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*** Intro *** Jelly Babies are a historic British sweet. They were first produced in 1919 by Bassett's to mark the end of the First World War. At this time they were sold as "Peace Babies"! Pacifist sweeties! Cute, huh? Several Companies now make Jelly Babies but this review focuses on the originals (and best), although Bassett's are now indirectly owned by Cadbury. Interestingly, 99% of my Jelly Baby (henceforth, JB) consumption occurs at the cinema. Along with buckets of popcorn, hot-dogs with questionable meat-content and pick-and-mix that seems to cost twice as much as you expect regardless of your selection, JB's are a movie staple. They can be eaten quietly and so are, therefore, much more socially acceptable than the aforementioned popcorn, especially during a particularly poignant scene from "Sex and the City", for example. Not that I'd really know about such things. That's a girlie film. I'm just guessing. Honestly. *** Packaging *** JB's come in bright yellow bags with the "Jelly Baby" text in a cheerful, multicoloured font across the front. Three of the babies are "breaking out" of the front of the pack. There is also a prominent declaration that only natural colours and flavours are used and that the babies are made with real fruit juice. *** Composition, taste and texture *** So, I'm probably not surprising people when I say that, bizarrely, the sweets are made to look like babies. Well, cartoony-babies at least. Each baby is a couple of centimetres "tall" and are shaped and vividly coloured depending on their flavour (see later). They also have a fine, dusty appearance - this is harmless residual starch which is used in the production process to help them fall out of their moulds. JB's are made of sugar. That's it! Sugar, along with a tiny amount of flavouring. The packet stresses that the flavouring is 100% natural. That makes up for the sugar, right? It's virtually health food! There's no real textural contrast here - you're eating a jelly - although they do have a sort of "skin", for want of a better word, which is slightly more resistant and sugary than the inside of each Baby. That might not make much sense to you but you'll see what I'm getting at if you try one. There are 6 different colours/flavours. And as if the concept of eating babies wasn't bad enough already and to make you feel even more guilty, whilst researching this review (yes! I really do!) I found out that each baby has a name! I'm not sure I appreciate the fact that Bassett's are trying to humanise the little people, but your potential victims are, in no particular order: "Brilliant" (red and strawberry flavoured), Bubbles (yellow and lemon), Baby Bonny (Sob!) (pink and raspberry), Boofuls (green; lime), Bigheart (purple; blackcurrant) and Bumper (orange and, erm, orange). Sadistic types eat them by deliberately first biting off their heads. Or their feet. Or by nibbling off their arms. After extensive research I have found these people to be generally untrustworthy in other aspects of life. A much more civilised and less brutal way to consume them is the "down in one" method which I personally favour. This ensures a quick dispatch and I'm sure the Babies appreciate and respect my merciful manner. They're a delicious, flavoursome but short-lived treat. Blobs of jelly tend to stick to your teeth but its consistency is such that it soon comes off. Each individual flavour is quite distinct and you can have fun making cocktails in your mouth by mixing various flavours. My wife likes the green ones best. She claims the pink ones "taste of perfume". She's quite odd. ***Nutritional info *** Nutrition might not be the best word to use, but here goes: Per. Jelly Baby: Calories: 20 Fat: 0g Sugar: 4.75g Erm, that's it! Pure sugary loveliness! NOTE: JB's are "jellified" with gelatin and, as such, are not veggie-friendly! Sorry guys! *** Summary *** Well, what else is there to say? JB's are a weird little treat that will satisfy all but the most demanding of sweet-tooths within a few chews. They're certainly not the most nutritious of foods but, as an occasional treat, they're a nice alternative to chocolate. Probably not great for hyper kids though!
*** Intro *** To start my review more precisely, I should referring to these delicious little fellows as "Galaxy Minstrels", a demonstration of their recent-ish re-branding. Thinking way back, I have a vague recollection of them formerly being called "Treets" (deliberate spelling) but maybe someone can correct me on that memory? Anyway, in a strange but appreciated juxtaposition, whereas most chocolates I consumed in my younger days now appear smaller (or is it just that I'm bigger - I call it "The Wagon-Wheel Complex"?), Minstrels actually appear bigger than I remember them. It's a welcome change! *** Packaging *** Minstrels are bite-sized treats which are sold in various pack sizes by weight. The general packs, however, have the same appearance - bags in rich, chocolate brown and caramel colours with their name in a simple font underneath the Galaxy logo. They give an overall impression of being a "grown up", sophisticated product in marked contrast to the somewhat cartoon-like appearance of other similar products. *** Composition, taste and texture *** Minstrels are 'buttons' of Galaxy milk-chocolate which have been surrounded by a crisp, sugary shell. Think along the lines of a big, brown "Smartie" and you won't be far off. Generally, I much prefer the taste of Cabury chocolate to that of Galaxy because the latter seems much sweeter, creamier and richer on my palette. However, because of the "bitesize" nature of Minstrels they seems to taste much nicer - I don't get the same overly-sweet and cloying texture in my mouth. Anyway, as with much confectionery part of the experience of eating relies on the textural contrast between the crisp and creamy aspects of the product. This works really well. The shell cracks under pressure from your teeth which then allows them to sink into the softer contents. As you chew, the crisp and creamy elements meld together and give a wonderful feel, not to mention the delicious taste. I'm almost dribbling here thinking about them! ***Nutritional info *** Nutritional details are given as "A Portion (42g standard bag)": Calories 211 Sugars 29.0g Fat 9.3g Saturates 5.4g One handy thing is, because of their individual nature, you can have as few or as many of them as you like. Although, in my experience, "a few" quickly become "a few more" and then "the whole blinking packet"! *** Opinion *** Galaxy Minstrels are almost a perfect sweet snack. They taste fabulous and, unlike many chocolate bars, the crisp shell means that you won't get messy eating them, even on a warm day. Indeed, their old marketing tagline used to be "The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand". As such, I find them a great nibble for the car. As a bonus, and as previously mentioned, portion control is possible for those with strong wills (I salute you all!), making them good for virtuous souls. Do yourself a favour and treat yourself to a pack on the way home...
