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There aren't that many advantages to having BT as your phone, internet and TV supplier, but one of them is the On Demand service. There are a quite large number of TV programmes, series and films that you can watch whenever you want. Recent offerings on the TV front have been all six series of Lost, the first two series of Cougar Town, seven series of Desperate Housewives and the third series of Big Love. Besides full series of sitcoms, there's a lot of documentary/reality type programmes such as Jersey Shore, Made in Chelsea and so on, and plenty of nature specials. It's a real mixed bag! Anyway, when I'm stuck for something to watch, it's good to have plenty to choose from and I tend to work my way through series that I enjoyed when they were first on, or that I had intended to watch but never got round to. Recently I watched series 1 of the Good Wife, which was available for about three or four months. The series follows Alicia Florrick, whose life has just been ripped apart. Her husband, Peter Florrick, has just resigned from his position as State Attorney after being caught with a series of call girls over several months. He is also accused and then convicted of abusing his political position, for which he is arrested. In order to keep her family afloat, Alicia has to move out of the suburbs and into an apartment with her two children. She also has to go back to working in law after a fifteen year break to look after her children. The ramifications from the sex and corruption scandal continue to affect Alicia's career and her family, as Peter's call girls move into the public eye, and she is forced to work with and against those who know him. Also, a mysterious person has been leaving packages containing more evidence against Peter on Alicia's doorstep, which her children have intercepted. Zach and Grace start to do a little investigation of their own. Each episode tends to focus on a mixture of a case Alicia is working on, a development of her husband's appeal and her efforts to maintain a good relationship with her children. This is a good mix; it avoids being too formulaic by purely focussing on the courtroom drama each week, but having a new case each time keeps it interesting. Within each episode the pacing is good; there are always twists in the case, and the guest characters are always engaging, whether they're there to be loved or hated. There can be a bit of repetition within the case - as a general rule it will seem insurmountable at first, but some clever detective work from Kalinda, the investigator, and some female intuition from Alicia will break new ground. It's rare that a case is lost. However there are some really interesting departures from this formula, including episode 13, Bad, episode 22, Hybristophilia, and the season finale, Running, which each presented ethical dilemmas and uncertainties which really got me thinking. It was nice to see the show acknowledge that although Alicia is definitely the character we sympathise with and root for, what she does for a living is not a particularly moral calling. Another aspect to Alicia's professional life is her constant competition with Cary, her colleague. The two have been recruited on temporary contracts; there is only one permanent position with the company and the best performer will take it. As an older woman with responsibilities, Alicia really has to pull out all the stops to compete with Cary, who is young free and single. Meanwhile there's an overarching story that's more long running and allows for character development. Alicia's relationship with Peter is well drawn, I thought. There are no attempts to simplify the difficulties of the situation they are in, and whilst Alicia wants to support her husband through his time in prison, she isn't ready for a full reconciliation. As she struggles to negotiate the lines, she has the added pressure of her children, who still worship their dad, and the media, which are refusing to let go of this political scandal. I think the blend between the professional and personal is perfect. It keeps the show from languishing as case of the week legal show, which could get very repetitive, and also prevents it from approaching family drama territory. The resulting product is incredibly watchable, and feels quite fresh and interesting. The show is distinctly female oriented, with Alicia clearly the main character and Peter, her husband, very much in a supporting role - he doesn't even appear in every episode and he certainly doesn't call any of her shots. Alicia is surrounded by very strong female characters - for instance, Diane, a partner at the law firm and Kalinda, an investigator, are both great characters with their own storylines who are represented in non-stereotypical ways. I'm not saying this is a feminine show; there are plenty of male characters including Cary, Alicia's competitive colleague and Will, the other firm partner, but it's great to see a show in which the women are more than wives, secretaries or meaningless stereotypes. Julianna Margulies as Alicia is a strong leading character. You may remember her from ER, where she won an Emmy as Nurse Carol Hathaway, and earned the envy of half the female population when her character ended up in a long, happy marriage with George Clooney. Her performance is strong and believable, and it's refreshing to see an older woman (Margulies was 42 when series one was filmed) given the opportunity to lead such a slick, high budget show. She's convincing and extremely likeable. From the very opening scenes, as she stands next to her husband during his resignation announcement to the press, she is regularly put in humiliating positions by her husband, the press, her colleagues and acquaintances of her husband in the legal sector, so it's easy to feel sorry for her. The other actors in the show are equally impressive. Chris Noth as Peter Florrick can be a bit wooden at times, but you're kind of predisposed to hate him because of his cheating, lying past. Christine Baranski as Diane is superb, and she definitely gets some good storylines that add to those episodes. She plays the role of a successful businesswoman struggling in a male dominated industry well, and scenes where she battles her personal life or shows vulnerability don't detract from her professional standing. Another stand out is Archie Panjabi, who plays the sharp, caustic and brilliant Kalinda to perfection. I would recommend this show to anyone who enjoys dramas such as Desperate Housewives, House or Grey's Anatomy; it has an occasional dry sort of humour, and benefits from slick production and solid, believable scripting. I wouldn't say that men won't enjoy it as I do know quite a few older couples who watch it together, but it does seem like it's aimed more at women. There are definitely some adult themes, as you might have guessed. The cases Alicia works on often involve sex, gruesome murders or adultery, and we also get a fairly frank insight into Alicia's personal life. If you prefer a more family friendly show, this might not be for you. I'll happily give The Good Wife four stars. Although it can get a touch repetitive from week to week, and it isn't as laugh out loud funny as other similar dramas, I do find it compelling. The storylines in each episode are tightly written, but it's my interest in Alicia's personal life that keeps me watching. You can buy the whole of series one on six discs of The Good Wife on Amazon right now for £9.99. As I don't have the DVD I can't vouch for the special features, but the episodes are a great watch.
Recently I went to Belfast for a few days on a hen weekend. We decided to have one very nice meal out, and eat more cheaply on the other days. After some investigation we decided to choose Cayenne for that meal, partly because of good reviews, partly because of their set menu offer and partly because it was in a good location. Not until we arrived, after a chat with a taxi driver, did we realise that it was owned by Paul Rankin, a TV chef who regularly appears on Saturday Kitchen and other such shows. Personally I couldn't care less about that, but it appeared to have some appeal to other members of the group! As I've said, part of the reason we chose to eat here was the location. The restaurant is based on Shaftesbury Square, close to the centre of Belfast and part of the 'Golden Mile' of bars, restaurants and clubs where most tourists to the city seem to end up at some point. We got a taxi there but there are buses that serve that road regularly, so it's very accessible in that sense. I couldn't comment on parking except to say there's nothing obvious on site, and you'd probably be looking at paying city centre rates to park nearby. We were welcomed pleasantly by a door host, who held open the door for all eight of us. We had booked and our table was ready, but we were invited to have a drink in the waiting area first. The waiting area is in the window, perfectly placed to watch the world go by on the busy road outside if you're waiting for someone. It's packed with comfortable sofas, benches and stools, and I can't imagine it ever gets full as there seem to be more seats there than in the actual restaurant. We went up the bar to order a drink but were told to take a seat and someone would come over to take our order. The drinks we ordered were delivered quickly and were all correct, and the group of girls who chose to share a bottle of Prosecco had it poured out for them very professionally. We were given menus to look at while we were waiting and there was also a bowl of popcorn to nibble on! The popcorn was unfortunately quite stale, and it was spiced in some way - I'm guessing with cayenne? It wasn't the most pleasant of snacks but had it been fresh some people might have enjoyed it. Whilst we were having a drink I got chance to have a good look around the restaurant and appreciate the décor. I have to honestly say it wasn't exactly to my taste, but I can see the style they were going for. A dominant colour was orange, not one of my favourite colours, and this contrasted with a lot of white, black leather and wood. It's very modern, and I can see it becoming dated quite quickly. Still, it's definitely recognisable and unique, if a little too 'trendy' for my taste. I'd say this restaurant was more suited to couples and groups of friends. It's quite a stiff atmosphere and not really family friendly at all. I saw no sign of a children's menu and didn't see any children around anywhere. Most of the young, trendy servers looked like they probably wouldn't have a clue what to do if a family with a couple of kids walked in! We were seated on a clean table with plenty of space for the eight of us. It was a round table (which I prefer as it makes it easier for people to converse) laid with a crisp white cloth and napkins, which for some reason featured a huge lump of driftwood in the middle. This was swiftly removed as we needed the space for our drinks. We've definitely got our priorities right! The seats were comfortable, which I appreciated as I get back pain without support, which can mar many restaurant experiences for me. We had a choice between the set menu and the a la carte. Many of us went for the set menu, which was priced at three courses for £23, but I went a la carte as I didn't especially fancy any of the choices. If you're going on a budget, then don't worry as there is plenty of choice on the set menu - I just fancied splashing out on a steak! The a la carte menu features starters such as soup, mussels, duck and squid at around £6 to £8, mains including lamb, chicken and monkfish at around £15 to £20 and desserts like panacotta and chocolate pave at around £7. I didn't notice any specials at all, although the menu does offer a fish choice which changes daily. Drinks are obviously quite pricy, with the cheapest bottle of wine being £21, and my soft drink, the tiniest Coke in the world, packed with tons of ice, costing a disappointing £1.75! Once we'd ordered, we were waiting around ten minutes for our starters, which I felt was reasonable. I had ordered the Ryefield goat's cheese, with asparagus, filo crisps and beetroot textures. I'm not a beetroot fan, so asked for it without, and was told that beetroot was 'the main part of the dish' and without it there would just be 