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bilbob20

bilbob20
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      20.12.2012 16:05
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      A classy and fitting tribute to 25 years as the reigning pop princess. Here's to another 25!

      Over the past 12 months, Kylie Minogue has been doling out free gifts from avatars to video clips to her fans, in the name of celebrating her 25th anniversary in music. It has been slightly longer since Kylie became a tv star in her native Australia, but here in the UK its been 25 years to the month since fans took her Neighbours character "Charlene" to their hearts and her hit song "I Should Be So Lucky" to number 1. A couple of the tracks on this album have already been heard by fans who tweeted frantically back at the beginning of the year as Kylie unleashed an assortment of freebies through twitter and her own website on the 25th of each month. So 12 months in, and with a treat now being revealed through a Kylie-esque advent calendar each day of December, the Abbey Road sessions finally finds its way on to the store shelves.

      Kylie's 25 years in music has been a surprising, eventful and bewildering one. She has gone from her early bubblegum days to reinvent herself as a disco dolly, indie chic, writers muse, and futuristic barbarella to her current guise as one of pop's most mature glamour girls. Rumours of botox and surgical enhancements dim in comparison to her love-in with the world's media who seem to have adopted her as some kind of barometer of the standards that every female pop idol should aim to achieve. Her voice has never been her strongest asset, and in turn, rarely merits a mention in most of what is written about her. Yet, she's had over 50 Top 40 hits, 14 Top 10 albums (if you count this album's recent debut at number 2), and 10 sell out tours in her career, so its anybody's guess why Kylie's music is yet to prove itself to anybody outwith her enduring fanbase.

      Abbey Road sessions takes 15 Kylie classics and reworks them into a variance of torch song melodrama, country-flavoured balladry and dramatic orchestral swirl. Here lies an assortment of the best Bond songs that never were, paired with some of the most melancholy takes on pop records you'll hear all year. Did you ever know that Kylie's 1989 hit Never Too Late, where she dressed up as a cowgirl and bounced around on an invisible toy horse, would turn into one of the most touching ballads she has ever recorded. That comes quite late into the album though, long after I Should Be So Lucky and Better The Devil You Know get a similar re-awakening. Devil is a hard one to re-invent, given its iconic status among her fans, whereas Lucky needs all the help it can get.

      Other successful reworkings from the earlier days include Hand On Your Heart, a light summery track that borrows from Jose Gonzales cover version of the song a few years ago. The song wouldn't be the most obvious of songs to cover, but Gonzales did a great job, and Kylie honours that here. Locomotion is given a fun 60s swirl, taking the song away from the mechanical sound of PWL's hit factory version, and straight back to its Motown-esque routes. The best of the early tracks though is the utterly gorgeous Finer Feelings, which leans heavily on the orchestra to bring it back to life, and based on the Brothers in Rhythm remix that originally paired Kylie with her long-time collaborator Steve Anderson.

      If the early material gets the most out of these reworkings, its entirely less necessary to hear a new version of her Nick Cave duet Where The Wild Roses Grow. It's a welcome addition to the album, but doesn't really add anything new to the pot. Vocally, she seems more haunting in this version, but Cave sounds more benevolent than he did on the 1995 hit. Confide In Me is a song that never ever tires of Kylie's endless reworkings. We've heard it as backdrop to a ballet, an electro dance track, a big dramatic ballad and in this new version, where it takes the song right back to its edgier origins.

      Of course, not everything comes out of the mixer in one piece. Cant Get You Out Of My Head suffers greatly from a hamfisted orchestral reworking that doesn't really work without the earworm backing of the original track, Slow is miserable and lifeless and I Believe In You is the greatest Christmas cheesefest ever to grace a Kylie Minogue album. However, not everything from her modern catalogue loses its sparkle with these new arrangements. On A Night Like This is the classy big Bond-style number htat oozes sex appeal whilst proving that a reworking can be everybit as good as the brilliant original, All The Lovers kickstarts the album on an upbeat note and Love At First Sight its taken down a notch or two to deliver a nice breezy number that will stand up for the album in warmer climates.

      The rest of the album consists of the much-sought after Flower, which finally gets an official release after Kylie performed in on her X2008 tour and Come Into My World which is dressed up in similar balladry as the earlier PWL material. As a collection, the album suffers slightly from the downbeat arrangements, but does emphasise a voice that has bubbled under an abundance of production values over the years. I've said it in every Kylie review I might have done. The girl can sing. She's no Judy Garland or Celine Dion. What she offers though is a subtle take on songs that previously bounced infectiously. Lyrically, the most personal of the songs is new song Flower, which touches on the subject of her possible inability to have children. It's a beautiful ballad that proves that Kylie doesn't just do pop well. She does nearly everything she touches well.

      Lyrically and vocally, these songs have been given new life, as if they've been allowed to simmer to life over a long period of time. Songs that used to be infectious current fluff have now become timeless ballads that will still sound as good in ten years time. Kylie has long since proven that she can do this style of music in concert, but until now, they have alluded her on record. This cements her status as a pop icon, whilst not alienating the public or her fans, and celebrates her 25th year in music in a classy and unaffected way. This is a woman who can do sexy without being smutty, fashionable without being tacky, and classy music that doesn't have to prove how relevant she is. None of these versions will catapult her to the top of the singles charts, or be heard blasting out at nighclubs or car speakers. Instead, it gives her another feather in her cap, ensuring that she can go on for another 25 years without shaming herself or her fans.

      Tracklist

      ALL THE LOVERS
      ON A NIGHT LIKE THIS
      BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW
      HAND ON YOUR HEART
      I BELIEVE IN YOU
      COME INTO MY WORLD
      FINER FEELINGS
      CONFIDE IN ME
      SLOW
      THE LOCO-MOTION
      CANT GET YOU OUT OF MY HEAD
      WHERE THE WILD ROSES GROW
      FLOWER
      I SHOULD BE SO LUCKY
      LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
      NEVER TOO LATE

      The album is available in a single disc format and in a special edition booklet.

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    • Along Came a Spider (DVD) / DVD / 23 Readings / 22 Ratings
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      11.12.2012 22:14
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      An excellently adapted crime thriller that pulls no punches

      In light of the recent car crash of a movie "Alex Cross", I thought I'd go back and revisit the second of the three Cross films. Whilst this is a sequel, it actually came before the original film "Kiss The Girls" in James Patterson's original series of books. Thankfully, the film never addresses the timeline, and carries no excess from the previous less thrilling film. Therefore, it makes not a bit of difference to the plot or the character of Alex who is nursing a great hangover from the death of his partner in the opening section of this film.

      Alex Cross' somewhat tortured retirement is brought to an abrupt end when he is pulled into the investigation of a missing child. The girl, Megan, is the daughter of the US Senator, and has been kidnapped by a mad man posing as her genial school teacher. Teaming up with an ambitious FBI agent, Cross becomes the main communication portal between the kidnapper and a team of specialists drafted in to ensure the safe return of Megan. As more clues are hand delivered to him, though, it appears that the kidnapper's motives are more about notoriety than financial.

      Cross finds himself in further danger though, when the kidnapper apparently contacts him and makes his demands. He, and his special agent sidekick, attempt to make the drop in exchange for the girl, but soon find that the demands might not be coming solely from the man who holds the girl hostage. Cross soon finds himself in a web of deceit that endangers himself, everybody around him, and infuriates the kidnapper whose sole purpose is to be recognised for a copycat crime nearly a hundred years old.