*** Intro: *** 1985 was a landmark year. There was a tiny gig called "Live Aid" which took place in the Summer (you probably missed it - it was fairly low key), Microsoft made version 1.0 of a new program called "Windows" (I don't think it ever caught on) and some small-time Director called Orson Wells died. I'm not sure what he directed but it wasn't anything cool like Star Wars. But, far more importantly than all those minor events, 1985 saw the birth of a brand new Cadbury chocolate bar: the Boost. Whereas most chocolate bars play down their sugar content, Boost positively market themselves as being "charged with glucose". Indeed, their very name seems to uniquely position the snack as being directly marketed as a "pick me up" or energy bar. Further to this, a limited edition was available several years ago containing added Guarana, an exotic herb with apparently stimulating properties. *** Packaging: *** The Boost bar comes dressed in a blue foiled wrapper.with the Boost logo covering the entire length of the pack, the aforementioned "Charged with glucose" tagline appears immediately below. *** Ingredients and Nature of Snack: *** Boosts, in their current incarnation, are single bars which comprise of, erm, well, I'm not too sure what they comprise of! The centres are an incredibly sweet substance which isn't caramel, nougat or anything else really! It's just kind of a stodgy, chewy paste. Sorry for not being more descriptive, but words escape me! Distributed within this mysterious substance are little bits of biscuit which add to the overall texture by providing some added "bite". The whole bar is finished with a generous coating of Cadbury milk chocolate which is blown in the factory to provide the "slightly rippled with a flat underside" appearance that Vic Reeves used to talk about in an earlier advertising campaign. *** Taste and texture *** As previously mentioned, Boosts loudly boast of their glucose content. This is baked up with an INCREDIBLY sweet taste. Maybe some people are turned on by this but my delicate little taste buds just can't cope with the sugar rush. The bar is very chewy and you can almost feel grains of sugar on your teeth as you eat. Apart from the sugar, and the initial flavour of the chocolate coating, the bar doesn't really taste of anything distinct. It's just a stodgy mash in your mouth. ***Nutritional info: *** All details given on a per bar basis: Calories: 310 Fat (g): 17.8 Carbs (g): 34.3 Seems like a lot for such a relatively small bar? You're quite right - it is! *** Opinion *** Maybe you've guessed already, but I'm not a fan. In my opinion Boosts offer little more than a chocolate coated sugar rush. But not in a good way! As an energy snack, they certainly provide a lot of calories in a small package but I can think of far more healthy ways to gain similar quantities of sugar with much more nutrition and taste. I never thought I'd be critical of a Cadbury bar, but I'd steer clear of these.
Everyone knows what a Twix is, right? It comprises of a long crispy biscuit which is topped in soft, melty caramel before being coated in a generous layer of chocolate. You get two such biscuits in each pack usually. However, when buying multi-packs Twix are also sold as single, individually wrapped snacks but as you might imagine these are only half as enjoyable as the regular pack size! That said, the single biscuits are good for kids or light snacking. Taste wise they have a quite luxurious flavour and texture. The three main components are all identifiable initially and they subsequently meld together to give a lovely rich, chocolatey mouthful. Twix are made by Mars and are an internationally recognised confectionary, being sold across Europe, North America and most other continents. Like many chocolate bars, they made their first appearance in the UK before embarking on their quest for global domination, initially known by various different names but now universally recognised as "Twix". The pack comprises of a thin gold-ish coloured foil with a large red logo plastered across the front. It also proudly states that the product contains no artificial colours, no artificial flavours and no preservatives. Yep, the fat and sugar are as pure and as unadulterated as they can be! Nutritional information: The twin-finger pack usefully and clearly presents the essential nutritional details per biscuit. I like this approach and it would be good if some other manufacturer's followed this example - it's sometimes difficult when data is given as a "per 100g" value and then you have to calculate how that translates to, for example, a 35g bar. I'll get off my high horse now! Here are the figures (per finger): Calories 142 Fat 6.9g Carbs 19.0g When you consider that a finger weighs 29g these values are pretty high! But, like all good things, eaten in moderation Twix are okay. Just be careful to balance your diet by eating from a wide range of junk foods! In summary, if you fancy an occasional treat which is a bit more interesting than a plain biscuit, you can't go far wrong with a Twix.
