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To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, Big Finish Productions has joined forces with the official BBC audio-book supplier, AudioGo to produce a special range of Audio-books, each one focusing on one of the Eleven Doctors. Released monthly throughout 2013, each of the stories is read by one of the companions from the featured Doctor's era, alongside a secondary voice. Melding the styles of Big Finish's full-cast audio adventures and AudioGo's traditional audio-book readings, these Destiny of the Doctor audiobook's provide a totally new way to listen to stories from the classic Doctors.
These Destiny of the Doctor audios are a strange mix of both a true audio-book and the two-hander Companion Chronicles which Big Finish produce. It is read by Carole Ann Ford out of character, rather than as Susan, but she does provide voices for the various characters. The audio also includes sound effects and some dialogue acting between the two narrators. It works well and feels very similar to the audio reconstructions of the missing episodes in how it fuses both narration and acting together.
The story opens up four months after The Doctor and Susan arrive on Earth in the 1960s - the Doctor is busy locating parts to fix the TARDIS and Susan is attempting to fit in amongst the teenagers at Coal Hill School. However, a series of strange events occur when static in the radio causes calm and reasonable students to develop violent tendencies and hunt out those they deem 'alien' - Meanwhile, the mysterious Mr Rook, a schoolmaster at Coal Hill, is very interested in the Doctor and Susan and the secrets located in Foreman's Junk Yard, such as the strange blue Police Box that is kept there.
It's a bold choice to tell a story set before the TV show, focusing on the Doctor and his granddaughter Susan, before we meet them on-screen for the first time, as it is an area rarely covered and there are plenty of blanks to fill in. However, it makes sense for this range of audios, which are threaded through the lives of the many Doctor's lives, to start from the very beginning. It also allows us to see some of the problems that the two of them faced while attempting to fit into 1960's England and avoiding detection.
The story is ripe with references and foreshadowing of future events, which the audience have already seen in the classic episodes, such as when Mr Rook calls Susan 'Unearthly', a reference to the title of the first ever episode, An Unearthly Child, and there are several mentions of Susan's latent psychic powers, which is explored much deeper in the serial, The Sensorites.
One of the most important aspects of writing these 'lost stories' is to make sure that the characters sound true to themselves and that continuity isn't disrupted. I'm glad to say that both Susan and The Doctor are very much characterised in the same way that they appear on-screen, with Susan struggling to fit into a typical teenager social group and the Doctor acts both superior and distrustful of the human race. You get the sense that this is precisely how the characters would have behaved prior to meeting Ian and Barbara in the first episode of the TV show.
I was very impressed with Carole Ann Ford's vocal talents here as she handles multiple characters, each with their own distinct voices and accents. Unsurprisingly, her strongest voice is Susan Foreman, the character who she played in the original TV episodes. She is assisted by Tam Williams, who plays Cedric, but the majority of the voice-work is performed by her, including Mr Rook, who you would expect to be voiced by her male co-star.
Each of the Destiny of the Doctor audios will have a linking theme uniting all eleven stand-alone stories and judging by the contents of this adventure, it appears to be that the current incarnation of the Doctor (Matt Smith) is somehow influencing his past. There is a sequence in the café where Susan and Cedric hear a dedication over the radio to themselves from the Doctor, although the First Doctor is equally as perplexed by the message as they are, suggesting a future incarnation is responsible. Perhaps future instalments of the Destiny of the Doctor series will also see the Doctor influencing his past?
Overall this was a fun adventure, which was very much in the style of the early adventures of the First Doctor - while there was a science-fiction reason behind the aggression of the gangs, it wasn't strictly alien-related. There was the hint of a larger story to be told, and I have the suspicion that we may see one particular scene referenced in a later audio (probably the Eleventh). This is a fantastic start to the audio series and I look forward to seeing more of the Doctor's 'eras' realised in the same manner.
Judge Dredd has been running in 2000AD for a weekly basis since it's second issue, with a handful of exceptions, and over the thirty years that it has been featured in the sci-fi anthology, there have been references to the back story of Mega City One and the creation of the Justice System. In particular, the fact that Dredd and his brother Rico were clones of the legendary Judge Fargo, was so ingrained within the character's history that the first feature film used the plot as it's focus - for better or for worse. However, there had never been a definitive story that filled in all the gaps, so as part of the 30th anniversary of Judge Dredd, creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra produced the mega-epic storyline, Origins, to show readers how the America they know became the sprawling metropolis that is Mega-City One and how the Judges rose to power over democracy under the guidance of Judge Fargo.
The graphic novel for Origins contains the five-part prologue called 'The Connection' which is a nice little introduction and sets up some foreshadowing in the form of Dredd's dreams about his clone brother, Rico, whom he killed in the line of duty and their 'father', Judge Fargo, from whom the two were cloned. The story focuses around a mysterious box that two mutants (three, if you count the talking armpit!) are attempting to deliver to the Justice Department. There is the sense of a Coen Brothers movie about this introduction (Fargo, perhaps?) as plans go awry and corpses begin to mount up. I really enjoyed this interlude and as always, I appreciated the artwork of Kev Walker, who in my opinion draws a fantastic Dredd, equalling that of the character's creator, Carlos Ezquerra, who comes aboard to draw the main event.
The contents of the 'macguffin' are revealed in the first part of Origins and prompts a journey into the Cursed Earth. Without spoiling too much, the Judge's are concerned that a very important element of their history might be being held ransom by a group of Cursed Earth mutants. Sending Dredd and a select team of veteran Judges, the search party head off into the wilderness to locate what is theirs. Along the way, the encounter various groups, some hostile and some not. Throughout the adventures, Dredd recounts the history of Mega City One and his involvement in it, and they soon discover that not all history is dead and buried.
