if unintentional, sendoff to these twelve episodes of wide open Red Dwarf being the main setting. After this episode, there's a change of set design, of characterisation and of cast, which I will explore in greater detail in my Series Two Overview.

Holly has invented the "Holly Hop Drive," which he hopes with teleport them to Earth. It doesn't. It in fact takes them to a parallel universe in which gender roles are reversed, as are biological ones. Rimmer's counterpart is a sex-crazed anti-masculinist, Lister's is a chilled, irresponsible girl and The Cat's is a dog. With a Texan accent.

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Review: Red Dwarf: Thanks for the Memory and Stasis Leak

Series Two, Episode Three - Thanks for the Memory

This is a wondergully scripted and tightly written episode that intertwines the series' madcap nature with its sci fi trappings.

The crew go on a drunken bender on an asteroid to celebrate the three millionth anniversary of Rimmer's death. They go back to the ship, terribly drunk, and Rimmer confesses all his problems to Lister. When they wake up in the morning, Lister and the Cats legs are broken, and four days of their memory have been erased. They track the black box to the asteroid, and when they play it, they find that after Rimmer's drunken confession, Lister went down to the Hologram room and gave him eight months of his own memory; the eight months he spent with one of the loves of his life, Lise Yates. Rimmer's anguish at slowly realising the inconsistency of this memory with his general behaviours and attitudes means that the only way out seems to be to erase their memories.

Chris Barrie can really pull off over the top angry anguish, and he does it expertly so here. His trauma at the loss of the memories of Lise Yates are realistic and this performance is one of the best of this series.

Series Two, Episode Four - Stasis Leak 

A bit of a mind-bender, this episode is more about the crew's history as well as an archaic future...

It's Pre-Accident. Arnold Rimmer sees his own floating head jump out of a table and talk to him about a "stasis leak on Floor 16". Post-Accident, and Lister discovers this entry in Rimmer's diary. They head down to Floor 16 and find a glowing Stasis Leak, which has preserved a portal to three weeks before the accident. Rimmer goes back and talks to himself, who goes insane. Lister and the Cat find Kochanski married to an even further future Lister.

This episode is a continuity nightmare. It doesn't correlate with The End, not to mention the rest of the series in its remaining six years. I like to imagine that this episode never happened. It helps.

Thanks.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Review: Red Dwarf: Kryten and Better than Life

Series Two, Episode One - Kryten

Series Two blasts off with Kryten, which has a fun storyline that explores the bounds of robotics in the Red Dwarf Universe. The characters have the same personalities as in Series One, if less extreme and more identifiable.

Rimmer is trying (and failing) to learn Esperanto when Red Dwarf gets a signal from a ship called the Nova 5. The android on board (the titular Kryten) says that there are three young female officers, and so the Red Dwarf crew smarten up accordingly. They go across to trade medical supplies for food supplies, and to bunk up (three million years is a long time...). When they get to the command centre of the Nova 5, they find that the three officers are dead, skeletonised, and Kryten seems fairly suprised. They take him back to Red Dwarf, and Rimmer makes him do all of the chores for the ship. In response, Lister makes him rebel against his programming.

This episode not only sees the introduction of Blue Midget, a smaller ship for leaving Red Dwarf, and Kryten, who becomes a more important character in Series Three. The chemistry between the characters is a lot softer here, as in the filming for Series One, Chris Barrie and Craig Charles were said to have hated each other. That hatred seems to have cooled off and as such the performances are much more smooth.

Series Two, Episode Two - Better than Life

A classic episode, this is a dreamscape idea that stands as one of the series first classic episodes that stick in the memory. It's also a further look into Rimmer's background with his father.

Red Dwarf recieives a post pod (from the Royal Mail; it took three million years to arrive). Inside the pod are several packages including videogames and a letter sent to Rimmer to tell him that his father had died. Rimmer is upset that he never got the chance to hear his father, whom he hated, praise him. One of the videogames is called Better than Life, and is a total-immersion life simulation that awards players their hearts and dreams. They try it, and it works, but Rimmer's mind is so twisted that all of his wishes, and eventually everyone elses, become negative.

This episode features a lot of the political satire (the "Outland Revenue", second-class post arriving in three million years) that the series loves, while still being an entertaining mix of space sitcom and dream exploration.

Thanks.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Review: Doctor Who: The Big Bang

Lord. I mean... wow. I'm reeling. I'm having trouble catching my breath.

Steven Moffat gives us a piece of wonderfully written and performed episode that throws a big lasso over Series 5 while still leaving things open for Series 6, especially with the voice on the Tardis Console...

We find ourselves in 1996, a world in which there are no stars, and the world is kept warm by an exploding Tardis. There's a lot of time travel jumping about by The Doctor as well as complicated rules about the erasure of time. Basically a released Doctor in 1996 goes back and gives Rory his sonic screwdriver, to open the Pandorica, which does, and then they put dead Amy in the box, to wait 2000 years until 1996 in which The Doctor helps Young Amy to touch the Pandorica and heal Amy. Confused? It all works well while watching the episode, and there's a lot of this sort of time satisfaction abound; unresolved tit bits from previous episodes are resolved in clever ways and by the last (thankfully chronological) scene series, any serious fans that have watched the full series will have a big smile on their faces.

It's too complicated to explain. Far too complicated. But that's what makes it wonderful. I'm really looking forward to Christmas, and there's some brilliant stuff scheduled for next year. This has been a good year, hasn't it? Almost every story was a triumph, a bloody triumph. Thank you Who. Thank you.

Thanks.

A Summer Poem

Stop complaining that it's damned too hot;
You're moaning and groaning more often than not;
I loved the cold, but you won't give it a shot;
By the time it comes round, you'll all have forgot!
I can probably see why you think that you're right;
The sun is wonderfully warm and bright;
The warm summer flowers are a wonderful sight;
And on a fresh summer's day one might;
Go to the shops and buy a few clothes;
Walk in the park as the temperate wind blows;
Go to a theatre and watch some good shows;
Visit a florist and buy a red rose;
But what of the wonders you can find if you know?
About the cold and the wonders of snow?
When the trees are bare with snow-laden bows,
And have been there since many long winters ago,
And just before, in my favourite season,
The Autumn, the browns and reds are my reason,
To say that I hate the cold is surely treason,
When Autumn and Winter provide the most glee, son.
So please just accept that whatever you do,
Make the most of the weather, oh how I knew,
About the wonderful cold when the sky went all blue,
And I suppose that this means that this is my cue,
To make sure, with taste,
That I end this poem in the greatest of haste,
I sure hope that neither Summer nor Winter you waste,
And make sure that with challenges faced;
You find a way to answer your needs;
Temperature; Weather and Garden Weeds;
Just stop complaining; please concede;
That everything's fine, indeed.