*** INTRODUCTION *** Alien is a 1979 sci-fi horror film directed by Brit Ridley Scott. It stars Sigourney Weaver in her first lead role and, as a result of the film's success, catapulted the actress into the public consciousness and did so virtually overnight. Briefly, the film centres on a small, terrified crew who, one-by-one, are picked off by an incredibly vicious predator. The premise was later to be used as the basis for the popular BBC1 show, The Apprentice, but I digress. This review is based on the single-disc DVD version of the movie but it is also available in numerous box-sets, collector's editions, limited editions, etc. *** PLOT *** Let's start with the synopsis. Don't worry - there's quite a lot to describe but you won't find any spoilers here! The film is set in the year 2122. The Nostromo, a commercial towing spaceship, is on a return trip to Earth, hauling an extremely valuable cargo comprising a mineral refinery and twenty million tons of precious ore. The film opens with the Nostromo's seven-member crew in stasis, a condition whereby a deliberate coma is induced in order to control bodily processes and manage travel across huge distances. The crew members are awakened and are simultaneously frustrated and bemused to find that, rather than being on the final leg of their journey home, the ship's computer (known to the crew as "Mother") has intercepted a transmission, possibly as S.O.S., and has diverted its course automatically to investigate the source transmission, the moon LV-426. After some initial resistance, the crew is persuaded to land on the moon with a promise of hefty bonuses for doing so. Dallas, the ship's Captain, Kane, Executive Officer, and Navigator Lambert set out to investigate the signal's source while Warrant Officer Ripley, Science Officer Ash, and two Engineers, Parker and Brett, stay onboard the ship to monitor their progress and make some minor repairs. The signal is tracked down to a huge spacecraft which contains the remains of an alien creature whose ribs appear to have been bent out of its chest from the inside. Upon further investigation and exploration of the ship Kane finds a chamber which contains hundreds of eggs. One such egg, seemingly due to the proximity of Kane, "hatches" and releases a spider-like creature which attaches itself to his face. Meanwhile, Ripley is able to determine that the S.O.S. signal originally detected by Mother is, in fact, a warning signal. Fearing the worse and ignoring usual protocol (despite her best efforts and much to Ripley's dismay), the ground crew ignore the Company's quarantine procedure and return Kane to the ship for emergency surgery to remove the parasite. This task proves futile - the alien creature seems to possess incredibly strong acid for blood and, for some bizarre reason, it actually seems to be sustaining Kane's systems. Removal, they deduce, may prove fatal. Shortly after abandoning the surgical exercise the creature detaches itself of its own accord and dies. Kane, although groggy, appears healthy and the crew is understandably relieved. With the whole episode behind them they decide to enjoy one final meal together before they return to stasis for the return to Earth. Drama over, right? Well, not exactly... The scene which follows is perhaps the most iconic of the movie and sets the scene for the ensuing mayhem which involves the Alien stalking and picking off members of the 7-strong crew. I won't spoil things for you but perhaps you should make sure that you haven't eaten too much before viewing! Consider that a warning. *** CREATURE, CAST AND CHARACTERS *** Of course, films of this type live or die on the basis of the realism of the eponymous creature. Though clever direction and careful timing can be utilised to ensure that tension is built gradually and deliciously throughout such movies, no amount of acting or cinematography can save a movie if the cast are picked off by something resembling a 6 foot roast chicken. Creature design then was fundamental. The production crew dragged out the heavy artillery in this respect by recruiting H. R. Giger, an infamous Swiss surrealist painter, sculptor and set-designer, to design the Alien and key movie sets. His creation is eyeless, disturbing and utterly believable. A seven foot, two inch tall Masai tribesman, Bolaji Badejo, was cast to don the Alien suit which was constructed from latex, car-parts and plasticine. Alien won the 1979 Academy Award for Visual Effects in no small part due to the Alien itself. The human cast comprises of five men and two women. All were relatively unknown at the time of filming (Hurt and Holm perhaps having the most experience) and, interestingly for an "action" movie, the average age of each cast member was 40-41 years. Both of these factors appear to be deliberate choices made in order to enable the audience to concentrate on the plot and the monster and to add believability and an air of realism to the crew. Cast list: Ian Holm Ash Harry Dean Stanton Brett Sigourney Weaver Ripley Yaphet Kotto Parker Tom Skerrit Dallas Veronica Cartwright Lambert John Hurt Kane and Bolaji Badejo as the Alien There's one more cast member worthy of a mention but whose name I can't find anywhere! "Jones", the ship's cat. He is responsible for providing several scares himself and his acting is very natural and unforced. He does the entire range of cat-emotions; "scared", "aggressive", "annoyed" and "contented" with aplomb! Apparently, in order to provoke the necessary level of aggression the poor cat was exposed on a regular basis to a German Shepard dog (on a lead, of course). The cat and dog became great friends post-filming. Or the dog ate the cat. One of those two is probably true. *** OBSERVATIONS AND OPINION *** Although it certainly has its blood-soaked moments, Alien is not an out-and-out gore-fest. It's much more intelligent and scary than that. It relies on building tension over drawn out periods, prolonging your unease until you can't help but let out a yelp when the creature finally and dramatically appears. Or is that just me? In fact, thinking about it more deeply, although the creature design is fantastic and the sets and models for the ships are also similarly amazing, sci-fi is also incidental to the plot of Alien. In that respect it shares more in common with the likes of