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cazkins

cazkins
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Member since: 09.09.2008

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      08.04.2014 12:03
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      • "Gentle on skin"
      • Convenient

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      • "Quite pricey"

      Just wipe for clean skin. Simples!

      Although I don?t wear make-up as much as I used to, I still tend to use face wipes most days and always when I remove make-up. There are a few I buy depending on what?s on offer, but Simple wipes are a top pick for me. If you want something gentle but effective at cleansing and removing make-up then I?d recommend giving them a go. The Simple Facial Cleansing wipes are formulated for sensitive skin, but claim to be great for removing even the more stubborn of make-up, like waterproof mascara. On their website they claim that the wipes are the UK?s favourite product, ?loved by celebrities and professional make-up artists alike?. Being popular also means they?re quite easy to come across in most chemists, discount health and beauty stores, and supermarkets, and they?re often on offer too. The range of wipes has diversified since they were first introduced, so you can now get the original version (which I use and which this review is for), or others, ie Kind To Skin Exfoliating wipes / Radiance Brightening wipes. The original ones are sold in a re-sealable green packet of 25, bearing the usual ?Simple? text on the front so that it?s easily recognisable. The more updated version now claims to contain ?vitamin goodness to refresh and tone? your skin, using pro-vitamin B5 (to soften, restore & smooth). What I also like about these, in line with the ethos of the Simple brand, is that they contain no nasties. There?s no alcohol, oil, perfume or colour, which is reassuring to know. They?re super easy to use. As with all wipes, you just gently wipe one over our face and neck, and over the eyelids too if you?re removing mascara. They?re gentle enough to use morning and night. I find the size of each wipe to be just about right and the smell isn?t chemical-y either, it?s actually quite pleasant and uplifting. They?re reasonably thick too with almost a quilted feel to them; they?re very soft to glide over your skin and just damp enough so that you don?t need to rub too hard to get make-up off. I don?t use waterproof mascara so can?t comment on that, but I do find they remove the make-up I wear quite well without any problems. The wipes stay intact too, which I think is partly thanks to their thickness. I love Simple products for being just that, simple. I can have fairly sensitive skin at times with certain products but Simple are always gentle enough for me to use on a daily basis. It?s worth bearing in mind that everyone?s skin is different but I?ve had no irritation or any other issues from using these. After using, my skin does feel cleaner and very refreshed. They are kind to skin and don?t dry mine out, though I do tend to moisturise afterwards anyway regardless, and they?re very convenient to use, which always gets a thumbs up from me.

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    • More +
      07.04.2014 14:25

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      • " though not spot-free."
      • "Leaves skin feeling fresh"

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      Leaves skin feeling fresh, though not spot-free.

      tend to opt for kinder-to-skin products, but I also look out for those that target imperfections. At my age, I hate still having spots and it makes me quite self-conscious, yet most over the counter stuff makes very little difference. I came across the Neutrogena wash (?Stress Spot Control? 2 in 1) and thought I?d give it a try as it?s a well-known brand I?ve found to be fairly effective in the past. Whilst it hasn?t given me flawless skin or sorted out any spots that rear their ugly heads, it does leave my skin feeling cleaner and more refreshed. This comes in a clear plastic 200ml bottle with a translucent white flip-up top. The label on the front tells us that the product uses ?microclear technology? (whatever that is!) and that it?s ?triple action formula helps clear spots?. It?s classed as a ?3-in-one daily cleansing lotion?, so it?s a liquid cleanser that?s used without water and is suitable to use regularly. The three in one aspect refers to how the face wash does the following : 1. Cleanses deeply 2. Reduces excess shine & oil 3. Helps clear spots. The lotion contains green tea and cucumber, the former of which is often heralded as a good treatment for blemish-prone skin. It also claims that this formula is gentle enough for everyday use, though this obviously depends somewhat on just how sensitive, or not, your skin is. To use, simply lift the lid, apply a bit to a cotton wool pad, and gentle wipe it over your face and neck. The liquid is green and reminiscent of the tea tree and cucumber formulation. It actually smells quite fresh rather than checmical-ish, which can put me off some products a bit. You don?t need to use much on the cotton pad each time you cleanse so I consider the product to be a bit cost effective in that sense. Does it work? Well, it seems to work in the sense that I like using it because it leaves my skin feeling refreshed. It doesn?t appear to have made my skin any worse and it hasn?t caused any irritation, which I?m glad to report. It hasn?t, however, done anything for blackheads, but nothing ever seems to. In terms of spots, I can?t say that alone this product has, or would, reduce them. Everyone?s skin is different, however, so it?s going to vary. I do think it helps to reduce oil and leaves my complexion that bit brighter and cleaner, so over a longer period of time I think it?s a wash I?d happily use on a daily basis to keep spots away. I just wouldn?t rely on this alone to clear up my skin. I?d say it?s a little pricey perhaps for a simple cleanser if it hasn?t magically disappeared any of my spots, but there are far more expensive ones out there that actually irritated my skin, so I?m reasonably happy with the price.

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    • Changeling (DVD) / DVD / 2 Readings / 1 Rating
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      02.04.2014 12:42
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      • " based on a true story"
      • "Moving premise"
      • "A stellar performance from Jolie"

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      A moving story that I'd recommend checking out for yourself.

      When Changeling was released, there was quite a bit of hype about it. It falls between the genres of mystery and drama, with history thrown in for good measure due to the era it was set in. It was directed by Clint Eastwood, and it being based on a true story is quite shocking to know after you've watched the film. Changeling throws us in to 1928 Los Angeles, where we?re introduced to Christine Collins, a single working mother. Everything is good between mum and her 9 year old son, until she returns home from work one day to find him gone. She feels guilty & is out of her mind with worry. A call to the Police doesn?t get her very far; a missing person report can?t be filed so quickly so she?ll have to wait until tomorrow. She?s told he?ll come back soon enough and not to worry. When the next day comes around, the LAPD start a search with lasts over the coming weeks. The weeks turn to months until, 5 months later, a boy is discovered matching her son?s description in Illinois. Christine is obviously over the moon, fainting with relief that her son is alive and well, and eager to meet him off the train. The media and police are gathered for the reunion, but Christine isn?t smiling; although the boy is saying she?s his mum, she doesn?t recognise him. Telling everyone he isn?t her son, the response of the police is to tell her that the boy has changed after being away from home and that she?s experienced great trauma. Just give it time. The question is, is it her son? If not, where is he? It?s an interesting premise whether you?re a parent yourself or not. It?s definitely a historical drama piece, but there?s suspense, a crime / detective dimension, and psychological undertones. As for the pace, it was fairly steady throughout but specific incidents had a heightened impact and kept things fresh and intriguing. I wouldn?t say I found myself getting bored because I was involved with the characters and wanted to find out what would happen next. The downside? For me, it was the boy who played her son, ie. The boy that was reunited with Christine that she didn?t believe to be her son. I found him to be quite wooden, not very believable, and I kept wondering why that angle wasn?t explored a bit more. The starred Angelina Jolie as protagonist Christine Collins, however each actor/actress played their respective roles well. It didn?t feel overly Hollywood-esque. Jolie was fantastic, giving a poignant and memorable performance. I could empathise with her as this distraught mother and felt her portrayal was quite believable. All in all, despite my dislike for one character, Changeling was a memorable movie that I enjoyed watching because it offered an intriguing premise, kept me engaged, and produced a fantastic performance from Jolie.

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    • Pitch Perfect / DVD / 20 Readings / 15 Ratings
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      30.03.2014 11:13
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      • "Fairly amusing"
      • "Easy to watch"

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      • "Not laugh-out-loud funny"
      • "Nothing spectacular"

      Not quite pitch perfect, but not totally tone deaf either.