Thanks.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Freaky Fridays

You may notice that in my timetable on the bottom right, most Fridays have nothing on them. This is due, mainly, to the fact that I like Friday to be my restday. The day where I don't feel like writing a review or an opinion piece. But ever more often, I feel the need to do something with the blog, but find myself unscheduled. Sometimes I have an idea, and then give it up, because it doesn't fill a big enough post, or because it's a bit redundant. The rest of the time I tend to pre-plan my posts, which is to tell the truth a little dull. But, it helps when I get round to writing them.

Oh, and I'm currently listening to Muse, James Blunt and Lily Allen. I take back all of my thoughts from the All The Lost Souls review, as the album on later listenings has proven to be as if not more potent and meaningful than the original. I personally find it a surprise that it didn't perform better in the charts.

Oh, and I'm writing a book called Demons. Totally unrelated to that other Demons. I'm mainly splicing my free time between that and the blog.

Thanks.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Overview: Red Dwarf: Series One

The first series of any sitcom is designed to introduce character, backstory and and a little taste of the style of comedy that the show brings. It should do all these things while being as funny as possible. Red Dwarf Series One is not the show's finest three hours, but neither is it the show's worst.
          The theme of Series One is very much influenced by this first set design. You see, a ridiculous number of sets are used throughout the eight series, to an extent that at one point during Series Five I wondered why I'd never seen this integral part of the ship before. But I had. It was just a different set. The effectiveness of the set is especially important in the first two series, in which all of the action is confined soley to Red Dwarf, which really comes across as this massive, echoing shoip, despite suffering from a low budget.
         One thing that Red Dwarf does best is character moments. While on the surface it can appear that the three leads are quite one-sided, much time is devoted to exploring their motivations and psyche without it feeling overbearing. There's also the added advantage of seeing the characters' personalies pre-Radiation (well, excepting The Cat) and how their highly exaggerated character traits soften and blend as the series go on. Rimmer in Series Seven is a wholey different man to the one you see here.
          My personal favourite episode from this series is Future Echoes, which combines the freshness of the premise with a witty and thoughtful series of events and a concept that had most audiences covered.

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Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Review:Red Dwarf: Confidence and Paranoia and Me^2

Series One, Episode Five - Confidence and Paranoia

Often one of the less reccomended episode of this series, Confidence and Paranoia has an interesting concept that isn't properly explored, despite still being a fun and entertaining episode.

Lister has visited the Captain's quarters, which haven't been decontaminated. He contracts a wildly mutated strain of pneumonia, and for some reason his hallucinations are solid, including fish rain and the spontanious combustion of the Mayor of Warsaw. Also manifested are the personifications of Lister's Confidence and Paranoia; Confidence a cheeky, well-dressed, tanned game show host and Paranoia a thin, spindly, hateful man (Rimmer loves him). Lister and Confidence work out that Kochanski's hologram disk is in a chamber outside the ship, but as they head towards the chamber, Confidence admits that he had killed Paranoia and destroyed the Medicomp so that they could be together. He pulls off his helmet to show how "oxygen is for losers" and explodes.

When Kochanski's disk is brought back in, it is applied to Red Dwarf and a duplicate of Rimmer appears. To be continued...

Series One, Episode Six - Me^2

The first finale works to a degree not because it closes any storylines but because of how it acts as a good insight into the depths of Rimmer's self loathing.

Rimmer and Rimmer move into their own room, and Lister starts to do all of the things that annoyed Rimmer - but he can't appreciate the pay off that he got from Rimmer's reaction. Lister watches Rimmer's death tape, and finds that his last words were, "Gazpacho soup," and this puzzles him.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the other hologram holds all of Rimmer's self-loathing but in a more confident manner, exerting himself over the original and eventually having a large fight. Lister decides that one of them must be wiped, and chooses the original Rimmer. Before his "death," Rimmer tells Lister the story of Gazpacho Soup - and Lister then reveals that the other Rimmer was erased shortly after he left the room.

Thanks.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Review: Red Dwarf: Balance of Power and Waiting For God

Series One, Episode Three - Balance of Power

An interesting episode, as it manages to balance character expansion over all four of the main players. It shows the level of desolance of the first series, as well as the expansive nature of the premise.

Rimmer and Lister are again clashing over their ranks. Lister discovers that Rimmer was ressurrected to keep him sane, as they shared the most number of words ("Seven million of those were me telling him to SMEG OFF!") He decides that he wants the hologram of Kristine Kochanski, and asks Rimmer to turn himself off for a night. Rimmer refuses outright, as he knows Lister won't turn him back on. In an attempt to outrank Rimmer, Lister takes the Chef's exam, and passes.

Lister is now seen as a thoughtful, ambitious guy, Rimmer as an obsessive compulsive, rule-obsessed coward and The Cat as a vein, feline idiot. These early episodes tend not to focus on individual characters and tend to advance everyone. It contains some excellent lines and scenes, and is well-performed by the actors.

Series One, Episode Four - Waiting For God

This episode dives further into the backstory of how The Cat could have survived in the hold, and his culture.

As explained in the pilot, Lister and his original cat have become revered in the Felis Sapiens' culture. Lister tries to persuade The Cat that he is their god, but he isn't convinced until Lister traverses into the Cargo bay himself, in which the last priest of the Cat Religion resides. Lister helps to reassert his faith before he dies. He then finds that there was a religious war between two factions of cats, with half leaving Red Dwarf after a truce.

In a subplot, Red Dwarf accepts a garbage pod that Rimmer decides is an alien spaceship (highlighting the theme in the series that despite three-million years passing, no aliens have been found in the solar system.) He eventually opens the pod and finds that it is a garbage pod in a very funny scene.

 Series One is for the backstory, and this is the story that really stands out for it, as well as being hilarious.

Thanks.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Review: Red Dwarf: The End and Future Echoes

Series One, Episode One - The End
"Everybody's dead Dave."

The aptly named "The End" is the pilot of Red Dwarf. It featured the base premise of the series as well as hinting at the general atmosphere of series to come.

