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Not around quite so much at the moment - new job and mum getting married - will catch up when I can.

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since 05/05/2005


The Swan at Forton, Newport 17/11/2010

Weddings, parties or a quiet drink

The Swan at Forton, Newport The Swan at Forton, described as ‘a country hotel’ is a beautiful location for a wedding, any kind of party or just a quiet drink next to a roaring log fire. Located near Newport in Shropshire, it is just on the border of Staffordshire and so is an ideal venue for anyone in that area. It is probably worth coming from a lot further afield to visit as well. Location: The Swan at Forton Eccleshall Road Newport Shropshire TF10 8BY Tel: 01952 812169 Email: For anyone who is unfamiliar with the area, it is a truly beautiful part of the country. Forton itself is a tiny Shropshire village, but it is only a few minutes away from Newport and about twenty minutes to half an hour away from Junction 14 of the M6. It is open every day from midday and food is served on Monday to Saturday from midday until 2.30pm and for dinner from 5.30pm until 9.30pm. Setting: The Swan is an old country house just off the Eccleshall to Newport road. However, the road is not particularly busy and there is certainly no traffic noise once inside the hotel. There is plenty of parking outside, both for bar/dinner customers and for those staying in rooms in the house itself or in the annex next door. Dining: There are two main areas for dining. One is in the bar area, which comprises a conservatory and the bar area itself, although there is a small libary attached to the bar area which presumably could be used at a pinch. For small groups visiting just for dinner, this is ...

Shoulder Bags and Shootings - Dorothy Howell 15/11/2010

Handbags to the rescue!

Shoulder Bags and Shootings - Dorothy Howell Haley Randolph has just returned from a trip to Europe at the invitation of her boyfriend, Ty. Unfortunately, Ty has remained behind for work - as the owner/manager of a chain of department stores, he has a lot on his plate. Haley borrows his grandmother's Mercedes to get from the airport back home, but is horrified to find that there is a dead body in the boot of the car. Even worse, Haley knows the dead girl, so she's suspect number one. With her track record, the police are already deeply suspicious of her. Can she find out who the real killer was without attracting too much attention? And, more importantly, will she ever track down the killer 'Sinful' handbag that she's so desperate to own? Haley Randolph is a self-confessed airhead with little on her mind apart from handbags and her boyfriend, Ty. Her job as a lowly retail assistant for Ty's chain of department stores is something that she regards as a real chore; she would much rather be running her own handbag business. She is studying at college in the hope of improving her job opportunities, but is finding it hard to concentrate - particularly when she is thrown into the middle of a murder investigation and there are so many men either chasing her or running away from her. There is no great depth to Haley. She lives for instant gratification and isn't going to impress anyone for her investigative skills - she falls over clues rather than finds them. For many, she will be seen as a fluffy bit of nonsense and that ...

The Box (DVD) 06/11/2010

The box is full of...?

The Box (DVD) Norma and Arthur Lewis are an ordinary middle-class couple trying to make a good life for themselves and their son, Walter. The only blot on their horizon is Norma's foot, which was injured in an accident when she was a teenager and has left her with a limp. Then Norma is told that her job is in jeopardy and she starts to worry about their future, knowing that they are already only just making ends meet. She finds a box on her doorstep one day and is told by a strange man called Arlington Stewart, that if she presses the button on the box, she will win a million dollars, but that someone somewhere, unknown to the Lewises, will die as a result. After much thought, Norma decides to press the button. However, will the only consequence be that she wins a million dollars? Or is there more to the 'contract' than initially met the eye? The Box appears to be one of those films that divides the viewers - most either love or hate it. Based on a short story by Richard Matheson, who also wrote I Am Legend, it is probably best classed as a fantasy thriller, perhaps with something of the supernatural thrown in. However, it is very hard to pigeonhole the film at all, because there is so much to it and so much of it is deliberately confusing and unclear. It is easy to see why some viewers have criticised the film harshly, calling it a waste of time. However, if you enjoy a film that is a bit different and makes you think, even if it doesn't always make sense, it is certainly worth a watch. ...

