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charby

charby
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    • More +
      08.12.2014 02:06
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      A strong third series of a great legal drama

      The Good Wife is a series that I was very keen to watch as soon as I heard it was coming out, as I was a fan of the main actress, Julianna Margulies, from her role as Carol Hathoway in ER. I'm also a fan of legal dramas, but with there being so many of them on TV, I often don't go for them unless there's something that jumps out at it me about it. In addition to Julianna Margulies, the appearance of Chris Noth (Sex and the City), Christine Baranski and Alan Cumming in major roles was enough to catch my interest. I enjoyed the programme greatly the first time I watched it, and have recently been rewatching it on Netflix.

      The Good Wife
      After her husband is arrested for corruption and soliciting prostitution, Alicia Florrick (Margulies) is forced to return to a legal career after thirteen years as a housewife in order to support her family during her husband's imprisonment before trial. Working closely with a former romantic interest, getting reacquainted with her work as a lawyer, deciding whether to stand by her husband in light of his infidelity and raising two teenage children, Alicia has a lot to deal with on top of a heavy workload.
      Series Three
      By the third series, Alicia's career is back in full swing and she has separated from her husband, who has returned to his position as State's Attorney for Cook County (Chicago). She has settled into her new life, with her focus being more firmly on her role as lawyer as opposed to wife. Each episode follows a court case defended by Alicia and other lawyers at her firm, in addition to the lives of her and the rest of the main characters.

      What I Thought
      This is a great series, and one that I enjoyed rewatching every bit as much as upon initial viewing. It's clever and funny, as well as suspenseful and more enjoyable than other legal dramas I've watched recently (e.g. Damages, which is fine but not a patch on The Good Wife). The main actors are all very good - Julianna Margulies is particularly enjoyable as the titular character, but co-stars Matt Czuchry (Gilmore Girls), Alan Cumming and Archie Panjabi are also very accomplished performers.
      One of the things I also like about The Good Wife is its high number of excellent and well known actors in more minor roles. It's made the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game almost impossible to lose - so many actors have appeared in this that a connection can be made between hundreds of films and TV series via this programme. I particularly enjoyed the appearance of Matthew Perry (Friends), Lisa Edelstein (House) and Eddie Izzard in this series. Michael J. Fox is also a recurring actor over several series. It's often a good sign that so many excellent and famous actors want to appear in a series, and I would say that this is no exception.

      The first two series of The Good Wife set a high bar for the third, which is managed to reach with no problems. It is consistently very well written and acted, and is easy to binge-watch without getting bored. I know very little about the realities of the legal profession and judicial system in the United States, but the series always seems very credible and consistent. It's always interesting to see the outcome of the cases and trials that the lawyers are working on, in addition to their personal lives and relationships.
      Where to Buy/Watch
      I personally watch The Good Wife on Netflix, as the first four series are all available on this streaming service in the UK. The fifth and sixth series are unfortunately not able to be viewed on it, but that may change in future. The standard definition version is also available on Amazon Instant Video for £24.99 for this series, or on DVD for a much more reasonable price of £11 (also Amazon). The series 1-5 box set is also available for £48.70, which is excellent value for 30 discs of entertainment. This series is also available from other DVD stores and streaming services, so you can shop around for the best deal.

      Conclusion
      The third series of The Good Wife is an excellent series of television, and maintains the same high quality of the first two series. The acting and writing are great, and the guest stars are also of very high calibre. This is one of my favourite TV shows at the moment, and I am looking forward to watching the latest series (series six) once I can get my hands on it. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys legal dramas or just dramas in general.

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      02.03.2013 21:16
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      A lovely conditioner

      I have a really bad habit of sitting and picking at the ends of my hair when I'm sitting about (or working). I used to have fairly short hair but have been growing it long for the past couple of years and so haven't been getting it cut as often as I used to. This means that I have quite a few split ends and I seem to find it fascinating to sit and get rid of them with my fingers. It's not good for my hair, I know, and so I've been trying to reduce this habit at the source by trying to ensure I have fewer split ends to play with. I therefore decided to get a conditioner that is particularly moisturising in the hope that this would stop the ends of my hair getting too dry and splitting. I was with my friend in Boots and saw that Herbal Essences shampoos and conditioners who two for one and so we each decided to get a conditioner from this range. I chose 'Hello Hydration' as it sounded like the one most likely to help me with my dry ends issue.

      == Herbal Essences Hello Hydration ==

      Herbal Essences say that this conditioner 'has a shine and moisture formula which contains orchid and coconut extracts to quench the thirst of dry and damaged hair.' Perfect, therefore, for dealing with my damage ends problem and hopefully allowing me to get some work done instead of picking at it all day. Herbal Essences is a brand that I have used before and, bar one shampoo that I tried a few years ago and hated, I have been happy with their products. This conditioner costs £3.89 and is currently on a buy one get one free deal at Boots.

      == What I Thought ==

      I've been using this conditioner for a couple of weeks now and have to say that I'm happy with it. I apply a reasonable amount to the ends of my hair and a normal amount to the rest of the length (avoiding the roots so as not to risk them looking greasy). After a couple of weeks of use, the ends of my hair look slightly better and certainly feel a lot less dry after I've used it. It's only a mid-priced conditioner and I wasn't expecting dramatic results or it to be like using a hair mask, so I'm happy with the slight but noticeable improvement achieved. The rest of my hair also feels better for using it: it feels lovely to brush or comb through and I have noticed my hair looking nicer with more shine since I've started using this conditioner. The conditioner smells lovely to use and I can detect the coconut when applying it to my hair, but sadly this scent doesn't stay on my hair for long after getting out of the shower. This isn't a massively problem but it would obviously be a bonus if it kept my hair smelling gorgeous for a while after washing.

      == Conclusion ==

      This is a good conditioner and I'm happy that I got it, especially for the price (less than £2 due to the offer). My hair did look and feel better after using it and, although I do still have split ends, I couldn't expect it to work miracles and am impressed enough with the results. I would recommend this conditioner to anyone who gets dry ends and wants to improve the condition of their hair on the cheap.

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    • Sourz / Liqueur / Cocktails / 78 Readings / 73 Ratings
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      16.02.2013 02:27
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      A nice, alcopoppy shot

      I'm definitely someone who enjoys a drink or two (or ten). Whether it's wine with a meal, whisky afterwards or another drink in a pub just because, there are a lot of drinks that I'm quite a fan of. There are, however, some drinks that I have drank in the past purely to get drunk and cheaply. This was mainly when I was at school or in my first year at university, when money was tight but going out was frequent. Sourz drinks were something that I used to drink quite a lot for this purpose.

      == Sourz ==

      Sourz are basically alcopops - they are strongly artificially flavoured, alcoholic drinks, the strong flavour masking the alcohol, allowing you to get drunk without feeling like you're drinking. They're mainly good for people who like to get drunk but not the taste of alcohol in drinks such as vodka. Unlike other alcopops, however, Sourz are meant to be drank as shots or in place of a spirit with mixers, as opposed to being a long drink on their own. With an alcohol content of only 15%, they are significantly less alcoholic than spirits, which tend to be around the 40% mark.

      Sourz are available in a few flavours: apple, cherry, raspberry, tropical, blackcurrant pineapple. There are also limited edition varieties available on occasion. These are all fruity flavours and, while they are all sweet and pleasant, they also have a big sour kick as the name would imply. This makes them more interesting than a lot of other alcopops, which tend to be very sweet and nothing else. In this respect they are similar to Mickey Finn's drinks, which are generally just a cheaper version of Sourz and described as 'schnapps'.

      == What I Think ==

      Despite my previous assertion that this is something that I mainly used to drink to get drunk, I have to say that I genuinely do like Sourz. They are a good choice of shot to get in a club when you're already drunk but either want to top it up or just have a shot for the sake of it, as not only are they more palatable and less likely to make you sick than alternatives such as tequila, they are also lower in alcohol and therefore also less likely to send you over the edge.

      The apple variety is the best known and available flavour of Sourz. If a bar only has one flavour off Sourz, it'll be this one, and rightly so in my opinion. The apple flavour really is lovely, although obviously very sweet/sour and artificial. It reminds me of strong apple sweets and even slightly of the scent of DKNY Be Delicious. The sourness adds a lovely extra element that stops the this being a sickly sweet drink and makes it one that is pleasant to drink, even in large quantities.

      The other varieties, such as cherry and raspberry, are also very nice and surprisingly non-sickly. I have had Cherry Sourz in bars before but only been able to get a hold of the other flavours in supermarkets. This is probably due to lower demand but also because, I have to say, I rarely look for them in bars and may simply be missing them.

