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ecb20
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Member since: 01.09.2013

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      31.12.2013 18:47
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      A welcome return for Captain Jack Sparrow, but perhaps his last outing?

      -Film Review Only-
      This is the fourth outing in the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' franchise, one that was beginning to get a bit old and tired. I can't say that this film quite returns to the dizzying heights of the first, but it is certainly an improvement on the bloated third film.

      Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is in London, trying to rescue first mate Gibbs from hanging. This he succeeds in, but this is only the start of his troubles. For someone in London has been impersonating Jack, to recruit a crew searching for the fabled Fountain of Youth. The king gets wind of this, and deciding he wants the fountain for himself, has his soldiers haul Jack in. Unfortunately, they get the real Jack Sparrow, who has no idea about such a quest, but is desperate to find the person claiming to be him who does.

      On escaping from the palace, he soon comes across that individual, finding them to be none other than an old lover, Angelica (Penelope Cruz). Along with her father, the infamous pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), she is determined to find the fountain, to avert her father's prophesied death. She knows Jack has searched for the fountain in the past, and she wants him along now, so he is reluctantly dragged into their quest.

      The journey will not be easy, however. To complete the ritual, they need the tears of a mermaid, and two silver chalices from a shipwreck. Getting these, then finding the fountain's location will not be easy, but they are also racing against adversaries: the Spanish, who received directions from a ship-wrecked sailor, and Jack's old adversary Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). He is working for the English king, but also has a score to settle with Blackbeard...

      The acting is of variable quality; Johnny Depp does what he does best as Jack, mincing and grinning his way out of trouble, but he fails to bring anything new to the character. We've seen it all before, and it's beginning to get a bit tired. Captain Jack is one of my favourite film characters of all time, and he doesn't disappoint exactly, but he lacks the sparkle and flair we've seen before. The major change in the fourth film, of course, is the loss of Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, and while they didn't exactly carry earlier films, they are sorely missed here. Angelica attempts to take the place of Knightley's Elizabeth Swann, but she doesn't have quite the same chemistry with Depp as Knightley did. Overall, she's a rather two-dimensional character, with a confusing back story. She is highly religious and met Jack in a convent where she was about to take her vows; this doesn't match with the pirate's daughter we see on screen, and explanations involving trying to redeem her father don't quite wash.

      Next to the villains of previous films, Blackbeard doesn't really compare. He lacks the menace of Davy Jones, and the charm of Barbossa, making him a poor substitute. Barbossa, meanwhile, is wasted, with not nearly enough screentime.

      The film has a few decent action scenes, with the fight for Jack to escape the palace being particularly good. It is also beautifully shot, with the grimy streets of London lovingly recreated, along with the jungles surrounding the fountain. The special effects are good, the scene of the mermaid attack being my favourite; beautiful temptresses transformed into ranks of ravenous killers in seconds.

      Despite the above complaints, the plot zips along nicely, and there is rarely a dull moment, even if those moments don't quite always fit together as logically as they could. It's a little overlong, but it's full of fun. Overall, not a bad watch, but it can't quite match up to the spark and energy of Jack's earlier outings.

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      • Up (DVD) / DVD / 19 Readings / 19 Ratings
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        30.12.2013 23:27
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        A film for both adults and children, highly recommended!

        -Film Review Only-
        Up is the story of Carl Fredricksen, an old man who has lost his wife, Ellie, before they could fulfil their dream. Having met as children, the one thing they were always going to do together, but could never quite manage, was to visit Paradise Falls in Venezuela. Left alone, and with builders encroaching on his house, Mr Fredricksen decides to try and fulfil this childhood dream; not just by visiting Paradise Falls, but by moving his and Ellie's house there. So he attaches enough helium balloons to his house to lift it, and sets off.

        However, unbeknownst to him, an unexpected stowaway has joined him on the journey: Russell, a young wildlife explorer, who Mr Fredricksen now has no option but to take along with him.

        Together, they manage to reach Venezuela, but fall just short of Paradise Falls. Forced to walk, towing the house along behind them, they encounter all the wildlife of Venezuela, and Russell becomes particularly attached to a large bird, whom he calls Kevin. Bribed with chocolate, Kevin joins them, much to Mr Fredricksen's disgust. But when a talking dog, named Dog, shows up, wanting to take Kevin prisoner, it becomes apparent that the bird is in high demand. Despite Dog being loveably dozy, when the rest of his pack shows up, it is a different story. For the dogs belong to the explorer Charles Muntz, Mr Fredricksen's childhood hero, and he is desparate to get his hands on Kevin...

        Up is an unusual film in that its hero is a rather world-weary old man. However, this is the great strength of the film. The opening sequence showing Mr Fredricksen's life is one of the saddest I have ever seen. We see him meet Ellie as a child, he shy and retiring, she exuberant and full of life. We see them gradually fall in love, get married, begin preparing for a child, suffer a miscarriage, and grow old together, all the while saving for that trip to Paradise Falls, but somehow always having to spend the money on other things. Eventually we see Ellie suddenly fall ill, and then we see her funeral. Therefore by the time within the first ten minutes, we know all about Mr Fredricksen's life, and the loss that has left him in his current grumpy state, giving him a depth rarely seen in cartoon characters.

        He is perfectly contrasted with the other main character, Russell, who is young and full of exuberance, rather like Ellie once was. He is too though, has suffered his share of hardships, abandonment by his father, even though he is too young to quite comprehend it. He is the perfect way of showing the innocence that Mr Fredricksen has lost, but can perhaps regain with time.

        The only other human is Charles Muntz, the main villain. If I had any complaints about the film, it would be that he is not quite as well drawn as the other characters, being your stereotypical mad scientist. This is a small complaint however, given the quality of the rest of the film.