'a bit of goat's cheese and some asparagus'. I did wonder, why, then, it was listed as goat's cheese on the menu, with the beetroot mentioned as an afterthought, but clearly the beetroot was used to bulk out the dish! The waitress kindly offered to see if the chef could do something else with the dish, and it arrived with celeriac puree and radish instead. I'm not a celeriac fan either, but at least it doesn't have as pungent a taste as beetroot, so it was easily ignored. Overall, the dish was absolutely incredible and was one of those plates you keep imagining to yourself days later! The goat's cheese was intensely flavoursome and really packed a punch even though there wasn't much of it. The asparagus was perfectly cooked, and the filo crisps had a touch of honey that balanced that tang of the goat's cheese delightfully. I would order this dish time and time again with pleasure. We were all busy chatting away so it took us a while to finish our starters. There wasn't much of a gap between the starters and the mains in the end, even though one person at the table had ordered a well done steak, but it didn't feel rushed. My main, the Angus sirloin with chophouse butter, red wine, hand cut chips and a rocket salad, arrived looking divine. The steak came first, with the butter and wine over the top, and on a separate plate was a bowl of chunky chips and a bowl of salad. The steak itself was huge. There was no weight listed on the menu but I'd say this was probably at least 12oz before cooking. I had asked for it medium (not my favourite way to eat it but good for my wavering iron levels) and it came cooked perfectly, with a hot pink centre. It practically melted in my mouth and there was no stringy fat running through it. The chips were delicious, crisp and hot with soft middles. If there was anything wrong with these it's that there were too many of them - the whole main dish was incredibly filling! Although £21 did seem high for a main course, this was a very high quality steak cooked beautifully and I was thrilled with it. I didn't know there was going to be a rocket salad and I didn't touch it as I don't like the peppery flavour. However I gave it to the girl next to me who was surprised when she unearthed a hard, sharp piece of plastic in it! In fairness, the staff were extremely apologetic, and I gladly accepted a free glass of champagne to try to make up for it. On the other hand, though, it was a pretty fancy place and their explanation that their plastic containers 'sometimes crack in the heat' kind of ruined the illusion of a posh, fancy kitchen with fresh ingredients from the market every day. Obviously after that huge main, I had absolutely no desire for a dessert, but how could I possibly write you guys a review without a sample of the most important course? It's okay, you're welcome. I went for the rhubarb and raspberry crumble with raspberry ripple icecream, which was...well, okay. I thought sweet raspberries might soften the tart rhubarb, but the overall impression was still quite sour. The crumble to filling ration wasn't great - I prefer a generous crumble topping to avoid mouthfuls of soft fruit. The icecream was nice and creamy but nothing special. The service overall was very good. We didn't feel rushed, and neither were we sat around waiting for anything at any point. All the servers were really friendly and the main girl looking after our table was very efficient and knowledgeable about the menu. As I've said the staff were very apologetic about the plastic incident and the manager came to give an explanation and say sorry personally. Our server was happy to recommend bars and restaurants in the area, which we were pleased with. It was great to get a bit of local knowledge before hitting the town on our first night! As we were a large party there was a 'recommended' 10% service charge which we were happy to pay. Whilst the service wasn't anything mind-blowing, they did go out of their way to make me a fantastic starter and made some brilliant recommendations. The toilets were in keeping with the upscale décor, and were clean, functional and nicely decorated. The toiletries provided were nice and smelt really lovely. Overall we had a great evening and a wonderful experience. The starter and main course were delicious and marred only by the small plastic incident. The dessert was a bit of a disappointment but I did still enjoy it. We were pleased with everything else and thought the service was really efficient. Although it's definitely a pricy experience if you don't stick with the set menu, I'd still recommend it to anyone. Four stars. If you're interested in a visit you can look at menus and see other details on their website at www.cayenne-restaurant.co.uk. Although it's not the most user-friendly site I've ever seen, it does have helpful info including opening hours and menus. The opening hours are all a bit odd and irregular so I would definitely check those and most probably make a booking before heading down. Cayenne 7 Ascot House Shaftesbury Square Belfast BT2 7DB (028) 90331532
Scented candles and wax tarts are definitely my preferred way of keeping my home smelling nice and fresh, but really they're more of an evening thing. If I want a fresh scent during the day, then I would usually grab an air freshener. Thankfully air fresheners have changed dramatically from the chemical, floral scents my mum used to spray, and now there's a wide range of options available at the supermarket. Febreze are obviously best known for their fabric fresheners which many people swear by. My husband obviously thought this was all they made because when he saw me spraying this around the room he told me to stop because it wasn't meant to be used like that! However Febreze also now have a range of spray air fresheners (which they call 'Mist and Refresh') as well as candles and plug in fresheners. This product is from the Mist and Refresh range. There are four or five different scents available, but this one, the Thai Orchid, is by far my favourite. The idea is that a Febreze Mist and Refresh will neutralise odours in your home, instead of just temporarily masking them. The other thing that apparently makes it different from normal air fresheners is the trigger that you use to spray it, which combined with a nitrogen propellant in the product, creates larger droplets in the air, meaning that the lovely scent lasts even longer. I don't know about the sciencey bit but there's definitely a difference between this product and a traditional spray can. When I spray the freshener, instead of shooting out up to the corner of the room (I generally point up and into the corners), it just puts out a little bit of mist immediately in front of the can. This means that I have to use more of the product at a time than I would if I was using a traditional can. On the other hand, this scent definitely stays for longer than other ones I've used, so perhaps their theory works. The most important factor for most people here will of course be the scent. I absolutely love the smell, and I think the name 'Thai Orchid' and the hot pink colour of the spray can match it very well. Whilst there are some floral notes, there's also a fruity undertone to it. It's quite warm and sweet, and very relaxing - it reminds me of lying in a tropical garden in a far off country. It's a beautiful smell and visitors to our house have commented on how lovely it is too. The scent is pretty much the only reason I buy this, because to be honest it's a bit more expensive than I'd ideally like. As I mentioned briefly in my recent fabric freshener review, we don't have dogs or smoke, so we rarely have any specific strong smells that we need to neutralise. However we do have an open plan living, dining and kitchen area which means that pesky cooking odours can sometimes linger longer than they are welcome. My first instinct in this case is to open a window but if that isn't possible then I'll whip out this spray. I don't think I could say honestly that this spray neutralises the odours straight away, single handedly, but the smells do go away much faster than they would do normally. Sometimes I'll have to spray round the room a couple of times, but the difference it makes is definitely noticeable. The mist settles quickly, and it doesn't irritate my skin. From first sight (and first scent) it's clear that this is a premium product, and as such it comes with a premium price tag! This generally costs about £3 per can, although I have seen it on offer recently (April 2012) in a 2 for £4. Add to this the fact that I feel I have to use more of this than I do products in a standard can, and it's starting to look a bit much. I don't think I would buy this again at full price, but if I spotted it on offer I'd definitely treat myself. I love how it smells and I also think it's quite effective, especially in comparison to other, similar products. The fact that it neutralises odours is a big bonus, too. Four stars - I'm knocking a half for the price and a half for the fact that it doesn't last as long as other cans.
I purchased this exercise mat about three years ago. My exercise habits may well be quite erratic, but over that time I have managed to get in a good deal of use. I've found the mat to be useful, durable, functional and easy to clean, although it does have a couple of minor drawbacks. The mat is plastic with a foam padding inside. One side is red, the other blue, and on each side there are simple pictures along with some instructions about how to do some simple exercises. They are all exercises that can easily be done within the home without much specialist equipment. This is a great idea, as when I'm feeling a bit uninspired about what exercises to do, I can get into the swing of things by taking a glance down either side and giving them a go. The pictures and information are all clear, so you can easily see what you are supposed to be doing. There are also tips about how many of each exercise are good, and what benefits they can provide to which parts of the body. Even though they're only basic exercises, it is nice to have them there as a starting point. I also use the mat to do yoga exercises, pilates, and floor work during aerobics routines. It's much more comfortable than laying on the floor to do abs work, and it's much easier on my hands than a rough carpet when doing pushups. I feel confident that it won't slip out of place while I'm using it, and I can feel reassured that I'm doing my exercises safely and securely. The padding has always been sufficient for me and I have never felt uncomfortable whilst using the mat. However I have generally used it on a carpeted floor, so if you're using it on a hard wooden or tiled floor, then it might not be sufficient for you. The mat is meant to stay firmly in place and in general it does; I do notice when I'm doing quite vigorous floor exercises that it can bunch up a little beneath me. This is irritating but it only takes a second to smooth it back out again. As I said, I've used this mat on and off for three years and have probably spent many hours on it. The writing, pictures and logo on the mat have remained clear and not faded away at all. Also the stitching around the edges and the plastic covering are both still in excellent condition, suggesting that this is a well made, good quality item that will last many years. I know it's boring to talk about the dimensions of an item, but in this case I think it's important. The mat is 170cm long, 60cm wide and 2.5mm thick. This size is fine for me; it's not long enough to take my full length stretched out, but I don't really need it to, and it's plenty wide enough for the exercises I do. If you're significantly taller than this then you might want to look into something a bit longer, but I find it meets most of my needs. The plastic covering of the mat has its advantages and its drawbacks. Of course the main plus is that it is easy to wipe the mat clean, which makes it feel more hygienic. Sweat can also evaporate from the surface quite easily. However the mat can also become quite sticky, so if any bare skin is exposed then sometimes the mat can stick to me slightly. At just £9.99 from Amazon I think this is an absolute bargain. However I am docking one star because it could be padded more thickly, and it can bunch up slightly during exercise.
