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ROGERTHEDODGER
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Member since: 14.08.2010

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    • coral.co.uk / Internet Site / 6 Readings / 6 Ratings
      More +
      02.07.2015 19:47
      Very helpful
      (Rating)

      Advantages

      • "Connect card is innovative ."
      • "frequent offers . "
      • Good
      • " easily navigable site . "
      • Attractive

      Disadvantages

      • "Some markets omitted "
      • "Live chat staff could be more helpful . "

      A Better Bet Than Before

      Introduction
      *************
      Coral are one of the most established bookmakers on the high street and, for sometime now, online too. Along with Ladbrokes and William Hill they make up the triumvirate of bookies that can be spied on a street corner of almost any UK city,town or suburb. I have often used Coral in-shop as there is one literally a few hundred yards away from where I live.However, given the choice, I doubt I would use them quite as much were it not for the handy proximity of this small satellite branch. The main drawback for me is the limitations of some of their betting markets,some of which are reflected in the online channel. As this review is about www.coral.co.uk then I will concentrate on the latter.

      The OK Coral
      ************
      The Coral website has quite a nice appearance, resplendent in royal blue and with quite easy to find headings and links to most required functions and resources. It contains a handy general search box,which quickly locates your desired event/selection. One minor criticism is that the central pane seems a bit busy.At the time of writing this review a glance at the site is a little overwhelming with the day's horse racing in a meeting/time matrix, in-play tennis matches with live flashing scores, not to mention the same with golf,cricket,basketball, beach soccer and darts from Japan. I suppose it is better to look busy rather than redundant but I sense that this may flummox the first-time punter.

      As inferred above,Coral certainly have plenty of choice regarding sports and markets:think of a sport and it will be covered by them. The site also includes links to other platforms such as Casino,Live Casino,Bingo,Games,Slots,Poker, Virtuals and Lotto. The Bet In Play option also allows you stream the live event (£1 minimum stake required) and also cash out if required. This latter feature allows you to cut and run at a reduced profit (or smaller,damage-limiting loss) . The closest and most populist analogy to this is Deal or No Deal! Coral also have a mobile app that can be downloaded for free.I have not used this,so can't comment. They also enable you to switch between fractional and decimal odds.

      Offers
      ******
      One area in which Coral have excelled recently is with their promotional offers. The generosity of bookmakers counts as a big criteria for me,as I like to turn free offers into risk-free cash by laying them off on the exchanges(don't tell the bookie!) At the time of writing, a sample of Coral's current offers are as follows:
      Welcome bonus: Bet £5, receive a £20 free bet.

      Offers for existing customers:
      Summer Headliners: Bet £10 on pre-determined tournaments and then receive £10 in free bets.This is made up of a £5 online bet and a £5 in-shop bet. This is only for Connect card holders (more of which later).

      Tennis Bet and Get: Place 5 x £10+ bets in-play on any Tennis matches each day & get a £10 free bet to use on tennis in-play.
      Tennis ACCA insurance:Place a Tennis accumulator (5 fold or greater) on ANY Pre Match or In Play market and if one result lets you down, we will refund your stake as a free bet up to £/€25.

      Money Back if Beaten by a Head:Place a bet at any UK or Irish flat meeting and if your selection finishes second, beaten by a head or less we will give you money back as a free bet up to £/€25.(this is a long-standing,recurring offer).
      Best Odds Guaranteed on UK and Irish horse races.

      Coral Connect
      *************
      Not an entirely new concept is the Coral Connect card. However, it does differ from the long-standing Ladbrokes Odds On card in that it is not a loyalty card per se. Whereas you accumulate points on the latter which can be converted to free bets, the Coral Connect card entitles you to special offers .Recently, this also entitled you to in-shop price boosts but I have not seen these of late.

      One example of the exclusive offers for Connect customers is the aforementioned Summer Headliners offer. This enables you to extract a free £10 bet from each of seven major sporting events over the summer: a total of £70, which is commendable.
      The Connect card merges your in shop account with your online account.The card is free and you register with a unique pin number which you punch into a little machine. This means that you can transfer in-shop funds into your online account and,even more helpful,you can withdraw online winnings in the shop: a godsend, which greatly accelerates access to your rightful funds.

      The Not-So-OK Coral
      *******************
      Those are the pros, but what about the Coral cons? Well, although the live chat facility is quick and responsive I sometimes have to wonder about the training of the Coral staff. I recently queried one of the Summer Headliner free bets and it seemed to take the service assistant an age to deliver the answer,and this after I had put him straight several times! The odds are pretty standard, in my opinion, but I feel that they could offer more price boosts to existing customers.

      Another frustrating aspect for me about Coral is their restrictive To Win and Both Teams to Score market. Most bookmakers also include the Draw and Both Teams to Score market, but this is omitted from Coral's markets. There is a little strategy I like to use with double chance trebles using the draw and btts markets,but I guess that Coral's loss is Ladbrokes gain! They are not alone with this omission as it is something they share with William Hill.

      Payment methods
      ***************
      I tend to use Paypal for much of my betting/trading and I am happy to report that Coral accept this as a deposit/withdrawal method. Withdrawals are much quicker using Paypal and are generally received within four hours (of course,you can just nip to the shop with a Connect card and take it out there). Other accepted payment methods are Visa,Visa Electron, Visa Debit, Mastercard, Skrill*,Maestro,U Kash,Neteller*,Click and Buy,Eco,Paysafe Card, Instant Banking and Prepaid Card.

      A note of caution with promotional offers. Please check the current T&Cs if availing of an offer with Skrill or Neteller as these methods will often invalidate the promotion.

      Conclusion
      **********
      So, in summary, I feel that Coral have kept with the times with some semi-innovative additions to their portfolio. Their offers seem to be regular and generous,their odds generally OK and need to be applauded with the Connect concept. On the downside, I feel that their staff knowledge,in my experience, should be worked on and that they should add the draw and both teams to score to their markets.The latter point is my personal opinion,but I feel that they themselves may be driving customers elsewhere who like to have a wager on this market. These are relatively small gripes regarding the online experience of this long-standing bookmaker,an experience which is otherwise laudable.


      Website address: www.coral.co.uk

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    • The Hunt (Jagten) (DVD) / DVD / 13 Readings / 11 Ratings
      More +
      26.05.2015 22:34
      Very helpful
      (Rating)

      Advantages

      • Rewarding
      • "Atmospheric "
      • "Superbly acted"

      Disadvantages

      • "Subtitles may not appeal to some ."
      • "Prickly subject matter . "

      Hunter Turned Hunted

      Introduction
      ************
      The Hunt is an uneasy,compelling but ultimately important watch. Centred on the prickly taboo of paedophilia, or rather the accusation of it, we are slung head-first into a maelstrom of blinkered accusations bred by the lemming-like nature of mankind. The acting,settings and music all complement each other in heightening the effect of this terrifying tale.

      Plot
      ****
      This,for me,is more a riveting examination of the human condition rather than a formulaic rattling good yarn. The story centres around Lucas,played by Mads Mikkelsen, who works at a kindergarten school in a small Danish village. He seems a good,kindly sort and he thoroughly engages in break times by play-fighting with the kids. There is patently nothing creepy about this,despite how it may sound. The notion of a professional adult laying their hands on children would be anathema to nurseries in this country.

      Lucas appears much like a father figure to these kids as they clamber atop him as they run amok. One little girl,Klara,is particularly fond of him. She also seems to love his pet spaniel and he even walks her to nursery by the hand,at the behest of her father Theo,who also happens to be Lucas's best friend.

      All is well with the world for Lucas:he has a wide circle of hunting and drinking friends,has just embarked on a new love affair and he seems to adore his work. However, we do not have to wait long for a ground-shaking denouement that shatters all of that idyll.
      One day Klara flings herself rather disturbingly at Lucas during play time and attempts to plant a kiss on his lips. She also offers him a decorative heart,lovingly concealed in an envelope. Lucas tactfully repels her bizarre advances. Maybe as a result of this rebuttal Klara tells another teacher,in great detail,about an incident when Lucas exposed himself to her.

      From this point on his life will never be the same again,as the girl's word is given more gravity than his own and news of this unspeakable crime spreads like wildfire.Lucas then lives the life of an ostracised pariah as he is spurned,even attacked,by the very friends and community that once held him in high regard.

      Exoneration by certain quarters does little to erase the damage to his reputation and this indelible,malodorous legacy lingers long in the memories of many. There are points when we ponder if he did do it,or maybe someone else did :Lucas's son...or Klara's father? Revealing the above is not intended as a spoiler as the synopsis of the film reveals this already. The truly compelling aspect is the incredulous reflection on the human condition and how we,as humans, are capable of a blind, hateful destruction born of presumption and prejudice.

      The ending is contemplative and indicative of the indelibility of such a stain caused by association. The bad feeling may have receded for some,but not all.Has the hunter become the hunted?

      Themes
      ******
      Trust,or the lack thereof,is one of the film's main themes. The villagers blind readiness to believe Klara's word over Lucas's under the premise that 'children do not lie' about such things also exposes a naivety and underestimation of the cunning truculence of children. Conversely, at the beginning of the film,Lucas is afforded unqualified trust by his best friend Theo when he asks him to walk Klara to nursery school.

      Familial love and loyalty are very much in evidence with the wonderfully observed relationship between Lucas and his son. This is also evidenced by the anger they feel and sometimes portray in the face of,what they believe to be, almost unbearable injustice.
      The most frightening theme for me though is the human proclivity to blindly join a queue just because it's there. The analogy here is provided by the community's lift-hitchers on the bandwagon of an intransigent assumption that Lucas is guilty of this most heinous of crimes. The notion that 'there's no smoke without fire' rages to the fore here with barely a moment's reflection or consideration that the girl could have lied and that Lucas is,in fact, the victim.

      Finally, the most prevalent theme here is the strength of the human spirit in the face of unbearable opposition.Lucas always maintains his innocence throughout and he eventually refuses to meekly retreat in the face of the lynch-mob. His dignity remains intact throughout,even when it is stretched as taut as piano wire.One confrontation in the local supermarket,from which he is repeatedly barred due to his potential slur on it's reputation,is particularly memorable.

      Acting
      ******
      The acting in The Hunt is impeccable. Mads Mikkelsen, best known for his portrayal of Hannibal in the excellent eponymous series, is the stand out performance although he has some fearsome opposition in the tiny Annika Wedderkopp,who plays his accuser, Klara. She is astonishing for one so young in a poignantly understated, poker-faced, mature performance. Indeed, the solemn and delicate subject matter is more conducive to under,rather than over,acting.Lucas's son Marcus,played by Lasse Fogelstrom, is also deserving of special mention. The rest of the cast are pitched just right in that they are wholly believable in their fury, yet suitably unobtrusive in the mundanity of their small village life.

      Conclusion
      **********
      Although paedophilia is,quite rightly, seen as the vilest of crimes imaginable, The Hunt shows the flip-side and the nightmare that can be caused to the wrongly accused. Vinterburg, to his credit,does not preach,patronise or insult the viewer's intelligence. Rather, he holds up a mirror to the probable reaction and counter-reaction of most people in this situation, Lucas included.


      Director
      ********
      Thomas Vinterberg

      Main Cast
      *********
      Lucas - Mads Mikkelsen
      Theo - Thomas Bo Larsen
      Klara - Annika Wedderkopp
      Marcus - Lasse Fogelstrom
      Susse - Grethe



      *This was first published on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.

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    • skybet.com / Internet Site / 8 Readings / 8 Ratings
      More +
      25.05.2015 13:56
      Very helpful
      (Rating)

      Advantages

      • "Good turnover of promotions"
      • "Attractive and well maintained website . "

      Disadvantages

      • "Odds not always brilliant"

      Sky's The Limit!

      Introduction
      ************
      SkyBet is the gambling website of the media giant Sky and was formed in 2000. As you might expect, there appears to be no expense spared on the site and, sure enough, the appearance is an attractive one with the corporate identity emblazoned throughout in a brassy red,white and royal blue. The site is quite generous for its promotions and enhanced odds offers and is far more user-friendly and navigable than many of its competitors in the online bookmaker world. What's more, the site is also 'partner-friendly': another relative rarity in this sphere that enables more than one person in the household to register and avail of the various promotions.

      Promotions and Enhanced Odds
      ****************************
      SkyBet is pretty good with its promotions and offers. The current welcome bonus is a very tempting 'bet £5 and get £20 free'. For existing customers, the site also runs a Free Bet Club which,as the name suggests, offers customers the opportunity to avail of a weekly free £5 bet. This deal is not as good as it once was,as once upon a time you could qualify for up to £20 per week. The qualifying criteria is now £25 to unlock the £5 freebie.This can be split into £5 portions across any sports as long as the sum of bets placed total £25. The minimum odds are a bit restrictive in that they need to be at least evens. I would tend to arb this out by laying the same selection on the exchanges. The odds are not generally brilliant on Skybet so you would be lucky to actually profit by £5 risk-free. One slight riskier solution is to back the draw on the group correct score market. This is a rather quirky market that is seldom seen elsewhere.Basically you are backing the score to end 1-1,2-2 or 3-3. The odds for this happening are usually higher than those for the straight draw-even the lays odds on Betfair. Therefore I back this on SkyBet and lay the draw on Betfair.It does leave you exposed to a 0-0 and/or a 4-4,5-5 etc but it is generally a safe bet,as long as goals are expected!

      Skybet also runs ad-hoc promotions. For instance,they are currently running a 'bet £25 pre-match and get a £10 free in-play bet on any of the play-off finals'. At the time of writing,there is only the Middlesboro v Norwich game left later today,following Southend and North End's respective victories over the last two days. More typical are the enhanced odds they have such as yesterday's offer of Garner to score and Preston to win. This was hiked out to 3-1 from 15-8. SkyBet also has frequent enhancements on pre-determined treble selections: not my cup of tea, but good odds if you like that sort of thing.

      Horse Racing
      ************
      The promos on this site aren't restricted solely to football markets.Indeed every Saturday the site pushes a great little horse racing offer. This comes in subtly shifting guises but generally focuses on the first televised Channel 4 race of the day and they will often refund your stake up to £25 if your selection loses to the favourite. To make this risk-free I just back and lay a selection other than the favourite and hope the latter wins to avail of a facile £25.If it doesn't, there's nothing lost.The site also offers best odds guaranteed which means that they will honour the bigger odds between the starting price and the early price,if taken.

      Super 6
      *******
      SkyBet differs from many other sites by means of some very enterprising add-ons.One case in point is the Super6 challenge. This is totally free to enter and,although well nigh impossible, the winner can avail of £250,000. It has been won but is head-breakingly difficult with no small amount of luck needed too.You only need to guess the correct score in six pre-selected fixtures on a Saturday. All six correct nets you the quarter of a million. However, £5,000 is awarded to the player who gets nearest each week. It's probably better odds than the lottery and is free,after all,so fair play to the site for this.

      Transfer Fund
      *************
      The Transfer Fund works by opting in and then collecting tokens towards a prize draw whereby you can win £250,000 for the club of your choice,ostensibly to spend on players-hence the name,and £5,000 for yourself. A token is secured for every £1 spent.