        If the human characters are centre stage, they are amply supported by Kevin and Dog. Kevin (actually a female bird) is entertainingly inquisitive, but it is Dog that really steals the film. Anyone who has a dog will almost certainly recognise them in him; a loveable daftness, absolute adoration of people, and an inability to concentrate, particularly when there are treats, balls and squirrels around!

        The animation is beautifully rendered throughout, matched only by the beauty of the storyline. What begins as an old man's quest to fulfil his and his late wife's dream quickly becomes more about saving himself from the misery that he has sunk into. Although technically a children's film, this will perhaps appeal more to an older audience. Children can laugh at the antics of Dog, and enjoy the tension of the confrontation with Charles Muntz, but it is the story of Mr Fredricksen learning to deal with the loss of his wife that will appeal most to adults, and is the far more important story of the film.

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        01.12.2013 15:04
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        A very moving insight into the early life and career of one of Britain's national treasures

        Although billed as an autobiography, The Fry Books actually cover a very small section of Stephen Fry's life. For those who are unaware, and in Britain I'd imagine that to be very few people, Stephen Fry is best known as one of the stalwarts of British comedy, appearing in classics such as QI, Blackadder, and the sketch show, A Bit of Fry and Laurie. But to call him just a comedian would do him a disservice; he is also a prolific writer and serious actor. The Fry Chronicles tell us the early part of his life, touching briefly on his boarding school before chronicling his three years at Cambridge, and then the early part of his writing and comedy career.

        Fry has written another volume of autobiography, which I have not yet read, entitled 'Moab is my Washpot'. This covered the first twenty years of his life, and for this reason, 'The Fry Chronicles' does not greatly detail them. He discusses his feelings on first leaving home, and focuses particularly on his sugar addiction which led him to steal, but it is clear that there are plenty of events during this period that he doesn't touch on; attempted suicide and incarceration being the two major examples. The book really begins to go into detail the summer before he is due to go up to Cambridge. He gets a job teaching at a prep school, and discovers he has an aptitude for it, gaining himself a holiday job either side of Cambridge terms, and at this stage he plans to go into teaching as a career.

        Half of the book is taken up with tales of his time reading English at Cambridge. He does a decent job of explaining the idiosyncrasies of Cambridge life; the collegiate system, and the May Week which actually occurs in June. I am about to start my third year at Cambridge, so am well aware of how odd it can seem to an outsider, but I think Stephen does a good job of explaining it. Most of his time as an undergraduate was not taken up with his degree, but with his budding acting career, taking roles in every sort of play imaginable, in college productions, and in university-wide productions. He also penned a play, and in his third year, became involved with the famous Cambridge Footlights, penning sketches and performing with Hugh Laurie, who would go on to become his long time comedy partner. On the way, he ran into seemingly almost every star of British acting and comedy: Emma Thompson, Sandi Toksvig, and Tony Slattery to name but a few.

        After graduating, Stephen Fry takes us through the first few years of his comedy and acting career. After being snatched up by an agent, he and Hugh Laurie collaborated with Ben Elton on their own sketch show, Alfresco, while he alone re-wrote the musical 'Me and My Girl', which eventually made it to Broadway. Other notable work includes radio sketches, and roles in stage productions, giving him enough money to buy a large house in the country, as well as the London house he shared with Laurie and two others, several expensive cars, and a new Apple Macintosh, costing £1000. The book ends with the filming of the second series of Blackadder, which really catapulted him to fame, and the beginnings of 'A Bit of Fry and Laurie'.

        We get an odd picture of Stephen Fry through this book. On the one hand, there is the immensely open man, who is happy to talk about his innermost feelings. He did a documentary on manic depression, so is clearly happy to talk about it, and what we get here is an insight into the mind of a manic depressive. We are witness to all of the self-doubt and self-loathing that goes through his mind, told in a frank manner, and pulling no punches. On the other hand, we get very few details of his personal life. His relationship with a friend Kim is mentioned only as an afterthought, and we are not told of how that relationship ended, or what influenced his decision to be celibate; we are only told of this decision in the context of the article he wrote on it for Tatler. So his autobiography is the story of his professional life, and the story of his mental torment, but not his personal life.

        The narrative slips out of chronological order at times in the second half, which can make it a little difficult to keep track of events. Overall, I preferred the first half to the second. I read this over the summer holidays, and his stories of Cambridge, while very different to what I have experienced, made me nostalgic to return to that beautiful city. Being already familiar with the subject matter, I hence enjoyed this section more. However, I am quite unfamiliar with a lot of Stephen fry's earliest work, and given that this section seemed to be a roll call of people he had worked with and jobs he had done, I found it less engaging. I was filled with the utmost admiration for his talent and hard work, but I was not left entertained.

        As you might expect from Stephan Fry the book is beautifully written, although I found myself reaching for a dictionary on a couple of occasions! Thus he portrays the beauty and decadence of his Cambridge, the Bohemian nature of 1980s London and its gay scene, and his own mental anguishes exquisitely. It is with his thought processes that his writing really shines; one of my favourite quotes come from when he talks about his hope that he is not alone in his torment: "And if I am not alone, then neither are you, and hand in hand we can marvel together at the strangeness of the human condition."

        My favourite thing about this book is the chance to compare Cambridge in the 1970s with Cambridge today. However, I realise this will only make it appeal to a small audience of Cambridge alumni. What is probably the bigger draw is the touching and beautifully portrayed insight into the mind of a manic depressive, who also happens to be one of Britain's greatest personalities.

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          09.11.2013 15:16
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          Not the bag for me!

          I've had the same laptop case for a few years now, ever since I got my first laptop. I honestly cannot remember how much I paid for it, but I do know that I was attracted to this particular case not for any of its own features, but for the fact that it was on offer in PC World at the time, and I got a free mouse with it. So to begin with, I wasn't expecting very much from the case at all.

