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daniash

daniash
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Member since: 14.05.2009

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    • lovefilm.com / Internet Site / 28 Readings / 28 Ratings
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      14.12.2009 11:43
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      Try it, you can quit any time!

      Lovefilm!
      I think that I'm quite typical in the fact that I've first come to know this service from a friend who sent me an invitation for a month's free trial, and I gave it a go. I've been a member for several months since.

      What this basically is, it is a service where you pay a monthly fee and in return you get DVDs through the mail; you watch them, then you pop them in a pre-paid envelope and post them back. Then you receive more DVDs, and the cycle goes on - it's basically video rental through the mail.

      It has advantages and disadvantages, which I'll go through in a second, but one one thing is for certain: the convenience of this system is enormous. You have no shop to go to, everything is brought to your home by the postman - and for returning the films, you can stop by any post box - even stuffing the disc into the return envelope is made simple and quick for you.

      I actually learnt lots with Lovefilm; cinema-wise I went from an apathetic, badly informed viewer to someone who knows what she wants and has a fairly complete understanding of who's who in film history - all, of course, by regularly watching the barrage of DVDs that came in the mail every few days.
      However, at the end of this month I will be terminating my membership. Why? Read on...

      A few more specifics on how it works.
      After you register, you are asked to create a list of films you'd like to see. You simply browse their massive stock and select films, much as you would put an item 'in the shopping trolley' in an online store. I have to say the amount of films they have is astounding; you really have to go out of your way to think of a title they haven't got.
      At first you will struggle to come up with the minimum of 10 films that they suggest you select, but before you know it you'll be in brainstorming mode and a chain reaction will be taking place where with every title you add, another comes to mind, and your list will end up being very long.
      Your list can be as long as you want - the price is the same. As I said above, the subscription fee is per-month, not per-film. Now, this list will act as your queue, if you will. Now Lovefilm know that AT SOME POINT, you'll want to see these films. So, shortly thereafter, they will start sending them to you. In what order? Well, this is one of the biggest drawbacks - or, at least, I'm sure some people will consider it one: the films you are sent are drawn from the list you create, but you cannot decide in which order. While you can specify priorities, you'll be sent whatever films become available first, and you will (generally) not be able to request one specific film to receive immediately. And that's also why it is recommended that your queue is quite long: by having lots of films in the list, it's almost guaranteed that one of them will be available at any time, and thus there'll be no delays.
      When your list shrinks because you've watched most of what you had in mind, you can add new titles to it at any time.

      When you register, you choose a membership package. These packages differ in how many discs you can have with you at any given time: 1, 2, 3 or more. You'll be sent discs until you have your full allowance at home. Then, when you return one, a new film is sent to replace the one you returned, so that you're kept well stocked up.

      When you've got a DVD, you can keep it as long as you want - there's no hurry.
      When you return a DVD, from the moment you drop the return envelope in the post box, to the moment when you receive the next one at your door, an average of 3 days pass - more if it's over the weekend. This is acceptably quick, but not hugely so. Of course it helps if you return all your DVDs as soon as you've finished watching them, instead of leaving them to lay around in the house, wasting your precious subscription allowance. I suck at this, for example.

      However, the real question to ask yourself when considering using this service is: will I watch enough films each month to make it worth the money?

      Let's do a bit of maths. Let's find out how many films can you go through in a month, tops, with their 'most popular' option of 2 DVDs at a time for about £13. Assuming you watch each film as soon as you receive and you post it back the same night, you can probably repeat the cycle about 7 times a month. Considering you have 2 DVDs, that's 14 films a month. For £13, this means just under £1 per film, straight to your door, which is very good.
      However you'll rarely watch films so quickly. Personally I find that I do on average 8 films a month, which translates into about £1.60 per film. This still beats high street rentals, and it has the added convenience of postal delivery. However, the disadvantage is that you can't choose which films are sent when, and the fact that the clock on your subscription is ticking even when you don't feel like watching anything. Sometimes you will (like I have) go though periods when mentally you can't take any more films, it's a relentless rain of titles and you don't have time, you need to take a break, so sometimes in a month you'll only watch 2 or 3! Believe me, after watching DVDs regularly for ages, a month like this will come. During this month, each rental could cost the equivalent of £7!

      However, I'm single. If you have a family it will probably be different, and there's a better chance that you'll use up your allowance in a profitable way. For me though, I have learnt that I'm probably better off renting stuff whenever I feel like it, and not with the commitment of regularity that Lovefilm subscription implies. I did watch a huge number of titles, and for a while I've enjoyed it a lot. However, I'm near saturation and I'm starting to look at my stack of unwatched films with dread. So, it's time to quit.

      However, even after saying this, I really recommend Lovefilm: you pay monthly and there's no minimum contract length, so you can quit any month. If you've got reasonable free time, then, 'while you last', it's a great way to fill that gap you might have in your cinema knowledge, and as long as you watch enough films, it's also good value and huge convenience. If you're unemployed it might be perfect for you!
      At some point it's likely that the pace will become too much and you will drop, though, like I did.

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        14.12.2009 10:41
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        Italians themselves give Strada the thumbs-up.

        Having spent several years in Italy, I know what to expect from Italian food. I also know, from friends working in restaurants, that a lot of so-called Italian restaurants here are actually owned by people who are not only Italian, but not even European!
        While the basic concept of Italian food is not hard to understand and can be replicated by anyone, perfecting it is quite another matter, and satisfying the demanding taste of the pleasure eater is harder than just filling a drunken stomach with any greasy pizza.

        Alright - So I don't know who actually owns Strada, and if they're Italian or not. But if they aren't, they must have spent ages researching the subject, because it's as close as it gets to real Italian food. At least out of the big chain restaurants, Strada is the one I prefer.

        Let's get straight to the point; their pizzas are good. consistent with how an Italian restaurant would cook a pizza. Now, there is a huge variation even within Italy how this is done, but there are things an Italian pizzeria would never do, and Strada's pizzas stay within the boundaries. I don't know what exactly it is, but there is a balance of flavour and texture that is so often lost in cheaper 'italian' eateries in this country, and this is certainly not the case here. Not only they are faithful to the real thing, but these pizzas are actually good. They won't necessarily be loaded with ingredients, they will tend to be simple but that's the whole point. So, if you eat there, make sure you have one.

        The non-pizza elements of the menu are also very satisfying. While there has been an adjustment made to better meet the target audience, the recipes used are very much the classics, and my impression is that the ingredients they use are fresh.
        Their appetizers are also definitely worth ordering, even if some of them sound humble and appear overpriced for what they are. You'll realise they were actually priced in the right range. The beauty of Italian food is that even a bowl of olives can add a great deal of satisfaction to a nice meal, if the quality is up to scratch.

        The drinks they have are nice in that they include a few lesser known items such as some Italian beers that the connoisseur will recognise and appreciate.

        I like these restaurants. I don't tend to go there if I'm hungry and I have an itch to scratch for Italian food, no, there's better places for these cases. I tend to go there when I really want a fine meal, because that's what I usually get.
        I tend to spend around the £20-25 mark without wine for a full meal; I would not suggest going there just for a pizza. I would rather recommend sitting down, taking your time, looking at the menu and making your pick of appetizers, main course and pizza - although it may be a good idea to share at least one of these items with your partner if your stomach isn't so big.

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        21.06.2009 13:30
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        What spaceflight is really like!