      Compared to other shots, Sourz may be low in alcohol, but I imagine that they are significantly higher in sugar and other unhealthy additives. Of course it's fine to have things like this sometimes but really not good for you to drink a lot of Sourz on a regular basis.

      ==Conclusion==

      Sourz are nice, fairly low alcoholic flavoured shots. A 700ml bottle (containing 10.5 units) costs £9 in Asda, which is a reasonable price. They are, however, very similar to Mickey Finns, which cost about two thirds of the price, so they're not as well-priced in that respect. These are pleasant drinks if they're the kind of thing you like, especially if you're not as much a fan of strong-tasting spirits, with a few flavours to choose from.

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      • Cointreau / Liqueur / Cocktails / 57 Readings / 57 Ratings
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        10.02.2013 01:27
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        A lovely, orange flavoured liqueur

        I'm definitely someone who enjoys a drink or two (or ten). Whether it's wine with a meal, whisky afterwards or another drink in a pub just because, there are a lot of drinks that I'm quite a fan of. One of my favourite drinks to have when I'm at home visiting my parents is cointreau. It's a nice liqueur to have before or after a meal or at another time should you wish. I really like it but it's not something that I would drink often enough to warrant keeping my own bottle in stock. It's therefore really only something that I have neat every now and then or sometimes in cocktails.

        ==Cointreau==

        Cointreau is a clear-coloured, orange flavoured liqueur. It has a similar alcohol content to vodka and gin and the like (40%) so it's fairly strong. Its orange flavour also means that it doesn't particularly complement any traditional mixers. For this reason, it's something that is sipped slowly in my family rather than being diluted or drank more quickly. It is, however, used in some cocktails.

        == What I Think ==

        As I said earlier, this is one of my favourite drinks to have when I'm visiting my parents if they have it in. It really does have a lovely orangey taste that has a sharp, citrusy edge to it. Despite being as strong as vodka, it doesn't have a taste of alcohol to it, although you can definitely feel its alcohol content in your mouth the same way as you can with whisky - warm with a bit of a sting if you drink it too quickly. It is a delicious drink but can be lethal if you drink much of it - it does seem to be stronger than it's alcohol content would suggest. I don't drink it very often as it does have a unique(ly lovely) taste and one every now and then is enough for me. Writing this review has really made me fancy one, however, so I may go and get one

        == Conclusion ==

        Cointreau is a lovely liqueur to have as a treat on occasion but not something that I plan on buying for myself any time soon. If I were to buy a bottle, however, it wouldn't set me back too much at only £13 for 500ml if I got it from Asda (although it costs £18 or more from some other supermarkets or shops). Especially in comparison with whisky, my non-wine drink of choice, this is a very reasonably priced option for a drink in the evening. I do recommend this drink, but I'd probably try it in a pub or somewhere first to see if it's something that you'd want to drink more than every once in a while.

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        • Cougar Town: Season 3 / TV Series / 71 Readings / 69 Ratings
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          03.02.2013 14:54
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          A good third series

          Having spent the past almost four months in Germany, I'm now back in the UK for good. While I'm mainly glad about this fact, there are some things that I'm going to miss about the place. The main one of these is the many nights me and my two closest friends there spent in my room drinking wine and watching TV in 'The Fort', which was my sofa and sofa bed pushed together to create an amazingly comfortable sofa extravaganza with enough room for three of us to sit, lie and eat takeaways without getting in each other's way. The main programme we watched here was Cougar Town, two of us having been introduced to it by the third person in our party. We watched most of the first two series together in The Fort and I finished watching the second series alone when I got back home. Getting drunk and watching this very funny programme with my friends was one of my favourite things to do the last few weeks I was in Germany.

          ==Cougar Town==

          Jules (Courtney Cox) is a recently divorced woman in her early forties living with her son, Travis (Dan Byrd). She lives next to her best friend, Ellie (Christa Miller) and her husband, Andy (Ian Gomez), who is also best friends with Jules' ex-husband, Bobby (Brian Van Holt). Jules is an estate agent who works with her other best friend, Laurie (Busy Philipps). She lives on a cul-de-sac in a town in western Florida (south of Sarasota, if that means much to you) and, at the start of the first series, has just started seeing a man in his twenties (hence the name Cougar Town). She also has a bit of a flirtation going on with her neighbour, Grayson (Josh Hopkins).

          Cougar Town is most definitely a comedy series, deriving most of its humour from its characters and recurring jokes and themes. The group drinking a large quantity of wine, Ellie and Laurie not particularly getting on, Grayson having 'tiny eyes' and the gang's invented game of 'penny can' are examples of comical elements running through the show.

          == Series 3 ==

          I watched the third series of Cougar Town over the past couple of weeks. I initially hadn't wanted to watch it alone as I found that I didn't enjoy watching it as much without a bottle or seven of wine, my friends and the fort. When wanting to watch something when my boyfriend wasn't around (so something that we don't watch together) I decided, however, that it would be a good thing to watch. My boyfriend was never going to watch it with me and so I thought I may as well give it a go. This series is shorter than the previous two at only 15 episodes and at the time of filming, the creators weren't sure if they were going to be commissioned for a fourth series.

          == What I Thought ==

          I'm glad that I decided to watch Cougar Town series three as I found it to be every bit as good as the first two series. It was all very similar but with Cougar Town that is a good time - its running jokes and style are what give it its charm. There's still a lot of wine drinking here and I found myself really wanting some red wine most of the time I was watching it (probably not one for recovering alcoholics). This is a very funny series and the level of humour was kept, while also developing the characters further. There were also some very good references to the fact that they didn't know whether this series was their last in some of the characters' dialogue as well as in the opening credits.

          ===Acting===

          Courtney Cox was much better in this series than I had expected her to be. Unlike Jennifer Aniston, I hadn't seen her in anything since Friends ended in 2004 and so imagined that Cougar Town would come across as an attempt to bring back her Monica days and that she would be playing much the same character. Fortunately, this wasn't the case at all, and as much as I used to watch and love friends, I had forgotten that I had previously known this actress at all and instantly believed her as Jules. She played this character very well and I really enjoy Cox's portrayal of the main character in this series.

          The other actors in Cougar Town are also very good. I particularly like Dan Byrd as Jules' and Bobby's son Travis. He's not an actor whom I've seen before but I was impressed by his performance here, with him particularly showing his talents when Travis 'reveals a secret' to Grayson in one episode. Josh Hopkins is also good in his role as Grayson and also appears to be a good sport with the jokes about him having tiny eyes. Christa Miller plays my favourite character, Ellie, who is pretty mean but also funny, and this actress plays her part very well.


          ===As Good Alone?===

          I used to absolutely love watching this with friends and some wine when I was in Germany, but have to say that I wasn't as in love with it when I watched a couple of episodes on my own when I came back. While the programme was still funny and I still found myself enjoying it, I do think that part of Cougar Town's charm comes from watching it with people who are also fans of it. It's true that people laugh more when they're with other people and this was definitely the case with Cougar Town.

          == Conclusion ==

          While I did enjoy watching the first two series more, this was largely due to the circumstances under which I watched them rather than the quality of the series themselves. I did enjoy watching series three on my own and so am happy to give this series four stars out of five. At £17.99 for the series (Amazon), it's fairly expensive considering that there are only 15 episodes in this series, so you may be better off waiting until it's gone down in price a bit. Recommended if you enjoyed the first two series.

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          • Twinings Lemon and Ginger / Tea / 62 Readings / 61 Ratings
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            31.01.2013 20:57
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            A nice tea to have every once in a while

            I've been a little bit ill recently with stomach aches and started to wonder whether the amount of coffee I drink at work has anything to do with it. I've therefore tried to cut down on the amount of coffee I drink but since my office is so cold that we often have to sit at our desks in scarves and gloves, it's still nice to have a hot drink or twenty over the course of the day to help me keep warm. I've therefore started drinking more tea, this lemon and ginger one being one I've had a few times recently.

            == Twinings Lemon and Ginger Tea ==

            The title says it all really - this is a lemon and ginger flavoured herbal tea. I like the fact that this tea has a different flavour to almost any other teas I ever drink. It's not as sweet or fruity as fruit teas (unsurprisingly) but the combination of lemon and ginger is also quite different to other herbal teas you often get. It also has a smell of lemon and ginger which is very representative of the taste.

            == What I Thought ==

            This is a nice tea that I like to drink every now and then. It tastes very nice indeed, with the lemon and ginger complementing each other well. It's not a particularly sweet drink yet the lemon also doesn't make it sour. The taste is quite strong but that's not a bad thing. I find that this is a nice drink to have when I'm not feeling particularly well. I don't know whether it's a placebo effect as it does feel like something that should be good for you, but I do feel a bit less stomach-achy after I drink it.

