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Review moved into correct category (thanks to the members who suggested who to contact to update the category list) 24 July This is a review for the Philips DVP5100, which is the replacement for the DVP630. I had intended to get the DVP630 but as this had been discontinued plumped for the 5100 instead. The Philips DVP630 got a good reputation as a decent budget DVD player that could also handle DIVX playback and MP3 CDs and DVDs. It also contained some advanced DVD features like progressive scan which would not normally be seen at players at the budget end of the market. The 5100 currently retails for about £70 in the shops (Argos, Currys etc) or cheaper online. The main specs are: - Progressive Scan for razor sharp and flicker free images - RGB on Scart - easy connectivity for high quality vide - 12 bit/ 108Mhz video DAC for sharp image with natural colours - 192kHz/24-bit audio DAC delivers high quality audio Plays it all: Movies: DVD, DVD+R/RW, DVD-R/RW, (S)VCD, DivX 3.11/4.x/5.x · Music: CD, MP3-CD, CD-R/RW & Windows Media Audio Picture CD (JPEG), Kodak picture CD The first thing I noticed was how slim the player was - it is only 37mm high and so can easily slot into a Hi-Fi cabinet with the other equipment if youre short on space. It is 435mm wide so it should fit into most TV benches or cabinets. The manual is fairly easy to read but the remote is so simple to use you will probably not need it and can start straight away. Batteries are supplied for the remote too! (2 AA) It was also a refreshing change to get a slim manual without the same pages duplicated in several languages - this was English only! All the system menus are simple and uncluttered - you can easily use the arrow keys on the remote to navigate between options and change items or restore defaults. The main thing people are probably going to buy this unit for is the DIVX compatability but the DVD playback is very good too! I dont have many DVDs but had no problems with the player and the picture and sound was excellent sharp picture with crisp images and clear sound. There is also a camera angle feature which allows you to zoom around images onscreen on DVDs in they support different camera angles - there are not many DVDs on the market yet that do. You can use the menus to play with the brightness, contrast, tint and colour - again this is easy to do, pressing the system menu on the remote access all these options. If you have nasty DVDs you dont want others to see you can lock them by setting a password for them via the menus - it will then recognise the DVDs and prevent others from playing them if they do not know the password. I made do with a SCART connection from the player to the TV but there are also points for Composite Video, audio L&R, digital audio, and a cable or TV aerial cable. You will need the 3 composite connections to take advantage of the progressive scan capability (if you have a TV that can take composite video). The progressive scan if available greatly increases the vertical resolution of the picture by converting the standard DVD interlaced format to show all the horizontal lines on the screen at once. This is generally only available on higher end DVD players so I was surprised to see it on this one player. Techie alert - the next bit lists all the DIVX formats supported so you may want to skip the next few paragraphs! The main item I got this for was the AVI/DIVX supported file formats and so far I have not been disappointed it has handled everything I have thrown at it, including XVID, DIVX3 (lo and hi motion, DIVX4, DIVX5, SVCD, DVD-R and also MP3, PCM and AC3 audio. When playing these films on the PC there are invariably some combinations of video and audio codec that the PC has problems with, but these problem CDs played fine on the DVD player. The picture quality is excellent, far sharper and better than anything from a TV-out connection via composite RGB. For most DIVX films I thought the picture and sound was better than standard analogue TV and as sharp as cable TV. Note that the help states that XVID is not formally supported for the player as it is an open-source video codec but all the disks I tried with it played OK. There is not a feature to jump to a certain time on a DVIX / SVCD but via the remote you can fast forward or rewind at 2,4,8,16 or 32x just by pressing the left and right buttons so this is not a problem. It is also easy to switch brightness and aspect ratio settings (16:9 or 4:3 or 4:3 letterbox) using the menus and left, right, up and down keys on the remote. Even so you still get films in letterbox format on a normal TV, especially if they are the standard 640x272 resolution. What it doesn't have which would be good is the ability to zoom in and out on DIVX films to reduce or increase the letterbox size as you can on some PC video players like BSPlayer. It also handles subtitle files (smi, sub, srt etc) on DIVX disks but only if the subtitle file has the same name as the film filename. After a few attempts at getting subtitled DIVX DVDs to play properly (a DVIX film with the XVID video codec, MP3 audio and SUB subtitle file) I found that it is picky about files with long filenames - reduce the video and subtitle filenames to short, identical names e.g. movie.avi and movie.sub when you burn them onto the disk, ensure that subtitles are enabled from the system menu and the subtitles then appear OK. MP3 playback is similarly easy insert a CD and you get a file and folder format to recurse the directories and select tracks using the arrow keys. On this you get a blue screen with black foreground and file and song name in one pane and track details on the right with a dancing lights graphic equaliser at the top. Therefore it is great for navigating CDs or DVDs with many folders with different music files. It also shows ID3 tags but for some reason only the first 8 characters of each filename. It also plays WMA files too. The sound quality for MP3s is very good the bass and drums in particular are strong and on all the MP3s the sound was as good as any music on normal TV. It also handled several fixed bitrates (320 was OK) and variable bitrates of MP3s without problems. However note it doesnt play AAC or OGM music files so some of your I-Tunes may not work. You can also view JPEG files or Kodak picture CDs in a similar fasion. Again the display of the folders comes up and you use the rewind and fast forward to jump between pictures and arrow keys (you should be familiar with these by now) to rotate the pictures and switch between fullscreen or file navigation preview of them. There is support for the player on the Philips website, where you can also download manual, warranty and specifications sheets. The only thing is doesnt have is the ability to update the software like on the Kiss DVD players where they periodically upgrade firmware so you can handle more video codecs etc. All in all an excellent player for the money and should certainly stop anyone needing to watch films on their computer in their bedroom! If you buy it also remember to buy a SCART lead too!
Its a sad day when you get rid of a car after seven years, but when the said car is becoming the butt of jokes and is not up to lots of motorway driving it doesn't stand much of a chance, especially at bank holiday weekend with lots of chances to sell it to interested buyers. This meant that my old 205 had to go to be replaced by a more modern car. I have now own a Seat Ibiza 1.4S (Y reg, 3 years old at time of writing) which has put in several thousand miles already. Seat cars have now built up a solid reputation, with the poor first generation models being vastly improved on as owners VW stamped their build quality on the cars whilst still keeping the stylish looks - I think the Ibiza and Leon both stand out from many of the small family and superminis today, of which many are starting to look the same, Golf Mark 5 for example. The range of colours of the Seats is similar to Volkswagens, there are also many parts from VW cars brought across so hpefully this ought to translate into reliability and cheaper repairs. Having a distinctive car also makes finding it amoungst all the Meganes and Focuses in a large car park less of a problem. The Ibiza turbo-diesels are especially will thought of, with their economy and brisk drive, the diesel engines as usual helping midrange acceleration. I looked for the TDi version as a second hand or nearly new car but had real trouble finding any for sale so I guess that the owners are happy to keep them. The main good points are within the drive and handling. Having a car with all the modern equipment (more later) and larger size I assumed it was going to wallow but was impressed with just how nippy the Ibiza is. The 0-60 for the 1.4 is rated as 15.0 seconds but I have found it much quicker from a standing start than many other cars and can easily build up speed from a stationary start to 30 or 40, having no problem keeping pace with other cars pulling away from lights. However the relatively small petrol engine shows its limitations on the midrange when speeding up from 50+ so you do have to be careful about what lane you are in going up hills or sliproads as the acceleration suffers. There is a bit of road noise at higher speed but not much, you can certainly have a conversation on the motorway without shouting at your passengers. I found the general cabin comfort leagues ahead of my old car (93K Peugeot 205). There is plenty of legroom in the front and back, even with front seats back. The handling is precise and responsive - I have thrown this car about a bit on the Welsh roads and it is very sure going round bends. As with most small cars it tends to understeer slightly but it holds the road well. Also you notice just how little cabin roll there is compared to older cars - circling a roundabout the car does not lean over at all and you do not get any feeling of the car tilting. It is also smooth going over bumps or speedhumps even though it seems the car rocks backwards and forwards. The gearbox is good and feels precise when moving from gear to gear. Having test driven a few cars before this one, I found there much less 'play' in the gearstick, especially compared to older model cars. Reverse gear requires pushing down to select which takes, well, at least 2 minutes to get the hang of. Driving position you get a good seating position and height although there is not a great deal of room to rest your left foot when not using the clutch. The higher back and side pillars restrict the view to the back and sides slightly but it does have convex edges to both mirrors. Also the rear window is so high that it is very difficult to tell how much room there is behind when reversing - parking takes some getting used to bu ilding up the courage to continue backing up when the car behind has long since vanished below the rear window. In general the boot is deep and easy to fold up or down the rear split seats if needed - although you have to remove the rear headrests if you want the rear seats to fold all the way down. Equipment-wise the 1.4S is very well covered. It has power steering, remote central locking, electric front windows, climate control, air-con and stylish grey-blue racing trim and seats in the car. It has the standard Seat integrated radio and control panel with a large digital display showing the radio cassette and climate control settings. The stereo also automatically increases in volume as you change speed to motorway driving. Although this is probably a 'nice to have' I quickly found it very valuable for driving to and from work, going on and off the motorway and waiting at lights. I have not had any use for the aircon as yet, and being around Bristol and Gwent it will probably only get used for one or two weeks a year at most. However it is very easy to set - a red and blue button increase or decrease the temperature in celsius on the main panel - if aircon is on it the cabin stays at this temperature. The airblowers can vary over several settings from low to almost gale force. I found this useful in wet conditions where the demister quickly cleared the windscreen. I found the equipping one of the main reasons I chose this model over the SDi, which although had a much better economy (about 60 miles) and handled and drove similarly, is very basically equipped (it does not even have central locking and the trim is just downright offensive). However I would have been happier with a CD player and stalk controls on the car, but you can't have everything. Going onto running costs, the fuel consumption is listed as about 42mpg . I have found it a bit less than this so far - doing mostly motorway and ring-road driving I fill up the 50 litre tank and get about 350 miles out of it. You should not run out of petrol though as there is a loud beep when you are down to about 1/8 of the tank left or whenever you start the car with a nearly empty tank, from the dashboard not from me. Insurance is around group 6. I haven't got onto servicing the car as yet so I cannot comment. However the car has put in several thousand miles already and I can say that I don't have any complaints. So overall I'm happy although I keep thinking what one of the turbo diesels would have been like and whether the extra cost would make it preferable to a petrol version.