        With few exceptions, at some point in our lives, all of us have wanted to be astronauts at least for a day. We watched rockets launch and we thought, how cool it would be to take a ride on that.
        It's not so uncommon to be fascinated with space. Stargazing as a hobby is definitely alive, and many people I know used to collect magazines and pictures, especially back in the day when exploration had just begun and excitement was higher than today - just think of the first few successful probe missions that returned never-seen-before, mind-blowing images of the outer planets.
        Those who weren't happy with just 'watching' from the ground, might have started studying the physics of spaceflight, some of us just for fun. If you did too, It might have killed your dreams to know that certain sci-fi scenarios may never be possible, but within what is possible, now and in the foreseeable future, there is still a lot of thrilling things to do. When you're an 'insider', the satisfaction of understanding exactly what's going on is enormous.
        I've always felt very attracted by all that, and although my level of direct interest has gone up and down, I've always felt close to the various space programs. Every time a Shuttle launches, I make sure to watch it live (and boy, I'm so sad that they are retiring the fleet in 2010 :'( ), and more than once I felt asleep while listening to NASA TV. Waking up in the middle of the night, in the dark, to the disembodied voices of Mission Control is too eerie for words.

        Not long ago, quite by accident, I discovered the existence of a free spaceflight simulator called Orbiter, and gave it a go.
        Not a 'game' by any stretch of the imagination, it is actually based on hard science, and as the author writes himself, "the emphasis is firmly on realism". On this premise, we would be right in guessing that it is also extremely hard to learn to use. But instead of being put off by the steep learning curve, a few daring people will accept the challenge and, step by step, learn to accomplish basic, and then more complex, missions.
        The reality of space flight physics might come as a disappointment to those who thought that you could easily brake and steer a spacecraft in any desired direction just by handling a joystick - it most definitely doesn't work that way. For example, the typical futuristic image of the huge cargo ship approaching a planet head on, engines burning at all times, is not something you do in the real world, if you want to get anywhere. However, within the framework of realism, there ARE many cool things that can be done, and discovering exactly what to do, by direct experience, is just as enlightening and exciting - if not more. However, Star Wars fans don't stop reading: there's something in here for people like you, too.

        The project home page currently is http://orbit.medphys.ucl.ac.uk/. Here, you can get the basic game package and a user manual, which you'll want to keep handy.
        The download is quite large but easily handled with broadband; just make yourself a cup of tea and and come back in a few minutes. After that, there's no installation program. You just extract the files into any folder of your choice and you run it from there. Orbiter doesn't make any changes to your system or registry. Personally, I'm happy about that. I'm tired of downloading petty programs with a full installation program that "set roots" in your system unnecessarily, and that make your 'start' menu more cluttered with each new addition. I appreciated that the author of this program thought the same!

        Starting up a simulation program for the first time is intimidating. Years ago, I got hold of a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator and was terribly disappointed to discover that I was completely unable to even get off the runway (wonder if I would be better at it now? ;). Simulators are not made to be necessarily fun, they are made to be realistic (the fact that they are ALSO fun is a lucky coincidence!) and in order to be able to use them, you need to know a fair fraction of what a 'real' pilot would need to know.
        For this reason, if you don't know what an orbit is and how it can be attained, you are unlikely to get to the point where this program starts being enjoyable - unless you do your research. There is a lot of material available to study, but if f you don't feel like reading from a boring textbook, I would suggest you start 'the fan way', by reading up some of the more in-depth information about current and past missions, and try to find out the details of their flight plans. I find that reading up on the Apollo missions is a perfect example, which has the added benefit of a bit of healthy nostalgia. These missions contain many good examples of the techniques that are used to send a spacecraft to an intended destination, and by trying to understand the purpose of the various flight stages and engine firings you will learn loads.

        When you launch the Orbiter main executable, you will have a window where you can select some options and display settings, load previously saved checkpoints, or choose to start from one of variously pre-set 'scenarios'. You'll need to choose where you want to fly from - this could be one of various places such as an Earth launch pad, low Earth orbit, or an imaginary Moon base. And you'll have to specify which ship you want to use. A few real spacecraft are available, such as the Shuttle, along with a few fictional ones, and tons of other ships can be downloaded separately as add-ons.
        After you confirm your settings, the app goes full-screen and the real simulation begins.
        Once 'inside', you'll most likely feel confused. There is, not surprisingly, an awful lot of buttons, and many keyboard controls to memorise before you can hope to take off. All your main controls, however, are on the numpad, and just by playing with them you can learn to move about, and adjust your attitude and speed. Now, this isn't just a space simulator - atmospheric flight is also possible, and it is necessary for operations such as a Shuttle re-entry. The 'feel' of your controls is radically different depending on whether you're flying in air or in the near-vacuum of space. Other less commonly used functions, such as landing gear, hatch doors and docking controls, are scattered around as various key shortcuts.
        The view can be switched between an outside view of your craft (which is very pretty but not very practical to fly as you won't see any of your instruments), a 'virtual cockpit mode' which depicts what you would view from the pilot's seat (dials, switches and all), and a hybrid mode where you'll have a good balance, with a wide field of view while still having your main flight data superimposed on the screen.
        The main on-screen instruments consist of two big multi-function displays (MFD) that you can switch to show you any information you require at one given moment; for example during a launch you may want to set the MFDs to display altitude, ground speed, pitch and roll, whereas while in orbit you may prefer to set an MFD to show you the ground track of your orbit and the other to graphically display its shape and enumerate orbital parameters. These instruments may be hard to read at first, but you'll pick them up quickly. It's impossible to fly without them!

        Graphically, Orbiter looks quite amazing for a free simulator. However, many parts of it are add-ons from various contributors, and these contributors are mostly enthusiasts who do it just for fun themselves. So, quality in the design of the craft may vary, but still, a lot of stuff is very impressive. One thing you have to keep in mind: that when you're flying at a low altitude over a planet, you won't see many details of the surface. This is because, obviously, it's impossible to store a detailed map of a whole planet at a resolution that still looks good close-up. There are strategic parts of the map which contain much higher detail (such as spaceports), but most of the rest of the terrain is made up of quite blurry shades. This is a pretty unavoidable evil for storage reasons, unless a way is developed of filling up plain expanses of colour with random details on the fly. However, when viewing the planet from orbit and from deeper space, it looks terrific, and it includes sunlight reflection from oceans, clouds, and dawn effects.
        You don't need a gaming PC to run Orbiter, but decent processing power is still needed if you want to run it smoothly at high resolution.

        Sound is not included as part of the basic game package, but there's an add-on 'sound module' that's readily available for download, and recommended. For most of the duration of a space mission the sounds are not critical, however not having any sound at all is terrible when playing a game. Even just the hum of the ship's cockpit and the random mechanical sounds are greatly comforting, and the roar of the engines quite exciting (I can't say if it's realistic - I've never been inside a rocket to compare!). There are also some 'mission control' voices. Although the variety of sounds is not huge, they do pull you in further. (Oh, and true to the realism goal of the simulator, when viewing the spaceship from the outside, you won't hear any sounds while in space.) There is also a MP3 player facility integrated in the cockpit, although it is not very staightforward to use. Various additional sound packs can be found on fan sites.

        The realism of this simulator, at least outside the atmosphere, is high. So much so that, if you download the Apollo spacecraft pack you'll be able (if you learn how to...) to rewind to 1969 and re-enact the mission exactly the way it happened. I have also read somewhere that Orbiter is sometimes used by the space agencies themselves to make short descriptive 'movies' of their missions to feed to the press!