            As nice as it is, I really can't drink it too often without getting sick of it. Exactly what makes it a nice drink is what makes it boring after a while - its different and strong taste. I do find that I get sick of it more quickly than fruit teas or coffee and I reckon that's because it is quite a unique tasting drink. I've had a pack of it in the cupboard for a few weeks now and even between me and my boyfriend we've only got through about 12 bags.

            == Conclusion ==

            This is a nice tea that I do recommend. You'll probably only want a few bags of it before getting sick of it for a while but since it doesn't really go off, it's not a problem to leave it for a while and then have some more a few weeks or months later. Like all other Twining teas it's reasonably priced and can be found at anything between £1 and £2 for a pack of twenty bags. Recommended, particularly if you're not feeling 100%.

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            • Django Unchained (DVD) / DVD / 63 Readings / 58 Ratings
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              27.01.2013 19:24
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              Tarantino's latest cinematic masterpiece

              Allow me to open this review with a bombshell: I have never seen a Quentin Tarantino film. While you pick your jaws back up from the floor, let me add that I'm as surprised by that fact as you are. I knew I'd never seen Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs but I imagined that I must have see one of his films at some point over my 23 years of existence. Alas, it transpires, apparently not. This means that I am one of the probably few people for whom Django Unchained was their first experience of Tarantino's film-making. I hope that this will therefore make my review different as I imagine that most other reviewers will compare this latest film to his previous work, whereas mine will have to be a review of the film by a viewer with limited expectations.

              ==Django Unchained==

              Set in America's South two years before the American Civil War in the 1850s, Django Unchained is the story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who finds an unlikely saviour in the form of German dentist, Dr Schultz (Christoph Waltz). That's all I'm giving you in terms of plot. I went in only having seen the trailer, so while I knew that it starred Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio (as Calvin Candie) and that there'd be some typical Tarantino-esque violence, that's all I really knew about it. It technically belongs to the Western genre but, as it is set in the Deep South, Tarantino prefers to call it a 'Southern' movie.

              ==What I Thought==

              I should really do a video review for this film as I don't feel I can do justice to how much I loved this film in mere words - not eloquently, any way. Django Unchained is a cinematic masterpiece. It's one of the best films that I've seen, not only recently, but ever. Not only are the writing, acting and direction superb, the entire film is visually stunning.

              ===The Story and Characters===

              As I said, I don't want to give away too much about the plot of Django Unchained, but let me applaud it without giving away any details. It was very well crafted and interesting and full without being confusing or unnessarily complicated, which is the sign of a good film plot, in my opinion.

              The characters were also exceptionally well created and written. Django is a superb hero: the audience is with him every step of the way and support him in his quest despite his having to make some unpleasant decisions. Dr Schultz is also a brilliant principal character. As a German living in America's South, he is against slavery and in general a good man, but is not against all forms of unkindness to his fellow men. Calvin Candie is another very interesting character: a Mississippi plantation owner, he owns hundreds of slaves and takes their status as his property very serious. Candie is an odious yet believable character - he's a monster yet very credible in the context of the time. Steven (Samuel L. Jackson), Candie's ageing head house slave, is possibly the most interesting character of all. Despite being black and enslaved himself, he treats his master's other slaves with contempt and with a sense of superiority and enjoys a higher status in his master's home then most of the other black people housed there. Allowed into the dining room with guests and to joke with Candie yet not permitted a seat, his place in the South's social order is somewhere in limbo, making for a no less unpleasant character than many of the white men surrounding him.

              ===Acting===

              From sublime to the even more so - the acting in Django Unchained is exceptional. Tarantino fans will be familiar with Christoph Waltz from his role in Inglorious Basterds among others, but I was unfamiliar with him before seeing him playing Dr Schultz, despite his having been in many German productions. He was brilliant in his portrayal of this character, getting the balance of light comedy and heavy violence perfect. He made the character very likeable and was one of the highlights of the film, for me.

              Jamie Foxx was also outstanding in his role as Django. He played the part of a man hardened by slavery and willing to take revenge on his oppressors while at the same time wanting nothing more than to be reunited with his wife more than convincingly. He looked spectacular on the big screen and was perfect in the violent action scenes as well as in dialogue and more tender moments.

              Leonardo DiCaprio is an actor whose acting talents appear to get better and better with each passing film, with his role as Calvin Candie being probably the best I've seen him in. He was apparently uncomfortable with playing such a racist and repellent character yet manages to do so flawlessly. Samuel L. Jackson was also exemplary in his portrayal of Steven, making this somewhat confusing character credible. Kerry Washington was also good in her depiction of Broomhilda.

              === Effects and Visuals ===

              Django Unchained is visually a very impressive film and I'm very glad to have seen it on the big screen. Unsurprisingly there is quite a lot of violence and blood to be seen in this film and, if you're not the type too squeamish to watch it, it looks fantastic. I'm not a massive fan of action or violent films as a rule (but mainly because I've seen too many films who sacrifice plot and interest in favour of blood and guts) but the way it was done in Django Unchained was out of this world.

              It wasn't only the violence that looked impressive - the scenery of America's southern states was displayed beautifully. From foreboding forests to majestic plains and sweltering heat, Tennessee and Mississippi were displayed in beautiful yet terrifying majesty. Django Unchained is worth watching for its cinematography alone.

              === Soundtrack ===

              The soundtrack in Django Unchained also deserves particular praise. From original music such as the title track that opens the film to rap music in some fight scenes, the film had a fantastic score. The music was atmospheric and simultaneously drawing you into pre-Civil War America and reminding you that this is a fun, action packed 21st century action movie of outstanding quality. I'm quite tempted to buy the soundtrack itself, which is something that I rarely do.

              ==Conclusion==

              This is a spectacular film that will delight Tarantino aficionados and newbies alike. It was a masterpiece on all fronts and I enjoyed it massively. As it has only recently been released at the cinema at time of writing, this is a film only review and so I cannot comment on any special features that may be released with the DVD (although I imagine they'd be something worth seeing!). I'd highly recommend going to see Django Unchained while it's still on at the cinema to see it in its full glory. I'll definitely have to give some other Tarantino films a go now!

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              • Skullcandy INK'D / Headphones / 59 Readings / 53 Ratings
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                20.01.2013 23:54
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                Acceptable earphones but not recommended

                If I remember rightly, I bought these earphones in an airport after realising that I had left my existing earphones at home. I was mainly keen to get a pair so that I could listen to music on the plane and so I wasn't particularly concerned about brand or quality and so just went for the cheapest ones they had available.

                ==Skullcandy INK'D==

                These are fairly simple earphones - they have no interesting features to speak of other than the option to pause the song you're listening to by pressing a button on one of the wires leading to your ears. Considering that the earphones I got with my iPhone had a similar control that allowed you to not only pause songs but also skip them and change the volume, this single-feature button wasn't particularly attractive. The wires were black and the buds pink and black, although other colours are available.

                ==What I Thought==

                I bought these as a simple replacement for the earphones that I left at home at wasn't expecting wonders from them. I was therefore not disappointed but nor was I particularly impressed. The sound quality is acceptable but not exceptional, but then these were earphones chosen for their cheapness and so that is not particularly surprising. I also miss the ability to change the volume without having to take my phone out of my pocket. This isn't a massive problem but it is irritating, especially if a particularly loud track comes on and you want to be able to change it quickly. Also, despite only having had these earphones for a few months and not using them on a daily basis, this button broke last week. They still work as earphones but I don't have much hope for their longevity considering the button broke so easily.

                Aesthetically they are acceptable - simple black wires and so they look fine but not massively impressive or eye-catching. I have to say I prefer how my Apple ones used to look - the white ones are a lot more interesting. They are also easy to carry around as they are very small, so have a benefit over large headphones in this respect.

                ==Conclusion==

                While these earphones are nice enough and do their job fine, I wouldn't re-buy them should they break completely (which is potentially very soon given the button having already given up). Costing between £10 and £20, they're relatively cheap but considering that they're not amazing quality, I'd recommed getting a different cheap pair or spending a bit more to get something a bit better.

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                • More +
                  12.01.2013 12:53
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                  A very enjoyable series

                  As I remember saying in a recent review, I'm pretty sure I watch too much TV. That said, I don't seem to have seen as many things as a lot of my friends so I don't really know how any of us get anything done with our lives. One of my friends will generally start with the first series of a programme and won't stop watching until she's seen every episode to date, even if that means watching five or six series in a row. I'm not really one for that and instead tend to watch programmes a series at a time, wait a few months, re-watch that series and then go onto the next one. My memory's quite poor so I enjoy watching things again more than the average person does as I usually forget a lot of the major plot points as well as the subtleties that make it enjoyable to watch.

