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jonesri
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    • Football Manager 2005 (PC) / PC Game / 19 Readings / 17 Ratings
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      19.04.2005 15:47
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      After my review of the final offering of the SI and Eidos partnership it only seems fair that I now turn my attention to the successors to the throne. The last time I set about reviewing a Championship Manager game it turned out to be an epic experience and highly time consuming. This time I am going to try and make it a more concise experience so I apologise if it doesn't contain the same level of detail as my previous effort.

      ** Background **

      The Championship Manager series has been around for over 10 years and proved to be a very successful partnership between SI Games and Eidos Interactive. For some reason after the release of the last game the two companies decided to part company and try their luck independently. I believe that as part of the split SI Games got to keep the database and game engine from the Championship Manager series while Eidos Interactive got the front end and the name "Championship Manager". I am not sure about the truth behind this but it is what I have heard.

      After parting company with Eidos Interactive, SI Games have teamed up with Sega to develop the Football Manager spin off game. It was released in the last quarter of 2004 and looks set to be the first in another series of football games. With the much-delayed release of Championship Manager 5, Football Manager has been free to fill the void left from the Championship Manager series.

      ** The Basics **

      Just on the off chance you have never come across this game in some variety over the last 10 years I will give you an overview of the idea behind the game, the objective and what it is that has made this game such an addictive success.

      You are the manager of a football club and your job is to bring success to that football club. To do this you have responsibility for choosing your team for each game, buying and selling players, man managing your squad, dealing with the media, coming up with tactics, arranging training, hiring and firing backroom staff and making tactical changes during matches.

      When you start the game you choose the scope of your footballing world and this will determine the players available to you and the clubs you can manage. All the leagues in your world will be played out by the game and results, competitions and player stats maintained.

      ** Playing the Game **

      To start playing the game you need to define your scope. This will most likely be restricted by the power of your PC and the amount of time you are prepared to sit around waiting for the game to do its background processing. As you would expect, the more league you include the more games to be played and the longer everything will take (especially on slower PC's). I always like to have the top European leagues in my games so tend to have to wait a while between games.

      Once you have set up your game you have to choose your club. This has to be one of the clubs in the leagues you have included in your game. It is also worth considering the resources and expectations of the club of choice. It is easier to be successful with lower expectations and more money.

      As a new manager you start the game with no reputation so don't be surprised if fans are sceptical about your appointment. It is up to you to prove your worth. The first thing any new manager does at a club is assess the squad and staff and look to bring in their own people. Personally, I always like to have a good cull when I arrive at a club and put my own stamp on the squad. You start the game in the close season so will have a good few weeks to mould your own squad. When you are appointed you will be given a transfer budget (or not depending on your clubs financial position). This can normally be supplemented by the sales of current players.

      There are several search options you can use to scour the globe to find the perfect player for you. You can employ scouts at the club and assign them to clubs, countries and regions. If you prefer to do things yourself you can use the player search facility and look at several player attributes and statistics. Once you have found players you like you can add them to your shortlist for easy reference in future. The process of buying a player is fairly simple. You need to agree a fee with the club then agree terms with the player (pay attention Chelsea).

      When attempting to sell players you have several options. Firstly you can put them on the transfer list and hope that generates some interest. Further you can approach clubs and offer these players. Your assistant manager can help identify potentially interested clubs. When selling players in this way it is rare that you will get the price you want for the player.

      There is also a search facility for backroom staff. The quality and quantity of coaches and physios at your club will have an impact on the development of your players and the speed of recuperation after an injury. A new feature of this game is the ability to post job adverts for positions in your club. The backroom staff will then apply for the position and your assistant will notify you of any appropriate applicants.

      Once settled in your new club it is time to start thinking about your tactics and training. There are quite complex training regimes you can put together to improve your squad in a certain skill. You can also customise the training to the player's position, and retrain players to play in different positions. There is plenty of advice on doing this on the various FM2005 forums. There will be default training schedules in place when you take over the club although you will want to sort out your tactics prior to playing your first friendly matches. There is a selection of tactics pre-defined in the game and it is also possible to engineer your own if you have the time and patience.

      In the build up to a match you are required to select a team. After spending the last couple of months hand crafting your squad you should have a fairly good idea of what your starting line up is going to be. Once you have picked your starting team, substitutes and any tactics specific to the opposition you move onto the game. You can alter your tactics and personnel at any point during the game so you should be able to make telling substitutions if the game is not going as you would expect. When the final whistle blows, just sit back and bask in the glory of your success.

      If you find that you have taken the club as far as you can or just feel like you need a new project you always have the chance to move clubs. Similar to recruiting your own backroom staff you can reply to job adverts for manager positions at other clubs. You success will depend on the reputation you have built up during your time at your current club.

      ** Interface and Appearance **

      It was my understanding that this game would have a new front end written for it and use the database and game engine from the previous Championship Manager games. If this is the case then the newly designed interface is very similar in look and feel to the previous game. It has changed from previous versions but in principal it is the same as the previous versions. The general look and feel of the pages will seem familiar but some of the navigation has been changed slightly.

      Some of the buttons have moved around the page, which can take a while to get used to and the menu's are much more dynamic than any of the previous versions. It will come down to your personal preference as to whether you think this is an improvement or not. For me, at first I didn't really like but with time I have come to find it easier to use than previous systems.

      ** New/Improved Features **

      Each evolutionary step in this games development has seen the introduction of a raft of new features and this is no exception. If you want to see the full list of these features you are probably better checking the SI Games website, but here are my top 3 new features to look out for:

      1. Media Interaction - Media interaction is not so much a new feature for the Championship Manager series but there have been big steps taken in making it realistic in this instalment. You are able to make comments about other managers at will, respond to comments made by other managers as well as praise and criticise your players. Make friends or make enemies. Either way, do it in public.

      2. Manager Reputation - Again, not a new feature as such but a feature that has been greatly improved. For the first time a 30-year-old unknown going in as manager of Manchester United is greeted by unrest from the supporters. Your reputation also has a strong effect on the media interaction you have with other managers in the league and your ability to get other jobs.

      3. Posting Job Vacancies - This is a new feature for this version of the game. If you need a new coach you can simply post an advert and wait for applicants to come to you. What could be easier?

      ** Playability **

      Probably the biggest asset the previous games in the series have had has been their playability. They have been easy to play and easy to get addicted to. Is this latest offering as addictive and playable?

      Well, for me I have to say no. I haven't managed to get addicted to this game like I have to previous offerings but that may be more to do with my lifestyle these days than the game itself. Since leaving university I don't have the same amount of time for games like this that I have previously and I find it frustrating at the small amount of progress I can make when only playing in short spells. As far as I am concerned Championship Manager has been getting significantly slower over recent releases. Now, my PC is by no means state of the art but exceeds the requirements for the game, however, with a decent sized database and a reasonable number of leagues I find this version painfully slow. A better PC may handle this size of processing easier but I don't think you should need a super computer to play this game.

      ** More Information and Useful Links **

      If you want more information about Football Manager 2005 check out the SI Games website http://www.sigames.com/

      This is also where you will find the forums offering tips and advice and more importantly any patches released to fix bugs in the game.

      ** Overall **

      To be honest I have somewhat mixed feelings about this game. I am not sure if I am getting old now or if the game has gone a little stale. I would say that this is a worthy follow up to the Championship Manager series and fans of these games would be well advised to give it a try. There are certainly some good new features in this instalment but I am far from convinced that it is a massive step forward. The processing requirements of the game seem to have finally reached a level where I am not prepared to wait anymore which is a shame. Maybe I should just take it as a hint to buy a new PC though.

      Given that there is Championship Manager 5 now available it doesn't really seem fair to crown this the new king of football manager games without trying out the opposition. This is certainly as good as Championship Manager 03/04 but I am not sure any great strides have been made. Maybe the next instalment will be better or maybe it has reached the end of the line.

      Thanks for reading

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    • Bad Boys II (DVD) / DVD / 15 Readings / 12 Ratings
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      16.03.2005 10:12
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      When I heard about the upcoming release of Bad Boys II I couldn’t help but be filled with a mixture of excitement and dread. As a massive fan of the first film the prospect of a worthy sequel was fantastic but at the same time there was the dread that, as with most sequels, it would be a disappointment. There were a couple of positive signs surrounding the sequel that lead me to be optimistic when watching it; Firstly there is a sizable gap between the first film and the sequel so it is not trying simply to build on the box office success of the first film. Secondly there is the fact that the cast has been maintained between the films. When you consider the success that Will Smith is currently enjoying I can’t see him opting to make a second rate sequel. After managing to convince myself it would be worth watching off I went to the cinema. The fact that I am now reviewing the DVD should give you an early indication of what I thought of it.

      ** Background **

      Bad Boys II is the sequel to the 1995 film Bad Boys. Eight years on and a similar cast and crew have been assembled in an attempt to make a successful sequel. Michael Bay returns as director with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence renewing their partnership that was so successful in the first film. The film also sees Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer team up to produce another classy looking action film. As with the first film the plot is based around a couple of narcotics cops working in Miami.

      ** Storyline **

      Since 9/11 drug importers have had to come up with increasingly elaborate methods for getting their drugs into the country and drug money out of the country. They have had to go increasingly high-tech in an effort to avoid being caught.

      After an informant tip off, Lowrey and Burnett head up a team on a raid to stop a boatload of drugs entering the country. The raid is going to happen at a small jetty where the drugs are due to arrive later that night. Lowrey and Burnett go under-cover at a KKK meeting to get themselves into a good position to identify the drugs before the backup is called in. There is armed backup all around the area waiting for the command to come in from Lowrey and Burnett. Sadly, when Lowrey and Burnett break cover to make the bust, there is a problem with the radios so the backup doesn’t arrive. Lowrey and Burnett are left in a gunfight with a group of men who are not interested in talking. When the gunfight is over the massive drugs haul they were expecting turns out to be a single bag of ecstasy.

      Johnny Tapia is behind the flow of ecstasy from Holland into Miami. After the raid on this small shipment he starts to get itchy feet and increases the rate at which he is moving his money out of the country. With Lowrey and Burnett hot on his trail the race is on to find the secret behind his method for transporting drugs and money. With Tapia increasing the speed of his exit from the country there is a race against time before Tapia can reach Cuba with his money and effectively disappear.

      The plot thickens when Burnett’s sister becomes involved in Tapia’s operations. Both Mike and Marcus have a strong interest in her well-being and must go out of their way to keep her safe. With the partnership between Mike and Marcus becoming strained it is going to be tough to keep it all together long enough to get their man and recover the drugs and money.

      ** Characters **

      Mike Lowrey – played by Will Smith (Bad Boys, I Robot) is the loose cannon, bachelor guy in the partnership. Mike is laid back and easy going. He really seems to enjoy his job and always seems to have a positive outlook on life. He has been left a lot of money by his family and like to indulge in expensive cars and clothes. He also has a reputation as being something of a ladies man.

      Marcus Burnett – played by Martin Lawrence (Bad Boys, National Security) is the family guy in the partnership. Marcus is having doubts about the long-term future of his partnership with Mike and has requested a transfer. Marcus has been receiving counselling for the stress and violence of his job and feels that now may be the time to move on.

      Johnny Tapia – played by Jordi Molla (Blow) is a Cuban drug importer. Currently based in Miami he is responsible for the majority of the drugs that arrive in Miami from Holland. He is a very clever man who knows his business well and is ruthless enough to get what he wants.

      Syd – played by Gabrielle Union (Cradle To The Grave, Welcome to Collingwood) is Marcus Burnett’s sister. On a recent trip to New York Mike and Syd got together and now consider themselves an item. Marcus doesn’t know yet and is very protective of his little sister. Syd is a very intelligent and driven individual who knows what it takes to get what she wants.

      Captain Howard – played by Joe Pantoliano (Memento, Daredevil) returns as the captain of the department. He is still having stress problems and is receiving counselling from the department. His stress levels are not helped by Mike and Marcus in their quest to bring down Tapia.

      ** DVD Extras **

      The special features on the DVD include deleted scenes, numerous featurettes (about the stunts, visual effects and action scenes), trailers and music videos.

      ** Memorable Quotes **

      “Woosa”

      “We ride together, we die together. Bad Boys for life”

      “Don’t know you. Look like you’re about to do something stupid. I’m in.”

      ** My Opinion **

      The popularity of the first film seems to have increased as time has gone on. I was probably a little too young when it was released in the cinema to have been too aware of it. I was certainly too young to go and see it in the cinema. In recent years there seems to have become increased interest in this film again which has eventually lead to the making of a sequel.

