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Faster
Faster
DVD ~ Dwayne Johnson
Price: $5.00
193 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much more than the sum of its parts, September 3, 2012
This review is from: Faster (DVD)
To explain the plot of this film is actually very simple. It is similar in plot to V for Vendetta, Man on Fire and Kill Bill - i.e. a revenge thriller. And, as a friend pointed out to me when watching the film, the dialogue is very sparse and the film is very basic.

But to think this makes for a poor film is to be mistaken. Something about this film is raw and essential - the simple tale of a man on a mission to avenge his brother's death made all the more intense and powerful by the magnetism of Dwayne Johnson.

One warning is that, if you are affected badly by emotionally strong films, then you may react like my friend's girlfriend and find it quite upsetting. Like the above mentioned revenge thrillers, it is not really the type of film for a romantic night on the couch!

That said, it is a highly watchable film, which presents compelling human dilemnas - e.g. would you kill a remorseful priest who had helped kill your brother but changed his ways? Are people who kill for a living all remorseless, or does their conscience occasionally impact them?

One last thing to mention is that the soundtrack matches the power of the film - one of the rare instances where a soundtrack matches the film, rather than getting in the way.

Anyhow, to conclude: this film is one of my favourites and I even took my copy to give to my brother after seeing it - it's that good. I thoroughly recommend it to all who like films of the revenge thriller genre and hope that you will see past the rubbish title and image and give it a go. I'm certainly glad I did...


Death of Kings
Death of Kings
by Bernard Cornwell
Edition: Hardcover
70 used & new from $2.75

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Audio CD review: A first-rate novel - puts the series back on form, July 31, 2012
This review is from: Death of Kings (Hardcover)
I have to confess that, though I love this series, I found the last two novels in the series a little lacklustre and feared that it had jumped-the-shark after the utterly amazing Lords of the North. One particular fear I had was that this novel would involve yet more fighting in Benfleet (or Essex area) as the previous two novels had (probably owing to Cornwell's Essex background).

Which is why this novel made such a refreshing break. Instead of Essex and random trips to places like Holland and Scotland, Uhtred goes to places that are relevant to the plot of the series and teaches you things at the same time (e.g. when he goes to the ruined Roman town of Wroxeter, Shropshire - which he says was bigger than London in its day).

One thing I'd forgotten about Uhtred is that he is a deeply compelling central charactor - rough on the surface but good underneath, and not in a way that can be predicted or fathomed. Uhtred has also changed and grown up from what he was in the first three novels, becoming less fiery tempered and more sensible, though still able to surprise.

The plot also comes across as well thought-out and clever. Where the previous two novels fell too readily into a predictable small battle...filler...big battle, this plot has a staggering amount of twists and turns and a fully fleshed-out mystery at the heart of the plot - the war that surpasses human understanding.

Last of all, I had read the previous novel in the series and had forgotten how powerful the audio books versions of this series are. Where Sword Song was read by a man who sounded posher than Hyacinth Bucket, this audio CD makes the wise choice of Stephen Perring, who has the rugged edge to make a convincing Uhtred.
If you haven't tried any of this series yet, then I thoroughly recommend it on audio book. The first person narrative really lends itself to audio and fully brings out the grittiness of Uhtred's narration, to the point that you could swear he was in the room with you!

Anyway, to sum up, this book was a really excellent continuation of the series and felt like a real advance in the story. I hope and pray to the Gods that Cornwell will be able to finish the Saxon stories with the same brilliance as he started them. Let this novel be a sign of more great works to come...


Magnum Force
Magnum Force
DVD
Price: $2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even better than Dirty Harry (if that's possible), May 15, 2012
This review is from: Magnum Force (Amazon Video)
I watched this DVD with a true sense of forboding. I was dreading that, like Battlefield Earth or Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, this film would ruin the image of a legend (in this case Clint Eastwood) and leave me thinking "why, oh why did he do it?"