        One more word on the vessels.
        The selection of ships (some built in, some add-ons) includes 'real' ones like the Shuttle, Soyuz, and even unmanned probes and satellites, and fans are constantly new mods for almost any other object that has ever been launched into Space. None is too small! However, the 'real' craft, being 'too' realistic, are also very hard to fly, for there is almost no room for mistakes. Just getting a Shuttle into low Earth orbit will take many failed attempts, and will not work unless you follow the real-life launch technique more or less exactly.
        For those who want to experiment with flight in a less stringent way, there is a range of more easily maneuvrable futuristic spaceplanes, which weigh less, produce more thrust with less fuel, and can take off equally well on a runway or vertically. Note however, that the fact that they are futuristic doesn't mean that they are exempt from the laws of physics, and it won't save you from having to learn your orbital dynamics. This also applies to the selection of popular spaceships you can find online, which include stuff from Star Trek, Star Wars and 2001, so you might want to check it out! Myself, I'm not much into these series, so I can't comment on them.

        Going to the Moon (or anywhere) takes much more than aiming at the Moon in your crosshairs and firing the rocket. The trajectory is not straight, it has to be done in stages, and most importantly it has to be carefully calculated in advance, and where and when to fire the engines cannot be left to chance. The on-board instruments provide a simple but effective utility for calculating basic trajectory changes, although on one of my first attempts I was not aware of this instrument and I tried to get to the Moon with a back-of-the-envelope calculation and a naked-eye estimate ("Let's see, I'm here, the Moon is there, getting there takes four days, so by that time it will have moved there, so hmm, I should do the burn when I'm flying above East Africa"). I did get there, just about, but if I was flying with a real-life craft there's no way I would have had enough fuel to compensate for the small inaccuracy of my trajectory. More advanced interplanetary transfers may require more advanced calculation instruments, which can be loaded into your ship's computers as needed.
        Some things are still beyond my ability to compute. For example, which are the dates that allow a minimum-energy transfer between Earth and Mars? Lacking the skill to figure it our myself, my sneaky solution has been to piggy-back on information available for real launches: find out on when a real mission to Mars has begun, and use the same date myself.

        Whatever your vessel, flying from a planet to another always includes a long time spent 'coasting', i.e. just travelling and waiting to arrive. Also, you'll have to wait for launch windows, or to arrive at the critical position in an orbit for a transfer burn. Luckily there is a 'time acceleration' function that lets you fast forward to the time of your arrival. Use sparingly though, because if you spend too long at huge time accelerations (100,000x+) the accuracy of the simulation may decrease, unpredictable things may happen, you may also overshoot your target, or even crash!

        Flying with Orbiter really makes you realise how finely tuned realistic missions have to be. Don't assume, though, that just because you are unable to go where you want without crunching a lot of numbers it will be boring. It's actually hugely thrilling when you finally master the lingo, make sense of all those graphs, attempt a flight strategy, realise you were right, and succeed. The way I see it, only two things can happen: either you'll give up trying to learn to use Orbiter, or you'll absolutely love it.

        Apart from interplanetary flight (you can get to any body in the Solar System, and there are additional fictional planetary systems for download), another challenge comes from orbital missions, where your goal might be to rendezvous and dock with another orbiting object such as the International Space Station, or deploying a satellite. Synchronising your orbit with the target's, approaching it in the right way and finally docking is a feat the complexity of which cannot be imagined until you've tried. If you've ever wondered why the Shuttle takes two days after launch to catch up with the ISS, now you'll have a chance to learn why. If you've wondered why that particular launch had to occur at 14:38 and not one minute earlier or later, now you'll have a chance to learn why. And not just learn, but do it.

        Now a short note on the not-so-good stuff.
        This is a free product, which everyone will appreciate. But it also means that, since it's not a commercial venture but more of a side-project the author developed 'for fun' (as he states himself on his personal website), you can't expect to receive any official support for it if something doesn't work on your machine. Not to say it's common to have problems, however if you do, you're on your own trying to sort it out. Luckily, adequate documentation can be downloaded for free and there is a bustling online community that you can ask for advice.
        For me, the simulator launched successfully on the first try, however I've had problems with certain specific add-on modules, which caused the application to crash. Other issues include various strange behaviour when switching applications from full-screen to another window (but, to be fair, half of the commercial PC games have this problem too!).
        Installing add-ons and making them work also is not automatic and will require you to copy stuff into the right folders. At some point you'll also want to create your own scenario at a specific date and time, and this too requires some manual tweaking in the config files that, although easy, is laborious and not so user-friendly.
        Other things that come to mind as improvements that should be made as some point are: better simulation of atmospheric (surface) flight, an on-screen hint system to remind you of the functions of the rarely used buttons, more surface details for planets, better collision detection, and better save and load system (where you can actually name your saves for easy retrieval). Unfortunately, the basic program hasn't been updated since 2006, which could mean the author is too busy or lost interest. However, third party mods come out at a steady rate.
        Despite these flaws, there was nothing, that prevented me from playing and doing what I wanted, and on the contrary, I was very surprised at how everything was so professionally presented despite this simulator being just a 'hobby' of the creator. Such a big community of enthusiasts can't be wrong. It's an amazing job!

        As a conclusion, I find Orbiter to be massively educating for those who want to learn more, and fun to play with, as it gives you a chance to play Houston, and maybe to enact those missions you've been waiting years hoping that NASA would come up with.

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          13.06.2009 13:21
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          A great idea for a series but struggles to keep it fresh for the whole duration. Still good marks!

          I'll make a note straight away: I actually decided to buy a boxset of this series after reading another review on Dooyoo, as a proof that this site is very good for discovering new things you might like!

          What attracted me about this series was the time and place where the story was set: the early Eighties in England. I am generally very entertained by looking at what things used to look like in decades past and in various places - with my favourites being the 80s and the 20s, the latter especially if it is a more recent reconstruction and filmed in colour so you can see it in a more natural light.
          Anyway. This was just to say that even if I hardly knew what Ashes To Ashes was about, I would have tried it anyway, just because I knew it was a 'look back' at another era, in which some of the 80s elements would probably be emphasised!

          So here I'll start the proper review.

          This series is intended as a sequel to Life on Mars, which unfortunately I have not seen. Therefore my review won't be complete with regard to comparisons and continuity of the storyline, however I've read up enough to fill the gap. Consider this review for what it is - the impression of someone who hasn't seen the prequel. If you are in the same situation, you may find it even more useful than if I was all clued up.

          Present day (2008). Alex Drake, a Criminal psychologist with the police, has been investigating on a very peculiar and disconcerting case, the case of a man waking up from a coma with vivid recollections of having 'been' in the Seventies (the events of Life on Mars). One day, out of the blue, she is kidnapped and shot in the head by a lunatic.
          Just after passing out from the bullet wound, she wakes up in the year 1981, in a situation apparently disconnected from her own life. She would be confused and dazzled, if it wasn't for the fact that she realises that what's happening to her is the same thing that happened to the man on whom she was investigating - she's probably in a coma, and her mind has probably wandered here in a state of delirium. She finds that in this alternative reality, she is a member of the 1981 police, dealing with the crimes of their day, and led by the returning hero from Life on Mars, Gene Hunt.
          Why she was sent to the Eighties she does not know, but she suspects that it is a test of her strength, to see if, after the shot to the head, she should live or die, as her mind struggles to wake up and go back to the reality of 2008.

