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Gordon Freeman I presume
The orange box is actually a collection of five games by
acclaimed developer Valve. Half Life 2 is a lengthy first
person adventure that is still considered a classic. The two
expansions of Episodes one and two are also included making it
a complete pack (if you don't count the original half life game).
Portal is the surprise hit of the pack, a very clever puzzle game
with a difference. First person again, the player takes control of
a special gun that can fire two portals into the game area, when you
go through one portal you come out of the other. It's difficulty level
is very well done, it never feels impossible but it also not too easy.
It gets the balance just right. The story is good, especially near the
end. It also has a lot of good humour in it, which adds a lot to it.
Although the original Half Life 2 game does look old by today's
standards the campaign makes up for it by it's execution, style and
length. My only criticism of the game is that it sometimes feels a bit
cold, and a few times I spent quite a while wondering where to go next.
It's also strange that your character never speaks, adding to the coldness
of the game. I found that it gets better as you go through it so it's best to
Team Fortress 2 is a supposed classic but I'm not really an online
gamer so I can't really do it justice. The style is very well done, with
it's cartoon like look. It's just not a game I'd play for any length of time
but I understand it is still very popular among those who do.
At the price, it's a real bargain, even if you only play a few games from it.
It can also be picked up on Steam for PC cheap often and the Xbox 360 version I have
can be picked up cheap too. Now on to Portal 2.
This One Sucks, In A Good Way
We have a lot of wooden floor in our house. however there we do have a large carpet and out stairs which are awkward to clean with our larger vacuum cleaner so we at first looked for a cordless hand cleaner, but most seem to be under powered so we decided to go for this mains powered one which had good reviews from Argos
This is not really my main concern but for a modern cleaning device it looks good, in nice grey and orange, even a little futuristic. The actual design is quite ingenious, I like the way the detachable hose also powers the main cleaning area.
It is larger than your average battery powered hand held, and is heavier, but it more than makes up for this with its power. Its power to weight ratio is very good. The power cable is a generous six meters in length and tidies away neatly at the back for storage. The main cleaning area has rotating brushes that really gets up the hair. It is possible to have the suction without the rotating brushes if you so desire.
For those awkward to reach places there is built in hose attachment that you just pull out. It is stretchy and is on a rotating connector so it's very easy to get it where you want it.
Cleaning is a doddle, you can see how full the collector is thanks to the clear plastic used and by pushing the power button forward it detaches along with the filter. I just take it out to the bin and give it a good bang to get the dust and dirt out. The hardest part to clean is the brushes that do not detach, but that's a small thing.
I've used it for stairs, rugs and just getting up bits from our wooden floors as well as in the car where the hose really comes in useful.
Almost forgot, the "risor visor" as it's called means that the brushes can be opened toward the front rather than down to make it easier to clean stair risers, clever.
It is larger than your average battery powered hand held, and is heavier, but it more than makes up for this with its power. It really gets up a lot of hair from our carpets and rugs, it really is surprising how much It get s up, even more than our main cleaner. I am very impressed with the sucking performance.
It's not too heavy and considering the suction you get and I find it does a much better job that the larger VAX cleaner we have. I often just use this now. It won't replace a larger cleaner if you have lots of carpet but for small areas, stairs and car interiors it really is hard to beat and is excellent values. I'd buy this over a battery powered hand held cleaner any day of the week.
Letting Off Some Steam
A kettle is something most of us take for granted, but when it breaks then you realise just what a useful labour saving device it really is. Boiling a saucepan on a hob is such a pain when you do it a lot.
This Breville kettle was easy to pick from the large selection of cordless kettles available, it was on offer at Argos.
The speed of the boil was an important factor when choosing this kettle, I rarely boil a full kettle I usually measure out what I need to save power. The kettle draws three kilowatts, meaning it boils the water very quickly, even when full. It does seem quite noisy, this is not really a problem for me. It also won't boil with no water in it. I have tried this and it does work so that's nice to know.
The kettle itself is quite stylish with a chrome finish and black plastic on the base, handle and lid. The lid is attached to the kettle and doesn't come off, it is opened by a button at the top of the handle and has been fine so far. I find this to be a bit better than a regular lid and certainly flasher. The Breville has a 1.7 litre capacity, so that should be more than adequate for most households.
Unlike some kettles the pour is very nice, all the water generally goes in the mug or where I would like it to go, not on the work surface or worse, my hand.
