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since 21/06/2000


All He Ever Wanted - Anita Shreve 29/01/2011

But I wanted a bit more

All He Ever Wanted - Anita Shreve Nicolas Van Tassel was enjoying a quiet meal when the fire broke out in the hotel's kitchen. Luckily he escaped, and there, among the survivors was Etna Bliss. For Nicolas, it was love at first sight, and from that moment on, Etna was all he ever wanted. Anita Shreve's "All He Ever Wanted" is a story of one man's obsession with a woman who wanted something else. Shreve indicates early in the novel that the relationship between Nicolas and Etna has an unhappy conclusion. She does this by narrating the story in Nicolas' voice, and making the book a journal of his life, written years later. This mechanic works effectively in that hindsight allows the narrator to include things he did not actually observe when the events were taking place. This also allows us to get a more personal feel for the character narrating the story, which a third person omnipresent point of view can often lack. However, since Nicolas tells us these things in written, rather than vocal retrospect, Shreve makes us feel that Nicolas is himself detached from the action, which keeps us from becoming overly sympathetic to him. Shreve walks a fine line between empathy with Nicolas and feeling removed from him, which perfectly parallels the story itself – as Nicolas's feelings for Etna grow, her aloofness develops as well. I found this was a stroke of genius on Shreve's part. The timeline of this story starts in 1899 and ends in 1933. This gives Shreve the leeway to use more formal language than a contemporary ...

Another Year (DVD) 18/01/2011

Four Seasons of Real People

Another Year (DVD) Director and writer Mike Leigh knows that stories about real people aren't for everyone, but at least he doesn't compromise his art. You won't see him adding spectacular special effects and ignoring things like the script, acting and direction just to make a buck. But that means that movies like "Another Year" won't be considered blockbusters and won't get the box office take or promotional hype because they don't include Hollywood's beautiful people. Instead, Leigh tells us a story using actors that look like ordinary people, in situations that mirror our own. Here we get Jim Broadbent, who is always a pleasure to watch - he's so human and at ease on screen, you believe everything about him in the part of Tom. Mind you, he always seems to get these lovable characters to play. With him we get Ruth Sheen, who plays Gerri, (and yes, the "Tom & Jerry" joke doesn't go unsaid, but then it wouldn't in real life either), who is just marvelous as Tom's dowdy but comfortable wife and the chemistry she has with Broadbent is perfect. Central to the story is Mary, played by Lesley Manville, looking uncharacteristically disheveled and acting perfectly like a woman who has made far too many mistakes in her life but still can't figure out why her life is such a mess. Here she's now feeling the pain of loneliness so much that she's well on her way to becoming a full-blown alcoholic. Everything is in place with her, from fiddling with her hair when she flirts with a stranger in the pub or ...

Fish Tank(DVD) 12/01/2011

Female Street Style Billy Elliot?

Fish Tank(DVD) Last year's BAFTA winner for Outstanding British Film is Fish Tank, which is about a young girl Mia (Katie Jarvis), who loves to dance, and wants to get out of her housing estate and away from her sad life. No, this isn't the female version of Billy Elliot, but yes, some parallels can be drawn, even if they do seem like direct opposites. Here the girl wants to do modern, street dance where Billy wanted to dance ballet. Mia studies dancing by watching YouTube clips and street-dancers, while Billy went to dance classes. Billy was extremely talented and Mia is just okay, but with some potential. Both are young, ambitious and passionate and believe that dance could be their way to break out. That's about where the parallels stop. Billy doesn't start out as being drawn to dance, but that's all that Mia can think about. Mia lives in Essex not that far from London and Billy comes from a northern mining town. Things get difficult for Billy because of the miner's strike, while things start to get better for Mia when her mother brings home a new boyfriend. The biggest difference here is that Billy Elliot focuses more on his dancing and than his situation, while Fish Tank focuses more on Mia's situation than her dancing - although both use dance as a coping mechanism. But you should keep in mind that this isn't a "dance" movie. This is a movie about innocence, and how a 15 year old copes with her life, when that is lacking. There's an honesty of acting here that is probably no ...

Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa 11/01/2011

Amesege'nallo', Hilton Addis! (That means thank you)

Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa The first thing you'll notice about the Addis Hilton is the security. You'll be checked by a guard at the front gate, and at the hotel’s lobby entrance there’s a guard, metal detector and an x-ray machine for your luggage. While this may seem a bit excessive to some of you, I live in Israel this type of security is an everyday thing for me. The security here isn't due to political unrest within Ethiopia, but rather because of its volatile neighbours. Of course, that it happens to stand right across the street from the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs could also have some bearing on the security levels as well! The Addis Hilton is located very near to the centre of town, and therefore very convenient for visiting the sites. Within a few minutes of leaving the hotel, you get to the heart of the tourist district, and the airport is no more than 30 minutes away. So, there couldn't be a better spot for a hotel. In addition, the Addis Hilton is built on a slight rise and set behind the main road. This keeps the street sounds away, and it isn't in any of the flight patterns so you won’t hear airplanes either. Being on that hill also allows for good views. My room faced the back of the hotel, with views from my balcony of the tennis courts, swimming pool and garden restaurant. The other side has views of the entrance, main road and Foreign Ministry. What's more, if I put my head just a little bit around the corner of the balcony, I could see the mountains as well. The lobby ...

The Philadelphia Story (DVD) 10/01/2011

Oh, Lord! What a Comedy!

The Philadelphia Story (DVD) The famous Philadelphia socialite Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is about to get remarried. But no amount of money can help her keep the problems away. First, the tabloid reporter Macaulay "Mike" Connor (James Stewart) is camping out at her mansion for the event. Then Tracy's ex-husband, C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), shows up as well - with dubious intentions. Between the three of them and Tracy's eccentric family, Conner's female photographer Liz (Ruth Hussey) and no small amount of expensive champagne, you just know this isn't going to be your typical fairy tale wedding! This is the story of the classic George Cuckor film "The Philadelphia Story". This movie is about as close to perfection as any romantic comedy ever made, and thank heavens no one has had the audacity to remake it. (Well, it was remade, but as a musical called "High Society".) The point is, if rom-coms today looked more carefully at movies like these, we'd probably have far less disasters than we've been seeing lately. As with all classic rom-coms, this uses the basic premise "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl". This one however has some twists. The movie opens with one of cinema's most famous scenes, where we see Dexter leaving his wife Tracy. The action shows a haughty Tracy tossing the furious Dexter's golf clubs onto the pavement, and breaking one over her knee (this makes sense because they were made of wood back then). Dexter becomes even more enraged, and turns back, hand in a fist ...

The Thomas Crown Affair (DVD) 08/01/2011

Windmills that will stay in your mind!

The Thomas Crown Affair (DVD) It is extremely rare that a remake comes anywhere near the quality of the original film. It is even rarer when it actually surpasses the original. The Pierce Brosnan/Renée Russo remake of The Thomas Crown Affair is one of those very rare birds. The story is about the wealthy Thomas Crown, who steals a precious work of art just for the fun of it, and how the insurance investigator tries to prove Crown was the thief and recover the painting - including getting personally involved, in all senses of the word! The original starred Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. While McQueen was well known for his bad-boy rough-and-tumble parts, he always looked uncomfortable playing this wealthy tycoon. On the other hand, Pierce Brosnan looks equally at ease and sexy in a dirty t-shirt as he does in a full dress tuxedo. And as I’m no fan of Dunaway, the original was never a hit with me. Renée Russo, however, is a woman's woman who makes women half her age turn green with envy - not just because of her natural beauty and perfect body, but also because she can play the intelligent girl with great comic timing who's just tough and naughty enough to break the rules! Talk about your eye-candy factor - this one has something for everyone (including some of both Brosnan and Russo that make this film very much rated classification 15)! But even the best eye-candy can't take an old film and make it work in the late 20th century. The original plot line has Crown robbing a bank. Now, why would a rich ...