          This story concept, apart from being an interesting idea, is a wonderful excuse to go back to 80s England and indulge in some reminiscence of the fashion, the gadgets then-considered to be cutting edge, the emerging social issues, and more, while still maintaining a foothold in the present day that allows us to compare and contrast. The resulting image of that past world is one of slightly antiquated mentality, 'unjustified' brashness and overconfidence, and blissful unawareness of the many troubles to come in the following decades. It is not, however, a critique of that time, and in fact there is something very charming about it.

          One of the main elements that allows a wide range of interesting situations, is the difference in mentality between a 2000s woman and a predominantly male 80s police station. Each episode revolves around a separate, self-contained police case, which generally has really no bearing on Alex's 'mission', but rather portrays a different slice of the society and the problems commonly encountered at the time. These situations obviously take a new meaning when looked at from the perspective of a time-traveller, which the oblivious coppers of the past can't really see. Examples of the themes encountered are homosexuality, prostitution, religious bigotry, espionage, and resistance to change and new City developments. Each time, Alex hopes that by solving a particular mystery she will finally have proven herself fit to live and go back to 2008, but she soon discovers that probably the demons she has to face to redeem herself are elsewhere: in fact, she comes in close contact with the past versions of various people she already knows, including her mother, but none of them 'recognise' her. She then finds herself wondering if she should try to interact with them in a way that changes the future.

          Alex does not really enjoy being back in time: she's got a life and a daughter in 2008 she'd very much like to see again, and despite her fierce involvement in the cases thrown at her in her new law enforcement role with Gene Hunt, she seems to always keep a certain detachment, never forgetting that the 'real her' is elsewhere. She take extra care not to get emotionally attached to her current - and hopefully temporary - position of eighties cop. She is aware that she is probably in a hospital somewhere in the future, and treats the world she's immersed in somewhat like a giant lucid dream, sometimes taking big risks on the grounds of 'none of this is real anyway'.
          Despite this facade, we know that she can't totally despise her predicament, because she indulges in wearing a carefully picked set of awesome outfits typical of the period, complete with matching make-up, hairstyles and jewellery! So, Alex, please shut up for a moment about how you want nothing but to go home to your daughter, cause we can see you're enjoying yourself! ;)

          Since one of my main incentives for seeing this was the atmosphere of the eighties, I observed this aspect very carefully, looking for any flaws. I found the reconstruction to be very satisfactory and enjoyable, although there isn't really such a large repertoire of environments to scan for clues: the action seems to mainly alternate from police station to various seedy establishments which are mainly nondescript, plus a couple other familiar places such as the local pub and restaurant. There are of course other locations somewhat relevant to the era, but I would have liked something more dramatic. Even the chase scenes (in which the police drive a fiery red Audi Quattro) are mostly filmed on deserted roads and alleyways which do not really contain as many year-specific details as I would have liked. So, the first episodes where you're first introduced to the central locations of the new world will be a blast for the eyes, but after that, unfortunately I started taking it a bit for granted. However, I would still recommend the series for nostalgia-seekers.

          The other criticism I have to make has to be about Alex's character. We all understand her painful situation, but throughout the series I found her behaviour a little bit too self-righteous and snobbish. Yes, of course she's got an edge over the other 'dinosaur' police officers in terms of mentality, but she constantly acts as if she's somehow superior to them as a human being, and that's not right. No doubt this was the intention of the writers, but I feel it's been taken a bit too far, so far that sometimes during the many arguments between her and her colleagues, some viewers will be tempted, out of sympathy, to side with the old-style cops guilty of nothing more than being born in a certain era. Even when the discussions concern sensitive topics such as sexism, paradoxically I feel some resistance to agreeing whole-heartedly with her point of view, when it comes from such a massive and annoying ego as hers! So, despite Alex being very cool in many ways, she often shows a 'controlling mother' side which is detrimental to the appeal of her character.
          For the same reason, I found that the attitude towards some of the problems that blighted the 80s is a bit patronising.

          The last point to make is about the writing of some of the episodes, which is often quite naïve, and sometimes really, really hard to believe or take seriously. Ashes To Ashes has a large amount of humour built-in, and so it's not intended to be taken completely at face value, but some of the cases investigated are even more unrealistic than this relaxed tone would allow the viewer to accept. In a few situations, large ellipses are employed to avoid having to explain just how certain characters manage to be at the right place at the right time. Of course there's no time for details in a TV-series format of just 60 minutes, but I would have found it a better idea if the writers had stuck to relatively simple but believable cases (which make up more than half of the episodes anyway), rather than coming up with a high-profile national security situation that doesn't really add up in the end.

          In conclusion, Ashes To Ashes is a very enjoyable invention mixing equal parts of humour, crime fiction and time-travel, however it has its flaws. Whether you'll forgive them and enjoy it anyway, depends on which of the three above ingredients is the most important to you.

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          • The Savages (DVD) / DVD / 108 Readings / 104 Ratings
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            29.05.2009 17:00
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            A grim look at the ecosystem of the dysfunctional

            An old man begins to act strangely. He becomes defiant, aggressive, forgetful and unpredictable. Doctors guess the truth, and his two adult children -Wendy and Jon, who live at the opposite end of the US - are alerted that he might have dementia.
            The two fly together to the south west of the country and face the difficult decision of what to do with their deteriorating father, each looking at the situation with their two very different attitudes and personalities, each going through radically different feelings.

            Despite what a first glance may sugest, The Savages is not so much a film about caring for the elderly, but it is very much a microscope examination of the world of the dysfunctional. The insightful viewer will stop feeling sorry for the old man and start feeling sorry for his two descendants, but not because of their caring for him - rather, for the psychological damage they have... inherited probably from him.
            It takes courage for the viewer to realise and admit that there are more 'victims' in this film than a literal interpretation may show. During the film, it becomes obvious that the relationship between parent and children has never been a healthy one and has had lasting negative effects on the two; the uncomfortable situation set up by Lenny's illness offers little chance of redemption, and whatever chance there is, is wasted through the perpetuation of the old patterns of behaviour.
            Observant viewers will develop a painful understanding of the inner world of the two siblings, and will get a taste of the unhappiness it causes - ill father or not.

            Wendy is 39, single, enmarshed in a squalid relationship with a married man, who she does not seem to be emotionally attached to, nor she seems to enjoy sex with. She is a constant worrier, not 'young' any more, perhaps having never been so in the first place. Her life is riddled by shame, guilt and feelings of inadequacy which she tries to repel in vain with her 'selfless' actions.
            Jon is somewhat older, also single, having wasted three years of her life in an indecisive and inconclusive relationship with a foreign woman whose visa now expired. He is the sad, lonely professor with a distant personality, whose resilience and practical strength are not enough to overturn years of alienation and make his stagnant life more fulfilling.

            Despite the 'dementia' theme, this film does not dwell on the details of the illness for longer than the minimum necessary for the reader to be able to empathise with the ordeal. It is not a dissection of the condition - rather, the analytical muscle of the director has been turned to Jon and Wendy, and how this turn of events causes ripples in their own inner and outer lives.

            The acting looks good to me. A big part of a film is not just the actions, but the non-verbal hints at how characters feel inside as a result of the actions. And whether these feelings come across to the viewer or not, really is a way to gauge a performer's skill. This drama succeeds at this.
            Jon is arguably the more lovable of the two 'heroes'. He has a calm, if sad, demeanor and he appears detached and hard to shake. Unfortunately, rather than healthy relaxation and easy-goingness, these qualities stem more likely from unhealthy apathy and detachment; but he is nonetheless likable. It's ironic that his relationship with his Polish girlfriend - one of the most genuine things seen in the whole story - ends through Jon's inaction in the face of trivial circumstances - a decision pretty much in line with what else we can see of his approach to life.
            Wendy, on the other hand, will remind most of us of an annoying, anxious, insecure, controlling, invasive mother.
            And Lenny, the old man? Well, through the filter of dementia we can only take a guess of what his former self might have been like... and it's not a pretty fantasy to hold in your mind.

