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Black Swan centres around a gifted, graceful and technically perfect ballet dancer called Nina. Nina's ballet teacher, Thomas Leroy, chooses Nina to play the Swan Queen in the theatrical perfomance of Tshaikovski's Swan Lake - a story, simply but poignantly described by Nina, about "a girl who gets turned into a swan (white swan) and she needs love to break the spell. But her Prince falls for the wrong girl (black swan), and so she kills herself". Thomas recognises Nina's natural ability to play the innocent and virginally pure white swan and through a rejected advance he makes on her, sees there is potential for her to play the black swan ("the wrong girl"). However, Nina struggles to connect with the Black Swan's intensely dark, sexy, sensual and immoral persona that she needs to portray - and perceives a rival dancer called Lily as a fierce competitor for her role if she fails. We, the audience, are chronologically taken through Nina's immensely dark personal journey to see if she succeeds in playing both parts of the role in Swan Lake.
Performances, Production & Direction
Natalie Portman plays the starring role of Nina beautifully, diminutive in stature, very pale in colour and delicate in manner, she is the personification of the white swan. Her manner is very timid, she is sexually frigid and she is controlled by her domineering mother who was once a ballet dancer herself, and stopped to bring up Nina. Likewise, Nina is very controlled as a dancer, technically accurate, and almost perfect in executing her turns - matching the elegance needed for the white swan. However, as the rehearsals progress and get closer to the performance, Nina cannot make the metamorphosis to the white swan's evil twin, the black swan, and Natalie is very convincing as an angelic figure that cannot break through. Which is where Mila Kunis comes in aptly.
Mila plays the role of Lily - the antithesis of Nina, a provocative, sensual, sexy ballet dancer, who smokes, drinks, takes drugs - the personification of the 'black swan'. Lily starts of as a barrier to Nina's development. Nina sees how naturally Lily can be the black swan character and how easily she lets herself go of herself in her performances, where Nina is always in control of her technique and general actions. However, Lily becomes part of Nina's life, and the more she is exposed to Lily's way of living, the darker she becomes. Mila has a mischievously sexy look about her, which works very well as she cunningly tries to usurp the role as Swan Queen. There is one very sexual scene between her and Natalie, which may appear visually shocking but the chemistry between the two characters manifests effortlessly.
Winona Rider plays Beth, a sinister, desrtuctive and dangerous-minded ballet dancer who has been retired from the dance school by Thomas. Beth sees the new and upcoming star Nina rising up the ranks in contrast to her decline and her obscene jealousy leads her to attempt suicide. Her character and the influences on it are paramount to what we later see become of Nina. Winona is a great choice for her enigmatic features and her experienced acting talent in these troubled roles.
Vincent Cassel is great as Thomas, a mentor that is paramount to Nina's potential transition. Vincent brilliantly portrays this steely, clever and ambitious mentor with a gift for nurturing talent. He is ruthless in his goals, retiring Beth and choosing Lily to be Nina's alternate. Thomas knows how to get the best out his dancers - balancing encouragement with aggression and going to the extremes of seduction to push Nina through the frigid barriers she has erected.
Ultimately, the winning performance is Darren Aronofski's direction. The grittiness, reality, and the fantasy explored in this film convey his very creative and raw mind, one which has enabled a very visceral and cerebral masterpiece to unfold in front of our eyes. The camerawork is very up close to the faces of the actors. In a film about drama, theatre and emotion, this helps the audience connect with the character, and connect with the drama. I felt drawn into this film with ease and gripped until the final curtain. We see very frantic camera work in the scenes where there is drama, and we see very smooth and slow camera work when we see the dancing, emphasising the elegant art of ballet dancing. The production of light and dark colours dramatically work and intellectually compare with the White and Black swan characters that are central to the film.
The use of soundtrack is intelligent, where Tshaikovski's classical masterpieces are used to heighten and progress the drama throughout the film, with the help of the Chemical Brothers to create the edge. That edge manifests through the physical changes to Nina's body, where we see cuts and blood to injuries she has mysteriously obtained. Nina is confronted with an alter ego throughout the film - played also by Natalie Portman, darker and sexier looking but a figment of her imagination. We see these transformations to her body reach an incredible climax in the film.
In my opinion Black Swan is more than a film, its more than a theatrical masterpiece... I see Black Swan as an allegory of life itself. It subjects you to the truth that everyone has a dark side as well as a good side. In Nina's search for perfection, we see the extreme of her dark side, to get that perfect performance. All she wants is to be the perfect dancer, which she perceives as coming from technical perfection, but goes through a brutal learning curve to realise that to let go and go beyond her conscious performance of dancing, is what gains perfection.
You do not need to be at all interested in ballet dancing to watch this. The action, the drama and the humanity of the film is strong enough to overpower the fact that this is a film about ballet dancing. It is a film that anyone who has ever believed in a passion strong enough will appreciate. Admittedly, it is a dark film, and one that is not for the feint hearted to watch. There are many sexually driven scenes, so this is not one for kids and not one which the prudish will appreciate per se, but are necessary as Nina tries to break through her delicate barriers.
I connected with this film from the beginning, and by the end I was literally overwhelmed with emotion, in a way one would be to connecting with opera. The drama conveyed in this film is powerful and consuming. I found myself sat back one minute, on the edge of my seat another, biting my fingernails the next, and then just overwhelmed. It is brilliantly put together, and I find it difficult not to use hyperbole when describing it. I have not personally seen a film like this, but I have seen theatre and opera like this, and for the drama to manifest so well on screen I think make this one of the best films ever produced.
Natalie Portman ... Nina Sayers / The Swan Queen
Mila Kunis ... Lily / The Black Swan
Vincent Cassel ... Thomas Leroy / The Gentleman
Barbara Hershey ... Erica Sayers / The Queen
Winona Ryder ... Beth Macintyre / The Dying Swan
Running time: 103 minutes
Certificate: 15 years or over
Networking is one of the most enjoyable or nerve-wracking activities that a business person immerses in. Mingling with people you don't know, who appear confident and extroverted, and are looking to pounce on you to sell their services can be very unenjoyable for some. Having said that, networking provides professionals with an essential benefit in today's business world:
More contacts = greater chance of success.
Success = promotion + more money for you.
It is commonplace that business owners, senior managers and company sales and marketing people are frequenting networking events to increase their business opportunities and therefore revenue and growth of their businesses. Therefore, if you are one that finds networking events uncomfortable, you need a way to enjoy it.
Experience-wise, I have been to many networking events in my professional life, which progressed from recruitment consultant to Head of UK Sales for a global organisation to now business owner. Networking is an essential part of life, and you need to be confident (even if you don't feel it) to inspire people to work with you. Confidence is not everything, luck is also important - being in the right place at the right time. I have been to networking events and handed out 80 business cards, only to get a 0% return on investment. This can happen a lot... paper cards can be easily misplaced/chucked in the bin! Fair enough but what is the point of your business sending you out to a networking event, paying for your travel and the invitation only to make a loss?
Worry no more, this is where the LinkPal Pro comes in VERY handy (mind the pun).
LinkPal Pro is the product of LinQsta Social Media for Business (www.LinQsta.com). LinQsta is a social media service for professionals, where you can create a QR barcode which contains all of your professional information such as:
- Your name, your photo, your job title, company name,
- About you section
- Icons which contain links to your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Flickr pages.
LinQsta looked to QR codes contain a large volume of interactive data (as above) that appears on your phone screen when you scan it. All smartphones have a free app you can get if it is not already on your phone, making them even more accessible.
The LinkPal iPhone app
The LinkPal Pro turns your phone into a professional networking device, containing a suite of productivity tools at the palm of your hand. Primarily, LinkPal Pro allows you to display your QR code to present to new people, as you would present a business card. When the new contact scans the code, all of your above details will appear to them. From there, they can add you to their phone and to their LinQsta network. They will always be able to access the details on your card which means that they will not lose it like they can easily misplace a paper business card.
The interface is clean and simple, using a blue, red and white colour scheme. There is a header toolbar with buttons appropriate for each screen, and a bottom bar where you can access all screens and functions. These are:
- Home screen - displayed very similar to the Facebook new feed - you can see in real time what your network is doing and you can post statuses and pictures here.
- Show Code - here you display your digital business card so that that it can be scanned by a new contact.
- Scan Code - LinkPal contains a sophisticated QR code scanner, meaning you can scan your contact's code and it presents you with their information on one page. You have an option to Add to iPhone and Add to LinQsta network. Adding to iPhone puts all their pre-populated data into your Contacts book. Adding to LinQsta means they are added to your network (similar to Facebook).
- Messages - Here you are able to read all of your messages as they are sent in real time.
- Contacts - All of your contacts are displayed here, where you can access their digital card and send them a message.
LinkPal Pro's features (as mentioned on Itunes)
* Link with new connections with One Touch
Connect using LinkPal barcode scanner and add contact to Network or to iPhone.
* Share instantly downloadable data through one scan!
New connections can import your contact details straight to iphone with one touch
* Boost your Social Media contacts quickly
Connections can follow you on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Flickr with one
* Become 'first in mind' through messaging feature
Simple messaging function allows you to stay in contact for work or employment
* Progress up Community Star system, from White to Platinum star (works a bit like Ciao & eBay)
Make networking fun - the more contacts you have, the higher your community rating.