I'll admit that I found the flashback sequences to be slightly slow and they didn't hold my interest as much as the present day scenes. Wagner manages to inter-splice the flashbacks with action in the present to prevent them from being too slow, which considering that this book was originally published in six-page episodes, some of the flashback material could have seemed even slower when reading it on a weekly basis. For long-term fans of Dredd who are more intimate with the character's past from the hints dropped over the years, there was probably a lot more pay-off to seeing the history of Mega-City One recounted almost from start to finish. For myself, however, I did find myself slightly confused in parts, although that may be due to my pre-conceptions of Dredd's origins that I had picked up from the 1995 film. I was always under the impression Fargo took the Long Walk into the Cursed Earth, so I was slightly confused at the retelling here, although this could be a revision of events, as Wagner makes it clear that there has been falsehoods and inconsistencies in the tale as part of a plot point.
Reflecting on the story as a whole, it makes sense on why the flashbacks go into such detail, since there is a pay-off in the final act. In fact, the whole story works well as a full package and neatly sets up the changes that will occur in Dredd's character in later stories, particularly his feelings about mutants and the laws preventing them from entering the city. This is clearly an important story that has had far-reaching consequences within the Judge Dredd storyline, in some ways fundamentally challenging the character's views and beliefs.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on this beautiful collection that contains both the five-part prologue and the main Origins storyline. As usual, the 2000AD graphic novels are perfectly crafted with a thicker page than the usual comic and a nice gloss on them. The reprinting is crisp and clear and the colours all leap of the page with a shine. There is a covers gallery showcasing some artwork from Jock, John Higgins, Rufus Dayglo, Simon Coleby and Boo Cook. Also included is a sketchbook from Carlos Ezquerra, which has some black and white sketches of early designs.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a remake, using the latest graphics and gameplay innovations, of the original Tomb Raider from 1996, which introduced the world to gaming icon, Lara Croft. Anniversary features the same core plot as its original, but trims away all of the annoyances and glitches from the earlier incarnation, including improved voice acting, more varied moves and the addition of the grappel-rope allowing Lara to swing and grab objects from a distance.
Fans of the series will appreciate the return to basics that this remake provides - the Tomb Raider canon had grown complicated with each additional release, resulting in the series taking something of a leave of absence between Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness and Tomb Raider: Legend.
Lara Croft, is hired by Jacqueline Natla to retrieve an artifact called The Scion, which is located in the Peruvian mountains. It is only after locating the first of three pieces of the artifact that she is double-crossed by Natla, sending her on a journey across the globe (locations such as Greece and Egypt) searching for the remaining pieces before Natla and her hired mercenaries beat her to them.
Actress, Keeley Hawes (Ashes to Ashes) provides the voice of Lara Croft, reprising the role from Tomb Raider: Legend and she brings the perfect balance of stern british feminism and daring adventurer to the role.
Considering this a remake of a PS1-era game, it's obvious that the graphics are a vast improvement on the original. And unlike most remakes, it feels like they've rebuilt the game from the ground up - effectively making it a whole new game, although fans of the original will notice key puzzles and elements remain the same. The graphics are great, but there does seem to be an element of 'drawing between the lines' here and the graphics for the preceding game, Tomb Raider: Legend seemed to be more impressive because they were not limited to matching an original copy.
The game comes with three difficulty levels, which don't change much apart from the amount of health lost by Lara when taking damage. The puzzles and enemy count remain unchanged, no matter which difficulty is selected. With the regular checkpoints, it is relatively easy to complete the game on hard mode with no real problems. For those wanting more of a challenge, this comes in the form of the Time Trial mode, which is unlockable upon completion of the game. In Time Trial mode, the player must guide Lara through a selected level within a pre-determined time limit - this is VERY tricky, because the faster you attempt to play through the game, the more mistakes you make!
The game involves a lot of precision jumping, ledge grabbing and puzzle solving and those with a short temper may find themselves expelling new expletives that they weren't even sure existed. I personally discovered several new swearwords during the many attempts of one level!
This is a great game and a massive improvement on the original version from 1996, however, when compared to the previous release, Tomb Raider: Legend, it feels slightly restricted as it is catering to nostalgia rather than innovation. It is worth investing in if you were a fan of the original, or never got a chance to experience the game when it first came out, as it improves upon that version in every way possible!
Tomb Raider Anniversary is available on PC, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii. A collected Tomb Raider anthology, containing this game and two others (Tomb Raider: Legend / Underworld) is available on PS3 and Xbox 360.
Paul McGann - The Doctor
Sheridan Smith - Lucie Miller
Bernard Cribbins - Arnold Korns
Stephen Gately - Tommy Tomorrow
Clare Buckfield - Trisha Tomorrow
Whilst looking for a bite to eat, the Doctor and new companion, Lucie Miller, arrive at a Motorway Service Station on the M62 during a terrible blizzard. Also en-route to the Service Station is star-making music manager, Arnold Korns, and his latest signings, Trisha and Tommy Tomorrow, ready to make their debut on Top of the Pops. However, outside in the snow and darkness is a dangerous threat - a pack of alien monsters that threaten to bring a sudden halt to the careers of these fledgling Glam Rockers...
The idea of a remote Service Station under siege by alien creatures is very reminiscent of the classic 'base under siege' storylines that were used during the Second Doctor's era such as: The Moonbase, Fury from the Deep and The Ice Warriors. Unfortunately, the story doesn't have the benefit of a multi-part serial to build up the suspense and instead, throws itself straight into the action and is finished within the hour, which is the equivalent of a two episode storyline in the classic series. As a result the story felt like a mish-mash of 'Classic Who' storytelling, mixed with the format and modern approach of the current series.
We're quickly introduced to the cast of supporting characters: Flo, Pat, Arnold Korns, Trisha and Tommy Tomorrow, as well as a few extras who are effectively 'Monster Meals' with several lines. Each of the characters was easily identifiable by their voices, which is something that can cause issues if several characters sound similar to each other. I really liked the character of Arnold Korns, played well by Bernard Cribbins who managed to chew on the audio scenery when on-air. While I wasn't entirely convinced by his change of heart mid-way through the story, I was impressed by Cribbins' acting range in playing a different character to the one he would eventually play on-screen, Donna Noble's grandfather, Wilfred Mott.
I enjoyed Stephen Gately's performance as Tommy Tomorrow and while I initially thought, "Wow, a member of Boyzone playing an Irish musician, that's original", Gately managed to put a lot of originality into the role and played Tommy really well, giving him both depth and a mysterious otherworldly quality that I wasn't expected from reading the inlay sleeve.