But Magnum Force is actually an awesome film - a true classic and, in my opinion, far better and less rough around the edges than Dirty Harry.

I dreaded that the plot would revolve more around the gun than any kind of plot. Actually the plot is well written and an interesting twist on what we know about Harry Callaghan; namely that he lives outside the rules but always seeks justice. In this film, Harry is given the ultimate temptation in that the baddies are in fact cops with Callaghan's sense of justice taken to the extreme of killing criminals without trial.

I also dreaded that the film would be self-referential and would have loads of catchphrase quotations ("Do you feel lucky?", "Make my day", etc). Again, this film avoided this pitfall and, instead, just has one of the most awesome Clint Eastwood quotes of all (you'll have to watch the film to find it though).

Far from being a 'jump the shark' film, I'm pleased to report that this film delivers and is, in fact, a classic of the gritty-cop movie genre. Just like the original George Romero Dawn of the Dead films, seeing the originals blows away the cliches and makes you angry at the imitators for daring to make you doubt the legends in the first place.


It's Not What You Think
It's Not What You Think
by Chris Evans
Edition: Audio CD
15 used & new from $0.75

5.0 out of 5 stars AUDIO CD Review: Even better than the book, May 15, 2012
This review is from: It's Not What You Think (Audio CD)
To be a good writer and a good narrator is an exceedingly rare gift. Even the great Stephen King is outclassed by some of the narrators he employs and, on the other hand, narrators and radio presenters tend to write appalling books (with one coincidental exception).

In this book Evans really breaks the mold - to add to his plethora of talents he has produced not one, but two fantastic books, both of which are compelling. And what tops this feat is that the audio treatment of the book doesn't just bring out the charactor of the book but enhances it.

As an example, there are the lists that begin each chapter. In the book these are ignorable as skim-readers such as myself tend to think 'seen one seen them all' and ignore the content of them. However the audio book makes excellent use of these lists by beginning every track with them (incidentally making it quite easy to find your place if you lose it).

And of course the icing on the cake is the narration of a professional radio presenter whose enthusiasm and energy are deeply infectious and whose words, coupled with his vocal personality create probably the best audio books I've ever heard (and I've heard a LOT).

Though the content and narration could scarce be bettered, there is one small thing that prevents this audio book being perfect - the box. For some reason companies making CD's have developed a case that has a spindle in the middle which has all the CD's stacked one on top of another. When trying to swap from one CD to the next, this is a real pain in the neck as you have to remove all the CD's above the one you want to get to it. This is a nightmare in its own right, but more so if you are listening to it in the car. Bring back the old cases!

However, as with all things, a flaw in something as brilliant as this audio book is inevitable and only enhances the excellence of the content. As someone who liftshares with a friend who speaks little English, this CD proved a real boon in teaching him the language, but also introducing him to the master of early morning radio.

What better way to discover the joy of radio than through the words of a British national treasure? Here's hoping he does the same for the sequel...


Machiavellian Economics
Machiavellian Economics
by Alan F. Bartlett
Edition: Hardcover
3 used & new from $3.70

2.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious, May 15, 2012
I hate to say it, but this book is deeply disappointing. Written in the mid Eighties, when the fashion was to be a parody of Norman Tebbitt and be highly cynical and heartless, it is a rather dull attempt to apply the concept of the inimitable Machiavelli onto economics.

This book should have been so good - as it says on the back it should be 'digested and challenged but not ignored'. Unfortunately it has only achieved the first and has very little that stands out from the text and makes you follow it passionately.

Machiavellian Economics starts off with a section on Machiavelli himself, where the idea is expounded that Machiavelli's teachings can be transferred onto Economics, and that we can learn from past and present to predict sage policy for the future. This argument is quite well done and his idea does have some merit - that somehow you can use Realpolitik in Economics the same way Thatcher did.

