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      19.05.2010 11:37
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      A bit more low-key than the other Seasons, but it still leaves you wanting more!

      ** Disclaimer: in general I don't include spoilers in reviews. But please be aware that this one contains details of Dexter Seasons One and Two, so I wouldn't recommend reading on if you haven't seen them yet and want to! Oh, and this is a series-only review i.e. not including the DVD extras **


      *** Plot ***

      Season Three of Dexter sees Miami's special 'waste disposal' expert, the Robin Hood of murderers, back doing what he does best. Dexter is a Miami Metro Police homicide division blood-spatter analyst by day, and a cold-blooded serial killer of serial killers by night. When the first episode of this season opens, the Miami Metro Police are still coming to terms with the Bay Harbor Butcher case; Lieutenant Laguerta, in particular, is still greatly upset by the "Butcher's" death. Suddenly the precinct is rocked again by the murder of Oscar Prado, who is the brother of the Assistant District Attorney, Miguel Prado. Despite some suspicion about the character of the deceased, Laguerta and her team promise Miguel that they will do all they can to find Oscar's killer. But the case soon becomes more complicated when it seems that another murderer, nicknamed 'The Skinner', is after Oscar's assailant.

      Meanwhile it's all change for Dexter: his private life becomes a lot more complicated than it has been so far, with a possible commitment to his girlfriend Rita in the offing and a new friend who seems to share some of Dexter's 'darker' urges. But can Dexter really afford to allow people to get close to him? And what will happen if he starts to abandon his father Harry's strict code? Dexter should think more about protecting himself!


      *** My opinion ***

      After the spectacular end to Season Two I was sceptical about how exciting Season Three would be, but also curious to see what path the scriptwriters would embark on this time. I couldn't see how Season Two's amazing dramatic tension could be replicated without the new storyline seeming samey and contrived. Fortunately the writers decided on a more low-key plot this time around, focusing more on relationships and character development and less on the 'will-he-or-won't-he-get-caught?' question.

      At the beginning I found the storyline a little formulaic - Dexter killing, Rita not suspecting a thing and Dexter's sister Deb worrying about her career and love life, all against the backdrop of the usual police-station banter and politics between Dexter's regular colleagues Lieutenant Maria Laguerta, Sergeant Angel Batista and the lab geek Vince Mazuka. Yes after a while Season Three finds its feet and, although it is slower paced than the seasons that came before it, it is still a gripping and very well-written crime drama. This is partly due to the addition of several new characters to keep things fresh: there is Deb's new colleague Quinn, a competent detective with a seemingly shady past; Quinn's laid-back confidential informer Anton and the remaining Prado brothers - the thuggish Ramon and the charming Miguel.

      The acting is almost faultless, with Michael C Hall as Dexter continuing to keep his character likeable despite his dark side. Jennifer Carpenter continues to shine as Deb (she is particularly adept at scenes of high emotion and tears) and Lauren Velez and David Zayas seem to have really grown into their roles as Laguerta and Batista; they are completely natural and convincing. Jimmy Smits is fantastic as Miguel Prado, bringing both demonic and vulnerable elements to the role and providing some balance to Dexter's character. Unfortunately Julie Benz (Rita) lets the side down somewhat by simpering her way through all twelve episodes (as much as is possible with what looks like a heavily botoxed face), employing her preferred 'little-girl' whisper mode of delivering her lines. I often had to go back and listen to her dialogue again as I couldn't understand her muttering, and in some cases even this didn't help and I never did find out what exactly she was supposed to be saying.

      There is less emphasis on Dexter's past in this season, possibly since it would be too far-fetched if he discovered even more dreadful family secrets each episode; however, Deb does start to take an interest in it herself, which sets up possible problems in Season 4 if and when she does discover more about Dexter's real family. There are hardly any more flashbacks to Dexter's past in Season Three, but he continues to be heavily influenced by dream sequences in which his adoptive father Harry guides and warns him, with the occasional appearance of Dexter's birth mother too. I found that the writers relied too heavily on these scenes. Some of them were quite silly; they cropped up in every episode and became tiresome. After a while seemed a rather lazy device for communicating Dexter's thoughts.

      There was some inconsistency regarding Dexter's emotions too - he is supposed to be someone who generally doesn't feel normal human emotions and has to fake them e.g. at funerals, but in this season it seemed that he did experience emotions when it suited the plot, and didn't when it didn't. A further point which really annoyed me was the complete lack of security with which Miami Metro Police operates - anyone can walk into the police station/labs/lieutenant's office at any time and cause trouble; high-level meetings are held in rooms with the doors open and personnel seem to leave computers unlocked and displaying highly confidential information without so much as a by or leave.

      Yet despite its few weaknesses and the fact that it wasn't as absorbing as the previous high-octane seasons, Dexter Season Three is still a highly entertaining, funny, (mostly) brilliantly-acted, crime drama. A few clever hints at the end suggest that Season Four will bring more nail-biting plot lines.

      The region 2 DVD is currently available for pre-order from Amazon for £24.91; release date is 16th August 2010. Alternatively you can buy the region 1 DVD from Amazon UK Marketplace too; prices start at £19.00 too.

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        13.04.2010 12:40
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        A good-value product that's pleasant to use

        I've been using cream-based body scrubs lately, after my shower gel, but decided it was a bit of a hassle and I'd prefer something that would exfoliate and clean at the same time, so I decided to try this gel-based product.


        ** The product **

        Superdrug Mango and Papaya Body Polish promises to leave skin " silky smooth and smelling delicious". It contains gentle exfoliating particles and is thus formulated for frequent use (there is also a body scrub in the range that's a bit more heavy-duty) and contains extracts of the two fruits as well as vitamin C


        ** Packaging **

        The body polish comes in a transparent, squeezable, stand-up, recyclable plastic tube with a screw-top lid. A flip-top would be more practical for using it in the shower, but otherwise I have no complaints about it. The tube has a fairly plain but stylish black label with a photo of a mango and a papaya, but the label's not so big that you can't see how much is left, and it's easy to squeeze out the last drops.


        ** Application **

        All you need to do is simply apply the body polish to damp skin in the shower and massage it in, in a circular motion. It comes out fairly thick, and looks like a normal shower gel with little specks in it. It's really easy to spread across the skin and produces a decent amount of soapy suds. The exfoliating particles are smaller than I'm used to from other scrubs, they're not sharp and they don't dissolve on contact with water, which means the product goes further. I didn't find the particles at all scratchy on my skin; they simply gave it a nice and gentle exfoliation. There was no irritation to my skin after using this, even though my skin sometimes reacts angrily to similar products, and I was even able to use it on "sensitive ares". In short, I used it just like I would a shower gel, with the only difference being that it had a light smoothing action (though I still needed to use a body lotion afterwards).

        It rinses off very easily and leaves my skin feeling very clean, and also smooth and sweet-smelling with no red marks. The fragrance is my favourite thing about the body polish - it is fruity, slightly tangy and not overly sweet. It doesn't last very long though; once you dry off your skin the perfume disappears.


        ** Price and other information **

        This currently costs £1.99 for 200ml at Superdrug. According to the packaging it is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. I assume it's not tested on animals- the statement on the tube is "Superdrug is against animal testing" - that doesn't specifically say they don't do it though, so make of that what you will.


        ** Conclusion **

        This is a lovely everyday product for clean, smooth skin. If you need a heavy duty scrub for really dry/flaky/tough skin then this isn't the best product, but for general use it's great.

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          12.04.2010 19:27
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          A favourite product of mine

          I bought this eye pencil to use up a No. 7 voucher from Boots a while back, not having read any reviews of it or realising just how good it really is. Black eyeliner has been part of my everyday makeup since I was about 17 and I feel almost naked without it. Having tried other, cheaper liners, I've discovered that Amazing Eyes is the best mid-priced pencil liner and beats the competition hands down.