      A highlight of the first film is the interaction between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence so seeing them combine again for the sequel was fantastic and probably the main reason why I wanted to see this film. The onscreen chemistry between the two of them adds something special to the film and really brings the partnership to life. The relationship between the two is slightly different in this film because of the plot and the state of the characters but they still manage to make it work and make it entertaining. Their friendship is a lot more strained in this film than it was in the first but they still sparkle together and bring the characters to life.

      The main characters are carried over from the first film where they were fairly well developed but there is still room for these characters to be improved in this instalment. Marcus Burnett in particular is shown to have a lot more character than he did in the first film with his insecurities and family commitments portrayed. Smith’s character takes something of a back seat in this sense but his relationship with Syd shows that there is more to the man than the commitment free guy that was portrayed in the first film.

      The other thing about the characters that I liked was the continuity between the two films. The return of John Salley as Fletcher (the geeky hacker from the first film) is fantastic with the character having the same mercenary approach to his work despite being on the right side of the law now. The supporting cast do well bringing their characters to life with Jordi Molla a particular highlight as the ruthless drug dealer. Gabrielle Union never really excels as Syd, but manages to generate enough charisma to carry the character through.

      Any action film where Michael Bay is involved is bound to be packed full of stunts and this is an area where this film really excels. There are a lot more dazzling action scenes and stunts in this film than there were in the first film. The action scenes are well shot and the whole film looks fantastic. The action is well balanced throughout the film and varies from gunfights to car chases and more. It basically has everything that an action junkie could want.

      The combination of Smith and Lawrence ensures that the film maintains the same comic edge that made the first instalment such a success. I am not sure this film is as funny as the first film but only time will tell. The comic one-liners seem to be few and far between in this film where as they came thick and fast in the first film. This is still a strong comic presence in this film though with Lawrence particularly funny when finding himself torn between the man he is and the man he wants to be.

      It seems strange that there was such a long wait for the sequel to appear but as far as I am concerned it has been worth the wait. This is a worthy sequel of a great action comedy. The good news for all fans of the series is that the ending is left open so there is a strong possibility of another film being made. I only hope that they put as much thought and effort into any future productions as they have into this one.

      ** More Information **

      If you like the look of this and want to find out a little more information then checkout the movie website here: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/badboys2/site/

      ** Availability **

      I picked up my copy for around £6 on DVD in the sales after Christmas and I imagine if you shop around you will be able to get a similar deal somewhere. Having a quick look online you can pick it up for under £10 on play and maybe cheaper elsewhere.

      If you don’t fancy buying it then it is currently showing on Sky, so you can catch it there.

      ** Overall **

      This is a must for all fans of the first film. It is a fantastic sequel and well worth seeing. If you haven’t seen the first one, then I would recommend watching that first before seeing this. It is not essential to the story but I think you will get more out of it if you do.

      Thanks for reading

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      • King Arthur (DVD) / DVD / 19 Readings / 16 Ratings
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        07.03.2005 12:30
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        This film was never at the top of my list of things to watch when it came out in the cinema. I must admit that I was slightly curious about it but was put off it by the mixed reviews it was receiving. When I received it as a Christmas present my curiosity was reignited so rather than take it back and change it for something else I decided to watch it. Could it be as bad as some of the reviews had implied? Surely not.

        ** Background **

        King Arthur is based on the legendary man himself and his role in the rule of the Romans prior to him taking power himself. The film attempts to combine historical fact and Hollywood style and glamour to produce a stylish and accurate production. The film is directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean).

        ** Storyline **

        As the Roman Empire expands, more people are being conquered and face a new life under Roman rule. To support this ever-expanding empire the Romans need to be recruiting new soldiers to supplement and replenish their armies. After capturing a village after a particularly fierce battle the Romans take the young boys into fifteen years military service. At the end of their service they will be free to leave the army and return to their families.

        Fast forward fifteen years and the boys taken from the small village are now a fearsome group of knights nearing the end of their service. Each of them have their own ideas of how their lives will be when they are free of this obligation and all are counting down to the day they are free to choose again. As these knights have grown up together and experienced some horrific things together there is now a very strong bond between them.

        The group of knights are lead by Arthur who has ambitions of returning to Rome when his military service is at an end. His idealistic views of the world mean that he believes he will be able to make a big difference from there and influence things.

        With their fifteen years service at an end and their final mission a success the knights return expecting to be granted their freedom. Things in Britain have changed though and the Romans have decided to withdraw their presence from the country. Before freeing Arthur and his knights the Romans instruct them to complete one final mission. Arthur is sent to retrieve a Roman Priest and his son from the clutches of the invading Saxons. This final mission looks more like a suicide mission because of the numbers of Saxons approaching and the presence of the Woads, but the knights are forced to do it to ensure their freedom. All are very good warriors but the odds are stacked against them.

        Arthur and his knights must move quickly to rescue the priest and his family before they become surrounded and then negotiate many perils if he is to get them back to safety. Things become more complicated when Arthur becomes interested in Guinevere and the plight of her people. Arthur will find himself torn between his loyalty to Rome and the plight of the Woads.

        ** Characters **

        Arthur – played by Clive Owen (Closer) is the leader of a band of knights coming towards the end of their service to the Roman Empire. Arthur is a good loyal man who has earned the respect of the men who follow him. He is a born leader who always tries to do the right thing and make the world a better place.

        Lancelot – played by Ioan Gruffudd (Black Hawk Down) is Arthur’s right-hand man. He is dedicated and loyal to Arthur although he doesn’t share Arthur’s idealistic view of the world. Lancelot is more arrogant than Arthur and more grounded in terms of how the world really works.

        Guinevere – played by Keira Knightly (Love Actually) is an important woman for the Woads who has recognised the importance of using the Romans to defeat the Saxons. She realises that Arthur is a good man and hopes that he will be able to help lead her people.

        Merlin – played by Stephen Dillane (The Hours) is the leader of the Woads. He is a mysterious man who favours guerrilla warfare. He is convinced that Arthur is the man to lead and inspire his people to fight for their homeland.

        Cerdic – played by Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Ronin) is the leader of the Saxons. He is a ruthless man who will do just about anything to achieve his objectives. He is an evil man who is a fearless warrior as well as being very intelligent.

        ** DVD Extras **

        The DVD comes with the following extra features:
        * Alternate ending
        * A “making of” documentary

        The DVD is also available in a special edition version which may/may not have different extras available.

        ** My Opinion **

        Given the subject of this film I think there are two ways you can approach it. Firstly you can look at it from a historical point of view and compare it to the facts and decide how accurate it is. Secondly you can approach it as a work of Hollywood and expect it to be entertaining. While I like the idea of the Knights of the Round Table and things like that it is not something that I have a lot of knowledge about, so when I saw this film I went in expecting to be entertained first and foremost although the factual element was in the back of my mind. With this is mind I am not going to try and tell you how accurate the film was as a work of history, more what I thought it was like as a piece of entertainment.

        In broad terms I thought this film was pretty poor. After the success and popularity of films like Braveheart there will always be comparisons made when this sort of film is released. With these comparisons come additional expectations and invariably disappointment. Not wanting to be disappointed and after reading some fairly mixed reviews of this film I actually watched it with fairly low expectations. Sadly, I was still disappointed with what I saw.

        It is difficult to criticise a storyline that is based on fact but as I was viewing this film as a work of Hollywood rather than a history lesson I was quite disappointed with it. If I am paying good money to watch a film I generally expect to be entertained and if I am not going to be entertained then don’t make it into a film, make it into a BBC 2 documentary. For me, the storyline wasn’t particularly gripping and never really managed to get me engrossed. It all seemed a little flat and had an air of inevitability about it. There was very little suspense or mystery generated or sustained at any point in the film and it all followed a very predictable path.

        There are quite a few major characters portrayed in the film, supporting the main role of Arthur. I am not sure if the criticism of these characters should be levelled at the actors themselves or the writers, but most of these characters were poor. I think that in part they suffered from the number of important characters portrayed in the film. It is difficult to develop that many characters to the point where the audience feel some sort of attachment to them. Generally I thought that the characters were poorly written and that the actors could have done a lot better in bringing the characters to life.

        The good news for anyone considering watching this film is that it is not all bad, so in the interests of balance here are what I thought were the highlights. Some of the battle scenes were pretty fantastic. Well shot and gruesome they give quite a realistic feel to the scenes. These scenes were the highlight of the film as far as I was concerned.

        After criticising the cast in general earlier I would now like to back-track slightly and highlight two performances that stood out. Far from giving sparkling performances in this film they were the best of a bad bunch. The two performers are Clive Owen and Stellan Skarsgard. Taking centre stage, Clive Owen brings a bit of life to Arthur and does quite well at portraying the divided nature of the character. Stellan Skarsgard does well at portraying the ruthless Cerdic. This is a role that is different those I have seen him in previously but I thought he adapted very well.

        All in all I was very disappointed with this film. I thought the story was poor and the cast under-performed. Someone more familiar with the historical facts surrounding the rise of Arthur may have got more out of this film than I did but I still wouldn’t recommend it. To me it felt more suited to being shown as a BBC drama than a feature length film.

        ** More Information **

        If you are undeterred by what you have read here and want some more information about the film, check out the film website at the following URL: http://kingarthur.movies.go.com/main.html

        ** Availability **

        King Arthur is now available to buy and rent on DVD and VHS. It can be purchased from all good (or bad depending on your opinion of the film) retailers for around £14 (play.com).

        ** Overall **

        This is not a film I would recommend, nor one I am likely to watch again. If you are intent on watching it then rent it rather than buy it and don’t expect too much. If you are going to buy it and would like to buy my copy off me then look out for an auction coming to a website near you soon.

        Thanks for reading

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        • O - Damien Rice / Music Album / 20 Readings / 20 Ratings
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          01.02.2005 09:25
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          The first time I heard anything about Damien Rice was when a colleague of mine appeared in work listening to this album. I am always open to new bands and new sounds, so after hearing him raving about this album for a day or so I decided I needed to check it out for myself. After loaning his copy over night I decided that there was something pretty special about this album and that I should get myself a copy.

          ** Background **

          Damien Rice was born in Ireland, just outside Dublin in the 70’s. In his youth he was a member of a band called Jupiter before leaving to go travelling around Europe for a year in the late 1990’s. When he returned to Ireland he was a lot more focused about his music and began writing songs again. A demo tape was shortly followed by a recording contract and the production and release of his debut album “O”.

          ** The Cover **

          Unlike most commercial CD releases over the last ten years, Damien Rice’s “O” comes in a rather stylist cardboard cover. It is a very simple design with a small character drawing on the outside and two compartments inside, one for the CD and one for the accompanying booklet.

          At first look, the CD case appears like something that I would have been expected to make as part of the GCSE graphics project but in truth it is much better than anything I could have made. The sleeve is a good size for holding the booklet and CD without allowing them to fall out, but also allowing simple access.

          ** The Album & Tracks **

          “O” was released in Ireland on the 1st February 2002 on the back of the success of the debut single “The Blower’s Daughter”. Later that year, July 22nd, it was released in the UK and was well received. The track listing for the album is as follows:

          1. Delicate (5:13)
          2. Volcano (4:38)
          3. The Blower’s Daughter (4:44)
          4. Cannonball (5:10)
          5. Older Chests (4:46)
          6. Amie (4:37)
          7. Cheers Darlin’ (5:49)
          8. Cold Water (4:59)
          9. I Remember (5:31)
          10. Eskimo (15:59)

          Several tracks off this album have been released as singles since it’s release three years ago. Volcano, The Blower’s Daughter and Cannonball have all been successful in the British chart as well as abroad.

          ** My Opinion **

          I think the first thing to say about this album is that it won’t be to everyone’s taste but if you are prepared to give it a chance and listen to the lyrics there is something in it for everyone. It is a very soothing album that is quite different from anything else available in the British charts at the moment.

          The general sound of the album is of Damien Rice singing over an acoustic guitar. Do not think that the album is limited to this as there are plenty of other instruments used on the album such as strings, piano and wind instruments. The most prominent sound on the album though is a combination of the acoustic guitar and the fantastic voice of Damien Rice. Rice’s voice is very soothing and hypnotising. I find myself actually listening to the lyrics of his songs rather than just humming along with the tune.