      Ok, so this definitely isn?t normally my kind of thing to watch.Pitch Perfect falls within the comedy genre, but it?s all about singing so I?d say it?s almost half a musical. Add in the romance elements and you?ve almost got a singing, dancing rom-com. We?re introduced to Beca, a young woman (assuming under 20 due to being University age, though all of the actors/actresses were far older!) with a dream of getting in to music. She?s forever mixing tracks and putting things together on her computer, but her father doesn?t think much of the aspiration to become a DJ. Beca is very independent and doesn?t want to go to college, but her dad insists she joins as a freshman at Barden University. Beca doesn?t have much interest in fitting in or falling in to line with college life, but some of the music groups catch her eye. She joins in at the radio station, gradually starts meeting some new people. And she discovers The Bellas, and all-singing girl group who are determined to win at this year?s singing finals. Problem is, there are a few groups at the Uni, including a rather awful boy band, and The group decide it?s time to re-group and hold auditions. Before she knows it, Beca is roped along and becomes one of the pop girl wannabes. They need to put in a lot of hard work if they?re going to stand a chance at winning the contest. The rest of the flick sees the girls rehearsing, falling out and then putting a plan together to get better. Beca is starting to branch out socially and she?s finding her place within the group, providing some much needed ideas and inspiration. It?s quite a straight-forward premise and not one that takes much thought to understand. It?s livened up with humour, lots of songs and a bit of dancing, some romance and character dynamics. The cast includes Anna Kendrick (Beca), Rebel Wilson (?Fat? Amy), Brittany Snow (Chloe) and Skylar Astin (Jesse) amongst others. The two faces that stood out as being highly recognisable to me were Kendrick and Wilson, who added credibility to the flick and balanced out quite well with the less Hollywood-esque actors/actresses. I like Kendrick anyway so I found her very watchable and quite believable in her role. She was also surprisingly good when it came to the singing, which she did a lot of, so that was interesting to find out. Wilson was comical as ?Fat? Amy, though she seemed to be rather type-cast for the character as may be expected by the name. The film had an overall good quality feel to it. I actually quite enjoyed the music elements; they kept it fresh and interesting. A lot was done quite tongue-in-cheek. I wasn?t so keen on the romance side of things, so my attention lagged a bit in some places. The comedy was so-so, giving a reasonable balance between wit and silliness.

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    • Motorola Moto G 16 GB / Smartphone / 53 Readings / 53 Ratings
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      14.03.2014 14:16
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      Very happy with my 'budget' iPhone alternative & would definitely recommend.

      I have owned Motorola mobiles in the past, most of which were fantastic, one which was not. Until fairly recently, the brand didn't seem to be keeping up in terms of popularity within the smartphone market, then I heard about the Moto G. Described as a rival to the expensive smartphones, the Moto G hit the stores at an entry-level price and there was quickly a lot of buzz about it. Considering I had a Samsung S3 Mini just before I got this (which I only kept for a month before selling as I just couldn't get on with it) I've been very impressed by this phone so it's definitely one I'd recommend considering. Motorola is a very well-known brand but, like I've said, it didn't seem to be as popular within the smartphone market until a little more recently. The Moto G was released late 2013 within the sub £150 range. The other main features are the camera and processor, which help to push the quality and effectiveness of the mobile up a few notches. Some people say it rivals the higher end phones, like the iPhone, and I can understand why. In fact, when it came to me shopping around for a new phone and considering this one, the best price seemed to be at Tesco; I ended up signing up for updates on when it was back in stock because both the 8 & 16GB versions kept selling out! ... Main Features ... To sum up a few of the main features : * Quadband, with 3G, GPS and Bluetooth * Voicedialling * 5MP camera on the back with flash, plus a front camera * 4.5" HD resolution capacitive touchscreen * Runs on Android 4.3 Jelly Bean * Built in Snapdragon 400 processor * Up to 400hrs standby & 14 hours talk time ... In The Box ... In the box you get a spare plastic back cover, all the instructions, and a USB cable. It's worth noting at this point that you don't get a wallcharger. When I first bought this phone I had already read about this so I knew I needed to get one, and just used the USB to charge it for the first few days. This, I thought, was a little disappointing. You don't get headphones either, but that wasn't something that particularly bothered me. When getting the wallcharger, I think I only paid about £3 for one on eBay that's compatible with the Moto G and it's worked perfectly fine, so it hasn't meant a huge additional purchase (unlike if you bought an apple product and needed to get some kind of Apple-only adapter!) ... Sizing Up ... Weighing in at 143g, the mobile has a screensize of 4.5" (11.4cm) and measures around 5.11 x 2.59 x 0.46" overall. It's quite slim and neat, but the screen size is very adequate for a smartphone to allow you to easily use apps, watch clips etc. I find it's a good size and weight for it to look sleek and smart, but also reasonably robust. It's not a razor sharp phone, nor quite built like the iPhone 5, but it certainly ticks all the boxes for me in terms of it being just the right size. I often find that, although a decent size screen is good, wider phones make it difficult for me to use. I guess it's because I've got quite small hands, so doing anything one handed or typing something out is made tricky and clumsy. Fortunately, this phone doesn't give me any of those problems. ... Turn Me On ... There is a button on the right hand side which acts as a sleep button, so you can turn the screen off or on. When you 'wake it up', so to speak, you need to swipe the screen to be able to use it. It's like unlocking it, so you don't end up making calls or such like by mistake when the phone's in your pocket or bag. I actually quite like this feature; at first I thought it would be quite irritating and time consuming to have to do this any time I wanted to use the phone, but it's really quick to do. The screen being really responsive too also helps. It's worth noting that in order to check the time, you don't need to swipe across the screen. That's important for me because I'm constantly pressing the button on the side to check the screen simply for the time. When you first turn on the phone after getting it out of the box, setting it up and adjusting the settings are simple; you're guided through the process and I found it nice and stress free. Even setting up the wifi and mobile internet was straightforward and without any problems. The phone takes regular SIMs, so I used my GiffGaff sim in this (it was bought from Tesco, and I used a free unlock code I found online - it's worth searching Moneysavingexpert forums for tips on this). Again, it all worked perfectly, so I can't complain. ... The Screen ... When I initially got this out of the box and turned it on, I was instantly quite impressed by the screen quality. The Moto G has a 4.5" HD resolution capacitive touchscreen, which I would say really does rival the bigger, more expensive phones and brands out there at the moment. The images are clear, sharp and in focus. Colours are bright and bold. It really does make using the phone more enjoyable because it's so clear to see everything on the screen. That also means that when watching clips, providing your internet connection is ok, is really good quality. For the price of the phone, I was definitely impressed by the display and resolution. ... Beautiful Memories ... You can buy the Moto G at two prices, paying slightly more for a bit more memory if you wish. It comes as an 8GB or 16GB model, and I chose to get the latter just to be on the safe side. The thing to note with this mobile is that you only get the memory that's on board, because the memory isn't expandable. I know this is probably a bug bear for some people, however for my needs I'm finding that 16GB is more than enough for the apps and photos I want to have. Of course, if you're looking at hoarding lots of videos and music as well, then you may need to rethink your options. Paying around £30 more for twice the memory was a reasonable investment in my opinion and I can rest assured that I won't run out of room on the phone with what I use it for. ... Picture Perfect ... The camera on the front is 5MP, which I think is fairly average for a smartphone. Having owned one with an 8 megapixel camera before, I can say that I can't really notice the difference in terms of quality. The Moto G tends to give quite sharp pictures that are clear and coloured well. It has a flash too, which I couldn't do without when it comes to a camera, so you can take pics in whatever light pretty much. Adjusting the settings is easily done, for instance, if you want to have the flash on all the time or automatically adjusted. Taking the photo is also very simple; there are no camera 'buttons' on the phone itself, you simply touch the screen. Again, making any adjustments to how you want your pictures taken is quite straightforward using the menu options. I find that the 'shutter speed', by which I mean the time between touching the screen and the picture being taken, is quite good. It doesn't lag too much so you can snap away happily without worrying too much that you'll miss something because it's too slow. The only slight niggle I have with the camera is that on one or two occasions I've found that the picture hasn't taken/saved. I've taken a shot of something, gone back later to look at it, and found it wasn't there. I don't know if this is a case of it having not taken when I thought it had, or if I hadn't given the phone enough time to save it. Photos taken are automatically saved, but exiting out of the camera mode too quickly may, I'm assuming, prevent the photos from being captured/saved. The way to prevent that is probably to have the sound on so you can hear the click when you've taken the photo to ensure it's definitely taken, and not to exit out immediately after having taken it. Again, it's nothing major, just something I've learned along the way. ... Transferring ... Uploading and downloading is, thankfully, quite a stress-free task. Using the USB cable provided, you can bypass any confusing software and do the good old drag and drop of your files. I much prefer the option and it makes it so much quicker to move things from my phone on to my laptop. There's also the option of sending photos, video, attachments, website links etc via text and email. Using email, it's quite quick to email yourself or someone else your photos. I actually do this quite a lot when I'm out and about. The only thing I find a tad irritating is always having to manually input my email address. It doesn't seem to remember it or come up as a contact. Perhaps it's just me missing something simple, but that's the only thing that adds some seconds on to the process each time I email something to myself. ... I'm Easy, Baby ... What I also look for in a phone is ease of use, not because I'm a simpleton when it comes to phones, but because I want to be able to do the things I need to do quickly without any fuss. I find the Moto G is made to be quite self-explanatory for the most part and intuitive. Being intuitive I find is quite important. The apps, settings and icons are laid out in a way that seems to make sense, and I could easily start to find my way around the phone and various functions pretty quickly. The phone seems to make things that bit easier for you too, remembering choices you make (ie when viewing images or maps regarding which application you'd like to use) and cutting down the process of getting from A to B (ie to view images, you can swipe across whilst in camera mode, without needing to go in to a separate photo folder). When it comes to using the keyboard, I find this far easier than I did on the Samsung S3 Mini. It's responsive, well-spaced and more accurate; I'm not making as many mistakes and typing text is much quicker. It's still not quite the iPhone style or degree of easiness, but it's definitely not far off from it, so I've been really pleased with this. ... Sounds Good ... The sound quality on the Moto G seems pretty good to me, both through speaker and headphones. It's a regular headphone jack so I just use my JVC Gumy headphones, but I'll admit that I don't use my mobile much for listening to things. All of my music is stored on my iPod Nano, so I'm only really judging the sound on a bit of music I've listened to on here and some clips I've watched. I've found it to be easy to do (ie if you want to upload/download music, play tracks, sort through your albums) and the options to adjust the volume and settings are, again, quite straightforward. Sound quality is reasonably sharp and clear; I can't really complain, but then again, I don't use it as a constant source of music so I can only say that for what I use it for, the sound has been good. ... Battery Life ... The battery life of smartphones seems to provide a point of contention for most users. The Moto G spec states it has up to 400hrs standby & 14 hours talk time, but this is only as a guide. It also doesn't take in to account what you're using it for. Obviously, the more apps you have open the more battery life it's going to suck out. I find that I can be using it for a few calls/texts, 30 minutes internet browsing, 30 minutes app usage, and a few other bits and pieces throughout the day, and by the end of the day it will have used half of the battery. I tend to charge every night just to be on the safe side, as a lot of people do. It's hard then really to measure the battery life or make a judgement on it, but I'd say it's not amazing. However, when comparing to other smartphones, the battery life on most others aren't amazing either. I do feel that I've had phones in the past that have used up battery life more quickly than the Moto G, so if I go by comparison to what I've known previously, then I'm happy enough with the battery life of this. It's worth just being a little cautious of what apps or features you're leaving on and what you can do without in order to conserve some of the life of your battery during the day. ... The Applications ... The phone comes pre-loaded with a bunch of useful things and, thankfully, not so much of the useless junk that I've had on previous phones that I've then needed to uninstall (or have been unable to uninstall!). You get all of your basics, like an alarm, calculator and calendar. Again, all of these seem easy and intuitive to use. For instance, I find that it's simple to set up numerous alarms, to change the time of them, to turn them on / off. There are also some quirky Motorola bits and bobs too, such as Moto Assist and Moto Migrate, all of which use technology to make things easier and more effective for you whilst using the phone or organising your life. You can visit the app store for more apps. As this is an Android phone, you go via Google's Android marketplace, where there are heaps of things to choose from. I'd say this gives better choices than a Windows phone, where apps can still be a bit limited. I've also not really had any compatibility issues with anything I've downloaded and used, so I can't find anything negative to say here either really. ... Accessorise it ... I've found that with the build-up to the release of the Moto G and it's immediate popularity, the accessories for it are a little better than I'd expected. Thinking that it wouldn't be very well-known, I was a little dubious I'd find much in the way of accessories, but alas, a quick look on eBay showed me I was wrong. There are plenty of things to choose from, from the wall charger (which I found for around £3) to screen covers, cases and protectors. There's a fairly decent range of styles and colours etc to accessorise your phone, but let's be honest, no accessory range will ever quite be like what's offered for iPhone users. If you go in to a store you would be very hard pushed to see something designed to fit the Moto G, but check out Amazon and eBay definitely for some options. ... Overall ... All in all, the Moto G is a surprise entry to the lower-priced spectrum of smartphones, but it really does rival the bigger, more expensive contenders. I've been very impressed by it so far in terms of quality, ease of use and features; it's been reliable and I can't find much to fault it at all, so it's definitely one I'd recommend considering if you're on the look-out for a great mobile without spending a fortune or getting tied down on an expensive contract. Moto G 8GB (£110) or 16GB (£139) at Tesco. (Also reviewed by me, gothic_moon, on Ciao)