Having a wireless kettle is a definitely a plus, it's easy to fit back on the base. The only thing I am wary of is the last wireless kettle I had was retired because the contacts between the base and kettle stopped working. Fingers crossed the same doesn't happen with this one. The kettle can be rotated a full 360 degrees on the base.
There is a large window on the kettle so you can see the water level and markings. The markings are made in cups, this is pretty useless for measuring I find because I use mugs of different sizes. But you can use it as a rough guide. When you switch it on, by pressing down on the plastic switch, it lights up a nice blue colour. It does look really nice.
There has been a problem however, I heard a rattling noise from the kettle and on close inspection found a large piece of plastic loose. It turned out to be the filter that attaches somehow to the spout on the inside. After many attempts trying to get it back in I had to admit defeat. It's not an essential part of the kettle but it doesn't bode too well for its longevity.
Other than the filter coming off I can't really fault this Breville Kettle. It boils water fast and is low maintenance. Looks good in my kitchen and fits in nicely with my chrome toaster. A star away for the filter coming off.
Hopefully The Fit Won't Hit The Shan
As Leslie Nielson once said, you take a chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street or sticking your face in a fan. Well, unless somebody's been tampering with this fan you should be ok.
The hot summer of 2013 has been a long time coming, and I have certainly enjoyed it. However, at night the house can remain very hot and humid. It also makes it harder to sleep. Without the expense of investing in a portable air conditioner unit for the rare British heat waves a good old desk fan can be a life saver.
The challenge desk fan is a budget fan that is available from Argos (where I purchased it) or popular online shops like Amazon. I got mine from Argos for the convenience and I was melting so needed a quick cool down.
Constructing the fan is easy enough, just put it together without using the instructions and when there's something left over refer to the instructions. I had the fan constructed and ready to go in about ten minutes. The build quality is very good for the price.
The fan itself won't win any design prizes, it's not all that aphetically pleasing but who cares when it only comes out a couple of times a year. Its size is just about right to be able to be stored away easily in the cooler months and to fit on my bedside table. It's a 12" fan. It's made of mostly white plastic.
There are three speed settings available, I have found generally that the first setting is usually more than adequate to keep me cool but I usually give it a quick blast at two or three for a quick cool down and switch it down to one.
As with most desk fans, you can set it to either a static position or to oscillate. To make the fan oscillate simply pull out the plunger on the top and it will start.
The fan is very quiet, with a little more noise on the higher setting, Just lately the guard has started to rattle a little so I've just wedged a small piece of card between the two sections and problem solved.
If you can get hold of one, they of course sell out quickly during hot weather then I can thoroughly recommend this fan. It's cheap and cheerful, and for how often you'll need it it's really is a bargain and should last you a good few years.
Make A Note Of This One
Tablet computers are the latest desirable tech item to have. Most associate this with the Apple iPad but these days, mostly thanks to Google's Android operating system, there are many viable alternatives. Samsung tablets have a good reputation, but the note has a little something that the other ones don't, e.g. a special pen, we'll get to that later.
The note itself has a 10" screen so is comparable to the iPad and similar in that respect. The resolution is 1280 x 800. So this does not really compare to the latest generation iPad and the so called "Retina" display or the amazingly high resolution displays of the latest Google Nexus range. Of course the up side of this is that the screen uses less power and consequently doesn't need such a big battery making it lighter.
The engine room of the note is by no means lacking. It boasts a 1.4 quad core processor that makes it one of the more powerful tablets on the market currently, of course this moves so fast it's impossible to keep up. I have found the response of the note to be excellent, apps to run very fluidly with no noticeable lag.
The version of Android installed is 4.1.2, also known bizarrely as Jellybean, you may have noticed that the version names have been going up alphabetically. This means it will run practically any apps available on the Google Play store. It is very stable and easy to use. I have had no difficulties whatsoever and it's also quite flashy. The on screen keyboard is also very nice to use and has next word prediction.
The batter life of the note is very respectable at about eight hours from a full charge. I have used it extensively for both work and pleasure and have not felt the need to charge has been too frequent.
The key selling feature to the Galaxy Note is the S-Pen. This is not just a stylus, it won't work on any other tablet. The screen is designed specifically to work with the S-Pen and Samsung have included software to take advantage of it. This includes hand writing and equation recognition. The responsiveness of the pen is excellent, you can tell it's specifically designed for this use. The recognition software is also highly accurate.