As a renter, I'm incredibly familiar with the majority of Ikea's output. It seems that when a landlord buys a flat to rent out, the first thing he does is goes off to Ikea with £500 to furnish the place. To be fair, if I were renting something out I wouldn't be spending much on the furniture, and the stuff usually seems to be of decent quality, so I'm not complaining too much. A bit of diversity would be nice, that's all! This coffee table is available in a few different colours. My version has a beech laminate finish and cost £15.99, but you can also get white (£13.99), black/brown (£15.99) and oak effect (£15.99). The measurements are 90cm by 55cm, and it's 45cm tall. This means it's quite dominant if you've only got a small room, so you definitely need to consider what kind of floor space you have available. We used to have it in the centre of our living area but we found we preferred having a large space in the middle of the room and we pushed it against the wall. We store baskets underneath it so the space isn't wasted, and on top we usually have some decorative candles, a wax tart burner, tissues and a lamp. There's still space for much more on there which unfortunately means this tends to get cluttered as it's such an easy place to dump things! In terms of height, it is a little low but I can still feasibly eat my dinner off it, and it's a good height for popping drinks on. It's great for snacks when we have people round for drinks and it's also good for board games. There's plenty of space for rolling dice and putting drinks down without knocking any pieces over. Underneath the main coffee table surface is a shelf that can be used for storage. It's perfect for putting magazines and books on, but unfortunately it's not particularly sturdy so you do have to watch what you're putting on it. The people who lived here before us obviously over used it a bit, and one of the four bolts that the shelf goes on is broken - a part has snapped, so it can't be fixed again. This means that if you don't put things on it evenly then it tips over and falls off which is really annoying. Obviously this shows that the table isn't exactly the best quality in the world, but when it only cost £15.99 and it has clearly been over loaded, then I think this is to be expected. For the moment we've just taken the shelf off and stored it under the sofa. You can't tell anything's missing. The finish on the table is reasonably good but as you'd imagine it's not of the highest quality. It's fairly durable; I've spilt drinks, food and even hot wax on it with no problems. However it can be easily scratched. If anything gets spilt you can wipe down the surface with a damp cloth, and nothing we've done has stained it so far. It seems designed to cope with most things, which is a relief, and if you have kids this would be perfect - it can withstand most every day use, but if it gets damaged then you can replace it for a few quid, if you want. The overall look is okay; it's not exactly my favourite piece of furniture and no-one's going to be asking where you got it, but it's modern and neutral enough to blend in. If you want something really stylish with a wow factor, this isn't what you're after. As gorgeous as it might look in one of Ikea's show rooms, remember that unless you're an interior designer yourself, this one table isn't going to transfer the look to your home, and it's not the most expensive looking of items. The table feels pretty sturdy and you don't get that horrible wobble that you sometimes get on cheap tables. However it's not especially heavy so we can easily pull it into the middle of the room when we want and push it back to the side again. Of course this was here when we moved in, so I didn't put it together myself. I've taken a look at the instructions on the website, and honestly it does look quite complicated. I'm sure it's manageable though and it doesn't look any more difficult than any other products I've ever put together. All you need is a cross head screwdriver and a hammer to complete the job. Overall I'm giving this 4 stars. It's not an amazing item that I'll rave about to everyone but it's reasonably durable and a total bargain. Recommended for anyone that's looking for function over style.
~~~Introduction~~~ Lost is an extremely popular TV show that ran for six series. The first series began in the US in September 2004, but it wasn't aired in the UK until the following summer, in August 2005. The UK was actually one of the last countries to get the show; it aired in other countries such as Norway, Italy, Ireland and Israel before then. Although it had its up and downs, there were literally tens of millions of people tuning in to each episode, and it was extremely well received by critics. I didn't watch this on TV at the time, but I watched it on DVD about a year later. Recently I've watched it again because it was on BT Vision's On Demand service for free. ~~~The Premise~~~ The first episode opens with a spectacularly elaborate plane crash. An enormous jet travelling from Sydney to Los Angeles has hit extreme turbulence, and breaks apart in mid air. The plane plummets through the sky to an island below them, scattering its passengers liberally over the island and the ocean. After the initial shock, the survivors work together to build shelter, and light a signal fire to aid their rescuers. Soon, though, it becomes clear that no-one is coming to rescue them. The show follows the survivors as they explore their surroundings, meet the strange inhabitants of this strange island, and most importantly, try to make their way home. Most of the episodes have two simultaneous storylines; the primary one shows life on the island, and a secondary one follows one of the characters before they came to the island. This is an interesting technique and to be honest I think it is completely necessary to keep the programme watchable. A show that was based on the island the whole time would start to feel really claustrophobic and I think a lot of people would lose interest. I also like the way you get to know the characters one at a time, and learn things about them that might well change your opinion of them. I'm sure most of us would agree that the way we would act on a desert island after a plane crash probably wouldn't reflect our real personalities, so it's great that we get to see the characters in different environments. ~~~The Characters~~~ This show has a relatively large cast: for the first half of the series, thirteen main cast members were billed, and for the second half, fourteen. This made it the largest cast on an American TV show at the time. For this reason I'm not going to go in to a great deal of detail regarding each character, I'll just do a quick introduction. Jack Shepherd (Matthew Fox) is a spinal surgeon who was flying home to LA from Sydney, where he had been to collect his father's body. Jack's medical experience comes in very useful on the island, as does his quick decision making. Kate Austen (Evangeline Lilly) at first appears to be a quiet, level headed young woman. However, fairly early on in the series we find out that she has some dark secrets in her past, and a very shady reason for travelling on the plane. Kate seems to be the person most women are expected to identify with, although that didn't really work for me. James 'Sawyer' Ford (Josh Holloway) is a cowboy type figure with a Southern drawl and little in the way of ethics. He isn't one for sharing and his penchant for hiding stashes of valuable kit causes a lot of upsets within the group. Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews) is a veteran of the Gulf War, having worked as a communications officer for the Iraqi Republican Guard. Whilst I wouldn't describe him as one of the leaders of the group, his skill with electronics and broadcasting equipment mean he soon becomes one of the central figures. John Locke (Terry O'Quinn) plays a mysterious man who has the survival skills needed to help the islanders survive. However, after something miraculous happens to him on the island, he begins to develop his own agenda. Not all the islanders trust him. Charlie Pace (Dominic Monaghan) is a British ex-rockstar struggling with a drug problem. He doesn't have any special skills or talents to distinguish him, but he does have a colourful back story that makes him memorable. He also develops a touching relationship with Claire Lyttleton (Emilie de Ravin) who is a heavily pregnant girl who was on her way to give her baby up for adoption in the US. Hugo 'Hurley' Reyes (Jorge Garcia) is a big guy with a huge heart to match. He is willing to help anyone out, but his tendency to gossip causes problems. Michael Dawson (Harold Perrineau) is a construction worker. He went to Australia to pick up his son, Walt Lloyd (Malcolm David Kelley), who lived with his mother until she recently died. Jin (Daniel Dae Kin) and Sun (Yunjin Kim) Kwon are a Korean husband and wife. Sun is the daughter of the wealthy Korean businessman that Jin works for, and the work Jin does isn't always of the legal variety. Jin and Sun are probably my favourite characters, as throughout the six series they are the ones that go through the biggest changes and you find yourself really rooting for them in the end. Finally, Boone Carlyle (Ian Somerhalder) and Shannon Rutherford (Maggie Grace) are step- brother and sister who, for reasons as yet unknown, are less than polite to one another. Weirdly my least favourite characters are two that get a lot of airtime: Jack and Kate. Kate is a really interesting character but I don't think the actress playing her was particularly good which lets her down in this first series. Jack swiftly becomes a leader figure for the group, and with him also being the only doctor, he spends most of his time treating fatal wounds, beating himself up when people die and snapping at people when they question his decisions. There's a bit of a love triangle going on between Jack, Sawyer and Kate, and at times Jack is so dull and irritable that it becomes quite unbelievable that he's even in the picture. Plus, Kate is so quiet and stone like that you never really know what she's thinking, so you lose a bit of interest in that storyline. Boone and Shannon are great for a few laughs, and Hurley is a completely lovable character whose kindness and wacky backstory completely pull me in. Meanwhile Charlie and Claire's friendship is absolutely adorable and despite being really chaste and innocent, it completely trumps what's going on with Jack, Kate and Sawyer. The most eerie character