          ** The product **

          The Amazing Eyes Pencil is simply an eyeliner pencil with a normal tip on one end and a sponge tip on the other, which creates a smudged or smoky effect. It comes in a range of colours (black, brown, greyish blue) but I always go for black to match my hair and my mascara!


          ** Packaging **

          This is pretty minimal - it's a pencil! Both the pencil tip and the sponge smudger have pratical plastic lids to prevent them from getting dirty or marking other items in your makeup bag. The lids fit snugly and cannot be pushed down too far (this is a problem with cheaper pencils, I find - you push the lid down too far by accident and it squashes the tip of the liner). The lids are also durable - they outlast the liner itself so there's not danger of them cracking or splitting. The sponge is securely attached to the pencil with a gold-coloured metal sleeve and has never, in my experience, fallen off or torn.


          ** Application **

          This could not be simpler - all you have to do is draw along your upper lashline with a sharpened tip. The liner glides on smoothly and easily without dragging the skin and leaves a strong line that can either be left as it is or blended. The pencil is quite soft, which means it needs sharpening quite regularly, although you can go for quite a while without sharpening it if you like to line your eyes thickly, since a blunt Amazing Eyes liner gives a lovely thick, dramatic line.

          To blend, use the sponge tip to gently stroke the line into the lashline and outwards. I also use the pencil on the lower lashline, though I prefer to keep it below the lower lashes. It can be applied to the waterline (i.e. the moist skin between the lashes and the eyeball) but I've found that it doesn't stay on - a few blinks and it's gone. I don't think this is a fault of the liner, since it's happened with every eyeliner I've ever tried - it must be that my eyes are too moist or something.


          ** Performance **

          The Amazing Eyes Pencil leaves a lovely, rich line on my eyelids that stays put all day and hardly needs touching up. The black pencil has a lovely, inky pigment that doesn't fade. This is where I really notice the different between Amazing Eyes and cheaper eyeliners - the bargain products tend to wear off after a few hours whereas Amazing Eyes doesn't. While this liner isn't waterproof, it generally stays put in a hot or humid atmosphere, so is good for nights out and holidays.

          As far as removing the product goes, I've managed to remove it with absolutely every makeup remover or facial wash/ wipe I've ever used, which means it's completely hassle-free. It also doesn't leave any residue behind.

          As someone who suffers from sensitive eyes and allergies that result in conjunctivitis, I'm also pleased to say that I've never had any adverse reaction to this product. I can't comment on its suitability for contact-lense wearers as I've never worn lenses myself (yet!).

          The only annoying thing about the pencil is that it sometimes crumbles when you sharpen it, but I find it helps if you put it in the freezer first.


          ** Price **

          It will set you back £7.00 in Boots. That might seem quite pricey compared to other similar products, but it's worth every penny in my opinion. An Amazing Eyes pencil lasts me for about 18 months of daily wear, which I think is great value. I know they say you should throw eye makeup away after 6 months to one year, but I think pencils like this are an exception, because the liner further down the pencil doesn't get exposed to air or bacteria until you sharpen the pencil down.

          I recently bought a Boots 17 black pencil liner that looked more or less identical to Amazing Eyes, save for the lack of sponge applicator, thinking that surely black pencil eyeliners are much of a muchness and a £2.49 one would do the job just as well. I have to say I was really disappointed with it - the colour wasn't rich and it rubbed off really quickly. For me it simply has to be Amazing Eyes.

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          12.04.2010 13:59
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          Near the top of my sitcoms list

          My Name Is Earl is a US sitcom about a small-time criminal, Earl Hickey, who decides to turn his life around and make up for all the bad things he's done. There are now 4 seasons; Season One was made in 2005.

          The Season One DVD is a 4-disc box set containing 24 25-minute episodes plus a extra episode, deleted scenes, bloopers, a 'making of' featurette and a soundtrack promo. The total runtime is 501 minutes, and it's Cert 12.


          ** You know the kind of guy who does nothing but bad things and then wonders why his life sucks? **

          That was Earl Hickey, petty criminal and general ne'er-do-well in a southern US backwater, until he saw the light. In episode one Earl wins $100,000 on a petrol station scratch card and is almost immediately mown down by a car. The scratch card blows out of his hands. Waking up in hospital, Earl decides his back luck is karma's way of telling him he's a bad person, so he writes an exhaustive list of all the bad things he's ever done, with the intention of making up for all of them and becoming a better person.

          Once he's discharged from hospital Earl miraculously finds his lost winning scratch card and is able to put the money towards his quest to patch things up with all the people he's ever hurt. He moves into a motel with his childlike younger brother Randy, who used to be his partner in crime and is now set to become his assistant in doing good. The rest of Season One follows Earl as he attempts to cross his previous misdemeanors of his list, getting into plenty of scrapes along the way. He is helped by Catalina, a maid at the motel, and hindered by his horrible ex-wife, Joy.


          ** Is it any good? **

          In my opinion this is one of the best US sitcoms of the previous decade. Each episode is consistently funny, mainly due to the watertight script and fantastic performances from the cast.

          The idea of placating 'karma' by means of list of bad things to make up for is a great basis for a series as it allows the writers to be quite inventive with the plot in each episode, as long as it is list-related, so the episodes are very varied and not at all repetitive. Since each one starts with Earl's backstory you can dip in and out of episodes without having to watch them in chronological order, although I personally think it's better to watch them in order as there's the occasional reference to previous episodes and lots of running jokes and minor characters popping up again and again. A few of my favourite episodes are the one where Earl goes to visit an ex-girlfriend who thinks he's dead (he faked his own death to get away from her), the one where he goes to the Rotten Kids' Camp for children with behavioural issues (he was the first kid to ever be kicked out) and the episode where his almost-romance with a beautiful psychology professor is violently thwarted by fate. The best and funniest episode is the final one in the series, where we learn a little more about the background to Earl's scratch card win.

          The script is fantastic, with the jokes (verbal and visual) sometimes coming so quickly that you need to go back and watch them again. There is a lot of violence, political incorrectness and toilet humour in My Name is Earl, which stops the subject matter from becoming too cheesy. Much of the humour also stems from the characters' lack of self awareness, such as Joy struggling to find words to describe her disappointment when she unwraps a Christmas present only to find a thesaurus, or her dismal attempt to get into art school by tracing a cartoon picture of a turtle.

          The actors do a great job. Jason Lee manages to make Earl quite a lovable rogue, even though many of his previous misdemeanors were quite bad (e.g. arson, theft, assault). Earl's simple, obese brother Randy is played to perfection by Ethan Suplee who manages to make the character completely non-threatening, even though he too is a bit of a thug. The character is easier to play than Earl though, since Randy hardly develops during the series. Nadine Velazquez, who plays the feisty motel maid, Catalina, is also good in her role, but for me it is Earl's ex-wife Joy, played by Jaime Pressly, who really steals the show. I can't think of anyone less deserving of the name Joy: the woman is a bitter, twisted, thieving, manipulative, crass, lazy nightmare - and that's describing her kindly. Pressly's portrayal of her is hilarious, absolutely convincing and - pardon the pun - a joy to watch. The bit-part actors are also very good too - most of Earl's criminal buddies overact their heads off, but in this wacky show it fits. The young boy (Noah Crawford) who portrays Earl as a child in the frequent flashback scenes also deserves a special mention: I've never seen such a convincing portrayal of a malevolent child!


          ** Any negatives? **

          I mentioned that the humour is not very politically correct and I can imagine some viewers wouldn't like the idea of laughing at drunks, prostitutes, illegal immigrants and suicidal people. The characters themselves also come out with some very prejudiced ideas (although Earl manages to overcome some of them in his search to placate karma). Most of Earl's friends are really bad, dishonest people, and I know my mum, for example, said she found it difficult to sympathise with such sleazy characters. In addition, I found the character of Randy a bit too childlike at times - he sometimes bordered on the creepy.

          It is also arguable whether the season really needed 24 episodes, since the odd one is a bit weaker than the others. Though the format is not repetitive in Season One, I can imagine it would be in later seasons if Earl is still trying to cross things off his list.