The Note has a 5 Megapixel rear camera and a 1.9 Megafixed front facing camera. I've not used the 5MP camera but have used the front one when using Skype and found it to be perfectly adequate. I can't really see the point in using a tablet as a camera when a regular camera is so much more convenient, will probably has an optical zoom and you don't look like a fool using it.
I have the 16gb version, but this can be expanded with a Micro SD slot. This is a great addition and helped me decide to get the note over the Nexus 10 or iPad that do not have card slots to expand the disk space. There is no USB port on the note, but you can cheaply purchase an official adapter which plugs into the power socket, giving you a removable USB port. This adapter also comes with an SD card reader adapter.
The Samsung Galaxy Note is a worthy addition to their range of tablets and I find very useful when I don't want to use my laptop or need to work on the move. It is a high performance tablet, it's very responsive and well built. The design is appealing, and I have found it comfortable to use for both work and pleasure. Many apps are now being customised for tablets so most look great.
The S-Pen has come in very useful for me for my work, I find it great to be able to quickly jot down notes and the equation recognition and transcription app has been a godsend to me, I know that will be of limited interest but it's impressive. Video play back is excellent and with a stable Wi-Fi connection is lag free.
I am very pleased that I purchased the note over other tablets. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to be more productive on their tablet. It does everything I wanted and much more besides.
Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water
Almost every device you buy these days has wireless built in, but what about your older hardware and sometimes a wired connection is just not practical? This is the answer.
This device is one of the most useful bit of tech kit I have purchased. Although it is classed as gaming bridge, in reality it's just a wireless bridge that can be used to give wireless connectivity to any device with an Ethernet port. This could be games consoles, Blu-Ray players, old computers etc.
The reason I bought mine was to give my older Xbox 360 wireless. I can honestly say it works a treat. I didn't want to pay the extortionate price Microsoft were charging for the official device.
The device itself is reasonably small, cream, and has a single antenna. There is a USB port for power and of course an Ethernet port to connect to your device. There is a power adapter provided or you can use USB to power it. I use USB, there is a lead with two USB connections on it but I've found that I only need to connect it to one USB port for it to work.
There are indicator lights on the front that show if the LAN is connected and if the wireless is transmitting/receiving. These are handy and I like to see them flickering to know everything is hunky dory.
A word of warning though, the setup disc that came with the device does not work with Vista or above. I have Windows 7. However if you connect the device to your PC you can get onto the web portal and set it up from there. It's not very intuitive, it took a couple of attempts, but after a few minutes I had it setup and working with my Xbox.
I have also used the device on a Blu-ray player to access the streaming features and an old desktop PC. It was just plug and play. I have also used it on my PVR to access the BBC iPlayer.
I have had it working now for over a year and it had not let me down. The little lights just keep flashing, very satisfying. I got this from Amazon for under £20, considering MS were charging over £50 I am quids in and have a move flexible device.
The Great Hollywood Escape
Based on actual events, Iranians storm the US embassy in Tehran in the late 70s in response to the US giving asylum to the Shah. In the chaos that ensues in the embassy six people escape and go on the run. However their identities will not remain hidden forever as shredded paper is being reassembled to find the missing six.
A CIA operative devises a daring escape plan involving scouting for locations in Iran for a fake film. It's a long shot, the odds of success are very low. Will they escape with their lives?
Ben Affleck is both director and star. His character Tony Mendez in real life was of Mexican/Italian descent, so Affleck doesn't look a lot like him, but I read that Mendez himself had no problem with Affleck portraying him. I enjoyed his direction and performance, it seemed effortless.
Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranson's star is shining very brightly at the moment and rightly so, he is a skilled and versatile actor and his albeit small part here is very memorable.
John Goodman is excellent as a Hollywood makeup artist who is contacted by the CIA as he has worked on disguises before. As you'd expect his character is a lot of fun as is the excellent Alan Arkin as a producer used to give the film credibility.
The actors playing the hostages themselves provide good performances, but are ultimately unmemorable. There is a couple which provides some emotional involvement, but I can't really remember much about them.
Argo is one of the few best picture films I've really liked. I was a little apprehensive as Ben Affleck's reputation has not been golden of late while his pal Matt Damon's has gone from strength to strength. From the opening scenes of the storming of the embassy I was hooked.