            The shooting is plain but effective. There are no fancy photographic tricks involved, everything is pretty basic and depicts a reality that feels very possible. The choice of locations is one of the things that struck me in a positive way. It's pretty depressing, which is exactly the desired outcome. It brings out the despair of everyday life, something which we only seem to notice in the face of adverse events but which, in fact, silently surrounds us every day.

            The Savages gets a thumbs up from me for the skill with which the screenplay reveals inner worlds, and by the depth of the two main characters; but the problem with it is that this depth may not be accessible to everyone. While people who had ambivalent relationships with their parents will promptly identify themselves with either one of the old man's children, other, less clued-up people will probably find the film unbearably slow and wonder why all this time is being devoted to details that, if you're not able to catch them, will bore you.
            I can see this film doing reasonably well in the US, where 'the dysfunctional family' is a staple in popular psychology and culture. Probably less so in other parts of the world, where - except in cases of major physical abuse - 'the family' is still idealised to various degrees. In which case, this film risks being taken too literally, and failing.

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            • More +
              26.05.2009 22:54
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              The long-running Konami series keeps on steadily improving itself.

              When a series becomes too popular or too long running, some people will start assuming that by then it must have become rubbish. When the original few characters in its universe are long gone and their role has been picked up by descendants, friends, associates; and the original, simple storyline has mutated into a convoluted tangle of prequels, sequels, antefacts and parallel dimensions, all struggling hard to keep a fragile consistency with each other; when a simple gameplay concept has been transformed many times into many variations, when the number of collectibles have gone up from five to five hundred, but at the same time the same themes have been exploited so many times that you would assume that they have become sterile, and no good can be pulled out of them any more.
              When you reach this point, you will be forgiven for thinking, like I did, that the series has degenerated into something not worth bothering with. But in case you're one of these people yourself, this is the perfect time to convince ourself that such snobbish assumptions are often limiting, for they would keep you from enjoying one of the best games in the Castlevania series, and of course, also one of the best of any game for the DS.

              As hinted above, you'll have to 'tolerate' a mixture of new, not so new, and old. The title of the game has a lot to say about which familiar features can be expected - crooked, cursed halls in disrepair, an assortment of foes that draws from the dark mythologies of all continents and all eras, and an atmosphere of sad surrender to despair and damnation, shared by both the evil creatures and the hero who must fight them.

              You are Shanoa, a young member of an ancient mystic organisation, the Order of Ecclesia, which over the centuries has been researching occult techniques to banish Dracula in preparation for the day when the worst happens and the Order should be called to protect the world. The weapons they have developed are in the form of 'Glyphs', which are magical drawings worn like tattoos on one's skin which give supernatural powers to the carrier.
              It looks like the centuries of research have finally come to an end; the ultimate weapon has been perfected and it is time for it to be used for the good of mankind... and you are told that you and only you will be able to control its power and use it correctly. You are the only suitable carrier of this responsibility, and you have no choice but to accept it. This generates envy in another pupil of the Order who wanted that power for himself, and a war is started within the sect. But what is this weapon, and is everyone really who they seem to be?

              So you set off to chase the traitor who ran away with the pieces of the Glyph that should have been yours to control. And you run after him fighting and jumping in the 2D-platform sort of way that is what the Castlevania series is all about.
              One thing is different from the two most recent predecessors to this title, though: you aren't just exploring one huge, contiguous castle. Here, the game world is effectively broken into sections that can be considered "levels" and can be played in any order, as long as you have unlocked them.
              This segmentation allows the settings of the levels to be not only limited to a castle or its surroundings (or to small alternate dimensions such as the ones found inside Portrait of Ruin's contrived "portraits"), but to effectively cover various different buildings and natural landscapes centred around a small, remote village of terrified, vampire-fearing folks. This range of backdrops is beautiful, atmospheric and awe-inspiring.
              This is not to say that the network of save rooms and teleporters seen in previous instalments is lost; they can still be found inside larger levels in Ecclesia, too. But instead of having one single huge, monolithic castle that is long and confusing to navigate, here we have several smaller (but not by much!) levels that can be reached easily and instantaneously from the common overworld map.
              This change in design effectively does miracles to lift the claustrophobia often felt in previous games, when you wanted to go somewhere in the castle but you were at the opposite corner, there was no warp room nearby and you knew that you'd have to tediously walk endless halls to get anywhere useful.
              Also, some of the locations seen in Order of Ecclesia are a bit more contemporary than the usual: we have, for example, a dilapidated prison that looks more 20th-century than medieval, equipped with searchlights and all. In fact, you don't actually enter a *castle* proper until the very end, when Dracula's lair materialises on the map. (In case you're wondering, YES, there is a 'clock tower' stage full of gears and belts and Medusas. This is a tradition that is still unbroken.)
              The level design, in terms of placement of items, enemies, and room layout, is good and varied as usual.

              Graphically we're on the same level with Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin, making great use of both the DS's 2D and 3D engines to allow a massive amount of action on screen at the same time. It is extremely satisfying to watch the large, detailed and smooth animations of enemies dying, no two of them alike, and to gape at the full-screen flashes and energy effects of a particularly well-cast spell. The animation of the main character is also superb, with more hand-drawn frames than you could ever imagine. The smooth motions of the jumping and sword-swinging , and the rhythmic waving of clothes and hair as she runs and falls through the air are like a dance to behold. The only thing I would have liked to see more of, are the large, gently scrolling 3D backgrounds such as the magnificent cathedral seen in Portrait of Ruin's City of Haze. There is something here, but not a lot this time. Instead, more room has been given to the creation of intricately drawn 2D backdrops.

              The sound is as good as you would expect, too. The standards for soundtrack quality are so high already in the later Castlevania titles, that it's hard to produce something that stands much higher than the predecessors. Ecclesia is up there for certain, with the highly diverse tunes by the amazing Ms Yamane painting the sonic half of the game's atmosphere in the usual mixture of eerie colours that have had gamers raving with each release. Of course, there is a weak piece here and there, but that's inevitable for a range of styles as wide as her output - in each game she usually touches base with symphonic, electronic, high octane rock and more, as well as one or more remixes of classic themes. But don't worry; this game will still recreate that familiar situation where you will be going back to certain levels only because you want to hear the music again!
              There is also a fair amount of voice clips in the sound effects, and they can be switched to Japanese or English at any point during the game. Some of the most epic moments are when certain human bosses will mock you with various over-the-top taints while fighting them, and as their health begins to approach zero they will become more frantic and insane, their delusions of grandeur shattered. It's truly a rush of excitement to your head.