Halloween or Friday the 13th than Star Wars or even its own amazing sequel, Aliens, which was a wholly different film. True, immediate comparisons might not be obvious but all movies make use of careful timing, brief glimpses of the killer and a carefully paced soundtrack to ratchet up the tension. At heart then Alien is a slasher flick of the first order, set in a futuristic environment and with a slightly uglier Michael Myers/Jason Vorhees doing the cutting. Jaws in space, if you like. Ridley Scott's portrayal of the future is in marked contrast to the huge majority of 50s and 60s sci-fi movies which preceded Alien. The astronauts are clearly resentful of their jobs (like most of us!) and space-travel generally appears a wholly unglamorous affair. Scott forgoes the futuristic visions of pristine chrome and sterility and instead presents a perhaps more realistic and believable gritty, dirty and depressing representation, a vision later echoed in Blade Runner which presents a similarly dystopian view of life in the future. The ship is dirty and wet. The crew is disheveled. And the alien is just plain nasty. Sex undertones feature heavily throughout the film. It's refreshing to see Sigourney Weaver as the heroine of the movie alongside the androgyny of the Alien (which in its 'facehugger' incarnation resembles a very specific piece of female anatomy), and even the ship's computer, Mother. If you think about other movie franchises these days it's still somewhat of a rarity to see females in proper lead roles in action movies. You have the likes of Lara Croft in the Tomb-Raider series, Sarah Connor in T2 and Angelina Jolie in the more recent "Wanted". But Ripley is still the icon to which the rest of those ladies must bow down and pay homage. Set designs featuring the Alien spaceship are also suitably sexual and perverted if you take the time to study them. I haven't, of course. Well, just a bit maybe... So, why should you bother watching it? Well, to summarise, Alien is a ground-breaking one-of-a-kind-balls-to-the-wall-slasher-flick-set-in space. Creature design is flawless and the rubber-suited thrills are delivered convincingly and with consistently nerve-shredding timing. Despite the huge leaps that have been made over the past 30 years in the areas of special effects and CGI, Alien remains almost peerless as being a genuinely terrifying piece of cinematography despite the fact that you KNOW that the creature is just a lanky bloke in a rubber suit covered in KY jelly (Yep, that's what they used for the slime). If you love movies as I do, Alien is a film you MUST see to in order to appreciate just how influential it has been - having spawned (sic) countless other movies in its wake. These clones usually follow an identical model but never deliver the same degree of tension and sheer excitement as the original. A competent and believable cast, a suitably nerve-jangling soundtrack and superb direction all add to the cliché of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts - absolutely true in this case. I can't imagine there are many people who haven't seen this classic, but if you're one of the minority, do yourself a massive favour and check it out. And remember, in space no one can hear you scream. *** DVD DETAILS *** Original year of release: 1979 Running time (feature): 116 minutes Certificate: 18 (violent and gory scenes) DVD Extras: Director's Commentary (with some great insight), Deleted Scenes, Production Artwork Gallery; "Making Of" Documentary Current price: £4.98 (Amazon); also available in a variety of boxset options together with various combinations of its sequels
The original Jaffa Cakes, made by McVities and named after the Jaffa Oranges which are used to flavour them, first appeared in 1927 and quickly established themselves as a luxury to accompany a traditional cup of afternoon tea. A design masterpiece, Jaffa cakes comprise of a light, slightly sweet sponge base on top of which lies a thinnish layer of intensely flavoured orange jelly. The jelly does not quite extend to the edges of the biscuit so the overall appearance is kind of like a fried egg. As if the sponge and the fruity, sugary jelly wasn't enough, McVities finish the job by coating the top of the cake in a layer of dark chocolate adding to its overall appearance and "yum factor". The taste is fabulous and they are a very light snack, even if you over-indulge slightly. Indeed, several football teams including the English National Team give out Jaffa Cakes as a pre-match and half-time energy snack, providing a hit of sugar with very little fat or other stodge. In addition, several established dietary gurus site them as an acceptable snack in view of their nutritional content. Here are the nutritional details (per cake): Calories: 45cals Fat: 1g Carbs: 8.4g Protein: 0.5g Fibre: 0.2g The jelly contains actual extract of real oranges so I reckon that if you eat enough of them, say, 6 or 7 packs of 12 cakes (72-84 cakes total) it probably equates to one of your 5-a-day! Happy days! Balance your diet with some Terry's Chocolate Orange and a few packs of Starburst or, perhaps, Strawberry Chewits and reap the health benefits of a fruit-packed diet. Maybe. Over the years McVities have experimented with several other flavours of jelly including lemon and lime (which were okay) and strawberry (which were just wrong). However, the original orange has been the product's endearing flavour of choice and probably always shall be. So, now for the controversial bit. I wasn't going to get drawn in on the whole cake/biscuit argument. As far as I'm concerned, the clue is in their name. If they were biscuits they'd be called Jaffa Biscuits, surely. But they're not so that's that. Get over it, cake-haters. But here's the definitive answer for those who care: British Customs and Excise took McVities to court in 1991, arguing that McVities had named the product as "Cakes" purely as an exercise to avoid paying Value Added Tax (Cakes and plain biscuits are V.A.T. exempt whilst chocolate biscuits are not!). After a reasonable hearing the court eventually found in favour of McVities and so, legally, Jaffa Cakes are cakes! Hurrah! In summary then, if you're after a tasty, light snack that will satisfy your sweet tooth without troubling your waistline, indulge yourself with 2 or 3 of these beauties.