Doomed To Die (DVD) 30/10/2010

Mr Wong to the rescue

Doomed To Die (DVD) Shipping magnate Cyrus Wentworth is devastated when one of his ships sinks, just after a million dollars worth of bonds were stolen from it. However, he doesn't have long to be devastated, because he is shot dead in his office, just after having an argument with his rival, Paul Fleming, and his rival's son, Dick Fleming, who just happens to be engaged to Wentworth's daughter. Captain William Street immediately tracks down Dick, believing him to be the guilty party, but reporter Bobbie Logan thinks otherwise and calls in Mr James Lee Wong, Chinese detective, to investigate. He soon finds out that there is a link with China Town and the bonds that were stolen from Wentworth's ship - but can he work out exactly who killed Wentworth before anyone else dies? Once again, Boris Karloff is Mr Wong. It was quite common at the time the film was made to hire non-native actors to fill roles like that of a Chinese man. However, it is still very difficult to look at Karloff and believe that he is Chinese. He simply doesn't have the features and although the make-up department has done something with his eyes, it isn't very realistic - despite the black and white and grainy picture. That aside, he is reasonable in the role. It is hard to get too excited about it, because he is obviously trying to give that 'inscrutable Chinese' impression and he doesn't make an enormous mark on the film, but it's good enough for the purposes of the story, especially as he doesn't come into the film until ...

Haunting The (DVD) 29/10/2010

The house that destroys

Haunting The (DVD) Hill House has a ghostly past, full of violent deaths and hauntings. No-one wants to live there, because no-one seems to escape unscathed. However, Dr Markway is desperate to spend some time there for research purposes, and takes along three assistants - Nell and Theodora, who are psychic, and Luke who is in line to inherit the house. Nell's mother has just died and instantly finds that the house seems to be trying to communicate with her. However, several strange happenings fill the four researchers with fear and the arrival of Dr Markway's wife only adds to the strange happenings. Does Nell have the answer to all the weirdness, or is she the cause of it? Will any of them manage to escape alive? Released in 1963, the film is in black and white, but it is nevertheless an extremely sharp, well-made production. Haunted house movies are ten a penny, but this one is superior to the majority, because it is actually scary, while not being remotely full of gore. What really makes it creepy is the camera angles, which are really cleverly done. The house, both from the inside and out, is filmed from the floor, so that the viewer is constantly looking up at the fixtures and fittings. The first glimpse of the house really sets the scene, especially with the clouds rushing past in the background. However, it is really an amazing spiral staircase that has been responsible for a number of deaths in the house that really stands out. Viewed from the bottom, it becomes more than just a ...

The Invisible Ghost (DVD) 27/10/2010

"Do I look pale? I feel pale!"

The Invisible Ghost (DVD) Dr Charles Kessler is a mild-mannered man who loves his daughter and is devastated that his wife, who ran off with another man, hasn't returned to him. However, it turnes out that Mrs Kessler actually isn't so far away at all - she lives in a hut at the bottom of the garden and returns to the house to peer through the window at her husband on occasions. This has the reaction of hypnotising Dr Kessler and when he is hypnotised, he kills his houseguests, although he seems to know nothing of it the next day. No-one, not even the butler and Dr Kessler's daughter, Virginia, realise that the murderer is Dr Kessler, and the police end up charging another man, Virginia's husband-to-be, with the murders. Will the truth ever come out? And just why is Dr Kessler, or his wife, wanting the victims dead? Dr Kessler is played by Bela Lugosi and anyone who has watched Lugosi's other films will pretty much know what to expect. Lugosi has a thick Hungarian accent and isn't a particularly outstanding actor, but he does the job that he is required to do and that is to be creepy when he is in his killer persona. He does do reasonably well at distinguishing between his two personas; at times he is a little over-the-top, but that is fairly understandable considering the period in which the film was made. It's a comfortable performance for anyone who enjoys this sort of early horror film - there are no great surprises, but he is creepy and he also brings a sense of fun to the film. Whether this is ...