The tone of the story is hard to define as it's a strange balance of both comedy and horror with the unusual setting and references to 70's Glam Rock and the horror of bear-like creatures attempting to smash their way in and devour the humans inside. The death sequences seemed to be played for laughs with the over-the-top screaming and crunching sound effects used, along with the jokes prior to them, such as when Arnold observes Ron the Roadie making a run for it: "Maybe he'll make it" and then we hear the sound of crunching as Arnold adds, "But then again..."
I liked Paul McGann's performance of the Doctor and the dynamic between him and Lucie. There is more of his personality shining through her than did in his initial TV appearance, and I wonder if that is true for the audio dramas set prior to this series. I like his sarcastic approach at times, however, there were a few moments that seemed a little out of character for the Doctor. For example, he didn't seem too bothered about the implications of Lucie meeting her future aunt and the paradoxical possibilities of such a meeting, but this may be explored in further detail in future audio adventures. I also thought it was a bit mean of the Doctor to acknowledge that Tommy wanted nothing more to travel the galaxy and promptly offer the same opportunity to Lucie instead. Surely, he could have given Tommy a give 'once around the block'.
Overall, this was a fun little adventure which took the Doctor Who trope of the base under siege and gave it an unusual setting in both time and space. The setting of a Motorway Service Station is really quite inspired as it is a very British tradition and evokes that feeling of isolation that a good 'base under siege' story needs. I also really enjoyed the Bowie-esque incidental music (and Glam Rock closing theme!), especially during Arnold Korns' speech to the rampaging monsters as he stays behind to buy the rest of the group time - it felt very much like David Bowie's Life On Mars as the music swells.
The CD closes with a trailer for the next adventure, Immortal Beloved, which sounds like a Romeo & Juliet love story set on an alien world with a Greek God twist. I'll be interested to see whether it comes across like a typical Doctor Who story or not.
Groundhog Day (1993)
Starring: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell & Chris Elliott
Directed by: Harold Ramis
**FILM ONLY REVIEW**
Groundhog Day tells the story of selfish weatherman, Phil Connors (played perfectly by Bill Murray) who is given the assignment to travel to the town of Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania, to cover the Groundhog Day celebrations of February 2nd. The town's superstitious ritual is to summon Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, out of his hole and depending on his reaction, this will decide whether there an early spring or not. Accompanying Phil (the weatherman, not the Groundhog!) is his cameraman, Larry (Chris Elliott) and news producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) who get frustrated by Phil's ego and his downbeat mood. After a rather dour day, the trio find themselves trapped in a blizzard and forced to stay overnight. However, when Phil wakes up, he relives the events of the previous day...again and again and again.
This film has had a massive cultural impact, coining the phrase 'Groundhog Day' to describe being trapped in a time loop and having to repeat the same tasks repeatedly. It also shone a huge spotlight on middle-america's crazy traditions, such as the eponymous Groundhog Day. It frequently tops lists of the 'Greatest Time Travel movies' and has been recognised as one of Bill Murray's finest movies, outside of Ghostbusters.
Bill Murray's performance is the core of the movie, as we are with him throughout the whole journey, experiencing the same events and reactions of the townspeople as they are fated to repeat their days. Murray's gradual change of personality from Scrooge to Nice Guy feels natural and not forced, as he learns life lessons from the people he interacts with. For a comedy, there's a lot of heavy issues and drama here - Phil considers (and commits) suicide several times when he is at his utmost despair, and while these are played for laughs (of a sort), there is a definite feeling of sadness as he hits rock bottom.
The supporting casts play their parts well, although for the majority of the film they are mainly foils to Murray's punchlines or have to react to his extreme behaviour. Rita, a pre-Four Weddings Andie MacDowell, has a lot more to work with and one of the strongest aspects of the films is the chemistry between Phil and Rita as they begin the day as bickering rivals and gradually become something more. It's such an unusual narrative device to see the constant 'do-overs' that Phil uses as he abuses his time travel curse to romance Rita, learning from each mistake and slapped face. Most of the humour comes from the way he can screw up a social situation, learn from it and then we see him retrace his steps.
It does get a bit sickly sweet towards the end after Phil loses his emotional defences and starts to genuinely help the townsfolk, as opposed to using them for his own ends, but I think it really works. The final sequences where it all comes together at the party and we see the results of all of Phil's plans and plotting on Rita works perfectly and this bizarre love story seems realistic from both points of view.
There's not much to complain about here - the script manages to be smart, funny and tells the story without getting bogged down in minutiae - we don't need to understand how the time loop works, as we're focused on the characters and their relationships. If you like light-hearted romantic comedies with a little something out of the ordinary then this is the perfect film for a cosy Friday night.
It's available on DVD & Blu-Ray editions and can be watched on-demand through LoveFilm.com
Idly travelling alone in his TARDIS, The Eighth Doctor is interrupted by the materialisation of Lucie Miller, a nineteen year-old northern lass from 2006. Affronted by this intrusion into his home, the Doctor attempts to return her back to Earth, but is blocked by some kind of barrier, sending them spiralling onto the human colony of Red Rocket Rising - a planet that has been ravaged by asteroids and suffering from an Impact Winter. But things are set to get worse for the inhabitants of Red Rocket Rising and its recent visitors, when the Daleks arrive under the guise of rescue...
These Eighth Doctor Adventures form their own Range outside of the monthly Doctor Who releases and are set later in the 8th Doctor's timeline than his other adventures with Charley Pollard. This range also featured on BBC Radio 7 and is set out in 'seasons' which make them feel more compatible with the relaunched series. In fact, the 8th Doctor and Lucie's relationship is similar to that of 10th Doctor and Donna, even down to the very similar entrances by both ladies. There is a nice bit of banter between the two, added with the intriguing mystery of where she came from, and what she knows and can remember.