However, these ideas are not really fleshed out in the next section, where they should have been. The Comic dictionary definition of an Economist being 'an accountant with less personality' is proven in this section, where there is little in the way of engaging argument, cutting insight or witty analogy. It's not that its too complicated, it's that it doesn't really get complicated enough, but rather just faffs around with wishy washy Economic planning ideas, which used to be in fashion in the Seventies, but have since died off.

In the next thrilling section the author tries to apply Machiavellian Economics to Economic problems of the day such as Inflation, unemployment and Unions. To be fair to this section, there are some good bits in it, like his suggestion that Nationalisation and Privatisation are the same as both allow the government the same amount of undue Economic influence. However, by the section of Armaments and Economics, the pretentious tone of the author in trying to expound cynical insights into the way the world works gets rather tiresome. One can say all this 1984 rubbish about greedy selfish government, although it doesn't always ring true - as Machiavelli himself observed in saying that a Prince should be loved rather than hated.

In the last section, the author tries to bring the threads together to suggest that Machiavelli has many lessons to teach Economics. However, these lessons are pretty vague and don't really amount to much.

Truth is that Economics cannot simply be explained by either cynicism or idealism, but some blend of the two - in crude terms, you need both the stick and the carrot. Although Machiavelli argues his case well in The Discourses and The Prince, books that try to stretch his ideas to other fields tend to be pretentious as they are trying to be as shocking as Machiavelli, but are failing miserably.

To use a name check that the author uses, Adam Smith is a far superior way of understanding Economics in the real world. If you really want to understand Free market Economics, you should read either The Wealth of Nations or The Road to Serfdom in preference to this.

P.S. After writing this review, I discovered this: The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World. Unlike this book, Jonathan Powell does an excellent job of applying the insights of Machiavelli to present day economics AND politics, mainly because he uses extensive referencing of Machiavelli's works and benefits from first-hand experience of front line politics, both of which are absent from this book...
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Machiavellian Economics
Machiavellian Economics
by A F Bartlett
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious, May 15, 2012
I hate to say it, but this book is deeply disappointing. Written in the mid Eighties, when the fashion was to be a parody of Norman Tebbitt and be highly cynical and heartless, it is a rather dull attempt to apply the concept of the inimitable Machiavelli onto economics.

This book should have been so good - as it says on the back it should be 'digested and challenged but not ignored'. Unfortunately it has only achieved the first and has very little that stands out from the text and makes you follow it passionately.

Machiavellian Economics start off with a section on Machiavelli himself, where the idea is expounded that Machiavelli's teachings can be transferred onto Economics, and that we can learn from past and present to predict sage policy for the future. This argument is quite well done and his idea does have some merit - that somehow you can use Realpolitik in Economics the same way Thatcher did.

However, these ideas are not really fleshed out in the next section, where they should have been. The Comic dictionary definition of an Economist being 'an accountant with less personality' is proven in this section, where there is little in the way of engaging argument, cutting insight or witty analogy. It's not that its too complicated, it's that it doesn't really get complicated enough, but rather just faffs around with wishy washy Economic planning ideas, which used to be in fashion in the Seventies, but have since died off.

In the next thrilling section the author tries to apply Machiavellian Economics to Economic problems of the day such as Inflation, unemployment and Unions. To be fair to this section, there are some good bits in it, like his suggestion that Nationalisation and Privatisation are the same as both allow the government the same amount of undue Economic influence. However, by the section of Armaments and Economics, the pretentious tone of the author in trying to expound cynical insights into the way the world works gets rather tiresome. One can say all this 1984 rubbish about greedy selfish government, although it doesn't always ring true - as Machiavelli himself observed in saying that a Prince should be loved rather than hated.

In the last section, the author tries to bring the threads together to suggest that Machiavelli has many lessons to teach Economics. However, these lessons are pretty vague and don't really amount to much.