          Bringing nicely me onto the lyrics themselves, the primary subject matter is love. It is an album that appears to have been written at least partly from personal experiences. Most acts that enter the charts these days approach love and romance in light-hearted pop fashion, but Rice attempts and succeeds in putting some realism and feeling into it. Every song is packed to the brim with fantastically heart-felt lyrics and lines that everyone will be able to relate to. They are the sort of lyrics that you want to say to a loved one and be able to pass off as your own.

          I have read comparisons between David Gray and Damien Rice and I can see where it comes from. There is a similar feel to their music but perhaps more than that, David Gray was the last artist to enter the charts showing the honest and open lyrics now seen by Damien Rice.

          If you are buying this album based on the singles that have been released in the charts then you should be aware that the versions on the album are not necessarily the same as the ones that graced the singles chart. Cannonball for instance is a lot quieter and calmer on the album than it was in the chart. It has the same sentiment, same lyrics and same feeling just with less beat.

          My personal favourite track on the album has got to be The Blower’s Daughter. It brings me out in goose bumps every time I hear it. As with a lot of the tracks on the album this is based around love and romance. It is a truly moving song that has some fantastically romantic lyrics. Cannonball is another favourite track although I must admit that I preferred the version that was released in the charts to the one that is on the album.

          At 61 minutes in length I think this album is pretty good value for money, although it is worth mentioning that Rice has gone for the old secret track routine meaning that most of the 15 or so minutes of Eskimo is silence. As you can see from the track listing above, all of the tracks are a decent length and none feel like they have been dragged out. Each has its own message and takes around five minutes to get it across.

          ** Availability **

          This album is widely available from both high street stores and online retailers. It is currently available on Amazon for £9 and I got my copy from GrabADisc for £7. The album seems to be gaining popularity the longer it is out meaning that it is widely available.

          ** More Information **

          Like the sound of what you’ve read here? Why not check out these official and not so official web sites:
          www.damienrice.com (official artist website) where you can get, among other things, song lyrics, live gig information and official news.
          http://www.eskimofriends.com/ (unofficial fan website)
          www.damienrice.co.uk (unofficial fan website)

          ** Overall **

          I would definitely recommend that you listen to this album. Like I said, it won’t be to everyone’s taste but it is something different in an already diverse musical world. If you like David Gray’s earlier music then there is a good chance that you will enjoy this. If not then give it a listen anyway, you may just find yourself moved.

          Thanks for reading

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          • Bad Boys (DVD) / DVD / 17 Readings / 15 Ratings
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            28.01.2005 14:11
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            I have no recollection of this film being released either in the cinema or on DVD and indeed was blissfully unaware that it existed until I went off to university, where one of my housemates was a big fan of the film. Determined to see what all the fuss was about I watched his copy of the film and was instantly hooked by it and after a couple more viewings was able to quote most of the script word for word.

            ** Background **

            Bad Boys is an action adventure film based around the Miami Police Department and specifically the narcotics officers. The film was released in 1995 and is written by George Gallo, who has also been involved in writing the sequel (Bad Boys II). Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer have teamed up to direct and produce (respectively) it, and give it the touch of action that only they can. When you consider that Bay and Bruckheimer have also been involved in Pearl Harbour, Armageddon and The Rock then you have an idea of what sort of film to expect.

            ** Storyline **

            Mike and Marcus have just made a career bust of heroin. Safely locked away in a custom built cage in the police station what could possibly happen to it? Well Fouchet and his crew have different ideas and mastermind an elaborate robbery plan to get hold of the heroin, which is worth $100 million. Late one night Fouchet kills a fake policeman to act as a decoy and empty the police station. With most on duty cops out hunting for a killer, Fouchet and co use the ventilation system to get into the station and get the heroin out.

            With the drugs gone and internal affairs suspecting an internal job, Mike and Marcus are given 72 hours to find out who is responsible and recover the drugs. Mike thinks that his friend Max may be able to tip them off about people celebrating but the investigation becomes personal when Fouchet murders Max. Julie witnesses Fouchet murdering Max and is able to identify him. Unfortunately Julie is mistrusting of the police and will only deal with Mike Lowrey.

            When Julie calls to speak to Mike, he is unavailable. As Julie will only deal with Mike, Marcus has to imitate Mike to try and get to the bottom of the case. Fun and games are guaranteed as Mike and Marcus have to swap lives and maintain the lie to get the drugs back and find Max’s killer.

            Will Mike and Marcus get the drugs back before internal affairs shut them down? Will they find Fouchet before he completes his deal to move the drugs on and disappears? Can they keep their partnership together living each other’s lives?

            ** Main Characters **

            Mike Lowrey – played by Will Smith (I,Robot, Men In Black) is a narcotics cop in Miami. Mike is a wealthy young man who has been left a lot of money by his parents who have died. Mike enjoys the finer things in life and his pride and joy is his new limited edition Porsche. He is something of a ladies man but enjoys his bachelor lifestyle too much for anything serious.

            Marcus Burnett – played by Martin Lawrence (National Security) is Mike’s partner. Marcus is Mike’s working class sidekick. He is happily married with kids and lives a quiet life in the suburbs. He has a good relationship with Mike and they spend a lot of time together socially.

            Fouchet – played by Tcheky Karyo (Kiss of the Dragon, The Core) is a drug dealer who masterminded stealing heroin from the police station. He plans to try and move the drugs on quickly and has chemists in place to process it as quickly as possible. In the meantime he must clean up any loose ends associated with the robbery.

            Max Logan – played by Karen Alexander is a friend of Mike Lowrey. Max is a working girl and Mike asks her to keep an eye out for anyone acting strangely in the wake of the robbery. Max and Mike have been friends for a while and has a soft spot for him.

            Julie Mott – played by Tea Leoni (Jurassic Park III, Deep Impact) is Max Logan’s flatmate. When Julie witnesses Max’s murder at the hands of Fouchet, Mike Lowrey is the only person she will talk to about it. She is mistrusting of the police but will talk to Mike because of his friendship with Max.

            Captain Howard – played by Joe Pantoliano (Daredevil, Memento) is Mike and Marcus’ commanding officer. He is getting pressure from internal affairs about the robbery being an inside job and is desperate for Mike and Marcus to recover the dope.

            ** DVD Extras **

            I am aware that there are many different versions of this DVD available to buy and I'm sure that each version has slightly different extras on it. I can only really comment on the extras on my copy of the DVD so I apologise if this is not very extensive. I copy I have is the single disc collectors edition. I have had it for a couple of years now and am not sure that it is still available to buy.

            “Putting The Boom & Bang In Bad Boys” – Documentary
            This is a documentary about the special effects and stunts used in the film. It contains commentary from Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Michael Bay and all the special effects and firearms team.

            “Damage Control” Multi-Angle SFX Featurette
            A series of clips going into some of the special effects used on the set and how they were created. There are various firearms and pyrotechnics that can be viewed in slow motion.

            Theatrical Trailer
            The Theatrical trailer used to promote the film when it was released in the cinema.

            Photo Gallery
            A selection of photo’s taken on the set during filming.

            3 Music Videos (Diana King, Warren G, 69 Boys)
            Diana King sings “Shy Guy” while Martin Lawrence gets into the mood of the song. The video also contains clips from the film. Warren G sings “So Many Ways” again with clips from the film included in the music video. 69 Boys perform “Five O, Five 0” which of course contains clips from the film.

            Feature-Length Commentary by Director Michael Bay

            Talent Profiles
            There are a list of professional achievements and personal history for Michael Bay, Will Smith, Martin Lawrence and Tea Leoni. The information is something similar to what you would find on imdb.com

            ** My Opinion **

            I have a pretty bizarre definition of what makes a great film and often it depends on what mood I am in when I first watch it. Some of the films I like a quite clever films, which you have to think about and maintain suspense and mystery throughout, others are just fun films. Top Gun is one of my all time favourite films but only because it is such good fun and has so many quotable lines in it. For me Bad Boys is another film in this vein. It is a fun film to watch but is never likely to win any awards, but it would almost certainly be in my top 20 favourite films. I must have watched this film ten times over the years and have never got bored of it.

            So, I guess all that remains is for me to justify why I like this film so much. This is actually a lot harder than it should be for a film that I am so passionate about because even now I am not sure what it is that makes this film so entertaining.

            Lets start with the storyline. I guess the easiest way to describe the plot for this film is to say that it is a fairly standard police based thriller. That is to say there is nothing particularly groundbreaking or mysterious about the story. Don’t expect any sudden twists in the plot because you will be disappointed. It is very much a case of what you see is what you get. Having said that the story does lend itself very well to dramatic action scenes, explosions, gunfights and of course not forgetting the comedy one-liners. Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer have something of a passion for action scenes and have not missed an opportunity to incorporate them into this film.

            Now for the characters and the character development. As with most action-based films, the character development has been somewhat neglected in this film. What little development is included focuses on the two main characters of Lowrey and Burnett, with the peripheral characters being almost completely neglected. Given the nature of this film, too much character development would have been a waste of time and effort as it is not the primary focus of the film. However, the fact that the majority of the characters in the film are completely neglected is slightly disappointing and leaves most of the characters very one-dimensional.

            Moving onto the acting itself. In my opinion Smith and Lawrence work really well together in this film. I think both of them are quite funny in their respective roles and go a long way to making this film the success that it has become. Smith brings some real class and glamour to his role and is well cast as the carefree bachelor. Likewise Lawrence does well as the more cautious family guy bringing his own brand of humour and character to the role. The other positive thing to come out of the acting is the on screen relationship between Smith and Lawrence. It was quite important for the story and the success of the film that Smith and Lawrence worked well together and it was believable that they were on the same wavelength. They achieved this chemistry with some success and really brought their character’s relationship to life.

            Aside from Smith and Lawrence I have to say that I was fairly disappointed with the performances of the rest of the cast. Admittedly there wasn’t a lot in any of the roles for them to tackle but their performances still seemed a little cardboard. Karyo never really brought any sort of presence to the “bad guy” role meaning that you never really felt like he was going to get away with it. Similarly with the female interest in the film where Leoni fails to bring any real character to the role.

            It all seems fairly negative so far so why do I like this film so much? Well it is down to the script, the performances of Smith and Lawrence and the action scenes. The action scenes have been well thought out and have been used to enhance the storyline rather than take over it. They are fairly elaborate as you would expect from Michael Bay but still maintain a degree of realism so not to make a complete mockery of the film. I have already talked about the on screen chemistry between Lawrence and Smith so all that leaves is the script. One of the few common denominators between the films I like is the one-liners and quotable sections of the script, and this film is up there with the best of them for quotable lines. The wit and charm of Smith and Lawrence combined with the script writing of Gallo provides plenty of memorable lines for you to take away with you after the film.

            ** Memorable Quotes **

            These are some of my personal favourite quotes from the film. There are many more that could have been included but in the interests of not boring you I have kept it short.

            “Everyone wants to be like Mike”

            “Punch it, just punch it”

            “He shot you, he shot me, we beatin’ him down”

            ** More Information **

            Like the sound of what you’ve read here and are looking for some more information? Check out these sites for more detail about this film.

            http://www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/catalog/catalogDetail_DVD043396107120.html

            http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112442/

            ** Availability **

            This film is widely available on DVD from most retailers. The cheapest place I have seen it is Blah DVD, where at the time of writing it can be bought for £5.99, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if it could be picked up for less than this on the high street or at other online retailers.

            It can also be obtained as part of a box set with the sequel, but of course this is more expensive.

            ** Overall **

            I really enjoy watching this film. It never fails to cheer me up. There is nothing new here and nothing too taxing, but it is a fun and entertaining film. All in all a fantastic film that everyone should see at least once, although I suspect it is the sort of film you will either love or hate. Just like marmite.

            Thanks for reading

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            • 21 Grams (2003) (DVD) / DVD / 20 Readings / 18 Ratings
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              26.01.2005 14:46
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              I had heard bits and pieces about this film when it was released in the cinema but was never overly desperate to see it. For some reason when it was released on DVD I was desperate to see it so took the plunge and rented it one night. I sat down in the front of the telly, had a couple of beers and started watching the film. I tried to put my lack of understanding of the film to the beer but as I was only starting my first can when I lost the plot of the film it seems unlikely.

              ** Background **

              21 Grams is a difficult film to talk about without giving anything away. It is written by Guillermo Arriaga and directed by Alejandro Inarritu. It is a combination of an interesting story, great acting and a disjointed timeline that has all been merged into an end product that requires as much from the audience as it offers to them. This is not the sort of film where you can sit down and switch off and still enjoy. The disjointed timeline of the film means that the audience are required to piece the events together for themselves rather being shown them in a linear fashion.

              ** Storyline **

              This is not the easiest film to describe so I apologise if this doesn’t do the story justice or whet your appetite for the film.

