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In the year 2077, Earth has been left ravaged by war with an alien race known as Scavs, a war won only by resorting to nuclear weapons after the moon was destroyed and tsunamis and earthquakes struck our planet. Relocation to space station Tet and Titan, one of Jupiter's moons, only a few were left behind on Earth on elevated base stations to repair droids which monitor and destroy any remaining Scav activity. Tech 49 Jack Harper is teamed with Vika Olsen in their shift as a droid repair team; their time is coming to an end and soon, they will be able to leave for Titan. Then Jack stumbles across some Scavs and realises that all may not be as it seems. There is an element of mystery to this sci-fi thriller. Large parts of the film progress rather slowly, and although this serves to build up the tension, it's not as clear cut as that as you're let wanting something more to happen a lot sooner. This may well be because I had the impression it was going to be more of an action film than it is, but sci-fi thriller is probably a better way to describe it. Cleverly written and transferred to the screen, you can see that the vision of the original creator has manifested itself onto the big screen. It helps that Joseph Kosinski, the creator of the original graphic novel upon which this is based, is also the producer and director, as well as having adapted the screenplay. Things are bleak. Pale grey is the dominant colour, and morose acceptance the dominant mood, at least for the majority of the film. There are some surprising moments, and a few of the twists are very well delivered, but the overall feeling is one of moroseness. A lot of the basic plot is delivered through a voiceover from Harper at the beginning of the film, and the scientific nature of the film is probably a good vehicle for successful Hollywood star Tom Cruise to choose top billing. He gets a lot of flack, but I generally tend to like how he acts in films and usually like watching the films. He has been involved in some howlers, but generally gets it right. Oblivion suits him well, and his understated delivery matches the mood throughout the film. He is well supported by Andrea Riseborough as Vika, and as other characters start coming into play, they also have a generally positive impact on the film; in particular Morgan Freeman and Game of Thrones' Nicolaj Coster-Waldau. Action does eventually come, and the fact that it arrives almost at the same time as a few revelations that flip the plot on its head mean that we virtually jump from a generic run of the mill sci-fi film to one of action and twists. It makes you sit up and watch, and although there are plenty of unbelievable moments, you do have to suspend belief when it comes to sci-fi anyway, and this is no exception and shouldn't be considered so. The film has respect for the viewer, and doesn't try to patronise by unnecessarily explaining everything; it does however ensure that enough information is given so that we're aware of the developments. We're given the chance to make our own inferences at times, which I do like as long as things are somewhat cleared up at the end, which they are. It's a shame that the depth wasn't a bit more involved. The first part of the film does take so long to get going that it gets a bit boring. There are easy spoilers to make, so I can't go into too much detail, but Harper's occasional dreamlike flashbacks are in contrast with the security-based memory removal protocol of droid repairmen, and these flashbacks early on confuse you more than anything else. I know they're designed to make you start thinking while the slow stuff is happening, but it just confuses. Of course, all becomes clear later on, but I have to admit that it took two or three attempts at watching this before I finally made it all the way through. It's worth a watch, and so easily could have been even more than just this. There's some sophistication at play here, and with a clear vision from the director, then you get the message loud and clear. The Hollywood ending is annoying, but I won't go into details to spoil it for you. Cruise is actually very good, and the support is well matched to his lead. I probably wouldn't watch it again by choice, but if it was on then I certainly wouldn't grumble about having to sit through it. Worth a watch.
It had been a while since I had read a Val McDermid book, and even longer that her recurring character of profiler Tony Hill had been in one. Having been made into a TV series with Robson Green playing Hill, the automatic mind's eye then reverts to type and gives you a preordained mental image of the character, such was the gap between my first Tony Hill book and this one. I must admit, most of McDermid's earlier work and in particular her stand alone novels, are excellent. Thrilling, twists and turns and with that knack of being really hard to put down, so Beneath the Bleeding had been sitting on my shelf for a long time threatening to be read next. I finally took the plunge, and the book flowed very freely indeed. However, it wasn't a free flow that was because it was gripping; rather that there wasn't much substance in the first chunk of the book, it was all setting the scene. One disadvantage of reading books out of sequence is that you'll often get passages which don't make sense as they refer to events in previous books. This is very much the case here, and while previous events are covered enough to understand the importance of them, certain things are brought up a number of times and it detracts from the reader's enjoyment if they're not privy to the previous books. What is clear is that McDermid needed a way to introduce something new to the approach, and this must be one of the hardest things to do for an author looking to add something different to a familiar mix. The clever element is that she renders the usually very involved Tony Hill immobile by involving him in an attack right at the start of the book that results in him being hospitalised for the majority of the impending case. The platonic relationship he has with DI Carol Jordan, often mistaken for romance by many, is tested by the inclusion of his domineering mother to the mix, although to what ends we're not certain for a while. So when a case actually presents itself, McDermid has already ensured that a different approach must be taken. A Premiership Bradford footballer is poisoned with poison usually associated with terrorism, ricin. and this sets alarm bells ringing. As Jordan and her team investigate, us readers are privy to a secondary plot thread running, that of a potential bomb to be set off at Bradford's stadium, and the poisoner is not done with his task either. Jordan faces not only an intensely public and politically sensitive case, but the arrival of the local terrorist task force, a collection of rude and obnoxious egotists in SWAT gear and sunglasses. With Hill only able to help from hospital, despite his stubborn attempts to get mobile too early, the pressure is on even more than usual, and McDermid gives us something with a slightly different front. Like I said, it had been a while since I'd read a Tony Hill book, but even so there was significant difference that I managed to notice just fine. The main one was that the clinical plot development was somewhat missing. There were moments where things developed quickly, but then they slowed down and there were a stack of pages developing something else, or providing information about Hill's mother's visits. You could tell there was something going on there, but it was never really all that clear. The characters were thrown out of their comfort zones, and in all honesty it was a bit too much. Throwing a modern form of crime into the mix and switching the narrative between Jordan, Hill and those involved from a nefarious perspective could have worked, but not while Hill was in hospital, the terrorist squad were treading on everyone's toes, previous books' events were being revisited to develop character and explain, and Jordan was sneaking around behind the SWAT lookalikes' backs. It was too much to be able to just relax and enjoy. Don't get me wrong: it's still good; it just doesn't pass muster when compared to McDermid's other work that I have read. I'm not certain that some of the character developments would even work in the long run, although some characters are very well utilised indeed. There are clear developments for subsequent titles in the series, and I should think that a lot of them work very well, but this seems almost like the aftermath of a detox from the author, and an attempt to revitalise the same people and places without them having to be replaced. There are some great moments, and the twists and some of the revelations are extremely well thought out. There is closure on a lot of parts of the book, and while I could see that a lot of things were earmarked for subsequent titles, it would have nice for it to finish with a bit more clarity that it did. I enjoyed reading it, as McDermid's writing style is very fluid and easy to digest, while maintaining enough detail to mean that it's clearly deeper than something like a James Patterson novel, for example. However, the combination of too much going on and too much change was a bit too awkward to take in all in one go, and so I wouldn't earmark this as one of her best. Worth a read, but nothing special.