          ** Conclusion **

          Despite its few faults this series is superbly acted and scripted, original and very funny. Few recent sitcoms have made me laugh as much as My Name Is Earl, and that, for me, makes it worthy of five stars.

          Currently available on Amazon for £13.99

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          • Sense And Sensibility (DVD) / DVD / 51 Readings / 50 Ratings
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            10.04.2010 23:00
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            Good, solid, costume drama showcasing 1990s British acting talent

            Sense and Sensibility was made in 1995 and based on the novel of the same name by Jane Austen, written in 1811. Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay, as well as starring as Elinor Dashwood. Sense and Sensibility was awarded an Oscar for its screenplay and nominated for further Oscars in several categories, including cinematography, soundtrack and costumes, and both Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet were nominated for their performances.


            ** Plot **

            When old Mr Dashwood dies he is forced by the rules of inheritance to leave his entire fortune to his son, John, and daughter-in-law, Fanny. The couple are responsible for taking care of Mr Dashwood's other family: his second wife and his three unmarried daughters Elinor, Marianne and Margaret. But John and Fanny are mean despite having a lot of money, and they stake their claim on the womens' home. Luckily the Dashwood ladies aren't completely destitute - they have a small allowance and Mrs Dashwood 's distant relative kindly offers them a seaside cottage to live in. The film deals with the difficulties the women face moving away from their comfortable, large, busy household to a cold, lonely new home, and the two older daughters' worries about finding suitable husbands now that they have moved downwards in the social order.


            ** My opinion **

            The first thing thing that struck me is that this is a visually gorgeous film. The countryside is beautiful, whether it be the manicured parklands of the Dashwood girls' original home, or the wilder meadows, hills and seascapes of their new surroundings. The buildings are similarly beautiful, from the proud stone house fronts to the baroque, gilded ballrooms to the sparse but inviting country cottage.

            The story is fairy simple and easy to follow, though in typical Austen-style it has the odd element of intrigue, thwarted ambition and unrequited love. Of course, we know that all is going to be well in the end and in this sense the film is predictable - it's obvious who is going to end marrying whom, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable in my opinion. At least the secrets and twists are revealed bit by bit - in this sense the film is very well-paced.

            It's funny to see such a large number of well-known British actors together, and looking so youthful. Thompson is solid as the reserved, quite earthy Elinor, who epitomises the 'sense' in the title, while Kate Winslet is excellent as Elinor's sweet-voiced, easily excited younger sister Marianne, who embodies the element of 'sensibility'. She really looks the part; with her pale skin and curly reddish hair she resembles a delicate porcelain doll. There is also Hugh Grant as Elinor's love interest Edward (seemingly unattainable as he's also the awful Fanny's brother) and Alan Rickman as a lonely colonel. Grant is very well cast in his role as a posh, eligible bachelor, employing his standard perplexed expression and bashful stuttering to perfection, but Rickman looks, as in many of his films, slightly disgusted at all times. A few more expressions from him might have been nice. Hugh Laurie is good in a minor role as an exasperated, hen-pecked husband, while Elizabeth Spriggs is brilliant as an old, interfering gossip. She really adds a touch of humour to the film, though I found her daughter, played by Imelda Staunton, a little over the top.

            There is the odd moment of humour, such a scene where the Dashwood's cottage is full of women all crying in different rooms for different reasons, or when Fanny is horrified at learning of a secret engagement and switches from decorous to violent in a split second. In general, though, it's not really a funny film, but rather a good, solid, costume drama/ romance. It didn't blow me away, but neither did I lose my concentration during the 130 minutes' duration. All in all, it is a pleasant and very well-made film, and it also has a lovely soundtrack.

            Certificate U
            Currently available on Amazon for £3.01

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              10.04.2010 20:22
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              A little far-fetched, but fantastically entertaining

              ** I always try to avoid putting spoilers in DVD reviews. However, this review contains some information about Dexter Season One, so if you've not seen the first season and plan to, then you probably shouldn't read any further! Oh, and this is a programme-only review **


              ** Synopsis **

              Dexter's back! Florida's favourite serial-killer-serial-killer is still a Miami Metro police forensics expert by day and a dark avenger by night, cleaning up the city's trash with his bag of surgical instruments and reams of duct tape. Season Two (made in 2007) carries straight on from Season One.

              With the Ice Truck Killer case still a recent and painful memory for the Miami Metro Police, and especially for Dexter and his policewoman sister Deb, another large-scale murder investigation is launched after divers discover a cache of dismembered bodies on the ocean floor off the Miami coast, which are all attributable to the same killer, nicknamed the Bay Harbor Butcher. This time the case is so high-profile that the FBI are called in to assist, and Dexter finds himself increasingly out of his depth, making his troubles in Season One seem a mere trifle. This time it looks as if it's just a matter of time before our hero's murderous secret will be revealed. As if that weren't bad enough, Dex has relationship problems, two stalkers and even more shocking family secrets to contend with. Meanwhile Deb is haunted by her brush with death in Season One but manages to take her mind off it by concentrating on her burgeoning career and, of course, new men.


              ** My opinion **

              If I start by saying that I watched all 12 1-hour episodes in less than a week, I think that will convey just how gripping this series is. This is one of the cleverest, most thrilling crime dramas I have seen in a long time, and Season Two had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.

              I didn't think the plot could be more exciting than that of Season One, but the writers managed to make this season even more shocking and full of twists, while not forgetting to add a large dose of humour to the mix (this mainly stems from the sharp contrast between Dexter's public and private lives). The action is a little less routine than Season One, which had Dexter killing someone is almost every episode in the same ritualistic way - this time round he is forced to be a little more inventive as new events require his to act more quickly and think on his feet. Every episode brings new dangers with it and the tension is almost unbearable at some points - after some episodes I was literally unable to sleep until I had seen the next one.

              Michael C Hall continues to pull off the all-important pivotal role with absolute virtuosity and the camaraderie and chemistry with his actor colleagues, particularly Jennifer Carpenter (who plays Debs) and David Zayas (who plays Detective Angel Batista) is plain to see. I was also pleased to see a new young actor playing Dexter's girlfriend Rita's son Cody; since her children are in every episode it's good to have child actors that aren't completely wooden. I was also greatly impressed by the performances of Erik King (Sgt. Doakes) and Lauren Velez (Lt. Laguerta), who are very believable in their roles. The addition of Special Agent Lundy, a detective called in to lead the Bay Harbour Butcher investigation, is a good way to keep the Miami Metro police's team dynamic fresh, and it also adds a twist on the station's internal politics, which form heir own sub-plot.

              So were there any bad points? Well, yes. The plot really is far-fetched, and while I don't mind that too much, there were a few moments where I thought the characters wouldn't really behave in that way e.g. not locking their cars, being careless with keys/ weapons etc. - some things seemed a little contrived. These aren't big things on their own but when considered as a whole they weaken the tightness of the writing, in my opinion. The actress who plays Rita looked as though she might have had too much facial surgery since the previous season, which I found quite distracting, especially when she had one eyebrow way higher than the other on an immobile forehead. It confused me as she looked worn out and sad in most scenes, even when she wasn't supposed to be.

              By far he worst thing about this series was the addition of the British actress Jaime Murray, playing the enigmatic character of Lila. While she's not supposed to be a very sympathetic character, I found Murray's gruesome portrayal (accent wavering between Lady Diana and Lily Allen, constant pouting, faux-dramatic pauses, heavy breathing and talking through her teeth) so off-putting that I almost considered stopping watching it early into the series.

              I'm glad I persevered, though. In spite of the few annoyances mentioned above, I think this is a brilliantly clever, witty and entertaining series, with some of America's best current television actors.

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                08.04.2010 12:27
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                I'll try a different fragrance before I give up on Batiste completely

                ** Why not just wash your hair? **

                A craze for dry shampoo seems to have started a couple of years ago, but I wasn't particularly interested at first - partly because I didn't see the point of it (why not just wash your hair if it's dirty?) and also because I have hair that's so dark it's almost black, and I thought the white shampoo would show up and look like dandruff.