It's the 23rd Century. Cool Dave Lister and his immediate superior Arnold Rimmer hold the lowest positions on the minisg ship Red Dwarf, where they fix chicken soup machines. Dave flirts constantly with Kristine Kochanski. Rimmer fails his engineering exam again, and in his deppression fails to fix a drive-plate. Meanwhile, it's discovered that Lister has snuck a cat on board the ship, and so is sentenced to eighteen months in stasis. When he awakens, the ship's computer, Holly, tells him that three million years have passed, and that he is the last human being in existence. All of the members of Red Dwarf were killed by a radiation leak. The only other occupants of the ship are a hologrammatic Arnold Rimmer, much to Dave's annoyance, and The Cat, who evolved from the cat Lister snuck on board.

What can I say? It works excellently as a pilot, and while the comedy aspect was always stronger post-crew, they still manage to take a jab at 1988 culture with some funny segments, especially the quoted interaction between the ship's computer and Dave when he wakes up.

Series One, Episode Two - Future Echoes

Ok. The first real test of the scenario. And it's a good one, to be honest. It really demonstrates the show's potential, and while not the creame of the crop, it still manages to be an entertaining piece.

Holly has decided to move up to lightspeed so as to have any chance of getting back to earth. Meanwhile, Lister is planning to stay in stasis with the Cat until they reach Earth. As a result of travelling faster than time, visions from the future appear on the ship, and the faster they go, the further into the future they can see.

Again, these half-hour episodes in the first series have very basic concepts, and yet they manage to stretch it out into a competant, coherant half-hour of decent comedy and excellent character drama.

Thanks.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Opinion: Attractions of the Rhineland (Day 2/5)

Day Two

I awoke at 6 am. The sun was lovely, shing through the windows, as the bells in the local church rang as they had on the hour all night. I got dressed in clean clothes, finally managed to shake my roommate awake and then took my camera and walked down to explore the hotel, looking in other people's rooms and also inside the quad, which had a lovely set of gardens.

Breakfast consisted mainly of terrible German cereals or a round of toast. We assembled our "packed lunches", which consisted of a sandwhich, a German apple-juice carton and a little biscuit. Then we set off, to a large castle on a steep hill, whose name I really cannot remember. (ed: Marksburg Castle). It had a lot of interesting architecture from many different periods, with all sorts of brickwork and cobbling as well as room designs lasting over two thousand years, when it was a safeguard against the Roman advance into Germania. The guide was a woman in leather, that couldn't quite pronounce her vs. (Those over there are the winyards!)

After that we went to the chairlift in the local town in Boppard, which was a bit like a ski-lift except that you certainly would not want to be falling from it. On the way up the views I met another boy, who was sharing a room with some of my other friends. Wishing to avoid another night of snoring, I offered a swap, and there the deed was done. At the top of this cliff there was a lovely natural park and the edge had remarkable views of the Rhine valley. There we ate our lunch and met a stray dog.

At the bottom of the mountain we went into the town on one of those train thingymajigs, and we were immersed in the culture. What my budgeting self found particularly enjoyable was a shop I've mentioned before, called Pennymarkt, which was like Lidl, but so much more inviting due to our low budgets. I didn't find any souvenoirs here though.

Heading back to the coach, we drove to a bowling alley. The bowling was, well, exactly the same as bowling here in Britain. As a great man once said, "Bowling is Bowling." When we got back, the evening meal was chickpea soup, a wonderful spaghetti bolognaise and some sort of strawberry mousse. At the bequest of some of the more footbally footballers, we walked to a football field where they played football and I played on the Gameboy Advance. (I know, right?)

Then, I realised the horror of my earlier choice to swap. This parter was perhaps one of the most increasingly annoying people I had ever met. While I was trying to sleep, he was watching football and speaking to his friends on loudspeaker. It was enough to disturb my sleep accidentally - but when it was conscious, something had to be done. But not tonight. Tonight I had to sleep.

Thanks.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Review: Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens

The Urban Dictionary describes a fangasm as "A mental or emotional climax obtained by an obbsessive fan of a series." This episode is designed for this reaction, and while messy in places, it serves as brilliant entertainment. Spoilers follow.

Vincent Van Gogh has painted a painting of the Tardis exploding, which is left to Winston Churchill who telephones River Song who steals the painting in the future while meeting Liz 10 and are you keeping up?

The Doctor finds that a fabled message from the creators of time, etched onto the cliffs of the earliest planet in the universe, is in fact a message left by River with coordinates. Following them, he finds himself in Roman Britain at Stonehenge. There, they find the fabled Pandorica, which is said to contain the most powerful creature in the universe, and as the opening box is sending a signal to all of The Doctor's old enemies, he assumes they've come to fight over it.

Meanwhile, Rory has suddenly turned up as a roman soldier and helps save Amy from a Cyberman sentry, but is dismayed when The Doctor explains that because he was erased from time Amy doesn't remember him, and that he shouldn't be there. Meanwhile, he asks River to take the Tardis into the Pandorica chamber. During flight, she discovers that there is something wrong with the Tardis - very wrong.

After a rousing speech by The Doctor, the alien fleets go away, but when the Pandorica finally opens, it is revealed that (via some help by a time-travelling River) the entire scenario was pulled from Amy's head, and that all of the Romans - including Rory - are Autons. When the Pandorica opens, is revealed that it is a holding pen for The Doctor's anhialation - the aliens were in fact part of an alliance, that think that erasing The Doctor will stop the cracks in the universe that have appeared throughout the series. Meanwhile, the Tardis explodes. And the Universe ends. To Be Continued.

There's a lot of pleasing stuff in here, and every time Moffat leaves a loose end it is closed by the end of the episode. As an end of the series proper, it would be a decent (if not very emotional, which it deserves to be) send off. As a penultimate episode, it's a bit like a brick wall covered in fog that's painted black. There is no conceivable idea, on any spectrum of thought, about what can happen next. The Doctor, dead. Amy, dead. Rory, an Auton. River, dead. The Universe, dead.

The climax of the episode, in which there are all sorts of aliens and enemies, struck me as rather cheesy. But not as cheesy as I thought it would be. It felt somehow justified, and not at all clogged up by too many threats. The tables were turned, with the alliance actually doing the honorable thing by erasing The Doctor.

Next week, we look at the effects of The Big Bang.

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Thursday, 17 June 2010

Some more ideas.

Lost, the hit ABC show, ended in May, but its spirit lives on. Here on Audenshaw Reviews I will be reviewing Season Four of Lost episode-by-episode after I've finished with Red Dwarf. 

Elsewhere, I'll also be using my Sunday-spot for my Rhineland Trip, and after that it will be replaced by Classical Doctor Who.

