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allybally
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    • Bedtime Stories (DVD) / DVD / 33 Readings / 33 Ratings
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      13.01.2009 10:01
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      Skeeter finds with the help of his neice and nephew, he has the power to make his dreams come true

      Director: Adam Shankman
      Actors: Adam Sandler, Keri Russel, Guy Pearce,
      Genre: Family/Adventure/Fantasy
      Classification: U
      Release Date: Boxing Day 2008

      What's it about?
      ******************
      Skeeter Bronson, is the son of the late Marty who was forced to sell his small family motel to Barry Nottingham who in turn tore it down to build a fancy, more expensive hotel in it's place. Nottingham makes a promise to Marty to let his son run the place when he grows up but instead of being hired as manager, Skeeter is given the position of hotel handyman.

      His life takes an unusual turn while baby-sitting his niece and nephew, when he discovers the bedtime stories he tells them start to come true. With the help of the kids, he tries to manipulate future events to the benefit of both his family and himself. Will he ever become manager at the hotel? Will he find love where he least expects it? Will he become a hero and save the day for his niece and nephew?

      Acting/Characters
      *************

      I want to start off by saying, my favourite character without a doubt is Bugsy, the bug-eyed Guinea Pig!

      Adam Sandler - Skeeter
      Sandler is his usual ridiculous self in this film - all loud voice, burps, farts and booger jokes and exaggerated hand gesters - exactly what attracts kids to a film. You can't help but think that from a childs' perspective Sandler would be the ultimate Uncle and yet from a grown ups perspective, he would be a nightmare! He has a way of engaging the younger audience which, even though it's mostly infantile humour, I can't help but wish I could do the same.

      Keri Russell - Jill
      Although Russell's performance didn't fly off the screen at me, I give her, her dues for managing to bounce off Sandler well. Sharing screen time with such a big character and ensuring you are still heard is a challenge, and although she played the straight man, she pulled it off nicely.

      Russell Brand - Mickey
      I am still struggling to understand how Brand has managed to make a name for himself stateside, but here we are. He plays the deranged hotel waiter and friend to Skeeter, and you know that if anyone can pull off deranged and manage to grab a bit of the limelight next to Sandler, it's going to be Brand, so mission accomplished.

      Guy Pearce - Kendall
      Pearce plays the over the top, nasty, show tune loving hotel manager and rival to Sandler's good guy and he does a fantastic job. Aesthetically, he made me smile alone. He looked like a cross between Val Kilmer in Top Gun and a plastic Ken Doll complete with moulded hair. He is the perfect pantomime bad guy brilliant fun to watch

      Jonathan Morgan Heit - Patrick and Laura Ann Kesling - Bobbi
      Jonathan and Laura played the nephew and niece and although I wasn't always convinced by how well they got on (my sibling experiences were nothing like it!) they were sweet, charming and likeable. However, it felt like they were kept in the background a bit .Two other cute, dimpled kids could have done just as well and if I'm honest, I can't remember much about them now.

      Supporting cast
      Teresa Palmer as the Paris Hilton-esque hotelier's daughter was great and of course Jonathan Pryce played the kind, aging Marty beautifully at the beginning of the film. Courtney Cox as Skeeter's stuffy sister, Lucy Lawless as Kendall's sidekick and Richard Griffiths as Barry Nottingham also contributed.

      Script/Storyline
      ***********
      The idea behind the story had such great potential and could have taken us into a wonderful world of imagination, however, just as I started to get excited about gumballs falling from the sky or Sandler as a cowboy in the Wild West, I felt like I was pulled back into the real world which had far less charm.

      Like Ben Stiller films, I find Adam Sandler films often written with the purpose of making him funny. As much as his one liner's, they aren't always enough to hold a film together. In this case, the script should have considered the touching story and the opportunity to play with something as huge as the imagination a little more and a little less on the jokes.

      Cinematography
      ************
      The cinematography was exactly what you would expect from Disney. It was bright and vibrant and a little bit plastic looking when it delved into the make-believe, which added to the "dreamlike quality" when compared with the more muted reality of the kids' house of rules. There was some strong animation which crossed over into live action well. I really enjoyed the story segments, where the characters would come to life on screen in brilliant action-packet splashes of colour creating a chaos which is difficult not to get wrapped up in. Unfortunately I found these a bit short lived. Keep your eyes open towards the end though for some hilarious stunts performed by Skeeter.

      Conclusion
      ********
      This will no doubt be a hit with the kids and it is a decent, inoffensive, funny film. I enjoyed it, as did my son (and his Dad - but then he laughs at anything with fart jokes) but I was a bit disappointed it wasn't as exciting as I had expected. I wanted a bit more of the dreaminess, the wondrousness the imagination and adventure, and a tiny bit less focus on Adam Sandler pulling funny faces and pandering to a simple sense of humour.

      Trivia
      ****
      Sandler decided to do this film after becoming a father for the first time, wanting to do something his child could watch

      Keri Russell returned to her Disney Roots with this film - She was part of the Mickey Mouse Club as a kid.

      Guinea Pig Bugsy was played by two guinea pigs - Stitches and Thimbles

      Sandler chose Russell Brand for the part after meeting him while visiting London.

      Sandler's Wife and daughter appear as extras in the medieval scene.

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      • The Golden Compass (DVD) / DVD / 24 Readings / 23 Ratings
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        06.01.2009 14:58
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        Lyra embarks on a wonderous and dangerous adventure...

        Director: Chris Weitz
        Actors: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards, Ben Walker, Sam Elliot, Freddy Highmore, Eva Green Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Kathy Bates etc
        Genre: Family/Adventure/Fantasy
        Classification: PG
        RRP: £13.98 Amazon: £7.98

        What's it about?
        ******************
        Lyra Belaqua, lives at Jordan College and is a young girl living amongst a group of elite scholastic minds . She finds herself navigating through an incredible adventure when she overhears over hears her uncle having a conversation about with fellow scholars about an extraordinary microscopic particle, Dust which is believed to unite different worlds. As with anything unknown the discovery is feared and many of those aware of it's' existence want it destroyed and kept secret. Along her journey, Lyra meets an array of wondrous creatures some good who wish her well and offer their help, others not so good who are intent on hindering her on her quest. With the help of a golden compass only a select few are able to read to guide her on her way Lyra sets off on the adventure of a life time.
        .
        Acting/Characters
        *************
        Dakota Blue Richards - Lyra
        As you watch Dakota on screen, you forget she was only 12 years old at the time of filming, and you certainly see no signs of this being her very first acting job. She commands the viewer's attention with her performance and she challenges us to feel her struggles and triumphs as she experiences them. It is a testament to her talent that, when sharing camera time with the likes of Sam Elliot or in fact Nicole Kidman, she steals the focus. I look forward to seeing more from this bright star

        Nicole Kidman - Mrs Coulter
        Nicole Kidman, on and off screen always seems a little stiff for my taste, as if something is lacking. However, I thought she played Mrs Coulter, the evil, manipulative and deceptive character like none of the characters she's played before. I would venture to say, she seemed to enjoy playing the part which perhaps resulted in her letting her guard down a bit more than usual.

        Ben Walker - Roger
        Ben Walker is a charismatic actor, even at such a young age, who gives Roger a sense of vulnerability that endears him to the viewer without question.

        Daniel Craig - Lord Asriel
        For those mothers' hoping for an excuse to letch at James Bond without any shame, I'm afraid his presence in the film is limited to not much more than about 15 minutes in total - and he has his shirt on the whole time! That aside he plays the reserved yet warm character well enough - and is likable because of it.

        Sam Elliot - Lee Scoresby
        You would expect nothing less than a truly hypnotic performance from Sam Elliot and he doesn't fail to deliver in this either, despite some poorly written dialogue at times. Elliot always says so much whilst saying so very little which is without a doubt, his greatest allure. This film was made better by his participation.

        In addition to those listed above, the film was supported with the voices of some well respected industry names such as Freddy Highmore, Iain McKellen, Ian McShane, Kathy Bates and Kirsten Scott Thomas. In particular, Ian McKellen did an outstanding job as Iorek, the Polar Bear.

        Script/Storyline
        ***********
        As the film was based on the Phillip Pullman's trilogy of books, His Dark Materials, there was a buzz of high hopes for this film and I found myself excitedly awaiting its release wondering how the imaginative story-telling would translate onto film.

        Sadly, I think director Chris Weitz made a mistake turning down the help of Tom Stoppard to write the adaptation himself. Much of the magic found in Pullman's books was lost in translation, making the story difficult to follow, particularly for a younger audience or anyone who haven't read the books previously. The storyline comes across as cluttered and the plot gets lost in all the action. Marvellous things happen throughout the film, but it is difficult to understand why much of the time. Ultimately, the viewer is left with more questions than answers.

        Cinematography
        ************
        Without question, the cinematography of this film is to be commended. Reminiscent of The Chronicles of Narnia as far as scale and grandeur, the beautiful, wintery backdrop to the film is phenomenal and breath-taking and as much a part of the cast as any of the A-list stars featured.

        The animation is flawless and blends in perfectly with the live action bringing the mystic creatures that appear throughout to life on screen. There is an intriguing balance between its old worldly feel and a magical future time we can only guess of. Visually, the film was in constant motion with each scene introducing us to greater effects and more magnificent characters creating a bigger, brighter and more exciting spectacle for the viewer.

        Conclusion
        ********
        This film had an awful lot to live up to and had all the ingredients to be a fantastically magical cinematic experience. The cast were well chosen and gave strong performances of some truly wonderful characters. The animation and cinematography was spectacular. However, unfortunately, whilst it is easy to get caught up in the beauty and the detail of the film, the viewer is left unsure about the substance of the story. Quite clearly, Chris Weitz understood Pullman's vision as it was there visually, but perhaps, in future, he will leave the script writing to someone more experience and impartial.

        Trivia
        ****
        Samuel L. Jackson was considered for the part of Lee Scoresby.

        In December 2004, Chris Weitz resigned from directing the film, claiming he was daunted by the technical challenges of the story. He returned in 2006 after his replacement also quit

        There were roughly 600 costumes created for the film, all from scratch.

        Ten thousand for the role of Lyra Belacqua.

        In July 2003 Tom Stoppard was hired to write the screenplay. A year later, when Chris Weitz was hired to direct, he rejected Stoppard's script, preferring to adapt Philip Pullman's work himself.

        First movie ever to gross over $300 millions, while experiencing domestic box office failure in the US, grossing only $70m

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        • More +
          04.01.2009 10:41
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          The zoo friends plan their return to Central Park, less than successfully

          Director: Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath
          Writer: Ethan Cohen
          Actors: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett, Sacha Baron Cohen (Alec Baldwin, Bernie Mac, Will i Am)
          Release Date: December 2008
          Genre: Animation/Family/Comedy

          Plot
          *****
          Three years after we were introduced to the animals of Central Park Zoo in the first Madagascar film, it's makers bring us Madagascar 2 - Escape to Africa. Left stranded on the shores of Madagascar when their plane crashed in the first film, Alex, Marty, Melman, Gloria and the penguins hatch a plan to escape and return to the safety of their beloved home. With James Bond style precision, the weird little penguins repair an old crashed plane. Unfortunately, the repairs aren't up to scratch and they soon find themselves plummeting towards the wild plains of Africa, where our friendly zoo animals are reunited with members of their own species for the first time. In particular, Alex the lion, who comes face to face with his past. But will they survive the wild? Will they avoid the poachers that lie in wait outside the reservation gates? Will they get back home eventually or will they even want to?

          Acting/Characters
          ***************
          Ben stiller - Alex
          Alex the Lion is the most central character in this film which concerned me simply because i find Ben Stiller characters in most of his films tend to hog the limelight somewhat. However, I was nicely surprised to see he didn't this time around. Instead, we were given a different glimpse of Alex's vulnerable side which balanced out the slap-stick more evenly.

