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The Hunger Games is set in a totalitarian, dystopian near future where in retaliation to a kind of ?Peasants Revolt? against the government and capital an annual tournament is held where only the last survivor lives.
Each district must send two to fight in the tournament, this is called ?the reaping? the worst part of this is that it's just children who are ?reaped?. Who is selected is taken by lottery. The battles are shown on TV as a kind of sadistic entertainment and as a way of putting the people in their place.
The tournament is brutal and manipulated by the show runners, in a similar way to the Truman Show. Katniss Everdeen from district 12 volunteers in place of her much younger sister, Primrose, and along with a male contender Peeta Mellark are sent for training and eventually transported into the games.
The star here is relative newcomer Jennifer Lawrence who I believe has done an excellent job. You really feel for her emotionally, as her sisters name is called and later on as very young children are terrorised and worse in the name of entertainment.
Co-star here is Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, a very reluctant and kind of weedy teenager who I kind of had mixed feeling about. He is a good guy really but a bit cowardly.
Donald Sutherland is the big name here, but is hardly on screen. He is of course a massive on screen presence and despite limited screen time, you really know he is bad and unredeemable.
The special effects are very good here, especially during the games, there is quite a lot of CGI but it's not overused. It's a good looking film for sure.
My main criticism is the film's length, the first act is quite a bit too long. I think 15-20 mins could be trimmed off the start with little or no loss to the film as a whole. It's also derivative of many othe films, especially ?Battle Royale? and ?The Running Man?.
I would definitely recommend checking it out, I look forward to watching the sequel
The Ultra Secret
Station X was the nickname given to the code breaking establishment at Bletchley Park near what is now Milton Keynes. Here during world war two vital secret messages were broken that reduced the length of the war and saved many lives.
The highly secret nature of this work meant that their story didn't become public for decades. Some secrets will probably never come out. ?Ultra? was the code for the intelligence gathered, because it was so important and vital to the war effort.
This book is the story of how these talented people broke the Enigma code and an even more complex code called ?Tunny?, much more complex and used by the German high command, including Hitler himself. The code breakers, with little to go on managed to break this difficult code and to do this produced what is recognised now as the world's first programmable computer, dubbed ?Colossus?.
It's a fascinating read, that is very well written. The author has a great passion for the subject and this comes through. It's not a heavy read either.
The book really gives you an idea of the odds against the code breakers and how the geniuses working there broke the codes against all odds. There were some real characters working here and their story is told here.
The book also tells the story of Alan Turing, a true genius and pioneer who sadly never received the recognition her deserved in his lifetime. Sadly most of the people who worked here have died, but their legacy lives on and is perfectly retold here.
This book helps to finally give credit to those who really deserve it. There was also a TV series for the book but this is hard to get hold of, so this is an excellent insight into the lives and vital work. I have read it a number of times and each time am amazed at their achievements. I would highly recommend looking it up.
Just because you're paranoid
Michael Faraday (no relation to the famous scientist) is a college professor whose FBI agent wife got murdered by an extremest group. He has since become obsessed by these groups, so when a new neighbour starts to behave strangely he becomes convinced he is not what he seems. Is he going insane.
Arlington road is a physiological thriller starring Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins. Two of my favourite actors, and they do no disappoint. Joan Cusak also co-starts as Tim Robbin's wife who seems far too nice and wholesome.
The film treads the line between Faraday's paranoia and possible reality very well. It doesn't go too far down either road too soon.
The supporting cast are also very good, especially Spencer Treat Clark as Faraday's son who has really not been having a good time of it.
The film looks really good and does not use the shacky close ups of many recent films to create tension. It relys on the story to do this. The music is also suitable subdued and under stated that really helps to create a tense atmosphere right from the start.
I found the ending to be worth the wait, it really does have you going right until the end, gradually increasing the tension over the duration of the film. It is not over long either.
Summing up, I would say that Arlington road is a smart thriller, good acting and a good story for once combine to make a great film. It's nice that there are not many car chases and special effects here. They have become overused and often unnecessary. I would definitely recommend this film, it's great Saturday night viewing.
A group of cave explorers descend into a vast underground system under a collapsed church, but they are not alone, and time is running out.
