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Never one to be left out, (coupled with the fact that I'm struggling to write a proper review at the minute), I thought I'd jump on the proverbial bandwagon and give this topic a go. Hope you enjoy!
*****1. How long, on average, does it take you to get rid of someone trying to sell you something over the phone?******
Depends on my mood really. If I'm in a talking mood I'll happily keep them on the line trying to find out how they got the number and ensuring they don't get a word in edge ways as I explain that I'm more than happy to take up a complaint against them for phoning what is a number they shouldn't have. If I'm in a bad mood I can normally get rid of them within a matter of seconds.
******2. What is the most expensive object you have ever broken on purpose? ('when angry' counts as 'on purpose' even if you regretted it soon afterwards)*****
I don't remember ever breaking something on purpose. I did once break a friends picture frame by accident when I was drunk by bumping into a wall and knocking it off it was a wooden wall, not a solid brick one and I was the other side from the picture frame. In hein-sight, its quite amusing, but at the time my friend wasnt best pleased.
******3. If you buy something for 99p with a £1 coin, do you really want the 1p back? ******
Sad as it sounds, I save coppers in a jar and over the years have actually banked a fair amount of money by doing so - so I'd most definitely want my 1p. Strangely though, I quite often leave five pence pieces in charity boxes.
******4. What was the last thing you shouted while alone in a car? ******
The last thing I shouted isn't repeatable in polite society, (I'd just witnessed a very stupid and dangerous overtaking manoeuvre). The thing before that was probably me singing along to one of my CDs at the top of my voice.
******5. What is your typical path through a supermarket? ******
Magazines, beer/wine aisle, through snacks, left at the DVDs and to the checkout, followed by the tobacco counter if I go to my local. If I go to the bigger supermarket I tend to go down the least packed aisles until I reach where I want to go, (usually the beer/wine aisle or the crisps).
******6. Do you lick the underside of the foil top when eating a pot of yoghurt? ******
I rarely, (well, in fairness, never) eat yoghurts. Although, whenever I used to have chocolate moose I would lick the foil, so I'd probably do the same with yoghurts too.
******7. How many greetings cards have you sent in the last 12 months?******
I'm a miserable sod really, I don't send any sort of greeting cards. I think the last time I sent a card to someone was when I eleven years old.
******8. A criminal maniac invites you to "Pick a city for destruction, Mr. Bond." Which one do you choose? ******
I can't really think of any city I'd want destroyed. I can think of a couple specific houses that I wouldnt mind destroying, but thats a completely different matter.
******9. Which font do you use most often?******
Verdana or Ariel. I know it sounds daft, but I really don't like Times New Roman for some reason, so normally the first thing I do on a computer is change the defaults...(it's a fun packed life I lead, isn't it?)
******10. If you had the choice between a petrol chainsaw and a bread knife, which would you use for felling a small tree with a 1" diameter trunk? ******
What the?! What the devil were they smoking when they came up with that question?!
Knowing the difficulty of cutting small objects with a chainsaw I'd probably opt for a breadknife. On a technicality, wouldn't a 'tree' one-inch in diameter be a shrub?...
******11. On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you that you know when to use a semicolon?******
Seriously, I'll have an ounce of whatever it is you're smoking...
Well, as an ex-student of English Language and Literature for several years the various punctuation marks were drummed into me; however, I'd probably only get the semicolon right seven out of tens times.
******12. What proportion of the CDs you own are in their original cases right now?******
Not an awful lot of them to be honest. Most of them are in *an* original case, just not necessarily their own. Equally, I have dozens of CDs in my car in one of those rather nifty holders you put on the sun-visor.
******13. Favourite colour black or white?******
Well, white is made from all the colours of the spectrum, whilst black is the complete absence of colour, so technically neither are actually colours themselves...however, that's a rather geeky answer, so in the interest of appearing slightly less anal, I'll go with black - hides spillages much better than white.
******14. How accurate is the time on your watch?******
I don't wear a watch and haven't for years. I tend to use my mobile phone for time keeping and generally that's only a couple of minutes out. However, I'm not really a time-obsessed person and prefer to go along with Douglas Adams' idea that "Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so."
******15. What you wearing right now?******
I'm tempted to say 'nothing', just to see what reaction I get from people. In truth, I'm sat in my usual weekend jeans and Simpson's T-shirt that reads "Beer - The Cause And Solution To All Man's Problems".
******16. Have you ever written to, emailed or telephoned a newspaper, radio station, TV programme etc? If so, what did you say?******
I once entered a phone-in competition for a kid's video-game show, (I hasten to add that I was ten at the time - they frown upon a twenty-two year olds entering the kid's competitions for some reason). I can't remember the name of the show, but I remember the answer was "The Sun".
******17. Do you, in the most fundamental depths of your soul, give a crap about the extinction of the Red Cockaded Woodpecker?******
There's nothing that keeps me awake at night more than the pending extinction of the Red Cockaded Woodpecker, :o|
Joking aside, I think it would be a shame if any animal were to become extinct, but have to be honest and say that I didn't even know the Red Cockaded Woodpecker existed until this questionnaire.
******18. What is the cheapest thing you've bought with a debit or credit card in the past month?******
A £2.05 pint of shandy at my local - normally I'd get cash back but I was only having the one drink, so it didn't seem necessary.
*****19. Favourite books?******
Given that I own all the books of the 'Dune' series and its related books currently available, (fifteen at the time of writing) I'd probably have to say 'Dune'. I'm also a big fan of Tolkien's work, Bernard Cornwell's 'Sharpe', 'Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy' and a book called 'The Life Of Pi'. Actually, the list goes on and on, (Red Dwarf, Ringworld, Mindfulness In Plain English, The Kite Runner, The Melancholy Death Of Oyster Boy), but I won't bore you with the details, (Tales From Japan, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep, Halo Trilogy).
******20. What is your most favourite meal?******
I'm a big fan of barbeques and have been known to brave all kinds of weather to have one. To date I've cooked a barbeque in the rain, a thunderstorm, gale-force winds, snow and hail. I think there was one occasion when it was actually sunny, but that's something of a rarity, :op
~~~ Just A Country Boy ~~~
I have long prided myself on what I consider to be a wide and varied taste in music. Eclectic I think is the only word anyone could use to explain what I listen to. Those people who kind of know will probably quickly label me as a rock and metal fan; those who really know me will be able to tell you that as well as Metallica, Megadeth, System Of A Down, In Flames and a whole host of other rock/metal bands, my music collection also features many other genres. I could bore you for hours with the various genres and sub-genres that make up my collection, but I think its sufficient to say that about the only style Ive never managed to get into is dance-music, (although there have been the occasional exception).
The one genre that almost always raises an eyebrow from anyone who thinks they know my taste in music is Country. Actually, behind rock, country and bluesgrass music is probably my favourite style and forms a significant proportion of my music collection. Artists such as Randy Travis, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Nickelcreek and a host of others feature regularly on my Zen MP3 player. Another artist that I have enjoyed for a few years now is Alison Krauss.
I forget exactly how I stumbled across it, but the first Alison Krauss song I heard was a cover of Youre The Lucky One. Whilst I enjoyed her singing and arrangement of the song, there was nothing about it that really struck me a particularly special and so I happily listened to that one song, with a couple of others, thinking nothing of it. A couple of years or so after hearing that track I came across a duet she did with Brad Paisley, (I was actually looking for Paisley stuff at the time) entitled Whiskey Lullaby. Something about that song captivated me - so much so that I decided to try and find the album it appeared on, which is how I came to purchase A Hundred Miles Or More.
Before I continue, Id just like to say that whilst I have heard some of Alisons other material, this is the first actual album of hers Ive owned and so I cant really comment with regard to how it compares to her others. Instead, Ill try and rate Miles Or More based on its own merits.
~~~ A Hundred Miles Or More ~~~
To give it its full title, A Hundred Miles Or More: A Collection was released in 2007, so at the time of writing is Alisons latest release. Its not a new album in the typical sense of the word since most of the tracks have previously featured in films, guest spots and the occasional tribute. That said, there are five previously unreleased tracks that make up the album.
It features several duets with the likes of James Taylor, Brad Paisley and John Waite, (names that either will or will not mean something to you). For me, these three artists are relatively familiar and so their appearance on the album was something of a bonus.
Nows probably a good time to point out that this is classed as a bluesgrass album, not country. Again, I wont bore you with the subtleties of how blussgrass differs from country, but anyone who doesnt listen to the country music will class ..Miles Or More predominately as a country album. That said, even if youre not a country fan, I wouldnt let that necessarily put you off the album, since it has some interesting and listenable songs.
When most people hear the words Country Music, I guess they most likely think of banjos, fiddles and line-dancing. Let me just say that this isnt that kind of country music and I think anyone who enjoys a good tune should be able to find something that appeals to them on this album.
Many of the tracks are slow-paced and perhaps even melancholic, (Sawing On The Strings being the only exception), although thats not to say its overly depressing as an album. As mentioned, many of the songs were recorded for completely unrelated projects, with all the songs are written by others and I think this perhaps helps explain why there are so many slow-paced songs. I suspect Alison has been called upon to provide a more sombre or sedate moment within that particular project and justifiably so too, since her voice and singing style is well suited to that particular task.
This does lead to a slight imbalance and I suspect a lot of people may find the sheer number of ballad-type songs on the album a little over-whelming, (more on this in a moment).
The production of the songs is surprisingly consistent with all the instruments well balanced and easy to hear in the mix, but always with Alisons voice at the forefront of the song.
The booklet that accompanies the album is interesting, featuring some pictures of Alison and other players, as well as a track list that details who play want on which song something any music buff will relish. Also, there is a biography covering two pages written by Jim Bessman, which I think most will find insightful to read at least once.
~~~ BlueMidgets Thoughts ~~~
If Im honest, Miles Or More wasnt an album that instantly enchanted me. Whilst I wouldnt go as far as to say I was disappointed with it, it wasnt quite what I was hoping for and I was very close to writing it off as something of a poor purchase when I first listened to it. It was only whilst I was sat at my computer listening to my music collection and a couple of tracks came up in quick succession, (I tend to listen to my music in random order) that I really found myself taken with the album and promptly went back and listened to album as a whole and actually found that it was much better than Id initially thought. I think the best way I can describe it is that this is an album that grows on you after a couple of listens, rather than something that stuns and intrigues you straight off. Second or third time around, the subtleties of the songs begin to come to the surface and eventually I found myself liking the album more and more.
Picking up my earlier point about slow tempos, I think this is probably the main reason Miles Or More wasnt something I took to straight away. Still being honest, it struck me that this is probably an album that will appeal to women quicker than it will to men. That said, Alisons voice is quite charming and I enjoyed the quality of her voice and tone, as well as the way in which she chose to sing certain songs and I think anyone who enjoys a talented artist, regardless of their genre of music, will find Alisons singing more than pleasant to listen to.
What I would say is that individually, all the songs are entertaining and worth listening to, but as a single entity Im not sure whether or not the album works on the whole. When songs are played individually theyre all enjoyable to hear, but when played one after the other that lack of faster-tempo songs I could see becoming a little samey for some.
That said, whilst there were a couple of songs that didnt really hold my attention as much as others, (but this is very much down to personal preference) there isnt a song that I would say I actually disliked, though there were a couple that I probably dont listen to as much as others.
One of my favourite tracks is the one Ive already mentioned, the Brad Paisley duet Whiskey Lullaby, mostly because of the subject matter, (# We watched him drink his pain away a little at a time/But he never could get drunk enough to get her off his mind/Until the night he put that bottle to his head and pulled the trigger), but also because the singing, instruments and overall feel of the song is very interesting to listen to.
Another of my favourites is another duet, this time with James Taylor, Hows The World Treating You? Again, the subject matter is quite touching and something I think most people could relate to (# Ive had nothing but sorrow, since you said we were through/theres no hope for tomorrow/hows the world treating you?). What I particularly enjoyed about this track is its simplicity and openness of the song really draws you into the songs theme.
Molly Ban (Bawn) is an interesting listen, since it struck me as extremely Celtic. Equally, Down By The River To Pray is remarkably different to the others since its accepella, (i.e. all vocal, no instruments). Whilst the lack of tempo is something you could criticise the album about, the variety of styles and feels to songs is not something you could make the same judgement on. Theres enough different approaches to the songs to keep it mostly entertaining and, for me at least, is what rescued the album from simply being pleasant to actually being something I found enjoyable to listen to, (even taking into account the comments Ive made).
~~~ Conclusion ~~~
Firstly, let me just say that I think this album is too good to be classed as simply average (three-stars), but has a few too many issues to be fairly classed as a great (four-stars) album. Since Im not given the luxury of half-stars for my rating, I think on the whole Miles Or More leans more towards four-stars than three, but please bear in mind that its true rating is really three-and-a-half.
I think if you own an MP3 player, the album has great longevity as the songs themselves all hold some interest and played in this manner its great value for money. Played by itself, it does run the risk of becoming a little repetitive for some people not necessarily boring, but definitely borderline samey.
A Hundred Miles Or More: A Collection is perhaps not the best introduction to Alison Krauss. That said, I think theres plenty songs on the album that most people would be able to enjoy, (assuming youre not devoted to one particular genre of music). Dont be put off by Alison being a country/bluesgrass artist, since it is nothing more than a label that doesnt really do justice to the actual quality of the music. If you enjoy good music, charming vocals and gifted instrument playing, then Miles Or More has a lot to offer. I can understand how the music might not appeal to everyone, especially given its country tag, but, (and please allow me to stand on my soapbox for a moment) to pooh-pooh outright because its not your normal style of music only serves to limit your own horizons and I think you many (though not all, I will admit) might be surprised if you gave it a chance.
Lecture over and coming down from my proverbial soapbox, A Hundred Miles Or More is something that I would tentatively recommend. If nothing else, its worth trying to find a friend who has a copy that you could listen to before deciding whether or not to buy for yourself.
~~~ Track List ~~~
1. Youre Just A Country Boy*
2. Simple Love*
3. Jacobs Dream*
4. Away Down The River*
5. Sawing On The Strings
6. Down To The River To Pray
7. Baby Mine
8. Molly Bàn (Bawn)
9. Hows The World Treating You duet with James Taylor
10. The Scarlet Tide
11. Whilsy Lullaby duet with Brad Paisley
12. You Will Be My Ain True Love
13. I Give You To His Heart
14. Get Me Through December
15. Missing You duet with John Waite
16. Lay Down Beside Me* duet with John Waite
* - Previously unreleased
~~~ Dylan Moran ~~~
I first came across Dylan Moran in his role of Bernard Black in the TV series Black Books. Whilst I enjoyed his performance as a grumpy, drunken bookstore owner, I mainly watched the show because of Bill Bailey and so never really thought much about following up his career. It wasnt until I stayed over a friends of mine who showed me his first stand-up DVD, Monster that I really began thinking about him as a comedian.
Having watched Monster at a friends house, (a promptly buying it myself at the first opportunity) I kept an eye out for anything else Dylan might release. It was with some interest then that when Dylan Moran Like, Totally Live appeared in my Amazon suggestions that I thought it might be well worth checking out.
I suspect that Dylan is one of those comedians relatively few actually know much about. For those of you who have never encountered him before, Dylan is an Irish comedian/actor and writer. He was co-writer on Black Books and has made appearances in movies such as Shaun Of The Dead and Notting Hill.