* Keep socializing and engaging with your network
Update statuses and photos and constantly add value to your network.
How to optimise LinkPal Pro
- Purchase the LinkPal Pro for only 69p in the App Store. This is the only cost you have to pay for the service.
Use this link - bit.ly/STwf1m
- Create an Account - this will take you to the LinQsta.Com interface
- Create a QR Code - complete all fields and make your digital business card available
- Use LinkPal Pro to connect with new contacts at events, conferences and meetings.
- Connections added are displayed like a rolodex in the LinkPal Pro contacts screen.
- Engage with your contacts by posting statuses and news items regularly
Professionals need to network effectively to gain the best for them and for their business. I have amassed a large amount of contacts through the app and have obtained a White Star from the community system. The only real holdback is that this app is available only on iphone. Having said that, you can download the QR code from the website to your phone and use that at networking events.
Fundamentally, LinkPal Pro is one of the most innovative, simple and effective services available to networking professionals. It takes no effort to use it once the app is loaded up. It is not easy to create impact at events when everyone is handing out business cards, but it is much easier to create impact when you present your details and connect with new contacts in a revolutionary way. New contacts have been impressed by the simplicity of the tool and by how quirky and modern it is.
I thoroughly recommend LinkPal Pro as the quirkiest networking tool available. It is only 69p.
Purchase it here:
As the founder of a Social media barcode website www.LinQsta,com, The Social Network was an obvious and highly intriguing choice of film from the selection provided by the ever-obliging Lovefilm staff.
The world has predominantly become digital, particularly in the last 4 or 5 years, where the iPhone and iPad are essentially the only tools you need in life. Through the online world, we can now stock up our homes with furniture and food using Tesco.com, without needing to leave the home, chat with our friends on Facebook without meeting them at the pub, finding a job through LinkedIn, without needing recruitment agencies, find out what celebrities are up to on Twitter without needing to read OK! magazine... etc etc. The Insanely Great late Steve Jobs and a number of visionaries have changed our world. One of them is the enigmatic Mark Zuckerburg - creator of Facebook and focal point of the Social Network.
The Social Network depicts Mark Zuckerburg's infamous rise to worldwide fame as Facebook CEO from the obscurity of being a colossally bright but awkward, nerdy, socially inept Harvard sophomore thats been recently dumped by his girlfriend. Driven by an overwhelming ambition to matter and belong to one of Harvard's prestigious finals clubs, he first gains notoriety by creating a hot or not style website that allows students to compare one against another. Having been noticed by the Winklevoss twins, who were looking for a "gifted" programmer to help build a Harvard dating website 'The Harvard Connection'- the USP being the exclusivity of the Harvard connotation, they meet Mark and tell him their idea. Almost immediately, Mark enlists his best friend Eduardo Saverin, a business major, to join him in creating his own venture 'TheFacebook', an online directory for Harvard students to create profile, add pics and friends etc - a very similar proposition as the Harvard Connection.
The story is told with three stories interweaving - the chronological story of Mark/TheFacebook through University to offices in San Francisco, the other two being his two main legal battles, one with the Winklevoss twins for the property rights of TheFacebook and the other with Eduardo for his equity rights in TheFacebook. The story flicks between the three different scenarios as it sees fit to tell the story in the most effective way, the predominant theme being Mark Zuckerburg's ruthless drive and ambition to matter, outweighing the detrimental affects on his personal and professional relationships, education and credibility.
Jesse Eisenberg plays the part of Mark, and plays it brilliantly - strongly conveying a nerdy intellectual man fraught with paradoxes. Jesse convincingly presents to us an awkward, introverted and driven young man, that appears to have no emotional feelings in his treatment to others, but you can tell deep down that he is personally affected by those, whom he likes, that are hurting. Jesse etches out a convincing personality that you can easily attach to Mark based on what he has achieved and what he has had to go through along the way. Mark vehemently denies that he has seen it, but says that what they have portrayed is mostly factually wrong besides the many hoodies that Jesse sports on his behalf in the film. It's not easy to know the real Mark Zuckerburg - he is a mysterious enigma, and that is what is great about Jesse, because you feel this way about him in the film too. As an audience viewer, you love Mark at times, and you hate him just as much.
The supporting roles are also outstanding, for instance Andrew Garfield who plays Eduardo Saverin. As an audience viewer you grow attached to him through his warm, easy going and affable personality. He gets Mark, and although they are chalk and cheese, the dynamic within the relationship works great, and Garfield and Eisenberg have a seemingly effortless chemistry on screen. Garfield's supportive and kind hearted intentions as Eduardo are then contrasted exceptionally with Justin Timberlake's portrayal of Sean Parker - the infamous founder of Napster. Timberlake plays the nerdy minded but suave, sophisticated and socially advanced Parker superbly as he tries to nestle in on Facebook's growth and potential "$1 billion" fortune and manipulate Mark into making big business decisions. Parker himself was a programming protege in his early days, but personality-wise is very smooth and popular, who networks successfully with the great and the good among Silicon Valley's venture capitalists. He is exactly the person that Mark wants to be, and through Jesse and Timberlake's convincing portrayal, the dynamic is effortless. Behind Parker's polished facade, lurks an opportunistic streetsmart attitude which surprisingly gets the better of Saverin and Zuckerburg's booksmart qualities, and this shines through very well. A special mention has to go to Armie Hammer who plays both Winklevoss brothers - particularly because I thought it was two actors with differing personalities, but Armie does a great job of giving each twin strong but distinctive qualities.
The soundtrack is very much inkeeping with the action of the film. It is a very fast moving film reflecting the fast thinking and intelligent characters that manifest on screen, and the music carries it along very well. The music sounds quite snappy and technological, which an odd adjective based on the piano and/or keyboard sounds that are played, but it works superbly with the film as a while.
Furthermore settings used are appropriate and provide the necessary glamour to the contradictory worlds of Harvard's focused, academic and traditional University and Silicon Valley's 'play-hard', loud and glamourous atmosphere that many technological powerhouses such as Google, Cisco, Apple, Instagram etc etc have brought to it. The court rooms then bring the serious elements to the film, where you can see how easy it is to face issues with a young start up which young entreprenuers fail to cover through their lack of experience. The legal discussions also show how Mark's shrewd personality progresses throughout the film.
My personal opinion is that I loved this film, but as a technology entrepreneur I would. I have watched this film with others of the opposite sex that had a difference of opinion to mine. It is a very male dominated film, with alpha male attitudes, drive and ambition just bursting through the scenes. Each male character is mostly out for their own ends and you can see the obvious arrogance, confidence and shrewdness by the oceanload, so I can imagine it can have an alienating effect on females - particularly those not into technology and do not have a burning ambition that is as visible as mars. Having said that, it does have strong actresses that keep the male egos in check, such as Eduardo's girlfriend who keeps him under close supervision and Mark's girlfriend at the beginning, who dumps him and is failed to be impressed by his subsequent success with Facebook.
While it is not for everyone, though a gripping storyline, clever story telling techniques, superb portrayals of the key figures in the Facebook legend, a snappy and edgy soundtrack and engaging settings, this film is definitely one to 'Like', leave a 'comment' and certainly 'share' with others!
Cast (in appearance order)
Jesse Eisenberg ... Mark Zuckerberg
Rooney Mara ... Erica Albright
Bryan Barter ... Billy Olsen
Joseph Mazzello ... Dustin Moskovitz
Patrick Mapel ... Chris Hughes
Andrew Garfield ... Eduardo Saverin
Denise Grayson ... Gretchen
John Getz ... Sy
Henry Roosevelt ... Henry
Armie Hammer ... Cameron Winklevoss / Tyler Winklevoss
Law Abiding Citizen is a gritty and thrilling depiction of vengeance. Gerald Butler plays Clyde Shelton, a man whose world is eviscerated by two villans that enter his house one night, attacking him and murdering his wife and daughter right in front of him. When these two men stand trial, Shelton's lawyer cuts a deal without his permission, which sees the lesser malevolent criminal of the two getting the death penalty and the main murderer getting 10 years. 10 years on, still crippled with pain, hate and anguish, Shelton decides he is going to exact revenge on the criminals and the justice system which let him down in his desire for retribution. How far will he go to prove that the criminal justice system is flawed?
*Quality of acting*
Having enjoyed Butler's performance in romantic comedy, The Ugly Truth, I was keen to see how convincingly he could portray a serious vigilante. This film did not let him down. Upon experiencing the glorified violence of the Death Wish movies, I expected Law Abiding Citizen to wholly comprise of Butler ridding the world of dangerous criminals. However, we learn that his character Clyde is very intelligent, sharp and calculating which reflect the approach he uses to dispose of those that wronged him.
The only person that stands in the way of Clyde bringing the legal system onto it's knees is his former lawyer who let him down - Nick Rice, played by Jamie Foxx. Foxx plays a passionate, ruthless and shrewd lawyer that is keen on maintaining a high conviction rate and progressing up the ladder. Whilst Rice has a wife and daughter and you can see that personally he identifies with Clyde, professionally he is unable to admit fault in his previous decision to cut a deal and will not stop in his pursuit of bringing Clyde to justice. His performance is excellent - Foxx does an exceptional job of standing by the justice system, and not losing belief in the results the system brings, even though he is a family man and can understand the emotions of the man he is trying to stop. Butler, however, is justifiably the star of the film, using excellent acting talent to make you truly convinced he is justified in his vigilante disposition.