              Paul Rivers is a mathematician who is very ill and requires a transplant operation to save his life. If a suitable donor cannot be found in the next month then Paul will die. Paul’s wife, Mary, is looking after her husband while he is ill despite the fact that their marriage is on the verge of ruin. Despite being very ill and requiring oxygen to breath properly, Paul continues to smoke and as a consequence of that risks his own health and his chances of getting a donor.

              Mary on the other hand is desperate to have Paul’s child and wants to take steps to ensure that this can happen even if Paul dies. After several tests, it is discovered that Mary is having difficulty conceiving and will require medical assistance. Mary seeks medical assistance to set the wheels in motion for artificial insemination. Paul doesn’t seem too convinced by the idea because of the state of their marriage but is prepared to humour her while it looks like he will die soon.

              Christina and Michael Peck have two daughters and live in the suburbs. Christina is a housewife and loving mother, while Michael is an architect. They live a comfortable, almost idyllic life on the surface of things, although all is not so perfect below the surface. Christina is recovering from a drug problem, but with the help and support of her husband is managing to kick the habit.

              Jack Jordan is an ex-con who after serving time in prison is determined to set his life straight and be a good Christian with the help of Jesus. He has a loving wife, Marianne, and two children who he hasn’t seen much of because of his time in prison. Jack absorbs himself in religion as he attempts to live a pure life and prevent any more time away from his family. Jack and Marianne are nowhere near as wealthy as the Peck’s and struggle to provide for their family.

              These three couples are leading seemingly unrelated lives until a tragic accident conspires to throw them together and turn each of their lives upside down. Each of them must follow their own path to find spiritual peace, but the consequences of their actions will have dramatic effects on each other. Christina must learn to deal with the present and the prospects for the future. Jack is forced to put his faith in Jesus to the test. Paul must face the prospect of dieing. All three of them will find hope and despair in their own ways.

              ** Characters **

              Paul Rivers - played by Sean Penn (Mystic River), is a critically ill mathematician who is waiting for a transplant operation. His condition is so acute that if he does not receive a transplant soon he will die within a month. Despite being seriously ill, Paul is determined to keep what pleasures he can for whatever time he has left.

              Mary Rivers – played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, is the wife of Paul Rivers. Despite the fact that their marriage is going through a rough patch, Mary is determined to help Paul through the next few months and wants to become pregnant with his child.

              Christina Peck - played by Naomi Watts (The Ring, Mulholland Drive), is a loving housewife (to Michael) with two daughters. She lives a quite suburban life but has a dark past, which she is trying to recover from with the help of her family. Christina and Michael live a comfortable life and are in a position to provide everything their family needs.

              Jack Jordan - played by Benico Del Toro (Traffic, The Usual Suspects), is an ex-con who has seen the light of God and is trying to live a pure and honest life. Jack has a loving wife and children whom he is determined to do the best by. His first love however is to Jesus as Jack seeks a way to stay clear of trouble and go straight.

              ** My Opinion **

              I must admit that the first time I saw this film I wasn’t really sure what I thought about it. There is no denying that it is quite different to anything else I have seen to date but I wasn’t sure that it worked well enough to make this film one that I could really enjoy. This uncertainty lead me to watch the film again the following night when I was in a better frame of mind and this time I got a lot more out of it. Lucky for me Blockbuster does 2 night rentals these days.

              There is no doubting that the most striking aspect of this film is the disjointed timeline. There have been many films that have attempted a disjointed timeline and each have had varying degrees of success. For me, the best one has been Pulp Fiction. This is not like Pulp Fiction. 21 Grams is a lot more fragmented than Pulp Fiction was making it a lot more taxing to watch. This is the only film I have seen that has been disjointed to this level and I am not sure I would rush to see another one. The timeline is a big selling point for the film in that it is something different for an audience that has seen it all before. Having said that, for me I am not sure that it adds a great deal to the story and in this sense it may actually be a drawback for the film.

              I like the idea of a disjointed timeline in a film and the mystery it generates. It makes the viewer guess on where the storyline is going and it is not until the end of the film that everything falls into place. For it to work at all the storyline needs to be simple enough for the viewer to remember all the main points and place them in the correct order in their heads. With the disjointed timeline removed I think that the storyline is simple enough to make a disjointed timeline work. Somehow though I am not sure that it does. For me I think the timeline aspect in some way removes from the moral elements of the film and what the film is actually trying to tell us. I think the message would have been clearer and better without the jumbled timeline.

              It has been a fairly negative assessment of the film so far, but the good news is that it is about to get much better as we move onto the acting. I have never been a big fan of Sean Penn or his films but I have to say in this film I thought he was excellent. There was plenty for him to get into in his role as he plays a critically ill person as well as a fit and able person on a quest to discover himself.

              Naomi Watts and Benico Del Toro are both superb too. Watts does particularly well in the more emotional scenes in the film. I didn’t know a lot about her up until a couple of years ago, but after being the best thing about “The Ring”, I have been very impressed. She does brilliantly in this role, which must have been a very difficult role to get into. Del Toro gives another typically gritty performance as he has shown in some of his previous films like Traffic.

              All in all I couldn’t fault the acting and for me it was far and away the best part of the film. I like the idea behind the film and I am glad that I have seen it. If you have the patience to stay with it the first time you watch it you will be rewarded but this is not something I could watch over and over. For me it is a great idea that could have been done better.

              ** Quotes **

              “God even knows when a single hair moves on your head” Jack Jordan

              “They say we all lose 21 grams at the exact moment of our death . . . everyone. The weight of a stack of Nickels. The weight of a chocolate bar. The weight of a hummingbird.”

              ** More Information **

              Want a better description of the story or just some more information about the film? Check out these links:
              http://www.21-grams.com/index.php
              http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0315733/

              ** Availability **

              This film is now widely available from all good DVD/VHS retailers and can be picked up for as little as £8 on DVD from CD-Wow (true as at the time of writing).

              ** Overall **

              I would recommend that everyone see this film once (maybe twice), but you will probably want to rent this rather than buy it. The impact the film has is significantly reduced once you have seen it so it is not the sort of film you would want to own. So, ditch the beer and get yourself a coffee and prepare to concentrate for a couple of hours.

              Thanks for reading.

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              • The Generals Daughter (DVD) / DVD / 10 Readings / 9 Ratings
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                14.12.2004 00:24
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                After having something of a break from film reviews and I back to what I know. To keep with the theme of my more recent film reviews I am going to use another John Travolta film as my subject: The General’s Daughter. I first saw this film when it was released in the cinema and now own it on DVD. It is far from a masterpiece of filmmaking but is certainly entertaining enough to be watched more than once.

                ** Background **

                The General’s Daughter can be broadly described as a thriller. It is directed by Simon West, who has done films like Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and is based on the novel of the same name written by Nelson DeMille. The story has been adapted for the screen by Christopher Bertolini and William Goldman.

                ** Storyline **

                Sgt. Frank White is preparing for an arms deal in a couple of days. Along with another soldier they are going to sell a large number of guns to a member of the public. The only problem for the other soldier involved in the trade and the buyer is the Sgt. White is actually military investigator Paul Brenner. Brenner has been working under cover using a stereotypical southern image for a couple of months to crack this deal. Needless to say the deal goes bad and has an all action ending.

                With this case wrapped up only minutes earlier, Brenner gets a call from his commanding officer telling him to get over to the scene of a homicide. This is not any ordinary homicide though for a number of reasons. Firstly, it appears as if the victim has been stripped, spread-eagled, bound, raped and tortured prior to being murdered. Secondly, the victim’s name is Capt. Elisabeth Campbell, daughter of Lt. Gen Joseph Campbell.

                Lt. Gen Campbell is due to retire in the coming weeks and is looking forward to a career in politics by pursuing a vice presidential nomination. The publicity that would surround this sort of investigation could be damaging to his future campaign so that army is very keen to solve the murder quickly and keep the investigation quiet.

                To help solve the case Brenner is given the assistance of Sara Sunhill, a rape councillor. There is romantic history between Brenner and Sunhill, making their cooperation slightly more complicated. With the upcoming retirement of Lt.Gen Campbell the pressure is on Brenner and Sunhill to find and convict a suspect quickly and quietly. Elisabeth’s commanding officer, Col. Robert Moore, seems most likely to hold the key to the investigation but his cryptic answers, mind games and lack of cooperation make finding the truth difficult. The problem is that as the truth unfolds it becomes harder and harder to contain the story.

                ** Characters **

                Paul Brenner – played by John Travolta (Pulp Fiction, Basic) is a military investigator working at Fort MacCallum. Initially seen in the film undercover as Sgt. Frank White, Brenner is a tough military investigator who gets results. He has a no-nonsense attitude but is intelligent in his investigation and questioning.

                Sara Sunhill – played by Madeleine Stowe (We Were Soldiers) is a rape investigator working at Fort MacCallum. Sunhill has previously been romantically involved with Brenner but is professional enough to put any difficulties aside to solve the murder.

                Lt. Gen Campbell – played by James Cromwell (Blackball) is a retiring general. Wishing to pursue a career in politics and more specifically a nomination for vice president Campbell is to retire from the army in a couple of weeks. The murder of his daughter almost seems to take second place to his political aspirations although he is clearly upset at this loss.

                Capt. Elisabeth Campbell – played by Leslie Stefanson (Unbreakable) is the daughter of Lt. Gen Campbell. Elisabeth is found murdered on a remote training range. Her murder appears to have been brutal. Elisabeth appears to several skeletons in the closet that when uncovered will reveal a little more about the motives for her murderer.

                Col. Robert Moore – played by James Wood (Any Given Sunday) is Elisabeth’s commanding officer. Working in psychological operations, Moore is a very deep individual who enjoys analysing everything. He distracts from his answers during questioning by detailing the implications of the questions and is normally vague or cryptic in his responses.

                ** DVD Extras **

                Regular readers of my film reviews will know that I tend not to pay much attention to the extras on DVD’s, but for those who is interested here what’s available on this DVD.

                2 Theatrical Trailers
                4 Deleted scenes including an alternate ending
                Director commentary
                Behind the scenes featurette

                ** My Opinion **

                Although I have seen this film a number of times I would be lying if I tried to build it up as a great film. It is a film built on a tried and trusted formula and attempts to add just enough character to make it stand out from the crowd. There is nothing ground breaking in terms of filmmaking here so if that is what you are after probably not worth reading on. If you like your thriller films and are not feeling adventurous then this film does have plenty to offer.

                Given that the basics of this film are nothing original, then there must be something about the film to hold the viewers interest. This is where the storyline and the characters have a big part to play. The storyline is certainly good enough to hold interest and provides enough suspense and character development to make the film a success. What is good about the character and story development is the way they are intertwined, but more about that later. The story unfolds at a good pace throughout the film and holds enough suspense to make this thriller worth watching.

                Probably the next thing to say about this film is the strength of the cast. There are big name actors to be found right throughout the cast, including many peripheral roles in the story. For example, James Wood has a relatively small part to play as Col. Robert Moore, although it is quite an important part in the development of the film. Similarly James Cromwell has a small but crucial part to play in the development of the plot.

                A strong cast does not always guarantee good performances and a good film, but in this case the acting is good with the whole cast doing everything that is asked of them. The final production is in no way let down by the performances of the cast, who perform well in some uninspiring characters.

                I have mentioned before how I think Travolta is well suited to this sort of army role and he again performs well in the role. In contrast to some of his other roles similar to this though there is little character development for Travolta to get his teeth into and he is restricted to a fairly bland role. Travolta generally performs very well with what this role has to offer but does show flashes of why he so often comes in for some criticism. When performing his undercover role at the beginning of the film he uses this terrible southern style accent, which is far from well performed. Strangely though this doesn’t detract too much from the film, although it does give something of a comical side to the opening couple of scenes. Travolta should take it as an indication of his strengths though and consider it when taking on future roles.

                Madeleine Stowe stars as Brenner’s co investigator and puts in a solid performance. Similar to Travolta’s role, there is not much character development for Stowe to get into, but she does what is required of her very well. Acting as second fiddle to Travolta for most of the film, there is not much to Stowe’s character but she works well with what is available.

                As I have mentioned above there is not too much character development for the two lead characters. There is plenty of character development in the film though in the form of the important peripheral characters. Elisabeth Campbell is probably the most developed character despite being murdered early on in the film. The character is only seen briefly prior to her murder and isn’t really introduced until after her death. The development of this character is integral to the continued suspense in the storyline.