 I might need to set up some timetable, but that means that now we have regular reviews of Doctor Who 2010, Doctor Who Classic, Lost, Red Dwarf, The Rhineland and maybe even another category; Film.

Thanks.

Opinion: Attractions of the Rhineland (Day 1/5)

May 2009. A school trip to Germany is on offer. I, enthused, take the offer. Five days in the Rhineland, with a coach and several activities, as well as four nights stay in the wonderful Hotel Lindenhof.

This piece is an Opinion because it's more of a recall diary than a review, and much less proffessional than a normal review.

This particular piece focusses on Days One, a turbulent day on the trip, in which I contemplated returning home...

Day One

We arrive the the coach at around midnight, where the coach is waiting. I've got a bag of stuff, and I'm wearing jeans, boots and a tee shirt. I sit next to my partner, who I allocated myself with at an earlier date. He;s not the closest of friends, but I can trust him.

Of course, it's my idea that I might be able to get some sleep on this coach, being past midnight 'n' all. But that doesn't come to pass for quite a while, with screaming and singing kids all over the coach. The seat and my position in it is uncomfortable, and the mix of fatigue and confusion left me confused and slightly mad. Luckily, around half-past twelve, they were told to shut up and I got some kip.

Only four hours kip, if I remember. When I woke up, we had gone into a service station, where the drivers of the coach swapped over, and a few boys were allowed off the coach to go to the loo. When I got back on the coach, I took an empty set of two seats. Much more comfortable. We were driving for the next three hours, with a few more stops for whatever reason, until we got to Dover.

It was a foggy day on the channel. I'd never seen the White Cliffs before, and so it was an interesting thing to do. We waited a bit but then got on an earlier ferry, which was another new experience. After a kip and a good walkabout, my thoughts of confusion were wiped out by my intrigue in exploring the ship to its limits, going through all sorts of halls and balconies. I was hungry, as it was seven in the morning, so I decided to go to the "Parisian Cafe" and order a Pan au Chocolat. I wasn't really in the mood for French, so I asked the waiter in English. What I get in response is a long string of seemingly-nonsensical sentences that I neither understood nor cared about. I think he was saying that there were none left. Regardless, I just gave an apprehensive, "Ok" and walked off.

Thinking I'd get better fare downstairs, I went down to the Economy Area, where most of the others were getting their food. It was a horrid imitation Full-English. I wasn't going near it. I even took a photograph of it, that's how much it disgusted me.

One of the things I loved was how I could stand at the bow of the ship, watching the cliffs of Dover dissappear and the beachy-coastline of Northern France emerge from the fog. I managed to stave off sea-sickness for a while but eventually I gave in and sat down near the four teachers, who were telling each other stories of their childhood ( horriffic, horriffic things).

The coach passed through France (one service station), Belgium (one very rude service station) and The Netherlands, before we entered Germany. On the way into Germany we hit noon, and so we stopped off at a German side-of-road restaurant that had lots of lovely food, a semi-pornographic gift shop and an automatic handdryer.

Eventually we got to the Rhine, which was a lovely sight. The sparkling, golden waters of the Rhine, with the vineyards on either side. Our hotel was a small one on the surface, but it had Tardis like qualities. Behind the fascade out front was a large quad of newly built hotel rooms. We were in room thirty, a rarity as it had the single, two-matress bed and little else. Oh, and there was a TV full of German Channels. (Except at six in the morning, at which it was English stock markets.)

Our first dinner was in the function room; a vegetabley soup for starters, fish and chips for main and then a pudding that not many people liked but I thought was passable. And then we found out someone had brought, "And Now For Something Completely Different" on DVD. I would have run in fear, but I had not been exposed to the genius of python, nevermind the dark absurdities of their first film. Not dark as in content. Dark as in the sheer lack of god-damn funny for the first hour.

Anyway, after that pain we went to bed and it was there that I began to break down. My partner was tired, as I was, having had about five hours sleep out of the past fourty eight. You could say that he was tired enough to snore. And how. I was surprised he wasn't disturbing the neighbours. I tried to wake him up, but every time he came close to consciousness he fell back into sleep within seconds.

I had my escape all planned out. I would walk down the Rhine until I came to a dock, and then I would hijack a boat, travelling up the Rhine and across the North Sea to Hull, where I would get my Euroes changed back into pounds and take a taxi back to Manchester, where I could catch the bus home and enjoy the rest of my holiday. Fortunately, I managed to get some sleep after an hour of reading. And thus ends Day One.

Thanks.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

I've just had a smeggin' idea...

When Rob Grant and Doug Naylor decided to make a sci-fi sitcom, it was a very good day for British comedy. Witty retorts, ironic and sarcastic, quotable lines, believable (or ridiculously unbelievable) settings and character behaviours. Perfection.

There were, in total, 55 episodes of Red Dwarf, based on the last surviving crew member of the eponymous mining vessel and his band of comedic misfits. It had delightful technobabble, ample literary and cultural references and somehow, a good story.

I'll be reviewing every last episode in double bills, with the three 2009 specials as one review. This should keep me busy for quite a long time.

Thanks.

Review: The Time Machine

The Time Machine, By H.G.Wells (1895)

The oldest book reviewed on this website. But it's a goodun. This was the first time-travel story to incorporate the idea of a machine, paving the way for over a century of inspired time-travel drama.

It's 1895 (well, the present day on release, but we'll let it go for now) and an inspiring inventor invites ten of his closest friends to see him travel through time using his latest machine. He says that he will go into the other room and simply disappear, and they will meet again in a week's time.

Only one friend visits Wells the next week, and he returns, with a story to tell. The rest of the book is in first person, and describes how by the year 800,000 the human race had evolved into two distinct subspecies; the Eloi, a diminuitive race that only feel happiness and are blind to grief, and the Morlocks, sub-terrainian ape-men blind to the light and that feast on the Eloi every night.

The time traveller is, of course, shocked by this development. He puts it down to the seperations between the working class (the Morlocks) and the upper class (the Eloi). (This is before the advent of the concept of communism and class revolution.) To make a story out of it, the time traveller becomes friends with an Eloi called Weena, who is kidnapped by the Morlocks for food, along with his time machine. And so, he goes in and saves the day with nothing more than a box of matches, like the scientist he is.
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He returns to the past with a flower from Weena, but none of the friends are willing to believe him, except the one that saw the flower. Cue the credits.

It's a fun and influential book, written in appreciable language and a sense of intrigue that drives forward the plot where otherwise plot advancement would be absent. It's a good read, a necessary read, and the pinacle of all science fiction.