The danger with accumulating a horde of praised quality actors together in one film is that the focus ends up being on them rather than the story. However, when the acting performances are stellar, and particularly when the cast recognise this danger and realise that it's not just about them but about the story, a particular gem is the result. Adapting John Le Carre's celebrated novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TTSS) is not a new thing - a 1980 adaptation free from today's technology had particular resonance, even if the cast wasn't as much a tour de force as this 2011 version promotes, despite the inclusion of greats such as Alec Guiness and Ian Richardson. Director Tomas Alfredson, acclaimed for his work in his native Sweden, is establishing a serious CV of films under his belt; Let The Right One In was a breakthrough for him and TTSS has proven to mark him firmly on the map despite nothing having emanated from him since other than a special mention from J A Bayona while directing The Impossible. Here in TTSS you can see the control he exerts over the timing as he twists the Cold War knife and makes you watch the screen while this is on. The plot is one that requires particular scrutiny from the start, particularly if you haven't read the book. The film develops using a series of flashbacks mixed with current events and revolves around subterfuge, spies and trust, or a complete lack thereof. The main character is George Smiley, brought out of retirement to investigate claims of a Russian mole high up in MI6's ranks. We learn through flashbacks that Smiley had previously left the Service following the death of an Agent during a meeting in Budapest; a death that resulted Control, the then head of MI6, leaving his role; an act which now sees the mole in a more powerful position according to sources. Smiley must find out whether the rumours are true and, if they are, uncover the mole. There's an unspoken air of disappointment from Smiley, throughout the film. Control's retirement is forced following the botched job, and he takes Smiley with him. Despite this, the two remain old friends, and Control is a central point in Smiley's flashbacks. To this end, the subterfuge begins. Someone in the upper echelons is a mole, if sources are to be believed. Smiley's poker face and his uncanny knack for unearthing the truth kick into action - I was riveted. It helped, having an interest in the Cold War. Although I was at school when Reagan and Gorbachev shook hands to end the horrible period of gathering intelligence and accumulating weaponry without actually engaging in physical war, the potential conflict must have been something of immense mental anguish for so long, ever since the end of the Second World War. Britain, a major player on the side of the US, engaged in plenty of international spying and tensions were high. I almost think this situation lends itself to more espionage tension within fiction than actual conflict such as the devastation of the Wars and of the recent and current situations with international conflict that has occurred since perestroika and glasnost. Robert Ludlum made full use of this in his lengthy works, and while I haven't read Le Carre, watching this and seeing the clever depths of plot and characterisation have made me want to seek out some of his work. As Smiley investigates the allegations, we meet a number of interesting characters, although it's not until later in the film that we realise the title's relevance; that the four main suspects for the mole are given the titular codenames for reference purposes. There are other major characters in the tale, and these are given equal importance by Alfredson, in particular the source of the information regarding the mole, the elusive Ricki Tarr; former information analyst Connie Sachs; and Irina, the wife of a Russian official with some relevance. This is perhaps the most engaging element, and it makes you consider all angles without dismissing any of them. When the final 'reveal' happens, it's perhaps not a surprise as such, but the plot is so well unfolded throughout the film that it brings with it a sense of satisfaction rather than a shock twist (which I do enjoy so much). Alfredson's control works up to a certain point, but the cast he has worked with exercise their substantial talents and flex their acting muscles in the most subtle of ways. Gary Oldman (now officially the highest grossing actor of all time) is particularly excellent as Smiley, and I think the way in which he hardly says anything for the first 20 minutes or so of the film, despite being on screen nearly all the time, speaks volumes about his realisation in what is needed for the role. Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr is equally brilliant - I've seen him in many roles now and I admire his ability to adapt his skills to any role (although his involvement in awkward 'comedy' This Means War is probably one to forget). I can't wait to see him as Leo in the adaptation of Tom Rob Smith excellent debut novel Child 44 (alongside Oldman); and as the titular character in the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road. Adding to my trio of favourite performances here is Mark Strong as the Budapest Agent sparking the whole thing off. Similar to Hardy, I have come to expect excellence from his performances, no matter the quality of the film, and he didn't let me down here. I was particularly impressed with how he dealt with the importance of his role during his performance. Aside from these who, for me, were the outstanding three performances in this film, the cast is littered with top billed names. Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds, Stephen Graham, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kathy Burke, Toby Jones, the late Roger Lloyd Pack and the evergreen and ever present John Hurt all add to the excellence here, and there is no weak performance. The danger with such a strong cast is that the focus is all on them and not on the plot, and I suppose there is no getting away from this. It happens quite often whenever a cast such as this is assembled; it happened in Marvel's Avengers Assemble, and in two George Clooney focused films, namely Ocean's Eleven and Monuments Men. There are moments in TTSS where the magnitude of the cast overshadows the plot, and other characters the actors have played are recognisable within some performances. The vast majority of the time though, this is clearly all about the film and not about its cast. There is of course the argument that this is all boring. It is possible that my interest in the Cold War and in spy novels and films and all things 'spy' cloud my judgement as to whether this is a good film or not. It may well be that the guessing game is not what interests you and you like things to be clear, or at least for events to be linear and chronological as opposed to every other sentence containing some hidden meaning that make you wonder what you missed and whether you should rewind and watch it again. If this is you, or if you agree with my surmising, then this may well not be the film for you; or even the genre for you. TTSS is firmly based on Cold War spy stuff, and this is where the detail lies. If you're after twists and turns without many revelations, and particularly like gathering the pieces of the puzzle and working things out for yourself, you may be frustrated but still enjoy this. If you're happy to just let things wash over you while you take it all in, you'll likely be highly entertained. I personally loved it. I thought the way the plot was developed showed skill, from behind and in front of the camera. The cinematography is all essential in a film such as this. People often think that sci-fi, CGI,action and animation are where the tech guys with their tools earn their bucks, but I firmly believe that the films where these elements cannot take centre stage are where the use of these tools are most important as they mustn't be noticed. Camera angles, flowing panning and lighting are explored with depth and the utmost importance throughout TTSS, and I'm more than happy to admit that there were times where I wasn't sure what was happening. I tried a couple of times to multitask and check an email or a facebook post, but lost the plot (pardon the pun!) and had to rewind. Don't begin to think you can do anything other than watch this, and although there are moments where the pace slows down, it all adds to the tension. Take a couple of hours out of your time, sit down with a cognac in your favourite armchair with a pensive look on your face, and imagine you're an international secret service agent. Lose yourself in this and keep watching RIGHT until the end. Great film - loved it!