                Col Robert Moore and Lt Gen Campbell are also well developed as characters throughout the film. Both are interesting characters and really add depth to the storyline.

                ** Memorable Quotes **

                “. . . the murderer may be in this room, sitting all smug and shiny, until we walked in, and now maybe he’s a little less smug and a little less shiny, and that’s pretty cool!”

                ** More Information **

                For a different description of the film and full cast listing check out imdb at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0144214/.

                ** Warning **

                This film does contain scenes of rape, violence and sex and may cause offence to some viewers.

                ** Availability **

                At the time of writing, this film is available on Amazon for around £9. Failing that it is widely available on most Internet DVD vendors.

                ** Overall **

                I would certainly recommend that if you are a fan of this genre then you should see this film. It is one of the better thriller films I have seen and offers good story and character development. If you are looking for something a little different then this is probably not for you.

                Thanks for reading

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                • More +
                  14.12.2004 00:22
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                  After a whole load of hype, advertising and excitement, The Incredible’s has finally hit the big screen. It has been a long time in the making and I for one was really quite excited about this latest offering from Pixar. After having relatively little to do one Sunday afternoon I decided to take advantage of the advanced screenings and go see this film.

                  ** Background **

                  The Incredibles is the latest offering from Disney Pixar Animation Studios, following up the box office success of the likes of Finding Nemo, Toy Story and Monsters Inc. This time Pixar have combined with Brad Bird to make an animated film about The Incredibles. Bird has written, directed and even voiced this latest film, which seems sure to be a box office smash. Brad Bird has previously been involved with both the “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill”.

                  ** Storyline **

                  A superhero’s work is never done. Well this time it appears that it is. Superheros are busy going about their business, saving people’s lives and fighting evil. Mr Incredible is one of the greatest superhero’s of all and is so dedicated to his job that he makes himself late for his wedding saving mankind from itself. When Mr Incredible foils a suicide attempt the man decides to sue him for both injuries he sustained in the rescue and even the fact that he is still alive. This opens the flood gates for a whole raft of law suits against superheroes.

                  Desperate to stop this trend of suing superheroes the government make a deal that states that they will pick up all costs and absolve the superheroes of all wrong doing in exchange for the superheroes living a normal life from now on. Thrown into the deal is a relocation programme where the superheroes are located in a quiet neighbourhood, given a new identity and new profession.

                  Bob Parr used to be the legendary Mr Incredible. He used to live an exciting life and was a figure that children looked up to. Now he lives with his family in a quiet suburb and works for an insurance company as a claims adjuster. Bob’s wife is Helen who was also formerly a superhero in the form of Elastigirl. Together they have three children: Violet, Dash and Jack Jack. Bob and Helen’s children each have their own special powers that they are forced to conceal. The whole family find it difficult to adjust to living a normal life with their super powers, but none so much as Bob.

                  Bob is bored of his job and hates the fact that he is unable to help people while doing it. He still dreams of the good old days when he was free to help people and even spends nights listening to the police radio waiting for emergencies that he can assist with.

                  When a mysterious character offers Bob a chance to work on a top-secret assignment on a remote island he jumps at it. Little does he know about what lies ahead?

                  ** Characters **

                  Mr Incredible/Bob Parr – voiced by Craig Nelson (Devil’s Advocate) is a former superhero trying to lead a normal life. Bob remembers only too well what it was like when superheroes were free to help people and longs for a return to the action. He secretly performs superhero rescues without the knowledge of his family or the government. Mr Incredible’s super power is his extraordinary strength.

                  Elastigirl/Helen Parr – voiced by Holly Hunter (Thirteen) is a former superhero trying to raise a family with Bob in the suburbs. Helen is worried about what Bob gets up to but understands his frustration at a lack of action. Helen also remembers what it used to be like but it determined to live a normal life with her family. As Elastigirl, Helen’s super power was her flexibility and agility.

                  Frozone/Lucius Best – voiced by Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Basic) is a former superhero and friend of the Parr family. Lucius is still friends with Bob and Helen despite their relocations and new identities. Lucius and Bob go out each week for a “bowling night” where they have been known to perform illegal acts of heroism. Frozone’s super power is his ability to freeze things and his agility and balance to skate on the ice he has created.

                  Dashiel Parr – voiced by Spencer Fox is the son of Bob and Helen. He is frustrated that he is not able to play out with the other children because of his freakish speed. Wanting to keep a low profile, Bob and Helen prevent Dash entering sports day and similar things to keep his secret power hidden.

                  Violet Parr – voiced by Sarah Vowell is the daughter of Bob and Helen. Being the daughter of two super hero’s means that you are bound to be a little different. Violet is really shy and lacks confidence. Little does she know that she has super powers that allow her to turn invisible and create force fields.

                  ** Cinematic Extras **

                  Fans of DVD extras will be pleased to know that Pixar have done another short film to accompany this cinematic release. Immediately prior to the film starting there is a short presentation called “Boundin’” about a little lamb. I’m sure that when this film makes it to DVD this will be one of the extras. If you don’t fancy this film but enjoy these short offers from Pixar then a teaser can be viewed on their website.

                  ** My Opinion **

                  I have been a big fan of these animated films since the release of Toy Story. Some of them have been brilliant (Toy Story, Toy Story 2) and others have been average (Bugs Life). Regardless of how good the film actually is there is always a great deal of hype, publicity and excitement. Presumably this is based on the success of the previous films but either way, this film has been surrounded by a buzz of excitement for the last couple of months. Well the film itself is finally here and after waiting to see this film for a couple of months I finally got the chance to make my own mind up about this latest offering from Pixar.

                  Previous films from the Pixar clan have always had a dual entertainment value aimed at the different groups who are likely to be watching the film. Firstly there is the storyline, which is normally aimed more at children, and then there is the humour, which is often included more for the enjoyment of adults than the children. Being an adult (legally speaking) who is a big kid at heart I have always managed to enjoy these films in both respects. Would this latest film provide the same enjoyment for all?

                  Well the simple answer I guess is yes. This is fantastically entertaining film and manages to live up to the hype that has surrounded its release. It has a storyline that is better than any of the previous Pixar productions and it still manages to maintain their own brand of humour for the adults.

                  Pixar’s previous films have always had good storylines rather than just relying on the quality of their animation to entertain the audience and this film is no exception. The story is well developed and provides plenty of background to make the actions of the characters understandable. It seems strange to be talking about an animated film in terms of character development and character motives but there has clearly been a lot of effort put into providing that sort of background detail for the audience. The story develops well throughout the film, holding just enough suspense to hold the viewers attention without making anything too complicated as to lose the primary audience, children.

                  The characters used in the film are superb as are the actors/actresses that have been used to voice them. The main cast of the film is quite small so as not to over complicate the film. The Parr family form the central characters with a bad guy (who I am not going to tell you about). Other characters, like Frozone, have smaller parts to play in the story and do it well. There have been enough characters included to make the story interesting without overloading the viewer. The choice of actors/actresses used to voice the characters is brilliant too. Although only have a small part to play in the film, Jackson is brilliant as Frozone, giving a distinctive performance. Holly Hunter also does brilliantly as Helen Parr/Elastigirl, bringing real enthusiasm to the role.

                  The animation in this film is better than ever as you would probably expect. The characters, while maintaining their cartoon image, are more lifelike than anything we have seen before. This is the first film where Pixar have attempted to portray humans in their films (except for some background appearances) and they have done a brilliant job. Using superhero’s for the basis of the story gives them some licence in the character reactions but the outcome is very impressive.

                  ** Moments To Watch Out For **

                  Without giving too much of the story away here are some of the best bits you should watch out for if you watch this film.

                  The “Star Wars” style chase scene where Dash is being chased through the jungle.

                  The brilliant Edna ‘E’ Mode who is brilliant as the stylist.

                  When Dash gets reprimanded for putting a drawing pin on the teachers chair.

                  ** More Information **

                  Like the sound of what you’ve read but want some more information? Check out the official film website http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/incredibles/main.html or have a look at the Pixar site http://www.pixar.com/index.html for further details.

                  ** Overall **

                  Overall I would say that this is a very impressive piece of work and a thoroughly enjoyable film to watch. It is good quality entertainment for all members of the family and I would recommend everyone to see it. I certainly enjoyed this film and wouldn’t hesitate to watch it again. If you liked any of the previous films then rest assured that Pixar have used the same tried and tested formula for this film and the results are as good as you would expect.

                  Thanks for reading

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                  • ING Direct / Bank / 12 Readings / 10 Ratings
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                    24.11.2004 20:44
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                    After a relentless marketing campaign for the last 6 months or so I finally gave in and opened an ING Direct Savings account. I am a terrible at saving money, preferring to live for today and worry about paying for tomorrow when it gets here. The only way I have managed to do it previously was to have a book based account where I had to go into the branch to withdraw money. This was safe as I worked during the week and the bank was only open till lunchtime on a Saturday meaning that I had to be really motivated if I wanted to make a withdrawal. This worked fine for a year but over the summer I became disillusioned with the amount of interest I was getting on my money with that account and started looking at the alternatives. ING Direct seemed to be offering one of the best interest rates around and was available on the Internet, which is great for me. I decided to try it out and see how I got on.

                    ** Company Background **

                    ING Direct was launched in the UK in May 2003 and is part of the International Netherlands Group (ING). Based in Reading (Berkshire, UK), ING Direct is active in eight countries including Australia, America, Canada, France and Spain. ING Direct currently has over 10 million customers and offers higher interest rates than most banks by keeping its costs down. This is most notable in the fact that there are no high street branches for ING Direct.

                    ING itself is represented in 60 countries worldwide and is recognised as one of the world’s largest financial services organisations.

                    ** Website **

                    The ING Direct website differs from most banks websites in that it is simple to use and easy to find the information you want. Obviously ING Direct offer much fewer services than an average bank and so there is a lot less information to convey. The areas of the site are simply broken down to allow easy access to information and services for both existing customers and non-customers.

                    There are a series of large links across the top of the page offer access to all the main sections of the site: Login, About ING Direct, About our savings account, Open an account, Contact us, Careers.

                    The sections of the site offering information about the bank and the account itself are well written and informative, offering all the information a potential customer would have before opening a new account. There are also tutorials of common operations on the site to help customers who may not be particularly comfortable using banking websites.

                    ** Interest Rate **

                    Simple really, it is 5% (This is true at the time of writing and may be subject to change). This is true for any balance. The interest rate is not tiered so regardless of how much money you have to invest you will get the same interest rate.

                    ** Opening An Account **

                    There are a number of different ways you can open an account with ING Direct. Being predominantly an online bank there is a facility to open an account online. For people less comfortable using the Internet there is also the option to open your account through the post or over the phone.

                    To open an account by post you must call a free phone help line and request an application pack. Once you have the application pack it can be completed and returned to open your account. To open an account by phone simply phone a free phone number and hand over your details.

                    Being fairly computer literate I decided to go for the online application. The online application process is very quick and very simple. Before opening an account you must have the details of your current account. The new savings account will be linked to this current account and money can only be transferred to and from this account. This is part of the account security described below. To complete the account application you need to fill in some basic personal details, your current account details, some direct debit details and some simple account options. Once you have completed the online application you have to post off a cheque from the current account you have given the details for. This is an additional security measure. Once the cheque is received the direct debit is set up and the account details are posted out to you along with the passwords needed to access the account.

                    When I opened my account I was given a password for the account. The login process has changed since then to include a memorable date and pin number. I have had to set these details up since opening my account but I am not sure what the exact process is for new accounts.

                    ** Internet Banking **

                    Over the years I have used a number of different Internet banking sites. There have been some good ones and there have been some bad ones. As far as I am concerned this is one of the better ones. The layout of the site is simple to use, offering easy access to all the information and functionality you want.

                    When you first log into the site you are presented with an account summary page. This show the main details of all the accounts currently registered in your name. It is possible to have multiple accounts registered under a single login and this first page shows main details including balances of all these accounts.

                    There are six sections to the site: View my accounts, Move my money, Open additional account, Change my details, Help and Contact Us.

                    View my accounts allows access to statements and account details for each account registered under the current login. The introduction screen described above acts as a home page for this section of the site. From this page you can view statement and pending transfers for each account.

                    Move my money allows transfer of funds between accounts. This section allows one off payments from your current account to your savings account and withdrawals from your savings to your current account. Deposits and withdrawals can be carried out immediately or scheduled to occur in the future.

                    Open additional account allows a new account to be created under the same login. The process for opening a second account is much simpler than opening the first account. No additional login details are required so the process is greatly simplified.