Agfa AGF Easypix SX 1.3Mp This is actually a review for the EasyPix SX digital camera, I've only put it here as I've given up waiting for it to be added as a new category on Dooyoo. Fortunately this means I can write with a months more knowledge of the camera and how it has performed. Hopefully this review should also have the capitals sorted out by using the fixer on http://www.chuckleweb.co.uk/fixit.php The Easypix SX is one of the newer ultra-compact digital cameras - it fits into the palm of your hand and measures about 7cm by 6cm with a 3 by 2cm LCD screen on the back. This means it can easily fit into a jeans pocket. It also means it is easy to lose, but also makes it easier to take with you anywhere as you can stick it in a pocket and forget about it rather than have to carry it about. It sells for £50 - the main chains like Dixons, PC World and Currys stock it. The camera is supplied with a built in 16Mb memory card. It also comes with a small bag for the camera and a USB lead to connnect to a PC plus CDRom with drivers. The software is compatible with Windows 98SE,Me,2000 and XP but not NT, 3.1, 95 or 98. This is one of the most simple digital cameras I have seen. It has a total of 6 buttons plus a socket for USB connection. 2 of these are the shutter and the power button. There is another button to switch between taking photos or looking at your photos on the LCD screen, another to turn the backligh on and off or delete photos and two more buttons to move backwards and forwards through the photos or change resolution or take a photo with the 10 second self timer option. This makes it very quick to learn to use and I prefer this to some of t he modern digital cameras with huge amounts of options on them. Clear text and icons appear on the screen so you cna easily see what options are selected and you have to confirm if you want to delete a picture so there should be no way of accidently deleting something. The resolution lets you take pictures at 3 resolutions: 1600x1200, 1280x960 or 40x480 jpg. It also lets you take an AVI movie although this is very jerky - about 2 frames a second. Even at top resolution it can hold 40 pictures. At low resolution this increases to about 240. Pictures are anything up to about 700Kb each and you can take pictures at any mixture of resolutions. When switching on the camera the LCD screen acts as a video camera and shows what the camera is pointing at. It also has large icons on the top left to let you know what options are currently selected, what resolution the camera is set up at and so on. The software you get with the camera is supplied on one CD containing Ulead Photo Express SE - basic image editing software Ulead Photo Explorer - thumbnail browser of pictures Ulead Cool 360 - allows you to transform photos into panoramic shots Acrobat Reader Video Capture Driver Camera Driver The CD also contains the user manual in pdf format although this is supplied printed in the box. I only bothered with the video and camera drivers for this as although Photo Explorer is useful with earlier Windows I preferred the thumbnail browser with XP and have image editing software already. All the software installed fine with no problems. Usage of the camera on the PC is very easy with XP, you just plug into the USB port and the camera is automatically detected and it becomes a new drive on your PC. You can then copy the files onto your PC from Explorer. Removal is just like a memory stick, you just click on the USB icon and select to stop it and get a prompt that it is safe to unplug from the computer. The picture quality is.....well OK. I have seen better and worse pictures, but for a cheapish camera I wasn't expecting much but I am suprised at how sharp the pictures are at high resolution. The contrast on the pictures is fine and generally the colours are accurate. It tends to be better at focusing on nearer objects than anything more than 10 metres away. As it does not have a flash unit indoor photos tend to come out with a reddish colour although I found the outdoor photos sharp although again slightly red. The camera has automatic exposure and white balance correction although this takes a second or two to kick in. Taking a few photos at the Millenium stadium it went white and paused when suddenly moving from the crowd to the pitch on the LCD screen before correcting the colour. You also need to hold the camera still for a second when taking a picture or it will blur the picture. The part that annoys me most about this camera is the battery. Being a compact camera it only takes one AA battery, whereas many digital cameras hold up to 4 of these. The outcome is it doesn't last long. When using brand new alkaline batteries I found it lasted about 10 minutes per battery before the screen started switching off. It was then suggested I try Ni-Mh as the output from these is less variable and less likely to cause the camera to keep switching off. This did improve the battery life a bit but it still only lasts enough for about 20 pictures and an hour or two when switched on. On several occasions I found that using only partially charged Ni-Mh batter ies only gave the camera enough power to take a few pictures and already after that the LCD screen started turning off. This did mean on several trips I couldn't take photos because it had run out of power and I nearly ended up throwing it against a wall or in a river in fustration. I don't think it would have been too difficult to let it take 2 AA batteries instead of 1? So if you want to use this camera I would say take plenty of spare fully charged batteries with you and stick to photos in daylight. It especially eats batteries when switching modes to view pictures already taken. However I found it pretty good for a tiny camera, and with the LCD screen the advantage as with all digital cameras is you can see what are taking a picture of straight away.
