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I've been a more upmarket coffee connoisseur for a while now but going out for what I like to call a 'posh' coffee isn't always viable. So I decided to go for a coffee machine to pump my espresso, froth my milk and help me make the face of Jesus in the milk froth (still not managed it), all in the comfort of my own kitchen.
Looking around there is a widely varied array of coffee machines out there and most will sent you back a pretty penny, an expensive piece of kit if you don't get the intended results. (yes bread maker owners I'm talking to you).
The Delonghi EC152 is probably one of the cheapest coffee makers you'll find on the market at this time. It can be picked up for about £60 online, of course the adage 'you get what you pay for' normally applies to electricals. However I saw quite a few online reviews from users who had pretty good things to say about the machine.
So when I stumbled across the machine on Ebay for £40 I decided to bite the bullet and get brewing. The machine is quite compact, small in footprint and looks quite decent in its design. It won't stand out like a sore thumb in a modern kitchen. Of course for the money you're not going to get a sleek finish, polished parts and all. It's mostly plastic on the outside but hey that's expected.
The machine is pretty simple in concept. A cover on the top opens up to reveal a removable 1-litre water container plus storage your coffee basket. Other than that there's your coffee basket handle, a basket and a measuring scoop for your coffee. To make coffee, you take your ground beans, put an amount in the basket and plug the handle into the machine. This is my only real gripe with the machine, placing the handle in the machine is not plain sailing and you have to pull it very hard to get a good seal with the water plate.
Before of course you have to tamper your coffee, there is a plastic tamper to press down your coffee, it's a bit fiddly and I really recommend getting a tamper you can hold in your hand.
So with that, you let the water heat by twisting a dial, an 'ok' light will show when it's ready, you switch the dial and let the espresso filter into your mug. Now you can leave it at that if you like your coffee strong and low in ml's. I'm a latte fan so frothing milk is the next stage for me. There is a milk frother which swings out, now you don't get a jug which is a bit of a downer so that's another thing you'll have to buy separately. The steamer can be controlled by a knob on the top of the machine. Hey presto, warm frothy milk as a result of steam!
Overall I'm very impressed with the quality of the end result when you consider the cost of the machine. If you've never made coffee at home then you'll probably need a few attempts to get the desired result. It took me six attempts to get it to a standard I was happy with. The main thing to remember is to tamper your coffee firmly.
Despite a couple of minor design flaws, the EC152 is well worth the money and I certainly think it's give some of the more expensive machines a run for their money.
When I ventured in the working world back in the mid-nineties, laptop computers were not common place. You had to pay a fair premium to have one, at least £1500 for something remotely decent. Of course back then a solitary gigabyte of hard drive was the norm and also came at a premium.
Of course with the movement of time, technology refines and adapts. Now laptops are probably more in use than your desktop computer of old thanks to wi-fi. My mum and dad were in the market for a new computer, all they use it for is internet so naturally the requirement was to spend little money and not have a spec that wouldn't be utilized.
The job to find such a laptop was put in my hands and I immediately looked on Amazon who always seem to have some of the best prices on laptops. Acer is a brand where you get good spec for your money. I've had my acer for just over a year and for £350 it's proved fantastic value.
Top of the charts was the Acer 5336, the price was a few pence under £260 delivered. Honestly I had never seen a laptop hit that kind of price point and to be fair, Amazon were selling it for a good deal less than other online retailers.
So what sort of spec would this peanut change give you?
Intel Celeron T3500 Cpu
3Gb Ram, 320Gb Hard Driver
Integrated Webcam, Wi-fi, Windows 7, DVD-Writer
Of course that sort of spec isn't going to be running your games and be suitable for a lot of graphics work. But for running simple tasks, online browsing and general computer stuff its fine. At £260 you'd certainly get your money's worth if you get a couple of years out of it before things speed up and your laptop's feels like it's giving up the race to keep up.
Opening the box, you'll be greeted with the minimum of clutter, a few slim books shrink-wrapped, the laptop and the power cables.
The laptop weighs just over 2kg, it's got a good feel to it, obviously some may prefer a more lightweight model but we're not talking top end here. If you like sitting on the sofa with this on your lap then it's perfectly adequate. Its build quality is a little on the plastic side, it doesn't feel and look as slick in its design and construction as some other laptops and my Acer model. But again it all comes back to how much you've actually paid for it.
My main negative is about the keyboard. It feels cheap and if you like to touch type then it's not really got the type of keys you'd associate with a good type flow. They feel like thin plastic tiles rather than keys. The mouse pad is adequate although the buttons could have been less stiff to the touch.
Display wise the screen is fine, looked clear and had a good definition when web browsing. You'd probably get more sharper resolution on other models but again...well you know.