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      • Pineapple Express (DVD) / DVD / 55 Readings / 55 Ratings
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        11.03.2014 14:22
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        A daft but entertaining watch that doesn't require many active brain cells.

        It's odd, but I thought I'd seen this a while ago. It wasn't until a friend was talking about it the other day that I realised I hadn't! With some cast remembers I quite like, and a rather 'laidback' premise, I knew this would be at least a reasonably entertaining watch. It wasn't always the sharpest in humour, but as far as drug-related comedies go, it was easy to sit through and packed in some action towards the end to make sure viewers were still awake too. Pineapple Express was directed by David Gordon Green, who has produced/directed several pieces such as The Sitter and Your Highness, though Pineapple Express is the first one chronologically that I recognise. Seth Rogan played a part in the writing, which is interesting to know but unsurprising when you watch the film and catch the style of comedy. This falls within the comedy genre and introduces us to Dale Denton, a process server with a girlfriend in high school and little else going on in his life except for the highs of weed. With an impending visit to his girlfriend's parents weighing on his mind, he makes a visit to his lazy bum of a drug dealer, Saul Silver, who hooks him up with something a little bit extra special. Claiming to be the only one with access to it aside from the big boss he bought it from, Saul treats Dale to the newest, most awesome strain of weed on the block: Pineapple Express. It definitely is some good weed, but whilst smoking it in his car Dale witnesses a murder. It's a crime he wishes he didn't see because it seemed to involve a cop and a bad-ass drug lord murdering his competition. Fearing he was going to get caught, he ditches the roach and leaves pronto, then worries they've seen him and will track him down. The stupid thing is, the weed he left behind is enough to track Saul to the crime scene and by association Dale because the weed is so rare. The rest of the film then basically sees Dale and Saul, a witness to a crime and a man who now knows about the crime, go on the run from these bad guys who are keen to track them down. Along the way they meet others involved in the Pineapple Express and murder web, each who seem to have their own agendas and vendettas. The question is, can these two stoner bums, with the power of the few brain cells they share between them (though Dale obviously owns the majority!) outrun these bad guys and stay alive? Pineapple Express is a bit of a stoner film in the sense that it's very laid back and takes an easy going approach to smoking weed, though you could argue there's a moral in there somewhere because of all of the violence and murder that ensues as a result of the drug. You get the clichéd stoner attitude and lifestyle portrayed by Saul, which is quite entertaining to watch, and the less-expected user experience from Dale, who seemingly has quite an important job going around to people and telling them 'you've been served'. He seems intelligent enough to get by but enjoys a relaxed approach to life, and it's actually quite calming and refreshing to watch. The comedy is a mix of stoner-related lightness, in-your-face stupidity and a smidge of sarcasm. They make fun of the fact that these are just two regular guys, not beefed up super-quick or super-intelligent ninjas capable of running from the bad guys or beating them down in a well-choreographed fight scene. They stumble around and act as you would expect realistically, which was quite amusing in itself. I wouldn't say I found it laugh out loud funny, but it was entertaining enough for me for the most part, though on occasion I found a scene or two to stretch a little too long and thus become a little over-baked. Pineapple Express also throws in a good amount of action, particularly towards the end, with fight scenes and explosions and all sorts of stupidity. It manages to keep the tempo reasonable and make sure we're still awake at the end by giving that sucker punch through cars exploding and people being killed in ridiculous ways. The cast includes Seth Rogan and James Franco as Dale and Saul respectively, the film's protagonists. Then there's Danny McBride (Red, another druggie), Gary Cole (Ted, drug lord), Craig Robinson (Matheson) and Amber Heard (the girlfriend, Angie) amongst others. It's a pretty good line up with some familiar faces, and each seem to fit their role quite well and make the characters interesting. All in all, this is a light-hearted drug-related romp that I found entertaining and easy enough to watch. It wasn't challenging to watch so it didn't require too many brain cells, and whilst it wasn't the wittiest or most intelligently written flick, it provided the expected levels of amusing with a cast I enjoyed. DVD released 2009, running time 111 minutes, rated Certificate 15. Selling on Amazon for £4.29.