          Chris Rock - Marty
          Chris Rock is loud and Marty is loud but it doesn't seem to matter when he is so damned funny! Marty develops a complex when he's faced with thousands of other zebras that look, sound and act just as he does. No longer unique, no longer able to stand out amongst the herd, and not even being recognised by his best friend Alex, Marty fells his self worth slipping away.

          David Schwimmer - Melman
          Melman is the most lovable if somewhat neurotic of the friends and in Escape to Africa he finds himself being respected and looked up to for all the qualities his zoo friends made fun of him. He faces mortality and discovers a strength he didn't know he had when he finally steps up to fight for love. Melman becomes our hero in this film and Schwimmer brings him to life.

          Jada Pinkett-Smith - Gloria
          Gloria, the only girl and often the most sane of the stranded zoo animals, you get the feeling she has to put up with a lot from these guys. In the sequel, Gloria comes into her own, enjoying the attention f the fellow hippos and coming to terms with her position in a strange love triangle. Pickett plays the feisty peace keeper well and adds a necessary calm in the chaos.

          Sacha Baron Cohen - Julien
          By far my favourite individual character, Julien is the demented and deluded King of the Lemurs who seems to enjoy cross-dressing just a little more than he should. The whole purpose of Julien is to have the audience in stitches, shaking their heads at the ridiculousness of this strange and furry little creature who believes his own hype.

          Penguins
          For me, the penguins are the true stars of the Madagascar series (along with King Julien). Their James Bond style antics their keen negotiating skills, stealth-like manner and cut throat attitudes towards anyone and everything they encounter makes for hilarious viewing. A dare you to watch a tuxedoed penguin getting amorous with a Hawaiian girl car bobble head toy and not laugh hysterically.

          It is also worth taking a moment to acknowledge some of the new voices joining the cast, including Bernie Mac, Alec Baldwin, Sherrie Shepherd and Will i am in supporting roles. I was particularly taken by Moto Moto who played the "Player Hippo" with his eyes on Gloria, played by the Black Eyed Peas singer, Will i am. However, each added value to the film and developed their own sense of style which blended well with the originals.

          Writing
          *******
          I found the writing more compelling in Madagascar Escape to Africa than I did the first one. The first, seemed to be about the one liner jokes and not as much about the story whereas, the 2nd concentrated more on the story which meant the humour and wit felt more natural and easy. Without a doubt, the script borrows from other films such as The Lion King and even the more recent Happy Feet in terms of plot, but although familiar, it is a formula that works well enough. Besides, the Madagascar series is really all about the quirky characters and their relationships with each other

          Animation/Cinematography
          ************************
          As a DreamWorks production, the one thing you can rely on is spectacular animation and Escape to Africa delivers. In fact, developments made in animation over the last few years are evident as it is even crisper and more vibrant and there is a new flow to the characters movements. The animators have certainly not shied away from a challenge, creating multiple scenes and back-drops which involve incredible detail. There are in fact a whopping 295 crowd scenes in the film setting up the special effect team with a daunting and arduous task, which they carried off beautifully.

          Conclusion
          *********
          Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa has a slightly easier pace to it than the original. It has the same loveable, wacky characters we were introduced to, the humour we were first given and a stronger story with far more heart to it than the original. All in all, this is a good one to take the wee ones too. They will love the spectacle of it and you will enjoy the more subtle humour of it. Enjoy!

          Trivia
          *****
          Alex's animated mane is made up of 50,000 individual strands of fur

          On its opening day, the film grossed $17,555,027

          This was Bernie Mac's last film before passing away earlier this year

          The 3rd Madagascar film will be in cinemas in 2012

          Parts from the film were used to advertise McDonalds

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          • Enchanted (DVD) / DVD / 21 Readings / 20 Ratings
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            03.01.2009 11:12
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            Can a Fairytale Princes make it in the harsh reality of New York>

            Director: Kevin Lima
            Writer: Bill Kelly
            Actors: Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Timothy Spall, Rachel Covey, Idina Menzel, Susan Sarandon, Julie Andrews (narrarator)
            Release Date: April 2008
            Genre: Family entertainment
            DVD Features: Deleted Scenes, Bloopers, Fantasy Comes To Life featurette, Pip's Predicament - a pop up adventure
            RRP: 17.98 (£4.98 from Amazon!)

            Plot Summary
            ************
            A classic fairytale collides with real life New York City in this exciting story about a princess banished to the real world by a nasty, jealous fairytale queen. Will her fair Prince Charming come and save her, or will she find herself a new 3-d Prince to sweep her off her feet? Will the queen allow the Princess to return to the land of Disney animation or will she decide her heart truly belongs to the Big Apple?

            Acting/Characters
            ***************
            Amy Adams - Giselle
            Adams was a relative unknown before Enchanted which I think worked in her favour as her performance came with no pre-conceptions. She did a sterling job of making this ridiculously cheesy sickly sweet fairytale girl not grate on the viewer's nerves. The hint of irony and humour was always present and contributed to the charm of Princess Giselle.

            Patrick Dempsey - Robert Philips
            I remember Patrick Dempsey from films where he always played the geeky "loser in love" (Think the ancient 80's classic Can't Buy me Love") and I don't watch Greys Anatomy, so watching him as the love interest was a challenge, but I thought he played the perfect, slightly awkward straight man to Giselle's hyperactive bundle of fluffiness and showed a genuine warmth I found endearing.

            James Marsden - Prince Edward
            Prince Edward is the dim, over the top, heart on your sleeve kind of character who just manages to always get it slightly wrong. His character's slap-stick comedy brings the film to life and has us looking forward to seeing him on the screen.

            Timothy Spall - Nathaniel
            The baddie with a conscious, Spall, is the pathetic, spineless character who finds his backbone by the end of the film. Nathaniel, is the lovable creature we hold out hope for that every fairytale needs and Spall plays the role faultlessly

            Susan Sarandon - Queen Narissa
            I can think of no one more perfect to play the wicked witch than Sarandon. Think Meryl Streep as Cruella Deville for an inkling of her brilliance in this role.

            Julie Andrews - Narrator
            A narrarator needs a nice even, calming voice that you can wrap up in and allow yourself to be taken in by. Someone who can make you hang on their every word in an almost hypnotic way. Julie Andrews, with her soothing tones does just that.

            Script/Storyline
            *************
            This film reminded me a bit of the Daryl Hannah and Tom Hanks film, Splash. (perhaps this shows my age...) You have the fish out of water character (somewhat less literally in Enchanted) the New York setting, an unlikely prince (ok, Enchanted has two) and the baddies set on destroying everything. What sets Enchanted apart (besides the characters' insistence on breaking into spontaneous song and dance for no apparent reason) is the tongue in cheek humour and its ability not to take itself too seriously. The dialogue is well crafted and light-hearted and there is a nice, easy flow to the story.

            Animation/Cinematography
            ************************
            In a time when animation is competitive and becoming more and more life-like, it is refreshing to find a film that has taken a step back to show it's appreciation for the days gone by when Disney animation was as much about the story, the music, the fairytale of it all and the animation was only one contributing factor in the films' success. Enchanted sees a return to hand-drawn animation for the first time since the early 1990's which puts Enchanted in a unique category as something of a tribute to earlier animated classics. The brightly coloured cartoon simplicity, reminds us older folk (ahem...) of classics like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White and Fantasia. In particular, there is a scene reminiscent o Snow White when all the forest animals help her to clean the cottage, only, in Enchanted, they are dusting plasma screens and power showers. I was relieved that the film didn't cross over from live action and animation more than necessary. It could have easily become cluttered but they managed to keep an even balance allowing the viewer to focus on the story and the wonder of the film instead of its technical aspects.

            Soundtrack/Musical Score
            *********************
            Like any fairytale, the music is crucial to Enchanted and two composers Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz with a longstanding history of partnering on previous Disney films, stood them well on creating the soundtrack.

            For the most part, the music, like other aspects of the film, is a direct and unsubtle tribute to the classic Disney films gone before like Snow White and Cinderella. As the film progresses, the music adopts a more contemporary feel incorporating a mix of pop, country and power ballads.

            Conclusion
            *********
            I didn't expect to enjoy this film, more get through it, and I certainly didn't accept my other half to end up watching it with us from beginning to end, but he did, and he laughed! It was a clever idea for a film, which could have easily gone wrong and yet managed to go very right indeed. There is plenty of humour and plenty of action to entertain the kids, and it's a nice stroll down memory lane for the grown-ups.

            Trivia
            *****
            The script was originally bought by Disney in 1997 but was deemed unsuitable as it was a racier R-rated script.

            In the scene where Edward is on top of the bus, the people riding on tour buses next to him laughing and pointing at him weren't extras, but actual real tourists

            Two of the elderly men dancers from the park scene appeared in West Side Story (1961) together and another appeared in Mary Poppins (1964) as a chimney sweep.

            Spoof singer/songwriter Weird Al Yankovic was originally considered to write the soundtrack

            Nominated for an impressive 25 awards including three Oscars for the films' music

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            • The Bucket List (DVD) / DVD / 22 Readings / 21 Ratings
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              01.01.2009 11:02
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              Cole and Chambers embark on a last adventure together after discovering they are dying of Cancer

              Director: Rob Reiner
              Writer: Justin Zackham
              Actors: Jack Nicholson (Edward Cole), Morgan Freeman (Carter Chambers), Sean Hayes (Tomas) & Beverly Todd (Virginia Chambers)
              Release Date: July 2008
              Genre: Drama/Comedy

              Plot
              ****
              Eccentric and wealthy Edward Cole (Nicholson), finds himself being cared for by the very hospital he owns, when he discovers he is has cancer. The irony continues when he is subjected to the rule of "2 beds per room" which he has defended defiantly for years, and finds himself rooming with Carter Chambers (Freeman) a hard working mechanic who has been fighting cancer for some time. After developing an unlikely bond, the two patients discover their cancer is in fact terminal on the same day and are given 6 months to a year t live.

              As a last stand of independence, the two men create a list of all the things they want to do before they die (A bucket list) and make a pact to follow through with the list together. From racing mustangs to climbing the pyramids in Egypt, the two set off on their last great adventure.

              Acting/Characters
              ***************
              With films to their credit such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Witches of Eastwick, The Shining, Driving Miss Daisy, Shawshank Redemption, and Se7en to name a few, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman have long since earned our respect as immense talents who have fascinated and entertained us all year after year. So it seems unnecessary to discuss their individual strengths to you now. Instead I would like to comment on the extraordinary partnership of these two great men.

              Together, these two create a warm and touching energy which comes alive on the screen. I never believed I would find the sight of Jack Nicholson crying on screen believable or even comfortable, and yet, when his character reached his loneliest tears fell - both his and mine. Morgan Freeman brings coolness to the screen which perfectly matches and balances Nicholson's manic and slightly hyperactive character. At the risk of sounding over-dramatic, watching these two is like watching two long-standing lovers dancing. The chemistry and connection is electric and impossible to deny. It was a pure joy watching these two feed off of each other and individually, to see them show vulnerability we haven't previously been privy to.

              Supporting these two greats I would imagine would be a thrill for any young actor, but equally a daunting and terrifying experience. Sean Hayes (Of Will and Grace fame), as Cole's patient and thick skinned Personal Assistant should be commended for his ability to not only keep up with them, but to shine brilliantly in his own right. He played the character with gusto and humour and his presence on screen, was always welcome. I expect his career will take a turn upwards following this.

              Beverley Todd, as Chambers, strong and able wife, also shone in her role. Despite having little screen time, she made her character's presence be felt long after she was off screen. She played Virginia with dignity and strength and at no point fell into the stereotypical role of the "grieving wife" which would have been so easy to resign herself to.