Truth is that Economics cannot simply be explained by either cynicism or idealism, but some blend of the two - in crude terms, you need both the stick and the carrot. Although Machiavelli argues his case well in The Discourses and The Prince, books that try to stretch his ideas to other fields tend to be pretentious as they are trying to be as shocking as Machiavelli, but are failing miserably.

To use a name check that the author uses, Adam Smith is a far superior way of understanding Economics in the real world. If you really want to understand Free market Economics, you should read either The Wealth of Nations or The Road to Serfdom in preference to this.

P.S. After writing this review, I discovered this: The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World. Unlike this book, Jonathan Powell does an excellent job of applying the insights of Machiavelli to present day economics AND politics, mainly because he uses extensive referencing of Machiavelli's works and benefits from first-hand experience of front line politics, both of which are absent from this book...


The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World
The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World
by Jonathan Powell
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.95
51 used & new from $7.35

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars AUDIO CD Review: Well narrated but probably better as a book, May 15, 2012
One key difference between listening to a book and reading a book is that you can skim read a book, whereas skim listening is a more tricky art. This book is a case in point as, probably unbeknown to the author, he has a habit of using the same phrases over and over again.
A particularly annoying example that must have occured at least 10 times is starting a sentence with "I wrote in my diary that..."

This little niggle out of the way, this is a surprisingly well narrated audio book, and Steven Crossley is a superb choice to fit the charactor of the text. As with all good narrators, you can easily be seduced into thinking that the narrator is what the author would sound like were he reading the book - something of a rare talent.

The content is also compelling. If you, like me, are a politics junkie then this book is a compelling insight into the Blair years. Compared to Blair's memoirs, it is more analytical and less obsessed about the Iraq war. Compared to the Alastair Campbell diaries, it comes over far less bleak and emotional, but more as a well-reasoned assessment of Blair's leadership qualities through the lens of Machiavelli (often with Gordon Brown as a foil example of what not to do).

One other thing that Powell should be credited with is that he uses Machiavelli with skill and wisdom whilst exalting Machiavelli's ideas (rather than his own). So many times have I read imitations of Machiavelli that are like some sort of cynical parody (e.g. Machiavellian Economics). As Powell critiques early in the book, these lesser books are written by authors who write of Machiavelli "whom only 'The Prince' hath read".

So, although the audio book version is slightly spoiled by various annoying and repetitive phrases, the insightful analysis and measured tone of the book fulfil its promise to apply the precepts of Machiavelli to the New Labour government whilst avoiding pretension or fawning over Blair.
It is my fond hope that one day a chief of staff in the United States will replicate Powell's efforts and use a scholarly understanding of Machiavelli to analyse the work of Obama. Still, in the meantime, as this book reveals, we still have the truly timeless lessons of The Prince.


The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries
The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries
by Alastair Campbell
Edition: Audio CD
19 used & new from $0.63

4.0 out of 5 stars AUDIO CD Review: Good content spoiled by dull narration, April 2, 2012
The first thing I'd tell anyone who wanted to listen to the audio version of this book (or indeed read it) is that it is very much for fans of politics. If the inner workings of New Labour and the art of the possible get your blood flowing a bit quicker, then this is an excellent book. On the other hand, if you'd rather change the subject when politics comes up in conversation, then this book is probably not for you.

It is also worth making you aware that this is very much a fixers guide to politics, rather than the charismatic words of a front man (such as Blair or Clinton). To use a phrase from the film The Damned United: Blair was the shop front, and Campbell was more the goods at the back.

The audio book is a 5 CD abridged version of the 832 page full version and, although this can have limitations, it still seems to fit in all the essentials while giving sufficient detail on each to provide valuable insights on the inner workings of New Labour. As a politics geek myself, I found the content really interesting, especially when it came to how Campbell dealt with the stresses of the job and his conversations with Bill Clinton and George Bush (the latter of whom is, like Campbell, a teetotaller but, unlike Campbell, saw religion as the only way out).