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        • Ferrero Tic Tac / Sweets / 61 Readings / 61 Ratings
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          08.03.2014 09:31
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          Fruity, but expensive, little lifts.

          I used to eat these quite a lot when I was little, then for years never had them. I think part of that may have been their price, when bought individually. Whilst still easy to come across in shops and very well-known, I wouldn't say they're hugely popular in the sense that I rarely see people with them. Having said that, I'm getting back in to the Tic Tac habit (to supplement my spearmint Polo habit!) and they're still as delicious as ever. First produced in 1969, Tic Tacs were made by the Ferrero confectioner and are sold all over the world. Tic Tacs are small, hard mints and they come in a variety of flavours. Usually, the mints themselves are dyed a colour corresponding to the flavour, so the lime & orange tasting ones are coloured green and orange. There have been some boxes, however, where the box itself is coloured and the Tic Tacs are white. For the most part though in the UK they seem to retain their original packaging. They're sold individually and in multi-packs, normally of 3 or 4. Each individual box is just that, a small rectangular box-like container made of transparent plastic with a white flip top lid weighing in at 18g. This packaging is very recognisable as being Tic Tac and stands out from the crowd because it's traditional yet still fairly unique. The marketing tagline for these little mints of loveliness is 'freshing little lifts'. I remember they were also advertised with the main perk of the product being that each mint contains less than two calories. Per 100g, these contain 391 calories. Considering how they're eaten, how many you get in the small tub, and how they can be quite tricky to get out, I wouldn't say these are mints you'd necessarily over-do and end up eating 100g worth of calories, so if you're just having a few, or even one box, at a time then at just less than 2 kcal each they're pretty good. I buy these in Orange and Lime flavour, but they're readily available in mint too if you want something more 'refreshing' and a cleaner taste. Other flavours are sold, though are not always as easy to come across, such as cinnamon or strawberry. In America, and indeed on the American Tic Tac website, they're made other flavour additions and also changes to the packaging. I'm reviewing the orange and lime ones; I can't say as that I'm a fan of the mint ones. The mints are small and almost pill-shaped, like a stubby rounded cuboid. The outside shell is crisp, so you can suck these for a while as they dissolve on the outside, or just bite in to them if you want a bit of a crunch. They don't seem to last long in your mouth, however, probably given as how small they are. In comparison to a Polo, for instance, two of these last half as long for me. I also want to go back for more. They don't really seem to stick in your teeth, which is good, and whilst they're hard they're not brittle or too hard for biting in to. As for the flavour, though it may be artificial, I love it. The orange and limes do taste like, well, orange and limes. It refreshing and fruity, and it does leave me feeling a little uplifted afterwards. Like I've said though, I always want to go back for more! The mint ones are also as you'd expect, leaving your mouth feeling minty fresh, and with those just the two will usually do because I find mint far less moreish in comparison. I can't say, however, that I particularly like these that much. I always opt for the fruity ones! I find the boxes to be very cute and easy to pop in your pocket or in your bag. Getting mints out, because of their shape and the rectangular hole through which to dispense them, can be a little tricky. Giving the box a little shake usually does the trick, but it's rare that you can get just the right number out that you want. It's a pernickety point, however, and something that doesn't really bother me too much. The downside? The price. When bought individually, I think these are extortionate. Yes, you get a nice little plastic box, but once used, it goes in the bin. You don't get hundreds of Tic Tacs in there, nor do they always last that long, so paying the prices I often see these at in newsagents and the like is very off-putting. Whilst you get a reasonable amount in the box, so that it's still 'pocket sized', I find I can get through them quite easily, especially when considering that these get eaten far quicker, for me at least, when you've popped them in your mouth than something like a Polo. I only buy these in multi-packs, which you can find in lots of places (such as Iceland, Wilkos and Poundland) for £1 for 4. Supermarkets tend to charge around £1.49 for the same multipack (Tesco). In comparison to the cheap £1 multibuy bargain, buying individually can cost between 60p to 90p. It's worth noting that some individual boxes are available in a larger size, which are more expensive still. All in all, these are unique mints with cute packaging, a great taste and an appealing crisp outer shell. I'd recommend these for a fruity, or minty, little lift. Retails for around £1 (multipack 4 x 18g) in discounter stores / £1.45 (Tesco) 18g individual 60 - 80p

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          • Hello Kitty Mug / Crockery / 54 Readings / 54 Ratings
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            01.03.2014 09:23
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            A cute & rather vintage cup of tea the Hello Kitty way!

            I'm not quite sure which product 'Hello Kitty Mug' is specifying, especially as the image is of a different product to the Amazon link given. I'm reviewing the blue vintage rose mug, which can be bought in a gift set with a coaster. I actually had this at Christmas, being a bit of a mug-hoarder for some reason; I've got a cupboard of mugs and having never grown out of my love for Hello Kitty designs I was oddly excited by getting this (I'm easy to please!). It's a lovely set and the mug isn't child-sized, so we adults can enjoy a nice cuppa. Hello Kitty is hugely popular now and there's a whole range of goodies you can get, often with different colours and designs. Whilst not a huge fan of the baby pinks and bright pinks, I do love HK. When I came across this mug, I thought it was a little different to the norm that you may expect from Hello Kitty. It comes in a hard plastic case, packaged with a coaster, which should mean you get a cup that's not damaged and also looks presentable enough to give it as a lovely gift. The mug is predominantly blue, which is a fairly light shade, complimented by an intricate pink rose design across the front. Hello Kitty makes her appearance on the one side of the mug, and her name is scrolled across the back. This design is replicated on the coaster, so it's the perfect matching set. The design actually looks quite vintage; it's very cute but I wouldn't say overly girly, old-fashioned or young. It manages to balance all of these really well and I personally love the design, even though it may not normally be 'my cup of tea' so to speak. As for the mug itself, it's good quality and of reasonable thickness; not too thick that your tea go cold quickly, but not too thin that it's dainty or frail. The size is, well, adult-sized. It holds a good size cup of tea/coffee/something a little stronger which is important for me as I love my tea and a tiny dainty little cup is never enough. The handle is comfortable to hold and the mug has a good quality feel to it, as does the design on the front. It feels 'shiny', if that makes sense, so it hasn't damaged or faded in the weeks I've been using it. I expect it will last quite well. The same can be said for the quality of the coaster. For a regular cork coaster, it looks fab. Lovely design to match the mug and it's quite thick, so I'm pleased with that. I almost don't like using it, though cup marks do wipe off with a damp towel/tissue, because I want to keep it looking new. I found this in Clintons, but I can't find it on their website now. It is, however, available at Tesco Direct for £7 : http://www.tesco.com/direct/hello-kitty-mug-coaster-blue/668-5763.prd. It can, of course, be found elsewhere. The Tesco image unfortunately doesn't show the front of the mug with Hello Kitty herself, but you can get better images from the mugs on sale on eBay. Price-wise, you are paying for the Sanario Hello Kitty brand. However, I'd argue that it's good quality and offers a slightly different design to the usual HK range, so I would happily recommend this as for yourself or to give as a gift. Can be bought for around £7 (Tesco Direct, as part of a set with a coaster).