      Other Features
      **************
      SkyBet is the main site I use but I have sometimes dabbled in the associated 'rooms' such as SkyCasino and ,confusingly to me,SkyVegas.The latter is cited as Sky's casino site.If that's the case,what's the point of SkyCasino? Other areas comprise SkyPoker and SkyBingo and all can be easily accessed by clicking the relevant logo via the SkyBet site. Again, many of these carry promotions for both new and existing customers. The main one at the moment is the SkyVegas Road Trip promotion whereby you 'travel' across a virtual USA and can avail of the weekly £5,000. Basically, it's a loyalty programme that also rewards you with re-loads.
      SkyBet has quite recently followed suit with Betfair and a few others by introducing a cash out facility on their in-play markets. This works a little like Deal or No Deal in that you can cut and run with a reduced,but guaranteed,dividend should your bets be in the ascendancy but you have some reservations as to whether they will hold out.The site also links to statistics and tipping zones as well as portals to external,related sites such as Sporting Life and Sky Sports. There is a betting calculator and you are able to switch between decimal and fractional odds to be displayed.

      Payment Methods
      ***************
      Withdrawals are speedy,in my experience, especially via PayPal. Other methods include Visa,Visa Electron,Mastercard,Maestro and Laser. Strangely, I can't see Skrill as a payment method which is a shame as withdrawals to their ewallet are generally the fastest transactions of all:although such payment methods will often disqualify you from promotions.

      Conclusion
      **********
      In all,I feel that SkyBet is an attractive and well-maintained online gambling site with eye-catching graphics and good promotions and odds enhancements. The slight downside is the, often, quite paltry odds on offer and you will probably lose a bit more by laying off qualifying bets here against Betfair and the like. Having said that, I have still profited from SkyBet,such is the plethora of promos on offer. A very good site.

      *Skybet can be accessed at www.skybet.com

      **This review was originally published on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.

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    • oddschecker.com / Internet Site / 8 Readings / 8 Ratings
      More +
      15.05.2015 19:12
      Very helpful
      (Rating)

      Advantages

      • "Great tools and calculators"
      • "Invaluable odds comparison facility"
      • Free!

      Disadvantages

      • "Could be more bookmakers represented"
      • "Odds not updated quite in real time"

      Oddschecker:Proof that not all that's Free is Crap!

      Oddschecker is a fantastic website for the discerning gambler and,what's more,it's totally free!

      Usually free services are pretty poor where gambling is concerned (beware the free tipping service especially) but Oddschecker is the rare exception. It's main purpose is as a one-stop 'shop' for odds comparison in an attractive,at-a-glance layout. All the usual suspects are there such as Bet365,Ladbrokes,Coral,William Hill,Betfair et al and the best odds are emboldened for each selection in a matrix-like grid.There is also a handy shading feature to denote which odds are drifting(pink) or shortening(blue). The bookies are listed on the horizontal axis with their logos and,beneath that, another nice touch with any existing offers that they are carrying (this can be best odds guaranteed or refunds on 2nd places in horse racing).Most major sports are represented and an inexhaustible display of markets that you would never find in a standard high street bookies - such as 'team to lead at half time and then fail to win at full time'. The vertical axis is populated by the possible selections.

      There is so much more to Oddschecker than its growing reputation as an excellent comparison site. I frequently use its calculators (down the left hand side)and these are very user friendly, even accounting for % commission for certain exchange operators such as Betfair in the Hedging Calculator. The only other calculator I use is the Dutching one which allows you to gain equal profit should you wish to choose multiple selections.This is useful if you want to create your own double-chance bet using different bookmakers with the best odds for win and draw respectively in football.

      There are other bells and whistles such as statistic and tipping pages but I have found the tipsters to be less than worthy! You are able to select the odds format from fractional and decimal and one wonderful feature is the multiple builder. If you like accumulators you simply choose all your selections by adding them to the bet basket and when you are done a single click will reveal which bookmaker offers the best average odds. This can be a huge difference where accumulators are concerned and it is well worth using the site for this alone.

      The graphics are eye-catching and the site seems to be very well maintained.In all, an excellent resource that I wouldn't even,whisper it quietly, mind shelling out some money for.

      Some of the best things in life CAN be free, it seems.

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    • paddypower.com / Internet Site / 8 Readings / 8 Ratings
      More +
      11.05.2015 21:55
      Very helpful
      (Rating)

      Advantages

      • "Humorous "
      • "Re-load bonuses"
      • "regular promotions"
      • Good

      Disadvantages

      • "Site could be a bit more user-friendly"
      • "Odds not the most competitive"

      A Fun and Fresh Bookmaker....to be Sure!

      I am a member of many online bookmakers and Paddy Power offer some of the most rewarding experiences in this fiercely competitive industry. In my opinion they do lift their heads bravely above the parapet with bold,humorous graphics and somewhat contentious hooks to lure the discerning punter away from the main throng. Never one to pull its punches Paddy Power,the brainchild of the eponymous affable Irishman, have been seen escaping within an inch of their lives after running a book on the next Pope in the Vatican City and enlisting the services of Imogen Thomas after her lurid,high-profile fling with Ryan Giggs: "Imogen That!" ran the full page headline.The rather cruel but funny caricatures of prominent sportsmen adorn its website, be it a wingnut-like Wayne Rooney or a fuzzy-headed Fellaini.

      The humour is a welcome relief in an often dry and unadventurous industry but the main reason that I am drawn to Paddy Power is because of their generous bonuses and offers.They are arguably the inventor of the Money Back Special,or MBS as it is now commonly abbreviated. these frequent offers will see your stake refunded if a certain trigger happens -such as if Messi scores first or Ronaldo scores last. Shrewd exchange punters can find ways of generating a bet to nothing out of these offers by backing/laying the same outcome and profiting at no risk should the trigger happen. For horse racing fans they often refund you if your horse falls and they always offer best odds guaranteed: meaning that if you take the early odds on a horse and the price drifts they will pay you out at the higher odds.

      The site offers all the usual bells and whistles such as allowing you to view the odds in either decimals or fractions, in-play betting,live streaming of events and one of the better live help 'chat' facilities. A slight drawback for me is that I find that the site could be a little more navigable. I have also found that it doesn't always work as well on all browsers -Google Chrome is the best, in my experience.

      In all I feel that Paddy Power's pros far outweigh its cons and it continues to stand apart from the masses due to their relative generosity (they paid out early on New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup a few years ago and frequently pay out if a horse refuses to race but is technically under starters orders -they don't have to do this). For me, it is a refreshing change to see a bookmaker that does not take itself too seriously and continues to offer great promotions to both new and existing customers alike.



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    • More +
      09.05.2015 09:34
      Very helpful
      (Rating)

      Advantages

      • "Creates employment in the industry"
      • "Lucrative (with the right approach)"
      • "Pleasurable pastime "

      Disadvantages

      • "Idiots should stay away"
      • "in the wrong hands"
      • "like MANY other things"
      • "Not good"

      Let the Individual Decide - online gambling is not for fools.

      My belief is that no,online gambling should definitely NOT be banned. Why? Because such a highly patronising suggestion could lead to a tidal wave of retracting the trust in the responsibility that many well-balanced adults possess. Sure, online gambling CAN be damaging,but so can driving,drinking, horse-riding,smoking,playing sports,falling off a log and...well the list goes on.We don't need a return to the namby-pamby nanny state that wrapped us up in cotton wool during the crazy 'health and safety' era (those paper cuts are fearsome don't you know?

      Contrary to the popular saying that 'the bookies always win' the growing influence of the exchange markets means that, for the savvy,relative few, who are willing to listen and learn, the application of matched betting and arbitrage means that the punter is at a decided advantage from very low-risk to totally risk-free. In fact, I made over £60 totally risk-free profit from two Champions league-related Bet365 offers this week. These promotions are well known for new customers but there are frequently recurring offers for exisiting customers,such as those two. that represent free money for the shrewd punter.

      To those who sneer at the above and remain ignorant then all I can say is "good,carry on in ignorance".I don't have time for such closed-minded idiots.Secondly,it makes my risk-free profits all the more pleasurable as the aforementioned naysayers sit seething and kicking the cat as they siphon a measly few pence or pounds into their bank accounts.

      This is just a detail of my argument.The crux of my point regarding online gambling is:

      Let the individual decide.All online sites in the UK are required to carry warnings and outlets for help such as gambleaware.co.uk. They often display the mantras 'gambling should be fun' and 'only bet with what you can afford to lose'. This is so true.If people choose to ignore this, then more fool them. If they have addiction problems then get out or seek help.

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    • The Hunger Games (DVD) / DVD / 70 Readings / 66 Ratings
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      15.09.2012 18:35
      Very helpful
      (Rating)
      16 Comments

      Advantages

      Disadvantages

      Superbly promising first part of a much hyped trilogy

      For Starters
      **********
      I have been a little non-plussed by some recent filmic intepretations of children's literature. In my opinion, the big-screen versions of work by J.K Rowling, Lemony Snicket, and Philip Pullman have been over-hyped and underwhelming. So, it was with not a little scepticism that I prepared to watch The Hunger Games, the silver screen's version of Suzanne Collins much vaunted trilogy.
      I am happy to report that the film is terrific.I will admit now that I have not read the books but,as befits a good first instalment, this film showcases good direction, plot and performances. The concept and themes are thought-provoking and,perhaps most important of all, the ending leaves us sufficiently inquisitive and curious as to what will happen in the second film. By turns harrowing, maddening, tender and life-affirming the Hunger Games did more than enough to fully extinguish my initial scepticism.

      Cooking Plot
      ***********
      The plot of the Hunger Games is straightfoward enough yet is wonderfully paced and realised
      as we are sucked into a whirlpool of twists and counter-twists. The concept of the film is difficult to countenance, however, without a feeling of revulsion. The nation of Panem (formerly North America) upholds an annual tradition whereby each of its twelve districts is compelled to select a boy and a girl between 12-18 to 'participate' in the Hunger Games. These are staged as a penance for the Districts' uprising, a show of sacrifice,and ostensibly being a 'price to pay for peace'.The film opens with a written summary of this dubious 'pageant', the terms of which are bound by the Treaty of the Treason.
      The wrong-headed and callous notion is perpetuated here by President Snow who proclaims,Big Brother-like, that the Games will promote healing and unification. Whether this is propaganda or genuine wrong-headedness is immaterial as it does not change the fact that 23 young people and children are to face certain death.
      Terminology and soundbites are imbued with sinisterly 'positive',paradoxical spin: The Games selection process is known as a 'reaping' and the doomed participants referred to as 'tributes'.
      We are focused on District 12, a poor,outlying,coal-mining district. More specifically we zoom in on Katniss Everdeen, a feisty,pragmatic 16 year old. We gather that she is an ace archer and huntress par excellence.She dotes on her younger sister, Primrose, and this is evidenced from the outset. As the day of the reaping draws near the tension mounts, as this is clearly a lottery no one wants to win. Imagine the horror then, when the girl selected to represent District 12 is indeed little Primrose Everdeen.
      The gob-smacked, distraught Katniss eventually finds her voice to scream that she will take her place. A volunteer is unprecedented in the Hunger Games, but Katniss's offer gives us a foreshadowing of her selfless bravery and hero(in)ism.
      Meanwhile the chosen boy is Peeta, someone Katniss remembers via a series of ongoing flashbacks for an act of kindness her bestowed upon her while feeding his pigs. The combatants are introduced to the grotesque Effie Trinket, leader of District 12. She,in turn, leads them to their mentor, the whisky-swilling Haymitch - a previous 'winner' of the Games.
      All 24 tributes across the 12 Districts are required to perform a series of tests before would-be sponsors, who could potentially assist them in their quest for victory. One such test is in the form of a chat show to showcase each participant's personality. Hosted by another OTT creation in the form of the cheesy Caesar Flickerman, this is beamed to a captive, brainwashed nation. Later tests are more physical and skill-orientated. Katniss impresses,infuriates and alienates with her archer's prowess and non-conformist, headstrong defiance. Peeta's biggest asset is his strength, but both are made clear that mere brute force and peerless hand-eye coordination will not be enough. The Games will also be as much about strategy and guile,even before they begin. We are reminded of their task ahead in the form of some formidable oppostion from the richer districts. These privileged kids have been drilled and trained from a very early age and almost invariably emerge victorious in the Games. There are precision knife and spear throwers,not to mention some mightily impressive hand-to-hand combatants.
      The games begin in a clearing,surrounded by vast forests.Inevitably,there are some instant casualties. There will later be death by natural causes such as starvation, dehydration, and exposure. Strategies unfold as both alliances and divisions form. Sickeningly the Games are broadcast back to the chattering classes by means of omnipresent cameras concealed throughout the forest and general 'arena'. Each time a tribute is killed a single cannon shot is sounded. If a tribute is deemed to be evading combat then the 'Game Makers' can force them back towards the other participants by creating strategically raging fires.
      The richer kids look to have the upper hand,particularly the arrogant and cocky Cato.
      Katniss and Peeta are separated as the latter is drawn into an alliance. Has he turned on
      her? But then again there can only be one survivor, so it really is everyone for him/herself. Or so you would think. Who, and what, will prevail?The plot is so compelling as we encounter more twists than you would find in a bag of fusili pasta. Hungry?.....you'll have to wait and see!

      Themes
      *******
      Greed, injustice, oppression, love, and loyalty all populate the thematic cornucopia of the Hunger Games. The Dictatorship of President Snow highlights the disparity between rich and poor.Even the Districts have a hierarchy with the smaller numbered ones representing the rich, more centralised enclaves while the ascending numbers denote more outlying,poorer Districts.
      Greed and gluttony permeates the film throughout but is grotesquely best evidenced by Effie Trinket. The lavish trappings of her lifestyle are experienced by Katniss and Peeta in the build-up to the Games as they are dined and accommodated in opulent and hi-tech grandeur.This is in strark contrast to the opening dull,greyish scenes that depict down-at-heel District 12.
      The transparent triviality and sickly,smiling insincerity of characters suchs as Effie Trinkel and Caesar Flickerman only serve to reinforce the fact that these young peopleare mere disposable pawns or numbers (much like their Districts) in a bigger game of entertainment for the privileged few.
      For me, The Hunger Games is a big nod to 1984 in the insubordination and de-humanisationof subjects. As mentioned earlier, President Snow's address to the nation via large screensis like Big Brother incarnate. Similarly, and worryingly, The Hunger Games seems to be putout there as a possible nightmare vision of the future. Thankfully, Orwell got it mostly wrong - let's hope that Collins does likewise.
      But perhaps the most interesting semi-analogy is that of the reality TV show, the Orwell-inspired Big Brother amongst them. I suppose of all the programmes that come under this umbrella then the one that most closely approximates itself is I'm A Celebrity Get Me Outof Here. This is not least because of it's jungle setting, with the participants required to demonstrate'survival technigues. Of course no one dies in these programmes and I do not wish to trivialize the message behind The Hunger Games. After all the most that a BB contestant loses is their dignity, not their life. However, to a much lesser degree there is a correlation with peoples insatiable appetite for voyeurism and a twisted satisfaction derived from spying on others' misfortunes.
      If all this seems a little depressing, then there is a flip side in the form of the love
      and loyalty that can flourish, particularly when people are placed under life-threatening
      pressure. Katniss is like a beacon of hope, as her unshakeable good nature is tested to the absolute limit. Although she learns to adapt for the sake of her own good, her contempt for authority is clear and she is utterly selfless and courageous to the end. It is not Katniss alone, however, who has such admirable traits as we see acts of kindness and fortitude of spirit in others, even from some surprising sources.


