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kenjohn

kenjohn
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Member since: 07.12.2000

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      19.12.2009 15:04
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      *** What did you do in 2009 that you have not done before***

      Nothing to be honest. I've mostly "been there, done that".

      *** Did anyone close to you give birth? ***

      Not exactly close. A niece of my wife gave birth to a wee lad called "Elijah".

      *** Did anyone close to you die? ***

      No

      *** What countries did you visit? ***

      Italy (Rome). France.

      *** What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009? ***

      Better health.

      *** What dates will you remember from 2009? ***

      July 14th (my 58th birthday) I went for a C.T. scan on the 13th, and the results were phoned through to me by my G.P. on my birthday. (Bad)

      *** Did you suffer illness or injury? ***

      Diagnosed with an aggressive cancer of my right lung. Hospitalised immediately, and spent July to December in hospital being treated. Almost died in August, but my oncologist and his wonderful team pulled me back from the brink.

      *** What was the best thing you bought? ***

      Hmmm...CD changer for the boot of my BMW. Or maybe my new "Acer" laptop. (Reviews to follow when I feel in the mood!)

      *** Whose behaviour has merited celebration? ***

      My now 18-year-old daughter for passing her "Leaving Certificate" (A-levels) and obtaining enough points to gain admission to University.

      *** Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed? ***

      Our Government in general here in Ireland. They have got us (the country as a whole) in hock up to our necks, and now have no clue whatsoever how to remedy the situation. (Pissi*g into the wind!)

      *** Where did most of your money go? ***

      Into my various bank and investment accounts. I'm very careful with money! Paddy Power (the online bookmaker) managed to take a fair few Euro off me though. (Bahhh!!!!)

      *** What did you get really excited about? ***

      My golf game. I played really well in 2008, winning two major competitions in my club, and had carried my good form into the first half of 2009. I was in line to carry on my winning form but then the cancer came on the scene and I had no choice but to withdraw from all competitions.

      *** What song(s) will you remember from 2009? ***

      Erm....pass...please....

      *** Compared to this time last year are you . . . happier, fitter, or more productive? ***

      None of the above

      *** What do you wish you had done more of? ***

      Played more golf. But it's easy to say that in hindsight. If I'd realised that the cancer which got into my spine and hip joints would mean that even if I made a full recovery I wouldn't ever be able to swing a golf club again without risking serious injury then I would have played more while I was still able to do so.

      *** What do you wish you had done less of? ***

      Work! I never yet heard anyone saying on their death bed that they wished they had worked harder during their life.

      *** What was your favourite TV programme? ***

      Loads. I tend to go more for retro-style box sets of drama, crime, and comedy series rather than watch a lot of the unadulterated cr*p that is spewed out as entertainment on TV today. I have a Sky Digital connection though, and enjoy watching the sports, movies and documentary channels.

      *** Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate last year? ***

      I never hated anyone in my entire life, so am hardly likely to start now.

      *** What's been the best book of 2009? ***

      Hmmm....Actual best book would be too hard a choice. I've really enjoyed new novels by Ian Rankin and two new Scots crime writers I only discovered this year, Quintin Jardine and Stuart MacBride. I already have their new offerings on my "Wish List" at Amazon for when they are released early in the New Year.

      *** What was your greatest musical discovery? ***

      Pass. I tend to listen to retro-music (Eagles, Van Morrison, Gerry Gallagher, etc) far more than new bands.

      *** What did you want to get in 2009? ***

      I have most things (materially speaking) that I'll ever want or need.

      *** What did you want and didn't get? ***

      Nothing!

      *** What is your favourite film of the year? ***

      "Inglourious Basterds", the new film by Quentin Tarantino. I only got the DVD from Amazon last week, but the movie was totally hilarious. Another movie I really enjoyed was "Taken" starring the Irish actor Liam Neeson, who sadly lost his wife during 2009. The movie was non-stop action from start to finish.

      *** What did you do on your birthday and how old were you? ***

      I broke the news to my wife and 18-year-old daughter that I had a tumour on my right lung, so my birthday celebrations (meal out) were put on indefinite hold! I was 58 years in July past.

      *** What political issue stirred you the most? ***

      I've more or less given up worrying about political issues these days, having spent so many years of my life trying to influence politicians through my involvement in the Trade Union movement and my freelance journalism. At the end of the day I made the discovery that all I was really doing was piss*ng into the wind

      *** Who was the best person you met? ***

      My wife. She has been my lover and best friend ever since I first met her nearly 30 years ago, and is quite simply the bravest and most caring person I have ever known.

      *** Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009? ***

      Not a new lesson. Re-inforcement of a old one. "Man composes, God disposes". No matter what we plan God has the final word on the direction our lives will ultimately take.


      **********

      © KenJ December 2009

      **********

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        13.12.2009 09:19
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        The BBC comedy series, "Some Mother's Do 'Ave'Em" aired in three series between 1973 and 1978, a grand total of only 22 half-hour episodes which included 3 Christmas Specials in 1974,1975 and 1978.