A group of military personnel go to a Romanian church where a cave system exits looking for treasure, but the church collapses around them. Cut to the present day and the church has been cleared of rubble and a group of underwater cave explorers come in, but there are strange creatures lurking in the darkness with them.
There is only one actor I know in the film, that is Lena Headey, who I know from 300 and Game of Thrones. All the other actors are new on me. It's often on lower budget films that one actor will be recognised and the rest unknown to draw people in.
Lena Headey does what she can with a weak script and poorly sketched out character, it's a million miles from Game of Thrones though. The other actors do a good enough job, although I couldn't name any of them. One thing of note is that all the actors look great, I can't imagine in real life that they would look so good.
This is director Bruce Hunt's first film and so far his only film. I found that there were some really beautiful scenes. However, many of the scenes were cut way too fast, it almost made me feel dizzy. There were also too many close ups, I know they are trying to convey a claustrophobic setting but I found it to be a bit too much. I often lost track of what is happening during the action scenes.
Visuals and Sound
Visually I found the film the be hit and miss. While there are some beautiful scenes of underground caverns with stalagmites and stalagmites, this is interspersed with some ropey CGI creatures who bear a striking similarity to the alien in Alien, at least in the early parts of the film. I found the music to be very over the top and over dramatic, it never produces any elements of tension, it just telegraphs that something bad is going to happen all the time.
One goof in my eyes is that they can talk to each other underwater, even though they have their mouthpieces in. I'm pretty sure that is not possible.
This film is not going to win any awards, however there are some redeeming qualities. It looks nice and does not overstay it's welcome. I'd say it's a reasonably good looking B movie really. If there's not a lot on one night and you're at a loose end it might be worth a look, but don't go out of your way to watch it.
A space shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope goes wrong when debris comes in and causes mayhem. Can the survivors get back to Earth alive.
The plot to gravity is very simple, it's a disaster movie at heart with just one plot point, survive and get home. It's exactly what I was expecting. There are some elements that anyone with a little interest in the space program would be able to debunk, things that are not possible, including a space station that is barely built and would be unreachable in reality.
There are really only two characters with any real input, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. The other characters have very little to say and are generally just in the background for the first ten minutes or so of the film.
The main character, Ryan Stone, is played by Sandra Bullock. She plays a mission specialist sent up to perform a repair on the Hubble. She is actually a medical doctor, so I'm not totally convinced of her credentials but there you go. Her performance is very good and it must have been difficult working with almost all green screen scenes. I would imagine that's quite difficulty, and lots of wire work too.
George Clooney is second only to Bullock for screen time, he plays Matt Kowalski, a smooth talking and calm under pressure guy, who NASA would describe as having "the right stuff". He is really just playing George Clooney, a kind of Danny Ocean in space. His portrayal of calmness under pressure is however excellent, and just what you'd expect from a senior Astronaut.
Visuals and Sound
The real star of the film are the special effects. This is one of the few films I really wanted to see in 3D as even Mark Kermode recommended it and he was not wrong. It's the best use of 3D I've seen to date, but it still feels too layered to me. However, it was worth the extra and I'm sure it won't work as well at home.
The attention to detail is second to none. The fictional space shuttle really looks the part as does the Hubble. The ISS looks very accurate to me as is the Russian Soyuz capsule. It's all very effective.
On the whole I enjoyed Gravity. The acting ability of the starts doesn't really come into too much, they are more than adequate for the roles. The hour and a half length is just about bang on, any longer it would become boring, any less and I'd feel short changed.
The only thing that lets it down in my eyes are the lucky coincidences that occur, but this is fiction after all. There are also a few moments where I was thinking ,"Yeah right" as the world of Hollywood leaks into the film.
These are minor criticisms however, I did thoroughly enjoy the film and would definitely recommend seeing it, especially in 3D.
A German bounty hunter frees a slave who he needs to help him and forms an unlikely partnership with the man who agrees to help him free his still enslaved wife.
The plot here is relatively straightforward here, and is linear in structure unlike previous Tarantino film Pulp Fiction. It's exactly what it needs to be for a revenge film, a little like his previous Kill Bill films which I personally found disappointing. Don't expect to be working your brain too much.