Thanks.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Review: The God Delusion

The God Delusion, By Richard Dawkins (2005)

If there's any book that can be described as an atheist Bible, it's this one. Known throughout the world; banned in several countries, restricted in many others. It is, most simply, one of the most complete and damning refutions of religion I have ever read, a piece of beauty that will alter your view of the universe no matter whether you believe in a god or don't; even if it doesn't convince you that there's no god, you'll certainly think differently after reading it.

There have been many books against religion, but reknowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is the perfect author for such a work, with his clear, anecdotal style and determination to make his points clear whatever the intensity or controversy. Dawkins makes no conccessions for religion, but neither is he scathing if it makes his arguments less valid.

If the sight of the words "God" and "Delusion" in the same title sends you running to your nearest priest in obvious disgust of this blasphemy, give the book a chance. Read it, without bias or agenda. Try your best to understand the points within, and then I can only hope that you will be more understanding of the logic and methodical superiority of the atheist viewpoint.

I met the book as an atheist. I left it a stronger one.

Thanks.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Review: Doctor Who: The Lodger

This is, above all else, a low budget episode. But it's also a very funny one for it, and that is proably due to brilliant performances from all of the main cast, two of which are well known comedians.

Something has thrown The Doctor out of the Tardis, and when he looks in an estate-agent's shop window he finds that Amy has left him a note from the past, containing an address. Whatever threw The Doctor from the Tardis is stopping it from materialising, but the Doctor musn't give away the fact that he's a time traveller.

Therefore, The Doctor decides to move into the flat as the Lodger of Craig Owens (playing the straight-man for once, James Cordon), trying to appear human despite having very little idea of human culture in the twenty-first century. As part of this, he makes a salad-cream ommelette, plays football, and works in a call centre.

The mystery in this story is the flat's top floor, on which there's said to live, "some bloke." The lights regularly flicker, and people that walk up the stairs never return. In a quite clever turn of events, The Doctor, Craig and his female friend Sophie (Daisy Haggart at her best) discover that the ship is in fact someone's attempt to create a TARDIS, and that all of its human pilots have disintegrated. The solution, it seems, is for Craig and Sophie to reveal to each other how much they love each other, and to persuade the ship to go home.

They do this, and it is revealed that the ship was the second floor. Which is interesting. Meanwhile, throughout the episode The Doctor has been communicating with Amy in the Tardis using an earpiece. When the Tardis begins to materialise again, she finds Rory's old wedding ring and seems to remember.

Overall it was a good episode. There were some moments of awkwardness, but that's the comedy of it. This was a nice relief from the deep and dark deppression of this series, and was certainly welome.

Next week, we find ourselves in enemy-overload with The Pandorica Opens.

Thanks.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events: Books 10 - 13

The Slippery Slope, By Lemony Snicket (2003)

The series reaches new heights (hehe) as we journey up Mount Fraught. Meanwhile, however, the cliffhanger ending of the previous book is speedily and intelligently resolved, and the two older orphans are forced to trek up the mountain following Olaf's car.

They come across an organisation known as the Snow Scouts, in which they meet the bully from Book Five. Taking up disguises, the two also meet another, unsuspected child - the seemingly long-lost brother of the Quagmires (again from Book Five), who instantaniously falls in love with Violet.

Quigley Quagmire's main use is as exposition, taking the two into the second-to-last V.F.D. (revealed mainly to be Volunteer Fire Department) base in Mount Fraught. There, they find an entire base, burnt to the ground. And a very slippery slope.

The youngest orphan gets rescued after some treachery and children speaking for the first time, as well as some sleds. The cliffhanger puts the three on a sled, speeding down a river, Quigley disappeared...

The Grim Grotto, By Lemony Snicket (2004)

Somewhat of a downer book; the beginning is promising enough, with the three being rescued by a V.F.D. submarine run by Phil (from Book Four), a deep sea captain and his daughter, Fiona (Klaus's love interest.) There, they help in running the submarine and aim to find a plot point known as the Sugar Bowl, something important to the V.F.D.

Violet suspects that it is in something known as the Georgian Grotto, a small area of undersea cave that is famous for being the only known habitat of a deadly fungus (or as I call it, Plot Point). The description of the fungus itself is a little dark; it grows in your lungs and suffocates you within an hour of entering your throat. This is especially frightening after we find that during the excursion, Sunny has contracted the fungus.

Meanwhile, Olaf has his own submarine, and has just "swallowed" the Queepeg into its dock. They are all taken prisoner, when it is realised that a long-standing henchman of Olaf's, "The Hook-Handed Man" is Fiona's brother. She ultimately betrays Klaus and the three for Olaf and her brother; something quite potent for the reader to deal with as well as the fungus.

They escape anyway back to their ship, and Sunny is able to shout, "wasabi," whichas it happens, is close enough to the antidote to work. The submarine's telegraph machine works again, and Quigley Quagmire is sending one. It is a series of clues, which is decoded to mean that they will meet him at Briny Beach (where they learnt the news of their parents' deaths all the way back in Book One). Both sides know they need to get to the last V.F.D safehouse, the Hotel Denouement, and Klaus manages to power up the Queepeg and leave.

What follows is a touching scene back on Briny Beach, with their old Social worker Mr. Poe turning up to ask them to come with him to the authorities (They committed some crimes in Books 7,8 and 9, remember?)  and they refuse, piling into the back of a waiting cab where the author's sister is sitting.

The Penultimate Peril, By Lemony Snicket (2005)

These books are getting awfully long by this point.


I'll summarise as follow: they are forced to disguise themselves as hotel porters and work in the hotel, where many people from both sides of the V.F.D. have gathered. Nearly all of the past books gets a nod and there's a lot of catching up, as well as some interesting literary experimentation going on.

Suffice to say that the book ends with the hotel burning and the three (Olaf as their capturerer) escaping on a boat.

The End, By Daniel Handlier under the pseudeonym of Lemony Snicket (2006)

We went through twelve books. One hundred and fifty six chapters. And there are fourteen left.

The menagerie of literary references never stops, but the literary style changes. The characters and their deeply entrenched senses of morality (or immortality) are shattered. And the ending is a downer.

But the ending works. It fits that even after The End, life for the Baudelaires is a series of unfortunate events. And them being swallowed up into The Great Unknown is perhaps the greatest literary triumph of all, reflecting that once one hits adulthood, all bets are off. Who knows where you'll end up.

Thanks.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events: Books 7 - 9


The Vile Village, By Lemony Snicket (2001)

Spoilers follow.