        "Some Mother's Do 'Ave 'Em", in common with yet another British comedy classic "Fawlty Towers", quickly found its way into the hearts of the British and Irish viewing public. To this day the iconic comedy hero of Frank Spencer, played with such style by actor Michael Crawford, is still a much loved comedy character, and is currently airing to a whole new generation of TV viewers through the medium of satellite TV.

        What makes the long-standing endurance and popularity of the character Frank Spencer so amazing is the fact that the whole three series only aired in total for a measly 11 hours. But such was the charisma of actor Michael Crawford and the totally amazing stunts that he performed that the series tends to stick in an audience's memory.

        Michele Dotrice is well cast as Frank's long suffering wife Betty, and indeed the first few episodes see Frank and Betty trying to settle into their new house, and Frank doing his best to obtain gainful employment. It's often these common-or-garden situations that Frank finds himself in that endear him even more to viewers.

        Frank fancies himself as a handyman extraordinaire, when in fact everything he touches turns to dust and rubble. His job interviews are invariably unmitigated disasters. Even if he manages to obtain the position he is sure to make a complete mess up at the first available opportunity. Who will ever forget the first episode of the second series when Frank (despite having no driving licence) manages to talk his way into a job with a company car, an old Morris Minor. Of course, it's not too long until he's in serious trouble, and the car is half hanging over a precipitous cliff edge!

        Some Mother's do 'Ave 'Em is guaranteed to raise a smile on even the most unhappy face, and soon have you chuckling quietly away to yourself. (If not guffawing out loud!) I have the set of all three series (incuding the Christmas Specials) which I purchased about a year ago on eBay in the UK for what now seems the bargain price of £65. The exact same box set is currently retailing at Amazon in the UK at £97.98. If you're interested in purchasing then it's probably worth your while shopping around for box sets of the individual series which tend to be cheaper, or else trying to get a cheaper American version (Region 1) if you have a multi-region DVD player.

        There are no extras on my box set, simply the 22 individual episodes plus the three Christmas Specials.

        ************

        © KenJ December 2009

        ************

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          03.12.2009 22:09
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          Worth the money and an excellent product.

          I'm confined to hospital at the moment. In fact, I have been for the last nearly five months. A problem with my back and hip joints means that my mobility is fairly seriously restricted, and even the short hop of around 30 feet or so to the toilet and bathroom becomes a potential disaster.

          You might ask what this has to do with Tesco Moist Cleaning Wipes, but let me tell you that these inexpensive little beauties have been a real lifesaver, and have allowed me to remain feeling clean and fresh throughout the day.

          What are they? Well, they're exactly what they say they are. They come in a pack of 25 wipes, are made exclusively for and sold only in Tesco stores. My wife buys them for me in the local Tesco beside the hospital for a mere Euro1.69 for the pack of 25, which seems extremely cheap to me, but who am I to question her prices? Each wipe is moist to the touch, measures around 6" x 4", and is used to clean your face and hands. (Or whatever other part of your anatomy that takes your fancy!) I use each wipe around half a dozen times, and almost exclusively for my face and forehead. What I mean by saying these wee wipes have been a real lifesaver is that they allow me to freshen up without having to take the risk of putting weight on my damaged hips, and risking the bones actually fracturing.

          According to the advertising on the packet they are now " 4-in-1" wipes, and not "3-in1" wipes as advertised on the packet illustrated here on dooyoo. Supposedly they consist of ingredients called Rhodiola, peptides and Purple Coneflower, which help prevent the skin from ageing and firms it up while at the same time rejuvenating and removing old make-up and grime. I can neither verify or dispute these claims, as I have absolutely no idea whatever what the ingredients they are talking about even are, and I'm not in the slightest bit concerned about firming up my skin or preventing ageing, etc. But these claims may possibly be of some interest to some female readers of this review, so I've included them if for no other reason than information purposes.

          What I do know is that they help to freshen me up about a dozen or more times a day, and all for a ludicrously low price.

          Highly recommended.

          **********

          © KenJ December 2009

          **********

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          • Kit Kat 2 Finger Dark / Chocolate / 213 Readings / 205 Ratings
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            28.11.2009 16:40
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            A tasty dark chocolate variant of the traditional milk chocolate Kit Kat .

            One of the most memorable and successful advertising campaigns of the 1990's was for Nestles Kit Kat. Who can forget their famous catchphrase, "Have a break, have a Kit Kat". It must have convinced millions of more customers to try this lovely wee chocolate wafer bar, as ever since it was first produced way back in 1935, Kit Kat has been a firm favourite of British and Irish consumers, (it's the UK's leading confectionary brand) and has long been one of Nestles' biggest money spinners.

            Everybody these days surely knows what a Kit Kat looks like, in its distinctive red and white wrapper. It's on sale practically anywhere you can buy a biscuit or chocolate bar, so is very hard to miss. These days Kit Kat comes in "foil-wrapped" bars which I suppose is to keep it fresh for longer and prolong its shelf life.