The laptop comes with no backup discs, instead you have to run a piece of software which will create recovery discs for windows and the drivers etc. There's not really any mention of this on the box so the scenario where you buy the laptop and don't have any blank dvd's to hand could be frustrating if you want to get to work. However the disc creation is pretty straightforward. I had some problems burning the discs but then I think it could have been down to the discs I was using which are at least five years old. I don't really keep up on dvd disc burning standards.
The webcam is a nice little addition; the resolution on it isn't very high. Don't be looking for crystal clear video, you won't find it here.
Aside from Windows 7, there's little in the way of software apart from the usual trials for Norton etc. My recommendation is to remove these straight away and go for something free like AVG.
So to sum up, if you're looking for a sleek looking laptop then spend some more notes and look elsewhere. But if you're on a budget or just want something cheap for internet access then this is a great buy. For £260 it does everything you'd expect for the money and I would recommend taking it into consideration.
The glowing deep green of the bottle calls to you from the supermarket shelf. It's not shy, bold letters exclaim that 8899 real mint leaves helped make it. That's some claim and I do wonder if close to 9000 mint leaves would even fit into a 250ml bottle. But it's all in the wording, they helped to make it.
What am I blabbing on about? Why it's Original Source shower gel and this time it's XXX. Now there's nothing naughty about this shower gel, the XXX just highlights the powerful effects this gel will have.
Original Source make a great range of bathroom gels, shampoos and such taking in natural ingredients. All of them look sexy in the shower and most smell fantastic.
XXX with its extra strong Black Mint certainly gives you an experience whilst soaping up. Let me tell you now, it refreshes the parts that most shower gels can't reach. Imagine sluggishly stumbling into the shower after a few the night before. One rub around with this on your body and you'll definitely be more wide awake than a kids TV show on TV AM back in the 80's.
It's a strange sensation; your skin feels like it's burning clean but with no pain. It leaves you with an amazing fresh tingle over some parts of your body; yes I'll say that the private parts are the most served by the green stuff.
On a hot day I would imagine this comes into it's own as it certainly makes me feel cooler once I step out of the shower. In the winter the extreme freshness of this shower gel might not pull you through the cold chill of morning, best switch to something else in that season.
The Bottle is very sexy, with a grainy plastic feel it's simple and stylish. As it's about 70% clear then you can see how much gel you've got left. Something other shower gels don't give you.
Cost wise I got mine for a pound from Morrison's, it was on offer so you may expect to pay closer to £2 in some other retail outlets. In one of our local poundland stores, they have a pretty good range of Original Source products for.....yes a pound so why not take a look in there. Posh people need not fear the poundland, they are accepting of all shoppers!
I would definitely buy this shower gel again, purely because it makes you feel fresh, clean and somewhat excited in the morning. Not many shower gels can do that.
It's always great to get a bargain and since the advent of the internet I have been blessed with discounts, freebies and stuff.
Social Media is a buzz phrase in current times, Social Buying is an emerging term and one that can be applied to such sites as Groupon. The concept is simple, the site sells deals for other businesses offering products and services at heavily discounted rates.
The UK site has two levels of deals, one is a national deal where there is usually something like discounted holiday or voucher for an online retailer. The other is a local deal where all the major cities in the UK will list different deals for their local area. An example of this would be paying £15 for a haircut and style at a local Salon worth £50.
Some deals require a certain amount of purchases to become valid but I have noticed that in recent months this isn't something that really applies anymore.
The site is pretty simple to use with the deals presented clearly and any terms and conditions listed up front without being relegated to small print. Navigation between national and local deals is straightforward. Buying the deal works in the same way as the usual e-commerce checkout method. The only difference is that you don't get the discount straight after purchase.
Each deal will have a closing date, most lasting 24 hours. After the deal closes you normally receive a discount code and PDF voucher.
Recently I have made purchases such as a £50 voucher for spoiledbrat.co.uk for under £20 and right now I'm looking at a large canvas print on my wall which I got very cheaply delivered to my door.
On the flipside I did order a discount voucher for an online wine store which made no mention of the fact that I had to place a minimum order of six bottles. This made the deal non too sweet for me but Groupon refunded the deal without question very quickly. So on the customer service side I can say I have confidence.
By far the best offer I've had on Groupon is the fact that you can recommend deals to other people via Twitter, Facebook and E-mail. Should others take advantage of the deal and make a purchase then you'll receive £6 of Groupon credit. To date I've received over £100 of credit and used it to get free canvas prints, presents for people and some great clothes for next to nothing.
Groupon is a great site to find a bargain once in a while, but beware something is not always a bargain. For example recently they had an offer for some hair straighteners which you could get for around £20, discounted from a retail price of £60. I looked on Amazon and the same product was readily available for cheaper than the Groupon deal. So it's always best to just check before you commit.