It won't be long now before hayfever starts becoming a big issue for many people, particularly in the more rural areas. Living by the coast, I sometimes find that a quick trip to the beach can dispell any of the allergens in the air that cause my hayfever, but this isn't always successful and on days when there is a high pollen count I find I need extra help. For years I have used Clarityn, and while this does help to a certain extent, I find that my nose gets really twitchy whenever the count is high. As a result, I've started to use a nasal spray instead. I've tried a few, but the most reliable seems to be Beconase, which can come in different comes but this spray has been the most effective for me. It should cost around £5 for a bottle which should last the majority of the pollen season. The packaging is simple; a box housing the upright cylinder of spray with a piece of paper with short operating instructions and wildly extensive disclaimers on it. The bottle has a pump at the top, with a bar stretching across at the neck that your fingers sit under to push the pump action and release the spray. The way to ingest this is to squeeze the pump a little bit first to make sure that it's working, insert it in your nostril (part of the way, no need for complete immersion!) and then pull the pump at the end of a breath in through your nose. This allows the solution to disperse inside your nose and your nasal cavity, going to work straight away on both. Do this once for each nostril. They do recommend not to overdo this, and it's important to realise that this may not be an instant cure; it can take a good few minutes before you start to see results, and it may well take a few days of constant use before you start seeing complete protection on high pollen count days. Beconase is supposed to be quite good against other airborne allergens as well, although I can only really comment on how it has been for me against hayfever as this is what I need it for. There's not really anything else I can offer in terms of how to use this and how good it is. I would suggest shaking the bottle slightly before using it, and I always make sure it's pumping okay before I try to use it. It seems to have a pretty long shelf life and works just fine even after a good few days of not using it. I find that products like this can often have a placebic effect, and I've spent a number of days certain that I'd sprayed and therefore didn't sneeze or feel much irritation before then finding out later on that there's no way I could have actually used it. I think the effects can last longer than the 24 hour period you should expect them to, and I suppose overuse carries with it a concern of preventing it from having the necessary effect you need it to. However, it hasn't let me down yet and I have my bottle alongside my packet of Clarityn tablets ready for action when the good weather and high pollen counts come back in.
Let me just say that, while I do know the author of Karrote, this fact has not influenced my opinion of it as a literary work in any way, shape or form. What it did do though is influence my decision to read it. I've known for a while that he was writing it, and when it was published last year I, like many of his friends, dutifully went and bought it from amazon, keen to support him whatever the book may be like. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement though. Having spoken to him at length since reading it, it's clear that this was no whim - he means business and from the first page, too. The book opens by introducing us to a wide expanse of beautiful countryside, and then takes us from a panning view down to a lonely rabbit, presumable preening itself before we are introduced to the grumpiest, foulest most dangerous bunny you'll ever meet...Monty Python style. Character strength is what this book is founded upon, and it's not this first character, or the last, that matters; it's the construction of the warren and their feuding with local and visiting foxes and the dynamics that evolve through the interaction that makes this a brilliant book. Meeting a number of further rabbits via a 'school' system where our lead is the class bumbling idiot, his only friend a hyperactive albino escapee from a science lab, and the love interest a drastically overweight nymphomanic with eyes only for our frigid hero. It could be any teenage angst book were it not for the fact that it's set in a rabbit warren, there is a predatory gathering of foxes nearby just waiting for the right moment to strike, and you just know that there's going to be bloodshed at any moment when they strike. Oh, and one more thing...that grumpy, foul, dangerous bunny I mentioned earlier? Well, he's hiding something quite special from the other rabbits. Something painfully awesome. And no, I won't tell you what it is. Just trust me, it's worth reading this and finding out for yourself. Duncan Watkinson's writing style is very casual. It slots in between writing that it simple enough to follow, and that which is detailed enough to not seem like a skimming read. The plot has depth, and just as you think you've understood exactly what is going on, another twist is thrown in. The plot switches between the rabbits going about their daily lives, and the foxes as they realise that the warren is not as impenetrable and defended as they first thought. There's clever contrast between the heads of each colony, which sophisticated names such as Kenneth heading the foxes and Pansy the leporine hero; but don't be too quick to glorify all of the rabbits nor paint the foxes all as villains; there's much more going on here than a simple divide, and it's not long before rabbit politics and foxly cowardice and selfishness start to show exactly why the status quo has been so calm for so long. I mentioned earlier that the characters are what drives this, and it's the comedy in the dialogue that helps develop the motley cast we get. Our hero is named Dickweed, his albino best mate Fizz, the love interest Bluebell, while Pansy the grumpy one defies anyone to tease him about his name. There are school bullies, a fighter, a run in with a paranoid truck driver who could have sworn he saw a ninja albino feral rabbit attacking him like it was playing chicken (that's EXACTLY what was happening...), and an incredibly long drop at one end of the warren called Aaaaaaahhhhsplat, for obvious reasons. The comedy is at times puerile. There are vulgarities, obscenities and improper use of language and descriptive passages. But none of it is out of place and unnecessary. There are a few moments where the focus seems to fade in and out, but the filler content during these parts is still relevant to the main plot and tale, and the writing style does not refuse the content, merely adopts it and allows for the continued development of the characters where the plot fades, or the plot where the characters plod on. There's a real clever way of communication given that foxes and rabbits can't use phones, and in fact a whole host of clever small things that will make you smirk in admiration for how they've been subtly put in. I'm hoping there's more creative juice in the author's tank. When I spoke to him, he certainly had ideas for development with the tale, and I guess a lot of it depends on the success of this and where things take him. I figure, therefore, that it's in my own interest to promote this as best I can. It was impossible to put down and it's been a ridiculously long time since I've read a debut novel and finished begging for a sequel or prequel or something, anything. If you're looking for something as a present for your dad for Christmas or birthday, or you're stuck for a gift for someone who loves a good laugh, then get stuck into amazon and order one of these - they'll thank you for it, and it's now available as a Kindle edition as well. Karrote has hit the ebooks. Recommended.