          Unfortunately, I don't really feel comfortable using the case as intended to carry my laptop around. It comes with both a handle and an over-the-shoulder strap, but I always use the shoulder strap, because although the handle is padded, it still isn't substantial enough to carry any distance with a heavy laptop in.

          The bag is plain black, and is rather chunky. There isn't any obvious decoration, other than the Targus logo sitting unobtrusively in a bottom corner. I don't find it a particularly attractive bag; I'd much rather have something more colourful and elegant!. Plus, after my dad has his laptop case stolen on a train (thankfully without the laptop in it), I've been wary about carrying around a bag that is very obviously designed for an expensive item! Unfortunately the case is too chunky to easily fit inside another bag, and so I don't tend to carry it around much anymore.

          The case has two pockets. The main one, for the laptop itself, is 16 inches, so should fit most laptops in. It comes with a couple of interior straps, to hold the laptop in place, and reduce the amount of bumps it will get when travelling. This pocket has enough room to slip a couple of books in with it, perfect if you want to carry work around as well. The front pocket, while slightly smaller, is still very roomy. This has two pockets, four loops to hold pens, and a pocket designed to hold a computer mouse. I find I can carry almost everything I need in this pocket, including CDs, books and stationery.

          One disadvantage of the case is that it isn't particularly well padded, and I'm not convinced that a laptop would survive being dropped in it. I suppose the internal straps would help in this case, by reducing the amount of movement, but still I'm not convinced. This isn't something I'm prepared to test with my own laptop though!

          I'm afraid I can't really comment on how long-lasting the bag is. I may have had it for a fair few years now, but as I don't take it out with me very often, it doesn't get any wear that would really test it. My main use for it is as a place to store my laptop at home, and I would hope that most cases would last a while under conditions of such little use.

          Overall, I can't say the case has really fulfilled its purpose. It's very handy for storing things, but it's uncomfortable to carry, I don't really trust it to protect my laptop, and it's not particularly attractive. I only really use it at home, where I could easily do without a case. So overall, a bit of a superfluous item for me.

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            07.11.2013 11:55
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            A cheap sponge that does the job

            Being a student, I'm always keen to pay as little as possible for my essentials. I therefore tend to buy a lot of Sainsbury's Basics, Sainsbury's being my nearest supermarket.

            The packaging, in the self-deprecating manner of so many Sainsbury's Basics products, proclaims that the sponge scourers will clean, with no added promises. However, there isn't much I want my sponges to do, other than clean, so this suits me just nicely. At 19p for five, it would be difficult to find cheaper sponges.
            The upper surface is the green scouring part. It is rough, but probably not enough so to damage any dishes. The packaging warns not to use it on non-stick cookware or delicate surfaces, but I haven't had any issues with it. The scourer doesn't tend to last very long, probably no more than a fortnight, but by then you'll probably have thrown it away for hygiene purposes, so this doesn't really matter. The sponge part is a yellow foam, but I tend to use the green scourer part, as I find the sponge won't shift stubborn stains! It doesn't absorb water instantly, so isn't great for mopping spills up, but when soaked, it absorbs enough to do the job. The scourer part is glued onto the sponge, not particularly well in some cases, but well enough to last for the amount of time I tend to use it for.

            The sponges are 5.5x9.6cm - small enough to fit into most nooks and crannies, but large enough to manage the pots and pans as well. I use these mainly on the dishes, but also to wipe down surfaces, and it performs this job perfectly well.

            Overall, this does exactly the same job as a more expensive sponge, but for a fraction of the cost!

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            • Stardust (DVD) / DVD / 35 Readings / 34 Ratings
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              03.11.2013 10:42
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              A magical film for all the family

              Stardust is one of my favourite films; a magical fairy tale, based on the book by Neal Gaiman. I saw it in the cinemas, and enjoyed it so much that I instantly bought the DVD when it came out.

              The story opens in the English town of Wall, so called because of the wall which runs beside it, a wall which it is forbidden to cross. Young Dunstan Thorn is determined to try, and manages to trick his way past the guard. What he finds is not what he expected. Dunstan finds himself in the kingdom of Stormhold, where he meets a witch's slave working in the market. She is rather taken with him, a nine months later, Dunstan receives an unexpected souvenir of his visit; a baby named Tristan.

              Eighteen years later and Tristan (Charlie Cox) is working in the local shop. He has his mind set on greater things however, such as the wooing of his true love, Victoria (Sienna Miller). Unfortunately, Victoria is more interested in the far richer Humphrey, who has nothing but disdain for Tristan. In despair, Tristan promises he will bring Victoria a fallen star as a symbol of his love, and she agrees to marry him if he can manage this within a week.

              Meanwhile, in Stormhold, the king is dying. He has four three sons still alive, who murdered their three other brothers for a chance at the throne. Disgusted that his sons have not managed to sort the matter of succession out among themselves, he hurls his necklace into the sky, promising that the one who will find this necklace and restore the colour to it will be king.

              The king's actions have unintended consequences, however. The necklace knocks a star out of the sky, which when it lands is revealed as a beautiful young woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes). Tristan witnesses her fall, and decides to retrieve her for Victoria, although he does not realise at the time that she is a woman. Also witness to this are three witches. They need the heart of a fallen star to remain young; so Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) eats the remnants of the last star's heart, and sets off in search of the new one.
              Dunstan reveals to Tristan the truth about his parentage, and gives him a Babylon candle that will take him beyond the wall. Tristan intends to find his mother, but his thoughts flick to Victoria and the star at the last moment. Finding himself next to Yvaine, he is determined to take her back to Wall. It will not be easy however; Tristan is young and inexperienced, and they are hunted by Lamia, and two of the princes, formidable foes...

