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Reviews Written by
Olly Buxton "@electricray" (Highgate, UK)

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Come Find Yourself
Come Find Yourself
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5.0 out of 5 stars Huey finds himself on the other side of the atlantic, July 15 2004
This review is from: Come Find Yourself (Audio CD)
The Fun Lovin' Criminals seem to have appealed a lot more to people over here on the far side of the pond than they did back Stateside, perhaps because it appeals to the British idea of what Cool America is like, rather than what Cool America is actually like: what sounded to well-educated British ears like really new, cutting edge, gritty authentic American music, I guess back at home probably came over not so much as authentic as bit middle class, a bit clever, a bit too "wiseass" to be the real thing. There's a limit to what you can get away with sampling - the horn riff in The King of New York is ripped off from a Richard Strauss tone poem, for crying out loud. Boys from the hood don't know about that stuff. Or at any rate shouldn't.
Nevertheless, this record stands the test of time - it lays down a tremendously appealing groove from the its very first resonator jangle, and the combination of that and the New York jazz sensibility (this from someone who knows and cares little for jazz, by the way), the smartarse sampling (*I* like it, even if the cognoscenti don't), Huey's laconic and irrepressibly funning rapping and big, BIG guitars does me quite nicely.
Carry on, chaps.
Olly Buxton

Ok Computer
Ok Computer
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4.0 out of 5 stars The commencement of The Disappearing Act, July 5 2004
This review is from: Ok Computer (Audio CD)
In releasing The Bends Radiohead was grappling with the potential stigma of one-hit wonderdom in the shape of comedy track from an otherwise pretty forgettable first album. They couldn't afford to indulge themselves and, through the bittersweet passage of The Bends they didn't. Thom Yorke revealed himself as an angry, ironic and thoughtful young chap with a ripper falsetto (launching in the process a most surprising, and awfully British, new genre of pop star, the Politically-Aware Ironic Former Chorister) and the two or three Radiohead guitar players demonstrated that they could come in on time after all, and could play some pretty meaty chops too. There are some great, great songs on the Bends; at times it rocks, it swaggers, and at others it sits quietly under a tree and sings about plastic surgery. Super.
OK Computer is sort of the same, but for my money, slightly more flaccid. The songs and the arrangements are certainly easy on the ear and the textures reward repeated listening. But it's a bit *too* ironic, a bit *too* serious, a bit *too* caught up with its own importance. Thom and co. (and many others besides) wouldn't agree with me, but in my view the Rock Album is not a particularly good vessel for relaying complex socio-political messages, as it tends to tip over into self parody rather too readily. OK Computer doesn't quite do that - but it sails a tack closer to the (dire) Straits of Self-Importance than it ought, and Kid A and that other one, when they get there, promptly capsize and sink without trace.
So in my assessment, while it's pretty and moody (the track lifted from Romeo & Juliet is a cracker), it marks the point where Radiohead's famous disappearing act kicked off. Where did they go, you ask - well, when they look out these days, all they see is brown. Put it like that.
Olly Buxton

Hot Space
Hot Space
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1.0 out of 5 stars Keep walking, May 9 2004
This review is from: Hot Space (Audio CD)
Every good artist has an album that should have been taken out and shot.
With Queen, it's this one.
Olly Buxton

Sheer Heart Attack
Sheer Heart Attack
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4.0 out of 5 stars An indication of what was to come, May 9 2004
This review is from: Sheer Heart Attack (Audio CD)
There are some delightful moments on Sheer Heart Attack, but mostly it's interesting in that it shows what Freddie and the team were aspiring to, rather than what they had achieved to date.
I don't think Queen had quite the mastery of the studio or their own technique here, and on some tracks it shows. Most glaringly, on opener Brighton Rock Freddie is obliged to abandon falsetto and drop an octave not just mid-way through a line, but in the middle of a word, which I am pretty sure isn't from the bombastic-operatic lead vocalist textbook that Freddie eventually helped to write. Also, Brian May's early experiments with an echoplex, while game, in truth are a bit of a mess (especially compared with the level of proficiency he showed during the (much later) performance of Brighton Rock on "Live Killers").
Elsewhere the album shows the unevenness we've come to know and love in Queen albums: as well as Killer Queen, the tracks Tenement Funster and Now I'm Here are absolute crackers; She Makes Me and the appropriately titled Misfire are less successful.
Af first glance, it is surprising that the one track not included is the ostensible title track - surprising, that is, until you remember that the song wasn't written for a couple of years after this album was released. And anyway, it's a good excuse (were one needed) to buy the exquisite News of the World, which for my money is Queen's finest record, on which Sheer Heart Attack does appear.
Olly Buxton

Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game
Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game
by Michael Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.06
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5.0 out of 5 stars An iconoclastic riot - and a good lesson for the markets, April 27 2004
Being a British naturalised Kiwi, I could not possibly know (or, to be honest, care) less about baseball. Nonetheless, I found this to be a fascinating book, and have been recommending it to everyone I meet. It contains a fundamental truth of investing that anyone could use, useful precisely because most people (like the low-scoring reviewers on this site) think they know best.
If every armchair sports fans thinks they know better than the others, it stands to reason that most of them are wrong.
The fact that the Oakland A's never won the world series is absolutely not the point. If the market was functioning efficiently, on their budget, they should never have got within cooey of it: The buying power of behemoths like the Mets should have ensured that. What is remarkable - and what is important - is that the A's consistently, massively, exceeded their own expectations.
Sport is a business. I mean that figuratively as well as literally: profit can be measured in dollar terms but also in percentage of wins to losses. Fans seem to forget that. In business, consistently exceeding expectations is an even better thing than winning the World Series, because it necessarily means you've made MONEY. If you're the favourite and you win the World Series, you have only met expectations, and you may even have made a loss.
If baseball were a perfect market, it wouldn't be possible to exceed expectations over a long period. Over a few games, maybe - that could be a fluke. Over two seasons, it almost certainly couldn't be. That means two things: (a) conventional wisdom about the value of certain baseball players and certain attributes is wrong; and (b) The Oakland A's have worked out what is right, or at any rate their model is better than the conventional wisdom.
This is the sort of thing Billy Beane should have kept as quiet about as possible. Michael Lewis' book ought to be a Eureka moment for every baseball manager: if it is, then the market mis-pricing will disappear, everyone will acquire players on the strength of the new valuation methodology and the Oakland A's will gradually fall down the rankings to where they should have been in the first place, given their budget. I dare say that has already started to happen.
What it ought to do is open eyes of managers from other codes, and indeed other businesses: The key is in having sufficient data. If you have enough good quality data (like baseball does) then if your analysis of it is better than your competitors, then as long as your approach is disciplined and consistent, you will, over time, turn a virtually risk free profit. It's called arbitrage.
I haven't even got onto the fact that Michael Lewis is one of the most insightful and witty writers writing in business at the moment, and this book is a pleasure to read from start to finish, notwithstanding my ignorance of its subject. I have read a number of business titles recently, and compared to the rest of the pack Lewis is, if you'll excuse the pun, a major leaguer amongst amateurs.
Highly, highly recommended.
Olly Buxton

Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction
Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction
by Brian W. Aldiss
Edition: Paperback
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overwritten and unnecessarily defensive, April 25 2004
I'm a casual fan of science fiction - I know what I like and otherwise steer fairly clear of the genre to avoid the inevitable allegations of puerility and geekdom that my wife throws at me for reading novels about spaceships and little green men.
Brian Aldiss is a prolific British Sci Fi writer who cares very much about his genre, and in particular believes it to have been unfairly maligned by people such as my wife.
While that's probably true, it adversely colours this book in two ways: Firstly, Aldiss writes far too intellectually and "worthily", meaning as writer he comes across as pretentious and (what is worse) dull; secondly he tends to relegate of material which isn't "serious" science fiction (but which is generally more entertaining) to other cateogories such as "fantasy" which, to his mind, don't count. I think this is the mistake: Science Fiction at its heart is a poular, pulp sort of genre, no amount of post facto rationalisation will alter the fact that it is Lucas and Spielberg who are the backbone of (cinematic) Science Fiction, not Kubrick and Tarkovsky.
It's a very heavy (physically as well as textually), long winded book. Having completed the first three or four chapters (in which Edgar Allen Poe gets a somewhat surprisingly extended mention) I have given up on the project of reading Trillion Dollar Spree from cover to cover, and now intend to use to dip into from time to time instead. Or, at any rate, just to stick on the bookshelf, comforted in the knowledge that it's there and I *can* dip into it from time to time, if I feel like it.
Olly Buxton

by Roy Ashbury
Edition: Paperback
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2.0 out of 5 stars Fairly pointless if you own the DVD, April 25 2004
This review is from: Nosferatu (Paperback)
This is a curious little book (it's more of a pamphlet, really - rather like a summarised (!) Coles Note on the film).
It's attractively set out but it's so slim a volume as to make you wonder why they went to the trouble of publishing it at all - it would do equally well (probably better, really) as a web page (hyperlinks between the various short sections would be useful), and frankly the book doesn't contain much information that you can't get from the (very good) commentary track on the Eureka Video (double disc edition) DVD, and that way you get to watch the film at the same time.(...)