                    Change my details allows basic maintenance of personal details like changing of address, changing of pin number and memorable date, changing of regular payment details and changing email address.

                    ** Security **

                    Probably the most important aspect to consider when looking into an Internet site that is going to hold any sort of banking information for you is the security. A site could offer you an amazing interest rate on your money but if it is going to be easy for someone to steal that money then where is the point?

                    ING Direct handles security in two separate ways. Firstly there is the site security that is there to prevent unauthorised access to your account. There are various security fields that prevent general access to your account. Your account details are sent to you in the post to prevent any Internet interception of the details. There are all sorts of information about the security of the site and the steps the bank is taking to increase security. According to the site there have been no known security issues so far.

                    Probably the most reassuring part of their security policy for me is that even if someone managed to get into my account they only place they can transfer my money is back to my current account. As I mentioned previously when you open an account you link it to your current account. Once linked this account is the only account that you can withdraw money to. This effectively puts the security responsibility onto the other banks. I have never had any problems with my other Internet banking so I am feeling confident about this.

                    ** Logging In **

                    There are several levels of security that are applied when logging into your account. A customer number identifies your account. This is not something that would be widely known and is difficult enough to remember. It is a nine digit number that is unique to your account.

                    Once set up your account will also have a pin number and memorable date that will be required to be entered before you can access your account. The whole memorable date is required every time you login. Three digits from the pin are required each time you login. The three digits required are different each time you log in.

                    ** Accessing Your Money **

                    Money can be moved between your accounts using the online transfer service. A transfer can be set up to occur immediately or at some point in the future. There will be a small delay for the money to be moved between the accounts. The length of the delay will depend on the bank the money is being transferred to.

                    ** Navigation **

                    The navigation around the site is simple and consistent. The main sections of the site are accessed using tab style links at the top of the page. These tabs are always available allowing simple navigation between main sections of the site. Smaller sections of the site are accessed using hyper links on the pages. The look and feel of the pages is consistent and simple making navigation easy and intuitive.

                    ** Customer Service **

                    I have never had a need to use the customer service help line so I am not in a position to comment on the quality of the service. Hopefully I never will be. One thing I would say is that the customer service line is a free phone number which is much better than most banks I have had to call.

                    ** My Opinion **

                    I am a big fan of the bank and have already recommended it to everyone I know. The interest rate is superb and the quality of the Internet site makes it a pleasure to use. ING Direct is based on a simple idea and that is reflected in everything they have done. Nothing associated with the bank has been made any more complicated or flashy than it needs to be.

                    The website is nothing flashy and most web designers would probably call it quite boring. For me it is functional, secure and reliable. That is all I want in a banking website. If I want something with great graphics and stylish functionality I will go to another site. When I want to make my savings work for me I will come here. The site is simple to use and will appeal to people who are not so confident with the Internet. If you have the confidence to get online and take advantage of this site then it will not baffle you with technology. It is easy to set up and easy to use allowing easy access to everyone with some computer skills and access to the Internet. One drawback of this site is that it is not available on the high street but that is why it is able to offer the rates it does. At the moment its lack of high street presence will cost it some business but as the world becomes increasingly computer dependant this will be accessible to all.

                    I like the fact that the account is simple and doesn’t favour those with more money. No matter how much money you have to invest you will get the same high rate and as someone with little to invest I like that. This site may not be the best place if you have a fortune to invest but for Joe Average I think it offers as good a deal as you will get elsewhere.

                    The only other negative point I can think of about this site is the ability to transfer money out of it. The limited functionality for transferring money is caused by the security policy but it does not give customers much flexibility in moving their money. It can be worked around but is not necessarily ideal. I actually think it is quite a good security feature but other people may find it limiting.

                    Overall I think it is a great idea that has been well executed. I highly recommend this site to anyone looking for a savings account. The rate is superb and the Internet banking site is neat and functional. What more could you ask for?

                    ** More Information **

                    More information can be obtained from the ING Direct website: http://www.ingdirect.co.uk/

                    Thanks for reading.

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                    • More +
                      22.11.2004 00:11
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                      • "poor standard of room"

                      I should probably start this review by saying that this hotel is no longer owned by the Le Meridien group nor was it when I stayed in it. It has been sold to a smaller chain of hotels. I never stayed in this hotel when it was a member of the Le Merdien group so I don't know if it was different in those days.

                      ** Background **

                      I recently went to Leeds for a weekend to visit some friends and wanted a hotel within walking distance of the city centre. On previous visits I had stayed further out and had a nightmare trying to get a taxi back to the hotel when I came out of the pub or club. From looking on the map I could see that Hotel Metropole is located near the train station and at the back of majestic nightclub. An ideal location as far as I was concerned. As the sole intention of my stay was to catch up with some friends and do some shopping I wasn’t too bothered about the facilities offered by the hotel but was interested in their car parking facilities. The website I booked the hotel through helpfully told me that the hotel has its own free car park. As I was intending driving to Leeds this was another great feature of the hotel.

                      ** Booking **

                      I had left booking the hotel till the last minute and due to the deal I got on the hotel through the website (hotels.com) I had to pay for the stay in advance. The total was about £70 for the night, which at the time of booking I thought was fairly reasonable for a 4* hotel, with a free car park, located in walking distance of the city centre.

                      ** Facilities **

                      According to the site I booked the hotel through I could also expect the following facilities:
                      Restaurant
                      Bar
                      Internet Access
                      Breakfast (Not included in the cost of the room)
                      Room Service
                      Dry Cleaning
                      As I was only staying for a single night and was intending to go out I did not intend to make use of any of these facilities. As it turned out the hotel bar was still open when I got back in so I did pop in there for a drink. The bar was really small and quite expensive, as you would expect in a hotel. The only other thing to mention was that there wasn’t a seating area in the bar so people were sitting around in (the very large) reception area and in one of the main conference rooms (where there was a bit of a disco or something going on).

                      ** Look and Feel **

                      The whole hotel has a very old feel to it. It is a fairly old building and feels old when you are inside. The internal décor is very old and looks quite worn in places. As you can see from the list of facilities shown above, it does not have a lot of the facilities you get in a lot of other hotels of a similar rating. For example, there are no free leisure facilities (gym or swimming pool) available for guests, although I believe there are local facilities available at a suppliment.

                      ** My Experience **

                      I arrived at the hotel at around 12:30 the day I was checking in. The official check in time was 14:00 so I was an hour and a half early. Having stayed in numerous hotels before I felt confident that the room would be ready earlier than the advertised check in time and I would be able to dump my bags and head off to do some shopping. When I got to the reception desk I was greeted promptly, but when I told the young lady I was there to check in I was told that check in was not until 14:00. I was a little surprised that she did not take my name to check if the room was ready or anything before dismissing me but assumed it must be hotel policy. I was slightly put out by the way I was dismissed. The young lady was rude and abrupt. Weighing up what I was going to do in the meantime I decided to park my car in the hotel car park and head off into the city for a while and return later to check in. When I inquired as to the location of the car park I was told (abruptly) that it was full. Accepting that they can’t guarantee a parking space for every guest I asked if the lady could recommend somewhere else nearby where I could park my car. The response was abrupt and uninformative. Annoyed at the service I had just received I left the hotel and went to find somewhere to leave my car. On my way out of the hotel I decided to check the hotel car park. I would estimate that there are around 20 spaces in the car park for a hotel that probably has several hundred rooms!

                      I found some on-road parking for my car and returned to the hotel at 14:00 to check in. The receptionist was still abrupt and rude but managed to check me in without further incident. When I got up to my room I found that, keeping in theme with the rest of the hotel, it was quite old looking and the furniture was worn in places. I also found that some areas of the room were not as clean as I would expect. The windowsills and skirting boards were covered in a layer of dust and dirt and the room generally had quite a dirty feel to it. Having said that, on first inspection the room was functional (everything worked) and acceptable.

                      When I got up in the morning and was picking the bedding up off the floor I noticed several stains on the bedding, which implied that it hadn’t been washed as often as it should. On finding these stains I felt quite ill at the thought of having slept in the bed and decided to complain on my way out. When I returned to reception to check out the same receptionist as the previous day greeted me and she was still rude and abrupt. Not wanting to cause I scene in reception I wrote a letter to the hotel management to inform them of my findings. I have had a letter in return saying that this was a one off occurrence and they are working to fix the points I raised.

                      ** Conclusion **

                      In conclusion, it is safe to say that I will not be returning to this hotel nor will I be recommending it to anyone else. Further, having looked around I think that for the money there are better hotels available in the city centre.


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                      • Samsung SGH-E700 / Mobile Phone / 13 Readings / 10 Ratings
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                        22.11.2004 00:06
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                        I, as many others, have always favoured Nokia phones and through years of use become accustomed to the features they provided. It is not until you leave the Nokia fold and try something else that you really notice the small things about a phone that can make all the difference. On the surface of it a phone by a different manufacturer may seem to offer the same functionality as a Nokia phone, but it is the small differences that can make the difference between it being better or worse than what you had before. As far as I am concerned Nokia make are the best phones (functionally) and what all other manufacturers are competing with.

                        Sadly for Nokia, when I upgrade my phone I tend to be more interested in the appearance of the phone rather than anything else. When I came to upgrade my phone last time I wasn't overly impressed with the design of the latest Nokia phones so I decided to look at others.

                        I settled on the Samsung E700 based on the look and feel of the phone and a couple of features demonstrated to me in the shop that I will come onto later. I should say at this point that, despite my love of Nokia phones, I am very pleased with this phone and have no regrets about upgrading to it. I have had it for approaching a year and have had very few issues with it. The issues I have had have been relatively small and easily fixable.

                        I was first drawn to this phone by the appearance of it. Like all good phones it has a tasteful and classy appearance. There is no gimmick to the appearance of the phone; it has a functional and stylish design. It is a clam-style phone with no external aerial. The outside of the phone is deep blue and silver in colour and has a small LCD screen on the top. The lens for the camera is just above this screen too.

                        There is a button to access the camera on the right side of the phone and a volume control on the left. These are the only two buttons accessible without opening the phone. There is an infrared port and headphone socket on the left side of the phone too, with the port for the charger and data-cable being on the bottom. The case is quite robust and does not easily damage. Having dropped my phone a couple of times I am surprised how little noticeable damage it has sustained.

                        Moving inside the phone, the top half of the clam is taken up with the main screen, which is a good size and colour. The key layout is fairly standard with a small set of cursor keys above the numbers, which also act as quick links to some of the more common features of the phone, such as calendar, photo, write new text message and setting the ring tone. Either side of the cursor keys there are two action keys the function of which vary depending on which function is currently being performed. When the phone is first opened these buttons offer access to the phonebook and the menu system.

                        The phonebook offers several functions. Firstly and perhaps most obviously it allows you to create and search through phone numbers. Or perhaps more accurately phone records. There are two places a phone number can be saved using this phone. The first is on the SIM card, allowing it to be moved between phones as needed. The second is in the memory on the phone itself. If the number is saved on the phone itself then it is saved against a person. A person can have multiple numbers stored against them, as well as email addresses and images. A complete contact record can be stored in the phonebook for each person. This removes the need to have 3 records for each person in your address book: Bob mobile, Bob home, Bob work etc. Any images stored against the person are displayed on the outer LCD when they phone. The other functions the phonebook performs is to manage the speed dial settings, and offer some functions to manage the contents of the address book (such as delete all, send via infrared and copy all to phone).

                        The menu system is well designed and allows easy navigation between the main functions of the phone. There are multiple levels to the menu system in the phone: A main menu, which has around 8 items in it, and then smaller menus beneath this to distinguish the options. The menu options available are dependent on the network the phone is on. The menu described below is taken from the O2 network; some additional menu items may be available on other networks.

                        1. Messages: options for text and multimedia messages. Additionally there are options for voicemail and memory management. The text and multimedia messages each have a set of predefined folders including inbox, outbox and draft folders. It is not possible to define additional folders.

                        2. Call Records: a record of all your missed calls, received calls, dialled calls and your call time. The latter is not an option I like to check too often.

                        3. Sound Settings: this is where all the tone settings are. What will you choose for your incoming call tone, message tone or key tone? You select it all in here. Ring tones can be downloaded to the phone but there is no composer to make your own.

                        4. Phone Settings: all the other phone settings (not tone related are in here). You can set your greeting message, choose your wallpaper for the front screen, set the language, security options etc.

                        5. Organiser: all the calendar style functions are in here. Create memo’s, a to-do list, the time and date etc. This is also the option where the alarm clock settings are for anyone who has reason to use their phone to wake them up.