*** Packing *** Wotsits can be found in distinctively blue-coloured foil bags with white bubble-like lettering emblazoned across an orangey background. This packaging has good and bad points: The foil helps to maintain the freshness of the "really cheesy" treats BUT if you use a bit too much strength when you open the pack you can cause catastrophic failure of the foil resulting in you having to eat your Wotsits off the floor (assuming there's nobody around to see you and that you cats don't beat you to them). Also, it's of no consequence but my wife gets ridiculously angry if I open a packet upside down. Try to annoy your significant other in the same way and let me know how you get on. *** Appearance *** They resemble those little polystyrene packing pellets that they used to use to fill up the voids around electrical equipment when shipping. I'm not sure but, without the addition of the cheesy powder flavouring, they probably taste quite similar too! Certainly the texture when you chew them is reminiscent - they're not very crunchy (which avoids the 'noisy crisp' embarrassment that I seem to suffer with when eating crisps with company) and kind of melt in the mouth to a pulp. It all sounds a lot more unpleasant than the experience truly is! *** Flavour *** In my experience, cheese flavoured snacks never taste exactly of cheese and Wotsits are no exception. I'm finding it difficult to describe just exactly what they taste like but they're very savoury, slightly salty and incredibly "moreish". In fact my mouth is watering now just typing this. Such is the power of the mighty snack! The little orange temptresses tease me even now... *** The "Dark Side" of the Wotsit *** The down-side? Well, such is the nature of the Wotsit that, afetr chewing, they like to form sticky orange blobs which have a great affinity with teeth. They stick to your molars, act as temporary fillings for any cavities that you might have and make little orange highlights between your front teeth which are visible to everyone from quite large distances and can cause embarrassment during job interviews, Wedding photographs, dates with your significant other etc, etc. It's always good practise to pack a toothpick if you know you'll be enjoying a packet with your lunch. Actually, Walkers should supply one. I might suggest that as customer feedback. *** A final warning *** I don't know if this is a deliberate and sadistic act conducted by disgruntled Wotsit employees but, very infrequently, you might find a Wotsit shaped item in your pack that feels slightly heavier than the rest of the pack. Beware! This could be a pellet made up of pure cheesy powder, designed to deceive you. Pop it in your mouth and you'll be instantly overcome with cheesy evilness which will take at least 4 glasses of water to remove. I've only had two such experiences in my Wotsit consuming lifetime but I can remember them both vividly. Indeed, I still wake on occasion in a cold sweat, screaming about my "cheesy orange tongue". It's the snack equivalent of Russian Roulette and I feel it my duty to warn you... However, that said, enjoy! x
Firstly, you're certainly not gonna overlook these on the shelf of your local Newsagent. They come dressed in a bright orange wrapper with "Toffee Crisp" emblazoned across the front in a big fat yellow and brown font. It's pretty garish to say the least but I guess in the cut-and-slash market of your local confectionary stockist Nestle didn't concern themselves with sophistication and reserve. They designed a product that to stand out in a crowd. It does just that! Toffee Crisps have been made in the UK since 1963. I learned that little gem from the Toffee Crisp wiki page! Yes, it has one. Really, who decides to write these things? The bar is a mix of soft toffee and crisped rice, all wrapped up in a thinnish layer of Nestle chocolate and, in my humble opinion, are best eaten at room temperature. The whole fridge thing never seems to work where toffee is involved - it just makes the bar super-brittle. Because of the rice crispies that comprise a fair percentage of the bar it feels like quite a light snack compared to something that contains more biscuit or chocolate. Almost to the point that you can kid yourself into thinking that it's "healthy". Well, everything is relative! As you can imagine, the soft toffee mixes with the crisp rice (which remains crisp in the bar) to give an interesting mix of textures in the mouth. Anyway, here are the stats to make you feel guilty (per bar): Energy: 228 calories Fat: 12.2g Carbs: 27.7g Of course you'd be better off eating an apple or some sort of tofu-enriched wheat-grass smoothie, but as a chocolate bar it's not the worse thing you could choose. If you're fed up with a diet of KitKats and Mars Bars, introduce some more variety into your junk foods of choice and have an occasional Toffee Crisp. You'll be glad you did.
Before I begin, in common with a number of other regular movie reviewers on this site I'm experimenting with a slightly different format for future reviews which should hopefully be easier to read. If well received, I'll continue to use as a model for future reviews. All feedback and comments are welcomed. *** The plot *** It's difficult to do justice to the plot in a succinct few paragraphs without spoiling anything, but I'll do my best to stick to an outline. Don't worry! You won't find any spoilers! The Shawshank Redemption is a prison drama based on a short story penned by Steven King, "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption", written in 1982. Shawshank State Prison is a fictional penitentiary in Maine, USA. The movie was actually filmed in the Ohio State Reformatory which has been widely used as a set for various other prison dramas because of its imposing architecture. The film is narrated by an inmate known as Red who we learn more about as the movie progresses. It takes place in the latter half of the Forties and the plot centres around a young banker, Andy Dufresne. On the basis of wholly circumstantial evidence Andy is found guilty of murdering his wife and her lover and is given two life sentences to be served at the infamous Shawshank State Prison. Shortly after starting his new life behind bars, Andy befriends Red, a Shawshank veteran who has already served 20 years of a life sentence but details of his crime are not revealed. Red proves to be a useful friend to have as he is somewhat of a merchant, specialising in supplying the prison's black market. In order to help decorate Andy's cell he is even able to provide a poster of Rita Hayworth, which explains Steven King's original title. The story unfolds to describe Andy's experiences in the penitentiary. By interesting happenstance he learns that he can make his life much easier by drawing on his financial experience to help the guards out with various tax and other monetary issues. In turn the grateful guards reward him with certain privileges. Years into his sentence Andy's relatively comfortable prison life is turned upside down when a new inmate is transferred to Shawshank. Tommy Williams has a revelation regarding Andy's original conviction... That's as much as I'd like to say about the plot. Just be assured that they story is compelling and Red's narrative gives the storytelling a unique dimension which gives the impression of a novel and helps to draw you in. *** The players and characters *** Central to the film is the relationship between Andy (played by Tim Robbins) and Red (Morgan Freeman - I always thought his surname quite ironic in view of the nature of the movie!). Interestingly, in King's original story, Red is described as an Irish man (presumably then, of white ethnicity) with vividly ginger hair, leading one to naturally presume that such a physical feature explains the origins of his nickname (his full name is never mentioned). This led to an issue with casting. Several actors of considerable stature were considered for the role including Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman. When the decision was eventually made to cast Morgan Freeman, an