              I think that the acting in this film is superb. The cast includes relative unknowns, such as Charlie Cox and Claire Danes, alongside well-established names such as Michelle Pfeiffer, and Robert De Niro as Captain Shakespeare. The younger cast members are just as talented as the older, and make for an entertaining watch.

              The storyline itself zips along, flicking between the viewpoints of all the different characters, to keep the watcher's attention. Although there aren't really any sub-plots, there are lots of minor characters who appear in the main story to keep it fresh and interesting. Captain Shakespeare is one of my favourites as captain of a flying pirate ship which harvests lightening. Although he presents a 'tough-guy' image to his crew, he is secretly a transvestite and a softie at heart. Another favourite is the ghosts of the dead princes, who are bound to the earth until the new king is crowned, and who watch over their living brothers, whilst making sarcastic comments about their progress.

              There are some slightly scary moments, such as when Lamia reanimates a corpse to fight Tristan, but overall this should be suitable for all the family.

              The scenery is beautiful, including forests, mountains, beaches, and fairy-tale cities. Unlike most fantasy epics, this was filmed mainly in Britain, particularly the Scottish Highlands, although some scenes were shot in Iceland.

              The DVD includes a making-of feature, and deleted scenes, including bloopers.

              I would thoroughly recommend this film; it is funny, exciting, and looks incredible. Despite its long running time, at over two hours, I was hooked throughout, and almost wish it could have gone on longer!

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              • More +
                29.10.2013 10:28
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                A big brand name, but delivers little

                I suffer quite badly from dry, flaky skin on my face, and I must admit, this is because I don't take as much care of it as I should. Deciding to change this, I went to Boots to look for a cheap moisturiser that I could use on my face. This one was reasonably priced, at about £1.30, for 150ml, and I recognised the brand name, so assumed it would be good quality.

                The packaging is a white and green squeezy bottle, which looks quite attractive, and is presumably supposed to evoke thoughts of nature, given that the product is supposed to contain natural ingredients. The shape of the bottle means it is very easy to squeeze out a small amount of the facial wash, although it can be tricky to empty the last vestiges of it from the bottle.

                The facial wash promises to cleanse and nourish skin through the addition of vitamins and nutrients; pro-vitamin B5, which restores and softens skin, vitamin E, which moisturises, and bisabolol, which soothes and calms skin. It contains no perfume or colour, so should be suitable for sensitive skin. As I don't suffer from sensitive skin, I can't say how effective it's claims are. To use the product, you lather a small amount in your hands, and then rub it onto your wet face, avoiding the eyes, before rinsing it off with water. It is thus very easy and quick to use, so can be easily slotted into a morning or evening routine. I tended to use it before bed, as I had most time then, but there is no recommended time of day for using it.

                Unfortunately, despite its claims, this product did very little for my skin. After using it for a fortnight, I did notice a small improvement in the flakiness of my skin, but it was nowhere near the softened and smoothed skin which the bottle promised. I also noticed that my skin felt quite uncomfortable after using the product; not itchy or irritated, but tight and uncomfortable. This wore off fairly quickly, but I felt that the facial wash wasn't producing many noticeable positive effects, but was noticeably making me uncomfortable.

                Overall, this product was disappointing; although it did make my skin a little better, I know there are products which could do a much better job, and wouldn't cause me the initial discomfort I felt on applying this product. The packaging makes it sound fantastic, and I am a big fan of products which no unnecessary chemicals, but unfortunately, this just didn't perform.

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              • Pritt Stick / Household Product / 38 Readings / 36 Ratings
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                27.10.2013 22:55
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                Strong and reliable glue

                When it comes to sticks of glue, Pritt Stick is the quintessential brand, the name that everyone knows and goes for. It is true that when it comes to price, it is possible to get a lot cheaper, but if you're a smart shopper, it's possible to get Pritt Stick at a decent price as well; Amazon currently has four for £1.69, which is pretty good, although the RRP for them is £4.99, so less good value.

                I must admit, I don't get much chance to partake in craft activities any more, but I know when I was card-making when younger, it was always Pritt Stick I would turn to, and I don't remember it ever letting me down. I still keep some handy, though, just in case, and the real power of Pritt Stick only became apparent recently. Recently a strap on my shoe came loose from the sole. I'm very fond of this particular pair of shoes, and was loathe to get rid of them, so thought I'd have a go at fixing them. I didn't have any stronger glue, so decided to try Pritt Stick on the off-chance that it might work, and I'm glad to say that the shoes are still holding together a fortnight later! Needless to say, I'm sure this is only a temporary fix, but I'm very glad to still have use of these shoes for a bit longer.

                Pritt Stick is very long-lasting; I've had my current stick for about two years now, although I don't use it very frequently. A problem I've had with other, cheaper sticks is them drying out quite quickly. I haven't had this problem with Pritt-Stick though. Although the top sometimes appears dry, when I rub it on some paper, it quickly reveals fresh, sticky glue underneath.

                Like most stick glues, it operates by twisting the bottom to move the glue up and down. Unfortunately, the mechanism on my current stick appears to be broken, so that while I can wind it up, I can't wind it back down again. This is annoying, but it doesn't really impact on the functionality of the glue, it just means I have to be careful not to wind it up too far when using it.

                There is a slight odour to the glue, but nothing too unpleasant, and it doesn't linger for very long.
                Overall, I'm very impressed with Pritt stick's quality; the sticking power is excellent. It is true that you can buy cheaper glue sticks, but these just don't compare in terms of functionality, and it is easy to get Pritt Stick fairly cheap if you know where to look.