You've probably seen the TV ads for Yeo Valley with a bunch of farmers who rap about yeo valley. Its kinda attention grabbing so when it came to getting some free stuff from milkandmore.co.uk, I decided to get some as there's no finer taste than free yoghurt.
At least you'd think so. Looking at some of the other opinions on here, yeo is classed as a good tasting bit of dairy. Well I whipped the top off a 450g tub of Vanilla and waited for the taste sensation.
Yeo Valley organic yoghurt is fat free and labelled as probiotic yoghurt. Now fat free normally gives you the impression that the product is good for a healthy lifestyle. Yes the fat content is pretty much non-existent however the sugar content is pretty high. A 150g serving contains over 21g of sugar, close to a quarter of your recommended sugar intake.
With this in mind I was surprised that this yoghurt tasted pretty crappy. I found it to have a sour taste and be pretty watery in its consistency. The vanilla flavour is pretty weak. In comparison to other vanilla yoghurts such as activia etc, I found it incredibly underwhelming.
Of course you could say that I just got a bit of an iffy pot but since I had another in the fridge, I can confirm the taste is just the same.
Price wise you can normally pick up a pot of this for around a pound in the supermarket, sometimes a little more. For me the taste is not worth the price. For example if I was faced with spending £1 on this or £1.50 on some muller corners then I would plump for the corners every time. There is no competition when it comes to flavour.
I don't know what people have found in this product, I certainly won't be buying it again no matter how different the TV ads are.
Serving Details (150g)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button had been sitting on my shelf for a year. When it comes to films at around 2 ½ hours long I have to find the right time when I know I won't fall asleep half way through. So with no Match of the Day to factor into the schedule, I popped the disc in and waited for David Finchers visuals to wash over me.
The film was nominated for some Oscars a couple of years back and it ticks all the boxes of awards bait. It looks great, has a touch of nostalgia and look like classic Hollywood storytelling. Brad Pitt stars as Benjamin, a man who is born into the world looking like someone way into their final years of life. Abandoned by his father, he is taken into the care of an old peoples home and is raised by one of the housekeepers. Against all nature, as Benjamin get's older he becomes younger in his body. This curious case is told by a dying woman on her death bed to her daughter, this woman Daisy is the love of Benjamin's life and the film recounts their relationship through the years.
Is Benjamin Button a fantastic movie? Not really, in comparison to Fincher's previous work it's probably one of his weakest films but that's only because previous films have challenged the norm. This is certainly a departure for Fincher and is pretty much playing it safe. For me this is one of those Sunday afternoon movies where you feel the warmth and get swept away by the tale but never really get bowled over it.
It's pretty much Forrest Gump with better effects, is that a bad thing? I don't know. Performance wise, it's solid, Pitt puts in a great performance and Cate Blanchett as Daisy the romantic foil is as always classy. There are a lot of nice supporting performances from the old inhabitants of the care home, all of them being memorable despite not having much screentime.
Visually the film is stunning with rich cinematography. One thing you can always rely on with Fincher is the cinematic style and this has it in abundance. The direction is assured and the story well told. One thing that is striking about the film is the special effects. Turning Brad Pitt into a crippled old man on screen is flawless. I have to say that two and a half hours didn't feel a chore but for me it just didn't have anything.
- The Blu Ray -
The widescreen transfer and digital soundtrack are fantastic quality, the visuals really pop in high definition. It's also sweet on the ears throughout with a very involving soundscape.
Extras wise Fincher dvd's really pack out the behind the scenes stuff. Fincher provides an interesting commentary on the film for the first disc.
The second disc is where the magic happens. There's trailers and production galleries but they don't compare to the extensive making of documentary. Split into sections, the whole thing runs for over 2 ½ hours and goes from pre to post production and everything in between. It's a great insight into the making of the film and most importantly you see how they managed to make Brad Pitt small and old looking.
I liked Benjamin Button as a film, I wasn't blown away but it's a worthwhile watch backed up a fantastic dvd release.
Thrillers set in snow bound conditions don't seem to have any luck. Remember the Sylvester Stallone headliner D-Tox? No, well it sat on the shelf for a couple of years and was for all intensive purposes a direct to video release costing well over $50 million to produce.
Whiteout was first muted as a Reese Witherspoon vehicle based on a lo fi graphic novel. A few years later it's a movie with Kate Beckinsale that sat on the shelf at Warner Bros for well over a year. So I went in with zero expectations, waiting to discover an undiscovered gem. As the end credits rolled it was apparent that this didn't gather dust for good reason.
Beckinsale plays a US Marshall stationed at an American base in Antarctica, haunted by some past troubles, this remote area provides little in the way of major crime and that's the appeal. The people at the base are starting to move out as a whiteout starts to move in which will make the outside conditions uninhabitable. Too bad that a dead body shows up in mysterious circumstances.