              A word about the power-up system. It retains many familiar elements (attack, defence, strength, constitution, intelligence, mind, luck) but it makes a welcome effort at also trying to simplify to a degree. It does away with many of the hard-to-use power ups (and, for that reason, hard-to-remember-you-even-have-them!) and "only" leaves you with a choice of garments for each part of your body and your Glyphs, which are your main weapons. There are no extra 'cards', 'souls' and the like.
              You can carry a Glyph (i.e. a weapon or spell) on each arm, and one on your back. By pressing a certain button combination, you can spend some of your MP and try using all of them at the same time. If the combination works well, a powerful (and often spectacular) spell will be produced. If the Glyphs you have are incompatible, only a generic fluff of light will erupt, and not much damage will be dealt. You have to experiment with different pairs to find the ones that work best together for the biggest bang. And also remember to vary your Glyphs depending on who you're fighting, because each enemy is more vulnerable to certain kinds of attacks, for example stabbing, crushing, dark magic, white magic or lightning - while being almost invulnerable to others.
              And thank God there's only one character. In Portrait of Ruin, with the two-player team, things could really become too confusing to anyone, you had "too much choice" on how to attack, and it was easy to forget how to use most of the stuff you'd collected.

              Regarding the enemies and bosses, all I'll say is that you'll be pleased. There are just so many of them that you won't be bored. The classics are all there - skeletons, bats, killer weeds - and there are many, many new ones that sometimes have you laughing as they are so over-the-top or morbidly twisted. There is no shortage of imagination at Konami! A few sprites have been recycled from past games, but hey. Once defeated, each enemy will have a brief 'ID card' and description available to read in the Pause menu. Some of these descriptions are a riot in their own right.
              Boss battles are big and very challenging. Mr Death, of course, is present at some point, as well as some ugly freaks of nature, but the most satisfying duels are often to be had with the human-sized villains. The boss music in Ecclesia is one of the best I've heard in the series.
              And make no mistake, both level sections and boss fights are not a walk in the park. In fact, they can be incredibly hard. You will die many, many times and will feel frustrated now and then. This is normal, but it's easy to forget this small detail when most of the games released recently are so effortless to finish. Be prepared with your expectations, and enjoy the challenge!

              Once the main game mode is beaten (there are a couple of bad endings and a good one), you'll have the opportunity to play 'Boss Rush' mode, a gauntlet where you revisit all the bosses previously killed and try to set a time record for beating them all again in close succession, and 'Albus Mode', where you basically play a simplified version of the whole game again, this time impersonating the 'villain'.
              So, at this point, you could take the challenge and do Albus Mode to see how hardcore you are (there are some difficulty options in this mode that can make it insanely hard if so you desire), but to be honest I think that when the main story is over you'll be content and satisfied with what you've done so far, you'll feel that you've got your money's worth out of this game, you'll feel that the many hours you spent on it are enough and you'll gracefully move on, without thinking that it was too short and artificially trying to extend it.

              Any downsides? Well, it depends on what you're seeking. I would say that, in general, this is a game that anyone could enjoy once they get into it. It lacks a dramatically novel concept, but it's hard to make an accusation on these grounds when what it does do, it does so well. If anything, I would say that the high difficulty can be off-putting to less motivated players, and the weapon and armour system would be not so easy to grasp for very young players - in turn, making it even harder to try to play through with a sub-optimal choice of gear. But I'm just being picky here. And just to make it clear: the fact that it's a 2D game should not put off anyone. It's how it's supposed to be, and it's by all means a game genre in itself, and a very alive one indeed, judging from how we never seem to tire of it when the occasional new title appears.

              To sum up, this game is not great because it comes up with a revolutionary new idea. Rather, it is great because it does traditional things in a manner that comes as close to perfection as anyone's been so far, and holds off the temptation of pointless exuberance in favour of a more moderate degree of innovation, but with a level of design detail, polish and balance that are truly outstanding. It doesn't break any new ground but takes the ground previously explored by the series, trims its hedges, and builds beautiful new things on it. The slight deviation, in level structure, from the two previous DS games will also make it refreshing even for those who've played both Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin to completion and thought that after that, they couldn't be bothered any more.
              Be aware that, if you're skipping over Order of Ecclesia for this reason, you're missing out.

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              • Seven Pounds (DVD) / DVD / 103 Readings / 100 Ratings
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                19.05.2009 17:01
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                It builds something, it narrates a novel idea, but I don't expect this to become a classic!

                It looked interesting enough in the trailers, you wondered what the big secret behind all the commotion was. You come to the end, and although it all wraps up in the end, there's still a dissatisfaction there. You do spill a tear or two but you don't take it home with you, perhaps because, despite an interesting and moving idea, there isn't a huge amount of depth to make it believable - or, if there is, this film hasn't been completely successful in conveying it.

                Let's start from the beginning. You are what looks like an average tax man going about his job; however right from the beginning you see that something's not quite normal with him. He takes unusual interest in his customers, tests their reactions, sometimes makes abusive phone calls to see what they would do. He almost looks like a stalker, but you know there must be something more to it, because he looks like such a warm and generous man.
                He keeps his eyes on a hanfdul of people, and he is visibly hurt and shaken when he has to choose someone over someone else. They all tend to be the ill and vulnerable kind. This includes a woman with a heart condition, and the two fall in love, even though he is reluctant to let himself go completely because he knows that it won't be possible.
                You naturally wonder, what is he going to do with them? What's his plan?
                Although the astute will have an inkling of his intention before time, to most it will only be revealed towards the very end.

                I hope I'm not giving any spoilers by saying this, but this is a film whose main themes are those of generosity and redemption. Or, even better put, redemption *through* generosity.
                It is an interesting idea, although it goes very far with imagination of what a man could do. It does picture a very uncommon deed. And there's nothing wrong with that. However, the explanation for the whole behaviour of this man turns out to be not as complex or interesting or revealing, as an extreme decision like this would require. The whole key to the current situation is explained in a brief flashback memory at the end of the movie, and it is heartbreaking but at the same time too bloody trivial. Come on, you think. The idea was brilliant, and it wouldn't have taken so much of effort to come up with something more psychologically satisfying. I don't want to go on as I think I've said too much already if you've yet to see this film!

                Another criticism I have is that most of the scenes are very slow. And I mean, VERY slow, almost irritating. And then for what? All this time spent to depict a love developing, the subtle nuances of the inebriated perceptions of infatuation, the dreamy nature of the fragile relationship... only for it to be ended suddenly and deliberately. Of course, the reason behind it and the consequences afterward are deeply emotionally moving, but you do get the feeling that most of the time spent describing all those little details and lingering on every little word and hand gesture, has been time wasted. It could have been done quicker and better and still have the same emotional power. I have seen some of Muccino's earlier (Italian) films and, although he came a long way from his origins with rebellious teen flicks, he also carried with him unaltered some of his ineffective techniques too.

                Here end my criticisms. There are good things as well!
                Visually, I really liked the colour palettes of the film. I found it very appropriate for the theme, giving of an air of dreaminess, of something that has to end, of something that does not matter any more.
                Smith himself, being the experienced actor he is, handles his role well. And the ending gets you watery eyed indeed, perhaps much more than that! But it's more through good use of tear jerking techniques than a genuine emotional build-up.
                And here I'll end my review.
                I'm aware that many people will disagree with my harsh treatment of some parts of this title, but that's okay. I hope it will not ruin your enjoyment of it if you find more in it than I did.

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                • Virgin Mastercard / Credit Card / 92 Readings / 88 Ratings
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                  18.05.2009 12:59
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                  One of the best cards if you've already got debt

                  Like many others I got attracted to this credit card because of their long 0% interest period for balance transfers. I had a bit of debt here and there that I wanted to shove into a dark place and not be obsessed with paying it back regularly and this looked good.

                  This was the first time I applied for a financial product from Virgin, and the first impressions were good. Not that I consider any credit card company "like a friend" or "someone who can be trusted", but there are standards. Overall, I did not have any problems with any part of the process.