                  Gossip Girl is normally no exception to this and, although I watched and adored the first series back in 2008, I only got round to finishing the third series a few months ago despite series five already having been broadcast. It then took me a couple of months to give the fourth series a try even though I keen to watch it. I finished watching the fourth series only a couple of weeks ago and couldn't help myself but go straight on to the fifth one right away to see what was going to happen next.

                  Gossip Girl

                  Gossip Girl is, as we are told at the beginning of each episode, is your one and only source into the scandalous lives of Manhattan's elite. Well, the fictional elite, that is, as this happily is a drama rather than a reality show. The first series started with most of our main characters being high school students at two of the most elite schools in New York City, with the rest of the show mainly revolving around their parents. Blair is the daughter of a famous fashion designer; her best friend Serena was also born into wealth and is a famous socialite; Nate was Blair's boyfriend all throughout school and is best friends with Chuck, who is the human manifestation of upper class cool. Dan and Jenny Humphrey are less riche than the rest but still attended the same school, but were treated as outsiders, largely due to them being from Brooklyn. Dan's best friend, Vanessa, also finds her way into the Upper East Side life without really wanting to.

                  Series Five

                  Of course, a lot has changed over the many series and our characters' situations are fairly different to how they were when we met them. Yes, they're all still ridiculously rich and beautiful, but by now they're all in college or working and have swapped partners more times than you could count. At the beginning of the fifth series, Serena has got a job in the film industry in LA, Dan is trying to block the publication of his novel satirising the Upper East Side and his friends, Nate is sleeping with his boss, things aren't going too well for Chuck, Jenny is nowhere to be seen and Blair is emanating Grace Kelly more than she ever though possible. Serena's cousin Charlie has also entered the mix with some secrets of her own.

                  What I Thought

                  Gossip Girl has proved itself to be as good as ever in series five, and I have to say I enjoyed it every bit as much as the fourth series. Gossip Girl is going to be the kind of thing you either love or hate - it is, after all, mainly about rich, beautiful people scheming and lying to get their way and falling in and out of love with each other at the drop of a hat. That said, that's not the kind of thing I would expect to like, yet Gossip Girl is so enjoyable and charming because it is well executed. The number of scandals that arise over the series and Blair and Serena's constant being best friends then sabotaging each other for revenge for whatever, and then everyone being in love with Serena and then not again, can be quite repetitive, yet this programme has held my interest for five series now. It is well written and acted, and the characters are created and developed in such a way that you care and want to see what happens next with them. There's also a nice balance with some of the characters' parents having large roles as well, so it's not all about teenagers/university aged students.

                  The acting is good and I particularly enjoy Britain's own Ed Westwick playing Chuck Bass. Chuck is a dark and troubled character and Ed plays him with the necessary level of intrigue and untouchable cool. Leighton Meester is also brilliant in her role as the conniving queen bee Blair, who comes across as prim and proper but initiates more schemes and lies than the rest put together. The other actors (Blake Lively, Penn Badgley etc.) are all good as well, but Westwick and Meester particularly impress me series after series. They are, of course, all very, very attractive.

                  Despite it being about the elite of New York City, the city also doesn't play a massive part in the series, in the way that it did in Sex and the City, for example. Most of the places we see are the insides of the characters' various apartments (and school, back in the day) and parties held at lavish clubs, but we aren't encouraged to know where these places are. It does really make me want to go to New York but keeps it relatable by mainly being about the characters and their personalities, rather than their vast wealth or location. Of course, most of what happens to them is due largely to their financial statuses and position in Manhattan's inner circle, but it isn't too foreign a life style to be enjoyable.

                  Conclusion

                  I really enjoyed series five of Gossip Girl and would highly recommend it, obviously provided you've seen the previous four series. I'm going to award it four stars instead of five for various reasons, however. Firstly, as much as I enjoyed it, no series since has been quite as good as the first ever one. Not only because it was new and therefore something I hadn't seen before, but because it was a very well put-together series that actually could have stood on its own. I'm very glad that the programme continued but I wish the intrigue, lies and love triangles could be as well executed as in the first series. Everyone's still as beautiful and the clothes are still as fashionable and desirable as ever, but I doubt the programme will ever properly replicate the charm of the first series.

                  Also, while Gossip Girl is great and enjoyable, I couldn't quite put it on a par with some of the programmes that I've given five stars to, such as Six Feet Under, Dexter and Luther. It's an enjoyable programme, but it is what it is and doesn't reach the high levels of quality that can be found in the aforementioned dramas.
                  If you're interested in purchasing this series, it can be found on Amazon for £23.87. This also contains a 'UV' (UltraViolet) copy that allows it to be downloaded to your computer or portable device, but I can't confess to knowing how that works, but is definitely something I'd be interested in having. Being able to watch it on your iPad, for example (should you be lucky enough to have one), would be something that I would appreciate. The first five series together are also available for just shy of £50, which is decent value but I'd recommend getting them series by series if you haven't started watching it yet and series five will go down in price by the time you get around to it. Since first writing and posting this review on Ciao a few months ago, I have finished watching the sixth and final series and, since it was definitely worth watching it to the end, I'd highly recommend watching it after series five.

                  Highly recommended if you've enjoyed the first four series; if not, start with series one and see what you think.

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                    07.01.2013 22:45
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                    Decent tomatoes but the value ones are just as good

                    Chopped tomatoes are something that I use a lot when cooking and so I'm keen to get value tins of them where possible in order to save a bit of money. Sometimes, however, they've sold out when I need them and so I have to go for another version. As Tesco is a supermarket that I shop in often, I have unsurprisingly had to go for their standard Italian chopped tomatoes on occasion.

                    ==Tesco Italian Chopped Tomatoes in Tomato Juice==

                    What these are is pretty self explanatory: chopped tomatoes in tomato juice in a tin. They are very convenient to use when making tomato-based sauces, curries or other dishes as they are already chopped and can simply be poured into the pan you're using. They also obviously don't go off as quickly as fresh tomatoes so you can buy a few tins and keep them in the cupboard without worrying about whether you're going to eat them any time soon.

                    These particular chopped tomatoes from Tesco are described as 'Italian' but I have to say I don't know what makes them different from chopped tomatoes without this description. There are no additional Italian ingredients as far as I can remember in the standard tin, although another version is available with basil. I have used this for Italian style recipes as well as other styles of cuisine and they were suitable in all instances.

                    ==What I Thought==

                    These are perfectly good chopped tomatoes and I'm very happy to use them if the cheaper option is not available. They taste nice and while not as fresh tasting as chopping your own tomatoes, they are good and go well in a lot of the things that I regularly cook with tomatoes. Despite them apparently being Italian, they go just as well in curries or as part of a cooked breakfast as they do in more Italian fare.

                    That said, I still stick to buying cheaper options when I can. This is because, while good, they are not of noticeably better quality than their lower priced counterparts. There are a lot of foods where it's a false economy to go for the cheapest versions, but chopped tomatoes isn't one of those, in my opinion. Tesco's value tomatoes as well as those from other supermarkets have always suited me fine and their standard brand isn't special enough to warrant the extra pennies.

                    == Conclusion ==

                    These chopped tomatoes are still pretty cheap at only 69p per 400g tin, but do cost almost exactly twice as much as the value ones, which cost only 35p for the same amount. While the difference doesn't seem much, I feel it's worth buying cheaper options if the quality is decent and these Tesco Italian Chopped Tomatoes haven't convinced me otherwise. Of course, there are many much more expensive chopped tomatoes available and so they're cheap compared to premium brands, but I've not been tempted to try them to compare just yet. Recommended for tomato-based dishes, but no better than the value option, in my opinion.

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                    06.01.2013 01:27
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                    A good fourth series - not as good as series one but better than series three

                    I remember saying in a recent review, I'm pretty sure I watch too much TV. That said, I don't seem to have seen as many things as a lot of my friends so I don't really know how any of us get anything done with our lives. One of my friends will generally start with the first series of a programme and won't stop watching until she's seen every episode to date, even if that means watching five or six series in a row. I'm not really one for that and instead tend to watch programmes a series at a time, wait a few months, re-watch that series and then go onto the next one. My memory's quite poor so I enjoy watching things again more than the average person does as I usually forget a lot of the major plot points as well as the subtleties that make it enjoyable to watch.

                    Gossip Girl is no exception, and while I've loved this programme for over four years now and series six is just hitting screens in America, I'm only just coming to the end of series four now. My aforementioned friend, on the other hand, started watching it a couple of months ago and has seen nearly as much as I have. I also put off watching this series for a little while as, as much as I love it, Gossip Girl can be a bit samey and it's hard to watch too much of it in one go. I decided to watch the fourth series after a short break following the third one and have to say I'm very glad I did.