This is a Hollywood dramatization of what is commonly known as the 'Canadian Caper'. As you'd expect a lot of the narrow escapes did not actually happen. There wouldn't be much tension if it was too easy and I'm sure in real life the tension was still very high. Don't expect this to be a documentary about the real events. If anything it's encouraged me to look into the real events and I am glad I have, they are very interesting.
I found the film exciting from beginning the end and despite the serious subject there are much needed respites of comedy. The acting is excellent from everyone, I particularly like Cranson's performance, despite it being small. I also really got a feel of being in the late 70s, the music and locations used really worked as did the costumes.
On the whole I thoroughly enjoyed Argo and look forward to what Affleck gives us next (please not another Pearl Harbour!).
Main Cast List
Ben Affleck - Tony Mendez
Bryan Cranston - Jack O'Donnell
Alan Arkin - Lester Siegel
John Goodman - John Chambers
Victor Garber - Ken Taylor
Directed By: Ben Affleck
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Abraham Lincoln, "Honest Abe" is amongst the most famous of US Presidents. His assassination while out at the Theatre by a confederate conspiracy guaranteed his immorality in the mind of most Americans. He is held up with JFK and George Washington, considering this fact there have been few films made about him.
The film starts very violently, showing a civil war battle with no holds barred. This does not last long and in a way reminded me of the start of Saving Private Ryan, shock tactics to draw the viewer in. If the violence is too much for you don't worry as it doesn't last long and is only at the start of the film.The remainder of the film is about Lincolns battle to get his 13th Amendment to ban slavery passed.
Acting is of course excellent as you'd expect especially from Daniel Day Lewis. He really looks the part, however the thing I noticed most straight away was his voice. It's very high pitched and floaty. A little research has uncovered that most experts, based on eye witness reports, believe he got the voice right. This role gave him his record breaking third Oscar.
Sally Fields is good as Lincoln's wife, she does not have a lot of screen time but is almost our view of the emotions Lincoln goes through.
Tommy Lee Jones has quite a large part as Thaddeus Stevens, a devoted anti-slavery campaigner and almost more important the Lincoln himself as a reformer. Jones gives his usual fine performance, including his limp.
Joseph Gordon-Levett seems to be in every other film these days, I still remember him as Tommy from Third Rock from the Sun. He's doing very well for himself these days. He plays Lincoln's son who wants to join the army and doesn't want special treatment. He is very good here.
The soundtrack is not memorable at all, I can't remember there even being one even though I know there had to be. This is more of a dialogue film really.
I have to say I am disappointed with Lincoln. It could have been so much more. It really only goes into the 13th Amendment, which is of course important but not all that Lincoln was or what made him who he was. The civil war is not covered in the depth I would have liked. Even the famous Gettysburg address is not seen, which is his most famous speech. I visited the Lincoln memorial a few weeks ago and it is very moving.
I'm not sure why Spielberg didn't show his earlier life, even a little of his childhood to give some perspective. Spielberg has covered slavery better in my opinion in the almost forgotten film Amistad.
That said, if nothing else it does encourage researching the life of the 16th president of the United States and 19th Century American history.
Main Cast List
Daniel Day-Lewis - Abraham Lincoln
Sally Field - Mary Todd Lincoln
Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Robert Lincoln
Tommy Lee Jones - Thaddeus Stevens
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Running Time: 150 Mins.
My God Jim, I'm An Actor Not A Doctor
Are you a closet trekkie, I am. I grew up with re-runs of the original series growing up and still have a soft spot for the intrepid crew of the Enterprise, boldly going where nobody else really wants to go.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first of the so called re-boot films. It had action and humour, stayed true to the original while still carving out it's own path. The casting I through was inspired and I'm pleased to say all the original cast are back. It was something of a surprise how good it actually was, making a sequel almost inevitable.
The basic premise of the plot is Captain Kirk has been demoted for not following protocol but this comes into check when an unusual attack happens that kicks off a dramatic chase across space for the perpetrator.
Zachary Quinto is excellent again as Spock, this is probably the best casting decision of the lot. In this one I feel he does come across too human at times, Spock I believe always got frustrated when he used human emotions.
Chris Pine is brilliant again as Jim Kirk, although he'll never beat the cheesiness of William Shatner he gives it a good go. He is a very likeable character and has excellent chemistry with Quinto.
Bones gets to use some of the now cheesy lines that we know him so well for, "My God Jim......" etc. DeForrest Kelley would be proud. Casting genius here again.
I didn't find Simon Pegg's Scotty as distracting in this film, I found his performance over the top but it seems to be reined in a bit this time. He didn't get a massive amount of screen time.