      Characters and Performances
      ************************

      Katniss Everdeen
      **************
      Katniss Everdeen, you may have guessed by now, is the film's main character. I have mentioned some of her more noble attributes and these are wonderfully captured by Jennifer Lawrence. From the start we soon discover that she has had to be a virtual mother to Primrose, as her own mother is clearly not up to the task. We learn,during a later hallucination, that her father passed away in a coal mining accident. The absence of a paternal,and effectively a maternal,presence in the household sees Katniss step up and take admirable ownership in looking after Primrose. It also helps to forge an indelibly strong, self-sufficient character. Into the bargain she isn't too shabby with a bow and arrow when hunting and,asPeeta attests to Haymitch, she can shoot squirrels "right between the eyes".
      Lawrence handles this weighty role quite effortlessly. She is also quite visually stunning at times, with her tumbling dark locks and mesmerising blue eyes she reminds me a little of a young Liv Tyler.


      Peeta
      *****
      Another good performance from the film's other main protagonist. Peeta largely reciprocates the loyalty, bravery and kindness shown by Katniss. Although he is not as vocal and outwarldly feisty as Katniss, he nevertheless has admirable standards. This is particularly evidenced when he confides in Katniss that whatever happens, live or die, he does not want to be owned by 'them'. His commendable insistence on maintaining his personality is of paramount importance to him.
      Peeta's feelings for Katniss extend beyond mere friendship and as this becomes apparent, it serves as a beguiling sub-plot thoughout the film. This love is initially unrequited by the outraged Katniss, but will she succumb? One of Peeta's main physical attributes is hisstrength and can,as his co-combatant proclaims "... throw a 100lb sack over flour right over his head". Another trick he has mastered is the art of camoflouage,which he uses to good effect in the arena - even if his creations make him look like something out of an 80s music video.
      Josh Hutcherson is well cast as Peeta, he looks suitably physically imposing and
      turns in a solid,if unspectacular, performance.This is not a slight, but a compliment, as he does not shift a disproportionate amount of emphasis away from Katniss's character.

      Gale
      ****
      Gale does not appear in the film for too long but is a significant character as he is
      Katniss's boyfriend. As he is not selected for the Games we only see him prior to his lover's voluntary conscription with some brief interludes that see him watching her progress on TV, and at the end. Some of these intermittent appearances are important as they remind us of a potentially hazardous love triangle forming. This is highlighted when he is witnessto a particularly tender moment between Katniss and Peeta,captured on camera.You have to feel for the lad as the probability is, from his point of view, that Katniss and Peeta will die anyway, and this may be his last abiding image of her. This may explain why his reaction is quite poker-faced, as jealousy would seem futile on the face of it.Liam Hemsworth plays a good straight bat as Gale.


      Haymitch
      ********
      Haymitch is assigned to be mentor for Katniss and Peeta. As a previous winner of the Games he would appear be an inspired appointment. That is until you factor in his rampant alcoholism. Is his profuse drinking a psychologically scar from what we witnessed during his time in the arena? It is immediately apparent that Haymitch has taken the position to avail himself of the free booze. He is pessimistic about his charges chances and tells them as much to their faces. It is only when Katniss commands his respect by standing up to his negativity that he takes an ever more sober and serious hand in their quest. This new-found sobriety enables him to channel some extremely valuable wisdom and encouragement through to Katniss and Peeta.
      The character brings some much needed humour to the film, not least in his verbal jousts with Effie Trinket. Woody Harrelson is responsible for breathing whisky-reeking breath into Haymitch, and is one of the film's standout performers.


      Effie Trinket
      **********
      Effie Trinket is the extremely eccentric leader of District 12 and looks like a corpse bride pulled from the wreckage of a Vivienne Westwood studio. Tittering and tottering in high-heeled, knock-kneed incongruity she is a grotesque affirmation of the polarity in class that exists in Panem. Her superficial outlook and attitude also highlights this divide. An instance of this is when Haymitch and Katniss come to verbal blows over dinner and the latter stabs a knife between his fingers. Despite the fact that the topic of the argument is life or death, all Effie can muster is concern for her table. As the knife plunges down she loudly admonishes with a shriek "That's mahogany!" Elizabeth Banks turns in a memorable performance, beneath all the make-up.

      Caesar Flickerman
      ***************
      Along with Effie Trinket, Caesar FLickerman is the most visually arresting character in the film, but not necessarily in a complimentary sense. As the uber-cheesy chat-show host and Games commentator he is a like a purple-rinsed Elton John as Mozart.His role is to chat to the young contestants so that the vile viewers and sponsors may get an inkling into their likelihood of winning the games. Much like a pre-parade ring for racehorses, this helps the public decide who their money will be on.Flickerman's fixed grin and dazzling insincerity help to spark the paradox that mixes impending death with frivolous candyfloss.Stanley Tucci does not disappoint as the outrageous Flickerman.


      President Snow
      *************
      Although we do not see the President too often, his presence is pervasive thoughout. Played with sinister aplomb by Hollywood heavyweight Donald Sutherland, his ruthless intransigence is all too evident. Just as we see a ray of hope, then Snow falls heavily upon it! It is clear that he favours the richer districts, and news of outsiders outperforming their odds rankles with him. He is one of those rare actors from whom a mere glance can chillingly convey impending trouble and terror.


      Rue
      ***
      Rue is a very shy little black girl who befriends Katniss by helping her during the Games.Although only young and small, she is bright and resourceful. Her main strategy seems to be built around hiding, which is aided by her penchant and ability to climb very high trees. It is only when I noticed that she has the cutest smile and expressive face that I almost forgot that she was engaged in such a deadly game. The fact that we are invited to get to know her a little may be directorially deliberate, in heightening our outrage as to how anyone could condemn such a beautiful little child to, almost, certain death. Rue is played by Amandla Sternberg, and I think she could be a little star in the making.

      Cinna
      *****
      I feel a mention is deserved for Cinna, enterprisingly played by a glittery green-eyeshadowed Lenny Kravitz. He is responsible for designing the costumes for Katniss and Peeta in order to impress the sponsors. But much more than just a designer, he becomes an encouraging and friendly confidant-especially to Katniss. I don't know why I should be surprised, but Kravitz succeeds with a tender, bravura performance.


      Just Desserts?
      ***********
      I can't reveal the ending but needless to say it is something of a double-edged sword,comprising satisfaction and regret. It's not totally happy,nor is it totally sad.Of course, we need to bear in mind that this is only the first instalment of a trilogy, and a completely happy,clappy resolution would be pointless as conflict and dilemma are what drive plotlines forward.We need to be enticed into yearning for the second part and my curiosity was suitably pricked into wanting me to do so. There was a sufficient sense of foreboding that sees me awaiting the next one with eager anticipation.

      Conclusion
      *********
      I wholeheartedly recommend the Hunger Games. Despite my pre-viewing scepticism it completely won me over and, for once, a modern 'children's' book has alchemised into cinematic gold. My wife has read the trilogy and assures me that it is very faithful to the book, except that it does not quite develop as many characters. However, she too loves the film which can be anachievement itself when you already have a pre-set notion of the story in your mind's eye.
      Even though it is has been classified with a 12 certificate the concept of children being killed for entertainment is hardly an easy one to stomach. We are largely guarded from overtly graphic visualisation of the killings, rather we are shown the plunge of a knife and some prone bodies. However, the film can be upsetting and I would extend this caution to adults as well. Unlike the splatuitous horror of something like Saw or Hostel, the Hunger Games is,of course,visually tame but far more terrifying in the implicit terror that we encounter. That said, I feel that the film is important and resonates as a reminder of mankind's potential for infinite,untold cruelty.

      Based on the Novel by
      *******************
      Suzanne Collins

      Director
      *******
      Gary Ross

      Main Cast
      ********
      Katniss Everdeen - Jennifer Lawrence
      Peeta Mellerk - Josh Hutcherson
      Effie Trinket - Elizabeth Banks
      Haymitch Abenathy - Woody Harrelson
      President Snow - Donald Sutherland
      Gale Hawthorne - Liam Hemsworth
      Cinna - Lenny Kravitz
      Caesar FLickerman - Stanley Tucci
      Rue - Amanda Sternberg
      Cato - Alexander Ludwig

      General Information
      ****************

      Audio
      *****
      Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

      Audio Description
      **************
      Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

      Aspect Ratio
      **********
      Anamorphic 2.40:1

      Run Time
      ********
      137 minutes approx

      Language
      ********
      English

      Subtitles
      ********
      English for the hearing impaired

      Format
      ******
      Dual layer

      BBFC Certificate
      *************
      12: Contains intense threat, moderate violence and occasional gory moments


      Special Features
      *************
      None (unless you count trailers for other films).
      I believe that there is another double DVD version for fans of peripherals.

      *This review was first posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.

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      • More +
        04.06.2012 19:54
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        (Rating)
        13 Comments

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        Not haute cuisine, but taste,value, ambience, and service were all excellent.

        Introduction
        **********
        Last night I visited Chiquito with my wife. This is part of the chain of Mexican restaurants throughout the UK. The Blackburn version adjoins a Frankie & Benny's and an ice rink,lies across from a Pizza Hut, and is in close proximity to a cinema and retail park. So, plenty of scope for post-eat activity to burn off those burritos. We had been here before, but not for some time, and were curious to see what it was like.

        Appearance
        **********
        The appearance is attractive, with outdoor seating available - although this would be a rare option indeed given Blackburn's climate. You are often assailed by a Latin beat from some distance, which is not always unpleasant unless it's Ricky Martin. The interior is dark, very clean and airy with a nice, plentiful mix of tables and booths. There is a small bar area to your left dotted with high stools which surround a long, diagonally-slung table. They also line the front window, if you prefer counting cars. It is possible just to nip in for a drink, which is not a bad option given the ever-dwindling amount of decent drinking holes in the town.

        Greeting
        *******
        Our acknowledgement and greeting was prompt and friendly, the waitress diverting us to a nice table with a long comfy-looking, padded seat opposite a couple of chairs (guess who got the chair -the clue is in comfy-'looking' grrr!). She did ask us if the location was ok, which is a nice touch often overlooked. I hate places where they march you over to a designated place, where you have to remonstrate needlessly to be re-located. They don't choose your food, so why should they decide where you sit?
        The waitress offered us two menus, a main and a set carte, and told us that our server, Chris, would be over shortly. I know you don't really need to know his name, but I thought it was a nice touch and hopefully gives the servers some ownership, respect and a feeling of responsibility.

        Menus
        *****
        The menus had changed quite considerably since my last visit. We had actually got a voucher for 20% from a recent visit to the Vue cinema nearby which restricted us to the main menu. Nevertheless, the set version does contain a reasonable choice and looks particularly good value - hence the voucher exclusion, no doubt.
        The main menu impressed me with its appearance and diversity. My feeling is that Mexican food is not everyone's bag and has had a rather unfair reputation for being one-dimensional. There is a pre-conception that enchiladas, burritos and fajitas make up 99% of that country's fayre . But there is plenty besides and Chiquito seems to have embarked on a culinary crusade to mix things up and diversify. They proudly maintain the Mexican dishes as the staples, with appealing photographs, painstaking descriptions and choices of fillings. They have also embraced Tex-Mex dishes and even tapas for those who would rather drink Texaco than eat Mexico. I really can't understand the anti-Mexican reaction - my hope is that it is ignorance and prejudice concerning the 'lack of diversity', but I feel Chiquito is on the right track here.

        Some particularly interesting additions since my last visit were the Pollo del Fuego (fiery chicken), Slow roasted lamb shank (within a Mexican twist), and the Aztec Jambalaya. There is a curious fish dish (Mahi Mahi) which combines mango and a light chili glaze. There is also a good range of steak available.
        Vegetarians are well catered for with dishes such as the Veggie Five Bean Chili, and the Jambalaya (vegetarian alternative), being two such examples. Furthermore, you can mix and match all manner of vegetarian fillings with the burritos,enchiladas, tacos etc.

        The kids menu looks pretty extensive too with a Taco Tapas Tray, and mini burritos, and fajitas. I suppose it's difficult for Chiquito to persuade kids to try more adventurous food but they seem to be very resourceful and the kids are well looked after. There were some free colouring packs they could pick up on the way in and the few children that were there last evening seemed to be in their element.
        At the risk of being 'listy' I would urge anyone wishing to view the menus to visit the website at www.chiquito.co.uk

        Presentation and taste
        *******************
        I plumped for the Pollo del Fuego while my wife opted for the fajitas.
        The fajitas was the first dish to arrive, suitably sizzling as it was set down with a cautionary 'don't touch the plate!' heads up. It was delivered on a large wooden block which was topped by a volcanic mound of steaming chicken strip fillets. These were accompanied by pots of sour cream, guacamole and salsa. There was a carefully parcel wrapped pile of rolled tortillas aside a dish of grated cheese and lettuce.The tempting appearance seemed to be matched by the taste as my wife entered the rare zone of tacit satisfaction! Furthermore, she said it was the most enjoyable meal she has had for a while which, believe me, is praise indeed.
        My fiery chicken flew in shortly after and also looked pretty hot, in more ways than one, This was made up of long fillet strips in a spicy coating, atop a bed of brown rice and 'fajita vegetables'. The dish was indeed hot and spicy, so the sour cream that topped it proved to be a welcome cooling device. It wasn't macho-macho hot, but my tongue knew it had been in a fight. My only slight concern was that the chicken was ever so marginally on the tough side, but the piquancy and combination of tender rice and vegetables helped to offset this.

        Part-way through our mains we opted for a large pitcher of Sangria, which was a nice deep ruby red, topped with ice and swirling wedges of fruit. The taste was excellent, and much better than some we had in Barcelona a couple of years ago. I don't know; they can't overcome Chelsea and then they are toppled by Blackburn at sangria-serving!
        It was accompanied by two curvilinear wines glasses and straws, and we easily got six glasses ( three each) out of the giant jug. I know that it's not the done thing to have lager, cocktails and sangria but... what the hell!
        We had no room for dessert and, mercifully , this was not pressed upon us. I think any attempt to do so would have been met by a Roberto Duran-style cry of "No mas!", as we waved the white towel. Having said that, we were pleasantly but not gut-bustingly full. For the sweet-toothed there is no shortage of options.If I did have room for more I think that I would opt for their Chocolate Sizzler. I could attempt to describe it but make no apology for including the Chiquito sales pitch version:

        'The ultimate chocolate luxury! We take a marbled, double chocolate brownie served in a hot skillet topped with vanilla ice cream. Then at your table, we pour over butterscotch sauce & watch the sizzle! A bubbling combination that is heaven for any dessert lover.'

        I needed a good reason not to succumb to that! Otherwise there is a selection comprising fudge waffle, vari-flavoured ice cream, cheesecake, banana taquito, churros (fried soft dough dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with hot fudge sauce) and more. The other standout option is their dessert shots where you can combine anything from one to five mini samples of various desserts.

        The service was attentive throughout, albeit the only time we had a prolonged wait was when waiting to pay - Chiquitos have got that aspect of Latino life off to a tee! The bill came to £52 after our discount (the 20% was only redeemable against food orders). While this was more than we set out to spend, we could not complain given the seldom-ventured savouring of sangria that we enjoyed.
        We ended with another drink at the bar, for a change of scenery. I sandwiched the evening with another San Miguel while my wife went for a Black Russian - not literally!