            Its popularity is well found, mind you, as it is the ideal wee snack anytime you are having a cuppa, be it tea, coffee, a soft drink, or whatever else takes your fancy. With its four fingers of delicious chocolate coated crunchy wafer (or the two finger variety if you're not so hungry) Kit Kat never fails to hit the spot.

            As well as in the biscuit barrel, I usually have a few bars in the glove box of my taxi, or stashed away in one of the pockets of my golf bag.

            Kit Kat is quite sweet to the taste, at least if you indulge in the milk chocolate variety. My own personal favourite is the relatively new "Kit Kat Dark", which is, as the name suggests, a plain chocolate variant to cater to the tastes and cravings of those amongst us who prefer our chocolate a wee bit richer tasting and with a little more bite. The wrapper is also darker than the traditional red and white, so its hard to miss on the shelves.

            You can also buy Kit Kat in a variety of other flavours such as Kit Kat Caramac, (caramel flavour and fairly tasty) Peanut Butter (never tried it) and so on, and there have been various other exotic flavours over the years. Even an ill-fated "Christmas Pudding" flavour. (It never caught on!)

            Kit Kat also comes in large chunky bars for those of you who like to break with tradition, and prefer a larger solid chocolate bar to sink your nashers into.

            We usually buy our Kit Kat in the local supermarket in the 2- Finger 10pk (210 Gram) for Euro1.99. (Or two packs for Euro3.00) But, of course, the price varies depending on where you purchase it, and what size or variety of bar you prefer.

            **********

            © KenJ Nov 2009

            **********

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            • The Dave Channel / TV Channel / 152 Readings / 146 Ratings
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              27.11.2009 18:37
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              Well worth watching.

              It's hardly surprising that a "petrol head" like me would quickly find himself totally hooked to a satellite channel like "Dave" where you get constant and daily repeats of cracking car shows like "Top Gear" and "Fifth Gear".

              Dave is one of the hundreds of free-to-view satellite channels that have sprung into existence in recent years, but unlike many which obtain most of their content from crappy so-called comedy shows from the USA, Dave obtains the vast majority of its shows from the mainline British TV stations like the BBC. So as well as the top motoring shows which I enjoy so much and could literally spend the whole day watching Dave also airs repeats of many classic and highly entertaining comedy shows like "Little Britain", "Argumental", and "Never Mind The Buzzcocks". And, of course, they also repeat what is in my opinion one of the best shows currently airing on UK and Irish television, the superb "Dragon's Den".

              If you want a full listing of all the shows then it's worth your while having a peek at their excellent website. (Just Google Dave) I believe that Dave is actually a new name for the station, and that it used to be called "UKTV Gold". But I personally think that Dave is far more memorable and inventive, don't you?

              *********

              © KenJ November 2009

              **********

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              • Matalan / Highstreet Shopping / 190 Readings / 182 Ratings
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                19.10.2009 01:19
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                Good quality clothing at rock bottom prices.

                I'd never even heard of Matalan until I stumbled across one of their stores by accident while shopping for golf equipment at Nevada Bob's Golf Superstore in Slateford in Edinburgh while on holiday in Scotland in 2008. My wife and teenage daughter disappeared into Matalan which was right next door to Nevada Bob's, and once I'd purchased the golf gear I was after I followed them in.

                As Nevada Bob's is a golf equipment superstore, so Matalan is a men's and ladies clothing superstore. I was absolutely astonished at the enormous range of mens, ladies and childrens clothing, and even more astonished at the amazingly low prices. I ended up buying a good quality grey pinstripe business suit for only £35, with a spare pair of trousers for another £10. Their range of casual wear is equally impressive, and I bought a couple of pairs of slacks for £10 each, and half a dozen t-shirts for about £5 each.

                My wife and daughter were just as impressed, and the credit cards took a fair old bashing that afternoon.

                When you go to the check-out you have to fill out a form and register as a customer, and Matalan will then e-mail you every so often when they have new lines or special offers. You can purchase online from their website as well as from any of their 200 plus nationwide stores.

                To date they have no retail outlets here in the Republic of Ireland, but they have 5 or so outlets in Northern Ireland, with the store in Boucher Retail Park in Belfast being very handy for shoppers from the south of Ireland as it is literally just off the M1 Motorway.

                If you want good quality clothing at rock bottom prices then it is well worth your while hunting down your nearest Matalan store.

                **********

                © KenJ October 2009

                **********

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                • Trawlermen / TV Programme / 132 Readings / 128 Ratings
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                  17.10.2009 15:27
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                  Well worth watching either on TV or DVD.

                  Over the past few years there seems to have been a plethora of reality TV programmes hitting our TV screens about everyday people going about their everyday jobs.

                  Some are more interesting than others but a series I have followed with great interest is called "Trawlermen", and was first shown on the BBC back in 2006. It shows fishermen from Peterhead on the north-east coat of Scotland heading out in all sorts of weather conditions to fish for prawns, cod, herring and haddock.