Used less in this film I feel is Zoe Salandria as Uhura. She really just comes across as part of the scenery a lot of the time.
Benedict Cumberbatch is riding high at the moment and his performance is very good, it's not his fault but I found that he was not a bad enough bad guy. I won't reveal his characters true identity as it would spoil the surprise. I like the ambiguity of his character also, it did keep me guessing as to his true intensions.
Robocop himself Peter Weller has a short but sweet role as a Starfleet commander, it's nice to see him back, he's looking old now, I can't believe he hasn't had more good roles in the past.
The special effects are excellent as you would expect from a modern science fiction film like this.I watched this in a 3D screening, and despite being a conversion from 2D it works very well. Some scenes better than others. Some of the talky scenes did look a bit cardboard, where the layers are very obvious. The best 3D parts are the action sequences, especially the bit in space.
I thoroughly enjoyed this Star Trek but not quite as much as the first film (a familiar story). The main weaknesses are an inconsistent baddie or perhaps baddies would be a better description. They also use a get out of jail card badly by using old Spock, I love to see Leonard Nimoy but he should have been used differently. As a visual spectacle it can't be faulted.
So, despite a few flaws which I hope they address if they make another one I thoroughly enjoyed this slice of escapism. I'm not sure I'd bother with the 3D version again however.
Main Cast List
Chris Pine - Kirk
Zachary Quinto - Spock
Zoe Saldana - Uhura
Karl Urban - Bones
Directed By: J. J. Abrams
Running Time: 132 Mins.
More Wolf Pack Trouble
The supposedly final chapter to the hangover trilogy promises to break the formula from the first two films. The second film was almost a carbon copy of the first film. They say "if it aint broke don't fix it", well film makers should at least mix it up a bit and that's what they have done here.
This time the wolf pack as they are known are conducting an intervention with odd ball Alan but of course things don't quite go to plan.
Plot wise this is certainly head and shoulders over the last film, it's not going to be taxing your brain but that's a good thing here. There aren't as many laugh out loud moments as the first film but there are still enough to carry it through. I never got bored.
The whole cast have returned here and there are a few new faces too, and some old ones from the first film. The real star of the show is Zack Galifianakis (what a surname) who plays the oddball Alan, he gets all the best lines. The others are almost just supporting actors.
Comedian Ken Jeong returns as the unpredictable Lesley Chow. After Zack has the best comedy moments, I like the way they make him hard to read, is he good or bad? I think a bit of both but good hearted really.
Bradley Cooper is easy on the eye for the girls and puts in a good performance. It's good to see he still does comedy rolls now considering how big he has now become.
Melissa McCarthy, who is new to me, has a small but memorable part as a bizarre love interest. She play the part very well. It's a nice diversion from the main plot too.
Soundtrack wise this is pretty much standard fare. There is a salute to the first film musically over the end credits.
As promised the film does break with the formula of the first films while still keeping the premise of three guys getting into trouble. The comedy performances are all good, especially Galifianakis and Jeong. There's a good enough plot to carry it all off.
There are some scenes that could be considered tasteless, however I think that considering the previous form of these films they are to be expected.
This is not in the same league as the first Hangover film, but as a fun couple of hours it works. Hopefully this will be the last one as any more would really be pushing it too far. It's not a film I'd want to keep but will be looking out for when it comes onto TV.
After the credits start to roll there is an extra scene that is actually worth waiting for. It's not right at the end so it's not too bad.
Main Cast List
Bradley Cooper - Phil
Ed Helms - Stu
Zach Galifianakis - Alan
John Goodman - Marshall
Ken Jeong - Chow
Melissa McCarthy- Cassie
Directed By: Todd Phillips
Running Time: 100 mins
The massacre at a Batman premier in America has cast a shadow over the film and is a tragedy that the film will always have to carry with it. This and the death of Heath Ledger after The Dark Knight has even given rise to labelling the films as cured, of course that is absurd.
Let's put that behind us and look at the film on its own merits. Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, his injuries are both mental and physical. This of course also means that Batman has been missing too.
He is persuaded to come out of retirement after meeting a cunning and attractive cat burglar, but mainly the threat of new bad guy Bane. Bane and his gang appear to be after a fusion device that was built by Bruce Wayne but scrapped when he realised it could be used as a weapon. Only Batman can save the city.