      Lee Tamahori's fast paced film slices off the fat of James Patterson's patchy novel, making this a much swifter and action packed thriller. A whole last act is sliced off in favour of wrapping the finale up in a neat and thrilling box. The action sequences are deftly handled, yet never compromise the integrity of this believable crime thriller that puts the development of its characters and plot first. There are moments of disbelief, and you'll be hard pressed not to find the creepy revelation about Megan's teacher a little far fetched.

      Morgan Freeman is delightful as always. He is an actor who rarely fails to impress, regardless of how good or how poor the material is. There is something reverential about him, whether he is playing the con next door in The Shawshank Redemption, or the President of America in Deep Impact (Obama, the first black president? Not in the fictional world of Hollywood.), and even in this film where he is knee deep in guilt and cornered off from the world, he still takes command of the screen.

      There are few actors who ooze creepiness in quite the same way as Michael Wincott. With and without the weird prosthetics, there is something vaguely, then ultimately sinister about him. To an unknowing eye, as many of the characters initially are, he is a gentle intelligent man with a soft voice and unremarkable appearance. Stripped off his earlier incarnation, his powerful jaw-line, soulless eyes and still soft voice make him the most malevolent type of monster you can commit to this type of movie.

      Other performances are less notable, especially Monica Potter, who has a big part to play. Thankfully, she is in the realm of giant's, and goes relatively unnoticed in her wooden one note performance. Her lacklustre performance is a tiny kink in the armour of a film that is solid, relentlessly paced, and excellently scripted. Patterson's source material is a riveting read, if a little wearing, and its nice that this film captures the essence of that without feeling the need to recite the whole sordid lengthy tale verbatim.

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      • Dark Shadows (DVD) / DVD / 44 Readings / 40 Ratings
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        05.10.2012 16:02
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        A strangely entertaining film that could have been better if its supporting actors had been used.

        With the news that this is Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's eighth film collaboration, one can't help but wonder if Burton lives in a bubble where only Depp and Helena Bonham Carter exist, with occasional peek-in's from other artists. The Depp/Burton/Carter team is fast running out of steam, whilst potential fans of their colourful, but increasingly vacuous material might be fast running out of patience.

        Dark Shadows is based on a tv series of the same name from the 1960's. Opening 200 years earlier, we meet Barnabus Collins, who is transformed into a vampire by a jealous witch and buried un-dead. Fast forward to 1972, and we catch up with the Collins family who is headed up with stuffy matriarch Elizabeth, who rules over her feckless brother Roger, their small brood of kids, a drunken psychiatrist and a loopy caretaker. When Barnabus is dug up by some hapless workers, he returns to his former home to rule the family and save the ruins of his home from the clutches of the evil witch who was responsible for his 200 year incarceration.

        The problem with this film is the same problem with all of Burton's films. He seems to have a couple of central idea's and seems to revert back to them with almost every film. There's no doubt that he is accomplished as a director and that he works well with his dynamic duo, but must we have Depp in every film. It's getting to a point where we can almost predict Depp's every tic and movement. Soon, we'll be able to mimic his reactions before he even does them himself. Depp should get back out there and focus on being an actor that appeals to the masses rather than a weird dummy for his ventriloquist director.

        Meanwhile, other actors, including Carter, are underused and thrown to the side to allow Depp full use of his stage. Michelle Pfeiffer, who I admire greatly, shows potential early on in the film, but is soon forced left-stage. For the grand old age of 54, she's looking good though, and we dont see enough of her on the big screen these days. Jackie Earl Haley is also a hoot to watch, although he looks more dead than Depp does. Everywhere else, the characters and actors appear to be having more fun than the viewer.

        There's nothing essentially wrong with the story itself. It's clear and concise enough, it just seems very run of the mill. Burton does a great job with the asthetics, and he certainly seems to have a great relationship with the actors he works with, but it would be just nice to see him change gear or find a film that didn't seem like some weird social commentary with a white face and leather trouser fetish. Putting the fact that this is a barrel of recycled idea's with recycled actors, the film is entertaining and loyal enough to its source material, so if you're not too bothered by the fact that we've seen it all before, then you might get a kick out of some of the humour and off-the-wall characters.

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        12.09.2012 13:24
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        A decent and scary final season that should have had more to follow

        After the hugely disappointing "jump the shark" moment in the previous year of Ghost Whisperer, where a character was resurrected by jumping into another body, I had lost interest in this show. However, a recent episode switched me back on and I've just completed this recently purchased final season.

        It's fairly obvious that Season 5 was not intended to be the last of this show, hence no emotional fairwell ala Medium, or the recently departed Desperate Housewives. Instead, its business as usual for Melinda Gordon, as she continues to battle with the will of the dark side and some nuisance ghosts who just need directed into the light. This is never an easy task though as many have unfinished business, and need Melinda's assistance in resolving issues with loved ones, or seeking forgiveness from those who have been hurt by them.

        The series takes off five years after the previous year ended, with Melinda's son Aiden now five years old, and moving to the forefront of the plotlines. Aiden has the same gift as Melinda, although finds himself caught in the middle of a conflict between a set of ghost children who protect the light and a group of shadows that are made up of the left over bits of the dead. Throughout the year, Melinda finds herself and her son in more danger as the shadows get stronger and threaten to take over. In the end, she has to make a choice between the safety of her family or whether to protect her and her son's gift for the sake of good.

        Melinda has assistance from Eli, who has his own personal grief in this series, Ned, who is studying the occult at university, Delia, her best friend who seems to find the increasing dangers of ghost whispering too dangerous to be involved in, and a watcher named Carl who haunts the other side and who might or might not be in cohoots with the shadows. Although Melinda's group of researchers start to make the show look a bit like an episode of Scooby Doo, they each have their own purpose and therefore are a valuable addition to the cast.

        There are various continuity issues in this series, not least that plots are abandoned for entire episodes and then brought back to the forefront a little later. This made it more difficult than normal to follow, although it was an intriguing way to unfold the plotlines of the series. It also felt that various small elements of those plotlines remained unresolved. I would rather the show have just carried on each episode from the previous episode without losing strands.

        Jennifer Love Hewitt is back for her final stint as Melinda, and cries and weeps on command. She does look a tiny bit bored by the whole thing though, and barely gets to do anything different until the final couple of episodes where her character has a bit of a personality overhaul. David Conrad continues his stint as Jim Gordon, or Sam Lucas as he is now known in a still-bizarre twist to the show. I really like Camryn Menheim, who actually steals many of the scene's that she is in, and Jamie Kennedy who provides solid support as a ghost whisperer who only hears rather than see's.

        The episodes on the discs are:

        BIRTHDAY PRESENCE / SEE NO EVIL / TILL DEATH DO US START / DO OVER / CAUSE FOR ALARM / HEAD OVER HEALS / DEVILS BARGAIN / DEAD LISTING / LOST IN THE SHADOWS / EXCESSIVE FORCES / DEAD AIR / BLESSINGS IN DISGUISE / LIVING NIGHTMARE / DEAD TO ME / IMPLOSION / OLD SINS CAST LONG SHADOWS / ON THIN ICE / DEAD EYE / LETHAL COMBINATION / BLOOD MONEY / DEAD RINGER / THE CHILDRENS PARADE.

        My biggest gripe with this season, which is decidedly darker than previous runs, is that it pretty much leaves us in the middle of Melinda's life. There's no resolution or suggestion that it has come to an end. The final episode feels like the final episode of a show that has another four years to run. This is nobody's fault though as the decision to cancel came after the show had aired, although talk of another network picking it up a few months later also feel through. I feel that I should set up a facebook page to bring it back.