African-American actor, in the role of Red the screenwriters had an immediate problem to resolve. They obviously needed to find some other way of explaining his nickname. Some way into the movie we learn that Red's actual name is Ellis Boyd Redding. Problem solved. Casting for the leading role of Andy Dufresne was a convoluted process fraught with rejection. Tom Hanks was originally offered the role. Although Tom was quoted as saying he would have loved the opportunity to join the cast he had to turn it down because he had just accepted the lead in the eponymously titled Forrest Gump (more about that later). Kevin Costner was then offered the character but, again, he turned it down as he was due to start filming Waterworld - surely a decision he still rues to this day! Anyway, Hank's and Costner's prior commitments led to Tim Robbins subsequent acceptance and most fans will agree that it's difficult to believe that anyone else could have portrayed the role more convincingly. Shawshank's Warden, God-fearing but sadistic Samuel Norton, is another prominent character who through an especially cruel betrayal you will grow to hate (the best possible compliment an actor in such a role can hope for). The Warden is played with effortless menace by Bob Gunton. Gunton is one of those actors you will likely "never have heard of" but will recognise from being in countless other films. He chooses his roles very carefully and is usually reason enough for watching a film in which he has been cast. The supporting cast are numerous and comprise the various inmates and guards that surround Andy and Red. Especially worthy of mention is "The Sisters", a particularly brutal prison gang headed up by their leader "Bogs Diamond". These actors fulfil their roles so convincingly that I'm sure I'd fear them if I ever met them for real! Each character is portrayed wonderfully and a large part of the film's success results from the role these more 'minor' actors perform in supporting the lead cast. On occasions it feels like you're watching a repertory performance, the characters interactions being so effortlessly natural and credible. *** Summary and opinion *** The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for 7 Oscars in the 1994 Academy Awards including the prestigious categories of "Best Picture" and "Best Actor" (for Morgan Freeman). Sadly it failed to win any of them being overshadowed by that year's other critically acclaimed production, Forrest Gump (maybe validating Tom Hank's decision to take that role). Although I'm certain that the actors, Director and production crew are both humbled and grateful by the huge amount public recognition and acclaim for their movie, consistently receiving Top 5 positions in popular polls of "Greatest Movies of All Time" and currently occupying the top spot of the IMDB's list, beating its next rival "The Godfather" by around 75000 votes, I still feel it's a travesty that this incredible work was overlooked and didn't achieve the critical plaudits from its peers that it so richly deserved. The movie was directed masterfully by Frank Darabont who so impressed the writer that he later went on to direct Steven King's other great prison epic, The Green Mile. It's a beautifully shot film with incredibly strong acting throughout and a wonderfully evocative musical score. One gets the impression that this was a labour of love for every member of the cast and crew, perhaps knowing that they were creating something special. To summarise then, The Shawshank Redemption is deserving of the accolade of a modern classic. Cynics often bemoan cinema as being somewhat less of an expressive art-form in comparison to prose and the written word. I absolutely disagree. This is a genuinely beautiful, moving, life-affirming piece of cinematography. Ultimately it's a film about the power of the human spirit and questions notions of freedom and everyone should have the pleasure of watching it. Indeed, it would be a crime not to. *** DVD Details *** Original year of release: 1994 Movie running time: 142 minutes DVD Extras: Original theatrical trailer; Interviews with the cast; Documentary: "Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature" includes interviews with the cast, crew and production team Current price (amazon.co.uk): £2.98
I recently purchased my first backpack from JanSport and thought it might be useful to relate my thoughts. JanSport, based in the USA, offer a huge range of bags, packs and other luggage. For the purposes of this review I'll be concentrating on the 'model' I purchased; the "Trinity" backpack. Mine is a drab olive green colour but it's also available in a huge range of other colour combinations - definitely something to suit all ages and tastes. Let's start with the most important factor: Storage: There's a small padded section on the top of the pack which is called the v-loft pocket (nope, I don't know where the name came from either) which is perfect for your phone and MP3 player. Indeed, there is a small exit port (which is protected from rain ingress) through which you can feed the cable for your headphones so that your player is safely protected from the elements (and any light-fingered Artful Dodger types) on your back whilst your listen to your tunes. It's a nicely thought-out addition. The main compartment of the pack is divided into two, with the very padded back section able to house a typical 15 inch laptop. The material feels substantial and strong so, although I haven't actually used the laptop pouch, I would have no worries about doing so. The other section of the main compartment is huge. I'm currently studying a course for work so I routinely carry around thick A4 folders, notebooks and large textbooks - space has never been an issue. There is an additional zippered section on the front of the pack which is called the accessory pocket. This provides ready access to any bits and bobs you might need in a hurry and contains an organiser section with little pockets to store pens, memory keys and other small essentials. Finally, the small zippered front section is primarily designed (I assume) as an area in which you can keep your wallet/purse. It includes a key-chain attachment which is sewn into the bag which you can attach your house-key, locker key or whatever so that you don't have to spend time rooting around in the bottom of your bag trying to locate it. The ergonomically designed "Airlight S-Curved, dual density foam" (!!!) shoulder straps are substantial, very well padded, fully adjustable and really comfortable. If you, as I do, carry your pack on one shoulder the good news is that it stays put and never feels like it will slip. The straps incorporate a breathable mesh on the side which contacts your shoulder. This means that you'll never end up with "sweaty strap syndrome", even on the hottest of days. In addition to the shoulder straps, the backpack also has a padded grip handle on the top so it can be carried like a more traditional bag. I've found this useful in crowded areas where the bag is likely to knock into people if worn on the back. All areas of potential stress have been reinforced with small webbing straps and each zip has an attached webbing fob which means they're all easy to find and open/close, even with cold fingers. Little touches like these all add to the pack's appeal and definitely give a feeling of design and overall quality. The useful dimensions are: Size: 30cm (width) x 50cm (height) x 21cm (depth). This gives an interior volume of 30 litres. Such figures are always a bit abstract, I think, but let me tell you that they translate to a pack that is more than large enough for most people's day-to-day requirements, without being overly big. I hope that makes some sense. In summary then, the JanSport Trinity is a well thought out, extremely useable and very comfortable backpack. I paid less than £24 for mine through ePacks.co.uk. Certain colour combinations are even cheaper. JanSport's RRP for the pack is £29.99. If backpacks are your thing you'll do well to add this one to your list to consider.