                    Gossip Girl

                    Gossip Girl is, as we are told at the beginning of each episode, is your one and only source into the scandalous lives of Manhattan's elite. Well, the fictional elite, that is, as this happily is a drama rather than a reality show. The first series started with most of our main characters being high school students at two of the most elite schools in New York City, with the rest of the show mainly revolving around their parents. Blair is the daughter of a famous fashion designer; her best friend Serena was also born into wealth and is a definite socialite; Nate was Blair's boyfriend all throughout school and is best friends with Chuck, who is the human manifestation of upper class cool. Dan and Jenny Humphrey are less riche than the rest but still attended the same school, but were treated as outsiders, largely due to them being from Brooklyn. Dan's best friend, Vanessa, also finds her way into the Upper East side life without really wanting to.

                    Gossip Girl Series Four

                    A lot has changed by this series, but I will try to give away as few spoilers as possible. In any case, the main gang are all still living in New York following some fairly contrived plot points that stopped them from going to colleges elsewhere. Whether they're working hard at college or trying to make their way in the business world, the main gang still have enough time for a lot of drama and falling in love with each other and with other people at the drop of a hat. Most of the (heterosexual) combinations of main characters have been played out in some way or another in the past few series and this one is no different. They are all still very rich and beautiful (honestly, some of the most attractive people in the world are in this programme) and manage to cause and find themselves in more scandal than the normal person could even fathom.

                    What I Thought

                    Despite (or perhaps partly because of) there not being much new in the way of format in this series, I have to say I loved it. That may, in fact, be why I loved it. The Gossip Girl formula has been fairly tried and tested over the past few years and Blair and Chuck's scheming, everyone being in love with Serena and the constant lying, backstabbing and revenge is what this programme does the best. While I did find myself getting a bit bored at the start of the series, it soon picked up and this series managed to keep my interest and more with its storylines. No, it's not massively different to previous series, but then very few programmes manage to find something unique each year, and keeping things similar while maintaining quality is certainly impressive enough for me. The acting is still good, with nobody in the cast being 'just a pretty face' (but with Leighton Meester, Blake Lively and Ed Westwick, the faces are very pretty indeed) and, though it is about a section of society I know nothing about, the writing is realistic and believable.

                    That said, I don't think I'll ever enjoy any series of Gossip Girl as much as I did the first one. Not only because it was new and therefore something I hadn't seen before, but because it was a very well put-together series that actually could have stood on its own. I'm very glad that the programme continued but I wish the intrigue, lies and love triangles could be as well executed as in the first series. Everyone's still as beautiful and the clothes are still as fashionable and desirable as ever, but I doubt the programme will ever properly replicate the charm of the first series.

                    Conclusion

                    I really enjoyed series five of Gossip Girl and would highly recommend it, obviously provided you've seen the previous four series. I'm going to award it four stars instead of five for various reasons, however. Firstly, as much as I enjoyed it, no series since has been quite as good as the first ever one. Also, while Gossip Girl is great and enjoyable, I couldn't quite put it on a par with some of the programmes that I've given five stars to, such as Six Feet Under, Dexter and Luther. It's an enjoyable programme, but it is what it is and doesn't reach the high levels of quality that can be found in the aforementioned dramas.

                    The DVD of series four is available for the very reasonable price of £15 for 22 45 minute long episodes. You can also get the first four or five series together for around £50, but you're probably better of getting them series by series as some of them are already available for under £10.
                    Highly recommended if you've seen and enjoyed the first three series; if not, why not give the first series a go?

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                    • More +
                      02.01.2013 22:51
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                      A good two comical series

                      Having spent the past almost four months in Germany, I'm now back in the UK for good. While I'm mainly glad about this fact, there are some things that I'm going to miss about the place. The main one of these is the many nights me and my two closest friends there spent in my room drinking wine and watching TV in 'The Fort', which was my sofa and sofa bed pushed together to create an amazingly comfortable sofa extravaganza with enough room for three of us to sit, lie and eat takeaways without getting in each other's way. The main programme we watched here was Cougar Town, two of us having been introduced to it by the third person in our party. We watched most of the first two series together in The Fort and I finished watching the second series alone when I got back home. Getting drunk and watching this very funny programme with my friends was one of my favourite things to do the last few weeks I was in Germany.

                      ==Cougar Town==

                      Jules (Courtney Cox) is a recently divorced woman in her early forties living with her son, Travis (Dan Byrd). She lives next to her best friend, Ellie (Christa Miller) and her husband, Andy (Ian Gomez), who is also best friends with Jules' ex-husband, Bobby (Brian Van Holt). Jules is an estate agent who works with her other best friend, Laurie (Busy Philipps). She lives on a cul-de-sac in a town in western Florida (south of Sarasota, if that means much to you) and, at the start of the first series, has just started seeing a man in his twenties (hence the name Cougar Town). She also has a bit of a flirtation going on with her neighbour, Grayson (Josh Hopkins).

                      Cougar Town is most definitely a comedy series, deriving most of its humour from its characters and recurring jokes and themes. The group drinking a large quantity of wine, Ellie and Laurie not particularly getting on, Grayson having 'tiny eyes' and the gang's invented game of 'penny can' are examples of comical elements running through the show.

                      == What I Thought of It==

                      Cougar Town was a show that my friends and I loved watching together, drinking a bottle of wine or three along with the characters. The programme is a lot of fun and we watched many episodes per night, with me being very keen to watch the second series as soon as we had finished the first one. The comedy was often silly but also clever and not ridiculous - as unlikely many of their situations or actions were, the characters were always believable and were not cartoony. We laughed near constantly throughout and it is a brilliant programme to watch with friends, especially with a drink or two.

                      ===Acting===

                      Courtney Cox was much better in this series than I had expected her to be. Unlike Jennifer Aniston, I hadn't seen her in anything since Friends ended in 2004 and so imagined that Cougar Town would come across as an attempt to bring back her Monica days and that she would be playing much the same character. Fortunately, this wasn't the case at all, and as much as I used to watch and love friends, I had forgotten that I had previously known this actress at all and instantly believed her as Jules. She played this character very well and I really enjoy Cox's portrayal of the main character in this series.

                      The other actors in Cougar Town are also very good. I particularly like Dan Byrd as Jules' and Bobby's son Travis. He's not an actor whom I've seen before but I was impressed by his performance here, with him particularly showing his talents when Travis 'reveals a secret' to Grayson in one episode. Josh Hopkins is also good in his role as Grayson and also appears to be a good sport with the jokes about him having tiny eyes. Christa Miller plays my favourite character, Ellie, who is pretty mean but also funny, and this actress plays her part very well.

                      ===As Good Alone?===

                      I used to absolutely love watching this with friends and some wine when I was in Germany, but have to say that I wasn't as in love with it when I watched a couple of episodes on my own when I came back. While the programme was still funny and I still found myself enjoying it, I do think that part of Cougar Town's charm comes from watching it with people who are also fans of it. It's true that people laugh more when they're with other people and this was definitely the case with Cougar Town.

                      ==Other Things==

                      There are many other things in Cougar Town that I really enjoyed. There were a few good celebrity cameos (including two of Cox's Friends co-stars) as well as interesting minor characters throughout. The second series also sees the series makers poking fun at the title of the show, which doesn't fit the style of it after the first handful of episodes, and how they wish they could change it. This added to the programme's light-hearted feel. Also, their fairly ridiculous relationship with wine and comically sized wine glasses was also enjoyable.

                      ==Conclusion==

                      I absolutely loved watching the first two series of Cougar Town with my friends in Germany, but feel it's not as entertaining to watch on your own. I would have given it five stars had I written this review a few weeks ago, but now I feel four would be a fairer evaluation. I'd recommend this show highly, but mainly if you fancy a bit of a laugh and have a few other people enthusiastic to watch it with you. That said, I have friends who happily watch it on their own so it's certainly not one that can't be watched without company. I will definitely try to watch series three and four, but would rather see if I could do it with a friend and a bottle of shiraz.

                      The first two series area available together on Amazon for £16.46 (the first one alone for £10.25; the first three for £24.99), which is a very reasonable price for two full-length series.