                Then a few months ago a friend with the same hair colour as me (and very nice-looking, shiny hair!) told me that she used it, and funnily enough, the same day I went to a new hairdresser who told me I was washing and drying my hair too frequently and needed to give it a day or two of rest in between washes if I didn't want to dry out or damage the lengths. She also warned that washing it every day would make my scalp produce more oil to compensate, which would it turn make my hair greasier and lock me into a vicious circle of daily washing. She suggested that I try dry shampoo to freshen up my hair in between washes, so off I went to Boots to see what I could find.


                ** The product **

                The Batiste brand seems to have cornered the market in dry shampoo; it's been going for years and I remember the name from when I was a kid, but in recent years the brand seems to have upped its game and started targeting a younger audience. In the medium-sized Boots branch I went to it was the only brand of dry shampoo I could find. Out of a selection of scents I went for 'Tropical' in the 50 ml can, just so I could give it a try. It comes in a standard type of aerosol, which is yellow with a green lid and a pretty ugly green and white logo. It set me back £1.49 (a 50 ml can lasted me about 5 or 6 applications in total).

                Batiste promises that this product will revitalise greasy, dull or lifeless hair between washes and leave it clean, full of body and with a beautiful fragrance. Up until I bought this product I'd got into the habit of washing, drying and styling my hair almost every day. I have fairly long, very soft, fine, straight hair which doesn't tend to hold a style for very long. After one day of not washing it's not particularly greasy, but it does look lifeless. I hoped that using Batiste the day after washing would give my hair back a bit of bounce and body without me having to wash and dry it so frequently.


                ** Application **

                This is fairly simple - you just need to shake the can, hold it about 30cm from the hair and spray it on lightly. I only spray it on and around my parting as that's the only area where my hair looks dull and flat; the lengths usually look fine and I don't want to overload my hair with the product. The first time I used it I was shocked at how cold the shampoo was when I sprayed it on, but you soon get used to it! You then have to massage it in and leave it for a few moments (I usually leave it for half a minute) before brushing it out. I find it easy to massage; it's not sticky, like I was expecting the first time, and doesn't feel greasy, oily or soapy. It also dries very quickly. I was surprised, the first time, at how easy it was to brush out, too. Although it left a big grey patch on top of my head when I sprayed the shampoo on, the massaging and brushing soon got rid of that, and the product distributed itself well through my hair without leaving any white specks. My only warning here would be that you need to check the back of your head in the mirror in case you miss a bit!


                ** So did it work? **

                I was really pleasantly surprised that yes, the shampoo did do the job. It restored the bounce and volume to my hair that I normally only achieve by washing and drying it. I personally wouldn't wear my hair loose after applying the shampoo, as I'm not confident that it looks clean enough (I only ever wear it loose if I've washed it the same day), but it looked fine worn in a ponytail, bun or in a clamp. In fact, when I put my hair up after using Batiste it actually looks better than if it's just been washed, and it stays in place better as well. The day after applying the Batiste I generally wash my hair, as I don't like to leave it too long between washes. However, one day I was in a real rush and just applied more dry shampoo after having already used it the day before. My hair just about looked presentable but felt dirty, so I personally wouldn't use the product two days on the run without a hair wash.

                In case you're wondering, it washes out very easily with normal shampoo and doesn't leave any stickiness or residue behind.


                ** Any side-effects? **

                Yes, unfortunately. While the shampoo doesn't irritate my skin whatsoever, I do find the fragrance overpowering. The first time I used it I was dizzy for about half an hour afterwards. I though I might be allergic to the product, but I think it's just because I wasn't using it in a well-ventilated area. There's no warning on the can, but now I'd always open the window before spraying it!

                The fragrance is very long lasting, and I find that I get occasional whiffs of it during the day if it's in my hair. If you like the smell, then great, but I have to say I'm not a fan of the tropical scent. It's a little sweet but mainly very heady and coconutty, and a few times I've woken up in the morning, got a noseful of dirty hair with Batiste in it and been reminded of Thai curry!


                ** Would I recommend it? **

                On my hair type it certainly does a good job. It's easy and hassle-free to apply and greatly improves the appearance of my hair. I don't like the coconut smell of Batiste Tropical, to the extent that I wouldn't buy this particular kind again, but I'll definitely try out the other fragrances before I reject the product completely. It's really handy for everyday use, and I'd imagine it would also be useful to take to the gym or on holiday. I've also since seen a brunette version, so those of us with dark hair have even less reason to worry about grey patches.

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                  04.04.2010 21:29
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                  I don't regret reading it though!

                  ** Introduction **

                  Are you infected with the affluenza virus? That's what I wanted to know when I picked up this book recently. Affluenza, as defined by the author Oliver James, is a 'disease' characterised by obsession with money, possessions, social/physical appearances and fame. If allowed to develop unchecked, it can lead to 'emotional distress', which is James' umbrella term for mental illnesses. The first thing I saw upon opening the book was a short questionnaire. After answering all the questions I was alarmed to learn that yes, I have 'contracted' affluenza. I was surprised, as I don't consider myself that materialistic and I try to live my life as I want without worrying what other people think of me. The second questionnaire, though, revealed that my affluenza had not yet lead to emotional distress. It's a clever ploy, to have these quizzes at the beginning of the book. Although I was a bit cynical about whether I really was affected by 'affluenza' I definitely wanted to read on!


                  ** Structure of the book **

                  Part One describes the 'virus' and gives us examples from interviews that James conducted with 240 people in several destinations around the world (UK, New York, Shanghai, Copenhagen, Sydney, Hong Kong and Moscow). So we learn about the paranoid American billionaire with no friends, the British trophy wife who wants to kill herself, young girls with eating disorders, people in jobs they hate who are too scared to quit in case people think badly of them... It's not all doom and gloom, since Denmark is portrayed as a more relaxed and less affluenza-driven society, but in the main the mood is pretty grim.

                  Part Two tells us about the 'vaccines' against affluenza: what we can do to inoculate ourselves against the virus, or cure ourselves if we already have it. Here the examples of unhappy, affluenza-stricken people continue, but each section finishes with some recommendations. There are some extreme stories of obsession with social appearances and fame, such as a 3-year-old Chinese child being 'mind-managed' by his over-ambitious parents to become a global leader (he attends school all day, then has evening classes and attends a children's MBA programme at weekends). We also learn of female students at Oxford University whose sole aim is to get into merchant banking and make money. But there are also more mundane examples of obsession with physical appearances, like competitive new mothers in Sydney desperate to get their figures back as soon as possible. There are also young girls chasing high grades to the point of depression and ordinary UK workers who are slaves to their mortgages.

                  Some of the vaccines, or solutions, put forward include getting more involved in the community, taking up hobbies that are exciting and absorbing (not self-improving), choosing a job you love over pay or status, and learning to distinguish between your wants and your needs.

                  Part Three is Oliver James' own personal 'manifesto' on how the world must change if we are to avoid affluenza-driven emotional distress. There are ideas for new government policies, such as paying parents the national average wage to look after their children (thus raising the status of parents rather than forcing them back into the workplace too soon, to the detriment of their babies' upbringing), or banning foreign nationals from having a large stake in the British media. These things sound idealistic, writes James, but big changes are necessary if we want to be healthier and happier.


                  ** So is it a good read? **

                  I found some of it really absorbing, particularly the interviews with people around the world and the insights into other countries and cultures and their social systems. Affluenza, or the ideas behind it, is certainly something that is causing problems in our world and needs to be addressed. But there were also lots of elements to this book that nearly drove me up the wall!

                  Firstly, it is full of examples of people in various affluenza-driven predicaments, but it would have been helpful to have more examples of people doing 'the right thing' as well: e.g. it's all very well to tell us we should be choosing jobs we love rather than ones that pay the bills, but where are the examples of people who do this, and what advice would they give to poor affluenza-ridden souls like me? There are some examples of how things are better in Denmark, but they're sweeping statements rather than individual case-studies.