There are other very good performances, such as Leslie Bibb who plays Sarah, a young lawyer that supports Nick (Foxx), and aspires to be just like him, both in passion and success. Whilst initially she follows her heart in her loyalty to the justice system, as the campaign of vengeance unfolds, she begins to lose faith in the ideals she supported. As does Jonas who mentored Nick, showing that Clyde's disgust and lack of faith in the legal system is so strongly conveyed, that even the pillars of the system begin to doubt it's efficacy.
I am not the greatest fan of violent films, normally sticking to light hearted or comedic films, however the barrel-load of action and violence is very engaging rather than off-putting. The action in Law Abiding Citizen hits you like an explosion, it gets going very quickly and violence is evident straight away. The first sequence is quite uncomfortable to watch, but allows you to get into the skin of Clyde and empathise with his grief and subsequent motivation to obtain revenge. As a result, I enjoyed watching this film. The violence seems justified from Clyde, to compensate for the mindlessness of this murder of his family. You find yourself supporting Clyde in his vicious campaign. However, it comes to a point where you begin to question if he is going beyond the realms of revenge. He is very clever and demonstrates the ability to outwit the hierarchy of the legal system at their own game.
Holistically, this film is superb. However, what I found let it down was the conclusion. 95% of the film is smart and violent action, and it concludes lacking the intelligence and explosiveness of the build-up content. I was also somewhat disatisfied by what happened at the end, however this is my personal thought, and many others may not share this. Overall, it does not take too much away from what is a truly magnificent film.
What can I say? This film is a masterpiece. The acting is high quality, the action sequences are cleverly conducted, and the predominant content of the film is unpredictable, dramatic, and explosive, thus keeping the audience gripped.
I would recommend anyone to watch Law Abiding Citizen. It is a very smart film, which has you on the edge of your seat, not knowing what will happen next. There are a few moments that will truly shock you, which adds to the film being brilliant. I would buy this and watch it again and again.
Law Abiding Citizen is certified for 18 years and over, is 1hr 48mins long, and is available for the price of £11.99 at Play.com
Jamie Foxx ... Nick Rice
Gerard Butler ... Clyde Shelton
Colm Meaney ... Detective Dunnigan
Bruce McGill ... Jonas Cantrell
Leslie Bibb ... Sarah Lowell
Michael Irby ... Detective Garza
Gregory Itzin ... Warden Iger
Thank you for reading!
It's that time again! The 18th of April 2009 heralded the beginning of two glorious weeks of the Betfred World Snooker Championship. Unsuprisingly, the World Championship, held at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, is the ultimate tournament in Snooker and worth double the ranking points of any of the other competitions. The winner will receive £250,000 prize money, but they will have to go through a marathon format of games, with the final being the best of 35 frames (aka first to 18).
The 32 players that comprise the World Championship are the World's top 16, who get automatic admission, and 16 qualifiers - which give people who can be way outside of the top 16, e.g. Jamie Burnett (no.45) a chance at the big title.
As usual this year's World Championship was an open book. The season started near the end of 2008, and the results of the major ranking events, leading up to the Worlds, were as follows:
Northern Ireland Trophy: Ronnie O'Sullivan
Shanghai Masters: Ricky Walden
Grand Prix: John Higgins
Bahrain Championship: Neil Robertson
UK Championship: Shaun Murphy
The Masters (non-ranking): Ronnie O'Sullivan
Welsh Open: Ali Carter
China Open: Peter Ebdon
Apart from the bookies favorite, the contentious and enigmatic Ronnie O'Sullivan, who had won more than one title this season, there has been a unique winner for each tournament.
Going into the Championship, I backed the measured and methodical Peter Ebdon who had just won the China Open. I backed him primarily because he was in breathtaking form in China, has a superb record in long matches, and also because his confidence must have been very high to have just beaten John Higgins to the China title.
I also backed the successful, but not successful enough, ever trying, Chinese sensation Ding Junhui. In my opinion Ronnie O'Sullivan, in his best form can beat anyone, but I also think that if anyone could rival him, then Ding, at his best, would be able to. He is a genius that has not yet had the chance to shine, but could he do so at Sheffield 2009?
A shock defeat for Peter Ebdon - one of my guys already out, victim to a 10-5 demolition job courtesy of Nigel Bond. Nigel Bond, a finalist at the 1995 World Championships, had done this before - causing an upset in 2006 when he knocked out Stephen Hendry.
Another highlight was the clash of the Chinese titans - Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo. This game was superb, with both players exhibiting formidable technical and battling skills. I thought it was a shame these two fought each other so early. The fact Liang nearly got the better of his hero was an indication that he has enormous potential, and it was an injustice he had to go out so early to a 10-8 scoreline.
On BBC interactive, '30 years of Interesting times' was playing on loop, showing highlights of Steve Davis' triumphs between 1979 and 2009, leading up to his first game. and it was superb that, at 51 years of age, Steve Davis was making yet another appearance at the Crucible. It was gutting however that in the first match, he was annihilated 10-2 by Neil Robertson.
My other favourite, Ding Junhui, was knocked out of the tournament by 50-1 outsider, albeit the 7-times World Champion, Stephen Hendry. Again, it was great to see Stephen, past his best, holding his own against the leader of the future stars.
However, a bigger shock was to come when the colossal favourite for a fourth World title, Ronnie O'Sullivan, was crushed by Mark Allen after leading 9-7 going into the final session. I think anyone who knocked out the Rocket was going to be a favourite, but the win certainly established Allen as one of the huge rising stars in the next 5 years.
Despite losing the China Open, John Higgins lived up to his name as the best matchplay Snooker player in the world by winning a fantastic final frame decider against Jamie Cope.
Despite the absence of Ronnie, the quarter finals consisted of the household names in modern Snooker - Selby, Higgins, Murphy, Hendry, Maguire and Robertson.
Selby v Higgins was the biggest match of the round as they had met in the 2007 World Championship final. Although Higgins emerged victorious then, he had succumed to Selby every time since. Would Selby get revenge for his 07 defeat? It was a terrific match, which Selby dominated at first and looked like winning all the way. John however showed the qualities that had made him champion twice by edging it at the final hurdle, once again winning a nail biting 'to the wire' finish.
The main highlight of the quarters was a marvellous maximum 147 break by Stephen Hendry. However, despite an early lead, Shaun Murphy's brilliance eventually outclassed the ageing Scot. Neil Robertson and Mark Allen made up the other two semi final spots.
And then there were four - two rising stars in the form of Allen and Robertson against the two former champions - Murphy and Higgins. In both matches, the Champions had opened up seemingly insurmountable leads with Higgins leading Allen 13-3 and Murphy outclassing Robertson 14-7. Would both games be over before with a session to spare?
Sensationally not! Incredibly, Robertson staged an magnificent comeback to level the score 14-14. However, Murphy found an extra gear and won the next three to win 17-14. Allen also made a thrilling come back against a tense Higgins to make the score 13-16. However, inevitably, Higgins delivered that lethal dose to put Allen out of his misery.
THE FINAL - Day 1
Higgins vs Murphy - The Wizard vs The Magician, a final I did not see coming, but nevertheless a very high quality line-up. I thought Shaun Murphy would end up like another John Parrott - a one hit wonder. He won the championship in 2005 and then only won a couple of ranking titles, signifying that maybe he had peaked early. Now he had proved he has the metal to become a multiple champion. Higgins on the other hand was looking to be a member of the 3 times Champion club - which given that he is a legend of the game, and widely known as the most complete player in terms of potting, break building and supreme safety play, it would be a justified membership.
Higgins took a commanding lead, until Shaun caught him on the hook and did not let him get wriggle away. After the first of four sessions, they were level at 4-4. In the second 8-frame session, Murphy took the lead... but Higgins went on to win the next 7 frames to lead 11-5 overnight. Worryingly for Murphy, no-one had ever come back from this score in the very long history of the crucible... things looked bleak.
THE FINAL - Day 2
A devastating Higgins nearly finished off Murphy with a session to spare. Shaun continued to make uncharacteristic mistakes, whilst Higgins made some but less so, allowing him to create an enormous gap going into the final session. At 16-8, it was a foregone conclusion that Higgins would win, but how soon could he finish off a floundering Murphy? When the final session started at 8pm, in an antithesis to his last title win that finished at a record latest time of 1am, it took less than an hour for Higgins to seal the match with a 18-9 thrashing!
So, was it magic - no! John Higgins' reaction to winning his well deserved 3rd World Championship was as underwhelming as the fashion in which he destroyed Murphy. When someone wins a World title, you want to see immense jubilation, pride and celebration, but Higgins was clearly disappointed by his own showmanship. Shaun Murphy, as ever, was gallant, gentlemanly and professional in defeat, and he summed it up brilliantly "We were playing well up until 4-4". Overall I thought this was the worst final I had ever seen, but the right player won. Higgins did indeed deserve to be in that highly respected position of winning 3 titles. Only Ronnie O'Sullivan, Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis have done as good or better.