        Conclusion
        *********
        Although Chiquito is a chain, I truly had a great evening there. Ok, I realise that the food is on the mass produced side of things but, even so, the taste and experience made it punch above its weight. The enjoyment was enhanced by polite, efficient and courteous staff. They were not in your face, but gave us just the appropriate amount of attention. The atmosphere is lively and pretty authentic due to the latino beats that play at a perfect volume. There is none of the chaos of Frankie and Benny's
        where the lights suddenly go out, I stab myself in the hand with a steak knife and, to make matters worse, Cliff Richard airs his larynx to the death knell of 'Congratulations'. I am basing my rating on the overall experience and, while it may not be the best cuisine in the world, the evening's enjoyment was top drawer.
        So, I would heartily recommend that you give Chiquito a go. Contrary to popular opinion it's not all cactus juice and rings of fire!

        Location
        *******
        Lower Audley St Retail Park
        Blackburn
        BB1 1BB

        Contact
        *******
        01254 666270

        Alternatively you can book a table for any Chiquito using the postcode finder via their website at www.chiquito.co.uk

        Online bookings can be taken for parties of 10 or less. If there are any more than 10 people, they require you to discuss your requirements by telephone.

        Access
        ******
        Very convenient, although there is no car park at the front of the restaurant as it sits on a main road. There is ample space on the retail park/ice arena behind or there is a large car park that serves Matalan and Staples across the road.

        Offers
        *****
        It seems our cinema offer was not so exclusive after all. This applies to any visit between Sunday and Thursday. They also have Kids Eat Free and Lunch Deals.
        This can be accessed in more detail on the website but if you do pay a visit they may well hand you some vouchers, as they did with us, when you leave.

        *This review has also been posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.

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        • betfair.com / Internet Site / 54 Readings / 52 Ratings
          More +
          30.05.2012 11:44
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          (Rating)
          5 Comments

          Advantages

          Disadvantages

          If you are sensible and methodical,trading on Betfair can be a fun and rewarding experience.

          Or so goes the advertising slogan.Betfair is not a bookmaker but an exchange site. It is able to offer significantly better prices than traditional bookies as it is literally made up of Joe Public betting against each other. The other significant difference is that you can actually bet against, as well as for, something happening. It is modelled on the stock exchange and offers much wider options for the bettor.


          'Gambling's for fools'.
          ****************

          Old moleface may be correct with his immortal line from the Ace of Spades, but Betfair offers the option to trade at much lower risk than outright gambling. Sports trading is experiencing huge growth as the credit-crunched look for some surplus income. Trading can be done in various ways but the most common technique is to back at a price and then lay at a lower price ('back high, lay low', as the trader's maxim goes). If staked correctly then you can lock in a profit regardless of the outcome, win or lose, of the bet. The risk lies in whether the lay price drops below the back price.
          The Betfair dashboard can be a little overwhelming at first but the basics are pretty easy to get to grips with. The page of a typical event contains columns of back and lay buttons. On Betfair the back buttons are always blue and the lay buttons are pink. When you click on a price a box will display to the right of the screen. This will ask for you desired stake, which has to be a minimum of £2). This is useful as when you enter a figure it will also preview your overall profit should you wish to submit the amount. The bet will only be placed once you have clicked 'place bet'. The screen then displays a bet id reference number (this is also captured in your 'current bets' or retrospectively in settled bets).

          Once the bet is placed the staked amount will be subtracted from your 'funds available' at the top right of the screen.

          Commission
          **********
          Betfair does differ in a, seemingly, negative way from most bookies in that it charges commission on your winnings. This is 5% and is not accounted for when they preview your profit. However, even with a 5% reduction the Betfair prices are so superior to the bookies that your payout/dividend is still significantly higher than theirs after this adjustment. Furthermore, there is a rewards programme where, if you continue to bet, especially at a high volume you can earn enough Betfair points to potentially reduce the % of commission you pay. To give an example of Betfair's superiority, all 40 runners in this year's Grand National were best priced at Betfair than at any other bookmaker.

          Markets
          *******
          You can bet on a rich variety of sports and even financial markets and oddities such as the Eurovision Song Contest. One of the benefits of Betfair is that you can pre-set back and lay bets. This means that in a tennis match you could anticipate a drift and back at a higher price than the sp (starting price) and then pre-set a lower lay bet to lock in a nice profit. Of course there is some risk involved but during the course of a match there are generally times when prices fluctuate when players are facing or holding serve. Within the football markets there is a very wide choice including half time score/result, full time correct score, first goalscorer / scorecast / wincast, time of first goal., under/over amount of total goals, and number of corners to new but a few. Bigger matches tend to have a bigger choice and also have better liquidity which helps the lay prices stay marginally higher than the back prices. I tend to stay away from more obscure fixtures as it can take an age for the lay prices to drop when there is just a trickle of money coming in. Poker faces are catered for and there is an extensive range of gaming opportunities.


          Deposits
          *******
          Depositing funds is very straightforward. You will need to register a debit/credit card but once this is done you only need to enter the cvv number on the back and your Betfair password to process future deposits. As with most sites a deposit is processed instantly whereas a withdrawal can take days.

          Withdrawals
          **********
          Despite the annoying time ratio for deposits : withdrawals, Betfair is one of the better sites for this in that they usually have funds back on my debit card within 2 days. I would recommend registering with an e-wallet which makes the process even quicker. I use Moneybookers (also now known as Skrill) which tends to take only 1 day.


          Account history
          ************
          Other information you can view are your transactions by means of a running statement. You can filter by time and even view your profit and loss. The latter is expressed overall and by individual markets (eg: horse racing, football, tennis). Furthermore the profit and loss can be converted to a spreadsheet.

          Offers
          *****
          Betfair is constantly coming up with offers and competitions. These frequently offer cash back and free bets subject to you staking x amount over a set period of time. To be honest these figures are pretty high and unlikely to be met by the casual trader. At the time of writing they are offering a free £25 matched bet or cashback after turning over stakes to a particular threshold.


          Other Bells and Whistles
          ********************
          Providing that you place a bet on the required market then you can watch many sports events via Betfair's live streaming service. There's something quietly edifying about watching a Wednesday evening match from Sweden!
          The site also has informative and exclusive insight by 'ambassadors' such as Lee Dixon in the football sphere and Paul Nicholls and Donald McCain from the world of gee gees.

          Some basic trading techniques
          *************************
          There are some basic strategies that maximise the chance of you 'greening up' or locking in a guaranteed profit. There are varying degrees of risk attached to each of these, but nothing like that associated with outright gambling. The good thing about this is that once you have traded out, your stake is immediately put back in your available funds so that you can move on to another market.


          Back 1-1
          *******
          Pick a football match which you think is pretty evenly matched. Before kick-off, back 1-1 in the 'correct score' market.
          Sit back and wait for a team to score. When the first goal is scored you will find that the lay price will drop - this is the time to lay the 1-1 result. Therefore, if we backed the 1-1 correct score at 6 *(5/1) you may be able to lay it for 4 (3/1).
          If we lay the 4(3/1) for £15 this gives us a guaranteed locked in profit of £5. Not massive, but a pretty good chance of it happening - remember it does not matter if the match does not end up 1-1 as we have also backed against this eventuality.

          So with both scenarios:

          1) The score finishes 1-1: We win £50 (£10 X the back odds of (6)5/1) minus the £45 liability from our lay bet (£15x lay odds (4) 3/1.
          2) The score does not finish 1-1: We win our lay stake of £15 minus our back stake of £10.
          Either way, we are in profit by £5.

          The advantage of this strategy is that it is pretty low risk and can be done with a fairly small betting bank.


          Risks
          ****
          Time is the main enemy of this strategy. For instance, if a goal is scored very early in the match you may find that the lay price will not drop very much, if at all. In this case you can either exit the market at zero loss/very small profit, or sweat it out and watch the lay price drop as time goes on. Of course the danger here is that you will lose your entire stake if the leading team go 2-0 up!

          Solution
          *******
          You could enter the market after kick-off (say 15-20 minutes) to prevent this - of course the match would still have to be 0-0 at point of entry to bag a good price .

          Risk #2
          ******
          The first goal is scored in the last few minutes. You will find that it may be too late to lay 1-1 if this happens - in any case the price would not be profitable as the market sees it as being highly unlikely that the other team will equalize with minutes remaining (even though this does happen -remember Bayern Munich v Chelsea!)

          Solution
          *******
          You can place an insurance bet on the time segment of the first goal scored. The odds for this vary due to the match but are usually highest for minutes 81-FT - which is great because this is the time segment we need. So if we place £2 on this at 18/1 we get £36 back.

          * Obviously the insurance bets will eat into your profit should they not be needed, so it's your call if you wish to use them. However, I think it's worth it as the odds are high (therefore the stake minimal) and give you that extra peace of mind.

          Risk #3
          ******
          No goal is scored and the match ends 0-0.

          You can simply lay '1 or more goals'. That way you don't have to bet with the minimum £2 stake. That is because although the lay stake may be £15 your actual liability is only likely to be about £1 to £1.50. Therefore, you are effectively betting that no goals will be scored (against 1 or more goals being scored).

          Lay the Draw
          ***********
          You would need more in your betting bank for this one as you will be laying (betting against the draw) first and then backing the draw (hopefully) after a goal is scored and the price increases. This is often favoured by high-flying traders and is good in that you can just sit back and wait for a goal to be scored.

          The longer the game goes on without a goal the better (make sure you insure this bet by laying 1 goal or more or backing 0-0). A late goal gives the trailing team less time to equalize so therefore the draw price will rocket - giving you a much better profit when you trade out.
          An early goal may not be such a bad thing if the team that scores is the red-hot favourite.

          Risk#1
          ******
          An early goal may cause the draw price to remain fairly static, so you may need to exit the market or sweat it out.

          Solution
          *******
          You can enter the market later BUT this leaves less time for a goal to be scored and the price on 0-0 will be worse. One advantage of entering the market later is that the draw price will be lower than at kick-off which leaves you with less liability and a much likelier bigger profit margin should a goal be scored.


          Risk #2
          ******
          You have layed the draw on a mis-match in which the massive underdog scores first. This throws a new complexion on things as then the draw price will definitely not move much - if anything it may even contract - as the favourites will be expected to equalize.

          Solution
          *******
          You could pick a match where the two teams are more evenly matched. Unless there is a very early goal then there should be a fairly significant drift in the draw price to enable you to trade out at a profit.

          A great horse-racing money spinner
          ****************************
          One technique is to back the Pricewise selections on a Saturday morning. The Racing Post's 'Pricewise' (aka Tom Segal) is widely regarded as the world's best horse racing tipster and is extremely influential on the betting markets. All I do is nip to the newsagent, read his selections and then place my bets at the relevant online bookmaker. Bookies will generally hold the prices for a short time and this tends to be from 8:30 am - just refresh your page and you will see the price revert to the higher odds. Now, you can trade this out for an equal profit by using a hedging calculator but I prefer to lay the selections off at the same stake. This means that should the horse/s win you will have a substantially bigger profit. If it/they lose/s then you would just suffer a very small loss (this is because Betfair will charge 5% commission on any winning bets (which of course it will be if the horse loses -as you have laid it not to win). If you can't stomach the thought of any loss at all then simply lay a slightly higher stake than your back bet to offset the commission. However, if you make the lay stake too big then the liability will eat into your profit should the horse win. The Pricewise selections are also frequently mentioned on Channel 4's The Morning Line -usually about 8:15am - which can save a trip to the newsagent.

          Segal is never far from a winner. The only drawback with his tips is that, as his moniker suggests, the odds are quite high. This is great but it does mean that you often need pretty substantial funds in your Betfair account to shoulder the liability.
          So, it would not be untypical for a Pricewise selection to start at 16/1 (17 in decimals) and for the lay price to shorten into 10/1 (11). This means that if you placed a £10 win in the morning and laid it nearer the off you could make £60 profit as:

          10 x 16/1 = £160
          10 x 10/1 = £100

          If the horse wins, your profit would be the difference between the dividend (winnings) and the lay liability. Technically the only thing you are gambling on is the contracting price but I have never known a Pricewise selection not to shorten. Sometimes the price may not fall a great deal but in the long run this can provide you with some very handsome profits. Not bad for a zero risk bet!

          Conclusion
          *********
          Sports trading can be very rewarding and reliable and offers a nice, low-risk alternative to outright gambling. It can be fun trying new strategies or tinkering with existing ones. It does demand self-restraint and control however, and can get pretty addictive so may be best avoided by problem gamblers. That said, with a sensible approach and a dedicated betting bank you can have some very rewarding experiences on Betfair. Is it fair? Well, the enhanced odds and low risk opportunities make it much fairer than most bookmakers and is not so sinister as the anti-gambling lobby would have you believe!

          website; www.betfair.com

          hedging calculator: a good one can be found on the Oddschecker website under 'tools' from the drop down menu. Simply enter your back stake, odds and lay odds. It will then calculate exactly how much you need to stake on your lay bet in order to extract an equal profit irrespective of the outcome of your chosen betting event. There is even the facility to account for the 5% commission (this can be modified if you are lucky enough to be charged less commission or you use Betfair's main rival, Betdaq - they have lower commission rates but their odds are generally a bit lower). You can just paste the following link
          into your address bar to navigate to the calculator:
          http://www.oddschecker.com/betting-tools​/hedging-calculator.html

          * Odds on the site are always expressed as decimals rather than fractions. To convert to decimal just divide the top number by the bottom number and add 1, eg:
          2/1 = 2 divided by 1 = 2 + 1 = 3 (decimal value).

          *This review was originally posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.

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          • Let The Right One In (DVD) / DVD / 84 Readings / 81 Ratings
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            01.01.2012 14:09
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            FOR ME, THE FILM IS FLAWLESS - WITH AN ENDING TO DIE FOR!

            Introduction
            **********

            Sweden has a long tradition of fine film-making, from Bergman up to the Millennium trilogy (_The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo_ et al). Let the Right One In sees our Scandinavian neighbours dipping a bloodied toe into the pool of the horror genre. What sets it apart from many other offerings in this field however are the wonderfully understated performances, use of real-time pace and atmospheric location. This slow-burn, low-key treatment juxtaposed with the film's more shocking moments only serves to heighten our anticipation and 'enjoyment'. Such a muted approach appears to be prevalent amongst many other of, director, Alfredson's compatriot film makers. This does seem a tad ironic from the country that brought us the bold, brassy branding of Ikea, the tank-like build of the Volvo, and the power-packed pop of ABBA!

            Plot
            ****

            Twelve year old Oskar is a pale sickly-looking blond boy who ploughs a lonely existence in his small, snowy suburban village. He is frequently home alone as his mother struggles to provide for them by working nights. What's more, his disconnect from society makes it hard for him to get by at school, where he is remorselessly targeted by bullies. Out of the blue, he meets the mysterious Eli and they form a tender yet ever-growing friendship. Their union is mutually beneficial, particularly for Oskar as he learns to gain confidence and stand up for himself. Meanwhile, a spate of grisly incidents are taking place in the locality. Oskar susses Eli's connection to these events along with her murky secret. Their joint dilemma now lies in facilitating Eli's departure to avoid inevitably tragic consequences. Should they stay or should they go? The monotony of everyday life is offset brilliantly by the grislier moments, as we are ferried towards one of the most suspenseful and ingeniously realised cinematic endings that you will ever see!