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            20.02.2014 15:07
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            A handy addition to your skin care routine

            I'm a big fan of all things quick and simple when it comes to skincare, and I usually look for products that are reasonably priced and work on more problematic skin (ie. Breakouts, blemishes). I've been quite happy with T-Zone and their wipes are one product in the range that definitely get a thumbs up from me. These come in a soft plastic packet, light green in colour with a white swirl design all over. Each pack contains 25 wipes, which is about average for similar products. The packet opens with a clear plastic re-sealable flap on the top, which you need to make sure to stick down as well as you can after taking out a wipe so they don't dry out. It doesn't really look like there's much information on the wipes themselves at first glance, but if you look underneath the flap at the back there's some text. This basically tells us about T-Zone products and how they contain 'natural anti-bacterial ingredients, which are scientifically proven to be tough on spots but gentle on skin'. T-Zone is a brand quite well regarded and popular when it comes to troublesome skin and blemishes, so it's nice to see they offer wipes for cleansing too and not just liquids and sticks and creams. The wipes are designed (and 'specially formulated'!) to do a few things, including : * Removing excess bacterial, grease and oil (which can lead to spots) * Reduce shine (which is really achieved because of the above point) * Cleanse, protect and tone skin * Remove make-up * Help to guard against over-dry skin (ie. These aren't overly harsh and shouldn't dry out your skin too much when removing excess skin oils) Face wipes are super easy to use because literally all you need to do is remove one from the packet, gently wipe over your face (and neck if you wish) and throw in the bin. Make sure you don't try putting them down the toilet because they're not designed to be flushable. The great thing is that you don't need to do anything after using the wipe; you don't rinse your face afterwards and the sense of 'wetness' quickly dries out without leaving any residue or such like. The note of caution on the back of the pack advises to keep away from the eye area, and also to discontinue use if any irritation occurs, which goes for most facial products. I find the wipes are a good size and adequate even if you're removing eye make-up and foundation etc. They smell quite fresh and a little of citrus; it's a scent I can't quite describe but it's instantly recognisable to me as T-Zone. I quite like it as it doesn't smell overly chemical-ish. As for their effectiveness in removing make-up, I don't wear too much of it and I never use waterproof mascara, but I've found these have done the job quite well. Using the area of the wipe to go back over and remove traces, such as mascara which usually takes a while to get rid of, my face is left make-up free and not red raw from scrubbing away at it. The wipes actually feel quite gentle on my face and soft, unlike some I've used in the past which have had a far more 'rough' texture. After using these I do notice that my skin feels zingy fresh and clean, and I can see a difference in the condition of my skin in the sense that it looks less shiny. Therefore I'd say they do what they claim on the pack; cleanse and reduce shine. I've not noticed any irritation at all with these and I can have somewhat sensitive skin, so I'm usually a bit cautious with products at first. However, I've used these for months and find they're gentle enough for me. They're also suitable for daily use, so they're not just for removing make-up at the weekends or for special occasions where you need to cleanse whilst out and about. Although I do love that about these; they're quick and easy to use, and perfect for taking out with you in your bag. I know I've been a bit fan of these whilst staying away from home or going camping. I can't really say as that I've noticed any particular downsides to the product, though I'd argue the stickiness of the re-sealable plastic could be a tad better. That said, I've also known worse. They do seem to stay fresh for quite a while, however, so I've been quite impressed by that. Do they prevent spots? Well, they do seem to remove excess oil and leave my face feeling fresh, but I wouldn't rely on them alone to get rid of blemishes or prevent future breakouts, though they're a handy addition to my skincare routine. All in all, you can't go too far wrong with these. I've been very pleased with them, especially when buying on offer, as they do what they claim to. Pack of 25 retails for around £1.99 - check out discounter stores and places like Savers (where I've bought mine for around 50p!).

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            • Lars and the Real Girl (DVD) / DVD / 63 Readings / 62 Ratings
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              18.02.2014 15:06
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              A tale of loneliness & bravery, as told with the help of a life-size doll.

              I came across this whilst browsing IMDB and noticed it stars Ryan Gosling, so I was curious to see what it was about. Without reading in to it too much, or reading in depth in to the reviews, I was expecting something a little unusual but a good watch, given as that lots of people rated it 4-5. Whilst it wasn't particularly energetic as far as films go, it was a bit different to the norm and watchable, leaving me remembering bits of it after the movie was over. This was directed by Craig Gillespie, who has worked on a couple of things but nothing I recognise prior to this, so Lars and The Real Girl may be his first big piece. I'd say it falls within the comedy / drama genres, though tilting slightly towards the latter. Despite it being a 2008 release, which may seem a little dated to some now, I still consider it to be relatively recent so I was surprised I hadn't heard of it before. It's actually noted to be an 'offbeat comedy' in one blurb online, but I found it accidentally whilst looking to see what else Gosling had been in prior to the big blockbusters of late. We're introduced to Lars Lindstrom, a very shy guy working in an office, who seems to keep himself to himself. When not busy with the 9-5 mudane job, he seems to squirrel himself away at home and has little in the way of outside interests or a social network. He does, however, live nearby his brother Gus and sister-in-law Karin, both of whom seem keen to try to include him in their plans and see him be a little more sociable. When a colleague mentions some realistic dolls he's seen online, Lars seems to ignore the comment. However, having given some thought to these life-size dolls, he puts in an order. Not long after, 'Bianca' arrives, neatly packaged in a cardboard box and ready to become Lar's new girlfriend. So, here we have a shy introvert who has just taken on a doll as a girlfriend. She looks pretty real, with her plastic face made up and her hair long and feminine. Lars starts to treat her like a real girl, hence the film's title, and in doing so decides to take a leap of faith and introduce her to others. He tells Gus and Karin he has a new girlfriend that he'd like to take to dinner at theirs, to which they're delighted. Of course, when he turns up with a doll, their expressions change. It's strange, yes, but it's also a little worrying for them. Has Gus' brother finally just lost his mind? They decide to play the game and indulge Lars a little, but not too much at first. They take 'Bianca' to the doctors, where the doctor actually spends time with Lars, acting as his confidante and psychiatrist without him realising. As time goes by, 'Bianca' becomes a staple in Lars' life. He treats her as if she were real, eventually bringing her along to meet his colleages and going to parties with her. It's clear that not only does he feel deep affection for his non-living girlfriend, but that she's helping him to come out of his shell by being at his side. The rest of the film sees how this development is seen and responded to by others in Lars' life, and how the introduction of a real girl, Margo, affects Lars. The question is, assuming this 'relationship' can't continue indefinitely, can those who love and support Lars help him to move away from 'Bianca' and get the balance right by accepting her and indulging in his fantasy? The premise is quite original; at least, I've not seen anything too similar before. It's an interesting concept to see played out on the screen and to see the angle the writers and directors decided to take it in. It's obviously sculpted so as to provide a bit of a moral undercurrent throughout, and give viewers a sense of a 'lesson learned' by the end of it. It made me think and it made me also wonder how I'd react in that situation if I were his sister in law, his brother or his friend. The cast includes Ryan Gosling (as protagonist Lars Lindstrom), Paul Schneider (brother Gus), Emily Mortimer (sister-in-law Karin) and Patricia Clarkson (doctor Dagmar) amongst others. The cast played their respective characters well, being quite realistic and evoking the desired responses from me as a viewer. I didn't feel that Gosling necessarily made a striking impact as Lars, however his more subtle approach to it was quite understated and seemed to work well, adding to the overall feel of the film being quite modest. Talking of understated, Lars and The Real Girl didn't have any of the Hollywood sparkles you may anticipate, especially given the star of the show, which I was glad to see. It felt quite raw, nothing too flashy or expensive in terms of set or effects, and this generated a more down-to-earth and realistic vibe to the whole thing. It felt a bit dated, but not overly so, meaning it still felt relatable and of decent quality, despite there being no fireworks or anything that really hits you in the face with amazingness. Watching this flick, I got the sense of it being a tad slow. Granted, it's a drama, but the pace is kept quite stable and like a gentle trot throughout. I wouldn't have minded feeling a bit more energy at points. As for the comedy, perhaps it was just me but I didn't really notice much. The whole doll-for-a-girlfriend aspect isn't really of comedy value, and is instead the leading reason for this being a drama. It's what fuels the desire to understand Lars, to imagine how he feels, to discover how difficult it is for him to move on from Bianca now that he's found someone to be at his side. So in terms of it being a comedy, I just couldn't really see it myself. This is one I'd recommend if you're feeling in the mood for something quite understated and thoughtful, but not in a complicated way. It's actually very easy to watch in the sense that it doesn't require much thought, but I would think that some may find it quite dull and boring in parts. Stick with it, however, and you'll get a quirky premise and some good acting to help pull it through. DVD released 2008, running time 106 minutes, rated Certificate 12. Selling on Amazon for £6.54.