When the Baudelaires' friends the Quagmires were kidnapped by Olaf in Book Five, their last clue was the acronym V.F.D., and what a clue it was. The search for the truth behind the acronym is the background plot for the second half of the series, as well as guiding their actions in Erzatz Elevator and this book.

And thus, the Vile Village in the title is one with the acronym of V.F.D, and while at first this is a driving plot point, it soon proves as futile as in the previous book (Very Fancy Doilies), this time meaning, "Village of Fowl Devotees", basically a cult for crows. There's an appearance by the supposed author's brother, who looks similar to Olaf. Olaf uses this as an excuse to dress up as a detective, and then kills Jaques. The Baudelaires are blamed, and thus the entire series is flipped on its head.

In the previous books, it was a case of Olaf disguising himself; now it is the three orphans that are on the run from the law, and Olaf (people thinking he's dead n' all) is off scot free. They can't rely on the authorities anymore, and this is where the series begins to tread muddy waters.

This is an interesting dynamic and it really works to shake off the idea that the series is formulaic; its steampunk ideology means that it can go anywhere, including reversing the roles of the characters within the system.

The Hostile Hospital, By Lemony Snicket (2002)

Following on from the events of the previous book, the three end up wandering in the middle of nowhere, and are picked up by another V.F.D, this time the "Volunteers Fighting Disease," a merry band of singers who attempt to cure disease through song. They are taken to Heimlich Hospital, where they work in a library of records and find out about Lemony Snicket. It isn't too long before Olaf catches up with them and they are forced to escape, accidentally burning the Hospital in their wake.

The book still clings to the themes of the earlier regime, and hasn't yet broken off into the newer period of the series. Olaf is disguised; so are his troupe, but in a twist, the Baudelaires are forced to disguise themselves again as troupe members.

The book ends on one of the second half's cliffhangers; specifically, packing themselves secretly into the boot of Olaf's car, driving off onto the plains.


The Carnivorous Carnival, By Lemony Snicket (2002)

My favourite book in the series, I read this on a long car journey. This is the first book to be truely independant of the old formula, with nice little nods to past books. Using props from the back of the trunk, (some of them used by Olaf in previous books) they disguise themselves as freaks to work in Calgari Carnival.

Apparently Olaf has visitied the Carnival every time the Baudellaires have moved, and so Olaf fermenently believes that Madame Lulu can find them again. However, the three soon realise that it is simply an illusion; an ellaborate light display that distracts Olaf while Lulu looks under the table at recent newspaper results.

The book is an exploration of the fraudical and cruel nature of sideshows, as well as revelations about the V.F.D as an organisation. She explains a little about an internal war within the series, but is eventually fed to lions as part of the carnivals entertainment (controlled by a smug Olaf).

Olaf steals the youngest of the three and drives off to Mount Fraught, leaving the other two rolling down the mountain in a speeding caravan...

Thanks.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Timeline Discrepancies

Soooo, I assume some of you were waiting for The Script? Yeah, sorryabout that, couldn't get that in time for Monday.

I haven't had much time today, so tommorrow will have a Bumper Lemony Snicket Special, with Books 7-13.

Next week? I haven't decided yet. I'll think about it over the weekend, where in the meantime, we have Doctor Who: The Lodger and The God Delusion. 

Thanks.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events: Books 4 - 6

The Miserable Mill, By Lemony Snicket (2000)

And, after the formula is affirmed, it is broken. The guardian in this story is in fact an organisation, the "Lucky Smells Lumbermill," and the dark absurdity, while not as depressing as the previous book, still works well to enhance the plot.

The plot is pretty much the same; they're left at the lumbermill by their social worker/accountant/coughing idiot and they find that life is terribly handicapped in many different ways. The previous book had dispelled any hope of a happy life, no matter who they stayed with. Klaus gets hypnotised; they nearly get killed by a circular saw and there's a sword fight with teeth.

The Austere Academy, By Lemony Snicket (2000)

Ah, the plot thickens. The only really important thing in this book is the appearance of several characters which form major roles later on, some villans and some colleagues.

Plot is as usual; children put in , watched over by and menaced by Count Olaf, who's disguised as . The only thing that this formula makes tiring is describing the damn thing; Handlier delivers up his usual mix of deadpan humor, strange narration and well-thought out if template-cut characters.

The Erzatz Elevator, By Lemony Snicket (2001)


Ok, ok, they're now with a lovely couple (or seemingly lovely couple - see below) with something a bit odd about them, in this case an obsessive slavery to fashion. Orphans are "in".


In other words its a bitter satire of the fashion industry and of the ignorance of the modern adult; in this case, however, it is the woman who is the negative; the male guardian is one of the more competant guardians they've had.

Aaaaand Count Olaf is is now a very posh bloke with an eyeglass (for extra POSHNESS) and is using puns and horrific subverted tropes to befuddle the three. Luckily they expose them and are unfortunately made to escape; this time, their social worker is getting slightly miffed.

Overview

It's a good continuation, inkeeping with the main themes of the series as well as introducing others and some plotpoints that will be important later on. Not with as much pace as later books, but generally less safe than the first three.

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Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Review: Harry Potter (7/7): Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, By J.K.Rowling (2007)

Well, we waited a good eight years, but we got there. Harry Potter's final journey takes him far beyond the confines of Hogwarts and out into the rich wizarding world, to places only hinted at in previous books. Spoilers follow.

So before he popped his clogs, Dumbledore told Harry about Voldemort's "horcruxes," items imbued with a part of Voldy's soul. That's why he's got the old immortality thing going on, and so Harry must destroy them all, like he destroyed the diary horcrux that held a young Voldy.

Assisted in true bunker fashion are his two friends, Ron and Hermionie (they have a long-suspected romantic subplot; it's irrelevant for now), mainly because at the end of the last book Hogwarts became under the control of Voldy's forces.

Now this book is a triumph. A majesty. The ultimate pay-off to the series; I only found one flaw with it, despite it being a big flaw (see below). It's language is noticeably more mature than the first book, and so are the characters and their responses to the world arond them.

Oh, and Harry is killed. Not at the end though. No, he goes to LIMBO and comes back again, because a part of Voldy's soul ended up in Harry. PARDON? Maybe I had this reaction because I'm an atheist, maybe I had it becausein Limbo there is an image of Voldemort's soul as a blackened corpse, totally dispelling all of the vital, "Mislead Human" aspect of his character. Good going, JK. I felt no sympathy for Harry by the end of the book. I don't know why, but his arrogance seen in previous books seemed to amplify when he conquered death twice. 