                  The series shows in graphic detail the enormous difficulties and risks that these fishermen face on a daily basis in order to catch fish for our restaurants and kitchen tables. Of course, if they are successful in tracking down the often elusive wee fishies then the rewards can be enormous, but conversely a bad trip can see them barely walking away with anything in their pockets at the end of a long trip.

                  Different boats and different skippers and crews are shown. One boat was a prawn boat called the "Amity II" which is skippered by a very likeable character called Jimmy Buchan. Jimmy would literally go to any lengths to track down the prawns, even taking his vessel into the heart of fierce storms. The crews often work up to 20-hour shifts in highly dangerous conditions, getting by on just a couple of hours sleep!

                  Just how dangerous fishing can be was dramatically highlighted when one of the stars of the series, a young skipper called Kevin West, was swept overboard and drowned in April 2009. Despite a extensive search and rescue operation Mr. West's body was never found!

                  Three series of "Trawlermen" were aired by the BBC in 2006, 2007, and 2008 consisting of 16 episodes. It was rather a surprising hit for the BBC, and is currently being repeated on the satellite channel "Dave".

                  All three series are now also available on DVD, and can be bought at the likes of Amazon or eBay for about £8 upwards. (Shop around)

                  © KenJ October 2009

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                    13.07.2009 14:10
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                    A fantastic movie well worthy of its Oscar status

                    FILM REVIEW ONLY
                    **********

                    It's strange to think that Idi Amin, the ex-dictator of Uganda, should have such an affinity with Scotland, but it was unquestionably the case. It would appear that he developed a lifelong affection for the country while serving in the King's African Rifles, where his commanding officers were all Scottish. Indeed, he even went so far as to publicly offer to become the "King of Scotland" in 1974, in order to save Scotland from the yoke of English rule. (Heh, heh)

                    Hence the title of this 2007 Oscar winning movie about the life and times of Amin starring Scots actor James McAvoy and black American actor Forest Whitaker in the main role.

                    The movie is based on a novel by Giles Foden which tells the story of how a young, disillusioned Scots doctor called Nicholas Garrigan (McAvoy) visits Uganda, ostensibly to help the poor but in reality more to escape the humdrum existence he sees stretching before him in his native Scotland and the presence of an overbearing G.P.father.

                    A chance meeting with Idi Amin leads to the dictator taking a liking to the young Scotsman and offering him the position of his personal physician. The doctor doesn't take too much persuading, and it's not long before he is enjoying a lavish lifestyle and all the trappings of power that the position brings. But all too soon he becomes aware that all is not as it seems with the Uganda regime, and that Amin himself is not quite the full shilling. But by now he is so embroiled that it is almost impossible for him to escape the clutches of the mad dictator.

                    James McAvoy is excellent as the young Scots doctor, but his performance is overshadowed by the tour de force performance of Whitaker in the role of Amin. Whitaker even has the same physical presence as Amin, and he portrays him to perfection, beautifully capturing his mercurial mood swings from a likeable buffoon to a dangerous psychopath. In my opinion this is the finest performance (so far) of Whitaker's acting career and he undoubtedly deserved the "Best Actor" Oscar that he won for the part.

                    The movie literally has you on the edge of your seat the whole way through, and you never know what crazy twist or turn is going to happen next. The movie treads a fine line between hilarious comedy and high drama and provides a fascinating insight into how an all-powerful dictator subjugates his people.

                    The movie was shot entirely on location in Uganda, and the backdrops of its people, scenery and music lend even more authenticity to the film.

                    One not to be missed.

                    **********

                    Director: Kevin Macdonald

                    Starring: James McAvoy, Forest Whitaker, Gillian Anderson, David Oyelowo, Kerry Washington and Simon McBurney.

                    Duration: 121 minutes

                    **********

                    © KenJ July 2009

                    **********

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                    • Evelyn (VHS) / DVD / 86 Readings / 85 Ratings
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                      07.07.2009 10:22
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                      A hidden gem of a movie

                      FILM REVIEW ONLY

                      Irish actor Pierce Brosnan is probably best known for his role as secret agent James Bond 007, having played the iconic spy in four movies and for a 7-year stint from 1995 to 2002. But there is much more to this excellent actor than Bond, as Evelyn, this low-budget Irish movie from 2002 proves.

                      Filmed in the same year as Brosnan made his final Bond movie, Die Another Day, his part as painter and decorator Desmond Doyle in the repressively Catholic Ireland of the 1950's couldn't be further removed from his Bond character.

                      Desmond Doyle is an unemployed house painter in Dublin. Married with three kids he constantly struggles to make ends meet and put food on the table, a task not helped by his alcoholic drinking. Matters come to a head when his wife runs off to Australia with another man, abandoning him and his young daughter Evelyn and two young sons Maurice and Dermot. He simply can't cope, and the State and Church step in placing his kids in Catholic orphanages. This breaks Doyle's heart, and when he is told by the judge in the case that it is only a temporary measure until he sorts out his messed up personal life Doyle cleans up his act, giving up the demon drink and obtaining gainful employment. All is not well however, as when he applies to the courts for the return of his children his petition is refused; and therein lies the story.