            Characterisation
            *************

            The film is really all about two characters, Oskar and Eli. Sure, there are others who nip the periphery but the aforementioned are central to the whole storyline.
            Oskar is a pallid, weakly-looking 12 year old and, as mentioned above, something of an outsider.
            Eli is the antithesis to Oskar in every way. She is ballsy, strong-willed and fearless. Visually too, she has jet black hair.
            Both young actors turn in peerless performances. Oskar is perfect as the understated and peculiar outsider. Their apposite personalities and appearances conjure up a yin and yang-like mix. We discover that even Oskar has a bit of a dark side while, conversely, Eli has many redeeming features, despite her clandestine creepiness. We see Oskar pasting press cuttings about the local murders into a somewhat sinister scrapbook, the content of which also comprises images of knives. More understandably, we see him re-enacting imaginary confrontations with his schoolyard tormenters, plunging his knife into tree trunks like a tiny Travis Bickle. Oskar is distinct from much of the herd and this is also foreshadowed during a community policeman's visit to the school. He immediately deconstructs and diagnoses quite a complicated crime scene conundrum set by the officer, who appears impressed, yet mildly disturbed, at the boy's precocity in this field.
            Eli is difficult to warm to, initially, as she snippily short-circuits any hope of a burgeoning friendship with Oskar. The latter wonders aloud at her 'funny smell' and unsuitable clothing, (short -sleeved shirt) in the freezing temperature of the courtyard. However, it soon becomes evident that smelly Eli does not possess a heart of stone as she expresses tearful vulnerability over the malodourous accusation and later shows remorse over other unsavoury incidents. There is great subtlety in their development. For instance, there is a foreshadowing of Oskar's inherent backbone when he refutes Eli's suggestion that he leave the courtyard. He tells her that she should leave as he has lived there far longer than her. Although seemingly insignificant, you sense this is almost a cathartic moment for Oskar, as he has been used to fielding bullying blows without reply. A beautiful touch, and one that is easy to miss, is his ever-so-slight smile as he turns away from her.
            It seems that in Eli, he has found an unlikely kindred spirit and someone with whom he can converse on equal terms. This in turn forges an inner strength and growing confidence.


            Into View with the Vampire
            **********************

            Let the Right One In is as much a tender love story as it is a vampire or a horror film. This is based on the foundations of a hard won trust -especially where Eli is concerned. The formative meetings are awkward but direct, as is often the case with kid. The development of the friendship is beautifully measured, credible and realised. Massively constrained by parental control and, in particular, Eli's considerable requirements, they prove that love can conquer all. The communication problem is addressed by tapping Morse code on their adjoining wall. They find sanctuary in a disused warehouse room. Despite Oskar's weediness I got the impression that Eli is most taken by the fact that he seems unfazed by her dark secrets - secrets that would make most mortals run a country mile. He knows all this about her, and still likes her. The innocence and awkwardness of youth are also impressively captured. One particular instance of this is when Oskar drums up the courage to ask Eli if they can 'go steady'. The conversation is realistic enough to make you cringe, albeit in the nicest possible sense. The strength of their union is such that I found myself willing them to pull through, in spite of the heinous crimes committed. However, the fact that such crimes are undertaken out of need rather than wanton desire makes them almost, dare I say it, acceptable. Oskar would like nothing more than to be seen out and about with Eli but the ongoing events necessitate that she limits her public appearances.
            As mentioned, the relationship brings into view another side of Oskar. He learns to stand up for himself with Eli, his mother and, most gratifyingly, his bullies. We also see a great positive development in Eli who hitherto seemed shackled by shame. In Oskar she has found someone who loves her for being her and this is reflected in her uplifted demeanour. The scene where Oskar puts on a record for Eli and invites her to try on one of his mother's dresses is one of the most simultaneously sweet yet geeky ones I have ever seen. Oskar's dancing makes even me look good!


            Themes
            *******

            Let the Right One In is more substantially layered than most horror films and, for me, the overriding themes comprise friendship, love, loyalty and bullying. The friendship forged between Oskar and Eli is beautifully realised. It could be argued that the cause and effect of parental neglect is also evident, particularly in how it affects the development , or lack thereof, of Oskar's social skills.
            The power of friendship through his chance meeting with Eli leads to the development of Oskar's psychological backbone and much more.
            Although they make uncomfortable viewing, the bullying scenes are convincingly played out. The tormentors are portrayed by the archetypal ring leader and his two typically spineless hangers on. Conny, the main protagonist, is played with unflinching verve by Patrik Rydmark. His apparent insouciance is truly repulsive. The other two, despite their cowardice, do show some redeeming features either by crying or feebly remonstrating with Conny and a later tormentor. Even Conny shows a glimmer of humanity towards the end when the cruelty becomes too much even for him to bear.

            We're on the Edge of Gory
            *********************

            The originality of the film seems to be a recurring constant among critics. I believe that this is due to the fact that an endearing tenderness imbues the production in portraying friendship between the two main protagonists. One of my first reactions was that the film is quite sweet, and is often more aahhh than aargh! The performances are so convincing that you feel that such activity is perfectly normal. There is none of the gratuitousness that we find in many horror flicks, or the OTT ramped- up, vamped-up comic/horror that we find in such series as True Blood. Yet I feel that there is something far more sinister in the sheer normality of Let the Right One In that evades the more graphic examples of the genre.
            Although there are plenty of shocking visuals here, the effect is equally conveyed by the power of suggestion. For instance, one attack takes place behind a bathroom door. Only when the victim's bloodied hand rigidly clamps the outer doorframe, do we know that the struggle is truly over.
            Another disturbing moment involves a posse of pussycats encircling a newly converted vampire. The felines become fiendishly feral in a scene that smacks more of Hammer House than art house, but is nevertheless highly effective.
            When all there is to see is blood and guts, I soon become de-sensitized to any shockability factor therein. This film, however, is more rewarding and shocking to me as the characters are so well developed that I almost feel drawn to a duty of care for them. Furthermore, the horrific events are all the more explicit when contrasted with the context of their, erstwhile, humdrum existence. This probably isn't for those who measure their ratings of horror films by the pints of blood spilled. It undoubtedly breaks the mould of the vampire/horror genre in that it embraces so many other aspects of the human condition in such a serenely poetic way.

            Location
            *******

            I feel that a major contributing factor to this film's success is the choice of location. From the opening scene amid the snowy silver birch trees, we are assailed with a sense of sparse Stockholm suburbia. The setting is a town called Blackeberg which, we learn from the commentary, is where original author, John Ajvide Lindqvist, was raised.
            . The atmospheric snowscapes provide a muffled backdrop to the imminent blood-curdling screams about to infiltrate the civilised calm.
            The scenery is almost meditative. The brilliant snow scenes nicely offset both the physical and psychological darkness in the film. I am not sure if this is a conscious filmic device, but it certainly resonates to perfect effect.


            Soundtrack
            *********

            In keeping with much of the film's treatment the music is extremely understated, to the extent that it is often almost imperceptible. However, it greatly complements the visuals and helps to enhance the mood and atmosphere of the film. The aural tension is cranked up in all the right places and stands out as a useful signal against the backdrop of the more unobtrusive interludes.

            Fangtastic Acclaim
            ***************

            Let the Right One In has justly received plaudits from critics the world over, receiving more than forty awards in the process. A sticker on the cover of my DVD bullishly blurbs:
            'The film that inspired Let Me In. Own the original and the best.'
            Bravo! The above quote is a reference to the American re-make. Why do they have to do this, and so soon after the original? The attempted duplication of an original invariably falls short. I've not seen the re-make and, while I believe it has received good reviews, I feel that my viewing experience of it would be tainted by the unethical reasoning behind it. Does Hollywood think that we are really so insular and stupid that we can not follow subtitles and/or embrace other cultures? It may be a back-handed compliment to the Swedish film industry, but I feel that this patronising and insular spoon-feeding smacks of xenophobia. It's nice to have the occasional break from Brand USA. Ergo, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

            With my spleen now suitably vented, here are a few salubrious sound bytes about Let the Right One In:

            "Brutal and brilliant...you've never seen anything like this before..." Daily Mirror

            "Best horror film of the year". Empire

            "One of the most wonderful horror films I have ever seen". Billy Chainsaw, Bizarre

            "A full bloodied vampire feast." Total Film

            "A true original. Stunning". Little White Lies

            'A chilling fairytale. As delicate, haunting and poetic a film as you're ever bound to see."
            Guillermo Del Toro, Director of Pan's Labyrinth

            "Spectacularly beautiful". New York Times

            "An instant classic. Don't miss this". ***** Empire

            Conclusion
            *********
            Let the Right One In is a truly superb film which melds an unlikely love story with the vampire and horror genres. I have also found that the viewing experience is actually enhanced by repeat viewings - a sure sign of a classic. The scenery, plot, casting and acting are absolutely flawless and, if that were not enough, the finale is an ending to end all endings. Terrific.

            Special features
            *************

            Commentary by director Tomas Alfredson and original author John Ajvide Lindqvist

            Running time: 110 minutes

            Unlike many commentaries I have watched this one is truly interesting and insightful. It is well alternated between Alfredson and Lindqvist and is interesting to see the different perspectives offered by both creator and interpreter.
            One of the most striking features is the meticulous attention to detail that is taken in conveying realism in everything from special effects to period detail. For instance, the commentary opens with Alfredosn divulging the intricate methods employed to suggest the sound of snowfall. Although this seems impossible the suggestion is captured by recording the sound of bubbles in a bottle of mineral water at a very high resolution.

            We also learn of the attention to detail in conveying Swedish suburbia in the early eighties. This is done via references such as a Rubik's cube, Oskar's 'floor-mop' hairdo, and the design of the playground climbing frame. Furthermore, we learn that the policeman's, drug-awareness, school visit is very typical of that time.
            They conduct the commentary with affable humour, much of it sparked by 80s nostalgia. I would imagine that this particular feature is extremely helpful for film and media students.
            *Just a footnote. The commentary option can be enabled/disabled via the set up option. The commentary will then play automatically if enabled. I personally like to watch the film first so,if you do too, I advise that you ensure it is disabled, and then enable to view after you have seen the main feature.

            Deleted scenes
            *************

            Running time: 5:23 (minutes/seconds)

            These comprise four short scenes.

            1. This features Conny and his tacit accomplice subjecting Oskar to physical and verbal bullying in the school toilets. The commentary reveals that this scene was cut as it came too soon in the film. Alfredson did not want too much violence too soon, as he wanted the pressure to build. This is one area that differs from the book.

            2. A tender scene that sees Oskar playfully tapping Eli's back to the mantra of Hickory Dickory Dock.

            3. This scene shows Virginia in a feverish, alcohol-fuelled soliloquy. The red wine is then projectile-vomited into her own sink......lovely!

            4. Oskar slaps a supine Eli across the face -seemingly to bring her round. They then playfully enact a game of what can only be described as snarl-tennis!

            Trailer
            ******
            Running time: 1:24 (minutes/seconds)

            A well-edited trailer which contracts all the action scenes into a minute. This inevitably betrays the poetic resonance of the film as a whole, but I suppose trailers are there to put bums on seats- or DVDs in shopping baskets in this case. It is also shot through with salivating snippets from film reviews the world over.

            Director
            *******
            Tomas Alfredson

            Principal cast
            ***********
            Oskar - Kåre Hedebrant
            Eli - Lina Leandersson
            Hakan - Per Ragnar
            Lacke - Peter Carlberg
            Virginia - Ika Nord
            Erik - Henrik Dahl
            Yvonne - Karin Bergquist

            Year
            ****
            2008

            Certificate
            ********
            15 (BBFC)

            Feature Running Time
            ******************
            110 minutes approx.

            Soundtrack format
            ***************
            Dolby Digital 5.1

            Language
            ********
            Swedish

            Audio Description
            **************
            Descriptive audio track for the visually impaired.

            Subtitle tracks
            ************
            English
            English (hard of hearing) feature only
            *It is worth noting that there is no dubbed option
            .
            Disk format
            **********
            DVD 9: Dual layer single sided discs

            Feature aspect ratio
            ****************
            16:9 (original aspect ratio 2.35:1) Widescreen version

            Colour mode
            **********
            Colour

            Region code
            **********
            2 (PAL)

            *THIS REVIEW HAS ALSO BEEN POSTED ON CIAO UNDER THE USERNAME FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.

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            • Bridesmaids (DVD) / DVD / 65 Readings / 63 Ratings
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              24.12.2011 16:41
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              A very funny comedy that deserves a universal audience.

              Introduction
              **********
              I must admit to having had quite grave reservations about yet another rom-com from the genre's, invariable, production line of perpetual pap. However, as Bridesmaids came with ringing endorsements across the critical spectrum I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. Alas, I was not disappointed and its claim to being one of the year's funniest comedies was rib-ticklingly upheld. In my opinion this is achieved by some great acting,especially by Kristen Wiig, a strategically sizzling balance of characters and a sheer recurring ability to make the viewer laugh out loud. Many of the laughs are seldom wrought out of subtlety but more so from everyday 'thinking out loud' situations. It would be a crying shame if the male populace were to shirk this film on the basis of its rom-com compartmentalisation as it certainly trumps most, if not all, of the overrated male 'buddy-movie' offerings. I certainly agree with Cosmo's assertion that it is ' Better than The Hangover'.

              Plot
              ***
              Although not a particularly strong or original plot line the film's real strength is to be found within the journey to, rather than, the destination itself. Annie is an averagely pretty blonde who is already down on her luck. Her cake shop business opportunity has folded and her attempt to kick-start some form of love life repeatedly backfires. So all she needs is the news that her lifelong best friend, Lillian, is engaged to be married. She is given the privileged responsibility of being her maid of honour,but one senses the tinge of sadness and even inadequacy she feels at her friend's impending conjugality.
              These feelings are intensified when she encounters Lillian's 'new best friend' Helen, who is the wife of her husband's new boss. Helen's stunning good looks and bank balance put her well out of Annie's reach in those departments. Jealousy soon rages as the two vie for Lilian's approval. The former conspires to bring Annie down at every turn, frequently using her affluence to buy Lilian's affections and embolden their bond. However, the Green Eyed Monster has vice-gripped Annie and compelled her to a tireless resolve to put things straight. Along the way we cringe between barely parted fingers as our error-prone heroine elicits endless nervous laughs from her gargantuum gaffes! But despite Helen's superficial and inherited attributes, Annie has a remarkable, and far more noble trait, in her indomitable strength of character. But will substance prevail over style?
              A sub-plot intertwines the main storyline which involves Annie's on-off relationship with Irish traffic cop,Officer Nathan Rhodes. Hardly the all singing,all dancing multi-tasker befitting Shirley Conran's Superwoman profile, our Annie has enough trouble trying to address one issue at a time. Or has she?

              Characters
              *********
              As you may have gathered, Annie is central to the storyline, and she is a truly inspired comedic creation. Her portrayal by Kristen Wiig is superb. Wiig co-wrote the script and this personal input has no doubt helped to embellish the performance. She is immediately set up as the underdog with her cake shop business going under, a love life with more false starts than Usain Bolt and a, hitherto, best friend now lost to marriage and, much worse, a new female 'best' friend.