Unfortunately the fascinating and well selected content is let down by Alastair Campbell's rather monotonous tone. Though his voice is bearable, it is annoying as Campbell seems to end all of his sentences on a glum downbeat note. Furthermore, every sentence seems to use more or less the same rhythm, which grates a little after 5 CD's and could have been improved by better use of tone (as in Blair's reading of 'A Journey') or the employment of a professional narrator.

So, before getting the audio book version (or reading the paperback), it is worth considering that this is very much the mechanics manual, as opposed to Top Gear. And if you want to just listen to the audio version, then you should be aware that it is no Shakespeare play.
But if you can live with both these things, then I'd encourage you to give this book a go as there are few other books that provide quite so much in-depth detail of what it was like to really be at the centre of power...


The Grapes of Wrath
The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
Edition: Audio CD
4 used & new from $39.11

5.0 out of 5 stars AUDIO CD Review: Really captures the grittiness of the book, March 19, 2012
This review is from: The Grapes of Wrath (Audio CD)
I don't know about other reviewers but I found this book really hard to get started. Its grim tone hits you hard in the face and it's no surprise that Steinbeck said of the book that "I've done my damndest to rip a reader's nerves to rags". But once you can adapt to the bleak tone of the book (and the narrator) it becomes deeply compelling, to the point where you will want your car journey to work to last just that little bit longer so you can listen to that little bit more.

Anyhow, to let you know what the audio version of the book is like, it is first rate. Many audio books pick readers who have little to no versatility in conveying their charactors and read the book as if reading the football results. John Chancer is different as he really conveys well the 12 charactors of the family, so much so that you could swear that you've actually met the family and heard their voices!

One limitation of the package is that it is a box with 16 CD's in 16 in fiddly thin sleeves. The CD case has a tendency to fall on the floor and chuck its contents all over the car, which is highly annoying when you are endeavouring to concentrate.

But, aside from that, the story is excellent and the narrator creates a rich cast of voices to fit the landscape of the book.

Incidentally, anyone who's a fan of the comedian Bill Hicks may be interested to know that this book was said to be his favourite. Hicks loved the book so much that he even based his 'famous last words' on Tom Joad's final speech "I left in love, in laughter, and in truth, and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit."

Although Tom Joad's final speech is actually different, the spirit is the same and it's easy to see why he picked that part as it is easily the most profound part of a deeply moving novel.


The Vicar of Baghdad: Fighting for Peace in the Middle East
The Vicar of Baghdad: Fighting for Peace in the Middle East
by Andrew White
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.92
43 used & new from $0.58

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book... even for non-believers, March 15, 2012
'Vicar!'

For some reason the word instantly brings up associations with long, droning sermons by people who have a captive audience and want to tell you all the ways in which your life is at fault. Not that this is a problem (as we are all in need of perfecting), it's just often books by vicars can often be a case of 'those who say the most have the least to say'.

But what is refreshing about this book is that the author has true humility. Andrew White doesn't preach, he doesn't ramble on at length and yet he imparts excellent lessons on the Middle East and how to bring peace (which he admits has no rhyme, reason or formula).

What's more, the book is a true reflection of the man himself. Having had the honour of seeing him preach, it is fair to say that he has a compelling quirkiness which can be often lost in writing but here his easy charm and extraordinary bravery come across well.

And all this is within 200 pages - a neat, short book that is easy to read and yet also has a great deal of economy of language in conveying the full story of his times as Vicar of Baghdad. Furthermore there are no unnecessary diversions, and yet there are still a number of interesting stories, such as his meeting with an Al Qaeda leader who enigmatically told him "Those who cure you, will kill you" (the meaning of which is explained in the book).

So, even if you've been put off books with 'Vicar' in the title and don't consider yourself religious, this book is still a fascinating read. White himself does admit that Religion is responsible for a lot of the violence in the Middle East, but also that there is no possibility of understanding the Middle East (or bringing Peace) without it.


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