is easily John Locke, who has some strange experiences on the island that take hold of him a little bit. When you learn about his background, you can understand why he wants to stay on the island, but his journey becomes one of a man possessed, who makes bad decisions because of his weird obsession. One thing I would say about the characters is, don't get attached to any of them! There are deaths left, right and centre throughout the series and there are a lot of times when characters get into very precarious situations. It's pretty tense stuff! ~~~The Island~~~ I don't think it's exaggerating to say that the island the survivors land on is almost a character in itself. As the island's new inhabitants begin to explore more confidently, you start to realise how big the island is - they talk of going to a certain place and mention that its 2 days' walk away. Personally at that point I'd be putting down my pack and going, 'oh well, never mind then' but they seem quite fond of going on these treks. The inhabitants start referring to the island in ways that imply it has a personality or desires of it's own ('The island doesn't want us to leave') and this deepens the mystery surrounding the events. ~~~The Plot~~~ It's difficult to give much of a plot description, because with 25 episodes in the series, the story is completely different by the last episode in the series. We follow the plane crash survivors as they gradually accept that rescue isn't coming any time soon, and settle into life on the island. There's fruit and fish aplenty, and they soon track down a source of fresh water. On first glance it seems like life on a desert island in the Pacific Ocean could be quite idyllic, but rifts between the survivors fire up almost immediately. Also, it quickly becomes apparent that they are not alone on the island. Just to give you an idea of the kind of thing that happens, I'll outline the pilot episode. On the first night on the island the survivors hear mysterious, clanking, groaning noises coming from the jungle. The next day Jack, Kate and Charlie trek into the jungle to find the plane's cockpit and, hopefully, a way of communicating with the outside world. They find the pilot still alive but badly hurt, and he gives them some bad news. The plane lost communication in the middle of the ocean, and had changed course to land in Fiji. They had crashed thousands of miles away from the flight path where people would be looking for them. They are still discussing this, and Jack, the doctor, is trying to help the pilot, when suddenly they hear the noises again. They crouch down, trying to hide, but suddenly the pilot is wrenched from his seat. The others run for their lives, and after the noises stop they find the pilot dead, suspended high up in a tree. They didn't see what did this, but they begin to call it the monster, among themselves. Later, another group venture into the jungle, including, Sawyer, Kate, Charlie, Sayid, Shannon and Boone. They have a transceiver found in the cockpit of the plane that Sayid has altered so that they can try to call for help. On their way, they are attacked by a polar bear, which Sawyer shoots dead. This raises questions: why is there a polar bear on a tropical island? And why does Sawyer have a gun? Sawyer explains that he stole it from a US marshal who was on the plane, escorting a prisoner - and the group immediately start throwing accusations about. Is there someone dangerous in the group? When the group finally get to high ground in order to use the transceiver, they find their signal is being blocked by another transmission that originates somewhere on the island. It is a distress call from a French woman who is asking for help and saying, 'it killed them...it killed them all.' Meanwhile, there are flashbacks - we see Jack's, Kate's and Charlie's plane journey. We learn that Kate is the marshal's prisoner, although we don't know why, and we learn that Charlie has a serious drug problem. I think that outline will probably be enough to let you get an idea of whether you would like this show or not! More stories develop throughout the series including a love triangle between three main characters, some touching friendships, some serious rivalries and the discovery that not everyone among the survivors was actually on the plane. The series is a real mixed bag as it covers some typical desert island things such as trying to get rescued and building a raft, but it also has a very psychological twist as you see the way all these people relate to each other. There are some incredibly touching scenes and some horribly tense ones - some episodes are very fast paced and really edge of the seat stuff, while tearjerkers abound. ~~~My opinion~~~ This series has extremely high production values, and that's evident from the very opening scenes. Filming is done in Hawaii, and visually this show is just beautiful. No expense has been spared and the plane wreckage on the beach, plus the crash itself which we see repeatedly in flashbacks, are both spectacular and really believable. There's regular doses of blood and gore which look realistic, and other special effects (the polar bear and other certain...um, entities that come into play later) look convincing. The music used in the show varies. The theme tune is a really creepy, grungy little jingle that fits perfectly with the eerie nature of the show, and there's lots of generic action or love story music. Interspersed with that are some other more popular songs used to great effect, such as Damien Rice's Cannonball. I think music is used really carefully to add to the mood of a scene without taking over what's happening. Having got those minor things out of the way though, I can discuss the show itself. To be honest I think this series is absolutely brilliant and I was completely hooked from the first time I watched it. The pilot episode is an absolute blinder and it completely sucked me in. I didn't watch this when it first came on TV as I didn't have Sky at the time; instead I got it on DVD and my housemate and I watched it together. We would often watch 5 or 6 episodes in a night and I recall one particular night where we'd gone to bed and after half an hour she tapped on my door and we got up to watch another episode! Every episode seems to land on a cliffhanger that leaves you dying to know what happens next. I really like the mix in the episodes. Because there's life on the island interspersed with flashbacks (usually focussing on one character per episode) there's no chance of getting bored with one setting or one part of the storyline. The flashbacks mean you get tons of character development and often there are some brilliant twists: Locke's back episode will really surprise you. Meanwhile on the island there is always tons going on to keep you interested. I find that most individual story threads progress quite quickly, so you don't get bored of them, but there are exceptions. There are some big mysteries on the island that you won't get answers to in this series, and there are several questions that won't be resolved until the last series, if then. There's a really strong sense of mystery on the show and many people get very frustrated that things don't get tied up quickly. It can put a lot of people off. Another thing that can annoy people is that there is a slight supernatural element to the show. Although most of the things that happen in any episode could conceivably happen in real life, there are driving forces and causes at work that don't appear to be entirely normal. Personally I am able to suspend disbelief and accept this as a show that deals with the supernatural to a small extent, but other people I know aren't too impressed. You definitely get eased into this aspect, though, which makes it easier to deal with. The fact that there's such a huge cast does make things a tiny but confusing at first and I did occasionally find myself getting mixed up with who said what and who lived where, but the makers are very good at reminding you of important connections that you need to know about, so you don't miss anything. However this is a show that really bears rewatching, as once you're familiar with the characters and themes of the show you will notice so much more that you missed the first time around. It makes me feel really smug to point these things out to other fans! On the subject of the cast, I think the performances are a bit mixed. As I've said, I think Evangeline Lilly is a bit wooden as Kate, and neither Maggie Grace nor Ian Somerhalder are especially impressive. Josh Holloway as Sawyer is okay but he does play Sawyer as a bit two-dimensional; once I found out his backstory, everything he did seemed a bit obvious and it would have been nice for him to surprise me occasionally. Some of the background characters are a bit laughable too, but it doesn't affect my enjoyment too much. On the other hand, Terry O'Quinn and Naveen Andrews as Locke and Sayid are both brilliant in a kind of sinister way, and Jorge Garcia as Hurley is instantly likeable. Stand out episodes for me include episodes 10, Raised by another, 11, All the best cowboys have daddy issues and 20, Do No Harm. Looking back, all of these have some really tense moments in, so I guess that is mainly what appeals to me about the show. Also, though, they all have certain characters in that I really like and involve a lot of character development. ~~~Price and Availability~~~ The cheapest price I can find for this at the moment (April 2012) is £15.99 on Play.com. This is a great price and I definitely think it's worth the money. A lot of people would pay £10 for a DVD that only gives you 2 hours or so of entertainment - this will keep you going for days! You could also rent them, or stream them online via LoveFilm or Netflix. I'm afraid I can't comment on the special features as I don't own the DVD set any more and have watched all the recent episodes on my BT Vision box. However the listing on the Play website shows that there are deleted scenes, bloopers and tons of featurettes - having seen the titles, I really want to watch them all now! ~~~Recommendation~~~ I would recommend this to anyone who likes to watch TV shows such as The Killing, Heroes, Alias, Prison Break or Fringe. It's really well made and the story is gripping. The fact that it kept going for 6 series and maintained so many loyal fans really says a lot, and you need to see how it all began. I'm giving this four stars - I would have gone with five, but I plan to review the other series soon and the show goes on to get even better!