              Annie is also gloriously inept in her new job at Cholodecki's Jewellery store. After creating immaculate confections in her cake shop, the transition to servile sales assistant is an uneasy one. Whether she is gauche,plain bored or unable to refrain from speaking the truth her customer scare technique is definitely not one to be emulated. This inability to engage the brain, before opening her drain, leads to her losing much more than her Employee of the Year prospects! But such outspokenness is often something we can only really get away with in films and as such hands Annie all the best laughs.

              Lillian,despite being the subject of the film's friction, is chiefly there as the fulcrum to the see-sawing slanging match. I did find myself infuriated by the way in which she was so gullibly led by Helen. Maybe this is due to her sense of obligation to her husband in keeping his employer sweet? Such a compromised, even sycophantic, outlook would never be entertained by Annie, who nobly attempts to repeatedly blow the floss off Helen's friendly facade.

              Helen is perfectly pitched as the beautiful, if rather asinine, fly in the ointment. Her jaw-dropping good looks are eventually usurped by the ugliness of her sinister, sneaky schemes to undermine Annie. The casting is spot on here as she has to be sufficiently more physically attractive than Annie to make the storyline work. Furthermore, she needs to carry off that air of 'wealth but not much else' about her. It seems that her affluence has been acquired through marriage and, in that respect, she convinces as the heiress with the airhead.

              The other bridesmaids are,by turns, amusing but none more so than the slightly rotund and riotous Megan,brilliantly played by Melissa McCarthy. She never fails to surprise as her jokey, blokey demeanour betrays a very quick mind, as evidenced by her job as a stock market trader. She also possesses a very understanding side as we see in her tough-love pep talk with Annie. We also see that she has a rampant libido -all I can say is just make sure that you have finished your tea by the time the closing credits roll!

              Look out too for some fleeting appearances by Matt Lucas, of Little Britain fame, as he plays the fraternal half of a weird sibling pair, with whom Annie shares her house.


              Themes
              *******
              The obvious theme to me in this film is that of jealousy, inextricably linked to friendship and loyalty. Helen is portrayed as a modern day Iago - albiet not always quite so subtle in her methods.
              The politics of female friendship are played out here in all their stark transparency. I have seen slightly less extreme examples of this mud-slinging amongst my wife's friends and do find that it seems, initially, puerile. However, this film kind of makes sense of it all - in that we should protect,defend and cherish our friendships. It shows that human emotions can frequently become irrational and untempered when we feel compromised or threatened.

              Conclusion
              *********
              Bridesmaids proved to be a truly rewarding and surprising viewing experience. It has the potential to have universal appeal, my only hope is that it will not be overlooked by sniffy film snobs and/or the male populace. Trust me, you won't be disappointed! I felt that the ending was a little bit flat and sudden and was filled with more cheese than the Cheddar Gorge. This aside, Bridemaids is an extremely funny film.


              Cast
              ****
              Annie - Kristen Wiig
              Lillian - Maya Rudolph
              Don Cholodecki - Michael Hitchcock
              Kahlua - Kali Hawk
              Brynn - Rebel Wilson
              Gil - Matt Lucas
              Annie's Mom - Jill Clayburgh
              Rita - Wendi McLendon-Covey
              Becca - Ellie Kemper
              Megan - Melissa McCarthy
              Helen - Rose Byrne
              Rhodes - Chris O'Dowd

              Critical Acclaim
              *************
              The film has been extremely well received. Here are just a few snippets:

              "10 out of 10. Very, very ,very funny!" Daily Star

              "Pure feel good". More

              "Outrageously funny" Heat

              "Better than The Hangover" Cosmopolitan

              "The funniest film of the year" Daily Telegraph

              The film as also received 5 star ratings from the Daily Mirror, Nuts, Grazia, and Heat to name a few.


              Feature Running Time
              ******************

              2 hours approx.


              Bonus Features
              *************

              Feature commentary

              2 hours 5 minutes approx.
              This is a rather shambolic commentary by Director Paul Fieg, co-writer Annie Mumolo, and cast members Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and Ellie Kemper. It comes across like a brainstorming session in a lunatic asylum as the aforementioned interject at will over the scenes. Not the most enlightening commentary I have ever watched.


              Gag reel

              3: 48 (minutes/seconds)
              The usual selection of bloopered out-takes.


              Line-O-Rama

              12:14 (minutes/seconds)
              This seems to be a rather smug and self-congratulatory selection of witty script soundbites. They may be funny in the context of the film but do not work when de-compartmentalised here. It's rather like they are laughing at their own jokes - a definite no-no in comedy.


              Deleted scenes
              ************

              Blind Date with Dave

              5:21 (minutes/seconds)
              This comprises two scenes between Annie and Dave - another doomed suitor. The first scene is all quite serious and very promising as a great deal of connectivity is struck between the pair. The restaurant scene appears to have set up the following ice-skating experience for a spectacular - and quite hilarious - nosedive! Alas the skating on ice reveals Dave's true colours as he pathetically screams over a little cut to his finger. He screams a Tourette-like torrent of abuse at all and sundry before receiving a painful comeuppance. The scene was so funny that I am about to campaign for its re-inclusion!


              Bonjour

              35 seconds
              Blink and you'll miss it. This scene features Annie opening her laptop to see footage of Lillian and Helen cycling through the streets of Paris. Dismay, regret and envy seem to consume Annie as she snaps shut the lid.


              Last Chance

              1:57 (minutes/seconds)
              Another funny scene where Annie pleads for her job back at the jewellery store with proprietor, Mr Cholodecki . Her promise to make a sale to the first customer she greets persuades him to give her the green light. The probationary period however passes with painful paucity! Before they part at the door Mr Cholodecki appraises her impromptu trial:
              "Not quite sure how you alienated someone with a gift certificate".
              Should she have any doubt about his opinion of her as an employee, then he underlines her customer scare approach by citing further past examples:
              "And you told those old people they should buy something cheap as they were gonna die soon!"


              Cholodecki's Commercial

              This is truly cringe-inducing as the aforementioned Mr Cholodecki fronts a truly tacky TV commercial for his jewellery store.

              Classification
              ***********
              15 Contains very strong language, strong sex references and crude humour

              Region
              ******
              2 PAL

              Format
              ******
              2:40:1 Anamorphic widescreen

              Feature soundtrack
              ****************
              English 5.1

              *This review is also published on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.

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              • More +
                01.12.2011 12:50
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                Transcends all demographics and sees a welcome return to form by PK.

                Peter Kay has not done himself many favours by disappearing from the stand-up circuit for such a long time. Admittedly he has had commercial, if not critical, success with his bizarre Northern Irish warbler, Geraldine. However, stand-up is easily what he does best and the weight of expectation resting on his return has snowballed into a considerable welter. So it was with no small amount of curiosity that I unclicked his latest DVD from its case. This was recorded on the final night of 15 day 'residency' at the O2 Arena. Has the wait been worth it? Well, I think so, albeit with a few reservations. His protracted absence has seen other excellent talent, such as Michael Mcintyre, shoe-horning their way into the void, which has seen Kay recede out of sight and, almost, out of mind. As a result, the once, peerless Peter has had to try and wrestle back his crown as king of observational humour. TTTDTT brilliantly exemplifies Kay's nail-on-the-head accuracy in this sphere, along with his effortless rapport with the audience often at the expense of his Irish mum and extended family members such as Nan and Uncle Knobhead!


                On Stage
                ********
                The feature begins with PK playing cameraman as he pans round the vast arena alighting on cowering victims. Garish clothes are picked out for gentle ribbing along with a Jesus lookalike and rows of old folk, collectively labelled 'the old cocoon area'. One grinning chap is greeted with the rather ignominious line: "Look at them teeth...Mother o'God....Shergar!!!
                He's then straight into the machine-gunned one-liners:

                "A mate o' mine has just been sacked off t' dodgems.........he's doin' 'em for funfair dismissal!"

                "I ordered a pizza last night. I asked for a thin, crusty supreme......they sent me Diana Ross."

                More typical nuggets of this ilk are trundled out, as he gradually builds into his lengthier forays into personal experience and observation. The audience does seem a little muted at first and it seems a bit of a challenge to warm them up. This may be because it's a London audience and the frigidity is temporarily tangible. However we do not have to wait long to de-frost the icier facades as Peter casts an illuminating beam on subjects as diverse as Skyplus, the British stiff upper lip, Baileys, wire coat-hangers, and mobile phones. Kay's self-deprecating humour is never far away as he intones;
                "Strap yourselves in for 20 minutes of comedy dragged over a 2 hour show."

                Familiar Forays
                *************
                Some of the stories sound vaguely familiar as variations on themes are slipped in. For instance we have the hilarious examples of Nan's disconnect with technology. The line about the Skyplus live pause facility is reprised as she worries about everyone else in the country being at the mercy of her remote control. Occasionally PK hits you with a sucker punch out of nowhere. This usually has you relating so much to the observation that it is spooky. For me, that time in this show is when he hilariously relays the panic that grips him when the Sky warning pops up about not being able to watch another programme while two others are being taped. His accelerated delivery is spot- on, as he perfectly conveys the instant confusion caused by its sudden appearance allied with the baffling 'cancel' and 'keep' options. Maybe it's just a male, multi-tasking thing! His verbal crescendo helps to heighten the sense of panic with Play your Cards Right-like shouts of "top or bottom, top or bottom!"
                One of his longer observational forays centres on the art of throwing a sickie, and more specifically how to put on a sick voice. This is hilarious and is further enhanced by his idea of the perfect surrounding 'sickie-throwing'strategy. He talks about 'planting the seed' a day before the intended sick day - it draws far too much knowing laughter than is surely comfortable for the nation's employers! Familial warring over custody of the Sky Planner is another topic that seems to ring a familiar bell with most in the audience. Skyplus gets plenty of coverage here and it's not all bad publicity either. Kay lists it as being "up there with running water and daylight". However, apart from the aforementioned clashed recordings scenario he also has, hilariously-related, issues with the fast forward facility ("My life's on x30!")His technology jokes are not always on Nan as Kay laments the passing of VHS and the ever changing formats out there. Look out for a particularly funny line about Star Wars!
                This knowing connection is evidenced by periodic cuts to bent-double members of the audience convulsed with empathetic fits of laughter. I have always thought that Kay's strength is in his ability to observe small details that most of us connect with but rarely talk about. Many a time the camera alights on a member of the audience jabbing a knowing finger at their spouse/partner on matters ranging from deodorant avoidance to leaving peas in the microwave!
                There are inevitably a few troughs amid the peaks, but I suppose this is inevitable given the breakneck speed that Kay hurtles along at. I never was too impressed with his 'garlic bread' observation, which I think has been overcooked - pardon the pun. This now seems to have been replaced by 'plasma' or, to be more phonetically accurate, 'PLAS-MA?!' Maybe it's just me, but I find this a bit crass and lazy compared to his erstwhile glaringly simple, but ingenious, insight.
                Nevertheless, his take on certain TV programmes sees him back to form. Particular targets here include Grand Designs, Come Dine with Me and Embarrassing Bodies. The dread of a school reunion is recounted along with recollections of his classroom capers. Kay's energy is impressive throughout, as he darts around the stage like a manic televangelist.

                Hardly Blue Peter!
                ***************
                Although a bit cheeky, with the odd expletive, the innuendo is seldom more edgy than Carry On. Compared to the anything goes, bare- knuckled deliveries of Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr, Kay very much adheres to the Queensbury Rules. When he does swear he tends to spit out the offending word very quickly, and invariably follows up with a, tongue in cheek(y), remorseful apology. Where the expletives are used they often qualify a sense of extreme annoyance or anger on behalf of the protagonist:
                "Wife says to her husband 'You never take me anywhere expensive anymore'.
                He says 'Get your coat on.'
                She says 'Why, where are we going?'
                'F****** petrol station!'
                Although women suffer a fair bit of flak from Kay, he can hardly be branded sexist, as men come in for equal ridicule with observations about their hypochondria and quips such as:

                'Man says to his wife, "Why don't you tell me when you orgasm"
                She says; "I don't like ringing you at work."

                And there's plenty more where that came from.
                He seems to appeal to a wide demographic, particularly transcending all ages. This is possibly to do with the fact that he actually looks funny - in the nicest possible sense .In his own words he has previously likened himself to Rick Waller - he of X Factor infamy! He possesses a happy knack of turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. For instance we don't really need to know that when his Nan fell, that it was outside Farm Foods. However, this supplementary information draws us in, making it seem as though we are party to a familial conversation. But Kay also recognizes the comedy value of incongruously inserting carefully chosen shop and brand names into his anecdotes. To me, there is something simultaneously distressing and hilarious about someone falling outside Farm Foods - maybe not when you read it here, but certainly so when it's delivered by Peter Kay! This visual cheeky chappie is also endearingly self-deprecating and relates to everyday, often humdrum, scenarios from which very few people would be exempt, regardless of social standing.


                Chordial Farewell
                **************
                During the show we are given a demo of the boy Peter's penchant for re-enacting Queen classics in his mum's jazzacise leotard, strumming a shovel as a surrogate Stratocaster. The encore sees him bringing down the curtain with said air shovel, as he covers favourites such as Amarillo, 500 miles, Eye of the Tiger and We Are the Champions, to name but a few. I personally found this a little tiresome but, overall, the Bolton boy done good!

                Year
                ****
                2011


                Classification
                ***********
                15

                Region
                ******
                Region 2 - Will only play on European Region 2 or multi-region DVD players.


                Special Features
                *************
                None

                Running time
                ***********
                80 minutes approx

                *This review is also posted on Ciao under username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.

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                • More +
                  19.05.2011 10:31
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                  Wonderful first album for an artist going places. Watch this space!

                  *In the interests of economy I have often abbreviated Marina and the Diamonds to MATD.

                  Introduction
                  **********
                  'It shouldn't perhaps be a surprise that she's being hailed as the new Kate Bush, this being apparently mandatory for any white female singer who doesn't appear in the public consciousness bearing a spray tan, a sad backstory about an ailing relation and the earnest assurance to Dermot O'Leary that singing is her life and she really, really wants this.'
                  Alexis Pertridis, The Guardian

                  Well, Mr Petridis is not alone in flagging up similarities between Marina and the Diamonds and the wuthering one. It seems that Marina is forever having her so-called influences heaved out and thrown at her feet. I do concede that you will no doubt detect some yourself when listening to this album, as I certainly did. But I don't see this as a bad thing, as this cut-and-paste technique is so enterprisingly deployed that the effect it has on me is to stand back and applaud.
                  The Family Jewels is a real gem, pardon the pun, of a début album. It will pull you in every direction and is guaranteed to either thrill and/or infuriate you depending on your outlook . For me the thrills come from the sheer beauty of Marina's voice on tracks like the celestial Numb or the peerless pop of Hermit the Frog and the Eighties feel of The Outsider. There is an undeniably quirky, if not zany, element to some of these songs and my only slight criticism is that MATD* does sometimes over-egg the pudding a little with superfluous bells and whistles. That said, I can detect a good deal of merit in most,if not all, of the songs. Granted, some of the tracks have taken a little time to grow on me; but that's surely a good thing, compared to much of the disposable pap currently being vomited into the charts.