The highly anticipated final chapter to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy seemed to be a long time in the making. I for one have enjoyed the films so far, unlike most I prefer Batman Begins to The Dark Knight but both are excellent. Was it worth the wait?
The plot of the film is quite messy, there is a lot going on and there is little time to get your breath back and process what you're seeing. The pacing was a lot better in the previous films, but he is trying to get a lot in.
The special effects are of course excellent, as we've come to expect from Nolan with less reliance on CGI as other action films. Where CGI is used it is quite noticeable. There are some truly breath taking stunts, my hat is off to them.
The acting is still excellent, there are of course some big names returning, my favourite being Gary Oldman who always excels. Anne Hathaway is the newcomer and she gets it perfect, a seductive and action packed performance. Also new is Joseph Gordon-Levitt who seems to be in lots of films these days. I always remember him as Tommy from Third Rock from the Sun, he seems to be a new Nolan regular.
I have to report I have mixed feeling about this film. It is a very dark film with little humour to provide relief. It's also a very messy film, Nolan seems to have squeezed in every idea he could think of, and this has made the film quite long too.
The acting is generally excellent, Nolan certainly has his favourite actors. The most interesting performance is cat woman, Batman almost feels like a secondary character in his own film.
It's nice to see that Nolan has not been seduced by 3D, which seems to be used more and more these days in action films, I can certainly live without it and the inflated ticket prices at the cinema.
There is also a problem with plausibility, for a film grounded in a futuristic reality there are certainly a lot of superhuman feats. After all Bruce Wayne is just a man, the knocks he takes would kill or totally paralyse any normal person.
I would recommend seeing this concluding film, especially if you've seen the first two as it doesn't really stand up on its own.
Main Cast List
Christian Bale - Bruce Wayne
Gary Oldman - Commissioner Gordon
Tom Hardy - Bane
Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Blake
Anne Hathaway - Selina
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Running Time: 165 Mins
As The Crowe's Arrows Fly
On his way back from the crusades with King Richard the Lionheart an unfortunate skirmish has dire consequences for England. Robin Longstride is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Robin Hood is not your typical Robin Hood movie, being Ridley Scott it was never going to be just the traditional story that we all know. It is however set in the same period in history, the time of Richard The Lionheart's crusades and his notoriously bad brother John.
From the trailers I was expecting this to be Gladiator in tights, which would be no bad thing. It's true there are similarities to Gladiator but not as many as I was expecting.
As with all Ridley Scott film, it looks very impressive, not as impressive as some of his other work, Gladiator included but good nonetheless. The sets don't seem as convincing as some other of Scotts historical pieces. The first battle is nice to look at for sure.
The soundtrack won't be winning any awards like it did with Blade Runner and Gladiator, it's just an average classical soundtrack that blends in very well but is not memorable in any way.
I'm not totally convinced at the choice of Russell Crowe as Robin, he seems to be in every other Scott film these days and that's starting to get a bit clichéd now, just like Johnny Depp and Tim Burton are. I do like Crowe but there were bound to be comparisons to Gladiator with him in the title role, and I don't think he is convincing enough here.
I wasn't at all convinced by some of the people who would become the merry men, especially Friar Tuck with his strong mancunian accent, I think he was in the terrible (IMHO) Full Monty, he seems to be playing the same role here.
The best performance on show here by far is the excellent Max von Sydow as Marion's father, he steals the scenes he is in.
I couldn't help but notice the Saving Private Ryan styling of the main battle, slow mo underwater shots with arrows killing drowning soldiers. The final battle really had some bizarre moments, you'll have to see it to see what I mean, Scott seems to have forgotten about his usual attention to detail and relative accuracy in that scene for sure. They also seem to have had WWII style landing craft, albeit made out of wood, complete with retractable ramps at the front in Medieval times, I think not.
The biggest problem with Robin Hood is that it feels underdeveloped; the story could have been tightened for sure. The end battle and the ending in general leaves a little to be desired. Having said that, a second viewing helps with the enjoyment with lowered expectations and it's not taxing so is not a bad escapism.
I know Ridley Scott is getting on now and he seems to have a lot of projects on the go, but I think he should take more time in future, he must have at least one more classic in him. This film has prequel written all over it, although there's no sign yet of one.