We currently rent a flat which has a large open plan kitchen and dining area. When we moved in the landlord had provided one of these dining sets from Ikea. Whilst it's not the most stunning piece of furniture, we realised it was so cheap and so handy that we have ended up purchasing a second one to use as a desk. We keep it in the spare room, and when we have dinner parties (which is quite often) we bring the table and extra chairs in to make a large dining table. The table and four chairs currently cost just £89 for the lot at Ikea. Obviously if you're paying this price then you can't expect it to last forever, and it's not going to be the most amazing quality in the world, but at that price if this lasts us for a couple of years until we're settled in our own home and ready to make long term furniture purchases, then I'm happy. Getting the table home from the store was relatively easy as it's flatpacked, like most Ikea products, and it's not too big. We have quite a small car (a Skoda Fabia) and it fit in there easily, so unless you've got something really tiny or you've got other things in there such as car seats, then you should be okay. Putting it together, though - not so simple! As usual, you get picture instructions instead of words. If you lose them, you can download them from the Ikea website, which I think is a great idea. It might not be useful to everyone, but if you threw them away and then you wanted to take it apart to move house or something then it would be handy to be able to download them on the computer. The instructions tell you that all you need is a flat head screwdriver to put this together, so there's no need to run around trying to find anything out of the ordinary. A small spanner type tool was included along with all the other bits and pieces. The chairs went together really easily, but you do have to watch how you go with them. The bars across the back and some other parts that go around the seat are only treated on the upward and outward facing parts of the wood, so if you add a piece upside down, you'll be able to see the exposed wood. The table was a bit trickier. It's too hard to explain in a review but there are some small parts that have to screw into some other parts in order to attach the legs to the table top. We tried for ages and ages but the thread just wouldn't take at all, the parts just kept spinning round. This was extremely frustrating! We were lucky though as we already had a made up table to use as an example, so after a while we worked out what we were doing wrong. We took apart one of the legs from the table we already had (which was risky - what if we couldn't get it back on!) and we could see from that what we were doing wrong. I wouldn't say the instructions were wrong or misleading, exactly, but I do think they tried to consolidate them too much. They put too much into one picture, and it would have been better as two separate ones. Once it was all up and running, we were pleased with the results. The table doesn't look very solid or sturdy, and it certainly isn't heavy, but it does look nice. It's made of solid pine, and treated with what Ikea call 'antique stain' and an acrylic lacquer. I was glad of this because I'm not too keen on pale wood, and I like the look of this. It goes quite well with the furnishings we already have. The table seats four people comfortably, but I don't think it's quite spacious enough to seat another person on each end to make six - that would be a real squeeze. When we put the two together, you can easily sit eight people and you could possibly manage ten, at a push. It's a good height for dining at, and most people seem to find it comfortable to sit at. The chairs all tuck under very neatly, so when you're not using it it's well out of the way and doesn't take up too much space. I have to say the wood isn't especially hard and it will scratch quite easily - it wouldn't be difficult for a child to make a deep line in the table using a pen or some cutlery. However, that might be a good reason to get it - at least they are ruining something fairly cheap! The chairs aren't that comfortable, and sitting on the hard wood with only a little bit of support often makes my back ache (I already have back problems, though). We purchased some cushions that attach on to the chair seats at Ikea as well and this makes it a lot more comfortable, but it's an extra expense that you should factor in if you want to purchase this. We move our table around quite a lot and it's nice and light, same goes for the chairs. Of course this is also a downside, because it means it isn't made out of an expensive, solid wood, but this is really a budget product. It's advised that after a couple of weeks of use you tighten up the table and chairs again to make sure they are completely safe, and we haven't noticed any kind of wobbling or anything like that. Whilst they don't feel super strong, they easily hold quite large people, and they can hold a person sat on another person's knee, too. At our house they've only had the occasional strain like that, though, so I don't know how they'd hold up on a daily basis. We've had the table that we bought for about three months, and we're really pleased with it. The one that was already there has been there for well over a year, and that doesn't have any marks on it and doesn't show any signs of wear and tear - I can't even tell the two of them apart, usually. This is especially impressive because I viewed the property before the last tenants moved out, and they did not look after the place at all! So, down to the nitty gritty - would I recommend? Well, yes, and I'll happily give this four stars out of five. It's not exactly an investment piece, and your grandchildren won't be enjoying it in thirty years time, but it serves a purpose. It's perfect for young couples getting started, who need something to set them on for a couple of years, or a family who wants something cheap to go in a playroom or something. It would also suit someone furnishing a buy to let property or someone who wanted a smallish separate table for children to eat at, or someone who wants a dining table but doesn't have much space for one. The list goes on and on! Basically, unless you're looking for a dining table that is fantastic quality and will last you upwards of a decade, then go ahead and buy it. At £89, including the chairs, I think it's an absolute bargain.
My husband and I have quite differing tastes, so when it comes to interior decorating we often clash! We both have very clear ideas about what we like, and there's very little overlap. The few things we do tend to agree on are things with a rustic or ethnic feel to them, and that's where this lamp came in. I had spent about two hours looking through the Debenhams website making a huge shortlist of things to put on our wedding list and when he turned up, the only thing he agreed with me on was this lamp. After I'd calmed down and resisted throwing my laptop at him, I put it on the list and to our delight, a friend of mine bought it for us. The lamp comes in two sizes, and we picked the smaller one. The smaller is £32 and the larger £45, but you should definitely keep an eye out for the regular Debenhams sales, because at the moment (March 2012) they're £25.60 and £36. We thought the larger one was a bit too expensive to ask someone to buy for us, and to be honest when we saw it in the store we were glad because it was a bit too big for our room. The large one would be a lot more of a feature, while our small one is just a nice touch. We like the lamp, but I don't think we'd want it as a major focus point. The colour is slightly off white, just verging on cream, and would go with most other colours. It's the design that restricts where you could put it. I don't think this would go very well in an up to the minute, minimalistic modern room, or something that was styled to a really specific theme like florals, or neon, or hunting lodge. However we have a quite eclectic feel to our décor (as much out of necessity as choice, as we're renting so we pretty much get what we're given) and this fits in really nicely. We have a lot of ethnic printed photo frames, big pillar candles and rustic flowerpots, and this is a lovely touch. I think it would go in most living rooms that aren't overly styled. It's not too pretty and delicate, which wouldn't suit my tastes, but the carving type design gives it some detail that's really nice to look at. The light the lamp gives is good. The carving disperses the light well so it's not harsh, it's very soft. It's enough to read by if you're sat right next to it, but generally we just use it as a bit of light when we're watching TV in the evening or just chatting. It's not enough to light a large room by itself. So I've been calling the design a 'carving' but only because I don't know what else to call it! Carving suggests the lamp is made out of wood but in fact it's a painted ceramic. It's very sturdy and the paint shows no sign of flaking or rubbing away or scratching. Whilst this looks quite delicate you don't need to be terribly careful with it as it's survived a couple of drops onto carpet. If you have hard floors though it's obviously advisable to make sure the lamp is on a secure surface. The cable is about a metre long so you do need to make sure there's a plug socket or an extension where you want to put it. This is probably quite standard to most small lamps. The bulb is just a standard screw in one that can be easily replaced - access to the socket is easy as you just reach down inside the hole at the top which is easily large enough to fit an arm into. You can probably see from the picture whether you think the style would be your cup of tea or not, and if you like it then I'd definitely recommend getting it. It's really great quality, and will last years, I think. I've had it for almost a year now and we've had absolutely no problems or issues. It's well made and gives a brilliant light. I'm giving this five stars because I really can't fault it.
Please note this is a film only review. I saw this at the cinema when it first came out, and when it was on TV recently I recorded it to watch again. The book (Northern Lights by Philip Pullman) that this is based on is one of my favourite books, and I remember being quite disappointed by the film when I saw it at the cinema. I couldn't remember much else about it though, so I thought I'd give it another chance. The story is set in a parallel universe where humans keep their souls separately to their body, in the form of an animal that never leaves their side, named a daemon. The daemons of children can change shape at will, but once a person reaches puberty, they settle as a fixed animal. Lyra, and her daemon Pan, live in Jordan college, at Oxford University. They have been brought up by the scholars of the college, and various cooks and housekeepers and nursemaids. She knows nothing of her parents, and her only relative is her uncle, Lord Asriel, who visits only occasionally. One day when Lyra is making mischief in the college, she stumbles upon a mystery that she doesn't understand. First, she spies someone trying to poison a drink intended for Lord Asriel. Then, she sees Lord Asriel show the scholars a picture of something he refers to as Dust, and hears him speak to them about other worlds that he hopes to travel to. He refuses to take Lyra with him, but she soon finds another way to the North: with the glamorous Mrs Coulter, friend to Jordan college and keen to have Lyra as her assistant. In the meantime, though, there's another problem: slowly but surely, children are starting to go missing, including two friends of Lyra's. The word on the street is that it's the 'Gobblers' taking the children, and Lyra intends to get her friends back from them. The story ticks all the right boxes - there is a fantasy element, dashes of politics, groups of people with shady intentions, treks across unknown lands and healthy doses of suspense, intrigue and mystery. Unfortunately, though, I felt the delivery fell a little flat. In theory, this story (regardless of the book on which it was based) could have been a thrilling film from start to finish, packed full of action and humour so it appealed to the whole family. Unfortunately though, it took far too long to get going and I don't think it could really decide what it wanted to be. It didn't go all out with the action, or stick to being more of a political mystery, but instead seemed to hover somewhere in the middle. There were a few half hearted action scenes, cut with tons of sweeping shots of the scenery, interspersed with wordy theoretical discussions, all peppered with scenes where Lyra learns how to use an ancient piece of equipment that no-one else in the world knows how to use in ten minutes flat. It's all a bit odd, and although Lyra is a great character with impressive screen presence, she isn't quite enough to keep the whole thing together. The makers of the film, New Line, didn't seem to want to leave much to chance. The film was quite big-budget, and in order to make money it would have to capture the American market. Unfortunately, Northern Lights was quite a controversial book when it was first published, because it contained messages that were very anti-organised religion, and more specifically anti-Catholic. This rarely goes down well in the USA where large swathes of the population consider