What ensues is a muddled hour of guff where there's a killer on the loose and little time until the Whiteout hits and leaves those left behind stuck in the killer's midst for six months. At least that's the plot premise on paper. What you get on screen is a pretty routine affair with no sense of urgency, no danger and a lot of confusion.
There is just nothing exciting in the film. The major action in this film consists of chases in the winter terrain that take place at a snails pace as characters climb across the terrain tethered to a guide rope. It's really dull and with the blizzard flying around, characters disguised in heavy clothing and what not it's becomes a mess.
Aside from the killer plot there is a subplot about a Russian plane under the ice, again it's not interesting and the two seem to be linked but it's murky.
Acting wise, everything is fine. You can't really lay anybody with a bad acting tag. They are all let down by a limp and tired script.
Director Dominic Sena abandons the stupid fun of his previous films such as Swordfish and delivers a movie with dull production values and mind numbing action. Somewhere along the line things went a little wrong. I guess this is one of those graphic novels that reads good on the page but get's lost in translation on the big screen.
- The DVD -
I saw this movie on Blu-ray. The picture quality is pretty good as you'd expect, the soundmix is actually pretty solid and serves a surround sound setup well.
A couple of 12-minute featurettes on the production and the book translation are included as extras. As the movie is not interesting, I'm inclined to ask why you would want to invest another chunk of time to behind the scenes. There's also a couple of meaningless deleted scenes as well as a trailer.
Whiteout is a waste of time and will probably be winging it's way to a showing on a second string freeview channel within the year. I wouldn't bother spending any rental money on it.
If you thought that uninspired production company Platinum Dunes only raked the bones of horror movie franchises for their own profit...sorry reinvention then think again.
Horsemen is an original production from the company with the messiah Michael Bay amongst its producer credits. But when I say original, what I mean is it's not a remake of another movie, this a film with no previous incarnation. Unless of course you've seen Seven or one of the several DTV rip-offs that preceded that movie.
If you've not heard of it then it's probably because it made about $2 at the box office when it cost about $20million to make. Hence it's direct to video status here in the UK.
Dennis Quaid stars as detective Aiden Breslin, a seemingly burn out detective who has a speciality in some forensics involving teeth. Anyway to give Breslin a bit of clichéd angst, it turns out he's widowed with two sons. Of course he's a distant father emotionally tied to his work and not his family.
Some gruesome murders start occurring and it looks like the killers are taking on a four men of the apocalypse style theme. Breslin is drawn into a game of finding the killers before the the four murders are concluded. Well that would be the logic anyway but Horsemen is frankly an utter mess.
Playing out over 90-minutes this is a tedious affair that has no real logic in its plot and feels like it's something that has been assembled to at least form a minimal narrative and get the thing out there. Somewhere along the line something clearly went wrong with the production as I'll admit it made absolutely no sense and large chunks of story, plot etc seemed to be missing.
What we're left with is a bunch of scenes where Breslin gruffs his way through family angst, clichéd cop drama and some mildly nasty horror scenes. Quaid is the only thing that keeps this from being a totally worthless experience. Clifton Collin's Jr play's his partner and sports a moustache out of another decade. The chick from Crouching Tiger pops up and appears to be the orchestrator of the killings but it's never totally clear what her deal is. Peter Stormare's also in the film but seems to be in another subplot that doesn't have any purpose.
By the final revelation we're left none the wiser about what this guff is all about. Is there a killer, who's responsible? Does anyone care? Frankly I only watched it because it was on the Hallmark channel and nothing else was on.
Director Jonas Akerland is a big name commercial and music video director and must have drawn the short straw in the pool of directors that helm these Platinum Dunes productions. There's no style in this movie, it plays out like a poor man's David Fincher and shock horror no grasp of telling a story.
I really wouldn't bother with this movie, even if it was on TV. But when you have a production company that can't even get a remake of Nightmare On Elm Street with any originality then what do you expect.
There are few words in the pantheon of supermarket shopping that get me going. "Ben & Jerry's on offer" is probably top of the list. In recent months dairy products have seen a little bit of a rise in cost. A 500ml tub of B&J would have cost you about £3.99, now that's risen to about £4.20, a lot for a small tub of ice cream.
However those magical words pronouncing Ben & Jerry's was on offer was all I needed to make a special trip to our local Asda. I never shop there and it's not exactly up the road. However two tubs for £3 was a cracking deal and the ol' B&J is my kryptonite. I'm not a huge Ice Cream lover but there's something in those tubs that tickles my tastebuds into overload.
One of the flavours I picked up was Phish Food, I decided to go for the frozen yogurt version as I wanted to lower the calories and I'd already tried the full fat phish.
Coming in a lime green tub with the fun pics on the front, the frozen dessert is pronounced as fairtrade and kind to the environment in its production. Hence the change in colour from the usual B&J colour scheme.