                  Secondly, and this really annoyed me, James contradicts himself on some important points. We are told we should do work that makes us intrinsically happy, so-called 'flow' activities (the kind that are so much fun that time seems to fly when you're doing them). But elsewhere in the book, we are warned that once you start getting paid for fun activities they lose their attraction. This is backed up by scientific studies and a further example is given is of a man James knew who gave up his boring job to do what he loved - scriptwriting - and found that once he was writing for money he developed writer's block and couldn't do it. This left me confused - should I work in the area I'm most interested or save it as a hobby and do work I don't care about?

                  James also withholds information until later on in the book. For example, I am apparently suffering from afffluenza because I would like to be more wealthy i.e. earn more money, according to the questionnaire at the beginning of the book. But towards the end of the book I learned that, according to James, virus goals (wanting money) are not damaging; it's the motivation that is harmful. So if I want more money so that I can help my family or start a business, then that's fine. But of course, the questionnaire doesn't take motivation into account and is very general ('very wealthy' means different things to different people). Is this just a clever way of convincing more people that they have affluenza and need to buy the book?

                  I found so many niggling points in this book that I could go on and on. For instance, we are told (in the 'vaccines' part, not the more idealistic Part Three) that we should avoid taking out credit we can't afford and should settle for cheaper housing and easily affordable mortgages. I, for one, would love Mr James to let me know where all this affordable housing is in the UK. We should also refrain from chasing high grades at school or university. Again it's all very well to say that, but if I'm going to do the job I love (as James recommends) then I need to do postgraduate study, and for that I need high grades. He suggests that high grades are only about self esteem and doesn't appear to acknowledge that for some people studying hard and passing exams is an intrinsically enjoyable activity (honestly, I really enjoy exams; I get a lot of satisfaction out of them. Some people like jobs where they are put on the spot and required to think on their feet, I am one of them).

                  There is also a lot of generalisation concerning the interviewees that were picked, such as the two British students that feature in the book: they are both at Oxford University (one at an all-girls' college). They are hardly representative of British students as a whole, and not all students want to be investment bankers, contrary to what James would have us believe. I would also have liked to know more about how his interviewees abroad were selected - we're told that the British Council helped him find people in the various countries, so does this mean that the interviewees came from a limited demographic (people with connections to a British cultural organisation)? Were they all interviewed in English or were they interviewed through an interpreter? These factors could affect how they understood the questions and how James understood their answers.


                  ** $$$$$ in his eyes **

                  At one point I also felt the author was plugging his books. He also recommends that the vast majority of us need therapy to 'sort out' our childhoods and recommends that this be followed up by a type of therapy retreat that costs thousands of pounds. I found his belief that most of his readers need to see medical professionals to cope with their parents' behaviour quite offensive and patronising.


                  ** A style of writing that only a mother (or father!) could love **

                  James employs a huge and varied vocabulary in his book (I had to get out the dictionary a fair few times), which I have no problem with. What I didn't like was his pompous tone and his strange habit of mixing different registers in the same sentence, even going so far as to misspell things on purpose ("any fule kno", "m'man"). I'm not sure whether this was supposed to make him sound more chatty/lively or make his prose more accessible to young readers. Or maybe he was poking fun of people who speak like that? Either way, it comes across as strange and breaks up the flow of his writing.

                  Elsewhere James' ideas are presented in a very long-winded way, with in-depth analysis of his interviewees that would surely only be interesting to them. It's just like listening to someone describe their dreams, which the author also does. Even worse, he goes a step further and recounts his father's recurring dreams, even though they are not really relevant to what he is explaining. It's unnecessary and James knows it, sheepishly suggesting that he should stop before the reader throws the book across the room in frustration. There is also a fair amount of irrelevant name-dropping (his father knew Freud's daughter, he has interviewed famous people, blah blah blah) though there is little information of what James actually does aside from writing articles, or what his qualifications are. It would have been good to have a little more professional information about the author.

                  By far the most irritating element for me though, was James' insistence on using his family as examples. They pop up throughout the book, especially his young daughter, who he is obviously totally enamoured with (and why shouldn't he be?), but whose ever-so-cute actions and comments have little place in a book like this. We are even treated to a demonstration of how she pronounces things ("gweat big", "teffone"). I can see how children's development is occasionally relevant to his arguments, but does the daughter really have to be wheeled out each time? And if so, why is his son so absent? The worst example of this is in the epilogue, where James tells us there is hope for the future of mankind despite the threat of affluenza, then uses himself, his mother and his daughter as examples. In the acknowledgments section he thanks someone for warning him that his first draft of the book was 'self-obsessed'. It's a pity he didn't act on this advice.

                  It's also a shame the book wasn't edited properly. In his (rather patronising) separate advice sections for men and women towards the end of the book, James repeatedly tells us to turn back to certain pages and re-read the bits where he mentions relevant studies. The only problem is, these studies are not on the pages he mentions, so his advice is rendered useless.


                  ** Conclusion **

                  This book throws up some really interesting ideas. The virus analogy is a good way of putting forward the problems within our society, and I agree that the way we live nowadays is far from ideal, and that changes could be made to make our lives more emotionally satisfying. I really enjoyed reading the interviews with people around the world and gaining insights into how people live and think in other countries.

                  However, the author's ideas on how we can improve our lives struck me as very simplistic and patronising - I felt like I was being told off and I could see contradictions in his arguments. I resented the fact that he used the book to advertise his other books and certain kinds of therapy. In addition, the style of the author's writing and his propensity to write about himself and his family too much was also extremely annoying.

                  If I'm honest though, I do enjoy a bit of debate and argument, and actually I really got a lot out of reading this book, even if it did make me want to scream at times. I quite like being irritated and for that reason I'm giving the book 4 stars. Do psychologists have a name for that, I wonder?


                  ** The book is 553 pages long, including notes, appendix and acknowledgements ***

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                    03.04.2010 17:56
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                    More style than substance

                    ** Short version of the plot **

                    The appropriately-named ingénue and self-avowed 'aesthete' Nicholas Guest moves in with a worldly family of rich Tories and accidentally contributes to their rather ghastly downfall. Oops!


                    ** Longer version of the plot **

                    It's the summer of 1983 and 20-year-old innocent Nick Guest has just graduated from Oxford with a first-class degree in English and brown-nosing. Nick's only a country boy from Northamptonshire who only owns one dinner jacket, but thanks to his friendship with Toby, the son of rich businessman and new Tory MP Gerald Fedden, Nick has the opportunity to move up in the world. The Feddens kindly invite Nick to live with them in their posh Notting Hill abode while he slums it at UCL, where he's writing a PhD on Henry James. Although Nick is in (unrequited) love with Toby, his real purpose in the Fedden home is to look out for their unstable daughter, Catherine, who has a propensity to go out with very unsuitable men. That summer, following a landslide victory by the Conservatives in the general election, Nick basks in the glow of his new-found status as an MP's lodger and his first relationship with a young man.

                    Fast-forward three years to 1986, and Nick is no longer a newcomer on the capital's gay scene, but at the heart of it. But things are turning dangerous for Nick's social circle, with the double threat of AIDS and cocaine addiction having reared its head among London's nightlife enthusiasts. Meanwhile Gerald Fedden is on track for a position in the Cabinet - but thanks to his young house-guest, it could all come tumbling down.


                    ** My humble opinion **

                    I must say I was expecting more from this novel, considering it won the 2004 Man Booker Prize and got some rave reviews.