The title character is not really the star in my opinion, that honour goes to the excellent Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, who excelled in Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds" and stole the show. He does the same again as Dentist cum bounty hunter, Dr King Schults. He steals every scene he is in and really makes the dialogue work. I hope to see much more of him.
Jamie Foxx plays the time charater known only ads Django. I like Foxx's acting, a lot more than his music. However, I find him a little weak here. What works for him so well in a film like Collateral doesn't quite work so well here. That's not to say it's a poor performance because it isn't. I just felt he needed more intensity.
Leonard DiCaprio almost steals Waltz's thunder as Calvin Candie, a wise talking but psychopathic slave owner. He is clever and cunning and can be smiling at you while he's stabbing you in the back. DiCaprio gets this cunningness over to a tee, and every scene he is in is tense. He's come a long way since Titanic, that's for sure.
Tarantino favourite, the ever reliable Samuel L Jackson is excellent as a "Uncle Tom" slave who sucks up to his master but it cunning in his own way. He does have some key roles and is really playing against type as a kind of baddie.
Quentin Tarantino can't act, but it is funny to see him try, his films are very tongue in cheek so it's not a spoiler.
Visuals and Sound
Tarantino is known for his unusual visuals and clever scenes and this unorthodox use of music and this continues here, perhaps in a slight more toned down way. The night scenes are especially good. The blu-ray transfer is excellent.
A new Tarantino film is an event and I generally enjoy his films a lot. It doesn't quite reach the heights of Inglorious or I believe his best film, Pulp Fiction. It is however a lot of fun and great to watch. It's worth seeing for Walt's performance alone. DiCaprio also makes the film compelling. Django himself it almost just the catalyst for their adventure, to move the story along.
There are some problems however, the last act is too long and almost unnecessary, and there is a lengthy comic scene around half way through that ruins the pacing and serves no useful purpose and could easily have been left on the cutting room floor.
This is still a great film and I would heartily recommend anyone who can stomach some blood and almost comic violence. This is Tarantino after all, you know what you're letting yourself in for. It looks great on blu-ray too.
Nuke Your Food On The Cheap
I don't have much luck with microwave ovens. Expensive ones I've bought don't seem to last any better than budget ones. So when my more expensive DeLonghi oven went to the big kitchen in the sky I thought a budget one was in order.
I looked around on the internet and supermarkets like ASDA and they do have some very good values ones on offer but most look cheap and nasty rather than cheap and cheerful. Then I can across this on a Sainsbury's shopping trip.
What first attracted me to it was the nice stainless steel casing. It replaces a stainless steel microwave and matches in with the rest of my kitchen appliances. The next thing is the price, it was £40 knocked down from £80, so half price. At £80 it would be way too to be called budget, but £40 makes it worth the little extra from a plastic one. The case does attract finger prints easily but that's to be expected.
At 800 watts this is no slouch, my last one was 900 so there's not too much discernible difference. The controls are a manual rather than touch panel and to be honest I think this makes it look more expensive and I like that. Operating it is relatively easy, although I must admit I grudgingly had to look at the manual to work a few things out. But five minutes later, no problem. The rotatory knob makes selecting a cooking time quick. There is a very handy minute button that can be pressed multiple times. Although I think 30 second increments would be more useful. It has the usual loud beep when it's finished.
The microwave itself is relatively compact, I cannot get out large plates in due to their unusual oval shape but a regular large round plate just fits inside (I did check before purchasing). At 20 litres capacity it just about gets me by. Internally it's not quite so stylish, just grey but it is nice and easy to clean.
The actual main function of microwaving food is not noticeably any different to similar power microwaves I've owned in the past, some of them being much more expensive. It is also fairly quiet for a microwave, it hums away quite nicely and so far I've remembered not to but anything metal in it! So far I've used it for bakes potatoes, curries, baked beans etc. and they have all come out as I have expected.
Summing up, if you can pick this up half price then you will have a microwave that functions well and looks quite a bit more expensive than it is. If it lasts me a couple of years I won't be complaining, but hopefully it will last longer than that. It's powerful, quiet and has a good enough capacity for most things, although a little bigger would have been nice in hindsight. It certainly looks sturdy enough to last, so far it's lasted almost a year.