                  The application was done over the Internet and the decision was instantaneous - I didn't even have to wait for a letter to come. I had a small but decent credit score and I was instantly accepted - I was even told my credit limit straight away! I must say that considering the credit limits I was given by other credit card companies, this one was the highest, so they were quite generous, when considering my income and circumstances.

                  When you apply, if you want a balance transfer you can tell them straight away during the application, although you can always call up later and they can do it over the phone on the same terms. They do charge a 3%-ish on any balance transferred, but if you do your math you'll know that this is preferable to having your debt sit at 14.9% elsewhere for just a couple of months. The 0% rate this card offered was (at the time I applied) 18 months, which is very generous indeed.

                  As with any card marketed to people in need of balance transfers, it does try to tempt you into using it for spending, by offering 3 months 0% on purchases. If you know your credit cards, you'll know that this is to be avoided until you've paid off all the balance you transferred, or you may get yourself into an unfortunate situation where the benefits of being at 0% are completely wiped, and there's nothing you can do. I won't go into the details of why this is, but you can easily find information about it on the Internet. You must resist this urge - if you transfer a large balance, you must not use this particular card for spending until you've paid it all off.

                  Having said that important disclaimer, I'll move on to describe the card and the service. You get a choice of 3 colours/themes for the actual plastic. I chose the pink velvety one, and it was easily the cutest card I've ever had. What a shame that since I won't use it to spend, I keep it locked up at home and can never flash it to friends!
                  The service is good enough. Apart from the annoying fact that numbers are charged at slightly unfair rates (but that's the same with most banks), people are helpful and I even got forgiven once for missing one of my payments. I would have lost my 0% rate but I told them that I had simply forgotten and apologised, and luckily they turned a blind eye to it. It won't work if you do it all the time tho!
                  Customer service have a tendency to try to persuade you into transferring more debt into their card. I once got asked, "Now with the bank holiday coming up, why don't you do a balance transfer and free up some money!", when in fact there wasn't any bank holiday coming up for months :)

                  The GREAT thing about this card is that it lets do balance transfers not just from your other cards but also from your bank account! So if you have an overdraft that's costing you, you can shift that debt to this card at 0% and relax for a while.

                  To sum it all up, this is a credit card and you should be educated about what they are, how they work and how to use them responsibly before you apply for one. But if you have some debt lying around and you know what you're doing, this is a top one. Just remember all the caveats!

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                  • Yes Man (DVD) / DVD / 69 Readings / 64 Ratings
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                    15.05.2009 17:54
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                    One of the best movies this year.

                    This film was extremely funny but also touched me in a very, very personal way and, although one of its purposes is to make fun of self-empowerment and inspirational seminars and products, it actually ends up itself being VERY inspirational to many people. But it portrays how just following a motivational formula laid out by some guru just isn't gonna cut it - you always need to listen to your heart.

                    Jim Carrey plays a man whose life settled into a boring, self limiting routine, and spends his days doing more or less nothing and wondering why his life sucks. He is stuck.
                    Along comes an old friend, who drags him almost against his will into a self-help sect, whose leader preaches the benefits of saying 'Yes' to everything, no matter what - just say yes and good things will happen.
                    Reluctant, he tries the new philosophy and his life takes a wild turn, surpassing any previous expectation: but he soon discovers that, despite the fact that his life was in a dire need of such a change, there is such a thing as too much.

                    Let me first and up front praise Jim Carrey for the leading performance - he has proven over and over that his mastery can be put to many uses and he is capable, within the same film, of pulling both his old-style outlandish stunts and to blend it with emotion and tenderness. I don't think anybody else could have made this film work - much as the screenplay is brilliant, it would only work with him as the lead actor.

                    This film has a beautiful underlying message to convey, but doesn't try do do it in a pretentious way, and it is great in presenting the story in a way that is very understandable and enjoyable by a wide range of ages, and as said above, manages to be inspiring despite its mockery of fake inspirational movements.

                    This is the best film I've seen this season along with Slumdog Millionaire. As you finish watching it you'll get up from your chair wanting to be a Yes Man yourself, and you know what - it may be good for you.

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                      15.05.2009 16:40
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                      A much overlooked controller that deserves to be used more!

                      When the GameCube first came out I was delighted that the video game industry was steering away from the trend of increasing complexity and heading towards simplicity. Unfortunately, many people misunderstood this move, and thought that this controller design looked too much like a toy, assuming that the GameCube would only appeal to young people. Not many people at all got to enjoy the many cool games the GameCube had offer.

                      How satisfying and fair, then, when you think that now with the overwhelming commercial success of the Wii a lot of people that ignored the GameCube before, will now have access to both its games and to this jewel of a controller.

                      Although it may not look like it, this controller comes very, very close to ergonomic perfection. It sits in your hands like a charm, and the curves of its shape fit so perfectly that it feels almost soft in your hands, almost as if you were handling a piece of butter. There's no discomfort or ache and the buttons are placed perfectly well, for a wide range of hand sizes.

                      The buttons make it very clear which is the main button and which are the secondary ones, enabling even someone who's never played in their life to pick it up and instinctively know what to do. The thumb sticks have the usual octagonal design common to all Nintendo controllers so far, are very accurate and don't slip under your fingers.

                      The only criticism I'd make are the shoulder buttons. Although their shape and placement make them very easy to find and smooth and comfortable to use, they are analogue, meaning they don't just click, but they are pressure sensitive. This is a huge advantages in some games, but in others, when you need to use them just as a click-button, having to press them down all the way before they click is annoying, as they have to move quite a bit.

                      All in all, though, I enjoy the precision and comfort that this controller offers all the time, and would recommend to anyone to get the genuine Nintendo product over any third party imitation.

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                      15.05.2009 15:40
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                      A pleasant choice if you're bored of your usual.

                      Bored with 'normal' chocolate I take a break off work and head to the nearest convenience store looking for some novelty. I walk out with a 140g bar of Fruit & Nut chocolate. It caught my eye because of its colours, and because, well, yes I wanted either something fruity or something nutty.

                      As I walk back, I take a bite off it. It melts in my mouth. I was so pleasantly surprised. I had abandoned regular Cadbury chocolate in favour of Galaxy because the former has in recent years gotten drier and less creamy. This version of Cadbury doesn't have this problem at all. Maybe it's the juices from the raisins softening it up, but it really flows in your mouth and it is dangerously deceivingly because if feels you're eating less of it than you're actually stuffing down your throat, and it's not so hard at all to go through the whole 140g bar without realising. In fact, I just did.

                      One interesting thing about this chocolate is that it has so much variety in its texture: The basic chocolate body is soft and melty; when you come across a hazelnut it gets firmer and crunchy, and when you bite a raisin it will be chewy. I found this detail great fun!

                      I suppose no specialty chocolate will ever be able to replace a good basic chocolate as the staple of the addicts, but this is a really good choice if you want some change and if you're bored.

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                        15.05.2009 15:00
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                        Think well about what you want to achieve and go for it, chances are you'll come near.

                        With the health of your hair on the line, you have to be careful which colourants and highlights you choose. You know to avoid the too cheap, and to never believe that the result you'll get will be as good as the picture. You must keep in mind that it will also depend on your skill.

                        If you have skill, patience and discipline, I believe that you will be able to get a very satisfactory result from this product. The packaging contains very helpful instructions including several examples (with pictures) of how you can use the highlights to achieve different effects. It really does feel a bit overkill, because everything in the procedure is explained in fastidious details, but if you take care (and better still, if you have a friend to help) it will pay off.