I remember my first boot sale as a seller back in the late 80s, when they started to become popular. On a sunday my parents and I took a car full of junk and my old toys out to a 'mega-boot' sale in a field in the country. As soon as we got to a pitch the car was suddenly surrounded by a mob to the extent that we could hardly get out the car and start unloading goods as they were all peering in. I later learnt that these people were 'bargain hunters' and it is common practice for them to start looking at what you are selling before you even have the chance to take it out the car. The rest of the day was a blur. I remember feeling freezing cold very quickly and then finding most of the toys being sold we had to drop the prices as there was determination to get rid of everything so that a huge tray of ZX Spectrum games and Zoids ended of going for a few pounds. So it was with some trepidation that I went back to a sale to clear out my house on my own 10 years later, hoping that I would have time to park up and set up before a horde of zombies from Day Of The Dead would surround the car. I also hoped that having been on holiday to Africa a few times I would be a bit more savvy at bargaining and haggling. The format has not changed in this time, basically you load up your car with your junk / bargains and drive to the sale. This usually takes place in a car park or field where it costs about £5-10 for a sellers pitch. You then park your car, set up your goods on a table and wait for punters to come and buy it all. The sale I went to was actually in a multi-storey car park (Bristol Tollgate), with several levels devoted to pitches. Sellers had their own entrance with £8 buying a 16 foot pitch. Fortunately this fee covered parking in the multi-storey car park too. The best way to check when these sales are on is to check the adverts in the local paper - some have a special sections in the Classified Ads / events for c ar boot and jumble sales like the Bristol Evening Standard. Don't bother searching on the internet or phoning the number on the advert, it usually goes through to a council answering machine. I thought that I had done well to get there for 8am, which is very early for a sunday, or so I thought. However even by the time I arrived 2 entire floors were full of sellers and it was busy, having started a 7am. I even nearly ran someone over driving through the crowd even though a marshal was directing me to the pitch and trying to keep people out of the way. Best bet is to turn up early or get a bad pitch at the end of a row. My biggest fear of immediately being surrounded and people starting to take goods out of the car fortunately did not happen. I had time to quickly set out my folding table (B&Q Pasting Table for £6, virtually everybody at a boot sale has one of these) and clothes rail and get the goods out. People started flocking round once I started taking things out of boxes. I found you get a large mix of different people coming to buy things. Some are seasoned bargain hunters, who have no trouble haggling and will leave and come back later to see if you drop prices if you don't want to sell at their price. However most other people were friendly , would usually ask prices of things they are interested in and either walk off or offer a lower price. Some people seemed positively embarrassed even to the point of saying 'sorry' after they handled a book on my stall and I looked in their direction and they shuffled off! Quite a few will stop for a chat, as will the other sellers. Most of the other sellers are also people clearing out their homes but there are also traders who see the sunday as another days trading opportunity or serial car-booters who do not mind about not selling everything as they will be coming back the next week. You also get plant sellers and a family with far too many videos f or one household trying to sell them all, shouting '50p' at anyone within 10 yards of their stall. There are also usually some traders using the sale as an extension of their market day so you usually get stalls selling cheap DIY equipment, dodgy DVDs, cleaning products, batteries, fruit and veg. Generally prices start high, with most people selling at higher prices early on, starting to drop them around 9 or 10 o clock as the number of people drops off, and then panic-slashing prices around mid-day realising they need to get rid of their junk or they'll have to take it back home. For this reason it is not really worth making up price labels for anything. If people are interested they will ask how much something is and you will have anything up to 10 people at once looking a things on your stall. I found very quickly I knew the price of everything by heart even though I didn't have a clue the previous evening when I was preparing everything! Also at around 12 o'clock, when people start to leave, you may get the other sellers coming round and offering you boxes full of goods for knockdown prices to get rid of them. It's up to you whether to accept them for another boot sale but these are usually the rubbish that couldn't be sold. I found initially I would be answering 'ermm.... well lets say £5 for that one' and being hesitant when asked a price or haggling but towards the end of the day getting more direct '5 pounds' and almost rude to the hagglers, which seemed to work better. You will find some people do take the p**s and offer 10p for items worth £1 or 30p for an item already reduced to 50p. Now I found this stupid - you can't buy anything for 10p these days let alone sell you own possessions for this amount. It is much better to be direct and refuse e.g. 'no, 50p' on these offers, it gets you further. Also I held my nerve on a few items which at least 20 people had asked the price on and refused the asking price which eventually got sold. This gives a huge boost and makes you feel good or if you are evil 'bwahhhhahhhhh I can't believe I sold him that rubbish, I wanted rid of it for ages'. Also a good tactic is to show people a more expensive item as well as the one you really want to sell like 'that one's £7 and this one £5'. Most people will then go for the 'cheaper' item. Generally people seem to try and get things for half their asking price, although a lot of people will buy things at the first price you say. Coats, jeans and sweaters go although you are unlikely to sell these at above £5. CDs go well at £2.50 each, as people can then get 2 for 5 pounds although they may well offer just £2 for one. Even the Pipefish crap student music collection cleared out a lot of CDs. Books also go well, although again only a few quid is probably the best you will get, although I managed to sell a hardback for £5. So I would say plan to get about half as much money as you optimistically think you can sell everything for. As most people are just looking round on a weekend with their spare cash to find a bargain it is going to take something very good for them to part with £5. Other useful tips are to bring some food along as you will standing around for a long time and the only food being sold is burgers and chips. If it really slows off bring a magazine or book along. However you will be likely to be busy most of the time and I found 4 hours flew past quickly. I had brought along a book but didn't have any need to read it as it was pretty busy most of the time either chatting or rearranging or bringing new items onto the table. It also helps to present things well - iron clothes (or wash them if they need it) and don't just dump everything in a pile on the table. Pepople will start looking at and handling everything so keep your stall looking neat and t idy. Place things so that they are easily in reach and in the light (if it is indoors). Also standing around indoors or outdoors is cold, so bring a big coat, hat and hot drinks (unless you want to buy a polystyrene cup of tea). Generally I enjoyed the whole thing. Although I sold only about half my stock I got rid of the main items and made a large sum of money. Being on my own I had the advantage that I didn't have a wife or girlfriend wandering off to the other stalls and spending any profit on buying a load more junk but this also meant that after 4 hours my bladder was practically bursting and it was time to pack up. I would certainly recommend these sales and will probably be going to another one soon to get rid of some more junk, I mean bargain items. Makes a good change to think of all the money gained on a weekend for a change!
OK OK this has now been out for a bit now, I was just waiting for the category to get added for it so I could place this review. SWAT is the latest blockbuster starring Colin Farrell as Jim Street, an ex-forces SWAT officer, moving into another role as an American security operative after the so-so The Recruit. For some reason it has been out in the US for several months before the UK, which probably means it is widely available at car boot sales as well as cinemas. It is loosely based on a TV series SWAT which ran for several years in the mid 70s and even has a cameo from one of the stars of the series. The rest of the cast are as follows: SGT. DAN HONDO HARRELSON - Samuel L. Jackson JIM STREET - Colin Farrell CHRIS SANCHEZ - Michelle Rodriguez TJ MCCABE - Josh Charles DEACON DEKE KAYE - LL Cool J MICHAEL BOXER - Brian Van Holt BRIAN GAMBLE - Jeremy Renner ALEX MONTEL - Olivier Martinez LT. GREG VELASQUEZ - Reginald E. Cathey CAPT. THOMAS FULLER - Larry Poindexter TRAVIS - Page Kennedy GQ - Domenick Lombardozzi GUS - James DuMont SGT. HOWARD - Denis Arndt AGENT HAUSER - Lindsey Ginter KATHY - Lucinda Jenney AGENT KIRKLAND - E. Roger Mitchell SWAT basically follows the goings of an LAPD SWAT team battling criminals, politics and the press as they go through getting re-formed and re-trained and also dealing with internal bickering and friction within the team which keeps threatening to spill over. The film opens straight away with a tense bank heist scene with bad guys with full body armour and assault rifles holding lots of hostages and fending off police and helicopters, fractic messages recording officers down and requesting backup. Time to call the SWAT team......... Not to spoil what goes on basically Jim Street and his partner get busted off the SWAT team for disobeying orders until Sgt Harrelson comes along (Samuel L Jackson) and gives him another chance as he sets out to reform and retrain the SWAT team. One of their first missions is to transport a drugs kingpin Alex Montell (Olivier Martinez, Kylie's squeeze) to federal custody but must deal with attempts to free him, double-crossings etc etc, not helped when he has publically offered a bounty of $100 million to whoever will free him. The first thing you notice about this film is how fast it moves and captures non-stop action, punchy dialogue and the media circus that follow the SWAT team's every move. All the characters in the team are built out with only a little of their own identities but the dialogue is pretty good and snappy, avoiding too many cliches. This is particularly seen in one scene in which Colin Farrel's character is out on a date and meets up with an old SWAT partner in the bar with whom there is a lot of unfinished business. This gets played out normally without the standard hollywood bar room fight starting, just a few frosty exchanges. The fast editing and cutting and constant move of the camera plus urban soundtrack help