                      Ireland in 1953 was a far cry from the relatively liberal society that exists today, and the separation between Church and State was for all intents and purposes practically non-existent. It was unheard of for a single father to bring up his children, and this was actually enshrined in the Irish Constitution. But the Church and State didn't take into account this father's undying love for his kids, and his absolute adoration of his young daughter Evelyn. Despite his lack of funds and formal education Doyle decides to challenge the decision to separate him from his children through the courts, which in effect means he has to take on the combined might of the State and Church.

                      To do this he enlists the help of a visiting American lawyer (Aidan Quinn), solicitor Michael Beattie (Stephen Rea) and a drunken genius of a barrister Tom Connolly. (Alan Bates) To add some romantic interest he even manages to hook up with an Irish barmaid along the way, ably played by American actress Julianna Margulies. (Best known for her part as Nurse Carol Hathaway in the US drama series ER)

                      The movie works on all sorts of levels. It's a brilliant depiction of the repressed society in Ireland during the 1950's, and tugs at your heartstrings the whole way through as Doyle battles valiantly against almost overwhelming odds to get his kids back out of State care. Brosnan's superb acting is complimented by a tremendous performance from the 10-year-old Dublin actress Sophie Vavasseur as his daughter Evelyn, and by great performances from other Irish actors such as Stephen Rea. There's even a part for veteran Irish actor Frank Kelly (drunken priest Father Jack in the comedy series Father Ted) as Evelyn's grandfather.

                      What makes this movie even more fascinating is that it is based on a true story. The events depicted actually occurred, and the Doyle case made Irish legal history as it was the first time a law was challenged in the Supreme Court here in Ireland. The script is sensitively handled by scriptwriter Paul Pender, who was ably assisted by the real-life Evelyn. In fact, the making of this movie is in no small part down to her determination to have her story made public.

                      It depicts the repressed Dublin society of the 1950's almost perfectly, and as well as its truly dramatic moments it also has you laughing out loud at times, and even features Brosnan singing a couple of Irish ballads. (Not too bad Pierce, but don't give up the day job!) Brosnan has come in for some stick for his poor Irish accent (despite being Irish!) but having lived here in Dublin for the past 30 years or so I can tell you his accent is spot on.

                      The movie was made and produced in Dublin by Ardmore Studios, the small (but very highly regarded) movie company in Bray, Co. Wicklow and directed by Bruce Berseford, an Oscar-winner with Driving Miss Daisy. (1989) In my opinion he should have won yet another Oscar for Evelyn, and had it been produced in Hollywood rather than here in Ireland I believe it would have achieved far more critical acclaim.

                      My copy of the movie was recorded from Sky, but the DVD is freely available at Amazon and various other online sources.

                      **********

                      Director: Bruce Berseford

                      Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Aidan Quinn, Julianna Margulies, Alan Bates, Stephen Rea, Sophie Vavasseur, Frank Kelly.

                      Length: 95 minutes

                      **********

                      © KenJ July 2009

                      **********

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                        06.07.2009 12:52
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                        The Premier League needs rethinking

                        I think that the current Premier League setup is going nowhere for the vast majority of football clubs, with the spoils of victory going mostly to the top half a dozen or so clubs and the rest having to fight around the table for the scraps and leftovers. I have no reason to think that the 2009/10 season will be any different, with the likely top four clubs at the end of the season likely to come from Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, and possibly Everton and Manchester City.

                        What leads me to this conclusion? The answer is simple enough. Since its conception in the 1992/93 season the Premier League has only been won by four clubs; Arsenal (3 wins), Manchester United (11 wins), Chelsea (2 wins), and Blackburn Rovers (1 win). It's my opinion that a league that is so biased towards the bigger and more financially successful clubs lifting the title year in and year out is actually bad not only for the lesser clubs but for the top clubs themselves, with the top four in the Premier League qualifying to compete in the European Champion's League. This means that the clubs competing in the Champion's League consistently have a huge fixture list to complete each season, especially if they progress from the group stages into the latter knock-out stage of the competition.

                        Meanwhile the lesser clubs also have to scramble around for the scraps from the table from European competition, with the old UEFA Cup now being replaced by the newly constituted UEFA Europa League for the 2009/10 season. While this competition (in whatever format) certainly brings in much needed revenue to some of the second string clubs in the Premiership, it certainly doesn't carry the same prestige as competing at the top European level.

                        It's my opinion that it would be better if the top clubs in the major European leagues broke away from their home-based national leagues and went on to form a truly European League, with say the top ten European clubs competing against each other four times in a season. (Two home and two away fixtures)

                        Initially this league would probably consist of the top clubs from the Premiership, from Italy's Serie A, the Spanish League, and possibly the German Bundesliga. With European travel now commonplace it would be no great strain for any of these top clubs to travel to different countries to play fixtures. Such a league would be highly competitive and would allow UK football fans to watch a much higher level of competitive football on a weekly basis. Let's face it, would you rather watch a match between say Manchester United and Barcelona, or Manchester United and Burnley! (No disrespect intended to any Burnley fans)

                        I'm sure that some system of promotion and relegation could be devised for this new European "Super League" which would allow some of the lesser clubs from the various European football leagues to aspire to some day gaining entry into football's elite.