~~~ Like, Totally The Show ~~~
Taken from his 2006 tour, Like, Totally finds Dylan onstage in London, (or Cosmopolise as he describes it) talking about a range of subjects, from the country-side, Americans, being Irish in the UK, love and various other topics.
Dylans style of comedy can be quite surreal in places, but its quite a different kind of surreal to similar comics. Rather than being eccentric, Dylans style, to me at least, is far more reminiscent of a drunkards ramblings, (although far more coherent than some random drunk in your local, I must say). Admittedly, Dylan can often be seen on stage with a cigarette in hand and a glass of wine nearby, so there is a possibility that he is actually drunk, although I suspect if he were really drunk hed make a lot less sense than he actually does, (although I suppose you could argue he might be so used to being drunk hes learnt to function coherently, one of the two).
I think to compare Dylan with other comedians is a little unfair, since hes quite unlike most stand-ups Ive encountered. Even so, to give you an idea of whether you might like him or not, I think fans of Bill Bailey, Dara OBriain, Jack Dee, Eddie Izzard and to some extent Billy Connolly would probably enjoy his comedy most.
In the case of Like, Totally, Dylan reminds me of Eddie Izzard, partially because of the content of his observations, as well as their whimsical nature, but mostly in his style of delivery. Unlike Izzard, Dylan tends to be a little more structured in his routine and whilst he does go off on the occasional tangents, on the whole he knows where hes going with what hes saying.
Dylan launches into his routine from the very moment he comes on stage and throughout the show Dylan manages to move from one topic to another with relatively little difficulty and the show flows quite naturally with nothing feeling as if its been shoe-horned in because hes gone off on a major tangent.
One of my personal favourite sections is where he discusses being a parent and how he looked forward to teaching his children about the world, only to discover that children have their own questions, (what are the gaps in-between the pointy bits on a comb called?).
I also liked the fact that, like Monster, in the background some of his own drawings are projected on the stage behind him. Occasionally these tie in to some degree with what his talking about at that moment, but on the whole theyre quite random, even bizarre.
Like many stand-ups these days, Dylan is quite liberal with his swearwords, although I never felt as if he was over using them. If youre easily offended by certain words, (mostly the f-word) then this is perhaps one to avoid. I think for this reason the rating of 15 is valid, but even so I dont think theres anything necessarily offensive or inappropriate about his language, or the subject matter of his routine for that matter.
With a runtime of just over an hour I thought the show was a little short-lived. Personally, I would have liked a little more, maybe even just another fifteen minutes or so, since I thought he was getting funnier towards the end of the show and
On the whole, Dylans stand-up routine is quite amusing and theres plenty to make you chuckle throughout. What I would say is that I personally didnt find Like, Totally a side splitting watch and, compared with his Monster DVD I didnt think it was quite as funny. Even so, the comedy in this show is still entertaining and is still well worth watching. If youve never encountered Dylans stand-up before, this is an excellent introduction and I dont newcomers, or those who are already fans for that matter, would feel excessively disappointed since there is enough humour throughout to keep you amused.
~~~ The DVD ~~~
The DVD itself is well designed and on the whole easy to navigate, although there is one exception Ill mention in a moment.
The menu is clearly laid out and finding your way around is quite intuitive, I doubt anyone would find themselves lost.
There are a couple of extra features. The first is Dylan Morans Guide To Superfast Fitness. This shows Dylan in his dressing room backstage performing a series of peculiar exercises. For me, whilst it held some interest to watch once, I felt it didnt really add much to the disc as a whole.
Image Gallery offer the chance to see Dylans drawings (the ones that appear throughout the show behind him). These are quite interesting to look at, although I have to say some of them are more than a little bizarre. I doubt this will appeal to everyone, but there is some value in having them as a feature on the DVD.
One major criticism I have here is that everytime you move to the next image, the navigation menu resets the option to Back, meaning you have to move to Next each time. Whilst on the face of it this is a mild nuisance, given that there are quite a lot of images to go through it does get rather annoying and is a bit of a let down on what it otherwise a well design and easy to follow menu system.
At the time of writing its possible to buy this DVD for about £9 from Amazon, (though, as ever, Im sure if you searched around you could get it cheaper). I think this might be a little too expensive, mostly because of the lack of decent bonus material, but also because in my opinion his Monster DVD is a more entertaining show, (and is cheaper to purchase). I think anywhere closer to £7 or less is a reasonable price to pay.
~~~ Conclusion ~~~
I dont think Like, Totally is by any means a terrible DVD and there is plenty of humour throughout to keep most people entertained on various levels, although I doubt most people would find themselves aching with laughing. That said, there are plenty of moments that made me chuckle and all things told I quite enjoyed the show.
I think if youre a fan of any of the comedians Ive mentioned earlier, than Dylan Moran Like Totally, Live! is well worth checking out and, for the right price, is a pleasant enough DVD to have in your connection. If you cant stand the comedians mentioned, then theres nothing on this disc that I think would be able to persuade you otherwise and its probably best avoided.
I for one mostly enjoyed this DVD and its something that I have watched several times, although perhaps not as much as some other stand-up DVDs I own. One I would recommend to those who are interested, but not necessarily one I would insist you have to see.
The Internet is a wonderful thing. It is a source of information, entertainment and general means of procrastination for millions of users across the globe.
Ive been quite fortunate in that given my age, (and access to certain pieces of technology) Ive seen the Internet, (at least the Internet as we know it today) grow and have seen several revolutionary products, ideas and website rise (and occasionally fall).
You could spend your entire lifetime surfing the Internet, (trust me, Ive tried) and still only manage to see an extremely small proportion of what it actually has to offer. Every so often though, a website comes along that sucks in virtually everyone who encounters it and even those who perhaps have never used the Internet before. Google is a classic example, so much so that a significant proportion of the population will now say Go Google it, rather than use a search engine. A more recent example, which is still in its infancy, but has created something of a media storm, is YouTube, (though to my knowledge no-ones saying you should YouTube something ).
Somewhere in-between these two phenomenons is Wikipedia.
~~~ An Online Encyclopedia ~~~
For anyone who hasnt heard about Wikipedia before, it is essentially an online, multilingual encyclopedia. Started in 2001 it apparently has over seven million articles, written in over 250 different languages, with a vast majority of these in English although the website provides articles in a whole host of languages, such as French, Italian, Dutch, Japanese, German, Spanish and numerous others.
Its main aim when it was first released was to amass as much knowledge as possible, but rather than being controlled by a select group of individuals, (such as printed Encyclopedias, such as Encyclopedia Britannica), it instead allowed its readers to participate, even manage the content. Effectively, anyone who goes onto the website can update, edit or add content. This in itself has its advantages and disadvantages, which I shall discuss later in the review.
Despite now being six-years old, (at the time of writing), its only been within the last few of years that Wikipedia has really captured the imagination of the public at large and become one of the most regularly visited website around the globe.
~~~ The Who, What, Why And When? Of The Website ~~~
The first obvious question is who would use it and what for? Well, really theres so much information available on the website that virtually everyone would be able to find something of some use to them. Whether youre new to a particular subject, or you just want to recheck a couple of facts that you think you might have forgotten, Wikipedia is more than likely to have the information you need.
If youve encountered a phrase or word whilst reading or watching TV that you dont fully understand, chances are that youll be able to gain some insight into its originals by doing a quick search on Wikipedia.
To give you a couple of examples of my own experience, Ive recently decided that I wanted to learn Japanese as a language, but at the same time also get an insight into some of the cultural aspect of Japan too. Wikipedia has been a valuable, though not exclusive, resource for getting a better background of certain things within the culture. For example, theres an anime movie called Pom Poko, which in the English translation features raccoons. However, looking up the movie on the website I discovered that the animals are actually Tanuki, (literally raccoon/badger dog, though neither a raccoon, badger nor dog). This in turn led me to a better understand of the mythology behind the creatures and actually helped improve my enjoyment of that particularly movie.
Equally, a novel I read recently, Cities In Flight by James Blish had the term okies. Again, a search of Wikipedia led me to have a better understanding of where the term came from, (its actually an American slang term for someone whos left their own city to go to another, typically from Oklahoma to California during the 1930s). Again, understanding this help bring another level of enjoyment to my reading experience and help bring a few things into perspective regarding the book.
The Why And When of the website is very much down to personal preference. Its no secret that Im a big fan of trivia and even the trivial - facts, figures, quotes and general random bits of information have always appealed to me, (I think the correct term is geek) and for me Wikipedia serves two very different purposes.
Firstly, as someone who writes reviews with more than just a passing interest, I like to try my best to ensure the information I give within them is accurate, (though Im the first to admit I have often failed in this) and for this reason Wikipedia is truly invaluable. Coupled with a few other websites, Ive been able to double check the publishing dates of books or movies, get backgrounds on actors and authors, as well as technical specifications of certain pieces of hardware, etc. For students writing essays Wikipedia can be a one-stop site to gather the relevant information you need, (though, for reasons Ill again discuss later on, its important not to simply copy and paste). Equally, for other review-writers, anyone preparing a presentation, or someone who simply wants to settle an argument, more often than not Wikipedia will provide you with the necessary information.
Secondly, as already mentioned, as someone who enjoys trivia and random pieces of information, the website is somewhere I can spend hours on, whether its in serious research for a particular project Im working on, or simply procrastinating and adding to my already long-winded list of random facts. If you were given a task in work that youre perhaps not entirely sure about, Wikipedia is a great place to start and whilst it might not give you everything (or indeed anything) you need to actually get started, nine times out of ten itll certainly point you in the right direction so that youre not wasting hours trying to fathom exactly what youre supposed to be doing.
Equally, if youre a little bit bored during your lunch-break, or in an evening and you fancy reading about a certain topic, whether its cars, artists, movies, radio shows or virtually anything else you might think of, Wikipedia is a great way of passing the time in a reasonably educating manner. Whilst I wouldnt go as far as to say that Ive learnt everything I know from the website, Ive learnt enough occasionally from it that, if Im left with nothing else to do, I can quite happily sit there for a couple of hours thinking of things to research just for the sheer hell of it. Admittedly, this isnt going to be everyones idea of an amusing time, but each to their own!
~~~ The How? Of The Website ~~~
Getting to the website is very easy, the URL, (and if you dont know what URL stands for, may I suggests going along to the website and researching it, :op) is simply: -
Once you actually reach the website youre presented with a very simple front page that offers you several language options, (though by default it seems to go for English) as well a searchbox, where you can type in your desired topic. Below this there are numerous other language options, seemingly sorted into the number of articles, (100,000+, 10,000+, 1000+) as well as links to several sister-sites such as WikiQuote, WikiNews, WikiBooks and several others.
Visually, the website is easy on the eye because of its simple colour scheme and overall the design of the pages is logical and easy to understand. I think new users to the website shouldnt have too much difficulty finding their way around, although I will admit that at first there might be an awful lot of information to process initially. Once youve visited a couple of the pages you should have a reasonable feel for the website and I have to say that the consistency in terms of layout is superb, so no matter what subject youre researching, youll always understand where you are and what youre reading.
Down the left hand side of the pages is a fixed-link section that gives you links to the main page, featured content, community aspects, as well as the search box so you can easily move on to another topic of interest without having to return to the front page, plus a whole range of other links that would take far too long to discuss.
One feature I particularly enjoy when Im just passing the time is Random Article, which, as the name suggestion, selects an article at random from the database. This at least gives the viewer the opportunity to come across some interesting articles that they might perhaps have never otherwise of consider, although I will admit that theres been several occasions Ive been presented with articles that hold little or no entertainment for myself hit and miss perhaps, but still worth using to my mind.
I also like the fact that theres a discussion section whereby you can make comments on the pages of the website although, this all too often falls into the trap of other forums, (see the next section).
Ive really only given you a very basic account of what there is to use on the website and whilst I could easily go into much more detail, I suspect the review would not only get far too long, but equally become dull and uninteresting. All I will say on the matter is that on the whole the website it insightful and entertaining and I think all kinds of people from all kinds of different backgrounds, interests and tastes will be able to find something that appeals to them on Wikipedia.
~~~ Pros And Cons ~~~
The obvious and greatest advantage of a site like this is that its entirely free and, assuming you have an internet connection, easily transportable in the sense that, no matter where you are in the world you can access it therefore carry a wealth of knowledge with in the space it needs for a laptop, rather than several dozen volumes of a published novel. However, such freedom of movement isnt without its drawbacks.
On the face of it, (and to some extent the reality of it too), having user-participation is an excellent idea since it means that all kinds of people from across the globe, each with there own interest and expertises can pass their knowledge on freely to the public.
However, with so many people having different opinions and even occasionally their own agendas, some pages can often be hi-jacked and littered with inaccurate, unfounded facts. A couple examples of this have been to do recently with the hi-jacking of Darwins evolutionary theories whereby certain groups who dont subscribe to the evolutionary theory have altered the pages to essentially pooh-pooh the concept, (I am myself a believer of evolution, though I accept some dont agree with the idea). Equally, this has worked in the other direction with certain religious related pages being changed to ridicule or simply flame the information given on the page. This is one of the more saddening aspects of the website, although I have to say that on the whole the majority of volunteers, (those who give their time to updating and maintaining the website) are open-minded and it really is, (like most things in life) a minority of individuals who have their own aimless agenda that spoil the site in this manner. What I would advise though, especially in terms of serious research, is that you take everything with a pinch of salt and dont necessarily use Wikipedia for definitive facts, but more a guideline.
On this subject, I have encountered a couple of entertaining abuses of the system. My favourite to date is with regard to FanFiction, which, though now taken off, once read something along the lines of, (and excuses me for paraphrasing) fan-fiction writers have the largest acne-to-skin ratio in the universe. I should point out that I am myself a fanfiction reader and, to a lesser extent, writer and can say that my acne-to-skin ratio is no more or less than anyone elses, but this particular hi-jacking tickled me. Whilst completely unfounded, I wonder how many people read that and believed it.
What I do have to say is that Wikipedia does have a good system for reporting abuse of this sort of nature that allows erroneous, bigoted and even just simply misguided information to be easily removed. On the whole, Wikipedia does seem to be mostly accurate, though the owners of the website are well aware that abuse can happen in such an environment and the fact that theyve provided a means of reporting it reflects the fact that theyre keen to retain a certain amount of factuality which could easily be lost in such a free-for-all website.
As already mentioned, the discussion sections are an interest feature and, for the most part there are some interesting and intelligent questions raised and answered in it; however, something Ive noticed over the years as the Internet has become more available to more people is that theres a significant minority, (I realise the irony of that phrase, but bear with me), of people who spend their time simply looking for arguments and conflict. Its a sad change in the Internet in general and one Ive seen on many forums over the years that results in some idiot simply flaming a subject that they have no interest in, (youre all fags, F&*@ YOU ALL SAD B#$T#RD$! are common themes) Sadly, this isnt remote to Wikipedia and anyone whos used the internet for as long as I have will undoubtedly have encountered similar things on other sites again, like many things in life its a minority of cretins who spoil it for the majority of respectable users and whilst it shouldnt put you off reading the discussions, it is worth bearing in mind.