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger had a successful partnership of filmmaking, with Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp being the most well known of their films along with The Red Shoes. This last is a beautiful film in terms of visuals, featuring a story within a story as it focuses on ballet and the politics of the art. It makes a good effort of displaying the lengths people will go to in order to achieve perfection. The film portrays legendary ballet manager Boris Lermentov, needing to find some magic from somewhere new as his leading lady is now married and her priorities have changed. Plucking Victoria Page from obscurity is not enough though, and bringing ambitious young composer Julian Craster to write something high octane and high quality for Page to dance to is his task. Lermentov is arrogant, and this makes him blind to the fact that there is a blossoming romance between his two new young stars, a romance that if discovered by Lermentov could cause the entire performance and the careers of the two proteges to implode. The film has been hailed as glorious, and in many ways it is. Powell and Pressburger's films are designed to do something more than just present what you see on screen, and the clever thing here is that there are a number of deeper things going on. The film is presented not just as a story with a new ballet in it, but as two separate story, with the new ballet actually forming part of the tale. The first half of the film features the three main characters as they prepare for the upcoming ballet: the manager intent on his new star staying away from love for fear of it interfering with the ballet; the dancer falling for the dashing young new composer; and the composer with a chance of a lifetime not realising that starting something romantic could ruin it all. This element of the film flows very well and is interesting. It is clear and enjoyable. However, when the ballet performance starts, the film then launches a second tale, that of the story within the ballet. It's designed for the leading lady to portray someone dancing to her death, and although I tried to maintain my focus, it just wasn't as interesting or anywhere near as emotion inducing as it probably should have been. If you don't like ballet that much, then this bit is likely to bore you; it did me. Once the ballet has finished, everything is different. The clever thing is just how different the three main leads are having experienced the performance, as if a light has been turned on for each of them. The film certainly does a good job of showing how something so emotional for all involved can have such an impact in their real lives; but it just doesn't gather the flow it had before the ballet sequence. Part of this for me was my own interpretation of the film, how I was feeling towards it as it progressed. My interest had all but disappeared during the lengthy ballet sequence and I just couldn't get into it again. Had I been able to do so I may well have been able to enjoy it more, but even though I could see it was an impressive film for the right person, I wasn't that person and couldn't really enjoy it. Overall then, a disappointing film for me. I can see from an artistic point of view that it has laudable elements, and for someone who enjoys ballet it's probably a good film. However, I enjoyed Black Swan and the ballet moments were just more dramatic and fitting with the tale for me. Here, I just found the switch too much for me, and it lost my focus. By the time the film finished I felt nothing and was a bit disinterested. Not one I'd recommend.
I have recently started wearing contact lenses again, if only on an occasional basis. I used to wear them regularly, but find that this is impractical and it's a lot easier just to wear my glasses. Revisiting the range of contacts, I thought I'd go for a range I hadn't previously tried, and these seemed to be better suited for me. I have an astigmatism, which means my eyes aren't completely round. This means that wearing glasses can provide 100% correction, but putting contact lenses in usually doesn't. However, with these lenses, there is some sort of design method which means that the astigmatism is corrected along with the sight. Contact lenses are complicated creatures, but they are essentially glasses that sit right on your eyes as opposed to on the bridge of your nose; beyond that I don't really need to know much more. In all honesty though, there's not really anything different between these dailies and other brands I've tried before. The packaging is the same - thin box with strips of lenses in individual containers joined together in lines. You have to separate each one off, and then when you're ready to put them in you peel back the foil lined plastic seal to reveal the lens sitting in some contact lens solution. The solution is standard, and the lens is ready to put in. A pack lasts for a month. You get 30 individually packed lenses in a box, and two boxes (one for each eye). Depending on where you get them from, a month's supply is likely to cost you just shy of £30 or so - it's essentially roughly £1 per day to have these. Obviously, if like me you don't wear them every day, only once or twice a week, then a month's supply will last substantially longer - the expiry date on these is usually miles away. They feel pretty good when you put them in, and they do slot in very well to adjust the astigmatism. I wouldn't say they do it perfectly, and my optician has said that lenses rarely replicate the improvements a pair of glasses will do, but they do feel comfortable. It may well be that the astigmatism adjustment element is as a result of thinking it will happen; maybe it actually does happen. It's just not all the time. The packaging is okay, pretty standard. The one thing that isn't always done though is in marking which is for your left eye and which is for your right. Usually, your eyes will require different prescriptions, and the further these are apart then the more you will notice if you've put them in the wrong eye. My optician will check my prescription when I collect the lenses, and mark the boxes in front of me to make sure they've got them right and that I'm reassured of this; if you get these sent straight to you then this is obviously not possible and you'd need to make sure you know exactly what your prescription is for your eyes and mark the boxes yourself. They're daily disposables, so you're not supposed to use these for more than one day at a time. Obviously you could do, but they're thinner because they're dailies and this means that they're not stable for more than one day. I have worn dailies for two days before when I've found myself without a new pair but have needed to wear them, but this is not advised at all. So, these are decent lenses. There's nothing particularly special about them from my perspective, but they are solid and reliable and may correct your astigmatism. Affordable and running in at the same price, packaging etc as other brands, these are worth giving a go.
Director David Lynch is quoted as saying that you can 'feel the history of Hollywood' as you go along Mulholland Drive. Perhaps this is why his quirky dark thriller takes on the style of a film noir and really makes you wonder what is going on; the hidden meanings, irregular plot and character shifts take you on a guessing trip like no other. Lynch's directing style has always been known for incompletion; that is, many of his films, especially his earlier work, leave stories open ended and don't present a complete or coherent tale. He is adamant though that Mulholland Story tells exactly the story he intended it to, and that it is complete. You'll have to make up your own mind whether or not you find it complete. Either way, there is a lot that can be inferred from it. He presents a small number of main characters who become someone else halfway through the film, without warning and without explaining who is the real character and whether or not we're in a dream. The film starts with two short scenes. In one, a character played by Naomi Watts receives applause on stage; in another, a character played by Laura Harring narrowly escapes being murdered in a car accident but suffers amnesia as a result. The film then develops these two characters to the moment they meet, and then charts their progression as one tries to make it big as an aspiring actress in Hollywood, while the other tries to remember who she is. As Lynch develops the characters, we start to see the insecurities and knock downs of Hollywood rearing their ugly heads, and then just as we start to understand what we're watching and who is who, he flips everything on its head and starts playing around with characters' names and their roles. What results is the viewer questioning which portrayal is true of each character. Lynch's film often revolve around dream states and alternative realities, so those who have seen some of his work before will recognise a lot of the projected confusion. Names are switched between characters, actors and actresses are challenged into projecting first one person and then someone completely different, and seemingly unconnected events, characters and conversations suddenly start to have relevance. The clever thing with Lynch though is that where some questions are answered by this switch, it also raises plenty of further questions that previously weren't needed. It's confusing, I'll admit. It's certainly not the sort of film you can drift in and out of paying attention to; there's no way you could do anything else while watching this and still have a clue of what's going on. In fact, it's hard enough to know what's going on even if you do pay attention throughout. The thing is, it's a thriller, and a dark one. There are scenes with clever dialogue and arresting action, and there are scenes which are a bit disturbing, but underneath it all, it's a thriller. There are mysteries and deep character development, sinister murder attempts and desperate people trying to get ahead in front of and behind the camera. It also gives some actors and actresses the chance to show off their acting prowess. Watts and Harring are particularly good, the former outshining everyone else in the film. Justin Theroux and Melissa George give good turns, Mark Pellegrino looks like he's loving his run as a bungling hit man, and some of the extras wouldn't look out of place under Tarantino's direction, there's so much eccentricity and verbosity involved. It's entertaining, for sure, and if you can make sense of it then it's arguably brilliant. But as much as this is on film experts' top lists for the brilliant mind of David Lynch, it does make it one of those films which is nigh on impossible to completely understand, and therefore leaves too much doubt as far as I'm concerned in order for it to be a conclusively great film. Good yes, great no. I like films that make you think; that have closure but are almost too much for our minds to take it (Twelve Monkeys, Inception) but this is a stretch too far. There's no way of knowing for sure which of the various options are reality. The only thing to know for sure is that whatever you choose as your level of comprehension, it inevitably will leave some things unexplained and impossible to connect. Watch it, but keep a wide open mind.