I really enjoyed the characterisation of both the 8th Doctor and Lucie - Paul McGann's Doctor was seldom explored in his one and only TV appearance, featuring more heavily in book and comic strips during the series' absence between 1996 - 2005. These audio adventures (and the earlier ones from the main range) are the closest thing to an actual canon appearance for the 8th Doctor and delve more into the personality of this incarnation of the Time Lord. I like his whimsical soul and the gentle humour he possesses throughout the story - he doesn't feel as hardened as his subsequent incarnation, but judging by this Doctor's alluded involvement in the Time War, he is set for more difficult decisions ahead.
Lucie, as I mentioned, feels similar to Donna in as much as she is a brash, opinionated and distrusting of the Doctor. While she fits the same age as Rose Tyler, she is totally different in personality and doesn't seem as in awe of the cosmos as she did - even feeling disappointment at the state of her first alien world. She is a great companion to entice new listeners to the audios, as she does represent much of the New Series' popularity, so it's an easy transition to go from the series to this audio and not feel the cultural divide between 'Classic Who' and 'New Who' as much as some people do.
The Daleks are an obvious choice to use to draw people in to a new series and they are utilised well here - as with 'Evil of the Daleks' and 'Victory of the Daleks', they adopt a benevolent and peaceful façade to their victims, in order to lure them into a trap. I like this approach as it showcases the intelligence and cunning of the Daleks, which isn't highlighted enough, in my opinion.
The side characters are pretty intriguing, although I did find it a little bit tricky to tell the difference between Klint and Asha at times as both actresses had similar voices and when they were talking to each other, I would occasionally get lost in who was saying what and had to replay those chapters. I'm not sure whether this is something anyone else would experience, but I found everyone else to have more distinctive accents or voices, apart from those two.
The sound effects and score are really good - I am a sucker for audio effects and love turning the sound up and getting sucked into the visual world that the sounds conjure in my mind's eye. The score evokes the mood perfectly and in some places reminds me of the initial Resident Evil game - it's strange how certain bits of music stick in your head.
Overall, this was a great starting point! As this is the initial release for the Eighth Doctor Adventures, it is frequently on offer and has introductory prices, so it is worthwhile following Big Finish on Twitter to see if they are having any sales on these discs, but I would recommend it even at full price, especially if you're a fan of the current series and have never experienced the Classic Doctors properly - it's very new listener friendly and doesn't feel tied up in both TV or Big Finish continuity. As long as you know who the Daleks and Time Lords are, you can enjoy this first part of Blood of the Daleks! I purchased the second part at the same time, so I shall be reviewing that shortly.
Porco Rosso is a Japanese animated film, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki from Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki is a famous animator, known as the Japanese Walt Disney due to the height of his popularity in Japan. While he was more renowned in his home country, he finally made his name in Hollywood when he won an Oscar for his animated film Spirited Away, in 2002.
I have been a fan of the Studio Ghibli films after watching Princess Mononoke and long held a desire to watch some of his earlier works from the 80s and 90s, but unfortunately, these films were not released outside of Japan. However, the success of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away soon led to the Studio Ghibli back catalogue being slowly released on DVD in America, and eventually the UK.
Porco Rosso was one of the films I had read about long before getting a chance to watch it and the description and photos I had seen online definitely piqued my interest in this film. Porco Rosso is the story of a former Italian fighter pilot who has retired to the Adriatic Sea after World War One. He makes his living as a freelance bounty hunter and frequently clashes with the local air pirates. Oh, and I should point out, he's a pig. Literally, a pig!
At some point prior to the film's beginning, Porco was cursed and his once human features disappeared, and he became a talking pig. This embitters him somewhat, and his personality becomes that of a recluse, shunning company and depriving himself of a potential relationship with the local bar-owner, Gina. The story develops when a dashing American pilot arrives at the island and not only works with the pirates to rid themselves of this troublesome pig, but gradually becomes involved in a love triangle between him, Gina and Porco.
I loved this film, mainly due to the unique setting. There aren't many animated films set during the two World Wars in the Adriatic Sea, and there's a definite romantic mood to the story, which I really enjoyed. It's reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast in some ways, mixed in with a dash of Casablanca. The beauty of the film is that it works on two levels, it's entertaining enough for children to watch on a purely aesthetic level with the flying pig and air battles, but there's also a really strong and adult story behind it. Like the best animated films, it is made for both children and parents to enjoy together.
The film has a slow, gentle pace and there's no gore, violence or unsuitable scenes. It's actually quite laid-back, like its setting and spends the majority of the screen time, developing both the characters and the mood of the film, rather than fumble from action scene to action scene. That's not to say there's no action in the movie, the climatic scenes are particularly thrilling and you'll be hoping that this pig can fly...at least, better than a dashing American can.
I would recommend this to families who enjoy Disney films and want to try something similar, but with a different approach. There's no sing-along theme songs in this or goofy sidekick characters - it's a good film with a strong plot that just happens to be about an animated flying pig. To that end, people without young children can still enjoy this film and take something from it. It's a great introduction to the world of Studio Ghibli, which has nearly thirty years of back catalogue of strong, narrative-driven animated movies to discover.
This DVD includes the American voice-over edition, with Michael Keaton as Porco Rosso and Cary Elwes as Curtis. It also contains the original Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles if you prefer to view the movie, as intended. The American dub is pretty good, unlike some anime voice-overs and the characters both sound as you'd expect and the script hasn't been changed drastically. In terms of special features, there are some storyboards to view through the disc menus, an interview with the producer, Toshio Suzuki and the Original Japanese trailer, which is interesting to watch after seeing the film, just to see how different their trailers are to ours.
**FILM ONLY REVIEW**
Tower Heist is an unusual film, as I expected it to be a satire or spoof of Ocean's Eleven or other celebrity-laden heist movies, and to an extent it is influenced by those movies, but it never feels like a direct parody.
Ben Stiller, plays Josh Kovaks, a general manager at The Tower, a prestigious New York hotel/apartment complex that houses some of the highest rollers in town. He had a hard-working, if slightly quirky, crew that work alongside him in the Tower, including his brother-in-law, Charlie, played by Casey Affleck. When one of the tenants is revealed as a fraudster, who Kovaks mistakenly invested his whole staff's pension plan into, Josh begins to develop a daring scheme to rob the penthouse apartment of his workplace and return the rightful money to its owners.