I will never watch Snooker on Eurosport or Sky Sports - the team on the BBC is exceptional. Normally Hazel Irvine is the lead presenter, like Sue Barker is during Wimbledon. However this year, due to the recent birth of her child, Hazel's place was taken by Rishi Persad. I can only be positive about his performance, he was a good presenter, although he was never going to be a patch on Hazel. The rest of the team include Ray Stubbs, Steve Davis, John Parrott and Ken Doherty - who is certainly getting better, and the commentators John Virgo, Terry Griffiths, Neal Foulds, Dennis Taylor and Willie Thorne and they were their usual first class selves. Admittedly, my blood tends to boil when they say "This is a hard shot, he'll do very well to get on the next ball" and 9.9 times out of 10, the player plays and positions the shot successfully.
I took the second week of the Championship off so was lucky enough to see fantastic action manifesting before my eyes. My main complaint are the hours of coverage, as it is frustrating that for those who work, they will only get one hour of live play on BBC2 at 7pm, and will have to turn to Interactive to watch the rest once some naff historical or cultural programme takes over at 8pm. Highlights are on in the late hours which those in employment will avoid to wake up bright and early for the next working day.
Up to the final, the 2009 Championship was one of the most exciting I have seen over the years. The record highest number of breaks compiled at the Crucible was 68... this year, that figure was smashed - with an inexplicable 83 century breaks. This figure demonstrates that the quality of Snooker is higher than it has ever been.
However, Ronnie O'Sullivan said, back in January, that the sport is dying, and that it needs a Simon Cowell figure to bring back the popularity that Snooker experienced when 18 million watched the famous 1985 final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor. This remark came in the aftermath of the Lakeside Darts World Championship, where there the player's entrances are gregarious and ostentatious, but really creates a buzzy and excited atmosphere. Given that hardly anybody I know watches Snooker and that my other half was struggling to stay conscious when we went to the Wembley Masters in January, maybe Snooker is dying. The quality is great, but huge personalities like Jimmy White and Alex Higgins are absent and Ronnie seems to be carrying the sport on his shoulders.
Higgins and Murphy are the greatest ambassadors for the game - well respected, professional and gentlemanly, and the senior people in Snooker want Snooker to stay this way, whereas O'Sullivan is treated as the anti-hero - very exciting and controversial but a personality which clearly appeals to the audience. I think a few more Ronnie's are needed, but I thought the Snooker was phenomenal and very enjoyable and I think this was a fantastic 17 days... or at least 15!
FINAL (best of 35 frames)
John Higgins (Sco) 18-9 Shaun Murphy (Eng)
SEMI-FINALS (best of 33 frames)
Mark Allen (NI)13-17 John Higgins (Sco)
Shaun Murphy (Eng) 17-14 Neil Robertson (Aus)
QUARTER-FINALS (best of 25 frames)
Mark Allen (NI) 13-11 Ryan Day (Wal)
John Higgins (Sco) 13-12 Mark Selby (Eng)
Shaun Murphy (Eng) 13-11 Stephen Hendry (Sco)
Neil Robertson (Aus) 13-8 Stephen Maguire (Sco)
SECOND ROUND (best of 25 frames)
Ronnie O'Sullivan (Eng) 11-13 Mark Allen (NI)
Nigel Bond (Eng) 5-13 Ryan Day (Wal)
John Higgins (Sco) 13-12 Jamie Cope (Eng)
Graeme Dott (Sco) 10-13 Mark Selby (Eng)
Shaun Murphy (Eng) 13-3 Marco Fu (HK)
Stephen Hendry (Sco) 13-10 Ding Junhui (Chn)
Ali Carter (Eng) 8-13 Neil Robertson (Aus)
Mark King (Eng) 6-13 Stephen Maguire (Sco)
FIRST ROUND (best of 19 frames)
Ronnie O'Sullivan (Eng) 10-5 Stuart Bingham (Eng)
Mark Allen (NI) 10-6 Martin Gould (Eng)
Peter Ebdon (Eng) 5-10 Nigel Bond (Eng)
Ryan Day (Wal) 10-4 Stephen Lee (Eng)
John Higgins (Sco) 10-5 Michael Holt (Eng)
Jamie Cope (Eng) 10-6 Joe Perry (Eng)
Graeme Dott (Sco) 10-8 Barry Hawkins (Eng)
Mark Selby (Eng) 10-6 Ricky Walden (Eng)
Shaun Murphy (Eng) 10-8 Andrew Higginson (Eng)
Marco Fu (HK) 10-4 Joe Swail (NI)
Ding Junhui (Chn) 10-8 Liang Wenbo (Chn)
Stephen Hendry (Sco) 10-7 Mark Williams (Wal)
Ali Carter (Eng) 10-5 Gerard Greene (NI)
Neil Robertson (Aus) 10-2 Steve Davis (Eng)
Mark King (Eng) 10-6 Rory McLeod (Eng)
Stephen Maguire (Sco) 10-5 Jamie Burnett (Sco)
In 1987, the beloved super-sleuth Inspector Morse came onto our screens. John Thaw played the Oxford-educated, introspective and melancholy enigma, whilst Kevin Whately played his slightly naive but upbeat northerner sidekick Sergeant Lewis. In 2000, after 33 fantastic 2 hour episodes where Morse and Lewis deciphered the most complex and intelligently thought out crimes, Morse had a fatal heart attack after having solved a case with which he had personal involvement. After an emotional final scene where he kisses Morse whilst on a mortuary slab, we are left wondering where Lewis is headed in his career as the series ends for good.
In 2005, Lewis appeared on our screens, as a spin-off series to Morse. In the pilot episode we see how his character has developed since the death of his boss and mentor. He returns to the University City of Oxford after a long stint on the British Virgin Islands with the status of Inspector. His first trip in Oxford is to the cemetery, which one would assume would be to visit Morse's grave, but we see that it is the grave of his wife Valerie who died in a tragic hit and run incident in 2002. Lewis's character, consequently, seems to have adopted the same melancholy and introspective disposition that Morse had, giving him an engaging and intriguing appeal as a leading man. He adopts a sidekick - Sergeant Hathaway, who unsurprisingly was educated in Theology at Cambridge University, hence straight away we see the social divide materialise once more.
Lewis' first case in 'The Pilot Episode' involves solving the murder of a Maths student who is shot dead whilst dozing in a sleep lab. The clues lead to a very obvious killer, but when that killer has a watertight alibi, the search for a suspect becomes a very difficult one, and the search leads on to a case which Morse had done some work on prior to his death. How will the new partnership of an experienced Lewis and an extremely intelligent Hathaway come together to solve an incredibly tough murder?
Episode two, 'For Whom the Gods would destroy', begins with the murder of a middle aged Oxford graduate. As Lewis and Hathaway dig deep into the background of the victim, they discover he was part of an hedonistic group whilst at Oxford called 'The sons of the twice born' - an association that were responsible for some reprehensible acts in the past. Is this significant to the motive of his death and what does this mean for the fate of the other members?
Episode three is 'Old School Ties', which centres on the murder of a young female Oxford student who is a successful journalist for the University magazine. Her death occurs during an exposé on a former criminal turned celebrity author, whom she invited to Oxford to interview. However, is her death linked with the criminal background of her study, or does the fact her ambitious and calculated journalist counterparts at Oxford, who will do anything to get to the top, have anything to do with it?
The fourth and final episode of Series 1, 'Expiation' revolves around the "suicide" hanging of an Oxford housewife. Although on the face of it, it is an open and shut case, Lewis' instincts lead him to question the verdict, with the lack of a note and that fact the lady's life seemed idyllic. Lewis and Hathaway endeavour to find out if they are right about the death being suspicious. Will they be proved correct after all?
The spirit of Morse emanates strongly throughout the series which ensures continuity in the transfer from the Morse series to the Lewis series. Firstly Lewis is nearly run over outside the airport by a Jaguar Mk II - the same model as Morse, and then a musician, related to a suspect, attempts to attain the 'Endeavour scholarship', which was an award that Morse had created in his will in the final episode 'The Remorseful Day'. Therefore, Morse fans can be safe in the knowledge that his presence will be ostensible in some way throughout the Lewis series.
The relationship between Morse and Lewis was magic, so it was always going to be a tall order to replicate a partnership that worked so brilliantly. However, the relationship between Lewis and Hathaway works amazingly. Hathaway is played by Laurence Fox - the husband of Billie Piper, and he is a very collected, cultured and deep character. Hathaway is identical to Morse both in education and personality, which makes it quite odd to see his character as the subordinate rather than a leader. However, the experience of Lewis, particularly from with the masses of knowledge he gained from partnering Morse, along with his personal tragedy, has educated and hardened Lewis, meaning that he can lead an Oxbridge educated sidekick effectively and credibly. They complement each other well in the respect that Lewis brings traditional methods to crime solving, and Hathaway is up to date with all of the latest technology and brings contemporary ideas to the table. Fortunately, it is a partnership which has proven to be very successful, which bodes well for the longevity of the Lewis era.
The murder cases are typical Morse, where there are strong links to Oxford University, both from students and the dons, containing all of the intrigue and ambiguity that is expected from an intelligent crime. As usual, the beautiful, historic and mysterious architecture of Oxford University buildings features strongly - with appearances from the Bodleian and Radcliffe Camera buildings, and enhanced by lovely countryside manors and scenery. The show is given a modern feel with Lewis' Vauxhall Vectra, contrasting strongly with the unmistakable, classy and elegant Jaguar of Morse. Therefore, whilst the continuity from the Morse series is evident, the Lewis series strives to seek an independence from it and obtain it's own identity.