As far as Wikipedia goes its an invaluable resource, but its not definitive and it definitely has the occasional error and shouldnt be taken on face value. My finally comment on this would be a proverb I once read: - If you believe everything you read, its best not read
~~~ BlueMidgets Final Thoughts ~~~
All things told, Wikipedia is a superb resource for facts, as well as a great way of passing the time when youre bored. Whilst its nothing something I would necessarily rely on for definitive facts, it is something I would use to at least point me in the right direction.
I think everyone could find some source of entertainment and, to a certain extent, education from the website and its certainly something I would recommend everyone try at least once although, they should always bear in mind the pitfalls of putting too much faith in any one particular source of information.
~~~ A Day At The Races ~~~
June 10th, 2007 saw the BlueMidget family descend on an unsuspecting racetrack in Cheshire. This isnt a normal activity for the BlueMidgets, but the reason was that for my fathers and brothers last birthdays wed bought them a race day ticket, which entitled them to choose between several different options, such as rally driving, 4x4s or a Formula Brands vehicle. It didnt take much deciding for them to both choose the Formula Brands option, at Oulton Park, (the other possibility being Brands Hatch).
It should be pointed out at this junction that, although this review is about Oulton Park itself and not the track-day tickets we bought for my father and brother, they did have a significant effect on our experience of the site and therefore have to be mentioned and considered when forming your own opinions of the place.
Oulton Park is in Cheshire, near Tarporley and can be reached via the A49 or the A54. The surrounding areas are well sign-posted and once youre in the general vicinity of the track you shouldnt have any difficulty find your way there, though it is worth mentioning that we did take a misleading right-turn, and whilst we still found our way fairly easily to the track, this is very much down to my fathers knowledge of the area. If youve never been here before, its perhaps worth stopping and asking for directions, (very unmanly, I know, but for the most part the locals are very friendly and certainly know how to guide you the right place).
Parking on site isnt a problem, though it should be noted that there isnt a typical car-park, with spaces marked out. Instead, there are several hard-cored areas, but the majority of parking in on the grass. This is quite normal for racetracks from what I can gather, but it is worth bearing in mind if youre going there in wet conditions, since there is always a possibility of getting stuck.
A lot of the parking area is relatively near to the main building where drivers register and spectators can have a view of the Rally track, as well as get some refreshments and other typical facilities, (which Ill mention in more detail shortly).
Since we went on a track day, there was no admission charge to get into the track. Had there been a particular event happening, we would have had to pay to enter. I personally dont consider myself much of a petrol-head - cars and motor racing arent especially my favourite pass-time, although I do occasionally enjoy watching Moto GP and Formula 1 on television. The fact that the general public are allowed in for free on these occasions is a tremendous bonus and I think if you are into your motor racing, theres a lot to offer at Oulton Park. Equally, if you only have a passing interest, such as myself, then as new experiences go, this is quite entertaining and certainly value for money. I can actually see myself attending similar events in the future, even if family members arent involved, just for the experience.
For what my father and brother were there to do, they were required to turn up about thirty minutes prior to their track-time start so that they could register. We actually turned up with plenty of time to spare, so dad and brother were initially asked (very politely) if they could come back a little bit later, since the drivers of the preceding session were still being registered. This at least gave them and the rest of the family an opportunity to have a look around.
~~~ Facilities ~~~
The main building has a fast-food service area, as well as a bar that serves alcohol, (which was closed when we were there although I suspect it would be open for major events). There is also a seating area inside, which is a reasonable size but I wouldnt call it especially large. There are enough seats and tables for familys or large parties to sit down and have something to eat or drink without any discomfort, or equally simply wait for their session if theyre driving that day. However, because we went on a very good summers day, (very warm, very sunny), a lot of people were outside the main building, where there is plenty of benches to sit on and which also offer a very good vantage point of a portion of the Rally Track, so theres plenty to keep you amused, watching the cars racing, occasionally kicking up dust or spinning off.
We didnt try the food whilst we were there since we decided we would be going for a meal afterwards, so in terms of quality I cant really comment. What I will say is that I saw several people being served whilst I was waiting to get a drink and the portions were generous and the food *looked* quite nice. It was however quite dear, (drinks averaged around £1.40 for 330ml bottle), though I think the food itself was not so expensive as to become extortionate. Personally, if I were to go again with the family or in a large group and we intended to have lunch there I would probably take a packed-lunch in order to save money, (although when you consider a track-day is free to enter, you could argue that as a day out it wouldnt work out all that expensive). As I say, we didnt try the food, but it did seem more appealing than your typical fast-food restaurant and there was fairly large selection available.
The facilities were all of a very high standard, being clean and well maintained. From my brief encounters with the staff I found them to be friendly and there was nothing that stuck me as inhospitable about them.
~~~ Go! Go! Go! ~~~
When brother and dad had registered, we had some free time to go and explore the track that they would be driving around. Since I had somehow become a designated cameraman, (although I think I failed in this role miserably, for reasons we can discuss in a different review), I took the opportunity to find a good spot to try and get some good shots of the two of them going around the track. Whilst I only saw a very small portion of the track itself, my impression was that there had been quite some effort gone into the spectator aspect of the track, so if you were interested in filming or simply watching the driving there were plenty of places that you could get good views of the track and cars.
When the time finally came for them to begin their session they were taken to an initial briefing. After ten minutes or so they were brought out and the friends and family of the participants, as well as the participants themselves, were then led to the pit area. What particularly impressed me was the fact that there was a recognition that the spectators would want to be involved to some degree with what was happening. The fact that the staff-members not only allowed spectators to come to the pit-stop area, but also made the effort to ensure that spectators knew which car particular your individual was in, as well as making a point of telling you where you could get access to see the track, really made me think that some thought had gone into what the day was all about for the majority of visitors. Whilst their main concern was to get the participants ready to drive, I thought the way they handled spectators was brilliant and I certainly didnt feel as if I was neglected I was given just the right amount of information and opportunity for pictures and videos in terms of pre-track driving and actual track time and that really added to my overall enjoyment of the day.
Due to the package my dad and brother were on, the participants were initially taken around the track in a Renault Clio by their instructors so that they could learn the track. They also got to drive the Clio themselves for three or four laps before moving on to the single-seat Formula Brands car, (although other packages are available).
My brothers and dads experience of the actual driving was overall very enjoyable, although they did have a couple of criticisms. They found that the instructors to be very talented, but since they had different instructors who come from different racing styles they both had slightly different experiences. From discussions with the pair of them, it strikes me that the instructors are not necessarily working to a guide-book mentality of how the participants should be taught and so the experience varies depending on which instructor youre paired with. I think the thing to take from this is that although it varies from instructor to instructor in terms of their personality and style of driving, they really try to teach you the best way to get the most out of your experience around the track.
They have both said that they were impressed with just how well organised the day was. The staff really knew what they were doing and their overall experience was made all the more enjoyable because there was relatively little fuss made.
The major criticism both of them had was that the actual track-time was far too short. Both the Clio and Brands car sessions (in terms of track-time) last about fifteen minutes, which means about five laps at most. Both of them have said that they were just getting into the driving, beginning to feel comfortable with the cars when their allotted time was over. Given that the package says its a two-hour session, (though this includes briefing, de-briefings, preparation, etc.) and there was only about thirty-minutes of actual driving, they both felt a little disappointed.
From a spectators point of view, I would have to agree in that there is a lot of waiting around for a relatively short period of watching your individual actually go around the track. Whilst there is an enjoyment to watching some of the other sessions, if youre there as a family day out, the lack of track-time of your particular individual(s) does feel as if its a very long day for relatively little reward. Whilst the inclusion in some of the preparation stages of the driving does break up the waiting around, I did feel that the day could have been improved by more time to watch the participants drive around the actual track itself.
~~~ Conclusion ~~~
Theres two aspects to a day at Oulton Park that should be taken into consideration. Firstly, theres the experience as someone whos actually driving around the track. On this I can only quote what others have told me.
The second perspective is that of a spectators, of which I have first hand experience. As a spectator, I was surprised by just how much I actually enjoyed the day. The venue is well laid out with plenty of opportunities to rest, get good photos, or simply take in the atmosphere.
Overall, the day out at Oulton Park was an extremely enjoyable experience. Even if youre not into your motor-sports, the day out is well organised and stress-free. I must admit that I wasnt expecting all that much from the day and I really thought I would be quite bored by it all, but there is enough happening throughout the day that even with only a passing interesting you can occupy yourself. Whilst I only got to see a very small proportion of the tracks that make up Oulton Park, I was impressed and surprised by the fact that I actually found myself rushing to try and get a better glimpse of the cars, even when they werent necessarily members of my party. I would certainly recommend Oulton Park as a place that everyone should experience at least once, though I do think it helps if you have a vested interest, (i.e. someone you know is actually driving around the track).
Connor MacLeod was born in the highlands of Scotland in 1518. After being killed during a clan war with the Clan Fraser, at the hands of a mysterious stranger, he miraculously comes back to life and is kicked out of his clan under the belief that he is possessed by the devil.
Duncan MacLeod is also a member of Clan MacLeod, but was born in 1592. Duncan goes through a very similar (in fact, nearly identical) ordeal as Connor, during another clan war with Clan Campbell.
Both men are in fact immortals, a race that has been on Earth throughout the ages and both men are known as The Highlander.
Most Immortals spend their long-lived lives within The Game, where they fight for The Prize to become the last surviving immortal. The only way an immortal can die is by decapitation. When one immortal takes anothers head, he gathers their Quickening, thereby earning their knowledge and experience, increasing their own power. In the end, (supposedly), There can be only one.
Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is the original Highlander, first appearing in The Highlander movie of 1986. Duncan MacLeod, (Adrian Paul) is in essence his younger cousin and was the main character of The Highlander television series. Highlander: Endgame is the forth Highlander movie, but the first to feature both MacLeods together, (although Lambert did reprise his role in several of series episodes).
~~~ The Movie ~~~
Highlander: Endgame initially follows Connor having grown tired of The Game and after a brief conversation with Duncan, he seemingly disappears for ten years. Though few actually know where he has gone, he has actually gone into Sanctuary, a place that Immortals can remove themselves from The Game indefinitely.
Through a series of flashbacks, we learn how Connor and Duncan first meet and how Connor takes his younger clansman under his wing and becomes Duncans mentor, teaching him what it means to be immortal.
Also through flash backs, we meet the villain of the piece, Jacob Kell, (Bruce Payne) who knew Connor back in the 16th century and was in part responsible for the burning of Connors mother, since she was believed to be a witch because of Connors unnatural resurrection.
In Connors attempt to rescue his mother, he ends up killing Kell and his adoptive father. When Kell comes back to life and realises he is immortal, he devotes his life to avenging his adoptive fathers death and so spends the following centuries trying to hurt Connor by killing those close to him. In the 20th/21st century, Duncan MacLeod is his next target.
The plot is actually easier to follow within the movie than it perhaps comes across on paper. Even if youve never encountered Highlander before the actually plot to Endgame isnt difficult to follow. What I would say though is that whilst the movie does a reasonable job of giving newcomers the details necessary to prevent them from becoming lost or confused, it is perhaps useful to have some amount of previous familiarity with the universe, just to have a slightly better understanding of characters.
Visually, Endgame is neither terrible nor fantastic. In terms of special effects, were it a TV episode they are respectable even quite impressive; as a movie they felt to me a little under-produced, almost as if there wasnt the budget to do anything better.
That said, the actual feel of the movie in terms of camera angles, lighting, etc. is quite enjoyable to watch.
One thing a Highlander almost always does well is its fight scenes. Duncans fight scene with Kells Gang in particular is quite impressive to watch, mostly because of the various different weapons used other than the traditional swords found in most immortal battles. Not all the fight scenes are quite so well done, but overall theyre fairly action packed and as an action/fantasy movie Endgame does a reasonable job, perhaps not quite captivating all its audience, but never necessarily boring them either.
The script overall is well written and manages to reveal the plot in a coherent and understandable fashion. I think its strongest point is that it does manage to keep Endgame as a self-contained entity enough not to alienate newcomers, but more importantly it also manages to incorporate threads from other Highlanders incarnations - particularly the series - so long-term fans wont feel overly cheated.
The dialogue can be quite amusing in places, especially in certain scenes between Connor and Duncan. Also scenes between Duncan and other characters such as Joe Dawson, (Jim Byrnes) and Methos, (Peter Wingfield) are quite convincing and the characters interactions are believable.
Whilst I wouldnt go as far as to say that the acting is superb, neither is it shockingly terrible. Lambert and Paul are both quite comfortable within their characters, With Adrian Paul in particular putting in a credible performance. Im quite a fan of Christopher Lamberts work overall, (Mortal Kombat and Fortress as evidence), but I will put up a hand and admit that in places he wasnt quite as convincing as Connor MacLeod as I thought he could have been. Nevertheless, there were only a few moments I thought he was a little lacking and I thought his portrayal of Connor were enough in keeping with his pervious performances not to make him seem like a completely different person.
Bruce Payne as Kell probably delivers one of the best performances of the movie. The fact that Kell is unlike previous Highlander villains, (given that hes not out necessarily to kill MacLeod, but hurt him emotionally) is quite an interesting take on the villains role and I thought Payne played the part excellently, being not only villainous, but at the same time also showing an air of calmness and patience that suits Kell as a character given just how long he hunted Connors closest companions.
The peripheral actors all put in reasonable enough performances. Lisa Barbuscia as Kate MacLeod/Faith is particularly notable, although her overall scene time is somewhat limited.
Equally, Beatie Edneys reprisal of her role as Heather MacLeod, (Connors first wife and true love) is something of a pleasant touch that, whilst perhaps trivial to non/new fans, it added to my enjoyment of Endgame.
~~~ The DVD ~~~
The DVD is somewhat surprising since its the only Highlander movie disc I own that actually contains a fair amount of bonus material. The Special Features are: -
- Behinds The Scenes Featurette
- Audio Commentary
- Deleted Scenes
- Hidden Special Features
- Interactive Game
- Visual Effects: A Historical Progression
- DVD ROM Features
The Behind The Scenes feature is quite interesting and give you a good insight into the process of making the movie. For me, this gave an insight into how some of the good, (and not so good) aspects of Endgame came about and I think most people, or certainly those who enjoyed the movie on some level, will find the interviews and other Behind-the-scenes sections enjoyable.
The DVD ROM Feature is quite interesting. Its very well produced and is one of the better interactive features Ive encountered, though its appeal really is for more the die-hard fan than someone who simply had a mild, passing interest in Endgame or the Highlander universe on the whole.
Overall, whilst the Special Features arent necessarily amazing, they are entertaining enough to keep the viewer engaged. As always, actual enjoyment of these types of things depend on personal taste, but I for one found all the features worth watching and there was nothing within the Special Features that really struck me as particularly disappointing.
At the time of writing, it's possible to buy 'Highlander: Endame' for around the £4 mark from Amazon. I think at that sort of price it's an absolute bargain that no-one could really grumble about too much. The movie is resonably entertaining and the Special Features are good enough to enjoy without any great effort, so for £4 I think it's excellent value for money.
Personally, I wouldn't want to spend more than £7 or so, but I think most places will sell this relatively cheaply these days. As ever, have a shop around to see what's available.