Two Lovers (DVD) 06/01/2011

Torn Between...

Two Lovers (DVD) Here's a bit of a sleeper that was surprisingly well done. Joaquin Phoenix plays Leonard Kraditor, a bi-polar young man whose fiancé left when they found out that both carried the gene for Tay-Sachs disease. Leonard is now living with his parents (Isabella Rossellini and Israeli comedian, Moni Moshonov), and gets set up with the Jewish, quiet, steady and single Sandra Cohen (Vinessa Shaw). Sandra is the daughter of the man who Leonard's father is brokering a business merger with (nothing fancy, just Dry Cleaning). Just after Sandra and Leonard establish that this might be something worth looking into, Leonard meets, and is immediately attracted to, his new neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is the exact opposite of Sandra - not Jewish, erratic, neurotic and in a toxic relationship with a married man. This is the basis for the appropriately named film "Two Lovers". What makes this movie into something a bit more than your usual romantic drama is Leonard's relationship paralleling his bi-polar disorder. Michelle represents his manic stages while Sandra's quiet suppression points up Leonard's depressive side. Moreover, Sandra admits to Leonard that it was her idea for their parents to set them up, while Michelle is obviously "not that into" Leonard except as a friend. Leonard can't deny he wants more from Michelle, even as he's stringing Sandra along. Finally, the other parallel is that Leonard is a photographer, but only takes black and white pictures. Plus, until the ...

Moving Wallpaper - Series 1 - Complete/Echo Beach - Series 1 - Complete (Box Set) (DVD) 05/01/2011

Two for One? Sold!

Moving Wallpaper - Series 1 - Complete/Echo Beach - Series 1 - Complete (Box Set) (DVD) When are two TV shows actually one? That's a question much like "when is the whole greater than the sum of its parts?" Well, with Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach we have the answer. These are two TV shows that are connected at the hip despite one being a comedy and the other being a drama. "Moving Wallpaper" is a behind the scenes comedy about the production of a new ITV series "Echo Beach". What makes these two all the more intriguing as a set of TV series is that while "Moving Wallpaper" has its tongue deeply planted inside its cheek, "Echo Beach" is a serious soap opera, with little to nothing to laugh about. Except there are many things to laugh about when you watch "Echo Beach" (herein after EB), but only if you've watched the coinciding episode of "Moving Wallpaper" (herein after MW). This is because things you see during MW pop up during that week's EB episode. For this reason even the world's biggest soap opera hater will get a kick out of watching EB if they've seen the MW that goes with it. It sort of becomes a game, actually - spot the things in EB that we saw just moments before in MW. So when East Enders star Martine McCutcheon is on MW, she's acting a type of spoof of herself, but when she appears in EB, she's Susan Penwarden - the pivotal character of the whole show. This also works the other way, so that we see in MW, Jonathan Pope (played by Ben Miller) is the producer of EB, and then with the opening credits of EB we see its producer listed as being ...

Gosford Park (DVD) 04/01/2011

Mysterious 1930s England

Gosford Park (DVD) Sir William McCordle is a self-made rich man, now living in an English country home, with a large and efficient staff, where everything is proper and orderly, both upstairs and down. Sir William allows his young wife, Lady Sylvia, to indulge in the legendary pastimes of the wealthy upper class. Below, the servants work tirelessly in their own hierarchy starting with the butler Mr. Jennings, and including the cold but proper housekeeper Mrs. Wilson, and the rough and wise Cook, Mrs. Croft. It seems like everything is as it should be. However, one shooting party weekend is about to change the lives of everyone involved, because a murder is about to take place. This is the story of Gosford Park. It’s hard to resist a good old-fashioned murder mystery, and this one is reminiscent of the days when a these were studies of the human physics of action and reaction, when motive and behaviour were investigated. Today, we see far too many movies with murders that focus on the gore, and Hollywood seems to have forgotten that murderers are people too. Also forgotten is that a murderer isn't always a scary person, but rather someone caught up in circumstance. Gosford Park does remember this, and the situations portrayed here are ones that will likely remind you of more the stories from the master of old-fashioned murder mysteries, Agatha Christie. Placing this movie in the 1930s also lends itself to this feeling, and sets us up to feel comfortable with the upstairs-downstairs ...