                        It could be argued that such a setup would mean that the Premier League would no longer hold any relevance in real terms, but I believe that football fans would still come to watch their team on a weekly basis and especially since the new League would be far more competitive than what exists today.

                        **********

                        © KenJ July 2009

                        **********

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                        • 12 Rounds (DVD) / DVD / 70 Readings / 68 Ratings
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                          05.07.2009 14:01
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                          A passable and mildly entertaining action movie.

                          FILM REVIEW ONLY

                          It seems that when old WWE wrestlers eventually hang up their leotards they seem to be inclined to use their already considerable acting experience to carve out a new (and no doubt lucrative) career for themselves on the silver screen. Probably the most successful (relatively speaking) of these wrestlers cum actors to date have been Hulk Hogan and The Rock.

                          One of the latest converts from the WWE ring to the screen is 32-year-old John Cena, who after making his acting debut in a somewhat mindless TV series called "Manhunt" in 2001 took on his first major acting role in an action movie called "The Marine" back in 2006. This was slated by movie fans and critics alike, but not daunted Cena (like all wrestlers) has recently made a comeback performance in another action movie called "12 Rounds" (2009)

                          In 12 Rounds Cena hangs up his Marine uniform for the badge of a New Orleans street cop called Danny Fisher who through a mixture of sheer doggedness and pure luck manages to get the handcuffs on an Irish arms dealer called Miles Jackson, played by actor Aiden Gillen of the US TV series "The Wire". The Irish gun runner gets handed down a life sentence while our heroic cop Danny boy is elevated to detective. All seems rosy in Danny's world until his world is turned upside down when Jackson breaks out of the clink and heads back for New Orleans hell bent on taking his revenge. In order to save his girlfriend's life Danny must complete one dangerous assignment after another (the 12 rounds) set by the psychopathic Jackson.

                          On the face of it this mixture makes for an exciting and action-packed movie, and indeed this feat is ably accomplished even if the film is never going to get any kind of award's nomination. The storyline is almost identical to "Die Hard With a Vengeance" (1995) starring Bruce Willis. (Which is the *FAR* superior movie by the way!) Indeed, the movie is even directed by Renny Harlin who directed "Die Hard 2" (1990) so maybe its similarity to the Die Hard series shouldn't be too surprising.

                          All the elements of the Die Hard movies are milked in 12 Rounds; the bombs, the mayhem and the constant action. The problem is that 12 Rounds is never going to live up to the excitement of the Die Hard series, and even 19 years up the road director Renny Harlin's 1990 Die Hard movie is still far superior to this somewhat weak imitation. That said the movie *IS* fairly entertaining and watchable despite the fact that Cena can't act worth a damn.

                          12 Rounds has been almost universally slated by the critics but seems to have hit a chord with cinema audiences, already raking in more than 5 times its estimated $22 million budget at the box office. (Easy money if you can get it!)

                          My own opinion? One to tune into on the telly on a wet and miserable winter's evening, but I wouldn't recommend spending your hard earned cash on the DVD.

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                          Director: Renny Harlin

                          Starring: John Cena, Aidan Gillen, Ashley Scott, Steve Harris, Brian J White and Gonzalo Menendez.

                          Length: 108 minutes

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                          • Aston Martin DB5 / Car / 68 Readings / 63 Ratings
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                            12.06.2009 12:42
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                            British car engineering at its best

                            In the UK during the 1960's the Aston Martin DB5 was the absolute aristocrat of sports cars. It was as exclusive as a Bond Street or Savile Row suit, and the price reflected this exclusivity. For the same price as a DB5 you could buy yourself a mansion in the Surrey stockbroker belt, and its main rival, Jaguar's E-Type, was about half the price.

                            The Aston Martin DB5 was the fifth Aston built during David Brown's stewardship of the company. (Hence the DB initials) It wasn't a totally new car however but developed from the old and sometimes troublesome Aston Martin 3.7-liter DB4 that had been around since 1958.

                            Aston fitted a larger four-liter version of their original twin-camshaft six-cylinder which produced a massive 240bhp, and replaced the old gearbox with a five-speed ZF version. This improved the performance as well as the fuel economy.

                            Top speed was 140mph (225kph) and 150mph (241kph) could be achieved if you opted for the highly tuned (and more expensive) Vantage engine. With today's highly congested and speed-restricted motorways it's hard to believe that in the early 1960's Aston could still test drive their cars on the M1 motorway adjacent to their factory at Newport Pagnell.

                            The DB5 had few new technical innovations; instead Aston simply kept pace with current developments within the car industry. Disc brakes were now becoming the norm on performance cars, and Aston fitted them to the DB5. But they were still wary of the then still relatively new and untested independent rear suspension systems so instead stuck to the old solid axle from previous models. As a result the DB5 was always happier on fast main roads than being put through its paces on twisty, uneven country lanes.