I procured this vidcam for work a couple of years ago, looking for something that was not only compatible with our systems but also had plenty of the features that people using it would need. Our previous vidcams had been much lower as they had been bought a good few years before that, and while they were decent quality at the time, it indicates just how fast the technology moves on that they are now considered only as emergency backup at work. The Panasonic SDR-S50 series of video cameras pride themselves on their quality no matter the scenario you're filming in. What caught my attention first of all with this was not the ease of use, but the powerful zoom. Having researched carefully and finally bought the product, this was the first thing I looked for in trying it out. Before doing this though, it's important to get the full charge onto the battery, which is detachable and attached to the rear and exterior of the device but is specific to the device. We've moved away from buying devices which use AA and AAA batteries as buying reliable rechargeable ones when they're in constant use and regularly need to be charged up leads to all sorts of issues with testing and reliability, so devices with their own specific battery design are preferred. Once fully charged, which only takes a couple of hours, it's time to turn it on. Opening the side viewfinder, it's obvious straight away that this swivels vertically to offer 360 degree visibility when filming at awkward height angles. The revealed interior contains a few buttons, including the power and delete options, as well as the slot for the SD card. Pressing the power button, the device turns on very easily. It's a tiny button and you have to make sure you've clicked it. I know many people use nails to press buttons but unless you use your actual finger you may think the button isn't working. I wouldn't say this is a fault or a criticism, merely an observation. Open the lens cap! There's a very simple slide button at the front of the device that slides the lens cap down, an interior one rather than a removable clickable cover, but make sure you remove it! The amount of times I've had to remind people that you'll only get useful audio if you film the inside of the lens cover. If you're worried about reminding yourself, make sure you can see what you're filming through the viewfinder before pressing the record button. It holds like a regular horizontal video camera, a strap provided on the right to slide your fingers through when getting ready to film. This is adjustable, with velcro. Very easy to do with your left hand to get the proper tightening without the need to remove your hand. Once your hand is in place, you should find the relevant controls where you need them. The first thing I did was check out the zoom. There's a toggle button on the top which your index should sit comfortably by when you've slotted your hand through the strap, and as you move your finger from side to side, you zoom in and out. Moving it by a small amount zooms slowly, and moving it as far as it will go zooms substantially quicker. And I wasn't disappointed. I work where there are clear views across a valley a good mile or two away, and I used this as a good test to see how far I could zoom in and still see. I was able to focus on a building at a substantial distance away, and clearly see features such as drainpipes, stains on walls, fencing, even leaves on trees. It's the x78 optical zoom that did it, and it's one of its biggest positives. One particularly popular use has been in filming sports; where filming from one sideline at a rugby match for example used to be a pain to get the action all the way on the other side, with this you wouldn't miss a thing. For coaching, it's really good. There's no waterproof feature on this though, so for outdoor use in wet weather conditions, you'd still need the protection of an umbrella or something like that. I wouldn't get this wet - it looks as if there are too many easy opportunities for water to cause untold damage. The record button is conveniently located though, so whereas your index finger sits perfectly poised for zooming, your thumb can't help but sit right next to the record button, which is adjacent to the slim battery pack on the rear. Depressing it makes it obvious when it's recording, and a red light appears on the viewfinder and the time starts ticking. You can zoom during recording too. Another in-filming feature is the photo button. Pressing this takes a photo without making a sound, so that you can have video and photo footage of the same thing. I get annoyed by some video cameras which make an audible noise when you click buttons, take a photo or do any other function during filming - it detracts from the quality of the audio and can be very annoying. There's none of that with this video camera. Film quality is very good, crisp and clear. The zooming allows for dynamism in filming, and reviewers who are disappointed at the quality of some of the videos may not have made full use of some of the extra features. Using the OIS (optimum image stabilisation, I think) feature allows for filming things that are moving but keeping them without blurring. At zoom level, you can imagine that a lot of the moving elements are moving at more of a pace where the camera is concerned, and if you're not on a tripod or have nerves of steel, then there's the motion of your hand to take into account. OiS with filming and using the iA focus option with photos make sure that the focus is spot on and no blurring happens. Just be careful what filming options you have selected though - I've seen plenty of disappointing filming where outdoor settings are used indoor and there's a slight streak around some objects as if looking through hazy eyes or some film director has applied a visual dynamic setting to make you on edge. Reading the instructions carefully and making the wide range of settings are properly used is the key to getting this to work. I'm not saying it's completely perfect, as there are newer models that are now even better, but this will give you crisp and clear videos and photos as long as you have the correct settings in place. An 8GB SD card should give you a couple of hours of footage, and while I haven't filmed constantly for 2 hours, the battery has lasted very well whenever I've used it. It charges easily, and you can easily use the connection cable to transfer your content to PC or anything else after use. Deleting items is also easy, although I have to say that sometimes when transferring content to CD or DVD afterwards, I've received a card error message that just says 'check card' on the record mode, and 'error' on the play mode (which, incidentally is a completely simple toggle between a red button symbol and a play button symbol). If you get this error, I've found that the only way of eradicating this is to (safely) remove the SD card and use an external card reader to delete the folders the recordings automatically slot into. Other than this, I've had no issues whatsoever. It's a delight to use and the quality is impressive. There are now slimmer and smaller devices which are just as powerful, and these would certainly help for portability reasons, but this is still a top notch high powered video camera, and is likely to be slightly reduced in price as there are further versions available. If you're after something where the video and audio are quality and is easy to use, then this is a good move. The zoom is the icing on the cake for me - highly impressive. A video camera with ticks in all the boxes.