Main Cast List
Russell Crowe - Robin Longstride
Cate Blanchett - Marion Loxley
Max von Sydow - Sir Walter Loxley
William Hurt - William Marshal
Mark Strong - Godfrey
Oscar Isaac - Prince John
Directed By : Ridley Scott
Running Time : 140 Mins
Certificate : PG-13
One Control To Rule Them All
Remote controls, everyone loves them, unless they've got missing down the side of the sofa. This remote control won't stop that happening, but it will stop it happening so much. You can safely put those other remotes in a safe place that you'll forget.
The beauty of universal remotes is that you no longer have to go hunting for the multitude of remotes that get distributed around living rooms these days. The downside is that lose it or worse break it and you lose them all, and it's times to find that safe place you've forgotten.
The Logitech remote is programmed from a website, you connect your remote to your PC (not included) and a small app downloads, you then go to the Logitech website and create an account. When you have done this you can start configuring your remote. I found all three devices already stored in the database. This gives you a good start but I still configured the buttons to my liking as there were some in places I didn't want and some function were not configured at all.
One of the best features of the remote is the main power button. It turns on my TV and PVR at the same time. I did not do anything to configure this, it just did it for me. I'm sure if you have a surround sound system you could configure that to come on also. It does require both devices to be on or off. There is of course a power button just for the device you have selected.
The remote is quite ergonomic and is a nice size. It fits in my hand very well and I find that the buttons are all easy to reach. It's taken a little time to get used to but now I can use pretty much press the button I want without looking at it.
The remote takes two AAA batteries, I have had them in now for about six months now and they are still holding up, the only thing that seems to have changed is the range is slightly reduced, so that's not bad I feel.
Logitech do more expensive remotes with more features that control more devices and even have their own displays. If you need more than four devices on one remote by all means pay the extra but for the majority I'm sure four is enough and there is no screen on this one to drain the battery faster.
Summing up, I'm very pleased with my Logitech universal remote control, it's stood up well to the knocks, is responsive and feels nice. There's not much more you can ask for really.
This version has a gloss finish, if you want to save a little cash you can get the non-glossy version for a few pounds less, it's exactly the same otherwise. I picked mine up from eBay for less than I could find at other online shops.
Into The Blu
Since Blu-Ray has become the standard for high definition optical media the prices of the players
has been quite rapidly declining. It's now possible to get a decent Blu-Ray player at sub £100 prices.
I had been resisting Blu-Ray for quite a while but now the prices have come down I have taken the plunge. I looked at a number of players and decided on the Toshiba as it had all the features I was looking for and goes nicely with my Toshiba TV.
The Toshiba BDX2100 could be seen as a budget player. The design of the box is very nice and it fits in very nicely under my TV. It's a nice size too and relatively thin. The LCD display on the front looks a little old fashioned when playing discs but to be honest I don't really notice that anymore and it's not visible when turned off or on stand by.
The picture quality and sound quality when playing Blu-Rays is excellent. With a well encoded Blu-Ray you can really see the difference to standard DVD. There are a few settings for the way Blu-Rays are displayed, I tend the prefer the default setting.
I have had no problems in playing back any disks at all, including one disk that I imported from America that says it's not region encoded. However, it's probably best to stick to region B (Europe) if possible as the manual states only region B disks are compatible.
The remote control is a nice size and fits in my hand well. The buttons are nicely layed out, although a number of them serve no purpose so I presume they are also supplied with more expensive models. The player responds to the controls well although sometimes it takes a few presses to wake it up from stand by.
The USB port allows you to play most formats, there's very few that have failed to play. It will play HD
files. It also supports the MKV format which is very handy as this is now commonly used. The Media player on the machine is very good, the menus are well laid out and the colour scheme and fonts used make everything easy to read and professional looking. File names that are longer than can be displayed are scrolled when highlighted. I am very happy with the USB functionality of the player.
As this is a budget player there are is no support for on demand services that other players supply, such as iPlayer, 4OD etc. If this is important to you then look elsewhere. The only internet service supported is Blu-Ray Live, and to be honest I've not even bothered to connect it up to the internet as I don't have any interest in the standard extra features let alone online ones. If you do want it though it is there and it supports the latest version. There is no wifi built in so you'll have to connect with a cable or wireless bridge.
My biggest problem with the player is the noise the mechanism makes, it's fine when just playing but when you first turn it on or move around the disk it makes some very loud mechanical noises that does make me a little concerned about the build quality. So far it's been fine, but I can't see it lasting as long as my old Sony DVD player that's about ten years old now and still going strong. At the price however I can't complain about a little clunkyness.