Bee Season (DVD) 03/01/2011

Spell "Dysfunctional"

Bee Season (DVD) Eliza Naumann (Flora Cross) is winning spelling bees. Her father Saul (Richard Gere) is immersed in the study of Jewish mysticism. Her brother Aaron (Max Minghella) is looking for personal spiritualism. And her mother Miriam (Juliette Binoche) is losing it. This is the family of the movie Bee Season, which has nothing to do with the insects that make honey, but there's a whole lot of stinging going on here. The film centres on Eliza and begins with her not wanting her family to know that she's winning these spelling contests. Through her eyes, we see immediately that there is a difficult dynamic going on in the family. To begin with, her big brother seems inordinately nice to her but thankfully, as the film progresses we do get a glimpse of more realistic sibling relationship, especially as he retreats. Her mother at first seems terribly perfect, except that she doesn't look Jewish. Thankfully, they explain this away early on, by mentioning that she converted. And then there's Saul's overly academic attitude to his children which suggests more than just a parent wanting his children to succeed in school. Why then, would Eliza hide her achievements from him? Certainly that would get her the attention she's obviously seeking. But no, there is nothing obvious in how these characters act or react, which has its pluses and minuses. Of course, since Eliza's only 11, we know she'll have to confess when she needs to travel for the next level's competition. Her hiding this from her ...

ASUS MM17T 17 in 29/12/2010

Simply Flatly Useful

ASUS MM17T 17 in The Asus MM17T is a 17" video monitor which I got for work. This has "splendid" technology that apparently makes the output optimal for the human eye. Good thing that, since the eyes I have are mostly human (I say "mostly" since I wear contact lenses). I have to admit that this seems to work since the screen looks clear and does have far sharper images than my old one. Setting it up was a breeze. Our computer department just plugged it into my computer and it started working right away. One thing they did need to make sure of was that the wire for the internal speakers was plugged in properly. I know I would have put it into the wrong place, but since there are limited spots to plug the speakers into, a simple trial-and-error test would have sufficed. Speaking of the speakers, you should know that the volume can only be controlled through the computer's audio setup. This is a bit of a problem since at work I often transcribe audio dictation. Having an external knob to adjust the volume is more convenient for me than using the computer's audio controls. When my boss speaks quietly on a voice file, I can't make it as loud as when I used external speakers that had a volume control knob, even when everything is set at maximum. When I want to listen to music (as a background while working, of course), the volume through this monitor, via my headphones, is often too loud. Then again, if you want to listen to music without headphones, these speakers give a very poor sound quality. ... 27/12/2010

Small Site, Big Products If you like to use eyeliner pens but have had problems finding them in the shops these days, I may have a solution for you. After Googling to see if I could find these online, one of the hits I got was for "Magic Stylo" at and I wasted no time at all in clicking. What I found, to my delight, was an on-line store that sold nothing but cosmetic pens (at that time). Moreover, not just eyeliner pens, but lip liner pens and eyebrow pens – the latter of which was something I didn't even know existed. Since finding this in 2006, they have added two more products. But this is my review of this on-line shop. When you go to the site you'll find a pretty light blue and pink page that's very simply put together and is easy on the eye. There are pink tabs across the top for "Home" (obvious), "About Us" (also obvious), "Contact Us" (just as obvious), "Order Status" (for checking to see where your purchase is) and "Checkout" (well, duh!). Down the left hand side of the home page, there are link bars as follows: Magic Stylo – this is where you'll find the list of their original products - the pens. They have 12 different lip pen colours, 11 different eyeliner colours and 3 eyebrow colours (two of the latter are the same colour as the eyeliner pens) for a total of 24 colours. All you have to do here is click on the word "buy" underneath the colour you want and one will be automatically placed in your shopping cart. Very straightforward indeed. Lash Extender - this is a ...