Underworld (Widescreen Special Edition) (Bilingual) [Import]
Underworld (Widescreen Special Edition) (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Kate Beckinsale
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Silly and derivative, April 24 2004
There's barely an original moment in Underworld, and sadly those parts that are derived from elsewhere in motion picture history (that is, all of it), are derived without wit or feeling for their antecedents or the genre.
I have a feeling this film would never have been made were it not for the Matrix. It basically is the Matrix, only with werewolves and vamps, and a blue wash over all the cinematography rather than a green one. So we have a hard-arsed chick in a tight patent-leather cat suit toting a sub-machine gun in each hand in a subway station, driving performance sports cars absurdly fast, performing aerial flips and other acrobatics. Only she's a vampire. With a laptop. We have perpetual rain: we have the trademark Wachowski straight-down shot of rain falling away from the camera onto parked cars in a narrow alley. There's a big final punch-up between two indestructible foes in a great big puddle.
But while it rips off the Matrix's visuals, Underworld has neither the wit - the tongue-in-cheek film noir; the fairly well spec'd cod philosophy - nor any of the style: Kate Beckinsale is no Carrie Anne Moss, having about as much sex appeal as a Tupperware lunchbox, and I'm afraid to say the all-important fight choreography *really* blows.
The bits that are original, sadly, tend to foul up the rest of the picture. To wit: pitting the "lycans" (nice try, by the way, to make werewolves sound hip. Didn't work) against vampires misses the fundamental point of both genres, which is the need-to-sleep-with-the-light-on-afterwards factor: they're supposed to GET US. And DRINK OUR BLOOD. In Underworld they're knocking six shades of hell out of each other (with guns... GUNS?? VAMPIRES WITH GUNS? What the hell is going on?), so rather than being terrifying, it plays out more like a moodily lit feature-length episode of the World Wrestling Federation. You don't really care who wins as long as there is damn good fight. But, as noted, the fight choreography is Woe Ful than Wo Ping.
There's zero chemistry between any of Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy or the other one and Kate - it's understandable, fellahs; it's hard to love an airtight plastic container.
Sophia Myles plays a decidedly plot-functional blonde vamp-girl who pops up at critical moments to push the narrative along, but doesn't end up having much to do with anything. I think she's rather petulantly sent to her room just before the climax, and you never see her again. Since she was about the most interesting part of the picture, that's a pity. For my money, Myles would have been a better female lead than Beckinsale.
A special "opportunity knocks" award should go to Bill Nighy, who's been underachieving in British TV dramas since 1979 or so, never showing up in anything of note, who finally snags a peach of a part in Love Actually, and now you can't get the old buzzard off your screen - a fading rock star there; a sleazy Tory MP in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet; a lecherous 19th Colonel in He Knew He Was Right and a now a thousand year old vampire uber-lord in Underworld, and ALL of them portrayed as exactly the same character! Even Kevin Costner would be impressed with that!
Not sure what he would have made of the rest of the film, however.
Olly Buxton