keep it moving at a lightening pace. People don't seem to take a break for a second in LA. A lot of the scenes are also filmed on the street in downtown LA too, helping give it a more realistic edge to it. Larry Poindexter plays a standard slimeball police Captain with his own agenda which seems to involve wanting to get rid of most of the SWAT officers or put them against each other. Samuel L Jackson plays an 'old school' veteran SWAT officer who is introduced after about half an hour to reform the team (offering Street a chance to make it back) and take them through training, giving us some scenes of SWAT shooting range training, house clearing and hostage rescue mock scenarios. All the the acting is good throughout and this part is as interesting as the opening scenes and other main action scenes throughout the film. The film has also moved with the times and now the villain is not british, he speaks french (at least says 'Bonjour' at the airport, his origin is not made too clear in the film, just that he comes from a rich family). This struck me as too obvious an example of anti-French feelings but at least it is better than the standard stereotyped british villain or haitian drug lord. That'll teach that Chirac to mess with America! The film also plays on trouble caused by the media like in the film 15 Minutes. News helicopters and press cameramen swarm on all the raids, even running around following the team and ambulances in the middle of the action and getting in the way. They also helpfully air the said drug kingpin's offer for helping spring him on every television station going (surely they could have shut him up instead of walking him out past all the TV cameras?). This also leads to some violent rescue attempts and action scenes which remind you of 24 and also Clear and Present Danger. Many of these make the city seem like a warzone rather than police keeping it in order as large explosions and rocket attacks are launched within and around skyscrapers in the city. The amount the team seem to fight and double-cross each other though though I am surprised that they get anything done. There is constant shoving people against lockers, people having to hold others back and 'history' between them. Again this is too much trying to hype up the action and inject a bit of soap opera into it. The other members of the SWAT team are not developed too much apart from Street and Harrelson (and also LL Cool J who is another of the team), they are mostly there as stereotypes and only really seen in a few cutscenes when their pagers go off and at a party after the training is completed. It would have been a bit better if these had been concentrated on more instead of having the standard independant woman, wise-cracking black guy etc. However this does not ruin the film much, you still get a good insight into the SWAT team's work and training and good action scenes and explosions with several hostage situations. The actual events and tactics used all look authentic. However I though the build-up and events towards the end were a bit too obvious. It ends wide open for a sequel or franchise. Thereagain any film with Samuel L Jackson in it is worth watching and hopefully this is going to be the film in which Colin Farrell really hits the big time - he's been in enough films this year. This is stylish and there's enough going for it to make it worth watching without being spectacular. Now let's wait for some French films with American villains......
I've been using the internet for quite a bit now, from the mid nineties where you needed the local university computers and Mosaic to surf up to present, where the net is widely used, internet shopping and banking well established, and broadband is freely available. One of the things that is best to see is that a lot of the sites that were good and popular back then are still around and have not deteriorated in quality. Also there are a lot more sites selling items or requiring registration than there were but there are still lots of gems out there giving free information. THE GOOD.... Here is my top 10, in no particular order: bbc.co.uk The bbc website is generally excellent with many many many areas. The ones I particularly like are the sport area with the sport academy site offering tips on sports and information and rules and training tips. The radio 1 site is also useful for getting the playlist (A, B and C list of about 40 songs in total), charts, featured songs and shows and what is going on in various genres of music. The news and weather are also among the best out there. allmusic.com One of my favourite music sites - features biographies of virtually every band or group ever plus discographies, reviews of their albums, and links to their influences, similar bands or genres. The reviews are all good quality and well written and pick out standout tracks on most albums. You can easily spend hours surfing through this. Also worth a mention is Nme.com which has a very distinctively styled site and searchable database of reviews and gig guides. http:\\veepers01.budlight.com Provides hours of entertainment making talking pictures! You can either choose from the photos provided or upload a photo of a friend or victim and then animate it to speak any text you type in. You automatically get options to pick the eyes, head shape and mouth position so that the photo blinks, the mouth syncs to the tex t and the head moves realistically. You can choose from a set of voices to read the message (american, sportscaster, scottish, american female) You can then email the picture to your friends (or enemy) and they get a hyperlink to the veeper, which stays saved for 14 days. multimap.co.uk Incredibly detailed maps of the UK and the rest of the world for free. You can zoom in from 5,000 (street names level) to 400,000 (country map). Very handy for getting directions or picking local facilities such as train stations, airports and motorway junctions or the local weather forecast. Usually you can search for a street name and town name and it will pick out and circle it and you can zoom in and out to find the route from city level down to individual street maps. The site also offers links to hotels, restaurants, traffic info etc through its partner sites. If you register you then can save maps and routes and retrieve them later. This site has won many awards and plaudits. ebay.co.uk I have used auction sites quite a lot in the past, not so much recently. This was mostly to buy software or books second hand although I did buy a computer on QXL. I have received all the goods quickly without any trouble. Ebay is probably the best known site and certainly has more goods on offer than any of the other auction sites (especially in comparison to QXL). It has the general features like being able to read about the seller or buyer and all their previous transactions and customer comments, email notification of how your bid is going and automatic bidding wizards. I find this site very well laid out and easy to navigate - one of the good features is that it automatically lists out the items that you have viewed at the bottom of the page so it is easy to get back to them. The bidding process can get quite exciting but check that you don't get carried away. Always good for a laugh if you can stomach it are the taxidermy pages, there are some very badly done examples on it. fool.co.uk English version of the famous Motley Fool dot com site. Very good financial site with huge amount of forums discussing everything from individual companies and shares, financial tips and advice. There are also boards for a huge array of other subjects like diy, gardening, motoring and other hobbies. You can also sign up to their newsletter and receive weekly bulletins by email which contain some excellent articles. This site is best in that it offers generally independant advice and recognises the fact that a lot of the financial, pension and assurance providers aim to confuse and profit from people. This offers impartial advice and has lots of guides from everything to remortgaging, choosing shares and investments to general money management and how to save lots of money every year. The forums are always good, friendly and free of the type of people you get on some internet sites who need to get out more or calm down..... autotrader.co.uk Has been going for ages and is still in my opinion the best site for finding or selling cars, unlike the hopeless Fish4 site (crap at finding cars, houses and jobs). You can create a user account on the site to get greater search options. This is linked to Autotrader magazine and classified ads so will scoop up most of the private sales around. I got my first car from this site many years ago, at a very good price. gojobsite.co.uk I used this recruitment site several months ago to find a job. It seems to specialise in engineering and technical roles although lists many more. I found this site much better than any of the others in the UK. You can search for particular job descriptions, locations or pick from a large number of lists an industry type (Defence, Aerospace, Automotive, Health, Retail etc). It has the support of a lot of recruitment agencies and you can also register and get email notication of new postings tailored to your requirements. It also has some very good information about writing CVs, interviews and job seeking in general and issues about working environment and life, again which can be emailed to you as a gazette full of links. www.insults.net/html/swear Learn how to swear in over 30 different languages with a list of the swear words and insults! Also features a random insult generator and put-downs and crushing replies to put-downs too if you need to respond to people who have been surfing on this site. www.howstuffworks.com Large amount of articles on information from cars to computers to electronics and home. This site will have detailed articles on almost how any home appliance or gadget works, engines or car systems, economics and travel and science subjects. There are also articles on 'peoplestuff' with biographies, current affairs, culture, professionals and government. All the pages are packed with diagrams, pictures and animations. Makes fascinating reading although you could easily lose a few hours of your life. I suppose I should mention dooyoo as well! Lots of good reviews and you can actually get paid to surf (or make other people money) or earn vouchers when you are at work and get opinions on anything and everything. I'd also put in Google as this is the one I use for all my searches (is my homepage) and newgroups which usually have useful information on anything you need to find out about, particularly Office software and how to do particular tasks with it. Not to mention that I wouldn't get anywhere on the internet without it or have found this site. THE BAD...... Worst web sites? These would have to be the ones that immediately launch hundreds of pop-ups to porn sites, casinos and other rubbish and end up giving you spam for the next few months, usually titled 'Warez' or 'Gamez' or something.ru. These usually have no content anyway just end up as banner sites to another one launchi ng even more pop-ups. Just as annoying are the sites that appear on your search results pretending to have found something but then just turn out to be a directory or another search engine. AND THE UGLY mingers.com Thanks for reading.