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            • We're The Millers (DVD) / DVD / 57 Readings / 55 Ratings
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              12.02.2014 14:50
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              A so-so comedy, but not one you're missing out on.

              I wasn't sure what to make of this when I saw it advertised. Not entirely eager to see it, I was curious about Sudeikis starring in it and wanted something easy and light to watch, so I gave it a go last week. As expected, We're The Millers offer anything new or particularly memorable for me, but it was entertaining enough to keep me company when I didn't have the brain cells left on a Friday night to watch anything too challenging. This was directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who has directed/written a small handful of things, though only Dodgeball is recognisable to me. It falls within the comedy genre and uses the notion of a perfect family not being all it seems to be on the surface to add a twist to the premise. We're introduced to David Clark, a drug dealer who looks more like an office employee, who is offered £100,000 dollars by his rich client Brad Gurdlinger to pull off a job. The mission? To travel to Mexico, pick up a shipment of cannabis and transport it over the American border. Not an easy thing to do, but with that much money in the pipeline, it's a tempting job offer! David knows he will need a plan if he is to be successful; in order to deflect any suspicion, he enlists the help of a few people to become a fake family. The mother, Rose O'Reilly, a stripper by night. Then for two kids, daughter Casey and son Kenny, the former being a homeless girl and the latter being David's rather nerdy neighbour. Perfect. Throw in a camper van and it's a family vacation, just four normal people going on a normal trip to Mexico and back. Of course, things are not as simple as the plan sounds and the situation quickly gets out of control. Family arguments, personal issues, and a small matter of the pot being a massive amount and also belonging to a powerful Mexican drug lord all put the plan at risk. As the film continues, the question is one of whether these four individuals work together and pull it off, without being killed or arrested in the process. The premise is pretty straightforward and nothing particularly amazing in terms of originality, though it's interesting to see the undertones of how what a family looks like from the outside can often harbour a lot of secrets and deception underneath. You know, the whole 'outside image can be deceiving' sort of scenario. We're The Millers adds humour that is, for the most part, more obvious than clever; whilst there were times I thought it was a little overdone, however, I wouldn't say it was too over the top or in your face enough to make it stupid. It was, for the most part, fairly balanced and I found it entertaining enough, though not laugh out loud funny. The cast was probably what made the film and what makes it somewhat memorable. The cast includes Jason Sudeikis (David Clark), Jennifer Aniston (Rose O'Reilly), Will Poulter (son Kenny), Emma Roberts (daughter Casey), and extra famous faces thrown in such as Ed Helms (Brad Gurdlinger) and Luis Guzman (a cop), amongst others. I enjoyed Sudeikis and found him easy to watch, being quite down to earth and comical in a way I could relate to. I've never really been an Aniston fan but I didn't find her quite as annoying and irritating as I thought I would, thankfully. As for the kids, Poulter was annoying, though this was in part intended. Roberts played Casey reasonably well but nothing really stuck in my brain about any of them. It was nice to see Helms involved, though he only had a small role in comparison. The film overall had a fairly good quality feel to it, and you could tell that money went in to the cast and production. Whilst I wasn't always overly keen on the script, there were moments in the movie that provided entertainment and it really didn't take much thought or effort to watch. Unfortunately, there just wasn't much 'oomph' to it because reviewing it only a short while later, I'm struggling to pick out anything in particular that I remember it for. Overall, I'd say this was so-so. An easy to watch, light-hearted romp about a fake family transporting some drugs and getting in to mischief along the way. Not a game-changer or a raucous comedy, so it's not one you'd necessarily be missing out on if you don't get to see it any time soon. DVD released 2013, rated Certificate 15, running time 105 minutes. Selling on Amazon for £9.99.

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              • Prisoners (DVD) / DVD / 71 Readings / 69 Ratings
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                07.02.2014 15:11
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                A thought-provoking & gripping drama-esque thriller worth seeing.

                I remember seeing this advertised when it was first released and really wanted to see it, then never got around to watching it at the cinema. Whilst I tried to avoid looking at much in the way of reviews, I expected something at least half decent from Prisoners. I wasn't disappointed; it's quite a long film, but one with a stellar performance from Jackman and a gripping premise that kept me gripped until the end. This was directed by Denis Villeneuve, who has worked on a few things but nothing I really seem to recognise. It falls within the crime / drama / thriller genres and the advertising for it made it seem quite dark and brooding. We're introduced to two happy families, the Dover's and the Birch's. Keller Dover, father to a boy and a girl, takes his wife and kids over to Franklin Birch's house for a family meal and get-together time. The kids of the two families go out to play and the parents are getting along swimmingly, all having a good time. However, things turn sour when Keller's six year old daughter, Anna, doesn't return back to the house. She's gone off with Franklin's daughter, Joy, so they check back at their own house. No luck. The check the streets and the gardens in case they're still out playing for longer than expected. No sign of them anywhere. With panic just setting in, both families look for their daughters with an increasing air of dread. What could possibly have happened in a quiet, friendly neighbourhood like that? The only clue they have to follow is a dirty looking RV / campervan type thing that's been parked on the street. The girls had been trying to climb on it earlier in the day and the older children had told their younger siblings to stay away when they could hear noises coming from inside it. No sign of the girls their either though, but Keller is obviously very suspicious of the van and it's seemingly odd-driver. After fits of panic and a call to the police, Detective Loki is assigned to the investigation and the first port of call, other than organising search parties to comb the whole area, is to arrest Alex Jones, the driver of the van. Jones is an unusual character and they put pressure on him, but to no avail. There's no evidence and although Loki is trying to do all he can to find the missing girls, the hours tick along and the desperation of the families continues to grow. Keller, however, becoming increasingly convinced that Jones knows more than he's letting on, that perhaps he's abducted the girls. Enlisting Franklin, who's also eager to find his little girl Anna, the two men try to do what the police can't by taking matters in to their own hands. I won't say any more on the premise, but it's very much a case of 'how far would you go to protect your child?'. The question is, will they find the answers they're looking for? Will they find the girls before it's too late, or has that chance already vanished as the hours and days go by? With a plot like that, it's obvious that one of the draws to the film is the anticipation and desperation. It's a tale of suspicion, of the fear parents feel for their children, and of the heart-wrenching panic when you feel utterly helpless to help those who mean the most to you. Prisoners creates suspense really well throughout the film, adding touches of music and quite bleak scenery to build up the atmosphere. What truly made the suspense, in my opinion, was the acting. The cast was fantastic because the characters really drew out the emotion and made it palpable; you could empathise with their panic and desperation, and I found myself gripped to watching in order to find out where these poor girls were. The cast includes Hugh Jackman (Keller Dover), Jake Gyllenhaal (Detective Loki), Terrence Howard (Franklin Birch, the father of the other missing girl), Paul Dano (suspect Alex Jones), Maria Bellow (Grace Dover) and Melissa Leo (Alex's mother, Holly) amongst others. Most notably for me was Jackman, who really did provide a stellar performance as Keller. We see outbreaks of rage balanced my moments of despair as he brings the character to life and injects a sense of urgency in to the premise. Gyllenhaal was quite understated as Loki, which I felt was a positive thing as this gave more emphasis on the performance by Jackman, but he still did an excellent job of being a smart detective without coming across as too Hollywood or polished. Dano was spot on as the slightly odd and mysterious suspect, not over-egging the pudding too much but still able to portray his air of creepiness. Other cast members were equally well-placed and there wasn't really anyone that stood out as letting the film down; they made a cohesive unit of characters that worked together to make the premise quite realistic and believable. The film had, despite some big names in the cast, a down-to-earth and almost rough around the edges appeal to it. It was well-done in terms of quality, so you could tell that much time, effort and money had been put in to its production, but it managed to keep itself grounded. It was made to be gritty and realistic, meaning that as a viewer I was more easily able to identify with the characters and imagine such a gut-wrenching situation that I otherwise wouldn't be able to comprehend. The downsides? Not much, other than the ending in one respect. For me, I like the psychology behind these films; I wanted to see some motivation behind the crime, some explanation for the events and actions, and I didn't feel like I got enough of this. It was more a case of the mystery being solved, a quick explanation, and then it moved on. I wanted to know more about the characters responsible and why they did what they did. A minor point perhaps, given that the film was otherwise excellent, but a point that niggled at the edges of my brain slightly afterwards. All in all, Prisoners was a gripping take of suspense and desperation that kept me hooked from start to finish, which I don't often find with films so much lately. It made me think and empathise with the characters, whilst being lost in the super performance given by Jackman. DVD released February 2014, running time 153 minutes, rated Certificate 15. Selling on Amazon for £9.99.