Doesn't tech move on quickly? A couple of years ago, I was going on about this funky new waterproof HD camcorder we'd acquired at work, and how it was state of the art, immense zoom and could withstand a whole load of barrage and abuse. Fast forward and last Summer, this was damaged and the waterproof feature was compromised. Purchasing a replacement, the standard camcorder format seemed to be less popular, instead most newer designs seemed to be the upright handheld 'action' style that this emulates. Having purchased this as a replacement, it was down to use. There are a number of impressive features on this. First of is the recording capability, which ultimately is what camcorders are needed for. It couldn't be easier, and on opening up and getting ready to pop the battery in, I found my first brownie point being handed out. The waterproof design is very clever - a couple of flick switches on the rear spine of the device means that the back panel comes open very easily, and within it are contained the battery, SD card and slot for attaching the cable. The battery pops in very neatly and the back panel is closed with even more ease. I was slightly disconcerted that seemed somewhat TOO easy and that the waterproof element couldn't possibly function under such a gentle procedure for making it watertight. We will see... Using it as a camcorder once charged (which didn't take long at all from cold) was very easy. The viewfinder flips out and rotates almost 360 degrees. It means you can film from an awkward angle but still see what you're doing. Holding it like I imagine you'd hold a pistol grip gun, your thumb naturally finds its way to the controls on the back, while the rest of your digits and your palm could comfortably support the device. It's easy to reach most of the controls - there are two main elements to this: the record/photo/zoom collection, and the menu control wheel. The record collection features a rec button on the right and the camera button on the left, meaning you can actually take a photo while in record mode. Indeed, this is the only way, there is no separate photo mode, it seems this only lies with standard digital cameras nowadays anyway, so this came as no surprise. In the middle of these two buttons, which are shaped rather unergonomically if I'm honest, are two more buttons, one on top of the other, and these allow for zooming in and out. The only thing with these is that in order to be able to zoom at fluctuating pace, the buttons aren't buttons but more pads with sensors underneath and so it feels as if you're not pressing anything, relying solely on the viewfinder to know whether or not you've pressed it. I've been caught out a couple of times with, not sure I like the zoom buttons or the weirdly hexagonal rec and photo buttons. They collectively add an element of uncertainty as to whether you've pressed them or not. Transferring your material afterwards is a doddle. Releasing the back panel again and slotting in the lead is so easy, and the other end of the lead is a USB which fits in the back of the plug socket, leaving no need for two separate cables depending on whether you're looking for charging or transferring. Incidentally, if you plug in to the PC, you can use this to charge your device, although is substantially slower than using the socket directly into the wall. Back to transferring though - once the device is connected you get options on the screen, and from choosing the SD card mode of transfer, you can then use the PC to transfer content as per any other attachable digital device. No unnecessary changes there, luckily. It being a modern gadget, there are a number of different options for transferring the content. Depending on which recording mode you have chosen, the recording can then be played on PC, TV, phone, even sent wirelessly to a destination of your choice. There's no confusion either, as when you choose from the smattering of recording modes, it visually shows you what compatibility you'll end up with as you toggle between the various different modes. The choices between some of the finer recording options aren't as clear, but here we descend into the realms of professional video photography. There are particular options for the scenario and atmosphere you have around you, and while most of us would easily be content with wowing at the zoom and fine clarity with which the potential 1920x1080 video quality and 16mp photo quality presents itself, the professional looking for something different would know in more detail what they'd need and therefore require less spoon feeding. Suffice to say that if you know your way around a digicam, then everything's clear enough. It fits well in the hand and is small enough to contain in a small bag. The reduction in size especially in terms of width from what I've used before means I could even potentially cart it around in my trouser pocket, although it's perhaps still a bit too bulky for this to result in much comfort. The buttons may not be the most ergonomic and your fingers may not have the ease and confidence with this for the first few goes, but the comfort in your hand and the design of the contours is very good indeed. The waterproof feature is perhaps the more impressive element. You can go up to 3m of depth, which is significant in terms of pressure. Imagine how you've felt trying to go to the bottom of a 2m swimming pool, the pressure in your head from that, and then add a bit more. That's quite impressive for something that's relatively affordable and seems to have a worryingly easy seal function on the back. But it works and the quality is not compromised in the slightest. If there are droplets on the screen then of course these will get filmed too, but that kind of adds to the magic of underwater filming, and sinking under and then emerging whilst filming. Another warning is that extreme water conditions such as salt water and surf are not the ideal conditions and it even suggests that damage from these isn't covered. So swimming pools on holiday are in, extreme Portugese 50 foot waves are out. I like the host of extras on it, such as the time lapse feature and the slow mo recording options. They add some extra fun that you can have with experimenting and you can learn a lot of skills by having a play. The burst mode for taking photos is also good and of particular note. The YouTube compatible software goes a step towards intelligent uploading, cutting out the stage between by letting you put it straight on your channel, and the image stabiliser also means you can wave goodbye to blurry filming. The battery lasts for a good couple of hours, which is generally the amount of space you'd have for the footage too if you use a 16gb SD card. This one has a big brother with an even more impressive spec of 10m of depth and is also shockproof up to 1.5m, but it would be rare you'd need something up to that depth so this is really good. Relatively well priced and of ergonomic design and top quality, I'd certainly recommend getting this. I'm keen to check the higher spec out, but I'd struggle to find myself in a position where I'd need to do so. So this is fine...for the moment.
There's nothing wrong with a bit of fun in a film, even if the term 'passes the time' is used in abundance. Kevin James plays a lazy Biology teacher on his last chance with school principal and has lost his enthusiasm for teaching. However, his attraction to a fellow teacher and the revelation from the principal that many of the school's more endearing and enjoyable classes will be cancelled due to a lack of funding, he takes it upon himself to find a way to raise the money to ensure the classes stay running. A chance spotting of a financial reward just for taking part in a local UFC fight leads him on to thinking all he has to do is fall over and he'll get some cash. Think again... It's really outlandish and is one of the most unlikely things to happen. An unfit and overweight Biology teacher finding himself competing in UFC tournaments and raising money to save a school's classes! But the strange thing is that it works because of the characters and because of how you as the viewer feel when you watch them. The director makes sure that there's the element of backing the underdog, and the compassion element shown from the cast (including an inspired turn from Henry Winkler as the music teacher and a couple of famous ex-UFC stars) certainly adds to the atmosphere of the film. The music also plays a big part - some high octane rock sounds really do add to the feel of the film, keeping your interest levels up and making you watch. There's a difference in tone and pace and this is probably a good move as the plot itself doesn't necessarily lend itself to being an interesting film for an hour and a half. The comedy is present throughout, which is commonplace in films such as this. You wouldn't be able to make this film successfully if it weren't a comedy, unless of course it was based on a true story and had a character actor like Christian Bale playing the lead and physically altering his shape for the duration of the film. Instead, we're treated to some of the great fun that Kevin James showed on King of Queens and some of his other comedy film roles (Paul Blart: Mall Cop, funnier than you first think). It's just pure fun from start to finish, and the unlikely nature of the underdog and the interaction with many of the characters make this something that passes the time but in a memorable fashion. Unlikely to win any awards, it clearly wasn't made for that purpose, more to entertain. Not every film should be compared to Oscar worthy performances, and this is certainly something I'd recommend if you want some entertainment on a Sunday afternoon or an evening, just to put on and smile and laugh to. Ideal to do while browsing on the computer or tidying or doing anything else, it doesn't require immense amounts of concentration but is very well written and delivered. Recommended.