Otherwise, this is a brilliant book. No plot holes, no loose ends. Just the climax to a brilliant series of fiction.
I must say though. The film will be terrible.

Thanks. 

Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events: Books 1 - 3

The Bad Beginning, By Daniel Handlier (Lemony Snicket hereon in) (1999)

It's an archetypal tale to say the least; three children from well off parents are orphaned and are forced to live with their "uncle" (Fourth cousin three times removed, or third cousin four times removed; it's unsure) Count Olaf, who is after their tremendous fortune.

Overall, a bit deadpan and depressing for a children's book, although in this one it manages to balance the seriousness of the topic with the unconventional and dare-I-say slightly British tone that comes across in the book. The now famous style is that of a journalist with connections to the orphans, with hidden secrets about their lives ready to tell in this series.

The Bad Beginning sets the series off well; good characterisation, good plot, and a sense of loose comedy to the whole thing, despite wearing a shroud of deppression.

The Reptile Room, By Lemony Snicket (1999)

The plot thickens as the next guardian of the Baudelaires is chosen, and they are sent off to live with their herpetologist (studies snakes) "uncle" Monty. A rather benevolent fellow, and preparing to go off with the trio to Peru.

That would have gone to plan, if this series' frequent formula didn't require that Count Olaf appear in a paper thin disguise and con, murder and/or dazzle their guardian. In this case, he disguises himself as a herpetology assistant and kills Monty with a fork to imitate a snake bite. Terrible.

This series is unique not only for its strange style of writing but also for the many adult themes and literary references scattered about. It perhaps reinforces the moral that the well-read are the more morally guided: but also makes it accessible to older readers.

The Wide Window, By Lemony Snicket (2000)

Oh dear. It's book three of thirteen and already there's a drab lake filled with meat-eating leeches, a hurricane warning and a woman afraid of falling fridges.

Perfect material, then, for Handlier's unique style of a mix of faux-concern and deadpan humour. And that still shines through, despite being one of the more deppressing earlier books, with irony and absurdity everywhere, blended perfectly with the dark nature of the book.

This time the three are sent to live in a rickety old shack barely holding onto the side of a cliff, with their "Aunt" Josephine, whose husband died because the leeches in the lake sensed he had eaten recently and ate him. She later dies the same way, mainly because of a newly disguised Count Olaf as a sailor type; with some new henchmen in tow.

A good end to the introductory period of the series, it works well because the next book is less deppressing!

Overview

The introductory period of the series does well to establish the writing style and elaborate references of Handlier's work, as well as introducing the formula which will most definately be broken later on.

Thanks.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The images were removed from this article because it was garnering an unfair amount of coverage for its images alone. 

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Review: Doctor Who: Vincent and The Doctor

Richard Curtis of Vicar of Dibley, Love Actually, Notting Hill and The Boat that Rocked fame presents a powerful and moving insight into the trials and tribulations of Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh.  It returns to the core of Doctor Who's historical record while still imbued with the Richard Curtis charm and his ability to stir great emotion. The story is noticably less about the "big bad alien" and more about the emotional and chronological banter between characters, meaning that plot is firmly shoved aside.

On a trip to a French art gallery, The Doctor and Amy notice an alien being in the window of a church painted by Van Gogh. After bantering with a brilliant Bill Nighy as the Curator, they travel back to 1890, where they discover a broken and confused man. The monster in question is a space-bug-scavenger-prototype, and in this case serves to act as a metaphor for his mental state. Because of Van Gogh's unique mental state, he is the only one able to see the creature, leading to some invisible faffing around.

After a brilliantly subtle tale that explores the full psycology of Van Gogh, there is a tragic end sequence for the alien and then there is a wonderfully heartwarming scene where The Doctor introduces Van Gogh to the 2010 gallery, and Nighy expresses his life-long admiration.

While the action may be a little pushed back to make way for the character drama, this is no bad thing. The true plot is Van Gogh's altering psyche, and the alien threat serves only as a motivational tool for The Doctor to show Van Gogh how special a being he really was/is. This is of course a brilliant move by Rich Curtis, who does character drama better than anything else.

Next week, The Doctor acts as a Lodger with James Cordon. Lets hope he had no part in writing the damn thing.

Thanks.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Review: Paolo Nutini (2/2): Sunny Side Up

Sunny Side Up - Paolo Nutini (2009)

Nutini crashes back and blows his first album into insignificance. It's got a big deal of Nutini charm as well as some experimentative changes to genre and some powerful vocals from Paolo. 

Consistency is as good as ever, with the sheer effort put into it sounding breathtaking. And yet you can also hear that he's enjoying every word.

Particular gems? They're all brilliant, and I can't pick out a single one that i would hold above the others.

Next week I have The Script and then I lay off the music for a while.

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Review: Harry Potter (6/7): Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, By J.K.Rowling (2005)

The last two books form their own finale, but in my opinion HPHBP is the better of the two. Strong, powerful, and although muddled by unecessary romantic subplots, it provides some of the best moments in the series.

Of course I am perhaps a little biased. This was the first book that I read soon after release, and on holiday at that. It's certainly an interesting book, and the series turns into an aging wine with all of its features blooming and wrinkling.

Alright, the basic plot is as follows: Everyone's taken their heads from their arses and saw that there's some funky shit going on in the world. Meanwhile, Voldy acts like a brooding serial killer and starts attacking non-magical people. Dumbeldore is understandably pissed and so starts training up Harry because he's the Chosen One etc. and in the end is killed by an Antihero.

Oops Spoilers! To be honest, I feel incapable of describing the next book without using spoilers, so I might as well start here.

Elsewhere in this story there are around four romantic subplots, each more awkward and unnecessary than the last. Maybe it's a way of identifying that they're getting older, but I just don't see it. She has done a good job representing the irrationality and short standing nature of teenage relationships, but this doesn't complement the overall sense of tension that results from the return and exploits of Voldemort.

Anyway. A good book, if spoiled by a few trivial things, and we get, erm, serious next tommorrow with the finale.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Review: Harry Potter (5/7): Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, By J.K.Rowiling (2003)

The longest book in the series at a whopping 800 pages, I don't feel that Order of the Phoenix deserves its length, which seems to drag on and on. The plot basically follows the (spoiler warning) full return of Lord Voldemort at the end of the last book. Basically Harry, his close friends and the powerful headmaster (Dumbeldore; an extremely important character that I feel ashamed for not having mentioned) are the only ones who believe that he is back. Cue torturous reign of horror on the edge of society, bubbling over into the fore-ground just when it's too late to do anything.