        You can buy this DVD set on amazon.co.uk for £12 NEW!

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        • Apple iPhone 3G 16 GB / Smartphone / 52 Readings / 49 Ratings
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          04.09.2012 15:57
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          Apple may have the biggest bite of the market, but i'm hoping somebody comes along and ousts them

          Apple's I phone brand has me in a bit of a quandry. I want to love it for the way that it packs everything you need to organise your life into one neat accessory, but I want to loathe it for the way that Apple want to monopolise the market and refuse to loosen their stranglehold on the products to allow you a more versatile experience. I upgraded from the superb xperia x10 mini last year, and I'm sorry I did. I loved that little phone as it allowed me to do everything I needed to do. I phone promised the same, but would also incorporate my wealth of I-tunes material which would save me carrying about a phone and an ipod. Why not roll both into the one?

          I phone 3G was originally rolled out back in 2008, and has subsequently been replaced by the 3GS, and then the 4G. It isn't unexpected that the subsequent models would be more advanced and carry more weight with it's users. However, the fact that there are so many 3G users still around, it seems somewhat frustrating and downright inconsiderate of Apple to have left 3G behind with its updates. The fact that you cant get the latest runner on this model means that you are now unable to enjoy many of the newer apps that are available from apple. This wouldn't be much of a problem if you are entitled to upgrades now and then with your contract, but I prefer pay and go as I dont use the mobile much for calls or texts.

          My favourite thing about the I phone is the ipod. You can cram plenty of songs onto the phone and it operates in the same way that your ipod operates. You have a shuffle function and also the ability to build your own playlists. It wouldn't be much fun going to the gym, sticking shuffle on, and running to Whitney Houston or Snow Patrol, so the playlist function allows you to seperate your songs into appropriate playlists.

          I also love the Kindle function that is available. I was tempted to buy a kindle recently as I take a lot of books on holiday. I looked it up and accidently discovered that you can use it on an iphone. This was a blessing for me, as it saved me £100 right before my holiday and allowed me to hit amazon, get a few mobi. books that I wanted to read, and off I went with a much smaller screen, but much heavier wallet. This isn't something I would reccommend if you're blind as a bat, or dont have good eyesight, you'll spend the whole time straining your eyes. It also wasn't great in the direct sunlight, but I spend most of my days on holiday in the water rather than beside it anyway.

          There are various other apps that you can have on your iphone that make life easier to organise. There are a whole selection of games that you can download, budget and calenders, networking apps (with facebook being a regular on most iphones I would think), and plenty of lifestyle options. Most company's are now getting in the action and setting up apps that apple users can easily download. It seems the way forward. Many of the apps are easy to download, navigate and organise into little folders, which you can do by dragging one onto another, and naming the folder something of your choice. I have music, lifestyle, finances, games and books on mine.

          The downside to iphone is that it is an apple product. I hate the way apple monopolise the market by disallowing you to use your purchases across different media formats. If I buy a CD, I expect to be able to play it on all of my CD players. Why would I not expect the same of music that I PAY FOR through I-tunes. This is the same across the board. I noticed the other day that my friend's ipad didn't have any slots whatsoever for me to plug my external hard drive into. If you are using an ipad as your main pc, and want to put music you have on your external HD onto your iphone, how the hell are you supposed to get round that one, but thats probably for a seperate review.

          Iphone 3 comes in dimensions of 116mm by 62mm with a depth of 12mm, and has a 3.5 inch touchscreen. It also has a 2.0 megapixel camera which is poor by comparison of some phone camera's. It has no flash, takes pictures that are somewhat grainy and has very little by way of zooming in and out, although it isn't completely useless. It serves the purpose of attaching photo's to your contacts, but you can do this with an app that links facebook photos and information to your contact list. So really there is very little purpose of having the camera.

          The connectivity of the phone to the web is pretty decent. It is fast and allows you to access most sites very easily through the safari app. Another negative is how much battery life drains quickly, although I have discovered that turning off several other things such as the location facility can extend the battery life. At one point though, when I'd charge it all night, and then use it for 40 minutes on the bus to work to listen to music, I'd find that I'd have to plug it in to charge at approximately 2pm that same day. Just go on and google if you find this, and it'll tell you the types of things that you can turn off to improve battery life.

          I would like the iphone immensely if it had better battery life, and if apple weren't such a controlling operator. All in all though it is a great way of condensing all your information into the one little organiser. Just ensure that you do put a pin code on the iphone though. Remember its not just your details that are in the phone, but you'll most likely have other people's names, addresses, phone numbers and date of births at the very least. Its not a good idea to store this information if you're not security conscious.

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          • More +
            27.08.2012 15:41
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            An excellent tv drama that sat nicely in the recent crop of supernatural drama's.

            After tasting moderate success in the mid 90s in slasher films "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and its sequels, Jennifer Love Hewitt seemed to disappear off the radar. With the exception of a couple of dodgy rom-com's, she was a name that was relegated to the "Scream Queen" bin, but thankfully managed to return to our screens in the promising, if somewhat predictable, Ghost Whisperer.

            Love Hewitt stars as Melinda Gordon, a newly wed who has been bestowed with the power of seeing dead people from a young age. Her granny had the gift, although it isn't initially clear in the beginning whether it has been passed to her mother and then her, or if it has skipped a generation. Each episode has Melinda helping a dead person say goodbye to their loved ones, most of which result in teary eyed goodbyes (mostly from Melinda herself, who seems to have some sort of tear duct infection), but sometimes result in some scary interactions.

            What started out as singular episodes soon lead to the show having a continuous thread. In this first season, it isn't initially clear how the show will have an ongoing thread, other than in Melinda's own juggling of married life, her business with friend Andrea, and her ability that has her running off at a moment's notice on some wild goose chase or rescue mission. By the end of the season though, in one of the best season closers I have seen on a tv show, it is quite clear that Melinda isn't he only one steering the dead to, or away, from the light.

            Jennifer Love Hewitt is the perfect face for a show of this nature. She has great empathy, although sometimes the constant crying on her part does wear a little thin. I also wanted to mess up her hair on a few occasions. Nobody gets out of bed with hair and make up that perfect, not even the cast of Dallas. Anyway, with the exception of those moderate irks, Melinda is a well rounded character who struggles to have a relationship with her embittered mother.

            The one problem with Ghost Whisperer is that it is very black and white. Everybody's essentially good. The people who aren't good are given contrives explanations for their badness, the best example being the tattoo'd man who Melinda helps make peace with his ex-wife and estranged son. It would have been much better to believe that there are genuinely bad people out there who meet untimely fates. That's a world that we can relate to much better than this alter-reality where the dead want closure and the living are so easily convinced.

            What makes Ghost Whisperer so good though is good sharp scripting and tight plots that fail to lose your interest too often. There are some dud episodes, but enough good scares, some emotional exchanges, and a storming two-parter to close this first season is enough to save it from the realms of cable hell. The show began its original run in September 2005, and ran for five years - ending with five seasons.

            The DVD package is widely available and can probably be picked up from amazon for less than a tenner now. The episodes are:
            PILOT, THE CROSSING, GHOST INTERRUPTED, MENDED HEARTS, LOST BOYS, HOMECOMING, HOPE AND MERCY, ON THE WINGS OF A DOVE, VOICES, GHOST BRIDE, SHADOW BOXER, UNDEAD COMIC, FRIENDLY NEIGHBOURHOOD GHOST, LAST EXECUTION, MELINDA'S FIRST GHOST, DEAD MAN'S RIDGE, DEMON CHILD, MISS FORTUNE, FURY, THE VANISHING, FREE FALL & THE ONE (Free Fall & The One are a two part extended episode).