Eddie Murphy and Matthew Broderick co-star in very amusing roles. Murphy plays the "expert" thief who Kovaks turns to when devising his plan to rob the penthouse and Matthew Broderick plays an uptight and broke former-banker, a character that is miles apart from his iconic turn as Ferris Bueller, the cock-sure chancer who famously took a 'Day Off'.
Alan Alda features as the investment fraudster who becomes the target for the gang's heist. He manages to play the character with a great deal of ambiguity, where you aren't quite sure whether he is a victim or completely hoodwinking everyone into believing he is a nice, old man.
The film did suffer from an odd pacing - it seemed that there was a lot of set-up and exposition in order to lead the characters to the point where they would consider the heist, then a further act showcasing their attempts to train and learn the skills. The actual heist, which one would assume to be the bulk of the movie, seemed to go by too quickly and without half as many hitches and problems as I would have expected. Unlike Ocean's Eleven, these aren't professional con-men, so there were a few hiccups, but there weren't enough moments of actual tension during the actual heist scenes, compared to other movies of the same genre, where something is about to go wrong at any given moment.
I had a few quibbles with the ending, which I won't spoil, but certain scenes aren't shown to preserve the element of surprise and misdirect the viewer, but this ends up leaving questions on how the cast managed to wrap up some of the loose ends, which feels like lazy writing.
I did enjoy the film and while I wouldn't be one that I re-watch any time soon, I do recommend it as a counter to the typical heist movie and to fans of Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy. It is a perfectly enjoyable Saturday night movie, which is not only fun, but relatively kid-friendly as well. Eddie Murphy's character may use some bad language, but there is no violence or sexual content, although it may promote daring displays of thievery...
[This Review may also appear on Ciao.co.uk under the same username]
One of Big Finish's popular Doctor Who audio ranges is The Companion Chronicles, which focuses primarily on the adventures of the first three Doctors, as these Doctors are no longer with us. Rather than full-cast audio dramas, these adventures take the form of a two-person performance, with one of the Doctor's companions narrating an "unseen" adventure with a second supporting character taking part. They tend to be shorter than the Big Finish's full cast audios, with two half hour episodes on one CD.
This release, The Magician's Oath, is narrated by Richard Franklin, who played Captain Mike Yates, one of the companions from the Third Doctor's era in the 1970's. The second voice actor is Michael Chance, who plays Diamond Jack, the villain of the piece. This story takes place during the present day with Yates reflecting on past events that occurred during the Doctor's exile on Earth when he was enlisted as UNIT's scientific advisor. As well as voicing Mike Yates, Franklin also manages to portray the Third Doctor, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Jo Grant - each with their own vocal style. I particularly liked his Lethbridge-Stewart, which managed to sound like the original actor.
The story begins when UNIT are called in to a bizarre scene - during a July heat-wave, scores of people in Hyde Park are instantly frozen to death under the summer sun. The only lead that the Doctor and UNIT have is that of a street magician who was witnessed at the scene of the tragedy. The Doctor dismisses this as a credible theory, leaving Jo Grant and Mike Yates to disobey orders and investigate him alone, but what they discover is far more terrifying than they could have expected...
The concept of people being frozen alive during a summer's day was very intriguing and drew me towards buying this audio. I'm currently watching the Third Doctor's adventures on DVD, so this "lost adventure" manages to slot neatly within the televised adventures of that time, although I suspect 1970's visual effects would struggle with the visual effects of my imagination as I listened to this story. One of the better elements of these audio adventures is that it allows the user to fill in the blanks with your own imagination.
The Doctor, himself, doesn't get too much 'air-time' in this story, as it focuses on Jo and Mike predominantly, but it is fun to see the B-story to the adventure. If this had been made into a televised story, the plot would have followed the Doctor and Lethbridge-Stewart and how their part of the investigation into the mystery unfolded, but with this approach, we get to see the behind-the-scenes element to the storyline, which gives a sense of vulnerability to the characters without the confidence and intelligence of the Doctor to back them up. It reminds me of an episode from Season 3 of Buffy, The Zeppo, which focuses on Xander for the episode, with the traditional A-story forced to the background.
The two-hander approach to the story was well done and I liked the interview-style that the narrative took. We managed to get a dual insight into the Mike Yates of the past and how he has changed and matured to the current day. They never explicitly mention who the person is that Mike is relating his story to, but I imagined it to be someone like Martha Jones, who is in the current incarnation of UNIT.
This would make a great introduction to the Big Finish range as it is a stand-alone storyline that doesn't require great knowledge of either the Doctor Who universe, or the Big-Finish chronology. Some of their storylines reference earlier releases, making it hard to follow mid-way through a long running plot. One of the benefits of the Companion Chronicles range is that the majority of them are fairly self-contained and simplified. I will certainly be picking up more from this range!
I bought my copy directly from Big Finish's website where they offer a CD or Download option. If you buy the CD (as I did), you get a Download copy for free. This is great value for money, although it does make you less likely to purchase the Download-only option, as you are paying three quarters of the prices of the CD version, and not getting a physical copy. It's also available from other Retailers, minus the Download options, although most home computers should allow you to 'rip' the tracks in a MP3 format for any portable players.
[This Review also appears on my blog, PopCultureBandit.blogspot.co.uk & Amazon.co.uk]
The mobile phone market seems to be directly focused on developing phones that double as pocket media players and internet browsers. It has been difficult to work out the differences between 'Smartphone' and 'tablet computers' due to the sheer complexities of current generation mobile phones. There are some people who prefer a much simpler and cleaner handset, free from unnecessary apps and gadgets that drain on the battery life of a mobile phone.
My current Smartphone is a HTC Desire Z on contract with Orange, but I was finding myself making more international calls, and unhappy with the tariff, I decided to investigate a pre-pay account to save myself from overspending on the international calls. I managed to find an International SIM only package from O2, but my phone was network-locked to Orange, so I decided to invest in a second phone.