The Fatal Hour (DVD) 20/10/2010

Mr Wong on the waterfront

The Fatal Hour (DVD) When a detective, Dan O'Grady, is murdered, his best friend, Captain Street is determined to find out who killed him. He enlists the help of the well-known Chinese detective James Lee Wong. Local reporter, Bobbie Logan, who has a knack of uncovering murder victims, also becomes involved, although Captain Street isn't overly impressed with that. Slowly, the three of them begin to uncover a smuggling ring that works from San Francisco's waterfront. Unfortunately, they don't uncover information quickly enough to stop another murder and then another. Will Mr Wong ever be able to get to the bottom of the murders? Or will the murderer stop him in his tracks before much longer? Boris Karloff (real name William Henry Pratt) was British born, with an Anglo-Indian grandfather. He therefore had nothing remotely Chinese about him, but in the way of the period, was nevertheless chosen to portray a Chinese detective. Despite his best intentions and presumably the help of the make-up department, he really doesn't look Chinese, nor does he sound it. However, apart from that, Karloff is great in the role. He perhaps perpetuates the myth that the Chinese are 'inscrutable', but with all the mysticism surrounding China and the Chinese at the time, that isn't all that surprising. He portrays Mr Wong as an incredibly smart man with high moral standards and is incredibly watchable in the role, for all his 'inscrutability'. However, although Karloff is great, the real highlight of the film is ...

Blood And Ice - Robert Masello 16/10/2010

Frozen in time

Blood And Ice - Robert Masello Journalist Michael Wilde cannot pass the opportunity of spending some time at a research station in Antarctica. His girlfriend is in what could be a permanent coma following a trip that they both made together and he needs to get away. Expecting to see some amazing sights, he is not disappointed. What he was not expecting, however, was to find a block of ice during a diving expedition in which the bodies of a man a woman, perfectly preserved, were chained together. By their side were several bottles of what appeared to be wine. However, once the bodies are brought to the surface and defrost, strange things start to happen and before long, everyone at the research station is fighting for their lives. Will Michael ever manage to return home safely? This is an extraordinary story that I really wasn't expecting. It starts off as what seems like a very ordinary adventure story. Michael Wilde is an adrenaline junkie and is always on one trip or another in search of an exciting story. There is, however, a suggestion from early on that the story will eventually take another turn, because interspersed with Michael's story is the love story of two people, soldier Sinclair and nurse Eleanor during the Crimean War. About a third of the way through, the two stories begin to merge in a way that is very surprising, even if you have read the back cover and the action then begins to really start. Michael Wilde is not the most exciting fictional character I have ever come across - but then ...

Cat In The Brain (DVD) 15/10/2010

Fulci foolishness?

Cat In The Brain (DVD) Lucio Fulci is the director of horror movies and has been making them for so long that visions from his films are beginning to take over his everyday life. He goes to see a psychiatrist, Dr Egon Schwarz, for assistance. What he doesn't realise is that Schwarz is a very sick man and decides to take advantage of Fulci's visions to stage a number of real life murders. Under the influence of hypnotism, Fulci is controlled by Schwarz to turn up just after Schwarz has committed the murders. Fulci believes he is the serial killer and begins to sink lower and lower into madness. Will he be framed for the murders? Or will he be able to work out what is happening before it is too late? Lucio Fulci is the name of a real director of horror films - mainly giallos, or Italian horror/thrillers and, in this case, it is the man himself who plays the main character, as well as directs the film. The result is an incredibly odd film that is full of sex and gore and appallingly bad special effects. Yet, there is something oddly compelling about it; as often happens with Fulci's films, it is next to impossible to guess what is going to happen next. The cat in the brain of the title refers to Fulci's belief that a cat is eating his brain from the inside - hence the visions. The film is also sometimes known as Nightmare Concert. Fulci may be a renowned (in some quarters anyway) as a director, but his acting skills are not good. He isn't the worst actor in the world, but he is decidedly wooden at ...