              Writing/Direction
              **************
              Apparently this film was written in only two weeks. Although the script was handled beautifully and respectively, it wasn't handled with kid gloves. It made no apologies and managed to avoid becoming "wishy washy" like so many of the personal triumph stories do. This wasn't written as a film about cancer - it was written from a very human and compassionate angle, whilst refusing to shy away from the hard hitting grit and devastation. There was a wonderful touch of humour which made it possible to stop feeling sorry for these two men. The script put in the hands of a very capable director, managed to find a perfect balance with the subject and the characters, although I can't help but feel, the characters made it so. Rob Reiner has many years of experience behind him as a director, and from this film it seems he has learnt one very valuable lesson in his time. To recognise and appreciate the talent of strong actors like Freeman and Nicholson, and allow them to find their way with little interference. The result is a triumph for him as much as for them.

              Conclusion
              *********
              Watching this film is like taking a journey with Coles and Chambers, two characters we quickly become invested in. It has a warmth like so few films manage to create and I would go as far as to suggest, from simply watching the film, allowing yourself to become part of the story, it is possible to grow and even understand yourself a bit better. Not only that, it's also a witty, charming film with a feel good factor you wouldn't expect given the tragic subject matter.

              Trivia
              *****
              Morgan Freeman's son Alfonso plays his son onscreen towards the beginning of the film

              Both Rob Reiner and Morgan Freeman thought of Jack Nicholson for the part of Cole.

              John Mayer wrote the song Say which featured in the film and was nominated for a Grammy for it.

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              • Sunkist / Soft Drink / 35 Readings / 32 Ratings
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                28.01.2008 12:51
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                An orange flavoured soft drink celebrating 30 years

                When I saw that Sunkist was this weeks 'Product of the Week' I just couldn't resist the nostalgic trip down memory lane. Within seconds I was reminded of waiting for my cold can of Sunkist to wash down my popcorn at the cinema. After so many years, the taste was still fresh in my mind and without a moments hesitation, I left my desk at work to walk to the nearest shop to buy a can of the sugary, florescent orange drink.

                A brief company history
                ***************************
                Sunkist, a Sunkist Growers product was launched in New York a whopping 30 years ago, having been franchised to Coca Cola. It was the brainchild of Mark Stevens who following extensive market research indicating that orange was one of the best selling soft drink flavours worldwide, saw its potential. It wasn't long before both Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola bottlers had increased the franchise nationally. By 1981, Sunkist was already the number one selling orange soft drink.

                In 1984 Del Monte bought Sunkist Soft Drinks but since 1987 it has been produced by Cadbury Schweppes with Vimto Soft Drinks producing it in the UK.

                What does this orange nectar taste like?
                ***********************************************
                Besides the obvious flavour of oranges (duh) Sunkist tastes of sugar. A lot of sugar. An awful, awful lot of sugar. As I sit with my little orange can of childhood memories now and sip at it, gently savouring the taste of innocence for the first time in years, I can feel my molars disintegrating almost instantly, as if I have swallowed a mouth full of sweetened caustic soda. I didn't remember the painfully syrupy texture of the drink.

                Once you get past the lethal dose of sugar, there is a surprisingly fresh undiluted taste of orange which momentarily makes your taste buds dance, before being knocked down once again by the army of sugar soldiers marching their way over your tongue with defeat in mind. Sunkist is a much fuller bodied orange flavour than most - not naming any names of course( fanta, tango), and it is a surprisingly refreshing drink considering, unlike most orange soft drinks, it contains Caffeine.
                It's a nice citrusy taste and as long as you don't mind turning into a toothless insomniac, it's an enjoyable drink.

                Other Sunkist Flavours
                *******************
                If the orange burst of sunshine that is Sunkist hasn't satisfied you enough, or if you are looking for more fruitful ways of dying a sugary death, try the Lemonade, Pineapple or Cherry Limeade flavours. In the US, residents have the luxury of choosing from a further array of flavours - Strawberry, Peach, Grape and the all American fruit punch.

                Do you really want to know what's in it?
                *********************************
                Sugar. Lots, and lots and lots of sugar. Oh, and a bit of orange flavouring too. Besides that, you've got:

                carbonated water;
                high fructose corn syrup (It's sugar, no matter what you call it)
                Citric Acid;
                Sodium Benzoate (preservatives);
                starch;
                caffeine;
                Ascorbic Acid (another preservative to preserve the things that the first preservatives missed I suppose...);
                Yellow and red dye and
                NATURAL flavours. I'm not entirely sure that the NATURAL in natural flavours has any consequence, but if it eases your conscious, who am I to judge?

                Nutritional Value
                *******************
                C'mon, who are we kidding? You don't really expect there to be nutritional value in this do you? Well, for those of you who have an unexplainable need to know just how bad something is for you, one 240ml can of this citrus bliss contains an amazing 130 calories, all of which comes from the 35g or sugar it contains. Besides the 30mg's of sodium, there is nothing else to tell. Not even any vitamin C to be found.

                Packaging
                ************
                In an age where marketing appears to be key to the success of anything, it's interesting to note that the can has hardly changed, at least since my days of sneaking off to the cinema with the big kids. It is a suitably vibrant orange can with blue lettering and a sweet little deceptive orange leaf over the 'I' as if to remind us that we are drinking something that, at some point, whether just in the conception stages or not, was born of the refreshing, natural citrus fruit we all know and love, that is orange.

                Price
                ******
                Besides the cost of dental bills for years to come, my can of Sunksit cost me 52p from the corner shop which was in line with other similar products.

                Conclusion
                *************
                I have now, with great sadness, given up on Sunkist Orange soft Drink and have relegated my three quarters full can to the bin. Perhaps, post puberty we develop a switch that doesn't allow us to gain pleasure from the sugar high that we can as kids. Perhaps, years of development and tampering has resulted in a product barely reminiscent of the treat I remember from days of old. Perhaps, my mind had censored all the terrible memories Sunkist induced fillings and sugar headaches.

                What ever the reason, this stroll down memory lane has proven to be an utter disappointment. I suppose the reality of some things, like a first kiss/ just can't live up to the memories we create. So with the greatest of sadness, I cannot, in good conscious recommend Sunkist to anyone over the age of 10. As for parents of said under 10's, if your children, like mine only need the meer whiff of sugar to start bouncing off the walls, I would suggest waiting until they are being packed off to Gran's for the night - then give them a six-pack!

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                • More +
                  22.01.2008 10:27
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                  A breakfast cereal that promises to get your day started properly.

                  I want to share my story - my introduction to Kellogg's Special K Sustain, because if my story can help even one person desperately trying to find the holy grail of breakfast cereals than I will have helped make this world that little bit brighter.

                  Christmas indulgence is now but a distant memory and as we head towards the end of January, many of us have already forgotten the promises we made to ourselves on the 1st of the month - I have always been amazed at how much easier it is to Quit 'Quitting' than it is quitting anything else.

                  I, like 99 percent of the population had vowed to eat a healthier, more balanced diet. No more Kit Kat's at 10:00 washed down with a large (non-fat o ease the guilt of wolfing down the four-fingered kit kat) Cappuccino from Starbucks. Instead, I promised myself that I would wake up earlier to allow myself time to have breakfast, afterall, haven't we been told over and over again since, well, since ever that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?

                  So in preparation for the big countdown to the new year, I took myself off to Asda determined to stock up on plenty of healthy options for my new morning routine. I had avoided the cereals lane like a case of the bubonic plague in the past, and wasn't prepared for the terrifying array of grains promising all sorts of wondrous miracles that stood before me. I instantly felt myself going into meltdown, my legs were shaking and my palms were notably damp. I stood frozen in the middle of the aisle not sure I could make it passed the brightly coloured boxes of chocolate covered flakes, and honey coated nuggets to the sensible grown up and significantly more serious looking cereals at the end of what felt like a mile-long row of sugary goodness. Somehow, with the help of my three year old who prodded and pulled me in the general direction I needed to go on, I took my first feeble away from the promises of "that great chocolatey taste" to those that simply listed what ingredients it didn't have.

                  And then I saw it. Just as I was ready to turn and run away crying into the comfortable and familiar arms of the confectionery aisle, out of the corner of my eye I spotted the bright red words "Special K" on a simple, white box. Although no one else seemed to notice it, I am sure I saw a gentle golden glow eminating from around it and the sound of angels singing a sweet lullabye filled the air. Before I could become distracted by the luscious boxes of pure sugar neatly disguised as breakfast food, I grabbed the box and made a dash for the nearest till, my son only just managing to keep up with my pace.

                  What is this Special K Sustain stuff anyway and why is it supposed to be so good for us?
                  **********************************************
                  Special K Sustain is the latest gimmick to be introduced by Kellogg's, a follow-up to the familiar and comparatively ordinary Special K.

                  Containing wholewheat flakes and wholegrain rice with a splash of honey to bind it, Sustain gives us a crunchier, clustier cereal that the original Special with a touch of sweetness. Because it contains a healthy dollup of protein and fibre, it is designed to keep us feeling satisfied longer - Surprisingly even longer than a mid morning Kit Kat!

                  Is it really that good for us?
                  ************************
                  It's all relative. There is no doubt that we pay for the added honeyness and general taste At 135calories per serving, you could save yourself a further 50 calories by opting for the almost calorie-free (and totally taste-free) Shredded Wheat. And of course Shredded Wheat has no sugar, hardly any fat and plenty of fibre. However, Special K Sustain is much better for you as part of a healthy eating diet than you would imagine it is.

                  ***Nutritional Information per serving

                  Calories: 135
                  Sugar: 8g
                  Fat: 0.8g of which only a trace are saturates
                  Salt: 0.5g
                  Fibre: 5g

                  But does it have any taste?
                  ************************
                  I wasn't expecting great things. The best I was hoping for was sweetened card but I was expecting something more in line with the mouldy taste of a 200 year old book found in the back of an antique store. Instead, I found my taste buds didn't recoil in disgust and I didn't even need to hold my nose as I chewed.

                  For those of you who have tried Special K, Original, it doesn't taste dissimilar - a bit wheaty, like a sweetened Jacobs whole-wheat cracker shaved down into tiny pieces. Only, Sustain has an added nuttiness to it. There is no doubt that the cluster style gives it an added texture which not only fools you into thinking you are eating more, but also gives the flavour a more 3-D effect. First you taste the honey, then the nuts, then the cereal flakes. It's just a bit more exciting on the old taste buds when there's more going on.

                  Does it actually make me feel full?
                  *****************************
                  I really am a good girl. I've only skipped breakfast once since January 1st (Does it matter that I had three Millie's chocolate chip cookies before noon that day?) and Special K Sustain has played a pretty major role in my new eating practices.

                  Although I haven't quite managed waking up earlier - is there actually a time earlier that 5:45 anyway, I keep a box of Sustain at my desk and find toodling off to fill my bowl is an excellent way of wasting time I could be using to work.

                  Whether it is simply the concept of actually eating breakfast, or whether it is actually down to Sustain, I do find it much easier to make it through the morning without snacking. I do feel more full. Although, my chocolate moments usually have little to do with being hungry at all and more to do with a craving for the warm melting sensation of cocoa on my tongue, I have been doing quite well at resisting the urge and admittedly, it isn't all down to my incredible will power and strength of character - it has to do with starting my day eating something that I can easily forget is a "healthy" option and just enjoy the taste.

                  Ingredients (from Kellogg's website)
                  *************
                  ***Things I recognize as actual ingredients not science experiment compounds
                  Brown Rice, Wholewheat, Honey Flavour Soy Clusters, Nuts and Crisps, Flour, Wheatflour, Barley FlourWheat Fibre and Sugar

                  ***And the other stuff
                  Maltodextrin, Glucose-Fructose Syrup, Salt, Barley Malt Flavouring, Vitamin C, Niacin, Iron, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin (B2), Thiamin (B1), Folic Acid, Vitamin B12.

                  Availability
                  **********
                  Sustain is a relatively new product however most of the major supermarkets (ASDA, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Morrissons etc) will stock it.

                  And how much is this miracle breakfast?
                  ***********************************
                  At £2.89 per 375g it is a bit more expensive than other similar cereals, but then what did you expect? Surely you knew there would be a catch somewhere! Sainsbury's have a 2 for £4 deal on now so get moving!