It's coming up to christmas so the record companies are in overdrive trying to put out as much material as possible. Anyone remotely established in the business has a 'greatest hits' out, Fame Academy Idol Person is releasing a slew of albums with two new songs and murdering several classics, and record companies executives are busy with their shovels at graveyards digging up the decomposed bodies of murdered rap stars and taking them back to their laboratories for electro-shock therapy in an attempt to get another album's worth of material out of them. There is good material out there, but it's getting harder to find it out of the chart stuff and compilations being marketed as aggressively as a David Beckham book or football on TV. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's second album has been out for a few months now. I very much liked their first album BRMC with the rock and roll sound, dirty and distorted guitars and soaring melodies suddenly kicking in adding huge amounts of depth and layers to the music, almost gothic vocals in parts, giving them an identity from normal plodding indie music. However some of the songs were a bit weak and lacking energy or focus. It's only now that I got round to listening to it a few times and now it is on my stereo regularly. Initially the band got caught up in the wave of indie music after the sucess of The Strokes and are also darlings of NME magazine, but don't let that put you off. BRMC have said before this album that they wanted to put some more energy into this album and it shows in the material - all of the material does not disappoint or slow down at any point. To go through the tracks: Stop The opener and the one that got the airplay brings back the sound with a chugging baseline, great chorus and the dark loud guitars throughout reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain. The song suddenly seems to take on a huge amount of layers and dimension whe n the chorus and extra accompaniment kicks in. However this is all kept tight so it makes a great indie / rock song. Six Barrel Shotgun Straight after the excellent first track comes this rock and roll song with its raucous guitar harmony bursting with energy. This will remind you of Whatever Happened to My Rock And Roll from the first album. We're All in Love More rock and roll with strong guitar riffs sounding Stones influenced this is again slick, getting straight into the main song. In Like the Rose One of the best tracks on the album, builds up with pulsing guitar (or is it synthesiser?) and distorted guitar white noise with initially gothic-sounding vocals in harmony suddenly jumps into the main part with extra layers of music for the 'I'm on a wire' chorus and bridge with full on heavy and distorted sound making it sound epic. Ha Ha High Babe A slower number with a slow growling guitar in the background plus lots of drums and cymbals, builds up slowly repeating the verse 'You're higher baby but can't keep it on the ground'. I thought this sounded more like an interlude between tracks. Generation Again a great rock and roll song having a go at public apathy - lines 'I don't feel at home in this generation', 'I'm choosing sides - I'm keeping up with you and your invasion eyes', and 'you're ready to take them on' firmly stamp the intent of this but avoid political sloganeering or angry ranting. The guitar riffs and vocals keep this moving fast. Shade of Blue The main guitar sound from this could have come from Joy Division or darkest Jesus and Mary Chain songs. Like several of the other songs (And I'm Aching, Rise or Fall) this sounds like much more personal lyrics to it. US Government A swipe at government corruption with strongly distorted vocals and guitars and pounding drums with a pun k tinge to it. Suddenly Souring sound reminds you of 'Too Real' on the last album for this one with a strong minor melody to it with a more epic sound in the chorus. Going Under 'Nobody Cares what you Look Like, nobody cares what you say'. This is again tight guitar riffs and bar-room rock and roll (shouts of Come On and a few whoops) and moves along and builds up without running out of steam. Heart and Soul 6 minute finale and one of the stand-out tracks along with Stop and In Like the Rose. This keeps going incessantly with fast drums and guitars all through again with a great tune and main riff sounding like early Verve or Ride but updated with more recent influences - the melody could have been from Oasis's best stuff but it sounds nothing like lethargic shoe-gazing music. So overall a great album, bringing back rock and roll music with plenty of intensity and energy all through. I like it more than their last album for this reason - possibly with the exception of High Babe there are not any weak songs on this and would all probably bring the house down played live. Also the songs seem less overblown than some of the excesses of the last album, they have kept the best parts of their sound but more rock and roll influence, dynamics and agression than last time and you can hear a lot more influences on the songs. This is the sort of album that takes a few listens to enjoy it fully but then gets better and better and it sounds miles away than most of other stuff coming out at the moment. You won't be disappointed!
After having watched Quentin Tarantino's latest offering it is fair to say that he is back on form after the slightly muted Jackie Brown. Kill Bill is basically a revenge tale, with The Bride (Uma Thurman) out to seek vengeance on the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and their boss Bill, who killed everyone at her wedding, including her unborn baby, and left her for dead. As an opener we see a close-up shot of her face beaten, crying and covered in blood, as she is shot and left for dead by Bill - played by David Carradine but you do not see his face in this film - maybe this will be only in part 2? For the rest of the film this concentrates on her recovery from a coma after 4 years, escape from the hospital and attempts to track down the rest of the Squad, leaving Bill till last. The whole film has been split into two volumes by Miramax, the second part to be released later. In usual Tarantino form the film is not set in chronological order but jumps around and is set into 'chapters' with titles. These then set the scene showing flashbacks to the massacre, history to some of the characters before moving to present time to the drive to The Bride getting her own back on them. This film contains what you might expect after Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs - there is great dialogue with good lines, funny scenes and more fighting and action, especially sword fights. Throughout there are homages to Martial Arts and Spaghetti Western films, down to the music used and the sound effects - the type where there suddenly is a close up of someones' eyes and the 70s style synthesiser noise when they meet an enemy. The opening credits are fairly muted and black and white, without the storming stand-out tunes you'd expect. The soundtrack is generally more used to paint the scenes and set a more emotional atmosphere in the film - there aren't the bubble gum pop records here except for the one used in the trailer. It slowly builds up instead. The cast are all excellent here - Daryl Hannah as a trailer trash / bitchy assasin and one of the Viper Squad (with one of the most annoying whistles ever commited to film), Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii - another of the squad and a yakuza underboss with her own personal posse (the Crazy 88), guest star Sonny Chiba as a famed maker of swords and the other characters Gogo as O-Ren Ishii's personal bodyguard and a psychotic 17 year-old japenese girl in a school uniform and also Ishii's 2nd lieutenant who is constantly on the phone, even at the aforementioned wedding day massacre. All the characters hold your interest and most of them have their background explained as the film goes along. As usual again this film is very violent but hey, what do you expect? There is a lot of blood and one scene set as a manga comic animation makes some of the rest of it look tame in comparison. At least if you are squeamish about gore you can say it is all in the name of justified revenge! The weapons of choice are mostly knives and samurai swords (last seen in the very funny Bring Out The Gimp scene in Pulp Fiction), shown in several fight scenes choreographed by Yuen Woo Ping (The Matrix, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon). These scenes are all good, although in a few if you look closely they are too choreographed, you sometimes see people blocking moves before punches are thrown etc. Apparently all the cast went into intensive martial arts training for this film and it shows in these scenes - no special effects here just fighting skills. The fights culminate in one of the main set pieces when The Bride takes on nearly 100 yakuza in a sword fight when going after O-Ren Ishii - one of the mentioned Viper Squad. This whole scene puts up the violence and body count many times over but is superb - the moves and fights here will leave you on the edge of your seat. This is not to say some of the scenes are moving - points where Uma Thurman wakes from her coma and looks for her baby, the manga scene where O-Ren Ishii sees her parents murdered and also several scenes bringing in themes of honour, including the reverence shown by Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba) after making and handing over one last samurai sword to get vengeance on Bill (also one of his students). However there are also several very funny scenes, especially the scene with Hattori arguing with his assistant, this scene conducted mostly in Japanese with subtitles and a fight with another of the squad (Copperhead) which suddenly has to stop as a child comes home from school. I thought that this film was excellent and almost didn't notice that it was nearly 2 hours long - it is so well directed that scenes flow into one another and jump around to set the narrative for the upcoming set to keep your interest. Bring on the next volume!