Phish food is a chocolate flavour yogurt with swirls of marshmallow and caramel whilst also being infused with small chocolate shaped fish. An interesting concoction for the frozen dessert connoisseur.
But it is with a heavy heart that I have to admit this was not in the same class as my usual B&J experiences. I found this one a little watery in its mix and the taste was not to my liking. It had that sweet sickly taste to it, you know the one where if you let it hit the back of your throat it would feel a little burning. It's certainly not overpowering but having had the full fat phish, this certainly wasn't in the same realms of taste. You pay over £4 full whack for a tub of this because it is a great brand and a great tasting product. Sadly for me this didn't reach the standards I've come to expect from the brand.
So I have to ask was it worth going down the frozen yogurt route to save a few calories? In this case no as the taste wasn't great. I've had Cherry Garcia frozen yogurt before and it was good so I can only surmise that Phish food doesn't compliment frozen yogurt in the same way it's full fat brother does.
To sum up, (let's face it there's only so much you can write about a tub of dessert) this is one B&J I would actually leave on the shelf. As I've said I've got a weakness for this stuff but if this was the only flavour left on the shelf then I think I'd actually leave it there. I certainly wouldn't pay over £4 for it and would stick to the full fat version or plump for the cookie dough tub.
The Nutrition Stuff for you food techs (Per 100ml)
Carbs 34g (29g Sugars)
Fat 4g (3g saturated)
In 1999 a film came out that was a masterpiece in marketing. That film was The Blair Witch Project, made for peanuts and passed off as a real event, the film captured imaginations and went on with pull in well over $100 million worldwide.
Nearly a decade later we have Paranormal Activity, a film which can't help but draw comparisons to Blair Witch's success. Both are low budget video productions with small casts, marketed as real life chilling tales and both laughed their way to the bank.
I had the luxury of seeing Blair Witch before it ever got a cinema release in the UK so I saw it without the hype it had attached by the time UK audiences saw it. Behind the hype, that film was actually a well-orchestrated piece of horror.
I just don't understand how Paranormal Activity gained the same sort of box office reaction. Firstly we already know that the premise of it being real life footage is bogus. That takes some of the scare element out of it straight away. The 'story' follows a young couple in their new home, after experiencing various bumps in the night they set-up a video camera in their bedroom to capture any night-time occurrences. It seems there's a demon hanging around and he getting angrier as the couple delve deeper into finding out how to rid their home of this paranormal activity.
Everything is shot in a real perspective with the couple interacting whilst operating the camera. It's certainly a home video style and there's no flashy panache to it. As a couple, the two actors in the film are believable and likeable for the most part. Unlike low budget shark thriller Open Water, you actually have some affection for the horrors on screen the characters are going through.
I will give props to the orchestration of some of the demon effects on show in the film. No there's no CGI fire blazing devils, just subtle things like footprints appearing in talc, shadows on doors, stuff like that.
But ultimately I just found the film a tad boring, not really that involving and above all else not very scary. I guess it didn't tap into my fears. If I was faced with the film on a large screen in a dark theatre then the experience may have been different. So perhaps on the small screen, Paranormal Activity loses some of its hyperbole.
For me, I judge most horror's these days against others that did actually scare and unnerve me. The only film to really do that to me in recent memory is The Descent. This home video chiller doesn't come close yet took tons more money - go figure.
- The Disc -
I saw this movie on Blu-ray. Of course the production quality isn't a Hollywood standard. The video quality is good enough, the sound at times is muffled but I guess that's part of the home movie feel the film intends.
The disc offers a theatrical version and an alternate version to view. Both have similar run times and all they seem to share is a different ending. The alternate ending is a bit more graphic and doesn't Segway into the inevitable sequel they have rushed out for this Halloween.
Other than that you have the alternate ending on its own as well as a winner of a Paranormal Activity contest where someones shot their own home movie chiller.
Overall I'd wait till this shows up on TV, it's not worthy of the hype and if you seriously find it scary then you need to search out better films.
Some people live or die by their mobile phones. I'm old enough to remember a time when having a mobile was something quite new and only for a few (Late nineties, I'm not ancient)
Fast forward a few years and now everyone's got one. This year I was due for an upgrade from three but I have no real desire to have something which will cook my dinner for me and tuck me in at night like an Iphone. The notion of a Nokia E63 was offered to me and I liked the look of it. It has similarities to the Blackberry models but perhaps lacks the social kudos. I went for it because it was a good phone for only a tenner a month. The slimline shape and weight of it was good and the qwerty keyboard was a bonus for replying to my e-mails out in the field.
Using the phone is pretty simple, the screen is crisp and offers adequate size. The front menu has a range of shortcut icons for things like e-mail, facebook etc. I was able to set-up my e-mail accounts with real ease.