                  Is it worth the trauma of facing the cereal aisle?
                  ****************************************
                  I've come a long way since that first brush with the cereal aisle. I now stroll through it confidently with my eyes firmly locked on the prize. In additional to being a great, healthy way to start the day, it tastes good enough to even fool my 3 year old into thinking it's just regular cereal. The Holy Grail of cereals? It may just be.

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                  • More +
                    21.01.2008 12:09
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                    A beautiful place of tranquility and fun for all the family

                    I made my second visit to Alnwick Gardens on the 16th January. Unfortunately, I was there for a reception following the funeral of the wonderful man and dear friend who first introduced me to this magical place. He and his wife were staunch supporters of the gardens and enjoyed their beauty regularly with their children and gorgeous grandchildren.

                    At the risk of making a simple review a little on the emotional side, I write this review in honour of one of the kindest, most sincere gentlemen I have ever had the privilege to know and I thank him for sharing this spectacular place with my son and I.

                    Admission Fee:
                    Adults, £8, Concession £7.50. Groups £6.25 per head, Education groups: £2.50 per child. Children go free (for up to 4 children per adult). All these costs include an optional £1 gift aid charge.

                    Opening Times:
                    The Gardens are open all year except for Christmas day from 10:00. Closing times vary per season from between 16:00 in the Winter to 19:00 in the summer months/

                    Access:
                    The Garden is open all year but would advise you consider the weather at the time of your visit and wear appropriate clothing. The garden is accessible to all with wheelchair access throughout with chairs available for hire. Assistant dogs are welcomed in the Garden.

                    Historical Background
                    *************************
                    The First Duke of Northumberland commissioned the celebrated gardener Capability Brown to create the first gardens adjoining the castle grounds in 1750. Over the following years, development continued with hothouses being constructed to grow pineapples and other produce to be sent to Paris where the Third Duke was based as Special Ambassador in the 1820's. He collected seeds and plants from all over the world when he traveled and built a conservatory in the garden which the public could visit only one day a week.

                    In the mid-19th century, the Fourth Duke created a garden inspired by the Italian Renaissance period which also dictated the décor in the Castle State rooms. Interestingly, the wrought iron gates currently found at the main entrance and the entrance to the Ornamental Garden are the restored original 16th century Venetian gates the Fourth Duke brought from Italy.
                    By the end of the century, the gardens were alive with grandeur with hedge topiary, a long-stretching flower garden, lime trees grape houses and a large conservatory making contributing to its beauty.

                    In the Pavilion, an original 18th century garden decoration can be found which takes visitors back to the original gardens. There sits a lead sculpture of a fox sitting on top of a fruit-filled urn decorated with season-inspired masks and held up by monkeys.
                    During the 2nd World war, the gardens were once again put to practical use. Having been turned over to the Government's care, the land was used to grow produce until 1950. From that time, until the Alnwick Garden restoration project began in 1996, the site was used as a tree nursery.

                    Today
                    As many resources as possible were locally sourced, including the water cascade stone which was brought from West Woodburn

                    The Gardens
                    ***********
                    What makes these striking gardens unique is the fact that visitors are actively encouraged to participate in their surroundings. You see children running through the jets of water which spray impressively across pathways. Families pick berries from the ornamental garden to taste their sweetness and people roll up their trousers to wade in any number of streams that line the paths. What on face value is a very sophisticated and elegant park, Alnwick Gardens welcomes young children to run free and enjoy the natural beauty they have come to visit.

                    Water Cascade

                    Upon entering through the main gates, you will instantly be met with the glorious Grand Cascade that, as the UK's largest water feature, is the perfect centerpiece for the garden. It is a truly magnificent site which draws the eye up the rolling hill of the garden to the treed area and the ornamental garden tucked quietly away at the top. At peak flow, more than 7200 gallons of water run across 21 weirs per minute though I must point out, it was designed in as Environmentally Friendly a manner as possible. 250,000 gallons of water are stored underground which is filtered and then recycled.. It changes sequence on a half hourly basis throughout the day. There are 162 jets in total which fire water up to 6 metres high into the air and across the walkways.

                    Crescent-shaped stairs made from 149,000 block paving stones, lead up either side of the cascade, meeting in the middle at each level. The cascades are lined with beautiful hedging and oak trees which lend themselves to the magical sense of the place.

                    In front of the cascade, John Deer mini ride on tractors contrast against the elegance of the light stonework oddly however, your children will love maneuvering these play things, scooping up water and chasing their terrified parents.

                    Ornamental Gardens

                    As you pass through the gates into this 1753 walled treasure trove, you are immediately hit not only with a great sense of calm, but also the gentle aroma of the over 16,000 plants before you. In the middle of the garden is a pool from which water flows down through a network of open pipes leading towards the colour-themed (one red, one yellow) secret gardens on each side.

                    Raised flower beds mean the planting can be enjoyed by everyone with an array of roses, delphiniums, Peonies, Priental poppies, and iris. From above, and all around you crab apple trees, rose covered arbours and bloom gently. My son's favourite part of the gardens, beside dangling his limbs in the pool with his 'Grandpa John' was the marvelous collection of berries also on display. It included currants, strawberries (including white strawberries which I had never heard of) and yellow and red raspberries. Herbs are peppered throughout the garden offering an intense and varied assortment of smells and textures to the planting.

                    The planting has been done in such a way that it will flower at different times throughout the year meaning it is always filled with colour and tempting perfumes .

                    The Ornamental gardens were one of my favourite part simply because all the senses were being touched - from the sound of the constant water flowing gentle, to the fresh smell of the lavender that washed over you as you passed it, to the sweetness of the raspberries straight from the stem.

                    The Rose Garden

                    An English Garden will never be complete without a rose garden and Alnwick Gardens is no exception. The Pergola-lined, winding walkway takes you through an impressive maze-like selection of roses which were donated by one of the countries top rose growers, David Austin Roses. The Fragrant aroma is so vivid it is almost intoxicating. There are 3000 rose bushes, trees and shrubs with Old rose and English rose blooms as well as my favourite, climbing roses. In addition, the garden boasts the Alnwick Rose which was created by David Austin in honour of the garden.

                    My son adored racing along the maze-like paths and we could take our time knowing he couldn't get to far away from us without doubling back on himself.

                    The Serpent Garden

                    This Garden hosts a series of water sculptures designed by William Pye and created around a serpent shape made of holly. The sculptures sit peacefully within the natural surroundings making them appear as almost part of the scenery. This is a very interactive piece which encourages people to get up close and personal with water and to appreciate how it can be different depending on perspective. The Starburst sculpture even allows you to stand on a (toughened) glass plate to watch the water exploding below you.

                    The Poison Garden

                    For fairly obvious reasons, visitors are only allowed to enter this garden accompanied by a trained companion from the Gardens who will talk you through the different plants dispelling myths surrounding some plants and describing the gory ancient history of others. Plants included here are Deadly Nightshade, Magic Mushrooms and Cannabis.

                    The Woodland Walk

                    The Woodland Walk provides a more natural contrast to the formal, well-manicured gardens. Mature Trees centuries old line the pathway while Forest flowers carpet the grounds along the walk which leads towards some fantastic views of the Alnwich Castle and the River Aln.

                    The Bamboo Labyrinth

                    The feature, designed by one of the world's leading maze designers, Adrian Fisher is set in a relatively shady section of the garden and follows a path which is decorated with delicate bronze leaves. The sounds of the bamboo as it rustles in the wind is extremely relaxing though much louder than I would have expected. This is a great, mysterious place as paths twist in different directions only allowing you the quickest of glimpses of other visitors.

                    The Treehouse

                    Without a doubt this was the Children's (and many adults) favourite part of the Gardens. The Treehouse, found just outside the main gates to the garden is a 6,000 square foot group of smaller houses with angled roofs and turrits linked by suspended rope bridges and walkways. It was built using natural and sustainable products including Scots and English Pine, although Canadian Cedar and Scandinavian Redwood was also sourced. It is amazing how such an enormous structure manages to blend in so well with the trees that embrace it as well as with its natural surroundings. It includes two resource rooms which provide learning programmes for visitors, a terraced restaurant (that even has a log fire in it!) and a small gift shop.

                    I am sure I don't have to explain why this fantastic structure is a hit with the kids already, but I understand they are looking to begin work on the next phase of development which will include a tree-based adventure play area which will include a maze of rope bridges, platforms and aerial walkways, with wheelchair access and a designated area for the under 5s and for the severely disabled.

                    Facilities
                    **********
                    The Pavillion and Visitors Centre made largely of glass but also a blend of wood, steel and stone houses the majority of amenities including the following:

                    Shops

                    There is a gift and a garden shop which offer a range of unique, locally crafted gifts, local produce, gardening goods with an extra flare and bulbs including those of the now famous Alnwick Rose as well as sweets, books, art work etc.

                    Refreshment

                    There is a small coffee bar in the visitors centre which provides basic refreshments or there is a restaurant which offers simple but quality food at reasonably affordable prices. Also on offer is the treehouse restaurant which offers a heartier menu. An A La Carte menu is also available in the evenings. Visit http://www.alnwickgarden.com/visitthegarden/eating.asp for more details of their menu.

                    Visitor interpretation area

                    Here visitors can learn about the historical and geographical background of The Garden. There are also two Education rooms perfect for school trips

                    Multi-functional area

                    This is ideal for lectures, conferences, concerts and weddings and was in fact where the funeral reception I attended was held.

                    Reception Area/Courtyard

                    This is a beautiful open space looking on to the gardens which is often used for outdoor performances

                    Toilets

                    toilets are located within the Treehouse, and in the Pavilion area.

                    Parking

                    Parking immediately in front of the centre is relatively limited however there is over flow parking a short walk away which provides an abundance of further space.

                    Conclusion
                    *************
                    To find a place with so much breath-taking beauty, so much diversity and so much to enjoy is rare. Admittedly, this place holds a special place in my heart thanks to how I was introduced to it, but I was blown away by how much there is to see. I was equally impressed by how they have encouraged younger generations to relish in their natural surroundings and to absorb it fully through interaction.

                    All of the areas have posted notes relating to the specific plants, site and history which allows generations, young and old to learn a bit as they go.

                    Some may question the value of paying £8 for a visit to a garden, but this is much more than a garden. It is a celebration of so many different aspects from nature, to modern design, architecture, history, and even biology. All in all, it is a fantastic, unique, and fun day out - perfect for the family.

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                    • Bee Movie (DVD) / DVD / 29 Readings / 26 Ratings
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                      18.01.2008 14:53
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                      one ambitious bee reclaims the rights of his colony by suing the human race

                      I had been determined not to go and see Bee movie following my disappointment in a number of animated features recently. However, the power of a three year old is strong and my will just wasn't strong enough. Grudgingly, along with my son and hid Daddy I headed off for the cinema to sit through an hour and a half of what I expected to be yellow and black animated slap stick humour.

                      Writers: Jerry Seinfield and Spike Feresten
                      Directors: Steve Hickner and Simon J Smith
                      Voices: Jerry Seinfield, Renee Zellweger, Mathew Broderick, Patrick Warbuton, John Goodman, Chris Rock, Kathy Bates, Barry Levinson
                      Production Team: Dreamworks Animation
                      Genre: Family/ Animation/ Comedy
                      Classification: U (suitable for all ages)
                      UK Cinema Release Date: 14th December 2007
                      Run Time: an hour and a half

                      What's it all about?
                      *********************
                      Barry B Benson, a recent graduate bee has greater hopes for himself than working the rest of his living days in the Hive's honey plant. One day, Barry is given a rare opportunity to join the revered pollen collectors on an excursion outside the sticky hive walls, however the adventure soon turns into a life-threatening experience and he is only saved when New York florist Vanessa steps in to defend him from the shoe aimed at him from above.