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tollerance Approach to Punctuation
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tollerance Approach to Punctuation
by Lynne Truss
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.84
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2.0 out of 5 stars It's not clever and it's not funny, April 13 2004
It is a good thing that a book on punctuation is a best-seller; it's just a pity it's this one.
All the good work Lynne Truss does in conveying her message (viz., punctuation matters) is undone by her hectoring tone, dismal attempts at humour (made worse by a tendency to point out the punch-lines) and, in the final analysis, lack of credibility: having set out rules she then reverses over them, makes egregious appeals to authority and, every now and then, just gets things flat out wrong.
You might forgive that were there any humility in her prose, but there isn't. The first rule of hubris is: if you're going to be a clever-clogs, make sure you're right, because readers won't cut you any slack if you're not.
Lynne Truss isn't always right.
A case in point: in her introduction, Truss states (rather presumptuously) on behalf of her fellow sticklers, "we got very worked up after 9/11 not because of Osama bin-Laden but because people on the radio kept saying "enormity" when they meant "magnitude", and we hate that".
Now ignoring the curious impression this creates of Truss's value scheme, she is quite wrong to take umbrage here: "Enormity", in British English, means "extreme wickedness". The magnitude and the awfulness of an act of mass murder are closely correlated. So, even in British English, it is perfectly right to talk of the "enormity" of September 11. But if any of the voices Truss heard on the radio were American, they had another excuse. In American English enormity *does* mean "magnitude". Since Truss is so enamoured with appeals to authority, it is odd she didn't check that with the best authority on American English, Webster's dictionary. I should mention that I read English edition of this book. Given Truss's proclivities as regards the cultural heathen, it will be interesting to see whether her American sub-editors pluck up enough courage to point this out.
When she does make them, Truss's appeals to authority are even more irritating, particularly where they contradict her own rules or justify her own errors: So, the author patiently explains that an apostrophe is required to indicate possession except in the case of a possessive pronoun (i.e., "mine", "yours", "his", "hers", "its", "ours" and "theirs"). Now, I had always wondered why a possessive "its" doesn't have an apostrophe, and this explains it nicely. But then Truss completely undermines her own rule and appeals to the authority of Virginia Woolf:
"Someone wrote to say that my use of "one's" was wrong ("a common error"), and that it should be "ones". This is such rubbish that I refuse to argue about it. Go and tell Virginia Woolf it should be "A Room of Ones Own" and see how far you get."
Virginia Woolf's been dead for over fifty years, so this is pretty tough to do. But it doesn't mean Virginia Woolf was right. And Truss fails explain why this is "such rubbish".
Finally, even the book's title betrays the author's questionable sense of humour. I don't think she gets the joke. It has nothing to do with waiters or pistols (perhaps a maiden aunt told her that one?) and certainly doesn't need a "badly punctuated wildlife manual" to work, because it isn't a grammatical play; it's an oral one. The joke doesn't work when you write it down, precisely because of the ambiguous comma. You have to say it out loud (in spoken English, there is no punctuation at all).
I hope they re-title the New Zealand edition of this book, because the local version of the joke (which employs a delightful expression from NZ English) is funnier: The Kiwi, it is said, is the most anti-social bird in the bush, and no-one likes to invite it to parties, because, if it turns up at all, it just eats roots and leaves.
The joke's about shagging, Lynne.

The Sheltering Sky (Widescreen) (Sous-titres français)
The Sheltering Sky (Widescreen) (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Jill Bennett
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good dramatisation of a terrible book, April 9 2004
It seems churlish not to rate more highly a film which achieves pretty much all it set out to achieve, but I think you have to judge a film by its overall impression, and while this is beautiful and probably elegiac, it is still an intensely annoying film about a couple of very dislikeable people. That isn't Bernado Bertolucci's fault, of course: Paul Bowles' novel of the same name is an intensely annoying, pretentious book. Bertolucci has, if anything, improved on the raw material in the parts he has left out, but fundamentally he can still be brought to book for filming it the first place.
I have only recently finished reading The Sheltering Sky. I hated it. When I read the glowing, passionate reviews of pretty much every reviewer on Amazon, I thought I must have missed something, or completely misunderstood the book. Just to check, I got hold of the movie. To my tremendous relief, I now see I didn't (or, if I did, then so did Bertolucci): the film is pretty much exactly how I imagined it would be.
Malkovich nails the Port Moresby character (how odd, incidentally, to name your lead character after a place in Papua New Guinea). Port is what the Brits would describe in their inimitable way as a "complete wanker".
Debra Winger captures Kit Moresby's high-tensile stupidity perfectly. In her opening scene, she wigs out after roughly fifteen seconds of an innocuous conversation because she doesn't want Port to talk about a dream he has had, lest Tunner should repeat it back in New York. But then within twenty minutes, she's having sexual intercourse with Tunner behind Port's back, apparently without a second thought to the stir this might create back home should Tunner happen to mention it.
Port is no cuckold, though: Even before Kit's infidelity, he has, during the course of an evening stroll, wound up having it off with a Bedouin prostitute at the edge of town.
Thereafter, disaffection for the protagonists is total. It is impossible to care a fig whether either lives or dies, and the only value the film offers is the satisfaction of seeing that one of them does eventually die, together with a star comedy turn by Timothy Spall, Bertolucci's luscious cinematography, and a number of gratuitous shots of Debra Winger's nether regions.
None of which is reason enough to rent this for an evening, sad to say.
Olly Buxton

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