Series 1 provides an explosive return for Lewis and Oxford into the TV crime drama genre. For previous watchers of Morse, we see good continuity from where Morse left off, and the engaging nature of crimes you'd expect from the Morse series is just as strong as ever. For new viewers, this is a fantastic introduction to intelligent crime drama. With such mysterious, political and intriguing plotlines, you cannot fail to be engaged with watching Lewis. The action always stays in the heart of Oxford, and it is captivating to watch the seemingly harmless, sophisticated and affluent exteriors of the suspects masquerade such a manipulative, Machiavellian and malevolent personality.
I am delighted with the return of Robert Lewis and hope that there will be many series' to come.
Lewis: Series 1 and Pilot Episode is available to buy from Play.com for £9.99. It is a 12 certificate and has a running time of approximately 372 minutes.
Kevin Whately ... DI Robert Lewis
Laurence Fox ... DS James Hathaway
Clare Holman ... Dr. Laura Hobson
Rebecca Front ... Chief Supt. Jean Innocent
In the wake of Bruce Lee's untimely death back in 1973, Chinese film companies cashed in on his name and produced a bucketload of films to dramatise his life. These films, which boast daft titles such as 'Bruce Lee Fights back from the grave', 'Bruce's Fist of Vengeance','The True Game of Death' and 'The Real Bruce Lee' are well known as Bruceploitation films, and they starred equally ridiculous main stars like Bruce Li, Bruce Le, Bruce Leung and Dragon Lee. These films were created on the back of various theories behind his death. Officially Bruce Lee, the greatest oriental Martial Arts star of all time, died of a cerebral oedema (brain swelling), as an allergic reaction to a painkiller, however various myths came to light that he had faked his death to go into hiding, or had died of a delayed ninja death touch, or that the painkiller was a poisonous drug that was planted by a triad gang. I watched these pathetic films growing up, which all suffered from horrible acting, terrible storylines and unforgivably awful fight scenes.
Dragon the Bruce Lee story came out in 1993 and is far removed from the previous biographical movies that have been made on Bruce. Dragon depicts American-born Bruce as he returns to America following troublesome teenage years and looks to carve out a career for himself. After obtaining a University education, and starting a Kung Fu school, we see the development of Bruce's TV and movie career. However, along the way, we see how his Martial Arts training comes to aid him as he has to overcome enemies and opponents during his journey.
I am one of Bruce Lee's greatest fans - I have seen every film hundreds of times and watched and read many factual biographies about his life, meaning I know most of what has occured. With this in mind, I think Dragon the Bruce Lee story is the most accurate film Biography that has been released. There are no ridiculous supernatural fight moves such as jumping 50ft in the air or breaking a brick wall with a finger jab, as we see the film conveying as much realism as you can get.
Jason Scott Lee is an excellent actor to play Bruce. Akin to Bruce, he was born in America, and is physically impressive, although nothing close to Bruce. I have to say, I have seen much better lookalikes facially, but he is able to fight quite well. He was taught Jeet Kune Do by one of Bruce's former students so the Martial Arts is more authentic than in previous Bruce biography films.
Lauren Holly is equally fantastic as Linda Lee for her portrayal of an all-American girl that falls in love with an oriental male, whilst all of her friends, family and the general white americans struggled to see past their racial prejudices. Her role in Bruce's life as his motivator and his rock in hard times is accurately conveyed, and she does bear a resemblance to the young Linda Lee.
Personally speaking, I believe Bruce's life, although short, was incredibly interesting - having got into a lot of trouble as a youngster, he got an education, opened a school, created a martial art, taught the world about Jeet Kune Do and chinese kung fu and broke down racial barriers to attain worldwide adulation. Having said that, I understand there will be an element of exaggeration to spice up the dramatics for a Hollywood film. As a young adult, Bruce was once wrestled by a shadow to the floor, which he could not fend off, and this was the impotus behind training so hard so that he couldn't be made to feel so helpless again. However, in the film, this manifests as a demon which he encounters during his adult life and he cannot beat. It is an exaggeration to the truth, but it spices up the action.
However, there are some fabrications in the film. There was an event in Bruce's life where he had to defeat a top Martial Artist in order to be allowed to teach Kung fu to non-asians. In real life, he beat this opponent to a pulp, but in the film, not only does he lose to him. but he is paralysed by a unsuspecting flying kick which breaks his back. There is some truth to the injury as he had been paralysed due to a weight training accident which nearly finished his career, but I wasn't a fan of this incident in the film.
Overall, I'll admit that I normally watch Bruce Lee, or Bruce Lee related films for the fighting. Whilst fantastic quality fighting was important to me for watching this film, the truth of Bruce's life and the realism of the action were the essential features. On this basis, Dragon was an excellent film. Okay, there were a few elements which did frustrate me somewhat, but overall it is a well executed and gripping biographical film. His death is also well-covered, with no morbid or unpleasant aspects such as the actual occurence or the funeral, which should make it a nice viewing for the audience.
The acting and the fight scenes are high quality - the cast were well chosen and the Martial arts was well choreographed. In all honesty, I would have wanted to see a bit more about Bruce Lee discovering Wing Chun and some of the street fighting that took place in his early life because that would have meant more fights and shown the origins of Jeet Kune Do, however, I do acknowledge that to cover everything intriguing in Bruce's life would take more than two hours. Therefore, all in all, Dragon is, to date, the best portrayal of Bruce's life so far.
Dragon The Bruce Lee story runs for 120 mins, is cerificate 15 and is available for £4.99 on Play.com.
Jason Scott Lee ... Bruce Lee
Lauren Holly ... Linda Lee
Robert Wagner ... Bill Krieger
Michael Learned (female) ... Vivian Emery
Nancy Kwan ... Gussie Yang
Kay Tong Lim ... Philip Tan
On July 20th 1973, Bruce Lee - the grandmaster, legend and king of the martial arts genre, was pronounced dead after a fatal allergic reaction to taking a painkiller. He was at his physical peak and on the verge of superstardom in the wake of the Hollywood production Enter The Dragon. What many do not know is that Bruce was half way through making a film - it was to be his fifth, but his second own production. He wanted this film to showcase the efficacy of using his Martial Art Jeet Kune Do. However, he had only filmed around 20 minutes of footage, and was going to go unfinished.
However, in 1978, five years after Bruce Lee's death - Game of Death was finally released. In GOD, Bruce plays Billy Lo - a martial arts film star (ironically), who is being pushed into signing with a syndicate for protection. The syndicate threaten him by having him beaten up and hounded, but he is not persuaded, even when they tell him that something bad will happen. Things come to a climax when, during filming, Bruce is shot in the face during a take. The syndicate think he is dead, but behind the scenes, he has survived and plastic surgeons put his face together again. A public funeral has taken place (using footage from Bruce's actual funeral) to make his friends and enemies think he is dead, but whilst they think he has departed the world, Billy Lo seeks revenge, and deals with each member of the syndacate one by one. Will he get his ultimate revenge and kill them all?
The scary coincidence about the plot of this film, is that Bruce's son Brandon was killed in real life due to a fatal gun wound during filming for 1993's The Crow. Therefore, an eerie shadow is cast upon this story. However, this plot was never Bruce's original idea for Game of Death. Game of Death was supposed to be about Jeet Kune Do being an effective Martial art to counter any Kung Fu style.
Game of Death was put together using footage from other Lee films and outtakes of Game of Death that Bruce had filmed prior to working on Enter the Dragon, and through the use of a Bruce Lee double. The Bruce Lee double is, admittedly, rubbish - however, I haven't seen many decent ones. There are some revolting parts of this film where the producers try and make Billy Lo look like Bruce, such as sticking a picture of Lee's face to the mirror when his double is looking at his reflection. Also some of the footage used from other films makes Bruce look like he is in another location to where he is in the film. A lot of it makes me laugh, and even when I saw this at the age of 6, I wasn't fooled.
Having said that, I don't watch a 'Bruce Lee' film to be awe-inspired by the cinematics, I want to see fights and boy there are a lot. The scenes where Billy tracks down a syndicate member are great to watch, as you are routing for him to inflict a brutal revenge for his attempted murder. One of the great fights is between himself and Bob Wall - who has starred in two of Bruce's previous films.
However, the greatest sequence of fights are those at the end of the film, which are pieced together using Bruce's original outtakes. In the final sequence, Bruce enters a multi-level dungeon to take on three great Martial Artists before getting his hands on Mr Land who is the boss of the syndicate. Here we see Bruce take on a Hapkido expert and former students, Dan Inosanto and Kareem Abdul Jabaar. However, we only see bits of the fights because in the original film, Bruce had two accomplices helping him and the footage had to be cut so as to exclude them from the film. In the final fight sequence, Bruce sports the famous yellow jumpsuit, that features as Uma Thurman's outfit in Kill Bill, and is used in Tekken by the character Law.