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                • Hercules (DVD) / DVD / 34 Readings / 33 Ratings
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                  22.10.2013 21:11
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                  Disney's take on Greek myth

                  -Film only Review-

                  As a child, this Disney film completely passed me by, and so I only encountered it at a start of term social for one of my university societies. The society is based around reading works of ancient literature, and we always try and complement our meetings with tangentially related films.

                  Firstly, this film bears no resemblance to the Hercules of Greek mythology. In fact, I believe it was banned in Greece as a distortion of their heritage. There are a few references to some of the twelve tasks of Hercules, but otherwise, Disney has invented a completely new story. It begins with five of the Muses setting the scene; in song-form, they describe the war between the gods and the Titans, which ends with Zeus triumphantly imprisoning them beneath the sea, and installing himself as king of the gods on Mount Olympus. There, he and his wife Hera have a baby son, who they name Hercules, and as a gift, Zeus creates a flying horse out of clouds for him, and calls him Pegasus. Not everyone is impressed by this happy little family however. Zeus' brother , Hades, is fairly unhappy at having being stuck with the Underworld, and dreams of taking his brother's place. He consults the Fates, who tell him that in 18 years, the planets will align, and he will be able to free the Titans and become king. However, all his plans will fail if Hercules is allowed to oppose him.
                  Hades thus decides to get rid of Hercules, but being a god, he must turn him mortal first. He gives a potion that will do the deed to his two minions, Panic and Chaos, who kidnap him, but they are interrupted before Hercules drinks the entire potion. He is left mortal, but still retains his god-like strength. Hercules is brought up by two mortals, but his strength makes him clumsy, and he is left feeling like he doesn't fit in.
                  In desperation, Hercules goes to the temple of Zeus and is shocked to find the statue of the god come to life and tell him the truth about his past. Zeus tells Hercules that the only way he can regain his place on Mount Olympus is to become a true hero. Reunited with Pegasus, Hercules sets off to find Philoctetes, the hero trainer. However, it will not be as easy as Hercules thinks, for being a hero is not just about slaying monsters. And Hades is ever present, looking for the weak spot in his nemesis.

                  This film doesn't have all of the charm of some other Disney hits, but is still well worth watching. As a main character, Hercules himself is a bit flat. His emotional 'journey' is predictable and clichéd, and to be honest, he comes across as a whiny brat at times. Thankfully, he is made up for by a fantastic supporting cast. Megara is an incredible leading lady, full of sass and independent spirit. She is hiding a dark secret of her own, however, and some of her torment comes across. Despite not speaking, Pegasus is hilarious as the loyal horse, who gets more than a bit miffed when Hercules falls for the Megara. Philoctetes, or Phil for short, is great as the philandering satyr with a heart. As villains go, Hades is one of the best. Evil, yes, but also fast-talking, smart, and incredibly funny.
                  One of the main problems with the film is the animation style, which can look quite basic a times. If you can overlook this, though, it's a great story. The song's aren't as good as Disney's best, but I do like Megara's 'I Won't Say I'm in Love'. It would have been great to hear a villain song from Hades, though!
                  Be warned, there are some quite scary parts. One of my friends told me how she had to be taken out of the cinema crying at the Hydra scene (she would have been 5 at the time). I also think Hades' pool of dead souls near the end has the potential to give kids nightmares.
                  Overall, this film is a feel-good romp. It does have some morals about what it means to be a true hero, and the importance of love, but these don't make the film too sanctimonious. Not one for mythology purists, but otherwise, very good fun.

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                  • More +
                    20.10.2013 17:34
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                    Excellent introduction to archaeology - unfortunately I can't speak for the other strands!

                    This review is unfortunately already defunct; the archaeology and anthropology course ceased to exist last year, when it was merged with Politics, Psychology and Sociology, to form the new Human Social and Political Sciences course. However, I feel this review is still worth writing, as in the new course, it will still be possible to take exactly the same modules as in the original arch and anth course, and after the first year, students specialise in one particular area, making it no different to the original courses. I will concentrate mainly on the first year, as this is what will be relevant to most potential students.

                    The important thing to remember about Cambridge courses is that there is often many different ways of completing it, and so it is possible for two students doing the same degree to have entirely different experiences. I can only comment on the modules which I have taken myself. In first year arch and anth, there were three compulsory modules: archaeology, which is the study of human past, social anthropology, which is the study of how humans exist in the present, and biological anthropology, which is the study of human evolution, and human adaptation to the environment. You could then take a fourth optional module from a choice of politics, psychology, sociology, international relations, or the cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia. In the new HSPS, exactly the same modules will be available, except none will be compulsory; you can pick and choose whichever four you want. I, however, took a slightly different approach in my first year. Instead of taking the three compulsory modules, there is also the option to switch one of the anthropology choices for an ancient language, either Middle Egyptian, or Assyrian, and if you choose this option, you have to take the paper on the culture of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Being most interested in Egyptology, I chose to learn hieroglyphs instead of soc anth, but I have one friend who chose to drop anthropology altogether, and take both ancient languages! This will still be an option in the new course.

                    All Cambridge teaching consists of lectures and supervisions, which vary in frequency depending on subject. Supervisions are classes of 2-3 people which you write an essay for, and then discuss it with a member of staff, as well as talking about the subject more generally. All arch and anth options in the first year consist of two lectures per week, and four supervisions per option per term. This should work out to two a week, but as supervisors don't always co-ordinate with each other, there tends to be fewer at the start of term, and more at the end. In the first year, all modules are examined by exam, one three-hour paper for each at the end of the year.

                    The first year is incredibly broad. The archaeology paper is essentially a brief overview of all periods, covering the earliest creation of stone tools, the emergence of agriculture, the emergence of cities, and the emergence of empires. This covers the first two terms, and then the final term contains a series of lectures on issues in archaeology, things such as the management of archaeological sites, and the archaeology of Cambridgeshire. In addition to normal teaching, there are three practicals per term, in which you get the chance to look at the artefacts you here about in lectures. I might be biased because this is my area of expertise, but all the lecturers are incredible. In terms of supervisors, it's pot-luck who you get and are stuck with for the rest of the year. My supervisor was a PhD student who was excellent on Palaeolithic issues, but not so hot on anything else, which wasn't great!