themselves to be religious, and organised religion plays a large part in their lives. The film hugely pared back these themes, but still kind of left them in; this resulted in a diluted story that lacked much punch. Finally: the ending...well, the ending is awful. Completely pointless. The 'climax' comes from nowhere and features characters we've only seen in passing during the film. It's not too clear why anyone's there. Then, after a little chatting from Lyra, the film just stops. It's slightly embarrassing how obvious it is that a sequel was planned, plus the climax all the book fans will have been waiting for, just...isn't there. It was filmed, then scrapped. Viewers are left dangling, expecting more, because so little has actually been resolved. I have to say that I think the casting of Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra was perfect. In the very opening scenes you see her at her best: fighting with the gyptian kids, sticking up for someone from her own college and lying for all she's worth. She's fiery and sharp: the perfect tomboy. Whilst she is striking to look at, she's not pretty in a traditional way; there's something about her eyes that is a bit hard and wild. Pullman's Lyra is equally feral and unprincipled. Due to the worry about religious controversy, big film stars were thrown at this to give it that extra box office appeal. The icy, cold, hard Mrs Coulter is played by Nicole Kidman, and to great effect, I thought. She is charming and kind when she needs to be, managing to soften up Lyra and get her way among the many male leaders, but she is also brutal when things aren't going the right way. Lord Asriel, Lyra's uncle, is played by Daniel Craig in rather an odd, sarcastic, knowing kind of way. It didn't quite match up with the more political, suave Asriel I had read in the book, but his performance fit well in the film. He was convincing as the rugged explorer, especially as he was then fresh from his first performance as James Bond. For most of the film both Coulter and Asriel's motivations are unclear, and you're never sure whether they're goodies or baddies. But that's one of the things I like about this story - there's no clear right or wrong, and you don't have two distinct camps of good and bad. There are subtleties and mysteries within many of the characters. Ian McKellen doesn't quite make an appearance in this film, but his voice does. He voices the armoured bear Iorek Byrnison, who helps Lyra on her quest to rescue her friends. This was an odd choice, I thought, because the bears live in the very dark, distant North, and Iorek Byrnison in particular is extremely strong, fit and agile. To hear the voice of an old, English man come from the mouth of a Nordic bear at the prime of his life was a bit disconcerting, to be honest. Other stars who either appear or voice characters include Kristin Scott Thomas, Kathy Bates, Christopher Lee, Freddie Highmore and Derek Jacobi. A special mention goes to Sam Elliott, who plays aeronaut Lee Scoresby with aplomb. The soundtrack is very predictable, and just a bit dull, really. There's a lot of adventure discovery type music, and some inspirational chords when Lyra is being brave, and quick action music when people are fighting or getting shot. There's nothing memorable about it at all and I can't even pick out any favourite parts. It's a soundtrack by numbers. This is a shame, because the world Lyra inhabits is like ours but different in so many ways. I would have liked to see some really unique music that put a twist on the traditional adventure movie genre. The most impressive element to the film was the visuals. As I've said, Lyra's world is like ours in a lot of ways, but their technology and research and so on are different. The main visual challenge would obviously be the daemons, as some of them can change shape, and they can speak. A mixture of CGI and real animals were used to represent the daemons, and I felt that this was done really well. Pan changes shape in several impressive ways, such as when he leaps into the air as a cat and then suddenly turns into a bird. I didn't find myself thinking it looked unrealistic or stilted at all, so it didn't distract from the story. There's also some gorgeous representations of the Northern Lights, showing mysterious cities hidden in the lights. There is a gorgeous scene showing Lyra and some of her friends flying in a balloon towards the lights which is understated but impressive. There are a couple of parts that are a letdown, visually, though. Lyra is given a mysterious contraption called an alethiometer by the master of her college, which tells the truth - but no-one knows how to read it. Lyra teaches herself how to read it, which is represented on screen by swirling golden pictures. It looks a bit cheesy to be honest, and there was no need to laden this tiny part of the film with special effects. It takes away from how sombre and almost reverent the alethiometer is. Overall, I'd say this film would probably be of interest to fans of the book, but they're unlikely to be too keen on it. Also, those who haven't read the books would be unable to fill in the gaps left by the hacking away the studio have done to the story. I can only give it three stars: I've watched it twice, but I won't be bothering again.
~~The Plot~~ Gil (Owen Wilson) is a writer who has sold his soul to Hollywood and wants to turn his hand to a literary novel. His fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) seems to control every aspect of his life, but if it were up to him they would move to Paris after they were married. When they tag along on Inez's parents business trip to that lovely city, cracks start to show in their relationship. They bump into Inez's friends, quite ignorant, pedantic people who clearly look down on Gil, and Inez sides with them every time. When he tells them of his dream - he wishes he had been born in Paris, in the 1920s - they laugh at his naïve idealism: they deal only in the harsh present of business deals and golf games. One night, when Gil wants some time alone, he leaves the group and wanders the streets of Paris alone. At midnight, a vintage style car approaches, and a group of people inside it urge him to join them. He decides to hop in, and is taken away to a different world: that of artistic society in the 1920s. ~~Characters~~ I didn't really feel like characterisation was a big strength in this film. The main character, Gil, is a complete pushover and he has absolutely no will of his own. He seems to drift through his life, accepting whatever comes next and rarely taking action. When Gil is thrust into another world each night, he meets it all with such calmness and acceptance that it really did stretch my credulity. His air of faint surprise fits the situation so poorly that it almost spoilt the film for me. Instead of questioning his own sanity and tearing his hair out wondering if he'll ever get to the present day, he just drifts along. His relationship with Inez is a total mystery, as we barely see a single scene of them being loving and supportive towards each other. Instead, Inez is constantly picking at him or telling him what to do, and he just takes it. I know there are many couples who have that kind of dynamic, but with an underlying love and chemistry that these two just don't have. Inez's parents dislike Gil, her friends dislike Gil and it's really not clear why. Although he is portrayed as someone with little ambition or discipline, he is a successful scriptwriter - he's not exactly a layabout or bum, taking advantage of her. On the other hand, though, whilst Gil is off on his adventures, he does of course come across a love interest or two. He seems to be a bit of a flirt, or at least very familiar with the women he meets, and it all seemed a bit inappropriate when he was still engaged to Inez. Fair enough, their relationship might have been a bit loveless, and as he was in a different time period you can see why he might think he was on to a bit of a free ticket, but there are a few scenes where he is hatching very real plots to seduce women whilst in the same room as his fiancée. I suppose that fits quite well with his aimless character, but it put me off a bit and make Gil a bit less likeable. The most interesting characters are the ones Gil meets on his journey. Ever wished you could meet Hemingway? Gertrude Stein? Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald? Hemingway is played fantastically, and he has some fabulously deadpan lines that made me laugh out loud. His delivery is perfect and he is just as you might imagine Hemingway to be. He's intense and uncompromising, and next to Wilson's wimpy Gil, Corey Stoll just shines and practically leaps off the screen. My eyes were glued to him every time he was on the screen. Meanwhile Zelda Fitzgerald is instantly likeable and hilariously fun. Whilst Gil is wandering around in awe of his heroes and trying to take everything in, she is cruelly practical and easily bored. These characters provided a splash of fun in what could otherwise have been a fairly straight, dull affair. Finally, Marion Cotillard is perfect as Adriana, the flirtatious, impulsive society girl that catches Gil's eye. She is flirtatious, intriguing and mysterious, and you can see why Gil is drawn to her. ~~Soundtrack~~ The musical accompaniment is a bit of a mix. Half of the songs are your typical, sax heavy, French style tunes that conjure up images of a dark jazz bar, thick with the smoke of Gauloises, and the other half are classic 1920s tunes from the era's greats such as Cole Porter. Whilst this could be seen as a really safe choice, I did think it added to what the film was trying to achieve, and really contributed to the setting and the mood overall. ~~Costumes~~ Normally I wouldn't even mention the costumes in a film, but I think one of the really fantastic things about the 20s is the fashion, and the costume department really knocked this one out of the park! The costumes are just gorgeous; all sequins and headbands and feathers; I loved seeing all the amazing outfits. Meanwhile, back in the present day, Inez has a wardrobe full of holiday style clothes that we could never wear in boring old England. ~~Overall opinions~~ You can probably tell by that short description that this is a film that demands a slight suspension of belief. You can't ask many questions, because things just start falling apart! There's no effort to explain any of the mechanics of what's happening, or to give a reason for it, either. You really just have to go along with the ride, which is something some viewers might find quite difficult. The story on the whole is quite engaging. It's not exactly an exciting rush to a desperately tense climax, but I did find myself wondering how everything was going to pan out. The fun is mainly in the environment: the parties and coffee shops and bars that Gil goes to are packed with the cream of French society in the 1920s, and he meets many of his literary and artistic heroes. From the very opening scenes - lingering shots of Paris in the summer, including all the most famous landmarks, tree lined avenues, and lazy sun-drenched views of the Seine - it is clear that this is a celebration of Paris, both now and as it was. Everything here is idealistic and seen through the rosiest of lenses; there is none of the grit or realism exposed in films such as Irreversible or La Haine. As Gil continues his adventures, he learns that 'la belle epoque' is different for everyone. Everyone thinks the grass is greener and everyone harks back to a golden age just outside of their reach. I didn't think this was a groundbreaking observation, to be honest, and the point is made rather clumsily. But, the charm of this film kind of lets it get away with a lot. ~~Who would enjoy this film?~~ I think this would appeal to both men and women - my husband and I both enjoyed it. It's happily lacking in any slapstick or gross-out humour that seems to feature in so many romcoms, and instead depends on gentle, intelligent jokes. Because of all the references to that particular period in Paris' history, I'm sure there were a lot of jokes that went completely over my head, but I still enjoyed it. As I've said, Hemingway is hilarious and there's a particularly funny scene where Gil tries to explain his predicament to a group of Surrealist painters, with little success. If, though, you happen to be quite well versed in this era, then I'm sure you'd love this film even more. (Unless, of course, there are glaring historical inaccuracies that I didn't spot, in which case you could conceivably hate it! I haven't heard anything about such inaccuracies being present, though.) ~~Conclusion~~ I'm not sure you could really describe this as a masterpiece. I think my husband summed it up nicely when I told him it had won Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars and he laughed and said 'It wasn't very original.' It's really just a mild romantic comedy, but in a gorgeous, charming setting that somehow forces you to love it. It's utterly lacking in realism and probably a bit too cheesy for some to swallow, but it's a relatively amusing, intelligent film that has good appeal to both men and women. I'm giving this four stars. It's not the best film I've ever seen but it was gently funny, intelligent and served to temporarily satisfy my cravings to go back to Paris! Recommended.