I am writing this op as I have used Monarch several times on flights to and from Hurghada, Egypt and Kenya. For most of the diving package holidays Monarch were the carrier used although this has now changed to Air2000 as they are part of the same company as Hayes and Jarvis. However they still fly to Luxor and Sharm El Sheik, and still fly to Mombasa, Kenya. They also fly on many european routes and to Orlando USA. On the face of it I have never had much of a problem with the booking and service on their flights - the staff have generally been polite, flights have never been too late.On one occasion our group arrived very early at Gatwick (allowing loads of time given the state of the M4 and M25 on a friday morning) and the check-in staff happily checked in all the baggage even though the flight was not scheduled for another 3 hours and the check-in not due to open for another hour. Also (crucial for dive groups) we have never had trouble with weight restrictions - they have usually allocated about 20-25kg luggage plus hand luggage but not queried anyone over this if checking in fairly early on - they have often allocated extra allowance for people showing PADI cards etc at check-in if this is arranged earlier when booking the flight. Check-in etc is about the same as any other airlines I have used in the UK although it always amazes me how long this process takes at Heathrow and Gatwick when a small Eqyptain airport can do the whole process in half the time, even when it is set in a military base with far less check-in desks and they have a very beaurocratic process of manually buying visa stamps and checking and stamping arrival cards as well. The cost of the duty free and snacks on the plane is priced about as much as the other airlines - 60p for a small can and £1 for a small tube of pringles. Beers and mixers are then up to £3. The meals always were crap but then it's an aircraft meal so what do you expect? They have been better than some other airline's meals. At least they give out free headphones but unfortunately as it is usually a Boeing 757 or 737 the only screens are small monitors mounted on the ceiling of the aisle. The main problem I have is with their planes and how they organise time in the flights. With all the flights with Monarch the only planes they seem to have had are the Boeing 737 and 757 people-crushers, with the fuselage design of these only allowing a thin 3x3 seating setup. The flight to Kenya was on an A300 which wasn't much better. This has been made worse as Monarch have obviously tried to jam in as many seats as possible and reduced the seating pitch so that it is unconfortable to sit it them for more than a few hours. This would not be a problem on short flights but the charter flight to Hurghada is over 5 hours long. This is also backed up by some articles examining seat pitches in the Sunday Times a few months back - Monarch were one of the lowest. They also do not have many toilets and washrooms on the plane so there are always big queues - they obviously wanted to cram in extra seats instead. The main problem is when you want to walk around the aircraft and stretch your legs in flight. I may be suspicious but the amount of time that Monarch flights had the turbulence seat-belt signs on you sometimes wonder if they are flying over the Cape Horn or on a bombing raid than cruising over the Meditteranean. Surprisingly this did not prevent them wheeling around the duty free and snack trolleys for most of the flight to try and flog stuff. They seem to have the duty free and snack trolleys out for most of the flight meaning that it is a struggle to move about to plane and stretch your legs after being crushed in their tiny seats as all their planes seem to have the one-aisle configuration so you have to wait for the trolleys to get out the way or constantly squeeze past to get anywhere. On the occasion our group managed to get so me seats behind the bulkhead and a little more legroom this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as there were only a few toilets on the plane so there was constantly a huge queue of people milling around this area. Of course when the blasted trolleys got wheeled past everyone had to move out of the way, which usually meant having to lean into our seats or squeeze into any available floorspace. Not good as people don't smell great on flights usually. On another flight the cabin crew continued to try selling their duty free, duly blocking up the aisles, when they had run out of everything. I was not surprised people were getting irate and started having a go at the crew for blocking the aisles for no reason since for most of the duty free sales the trolleys were empty so the crew had to go back up the aisle past everyone to fetch each item. This has meant that I am usually pleased when one of their flights is over. So overall the actual service is OK, it's just a shame it is ruined by the miniscule amounts of legroom on their planes so that I would not want to use them for longer flights until they modernise their fleet and stop trying to use older cramped planes for these flights. If I was going on a longer flight I would like a plane set out for this like an A330 or A340 or 747 as at least they have twin aisles. Perhaps one for hobbits and masochists instead?
Films set in the future always have a hard time, usually because they are given a modest budget and it's hard to create a groundbreaking vision of the future when it's already been done in Blade Runner. Usually these types of films resort to putting in a few flying cars, people all wearing tunics and spotlessly clean sterile locations and pretend that it is Croydon in 20 years time. Therefore these films tend to have to have a concept to go with them and some slick action sequences to go with to make them stand out and keep them interesting. Equilibrium is one of these films that got overlooked on its cinema release but with its being sold as a Matrix clone will stand a much better chance on DVD or video. The concept in the film is that after world war III emotions have been banned to try to avoid man's destructive nature and prevent further war. Cut scenes quickly show an atomic bomb going off and introduce the fact that humanity has now decided that emotions are too dangerous and have been outlawed to try to prevent another war. Thus all the population are given Prozium, an emotion-inhibiting drug which makes them act in a Dr Spock-like manner, incapable of displaying emotion. Anyone displaying emotions or not taking their medication is guilty of 'sense crime' and carted off quickly - any material considered likely to cause emotions, such as books and paintings is illegal and burned. This is enforced by huge forces of armed police, who as is shown at the start ruthlessly kill any protestors and burn sensitive materials. The police are also aided by clerics of the Tetragrammatron, who enforce stopping 'sense-crimes' and act as executioners who seek out and destroy any of the rebels who refuse to take Prozium and form a resistance movement to fight the regime. The main character is Christian Bale, who as Grammatron cleric John Preston is one of the highest ranking clerics and recruited to track down members of the underground movement. He starts of as one of the most sucessful enforcers of the law and does not even bat an eyelid when dealing with his partner for reading a book of poetry. As the film progresses though he finds himself having to deal with and suppress his own emotions from his job and also his own memories including the murder of his wife, whilst avoiding growing suspicion of his colleagues. Other cast are Sean Bean, as Preston's partner, and Emily Watson, who doesn't really do much in the film apart from get arrested and interrogated. It also stars Sean Pertwee as 'the father' of the Tetragrammetron, whose face appears on the public screens to broadcast messages. This film immediately reminded me of 1984 and Farenheit 451 from the start, especially given the police burn books and other material. It has the bog standard set-up of the future, with large video screens in public places broadcasting propaganda, streets completely free of traffic, large Stalinist buildings, people wearing black or tunics and some dodgey CGI shots of cityscapes with airships flying around. The opening scene is good as a huge police raid on an appartment block full of protestors with automatic weapons is ruthlessly enforced and a cleric is sent in to get the last opponents holed up in a locked room. The other great idea in the film is that the clerics train in martial arts and are proficient in 'gun kata' - a form of combat used in the film that uses various gun firing movements and positions to maximise killing opportunities whilst minimising the target being presented. This seems to be based on karate katas and there are several gun fights throughout the film in which the clerics use these skills to kill huge amounts of people, even if they are heavily armed, whilst seeming to miraculously avoid being shot themselves by jumping and spinning through the air whilst switching into the various kata postions. This sets up for some great action set pieces in the film which are very well staged and lead to the Matrix comparisons. However a lot of the other scenes you can easily see where they have copied from other films. In one children help police pull from crowds people guilty of sense crimes and John Preston's children are emotionless and constantly question what he is doing - very remiscent of 1984. In other scenes we see the aftermath of police catching and killing protestors and then torching hidden rooms full of books and paintings like in Farenheit 451 (but without the rubbish looking 'futuristic' fire engines). The look of the cityscapes and public buildings and dress also reminded me of Gattaca, another film set in the future with a concept (genetic engineering). The plot follows the standard line of a law enforcer slowly turning against the ruling society with the aid of the underground movement, although a lot of the scenes you could understand why there is a battle to suppress emotions when the cleric's job often involves a lot of brutal actions and challenges (especially the way the police immediately kill perpetrators in vast raids and one scene involving a cute puppy who according to rules is to be put down). Generally the acting is good and Christian Bale is very good at being wooden, although this is the part needed as he is playing someone who is not meant to show emotions and then showing more emotions as he begins to 'wake up' and become more emotional while having to avoid suspicion. I found the film a bit overlong and a lot of the bits are drawn out at the start until it hots up towards the end with a lot more action sequences. There are some scenes of police raids in the middle but it sags during this part. There is some neat camera work in the action sequences and the concept and plot are fairly good and it does make you think about all the things in the world that cause emotions and what it would be like if they were banned . The general vision of the future is good, especially as it was achieved on a budget, but I just kept thinking that I had seen it all before somewhere. But the actual sets are very good and the video quality is excellent. Due to the clinical future setting and banning of emotions it also seems flat and well, emotionless at times. However it should make a good evenings viewing, especially for the gun kata scenes which I am surprised that no-one has thought of before, including one great scene with a fight between two clerics using gun kata - I found all these fights very stylish where huge numbers of armed police get taken out. Hopefully it will get remembered for this and not end up as a film being shown in schools in 10 years time like Farenheit 451 or 1984 as an attempt to try and make English lessons cool. Overall not bad, I think there is enough here to make it interesting viewing with some good kick-ass fight scenes.