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                      • The Muppets (DVD) / DVD / 58 Readings / 58 Ratings
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                        28.12.2012 13:42
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                        The first Muppet film in 12 years is a triumph

                        I have to confess to being quite a big fan of The Muppets. The Muppets Christmas Carol has been one of my favourite films since childhood and I even had two computer games based on the show. I was therefore pretty enthusiastic to go and see the new film when it came out at the cinema in early 2012. My boyfriend happily accompanied me to see it and we absolutely loved it, enjoying it so much that I bought him the first film, The Muppets Movie, for his birthday a week later. We also watched quite a bit of the TV series from the seventies and got more and more into them. The day I returned from Germany for Christmas, The Muppets Christmas Carol was playing at a cinema near us and so we went out and watchd it (fairly drunkenly, I must say). Our enthusiasm for The Muppets reinspired, I thought that a box set of The Muppets films would make a great present for my boyfriend for Christmas, and it appeared that this was gratefully received. On Boxing Day, we felt like watching a film and he decided that he'd like to watch the most recent Muppets film again, and so we did.

                        == The Muppets ==

                        Walter (Peter Linz) hasn't had the easiest life - as a Muppet, he never grows tall or has much luck with girls, with his close friendship with his brother, Gary (Jason Segel), and his love for The Muppet Show being the main joys in his life. This continues into his adult life, where he is still living with Gary despite his being in a ten year long relationship with Mary (Amy Adams). Mary kindly agrees to let Walter come along with her and Gary on their anniversary trip to Los Angeles so that he can visit Muppet Studios. On arriving, however, they find the studio in ruins and Walter overhears an evil businessman's plot to take over the studio for the oil located underneath it. He and his brother warn Kermit the Frog of the plot and, together, they try to save the theatre by bringing the old Muppets gang back together. Over the course of this adventure, the two brothers have to work out what they want most in their lives, and whether they are men, or muppets.

                        == What I Thought ==

                        The Muppets is a great film that I enjoyed greatly when I saw it in the cinema as well as upon a repeat viewing. It was a fantastic film that could be enjoyed by children and families as well as adults on their own.

                        == The Story ==

                        The story of the studios/theatre being in trouble has been done before in previous Muppets films, but this most recent Muppets offering manages to be fresh and different. This is mainly down to the three principal characters of Walter, Gary and Mary, whose personal lives and relationships add an extra dimension to The Muppets. I loved the fraternal relationship between Walter and Gary, with them being the best of friends despite being very different. The story was mainly about Walter helping to get The Muppets back together to save the studio but there were more elements in there to keep you interested. The film was written by Jason Segel, who also played one of the lead roles, along with Nicholas Stoller.

                        == The Music ==

                        There is a lot of music in this film, which is unsurprising given that it is a Muppets film as well as a film suitable for children. By and large, the songs are fantastic and I still find myself singing bits of one of them a few days after having watched it again. The film's score was written by Christophe Beck with songs written by Bret McKenzie, who became known from the HBO series Flight of the Concords, which was filled with good but comical songs. The songs in The Muppets have a similar style and are perfect for this type of film. They are well written and good to sing along to, and I imagine that kids will love them. Adults are likely to love them even more, however, as the lyrics are also wonderfully funny and clever. The opening song sets a cheerful tone for the film (with lyrics: 'life's a happy song, when there's someone by your side to sing along') with different styles being used throughout. A climactic song for the film, 'Man or Muppet', is a very powerful yet poignant song and I believe that it was played quite a lot on Radio 2 as it is also a brilliant song. The songs were performed well by the whole cast, with Jason Segel in particular having a much more impressive voice than I had expected.

                        == Acting ==

                        He also proved himself to be a very good actor in this film. I can't imagine that acting with Muppets is the easiest of things, but the two main human actors, Jason Segel and Amy Adams, were both very good. The voice actors and animators/puppeteers for the Muppets were also excellent and it was easy to believe that they were every bit as real as the human characters.

                        == Conclusion ==

                        This was a fantastic film with some very clever laugh out loud moments as well as having an enjoyable story and characters. It was very well written and managed to keep the Muppets style and I imagine that Jim Henson would have been pleased with it. My boyfriend and I enjoyed watching it every bit as much the second time on DVD as we did when we initially saw it in the cinema, and my parents were also in stitches when they saw it for the first time with us. I'd highly recommend this for fans of The Muppets and people less familiar with them alike, and would say that it is equally suitable for adults and children.

                        The film is available for £8 on DVD and £9 Blu-ray on amazon.co.uk, but I managed to get it as part of a six film box set from HMV for £20 the other day, so that is something worth looking out for if you're a fan of The Muppets. Highly recommended.

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                          24.12.2012 13:18
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                          Spectacular modern day take on Sherlock Holmes

                          This is much longer a review then I would normally write, but I greatly enjoyed 'Sherlock' and felt inspired to write about it in detail. Please let me know how you feel this compares to my comparatively shorter pieces.

                          As you may have discovered from another of my recent reviews, I'm currently living in Bavaria doing a translation internship. While I'm having a good time now and am enjoying the work and the town I'm staying in, I have to say that I really wasn't looking forward to coming here. Arriving here on my own in a small town I didn't know and leaving Edinburgh and my boyfriend behind was hard and I really wasn't happy to be here after I'd been shown my flat and left on my own. This was all made worse by the fact that there was no internet in the flat and I hadn't been able to bring much in terms of entertainment in my one suitcase. My friend also doing the internship wasn't to arrive till the next day, so my first night here was spent lonely and bored. I couldn't even chat to people back home without Facebook or Skype, as international texting still costs too much to be able to justify sending texts other than in emergencies.

                          Not knowing when I was going to get internet, as setting up internet in a foreign country is a lot more difficult and confusing than it is at home, even if your grasp of the language is good, my mam said she'd send me some books and DVDs in the post to keep me entertained. Fortunately, I managed to get internet through a guy I work with who lives upstairs only a few days later, but I was still very happy to receive the package from my parents when it arrived. Along with some books and other DVDs, one of the things that she'd sent was the first series of 'Sherlock'. This was actually a present that I had bought for my Dad a few months previously based on great recommendations from friends and positive public opinion, although I hadn't actually seen it myself. They absolutely loved it and so I was keen to watch it, but for some reason didn't get around to it until just last week or so. I adored it so much that I immediately watched the second series online once I finished it and so I will be reviewing both today.

                          *Sherlock*

                          As the name suggests, this is a series based on Arthur Conan Doyle's very famous series of Sherlock Holmes books. 'Sherlock' is a modern day adaptation set in 21st century London and incorporates all of our modern day technology into our hero's detective work. I haven't read any of the Sherlock Holmes stories that these episodes are based on but it is obvious that a lot has been changed to fit the modern setting.

                          The first episode starts with Dr John Watson living a sad existence in a London flat some time after having returned from being an army medic in Afghanistan. He walks with a limp and a stick, sees a therapist and has few friends. A chance meeting with an old school friend leads to him being introduced to a man looking for a flatmate, but sure that nobody would want to live with him. This man is the genius Sherlock Holmes, who can instantly tell a host of details of John's life just by his appearance on first impression. John is intrigued by this Sherlock character despite his limited social skills and agrees to go and see the flat. Sherlock is then contacted by the police to help them with a surreal series of suicides and John gets caught up in the adventure, leaving his walking stick behind.

                          *What I Thought*

                          This is a sublime BBC adaptation of one of the most famous fictional characters in the English-speaking world and beyond. The stories are brought to 21st century London in an inspired way, with the use of texting, the internet and programming being used to great effect.

                          *The Episodes*

                          There are three 90-minute (or so) episodes per series, each revolving around Sherlock Holmes attempting to solve a bizarre crime with the help of his friend and flatmate John Watson. The first episode, 'A Study in Pink', is unsurprisingly based on 'A Study in Scarlet', and sees Sherlock trying to discover why four unconnected people committed suicide in the same way in quick succession. The second episode, 'The Blind Banker', involves Sherlock being asked to inspect a bizarre bank break-in in which nothing but taken, but a large yellow symbol was found on a portrait. This episode is not based on a specific Conan Doyle tale but has allusions to several of them, which is true for several episodes of Sherlock. The final episode of the first series is 'The Great Game'. This is my second favourite Sherlock episode and was a great way to end the first series. Sherlock is left a mystery to solve and receives a phone call from a crying woman reading a note from her kidnapper, and we see that she is strapped to an explosive vest. Should Sherlock not solve the puzzle within 12 hours, the vest will go off. This is not the only such puzzle that Sherlock will have to solve with similar consequences for failure. The dramatic end to this episode makes a spectacular end to the series as well as making you very excited to see the next one. This series has a thread running through it, leading to Sherlock discovering the identity of his nemesis, Jim Moriarty.