                    Biological anthropology looks at issues such as primatology, which is of use because these are our closest living relatives, so help us to understand how human behaviour developed, human evolution through the study of bones, human biological responses to the environment, genetics, and issues such as nature versus nurture. I'm not particularly scientifically minded, so this was my least favourite module, as it's quite heavy on biology. There were two practicals associated with this; one that I couldn't go to because it clashed with another lecture (poor organisation!), and one where we looked at skeletons. Unfortunately, this was a large class, so it was difficult for us to get up close to the bones. The archaeology practicals were much better organised as we were split into groups of 10 for them. Most of the lecturers in this course were incredible, but I do remember being bored to death by a couple. I was incredibly lucky with my supervisor though, as she was the head of department, and was incredibly clever, as well as brilliant fun.

                    The course focusing on Egypt and Mesopotamia began with an overview of their histories in the first term, and then moved onto looking at specific issues such as religion, writing, and urbanism. This course was far more historical than the ordinary archaeology course. It was more stable in terms of lecturers; one person should take each of the entire Egypt and Mesopotamia lectures. Unfortunately, the person who usually does Egypt was on sabbatical in my year, so it was a bit more disjointed, but this shouldn't usually be a problem. There are no practicals associated with the course, but there are four seminars spread throughout the year, which is a chance to work as a group and present on a small section of a topic. I've found this course is more reliant on PhD students as supervisors than other courses are, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing; my Egyptian supervisor was great, my Mesopotamian one less so, but then it was her first year supervising!

                    The language classes are a bit more intense, firstly because they're a lot smaller, and secondly because they're more interactive. Unlike lectures, each student is expected to contribute and do translations during the class. In this respect, they aren't much different from supervisions, which for language papers happen once a week. The main difference is you work on the set texts in classes, and work on unseen translations in supervisions. Unfortunately, both the lecturer and supervisor have since left Cambridge, so I'm not sure what these classes are like any more, but I know they were brilliant when I took them.

                    It is in second and third years that the courses become a lot more specialised. I focus purely on archaeology now, although there is an option to borrow from soc anth or bio anth. The archaeology route will be pretty much the same in the HSPS course. The structure of second year consists of three compulsory modules, and two optional ones. Compulsory ones are archaeological theory, topics in archaeology (such as landscapes, death, religion etc), and a practical paper that is based around lab work. These papers look at archaeology broadly, while the optional papers allow you to specialise in a particular period. Options are broad ranging, including Egypt, Mesopotamia, North and South America, Africa, prehistoric Europe, medieval Europe, and India. The only real gaps are Australia, and China. Instead of the optional modules being examined purely be exam, there is a practical project where you choose a specific artefact to analyse. The third year structure is very similar, with a dissertation replacing the practical paper.

                    Despite enjoying my first year, it was second year which I really loved (I've just started third year), as I felt I got so much closer to the academics and learnt more about the practice of archaeology. Part of the course is two weeks of excavation in third term, and then four weeks over the summer, which I loved, and there was a departmental field trip to Northern Italy, a fantastic opportunity to see heritage management in action. My main problem was with the theory paper, which often seemed very abstract and had little to do with archaeology. The practical paper on the other hand, never really went into enough detail; I feel that Cambridge is one of those universities that is excellent for theory and academia, but not so good if you want a job as an actual archaeologist, although the fieldwork experience goes some way towards making up for this. Almost all the lecturers and supervisors are brilliant, although I did have some issues with one very disorganised individual, and my complaints about her to the department were ignored.

                    One of the best things about Cambridge's archaeology department is the sense of community feeling. The first year is quite large, but once people have specialised in their second years, class sizes become much smaller, and you get to know everyone. Regular departmental parties mean you get a chance to know the staff really well too. The Archaeological Field Club is supported by the department and holds regular talks, while their feast is one of the highlights of the year.

                    In terms of facilities, the library isn't the best. It certainly has a good selection of books, but the popular ones are almost always out on loan. I haven't found this to be too much of a problem in second year, but it was a massive issue in first year, although might decrease now there's no compulsory modules. The library itself isn't great to work in, as only two desks have plugs for laptops. thankfully, the incredibly uncomfortable chairs have been replaced this year, a significant improvement! The department boasts a range of other facilities, all sorts of labs, including a computer suite. However, most of these aren't available for undergraduate use; the computer suite for example, is only open to undergraduates for two hours a week.

                    I can only give my views on a very small section of the arch and anth course, and an even smaller section of the new HSPS course. Because of this, I've focused more on first year than second, as my experiences here will probably apply to a larger number of people. I hope this review will be useful for anyone considering archaeology at Cambridge though, because it really is a fantastic course, even if it is now hidden away inside HSPS!

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                      17.10.2013 01:06
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                      Perfect relief for even the worst colds!

                      Like clockwork, I come down with a cold at the start of every university term; I guess it's the shift to living with a large group of people that tests my immune system! I therefore rely on a steady supply of tissues. I don't tend to buy a particular brand, but whatever is available at the time, and as these were on offer in Sainsbury's, I thought I'd try them. I think they ordinarily retail for about £1.99, but I got them for half price.

                      The packaging promises ultra-soft, and this is indeed what I get. This is perfect, as I find when I have a really bad cold, my nose can get quite sore from blowing it so often, but this has not been an issue with these tissues, they are very gentle on the skin. This softness doesn't mean they are weak, however; quite the opposite, as I've never had one disintegrating on me. The pack contains around 80 tissues, so should definitely last a while, though it depends of course on how bad your cold is. The tissues are a decent size, around 21cm squared. They are also very absorbent; great not only for a cold, but for mopping up a spill of water when there weren't any kitchen towels to hand.