The titular Order is a group of "goodies" that are fighting against Voldy, and play a major part in the beginning of the book where Harry faces trial for using magic to stop a dementor that attacked his cousin and he while walking about before meeting a squib. And if that made sense to you, I'm so, so sorry.

Ok, I'll admit that there are a lot of aspects of the plot that I don't mention here. It gets rid of the one-sided potential of the earlier books while building a lot of tension for the serious danger that one can feel coming from the threat of Voldy's armies. So far the books have painted Harry as Jesus and Voldemort as Satan (more of these religious connotations on Sunday), and this is the first book that actually gets to the point where she is obliged to say, "Well everyone's human in the end heh heh".

Again, the prose is beautiful and detailed in a way that doesn't deter from the story. One can feel empathy for the characters, and that is perhaps the most important aspect. One feels frustration at the world's misbelief of Voldemort, and that's just brilliant.

I notice that in the reviews of book 2 through 4 I say that the next book is serious. Just to clarify; we get serious next week! :L

Thanks.

Review: Paolo Nutini (1/2): These Streets

These Streets - Paolo Nutini (2006)

Paolo Nutini (from hereon Paolo) is a Scot-Italian, whose exterior appearance matches that of a busking student. Like Mr. Blunt, he too has the novelty factor of a voice that has an unusual pitch; thankfully this time, it is down rather than up. Paolo, a 22 year old, sounds like a balding middle-aged man.

Not that that's a bad thing, by the way. It is, to be brief, fucking brilliant. The songs are instantly memorable in a warm, fuzzy kid of way, and imbued with a sort of brief sincerity that matches if not excelling that of dear Blunty. He's also Scottish, and therefore a member of the second-best race of peoples ever.

The album's consistency is brilliant, with excellence throughout. The strained croonings mean that you feel the effort behind every syllable, every efforted word. Particular greats are, "Jenny Don't Be Hasty," "Rewind," "These Streets," and "New Shoes".

Did I mention that the album was triple platinum? While Paolo hasn't had brilliant chart progress, he has been loved by the critics, like myself. Everything he sings is song not only with a passion but a shy humility and charm that makes it an absolute pleasure to listen to.

Brilliant. Simply Brilliant.

Thanks.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Review: Harry Potter (4/7): Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, By J.K.Rowling (2000)

Things get series in this fourth installment, a transitionary novel of sorts from the lgihthearted nature of the first three novels to the darkness of the last three. Its plot is mainly independant; a legendary tournament between the three great wizarding schools that somehow Harry is elected for, because he's somehow extra-speshuw and then there's this whole revelation and a really important plot point that I don't feel at liberty to mention.

Rowling tormented her fans by saying that a character would die, and she was right, although it was luckily a character we hadn't heard of before this book (he was played by Twilight's Edward Pattinson in the film version, and was accordingly wooden). It also features some important last-three-book features as well as pay-offs for some of the features introduced in earlier books.

Erm... not a lot to say, really. As I remember, the story and writing quality was as excellent as one comes to expect from Rowling. Especially the climax sequence, which had a great sense of tension to it. I've always viewed this book as the story between two trilogies, and as that device (and an independant tale) it works very well.

Tommorrow, we get serious with Order of the Phoenix.

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Review: James Blunt (2/2): All the Lost Souls

All The Lost Souls - James Blunt (2007)

James Blunt is back after his three-year success bath; this time with the novelty worn down with some decent sandpaper. James is still his madcap, high-pitched, clear-cut self, except this time he's lost the newbie appeal of the fallen soldier who can sing a bit.

Nothing really stands out on the album; it's the same as before, sincerely heartfelt ballads that pull on the heartstrings. There's nothing particularly moving in the album, nothing that has any deep meaning.

If you love Blunt, then there's more of his trademark catharsis for you to enjoy. If you're looking for something as special as "You're Beautiful", or "No Bravery" then you'll be sorely disappointed.

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Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Review: Harry Potter (3/7): Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, By J.K.Rowling (1999)

Here we take a step back from some of the bigger mythology and focus more on character, something Rowling does well. What results is perhaps one of the more intelligent books in the series, if not the most excitable.

The only book in the series that doesn't feature Lord Voldemort, PoA instead makes a villan of Harry's godfather, who supposedly betrayed his parents to Voldemort thirteen years previously. When it is revealed that this dangerous criminal has escaped, Harry is recognisably angry about it. And so follows a tale of misdirection and, strangely, time travel, in which our characters are much further explored as people.

When I began reading Potter the third film had just been released, and so my memories of it are sketchy. The book has less action or grand majesting rambling; just a lot of extra, accumulating detail and character drama. Like previous books, elements important later on are introduced here, and will continue to be introduced even in the final book.

This is the end of the introductory period of books; the end of the innocence of Harry and his friends. The next book is transitionary, into a more mature story, and this is one last savoury pocket of the innocent adventures that came beforehand.

What struck me is that there is no climax. The story doesn't seem to build; it just rolls on and the period that one may call a climax is too far from the end of the book. That's my only gripe with it, however.

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Review: James Blunt (1/2): Back to Bedlam

Back to Bedlam - James Blunt (2004)

He's not called a "soft rock" musician for nothing; as noted by many of his critics at the time, James' unique selling point is his brilliant voice, which easily reaches into low tenor without sounding like a British Michael Jackson.

Most if not all of his songs are attempts at emotional ballads, and for me they work. Maybe I'm too kind to the posh bastard, but he actually does a decent job with what he's been given; realistic but slightly flowery love songs, most of which deliver the right punch to be entertaining. Some of them are based on past relationships; one song ("No Bravery," a personal favourite from his works) is based on the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and is bloody depressing.

One of the things that makes the songs so powerful is perhaps another asset of the British clear-cut voice, although on this occasion is sounds as if Blunt has been licking the Queen's arse serving his country for years. And, as comes with the accent, some of the songs are witty. For example, in "Wiseman" James is questioning a woman and for some reason is telling her about how the biblical three wisemen live in, "a semi by the sea" and that she should access her place in life. Complete and total pig swill but also witty humour.

James is part of my first double bill this week because as a child I was indoctrinated into the James Blunt Cult (that's a tongue twister that can have some unsavoury results) and so I've decided to actually listen to his second album, which I shall be reviewing tommorrow.

So, in summary: completely bonkers powerful tear-wrenching dramatic light rock with a toff's accent and a voice that would shatter a wine glass. Brilliant.

Thanks.