~~~ My Thoughts ~~~
CAUTION: This may get a little geeky though I shall try my best from stumbling into that pitfall no promises though, :o)
Continuity is something of a rarity in the Highlander Universe and across its various incarnations, (movies, TV series, Animated Series, even a couple of graphic novels) there have been many changes within the Universe.
I very much grew up with the movie Universe of Highlander and it has to be said that the original movie is one of my all time favourite movies. Whilst I have seen several episodes of the TV series, (and enjoyed them I hasten to add), Ive never watched in series in great depth. Even so, Connor MacLeod is the one I consider the true Highlander. That said, I long ago, (about the time I saw the second movie) accepted the fact that the ideas presented in the first incarnation were not going to survive.
Long-time fans will argue for as long as the movies remain in conscious memory about the errors, but thats a discussion for another time.
For me, Endgame does manage to make some sense of the continuity-errors and marry the worlds of movie Connor to TV-series Duncan. As a merger of the two worlds its actually surprisingly successful and I myself didnt feel too disappointed by the effort.
I think the inclusion of characters and thread from the TV series is well done, (though I will admit that I have only a very basic knowledge of the series).
Were you to come to Endgame from the sole perspective of the movies, I suspect many fans would be as disappointed with it as with the Highlander II and III. If you were coming from a knowledge of the series, or indeed no knowledge whatsoever of Highlander, then I think Endgame holds a little more water. Compared with the original movie, Endgame pails in comparison, compared with the sequels, its makes a lot more sense than Highlander II and can only be criticised against Highlander III because of Duncan, (though, to my mind, its a poor criticism), since Adrian Paul not only plays the role well, but hes also an engaging and as an intriguing character as Connor a worthy successor to Connors throne if you will.
I always think of Endgame as something of an official handing over of the torch of Highlander, from one MacLeod to the other.
I think Endgame is more geared towards fans of Duncan MacLeod than Connor and is more in keeping with the overall feel of the TV series than the movies and I think if anyone is likely to be disappointed, it will be the movies fans. That said, if you managed to stomach movies II and III, then Endgame is certainly better than the second movie and on par with the third, (as far as the third movie went). If you hated the TV-series, youll probably hate Endgame too for the same reasons. If you found any amount of enjoyment from Duncan MacLeod then Endgame is at least worth watching to make your own decision about.
~~~ Conclusion ~~~
I think if youre overly precious about the original Highlander movie, Endgame is a poor sequel.
If youre either new to the Highlander-Universe, or first encountered it through the TV series, then Highlander: Endgame holds some value though, personally, Id always recommend the original 1986 movie before any of the others.
As a movie itself, Endgame is fairly enjoyable, with scenes that are interesting and a plot strong enough to carry the viewer through the movie. It does have its problems and I suspect its not something that will appeal to all kinds of people. For me, its a movie Ive watched several times without excessive effort and, whilst perhaps never likely to feature in my Top Ten Favourite movies of all time, its not something Id personally avoid like the plague. As a DVD, for the right price, it can hold a respectable enough place in your collection, though it wont necessarily be a movie you rush back to watch time and time again.
Alan Davies is probably best known for his role as the main character in the comedy detective show Jonathan Creek. He is also the only regular panellist on the BBC quiz show QI.
Certainly, I became a fan of Alans from the Jonathan Creek series and further enjoyed his contributions to QI, however outside of this Id seen very little of his work. Whilst Ive always found him funny, I always (quite wrongly) assumed he was a comedic actor, rather than being a stand-up comic.
Urban Trauma is Alans first stand-up DVD release and is my first experience of him performing in this manner. I managed to purchase it for about £9 from Amazon.
For anyone totally unfamiliar with Alan Davies, I would say that his style of comedy is reminiscent of the likes of Eddie Izzard in particular, but I can see fans of Lee Evans or Bill Bailey finding his delivery and style entertaining. If you have enjoyed Alan on QI, then I think this DVD will really appeal to you. If you
Alan covers a range of topics, from the Olympics, Christenings, his pet cats, British Airways Pilots, as well as various other subjects. On the whole I found the comedy to be amusing, (as you might well hope), since I think Alans quite an expressive individual. Whilst his actual jokes are amusing, visual comedy is really where he manages to come into own. I think its very easy to compare him to Eddie Izzard in this particular instance, but I never felt as if he was simply mimicking other comedians. Whilst its easy to draw comparisons, I do think Alan is quite original with his material and, although I found myself saying thats like something Izzard/Bailey/Evans might do, I didnt find myself thinking that he was actually doing their jokes, more just approaching subjects from a similar direction, reaching his own conclusions and therefore his own jokes.
Some of the comedy is quite surreal, (though perhaps a little less-surreal than Bill Bailey). His role-play of cows pretending to be have BSE in order to avoid being eaten is wonderful to watch, but the sketch about his cats bringing him a huge pigeon I found truly hilarious.
I would have to say that I didnt necessarily find myself in a laugh-a-minute situation. There are moments that might not make you actually laugh out loud, but I did find the show amusing and there are plenty of light-chuckles to be found throughout. Equally, there were moments where I couldnt help myself from laughing.
There is a routine that is pure toilet-humour. Thats not to say that its infantile, but that it is literally humour based around toilets. This section I found entertaining because it echoed some of my own personal experiences. His child-like mannerisms in this particular section help to keep it amusing and inoffensive.
One thing I thought Alan does extremely well is the way in which he refers to previous jokes. He manages to set-up certain running-gags early on and uses their reference to great effect throughout the rest of the show.
I did find that fact that Alan regularly walks off stage during the act a little peculiar. I can only assume that, given how he doesnt have a table or drinks onstage, he is going off to have a drink. In many ways this is an excellent device for the comedy, though it does border on becoming irritating. Once again, I suspect a lot of this is really down to the editing of the show and I think if you were in the audience it would make a lot more entertaining and probably make a little more sense.
I do have a couple of criticisms about the stand-up. Alan doesnt seem to flow from subject to subject all that smoothly, although, part of me suspects this is down to the editing that has happened and I think theres a lot of material that hasnt been included from the show. I think this is partially why I didnt find the show a laugh-a-minute affair, but even so I dont think it detracts excessively from the comedy and on the whole the show is reasonably entertaining.
Compared to other comedians that Ive mentioned, there was nothing in the show that struck me as offensive. Whilst the subjects are perhaps adult-oriented in certain areas, the language, at least for me, is wholly inoffensive. There are the occasional swear words here and there, but theyre most certainly not excessive and the majority of people I think would encounter this far worse language in their everyday lives through work or friends, (everyone has at least one fouled-mouthed friend, surely?).
I think the rating of 15 is reasonable given certain subjects that Alan touches on, but I honestly think that the vast majority of people wouldnt be offended by the content.
The DVD itself is extremely basic, offering no special features whatsoever. The menu is a still image of Alan with Play as the only option theres not even a scene selection option. In this respect the DVD is perhaps a little disappointing. It does strike me that theres not been an awful lot of effort gone in to this particular release, especially when compared to other comedians first releases, which nowadays contain at least a few standard DVD options, as well as bonus material. I think the fact that this DVD is now about seven years old perhaps explains why theres a lack of features, but it doesnt explain the price.
I think Id certainly feel disappointed had I paid full price for Urban Trauma and, if Im honest, whilst I wouldnt say Im disappointed having paid £9, I think this is the absolute maximum you should pay for the disc. I think somewhere around £6 or less is a reasonable price, since although the show itself is entertaining, its not the best Ive ever seen, (and I do own quite a few stand-up DVDs). That said, its still entertaining to watch and I can see myself watching it again in the future without any particular forced effort.
Ultimately, I think this is a reasonably entertaining DVD, though its not the favourite stand-up routine I own. I think at the right price, if youre a comedy fan, this is well worth having. If nothing else, the show is good enough that, were he to release another DVD, I would buy it quite happily and it certainly hasnt alienated me from watching him in the future. I think if you consider yourself an Alan Davies fan, Urban Trauma is satisfying. If youve never encountered the man before, then its perhaps best to watch him acting in Jonathan Creek, (or The Brief for that matter), or try and catch QI.
Urban Trauma, for me, is an average comedy routine, but whilst it isnt a disc I would rave about, it is something I would watch and again and happily lend to friends to let them form their own decisions. Although not highly-recommended, it is something Id suggest you watch.
~~~ Vampires, Hunters And Anime ~~~
Vampire Hunter D was originally a Japanese manga, (graphic novel), by Hideyuki Kikuchi. The novels follow a bounty hunter named D who, as you might gather from the title, hunts vampires. D is a donpeal - a halve-breed whose mother was a human and father was a vampire. Shunned by both races, D leads a solitary life, selling his services to anyone who has a problem with vampires. His only companion is a parasite that possesses his left-hand.
D first came to the movie-screens in 1985 in Vampire Hunter D, an anime movie that has since become something of a cult classic.
Japanese anime is often neglected in the west, at least in my opinion, with many people dismissing it as nothing more than cartoons. Without going into a lecture of why more people should like anime, I shall simply say that there is a lot of movies within the genre that can appeal to a wide-ranging audience and a vast array of different kinds of people.
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, although the second of Ds movie-outings, its not a sequel in the typical sense of the word, since it doesnt lead on from events of the original, instead telling a different tale following D.
~~~ Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust ~~~
Set ten thousand years into Earths future, Bloodlust tells the tale of D being hired by the Elbourne family, when their daughter Charlotte is apparently kidnapped by the vampire named Meier Link. Not only must D try and reach the girl before Link changes her, (or converts her into a vampire), but he is also racing against another group of bounty-hunters, known as The Marcus Brothers, who have also been hired by the family for the same task. Both have orders to either bring her back alive or. If she has been changed, to finish her in as dignified manner as possible. Alive or dead, D will receive his twenty million dollar fee - so long as he gets there first.
The movie was directed by acclaimed anime-director Yoshiaki Kawajiri, (Ninja Scrolls), who also wrote the screenplay for the movie and was made in 2000. Unusually for an anime, the dialogue was recorded in English first, rather than being dubbed.
~~~ The Movie ~~~
Visually, Bloodlust is an extremely striking movie, with its smooth and distinctive animation. Whilst I wouldnt consider myself an expert on anime, since there are an awful lot of movies within the genre I havent seen, Ive probably seen more than most. I was particularly impressed in places by the style of the animation, since some scenes almost look as if they were real-life film in places, (this is more in regard to the background scenery, rather than the character animation). Whilst the style of drawing is similar to the 1985 movie, the actually animation is a vast improvement and I found myself drawn-in by the visuals of the movie. Whilst it manages to portray a gothic sense to the world, it doesnt rely on simply being dark and moody in terms of colours and theres plenty of on-screen splendour to keep the viewer watching. I would go as far as to say that its one of the best drawn and animated animes Ive ever seen.
The plot of the movie is very easy to follow and well paced I dont think its at all important to be familiar with either the first movie or the graphic novels, (whilst I have watched the first movie, I havent read any of the novels). Bloodlust gives the viewer the right amount of information and backstory for this to work well as a self contained entity, making it easy enough to follow the story.
What I particularly enjoyed about Bloodlust was the ambiguity regarding good and evil; whilst Link is supposedly the villain of the piece, his actions suggest otherwise. Likewise with the Marcus Brothers, who although they work on the same side as D, (the hero of the movie and therefore a good-guy, by default making them good-guys) their actions are remarkably single-minded, such as their reactions to D as a half-breed and struck me as being far from the noble aspects one would typically associate with heros.
The script is superbly written and I thought it managed to bring a great amount of depth to the world that is often neglected in many other movies, whether anime or live-action. There are a couple of aspects that the script doesnt reveal, such as how exactly Left-Hand, the parasite possessing Ds hand, came to be with D, or the backstory regarding vampires; however, like any other fantasy movie, I think if youre prepared to take certain things on face value, accepting them as world truths then theres nothing here that anyone should find excessively confusing.
Anime voice acting, to my mind at least, can make or break this kind movie. In the case of Bloodlust, I thought it was excellent. The casting of the roles brought another level of depth to the characters.
Andrew Philpot as D plays the role extremely well, bringing the cool, calm demeanour required for the role. Equally, Pamela Segall (now Pamela Aldon) does a creditable job as Leila and Michael McShane as Left-Hand plays his role to perfection.
In honesty, there are relatively few actors whose names or voices I recognised, although the obvious exceptions are John DiMaggio, (best known as Bender from Futurama - who always gets a little cheer from me whenever I hear his voice in a movie I didnt know he was in); most surprisingly of all for me was Dwight Schultz, (A-Team, Star Trek), since I didnt actually recognise his voice - a credit to his vocal talents.
I think a mention should also go to the music in 'Bloodlust'. Whilst it's perhaps not something you'll be humming to yourself after the movie, it does bring a great deal atmosphere to the scenes and I for one really felt it added to my overall enjoyment of the movie.
One thing I do have to say is that I dont think the rating of 15 is justified. Whilst there are dark and ever-so-slightly violent elements to the movie, theres nothing that is particularly graphic or grossly untoward about the movie. The lack of swearwords throughout the movie is highly notable - as is (thankfully) the lack of sex-scenes, which is often prevalent in many anime movies. The violence, for me, isnt excessive or gruesome and I really feel this could have gotten away with a rating of 12; when coupled with the lack of bad language and nudity/sex I cant fathom why the 15 rating was given. I dont have kids myself, but thinking back to my teenage years there isnt anything in Bloodlust that I think I hadnt encountered before at around eleven or so and to alienate pre-teens is an injustice to them. That said, I would always advise parents to watch this sort of movie themselves first before making the judgement about whether or not its suitable for their child. Hypothetically, were I to be a parent of a twelve year-old, Id have no qualms about them watching this movie.
When you combine the animation, plot, script, music and vocal talents, which are all in themselves excellent, Bloodlust amounts to something much more than the sum of its parts and everything about the movie captivated me - I really cant think of anything I disliked about the movie.
~~~ The DVD ~~~
The DVD comes on one disc that features the movie itself, as well as some bonus material. The DVD doesnt have any booklet or chapter listing, which is a bit of a shame, but doesnt spoil the overall value.
The menu design is in keeping with the DVD cover, as well as the movie itself. I thought this brought a professional quality to the DVD that made it feel like a complete package, rather than something thats been idly thrown together. The menus are easy to navigate and I think its virtually impossible to not understand where you are or find where you want to go.
The Special Features are: -
- Behind The Scenes Featurette
- Storyboard To Feature Comparison
- Fans Favourites
The Behind The Scenes is probably the bonus feature that will appeal to most viewers. I almost always enjoy these kinds of extras and the one on Bloodlust is no exception. I found the footage interesting to watch, since it gives you not only get to see some of the voice-artists recording their parts, but also there are some interviews with the director and animators (in Japanese with subtitles) that give some interesting insights into the movie as a whole.
The Storyboard to Feature plays the movie with the original sketches with the finished movie in shown in the corner. Also, you can change the angle to see either just the sketches or the movie.
This sort of feature wont appeal to everyone, but if you are interested typically in storyboards then the production on this is of a high standard and its well worth watching.
The Fans Favourites is perhaps the feature I found most surprising. Using an online poll from the official Bloodlust website, it shows the top ten scenes that fans have voted for. As Special Features go, on paper it probably sounds like the most uninteresting feature you can have; however, what I found interesting about it is that the scenes shown are some of my favourite scenes and its easy to see why fans voted the way they did.