Since I wanted to save money, my eye was drawn to a no-frills handset, of which there are several types from many manufacturers, but my memories of my first mobile phone (a rather brick-like Nokia 5510) and its sturdiness made me consider the Nokia 100. At £25 from Carphone Warehouse, it was affordable and came with the O2 SIM package if I topped up £10 upon purchase.
Getting home, I opened the box, which consisted mainly of the handset, its battery and charger. Holding it in my hand, it was fairly lightweight, even with the battery inserted. I guess that stripping out most of the additional media functions drastically lowers the weight of the phone, as it seemed half the weight of my HTC Desire Z.
The phone switched on, and it took some time to get used to not having a touch-screen function and using the keys to navigate. With my other phone having a keyboard, it felt like a step back having to type messages using the number keys, but there was a sort of nostalgia feeling about doing it. Not all current phones have keyboards, so others may not find it quite as jarring as I did.
The colour-screen takes up the space of half the handset, with the number keys taking up the rest. There is a central key that acts as a directional button allowing you to navigate the menus and pushing down selects that specific item.
There's no camera here, but it does contain an FM Radio, which is a nice bonus. There is a preloaded game based on Snake, the Nokia classic game that helped cement their popularity in the 90's. For those unfamiliar with the game, you play as a perpetually moving snake as you eat food and avoid obstacles.
The biggest feature that appeals to me is the long battery life - the perils of Smartphone's are that they have so many background apps and internet usage that the CPU drains the battery. My HTC Desire Z barely lasts the day, and that's with minimal usage and calls, mainly browsing and messaging. The Nokia 100, while it gets less usage than the Desire, it's battery life is almost seven times longer than the Desire Z, managing to last the whole week without needing recharging.
I've used the phone predominately to call America and I'm unsure of how much of the call quality is down to the handset and how much is down to the network, but the calls are clear and didn't suffer from any problems. I was glad to make the purchase as attempts to call America using Skype and other apps on my Smartphone were not as clear or drained my internet data plans.
Overall, the Nokia 100 is a strong phone, but obviously dates in today's market. I would recommend it as a second phone, or for someone who doesn't buy in to the current mindset of owning a phone that's also a camera, camcorder, internet browser and video player. It may not be able to keep you plugged into your social media but it gives you a long battery life and manages to perform all telephone-based tasks to the standard expected of Nokia.
**FILM ONLY REVIEW**
Judge Dredd is a comic series that has been running in the British anthology comic, 2000AD, since 1977 and more-or-less appeared in every one of its weekly issues (or Progs, as they are known). The series was originally conceived by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra as a Dirty Harry in the future, and many of the early strips were rather action-heavy featuring the borderline fascist Judge Dredd as he dispensed instant justice to the citizens of Mega City One. Unlike most US comic creations, Judge Dredd aged in real time and his characterisation has vastly changed over the years, to the point where he has grown more disillusioned with the Judges and their role in society, particularly in terms of the mutant segregation.
Most popular in the UK where he was created, Judge Dredd did manage to spawn one big-screen outing where he was portrayed by Sylvester Stallone and memorably bawled out the words, "I am the Law" in a Rocky-style bellow. It wasn't well-received by critics, yet some people (including myself) have a minor soft spot for it, thinking it was probably the only time we'd see Mega City One realised on-screen...until now, that is.
Released in September 2012, Dredd was an attempt to reboot the franchise with a story and a tone appropriate to the content. The script, written by Alex Garland, featured heavy input from the series creator, John Wagner, ensuring this attempt had the blessing of those who had worked on it from its beginnings as a comic strip. The film utilised 3D effects, as well as "slo-mo" - a side effect of an illegal narcotic manufactured by the film's villianess, Ma-Ma.
Having seen both film versions of Judge Dredd, I can easily say that Dredd is the better of the two. Not only does Karl Urban play the tough-as-nails Judge perfectly, but he also doesn't feel the need to remove the helmet in order to showcase his own face. Stallone, on the other hand, whipped off his helmet as soon as he could and paraded through the film acting rather emotional in a non-Dredd manner.
The storyline focuses on Dredd taking a new recruit, the psychic Judge Anderson, on a routine assessment and they manage to pick a homicide at Peach Trees block as their assignment. Quickly, events escalate and the two Judges find themselves trapped in the tower block with a blood-thirsty gang of criminals after them, whilst attempting to escort their prisoner out of the building.
Rather smartly, in my opinion the plot skirts from some of the more absurd elements of the Judge Dredd mythos such as: Droid Revolutions, Clones, Judge Death and the other supernatural villains. I would recommend any sequels stick to this more realistic tone for the world in which Dredd lives. It doesn't look as hi-tech as the stories in 2000AD, nor does it have to. The post-apocalyptic Mega City One in this film feels somewhat similar to Mad Max and I think that mood suits the franchise better. Perhaps future sequels could focus on the Cursed Earth and possibly the Angel gang?
Olivia Thirlby acts as the emotional centre of the film, portraying the fresh-faced Anderson, who spends the entirely of the film without her helmet, as a nice contrast to Dredd. In fact, later on in the film there are multiple Judge's on-screen and it does become difficult to work out which is which, so perhaps Stallone had a point in removing the helmet all those years ago! I liked how the whole movie was effectively her probation test and how she was constantly quizzed by Dredd throughout it. I'm sure the rookie on trial storyline has been done several times in the comics, but it was nice to see it represented on-screen.
The film has a fair amount of gore and some inventive deaths, featuring the varied range of Judge Dredd's multiple ammunition. Also, surprising was the level of swear-words used in the film. The 2000AD Judge Dredd stories obviously don't feature as many F-bombs as the film does and relies on its own in-story bad language such as 'Drokk'. While the film didn't stick to that language, there were plenty of nice references to the comic book in terms of grafitti in the Block. Keen eyes would be able to spot 'Chopper' (a sky-surfer character from the comics) and Sternhammer Block (a reference to Strontium Dog, another series by John Wagner)
Overall, this was a very stylish film that bucked the trend of the big-budget blockbuster and took an independent route. The design and mood was heavily influenced by the location (it was shot in South Africa) and felt like a nice combination of Mad Max and Die Hard, yet managed to carve out its own identity. I would recommend this to anyone who has ever read a Judge Dredd story and wanted to see it in live-action as well as anyone who saw Stallone's portrayal of Dredd, in order to show them how it's done. My only real concern is whether or not a sequel can be as successful, considering they will need to introduce more elements from Dredd's world.