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                • More +
                  28.01.2014 21:11
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                  This is an author I'll be keeping an eye out for in future.

                  I don't recall having read any books by Daniel Blake previously, but I was curious having come across the cover in the library a few weeks ago. Luckily enough, I've managed to find a new author I'm definitely going to be checking out in future. It was an interesting read that kept me wanting to turn the pages, so it's definitely one I'd suggest giving a go. White Death falls within the crime thriller genre, of the American ilk, which I seem to be addicted to at the moment. On the cover is the tagline 'he's coming out to play' to draw us in. We're introduced to Kwasi King, who's a bit like the Muhammed Ali of the chess world as per the cover of the book. Since an incredibly young age he seemed to pick up a love and skill for chess, so much so that years down the line he's rich, famous and has his mother still as his agent. Quite the success story, having been brought up in the not-so-well-off areas and having to make his way as a black champion through some racial prejudices. He's due to play off against Tartu to defend his world title as chess champion, so the stakes are high and he's getting a lot of publicity. Even more so when his mother is found brutally murdered not far from Yale University. Kwasi and his mother lived together, worked together and seemed, from the outside world, to be a very close-knit team, so Kwasi is obviously shocked and distressed by the news. No one's quite sure what she was doing down by Yale that day or who would want to murder her, especially in such a fashion at that she was found in. Headless, with one arm removed and a patch of skin sliced away, there just lies a tarot card placed nearby her body. FBI Special Agent Franco Patrese is called in to investigate the case, batting away the publicity surrounding the chess champion to try to find some answers. There's a lot of question over whether Kwasi will play the big tournament, but the case quickly picks up speed because murder doesn't wait for a chess game. More bodies start to turn up, each dotted around other Ivy League Colleges. Whilst there are similarities shown between the murders in terms of the tarot card and headless/armless/patch of skin removed aspects, some are black and some are white victims; some are killed with time and precision, others in more of a flurry of emotion and opportunity. It's almost as if two killers are working in tandem, one after the other, keeping to the same murder design. Patrese seeks help from someone who knows their stuff on tarot cards and later down the line the female chess champ, Inessa, is called in to help give some background on the game and those involved in the case who she knows, such as Kwasi. There's a lot of mystery and query over what's going on behind closed doors and what secrets the chess players and the agent in the middle are hiding. We learn about a project, Misha, which further adds to the number of questions we as readers build up as it goes along. I won't say any more on the premise, but in a nut shell it's a bit of a 'who-dunnit' scenario, where your suspicions and guesses are tested throughout. It was interesting to see how the characters developed as the story continued because we learn snippets about all of them, and their relationships to each other, as we go along. This piecemeal fashion keeps you reading and turning the pages to find out more. It did take some brain cells to read this because you need to keep up with who's who and think about the tangible links between events, but I wouldn't say it was overly convoluted or complex as Blake seemed to cover and re-cover points well. Blake's style of writing throughout White Death was really fluid and quite entertaining at points, with some humour interjected through Agent Patrese against the backdrop of such harrowing crimes. It was enjoyable to read in the sense that I was able to get absorbed in the plot and start to identify and engage with the characters. The atmosphere and suspense was built up well, and scenes were clear enough that I could picture them in my head whilst reading. Likewise, I could get a fairly good feel for the characters, which added to the enjoyment of reading the novel. Whilst the world of chess isn't something I'm particularly interested in, I was surprised to find I actually quite enjoyed learning more about it, even if some aspects of these big championship games seemed a little melodramatic to me. It was also quite original how Blake drew the parallels and made almost a personification of murder in terms of a chess game and the pieces. For me, this made the book stand out a little from other similar crime thrillers in this genre. Overall, this is one I'd recommend and it's an author who I will keep an eye out for in the future. Well-written, with a chess-themed twist to murder, this should keep crime thriller fans engaged from start to finish. 418 pages over 64 chapters. RRP £7.99, selling on Amazon for £3.85 (paperback).

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                  • Now You See Me (DVD) / DVD / 75 Readings / 74 Ratings
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                    24.01.2014 15:17
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                    Entertaining enough to watch despite the slight disappointment I felt with the film