                          Fortunately I didn't watch the first series on television and so didn't have to wait any time at all before being able to find out what happened next. The first episode of the second series is titled 'A Scandal in Belgravia', which is mainly based on 'A Scandal in Bohemia'. Sherlock is asked by his politician brother to recover some important and sensitive information and photographs from 'The Woman', a dominatrix who was visited by a female member of the royal family. The next episode is based on one of the most famous of the Sherlock Holmes stories, entitled 'The Hounds of Baskerville'. This episode transports the very famous story to a MOD research base in Dartmoor and the surrounding area, although Sherlock appears much more than in the original written story.

                          The final episode of series two, 'The Reichenbach Fall', which has a lot in common with Doyle's 'The Final Problem', is my favourite episode of the six. The episode opens with John Watson visiting his therapist for the first time in eighteen months. He struggles to explain the reason for his visit, finally managing to choke out the words, 'My best friend, Sherlock Holmes, is dead.' We are then shown what transpired over the three previous months and how Watson ended up discussing his closest friend's death. This episode sees a reappearance of criminal mastermind Moriarty, who wants to destroy Sherlock and falsely expose him as a fraud.

                          While I say that 'The Reichenbach Fall' and 'The Great Game' are my two favourite episodes, there was only one that I didn't greatly adore. The pilot, 'A Study in Pink', was a spectacular way to start the programme and introduce us to all of the characters, and subsequent episodes successfully developed on the premise and character development. My least favourite was probably 'Hounds of Baskerville', but this was probably largely due to the fact that I'd seen most of it when it was first broadcast without really knowing the characters or how the characters had been transported to the modern setting. On re-watching it I understood what was going on better, but still don't feel it matched up to the other five episodes.

                          *The Characters*

                          Closely based on Arthur Conan Doyle's creations, the characters in Sherlock are spectacularly crafted and developed. Sherlock himself is well written as a genius who abates his boredom by being a consultant detective to the police. His genius and ability to tell a lot of personal details about a person just by looking at them (such as figuring out that Watson's limp is psychosomatic on first meeting him or that a man has travelled round the world twice in the past month based only on seeing his watch) are accompanied by a lower level of interpersonal skills than someone of lesser intellect. He does have enough sense to stop himself from being very offensive on occasion, but has no problem in pointing out that he is more intelligent than John or telling other unwelcome truths. He is a fascinating character and a good investigation of a genius mind surrounded by people who frustrate him.

                          John Watson's character is also very well crafted in this series, appearing as more of an everyday man that the viewer can relate to better than they can to Sherlock. We first see him as a lonely character who is still struggling with his memories of war. Sherlock fascinates him when he first meets him and Watson is excited at the thought of being his friend, despite his being such a strange character. Sherlock is certainly an interesting person to be around and for John it's almost like being accepted as one of the 'cool kids' and he enjoys joining his new friend on his exciting adventures. He follows his therapist's earlier advice and ends up writing a blog of his life, which in fact mainly revolves around Sherlock's detective work and life, making the two relatively famous in London.

                          The only other character I'd like to discuss in relative detail is that of Sherlock's enemy, Jim Moriarty. His existence is alluded to in the first two episodes as being someone who is a 'fan' of Sherlock Holmes' work, before finally making an appearance in the last episode of series one. He is a criminal mastermind who was involved in or initiated the crimes in some of Sherlock's previous cases, working as a 'consulting criminal' and protecting many criminals in the country. He develops an obsession with Sherlock and intends to stop his investigating, partly for the sake of his criminal operations, but also as a personal challenge. The character of Moriarty is a well-known one, with him being regarded as Holmes' arch nemesis despite only appearing in two of the sixty books penned by Conan Doyle.

                          In 'Sherlock', Moriarty is a spectacular character and a true villain. He matches Sherlock in terms of cleverness and sets great puzzles and traps for our hero. He is a very well crafted evil genius who is very enjoyable to watch despite being a repellent character.

                          *Actors*

                          One of the things that makes 'Sherlock' so great is the strength of its cast, in particular Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the title character, and Andrew Scott, who plays the part of his nemesis, Jim Moriarty.

                          Benedict Cumberbatch (what a spectacular name) is an English actor whom I have previously seen in many great things, but would say that his role in Sherlock is his best yet. He plays the part of a genius detective role with aplomb, and makes Sherlock Holmes an interesting and believable 21st century character. He portrays a lot of his character through mere changes in facial expression, such as when he's scanning someone's appearance for information or when he's interested or bored, and does this to great effect. Probably my favourite shot of Cumberbatch is when Sherlock returns to his and Watson's flat, covered in blood and wielding a harpoon, as the expression on his face is spectacular.

                          Despite only being in two episodes properly, Andrew Scott's performance is one of the things that I remember most about 'Sherlock'. He plays Moriarty in an often manic fashion, changing his conduct and voice constantly, often doing a silly yet sad sounding voice when mocking Holmes. His appearance and actions when committing a crime at the beginning of 'The Reichenbach Fall' were also particularly well done and enjoyable.

                          Other actors in the programme are also good and there is nobody whose appearance let the series down at all. Martin Freeman is great as Watson but, unfortunately for him, he is somewhat overshadowed by Cumberbatch's portrayal of Holmes. Mark Gatiss (who also co-created and co-writes the series) is also good as Sherlock's brother, Mycroft, as is Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson, the landlady.

                          *Sherlock and John*

                          Now, my favourite thing about 'Sherlock' would have to be the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. They are often mistaken as a couple by several characters on various occasions, which they are quick to deny, but it's easy to see why this mistake is made. They fit together and get on well from the moment they meet, despite John being irritated by Sherlock's arrogance and unintentional selfishness and Sherlock being frustrated by John's relative stupidity. They make a brilliant pair and there is a lot of love between them; whether this love is of a romantic nature or not is unimportant. There are several scenes that I found particularly touching, in which the two share a joke or just crack a smile and look genuinely happy to be in each other's presence. These scenes make me feel glad that these characters have found each other: John is someone who can actually stand spending a large amount of time in Sherlock's company and Sherlock is a great friend to John and drew him out from his lonely and sad life following returning from war. Despite being with a few women over the two series, Watson's relationships don't last long and this is largely due to Sherlock's disinterest in them as well as Watson preferring to spend time with his exciting friend rather than with his girlfriend. It is also Sherlock who stops John needing his walking stick and who realises that he is not traumatised by what he saw in the war, but rather that he misses it. The shot of Watson begging Sherlock at his graveside not to be dead is one of the most emotional things that I've ever seen and the memory of this scene still brings a tear to my eye. The friendship between the two main characters is the aspect that I feel was done best by the writers, directors and actors, and is one of the main reasons why 'Sherlock' was such a successful and enjoyable series.

                          *In Comparison to other Sherlock Holmes Adaptations and Stories*

                          I'm fairly ashamed to say that I haven't read any of Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories nor have I seen many adaptations of these works in film or television. A little bit of research has shown me that there has been a ridiculous number of adaptations made all over the world. There have been several made in the past few years alone (I avoided the Robert Downey Jr. films as I thought they looked awful) and there is currently an American series along the same lines of 'Sherlock', which is called 'Elementary'. I don't particularly want to try this as I doubt it could match up to this BBC adaptation, and that it could ruin my enjoyment of 'Sherlock'.

                          The only thing I can compare it to is a series that was only very loosely based on Sherlock Holmes: the American medical drama, 'House'. Its basis in Sherlock Holmes was something that I wasn't aware of when I first started watching it, but it's not hard to see once you know. Dr House (similar to the word 'home', or 'Holmes') is best friends with Dr James Wilson (not far from John Watson) and lives at 221B Baker Street. Both Holmes and House are geniuses who consult on difficult cases that other professionals cannot solve: while Holmes solves criminal cases, House works on medical ones. They both also have a vice in the form of a drug: although Holmes' drug habit isn't featured in 'Sherlock' it is alluded to - his main problem appears to be smoking. House's limp is also a reference to Watson's war wound and there are further similarities in later series of House (which I really want to mention as they're very interesting, but I won't in case it spoils things for people who haven't finished watching House). I did see similarities between the Holmes/Watson relationship in 'Sherlock' and that of House/Wilson in 'House', which is something that I, as a fan of both, found particularly interesting.

                          The only other thing I can think to compare 'Sherlock' too isn't a Sherlock Holmes adaptation at all, but rather another recent BBC detective drama set in modern day London: 'Luther', starring Idris Elba. I recently reviewed the first series and absolutely raved about its clever addition to the detective drama genre. While Luther has less of an iconic base, it did feel similar to 'Sherlock' in terms of both having a hero-like main character who solves crimes, although those in Luther are often more of a gruesome and less of a puzzling nature than in 'Sherlock'. I couldn't say which of the two series I prefer and would have to watch them both again to decide. Neither of them felt that they had drawn influence from each other yet they were similar enough in style and quality to remind me of each other.