For the price I paid I can't really fault this player, blu-rays play very well and it does a very good job of upscaling standard DVDs.
The picture and sound quality of blu-rays is excellent. The USB functionality is better than I was expecting. The lack of internet features doesn't bother me but could be a deal breaker if you don't have other methods of accessing them. Now the price of the Blu-Rays themselves have
come down now is a good time to invest.
It's All Alien To Me
When it was announced that Ridley Scott was working on an Alien prequel I was very excited. As time moved on Scott distanced himself from the prequel idea and said that the new film was just set in the Alien world. Nonetheless I was hooked and now I have finally seen it.
At almost two hours in length I was surprised how fast the time went, a sign of a good film in my eyes. Praise has to go to the special effects team, Scott really knows how to make a film look good, and good it certainly does look. Even in this day and age of effect heavy films, it stands head and shoulders above most. Scott is a very visual director, and has been criticised for style over substance but I think he get's the balance right more often than not.
Fans of the artwork of H.R. Giger will not be disappointed, I don't think he had a massive input but his
work is still very apparent and that is no bad thing as his work never fails to amaze me and sometimes
disturb. It's nice to see some of this work come to life again. If you are not familiar with his work I strongly recommend looking it up.
The film has been criticised for the throwaway nature of a lot of the characters. I must admit
that during the film I had no idea of the names of some of them, however the main characters I thought
were fleshed out enough. There were only seven characters in the original Alien, there are many more
here but there's no way they could all have back stories so most are there for the ride. Some of the
characters seem to act very strangely towards each other and make some puzzling decisions. I'm not sure if this is where some of the cuts were made.
Michael Fassbender excels as the android David, I don't think that's a secret as he appeared as an android in the viral marketing that preceded the films release. He is a bit like the Ash character from Alien rather than Bishop from Aliens, in that he seems mysterious and running his own agenda, but this is not at all clear cut. His actions have generated a lot of speculation in the forums. I couldn't help but think of the human looking Cylons from the new Battlestar Galactica series when he was on screen.
Charlize Theron as hard nosed Meredith Vickers does not get as much screen time as I was expecting but when she is she is very good, her character is a little ambiguous at times which I liked. She is aboard the Prometheus to make sure the mission goes smoothly.
Idris Elba is the only other character that had any real input despite a small amount of screen time as the Captain of the Prometheus. He is often the voice of reason.
Guy Pearse is almost unrecognisable as the ageing Peter Weyland, Weyland you may remember from the previous Alien films is the name of the corporation that seems hell bent on recovering the Alien for their own ends and is often referred to as simply "The Company". The art department have make up have done a great job making him look old, not sure why they didn't employ an older actor and save the hassle. Guy appears as himself at his current age in some viral videos that have been released promoting the film.
Strangely for a futuristic special effects laden movie the music is pretty much forgettable. I was kind of expecting something more in the Vangelis style but a bit more traditional sounding, but we just got a generic movie soundtrack that does seem to repeat itself a bit too often. For a director known for stunning soundtracks in film like Blade Runner and Gladiator I find it surprising. I won't be rushing out the buy the CD.
Ridley Scott is known for his director's cuts, I have read that there could be 20 - 30 minutes of footage
reinserted into the film when it comes out on DVD. I hope this is the case as some areas could do with
more explaining, and may clean up some of odd things that happen.
If you've ever wondered about the so called "Space Jockey", the large creature found in the derelict spacecraft in Alien then you will not be disappointed, but in true Ridley Scott style a lot is still left open to your own interpretation, even more so than Blade Runner.
On the whole I enjoyed Prometheus, it's not up there with Alien but it's very difficult to surpass a film
that is considered a classic and has spawned many sequels itself. I'm not sure why Scott has said it's not
a prequel, in my eyes there is too much here for it not to be, however there is enough unique for it not to
be considered a direct prequel and it could easily take a couple more films to link it back to Alien if it ever
I like how the film has left people discussing between themselves and on forums. There are a lot of different interpretations for the film as a whole and why certain characters behave like they do. For me the way it does link into Alien is one of the main strengths of the film, and of course it's left open for a sequel and I hope there is one, preferably directed by Ridley Scott again.
Main Cast List
Noomi Rapace - Elizabeth Shaw
Michael Fassbender - David
Charlize Theron - Meredith Vickers
Idris Elba - Janek
Guy Pearce - Peter Weyland
Logan Marshall-Green - Charlie Holloway
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Running Time: 124 mins