I have been a big fan of the Lego series of platform games, which begun with Lego Star Wars and had crossed over to different film franchises such as Indiana Jones or Harry Potter and this game focuses on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Like earlier games, each film in the Pirates of the Caribbean is represented using Lego versions of the film characters to tell an unique interpretation of the movies.
I am not as familiar with the subject matter for this game as I was with the Lego Star Wars and Indiana Jones versions, so I didn't have as much interest for the storyline and some of the jokes were lost on me, having not seen the stories which they were based on.
One of the best parts of the Lego Star Wars games is that they featured a variety of different characters that were recognisable and distinct from each other, whereas this game features mainly Pirates, who share similar looks and 'powers'. There are some special characters you can unlock who have skills, such as walking underwater, explosives and guns, but the majority of them are just pirate-looking characters.
The levels are a little repetitive, which several of them taking places on the decks of various ships or the occasional seaside towns. Again, to compare it to the previous Lego games, there is a feeling that there isn't enough variation here to substantiate a full retail game. Perhaps fans of the films might enjoy playing through the levels more, as they will feel like they're retracing the steps of the movies, but to me, the levels just seemed a bit bland.
One of the neat things I noticed was that the Jack Sparrow Lego figure has some of the same mannerisms as Johnny Depp's rendition of the character. Other than that, the graphics are fairly standard with the simplified Lego environments and textures - the games look good, but they aren't ground-breaking graphics, nor should they be. The focus here is purely on the addictive gameplay and sheer amount of collectibles available.
This game isn't quite as big as previous ones, with 20 core levels (five levels for each of the four movies in the series) and there isn't as much secondary story modes as Lego Harry Potter. However, there are still the usual collectibles found in Lego games, such as the 10 mini-kits per level, additional buried treasure and red bricks, which give you cheats. So the game is fairly long for completists like me, who need to achieve 100%, but it still falls short to other games in the series.
This game is suitable for kids and has the added benefit of being two-player, so parents can play alongside their children to help them through the more puzzle-heavy sections, but this shouldn't be too taxing for children between 5 - 10 years old to play. I would recommend it to children who have seen the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as it isn't quite as colourful and vibrant as other titles.
More than any other film I've seen recently, Kill List is a film that focuses on having three distinct acts. It opens up as a rather mundane domestic drama about a married couple, struggling with financial problems and arguing aggressively. The story takes a darker turn when the husband takes up a job with a former partner to fulfil a Kill List - a list of names their mysterious employers provide them with, whom they must eliminate. It is here that the film launches into the second act - a thrilling and gritty crime drama and then the third act shockingly reveals itself in the final 15 minutes twisting the genre on its head.
This is one of those films that slipped under the radar somewhat, despite great praise from critics and 5-star reviews, but to get people to pay attention to it, some of the key plot details were teased out. For example, I was aware that the film had a horror-style twist, which alerted me to some of the more peculiar moments. The best way to experience this film would be to go in blind, as the change of gears as the film switches genres is better experienced without prior knowledge.
For a low-budget British film, it didn't particularly feel low-budget. Some of the more violent set-pieces were orchestrated so deftly that one sequence had me confused to how they pulled it off without actually hammering an actor's head in. The actors improvised some of the lines during the film, something which adds to the realism of the scenes and shows spontaneous reactions to each other, which works much better than following a script in some places.
The performances by the lead actors are particularly strong with Neil Maskell putting in a great turn as Jay, the affected former soldier with a temper, and Michael Smiley as his more chipper partner, Gal. The two female leads are also really well-acted with Myanna Buring as Shel, Jay's wife, who pressures him to find work.
This is a film that deserves a second viewing to catch the subtle foreshadowing of the traumatic events in the final act. The film is bold in that it doesn't fill in all the blanks it leaves behind - the ending and the motivations behind the Kill List can vary from theorist to theorist, leaving a sense of personal interpretation to the movie, making it stick longer in your mind than most.
For a horror movie, it never quite hits the scary note and while some moments are chilling and creepy, it doesn't fully qualify as a horror to me. The sequence in the tunnels could have been more effective with some better lighting, as what should have been a thrilling chase to safety resembled a chaotic jog in relative darkness. However, there were some genuinely creepy moments during the third act leading up to the bizarre climax. It reminded me of Silent Hill in places with the inhuman noises coming out of the enemies of the piece.
I would recommend this to people who like independent British cinema and a mish-mash of genres. It reminds me of some of the Japanese/Korean movies from the last decade where the film takes a complete twist into a totally different genre from its beginnings. To list specific films that influenced the director would venture in the area of spoiler terrority but keen horror-fans will notice familiar beats to classic British horror movies of the past.
Finally after several months of waiting, Sony have enabled PSone classics to be playable on the Playstation Vita - a function I assumed would be available from launch and was bitterly disappointed to find out it was 'in progress'. Having owned several of the PSone classic games on my Playstation 3, I was eager to try out some of them in portable form - the perfect remedy to those early morning train journeys into work.
My first choice for this honour was Resident Evil - Directors cut (available on the Playstation Store at the fairly reasonable price of £3.99). I had played the original years ago when it was released in 1998 and always found it the scariest of the original Playstation trilogy, due to its setting of an eerie mansion, compared to the more populated cityscapes of later games. Due to these childhood fears, I rarely played this title, opting for the more action-orientated sequel, Resident Evil 2, so it was refreshing to revisit this title after such a long while.
Resident Evil was one of the earliest examples of the survival horror genre, where players where essentially dropped into the scenario from a horror movie and had to survive using weapons and scavenging ammo and health items. Players had to explore the abandoned mansion, located on the outskirts of Raccoon City, to find out the mystery behind recent cannibal-related deaths. A cheesy black & white video introduces the characters, with some really bad acting and line delivery, although the actors had a fairly wooden script to work from. I always enjoy the use of real actors for the cutscenes, although modern game graphics have improved so much that the in-game graphics are often used for these cutscenes now, which takes away some of the magic.