            The main cast consists of Jennifer Love Hewitt as Melinda, David Conrad as Jim Clancy and Aisha Tyler as Andrea. The show was created and directed by John Gray, who was part of a team who spent two years developing Ghost Whisperer. One of the most notable things about the show is that the town that they use where Melinda's business exists is the same set that was used in the Back To The Future films.

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          • Riding In Cars With Boys (DVD) / DVD / 16 Readings / 14 Ratings
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            27.08.2012 12:41
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            Barrymore and Zahn are excellent in this elevated soap opera.

            I absolutely love this coming of age movie. Based on one of those misery memoirs that now take up shelf space at Tesco's near you, this bucks the trend by actually presenting its characters as real 3 dimensional people with real problems, but who laugh and cry, enjoy and endure, and basically potter through life without whinging about how crap it is for 97 minutes.

            Riding.... follows Beverley over a twenty year period, from the point where she meets likeable loser Ray and falls pregant to the point where she is about to publish her own life story. Back in the beginning, it was wholly unacceptable for a girl to be pregnant and shame her family, and therefore she is forced down the aisle and into a life that causes her resentment and bitterness.

            As Ray fails to provide any decent standard of life for Beverly and her son Jason, she has to fend for herself doing minimum wage jobs and studying. Forging a lifelong friendship with fellow teen and gymslip mother Fay is just part of the road that Beverly takes as she hurtles into womanhood dragging her child along for the ride. The story is told through a series of flashbacks from Beverley's point of view.

            This film could have had all the trappings of a romantic comedy gone wrong, but it manages to sidestep that by being genuinely warm, funny, but also having those bittersweet moments that elevate it from some Jennifer Aniston / Paul Rudd love-in. It's neither here nor there whether it's a true story or not, its not entirely dissimilar from something that Hollywood might have conjured up anyway, but it's Drew Barrymore's ordinary likeability that really lend the film credibility.

            Barrymore is in good company. Steve Zahn is a treat as good for nothing Ray. He isn't just given a persona of loser that everybody hates. You actually feel for him all the way through the film, and wish that he would just get his socks up and do right by Beverley and Jason. What is also good is how these two actors are able to pull off their teenage persona's with exactly the same believability as their thirty something persona's (given that both were probably in their thirties when they made this film).

            While the film belongs to Zahn and Barrymore, there's no way that James Wood (criminally underused) and Brittany Murphy shouldn't get a mention. Wood is cracking as always, a man usually working beneath himself. As Barrymore's father, you have to feel sorry for a man who is eternally disappointed by a daughter who appears to let him down at every turn. On the upside, Murphy is comedy gold and her imaginery conversation with Beverley in the street had me screaming with laughter.

            There are no tidy finishes to this film. The lead character bemoans, cries, and tantrums her way through her life, and her ultimate controlling of her son is what threatens to rip them apart. Her life and those around her are messy, and remain that way long after the credits roll. However, as often as Beverley decries her life, she is also universally likable, and not that different to a lot of women who have kids with guys who either do the off or who are a bit useless all round.

            Penny Marshall does a great job of directing, pulling performances from her actors that far outweigh the soap-opera material of the book it is based on. She manages to get sympathy for her lead character, despite her at times being a selfish madam who complains about what little she has had, and how hard her life has been, regardless of how hard the lives of everybody around her has actually been. The soundtrack is fantastic, a tour de force of American pop music throughout the years that the film is set within. The only thing wrong is the lack of extra's on the DVD.

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          • The Dark Knight Rises(DVD) / DVD / 41 Readings / 39 Ratings
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            17.08.2012 13:56
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            The Dark Knight Rises to a somewhat patchy and predictable conclusion

            Film only review

            This third entry in the Christopher Nolan vision of Batman is as far removed from the campy third film in the Warner Bros series during the 1990's as you can get. Where that film had reduced Tim Burton's moderately colourful Batman with dark undertones to a schyzophrenic rollercoaster of mayhem, Nolan has managed to retain a cohesively dark tone to his trilogy that gives the film a feeling of continuation that wasn't present in WB's original series.

            This film catches up with Bruce Wayne eight years after Batman fled the scene of Harvey Dent's death. Painted as a murderous villain to protect the Dent Act, Wayne is now holed up in his rebuilt mansion where nobody has seen him in years. He is brought out of his refuge though after he agrees to host a charity event that Selina Kyle is waitressing at. When he discovers her attempting to rob his jewels, the two start a daliance that is neither favourable nor hateful.

            Meanwhile, Gotham City is brought to the brink of destruction once more by the arrival of the almost faceless Bane. Bane is a hulking creature hellbent on bringing Gotham and its police force to its knees, which he does quite purposefully, under the watchful eye of the League Of Shadows. His act of terrorism forced Bruce Wayne to re-evaluate the past eight years, and ultimately bring Batman back out of retirement. As the city hurtles towards destruction, only Batman and his allies have a chance of saving it from the mad clutches of Bane.

            Its difficult to pinpoint where this film loses its way, because effectively everything that was good about the previous two lengthy entries is still obvious. The ultimate problem with this Batman is that it takes so long explaining Batman back into existence that I was getting restless by the time he finally donned the rubber suit. Then, just when he seemed to be back in action, we were thrown into a further absence of the Dark Knight with a lengthy expose about breaking and rediscovering the human spirit.

            The other problem is that, despite placing excellent actors in the roles, the baddies are generally a concoction of the ill-developed and the faceless. Tom Hardy has proven to be one of the best British actors in current cinema, and yet is hidden behind a mask for the entire film preventing him from using facial expression for the most part, and even his voice is hidden behind some kind of voice box that prevents him from being audible for the most part. It seems such a waste to get such a credible actor to play the part and then make him almost indistinguishable from any stuntman that could have taken on the role.

            Anne Hathaway fares somewhat better in her rather delicious (and unnamed) Catworman role. In the original Batman sequel, Michelle Pfeiffer played Catwoman with such relish that it was difficult to accept anybody in the role since. Hathaway doesn't have Pfeiffer's unusual mannerisms or look, but she still manages to give Selina Kyle a complexity that has become the norm for Nolan's movie's. It's typical of his characters that it's never obvious whether they are all good, all bad or a little in the middle.

            There is an army of other big names splattered across the screen for your perusal. Matthew Modine, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Joseph Levitt Gordon, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy (reprising his Scarecrow role for the third time), Burn Gorman, Ben Mendohlson and Gary Oldman who comes back as a guilt ridden Commissioner Gordon. Oldman is the actor who is given the most to work with here, battling with his conscience whilst reaping the rewards of their betrayal.

            So onto Christian Bale. The only thankful thing about Batman getting less screen time this time round is that we have to tolerate that daft voice of his less. Bale is an actor who is capable of this role both physically and emotionally, but Nolan's obvious attempt to disguise him resulted in one of the more irritating and frustrating aspects of the performance. It was admirable that he went to such lengths to separate Wayne from Batman, given that most superhero films result in the audience asking "How the hell didn't everybody know who that was", but the Batman voice was really over-egged. That said, this film permits him to be a little more vulnerable than last time round, and therefore a little more humanised.