                      Barry makes it back to the hive after bonding with Vanessa over Coffee and cake, but their relationship blossoms as Barry continues to sneak out to visit her. It is during one of these visits, while accompanying Vanessa to the supermarket that Barry is confronted by row upon row of different branded honey for sale. Outraged that the human are exploiting bees and that honey is rationed back home as a result, Barry decides to take on the entire human race in true American style - by suing them.

                      Who are Steve Hickner and Simon J Smith?
                      **************************************************
                      Together, Hickner and Smith bring a strong background working on animated productions to this film, namely, The Little Mermaid, Who framed Roger Rabbit, Shrek and Ants. But as directors, their experience is minimal with Smith holding the most directorial experience having recently been responsible for Shrek Spin offs, Far Far Away Idol and Shrek 4D.

                      The question is, whether these two will now become a permanent partnership and a driving force for the DreamWorks powerhouse and beyond? It is certainly fair to say that with Bee Movie as a solid platform to build on, this team is destined for future successes.

                      Did the story/script shine?
                      ******************************
                      I expect most of you have seen the trailers for this film, and I expect most of you will agree in most instances, the trailers tend to highlight the funniest parts of the film. Somewhat surprisingly, this wasn't the case with Bee Movie. Instead of relying on a script peppered with a handful of memorable one-liners or trademark comedy directly linked to individual characters, this script had a fairly consistent flow to it. Jerry Seinfield, is without question a very funny man but more importantly for his role as co-script writer is he is able to translate that humour onto the page. It wasn't laugh out loud, stop because my sides are aching humour, but it was intelligent, subtle humour which is a stark contrast with many animated features coming into our cinemas and homes these days.

                      My only criticism would be that it took a while to take off. As a viewer, I felt like the first 20 minutes kind of stalled, with the emphasis being put more on showcasing the characters (understandably) and not quite enough on telling the story. However, it quickly picked up and it wasn't long before I was chuckling away and being swept up in the story.

                      Did the actors/characters sparkle?
                      ***************************************
                      When the adverts and trailers were finally finished and the opening credits of the film began to role, I was pleasantly surprised to see some of the names involved in this film. I even felt a small amount of hope that the film may not be a huge disappointment after all.

                      Jerry Seinfield as Barry B Benson was unfortunately less than convincing for me. To have a 50-something actor playing a young bright-eyed and enthusiastic graduate bee is just pushing the boundries a bit too much. I struggled to connect his voice to Barry.

                      I liked Renee Zellwegger as florist Vanessa much more than I usually do. Vanessa was a sarcastic , independent, grounded woman with a sense of humour not always portrayed well in film. Her interaction with Barry was great and the idea that genuine warmth could be found between human and bee was made believable by her character.

                      Patrick Warburton as Vanessa's over-competitive, materialistic, obnoxious twit of a tennis-playing boyfriend was spot on. He managed to be completely un-likeable without saying very much at all.

                      Mathew Broderick put in an appearances as Barry's best bee who is much happier doing things the way he is told to doing them and sees happiness in simply having a place in life, no matter how insignificant a place it might appear to be. A constant worrier with a nervous disposition, he was the perfect side-kick to Barry.

                      My favourite character, and indeed actor was John Goodman's character, lawyer Layton T Montgomery. Almost impossible to watch, his character summed up every despicable preconception we have about lawyers. We watched in horror as this unsavoury, jelly like creature wabbled to and fro across the courtroom with arrogance pouring out of him. The more despicable they are, the happier we are to see them fall.

                      A further host of stars appeared with Kathy Bates putting in an appearance as Barry's jittery mother, Barry levison as his "Why on earth wouldn't you want to follow in my footsteps?" father and Chris Rock as the travelling mosquito Mooseblood he meets along his travels. Cute celebrity cameos came in the form of Larry King, Ray Liotta and Sting.

                      Did the cinematography and soundtrack bring the magic to life?
                      *************************************************************************
                      The line between as good as any other animation and exceptional animation is getting more and more difficult to cross. With technology improving and developing faster than I can even write this review, it is a struggle for production companies like Dreamworks and Pixar to outdo the competition.

                      I was impressed with the sheer scale of the production. The Hive scenes in particular were quite spectacular with large groups of bees spilling out all over the place. I can only imagine the work that went into creating the flapping wings of thousands of bees as they set off to save the day.

                      From an artistic point of view, there was certainly a consistency with every detail taking on some tinge of multi-toned yellow to co-ordinate with the obvious bee theme, however, it also became quite claustrophobic in parts, as if the audience was drowning in honey.

                      The facial features seemed to be kept simpler than some productions we have seen before, but I am not convinced that is a bad thing. Some films focus so much on creating something as realistic as possible they forget it's an animation. If we wanted real we would see a live-action film. Besides the simplicity of the characters fit well with the trend of the film and made it easier to focus on what was actually happening instead of the graphics of the film.

                      My final thoughts - what really counts
                      *******************************************
                      Bee Movie was better than I expected it to be and I am proud to say it was the first film that my three year old son sat through without having to take a trip to the toilets or go for a wander in the hallways. Without a doubt, he related to the cuteness of the film and what could be better than a buzzy bee superhero. As a parent, it was sweet and relatively funny and it had a happy feel to it. It wasn't the best animated feature but it was by no means the worst. As long as you don't head to the cinema expecting some monumental historical, ground breaking film and are open to just enjoy it for its gentle quirkiness, it is worth the price of the ticket to go and see.

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                      • More +
                        10.01.2008 13:45
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                        Hunter S Thompson's story told by those who knew him best

                        A large chunk of my review is taken up by an introduction to the authors and Hunter Thompson simply because without knowing even this limited amount of information about them, the review becomes pointless.

                        Authors: Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour with Introduction written by Johnny Depp
                        Date of Publish: November 2007
                        Genre: Biography
                        Number of Pages: 496
                        Hardback RRP: £18.99
                        Hardback Amazon Price: £13.99

                        Some of you may have read previous reviews of mine which relate to Hunter S Thompson. Some of you may be getting bored of reading about him. Some of you, may actually find my thoughts on Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S Thompson a valuable insight into the man behind not only a number of critically acclaimed literary successes, but also the man behind the conception of the new style, new era, new view that was Gonzo.

                        What makes Wenner and Seymour suitable biographers for Hunter
                        *****************************************************************************
                        Jann Wenner, is arguably the best placed person to compile a book outlining the life of Hunter Thompson. As the founder and Editor in Chief of Rolling Stone Magazine since 1967, owner of Men's Journal and US Weekly, and reknowned interviewer of any number of iconic figures, from musical legends like Bob Dylan, John Lennon and the Rolling Stones to political leaders John Kerry, Al Gore and Bill Clinton, there is no questioning his credentials.

                        However, what matters most is that for more than 30 years, he and Hunter shared a unique partnership which began in 1970 when Thompson walked into Wenner's office with a six pack under his arm, declared he was about to be elected Sheriff of Pitkin County and his intention to write about it. That first article, Battle of Aspen was the first of many that Thompson wrote for Wenner and over the years the two would become much more than Editor and Journalist: - they also became friends and confidents with Wenner often taking on the role of father to counteract Thompson's inpetulant behaviour.

                        Corey Seymour, a writer and editor himself, met Thompson in the early nineties when he was unsuspectingly assigned by then-employer Rolling Stone to be Thompson's assistant. By all accounts this was never an easy role to fill. Corey's relationship with Thompson saw Seymour tasked with organizing a man who reveled in chaos at a time when his health and well-being was deteriorating.

                        Along with their own accounts of their time with Thompson, the book is compiled with memories shared by an incredible array of 100 characters who met Thompson along the way.

                        Who is this Hunter S Thompson anyway?
                        (taken from Screwjack review)
                        ********************************
                        Thompson was one of the controversial American greats who chose to write about subjects many avoided in a candid and honest manner which most shied away from in fear of offending. The difference between Thompson and other authors is that Thompson genuinely didn't care who he offended.

                        Thompson started writing for a number of newspapers and magazines, later joining the ranks of Playboy and Rolling Stone. These commissions, particularly his work with Rolling Stone would go on to propel Thompson into the fully-fledged world of Gonzo Journalism of which he was the founder, creator and the ruling king. His first published book was an account taken from spending over a year with the Hell's Angels. This was of course only the first in a long line of books that would soon follow; each giving us a glimpse of who Thompson really was.

                        Thompson's indulgence in drugs of any kind and his keenness for the odd drink fuelled the stories he wrote. He freely admitted his habits and made no apologies for them but Thompson was about more than just about the drugs. Thompson did all the things we have been taught to know better than to do. He doesn't stop to think about consequences he just acts on instinct. Some may think this is irresponsible, and I am sure responsibility was never a major concern of his in the traditional sense of the word but that is what makes him such a magical figure. He died a selfish, arrogant, stubborn, cruel, passionate, determined, incredibly talented man

                        Hunter S Thompson died on February 20th 2005 from what was reportedly a self-inflicted gun shot wound.

                        Content
                        ********
                        Hunter Thompson can never be accused of being the same as everyone else so it seems fitting that this biography is put together differently from most as well.

                        Gonzo uses the stories shared by his family, friends, colleagues, business associates, admirers and mentors to recreate a timeline of Thompson's life. Contributions come from some of the most unlikely and fascinating sources including his first wife Sandy Thompson, Son Juan, artist Ralph Steadman, actors Johnny Depp, Jack Nicholson, Angelica Houston, Don Johnson, politician Pat Buchanan, musicians Paul Oakenfield and Marilyn Manson, Writers William Kennedy and Tom Wolfe and a number of other equally interesting people.

                        Throughout the book, the reader is able to piece together the puzzle that made up this extraordinary man. We are given first hand accounts of the creative process he went through when working, his love affairs, the violence, the drug and booze fuelled chaos, his passion for guns and anything that could be blown up. More than just that, we are given a variety of perspectives on any one particular event or occurrence by different witnesses or in many cases, reluctant co-conspirators.

                        What made this book stand out from other biographies was the honesty and fondness with which most contributors wrote. This wasn't a sugar-coated story of a genius and his successes nor was it a scathing report of his well documented excesses. Instead, it was a portrait painted of a man that in essence, is more complicated than that. Through the stories and personal accounts we build up a more in-depth insight into not only what he did but why he did it and how he did it.

                        It is a harrowing read. On one page you will find yourself laughing at the ridiculous description of Thompson sitting up late into the night making jewellery with a children's Bedazzler jewellery making kit, a drink in his hand and full of any number of illicit drugs. On the next page, you will find yourself mourning a talent that in later years was rapidly and visibly disintegrating.

                        What stood out to me, was the tenderness with which everyone held Thompson. Despite being an incredibly difficult, self-serving and even occasionally mean man; Despite endlessly challenging those who cared for him, they each spoke of a gentleness and a generosity which is rare today. It is not an exclusive club that includes people who have been abused by Thompson at one point in his life or another but a select and few were lucky enough to be touched by the honour and strange loyalty which he reserved for those that earned it.

                        Final Thoughts
                        ************
                        Without a doubt, the story of Hunter Thompson is a gripping tale. In many cases, the myth is usually more interesting than the truth however, in the case of Thompson, the truth and the myth go hand in hand.

                        I greatly appreciated the honesty and integrity with which his story was told here. As a fan, my image hasn't been tainted. Putting everything aside, Thompson was an incredibly talented story teller and those telling their version of events in Gonzo remembered that and respected that.

                        From a technical point of view, there was a great flow to the book, taking the reader along on a wave of adventure so to speak. It was interesting to see people coming in and out of his life, and to be able to appreciate the different stages. It is almost as if you are witnessing the butterfly effect in action with the ability to look back and identify what led to a particular event.

                        With Thompson's death in 2005, a number of questions were left unanswered and for me, this touching and yet quite sad account goes some way to answering those questions for me.

                        So in the immortal words of Thompson himself, "Buy the ticket, take the ride."