I've never been a great fan of supermarkets. All the major chains have their own good and bad points, but I always find myself thinking about the negative ones after shopping at them and feel that I should have gone somewhere else. For instance Sainsburys and Waitrose seem to have the best range of fresh food and have a bakery counter and pasta bar in the shops and even their fruit and veg seems to be better but I always feel I am paying too much for some other items when I do a shop there. Tescos on the other hand have a more limited range, especially with delicatessen or salads, but often are cheaper (or think that they are). Somerfields are good and their megadeals often mean that you can save on one product or get a BOGOF but their larger stores seem to run out of what you want. Asda are also cheap but the local store is so massive that it means I always end up buying extra stuff I don't want. The last Budgens I went into had a humpbacked assistant who coughed all over the fruit and dropped a load of apples on the floor and seemed to have most of the staff wandering around the store with clipboards while only 1 was on the till. Marks and Spencers have superb food but I can only aspire to being able to shop there weekly. I also use Lidl occasionally but have always been impressed how they can genuinely undercut the prices of the main supermarkets on items not by a few pence, but big savings on some items. The Lidl stores do not look much on first impression. There are no baskets available and there is a pound deposit on trolleys. All the stores are covered with rather drab looking beige floor tiles and pallets and temporary looking shelves with goods on them so that it looks more like a warehouse picking line than some of the posh food palaces that are our supermarkets. All the goods have their prices printed out on yellow card signs above the shelves or pallets. There are only a few tills, carrier bags are not free and they do not t ake credit cards and there is little room to pack your trolley. There are not big colour photographs of mouth watering food around the shop or aisle signs. Most of the items on sale are unfamilar brands - many seem to be german brands and you wonder if they are safe to eat, let alone what some of the writing on the tins means. However once you get past this you find there are perfectly acceptable foods for sale and at huge reductions on Tescos or Sainsburys or anyone else's prices. How many other places do you know do Drycure bacon for £1.20, tins of beef curry for 89p or a huge 800g tin of Chilli Con Carne for £1 or branded pasta sauce for 45p or blocks of cheese are at least a third bigger at the same price as anywhere else? They also have a large selection of frozen foods and frozen ready meals again at the ridiculous prices and very cheap pies and pizzas and the like. Most of the tinned foods are much cheaper and there are also lots of cleaning products, wines and spirits and the like at impressive prices too. There are many items like this all offering real bargains are undercutting all the main chains by a long way, putting paid to all their advertising about their low prices. The main staple items can also be got cheaply (Baked beans for 12p, bread for 22p, 4 pints of milk 99p, tea and coffee similary cheap) but thereagain most of the big chains are careful to ensure that these items (milk, bread, apples, bananas, baked beans, toilet paper etc) are cheap in their stores. There have been some rather arrogant pieces of research by the supermarkets suggesting that people can only remember the prices of 5 or 6 main items so keeping these cheap in the stores will give the impression that the whole range in the supermarket seems to be cheap too. The Lidl stores also are famous for their bargain bins. In the middle of each shop there are several rows of wire baskets selling all manner of items are very low prices. The last time I was there it was golf umbrellas for £2.50 and sewing machines for £50 and various DIY sets and clothes but these have included almost anything in the past - safes, frying pans and casserole dishes, drills, electrical goods, photo albums, mini systems, shower units, trainers, bags, jeans, toys and a lot of others have appeared on previous occasions. These have built up a bit of a cult following and are changed round every thursday to something else and get quite a bit of interest, especially when computers are sold as the bargain items - the Motley Fool forums in particular have a lot of posts relating to these. They also publish a special offers sheet every week detailing what is coming up a the offers for the next week and also list these on their website too. The only things they seem to be bit limited on is breakfast cereals as these are in the huge packs only or tend to be relatively unknown European Nestle cereals. They also sell fruit and veg cheaply but there is not a huge selection. On the occasions that I have shopped there I have always found that I have bought a lot more for my money. Although some of the items are foreign brands they taste as good as the main supermarkets own brands or common brandnames. Because of the smaller size of their shops (only 3 or 4 main aisles) there is not a huge range of goods so they cannot compete on quantity with the Tescos and larger shops on this front but this can be good as you do not have to set out for a 15 minute walk just to get a few items from the other end of the shop. So overall very good although I probably would not want to use them week in week out but they make a great ultra-budget shop with several surprisingly good items while bringing out the skinflint side in you.
I've never been a big fan of sports beginners guides books. They are often packed with compilicated diagrams, terminology and jargon to the extent that you feel that it would be easier learning particle physics rather than the new sport of your choice. It always amazes me how these books are set out, with text in tiny writing in multiple thin columns per page plus small black and white photographs usually devoting the bulk of the first few chapters droning on in unecessary detail about all the equipment needed and the prohibitivly high cost of it all as if they are trying to kill anyone's interest in the sport. Often the first few chapters also introduce very quickly jargon and technical terms which are then used throughout the book so much that you have to keep flipping back to remember what they meant. Therefore I was pleased to come across Doug Werner's Surfer's Start-Up, which has been written as a 'beginner's beginners guide' to surfing. Weighing in at about 120 pages, I found it immediately readable and simple to read and given the glowing compiliments on the back of the book evidently many other people think the same. It also is written in fairly large text and set out neatly so that is easy to read through. If anything it is a kind of version of 'How to Garden' or 'How to Cook' written by someone who can explain the subject so well that it makes it look easy (and much more interesting than DIY or cooking). The book moves quickly through the introduction and a quick guide to equipment (basically tips on hiring a board and the basics) and safety before moving into the meat in the main section about paddling out and being able to stand up on the board. At first glance it might seem that the only technique needed for surfing is learning how to stand up on a surfboard but it also mentions before this useful (and what I found vital) hints on many other areas. This include how to as sess the conditions at the beach and what to look for (useful so that you can find the right area on the beach for starters and not get caught in ripcurrents etc) how to paddle out (very useful to get right quickly), etiquette (so you don't cut up all the other surfers and become a figure of hate immediately), and some hints on how to stand up on the board when you finally catch a wave (this requires a lot of practice). I had bought this book because I was doing a couple of days learning to surf and I found all these tips very useful. With all of these types of books a picture is worth a thousand words and fortunately the book is also packed with many good black and white photos explaining all the text in the book. It also points out that all the photos involve professional surfers and have been taken in conditions that beginners would expect to be in (so there is are no double page photos of shooting tubes or eating 20 foot waves off the coast of Hawaii here). This would also probably double the cost of the book anyway, if you want big colour photos of huge waves there are plenty of surfing magazines full of them. The closing chapters then cover angling the board (assuming that you are reasonably proficient now at standing and balancing), more info on choosing a board, waves and conditions and a history of surfing. Throughout the book is packed with jokes and interesting anecdotes that relate to the material being covered. I found the book so readable that I practically finished it in one sitting and actually remembered most of the good points in it. It manages to make explaining surfing simple, which I later found it is certainly not after repeatedly falling off a surfboard for several days and getting buffeted by waves paddling out again and getting clonked on the head by a surfbaord (fortunately a beginner's foam board). However the rush that you do get when you finally do manage to stand, or flail about like a lunatic, i s so great that you will forget all of this straight away, just like the man in the book says. So overall a brilliant book which does what sports books should do all along, make it look interesting and enjoyable!