I read a great blogpost the other day about 'pop culture comfort food,' in which the author talked about books, films and music that might not be cool or smart or intellectually challenging, but they make you feel better about a bad situation, or pick you up when you're feeling a bit down. This book, along with a few others such as Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, is a go-to for me when I need a little pick me up at the end of a hard day. The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic is the story of Becky Bloomwood, a twenty something financial journalist who is fun, bubbly, popular and saddled with thousands of pounds worth of debt. Whilst at work she spends her time writing articles on which savings accounts give the best returns, at home she hides her credit card statements and ignores warning letters. I have read all the books in this series (there are six now) and this, the original, is definitely the best. Becky is a kind, funny, outgoing character who I instantly took a liking to. She lives with her super rich housemate Suze, and they have a firm friendship because they are both so loyal and supportive of each other. Becky's parents are your typical middle class retirees, and the more Becky's mum features in the story, the more you start to realise where Becky gets her spendaholic ways from! The two of them are very similar - they both have hearts of gold but they share that weakness for shopping. The other main character is, of course, the leading man: Luke Brandon, founder of a financial PR company who is taken by Becky's unusual and creative approach to things. The romantic thread to the story takes a while to get going, but it's very good when it does and I was very interested to find out what happened between them. The first time I read this I was completely immersed in it and I think I read the whole thing in about three hours. You engage with the characters so much that you really want to know what happens to them. It's so easy to identify with Becky because almost all of us have bought things we couldn't really afford in the past, just perhaps not quite to the same extent. There are a few scenes where Becky is going round a shop picking different items up and when she gets to the till she is shocked at the high price, thinking she had only got a few bits. I know I've done that plenty of times, and felt the same sense of surprise! The first person narrative helps with this, because you hear the well meaning justification behind so many of Becky's actions. Each chapter is interspersed with letters that Becky receives from banks and credit card companies and other such organisations. Their replies to Becky's imaginative but possibly impractical suggestions had me laughing out loud every time! They break up the chapters nicely and add something a little different. Things come to a head eventually and Becky realises she has to take action. Her dad suggests she should either cut back, or make more money. She decides to try cutting back, and buys a book about how to make savings in your every day life. I had to laugh at that part because the advice in the book really isn't that helpful to start with and although she tries to follow it there is always a reason why she just needs to buy this one thing first. Unfortunately, I recognised a lot of her justifications as ones I have used in the past! Later she tries making more money, and unsurprisingly that doesn't go too well either, and leads to more amusing letters being sent to Becky. After finishing the book for the first time, I felt like I really knew Becky, and this was compounded every time I read the book again. She is just exactly the kind of person you'd love to have as your friend - funny, imaginative and loyal. Kinsella has created a wonderful character and her prose is excellent - I'm just about falling about laughing every time I read it. Another thing I loved about these books was Luke, Becky's love interest. He is one of the most attractive fictional characters I've ever read and I definitely fancy him a lot! It is a testament to how likeable Becky is that I don't hate her for having Luke show interest in her! Of course, the subject of debt is getting more and more serious as in these troubled times more people are having to turn to credit cards and personal loans just to get by. This book does treat the subject a little lightly, especially towards the end. I think if you had serious financial difficulties of your own, you could possibly find that this book cuts a little close to the bone, and it could make you feel a little bit worse about your situation. On the other hand, I think we could all use a good laugh at the moment, so why not embrace the funny side of things and enjoy this for the light piece of entertainment that it is? This is available online from about £3, and it's definitely worth that.
We love playing board games, and we regularly have people round for games and drinks (which sometimes works but sometimes descends into a complete drunken chaos). Rapidough is one that we bought hoping that it would become another one of our rotated favourites, but unfortunately we just haven't warmed to it enough for that to happen. As it stands we enjoy getting it out once in a while but we prefer others such as Cranium, Articulate and The Logo Game. The premise is very similar to Pictionary, but instead of drawing, you mould your word with playdoh. You split into teams and one person from each team is the modeller. A card is selected, and depending on the card type all the modellers could be making the same thing, or they could be doing different things. All the cards are printed on both sides, one side being easier than the other, so you do have an easier option if you're playing with children or if you want a quicker game. The first team who guesses what their modeller is making wins, and they can use the provided plunger to take away a lump of dough from all the other teams. Alternatively they can choose to reclaim some of their lost dough. The game is quite versatile, and we often play twists on it. Sometimes we'll forget the plunger and just play first to ten, and other times we'll set a timer for five minutes, give each team a different set of cards, and see who gets the most points. It's really tempting when you're moulding to do actions because it's amazing how much stuff looks the same when you reduce it to a simple, easily mouldable form. The starting point is nearly always a circle, a cylinder or a square! Usually I find myself trying to think outside the box and mould the individual syllables or you're there all day. You could make it that miming is allowed because I think that would make it more enjoyable for children, I suppose. We usually play the hard cards and to be honest they can be a bit too hard. None of us are exactly creative geniuses and sometimes if it's something really difficult or something really simplistic in shape then a round can drag on for ages. This is funny at first especially as the modeller gets more and more frustrated with your stupid guesses but after about 5 minutes of guessing rope, necklace, string, chain, thread, fishing line, whip, snake, worm, scarf... you start to get a bit fed up. The components are reasonably good quality. You get boards to model on, which helps to protect your carpet and furniture, but as with all playdoh it does tend to dry out over time if you're not playing regularly. We usually have to spend a few minutes kneading it out before we can play, and it gets much less malleable when it has started to dry out. Luckily that part can easily be replaced with any kind of playdoh. Overall this is a reasonably entertaining game but the fact that we probably only get it out twice a year speaks volumes. We like the versatility of it and usually we can't be bothered with the proper rules so we just play however we feel like. It just isn't as engaging or interesting as some of the other games we have. We got it from a charity shop, so it was only about £3. For that price I'd say definitely snap it up. There's a new look version (ours is purple, this is black) on Amazon for £39.99 and I'm afraid I absolutely couldn't recommend it at that price. For me, it's only an okay game. I'm docking 2 stars because it can get a bit boring and because it's so expensive.
One Day is one of those books that just suddenly seems to be everywhere! I'd already read a couple of David Nicholls' books including Starter for Ten and The Understudy, so I picked this up with middling expectations. His previous novels had been interesting and fairly witty, with a strength in characterisation, but nothing that especially blew me away. This book, however, was completely different, and I fell for it as soon as I read it. I recommended it to so many friends and family members that I almost feel responsible for its success - I've lent my copy out to four or five people and bought it as gifts for others. The concept could at first seem quite awkward and contrived. The story follows two people, Dexter and Emma, during twenty years of their lives. However, we visit them on just one specific day in each year - St Swithin's Day. At first I thought this would end up requiring some ridiculous coincidences whereby they would always end up seeing each other on St Swithin's Day, and somehow something interesting and plot advancing would just happen to occur on that day each year. However, it wasn't really like that. Flashbacks were used regularly to fill the reader in on what had happened throughout the rest of the year, and some years the story would follow Emma and Dexter separately, just kind of checking up on them and where they were at in their lives just then. I thought this was very skilfully done, and really saved the novel from being a bit gimmicky and obvious. As with Nicholls' other novels, the characterisation was excellent. Being able to see the characters develop over twenty years meant that you got to know and understand them really well. Both Emma and Dexter developed and changed a great deal from start to finish, and the ways they acted and thought were definitely believable. Emma is the kind of girl that's really easy to identify with - she's sarcastic and funny, but physically quite average and a real underachiever. She feels simultaneously inferior to Dexter, because he has looks and confidence and money, and also superior to him because she's a lot smarter than him. I definitely looked back at some of the people I had met in my life and recognised that I had struggled with similar feelings towards more popular, outgoing people than myself. Dexter, meanwhile, is quite privileged, verging on spoiled. He's a far cry from your usual male lead in that I don't think he's especially fanciable; we really do see him at some low points in his life and it's very 'warts and all.' He goes on quite a different journey to Emma and I'd say he was the one who is the most different by the end of the book. The best thing about both characters is that they are so flawed. There is no idealism or perfection or aspirational role model; the are both absolutely normal human beings who make bad choices and have bad things happen to them and think and do mean, horrible things at times. Whilst being primarily about a relationship, this book also paints a remarkably accurate picture of the time period in which it is set. The politics and social struggles and popular culture of the nineties are discussed and analysed in such an interesting, absorbing, readable way and whilst the nineties are a bit hazy for me (er... I wasn't on drugs or anything, I was just young - I turned 14 in the year 2000) I definitely remembered some of the television programmes and presenters that Nicholls parodies. It's amazing how dated some of it seems just 11 years after the end of the nineties! Obviously there is a lot of 'will they won't they' about the storyline, as the two of them manage to remain friends for so long despite their ups and downs. Sometimes I desperately wanted them to get together, and I couldn't understand why they were being so stupid with each other! Then there were other times when I thought they were just completely unsuited to each other and they would never be able to stop fighting long enough to fall in love. Although there's a romantic thread through the story, I don't think it can be easily classed as a romantic novel or a chick lit. Neither would I class it, though, as a literary novel - this isn't winning the Booker prize any time soon. I would possibly class it as a zeitgeist novel or a social novel, just because it's about society in general as much as Dexter and Emma. Also, Dexter and Emma are often used to represent different sides of much bigger issues - Dexter's right wing politics versus Emma's left, for example, or Emma's working class roots versus Dexter's moneyed background. I would say that this book would appeal just as much to men as to women. My husband read and loved it, as did a couple of male friends and my friend's boyfriend. I can see why some men might dismiss it as chick lit, but it really isn't. In fact, I think one of the reasons this book has been so successful is its appeal to both genders. I can also see why very literary people might find this a bit fluffy, and it is a very easy read, but you can definitely get a lot more out of it that your average chick lit book. (I seem to say this in every review that I write, but I'm honestly not criticising chick lit here, I read widely and I have plenty of Sophie Kinsella and Jane Fallon on my shelves!) I was pretty much absorbed completely in this book when I read it. It's wonderful! There were times when I laughed til I cried, and other times that I cried til I ran out of tissues. I read it in a couple of days and I've read it several times since. It's incredibly readable and whilst it appeals to those who are a similar age to Dexter and Emma, I'm a 25 year old graduate and I felt that I face a lot of the issues that they faced when they left university. Nicholl's prose is readable, accurate and insightful, and he knows when to crack a joke and when to bring a tear to your eye. Often these can both happen within a couple of lines of each other! Also the dialogue between Emma and Dexter is incredibly believable - there is nothing stilted or contrived about it. This is a beautiful, funny captivating, sharp, insightful novel and I recommend it whole heartedly. Available from £3 online, and you can barely walk into a book shop without seeing it. I rarely see it in charity shops - I think people lend it out or hang on to it - so online's probably your cheapest option.