                            The fashionable Italian-style bodywork had flared in headlights, which improved the aerodynamics. But the interior still had the feel of an exclusive British gentleman's club, with rich leather and walnut in abundance. It also had electric windows, which were still something of a rarity in 1963. A nice touch was the push-button radio, which when you first switched it on had the words "Aston Martin" emblazoned in red on the tuning dial.

                            So exclusive was the DB5 that David Brown, the company's Managing Director, even sanctioned the building of a dozen DB5 estate cars for his upper-crust, country mansion owning friends. These must surely rate as the most beautiful and exclusive estate cars ever built!

                            Aston sold over a 1,000 DB5's in the just over two years it was in production, making it one of the best selling Astons ever. Certainly it is one of the most beautiful and memorable; a sensual, sexy, slender flying machine that in some ways highlights how the latter (and much more macho) cars produced by Aston lost their way.

                            **********

                            © KenJ May 2009

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                              11.06.2009 09:56
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                              One of the iconic sports cars of all time

                              From the time it first hit the tarmac in 1961 the Jaguar E -Type was destined to become an instant classic. Its aerodynamics and in your face showmanship made it the iconic sports car of the 1960's and its scintillating performance more than matched its good looks.

                              Jaguar claimed a top speed of 150mph (241kph) for the E - Type which was unbelievably quick back in 1961. In reality the true top speed was probably nearer the 140mph (225kph) mark.

                              But it was still far and away the UK's fastest production sports car and its relatively low price insured it was also a great bargain. (It undercut the price of its nearest rival, the Aston martin DB4,, by a staggering 33%!)

                              Its graceful, curvy body shell was inspired by Jaguar's famous Le Mans - winning D - Type racing car; all the better to take full advantage of the new wishbone and coil spring independent rear suspension. The ride was so smooth that you could be forgiven for thinking you were riding in a limo, but it still handled superbly and clung onto the road with a limpet like grip, despite the ultra-slim cross ply tyres that to modern day eyes would look better suited to a child's pram!

                              The engine was the tried and tested and very powerful 13-year-old 3.8 litre unit from the old Jaguar XK, but it was let down somewhat by the ageing and slow shifting unit from Moss which was a feature of all Jaguars from the 1930's onwards. It had an efficient enough set of disc brakes but these were spoiled by a spongy feeling brake pedal.

                              The car was an instant success in the "Swinging 60's" and racing drivers, actors, pop stars and royalty jostled for a position in the waiting list that lengthened on a daily basis. The British producer Lew Grade wanted to borrow one for his new UK TV series "The Saint" but was turned down by Jaguar as they had no need of the publicity and could instantly sell every new E - Type they produced.

                              Despite the almost unprecedented demand Jaguar didn't stint on development, and in 1964 they increased the engine size to 4.2 litres, replaced the dated gearbox and improved the brakes. The seating and trim was also upgraded and the electrical system made more efficient, making the 4.2 Series 1E the ultimate jewel in the Jaguar crown.

                              In 1966 they finally listened to the growing public demand for a slightly larger car and released a two-plus-two version. An automatic gearbox was also offered as an option in an attempt to reconcile the E - Type's performance image with the companies desire to improve sales in America.

                              1968 saw the launch of the Series 2 version of the E -Type, and also the first signs that the big cat was finally starting to show its age. Safety demands from the North American market tarnished the purity of the E - Type's styling with overly fussy open lights, while at the same time the awesome power was throttled back with emission controls. By the turn of the decade in 1970 the car had become a mere shadow of its former youthful, vigorous image!

                              The final V-12 Series 3 E - Type completed the sanitation process. The new version was still smooth and fast but somehow lacked the soul of the original car, and the former sylphlike shape was ruined entirely by the much longer and fatter V-12 with the addition of the then fashionable fatter wheel arches and a cheap and tacky chrome grille. By now the E - Type was akin to an old boxer who has gone to seed; it was a flabby spent force living on past glories and borrowed time.

                              It's hard to believe that Jaguar, who were now gearing up for the release of the E - Type's successor, the XJS, actually had problems selling the last few E - Types produced in 1975.

                              It's sleek and sexy design won the Jaguar E - Type a place in the Museum of Modern Art, and it lives on today as a much loved and sought after classic.

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                              Jaguar E - Type (1961 to 1975)
                              Engine: Straight Six/V-12
                              Power: 265 bhp
                              Transmission: 4-speed manual. 3-speed automatic.
                              Top Speed: Up to 150mph (241kph)
                              Number Built: All models; 72,507.

                              **********

                              © KenJ

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                              • Get Rich or Die Tryin' (DVD) / DVD / 69 Readings / 65 Ratings
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                                07.06.2009 10:46
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                                One to avoid at all costs.

                                FILM REVIEW ONLY

                                Generally speaking "Get Rich Or Die Tryin" (2005) wouldn't be my type of movie, but my teenage daughter wanted to watch it, and the fact that it was directed by Jim Sheridan, the excellent Irish director, made me think it couldn't be all bad. How wrong I was!