                      The box is quite slim in design, (the packaging informs me that this is a recent change) with a sophisticated brown and beige ripple effect on the outside. Because the box is quite attractive, I don't mind having it on display in my living room, and given that it is fairly shallow, it doesn't look intrusive at all. Like most tissue boxes, the tissues are dispensed through a slot in a plastic window at the top. Unlike most tissue boxes, I've never had an issue with tissues getting stuck, and having to dig them out by hand. Instead, it always dispenses tissues easily, without any getting caught.

                      Overall, I would definitely recommend these tissues. My only issue with them is the price, as I feel you can get tissues much cheaper that do almost the same job.

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                      11.10.2013 16:22
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                      Fantastic start to a fresh new fantasy trilogy

                      Trudi Canavan is one of my favourite authors; I read absolutely everything she has published, and this is the book that first introduced me to her. While not specifically a young adult book, I first read it as a teenager, and I think it acts as a perfect introduction to adult fantasy.

                      The book is set in Imardin, the capital of Kyralia, and home to the Magician's Guild, of which all practicing magicians must be a member. Imardin is a city deeply divided by class. Only the noble houses are allowed to join the Magician's Guild, and the one of the services they perform for the city is the annual Purge, in which the homeless are driven off Imardin's streets. Sonea and Cery, two young orphans are on the streets on the day of the Purge. Furious at the injustice of their treatment, Sonea throws a stone at the magicians who are gathering, and to her surprise, it passes through the barrier and strikes one of them, knocking them unconscious. It is very rare for someone to be able to unlock their innate magical ability without training, but that is what Sonea has managed to do. In a panic, she and Cery flee. They must now hide from the magicians who may be seeking revenge, so flee into the hands of the Thieves. The Thieves will hide Sonea; but only if she can learn to control her magic and use it for them.
                      Meanwhile, in the Magician's Guild, Sonea's actions have sparked a fierce debate. There are those who think she should be admitted to the Guild and taught; heading this faction are Lord Rothen and Lord Dannyl. Others wouldn't dream of admitting a slum girl into the Guild, and think she should be punished; this faction is headed by Lord Fergun, the magician she struck. However both sides are in agreement. She must be found, because if she isn't taught to control her magic, it will explode out of her, killing her and destroying a good section of the city.

                      This book is gripping from start to finish. I'll admit that not an awful lot happens in terms of events; the beauty of Trudi Canavan's work is in her carefully constructed characters and the way they relate to each other. The emphasis is on what happens when two worlds collide, and so it is the interactions between those who inhabit the different spheres meet, and are forced to reconsider their prejudices. Sonea's emotions are perfectly described, as she struggles with fear of the magic within her, and the fear of the magicians who are trying to help her. The resolution of these internal struggles, as she gradually comes to trust the magicians, is beautifully portrayed. Cery is her perfect sidekick; he is resourceful and plucky, determined to help his friend, despite not understanding the world into which they have both been thrust. My favourite characters however are the magicians, Lord Rothen and Lord Dannyl, an unlikely pair. Rothen is the far older, a steady and sensible alchemist, who forms a fatherly bond with Sonea. Their relationship is perfectly judged, and while their closeness could be creepy, a fact that many others in the Guild pick up on, Trudi Canavan makes it perfectly clear that their relationship is more like father and daughter than that of lovers. Lord Dannyl, meanwhile is a quiet and studious young alchemist, who has few friends in his own age group, due to problems in his days as a novice. Rothen acted as his guardian then, and so he has much in common with Sonea, and forms a close bond of friendship with her. He is one of the few magicians who seems to care about the slum dwellers

                      The world of Kyralia is portrayed in stunning detail. I really like books that have a lot of minor characters, as it makes the world seem realistic. Trudi Canavan uses a lot of her own invented names for animals and plants, which can be a little confusing, but there is a glossary and 'Lord Dannyl's Guide to Slum Slang' if you get lost. A major theme of the book is social inequality, and the differences between the opulence of the Magician's Guild, and the squalor of the slums is made evident throughout, and described in vivid detail.

                      I've read this book many times over, along with its two sequels. It is possible to read the first one as a stand-alone book, but there is a big cliff-hanger at the end that will not be resolved until later in the series. I would highly recommend this book, both for fantasy lovers, and those who are new to the genre.

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                        07.10.2013 21:35
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                        Excellent body tape for holding clothes in place

                        Previously I didn't wear strapless dresses very frequently, because I just wasn't comfortable in them; they always felt like they were going to slip down and leave me in an embarrassing situation, so I'd spend most of the evening constantly tugging them up. However, when I found the perfect dress for my university's end of year ball, it was strapless. A friend therefore suggested that I try body tape. I went straight out to Boots to buy some, but made the mistake of going for the cheaper option (well, I am a student!) I found this didn't work at all, and so my friend sent me back out with a much clearer idea of what to buy, and I came back with Eyelure tape.

                        The pack from Boots cost me £4.90, and came with 27 pieces. This seemed a little steep to me, but given that I don't use it very often, I'm willing to pay a bit more. I think I'll only use this tape twice a term at the maximum, so the pack should last me for the rest of my time at university. The tape comes in two different shapes, 15 rectangular and 12 curved, so it is suitable for a range of different clothing types. I find two pieces across my chest holds a full length dress up, but I tend to use four, with two pieces going under the arms as well, just to give me a bit more security and peace of mind.

                        The packaging is very elegant, being a slim white cardboard pocket, with black writing, and a figure on the front with a purple dress. The simple design and colour scheme gives it an air of sophistication, and because the packaging is small, it is very easy to store.