                    The most positive thing I can say is that this is a finely-crafted and beautifully-told tale. It seems that Hollinghurst's forte is descriptive writing, and my lasting impression after the finishing the novel was one of gardens and streets in the summertime dusk, of sunlight reflecting off water and of elegant curves of antique furniture, wrought iron and lovers' bodies - all recurring motifs in this book. The 'line of beauty' of the title refers to an artistic concept, a double curve which is present in various kinds of art and architecture, as well as the human form, and is a fitting name for the art-lover and sex-lover Nick. Perhaps even more appropriately, it also refers to lines of cocaine, which play an increasingly prominent role in this tale of 1980s excess.

                    However, the story itself is quite predictable - I felt that the hints early on in the plot left little room for surprises later on. I worked out quickly who was having an affair with whom, who was secretly gay, who was going to die etc. The plot didn't have that much momentum to it, either, but meandered along towards an anti-climax. Yes, the Feddens end up in a spot of bother at the end, but it's not too bad in the grand scheme of things; such an established family with 'old money' is able to recover from comparatively minor setbacks like this. At the end of the novel, it doesn't seem that the life of the Feddens is going to change to that great an extent. Nick's life will be different, but it's not clear how, exactly. This open ending would be tantalising or maybe even frustrating if Nick's character were engaging enough, but I didn't really care what happened to him.

                    For such a long novel the characters were surprisingly under-developed. Many are simply stereotypes: there's Gerald Fedden, the blustering, overbearing Tory MP, and his self-contained wife Rachel. Their son Toby is an amiable pretty-boy who seems more a prop than an actual person, while the manic-depressive daughter Catherine is scornful of her parents and given to the usual teenage rebellion - smoking, drinking, wearing short dresses and going out with unsuitable men etc. There's also a spoilt, lazy, languid French-speaking millionaire and Nick's homely, fussy parents, as well as a whole host of Conservative MPs and Lords and their wives who were all so interchangeable I never really grasped who was who.

                    There are no likable characters, apart from maybe Toby Fedden and his mother Rachel Fedden. But I think they were simply less unlikeable than the others, and probably only because they featured less. The novel is narrated in the third person, but entirely from Nick's perspective, and I found his character quite difficult to grasp. He is neither sympathetic nor unsympathetic to me. He always seems to hover in the middle ground: neither very posh nor particularly working-class, it is difficult to pin him down to anything. I found myself unable to sympathise with his character in general - his first love affair is quite touching, but his main relationship in the book (with a handsome multi-millionaire) is completely unconvincing. The only reason he ever gives for loving his rich boyfriend is that he is beautiful. Beauty is everything to Nick, who loves art and architecture as much as literature and handsome men - he is the kind of person who "gasps with delight" at the view when he walks into a church and collects clever lines from novels so that he can use them to jazz up his everyday speech. I can't say this made me warm to him, but he wasn't annoying enough to irritate me, either.

                    One element that did annoy me was that there is no explanation given for Nick's development from being very anti-drugs in the first part of the book to suddenly being a seasoned cocaine user/addict in the second part. I was also disappointed that the author didn't make more of the era in which the novel is set - the Thatcher years. Yes, the mood of the time is reflected in the conspicuous consumption in London, and there are details about the 1986 election, Gerald's work in his constituency and even of Margaret Thatcher (who features as a character halfway through the novel). But it's not a portrait of how Britain, or London, or even Notting Hill fared under Thatcher's government. Rather, it's quite a rambling and empty novel about art and beauty and - in my opinion - only goes skin deep.

                    ** Oh, and at 501 pages I don't think I'll be reading it again! **

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                      03.04.2010 16:33
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                      A lively and original novel

                      ** Synopsis **

                      It's New Year's Eve, and 51-year-old Maureen, the single mother of a profoundly disabled son, is about to kill herself. But when she arrives on the roof of the well-known north London suicide spot Topper's House, it turns out she's not the only person planning to plunge 15 stories to her death. In fact, you could say it's quite crowded up there. Maureen is joined by a washed-up former TV presenter who has just come out of jail, a wannabe rock singer whose band and relationship have both just split up and a foulmouthed teenage girl with anger management problems. Despite their very different backgrounds and situations, the four unhappy people form an unlikely alliance and spend the next few months trying to work out whether there's any point attempting to turn their lives around, or whether they should return to Topper's House and finish what they started.


                      ** My opinion **

                      Suicide is a really unusual subject for a comic novel and you certainly can't accuse Nick Hornby of lacking originality on this score. It was probably partly due to the unusual theme of the novel and partly thanks to the cult status of Hornby's previous books that A Long Way Down was released in a blaze of publicity in 2005. For a long time the hype surrounding the book put me off reading it, and it was only this week that I decided to put aside my cynicism and pick it up. And guess what? I'm glad I did.

                      The novel is narrated in the first person; the perspective switches between the four main characters every page or so, which makes for a sense of immediacy and a very lively and engaging read, especially since they often address the reader directly as they recount their stories. The characters have very different voices, so it's usually easy to keep track of who is narrating at any particular moment: there's the pompous, fake-tanned, middle-class-and-proud-of it Martin, a one-time breakfast TV presenter who disgraced himself by sleeping with a 15-year-old (she'd claimed to be 16). His subsequent 3 months in jail robbed him of his wife, children, career and self-respect. Meanwhile, Maureen is a middle-aged woman whose life stopped in her early 30s, when her fiancé left her to bring up their disabled son single-handedly. JJ is an American who came to England for love - and is now on his own: unhappy, unqualified for anything and unable to get any work apart from delivering pizzas. Jess, the youngest of the group, appears to be suffering from a simple broken heart, but it turns out her problems run much deeper than that.

                      What I really appreciated about this novel was its lack of schmaltz and sentimentality. The group of potential suicides don't all become friends and persuade each other they have everything to live for. In fact, they don't get on that well and don't even like each other; the only reason they keep meeting is because they are all in desperate situations and don't have anyone else to turn to. There are some scenes where the four protagonists are actually extremely nasty to each other. Jess warns the reader quite early on that we shouldn't expect a typical happy ending, and there are various sarcastic allusions throughout the novel to soppy films and inspirational storybooks and how unrealistic their plots are.

                      I found the voices of Jess and JJ quite irritating at first; they seemed like a poorer version of Holden Caulfield from A Catcher in the Rye and I got the impression that Hornby wasn't entirely comfortable writing from Jess and JJ's perspectives. Similarly, I didn't find the voice of Maureen that authentic at the beginning either, and there were points throughout the novel where I thought her naivety was a little too far-fetched to be true to life. As the novel progressed, though, Hornby seems to settle into the four different characters and I found the second half a lot easier to read in this respect. The character of Martin, on the other hand, was absolutely spot-on from beginning to end - his character's oily smugness comes across really well.

                      In general, I'd say the second half of the novel is much more satisfying than the first, as we know more about the characters and the plot really gets moving. Although I found it a good strategy on Hornby's part to reveal more about the characters bit by bit rather than all at once over the first few pages, I did feel that the story dragged a little at the beginning. The few laugh-out-loud moments for me also came towards the end of the novel. I didn't find much to chuckle at in the first half, which I was a bit disappointed with, as I'd found other writing by Hornby (e.g. How to be Good) extremely funny.

                      In conclusion, this is not a book that tells people how to avoid suicide; it's not even particularly philosophical on the topic. It's more an account of four everyday people, their problems, and the options they have for overcoming their despair. The novel might appear to make light of suicide but doesn't go as far as mocking those who do take that way out, and the reader is left with the overall impression that suicide is a very sad thing that shouldn't be joked about. While I didn't find this book as funny or as deep as some of Nick Hornby's other novels, it was a good, solid, entertaining read.

                      ** The Penguin paperback has 257 pages and slightly too-small print **

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                        25.03.2010 17:14
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                        Why can't all TV be this good?