                          *Other Things*

                          I feel that I've covered most aspects of the programme but though I'd add another little section for other things I enjoyed about 'Sherlock'. One thing is the music - there is limited background music but there are little bits of 'theme tune' at the beginning of some scenes are in dramatic moments. This is mostly a cheery, orchestral bit of music that always puts a little smile on my face and adds to the excitement of the programme, but the same tune is played in a more foreboding style in dramatic moments, which I also find a nice touch.

                          Another thing to mention is that the cinematography in 'Sherlock' is excellent. There are some truly brilliant shots of dramatic moments, which really help to draw you in and everything feels very realistic.

                          *Conclusion*

                          'Sherlock' is a spectacular programme and I adored both series to a great extent. It has been brought into the 21st century in an inspired fashion and puts an ingenious modern twist onto characters and stories we know well. The acting and writing were amazing and I can do nothing but continue to praise this programme. I am very eagerly awaiting the third series but, as production for this will only start in January 2013, it will be close to a year before it will grace our screens. Until then, I highly recommend watching these two brilliant series. Each series is roughly 4.5 hours long, which makes the first series excellent value at only £5. The second isn't much dearer at £6.99 and it costs the same amount to buy both together as it does separately - £12 (all prices from Amazon). This means that you can get the first series and try it before buying the second one without this being any more expensive than buying both series together. I highly doubt that you wouldn't want to watch the second series after seeing the first and strongly urge you to give 'Sherlock' a try. There is an option to play 'The Great Game' with audio commentary on the series one DVD (and I imagine that there will also be the option to do this on one of the series two episodes), which I haven't done yet, but I imagine that this will be an interesting thing to watch in the future. The BBC does produce some good dramas but I have to say that this is one of the best that I have seen in some time. A full five out of five stars.

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                            27.11.2012 18:42
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                            Lovely Spanish restaurant in central Edinburgh - have the pork cheeks

                            I am enjoying living in Germany on the whole, but I do often find myself missing the good old UK. Specifically, I find myself missing particular places in Edinburgh to which I used to love going when I lived there. My friend who's here with me and I have recently been waxing nostalgic for certain restaurants that were favourites of ours. One of these is a Spanish restaurant in the centre of the city on George Street: Café Andaluz.

                            == Café Andaluz ==

                            I have been going to Café Andaluz in Edinburgh for years and believe that the first time that I went was actually before I moved there for university in 2008, having been many times since then, so it's somewhere I'm certainly familiar with. There are a few Café Andaluz restaurants to be found in the central belt but this is the only one to be found in Edinburgh, with the other two or three being in Glasgow. Despite having "Andaluz" in the name, the food here isn't all Andalusia based and there is a good selection of Spanish dishes to choose from here.

                            == The Food ==

                            The food here runs along the lines of what you'd expect from a Spanish restaurant: the main dishes on offer are small tapas or large paellas to share. There are a few different paellas (that they recommend for two persons) and a fairly extensive selection of tapas, separated on the menu into vegetarian, meat and seafood dishes. They recommend that you order 2-3 tapas per person and share them, although of course you can have a few to yourself if that's what you would prefer. I'm sure most of you will recognise a lot of the items on the menu, such as patatas bravas, calamares, chorizo and tortilla española, but there are also some less expected dishes on offer. Some more 'unusual' options include carillada de cerdo (pork cheek), chorizo y butifarra negra (chorizo with black pudding) and chuletas de cordero (lamb chops rubbed with rosemary, thyme and garlic). There are also some breads, olives and chips should you wish to have these to start or accompany your meal.

                            == Restaurant and Location ==

                            This is a lovely looking restaurant that has a nice atmosphere. The main thing that jumps out at you is their use of tiles on the wall and wooden furnishings, as it does lend it more of a Spanish feel and doesn't feel like anywhere you'd expect to find in Britain. There is a café area with some smaller booths and tables at the front, with the restaurant proper being found behind this in view of the kitchen. There is also an upstairs area that is used when it is particularly busy (and is also where the toilets are), but you generally find this area empty at lunchtime or outwith busier times.

                            Its location is also very good, especially if you're not from Edinburgh, as it's not hard to find. It can be found on George Street in the new town of Edinburgh, not far from Princes Street or Waverley Station. Most buses in the city go either via Princes or George Street so it's also easy to get to using public transport. Anyone who knows Edinburgh more than vaguely will know that George Street is home to a lot of 'posh' shops, restaurants and bars, and Café Andaluz deserves to stand among them.

                            == What I Thought ==

                            As I said earlier, this is a place that I greatly miss now that I am out of the country and obviously unable to go to. The food is great and I've never had a bad meal here. It's atmosphere is also great and bustling due it being pretty busy most of the times that I've been and the staff are good and friendly.

                            There are some tapas that I want to rave about and particularly recommend. The amount of times I've been here over the years has probably reached double figures by now so I've tried a fair range of what they serve and feel quality to say what the best dishes are here.

                            My current favourite is one that they added to the menu fairly recently, or rather around a year or so ago, but recent in terms of how long I've been coming here for: Carillada de Cerdo, or pork cheeks. I don't feel I have the expressive power to properly describe how gorgeous these are, but will of course try. Three or so slices of pork cheek are served in red wine, paprika, chilli and honey and may as well have been cooked by the gods. I was sceptical before trying this for the first time as I expected them to be quite fatty, and I'm not a fan of meat with too much fat on them. I was more than pleasantly surprised as these cheeks are not only not fatty, but they are amazingly soft and tender, being complemented by the sauce very well indeed. I hadn't ever tried pork cheeks before and while they do have a hint of pork to them, they do taste different to other parts of pig and I can't do justice to how nice they are in mere words. I've ordered these every time that I've been to this restaurant since. If you go to Café Andaluz, have these. I insist.

                            Another favourite of mine is Queso de Cabra al Horno, or grilled goat cheese. This is served with an orange and chilli marmalade and my mouth is watering just thinking about it. The cheese is warm and soft and its savouriness is complemented very well by the sweeter marmalade. It's not too heavy and is also something that I order most times that I go.

                            Other favourites include:

                            * Chorizo y Butifarra Negra - chorizo and black pudding, served in a lightly spicy tomato sauce. The chorizo is perfect and the black pudding soft and delicious. I wouldn't have thought to but these two foods together myself but they are gorgeous together.

                            * Patatas bravas. These are a classic Spanish dish - small, fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce. Every bit as good as in Spain.

                            * Carne de Res Picante - 'spicy beef on a bed of rocket with a manchego cheese and chorizo dressing'. Not something that I would think of as traditionally Spanish but this tapa is gorgeous and is something I'd definitely recommend.

                            * Calamares/chipirones - battered squid rings or friend baby squid, served with garlic mayonnaise and lemon. Squid being my favourite food, I order one of these a lot of the time as well, but I have to say that the past couple of times I've been they haven't quite lived up to expectations. I think they've increased the amount of batter and it's hard to get the full squid flavour through with the baby squid. I wish that they served the baby squid grilled without batter so their taste could be better appreciated. Nevertheless, still a good dish that I used to love, anyway.

                            There are many other things that I enjoy on the menu, but to list and describe the rest would take me all day. I've only had paella here once, I believe, as I usually can't go past the tapas, but it is very good and I could also recommend it. There is also a small portion available as a tapa and I've had it in this form a few more times. The menu can be seen on the website in PDF format (http://www.cafeandaluz.com) if you're interested to see what else they serve. They also have some desserts but I'm usually too full from the tapas to have any, but have enjoyed the cheeseboard and crema catalana on the few occasions anyone has had room for a pudding and ordered one.

                            == Drinks ==

                            The drink selection here is good and I've never been disappointed with wine that I've ordered. There is also a good coffee selection for post-food times, including liqueur coffees and even liqueur hot chocolates. You can of course also get soft drinks and other beverages, but I can't comment on their beer or spirit selection as I always have wine or water when I'm here.

                            == Conclusion ==

                            This is a fabulous restaurant in central Edinburgh and writing this review has made me realise how much I miss the food in this city. This will definitely be on my short list for places to eat while I'm at home for Christmas and when I hopefully move back there in March. The food is lovely and the atmosphere pleasant, and I highly recommend it if you live in or are visiting the Scottish capital. Prices are reasonable considering the prime location, with all vegetarian tapas being under £5, meat between £5 and £7 and seafood between £5 and £7.50, and the most expensive paella (paella valenciana) is £24 for two people. There are cheaper places to eat in the city but there are also ones considerably more expensive and I feel that the prices here are very reasonable considering the quality. Recommended should you find yourself in the area.

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