                        The main question of course, is does it do the job? And the answer is most definitely yes. The tape held up a full length strapless dress for 9 hours. However, I've found it only lasts this long when you're sedately walking or sitting for most of that time. If you're at a more energetic party and are dancing, it tends to pull off a bit. Of course, if you were using the tape just to hold fabric in place, rather than bearing the weight of the dress, it should be fine for any length of time.

                        The only problem I have with this tape is getting it off. It's not too difficult removing it from fabric, but it really clings to skin. I have had one incident where I was dancing and stood on the hem of my dress, pulling it a bit, and the tape took away part of my skin with it, which was quite unpleasant! Thankfully I didn't bleed, so my dress was fine, but I did have an ugly scratch across my chest. Even getting it off normally is quite painful, and leaves red marks on my skin, so it's not good if you want to wear a similar dress soon afterwards. I have heard that using baby-oil will soften the tape and make it easier to remove, so I might try that next time.

                        Overall, this tape is the best I have found for keeping strapless dresses in place for long periods of time. The downside of that however, is that the tape is very difficult to remove. So although it does the job promised excellently, I'm going to have to deduct a star for the pain it's caused me!

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                        04.10.2013 19:12
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                        More sweet that medicine

                        I'm particularly prone to sore throats during term time, and so Strepsils provide a lifeline for me. I pick them up for about £3.50 in Sainsbury's, for which I get 24 lozenges. As I go through quite a lot, this sin't the best value, and I know I could probably get them cheaper elsewhere, but Sainsbury's is convenient for me.

                        I love the taste of these honey and lemon lozenges, and to be honest I sometimes just use them for the taste; yes, I know that probably isn't very good for me, but I make sure to never exceed the recommended dosage, which is one every 2-3 hours, and no more than 12 in 25 hours. They are quite sweet, with the honey being the strongest flavour, but there is a hint of lemon in there as well, which takes some of the edge off all the sugar!

                        When it comes to dealing with sore throats, I find these not particularly effective, however. Strepsils contain two antiseptics which provide relief by killing bacteria and lubricate the sore area. They provide some temporary relief while you're sucking the lozenge, but they only take around ten minutes to dissolve, and then you're left with a sore throat again, and nothing you can do about it for the next 2-3 hours! I personally find that others types of strepsil do a much better job at long-lasting relief, but unfortunately, they don't taste half as nice.

                        Strepsils are not suitable for children under 6, pregnant or breast-feeding women, or anyone allergic to the ingredients (the packaging warns this is more common if you're allergic to aspirin). The information leaflet with them warns that there are possible side effects, but shockingly fails to list them, beyond 'itching'. I find this is quite an oversight, and the possible side-effects should have been listed. Personally, I haven't had any adverse reactions, but I did get quite bad indigestion when I accidentally swallowed a lozenge whole: not recommended!

                        Overall, I love the taste of these lozenges, but unfortunately they don't do a great job on my sore throats, and they definitely lose another star for the lack of information with them.

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                      • The Aristocats (DVD) / DVD / 37 Readings / 37 Ratings
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                        03.10.2013 19:06
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                        A charming tale of aristocats meets alley cats

                        The Aristocats, released in 1970 was the last film to be approved by Walt Disney himself, and has the same trademark features of most Disney films; a heart-warming story, lovable animals, and great songs. It wasn't one of my favourite Disney films as a child, but having recently re-watched it, I found I enjoyed it more than I remembered.

                        The story follows the aristocratic cat Duchess and her three kittens, Marie, Toulouse and Berlioz. The cats live with their owner, Madame, who dotes on them, and her butler, Edgar, in an elegant town house in Paris. When Madame asks her lawyer to prepare her will, Edgar overhears the conversation; he will inherit everything, but only after the cats. Full of greed, he decides to speed up his inheritance and get rid of the cats. He adds sleeping tablets to their milk, and takes the sleeping cat on his motorcycle, planning to dispose of them elsewhere. Luckily, before he can do the dastardly deed, he is set upon by two dogs, Napoleon and Lafayette. Edgar escapes, but the basket containing Duchess and the kittens falls off beside the river. They are far from Paris, but help is on hand from the alley cat, Thomas O'Malley. He will help them return home, but with accident prone kittens in tow, it will not be easy! And Edgar will still be waiting for them back in Paris...

                        The kittens completely steal the show. Little Marie is adorable in her conviction that she knows better than her brothers. Toulouse is a cheeky kitten who wants to be a tough alley-cat, and looks up to O'Malley, but he has a long way to go before he becomes the street-wise cat he wants to be! Berlioz is shyer than his brother and sister, but is still perfectly willing to squabble with them. The film also benefits from a rich cast of minor characters; the lawyer Georges, Roquefort, a mouse who is friend with the kittens, and the alley cat jazz players, to name but a few. These characters might only have small roles to play in the film, but they are lovingly constructed, and nearly all raise a couple of laughs. Some of my favourite are the three English geese, Abigail, Amelia, and Uncle Waldo. Uncle Waldo is only on screen for a few minutes, but he is certainly memorable!
                        The animation is beautifully done, it's still hand-drawn but although it manages not to look dated; instead it has a timeless quality. The streets of Paris and the French countryside are beautifully portrayed, and help bring the film to life.
                        Of course, one of the highlights of a Disney film is the songs. This has its fair share of good ones, and the jazzy number 'Everybody Wants to be a Cat' was echoing around my head for days afterwards!
                        Overall this is a fun film; it's a little bit predictable, and the ending is fairly obvious from the beginning, but seeing how it happens is very entertaining. The attention to detail is obvious, and ensures that the film is filled with charm and wit. Definitely recommended, no matter what your age!

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