An animation that kind of managed to slip through the net when it came to publicity, Alpha and Omega is a tale of romance within a wolf pack, and follows similar lines to Romeo and Juliet at many points. It deals with hierarchy and what is expected of arranged marriage but in a lupine setting, and has elements of humour, action and romance. It's not surprising that it slipped through the net, though. It's an okay film, but certainly one I wouldn't have paid to see. Our family watched it while we were away at Christmas, and it was one of those films where you didn't really mind too much if someone distracted you from it every now and then. We rewound certain bits that we felt important to the main plot, but other than that it was free flow from start to finish. It revolves around low born Humphrey and high born Kate, at complete opposite ends of their pack but thrown together when they find themselves miles away home and needing to work together in order to get back safely. It's clear from an early stage that Kate is way out of Humphrey's league, but there's always something about the cool underdog who's a bit of a street guy. Set in the country, there are no streets, but you'd imagine him hanging around the dodgier parts even though he has a good heart. Kate is quite aloof but you can tell she wants a bit of fun and adventure, and not the arranged coupling with the big butch Garth from the other pack in the area. Pack mentality is dealt with as the two heads of the pack clash over how little food is left for two warring tribes, and when a match between Kate and Garth is chosen as the unifying point for both packs, the pressure is on and Humphrey is gutted. But being carted away inadvertently, Humphrey and Kate develop their friendship as they start to realise each other's good qualities. The humour elements are dotted throughout as Humphrey is portrayed as a joker and the sort of guy who lives on the edge with absolutely no finesse. Strait laced Kate giggles and chuckles, and I suppose it makes us want to do the same. There is similar humour with Garth, but only because he is painted as the aloof athletic idiot who loves himself more than anything else and this is what is funny about him. Kate's little sister, who keeps Garth hosted during Kate's absence, provides some down to earth humour as well. The action mainly revolves around Humphrey, as he gets into and out of plenty of scrapes. There are a few opening sequences where herd of caribou are shown as the danger element, and there are a few scenes reminiscent of the excellent stampede scene in Lion King, although this falls short as if it didn't want to overdo the use of something so iconic in another animated film. It does enough to highlight the danger and provide some action as well as showcasing some of the skills of the characters. Were this a live action film and not an animation, it may have done a bit better, but the animation is a bit awkward when it comes to the facial elements of the wolves. The romance part in particular is very awkward and not done so well, and the singing (aka howling) parts as the wooing element of the male to the female are weakly done. The visuals are okay and the animation is quality, but it does fall short of most high brow animations that are released these days. I don't know whether Crest as the animation studio deliberately opted for something to make themselves stand out from DreamWorks and Disney, but although the forest designs were great, the motion animation left a little to be desired in comparison. Voice actors are in abundance when it comes to recognition: Hayden Panettiere, Justin Long, Dennis Hopper, Danny Glover and Christina Ricci are probably the best know, and they all have starring roles. They apply themselves well, but again there's nothing special. I felt slightly awkward at times with the subject matter, especially when they're discussing repopulation of the wolf pack and how the onus falls on Kate and Garth's shoulders to provide some more Alphas. Either discuss it or don't, but the fact that they dealt with it in sheepish fashion made it awkward viewing, and it was too obvious for my 9 year old to miss it and he got a little embarrassed about the whole romance thing. An average film that actually showed a lot of promise. Lion King it is not, and doesn't come close, with below par elements scattered throughout. It didn't really hold my attention, and even my 9 year old was happy to be distracted on occasion. Doesn't quite cut it with the big boys.
Superman films needed a revival. The great Christopher Reeve donned the pants outside the trousers and made an already iconic hero even more iconic, but when Brandon Routh became the superhuman from the planet Krypton it was a big flop. Merely retelling a story just wasn't going to cut it, and Kevin Spacey Lex Luthor was woefully out of sorts. So, when Zack Snyder took the helm for this reboot and Brit Henry Cavill was cast to wear the tight fitting suit, things looked a bit interesting; as did they when a back story was in the offing. Much has been told about Kal-El and Jor-El and any other 'Els' stemming from the planet. In all honesty, something different was needed, and a back story was probably the best option. The probability of 3D being added to the mix, as well as the evil Zod coming back into the fray all added to positive indicators, and with Snyder at the helm, surely this was going to be a huge blockbuster. Financially it was a great success, raking in three times as much money as it cost to make, and naturally the profits are still coming in as the funds from the DVD sales and merchandise keep coming. But in reality, I was rather disappointed by the film. The back story itself is pretty well delivered, with events on Krypton actually well covered, Russell Crowe redeeming the lack of singing prowess in Les Miserables by providing a rather convincing father to Superman before relinquishing the paternal reins to Kevin Costner on Earth. The events there were interesting, but once the action transferred to Earth it was back to the same old stuff, rehashing everything we've already seen. It the series of films weren't enough, then the TV series Smallville surely answered all questions. Yet the film felt it necessary to rehash a lot of this, and I got bored. If I drifted off during some of these bits, then the action soon brought me back. Snyder's action sequences are arguably the stuff of legend. From 300 to Watchmen, his visuals have lent considerable power to stories, and this is no exception. In a world where Superman has virtually no equal, it is refreshing to get someone from his home planet who has equal levels of power, in the form of villain Zod. I did feel that the acting could have been much better, but the action elements were impressive. The special effects and set design teams should take a bow, and the scene where Superman flies directly upwards towards his target as fast as he can (won't spoil why) is breathtakingly shot, and one of the more memorable scenes I saw in film in 2013. The entertainment factor is generally very high throughout the film. I was disappointed that Lois Lane, and the usual suspects at the Daily Planet, are all included to the extent that they are. It precludes a need to devote a certain amount of screen time to them, which inevitably detracts from the main plot arc of the reestablishment of the planet Krypton after the world it inhabits becomes terminal. This is set up early on in the film, with the opening sequences showing the advanced civilization that they are; and when we see Laurence Fishburne and Amy Adams as familiar characters running through New York dodging falling buildings, there's no real empathy because I was anxious to get back to other events - it seemed as if they were included because someone thought they probably should be. I can hope (in vain I suppose) that pointless characters are not included in the sequel which is set to star Ben Affleck as Batman, although the inevitability of their inclusion and therefore the futility of what I'm hoping are all but done. The question is how Lois and Robin get on...