Using the keyboard will take any user a little to get the hang of. You've got a lot of keys to fit into a small area. Changing case and typing letters is a little awkward and not ideal for those who like to speed type. I have to press a shift button before every character if I want a number or a capital letter.
Browsing the internet is fairly straightforward. I'm sure it doesn't have the fluid browsing of apple's products but it does the job for me. This was the first time I used a mobile for internet use, let's just say I think the browsing still has a way to go to keep users stress free.
The phone has the usual features that are now pretty standard on most phones worth their salt. The camera is not that great, quality wise I've seen far better on other phones. But I didn't go for this phone for it's david bailey qualities. You also have a range of media functions such as music playback and an FM radio. These can only be accessed when you have the headphones that come with the phone. You can only use these Nokia ones, standard ones won't work. Quality wise they're satisfactory but not amazing, again if I want to listen to music I'll buy an Ipod. The radio is sufficient enough for me to listen to the post match football coverage when out on matchday.
You are able to use music tracks as your ringtone, now this to me is the phones weakness. Even at maximum volume I find the levels still low. Sometimes you'll struggle to hear if it's in another room. Also on vibrate it's not strong enough to feel if you're out and about.
Overall the phone is sufficient to meet my needs which I admit are minimal. I would imagine those who like functionality and a bit more cool will not find it their cup of tea. Certainly if you're looking for an all rounder then look elsewhere. For example my sister has a blackberry and the camera on that blows the E63 away. But if you're looking for something which has good business functionality and available on a cheaply priced contract then this is worth considering.
All I'll say is it's best to play around with in a store before committing as it might not be for you despite on the surface looking a bit sexier than your previous brick.
One of my first jobs was in a computer store back in the mid-nineties. Back then laptops were reserved for those who needed to travel and not really a home user product. Needless to say you wouldn't get any change out of £1000, usually you'd need to pay a lot more than that!
But now times they have a changed and the laptop is more accessible for the home user and a popular choice thanks to wireless internet. I have been using a Toshiba laptop for the past few years and it had served its purpose well. But things progress and I was needing a little more power at my fingertips.
Looking around, I found a minefield of specs and varying prices. One I kept coming back to is the Acer 5532, at the time it was just under £400 on Amazon. But no it's dropped to under £350 and so I went for it.
Acer may look like a cheaper brand than your other familiar names but they've been producing computer hardware for a number of years, I have known other people who've owned one and my brothers had one for about 18-months and it's been a great machine for the money.
I ordered mine on Amazon for about £343, the price fluctuates a bit at times but generally you'll be able to get it for under £350.
If you look around the web you'll find some varying specs for the 5532 model. Some coming with less hard drive space and only 3gb of memory
The spec of the machine I bought is as follows.
AMD Athlon 64 X2 Processor
15.6" HD LCD Screen
ATI Radeon HD3200 Graphics
4GB Memory, 320 GB Hard Drive
That's a pretty decent spec for your money. I generally use my PC's for internet, office tasks and a bit of graphics. This spec more than covers what I need and should be able to keep up with the rigours of the changing technology at least for 2-3 years (fingers crossed!)
On unboxing the laptop, I found the laptop to be a good build quality. It certainly doesn't feel cheap and it actually has a better design aesthetic than other laptops I've seen on the market. The keyboard is well laid out with good sized keys, touch typing is perfectly fine. It even has a numeric keypad as part of the layout. It's taken about a week to get used to having that but now I'm typing away with speed. My only gripe is that there is no indicator light for the Caps Lock, I didn't have the option on my Toshiba either and it's surprising how a simple thing like this can be missed.
The Mouse pad is also a good size and has a good response to touch, there is a little touch scroll to the side and the two buttons are quite big, they do feel a little cheap but you can also use your finger to double tap and select.
The 15.6" screen is widescreen and has a fantastic sharpness and clarity, again I'm looking for flaws when you consider the price but again this is better than the Toshiba model I had and on par with others I've seen in the same price range.
Other features on the laptop include two USB ports, DVD Re-Writer and a built in webcam which is off good quality. It doesn't have a microphone so if you're looking for voice chat then you'll have to pony up for a mic, personally I don't have much use for the webcam and having been on Chatroullette.com, I don't think I'll be using it in that way (if you know what I mean)
Windows 7 is the operating system of choice. This is first time I've used the new version, it's pretty easy to pick up, basically it the same bones, some new clothes on the top and a few extra features. But I was a bit bemused that there is no e-mail programme in this version which seems a little strange.
You'll need about four dvd's to create recovery discs for windows and get all the drivers. This process was very straightforward but did take over 30 minutes but it's a necessary evil.
As with every new PC, this one comes installed with software that you won't need such as the Norton Anti Virus trial etc, I always make a point of removing these straight away.