It took 30 years for the full footage to be digitally restored, which included James Tien as Bruce's accomplice. Bruce's fight with Kareem is excellent, and is used to show that Jeet Kune Do can be used to beat a 7 foot collosus even when you boast a meagre 5ft 7, and 140lbs body.
There are some satisfactory performances by the actors. Colleen Camp plays Billy Lo's girlfriend Ann and exhibits a fairly convincing performance. Hugh O'Brien as Steiner and Dean Jagger as Dr Land are excellent performers as the malevolent kingpins behind the syndicate, and both are good to watch.
Overall, the quality of this film is not very high. I personally think Bruce would have been sickened to see how this film was finally put together. The plot was nowhere near to what the film was originally supposed to be about. Having said that, I do like the premise of the film and revenge was the typical theme of most of Bruce Lee's films, so it's something that had me gripped. However, the shocking attempts to fake Bruce Lee appearances in the film turned me off. You can see all of the 'Goofs of Game of Death' on Imdb.com, and they are glaringly obvious mistakes which should make you cry with laughter.
The fighting is okay throughout the film, but it is only when the original Bruce Lee footage is used near the climax, and you see the master at his authentic best, that watching this film becomes truly special.
Upon seeing the restored footage that Bruce Lee shot of the final three fights, I know Game of Death would have been total brilliance if it had ever been completed, and Bruce's death not only robbed us of such a great person and Martial artist, but also what would have been an amazing film.
Game of Death has a running time of 85 mins, is an 18 certificate, and is available for £5 on Play.com.
Bruce Lee ... Billy Lo
Colleen Camp ... Ann Morris
Dean Jagger ... Dr. Land
Gig Young ... Jim Marshall
Tai Chung Kim ... Billy Lo
Biao Yuen ... Billy Lo (as Bill Yuen)
Robert Wall ... Carl Miller
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ... Hakim
Mel Novak ... Stick
Hugh O'Brian ... Steiner
Thanks for reading!
At last! A football management game for the DS! They are available, pretty much, on every games system, and given how basic they are to navigate around, why hasn't one been available for the DS before?
I had been waiting for a football management game for the DS for a long time and, just after Christmas, I saw Football Director on the shelves of HMV for the price of £22 and thought "That's definitely worth it!". Having happily purchased, I had high expectations considering I had been waiting so long for Nintendo to release such a game.
The title of 'Director' was already distinct from the classic 'Manager' designate that you see on 99% of all football management games, which had an instant and positive impact on my decision to purchase. However, was I hustled?
Football Director revolves around the 2008/09 season, so it is totally updated with all the latest teams. When you turn the game on, you start by creating a profile and choosing a team to manage. You are able to select any team from the Premier League, Championship, League One or League Two. The top screen will be exhibit the date, the club's kit and badge, your league place, club balance, fan confidence, board confidence and date of next match. The bottom screen will feature the menu screens / the news page / the written commentary of the game. When you play Football Director for the first time, you will be taken through a very thorough tutorial which shows you how to play and navigate through each screen.
The 'non-match interface' are the series of menu's that you can access prior to each game. It is fairly easy to navigate through, but appear as icons on the left hand side of the page so it will take a little time to remember which ones take you to what you need. They are as follows:
Club menu - this will allow you to view your squad, review your tactics, and control the training regime. You can also look at your fixtures and results list.
Competition menu - here you can view the league fuxtures and tables. You can also look at the leading plater tables and manager of the month awards.
Admin menu - here you search for players to either buy or loan, view records for each club, manage your finances and player contracts, and recruit club employees to manage your youth squad.
Game menu - where you can save your game or exit back to the main menu.
In between games, the bottom screen will display the news page which highlights what is happening in the English football world such as transfers .e.g "8 Jul 2007 - M.Schwarzer has joined Aston Villa for £3,450,000 from Fulham". There are normally 20 items of news each time the page loads up - 95% of the content will normally be about other team's transfers and 70% will revolve around teams outside of your league unless you are in the premiership. This is a feature that has never been so thorough, e.g. in the Championship and Football Manager games, there are normally 5 items of news and it is mostly relevant to the club, but 20 items seems like unnecessary overkill.
On match day, you are taken to the 'Pre-Match screen' where you are able to 'View Match', where the bottom screen will display the written commentary of the match. You can change the speed of the commentary so that you are not spending a long time seeing the drama unfold. Alternatively, you can choose 'Result Only' which will take you straight to final score. Prior to the match, you can view the team line-up and read a scout report done in advance by your scouts.
During the game, monitoring the fitness and performance of players is non-existant, so you do not know who is pertinent to substitute, which is a fundamental flaw in the game. However, you can see vital statistics such as possession, shots of target, yellow/red cards etc, so you can see who is the more dominant side.
Graphics and Sound
This outlay of the game is very basic - you will not see any figures, characters or pictures as you are mainly navigating through menu screens and seeing written information. However, the presentation of the game is very neat and tidy, illustrated with subtle but attractive colours, with the predominant colour being a metalic silver colour.
There are limited sound effects, and no music. During the game you have whistle sounds for free kicks / corners have crown noises dependant on the action occuring, e.g. when a goal is scored you hear loud cheers, and 'Ooooh's' for a near miss.
I chose Chester City from League two, as I want a challenge to get up to the Premier League. My first season involved playing properly, trying to influence results via tactics, using good physio's and coaches for the team, but the effort seemed to have no bearing on the results. I finished 9th - a bit disappointing but I survived. I then played another season to test the difficulty of the game - I chose initial tactics for my team and played through an entire season without changing them. I did not View Match, I just went straight the result. I won a lot of games, and lost a few but finished that season in 6th. Draw your own conclusions?
Notably, the positive aspect of this game is that it is certainly different! I have played many football management games in my time and they have been fairly similar to each other in terms of presentation and interface. Football Director is totally different, which means that it does not easily fall into the mould.
My first experience of a management game was Football Manager on the Spectrum by Kevin Toms, and it was very basic - you could only pick domestic teams and there were limited options for your team. However, it was also a hell of a lot of fun, and Football Director is very similar. You cannot choose international squads unlike most games, you cannot buy players from foreign teams and it is not very challenging at all to play. You do not have to change your tactics widely throughout the course of the game, and it is very easy to see yourself near the top of the table with little effort.
Personally, however, Football Director is a catastophic disappointment. My experience of football management games started at the age of 10 and I get enjoyment from the challenge of selecting tactics that will counter the strengths of your opposing team. On other games, I have taken poor performing teams and taken them from strength to strength through coaching, strategies, tactics and purchases of good players from abroad. With Football Director, none of these attributes need to be present to perform well. For people wanting a first step management game, this is good. However, for people who take management games seriously, this game is surplus to requirements.
My recommendation - good for pure beginners or if you only own a DS. For intermediate / expert standard - purchase something else!
Being the Dad of an incredibly mischievious two year old boy, that likes to break things, I have found that handheld consoles are the way to go for me. If I have my Wii or Xbox out whilst he is around, I am just asking for trouble. Despite this, I've played my DS only sporadically throughout the past year as my PSP has been the choice portable system for me.
However, this Christmas, when all of my nieces and nephews got together with their DS's, I managed to play Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games and it re-ignited my love for the DS all over again. I had chiefly heard about this game via it's superb reviews of the Wii version, but I imagined that the DS version would be pretty exceptional.
Mario and Sonic, back in the early 90's were the faces of Nintendo and Sega respectively - the two giants within the video games world at the time. Nearly 20 years later, they are both still synonimous with their brands, and Mario & Sonic brings them together once more in an ultimate battle in Olympic events.
When you start the game, you are able to create a profile - meaning that any medals, World/ Olympic records and any unlocked events will be attributed to you. There is capacity for three profiles on the game, meaning relatives can have their own profile too. Once you get past this stage you are able to play Single Player or Versus Play.
Single Player is a mode where you can play any of the events on the game - although at first, there will be a number of events you will need to unlock. If you come first, second or third in an event, you will receive either Gold, Silver or Bronze medals, which will be added to your collection, accessible in your Records gallery.
Full breakdown of the events
Athletics - 100m, 400m, 400m Hurdles, Long Jump, Triple Jump, Javelin and Hammer
Dream Events - Dream Race, Dream Canoe, Dream Boxing, Dream Long Jump, Dream Table Tennis, Dream fencing Dream shooting and Dream Basketball
Aquatics - 100m Freestyle and 10m Platform (diving)
Gymnastics - Vault and Trampolining
Shooting / Fencing / Cycling / Table Tennis
Obviously there are World and Olympic records attached to each event, which happen to be the real World records at the time release, meaning there is something extra to achieve than just the Gold Medal.
Within Single Player you can choose 'Circuit' mode. As you win gold medals and obtain world records, you unlock circuits, which can consist of three to six events. You play against three other competitors in a series of events and you win points dependant on what position you finished in, e.g. if you win the Long Jump you will get 10 points, second place will get 8 points etc. At the end of the circuit, the person with the most points wins the circuit, which will unlock either another circuit or a new event.
There is also 'Mission' mode, where you select a character and you have to complete five tasks as that character. For instance, if you pick Sonic, one of the tasks would be to run the Dream race in under 2mins 30, or to achieve a triple jump of 15+ metres. It is a very fun and challenging mode.
Versus play is incredibly fun. I started playing Mario v Sonic in this mode and thought it was brilliant. In versus play, you can either play Download - where anyone with a DS can link in, or Wireless play where your opponent would need a DS and Mario v Sonic.