                        6. Network Services: all sorts of network and calling options. Decide if you want call waiting active, call divert and call barring.

                        7. Fun Box: all sorts of games and WAP options. Go “online” or play games in here. You can also download games to play on your phone.

                        8. Camera: all the photo options are in this menu. Taking photos, deleting photos and moving photos between folders can all be performed in here.

                        The camera is good with various modes available to get the best picture. Obviously it is not going to compete with the quality of a real camera, but what do you want from a phone? There are various features in the camera that make this phone good fun including the ability to take 9 or 15 multi shots (one after another in rapid succession) to capture a small picture board. You can also use the display on the outside of the phone to take photos if you are into taking pictures of yourself.

                        Sounds too good to be true? Well it probably is. There are a few things that I have noticed since having the phone that you should be aware of. Firstly with text messaging. The predictive text is pretty good but not as good as on recent Nokia’s (you can't go back to a previous suggestion if you miss it) and if you are writing a text and press the 'end call' button you lose everything you have written. Given the position of this button this happens more often that you would think.

                        Secondly because it is possible to access the camera using the button on the outside of the phone it is fairly easy to end up with a photo album full of pictures of the inside of your bag/pocket. This is a case of a price to pay for additional functionality. Having the ability to take photos without having to open the phone means that there is always the possibility that it could happen by accident. Staying with the photos it is also annoying that it is not possible to send them via infrared. To get the photo’s off the phone you have to either send them in a message or buy a data-cable and connect it to a PC.

                        I found the lack of Bluetooth a little disappointing too. It seems to be a standard means of connecting phones to peripheral devices and for it to be omitted from this phone seems like a waste, especially considering its poor use of infrared.

                        Like I said previously I have been pleased with the physical durability of this phone although I have heard of other people having trouble with the joint becoming a little loose. The only issue I have had with the physical build of the phone has been the battery, which has become unclipped on a couple of occasions.

                        Generally I am very pleased with this phone. When I started looking for an upgrade I wanted a slick looking phone with a built in camera and no external aerial. This phone has delivered on my requirements and more. Even considering the small faults mentioned above this is an excellent phone and depending what you are looking for certainly worth a look. Recommended.

                        Thanks for reading.

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                        • More +
                          08.11.2004 22:37
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                          For anyone who has seen the film and liked it I would think that the soundtrack is a must. The film has been made in such a way as to make the soundtrack an integral part of the story. The songs chosen have been well thought out and enhance the storyline during the film and allow you to relive a lot of the best parts of the film when listening to the soundtrack.

                          The soundtrack differs from other soundtracks in that it also contains various clips and quotes from the film in addition to the songs. I think this reflects the importance of the soundtrack to the film. It is not merely an afterthought released to make more money from the popularity of the film; it is a significant part of the film. The quotes and clips that have been used on the soundtrack relate to the point in the film where the song appears and also include some of the most quotable aspects of the film.

                          ** Track List **

                          1. Pumpkin and Honey Bunny – Misirlou (Dick Hale & His Del-Tones)
                          This track begins with the end of a conversation between Pumpkin and Honey Bunny while they are in a diner having breakfast. The end of their dialogue marks the beginning of an attempted burglary on the diner. The music that follows has become something of a theme for the film and is a bold electric guitar track.

                          2. Royale With Cheese
                          This track is a discussion between Vincent and Jules while in the car on the way to collect a case for Marcellus. The dialogue is taken directly from the film.

                          3. Jungle Boogie (Kool & The Gang)
                          Probably the weakest track on the album. There is a slightly funky feel to the start of the track but it never lives up to expectation. Definitely one to skip.

                          4. Let’s Stay Together (Al Green)
                          This track is one of my all time favourite soul songs performed by a legend. It is a slow, soothing track with a strong love theme. This track is certainly not for those who don’t have a soft side.

                          5. Bustin’ Surfboards (The Tornadoes)
                          This is the first of many tracks on this soundtrack to be music only tracks. This is predominantly a guitar track and has the relaxing sound of waves in the background. Far from my favourite track on the CD this track is better when considered with the film.

                          6. Lonesome Town (Ricky Nelson)
                          This is a very slow track performed with a single guitar for the backing music. The vocals really take center stage with this track, which has a 60’s feel to it.

                          7. Son Of A Preacher Man (Dusty Springfield)
                          Track 7 is another classic soul track performed by a great singer. This track is upbeat and will get you moving. The words are memorable and will soon have you singing along.

                          8. Zed’s Dead Baby – Bullwinkle Part II (The Centurians)
                          This track begins with an exert from the film where Butch returns to collect his girlfriend on a chopper. As he went out in a car she is a little curious as to where the bike has come from. The track itself is a guitar track without lyrics.

                          9. Jack Rabbit Slims Twist Contest – You Never Can Tell (Chuck Berry)
                          This track begins with an exert from the film where Vincent and Mia enter into a dancing competition while out for dinner. The dialogue introduces the contestants to the competition and is followed by the song that Vincent and Mia dance to in the competition with their two fingers across the eyes dance (you know the one I mean). The track that follows is upbeat with catchy lyrics. You’ll soon be dancing around the room like Mia and Vincent.

                          10. Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon (Urge Overkill)
                          One of the best tracks on the album, this song has good lyrics and a catchy tune. The song is almost haunting and is superbly performed by Urge.

                          11. If Love Is A Red Dress (Maria McKee)
                          This is a country style track. It has a slow pace and focuses on the vocals. There is a guitar playing in the background but the focus of the track is certainly the singer and the lyrics.

                          12. Bring Out The Gimp – Comanche (The Revels)
                          This track begins with a clip from the film where a strange shopkeeper and his policeman friend are discussing the gimp they have locked away. Apparently the gimp is sleeping. The track that follows the dialogue is a jazz style track with no words. The track is full of energy and has a good tempo.

                          13. Flowers On The Wall (Statler Brothers)
                          This is a country style track with a catchy beat that has a tendency to stick in my head once I have finished listening to the soundtrack.

                          14. Personality Goes A Long Way
                          This track is a conversation between Jules and Vincent on the relative merits of pigs, sewer rats, dogs and pumpkin pie. This is a humorous outtake from the film that will make you think twice before you tuck into bacon butty again.

                          15. Surf Rider (The Lively Ones)
                          This track is another guitar and trumpet track. There are no words to spoil this song it is just the music.

                          16. Ezekiel 25:17
                          Probably the most quoted passage from the film it would have seemed wrong to leave this off the soundtrack. Performed by Jules (Samuel L Jackson) shortly before killing his target this passage will be well known to any fans of the film.

                          ** My Opinion **

                          I am a big fan of this film and the soundtrack. I particularly like the fact that I think the soundtrack is an important part of the film. I have seen a lot of films where the music used in the film gets lost and doesn’t really stand out to anyone watching the film. That is not the case in this film where the music plays a massive part in telling the story and sticks with the viewer long after they have finished watching the film.

                          As I mentioned above in addition to music from the film, there are also quotes and clips included on the soundtrack. The quotes that have been included offer different references to the film. Some have been included to set the scene before some music while others have been included due to the memorable dialogue contained in them. “Ezekiel 25:17”, “Personality Goes A Long Way” and “Royale With Cheese” are tracks that have been included for the dialogue, while the clips at the beginning of tracks 1, 8, 9 and 12 help to set the scene from the film before playing the music.

                          One of the things I like about this album is the diversity of the music on it. Ranging from soul, and country style music to more modern guitar style tracks, there is something for most musical tastes on this soundtrack. Having said that I do think that it is best listened to when you have seen the film itself. There are a lot of tracks on the album that I wouldn’t normally listen, but I like the album because of the references to the film that each track has. There are still good individual songs on this album but it is best listened to after watching the film.

                          If you liked the film then I think you will like the soundtrack. If you didn’t like the film then unless you want one of the individual tracks on the album I would give it a miss. If you haven’t seen the film then give it a chance, there is something on there for everyone, but beware you may have to watch the film to get the best out of the soundtrack.

                          ** Price and Availability **

                          This CD is widely available and can be bought for around £9 from CD-Wow or similar.

                          Thanks for reading.

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                          • Van Wilder: Party Liaison (DVD) / DVD / 13 Readings / 9 Ratings
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                            06.11.2004 18:23
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                            I don’t remember this film coming out in the cinema and don’t remember a big fuss being made when it came out on DVD either. With this in mind, I was surprised at how much people were raving about it after watching the film. Intrigued by the excitement the film was generating I decided to find out for myself what it was all about and rented it.

                            ** Background **

                            Van Wilder: Party Liaison is a product of the National Lampoon brand who have previously brought you films like the “Vacation” series and “Animal House”.

                            ** Story Outline **

                            Van Wilder has been in college for seven years without graduating. During his time in college he has managed to build a reputation for himself around campus where by he is respected by students and teachers alike. His parties are known for being the biggest and the best on campus and everyone wants to be there. He is a caring face around campus looking after the sick, raising funds for societies and helping first years settle into the college. Van is involved with most social aspects of college life and very few academic.

                            At the start of each year Van recruits an assistant to help him with the more mundane aspects of everyday life such as finances and taking notes in lectures. There are hundreds of applicants for the job and after a full day interviewing candidates in a Pop Idol audition style Van is no closer to finding the right person. The last candidate of the day is Taj, a foreign exchange student wanting to enjoy his final year in the country before returning home. Taj’s appeal for help in the social aspect of his life strikes a chord with Van and he agrees to hire Taj as his personal assistant.

                            With the recruiting completed Van is free to go about his business with Taj looking after anything Van doesn’t fancy. Everything is sorted for another year of the good life for Van . . . or so you would think. Naturally things start to go wrong pretty soon for Van.

                            Vance Wilder Sr is Van’s wealthy father. Vance has never taken an active interest in Van’s education and is not even aware that Van’s has been in college for seven years. When it is brought to his attention he realises how much money it has cost him to keep Van in college for seven years and, as Van hasn’t managed to achieve anything during his time there, he considers it a bad investment. Vance decides to stop funding Van’s time at college and takes a visit to see his son to tell him about his decision. Van must now fund his remaining time at college on his own or drop out.

                            As if that wasn’t enough, the editor of the college paper decides that Van Wilder would make a good story and assigns Gwen Pearson to write it. Gwen is very straight laced and doesn’t really understand the world that Van lives in. When Van refuses to give her an interview Gwen writes an article based on the opinions of other people in the school. Disturbed by the article, Van challenges Gwen to find out the truth about him and write a true article. Van fancies Gwen, but she is not interested in him romantically and only wants information for her article.

                            The more time Van and Gwen spend together the more Gwen’s boyfriend, Richard, becomes jealous. Eventually his jealousy gets the better of him and he plots a way to destroy Van Wilder.

                            Will Van be able to raise the funds to stay in college? Will Richard succeed in destroying Van? Will Gwen find out the truth about Van? Will Van be able to win over Gwen? Now Van’s time at college seems to be drawing to a close will he find the drive to succeed that has been missing for the last seven years?

                            ** Main Characters **

                            Van Wilder – played by Ryan Reynolds, is the most popular person in college. He has been in college for seven years and enjoying his time so much he is not ready to graduate. Van has no real direction in his life and is happy to stay in college to avoid the real world. Van is a caring person who looks out for his fellow students. He pays special attention to female students and is a bit of a ladies man. Van uses a golf buggy to get around campus and has a running feud with one of the lecturers over a parking space.

                            Gwen Pearson - played by Tara Reid (American Pie, Urban Legend), is a journalist for the college newspaper. She is a model student and is asked to write an article on Van Wilder by the editor of the college newspaper. Gwen is in a relationship with Richard Bagg and seems to have her life all planned out.

                            Vance Wilder Sr. – played by Tim Matheson, is Van’s wealthy father who has been funding his son’s time in college without taking an awful lot of interest in his progress. Upon realising the amount of money he has pumped into his sons education without any results he decides to stop funding his sons time at college.

                            Taj Mahal Badalandabad – played by Kal Penn, is recruited as Van’s assistant for the year. When Van’s funding is stopped Taj stays on as his assistant, working for free. Taj is an exchange student and wants to experience the social aspect of college life. As an exchange student, he has found it difficult to make friends during his time there and sees working for Van as his ticket into the parties and thinks he can learn how to act around women from Van.

                            Richard Bagg – played by Daniel Cosgrove, is Gwen’s boyfriend. Richard is a medical student and has a life planned out for him and Gwen. He is focused on getting what he wants and will stop at nothing to get rid of Van when he feels he is a threat.