Olbas Oil was developed in Switzerland over 100 years ago as remedy for a variety of illnesses but was primarily developed as a decongestant and an aid to breathing. The oil is itself a proprietary blend of four naturally occuring essential oils. The label gives the composition as being 20% Cajuput Oil (which is apparently obtained from the leaves of a tree called the myrtaceous tree which grows in Australia), 20% Eucalyptus Oil, 40% Levomenthol and 20% Peppermint Oil. Such detail probably doesn't mean too much to you but suffice to say that the resulting mixture provides a wonderfully warming and soothing smell which cuts through any nasal congestion really quickly (in my experience anyway) to provide relief from head-colds and other such ailments. How does it work? Well, I looked into the technicalities and it seems like each time you take a sniff you inhale some vapourised oil. Blood in inflamed nasal passages, being water based, doesn't like mixing with oil and so is repelled, temporarily reducing inflamation and swelling. Don't worry. That's enough of a science lesson for today! All I can say for sure is that based on my own experience, it certainly does work and it works quickly. The Olbas Inhaler is a hard plastic vessel with small holes either end to allow air flow. Inside this plastic case is a hard 'sponge' like material which has been soaked in the oil. The stick is placed a small way into a nostril, the other nostril is closed and the vapours are inhaled. The benefits are immediate. The best thing about the inhaler form is that it is so easy to carry around. The inhaler will happily sit in a pocket and is, therefore, always available when you feel like you need another dose. The instructions written on the tube state that you shouldn't use the nasal stick more than 4 times per hour. I can say that I have exceeded this dosage without ill effect. The soothing nature and sense of calm that the oils provide make it impossible for me to resist for as long as 15 minutes! It might seem like a weird time to be reviewing what most people would consider a "winter product", but interestingly I find that the oil also helps to alleviate the symptoms of hay-fever. I can't promise it will work for you but perhaps it's worth a try? Olbas Inhalers can be found at pretty much any chemist and most supermarkets with medicinal sections. Prices vary but they normally cost between £2.25 and £2.50 each. With occasional use I find an inhaler will last at least a couple of months before the oils noticebly start to lose their potency.
Lunch at work never feels quite complete to me without a packet of crisps to follow my sandwich. However, crisps tend to undo the good work I've put into conscientiously choosing a healthy sarnie. Step forwards Walker Quavers. They're a very light and crisp snack formed from potato starch. They're not shaped like more traditional crisps. Rather, they are formed into interesting twisty, curly shapes. Like fingerprints, no two Quavers are quite the same. Probably. Anyway, these somewhat irregular forms likely make zero difference to how they taste but it does ensure that they make quite a racket as you bite and chew them! They're one of the noisiest snacks I can think of. They're a very flavoursome treat, but walk that fine line of never tasting too cheesy which is appealing to me. They have a 'melt in the mouth' feel and are definitely worth savouring. Here's the boring but necessary nutritional bit: Each pack contains just 87 calories and 4.9g of fat - if eaten moderately neither figure is going to contribute to an expanding waistline. In line with most Walkers crisps, they have been recently reformulated and are touted at containing 80% less saturated fat than the previous recipe which must be a good thing. I almost exclusively choose the original cheese flavour, but they're also available in salt and vinegar and prawn-cocktail variations, both of which are also very nice and give an occasional change. So, to summarise, you get to enjoy a really tasty, crispy snack which is less calorific and fatty than most other crispy snacks. Both your stomach and your mind will be satisfied and you can be assured that you haven't done yourself much nutritional mischief. Unless you eat 12 packets back-to-back, that is.