                        Thompson bibliography/biographies/films)
                        **********************************

                        Books by Thompson
                        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                        Rum Diary (see review)
                        Hells Angels (see review)
                        Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
                        Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail
                        Screwjack (see review)
                        Curse of Lono
                        Better than Sex
                        The Great Shark Hunt
                        Kingdom of Fear
                        Hey Rube
                        The Proud Highway
                        many more.....

                        Films
                        ~~~~
                        Breakfast with Hunter (documentary fly on the wall)
                        Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
                        Where the Buffalo Roam
                        The Rum Diary (in production)
                        Blasted!: Gonzo patriots of Hunter S Thompson (documentary)
                        Come on Down (documentary/fly on the wall)
                        When I die (documentary)
                        Buy the Ticket Take the Ride (documentary)

                        Biographies etc
                        ~~~~~~~~~~~~
                        The Joke's over (see review)
                        Gonzo Way: A celebration of Hunter Thompson
                        many more........

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                        • More +
                          04.01.2008 12:15
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                          Mr Magorium is ready to hand over his toy shop to Molly, but is the shop ready?

                          One of my favourite Children's films is Hook starring Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman, and Hoffman's quirky performance is a major contributing factor in this. In his role as a Children's story villian, he managed to encompass everything magical that we should expect from kids films, but so rarely get these days. Since first seeing Hook, I have been anxiously awaiting his next offering of fairy tales and children's fantasy cinematography. It was primarily for this reason that I was aching to see Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium from the moment I say the trailer.

                          Writer/Director: Zach Helm
                          Actors: Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Jason Bateman, Zach Mills
                          Genre: Family fantasy/Comedy (and a bit of a tear jerker if you are as unstable as I am!)
                          Classification: U (Suitable for all ages)
                          UK Cinema Release date: 14th December 2007
                          Run Time: One hour and thirty-four minutes

                          What's it all about?
                          *********************
                          Mr Magorium has finally worn out his last pair of shoes and at 243 years old, he takes this as a sign that his days as magical toy store owner and indeed his days on Earth are over. Determined to get his affairs in order, he hires an accountant (or Mutant as he is referred to) to sort out the books before he bequeaths the store to Molly Mahoney, the young, talented piano-playing manager of the store. However, the store doesn't take kindly to Mr Magorium's plans and throws a tantrum leaving the future of the store in serious doubt.

                          Who is Zach Helm?
                          ***********************
                          As a director, this film was Helm's first. As a family film, this was Helm's first. As a Writer, this was only his second film, the first being 2006's Stranger than Fiction starring Will Ferell and Queen Latifa. Yet, despite being relatively wet behind the ears in Hollywood terms, at 32 years old, he has managed to get himself noticed in the difficult film industry over the last 5 years. Esquire Magazine named him in their Best and Brightest list in 2004 while Fade In Magazine placed him on their "100 people in Hollywood you need to know" list the same year and again in 2005. Now the Hollywood bible, Variety Magazine has caught on and named him as one of the top 10 writers to watch.

                          With three industry nominations and one win under his belt for his Stranger than Fiction screenplay, it seems likely that his is a name we will be hearing more often over the years.

                          Did the story/script shine?
                          ******************************
                          It seems to me, when dealing with kids' films, Hollywood more often than not, takes the easy way out with the general rule of "keep 'em laughing and they won't notice the lack of a good story." To do this, children's comedy has become increasingly slap-stick with endless jokes about breaking wind, or characters either having one disastrous accident after the other or trying to out-insult each. It isn't often that a film gives kids credit for being able to follow a more gentle and endearing story without falling asleep in boredom.

                          Mr Magorium's doesn't take the easy route. This is a tale about magic and believing in yourself, about having fun and using your imagination, about challenging the limits and about seeing the good in each other and inevitable situations, like Mr Magorium's demise.

                          Although there is certainly humour peppered throughout, it isn't really the films strongest point. What is, is the tenderness with which the concept of death is handled and the focus on the beauty around us that we so often take for granted. There is a strong message of love and kindness and caring for each other which can so often be missed in this day in age. The idea that although the inevitable end of one story can be sad, it is important to remember, with each ending comes a new beginning is a wonderful message to our kids and it is handled with great care. It is a lovely sentiment that thanks to the goofy nature of the characters and the light-hearted and sweet script doesn't overpower the film, allowing our wee ones to enjoy the pure fantasy of it all.

                          Did the actors/characters sparkle?
                          ***************************************

                          I was blown away by the warmth evident between the characters and a genuine feeling that the actors all seemed to like each other and be enjoying the experience of making this film.

                          I was mildly disappointed that Dustin Hoffman (Mr Magorium) wasn't in the film longer but his performance was all that I hoped it to be. With a soft lispy voice and mischievious grin, he was a very likeable character you couldn't fail to warm too. Above all Hoffman made Mr Magorium seem like he was having a ball every minute of everyday. Apart from the sweet and silly side we were first introduced to, Hoffman also pulled off the more serious side with great class. His last scene had me bawling into my popcorn, but I still had a smile on my face.

                          Natalie Portman (Molly Mahoney) is a beautiful girl and she seemed to almost float in this film. For the part, she was perfect although her role was fairly well supported by the others taking some of the pressure off. When acting with any of her co-stars, she came to life and was a joy to watch, but when appearing on screen on her own, without the others to bounce off of, she fell a little flat. Sadly, her performance in the last scene, which should have been the most beautiful piece of the whole film, was a bit wooden and unnatural looking. She just appeared a bit to choreographed on occasion.

                          I have always felt Jason Bateman (Henry Weston) was one of those actors just waiting in the wings for his chance to prove himself. With the help of the critically acclaimed TV show Arrested Development under his belt, he has clearly gained some credit in Hollywood and rightly so. The contrast of his straight-laced, efficient and right-brained character against the wacky backdrop of the Emporium was brilliant. Of all the characters, we had the pleasure of watching his develop the most. I was impressed that even as a humourless, grey accountant Bateman still held that glimmer in his eye which gave the audience a sliver of hope for him yet.

                          Zach Mills (Eric Applebaum) is a talent to remember. He will without a doubt be on our screens a great deal in the years to come. At 12 years old he has a charm on screen that we would expect from a veteran of the silver screen. He is relaxed and comfortable in his role as the eccentric young shop assistant who struggles to make friends with kids his own age. It is very easy to become absorbed in his play on screen. I for one was almost immediately taken in by his endearing, quirky, hat-collecting kid who clearly doesn't recognize how unique he really is. He made this film for me.

                          Did the cinematography and soundtrack bring the magic to life?
                          *************************************************************************
                          In order to make the magic of the store come across on stage, the production designed Therese DePrez, Costume designer Christopher Hargadon and Visual Effects Designer Kevin Tod Haug worked closely together to develop a rainbow-hued fantasy world for the audience to enjoy.

                          Making a toy shop that doesn't stock the latest Nintendo Wii Game, or have a DVD section appealing to young viewers is not an easy task and it took a fair amount of creativity on the part of the Mr Magorium's team. Contrasting the brightness of the colours in the magic world against the grey and muted tones of the real world was key to bringing the film to life. Taking it one step further and establishing mood and genuine sentiment purely through the use of colour was inspired.

                          The toys which for the most part would be considered old fashioned today come to life through wonderfully choreographed movements. It was like watching the whole set dance. I won't even get into how wonderful the wall of stuffed animals was with top marks going to one sad little monkey in particular.

                          There were times when it felt as if there were too many things going on at once. I got worried I would miss something clever in the background as so much was happening independently of each other, but at the same time.

                          The soundtrack composed by the talented and successful Alexandre Desplat and Aaron Zigman was as enchanting as it needed to be. Their music offers a touch of imagination and fantasy and should please most film music fans. Like the film, the music takes us on a journey. It has a dreamy quality which adds the necessary whimsical tone to the film.

                          My final thoughts - what really counts
                          *******************************************
                          I have heard people compare this film unfavourably to Johnny Depp's Charlie and the Chocolate factory and I'm not entirely sure I understand why. The two are very different films. Mr Magorium's never tries to be the big spectacle piece that Charlie and the Chocolate factory was. It is a much more intimate film which as an audience member I felt connected with. There is a genuine fondness for the characters and the story and the warmth is infectious.

                          This is a wonderful film for dreamers and idealists like me. Give yourself over and get swept away with the magic.

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                          • Open Season (DVD) / DVD / 28 Readings / 25 Ratings
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                            21.11.2007 15:00
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                            Boog, the domesticated bear is forced to survive in the real world after years of pet pampering

                            Directors: Roger Allers and Jill
                            Voice Actors: Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Debra Messing, Gary Sinise, Billy Connolly
                            Cinema release date: October 2006
                            Genre: Animated/Comedy/Family
                            Classification: PG
                            Run Time: 86mins

                            Plotline
                            *********
                            Boog (?) is a grizzly bear who lives in domesticated bliss with park ranger Beth. Until that is, he helps a deer named Elliot (the latest victim of the local nasty hunter, Shaw) to freedom. Elliott, believing Boog is being held against his will as a pet and general circus attraction decides to return the favour and free him from his domestic chains into the wild.

                            A series of misunderstandings ensues and Beth, convinced Boog is reverting to life in the wild decides it is best if Boog returns to his natural habitat. Of course, the bear who sleeps with a teddy and drinks out of a dog's food dish is totally incapable of surviving the wild without some help.

                            Cue the hilarity and Boog and Elliot try to survive faced with the beginning of the hunting season looming over them.

                            Will the duo forgive and forget and be able to work together? Will they escape the threat of the blood-hungry hunters? Will the other forest animals turn on them? Will Boog be reunited with his beloved Beth?????Oh the questions!

                            Script
                            ********
                            I wasn't far into this film when I started questioning whether I had seen it before or not. I hadn't, but the formula of animated kids films has now become relatively standard and Open Season was nothing new.

                            The storyline was basic enough for kids to follow easily and there was the added modern day ethical dilemma thrown in for good measure. It was refreshing to see a film, which tackles society's general disrespect for other nature and wildlife and in particular, the ridiculous hobby of hunting. I would even go as far as to say, on this level, it was a brave move to confront what in the States is no doubt a "national pastime" and to paint hunting in a silly and negative manner.

                            Sadly, the writers then go and throw the good intentions out the window by having the bigger animals treat the smaller animals in exactly the same way as the hunters treat them. Although it did of course get many laughs, especially from the kids, I have to question how on one hand a film can condemn man for abusing their power and these animals, and then on the next, show the bigger animals using rabbits as animal bombs, hurling them at each other in a "rabbit fight". Surely, this just promotes the "bigger animals bullying the smaller/weaker/more stupid animals" idea.

                            The film, which for the most part consists of little more than insults being hurled around the campfire so to speak, picks up steam in the last 30 minutes or so but from the very beginning was entirely predictable and had a whiff of deja-vu to it. Witty one-liner insults may entertain for a while but an entire film script cannot be successful if put-downs are its only substance.

                            Voices/Characters
                            *********************
                            It is the current trend to employ big name stars to do the voices to animated films for the sole purpose of getting bums on seats in the cinema. The sad fact is, names may attract the attention but they can't carry a film.

                            There is no doubt Lawrence and Kutcher played off each others' characters well although I found Lawrence to be a bit overpowering at times, as if he kept forgetting he wasn't doing a one-man stand up show.

                            Debra Messing as Beth was unremarkable, but then, her character was wetter than a soggy dishtowel anyway. With that in mind I must concede, she played the part well.
                            There were however two characters that I enjoyed and thought were voiced well. Gary Sinise as the mean and moronic hunter was brilliantly cast. He was a sinister and rather disgusting creature and yet, his equal stupidity, lessened the threat enough to make him less terrifying to the kids watching.

                            My absolute favourite parts of the film came courtesy of our very own Billy Connolly who was cast as the sort of rebel leader McSquizzy. McSquizzy the squirrel leader was always ready for attack with nuts in hand (the film was littered with nut oriented inuendo). I could see McSquizzy in a Rangers football top with a Scottish flag tied around his neck leading a pack of football supporters down a busy road singing and chanting to keep spirits up as he goes. He was a brilliant character and for me, made this film that bit more bearable.