So I've been using this laptop for over a week now and I have to say that for the money it is brilliant value. For under £350 I don't think you'll find a lot better value for the spec you receive. For everyday PC use it ticks all the right boxes and at this price you don't mind having to probably upgrade it about 3 years time as you'll get more than your moneys worth.
Imagine a world where civilisation is biting each other, eating each other, running around like mindless drones without thought and generally killing any notion of the human race as we know it. No it's not the centre of Newcastle on a Saturday night. This is Zombieland where a strain of mad cow disease found it's way into a burger and turned the majority of the American population into mindless bloodthirsty zombies.
Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is a nerdy college student who is left to wander the homeland alone; surviving by sticking to a list of rules he has compiled in order to thwart the zombies. On his travels he meets the gun toting Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a man who loves taking out zombies any which way he can on his search to find a twinkie. The pair joins forces on a road trip through the zombie-infested world and it's a case of opposites attracting, as they're only the two people left. Until they meet two sisters who are masters in the art of the con. The film pairs the two duos off in a game of survival until they realize they've all got to get along in order to survive.
Zombieland works because it always maintains a good sense of humour throughout. It's not laugh out loud funny but at every turn there's some nice touches. Right from the outset I was drawn in by the novel way Columbus' rules are portrayed in a video game style. This style pops up in little flourishes throughout the film to nice comic effect. They also get the casting spot in with Eisenberg having a handle on this type of role, Harrelson is always fun when he plays it wild whilst Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin have a good amount of sassy about them. Now there is always a chance that a movie where there's zombies and not much else for ninety minutes can end up feeling a little empty. However there is moment half way through where Zombieland elevates itself to another level. This is due to a masterstroke of cameo casting; the group make their way to Hollywood and seek refuge in a movie stars mansion. I will not say who the said star is but it's the best part of the movie and really enjoyable with said cameo star showing he's a master of the un-dead pan.
Director Ruben Fleischer shows an adept touch at telling a story with characters and neat visual flourishes. Sure the crux of the story of story is about living in Zombieland but the movie is not overfilled with zombies at every turn and above all else he doesn't turn it into a MTV style crash bang wallop, thanks for your money kind of deal.
At around 85-minutes in length this is a movie that zips along, never gets dull and I was left wanting more adventures in Zombieland and hopefully there will be.
- The Blu Ray -
Shot digitally the film looks fantastic on blu-ray with a striking widescreen transfer, audio wise the soundtrack is fun throughout although not a speaker shaker but it does the job of ambience well.
Extras wise there are is a decent amount of material. An audio commentary with Fleischer, Harrelson, Eisenberg and the writers is a nice listen, good humoured chat about the movie.
There's also a feature on the blu-ray where you can watch the movie with a picture in picture option where you'll get interviews, sfx breakdowns etc on various scenes. It's a nice touch but these require you to sit through the movie again rather than dip in.
There is the obligatory making of which is decent enough with a bit of behind the scenes footage, a few anecdotes and not much backslapping.
Another featurette looks at the production design of various sequences in the movies. It's a light attempt at giving you an insight into the production.
There are also a few minutes of deleted scenes with nothing incredibly revealing as well as some brief visual effects progressions.
The trailers section features some nice little skits selling the movie as Harrelson and Eisenberg answer various zombie avoidance questions from viewers.
Overall this is a fun movie which I'd happily dive into again and put into my collection.
When he's not directing multi-million dollar pics with racist stereotype robots in, Michael Bay likes to dip his fingers into the horror genre but doesn't like to pony up for original ideas. So through his Platinum Dunes production company, he and his minions have taken other peoples horror films and re-made them. So in recent years you've had The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hitcher, Friday 13th and The Amityville Horror, all served up for the MTV generation with unsurprisingly mediocre results. Not that it matters, most of them have made decent box office.
But their latest re-hash is an entirely different animal. A Nightmare On Elm Street is a film that still stands up as being bloody scary after 25 years. There's also the small matter that its central character is probably the most recognised cinematic horror icon since the Universal Monsters. Freddy Kruger used to give me nightmares, I was once given a calendar of horror icons and his face was huge on an A3 size, I used to hide in my wardrobe! At this point I'd never seen a Nightmare movie and it was only when I got into my teens that I dare watch them and become a fan of the series.
So is the re-make of A Nightmare On Elm Street going to strike terror into a new generation? Frankly it doesn't even come close.
The basis of the plot pretty much remains the same. A group of teens are being terrorized in their dreams by a man with razor blades on his fingers, his skin badly burned. The man they come to know as Freddy is intent on killing them one by one in their dreams. So said teens try to stay awake and find out who this man is and why they are his intended victims.
So how did the makers remain with the same plot and manage to muck up a movie for which they already had a blueprint?