After some cringe-worthy dialogue, the player is offered the choice of two characters to play through and a lazier game would make both stories identical, but using different character sprites, but here the choice matters. Playing as Chris Redfield is a harder story mode, since he starts the game with less weapons, and his story features different characters and puzzles to the easier story mode (which I often use) that belongs to Jill Valentine, who starts her game with a pistol and lock pick, meaning that there are less puzzles and more opportunities to get health/ammo. Jill's game isn't easy as pie, however, both story modes are difficult and replaying them all these years later, I still struggle with some of the more action-packed sequences, leading to a rather depressing 'You are Dead' game over screen.
Despite the massive improvements in graphics since this game's initial release, it still manages to look good and definitely smoother than some other PSone classics that I have played. There was a GameCube remake of this game (also available on Wii) which completely rebuild the game from the ground up and improved both the graphics and some of the more tedious puzzles/storyline elements, but this original still manages to be intensely playable.
There are some annoying features, which were gradually ironed out in the later titles, such as the strict inventory system. You have eight slots to carry items/weapons/ammo and health, which at times is fiercely strict and ends up forcing you to backtrack and pick up items to complete a puzzle because you didn't realise you would need a 'square crank' to open up a door in a new area you visit. There are several save rooms to access these items, but unfortunately, the map doesn't identify these once you have found them, resulting in a little aimless wandering to find your inventory chests.
This was a complete genre-buster at its time and forever revitalised the gaming industry, resulting in similar games being released, like Silent Hill and some could argue, Tomb Raider. While it may not have aged too well in terms of graphics and the voice-over work, it still remains a strong game with ideas that have lasted thorough the decade and a half since its release. Playing it again on my PS Vita has given this game a second lease of life, and I can't wait to play through the sequels in a similar manner.
I fully recommend this PSone download for anyone with a PS3, PSP or PS Vita - £3.99 is a great price considering most of the other popular classics are almost £8! If you can snag a second-hand copy of the original PSone disc, you can also play this on your PS3 without any additonal purchase cost, but cannot transfer it to a portable console.
The Ultimate universe is a secondary universe created by Marvel to update their characters in the twenty-first century and keep them fresh and appealing for new readers. The line opened up with Ultimate Spider-Man, which was a retelling of Spider-Man's origins in a modern era, focusing less on radiation (which was a fear during the 60s when the original stories were written, and more on genetic manipulation - a more relevant fear for today's youth). These stories allowed for a fresh approach to the original material, with subtle tweaks to the established characters. It proved immensely popular, and the universe was expanded with an X-Men, Fantastic Four and Avengers title. However, over time the quality on these secondary titles dwindled somewhat and the events in the original universe were proved to be far more interesting than their more "modern" counterparts, so the decision was made to drastically change the landscape of the Ultimate universe, making the differences between the two universes even greater. Writer, Jeph Loeb, and artist, David Finch, were tasked with the job of 'destroying the Ultimate Universe' so it could be rebuilt into a brand new status quo, and with this apocalyptic mini-series, they certainly succeeded.
Considering the tone of the Ultimate Universe prior to this miniseries, it does seem very mismatched. There was seldom any gore or violence in any of the Ultimate Universe books, which were aimed at new and younger readers, but Jeph Loeb seems to forget this and fills this miniseries with plenty of shocking and violent deaths - some of which are particularly gory, even for someone in their late twenties to read. While it appeals to me in a naughty way to see these legendary characters, such as The Blob or The Wasp, get killed off in spectacular fashion, it does make me wonder whether this is a particularly child-friendly book, and whether it crosses the line into Adults-only material.
The miniseries is very grand in scope, and opens up with a dramatic global catastrophe that devastates New York, which costs the lives of several heroes. It transpires that one iconic super-villain is responsible for the millions of deaths that have occurred, and promises more attacks. The heroes have to deal with the repercussions of the attack, gather their dead and injured and wage a final last-ditch attack on the mastermind before he destroys mankind.
I have been purposefully vague on some of the details, as this book relies heavily on the shocking events rather than the character moments, and to spoil what happens and who dies does ruin most of the appeal from the book. As I said earlier, this is not a tame book and while in normal stories, most of the heroes (and villains) would emerge from the conflict unscathed - due to the status quo changing element of this series, there is a feeling of 'no holds barred' and that not everyone will be walking away from this one.
As this miniseries was published alongside the other Ultimate titles (Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four) - there are allusions to events happening within those books and how they tie-in together, so it does read slightly incomplete on its own, with those supplementary titles providing some of the details between the panels. For example, most of Spider-Man's appearances seem slightly disjointed and vague, due to the fact that most of his involvement is played out in his own solo series and not within this book.
I did enjoy this book for what it was - a giant, blockbuster movie with devastating and graphic depictions of its results. It succeeds in its endeavour to deconstruct the Ultimate Universe in a way that Marvel could never do with their original universe, killing of iconic characters and wiping out key landmarks. It leaves writers with hundreds of potential ways to approach future stories, forcing them to create brand-new characters to replace the ones they have lost, making the Ultimate Universe a truly different alternative to the core Marvel universe.
However, for parents of children who have seen the various Marvel Avengers' movies and want to buy a book for their kids to read - I would recommend steering clear of this as it depicts gruesome violence, mostly revolving around people's heads. There's gunshots to the head, beheadings, heads popping and even elements of cannibalistic behaviour. I am surprised Marvel didn't issue a kid-friendly alternative to this book with some of the more violent images removed or redrawn, in order to allow children (from whom this line was originally intended to draw in) to read this latest chapter.
The book is available in Hardcover (£16.14) and Paperback (£10.49) from Amazon.co.uk. It collects the core five chapters of the Ultimatum storyline (144 pages), but there is a second book Ultimatum: Requiem, which deals with some of the aftermath of the events (£8.39 - paperback), which may be of interest once finishing this book.
[This review also appears on Amazon.co.uk & Ciao]