            There is plenty of action in Nolan's direction, although sometimes the action sequences are a little flattened by the tone and pace of the rest of the film, which is, unfortunately, slow and somewhat predictable. There is plenty to be in awe of, including Batman's new toys, and some of the fights between him and the ferociously built Bane. The rest of the time though, the action takes a back seat to the story which feels padded out and somewhat patchy in places. The whole middle act is a snooze fest, and the last act is over so briskly that you'll wonder why they didn't cut the crap and extend that.

            In hindsight, it's not obvious to me that Nolan has created his masterpiece in this trilogy. Batman Begins was a stodgy and extended affair, whilst The Dark Knight was only so good because of an irreplaceable performance by Heath Ledger, although it's no surprise that fans are up in arms against any negativity towards this film, citing an occasionally dreary affair as the template for the perfect superhero sequel. There's no doubt that Nolan is an artist in the peak of his career, and the Dark Knight trilogy is certainly film making of a high standard, but to label this film flawless would be sychophantic and a little short sighted. In the end, it's a patchy film that has moments of brilliance, but the flaws are too obvious to ignore.

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            • The Amazing Spider Man (DVD) / DVD / 31 Readings / 28 Ratings
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              12.07.2012 21:20
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              A virtual retread of Spiderman Mark 1, only serviced by better effects

              This could possibly be dubbed the best pointless film of the year. Serving as a reboot to a series of films that barely ended yesterday, The Amazing Spiderman goes right back to the beginning of the Spiderman legend, tackling all of the plot points covered in the original Tobey Maguire version. In short, this is merely a remake of a film that was almost a reboot of a kids franchise itself.

              Previously Spiderman existed as a tv character, a cartoon hero and a comic book legend, but just over a decade ago, the character was brought to life at the start of a hugely successful trilogy starring Tobey Maguire as the webbed superhero. In this adaption of that same story, Peter Parker is a geeky teen living with his childless aunt and uncle after his parents disappear. After being bitten by a spider on a visit to a laboratory, he finds himself with heightened senses and the ability to scale walls, not to mention extraordinary strength. After the death of a loved one though, he goes on the rampage in search of the killer, and finds himself at odds with the criminal underworld and local law enforcers.

              As a standalone movie, this Spiderman is servicable, but as part of the Spiderman legacy, it is unneccessary. It merely repeats the already existing original Spiderman film, although it does add some depth to the once winsome Peter Parker. Even prior to his transformation, there is something deeper and more fragile about this Peter. The 3d effects are also hugely disappointing, and add nothing to the film. For the most part, we barely engage with that element of the film, and only a couple of times do any of the action threaten to spill out of the screen. Save yourself money and see it in 2d.

              The acting for the most part lends little extra to the film. British actor, and relative newcomer, Andrew Garfield is entirely capable as Spiderman, giving the require amount of intensity for a rather darker and more brutal Spiderman. The fragility brought to the part by Maguire is still very present though. The rest of actors get less to do, with Sally Field discarded for a large portion of the film, and the always brilliant Martin Sheen given too swift a fate.

              The biggest gripe with casting though is with Emma Stone, playing high school senior Gwen with too much maturity and level-headedness to be believable. Early on in the film, she's too grounded to suddenly become the flighty character required to fall for Peter. She's also a little too old to play the part, and this wouldn't normally be an issue for me, but the fact that the character is written older than a high school senior doesn't help or make it any more convincing.

              Rhys Ifans is the biggest surprise, virtually unrecognisable at first as the Doctor corrupted by his own work. His is the most complex of characters, caught in a battle between his own conscience and his need for artistic recognition. As he descends further into the belly of the beast, literally, his conscience begins to lose the battle, speeding proceedings up, but lending a daftness to the film that its initial gritiness seemed keen to avoid.

              Marc Webb is the director of choice and, having only cut his teeth on 500 days of Summer, delivers the action sequences deftly and convincingly. The progress made in special effects in the last ten years also mean that it looks better than the original Spiderman, its only saving grace in all honesty. Webb also pulls good performances from Garfield and Ifans, but seems to sacrifce the rest of the performances in Garfields wake. In the end this Spiderman serves its purpose as 115 minutes of enjoyable entertainment, but when you take the light up to it, its nothing more than a pale immitation of the superior Tobey Maguire effort.

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              • Supergirl (DVD) / DVD / 28 Readings / 26 Ratings
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                07.07.2012 12:56
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                A fun watch to fill a Saturday afternoon, as it did when we were kids

                I recently introduced this movie to my nieces, who I thought would love the idea of a female version of Superman. A regular staple of our Saturday afternoon viewing in the winter when we were growing up, I was surprised that my sister had never shown them the film. Now nearly 30 years old, Supergirl is surprisingly enjoyable against today's mad cross-generation and overly-complicated cinematic experiences.

                Supergirl's plot isn't unlike that of the Superman movies. Supergirl is accidently thrown across time and space in a tiny globe after she accidently gets locked inside, where she adopts the dual identity of Linda Lee. Emerging in complete regalia (where do they get these costumes made?), she finds herself facing the wrath of evil Selena who attempts to use the globe to enhance her own power, rendering any man who comes under her spell impotent to her power. Supergirl has to master her own strength to face Selena, destroy her and return the globe to her own planet before it is destroyed for good.

                What is notable about Supergirl, filmed midway through the filming of the original series of Superman films, is that it looks considerably less fake than those films. The sequences where she fly's are mostly impressive, with only a couple of more obvious shots where she's filmed against the blue screen of old. The rest of the effects may not have aged well, but they're still considerably more easy on the eye than Superman 3 and 4's low budget affairs.

                Helen Slater is a likable lead. She certainly looks better in her tights than Christopher Reeves did, and the director at least tries to conceal her identity by making her look considerably different from her superhero ego. I never got why it wasn't obvious to the other characters in Superman that he was Clark and Superman because his only difference was his glasses. Faye Dunaway is deliciously wicked, hamming it up effectively. High camp villainy is the order of the day with Dunaway and Brenda Vaccaro proving to have great chemistry together, and plotting and scheming in the destruction of Supergirl.

                The story itself is nothing more than a rehash of Superman's plot, from the arrival on earth to the emerging as a superhero without further ado. Even some of the other characters prove to be interchangeable with Superman's characters with Supergirl's sidekick proving to be a reworking of Lois Lane. Jimmy also makes an appearance here, proving to be the only crossover character. However, that doesn't stop the film from being an enjoyable romp.

                The DVD transfer is pretty good, ageing well, even if the costumes and set pieces themselves haven't. It looks like it was filmed in the 80's, but the transfer itself is decent. The DVD also hosts a couple of extra's, none of which need get you too excited. The trailer is just the theatrical trailer from the film's initial run, and the other extra is a commentary by the director, which I didn't bother with.

                Supergirl is definitely a great watch for the kids, and will stand up against today's more elaborate films in the eyes of kids. The camp feel of the film and the fast paced plot will kill an afternoon, and prove a worthwhile distraction, so get the DVD from amazon for approximately £3.

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                  05.07.2012 15:39
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                  An excellent 2 weeks spent in Mexico - and at one of the top hotel's I've visited

                  This is only the second time I have ever travelled on an all inclusive holiday, last year opting for a less than admirable hotel in Hisoronu, Turkey, and was quite keen not to repeat the experience. This year, I was persuaded by the group who I holiday with to give it a go, as one of the couple's had stayed at a Riu hotel in Dominican Republic. I have to say that it completely changed my perspective of an all inclusive holiday, but also really put a light up to how poor most European and Turkish all inclusive holiday's are by comparison.