                        ** This is a review of Series One rather than the DVD itself **


                        ** Synopsis **

                        Dexter Morgan, played by the talented Michael C Hall, is a thirty-something forensics expert who works for a Miami police force, where he is able to put his specialisation, blood-spatter profiling, to good use. So far so normal. What makes Dexter a rather unusual character is the fact that, when not helping the police catch murderers, he is a serial killer himself. Rescued from a crime scene at the age of 3 and adopted by a kindly policeman, Harry, Dexter has always known there was something different about him. As a teenager he managed to gain some sort of control over his persistent urges to kill, thanks to Harry's loving advice and commitment to help him. Now Dexter only kills people who deserve it - and thanks to his scientific training, he's able to cover his tracks. When Harry died, Dexter's secret died with him and now there is nobody who is aware of Dexter's double life... or is there?

                        Season One follows Dexter's journey of discovery as he tries to put together the pieces of his past: what happened to him as a young child to make him a murderer, and why did Harry make it so difficult for him to find out the truth? At the same time, Dexter's colleagues are trying to solve a series of fiendish homicides carried out by a serial killer who is nicknamed "the Ice Truck Killer" due to his predilection for cutting up and freezing his victims' body parts. As Dexter helps the police track down the mystery murderer he begins to think that the Ice Truck Killer is trying to communicate with him and maybe even knows his secret. But what does the mysterious killer want from Dexter, and how can our hero make sure that his colleagues never find out about his own extra-curricular activities?


                        ** My opinion **

                        This series was absolutely gripping from beginning to end. Each of the 12 one-hour episodes follows a similar pattern, with the police investigating a new murder and Dexter (usually) carrying out his own meticulously-executed murder after a work - a human trafficker here, a hit-and-run driver there. The plot is full of twists and mystery. Although I did work out fairly early on who the Ice Truck Killer was, this didn't prevent me enjoying every episode right up until the end. The mystery of Dexter's background was less obvious and kept me guessing until the final scenes.

                        This is a violent show, and anyone who doesn't like the sight of blood probably shouldn't bother watching it, but I never found the gory scenes gratuitous - they were all relevant to the plot. If anything, it's the less gory scenes that are more chilling. Dexter carries out his own killings with an almost medical precision, always following the same procedure and using the same highly-tuned instruments. It's easy to feel the terror of his victims and feel sorry for them, no matter how much we might think they deserve their fate.

                        Probably the most amazing feat that the creators of the programme achieved was to make Dexter a wholly likable and sympathetic character despite the fact that he's also a killer. There is a lot of aside narration by Dexter; he tells us he is something of a misanthrope and doesn't experience feelings and emotions the way 'normal' people do. For example, he specifically seeks out an emotionally damaged girlfriend, Rita, so that he won't have to try and get too close to her but can still appear socially normal by being in a relationship.

                        The characters are all well-drawn and the dialogue believable; there is chemistry between Hall and Julie Benz, who plays Rita, as well as Jennifer Carpenter, who plays his sister Deb, an up-and-coming homicide detective (and Hall's wife in real life). Dexter's colleagues are also very well portrayed, and their characters are integral to the main plot and the smaller sub-plots revolving around office politics: from the menacing Sergeant Doakes, who seems to know there's something not quite right with Dexter; to the headstrong bully and head of division Maria Laguerta, and the constantly lovelorn detective Angel Batista, who's obsessed with "la pasion", they are all perfectly cast. Even the bit-part actors do a great job.

                        Quite unbelievably, considering the topic of the series, there is also a strong current of humour running through the episodes. You only need to look at the opening sequence to see the most obvious evidence of this: Dexter prepares his breakfast and gets ready for work, serial (or should that be cereal?) killer-style.

                        The only negative things I can think to say about Dexter are: 1) The little boy who plays Rita's son Cody is very wooden. I know this makes me sound really picky as he can't be more than five years old, but still, every scene with him reminds me that what I was watching isn't real. 2) There are several scenes where characters speak Spanish, especially the Cuban characters, who often start a sentence in English and finish in Spanish. Apparently this is the way some people talk in Miami, and of course that should be included in the series to make it true to life, but I think there should be English subtitles when the Spanish dialogue lasts for more than a sentence. The accent is very different to European Spanish, so much so that I even know people from Spain who don't always catch what's being said. 3) I don't want to give anything away, so I'll just say there's a twist in the plot near the end involving a shoe that I found very unlikely!

                        In the grand scheme of things, though, these are minor niggles which didn't really spoil my enjoyment of what is a fast-paced, thrilling and absorbing crime show. Now I'm off to get stuck in to Series 2...

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                          25.03.2010 12:05
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                          Marvellous

                          ** The product **

                          Boots Extracts Mango Body Wash is part of the Boots Extracts range, whose unique selling point is that it contains organic and fairtrade ingredients and is "developed to make a difference". Buying this product will apparently help support the future prosperity of communities in South America (it doesn't say on the tube which countries are being supported). While I'm always a bit sceptical about such a claim (how much of a difference will it really make?) I don't think it's necessarily a bad idea either. So there we have it: this body wash contains organic, fairtrade mango extract and fairtrade honey.

                          The product is supposed to gently clean and moisturise the skin, leaving it smoother then when you got into the shower!


                          ** Packaging **

                          This gel comes in a practical see-through, flip-top tube with a photo of a mango on it. Nice and natural-looking and easy to see how much product is left. The tube itself is not recyclable; the cap is.


                          ** My opinion **

                          A totally scrumptious product, it is supposed to last 24 months once opened but lasted about 5 minutes in my home. Having eaten a mango for breakfast this morning, I can safely say that it doesn't smell like real mango, but rather an idealised version of the fruit, with a sweet hint of honey. Never mind that the fragrance isn't 100% accurate though - it's still delicious.

                          The gel foams up really well and is a joy to use: creamy and rich. It's certainly gentle too - my sensitive skin had no problems with this. My skin actually felt moisturised after my shower and the scent was still detectable on my body - a rare thing with most shower products, I find. My only slight niggle would be that it takes quite a lot of rinsing off, but I think that's a small price to pay for such a lovely product.


                          ** Price **

                          Available from Boots for £4 for 200ml.

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                            25.03.2010 11:47
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                            Yuck!

                            ** The product **

                            Orange Flower Botanical Body Wash is another product from the extensive Liz Earle range. Like most of the Liz Earle body care products, it contains natural ingredients such as pure plant extracts and essential oils and does not contain animal extracts. This body wash boasts extracts of organic oats and yarrow as well as rose-scented geranium and natural vitamin E. It promises to soften and smooth the skin as well as cleansing it, and is described as "heavenly" on the back of the bottle.

                            The body wash costs £10.75 for 200ml or £7.75 for 100ml (or a little less if bought in bulk) and can be bought online at www.lizearle.com The website also lists the other places it can be bought, including the London Liz Earle shop (Duke of York Square) and selected branches of John Lewis.


                            ** Packaging **

                            The body wash comes in a pale blue, very fresh and pure but rather dull-looking recyclable plastic tube with the sliver Liz Earle logo and a silver band.


                            ** My experience **

                            The gel is transparent, slightly yellowish in colour and rather runny and sticky. I really had to use a lot to get it to lather up properly, even when I used a massage mitt in the shower. It rinsed off fairly easily and left my skin feeling clean if not particularly softened or moisturised.

                            What really annoyed me about this product was the fragrance. It smells very strongly of... well I'm not sure! It has that penetrating 'botanical' perfume that a lot of Liz Earle products seem to have. I think it must be the 7 essential oils it contains! It's far too penetrating for me: musty, musky and old-ladyish rather than sweet or fresh, and it gives me a headache. There is no hint of anything citrussy (so don't fooled by the name Orange Flower - it definitely doesn't smell anything like oranges). The only good thing about the fragrance is that it doesn't last and disappears along with the foam when you rinse it away.


                            ** Conclusion **

                            Not a great product. You need to use a lot of it to get any foam and the smell is really off-putting. It may have natural ingredients but in my opinion it's unpleasant and very overpriced. Back to the drawing board with this one, I think!