I sustained an ankle injury quite a few years ago while ice skating, and although I only sprained the ankle and damaged the ligaments, this is apparently worse than breaking the bone. I'm sure this makes medical sense in terms of recovery time and potential recovery level, but having broken limb bones as well as ligament damage, I'll stick with the ligaments thanks! Having recovered from the initial pain, I was obviously not able to play sports for a while. Heavily into playing American Football, this was an issue for a while, and I probably returned to playing a lot earlier than I possibly should have done. Whether or not this is essential or even necessary, I still wear ankle braces or bracelets or supports whenever I do exercise, and I swear by them. There are varying degrees of quality, but the golden rule for me is to make sure it's protected. This particular brace is genius on a few levels. More than just your neoprene support that you slide on to your ankle and then pull your socks on over the top, this is adjustable and gives you developmental and recuperational support as well as the initial strength addition that a general support would give you. You get the neoprene support that you pull over, with your toes revealed. This has adjustability too, with two different straps to help you decide how much movement you need, both close in on the top of your ankle and low on the calf as well. I usually find that I'll tighten it for light exercise, and have it slightly looser if I know I'll need a slight amount of give in it. What I aim for is the ability to push to the limits of whatever I need to do with the support, so if I'm only walking or jogging, then a tighter fit will support these smaller movements, whereas more strenuous exercise gives the flexibility with a lighter fit in order to allow my ankle the freedom of movement but the support at the far reaches of the angles I need it to function at. If it were just a support, then these tighter or looser fits wouldn't make all that much difference, but there's a further element to this, and it's perhaps the key element as well. It doesn't really affect the movement as much as hold everything together. It's essentially a cyclinder of harder plastic that clips on to your lower calf and upper ankle. The only way I can describe is as if you were shackled with ankle cuffs, they'd sit lowe on your ankle. The difference here is that the adjustable attachment on the back is designed to stay snug to your ankle and it provides so much comfortable support (and it's meant to be on there!). You also get underfoot protection as well, with a further flexible plastic element which cups your heel and provides that extra element of support. At first this bit feels uncomfortable but it doesn't take long before you stop noticing it. I find when I'm wearing this that the psychological element of a damaged joint almost disappears as well, and I give my ankle the fuller range of movement that it probably deserves. The support is so great that my supposedly sturdier other ankle then feels inferior and not strong enough to do everything I need, and I've occasionally worn a support of some sort on that ankle too so that I feel balanced. There's no rigidity on this at all - you feel supported without feeling restricted, and the design is expertly put together to ensure that you the full benefits of wearing something like this. Had I worn this when rehabilitating, I probably would have recovered quicker and enhanced my strength sooner, allowing my naive keenness to get back onto the field its healthy timeliness. It comes at a price though, this isn't cheap. I've seen it fluctuate in price, as low as £20 or so but also as high as £50. Mine was a present, and probably something I wouldn't have forked out for, so if you have a birthday coming up or anything like that, then this wouldn't be a bad suggestion if anyone can purchase one for you. If you get it dirty it can be a slight nuisance to clean but the neoprene element is machine washable and the harder stuff scrubs easily enough. Recommended.
It's only very recently that I have encountered Japanese cartoons of a certain nature. A number of years ago I was impressed by the vision shown in Akira, but the studio Ghibli films are impressive in a different way - allowing us to maintain our memories of what childhood magic is all about. Princess Mononoke is brilliant but perhaps stretches the boundaries of belief, but this delightful offering finely balances the glossy hand drawn animation with the aforementioned magic just perfectly. Satsuki and Mei are two sisters who have just moved to the Japanese countryside from the city. Moving in with their father, a professor in Tokyo, the girls roam the house, exploring as kids love to do, and disturb the dust and dirt. Their imaginations stimulated, they see the dirt as live creatures, skitting away from room to room as they explore. As their mother is in hospital, a lady known as Granny is on hand to help them, and she explains that the girls are seeing 'soot spreaders', and that only kids can see them. It's the first of a series of magical imagination characters and events that only the girls see and the adults all knowingly and kindly play along with; it also leads the way for the girls' foray into the nearby forest and their encounter with the King of the Forest, Totoro, a sort of giant bunny like creature who can only communicate in a series of grunts and guttural noises. There is nothing sinister or scary about Totoro, even though his size and noises could quite easily be transformed into such a thing. Equally possessing of the ability to scare would be the fantasy transport conjured by the girls' minds, the Catbus, where the body of a cat bounds across the land with multiple legs and a morphing carriage upon its back. The beauty of the film is clearly how its innocence is complemented with the animation, and the constant grinning of the cat and the gentleness of Totoro really epitomise what is a lovely film. My 9 year old son and I sat and watched it, and my 2 year old was even engaged. The beauty and flow of the film is mesmerising, and as the tale progresses, there's just an air of intrigue as the plot unfolds. I say plot, but it is really a tale just of how a family settles in and some information about their family situation. Totoro is used as a vehicle for the younger sister, 4 year old Mei, to fill the void left by the move and her mother being in hospital, albeit not with a terminal illness even though whatever it is suffices for the maternal void in Mei's life. Totoro provides fantasy comfort, and while we're never really told whether much of this is steeped in Japanese folklore, it's suggested not as the adult characters show ignorance in the characters and creatures the girls describe, while other similar films often have all characters at least aware of these fantasy creatures. It measures up beautifully against its Western counterparts such as Dreamworks and Disney, where the animation is arguably not as important as the action plots. Here, the fantasy tale and the hand drawn animation are treated like art work and not just entertainment, and the difference is palpable. Hayao Miyakazi's direction is flowing and full of insight, while the score from Joe Hisaishi just relaxes you and places a permanent smile on your face. The music is intricately positioned with the visuals, matching the story precisely throughout. Soundtracks often have relevance on occasion, but there are no pointless musical elements to this; it's all relevant and the spiritual way the mood and feeling are balanced with the story, animation and music all help the smooth flow. As the film finished, my 9 year old commented on how refreshing it was to see something that wasn't CGI like Disney, and how the colours were really relaxing. The Japanese animation was dubbed, with the Fanning sisters voicing the girls, and while much of the feeling was probably lost in the translation, I'm prepared to forget this as having to read subtitles may have detracted from viewing the beauty on the screen. Flowing visuals and a genuinely heart warming tale, My Neighbour Totoro is an animation I urge you to show your kids as a beautiful refreshing change to Disney and Dreamworks' Western animation influences. Recommended.