An Alaskan town prepares to go into 24hr darkness for 30 days, but dark forces are coming and the town will not know what hit them.
The plot here is very simple, Vampires come to a town where there is eternal darkness for a whole month, an ideal location for them to do their hunting. Crime is low in the town so some unusual events such as dogs being killed gets a lot of attention.
When the vampires are revealed, a battle for survival ensues with the surviving few against the undead invaders.
The big name actor here is Josh Hartness as Eben Olson, the town's Sheriff , he comes across as harsh but fair and obviously cares about the town's few inhabitants. I thought his performance was very good given the limited role.
Melissa George plays the Sheriff's estranged wife, she used to be in "Home and Away" apparently. She is not the greatest actor in the work, but she is good enough to be in this and is obviously there for a bit of eye candy.
It's odd seeing Spartacus star Manu Bennet in a role where he gets to keep his clothes on, he is good but has limited screen time.
The head vampire is well played by Italian actor Danny Huston, he is certainly creepy enough.
The director, David Slade, does a reasonable job, he recently directed some episodes in the excellent Hannibal series and Twilight Eclipse, so vampires and darkness are a theme for him. The biggest mistake he made I feel is the pacing.
Visuals and Sound
I really liked the feel of the town, you get a feeling of the isolation right from the outset. It's not "The Shining" but you get the idea. One off putting element was the head vampire's very neat haircut, also he looks like Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys. The gore is done well, and it really does suit this kind of slasher movie.
The special effects and CGI are all well done, I wonder how much tomato ketchup they got through?
The music and sound are perfectly adequate for this genre, lots of screaming and sometimes intense music, along with some creepier sounds and music. It works well.
This is not a film I would watch again. It's not that it's all that bad, it's just there are so many similar movies. Sometimes it actually reminded me of some episodes of the X Files. They did that in a TV series, often better.
I found the pacing of the film to be poor, the build-up is good but suddenly all hell lets loose releasing all that tension far too quickly. Giving away too much in the process. It should have increased pace slower.
The town's folk also make some very questionable decisions that distract from the main plot. The vampires also get some help from a stranger with bad teeth who despite standing out like a sore thumb manages to get hold of lots of mobile phones to destroy any nobody sees him doing this. This is one of the main problems with the plot and takes away from the movie.
This is certainly no classic such as "The Lost Boys" or even "Interview with the Vampire". If you're after something to watch that doesn't require any thought then it's worth a look but not worth buying. So, not too bad, but really it's only a B movie.
A huge freight train with dangerous chemicals on board goes runaway and there's another train full of children on the track and a highly populated city in its path. It's a race against time to avert disaster.
A railroad worker leaves his train to set some points but is unable to get back on leaving the train with no brakes and driverless while it powers its way through the countryside. It will come into the path of a train full of schoolchildren and most disturbingly could destroy a large part of a city.
The premise is of course very simple. Scott adds in some personal drams as Chris Pine's character is seen to have special treatment as his family is associated with the railway and he has problems with his other half.
The film is inspired by real life events that happened in Ohio, where a train became a runaway after the operator mistakenly believed he had set the brakes on.
Denzel Washington continues his collaboration with Tony Scott, and this is sadly his last. He is always very watchable and this is no exception. He plays a washed up but still great at his job train driver who is about to be made redundant.
Chris Pine, who I remember for his excellent portrayal of the young Captain Kirk in Star Trek is excellent as Will. A man with personal demons and lots to contend with in his personal and work lives. He gives a solid performance. I hope he still does smaller films now he has found fame.
Visuals and Sound
Tony Scott had really honed his art when can to thrillers like this and it certainly has the look of recent Scott films, such as De ja vu etc. He uses a less CGI than you'd expect in a film of this kind, or if he did it's very subtle.
The music is very energetic as you'd expect, standard action film stuff.
It's very sad that this is the last ever Tony Scott film, it's not his best ever film but it is unmistakably a Tony Scott film. I certainly enjoyed this a lot more than his remake of The Taking of Pelham 123. There are some unbelievably narrow escapes, but after all this is a film not a documentary.