                            ** DVD Features **

                            As regular readers of my film reviews will know I am not a big fan of extras on DVDs bet for those interested in more than just the film, here are the extras on this DVD:

                            Interviews with the cast and crew: Ryan Reynolds, Tara Reid, Kal Penn, Walt Becker – Director, Brent Goldberg (Writer), David Wagner (Writer), Andrew Paney (Producer). The interviews consist of short clips of the interviewee on various subjects. The interviews are quite short in duration, lasting around 5 minutes.

                            In addition to the interviews there are several trailers and TV spots (or TV adverts) showing clips from the film.

                            ** My Opinion **

                            I closed my summary of the storyline with a series of questions. I am sure that without even seeing the film you would be able to make a guess at the answers to these questions and you would probably be right. This is not a suspense film, nor does it have a complex storyline. It is a comedy. The storyline is predictable and unoriginal but that is not to say that it is not enjoyable. This film was made to make people laugh and achieves its goal very well.

                            I have been a little harsh on the storyline up to know and perhaps unfairly so. Yes it is predictable and is not the most original piece of work ever written (not wanting to imply it is copied merely that this sort of thing has been done before) but it is much better than most comedy’s. There is enough of a storyline to keep a viewer interested in the film without needing to drag any aspect of the story out. The simple fact that there are two aspects to the story (the lack of funds and the newspaper article) means that there is a lot more to it than most comedies that I have seen. The two aspects of the story are well worked and perhaps most importantly the storyline never forgets that this is a comedy and so never gets too serious despite touching on some serious issues.

                            Onto the humour as this is a comedy after all. As with most National Lampoon offerings there is nothing too complex to the jokes in this film. What you see is what you get and it works. The jokes are very well done and well spaced so as not to overload the viewer. Some of the humour is quite crude and will not be to everyone’s taste. I found it really funny and think that the majority of the humour will be suitable for most people.

                            The acting is surprisingly good considering there are no big name stars in this film. Tara Reid is the only member of the cast I had heard of prior to seeing the film and she performs well in her role. Her role is nothing out of the ordinary but is a role she performs well. Ryan Reynolds, taking the lead role as Van Wilder, performs superbly in a role that combines sensitivity and comedy. Since completing this film Ryan has gone on to star in the third Blade film and I think he will continue to develop as an actor.

                            At the end of the day this is a very funny film and has a real feel good factor to it. There are some serious issues touched on like Van’s relationship with his father and his insecurity about leaving college, but these issues are used to give the storyline some substance and do not detract from the comic value of the film. I recommend this film to everyone. It will not be to everyone’s taste but give it a try cause there is a little bit of everything in there.

                            ** Van Wilder’s Pearls of Wisdom **

                            Being the caring soul that he is Van shares some pearls of wisdom during the film. I am going to share them with you now.

                            “Don’t be a fool, stay in school”

                            “Don’t be a fool, wrap your tool”

                            “Those circus midgets cannot hold their booze”

                            “You can’t treat every situation as a life or death matter, cause you’ll die a lot of times”

                            “First dates are interviews”

                            Personal favourite:

                            “Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to but doesn’t get you anywhere”

                            ** Availability **

                            At the time of writing, Van Wilder is widely available from online stores as well as high street stores. It is available for as little as £8 on play.com. I got my copy from Virgin Megastore in one of their 5 for £30 offers.

                            ** More Information **

                            If you have liked the sound of what you have read so far but are still a little unsure why not check out the official film website at http://www.nationallampoon.com/vanwilder/ where there are all sorts of games inspired by the film.

                            Thanks for reading.

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                            • Dead End (DVD) / DVD / 10 Readings / 7 Ratings
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                              31.10.2004 21:18
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                              A friend of mine who, like me, tends to watch a lot of films recommended this film to me. Some of his recommendations have been a little suspect in the past but generally they are sound. When he mentioned this film to me one Friday night I made a mental note to rent it next time I was in the video shop. A couple of weeks later I was wandering aimlessly around the video store searching for something different to watch when I noticed this film there. Remembering my friend’s recommendation I decided to give it a try. After all, how bad can it be?

                              ** Storyline **

                              The story in set on Christmas Eve as Frank and his family travel to the mother in laws for Christmas. This is the same journey they have made every year for the last 20 years. Searching for a little variety in the journey Frank decides to try out a short cut rather than sticking to the highway. Frank is very tired but insists on driving and is convinced that taking this new route through a wood will help to keep him awake. When they meet a lady dressed all in white on the side of the road everything starts to go wrong. Will they make it to their destination?

                              ** Main Characters **

                              Frank Harrington – played by Ray Wise (Jeepers Creepers 2), is the father of the family and despite being tired is determined that it will be him who drives the family to the mother in laws.

                              Laura Harrington – played by Lin Shaye (Something About Mary) is Frank’s wife. She is not very happy about the short cut and doesn’t see the need for change. She harasses Frank about being tired making him more determined to continue driving.

                              Marion Harrington – played by Alexandra Holden (Drop Dead Gorgeous), is Frank’s pregnant daughter. Travelling with her partner (Brad) and family she becomes caught in the middle of some banter between Richard and Brad.

                              Richard Harrington – played by Mick Cain, is Frank’s obnoxious son. Richard has little regard for the other family members and resents being in the car. He baits Brad throughout the journey.

                              Brad – played by Billy Asher, is Marion’s partner, travelling with the family for Christmas. He is quite restrained in the face of provocation from Richard but is clearly becoming more annoyed.

                              Lady in White – played by Amber Smith (How High), is a mysterious woman the family find on the side of the road in the forest. The Harrington’s try and be helpful by taking her to the nearest ranger post for help.

                              ** Opinion **

                              “How bad can it be?” is a question that we have all regretted asking at one time or another. In this case, I certainly regret challenging the film, for the most part anyway. The first hour or so of this film is some of the most painful viewing I have ever had.

                              When I finished watching the film I felt quite let down. Looking back on the story as a whole I think the idea is not too bad and could have made a more than reasonable film. I can’t think of another film that has used this sort of storyline (although there may well be one) and I think it is sad that the idea hasn’t been executed properly.

                              The storyline was slow, boring and very repetitive. You could have easily watched the first 15 minutes and then skipped forward an hour without the story losing anything. None of the characters are developed (in any real sense) during the film so it is difficult for the audience to form any relationship with them. This lack of bond ruins the rest of the film, as the audience is not really bothered if something happens to the characters. The “action” is sparse and well separated by segments of the family driving along a road, which doesn’t make the most riveting of viewing. When the action does arrive it is brief and predictable.

                              There are no well-known actors in the cast for this film and it really does show. The problem is that it is difficult to know if it is indeed poor acting or simply a poor script and poor film. Maybe the fact the well-known actors are not involved can be taken as an indication of a poor film all round.

                              This is clearly a low budget film with virtually nothing in the way of special effects. Some of the “action” scenes could have been more a lot more menacing with the introduction of some slightly more advanced special effects. As it is there always seems to be something lacking from the film (on top of the poor acting, poor script and bad story).

                              Never wanting to be too negative about something that so many people have put time and effort into making it is time for me to mention the only good thing about this film and what I would imagine to be the reason my friend recommended this film to me . . . the ending. Sadly it would “spoil” the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it for me to tell you what is good about the ending, but suffice to say that it is by far the best part of the film and is indeed the only clever part of the film. I am not sure that it is worth putting yourself through the first hour of the film for but if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself watching it then definitely stick it out till the end just for some sort of enjoyment. The sad thing is that on another film the ending probably wouldn’t be considered that good. It is just that by the end of the film you are searching for something positive to take from it and the ending is certainly the highlight of an otherwise dull film.

                              Overall I would recommend that you avoid this film and find something more constructive to do with your time, like watch paint dry or something.

                              Thanks for reading.

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                              • More +
                                23.10.2004 14:02
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                                Storyline:
                                Marlin and his wife have just moved into a new anemone and are expecting their first children to be born soon. Shortly after they move in a predator attacks leaving only Marlin and a single egg (Nemo).

                                In the years that follow Marlin is very protective of Nemo, desperate not to lose the only remaining member of his family. On the first day of school Marlin is nervous and scared about letting Nemo go. Nemo has a damaged fin and Marlin is worried he is not able to swim well enough. Nemo on the other hand is full of confidence and desperate to join the other ‘kids’ in school.

                                On Nemo’s first day at school he is taken on a field trip to the drop off. Caught up in a game of dare with some of the other ‘Kids’, Nemo swims out to touch a nearby boat. On his way back to the reef he is captured by a diver and taken away.

                                Desperate not to lose Nemo, Marlin sets off on a mission to rescue his son leading him away from the reef and into the unknown to face his fears. As his journey begins he meets Dory, an enthusiastic fish with a very short memory span, who helps and hinders him in his quest.

                                Cast:
                                Marlin – voiced by Albert Brooks. Marlin is the over-protective father on a mission to rescue his son and prove to him that he loves him.

                                Dory – voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. Dory is an annoying but loveable fish who tags along with Marlin as she can’t remember what else she was doing. Probably my favourite character from this film, Dory is blindly optimistic and trusting.

                                Nemo – voiced by Alexander Gould. Nemo rebels against his fathers over protective ways and pays the price of being captured and displayed in an aquarium. Nemo joins in life in the tank but misses his dad and is thrilled when he learns of his fathers adventures.

                                Gill – voiced by William DeFoe. Gill is the leader of the fish in the aquarium where Nemo ends up. He gives the fish hope of escape from the tank and comes up with elaborate plans.

                                Review:
                                I first went to see this film in the cinema. It was the first weekend it was released and I think I was probably the oldest person in the cinema who was not accompanying a child. I think it is probably fair to say that I enjoyed this film more than anyone else in there. I got so into the film that I actually told some children to be quiet when they talked half way through the film. If they are reading this, then I am sorry and I hope you enjoyed the film.

                                Following up my enjoyment of the cinematic experience I have bought this film in DVD and have enjoyed it many times since. Anyway, back to the film.

                                The film opens with a lovely scene of Marlin showing his wife around their new house. It sets the scene of a loving family as they both gaze down at their soon to be children. The happy scene is cut short when a predator fish appears. The predator attack scene follows Marlin as he tries to save his wife and the eggs. Marlin is knocked unconscious in the attack and wakes some time later to find he is alone with a single egg. He vows, at that moment, never to let anything happen to Nemo. This opening sequence and pledge from Marlin was very touching and heart-felt. It is a fantastic opening to the film and leaves the viewer in no doubt about the motives Marlin has for protecting Nemo, and the reasons why Marlin would go to such lengths to get his son back.

                                Still being young enough to remember my childhood (just) I found myself sympathising with Nemo over his father’s cautious nature and feeling his frustration at not being able to do the same things that the other kids are doing. At the same time I am old enough to understand Marlin’s concerns about his sons safety. It all left me feeling a little torn over whose side I should be on.

                                Once Nemo has been taken, the story gathers pace and the adventure begins. From here on the film is split in two with the first part following Marlin’s journey and the second part showing Nemo’s adventures in the tank. The two stories run in parallel and offer a nice contrast. While Marlin’s adventure is fast paced and action packed, Nemo’s life in the tank is more relaxed and slow paced. This split in the story prevents the story becoming too action packed or too dull. A great mix.

                                The animation in this film is fantastic. The detail and colours, particularly in the reef, is fantastic. The sort of animated eye candy we have come to expect from modern films.

                                Now onto the humour. I must admit that I am a big fan of the animated movies that have been made, particularly when the humour is there for adults as well as for kids. This film did not disappoint me where the humour was concerned. I have already touched on the family values side of the film above and that really provides the grounding for the film. The humour just makes it a lighthearted take on things and makes it enjoyable for adults and kids.

                                Dory is a great example of this. Dory accompanies Marlin in his quest to find Nemo and proves to be very helpful and very unhelpful. One thing that always remains the same is that Dory is entertaining and funny. She is fearless where Marlin is scared. She is trusting where Marlin is cautious. One of the funniest parts of the film is when Dory talks to a whale (in whale). Fantastic!

                                Another good example of the humour in the film is the seagulls. All the animals in the film can speak (would be a pretty quiet film otherwise). Sadly for the gulls the only thing they can say is ‘Mine’ and they can only say this when they see something they want to eat.

                                As you will know by now, I am a big fan of this film and I expect most people to enjoy it too. If you have liked films like Toy Story, Monsters Inc etc then this film will not disappoint. It is great for kids (I am a big kid really) and there is plenty in it for adults.

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