Cannery Row was written by John Steinbeck in 1945. John, of part-Irish, part-German descent, was 43 at the time of writing. Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California. After dropping out of Stanford University in his early 20s circumstances saw him eventually living and writing in Monterey which is how he came to know Cannery Row, about which he writes so fondly and vividly. The novel then is based on an actual area in Monterey known as Cannery Row, so called because of the huge concentration of sardine canneries which proliferated the area during the last century. Cannery Row still exists, albeit these days it is a beautifully quaint tourist trap full of little restaurants, artisan shops and other stores which sell memorabilia created around Steinbeck. I was lucky enough to visit just a couple of years ago and can recommend a visit, but that's a whole different review! The book paints a vivid picture of the inhabitants of the Row and, through a series of interlinked stories, describes a period of American History through the Great Depression. The main thread of the story centres around Mack, a poor but well-respected alcoholic and part-time con man, and the friends with whom he shares his home, a place affectionately known as 'The Palace Flophouse and Grill'. The boys decide to throw a party for another resident of Cannery Row known as the Doc. Things don't go quite according to plan and the party-goers end up completely wrecking Doc's home. So, quite naturally, Mack decides that the best possible way to make amends and get back into Doc's good-books is to throw another party... Of the 19 novels that Steinbeck penned, Cannery Row is one of the better known. It's a rather short read but rewards with an enjoyable story, wonderful characters and bittersweet plot twists. In these days where people are starting to recognise the dangers of rampant consumerism (thank you, credit-crunch), Cannery Row proves just how insignificant material wealth is compared to more important factors like friendship and love. Thoroughly recommended. Cannery Row is available for £5.99 on Amazon.
Jamie's Dinners was first published in 2004 and, as with most of Jamie's books, it was accompanied by a complimentary BBC series which focussed on a slection of recipes from the book, delivered in Jamie's characteristic fashion. It is squarely aimed at the average family and aims to provide unfussy meals which can be recreated at home without any hassle, special techniques or hard-to-find ingredients. The book is logically divided into 11 main chapters which each deal with a particular style of cooking or group of ingredients. So, as you would imagine, there are individual chapters on Meat, Fish, Pasta, Soups, Vegetables, etc. Interestingly, however, and decidely non-snobbishly, there's also a section entitled "Sarnies" which details with the fine art of sandwich making. In the introduction to this part of the book Jamie talks about his mate John who has a taste for peanut butter, banana and bacon sanwiches! Thankfully, that perticular recipe isn't covered in any more detail but Jamies own invention of a "Double-decker cheddar cheese sandwich with pickled onions and crisps" is! You can't call the man a food snob. Another interesting chapter (the first one, actually) is called "The Top 10" and comprises of 10 fairly simple recipes which Jamie counts as his favourites. So we are presented with "The Best Sausage and Mash with Onion Gravy" (which I attempted and was fabulous), "The Ultimate Burger and Chips", "Apple Pie" and "Chicken Tikka Masala". All the recipes are presented as you would imagine - unpretentiously and with Jamie's usual charm. Directions are simple and straightforward and even a novice like me had fun preparing the recipes. A large format book, Jamie's Dinners, The Essential Family Cookbook is currently available through Amazon for £18.99 in hardback or £8.61 for the softback version which I own and which feels like it will last. For anyone who would like to improve their diet by cooking simple(ish) meals at home, this book is recommended as a good place to start.
Transformers, a cartoon from Japan about battling robots with the ability to "transform" into vehicles to disguise their true nature, first appeared on UK screens way back in 1985. It was virtually an overnight success and spawned a massive merchandising business - kids all over the country wanted to own their own miniature versions of the robots which could transform into cars, trucks and aircraft. Like all such trends, eventually children grew tired of the toys, and of the show, and moved on to the next best thing. Things went quiet until Steven Speilberg, as Executive Director, and acclaimed Director Michael Mann decided to resurrect the concept as a live-action movie utilising the massive advances in cinematograpy and animation which have been made since the cartoon appeared. Summer 2007 saw their efforts released worldwide. Very briefly, the film's plot centres around the ongoing war between the Autobots (the good transformers) and the Decepticons (the baddies) and their race to recover the "All Spark", an ancient artefact which has the power to create or destory worlds. Both factions trace the All Spark to earth where it is being held in a secret facility below the Hoover Damn by the US government, along with Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, who is frozen in permafrost. The film stars Shia LeBeouf, who seems to pop up in everything these days, as Sam Witwicky, a geeky American teen with a crush on his classmate Mikaela Banes, played by the gorgeous Megan Fox. Sam has a pair of spectacles which belonged to his grandfather and which, unbeknown to him, contain a map critical to retrieving the All Spark. The transformers learn of Sam's possession and immediately race to retrieve it from him. Meanwhile, in an effort to impress Mikaela, Sam sets out to buy a car and ends up with "Bumblebee", a black and yellow classic Camaro who also happens to be an Autobot charged with protecting Sam... What follows is a frantic, breathless movie which never drops in pace and which continually delights and stuns with its effects, moments of humour and epic fights. 40 foot robots punching and kicking the heck out of each other - what's not to love!?! This is the first Blu-ray movie I have bought having only had my player a couple of days. It absolutely blew me away in terms of quality - both the visuals and the audio is incredible. Everyone talks about how much better HD looks, and it's very true, but don't underestimate the difference in sound quality either. The initial attack on the US base by "Blackout", the particularly nasty helicopter-Decepticon is amazing. The thump, thump of the rotor blades as it comes into land, followed by the noise of the transformation and then the explosions and fire-fight that follows literally shook my living room! I just stood there with this big grin on my face like a child at Christmas. I swear the noise moved my hair! While we're talking about audio, as a side note, and because it was bugging me throughout the film, Hugo Weaving provides the voice for Megatron. You'll probably know Hugo better as Agent Smith from the Matrix Trilogy. Tranformers is listed as running for 138 minutes which seems long for a film of this type but you won't notice it. The film flows from set-piece to set-piece in a way which will keep you entertained and amazed from the opening scenes to the final show down. Don't miss this film by considering it only for children. You'll be missing out on a fantastic experience made all the better on the Blu-ray release.