                  We arrived on the 12th June 2012, after an 11 hour flight. The 11 hour flight was the worst thing about the holiday, and for those of you not great at flying, it might just be a few hours too long. One of the couple's in our group really really struggled with the flight, and felt quite ill afterwards - drama queens!
                  For me, the flight was less unpleasant than I expected, given that Thompson's offered a reasonably acceptable entertainment package for only £5, and served up food that wasn't entirely inedible.

                  Having arrived in Mexico, there was an absolute calamity at the airport. You do have to fill in a form on the plane that you then return to immigration when leaving the country along with the princely sum of £50 (800 pesos). It transpired that we then had to fill in another form once through customs- nobody mentioned this - and it caused no end of problems with people pushing each other out of the way to get through, huge queue's of people filling in forms with no explanation as to why, and generally some of the worst manners in human beings I have ever witnessed. Just wanted to mention this to get it out of the way for anybody travelling to Cancun.

                  The hotel was absolutely stunning. You enter a huge reception area, where you are served instantly with a small refreshment and your handed your keys with very little waiting or fuss, and your cases are whisked away to your room on your behalf within the hour. We were then ushered through the complex which is massive, and shown to our rooms which were far enough out of the way that we were never disturbed by the entertainment, loud holiday makers or any other disturbances at ungodly hours. The rooms were adequate, although not as good on the eye as everything else within the complex.

                  Our room was a double room, although it housed 3 of us. I was slightly irked by this. The holiday cost us approximately £1,300 each for a fortnight, so I at least expected not to be sleeping in, what appeared to be, a hospital cot in the corner of the room. The bed's my two companions slept in looked amazingly comfortable. Mine, not so much. A small complaint though. The room was cleaned every day, and not just wiped over, but properly cleaned with fresh towels, fresh bedding, and I even walked in when the maid had pulled all of the furniture out to clean under it. There were also optics in the room which allowed us to have the drink of our choice before going out at night, without having to take it with us. Beers and soft drinks were replenished in the fridge every day.

                  There were 3 restaurants of choice within our complex, although I have to point out that our arm bands also allowed us to use the facilities and restaurants of the other 2 complex's across the road, both of which sat directly on the beach. The first restaurant was a huge buffet bar that just about catered to every whim. Seafood, every meat known to man, vegetarian options, Mexican, Spanish, Chinese, Indian; all cooked freshly and on the menu every night. There were no shortages of choice for breakfast and dinner. Lunch was served at the pool-side restaurant, again buffet options, but later turned into a swankier steak restaurant that you had to book in the morning. The rib-eye that I was served was the nicest steak I've ever had, and cooked exactly as I ordered it. The third restaurant was an oriental option, servicable but less varied than the other two. The only downside is that you had to dress at least smart but casual in the evening for dinner at any three of the restaurants, something not entirely pleasant in the soaring heat unless you have gone with plenty of linen shirts etc.

                  The pool also had a swim-up bar, where many of us spent our lazier days. Although I dont drink alcohol during the day, there was no shortage of fanta being passed up the bar by the extremely attentive bar people. As per every member of staff at the complex, they were friendly and attentive regardless of whether you tipped them a tenner or tipped them into the water. It was fairly obvious that they work for their tips, but the more miserly people around the bar were treated with the same courteousy and attention to service as the people who were happy to give their appreciation in cash. What was also notable is that all drinks were included 24 hours a day at any open bar in the hotel, so there was no need to run back to your room to fetch extra cash once the bar shut its free doors.

                  There was also a night club available on the complex, but we refrained from going in there. It looked as if the average age was 12 and a half. I still enjoy the occasional night out clubbing, but as the youngest of the 18 strong group, I dont really feel like getting down with the kids. I opted for more low key evenings, with the animacion entertainment group, who provided some of the best hotel entertainment I've ever seen. Everything from a carribean night, to a re-enactment of Grease (which I must say was the only pitiful element of the entertainment the entire fortnight I was there), through to a brilliantly done recreation of Mamma Mia. There was also a sports bar that would stay open 24 hours, with pool tables etc, that was turned into a small arena for football matches. On those occasions, we were deafened by some very loud English, Spanish and German supporters. Note that the only volume from us scots usually came outwith football match times.

                  There was also plenty of daytime activity on the grounds, with the complex housing various different sports equipment. The entertainment team are there from 10am to amuse the kids, get the adults in for a bit of a work out, and basically shake those hangovers out of you in preparation for the next night of partying, or quiet socialising, whichever grabs you. I have to say that aside from the entertainment itself, the entertainers were extremely personable and, on one of the extremely torrential days, sat with us and had other people's kids up on the stage for dance practice. They were really excellent all-rounders.

                  About ten minutes walk from the complex is Fifth Avenue, which is the Main Street of shops in the area. Plenty of fun can be had bartering with the guys down there, although some were slightly aggressive, and we were offered (half-jokingly, half-not) some questionable products that I dont think the older crowd would have enjoyed too much. All in all though, most were friendly, and it wasn't as scary as many scaremongers would have believe. You just have to be able to say no, not allow yourself to be bullied into buying anything, but most of us have had experience with pushy sales people on the phone or at the front door, so saying no to these guys will be a push over for most of us now.

                  There were plenty of other trips offered, and we opted to go with the guys down the town rather than the hotel reps. We were told it wasn't as safe with those guys, but I dont think thats the case. For instance, a couple of our hotel paid £85 to go to the all inclusive evening at Coco Bongo, Playacar's premier night club, and we managed to get our guy down to £42 each for the same all inclusive package. The evening was amazing, and CB is the best club I've been to in years. Entertainment is laid on thick and heavy with an ongoing cabaret and acrobatic show that is interactive with the audience. There was also plenty of ground level entertainment and the service again was second to none. Just tip your waiter when you go in and he'll keep those drinks coming all night, at no additional cost.

                  We also took part in the jet ski's and parasailing expiditions that were five minutes along the beach from where we were. Both were amazing ventures, although the parasailing was shorter than I would liked it to have been. I wouldn't normally have tried something like that, as I'm a bit of a danger stranger, but the fact that you go up in two's made it more enticing, and once I was up there, I was absolutely thrilled by the experience. There are plenty other water sports that you can enjoy as well. All of these are available on the beach at cut prices. Again, I would say go with the guys down there or down at the local sales offices, as you can get it for almost half the price of the hotel rep's without any more or less safety guarantee.

                  The last of our trips, and one that I was most excited about, were the Mayan Ruins. The trip turned out to be less exciting than I thought it might be, although the swim in the underground lagoon definitely made it worthwhile. I have seen many more spectacular ruins than those one's on those grounds, and there seemed to be something staged about the whole affair. That said, it wasn't entirely unpleasant, and the visit to where the Mayan people themselves lived was quite education if not a little over-explained by our enthusiastic tour guide.

                  All in all, the holiday was a blast, with good company, good food, and plenty of drink available, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. The journey itself was the only drawback to what turned out to be one of the best holiday's I've been on. We even got treated to the occasional tropical thunder storm and torrential downpour but, being scottish, we barely flinch at such downpours. Our summer's wouldn't be our summer's if we weren't drenched at least 3 times a week. At least this rain was still warmish, and served to cool us down slightly. The hotel was stunning, the service was unquestionably good, and the food was the best holiday food I've ever eaten. It made me squirm when I returned home and didn't find a banquet awaiting me in the fridge.

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                • More +
                  02.05.2012 14:20
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                  Ramsay delivers a knock out punch with this simple but effective psychological drama.

                  Even before it was revealed, it was pretty obvious from the title and the shocking way that Tilda Swinton's character is treated in public, that Kevin has done something wrong. Terribly wrong. See, the contrast between Swinton in the flashbacks and the present makes for riveting stuff, even if ...Kevin makes for uncomfortable viewing.