Again, this probably wont appeal to everyone, given that youll have watched the scenes in the movie anyway, but I always find it interesting to see what the general consensus is.
I must admit however, this particular feature does seem a little bit like filler material and whether or not it really adds anything to the DVD is very much down to personal preference.
Whilst the Special Features arent necessarily all that special, they are entertaining and of a high standard and there was nothing on the disc that made me feel Id wasted my time watching. If I was going to criticise the Special Features, it would only be that I would have liked a couple more, but in all honesty thats true of many DVDs I own, so its not really a major criticism in my eyes.
The DVD can be bought for around £9 from Amazon. As always, if you shop around you can probably found it cheaper still.
I think £9 isnt extortionate, but because of so few Special Features, I can understand why some people would think it a little expensive. As a fan of the movie, I think £9 is reasonable, but being the thrifty person that I am, Id probably be happier paying closer to £7. That said, Im not disappointed with the price I paid for the DVD because the movie is so entertaining and something Ive watched several times without ever getting bored.
~~~ Conclusion ~~~
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is perhaps one of the more accessible anime movies for a western audience, (bearing in mind that its one of the few that was always intended for release in the west). I think if youre new to anime, Bloodlust is an excellent introduction into the genre, since it gives you impressive visuals coupled with an engaging and intelligent plot. To my mind, Bloodlust is as entertaining as any Hollywood blockbuster and I dont think anyone would feel cheated for having watched it.
I cant really think of anyone this might not appeal to, at least on some level, since I think anime fanatics and newcomers alike would enjoy the depth, style and overall presentation of the movie. One I would highly recommend.
Its fair to say that the BlueMidget family is rarely on the cutting-edge of technology, (though there have been the occasional exceptions). My father took some convincing that digital photography was the way to go and held out buying a digital camera for quite a while. Eventually, he relented and found that, actually, they were finally beginning to offer the scope and freedom his old SLRs did.
Encouraged by this particular success, my father decided it was time to upgrade the family camcorder, which I should point out is older than me by some nine or ten years. Partially his decision to do this was because of how impressed he was with the quality of his digital camera, but largely it was down to my mothers refusal to stand anywhere near him in public with such an archaic device, (we have actually overheard conversations by others wondering whether or not he was a BBC cameraman).
Having decided on a budget, my dad set about researching various digital-format camcorders, taking into account the fact that (on my advice) it would be better to invest in one that actually has a hard-disk drive, rather than one that uses DVD or similar media. Eventually, he decided that the Sony DCR-SR52 was suitable for everything his current model did, with many, many additional features too.
You may question how I can review what is essentially my fathers camera. Well, having a fairly large family there is almost always an excuse for family get togethers and therefore plenty of video opportunities. I, for some reason that I havent entirely been able to explain, nearly always find myself as the designated cameraman, so despite only having the camera a relatively short amount of time, Ive decided to train-up on how to use it, since its inevitably going to be me who gets blamed when the family-day out is missed because of poor camera angles.
~~~ Behind The Scenes ~~~
On first glance of the camera its most striking feature is just how small it actually is, with Depth, Height and Width at just 10.9 x 7.2 x 7.3cm, the DCR-SR52 is incredibly compact. Also, at 355g, its fairly light-weight and I doubt most people would struggle carrying it around filming for prolonged periods of time.
The DCR-SR52 uses a hard-disk drive with 30Gb worth of storage; roughly translated into recording time, this would typically equate to 20 hours worth of video footage.
The camcorder is also equipped with a 25x zoom, enabling you to get very tight close-up shots from quite a respectable distance. Also, there is a Night-vision option that allows you to record in dark light-levels, (as far as I can tell, in pitch-black though this hasnt been objectively tested yet).
For a more in-depth Technical Specifications see the section of the same name towards the end of the review.
As well as the camcorder, included in the package is a docking-station, (which acts as the charging unit, as well as a means of connecting the device to your PC or television), a USB cable for connecting to a PC, a phono cable and a SCART adapter to connect to a television, a remote control, a battery and the user manual. Also, there are two discs that include a digital version of the manual, (with more detail) and the software required for using the camcorder with your PC.
I would say that the device is fairly easy to use, since it has an Easy Cam mode, which really acts as a point-and-shoot option. In this mode, the camcorder controls light levels and other features, meaning all you have to do is make sure the camera is pointing in the right direction and at the right thing. It should be said that occasionally, using Easy Cam does present a couple of issues in terms of focusing, (particularly in lower light levels), but on the whole this mode serves for the majority of uses most amateur film-makers would required.
Equally, for the more adventurous film-maker, you can deactivate the Easy Cam mode and take control of certain features, such as a certain amount control over focus and light levels, but personally Ive not found this yet to be of any great advantage over Easy Cam.
The zoom is really very impressive, though does take a little bit of practise to get used to. The are several ways you can use the zoom, the most obvious being the shifting switch on top of the camcorder. This switch is sensitive to how much it is moved, so the quicker you move it to full the faster the zoom. Typically, this isnt a very good style of camera-work; however, with a little practise it is possible to use this switch effectively to get the right speed of zoom you want whilst also keeping it smooth.
The other methods are by using the buttons on the side of the view screen, (marked T and W) or by using the remote control. This zooms at a pretty slow speed, but does mean that you dont suddenly go too far and I think some people might prefer using one of these methods.
One thing worth bearing in mind is that at maximum zoom the camera will pick up any slight camera-shake, so its worth investing in a tripod, or finding someone very a very steady hand, if you plan on doing a lot of close up shots.
Obviously, before you can start using the camcorder, you need to charge the battery. Using the docking-station is very straightforward, though it is important to ensure that the camcorder is properly docked, otherwise the camera will either not charge at all, or only charge intermittently, taking far longer than actually required. Since the battery is Ion-Lithium, it doesnt take all that long to charge up
One thing I do have a slight issue with is that the battery supplied with package only has a two-hour life span. Given that the HDD can store up to about twenty hours worth of movie, this seems rather disproportionate when compared to the battery-life. However, it is possible to buy bigger-capacity batteries that will work with the SR52 and offer a much longer runtime. I suppose for the majority of uses, two hours is plenty of time, especially since youre unlikely to be recording solidly for those two hours, although I think its always worth investing in one or two spare batteries which can be kept with you, just in case.
The 2.7 viewing touch-screen is more than adequate to allow you to see what youre recording. As is standard these day with view-screen, it swivels through 180-degrees on way so it faces whatever youre recording, or 90-degrees the other way so, for example, if youre recording something directly below you, you can still see the image. For the most part, the view screen feels as if its attached solidly, but I do think that carelessness, or use of excessive force could break it relatively easily.
Unusually - at least in my experience of digital-camcorders, which I freely admit may be somewhat dated these days the view-screen is your only method of viewing what the lens is seeing, since there is no view-finder you can put your to. I dont really think this is a problem, since the quality of the image is good enough to ensure you frame the shots well and capture the moment as you intended.
The touch-screen makes using the camera extremely easy when you want to playback, delete, etc. any of the movies. I thought the menus and options were laid out quite well, with most things being easy to find and activate. Obviously, the main issue with any touch-screen is it quickly becomes covers in fingerprints, (especially if you have greasy fingers), so weve taken to keeping a cleaning cloth, (like you find with glasses) with the camcorder.
Surprisingly, the lens is able to pick-up images even in very low-light levels; however when it does finally become too dark to film, the night-time feature allows you to continue recording. Obviously, being infra-red means the recordings are black and white, but as a means of night shooting its not at all a bad feature and weve already found it quite useful from time to time.
~~~ Art In Motion ~~~
Having made your recording of that family birthday, or works retirement, you obviously want to be able to view your work and, more importantly, save it so its available for posterity.
Obviously, you can play back your recording on the camcorder itself, since as well as the screen there is also an in-built speaker, (which offers surprisingly good quality); but with a screen only 2.7, this isnt really something youd want the family to crowd around to watch. For a more comfortable viewing method, you can connect your camcorder to your television and play through the movies. Using the RGB cable, (with the SCART adapter if you wish, or just directly into your television), you can connect the cable either directly into the camcorder, or use the docking-station which will also charge/power the device whilst you watch the movies.
Once the camcorder is connected and switched on you will initially see a live image of the room, (I have to put my hand up and say I did point the camera at the television to get the never ending screen-within-a-screen). Here, you can either navigate to the play menu by using the view-screen, or by using the remote control. Both navigation methods are simple and fairly intuitive, so it shouldnt be too difficult for most people to find their way to the movies and play them accordingly.
Saving your recordings to disc is a slightly different kettle of fish. First you have to install the software, (more on this shortly). Connecting the camcorder to your PC via the USB cable supplied, you then have to turn on the device and using the touch-screen you then have to activate it so that your PC recognises the camcorder. I was a little surprised that the camcorder wasnt Plug-And-Play, i.e. simply switching it on when connected allows the PC to recognise the device. The middle-stage is a little bit of added fuss that I dont think is all that necessary but, its not too fiddly and once you know what youre doing its actually quite simple.
With the device connected, you can then open the software, (which will not load until it detects the SCR-DR52) and begin downloading the videos from your camera to your computer.
~~~ The Software ~~~
The software that accompanies the device allows you to download your movies to your PC and also play them and, if you want to, edit them into smaller clips.
Installing the software is quite straightforward, although in this particular instance the camera does need to be connected in order for the software to complete the installation. For this reason its probably worth set-up up the docking station before you begin. Using the default settings the software takes relatively little time to install and its not long before you can start downloading your clips and trimming them accordingly.
Editing your movies into smaller clips is quite a good feature and easy to use. Whilst this doesnt give you the chance to actually edit the clips together to make something you could put onto DVD and watch, it does at least allow you the grab the interesting portions of your raw footage ready for use in another programme, (such as Movie Maker that comes with Windows XP). The fact that its very simple and user-friendly just makes this an ideal means of editing your movies.
I found the software quite accessible and well designed - I dont think theres anything here that would excessively confuse anyone who only knows the basics of using a computer and actually getting the movies onto your PC is hassle free.
One thing that did bug me is that the software doesnt let you easily save the files to a location of your choice; theres really no reason for the design of the save-screen to be any different to the standard one you encounter in most programmes, but Sony have decided to ignore the tried and tested method and sadly this makes it not quite as user-friendly as it could have been.
~~~ Cost ~~~
The camcorders RRP is around the £450 region; however there are some excellent offers to be had with this particular model we managed to save £100 on the RRP by buying it via Amazon, but Im sure if you were to shop around you could find some other great value deals.
Obviously, not everyone has this amount of money to spend and although I havent experience the less expensive models myself, my experience with this particular Sony model would lead me to at least checking out their less expensive ranges.
For those of you who can afford this price-range, whilst I dont think I would have been necessarily disappointed with the camcorder had we paid full-price, I doubt we would have chosen it since its more expensive than the original budget. For what we actually paid for this model, I think its excellent value for money.
Additional batteries can be a little expensive, (I think somewhere between £60 - £80 pounds for a battery that would last about 4 hours). Obviously, this is one way Sony manage to make money. Again, shopping around you can find them cheaper and I think in the long run the initial expense pays off. Also, bear in mind that this price for batteries is unlikely to differ significantly, regardless of what brand or model of camcorder you possess, so its inevitable that youll probably pay more than youd like to for a spare battery.
~~~ Conclusion ~~~
Whilst there are a couple of little niggles here and there, theres nothing about the DCR-SR52 that I found truly disappointing. The device seems robust enough to withstand everyday use, (though I wouldnt recommend dropping it from any great height). Equally, its easy enough to get to grips with and after some initial thinking, the controls and use of the camcorder felt quite natural.
I think if anything was to turn people off from the DCR-SR52, it would be the fact that it was out of they price-range. If it is within your budget and youre looking for a high quality, mid-range camcorder (there are camcorders available that offer more features, but you do pay for the price), that is easy to use, then I dont think you can go far wrong with this particular model. Throw into the mix the fact that there are some excellent offers currently available and I think youll find this to be a tremendous bargain. I would highly recommend this camcorder to anyone looking for something around the £400 mark.
~~~ Technical Specifications ~~~
Video Format: HDD
Hard-disk Capacity: 30Gb
Optical Zoom: 25x
Roald Dahl originally wrote Charlie And The Chocolate Factory in 1964. It tells the tale of a young, impoverished boy named Charlie Bucket who lives with his mother and father, as well as his four bed-ridden grandparents. Every day on his way to school, Charlie passes the chocolate factory, which is owned by Willy Wonka and has been closed to the public for years. When Charlie discovers that Willy Wonka is running a competition to allow five children the opportunity to visit his factory by placing five Golden Tickets is his Wonka Bars, Charlie wishes he could win one of those tickets and see the Chocolate Factory for himself.
After some initial set-backs, such as not finding a ticket in his birthday chocolate bar, (the only bar his family can afford to buy him a year, which they also bought early), as well as someone claiming to have found the last remaining ticket, Charlie firmly believes that he has missed his chance of meeting the mysterious Mr. Wonka. When its reported that the final ticket is a fake, Charlies hope is renewed and upon discovering just enough money laying in the street to buy himself a chocolate bar, finally stumbles across the elusive fifth ticket and wins himself the opportunity of meeting Mr. Wonka, as well as getting a guided tour around the factory.
The book was made into the very successful Disney movie starring Gene Wilder in 1971, although its reported that Dahl himself disliked Disneys treatment of his work.
This particular movie interpretation was released in 2005 and was directed by Tim Burton. Whilst Dahls writing style was always aimed at entertaining children, there were often threads of dark, nearly gruesome, humour that were always present. To my mind, I cant think of anyone better than Burton to bring such work to life on the big-screen.
Its easy to draw comparisons between the original movie and this one and I know many people that prefer the Gene Wilder version to the more recent release. I wont dwell too much on the original movie, but all I will say is that I thought Burtons version is much more in keeping with Dahls style. I think both movies have some different to offer, but should be viewed on their own merits.
~~~ The Cast ~~~
The movie stars Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka and Freddie Highmore as Charlie Bucket. Firstly, I thought Highmores performance excellent as Charlie Bucket, although I do think the script, (which I shall discuss in more detail later in the review) somewhat underplayed Charlie as the main character and so Highmores real talent doesnt really have the opportunity to be explored properly.
Johnny Depp has in recent years become one of my personal favourite actors and I tend to know that a project involved Depp and Burton is something Ill very likely to enjoy. I thought he portrayed Wonka with great depth of character overall, bringing eccentricity to the role, as well as being almost child-like at times. I will admit that this is perhaps not his greatest performance but sadly, once again, I suspect this is more down to the overall script.
The one character and therefore performance the script doesnt affect is Deep Roy as the Oompa-Loompas. I found the fact that Deep Roy plays every Oompa-Loompa on screen, (with the exception of a few CGI and miniature animatronic scenes) to be very entertaining. Having watched the bonus-material that accompanies the DVD I also realised just how much of a performance Deep Roy actually puts into the part, having to learn to dance and mime several routines, as well as painstakingly repeating the performance time and time again for different camera angles and shots. Whilst he has no dialogue in the movie himself, I dont think he should be overlooked for the effort he put into the role.