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                          • Imagining Argentina (DVD) / DVD / 43 Readings / 42 Ratings
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                            24.03.2010 13:22
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                            A complete and utter turkey

                            ** Synopsis **

                            Imagining Argentina was made in 2003 and directed by Christopher Hampton. Antonio Banderas and Emma Thompson play a married couple, Carlos and Cecilia, living in Buenos Aires in the mid-1970s. The country is in the grip of a military dictatorship and its citizens are going through turmoil. Every day, people keep being "disappeared": they vanish without trace, often after having committed some very minor act of political dissidence, such as protesting at the price of bus tickets. Cecilia, a journalist, keeps reporting these disappearances despite having received death threats. Carlos isn't too keen on her doing this, but she is headstrong and he cannot stop her.

                            One night Carlos comes home from the children's theatre where he works to find that Cecilia has been "disappeared" herself. He and his teenage daughter are desperate to find her, but don't know where to look. Then a curious thing happens - Carlos starts having visions of where Cecilia is being held. He believes he has a gift and puts it to use straight away, holding meetings in his back yard for the relatives of missing persons. Carlos finds he is able to see in his mind's eye the fate of people's loved ones who have been "disappeared", but for some reason he can't get a clear picture of Cecilia. He ends up following clues that come to him in dreams, combing the city and its surroundings for the place where Cecilia is being held. But at the same time the government has got wind of his clairvoyance and the meetings he is holding, and its henchmen start abducting Carlos' remaining loved ones. Will Carlos be able to find Cecilia before his life is completely destroyed?


                            ** My opinion **

                            A film that started very promisingly for me, with original 1970's footage of Argentinian citizens protesting against their harsh leaders, quickly became a huge disappointment. It was so bad I hardly know where to start.

                            First of all, I knew the film was going to be in English rather than Spanish, and assumed that Banderas and Thompson would be playing an Argentinian-British couple or something similar. As it turned out, all of the characters play Argentinians, but the whole film is in English. This was very confusing as most of them had such thick accents that I couldn't always understand their English, and Emma Thompson's accent is ridiculous; a stock "foreign" accent with plummy vowels that keep poking through.

                            The next problem was the wooden acting combined with a highly melodramatic plot: I felt as though I was watching a cheap 1980s US soap opera, complete with cliched love scenes. Banderas and Thompson try their best, but their monotonous-voiced daughter appears to have researched the role by watching Pinocchio (though she does improve a little later on as a sobbing torture victim - maybe the director had given her a good telling-off by then). Meanwhile Carlos' colleague Silvio (cast as the shouty one, to contrast with the non-shouty colleague) was so dire an actor I wondered whether he was a member of the crew dragged in front of the camera to make up the numbers. Some of the bit-part actors are even worse. Were these people only chosen for the film because they could speak English? Also, judging by their pronunciation, many of them appear to be Spaniards rather than Argentinians (indeed, part of the film was made in Spain). I suppose the director thought an English-speaking audience wouldn't notice or care. Well I did!

                            The plot is absolutely ridiculous, with Banderas' character experiencing random dreams and visions containing symbols which are never really explained. There are some ham-fisted attempts at mysticism (such as a couple of former Auschwitz prisoners who tell Carlos that his stories are "keeping Cecilia alive" and an owl that people keep laughing at) and some large plot holes - why does the government go to the trouble of sending a spy to Carlos' meetings but not stop the meetings? If they are so worried and as intent on stopping Carlos as we are led to believe, why not just kidnap him instead of his colleagues and family members? And how realistic is it that Carlos could just walk into the government HQ off the street and speak to the leader?

                            What also frustrated me when watching this film is that we learn very little about the situation in Argentina at the time. We see original footage of the "madres" - the mothers of the "disappeared" protesting in their signatory white headscarves in front of the "Casa Rosada", the government HQ in Buenos Aires. But what provoked the disappearances in the first place? When did they start? What were foreign governments doing? How did the Argentinian military government explain the disappearances to the general population? Were government employees forced to participate in the torture of their fellow citizens against their will? How? (In the prison scenes, where we see Cecilia and her fellow inmates being tortured, the captors are all one-dimensional "baddies" who either seem to be having a whale of a time or are able to see it as "jut another job"). I would have liked the film to deal more with these issues and less with Carlos laughing at owls, running clothed into the sea or dreaming of shadows and shoes with plants growing out of them. Unfortunately, the original newsreels only serve to highlight the inauthenticity of the rest of the film.

                            As for the ending, I'm not going to give it away, but even if I did reveal what happens it wouldn't make much difference, as it's unclear whether it is supposed to be true or another of Carlos' dreams or visions. It seems to me like a handy way out of a silly and convoluted plot.

                            This is a film that tackles a very important and interesting topic but probably should have been made by an Argentinian director, with Argentinian actors, in Spanish, and with a better script and in order to do the topic - and the real-life victims - justice. Maybe that film already exists and it's just a matter of finding it.

                            If you're a glutton for punishment you can buy the DVD for £3.85 on amazon.co.uk

                            Cert 15
                            Run-time 103 wasted minutes

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                            • Favourite Authors / Discussion / 57 Readings / 56 Ratings
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                              19.03.2010 19:41
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                              Me and my books

                              What would life be without books?

                              I grew up in house so full of books it looks like a library, and I'm currently contemplating what to do with my own collection. I'm expecting to spend 2010 living in 3 different countries, so most of them will have to go. I don't see much point in holding on to that many books nowadays anyway - most can be orederd again online if I really want to re-read them.


                              * What is your favourite genre?

                              Difficult to say. I've found myself moving away from fiction recently and more towards politics/travel. In general, I love reading books about life in other countries. I'm going through a bit of an Afghanistan phase at the moment.

                              * Do you read the classics, i.e., the great authors of the 18th and 19th century?

                              Yes, I recently re-read Wuthering Heights (did it for A-level) and have read the other usual classics of English literature. I've even read older stuff such as Don Quijote - it took me months though!

                              * Are you interested in thrillers?

                              My dad is, but I've never been able to get into this genre. I'm part way through an Austrian detective novel at the moment but it's a comic one so that's ok!

                              * What about horror stories?

                              Nope, not since I was a teenager (another Point Horror fan here!) The world is so full of horror already I don't feel the need to read about fictional horrors too.

                              * Do you read science fiction?

                              No.

                              * How many Harry Potter books have you read?

                              I got tired of them when I was on book 4. I just found them so repetitive and over-hyped. I only read 1-3 because I was ill one summer in Romania and had nothing else in English to read.

                              * Have you ever read and enjoyed biographies or autobiographies?

                              Not really, but I'd like to.

                              * Do you remember any of the books you read and loved as a child?

                              I was such an Enid Blyton fan as a child that I started reading literary criticism on her works when I ran out of kids' books. I also read and enjoyed the Babysitters' Club series but found it quite far-fetched - who seriously puts their babies in the care of an unknown 11-year-old? One of my favourites as a kid was a book in the form of a satirical magazine for monsters called Witches in Stitches, which had an agony aunt called Aunty Coagula. Anyone remember that?

                              * Have you re-read these books as a grown-up?

                              No.

                              * Is there a book of which you can say it has influenced you?

                              Bertrand Russell's The Conquest of Happiness occasionally reminds me to focus on what's important in life.

                              * Who are your favourite authors?

                              Ian McEwan is my all-time favourite, I think. His books have so many different levels and strands. I also like some of Margaret Atwood's novels (e.g. The Blind Assassin) but dislike others. Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum is one of the best I've ever read. I suppose what they all have in common are plot twists at the end!

                              * Which book would you take with you on a desert island?

                              War and Peace. Then I might actually read it.

                              * What is your attitude towards translations?

                              We'd be a lot worse off without them. It would be such a shame to miss out on the greats of world literature. Having said that, I prefer to read books in the original if it's a language I speak.

                              * Do you buy your books/get them from the library/borrow them from friends/steal them?

                              All of the above except steal!

                              * When you buy books, do you prefer hardcover editions or pocket books?

                              Paperbacks, so I can carry them around with me.

                              * Have you ever tried Audio Books?

                              Yes, but I prefer to see the words on the page so I can re-read a sentence if necessary.

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