Cape Fear (DVD) 14/10/2010

Robert de Niro is Max Cady

Cape Fear (DVD) Max Cady was put in prison for 14 years because his defending lawyer hid evidence that could have kept him out. On his release, he decides to get his revenge on the lawyer in question, Sam Bowden, and Bowden's family. Bowden initially doesn't take it seriously, thinking that a few warnings and an offer of money will get rid of Cady. Unfortunately it doesn't and Cady begins to get closer and closer to the Bowdens. Firstly, he poisons their dogs and trespasses on their property. Then he starts to chase Bowden's daughter, Danielle, by disguising himself as a drama teacher, and attacks a women with whom Bowden was considering having an affair. Bowden realises that he needs to do something more drastic to rid himself of Cady's evil influence. Will he ever be successful or is Cady just too desperate to fail? Based on the 1962 film of the same name, which starred Robert Mitchum as Max Cady and Gregory Peck as Sam Bowden, this is a much more sensational version of the story. Directed by Martin Scorsese, it stars Nick Nolte as Bowden and Robert de Niro as Cady. There is no doubt that the star here is Robert De Niro. Max Cady is an incredibly evil man, desperate for his revenge on Bowden, whatever form that may take. De Niro truly throws himself into the role. His good looks are no more; he looks like a slimy low-life and he most certainly acts like one. At times, he is downright terrifying - the scenes with Bowden's wife, daughter and potential mistress are really very powerful. ...

Dr Finlays Casebook Omnibus Edition - A Cronin 05/10/2010

Dr Finlay and his little black bag

Dr Finlays Casebook Omnibus Edition - A Cronin Most British people will have heard of Dr Finlay, although they may not be entirely sure why - A J Cronin's stories of a fictional doctor in pre-War Scotland have been televised over the years, most recently in the nineties when David Rintoul starred as Dr Finlay. Although fictional, A J Cronin, who died in 1981, was himself a doctor and has apparently based some of Finlay's experiences on his own. This omnibus is made up of two books by Cronin, Dr Finlay of Tannochbrae, published in 1978 and Adventures of a Black Bag, published in 1943, both collections of short stories. Dr Finlay can be best described as a combination of Sherlock Holmes and James Herriot. Although a doctor, he has a lot in common with Sherlock Holmes, using his guile and intelligence to solve his patients' problems. However, there is a thread of humour running through all of the stories that are very reminiscent of Yorkshire vet, James Herriot - it is quite likely to be the injection of local colour. At the time the stories were set, some time before the Second World War, a local doctor had a great deal of sway in the area of his practice and many of his patients looked to him for advice in all sorts of matters. Finlay, however, is no perfect specimen of mankind. He has plenty of faults, including a horrendous temper that manages to get him into all sorts of trouble, and a liking for a pretty woman, which often colours his judgement. He usually makes the right decisions in the end, but it sometimes takes ...

Cape Fear (DVD) 04/10/2010

Living in fear

Cape Fear (DVD) Eight years earlier, small town lawyer Sam Bowden helped put a criminal behind bars. Now that criminal, Max Cady, is out of prison and he is looking for revenge on the man who put him away. To make his presence felt, he doesn't just go after Sam Bowden, he starts threatening Sam's wife and daughter too. There isn't much that the police can do to stop him though, even though the family knows that Cady is responsible for poisoning their dog. Sam tries to keep one step ahead of Cady, but wherever he turns, Cady is there and it seems he is not going to give up easily. Would Cady go as far as killing any of the Bowdens, or is he just there to make their lives as uncomfortable as possible? Gregory Peck plays Sam Bowden and does a good job of portraying a man who is not just scared for himself, but for his family. Peck isn't always that good at portraying layers to a character, but this does seem to be one of his stronger roles - and the fact that he is a stunning man really helps. It would be good to see him in a role that doesn't portray him as being whiter than white though. For that reason, it is really Robert Mitchum that stands out for his portrayal of Max Cady. Initially, he didn't seem creepy enough for the role, but that feeling changed throughout the course of the film as it became obvious he was truly evil. Much of this was based on what he didn't say, rather than what he did - some of his long stares were decidedly piercing and eerie. Polly Bergen plays Sam's wife, ...