I think all the roles were cast extremely well, the five children all play their parts convincingly and the casting here is particularly well thought-out. Equally the adult actors all put in creditable appearances, I dont think theres really a weak-chain in terms of the acting that would spoil anyones enjoyment of the movie.
Whilst its not a musical movie in the classic sense of the word, (such as the Gene Wilder version, or the likes of Oliver, Sound Of Music, etc.) there are some musical scenes. Even if musicals really arent your sort of thing, for once I wouldnt say that this is something you should avoid. Danny Elfman, (who has worked with Burton on several projects) really excels himself on this movie and I thought the few songs that do appear throughout the movie were catchy and, personally, added to my overall enjoyment of the movie as a whole.
~~~ The Movie ~~~
In many ways, this is a typical Burton movie and anyone who is familiar with his work, (such as Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice, The Corpse Bride to name only a few) and who enjoys it is very likely to find this an entertaining movie. From the introduction I found I was fascinated by the cinematography of the movie.
Visually the movie is more than impressive enough to engage youngsters and adults alike I never actually saw this at the cinema, but even on the small-scene, it still manages to draw you in. Whilst CGI has been, its been done in what I would call a tasteful manner. All too often its easy for film-makers to go overboard with their use of CGI or other special effects these days, but Burton manages to restrain his use and not rely on it, (with the notable exception of the Oompa-Loompa scenes, but these too are well done). I personally think that the use of special effects in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory really adds something to the movie, rather than being there for the its own sake.
On the whole I thought it was very well executed and for the most part it remains true to Dahls novel, (at least as far as the key elements go). There were some notable deviations from the original story such as the theme with Wonkas father, which I think is the most obvious. Like any on-screen adaptation of a novel, I think this can send the viewer one of the two ways: either youll hate it for deviating so much from the book, or youll enjoy the new ideas and interpretation.
Whilst I know most purists want to see as an exact telling of the novel as possible, I more often than not enjoy these sorts of adaptations. With regard to the inclusion of Wonkas childhood and his father, (played by Christopher Lee), who is a leading dentist, I thought this helped explain Wonkas eccentricity that is prominent throughout the movie. I realise its not in the novel, but in terms of this particular adaptation I thought it helped back-up the overall plot and feel of the movie and was really quite a clever idea.
Where the movie does let itself down occasionally is that the script can sometimes be a little weak in places, with some of the dialogue feeling a little forced and unnatural. Whilst I wouldnt say that the movie was spoilt by the script overall, there were moments that I found myself not quite as engaged as I was expecting I would have been.
Even so, the script is not terrible by any stretch of the imagination and for the vast majority of the movie manages to hold your attention and entertain.
~~~ The DVD ~~~
This particular edition is the Two-Disc Edition, which features the movie on the first disc, with the bonus material on the second.
The interactive menus on the first disc are quite impressive, although it has to be said that theyre not necessarily intuitive. Since the main-menu doesnt display all the options at one time, it wasnt especially obvious to me that there were other options. Once you know that pressing up or down on your remote highlights the relevant option it is possible to find your way around the disc, although, whilst the menus look very nice, it does make navigation a little more difficult than it needed to be as far as Im concerned.
The Sweet Special Features, as their called on the cover, are found on the second disc. They are: -
- Attack Of The Squirrels
- Fantastic Mr. Dahl
- Becoming Oompa-Loompa
- Making The Mix
- Oompa-Loompa Dance
- The Bad Nut
- The Inventing Machine
- Search for the Golden Ticket
I like the fact that these features are divided into Features and Activities sections, which makes it easy for the viewer to choose whether they want additional information about the movie, or entertainment based on the movie.
The target audience for the Activities is a mixture of young kids and adults. To my mind, Search For The Golden Ticket probably has more appeal to children than adults, as its sort of hunt the item game that might be a little too easy to keep adults engaged. That said, its very well presented and is worth trying out at least once, whatever your age.
Oompa-Loompa Dance and The Inventing Machine have plenty of value for kids and adults. Oompa-Loompa Dance shows Deep Roy in character breaking down a couple of dance routines into easy-to-manage stages that gives you the chance to learn the dance. I think kids would have a great time with this feature, whilst I equally think theres plenty of entertainment for the more mature, (at least chronologically) viewers when friends and family are gathered.
Equally, The Inventing Machine can be entertaining, since you choose a mixture for your own candy bar and then see what effects they might have on an Oompa-Loompa often with very amusing consequences.
I doubt, (though I might be wrong), that the Features section will much appeal to children, since its really more about the behind-the-scenes, making of type things.
Fantastic Mr. Dahl is a very interesting feature that gives you a great insight into the man-himself with interviews from those close to him. If youre a fan Dahls books, this is well worth viewing, but equally if all you know is this particular movie, theres an awful lot here to entertain and learn from this feature.
Becoming Oompa-Loompa is another interesting feature, since it goes into the nuances and technicalities faced by the crew of making one man, (Deep Roy) into a host of Oompa-Loompa.
I wont go into much more detail about the features since I would end up devoting far too much time to them. Rest assured that they are all highly entertaining and enjoyable to watch. In my experience bonus material, particularly Behind The Scenes features are often simply one feature, but for Charlie And The Chocolate factory virtually every aspect has been covered. I havent seen this amount of interesting bonus material since the Lord Of The Rings Extended Edition DVDs. Every single one of the Features really took my interest and I never felt as if it was thrown in as filler. Whilst they vary in length and content, all of them are satisfying to watch and, assuming youre interested in this sort of thing, I doubt anyone could claim to be disappointed by what is available on this edition.
I for one have watched these bonus features several times and always enjoyed myself and they are quite frankly among the best bonus materials Ive ever seen on any DVD.
I forget now exactly how much I actually paid for this DVD, but knowing how I am and my thrifty ways, I can guarantee I didnt pay full-price for it. Having owned the disc, I would be prepared to spend somewhere in the region of £13 for it; however, it is currently (at the time of writing) available on Amazon for just under £7 and to me this is an absolute bargain a gift-horse I dont think anyone should kick in the mouth. As ever, search around and youll probably find the best deal, but as a guide line, anywhere around £10-14 (or less) is a bargain, once you start getting towards the £16-plus region you run the risk of being disappointed in terms of value for money.
~~~ Conclusion ~~~
I think theres going to be many arguments about whether the original movie or the 2005 version is better and for all intents and purposes I think thats very much down to preference. For me, I like both of them equally, but for very different reasons.
The 1971 version appeals as a source of entire family-orientated entertainment, with its bright colours, sing-along songs and lack of dark-overtones.
The 2005 version equally appeals to me because of the fact that its not quite so sugar-coated, (pun partially intended). The fact that the dark-overtones are not glossed over really made me think of this as much more in keeping with Dahls writing style. As someone who grew up reading and enjoying a lot of Dahls, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory included, this version just struck me as more Dahl-esque and for that reason really engaged me in the movie.
Whether its better or worse than the original novel or 1971 Gene Wilder edition really is not of any interest to myself. For my, Burtons version is highly entertaining and thoroughly amusing and coupled with the fact that this two-disc edition really has some tremendous bonus material, really makes this an excellent value-for-money purchase one I would highly recommend and one (like the 1971 version) I will keep coming back to time and time again.
~~~ Main Cast ~~~
PLEASE NOTE: This is not a complete cast-list; certain actors and actresses have been omitted.
Willy Wonka Johnny Depp
Charlie Bucket Freddie Highmore
Deep Roy Oompa-Loompa
Christopher Lee Dr. Wonka
Philip Wiegratz Augustus Gloop
Anna-Shophia Robb Violet Beauregrarde
Julia Winters Veruca Salts
Mike Teavee Jordan Fry
Granpa Joe David Kelly
Mrs. Bucket - Helena Bonham Carter
Mr. Bucket Noah Taylor
For many, life at work can often be stressful, unrewarding, perhaps even just down-right confusing. Whilst there are those out there who are doing their ideal job, (and if you're one of them, kudos to you), for most people working life is simply a matter of getting from one coffee to the next, with conflicting demands from line-managers or supervisors, frustrations with deadlines and conversations often so bizzare you couldn't make them up. Sometimes, you just need a little light-relief during your day, something to make you glad you're not somebody else.
Well, when always else fails you can always be glad that you're not Dilbert...
~~~ About The Cartoon ~~~
I suppose for anyone who hasnt encountered the cartoon before a little explanation is in order.
'Dilbert' is a cartoon strip written and drawn by Scott Adams and shows the life of the main character Dilbert, a engineer, (though exactly what he engineers Ive never been entirely certain of, I must be honest) and his colleagues and the frustrations they face in their everyday life at work, being "put-upon" by their 'Pointy-Haired Boss', justifying their low workforce morale and generally commenting on life in the office.
In many ways Dilbert is quite similar to the likes of Peanuts, Garfield or Beau Peep, with the cartoons following the tried and tested format found in most papers, being a three-panelled affair, usually in black-and-white and over the course of the week, it elaborates on events previously mentioned. On a Sunday, a larger, six panelled strip is released in colour with sometimes shows Dilbert at the weekend, or perhaps sets-up the thread for most of the following week though, more often than not is unrelated to anything that happened prior to the Sunday or following it.
I think most people, regardless of the kind of job they do, will be able to take something humorous from the strips, especially if youve ever worked in an office environment. Im sure weve all encountered Pointy-Haired Boss characters in our working lives, where you cant help but wonder how they manage to both walk and remember to breathe at the same time.
As well as Boss, Dilberts pets and work-colleagues feature in the strips, such as Catbert - Evil Director of Human Resources, Aosk The Intern, Wally and Alice, both fellow engineers, as well as a whole host of characters with their unique foibles and character-traits.
~~~ About The Website ~~~
www.dilbert.com is the official website for the cartoon strip and has plenty of content to keep the procrastinating worker occupied.
Firstly, the most obvious thing about the website is that on first loading it, it displays todays cartoon-strip on the front page. It also allows you to look at an archive of previous cartoons going back a month. Since the strip often, (though not always) builds up on what has happened earlier in the week this is a particularly useful feature if you enter a series mid-week, since some of the jokes rely on a knowledge of previous events. My only criticism of this archive is the fact that it doesnt extend beyond the previous four weeks, so its not an archive in the true sense of the word.
The sections available on the website are: -
- Comic Archive
- News And History
- The Characters
- Desktop Distractions
I wont discuss all the sections in great detail, since most of them speak for themselves, but I will mention some of the more entertaining aspects.
For die-hard fans there are some multi-media items found under Desktop Distractions. These are essentially things like screen-savers, desktop backgrounds, icons that can be used in place of the standard ones found on Windows. I suspect the majority of this content is unlikely to appeal to people with only a passing interest in Dilbert. That said, what is on offer in this particular section is of a decent enough standard and if nothing else can be an amusing means of customising your desktop to bring a little light-relief to your working day, (assuming your IT department allow you to customise your desktop, of course!).
News And History is quite interesting since you not only get recent news from Scott Adams, (although I do use the term recent loosely), you also get to see some of the earlier attempts Adams made at the earlier cartoons, such as the inception of Dogbert which a mildly amusing.
The website itself is fairly simple in terms of navigation and for the most part is laid-out well, although there are certain sections that the design is not the best Ive ever seen. I dont think anybody would find themselves lost whilst using the site, but there are occasionally moments where you wish theyd left a navigation bar available, rather than having to use the Back button.
On the whole the content is rather amusing, although not all of it is that great. There are some truly hilarious moments that make exploring the site well worth it, but given the nature of Adams style the content can sometimes be a little droll. I think some of this has to do with being a Briton reading American satire. Theres certain elements of comedy that are universal, whilst theres others that are very independent to a particular nationality. Nevertheless, these elements are relatively few and the universal kind of humour comes through most of the content and should give the majority of users at least a moment of enjoyment and entertainment.
Whilst the website is nothing particularly special in terms of its visuals, it is a functional enough website thats design, as a means of passing the time during a coffee-break, works well enough not to annoy or overly frustrate the user. It certainly wouldnt win any design awards, but it does do what it intends to without any great fuss or nifty features for the sake of nifty features.
~~~ Whos It For? ~~~
I think www.dilbert.com would appeal to anyone who needs a little light comedy during their day. I always tended to look at todays cartoon first thing in a morning after checking my e-mails (work e-mails, I hasten to add!) and just found it normally a pleasant way to start the day. Equally, it could be used as a small source or entertainment during coffee breaks, or the sort of thing that can be e-mailed to colleagues during the more quiet periods of the day, offering a discussion piece around the vending machine or a quiet chuckle around the office. Manys the time Ive sent or received a Dilbert piece around the office via e-mail only be see heads pop-up and give an ironic smile or its funny because its true kind of replies.
Ill admit that the comedy is a little hit and miss sometimes and wont necessarily make you laugh every time. However, at least once in a while there is a real gem that sums up the mood of the office as a whole and more often than not the humour is enough to at least make most people chuckle.
~~~ Conclusion ~~~
www.dilbert.com is a great site for a quick distraction and whilst all of its content might not appeal to everybody there should at least be enough to keep most people checking in on it once in a while. Failing all else, you cant argue with free. Given that virtually all of the content of the website costs the user nothing, I dont think anybody could actually claim to be disappointed with the site perhaps they might not enjoy it, but they shouldnt be disappointed. Certainly a website Id recommend taking a look at and making your own judgements about.
Connor MacLeod was born in the highlands of Scotland in 1518, a member of the Clan MacLeod and he is Immortal - the only way for him to actually die is by decapitation. Having fought his way through the ages he finally reaches the time of the Gathering, where the last Immortals alive come together and fight it out for the ultimate prize, to be the last living immortal, since in the end, There can be only one
Naturally, at the end of the first movie, Highlander we know that Connor has successfully managed to keep his head and become The One. By the end of the second, Highlander II: The Quickening, we learn actually, Im not entirely sure what we learn by the end of the second movie for anyone unfamiliar with the Highlander movies, its safe to say that the second outing wasnt particularly popular with fans and critics alike. So bad was the reaction to The Quickening that its plots and ideas have essentially never been referred to again in the two subsequent movies, or in the television series that followed.
Highlander 3: The Sorcerer is an attempt to recover the situation and maintain the lucrative franchise of Highlander. Heres how it tries and whether or not it succeeds: -
~~~ There Can Be Only One! Again ~~~
From the dawn of time we came, moving silently among you down through the centuries. Im Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. After the death of my friend, Ramirez; and my beloved wife Heather, I left my home in the highlands of Scotland and began to wander the world searching for answers. Finally I came to Japan, to the mountains of Niri and the cave of the sorcerer Nakano
Such begins Highlander 3: The Sorcerer and, through the use of flash-backs we see Connor after he left Scotland and went about discovering his life as an Immortal. During this initial sequence were introduced to Kane as well as how he managed to gain his powers of illusion that feature heavily throughout the movie.
Eventually, the movie cuts to modern-day Connor living in Africa with his adopted son John. He wholly believes that he won the prize back in 1985. However, an archeoligical dig in Japan uncovers a group of Immortals who were buried in a cave-in several centuries earlier. One of these is Kane, a villainous Immortal who desires The Prize for himself so that he might rule mortals completely. Suddenly Connor finds himself not only vying for The Prize once again, but also trying to protect those that a close to him.