I've been a fan of Wetherspoons pubs increasingly over the last few years. Their drinks are always cheap, food is also cheap, good for what it is and they tend to be popular - there's nothing worse than going into a pub that is virtually empty. The most obvious advantage is the prices - as in the southwest this can be well over £2 per pint in most places a round can get expensive quickly. In the Wetherspoons it can be up to half this and so drinking is much cheaper. I've found this is the same everywhere - Leeds (lucky enough to have a few in the centre), Bristol, Cheltenham, Newquay - you can always get cheap lager or bitters. There is always a good choice of bitters - most have Spitfire, Directors, Flowers and somethimes Old Speckled Hen or IPA and always most of the usual lagers (Stella, Carling, Kronenbourg etc) some of which are usually on special offer and as little as £1.50. Bottles are even cheaper if on promotion - I've got them for as little as a pound. There's also lots of wines and mixers - Vodka and Red Bull is usually cheap in them. All of them have plenty of seating and no smoking areas and you don't have to wait long at the bar. They also have the prices of the drinks on the menus with the promotions highlighted on them so cheapskates can pick what they want easily. The food is also cheap and served till late - they are one of the few places I have found in some towns who still serve food late on Sunday. The food is fairly basic - fish and chips, lamb burger, Curry although it is good value (about 2 to 3 quid) but not spectacular. Thereagain most pub food is not spectacular and it's better than a Little Chef or MacDonalds. A lot has been made of Wetherspoons policy of having no music in the pubs. I found this made the atmosphere better in the pub and you don't have to bellow to make yourself heard or have to lean forward Grandpa Simpson style to listen to what someone' s saying. Most of the pubs don't have TV in them, although the one in Newquay had Sky TV and football on plasma screens most evenings. The pubs keep their costs down by usually being in locations slightly out of town centre or by setting up new Wetherspoons over old banks, hotels, and even church halls. This means that they sometimes are a bit further than the main pubs and action in the town and are set out a bit differently - you don't usually get high ceilings with chandeliers or toilets at conference-centre quality in most pubs! The other problem is the decor in the pubs which I think is too dark in most of the pubs - they do not seem to like beech flooring or the contemporary settings and colours of modern pubs or bars. The tables and chairs tend to be the standard dark wood types. I've never seen or heard of any trouble or fights in one of their pubs. The clientele also seems to be a greater age range in the pubs, much more people 30 plus than normal but less people in their early twenties etc. I wasn't aware that they didn't let children in but now looking back I see that this made them better and you don't get annoying little brats running around as happens in many pubs that serve food. However there may be larger groups of people and older people usually, especially groups meeting up after work. For this reason I don't like to spend a whole evening in them but they make a good start out for a night out to meet up and get a few drinks cheaply. I've done well by timing my round to be at the Wetherspoons on a few occasions before moving onto the other bars. I've heard of a few stories of local pubs objecting to new Wetherspoons being set up, probably because all of them do so well. But then since the drinks are much cheaper it's not of a surprise.
This could have started a bit better. To the tune of the gospel song 'Operator' the credits show some hi-tech images zooming around satellites, comms lines, phone circuit boards and fly through clouds and then zoom in from space onto New York into street level and a mobile phone. This then cuts out to the standard Hollywood stereotype image of 4 guys standing on a street singing to make it look like they are actually singing the theme tune - yawn............ However this then moves straight to the action after a quick public information voiceover about the usage of phone booths in New York, still high in spite of mobile phone usage. Colin Farrell plays Stu Sheppard, a smarmy publicist who is cheating on his wife. In the first 5 minutes we see a whirlwind sequence in which he marches down the street juggling several mobile phones and makes several phone calls, berating his assistant and his dress sense, telling him to hold the phones and stall the irate people on them. Once this is through he heads off to a phone booth to make a call to the woman he is seeing so it doesn't show on his phone bill (haven't they heard of PAYG?) This turns out to be a bad move as the phone and its calls are being listened to a local nutcase looking for his next victim who picks Stu. He phones him and effectively holds him hostage for the next 70 minutes, threatening to shoot him or passers by if he dares hang up the phone. I guess I am not spoiling anything by saying the bad guy is voiced by Kiefer Sutherland. He is very good in this although his voice seems to be deep and resonant in stereo for all the film, not what what you'd expect from a public phone. However what makes the film so good is how he proceeds to taunt Stu and keep up the level of terror and suspense all the time. Most of this is threatening to shoot Stu or passers by if he does not do what he wants, demonstrating early on how a high powered rifle being cocked sounds and how no-one notices if it is fired. Starting from sending a pizza delivery to the phonebooth and forcing Stu to get rid of people wanting to use the phone to making him phone his wife and confess his infidelity he keeps up a high level of threats all the time. After shooting someone by the booth he then forces Stu to insult the hostage negotiator when the police arrive. In short he is a total b*****d. He also refuses to explain why his is doing this, at first lying and pretending because he is a actor who was treated badly by Stu, then changing his story again and again.... Also makes this good is how the events occur in real time here and you see how the events build up and it snowballs into a hostage situation as the police and media arrive. It also uses split screens a la 24 to keep the actual flowing. The acting is also very good. Colin Farrell's irish accent is barely noticeable here and he very well goes through all the steps you would expect of someone desparately trying to bargain with their captor and reason with them and getting very terrified in the process. Forest Whittaker is also good as a hostage negotiator, playing realistically but also with some humanity as he shares information with Stu and you almost feel sorry for him. Kiefer Sutherland is excellent as the bad guy, menacing and malevolent throughout. This clocks in quite short at only about 70 minutes but this races through even though most of the action is with Colin Farrell on the phone in the phonebooth. The script is quite sharp although it does get a little sentimental as a few points, but luckily not too much. For some reason this reminded me of similar US 'urban tale' films like Dog Day Afternoon and King of Comedy. It got slagged off bit on its cinema release as being daft but seems to be getting a better reception on video and it is also better suited to the small screen. I quite enjoyed it and it makes an interesting change from all the CGI bloc kbusters and franchises that have been vomited out over this summer.
Resist was one of my favourite albums that I bought last year, managing to do well as a dance and rock crossover. It had both chart hits such as Hungry as well as club hits like Suicide and Hide U that did well on the Drum and Bass scene, covered with breakbeats and jungle/garage loops and Sian Evan's vocals. Bristol based Kosheen seem to have moved in a different direction with their next album. I bought this on the strength of their single All In My Head. Unfortunately most of the other songs on the album sound like this one. Now I don't want to have a go at a band for sounding different or moving in a new musical direction but here I think it's gone in the wrong direction, losing the electronic breaks and garage sound and moving more towards synthesisers and MOR territory - none of it sounds new anymore. Thereagain I suppose in Bristol we have heard enough of the 'Bristol sound' being mentioned and Tricky and Massive Attack being brought up all the time when a new Bristol band is reviewed so you can't fault anyone from trying to get away from it before it's too late and they get labelled. The album starts off well enough with the first 2 tracks. 'Wasting My Time' could well be another single, starting well with its chugging guitars sound with a strong melody loaded with guitars and synthesisers sound over it. 'All In My Head' is basically more of the same but sounds better and has a stronger chorus. These two are more reminiscent of Hungry from the last album but with a harder sound with less acoustics and heavier sounding guitars and electronics. Unfortunately the rest of the album goes downhill from there. Most of the other tracks are weaker songs put to the same backing. 'Wish' sounds more Massive Attack influenced with dark slow beats and 'Blue Eyed Boy' is also good with its mix of sweeping acoustic guitars, similar pulsating beats with synthesisers making the background n oises, but the rest sound like dated or badly written songs remixed with electronic swirls and loops placed over them. These sounds place a chilled-out ambience over some of the tracks, but not as strongly as the first album and there are no jungle beats like on '(Slip and Slide) Suicide'. Several music reviews have described the album as sounding like Garbage (the group, not just saying it's rubbish) and I'd agreed that it sounds a lot like their first album, combining rock with more dance sounds and sythesisers (what they call Electronica over in the US) but with the main choruses often bringing the guitars out. This is not necessarily a bad thing but for me there was not enough variety in the songs and I hope they start going back towards their original sound for the next album.