The Crimson Petal and the White - Michel Faber 01/10/2010

This is no sugar-coated tale

The Crimson Petal and the White - Michel Faber It is London in the 1870s and it is common practice for all men who can afford it to head for a high-class prostitute when they can. One of these prostitutes is Sugar, who has the added benefit of doing things that other girls generally won't do. William Rackham, the heir of Rackham Perfumeries, hears of Sugar and seeks her out. Thrilled by what he finds, he moves Sugar into her own lodgings, for which he pays, so that he can ensure Sugar is his and his alone. Sugar, a clever, street-wise teenager, soon finds a way to establish herself in Rackham's own home, as a governess to his daughter, Sophie. Rackham's wife has a brain tumour, although to everyone around her, she just appears to be barking mad. What exactly is Sugar planning to do? Will she help Mrs Rackham, or is she intending to get rid of her? This book has been described by numerous people as something very akin to a Charles Dickens novel. It is easy to see why this is the case. It describes the back streets of London and the depravity that can be found there in over 800 pages. The characters are colourfully described and there is a strong sense of good and evil. However, there is one very important difference; Charles Dickens didn't even attempt to add anything untoward or sexual into his books. Faber, on the other hand, revels in sex using all orifices and details douching and bowel movements in a way that is not ideal if you are eating. If this is a Dickens novel, it comes complete with warts and all. As to ...

When the Women Come Out to Dance - Elmore Leonard 30/09/2010

Nine tales of morality

When the Women Come Out to Dance - Elmore Leonard Elmore Leonard is best known for his novels, such as Get Shorty and Cuba Libre, but this is a selection of nine short stories. The stories are set in different time periods and feature different characters - sometimes men, sometimes women - but all are powerful stories that have some kind of moral behind them. Writing good short stories is not an easy feat and many readers tend to shy away from collections of short stories because they would rather immerse themselves in something longer. When well-written, however, they are incredibly satisfying and perfect for dipping in and out of. This collection is one of the best I have read; there are a couple of weaker links, but they are still good stories - just not as outstanding as some of the others. Three of the stories feature characters that are already known to fans of Leonard's work. One is Karen Sisco, who was featured in Out of Sight. In 'Karen Makes Out', she meets and starts to fall for a man who she meets in a bar. Unfortunately, their careers are at odds with one another and Karen ends up having to make a choice between her career and lover. There's enough meat to the story to have made a full length novel, but the fact that Leonard keeps it short and sweet makes it just right. Then there is Raylan Givens from Riding the Rap. In 'Fire in the Hole', he meets up with an old friend - but Givens is now a US marshall and his friend is a criminal. Givens is a real man's man. There's a woman involved and he has to protect ...

Have Mercy on Us All - Fred Vargas 27/09/2010

The Great Plague returns...

Have Mercy on Us All - Fred Vargas Every day, Joss Le Guern, a self-appointed town crier, makes his announcements in a small Parisian square. The announcements are anonymously prepared for him in envelopes, with five francs included inside. However, Le Guern and one of the listeners, Decambrais, become concerned by a spate of odd notes that are written in Latin or old French. Research proves that they are excerpts from passages about the Great Plague. At the same time, Commissaire Adamsberg is concerned about a spate of graffitti, which consists of back to front number 4s written on certain doors in the neighbourhood. It turns out to be a traditional way of warding off the Plague - so the people who live behind those doors without the sign are in danger. Then the deaths start. There is something not quite right about them though, and Adamsberg is intrigued. Can he work out what is going on? Fred Vargas, despite the name, is a woman, who has written a series of books about Commissaire Adamsberg. Adamsberg is a rather odd character. He's a real loner who struggles to remember other people's names and has to come up with creative ways of remembering them. However, he doesn't struggle with the ladies and, although he has a regular girlfriend called Camille, he isn't averse to having other lovers too. When Camille comes face to face with this fact, she isn't happy about it. Nevertheless, there is something bumbling and charming about Adamsberg that is hard to resist. Like the best detectives, he is a thinking man ...
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