                  Where Did She Rock Up From?
                  ************************
                  "She has the prettiness and poise of Cheryl Cole but she's more loud than Girls Aloud, an opinionated, sharp-tongued mini-diva who delights in her own contradictions, and who knows she can get away with anything if she attaches a big, fat chorus".
                  Telegraph

                  For those unfamiliar with Marina and the Diamonds, you may like to know that, much like Florence's Machine, 'the Diamonds' do not constitute band members - they, apparently, refer to her listeners, which is very sweet. So it is really just Marina Diamandis against the world. Her exotic surname, meaning 'diamond', represents the Greek half of her heritage, the other half being Welsh. Sure, there are other musicians on the album but she is the mainstay. The album has spawned a host of nominations, culminating in her winning Best Newcomer in the Virgin Media Music Awards and being runner-up to Ellie Goulding in the BBC's Sound of 2010 award. At the time of writing, she is touring the States as the support act to Katy Perry.
                  Marina's talent is matched by her stunning beauty; she was announced as the new face of Max Factor earlier this year. However, I do hope such appointments don't distract her from her song writing, as we have a real emerging talent here.

                  Track by track
                  ************

                  Are You Satisfied?
                  **************
                  The opening salvo is quite typical of many of the intros on the album. A singular, tentative vocal tantalisingly sets up the ensuing crescendo of sound that leads to the rousing chorus. This is full of plinky-plonky synths and other 80s electro-driven sound machines.
                  "Are you satisfied, with an average life"?
                  intones Marina. The song reminds me a little of Elastica and Echobelly.

                  Shampain
                  ********
                  Released as her latest single, this chugging,vibrant and infectious track builds to an almost Abba-esque chorus. The lyrics conjure up angels and all things celestial, something that recurs in the later track Numb. I wondered whether or not the sham and pain of the title held a deeper meaning or darker irony, but alas this seems to be mere titular titillation!
                  Obvious single material... despite the dodgy title.

                  I Am Not A Robot
                  **************
                  One of the best songs on the album, you may have heard a cover version of this on a recent BUPA television advert. Marina opens again with a stripped-bare lilting solo. There is terrific vocal range, versatility and invention as the song progresses through to the immortal line 'Guess what, I am not a robot'. The swelling organ sound meshes gorgeously in the chorus, a sound faintly reminiscent of the Velvet Underground at their most harmonious. I love the typically surprisingbreaks and diversions directed by Marina, as she sashays and blasts her way through this song. Her robotic mimicry in the way she daleks the line I AM-NOT-A-ROBOT allied with the malfunction-like echo of 'Guess what...what...what...' serve to grind and grate in pleasing contrast to the sumptuous melody.

                  Girls
                  ****
                  This is a rather vitriolic yet humorous swipe at superficial and self-obsessed girls. It opens with an eerie high-pitched steely whine before it is pinned to a hypnotic crazy ska beat that reminds me of Baggy Trousers by Madness.
                  Clearly aimed at vacuous airheads, she snarls:
                  "Girls they never befriend me
                  Cause I fall asleep when they speak
                  Of all the calories they eat
                  All they say is "Na na na na na ".
                  This track was mixed in Avignon and the Gallic influences are heard in brief bursts of accordion amid the stomping melee.

                  Mowgli's Road
                  ***********
                  The first single to be released,this high octane and slightly insane track is a real wake-up call! "Ten silver spoons coming after me" sets the surreal tone enveloped by exotic animal noises and a galloping, reverberating beat.
                  The song is a instantly likeable though, with a chorus that reminds me of Waltzing Along by James.

                  Obsessions
                  *********
                  This has come to be, possibly, my favourite track on the album. I say 'come to be' as it initially passed me by and has gradually dug its talons into my consciousness and jolted my head round to demand its full brilliant attention. The opening lines are beautifully sung:
                  'Sunday wake up, give me a cigarette
                  Last night's love affair is looking vulnerable in my bed....'
                  and could quite fittingly frame the morning-after scene of a Truffaut film. This reflective moment is then jack-knifed into an pulsating ska beat where Marina ponders her OCD via a fevered, supermarket-based interior monologue. To me the genius is theway she sings the word 'obsessions' in the chorus. She seems to imbue the second syllable with so much aching wistfulness that it becomes a veritable goose-bump moment!
                  This is such a small detail, but one of many that I think have been overlooked by her more negative critics. The chorus then gives way to a gorgeous non-verbal a capella break that brings to mind Liz Fraser or Enya. Obsessions is a perfect example of the way in which MATD controls pace and direction to fulfil her own sublime agenda.

                  Hollywood
                  ********
                  Possibly the most familiar song on the album as it was released as a single. It seemingly yanks the chain of the USA, replete with mock American accents:
                  'Oh my God you look just like Shakira, oh no it's Catherine Zeta....Actually my name's Marina.'
                  This line serves the dual purpose of highlighting the ignorance of the archetypal tinseltown twit while simultaneously allowing Miss Diamandis to lever in her own name. It isn't the only time she manages this and the needless auto-name-drop self-publicity stunt does give me slight cause for concern. This is ironic as she attempts to parody all that is distasteful about Hollywood - takes one to know one? This minor annoyance aside, this is a great pop song with a stonking chorus. With lines like:
                  "Hollywood infected your brain
                  You wanted kissing in the rain
                  Living in a movie scene
                  Puking American dreams"
                  I fear that Marina may have blown her chance of an Emmy nomination! Although he can dish it out in supersize portions, it seems that Uncle Sam doesn't take criticism very well -however seemingly innocuous.

                  The Outsider
                  **********
                  Another cracking track that begins quietly that is angled, all too literally, from the perspective of 'the outsider'. Although hardly Camus or Sartre, it certainly conveys the discomfort of exclusion and the latter's notion that 'Hell is other people' quite clearly!
                  The second verse is cranked up as it carries some great two-fingers-to-the-world lines:
                  "These people are weird in here
                  And they're giving me the fear
                  Just because you know my name
                  Doesn't mean you know my game".

                  I love this particular section of the song, which I think outmuscles the actual chorus with it's Misirlou-like sound. The actual chorus provides a trademark sharp diversion as we re-enter 80s synth land with Elastica-like buoyancy. A later verse reveals the dark, or rather hard, side to Marina as she completes the transformation from pussy cat to lioness, her whisper snowballing to a blood curdling scream:
                  'Spilt the milk at breakfast, hit me double- hard
                  And I grinned at you softly, cos I'm a f****** wildcard'.
                  My main criticism of The Outsider is that the first-half is so damn good that the back end becomes a little deflated, and I sometimes find myself skipping tracks when the aural climax has passed!


                  Hermit the Frog
                  *************
                  This was initially the stand-out track for me, and is still very much amongst the gold dust at the top of the pile. The song is full of twist,turns,ticks and varied vocal inflexions that such a description may deter some from airing it. But I beg you to resist and allow it into your airspace! From the familiar muted opening we are taken on a sublime kaleidoscopic ride courtesy of Marina's fertile mind and penchant for mimicry that would have Jon Culshaw applauding. The chorus is most blatantly a big nod to Enya, and more specifically Orinoco Flow - albeit in slightly accelerated form. I have read somewhere that Marina was an admirer of the Celtic songstress, so I can't really see the harm in honouring her heroines/influences in her own songs. Anyway, no MATD track hangs around long enough for such labels to stick, as the subsequent twists and shifts leave you with the feeling that her best songs are truly and ingeniously original. Hermit the Frog is certainly the king of the lily pond.

                  Oh No!
                  ******
                  This track opens with the line 'Don't do love, Do do friends/I'm only after success'. However, this austere beginning is somewhat softened by more admirable anti-materialistic sentiments as she opines :
                  'Don't need money, don't need fame
                  I just want to make a change'.
                  Musically this is delivered in a suitably staccato manner before bleeding into a higher-pitched automaton chorus:
                  'I know exactly what I want and who I want to be
                  I know exactly why I walk and talk like a machine
                  I'm now becoming my own self-fulfilled prophecy.'
                  The oh no! of the title seems to reflect the response to her self-realisation of this. I admit that the song has taken a while to grow on me, but the wait has been worth it.

                  Rootless
                  *******
                  There is an otherworldly quality to Rootless, not least because of the incessant use of enterprising simile and metaphor throughout. The opening lines are a case in point:
                  "I'm a cloud drifting by,dripping tears from the sky
                  I'm a snail without a shell, leper with a golden bell".
                  The song is set at a slowish pace and that goes for the chorus:
                  "'Running with my roots pulled up
                  Caught me cold so they could cut
                  What there was left of love".
                  I find it an enjoyable track which is well ordered in the playlist as it helps you catch your breath between the lively Oh No! and storming Numb. Again we are given a subject matter which too literally fits the title. It is a bit irksome that someone with Marina's imagination has to resort to such lazy transparency when naming her songs. Rootless, Numb, The Outsider, Guilty (see below), and Obsessions are all songs about exactly those very dilemmas/situations/traits/emotions. Come on Marina, tease us with a little irony or paradox!

                  Numb
                  *****
                  If you have any expensive glassware in your house then I would advise you to store it off-site while you play Numb! This tremendous track is a ringing endorsement of Marina's vocal ability as she whoops and swoops with celestial ease. It is a song that I'm sure Annie Lennox would have loved to get her hands on, although my initial listening made me think of Kate Bush. I doubt that many artists could live with Marina here and, believe me, such exalted comparisons are not misplaced. When she elongates the word 'Shine' into five syllables in the chorus, you'll marvel at her Everest-high note; until it is toppled by the following line 'It's a reasonable sacrifice' which will beckon all the dogs within a ten-mile radius into your front garden! The hymn-like quality of Numb is underpinned by quite a sad theme of success compromising happiness (or even unhappiness as a
                  pre-requisite for success?) as evidenced by the line:
                  "I feel numb most of the time
                  Lower I get, the higher I'll climb"
                  I'm not sure this sentiment is conveyed convincingly, as I am just so bowled over by the actual sound to bother with such draining deconstruction. Tremendous.

                  Guilty
                  *****
                  Another song that I had initially overlooked but which continues to grow on me. It opens rather mechanically before surrendering to the, almost ethereal, chorus. Again, the title leaves little to the imagination regarding the subject of the song as Marina warbles delectably:
                  "I'm a troubled one and I won't be forgiven
                  Guilty on the run and I know what I have done".
                  A wonderful song that somehow seems to convey the intended emotion perfectly.

                  Hack Attack
                  **********
                  The vast majority of critical reception has been extremely enthusiastic with more shiny rocks than nasty knocks.

                  'Frankly, with a début this astonishing, we think the time for Marina to stop worrying is here.'
                  NME

                  "Quirky, bold and beautiful pop songs".
                  The Times

                  "Marina and the Diamonds is on the way up".
                  The Independent

                  "There's a devilish whiff of smoke and mirrors about Marina. Her arch, clever début may be too spiky and brash to be really lovable, but if Marina has her way, you'll probably find yourself singing along whether you like it or not".
                  Telegraph

                  She's Eclectic
                  ***********
                  There has been much written and spouted about Marina's penchant for using influences in her songs. Reading through reviews of The Family Jewels I see that she sounds like The Dresden Dolls, Lene Lovich, Kate Bush, Enya, Florence and the Machine, and Sparks to name a few. So what? Who is totally original these days anyway? While I don't doubt she is something of a music magpie, I feel that these influences are cribbed and manipulated as a means to a more noble end.
                  "For those of us who've sussed her sources, there's almost something charming about how blatantly she wears her influences on her sleeve".
                  Independent
                  Where the influences are well founded I feel it is a nice tribute to those defining artists - after all imitation is supposedly the highest form of compliment. Furthermore, I believe that her cacophonous cocktails produce something entirely innovative and unique. It's as though she performs a divine alchemy by scouring a scrapyard for Lada parts to produce a Lamborghini.
                  I feel that the problem with the few dissenting voices is that MATD defies categorisation. These critics can't pin her down and compartmentalise her, which probably alienates them. Their time would be better spent actually listening to the music instead of de-constructing and matching influences like sad, brown-nose school kids. I'm particularly perplexed by the continual, unfavourable, comparison to Florence and the Machine. The only striking similarity I see, between the sultry siren and the pallid pre-Raphaelite, is the fact that they both have imaginary bands in The Diamonds and The Machine. Furthermore, it's unfair to level quasi-aural plagiarism at Marina when Florence's finest hour was courtesy of a very straight-batted, full cover version of You've Got the Love! Surely these two young women should be celebrated and championed as real burgeoning British talent, instead of being sliced with a scalpel and scrutinised under the microscope by sad and scrawny hacks. Taxi for the anoraks!


                  Label
                  ****
                  679

                  Catalogue Reference
                  *****************
                  825646836253


                  Year
                  ****
                  2010

                  *This review has also been posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.

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                  • Despicable Me (DVD) / DVD / 87 Readings / 83 Ratings
                    More +
                    24.04.2011 08:15
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                    Proof if needed that CGI creations can elicit warmth, humanity and humour.

                    This charming CGI tale from the executive producer of Ice Age is a cut above the norm in its field, blessed as it is with a see-sawing plot, thought-provoking themes, tinges of sadness and frequently-detonated laughter bombs. I often found myself smiling without knowing why, but ultimately thought Despicable Me to be a well-rounded, innovative and rewarding experience.


                    Craving lunatics
                    *************
                    The plot centres around obsessive, mad scientist Professor Gru, whose deathly dark domicile stands in grim relief against the backdrop of an otherwise cheery and impeccably tended suburbia. Despite his unkempt home, Gru's main priority lies in achieving world domination along with his multitude of little yellow minions. His arsenal of innovative weapons and futuristic military vehicles serve to uphold his proud status of Super Villain. However, his reputation is soon eclipsed by rival villain, Vector, who audaciously steals the pyramids of Giza, then replaces them with inflatable replicas. Gru and his minions are compelled to think of a bigger crime and thus conspire to steal the moon. As such a venture requires considerable capital, the slighted professor is forced to request a loan from the Bank of Evil, who refuse him on the basis of his waning criminal reputation. The only way that the imposing Bank Manager, Mr Perkins, will entertain Gru's request is by seeing his 'shrink-ray' - a magical weapon that, unsurprisingly, shrinks its intended targets. Trouble is, the shrink-ray is in arch-rival Vector's possession and its retrieval would be far from easy. Meanwhile a sub-plot is intermittently surfacing, which involves three young orphan girls who sell cookies door-to-door for the orphanage's owner. Gru spies them succeeding where he has failed, in gaining access to Vector's fortress-like home when they make a sale via his intercom. This gives Gru one of his 'lightbulb' moments - he will use the girls for his own personal gain.....but does he realise the enormity of what he is about to take on?
                    From this point there ensue some terrific chases and tussles between Gru and Vector as they wrestle for the kudos of the world's greatest Super Villain. Along the way we also encounter deception, betrayal,surprise, sadness and humour in no small dose! The three little girls are now very much main players in the story,but will they help or hinder Gru....and in what way?