                  From the day that Kevin is born, he shows signs of manipulative behaviour, potraying himself as an angel to his adoring father, but showing his true nature to his uptight mother, Eva. That very uptight persona given off by Eva is exactly why the boy's father doesn't believe a word she is saying with regard to Kevin. As he gets older, he becomes surlier and moodier, constantly at odds with his mother. As she tries to connect with him, it proves to be too little too late, as their bonding sessions appear to be nothing more than a battle of wits for him. Her husband continues to question her paranoia, until a tragic turns of events leave her in no doubt about her son's sociopath tendencies.

                  Based on a book from 2003, written by Lionel Shriver, Lynne Ramsay does a fine job of showing the steely Swinton during the frustrating early years and then contrasting her as a nervous battered down woman in the present day. Her descent into despair is authentic and organic, and played without frills, and there wont be a viewer who wont sympathise to some degree over her difficult child, although most will hope that their stroppy uncompromising teenagers will outgrow it. Although, the character of Eva is initially unsympathetic, her nervous tics and retirement from human contact is one of the most affecting characterisations I've seen in a long time.

                  Swinton herself gives the performance of her career, capturing the essence of Eva's steely stare from the outset, before turning her into the frightened nervous wreck that she becomes. Few actresses could contrast between superior and inferior so delicately, and the moment where she is ousted from a staff party by a petty sleazy colleague is heartbreaking in its simplicity. The kudos doesn't just go to her though. As Kevin, each of the young actors capture his empty glare perfectly, although it is Ezra Miller as the teenage Kevin who really terrifies with his cold blank eyes.

                  The script itself is also frill-less. Every line delivered is essential to the development of the story and the interaction of the characters. The psychological horror of having such a destructive force inside your own family unit may not be appealing, but it makes for absolutely gripping viewing. The writers fail to engage Kevin with any motive or reasoning for his behaviour, other than an early exchange between mother and son that is both shocking and understandable. This is what makes him more terrifying than any serial killer committed to screen.

                  It is unusual, with the current spate of "abused children" misery memoirs, to see something turning that on its head. In this household the abuser is not the parent, but the child, and it is done so effectively that a solid completely able woman is turned into a jittering mess. But this goes beyond just simple domestic abuse. What Kevin does is so utterly evil, that you couldn't really contemplate the reality of it all. This is the beauty of the bare bones script, simple direction, and captivatingly simple performances from all involved. Definitely a must see, but lock up your children before hitting the play button.

                  The film stars:
                  Tilda Swinton
                  John C Reilly
                  Ezra Miller
                  Ashley Gerasimovich
                  Siobhan Fallon Hogan
                  Alex Manette

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                  • New Year's Eve (DVD) / DVD / 34 Readings / 32 Ratings
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                    30.04.2012 14:12
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                    An utterly insulting movie that lacks anything remotely approaching intelligence or wit

                    Film only review;

                    Even the central plot of this ridiculous movie couldn't sustain itself beyond a 20 minute short. Throw in a dozen other pointless subplots involving random unrelated characters, and you can imagine the results of this waste of space. Now, Christmas, Easter, and even Halloween might well be worthy of a movie, but unless some mad jilted psycho goes on the rampage with a machete at the turn of the year, what possible justification could they make for a film about New Years Eve.

                    The plot, for what there is of one, involves a young woman who is responsible for this years ball-dropping ceremony in New York. Now if only that were as dirty as it sounds, it might have made this mildly more interesting. When the ball lights go awry though, she has to call upon a neurotic ex-colleague to get up there and fix them. Meanwhile around the city, a dying man pleads with his nurse to allow him onto the roof of the hospital to watch the ceremony, a fed up spinster quits her job and spends one day fulfilling all of her ambitions, and a lonely chef is propositioned by her rock star ex-boyfriend.

                    New Years Eve largely serves as a disappointment to many - the pre-bells excitement over in a ten second countdown. This film fits the theme perfectly, in that it sounds interesting until you actually sit down to watch it. None of the plot threads ever come together, each playing out to very little satisfaction. There is also no reason for most of it. There is no point in the film where one thing relates to the other, and although not everything has to be relative, it would help if any of these characters had any kind of chemistry or emotional engagement to the other. None of the characters really ever entwine, or engage with each other, and a predictable turn of events is just too contrived to serve as a genuinely emotional finale.

                    A who's who of Hollywood disgrace themselves as each of the actor's phone in performances that would be more engaging had they slept walk through it. To think that there are Oscar Winners aplenty here. Halle Berry deserves an award for being the only actress to walk away from this mildly dignified, and that's purely because she gives barely more than a cameo. Michelle Pfeiffer is permanently surly, although the wardrobe department deserve kudos for turning a usually stunning middle aged woman into a 30 year old frump. Robert Di Nero whimpers through his lines like a soap actor about to take time out to do pantomime, and Katherine Heigl plays herself for the eighth consecutive time. In fairness, Jon Bon Jovi and Mr Demi Moore can probably call this their best work. It should be noted that this film also features Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Beale, Josh Duhamel, Abigail Breslin, and Hilary Swank.

                    The film is directed by Garry Marshall, who does well to even keep track of whats going on here, without completely losing the plot, literally. Having already dabbled in romantic comedy's and teen flicks such as Princess Diaries, Valentines Day, and most notably Pretty Woman, he's hardly a stranger to a bit of romance. This film possibly is the result of too many idea's, and not enough of a hook to hang the whole thing on. Perhaps by omitting the nonsense, he might have been able to create something remotely watchable. However, character re-inventions mid-way through the film, a lack of genuine substance, and some dull as dishwater dialogue make this worse than watching paint dry.

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                  • The Muppets (DVD) / DVD / 40 Readings / 37 Ratings
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                    09.04.2012 10:44
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                    A dreary sequel that re-unites that Muppets for what should be a last time.

                    It's been a while since we've really heard much from The Muppets. Kermit and Piggy occasionally turn up on other shows, bringing a little bit of nostalgia to us old enough to remember their hey day. Here the entire gang are fully re-united for the first time in over a decade, as they are brought back together to save their beloved studios.

                    Lifelong fan, and fellow muppet, Walter is taken on the trip of a lifetime to LA with his "brother" Gary and his fiance Mary. The purpose of his trip is to visit the long vacated Muppet studios, now playing host to a few fan stragglers, as the world seems to have lost interest in them. When Walter overhears the wicked plans of oil magnate Tex Richman to bulldose the studios, he sets about finding Kermit The Frog and the rest of the muppets. As Kermit tries to re-unite the old gang, he is reluctant to approach Miss Piggy, but the rest of the gang insist they can only do it if she is part of it. So they go in search of Miss Piggy. However, their biggest challenge to raise money to save the studios is persuading tv execs to air their new special.

                    The Muppets starts out well, bringing back to life all those old characters that us 30-something's grew up on. However, it quickly runs out of steam. The early material, and the singalongs are good old fun in a cheesey nostalgic way, but it becomes one song and one clever joke too much about 30 minutes in. The highlight of the Muppets has always been the diva-ish ways of Miss Piggy and the on/off relationship between her and "Kermie". She gets too little screen-time, and a large portion of the film is left hanging on the shoulders of the dreary relationship problems between the humans, and the longing to belong of new Muppet Walter.