The plot is thin but that is really what I expected in a film about a runaway train. Scott even manages to get in some corporate bad guys who value money over lives, a sadly all too familiar story in real life. It's hard to care about what happens to most of the characters as they're not fleshed out very much at all, but this film is all about the train and the adrenalin rush.
If you get a chance to see this on TV it is great weekend evening fodder. It's not up with Scott's best work which for me is "Crimson Tide" but it's very watchable and great entertainment. Goodbye Tony and thanks for the entertainment.
A journalist and his attorney go on two drug fuelled visits to the sin city of Las Vegas. There they go on various trips fuelled by a myriad of different illegal drugs.
There really is very little to no plot at all, the whole film is really just a look into the mind of two drugged up people in the aftermath of the 60s hippie culture. It's a look inside the mind of halucangenc drug use but does not go into its consequences.
There is a lot of comedy here, but it is very dark comedy. Dr Gonzo's character does put my on edge as he seems to be borderline violent and could do anything at any time.
Johnny Depp and Benico Del Torro really perform here, I can imagine playing characters off their head constantly on drugs must be quite difficult and tiring. What really makes the film is Depp's narration, without it the film would not work at all. It's a shame Depp doesn't make so many unusual film roles these days, he is very good at it. Too much Jack Sparrow I think.
Terry Gillian's past work makes him an ideal choice to direct this film. He make a great job of portraying the characters descent into their drug fuelled psychedelic world excellently. He gets a lot out of his actors here too.
Visuals and Sound
Terry Gillian is the master of visuals, he has been brought up through the non CGI days and he knows not to overuse them. The music is an almost constant ream of 60s hippie music, most notably "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane in a memorable scene. The floors move and characters heads suddenly turn into fish type faces. It's hard to think of anyone but Terry Gillian being able to pull it off so well.
I find it a very hard film to put my finger on. It's not a film I would watch again but I am glad I've seen it. I can understand the many bad reviews, the film goes nowhere and you really don't care about the characters. I think this is the point of the film. I've never read the book but I understand it is quite faithful to it.
How much is real and how much is imagined is open to interpretation. I think this is the point of the film and also I believe the famous book of the same name by Hunter S. Thompson. It's hard to imagine the film being made by any else but ex Monty Python,Terry Gillian, it's really a perfect fit for him.
It could be seen to glorify drugs, I'm not so sure about that, it doesn't seem to be all that much fun to me, although there are not too many consequences to their actions are . The running length is about right, I didn't get bored, but I can't say I was always giving it my full attention. I can see why it's now a cult classic. It's definitely worth a watch.
In the near future a deadly contagion means that almost all humans now live in a containment facility, the only escape is by winning a lottery to be taken to the promised land of "The Island". However, one of the inhabitants of the facility starts to ask questions, and some things don't seem to add up. There's a lot more going on than there first seems.
The story here is not perhaps the most original ever. The first half of the film had me thinking about the Truman show. The second part of the film becomes in effect a chase, you can definitely see in the second part that it's a Michael Bay film, who is probably most famous for the Transformers franchise. There are certainly some very predictable moments.
The biggest problem with the plot from my point of view is that there are some scenes where in reality nobody would survive but they effectively brush themselves off and walk ok. It reminds me of the scene in blues brothers where Carrie Fishes blows up the building, but that was comedy.
Michael Bay is at the helm and anyone who knows his work will not be surprised with what they're watching. Lots of action is what he does. His most famous work is probably Transformers. I preferred this to those films. The least said about Pearl Harbour the better.
The acting talent on show here is one of the main reasons I watched. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson have very good on screen chemistry. Sean Bean pays almost the opposite role to his part in Equilibrium.
Djimon Honsou, everyone's favourite gladiator after Russell Crowe is cast against type as a hired gun. He is always very watchable but I wish he would be given bigger roles.
Steve Buscemi has another bit part to add to his many. He is as always excellent, he makes it look effortless even if he does come across similar in most roles. Sean Bean also doesn't seem to get starring roles, but what he does he does well and he is basically acting being an actor in a sense.
The supporting cast are all more than adequate.