                        The colour product itself is similar to what you'll have seen everywhere. You mix two liquids, leave it to develop for a while, apply, leave it on, then rinse it off and follow with a conditioner. However this stuff looks slightly better quality than the rest, with a consistency that will allow you to spread it on in creative ways without worrying too much about it running down.

                        Once you have it on (and putting it on correctly is the trickiest bit as with any similar product) you wait for the develop time to pass (most of us will be tempted to add 5 minutes just to be sure). Normally I get a slight itch when colouring, but this one didn't cause any reaction. As said before, it doesn't drip either. You can easily spend the time reading or watching TV without worrying too much.

                        When you rinse, it doesn't take too long for the water to run clear, which I take as a good sign that most of it is firmly stuck to your hair. The mess you will have created with all the gloves, aluminium foil, tray and brush will have to be cleaned up, and this colour can stain stuff, so be careful. Don't expect to see the final result until your hair is 100% dry.

                        When this moment comes, the outcome will depend on you as much as the product. The colour achieved is VERY vibrant at first, and it stays so for long enough. Whether you've applied it to the right areas in order to have a sharp contrast or made more of a sloppy smear, it is not to blame on the colour itself. I tried twice, once by myself, once with a friend, and the difference is great.
                        I am highly satisfied with the shades that will be produced. If you combine it with good judgment and planning, you'll end up with some eye catching hair.

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                          15.05.2009 14:41
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                          Depends on which colour you pick, but the quality is suspicious. However it's good for experimenting

                          Like many other people, I chose this product because I was looking for a temporary hair colour that would give me time to decide which colour would look best on me, and I was after something that didn't cost too much, that would wash out quickly, and that wouldn't ruin my hair.
                          The cost is the big seller of this product - 99p in my local store. Of course, with this price, can you possibly be expecting the Moon? No, but what you get is more or less what you asked for - a colour that helps you experiment, but with no promises whatsoever of working well or for a long time.
                          It is really hard to review this because there is a big range of different colours, and despite only trying 3 of them I can see differences.
                          First of all, the experience.
                          The plastic tub is really cheap looking, but is really small and inconspicuous and that I suppose is a plus. When you get home you get under the shower and you read the instructions, you're supposed to leave it on for how long? The instructions are really rushed. If you follow them to the letter you will most likely end up with insufficient colouring. You need to leave it on for longer than stated. But then there could be problems with your hair health at stake! The product inside is quite runny and watery. It will drip off your hair and everywhere. If you're in the shower you must take extra care to not end with drops of colour on your wall, and the insides of the shower will need cleaning. If you're careful, you can minimise this.
                          Often times, to reach a maximum level of colouring on your hair, you need to keep applying it for 2 or 3 showers in the space of a few days. So if after your first application your hair doesn't look much different from before, insist the next time and eventually you'll see results. If you stop using it, in a few showers you'll be back to your original colour.
                          Hair health issues: while I didn't have any problems with the reddish tints in the range (although they didn't last very long), I did feel really uncomfortable with one of the ebony darker ones. I felt my hair become coarse, dry and harder to brush, especially at the top of my head where the product lingers for longer during use without running off. This is the main reason why I stopped using it. Thankfully this issue was reversible. After I stopped, my hair got back to its usual shine and smoothness. I'm still glad I had a chance to look at myself with darker hair without committing, but I was feeling like I was mistreating my hair.
                          While it's good that people can perform many colour experiments in a short period of time, my opinion is that anyone who sticks with these products regularly is just nuts, as I find it hard to believe that anything so cheap wouldn't also be harmful in the long run.

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                        • Peggle Deluxe (PC) / PC Game / 18 Readings / 17 Ratings
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                          15.05.2009 12:53
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                          All good things are the simplest ones and this game proves it.

                          When me and my friend came back from a long plane journey and were completely jet-lagged and lethargic and 4pm felt like breakfast time, She suggested we download Peggle and play it in bed. She described it as "this downloadable game that is so addictive". That was the first time I'd heard of that game and I was expecting to see some crude, exploitative Flash game that became infamous for all the wrong reasons... such is the nature of a lot of these sudden internet phenomena. Of course my prejudice was not justified in this case.

                          Peggle is a downloadable game and quite a cheap one to buy if you like the trial, but the quality of production is the same or even superior to any games you'll find on store shelves. What makes it a success, though, is that it fulfills perfectly what I consider the criteria for a smash hit game - Original, Dead Simple and Addictive.

                          The game screen is a 2D arrangement of "pegs", little balls that clutter the stage. Your goal is to clear as many of them as you can, by shooting a small pinball from the top of the screen and letting it bounce off the pegs, making them disappear. The ball is subject to all the normal laws of gravity and physics (weird power-ups aside) and the interactions between your ball and the pegs are very realistic. At the bottom of the screen, a moving bucket allows you to collect your ball and recycle it if it lands inside - if not, you will have lost it and your reservoir of available balls decreases. If you run out of balls before you have cleared enough pegs, it's game over.

                          It has many elements in common with pinballs and videogames of the past, but it also has many of its own original ideas that make it distinctively "Peggle" and not "another Breakout clone". The concept is enjoyable enough, but on top of that the developers have coupled it with equally original and immersive graphics and stereo sounds, a hefty amount of original artwork for characters and backgrounds, and a package that makes it feel more of a coherent experience and less of a mindless bunch of mini-games. The gameplay is the same on each level, it's not "a bit of this and a bit of that", but the level design is so clever and varied that it doesn't get old, and the amount of levels available is very high.
                          When you've cleared all the levels, you can play them again trying to achieve secondary (and harder) goals, most of which you'll never manage to do as they quickly escalate to insane levels of difficulty. But the main level progression gently increases the challenge without ever getting impossible, and it's a joy to work through.

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                            15.05.2009 11:38
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                            It does have quite a bit of fun value!

                            Using the Wii as a platform for a Family Trainer game would seem like a good idea, and this is a good try indeed. However, it's not perfect.
                            This game makes use of a third-party exercise mat peripheral that plugs into the GameCube controller ports. It is quite big - it has 8 main buttons that you can step on, but they are arranged differently than they would be on a dance mat. Some minigames require you to stand on the mat, others to sit down. and use your hands to operate it. Additionally, the remote and nunchuk are used to perform additional movements in some activities.
                            The challenges are about half sports, and half minigame-style things, and they can be quite different from each other. The game allows both a free-play mode and a more structured level approach where these challenges are arranged into courses. Some of these challenges can be very visually appealing, with high speeds and spectacular jumps involved. Others are more static, but most of them will indeed make you sweat. Most of them are fun for only a little while, while in some cases there will be an incentive to keep trying to do better. But if you have a family to entertain, like the title suggests, this will do the trick. It's a party/casual game and not meant to be taken seriously, though; if what you want is something extreme and very competitive to push youself to the limit you are probably better served elsewhere.
                            Graphically and sound wise, it doesn't push any boundaries or anything like that, but effort has been made and it looks very nice.
                            However, there are some criticisms to be made about the exercise mat. The one worth mentioning is that it is completely smooth all over giving you no tactile feedback of where your feet are, and that if you are looking at the screen it is easy to end up thinking your feet are resting on a certain panel when they are actually elsewhere. This will automatically ruin any subsequent attempts at stepping onto the desired directions, which is very frustrating. On the plus side, since it is so big it doesn't slip around much, and it looks quite durable. Furthermore, there are likely going to be more games making use of this mat coming soon.

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