                    Jason Segel and Amy Adams provide the human element to this film, and they are just too wishy washy. Both are getting a little old to be able to pull off the cutesy "Pleasantville" type of characters that they are required to play here. Segel may still have the personality of a man-child, but his face is starting to defy that, and Adams can only do cutesy so many times without us looking for the sick-bag. Their songs also overstep the mark as well, alienating potential adult viewers who may have enjoyed this as a trip down memory lane. The only audience it really appeals to then are the kids, most of whom wont get the history that is required to introduce the story.

                    The injokes come thick and fast. It does manage to amuse on a certain unexpected level. The travel by map sequence, and the "maniacal laugh" joke are both genuinely funny, and call upon the knowingness of all age groups. However, in other sequences, the jokes may alienate the viewers who this film would most appeal to. The film is directed by James Bobin, who has also directed some of Ali G's material, but has only really turned his hand to advertising campaigns so far. It's no surprise then the direction feels slightly flat, and even the big finale feels a little humdrum.

                    I found myself willing this film to its end before it was even halfway through. The dreariness of the human characters, the lack of screen time for the most famous of the Muppet characters, and the lack of development for a potentially interesting baddie make it very pedestrian viewing, and viewing that neither brings many new fans to the Muppets nor rekindles its spark with the old fans. The message of the film is that perhaps The Muppets don't belong in the modern world, with younger viewers looking for more sophisticated viewing, and that message is only brought further home after viewing this very lacklustre reunion.

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                    • Mdna - Madonna / Music Album / 36 Readings / 35 Ratings
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                      31.03.2012 12:44
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                      A worthless collection of below par songs that only borrow from current trends without adding to the

                      Following a pretty dire response to the lead single "Give Me All Your Luvin" recently, where she teamed up with pop newcomer Nikki Minaj, Madonna arrives with her 12th studio album, an apparent return to form according to the blurb that arrived with it. Its a blurb that usually comes with EVERY Madonna album, rather suggesting that she's neither as confident in her own material as she likes to imply or really as much a trendsetter as she likes to have her audience believe. On the basis of that first single I was reluctant to even bother giving the whole album a listen. This is my first listen, so I'll write as I hear it.

                      1. Girl Gone Wild

                      Instantly provoking thoughts of Usher, this is actually a bit of a floorfiller on first listen. A very electrofied Madonna puts on her best pouting girlie voice as she delivers lyrics that are reminiscent of Cyndi Laupers "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun". Of course, she probably just stuck that song on and derived her own set of lyrics based on the premise. Its a fun opener, but hardly unlike everything else thats out just now. I'd imagine the kids it is aimed at would rather see the likes of Minaj or Usher deliver this than somebody old enough to be their granny.

                      2. Gang Bang

                      Lovely title. Putting that aside though, I really like this. It's quite clubby, with Madonna whispering the lyrics "Like a fish out of water, I'm scared...gang bang". As the beat gets more prominent, the vocals dont go anywhere. It's one of those songs that if you'd heard it a few times you'd dance to it in a club, but if you haven't heard it before, you'd be thinking "What the hell". The vocal tampering is very obvious once again though.

                      3. I'm Addicted

                      Slightly more 80s electro feel to this one. There is a slightly stronger hook on this one, but it isn't that impressive so far. Very heavily laden with backing vocals, I think this song could have been sung in any pitch and you wouldn't have known whether it was in the right key or not.

                      4. Turn Up The Radio

                      Another strong electro feel to this one, so far the album hasn't really changed course. The vocals and lyrics are slightly better than previous tracks. "There's a glow of a distant light, calling you to come outside" and more of a melody and hook make it a really good dance number. It's very of its time though, I cant imagine on hearing the album thusfar that people will still be listening to it in five years, unlike Ray Of Light or Like A Prayer.

                      5. Gimme Me All Your Luvin

                      I cringe everytime I hear the opening of this track. "L U V Madonna" from the cheerleader chorus vocal kicks in before the teenage pop sound takes over. "Dont play the stupid game, because I'm a different type of girl..." Why, Madonna, Why? This would be just rubbish if it was recorded by a 17 year old. Recorded by somebody who should know better... almost offensive.

                      6. Some Girls

                      Synth sounds, and another almost spoken vocal make this distinctly like every other song we've heard so far. Its dancey enough, and fun enough. This was has a belter of a chorus though that'll have you tapping your feet and no doubt singing along soon enough. By this point though, I've heard nothing new or that'll seperate one song from the other. If its cohesive she's aiming for, she's overdone it.

                      7. Superstar

                      This reminds me of a song named "Superstar" from the late 90s that was very Euro-disco. This incorporates current beats, but is quite banal when Madonna sings "Ooh la la you're my superstar" over and over. Singing from the perspective of a fan idolising somebody just like herself, it would come off slightly arrogant if it had enough credibility. It doesn't - its just not very good.

                      8. I Don't Give A

                      Taking a slightly different broken-beat approach to the sound that strings this album together, this is a more interesting song. Vocally, it sounds like everything else though. She largely speaks the verses, almost rap-style, "I Dont Care What People Say" she muses, and no doubt its true. Otherwise, what excuse would there be for this album.

                      9. I'm A Sinner

                      This is more trippy than the rest of the album, and she sings it very well. This might be Madonna at her most experimental if she hadn't chucked in similar production values and banal lyrics across the rest of the album. "I'm A Sinner" she repeats over and over again, as if there are no other lyrics that might make more sense, or highlight what it is she is actually trying to say.

                      10. Love Spent

                      I like the more Eastern feel of this song, and it brought to mind the lovely "Frozen" that marked her comeback 15 years ago. This is the albums best track so far. "How come you can say that all you need is right here with me" she begs, and actually sounds like she means it. The problem here is that the album has been produced to within an inch of its life, zapping most of Madonna's bolshy personality out of it. Even on this pleasant track, there is little of Madonna really on it.

                      11. Masterpiece

                      I was hoping that this would live up to its title, and in fairness, it is better than most of the tracks before it. Slowing things down for a more RnB flavoured guitar track, you can actually tell this is Madonna, and it sounds more like her earlier ballads in some ways. I actually really like this. Nice melody, good hook in the chorus, and a decent vocal from Madonna as well, she should have slotted this in earlier.

                      12. Falling Free

                      This track starts off with a very simple keyboard sounds, before some synthesizers join in. Madonna sings the song without much accompaniment, but it actually highlights her vocal frailties in places. It at least attempts to be different from the rest of the tracks on the album, but it might be a case of too little too late.

                      Madonna is the self appointed Queen Of Pop due to a massive gay audience, and hugely successful record sales, as well as her sell out tours. It was surprising to me that this is only her 12th studio album, she has been around for 30 years. If she is going to space her albums out in such a way, then she has the time to deliver something far more complex than this collection of teen-flavoured chart pop. Obviously, her career requires that she must keep up with current sounds in order to stay relevant. This isn't relevant though. This is just a pretty sub-standard collection of songs that rip off everything else that is currently out, making her rather irrelevant in the process.

                      If I were to be at all complimentary, I would say its a very average album at best. Disappointing that somebody of her longevity and experience couldn't come up with something more unique to herself. If you want to dance before you go out on a Saturday night, then the first half of the album will be servicable. I cant imagine Madonna fans citing this as her best work, or listening to it in 10 years time.

                      The album see's her re-united with William Orbit, who orchestrated her return to form with Ray Of Light in 1998. I'm not sure if he's a one trick pony, or if he genuinely had nowhere to go with the submitted songs. He might well have distanced himself from this, although I cant imagine many people upset Madonna without feeling her wrath. I just hope she doesn't ever accidently come across this review.

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