                    Characters
                    *********
                    The characters are terrifically realised; I actually felt more affinity with some of them than with many a so-called real-life Hollywood actor/actress - although that's not necessarily saying much!
                    Gru is a physical contradiction in that his hulking top-half and torso are somehow supported by a pair of pipe-cleaner legs. His odd, bald, rugby ball-shaped head and heavy brow serve to enhance the stereotypical criminal. Maybe his contrasting body make-up reflects a possible dichotomy in his personality, something supported by the film's tag line 'Superbad, Superdad'? Gru's heavy Russian accent smacks a little of the old archetypal cold war Bond-type villain. Nevertheless, his long nose and spindly legs conspire to portray him more as an American eagle than a Russian bear!
                    At the outset he is portrayed as mean-spirited, abrupt and self-obsessed although, as the film progresses, we are given glimpses that he may be open to some degree of emotional engagement.
                    Gru's arch-rival Vector is peculiar in other ways. His pudding-basin flop-top fringes a pair of enormous spectacles to produce the ultimate geek. I can't decide if he more closely resembles Mr Muscle, Bill Gates or, more obscurely, Ian Broudie from The Lightning Seeds (more Lucky You than Despicable Me)!
                    Vocally, he is very Austin Powers and his orange tracksuit does little to help his image as a gawky and geeky annoying little twit. This is no doubt the effect he is meant to have on us, so bravo to his creators. His fortress-like home is another nod to James Bond, with sharks swimming under glass floors, laser-guided missiles and all manner of intruder-repelling contraptions.
                    The minions make up Gru's loyal army of little helpers. They are rather cute yellow capsule-shaped creatures with their own quasi-comprehensible language. Complete with dungarees and lab googles (that protect one or two eyes depending on the 'minion model'
                    concerned) they add a certain cutesy and, sometimes, quite violent slapstick sense of humour to the production! They also show a welcome compassionate side, particularly where the three girls are concerned.
                    Three of the film's most notable players are, of course, the three orphan girls. The eldest is the sensible, bespectacled Margo and her sense of responsibility is commendable in the way that she looks out for her two younger charges. Her guarded suspicion of Gru makes her a tough nut to crack for the professor. The middle girl, Edith, is forever decked out in pink with her trademark woolly hat, exuding skater-girl chic. The cutest and funniest star for me though is Agnes, the youngest. Her jet black hair, pushed up into a Japanese-like fountain atop the biggest brown doe eyes is a sight that can surely begin to thaw even Gru's icy exterior?
                    Professor Nefario is Gru's bungling yet steadfast right-hand man, voiced in pantomime cockney tones by Russell Brand. I suppose 'hard-of-hearing' may be a better description than 'bungling', as evidenced by his invention of boogie robots as opposed to the professor's request for cookie-robots, and the production of a fart-gun instead of the desired dart-gun! With his elongated chin and ears I'm sure that his physical appearance must have been based on one of Terry Gilliam's Monty Python animations.
                    Although Nefario's appearances are pretty limited, one of his decisions does effect a pivotal point in the story.


                    Themes
                    ******

                    Despite the high jinks and hilarity there is also a little serious substance to Despicable Me.
                    I suppose it could provide a universal allegory for man's ignorance, neglect, and even manipulation of humanity in order to feed his own precious ego and fulfil a selfish ambition.
                    More specifically, it raises the plight of orphans in search of loving homes. The 'Home for Girls' which houses our three little sisters seems almost like incarceration, with cardboard boxes assigned as a sleeping quarters for naughty children. The draconian owner of the home, Miss Hattie, does little to enhance the appeal of the orphanage. I personally see it as a warning that taking on the role of foster parent carries with it a huge amount of responsibility and should not be entered into lightly - certainly not as a 'marriage' of convenience. Hopefully, it also evidences the tremendous reciprocal rewards that can be yielded from a successful union.
                    But the dubious legacy of an unfortunate upbringing is not just confined to the girls. I could not help feeling sorry for Gru himself as a series of flashbacks reveal how his aspirations and achievements have been perpetually met with disinterest and ridicule by his own mother. No doubt Gru's obsession with trying to succeed in anything at all costs is borne out of this parental apathy. In this sense it could be surmised that Gru shares common ground with the girls as he too has been 'orphaned' in an emotional, if not a physical, sense.

                    Visuals and special effects
                    I found Despicable Me to be very pleasing on the eye, be it the unfolding panorama of Egypt's sand dunes against the brilliant azure sky, or the vertiginous roller-coaster ride on the fun fair. The latter is particularly spectacular, not least in the attention to detail afforded by the effects of G-force on the passengers' faces! Some of the sky chase scenes are particularly enthralling and I could imagine the spectacle being even further enhanced if it were viewed in 3-D, although not for those with a fear of heights. I must say that I thought the clouds seemed particularly realistic! The animation is visually uplifting with its use of brilliant and vibrant colour throughout, something well exemplified by the teeming hordes of frantic little minions. Of course the only exception is Gru's grim house, but this use of contrast is clearly a stylistic device to evoke his mean spiritedness.


                    Conclusion
                    *********

                    With such, seemingly, diametrically opposed characters I suppose that Despicable Me sets itself up as a modern day Christmas Carol. It wouldn't take a rocket scientist to guess the plot but even if this were known, it would not spoil things as it is the getting there that is just as captivating . It is much more than just another computer-generated visual feast as it also manages to elicit a warmth, humanity, humour and life-affirming quality that all too often misfires in many other offerings in this medium. Personally, I am a massive fan of Up and, although I couldn't quite place Despicable Me in this lofty company, I may be open to an enhanced revision of this opinion after another viewing. I will nevertheless award it five stars, as I would certainly rate it closer to 'excellent' than merely 'good'- very highly recommended.

                    Year
                    ****
                    2010

                    Directors
                    *******

                    Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin.

                    Producers
                    ********
                    Chris Meledandri, Janet Healy and John Cohen

                    Screenplay
                    *********
                    Cinco Paul and Ken Dario

                    Based on a story by:
                    *****************
                    Sergio Pablos

                    Original songs and themes by:
                    ************************
                    Pharrell Williams

                    Main Cast
                    ********
                    Gru - Steve Carell
                    Vector - Jason Segel
                    Dr Nefario - Russell Brand
                    Gru's mom - Julie Andrews
                    Mr Perkins - Will Arnett
                    Miss Hattie - Kristen Wiig
                    Margo - Miranda Cosgrove
                    Edith - Dana Gaier
                    Agnes - Elsie Fisher

                    Region
                    ******
                    2,4,5 PAL

                    Format information
                    ****************
                    1.85:1 Anamorphic widescreen
                    Feature soundtrack: English 5.1
                    English Audio description track 2.0
                    Subtitle tracks: English SDH (menu screens available)

                    Bonus features
                    ************
                    3 all new Minions Short Movies
                    Gru's Rocket Builder Game
                    The World of Despicable Me
                    And much more!

                    Feature running time
                    *****************
                    1 hour 31 minutes approx

                    DVD Extras running time
                    ********************
                    52 minutes approx

                    Classification
                    ***********
                    U : Universal -suitable for all.
                    Contains very mild scary scenes, slapstick violence and language.

                    *This review has also been posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.

                    ..

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                      07.03.2011 13:52
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                      A compelling sequel to an excelllent prequel.

                      Introduction
                      **********
                      This is the middle instalment of the riveting trilogy based upon the books of Steig Larsson. I feel that it maintains the high standard set by its beguiling prequel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Apart from shedding light upon some conundrums set by its predecessor it also lays a tantalising and precarious bridge across to the eagerly anticipated sequel, The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. I had begun to detect similarities with Swedish productions such as the prequel, Let the Right One In, the Wallander series, not to mention the entire oeuvre of Bergman. The common denominator was that they moved about as fast as ABBA's grandparents. There is no such slothfulness about The Girl who Played with Fire which fairly zips along in comparison.

                      Plot
                      ****
                      The film begins with our feisty heroine, Lisbeth Salander, re-living the nightmare of her rape by odious 'guardian' Nils Bjurman. She had been enjoying a globetrotting sabbatical since we last saw her, but has now decided to return to Stockholm aided by a financial bequest left by her mother. As a world class computer hacker the ever-resourceful Lisbeth soon catches up with the vile Bjurman. She notes that he has ceased to submit positive reports about her to the guardianship agency, and advises that he had better resume doing so, or risk extreme humiliation. Lisbeth's bargaining chip is a retributive DVD she recorded of Bjurman in a wholly uncompromising position! A third party soon enters the equation in the form of a lawyer representing the mysterious 'Zala', who quizzes Bjurman about a 1993 police report concerning Lisbeth. Bjurman is not short on opportunism either as he promises to deliver this on the condition that Salander is 'silenced' and the DVD is retrieved and returned to him.
                      Meanwhile Blomqvist, her estranged sidekick from the prequel, is back in charge at Millenium, his controversial political publication. He is now considering whether to offer a contract to promising young freelance, Dag Svensson, who presents him with an irresistible idea for a feature on the sex trafficking of East European girls. Blomqvist and his editorial team are suitably impressed and give him the green light.
                      A number of high-ranking notables figure among the client lists of these murky waters and the journalistic inquisition rattles more than a few shark cages!
                      The story unfolds with some grisly murders, one of which Lisbeth is framed for. Thus continues her
                      fugitive life on the run as she strives to cheat capture and death. Those closest to her are sucked into the melee, not least Blomqvist in his eagerness to clear her name. Some loose ends are tied up and some truly shocking revelations are uncovered. But will our tiny, Teflon tearaway prevail?

                      Flames
                      ******
                      The fire theme conjured up by the film's title is very prevalent throughout, in both a figurative and a literal sense. My first impression is that it is a metaphor for Lisbeth's continually treacherous quest to evade both the authorities and her more malevolent pursuers.
                      In a more literal sense we are replayed a curious flashback that first appeared in the prequel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This is where a young Lisbeth wanders over to a man in a parked car with some matchsticks and some petrol. She throws the liquid over him, closely followed by an ignited match which inevitably turns the scene into a fearsome fireball. This is the crime for which Lisbeth had been committed to a mental institution and had been subsequently assigned a guardian.
                      Is it possible her victim survived and, if so, who was he? All is revealed here. While I wouldn't condone torching people as a means of payback, I can certainly understand Lisbeth's well-founded motive for her actions.
                      Fire plays its part in another scene involving Lisbeth's girlfriend Miriam and fellow kick-boxer Paulo. The latter tries to come to the aid of Miriam who is kidnapped by perhaps the most fearsome hulking villain I have seen for some time, in the form of Ronald Niederman. The two friends find themselves in a flame engulfed predicament of their own after fruitlessly attempting to repel the giant freak with endless kicks and punches.

                      Kick-ass dame
                      ***********
                      Noomi Rapace turns in another bravura performance as kick-boxing, computer hacker extraordinaire,Lisbeth Salander. Diminutive in stature but with the heart of a lion and the guile of a fox she evades capture time and time again. Despite the tough and sullen exterior she has suffered horrible emotional scars at the hands of people she should have been able to put her trust in. With her past in mind she is understandably disdainful of men, Blomqvist being a notable exception. Her vengeance on the men who cross or disgust her is uncompromising and,many would say, justified. For instance, after her rape at the hands of Bjurman she carved the words 'I am a sadistic pig and a rapist' into his porcine paunch! In this instalment she suitably humiliates a client in the aformentioned sex ring in order to elicit her desired information from him. It's amazing how a tazer, 1000,000 volts and the threat of self-strangulation can loosen uncooperative tongues!
                      Occasionally we see Lisbeth's hard facade crack a little, notably when she is reminded by her ex-employer ,Armansky, about her negligence in maintaining contact with Blomqvist and elderly stroke patient Holger Palmgren. I'm sure I detected a watery eye and quivering lip as Lisbeth pondered this disconnection. The character's affectionate side is also evidenced in a tender, mildly graphic, love scene with her girlfriend Miriam.
                      Her fight scenes seem pretty authentic as she dishes out quasi-pugilistic punishment to a Hells Angel and his hapless sidekick before making off with their Harley. In one scene a policeman wonders aloud at the overkill in sending in so many of the force to deal with such a minor threat. "She's tiny, five feet tall and six stone". Oh, the folly of underestimation!


                      Salander and Libel
                      ***************
                      This film is undoubtedly a tour de force for Rapace, but the other characters are nicely realised too. Michael Nyqvist portrays the commendable journalist Mikael Blomqvist with understated aplomb. After a litigious hauling over the coals in the last film and Lisbeth's welcome instrusion into his life you could say that he has been preoccupied with Salander and libel! We don't see much at all of the dynamic between them in this film as they are kept apart like parallel lines for much of it.
                      Much of the remaining cast play relatively brief roles but the seedy duplicity of some of the 'respectable' sex clients is nicely exposed - the acting is first rate from everyone. There are villains and lowlife aplenty here, but none so memorable as the 'blond tank' that is Ronald Niederman. If ever James Bond was in need of a villain to out-freak Jaws then he is he! He 'suffers' from a rare congenital analgesia which renders him impervious to pain - truly a superhero
                      power in the wrong hands. Aside from this, he is absolutely gigantic and cuts an extremely imposing and terrifying figure throughout.

                      Conclusion
                      *********
                      This is a worthy follow up to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but, although it would be possible to watch it as a stand alone film, I would strongly recommend that you watch that prequel before this one to do them both justice. I have seen reviews from those who have read the books and have noted an air of some disappointment. I can't comment on this as I have not read them myself, but I do tend to think that most films are onto a hiding to nothing when they attempt to interpret books. Maybe this is because what we hold in our mind's eye is seldom replicated exactly in another person's interpretation? Nevertheless, I have found these two films to be absolutely compelling to such a degree that I can hardly wait for the concluding sequel The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest


                      Cast
                      ****
                      Michael Nyqvist ... Mikael Blomkvist
                      Noomi Rapace ... Lisbeth Salander
                      Lena Endre ... Erika Berger
                      Peter Andersson ... Nils Bjurman
                      Michalis Koutsogiannakis ... Dragan Armanskij
                      Annika Hallin ... Annika Giannini
                      Sofia Ledarp ... Malin Erikson
                      Jacob Ericksson ... Christer Malm
                      Reuben Sallmander ... Enrico Giannini
                      Yasmine Garbi ... Miriam Wu
                      Ralph Carlsson ... Gunnar Björk
                      Georgi Staykov ... Alexander Zalachenko
                      Hans Christian Thulin ... Dag Svensson (as Hans-Christian Thulin)
                      Jennie Silfverhjelm ... Mia Bergman
                      Per Oscarsson ... Holger Palmgren
                      Sunil Munshi ... Dr. Sivarnandan
                      Anders Ahlbom ... Dr. Peter Teleborian (as Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl)
                      Micke Spreitz ... Ronald Niedermann (as Mikael Spreitz

                      Director
                      ******
                      Daniel Alfredson

                      Writers
                      ******
                      Stieg Larsson, Jonas Frykberg


                      Format
                      ******
                      Anamorphic, Colour, PAL, Subtitled, Widescreen

                      Region
                      ******
                      Region 2 (Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.78:1


                      Number of discs
                      *************
                      1

                      Classification
                      ***********
                      15

                      Studio
                      *****
                      Momentum Pictures Home Ent

                      Run Time
                      *******
                      124 minutes

                      Set up
                      ******
                      1)Play original Swedish 5.1 Dolby Digital with English subtitles
                      2)Play English language 5.1 Dolby Digital
                      3)Play original Swedish stereo 2.0 with English subtitles
                      4)Play English language stereo 2.0

                      Special features
                      *************

                      Cast and crew interviews
                      Niederman vs Roberto: Behind the fight scene
                      Sneak preview of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
                      Trailers

                      *This review has also been published on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.

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