                            Cinematography
                            *******************
                            I haven't seen the 3-D version of this film but hear it is the features' one redeeming quality. Having merely rented the DVD, I can agree the animation is good, with care taken to not scrimp on the details. The detailed scenery certainly gave the film added depth.

                            The animals in particular were given a certain motion which made them come to life. Touches like seeing Boog's fur swishing in the breeze makes it easier to identify and sympathise with the characters. This I understand is down to a new tool Sony developed called shapers. This allowed animators to manipulate character models allowing for more subtlety and stronger poses and silhouettes.

                            However, when the animation is the only strong point of a film, you know its in trouble.

                            Soundtrack
                            **************
                            The soundtrack is a lively and fitting contribution by film composer Paul Westerberg. There are a few karaoke-style bits which are good for a laugh, but nothing that jumps out and grabs you.

                            My final thought
                            *******************
                            What a shame. If the storyline had been stronger, the script more adventurous, the characters stronger and the basic idea for the film better thought out, this could have been a fantastic film. Unfortunately, those are som pretty major hurdles to get over.

                            It isn't a horrible film and the kids will all the verbal abuse (the thing I disliked most) but there is nothing different here. Nothing sets it aside from the likes of other mediocre animated animal-themed films( like Madagascar). The days of animated films being a novelty are over and it is time producers stepped up to the plate to create more challenging and unique films for our kids to enjoy.


                            I bet you didn't know....
                            ****************************
                            1. Ashton Kutcher and Martin Lawrence never met during the making of the film.

                            2. Only Roger Allers, of all the directors involved in this project, had experience working on feature films.

                            3. The glory of advertising has touched this film - all mobiles featured are Sony Ericssons.

                            4. This film opened in the top spot bringing in circa £11m

                            5. This was Sony's first feature from their animation department.

                            6. The film took a staggering three and a half years to make

                            7. Boog's fur is comprised of over 1.6 million hairs and Elliot, the substantially smaller of the two has 3.5million (shorter hair means more is needed to cover the poor naked deer.

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                            • Ratatouille (DVD) / DVD / 33 Readings / 27 Ratings
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                              15.11.2007 16:57
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                              The latest animated Feature film from Disney Pixar

                              For what seems like months, I have been waiting for the much anticipated Ratatouille. My son, in between claims that rock stardom beckons, he has consistently held the slightly unusual childhood career goal of being a chef. He often helps me make dinner and this summer he made his very own apple pie from scratch (He even picked the apples!) so you never know – he might be the Marco Pierre White in a few years time! Because of this burning passion of his, he was understandably keen to see Ratatouille as well. After all, if a rat can do it surely it shouldn’t be to difficult for a three year old…

                              Directors: Brad Bird (also writer) and Jan Pinkava
                              Voices: Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano, Peter O’Toole, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garotalo
                              Production Team: Disney Pixar Animation Studios
                              Genre: Family/Comedy/Animation
                              UK Release date: 12th October 2007
                              Classification:
                              Run Time: 1hr, 50mins

                              Summary:
                              >>>>>>>
                              Remy, living somewhere on the outskirts of Paris with his pack-leader father Django and the rest of his family knew he was different. While his friends gorged themselves on rotten vegetables and unidentifiable ingredients from the dustbin, Remy watched cookery tv shows through windows and stole spices and herbs from kitchens to create culinary delights. His talent for sniffing out ingredients in food, saw him landed with the job of chief food sniffer after he saved his friend from eating rat poison, but Remy dreamt of bigger things.

                              However, when disaster strikes and Remy is separated from his family in the sewers, he finds himself in Paris, outside the restaurant of his hero, the Late, Great Auguste Gusteau.

                              The restaurant, now run by the scheming Skinner hires a new hapless skivvy called Linguini who, although he fancies himself as a Chef, is in fact a nightmare in the kitchen. However, with Remy’s help, could Linguini be destined for greatness? Does he hold a secret that could save Gusteau’s from the clutches of the nasty Skinner? Will they impress the notoriously difficult food critic Anton Ego? Will Remy ever see his family again and will he ever get the recognition he craves for creating culinary masterpieces?

                              Directors:
                              >>>>>>>
                              Brad Bird, who has made his name through animation took over two thirds of the way through pre-production of Ratatouille, replacing Czechoslovakian Jan Pinkava. Both directors claim it was an amicable parting

                              Bird has trained as an animator since the age of 14 including a stint working for animation legends Disney. He has directed a number of well-known animated features, most notably, The Incredibles, which won him an Oscar as did Gerri’s Game, which he not only directed but also wrote. He has also earned critical acclaim from his directing and writing work on the award-winning TV show, The Simpsons.


                              Did the story/script work?
                              >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
                              The thing that made this script work was its utter simplicity. They took a ludicrous idea, but made the ridiculousness almost unrecognizable. Unlike many animated films, Ratatouille didn’t have loads of whacky, out there in your face humour. It wasn’t about slap-stick and easy laughs. Instead, it had a gentle feel reminiscent of early Disney Films with a twist of the continental class thrown in. The writers took their time getting to the punch line and as a result I found myself enjoying the intricate details that supported the eventual punch line.

                              As a film, I thought Ratatouille was refreshingly intelligent. The writers didn’t pander to the audience or undermine our ability to appreciate true wit instead of burping and farting jokes all the way through. Instead, the script helped to take us on a journey along with Remy; to feel like anything is possible, to get caught up in the dreaminess of Paris and to believe that even a Rat deserves a chance.

                              Were the characters/voice-overs good?
                              >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
                              Oddly for animated features of recent years, Ratatouille is not jam-packed with your expected famous voices recruited to pull in the crowds. Instead, the voices are done by experienced and talented, though not as well known actors. This is a real treat as I often find the instantly recognizable voices of bigger names can distract from the film.

                              Remy, played by comedian Patton Oswalt is a lovable rogue of a rat with a passion and drive we all would like to have. As a lead character he was instantly likeable, even for a rat. I loved the human aspects that Remy was given, like washing his hands and walking on his hind legs.

                              Auguste Geusteau, the round, jolly and intense ghost of the one-time chef was a thing of genius. He acts as more of a spiritual guide to Remy than a mentoring Chef. He is the stereotypical French Chef, oozing with passion and vibrancy and just a joy to watch.

                              My favourite of all the characters is the wonderful anti-hero Anton Ego the nasty food critic played brilliantly by Peter O’Toole. I could quite easily close my eyes and just listen to Peter’s menacing voice and be able to conjeur up a visual image of the bitter, shriveled up little man that he has created.

                              The other villain, the vertically challenged Skinner is played well by Ian Holm. A pesky little man with ideas above his station, Skinner has no scruples and is often blind with a total distaste for anything that keeps him from reaching his money-grubbing goal.

                              Both Linguini, played by Lou Romano and his love interest Collette voiced by Janeane Garotalo were also great however, they perhaps didn’t stand out quite as much simply because their characters were not as strong as the others – they were quire normal in comparison and people don’t go to the cinema for just normal!

                              Was the Cinematography up to scratch?
                              >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
                              Pixar took great care to give this film an ambiance. There was n almost instant feel of being a part of the Paris nights. The set, much like Paris was almost ageless. At times this modern day film appeared to slip back into the 40’s or 50’s adding a magical edge to it reminiscent of one of the old black and white films.

                              Much more emphasis was put on achieving a sentiment conducive to fine dining in Paris than it was on special effects. As a result we were given a film which is much more reachable and easier to identify with.

                              I was particularly taken by the details, particularly how every time Anton Ego entered a room, the lights dimmed around him casting angry shadows across an already terrifying face as if his very presence may suck the life right out of you.

                              Some of the choreography of the scenes, was like watching a ballet – truly breath-taking. My favourite scene of the entire film was when Remy and Anton first discover a way of working together and they practice into the night. What ensures is a perfectly choreographed marionette style dance which just happens to result in dinner. It was brilliantly funny and fantastically timed.

                              The necessity of strong choreography is highlighted by the fact that for much of the film, the witty Remy doesn’t speak at all. To make his character and partnership with Linguini shine without verbal communication is quite a feat and they pull it off well.

                              What about the music?
                              >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
                              I imagine, musical director Michael Giacchino must have had a field day with this soundtrack. With Ratatouille, he had an opportunity to inject some humour and spice into the music, something I doubt he had much freedom to do creating the music for TV hits Lost and Alias.

                              All the music is quite dramatic to match the mood of some of the characters in the film and much of it is very tongue in cheek. Take for example the over the top cheesy French National Anthem with which the film opens.

                              The musical score almost tells a story on its own concluding in the most awe-inspiring crescendo of instrumental splendor at the end.

                              My final verdict
                              >>>>>>>>>>>
                              Ratatouille was a nice breath of fresh air compared to some of the more recent animated films. It was very much its own film and didn’t remind me of anything I have already seen. It was funny, endearing and sentimental, and anyone who has seen inside a commercial kitchen knows there is more than enough action to keep the wee ones entertained! Pixar has redeemed following Cars which I found to be an hour and a half of nothing more than merchandising material. This is what kids films should be like – Fun, Gentle, Magical and Inspirational. Now go get your tickets!

                              I bet you didn’t know…
                              >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
                              -Director Brad Bird was the voice of Edna E Mode in The Invisibles

                              -9 handmade clay Remy’s were created for the film.

                              -In an effort to recreate the a perfectly someone dressed in a chef’s suit was thrown in a swimming pool to gauage where certain creases and damp patches would appear.

                              -A mime appears in a street scene – it’s actually Bomb Voyag" from The Incredibles

                              -Linguini has the Incredibles logo on his boxer-shorts!

                              -The room that Anton Ego writes his review in is shaped like a coffin

                              -Remy has 1.15 million hairs rendered. An average person has about 110,000 hairs.

                              -The character Skinner was named after behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner, who created the Skinner Box, where rats were placed and trained to push a button for food.

                              -The window shop displaying dead rats actually exists. It is an exterminator which has been in business for more than 130 years.

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                              • Listerine Original / Oral Care / 33 Readings / 30 Ratings
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                                05.11.2007 16:44
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                                An effective but deadly mouthwash to fight plaque and kill germs

                                Listerine and me – our haunted history
                                ************************************************
                                Even now, at the age of 31 years old with a family of my own, I still wake up screaming in the middle of the night, drenched in a cold sweat as the memories of my childhood. I can remember, as if it was yesterday, standing, shivering in my nightie in front of the bathroom mirror, being taunted by the inconspicuous bottle of mouthwash perched on the shelf in front of me.

                                I can almost hear it’s maniacal laughter now as my mother or father would shout in to me from the other side of the wall “Don’t forget to use the Listerine!”. I can feel my nose start to twitch and my taste buds recoil in fear as I lift the capful of mouthwash towards my mouth. My throat closes up and my stomach twists into unhealthy knots as I dare to place the cap to my lips.

                                “On the count of three. One…Two…Two and a quarter….”. Eventually, Three would arrive and with eyes closed and nose plugged I would tilt my head back violently, reluctantly allowing the horrendous fluid to flow into my mouth swigging it around between my cheeks trying not to inhale the noxious aroma more than was absolutely necessary.

                                Then of course, there was the cold burn that set in once you had expelled the Listerine from your body; spitting the gargled devil juice into the unsuspecting sink below you; The desperation with which you grabbed for the pre-prepared glass of water; The stars you see from behind your closed eyelids as you try to block out the taste, the horrible, horrible taste.

                                Ugghh. There’s that shudder down my spine again.

                                So why, having long-since escaped the mouthwash obsessed chains of my parents, do I now have a bottle Listerine (albeit a newer, less frightening flavour) standing proudly next to my sink at all times? Because it works.