I could write a whole review on the continuity errors, conflicts and various other aspects of the Highlander universe; however, not only would such writing be uninteresting to the vast majority of readers since its better suited to a Highlander forum, but also it would accomplish nothing, since there are far more learnd people than myself who have debated the subject and come to no true agreement on the matter. Instead, I shall attempt to write the review based of the movies own merits. Comparisons with the previous movies will feature, but Ill try not to dwell on them too much.
~~~ # Is This A Kind Of Magic? ~~~
As a self-contained entity, the movie almost works. I think if you were to encounter The Sorcerer as your first Highlander experience you wouldnt be excessively confused, since the movie sets up to concept of immortality and the Immortals fairly quickly. However, certain nuances of the Highlander universe are perhaps not immediately obvious, in particular, you might not fully understand why the Immortals are decapitating one another. In places the movie does assume that youve seen the original, so whilst its not essential to be familiar with Highlander, it can help explain a couple of things in one or two scenes.
The plot of the story is very simple and, aside from nuances relevant to Highlander, I doubt most people would struggle following the basic premise of the story. Whilst I wouldnt say the plot is especially thrilling, it is engaging enough to hold your attention for the 93 minutes without becoming particularly dull or boring.
One aspect that has featured in all Highlander movies is the use of flashbacks to reveal things about Connor. I thought these were done well and do help to set-up themes and offer explanations of certain things that happen elsewhere in the movie. As a device for developing Connors character theyre quite effective and interesting to watch.
The movie does offer some engaging action sequences, especially in terms of sword fights, although there are relatively few fight scenes in the movie and theyre all fairly short-lived, so I dont think you could class this as an action movie in a typical sense of the phrase. Despite their shortness, the actually sword-skills is fairly impressive and for the most part you can believe theyve been carrying and wielding this weapons for a couple of centuries and know how to use them.
Where I think the movie suffers the most is from its script. Some of the of the dialogue seems a little uneasy and forced and in some ways the movie could have benefited from having either more character development, or at least a little more tension on screen. You never really feel like youre on the edge of your seat. That said its not all bad in terms of the script, since some of the dialogue can be engaging. I think ultimately the main issue is that the script doesnt expand or explain some of the threads it mentions enough and so left me feeling like something was missing, (though I will admit I cant quite place my finger an exactly what it was that was missing).
Christopher Lambert reprises his role as Connor MacLeod giving a passable performance, though it is far from remarkable, but again, I think this is largely down to the material hes been given. Lambert appears natural and comfortable in the role and is believe and engaging playing the part.
Mario Van Pebbles as Kane attempts to bring back some of the more sinister, husky-voiced qualities of the villain role, such as was it was when Clancy Brown played Kurgan in the original. I think he manages to play the villain reasonably well, but like other aspect, the script doesnt really give Pebbles much to go on, although he does a reasonably successful effort in making the character as less one-dimensional as possible.
The supporting actors perform surprisingly well overall under the circumstances and some of the exchanges are interesting to watch.
The special effects are fairly good and on the whole havent aged too badly. Certain effects do look a little dodgy in places, but Kanes illusions are typical well executed and consistent in their standard.
~~~ The DVD ~~~
The DVD is extremely simple, with just a still screen image used for the menu and the one option of Play. The lack of bonus features is perhaps one of the biggest criticisms that can be placed on any DVD these days. Currently its available on Amazon for about £7, however I do think these is a little pricey given both the lack of bonus material, coupled with the quality of the movie overall. I think somewhere in the region of £4 or so is a reasonable price to pay for this DVD.
~~~ BlueMidgets Thoughts And Conclusion ~~~
I think Highlander III: The Sorcerer does manage to achieve some of the things it sets out to do. For people who are fans, it does go some way to scrubbing clean the poor decision to release Highlander II. Since its much more in keep with the original in terms of the reality and nature of the movie, I think most fans will at least be able to watch without shouting out in uproar.
Script issues aside the movie also succeeds in being relatively engaging. By no means is this a movie that you would insist your friends and family watch because they have to see it!. Instead, The Sorcerer is a tolerable experience that perhaps isnt the most thriller, but nor it torturously unpleasant.
Of all the sequels to the original Highlander, The Sorcerer is probably the best. Unfortunately, its not a patch on the original. On its own merits, the movie does at least offer some entertainment and there are worse movies you could watch, (Highlander II being the obvious comparison here). Not a movie I would rant and rave about, but not one I would tell you to stir clear of entirely. There is some merit to this movie, but its an average merit in my opinion.
I suppose every person's childhood has certain defining moments, whether it's the first time you heard a particular song, a day out in the park, or perhaps when your favourite video got recorded over with some history programme about castles, (not that I'm bitter or anything).
One such moment for me was 'Bugsy Malone', a movie that had songs, gangsters, pedal powered cars, plenty of food fights and, most notably, a cast that was played entirely by kids, with an average age of twelve. When you're nine or ten years old, it looks like an awful lot of fun!
~~~ About The Movie ~~~
'Bugsy Malone' was originally released in 1976 and was written and directed by Alan Parker, with music by Paul Williams. Now would probably be a good time to mention that if you're not a fan of musicals, 'Bugsy Malone' is one you should probably avoid like the plague. If however youre like me and you don't mind people bursting into song periodically throughout the movie, 'Bugsy Malone' has plenty to offer.
It follows the main character, the man 'everybody loves', Busgy Malone, who is somewhat of a drifter, going from 'this and that' trying to earn an honest buck, mainly by finding potential boxers, although occasionally doing work for the likes of Fat Sam, the boss of a mafia gang. Fat Sam runs a 'book store', which is actually just a front for his speakeasy, the hub of Sam's empire. It's at Fat Sam's that we meet the majority of the other main characters, such as Tallulah, the lead performer at the speakeasy as well as being Sam's girl, and Blousey Brown, an aspiring singer who dreams of making it to Hollywood someday.
When a rival of Fat Sam's, Dandy Dan, begins trying to muscle in on his 'turf', Sam has to fight back to protect his empire - cue plenty of flying whipped cream.
The style of the movie is very tongue-in-cheek. Although in essence this is a very adult-themed movie, dealing with gangsters and the sort of underbelly of society, the themes have been significantly toned down and are treated in a light-hearted and often comical manner - hence the use of splurge-guns which fires a sort of custard/cream as 'weapons', rather than actual guns. Other themes that you might expect if it were a real gangster movie are altered just enough to render them both harmless and fun and speaking from what I remember of my experience watching the movie, I was too busy enjoying the food fights and wanting a pedal-powered car to consider the reality of mob-life. I think the movies U rating is perfectly adequate and theres nothing in the movie that would have a negative effect on children.
Even though the movie is largely targeted towards kids, there's still plenty entertainment value in there for adults as well.
Surprisingly, for such as young cast, the acting is actually fairly good. Don't get me wrong, there are obviously flakey moments here and there, but I think that's to be expected. Overall, the abilities of everyone involved are of a high enough standard to engage the viewer in the story. Whilst the plot is fairly simple, it is structured reasonably well and I thought the pace of the movie was fitting and when coupled with the acting and an entertaining script, it adds up to pretty engaging movie that should certain hold the attention of younger children, but equally adults shouldnt find themselves becoming bored or disinterested by the movies simple style.
For me, one of the greatest aspects of the movie is the music. 'Bugsy Malone' was the first time I encountered Paul Williams as a composer, but he's become one of my personal favourite musicians and songwriters since, having done some acting and music for various movies, notably 'Phantom Of The Paradise' and several Muppet movies.
The songs are both catchy and enjoyable to listen to and I personally enjoy them away from the movie.
Some might criticise the fact that the songs are actually sung by adults and then lip-synched by the actors. Personally, I dont have a problem with it, since there are plenty of musicals where the singing-voice is not actually the actors and I dont think it really detracts anything from the songs or movie as a whole. It might seem a little disjointed, Bugsys singing voice is particularly out of place compared to Scott Baios, but I dont think anyone would feel cheated by it at the end of the day.
A mention has to go to the choreography, which is first rate. I especially enjoyed the scene that accompanies the song Bad Guys, which is one that always stuck in my mind as child and still makes me chuckle to this day.
~~~ # "We could've been anything that we wanted to be..." ~~~
It was decided to cast American actors for the lead roles, but with a predominantly British line-up for the support. When the film was made the cast were all relatively unknown. Scott Baio played the role of Bugsy, whilst Jodie Foster, (who was one of the few cast-members who had previous movie experience) was Tallulah. These two have probably are probably the most successful since the movie. I think Foster shows exactly why she went on to become such a successful actress and, perhaps rather unsurprisingly, she delivers one of the strongest performances of everyone involved.
John Cassisi, who played Fat Sam, went on to star in a couple of TV series, but didn't do much beyond 'Bugsy Malone'. He manages to play the angry, down-but-not-quite-out mob boss character with enough intimidation to make him believable, but at the same time with enough humour that he doesnt alienate the audience.
Florrie Dugger plays Blousey and, for me at least, is the weak link in the main cast. Thats not to say shes terrible in the role, but I thought at times she didnt look comfortable onscreen and perhaps thats the reason she didnt go onto do any other acting work after the movie.
Strangely, there are some minor parts that were played by people that later went on to have successful acting careers. Anyone who is a fan of 'The Bill' will undoubtedly recognise Andrew Paul as O'Dreary, who went on to play P.C. Quinnan in the TV series. Equally, a very young Dexter Fletcher, (Baby Face) is currently staring in Hotel Babylon as Tony, the head concierge.
For the vast majority of the cast, 'Busgy Malone' is the only performance they ever did and most went back to their normal lives.
~~~ The DVD ~~~
This particular edition of the movie comes on one disc that features both the movie and the special features. It also includes a booklet, written by Alan Parker.
The menu is interactive and has been well thought-out, being not only easy to find your way around but also quite eye-catching. I like the way that the DVD menus tie in with the overall theme and style of the DVD, (such as its front cover, booklet) and I think it shows that an effort has been made to make this Special Edition a little, well, special.
The Special Features are: -
- Directors Commentary by Alan Parker
- Promotional Trailers
- Character Biographies
- Photo Gallery
- Art Gallery
- From Sketch To Screen Feature
- Trivia Notes
On the whole the bonus material is of a high standard, but its appeal is very much down to personal preference. Im not one for trailers, but I was surprised that these were a little more enjoyable that others Ive seen because of the introductions by characters before showing the clips from the movie.
The Character Biographies are quite amusing to read, since the way the biographies are writing is both humorous and enjoyable to read, but on top of this you learn a little bit more about some of the characters. Equally, the actually layout of the screen is quite stylish and I especially like the design of the front menu for this feature.
Some of the other material is a little more mixed and whilst not all of its to my personal taste, I think it probably holds some value for some viewers. The Photo and Art galleries the Photo Gallery show still, black-and-white images that were taken on set during the filming, whilst the Art Gallery are comic-style interpretations that are interesting, but both are relatively short and perhaps are only of interest in watching once.
From Sketch To Screen allows you to view the initial story-boards made by Alan Parker, a comic-strip style version of the movie, or the movie itself with the two placed alongside for comparison. This isnt personally one of my favourite features, but its still of a good enough quality that its not unpleasant to watch.
The Directors Commentary is quite interesting, though if youre not a fan of watching movies with commentaries then theres nothing special here to change your mind. For people who are interested in this sort of thing there are some interesting insights from behind the scenes, pre-production etc., that fans of the movie might find enjoyable to learn.
I found the booklet particularly interesting, since it details how Bugsy Malone came about and some of the highs and lows of producing a movie of this nature. Its nice having a little more details behind-the-scenes and I found this to be an interesting and occasionally insightful read.
~~~ Conclusion ~~~
Its very difficult for me to find anything I would criticise about the movie whole-heartedly. I will concede that people who dislike musicals, or cant stomach movies with children as lead-characters probably wont enjoy Bugsy Malone though I would dispute the argument its just a bunch of kids, but maybe thats just me. If youre indifferent to these sorts of things, then I think youll at least feel its an entertaining enough way of spending 89 minutes of your time.
For people who are already fans, this is a worth while DVD since the bonus material is enjoyable, well laid-out and on the whole interesting to watch, with at least a couple of items that should be of interest.
Given that you can pick this up relatively cheap from Amazon, I would say it's good value for money - all in all, I would highly recommend.
~~~ They Dont Make Them Like They Used To
Whatever your feelings about the 1980s, I think its true to say that a wealth of films were released during the decade that can be considered wholesome family entertainment the kind of thing that two, three, perhaps even four generations, (if theyre still going), of the same family can sit down and watch together without fear of offence, confusion or too much disappointment about plots, acting ability, etc. Movies such as Flight Of The Navigator, Labyrinth, Willow and Short Circuit to name just a few spring to mind when I think of this particular kind of 80s genre. Another movie that always comes to my mind is The Princess Bride, which is based on the fictional book of the same name, written by William Goldman, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie.
Directed by Rob Reiner, the director behind and in 'Spinal Tap', 'The Princess Bride' was originally released in 1987 and received a moderate amount of success, though it was by no means a blockbuster movie. The film has managed increasing popularity over the years with releases on VHS and DVD, arguably becoming something of a cult favourite. It regularly features in online polls (Top 100 type things) for comedy movies and is often cited as a favourite of adults and children alike.
Im sure weve all heard the phrase They dont make em like they used to. Upon hearing this phrase, I think you can fall into one of two camps. First theres the side that says here, here, nostalgically reminiscing on what things were like in the good old days; or, alternatively, you can fall on the side which says yes and theres a damn good reason why!. When it comes to these light-hearted, family-oriented movies I have to say I fall into the former category and think theres a distinct lack of escapism movies available these days that I would feel comfortable watching with the whole family.
That said, if youre the kind of person who always hated sitting around with the family watching light-hearted, arguably cheesy, 80s movies, then you may find The Princess Bride not entirely to your taste.
~~~ Once Upon A Time ~~~
The story starts with the young Grandson, (Fred Savage), who has been off school for a few days suffering with flu, when he reluctantly agrees to let his grandfather visit him and read him a story that his grandfather used to read to his father whenever he was ill. The book Grandpa, (Peter Falk) brings along is The Princess Bride, the tale of Westley, (Carey Elwes) and his true love, Buttercup, (Robin Wright) in an adventure featuring pirates, giants, rodents of unusual sizes, albinos and eleven-fingered villains.
After some initial protests, Grandson agrees to have the story read to him, so long as theres no kissing. So Grandpa begins reading The Princess Bride and the viewer is taken to the world that forms the vast majority of the movie, a land called Florin, where we see Westley, as a farm-hand to Buttercup and the development of their true love. Westley eventually has to leave, but promises to return as soon as possible; however, after news that Westley has had an encounter with the Dread Pirate Roberts, Buttercup believes him to be dead and agrees to marry Prince Humperdink, (Chris Sarandon).
When the future Princess Buttercup is kidnapped by a Sicilian mastermind Vizzini, (Wallace Shawn), a Spaniard sword-master named Indigo Montoya, (Mandy Patinkin) and a giant with a passion for rhyme called Fezzik, (Andre The Giant), a mysterious stranger in black comes to her rescue, only to be thwarted by Humperdink and his gaurds, led by Count Tyrone Rugen, (Christopher Guest). What ensues is a fantasy adventure of good versus evil, friendship and, of course, true love.