                                On paper, this film just had to be a winner. It followed the somewhat unexpected success of the 2003 movie "8 Mile" starring Eminem which instead of turning out to be some sort of self-praising vanity project turned out to be an engrossing yarn about somebody pulling themselves up by their bootstraps after a less than privileged childhood.

                                I suppose it was Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson's less than salubrious background that might have swung Jim Sheridan to take on this project. A former drug dealer who ended up being shot no less than nine times but who then went on to make a successful career as a hip-hop star is a scriptwriter and director's dream. Indeed, the movie also had a very successful scriptwriter in Terence Winter, who wrote the highly acclaimed TV series the "Sopranos".

                                The film supposedly takes very little dramatic license with Marcus Jackson's life story, and is about 80% accurate. It opens by showing us Jackson as he is getting ready to mount a heist on a Colombian drug gang's hideout. The robbery goes according to plan and Marcus drives back to his grandmother's house, but here his luck runs out and he ends up being shot a number of times as he gets out of his car.

                                The movie then enters flashback mode, and we see Jackson's unfortunate childhood; growing up with no father in the household, the death of his drug-dealing mother, his own introduction into a life of crime, and his abiding love of hip-hop and his girlfriend Charlene (Joy Bryant) who has loved since he was a kid.

                                Quite why Jim Sheridan chose this project as a follow-up to his superb Oscar-nominated movie about Irish immigration to the USA, "In America" is hard to fathom, other than the fact that he seems to enjoy directing movies about the underdog making good in life. Unfortunately he seems to have chosen a real turkey in Get Rich Or Die Tryin' not least because Curtis Jackson simply isn't an actor. He may look good and be a highly acclaimed and successful hip-hop star, but he has the screen presence of a sleeping seagull and simply couldn't cut it in the lead role, even if it was his own life story. The other actors, Terrence Howard as his friend Bama and Akinnuoye-Agbaje as the bitter and twisted drug lord Majestic, act him off the screen and show him up as the amateur he truly is.

                                The only time you actually feel a shred of sympathy for Marcus is in the early childhood scenes of the movie. Once he enters adulthood and no matter how desperate the situation he finds himself in all you end up worrying about is how much longer you are going to have to put up with this self-indulgent crap.

                                If you're a fan of Jim Sheridan's movies then I'd advise you to give this one a wide berth. (I'm sure he's doing his level best to forget it himself!) And even if you're a fan of '50 Cent' Jackson's music you'd be better advised to go and spend your money on one of his CD's rather than totally waste it on this dreadful movie.

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                                Director: Jim Sheridan

                                Starring: Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson, Joy Bryant, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Terrence Howard, Marc John Jeffries and Bill Nunn.

                                Running Time: 117 minutes

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                                • More +
                                  06.06.2009 22:11
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                                  Good action packed street racing movie

                                  FILM REVIEW ONLY

                                  I enjoyed the first movie in this series "The Fast and the Furious" (2001) and hated the sequel "2 Fast 2 Furious" (2003) so wasn't too sure what to expect from the third helping "Fast and Furious - Tokyo Drift" released in 2006.

                                  The action moves from the USA to Tokyo (the clue's in the title) and there's a new main man in the form of actor Lucas Black, with no Vin Diesel (first movie) or Paul Walker (first two movies) in sight.

                                  Black plays Sean Boswell, a young American who is sent to Japan to live with his expatriate father as an alternative to going to prison for racing a fellow speed freak around a half-completed housing site to win the hand of a fair lady, and causing complete mayhem and thousands of dollars worth of damage in the process. (It's an excellent action scene)

                                  He moves in with his pop in a rundown suburban area of Tokyo and is enrolled in the local school where he befriends a local Japanese American called Twinkie (Bow Wow) who (of course) just happens to be into the local street and drift racing scene. Unfortunately, he almost immediately makes a hated enemy of the local street racing champ in the form of DK (Brian Tee) whose uncle just happens to be a high-ranking Japanese mob boss. That he immediately takes a shine to DK's girlfriend Neela (Nathalie Kelley) doesn't help to improve relations!

                                  And so the racing begins, with exotic speed machines and even more exotic looking young ladies aplenty, with drag races around multi-story car parks and the Tokyo streets and highways. Where all these high school kids get the vast amounts of cash required to buy all these expensive motors is nigh on inexplicable, and I can't imagine the Japanese police looked too favourably at the ease with which the boy (and girl) racers used their streets as illegal raceways! But it certainly makes for very highly entertaining cinema, especially if you are into fast cars and testosterone packed action sequences.

                                  The soundtrack, with rock music thumping away in the background, is excellent, and lends itself very well to the action on the screen. The movie is also helped by a decent storyline, although the ending is somewhat predictable, and the dialogue between Sean and his father will make you cringe and is nothing short of woeful.

                                  In my opinion this is actually the best of the first three movies in the series, and a fun film to watch.

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                                  Director: Justin Lin

                                  Starring: Lucas Black, Bow Wow, Brian Tee, Sung Kang, Nathalie Kelly and Zachary Ty Bryan.

                                  Duration: 104 minutes
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