                                Who’s responsible for this torture and how did his evil little mind come up with it?
                                ********************************************An American (figures!) inventor named Jordan Lambert first developed Listerine in 1879 (and I am fairly certain, the taste hasn’t changed since then). 15 years later, named after the pioneer of antiseptic surgery, Dr Joseph Lister, it was being used by dentists as an effective way of fighting off bacteria What made matters even worse, is that Lambert, roped in his family as co-conspirators and together with his son Gerald, began pushing it on the unsuspecting public in 1914. The poor suckers never knew what hit ‘em. From that point on Listerine was established as one of America’s most popular hygiene and personal care brands.

                                What does it do and does it outweigh the horrific crimes against humanity?
                                ********************************************
                                I will give Listerine its dues. It has stayed popular for all these years because of it’s unrivaled ability to reduce plaque buildup, reduce the risk of gingivitis and other gum diseases and offer 24 hour protection against those nasty germs we are always hearing so much about.

                                I can argue until the dogs come home, but the simple fact of the matter is, that after more than 100 years experience, endless research studies and plain old ‘The proof is in the pudding’ way of thinking, Listerine is top of the class as far as dental hygiene and antiseptic mouthwash goes.

                                As Listerine Antiseptic was awarded the American Dental Association Seal of Approval, we finally have proof that anything good for you, tastes bad! The ADA is recognized for having the highest standards in dentistry across the world.

                                What pleasures await your tastebuds
                                ******************************
                                Unless you are going to wash the Listerine down with a Caramel Cheesecake, there is no pleasure to be had in it’s use except for the knowledge that your mouth is germ free and healthy. If the initial taste, akin to rubbing alcohol isn’t enough to put you off, the lingering taste not unlike that gained from licking your cats’ dirty litter tray, should do the trick. To top it all off, the taste does not go away, no matter how hard you try (and trust me, I have tried). It hovers just above the tongue, smacking it routinely with the reminder of the bitterness you would expect to find after sucking a 98-year old’s toe for too long.

                                A scent of roses or wet mouldy armpits?
                                ********************************
                                I struggle to describe the smell of Listerine except to say, it smells no better than it tastes. I imagine, that if you were in the hospital for a long period of time, you may compare the smell to a newly sanitized bed pan. It is a very medical and sterilized smell and from its smell alone, I wouldn’t be surprised if it doubled as a reliable paint thinner. No wonder Listerine is number one at fighting plaque build up - The little blighters smell it coming and jump ship!

                                Are they all as terrifying?
                                ****************************
                                Luckily, Listerine has moved with the times and it’s product range has slowly begun to evolve. It now includes some relatively palatable antiseptic mouthwashes that clean well and keep you from banging your head against the wall until you slump into unconsciousness.

                                I use Cool Mint as the after taste isn’t as bitter or long lasting. There is also Fresh Burst, Vanilla Mint and Natural Citrus (Who are Listerine kidding? This is like watermelon flavoured chewing gum – completely unnatural) Of course, big hard men stick with Original…. Until you run crying from the bathroom like a bunch of blubbering babies!

                                Retail information – if you are still remotely interested.
                                ********************************************
                                Listerine is lurking smugly on the shelves of every self-respecting chemist and supermarket. Boots… Superdrug… Semi-chem… Asda’s… Sainsbury’s… Tesco’s… they’re all guilty!

                                Most bottles come in a standard 500ml bottle, although there is a 750ml bottle available for the truly sadistic amongst you. The label is simple with the brand in bold black letters across the front. For 500ml you can expect to pay approximately £2.45 for the experience although, keep an eye on Boots as they are sneaky and tend to put it on a 2for1 deal quite often.

                                Who shouldn’t use Listerine Anticeptic Original Mouthwash – Lucky bums!
                                *************************************
                                I was surprised at the amount of people Listerine doesn’t cater for but it is clear there are a lucky assortment of people for whom Listerine isn’t suitable. If you don’t belong to one of these categories already, I suggest you reconsider your stance – quickly!

                                Vegetarians – contains cochineal extract
                                Alcoholics – at 26.9% alcohol it’s a risk but the unbearable aftertaste could be enough to make it the last time you touch alcohol!
                                Jews/ Muslims – It isn’t Kosher/Halal so strict followers of this dietary practice should steer clear.
                                Pre-pubescent children – great as a threat if you want your kids to stop growing up too fast
                                Diabetics – Well, they can use it but not without checking with their doctors first.

                                Is it worth it?
                                **************
                                Today, we are faced with so many choices and mouthwash is no different. Why suffer the agony of Listerine Original when some of the other more subtle flavours promise to do the same job just as well? Listerine has been doing the trick for over 100 years so who am I to fault it now? It may be true that it has been killing germs for more than a century, but it has also been killing tastebuds across the globe for as long. Listerine may be the brand of choice, and as a user myself I stand behind this household name. I don not, however, condone the continued use of this liquid sandpaper in a bottle! Ditch the original and delve into the world of more acceptable Listerine flavours!

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                                • The Grinch (DVD) / DVD / 25 Readings / 21 Ratings
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                                  31.10.2007 11:27
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                                  One miserable creature plts to ruin Christmas forever for the town of Whoville

                                  Director: Ron Howard
                                  Actors: Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Anthony Hopkins
                                  Cinema release date: 1st December 2000
                                  Genre: Children’s Fantasy/Comedy
                                  Classification: PG
                                  Run Time:1hr and 34mins
                                  DVD RRP: £14.99 Amazon: £4.97
                                  Availability: HMV, Virgin, WHSmith, Woolworths… you name it, they have got it

                                  What is it all about?
                                  *********************
                                  Based on the world-famous Dr Seuss children’s book, How the Grinch stole Christmas tells the story of a little magical town called Whoville which is home to the Who’s, an absurdly happy bunch of people.

                                  The Who’s adore Christmas and are busily getting ready for the holidays when the film opens. What they don’t know is the nasty Grinch, who despises Christmas, lives at the top of a mountain just outside Whoville, and is plotting evil ways of ruining their holiday.

                                  But the Grinch hadn’t counted on little Cindy Lou Who. Cindy, who is a little bit more reserved about Christmas than other Who’s takes it upon herself to try to convince him to join the festivities where the town has reluctantly agreed to present him with an award.

                                  Will the Grinch be turned? Will he live happily every after amongst the Who’s? Will he learn to love Christmas and the festive celebrations? Or will he reek havoc on the town that humiliated him when he was young in the name of revenge?

                                  Who is Ron Howard?
                                  *****************************
                                  You would be hard pressed to not know who Ron Howard is, and not just because of his long-running stint as Richie Cunningham on Happy Days.
                                  Ron was introduced to the Hollywood world of film and tv when he was only 18 months old and has not been away from it since. Howard made a massive and difficult transition from fresh-faced child actor to adult director although he did continue acting for some time.

                                  Having spent two years at the University of Southern California in a film programme Howard got the chance to direct (and write) his first film, Grand Theft Auto in 1977. The film was a success and he hasn’t looked back since. With critically acclaimed films like Da Vinci Code, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13 and EDtv under his belt, Howard has understandably been ranked as number 27 on last year’s Premiere Power top 50 list.

                                  How was the story/script?
                                  ******************************
                                  When you start with a story written by Dr Seuss, all you should need is pure imagination to make the script sparkle on screen. Well, you would think.

                                  Sadly, the writers of the film decided they could do better than the good Doctor and decided to elaborate on the classic story. In an effort to turn a small children’s storybook into a feature length film, they elected to delve into the Grinch’s background and history. Unfortunately, in doing so they have taken all the mystery out of him, leaving nothing to the imagination. Dr Seuss explained that his hatred for the holidays was due to his heart being two sizes to small and that is all we needed to know. To try to explain DR Seuss’s work is as impossible as it is to predict the winning lottery numbers.

                                  I was let down by the fact that the film seemed hell-bent on endearing the viewer to the miserable green creature, but if so, the point has been entirely missed. The Grinch is not supposed to be likeable –He hates Christmas for goodness sake!

                                  They added insult to injury when they decided to ‘update’ things a bit by giving The Grinch (wait for it) a love interest. This makes very little if any sense at all and has no place in this revised classic kids tale.

                                  How were the characters/Acting?
                                  ************************
                                  The acting, as you would imagine was completely over the top, as it should have been considering how over the top everything else is in the story.

                                  Jim Carrey, although not the first choice for the part was a natural choice as the Grinch. His ability to use his body and face for comedy is what makes him so watchable, hilarious and entertaining. Carrey’s performance was what saved this film although, his constant jumping about grew slightly exhausting by the end.

                                  Taylor Momsen, in her first starring role was a pleasure to watch. Unlike many young actresses, she didn’t ooze saccharine sweetness which puts you off your popcorn. Instead, she presented as a pretty thoughtful, bright little girl with more sense in her little finger than the entire town of Whoville put together. She of course has been steadily busy since How the Grinch Stole Christmas and I expect we will see her shine in front of the cameras again soon.

                                  Bill Irwin played Cindy Lou Who’s father and although he didn’t have too much opportunity to really take off, he was the only really likeable character in the film.

                                  Jeffery Tambor plays a convincing bumbling boob as mayor Agustus May Who and Christina Barnski looked right at home as the town tart (in a PG kids film kind of way)Martha May Who.

                                  Let me not forget the narration. Anthony Hopkins could lull me to sleep with the days football results and I would be happy. He was the perfect choice and with his gentle slow tone he was in marked contrast from the frenzy of activity of the rest of the film.

                                  How was the cinematography?
                                  ***********************************
                                  Considering this film cost $125 million to make, it should be remarkable in at least one way and it is. The elaborately, bright sugary sweet set was fantastic. The lavish detail of every aspect of the town of Whoville was outstanding, creating a real fairytale setting with a huge, giant Dr Seuss style dollop of weirdness thrown in for good measure. Nothing was in proportion – everything was oversized and appeared rounder, fluffier, twinklier, and more exaggerated

                                  The costumes, of which I am sure the majority of the films budget was spent on were equally well done. I am fairly confident that ‘s obscenely short skirt of Martha May Who didn’t actually twitch let alone move once. The costumes went a long way to recreating the silliness and nonsense of Dr Seuss. Stories.

                                  Did the Music Make you want to Shake your toosh?
                                  ****************************************
                                  It was clear that Ron Howard was keen to get away from the stereotypical Christmas themed music. As a father himself, I can only assume he has had to endure endless renditions of Deck the Halls over the years.

                                  Also, as nothing else about the film was typical, it would have been odd to go down the traditional route.

                                  In the end, a number of famous names were roped in to contribute to the soundtrack including a Christmas Rap performed by Busta Rhymes and Jim Carrey and a solo performance by Faith Hill. By far, the best contribution was Green Christmas performed by the wonderful and under-rated Canadian band, Barenaked Ladies.

                                  Final Thoughts…
                                  ********************
                                  This film was a flop in my house. I had high hopes for something witty and fresh from Ron Howard and was disappointed by the lack-lustre remake of an old favourite. This is a perfect example of the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

                                  Instead of celebrating the story’s originality it was mis-interpreted into an unrecognizable mess held together only by Jim Carrey’s distracting and physical comedy.

                                  I bet you didn’t know…
                                  **************************
                                  1. Anthony Hopkins recorded all the narration for the movie in one day.

                                  2. The prosthetic make-up Jim Carrey wore took 3 hours to apply. Carrey felt so horribly confined and uncomfortable in the latex skin he needed counseling from a Navy SEAL who taught him torture-resistance techniques.

                                  3. One morning, director Ron Howard came in at 3:30 to put on the Grinch suit with full make-up and directed the entire day with the suit on.

                                  4. All 250 jumpers featured in the film were hand-knitted by Seuss Cousins, an L.A. based sweater designer

                                  5. Director Ron Howard makes a cameo appearance as a startled Who in City square

                                  6. It was the top-selling movie of 2000, selling 50 million cinema tickets

                                  7. Both Eddie Murphy and Jack Nicholson were considered for the part of the Grinch before Jim Carrey was given the part.

                                  8. For a while, Tim Burton was considering to direct, but could not due to a conflict with another movie

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