Visuals and Sound
The visuals in the film draw many comparisons with futuristic films both old and new. The white suits the survivors wear reminded me of Logan's Run. The CGI visuals are very much in the Minority Report mould, or even iRobot. Sometimes is can become a bit too much visually, especially in the chase scenes.
Despite the obvious comparisons with many other science fiction films I did enjoy The Island a lot more fun than I was expecting. It's not going to win any originality awards but for all out fun with a little something to think about then you can do much worse.
The idea of being in a prison but not knowing definitely draws parallels to the Matrix. "How can you be in a prison but not know you're in a prison, if you're born In the prison" The Truman show also is also the same premise.
McGreggor and Johansson work well on screen together and despite some unbelievable action sequences manage to pull it off very well indeed.
On the whole It's well worth a look if it comes of TV.
Cool or Cheap & Nasty?
What did we do before digital cameras, they're so convenient, no more waiting to develop your film to find you had your finger on the lens and sarcastic stickers from the people you're paying to develop them.
This is my third digital camera, Nikon have a good reputation, in the past I'd only tried Olympus cameras. I chose this camera because it has a good specification for the price.
The camera itself is nice and compact, which was an important consideration for me as I like to put it in my bag if possible, even in the case, it fits in nicely. It looks quite sturdy. It is also very stylish and modern looking. It's available in a pink, red, gold and black so should suit most tastes, mine's pink.
The important factor is of course the quality of the pictures. The camera boasts a large 14 Megapixels , my first had 1.3 now that's progress. Of course more megapixels does not a good camera make, unless you want to blow them up. I can happily confirm that the images are good, nice and crisp. They would do not stand up to close scrutiny but for day to day use they're fine.
I took some test night shots using a tripod and the results were good if not great. I think my old Olympus compact was better in this department. Low light photography has always been a bit of a black art I find.
It had a 5x optical zoom, which is a reasonable amount for a compact camera, with a 26mm wide angle lens. This won't be worrying SLR users but for nice holiday pictures etc. you won't be disappointed for the price paid. One complaint I have it that speed of focus is a bit slow.
The screen is a little small, but it adequate. It has a rechargeable battery, which is nice but does mean you are limited if it runs out on the road. It is supplied with a USB cable that also plus into a charger, and strap, I had no problems upload the images to my PC.
It is a simple camera to use; it really is point and click. Face detection is a nice feature, and generally works well. It will record video up to 720p HD resolution. The video looks good but I'd rather use a dedicated recorder. You will definitely need to purchase a memory card, or you'll be restricted to about 14 photos!
Summing Up, this is a budget camera, so do not expect the world. It's main use I see is for taking family and holiday shots, it's would be ideal as a second camera when you want to leave your expensive camera at home. I think it certainly beats the camera on a majority of phones.
I am pleased with the quality of the pictures and the ease of use, for the price it is excellent value. Amazon currently sell this for £50.
This is one of a pair of fragrances, no prizes for guessing what the other one is called, you got it, "Exhale". It's a unisex fragrance.
This is supposed to be a bit weaker than the Exhale type. This is taken from the "Breath of God", and was created by Simon Constantine and is based on his "Breath of God" fragrances.
The bottle is for want of a better word, boring. It looks like a medicine bottle really, just a dark brown with a black top. Not something to brighten up your dressing table. If that matters to you then avoid it.
It has a screw top lid so you have to be a little careful not to use too much of the oil. It's a nice size to fit in a bag on the plus side, which I think it was designed for.
Is it any good?
The scent itself is not for everyone, it has a kind of fruity smell but I'm not sure it's feminine enough. The description of this by Lush is actually not too far off what I feel you get.
It has an outdoors feel to it, which I believe was intended. Apparently it was inspired by a trip to Tibet, well that's all very nice if you are taken in by marketing blurb. Ultimately, it's your nose that will tell you and mine is sitting on the fence a little on this one.
The good news is that the smell does not fade away too quickly, it could still be smelt several hours after applying it to my skin and that's quite rare I find.
The price for this is £16 for a 15ml bottle, so it's not exactly cheap.
Unfortunately there are no samples available so it's your money at the end of the day but to be honest I'd probably not buy it again as it's just not a scent I think is worth the money.
It has grown on me a little since I first used it but it's not a go to scent for me I'm afraid.