The difference between the two modes is that you can only play 6 events on Download, whereas on Wireless play, you can compete with your friend in every single event on the game. You can have up to four players in the modes, I found it a lot of fun playing my niece and nephew on this... but not so fun when they annihilated me.
*How to play*
Primarily you will be using the stylus and rubbing it against the screen, so buying a screen protector is advisable, although I have not heard of DS's breaking through the motions in this game. Anyway, the top screen will normally feature the event happening, and the bottom screen will show you arrows of the motions you need to be making on the screen with the stylus. Ordinarily you will be making either horizontal or vertical motions , e.g. in the 100m you will be rubbing left to right as fast as possible.
There are instructions on how to play each event just before it loads up.
Once you have chosen your event, you have to choose your character. There are four categories that the sixteen characters are seperated into - Power, All-rounder, Speed and Skill, and there are four in each. Therefore it is, obviously, advantageous to use either Bowser or Vector for the Hammer.
The characters are as follows:
Team Sonic - Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Shadow, Blaze, Amy, Vector and Dr Eggman
Team Mario - Mario, Luigi, Bowzer, Wario, Waluigi, Princess Peach, Princess Daisy and Yoshi
*Graphics and sound*
The graphics are brilliant - visually the game is very attractive and fun of very bright primary colours. I doubt there was an intention to be realistic, and the style is very much cartoon type format. However, I love the graphics and think it adds to the superb gameplay to make this a supremely good game.
The music is a mixture of epic, to reflect the Olympics' importance, and fun, with the sound effects being realistic and quirky. Some sound effects are recognisable from their respective games and adds to the brilliant gameplay.
Mario & Sonic is an incredibly fun game, full of colour, excellent graphics and lot of gameplay. Unlocking all of the events and circuits can take time, meaning there is good longevity within the game. Furthermore, the constant motivation to better your world records will keep you coming back for more.
The superb thing about the DS is that you can close it and it will be on standby, so that when you open it, you will be in the same place as your were when you left it. This means you can just keep coming back to it and have five minutes of fun every now and again.
I have found Mario & Sonic ridiculously addictive, which will give you a fun gaming experience, and an excellent competitive experience when you play with friends of relatives. Sad as it sounds, but over Christmas I took my DS with me everytime I knew my nephew was coming round, and I actually bought the game because I got so involved in it.
I cannot recommend this game enough and you can buy this from GAME for the fantastic price of £19.98.
I admit to being a fan of reality TV, I watch them all - Big Brother, I'm a Celebrity and even Celebrity Scissorhands... I really do watch them all. However, the Apprentice, which normally hits our screens each March on BBC1, offers a slightly more serious slant to the reality TV genre.
In essence, the premise is that 16 candidates are competing for a top job as an 'apprentice' to a well known Tycoon. In America, the tycoon is Donald Trump, and in the UK it is Sir Alan Sugar. Sir Alan is best known for founding and building from scratch the hugely successful IT company Amstrad. Due to his mammoth business acumen, the candidate that wins the competition will learn from the best and and scoop a position with a six figure salary attached.
The series starts with the 16 candidates being seperated into two teams - normally boys and girls. Each week there is a task where someone in the two groups must be the project manager, who will lead and motivate their team to success. The tasks can range from selling fish in a london market to creating an advert to promote a new product. The team who wins will be treated to a special experience - e.g. dinner at the ritz or a balloon ride, courtesy of Sir Alan. The team that loses will have to face Sir Alan in the boardroom to explain their flaws, and the project manager has to choose two people from the team to face the firing line. The member that is most to blame for the defeat is forced to hear the famous words "You're fired".
Season 4 was spectacular, featuring even more ruthless and ambitious individuals all looking to outwit their competitors. Notable favourites were Alex Wotherspoon - a good looking young sales manager who shone quickly as the first project manager for the men. Despite close eviction from the first task, his grit and determination saw him make great progress. Claire 'the Rottweiler' Young who appeared very erratic and aggressive at first, and who also nearly got the chop early on, turned her fortunes around to show signs of brilliance. Michael - an Edinburgh graduate and Telesales manager defied the odds numerous times, using his raw ability and naivity to appeal to Sir Alan's soft side. Then there was the inimitable Raef Bijou, an entrepreneur with a very posh and distinguished accent, who could communicate with "prince or pauper". He was pure entertainment magic and a great businessman. Finally there was Lee McQueen - a pumped up young recruitment sales manager with tons of energy and motivational qualities.
Lee McQueen was the eventual winner, which was great as he was a very genuine character. A lot of the candidates were very two-faced and manipulative, whereas Lee had the best interests of his team at heart and inspired them to good performances. Of all of the tasks, Lee was on the winning team each time - so it was only fitting that he won. Lee was exposed as having lied on the CV he submitted to the Apprentice about being at University for two years when he'd only been there for a few months. In my opinion, it isn't that big a deal as long as he delivers what he is tasked with. Upon starting, Lee missed his first week and then blew a load of money on cars for him and his girlfriend. However, he appears to be doing well.
The Apprentice is an excellent reality show. It follows the X factor in the sense that it is a talent/ability show where a successful career is the ultimate prize. The candidates that are selected are supposed to be the best business minds in the country, meaning that a lot can be learned from watching them operate on the weekly tasks. It is good to see the techniques that are used for selling, negotiating and managing teams and helpful for anyone wanting different ways of executing business activities. Series four was, in my opinion, the best series yet. Hopefully, Lee McQueen is there to stay.
Wimbledon depicts Peter Colt (Paul Bettany), an ageing British tennis player ranked outside of the top 100 making his last bid to win a tournament before retiring. When checking into his hotel he meets Lizzie (played by Kirsten Dunst) - the world no1 and favourite to win the ladies title. They soon strike up a whirlwind romance which zests up his game, and powers him through the tournament.
Although unlikely, you want to believe it can happen, and it has you on the edge of your seat to see what happens next. The romantic plot is great, and compliments the action on the court, hence its appeals to romantic and sports fans alike.
The casting is excellent - with Paul Bettany brilliantly portraying the great British hero Peter Colt. His self-depricating view on his game and his persona makes him endearing from an audience perspective and encourages you to support him through the tournament. Kirsten is great as the gorgeous self-confident american superstar, and her genuine nature allows her to sustain a likeability throughout the film.
James McAvoy plays a supporting role as Carl Colt - Peter's brother, meaning he does not prominently feature in the film. However, he brings further comic relief to a very lighthearted film, as he cynically bets against his brother in each round. Sam Neill also stars as Lizzie's disciplinarian father and coach, who opposes Peter at first but warms to him when he sees his genuine feelings for his daughter. A mention must also go to Bernard Hill and Eleanor Bron who play act as Peter's quirky, odd, but totally endearing parents who find themselves growing apart but become united by Peter's success.
Wimbledon is a must for any romcom fans wanting a very nice, warm and brilliantly lighthearted film to curl up on the sofa with their partner and watch. The plot can be seen as slightly unlikely but not impossible. It would probably happen in real life if typically bad British luck did not always descend on our sporting hopes on the big stage.
I very much enjoyed all 98 minutes of it, and the pleasure came at a bargain price of £3. This fully deserves 4 stars.
Kirsten Dunst ... Lizzie Bradbury
Paul Bettany ... Peter Colt
Robert Lindsay ... Ian Frazier
James McAvoy ... Carl Colt
Bernard Hill ... Edward Colt
Eleanor Bron ... Augusta Colt
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau ... Dieter Prohl
I played the original Sega Rally back in 1996 on an arcade machine, and loved it. I subsequently bought it for the Sega Saturn in 1997, followed by the superb Sega Rally 2 for the Dreamcast in 2000. In short, it is a series I have always been a fan of, hence it was inevitable that, when I saw Sega Rally (PSP) for £8 in HMV, I was going to be taking it straight to the counter.
Importantly, Sega Rally is not a remake of the arcade classic. This is a new game altogether and very similar to the V-Rally series on the PS1.
When you turn on Sega Rally - the initial options that are presented to you are:
Quick race - this is an option to choose if you really just want to get stuck into a race, and try out one of the many tracks available. You will race five cars within the class of car you have chosen.
Championship - You can race in a series of championships against five other competitors.
Time attack - this mode sees you take to the track solely with the purpose of achieving and breaking lap records for each of the circuits available.
Multiplayer - using wireless connectivity, you can race friends or online competitors.
When you enter into Championship mode, there are four main championships you can take part in - Premier, Modified, Masters and Final. These four championships revolve around the different classes of car available, for instance Premier cars are the Subaru and Mitsubishi, and the modified ones are the VW Golf and Skoda Octavia. Once you select a championship, that championship will be split into a further four mini-championships, which are Amateur, Professional, Expert and Final.
There are five main types of terrain you can race on - Safari (sandy/mud), Alpine (snow/ice), Tropical (sandy/mud), Arctic (tarmac) and Canyon (sandy/mud). Within these five types are three circuits - therefore 15 race tracks exist all in all. When you are about to select a particular track, you will be informed of the 'surface breakdown', showing how much of the track is tarmac or mud etc. This is to allow you to select the appropriate set of tyres for your car.