Before I go any further, trust me when I say that what Im about to tell you is far from a spoiler youre enjoyment (or lack of enjoyment, depending on which side youre on) will not be ruined by knowing one small, fairly obvious piece of information; however, if you like to retain a certain sense of mystery, skip the very last sentence of this paragraph and jump to the next now! For those of you still reading, the Mysterious Stranger In Black is in fact Westley.
~~~ I Dont Think It Means What You Think It Means (My Thoughts) ~~~
Now, Ill admit that on the surface of what Ive just described, most people (myself included) would probably be reaching for their proverbial sick-bags. The plot is truly cliché and cheesy, theres no denying that; however, theres a lot more to The Princess Bride than the plot summary might suggest.
Aside from the family-entertainment Ive already discussed, I found the movie to be extremely amusing enjoyable enough that I did laugh-out-loud. There is plenty of comedy that should appeal to all kinds of people of all ages, ranging from the more slapstick kind of humour to the more subtle kind. Whilst it perhaps is not quitr a laugh a minute kind of movie, the humour is still liberally spread throughout the movie and although you wont be necessarily aching with laughter, theres plenty of scenes that will make most people chuckle, or at least put a smile on their face.
I really enjoyed the acting in The Princess Bride. No-body is likely to win an Oscar from their performance, but this really isnt what the movie sets out to do. When taken in context as a piece of fantasy escapism, the acting is actually very good.
In fact, I think everything about the movie should be taken in context. As long as youre not expecting anything other than a harmlessly entertaining hour-and-a-half then you shouldnt be at all disappointed by the movie to my mind.
Falk and Savage as Grandpa and Grandson respectively play their part well and Falk in particular, (dodgy aging make-up aside) is quite entertaining, whilst Savage, given his young age, manages to pull of a convincing performance.
I particularly enjoyed the exchanges between Elwes and Patinkin as Westley and Montoya, especially their sword fight scene towards the beginning of the movie. I also enjoyed the exchanges between Patinkin and Andre as Fezzik, as their on-screen relationship struck me as quite brotherly. Whilst there are moments in these exchanges that are comical, there are also a few moments that you could easily class as touching. As far as the main characters go, the interactions are good enough to let you believe in the world youve entered for the 94-minutes of runtime.
Equally, the peripheral actors are fairly credible. Billy Crystal and Carol Kane make noticeable appearances as Miracle Max and Valerie. Also, Mel Smith is surprisingly talented as The Albino, despite it being a pretty minor role.
If there is a weak link in terms of acting, it sadly falls on Andre The Giant; however, I personally found this forgivable since the character of Fezzik is quite endearing because of his simple nature, loyalty and overall good-hearted, eager to please and do whats right nature.
Acting aside, the plot of the movie flows quite nicely and I never felt as if the movie was either being dragged out or pushed along too much all things told, the pace of the movie is perfect.
One aspect that I personally enjoyed was the sudden transitions between The Princess Bride and Grandpa and Grandson, reminding the viewer that the majority of what you see is purely fairy-tale.
I also think on the whole, the script is well written and, again whilst it wouldn't win any awards necessarily, it is entertaining enough that I don't think most people would find themselves becoming bored with the movie.
In some ways, certain aspects of the movie remind me of some of Mel Brooks work, (though I will admit there is a possibility that this might be down to Carey Elwes). Whilst I wouldnt say that the style of direction is all at that similar to Brooks, Reiner manages to bring a similar and engaging feel to the movie as a whole. Surprisingly, I dont feel the movie has aged all that badly considering its now twenty years old. Ill grant you the fact that there are certain aspects that do undoubtedly date it to the decade, but thats more to do with the feel and flow of the movie, rather than its visuals, since it doesnt rely on any particular special effects or something similar.
I think the music also deserves a mention. Its written and performed by Mark Knopfler, guitarist, singer and songwriter of Dire Straights. Knopfler is one of my favourite guitarists and in many ways the style of composition for the movie is easily recognisable as Knopflers. Whilst I perhaps wouldnt go as far as saying the music makes for a truly classic soundtrack, it is still enjoyable to listen to and I thought it tied in well overall with what was happening on screen.
I think the movie's PG rating is absolutely right, since there are some scenes that very young children may find a little unpleasant; however I dont think theres really anything in the movie that could be considered overly disturbing.
~~~ The DVD ~~~
The DVD itself is a fairly simple affair, without any real sort of whistles and bells. That said, there's nothing really here that would disappoint most people. Whilst the menus are basic, they're functional and easy to use.
The disc is sold as having Special Features. These are: -
- Cast Filmographies
I personally have never been that big a fan of trailers, given that you've probably already watched the movie; however, I'm sure these might well appeal to some people out there.
The Cast Filmographies hold some interest and are well designed. Their obvious flaw is that they can very quickly go out of date. In truth though, with the numerous websites available online these days, anything you could possible want to know about an actor is available at the click of a button.
Normally, such a lack of Special Features would probably be a bit of a disappointment. In this particular instances however, I really don't think it detracts too much from the DVD. Whilst it would always be nice to have bonus material, I think 'The Princess Bride' is such an entertaining and enjoyable movie that my experience of the DVD wasn't spoiled by the lack of them.
Throw in the fact that you should be able to purchase this DVD for around £5 or so, given that this has been available for a few years now. As ever, the best thing to do is shop around and see where you can get the best deal for this.
~~~ Conclusion ~~~
All things told, 'The Princess Bride' is a funny, light-hearted fantasy adventure that is capable of entertaining a wide range of people of all ages. Its unlike to make re-evaluate your life-style or any other epiphany-like moments, but as a way of spending a spare hour-and-a-half, its enjoyable and I think most people would feel that they hadnt wasted their time. One of my personal favourites of the wholesome movies that came out of the 80s highly recommended.
~~~ Dont Panic! The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy ~~~
Written by Douglas Adams originally in the late 1970s, The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy has seen many incarnations, from radio shows, books, computer games, a TV series, a towel and most recently the 2005 movie version.
The story follows the main protagonist, Arthur Dent, who is an average man in exceptional circumstances: When his friend, Ford Prefect, (an alien from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelguese), rescues him from Earth, which is destroyed by a Vogon constructor fleet in order to make way for a hyperspace by-pass, Arthur is taken on a mind-bogglingly bizarre adventure.
Ford is a roving reporter for the galaxys best selling book, The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, (which, in order to save confusion between this in-movie book and the movie itself I shall call The Guide from now on), which offers advice, useful tips and random pieces of trivia on virtual any and every subject or circumstance a hitchhiker might need to know about.
Armed with The Guide and his towel, Ford takes Arthur across the galaxy, where he encounters a host of weird and wonderful characters and situations, eventually meeting Zaphod Beeblebrox, (Fords two-headed, three-armed cousin), Trillian, (a human from Earth who Arthur had met at a party and then never seen again), and Marvin, The Paranoid Android, (who is actually more manically depressed than paranoid, but fans have often forgiven Adams for the term). Together, onboard The Heart Of Gold, they go in search of the mythical Magrathea.
~~~ The Movie ~~~
The movie is perhaps one of the longest running projects of all time, having first been discussed and worked on in the early in 1980s, it is the result of 23 years discussion, writing and brainstorming. Douglas Adams was involved in its production until his untimely death in 2001 and sadly therefore never saw his vision reach the big
Across its various versions, Adams introduced various ideas, often contradictory when compared to other incarnations. As such, there is no definitive version of the story. Even so, the movie does manage to incorporate the vast majority of ideas that most long-term fans would want included.
I originally went to see The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy in the cinema and in this setting the visuals are quite impressive. I left the cinema with mixed feelings overall and whilst I wouldnt say I thought the movie was terrible, nor was I overly compelled to purchase it as soon as possible on DVD. It was only having re-read the novel recently, that I thought Id check out the original radio-show and spotted the DVD, at a reasonable price that I decided it would be Mostly Harmless to add it to my collection.
I have to say that the movie does lose some of it visual-impressiveness away from the cinema. Although the CGI effects and animatronics are still well done, they didnt have quite the same impact as at the cinema. Now, I realise this is true of virtually any movie you go to see at the cinema; however, there are a couple of other problems with the movie that build up as the movie progresses.
~~~ Cast, The Script And Everything ~~~
The movie stars Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent, Mos Def as Ford Prefect, Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox, Zooey Deschanel as Trillian and Alan Rickman as the voice of Marvin The Paranoid Android, with Warwick Davis actually in the suit, as well as a host of other famous actors and actresses that I shall mention later in the review.
Firstly, I found the casting a little hit and miss in places. For example, Im not sure about Martin Freeman playing Arthur Dent. In previous incarnations, Dent is mild-mannered, though with moments of extreme frustration and even anger. I thought Freemans portrayal lacks the mild-mannered-ness, (is mannered-ness a word? It is now ) and therefore struggled to bring any great depth to the character. Also, I felt the chemistry between some of the main characters didnt seem all that believable.
I must say that some of the casting was superb Stephen Fry as The Guide is first rate since his voice is well suited to the part. Equally, Bill Bailey puts in a creditable performance as The Whale, (which is one of my favourite scenes and is probably the funniest part of the whole movie for myself). Also, John Malkovich plays Humma Kavula with great skill, bring a sinister and villainous quality to the role perfectly and Bill Nighly plays Slartibartfast reasonably well, though I have to say its not his best performance.
Sadly, a couple of decent performances doesnt hide the fact that a significant proportion of the acting is a little wooden in places.
I have to give credit to the actors and say that I dont believe its entirely their fault. With such a wealth of material available from Adams in previous incarnations, the script-writers have tried to incorporate as many elements as possible.
For fans of previous version this can be quite entertaining, but it does mean that certain elements are only mentioned in passing. When you actually think about the story as a whole, it is incredible complex and its no wonder that the script struggles to cram everything in.
I can understand the writers desire to include as much as possible from the Hitchhikers-Universe, but in places they feel like throw away comments and, whilst long-time fans can have the I get it! satisfaction, for anyone who perhaps isnt familiar with the material they dont really add anything to the movie as a whole and actually make it seem a little under-developed. It is worth questioning how much my previous knowledge affected my enjoyment of certain scenes, since you could argue that if you know nothing about the story, those throw-away comments Ive mentioned might not seem throw-away. Even so, there were moments that bits seemed shoe-horned into the script to try and appease fans and I think that they should either have been expanded on a little bit, or, alternatively, I dont think most people would have minded had a few references been left out here and there.
I think the movies 12-rating understandable, since their a some minor swear words in places and what the DVD calls fantasy horror, though they do happen very infrequently. Its a bit of a shame because the vast majority of the movie is actually suitable for a PG rating and I think a lot of children, (though not too young) would probably quite enjoy the movie.
I realise Ive focused a lot on the negative aspects of Hitchhikers and whilst I think they are valid points, the truth is that the movie isnt that bad, (though it is far from being a great movie). Some scenes are genuinely entertaining, such as when the Heart Of Gold turns into a ball of wool. I thought this scene was in keeping with the eccentric style Adams had used previously and, whilst I dont recall it being mentioned in other incarnations, it was entertaining and I thought worked well visually.
~~~ Special Effects ~~~
The CGI effects for The Guide are a very good interpretation of Adams concept. Visually, they are engaging, with bright colours and light-hearted enough to be amusing and I doubt anyone would feel cheated by the animation used here.
Equally, the CGI effects used towards the end of the movie are credible, though as Ive already mentioned, they do lose some of their impact on a smaller screen.
For me, the decision to use animatronics creatures, (provided by The Jim Henson Workshop) for the Vogons is a superb choice, rather than relying on CGI. I think it helped add a little more weight to the characters and making them seem more realistic than I think computer-generated creatures would have done.
~~~ The DVD ~~~
The copy I own is the two-disc edition. The menus on both discs are brightly coloured, mostly keeping in line with The Guide visuals from the movie. Navigation is intuitive and I doubt anybody would struggle in terms of finding their way around the discs.
The DVD comes with a fair amount of bonus material and the Special Features are: -
- Making Of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy
- Additional Guide Entry
- Deleted Scenes
- Really Deleted Scenes
- Sing Along
- Audio Commentaries
- Set Top Games: Marvins Hangman
- Dont Crash: Making Of (UK Exclusive Bonus)
All the Special Features are well produced, but as is often the case, their appeal will vary from person to person. All in all, I quite enjoyed these bonuses, my personal favourite being the Dont Crash documentary, since this is a full length feature that goes behind the scenes and goes in to much more detail than the Making Of documentary.
The Sing Along feature probably does have some value for drunken get togethers with family and friends, assuming youre into that sort of thing. Beyond that, I doubt there is any great appeal for this particular feature.
A mention should go to the Marvins Hangman game. This is essentially hangman, but instead of hanging a man, every letter you get wrong dismantles part of Marvin, with comments made by Marvin as the game progresses. Whilst it is well produced and holds some entertainment value, the constant comments between letters slows the game down and can become a little repetitive. Like the sing along, this is probably best suited for get-togethers, although, repetitiveness aside, it does hold some value as a play-by-yourself piece.
On the whole, these bonus features are of a high standard and quite entertaining. What does surprise me is the fact that the second disc only includes the Dont Crash documentary, with the majority of material found on the first disc along side the movie. I assume that the first disc is the standard edition and, whilst Dont Crash is very interesting, its questionable whether its worth buying two discs for. I myself am quite pleased since I only paid about £5 for it, (thank you Amazon and your special offers!). I also believe that you can get it from Tescos for around £7 or so and, assuming you dont already own the DVD, I think this is a reasonable price to pay (assuming you think youll enjoy the movie), but I personally wouldnt pay much more than that for what is essentially a mediocre movie with high-quality Special Features.
~~~ Trivia ~~~
A mention has to go to two rather amusing cameos. Firstly, Simon Jones, who played the original Arthur Dent in the radio and television shows, makes an appearance, (credited as Ghostly Image). As does the original Marvin android from the television version. Admittedly, for new fans these cameos probably wont even register, but anyone familiar with the television show in particular who chuckle to themselves and I for one thought it was a nice touch.
Douglas Adams is credited as a writer and producer of the movie, despite it not being finished until a couple of years after his death. Adams had spent an enormous amount time working on ideas and scripts and the credit is not simply a token gesture, but genuine recognition of the work he put into the movie prior to passing away.
Director, Garth Jennings, had never previously made a feature-length movie before. His previous directorships were essentially for music videos.
~~~ Conclusion ~~~
The movie overall is a bit of a mixed bag. Some scenes are really quite remarkable and, on the whole, the movie stays true to the ethos of Adams work. Sadly, its somewhat marred by some lack-lustre performances and occasional script-weaknesses.
As an introduction to The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, its not a terrible effort and, if nothing else, it should succeed in engaging a new audience enough to at least be interested in reading the books, or listening to the radio shows.
For long-time fans, I think its a little more tricky. I think some purists will dislike the overall way that they movie has been made; equally, I think some will appreciate the attempt to incorporate as much material from the previous versions.
Personally, as already mentioned, I dont think this is a terrible effort, but it is mediocre. I think the movie could have been made into something much bigger and more impressive. For the right price, this isnt a bad DVD to have in your collection, but on the whole, I think most people would probably be better waiting for it to be shown on television before making a decision whether to buy or not. For myself, whilst I will watch it again at some point, I can see it being out of my DVD player for some time before going back in.