Told through the eyes of 9 year old Bruno, growing up in Berlin during WWII, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is simple in style but devastating in subject matter. Bruno's father, a rather cold, intimidating figure, is clearly something high up in the SS, and one day after 'The Fury' comes for dinner, he is given a significant promotion which means the family, to Bruno's dismay, are forced to move to 'Out-With'. Although their new house is lovely, Bruno can't help but be a little unsettled by the view from his window. Behind a huge wire fence, he can see hundreds of people, many of them children, all wearing the same outfit - striped pyjamas. As he begins to explore his new surroundings, he meets a boy named Shmuel, who lives on the other side of the fence, and they begin to make friends. Although Bruno is fairly likeable, if a bit dull, his naïveté about what is happening in the camp is a little unbelievable. He is constantly saying things to Shmuel things like 'why do you always wear those pyjamas?' or 'it's so unfair that you have all those people to play with and I'm stuck on this side of the fence all by myself.' Bruno is young, but it seems ridiculous that the son of an SS officer wouldn't know what a Jew was, or have any idea why all those people were in the camp. Sometimes the things he says to Shmuel make you cringe, especially because Bruno is fairly condescending anyway. As you would expect, Shmuel is quite jaded and cynical and at first doesn't seem to quite believe Bruno Is being serious when he says some of the things that he does. Watching their relationship develop is quite interesting - both of them are starved for company and despite their difference in circumstance, they learn to get along and both learn something from the other. Bruno and Shmuel share a birthday and are exactly the same age, which I suppose is a crude but effective way of making the point that the only difference between them is the circumstances of their birth. The notion is a little clichéd, but because of the sensitive, emotionally charged subject matter it still affects the reader. It makes it so easy to imagine that were you born in the 1930s, you could just as easily have been Shmuel as Bruno. I think many people have probably wondered whether if they had been born at the time, they would have done anything to stop the atrocities that were happening, but it's more difficult to imagine yourself as one of the people sent to a concentration camp and worked to death. The novel has caused its share of controversy. It has been said that several aspects of the narrative are unbelievable - mainly technicalities about who would be in Auschwitz, who knew about it and what the security arrangements are. To be honest I don't think these would affect your enjoyment of the book unless you are particularly knowledgeable on the subject. I found this an easy read - the narrative being in a 9 year old's voice made it simple and quick to skim through, and it was easy to pick up on what was really going on when Bruno's limited understanding left him confused. The ending is definitely emotional, but I didn't feel like it really stayed with me like other similar stories (such as that of Anne Frank) did. Ultimately, I didn't feel I cared about Bruno enough for this to impact me as it seems to have impacted others so much. I'd recommend it if you see it in a charity shop or if you can borrow it from a friend, because it is a reasonably good read, but I haven't and won't go out of my way to find anything else by this author. Available online from £3
~~Intro~~ Normally there's absolutely no way I'd buy this for myself, as I'm not one for spending a great deal on beauty products. However when I was offered an almost full 125ml tube of it for free, there's not a lot of chance of me turning it down, as in theory I'm not opposed to spending a lot of money on products that I know give great results. That's why I love samples so much! This is aimed at normal/combination skin, which is perfect for me. I have pretty robust skin with a tendency toward oil on the T-zone. ~~Packaging~~ I really like the look of this product - it's a tall, thin, pale blue. squeezy tube with a flip top and a discreet Estee Lauder logo. It looks good in my bathroom and I'm happy to leave it out. It's clear about instructions, ingredients and so on if you're interested in that information. Compared to the kind of face washes I usually get - Clean & Clear, Neutrogena, that kind of thing - it looks a lot classier and a lot more grown up! I always feel like a teenager when I have something from Clearasil next to my sink, so it makes a nice change to have this out. The flip top is pretty sturdy, but mine did get damaged when I moved house. Part of it cracked but it still functions okay so I'm really pleased with that. It opens and closes easily and isn't too fiddly when I've got wet hands and I'm trying to wash my face. ~~Using the Product~~ When you squeeze the cleanser out, you can see that it's thick, white and creamy with a pearlescent sheen. You don't need much to use it; it comes out in a line like toothpaste and something about 1 to 1.5cm long is plenty. It foams up and spreads really easily and it only takes a few seconds to spread it over your whole face. It can form quite big bubbles which is fun! (Well, you know, compared to washing your face normally.) The smell is quite strong - it's quite floral and clean, a very 'white' sort of smell if you know what I mean. It feels very smooth and glides over your skin very nicely, but I do find that if I get it anywhere near my eyes they can sting quite a lot and leave them looking red and sore. If your eyes are sensitive in anyway I definitely wouldn't recommend this, and for the same reason it's not really much good for removing any eye makeup either. As well as stinging, it just isn't effective at removing the makeup and generally leaves me with dark smudges under my eyes if I've been wearing mascara or eyeliner. As far as the 'Splash Away' part of the name is concerned - well, I'm not convinced. The formula seems to be quite clingy, and the product does really hold on around my hairline and in nooks and crannies like the corners of my nose. It's a bit more difficult to wash off than most cleansers, and it's actually quite difficult to get it off without getting throwing water all down your front and on the bathroom floor. ~~Results~~ To be honest, the only word that comes to mind here is average. Yes, I think this product cleans my face. However it isn't particularly adept at removing makeup, so your face has to be fairly clean before you can even use it. Afterwards my skin feels completely normal, which I suppose is a good thing. I don't have any dry patches or flakes, but neither do I feel like anything has been done to moisturise my skin at all. Having oily skin, I can be prone to blemishes, and this doesn't seem to help with that at all. I exfoliate every couple of days as well, and I haven't noticed any improvement in my skin condition. I certainly don't get any fewer blocked pores, or blackheads, and my skin is just as oily. With a brand name like Estee Lauder, I was expecting something a lot more impressive than this. I don't think it's much worse than a £4 bottle of Clean & Clear, but it sure isn't any better. ~~Shelf Life~~ When I got the bottle I'd say it was over three quarters full and so long it has lasted me about three months. I'd say I've still got another month or so's use left in the bottle. This seems pretty reasonable to me as I'd be surprised to see most facewash bottles last five months. ~~Price and Availability~~ If this was maybe £5 or £6 a bottle, I'd consider getting it just because it's so long lasting and the bottle is nice, and the performance is okay. Unfortunately, though, you're looking at paying anything between £20 and £30 for this. I did see it on one website for £13, but it wasn't one I'd ever heard of and I couldn't find any reviews for it, so do obviously exercise caution if it sounds too good to be true! At this kind of price I'm expecting something that leaves me absolutely glowing, or does something to improve the long term condition of my skin, but I didn't get that at all. ~~Conclusion~~ You definitely won't catch me shelling out my cash for this. Whilst it's perfectly serviceable it is by far the most expensive cleanser I've ever used and it's not at all the best. When I can get the same thing for less than a quarter of the price, there's no way I would consider buying this. I can't justify giving it a really low rating, considering there's nothing drastically wrong with this except the price, but I don't think I can give it more than three stars. Its completely unremarkable.