Well quite simply, the original had a master of the genre at the helm in Wes Craven. The original is a slow burner, not going for the jugular from the get go. Of course in this day and age it's assumed that audience attention spans are non-existent. So this movie opens with a kill and a Freddy appearance and instantly blows all sense of mystery and suspense out of the water. What then follows is about 85-minutes of minimal character development, MTV style visuals and some really bland kills. The one thing you can't really forgive is that the film is actually pretty boring.
This is director Samuel Bayer's first feature film. You can see why they approached him as his music video work has given us some great visual pieces from bands such as Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins and of course Nirvana. Now it's been shown before that music video directors don't make good movie directors. Sure there are exceptions such as Spike Jonze and David Fincher, but there are plenty who've delivered a film high on style but lacking anything else. This film has a few nice visuals but it's nothing like I was expecting. Here is material that Bayer really could have come up with startling imagery for, yet the majority of it is a bland, dank colour scheme.
It takes a brave man to step into a role that's only associated with one actor. So Jackie Earl Haley was a great choice to take on the new Freddy mantle. To be fair, he doesn't do badly in the role. They've tried to make this Freddy a bit darker and more direct. But to be honest part of the fun with Freddy is that he's a real sadistic black humoured character with some personality. In this re-make, Freddy doesn't have any soul, he just turns up, growls and does a bit of slicing. There are a few instances where Haley manages to make Freddy quite creepy but ultimately he's let down by a lame script.
The rest of the cast are nothing to write home about, all of the teens have no real character development so you don't really care less if they get offed or not.
So seeing as this is a horror film the biggest let down is that the death scenes in this movie are frankly terrible. One is pulled directly from the original and lacks the emotion, brutality and power of the original. The other two death scenes are over so quickly and have no imagination. There is nothing on par with the Johnny Depp death in the original, it's as if they couldn't be bothered to come up with anything.
Special mention must also go to another pull from the original where Freddy pushes through a wall in Nancy's bedroom. The original was done with lighting and spandex and still makes a haunting image today. This version goes down the CGI route and comes up with something that should be in The Mummy movies. If you can't improve on it then don't bother trying to replicate it.
I suppose that's the mantra to sum up this re-make. It does nothing to improve on the original, if something was great to begin with then you'd better try and come up with new ideas. This movie doesn't appear to have tried and any new ideas are ill thought out.
My advice is to simply keep your money in your pocket and put it towards buying the original on DVD.
Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow.... it's safe to say that Director Roland Emmerich likes to blow shit up in an apocalyptic style.
2012 is his latest offering and once again he's got something against world landmarks as plenty of them get destroyed in this movie. It all starts when Dr Fonseca from Eastenders discovers that the earth's core is really starting to cook and things are starting to shift unexpectedly in the globe. This is brought to the attention of the US Government and needless to say before you know it the end of the world is nigh. In secret the powers of the world construct ark like vessels to keep some of human civilisation alive and ready to rebuild after the events. Meanwhile the unlikely named Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) is bumming around, being a distant father to his two kids while his ex plays happy families with her new man. He once wrote a book that very few people read, but of course one of his fans is the main US scientist guy - score!
Anyway Woody Harrelson pops up as a whacked out conspiracy hippy who believes the end of the world is nigh just like the mayans predicted centuries ago. And then someone flicks on the CGI button and all hell breaks loose as we the audience are treated to a spectacle of entire cities being blown up, destroyed, tidal waves, tragedy and the usual cheesy US heroic guff.
Yes 2012 is complete crap but it's enjoyable crap. You will have seen this all before and probably in some of Emmerich's other movies. There's the broken family, you know at one point someone will die in the family circle and it ain't John Cusack. You know several people will make sacrifices to save others and die heroically. You know they'll be a lot of political posturing as the guys in power try to save themselves rather than mankind. No film like this would be incomplete without the rousing speech that makes everybody change their focus.
2012 is utterly predictable from the get go so it's just as well that effects sequences are actually top notch. There is a sequence where some of our characters try and escape the chaos as the whole of Los Angeles collapses around them. It's totally out of the realms of reality but damn it's exciting. The cast do a modest job with what they've got to work with and if you've seen Emmerich's previous disaster movies then I guess this does exactly what it says on the tin.
So remove all notions of intelligence, as this is one movie best served with snacks and a cold one.
- The Disc -
The film looks absolutely stunning on blu-ray with a nice sharp hi-def transfer. Now of course where the disc earns it's money is in the soundtrack. There is plenty of whistles and bells to keep you ears bleeding and at times the bass will blow your panties off.
Extras wise there's an affable commentary track with Emmerich and his producer/composer Harald Kloser.
Other than that there's a bunch of featurettes covering how the effects were achieved as well as soe backslapping for the actors and the director. The deleted scenes section isn't up to much but contains an alternate ending that was wisely removed.
Chuck in some trailers and you have a decent package.