There is an excellent selection of cars too, which include the Subaru Imprezza, Mitsubishi Lancer, VW Golf GTI, Citroen Xsara, Ford Focus, Peogeot 206 and RS Cosworth, along with the classic Toyota Celica and Lancia Delta. You are given an initial selection, but you can unlock cars as you win ongoing races and championships. When racing, you can select four main views - following your car (afar), following (near), bumper view, and windscreen view.
The graphics are of a high standard so as to capture the realism of rally driving. There is a good amount of detail in the track terrain, the mud that is thrown up by the wheels, the logos and colours on the cars, even small things on the track which get flung into the air when the cars make contact with them. The replays are superb, providing a wide range of different camera angles, and really giving an impressive account of your race.
The sound effects are good - the acceleration sounds realistic as do the skid sounds. There is music simmering in the background of the options screen and race, which are techno sounding, but you hardly notice it playing. As ever you have the co-drivers assistance, saying "easy left... medium right.... hairpin bend" as you come to each corner, which is very helpful navigation when you don't know where you're going next.
Sega Rally is a very enjoyable rally game. The graphics are excellent which, concommitant with the sound, conveys a high standard of realism. The response of the car to steering and to the surface feels accurate, which makes you feel like you are getting a true experience of driving a rally car. It is very fast and furious with lots of bumps, hairpins, hazards and jumps, which gives a very exciting and fun element.
My main criticism is that I do not find myself challenged by the game. Even on expert or using manual transmission, I find it very easy to win races. In championship mode, I was able to score maximum points on 95% of the races. Yet you cannot increase the difficulty to make it more challenging for yourself. It does not take much away from the game, because if you're good, you're good.
Moreover, similar to a lot of driving games, no damage is caused to the car when you crash into something. Personally I like the challenge of controlling a functionally impaired car. It's not too detrimental, however it taints the realism of the rally driving experience.
Overall, Sega Rally is an exceptional game that lives up to the standard set by it's predecessors. The fast and furious element is thoroughly enjoyable which means I come back to it time after time. I fully recommend it for driving and Sega Rally fans.
I came across About a Boy in mid-2002 during my first year of University. At the time, I was enjoying the experience of living away from home and fending for myself, and this film was to provide a character I could identify with. As a fan of the Romantic Comedy genre, and of Hugh Grant's previous works, I was inevitably going to watch About a Boy at the cinema.
About a Boy, which is based on the Nick Hornby novel, features Will Freeman (Hugh Grant) a rich 30 something that resides in a London Bachelor pad, living the ideal single life. He is footloose, unattached, and does not need to work, and suddenly develops an attraction to single mums. This attraction leads him to meet Marcus, an 11 year old boy that cannot fit in at school and has a suicidal mother. Will and Marcus soon form a friendship, but how will the cool, smooth and uncomplicated Will make a difference to Marcus's life and, more importantly, vice versa?
At the time, Hugh Grant had only ever played the floppy haired architypal posh English gentleman we saw in Four Weddings and Notting Hill. About a Boy showcased him differently, with short spikey hair and a London accent. Nevertheless, Hugh did not look out of his comfort zone playing a contrasting stereotype. As opposed to playing a romantic, bumbling and reserved englishman, Will shows his ability to be a non-commital, trendy and confident character. Significantly, his character undergoes some serious soul-searching and maturity through the course of the film, which is very interesting and engaging to witness.
Nicolas Hoult made his cinematic debut in About a Boy as geeky, strange and dispondent Marcus, and his performance was magnificent. His portrayal of Marcus clearly demonstrates his character has grown up without a father figure but with an eccentric, melancholy and suicidal mother. When Will enters his life, he sees him as a role-model and Will's cool, trendy and confident nature soon rubs off onto Marcus, and his character develops superbly through the course of the film.
Toni Collette, of Muriel's Wedding fame, delivers an exceptional performance as Marcus's mother Fiona. The australian accent is nowhere to be seen, whilst a polished performance as a lonely, complicated and emotionally unstable hippy is clearly visible. Watching her character develop from a suicide attempt at the beginning of the film provides a positive and inspiring backdrop.
I detest low-brow american comedies such as American Pie, meaning that I should have been majorly deterred by the fact this film was directed by the names behind it - namely Paul and Chris Weitz. However, this film exhibited their versatile range as we see a subtle comedic script - nothing too obviously funny, and some gorgeous shots of inner London. A lot of the script was ad-libbed by Hugh and, consequently, there are some superb one-liners.
About a boy is an excellent film, and one of my favourite Hugh Grant films. Albeit that it is billed as a romantic comedy, there is quite a serious tone to the film. Notably, Fiona's suicide attempt is a poignant and shocking moment, as are a few other scenes where Marcus and Fiona struggle to fit in with the world. However, seeing their characters go through major changes is an aspect of this film that I enjoy. There are some great moments - such as Marcus feeding bread to a duck, then impatiently throwing the loaf at it, only to kill it, and there are some truly funny one-liners.
Will's life of playing Snooker, watching afternoon TV, supermarket shopping and socialising in bars, was like a mirror image of mine at the time, meaning I was very engaged and identified with his character easily. However, whilst it appeals to me, and probably a lot of bachelors, holistically, About a Boy is not exactly a classic. It shows Hugh Grant in a different light which is intriguing, but without Hugh Grant, this film probably would fade into obsurity.
Nevertheless, personally I still very much enjoy watching this film six years on from when I first saw it. Furthermore, I would fully recommend to anyone that is wanting a bit more for their viewing than just a romantic film.
About a Boy has a running time of 101 mins and is a 12 certificate. I purchased it for £14 at the time, but it is available for £3.99 online.
Hugh Grant ... Will
Nicholas Hoult ... Marcus
Sharon Small ... Christine
Rachel Weisz ... Rachel
Toni Collette ... Fiona
Natalia Tena ... Ellie (as Nat Gastiain Tena)
A large part of my job involves having meetings with clients at their premises, hence my company has a decent selection of cars for the consultants to use for travelling. Amongst this fleet is a silver diesel-fuelled 1.9L VW Golf Mk5 TDI. As I drive a Ford Mondeo, I am used to a silky smooth and straightforward ride, however the Golf is a very different animal.
Historically, the VW Golf has had a stigma attached to it that it is a boy racer's car. I remember back in the mid-90's that a few of my older brother's chavvy friends were incredibly proud owners of the Golf. Since then it has been accepted by the professional world as a sales rep/company car, meaning that it can be perceived more credibly by those at the sophisticated end of the market. The Mk5 was produced in 2003
The Golf Mk5 was produced in 2003 and boasts a gorgeous, sporty and exciting exterior compared with previous shapes. It is very curvy and smooth, far removed from it's former boxier look. It is also comparatively longer, but only just. Overall it is lovely to look at and admire.
The interior of the car is quite spacious for a hatchback. Though it does not equate to the size of a large family car, what you get it very reasonable. There is good legroom for back seat passengers and snug room for the passenger seat. At around 6ft tall, this car is more than spacious enough for me to drive and be comfortable.
The dashboard is very standard, with no wacky designs. The colour is predominately a graphite grey and has an in built CD player, and the choice of 6 of your favourite radio stations are available by the press of a button once you have programmed them, making it easy for a driver to switch without crashing.
By the dials is a small 7cm x 5cm red LCD electronic display which highlights the time, outside temp, miles left of petrol, total miles and miles driven for the current journey. The windows and locks are also electric.
To drive, the Golf is something else. When you turn the car on, you feel it rumble all around you, as it sits there pregnant with power just gagging to be released. As you rev the car, it roars like a lion. Once you get driving, the acceleration is obscenely powerful. If you are racing someone off the lights, it's going to take a fast car to compete with you.
The steering is very smooth, but very responsive, meaning you get an exceptional ride in the Golf. Taking corners at speed is something I tried and tested, and the Golf sticks to the ground beautifully.
The Mk5 at my company has had previous faults - such as an airbag malfunction, and one problem has occured more than once, which is a turbo pipe under the bonnet compressing when you press the accelerator, which stops the car gathering speed. According to the RAC, this is a common fault in VW's - and it is rectified by the VW garage, preventing the Mk5 from being such an attractive choice of car.
I have used the Golf on some quite extensive business trips, and have utilised it's brilliant speed. Despite this, the fuel metre dropped very slowly - which impressed me. I thought that, for a demon that the Golf is, that it would drink petrol by the ocean load. I would recommend the Golf for being quite economical.
For me, as a young businessman, this car is perfect. I would also say, that for a day to day car, I would love to own this car and say it is mine. You look good in it, it is rapid, the handling is brilliant and it has superior acceleration. It is also very economical and provides a comfortable ride for passengers.
At £15k, it is certainly set at a price worth paying. Personally I am interested in getting one, although when asking other people's opinion, the predominant perception is that it is fairly common on the roads. It's competitors, such as the Seat Leon and Honda Civic Type R, are in roughly the same price bracket and insurance group and are a more unique choice. Down my road alone, I have seen six Golfs, which makes me think that, to own one of these, although you'd look good in it, you'd just be joining a large pack of owners.
I have not had the pleasure of driving any of the competitors, but having driven and loved this Golf and not being too fussed about being seen as unique on the roads (I do own a Mondeo!), I do see this as a good purchase, particularly as there is enough space for a family in it.