                    I remember seeing a trailer for this flick in the cinema a while ago and thinking it looked pretty interesting, so I was looking forward to giving it a watch. The premise seemed a little ambiguous as to what exactly the film would be like, but judging by the cast and effects I was hoping for something quite impressive, but avoided searching for further details or reviews beforehand. Whilst it was enjoyable to watch and offered something a little different, I couldn't help but be left feeling a little disappointed at the end. Now You See Me probably falls in to the crime thriller genre, mixed with action & mystery. It was directed by Louis Leterrier, who has worked on a handful of other big flicks like The Incredible Hulk and Clash Of The Titans, so he has some experience to bring to the action side of things. The flick managed to get some reasonable publicity and although I didn't read too much in to any reviews prior to watching, they weren't all quite as positive as I had necessarily expected. We're introduced to four magicians, each with his or own 'act' and talent. Each individual receives a mysterious note that's actually a summons to a rendezvous, though they're unaware they won't be alone. Arriving at a rather dodgy looking apartment building, they don't immediately gel because they're so competitive, and there's obviously some personal issues between a few of the characters. They enter the room and, cutting forward slightly, they're miraculously transformed by an unknown man of magic, their agent, in to the Four Horsemen. The agent wants to make them the best act in the world, and they do a good job. From having been thrown together unawares at random one day, a year later they make a public appearance as a group and take America by storm. They're all over the world, making grand appearances on stage with some pretty bold stunts and 'magic' that mesmerises the viewers in the audience and those watching at home. These 'magic acts', however, are not all quite above board. They're not just pulling a rabbit out of a hat, but rather they're robbing banks right under the FBI's nose. In particular, detective Dylan Rhodes. They get involved, along with Interpol, trying to decipher how these magicians managed to pull something so incredible and unbelievable off, and plan ahead as to what they may do next. Of course, the magicians have excuses and get out of jail free cards up their sleeve, so they seem to be able to slip through the fingers of the authorities. It starts to become clear that the Four Horsemen, and the bigger magic chiefs, have a far grander plan up their sleeve. As the film continues, we learn more about what the ulterior motive actually is, and whether the FBI can crack the plan before the grand finale gets played in front of their international audience. What first struck me about this film was the cast, quickly followed by its 'prettiness'. The line-up has some instantly recognisable names and faces, adding credibility and, depending on your tastes, some 'eye candy'. The latter comment about 'prettiness' really refers to the scenes; the magic, the studios they do their tricks in, the way it's all presented, is very sparkly, large, in your face, extravagant. It's obvious that time and money has gone in to the scenes and the layout, giving us plenty to look at and feel 'amazed' by. After all, it is about magic so it does need to look a little bit magical. The premise is also quite interesting. It's based the puzzle that the closer you look, the less you see. The fact that a group of people can get away with such things like a bank heist and get away with it, lest the FBI admit they did it by way of magic, gives you something to think about. Working out how things are done keeps your mind occupied to, and gradually some of the tricks are unveiled. What also makes you think is the big question mark over who two people are in particular. Arthur Tressler and Thaddeus Bradley. Is the former the agent, and the latter an interfering ex magical hero of his time? What is the obvious tension between the two? And more importantly, what's the grand plan for the Four Horsemen? There's obviously something big on the agenda, but we're not privy as to what that is; we're kept hanging until the end wondering what will happen next. The cast includes Mark Ruffalo (agent Dylan Rhodes), Woody Harrelson (Merritt McKinney), Jesse Eisenberg (J Daniel Atlas), Isla Fisher (Henley Reeves), Dave Franco (Jack Wilder), Michael Caine (Arthur Tressler) and Morgan Freeman (Thaddeus Bradley), amongst others. These are some pretty big names all thrown in to the pot, and it does have quite a Hollywood feel to it, precisely because it's designed to. It's supposed to feel sparkly and shiny, so I can't really fault it for that. What I wasn't so keen on, unfortunately, was the ending. It seemed a bit too 'loose' and 'wishy-washy' for my liking. There was a bit of confusion on my part when watching it, though perhaps I was too distracted by the cast and pretty lights and magic tricks. Considering such build up throughout the movie you'd expect the grand finale to make sense and be hard-hitting. It was a relatively hard-hitting ending with some fireworks, but they seemed to fizzle rather than pop. I thought 'oh, that's it?', along with 'huh?'. For me that just left me feeling a bit let down in the premise. All in all, it's an entertaining flick that kept me entertained and engrossed thanks to the extravagant scenes and Hollywood line-up. It added something a little different to the genre but unfortunately the premise was a little weak for me, resulting in a bit of a deflated ending. DVD released 2013, running time 116 minutes, rated Certificate 12. DVD selling for £9.99 (Amazon).

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                    • More +
                      16.01.2014 20:48
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                      An enjoyable read, but lacking a little in the grittiness & 'oomph' factor.

                      I came across this whilst browsing in the library and was tempted by the cover and blurb on the back. Having never heard of Kellerman before, I wasn't sure what to expect; whilst it wasn't quite the crime thriller I had hoped in terms of action and thrills, it was a well-written book that I enjoyed turning the pages of. On the cover we're told that this is 'A Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus Thriller', though that meant little to me having never heard of the author previously. There's also a quote from the Observer to draw us in: 'Brutal, well-ploted and fast moving'. Blood Games falls within the crime thriller genre and is American, which is my area of reading obsession at the moment. We're introduced to Gabe Whitman, a 15 year old kid who is incredibly gifted and talented when it comes to playing the piano. With a mum who communicates when she feels like it by InstantMessages, and a dad who's a criminal and now runs whorehouses, Gabe has been taken in by the Deckers. Having only been there a short while, he's already at home there, getting along at school and practicing piano in every spare minute. Peter Decker is a detective with the LAPD and lives with his wife, Rena. They also have another children, so they've got quite a full life going on. They become busier still as Gregory Hesse, a 15-year old student of a prestigious high school, is found dead. The single gunshot wound to the head and lack of evidence of foul play suggests suicide. But there were no warning signs and his mother wants answers. What made him take his own life, if indeed he did? It seems strange, and stranger still when a few weeks later there's another apparent suicide victim, a 16 year old girl who was also a student at the same school. Decker is on both cases, digging in to these children's lives and investigating what drove them to such lengths. It seems that the investigations, just to ensure suicide is the factor and provide the parents with some insight, are not as smooth going as the detectives had hoped. Digging deeper in to the depths of the school and the cliques of students, Decker suspects that the school may not be so wonderful as the private tuition costs would suggest. Meanwhile, Gabe meets a girl. Shy and timid, Yasmine is nothing like Gabe, the son of the tough-as-nails ex-hitman Chris Donatti. The odd pair start to get to know each other, even though her family would be incredibly against the boy, and the friendship gradually blossoms. However, they have bigger problems to contend with as they're faced with a situation neither of them could have predicted. As the novel continues, we're given more depth on each character, learning more about their motivations and the relationships between them. The investigations in to the suicides and goings on at the school continue and the mysteries are gradually uncovered with the help of two other detectives, Marge and Oliver. It seems at first there is greater emphasis on Gabe and that side of the storyline, but then as the school drama unfolds, subtle links between the two start to draw them together. Could I have guessed the ending from the outset? Possibly, but there were doubts cast in to the pot and suspicions raised throughout to make me question what I thought was going on, making it more gripping to read. Having said that, the book seemed to lack some of the gravitas of a good crime thriller, perhaps in large because it was dealing with teenagers and high school suspects and not overly obvious crimes. The pace was therefore relatively even and measured for a large part of the book, but action increases and the tempo picks up towards the end, even though it never quite gets to a full-blown, in your face scene. The author does manage to build up the tension well, however, given as that the events were on a perhaps lesser scale than some of the crimes and murders in other books I'm used to reading. She generates a rapport with the characters and enables us to empathise, so I wanted to keep reading what happened; I wanted certain characters to be okay and have a happy ending, and I wanted others to get their just desserts, so I'd say it was fairly emotive. For what I felt it may have lacked in terms of oomph in the storyline, Kellerman made up for in her style of writing. Through Gabe, and his father, she brought some sarcasm, wit and humour, adding a lighter touch in a clever and sharp way. The writing flowed and made it easy to read, keeping me absorbed in the characters and wanting to know more. She was able to bring some atmosphere to the scenes, making them imaginable and so as you read, you get a sense of what things looked like, how it may have felt etc. The book had an overall mix of emotion and atmosphere; as I've said, with it being predominantly about teenagers and the crimes all involved these young adults, it seemed to lack a bit of severity or grittiness, and the wit of some characters lightened the mood more so. The darker moments came in times of greater tension, so there was some in there and it was done well, it just didn't seem to dominate the book. The relationship between Gabe and Yasmine, and the storyline of Gabe's life and his piano playing, seemed to be at the forefront. Some of the content was relatable, in the sense that the 'mafia' at the school and the bullies like Dylan were the kinds of people we have probably all had the displeasure of dealing with or being around. Not to the same extent perhaps, but the settings and motivations were fairly grounded and down to earth, making it feel a little more realistic. None the less, I do think some of the things the characters have done may have been a tad far-fetched for their age. For instance, Gabe is a 15 year old kid that seems to walk the walk and talk the talk, has done the drugs and sex all before, knows all about guns and thus seems far older than his years. Overall, I'd say this is a well-written book that's enjoyable to read because it's easy to keep turning the pages. As for a gripping crime thriller, I would have liked a lot more oomph. 454 pages over40 chapters Published 2012 RRP £7.99, selling on Amazon for £4.49 (paperback)

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