Barney's Version (DVD) 26/12/2010

A good Version for Barney

Barney's Version (DVD) (Film Only Review) ‘Barney’s Version’ is the story of Barney Panofsky, a very difficult, hot-headed man, who’s made many mistakes in his life. Now, at 65 they’re all coming back to him like boomerangs. As the movie opens, Barney is making a drunken, middle of the night, nasty phone call to his ex-wife’s new husband. From there, the film progresses through flashbacks to reveal over 40 years of Barney’s pitfalls and highlights, in a carefully directed and perfectly acted character study that will make you laugh and cry. On the surface, Barney isn’t a very likable person. He’s a chubby, not very good looking, a heavy drinker, foul-mouthed, and sometimes shows more interest in hockey than concern for the things and people around him. However, we can understand him because he’s not simply fallible, he’s human. More than this, underneath it all, there’s something there we can admire – because he’s nothing, if he’s not consistent. In addition to this, his intelligence and wit make him interesting, and ultimately charming in an off-beat way. Still, there are times when you just want to slap the guy. In short, we get a truly three dimensional character living in a world we can believe is real. All this points to a script that is witty and intelligent and heartwarming to boot. Bringing all this to the screen may sound like a tall order, and yet it succeeds on almost every level, with a cherry-picked cast. To start, Giamatti (who was just nominated for a Golden Globe for his ...

Will - Christopher Rush 23/12/2010

The Last of Will & his Testament

Will - Christopher Rush Biographies can often be terribly boring, academic tomes that find interest only in those who are fascinated by the subjects. Autobiographies can be terribly indulgent works that leave out anything negative about the person. In general, it is far more fun to read fiction. What makes the book "Will" by Christopher Rush special is that it is a fictional autobiography. What this means is that Rush has decided to get into the head and voice of the most famous writer of all time, William Shakespeare, and write a biographical piece with the narrator being none other than the Bard himself! The premise here is that Shakespeare is on his deathbed and he is dictating his last will and testament to his lawyer, a Falstaff-like gentleman named Francis Collins. While our William isn't all that happy to be in the physical state he's found himself in, he takes this opportunity to reflect on his life as a whole and tell Francis of all the events he experienced. We thereby get an account that begins with his parents, brothers and sisters and his own birth straight through to the 'present' when he's nearing death. There are certain drawbacks in such a work. For instance, the language here is very much in tune with the time of Shakespeare's life and era. In this, we find that it to be both lyrical in the use of words and phrasing as well as using less than modern language. This may be tough going for many readers, but those who enjoy Shakespeare's poetry and his creative word usage will find ...

Avshalom Reserve Stalactite Caves, Israel 22/12/2010

Really COOL Place to Visit

Avshalom Reserve Stalactite Caves, Israel Israel is a hot country, and certainly there are few places you can visit here that will keep you cool while still enjoying nature. If you're ever in the Jerusalem area and are looking for an interesting visit, I suggest you visit the Avshalom (Sorek) Caves. These are Stalactite caves, and while not the largest in the world (or the country, apparently), are truly beautiful, and are the only ones open to the public. What makes this cave so beautiful is the combination of limestone and dolomite formations that form into flowstone walls (that look like drapes made of fabric) that can be up to 30 meters long, combined with pillars that they say range up to 15 meters high. These walls section the inside of the cave into "rooms" and each section has something different to see. The tour itself takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, and starts with a movie about how the caves were found and how they've been taken care of so that they remain as beautiful as they were when discovered. At one point in the tour, the guide will start a light show that highlights some of the more amazing formations. These guides have a lovely sense of humor, pointing out bits that might remind you of scenes from history or even famous TV shows or movies. Of course, due to the special conditions of any stalactite cave, tours are limited to only a few a day, and there aren't all that many conducted in English (and are limited to groups of 15 or more), so check the tour times before you go (or take a ...
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